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Little White Lies

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“Newspaper’s late again,” Raúl said, pecking David on the temple. Then he ambled onward towards the fridge. Along the way he picked up the remote and turned on the TV to the morning news.

The cheery opening jingle was definitely not what David wanted to hear right now, but he couldn’t muster more than a grunt as he plopped down in front of the table. He pulled his breakfast towards him, blinked fuzzily at it, and then began to eat. A mug of coffee appeared by his arm and he grunted again. Then he looked up and watched Raúl sit down. Raúl took mornings a lot better: he wasn’t exactly excited about them, but he did have a sort of calm, non-reluctant acceptance of the whole misery. His hair was even already done.

“Paper?” David asked. He ran his hand through his own scruffy hair, then picked up his coffee. “Again?”

Raúl shrugged, watching the TV. Then he turned around and started to eat his breakfast. A soft chiming filled the air and he stopped to get out his phone, then put that by his plate while he went back to placidly munching away. “I need to remember to talk to the doorman when I get back. They bring them all at the same time and our neighbors get it, so I think it’s probably just that the delivery people don’t realize we live here yet.”

David grunted and sucked down his coffee. He ran out of it a lot sooner than he’d expected and stared down into his mug, then irritably got up and poured himself some more. They were talking about the newspaper for some reason. “Bastards. I should kick their ass.”

“I don’t think you need to do that,” Raúl said from behind him. “It’s okay, I’ll talk to them.”

“Fucking assholes think they can cheat us,” David muttered. Then he cursed and jerked the pot of coffee away. He’d nearly poured his cup over-full. Not that catching that had helped, since the coffee slopped over the rim of the pot onto his hand. It wasn’t boiling hot but it was still pretty hot.

Still cursing, David left the pot and his mug on the counter and swiveled to get at the sink. He banged the faucet instead of the knob, then got the knob and turned it so the water came on. Then he stuck his hand under the water.

“David?” Raúl had gotten up and was looking at the mess David had left on the counter. Then he looked over, all awake and grave and concerned. “Are you all right?”

“Mmph.” David took his hand out of the water and flexed it a few times. His third and fourth fingers felt a little tender, but otherwise everything still worked. Didn’t have to go to the hospital. Still had to go to work. And he didn’t have his fucking newspaper.

“All right, then,” Raúl said, sort of under his breath. But when David looked over, the other man was just wiping down the counter with a towel. He moved next to David to wash it out in the sink, then squeezed the excess water from it. Then he stopped and just stared at the towel, like he was going to find the news in there if he looked hard enough. “David, are you awake yet?”

David got another towel and dried off his hand. Then he rubbed at his left eye. “Why? ‘s not like I have to go in yet. I’m not on your team. Shit. I mean…why, again?”

Raúl started staring at David instead. “I take it you don’t remember?”

“Does it have to do with the newspaper?” David asked. A little niggle in the back of his head was trying to tell him something and he was beginning to feel like it was really important. Incredibly important and he was fucking up something really badly and he needed to get with it now, and David really wanted to know why the niggle sounded like an irate Silva. No, no, he didn’t, he wanted to know why Raúl was staring at him. “Because it’s late. So I don’t have it. Can’t really fucking know what’s in it till I read it.”

Now Raúl was doing that little mouth-pursing thing where he was annoyed but wanted to be nice, but couldn’t help being annoyed anyway. For such a stickler about good manners he wasn’t very good at hiding his feelings. “No, it’s not the newspaper.”

“Then what?” David snapped. He hated having niggles in the back of his head and was genuinely trying to get rid of it, but the more he tried to pin it down, the more it got away from him. Hell, he was getting annoyed. “What the fuck is it already? Look, it’s early, I had a late night, I had fucking Joaquín bringing me dinner again and he drew a smiley face in sauce on my—”

“You know, I think I can just call a cab,” Raúl finally said. “That way you can go get another hour’s sleep.”

David rolled his eyes. “Oh, right, go expense another taxi like the big hot-shot exec you are even though it’s a fucking ten minute drive to the airport—oh. Oh. Oh, shit, you’re leaving! Today! Oh, shit, I’m driving you! Shit!”

* * *

“See, this is why I usually come inside and pour coffee down his throat while he’s still in bed,” Silva said. As promised, he’d been waiting downstairs with an extra cup of coffee, an armful of folders, and Pablo to hold that armful. He stuffed the cup into David’s hand, grabbed Raúl’s briefcase from David and then wedged open the door with his foot so Raúl had the hand free to grab David and yank him towards David’s car. “So I checked the traffic and there’s a little accident on the ramp I think you’d usually use, but the detour’s just another five minutes. Should be okay, right?”

Raúl finished swinging a panicky David away from his car, which they weren’t taking, and then nudged his roll-on so its wheels were facing the right way. Then he held out his hand for his briefcase. “Sounds fine. The plane doesn’t leave for an hour and a half, so that’s not going to make much of a difference.”

“As long as they don’t fucking hold you up at security. It’s fucking Germany, it’s not like you’re going to China. Fucking EU,” David said. He took a couple steps towards the car, tugging at his shirt collar and drinking his coffee and gesturing madly in between those, and then spun around. His coffee splattered up out of the little hole in the lid and got on his shoes and hand with a few flecks on his cheek. “Wait, wait, I don’t know how to—”

Silva held up a sheet of paper that clearly had been printed out from an online directions website. Pablo held up a smartphone so they could see it was set to a GPS app. Raúl sighed and wondered why he’d even suggested that David drive him. True, they’d save the company money on taxi fare, but at this rate David would double his day’s costs just from spilling coffee everywhere.

“Why don’t I drive?” Raúl suggested. “Then you just have to drive the car to work.”

“No!” David’s eye was starting to twitch. He fumbled in his jeans pocket, getting more coffee on himself, and then triumphantly produced the car keys. “No, I said I’d fucking drive you and I’m driving.”

Raúl opened his mouth. Somebody poked him in the back. “Just let him get the trunk open,” Silva hissed. “We’ll swap when he’s putting away your luggage.”

Given that David was already halfway across the lot, Raúl sighed and decided to go along with the idea. He got his briefcase back from Silva and started walking after David. “Busy day?”

“Nah, not too bad. I mean, I really tried, but we wrapped the miniseries and the soap pretty much takes care of itself at this point, and so all we’ve got to work on is the pilot for Mori,” Silva said. He shuffled some folders. “I did ask Guardiola if he’s still looking for extra staff on Zlatan’s documentary, so maybe we’ll get that. Still not enough to keep Guaje from flipping out.”

“Maybe he’ll start fighting with Mori again,” Pablo muttered.

Silva glared at him before Raúl had to, then hit him on the shoulder. “And that helps how? He flips out even more when he’s being a jealous lunatic.”

“I know, but at least he’d be just thinking about you, and not about you going?” Pablo asked, looking at Raúl. Then he looked away and hunched his shoulders. “Sorry. It’s early for me.”

Raúl watched David need three tries to realize he was springing the gas nozzle hatch instead of the trunk. Then he noticed David had left his coffee on top of the car. He put his bags by the trunk and walked around to get the cup and drop it in a nearby trash-can. By then David had gotten the trunk open and was cursing at all the junk he’d apparently meant to take out last night and had forgotten about…well, that wasn’t entirely his fault.

Not that Raúl managed to hold onto that fond memory for long. He stared at his frenzied partner, then looked at Silva and Pablo. “It’s for a week. And I said I’d call every night. I don’t…is he going to be all right?”

“Oh, he’ll be fine,” Silva said, in that cloyingly reassuring tone that nurses normally used on concerned relations they needed out of the room. He patted Raúl on the arm. “Don’t worry. We’ll take care of him and when you get him back he’ll still be fully functioning.”

“Okay, okay, luggage is in the trunk, I’m awake, we can go,” David babbled. He came up to them, tufts of hair sticking out in random directions, eyes wide and frantic, coffee stains on his jeans where he’d tried to wipe off his hand. For a couple seconds he bounced in place. Then he noticed they weren’t moving and he frowned. He looked down at their feet, then glanced up at Raúl. Then he stared at their feet some more. “I mean, if we have to now.”

Raúl smiled because he was trying not to feel too sympathetic to the mournfulness of David’s voice. It was just a business trip and it’d been scheduled for a while now, and it wasn’t going to be the last time. One week, he’d be back and they could get to really settling into their new apartment.

“We do,” he said gently. He started to lean forward, but David lifted his head. David flinched at seeing Raúl so close, then grimaced. While he was busy doing that, Raúl brushed his lips over the man’s temple. “You can drive.”

David mumbled an okay and stepped aside for Raúl to get in the driver’s seat. Then he abruptly turned. He put out his hand and Raúl stopped; David’s hand never got to Raúl’s arm like it was aiming, but instead dropped back. Then David went around Raúl and the front of the car, and got into the driver’s seat. Raúl got into the front passenger seat.

“All right, let’s get you off and David into work before he has another freak out,” Silva said. He ushered himself and Pablo into the backseat. “And Guaje, you really can’t freak out before then, okay? I had you penciled in for the one you did already and if you have another one, you won’t have time to smooch at the departure drop-off, and that’d totally waste the time I spent finding a sort-of private area for that.”

