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Joy (Part Two)

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Clay 2007
Rome is a little miserable, though he is buoyed by his team. Rafa Maymo has codified the rules of tennis football and now they play for real, with a system of forfeits for the losers. On the first day, he and Moya beat Rafa Maymo and Feli. The next day he loses with Feli against Maymo and Moya. There are many push-ups done in forfeit, and many ideas cooked up for future losers. For a while every day it keeps Rafa’s mind off the fact that he’s in Luca’s city. Nothing can distract him well enough, though. When he walks through the club he meets Luca’s father, who is cordial and pleasant, all the while knowing that Rafa dumped his son. When he returns to his room, the same one as last year in the same bland autostrada hotel, he remembers having sex with Luca in this bed. Kneeling on the dark blue carpet and sucking his dick. Sharing showers in the morning. Luca’s books over there on the desk. They lasted almost one year.

He’s dizzy and too hot in the first couple of matches of the tournament and he tells Toni he’s worried that he’s coming down with a virus. The doctor examines him and does tests and finds nothing. Rafa knows, really, that it’s nothing physical. Toni puts his arm around his shoulders and advises him to stay hydrated. It’s his way of sympathising. And the whole thing is made worse by the way his traitorous heart expands every time he sees Roger. He feels like a foolish child with a crush but there’s nothing he can do to stop it. Roger doesn’t help, with his broad smiles, his silly jokes, his fondness. Rafa can hardly bear to think that fondness is all Roger feels for him, not when his own feelings are accumulating daily into something he can barely contain, but if that’s all there is, he’ll take it. He leans into Roger’s hugs, he smiles constantly around him. He sees photos of himself online and resolves to stop looking so lovesick, and then instantly forgets the next time he and Roger are around each other again. He’s almost relieved when Roger loses to Volandri in the third round, and after that the dizziness is gone and he wins, defeating Gonzalez in the final in two sets that even he has to admit later were easy for him. He flies to Hamburg that evening.

Hamburg is more of the same. He notices the other players giving him and Roger a wide berth when they’re talking in the locker room. He feels their eyes on them. The media has begun to talk up their rivalry, commenting on how good-natured it is. He feels slightly awkward on the podium when Roger beats him, not because he’s been beaten--if he’s honest, Roger is so happy about it, he can hardly resent it at all--but because he knows everybody’s watching. They’re waiting for photos of them touching, smiling, and he finds himself paralysed by their expectations. It’s only later in the locker room that he congratulates Roger properly. “I had to get you some time,” says Roger, hugging him.

“I always knew you would,” says Rafa.

“Sorry for breaking your streak.”

“No, you’re not.”

Roger grins, his eyes gleaming. “You’re right. I’m not.” Rafa loves the records, but maybe as much as he loves them he loves this, the truth, not platitudes. Competition between them that never turns nasty. The lingering feeling of Roger’s chest pressed against his in a hug, the feeling of being away from cameras and other people’s eyes, even if just for a short while.

 

This year Roland Garros puts them both in the same hotel, the George V in the centre of the city. They each have lavish suites and adjacent rooms for their teams on the top floor. It’s really too much for Rafa but he isn’t going to appear ungrateful by asking the tournament to change him. Soon, anyway, the ornate furniture is piled with gear and rackets, and the playstation cables are coiled in black loops in front of the TV. The windows are flung open to the street and it no longer feels like a staid collection of expensive couches and chairs and coffee tables. In the bedroom is a huge divan bed with an ornate headboard. Rafa sleeps at one side of it and when he wakes the other side is hardly even rumpled, it’s so big.

He meets Roger in the corridors and the elevator and the lobby of the hotel; he meets him in the club and on the practice court and in the locker room. And every time it’s so warm and friendly, and Roger’s eyes light up the way his own do, and he wishes, wishes it meant the same thing. In the locker room Roger is casually naked when he changes and Rafa almost thinks he should ask to be put somewhere else, because the sight of Roger’s body makes Rafa want to push him against the lockers and bruise his face with kisses. And then fall to his knees and take that thick, pendulous cock in his mouth till Roger is hard and panting and he comes on Rafa’s tongue. He almost wishes he’d never told Feli to go after Fernando because he’d give anything to be fucked into oblivion right now.

So it’s tough when Roger turns up to a BNP Paribas sponsor event looking desperately handsome in a dark grey suit, his collar open, revealing a suggestion of chest hair. It’s nothing Rafa has ever found particularly attractive before but on Roger, everything looks good. Rafa feels desperately inelegant in comparison, his trousers sitting a little awkwardly on his waist and his shirt pulling across the shoulders. Feli keeps telling him that he should get his clothes tailored but he can never be bothered. He fleetingly regrets it now. Soon, though, he’s too caught up in the business of shaking hands and making small talk to get too worried about it. It’s part of the job, he knows, and here again Roger seems to be far more in his element than Rafa, able to work a room with a kind of elegance that Rafa doesn’t even aspire to. He seems as bemused by the nonsense of it as much as Rafa is, though, when he looks over to him, across the room, and raises one eyebrow at him. After that things get a little easier, and Rafa finds himself just shaking hands, sharing a few words, and moving on.

He takes a break to go to the bar to get an orange juice and that’s when Roger appears beside him. “Kind of boring, isn’t it?” he says.

Rafa nods gratefully. “Is part of the life, I know,” he says. “But they all say the same thing, no?”

“Are they assuring you you’ll win?”

“Yeah,” says Rafa. It’s absurd that people think they know these things.

“They’re saying the same to me,” says Roger, and they share a grin. “You going to stay much longer?”

“No,” says Rafa. “Don’t have training early, but…” He lets the thought trail off. Roger gets it, anyway. He nods and takes a sip of sparkling water.

“Same,” he says. “Listen, do you want to give it ten more minutes and then we can walk back to the hotel?”

They haven’t properly talked since that night in Porto Cristo, and Rafa feels again the warmth he felt that night on the beach, the childish, tentative hopes he had on the rock. It’s a matter of habit now to remind himself that he’s being foolish but he smiles broadly anyway. “Sure,” he says.

“Okay. Let’s go make our goodbyes,” says Roger, fixing the cuffs of his jacket, even though they were already perfect. He gives Rafa a businesslike nod softened with a conspiratorial kind of smile, and heads back out amongst the suits and stilettoes, making his excuses. Rafa does the same. They leave the murmuring throng to their champagne refills and wander out of the executive suite, down the stairs to the lobby of the hotel, and out onto the street.

It’s a beautiful Paris evening in late spring. Roger stops and takes a breath when they’re outside. “I love Paris in the springtime,” he hums, and Rafa laughs, recognising the tune. “How are you, anyway, Raf?” he says, as they start walking down the Champs-Élysées. “How’s the team? The family?”

“Oh,” says Rafa, putting his hands in his pockets and matching Roger’s easy stroll. “Team is fine. Family, too. You, Rogi?”

“Yeah, normal, you know,” he says. They wait to cross the street, the busy avenue stretching down towards the Arc de Triomphe, lit up in the evening twilight. People pass by on the pavement, couples and groups of chic Parisians making their way to canopied restaurants or doing evening shopping in Louis Vuitton or H&M or any one of the other motley shops on the street. No one notices Roger and Rafa as they cross to the other side and leave the broad and leafy avenue for the quieter streets that lead to the hotel. “And what about Luca?” Roger asks. “I haven’t seen him around.”

“We broke up,” says Rafa.

Roger doesn’t look surprised so much as thoughtful. “I was wondering,” he says. “I didn’t see him in Rome or Hamburg.”

Rafa shrugs. “No. Happened in Mallorca.”

Roger is quiet for a moment, his dark eyes gauging Rafa, like he’s making some calculation. “I see,” he says, a little belatedly. “And you’re, you know. You’re okay?”

There’s something in the air, here, in the golden glow of lights pooling in front of late-opening stores and the blue shadows of quiet doorways and alleyways, something that feels like that moment on the rock in Porto Cristo. “Yeah,” says Rafa, holding Roger’s gaze as they walk. Their arms brush together on the narrow path. “I’m fine, Rogi.”

“Good,” says Roger, smiling at him with such fondness that Rafa feels himself basking in it. For a moment it’s impossible to believe that he is alone in this feeling, his heart bursting with affection. It seems absurd that life could have brought them here for him to be alone, for this equation to be unbalanced, for love to burgeon in one chest and not another. “Are your family here with you?” Roger asks.

“Not yet,” says Rafa. “Come next week, no? When the tournament starts.”

“Yeah, Mirka’s not here yet either,” says Roger. “She’s in Switzerland with her sister, for this family thing.” He shrugs, like it’s no big deal, but there’s a thickness in the air between them. Something under the words. Night is falling around them, shadows getting darker, and without warning Roger takes his hand and slips into an alleyway between two buildings, a store on one side and a restaurant on the other. The amorphous smells of cooking entwine in the air and the stone is cool against Rafa’s back, where Roger has pushed him against the wall. “Look,” says Roger, stepping back a little but then changing his mind and coming closer again. “Rafa. Why… this is a stupid question. Sorry if it’s stupid. But why did you break up with Luca?”

A lot of things click into place at once. The affection in Roger’s eyes, the conspiratorial smiles. The night on the rock. “Did you want to kiss me?” says Rafa. The question erupts out of him abruptly. “After dinner in Porto Cristo.”

Roger hesitates and for a second Rafa thinks he’s read it all wrong, he’s said something he shouldn’t, something that will reveal this delicate filigree of moments and glances as nothing but an adolescent fantasy. But then Roger smiles a little, and says, “Yeah. Yeah, I did.”

Rafa lets go of a breath he’d been holding in his chest, smiling through it, his hands finding Roger’s waist. He spreads his fingers, pressing them into Roger’s body through his shirt, like he’s holding him in place. “Now?” he says.

A smile spreads slowly across Roger’s face and he leans into Rafa, pressing their bodies together. At first he just wraps his arms around him and holds him, burying his face in the curve of Rafa’s neck, breathing hotly against his skin. “I knew it,” he’s saying, his voice a little raw. “I knew it.” Then, in the dim spring night, the air laced with new leaves and fresh cooking and the shadows curling around them, lost in the whispers of the city and the thump of thudding hearts, they find each other’s mouths and kiss.

It’s so tentative, at first. So sweet. Roger kisses him with such care, cradling his jaw in one hand, holding him with the other, gently coaxing him closer. Rafa is seduced by it, melting into the feel of Roger against him, the taste of him. The press of his mouth. The world has gone quiet; there’s no sound but the sound of Roger’s breath, the gentle scratch of his stubble against Rafa’s face. They could be alone here, lost in the softness of it. And then, down the alley, a door opens and someone calls to someone else and the door slams shut again, and they break apart with a sudden jolt.

For a second they just stare at each other, before they break into smiles, then a giddy laughter bubbles up in Rafa’s chest and Roger catches it. It’s joy that encompasses them, a bright glowing kind of joy. “Oh my god, Rafa,” Roger says, already breathless.

“Hotel,” Rafa says. “Let’s go.”

Roger nods. They set off down the street again, the two minutes to the hotel seeming interminably long. What can they say while they walk? Nothing can be said, not while they’re navigating the pavement with other people, not when they can barely withstand the magnetic pull between them, allowing their fingers to entangle momentarily in the shadows and then breaking apart again in the light. They take the steps up to the lobby two at a time and try to look composed as they make their way to the elevator. They get in alongside a couple holding hands, and they both glance at them and then catch each other’s eyes and wait while the elevator rises and opens at the top floor. Then down the corridor, counting down the room numbers while Rafa slips his keycard from his pocket. Once the door has closed behind them, they fall together again.

The blue and amber night seeping in through the net curtains is all they need. They press together and kiss again, hotter now, more desperate. There’s a kind of wonder in it, a delight that makes them tremble. Rafa curls his fist in the back of Roger’s hair and just holds him tight, opening his mouth, finding Roger’s tongue with his own. Roger groans against him. Rafa can feel it in his chest. He needs to feel Roger’s skin against his so he pulls his shirt out of his waistband and slides his hands up his back. Roger seems to feel the same urgency, his fingers working at Rafa’s buttons, baring his chest. He breaks away from his mouth and just breathes, panting, against his neck, kissing below his jaw, raking his tongue along the line of stubble there. Rafa melts against the wall. “Roger,” he says, just to say his name.

“Rafa,” Roger breathes in reply. “Fuck.” He’s running his hands over Rafa’s chest, down over his stomach and back up again. “Raf,” he says, kissing him again, beautiful, sweet presses of his lips.

“Come on,” says Rafa, taking his hands and leading him towards the bedroom in the dark. He flicks on the lights, low and golden. Roger looks as wrecked as Rafa himself feels. They kick off their shoes and strip wordlessly down to their underwear, and Rafa leads Roger to the bed.

“Raf,” says Roger, hesitating. “You know I’ve never…”

“I know,” says Rafa, kissing him again, reassuring him with every touch. “You can stop any time, Rogi. I don’t want--”

“No, I don’t want to stop.” He pushes Rafa down onto the bed and crawls over him, pressing their bodies together. It’s obvious, now, how turned on they both are. “Just tell me… tell me if I’m doing it wrong.”

Rafa laughs. “Can’t do anything wrong, Rogi, no?” He slides his hands down to Roger’s ass and pushes up against him. “So good. This is so good.”

“It is, isn’t it?” says Roger, grinning. Then his eyes flicker closed when Rafa grinds up again. Rafa turns them over, pressing Roger against the mattress, and then he sits up to straddle him and just look. Just look at his face, his soft, dark eyes, his faint smile, the breadth of his shoulders. The hair on his chest that Rafa rakes his fingers through. The gentle softness of his belly. The way the veins stand out on his skinny arms, his long fingers pressing into Rafa’s hips. Then he watches as Roger slides those fingers into his waistband and pushes it down. He curls a tentative hand around Rafa’s cock.

Roger just holds him, letting Rafa move a little, dragging himself through Roger’s fist. He can feel Roger’s cock against the cleft of his ass and Roger inhales shakily at the sensation of Rafa moving against him. “Oh, Rogi,” breathes Rafa, leaning down to kiss him again.

“Take them off, Raf,” says Roger against his mouth. Rafa does, pushing his shorts down and then kissing Roger again, under his jaw, down his chest. He grazes his teeth against Roger’s nipples and feels his chest expand with a sharp inhalation. Then down, down, until he’s pushing at Roger’s shorts, pulling them down to his thighs, uncovering his cock. It’s so hard and thick and hot and Rafa nuzzles against him, the scent of him intoxicating. That intimate, musky smell of him down here. Rafa licks up his shaft and takes him in his mouth. Roger groans and his hips rise from the bed.

The bow of his body makes Rafa shudder. The taut, erotic thrill of it. He sucks him till he’s hard and panting, his hand spread against the back of Rafa’s head. When he’s covered in saliva, already dripping precome, Rafa slides up against him. “Wait here,” he whispers, as he climbs off the bed and rummages through his bag.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Roger groans.

Rafa presses the lube into his hands. “You know what to do?” he asks.

“Yeah, I know that much,” says Roger, flicking the cap open and coating his fingers. Rafa spreads his thighs across Roger’s hips and lets him find his way, circling first, delicately and then harder, and then sliding his fingers inside. He is agape, his eyes cloudy, gazing up at Rafa like he’s found god.

He starts fucking Rafa with his fingers, then, and Rafa can’t help but move with him, curling his back, his arms braced either side of his shoulders. “Yeah, yeah,” he tells him, when he goes deep. “Yeah, oh, díos mio, I’m ready, Roger.” He lets Roger slide his fingers out and then takes the condom packet, ripping it open with his teeth, and rolls it down over Roger’s cock, and then slathers him with lube. He presses Roger against himself and sinks down, the stretch burning him inside. He has to sit still, for a moment, eyes closed while he breathes through it.

“Is it… are you okay, Raf?” says Roger, his voice a little strangled. “If you need to stop…”

“No, no.” Rafa looks down at him, feeling himself open up inside. “No, god, Rogi, no, I don’t want to stop.” Relief washes over Roger’s face, and then he gasps when Rafa starts to move. Gently at first, letting them both get used to it, this rush of sensation. Roger is so thick inside him, thicker than he’s ever had. He starts to rock slowly, back and forth, and Roger loses his breath, his face slackening, like he’s lost.

Maybe both of them are lost. Rafa can hardly believe it, the feel of Roger inside him, the spread of his hands over Rafa’s hips, gently guiding him up and down. Roger is already sweating, his hair curling against his forehead. Rafa leans down and kisses him with an open mouth, gasping through it. “Is it good?” Roger says to him, and he’s moving his hips a little now. “Is it okay, Raf?”

He has no idea. No idea how often Rafa has imagined this, how desperately he’s wanted it. It’s almost as if he feels like he has to impress Rafa, like there’s a chance he won’t want this again. As if his desire for Roger doesn’t run so deep that this is all he’s wanted for months. Maybe longer. “So good, Roger,” he breathes, leaning down and kissing him again, and then leaning up, canting his hips a little, and he can’t help the sound that comes out of him then when he finds the spot inside himself that he wants Roger to hit again and again.

“There?” says Roger, and Rafa nods breathlessly. He can feel the sweat trickle down his neck. His legs are trembling. Roger bends up his knees and pushes in harder, hitting him exactly right.

“Oh!” Rafa whimpers. That’s what he needs. Roger’s hips hitting up against him while he rides him, hands braced on Roger’s chest, Roger’s right hand interlinked with his own left.

“Yeah?” says Roger, starting to smile breathlessly. “Is that it? Is that good?”

“Oh god, sí, sí,” says Rafa.

“Oh yeah, Raf,” says Roger. He seems to want to keep talking, and Rafa’s fine with that. He loves it. “Yeah, fuck, you’re so tight. God, yeah.” He stares at Rafa’s cock, red and strident against his belly. “Do you want me to…”

“No, no, not yet,” Rafa gasps. He wants to ride Roger until he comes. He holds Roger’s other hand against his hip and really starts doing it, riding him hard, and Roger gasps and groans, his head thrown back against the pillow. The hair on his chest is matting with sweat beneath their clasped hands. He’s fucking up into Rafa now, unstoppable, going for it. Neither of them are going to last long, and when Roger’s cries get sharper, higher, closer, Rafa takes his hand and wraps it around his cock, jerking himself in Roger’s fist. The sensation inside him gets sharp and bright and he comes hard, spurting and spilling over Roger’s fingers and his stomach and his chest, and Roger watches him, his breath caught in his chest, and comes in desperate jerks inside him.

Rafa collapses forward, his arms giving out underneath him. Roger slips out of him and he reaches down and takes off the condom, tying it off and then throwing it over the side of the bed. It’s all Rafa can do to catch his breath against the curve of Roger’s neck. “Rafa,” says Roger, his voice a guttural whisper. “Rafa,” he croaks again. Rafa pushes himself up to look at him. He’s glistening and grinning, searching Rafa’s eyes for something, and Rafa smiles back at him, almost laughing as the reality hits him. Roger looks down at his own belly and trails his fingertips through Rafa’s come. “Fuck,” he whispers.

He looks astonished, and Rafa presses his mouth to Roger’s, kissing him in exhausted bliss. “Roger,” he says. “Oh my god.”

“Yeah,” says Roger, laughing. “Shit, Rafa, we had sex.” It’s pure joy bubbling between them, joy and amazement. Rafa kisses him again, deep and soft-mouthed. Roger pushes his hair back behind his ear and sighs. “That was so good,” he says. “Was it good?”

He looks so insecure, still, as if Rafa can’t feel the burn inside, as if he hadn’t come from so deep inside himself all over Roger’s body. “So good, Rogi, I swear.”

“Really?”

“I mean it.” He pats Roger’s face, his fingers splayed over his mouth. “So good. I wanted to do this for a long time, no? Always going to be good.” He gnaws on Roger’s shoulder, in a way he hopes is reassuring.

“Yeah?” says Roger. “A long time? How long?”

Rafa laughs, a little embarrassed. “Long time,” he says. “Just a long time.”

Roger smiles at him, threading his arms around him and turning them over, pressing him into the mattress, their chests sweaty and sticky between them. “Me too,” he says. “Oh my god, Rafa. A long time.”

They sleep in each other’s arms. Rafa wakes slowly with Roger wrapped around him, still in the half-light. Roger is sleeping heavily and he doesn’t want to move, but he has to pee, so he slides out from the curve of his body and goes to the bathroom. When he comes back, Roger is spread out in the bed and Rafa curls into him. Roger half wakes, then, registering him, and he mumbles something incomprehensible and drags him in close. They wake again when Rafa’s phone alarm goes off. He turns over and presses snooze, and this time it’s Roger who has to go pee and then he comes back, wrapping himself around Rafa’s back. “I don’t want to get up,” he says into Rafa’s neck.

Rafa just grumbles in reply, sleepy and boneless, still.

“When do you have to practice?” says Roger, when the alarm goes off again.

“Eleven,” says Rafa.

Roger’s arms tighten around him. “I don’t have to be there till one o’clock.” He waits, both of them silent in the heat of the bed. “Is there time…?”

“Toni will be here soon,” says Rafa. “He always comes to wake me, no?”

“Oh,” says Roger. “He can’t see me here.”

Rafa turns in his arms. The air between them is hot and smells of sex and sweat. “I know,” he says. But he’s already hard, wanting Roger again so much. He presses their cocks together and wraps his hand around both of them. “There’s time for this,” he says, and he gets them off till they’re gasping in each other’s mouths.

After that, while he’s pulling on his crumpled suit from where he’d thrown it last night, Roger says, “Look, I don’t know when we can...” he says, gesturing vaguely between them.

“Sí, okay,” says Rafa. He wants it to be tonight. He wants it to be every night. He clambers out of bed and pulls on his own shorts. “Whenever you can. Tell me. When you see me.”

“Yeah,” says Roger, walking with him to the door. He kisses Rafa there, slow and deep. “I will, I promise.”

Rafa clings to that promise as Roger leaves, checking the corridor before he does so. “See you soon,” he says, closing the door. He leans against it for a moment, just breathing. In his bedroom the bed is still a mess. He throws open the windows and heads for the shower. Toni will be here soon and he has to pretend that nothing has happened, that it was a normal night, that Roger Federer hasn’t just come in his fist and then kissed him goodbye.

***

“What’s up, kid?” says Toni that day at practice. They’re on an outer court, the place full of people milling around watching him, other players hitting up on the courts all around. They’re taking a break in the shade.

“Nothing,” says Rafa. He hadn’t realised he’d seemed anything but his normal self. Then again, Toni does have a knack for reading him like a book. Toni is currently reading a history of sport and this morning over breakfast informed him that if this was ancient Greece, he’d be competing naked. Rafa had almost choked on his toast.

“Plenty more fish in the sea,” is all Toni says, before getting up and corralling some tennis balls into a row by the baseline. Rafa’s stomach sinks. He hates lying to Toni but he dreads even more what Toni would say if he knew. They pass Roger’s team coming out on court as they’re heading back in and they give each other a nod, laced with secret smiles they both try to hide. That afternoon Rafa tries even harder to seem normal, and apart from the odd look or two from Feli, he feels like he generally manages. Marc Lopez is playing qualifiers so he’s around too, and Fernando has finally warmed to him somewhat, now that he and Feli are a thing. Moya is also there. They play playstation, Toni reading in one corner while Carlos Costa bangs out emails on his laptop at the dining room table. He always hits the keys too hard, like he doesn’t quite trust the machine unless he beats it into submission. It feels like a normal afternoon, which is almost stranger than if it was different. He can’t believe no one can tell, no one can read it on him that last night Roger Federer kissed him and fucked him and they’re going to do it again. His heart soars at the thought. They’re going to do it again.

“What are you grinning about?” says Moya, between games.

“Nothing,” says Rafa, again, and Toni raises an eyebrow but he stays silent, reading his book. Filing everything away because he is nothing if not thorough in the quiet study of his nephew.

