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The first time Gerard touches Sergio, they’re both playing in some youth tournament, Barcelona vs Sevilla.

Gerard lines up for handshakes, trying and probably failing to hide his nerves. There’s been talk lately, from the board, about how it might be better for him to develop somewhere else. In England, maybe, or Portugal. His grandfather uses every opportunity to cuss out Laporta, but his voice grows increasingly defeated as the days pass.

Gerard tries to not let the thought terrify him too much. There’s no place he’s ever wanted to play, other than here, than in this blaugrana jersey. It’s hard, knowing that this might not matter, that in the long run it doesn’t count for anything at all.

He stretches out his hand to another boy in line, preoccupied. This one’s got a sharp nose and longer hair, and Gerard doesn’t know his name. The moment their hands touch, a bolt of warmth spreads from their connected palms through Gerard’s whole body. Something settles, heavy and warm and unfathomable in Gerard’s head.

The whole thing doesn’t take more than a few seconds, but Cesc makes a soft noise behind him, and Gerard tears his eyes away from their connected palms to look at the other boy’s face.

It’s smooth, emotionless, with no sign of recognition, just a hint of impatience.

Gerard wretches his hand away to cradle it against his chest, somehow makes it through the rest of the line to settle into his position.

The Mister takes him off after thirty minutes, because he’s too preoccupied to focus on the game. The boy (his...bondmate?) runs into Leo in the 63rd minute and sends him flying, and bond or no, Gerard wants to kill him then and there. Gerard can see the frustration on his face after Leo gets up to take the free kick, and it seems to mirror the building anger in Gerard’s chest. Gerard’s got enough time to read the name on the back of his jersey now. He asks around the bench and learns his name is Sergio.

Sergio Ramos.

Gerard waits around after, loiters around the locker rooms, until he’s almost late to the bus, but Sergio never shows up looking for him.

They win everything that year, him and Cesc and Leo and their team, and it’s perfect, celebrating with Leo plastered to his side, his fingers on top of Cesc’s on the cold surface of the trophies. It’s worth it, even with the gnawing itch at the back of his head that isn’t entirely his.

The next season, Cesc moves to London and Leo starts for the first team.

Gerard doesn’t play at all. When Manchester comes calling, it’s almost a relief.

 

*

 

Gerard fights nausea all through the plane ride to England, and he doesn’t know if it’s because of the bond or because he’s leaving the only home he’s ever known, burning bridges in his wake.

Sergio’s presence settles into one of the corners of his mind, almost silent, heavier than a boulder and colder than the English rain on his skin when he walks off the plane.

But that’s alright, Gerard can live with that.

If FC Barcelona and Sergio don’t want him, then he’ll just work hard to make them see what they’re missing.

 

*

 

It’s not as easy as that, of course. English is strange, full of vowels, and his Mister has an accent that even the native speakers have trouble deciphering sometimes. He misses home. Misses his mom, with her steady hands and warm voice. Misses Leo and his quiet humor, and Cesc, even though he’s nearer in London.

Most bizarrely of all, he misses Sergio. He’s gotten better at not reacting to twinges of injuries that don’t belong to him and separating the weak flashes of Sergio’s emotions from the mess of his own.

 

Anger always comes through most clearly. Gerard doesn’t know if it’s because Sergio is a very angry person or because it’s the only emotion he allows himself to share.

 

*

 

Sergio signs with Real Madrid.

The flash of his joy, the edge of uncertainty to it, make Gerard stumble over his feet in training and grin for the rest of it. It’s not until he reads it in the press that he thinks to connect the two, and when he does, he starts laughing and doesn’t stop for ten minutes.

It’s not happy laughter.

 

*

 

Four years later, Gerard gets to go home.

He’s got a few hours’ layover in Madrid, so he closes his eyes, mentally poking at the spot in his mind he knows is Sergio’s. It’s either late at night or early in the morning, depending on who you ask, and Sergio must be asleep because he’s slow to react. The connection responds to his touch and he takes all his joy, his relief, and pours it into it. And for one brief moment, he feels Sergio’s confused joy in turn.

Then the walls go up and he ends up feeling much colder than before.

In the morning, when he sits in front of the cameras, signing his contract, he feels a surge of cold fury and smirks to himself.

 

*

 

Gerard gets little pieces of Sergio over the years.

