aomakutu: (Roger/Mirka - So Hail to the King)
[personal profile] aomakutu
Title: Super, Thanks For Asking (1/6)

Author: aomakutu(DW)/Clo(LJ)
Rating: PG (future parts may be rated higher)
Pairing/Characters: (eventually) Roger Federer/Novak Djokovic, Robin Söderling/Juan Martin Del Potro, Roger Federer/Mirka Vavrinec, implied past Roger Federer/Andy Roddick. All the singles players from the 2009 World Tour Finals, plus some doubles players, some coaches and some RL girlfriends.
Word Count (this part): 20,292

Summary: Making the World Tour Finals doesn't make you a superhero. Except when it does.


Disclaimer: I don't own any tennis players, superpowers or anything worth suing for. Made with love.
Warnings: None/potential issues with small stuff catching on fire. Elements of wingfic (I know, I know; I'm so sorry) If you're okay with the general superness of say, the X-Men? You'll be fine. Though later parts may vary.
Author's Notes: So, after a day at the WTF last November, I turned to [profile] kindoftrouble and said thoughtfully "I kind of want to write fic where all the players wake up with superpowers." Not only did she not have me committed, she actually encouraged and bribed with Murray/Novak and then betaed every single draft. Which has been a lot of drafts. I'm not kidding. One of these days, I'll even tell her what Sir Robin's superpower is. ;-) [personal profile] idra provided more encouragement and Americanism advice; this wouldn't exist without them.

I promise, I swear on Roger Federer's shiny curls, I will do everything possible not to take eight months with the next part of this but likewise, I'm not saying it's going to be a weekly-update thing either. On the plus side, I promise that when parts do show up? They'll be long.

Posting to Dreamwidth because LJ can't handle the length. Comments welcomed here or on LJ. And so...











I: Monday 23rd November (a.m.)


7:31a.m.


The weirdest two days of Roger Federer's life begin on a Monday morning, when he wakes up thoroughly, head-to-foot, soaking wet.

For a moment before he opens his eyes, he can't work out why the sheets feel too heavy or why his face is numb where it's pressed to the pillow. It's only as he drags himself further out of sleep that he becomes aware of water creeping down both his ears, ticklish and cold and possibly breaking the law of gravity but most importantly, meaning that his bed is inexplicably wet.

He opens his eyes, has to blink away the drops beaded on his eyelashes. Shivers are chattering his teeth from the cold, his duvet twice as heavy wet and weighing him down until his breath hiccups on a flash of something like panic, can't breathe and he jerks upright, throwing dripping sheets back with a gasp. The ancient red Nike t-shirt he slept in is soaked dark, stuck to him like a second skin but barely warmed by his body heat, been wet long enough to leech it gone, and the next shiver scatters a shower of droplets from his hair – not that it makes a difference because everywhere they land is already saturated.

His first instinct is to look up. He half-expects the ceiling to be gone and their room open to the sky – he's not sure how; he's a heavy sleeper but that'd be pushing it - but he's met with smooth, solid white, as perfect as it'd been when he turned off the light last night – no, early this morning he remembers, a fire alarm dragging them all down to the lobby at 3am. He immediately looks for the sprinklers but the nearest one is across the room, above the dressing table which has not a drop on its varnished surface.

Not because of the fire alarm then. He lets his gaze track back across the ceiling noting the a faint glimmer of condensation on the paint but no water marks or holes, nothing to suggest a torrent from a burst pipe overhead. Another possibility suggests itself with a spatter of rain against the windows, but when he looks they're firmly shut against the dire weather and not so much as a crack in the glass.

He stares blankly out at the dark rain clouds, at a loss. A trickle of water runs down his forehead to drip forlornly off the end of his nose.

Only a second of confusion passes before it registers that he's still shivering. He should move, get warm before he catches a chill if he hasn't already from his mattress apparently spontaneously deciding to be a swimming pool overnight, water seeping up from the dent his weight makes in the mattress so he's sitting in an inch of cool water. As he shifts, there's a sad spluplunk as a spring gives up the fight. No one's using this mattress again, though at least with the money the hotel will be making from hosting them all, he's pretty sure they can afford to replace it. Ten times over if it comes to that. He wonders how many other rooms have had the same problem-

Which is the moment realisation dawns and he freezes halfway off the bed, one foot on the wet floor; if it's not an accident and instinct tells him it can't be, no visible signs of a watery disaster – then, it's a prank.