“I don’t even remember telling you lot about this,” David said. He put his hands on the steering wheel and stared straight ahead.

Silva rolled his eyes in the rearview mirror. “Well, no, but you don’t need to worry about that now. And no, you’re not going to kick us out because we’re all that stands between you and a twenty-car pile-up on the drive back. Anyway. Take a right out of the lot and then the first left.”

“I’m a perfectly safe driver,” David muttered, turning on the ignition. Then the wheels screeched and the engine revved, and the car didn’t move. Flushing, David hurriedly took the car out of ‘park.’ “Fuck. Okay, now we’re going.”

* * *

The actual farewell between Pablo’s boss and his partner had been kind of sweet, no big tongue-sucking make-out session or loud soppy scene. Just them standing there behind some construction barriers looking sad and then kissing really quick when they thought nobody was looking. It was a good thing Pablo’s phone had a built-in video camera.

But after that, it’d been a pain in the ass. Villa had insisted on doing the driving to work and for some reason Silva had started to fill him in on the day’s stuff while Villa was driving. Pablo might only have been around for a couple months, but even he could see where that was going to go wrong.

“Okay, it’s at ten-thirty so I’ll send Joaquín after you at ten-forty!” Silva chirped at Villa’s retreating back. He kept beaming till the office door had closed behind Villa.

The moment Villa was out of all sensory input range, Silva heaved his folders onto his desk and then flopped backwards into his seat. He bounced and slid down till his chin was about level with his desk, and didn’t bother to push himself back up.

Pablo had grabbed a seat as soon as possible, but his knees were still so shaky that he could sympathize. He finished texting an office-wide alert and then put his head on his knees.

“Oh, my God, we’re still alive,” Silva said after a moment, in a very faint voice. “Did you—”


“And that thing I think we clipped, it was a—”

Pablo nodded. He closed his eyes and took a couple deep breaths, and promised himself he wasn’t going to wander into Silva’s office when the man was looking for helpers to help Villa pick up Raúl from the airport.

“Wow.” Silva drummed his fingers on his chair. Then he exhaled loudly and swung himself up.

The door burst open. Santi, Mata and some other guy Pablo didn’t recognize skidded into the office. Once they got through the bottleneck of the door they went all over the place and in a couple of seconds Silva’s remaining pieces of furniture had flipped upside-down.

“Pablo, you send out an alert?” Silva asked after a second.

It’d only been the second one he’d ever sent, but Pablo had figured that he’d seen Silva do it often enough to know when to do it. Shit. “Um, yeah. I…kind of thought it’d be a good idea to get back-up for the meeting.”

“Good idea.” Then Silva turned to the others. He shook his head, then covered his face with his hands. “But awful, awful execution. Mother of God, we’ve got a whole week of Guaje being bonkers and wrecking my office is the best you can do?”

A chorus of ‘sorrys’ went around. Mata helped Santi up and then the two of them grabbed either side of Silva’s other chair and righted it. “Take it the drop-off didn’t go so well?” Mata said.

“No, that was fine, because Raúl was still in the car. You know he knows to cut off David’s bullshit before it turns into a tabloid incident,” Silva said while digging in his drawers. He came up with a big binder and flipped through its pages, then stopped. Then he grabbed a marker and drew a thick line across the page. “It was after that that it all went psycho spiky. So just talking to Guaje about work’s not gonna cut it. We’re gonna have to come up with something else.”

The new guy raised his hand. “But I don’t work here.”

“Yeah, but if you’re crashing at my place this week, you’re gonna help anyway, Cesc,” Silva replied without looking up. He started looking through the binder again.

“Hey, where are you going?” Mata asked.

Pablo froze in place. Good thing he hadn’t tried to get at his phone yet. “I can’t do this one. I’m supposed to have that whole storyboard animated by tonight.”

“Oh, he can go. He rode in the car with me, you wimps,” Silva said, waving his hand dismissively. “See you at the afternoon meeting, Pablo.”

Relieved, Pablo slipped out the door. He paused for a moment, checking out the lay of the workplace. Then he went right, hunching past some chatting secretaries as he avoided Albelda strolling the other way, and swerved through the interns before finally getting to his own office. He opened the door, sighed, and then looked up.

“Hey—hey.” Fernando reached out, then got half out of his seat. “Whoa. You okay?”

“What the hell are you doing in here?” Pablo gasped, collapsing against his door. He glanced over his shoulder, saw that the blind on his door’s window was down, and then breathed out sharply. Then he looked at Fernando. “You’re supposed to be on Raúl’s floor! Talking to Iker!”

Fernando sat back down. He blinked a few times, scratched the side of his nose with an index finger and then looked dubious in the way that his fans pointed to when defending him against accusations that he lacked acting range. “I was. And then I saw Mata run by, and remembered you were helping drive Villa and Raúl to the airport, and that Villa is crazy. So I figured I’d drop in and see if you were okay.”

“Did anybody see—”

“No, nobody saw, obviously I rappelled down the side of the building and came in through the window,” Fernando said, rolling his eyes. Then he got out of the chair and started towards the door. “Well, it looks like you’re fine, so I’d better get back to that talk with Iker I’m supposed to be having.”

Pablo made a face. He wasn’t really sure what for, and by the time he looked up again, Fernando was at the door. The other man cocked his head, then gestured at Pablo.

“I think I saw God,” Pablo blurted out. Then he made another face and this time he knew what for: he was awful at this whole dating thing, let alone dating a fucking movie star who he’d been admiring for years. Okay, obsessing over. Okay, he was looking like a dork all huddled up against the door.

Fernando shifted his weight back and looked faintly amused. “You did?”

“He looked like Figo, and he reminded me I need to fix the leaky faucet in my bathroom,” Pablo reluctantly explained. He was a dork, he reminded himself. Most of the time he was okay with that, since he could geek out all he wanted with the newest gadget and get paid for it. And anyway, since he’d started working here he’d realized being a dork wasn’t even all that bizarre. But it still wasn’t all that great for figuring out this dating paradigm. “This is going to be a long week.”

“Poor thing,” Fernando said, laughing. He petted Pablo’s cheek. “You know, I did check to see where Villa’s little gang was off to and I think they’re all closeted with Silva plotting how to sneak tranquilizers into his lunch, so we’re probably fine. Actually, I’m surprised you’re not there.”

Pablo started to relax a little. “I was, but I sneaked out. I did my duty already.”

Fernando’s hand was still on Pablo’s cheek. It wasn’t moving anymore, just cupping his face, and Fernando was leaning down a little so Pablo could get a great look at the warmth in the man’s eyes. “Yeah, I can see that,” he murmured.

Then he bent down further. After a moment, Pablo put his hands on Fernando’s shoulders and moved off the door. Well, he could deal with secret make-out sessions at work.

The door rattled loudly. Pablo jumped and landed on Fernando’s feet, and frantically kissed the man again to cover up Fernando’s swearing. He got off Fernando’s toes, then had to grab for the knob as Fernando jerked away so quick his shoulder bumped Pablo off-balance.

“Hernández?” Albelda. Oh, great.

“Gimme a sec, I’m saving something,” Pablo said. He didn’t have to work too hard at sounding pissed off. He bounced on his feet for a couple seconds.

From his place flat against the wall beside the door, Fernando gave Pablo a look that was two parts nervous, one part irritated and one part eye-roll. Pablo looked him right back—if he answered the door right away, there wasn’t a point to making an excuse, was there? Then he twisted the knob and opened the door, careful to keep it between Albelda and Fernando.

“About time,” Albelda muttered, lowering his fist. He held out a manila office envelope. “It’s the approval for the graphics software you wanted. Also, Villa wants to see you before the afternoon meeting.”

Pablo nodded and took the envelope. He shut the door and started to open the envelope’s top. Then something brushed his back and he turned around.

Fernando had already gone around to Pablo’s other side and was peeking through the blind. Then he dropped it and put his hand on the knob, and then he looked at Pablo. “We still on for dinner?” he asked.

“Yeah, I think,” Pablo said. He held onto the envelope and watched Fernando slip out. Then he looked down and sighed. He really didn’t want the whole office in his personal life, or all the weird publicity that’d come if anyone outside of work found out about him and Fernando. But he kind of got why Fernando would be annoyed about it.

Not that that’d stopped Fernando from sneaking around either. After a moment, Pablo started digging into the envelope.

* * *

Raúl checked his phone, then sighed when he saw no new messages from David. He knew that that was a good sign, but at the same time—

“Sir?” A flight attendant was leaning into the row. “Sir, I’m sorry, but you have to turn off your phone now. You can turn it on in about fifteen minutes.”

After a moment, Raúl murmured an assent and powered off his phone. He looked out the plane window, then put his head back against the seat and suppressed a sigh.

David would be fine. The man had his flaws, but he was still a professional and an adult, and he could cope for a week by himself. He wasn’t even by himself; he had a whole team to assist him. There was no reason why Raúl needed to worry about him, and every reason that Raúl should instead worry about his upcoming meetings. If they didn’t lock in these syndication deals, they were going to have a very tough time with the budget and right when they were starting to develop some good projects in the pipeline. The last thing Raúl wanted was to come back and say they had to cut projects and it was his fault.

