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Abort, Retry, Fail

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"What the fuck do you mean, a consultant?"

Luís closed his eyes, very briefly, and opened them again. "It means what it sounds like, Villa." Villa's scowl was more aggrieved than usual, so Luís elaborated. "He's going to review our project load for the new CEO. And before you ask, it's non-negotiable. It's one of the conditions of the merger."

Villa's face went even darker. "What? This isn't even your idea?"

"No, but it's not a bad one," Luís said firmly, before Villa could get any ideas. In truth, he wasn't particularly thrilled with the idea of some outsider poking his nose around their office (which ran fine, Villa's attitude aside) and making suggestions about "streamlining" and "commercial viability" and "realistic goal formulation"—but Villa didn't need to know that. "Besides, I did get to pick who it would be, and he's something of a prodigy—in network design especially. He's already published—"

"I'm in charge of network design," Villa said like he'd been personally insulted, which Luís supposed he rather had been.

"I know," Luís said, more patiently than Villa deserved, "and no one's saying you're not doing it well."—pain in the ass though he was about it. "But this is straight from the top, so you're just going to have to find a way to put up with it."

"What the fuck!" Villa flung out an arm and nearly smacked his hand on the doorframe. "Who the hell does this guy think he is? We're probably his best asset in the whole company—"

That was probably stretching it, since the nickname Luís was used to hearing was "The Expendables," but he'd always thought misfits was a harsh word. Individualists was better. And Luís was their king.

Villa was still ranting. "—only real creativity in the entire fucking corporate rat race and now he wants some idiot who can't tell code from his ass to come in and—"

Luís had had enough. "It's a month, Villa. Get used to it, or find a new job."

Villa's eyes bulged. Every inch of him, from the tips of his spiky black hair to the toes of his leopard print sneakers, quivered with outrage, like a miniature volcano on the verge of eruption.

Luís stared him down, until—

"Fine," Villa snarled. "But I won't fucking like it."

"Is that supposed to be a surprise?" Luís asked the slammed door as it vibrated in its frame.

* * *

David meant to take up the whole issue with Figo again, because if there was anything representative of the stagnant and rotting corporate culture they were trying to prevent it was the fucking horde of parasites that called themselves consultants, but there was a network redesign to plan out and creaky code to debug and all his normal projects to deal with and he had actual work to do, thank you very fucking much.

It was another three weeks before the answer to the problem he'd been wrestling with for weeks came to David in the shower and he nearly gave himself a concussion in his hurry to leap into his clothes. On the way to the office he ran three red lights on his motorbike, but whatever, they'd been stuck on this problem for weeks. He didn't even bother losing his jacket or bag once he got inside, just burst into Figo's office and went straight for the whiteboard.

"Villa," Figo started.

David ignored him. "I figured out the problem. Look, here's what we've got now, right, and we've been trying to ease up on the per-session load without going to a database since that's a stupid idea. But if we reorder the way we prioritize the queries—look, that covers most of it and there's nothing we can do about the strain if it's really flooded, but that's going to happen what, once a year anyway, so—"

"Villa," Figo said, and then another voice said, "Oh, I think there's a way around that."

David whipped around.

There was someone else standing next to Figo's desk, someone who'd apparently been there all along. David didn't let it throw him. The newcomer was looking past David, at the whiteboard. He had to be the new intern—he definitely looked like a student, all messenger bag and earnest expression.

"I don't think so," David said dismissively.

"No, I'm pretty sure," the new guy said, in the kind of way that meant he was more than pretty sure. So what? David had practically built that system from scratch, he knew what he was talking about and no intern

"Look," the intern said, brushing past him, and began to quickly sketch a mock up of the load distribution.

David opened his mouth—

—and, as the diagrams sunk in, didn't have anything to say.

The intern gave him a bright, flashing smile. "See? It's really easier to get distracted by appearances, but it'll solve your problem and on slow days bring your average speed up by at least ten percent."

David was aware that his mouth was hanging open. He looked from the board, to the intern—fuck, there was no way he was an intern—and back again.

After a minute, when David still hadn't said anything, the not-intern's smile slipped and he scratched the back of his head awkwardly. "Well, um, if that's all—?" He looked at Figo, who nodded. "Then I'll just go set up my desk." He opened the door and glanced from Figo to David. "I'll, um, see you later, I guess."

David didn't answer. The door closed.

For several long seconds, David just stared at it. Then he swiveled around and demanded, "Who was that?"

Figo blinked. "Ah—the consultant from England. David Silva."

David swung back around. "I'm going to go talk to him," he said.

Figo said something, but Figo was always saying something, so David ignored him. David Silva was setting up his laptop at the corner desk that had been empty since Ibrahimovic transferred out. As David approached, he looked up, and his face did a kind of funny spasm, somewhere between guilty and determined.

David stopped short right in front of the desk, so he could examine Silva from close quarters. Figo said he was from England, but he obviously wasn't English. He seemed young, yeah, but if he was that good he had to be older than he looked. It was probably the bangs, and the way they sort of flopped in his eyes.

After a minute, David remembered he should probably say something, so he said, "You're the new guy."

Silva was looking kind of wary. He nodded. Then he said, in a rush, "Sorry, was I too abrupt earlier? I get kind of carried away sometimes when I'm talking shop." He laughed, a little self-consciously, and glanced down, then back up at David. "I'm sorry if I insulted you."

"No," David said, "it's good. More people should do that. Tell things how they are. If you're right, then you're right."

Silva's shoulders straightened a little. "You think so? Oh, good." He flashed David a perceptibly brighter smile. "You're David Villa, right? I read your paper on challenge-response algorithms when I was in university, it completely changed my approach."

David had written that paper for his master's thesis, three years ago. "In university?" he said. "When did you graduate?"

"Oh, a couple years ago," Silva said, missing David's expression as he logged in to his computer. "I've been freelancing ever since."

So Figo hadn't been shitting him when he said Silva was some kind of prodigy. Jesus. "Yeah? You like it?"

Silva shrugged. "I like setting my own schedule and I like traveling. There are good jobs and bad jobs." He smiled again. "I'm sure this will be one of the good ones."

David looked around. Iniesta's desk was empty, so he hooked the chair over with one foot and straddled it, ignoring Valdés' protests from the desk opposite. "So are you from around here or what?"

"Oh, no, I'm from the Canaries," Silva said. "Gran Canaria, actually."

David's eyebrows rose. "How the fuck did you end up in England?"

Silva's hand came up to rub the back of his neck. "Um, a scholarship, actually. It was kind of too good to pass up."

There was only one place that could have been. "Cambridge," David said, and Silva looked a little embarrassed.

Well, that explained the prodigy thing. Normally David would be thinking something about how fancy schools meant fuck all when it came to real experience, but Silva had already shown that he knew a thing or two about that, too. He nodded at Silva's laptop. "You got a plan?"

"Oh, I'm just going to work out how I want to do this today. I've got time, I don't want to rush anything.

"Nice," David said. "Okay, well, I should probably go get some shit done, but I'm around if you need anything."

Silva smiled at him again, all sincerity. "Thank you," he said. "It's really nice to meet you."

For some reason David didn't know what to say to that. He found himself looking slightly off to Silva's side and saying kind of gruffly, "Yeah, you too."

He got up and, as an afterthought, deposited Iniesta's chair back where it belonged.

"Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness," Valdés said, like he was so clever, so David told him, "You're welcome," and returned to his own desk without looking back.

* * *

Everyone wanted to talk about the new guy.

Valdés wanted to hear about what kind of jobs he'd done before this. Mata wanted to know if it was true that Figo had picked him just to spite the new CEO. David caught Rodríguez and Krkić in the break room whispering over whether he was a secret corporate spy. That was irritating, so he told them to lay off and they looked at him like he'd just killed their puppy or something, Jesus. Morientes had to wander over with that big dumb harmless smile of his—the one didn't fool anyone anymore—and steer David away.

When the day ended, David thought about asking Silva if he needed to know where to find anything in Barcelona. He knew what it was like to be new to the city, after all. But Silva vanished before David got a chance, so he must have been managing okay on his own.

For some reason, David didn't get a lot of sleep that night. Maybe it was trying to figure out what to do next with the network upgrade, because he kept going back to Silva sketching out those diagrams on Figo's whiteboard, beaming at David like it was the most obvious answer in the world. David tried to figure out which step to take from there, but he couldn't even concentrate on that and finally fell into a fitful sleep, Silva's diagrams hovering in front of his eyes.

When he came in the next morning, Silva was already there. He glanced up and gave David a little smile. David nodded back, like he usually did. Then it occurred to him that maybe that was too distant for someone new, so maybe he should... wave, or something, but Silva had already looked away. And now it would be awkward and he didn't do awkward, so he just went to his desk, feeling kind of off-kilter.

The morning dragged by. David was having a strangely hard time focusing on his stupid project, especially given that he'd made the big breakthrough now. Maybe that was it; maybe now that the challenge was solved, it was too boring to concentrate on. Before he really realized what he was doing, he was on his feet and heading over to Silva's desk.

Silva glanced up as he approached and a smile spread across his face. "Hi."

"Hey," David said. "How's it going so far?"

"Great," Silva said, "not that drawing up a bunch of spreadsheets is too much of a challenge." He laughed a little, but in a way that seemed to be saying David could laugh, too, not like he was mocking anyone. "Today I'm going to start actually talking to people."

"Uh-huh," David said. "Okay, well. Just checking in. Y'know. Make sure you got everything."

He had the vague feeling he was missing a couple words there, but Silva just smiled again, so it couldn't have been too incomprehensible. "It's really nice of you," he said. "Most of the time people don't really like someone else coming in and poking around their office."

David shrugged a little uncomfortably. "Yeah, well. It's your job, right? It's not like you're here to cause trouble or something."

"That's how I like to think about it," Silva said.

