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He knows loss well, too well, yet it still burns his insides, still makes him dig his nails into the palms of his hands until the stinging sensation radiates up his arms, down his chest and reaches the Spain crest clinging to his skin from sweat, right over his heart. It hurts more then he thought it would, more than he remembers it hurting. He can’t even look at Iniesta, knows he’s let him down, knows that its Andres’ last world cup and now it’s over in the first round of knockouts, to Russia of all teams, before Spain even got the chance to show the world that they’ve still got what it takes. He’s the captain for god’s sake and he’s let the whole team down, if only he had passed the ball quicker, made more forward runs, long balls, anything than what he did, God if only-

“Sergio.”

The voice interrupting his thoughts is so familiar that he doesn’t even need to look up from the grass of the traitorous pitch he’s been staring at ever since Iago didn’t score his penalty to know who’s it is.

“Geri.”

Sergio knows that maybe he should be mad at Gerard for conceding that penalty, but he’s not, knows that he would have done the same. Knows that at the end of the day, it’s not Geri’s fault and knows that Gerard will already be blaming himself enough, just as Sergio is. Instead Sergio leans into the arm that’s offered to him, and briefly lets himself be pulled into Geri’s warmth.

“You okay?” Gerard whispers into Sergio’s buzzed hair, that he’d made fun of only 3 hours ago and yet seems so trivial now, mouth covered so cameras don’t pick up his words.

Sergio slowly removes his head from where its leaning on the curve of Gerard’s shoulder and looks up to meet Gerard’s stormy blue eyes, so clearly filled with hurt and thinks ‘No, I’m fucking not. This isn’t what you deserve, it’s not what I deserve and it’s so fucking unfair that I want to cry and scream’ but doesn’t voice his thoughts, he can’t. He’s the captain, he’s got a job to do, he must make sure everyone else is okay before he can let his tears fall.

So, he firmly nods and says, “You?”

Gerard gives him a gentle smile, that says I know you’re not, but we’ll speak later, okay? Sergio smiles weakly back and longs for it to be later now, so he can be curled up in Geri’s arms instead of talking to press who don’t give a shit about how he’s feeling and only want to remind him that he’s let the nation down.

The walk from the pitch, through the tunnel and down the hall to the press room is the longest journey of Sergio’s life. The click-clack of his cleats on the corridor floor taunt him, make him want to rip the stupid boots off his feet and throw them at the wall until the Nike logo is nothing but a blur, just do it be damned, because he couldn’t do it. He can hear the vultures before he can see them, firing questions in rapid Spanish that he isn’t in the right state to process currently, mics being shoved in his face and accusations thrown. Sergio doesn’t want to be here.

He can’t help but let his eyes fill with tears whilst talking to one of the reporters because, God, the man will not stop saying that that’s it for Spain and that they’re out, as if Sergio didn’t already know, wasn’t there when the Russian keeper made that save and stunned everyone, wasn’t aware that he’d be on a plane home tomorrow and watching the rest of the matches from his sofa. And when the reporter mentions Iniesta’s retirement, and that Gerard will more than likely follow suit, and will Sergio be doing the same? It’s too much and he can’t help but choke out a half sob, the reporter having the audacity to look surprised as though he hadn’t just ripped Sergio’s heart in two with a three-sentence question. Sergio doesn’t know the answer, doesn’t want to answer so he makes a feeble attempt at an excuse to leave that the devil incarnated accepts with a frown and a click of his mic, waving Sergio away so he can begin his article claiming that Sergio is to retire from international duty. Sergio doesn’t even care, they can write what they want.

The walk to the dressing room seems shorter, the sound of his shoes now a reminder that Geri wears the same ones and that soon he can let his, albeit crumbling, walls down and talk to someone who understands, who knows how he’s feeling and can kiss his pain away. However, as he approaches the room Sergio longs to hear the shouts of joy that follow a win, the bantering between the players and the questionable music blaring from Isco’s phone but instead when he opens the door he’s greeted with dead silence and the view of his teammates slowly getting changed or aimlessly scrolling through their phones.

Sergio walks straight over to where Gerard is sitting, next to a tearful Jordi Alba, and slumps down on his other side, his head automatically finding solace on Geri’s shoulder. Gerard’s hand moves from playing with a loose thread on his underarmour to circle around Sergio’s shoulder and stroke his cheek.

