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The Safari Approach to Conflict Resolution

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“No,” Rafael said. He scratched at the side of his face, then shivered as a breeze blew up the bottoms of his track-pants. If he’d had time to plan this, he would’ve dressed for the weather.

If he’d had time to plan this, Wesley currently wouldn’t be banging on the car window and threatening to permanently derail any chance Rafael and Sylvie had of having more children, and Robin wouldn’t have his feet braced up against the rear window as he hung himself over the front seat and…what the hell was he doing? Was he trying to hotwire the car? Rafael moved around to the front, tripping on a rodent hole half-hidden in the grass along the way, and crouched down to look through the driver’s side window. Wesley’s invective got deeper into Rafael’s family history.

Robin’s head suddenly came up just as Rafael got close to the car. Then he slammed his fists into the window. It rattled a little but held. “Van der Vaart, when I get out of here, I will personally kick your ass to—”

“If there’s anything left of it once I get through with it,” Wesley snarled, still glowering at Rafael.

Wherever Rafael’s ass was going to end up, Robin never finished saying. Instead he twisted around and his knee jerked like he was aiming to hit the back of Wesley’s head. “Excuse me? I’m first, he’s my fucking friend—well, was—and—”

“So fucking what? You can’t put dibs on people like you can dessert, you fucking asshole.” Wesley smacked Robin’s knee. “Besides, you wouldn’t know what to do with him if somebody handed you a manual. Look at him, does he look terrified? No. That’s a sign you’re not doing it right.”

“Well, I don’t see him running away from you, Smurf!”

Here they went again. This was why Rafael hadn’t had time to plan this. This was why he had to hide in the goddamn janitor’s closet to call his wife, because these two sons of whores couldn’t fucking stop for one second and for some reason he was the one people always called to make them make up. Except they didn’t really make up, they just plastered bright smiles on their faces and then made him relay messages to each other even though they were all in the same room. Rafael was honored to play for his country, he really was, and he was willing to suffer a lot in return. But like hell was this included. They all might be Dutch but that didn’t mean they had to bicker.

It didn’t mean he had to be in the middle of it, anyway. “You’re both assholes,” he said, stuffing the car keys back in his jacket pocket.

That didn’t get their attention. Robin had crawled back into the back seat and had his head pressed nearly horizontally to the ceiling, probably for the sole reason that doing that allowed him to look down at Wesley. He was jabbing his finger in Wesley’s face and Wesley was doing that incredulous smile routine where he was two seconds from punching out someone. Locking them in the same small space was not a good idea. In fact, it was very likely going to end up in a double killing, and then where was the team going to be? They needed both of them.

If Van Basten had just decided to be the asshole they’d always heard he was when they were children, maybe that would’ve gotten taken care of at the Euros, and two years later they would’ve developed some replacements. But noooo, he’d delegated it and it’d come down to a stupid freekick. A freekick!

“‘You bitched at me for years about who got to be playmaker,’” Rafael muttered to himself in an imitation of Robin’s voice. He turned half away from the car and stared out at the savannah. It was really pretty, just like that guy at the hotel had said. “Yeah, well, at least that was still up in the air. What’s the point of arguing about a freekick that already happened?”

Too bad Rafael hadn’t gotten out here to look at the grasslands. No, he’d just been trying to get away from those morons for once, for five fucking minutes, and they had to follow him all the way into the car, demanding that he say who was right. If he didn’t answer in the first ten minutes, and in fact just walked away from it, didn’t that tell them?

Well, so much for the Real boys’ suggestions. They’d meant well—at least they cared that Rafael came back from internationals baggy-eyed and jumping at any sight of orange—but besides Raúl, they didn’t seem to understand that this wasn’t just some team bus spat. This was deadly serious. This could determine the World Cup. This couldn’t be any more stupid.

“You’re fucking idiots!” Rafael suddenly roared, pivoting back at the car.

They still weren’t listening to him. In fact, Robin had his arm jammed up against the window so Rafael couldn’t really see what was going on. He wasn’t sure where Wesley was. Maybe Robin really was trying to wring Wesley’s neck, like he kept saying he would.

For a couple seconds Rafael stood and wondered whether he really needed to be worried. Whether he wanted to be. But as time passed and Robin’s elbow just kept squeaking back and forth against the glass, Rafael did start to get nervous. “Robin? Robin, you can’t actually kill him.”

Robin suddenly dropped out of sight—no, wait, there was his back. He was leaning over the seat and Rafael still couldn’t see Wesley and oh, Jesus, they really were killing each other. They were and it was in Rafael’s rental and, and—and he was so fucking not getting blamed for this.

“Robin! Robin!” Rafael ran around to the other side of the car and tried to look in the window to find where Wesley was. He craned his head and just beneath Robin’s head he got a glimpse of a bald head. “Wesley! Robin, don’t kill him!”

