a Tennis RPF fanfic
Notes: Set during Wimbledon 2010.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction.
Midsummer in England is brilliant blue sky above these hallowed green lawns. But Rafa, tugging on his sneakers in the locker room, has only lead in his stomach; nothing to do with the match he is about to play, and everything to do with the match Roger has just finished.
No. The match Roger has just lost.
Rafa already knows what the press will say, as swift to tear down as they are to raise up. He cannot be thinking of Roger now, he tells himself, when he has his own hungry young opponent to face. But his thoughts keep spiralling back, drawn by compulsion as inevitable as gravity.
Rafa had thought it would always be them, playing beautiful tennis together, spurring each other closer to perfection.
But maybe Roger has never seen it that way. Maybe what he sees is the future rising up to obliterate the past.
* * * * *
From the time Rafa chose tennis, Roger has always been there.
Soaring across the court with surpassing grace, striking each forehand with immaculate skill. His name emblazoned upon the trophies and plaques; his face adorning the magazines with that enigmatic smile. Moving relentlessly through the tournaments like the sun across the sky, conquering titles with the seasons, felling records with the years.
Rafa cannot imagine tennis without Roger: the man who has dominated it for a decade, who has defined it for a generation. And yet once, there was a world before him; and someday, there will be a world beyond him.
But Rafa cannot imagine it; it is alien territory, as foreign as the far side of the moon.
* * * * *
They first met in Miami, Rafa just seventeen, completely tongue-tied at being introduced to the number one in the world. But Roger had smiled at him kindly and clasped his hand in a warm grip, and Rafa had been stunned to find he was a real person after all. Hoped wistfully that Roger would remember his name.
Then Rafa had beaten him, in straight sets, and Roger had looked stunned too.
* * * * *
Three times Rafa has played on the grass of Wimbledon. Three times he has reached the final. Three times he has met Roger there.
Never anyone else.
Now he feels like the last man standing, on an abandoned battlefield.
* * * * *
Rafa finishes knotting his shoelaces with a firm yank. He rises to his feet, shoulders his bag, and strides to the exit.
Runs right into Roger.
They almost bump noses in the doorway. Rafa backpedals so fast he nearly falls over his own feet; Roger steadies him with a hand to his waist.
"I'm sorry," Rafa blurts.
Roger steps aside, out of the way. Summer sweat still sheens his brow, but his face is perfectly composed. That only makes it harder. Rafa is at a loss for what to say.
"I'm sorry," he says again, and he truly means it. Roger only shrugs.
"Well. It looks like only one of us has a shot at that trophy now." His tone is light. His eyes betray him.
Rafa wants to say everything to him, but there is no time. He has to get to his own match in minutes.
They have spent eternal hours facing each other on the court, as daylight deepens to dusk, and the skies revolve overhead. But they have never shared close conversations of the heart. Sometimes it seems like all they have are brief moments like passing shots.
"It was never about the trophies," Rafa says. "My goal was always you."
He thinks Roger widens his eyes, just for a moment, before his expression falls back into place. Rafa wonders, not for the first time, how much Roger knows.
But Roger only says, "And here you are." He looks at Rafa, closely, not the same way he usually does, with wry humour and easy warmth, but as though reading every heartbeat ravelled in his bones. Finally, he runs a hand through Rafa's hair, thumb brushing his forehead like a benediction. "Go on, they're waiting for you."
They can already hear the crowd, roaring in anticipation.
"You're playing Soderling next?" Roger says.
"Yes." Soderling. Who had, shockingly, dethroned Rafa at Roland Garros last year. And even though Rafa had returned to vanquish him and reclaim his title, the man remains a shadow, tirelessly dogging his steps. Challenging him wherever he turns.
Sometimes Rafa has uneasy dreams.
Roger gives Rafa an ironic smile. "Good luck."
- fin -