 

He hears nothing from Roger that night. That’s alright, he tells himself. He wasn’t expecting to. He has a girlfriend. Rafa tries not to think of that. He tries not to wonder if he’ll keep having a girlfriend after this, or if he’ll tell her, or what will happen. He lies in bed--the sheets have been changed, what do housekeeping think of them? Do they think about them at all?--but he’s still in the same place, on the same mattress. He wants Roger to come in and turn him over and fuck him again. He takes out his phone, toying with a text he knows he’ll never send. He can’t push this. He turns over and spreads his legs and jerks himself off imagining it instead. He sleeps fitfully and is up and ready and waiting by the time Toni comes into the room. “You know, you don’t need to worry,” he tells him. “I’m old enough to be up in the mornings by myself.” Toni says nothing but the next morning he doesn’t come in and Rafa waits. After a while he heads down to the breakfast room where Toni is halfway through his boiled egg, his coffee half empty on the table. Rafa orders his toast and nutella and the team look at each other, wondering if they’ve had a fight. “Don’t eat too fast,” says Toni, affably. “You’ll ruin your digestion.” Rafa laughs at the familiar advice and the others relax. That’s the way it goes from then on. Still he waits to have the chance to talk to Roger, he waits for a text, but there’s nothing. Mirka is with Roger all the time, chewing gum and texting by the practice court and walking beside him through the grounds of the club. Roger stops to chat with Rafa sometimes, surreal moments where they say anything except what matters. Maybe she looks at him differently. She doesn’t talk to him as much as she used to. Does she know? He wants to text and ask but he holds back. He wants Roger to text him, call him, knock on his door and push him against the wall. He thinks about it all the time until the tournament starts, and even then he still finds himself thinking about it too much. It’s too much.

They’re playing on alternate days. Roger comes into the locker room, easy and relaxed after a practice, and Rafa is already zoning into an upcoming match. He stalks around the locker room naked after a practice and Roger barely glances at him, preparing for his own. It’s only one coincidence at the beginning of the second week that brings them together when Roger is cooling down after a practice on an outer court and Rafa comes in after a win. There are plenty of other guys around but Roger finds him on his bench, a little tucked away from the rest of the crowd of guys. “Hey,” he says.

“Hey,” says Rafa. He looks around but Roger is alone.

“Amazing match, Rafa,” he says.

He’d beaten Hewitt pretty handily. “Thanks,” he replies. “You saw?”

“Some of it. I came in a while ago.”

He hadn’t even thought of that, Roger watching him. It suddenly thrills him.

“Look,” continues Roger. “We’re both playing Wednesday, right? So you’re off tomorrow?”

It’s the quarterfinals on Wednesday. Tomorrow’s free for all the men’s singles. “Yeah,” says Rafa. Even though he’s tired from the match he feels a twinge of hope.

“So, if I came over tonight…?”

“Sí, yes, is good,” says Rafa. It’s more than good. It’s all he wants. “Yes.”

“Okay,” says Roger, smiling. He checks over his shoulder, almost an instinct. “I’ll text you.”

“I’ll wait,” says Rafa, and though later he kicks himself for how easy he sounds, how eager, he hardly cares because he means it. He’d wait all night, if that’s what it took.

 

Rafa tells his team he’s tired. He knows he looks anything but tired, keyed up and buzzing with energy, but he says it all the same. “So maybe we have dinner earlier, no?” They usually eat Spanish time, ten or eleven at night, but he wants to be back in his room by then. The team look to Toni as if he’s the arbiter, which is annoying, but Rafa knows he can’t push it too far.

“Sure,” says Toni, shrugging. “If it gets you more sleep.” He says that a little wryly, as if he’s put two and two together, but he knows when to tread lightly. They’re back in the hotel by nine and Rafa goes to his room, bidding everyone goodnight in the corridor. Toni says goodnight with a quirk of his eyebrow.

Rafa goes into his room and flings himself on the bed, checking his phone. Nothing. He turns on the TV and flicks around. There’s nothing in Spanish and he’s bored, anyway. He tries to leave it longer before checking his phone again but it’s impossible not to be aware of it constantly. An hour passes flicking from one channel to the next, looking for a movie, anything that might engage his mind for more than a minute at a time. He feels like an idiot, like when he’d text Xavi as a teenager and wait for a reply, his body thrumming with anticipation with no relief in sight. He considers jerking off to take the edge off but that just seems pathetic.

It’s ten thirty when a knock comes at the door. He almost doesn’t answer it, checking his phone again, but then he shrugs and figures he may as well. It’s Roger.

Whatever he was expecting, whatever passionate kiss, whatever shove against the wall and tongue in his mouth, it doesn’t happen. Roger keeps his hands buried in the pockets of his hoodie and just passes him into the room. Rafa closes the door in some confusion.

“Hey, Rafa,” says Roger. He’s radiating tension.

“Hey,” says Rafa. He doesn’t know what to do, where to stand. He hadn’t imagined standing much.

“Shit, look. I’m sorry. Do you have like, a bottle of water or something?”

Rafa goes to the minibar and takes out a bottle of Evian. Roger unscrews it and gulps it like it’s whiskey and he’s looking for Dutch courage. “You okay, Roger?”

Roger sets the bottle down on the dining table. “Shit. Okay.” He’s so wound up, Rafa wants to go and take him in his arms but he doesn’t even know if he can. “Sorry I didn’t text you.”

“It’s okay,” says Rafa.

“I was talking with Mirka.”

“Oh.” Rafa’s heart sinks.

“I told her, you know? I told her what happened.” Roger wipes the water from his mouth. “That’s why it’s been so long. I was working up the guts to tell her.”

Rafa almost doesn’t want to ask. “What she say?” he says, because he can’t help it.

“She’s fucking…” Roger sighs. “She’s furious.”

“Yeah, well, I guess…” He doesn’t know what else to say. This is not how he imagined the evening going at all.

“Yeah,” says Roger.

The silence that falls seems impenetrable, as if a pane of glass has been dropped between them. Every touch seems impossible, every tender moment destroyed. Rafa feels sick.

“I told her I wanted to be with you,” says Roger. “I told her, I can’t, I can’t…” He seems lost in it, this argument that he’s still having with her, although she’s rooms away. “I can’t not be with you, Rafa. I can’t not be with you again.”

To Rafa it seems empty. What does it mean if he’s still with her? If he hasn’t broken up with her?

“She told me to go, come over here. Be with you.”

“But, she don’t really want this? She’s angry?”

“Oh fuck, Rafa,” says Roger, running his hands through his hair. “I don’t know. This is insane, right? You and me?”

It is, Rafa knows it is, but he rebels against it. “We can do it,” he says. “Roger. We can do it, no? We are not…” He searches for words, so tangled up in the feeling in his guts that he can barely find what he wants to say. “We are not bad rivals, no? We don’t have the bad feelings.”

“No, we don’t, right?” says Roger, like he’s clinging onto a thread. “We’re not like that. Not like, I don’t know, Pete and Andre or something.”

Rafa is suddenly struck with images of Pete and Andre doing what he and Roger had done. He can’t help but laugh a little. “No,” he says. “No, they are not like us.”

“Right?” says Roger. Maybe he’s relaxing a bit now. A little of the tension gone from his shoulders. “I mean, no one is like us. Are they?”

“No,” says Rafa. The knot in his gut is loosening. “No one.”

That’s when Roger walks through the glass that had descended between them. He comes towards Rafa and holds him, putting his arms around his waist. “I want this too much.”

“Me too,” says Rafa. He lets himself hold Roger, though Roger is like a slip of smoke, something that could disappear at any moment. “I want you, Roger. So much.”

“Yeah,” says Roger, and finally they’re touching for real. Roger becomes solid in his arms, real and physical. “We can do this. I know we can do this.” He kisses Rafa as if to convince himself and Rafa wants him to be convinced. He kisses Roger intensely, nearly two weeks of waiting poured into the passion of it. Roger hasn’t shaved and Rafa can feel it against his skin. The feeling of it is rough and exciting. He tastes it again, the taste of Roger’s mouth, and it’s like elixir.

“Come to bed with me,” he says in Roger’s ear.

Roger says, “Yeah, yeah,” and he follows him into the bedroom, their hands entangled. Rafa’s knees are weak with the suddenness of it all, how it turned from despair to joy in a moment. Everything Roger said about Mirka, every problem, he forgets about it, pushing it to the back of his mind like a lost set.

He pushes Roger to the bed, fully clothed, and he determines to seduce him. To make it impossible that Roger should never return again. The thought is paramount in his mind. He lies over Roger and kisses him again, losing himself in his mouth. The sound of his breath against his cheek. The minute movements of his body, the rise of his hips. Rafa kisses his jaw and his neck, licking his throat. He tastes of salt and cologne. Roger is moaning underneath him, slipping his knee between Rafa’s legs. Rafa pushes down the neck of his t-shirt and kisses his collarbone. Roger’s hands are everywhere. Everywhere he can reach, especially on Rafa’s ass. They pull off their t-shirts and Rafa gasps again at the glorious touch of skin to skin, chests pressed against each other. “Rafa,” says Roger, breathlessly. “I want to see your ass. I just want to look at it. Is that weird?”

He seems so bemused by his own desires. Rafa wants Roger to luxuriate in him, to know his body, to want him. “Don’t worry about weird, Roger.” He sits up and looks down at him, at the breadth of his chest. “So sexy, no? You are.”

“Yeah?” says Roger, smiling softly.

“Yeah,” says Rafa. “So handsome. Your shoulders, I love them.”

“You love my shoulders?”

“Yeah.” He tries to find the words to explain. “So wide, no? And your chest. Then the rest of you, so… narrow.”

Roger actually giggles and squirms, covering his chest with his arms, holding on to his shoulders. “You like that?”

“Sí, Rogi,” says Rafa, taking his hands and unwinding them from across each other. “I do.” He holds Roger’s hands against the sheets and leans down and kisses him again. “I do,” he murmurs against his mouth.

“I like your arms,” says Roger, then. “You’re so strong.” Rafa just grins and flexes a little, showing off. “You could hold me here as long as you want, couldn’t you?”

“As long as I want,” says Rafa, pressing down against him. It’s not true. He wants Roger here forever but Roger can’t stay that long. “But you want to see my ass, no?”

“Yeah,” says Roger. “Yeah, I do. I can’t look properly in the locker room. You’re such a tease, you know. Walking around naked in front of me. So cruel.”

Rafa can’t deny he’d meant to. Even if he hadn’t admitted it to himself then, he knows it now. He’s been continually seducing Roger since they first fucked. Maybe longer than that. “I want you to want me,” he says, unbuttoning his jeans and opening the zip. He pushes down the waistband of his shorts and Roger’s eyes are glued to him, to his hands, to the light dusting of hair from his navel to his groin.

“I do,” says Roger. His voice has become tense. Rafa pretends to accidentally shift against his crotch and Roger inhales sharply. “God, I really do.”

Rafa rolls off him and pushes off his jeans and shorts and peels off his socks, throwing them against the wall. Roger does the same with his own, till they’re lying naked together, side by side. Rafa slowly turns over. “There,” he says. “You look all you want.”

Roger sits up, his breath catching. Rafa watches his face. He knows his ass is hot. He’s been told often enough. Roger’s eyes are wide. He shifts till he’s straddling Rafa’s thighs, looking down at him. Rafa sighs and lays his head against the pillow, just letting Roger take him in. He’s not vain but he’s not an idiot. He knows what will make Roger want him. He feels Roger’s hands on him, both palms laid on his ass, one on each cheek, and he flexes. “Jesus, Rafa,” breathes Roger. “You’re incredible.” He seems to just want to touch him and Rafa is happy to be touched. To be felt. To be admired.

It’s when he feels Roger’s mouth on his ass cheek that he suddenly gets so turned on. His dick gets hard in moments. He can feel Roger’s breath, and then, oh god, his teeth. Biting into him, moaning against his skin. He fights the urge to spread his legs, to reach back and push Roger’s face towards his hole. Too much, too soon, he tells himself, gritting his teeth. Let Roger take his own time. Roger licks into the dip at the base of his spine. “Fuck, Rafa,” whispers Roger. “How did you get like this? You’re so…” He licks again over the curve of Rafa’s ass. “I just want to have you. Have all of you.”

“You can,” Rafa moans into the pillow. “You can have all of me.”

“Can we do it like this?” says Roger, pressing himself against the full length of him and whispering into his ear. His cock is hard, too, nestling into the groove of Rafa’s ass. “Can I fuck you like this?”

“Sí, dios mio, yes, please,” says Rafa. Roger grinds against him when he says please.

“Fuck, you turn me on so much.” This time it’s Roger who reaches into the drawer to take out what they need. Rafa buries his face into the pillow and hears the snap of the bottle of lube, and Roger presses his fingers into him. He’s too eager, trying to push two fingers in, and Rafa spreads as much as he can between Roger’s thighs to let him inside. Roger stretches him to the knuckles. “Tell me how it feels,” he says. “Tell me if I’m doing it right.”

“Anything is good, Rogi.” It’s true; anything is good with him. Anything. “Yeah, do it like that.” Roger is sliding his fingers in and out slowly, scissoring him open.

“I can’t even believe this,” he says. “To be able to touch you like this.” He circles his fingers hard on Rafa’s hole and delves inside again. “I never thought I’d want to… but you make me want to.”

“Good,” says Rafa, meaning it vehemently. “Good,” he says again, and this time he groans the word, the feeling of it, Roger buried in him to the knuckles. “I’m ready, Roger,” he gasps. “Put your dick inside me.” He waits for a second and then says, “please.”

Roger moans in a quiet, throaty way. “Jesus, Rafa.” Rafa hears him picking up the condom and tearing it open, putting it on. He covers himself in more lube, maybe more than he needs, but Rafa loves that he’s being so careful. So caring. They move so that Rafa’s legs are spread and Roger is in between them. He feels Roger rub him with the head of his cock, up and down along the crease of his ass. He spreads further, so impatient to get him inside. And then he does, he pushes in, and Rafa is breathless, suspended, till Roger is balls deep inside him.

“Wait, wait,” says Rafa, the pressure inside him so great, waiting for it to pass. Roger stills above him, so careful. “Okay,” says Rafa, pushing up against him. “Hijo de puta, Roger. Okay, okay, do it.”

And Roger does. God, does he do it. They groan in unison when he moves, and Roger plasters himself against Rafa’s back. He’s too impatient to take it slow, and that’s fine with Rafa. He wants to feel it hard inside him, tilting his ass up to take more, all he can get. “Sí, sí,” he’s saying, “more, harder.” Roger is wrapped around him like an octopus, his arms curled up around Rafa’s shoulders, his face buried in the curve of his neck.

“Yeah, god, yeah, Rafa,” he’s saying, bracing with his knees and going hard and fast. They’re already slicked in sweat. The sounds they’re making together, the sticky sound of their bodies, the sharp, uncontrollable moans. “Is it enough? Is this hard enough?”

“More, more,” says Rafa. He feels like he can’t get enough, can’t feel enough. Roger is pounding into him. Then he kneels back, slipping out of him, and then hikes Rafa up to his knees. Rafa groans in anticipation as Roger pushes back into him and goes to town, Rafa’s face in the pillow, his hands twisted in the sheets.

“Are you gonna come like this?” Roger gasps. “Are you gonna come without touching yourself?”

Rafa nods against the pillow and then tries to say “Sí, yeah,” but he doesn’t even know if he’s articulated it. Roger seems to understand anyway and just keeps at it, as desperate as Rafa is. He feels it building, an insane rush to climax, and he’s out of his mind when he comes. He pushes back, wanting to feel the length of Roger inside him when his muscles clench and he comes gloriously on the sheets.

“Oh fuck, fuck, fuck,” Roger is breathing. Then he just keeps going till he’s coming too. Rafa can feel it, the pressure of it inside, and Roger is curling over him and pushing deep inside him until he lets go, gasping against Rafa’s back. Rafa falls to the mattress with Roger on top of him, both of them impossibly blown.

It’s a couple of minutes before either of them can do anything but catch their breath. The weight of Roger on top of him is bliss. He’s caught exactly where he wants to be caught and held exactly how he wants to be he held. Fucked exactly the way he wants to be fucked. Roger’s breath against his sweaty skin, tiny whimpers when he moves to take off the condom and throw it in the bin. His come is a mess on the sheet underneath him. Eventually Roger heaves a sigh and rolls off him, splayed on the bed beside him. “Fuck,” he says, one arm over his eyes and the other stretched over Rafa’s back. Rafa turns his head to look at him, crossing his arms underneath his cheek. Roger looks out from under his hand and they grin at each other. “That was so good,” says Roger. Rafa’s heart swells. It’s everything he wants Roger to feel.

“So good,” he agrees.

Roger gazes at him for a moment and lets his arm drop. “That doesn’t hurt?” he says.

Rafa can feel it. Not pain, exactly. He’s not sure how to describe it. “It will maybe a little tomorrow,” he says.

“And you don’t mind?”

“Mind?” He traces his fingertips over Roger’s face. He’s still covered in sweat. “I love it.” Tomorrow he’ll feel it during practice, the ghost of Roger’s cock in his ass. He can’t imagine anything better.

Roger rolls back over him a little and traces shapes on his back “How did you get this scar?” he says, touching the mark on Rafa’s spine.

“When I was little,” Rafa says. “Maybe ten years old. I have… had something there. I don’t know the name in English. It needed the ointment. Doctor gave a prescription but the pharmacy, they make it wrong. Put the acid in. Too much acid. Mama put it on me and it burned me.”

“Oh shit,” says Roger.

“Yeah, was bad. Mama said it was smoke. Smoke from my skin.”

“Oh my god.” Roger’s hand stills. “That’s terrible.”

“Took a year to get better.” His mother had cried when she did it. An awful, panicked phone call to the doctor and layers of bandages they had to change for weeks.

“That’s terrible,” says Roger again. He leans down and kisses the scar. He sighs against him. “But I love knowing these things about you. I love knowing you.”

Rafa turns over, holding him against his chest. He understands exactly. This strange place they’re in, this hinterland of something extraordinary. An unfurling of something awful in his chest, something wonderful. Something terrifying. “I love this, too,” he says, running his hand through Roger’s curls, folding him in his arms.

 

He does feel it in practice the next day. He wonders if Roger feels things too, the imprint of Rafa’s hands on his hips, the memory of his mouth on his throat. He wonders if Roger feels loose and gorgeous, the way Rafa himself does. He practices hard and then lies down on the physio bench where Rafa Maymo works on his muscles. He pushes up the towel from Rafa’s ass to work on his glutes and stops. “Rafa,” he says. “There’s a bite mark on your ass.”

Rafa freezes and then laughs into his arms. He has to get up and check it out in the mirror. There’s a purpling bruise in the shape of Roger’s mouth on his left cheek. “I wish I could tell you, Titín,” he says, lying down again.

Maymo shakes his head. “Maybe better not,” he says, before getting back to work. It hurts when he puts pressure on it and Rafa thinks maybe he’s pushing on it a bit more than he needs to, just to hear him hiss through his teeth and then laugh again.

He has to play Moya in the quarterfinals and beats him in three. He bagels him in the final set. “Well, you’ve got my number,” Moya says to him at the net.

Rafa just says, “Yeah, I do,” and they laugh when they hug. After that he and Roger have to keep their distance. There’s too much at stake. They both feel it, the pull of the final, even though they have semis to go. They both win their matches on the Friday, Rafa beating Novak Djokovic and Roger taking down Davydenko in three, with two tie-breaks. It’s a tougher grind of a match than Rafa’s but that won’t make a difference on Sunday. They keep their distance in the locker room on Saturday, just sharing glances across the room before practice. After, though, when they find themselves alone, Roger can’t keep it up.

“Rafa,” he says. “This is gonna be our first final since…”

Rafa knows it. He doesn’t know what it will be like. “Sí,” he says.

“Have you ever had to play someone you’ve, you know…?”

He’s had to play Feli. “Yeah,” he says.

“What was it like?”

“Not the same,” says Rafa. “Not the same as you. Gonna be different, no?”

“Yeah?” says Roger.

“Yeah,” says Rafa. He doesn’t tell him why. It’s not just that they’re Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, though he assumes that’s what Roger is hearing. It’s that he wasn’t falling in love with Feli.

“Anyway,” says Roger. “Good luck.” He walks around the bench that Rafa’s stuff is spread over. “Come here.” He takes Rafa in his arms to give him a hug and Rafa can’t stop himself, he presses his mouth to Roger’s and they kiss as long as they dare, which isn’t long but it’s long enough to leave them a little breathless. They step away when they hear someone else slamming in the door, both of them trying to compose themselves. “That was probably a bad idea,” Roger says in a low voice, though there’s the trace of a smile on his face.

“Yeah,” says Rafa, but he doesn’t care. It’s worth it, just now, to feel Roger’s mouth against his own. To kiss him.

 

It’s a good day for tennis. It’s light and just a little humid and whatever clouds there are float high in the blue sky. Rafa still misses waking up with someone beside him. He imagines Roger waking up in bed beside Mirka and then pushes the thought from his mind. No point dwelling on that today. He begins the day-long process of getting into flow, from warm up and practice and physio to showers and nervous peeing and finally the taping of his fingers by Maymo, who calms him just with his quiet presence. Roger is elsewhere in the locker room going through his routine, a lot less rigid than Rafa’s. He chats casually with his team in a way that Rafa can’t imagine before a Grand Slam final. Not even one he’s won twice.

He walks out onto court behind Roger. He’s aware of the thoughts in the back of his mind--that he’s touched that body, kissed it, been fucked by it--but he lets them just pass by. On court it’s not like it was with Feli, when they’d look at each other with a kind of raised eyebrow, a quiet flirtation. This isn’t flirtation. This is serious.

The crowd is electric. They’re supporting Roger--Rafa is used to the French crowds supporting his opponents by now--but their energy still lifts him. He takes the first set pretty handily 6-3 but he knows the battle isn’t won yet, and Roger proves it in the next set, winning it 6-4. Two more sets, he tells himself. That’s all he needs. He’s still full of energy, no fatigue in his bones. His muscles still sharp, obedient, with only a little pain in his foot and his knee. He’s aware of the pain in that distant way in which he’s aware of all the irrelevancies around him. He wins the third set with one break, 6-3, and feels it now, the inevitable roll towards the end, and the final set is like clockwork. Again one break, 6-4, and he’s the Roland Garros champion for the third time.

The trophy feels so good in his arms. It’s like it was made for him, the size and weight of it just right. Now everything falls back into his consciousness and Roger is like a beacon beside him, lit up in his mind. In the stands he sees Mirka with her sunglasses on, stony-faced and serious, and he can’t help but feel her there too, a sharp point in his awareness. He tries to push it away but it’s so much harder now. “Congratulations, Rafa,” Roger says to him. He says thanks and they hold each other’s gazes for a moment before Roger leaves the court, leaves him to his victory. Roger is gone by the time he reaches the locker room and he guesses it’ll be Wimbledon before he sees him again.

 

Summer 2007
Roger goes to Halle though he pulls out immediately and disappears for a week. Rafa goes to Queen’s and sends him a text. “You okay?” Roger takes two days to reply and when he does he just says, “Just need a rest. See you in Wimbledon. :)”

In Queen’s again he’s knocked out in the quarterfinals. He doesn’t mind so much, though. “You’re finding your feet on grass,” Toni tells him. “You’re looking good, looking sharp. It’s all good news.”

Rafa agrees. His knees feel good and even if he didn’t go quite as far as he’d like, he’s managing the transition from clay pretty well. He goes straight to the house in Wimbledon where he and the team settle in. They go to Waitrose and pick up all their favourite foods. Rafa is aware of the news, of pictures online. He’s waiting to see photos of Roger. He feels somehow at sea without knowing where he is, knowing if he’s close. It’s not a good way to start Wimbledon, maybe, but that’s life. He accepts that that’s where they’ve brought themselves. He opens his phone a hundred times to text him and ask him when he’s coming but then he deletes what he’s written and closes it again. He’ll arrive when he arrives. He’ll be here when he’s here. “Look, Rafa,” says Toni, one morning when they’re alone in the kitchen. “I know you’ve got something going on that you can’t tell me about. I get it. That’s fine. You need your own life, your own secrets. But if there’s anything you’re bothered by, that’s my business. Because that affects your game.”

“I know,” Rafa says. He does. He does know. This distraction is no good.

“You don’t have to tell me what it is. Who gave you that hickey I saw on you in Paris. Who you didn’t want me to see in your bedroom in the mornings.”

Rafa blushes, toeing the floor with his trainer. He rubs his neck though the bruise is gone.

“But you’ve got to tell me if there’s something on your mind you can’t handle.”

The silence that falls between them is heavy. Rafa wants to tell him, he does. It’s absurd to keep secrets from Toni. He’s seen him in bed with Feli, he knew and liked Luca. To hide Roger from him feels like a betrayal. A stupid, childish secret, like Xavi was. “I’ll tell you,” he says. “But not yet. It’s too…” Too fragile. Too new. Too uncertain, while Roger is somewhere with his girlfriend. “Too much right now. But it’s okay, Toni. I swear. I can handle it.”

Toni nods. “Okay,” he says. “I believe you. I have faith in you, kid. I know you can do what you need to do.”

“I can,” says Rafa. “I can win this one, Toni. I was so close last year. I know I can.”

“I know it, too. We’ll do it, Rafael.”