A hand suddenly flew up towards Rafael. It came so fast that he forgot there was a window in the way and he ducked back. He lost his balance and fell on his ass on the ground. His foot kicked out automatically and hit the tire, and that hurt.

Murderous teammates. Right. Rafael threw out his arms and he managed to get the door handle with his right hand. He used that to drag himself up onto his knees; he banged on the window a few times, then feverishly jabbed his hand into his jacket for the keys. But his fingers got all tangled up in the fabric. One fingertip grazed the keyring and he stabbed his whole hand towards it, and only got a bunch more fabric. Swearing, Rafael glanced back up to see how bad it was.

It was—sort of weird that Wesley had his hands around Robin’s head, if Robin was trying to strangle him. Actually, Wesley had his back pressed against the window now and Rafael could see that Robin’s hands weren’t on Wesley’s neck. That was weird too.

Rafael stopped digging for the keys. He blinked a few times, then shuffled right a few centimeters. Then he shuffled back. Then he got up and climbed onto the car’s back end so he could see through the rear window. If his friends had been trying to kill each other, doing it by biting each other’s lips didn’t seem like it was going to work very well. Also, Robin was going to be pissed off about Wesley kinking his jacket zipper like that, and having those little plastic teeth scraped down your arms probably didn’t feel great either. Not that Robin was doing anything besides rattling Wesley’s head against the window, which Wesley actually seemed to be taking as encouragement.

“Okay.” The sound of his own voice made Rafael feel a little better. A little more grounded. A little like yes, he was confused, and yes, he completely had a right to be. He pushed himself off the rear window and sat with his legs hanging down the side of the car. “Okay. So you can get along, sort of. See, I knew it. If you two would just try, and…and Robin, Wes, I swear to God if this whole time this was just some fucked-up idea you two had of flirting, I’m going to—”

Bang. Somebody’s foot smacked into the rear window. It still had its shoe and sock on, as far as Rafael could tell under the track-pants bunched up around the ankle.

Rafael pinched his nose. “You know, you can’t really screw in the car. That’s almost as messy as killing each other. And this is my rental. And I’m not fucking cleaning up after you.”

“You son of a bitch!” Robin snarled inside the car. “Get your fucking head back do—oh God.”

Wesley wasn’t anywhere in sight again. Rafael stopped looking and put his head in his hands.

His phone rang. After a moment, Rafael took it out of his jacket—it came a lot easier than the car keys—and answered it. It was Gio.

*Where the hell did you three go?* Gio wanted to know.

“Out,” Rafael said. He stared across the savannah as the car started to gently rock under him. A pair of giraffes had wandered into view and that was really, really cool and Robin and Wesley were having sex in the car. The next time his Real teammates started talking about how crazy their lives were, Rafael was going to sock them. “Just for a drive, Gio. So we could talk. It wasn’t really working at the hotel, so I thought maybe a change of scene.”

*Okay.* Captaincy reasserted, Gio reverted to the nice, non-intervening, happy-to-also-delegate bastard he was. *Well, don’t be late for dinner.*

One of the giraffes was munching at the tops of some trees, but the other was staring straight at Rafael. It was chewing methodically on something and between that and the staring, he got the strong impression it knew exactly what was really going on.

“You are a fucking prick,” Wesley suddenly grunted, in a weird mix of surprise, envy and grudging admiration.

Rafael looked over. All he could see was Wesley, his clothes rucked up around his neck, sitting up and scratching at his bare chest. Then these really long legs came up and their knees clamped around Wesley, and Robin started moaning somewhere inside the car.

*What was that?* Gio said.

“They’re just bitching at each other,” Rafael sighed. “It’s winding down, I think they’ll be through in another couple of minutes, and then we’ll come back.”

Gio bought it. He said okay again and got off the phone, and then Rafael crawled back to the rear window. He hit the glass till they both looked at him, then pointed to his phone.

“You see? You see what you make me fucking do for you?” Rafael snapped. “That was Gio! I just covered your asses again! And are you fucking grateful?”

Wesley blinked rapidly, each hand gripping the underside of Robin’s thighs. He looked at Rafael funny, then turned back to Robin, who was rolling his eyes. Maybe not at Rafael; Wesley’s hands slid down Robin’s legs and stabbed into the dark thatch of hair surrounding Robin’s bobbing, erect cock, and Wesley’s bare ass started to bob just as much as he went back to fucking Robin. Robin started up with the moaning again, yanking Wesley down so he could leave long red scratches over the top of Wesley’s head.