“Hey, you, how were the press?” Gerard asks quietly, voice soft.

“Shit. As usual. They kept talking about you and Andres retiring and how Spain’s glory days are over and I just,” Sergio has to take a deep breath before continuing, the words getting caught in his throat in a way he hasn’t experienced in a long time, “I don’t know. It’s just so unfair Geri.”

“I know Sese, I know.”

Sergio knows he can’t be mad at Gerard for not having more words, not having the answers as to why they didn’t score and why David didn’t make any saves or why they’re being sent home, so Geri rubs soft circles into the skin of Sergio’s neck and it’s almost enough to make Sergio feel half whole.

“Go shower, yeah?” Gerard speaks, with a light nudge to Sergio’s shoulder to push him in the direction of the showers, “Then we’ll go back to our hotel room.”

Sergio picks a stall to the very end of the row, turns the water on so its near scalding and lets the water run over his skin and wash away the wasted sweat and salty tears. He pays particular care to where the captains armband had rested over his bicep, makes sure that that he scrubs the area enough that his skin is an angry red, but the memory of the weight of the armband and a responsibility that he failed to live up to is instead replaced with a throbbing, dull ache. It hurts less anyway.

He walks out of the shower, towel wrapped around his waist, and back into the dressing room and his position next to Geri, who’s now fully dressed and ready to leave, quietly talking to Andres. Sergio fiddles with the sleeve of Gerard’s hoody that’s lying next to him, a silent hint to Geri that he wants to wear it, wants the comfort of something that belongs to him. And, of course Gerard picks up on it, silently hands over the hoody as well as Sergio’s spare t-shirt and joggers. Sergio has never been more grateful for Geri in his life.

As Sergio is pulling on the clothes he watches his teammates filtering out, making their way to the team bus that on the way to the stadium had been joyful and a symbol of hope but now will mark the end of their world cup journey. Not for the first time tonight Sergio wishes he was back home in Madrid already, and didn’t have to spend the night in the hotel.

Before he knows it, it’s just him and Gerard left in the room, Andres leaving just as Sergio is slipping on his last shoe and Geri is packing his bag for him. And don’t get him wrong, Sergio loves his Spanish teammates, but he is so grateful to finally be alone with Geri even if it is only for the two minutes they can gamble before they really must be on the bus.

The apology is out of Sergio’s mouth before he even knows what he’s apologising for, “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Gerard looks at him with wide eyes, clearly sharing Sergio’s confusion, “You didn’t do anything wrong, it was me who gave away the pen.”

Sergio’s head snaps up because he won’t for one minute have Gerard blaming himself, lest for a handball that was hardly Saurez-esque.

“Don’t.” Sergio says firmly, “It could have been any of us, the ref was shit anyway. We should have gotten at least three penalties in that last corner, none of our faults that we didn’t get them. Fucking VAR for nothing.”

“Yeah, but if I hadn’t stuck my stupid arm up then they wouldn’t have scored at all and we would have won, wouldn’t have mattered whether we got eight penalties in the second half or not.”

And Gerard looks so defeated, so quietly angry at himself that the remaining piece of Sergio’s heart that isn’t broken already twinges a little. He wants to bury his head in Geri’s chest, and kiss his cheeks and nose and lips until he doesn’t give a fuck about that handball or losing the match, but Sergio knows that they’re already pushing their luck with how much time they have until they need to leave. So, Sergio only stands up a bit higher on his toes and presses a quick kiss to Geri’s chapped lips.

“C’mon, we gotta get on the bus.”

Sergio gently takes hold of Gerard’s hand, watches him lift his own and Sergio’s bags, and leads him out of the dressing room, through the corridors, out of the back entrance and up the stairs of the dimly lit team bus. Geri hands their bags to the remaining staff member to be put in the storage compartment as Sergio walks down the aisle of the bus, smiling lightly at his teammates that are still awake, until he finds his and Geri’s usual seats in the middle of the bus and waits for Geri to come and get the window seat. Geri slides easily past Sergio to get into his seat and pats the seat next to him, a small smile gracing his lips. Sergio can’t help but roll his eyes before he slumps down onto the offered seat and slides his head onto Geri’s shoulder, a sigh escaping his mouth as Gerard moves his hands up to thread through what’s left of Sergio’s hair.

