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Title: Catch a Falling Star
Rating: NC-17
Characters: Xavi Hernández/Fernando Torres, allusions to Iker Casillas/Sara Carbonero and past Xavi Hernández/Iker Casillas, with cameos from Lionel Messi and the entire Spain NT
Word Count: 4095
Summary: Xavi Hernández grows up, falls in love, and takes Spain to victory in the 2012 Euros, not necessarily in that order. A sort of sequel to Never a Bride (but you don't need to have read that one first).
Disclaimer: While inspired by real persons and events, this story is a work of fiction.

Back to Chapter 3, Part 2

Chapter 4: Commitment Issues

He woke to cool air on his bare back where the sheet had slipped down. Nando was sitting on the edge of the bed, pulling on his pants, but when Xavi stirred, he stopped and smiled. "Good morning," he said, and leaned in to press a kiss against the side of his neck.

"Morning," Xavi mumbled, rubbing his eyes. "What time's it?"

"Time for me to go," Torres said, rolling away again and zipping up his fly. "Olalla texted me. She wants to spend the free day out with the kids."

"Oh," Xavi said stupidly. He was never at his best when he'd just woken up, and he couldn't seem to think clearly just yet. "Okay. But maybe later-"

"I'd like to. But I can't promise anything."

Xavi frowned then and sat up. "Nando-"

"Yes?" the other man asked patiently, buckling his belt.

"What's going to happen? After the final, I mean?"

"Hopefully a huge party with half of Spain," Nando offered, flashing his teeth.

Xavi should have known better, then, but he pressed on, "Yes, but I meant. With us."

Nando's smile dissolved. His face became very still. "Xavi," he said gently, "when this is over, you'll go back to Barcelona. And I'll go back to London with Olalla and the kids."

He should have expected this, he wasn't a complete idiot surely, and yet his stomach sank as if he had just swallowed an enormous stone. "Back to-" he stammered, and gulped against a sudden surge of sour saliva. "But what if... I mean, maybe..."

Torres reached for his hand, held it clasped to his own heart. "Xavi," he murmured, "I never intended for you to believe anything else."

His head pounding, his vision blurring, Xavi snatched his hand back as if it had been burned. He could barely get the breath to say, "I think that you'd better go." He looked down at the floor, unable to face the sympathy in the striker's eyes, until he heard the door click behind him. Then Xavi curled up into fetal position, clutching his knees, his mind a careful blank.

He had no idea how much time had passed before a loud knock rattled the door. "Xavi? It's Iker." The words floated through Xavi's head for a moment and then drifted out again, unable to connect with anything. "Xavi? Okay, I'm assuming that I can come in."

"Oh shit, you scared me, I didn't think that you were here." Rustling sounds, the door clicking closed, the thump of Iker's duffle bag on the opposite bed. "Xavi? Hey, are you okay?"

He felt the mattress sink as Iker sat down beside him, slowly, careful not to jostle the bed. "How much did you have to drink last night?" Xavi heard Iker sniff, then felt his warm, calloused palm pressed to his forehead, a touch so tender that tears came to his eyes. "Xavi? Seriously, are you okay?"

"Not so much," Xavi managed, and tried to twist away from him, but Iker followed his movements, stroked his unruly hair.

"What the hell happened? Did... did Torres turn you down?"

"Not... exactly." And could this conversation get any more awkward?

"Did he-" Iker sucked in a breath as if a thought had just occurred to him, and his grip tightened on the back of Xavi's skull. "Did he... hurt you?" he whispered fiercely, sounding ready to call in the cavalry, the physios, the police, whatever it took.

Apparently it could. Xavi found himself gasping in painful laughter. "God, Iker, no. Nothing like that." He dislodged Iker's hand, unfolded, rolled over, and sprawled on his back, staring up at the ceiling. "I am," he told it, "a total idiot."

Iker sighed then, and lay down beside him, throwing a comforting arm across his throat.

"This is your cue," Xavi confessed, "to say, 'I told you so.'"

"Not gonna happen," Iker answered, and pulled him closer, brushing his lips against his cheek. "I'm sorry, Xavi. I really am."