He feels easier after that. He hasn’t told Toni everything but he’s told him enough to take the weight off. When he practices he feels good on the grass. “Hey, Rafa,” says Andy Roddick to him in the locker room. He’s started using the Number One locker room just because he’s got more space there and he likes to spread out. He’s got to know the other guys better, too. “Good to see you in this locker room at last. What did you do, pack the fucking kitchen sink?” Then Andy has to teach him that idiom. One more to remember.

Then after practice on Wednesday he gets a text. “Hey, I’m here.” That’s all it says. He replies, “Looking forward to seeing you.” Roger says nothing to that but they see each other the next day in the locker room. Andy Roddick is there again saying, “Hey, Roger, man, how are you doing?”

“Great, Andy,” he says. He glances at Rafa and there’s something there between them, a frisson, an energy. “How’s it going?”

Rafa turns to pack his bags, finished with practice and physio. Andy keeps talking to Roger so Rafa swings his bag onto his back. “See you guys,” he says, about to leave.

Roger says, “Hang on a sec. Andy, catch you later, yeah?”

Andy gives him a bit of a weird look but then says “Sure thing,” and Roger pulls Rafa aside before he goes.

“Look,” he says. “Come to my house tonight. Can you? I’ll be alone.” He doesn’t say Mirka’s name but it’s clear what he means.

 

He tells Toni he has to go out. It’s easier now that Toni knows there’s something going on. “Have fun,” he says wryly, turning the page of a book he’s reading, and Rafa tries not to be too embarrassed as he leaves the house. He’s trying to look incognito with a baseball cap on his head and a jacket turned up around his jaw and he doesn’t see anyone noticing him as he walks to Roger’s house. It’s twilight and the sky is still light in the west, a yellowy orange light that he always associates with Wimbledon. The place has that fresh green smell of an English summer. Grass season, so alive and vital. He loves the clay, feels it part of him like no other surface, but the summer in Southfields makes him feel like life itself is burgeoning in leaves and blossoms and late-evening midges swarming under the branches of trees.

Roger lets him in when he knocks and closes the door behind him. They kiss like a sigh, like breathing again after too long underwater. “Hey, Rafa,” Roger says, when they pull back.

“Hi, Rogi.” They laugh at the incongruity of it.

“Are you hungry?” Rafa was expecting to be dragged to a bedroom but instead Roger takes him by the hand and leads him to the kitchen at the back of the house. “I have dinner. I mean, I ordered it in. I can’t cook.” He looks a little abashed. Rafa kisses him again.

“What did you order?”

“Pasta, fish, you like that kind of food, right?” On the table under a low-hanging light there are boxes that Roger hasn’t opened yet, but he’s set two places. They sit by the window opposite each other and Roger dishes out pasta and white fish in a creamy sauce and pours water from a Brita filter. “Is it too close to the tournament for a beer?” he says.

“No,” Rafa says. “Is fine, no?”

Roger smiles and gets two bottles from the fridge, uncapping them and pouring them in glasses. Rafa usually drinks beer from the bottle but he doesn’t mind the care Roger is taking. “I just figure, it would be kind of weird if we went out to dinner now, you know?” says Roger, as if Rafa had asked a question. “So I told the team I wanted the evening to myself and, you know, Mirka is taking a break with friends in Somerset until Friday. I thought, we should have dinner together before…” He looks up from under his heavy brows. “You know.”

Rafa does. “Is a great idea, Rogi,” he says. He feels like he’s being wooed. It feels strange, maybe even a little unsettling, but he’s willing to get used to it. They talk about settling into London, about Roger’s withdrawal from Halle.

“I was just tired, you know?” he says. Rafa nods. He knows the feeling, the fatigue in the way clay suddenly rolls into grass and the body must be rushed into a change that should be eased. They talk for some time about the tour, how nice it would be to be able to add a week’s break here and there. “Don’t you like the way clay all comes together, though?”

“I play Stuttgart after Wimbledon,” Rafa points out. “Clay, grass, clay. Not so good.”

“You could always skip it,” says Roger.

Rafa acknowledges that. “Maybe when I’m better on hardcourts,” he says. Roger gets it. He needs to hoard points from the first half of the year because the second is so difficult. He twirls pasta on his fork and eats the fish. The sauce is delicious. They both drink their beers slowly, savouring the one they’re allowed on a week away from competition.

“Hey,” says Roger. “You told me in Paris that you, you know.” He’s playing with his food a bit, taking a sip of beer. “That you’d slept with someone on the tour.”

“Yeah,” says Rafa, slowly.

“Who?”

An expected question. “Feliciano Lopez,” he says.

“Oh,” says Roger. He frowns out the window at the dimming sky and then shakes his head. “I don’t know why I wanted to know that.”

A curl of instinct tells Rafa that it’s jealousy. He says nothing but he’s fine with it.

“Before Luca?” says Roger.

“Sí,” says Rafa. “But now he’s with Fernando Verdasco.”

“What?” says Roger. He seems genuinely surprised, even though Rafa reckons they’re not that subtle. “Are you serious?”

“Yeah,” says Rafa. “Crazy about each other. In love, I think. For real.”

“So what, though, half the Spanish team is gay?”

Rafa gives a grunt of a laugh. “Not Carlos Moya. Or Ferrero. He’s kind of… I don’t know. Maybe don’t like it so much.”

“Ugh,” says Roger.

“Yeah. Don’t know about Marc Lopez. Maybe.” Marc’s had eyes for him once or twice, he thinks. He’s known him forever, though, and it’s only been a couple of moments here and there he’s had the feeling, so maybe he’s wrong.

“Wow,” says Roger. He’s not really eating any more, just a forkful now and then. Mostly he seems to just want to sit and talk. His feet find their way underneath the table and entangle themselves in Rafa’s.

“Anyone you know?” says Rafa. How many other secret lives are lived on the tour? He has no idea.

“No,” says Roger. “Only you.” He looks at him with such dark and lovely eyes, thrown into shadow by the light above. The depth of his brows, the shape of his mouth, Rafa loves these things.

“Good,” says Rafa.

“But maybe I just don’t pay attention,” Roger continues. “I got together with Mirka so young. It’s like nothing outside that mattered, nothing romantic. Until I met you.”

Romantic. Rafa doesn’t care that Feli would laugh at him or that it’s stupid, so stupid to get entangled with Roger like this. He can’t help that his heart soars.

“I met her at the Olympics, you know,” he says. He seems to want to work something out, to disentangle something, so Rafa lets him. “In Sydney. I thought she was so cool. You know she used to do ballet?”

“I didn’t know.”

“Yeah. Then Navratilova said she should focus on tennis so she did. If it wasn’t for her knees, she could have been good. I mean, maybe not Navratilova good, but good. We played together at the Hopman Cup. You know, after the Swiss media had told everyone we were together.” He shakes his head at the memory. “I really didn’t want them to intrude. It felt like it would ruin it. But I guess it didn’t.”

“No,” says Rafa.

“I am in love with her, you know,” says Roger.

Rafa wants to say, maybe there’s room enough for two in your heart, or maybe you’ll fall out of love with her and you’ll fall in love with me instead. He doesn’t say either of those things. “I know,” is all he says.

It seems like that’s what Roger had been working towards saying. Like he had to lay that on the table before they went any further. He aligns his cutlery and finishes his beer. Rafa pushes his chair back and stands up. “Come on,” he says, holding out his hand, but when Roger goes to lead him upstairs he pulls him back, bringing him to the couch. “No one’s gonna come in, no?” he says, and Roger follows him.

He pushes Roger down on the couch and kneels between his knees. Roger stares at him, his fingers curled tensely against his own thighs, as Rafa undoes the fly of his jeans and pulls them down, with his shorts. He takes Roger in his mouth and sucks him till he’s hard. Roger holds his hand in Rafa’s hair just the way Feli used to, but Feli wasn’t this thick in his mouth. Rafa loves the feel of Roger’s cock but he’s got other ideas for tonight. He sucks him till he’s writhing and then pulls off. “Don’t, don’t stop,” gasps Roger.

“I stop,” Rafa says, his mouth wet. “Got something else to show you, no?” He strips off his own shirt and then tells Roger to turn over. Roger’s eyes are a little wild, a little scared, but he does it. He turns to his knees till he’s kneeling on the floor, bent over the couch. Rafa strips his jeans and shorts off him and then pushes his own down over his thighs, pushing his hard cock against Roger’s ass.

“Oh god, Rafa, I don’t know…” gasps Roger.

“Is okay, Rogelio,” he says, pushing up his shirt and kissing his back. “We do nothing you don’t want, I swear. Nothing. Just say stop any time.”

Roger laughs a little. “So you don’t listen when I say don’t stop, but you will if I say stop?”

Rafa kisses him again, hands everywhere, running down his back, over his ass. “Promise,” he says. “Promise.”

Roger relaxes a little against the couch. “Okay,” he says, as Rafa kisses down his spine. He tastes of soap and skin and salt. He grits his teeth and inhales when Rafa kisses the cheeks of his ass and then he lets out a long, low moan when he licks across his hole.

The first time Feli did this to him, he thought he’d explode. The sensation is incredible, impossible to replicate, the feeling of someone’s tongue, someone’s mouth there. But just as much, maybe even more, that first time, it’s the fact of someone doing it. The fact of someone’s face so intimate down there, so close. The feel of stubble in the cleft of his ass cheeks. Behind his balls. The feel of someone’s breath. He wants to give all of this to Roger, wants to make it amazing. Maybe later Roger will beg him to fuck him; maybe he won’t. He doesn’t care. He just wants to render him boneless underneath him, and he’s doing it, Roger’s hips moving against him, seeking out his mouth now, as Rafa opens him up with his fingers. He follows them with his tongue again, delving as deep as he can. Roger makes a guttural, throaty sound against the couch cushions and Rafa keeps at it, making out with his ass. Roger is cursing, gasping, and he puts his hand on his cock. Rafa lets him, letting him jack off while he keeps going, keeps licking him out, keeps working him. When Roger comes he comes loudly, in almost shocked cries against the couch, as if he himself is taken by surprise by the intensity of it. Rafa can feel it against his mouth and around his tongue, the clenching waves, the racking pleasure of orgasm. He can feel it in the way Roger’s hips move, in the way his hand works his cock. When he comes down, he’s breathless, boneless. Done in. Roger slumps against the couch, groaning still. He’s squeezing the head of his cock, come on his hand, come on the couch. “Fuuuuuuck, Rafa,” he says.

Rafa himself is worked up, his own dick leaking, but he doesn’t want to rush it. He wants Roger to ask for it.

“I didn’t even know,” gasps Roger. He looks behind him, looking for Rafa’s face. “I didn’t know it would be like that.”

“Is good, no?” says Rafa, gritting his teeth against taking himself in hand. He wants to hold on to it, to wait.

“So good, god, so good.” Roger laughs against the cushions. “Fuuuuck me,” he says. “Jesus, Rafa. Is it that good? When someone fucks you? Does it feel that good?”

Rafa folds his arm over Roger’s lower back and leans his chin on it. “Better, Rogi. I swear.”

Roger just breathes for a moment. Deep breaths, rising and falling, still curled over the couch. “Then I want you to do it, Rafa,” he says, quiet but determined. “I want you to fuck me.”

Rafa grins, pressing his eyes against his arm. He bites the cheek of Roger’s ass and Roger squirms and turns over underneath him. “Sí, sí,” he says. “Yeah, I wanna do it, Roger.” And god, he does. Not just fuck him but fuck him stupid. Leave him feeling like he’s never felt before. Already he’s come on this couch and flickering in Rafa’s mind is the image of him sitting here during the next two weeks, maybe watching TV, maybe with Mirka, knowing Rafa’s made him come against this couch, and this is where he asked Rafa to do it. This is where he asked Rafa to fuck him.

Roger goes to kiss him but Rafa pulls back. “Should wash my mouth, Rogi, no?” he says, and Roger sighs, smiling, and pushes them both up to standing.

“Come on, then,” he says. He takes Rafa upstairs and into the bathroom. “Use as much as you want,” he says, holding out the mouthwash. The lights are golden here, and Roger stands behind him, arms around him, while he gargles and rinses. Roger laughs against his shoulder.

“Funny?” says Rafa, quirking an eyebrow.

“No, not funny. This is just so strange. Isn’t it?”

In the mirror, Rafa’s hair is sweat-tangled already. His lips red and swollen. “Still can stop, Rogi. Any time.”

“No, no. Fuck. That was so good, I can’t believe it.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” says Roger. He’s half hidden behind Rafa, his face buried against his hair, one dark eye watching both of them in the mirror. “Look at you,” he says, his hands roaming over Rafa’s chest, down over his stomach. He presses a kiss to his neck, then to his jaw. “So beautiful.”

The word is somehow raw, as if he is on display while Roger keeps himself hidden. He sidesteps out of his arms and takes him by surprise, pushing him against the countertop so that now it’s Roger who is visible in the mirror and Rafa behind him. He looks shocked, staring at Rafa in the glass. On one side of the sink are Roger’s things, his razor, his deodorant, his toiletry bag. On the other are Mirka’s, all pink and white and gold. Rafa pushes himself against Roger’s ass and grinds slowly against him, watching Roger’s eyelids flutter. Roger reaches into his bag and hunts around in it, taking out two condoms and a bottle of lube. Rafa smiles at him, biting into his shoulder, and rakes his fingers through the hair on Roger’s belly. “You know,” he says, “Rafa Maymo saw the bite mark you put on my ass.”

Roger snorts a laugh. “Did he? I didn’t even know I left a mark.”

“You did,” says Rafa. “Maybe I’ll leave a mark this time, no?”

Roger holds Rafa’s gaze and smiles as Rafa tightens his grip on his hips. Then Rafa reaches for the lube. He kisses Roger’s shoulder and coats his own fingers, and then reaches down behind Roger and slicks in between his ass cheeks. Roger’s face goes blank as Rafa finds his hole and pushes inside. He’s already wet with spit, loose, so Rafa can just glide in with two fingers. Roger’s eyes flicker closed and when he opens them again it’s not Rafa’s face he’s looking at, it’s his own. It’s like he’s fascinated by himself with Rafa knuckles-deep in his ass. “You ready, Roger?” he whispers into Roger’s ear. He can feel him tighten around his fingers. He just nods, slightly breathless. Rafa’s going to fuck him here, where he can watch himself.

He takes his fingers out and puts a condom on. Roger has his eyes closed, just listening to him, letting Rafa lean his forehead against his back. Roger slides his legs apart but it’s not enough. Rafa lifts one of them up onto the counter and Roger lets him. He hooks his knee on the edge of the sink. Rafa takes hold of his cock, finds Roger’s hole, and pushes in.

Roger’s eyes flicker open, looking from Rafa to himself and back again. Rafa gasps against his shoulder, feeling how tight he is. He takes it slow, so slow, to let Roger get used to him, even though it’s a strain not to just push in and go for it. “Is okay, Rogi?” he murmurs, and Roger nods tightly.

“Yeah, Rafa,” he whispers. “Yeah.”

He’s fully in, his arm locked around Roger’s chest and the other holding up his knee. He’s ready to let loose but he waits till Roger’s breathing steadies. “How does it feel?” says Rafa. His voice is catching in his throat. He wants to hear about every moment, what Roger is feeling, how much he likes it. How much he wants it.

“It feels, oh god.” Roger’s head drops to his chest and then he lifts it up again and falls back against Rafa. “It feels so weird. So good.”

“Weird?” says Rafa, shunting in a little. Roger laughs and gasps at the same time.

“Shit, Rafa,” he says. “Just do it. God. Just fuck me.”

Rafa whines against him and then he does it. He pulls out and pushes right back in, as deep as he can. Roger loses his breath, and once more his eyes are fixed on his own face. Rafa gets it. These are the moments you get to know things about yourself that you never knew before. How you like being held. How you like to be fucked. What that tells you about yourself. He’s the one teaching him that he likes to spread his legs, that he likes to be held in an arm like a steel band. He likes a dick in his ass. And god, how he likes it. He’s already flagging in pleasure, his hands braced against the sides of the sink, his eyes closing and opening heavily, watching it all. Gazing at Rafa’s face, now, watching him bite his lip at the tightness of his ass. “Fuck, Rogi,” he tells him. “So good. You feel so good.” He does. He’s tight and excited. Rafa thrusts in over and over, his calves burning as he fucks him. Roger slumps forward, breaking out of Rafa’s arm, and Rafa takes a hold of his hips again. Roger ends up with his head against the mirror, his eyes screwed tight. It’s easier like this, pulling Roger back against himself. Roger’s breath clouds on the glass, blooming from his gasping mouth. Rafa stretches his legs wider and fucks him harder, looking for the spot inside him that will make him fall apart. “Is that it, Rogi?” he says, angling inside. “Is that where it’s good?”

Roger groans sharply, his leg kicking reflexively, knocking jars and bottles from the pink and gold side of the sink. They clatter to the floor but he hardly notices. “Yeah, yeah,” he gasps. Rafa fucks him harder, hiking up his hips till he’s balancing on his toes on the ground and holding himself up on his arms. It’s not comfortable and for some reason that seems to make it better. Like it shouldn’t be comfortable, this first time. It should be hard and jagged and loud, and it is, it is, and Rafa is desperately happy, the feeling blooming in his chest and the sensation gathering low in his groin. His balls are so tight already, he’s almost ready to come in Roger’s ass, but he wants him to come first. He curls a hand around Roger and grasps his cock. Roger almost squeals. His eyes are screwed shut and Rafa can feel inside him the first tightening of orgasm. He keeps going, as hard as he can, jerking him off in time, until Roger breaks, crying out against the mirror, coming in spasms over Rafa’s fist against the sink. Rafa follows him gratefully, having hung on so long. It rushes through him, blindingly good, and he comes deep inside Roger’s body.

They end up sagged over the sink, trying to catch their breath. Rafa slides out of Roger and ties off the condom, throwing it in the bin under the sink. A flash of Mirka seeing it there, knowing what he’d done; he lets the thought go. That doesn’t matter now. What matters is Roger’s heaving breath below him, his boneless body, his leg falling from the counter to the floor with a thud. “Fuck, fuck,” he’s saying. “Rafa. Rafa.” He pushes himself around so they’re chest to chest, and Roger kisses him with a kind of desperate passion. “I had no idea,” he’s saying against Rafa’s mouth. “No idea.”

Rafa holds him in his arms. “I know, I know,” he’s murmuring. He’s always liked touch after sex. He touches Roger everywhere he can. “You like it, Rogi? You like that?”

Roger laughs a little deliriously against his neck. “Like?” He shakes his head, looking Rafa in the eyes and holding his face. “Yeah, Raf. I liked it. I liked it.” They kiss again, and then Roger staggers with him out to the bedroom. “Come on,” he says. Rafa follows him willingly, tumbling into bed with him. “I really thought it would hurt,” says Roger, curling into him.

“I do it properly, no?” says Rafa.

“Fuck. Yeah you did.” Roger stretches against him, yawning. “You really did.”

He’s so loose-limbed and gorgeous, almost feline. Purring. Rafa knows the feeling. He’s not far off himself and he entwines himself in Roger. Roger soon falls into a doze but Rafa stays awake, holding him. He wants him to wake up like this. Held. He woke up alone after his first time, Xavi gone, and he felt bereft, though he hardly knew how to think it then. He lies in the dark in Roger’s bed, gently stroking his back, listening to his deep, easy breath, until he falls asleep too.

 

“Good of you to show up,” Toni says to him in the morning, when Rafa comes in the door just before ten o’clock. The slate grey dawn of England had failed to wake him up early and when he had finally come to a groggy consciousness, it was after 9am. He’d woken Roger up to say goodbye, no time for anything else in the gorgeous warmth of the morning bed. Roger let him go reluctantly, extracting promises of further meetings whenever they could, though when that would be, they didn’t know. Mirka was due to return, and then there was the tournament. “I assume you’ve had breakfast,” Toni continues. Carlos Costa is loading the dishes from their breakfast into the dishwasher.

“No,” says Rafa. Toni grunts his disapproval and continues to read the Times. Rafa puts together a few slices of toast with Nutella and swallows them down standing up at the kitchen island. “Practice isn’t until 2pm, right?” he says, washing them down with orange juice.

Tony turns the page with a huff. “No,” he says. Rafa ignores him. Toni’s being cranky for nothing. He hates disruptions to routine. Rafa puts his plate in the dishwasher that Carlos Costa left open and then goes upstairs to take a shower. He’s still lit up from the night, his body singing like a tuning fork. He’s ready early for practice, which seems to annoy Toni even further, but Rafa knows how to deal with him when he’s in one of his moods. Smother him in questions, seek out his expertise, till he’s forgotten what he’s bellyaching about. It’s tough enough to concentrate with Roger a few courts away, so Toni is in his element anyway. “Focus, Rafael,” he says, for the hundredth time. Rafa can’t help looking over. “His game hasn’t changed. Just play yours,” says Toni. Rafa almost can’t believe he hasn’t worked it out yet. He’s grateful for it, though. He’s not a fool, he knows Toni will work it out sometime.

He’s walking back from the showers when Roger comes into the locker room. There’s people everywhere, so all Roger does is gaze at him with soft eyes. Novak Djokovic is messing about with a couple of guys nearby. Rafa is fearful of his eyes, always seeing too much, so he just says, “Hey, Rogi,” the way he always does. Roger nods, understanding. He goes for a shower and when he comes back Rafa is packing his bag.

“Hey,” Roger says, leaning close. Djokovic is gone, and even though they’re not alone, it feels like they have some kind of bubble around them here by their lockers.

“Hey,” says Rafa.

“I still feel it,” says Roger. He’s smiling softly, gorgeously. Like he did last night, curled in Rafa’s arms. Rafa is suddenly so turned on. “Can I see you tonight?”

“Is a good idea?” says Rafa. He’s lingering over packing his towels and his shoes. “Mirka is there, no?”

“In your house. There’s…” Roger swallows, suddenly uncertain. “There’s no one sharing your bed, is there?”

“No, Rogi.” He’s already trying to figure out the logistics of it. “But I don’t know… I don’t know how.”

“Tell your team to go to dinner. I can’t stay long, you know? But I want to see you.”

Rafa closes the door of his locker. “We can’t, Rogi. Not tonight. Is too soon, no?”

“Too soon? Why? You think I can’t take it?”

God. He wants to be fucked again. He wants Rafa to bend him over and take him. Rafa’s head is going cloudy with it. “I can’t. Can’t do it, Rogi. My team, they will know. Toni.”

Roger nods slowly. “Oh,” he says. “No, okay. I get it.”

“Sorry,” says Rafa. He zips up his bag. “Soon, though.”

“Yeah, sure, absolutely,” says Roger, and Rafa feels torn as he walks away, back to his own locker. He just smiles a little tightly and says “See you” when Rafa leaves.

 

It’s still so fragile. He comes home from dinner that night and hauls himself upstairs. He flops into bed, a weight in his chest. Ever since he left the locker room he’s been tangled up in thoughts: how can this work? Can this work at all? Roger’s right, there’s no one in his bed apart from him, while Roger shares his every night with Mirka. He used to have that with Luca. Every night, Luca there to sleep with him. Not even the sex, just sleeping. Held in each other’s arms or spread out on opposite sides of the bed, it didn’t matter. They still woke up together every morning, found each other under the duvet, and maybe they had sex, maybe they didn’t. They still had each other.

He turns on his side, one hand wedged under his cheek. Roger has that. Roger has that every night and every day.

He sleeps fitfully and is tired at practice the next day. “Come on, Rafa, kid. Get your head in the game,” says Toni. He says it kindly, in a way that twists Rafa’s heart a little.

“It’ll be fine, Toni,” he says. “It’ll be fine.”

Toni just nods tightly, his lips pursed in that way he has when he knows Rafa is serious. And he is, he is serious. There can be nothing in his head but Wimbledon from now on. Nothing but that trophy. He’ll go to bed and wake up and if he has to do it like a monk, that’s what’ll fuel him. That will take him to the end.

He cuts through the first two rounds, beating Mardy Fish and some guy he’d honestly never heard of before in three sets each. Then comes Soderling.

Robin Soderling has never been particularly friendly in the locker room, but the match starts like any other match. A nod at the net, a warm up under the beaten steel skies of London. No sooner are they ready to play when the rain begins to fall and they are rushed off court back into the locker room. Rafa keeps moving, headphones on, expecting it to pass as it so often does in England. Soderling is in one of the other locker rooms. Roger comes in but just gives him a nod, seeing that he’s focused, and Rafa watches the screens and swings his arms. After a while, though, he starts winding down a little. The rain is a steady downpour and the afternoon is dark. Someone comes in to announce to the players that it will be an extended delay on all courts. The TV is showing throngs of people milling around the grounds, umbrellas catching on each other in narrow walkways. Rafa goes out to find Toni in the players’ lounge. “What are they saying?” he asks him.

