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Title: Aftermath
Fandom: Football RPF
Rating: PG-13 for language
Word Count: ~2000
Disclaimer: While inspired by real persons and events, this story is completely fictional.
Summary: Leo hates to lose. Set just after the Barcelona-Villareal 0-0 draw. Gen, with an ambiguous Messi/Xavi friendship moment.

It’s one of those games that seem to drag on forever, crawling towards the ninety minute mark. Their midfield is a mess. Nothing they do works, and Leo’s legs feel like lead. Towards the end, Pep puts two of the junior players on for Xavi and Adriano, and their youthful energy sparks a last burst of effort from their teammates, but it is too little, too late. Leo stands there for a few seconds after time is called, his thighs trembling, and then trudges towards the edge of the pitch.

The mood in the changing room is subdued, although Puyi and Victor are making the rounds, touching and talking to everyone, especially the call-ups from the B squad. They know better than to approach Leo. He strips in stony silence, stomps to the shower in his flip-flops, turns the water on as hot as it will go, stands there for a long time with his eyes closed. The tiredness in his muscles drains away, but the disappointment doesn’t.

Leo avoids everyone’s eyes as he trudges back to his assigned locker, dresses himself mechanically, then grabs his duffle to head for the bus. If I hadn’t been over-confident with that chip, given it a little more force, the defender would not have gotten there in time. He scrubs irritably at his face with his hands. If I had kicked that last shot higher instead of straight into the keeper’s arms. If Cesc… but here his thoughts stop because his way is blocked, and when he glances up, he is confronted by the earnest expression of Cristian Tello.

Leo immediately flashes back to that yellow, Gonzalo tearing Tello’s jersey half-off and then throwing him to the ground, and frowns. The kid, still staring, opens his mouth a little but doesn’t speak. Leo absently sidesteps him and continues on, anger lengthening his strides.

He had planned to pass by the press room, but Cesc is in there, surrounded by journalists baying for his blood, while the team captains are nowhere to be found. Leo isn’t surprised by Xavi’s absence after his much-publicized slip-up earlier in the week, but he does wonder why Puyi isn’t here to help take the heat off Cesc. Leo squares his shoulders and faces the microphones to lend his support as best he can, saying firmly that plenty of points remain to be played for and they will keep fighting until the end. But he can’t help being a little bitter about their bad luck tonight, and as for the referee…

Pep is suddenly looming behind the reporters, looking right at him with eyebrows raised, and Leo stutters to a halt, wondering exactly what he just said. “Thank you, no more questions,” he mumbles, and slips away to board the bus.

There’s an empty spot next to Dani Alves, but Leo can’t bear the thought of sitting next to him right now. Dani will either be laughing at himself for all of his near-misses tonight or will insist on trying to cheer Leo up, despite his previous total lack of success in similar situations. Leo isn’t up for either, so he stares straight ahead, stumbles to the back of the bus and selects a window seat, leaning sideways and pressing his temple against the cool glass.

He can hear Geri bitching about his knee a couple of rows ahead of him, and a brief scuffle as Puyi passes by, probably cuffing Cesc on the back of the head. The team captain slides into the seat across the aisle from Leo and pulls out his phone.

Speaking of which… Leo rouses himself just enough to check his own messages. He’s gotten about a dozen texts, all of which he ignores. His family know to call if there’s anything urgent.

“The ball to ME, Leo! Uhhh… Joder!” Geri jokes. Muffled protests from Cesc. Leo leans against the window again and closes his eyes.

Lighter footsteps in the aisle this time, and then the unmistakable hiss of Xavi’s voice. “Leo? Are you awake?”

Leo keeps himself still, his breathing regular. He doesn’t want to talk to Xavi right now. He doesn’t want to talk to anyone. He half-expects to be joined and jostled awake, but Xavi either believes his act or chooses to respect his privacy. He and Puyi carry on a conversation in low tones that help soothe Leo into short-lived sleep.

When he opens his eyes again, they are getting off the bus at Benicasím. Leo deliberately lags behind while Xavi and Puyi file out in front of him, then follows them at a safe distance to their train.

By the time he gets home, it’s after three in the morning. He doesn’t even bother brushing his teeth, just dumps his duffle back next to the bed, toes off his shoes, and crawls between the sheets, shivering.