He could feel Iker's heart pounding against his ribcage, and something else pulsing against his hip. Even in his dazed, devastated state, Xavi couldn't help but be vaguely aware that this probably was not the best of ideas. "Iker," he began.

"Too weird?" his friend guessed, pulling back and propping himself on his elbow.

"Very fucking weird," Xavi agreed.

"Okay." Iker swung his legs off the bed. "Listen, it's almost eleven. Have you had breakfast? I could go get some for you. You wouldn't even have to get up."

"I am having an existential crisis here, and you offer me croissants," Xavi said, but his lips were curving in an involuntary smile.

"Life always looks better after you've eaten," Iker reminded him.

"I just can't right now," he confided. "But I'll go down to lunch later."

Iker gave him a measured look. "All right. I'm going to make the rounds. But when I get back, I'd better not find you in a catatonic state." He wrinkled his nose. "And take a shower, will you?"

"That is the stink of despair," Xavi said solemnly.

"It's the stink of something, all right," Iker called back from the hallway, just before closing the door.

Xavi sniffed himself and decided that a shower was probably a pretty good idea. Instead of relaxing him, though, the warm water only reminded him of the time he'd spent with Torres, making his chest tighten and his eyes burn.

He stood a long time with the spray streaming over his face, grateful to be unable to tell for sure whether or not it was mixed with salt. He was mulling things over in his head, his long friendship with Iker, his failed relationship with Elsa, this... connection with Torres that had apparently turned out to be nothing more than a fling. Xavi was beginning to get a glimpse of a pattern that disturbed him more than a little.

Almost as if on cue, his cell phone rang just as he was padding out of the bathroom. "Congratulations, Xavi," a gravelly voice greeted him.

"Puyi," Xavi said. "Don't tell me: Iker just happened to mention that I could use some cheering up."

"It was David, actually. But I was going to call anyway, I just wanted to give you a chance to wake up."

"Thanks," Xavi replied. It occurred to him that, while it wouldn't be fair to discuss his doubts with Iker, Puyi was a more or less neutral party and had always been a good listener and both thoughtful and pragmatic in his advice. "Puyi... can I ask you something?" He felt suddenly shy.

"Of course."

"You have to promise not to mention it to Iker."

He could almost hear the smile in Puyi's voice as he answered, "I don't think that will be a problem."

Still Xavi hesitated for a few seconds before taking a deep breath and blurting, "Do you think that there's something wrong with me?"

"God, where to start?" and that was undoubtedly David hanging over Puyi's shoulder, trying not to laugh and failing miserably.

"I'm hanging up," Xavi said furiously, and did.

About a minute later his phone rang again. He let it go to voicemail. Then a text message appeared: "very sry. guaje is gone now. pls call me back." Xavi wavered. The next time the phone rang, he picked up.

"Sorry," Puyi said immediately. "David always thinks that laughter is the best medicine. I told him to go home for a while."

"I was serious," Xavi said plaintively. "What's the matter with me?"

"Xavi, and please don't hang up, I am not mocking you, but I am going to have to ask you to be more specific."

He leaned back against the satiny wood of the headboard and closed his eyes. "I don't know, I just... Do you think that I fall in love with the wrong people on purpose?"

Puyi paused. "It's been over two years since Elsa," he said carefully.

"I know, I... I'm not just talking about Elsa."

"You've been very discreet," his friend observed.

"Puyi, just..." he exhaled noisily. "Listen. Andrés is getting married next month. Little Leo is going to be a father, for god's sake. I'm thirty-two years old, and I feel like I'm further away from having a family than ever."

"I'm thirty-four," Puyol rumbled good-naturedly. "What exactly are you trying to say?"

Xavi refrained from making any snide remarks about dating twenty-year-old models and stuck to the point. "I'm not sure, but... I wonder why I pick people even though I know there are reasons why it won't work out. Maybe it's even because I know it won't work out."

Puyi paused again before replying; Xavi knew that he was thinking hard, trying to be honest and yet as helpful as he could. If he thought it strange that Xavi had mentioned "people" instead of "women" or "girls," he didn't let on.