“Looks bad,” says Toni. “There’s talk that you may not get back on today.” Rafa nods tightly and sits down. No point expending energy now. They’ll have another warm up if they go back on at this point. Soderling is over by the food service eating a small plate of pasta. Rafa nods but he looks away, as if he didn’t see him. That’s fine. Players deal with concentration in their own ways.

The day is called soon after eight o’clock. As they walk back to the house, the sky clears. “Look at this,” says Rafa, gesturing up at the stretch of blue. “This is stupid, no? We could have played more.”

“They said they’d let us know about tomorrow,” says Toni.

“Pfft,” scoffs Carlos Costa. “What are the odds that Wimbledon will break tradition?”

“Yes, I know,” says Toni.

The eat dinner in a gloomy mood. After half a day spent preparing for a match that never happened, Rafa is on edge. “You want to watch a movie?” says Toni. “Or how about we play darts? Let’s play darts.”

Rafa wins, of course. He’s got to take his energy out on something.

 

He had some idea earlier that he might text Roger tonight. He’s been thinking about it; surely if they waited late enough on Middle Saturday, with no play the next day, he could sneak him in? But now he’s too mulish to do it. He waits, instead, to see if Roger does, lying in bed and flicking his phone on periodically. Well. Every couple of minutes, if he’s honest. Nothing. Nothing, nothing, and again nothing. He slams the phone down on his nightstand and vows not to pick it up again. He only picks it up four or five times more before he eventually falls asleep.

Sunday dawns sunny and bright but word comes from the club: no play on Middle Sunday. “This is ridiculous,” says Rafa, over the long breakfast he has time to take now. “The grass got plenty of rest yesterday, didn’t it?”

“They’re such sticklers,” says Toni.

“They’re crazy,” sighs Rafa. He can’t stop his legs from jigging. Toni tells him to move away from the table because he’s jostling everyone’s coffee.

“You’ve got practice at two o’clock,” he tells him.

“With who?”

“Feli, of course,” says Toni.

“Oh yeah,” says Rafa. He knew that. He expected Feli to be around this morning, actually, but he’d forgotten. “Where is he, anyway?”

“How should I know?” says Toni.

Rafa returns to moody thinking until it’s time to start getting ready to go to the club.

 

“Sorry I missed breakfast,” says Feliciano, when they’re getting ready on court. “I was having Fernando for breakfast, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh my god, Feli,” says Rafa. He puts on his baseball cap and pulls on his wristbands. “Sometimes I just don’t want to know, okay?”

“Oh, stop griping,” says Feli. “Don’t you have someone warming your bed these days?”

Rafa takes a grip of his racket and swings it perhaps a little harder than he has to. “No,” he says. “No, I haven’t.”

Feli shrugs and laughs in a pretty insufferable way. “Not my fault,” he says, grinning.

When they take to the court, Rafa hits hard, and when Feli starts whining about an ache in his shoulder, he hits even harder.

“By the way,” he says later, after two hours of training that’s left Feli sweating and complaining. “What’s Soderling like?”

“That guy you didn’t get to play yesterday?”

“Yeah.”

Feli scratches his belly. “Bit of a dick, I heard.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Generally a cunt.”

“Right,” says Rafa.

“Why, what did he do?”

“Nothing,” says Rafa. Not exchanging a nod in the players’ lounge is hardly much to report.

“Well, beat his ass, Rafa,” says Feli. “The way you beat mine today. That should do it.”

Rafa intends to.

 

Monday is gloomy again, but there’s enough of a day to play. Rafa wins the first 6-4. That’s when Soderling starts being a dick. He’s got an attitude on court and starts picking at his pants like a pantomime, laughing and gesticulating. Rafa is aware that it’s a tic he has, and a foolish one, but there’s no escaping it. Soderling doesn’t embarrass him so much as piss him off. It fuels him to play harder, and he takes the second 6-4, too. Fuck Soderling and his play-acting. He stomps around the court. He’s played a final here. This court is far more his than anyone else’s. Anyone other than Roger.

Soderling takes it up a notch in the third and they’re driven to a tie-break. It’s not where Rafa wants to be, and the weather makes his shots heavy, losing the pop he needs to raise the ball up to Soderling’s shoulder. At 7-6 he hits a forehand that’s called long, he challenges and loses, and at 7-7 the heavens open once more. The clouds look unforgiving as they trudge back into the locker room. Rafa’s limbs feel heavy. Again he nods at Soderling as they go their separate ways towards their different locker rooms, and again Soderling just looks away. Feli is right. He’s an asshole.

What is there to do but go home when play is called and wait for tomorrow’s schedule? He’s on second on Centre, a stupid decision in his mind. But he can’t change it; he waits in the locker room and they get out there eventually, Soderling taking the first two points, winning the tie-break. On to the fourth. The match feels like it is never-ending. Rafa’s nerves are raw even before play is called again, with two sets all. A joke of a match that he should have wrapped up on Monday. He’s vibrating with annoyance when he gets to the locker room.

“Hey, Raf,” says Roger, who’s been out at practice. “This sucks, huh?”

“Yeah,” says Rafa. He recalls a phrase Andy Roddick taught him once. “It fucking sucks.”

“That guy is a tool,” says Roger.

“Yeah,” agrees Rafa.

“Look,” says Roger, taking a towel from around his neck. He’s half naked, wearing nothing but his shorts, and Rafa is so on edge that he’d happily just push him against the lockers and make out with him right now. “There’s something I want to talk to you about. Is it okay if I come around to your house later?”

Maybe Roger is feeling the same way. Rafa raises an eyebrow at him.

“No, seriously,” says Roger, though there’s a little heat in his smile. “There really is something I want to talk to you about. Not here.”

“Really?”

“Really,” says Roger. “Will you be there?”

He seems to be serious. “Sure,” says Rafa. “Come over any time.”

At least the trudge back to the house is a little lighter this evening, through the rain, with the thought of Roger coming over later.

 

“Hi,” he says at the door.

“Hi,” says Rafa. Toni and Benito are in the kitchen putting dinner together, and Maymo and Carlos Costa are watching Mats Wilander on TV. It feels strange to welcome Roger inside, like he’s revealing a secret.

“Roger,” says Toni from the kitchen. Roger goes in and says hi. Rafa’s brain nearly implodes. He can’t get the thoughts from his head of the last time they were together. He does his damnedest not to stare at his ass. Somehow Roger manages to make small talk as if Rafa is not vibrating in his presence.

“Look,” says Roger. “I need to talk to Rafa about something. Players’ stuff. Anywhere we can talk, Raf?” He says it so casually. Maybe he really does have something to talk about.

“Sure,” says Rafa. There’s a TV room through the back of the house. Toni gives him a wink as he takes Roger through. Rafa shrugs at him and hopes it seems like a casual thing, like he’s as curious as Toni is.

“Fuck,” says Roger, when Rafa closes the door. He pins Rafa to the wall. “I literally couldn’t wait another second.” He kisses Rafa hard, his tongue in his mouth with hardly any preamble. Rafa melts into it. “I really do have something to talk to you about,” Roger whispers, pulling back. “But it can wait.” His hands are on Rafa’s sweatpants, pushing them down.

“Yeah, yeah,” says Rafa. Whatever it is, it can’t be more urgent than this. When Roger sinks to his knees, he has to bite his own fist to keep from groaning. Roger takes his half-hard dick in his mouth and sucks him fully hard.

“Fuck, Rafa,” says Roger, taking his mouth away and jacking him with his fist. “I’ve been wanting to do this for days. You didn’t text me.”

Rafa curls his fingers in Roger’s hair, pulling him in a little, and Roger slicks his tongue along Rafa’s shaft. “You didn’t text me, no?”

“You’re the one in the middle of a match,” says Roger, nuzzling against his balls. He seems so hungry for it. Nearly insatiable. He sucks each of Rafa’s balls into his mouth one by one, making Rafa’s knees quake. Through the door comes the clatter of pots from the kitchen; in Rafa’s mind, a flash of pink and gold products landing on a white bathroom floor. Roger swallows him down, sucking off, gasping, the liquid, messy sounds of a blowjob and Rafa’s heavy breath muffled in his own fist. It doesn’t take long. He pitches forward when he comes, his hands interlaced cradling Roger’s head. After he’s finished and Roger has swallowed, he lets him slip out of his mouth and Roger gets himself off in his own hand, panting wetly against Rafa’s hip.

Happiness rises in his chest. Roger feels him tremble with it and looks up at him. They are true co-conspirators now, a bubble of secrecy around them. Smiles and quiet laughter, the stuff of lovers. Roger licks his lips and Rafa falls to his knees to kiss him, the taste still in his mouth. “Was it good?” whispers Roger.

“Yeah, so good,” says Rafa, nodding, his hands holding Roger’s face.

“I need a tissue,” says Roger. His own come is on his hand. Rafa laughs and stands up, pulling Roger up after him. There’s a box of Kleenex on the table and he holds it out to Roger. He pulls up his own sweatpants and tucks himself back in, still wet with Roger’s spit.

“What you want to talk to me about, Rogi?”

“Oh, yeah,” says Roger, as if it had gone clean out of his mind. He wipes his mouth, still grinning. “It’s about the Players’ Council. You should join.”

“What?”

“The ATP Players’ Council. You should put your name forward, join next year. You’d be good.”

“You the president now, yeah?” He knows Roger isn’t.

“I will be,” says Roger. “I mean, I want to be. And I want you there with me. You can be president of the Spaniards.”

Rafa grins. “Don’t know if they all want me to be that.”. He imagines Tommy Robredo’s lip curling at the news, and that’s almost motivation enough in itself.

“Come on,” says Roger. “Think of it. We could, you know. Have meetings. Just you and me. Dinner. No one would ask questions.”

“This is why you want me? Not my amazing council skills?”

“I want all of you,” says Roger, coming close to him, standing against him, pressing his hips against him. “All your skills.”

“Stop,” says Rafa, not meaning it at all. He pulls Roger against him. “Can’t do any more, no? You keep doing this, one blow job not enough.”

“One blow job will never be enough, Raf,” says Roger, low and seductive. Want is still coiling in Rafa’s belly. Roger’s right, this will never be enough. But today it has to be. He kisses Roger again anyway.

From the kitchen comes the sound of plates on the table, the team gathering for dinner. “I got to go,” says Rafa. He sighs heavily against Roger’s neck.

“You’ll think about the Council?”

“Of course. You sell it good, no? Good ideas. Good president ideas.”

“Good,” breathes Roger, nosing against his jaw.

Rafa’s already getting hard again. They have to stop before he makes Roger bend him over the couch and fuck him to jelly. He disentangles himself. “Got to go to dinner, Rogi,” he says.

“I know.” Roger kisses him one more time, deep and breathy, and Rafa has to employ all of his iron will to step back and compose himself before he opens the door.

“Hey,” says Toni. “All good?”

“Sure,” says Rafa, trying not to broadcast how good.

“Good, good,” says Toni. “Roger, you want to stay for dinner?” There’s a dish of pasta on the table with fish and salad.

Roger catches Rafa’s eye. They both know neither of them could stand it. “I better get back to the house,” he says. “But thanks. Another time, yeah?” He slaps Rafa matily on the shoulder.

“Yeah,” says Rafa. Roger says goodbye to the group of people gathered around the table and Rafa shows him to the door. It’s too risky to kiss here where they could be seen from the kitchen so they just look at each other, an intense longing coded into their gaze, one they have to break, eventually.

“Bye,” says Roger, as he leaves.

“See you,” says Rafa, and he closes the door after him. He heaves a deep sigh before he goes back to the kitchen.

Outside it’s begun to drizzle. They eat under warm amber light. Rafa is distracted and everyone thinks it’s because of the match. He lets them think it. He’s grateful for the break from it, from the drawn-out to and fro. Instead his thoughts are swooping in the aftermath of sex. What could ever be enough? It’s almost terrifying, the acknowledgement that neither of them can imagine satiation. Terrifying like being two sets down in a five set match he knows he can still turn around. Terrifying like deep water. Terrifying like great chords echoing in his mind. Terrifying like joy.

 

Win this set, win the match. Win this set, win the match. Overnight his emotions have become like steel in his chest, a determination to get to the final. He grits his teeth and beats Soderling 7-5 in the fifth. He shakes hands coldly at the net and then lets his thoughts flow in the presser. He doesn’t have a lot of good things to say about Soderling. He regrets it a little later, but only a little. “Fuck him,” he says, when Toni raises his eyebrow. “I don’t care.”

Toni shrugs. “Your call,” is all he says. “It’s you who has to share a locker room with him.”

“He doesn’t get into Number One locker room,” says Rafa. He doesn’t care how arrogant he sounds. Not about Soderling.

Next up is Youzhny. Rafa is exhausted; he goes two sets down. But he thrives off this. Secretly, inside, he loves the challenge. Three in a row. A clean task, an easy goal. He knows he can do it and he does. Youzhny is a good guy and looks devastated at the end, but Rafa can’t feel sorry. That’s tennis. Berdych in the quarters is a much easier prospect: three sets. Rafa feels like he’s been through the wringer but this one refreshes him. An easy victory, it’s exactly what he needs. Then in the semi an even easier win: Djokovic is wheezing through the second set and retires when Rafa is 4-1 up in the third. Rafa can’t help feeling contempt for that. Play it out, he thinks. Novak shrugs at him when he calls it. “You had him, anyway,” says Toni. “It was a good win.”

And now he’s going to play Roger in the final.

Saturday night brings him a clarity he’s never felt before. He lies in bed and pictures it. Winning Wimbledon. It’s what he’s always wanted. No longer just a clay-courter. The green slam. He wants it so much. And to play Roger, to win against Roger. It would be pure. It would be real.

It would be hot, too. He’s not going to lie to himself. Seeing Roger on his knees felt like winning.

The day dawns brighter than the week has been so far. There are light, white clouds high in the blue sky but nothing that portends rain. Roger is in the locker room and they nod at each other. Right now it doesn’t matter that the last time they talked Roger had sucked Rafa’s dick. That the tissue with his come in it is probably still in the wastebasket in the TV room in his house. Roger pissed and brushed his teeth that morning in the bathroom where Rafa fucked him. Here they are Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Wimbledon finalists.

It’s the usual warm up, the usual rise into flow. It feels like steel in his mind, like fresh air buoying him up. His limbs are electric. His muscles snap with energy. Three showers and he’s ready. He puts his kit on the way knights might once have donned armour, piece by piece. Everything white, perfect white, except for that slash of lilac. Roger’s wearing white and gold. Rafa pulls on pants, shirt, bandana, wristbands like gauntlets. He double-ties his shoes. Maymo tapes his fingers, saying nothing, just calming him with his quiet presence. He pisses for the last time and takes a racket in his hand, feeling naked without it when someone else is carrying his bags onto court. It’s like a sword in his fist. He wants to cut through this day and emerge victorious, the fighter still standing at the end.

Roger starts with an ace. Then Rafa loses a backhand in the net. Then it’s Roger who nets a forehand. Roger’s serve keeps raining down. Rafa feels he’s got a read on it, but that doesn’t mean he can return it. But then it seems to be the same for Roger. Rafa double faults at 40-0 in his first service game, but that’s just nerves. He reminds himself to be calm but then still nets a forehand. Too much topspin. Calm down, he tells himself. Calm down. It goes to deuce. Roger comes to the net and gets the advantage. Vicious tennis brings them back to deuce. Then Rafa’s advantage, but a mistimed forehand brings them back to deuce. Already it’s a battle. Roger is in beautiful form. This is going to be very tough. A volley into the net and Roger breaks him. 2-0 down. But it’s just the start. Miles to go.

Roger’s shots are like whiplash. He’s down 3-0 before he can even put up a fight. The nerves in his belly are still fluttering. Doesn’t matter, he tells himself, swigging water at the changeover. Doesn’t matter. Keep playing. Be calm. That’s all that matters. The murmur of the crowd is just a backdrop in his mind. The fierce intensity of Centre Court fuels him. He serves again. He’ll win this one. He can win it. He can prove it.

He does. It’s a sweet game, with good serves and net play. He is calm now. Roger tees up to serve and it’s battle enjoined again, and though he can’t return every one, he is heartened. Getting on the board is the first step. Seeing Roger’s first serve go too wide, scared of his lefty forehand, that’s heartening too. Tennis is not just the scoreboard. It’s every moment between two players and every shot here is precious. He wrings all he can out of every one. He passes Roger beautifully and that’s enough to calm him completely. He’s in the zone. He murders Roger’s second serve for a break point in the fifth game but then Roger aces him to deuce. But then Roger’s nerves show in a long forehand and Rafa has the advantage. Then Roger fails to reach a passing shot and it’s back on serve.

The sun is shining and they’re on equal footing, and Rafa sits down with satisfaction. In his box, Toni nods tightly, a quiet approbation that strengthens his core. The energy snaps in his muscles as he runs back to the baseline to serve. He hits a glorious passing shot to get to 30-0 and he’s on, he’s there. He’s really there.

He is aware, in an abstract way, that they are playing beautiful tennis, maybe even a kind of tennis that has never been played before. These thoughts pass through his mind like cirrus high in the blue sky. In the forefront of his mind he’s locked in his body, its shape on the court. The feeling again that he’s in the right place in the right time, fitting the space he has made in the universe. A dynamic universe, stretching and forming itself around him as he fights. And it is a fight. Roger is playing implacably. The match is like a force of nature. The first set goes to a tie-break, which Roger wins 9-7. That’s fine, thinks Rafa. He’s taken him that far, forced him to a tie-break. He can take him further.

He breaks in the second and manages to hold it to win the set. The crowd is electric now. The court is a microcosm of tension, with every shot a held breath, every point an exhalation. Toni is stony-faced in the players’ box, but Rafa can read the shape of his shoulders. He feels them there in his box like fuel to his fire. All of them - Toni, Titín, Benito, Carlos Costa. His family. Every one of them. They come together to be his strength on court. Tennis is a solitary sport but he’s never alone.

Roger takes the third, again on a tie-break. It’s so close, it’s like he’s teetering on the brink of a secret dream. And Roger knows it. He can see that Roger knows it. And somehow it seems like the bubble expands. It’s no longer just him on court, fighting for Wimbledon. It becomes the two of them, locked together.

It’s a dance. A fierce one. One Rafa takes control of in this set and he wrangles it to 6-2. He can see the slump of Roger’s shoulders but he knows that won’t last long. Soon his spine stiffens. It’s Rafa who wilts in the end. He feels like he’s playing against a wall. This is Roger at his best, his greatest. His serve suddenly finds its mark every time. Rafa is broken twice and he just can’t scramble back into the match. It’s gone, it’s over. Roger falls to the grass, ecstatic, and Rafa has lost. He’s lost the final of Wimbledon for the second time. And all he wants to do is stagger to the net on his burning, exhausted legs and hold the only other person who was in this with him. The guy who beat him. He holds Roger and murmurs to him, “Congratulations.” Roger holds him close and says “Thank you,” quietly, it the midst of the clamorous crowds. Then he reluctantly lets go, shakes hands with Carlos Ramos, and collapses into his chair. The sun beats down on his back and suddenly he feels everything that was kept at bay during the match. The ache in his foot and in his knee. The fatigue in his arm and his back. The weight of loss in his chest. He stumbles through his interview with Sue Barker and holds the plate aloft. It’s too light in his hands. It means nothing. Roger is generous in his interview but it’s easy to be generous with a trophy in your arms. Rafa regrets the bitterness, yet that’s what it is.

They say nothing as they stand side by side in front of the photographers. Rafa has run out of words. When he’s eventually allowed to leave, he stumbles into the locker room, dumps his bags on a bench, strips his shirt off and kicks off his shoes. Toni comes in, followed by his father, but he says nothing. He just heads for the showers, his mind in a fog, and turns on the water with his shorts still on. He lets himself sag to the ground and sits there, the weight in his chest overcoming him, and he starts to sob.

“Rafael,” says his father, hunkered down by the door to the shower room. “Come on, son.”

But right now he can’t do anything, say anything. It’s all too much. The awful match with Soderling. The scrambling for every win. Every point, every game, every set. None of them worth it now because he’s walking away empty handed.

“Let him be,” says Toni, his hand on Sebastian’s shoulder. Rafa can see the anguish on his father’s face and some part of him wants to ease it, but more than that, he just needs to cry. He cries and cries till his throat hurts, and he almost feels like he’ll never stop.

“There’ll me more matches,” says Sebastian, still crouched down in front of him. “Rafael. There’ll be more Wimbledons.”

Right now that thought isn’t comforting. He can’t leave his father so haggard, though. So devastated. Rafa crawls forward and falls into his arms, still sobbing, getting water all over his white shirt, and his father strokes his head the way he did when he was a boy.

The sobs eventually subside. He pulls it together to shower and change. “Come on,” says Sebastian. “You played great this whole tournament. By tomorrow you’ll be home in Mallorca and you’ll know that. You’ll be past all this.”

Rafa knows he’s right. He goes into press with his father’s words still ringing in his ears. That’s what he tells them, even if he doesn’t feel it right now. Afterwards, when they get back to the house, he texts Roger. “Congratulations, Rogelio,” is all he says. A text comes back immediately. “Thanks, Raf. I’ll see you soon, yeah? In Canada?”

And like that, some of the pain is wiped away. Not all of it, but enough to let him sleep on the plane. When he gets home, there’s something like contentment in his chest. His father was right. Tomorrow, he’ll be happy.

 

By the time he gets out on the boat with Tomeu, Xavi and Miguel Angel, he can forget the awfulness of loss. Out here on the sea, under the sun, those emotions seem miles away. He lies on the deck soaking in the sun, wishing only that Roger was here. “Come on, Rafito,” says Tomeu, flicking his wet hair at him and covering him in seawater. “Come and swim.” Rafa does. He leaps from the deck into the blue sea, the sand golden beneath him and the sky blue, and he lets himself float. Every tension in him just melts away. Yes, he wishes Roger was here so he could float with him in the sea and eat barbecued prawns in the evening and then he could take him to bed, but it’s alright that he’s not. He’ll be in Canada. He’ll see him then.

“Who are you daydreaming about?” says Xavi that evening, as they drink a quiet beer on Marisol’s deck.

“Shut up,” says Rafa. “No one.”

“That’s a lie,” says Miguel Angel, butting in. “You’ve had this look on your face all day. You’re not subtle.”

“I’m very sneaky,” says Rafa.

“So there is someone,” says Xavi.

Shit. He walked into that one. “No,” he says. “No one. Seriously.”

“Sure,” says Miguel Angel. “Okay, keep your secrets. But don’t think we’re not keeping tabs on you.”

It’s hard not to tell them. It’s hard not to tell everyone. Rafa looks sidelong at Xavi, who’s already distracted by Marisol leaning over to tell him something in his ear. They’re still so strong together. But Xavi is a reminder that Rafa can keep secrets. He’s done it before, he can do it again.

***

“Alright, time for hardcourt,” Toni says to him, once the holidays are over. “Back to work.” They go at it with gusto. Rafa’s feeling good, letting a great Wimbledon--he can feel it now, it was a great run--fuel him towards the second half of the season. He’s hitting cleanly on the blue courts. “Looking good,” Toni says to him, before making him practice serves for twenty minutes. It’s Rafa Maymo who first notices the little pain in his hip. “It’s nothing,” Rafa says.

“Hmmm,” is all Titín says in reply, before he works it hard. It hurts horribly when Maymo digs his fingers in, but while he plays he feels hardly anything. He tells himself he’ll be fine. They fly to Canada midweek.

“When can I see you?” Roger texts.

The team is around him all the time. He doesn’t know how to make space. “Alright,” says Toni, after their first day of practice. “Where will we go to dinner?”

Rafa can’t wait any longer. The whole summer he’s been thinking of him, thinking of his body. He’s wrung himself out more times than he can count, imagining Roger’s dick in his ass. It’s been months since he felt it. He’s at the point that he needs it like air. “I won’t go to dinner,” he says.

Toni looks at him with an eyebrow raised. “You what?”

“Just go without me.”

“Are you feeling okay?” says Benito. They’ve all frozen as if he’s said he’s going to give up tennis for ice skating.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” says Rafa. “Come on, guys. I can’t have one evening to myself?”

“Okay, okay,” says Toni. “Alright. Rafael, if you want time, you can have it. Let’s all leave Rafael to his alone time.” His voice is dripping with sarcasm, but Rafa lets the point stand.