He fights to quell his knee-jerk reaction to launch himself from the bed and go after whoever did this with a spare racquet and an intent to kill; he's been in some fairly bizarre situations before and experience has taught him compensation (or better yet, revenge) is best gained by rationality. Yes this is London, with all that implies about the water in the air and on the ground and a few days ago during the photoshoot in his hair, but he's drawing a very clear line at his hotel room. In his bed. There are accidents – understandable - and there are pranks – sometimes worth it and he's done his fair share - and then there's attempting to make his bed into a fishtank. Okay so there's an Aquarium underneath the hotel but he's pretty sure the small print when he checked into the room didn't mention an all-inclusive waiver.

He's wet, tired because the fire alarm dragging them downstairs with babies in tow last night ranked about four on his list of Five Worst Nights Ever, and as he stares in bemusement at the ruined bed, he realises there's no way they can stay in this room. Anger swells up from beneath the confusion, tight in his chest and more warming than dry clothes because his morning stretches before him waiting to be filled with shouting and packing and, no doubt, embarrassingly frizzy hair because he's not going to find a hair-dryer before they can sort this.

That makes the decision for him; fuck the moral highground because he's all for a prank, but his hair is off-limits, jokes around the locker room about his obsessive conditioning routine enough to spread the message he's always thought but now, now someone is going to suffer. He glares around for a candidate because if this is a joke then Djokovic or perhaps Marat – he wouldn't put it past the Russian to fly in specially to pull this off - is probably ready to fall out of the wardrobe laughing any moment now.

He only finds Mirka, coming out the bathroom with a towel in each hand. “Roger!” She sounds startled to see him sitting up. “Sorry, I was about to wake you.”

She walks across to the bed and it's only when she's a few feet away that Roger realises she's wet too, hair hanging in dripping tangles while the grey t-shirt she slept in clings to every curve in a way that's- suggestive. He takes the proffered towel quickly to hide his blush and has to remind himself, bigger problems here, unless-

“Was this you?” he asks with a raised eyebrow toward her shirt and she pauses in towelling her hair to give him a wide-eyed look of confusion, until he lets his gaze drop down, just enough. Confusion turns immediately to bright-red flush as she glances down at herself, and back at Roger with glare that he'd flinch from if he wasn't too angrily wet to care.

Roger. Of all the times...! No, I woke up like this. What, you thought I'd empty the bathtub over the bed for that?” Roll of her eyes that even he can read as men! and she turns away, leaving him to lever himself out of the mini-swimming pool. “I'm calling the concierge,” she says over her shoulder as she walks around the sadly-oozing bed to reach the phone on her nightstand. “Maybe the sprinklers went off because of the fire alarm last night, though I can't see how we'd sleep through it.”

“It doesn't look like it was sprinklers.” Roger looks dismally down at his t-shirt and sweatpants, the former clinging wetly to every inch of skin while the latter is already adding to the squelching ruin of the carpet. Water dripping from his hair to run down his neck is somehow even colder than the rest of him and he shivers at the feel, like slimy fingers running down his spine.

More worrying is that his head's oddly light and fizzy, probably a product of sleeping while drenched for who-knows-how-long and he thinks bitterly that if that chill materialises then he'll definitely be chasing someone with a racquet. Maybe two. This was hardly the way he planned to wake up any day of this week in London, angry and because he knows this will ruin their day, bitterly miserable-

-on which thought he's away from the bed and squelched halfway across to the double cot in the corner, stomach twisting with guilty anxiety until Mirka glances up from dialling with the receiver to her ear and says “They're fine, Roger! Dry as the Sahara. You really think they'd have let us sleep through them getting wet?”

“Oh.” Roger stops, feeling stupid on top of everything else. It occurs to him with a twisting ache in his chest that she'd checked the babies and left him sleeping in the wet bed, that he should snap something bitter about her concern for his health but the words don't come, because he knows he probably would've done the same.

He turns away from the crib with an effort, not wanting to look as though he doubts her word. Through the window to his right – oh, Mirka must've opened the curtains to see by, because yes, even half-asleep and furious he gets that turning the lights on in a waterlogged room could be stupid – he can see a strip of ominous grey clouds over Big Ben, rain gusting against the glass in sharp spatters and it's so reflective of his mood that he feels like yanking the curtains shut to block it out before, for preference, curling up on a dry bed for another hour.

However, since closing the curtains will only make the room so dark he'll probably fall over his wet feet onto the wet carpet in a sprawl of helpless wet rage, and his bed is anything but comfortable right now, he turns towards the wardrobe in hope that at least some of his clothes have escaped the inexplicable soaking.

