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My heart is tugging on the string that binds us.

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.my heart is tugging on the string that binds us.
this is my work for the rpf big bang edition 2012. the story of how juan martín del potro improves his relationship with david nalbandian, with the small help of his new-found ability: reading david's mind. with cameos of the davis cup coaches (martín jaite and mariano zabaleta), pico mónaco, eduardo schwank, gisela dulko, paola suárez, roger federer and some others in minor roles. implied roger federer/mirka vavrinec and gisela dulko/fernando gago. amazing art by lauchis (posted all together here). title from an anime (nana).

 

 

There are two things that happened in the year 2011, which most people don't know about, and take a big part on the events that changed Juan Martín Del Potro and David Nalbandián's lives during 2012 (even if it's hard to tell why):

 

1. the victory Del Potro had over Djokovic in September.

The moment the champagne touches Juan Martín's skin he realizes that it's not actually hot outside, the weather isn't almost-spring like it would be at Buenos Aires, and that he has been playing tennis for long days. Juan Martín is tired, most of his muscles are sore and the back of his knee is killing him, he can feel as if there was someone poking it with a stick every five seconds. It isn't only this game today, but the accumulation of the one before and mostly the pressure this competition has for him.

But it doesn't matter.

Nothing does actually, nothing but the noise of the people, cheering for him, for them, and it's beautiful, it's perfect; all that roar in his ears make him feel so incredibly alive that this game, just this tiny game, is bigger than any tournament, any cup, bigger even than beating Roger Federer at US open. And they're not even playing at Parque Roca, so go figure.

And then, beyond all that, there's him.

David walks up to Juan Martín, grips him by surprise and there's a minuscule fraction of time, even smaller than a second, than Juan Martín thinks that David is actually going to kiss him, right there, in front of people, cameras and basically the whole world. He has no clue where that idea comes from, but the feeling goes away when David talks and Juan Martín can hear his voice loud and clear on top of everyone and everything else in the court: "I told you to do that, I told you to kill him with your service. You are something else." And the words are better than any kiss could have been, he decides while he grabs David's head in his hands just to look at him and, and Juan Martin is royally screwed.

See if he cares, though.

 

2. a meeting between the old captain and the new one in December.

When Jaite takes over the Davis Cup team he and Modesto Velazquez have a meeting, without the press, without even Zabaleta; just the two of them in a crappy coffee place in downtown Buenos Aires with two matching tiny cups filled with the brown liquid. Jaite is having his third sip of the cup thinking that the handle is too small to anyone with normal sized male fingers when Modesto sighs and says "and then, there's the Delpo/David issue". Jaite can even hear the slash divide the two names in the ex-coach voice, as if there was a barrier between them that couldn't (and maybe even shouldn't) be crossed.

"What about them?" Jaite asks, voice so soft that would have been hard to hear if they weren't sitting so close to each other because of the little table.

"You know what about them."

This is Jaite's turn to sigh. He had read all about Juan Martín and David, even before him coaching was even a possibility. He had read it as a tennis fan, as another Argentinian: the words that were aimed to each other, the fuss the press made about how they didn't get along… everything up to Modesto's latest declarations about how they were doing more than fine now, friendly and everything.

"I thought you had solved that," he says carefully, even if back then when he had read the latest article dedicated to the matter he had suspicions about being a little too exaggerated to the nicest side so that people didn't worry.

"I patched it up," Modesto explains, "you can't trust that very much."

"Don't worry about it," Jaite says after another sip of coffee, this one showing him the white bottom of his cup, "I'll take care of it."

"Will you now?" Modesto sounds amused and not trusting at all. A lot of people, Jaite has been noticing, don't trust him with this team.

"When I'm done with them, they'll be reading each other."

And that was the end of the meeting.

 

 

(It took about four months for all that to make sense.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juan Martín almost doesn't notice.

He's out of the shower and thinking about what he'll have for breakfast, still remembering in his skin the victory of the day before and smiling without helping it. He dresses slowly while considering a mate over an actual breakfast, after all, the Cup is almost finished, the only game left he doesn't have to play and he's free of schedule for a few weeks, and, on top of everything, he's really craving for it: he can even taste the bitter flavor of the yerba and the warm feeling of the water in his mouth. Out of nowhere he's thinking about Schwank and his awful habit of parting a croissant in three before eating it, so he can first eat the middle and then the two ends.

He has no idea why the image is so vivid, as if it was happening in front of him right now (Mónaco's unmade bed is the only thing he can see when he lifts up his eyes from his shoelaces). Maybe, he assumes, it's because he's thinking about breakfast.

Juan Martín leaves the room shaking his head from side to side, going back to his longing of a mate and wondering if Zabaleta made his own too long ago or not, and if it would still be good enough to drink. He leaves the room with that in mind and when he's walking into the elevator, he wants sugar. Just like that, out of nowhere, he has the need of finding sugar and adding it to a tea he's not even drinking. The voice of the thought is even foreign.

"I should have slept more," he says to no one in particular, closing his eyes to the sounds the elevator makes as it goes down.

 

As Juan Martín reaches the breakfast table he gets a glimpse of Schwank and a plate with one croissant (knowing him, he surely ate another five already). He's doing exactly what Juan Martín was thinking about before, which makes him wince as he walks by the table, patting Mónaco and Nalbandian in the back on his way to get Zabaleta. He then gets a "scare me, you bastard" from David.

"It wasn't that bad," he says stopping on his tracks and turning around to receive matching wondering stares from Mónaco and David.

"What wasn't that bad?" David finally says, his voice sounds as even as a second ago and Juan Martín think he's mocking him.

"The pat in the back I gave you, I was barely saying hi; Pico didn't complain."

"I didn't say it was bad," David lowers his cup; Juan Martín notices it has tea on it and finds it odd. Not odd that David drinks tea, odd that he was thinking about tea on his way down here.

"Well, no," Juan Martín answers reflectively, "but you said it scared you."

"No, I didn't."

"Yes David, you did, I heard you."

"I didn't--" David stops talking and turns to Mónaco, "did I say anything out loud?"

"Erhm, I didn't, well, I wasn't paying much attention," Juan Martín can hear the compassion on Pico's tone, can feel it even, and rolls his eyes in spite of himself, "but I didn't actually hear anything."

"But you said it."

"I'm sorry Delpo, I didn't," David sounds cautious, and after a second adds, "maybe you're tired and should have slept some more."

"Yeah, I was thinking about that, too." Juan Martín sighs and is about to turn in search of the mate as he originally planned to, but David is again staring at him, this time as if Juan Martín had grown another head. "What?"

"What were you thinking about?" David says, with the same tone, like he's afraid Juan Martín may break down if he talked with normality.

"That I should have sleep more, like you said."

"I didn't say--"

"Yes, you did!"

"No, Juan Martín, I didn't," David says, and rubs his eyes with two of his fingers, "I just thought about it. No one heard me talk right?"

Both Schwank and Mónaco support David, even if they look as confused as Juan Martín feels. He understood the words David used, but seems to be lacking some part of understanding of the whole sentence because it sounded wrong to him.

"What are you saying?"

"I didn't talk Delpo, I thought about saying it, but decided against it because it didn't seem like the right thing to say to you in the morning," David explained.

"But I heard you."

~I think Eduardo's t-shirt is rather awful.~

"I do, too," Juan Martín agrees, "but what does that have to do with anything?"

David has a tired smile on his face before talking again, "please everyone notice how I am not freaking out," he says, "but I think Juan Martín Del Potro can read my mind."

There's silence, Zabaleta who is now standing behind Juan Martín (since when, he can't be sure) says something about Jaite and walks away from them; with him Juan Martín is sure his chance of a mate goes away, yet he can't bring himself to care right now.

"But I… I just..."

"Wait, wait, why his mind only? Let's try this," Mónaco calls for attention, "what am I thinking right now?"

Juan Martín stares at Mónaco wondering what he is supposed to do now. His brain is racing: how do you try to read someone's mind? It's not like he was trying with David, the things were out there, as if they were hanging in the air waiting for him to listen to.

"So?"

"I don't know."

"What about me?" Schwank says, and Juan Martín turns his stare to him. Nothing.

"Maybe it was just sheer luck, try again with David," Pico suggests.

Juan Martín sighs, this is beyond stupid and he feels like he's talking with a bunch of madmen.

~Can I start calling you Professor X?~ David is laughing at him even if he's not moving a muscle visibly, the infliction on the words is very easy to recognize for Juan Martín.

"No, you can't," and just after he says it, Juan Martín notices that he hasn't seen David's mouth move when he heard the words.

He needs to sit down, badly.

So he does, right next to David who's now softly smiling with an amusement that Juan Martín can't share; shouldn't this be creepy? Why wasn't David scared or, at least, worried? Why do Mónaco and Schwank focus only in that he can read David's mind and not theirs, in place of being disturbed by the fact that he can read any mind at all? Yesterday he won against Cilic the match that gave Argentina the security of being in the next round of the Davis Cup, today he's a mind reader; Juan Martín doesn't find that normal at all, why don't his friends see it like that as well?

"Wait, wait," Schwank says, almost getting up from his seat with an excited idea, "David sent his thoughts to you, maybe that is the difference."

"I did?" David says warily in the back, but no one gives him attention, Juan Martín picks up his head and waits for Schwank to go on.

"What I mean to say, is that I'm going to try to say something inside my head, like," and he shuts up, abruptly, leaving the other three men staring at him, waiting.

~Clearly this is not how it works~ David's voice still has that tilt of fun on it.

"Clearly," Juan Martín agrees and when there's no response from anyone else, he sighs loudly. "I did it again, didn't I?"

"Yes," it's the general response.

Zabaleta is back in the room and surely with Jaite as well, Juan Martín can't see them, but he heard the footsteps and now he feels eyes on the back of his neck. The confirmation of their presence is given by the silence that wins over the table.

"Guys, a minute?" Jaite says, suggests, asks even. He's gentle like that and Juan Martín likes that about him, less for the time when it sounds like that gentleness could turn a bit into the passive-aggressive side.