A thought occurred to David. "Hey," he said. "You should know, sometimes people around here get weird about their projects. If anyone gives you shit, you come to me."

Silva smiled at him. "Thanks," he said. "But I don't usually have much trouble with that."

"Yeah?" David said. "Okay, well. I guess... good luck, then." He started to leave, and then hung back. "Hey, actually—" He rubbed the back of his neck. "You want to get coffee later or something? Most of it's crap around here, but I know a place that's okay if you ignore the grad students."

"Oh, I can't," Silva said, sounding genuinely regretful. "I've supposed to meet with your COO—Guardiola, is that his name? Maybe some other time?"

David gave a casual shrug. "Sure," he said, "whatever. Guess I'll see you around, then."

If David were someone like Mata he might try and pick apart why exactly he felt simultaneously great and like shit, and how that was even possible. But he had better things to do with his time, and psychoanalysis was bullshit anyways.

* * *

But the next day Silva came by near the end of the day and said, faintly hesitant, "If you still want to get that coffee...?"

"Sure," David said, and promptly knocked over his mug from the morning, which was fortunately empty. He swore under his breath. Silva looked like he wanted to laugh but didn't, which ratcheted him up a couple notches above everyone else in this godforsaken office.

The coffee shop was a good place, and not too irritatingly pretentious—David figured you had to put up with a certain amount of pretension to get good coffee. Even the grad students were scarce today, just a couple kids in black-framed glasses talking earnestly in the corner. David normally just gulped down something at the counter and ran, but the tables turned out to be surprisingly comfortable after all. "So you're from the Canaries," he said, when they had their drinks. "Ever been up here before?"

"Once or twice," Silva said. "Not for more than a couple days. I guess I'll have to learn my way around if I'm here for a whole month."

"Yeah," David said. "Well, it's not bad, Barcelona. Once you get used to it."

"What about you?" Silva asked. "You don't sound like you're from around here."

"I'm not," David said. "Asturias. Tiny little mining town. You wouldn't have heard of it."

"Really?" Silva said. "Then how did you end up here?"

David opened his mouth to say something about school—and then he wasn't sure exactly how it happened, but somehow he was telling Silva the whole story about his injury, and how he'd gotten into IT because he didn't have anywhere else to go, and scraped through university to the surprise of his whole family, and ended up taking a job in Valencia to send the money back home, and then met Luís Figo instead.

"—and then, I don't know, I woke up the next day and I was working here," he finished. "Still don't really know how that happened."

When Silva laughed his eyes kind of crinkled up and disappeared. David hadn't seen anything like it before. "So you were abducted, I see."

"Yeah, well, Figo's not a bad guy, I guess," David said grudgingly. "He came up with the idea of graduate school and got the company to sponsor it, and that turned out okay."

Silva smiled at him again. "I would think so."

David cleared his throat. "What about you? How come you're not working at some hotshot company in America?"

Silva shrugged. "I like all this, and I'm good at it," he said. "But I'm not crazy about it? I guess that's partly why I ended up freelancing rather than finding a real programming job somewhere, or staying on at school."

David thought this over. "You're always on the move, though."

"I don't mind," Silva said. "I like traveling. Besides, I get to choose what I want to do, when I want to do it. I guess I just... really don't like the idea of getting stuck in something I don't want."

"Huh." That was something David could understand, at least. He absently tapped his spoon against the edge of his mug. "You don't miss Spain?"

"A little," Silva said. "Sometimes. Mostly around February."—with the fleeting hint of a grin. "But I've gotten used to it. And now I have friends there, and..." He lifted his shoulders and gave David another little smile.

"Huh," David said again. "So you speak English?"

Silva winced. "Sort of..."

"You've lived there for five years, what do you mean 'sort of'?" David demanded.

"You don't have to speak English to code," Silva protested, but it looked like he was trying not to smile.

"Right, so you'll just communicate with everyone in C," David said, rolling his eyes. "If address equals true, then call function 'directions please', else print 'sorry, have a good day'—"

It was kind of nice to talk to someone who understood a decent sense of humor and laughed instead of just rolling their eyes. Then it turned out Silva liked C as a learning language and David had to set him straight, then it turned out he liked Python, then somehow that turned into a discussion of sci fi and when David glanced down at his watch he saw to his startlement that they'd been there nearly three hours.

He'd told Puyol he'd email his quarterly equipment request before the end of the day. "Shit," he said. "I've got to get back, sorry."

Silva's mouth parted. One hand went up to his hair. "Oh—I'm sorry, I thought you were done. I wouldn't have—"

"It's fine," David interrupted. "I needed a break. I wanted to come."

"Oh. Okay." Silva's face lightened. "Thanks. It was fun."

"Yeah," David said. He hesitated. "Maybe we should do it some other time?"

"I'd love to," Silva said, and gave David another of those smiles.

* * *

So it got to be sort of a habit, going for coffee or lunch or whatever when they were both free. Silva was funny, wicked in a way that kept taking David by surprise at first, surprising a laugh out of him. He knew what he was talking about, too, which—it wasn't like the rest of the office didn't, but David wasn't used to outsiders getting it, much. It was nice.

Meanwhile at work Silva'd jumped right in the deep end, apparently, because David saw him heading for Xavi's cubicle, which was sort of like strolling into the Bermuda Triangle. The rest of the office was just open plan desks, but Xavi insisted he needed sacred ground for his creative process, or whatever. Sometimes he came out and worked wherever there was empty space—and somehow, he always seemed to find some—and then sometimes he vanished into his cubicle and no one saw him for the next three days.

David would have to check with Silva later and make sure he hadn't accidentally gotten sucked into a discussion of football prediction models or something. Or—he was veering in that direction before he'd really made a conscious decision. He had shit to ask Xavi about, anyway. Or would by the time he made it over there.

As he got closer, he could see Silva had the sort of railroaded look that meant he was actually trying to make sense of what Xavi was saying. Silva's head turned slightly and he caught David's eye. Outwardly, his expression didn't change, but David thought he detected a hint of desperation anyway. Or maybe he just knew what it was like to talk to Xavi.

He could hear Xavi's voice now. "—like a slot machine, but that's so inelegant. You've got to refine the whole thing, start from the basic principles. It's like, either you just get it or you don't, you know?" From the look on Silva's face, he didn't.

David hooked one arm over the edge of the cubicle wall. Xavi didn't so much ignore him as not notice him; that was what happened when you got him started on theory. "It should be integrated from the beginning, from the ground up. Almost organic. When you design you shouldn't even have to stop and think about it, it should be instantaneous, like... bam." He paused, looking thoughtful, and then elaborated: "Kind of like a robot, but not really."

Silva looked at David helplessly.

David turned. "Oi," he called, gesturing, "Iniesta! Over here!"

"He's not your bitch, Villa!" Valdés shouted back, but Iniesta was already getting up from his desk and coming over with a quizzical expression. He squeezed in next to them and looked at David.

"Translate," David commanded.

Iniesta looked from Silva to Xavi.

"DNA," Xavi said cryptically.

"Oh," Iniesta said, face clearing. "Xavi's working on a project to optimize all our algorithms to best-case performance, it's genius, really—"

David had heard all about this particular iteration of Xavi's genius before, so he tuned out. Instead he found himself examining Silva's face as he listened: first curious, then intrigued, then clearly impressed. David wondered, just a little bit, what he'd look like when it was time for him to check out David's work.

He was distracted enough he didn't realize they'd actually wrapped up until he blinked and Xavi was absorbed in his computer screen, as Silva and Iniesta edged out past him.

"—so," Iniesta was saying, "That's basically it. If, um, you have any more questions that Xavi... if it's too much trouble to interrupt him, you can ask me, if you want."

"Thank you," Silva said earnestly, "that was a really big help, er...?" He trailed off inquisitively.

"Iniesta," said David, and "Andrés," said Iniesta.

Silva looked from David to Iniesta and his eyes got very wide.

"Oh," he said, almost a squeak. "Oh. Thank you, that was really—I really appreciate your time. I mean. Thank you."

Iniesta smiled shyly and wandered away. Silva watched him go with an expression bordering on star-struck. "That was Iniesta? Andrés Iniesta?"

"Yeah," David said, frowning. "Why?"

"He's a legend," Silva said, still staring after him. "He—he's practically influenced my whole career. One of my professors told me if I kept thinking creatively I could do something like him some day and my feet didn't touch the ground for weeks—"

David didn't get what the big deal was. It was just Iniesta.

"No one knows where he went, you know that? There are all these rumors—he sold out, he retired, he's building supercomputers for the government, he founded a secret hacking collective and cyber technocracy..." Silva finally looked back at David, and stopped. His awed expression turned guilty, and then rueful. "Sorry. I'm getting carried away again, huh?"

David shrugged. "Iniesta's good and all but there are lots of geniuses here. He's not the only one."

"I can see that," Silva said. "Xavi—is that right?—sounds like he's really on to something with that project. I never would have guessed from the job description."

"Yeah, I guess we sound pretty sad on paper," David said, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Silva's expression was almost comically dismayed. "Oh, no, that's not what I meant, David, I'm sorry—" He stopped short and flushed. "Is that—I didn't mean to be so familiar. I'm sorry." He winced. "Again."

David shrugged. "Nah, it's okay. Call me whatever you want." After hearing bitch bitch bitch Villa all day long, it was kind of nice to have someone call him by his first name.

Silva risked another smile, more tentative than usual. "Okay. David. I meant, from the description I got, it sounded like it was sort of a, an afterthought, I guess. I didn't know it was going to be like this. I mean, it's only been a few days, and I can see already this is a really unique place." Silva sounded completely sincere, even; not like their old COO Rijkaard, who said "unique" like it was a dirty word. "I don't know why you've got me in, to be honest."