“I'll get changed before the concierge comes up. You might want to put on a dry t-shirt too,” he adds and ducks quickly behind the wardrobe door to escape Mirka's death-glare as she says icily into the phone, “Hello? Yes, there's a slight- no, make that a large problem with Mr Federer's room and please, I wish you to sort it out immediately.”


8:07a.m.

After the concierge has finished grovelling, after they've moved their clothes, tennis equipment (Roger's), jewellery (Mirka's), and daughters (one or the other's depending on how irritable they're being on any particular day) down the hall to a new, smaller (“I'm terribly sorry we only had the one suite-” “Whatever, as long as there's a bed”) room and after Mirka's finally settled in with the grizzling twins, Roger starts to mumble an excuse about asking around. It's mostly to get away before the slow burn of Mirka's annoyance hits critical but also a little out of curiosity; the concierge swore blind that they'd had no other complaints regarding flooding and the alarm last night hadn't come from their suite so there was no reason for the sprinklers to glitch. Adding to Roger's prank theory, there was no sign that the sprinklers had been activated- they were dry, as was everything outside a metre radius from the bed but the concierge hadn't been able to suggest an alternative explanation around his dismayed grovelling.

He also swore blind that no one could've broken into the room in any way to do it on purpose and wouldn't budge no matter how Roger hinted. Which was probably true – it was more than the man's job was worth to give anyone a chance to break into a player's room - but there was no other obvious explanation, it shouldn't be dismissed so offhand and Roger spent the rest of the conversation grinding his teeth on a variety of sharp remarks.

Just as he was wondering of how best to cut short the man's third rambling apology, Mirka beat him to it with a glance out at the weather and a remark, with a tone that dripped acid, that the only explanation left then was a rain-cloud had got lost; did they have insurance for that? Flustered as he was, concierges of five-star hotels weren't chosen for being completely oblivious and with a hasty snap of orders, the man summoned what seemed like a small army of porters to transport their luggage several doors down the hall to a new room. (Roger was happy to note that, despite being a third of the size of their suite, it had an identically-oversized comfortable bed.)

Unfortunately Charlene chose the moment the door closed on the concierge's ashen face to start her pathetic whimpering, the kind Roger suspects she does deliberately because she knows it drives them into a frenzy of desperation to give her whatever she wants; he'd care more that his daughter's apparently a manipulative evil genius, except all he wants is to soothe her obvious misery. As always Myla was barely a breath behind and Roger tried to make his excuses over the sound, realising too late that he was knotting his fingers in his hair with obvious, low-grade panic. When Mirka pointed towards the door and said “Out,” as he was only halfway through his stumbling argument, he'd gone with nothing but relief.

Now he's standing outside the door next to his original suite, knocking below the brass number 407 with a firm rap of his knuckles. He doesn't actually know whose room it is; they'd all arrived on different days and although they've passed each other in corridors and the bar, arranged practices and shared the boat trips downriver to the O2, he only knows that Rafa's at the far end of the hall – they'd laughed about it during the photo shoot, suggestion of tournament officials stepping in to keep the one and two separated, as if they'd care at this point - and the doubles teams are on the floor below.

His idle bet with himself on it being Djokovic's room - because it's shaping up to be one of those days, it just is - is lost when the door swings back to reveal Fernando Verdasco's broad smile. He's still in creased black sweats and the complimentary hotel robe, hair sticking up at gravity-defying angles from sleep but he bounces energetically on his toes in a way that suggests he's been up for a while, that or he's been eating the instant coffee straight from the little packets.

It takes every scrap of willpower Roger still has after the concierge's grovelling not to flinch from the almost-tangible wave of cheerfulness. Morning people get to him on the best of days and today is definitely not shaping up to make that list.

“Buenos días Roger!”

“Buenos días Fernando,” Roger replies, wincing inwardly at his own pronunciation. Competence in a fifth language is asking too much this early in the morning. “Sorry to bother you. This may sound a strange question but... is your room dry?”

Fernando's brow furrows. For a moment Roger thinks he's not been understood, knowing Fernando's English is shaky and he's mentally rephrasing the question when the Spaniard says, “Wet? Uh. Maybe bathroom? I just took shower.”

“No that's not-” Roger decides mid-sentence that it's not worth it, Fernando's frown deepening and anyway, if he'd woken up in a mattress that was ninety percent water he wouldn't be looking so cheerful. “Never mind. My room flooded this morning is all. It was strange so I wanted to see if anyone else had anything... odd happen.”

With a shrug, Fernando's frown is tossed aside in favour of the smile again. “Odd?! No. Is a beautiful morning. Sorry about your room but is fine, no?”