 

 

 

Jaite doesn't talk as they walk, behind him David and Zabaleta are slowly following. For some reason, Juan feels like he's the one to blame for all this, even if he's not sure what is exactly going on here. They end up in a room that Juan Martín guesses is the double the captain and his second man are sharing.

"How do you feel Juan?" is the first thing out of Jaite's mouth as he signals a bed for him to sit down; out of the corner of his eye Juan Martín can see that Zabaleta is doing the same with David.

"Erhm, I… fine, I mean, there's nothing, well, nothing different."

Now Jaite's eyes travel to David, "and you David?"

"I'm all right, leaving aside the awful tea brand they have here, one would think that in your own country they'll have a tea you'll like."

"That's why you wanted more sugar then?" Juan Martín asks, understanding the thought he had in the elevator.

"Yes," David nods, slowly, "you weren't even in the room when I was thinking about adding sugar to my drink."

"I heard you," Juan says, shyly. "Eh… I was in the elevator and I thought about wanting sugar for tea, which didn't make sense there, or even when I saw you drinking tea… but it somehow does now."

"Oh," Jaite says, he's grinning, "this is fantastic."

Juan Martín begs to disagree, but says nothing.

"Does it work the other way around?"

David opens his eyes big to that suggestion, as if he hadn't thought about it yet.

"I don't know," he answers, while Juan Martín tries to think about what has been on his head: breakfast, mate and, now, this.

"Try then," Jaite encourages them.

David doesn't look at him, just waits, Juan Martín thinks he ought to help so he makes a comment about the weather inside his head (he can't think of anything else). There aren't any words from David.

~No, nothing at all.~ "Nothing."

"It was clear first time," Juan Martín says, and when he sees Jaite's expressive smile he can almost laugh as he asks: "There wasn't a first time right?"

"Nop," David says and ~we should have a code for the things I don't say out loud so you stop making an idiot out of yourself.~

Juan Martín fully notices this time how the latter part of the comment was meant only for him to hear and it makes him flush slightly, he feels the heat of the blood on his cheeks as he barely nods (because he has no other idea of how to answer what David said without talking).

"It's not that weird," Zabaleta comments, Juan Martín had almost forgotten he was there and he tries to pay him extra attention because of that.

"How can this not be weird?"

"Well, for starters, it's not the first time I hear about something like this, and the same goes for Mariano here," Jaite explains, he's back to the gentle tone, "and I have the small suspicion that it's not entirely new for David, either."

Juan Martín feels betrayed and that even overpowers his curiosity about the first thing Jaite said; he assumes that justifies David's reaction to everything, but it still affects him. By his side, David moves uncomfortably and Juan Martín gets something that sounds almost like a sorry inside his head with David's voice.

"I heard rumors once, when I was younger, but I never paid attention to it."

"I never… why have I never heard about this?"

"You didn't run into the right people?" Zabaleta suggests, as he crosses his legs and puts on a deep-thinking face, in any other situation Juan Martín would have mocked it, but now he doesn't even feel like doing that. "Which is weird, mostly considering some of your friends in tennis, like Rafa."

"What does he have to do with any of this?"

"Never mind him," Jaite says, and Juan Martín doesn't miss the disapproving look he gives Zabaleta. "We just want you both to keep calm and relaxed, there's nothing wrong with what is going on and it surely has to do with all the excitement of the past few days. David you'll have to watch your head a bit when you're around Juanma so you share with him what you want and nothing else, and by the same principle Juan I'll ask you to be respectful with David's thoughts."

"But it's not like I'm trying to read his mind," Juan Martín says, because he indeed hasn't tried, everything has just reached his head. "It's just… he thinks too loud or something, I can't help listening to him."

Jaite laughs at that, it's a controlled small sound that invades the room causing a small smile in Zabaleta and a curve of lips in David.

"It's okay Juanma, we know you're not doing this intentionally, that's why I said that David had also to be careful."

"How long is this going to last?"

"That's hard to tell; sometimes it's just a few weeks, other times…" Jaite takes a breath before talking again, doesn't look Juan Martín in the eyes for the first time in the conversation, "other times it takes years or… maybe it stays."

"It's all suppositions, no one knows much for sure." Zabaleta talks again, he sounds almost apologetic.

"We didn't do anything for this to happen right? I think we didn't."

Jaite looks at him, slowly, as if trying to learn them by memory.

"You've been partners for a long time, you've known each other for years, there are a lot of expectations from the whole country put into you two. All those things add up."

"So, you're saying that because we've been familiar with each other for ten or so years and because a bunch of people in Argentina wants us to win everything, which we agree with of course, I ended up reading his mind?"

~I can think of worst outcomes to those things you said. And I'm not saying this out loud for the record.~

Juan Martín wants to smack David for the whole comment, but mostly for his laughing at the end. He also wonders if he wants to know those 'outcomes' David is talking about. But he feels like taking care of none of those things, he doesn't even feel like drinking the mate he so much wanted earlier. Plus, no one answers his question, but he wasn't actually waiting for an answer if he's being honest.

"Do you guys mind if I go back to bed for a while?"

There are nods and some vague words from Jaite, but nothing else, so Juan Martín gets up from the bed, tries very hard to ignore everything but his own actions and leaves the room. He makes it to the end of the hall in peace when he hears it: ~I don't blame you, you know that right?~ David's voice is so clear in his head that for a second Juan Martín considers turning around and seeing if Nalbandian is standing right behind him.

He doesn't even wait for the elevator then, runs the stairs to his room and lets himself fall on the bed wishing to wake up to reality, where all this is nothing but a bizarre dream.

 

 

It's not a dream.

He wakes up to David inside his room, saying something about them being late for Mónaco's match without moving his mouth, he's smiling even, his lips curved up faintly and his arms crossed over his chest. Juan Martín hates him and wishes David could also read his mind so he could see all the ways Juan Martín is thinking about murdering him or at least leave him hurt enough with pain to shut his head up.

"Pico is going to be mad with you more than with me," David points out moving the pillow out of Juan Martín's head, where he had recently hidden; the voice sounds higher than before and Juan Martín assumes David doesn't know how to raise it up inside his head so he must be really talking this time.

And he's also right, the bastard. Whatever Juan Martín had felt for David, and acknowledged since last year, is completely lost on him right now and -- oh. For the first time Juan Martín is immensely glad that he's the only one able of doing this little mind-reading thing. The idea of David being able to know what Juan Martín has been thinking, has been feeling, about him terrifies him enough to fully wake up.

"I'll be ready in five minutes," Juan Martín says sitting up and David nods, starting to leave the room and announcing that he'll wait for him in the car downstairs.

 

 

Pico is already out in the court when they get there; Jaite is the only one that doesn't seem surprised to see them showing up late and Juan Martín wonders if what's going on gives them some sort of special favors (something that bothers him on principle). But after a second he remembers that Jaite knew he was going to lie down and that surely it was the captain himself who sent David after him.

He's over worrying.

So he sits down and tries to focus on the match and only that, the team already passed this round so this is a game to enjoy, watching Mónaco play nice tennis against another good player.

~He's looking for you~ David's voice is so soft in his head that Juan Martín feels it like a whisper said to his ear, but without feeling hot air against the side of his face or a hand resting on his elbow for support like anyone would do to talk so close to someone else. It's a bit of a disappointment that David isn't doing any of those things, but the fact that he's talking into Juan Martín's head because Juan Martín can hear him, read him, sort of makes up for it.

Remembering what David says, Juan Martín sets his eyes on the square, assuming David meant Pico, but Mónaco is moving his hips and warming up before the game, eyes on the field and no way directed to Juan Martín. He's about to turn his head to the left and ask David, but just before he does it another thought invades his head: ~Palermo~.

It's true, a few rounds up from them Martín Palermo is looking around with tiny eyes and a focused face, like when he was at his own field calculating where the ball would reach. Juan Martín calls out for him and waves, getting an immediate response with a huge grin that takes over Palermo's face easily. The ex soccer player makes a head movement pointing the seat next to him, but Juan Martín denies. Later on he'll explain to whoever asks that he wanted to be close to the field for when Mónaco finished, to hopefully congratulate him and to officially celebrate with the rest of the team; he won't even think to himself about any other reasons, not even when Davids does incline towards his side and makes a comment about Veić's wrist movement, talking low to his hear as if he had forgotten that he could be saying this to Juan Martín in silence, only by thinking about it loud enough.

Juan Martín doesn't really mind.

He wonders how David feels. Not about him in general (that's something he has wondered in dark hours in different locations around the globe since last year) but about this whole thing. He's sitting quiet, rigid on his chair right now, eyes glued to a match that just started, and no matter how much of a fan he is, he can't be that interested, not at the very start of a match; Juan Martín has shared a bench with him more than once and he's sure of it.

David is focusing on the match way too much. There's when Juan Martín notices it: he's only focusing on that, his head is screaming about Parque Roca's field and about the tension in the net, Juan Martín is pretty sure he even hears a comment about Pico's choice of wardrobe. Nothing but the game is on David's head, or at least he's forcing that. Because of Juan Martín.

That bothers him. David has the right to think about whatever he damn wants to and because of him, because of Juan Martín, he can't; David is actually choosing what to think about so his thoughts don't reach Juan Martín's head. It's the first time since the morning that Juan Martín notices David uneven about it, and he really doesn't like it. So he makes an inappropriate question that he's been dying to ask, mostly because he thinks that in this state David is closer to give him a truer answer.

"Why are you so calm about this?" Juan Martín asks, voice soft and impossible to hear for anyone who's not David, never mind the court silence. "I can read your mind, why aren't you feeling uncomfortable and worrying about it like a normal person would do?"

He's pretty sure that David is both things he just named right now, but he's still thinking about tennis. Until everything goes blank and Juan Martín hears the sigh and almost feels it in his head, too.

"What would that do? Would it help if I was hiding from you, scared that you may hear me say that I'm not in the mood for whatever is going on? Or if I was mad at you or at Jaite or at every tennis player in the world? Would it do anything for us, for the team, if I was around mopping because you can read most of what I think?"

Juan Martín opens his mouth to talk, but David cuts him off, eyes and mind back on the game: "the answer is no Juan Martín."

