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FOOTBALL RPF FIC: No One Can Break Us

Title: No One Can Break Us
Fandom: Football RPF
Rating: PG-13, for language
Characters: Andrés Iniesta/Victor Valdés, Lionel Messi
Word Count: 2788
Disclaimer: While inspired by actual persons and events, this story is definitely fiction.
Summary: Someone has to pick up the pieces after the 2012 Champions League semifinal, and Andrés Iniesta is less fragile than he looks.
Author’s Note: Yep, more FC Barcelona catharsis fic. This is for meretricula, who miraculously turned me on to this pairing.



When El Niño scored and then the final whistle blew, Andrés Iniesta could hardly believe his ears. Not because he was surprised that this brutal match had finally come to an end, but because the overflowing crowd at the Camp Nou was greeting their team’s defeat with thunderous applause.

Andrés raised his head and scanned the stadium, astounded. All around him blaugrana fans were clapping, crying, kissing the crests on their replica jerseys, and belting out the Cant del Barça. It was suddenly impossible to swallow. Tears of gratitude sprang to his eyes, blurring the sight of his downcast teammates lifting their heads to gaze in wonder at the clamor of their loyal fans. Then he blinked twice, and his vision cleared.

A few yards in front of him, Leo Messi’s head had disappeared into the depths of his shirt, like a turtle retreating into its shell. When he reemerged, Andrés could see from the expression on his face that he wished for nothing more at this moment than for the earth to open under his feet.

The last time they had lost the Champions League, Leo had at least managed to hold it together until he reached the locker room. Tonight his face was wet with more than sweat, his mouth screwed up in a terrible rigid grimace that threatened to collapse into a howl at any time. Just an hour and a half ago he had been jumping joyfully into Andrés’ arms, his face alight with triumph after assisting their second goal. But Leo surely knew that the only play people would remember him for was that penalty shot ricocheting off the crossbar. And Andrés was certain that it was the only image that would be repeating in Leo’s head for the next several days as well.

Andrés lost track of Leo as he circulated among their teammates, the Chelsea players, the referees. Victor clumsily stripped off his gloves, moving as stiffly as someone twice his age, and avoided Andrés’ eyes. Most of the Barça players wore almost identical expressions of shock over bone-deep exhaustion. Andrés was frankly impressed that Xavi and Puyol were still upright, with this heartbreaker of a CL semifinal coming on the heels of the weekend’s Liga-losing Clásico. He noticed at one point that Frank Lampard had managed to claim Leo’s shirt, which made him smile ruefully at the thought that many transactions didn’t require words, much less a common language – Leo wouldn’t be talking to anyone tonight.

*

The dressing room was uncharacteristically quiet, almost as if a physical force had radiated from the epicenter of silence that was post-loss Leo, but the Argentine was nowhere to be found. Victor, too, had disappeared. As much as Leo, he would be blaming himself for tonight’s conspicuous errors, probably even for single-handedly ruining their chance to go on to the finals. Worried, Andrés sent a quick text to ask whether he was okay, but he had an interview scheduled with El Marcador and had to hurry and get himself cleaned up and changed. He grabbed a towel and his slippers and headed for the showers.

There he discovered Leo, who was standing alone under the showerhead furthest from the door, his pale legs and feet turning pink under the angry steam. Their teammates had eschewed the stalls on either side, most likely out of respect for his mood, but the effect from this angle was to make him look small and isolated, bereft of comfort or companionship. Andrés hesitated – there were other showers free and closer to the door – but then made the decision to cross the room and take one of the stalls next to Leo, unwelcome though he might be.

He hung his towel on the hook and stepped into the shower, turning the temperature down to a soothing, unobtrusive warmth, and scrubbed the sweat from his face, his torso, his only pleasantly sore limbs. Even under the spatter of both showers, he thought that he could hear Leo sobbing in the stall next door. Although he was no longer the painfully shy, sensitive teenager he’d been when he joined the first team, Leo never seemed to stop being openly distraught after big losses, especially when he had any reason to feel himself personally responsible, as he definitely did tonight. Maybe being hailed as even more of a phenomenon year after year was just increasing the pressure on him to take the entire team’s burdens upon his slender shoulders, only to be that much more devastated on the rare occasions when he buckled.

Finished, Andrés shut off the water and reached around for the towel, dried himself off quickly and deliberately. He knotted the rough terrycloth tightly around his waist, started to step out of the stall, then paused. The sounds were unmistakable now. He could imagine Leo bracing both hands against the wall, head drooping, eyes scrunched miserably shut, hot water dripping from his hair and mixing with the tears and mucus on his contorted face.

Andrés took a deep breath and then rapped gently on the partition between them. He saw Leo move his legs slightly, startled by the sound, and said quickly, “Leo. It’s Andrés.”