“Of course,” Roger says agreeably and decides maybe there's something to this smiling-in-the-morning because just looking at Fernando's cheerful face is making him feel lighter.

And of course it is fine, it's not a bad day at all really, because they have a new room now and no one else has a problem and Fernando's good mood is infectious. Better than fine in fact; it's a good morning when he's back at number one in the world and in this beautiful old hotel, and now he's thinking about it, Big Ben had been rather stunning against the dramatic clouds, rain or not. How could he forget that he loves London? Of course it's fine.

Your head hurts though, whispers a snide thought at the back of his mind. Also, Mirka's cranky and you have to re-unpack all your things and you had no sleep and-

Viciously he squashes the worry, smiling instead in an echo of Fernando's grin. Who cares about a wet room? It's all fine. “It's fine! Sorry again to bother you.”

Fernando's staring at him with an odd tilt to his smile, edging on confusion, but Roger's still riding the wave of lightness and can't bring himself to care how odd he might seem, the corridor blurring pleasantly around the edges in a way that makes him want to laugh. Why had he been so stressed since he woke up when really, there was nothing wrong? He gives the Spaniard a final grin and a nod, before he turns to head back to his room.

De nada” he hears Fernando murmur slowly behind him, then there's the heavy click of his door closing. Roger makes it another three steps back towards his new room when a thought pierces his happy glow that even if Fernando is fine, maybe the person on the other side of his old suite isn't.

He stands uncertainly for a moment, hovering because everything is wonderful. Really. It's no big deal that he's fighting an urge to brace himself against the wall, hair still curling damply at the back of his neck. No one could have a problem today.

But perhaps...it couldn't hurt to double-check.

This time his day holds true to form. The last spark of contentment is wiped out when he's greeted at the door to room 403 by Djokovic, wearing clothes that have clearly been thrown on in a hurry and a startled, slightly-guilty expression beneath the glasses that sit slightly askew across his nose.

It's a look he wears far too often around Roger – the guilt, not the crooked glasses because even Roger's noticed that he's impossibly vain about wearing them - probably because he knows how much it annoys the Swiss; to look guilty, he must've been doing something to merit it. No doubt perfecting his Roger-impression, or throwing darts at his picture tacked the wall.

Roger clings to his indignation over the thought to ignore the niggling suggestion of what else the Serb might've been doing to look guilty this early in the morning, which is none of his business and he should- yes. Stop thinking now. Silently thanking his childhood therapist for a poker-face that he prides himself on, he manages a “Good morning Novak!” that must at least be passable because Djokovic's wary look eases to a polite smile.

“Morning Roger. You okay?”

“Yes. I just wanted-” Roger hesitates; Fernando had been so sure that everything was fine that it seems absurd to ask the question. Only the thought of how strange it would look to stammer out an excuse and walk off at this point makes him stumble out, “My room flooded this morning- I mean, I woke up and the bed was soaking. Is your room okay?”

Djokovic's smile twitches just a shade too close to a smirk. Roger fights hard to keep his indignation from showing, because his head still feels full of the fizzy-sherbet lightness and his hair still curls damply against his neck and it's still not funny; yes, so they're not the best of friends but he wouldn't laugh at Djokovic if their roles were reversed.

...As attempts to lie to himself go, he reflects, that wasn't his best effort. He contents himself with a slight glare, because there's no paparazzi to document the loss of self-control and the Serb is too busy grinning to notice anyway.

“You woke up,” says Djokovic slowly as if to be certain he's got it right, slow drawl of words around the accent, “and your bed was wet?”

“Yes- no! That's not- I didn't wet the bed!”

Roger snaps it out in outrage without running the sentence through the filter of his brain first and closes his mouth too late, Djokovic already leaning against the door frame for support as he bursts into laughter hard enough that the hand pressed to his mouth fails to muffle his hiccuping gasps for air. Flushing with humiliation, Roger seriously contemplates running back to Mirka because the other option is starting a fight he'd probably lose, can count the times that he's hit out in anger on the fingers of one hand but no, he's not a child and he won't run away from this man he doesn't even like, damn Djokovic for making him consider it.

He takes a deep breath to steady his voice to calm, covering the effort with a genuinely startled glance at the ceiling when there's a rumble like thunder from outside. Dark clouds out the window aside, he hadn't thought the weather report was so bad. Not that it matters with an indoor tournament and anyway, they're in England. Nothing the weather does should surprise him anymore.