 

 

"Would it work with distance?" Zabaleta looks honestly curious, he's watching Juan Martín when he talks, but his words are clearly for Jaite who's at the other side of the table, reading about yesterday's game with Mónaco by his left and Schwank by his right.

"I have no idea," Jaite replies without looking up, "tell them to try."

Juan Martín would like that their captains didn't talk about them as if they weren't there. He's about to complain about that when David talks.

"He heard me from the elevator when I was down here."

"And from my room, too," Juan Martín decides to come clean, "I actually think that the first thing I heard wasn't the thing about the sugar, 'cause when I was dressing I got the vivid image of Edu eating croissants, and that was what you were watching."

"That's not much of a distance," Zabaleta says, "maybe we should go drive around and see what happens." He goes quiet for a second before talking again, "or we just wait and find out when you're in different countries and Juanma gets to hear David complaining about missing his cats."

"I don't complain about it that much."

"No, but you surely think about it."

Both Zabaleta and David stare at Juan Martín, and it takes him a few seconds to notice that his opinion is needed in the matter.

"Uh, for what I've heard yesterday and this morning, he doesn't think much about his cats; at least not too loudly."

"Loudly?" Zabaleta repeats.

"I think I explained it already," Juan Martín says, scratching the back of his neck before going on. "I can't actually read his whole head, it's not like you can say to me "what is David thinking?" and I can give you a description of everything in his head. I can only say what I hear, what he's thinking, well, out loud."

"Then I don't think you'll hear each other overseas; unless David is calling out your name or something like that."

Jaite means it as a joke, hell, he surely doesn't even think what he said in the same way than Juan Martín just thought about it. A way that makes his ears go crimson just like when people recognize him on the street and cheer his name.

~Do I even wanna know why you're flushing?~ David sounds amused, but there's a hint of something else there too and Juan Martín can't fully tell what it is, so he focuses on moving his head in denial; maybe moving it would also make the image of David calling out his name go away - he's such a teen sometimes.

~Because I'm not going to be screaming your name around the house, I promise. Or in court. Or when I know you're playing, or…~

"I know," he says, and David doesn't answer to that, Juan Martín cares very little about the fact that he said it out loud and Zabaleta is giving him a pointed look.

"I'm going to finish packing," he says, getting up. David's voice is in his head again ~Did I say anything that bothered you? I was jus jok--~ It turns out, Juan Martín discovers when he starts humming a Foo Figthers song he heard earlier on the radio, that blocking David from his head is not hard at all. Even if David can't tell he's doing it.

 

 

When Juan Martín arrives to Portugal he's waiting for it. He won't fully admit it to himself, but he was on the hope that David would, well, say something. In his head. Just to try.

After the Cup they were in the same country until the end of the month, so they had amused themselves trying to see if their connection worked from house to house and even from Córdoba to Tandil: all experiments successful. During them Juan Martín had tried to reach out, to think more about David to see if that helped, if David could feel him; but in all the cases, it wasn't until David said something ("Do you come back to a lonely home or is your family waiting for you there?" "What do you buy regular Cheetos or the ketchup flavored ones?" "Is it warm there, too, or we're just lucky over here?") that Juan Martín could hear him. He called David to answer each question, and the times where David was just making a mental note towards him that didn't need reply ("remember to call Jaite before leaving") or just a ranting about extreme sports he enjoyed watching Juan Martín just felt content to hear him.

This, Juan Martín thinks, is on the right way to fully restore their relationship. He knows David still holds certain reservations towards him, because of some of his decisions; but Juan Martín trusts that with the intimacy given by this mind-bond they'll be able to solve whatever issues linger between them. Even if David didn't think about it, all that Juan Martín had to do was ask when they were on the phone or again face to face and he'd get a glimpse of the true feelings or thoughts David had, and he'd work with that.

That little trick (asking something David wasn't talking about in a certain moment so David was forced to think about it, to bring it to his conscious head, and therefore letting Juan Martín sneak a peek, even if David hurriedly put the thought away or covered it with something else, which normally involved rally cars) Juan Martín had learned by chance in one of their phone calls from Buenos Aires to Córdoba. Out of nowhere Juan Martín asked David about his cats and was ambushed by images of different felines inside his head before David could even start to give an answer. Juan Martín saved that little discovery to himself, to not make David uneasy, he said to himself back then. It was a poor excuse, he didn't care.

 

But nothing happens. Not on his first night. Not on the second. Not after the first game (and victory). Not even when he wins against Wawrinka at the semifinals. He almost considers calling David the night before the finals when he hears him.

~You're going to win~ David's voice isn't stained by any tone and that's a bit weird for Juan Martín, usually he's able to pick up an inflection in the words said to his head; but maybe it’s the distance or the fact that they haven't spoken in a while. Something that in any other time, before the whole mind-reading thing, would have been normal; they didn't talk much, not when they weren't in need, so that's another point in favor of Juan Martín's idea about how the new connection is going to change things between them.

~And don't call me, it's rather late, but I realized that I've been watching all this games and trying so hard to not to think about you, because I didn't want to distract you in any possible way, not during a game or even during a press conference, that I didn't say anything and just in case you decided to, I don't know, freak out or be unprofessional and not cold enough when tennis is involved like you usually are; I'm reporting. And asking you to go out there and be the best damn tennis player in the world like I know you are.~

There's a pause and Juan Martín notices there that he's breathing heavy as if he had been running a marathon or played more than four hours straight of tennis against Djokovic, his pulse rate is higher than it was after yesterday's game; hell, it's surely higher than after he won versus Cilic at Parque Roca in April. It's too much for him to proceed; it almost feels as if David was confessing to him, admitting that Juan Martín has been on his thoughts and that he had deliberately pushed Juan Martín away. The final words, how David said "the best damn" rings all around his head, hitting on imaginary walls and bouncing until Juan Martín can't even hear anything else.

~And if you ever use this against me, I'll fight with my best to make you believe that I was drunk.~

That makes Juan Martín snort and he falls asleep thinking about discussing status of sobriety with David whenever they cross paths again.

 

He wins over Gasquet in two sharp sets, the game does have a few quavering moments, but he's content. The first though that reaches him, when he's walking outside the court, is a satisfied ~I told you so~.

Of course David wasn't going to congratulate him.

 

 

~I am completely against this.~

David's voice helps him to completely wake up and Juan Martín insults him without caring that he's not being heard. He reaches for his phone on the nightstand of his hotel room already thinking of calling David and starting the conversation with a "go to hell". Maybe even hanging up after that.

~And I don't care that the Olympics are by the end of July and we're not even in June, if you fuck up that knee you won't even make it to the Davis Cup in September.~

Juan Martín calls after that thought, David picks up at the first ring and he doesn't get to say anything before Juan Martín talks, his voice mostly a growl of sleep and anger: "All you fucking care about is the cup, and you fucking act like no one else cares about it. Don't you think I think about it, about everything you just said? That I don't sit down and talk it with people who know about this? Or you think that I wake up and say "oh, my knee hurts, it doesn't matter, let's play a Grand Slam because it's just a small tournament where I won't get to see any of our maybe future rivals for the Cup or the Games". Do you honestly believe I'm that stupid?"

David doesn't say anything, he's breathing labored from the other side of the phone and Juan Martín can read a cloud of anger covering anything else on his head. The feeling is clearly contagious, because Juan Martín says something with that on his own mind that he regrets the second after it leaves his mouth: "try not to think about me at all, okay?"

The rage he could feel is suddenly replaced with sadness, with something so painful that Juan Martín can't recognize in the little time it takes to be devoured by fury again.

"Fine," David says, hanging up with so much intention that Juan Martín can almost see it.

He curses himself all the way to the shower, during the shower and at his training session. It doesn't feel like it's enough.

 

 

Juan Martín loses to Federer for the fifth time in the year on a sunny June afternoon. Even if he's been traveling since he was a teen, it messes with his head a bit that a part of the world is wearing summer clothes in June. It's a stupid thought but he considers he's allowed to stupid thoughts given the situation.

Federer is, as always, a gentleman. He smiles almost apologetically at Juan Martín on his way to the net, and praises him with kind words on his perfectly sharp English; he even uses a word or two on his rustic Spanish making Juan Martín not quite smile, but at least soften his face. On top of everything else his knee hurts and his head is silent; he hasn't heard a word from David in a week and he's been thinking only in calling him, to apologise, to explain why he's playing, to just listen to him talk. Every time Juan Martín did as much as searching for David's name on his phone's contacts' list he backed up, half scared about the fact that maybe David didn't want to talk to him and half still mad because he still considered himself to be fairly right at some points.

As Juan Martín watches Federer be done with the press, and going back to the lockers, he makes up his mind and walks towards him, people will assume he's just congratulating after all.

When they're alone he waits for Roger to drop his gear before talking.

"Has it ever happened to you?" Juan Martín asks, his eyes on the floor when Roger stops moving. The older man doesn't say anything so Juan Martín looks up and finds that Federer is staring at him; it makes sense, he wasn't very clear with what he said, so with a tired sigh he puts two fingers on his head and opens his mouth to talk but Federer beats him to it.

"Yes," Roger says, "three times."

"Three?!" Juan Martín can't help his surprise and it makes Federer smile hazily, his amusement easy to see even through his tiredness from the game.

"Yes."

"And did it always leave?"

"Two of those times it did," Roger is defiantly smiling now, but there's no mockery in his voice and he looks, sympathetic "I didn't have much fun my first time, either."

"It's not that… well, maybe a bit," Juan Martín decides that this is a fine time to sit in the wooden bench. "Are you always the one who, uh, listens?"

"Always," Roger nods, he starts moving again, takes things from his bag. "I don't know if you get to switch at some point either yet I've known people that went through this more than three times."

"How popular is this?"

"Very," Federer's smile is back for a second, "but for most players it only lasts for a tournament, so they just decide to forget about it."

"Who is your…?" Juan Martín starts and doesn't finish assuming Roger is going to get what he's meaning to say.

"I hope you understand me if I refuse to answer that," Federer beams, shyly, "not for my sake alone, but for my friend too."

"Of course," Juan Martín nods, thinking that surely that's the correct answer even if, given the case Roger had asked him first, he would have named David without a moment of consideration.