"Figo said it was part of the merger," David said. "Fucking bureaucracy. Everything has to be all numbers and 'efficiency' and 'viability'." He didn't bother to mask his disgust, either from his expression or from his voice. Silva's mouth quirked up. David thought about what he'd just said, and then something made him add, "But, you know, I bet you'll actually help. You got that thing with my project before you even started working for real."

Silva looked thoughtful. "I wonder." Before David could ask him what he meant, he said, "How do you feel about going over your project load with me now?"

"Sure," David said, and ignored the weird rollercoaster in his stomach. "If you want."

They went back to his desk and he pulled up all his projects and explained where they were going as best he could. Silva seemed to understand everything he said, which, ha, he'd known all along he was perfectly comprehensible and Valdés could just shut the fuck up.

* * *

Luís looked up at the knock to see Silva hovering in the doorway. "Do you have a minute?"

Luís scrutinized Silva's face, trying to determine if this was a regular check-in or a question or the beginnings of a problem. The guileless expression didn't tell him much. "Of course," he had to say before it got awkward. "Come in."

Silva came in and closed the door behind him, but he didn't sit down; instead he lingered on his feet near Luís' desk.

"How are you feeling about the job so far?" Luís asked.

"Good," Silva said. "Really good. I was just taking to Xavi about his best-performance project. It's incredible."

"Good," Luís said absently, as he tried to get a read on Silva. "Xavi's very talented." Still nothing. He decided to cut to the chase and said outright, "Is there a problem?"

Silva hesitated. "Well—"

Luís thought back to what he'd seen of Silva so far. There was one constant that stood out amidst the scenery. He groaned to himself. "It's Villa, isn't it."

"What?" Silva said. "You mean David Villa?"

"The one and only," Luís said.

"Oh, no," Silva said, looking a little confused, "he's been really helpful." Before Luís could digest that, Silva said, "No, it's about—why am I here?"

Luís didn't answer immediately. Silva pressed on. "What Xavi's doing, and Villa—and you've got Andrés Iniesta working here. You don't need anyone to assess their work."

Luís thought about how to answer. He could say it was about budgets, or bureaucracy—

Silva was watching him with faintly knowing eyes, like he could see what Luís was considering. He was polite and professional; he wouldn't push if Luís gave him an excuse, but he wouldn't believe it, either.

Luís sighed and leaned back in his seat. "It wasn't exactly my decision."

"Da—Villa said it was something to do with a merger...." Silva delicately trailed off and let the sentence hang in midair.

He might as well lay all his cards on the table. Luís sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "Technically it's a merger. Personally I would call it a hostile takeover. The new CEO's a... " Control freak? Perfectionist? Obsessive dictator? "...shrewd manager. He wants an outside review of every department. Especially ours."

"I see," Silva said, tactful and noncommital.

Luís sighed. "You've heard of José Mourinho?"

Silva fidgeted a little. "I... know the name..."

Of course he did; he'd done his degree under Mancini. "The truth is we've... crossed paths in the past." Silva looked so mildly and encouragingly curious that it was almost too easy to keep going. "Actually, we were all in it together when the old company was just a start up, years ago, José and I and Pep—Guardiola. Our old CEO. We were struggling, and eventually José got an offer that was... I can't blame him for taking it. He's become very successful, obviously."

"So have you," Silva said, which was nice of him.

"Yes. Well. Not enough. We'd have gone under if it hadn't been for José." Luís sighed. "I had to talk Pep into the merger; it was the only way to save the company." And it was better than a straight acquisition, and Luís hadn't worked his entire professional life to sacrifice their company to Pep's pride or principles or whatever it was. "He and José... don't get along very well these days."

Pep and Luís didn't get along terribly well these days, when it came to that. Luís cleared his throat. "Anyway. I'm not sure what he means to do with this department in particular. He knows we have good people here. He—" and this was still painful to admit, "—had our most promising programmer moved over his parent company."

It was true that Leo probably did deserve something a little more… prestigious, but that didn't mean Luís couldn't hold a grudge with the best of them. Silva winced. "Ooh."

"So," Luís said. "There we are. I'm not sure if José has a plan or if he wants us to think he has a plan or if he just wants to drive us crazy. It's entirely possible it could be any of those things. Or all of them."

"I see," Silva said slowly. "Can I ask... why were you the one to hire me, then, instead of Mourinho? Shouldn't I be reporting directly to him?"

"I'm not sure of that, either," Luís said honestly. "I suppose he..." trusts me, he'd been going to say, but that was in all honesty fairly unlikely.

"Okay," Silva said. "Well. I don't... I'm not going to turn down a job, or quit in the middle of one, but I want to be honest. I'm not sure how much use I'll be here—I can still do an in-depth review, of course, but I have a feeling I'm not going to find much to recommend that you cut. I think it might be more useful to you than to your CEO."

Luís started to answer, and then stopped. "Hm," he said.

Silva waited.

"I hired you," Luís said, "and it's up to me if you stay or not. So how about this. Do your review for me. Make a different one for José, if you like. Float around, get a really good feel for what's going on, and tell me about it." He thought for a minute. "And if you see anything like that solution to Villa's design problem, feel free to point it out.

Silva was nodded slowly. "I can do that," he said.

"That is," Luís said, "if it won't create conflicts for your report."

Silva smiled, and for just a minute Luís caught sight of something steely behind his eyes. "Don't worry," he said. "No one tells me what to report."

* * *

There was a buzz somewhere in the background. David absently reached up with one hand to check his headphones, but they were dangling around his neck so that couldn't be it. The other hand kept typing as he took a swig of Red Bull.

A hand waved itself in front of his face. David blinked, and looked up. Figo was standing over him.

"You want something?" David said.

Figo started to speak, then checked himself. "Did you hear anything I said?"

"Huh?" said David.

"Never mind," Figo said after a pause that was probably supposed to be significant. "Would you mind giving me your attention for a few minutes, or is that too much trouble?"

David listened at first, but Figo was going on forever about accountability and the new management and after a while David just sort of tuned out by accident. Figo's words washed over him as he chewed over the scheduling algorithm he'd been working on, inserting "Right," and "Yeah," and "Uh-huh," at appropriate intervals.

"—with Silva," Figo said, and David glanced up.


"I know you're not happy with this," Figo said. "But I won't have you giving Silva any trouble, all right?"

David's jaw dropped. 'I don't—I wouldn't—what the fuck!"

"You wouldn't?" Figo said, one eyebrow arched in that really irritating skeptical way of his.

"No," David managed to bite out around his indignation. "For Christ's sake, can't anyone give me a little credit here?"

Figo eyed him. "If you say so," he said. "Just try to remember this, all right? Don't get in his way."

David was too outraged to come up with an appropriate retort before Figo walked away. Instead he had to settle for scowling at his laptop and muttering his belated and cutting comebacks under his breath. He'd been really in the zone before Figo jolted him out of it and now it was going to take ages to get back into his rhythm.

David looked around. Silva was heading back from the direction of Puyol's desk, laptop under his arm. As long as David was distracted, he might as well run a couple things by him.

"Hey, Silva," David said, raising his voice. That sounded weird. Should he call Silva by his first name, too? He'd have to figure that out later, because Silva was looking at him now. "Got a second?"

Silva came over. "Sure."

"About the network design," David said. "The thing you were talking about the first day."

Silva's face did that funny little guilt spasm thing again. "Right. Did I—I thought..."

"So I've made more progress since than I have in the last three months," David said. "Sit down. Let's talk about this."

Silva looked around for a chair. David hooked one over with his foot and Silva obediently sat down. "Look," David said, "do you have time to sound out some other ideas for me?" Silva was looking at him like he didn't quite understand what David was saying, or why he was asking, so David groped for further explanation. "You don't have to, whatever, you've got a job to do. I just think... This is good. You're good at this."

Silva looked like he was torn between flattery and laughter. "Thanks," he said, ducking his head a little. "It is my job."

"Yeah, well, that doesn't have to mean anything," David said with feeling. "Believe me."

Silva grinned. "Okay," he said. "Then sure. Whenever you feel like it."

"Great," David said, with satisfaction. He wondered if collaboration always felt like this. Maybe he should start working with people more often.

Then he caught what he was thinking and shook his head, hard, to clear it up. Maybe he hadn't gotten enough sleep or something.

So after that David didn't feel any compulsion against snagging Silva over whenever he had a new idea to talk through, just to hear what Silva had to say about it. Sometimes Silva just listened and asked questions, and sometimes he had a good suggestion, too. After a couple days David started sounding out some of his other projects with Silva as well. because for some reason if he was getting ready to talk something over with Silva he suddenly started coming up with better answers than he'd had before, out of nowhere.

The thing was, the longer Silva was around, the harder it was to imagine him not being around. He seemed to like the office, too, which was probably why it had occurred to David more than once that it wouldn't be so bad if Silva just... stayed. It would be more effective, or at least more interesting. Neither of those were quite right, but it was a good thing somehow, he could tell that much.

He mentioned it once, casually, just to see what Silva thought. "I don't think you can hire me if there's not a position," Silva said with a grin.

David shrugged. "Bet you could talk your way into it. I mean, you're good enough. Figo collects programmers like fucking Pokemon."

Silva actually looked thoughtful. Then he shook his head. "This is a great place, but... I'm too used to answering to myself now. I don't think I could give that up, even for you guys." David must have looked angry or something because Silva said earnestly, "I really do like it here, though. Better than anywhere I've ever worked. I'd love to come back sometime."

"Well," David said, bizarrely disappointed, "think about it. You know. In case."

"Okay," Silva said. "Are you up for lunch today?"

"Sure," David said. "Hey, I know this place you should try before you go back to your gloomy little island. Asturian. Obviously."

"You know they have pretty good cider in England, too," Silva said.

Was Silva baiting him? His eyes looked kind of suspicious. David decided he didn't care. "No, listen, maybe that's what their fucking tourist board's got you to think..."