He looks back at Djokovic who, even if he'd so much as twitched at the thunder, has his smirk firmly back in place. Maybe, Roger thinks with sudden suspicion, this is all a prank and the Serb is waiting for the penny to drop...but no, looked at rationally he can't believe Djokovic would do something so inexplicable. Djokovic's pranks have forethought, they make statements. If Roger had woken up to a bed wrapped in gold tissue paper or perhaps with all the walls coated in golden glitter, he'd have been knocking on Djokovic's door in seconds; the Serb's idly remarks about the carat rating of his Wimbledon outfit still sting months later.

Djokovic's prank or not, irritation drives his words out with a razor edge of which he's a little ashamed because really, he can be more mature than this. “We think the sprinklers went off in the night,” he says, watching Djokovic closely but there's not a flicker of guilt or admission in the grin. Definitely not responsible then, and Roger lets go of a tension he hadn't known he was holding onto. “I just wanted to see if anyone else had any problems, that is all.”

Djokovic's eyes are still bright with amusement as he shakes his head. “No,” he says and even his voice wobbles with laughter. “No problems with my room. Sorry.”

Only the manners Roger's had beaten into him by years of sports therapy and press overreactions stop him muttering whatever in response to the apology. Instead he nods, stiffly, and is turning to leave with relief when the part of his mind that makes snide remarks when he's trying to keep a straight face in interviews, and urges him to smash racquets on bad days, that part which he mostly tries to ignore, says that was a bit odd.

What, he questions his own knee-jerk concern but he's realising almost instantly; the quirk to Djokovic's tone as he said room. No problems with my room. As if there was a problem with something else, maybe, and he'd been relieved Roger wasn't there to ask about that instead. Despite his common sense screaming at him just to leave before the Serb's smug grin pushes him a step too far after the dismal morning he's been having, he turns back to find Djokovic hasn't moved but the half-wary guilt expression is back and it's that which decides him.

“Are you okay?” Impulse question slipping out, not how Roger was planning to phrase it at all but from the wide-eyed shock flickering across the Serb's face he knows he's got it right. “You seem...”

His search for the word and the protest poised ready on Djokovic's lips are both cut short when the click of a door opening down the corridor draws both their stares, half-guilty to be caught in a moment of concern. There's a long pause before Juan Martin pokes his head cautiously out into the hallway to glance both ways, only to startle back when he sees them watching.

“Sorry,” he mumbles and ducks back inside.

Which is- well, weird because it's not as if they're doing anything more embarrassing than talking. Roger's brain helpfully flashes up an image of what they maybe could've been doing to make Juan Martin flush which he squashes immediately because this is Djokovic and regardless of Mirka's remarks about pulling pigtails in the playground, that's a ridiculous notion.

Oh and also, I'm married he adds as an afterthought, which does nothing to cool the hot flush to his cheeks as he hurries the three-door-length down to Juan Martin's room. It only occurs to him when he reaches it that he doesn't know why he wanted to catch the Argentine or indeed, why it was worth running. Except, well, weird and he's beginning to chalk too many things up in that column today.

He only registers that Djokovic has followed him when a hand shoves past his shoulder to stop Juan Martin closing the door all the way. Roger had been about to do the same thing but he turns to give Djokovic a frosty glare anyway; it is, after all, rather rude. Djokovic catches the look, hitches a shoulder in a half-shrug that asks what was I supposed to do?.

And he doesn't take his hand away to let the door close.

“Sorry Juan Martin,” Roger says apologetically when the Argentine's face appears crammed into the few inches of space between door and wall, meaning both Djokovic's actions and the interruption. He fumbles for an excuse, is relieved to find an easy one waiting. “I wanted to ask if your room was okay? Mine flooded.”

Djokovic makes a muted sound, no doubt a stifled laugh. “He woke up in a wet bed.”

“I did not wet-!” Roger cuts the protest off this time, tone verging on shrill which only makes Djokovic's grin widen. “I-” Roger starts to snap before remembering on the verge of genuine anger that they have an unwilling audience of one. He looks back at Juan Martin guiltily, second apology in as many minutes ready but he's startled into forgetting it by the tight, miserable expression on the Argentine's face as he peers through the tiny gap left by the mostly-closed door.

Now that Roger's not completely distracted by wanting to grind Djokovic's smirk into the carpet, it's suddenly very obvious that Juan Martin doesn't want them to see inside his room.

“So my room flooded,” he repeats slowly, wishing with a flicker of irritation that Djokovic would stop breathing hotly down his neck. “Could we... see your room maybe? Check for drips, you know. Puddles.”