Pain that isn’t his and flashes of joy that make him mad. He gets brief touches when they wrestle in the box, the dark flash of Sergio’s eyes when they argue, when they push each other. Happiness warring with devastation after every El Clasico.

Sergio singing flamenco on the radio.

They get called up to the national team together, and work in sullen silence. Sergio avoids him when he can, tucked into Fernando’s side, telling jokes and making everyone laugh. Gerard wishes he felt like less of a punchline.

They win the World Cup together, then the Euros, and there are moments, when their hands touch on the cool surface of the trophy, Sergio’s skin sweaty and warm, when their joy is complete, a feedback loop that multiplies it. Gerard is always the first to pull away, gaze sliding from Sergio’s face.

It’s almost enough.

 

*

 

Almost.

Sometimes, Gerard wakes up in the morning, momentarily paralyzed by the cold even when the sun shines brightly in Barcelona. There’s a part of him out there, wearing white, and he doesn’t want him. He doesn’t want or need Gerard.

Gerard doesn’t know if he wants Sergio back, but sometimes it feels like he needs him.

 

*

 

Ironically, Cris is the only one who knows. He’s a good guy, when he can be pulled away from his squats for a few rounds of video games. They weren’t very close in Manchester, but Cris’ presence there had always been a comfort.

So Gerard calls him one late night, a few beers in and trying to separate the phantom pain from Sergio’s knee from his own back injury, and explains.

Cris ducks out from what sounds like a packed nightclub, listens quietly till Gerard’s done. Then he sighs.

“Look, Pique,” another sigh, “...Geri. I’m not good at this.”

Gerard laughs into his beer bottle, because it’s not like he didn’t know that when he called. Cris is about as in touch with his emotions as Leo is, which is not very.

“I know, just...does he ever say anything about me?”

“No,” Cris says, “he never talks about you. He talks about everyone else, but he never talks about you.”

That hurts more than Gerard thought it would.

“Oh,” is what he finally manages.

“Do you want me to ask to him about it? Figure out what’s up?”

“No, don’t,” Gerard laughs, bitterly. “It’s fine. Thanks for listening, Cris.”

“You’re welcome,” Cris says, and he sounds relieved to move on from the topic. “I’ll see you around, okay? Buy me a drink next time you’re in Madrid. Don’t try to break my legs during the Clasico. It’ll endear you to Sergio for sure.”

“Sure,” Gerard says, somewhat settled by the familiar banter, “I’ll ask Masche to do it instead.”

 

*

 

The years pass. Gerard gets into the habit of using social media and press to give his teammates a respite from the scrutiny on them. Replying to particularly dumb members of the press gives him a sense of satisfaction like nothing else. If it's annoying enough to get Sergio to publicly retaliate, that's just a bonus.

They keep their other contact to a minimum. Every time they meet, Sergio sneers at him. Eventually Gerard stops wishing it was a smile instead, and sneers back.

 

*

 

France is a surprise. Not the location, or the tournament. He's seen his fair share of the latter over the years, somehow, seemingly without his knowledge transitioning from a young player to a veteran. Not that he'd admit to that.

So it isn't that. The surprising thing about France is that Sergio says hello first.

 

*

 

It's cold in France and Gerard is tired and sore from the plane ride. Marc's travelled with him, but it's a cold comfort, since he's hardly got a hair out of place and looks more alert than any human being should be at 7am. Meanwhile, Gerard is sure he's doing his best impression of a swamp monster. All he wants now is just to find his room in the training facilities quickly, take a shower and face plant into a bed for a few more hours until training.

"Pique!" he hears someone call out. He turns, surprised to see Sergio standing there at the foot of the stairs. He didn't even feel his presence nearby.

"It's..." Sergio continues, then pauses, hesitating, "good to see you. You too, Marc."

Marc murmurs his greetings, but Gerard is momentarily preoccupied with taking stock of himself. He hadn't noticed till now, but Sergio's presence in his mind had grown weaker sometime over the last few months.

He realizes belatedly that he's let the pause go on for too long. Marc's looking nervously between them.

"You too, Sergio," he says, "have you been here long?"

They manage a solid amount of small talk between them. Nothing too deep and nothing pertaining to their two clubs. It's the longest they've spoken outside of 'track number 9 better!' and 'could you please pass me the salt'.

After a few minutes they manage to exhaust all the mundane topics and fall into an awkward silence.