* * *

It had been two weeks since David Silva had come in with his suggestion and since then Luís hadn't heard a word of complaint. To the contrary: Silva seemed to fit the office like a hand in a glove, and there weren't many people that could be said about. He got along with Villa, for Christ's sake; there was really nothing Luís could add to that.

He should have known it was too good to last.

"Luís," Victor hissed as soon as Luís emerged from his office, gesturing him over urgently. "Watch this."

Luís looked. He didn't see anything but—ah. Beyond the glass front doors, he could just make out the approach of a familiar spiky silhouette. He didn't know what had happened to set Villa off this time, or who was responsible, but as entertaining as a trademark Villa Tantrum could be, Luís didn't really have the time today. He made to say as much, but Victor shushed him, eyes glued to the doors. Luís, frowning, waited.

The doors opened. Villa came through, veered to the side just long enough to drop his bag on his desk and then arrowed straight for Silva's.

"Hey," he said, hands in pockets.

Silva looked up and beamed. "Hi, David."

Now that was different—no one called Villa by his first name, not even Morientes. Villa appeared completely unfazed, which indicated that it wasn't a new thing. He nodded at Silva's laptop. "How's it going?"

"Good," Silva said, sounding cheerful. "I'm looking at the code update you gave me right now."

"Oh," Villa rubbed at the back of his neck—even as Luís' eyes beheld the evidence, his brain was telling him there was no way David Villa was acting bashful—"Oh yeah?"

"You didn't tell me you'd solved the database write issue. This, right here, this is fantastic. Where did you come up with that?"

Villa shrugged. "Dunno, I just... thought of it. You think it's that good?"

"What, now you're fishing for compliments?" Silva said, teasingly—he was teasing David Villa, as if this entire scene wasn't already dumbfounding enough—and went on, "You don't need me to tell you how good you are."

Villa rolled his eyes, but a blind man could have seen how he'd perked up. He glanced at his watch. "Hey, it's almost noon," he said, with all the studied casualness of a lead brick. "Want to get lunch or something?"

Silva gave him a smile so bright it had to be lethal. "Sure," he said. "Let me just finish this write up, okay?" He looked at the screen, then back at Villa, and said, "Actually, as long as we're talking, do you mind if I bring some suggestions along? You might not even need them, the architecture's really solid, I just see a one or two places where maybe we—sorry, I mean where maybe you might be able to do something to improve your system efficiency, overall."

Luís started to stand. That system was Villa's baby. Silva was a nice kid and, more importantly, an expensive hire, and he didn't need —

Villa said, "Yeah, sure, bring 'em along."

Luís was actually speechless for a minute. Then he muttered, "Mother of God."

Victor actually had a hand over his mouth to stifle his snickers. He removed it long enough to gasp, "Priceless," and then clapped it back again.

Villa was back at his desk, fiddling with his keyboard. He was—Was that a smile? Maybe not quite, but his mouth was definitely turned up, enough so that it didn't look like anyone that crossed his path would be eaten alive. As Luís watched, his head turned like it was remote controlled in the direction of Silva's desk. Silva was resting his chin in one hand and his lower lip was caught between his teeth. For a long moment, Villa just stared, like he was in a trance. Then he seemed to come to, blinking several times, and refocused on his computer.

Silva, absorbed in his screen, didn't even notice.

Victor opened his mouth but Luís held up a warning hand until they were back in his office with the door firmly closed. Then Victor said, "Is that or isn't that the best thing you've ever seen?"

Luís said, "You're enjoying this, aren't you."

Victor gave him a look. "I know Villa, so yeah, I am. Who wouldn't?"

"His boss, when it all goes horribly wrong," Luís said grimly.

Victor waved a hand. "Oh, come on," he said. "Silva's leaving in a couple weeks anyway. What's the worst that could happen?"

Famous last words, Luís thought, and wondered if it would all go away if he pretended it wasn't happening.

But after that, it was almost painfully hard to ignore. Luís wondered why he hadn't noticed what was going on before: yes, he'd noticed that Villa appeared to find Silva at least marginally less irritating than the rest of the human race, but suddenly every time he turned around it seemed like Villa had a question for Silva, or was telling him to come out to lunch, or didn't have anything in particular to say but was just hanging around anyway. The fact that he'd apparently conned Silva into acting as a sounding board for his precious network upgrade made it even worse.

The most hilarious—or depressing, depending on your point of view—part about the whole thing was that Villa himself didn't seem to realize it. When Villa did implement Silva's changes after all, Victor made some sly remark about being whipped and Villa gave him a look of such blank incomprehension—mixed, because it was Villa, with a healthy dose of 'are you stupid'—that it had to have been real. Then, not even two minutes later, Pedro said something innocuous about Silva's review of his own project and Villa nearly took his head off.

It was almost beyond belief, except Luís didn't put anything beyond David Villa any more. Luís tried, just to be sure. "Is there anything on your mind right now?" he asked next time he had a one-on-one with Villa out of earshot of nosy colleagues. "Anything in the office that might affect relationships—ah, interactions with your coworkers?" Villa stared at him. Luís sighed. "No. All right, go."

Meanwhile, Silva continued to ferret out problems that had gone ignored, overlooked, or simply unnoticed, all the while charming the hell out of the entire office, and Villa continued to lurk around his desk like it was magnetized. Half the time he wasn't even pretending to work. It was pathetic.

No one was entirely sure of Silva's own feelings on the subject, though a not-so-clandestine betting pool had sprung up behind his back. The majority opinion was that he was tactfully ignoring it, being a sane individual who recognized Villa for the unstable maniac he was. Besides, Victor reminded them all, he was going back to England in less than ten days now, and who wanted David Villa stalking them long distance from Barcelona?

Luís wasn't so sure. Silva might be a genius at programming, but those were the ones that tended to have the biggest blind spots when it came to actual human interaction. Villa was all you needed to demonstrate that. Silva certainly seemed to like Villa well enough, after all—more than anyone else ever had, except maybe Morientes, and even that was different. Morientes liked Villa plenty, but a healthy portion of that was for amusement value.

"What happened, anyway?" Morientes asked, poking at a leftover carton of takeout. "I've never seen him like this before. Ever."

Luís shrugged. "He likes people who stand up to him," he said, and then added pointedly, "As you should know." Morientes suddenly became very interested in his fried rice.

(It had looked for a bit, way back when he first started working for them, like Villa might be developing a thing for Morientes, before that had been swiftly nipped in the bud by expedient of Morientes bringing his boyfriend in after work the next day. Which was probably good, because said boyfriend wasn't the type of person who would have thought it was funny, and he wasn't the type of person Luís wanted on the company's bad side.)

"Look, you're his friend," Luís said, returning to the subject with the same masochistic compulsion that made other people poke at sore bruises. "Can't you do something? Give him a nudge, or push him off a cliff. This is painful to watch."

Morientes frowned. "You think he needs it? He's got more of a clue than most people give him credit for."

"If he has the slightest idea what's going on," Luís said, "then he's playing a deeper game than I ever thought he was capable of."

"But does Silva even—"

Morientes was interrupted by a timid cough from the doorway.

Mata and Krkić were standing there, with twin expressions of dread. Luís raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"

Krkić elbowed Mata. Mata elbowed him right back and cleared his throat. "Um," he said. "Do you have a minute? Or a few minutes?"

That was never a good start. What were Mata and Krkić supposed to be working on? (Was Krkić even full time or was he technically still an intern?) They weren't on application design, or database management—Luís remembered and his stomach sank. "Oh no," he said. "Don't tell me you have problems. Please don't tell me you have problems."

Krkić fidgeted. Mata coughed.

"Not... problems, exactly," Mata finally said. "More like, um. Unforeseen delays?"

Luís stared. Mata blanched. "What. Kind. Of delays."

Mata's courage seemed to fail him. Krkić, speaking very fast, said, "Like maybe the final round of testing showed major errors and we tried to hurry the fix and half the functional references lead to recursive loops now."

Luís stared at them.

"It could be worse," Krkić offered, which earned him another elbow in the side from Mata.

"Wait," Morientes interrupted. "Aren't you guys working on the new user interface rollout?" They nodded, in unison. "But we're supposed to present it to the new CEO tomorrow," Morientes said. "Aren't we?"

Krkić looked even more pitiful. Mata gulped. Luís closed his eyes and counted to ten, then did it again. And again.

"We know what's wrong," Krkić said. "It's just. There's a lot of things. To fix."

"We'll get back to work right after this," Mata said. "But I don't think, um, that it would be a good idea. To... to..."

Luís put an end to the misery. "All right," he said, speaking through closed teeth. "I'll call and tell him. That it won't be ready. And if you want to keep working here—"

Morientes said unexpectedly, "I bet we could do it by tomorrow."

Luís turned, very slowly, and raised on eyebrow. "I beg your pardon?"

Morientes put his chopsticks down. "Think about it for a minute," he said. "If the kids are right—" Krkić looked indignant, but Mata had a death grip on his arm, "—and it's just a bunch of bad references, then the fixes should be simple. It's just a matter of time. Get whoever's around in on it, offer overtime. I bet we could get it done."

At some point during the proceedings, Victor had wandered over and was lurking outside the oor—he was always around when there were things to hear. He was beckoning Andrés over now, muttering to him. Andrés looked thoughtful.

Luís closed his eyes again and thought. He thought about the budget and a tight deadline and sleep-deprived mistakes. He thought about a messy, half-fixed rollout.

He thought about telling Mourinho that they weren't ready on time after all.

He opened his eyes. "All right," he said. "Call in whoever's here. The overtime's open to anyone who wants it as long as we can least five people to commit. I'll throw in a bonus if the job's actually finished in time."

"I'm in," Morientes said. "Let me just call—" He pulled out his phone and wandered a few feet out the door, probably so he could placate the boyfriend out of Luís' earshot.

"Me, too," Andrés said, and, "Yeah, sure, why not," said Victor.