"Xavi... is it possible that you don't really want to commit to someone right now, but you believe that you should?" When Xavi didn't respond right away, he added, "You're a very loyal and honorable person, and I think that it would be hard to admit this to yourself. But even if you are not ready now, it doesn't mean that you will never be."

"Um," said Xavi, intensely uncomfortable, but knowing that he had only himself to blame for bringing this up in the first place.

"You wanted to know what I think. I think that you are still young. I think that we belong to a profession that makes it hard to meet people and to be sure that their interest is sincere. I think that if you discover that you like someone, you should try to relax and enjoy the moment and not worry so much about what the future might bring."

"You do remember who you're talking to, right?" Xavi couldn't stop himself from snarking.

Puyi chuckled. "Oh yes. But it gets easier with practice. I promise."

"I'll try," Xavi assured him. "I don't know exactly how, but I'll try."

"And what about everything else? The team is doing well? El Niño seems to be very uneven in his performances," Puyi added, apparently apropos of nothing.

"Hmm, yeah, he and Cesc have had quite the little rivalry going on," Xavi said, trying to keep his tone light.

"I think that is not the only rivalry he is experiencing," Puyi said drily.

Xavi tensed up. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, you know," his friend said airily. "Negredo, Silva, Navas... with Guaje gone, Del Bosque can't seem to settle on a striker."

"Oh yes, that," Xavi agreed hastily, trying not to reveal the relief he felt. "It's been kind of crazy. Well, listen, I need to go, but thanks for calling, and for the advice."

"No problem," Puyi said. "See you soon."

Xavi hung up and let his burning face fall into his hands.


Iker found him still sitting like that when he returned to the room a few minutes later.

"Xavi?" He walked right on over and sniffed at him. "Well, at least you showered. Want to come out with me and give housekeeping a chance to change the sheets?"

Iker had always been fastidious about sheets, even when he wasn't the one who had to sleep in them, so this wasn't a ruse to get him to stop sulking and leave the room, or at least, it wasn't just that. Xavi raised his head a little and peeked at Iker from between his fingers. "Out where?"

"Anywhere," Iker shrugged. "Everyone else seems to be in the city enjoying our day off."

"What took you so long, then?" Xavi asked, running a hand through his damp hair and reaching for his sandals.

"They were still serving breakfast."

"Better watch out or you really will look like a giant traffic cone in that new kit," Xavi warned.

Iker smirked at him. "Says the man whose away jersey looks like a tropical fruit cocktail. What's the strategy, blind your opponents so they can't steal the ball?"

"Wait a minute." A new thought had just occurred to Xavi. "Why aren't you spending the day with Sara?"

Iker looked uncomfortable. "She, we, um. Well. The truth is, we were having brunch and I proposed to her. And she turned me down again, so we decided it would be better if we both took the rest of the day to calm down."

Xavi sat up straight. "Wait a minute. What do you mean, again? How many times have you proposed?"

"This makes three," Iker said, getting even redder.

"Why haven't you told me?"

"You know why." Iker sounded aggrieved.

"No. No, you do not get to. No. I am your friend, Iker. I am not a child and you do not have to fucking protect me."

"Well, what about Sara, do I get to fucking protect her?" Iker shouted. They both froze and stared at each other. After a few seconds, Iker swallowed compulsively. "Maybe I didn't want to tell you. Maybe I didn't want to give you any more ammunition for your arguments about why I shouldn't be with her."

"That's not fair," Xavi objected, outraged. He was feeling angry about, betrayed by, and sorry for Iker all at once. "I have never tried to get between you, not since I finally found out what was going on."

Iker sighed and deflated, running a hand up the back of his neck and ruffling his thinning brown hair. "I'm sorry. I know you haven't, that was a shitty thing to say. It's just... I love her, Xavi. It's okay with me if she's not ready to get married. I intend to wait for her. I know that she loves me too and that eventually she'll come around."

"Is there a 'but' coming?" Xavi said, more softly now.

"But..." Iker said, just as softly, "once in a while, especially when I've just been rejected, I have my doubts. And I didn't want to discuss them with my ex. It wouldn't be fair to you or her."

Xavi, about to argue again, remembered why he had called Puyi about his own problems and fell silent.

"Do you understand?" Iker asked. He reached down to put his hand on Xavi's shoulder.