“No.”

Short and too-fast, probably the rudest response the polite Argentine's given in his life; his immediate blush says that he knows it, too. “Sorry,” he mumbles quieter. “I mean, is messy. Too messy. Sorry.”

“Who cares about mess?” Djokovic sounds disarmingly cheerful, suspiciously so and sure enough when Roger flicks his eyes down, the Serb's hand is flattening against the door with a clear intent to push. It's so unbelievably rude to force their way into a fellow-player's room, unheard of really, that Roger's uncomfortable surge of guilt nearly has him pushing Djokovic away, risking the resulting fight for Juan Martin's sake because he obviously doesn't want company.

But on the other hand he rationalises, noting the Argentine's red-rimmed eyes and ashy pallor, clearly there's something wrong. An intervention, that's what this was. Fine then, a well-intentioned intrusion and he reaches out to gently push on the door with his hand beside Djokovic's.

Except when he glances down to make sure their fingers don't touch, he sees- no, he can't have. Flinches back on automatic though, blinks rapidly because he hasn't lost enough sleep to be hallucinating surely but-

-but he'd swear Djokovic's wrist just stretched like taffy or elastic, at least two inches which is pushing the limit of what he could write off as a trick of the light, though his brain is scrabbling to rationalise; lack of sleep, a rough morning, his irritation at Djokovic's complete disregard for personal space. Anything. Because he couldn't have actually seen-

“No, don't!”

Juan Martin's protest is soft, more a plea than a demand and it snaps Roger back to the fact they're both pushing on the Argentine's door. About to step back numbly, start to form the conversation opener that will lead to “Novak, have you been eating elastic bands in training perhaps?” he catches the instant defeat flashes across Juan Martin's expression and is quick enough to rock his weight back onto his heels to catch himself from falling.

Djokovic, typically, is a hair too slow to catch himself before the door creaks open and he stumbles, all gawky limbs and warmth into Roger's back. “Careful!” Roger starts the protest with an indignant glance back but pauses, caught mid-annoyance by the Serb's wide-eyed stare at a point past him.

At Juan Martin.

Roger turns, takes a second to process what he's seeing and then a full minute of ground-dropping-beneath-his-feet numb shock to get from confusion (is that really...?) to disbelief (they're fake?) to envy (I wonder if he can actually...) before he manages, softly, “Oh.”

“Nrgk,” Djokovic adds from beside him, either retreating into Serbian or having lost the ability to form vowel sounds. Absently, he reaches up to remove his glasses, rubs them clean on the hem of his t-shirt and pushes them back on as if smudges of dirt could be to blame, which they clearly aren't when last Roger checked he personally was at twenty-twenty and as much as he wishes otherwise now, he can see them too. “Wh...”

Standing back from the door and hunched uncomfortably over to fit into the small hallway Juan Martin stares at them, hazel eyes filled with misery – which must, without question, be because reaching some foot-and-half above his already-considerable height, pale tawny-coloured wings arch and fold down to just miss brushing the ceiling. The entire doorway behind the Argentine seems filled with a mass of gold and brown feathers, inexplicable and- beautiful. Roger lets his transfixed stare drift from ceiling-height to floor; the long feathers at the bottom – pinions? Would the terms for bird-wings apply to people-wings? - are a bare inch off the ground.

Those, the practical side of him observes, are not going to be easy to hide on a tennis court.

“Mgnh,” Djokovic groans. He sounds, if anything, envious. Roger's not going to admit he shares the somewhat-stunned sentiment though and really, by now it's quite clear that Something Is Not Right which means it's hardly the time to get distracted.

Even if the world number five tennis player is standing in front of them complete with nine-foot wingspan.

“I think,” he says carefully, “We should get everyone together and perhaps discuss exactly what is going on.”


8:45am

It's easier than Roger expects to gather the top eight (nine with one missing, but the lack of Andy's deadpan comments during the photoshoot had been like missing a limb so he skips past that thought quickly) tennis players into Juan Martin's room.

Robin Söderling comes without question; he's been almost mute with obvious nerves since arriving so his obedience isn't a surprise but his restless fidgeting and too-quick smile is enough to weird Roger out until they reach the room and he can let the nine-foot wings be the perfect distraction. Djokovic drags in Andy Murray who barely glances up from his iPhone to remark “Wow,” at the newly-winged Argentine; Nikolay comes along with laconic curiosity and a reminder from his wife not to forget his practice time, while Fernando says no so firmly to Roger on his attempt that he's too embarrassed to try again.