“Now,” he texts to Roger, as the team files out in silent confusion. The room feels strange without them. Rafa really does spend very little time alone on tour and he’s not used to it. He’s not used to noticing the clutter, either, made all the more obvious when he’s on his own in the room; the piles of trainers, the mess of playstation cables, the various cups and glasses and bottles abandoned on tables and the sideboard by the guys when they left. He starts to try to neaten it up a bit, piling the cups and glasses together by the tea kettle and picking up the plastic wrapping from the new Nike shirts he’d opened that day. He finds a laundry bag in the wardrobe and stuffs his dirty clothes into it. He’s just about to tackle the mess around the bathroom sink when there’s a knock on the door. He abandons the bathroom. It’s not like they’re going to do it against the mirror again. Probably.

Roger closes the door behind him as Rafa takes him in his arms. Roger just touches Rafa’s face with his hand. “God, I’m so happy to see you.”

“Me too. To see you.” He kisses Roger’s fingertips. Roger melts against him and kisses him hard.

“I was… look, about Wimbledon. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t, no need,” says Rafa. “Is tennis, no? Win or lose. We play the best tennis.”

Roger grins. “You’re so amazing, you know that?” says Roger, kissing him again. “You’re so fucking amazing.”

“You’re here,” is all Rafa wants to say. “You’re here.” They kiss then for real, making out like teenagers against the wall. He knows why Roger wants to apologise. He’s not sorry for winning, none of them ever are. They wouldn’t be professional tennis players if they ever felt sorry for winning. But that doesn’t mean they’re immune to a friend’s loss. More than a friend, now. Roger has his hands on Rafa’s ass and he’s already groaning a little, little muffled laughs against Rafa’s cheek. It’s giddy and thrilling to fall together again like this.

“Rafa,” says Roger, gasping and pulling back a little. Just his mouth; his hands are still kneading Rafa’s ass. “I want to do to you what you did to me.” He runs his fingertips along the seam of Rafa’s shorts, just to make it obvious what he means. He curls his fingers in under his ass.

“Not gonna say no, Rogi,” he says, rubbing himself back against Roger’s grip. He’d showered with particular care earlier because he’d hoped. He’s gotten himself off to the thought of it more than once.

Roger grins at him and manhandles him towards the bedroom. He needn’t have bothered tidying up, really. It’s not like Roger’s noticing anything around them right now. Still, he’s glad he did it. Maybe Roger will stay with him later.

They strip off their shirts and fall together on the bed. It’s been made up by housekeeping so they don’t bother to try to wrangle the sheets out from underneath the mattress. Roger is touching him everywhere, and he’s got his hands spread out on Roger’s back, loving the breadth of his shoulders and then running his palms down Roger’s sides to the narrowness of his waist. They were designed to be together, Rafa thinks. Roger fits against him so neatly, his hips snug between Rafa’s thighs. Roger grinds against him and even through his jeans Rafa can feel how hard he is. “Turn over,” says Roger, breathlessly, kneeling up and helping him. Pushing him into the pillows as if he already senses how much Rafa loves it. Rafa is aching to be naked and starts pushing at his shorts but Roger takes hold of his hands and holds them down on either side of his head. “No, let me,” he says. He kisses down the dip of Rafa’s spine and starts to slide his waistband down over the curve of his ass, like he’s unwrapping a gift. Like he’s revealing something precious. Delicious. Rafa squirms against the bed. Roger leaves his shorts around his thighs and then presses his hands on the cheeks of Rafa’s ass. “Fuck,” he whispers, running his thumbs down the crease.

Rafa grunts, pushing his ass up. His dick is so hard against the sheets. He wants to be patient, to let Roger take his time, but he wants it so much. He wants it now. “Please, Rogi,” he groans.

“I can’t… I can’t deal with you saying that,” Roger says, his voice caught somewhere in his throat.

“Please, please, please,” Rafa chants, spreading his legs as much as he can with his waistband around his thighs.

“You are too much,” says Roger, and finally, finally Rafa feels his face pressed against him. Low, near where his ass meets his thighs. He’s just exhaling there, the heat from his breath pooling behind Rafa’s balls. Then he spreads Rafa with his thumbs and licks, one tentative stroke of his tongue, and Rafa can’t help but push into it, groaning, undulating up against Roger, dragging his dick against the sheets. “Oh, fuck,” Roger whispers, and then he buries his face for real.

Roger is as adept at reading him here as he is everywhere else so he gets the hang of it quickly. His tongue is fast and practiced, because maybe sex is different with women but this part isn’t so different, and anyway Rafa would get off on anything Roger does to him. He could literally just stand across the room and jerk off and Rafa reckons he’d come in minutes. So this would be bliss even if Roger was terrible at it, and he’s really not. He’s eating him alive. Rafa even feels the drag of teeth now and then, like Roger is genuinely hungry for him, and that’s enough to have him working himself against the mattress, pushing his dick down and his ass up and his mind is going foggy with it. He’s going to come like this, easy. He tries to tell Roger that but he’s not sure if he gets the words out, and next thing Roger sticks his tongue right inside him, a stab and then another with his lips pressed hard right around his hole, and that’s what has him falling over the edge. He strains for it, jamming his hips right up against Roger’s face, and then comes uncontrollably hard against the sheets. Roger just rides it out, his tongue thick inside him, feeling the contractions of his muscles, groaning at the sensation. “Fuck, fuck, Rafa,” he whispers, once Rafa’s voice has subsided and he’s panting against the pillows. Roger kisses him then, little butterfly kisses against his hole, and then he’s pushing himself up, tearing a condom from his pocket and pushing down his own jeans. He slicks himself up with lube. “I’m gonna fuck you now,” he says. Rafa just whimpers as Roger pulls off Rafa’s shorts, spreads his legs, and sinks inside him, so thick and hard, and goes to town.

It hurts a little at first but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care at all. It passes quickly and Roger is all over him, his face buried against the back of his neck and fucking him hard. He lives for being fucked like this, being dominated. Roger’s jeans are rough against the inside of his thighs. He spends so much of his life in fierce control, making himself practice, making himself train, making himself play one more shot and one more shot and one more shot. This kind of abandonment is only available to him here and he revels in it, revels in Roger’s hands twisting in his, holding him down, using him to get off. And Roger is really getting off, his voice ragged in his ear, his breath hot against his cheek. His mouth still full of the taste of Rafa. Roger fucks him relentlessly and it seems like only moments till his voice rises, the panicky sound of imminent orgasm coming from deep inside him, and then he shoves once, twice more, as hard as he can, and he’s coming, Rafa can feel it, pulsing inside him. He wishes for a moment that they didn’t have to use a condom so he could feel the heat, the liquid pooling inside. He wishes Roger would leave part of himself in Rafa’s body. But he’s slick with Roger’s spit, and that’s enough. It’s enough when Roger is sagging against him, blurry and mumbling in the aftermath of orgasm, his grip on Rafa’s hands loosening as he collapses down, his full weight on Rafa’s body. He slips out of him and Rafa can feel him tie off the condom clumsily, then just throw it over the side of the bed. It doesn’t matter. They can deal with it later. Nothing matters right now except this, their bodies so close together that he can hardly feel where he ends and Roger begins.

“Rafa,” Roger is saying, pushing his hands underneath Rafa’s chest to hold him. Rafa rises a little to let him, so they can just lie there with each other, breathing. “You kill me. I don’t know why I want you so much.”

There’s a little part of him that wishes Roger didn’t consider it such a mystery, but the rest of him loves the fact of it anyway. He just feels it filling him up, filling his chest with warmth. He reaches back and holds Roger against him. “So good, Rogi,” is all he can say.

“Yeah,” says Roger, pressing a kiss to his shoulder blade, then to his jaw. “I guess I better wash my mouth so I can kiss you, huh?” he says, then, laughing a little.

Rafa would almost turn and kiss him without it, screw the rules of hygiene, but then Roger disentangles himself and half-rolls off the bed. He’s still got his jeans on but he strips them off and picks up the condom, throwing Rafa a lazy, conspiratorial grin before he heads to the ensuite.

It’s with some effort that Rafa pushes himself off the bed and begins tugging the sheets from underneath the mattress. He doesn’t know what to do with the top sheet, sticky and splotched where he came on it, so he just throws it aside onto the floor. Maybe Roger will stay, maybe he won’t, but Rafa wants him to want to. Until now he’s always stayed, but he knows some day that will end. Roger will come for a quickie and then he’ll have to go back to his girlfriend. He can’t imagine why Mirka would want him back knowing what he’s just been doing, but it’s inevitable. Not tonight, though. When Roger comes back he slides into bed beside Rafa, pulling the sheets around them. “That was something,” he says, before finding Rafa’s mouth with his own in the dim light and kissing him so tenderly, so sweetly, that Rafa thinks his heart will burst. He tastes of spearmint mouthwash. “Did you like that? Do you like it that way?” he says to Rafa.

“Yeah,” says Rafa. Roger has a frankness about sex that makes it easy to talk about it. With Luca they felt their way towards what they wanted without ever really talking about the details. Roger is completely different.

“I like it too,” he says, tucking his head in against Rafa’s shoulder. That’s another thing about him. He loves to touch after sex. In fact, maybe Roger loves touching him any time, but it’s just here he can do it as much as he wants. He thinks of photocalls and the Battle of the Surfaces, stray touches to his arm, his shoulder, his back. Their feet finding each other accidentally in front of banks of photographers. But here touch doesn’t have to be stolen. Roger luxuriates in it, pressing himself against Rafa’s body till he’s half on top of him, kissing his jaw, his neck, his collarbone. It feels like he’s not spent, like he’s got more to give. He takes Rafa’s hand in his and spreads his arm out against the sheet, kissing the inside of his elbow and laughing, pressing his face against Rafa’s bicep. “How am I going to remember that I can’t do this when we’re in public?” he says, nuzzling again against Rafa’s cheek.

Rafa grins at him. “Maybe you forget,” he says. “Maybe we surprise everybody.”

“Mmmm,” says Roger, exhaling against him with a satisfied kind of sound. “Imagine that happened. People would freak out.”

“Sí, I think so.” Rafa starts to kiss him back, little gentle kisses to his temple, his hand cradling Roger’s head. “Rogi--” he starts, and then stops. He feels like he’s treading on delicate ground.

“What, Raf?” says Roger, his voice muffled against Rafa’s skin where he’s pressing his mouth to the notch at the base of his neck.

“No, is nothing. Keep kissing me.”

“Nothing will stop me kissing you.”

Rafa just lets him continue, kissing his chest, licking his nipples. Dragging his tongue along Rafa’s scant chest hair and nuzzling again under his neck. He’s got his hand buried in Roger’s hair. Then Roger stops, lifting his head. “Come on,” he says. “What is it?”

“You stopped kissing me.”

“Just for a moment. I’ll get back to it, I promise. After you say what you were going to say.”

He may as well ask, then. It’s been on his mind. “Mirka,” he says. He feels Roger’s body tense a little, but he’s started now. “What does she think? Of this. Of you here with me.”

Roger drops his head, more to hide his face, Rafa thinks, than to nuzzle into him again. Rafa strokes his back, caressing him, making the moment softer. He’s not asking to be awkward or challenging, or to make Roger choose. He just can’t imagine being Mirka and being okay with sharing.

“I don’t know,” he says, lifting his head again. “I mean, she doesn’t say much about it. She says she doesn’t mind. She says…” This time he’s the one who stops.

“She says what?” says Rafa, nudging him a little with his knee.

Roger sighs. “She says it’s a phase. She says I have to get you out of my system.”

“Out of your system?” Rafa knows the phrase but can’t quite apply it.

“Yeah. Like, she thinks this is about tennis. Like it’s somehow about tennis, the way I want to be with you. She says that’s why she’s not leaving me, because it’s just about tennis.”

Rafa goes a little cold. “Is it?” he says.

“No,” Roger says, in a rush. “No. It’s not just about tennis.”

Rafa nods. “But,” he says then, because they both know the truth. No point in not admitting it. “Is a little bit about tennis.”

Roger looks at him again, sighing and smiling, like he’s glad one of them said it. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s a little bit about tennis.”

It doesn’t feel like an invalidation at all. Mirka has it all wrong. Tennis isn’t just a thing they do. It’s something they are. Tennis is woven through their lives, and it’s woven them together, impossibly bound already by the way they are on court. Their rivalry is already something special. It’s already brought them together and this feels like a natural extension of that, a natural way to be. To come together on court followed by, well. Coming together here, wrapped around each other in bed. He wonders for a moment how natural it is. How many other rivalries went this far. Probably none, he thinks. This one is already unique. Roger kisses him again, tenderly, on the mouth, as if he’s licking the truth into him.

“I want to fuck you again,” he says, quietly, like a promise.

Rafa spreads his legs underneath him and lets his hips settle. They’ll need lube and another condom but for now they just rut gently together, giving each other time. They kiss and kiss and no one could mistake it, if they saw it, for some mindless fuck born of the sexual tension of rivalry. The fact that no one will ever see it makes it better. They’ll face each other on court and no one will ever know that they’ve been here, like this, together.

 

Roger leaves early the next morning, after one more round of barely-awake sex during which they just hold each other in their fists till they climax, and Rafa is down at the breakfast table in the hotel half an hour later drinking orange juice and a rare cup of coffee. He feels like he’s glowing and tries to tamp it down but Toni gives him a look anyway. Rafa asks Benito some question about a headline in the newspaper he’s reading and he’s happy for Benito to go into international finance at some length because, if he’s honest, it bores him and he can’t look thrilled and just-fucked while Benito is explaining the policies of the IMF. After a while, though, he drifts into his own thoughts, remembering the way Roger fucked him so tenderly, so long and slow and gorgeous, telling him how hot he is, how much he loves his body, not letting him touch himself so he comes from deep inside, choking out gasps and covered in blooms of sweat. It’s only by sternly reminding himself that it’s not really the appropriate reaction to an imminent housing crash in Europe that he stops himself from sitting there with a woozy, happy smile plastered across his face.

Nevertheless, Toni somehow arranges it so that they’re on their own in a car going to the club, the rest of the team squashed into a taxi that isn’t really big enough to take all of them, but no one is brave enough to take on Toni’s frown. “Look,” he says, in Mallorquín, so the driver doesn’t understand. “I’m going to ask you a question now. It might be a stupid question. In fact, I hope it’s a stupid question. Okay?”

“Okay,” says Rafa, though there’s a sinking feeling in his gut.

“This secret guy you’re seeing,” begins Toni. He pauses there, just long enough for Rafa to feel a little sick at what’s to come. He hates the way Toni can still make him feel like a naughty child. “Is it Roger Federer?”

Rafa’s world swoops and lists dangerously. He feels a bit like he did in Rome, dizzy and off-kilter. Outside the sun shines too brightly and he’s dazzled by reflections on car windows. He scrambles for an answer. And then, somehow, the world rights itself and becomes calm. He remembers Roger’s mouth on his, the way he kissed him goodbye that morning with such feeling. The way he himself kissed Roger back. It’s a memory that steadies him, and he turns to look Toni in the eye. “Yeah,” he says, simply. “It is.”

Toni’s face draws tight and stony. He looks out the window and his fist curls on his thigh.

“I already know what you want to say,” Rafa tells him. “So stupid, Rafael. Feli is one thing, Roger is totally different. Roger is your rival. You can’t be like this with him. I already know, and I’m doing it anyway.”

Toni’s fist relaxes again, though not reflecting any particular easing of his attitude. He’s forced himself to do it, Rafa can see that much. “Okay,” he says. “If you’re so smart, tell me how this is going to go. How it’s going to go with you and him, and playing him on court.”

Rafa laughs. He actually laughs, and he can hardly believe it himself. “Already played him in Paris and Wimbledon,” he says. “You tell me.”

“Don’t sass me, kid,” says Toni.

“Don’t talk to me like a child,” he replies. In the front seat, the driver’s jaw clenches. He may not understand Mallorquín but he can pick up on their tone well enough. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you what’s going to happen. I’m not going to tell you that this is love, or that it’s more special than tennis.” He doesn’t even know what that might mean, anyway. “But I’m going to tell you that this is mine, and nothing you say will be news to me. Nothing you say will be anything I haven’t already thought of myself. I’ve already thought of all the ways it could go wrong and I’ve decided it’s worth it. It’s worth it.”

“Is it?”

“Yes,” says Rafa, and he says it like ice. Toni says nothing more. They sit in silence till they reach the club and then climb out of the car, slinging on racket bags and gear bags. Rafa stalks into the locker room and gets ready for practice. Maymo tapes his fingers in silence and they file out onto the practice courts, not a word uttered between them. Toni breaks the silence just to bark orders about his serve and his backhand and they leave two hours later, frayed and moody. When they sit around a table in the players’ canteen to have lunch, the others keep up a forced conversation that gets on everyone’s nerves. Rafa doesn’t care. Toni can either come round or not, but nothing, nothing will stop him from kissing Roger Federer again.

 

“Look,” says Toni that night during a strained dinner in the hotel restaurant. “I’ve called Francisco Roig. You remember him?” He says this to Rafa but just glances at him.

“Sure,” says Rafa, shrugging. Francisco is a friend of Toni’s who comes along to his practices in Mallorca now and then. He always has some useful insight, suggesting an adjustment here, a focus on something else there.

“I think he’d be helpful for this part of the year. Maybe he could coach you till the US Open.”

Rafa puts down his cutlery. He’s sick of this whole day. “What?” he says.

Toni holds up his hands, like he’s placating Rafa. Like he’s not the one to bring up a whole new change to the team going into a major. “I just think he’s got an eye for things, and it would benefit you. That’s all.”

Rafa leans back in his chair and crosses his arms. He’s spent the whole day simmering and his blood has reached boiling point. “Really,” he says.

“Look,” says Benito, coughing a little into his napkin and then placing it down on the table. “I’m finished here. I’m going to let you two talk, I think.” He looks around at the others and they silently stand up and leave the table. Titín looks back at him as he goes out into the hotel lobby, giving him a little lopsided smile.

“Toni,” says Rafa. “This is fucked up. What are you thinking?”

He sees Toni flinching at his language but he says nothing. “Now you want to know what I think?”

“Son of a bitch,” says Rafa, pressing his face into his hands. “You are the most difficult person, you know that?”

“I am? I am?” Toni laughs grimly. “Okay, Rafael. Are you even going to ask me why I suspected that you were…” he looks around, aware of clusters of people around them at tables, including other players and their teams. No one Mallorquín or Catalan, but still he avoids the name Roger Federer because anyone would recognise it. “How I knew what was going on?”

“Fine,” says Rafa. “Tell me.”

Toni takes a deep breath, composing his thoughts. Rafa wants to shake him. “At Wimbledon,” says Toni. “I never saw you cry like that.”

“Pffft,” says Rafa. “That was a big deal, wasn’t it? I lost the Wimbledon final. You know what that means to me.”

“You lost it to him, Rafael.” Now Toni looks him in the eye. Rafa can sense the glances towards their table, the tension coiling around them drawing attention. “You lost it to this guy that you’re apparently smitten with.”

“Don’t, Toni.”

“Then I started to notice the way he looks at you. And the way you are around him. That photo on the front of the papers the next day.” He shakes his head. “I didn’t believe it at first, but then he shows up here and suddenly you don’t want to go to dinner with the rest of us. I’m not stupid. I can add up two and two.”

Rafa knows the looks he’s talking about. The way Roger gazes at him with soft eyes, smiling with a bone-deep contentment. Or the way his face sort of collapses when Rafa makes a joke and he laughs so much in an exuberantly joyful way, feeling it fully, because that’s how Roger feels things. Other times he bites his lip, looking at him darkly from under his brows in a way that electrifies his blood. And that photo. That awful, beautiful photo at the net at Wimbledon that Rafa can barely look at because it may as well be a photo of his soul.

***

Francisco Roig arrives in Montreal the next day. He’s ready to go to the practice courts straight away so Toni says they may as well get down to it, and while the team climbs into tournament cars to go to the club, he loads his bags into a taxi to the airport. He gives Rafa a tight nod goodbye before the cars pull out. Rafa can’t deny it’s a more relaxed practice without him. Francisco isn’t a stranger but he’s gentle with his comments, more constructive than critical, and Rafa feels a weight off his shoulders. He’d almost feel guilty about the relief that Toni is gone but then he remembers whose choice it was and it turns into stubborn annoyance. He manages to forget about it when the team eats dinner together in a mood of easy camaraderie that continues into the box as the tournament begins. Roger meets him in the club after he beats Marat Safin in the second round. “Where’s Toni?” he says. There are other guys around so Rafa just says he’s gone home, family stuff. There must be something in his manner that gives it away, though, because later, in his hotel room, he gets a call: “He knows?”

“Yeah,” he says.

“Oh,” says Roger. “And?”

“He’s angry,” says Rafa.

“Right,” says Roger. “I guess that’s not surprising.”

With matches every day, neither of them suggests meeting up. When Rafa is beaten by Djokovic in the semis, he just texts Roger good luck for the final. “See you in Cincinnati,” he says, and Roger replies, “For sure. x”

It’s the first time he’s put a kiss on a text and Rafa feels ridiculous about the soaring happiness he feels when he sees it there.

 

The injury comes on suddenly in practice. It’s the subject of a tense team meeting, and Francisco gets Toni on the phone late in the evening. Toni is groggy, woken up by the call. “Where is it?” he says. “Where in the arm?”

Rafa Maymo tells him it’s in the forearm, from elbow to wrist.

“What caused it?”

“Just overplaying, we think,” says Francisco.

Toni curses under his breath. “How does it feel, Rafael?” he says, then, gently. It’s the first thing he’s said to Rafa since he left Montreal.

“Maybe it’s bad, Toni,” says Rafa. “I don’t know. I want to try to play.”

“What do you think, Maymo?”

Maymo shrugs. “It’s Rafa’s choice,” he says. “I’ll do what I can. It’s worth a shot.”

There’s a pause while Toni considers. “Alright,” he says then. “Play, see how it is.”

He doesn’t suggest coming back. Rafa plays Juan Monaco the next day and has to retire in the second set, the pain too great to struggle through.

***

He goes home for a few days before coming back to New York. Toni comes over to the house in the afternoon and finds Rafa out on the deck. He stands beside him, leaning his elbows on the railing. Whatever staticky gloom Rafa had expected to still hang around him is not there, and instead he seems quick to smile, more solidly happy than Rafa’s seen him in a while. Maybe he’d needed a break.

“How is it?” he says, pointing to the arm.

Rafa shrugs. “It’s fine,” he says. “Nothing serious, I think. Just needs a few days’ rest.”

“Good,” says Toni. He nods and then looks out to sea, his eyes narrowed against the sunlight glinting out on the waves. It’s a balmy day, perfect Mallorcan summer. “Look,” he says. “I need you to explain it to me, kid, okay?”

He says it so gently, Rafa is taken aback. He almost thinks Toni is mocking him, but he can’t find any trace of it in his face. “I don’t know how, Toni,” he says. That familiar tangle of feeling in his chest, that slight choke around his heart. “I don’t know how to explain it.”

Toni nods. “Do you love him?” he says.

It’s as if the afternoon itself has fallen silent, nothing in the air but the hush of the sea and the intermittent chirruping of cicadas. “I don’t know,” says Rafa. It’s a question he feels helpless to answer. “Maybe.”

Again Toni nods, as if he’s filing away information. “We’ll have to tell the team,” he says, then. “They have to know. I know you probably don’t want to hear it, but it’s going to be a factor when you play him. It’s important we’re all on the same page.”

It’s a truth Rafa has been rebelling against from the beginning, but in the quiet of home, it’s something he realises now that he always knew. It would always come to this. “Yeah,” he says, quietly. “Okay.”

Toni puts his arm around him and hugs him, just for a moment. “We can handle anything, you know,” he tells him. “As long as we do it together.”

All of his stubbornness has dissipated. It’s such a relief to have Toni back that Rafa turns towards him and hugs him fully, burying his face in his shoulder, feeling his solid strength. “I know,” he says, before letting go.

“I have some news, too,” Toni says after a moment.

“Yeah?” says Rafa. He pushes the heel of his hand against his eyes, where tears are threatening to well up.

“Lorena is pregnant.” He smiles so broadly, he can’t help it.

“Oh my god, Toni,” says Rafa, and he hugs him again, this time shaking him a little, laughing. “That’s amazing.”

“Yeah,” says Toni, hugging him back. “It is. We only found out a couple of weeks ago.”

“Oh.” Rafa does some calculations in his head. “So was that one of the reasons you went home?”

“Yeah. I should have told you.”