"What's this?" Villa said, joining their little huddle; Silva was just a few steps behind.

"Fixes for the new user interface," Victor told him. "Overtime. Bonus. You in?"

Villa shrugged. "Sure," he said, and went back to his desk without bothering to ask for details. Victor snorted and headed toward his own. Mata and Krkić were already back in their little corner, talking very fast to each other and gesturing at their laptop screens.

Silva lingered. "What's going on?"

Luís pressed at his temple again. "Bad update. Bugs everywhere. Presentation tomorrow."

"Ooh," Silva said, with a wince. "Ouch."

"Yes," Luís said. "Well. Apparently we're going to try and fix it up overnight. It's that or go in empty-handed."

Silva hesitated. "You know," he said, "if you need an extra pair of hands, I can help."

"You didn't contract for this," Luís began, maybe a little perfunctorily.

"No, let me," Silva said. "It's been ages since I've gotten to do any real coding and I miss it. I don't mind, really."

"Well," Luís said, aware he was putting up a token protest at best, "if you want to—"

Silva was already headed back to his desk. "I'll just wrap this up and then let me know what I can do, okay?"

Villa, of course, caught sight of what he was doing immediately. "Hey," he said, "come on, push your desk over." He nodded to the middle of the office where even as he spoke Carles was overseeing Krkić and Mata, both slightly red-faced, maneuvering theirs into place. Andrés followed, and Victor and Pedro and even Xavi, until there was a little island in the middle of the office, populated with laptops and extension cords and five types of energy drinks.

Silva was the last. The free space was next to Villa. Of course it was.

"Okay," Morientes said, looking from Mata and Krkić to Carles. "Where do we start?"

Carles looked at Mata.

"Um," Mata said, clearly both taken aback and pleased to maintain responsibility. "Okay. Let's divide it up by areas of functionality..."

Technically Luís could have gone home any time he wanted, since he felt no shame in admitting that these days he was a manager and not a programmer, and Carles was a more than able deputy. The reason he was a good manager, though, was that he wouldn't do that. Instead he retired to his office and observed his minions through the glass.

Mata and Krkić, after a little while, started to regain their usual bouncy equilibrium. Victor was on one side of Andrés, whistling to himself, and Xavi was on the other, ignoring everything around him. At some point, Carles left and returned with several plastic bags of takeout cartons, like the helpful second-in-command he was. Then around two, Villa volunteered to go to the all-night cafe down the street for a coffee run, which was something that Luís had never, ever seen him do in the five years Villa had worked in the office. Mostly they just worked in silence, save for the tapping of several keyboards, or the occasional question lobbed at Mata and Krkić.

Luís had lost track of the time when Carles pushed back from the desk with a sigh of satisfaction. "Done," he said.

"Done," Xavi echoed a minute later. Andrés was next, then Morientes, then Krkić and the rest, until finally Villa and Silva were the only ones left.

Villa was responsible for the largest chunk of code, so that wasn't surprising; Silva was more so, until Luís, circling the table, casually glanced over his shoulder and realized he was adding meticulous documentation to each one of his changes as well.

"I'm done," Villa said suddenly. "Just have to test this."

"Me too," Silva said. He looked up and gave Villa surprisingly mischievous little grin. "Race you."

Villa looked first surprised, then anticipant. His grin showed teeth. "You're on."

Luís, along with the rest of the group, watched in something akin to morbid fascination as both keyboards rattled away. "Five bucks on Silva," Pedro said under his breath, just as they said, in unison, "Done." Silva started to laugh. Villa was grinning more widely than Luís had ever seen, which was frankly kind of unnerving.

Mata just looked relieved. "So this is it? We're done?"

"I think so," Krkić said. "We just need,"—he consulted his screen—"Villa's change log and we'll have everything."

"Villa," Luís said, "email Bojan a copy of your change log, please." When there was no answer, he looked over. "Villa?"

He was listening to Silva, of course. "I'm even more out of practice than I thought," Silva was saying, with a rueful glance at his screen. "I've gotten really slow." He glanced at Villa and gave him another of those impish little grins. "Don't pretend that's not what you're thinking, David."

"Nah," Villa said, with a flash of white teeth back at him. "You're not bad, for a consultant."

"Villa," Luís repeated.

"What?" Villa asked, never taking his eyes from Silva.

Andrés coughed. Morientes grinned. Luís put a hand over his face. "Your change log."

"Oh," Villa said, finally tearing his gaze away and looking blankly at his screen. "Right. Yeah, I'll just—"

"Email it to Bojan," Silva said.

"Right, that." Villa clicked, then clicked again. "There you go."

"Thank you," Luís sighed. He looked around the table. "All right," he said. "Thank you, everyone, for your help. This..." He cleared his throat, picked up a stray mouse, and put it down again. "This will make an important difference to the department, and also to me personally. I appreciate it."

When he glanced back up, no one had moved. "We're done. Go," he elaborated, waving a hand at them.

There was a clamor of chairs scraping, chattering voices, laptops closing. "It's only five?" Luís overheard Krkić saying, sounding far too perky to be human. "Juan, let's go get pancakes."

"What's that?" Victor said, shouldering between them and draping an arm over each one's shoulders. "You're treating us all as a thank you?"

"Sure," Krkić said bravely. "Right, Juan?"

"Sure," Juan said, sounding slightly less enthused. He twisted his head over his shoulder. "Pedro?"

"You bet," said Rodríguez. It looked like they were all going, in the end, trailing out of the office together. Villa hung back until Silva came along and then fell in step with him, hands shoved in his pockets. He said something too quiet for Luís to hear, something that made Silva laugh hard enough to hear over the chatter. Villa looked smugly pleased with himself. Luís considered tragedy and ruin.

Carles was standing at his shoulder. "You're not in favor of the bonding properties of early morning pancakes?" Luís said.

"They can do whatever they want," Carles said. "But I'm going home and going to sleep."

Luís thought that sounded like an excellent idea.

* * *

"So," David said, leaning against the edge of Silva's desk and dumping his laptop on top of it. "I think this is it. Final mock up."

"Let me see," Silva said, and slid the laptop toward himself. David waited while he slowly scrolled down, brow furrowed, then clicked back up to the top and read over everything again. Finally, Silva sat back and beamed at him. "I think you've got something really solid here."

"We," David corrected. Silva was shaking his head, but David wasn't going to let him get away with that. "You should get—fuck, I don't know, do we get royalties on design? Credit at least."

"I am getting paid by the hour," Silva pointed out.

Something about the way he said it made David smirk. "You making them bleed?"

"I'm well compensated," Silva said demurely, and then gave up and grinned back at David.

"Good," David said, satisfied. He almost didn't mention it, then went ahead anyway. "Hey. Look. Are you sure you don't want to maybe stick around here? After this, and all that shit with Mata and Krkić's fixes, Figo would definitely find the money to hire you."

Silva looked conflicted. "I... You guys are great. I really. I like it here. But I don't think..."

"Yeah," David said quickly, before Silva could say any more, because he didn't really want to hear Silva say no again. He wondered if it would be out of line to ask Silva if it'd been some traumatic experience in the past that left him so into self-determination. Then he realized Silva was looking past him.

That was when David noticed the office had fallen completely silent.

The back of David's neck prickled. In the silence, he heard a very smooth voice behind him said, "Bojan, isn't it? Is Luís in?"

Slowly, David turned.

He'd only seen Mourinho, the new CEO, a couple times, but that was more than enough to remember him. Which was obviously what he wanted to happen, with the swishy trenchoat and the sweeping around dramatically. Where the fuck did he think he was, anyway? They were a fucking IT company.

Right now Mourinho was smiling benevolently at Krkić, who looked like he thought he was about to be eaten alive. "Yes? I mean, no, I mean, he should be back any minute—"

"Absent during business hours," Mourinho murmured to himself. "Interesting."

An elbow nudged David in the side. "Is that Mourinho?" Silva whispered, barely moving his lips.

David didn't know Mourinho could possibly have heard—he was halfway across the office and Silva had barely made a sound. But as David nodded, Mourinho's head turned, and his hunter's gaze landed on Silva. It rested there for a minute, and then the next thing David knew he'd abandoned Krkić and was approaching them.

He ignored David—which, hello, David was right there—and stood examining Silva for a minute, before he smiled again. "Do I know you?"

Silva flicked a glance at David, who opened his eyes as far as they could go and furrowed his eyebrows and tried to convey telepathically not to let Mourinho get away with this shit. "Ah, sort of?" Silva said to Mourinho. "Luís— Figo— hired me as the external consultant you asked for. David Silva. Sir." He stood up and held out a hand.

After a second, Mourinho shook it. "Of course," he said. "He mentioned you. You were one of Roberto's special proteges."

"Yes, sir," Silva said, brightening with polite enthusiasm. "You know Professor Mancini?"

"Unfortunately," Mourinho said, low and smooth as cream. Silva's face flickered, from blank confusion to surprise to disbelief, then his spine stiffened.

"That's funny, because he never mentioned you," he said, and David could hear the entire office draw in a breath.

The silence dragged out for a very long moment. Mourinho had lost the smile. "My acquaintance with your professor was by reputation only, which was more than sufficient. What did you say your name was?"

"David Silva," Silva repeated. There was a gleam in his eyes.

"I see," Mourinho said. "And you're a... consultant, now." Silva flushed. David scowled. What the fuck was that supposed to mean? "Tell me, many of Roberto's students, do they end up doing this?"

"I guess just the really good ones," David said loudly. "Because Silva's pretty fucking good."

This silence was even more resounding.

It was sort of like being in the sights of a large hungry panther, David thought, or guessed, since he'd never actually seen a panther. Well, it didn't matter, because David wasn't going to let Mourinho fuck with him. He glared right back and one of Mourinho's brows went up.