He sends Djokovic, who doesn't seem to care if the players want to come not, or even if they'd been heading down for breakfast; he simply drags them, bodily if necessary but mostly by sheer force of the excitement that he's practically vibrating with, bouncing from room to room as if it's all some marvellous joke staged for his entertainment. Rafa didn't answer Roger's knock ten minutes ago but having shoved a frowning Fernando through the door, Djokovic had demanded “Where's Nadal?” and ducked out again before anyone could answer.

While they wait Roger perches uncomfortably on the edge of the desk by the dark flatscreen, absently creasing a leaflet advertising the London Eye into a fan to give his nervous fingers something to do because the silence is almost oppressive, Juan Martin's wings like an elephant in the room that everyone wants to comment on but no one wants to be the first to mention. Nikolay at least looks relaxed; he'd taken one of the overstuffed armchairs by the window and appears to be halfway back to sleep, in stark contrast to Fernando who's perched on the arm of the other chair as if poised to run. Roger had tried to say something kind when he was dragged in by Djokovic but Fernando's glare cut him off like a sucker punch and he'd retreated to lean on the desk, feeling oddly winded.

He'd blamed it on the chill that he was sure he'd caught now, headache starting behind his temples (but he had to admit that could equally be down to the stressful morning. He'd thought longingly of painkillers and coffee, both out of reach until they'd done something to deal with this ridiculous situation, and been briefly thankful that he wasn't scheduled to play today. And perhaps not tomorrow either if news about Juan Martin escaped to the press but that's worst-case-scenario-ing too soon. He hopes).

Slightly apart from them all, leaning against the wall by the door, Murray's inexplicably still engrossed in some kind of game on his iPhone. Roger wonders if he's sleepwalking to be able to ignore Juan Martin in all his feathered glory in front of them all.

The Argentine had claimed the bed with its tangled mess of sheets and blankets, by unspoken right of it being his room and also the fact that he has to spread his wings slightly to sit cross-legged on the mattress and they take up most of the bed-width. Somehow Robin's found a corner to squeeze in, one arm curled around his drawn-up knees as if trying to encroach as little as possible but still, eyeing the arc of gold feathers nearest him as if he'd very much like to touch them.

Roger shudders at the thought; once over his initial envy, it'd dawned that the wings are clearly growing from Juan Martin's back – he's wearing only crumpled pyjama pants, obviously unable to fit into any kind of t-shirt – and for all his misery they seem to work like any other limb, one folding back tighter to give Robin more room when he sat down. Who knows what it would feel like to Juan Martin if they were touched? The skin between Roger's shoulder-blades crawls with shivers at the thought, imagining what it would be like to have wings, unfurling to catch a breeze like the best kind of hang gliding because there'd be nothing between him and the sky... he can't deny it has its appeal, the thought of stepping from the hotel roof and soaring up to see London roll out beneath him, silver-ribbon of the Thames curling around buildings like doll's houses and all the people tiny ant-sized specks below.

But awe aside, feathers growing from skin is still creepy and Juan Martin's all height and the weight that comes with that; it's doubtful he could get far off the ground. All things considered, Roger prefers waking up soaking wet this morning to being turned half-bird.

As for Djokovic and the moment at the door, he hasn't mentioned the stretching to anyone yet, including the Serb. It's too odd, no idea how to even begin that conversation and there's always a chance his tired eyes were playing tricks on him, that Juan Martin's the only one with an actual problem.

Not that that's true of course, because sooner rather than later he's going to have to walk out on court to play tennis and then it'll be everyone's problem.

“Do they hurt?”

Despite the softness of Robin's voice, the question drops into the silence like a cannonball in water. Instantly everyone's attention is openly on Juan Martin instead of focused in stolen glances. Robin, however, is looking at him with a small smile, cautiously sympathetic and there's nothing like revulsion in his eyes when he reaches out to stroke a hesitant fingertip along the feathers.

In fact he looks- awed. Suddenly Roger feels guilty for the way they've been tiptoeing around the Argentine like he's a dangerous animal that might be angered by attention, instead of thinking to worry if he was okay after growing two new limbs overnight.

“Not-not now.” Flushed under the weight of five stares, Juan Martin's watching Robin's face as if by focusing on the one he can pretend he doesn't have an audience. “Last night... some. I thought maybe, go to hospital but then feathers and...” His shrug rustles the feathers with a soft sound, like long grass in a breeze but Roger barely hears, doesn't think anyone does because except maybe for Robin they're all lost in their own variations of thank god it wasn't me. His inadvertent glance sideways to avoid seeing Juan Martin's misery finds Andy Murray staring at his phone with something like agony twisting his features and feels it echo in his own horrified reaction, wonders why the Argentine didn't come to any of them for help. His coach even, except Juan Martin had shrugged off Roger's query as to whether his team knew with a mumbled,

“They sleep late.” As if that explained anything.