They have the next day off. Leo rolls out of bed around ten, checks his messages, and logs into his Weibo account to post a quick tweet: “We deserved to win but sadly lost two points at Villareal. The League isn’t over, far from it.” His stomach is growling. He takes the dog for a very short walk and then raids the fridge. Bless Rodrigo, he’s left a container of stew along with a note inviting Leo to eat with the family this evening.

Leo spends the day quietly at home, does a load of laundry, avoids the news. He can’t escape the replay of last night’s game though – that’s happening inside his head, every missed shot, every sloppy pass. He plays fetch for over an hour, running back and forth until he has to bend over and brace his hands on his thighs, puffing. Then he showers and pulls on his favorite sweater and some clean pants and heads to his brother’s house for dinner.

In unspoken sympathy, his sister-in-law has made his favorite milanesa a la napolitana. Leo watches his nephew wiggle a loose tooth and then wrestles with him down on the carpet after they’ve finished eating. No one talks about the game.

The next morning they are all back at training, some more cheerfully than others. Leo stands a little apart from the rest, Saturday’s game still weighing on his spirits. Pep makes a short speech before they begin their warm-up. Leo looks at him, probably to all appearances listening politely, but his mind is miles away, on a pitch in Castellón province.

Leo’s not that surprised when a somber-looking Xavi pulls him over to be his stretching partner. The other man lies down on the turf first, and his silence allows Leo to believe for a while that Xavi is in an equally bad mood after Saturday’s draw and was seeking someone with whom he wouldn’t have to interact.

It is only when Leo is trapped on his back with Xavi’s small, strong hands encircling his bent knee and pressing his thigh firmly down into his chest that he realizes just how naive this interpretation was.

“About Saturday night,” Xavi says, not bothering with polite preamble.

“The press conference?” Leo asks, feeling his cheeks heat.

“What? No,” Xavi says, eyes narrowing. “You need to talk to Cris.”

Leo blinks, not certain he’s heard correctly. “Ronaldo? What for?”

Not Cristiano, Cristian.” When Leo continues to look blankly at him, Xavi blows his breath out in an unspoken God I can’t believe you’re such an idiot. “Tello.”

“Tello?” Leo repeats, feeling his brow furrow. He can’t even remember talking to Tello recently, much less saying anything that could have been perceived as offensive. “What did I say to him?”

“Nothing,” Xavi says pointedly. He spreads Leo’s legs and presses down, peering at him between his thighs. “He debuted in the League, gave us fifteen minutes of beautiful play, and when he tried to talk to you in the dressing room afterwards, you said nothing.”

“Oh,” Leo says weakly.

“Oh,” Xavi mimics. “Yeah. Plus I saw you scowl at him.” His teammate’s tone softens. “You’re his hero, you know. And he hasn’t been around long enough to not take your post-game sulking personally.”

Leo sighs, then winces as Xavi leans in and his adductors twinge. “So, um, you think I should apologize for… being a dick?”

At this the corners of Xavi’s eyes crinkle unexpectedly, and he lets up a little. “Nah,” he says. “I’m sure that saying you were sorry you didn’t get a chance to congratulate him on a good debut would suffice.”

“Okay,” Leo says, and suddenly it is. He feels much better, just knowing that this is something small but concrete that he can fix.

“But about that press conference,” Xavi adds, and Leo feels his stomach tightening again. “Really, Leo? You blamed the ref?” And then Xavi leans forward and whispers, “Isn’t that my job?”

Leo catches his eye, and they both crack up, trying unsuccessfully to keep it quiet until Pep glances over at them and they both shut their mouths and summon solemn frowns of concentration.

But Xavi isn’t finished. “Leo,” he says, quietly enough that there’s no chance the pairs on either side will hear him, “it’s true that we had some bad luck last night and the ref was lax, but you left something out.”

Leo just looks at him until Xavi elaborates, “We sucked.” He holds up a hand to forestall Leo’s protests. “No, I mean it. We were sluggish and uncoordinated, and yes, we missed some of our chances because of bad luck, but that wouldn’t have mattered if we’d made more of them.”

Leo suddenly sees how much older Xavi looks, and it makes him sad and a little bit scared. “You’re tired, Leo. I’m tired. I don’t know if you noticed, but Pep actually subbed me out.”

“Of course I noticed,” Leo says indignantly.

“Yeah? Did it make any difference to the game?”

Leo is quiet for a moment, then responds with grudging honesty. “It got better.”

