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Red Dust

a Tennis RPF fanfic

by Serenade

Notes: Set during the French Open 2009.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction.

Roger stands riveted in disbelief, staring down at centre court, as the hushed silence of the crowd explodes into uproarious babble. They will talk of nothing else for seven days. The king of clay has been dethroned, barely halfway through the tournament he has owned for years.

Rafa sinks onto the bench, tiredness in every line. For one wild moment, Roger thinks about leaping down to speak to him; wonders what he could say that isn't hopelessly inadequate. Better luck next time? Four months ago, this man had hugged him as he wept inconsolably over the loss of his own title. But Rafa isn't weeping. He stows his gear, hefts his bag, and walks through the other players, for the first time exiting past them all.

There will be no final between the two of them this year.

For days, the vision has haunted Roger, playing a nightmare loop in his skull--that once again, they will meet on the clay of Roland Garros, and once again, Rafa will methodically take him apart.

But now, as a terrible hope blooms inside him for the first time, he wonders why it feels like a pillar of his world is shaken.

* * * * *

Rafa is a paradox.

Off the court, he is a modest young man, who still ducks his head shyly whenever Roger pays him a compliment; whose earnest smile ignites a warm glow in the pit of Roger's stomach. A good kid grown into a thoughtful man, humble in victory, gracious in defeat.

But he is a monster on the court, all power and sinew, relentless and implacable, his eyes looking right through Roger as though he is only another point to play. Everything Roger does is not enough, all his serves returned with lightning, all his shots answered with thunder. Rafa is everywhere he needs to be, as though impossible calculations are rolling through his head, instinct deeper than thought, and all Roger can do is move in answer.

* * * * *

Roger stands under the pounding blast of the shower, letting the spray flatten his curls to his scalp and rinse away the gritty sweat coating his skin. The clay dust gets everywhere: under his fingernails, into his pores, even in the very air he breathes. Persistent. Pervasive.

He almost lost it today against Haas, two sets down before he turned the match around. He can't afford to lose. Not when he has a clear run at the cup.

Sampras never conquered Roland Garros. Nor has Roger been able to claim it thus far. Always it has eluded him. Always the same man has stepped into his path.

But this time will be different. He can do it. Silence the naysayers once and for all.

Roger has a chance, now that Rafa is out of the fight.

He leans his forehead against the cool tile.

Roger has a chance, only because Rafa is out of the fight.

* * * * *

Roger steps onto centre court for the final, the dazzle of cameras flashing. He waves. He smiles.

Three times he has reached this point. Three times he has been beaten back.

He looks over at his opponent, who stands ready, determined not to make this easy. For the first time in forever, the man he is facing across the net is not Rafa. He is seized with an odd sensation of displacement, as though he has stepped onto the wrong court. And somewhere else, Rafa is waiting for him.

Roger pushes the thought away.

He grips his racquet, waiting for the first serve.

* * * * *

The ball arcs towards him. Hits the net. Match point.

The crowd roars.

Roger falls to his knees, laughing and crying.

There are no words that can compass this.

* * * * *

The aftermath is a blur of light and noise. People are congratulating him, and he is thanking them, hopefully in words appropriate and intelligible. He is still floating on air, accelerating towards the moon.

This is the golden moment. All doubts dissolve, all hurts fade, as he proves himself worthy of playing the perfect game. No one can catch him, nothing can take this away.

Then he sees Rafa, advancing towards him. The whole world goes into freeze frame, except for the two of them.

"Congratulations," Rafa says, clasping his hand. "Maybe we will play here next year, no?" He smiles, dimpling.

But Roger feels ice at his throat.

- fin -

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