“I miss it when it was longer.”

Sergio makes a noncommittal hum as a response, too tired emotionally and physically to care about the state of his hair but makes a self-reminder to grow it out now, also kind of misses when Gerard used to sit for minutes on end and just play with Sergio’s hair.

“Okay Sese, you go to sleep now love.” Geri whispers as he presses a kiss on Sergio’s forehead, and Sergio is so glad that his teammates know about him and Geri because he doesn’t know if he’d survive without the calming presence of him right now, doesn’t think he’d make it through the journey to the hotel without having Gerard gently slot one of his earphones into Sergio’s ear and the other into his own and letting some soft acoustic music drift out that he knows Sergio listens to to sleep, definitely wouldn’t be able to deal with the fear of what his teammates might be saying about him and Geri, so yeah, he’s suddenly very grateful that they all know.

Sergio wakes to Gerard lightly shaking his shoulder, whispering to him that they’ve made it to the hotel and it’s time for him to wake up. Sergio blearily opens his eyes to see his boyfriend staring down at him, a look in his eyes that still makes Sergio’s stomach fill with butterflies even after all this time, a small smile gracing his face.

Sergio goes to open his mouth to say hello, ask if there’s any press outside the hotel, to Gerard but instead a loud yawn escapes from him, his hand coming up to rub at his tired eyes that are screwed shut. A flush covers his face as Gerard chuckles at him, his face showing nothing but fondness for Sergio.

“Sorry,” Sergio mumbles, a blush still painting his cheeks.

“Let’s go, sleepyhead. Everyone else is already off the bus, I didn’t have the heart to wake you straight away, you look way too cute sleeping.”

The glare that appears on Sergio’s face is half-hearted, as is the shove to Geri’s shoulder and the disapproval of being called cute. He’ll take being called cute if it’s Gerard saying it.

There isn’t any press, which Sergio is happy about to say the least, having been cleared out by security before the team had even reached the hotel. It makes his life a lot easier, means he can lean half his body weight on Gerard and not be questioned, means he doesn’t have to pretend to be going up to his own room instead of just walking straight into Geri’s, mainly means he doesn’t have to talk to anyone but Gerard for the rest of the night.

As soon as Gerard swipes his key card and the door opens Sergio makes his way to the bed and flops down onto it, a sigh escaping his lips. The room itself is still messy from this morning, Geri having left the no room cleaning sign on the door, both of their clothes are strewn around the room with damp towels in the mix, the faint smell of the shower gel from the shower they’d shared before leaving still lingering from the opened bathroom door. Sergio watches as Gerard picks his way through the room, kicking said items of clothing away from his path with his foot, before gently lowering both their bags onto the cream white sofa and running a hand through his hair, messing it up just that little bit more.

Geri looks over to Sergio, smiles when he sees him staring right back at him, “What do you want to do then, call room service?”

Sergio shrugs using as minimal effort as possible, “I just want to cuddle with you, if that’s okay.”

Of course, it’s okay, Sergio knows that it’s their usual routine after any loss, but he still feels uncertain, feels the need to make sure that Geri wants to just stay and be close to each other, because this loss feels so much bigger, like it represents something bigger than the both of them, like it’s the final goodbye. And, in a way it is, because it was their last chance together, to win with Spain as one, and now they’ve only got a few more weeks until their back at their respective clubs and pretending to be enemies. It hurts to think about that, seemed so distant before the match and now it feels as if they’ve got mere hours left together, even though Sergio knows they’re going to spend the rest of the summer together before the league starts, it just feels different when they’re together for the nation. As much as Sergio loves Real Madrid, he loves Gerard more.

So, when Gerard grabs the spare blanket they have laying over the sofa, makes his way over to Sergio laying on the bed, and drops himself down next to him, Sergio can’t help but flinch away slightly, and curl tighter into himself.

“Sergio?”

Sergio can hear the worry lacing Geri’s voice, can hear the confusion and concern, it was him that asked to just cuddle and now he’s shrinking away from the person he wanted to curl up into. God, I’m a mess, Sergio thinks to himself.