“Yeah. Know what I think? If Geri hadn’t been injured, you and Cesc should have been subbed out, too.”

“The Mister wouldn’t-“ Leo starts to say, and then stops himself, appalled.

“You’re right. The Mister wouldn’t. And why is that?” Xavi shakes his head and presses down harder. “You think of yourself as a humble man, Leo, but it takes a special kind of arrogance to believe that you should start every game even when you’re exhausted.” He’s staring straight at Leo, thick eyebrows in a severe line. “The kids from the B squad are talented. They just need the experience. We need to let Pep know that it’s okay with us for them to get it. You think about it, vale?

Leo looks away for a moment, then nods tightly, grudgingly.

“Know what it would take for us to beat Real in the League?” Leo must have made a face, because Xavi laughs at him. “Don’t give me that ‘Math is hard’ look. At this point, it would take an act of God.”

“We won’t give up,” Leo objects, raising his chin. “We can’t.”

“We’re still going to give the League our best,” Xavi tells him. “Our collective best. But some of us senior citizens may need to concentrate on the Champions’. And the Copa.”

Behind him, Pep claps his hands, and their teammates begin to separate. Xavi stands up and stretches out his hand to help Leo to his feet. His grip is sure. Leo looks up at him, smiling now in the winter sunshine, and all he can think is how lucky he is to be playing on this team, at this time, with this man who sees everything.

“Okay,” Leo says aloud, and means it.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 30th, 2012 03:49 am (UTC)
i. love. pouting leo fic. this was quite lovely, i especially liked the parts with tello, because leo would be a dick to the kiddies without meaning it. and the last two paragraphs are beautiful!
Jan. 30th, 2012 05:06 am (UTC)
I love your Leo and can't tell you how pleased I am to get this comment!

Glad that you liked the parts with Tello - that encounter in the locker room was the seed of this story, which was originally going to be written from Tello's POV, except that somehow once I started, I couldn't resist writing Leo's. He obviously cares a lot about, as Pep puts it, the affection of his teammates, and yet it's no secret that he sulks for days after a bad match, which newcomers might easily misinterpret... and Barcelona's latest encounter provided perfect fodder ;).
Jan. 30th, 2012 11:05 am (UTC)
I can well imagine a top level player being angry (mostly at himself) if he knows he was below par and this cost his team. Loved the little family interlude, although I must admit I'm surprised that Leo does his own laundry. Wouldn't he have household help? Washing a load isn't so much, but hanging stuff out to dry is so boring. Or do Spaniards use dryers? Seems weird to me.
Jan. 30th, 2012 12:20 pm (UTC)
Leo's well-known for withdrawing after a bad game and going over and over it in his head to try to figure out what he and the team could have done better.

I honestly have no idea who does his laundry, but he's also known for living a very quiet, family-focused life, and I can imagine him having as few outsiders around to serve him as possible.

Thank you for reading and commenting!
Feb. 22nd, 2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
Oh, my GOD! I just left you a huge comment on this and Frank ate it, or something. FUCKING FRANK. Back in a bit ;)
Feb. 22nd, 2012 11:39 pm (UTC)
Don't you hate that??? And it's always after some thoughtful lengthy comment - the ones that take me five seconds never get eaten :P.
Feb. 23rd, 2012 12:01 am (UTC)
Trying again. What is it about men who are stroppy and huffy that appeals to me in fiction? And what is it about men who can touch each other intimately so naturally that makes my heart flutter a little? Beautifully done - but then, you do write like a mo-fu. Some many lovely, lovely little touches - like - It is only when Leo is trapped on his back with Xavi’s small, strong hands encircling his bent knee and pressing his thigh firmly down into his chest that he realizes just how naive this interpretation was. And His grip is sure. Leo looks up at him, smiling now in the winter sunshine, and all he can think is how lucky he is to be playing on this team, at this time, with this man who sees everything.

<3 <3 <3
Feb. 23rd, 2012 12:11 am (UTC)
What is it about men who are stroppy and huffy that appeals to me in fiction?

"in fiction" being the operative phrase as they terrify me in real life!

And what is it about men who can touch each other intimately so naturally that makes my heart flutter a little?

I love, love, love this about Latin athletes. I don't even want slash with these guys, just really touchy-feely affection between teammates.

Thank you so much for commenting and especially for mentioning your favorite bits!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )



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