“No, of course not.” Rafael twisted back around and put his elbows on his knees so he could massage his face. He stopped, put his phone away and then pressed his hands back into his face. “No, you’re just going to fuck and fuck and fuck, and I have to sit here because I’m such a nice guy…I wasn’t always this nice! And I can be just as much of a selfish asshole if I wanted to! I just don’t! Because I grew up! I grew up and I don’t fuck people in other people’s cars!”

That creaky whiny noise didn’t really register at first, mostly because Rafael was busy ranting. Then it stopped and he noticed it wasn’t there, and turned around. Robin had rolled down one of the windows and had his head out. His lip was ragged and swollen and he had a bruise on the side of his head. And he looked annoyed. “Rafa, are you done yet?”

Wesley rolled down the window on the other side. The nail marks on his head aside, he looked better than Robin. “Yeah, seriously, when you finish bitching you can always come in and have at Robin now that he’s fine with lying down and taking it.”

Rafael watched Robin stiffen and Wesley smirk. Then, just as Robin was about to duck back and go for Wesley, Rafael sighed. “You two could open the fucking windows this whole time?”

Both of them thought about that. Then Robin snaked out of the window. His track-pants weren’t pulled all the way up over his ass but he at least didn’t have one arm tangled up in his shirt. That slowed Wesley down. Just enough for Rafael to duck around the car to his side and get a head start on Robin.

The giraffes watched them run over the savannah.

* * *

Dirk came in with a slew of icepacks, then offered an understanding smile when Rafael could only thank him with a groan. “They’re not talking to each other—actually, it’s like they’re trying to even avoid looking at each other. But given what the past couple of days have been like, everybody thinks you’re a miracle-worker.”

“Miracle-workers don’t have grass in the places I’ve found it in the past couple minutes,” Rafael muttered. He rolled onto his stomach, hissed slowly as his body adjusted to the new aches, and then put his head back in the pillows.

Something cold touched his back. It went away as he arched, then came back and pressed down firmly. Then another icepack came down. Each one was freezing but after the first few seconds that felt great.

“Next time I’m not taking Raúl’s advice about this,” Rafael said eventually.

“Why not?” Dirk coughed. “I mean, I see you but at least it worked? And now you know how it works so maybe next time you can do it without the…the…”

Rafael filled him in.

For a few minutes they were both quiet. Then Dirk sat down on the bed by Rafael’s head. “Raúl told you to do this?”

“He suggested a bathroom without any sharp things in it, but I was in a hurry. Also said it wasn’t going to fix what was making them be assholes, but it’d make them stop for a while.” Rafael reached back, adjusted an icepack and then let his arm flop as soon as it wasn’t bending funny. “And that it wasn’t going to last more than a couple weeks. Unless I did it again.”

“And we’re not going to be in South Africa by then,” Dirk said. “So you can’t hope you’ll run into some lions next time.”

It hurt to lift his head. “That’s really what you’re thinking?”

“Well, it’s either that or think about who Raúl’s done this to,” Dirk pointed out.

After a moment of that, Rafael grunted and turned over. The icepacks slid off his back and were like wet rocks under him before he reluctantly dug them out. He fiddled with his waistband, then looked at Dirk. “Listen, thanks for the ice, but…”

“Need a hand?” Dirk looked like usual, placidly helpful.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re not so much Mr. Nice as waiting around for us to knock out each ot—”

Funny thing. Cold showers would take care of Rafael’s current problem but putting a bag of ice there like Dirk was doing didn’t really do the same thing. Made it bigger, if anything. Rafael finally finished thrashing around and collapsed with his head on Dirk’s knee.

“You haven’t been talking to Spanish people, have you?” Rafael mumbled.

“Just Pepe Reina,” Dirk said. He moved the ice a little. Then, humming under his breath, he shoved Rafael further back onto the bed. He took off his shoes and then got onto the bed himself. “Relax, all right? The Terrible Two have shut up for a while, so you might as well enjoy it.”

Rafael grinned. “Oh, I am completely going to,” he said, raising his arm towards the other man.

* * *

“What the hell were they doing in here?” Mark wrinkled up his nose.

“Just shut up and pass me the sponge,” Giovanni said. He gingerly climbed into the car’s backseat and began to spray down the upholstery. “I don’t want to know, I don’t need to know, I just want every clue that’d tell me erased from sight.”

The sponge wasn’t getting handed over. “But why are we—”

“Because if we made Rafa do it, he’d tell us why, and if we made anybody else do it, they’d ask him why. Give me the damn sponge.” Giovanni held out his hand.

Mark made another face, but he gave Giovanni the sponge. Then he went around to the other side and started scrubbing. Inside of twenty minutes they had the backseat sparkling clean.

“Good,” Giovanni said, looking it over. Then he shut the door and walked away with a sense of profound relief. Now he could start forgetting all about it.