Raúl stared out the window again. At least there hadn’t been any messages from Iker yet, he thought.

* * *

“Iker, do you have a—oh. Oh…kay.” Fernando blinked a few times.

No, Villa’s feet were definitely off the ground, kicking helplessly in the air as the man dangled from Iker’s headlock. Iker looked up and rearranged his face into polite inquiry. “Second? What about?”

“Actually, I was looking for him,” Fernando said, pointing to Villa. Actually, he didn’t need Villa till the afternoon, but he supposed he should make sure the man made it to then. And the little bastard did make Raúl happy. And Fernando was doing all right with Pablo who conveniently worked here too, and that might not stay true if Villa kicked it and somebody else was brought in to handle his projects. Not that Villa was going to be grateful for this. “Can you not strangle him?”

Iker looked slightly disappointed. “You really need him?”

“…let me down, you stupid…” Villa froze when Iker glanced down at him, with an expression like a mouse seeing that a cat had spotted him.

Fernando nodded.

“All right,” Iker sighed. He unfolded his arm and let Villa drop onto his feet. After a couple flexes of the elbow, Iker went back around his desk and checked something on his computer. “Oh, yeah, you’re probably here about the slot swap, right? I’m sorry, but I don’t know yet. Raúl made sure the paperwork went through before he left but we’re still waiting to hear back from Figo on it.”

“Probably have to go up there and pry it out of him,” Villa muttered. He hunched over, rubbing at his neck and shoulder. Then he scuttled back two meters when Iker looked up at him. He kept a good meter away from Fernando and sort of addressed the air between them. “I was just up there to see whether we’re getting those fucking guest stars or not and Figo wouldn’t even see me.”

Iker stood up and looked at Villa. “Well, maybe if you want to talk to him, or want anybody else to be able to talk to him, you shouldn’t spill drinks on Guardiola.”

Villa threw out his arms. “I said I was sorry! And it wouldn’t have happened if Xavi’s foot hadn’t been there! And what the fuck does Guardiola have to do with Figo?”

Fernando grinned. “So Pep strips off his shirt and Figo is there in two seconds?”

“One,” Iker muttered. He flicked a last disgusted look at Villa before lifting a corner of his mouth in Fernando’s direction. “Text messaging’s gotten a lot faster since the last time you were here.”

His arms still spread, Villa looked back and forth between Fernando and Iker. He opened his mouth and his jaw just kept on sagging. Then he pulled in his arms and shook his head. “Wait a fucking second, so Figo can string us all on a fucking line while he bangs somebody, but I just talk to Raúl about lunch and—”

“I got this one,” Fernando said, grabbing Villa around the waist.

At his desk, Iker gave Fernando a thumbs-up before turning back to his computer. Villa, on the other hand, was kicking like a little brat and had gotten his damn sneaker treads imprinted all over Fernando’s trousers before they got out of the room. Fernando dropped him right outside the door, then bent over and looked at the dusty prints. He swiped at one and it mostly came off. Some day to try dressing up a bit to take Pablo out for a nice dinner after work.

“And what the fuck do we have to talk about?” Villa snapped.

Fernando straightened up. “Nothing, really. I just thought Raúl probably hasn’t even landed yet and it’d be awful if the first thing he heard after that was that Iker had decapitated you with a manila folder.”

“Iker and I get on fine, thanks, like you even know.” Then Villa’s eyes narrowed. His shoulders twitched around in mid-step and he literally acted out a double-think. One favorite barb of the critics was that Fernando hammed it up, but he was a stick of wood next to Villa’s cartoonish reactions. “And how the fuck do you know Raúl—”

“Forget it,” Fernando sighed, walking away. The man was nuts. God knows what he’d do if he found out about Fernando and Pablo—probably flip himself into the ceiling and hang there by his pointy hair.

Or fire Pablo. Hiding things wasn’t really Fernando’s way; he hadn’t scrambled around with cloaks and daggers like this since before he’d told the public he preferred both sides of the fence. Even then, with his career on the line, he’d never been really comfortable with it and it’d been mostly Raúl who’d seen the sense in waiting till Fernando was at least an established star. Fernando liked Pablo, but comparing him to that wasn’t really apples to apples.

Then again, Fernando hadn’t had much in the line of relationships before or after Raúl. One of those childhood sweetheart stories, and then when they’d broken up Fernando had…been a bit of an idiot, had had a couple flings that’d landed him squarely in gossip-mag territory and then had sobered up a little too late. He still hadn’t apologized to Raúl for those.

He was trying to be mature these days. That was what Fernando was doing, being an adult, and children didn’t know not to act out but adults didn’t always have to broadcast everything they did to the world. And it was a sign of maturity that it didn’t feel that great but Fernando was doing it anyway. Hopefully.

Fernando’s phone chimed just as he was heading to the elevator. He popped it out and saw a text from Pablo asking if he could do a last-minute ten minutes in an empty conference room. After a moment, the grin won out. Fernando texted back a ‘yes.’

* * *

Work kept David in the office past dinner and he didn’t hit his bed till well into the early hours of the morning. Even so, he didn’t feel like sleeping. He laid there on top of the covers and stared at the ceiling. The bed was cold and when he put out his arms to either side, his hands flopped on icy, rough folds.

David gripped the comforter. Then he let it go and turned over. It felt like it was made of straw and for a moment he thought it had to be a crappy new one that…but no, he recognized it and it was one he’d had since he’d started working at the company. Flat-warming present from his mother, in fact, and now he felt even shittier. He put his face in the bed.

A couple minutes later he picked it up. He pushed himself up on his arms, then shook his head and twisted over. He wasn’t getting to sleep so he might as well do something.

His phone beeped again. It’d been doing that all day and David either hadn’t had time, or Silva had interrupted in the middle of checking messages with more work, or David just had been too annoyed. Not that he was any less annoyed now, but he might as well.

Couple messages from Silva, one from Iker…David scrolled down faster. Like it was his fucking fault Figo couldn’t keep his private life out of the office. Message from Raúl—David’s thumb slipped and he cursed. He started to scroll back, only to notice that the current message was…from Raúl. Maybe his thumb hadn’t screwed up things.

Maybe David had been ignoring about fifty messages and two voicemails. David suddenly remembered Raúl promising to call after dinner, and to text when he landed, and to basically do all the wonderful committed-relationship-y things that David failed at, just in case David wasn’t sure he was a complete incompetent. Even hundreds of kilometers away Raúl could make David feel like shit.

Which wasn’t really Raúl’s fault and there went David blaming him again for something that was really David’s problem, and David could just picture Raúl looking at him with that patient, resigned—“Gah!”

The phone rang and David promptly tossed it straight up into the air. Then he scrambled to grab it and nearly knocked it onto the floor before he got both hands around it. He just held onto the phone for a few seconds, breathing.

Then David thumbed ‘answer’ and put the phone next to his ear. “I’m so fucking sorry I missed all your messages,” he said. “And your voicemail. I just saw them.”

Silence on the other end for a few seconds. *Oh,* Raúl said. *Well, you said you’d be busy today so I wasn’t really expecting you to answer…actually, I thought you’d be asleep right now.*

“Um, yeah, I was—I mean, I wasn’t asleep, because I only just got home, because I was really busy and you said that already. Shit. Shit.” David fell backwards onto the bed and screwed his eyes shut. He needed to say something meaningful in the next five seconds or else he wasn’t just not going to fall asleep tonight, but he was going to lie awake thinking of all the nice things he could have said if he wasn’t a psycho asshole. “I guess you had less to do since you had the time to message—shit, not that you’re just sitting around on your ass because I know you do—I know I sound like a moron, okay?”

Raúl…laughed. And it even sounded genuine. *Was it that bad today? Nobody tried to break your neck, did they?*

“Well, Iker put me in a headlock because Figo went and felt up Guardiola when we were supposed to be talking guest spots,” David said. He scratched at the side of his face, then pushed at his neck. “Fucking Mori—sorry, Morientes walked in on it.”

*Do you want me to email Iker?* Raúl asked, a little tentative.

David opened his mouth, then shut it. Then he blinked at the ceiling and wondered when he’d calmed down enough to remember to have second thoughts. “No, it’s okay. Silva and Mata got him later about his new girlfriend. The Germans aren’t making you wait on them, are they? That’s not why you had the time to text—”

*Oh, no, no, they’ve been very polite. I think it’s going well. It’s just that one of the key executives was held up in another city and won’t fly in till tomorrow, so we couldn’t get much past the introductions today.* Then Raúl made an odd sort of muffled yowl; it took a second to realize that that was just a very loud yawn. *Damn. I’m tired. Well, I was just calling to see—*

“I’m still alive,” David said, snorting. He rolled over onto his side, then pushed himself up on one arm. “Go sleep before you do something stupid like me.”

*Good night, David,” Raúl replied, voice warm.