Mourinho said, "And your name is—"

"José," Figo said, just as David's mouth dropped open and he drew a furious breath, because what the hell was that suppoed to mean, he was David Villa. "What can I do for you?"

Just like that, Mourinho turned his back on them. "Luís. Do you know what this email from Pep is supposed to mean?"

Did he think he could just ignore David? David started to get up and a hand gripped his arm, hard. He swiveled around and saw Silva shaking his head furiously at him. David frowned. No, Silva mouthed, and David frowned harder, then sank grudgingly back into his seat. Then he realized half the office was staring at him.

He ignored them all. Figo was saying something to Mourinho. "—asked him?"

"I suspect he has put his phone off the hook again," Mourinho said. "And he will not answer his email. Even though I am his boss."

Figo opened his mouth, looked around the office, and closed it again. "Why don't we talk about this... somewhere else. Like your office."

"That is what I would have suggested from the beginning," Mourinho said, nodding agreeably.

Figo looked like he was just barely managing not to respond to that. Instead, he just shook his head and held the door open, gesturing for Mourinho precede him. Mourinho gave him a gracious nod. The door closed behind them.

The entire office seemed to exhale. Puyol just shook his head, muttering something himself; Xavi, laptop perched on the edge of Rodriguez' desk, appeared to be trying to burn two holes in the door with his eyes. David heard Mata say faintly, "Oh my god. Is it too early to get a drink?"

He rolled his eyes so hard they felt like they were going to come out of his head. Goddamn melodramatic attention junkie, anyone with half a brain could see it was all about cheap intimidation and everyone bought into it anyway—

The hand still on his arm tugged him around. "What were you doing?" Silva demanded.

"What?" David said. As Silva stared at him, he shifted a little uncomfortably. "I just said what I thought. You did the same thing."

"He's in charge of your whole company!" Silva said, eyes still wide. "It was—I shouldn't have said anything either, but it doesn't matter as much, my contract's almost up anyway. You could have lost your job."

"It's no big deal," David muttered. "Figo wouldn't let that happen." His cheeks felt hot, so he crossed his arms and shrugged. "Besides, he obviously didn't know what the hell he was talking about."

Silva just kept looking at him, with this look on his face David couldn't figure out. David's insides felt kind of weird and liquidy. Maybe Mori was right after all and David was having too much caffeine these days. He should probably go get some lunch or something. He just couldn't seem to look away, was all.

"That's... " Silva started, and then cleared his throat and said, "Thank you. I..." He ducked his head, sort of. "I should really go—take care of this. But. Thank you. Again. It really... means a lot to me." He glanced back up and smiled, finally, slow and a little—almost sweet. "But you probably shouldn't do it again."

"I'll tell him whatever I feel like," David said, but it was a lot less belligerent than it could have been.

Silva got up, then hesitated. "If you get in trouble, have Luís talk to me. It's my fault for starting it in the first place."

Yeah, right. "I'll be fine," David said. But the strange feeling wouldn't go away, as he watched Silva leave.

It was definitely time to cut down on the caffeine.

* * *

He got off pretty well, all things considered. Figo gave him a lecture about respecting authority and not endangering his own job and blah blah suck up to people, whatever, but David got the feeling Figo was actually kind of satisfied. Maybe there was something to all those rumors about an incestuous three-way power struggle between Figo and Mourinho and Guardiola after all. The point was, David didn't even get a real reprimand or anything, so it was fine.

The next day, he ate lunch with Mori, because it felt like it'd been a long time since they'd hung out. When he said as much, Mori laughed, which David didn't really get, and then wouldn't tell David what was so funny.

Mori's desk was piled with debris, as usual, so David took Iniesta's chair and Mori took Valdés'. "By the way," Mori said, digging into his lunch, "I heard about the Mourinho thing."

Why was everyone in this office such a fucking gossip? "Whatever," David said. "It was just a thing."

"'A thing'," Mori repeated, grinning. "Sure."

David narrowed his eyes and gave Mori his best menacing look, but those were never effective on Mori, who just kept grinning at him and then reached out and poked David in the cheek one finger. David spluttered and batted at his hand and Mori cracked up.

David had one of Iniesta's pens raised and ready to retaliate when Silva's voice behind him said, "David?" David dropped the pen and twisted around. "Have you got a minute? I wanted to ask you about—" Silva caught sight of Mori and stopped.

"Ask me about?" David prompted.

Silva looked from David to Mori. "If you're busy, I can..."

"No," David said immediately. "I'm not." Mori snorted.

Silva said tactfully, "Maybe Fernando thinks you're busy?"

Since when were Silva and Mori on a first name basis? David looked at Mori. Mori raised his eyebrows and nodded very slowly, like David was the slow one here.

David rolled his eyes and turned back to Silva. "Okay, I guess I'm busy." ("Thanks," Mori interjected dryly.) "I'll catch you afterwards, okay?"

"Sure." Silva gave David another little smile, and vanished.

Mori nudged him in the side with one elbow. "So what are you going to do when Silva leaves?"

David said, "Huh?"

"He's got, what, three days left, right?" What? That couldn't be right. "Are you going to make a move or what?"

David stared at him.

"David," Mori said warningly, which, what the fuck, what had he done?

"What," he said.

"Don't even start with me, Villa," Mori said. "I know you're incredibly clueless when it comes to actual human emotions but even you should be able to figure this one out."

David crossed his arm over his chest. "I don't know what the hell you're even talking about."

Mori raised his eyes heavenward and muttered something under his breath. Then he looked back at David and—alarmingly—gave him a sudden, evil smile. "Fine," he said. "You want to know what I'm talking about? Listen really closely, here you go: I'm talking about your incredibly obvious crush."

For a moment David just gaped: he was so stunned he actually couldn't speak. He recovered his voice quickly enough, though. "What the fuck does that mean? Just because Silva's actually a nice guy compared to the rest of you losers doesn't mean I—I—" He nearly choked.

"Bullshit," Mori said, still smiling. That goddamned untrustworthy smile again, David should've known. "Deal with it, Villa, you've got it bad."

"I—" do not, David started to bite out, and suddenly thought of Silva chewing on the end of a pen, bangs in his eyes, scribbling all over David's sys architecture diagrams.

Mori's eyebrows were raised expectantly. What the fuck, why couldn't he finish the damn sentence? Just because Silva was sweet and hot and razor sharp didn't mean—He wasn't obsessed with Silva or anything, he just—


It must've shown on his face, because Mori snorted. "Now he gets it," he said. "For God's sake, Villa, does everything have to be physically beaten into your head?"

"Fuck you," David said automatically, but there wasn't any real feeling behind it. There wasn't any to spare from the churning mess of shock and awe and Silva, Silva, Silva.

Mori looked a little sympathetic now, because he came in layers—nice on the outside, dangerous on the inside, and a real softie underneath that. "Deep breaths, Villa," he said. "Acknowledging your feelings takes oxygen."

"Shut up," David heard his own voice say.

"It's good for you," Mori said bracingly. Something buzzed from his pocket. He fished his phone out and looked at the screen; then he looked at his watch and muttered something under his breath.

"Good for you," David repeated.

"Yeah," Mori said. "Improved quality of life, self-actualization, getting laid. If you get your act together you can still jump Silva before he leaves. Listen, I've got to go, but maybe you should go home early, okay? If Luís asks you can blame it on me."

David nodded mechanically.

"And think about what you're going to do," Mori added. "Raul won't like it if I have to haul your drunken ass home every night for the next month because you're depressed about chickening out."

That galvanized David into flipping him off, but when Mori left David was still staring blankly at the desk, and kept doing so until Iniesta finally came along and gingerly prodded him out of the chair and then, after looking at his face, all the way out of the office.

* * *

He couldn't stop thinking about it.

After an hour of restless tossing and turning, he gave in and gave it a try, thinking about Silva like that: Silva's lean, compact body and the curve of his neck and his sinewy arms and the tendrils of dark hair clinging to his nape and then suddenly David was coming all over his hand. And after that he couldn't stop, thinking about Silva's crinkling dark eyes, and his smile and his laugh, imagining what he'd do if David kissed his spine or if he'd like it if David stroked him from shoulder to hip or—

So that at least was pretty clear.

No one could say David Villa was a coward. He parked his bike outside the building at 8:30, because Silva was always early and David might as well deal with it as soon as possible. That, and he was damned if he was going to do this with any more of an audience than was strictly necessary.

As it turned out, the coast was clear. He balled up one hand into a fist and, telling himself he didn't need to take a deep breath or shit like that, stalked up to Silva's desk.

"Hi, David," Silva said with that bright smile—Jesus—and David's throat suddenly dried up.

"Hi," he managed dumbly.

"You stood me up yesterday," Silva said, teasing, and David had to swallow.

"Yeah," he said. "I mean, I know. I mean, I'm sorry. There... something happened. Important."

Silva immediately looked contrite. "I know. I mean, I guessed. I'm just teasing, I know you wouldn't do that."

"Yeah," David repeated meaninglessly. "I—" He didn't know what he was going to say next.

Silva was looking at him, a little questioning. Fuck, he needed to get a grip and just do it. He squeezed the fisted hand, digging his nails into his palms, and said, "Mori told me you're leaving this week."

Silva's smile dimmed a little. "The day after tomorrow. I thought—You didn't know?"

"No. I mean, I thought—I didn't realize it was now. Already." He was honest-to-god babbling now. "I just suck at dates. Look, we should—I don't know."

The corner of Silva's mouth lifted. "Keep in touch?"

"Yeah. That would be... yeah."

"I was kind of counting on it," Silva said, and gave David a lopsided smile.

Fuck, it was like Silva was trying to make it impossible for David to speak. David realized one of his hands was coming up, dangerously close to tugging at his own hair. Damn it, he just didn't do nervous gestures, ever. He shoved both hands in his pockets to stop them moving around and said, "Look. I wanted to ask you something."

Silva said, "Hmm?"