“It’s okay, Toni.”

“Well,” Toni says. He shuffles his feet against the boards of the deck, kicking a stray leaf under the railing down onto the grass below. “Anyway. Come on. Let’s go tell your father.”

“He doesn’t know yet?”

“I wanted to tell you first,” says Toni. He pats him on the head, ruffling his hair, like he did when he was younger. “You mean a lot to me, kid,” he says, Toni’s typical understatement, and Rafa knows it, he does, and the sun is bright and the sea is blue and there’s nothing to feel but happiness.

He spends a couple of days with the gang on the boat and there are celebrations there, too: Maria Francisca has passed her preliminary exams and been accepted into a job placement in an insurance company in Manacor. “It’s actually more interesting than it sounds,” she says, laughing, when he raises an eyebrow at her description of it.

“I believe you,” he says, shaking his head. He’s never had a head for numbers, which is odd, given his father’s facility with his multiple businesses. But he’s happy for Maria Francisca and he hugs her congratulations.

Xavi and Marisol have news, too. “We’re engaged,” Xavi says. Marisol wears the ring and beams, and that evening they go down to the beach near her house and light a fire and sit around it, slowly drinking beers from a cooler and talking and laughing under the stars. Rafa gazes out to sea and feels it revive him deep in his bones.

***

Francisco Roig is happy to sign on as an alternate coach, there to step in when Toni needs to be home when the baby is due, sometime around Miami or early clay season. For now, though, Toni is back with the team for New York. Rafa’s arm is rested and the pain is gone, but the longer-term niggle in his hip is back. Maymo is working on it every day, but it’s still the subject of team conversation. It’s in the suite in New York that they have their first full team meeting, where they talk about the hip, the baby, and Roger Federer.

“Oh,” says Jordi, when Toni tells them. Rafa didn’t want to be the one to say it so Toni does the talking.

“Huh,” is all Carlos Costa says.

“Ohhhhh,” says Maymo. “Is that who left that mark on your…?”

“Yeah,” says Rafa, his cheeks burning.

“Right,” says Maymo. He’s blushing furiously, too. Toni looks from one to the other and then shakes his head, deciding that he doesn’t want to know.

Benito is silent, slightly frowning, as if he’s working it out. “So is he…?” he says, letting the question trail off.

“Gay?” says Rafa. “No, not… No. He’s with Mirka. I mean, as well. They’re really together.”

“Oh,” says Benito. There’s a general sense of puzzlement around the room.

“I know it’s not normal,” says Rafa. He’s trying to speak through a half-choked throat. “But it’s what’s happening.”

It’s Benito who takes a deep breath and says, “Okay.” He’s always matter-of-fact, and this is no different. “Right now this is important info, and we can work with it. It might mean decisions down the line, though, Rafael.”

“Like what?” Rafa hasn’t thought down the line. The future is too difficult right now, because there’s always too much to think of. Mirka, there’s always Mirka.

“You know, let me just think about it.” He seems to share a glance with Carlos Costa, but Rafa can’t decipher it. “For now, the important thing is that you’re obviously handling it and we work from there.”

His pragmatism is a relief to the whole room. Everyone nods, blushes fade, and talk moves back to the hip. Maymo tells them that it’s manageable for now, but it remains a factor, and that night Rafa sleeps on his back with a pillow under his knees to ease the stress.

 

The week before the US Open is always a busy one, full of sponsorship and publicity events. Rafa has obligations with Nike and Babolat. A campaign featuring him wearing Nike has just been launched which makes him feel a little weird to look at, especially a couple of strange photoshops of his face, so he just doesn’t look too much and shakes all the required hands, making small talk over cocktails in the nightclub of a trendy hotel. He talks to Roger at the club on Thursday, and that night, when he tells his team he won’t be going to dinner, no one asks any questions.

It feels so much easier, knowing that they know. When Roger comes to his door there is none of that frisson of secrecy, but he doesn’t miss it. Instead it’s more lovely, to bring him inside and kiss him, knowing they have all the time in the world. Knowing he’s got no secrets from the people around him. “Hi,” he breathes, between kisses.

“Hi,” says Roger, before kissing him again, pulling him close, pressing him against the wall. “God, I’ve missed you.”

“Me too,” says Rafa. “I’ve missed you.” He takes him to the couch and just kisses him for a while. Roger seems content to take it slow. He moans when Rafa slides to his knees and pulls down his sweatpants.

“Are you going to take me to bed?” he says.

“No,” says Rafa, grinning and sucking him. “Not yet.” He leaves him panting while he goes to get what they need.

“You’re killing me!” calls Roger, from the living room of the suite.

Rafa laughs. “Not for long, Roger, I swear,” he says, coming back in.

Roger is so willing to be seduced. He watches as Rafa takes his clothes off, his breath rising in his chest. The evening is gentle, the setting sun raking into the room, and it casts a golden glow over them both. Rafa climbs over Roger on the couch, pressing the lube into his hands, and waits for Roger to get him ready. Roger bites his lip while he does it, gazing up at Rafa’s face and burying his fingers deep inside. When Rafa finally sinks down on him, Roger’s face is the picture of bliss.

 

Afterwards they go to bed, lying together under the sheets. “So Toni knows,” Roger says, taking Rafa into his arms.

“Yeah,” says Rafa.

“And?” prompts Roger. “Was it a problem?”

Rafa shrugs, running his hand over Roger’s chest. “Kind of a problem,” he says. “But not now.”

“Good,” says Roger. “I don’t want to be a problem for you.”

Rafa presses a kiss to his shoulder. “Never a problem, no?” he says. “Not here.” He smiles up at him and Roger laughs in reply. “And you, Rogi? Am I a problem for you?”

Roger squeezes him a little, but something shuts down in him. Rafa can see it. “No,” he says, as if he’s arguing with someone else. “You’re not a problem, Rafa.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s true, as long as Roger wants it to be true. “Hey,” says Rafa. “Toni is gonna have a baby.”

Roger stares, smiling slowly. “Oh,” he says. “That’s amazing news.”

“Yeah,” says Rafa. “Actually, everyone have good news when I go home, no? Xavi and Marisol getting married, Mary has a new job. It was good.”

“Xavi? Your Xavi?”

Rafa laughs a little. “Yeah,” he says, shrugging. “My Xavi. Marisol, she’s the girl he started dating after me.”

“Wow,” says Roger. “Is that weird for you? I mean, are you okay?”

Rafa looks up at him, his hand spread out on Roger’s chest. “Yeah, Rogelio,” he says. “That’s a long time ago, no?”

“Mmmm,” Roger murmurs. “And who’s Mary?”

“Mary is my friend. Maria Francisca is her name. I call her Mary.”

“You love your nicknames.”

“Yeah,” says Rafa, laughing again. “Actually I dated her twice. Two dates, I mean.”

“You dated her?” Roger squeezes him a little, holding him closer. “I didn’t know you dated a girl.”

“Not really, no?” Rafa sighs a bit. “I mean, it was after Xavi. I guess I was a bit angry. Wasn’t good for her. I feel bad about it.”

Roger looks at him for a moment, carding his fingers through Rafa’s hair. “This hasn’t been easy for you, has it? This whole thing.”

“You mean being gay?”

“Yeah,” says Roger. “I guess I do.”

Rafa draws little shapes with his fingertips on Roger’s chest, little nothings, swirls, caresses. “I don’t think it’s easy for anybody,” he says. Roger breathes underneath his touch, a steady rise and fall. “What about you, Rogi?”

“Hmm?” says Roger. “What about me?”

“This. Us. Is difficult for you?”

Roger sighs deeply, as if he’s taking a moment, biting his lip. “No, Raf,” he says eventually. “No. This is… I don’t know how to describe it.” He holds Rafa tightly again, kissing his forehead. “It’s like time out of real life, you know? It’s like my secret no one else ever has to know.”

Something sticks in Rafa’s chest, a kind of lurch of disappointment, but he’ll take it. With Roger, he’ll take whatever he can get.

 

It’s the last night they spend together for some time. Once the tournament starts, Rafa has to focus everything he has on each match and recovery afterwards. His hip is paining him but it’s all he can do to hope it will hold for the duration. He beats a wild card in the first round and it takes him four sets. The second round is easier, but it’s largely thanks to Tipsarevic’s retirement. “I’m glad you beat that little shit,” Feli says. “Did you hear the homophobic crap he’s come out with?” Rafa hadn’t, so Feli tells him, and Rafa isn’t sorry he had to retire. He’s never really happy to win on a retirement but some people he can feel no sympathy for.

“The pain is radiating up from the foot, through the knee, to the hip,” Maymo says when the team gathers for dinner afterwards in the suite. Toni just nods, pursing his lips.

“We knew this was going to happen,” Rafa says, stretching his leg out in front of him. He stares again at his treacherous foot, bare on the cushions. It’s absurd to think this invisible thing is the source of so much pain, but there it is. His special shoes are piled around the room, some already used, some still in boxes. All of this engineering and it still hurts.

“Management plan?” says Jordi.

“Same as always,” says Maymo. “Usual recovery, lots of rest.”

“Right,” Jordi says. “Do we need to revisit the shoe design?”

Maymo shakes his head. “I don’t think so. Like Rafa said, this is to be expected. We just hope it goes away in its own time.”

“In its own time,” repeats Toni. “Okay, kid. That’s what we’re working with. Do what you can.”

He knows Rafa will. He has some relief during the match against Tsonga but afterwards he suffers. He’s limping on his off day, taking it very gingerly in practice. “Shit,” says Toni. “Let’s hope the adrenaline sees you through again tomorrow, huh?”

But it doesn’t. It’s David Ferrer down the other end of the court, and maybe when Rafa is curled over in pain, holding his hip between returns of serve, maybe that makes it easier. But in the end it’s a loss and it hurts as bad as any of the others.

***

He visits Dr. Cotorro twice for treatment during the month at home, and after the second one he’s cleared to play Madrid. Xavi and Marisol meet him in the city. “How is everything?” Xavi asks him, and Rafa just shrugs.

“Gonna try my best,” is all he says.

Maria Francisca comes too. She’s there to help Marisol pick out a wedding dress but Rafa is happy to have her around, coming to dinner with them and telling stories about work. “There’s one guy, he’s obsessed with swans,” she tells them. “He has pictures of them all around his desk. It’s so weird. He even has this swan costume he wore to a party once. It’s like a ballet tutu with a swan head.” That makes everyone laugh. “We always wonder if he wears it when he has sex.”

“Oh my god,” Rafa says.

“Seriously, he’s that weird about them.”

“Why swans?” asks Marisol.

“No idea,” says Maria Francisca. “I guess there’s all kinds, right?”

“I guess,” says Rafa, still laughing a little.

There’s a weird moment later in evening when Benito asks her if she’s dating anyone and she gives him an odd look and says no, and the next day Maymo teases him a bit that he’s too old to ask her out, but Benito says nothing and looks curiously blank. Rafa is too preoccupied to give it much thought. Roger is two courts over practicing and he wants to find a moment to make plans.

It’s becoming part of every tournament now. One or two evenings with Roger, always before matches begin. It’s a ritual: he barely has to say anything to the team and they know to clear out, and then Roger comes to his room. Sometimes it’s early and they order dinner together and take their time; sometimes it’s late and they’ve already eaten and the sex has a slightly desperate edge to it, as if they’re both too thirsty to wait. Always at some point they’ll take the time to map each other out with their hands, with their mouths, every time a rediscovery. By now he knows every sound Roger makes, every tiny thing that will make him gasp, that will make his cock harder, that will make him fuck deeper or, on rare occasions, that will make him beg to be fucked. Sometimes it’s gentle, face to face, and sometimes it’s harder, one or other of them on all fours. Sometimes they’ll wake in the middle of the night and have languourous, sleepy sex side by side, spooning under the sheets till they come in quiet gasps, and then afterwards they hold each other and kiss each other with such tenderness.

 

David Nalbandian beats him in the Madrid quarters. It’s not his hip, but he’s exhausted anyway. From tennis, from pain. He pushes on to Paris, where he has one more night with Roger, and then he makes it to the finals, where once more Nalbandian beats him. David’s game is just too good on indoor hard this end of the season.

And then back to Shanghai.

 

Winter 2007
The city flickers neon lights outside the hotel window, smog blanketing the buildings in an orange glow. Roger comes to the door with a paper bag full of take-out boxes. “I got them from our restaurant,” he says. It feels too risky now to be seen out to dinner together, just the two of them. Anyway Rafa wants to eat curled up with him on the sofa, not having to watch his hands and his feet that they don’t get entangled with Roger’s in public. Not having to stop himself wiping stray sauce from the side of Roger’s mouth and then licking his thumb clean. Roger smiles when he does it.

“I’ll be glad when these tour finals are in London,” he says. “Shanghai is so far to come for just a week.”

“Yeah,” agrees Rafa. He doesn’t hate it, though. Here it really does feel like time away from real life, so far from home, safe in a high-rise hotel. There’s no rush tonight. They eat and then just laze on the couch, half-eaten boxes of food scattered on the table. Roger pulls Rafa against him and they lie there together, fingers entwining.

Roger has a little piece of cotton wool taped to his arm. “I had to do doping today,” he says. Rafa peels off the tape and throws the cotton wool, stained with its pin-prick of blood, on the table. “I had the weirdest feeling. I felt almost like they’d find you in me. Isn’t that stupid?”

Rafa looks up at him. Roger has this expression on his face, like he’s almost in awe, his eyes gleaming in the lamplight. “Not stupid, Rogi,” he says.

“I felt like some computer screen would light up and they’d know. They’d know how…” He seems unable to finish the thought.

Rafa turns over, wrapping his arms around Roger’s chest, and he kisses him. All of a sudden he’s soaring on the thought that Roger is as entangled as he is. Sex that night feels like making love, like there are unspoken promises being made. Roger inhales him as if he’s all that he needs to breathe. He presses kisses to his chest, presses his nose into Rafa’s armpit, the crook of his elbow, the curve of his neck. He kisses his throat and sinks inside him.

The next day, and the day after that, Rafa is loose and easy when he practices. Even Toni notices it and shakes his head, smiling wryly. “I guess whatever you’re doing is working,” he says, slapping him on the back while they’re collecting balls. He beats Djokovic in two sets. It takes three to beat David Ferrer and Richard Gasquet, but no problem, he’ll take it. He feels himself tired but happy, deep in his bones, and at the end of a long season, it’s enough.

On Saturday he plays Roger in the semifinal. He still has a sense that it’s something that should feel strange but it doesn’t. The only change now, he finds, is that he feels like tennis is an extension of what they are together, rather than the other way round.

Roger is still Roger, though, and he beats him in two sets. Easily. 6-4, 6-1. It doesn’t bother him much. Later, when he’s kicking a ball around in the corridor, showing off and doing tricks, Roger gets that look of awe again and tells him, “You’re just like Maradona!” Rafa laughs and they kick the ball around together, so easy in each other’s company, even here among reporters and staff and their own teams. It feels like they’re reaching the heart of whatever this is between them and nothing matters, not loss, not the difficulties of secrecy. “See you in Australia,” Roger says to him as he leaves, and for once Rafa doesn’t mind thinking of the start of the season again so soon.

He sleeps easily on the flight on the way home. The next day, when he’s out in Manacor with the gang, he laughs and dances and he can tell they know there’s something different about him, but they leave him to his contentedness and everything’s perfect, everything’s perfect here under his home sky, having watched Roger win the final and lift the trophy earlier in the day.

“Congratulations, Rogi,” he texts, and he adds three little Xs. Roger does the same when he replies.

***

They have the last team meeting of the year in December, in Rafa’s apartment in Manacor, before everyone scatters for Christmas. They finalise the coming year’s schedule and Carlos Costa runs through a summation of sponsorships and finances. Jordi rubber stamps kits until Wimbledon. They’re toying with the idea of shirts with sleeves, and he has some mock-ups, but Rafa says he’s not sure about it yet so they shelve it till the new year. “The goal for this year,” Toni says, “is to reach No. 1.”

For all his years at No. 2, it’s never been stated so baldly before, but Rafa can feel it. The time is coming. He’s always been more preoccupied with maintaining his No. 2 spot but he can feel that the momentum is with him, despite poor results in the second half of the season. The points are there for the taking and the Olympics increase his chances. He nods decisively in agreement and there’s a general murmur of consensus around the room.

“Which brings us to something we need to discuss,” Benito says. Rafa is surprised. He felt like that was almost the end of the meeting, but Benito coughs delicately and he senses Toni sit back in his chair, as if there’s some big issue Rafa is not yet privy to that has been quietly added to the agenda.

“What?” he says, looking around. Everyone else seems to know what’s coming, expressions being schooled and papers being shuffled.

“Look, Rafael,” Benito begins. “I don’t know if this is something you’re going to want to hear, but just listen for a moment.”

Rafa can feel a knot of discomfort forming in his gut. “What?” he says again. “Just say it, Benito.”

Benito nods. “Okay,” he says. “Look. If you’re going to be No. 1--and I believe you are, or you could be, very soon--then people are going to start asking questions. They’re already asking, in some places. They’re wondering about a girlfriend.”

Rafa stares at him. He feels cold, all of a sudden. “A girlfriend?” he says. He’s been asked in awkward interviews but it’s always like a joke, and he just fobs off the questions with some vague reply or some other joke in turn. “So what? I’ve been asked that before.”

“The thing is, you’re twenty-one. You’ll be twenty-two by the time Roland Garros comes around. It’s just slightly unusual for you not to have a girlfriend by now. I mean, for the public. They’ll wonder.”

“So let them wonder,” he says. He feels a scathing kind of hatred for this sort of thing. The obsession with relationships when it should be about his tennis.

Benito sighs, a little exasperated, but he’s patient. “I know, Rafa, okay? I do know. This isn’t what you became a tennis player for. But there’s a narrative that people want and either we give it to them or…”

“Or what?”

“Or you come out. You tell them.” The room falls deathly silent. “It’s been done, on the women’s side. Amelie Mauresmo, Martina Navratilova. They managed it. But you’d be the first on the men’s. And in your current situation…”

“In my current situation?” He feels the old stubbornness rising.

“If you come out, they’ll ask about a boyfriend. And it’s not like you can tell them that right now either. Then they’ll dig and they’ll probably find out about Luca, and even Feliciano. And then it would be all of you outed. You, Feli, Fernando.” He sighs again. “Maybe even Roger. It’s too big to contain. You understand that?”

Rafa bites his thumbnail, squeezing it between his teeth. “This is bullshit,” he says, tearing it off and flicking it to the floor.

“I’m not denying that,” says Benito. “I’m not, Rafa. It’s all bullshit, I know. But this is part of the life. This is part of being so good at what you do. And the only way to control it is to give people what they want so they don’t go looking for what they don’t need to know.”

Beside him, Toni adjusts his cap. “Come on, kid,” he says. He slaps Rafa’s knee. “You know this is how it’s done. Your uncle had to answer these questions, too, just because he played soccer.”

“Yeah, but--” Rafa begins. Yeah but he was fine, he was straight. This kind of thing is a whole lot easier when you’re straight. “Yeah,” he says again. “I know.”

“It’s shit, I know,” says Toni. “But Benito knows what he’s talking about.”

It’s outrageous, it’s unfair. He leans forward on his knees, his face in his hands. “Straight athletes never have to do this shit,” he says.

Toni puts a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it a little. “I know,” he says.

“Listen, Rafa, if you want to come out, or just do nothing and let people speculate, we’ll support you,” Benito says.

“Nike, too,” says Jordi. “Anything you want, Rafa, we’ll be behind you a hundred percent.”

“We’re there for you, kid,” says Toni. “It’s just I think… well, we all think it would be easier for you just to go this route. Do you need the extra pressure of being the first male player to come out? Do you want the media intruding into that part of your life?”

That’s the point that makes Rafa pause. All the extra interest in his private life, the inevitable endless questions, the way it would come to define him. Maybe pretending to be straight is the easier route. It’s expected. It wouldn’t be a badge he’d be forced to wear at all times. “Okay, I see your point,” he says, eventually. He tries to imagine it, pretending to be some girl’s boyfriend. Probably some model or actress or reality TV star. “So this is what we’d have to do? Get me a fake girlfriend?” It’s so ridiculous. He can hardly believe he’s saying the words.

“I think so,” says Benito.

“Who on earth would do it, though?”

Benito shuffles papers again, pointlessly, since it’s not like he’s got any of this written down. “What about Maria Francisca?” he says, then.

“What?” says Rafa. Of all the names he expected to hear, hers was not one of them. “Mary?” It seems like he’s not the only one to be surprised. Maymo looks up with a jolt.

“Yes. She’s your friend. You’ve known each other for years. People would believe it.”

“Everyone knows we’re not dating!” Rafa says.

“Everyone we know here in Manacor knows. They’re not the people we need to worry about.”

It’s so absurd, Rafa hardly knows how to react. “No, Benito, no,” he says. “That’s crazy. She’d never do it.”

“She might,” says Maymo, quietly.

“What?” Rafa says, yet again. He feels like he’s in some topsy turvy world where nothing is as he expected.

“I’m just saying,” says Maymo, shrugging a little. “She loves you, Rafa. Like a friend, I mean. And she might say yes.”

Again a silence falls in the room. It’s Toni who breaks it. “You think so?” he says.

Maymo makes some strange expression, like he’s weirded out by saying it. “Yeah,” he says. “I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Even if she says no, it’s not like she’d tell anyone.” He looks directly at Rafa. “She’s kept your secrets before.”

Suddenly he remembers their quiet conversations at dinner in Madrid, the way she looked at Maymo in a way he hardly noticed at the time. The way Maymo looked at her. “No,” he says, then, realising the magnitude of what Maymo is suggesting. “Are you dating her?”

“No, no, Rafa, come on,” says Maymo. “I’d tell you if I was.”

“But do you want to?”

Maymo has no answer. He looks embarrassed, quiet, curled in on himself.

“Son of a bitch,” Rafa says, his head in his hands. “This is insane.”

Even Benito’s stoicism has broken a bit. “I wouldn’t have said if I’d known,” he says.

“No, seriously,” Maymo says. “It’s nothing. Really. I think she’s perfect for this. You should ask her, Rafa. She’d be perfect.”

In all honesty, if he has to do this, then he can’t think of anyone he’d rather pretend with than Mary. Maybe they’d even look good together. People would believe it. “Okay,” he says. “Let me talk to her. If anyone’s going to ask her, it has to be me.”

 

He can’t bring himself to do it next time they’re out, but she must notice something strange about him. “Are you okay?” she says into his ear, over the music in the club.

“Yeah,” he says. “Fine. Hey, listen.” She looks at him, waiting. “Are you free tomorrow?”

She shrugs. Tomorrow is Saturday. “Yeah,” she says. “Why? What’s up?”

“Come over in the afternoon, after I’m finished training. I want to talk to you about something.”

She gives him a quizzical look but she says, “Okay, sure.” She takes a sip from her beer. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, absolutely,” he says. “Let’s talk tomorrow.” She nods. Then, just to break the weird mood that’s settled over them, he drags her out to the dancefloor and soon she’s laughing at his awkward dancing and he really does love to see her smile.

 

She comes over late in the afternoon and they sit on the deck, blankets over their knees. The sun is shining palely behind hazy clouds. “Alright,” she says. “You have me a bit freaked out, Rafael. What’s going on?”

He laughs a little, though without any humour. “Look,” he says. “This is the weirdest thing I’m going to ask you. And before I say it, I want you to know you can say no, okay? Like, honestly. I would totally understand.”

“Okay,” she says. “This is weird.”

“Weirder than a swan fetish, maybe,” Rafa says.

She opens her eyes wide, feigning astonishment to cover her real surprise. “Whatever it is, you better ask me quick. I’m imagining all kinds of stuff now.”

“Okay,” says Rafa, taking a deep breath. “You know I’m gay.” She nods. “And I can’t exactly say it. I mean, not on the tour. Not in sports.”

“Right,” she says. She puts her hand on his arm, just a brief touch. She’s looking concerned, now, aware that this is something serious.

“Benito, he says people are talking, asking questions.”

“Shit,” she says. “Yeah, I guess people are going to talk.”

“He says I need a girlfriend,” says Rafa. He’s been fidgeting awkwardly but now he looks directly at her. She looks puzzled. “Like, a pretend girlfriend. Someone people would believe.” He takes a deep breath. “He said, maybe it could be you.”

This time when her eyes widen it’s with real incredulity. She shakes her head, like she’s sure she misheard. “What?” she says.

“In Madrid, when he asked you if you were dating anyone, I guess he was thinking about it then. I had no idea. He said this just a couple of days ago. And Maymo--” he hesitates, watching her, but she betrays nothing at the mention of his name. “Maymo said so, too. That it was a good idea to ask you.”