Then the line went quiet as the other man hung up. David took the phone from his ear and looked at his wallpaper for a while. He moved his thumb, about to go back to his messages. Then he moved it back. He turned over, tossed his phone on the bedside table and then got under the covers. Better idea, he’d read Raúl’s messages in the morning over breakfast. It’d be just like normal, what with Raúl not opening his mouth but not needing to and David blearily having to rescroll again and again before he got it.

Four more days. Damn it.

* * *

“Day two,” Silva intoned. Then he paused until Cazorla started up the menacing music on an iPod. “Okay. Morning’s all full but we’ve got a half-hour gap after lunch.”

Pablo nodded along with the rest, but under the table he surreptitiously eased out his phone. After peeking to make sure it was on silent, he looked attentively at Silva while opening up a clip file. Well, hopefully he was opening it up. He’d just downloaded some new hacks onto his phone and didn’t quite remember where he’d put them.

“Can’t we just get him to eat a bigger lunch?” Cesc asked. Then he blinked and raised his brows at all the looks he was getting. “What? I mean, okay, I don’t know the guy too well, but he looks like he could use the food. And I know this really awesome sushi place, and if he doesn’t know how to use chopsticks, even better ‘cause that’s all they have and he’ll take even longer to eat.”

“Uh, no.” Silva looked faintly apologetic. “Can’t be related to food. See, usually this would be Guaje and Raúl’s weekly lunch date. So if we took him out to eat, it might remind him of that, and he might get…weird.”

Cesc digested that. “Wow, they really only need a half-hour? Isn’t this Raúl guy kind of older? Not that he doesn’t still look damn good for it, but—”

Silva looked like he wanted to get in on that discussion, but his need to get a plan together was dogging him. He pursed his mouth a couple times. “Yeah, well, Pablo’s got vid proof but that’s not what we’re really here to talk about…”

And now people were looking at Pablo, who’d just barely looked up in time. He scanned people’s faces, never more thankful that his relaxed face came off as blank with a hint of boredom, and then sighed inside with relief. No sign of suspicion. “I’ve got some extra mock-ups he could look at.”

“Yea—no. That’s not going to make sense when he’s going to look at other ones in an hour and a half. He’s just gonna ask why couldn’t he look at them all at the same time,” Silva said, frustrated. He tossed his pen down on the table. “C’mon, doesn’t anybody have anything?”

“Hey, I’m trying, but I’m new at this,” Cesc muttered. He glanced around the room. “And only here because my place is flooded and football season’s not going yet and my editor’s too cheap to pay me to cover friendlies in the U.S.”

Pablo glanced at Cesc, then went back to peering under the table. The shadows were making it hard to see his phone’s screen and he couldn’t tilt it far enough to get past the glow. Then he bit his lip as he poked a command he hadn’t meant to. He told himself not to panic and calmly went about undoing it—lucky it was undoable.

“That the mock-up you were going to show Guaje?” Mata asked very close to Pablo’s ear.

Before Pablo could stop himself, he cursed and jerked his arms out from under the table. Then he shoved them back under, but by then it was too late: everybody had noticed. Pablo did his best to look annoyed instead of guilty while his fingers frantically swiped at his smartphone, trying to change the file to something else.

“Pablo, for God’s sake, you can do that later. When we know for sure that we’re not going to be visiting Guaje in the ER tonight,” Silva said disapprovingly.

Mata was still looking over Pablo’s shoulder. “Hey, it’s a tough job. Can’t blame the man for trying to cheer himself up.”

Pablo…had no idea what Mata meant. But that definitely was not the kind of reaction he’d been hoping for. He tried to drag his phone under the table, but he got tangled up in his hasty apology and suddenly the phone was out of his hands. He hissed at Mata but the other man ignored him and flashed Pablo’s phone around the table.

“Woohoo!” Mata whooped. “Not everybody hates Fernando Morientes.”

The bottom of Pablo’s stomach fell out. At the same time, all the blood went to his face and if that wasn’t the worst give-away, if everything wasn’t up now…it was fucking hell for Pablo to sit still. But he made himself to do it. He put his hands on the table, like he was just annoyed and not mortally humiliated. He ignored the raging flush in his face. “Yeah, I thought it’d make a good promo for the pilot. Think Guaje would go for it?”

Silva had dropped the pseudo-martinet act and was openly leering at the phone. “Uh, no.” He paused to pull in his tongue. “Which is why you don’t show him that one before you send it up to Figo. Who’ll totally be okay with it and once he approves it, nothing Guaje can do. Man, I love Guaje, but I can’t believe he doesn’t appreciate that.”

Which narrowed it down to about fifty zillion photos. Fuck. Pablo knew he shouldn’t have had that shit on his phone, especially after he and Fernando had started sort of seeing each other, but those photo galleries had gotten him through his fucking graphic design degree. Going to them for a quick pick-me-up was kind of a habit now. A habit that was going to get Pablo in the shit if he didn’t wrap it up soon.

“Hey, that’s it!” Cazorla bounced up in his seat. “We’ll make Guaje look at promos!”

“But they’re not even due to get started for another week,” Silva pointed out.

Mata shrugged. “So what? We can just tell him the deadline got moved up.”

As Mata talked, his arm with Pablo’s phone started to droop. Pablo squeezed his feet together on the floor, willing himself to be patient. When the phone got close enough for a casual, not desperate, not-hiding-anything interception, he took it back. And for good measure he picked out a logic loophole for the others. “Isn’t he going to ask why?”

“Yeah, normally it might work but with Raúl gone Guaje’s a lot more super-focused psychotic than just plain old spastic,” Silva agreed. “We need an actual excuse.”

He was looking speculatively at Pablo, who instinctively clutched his phone. This was not going somewhere Pablo was going to like. Day two and he was wishing Raúl was back, if only because normal Villa kept Silva too busy to torture other, non-psychotic, regular Joe people.

* * *

Fernando pulled at his nose. “Not that I’m not happy to do this for you, but…why me? I’d think Iker would be—”

*Iker wants to kill David right now,* Raúl pointed out. *So do the rest of my group. Iker just sent an email saying for me to tell David to stay off their floor or he can’t guarantee that David’s going to have all his bits when he gets off it.*

Well, Fernando could see that. “Ah, okay. And I’m guessing that Villa isn’t answering his phone.”

*Not when he’s at work. But he’s busy.* If Fernando hadn’t known Raúl for years and years, Raúl would have sounded completely calm and understanding and accepting. Of course he was annoyed as hell. Annoyed, and under that concerned. *I did talk to him last night but he didn’t…if you could just drop in and see if he’s…sane, I’d be very thankful.*

“Sure, no problem. I can’t guarantee that he’ll talk to me either, since we don’t have scheduled meetings today—” fine, Fernando had moved on and wished them both well and all that, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t act like Villa was the little shit he was “—but I can make sure he’s not climbing up the walls or bull-charging Figo. Oh, speaking of…you haven’t tried calling his staff?”

Long pause. *Fernando, you’ve met his staff.*


*And they’re very good workers and they care a lot for David, but I’d really appreciate it if you just texted me about him,* Raúl said dryly. Translation: they’re maniacs and I can only worry about one maniac at a time when I’m not there to sling people into order, so just do as I say already.

“All right, all right. I’m actually about to get lunch, but I’ll sneak into his floor afterward,” Fernando said. He heard someone cough nearby and turned around to see Albiol gesturing, first to Fernando and then to something outside the door. Fernando nodded to show he got it, then got out of his chair. “Keep on killing the Germans.”

Raúl let out a funny little cough, which was his idea of politely choking back laughter. He murmured a farewell and then hung up.

Hearing that still made Fernando feel content inside, and it was odd and jarring to remember he didn’t really have a right to that anymore. And that he didn’t want it. They were still friendly, somehow, so it wasn’t like it was a crime or like anyone was cheating on anyone else, but it was…Fernando didn’t know how he felt about it. He got up to see what he had waiting for him.

That turned out to be a hangdog-looking Pablo, who as soon as Fernando came through the door, blurted out: “You have to be mean to Villa.”

Fernando raised his brows.

“You’ve got permission. It’s for his own good. It’s for…look, we need to keep him busy but we don’t have anything for right after lunch, so you need to go in and demand we start working on promos for your pilot,” Pablo sighed. He put up his hand. “Not my idea. Also not my idea to send me.”

Actually, it hadn’t even crossed Fernando’s mind till Pablo spoke up that there might be something off about Pablo being the one to ask. Of course now Fernando couldn’t get it out of his mind. “Why you?”

Pablo always looked a little sleepy but right now he genuinely seemed to be trying to will himself into a coma, and not because he was tired. “They saw a picture on my phone.”

Picture, smartphone that sometimes seemed surgically attached to Pablo, the dots weren’t connecting. Wait. They were. “You have…photos of me on your phone. Which got them to send you.”

“They don’t know, okay?” Pablo hissed. “They just think I’m a pervert. Which I’m not, because that movie did fucking gold at the box office and if I’m a pervert, then so is everybody else in Spain who had a goddamn pulse that year—”

“Which movie?” Fernando asked.

Pablo managed to look sideways at Fernando even though that should’ve been physically impossible from where he was standing. “Well, pudding—”

Fernando threw back his head with an irritated noise, then slowly dragged his hands through his hair. Seven years later and that damn film was still biting him in the ass. He couldn’t even eat most pudding brands anymore, because people kept sending him boxes. “Which scene? Oh, never mind, it doesn’t matter.”

