‘I’m going to find something good, eventually!’ Roger said stubbornly. ‘I don’t care how much time it takes, I will.’
Rafa turned on his side to face his boyfriend, sliding an arm under his pillow.
‘I really don’t understand why you want to do this so much, Rogelio.’
‘See! That’s what I’m talking about! You’ve got a nickname for me, I need one too!’
‘Rafa is a nickname.’
‘But everyone calls you that!’ the Swiss protested, getting increasingly frustrated. ‘I want something just for us.’
‘Ok, ok, you’ll find a good one’, the younger man placated. ‘Now come here, and go to sleep.’
‘Hey!’ Roger said, walking into the hotel room.
Rafa was sprawled on the couch, playstation controller in hand, focused on the TV screen.
‘Hi. Good practise?’
Roger dropped next to him.
‘Yep. Stan says hi.’
Rafa grunted in acknowledgment, eyes still fixed on his virtual football players.
‘I take it you had a good day too, then?’
‘Ok well…’ the other man said, standing up and stretching lazily. ‘I’m gonna go get a snack, want me to bring you something, honey?’
Rafa actually paused the game and raised his head, distaste written all over his face.
‘Soooo, I guess “honey” is a no, then.’
Rafa was laughing loudly at Feli’s joke. He was sitting at a table among a bunch of other Spanish players, having a great time. It was the week before the US Open, and for once, most of them were in the same place, so they had decided to celebrate a little at a bar in the club.
‘Hey, Rafaaaa, there’s your boyfriend’, Ferrù teased.
Roger was indeed walking towards them, two cocktails in hand.
‘Hi guys!’. He set one of the glasses in front of Rafa. ‘Hey you’, he added.
‘Hey. Thanks for the drink,’ the young man said, planting a kiss on his cheek.
‘You’re welcome, Rafaelito.’
There was a second of silence, before all the Spaniard burst out laughing. Roger grimaced as Marc Lopez choked with his beer. David Ferrer at least had enough tact to try and hide his chuckles behind a cough.
‘Sorry…’ Feli panted. ‘It’s just, the accent…’
Rafa grinned, but dropped a protective arm around his boyfriend’s shoulders. ‘Come on guys, that’s enough’, he said in Spanish. He then leaned into Roger, his mouth brushing the shell of his ear.
‘I love you very much, you know. But please, never do that again.’
Rafa came out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist, water dropping from his hair. He had come back from practise barely ten minutes earlier, greeted his boyfriend's family, and gone to his bedroom. There, he had found said boyfriend napping on his bed, so he had decided not to wake him and just hopped in the shower.
As he was looking for a clean shirt, Roger opened an eye and started stretching his arms and legs before sitting up.
‘Hey, hot stuff’, Roger answered, his voice deep and scratchy from sleeping.
‘That’s your new one?’
Roger smirked, giving the other man a naughty look from under his lashes.
‘You do know your mother is just behind the door, right?’
The Swiss groaned, burying his face in a pillow.
‘And there goes another one I guess.’
He fished a piece of paper out of his sweatpants, and crossed out a word.
Roger and Rafa were having breakfast together with both their teams. Roger was chatting animatedly with everybody, while Rafa was still half asleep, hunched over his orange juice and silent.
‘Hey, Rafy, pass the coffee, will you?’ The Swiss asked nonchalently.
Rafa stopped, his toast an inch from his teeth.
‘No.’ he said. ‘That’s just… no.’
Roger was laying on his stomach while his physio massaged his back. He was chewing on the end of a pencil, while his left hand clutched a worn piece of paper.
‘Still stuck on this nickname thing?’ the physio chuckled.
‘You have no idea’, Rafa groaned from the next table, where he was receiving treatment from Maymo. ‘I don’t even know how many we’ve gotten through by now. At least I’ve convinced him to stop trying to come up with Spanish ones.’
All the men in the room laughed.
‘Yeah, yeah, it’s all very funny.’ Roger pouted.
‘You’re looking for nicknames for each other?’ Seve asked with curiosity.
‘No, I am looking for a nickname for Rafa. Since apparently I’m the only one who cares for a little touch of romanticism.’ The Swiss said bitterly.