She seems a little stunned. Out along the shore the waves are breaking against the rocks, and for a moment they’re the only sound. “Wow,” she said. “Of all the things I thought you might want to talk about, this never even crossed my mind.”

“No,” he says. He’s back to fidgeting with his thumbnails, the tassels on the blanket, anything. “I know. It’s so weird. Maybe too weird for you, which is totally fine. I mean that.”

“I just…” She exhales heavily, shaking her head again. “I just need time to think about it.”

“I know. Take all the time you need, seriously. It’s not like it would start tomorrow.”

She’s silent again for a moment, staring out at the sea. “What would it mean? Would I have to start travelling with you, give up my job?”

“No, no,” says Rafa. “I mean, not if you don’t want to. I don’t know. If you wanted.”

“So if I did, you’d have to pay me?” she says. She’s appalled by the idea.

“Oh god,” says Rafa, his head in his hands. “Benito didn’t talk about anything like that. I have no idea.”

“Fuck,” she says. Rafa’s never heard her say that word before. “This is kind of crazy.”

“I know,” says Rafa.

“Is there anyone else on tour who does this?” she asks. “I mean, I know it happens, fake girlfriends in Hollywood and whatever. But in tennis? Do you know anyone?”

“Not really,” says Rafa. “I mean, Feli and Fernando, they get seen with women, make sure they’re photographed, stuff like that. But it’s nothing serious.”

“Huh,” she says.

“And then there’s…” He hesitates. But if he’s asking her this, he’s got to be honest. “Look,” he says. “There’s another reason this is happening now. I mean, there’s a guy.”

“Oh,” she says. “You’re seeing someone?”

The phrase seems pathetically inadequate to describe what he has with Roger, but it will do. “Yeah,” he says. “I am.”

“So you need to be sure they don’t look too hard,” she says.

“Yeah. Exactly.”

Again she’s silent for a moment. “Who is it?”

He owes her the truth. When he’s asking her for so much, it’s the least he owes her. “It’s Roger Federer,” he says.

Her mouth drops open in surprise. “Roger Federer?”

“Yeah,” says Rafa. “For a while now. Since Roland Garros.”

“So Mirka, she’s not his real girlfriend?”

“No, she is,” he says. It’s hard enough trying to explain even without the choking feeling in his throat when he thinks about her. “They’re really together. It’s just that he’s with me, too.”

“Mother of god, Rafa,” says Maria Francisca. “This is… whooof.” She gestures with her hands, something big and nebulous, unable to even articulate how strange she’s finding it all.

“I know. I know this is a lot.”

“It’s really a lot.”

“Yeah.”

The evening is growing darker as the sun fades towards the horizon behind them. Night creeps up from the sea, clouds clearing as the dark rises, the first stars appearing low in the deep blue. Maria Francisca is in deep thought, staring out across the darkening waves.

“Rafael,” she says, after a few minutes. She’s quiet, now. Calm. “You know I’ll do this for you.”

She’s beautiful in the half-light. Her eyes are shining, her hair is falling over her shoulders in its gorgeous curls. If he was straight, if he was ever going to be with a girl, it really would be her. “Are you sure?” he says.

“Of course. If you need this, I’ll do it for you.”

He feels himself fill with gratitude. He loves her in this moment. “Mary,” he says. “To tell you the truth, there’s no one else I could do this with.”

She turns to him, smiling gently. “I know,” she says. “But just let me think about how I want to do it, okay? Let me take some time.”

“Of course,” he tells her. “Of course.”

“Come on,” she says, then. “Tell me about Roger.”

So he does. It’s the first time he tells anybody. He tells her about the night on the rock right here in Porto Cristo, and then how they finally got together in Paris. He tells her how secret they’d been at first and then how Toni figured it out. He tells her what it’s like now that the team know and he doesn’t have to lie, the lovely evenings they spend together, how real it feels.

“Rafa,” she says to him. “You’re in love.”

She’s always had a way of seeing him more clearly than anyone else.

 

2008
By the new year he’s in Chennai, where he plays Carlos Moya in the semifinal, an epic match that leaves him exhausted the next day. He is barely able to move in the final, but he takes heart from the tournament all the same and when he reaches Melbourne he feels recovered. By the time the it starts, he feels like he’s already on a roll. He burns through the first rounds without dropping a set and spends as many nights as he can with Roger. It’s not till the semis that it screeches to a halt, when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, on a hot streak, beats him in three. “These things happen,” says Toni. “Sometimes you just meet someone on fire. Nothing you can do.” After a day or two, when he’s back home, the bitterness of the loss has faded and he concedes that Toni’s right.

Maria Francisca calls him when he’s home and says she’s thought things through. “Let’s meet with whoever it is on your team we need to talk to,” she says. “Not the whole team. Just Benito. Is it Benito?”

He tells her it is and they meet for lunch in Rafa’s apartment in Manacor. “Okay,” she says, once they’ve finished eating. “Here’s what I want to do. I’ll keep my job. I’ll stay working here in Manacor and join you on tour at the weekends and on holidays, that kind of thing.”

Benito nods thoughtfully. “That’s what you want?”

“Yes,” she says. “I can’t give up my job placement. I just got it, and I’m doing really well there. I’m not going to give it up to be a professional girlfriend.” She wrinkles her nose in distaste. “Plus, I have my final exams in June. They’re really important to me.” Rafa can only agree with her. He feels a little proud, even, that the girl he’d want to do this with has her own ambitions and isn’t about to give them up for him.

“Alright,” says Benito. “I suspected you’d say that. So here’s what I suggest. We’ll set something up, maybe around Roland Garros.” At their frowns, he clarifies. “I mean, you’ll go to the beach, somewhere where the paparazzi will see you, and you’ll look like you’re together. Then, when they ask the inevitable questions, we’ll tell them you’re together.”

Rafa and Maria Francisca share a glance. It’s hard to imagine what that will entail, looking like they’re together. For the first time Rafa imagines the strangeness of kissing her in public, holding her hand, all the little touches and gestures meant to signify a relationship.

“And I think we should say you’ve been together a while,” he continues. “Two or three years, maybe. That will give you breathing room.”

“What?” says Rafa. “How come?”

“Well, if we say you’ve just started dating, you’re going to have to really play it up,” he says. “But you two, you have a kind of comfortable look together, like people who’ve known each other for years. If we say you’ve been dating for a while, you’ll just be able to use your natural chemistry rather than having to pretend too much. You know?”

“But everyone knows we haven’t been together,” says Maria Francisca.

“Everyone you know here in Manacor, sure,” says Benito. “But I’m not worried about them. Your friends keep your secrets, Rafa. We can trust them. As far as anyone else is concerned, they’ve seen you hanging out for years, going to clubs together, having a good time. And for the rest of the world, we just make the point that you’re a private couple, that you don’t like being too public, and Rafa, that will mean you don’t have to talk about it too much.”

Maria Francisca nods. “Yeah, okay,” she says. That makes sense.”

Rafa is suddenly struck with the magnitude of this thing. “‘The rest of the world’”, he echoes. “This is so crazy.”

“Look,” says Benito. “We need to be really clear about this. It’s going to be big news. It’s going to be in celebrity gossip magazines, on blogs, everywhere. I know, I know,” he says, when Rafa sighs. “I know you hate this. But that’s what it entails. That’s what we need to do if this is going to work.”

In the silence that falls, Maria Francisca takes his hand, holding it on the table. “I guess we decide now,” she says. “Can we do it?”

He wraps her small hand in his and squeezes, just a little. She’s looking at him with her wide-open eyes. “It means you can’t date anyone else,” he tells her. “You have to give up all that for me.”

“I know,” she says.

“If you can do it, so can I,” he says.

“Then we can do it.”

It’s that simple, in the end. They decide against a contract; Maria Francisca looks horrified when Benito suggests it and says, “No, no way. We trust each other. I’m not signing anything.”

Rafa agrees vehemently. Benito acquiesces. “Okay,” he says. “That means full disclosure if you meet anyone or if anything happens and you want out.”

Maria Francisca nods. “Sure,” she says.

“There’ll be no payment”--again, Maria Francisca looks disgusted at the thought--“but we’ll pay your expenses when you travel as a member of the team. That’s what you are now, so it’s just the same as the rest of us.” She reluctantly agrees to that much, with Rafa’s insistence.

By the time he leaves for Rotterdam, Benito is working out a timeline. Even though he’s as delicate and careful as he can be, Rafa still feels discomfited and can’t quite settle down, and loses in the second round. After that it’s on to Indian Wells.

 

There’s already heat in the dry desert air, though the nights cool quickly. Rafa is staying in a house near the club. During the winter, while everything was going on with Maria Francisca, the players had voted him into the ATP council. “Let’s have our first council meeting, just you and me,” Roger says, when he calls him. “We’ll go to dinner.” Rafa can hear him grinning on the other end of the line.

“Okay,” he says, and they go out to a restaurant in town that Roger likes. Conversation is necessarily stilted as they’re seated and given menus, and while the waiter pours their water. Rafa can’t help but feel exposed, as if the fact that they’re on a date is as obvious to everyone around them as it is to him.

“It’s okay, Raf,” Roger murmurs to him, when the waiter leaves. They’re at a table in a discreet corner where they can be seen but not heard. “I just wanted to do something different, you know?”

“I know,” Rafa says. “I’m okay, Rogi.”

Soon he relaxes, and by the time the waiter brings their food, they’re talking normally, catching up. By unspoken agreement they skirt the things that are too personal, keeping them for later. For now they talk about the normal things that make up life. Travelling, the tour. Novak Djokovic’s win in Australia. “His family, though,” Roger says, making a face that makes it clear what he thinks about the outspoken and raucous Djokovic clan.

Rafa just nods in agreement. He’s been watching Djokovic in his rear view for a while, knowing he’s the one to challenge them at the top, and now his first Major has proven it.

After a while, though, it gets too difficult. Too difficult not to reach out for him, to touch him. “Rogi,” he says, after their main courses have been cleared. “Let’s go somewhere.”

Roger exhales audibly, as if he’s been holding it in. “Where?” he says. “We can’t go to my place.” He doesn’t have to say why. Mirka is there, Rafa knows it.

“My team are in my house,” Rafa says.

There’s a moment of awkward silence. It’s oddly adolescent, to feel so unable to bring someone home. “They know, though, right?” Roger says, quietly.

“Yeah,” says Rafa.

Roger is still holding the dessert menu and he puts it down, crossing his arms on the table. “So, do you think it would be okay?”

The image unfurls in Rafa’s mind. Roger knows his team. They’ve talked, they’ve spent time together. But this time, it would be him bringing Roger home, saying hi, and then bringing him to his bedroom. It’s a strange feeling. A segue from adolescence to adulthood. “Yeah,” he says, with only a little hesitation. “I think it would be okay, no?”

They stroll through the evening chill, the sun a blazing orange behind the mountains. Shadows fall long across the city. There’s hardly anyone around at this hour. They’ve already walked past Roger’s hotel, where Mirka is alone in a penthouse suite. “Look,” says Roger. “I want you to know. Mirka and I, we haven’t…”

“What?” Rafa says, after a silent moment.

“We haven’t slept together in months.”

“Oh,” says Rafa. He’s wondered. “Because of me?”

“Yeah,” says Roger. “Pretty much because of you.” Rafa doesn’t know if he should say how happy it makes him. All this time he’s been haunted, a little, by the thought of them together. “It’s been tough,” Roger continues, and he’s struck with a stab of guilt.

“But she’s here,” Rafa says.

They have to stay silent while a group of people pass them on the sidewalk. They look like fans, turning around to stare as they pass, but maybe something about them stops them from asking for autographs or photos. It feels like there’s a bubble around them and not even the garrulous hellos and shouts of “good luck” can break it.

“Yeah,” Roger says when they’ve passed by. “She’s my team, you know?”

Rafa understands. He can only imagine what it would be like if Toni had left entirely in the summer, because of Roger. “I know,” he says. What he doesn’t understand is why Mirka wants to stay, why she’s so determined to stay part of his team, but he feels like that’s too much to ask. He knows, when they’re this deep, when they’re this good, so much depends on the delicate interconnectedness of a team. Coming and going is never so easy.

When they get to the house, they could just go up the stairs, but it feels too childish, now, after everything. Instead Rafa takes Roger’s hand and leads him into the living room.

The whole team is there watching the Tennis Channel, a rerun of the Australian Open final. “Hi,” says Rafa.

Toni turns around first and sees Roger. After that it’s like a wave of recognition around the room. “Roger,” says Toni, standing up from his armchair. “Hello.”

“Hi,” says Roger. There’s a sense of embarrassment about him, though he is bearing it stoically. He shakes Toni’s hand and then greets the rest of the team. Toni makes some small talk while Rafa stands awkwardly by. “Yeah,” says Roger, agreeing with Toni. “Looks like the conditions will be good.”

Maymo raises his eyebrows at Rafa and laughs a little, and that breaks the tension a bit. “Hey,” says Benito. “Would you like some of these?” On the table is a box of pastries. “Larry Ellison sent them over from the club.” Larry is a regular at the tournament and a member of the club. Benito has speculated that he’s going to make a bid to buy the tournament itself, but for now he’s just the owner of the house they’re in.

Rafa looks at Roger, who shrugs and says, “Sure. We didn’t have any dessert.”

Maymo and Jordi make space on the couch. “This is the final?” Roger asks, watching the TV.

“Yeah,” says Toni. “Last set. What do you think of him?”

Roger chooses a sugared donut with cream and strawberry jam. “He’s got the game,” he says, taking a bite and trying to catch the falling sugar with a napkin. “I just don’t know if he’s got the stamina. Throughout the year, I mean.”

Toni nods. Already Djokovic has a reputation for retiring when things get tough. “I guess we’ll see,” he says.

“I’ll be curious how he does on clay. What do you think, Raf?”

It’s so easy to fall into conversation about tennis. Rafa says the only flaw in Djokovic’s game on clay is his stamina; Roger points out patterns that could be troublesome on grass. Toni nods in agreement. Roger rubs powdered sugar from Rafa’s cheek from his pain-au-chocolat with the back of his fingers and Toni doesn’t blink. No one underestimates Novak; they know he’ll soon be real competition at the top. On TV, he closes the match out easily. No one wants to stick around for a replay of the trophy ceremony. “Right,” says Toni. “Bed for me. I’ll see you in the morning.”

There’s a general shuffling and movement as people get up. Rafa isn’t quite sure what to do; it feels strange to stand up with Roger amongst them all and bring him to his room, so he waits a moment on the couch beside him. He can feel Roger buzzing with tension, too, as they say goodnight and are left alone in a half-lit room, now that the TV screen is no longer filling it with its flickering light.

“Is this weird for you?” says Roger, as the last footsteps go up the stairs and Jordi and Benito file to guest rooms in the back of the house.

“A little, no?” says Rafa.

“Yeah,” says Roger. “I feel like a teenager, about to make out with you on the couch while everyone else is gone to bed.”

“Make out with me on the couch?”

“Yeah,” says Roger, grinning and leaning towards him, taking him in his arms.

It’s so lovely to kiss him again after so long. It’s like tumbling into a sense of belonging. There’s nowhere he feels more deeply content than with Roger. It feels to Rafa like it’s something still burgeoning between them, still growing, becoming deeper and more real with every moment they spend together. It’s only when they’re almost lying on the couch, all entangled with each other and Rafa has pushed Roger’s dinner jacket back over his shoulders, that Roger stops and says, “Come on. Take me to bed.”

Rafa smiles against his mouth and says, “Okay.”

When they get upstairs to the bedroom, they kiss some more against the wall and peel each other’s clothes off, till they’re wearing nothing but underwear. “Come on, Rogi,” says Rafa, whispering to him while Roger kisses his collarbone. “Let’s brush the teeth, no? So much sugar.”

“Are you serious?” says Roger, laughing a little.

“Sí, very serious. No rush, no?” He can feel that Roger’s in a little bit of a rush; he’s already getting hard in his briefs. But Rafa wants to draw it out. It feels so deliciously domestic. It’s like he’s playing a lifetime in his head: going to their bedroom together, brushing their teeth together, and then going to bed together. “Come on.” He extricates himself from Roger’s arms and leads him by the hand into the ensuite.

Roger seems to get it. He wraps himself around Rafa while he opens a spare toothbrush from the pile someone left in the closet under the sink. Roger pushes Rafa’s hair back and hooks his chin over his shoulder. “Is this for me?” he says.

“Sí,” says Rafa. He squeezes toothpaste on it and hands it to him. Roger takes it, but he doesn’t seem to want to let go of Rafa altogether. They brush their teeth standing side by side, skin to skin.

“Now go,” says Rafa. “I need to pee.”

“So I can watch you brushing your teeth but not peeing?”

“You want to watch me peeing?”

Roger laughs. “I’m not saying it would turn me on, but I wouldn’t care if you did.” He spits toothpaste into the sink and then takes out floss, making a performance of it, sliding it between his teeth and watching Rafa with a kind of amused brazenness.

It’s more than he planned, but Rafa doesn’t care. If they’re this close, then he’s happy.

 

Roger takes him to bed and they have sex face to face, Rafa on his back, Roger’s hands gripped in his against the pillows. It’s like the world fades away when they’re together. Five thousand miles from Mallorca and Rafa is home. It’s perfect and beautiful and it’s home. Afterwards, still slick with sweat, Roger pants against his shoulder and holds him like he’s afraid Rafa might slip away. “It’s too good with you,” he says, his voice raw. “How can it be this good?”

“I know,” says Rafa, pawing at his chest, just wanting to touch him. “Sí, I know.”

“You know, it’s so stupid,” says Roger, his voice still blurry with afterglow. “But sometimes I think about if we’d never met and I get so scared. Really, I feel scared. Isn’t that crazy? Like there’s some other world where you didn’t play tennis or I didn’t, where we became, I don’t know, footballers or anything, and we never met. The idea just scares me.”

It’s hard to speak for a moment, his words stuck in his throat. Rafa knows exactly the feeling, the desperate clinging to the tendrils of lives that brought them together. “I feel this, too, Rogi. If it’s crazy, I’m crazy too, no?”

“Oh god,” says Roger, squeezing him, as if he can meld them together by sheer force of will. “I love--” He swallows, breathing harshly for a second. “I love being here with you, Rafa.”

If Roger isn’t ready to say it, he’s not going to force him. Instead he turns over, pressing his mouth desperately against Roger’s, and whispers, “I love it, too. I want this always. It’s all I want.”

Maybe it remained unspoken, but it didn’t remain unsaid.

***

Roger has breakfast with the team the next morning. “So this is what fuels you,” he says, looking at the bagels with Nutella and the orange juice on the table. Benito makes coffee and Roger has a strong one. When he leaves, they have to check the street first, and he pulls his baseball cap down over his eyes. Rafa kisses him at the door. “I’ll see you soon, yeah?” Roger says.

“For sure,” Rafa replies. It’s like the world has changed a little, birds sing more gently, sunlight is more mellow. All the nonsense things that make up love. Roger just nods, smiling, and he ducks out, his collars up. Rafa watches him slip out unnoticed. He’s still in his dinner jacket but the hotel isn’t far away.

“You know it’s a risk,” says Toni, when Rafa comes back to the table. “He could be seen.”

Nothing could dampen his spirits right now, though. “I know,” he says.

“What would you do, if he was?”

Rafa sighs. “I don’t know. I don’t care. Don’t worry about it, Toni.”

“Hmph,” Toni says, but he can see how Rafa’s glowing and even he knows not to spoil a good thing when he sees it.

 

Andy Roddick corners him later that day when he’s back in the locker room after practice. “Hey, Raf,” he says. He’s just out of the shower, a towel wrapped around his waist, and he’s got a glint in his eye. Rafa braces for one of his jokes he’s sure he’ll need explained to him. “I have a theory about you.”

“What, Andy?” says Rafa, grinning at him, waiting for the punchline.

“I saw you practicing out there, a smile all over your face. Someone got laid.”

“‘Got laid’?” he repeats. He can tell from the context what Andy is saying but he’s not going to make it so easy.

“Yeah, got laid. Come on, don’t tell me you don’t know what that means.”

“No idea,” says Rafa. He’s just playing innocent now and Andy can see it.

“Yes, you do,” Andy says, slapping him on the ass. His palm strikes wetly against Rafa’s sweaty shorts. “You know I mean you had sex. Come on, admit it.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” says Rafa, taking his towel and his shower things from his locker.

“Hey, Roger,” calls Andy. Rafa’s stomach swoops a little when Roger comes around from a bank of lockers. He’s wearing sweatpants and nothing else, still towelling his hair dry.

“What?” says Roger, grinning a little.

“Don’t you think little Rafa here looks like he got laid last night? He’s got that glow about him.”

Rafa hadn’t realised Roger was even in the room. It’s hard not to lock gazes with him, not to fall back into recollections of the last time they were eye to eye. In bed, his legs around Roger’s hips, while Roger kissed him and fucked him, holding his hands against the sheet and then, later, letting go and wrapping his arms around Rafa’s shoulders while he grunted against his neck. The memories well up and make him hazy, just for a moment. “Yeah,” says Roger, then. “I think he does. Come on, Raf. Did you get laid?”

This from the man he sucked off in the shower this morning. Rafa grins lazily at him. “Maybe I did,” he says.

Andy lets out a whoop. “I knew it! Come on, who is she, the lucky girl?”

Rafa plays it coy. “I don’t tell, Andy.”

“Please not one of those weirdos who hangs around hotels looking to bang a tennis player.”

Roger laughs. “You think Rafa’s that desperate?” he says. His eyes are gleaming. Rafa can’t help smiling back at him.

“You know something,” says Andy, narrowing his eyes at Roger. “Has Rafa got a girlfriend? I see you guys, always hanging out and talking. You’d know.”

“I know nothing!” Roger protests, all faux-innocence.

“How would he know?” says Rafa, as if the idea is absurd. He carefully folds his things into his bag. He catches Roger’s eye for a split second and even that’s enough to make him blush a little before looking away.

“Woah, hang on a second,” says Andy, looking at him closely now. “Wait, this wasn’t just some lay, was it? You do have a girlfriend! You’re glowing.”

Rafa shakes his head. “No, I’m not.” He stuffs his wristbands into a pocket of his gear bag and balls up their plastic wrappers in his hands.

“You’re in love,” says Andy. “That’s what it is. It’s not that you got laid, Rafa’s in love.” He’s less provocative now, more gentle. “What do you think, Roger?”

Roger is just standing there, his hair at all angles, his towel still in his hands. “Do you think so?” he says.

“Yeah, I do. Come here, you,” says Andy, putting his arm around Rafa’s shoulders and squeezing him. “You’re so cute. I want to meet her, this secret girlfriend of yours.”

“Maybe, maybe,” Rafa demurs, disentangling himself. How Andy is missing Roger standing stock still like a beacon of pure, unadulterated happiness in the middle of the locker room, he doesn’t know.

 

Later, when he’s back in the house, Roger calls him. “Is it too much to come over tonight?” he says, before he even says hello.

“You want to?” says Rafa. He’s in his bedroom rummaging through his suitcase for a clean pair of jeans.

“Yeah, I want to,” Roger says. “It would have to be late, though. I’ve got to have dinner with my team.”

Rafa pulls out a pair of jeans and throws them on the bed, sitting down beside them. “What time?”

“Around eleven. Is that too late?”

“No, Rogi,” he says, softly. “It’s not too late.”

“Good,” says Roger. He’s silent for a moment. “I know it might be too late for, you know. At least for me. But I just want to sleep with you, Raf. I want to wake up with you.”

“I know.” He wants it, too. More than sex, even. Just to wake up with Roger beside him. “Text me when you’re on your way.”

“Okay,” says Roger, and Rafa can hear the smile in his voice.

 

They’re playing FIFA World Cup when Roger says he’s leaving the hotel. Rafa doesn’t notice his phone until the doorbell rings. It’s quarter past eleven. “It’s Roger,” he says, pressing pause.

“Again?” says Toni, looking up from his book.

“Yeah,” says Rafa, and Toni says nothing more till he brings Roger in the door.

Roger looks a little awkward. It’s a little different this time, coming in by himself. He says hello to everyone. “You’re playing football?” he says, shuffling a little. He’s got an overnight bag in his hand and he drops it by the couch.

“Yeah,” says Rafa. “Wanna play?”

“No, I’m okay,” says Roger. He sounds tired. “But I’ll watch you.”

“Okay. Not long,” Rafa says. He makes room for Roger beside him on the couch. Rafa settles in beside him, glancing at him, making sure he’s comfortable. Roger gives him a little nod, a sleepy smile.