“Look, the important thing is that they don’t know we’re together, they just know I like looking at you on my phone. It’s still okay, you just have to be a bastard to Villa,” Pablo said. “That’s how you’d act like anyway so that shouldn’t be too hard.”

“Are they watching you right now?” Fernando asked after a moment.

If they were, Pablo clearly wasn’t in on it. He jerked up his head and fully opened his eyes, which he didn’t even do when they were having sex. Which wasn’t right either, come to think of it.

“Shit!” Pablo hissed. He started looking around, then winced and dropped his eyes to the floor. He popped out his phone and started doing something on it. “Do you see them? Where are they? Is it Mata?”

As far as Fernando could tell, it was mostly Albiol and some summer intern who looked like he thought sorting mail would be less dangerous to his future career prospects. Fernando hadn’t really meant his question; he’d more been thinking aloud. “Look, just what are you going to do? Even if they aren’t, that photo means you’re going to be the one who’s sent to see me from now on. So how’s that different from if they knew we were seeing each other?”

“It’s different because right now I don’t have to worry about them spying on me,” Pablo snapped.

Fernando let him think about that one.

“If you hadn’t brought it up, I wouldn’t have thought of it.” Not exactly making up for the logical error there and Pablo knew it. He started fiddling even more intensely with his phone. “And they wouldn’t just spy. They’d start doing shit like trying to get us to have sex in the office, just like they already do with Villa. Do you want to go through that?”

“I just think you’re more than well-equipped enough to blackmail the hell out of them, what with that magical phone of yours,” Fernando drawled.

Pablo glanced up, then shoved his phone in his pocket and jerked his chin up at Fernando. “For fuck’s sake, it’s not magical, it’s technology and technology is help, not a fucking cure-all—”

“It’s not about getting them back. It’s about not avoiding your coworkers for your whole life. For fuck’s sake.” Things were getting more than a little heated at this point and Fernando knew he should be backing off, or at least toning himself down. Because he did like Pablo and he didn’t want this to go down in flames, and that was where they were heading. He was supposed to be the adult here.

But Pablo wasn’t a kid. And Fernando was fucking tired of being the adult. He was the adult all the time with Villa and Raúl and he wanted to relax when he was around Pablo, not do this…this…faking.

“You don’t have to work with them, okay?” Pablo snarled.

“Actually, I do. And maybe you have a problem with telling them off, but I don’t.” Fernando took a half-step back. “And yes, fine, I’ll keep Villa busy later. But it’s not because I give a damn about how it looks to your coworkers. It’s because he makes someone I care about happy and I’m fine with keeping his little hamster wheel brain going so he can keep doing that.”

Pablo just stared at Fernando. It looked like his usual blankly cynical face, so Fernando just assumed that the man was cold-shouldering him and started off. He got a few steps away and didn’t hear anything, so he kept walking. Eventually he got all the way into the elevator and the doors shut, and Pablo still wasn’t there.

Well. That’d gone about as badly as it could’ve. Fernando rubbed at his eye, then leaned his head back against the wall. Great.

Chapter Text

Raúl draped his tie over the back of his hotel room’s chair and then wandered into the bathroom. He promptly forgot what for and came back out to stand just in front of the doorway. “He did what?”

*I don’t even know. I’ve been trying to figure it out all day and I still—I can’t even wrap my head around it. One second he’s asking about promos and the next he’s calling me an incompetent piece of shit who can’t control his staff, who doesn’t want to control his staff, who…who gets off on not controlling his staff?* David sounded genuinely puzzled. He also didn’t sound very upset, which wasn’t like him after an encounter with Fernando. *I don’t know, does ‘staff’ really mean something else to him? Is it a code word?*

“No. Well, it wasn’t one for us,” Raúl said. Then he winced silently and put his hand to his forehead. David had made it very clear he wasn’t worried about Fernando winning Raúl back, but he still had a weird fixation on ‘living up’ to some sort of fairytale idea he had of Fernando and Raúl’s relationship, so he didn’t take reminders of that too well. “I don’t have any idea either. Did you…it couldn’t be from some earlier argument you two had, could it?”

*No. I thought about all the ones we’ve had and even had Silva go over it with me, but fucking nothing. Morientes just went apeshit on me and I didn’t even do anything.* Slight wounded thread in David’s tone, but mostly he still seemed to be confused. The reference to Raúl and Fernando’s old relationship had apparently gone over his head this time. *It was bizarre. At the end—you know, I don’t even think he was talking about me? And then he just stormed out.*

Raúl switched his phone to his other ear. Then he remembered why he’d needed to go to the bathroom and he went back into there and pulled over his shaving bag. He started rummaging around in it for the floss; some damn chunk of something was still stuck in his back teeth from dinner and it was making his teeth hurt. “Did he headlock you?”

*What? No, that’s just Iker.* Pause. *It was a pretty quiet day after that. I got a lot of work done.*

“That’s good,” Raúl said absently. Then he felt guilty, because he’d still been wondering about Fernando’s breakdown and here David was essentially saying he’d had a good day. Compared to how he’d sounded last night, Raúl should have been hugely relieved. “I’m glad the fight didn’t throw things off for you.”

David heaved a sigh and Raúl could just see him rolling his eyes. *Yeah, well, it’s going to throw off tomorrow because we were supposed to meet up to figure out the guest spots. Hell if I’m calling Morientes now—I think I’m gonna have Silva do it. Not because I’m scared of him or just want to be shitty to him or whatever, okay? It’s just not gonna help if I punch him and I think I need a couple of days before I won’t feel like doing that.*

The floss finally turned up under Raúl’s fingers but he didn’t open it up. Instead he leaned against the bathroom sink and tried to figure out to say what he wanted to say without hitting one of David’s sore spots. And then he gave up and just got ready to text Silva and Iker a warning after they were done talking. “David, I really don’t care that much how you work with Fernando. I still talk to him, and I think we’re starting to be friends, so I…well, don’t want to see you two actually fighting again. But your work is your work, not mine. You know what you’re doing and I’m not going to tell you to do differently.”

For a while David didn’t say anything. Raúl started to drum his fingers on the sink, caught himself, and then wondered if he should say anything. The problem was that he couldn’t see David’s face and normally that signaled where to go better than landing strip lights at night.

*I really miss you,* David said just as Raúl was about to chance it. His voice cracked a little and inside the crack it was plain sad ache. *You know, when I have to go to Valencia next month, I think I’m going to flip out.*

“No, you won’t,” Raúl said automatically. He breathed in, then chuckled under his breath. “Friday, all right? Then I’m going to blow off Luís and we can sleep in on Saturday.”

*Okay.* David sounded vaguely amused. *Okay, cool. Pick you up at the airport in three days.*

Raúl smiled and told David good-night, and then he hung up. He looked at his phone, then set it down next to the sink with a sigh. Then he went out of the bathroom, stopped, shook his head and came back in. Right. Floss.

* * *

“But why are we meeting? He seems fine! He even said hi to me in the elevator,” Cesc said. Then he noticed that David was standing in the doorway and went bug-eyed like everybody else. “Um, shit, um ow right, so I guess we don’t have to worry about that weirdo messenger boy, do we? That we were talking about just now? Who said hi to me in the elevator?”

David rolled his eyes. “Okay, I’m fine, now can you all stop fucking plotting about me and actually do your jobs? Silva, why the hell is your friend here? We didn’t start hiring when I wasn’t looking, did we?”

Silva blinked rapidly. “Er.”

“Hey, it’s not like I’m getting in the way or anything. And all I’ve had is your coffee, which I guess I’ll pay for if you really want that but it’s pretty shit,” Cesc said. He looked at David and his eyes got wide again. He glanced at Silva. “Um, is that alert three blue triangle?”

“I don’t even want to know,” David said after a moment. People were starting to get up, so he slouched against the side of the door to let them out. “Santi, I’m still waiting for those edits. Mata, you’re supposed to be down getting us a slot on Guardiola’s calendar for testing the pilot. And Silva, you’re supposed to be finding Morientes, wherever the hell that bastard is, and reminding him he’s got a fucking contract and one little fit’s not enough to cancel it.”

Cazorla hurried out with a muttered aside that he had the papers in his office and it’d just be a sec to get them, while Mata started babbling some excuse about Guardiola and a late water bottle shipment and waving arms. Cesc looked relieved that David wasn’t going to break his smart-mouth neck.

“I know, I know, I’ve got a lock on where he is but I’m still working on how to call him so he doesn’t just hang up on me,” Silva said. “You can’t blame me for not knowing you were going to wake up non-psycho this morning.”

David looked at him.

Sunny smile. “You can’t kill me because then you wouldn’t have anybody to send after Mori,” Silva chirped. Then he paused. “Oh, well, I guess you’d have Pablo, but he just started—”

“Like hell,” Pablo snapped, and then looked horrified at himself. He’d been sitting quietly in the back but now he tried to just slide under the table. “I mean, I don’t know how to do it so you’re back to Silva.”