There was no response other than a sucked-in breath followed by some gulping and snuffling noises, but that was enough to give him the go-ahead. “Listen. I know you think you let us down tonight. I know the press will be saying it tomorrow. But the truth is that we lost the game, Leo. The whole team, understand? And we would never have made it here in the first place if it hadn’t been for you.” Leo still didn’t say anything, but he had been listening; Andrés could tell from the tension in his calves.

“Anyway, I know you’re sad, we all are, but… when you think about the match, try to remember the goal we scored together today, okay? Not just the one that you missed.”

Still nothing. With all his heart, Andrés wished that he could break down the barrier between them, reach over and touch Leo, who might find some way without words to tell him that he was going to be okay. But that was not to be. After another moment of both of them standing still, silent, Andrés stepped out of the shower unanswered and returned to the dressing room to change.

*

His one-sided conversation with Leo had done nothing to restore his spirits by the time he got to the interview, and his voice was tight as he struggled to give calm, considered answers to the necessary but difficult questions. Yes, this defeat pained the team, both as players and also for the suffering of all the fans who were behind them. But it had been marvelous to feel that their fans were still with them in spite of the loss, and here he found himself getting decidedly choked up, feeling again his surprise at, and gratitude for, the unwavering support in the stadium. Yes, they had had many opportunities to score but bad luck at the finish. Even though they were out of the running for the Liga as well as the Champions, of course they would keep playing to win, it was the best way to prepare for the upcoming Copa del Rey final against Athletic Club.

He only felt himself faltering when they pressed him on the question of Pep’s renewal. What he could say sincerely, he did. The decision was up to the Mister and the Club, but their manager knew, tonight and always, that his players wanted him to stay for many years to come.

*

He called Victor on his way out but only reached his voicemail. He hung up reflexively, then called back. “Victor, it’s me,” he said. “I hope you’re okay. Please call me back.”

Anna met him with Valeria outside the dressing room and hugged him, their daughter’s familiar, beloved scents of sleep and talcum powder tickling his nostrils as she squirmed between them. When his partner pulled away, there was sadness in her eyes, but also pride, and not the slightest hint of recrimination. For that he was, as always, absurdly grateful. “Qué lástima,” was all she said. “But Valeria loved her goal, Andrés.” She smiled and squeezed his arm. “Let’s go home.”

*

They had the next two days off, so Andrés took his time in the morning, playing with blocks and pushing a soccer ball back and forth with Valeria, checking his Facebook and Twitter accounts. To his relief, he learned that Geri had been released from the hospital after being kept overnight for observation. But Victor, usually so reliable with his post-match messages to his teammates and the fans, had not posted anything, any more than he had responded to the messages from the night before. Andrés frowned. When he called Victor’s phone again and got no answer, he decided to head over to his home and check in on him.

Yolanda met him at the door, worry wrinkling her forehead. “Andrés,” she said, kissing his cheeks, “I’m glad you came. Victor’s been in a very bad way. He won’t eat or drink anything, and he hasn’t gotten out of bed.”

Andrés smiled at Victor’s beautiful blond son, who was clutching his mother’s skirt and peeking around at him, eyes wide. “Hi, Dylan,” he said, and the child dimpled back but then hid behind Yolanda, who rolled her eyes and ruffled his hair.

“With your permission?” Andrés asked, nodding towards the bedroom.

“Yes, of course,” and she gave him a gentle push in the direction of the door.

Someone, presumably Yolanda, had drawn the blinds, allowing the late morning light to flood the room. The taut curve of Victor’s body cast sharp shadows against the whiteness of the sheets. He was curled in fetal position, his back to the door, his face turned away.

Even from here, Andrés could tell that Victor hadn’t showered since the match; the room stank of stale sweat. Probably hadn’t slept either, if past experience was anything to go by. He stepped into the room, closing the door softly behind him, and then sank down on the opposite edge of the bed. “Victor?”

The long, lean back stiffened. “Andrés?” Victor’s voice was hoarse, dry and cracking from disuse. “Yoli knew I didn’t want to see anyone.”

“I’m not just anyone,” Andrés answered mildly, hiding a brief twinge of hurt. “You haven’t returned my calls, I was worried about you.”

“Turned off my phone,” Victor mumbled, still not turning to look at him. “I don’t want to talk.”

“Fine,” Andrés said. “You don’t have to say anything. I’ll talk.” He toed off his shoes, shoved his legs under the comforter and slid over in the bed, wrapped himself around Victor’s rigid frame, and waited, just like when they were both troubled teenagers back in La Masia.

Sure enough, after a few seconds Victor stirred, then reached up to grasp his hand and squeezed so hard, it hurt a little. “Joder, Andrésito,” he groaned. “I really fucked up last night.”