"Congratulations on winning the Champions League," Gerard suddenly blurts out. Sergio's mouth falls open in shock.

The beard is a good look for him, Gerard can't help but notice.

"Ah, thanks. Congratulations on the double," Sergio eventually replies, offering a smile that's only mostly fake. "I'll see you around?"

Gerard shrugs and Sergio nods to himself. It's obvious they'll be seeing each other, since they'll be training in close proximity for the next month or so.

"Well, bye" Sergio says, then turns around and walks off, the soles of his sandals quiet on the carpet.

Marc is the one who breaks the silence, startling Gerard into dropping his bag. He'd forgotten Marc was even there for a moment.

"That was weird, wasn't it?" he asks and Gerard nods jerkily.

"A little bit out of character maybe," he says.

Marc nods thoughtfully.

"Do you think he's been replaced by an alien?"

"I...what?"

"Do you think Sergio Ramos was replaced by an alien?"

"...Marc."

"I watched this documentary, I’m just saying that it could happen."

"I'm going to miss you."

“Gerard, please stop hugging me so tightly.”

 

*

 

Sergio keeps reaching out and Gerard honestly doesn’t know exactly what to do with him.

They're usually some of the first at breakfast, and instead of sitting all the way across the hall, Sergio takes the seat across from him.

Gerard chokes on a piece of granola.

Inevitably, the others join them, trading shell shocked looks, but dutifully sitting down, till there are FC Barcelona players sitting across Real Madrid players, passing each other salt and amiably chatting about the weather.

Andres just raises an unruffled eyebrow when he sees them and Iker looks almost proud. Eventually Cesc drops into the unoccupied seat next to Gerard, leaning into his space.

“So how come you haven’t killed each other yet?” he whispers. Gerard snorts and pokes him in the side, until he stops sprawling across his lap.

Even when he’s sitting across from him, Sergio is a muted presence in his mind, the connection faded and diseased. When their eyes meet, there’s no wayward flash of emotion. Not even anger. Sergio just goes back to drinking his coffee.

 

*

 

It doesn’t get better as the day goes on. If anything, the Sergio part of his mind seems to be getting weaker, leaving behind a creeping emptiness that’s somehow worse that the previous sullen silence.

Outwardly, Sergio seems fine. Maybe a bit more subdued than is his usual, but he doesn’t seem hurt. Playing with him is the same as usual. They’d been doing it on and off for years, and by now Gerard could probably read him blindfolded. They’d never needed the bond for that part.

Still, by evening he’s worked himself into enough of a worry that he sends Cesc on ahead to their room, and walks up the stairs to knock on the door of the room that Sergio shares with Lucas. It’s open, but he raps sharply on the doorway anyway.

Lucas blinks at him from where he’s watching something on his iPad. Sergio removes his headphones with a heavy sigh.

“Hey, Lucas,” Gerard says, offering him what he hopes is a reassuring smile. “Can you go to Alvaro’s for a few minutes? I need to talk to Sergio for a moment.”

Lucas looks between them uncertainly, until Sergio gives him a nod, says, “Go on. We probably won’t be long.”

Lucas shrugs and gathers his stuff.

“I was gonna go anyway,” he says, offers a parting. “Please don’t bleed on the furniture.”

And then he’s gone, leaving them in silence.

“Why does everyone assume we’re going to fight?” Gerard offers, encouraged when Sergio sets his headphones aside. “I’ve never punched you in the face to my knowledge.”

“I might have punched you at some point,” Sergio shrugs, but stares at his lap instead of Gerard. “I don’t remember, it’s been a long time.”

“It has,” Gerard says, because it’s the truth. It’s an awful lot of time not to talk about this thing between them. “Listen, are you sick or something?”

“What?” Sergio looks up, finally making eye-contact. His eyes are a very dark brown, almost black.

“Did something happen? Are you...injured?” Gerard means to say ‘dying’ but can’t quite choke it from his throat. It’s easier to feel him like this, close by. The walls Sergio pulls up around himself aren’t as strong, or maybe there’s something keeping him from raising them. Gerard can feel the muted flash of his confusion, as much as he can read it off his face.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m fine, I’m...oh,” Sergio frowns, shaking his head. “I’m not sick. Our bond is deteriorating, that’s why you can’t feel me.”

Which in hindsight makes sense, but doesn’t make him feel any better.

It’s the first one either of them has mentioned the bond out loud.