A couple seconds later, Pablo hitched himself another few centimeters under the table. That was kind of weird for him but maybe he was getting worn out with Silva’s scheming. He did seem to be a little less enthusiastic about it than the others, and if so, good for him. David turned back to Silva. “Well, I’m fucking fine except fucking Morientes isn’t around and I’m supposed to report to Figo on the guest stars now that I can actually get hold of Figo. So where is he?”

“Gimme a sec,” Silva said, looking at his PDA. Then he looked up and sighed. “He’s moving, okay! It’s not like he stays in place all day. But I’ve got Joaquín on him.”

Incredulous exclamation from Pablo, who was…still in the room. Funny, people usually scattered like scared chickens when David and Silva were tag-teaming. Whatever, there were more important things for David to worry about right now. “Joaquín? I want Morientes back here in good condition, not just back here! You sent fucking Joa—”

“Well, look, nobody knows why Mori went nuts yesterday so I had to send somebody who would be okay with that, and it was either him or Albelda. And Albelda would just sock him.” Silva pursed his mouth, then poked at his PDA’s screen. He rumpled his hair with his free hand. “Okay. Mori’s hanging out with Pepe Reina. Seems to be okay, he’s smiling and so on. But Joaquín says he already reminded Mori about today and Mori said it’s so typical that you wouldn’t come yourself because you’re such a little shit you can only work through other little shits…um, maybe I should’ve sent Albelda.”

“He’s a stuck-up bastard himself!”

Both David and Silva stared at Pablo, who only had his forehead and part of one eye visible above the table, but who was dull brick red all over that bit of him. Then David put his hands on his hips and arched a brow at Pablo. “What, you want to go get him or something?” David asked.

“No,” Pablo muttered. His fingers wiggled over the edge of the table, then closed down. He pulled himself up and then got up from his seat, looking anywhere but at David. “No, not really. I think I’d punch him too.”

For once Silva looked completely confused by the situation. “Um, okay, well, you know yesterday wasn’t your fault, right? Because you just asked him to do…to see Guaje, and you didn’t even ask him to do what he did. Nobody knew he was going to pull something like that.”

“Of course it’s not my fucking fault! It’s his! If he had—if he had any goddamn idea what it’s like to not be a big fancy star, he’d—” Pablo clammed up. He stared back at them, shoulders hunched, and then abruptly scuttled behind Silva and out the door with a mutter about checking his software.

“What’s with him?” David asked, looking after him. “He sounds more pissed off than I am. Wait, was he—did one of us elbow him in the head again?”

Silva shook his head. “No, Pablo wasn’t even there when we broke you two up. He was off in the bathroom or so he said…don’t know how he didn’t hear it from there. Albelda was farther off by the copier and he came running.”

“Yeah, well…” The problem right now wasn’t Pablo, it was Morientes. And even though David had told Raúl he didn’t want to call…well, he still didn’t want to, but one day later, David was thinking at least he wasn’t letting it get in the way of the pilot. Morientes was acting like a spoiled brat and while David might get a little worked up, he didn’t fucking go hide with his friends from things. “You still have Joaquín on there?”

“Yeah, do you want to talk to him?” Silva asked.

David shook his head and took out his own phone. “Just tell him to keep an eye on Morientes. I’m gonna call him.”

Silva opened his mouth, then shrugged and started texting on his phone. He clearly didn’t think it was a great idea but it wasn’t so bad that he was going to jump on it. Well, he didn’t think David was going to pull himself together in three days either. He didn’t know everything about David.

Morientes picked up on the first ring. *Ye—*

“Stop being an ass and show up to work,” David said. He hadn’t really planned it. For a moment he thought he should have, and he thought he’d fucked it up, and then he realized neither of those really mattered because whatever the hell was going on with Morientes, it hadn’t been David’s fault. It wasn’t on him to figure it out. “I don’t know what the hell crawled up your ass yesterday and I don’t really care, except that it’s putting the fucking pilot in jeopardy and I don’t know about you, but I put too much goddamn work into that to just piss it away on some personal thing.”

Long, slow breath. *You’re always so compassionate, Villa.*

“Oh, shut the fuck up. Yeah, I could be mad because you didn’t even fucking apologize, but you know what? I’m busy. I’m trying to work here. You want to go fuck around, you do that on your own time, not mine or the pilot’s staff or the other actors.” David glanced at Silva, who blinked hard and then gave David a thumbs-up. “Because you know what? You fucked up Raúl and then you ran and he let you, but I’m not him. I’m not going to sit around for a couple of months to figure out that you’re the problem, not me. I know that. So sort out your fucking head or I’ll sort out this pilot. Without you.”

Then David hung up. He didn’t feel…he didn’t feel gleeful or victorious or anything like that. He didn’t even know if Morientes was coming back. But he…he was okay with that. He was okay with whatever happened. Because he’d done everything he could and in this case, he could live with that. It wasn’t going to fuck up seeing Raúl again on Friday for him.

“Wow,” said a stunned little voice. When David turned, Silva was staring at him with patent awe. It was…bizarre. “That was amazing. Hey, do you think that that was just a one-off, or can you do that again? Because I bet if we tried it out on Zlatan, he’d totally—”

“Silva, is he moving?” David sighed.

Silva looked back at his phone. “Um. No. He’s talking to Reina.”

David turned around and walked out the door. “Look, come tell me when he is. Otherwise, I don’t have the time to hang around waiting for this to move. Let’s go see whether we can get some movement on that French special idea.”

* * *

Fernando stared at his phone. “What the hell was that?”

Pepe put down his beer, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and then sighed. “Well, keep in mind you just filled me in on the background, but I think he was calling you out.”

“I know that!” Fernando snapped. “But it’s just…it was Villa. He doesn’t do that. He flips out and has to have his nasty short staff save his ass.”

“So?” Then Pepe sighed and picked up his beer again. He dangled it between his fingers and slouched in his chair. “Okay, Mori, I’m your friend but the truth is the truth and you were a hell of a lot more mature when you were dating Raúl too. Up till the break-up, anyway.”

That hit deep. For a moment Fernando thought about punching out Pepe. And then he took a deep breath, and really thought about what had happened, and he let out his breath. “Yeah, I know.”

“I mean, I agree with you on not sneaking around because that’s a stupid way to deal with nosy coworkers, but that doesn’t really justify making the entire world feel your frustration,” Pepe added. “Besides, you want this pilot to go. It’s not just the work, it’s something you really want. I know you. You don’t usually fuck things up for yourself like this.”

Fernando nodded. “I know that too, but…is he still behind the aquarium?”

Pepe craned his head out of their booth, then shook his head. “No, the guy’s moved to the bar, but it looks like he’s busy with his phone. So?”

“So I was better at dating Raúl because Raúl was better at dating than I was, and usually I just let him take care of things. The funny thing is, I think Villa actually thinks about why Raúl’s better at it, because he doesn’t just sit around,” Fernando muttered, getting up. “But I guess better late than never to learn something.”

That’s the spirit,” Pepe said, slapping Fernando on the back. Then he shifted to let Fernando get out of the booth. “So go fix your pilot, get your guest stars, and when you’re done tossing that little techie geek of yours over your shoulder, send ‘im to me and I’ll show him a thing or two about handling coworkers, all right?”

“All right,” Fernando said. He looked at his friend and a reluctant smile crept onto his face. Then he gave Pepe a squeeze on the shoulder and turned towards the door. “Thanks.”

Pepe snorted. “Any time. Beating sense into people’s heads is why I never have to pay for my beer.”

Fernando gave the man a look. Then he shook his head and just laughed. And he did pick up the tab on his way out.

* * *

The last place anybody was going to look for Pablo was Villa’s office, so he went straight there and tried to figure out how he was going to fix this one. Dumped and waving that around like a bullfighter with a cape, and now Mori was going to be in the office any minute. Maybe he’d be so busy killing Villa that he wouldn’t even notice Pablo sneaking out behind them.

Pablo sank behind Villa’s desk till he was sitting on the floor, with his back against the drawers. He closed his eyes and breathed in, and then he thumped his head against the desk a few times. Then he grimaced and put his hand back to rub his skull. Funny how that didn’t do anything but make your head hurt, and yet people did it anyway of their own free will. Funny how Raúl going out of town and Villa going nuts and Fernando being a jerk ended up ruining Pablo’s life. He’d been pretty sure he was saner than any of them.

“What the hell are you doing down there?”

After a long moment, Pablo set his shoulders and looked up at Villa. “Um. Hi.”

Villa was pulling at his hair and looking like he was trying to remember something important. He didn’t look mad or surprised at Pablo so much as just basic ground-level irritated. “Did I miss some meeting again? Is it the…no, wait, we’re not starting promos yet. And I’m pretty sure I don’t have to review any graphics this week.”

“No, there’s not anything. I just was…uh…here.” Brilliant. Pablo shoved his phone into his pocket and started to get to his feet. Halfway up he whacked his elbow into a drawer handle. His arm went numb for a second, then burst with pain; he grabbed the joint to his chest and tried not to whimper in front of his boss. “Anyway, I’m going to go now.”