"This is going to sound stupid but since you're leaving and all—" Were Silva's eyes always so dark? Fuck. "I know you said before you didn't like staying in one place so I wouldn't—I mean I know that, I'm not trying to—but we got along, you know, pretty well, and I was just wondering now if, I don't know, maybe—sometime—you and me—"

First Silva looked confused. Then his face cleared, and then fell, and David's stomach gave a sickening drop before Silva even said anything.

"Oh—oh." Silva looked crestfallen, and sorry, and dismayed. "David—I'm really sorry, but I don't think—"

"It's fine," David said, or something like it, because he couldn't listen to anything more. Silva stopped talking, at least, which was good, but he was looking at David with these big pitying eyes, and David just couldn't —

"Sorry," he managed to grind out, after a minute. "Didn't mean to—" He made some kind of gesture.

"Oh, no," Silva said, patently eager to reassure, "I'm flattered, honest—"

He couldn't handle this. He must have said something else, because Silva stopped talking and looked disappointed, and also a little worried. He turned around and made his way in the direction of his desk by instinct. He didn't know what he looked like, but somehow, he couldn't bring himself to care.

It was just his luck that Victor Valdés chose that moment to show up early for probably the first time in two years. David nearly walked straight into him. Valdés started blabbing about what an asshole David was, as usual, so David looked at him without really seeing him and Valdés' rant suddenly cut short.

"Jesus, Villa," Valdés said. "What happened to you?"

David didn't say anything. Valdés eyes flicked from him to Silva's desk and back. Then they went very wide.

"Holy shit," Valdés said, sounding awed. "You just got shot down."

There was nothing David could say to that, so he didn't. Instead he turned around and walked out of the office. And kept walking until he was out on the sidewalk, and then outside his own apartment, and then, somehow, lying flat on his couch, staring up at the ceiling.

Maybe he'd stay there a while.

* * *

When Luís got to the office at nine there was a neat, color-coded report waiting on his desk. He picked it up and flipped through it. It was, as far as he could see, impeccable.

Luís stuck his head out the door. "Silva?"

Silva didn't hear him the first time, which was unusual, but he snapped to attention to second time, and obediently came to join Luís in his office.

Luís tapped the report. "You're done already?"

Silva nodded. "That one's for you. I'll have the one for Mo—your CEO later today." He gave Luís a little smile. "I still think it's ridiculous to even consider cutting anything in your department. But I hope it's useful to you, at least."

"Thank you," Luís said, sincerely. "It's been a pleasure, and I mean that." He gave Silva a thoughtful once over. "If you're ever interested in something permanent..."

"Oh—oh, thank you. Really." Silva looked both pleased and apologetic. "But I think I want to stay independent." For reasons unknown to Luís, his smile faded, and his face fell slightly.

Victor, lurking outside as usual, came up behind him. "See," he said, looping an arm over Silva's shoulder, "the guy likes his independence, no wonder he shut Villa down. Give that one an inch and you'd never get rid of him."

Silva twisted his head up. He sounded puzzled when he said, "Shut what down?"

Luís had just a fraction of a second to fully appreciate both the magnitude of impending catastrophe and the fact that he could do absolutely nothing about it before Victor said, "The huge whopping thing he's got for you, obviously. I've got to hand it to you, you're a pro—I've never seen anyone manage it so thoroughly but so nicely."

"What?" said Silva.

Victor tsked. "Come on, there can't be two of you with—" Victor, curving his head around, got a good look at Silva's face and said, "My God, there are."

Silva's eyes were round. His cheeks were tinged with color. "He... David?" he said, and then even more faintly, "Me?"

Victor rolled his eyes. "Yes, you, obviously, he's only been stalking you since the day you got here. What's wrong with you people? Don't you get enough air down there?"

Luís intervened. "All right, Victor, that's enough. Leave him alone."

Victor departed, shaking his head and muttering something about oxygen deprivation under his breath. Silva looked helplessly at Luís.

Luís put a thumb and forefinger to the corners of his eyes, pressed very hard, and took them away. "He's telling the truth," he said. "Villa hasn't been very... subtle. In his entire life," he added on reflection.

"But... I thought..."

Luís was actually rather interested in what Silva had thought, because it had to be good. Silva's eyes got wider. "Then was he... Before, he was talking about how I should think about staying, and how we worked really well together—and we do—so I thought..." He was talking to himself now. "It just, it never occurred to me..." He looked over his shoulder out the door, as if Villa's empty desk would yield answers. His eyes got a little far away and Luís could actually see him performing dozens of mental recalculations with the same rapidity normally applied to solving an algorithm.

When his gaze refocused on Luís, the look on his face left no doubt as to the solution he'd come up with.

Luís sighed. "I'm sorry this puts you in an awkward position. Villa's one of my best, high maintenance though he may be, and I can't afford to give him an official reprimand just because he's gone and gotten himself hung up on a coworker. There's only the two days left; I hope you can..." He stopped, because Silva was frowning.

"What?" he said. "No, that's not—" He stopped, scrubbed a hand through his hair, and said, "It's not a problem. At least. Not like that."

"...Really," said Luís, with interest, because that would be a useful solution.

Silva was a little red, and he seemed to have trouble meeting Luís' eyes. "It's not like I haven't—" He cleared his throat and said firmly, "I'll talk to him."

But he never got a chance, because an hour later David Villa called in sick.

* * *

He did the same the next day, and the next. It was, admittedly, moderately entertaining to see Silva go around the office finishing his last bits of work with an air of suppressed frustration—but not enough to outweigh the disadvantages of Villa's absence. Besides, Luís was running a business here, and as far as he knew the benefits package didn't include romantic disappointment leave.

Silva waited until his last day to approach Luís, though. At the end of the day, Andrés and Victor got everyone to quiet down and Victor said they'd hated the idea but liked having him after all and they all clapped and Silva actually blushed. Then almost everyone stopped by his desk on the way out to say goodbye; even Xavi, who was in the middle of one of his monkish periods again, emerged to say vaguely, "Good luck." No one even brought up the Villa Incident, at least not within Silva's hearing, which in itself was fairly impressive.

The office was almost empty when Luís saw Silva approaching. But first Andrés intercepted him, close enough that Luís could hear.

"I hope you can come back," Andrés said in a soft voice, and if Andrés was actually speaking of his own volition, that said a lot.. "It's been nice to have you."

Silva looked a little overwhelmed. "Me, too," he said after a second. "I mean. It's been nice to be here. I hope I can. Thanks."

Finally, Silva made it to Luís' office, looking very determined. "Excuse me? Luís?"

Luís raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"

That seemed to take some of the wind out of Silva, but he soldiered on. "About David—Villa." Luís made an encouraging noise. Silva cleared his throat and said, "Do you have, um, a phone number or something?"

Luís struggled for a very brief second with the specter of employee privacy and then said, "Better. I have an address."

* * *

It was stupid to be this fucking miserable. It was just a—it wasn't anything, there was no reason for David to act this pathetic. This was the second day in a row where he just didn't feel like doing anything but lying on the couch staring dully at the ceiling tiles. Occasionally he had to get up to find something to eat, and then sometimes he'd get distracted because he burned himself or got angry at the inefficiency of mass-produced consumer electronics, and start to feel like a normal human being. And then he'd think about Silva, and it would start all over again.

Silva was probably getting ready to leave right that minute, packing up his place and everything. And then he'd go back to England and David would probably never hear from him again, not even as friends, because he'd fucked that up, hadn't he.

David dealt the couch cushion a vicious punch. So what. He'd gotten along just fine before and he would again now. It didn't matter. It didn't.

The doorbell rang. David ignored it. Goddamn fucking door-to-door assholes couldn't even leave him alone to brood in peace.

It rang again.

And again.

Fine, they wanted to piss him off? It was working. David heaved himself off the couch and shouted, "Hold your fucking horses, I'm coming." He stomped down the hall, yanked open the door, and started, "All right, what the hell do you—"

His voice suddenly stopped working.

"You're not very easy to find when you don't want to be," David Silva said.

David took an automatic step backward, and then made himself stop, because David Villa didn't run. Instead he just stared dumbly at Silva, until after a minute he realized he still hadn't said anything, and Silva was still, somehow, standing on his doorstep. He cleared his throat and said, "You found me easy enough."

Which wasn't at all what he wanted to say. Fuck. Silva looked faintly guilty and even more faintly embarrassed. "It probably wasn't exactly... legal. For Figo to give me your address."

"What did you want it for?" David said. "To remind me you're not interested?"

Then he wanted to kick himself, because it wasn't Silva's fault he wasn't into David—or at least it wasn't something to blame him for, and David really liked him, even before—even besides the other thing, and he didn't actually want to be an asshole to someone he liked and he didn't ever want to know what Silva looked like hurt —

But when David made himself look, Silva didn't look hurt. Instead he looked—he looked—kind of exasperated. "I never said that," Silva said. "David, why didn't you say something?"

The unfairness of it all made it difficult to answer for a second. "I did," David ground out eventually, "and you said you didn't want to."

"I did not," Silva said, crossing his arms over his chest. "I didn't even get to finish what I was saying—you never finished what you were saying! How was I supposed to know that you—" He broke off and David saw that he was turning a faint red. Which was a whole different level that David was not prepared to deal with. "That you would be interested," he said. He was blushing. "In me."

There were so many things David could say to that that he couldn't decide which and was struck dumb. Silva seemed to misinterpret that, because his blush deepened. God. "I know that—that I wasn't exactly, um. Picking up on things. But next time, say what you mean, and don't you dare disappear afterwards."

David picked out two words—"next time"—and his hopes, which had been slowly, unbelievably, creeping upwards, plummeted again. But Silva must have seen it in his face, because he let out a little huff of air and said, "No, don't—that's not what I meant, David."

David licked his lips. For some reason his mouth was dry. "What," he croaked, and cleared his throat. "What. Did you mean."