“Oh, so we’re talking about that now?” Gerard feels himself getting angry, clenches his hands into fists.

“You asked,” Sergio shrugs, unreadable. “Cris told me you called him.”

“Yeah, five years ago,” Gerard snorts, settles on the edge of Lucas’s bed when it feels like his legs won’t hold him up anymore. The place in his mind he’s come to think of as Sergio’s feels increasingly empty and it chills him down to his bones.

It’s never felt particularly good, for it to be there, all the anger and resentment and the very occasional flash of something lighter, but it’s always been there. Gerard doesn’t remember the last time he was alone in his own head.

“He only told me recently,” Sergio says, watching him carefully. “It’ll be gone soon anyway. Not much left to talk about.”

And it’s like every pent up emotion he’s pushed aside for the past 14 years hits him all at once; the anger, frustration, the overwhelming disappointment and sorrow. Gerard takes a deep breath, grasps on the muted decaying edges of their bond and pushes.

Above him, Sergio makes a shocked choked off noise.

“How about telling me why you didn’t want me?” Gerard says, and it’s too open, the words grasping at his throat on their way out.

“I...is this how it feels like for you all the time?” Sergio says and when Gerard looks up, his face looks pale under his beard, his eyes feverish. It takes conscious effort to pull back, level his breathing back to normal. The connection between them feels raw.

This time when their eyes meet, Sergio doesn’t look away.

“You have good walls,” Gerard says, shrugging tiredly. “Mostly I just feel how angry you are. And you’re angry a lot.”

“Well, you made it easy for me to,” Sergio says and Gerard musters a small smile in return. “I got scared.”

“You what?”

“I got scared,” Sergio shrugs, “I’m not bond sensitive. The doctors told my parents I might never bond at all. You surprised me and I got scared. In my defense, I was 12.”

“Well, you’re 30 now and nothing has really changed,” Gerard says, watching him carefully. “Why didn’t you just say something? We could have gotten it dissolved professionally, not let it go on like this.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I asked first.”

“I don’t know.”

“Try anyway.”

“Okay,” Sergio takes a deep breath, “I guess it felt good, to not be alone.”

“Sergio, you blocked me out for most of the 14 years we’ve had this,” Gerard says, reaching up to smooth down his hair. He feels exhausted and increasingly cold, abruptly wishing for the conversation to be over so he can get back to his bed.

“I hated it too,” Sergio shrugs, throwing off his covers abruptly to swing his legs off the bed. “I hated you being in my head. You’re so overwhelming, you know that? Your emotions are all over the place, I got migraines from them before I learned to block you out. You couldn’t stay calm, not even for five minutes.”

“That’s rich, from someone with your yellow card record,” Gerard snorts under his breath. “You weren’t easy to live with either, just so you know.”

Sergio surprises him by laughing, and they sit in silence for a moment, just breathing.

“So what do we do now?” Sergio eventually asks.

“Nothing to it, I suppose. We’ll have to let it go,” as soon as Gerard says it, something in his chest unknots. It feels like the right decision, to stop clutching at the frayed edges of their connection and let it dissolve into the void.

“Okay,” says Sergio, quietly, and Gerard looks down to avoid the expression on his face.

A moment later, he feels a touch at his elbow and Sergio’s fingers slip down to curl around the hand Gerard’s got resting on his knee.

Sergio’s skin is warm against his own, his callouses pressing against the divots between Gerard’s fingers. And just like that, the last trace of him in Gerard’s head disappears, the corners echoing in the sudden empty space. He feels cold, trembling, and almost nauseous.

Sergio’s hands help, the steady burning warmth of them, the bruising grip that Gerard can’t help returning.

They sit together in silence, holding hands, relearning how to be alone.

 

*

 

Two days later, Sergio taps him on the shoulder before practice, offering a cautious smile to Gerard’s inquiring look. It’s strange, looking at him and feeling only muted fondness edged with relief.

“Warm up together?” Sergio asks, careful, shoulders tense as if braced for rejection. Gerard grins.

“Sure,” he says, “it’s a shame there’s no journos at practice today. We could make some heads explode.”

“You could always tweet me later,” Sergio says, offering his hand. “Less clean-up.”

Gerard throws his head back and laughs, drawing shocked looks from the teammates surrounding them and a pleased smile from Sergio.

“Alright,” he says, “let’s do it.”