“Are you okay?” Villa abruptly asked. His eyes narrowed like lasers on Pablo. “You were really upset about Morientes. Did he do something to you?”

Well, he’d been an asshole and dumped Pablo, but it wasn’t like Pablo could say that, since that’d been why Mori had gone and been a super-asshole to Villa. “No, not really. I just think I probably shouldn’t see him when he comes in later.”

Villa raised his brows. “What the fuck does ‘not really’ mean? And you’re staffing the pilot, so if there’s a problem, you should probably tell me now.”

“No, it’s okay, I just don’t go to the meeting today,” Pablo said. He started to look around for quick exits.

A loud snap made him jerk back. He stared at Villa as the other man lowered his hand and…had Villa just snapped his fingers in Pablo’s face? Really? “Look, what is it? If there’s a problem, I should know about it. I don’t want whatever it is to blow up in anybody’s face so just tell me—”

“He broke up with me, okay?” Pablo blurted out. Then he closed his eyes and wondered if he could just die now.

It didn’t happen. Pablo opened his eyes and Villa was staring at him with a sort of cock-eyed expression, like if he screwed with the perspective of his right eye, the world was going to make sense to him. “Huh?” Villa said. “He broke…something?”

Well, of course Pablo hadn’t dropped dead. It still could get a lot worse than accidentally informing your boss you’d been banging the star of their hot new star vehicle show. Like having to explain to your boss in small words and maybe with diagrams how that worked—for God’s sake, what the hell did Villa and Raúl do at night? Each other’s hair? “Look, I was seeing Fernando, sort of, but I didn’t want anybody to know because it’d be weird and also everybody would be weird about it like they are with you and your partner, and I told him that and Fernando didn’t want that and he broke up with me and then he went and fought with you again. I totally didn’t know he was going to do that, by the way. I mean, go after you.”

“Oh, people just do that,” Villa muttered, looking away. Then he did a double-take and his eyes widened. “Wait, wait, you…and Morientes?”

“But we’re not anymore! He dumped me! Okay? It’s not there! So I don’t want to deal with it!” Pablo yelled, throwing up his hands. Then he winced and grabbed the top of his head. He pulled down on his hands while staring at his shoes. “I just, I’m sorry if that screws up anything but I’m kind of upset right now.”

Awkward long silence. Eventually Pablo had to look up, even though he was still trying to will death to come to him, just to see what was going on. Not a lot: Villa was staring at him again. When Villa saw Pablo looking at him, he started and then began to wave his hand around.

“So…um, do you want to sit down?” Villa asked.

Pablo stared. “What?”

“Just sit down,” Villa said. It was more of a sigh than a snap, but it definitely wasn’t a suggestion.

The nearest seat was on the other side of the desk. After another second, Pablo got it and dragged it around. He sat in it.

“Okay.” Villa looked uncomfortable. He kept putting an arm around himself and then taking it down. “You think coffee would be good?”

“You want me to get you coffee?” Pablo asked faintly.

“No, no, it’s for you,” Villa muttered, not looking at Pablo.

Pablo suddenly got it. He grinned, then slouched back and stared at the ceiling. Okay, universe, he’d completely lost. He got the point. “Okay. Listen. I’m okay. I’m not…I don’t think you need to do this…this thing. I’m good. I mean, as long as I’m not fired.”

“No, you’re not fired. I think HR’s going to want to go over with you the policy on workplace relationships but whatever, Morientes isn’t an employee, he’s an independent contractor. I think. I don’t know how that stupid classification works.” Then Villa shook his head and screwed up his eyes, and just stood there like that for a couple seconds. He finally opened his eyes just as Pablo was about to make a run for the door. “Okay. So you and Morientes are seeing each other.”

“Were,” Pablo mumbled.

Villa looked like he was going to screw up his eyes again, but at the last minute he held them open. “Were. He broke up with you? Really?”

“Well, he told me he wasn’t going to put up with pretending we weren’t together anymore and then he went and had a fight with you.” Pablo started to fidget in the chair. The pens on Villa’s desk caught his eye and for a moment he seriously considered using them to stab himself out of his misery.

“But I know about you two now,” Villa said, sounding confused. “And…all right, to be honest with you, I don’t understand but I’m not mad at you and I was never going to fire you because of something like that. I guess this wasn’t clear, and I’m sorry about that, but just because I’m with Raúl doesn’t mean you all have to hate Morientes. My problem with Morientes is completely personal and you shouldn’t feel like you have to—”

“Uh, no, I got that. I mean, you’re still doing a pilot with him and you have to swallow a lot more personal feeling to do that,” Pablo replied. Honestly, now he was confused.

Villa absorbed that. “Then why the hell were you two hiding?”

“Because I didn’t want everybody else to make a big deal out of it! You hired all these people so you know that spying on you and Raúl is like, what we do in between coffee breaks, don’t you?” Pablo twisted around in his seat and Villa glowered at him. So Pablo reluctantly settled back. He had to sit on his hands to keep them from going to his phone. Not that this was something he should be texting about or skipping out on to look at photo galleries, but at least he could think about doing that if he had his phone out. “Why does it matter anyway? We broke up.”

“I don’t think you did, actually. If you wanted to know that. Damn it, how am I supposed to…” Villa briefly looked up and silently moved his lips “…okay, what you do in your personal life doesn’t matter unless it fucks up work, and I’m not here to tell you what to do outside of work, but if you wanted to know, when Morientes breaks up with somebody, he does it on an important anniversary and then he leaves the country. So…”

“I have no idea what you’re saying,” Pablo said.

Somebody knocked at the door and Villa yelled at them to come back in two minutes. Then he put his hand on his forehead and massaged his face a few times. “All right, this is what I’m saying: you can go home and work from there for the rest of the day. You can skip the meeting. Go…play with your new software. It came in, right?”

“Some of it, yeah,” Pablo warily said. He still didn’t know where this was going.

“Okay, well, do that or whatever it is that calms you down. Then come in tomorrow morning and we’ll talk about how to handle you two working on the same project. All right?” Villa looked expectantly at Pablo.

That was…apparently it. Pablo had no idea what had just happened, but he was getting out of this without Villa throwing a fit and he still had his job. Which should’ve been pretty good, but Pablo just nodded and left. He’d still been dumped. And the whole star thing aside, he’d really liked Fernando the actual person.

He was an idiot.

* * *

Raúl glanced down the hall. From where he was standing, he could just see their table. The Germans seemed to be having fun but he really had to get back soon so the waiters would bring out the food. “Okay, I think I understand everything. Except why you’re calling me about it. I agree that it doesn’t sound like Fernando was acting—”

*Oh, Morientes can go fuck himself. He shouldn’t fucking call me afraid when every time he has relationship issues he runs off,* David said. *He can deal with his own shit. I’m just trying to deal with my shit here.*

“And that would be?” Raúl asked.

*I need to make sure Silva lays off Pablo, whatever the hell he and Morientes end up doing.* David paused to take another phone call and put them on hold. Then he came back, sounding slightly embarrassed. *So can you call him?*

Raúl stared at the wall. “Fernando?”

*No! Silva! I said Morientes can take care of his own problems!*

“I know, I heard you, but…why do you want me to call Silva? He works for you,” Raúl said.

Short pause. *He’s not scared of me,* David muttered.

“Okay, but why is he going to be scared of me? He doesn’t answer to me, and I don’t think either of us are going to start talking about threatening to fire him.” Raúl’s stomach growled and he winced, hoping that that hadn’t been loud enough for David to hear. He pressed his arm over his belly. “I’ll call him if you want, but I just don’t think…”

*I know, and if I were half the boss I should be, I wouldn’t be asking you. But right now that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that Pablo is a good worker and I don’t want him to feel like he doesn’t want to come into work, and whatever I have to do to get that, I’ll do it,* David said. Then his voice warmed up a little from its sober tone. *And don’t pull that humble act now. You terrify the hell out of people when you want to and you know it.*

“You’re not terrified of me, are you?” Raúl asked, half-joking. Half-suddenly his stomach wasn’t growling so much as tensed up.

David laughed. *I am so fucking scared of you, you have no idea. I’m terrified I’m going to fuck this up like I always do and you’re going to kill me for it and I’ll deserve it. But hey, I’m still going to pick you up from the airport anyway. I’m kind of an idiot that way.”

“I’ll call him,” Raúl said after a moment.

*Great. Thanks—*

“I love you.” Raúl breathed slow. “You know that, don’t you? You know you earned every bit of it.”

Silence. Then, suddenly: *You always make me want to leave everything I’m doing and just go. Jesus. I’ll—see you Friday.*

“Okay.” The line clicked off and Raúl put his phone back into his pocket. He leaned against the wall for a little longer, and then he turned around. He was still grinning when he got to the table and he didn’t really care when the Germans asked about it.

* * *

Fernando sat down and opened his mouth.

“I talked to Pablo and he thinks you dumped him.” Villa angrily shuffled folders. “Look, it’s your personal thing even if I like him a hell of a lot more than I like you, and I’m not going to get into it unless it starts being a work issue. I don’t even want to know if you did dump him. But can you just stop being a fucking asshole? Ever?”

“I was actually thinking about it,” Fernando said.