“Okay, ready?” says Maymo, who’s got the other controller.

“Yeah, go,” says Rafa. He’s a little distracted, though, by the feeling of Roger beside him. He feels unexpectedly comfortable with him here with his team, but half his mind is taken up with the sensation of his body beside him, the thrum that always exists between them. Maymo scores twice and Roger nudges him, laughing a little. “This gonna go to overtime,” Rafa says. “I gonna beat him.”

“I know you will,” says Roger, grinning.

He concentrates, then, leaning forward and willing the game his way. He’s stuck defending, but then, after about five minutes, he makes a run for it and scores with moments to spare on the clock. He turns to Roger, beaming, but Roger is asleep in the corner of the couch. Not even Rafa’s cry of victory has woken him.

Toni laughs quietly and shakes his head. “He’s tired,” he says. “Come on. Rafa, take him to bed.” He closes his book. “I never thought I’d hear myself say that to you about Roger Federer.” He stands and pats Rafa on the shoulder. “We’ll clear out, leave you to it.”

Rafa looks up at him gratefully. “Goodnight,” he says in a whisper. The team files out to their bedrooms on tiptoe.

He looks so peaceful, it’s a shame to wake him, but Rafa knows how the body can react to strange sleeping positions. He leans in and whispers, “Roger, wake up.” When that has no effect, he kisses him on the cheek, and then he feels him smile.

“Did you win?” Roger murmurs.

“Yeah,” says Rafa. “Come on. Bed.”

“That sounds amazing,” says Roger. Rafa stands and pulls him up after him. Roger kisses him softly. “I need to sleep.”

“I know,” says Rafa. “Me too. Let’s go.”

There’s no flirtation when they brush their teeth, just a quiet sense of comfort. Roger climbs into bed naked so Rafa forgoes his usual shorts and t-shirt and curls in beside him, pressing his face to Roger’s shoulder. “Night, Rogelio,” he says, kissing him gently.

“Night, Rafa,” says Roger, already half asleep.

Rafa has never been someone who sleeps all night, not since he was a boy and he woke to the sound of the sea. Now he wakes up to the tides of Roger’s breathing. Roger sleeps so soundly, so completely. Sometimes he dreams, twitching a little, and then snuffling and wrapping his arms around Rafa. It’s hard to imagine, after this, sleeping alone. It’s hard to wonder if this is how he sleeps with Mirka, wrapped around her like this. All he can do is take every moment of it he gets.

Still it’s Roger who wakes up first in the morning, nuzzling against him in the warmth under the duvet.

“What time is it?” Rafa murmurs.

“Early enough,” Roger says. He kisses Rafa’s mouth, his throat, his chest. “Are you awake?”

Rafa laughs a little, still groggy with sleep. “I am now,” he says.

“Good,” says Roger, sliding down under the duvet. He kisses over Rafa’s belly and then presses his face to Rafa’s cock. “I’m gonna blow you.”

“Mmmm,” Rafa groans, as Roger takes him in his mouth. There’s no way he’d rather wake up. Roger sucks him till he’s hard and then he keeps going, the duvet rising and falling over his head. On and on he goes, till his jaw must be aching, till Rafa has one fist wound in the sheets and the other hand threaded in his hair, floating in warmth and the wetness of Roger’s mouth. He comes with a choked cry, spurting against Roger’s tongue, and Roger swallows it down.

“Fuck,” says Roger, crawling up over him, his hair a sweaty, tousled mess and his mouth red and wet. “I never thought I’d love sucking cock.”

Rafa is still blurry and blissed out underneath him. “So good, Rogi,” he manages to say.

“I’m going to fuck you now,” he says, and he reaches for the lube. He coats his fingers in it, leaning back, the duvet bunched behind him, watching his own fingers slide inside Rafa. He’s mesmerised by it, his face flushed, and he’s breathless already. Rafa could curl up in the sensations, he could disappear right here, nothing left of him but what Roger wants.

“You’re not having sex with Mirka?” Rafa says then, through the haze.

Roger looks up at him, suddenly serious. “No,” he says. “Not anymore.”

“Then no condom,” says Rafa. “Just fuck me, Roger.”

Roger exhales thickly. “Okay,” he says. “Oh fuck, okay.” He bends Rafa’s legs back and takes a hold of his cock, lining it up and then pushing inside. “Oh my god,” he gasps. “This is the first time…” The first time to feel Rafa opening up directly around him. The first time to feel skin against skin. Rafa can feel how wet Roger is, pushing into him. He can feel how soft his skin is, how hard his dick is, and it’s perfect. Roger is so silent, his breath held as he pushes in as far as he can go. “Oh my god,” he gasps, when he’s balls deep.

“Hijo de puta, Roger,” Rafa gasps. He’s got his hand on his dick, willing himself to get hard again, to be ready to come again when Roger gets there inside him.

Roger is leaning up on his arms, beginning to work himself in and out, in and out, in glorious waves. “Yeah, yeah,” he’s saying. “Touch yourself, Rafa. I want to watch you.”

Rafa does, watching Roger’s brow furrow as he looks down at Rafa’s hand on his cock, then at the stretch of his throat when he throws his head back and just feels it. Rafa splays his other hand against Roger’s chest, where sweat has matted the hair, and then slides it up to his face and draws Roger’s eyes back to his own. “I gonna come again,” he slurs up at him.

Roger smiles and leans back, holding Rafa’s legs in a wide V, and just takes in the spread of him. He’s grunting with the effort, thick, guttural sounds from his throat, driving deep. He’s hitting Rafa inside just where he needs it, this time really him, really his skin, the head of his cock. Rafa’s hard again, so turned on. It doesn’t take long before he can feel his orgasm building in his balls, and he jerks himself harder, faster, gritting his teeth, letting Roger see him wring whatever’s left out of himself, and then he feels it, he feels the tightening inside him, the edge of his climax, and he’s coming, and Roger’s coming, both of them together, the kind of perfect synchronicity he thought he could only dream of.

Roger sags when he’s done and Rafa’s stomach is covered in come, but Roger collapses on him anyway. He’s panting against Rafa’s throat, his body still jolting a little with aftershocks as he pulls out. “Fuck, fuck,” he’s whispering.

Rafa feels laughter bubbling up inside him, and he can’t help it, he’s laughing and grinning and cradling Roger’s head in his come-strewn hand. Roger catches it then, too, and he laughs as well, giggling, almost, still snug between Rafa’s legs. “Oh, Rogi,” Rafa sighs. “I wanna wake up like that every day, no?”

“Shit, yeah,” says Roger, lifting his head a little to look at him. He’s covered in sweat, his morning stubble dark on his chin. “We’re such a mess,” he says, his eyes bright, his grin so wide, and they lie there boneless in each other’s arms.

Roger doesn’t stay for breakfast. “I can’t,” he says, after they’ve showered. He’s brought a change of clothes, sweatpants and a hoodie, so he’ll look to anyone who might see him like he’s just come out of the hotel that morning and is heading back. “I can’t sit with your team after that, Rafa. Shit. I’ll just laugh.”

Rafa gets it. Ever since they rolled out of bed they’ve been lit up, hardly able to keep their hands off each other still. “Will you come tonight?” he says.

“Do you think we can risk it? Don’t you have a match tomorrow?”

The tournament seems unreal, here in the sunlit bedroom. Rafa has to remind himself that he’s here to play. “Yeah,” he says. “I forgot.”

Roger takes him in his arms, kissing him. “Maybe it’s too risky,” he says.

“Yeah,” Rafa concedes.

“But I’ll see you soon. Okay? I’ll see you really soon.”

He doesn’t know when, but he knows neither of them can last long without this, not anymore.

 

They have to last. They’re playing on alternate days, and they both roll through the first rounds with relative ease, but they both know they have to focus. Andy Roddick still teases him good-naturedly in the locker room, asking him when his girlfriend is going to show, and Rafa thinks of Maria Francisca at home, how surprised Andy’s going to be in a couple of months. They’ve already timetabled it, a set up on the beach in Mallorca sometime during clay season, a statement from Benito telling the gossip magazines they’ve been dating since 2005. Maria Francisca seems to find it funny at this point, texting Rafa with pictures of couples in gossip blogs frolicking in the sea together, saying, “Should we try this?” Rafa laughs when he sees them, shaking his head at the ridiculousness of it. He calls Mary to joke about it and she laughs down the phone.

Rafa beats Tsonga in the fourth round in a match sold as a big rematch of the Australian Open semifinal, and it’s a tight match that lives up to its billing. James Blake also proves to be a challenge, though less of one; he beats him in the quarters in three manageable sets. There’s a day off before the semis so that evening they head out to a restaurant in town, one recommended by Larry Ellison. It’s a fancy kind of place with linen tablecloths and heavy silverware, where dinner jackets are required, so they turn up looking neat and are ushered to a large table in an alcove. It’s not till he’s sitting down that Rafa notices Roger and his team in another. Roger looks over at him and waves; Rafa waves back. It’s a practised kind of friendliness between them in public now. The unlikelihood of a friendship between two rivals serves as camouflage enough.

Dinner is a relaxed affair, where the chef is happy to prepare the fish and pasta Rafa likes to eat during competition time. He can’t help but feel aware of Roger so close by, though. He watches him now and then from the corner of his eye, watches him chat with his team and with Mirka. She’s sitting beside him, sipping from a glass of white wine, and she seems as comfortable with him as ever, touching his shoulder, making comments meant only for him. Toni notices him looking and gives him a small shrug, his lips pressed together. Rafa shakes himself. This is what it takes. He knows that much.

After main course he excuses himself to go to the bathroom. It’s dark-walled and dimly lit with spotlights over the urinals, where he pees, then tucks himself back in. It’s while he’s washing his hands that Roger comes in behind him.

“Hey,” he says, looking around, checking that the stall doors are all open. They are. They’re alone.

“Hi,” says Rafa. He’d had some idea that Roger might follow him in. Roger smiles at him, that broad, gentle smile that Rafa basks in.

“Nice match today,” says Roger.

“Thanks,” says Rafa. Roger had a walkover, with Tommy Haas pulling out due to injury. Roger looks so good, his white shirt open at the collar, his dark jacket hanging on his broad shoulders. He always looks like a model.

“Look,” says Roger, glancing back at the door and stopping himself moving forward, taking Rafa in his arms. “Can I come over tonight? I know it’s the semis tomorrow, but I want to see you.” He swallows. “I need to see you.”

“Yeah,” says Rafa, without hesitation. “Come over.”

“Okay,” says Roger. “I will.” He looks almost relieved, like Rafa might have said no.

It’s Rafa, then, who covers the distance between them. He presses Roger against the door to hold it closed and kisses him. Just a short kiss, but profound and full. “You can come anytime. You don’t have to ask, no?”

“Okay,” says Roger, grinning. “Okay.”

They don’t need to say anything more. Rafa leaves the bathroom and emerges back into the hubbub of the restaurant. When he sits down, Toni catches his eye and raises an eyebrow. Rafa shrugs, smiling, and Toni nods.

So later that evening, when Rafa hangs around in the living room but declines to play when Maymo puts on FIFA World Cup, they get it. Rafa watches, but when the doorbell rings he just says goodnight and the team nod and wave him away.

This time it’s not too late, and they wait till after to brush their teeth. “I can’t believe I have a toothbrush at your house now,” Roger says. In the mirror, Rafa just grins at him through white toothpaste foam. “Don’t do that. It’s obscene.” Roger presses against his back, pushing him against the sink. “It makes me want to go again.”

Rafa just laughs and spits and rinses his mouth. “Oh no,” he says, heavy with sarcasm. “That’s a terrible thing.”

Roger squeezes him, laughing against his shoulder. “Hey,” he says. “Andy Roddick is convinced you have a girlfriend.”

Rafa rinses off his toothbrush and drops it in a glass by the sink. “Soon I will,” he says, still looking at Roger in the mirror.

“What?” Roger tightens his hold a little.

“Come on,” says Rafa, taking him by the hand and leading him back to bed. He starts to explain as they climb in together, side by side. He crosses an arm over Roger’s chest and leans his chin on it. “Benito, he say to me, I need a girlfriend. The press, they’re starting to ask questions.”

“Oh,” says Roger, as if he’d never even thought of the possibility.

“He says, best way to stop questions is to answer them. So I gonna have a girlfriend.”

“Seriously?” says Roger. He is taken aback. “Who? Like, a real girlfriend?”

“No, no, Rogi,” says Rafa. “My friend Mary. Remember I told you about her? She’s gonna pretend.”

Roger’s eyes widen in surprise. “You’re going to have a fake girlfriend?”

“Yeah,” he says. He’s become so used to joking with Maria Francisca about it, but suddenly the strangeness of the arrangement becomes apparent to him again. “I know it’s weird.”

“No, no,” says Roger, though he’s obviously a little weirded out by it. “I mean, if that’s what it takes.”

“Mmm,” says Rafa. There’s something awkward in the air between them now, as if this relationship is an issue, even though it’s not real.

“I guess,” says Roger, then, “I guess it’s kind of like me and Mirka now, huh?”

They don’t really talk about Mirka, not beyond Roger saying they weren’t sleeping together. Rafa can feel the tension in him, mentioning her. “What’s it like, you and her?” he asks, tentatively, not really wanting to stir up anything Roger doesn’t want to talk about.

Roger shrugs. “It’s weird. It’s like, some things haven’t changed at all. She’s still my best friend. She’s amazing, you know? She’s so strong, always with me, always helping me. But we’ve just stopped… I don’t know.” He sighs heavily. “I feel like something has to break, but I don’t know how it can, as long as we continue like this. And she says she doesn’t want to leave.”

“Does she still think you have to get me out of your system?” The phrase has stuck with him. It sounds like the things people whisper about doping, getting drugs out of your system before you’re tested. Maybe she thinks they can read Rafa in Roger’s blood. Maybe she thinks he’s a drug.

“I don’t know,” Roger says. “We don’t talk about you.”

“But she knows where you are right now?”

“Yeah,” he says, squeezing Rafa tightly again. “She knows where I am.”

Rafa presses the backs of his fingers to Roger’s jaw, just touching him, tracing the shapes of his face. It does feel a little like a drug, being with him. He can’t imagine a headier addiction than this, having Roger here in his bed, falling asleep and waking up in his arms.

 

Whatever it is, it gets neither of them through their semifinal matches. Rafa is beaten by Djokovic and Mardy Fish sees Roger out of the competition, both of the matches coming in at 6-3, 6-2. They both go straight to Miami, where the weather is already muggy. Miami is always slightly unreal, and the sound of Spanish on the streets, as different as it is in pronunciation, makes Rafa feel oddly at home in this strange place. This time he and Roger are staying in the same hotel near the club, and this time Roger turns up on the second night they’re there. “Do you mind?” he says, and Rafa shakes his head and kisses him.

“I said, in Indian Wells, you don’t have to ask, Rogi,” he says.

“You meant it?” Roger says, as if he really doesn’t know.

“Of course, of course.” He can’t reassure him enough, so he tries to do it with his body, to take Roger to bed and remind him over and over again how happy he is to have him here.

And so Roger starts to come over every night. Every night he brings his shaving bag and he takes it back in the mornings but he leaves a toothbrush in the glass with Rafa’s.

“So this is how it’s going to go, Rafael?” says Toni, one evening before dinner.

Rafa is pulling on a shirt to go eat in a sushi restaurant in town. “Yeah, it is,” he says. He’s almost bracing for an argument, pulling his shirt down around his waist, when Toni takes a hold of him and hugs him.

“I’m glad you’re happy,” he says, gruffly, and Rafa is too surprised to say anything for a moment.

Then he laughs and says, “I am, Toni, I am.” Toni presses a kiss to his cheek and then turns around. “Come on,” he says. “Let’s go to the lobby.”

And he is happy. He’s ridiculously happy, knowing that every evening Roger is going to be in his bed. He gives him one of his spare keys and more often than not Roger is already there when he gets back from the restaurant, watching some late night show on TV, the Daily Show or something else that comes on at that time of night. Sometimes he’s already asleep and Rafa tiptoes around the room getting ready for bed and then he slides in behind him, holding him, and they wake in the morning in a tangle of limbs and breath.

 

Clay 2008
“You know what she said to me?” says Miguel Angel. “She said, ‘your bed is too hard. My hips hurt after the last time I slept here.’ Can you believe that?”

They’re in Monte Carlo, in a restaurant in town, just his friends. He’d made the final of Miami but was beaten by Davydenko, but he’ll take the result all the same. Roger lost to Andy Roddick in the quarters and Rafa had spent the last few nights in bed alone, finding himself reaching out in the night to nothing. Now it’s his first night in Monte Carlo and he’s left a key for Roger at the hotel desk. He’s heard nothing from him yet, though, so he doesn’t know if he’ll be there when he gets back. “Is your bed too hard?” he says to Miguel Angel.

That’s what she remembered from the last time?” says Xavi, laughing.

“That’s not why her hips should be sore, Miguel Angel,” Marisol says.

“Trust me, there was plenty more for her remember,” says Miguel Angel. “And not just that, either. Does she notice my sheets? No. Does she say, ‘Your threadcount makes me feel like I’m in the bed of a pharoah’? No! She’s all, ‘Who are you, St. Francis of Assisi, sleeping on this rock?’”

“She did not say that, come on!” says Tomeu, through a mouthful of beer.

“She may as well have,” says Miguel Angel, with some bitterness.

Maria Francisca is sitting beside Rafa, giggling, and Rafa has his hand stretched out behind her along the back of her chair. It’s kind of an experiment, but he finds it comfortable. She sits back against him and catches his eye, her dimples deep when she smiles. “Are you going to see her again?” she says.

“Yeah, probably,” says Miguel Angel. “I think I like her a lot, guys.”

“Miguel Angel settling down,” says Tomeu, shaking his head. “Who ever thought we’d see the day?”

“What about you, Tomeu?” says Miguel Angel. “You’ve been seeing Carolina a bit, haven’t you?”

Tomeu shrugs, suddenly shy. “Yeah, a bit,” he says.

“Rafa, you need to meet this girl, she’s awesome,” says Xavi.

Marisol nods, agreeing. “And hey,” she says, turning to Maria Francisca. “What about you, Mary? I haven’t seen you even flirt with anyone in months.”

She glances at Rafa again. They’ve talked about this, both of them agreeing they can’t possibly do what they’re going to do without telling the gang. Rafa gives her a little nod. They’re at a table in the corner, no one nearby, and at any rate they’re speaking Mallorquín. It’s like their own secret language here amongst a room of French speakers. “Listen, guys,” says Maria Francisca. “There’s something we have to tell you.”

Rafa rubs her shoulder, and Miguel Angel eyes his hand with some suspicion. “Wait a minute,” he says. “Don’t tell me you’ve been able to turn him, girl.”

She shakes her head. “Don’t be stupid, Miguel,” she says.

“Look,” says Rafa, leaning forward, his elbows on the table. He pushes his empty plate towards the centre and aligns his cutlery and his glass of water. “In the next couple of months, Mary and I, we’re going to pretend to be dating.”

Silence falls around the table. Tomeu shares a frown with Miguel Angel. “What?” he says.

“The media, they ask questions about me,” Rafa says. “Who’s my girlfriend, who am I dating. This kind of thing. Benito said it’s better to have an answer, then they’ll stop asking.”

“So I agreed to be his girlfriend,” says Maria Francisca.

“Jesus Christ,” says Miguel Angel, quietly.

“For how long?” says Marisol.

They’ve never really talked about the end, just the beginning. “We don’t know,” says Maria Francisca. “As long as it takes.”

“However long that is,” says Rafa.

“Look, that’s not the point right now,” says Maria Francisca. Rafa can see her click into business mode, the way she looks at the office, he imagines. A set to her jaw that he’s not used to. “The point is, soon there are going to be some photos. Benito will arrange it. It would be great if we could all be there, and you guys just go along with it.”

“What kind of photos?” says Marisol, looking faintly shocked.

“Oh god, whatever you’re thinking, no,” says Maria Francisca. “Just at the beach, we’ll look like we’re together. We’re going to say we’ve been together for years. So we won’t have to, you know.”

“Right,” says Tomeu. “Son of a bitch, though, guys. This is weird.”

“I know,” says Rafa, putting his arm around Maria Francisca again. He’s aware of other people in the restaurant clocking them. They both know this is groundwork. Rumours will start to spread, which will be useful when the photos come out.

“But we’ll be here for you guys,” says Xavi. “Right?” He looks around the table, at Tomeu and Miguel Angel and then finally at Marisol.

“Yeah, absolutely,” says Miguel Angel. “No question there.”

“Whatever you need,” says Tomeu.

Marisol just takes Maria Francisca’s hand and squeezes it.

“Thanks,” says Rafa. “You know this would be impossible without you.”

“Rafael,” says Tomeu, earnestly, leaning forward on the table. “You know we’re always here for you.”

“To Rafa and Mary,” says Miguel Angel, and the sentiment is echoed around the table, everyone raising their glasses.

“I still want to know why you sleep on such a hard mattress, though, Miguel,” says Rafa, grinning at him across the table.

“And if you’re going to change it for a softer one,” adds Maria Francisca.

Miguel Angel suddenly looks abashed, even blushing a little.

“Oh my god, you are,” says Tomeu. He crows with laughter. “You are, you are!”

“Shut up,” says Miguel Angel.

It’s so easy here with them. After dinner, they wind their way back through the streets of Monte Carlo towards the hotel on the hill, where Rafa has booked a block of rooms for all of them. “So what now, more drinks in Rafa’s room?” says Miguel Angel.

“No, no, no,” says Rafa, shaking his head. “No more drinks for me.”

“Playstation, then. You owe me a beating, we haven’t played in months.”

“No, guys, seriously,” says Rafa. “I can’t.”

“Wait, wait, wait a second,” says Miguel Angel, stopping dead in the street. His voice echoes and Rafa shushes him. “Wait,” he says again, this time in a feigned whisper. “Have you got someone in there, Rafael? A secret boyfriend?”

“No!” says Rafa. “I don’t know. No.”

“Yes, you do. You’ve always been a terrible liar.”

“Not always,” says Rafa, glancing at Xavi, who catches his eye and then looks away. Rafa sighs. This is the part he wasn’t looking forward to. “Listen, I can’t tell you, okay?”

They’ve all come to a stop just down the street from the hotel. There are fans outside pretending they’re just hanging out, watching the lobby to see who they can spot. They haven’t seen Rafa yet but he knows he’s only got moments. “You can’t tell us?” Miguel Angel isn’t in a mood to let it go, even though Tomeu is shaking his head at him and Maria Francisca is biting her lip.

“No, Miguel. I’m sorry, I can’t.”

Miguel Angel shrugs, then, not miffed but maybe a little saddened. “Okay,” he says. They get to the door in a gloomy kind of silence and Rafa signs a few autographs before heading inside and joining them again in the lobby. “Shit,” Miguel Angel says, as they get into the elevator. “I get it Raf,” he says. “I do. But you know we’ll keep any secret.”

“I know,” says Rafa. “But it’s not my secret to tell.”

The group splits into different bedrooms, all clustered around Rafa’s suite. Maria Francisca presses her lips into a small smile as she goes into the room adjacent to his and he gives her a little wave goodnight. When he opens the door, the living room of the suite is dark, but when he closes it he can hear the sound of the TV coming from the bedroom. He throws his key card on a table and goes into the bedroom, and there he is, Roger, sitting up in bed with the remote control in his hand, flicking from station to station. “There you are,” he says, smiling softly.

“And you,” says Rafa, just standing still and looking at him, on his side of the bed, like he belongs there. Rafa kicks off his shoes and launches himself at Roger like he wants to eat him up and Roger laughs and kisses him and pushes his hair back from his face.

“Good to see you, too,” he says, kissing him again. They have a joyful kind of sex, Rafa’s thighs spread over Roger’s hips, loving the feeling of Roger inside him again. Roger wraps a fist around his cock and coaxes him to shuddering orgasm, come splattering in the hair on his belly, on his chest, and then he flips them over and a few more thrusts of his hips and he’s coming too, gasping and groaning against Rafa’s shoulder.

“You didn’t text me,” says Rafa, groggily.

Roger gnaws at his shoulder and kisses his neck. “I wanted it to be a surprise,” he says.

“Good surprise,” says Rafa, laughing.

“Just so you know,” says Roger, heaving himself up on his elbow to look down at Rafa. “I’m going to surprise you every night like this.”

“Okay,” says Rafa. Roger is glistening with sweat, his hair in wet curls at his neck. “That’s a good thing. Always a good surprise.”