"It never bothers you?"

"Like I said, I did not have fun the first time, after that one, it was almost natural," Roger explains, "it had become part of me to hear a second voice, I wasn't always comfortable about it, but I am now. With my latest voice, we've managed to make all the proper arrangements and we work very well together. Like a Swiss clock he says, he's trying to be funny and fails miserably."

Juan Martín lets himself smile to this.

"Do they, ah, bother you while you're playing?"

"No, no, not at all," Juan Martín answers quickly, "he's, they… well, they are a he, I don't mind you knowing that, he's very careful about it. I'm more worried than him, I think."

"It makes sense, you feel like you're intruding someone's head," Roger nods, "but you're not fully doing it; you can't reach out and guess their most inner secrets and saved thoughts, you can't even know what they're doing right now. They're only more exposed to you than anyone else is, like a friend you know too much of, or a lover."

"But with more exactitude."

"Well, yes," Roger agrees, "but if he's not having that much trouble with it, neither should you; less when you're away from each other."

"I guess you are right."

"I'm talking from experience, that's for sure."

"Thank you."

"Any time," Roger smiles as Juan Martín gets up to leave, "I do mean that, I'm not just saying it. If you need anything else about this, give me a call, if I can help, I will."

 

Juan Martín shows his thanks again and hugs Roger once more before leaving him to his things; he wonders whose mind Federer is reading, but decides not to think about it, giving him (well, them) their privacy; mostly because he notices now that he doesn't want anyone to know about his bond with David (and, honestly, enough people know already).

 

Later than night, when Juan Martín has to decide if he's going to leave París or stick around until the end of Roland Garros, he hears it. David's voice doesn't sound sad or happy or even mad, it's plain and to the point, like sometimes when he talks to newspapers: ~Just for the record, even if I didn't want you playing this tournament, I didn't want you to lose~.

It's enough to put Juan Martín to bed, clutching his phone under his pillow because he's thinking about calling David but feels like he still shouldn't.

 

 

 

 

 

"This is the right decision," Juan Martín is talking to a mirror, but for him that mirror is the tennis fans from the world, his family, his team and also, David (David, who talked into his head two nights ago and didn't say or do anything else; just like Juan Martín didn't do anything either).

He thinks the least dramatic way to this is over twitter, so he does it like that. After starting at the mirror for another minute, he goes to his laptop and writes down an apology and a brief explanation: his knee hurts, he won't be on Queen's, he'll stop until Wimbledon.

What bothers him the most about the decision he made is that David is going to be at Queen's, while he isn't.

 

 

During all the days that Queen's lasts David doesn't show any signals of being alive, the only ones that Juan Martín gets are the games he's playing and winning. It makes Juan Martín insanely happy to see David win, play the wonderful tennis that Juan Martín always knew to admire.

When the final stages of the tournament start, Juan Martín finds himself in London. It makes sense, he has to be at the UK for Wimbledon that's held at the end of the month, so there's nothing weird about it. Juan Martín even thinks that if he wanted to go watch David play, it wouldn't surprise anyone. But he decides against it, because he feels they still need to talk and he doesn't want to disturb David in any way, so he stays in his room. He watches the last couple of games sitting on his couch in between kinesiology visits and calm meals surrounded by his team.

He regrets his decision when the final happens.

Juan Martín is stupid and self-centric enough to think that maybe if he was there he would have been able of preventing what happened; he thinks that maybe he would have noticed David's attitude and had seen in his head what was about to happen before it happened and then - and then what? Juan Martín's fantasy stops there because, really, what on Earth could he have done? Scream "David no!" before David did anything? Stop him by jumping into the arena? Even if possible for movies or stories, those ideas were awful.

So now, he's sitting in the same couch he has been for the previous game as well, with the remote still in hand and unsure of what is the right procedure to take in this situation. He considers calling Jaite or Federer, but none of the options seem right. What could they do anyway? Jaite was surely torn between sad and mad, like Juan Martín was just ten or twenty minutes ago; and Roger, well, if he called Roger the only thing he knew for sure is that Federer was going to guess that David's mind was the one that Juan Martín could read.

So, no one to call, being in the same city than David is and--

~I kind of need you right now~

As soon as Juan Martín hears David's voice he's at the door of his hotel room and on his way to find out where Nalbandian is.

 

It turns out to be easier of what he imagined. Finding David is only the mix of talking with the right people and rushing down the right roads and he's in front of the hotel room at David's name not even an hour after he called out for Juan Martín.

Before announcing himself Juan Martín has a small moment of doubt, because David hadn't spoke to him again so maybe the words were barely a momentary weakness that made it to his own head by accident and the solemn idea of mortifying David by appearing at his room and showing that he had heard the words scares Juan Martín enough to leave him unmoved at the door. He considers calling, but the idea sounds as awful as it did earlier so he decides there's no better option than this and he knocks.

A few seconds fly by before the door opens, revealing a tired looking David, with his eyes red maybe from tears and anger, and his hair damp from a recent shower. David steps away from the door and doesn't move his mouth to say ~I was wondering if you had heard me~.

"I did," Juan Martín replies, walking into the room in small, scared steps, he even considers saying 'I always do', but decides to keep that bit to himself. David closes the door and he still doesn't talk out loud when he turns to Juan Martín.

"Did you see the game?" he asks, his voice sounds slightly hoarse, Juan Martín assumes it's an afcter match effect.

"Of course," Juan Martín responses, feeling slightly offended about the fact that David considered that he had forgotten or that he had anything more important in his life than watching him play.

But maybe, Juan Martín thinks while observing David's pale form resting against the door, looking almost fragile, David is just trying to make small talk.

"I am an idiot, aren't I?"

"No," Juan Martín says, even if he has thought the opposite, a few hours ago, as soon as the game ended. But that's not what David needs to listen, so Juan Martín won't be saying it.

"I got disqualified of a final that I was closer to wining than to losing, enlighten me please in how that is not idiotic."

"You were out of yourself; you acted on impulse, on passion. Aren't you always proud of how pas--"

"Oh, shut up."

David finally moves away from the door and walks into the room, taking a seat on a large couch in front of the TV., Juan Martín follows behind because it seems like the right thing to do.

"You are not an idiot," Juan Martín talks again, sitting down not very close, yet not at the other end of the couch. He wants to reach out and touch David, embrace him in a hug he surely needs and stroke his head until David falls asleep or stops thinking about the game (whichever happens first).

"Right."

"No, come on, listen to me," Juan Martín straights up in the couch, "you had a perfect tournament, I watched it mesmerized and proud, because all I could think was 'holy fuck, thank God he's ours'. You know how people get with Messi, right? Well, that's how I felt about you, I was happy that you got to play the cup with us and with no one else. You were the best out there, and one little act of misjudgment won't change that, not for me, not for anyone."

David doesn't say anything, all Juan Martín gets from him is a confusing sea of feelings and words that don't make it to sentences and go from "defeat" to "thank you".

They don't talk much after that, at some point David suggests asking something to eat and they end up watching an old NBA game on the television while they eat much more of what their trainers would like. Juan Martín doesn't care and he's sure neither does David, for the feeling of peace that radiates from his head, even if at times the image of the game comes up, and that's when Juan Martín interrupts him with a word, and idea, a question, anything to drive him away from that train of thoughts.

He thinks about kissing David twice, something that hadn't been on his head for a while, and it makes him feel young and a little bit happy; he lets the feeling rest there, safe in his head, just like every other demonstration of care he has for David in his mind and that he has never managed to make real.

 

 

Juan Martín is tying his shoes when he hears David talk to him.

~I never bother you before a game but I wanted to let you know that I came to see you win, so behave.~

The last word has such an unique tone that Juan Martín shivers in spite of himself and that makes him laugh nervously, he's glad he can't give any thoughts back to David because right now it could be either a "you'll have to make me behave" or a simple "fuck you"; more inclined towards the first for David's voice sounded humorous more than anything else. Juan Martín appreciates the gesture of him coming over, mostly after David's debut and defeat from the first round. Even if, knowing David, he was surely already thinking about the Olympics game more than the game he had lost; after all, he was good at dealing with things when he had done his best, unlikely of what had happened at Queen's where he had done something he regretted.

Juan Martín does win, only has a bad game out of four and he feels like he played a decent match. The approval from David comes to his head when he's in the shower, which hadn't happened before. It's weird. David doesn't say anything out the ordinary, he makes a comment about some wise moves Juan Martín had pulled, about how much he had tired himself running the first two sets and how that was evident when he lost the third one; he rambles on that last point, talking about conditioning and proper training and if Juan Martín was chatting about it with his trainers and team. If this had been a normal conversation Juan Martín could have said that it hadn't happened in the past few games, so that of course he was going to get it under control, but that he couldn't do that much fuss about it yet. Even if he isn't explaining that to him, somehow he knows that David is aware of it but he's just either trying to feel useful or just mothering Juan Martín like he used to do with Mónaco.

But what is weird is not that David is saying all those things, Juan Martín doesn't even find strange the fact that he can't reply back (he had grown used to that feeling back in Argentina some months ago); what gives Juan Martín the odd feeling is the fact that he's naked under the shower spray of a dressing room with David Nalbandian talking about tennis inside his head. He's also a little bit turned on. Just a little, he doesn't even give importance to that fact, at least not until David starts talking a lot faster than before, coming up with projects of training and ideas for both the Olympic Games and the oncoming Davis Cup dates and his accent starts slipping into every single word he uses and Juan Martín is a sucker for that accent, has always been, since the first time he heard David talk sleepily with it.

Juan Martín's hand does something he doesn't consciously allow and when he notices he freaks out for a second and start humming a song in his head, as it had already worked to block David once. He rest his forehead against the cold tiles and the water hits him on the neck and he slowly lets David’s voice be heard again, who sounds amused now while saying ~…and I'm pretty sure you fell asleep to this or somethin'…~. Juan Martín lets himself laugh at that, at himself, at the whole situation and finishes showering so he can call David and mock him about the fact that he ended up talking like a creepy mixture of Juan Martín's mother and his trainer, all with a tilt of cordobés on his voice.