Andrés squeezed back stoically. “You’re being too hard on yourself,” he said to the space between Victor’s shoulderblades.

At that, Victor let go of his hand, shrugged him off, and turned, pushing himself up on his elbows. “No,” he said fiercely, bloodshot eyes clouded with bafflement and despair. “Don’t you get it? How the fuck could I have done that? Geri is in the fucking hospital because of me!”

Andrés froze, then sat up and reached out carefully, cupping the back of Victor’s neck. “Shh, it’s all right, he was just there overnight for observation. They released him this morning, he’s going to be fine.”

Victor shook his head vehemently, dislodging his hand. “If he is, I just got lucky. That collision was 100% my fault. If I hadn’t been off my line, if I had just trusted my CB to do his job…” He glared at Andrés as if daring his friend to contradict him.

Andrés thought this over. It had been a bad decision, and ultimately a dangerous one. But saying so wouldn’t help anything. Yesterday’s match – the past several matches if he was honest with himself – had brought Victor’s worst fears to life. Andrés knew better than anyone how many nights Victor had once spent sick and shaking at the thought of being in goal before a big game, how many days he had endured plunged in the deepest despair after one of his weaknesses had been mercilessly exposed. He wondered whether this week would finally cause his friend’s frequently fragile confidence to collapse once and for all.

“You made a mistake,” he said at last. “We all do. Even Leo, apparently.” He dared to give Victor a gentle dig in the ribs. “Besides, Geri hasn’t exactly been that trustworthy lately.”

To his immense relief, Victor’s lips twitched, and he made a small choking sound that Andrés recognized to be reluctant laughter. Encouraged, he continued, “And those two goals today? Probably you could have stopped them. If you had miraculously split yourself into two players and sent one of them out of the box as a defender while the other one guarded the goal.”

Victor opened his mouth to protest – Andrés could see it in his eyes – but then shrugged, gave him a lopsided half-smile and sagged down against the pillows. “You’re full of shit, little brother,” he said, “but thank you.”

Andrés lay down beside him, crossed his arm over Victor’s chest, and pressed a kiss into his friend’s unshaven cheek. “You’re welcome.”

“Make sure to explain all of that to del Bosque when he’s reviewing the replays to choose the keepers for this summer,” Victor said to the ceiling.

Andrés rolled his eyes. “So you won’t be starting for the Selección this year,” he said. “So what else is new? Iker would have to break both his hands for del Bosque to put him on the bench.”

“That could be arranged,” Victor growled, but he was just teasing now, the black mood miraculously all but lifted. He twisted around to wrap Andrés in a hard hug, tucking his face between his friend’s neck and shoulder, his sour breath warm against his skin. “But Pepe would never give up the second spot, and he outweighs me.”

“Probably both of us,” Andrés suggested, and Victor snorted.

“Actually, it would be a huge relief if somebody else got the job,” and Andrés knew that he was kidding, but not really. “Maybe Diego Lopez, he’s looking pretty spry these days.”

“That could be arranged,” Andrés mimicked, and they both started shaking with laughter, clinging helplessly to each other. Every time one of them tried to stop, the other would burst out giggling again, Victor because he was punchy with exhaustion, Andrés because he had always found his friend’s laughter to be contagious.

“God I’m tired,” Victor mumbled when they had finally beaten the cycle and were breathing normally again.

“So sleep,” Andrés said. He started to sit up, but Victor held on to him, burying his face further into his neck.

“Stay,” he said. “Can you? Just for a little while.”

Andrés hesitated for only a second before squeezing Victor’s shoulder. “Okay. But go to sleep.”

“Yeah,” Victor murmured, his voice already thickening with drowsiness. “But wake me for the Bayern-Madrid match. I want to see Penaldo take on Neuer.”

Andrés stroked his friend’s arm, listening to his breaths slow and roughen as he relaxed into sleep. He wondered whether it was still like this for Cesc and Geri and Leo, having gone through La Masia together, or whether Leo had moved on, feeling that his friends had abandoned him and their easy intimacy for England. Then he had the idle thought that maybe Leo had never quite grown up simply because he was still surrounded and protected by many of the same people who had taken care of him at thirteen.

But mostly he thought about what a wonderful thing it was to belong to this team, in this time. They may have had their share of setbacks this year, but they still had their philosophy, their beautiful football, and each other. Next season David would be well, and Geri and Pedro would be back in form, and Alexis and Cesc would be better integrated, and everyone would forget that Javier had ever been anything but a defender, and the recent promotions would get more experience and give Puyi and Xavi much-needed opportunities to rest. And Leo, of course, Leo would just be entering his prime, and mesmerizing everyone with his magic once again…

He drifted off to sleep surrounded by blue, garnet, and gold, the Cant del Barça pulsing in his ears like a promise.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
brojan
Apr. 26th, 2012 05:09 am (UTC)
lovely! even though he's always described as quiet and timid i could definitely see iniesta being the strong/supportive one. except, if i could forget that i ever saw messi cry, that would be great.

i laughed at the penaldo line :( i'm a bad person.
flywoman
Apr. 26th, 2012 11:30 am (UTC)
even though he's always described as quiet and timid i could definitely see iniesta being the strong/supportive one.