“Yeah? Well?” Villa tossed a folder at Fernando like he was trying to slice Fernando in half with it. “Pablo went home already, by the way. He didn’t want to be in the same meeting with you.”

“So can we talk about the goddamn guest stars and get this done?” Fernando finally said.

The other man’s head went up and Villa gave Fernando a long, narrow-eyed look. Then he nodded sharply. “Okay.” He opened up a folder. “Figo finally approved the budget, so now all you have to do is talk your friends into sticking to it. Think you can do that?”

For a moment Fernando just sat there, not believing that Villa was actually moving on. Then he gave himself a shake and took the goddamn gift. If Villa wanted to just do business, they were going to do business. They were going to do it and then Fernando was getting the hell out of here.

* * *

Pablo opened the door and looked curiously at the gaggle on his doormat. “What happened?” he asked. “Did they shut down the office?”

“Uh, no, we’re just on a group break. So here.” Silva held out a piece of paper. Once Pablo had taken it, Silva leaned back and clasped his hands together and looked solemn. “It’s an assurance that we will never attempt to exploit, manipulate, influence or control your personal relationships for personal or professional gain, unless it fits into one of the narrow exceptions listed and we have authoriz—”

“What the hell is this?” Pablo exclaimed, reading the paper. It did say all of that, and then it added a bunch of pretty awful-sounding penalties should any of the clauses be breached. And it was signed by everybody. Even Cesc. “Cesc doesn’t even work with us!”

Cesc looked hugely grateful. “I know! That’s what I said, but he wouldn’t let me leave the room unless I promised too. And he said he knows my head editor.” Shudder. “Something about golf lunches and Figo’s handicap.”

Pablo looked up from the paper. “Who said?”

“Raúl,” chorused his coworkers.

“Who’s…back from Germany?” Pablo ventured after a long, incredulous moment.

“No, it was conference call,” Silva said. “So…we’re good, right? Because we didn’t know, but if we had and you’d really seriously told us to back off, we wouldn’t have…okay, maybe we would’ve teased a little. But we like you and we wouldn’t really have been nasty or—”

Something started to beep and Silva jumped. Then he patted himself down till he came up with his PDA. He looked at it, looked at it harder and then looked up in a panic.

“Morientes is coming up your elevator!” he yelped. “We didn’t call him! He doesn’t know we’re here, what are we supposed to do, this wasn’t covered in the—”

Pablo yanked Silva inside. “Get in,” he snapped. He started pushing people in. “In, in, in!”

Everybody was hissing at each other and elbowing and everything, and by the time Pablo could catch his breath and wonder what he was doing, he was outside his apartment. He turned around to go in and heard his name being called. He and Silva stared at each other through the doorway.

Then Pablo turned around. Behind him, he heard a lot of scuffling feet, and then nothing.

It was two steps from the elevator to Pablo’s front door. Fernando took a step and a half, then stopped. “I did not break up with you. I don’t know about you, but—”

“Huh?” Pablo shoved his hand into his pocket and grabbed his phone. “Wait, but you said—”

“I said I didn’t like what we were doing and I didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t say I didn’t want to see you again, all right?” Fernando said, sounding faintly persecuted. He ran one hand through his hair, staring off to the side. Then he looked back at Pablo. “I’ll admit I didn’t get that across in the best way, but I don’t think I was that extreme about it.”

Pablo snorted. “Right, and getting in a brawl with my boss right afterward isn’t being extreme?”

Fernando’s eyes darkened and Pablo decided he actually didn’t want to die. But then the other man snorted and looked away. “You’re a cute little smartass but when it gets down to it, you’re pretty goddamn nervous, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, well, I’m not some big—”

“And is that really a problem for you? Because the only way I can stop being that is to stop working, and I like what I’m doing. Yes, I’m famous, but I already do what I can to not let that get into my personal life and I thought you were somebody who didn’t see that so much. It was part of why I like you,” Fernando said.

“No. Not so much,” Pablo said after a moment. “But…but look, okay, yes, I am nervous. I’m nervous because I really like you and you’re kind of the first serious thing I’ve had too, and I don’t know why the fuck you’re doing that. You could have anybody you want. I’m a…I work for a guy you really don’t like.”

Fernando pursed his lips a few times. Then he took that last half-step and put his hands on Pablo’s shoulders. Pablo started and then looked at them, and he was still staring at Fernando’s left hand when the other man started talking.

“Pablo. I like you. There’s a lot of shit that comes with being who I am, but you make me relax even with all that attached,” Fernando said, looking into Pablo’s eyes. “So if the worst thing is you work with Villa and a bunch of crazies, I’m okay with that. I’d take a lot more just to keep seeing you. All right?”

“Yes!” somebody said.

Not Pablo, according to Fernando’s puzzled look. Fernando raised his head before Pablo could stop him—not that Pablo didn’t try. He grabbed Fernando’s shirt in both hands and yanked hard. “I didn’t invite them, okay, they just showed up and they didn’t know you were coming either, and they just gave me some agreement that says they aren’t going to bug us but they were surprised about you coming and I made them go inside because I didn’t know—”

“Pablo?” Fernando asked.

Pablo was going to die. He looked up at Fernando.

“Are we or are we not still going out?” Fernando continued.

“Um. I think we’re still seeing each other? I mean, if you’re sure you didn’t break up with me,” Pablo babbled. If Fernando found this attractive, he was fucking weird.

Fernando rolled his eyes and then his face got really close and suddenly he was kissing Pablo. Weird. Pablo opened his mouth, like he was really going to be able to say something, and Fernando stuck his tongue in and put his arms around Pablo’s waist. He lifted Pablo up and Pablo just…Pablo went with it. Okay, he could like weird. He hooked his arm around Fernando’s neck and closed his eyes and it was really nice. He’d missed this. It’d been what, a day? And he was really, really glad he was still getting to do this after all.

“Yay!” “Go, Pablo!”

Pablo’s feet hit the ground. “For God’s sake,” Fernando muttered, reaching out. He yanked shut Pablo’s door, then grabbed Pablo again and pushed him against the door. “You know, you could have asked me to just tell them off.”

“But I don’t want you to keep assaulting people I work with,” Pablo said. Then he remembered he was still holding the paper and held it up. “Besides, they promised.”

Fernando pushed the paper out of the way with his head. This time, he cupped his hands under Pablo’s ass before lifting him. “Fine,” he said, and Pablo held his head in both hands and kissed him back.

* * *

David sprawled out on Raúl and let his head fall into the crook of the other man’s neck. He still had his left hand loosely tangled in Raúl’s hair and he rubbed the sweaty strands between his fingers. Raúl nuzzled his shoulder and then shifted, and his prick was soft now but still in Raúl and he really shouldn’t be interested in that sort of flexing but it’d been five fucking days. “Mmm. Fucking Germans.”

“They were nice,” Raúl protested half-heartedly. He drew lazy circles over David’s hip, with the occasional slip underneath to just touch David’s balls. “It was a very productive trip.”

“Whatever, I’m glad you’re back.” Raúl still sort of smelled like the plane, stale like dried spilled coffee, and that wasn’t really attractive. Which was why David should’ve been patient and waited till after Raúl had gotten his shower, but David still didn’t feel like taking his head out of Raúl’s neck. It smelled but he still loved it. “Fucking Morientes dating my graphics guy, my fucking nutcase staff…”

“I didn’t get very long to talk with people but it all seems to have worked out, hasn’t it?” Raúl nibbled at David’s shoulder, then put his head back on the bed. “You did a good job with that. It was a tricky situation.”

David closed his eyes. “Yeah, thanks.” He sounded sort of blah and he winced. “No, really. It’s just…I did something nice for Morientes. I still feel weird about it.”

“I told him to stop trying to strangle you,” Raúl said. “Because I don’t want it, not because I don’t think you can’t…deal with it. I’d tell Iker too, but—”

“’s okay, Iker and I get each other, even if he’s more psycho than me.” David finally put his hands down on the bed and slid out of Raúl. They both winced and then Raúl flopped his arm over David’s back like maybe they didn’t have to, but they did. They were getting sticky and gross. And Raúl still smelled like the inside of an airplane. “Damn it. At least your people probably aren’t going to go that crazy when I go to Valencia next month.”

He got off Raúl and started crawling to the edge of the bed. Raúl slowly pulled himself up and then brushed some of the hair out of his face. “Where do you go for Christmas?”

“Huh?” David stopped with one foot off the bed. “Back to my hometown, why?”

“Because I just remembered…usually I see my parents but they just told me they’re going on a cruise this year to celebrate their anniversary, and…I thought maybe I could go with…” Raúl gestured.

It took a second for David to get it. And then he forgot all about work, Morientes, Valencia, the fucking shower. He grabbed Raúl, grinning, and pushed the other man down and kissed him. “You want to go see Tuilla? Really?”

Raúl blinked a couple times. Probably David was looking a little insane but whatever, Raúl knew better than that by now. Hopefully. “Yes?”

David grinned so hard that his face started to hurt. “You’re going to love it. I promise.”

After another moment, Raúl smiled. He put up his hand and touched the side of David’s face, and David kissed him again, and the shower was going to wait.