 

 

"So, how much do you remember?" is the first thing David asks, and Juan Martín can't be fully sure if he's saying it out loud or not, but when they're on the phone the difference is nonexistent.

"Erhm, you were talking about me running too much, and then about possible injuries and at some point you started to say something about double training with Eduardo and you, both against me and I take offense on you leaving me on my own."

"You do that," David answers, he sounds like he's laughing but there's no laugh in the phone.

"And what I do not remember is you saying congratulations," Juan Martín knows David rarely congratulates him, hell, he can't tell if that ever happened. David manages to say nice things or backhanded compliments, but never that actual word, even if anything else he may say or do imply the sentiment.

"Actually, I should be saying "good boy" or something among those lines," David now is certainly laughing. Juan Martín adores that sound and all the delighted feelings that come with it into his mind.

"And why is that?"

"Because I asked you to behave and you did," David says, and he tries to quiet his own laugh before going on. "Good boy."

That makes Juan Martín laugh even if he doesn't really want to, it must be the seriousness in David's voice.

"Well thank you sir, I do aim to please."

That cracks David up again, and Juan Martín follows.

At some point, after the laughs die down and they stop making more jokes about the same things; Juan Martín asks "are you going to come to see me play with Nishikori?"

David goes silent for less than a second before saying "of course" and Juan Martín gets a pretty candid image of himself saying those exact words to David with the exact indignant tone on them. The representation on his head goes away almost too soon but Juan Martín remembers it from the time he went to visit David after Queen's.

"Didn't imagine any less from you, sir," he jokes, because he has the need to light up the mood again, and David gives in rather easily, laughing again.

 

 

Ferrer nods at him and holds his hand out while giving him something that resembles to a sympathetic smile; Juan Martín takes the hand while staring at the grass below his feet and wondering if he's going to win a Grand Slam some time again. He knows that's a way too harsh thought, but he was just ran over by someone who's not Federer or Nadal or Djokovic (he would somehow allow that a bit more, his pride would let him be sad but not insensitive about it) so he can over react and over beat himself up.

He leaves the court in silence, showers in silence and arrives to his hotel room in silence. David is sitting at the door of his room, playing something on his iPhone.

~Oh, there you are~ he says, well, thinks because Juan Martín is staring and he noticed David didn't open his mouth; he gets up and touches the screen of his toy before saving it away.

"I did explore all the possibilities before coming here, but I didn't want to trouble you there," David puts his fingertips to his own head and pulls away immediately as he talks again, "so coming over here seemed the best one."

"And sitting outside?"

"I didn't want to intrude," David says and that makes Juan Martín's lip curves up, for the first time in the afternoon.

"That was an awful game, uh?" Juan Martín talks while walking to open the door.

"Certainly, it's not the best game I've seen you play, but I wouldn't call it awful."

"You're too nice--"

"Me? Do you even know me?"

"Let me finish," Juan Martín asks as they walk into the room, "you're too nice," he starts again and makes a pause, "with me," another pause and almost a smile before adding the meaningful end to his sentence "lately."

David smiles back, "Lately being the key word, I'm only doing it because you can read my mind, when that goes away, I'll go back to not liking you at all."

"And to say mean things directed at me on interviews."

"Mostly that," a pause, "mean things? How old are you, fifteen?"

"I just lost another Grand Slam, go back to being nice."

"I ordered meat and potatoes, a lot of potatoes, so many carbohydrates you'll have to start a new diet before the Olympics."

Juan Martín lets go of the bag that he still had on his arm, "you're my favourite."

"Oh, I know."

 

The food arrives when they found the rerun of a rally game from early that morning that David didn't ask to watch (yet he thought about it, surely not intentionally) but that Juan Martín choose to leave on. They eat silently, devouring food they shouldn't, just like the last time they were in a hotel room together. Places made for sins, is something his mother told him once about hotel rooms, when he was less than eighteen and had to travel outside the country; never mind being gluttony in place of lust, right now Juan Martín didn't complain.

"It is only because of that?" Juan Martín asks, when David is mostly focused on how perfectly shaped their potatoes are (or that's on his head, at least).

"What?"

"You being nice to me."

"I'm not being nice, I'm returning a favor," says solemnly David, "as soon as someone needs to man up and scream at you, I'll be doing it with great pleasure."

"Like at Roland Garros," Juan Martín says, and they hadn't talked about it, and maybe they shouldn't, but he can't help the words he already spoke.

"I wasn't screaming, I was making my point clear," David answers without looking at him, but he puts his fork away so Juan Martín knows he has his undivided attention. "On the other hand, you did a nice screaming fest when you called."

"You deserved it," and again his mouth is quicker than his brain, but he doesn't get any sign of anger from David, so it can't be that bad.

"Maybe I did, maybe I didn't," David replies, "I didn't want you hurt, never mind the tournaments after that one, I'm still glad you didn't play at Queen's because you took your health in consideration. You were right in some of your screaming, but be nice and smart enough to notice that I was also right in some of my comments."

Juan Martín sighs soundly and remembers what David had said that morning, "maybe you had a point or two."

"Very well, from now on I'll try to trust your judgment."

"And I'll understand that you disagree with it."

They go back to eating after that, but Juan Martín can't swallow right, because there's still something bothering him.

"Don't ever listen to me if I say something like that again," he finally gives in and admits, "if I ask you not to think about me, towards me, don't pay attention to it."

A confused feeling fills Juan Martín's mind when David looks at him and right before it becomes a description of the rally still on the television.

"I won't," David says with his voice loud and clear, his lips moving into the words before forming a thin line that Juan Martín can't stop staring at; ~I assure you that I won't~ it's said into Juan Martín's mind. He feels at ease now.

 

 

~If my imbecile baby brother doesn't understand that I'm trying to get some decent fucking sleep and calls one more fucking time, I'm going to actually fucking mur--~

"You are cursing too much, I don't care it's inside your head, you're corrupting my innocence," Juan Martín interrupts David's annoyance and inner monologue clearly directed to the phone he's holding above his head.

"You're awake," is David's first response, letting go of the phone and being hit on the forehead because of it, causing another round of cursing. "By the way, what innocence?"

"And you clearly aren't," Juan Martín smiles, walking towards the couch where David crashed last night after they ate too much and watched a lot of crappy television. He takes the phone from the floor, where it ended, while he sees how David rubs his forehead with two fingers.

"Any permanent damage?" Juan Martín talks again.

"I can't believe you're awake and sassy," David grunts, "if I wanted any of that I would have picked up when my brother first called."

"Sorry," Juan Martín says, but they both know he isn't, "there's breakfast waiting."

David finally leaves his forehead alone and opens his eyes, blinking a few times, but he doesn't get to enjoy peace, for his phone on Juan Martín's hand starts making a show of lights and vibration again.

"Oh my God," David groans, he's not at all a morning person. Juan Martín wonders why he didn't know that.

"I'll take care of it," Juan Martín grins, and picks up before David can stop him.

"Hello Darío, Del Potro speaking," he says to the phone, barely distracted by David's mind saying ~hang up, hang up, hang up, don't make me hate you as well, please~.

"Hi Delpo, you got my brother kidnapped over there?" Darío's voice is much more marked by Cordoba's unique accent, probably because, if Juan Martín remembers right, he still lives in David's hometown. He had met Darío a few times, just like he'd met David's whole family and David knew his own family. But maybe he's crossing some line by doing this: a completely childish action that he could do with Mónaco or Schwank without a second thought, but not with David. Yet they fell asleep on each other, woke up at the break of dawn, decided sleeping arrangements in which David refused to take Juan Martín's bed and were now starting the day together; also there's that small issue abut mind-reading going on. Juan Martín decides that is enough to start crossing bridges.

"Indeed I do," he ends up answering, "do you need him for something?"

"Foundation stuff, but it can wait. Just ask him when he is coming back to Argentina if you can."

"Sure," he says to the phone, and pulls away from it to go on, "Darío wants to know when you're coming back."

"I don't know, in a day or two? I don't know, lie to him, tell him whatever you feel like saying, you answered the phone after all," David wants to sound mad, but he still looks pretty asleep and there's no trace of vehemence on his thoughts, which mostly revolve around breakfast.

"He'll be back with me in two days," Juan Martín decides to answer and that does call David's attention.

"Great, thanks man, bye."

"Goodbye." Juan Martín hangs up the phone and leaves it on the small table in front of the couch.

"So, we're coming back in two days," David says, he's sitting up and he's very focused on that action, nothing leaving his head.

"Well, you gotta be back soon, clearly, and I want to be there for a few days before coming back here."

David is staring at him, like he's trying to be the mind reader, but ends up shaking his head and asking about that promised breakfast.

"Ah, wait! Really, what innocence?"

"You took too long to ask again, you missed your oportinity," Juan Martín beams at him, and says nothing else even when David demands that it was an honest question.

 

 

 

Juan Martín wonders if all this is weird.

David is sitting in front of him on the plane, surrounded by his manager and one of his doctors, and Juan Martín has spent half of the flight kicking his seat, messing David's hair and taking his headphones off. And it's not like David is really mad at him about it, he grumps and curses in a quiet tone, gives Juan Martín very nasty looks, but he's laughing on the inside, literally. Juan Martín gets to hear a roar of laughter from the blonde's mind. They're being friendly, relaxed into each other's presence like they haven't been in a while, if ever. Juan Martín wonders if David agrees with that, but doesn't think right now is the moment to ask, besides David is singing along to some embarrassing music inside his head and Juan Martín doesn't plan to ever let him live that one down.

Juan Martín notices too, when thinking about the next weeks before the Olympics, that they could be in all the same places, starting by being in the same country and it's their country, which makes it different to any time during tournaments. They could spend time together, even if that could be seen as strange; suddenly them attached by the hip, not himself and Pico, not David and Eduardo: Juan Martín Del Potro and David Nalbandián. Maybe this is what the people wanted, what Jaite wanted, what Modesto Vázquez wanted a year ago when he first sat down with them to "talk things out".

Reading David's mind isn't that bad after all.