I think he really is quiet and timid, but like many introverts, very comfortable and caring with close friends. And Crackovia likes to mock him for a strength, which is his apparent levelheadedness in the wake of both good and bad events.

except, if i could forget that i ever saw messi cry, that would be great.

OMG Leo, break my heart, why don't you??

i laughed at the penaldo line :( i'm a bad person.

Ah ha ha, that was one of the last lines I added, glad that it made you laugh too.

Speaking of bad people, I was unreasonably pleased that Real Madrid won't be going to the CL final either. I'm a Spain NT fan, but I don't think I could stand seeing Mourinho take the CL as well as the Liga.

Thanks very much for reading and commenting! :)
the_beanster
Apr. 26th, 2012 03:06 pm (UTC)
This was absolutely lovely. This was heartbreaking but perfect.
flywoman
Apr. 26th, 2012 09:34 pm (UTC)
I don't think that I can claim any credit for the heartbreak, but thanks so much for letting me know that you thought this was lovely! <3
meretricula
Apr. 27th, 2012 03:32 am (UTC)
Leo :(

but Victor and Andres are ♥
flywoman
Apr. 27th, 2012 03:44 am (UTC)
Poor Leo :(. At least he's tweeting again, so he hasn't died of mortification or anything.

And you made teenage Victor and Andres cuddling each other for comfort my head canon, so thank you for that!
(Deleted comment)
flywoman
Apr. 27th, 2012 06:20 pm (UTC)
I was incredibly proud of them, and of the fans who supported them. And Pep. Pep. :(
sageharper
Apr. 27th, 2012 05:33 pm (UTC)
You write so well, getting every nuance of their emotions like it actually happened exactly that way. So much truth in their rapport. Andres is strong in his own way I think, would have to be.
Loved the insights with Leo as well.
flywoman
Apr. 27th, 2012 06:19 pm (UTC)
I'm very glad to hear that their emotions rang true for you. This kind of rapport between close friends/teammates is what most attracts me to writing football rpf.

I do think that Andres, shy as he sometimes seems, is one of the bedrocks of Barcelona. He's so reliable in how he supports his teammates and reaches out to the fans in social media, in how he does his interviews, everything. Even after these recent losses, when most of the team went silent, he was still a staunch presence.

And Leo... *sigh* what can I say. He sneaks into every fic I write; he fascinates me and breaks my heart.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting!
sageharper
Apr. 27th, 2012 08:42 pm (UTC)
Oh me too, for sure. :)

That is very true, he's a good person to have around whatever the situation.

Exactly, and that's a good thing. Love to read him, want to write him too but a bit intimidated by it.

You're welcome, thanks for writing.
jezziejay
Apr. 28th, 2012 09:52 pm (UTC)
I love how you write grown-up stories about grown-up men who love each other. I did see the match, but some of the other references went a bit over my head, and yet I still really enjoyed reading this. And I love how you write Messi - because you write him in most, if not all, of your footie fic, I feel like I know him best.

A few yards in front of him, Leo Messi’s head had disappeared into the depths of his shirt, like a turtle retreating into its shell. Adored this image!
flywoman
Apr. 28th, 2012 10:25 pm (UTC)
I love how you write grown-up stories about grown-up men who love each other.

Thanks hon! I write what I want to read. I have found a few fun teenage fics set in La Masia (their football academy), but there are a lot of "teen AU" stories in this fandom, and in general I don't understand the appeal.

I did see the match, but some of the other references went a bit over my head, and yet I still really enjoyed reading this.

I'd be happy to explain anything that didn't make sense! Um... Pepe is Pepe Reina, the 2nd goalkeeper for the Spain NT. Penaldo is Cristiano Ronaldo, who is known for scoring a lot of penalty shots (but one was saved by Bayern Munich keeper Neuer that afternoon, woot!).

And I love how you write Messi - because you write him in most, if not all, of your footie fic, I feel like I know him best.

Ha, I know, he sneaks into all of my fics, even the one about the Spain NT!

Messi is really interesting to write - he's so introverted that his public persona is obviously very different from his private one, so I try to guess at how he might behave with those he's close to, based on what his friends and family say about him.

A few yards in front of him, Leo Messi’s head had disappeared into the depths of his shirt, like a turtle retreating into its shell. Adored this image!

This really happened. Poor baby :(.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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