‘Hey, no.’ Rafa said softly, turning his head towards his boyfriend. ‘I like you trying, I think it’s really cute. I’m sure you’ll find something.’
The other men averted their gaze, smiles on their faces.
‘What about German ones?’ Seve suggested.
‘Yeah you haven’t tried these!’ Maymo confirmed.
‘That’s true…’ Roger said.
‘There’s a bunch of classic ones. Liebling, I guess, Schatz…’
‘No way!’ the two young men exclaimed simultaneously.
‘He calls his nephews that,’ Rafa cringed.
Roger slid in bed and into his boyfriend’s arms. They had just come back from the gala dinner that marked the beginning of the first Lavec Cup.
‘It was a great night’ he said.
‘Si, it was really nice. I loved your little speech, no?’ Rafa whispered with a tender smile.
‘Yeah? I was afraid it would seem corny…’
‘A little bit. But that’s what made it good.’
‘Well, if you liked it, I’m happy, sweetheart.’
They both frowned as the words came out.
‘Now, that’s crossing the line of too corny I think’, the older man admitted.
‘Glad we agree.’
A large part of Team Europe was resting on the bench, watching Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic practise. Roger was sitting next to Sascha Zverev and Dominic Thiem, while Rafa was on the ground, stretching. They were encouraging their teammates, shouting advice and strategy snippets, or just random things to make each other laugh. They were having a great time together. The time training as a team had made them very comfortable with each other, Roger and Rafa being particularly careful to include the youngest guys into their conversations. They had all gotten to know each other better the last few days, and were now really excited for the competition to start. Rafa loved playing in a team, loved the atmosphere, and was in a great mood. He was also glad to see how much Sascha and Dominic had come out of their shells and now chatted easily with them.
‘Roger’ he called. ‘You have a towel?’
His boyfriend reached behind the bench and threw him a white one.
‘There you go, Bärchen’.
Rafa caught it at the last second, startled by the unknown word.
Sascha and Dominic turned towards each other, trying to contain their smirks, their eyes sparkling.
At the end of the practise session, they all made their way back to the locker room. Before he could step into the tunnel though, Sascha felt a strong hand grab his forearm.
‘Wait a second.’ Rafa said with his trademark glare full on. ‘I need to ask you something…’
Roger closed his locker and jumped a little as he came face to face with a very serious-faced Rafael Nadal.
‘Hum, something wrong?’ he asked nervously.
‘Do I look like a baby bear to you?’ Rafa enunciated, his left eyebrow arching up.
‘How did you… well, it’s just a standard nickname you know.’
‘No. It’s a petname. I’m not a fan of those. I’m your boyfriend, not a stuffed animal.’
‘Okay, okay, I’ll switch to the next one,’ Roger said in a soothing tone.
Satisfied, Rafa stole a kiss from the Swiss’ lips, before heading for the door.
Roger laughed as he tied his shoes.
‘So I guess kitten is a no go then?’ he called loudly.
Roger’s eyes were trained on Rafa’s face as his boyfriend followed up on his answer to the journalist’s question.
‘Well, if it doesn’t happen from your side… Not gonna work for us’.
They both laughed, and Roger playfully reached out an arm to grasp the Spaniard’s shoulder.
‘Didn’t want to kill your expectations, baby’.
Almost an hour later, they finally were back into their hotel suite.
‘Sooo, I guess we found the one.’
‘I have no idea what you are talking about, Rogelio’ Rafa teased, on his tiptoes, his head stuffed into the kitchen cupboard.
‘Don’t play innocent’ Roger murmured, wrapping his arms around his waist from behind. ‘You liked that. Me calling you Baby.’
Rafa blushed, his eyes falling to the floor while a nervous little laugh escaped his lips.
‘Nah. I was just surprised it was on that little list of yours.’
‘Nice try, but I know you too well. I’ve seen your reaction. You liked it so much it made you lose your words.’
‘Shut up’, the young man giggled.
Roger grinned, really happy with himself. He grabbed his boyfriend’s hand, entwining their fingers and pulling him towards the bedroom.
‘Whatever you say, baby.’