Xavi raised his own hand and threaded his fingers through Iker's. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah."

"So we're okay?" Xavi could see his own solemn face reflected in Iker's eyes. For the first time he noticed the fine lines that had formed at their corners.

"Sure," he agreed, and then allowed a mischievous note to creep into his voice. "Except that the next time I see Sara, I'm going to tell her not to agree to marry you unless we retain this title and win another World Cup as well."

"You wouldn't," Iker said, horrified, and when Xavi began to giggle, he grabbed the nearest pillow and began walloping him with it. Xavi in turn reached for another to retaliate, and before long, feathers were flying all over the room, and both of them were flushed and breathless with laughter.

"I think you're right," Xavi said finally after they had surveyed the damage silently for a few seconds. "Let's get out of here, and hopefully the housekeeping fairies will take these sheets away and leave mints under the pillows."


Gniewino was tiny; Xavi suspected that the Selección had been housed here precisely because there was little to do but practice. But the "Kashubian Eye" featured a number of recreational activities, mostly aimed at families, and Xavi persuaded Iker to leave his dignity at the hotel door and play with him for the rest of the day.

They climbed the 212 spiral stairs of the hourglass-shaped "pupil," Iker puffing a little as they neared the top, with its views of the Baltic Sea and surrounding countryside. They rented electric cars and raced each other around, hollering like schoolboys. They played a friendly competitive game of mini-golf, with Xavi giving himself a handicap of 8 and still winning without breaking a sweat. (Iker said that it really wasn't a fair contest, given that Xavi's main purpose in life was accurate ball delivery, while his own was preventing balls from hitting their targets, but Xavi only laughed and demanded the beer they'd bet.)

It had been a while since they'd spent so much time together in activities that didn't involve football, and with the weight of the captain's armband absent, Iker especially seemed younger and more carefree than he had in years. They both waxed nostalgic after a couple of drinks, smiling at each other fondly across the table.

"Do you remember the time we missed the train out of Granada and begged the station master to let us get on the next one-" Xavi began.

"And at first we thought he must not have recognized us, but then it turned out that he did, but he hated Real Madrid and Barcelona because we'd both humiliated his team in the league earlier that year," Iker finished, chuckling. "We had to spend the night in Granada and missed the morning practice. Puyi was so pissed off."

"Do you remember when you took me to meet your dad's maiden aunties in Madrid, and I was still so jet-lagged from the Club World Cup that I forgot to stop pouring the coffee and it ran all over the table?"

Iker laughed until his eyes watered. "I've never seen you so apologetic, before or since."

"Do you remember that autumn evening in Sevilla when we drank manzanilla under the stars and listened to guitar music wafting across the plaza?" Xavi had dropped his eyes, and now looked hesitantly up at his friend.

"That's a perfect memory," Iker said, sobering at once and meeting Xavi's eyes with a serious, almost reverent expression. "I'll never forget it." His knee bumped Xavi's companionably under the table.

"Me neither," Xavi agreed, surprised by the strong sense of gratitude that had swept through him. Even if that phase of his long relationship with Iker was over, he wouldn't trade the memories they'd shared for anything. "Me neither."


If their goal had been taking each other's minds off their respective romantic troubles, they were almost successful. But towards the end of the afternoon, as they were walking past the life-sized dinosaurs, following their own shadows away from the setting sun, Xavi spotted a familiar figure and froze, causing Iker to bump into him from behind.

Nando was standing there next to the Tyrannosaurus Rex, his little girl - Nora? - in his arms, his boy Leo holding onto his pantsleg with one small fist. Xavi was too far away to hear what they were saying, but Olalla had her head tilted, a stubborn set to her mouth, and Nando looked somber. Then Leo tugged, and Nando glanced down and smiled at him, his whole face lighting up.

Something twisted hard in the vicinity of Xavi's heart. He swallowed, turned away, and headed back up the path the way they'd come, hoping that Nando hadn't been able to recognize his face against the sunset. His thoughts were racing a mile a minute.

Iker followed him without a word, his lips pressed tightly together.


Neither of them alluded to the encounter that evening. It was easy to speak of other things, to be distracted by the stories of their returning teammates' adventures around town and in Gdansk. Cesc in particular waxed positively lyrical about a pastry shop he'd found that sold something called paczki.