~Did you die there? You've been still for more than a whole minute…~ David doesn't sound worried at all, he's mocking, and to return the favor Juan Martín pokes his neck and takes off his left earpiece, pulling the cord so it falls onto the space between seats. David's fingers try to catch Juan Martín's hand and miss by far, while he's saying awful things about Juan Martín's behavior but his head says ~alive and awake, got it~ in a pleased tone.

Clearly, David isn't very bothered by the mind-reading business either.

 

 

Disappointed, Juan Martín discovers that he and David won't actually be sharing much time together in Argentina. They both have things to do, people to attend and overall activities to take care of. The whole 'joined by the hip' idea that Juan Martín got to savor during the flight fades away when he finds himself on a car to Tandil and knows that David is on his way to Unquillo.

~You have to be kidding me!~ the thought with David's voice takes over Juan Martín's head. He waits for continuation, something that follows the line and explains it; but nothing else reaches him. That makes him wonder if David is trying to intrigue him, to get Juan Martín's attention; but that doesn't sound like Nalbandián at all. Maybe, Juan Martín also considers, David just thought it too loudly without a real intention to share.

He considers calling David, but he's in the back seat of a car with his dad and uncle and he doesn't think they should hear him start a conversation saying "hey, everything all right with you? You sounded strange in my head a moment ago." Without a better plan of action, he decides to text David.

"Everything okay?" he writes and sends.

"Sure, why?" the reply is instant and David is such a correct person that he doesn't even ask why Juan Martín isn't calling him like usual.

"You said 'you have to be kidding me' in my head a moment ago," Juan Martín texts back.

~Did I? Sorry, I'm stuck on the road in the middle of my trip back home, closer to Córdoba thankfully, but it sucks. I should have flown here honestly, damn my likes for cars and road trips, I'm not that young anymore."

Juan Martín laughs almost inaudibly to that, pretends he's still staring at his phone just in case any of the men in the front of the car spare him a glance and writes "it can't be that bad" back.

~Can't be? Can't be? Do you even know what stuck on the road means Juan Martín? Let me tell you what it means…~

David starts talking, describing what's around him, how he's basically in the middle of nowhere no matter how close to home; he explains that the road is being repaired which causes the heavy traffic. He talks about the drivers around him and how some of them are honking as if that could solve anything. Juan Martín falls asleep at some point, David's voice works as a needed somniferous substance on Juan Martín, relaxing him enough to feel comfortable in the back of the car (where he's normally too big, with legs too long and a body overall too large).

His father wakes him up when they're close to their house in Tandil and Juan Martín is completely disoriented for a moment, because David's voice was the last thing he remembers when he closed his eyes for a blink that lasted longer than usual and the blonde is nowhere to be seen. It hits him when he starts waking up, the whole mind-reading thing. He sits up as much as he can and cracks his neck when he notices the red light of his Blackberry shining, showing he has a new text. It's, of course, from David and it says "I can't believe you fell asleep on me you bastard, be thankful this is starting to move or I'll be calling you to wake you up."

When Juan Martín is awake enough he answers to the text: "how are you so sure I was asleep?" he asks. David's voice invades his thought right away with a simple ~oh, I just am~ and Juan Martín is sure he didn't text it and preferred to say it in his head so it could be heard exactly how smug he sounded about it.

 

 

The next time they meet is at Ezeiza.

They talked before that, like they had done last time they were both in Argentina with the mind bond still fresh. David sends things into Juan Martín's head just like that time, with some added mocking asking thinks like: 'you didn't fall asleep again, right?'. Juan Martín is tempted to pretend that indeed he did, but he always prefers to send David to hell saying things like "no, you asshole" over the phone or with texts.

Right now, they're at the airport to travel back to London; alongside them Jaite, Zabaleta and the whole men's hockey team. Juan Martín has no issue with any of them, feels them all companions in what the Olympic journey is going to be; but he doesn't want to share the flight with them when it could be just him and David. He feels exposed with all those known people around, more that if it was a plane full of strangers like it had been when they arrived to Buenos Aires. It may be stupid, but Juan Martín is still sulking a bit about the idea he originally had to share time with David and how that didn't work.

Normally, they wouldn't share days together, so there's nothing weird about it, but, since the Davis cup, since the bond, many things were changing so why not that one as well?

Juan Martín scans the airport because he's bored and catches Jaite starting at him; he doesn't need to read his mind to know what the coach is thinking and with a sigh Juan Martín decides to walk towards him. After all, he thinks while going where Jaite and Zabaleta are sitting, they're going to have to talk about it eventually and Juan Martín prefers to do a quick report now so he can ignore it for the rest of the competition. Ignore the fact that they know, that's it.

Jaite smiles when Juan Martín is close and Zabaleta is the one who talks for both of them asking: "how's life, champ?"

Juan Martín decides to start answering the easy part of that and reports how his tennis is doing, how his body is fine after Wimbledon even if he had some quivering during the games. He assures them, mostly because he can, that he's more than ready and very eager to start both parts of the competition that include him. After his so correct monologue they're in silence; Juan Martín isn't sure what to say about his situation with David and now that he thinks about it he doesn't know if the coaches are even asking about it.

Zabaleta, on his part, clearly wants to say something, maybe ask, but Jaite silences him with a barely noticeable glance leaving Juan Martín the chance to start with whatever he wants and if he wants. Jaite is smiling, not self-righteous but yes knowing and Juan Martín gives in, because maybe it's not that bad to talk about it.

"Nothing changed," Juan Martín says. That seems like the right start, "we've been talking and we've kept everything during control; he hasn't distracted me from any game, from any every-day activity, hell, he hasn't even made me laugh during a tedious press conference and I know he wanted to do it."

"I heard that," David says and Juan Martín has a small moment of uncertainty when he can't be sure if David spoke to everyone or just to him, but when he notices Zabaleta's amused smile he guesses it wasn't just in his head.

"And I don't hear you denying it," Juan Martín replies and David lifts up his arms showing surrender.

"Sounds like you're both comfortable," Zabaleta comments, Jaite has no need, he looks like he can confirm that sentence himself, but Juan Martín decides not to give him that much credit, for he basically said that a moment ago.

"We are," David answers, just in case a vocal answer was needed, he turns to Juan Martín after that to say: "my brother is looking for you."

"He is?"

"Mhm, I think he has this odd notion that you're my secretary or my waking up clock."

"Waking up clock?" Zabaleta echoes and Jaite shushes him.

"Where is he?" Juan Martín asks.

"I'll take you to him if we're done here," looking towards Jaite who nods at him.

"Waking up clock," Juan Martín complains when it's just the two of them.

"Well—"

"To be fair," Juan Martín interrupts, "you've woken me up more times with your so very loud thoughts."

"Darío is there," David chooses to answer, but Juan Martín catches amusement from his mind.

 

They don't sit together on the plane this time either, they're not even close. David admits with annoyance: ~I can't even see you~. Juan Martín can't call him on the phone or get up yet, and he doesn't consider that screaming "hey David, over here!" would look good; so he decides to stretch both of his arms over his head knowing that thanks to their length they'll be easy to spot.

~Oh, there you are, hello arms.~

Juan Martín laughs and makes a small wave with his right hand.

 

 

Even if he doesn't want to, Juan Martín is awfully aware of David in the field number nine at All England where he and Berloq have been training together. At the other side of the net in his own court, Mónaco is giving him half worried glances and Juan Martín decides to complain about the field, which is something they were doing when they first arrived; Andy Murray was with them even, first making smartass comments about Pico's new hairstyle and then agreeing with the protests about the floor condition.

Mónaco takes the last ball in his hand in place of serving it with his racket and walks to the net, "really? Are you just annoyed about that?"

Juan Martín nods, the heat is a bit of an inconvenience too, but complaining about the weather sounds too childish for him. He closes his eyes and touches the sides of his head, as if that would make the images go away. They're not David's thought but his own, his very own thought about David, running on court, with the sun heating his face, squinting his eyes, grabbing the racket with one hand and cleaning sweat from his face with the other. It's slightly creepy how much Juan Martín can actually picture it as if it was happening in front of him. He's sure he can even listen to David's breath, the ragged sounds he makes in the field when going for the ball. It's driving him insane.

"Is anything," Pico starts, but stops and moves closer to the net, "is there anything bothering you up there?" he finishes, voice much quieter than normal.

"What?" Juan Martín opens his eyes and moves his hand away from his face, "up here?"

Pico blinks at him and finally Juan Martín gets it.

"Of course not, he's completely out of my reach right now."

"Out of your reach?"

"Or, I'm out of his, I don't know," Juan Martín shrugs. "When he plays tennis his head shuts entirely, he doesn't give anything away, I get nothing at all. I noticed when I was in London while he played at Queen's; even if I had gotten random ideas not always intentional before, nothing during tennis."

"He's always focused."

Juan Martín agrees to that with a grunt because there's a side of him that says "maybe he's also that focused in bed" and he just hates himself.

"Hey, can we go on tomorrow?"

Mónaco accepts right away, "I'll go pester Andy if he's still around, or wait for Edu, you go get some rest."

"Yeah, I'll do that."

 

Juan Martín showers at All England's dressing room and he's out by the back door calling no one's attention. He's unsure about where to go, but considers the Olympic Village serene enough and rides there texting his coach about it so the man won't worry.

The place is huge, Juan Martín is still shocked about it, but clearly it's not that big or there aren't many people there yet, because when he's on his way to the recreational rooms he spots a familiar figure sitting on a bench with a phone between his hands.

"Am I interrupting?" he asks before sitting down, Roger Federer smiles to him lifting his head and saying no with it.

"I was just done talking, no problem."

Juan Martín sits down, the sun is still heavy on him but it's not the same as when playing, yet he still doesn't feel at his best.

"How was the trip here?" he asks to Federer, eyes on the big apartments in front of them.

"Calm, well, less for the part when Charlene threw up on me and Myla mocked me for my ruined clothes."

Juan Martín hides the laugh that wants to leave his chest, but Roger smiles.

"You can laugh, too, I think in the end even Charlene did. My whole team surely did."

"I'm sorry," Juan Martín offers while Federer waves it off.

"What about yours?"

"I slept through most of it, I had traveled from here to Argentina less than two weeks before, so it was pretty much the same," Juan Martín says, even if that's not fully true, but he doesn't think Roger needs to know how he missed annoying Nalbandian.

