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the remains of the day

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It's hardest playing Valencia. They've gotten used to it, otherwise -- Raúl hates that he can say that. The bond isn't as strong as it used to be, and he hates that, too. But when they play Valencia, Fernando's so close, but it's all wrong, disorienting, like looking in a warped mirror. Fernando's there but he isn't. The first time they played each other, Raúl could barely figure out which way to run.

He doesn't have that problem now. He scores, and scores again. But so does David Villa, and at the last minute, someone else entirely decides the game for them. Final score: 2-3, Valencia.

Fernando's coming for him almost before the whistle blows -- he doesn't need to look to know that, even with the years and miles that have weakened the bond. This close, he couldn't possibly not feel him. When he finally turns around Fernando's right there, wrapping him up in one of those smothering full-body hugs. Raúl relaxes and breathes in, feeling the warmth of Fernando's thoughts as strongly as that of his arms, all wrapped up together.

When they separate, Fernando's smiling, and Raúl can't help smiling back. "Meet you after?" Fernando says, not really a question, eyes dancing. Raúl nods.

In the locker room, he's far enough from Fernando that the warm, fizzing cocktail of adrenaline and and excitement and happiness fades away, and there's room for the fullness of defeat to sink in. The rest of his team is quiet; over the everyday clinks and rustles of the post-match routine, the occasional murmur. They're still top of the table -- but. But.

Eventually, they start to revive, as they usually do. Saviola invites anyone who wants to come over for a barbecue; he says it's good luck.

"Coming?" he asks Raúl.

"I'm sorry," Raúl says, politely regretful. "I'm meeting someone."

It doesn't mean anything to most of them. Iker's almost the only one left who remembers. He doesn't say anything; in fact, he carefully avoids Raúl's eyes. Raúl gets the feeling he doesn't totally approve. He'll be a good captain, eventually. Right now, it's just too bad.

Raúl can feel a faint warmth ahead as he makes his way toward the exit, just enough to tell him Fernando's waiting already. It strengthens as he gets closer, until he's close enough to hear a voice that's unmistakably Fernando's, from the end of the hall. Then he hears the second, and stops.

" -- beat them at their own fucking stadium, aren't you -- " Raúl can't make out the end of the sentence. He takes a few steps more, rounds the corner, so that he can see them, two shapes outlined by the floodlights of the parking lot coming in the open door.

Fernando must feel Raúl nearby, though nothing about him shows it. Now that he's close again, when Raúl tries he can pick up a little of what Fernando's feeling: a little wistfulness, a little wry amusement, a flash of possession.

"I'm happy," Fernando says, sincerely. "It was a good match. You were good, David. The first goal, especially."

Villa makes a noise of irritation. "That's not the point. You just -- fuck." There's a thud, followed by a steady stream of cursing. Raúl can't see, but he thinks Villa's kicked the wall.

It takes a minute for Villa to calm down. When he does, another minutes passes where neither of them speak. Fernando clears his throat, and says carefully, "Shouldn't you be -- "

Villa draws in a sharp breath. Then he snarls, "I don't need you to tell me what I should do."

He spins on his heel and stalks outside. Fernando watches him go.

Raúl comes forward. He doesn't say anything, and after a while Fernando lets out a sigh and turns toward him.

"Will that be all right?" Raúl asks -- he hopes neutrally.

Fernando exhales. "I'm fine. He's -- well." Fernando shrugs. "It's hard for him, right now."

It's hard for anyone at Valencia, Raúl thinks, but doesn't say so. Fernando knows what he's thinking of course, and grimaces. "Not just that. There's -- I don't know where to start -- "

He doesn't want to talk about it, but he thinks he has to. Raúl shakes his head, cutting him off. "You don't have to tell me anything, not unless you want to." Fernando looks skeptical, and Raúl says, "I'm not his captain. Or yours."

Fernando's brow furrows. "Raúl," he says.

Raúl presses his lips together. That's not what he meant; he's not thinking about that. He doesn't want to. He says almost the same thing to Fernando: "Do you really want to to talk about it?"

Fernando starts to speak -- then stops. "I... don't, really," he says, sounding a little surprised. "I don't even want to think about it. For now."

"Then don't," Raúl says.

Fernando gives him a smile, one of those smiles Raúl thought would melt him like candlewax, when they were younger. "All right," he says.

Fernando kisses him. Raúl closes his eyes and tries, for as long as the kiss lasts, to remember the time when he didn't know it wouldn't be like that forever.