Xavi was enjoying the stories, but his gaze drifted hopefully towards the door with every new arrival. The minutes, then hours, ticked by with no sign of Nando. Eventually Xavi gave up and excused himself, saying truthfully that he hadn't gotten enough sleep the night before (although he strongly suspected that neither had anyone else).

On his way back, he caught Nando at the end of the corridor with his key in the door of his hotel room. Xavi brightened, took a deep breath, broke into a trot.

Nando glanced up and visibly flinched, looked down again and seemed to shrink into himself as he struggled with the key.

"Niño," Xavi said loudly. "Do you have a minute?"

The other man let go of the key and crossed his arms over his chest, looking wary. "What is it?"

Xavi caught up to him, almost reached out to touch his arm, then thought better of it. "I just wanted to say... I'm sorry. For what happened this morning."

Nando opened his mouth, then closed it. He looked more puzzled than appeased, but his stiff stance relaxed visibly. Encouraged, Xavi continued, "You're right. You never pretended that this was anything other than what it was. I had no right or reason to be disappointed."

Trying to smile, he reached up now and clasped the back of Nando's neck. "I knew this job was dangerous when I took it."

Nando looked down at him for a long moment. Then, "Apology accepted," he husked, and bent down to enfold Xavi in a hug. Xavi sagged against him in relief, inhaling his scent, feeling his heart beat beneath his ear.

When they pulled apart, Nando cocked his head questioningly towards the door, but Xavi backed away. "Not tonight."

"But maybe some other time?" Nando was clearly trying not to sound too eager, but it made him uncomfortable nonetheless.

"I don't know," Xavi answered honestly. He tried to smile. "See you tomorrow."


Their double helping of training the next day kept both captains too busy to worry about their love lives. Iker was back to looking stressed as he took notes during the strategy session, Torres tense in front of goal in their mock match. Xavi was feeling very good physically, though, and thorough immersion in the preparations for the final was an effective distraction from the decision he still had to make.

At the end of their afternoon practice, Xavi slung an arm around the shoulders of Torres, who was obviously struggling not to look downcast. "Tomorrow will be better," he assured him.

"Tonight?" Torres asked out of the side of his mouth.

Xavi hesitated for a second, feeling torn; then shook his head, released him, and walked on.


The day before the final was packed with the kind of PR responsibilities that Xavi and Iker had come to embrace as an essential part of their leadership roles. Mindful of Puyol's earlier admonishments, Xavi tried his best to be politic as well as candid during his interviews. He admitted that he hadn't always been at his best during the tournament and hoped very much that he could play his top game for the final. He even acknowledged that he couldn't say whether this would be his last major tournament or not, although he stressed that he felt fine and was taking part in the team victories thus far.

But when he was asked whether he agreed that Spain's style of play, their narrow wins and lack of rapid counterattacks, had become boring to watch, he couldn't help but laugh. "If we are boring but we are winning, that is fantastic for us."

He wasn't bored. He would keep on playing his game.


True to their word, Puyi and David turned up later that afternoon. If there had been any doubts about the appropriateness of bringing in the former NT players, they were dispelled immediately by the universal pleasure and excitement that greeted their arrival. And having watched and analyzed all of Spain's and Italy's matches so far, the injured veterans addressed themselves adroitly to each player, offering a word of warning here, a hug of encouragement there.

It wasn't too long before it was Xavi's turn; Puyi pulled him into a quiet corner and asked after his tendons. "Best they've been all year," Xavi said, and that much was true, even if the bar hadn't been set all that high.

"And the other business?" Puyi rumbled.

"Still unresolved," he had to admit.

"Resolve it," Puyi said sternly. "Before the match if possible. Distractions like that are the last thing you need right now."

Xavi muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "Easy for you to say," and Puyi placed a heavy hand on his shoulder.

"Fuerza," he said softly. "Follow your heart. Whatever you do, it will be all right in the end."

"How do you know?" Xavi couldn't help asking.

"I know you," was the answer, as Puyi squeezed him reassuringly and moved on.

Chapter 5: Final Encounter



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