"You don't look very well, if you allow me saying it."

"You're allowed," Juan Martín smiles dimly, "I was blaming the weather just before, but I don't think it's only that."

"Ah," Roger says, "Is he around here too, then?"

"He is," Juan Martín replies, "but it's not him, it's me, I'm not… all right apparently."

"Something I learned with my second time," Federer explains and Juan Martín is still bemused about the normality he has to approach the subject, "is that sometimes when they avoid a thought, when they stop it from forming, that also gets you. It's like you get the effort they did, even if you don't notice."

"Okay…"

"For example, if you were reading my mind and we had to play against each other I'd be blocking thoughts a lot from you, right?" Roger looks at Juan Martín waiting for the nod; he goes on when he gets it. "But every time I blocked that, you'd feel it. You'd feel like I was about to call you but I wouldn't be actually calling you. At the very beginning it wouldn't bother you, but as it kept on happening, it would upset you. Make you think about them and be more aware of them, like if you were constantly waiting to be called."

"More aware?" Juan Martín repeats a bit unnerved.

"Yes."

"Does it go away?"

"Normally after a day or two you get used to it," Roger assures him, "you adapt like you first adapted to his mind being projected in yours. If you want to speed things up, talk to him but for me waiting worked fine."

"That's nice to hear."

"Always glad to give good news," Federer beams.

"You like this?"

"Yes," he answers immediately, "I don't think I could be at ease without that extra voice."

"Wow."

"It took us a while to get there; it wasn't like that from the start. I'll confess that sometimes I wanted to shush him out, too."

"Singing inside my head works."

"Talking in my less developed languages does it for me," Roger tells back and Juan Martín smiles at him.

"I like it too, and I think he does as well."

~Where on Earth are you?~ David's voice doesn't sound worried, it has a hint of exasperation more than anything.

"And other times, I think he just abuses it," Juan Martín adds, hand on his temple, and that makes Federer laugh.

"When he uses it because he wants things from the room you're in and he's not, then you need to talk to him kid." Roger pats him on the leg before getting up and waving him goodbye.

"Thanks again," Juan Martín says to him.

"I did offer," Roger replies, "answer him and go to bed early today, sleeping is good to let the mind get used to things."

When Federer is away from him, Juan Martín grabs his phone from his pocket and dials David's number.

"London," he says as soon as he hears David's respiration on the other side, "and we arrived here together from Buenos Aires."

"Idiot," is David's first reply, he sounds out of breath so Juan Martín is pretty sure he said it out loud. "Where exactly in London?"

Juan Martín smiles because he likes to feel humored, "The Olympic village."

"Stay for dinner," David commands, and Juan Martín can't find a reason to disagree.

"I'll wait with the pinball machine."

David's snort is the only reply he gets before hanging up.

 

 

~Muttio, Scarone, D'Elía, Barrionuevo, both Sruoga girls, Rodríguez, Aymar, Sánchez Moccia, Merino, Rebecchi~ David's unmistakable voice chanting the starting team of Las Leonas irrupts into Juan Martín's own thoughts and creeps him a bit. Since when does David care that much about hockey anyway? Yes, of course, it's a national team, but wanting them to win and cheering for them is one thing, chanting the formation is another stage of devotion. He can't see where David is but, if Juan Martín is honest, he can't see anyone with the opening celebration going on.

"There you are!" David's voice is hard to hear with all the noise and that exact thing is what makes Juan Martín sure that David is talking out loud.

"Eh, I was distracted with the show," Juan Martín says, in case a justification is needed, he's not even sure when he moved away from his fellow tennis mates, but it happened at some point. He wants to ask David why he was thinking about the hockey squad just a moment ago, but the hand on his arm doesn't let him say anything while it drags him away.

"It's fine," David is saying, more to the crowd they're facing than to Juan Martín, and he wants to tell David that he could be talking to his head instead and that it would make things much easier, he has no idea why David is being so impractical.

"What?" Juan Martín asks, because he notices he hasn't been paying attention and David just sighs before clearly repeating himself.

"The girls are looking for you and I lost at rock, paper, scissors with Eduardo, so I had to come and collect you."

"Sorry to be such a burden," Juan Martín answers back, maybe not entirely joking.

~Of course you're a burden, I'm pretty sure we're still a few pounds heavier with all we ate after your Wimbledon game~ and Juan Martín knows for sure that David didn't say that out loud, and that's enough to make him feel calm and all right again, even lets him drift back to his thought of the opening ceremony and the sportsmen (and sportswomen) with whom he has to share this tournament. Honestly, Juan Martín adores the Olympics.

"Over here!" Paola Suárez's happy voice calls from somewhere and Juan Martín feels getting tugged to that direction, with no resistance he follows David and soon he's in front of both tennis ladies, Schwank and Mónaco.

"Teammates," Juan Martín salutes to the sight.

"I'm going to find Berloq now, he must be here somewhere, he isn't exactly a little person either so he can't be hard to find." David walks away without saying anything else, but Juan Martín catches a glimpse of his thoughts and again he's chanting the hockey formation.

"Is he okay?" Juan Martín blurts unable to stop himself.

"If he was a girl, I'd say he's worried about how we look," Paola says in front of him, she looks thoughtful. "I mean, I heard him mutter something like "it's only gym clothes for heaven's sake" earlier."

Next to her Dulko snorts and Mónaco looks at his blue jacket with intrigue, muttering a vague "but I like it" and Juan Martín just leaves it at that.

"You were looking for me?" he remembers, leaving David's mood alone and staring at the ladies.

"I was," Gisela says, "I don't remember why now."

Juan Martín is about to protest, but Paola touches his arm slightly, "she was just texting with Gago, we lost her for a while."

Dulko doesn't even try to defend herself, and Juan Martín smiles, turning his attention to the celebration and to the rest of Argentinians around him; waiting, without thinking too much about it, for David to return.

At some point during his wait he feels Gisela's arm around him and even if he's not sure about what brought that up, he lets her into his personal space and embraces her as well.

"We're training at nine tomorrow," she says, and Juan Martín agrees, he knew that already.

 

 

When they're done training, they both stick around to watch Schwank and Nalbandián practice against Mónaco and Berloq. Juan Martín takes a little longer changing and comes back when they're in the middle of the practice, stopping by the side of the court where David is playing which makes him smile.

During the second half of the match Eduardo and David are winning with a decent effort and Juan Martín looks up to see Gisela looking back at him from the chair she sat on when they were done. He lets another set pass by but Gisela is staring at him so strongly that for a minute Juan Martín wants to be able to read her mind. He sighs then and moves away from his precious spot, walking towards her who just then stops staring and has her eyes focused on her wedding ring.

"How's the married life?" he teases.

"You're in love with him," Gisela isn't ever one for small talk, when she wants to say something she does it like she plays tennis: straight to the point and impeccably.

Juan Martín sighs again; he's been doing that a lot lately.

"Yes," he says, and rubs his temples with his left hand, because if he's going to confess, he's going to do it right: "madly"

"Paola owes me fifty bucks."

"What for?"

"She said you would not admit it that quickly."

Juan Martín can't help it and smiles.

"Is it that obvious?”

"We're girls, we see those things," Gisela says, and it does work as a bit of consolation. Juan Martín turns to look at her, she has her eyes back on the game, and remembers the hug from the day before, did he look so lost in the lack of David's presence that he needed a hug?

Possibly he did, he's glad Gisela was there to notice that.

 

 

Juan Martín is poking his food and trying not to stare at David talking to Luis Scola at the end of the table. He wants to go over there and demand to David that he's been very silent for the past day and a half and he wants to complain that it has been rather boring up there without David's random outbursts, more now that Juan Martín didn't felt the oddness of the first day anymore.

Juan Martín remembers Federer’s words, how he made clear that to him the second voice was a need and for the first time since all this started Juan Martín considers the possibility of the bond being gone. It scares him, it makes him stop any other action, let go of his fork and freak out internally for a minute. What if he doesn't hear David anymore because he can't? What if David has been trying to reach him but, because he can't hear him anymore, Juan Martín hasn't answered him so David thinks Juan Martín is mad at him?

He needs to know. He needs to be sure he still can hear David.

"Say something to me," he writes on a text message to David, because even if he wants to get up and say it to David's face he's not one to make a scandal.

"Something about what?" David texts back; Juan Martín hates how respectful he is for the moment and answers back, trying to calm the slight shaking of his hands: "in my head, humor me."

~I am humoring you~ David's voice says inside his mind, and Juan Martín feels himself breathe properly again. At the end of the table, David is now looking at him, even if Scola is still talking to him. He has a hard to read expression and his head gives a vibe of confusion that Juan Martín can't really blame.

"Thanks," he writes in a text, and for what he can see from his place, that makes David smile.

 

 

Juan Martín wins versus Dodig and he's still smiling until he eyes the television to see how his fellow countrymen did and sees David's defeat. He notices that not even one thought scalped David's head about that, nothing that could bother or distract Juan Martín from his own game. So, somewhere in the Olympic Village, David Nalbandián is bolting emotions inside of him and Juan Martín realizes he has to get there before David needs to explode.

"Where's Nalbandián?" he texts to Gisela, knowing she'll answer without any other comment even if she wants to joke about it, and sure she'll be free enough to text.

"Olympic Village. Tennis apartment. His room. Jaite was seen there too. Dulko out."

It's the cheeky interruption he needs in his life and spares a smile for it and a second to write back "perfect effectiveness partner."

 

David is in his room playing Tetris. Juan Martín read somewhere once that Tetris made you deal better with sad or stressful situations and he shared that knowledge with David in one of their illegal meals; clearly David is giving it a go.

"You're playing again in less than 48 hours, why are you with me and not with the doctor?" David says, there's no bitterness on his voice, just plain truth.

"Because," Juan Martín says and sits down in one of the beds, watching the screen that David left unattended. The blonde doesn't ask again and turns back to his game, very slowly Juan Martín can feel words and images that don't belong to him appear in his head.

He reclines in the bed and closes his eyes.

"So you're going to fall asleep on me again…" Juan Martín hears.