“Sergio?” Gerard asks again, slight panic evident in his tone, after Sergio doesn’t answer him, “What’s wrong baby?”

Sergio feels a shiver run through him, doesn’t know if it’s because he’s cold or because Geri used a pet name on him or just because he’s so so tired. He wants to answer that everything is wrong, that he doesn’t even know where to begin with how he’s feeling, that all he wants is to be back in his or Gerard’s home, or have Geri back in Sevilla with him, but he can’t bring himself to say any of this so instead he rolls over and uncurls himself, and comes face to face with Geri’s concerned expression staring intently at him as if he can figure out what’s wrong by just looking at Sergio, it wouldn’t surprise Sergio if he could.

“Nothing, sorry, I just wish we hadn’t lost.” Sergio supposed that’s the simplest and truest answer he can give at this time, everything else can wait.

“I know, me too, but there’s always the Euros in two years, we’re due a Euros win.” Geri says easily, with a cheeky smile. Sergio is amazed with how effortlessly Gerard answers, as if Gerard is so certain that the Spain aren’t in their downfall like Sergio thinks, that he almost believes him.

“Yeah? Not like you’re going to be in the team to witness it.” Sergio replies bitterly, and instantly regrets when he sees Gerard’s face fall before he quickly pulls himself together, his eyes only remaining slightly misty.

“That’s not fair Sergio.”

Sergio knows it wasn’t fair, knows he shouldn’t have opened his mouth if all he was going to say was something pointlessly mean to the love of his life, knew the minute he saw the beautiful fucking smile edge off Geri’s face that it wasn’t fair of him to throw around words like that, especially on a night like this.

“I know, I’m, shit, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that, I mean I kind of did, but I mostly just meant that it’s such bullshit that you’re not, that we’re not, going to get to win anything together again, unless you fucking transfer to Madrid or something or maybe if you just don’t retire, and then we can both win Euro 2020 together, like a final goodbye or some shit,” And Sergio knows he’s rambling now, knows that these words won’t make up for snapping at Gerard but now he’s started he can’t stop, “God, Geri, I’m sorry, please don’t be mad at me, and I know you have every right to but I don’t think I can handle you hating me right now.”

“As if I’d transfer to Los Blancos, you want me to be booed off the pitch?” Gerard says, and Sergio is so thankful to see the smile back on Geri’s face and knows that he’s forgiven for at least tonight, even if they’ll have to breach the subject sooner or later, but for now its later.

“Well, I can’t join Barcelona, Messi wouldn’t be happy that he wouldn’t be best player in the team anymore.” Sergio grins.

“Ah, leave Leo out of it,” Geri grins back, with a soft swat to Sergio’s nose, “You wouldn’t even be the best defender on the team.”

Sergio makes a fake offended noise, still grinning, before pushing himself forward and clumsily pressing his lips into Geri’s, grinning even more at the familiar feeling of Gerard’s beard scratching his significantly less hairy cheeks. And Sergio can’t help but let out a soft moan when Geri’s hand reaches up to cup his cheek and lets his thumb stroke over his eyelid and lashes as he deepens the kiss. However, when Sergio tries to slip his tongue into Geri’s mouth Gerard pulls away and tuts his own tongue at Sergio, laughing slightly at Sergio’s disappointed whine.

“Thought you just wanted to cuddle?”

“Well yeah, but I wouldn’t mind sucking you off first.” Sergio says, as he chases Gerard’s thumb, guides it into his mouth and sucks gently, swirling his tongue around the calloused print, feeling triumphant when Geri groans.

“Later,” Geri speaks, as he reluctantly pulls his thumb from Sergio’s mouth, regretting it even more when he hears the tell-tale pop, “Definitely later. But let’s sleep for a little first, I’m exhausted.”

And Sergio can’t complain as Gerard carefully manoeuvres Sergio, so his head is resting over Geri’s heart, and once again moves his hand up to softly stroke Sergio’s hair. Also, can’t complain as Gerard lifts the forgotten blanket over them, even though they’re both still fully dressed, and drops a small kiss on the crown of Sergio’s head.

“I love you so much.” Sergio sleepily mutters into the soft cotton of Gerard’s t-shirt, suddenly overwhelmed with just how much he does love this man and how thankful for him he is.

“I know Sergio, I love you too, more than you could ever know.”