Silva's sudden, incandescent smile hit him like a truck. "You're sweet, but you're really stupid sometimes," Silva said, and then before David could react, put a hand in his hair, leaned up, and kissed him.

For a moment David was too stunned to move. All he could feel, stupidly, was the warmth of Silva's mouth and the faint brush of Silva's eyelashes fluttering against his cheek.

Silva pulled away. His eyes flicked from David's mouth upwards. David had no idea what he looked like: probably completely stupefied. He licked his lips; he couldn't have looked away from Silva if his life depended on it.

Silva, more hesitantly this time, leaned forward and kissed him again. It was slower, gentler, searching. Silva's lips were parted. David's mouth opened almost automatically; Silva's tongue flicked against his, inquiring but not demanding, and like that was the trigger, suddenly David's brain kicked into gear and realized Silva was kissing him and he was surging forward and kissing Silva back with all the eagerness he had.

His hands went out to rest against Silva's sides, almost disbelievingly, as he tilted his head and kissed Silva more thoroughly. They ran down over the soft nubbly material of Silva's shirt to cradle Silva's hips, and his thumbs slid up to stroke the bare, hot skin under Silva's shirt, which made Silva gasp into his mouth. That, in turn, made David push forward, kissing him more insistently, until they both had to stop and breathe, and even then neither of them really pulled back.

"You haven't invited me in yet," Silva said against his mouth.

David growled something that made Silva start to laugh. The laugh stopped and abruptly became a breathy gasp when David tugged Silva forward to fit snugly against him, chest to thigh, and held him there while David kissed him within an inch of his life. Silva's head jerked back and he made a noise that made David's brain short out. When he came to, the door was closed and Silva was pressed against it, while David was pressed against him, helpless to keep his hips from rolling against Silva's.

Silva was making little whimpering noises and clutching at David's back. David groaned and slid one hand up and one hand down, to get a better grip. They should move, should find the bed or David's shabby couch or at least a—a— One of Silva's legs was twined around David's and when he moved it ground them against each other and tore a sound from David completely without his assent.

He pulled back, just a little, and Silva's two hands, fisted in the back of his shirt, tugged him back insistently and Silva's mouth caught his again, probing, demanding. He groaned—moaned—something—and kissed Silva again, more roughly. They weren't going to make it anywhere. One of Silva's hands let go and was working down between them and David's other hand, the one not curved around Silva's ass, followed. He got Silva's jeans open at the same time Silva did his, but Silva got there first. Silva's hand was warm and hard, knuckles brushing David's stomach, and fuck fuck fuck David nearly came with the first stroke. He grabbed on to Silva's side again, arm around Silva's waist, and wrapped his other hand around Silva's cock and Silva jerked hard, shuddering from head to toe. David kept stroking, intently, even though white bursts kept hitting him behind the eyes. Their hands kept bumping into each other; Silva was uttering a constant stream of breathy wordless gasps. David scraped Silva's neck with his teeth—Silva's hips bucked into his hand—then up, biting at the side of Silva's jaw, finding his mouth again, and David was—he wanted—he wanted more and more

The orgasm took him by surprise, so hard his head jerked back and his teeth clacked together and then it was all a white blur, Silva making a sound in his ear like nothing David had ever heard and scraping his nails against David's back through his shirt and his own face pressed against Silva's damp neck and Jesus it felt like David was never going to stop coming.

For a while afterward—David didn't know how long—he couldn't hear anything but the sound of his own heavy breathing.

"Okay," Silva said eventually, sounding dazed. "For a doorstep—that was—wow."

David was pretty sure he should be feeling smug, but instead he was busy trying to scrape up his brain and get it back into his head, so all he managed was to agree, "Yeah."

Silva stirred, and David realized he still had him pinned against the door. He reluctantly—very reluctantly—pulled back, letting Silva straighten up and pull at the hem of his t-shirt and run a hand through his hopelessly mussed hair. Every movement made David want to put his hands on Silva again, just to touch.

When Silva raised his head, his face was solemn. David was suddenly and irrationally terrified. Then Silva leaned forward, cupped David's face in his hands, and gave him a slow, lingering kiss.

David didn't realize his eyes were closed until Silva pulled away. He opened them. Silva was smiling at him, a little affectionate wicked smile that did funny swooping things to David's chest.

"So," Silva said. "Do you maybe want to do that again? With a bed?"

David wanted.

They passed through the kitchen, down the hall. Silva's hands dug under David's shirt and wandered up his chest. David stopped to press him against another wall—it was a good look on him—and suck at the tempting curve of Silva's neck. Silva's shirt disappeared; David's jeans did, too. The world melted away in a pleasantly jagged haze.

It wasn't until David found himself finally on a bed, running a possessive hand down Silva's bare back, that he remembered he should probably say something.

"Hey," he said, with difficulty because the stroke of his hand had made Silva surge forward again. Silva nipped at the corner of his mouth and he bit down hard on the moan. "Hey," he said again. "David." It worked. Silva pulled back, looking thwarted and also a little predatory. David's throat constricted.

"Look," he said, "I should have said this up front, I know this is going to sound—I know you're leaving, but you should know I wasn't going for a, a one night thing, I want—"

Silva laughed breathlessly. "You think I'd let you get away with that?" he said, which went straight to David's dick. He growled low in his throat and rolled over, pressing Silva's shoulders against the sheets; Silva, laughing up at him, got a hand in his hair and tugged, not gently, until David obediently lowered his head and they met in a lingering open-mouthed kiss.

When he surfaced David remembered hazily that they'd been talking about something. Something important—oh. Right. "Good," he murmured against Silva's jaw, and then again, less steadily, "Good," as Silva's nails skimmed feather-light over his shoulders.

Then he had better things to do than talk.

* * *

David Villa showed up to the office on the stroke of nine, dark circles under his eyes, radiating a halo of smugness. He practically oozed across the room, contentment in every line of his body; even his hair, noticeably less spiky than usual, seemed blissed out. He might as well have just printed it on his t-shirt.

Luís forbore from comment. Instead he said, dry as a bone, "Good of you to join us today."

Villa's smile was all teeth. "Glad you appreciate it. Since I almost stayed home." The smile went all smug and Luís made an effort not to roll his eyes.

"Then I take it we can rely on your continued presence from now on?" A sudden, horrible thought occurred to him, of just the sort of insane move Villa might make, and he said, "You are staying in Barcelona?"

Villa gave him a look like Luís was the crazy one. "Obviously," he said. "Do I look like some kind of stalker?"

Since that was exactly what Villa looked like, it was extremely difficult for Luís to hold his tongue. He managed it, though, and settled for inwardly congratulating himself on his forbearance. Some of the feeling must have seeped through anyway, because Villa narrowed his eyes and said, "I can do long distance if I want," which Luís interpreted as several trans-Channel flights in Villa's immediate future.

"I'm not sending you on assignment to England just because you want to see your boyfriend," he warned.

That, god help them all, had exactly the opposite effect of what he'd intended, as Villa's face went simultaneously satisfied and smitten. "Sure," Villa said, in a voice that completely failed to disguise how goddamned happy he was. "Whatever. That all?"

"That's all," Luís said, holding in the sigh until Villa closed the door behind him. He supposed he shouldn't have been surprised that Villa could actually get more insufferable. But at least he was at work, where he was supposed to be, and in all honesty it was a thousand times better than the moping. In the end, Luís could make that bargain.

* * *

David told himself he'd wait until Silva was back in England to call, maybe that night, or maybe the next. He lasted about fifteen minutes before he found the phone in his hand without realizing he'd picked it up, thumb hovering over the "call" button.

Silva had programmed his own number in, standing in the doorway and biting his lip in concentration, so that David didn't really have a chance but to lean in and bite it for him, gently, and then—it was a miracle he'd gotten to work on time, actually, but Silva'd had to catch a plane. Which sucked, but David had known it was coming and besides, he already knew when he was going to see Silva again. Two weeks. David could handle two weeks.

He was still holding the phone. Would it look desperate if he called anyway? Did he care? What the fuck was happening to him, anyway?

The phone suddenly vibrated and David nearly jumped out of his chair. It slipped from his hand and he scrabbled for it, catching it one-handed and thumbing to answer. "Yeah?"

"Hey," Silva's cheerful voice said. "I'm at the airport now, I thought I'd call."

David's mouth was doing something without checking in with his brain. It was a smile. He fought it for about half a second, and then decided he didn't fucking care. "Hey," he said. "You got there in time?"

"Barely," Silva said, with the familiar undercurrent of a laugh in his voice, along with something that made a warm, dark feeling curl in David's stomach. "I blame you."

"Yeah," David said, grinning stupidly at his desk. "My bad." Out of the corner of his eyes he caught sight of of Valdés staring at him in fascination and just stared right back, raising his eyebrows, until Valdés snorted and went back to his laptop.

"How's the office?"

"Pretty slow today," David said, looking around, though it wasn't quite that. Actually, David knew exactly what it was.

"I guess," he said, and cleared his throat. "I guess I. Miss you."

"Me too," Silva said, quiet and happy. "Already."

A warm feeling spread throughout David's chest. "Yeah," he said. "Well, I told you, you could've stayed."

"You could come work for me," Silva pointed out.

He had a point. David considered it for a moment. The idea of Silva ordering him around was one he... was really pretty okay with. That probably said something deep and insightful about him but he didn't really care. "I don't know," he said. "I don't know if I like the idea of getting stuck working for someone else..."

"Just for that," said Silva, "maybe I'll go over your head and get Figo to sell me your contract when it's time for your next performance review."

David realized he was grinning again. "Who says I'll tell you?"

"I could hack your phone," Silva said, and the thing was, he probably could. Which David found kind of embarrassingly hot.

God, two weeks. What the hell was he supposed to do for two weeks?

"Okay, fine," he said, "make me your best offer," as Silva laughed and laughed.