"I never actually fell asleep that time; I heard everything you said, even when you confessed listening to Cristian Castro during rainy nights."

"That's exactly what I said."

"Of course it is."

 

 

Juan Martín wins again. And again. And again. And enough times for him to be the center of the tennis team, Nalbandian and Schwank leaving aside their defeat to cheer him; Pico not caring for his loss, nor the girls for theirs. And, ultimately, he wins enough times that he comes face to face with Roger Federer once more.

"We have to stop meeting like this," he tells Roger when they salute in the net before the game starts.

"Sometimes, you're my favourite," Roger simply answers.

 

 

Federer wins. But it's not as easy as that, and more than every other time Juan Martín is glad that no one, not David nor other tennis player in the world, can listen to what his head thinks. Because in those four hours and twenty six minutes his mind was a rollercoaster of emotions that needed to be kept for the game to go on. He was so close to winning and so close to losing, he did everything right, but Roger just did everything better.

At the end, the only thing he cares about is to receive Roger's embrace by the net. The words he hears on his ear are kind and knowing: "you have to be so proud, you're getting tougher to beat and you can't be hard on yourself if you gave out everything."

The words are what give him strength to walk with his head held high despite his teary eyes. He makes it to the showers without crying again.

 

 

 

~You don't have to play~

"Of course I have to," Juan Martín answers back to the empty room, he doesn't care if David isn't hearing his reply, Juan Martín showered, changed and rested and he's ready to play again. The soreness and the feelings of the other game forgotten so he can take care of this compromise he has.

~You just went out of yourself, your whole body is probably as rigid as a rock, you should get your ass back here with us, not out again in court~ David says to his head, worry and impatience also reaching him, with a hint of something else that Juan Martín can't identify.

"I have to play, I want to play; I'm not leaving Gisela out there alone. No way." Juan Martín is saying this to someone that isn't listening to him, but he's also reassuring himself. He's not surprised that David goes on with talking.

~You're probably thinking about honor or something like that, but let me tell you something Del Potro, if you go out there and play only to come back hurt I won't even be giving you a 'get better' thought. Not even a thought, I hope you heard that, you daft.~

Juan Martín sighs and gets himself out in the court again as if he hadn't played for almost five hours earlier that same day. When he leaves rackets and his bag at the side of the field, just after Dulko, he can see all the tennis team from Argentina in the first line, with David right in front of him; without thinking twice he mouths a "sorry" towards him.

~No, you are not~ comes the immediate answer in his head, but the tone isn't angry or demanding like before, there's acceptance and, if Juan Martín is reading David all right (and by now he believes he can read him pretty well) there's some affection in the words, too.

 

 

 

"I had to say those things," David is standing at the door outside the kinesiology room they have at the village. Juan Martín can see him moving his lips and stares at them before switching to David's face, seeing the peace on his features. They're alone for the doctor left to surely talk with Juan Martín's coach and with Jaite, promising to come back to change the patches on Juan Martín's aching points.

"No one else had the balls to say them, only me." David talks again, demanding Juan Martín's full attention with his words.

"Why am I not surprised?" Juan Martín replies with the smile he can manage.

"That I had the balls to say something or that it's always me the one that has to bring you back to reality?"

Juan Martín really does smile to that "both, I guess."

David walks inside the room, his thoughts are a confusing mess that barely get to Juan Martín in form of sentences, David is asking how he feels but at the same time wanting to say 'I hope there's no big wound in all these'.

"I'm not hurt, I'm just tired and in post-game pain, so you can give me a 'get better'" Juan Martín decides to say, and also acknowledging what he heard earlier from David.

"We'll see about that," David says out loud, but all his thoughts seem to put themselves together or back off and all that Juan Martín receives is a clear ~get better soon, you stubborn tandilense~.

They don't talk after that, but Juan Martín prefers it that way. Because it lets him be silent with his own thoughts, with what he's discovered from David in the past few months since he's gotten real thoughts, real sensations from him.

David cares about Juan Martín, worries about him because of him and not because of the racket he's holding. If Juan Martín starts to rememorize every word that David said in the past to the press, before their actual bond, he's sure he'd be able to understand them now. To really get what David was trying to say, how we was aiming for Juan Martín's attention because he cared, because he wanted to help and didn't know how. It warms Juan Martín to come to that realization, and it makes him want to ask for David's forgiveness at his lack of understanding. Yet the tenacious side of his brain says that David never really tried to explain, to actually talk to him; it reminds Juan Martín that David went for the most difficult ways to reach him. That's a protest he'll have to make one day, he'll sit down with David and he'll be able to tell him: "if you had come to me we would have solved everything, we would have fixed it way before." But, if before implies that this, the mind reading and the past few months, wouldn't have happened, Juan Martín then thinks that maybe this was the right way. They aren't easy people and maybe they don't have to solve things in easy ways.

David touches his knee softly over the patch and Juan Martín lets go of his thoughts, at ease with them now that they make sense for him.

"Be careful with it," David says, and Juan Martín gets he's not only talking about the knee.

David leaves after that.

 

 

 

Juan Martín is playing against Djokovic just after his body and head recover from the double loss two days earlier. But clearly there's still a bit of a rough side on him, because Nole's balls start being more precise than his own. He stops for a drink when he hears him.

~I shouldn't be doing this, because it goes against everything we talked about and if you want me to shut up pull your bottle away from your mouth and leave it in the floor for a second.~

Juan Martín is incredible relieved to hear David, for the first time he is glad that he doesn't have to be on his own inside the tennis court. He fought alone against Federer and he really could use some company right now; so to prove that he does the opposite to what David said and goes on drinking giving a slight nod with his head as if saying "go on, I'm interested."

~Right, so, this is crazy and I don't think I can actually help you, but just…~ there's a pause, Juan Martín can feel the mess of ideas and a stop to all of them as if David was ordering them to stay still. ~I'm here, okay? We all are, of course. But I'm… I'm actually there; I'm with you, in that field. You don't need to be the lonely hero on this one.~

Juan Martín then stands up confident, renewed and mostly, not alone. It only gets better from then on and because life does give you rematches, Juan Martín wins over Djokovic.

 

 

When the camera is on him, his eyes surely red, the medal on his neck and the flag around his shoulders he says "we did it together" kissing the flag. The man holding the microphone celebrates his patriotism and Juan Martín gives him a smile before walking away.

The flag is David, because David always puts Argentina before anything else and the Davis Cup before his own career, because David wears those colors like they belong to him more, because David didn't leave him alone, not even when Juan Martín had, in the past, left David alone. The flag is Argentina. Argentina is David. Juan Martín is never letting them go, none of the three.

 

 

Juan Martín can feel something is about to happen.

He's putting his things back on his bag, getting ready to face his teammates and friends that are waiting outside to celebrate with him, to celebrate him. But there's a feeling in Juan Martín's head that says that something big is about to happen, and he just a won a bronze medal so he can't be sure what it could be until he realizes that the feeling, the thought, doesn't belong to him. And that's when he looks up. David is entering the dressing room, which is not allowed, surely, maybe, not like Juan Martín is going to be telling. There he sees it. For a second before it happens, he gets a small, diminutive flash of David coming over him, towards him and that's when Juan Martín stops seeing and he's glad about it. He likes the surprise that is David's mouth on his own.

The kiss tastes like finally, if finally could taste like something. There's no desperation on David's lips and Juan Martín decides to follow him, to move with David's mouth and to focus on that, just to be a bit distracted by David's hands on his face, one resting at his jaw and caressing the skin there while the other goes to the back to get lost in Juan Martín's hair. Feeling fingers in his hair Juan Martín remembers something that used to be his recurrent fantasy what feels like forever ago and lifts his own hands to grab David's head and grip his hair like his whole life depends on it.

They're kissing. Him, Juan Martín Del Potro is kissing, or actually is being kissed by David Nalbandian. In a dressing room in All England after he just won a medal against Djokovic.

Juan Martín’s life is perfect.

"I've wanted to do that for so long," David admits breaking the kiss, which causes Juan Martín to make a small embarrassing groan of annoyance mixed with a gulp of air, something he had forgotten he needed. When the words sink in he smiles.

"You can talk inside my head and you stopped kissing me to tell me you wanted to kiss me?"

"How can you have enough energy left to be a little bitch?"

"I have energy left to---" he doesn't get to finish that sentence; David is kissing him before he can.

~Oh do shut up, please~

Juan Martín smiles against David's lips, before dipping into the kiss because he has wanted to do this for a while, too. He'll tell David later.

 

 

"You really like hockey don't you?" Juan Martín asks when he's sitting by David's side while watching the feminine hockey final.

"It's all right," David shrugs, "I want the girls to win, but you won't find me watching a hockey game outside our national teams."

"But," Juan Martín pauses when Aymar's disc flies close to the other's area. He's silent until the possibility of a score goes away, then he starts again: "what I was meant to say, is why did you keep repeating their formation if you're not that much of a fan?"

"It was to not think about something else," David confesses, he sounds more amused than embarrassed about it. "I discovered that repeating something out of memory took so much effort that it made it hard to think about anything else."

"What were you avoiding?"

"Thinking about you mostly"

Juan Martín beams, next to him David sighs and he mutters "don't let it go to your head."

"Too late," Juan Martín is still smiling when he remembers something else: "What about that time I feel asleep? What were you thinking that made you so sure I was sleeping?"

"Yeah, we're not talking about that yet."

Juan Martín complains making noises, but David distracts him by holding his hand for a moment and ordering him to pay attention to the game in front of them.

 

 

(In another part of the stadium.

"Now that I think about it, I believe it's my fault."

"What?" Zabaleta asks, and then follows Jaite's line of vision and finds Del Potro and Nalbandián on it, so he changes his question, "why?"

"When I started coaching the team I basically promised Modesto that with me as the boss, they would be reading each other's minds."

"I don't think it can be induced like that…"

"A press scandal made Coria read Gaudio's mind for half a year, you still think it can't be induced?"

"What I mean," Zabaleta says, "Is that I don't think just one person can do it."

"Well..."

"Never mind boss, it worked out for the best, didn't it?"

"That, it did.")