Would I have gone for help? he wonders and knows that no, he would've grown wings, beak and claws and probably tentacles before so much as considering going to another player, locking the door and hoping that they'd be gone in the morning. But then, he has Mirka who at the first sign of feathers would override his protests by Googling the world's premier wing-removal expert and having them flown in while simultaneously arguing with the ATP over the rules on interspecies tennis matches, just in case; he doesn't have to override the natural independence of the tennis player urging him to Do It All Himself because she just gets on with being efficient while he sulks uselessly in a corner.

Someone should've been keeping an eye on Juan Martin in the same way. And if there was no one to take the job then they all should've taken responsibility instead of gawking at him when it was too late. We're the top tennis players in the entire world, he thinks irritably. We should be better than this.

A sharp clatter of hail against the window behind closed curtains – all the better to keep prying photographers away, four floors up hardly a barrier to the British press – makes them all flinch, except Juan Martin whose wings snap out as if his instinctive reaction, now, is to take off.

Unfortunately as palatial as their rooms are, they were certainly not designed for giant wings (Roger wonders what response he'd get if he wrote that on a comment card) and the bedside lamp is knocked flying, hitting the wall with the harsh shatter of ceramic.

“Sorry!” Juan Martin hunches in on himself as if he can hide by curling into a ball, knees drawn up defensively to his chest and wings folding in to form an umbrella of tight-packed feathers. He looks about to cry until Robin shuffles across the bed to put an arm around him. When the Swede leans in to whisper something only Juan Martin can hear, Roger glances uncomfortably down at the hideously-patterned carpet because he suddenly feels like he's intruding on a private moment, not to mention his guilt at the stomach-cramping relief of it not being him.

From his chair beside the now-apparently-sleeping Nikolay (the Russian hadn't so much as twitched at the smashing of the lamp; Roger envies him) Fernando asks cautiously, “No one else feel... wings?”

“No,” Roger says and is about to segue into the topic of non-wing-related-weirdness anyone might have noticed when the door's flung open – impressive considering the doors here are solid oak and take both hands to budge – and Djokovic comes bouncing in on the balls of his feet, wearing a Cheshire Cat grin as he tosses the keycard in the vague direction of the desk. It bounces off Roger's shoe and he bends to pick it up, slipping it into his jeans pocket for safekeeping with a frown at the Serb who doesn't seem to notice, stepping aside to reveal a Rafa who looks almost as miserable as Juan Martin.

He's standing awkwardly, head hanging and bare shoulders gleaming with sweat despite being shirtless in the cool November air, clad only in grey sweatpants that have what looks like black smudges of paint down the sides. There's almost a breathless expectation in the room as they all wait for him to notice Juan Martin but he doesn't so much as glance up.

“You will not believe this.” Djokovic announces it as if he knows the most brilliant secret in the world and it's fizzing beneath his skin, desperate to get out. He glances around before his eyes and grin settle on Roger. “Roger, come here.”

“No,” Roger returns and determinedly ignores the petulance in his own tone. “Not until you stop dancing and explain.”

With a theatrical sigh (drama queen Roger's snide inner voice comments) Djokovic makes the universal gesture for go ahead to Rafa, who looks at him pleadingly. The Serb just raises an eyebrow and, feet shuffling reluctantly on every step, Rafa crosses the room to Roger.

“Sorry,” he mumbles and reaches out to touch a fingertip to the much-screwed leaflet in Roger's hand. For a long, bemused (but hardly concerned; Rafa's usually about as threatening as a not-especially-bright puppy) second Roger thinks nothing will happen, until-

“Fuck!” he shouts in English as the leaflet bursts into hot, orange flames that sear his fingers before he can drop it, hurriedly stamping it out against the carpet before it can spread. Smoke drifts up in lazy curls from the charred, blackened shreds; poor Juan Martin's definitely getting a bill for room repairs when he leaves. “Rafa!” Roger snaps, examining a stinging blister already forming on his right palm, “You could have simply said.”

“I have blisters,” Djokovic says before the Spaniard can reply. “I touch his wrist. It works both ways.” When Roger looks at Rafa the Spaniard nods forlornly; with his head hanging and shoulders hunched defensively, he looks like a schoolboy being told off. Although, with his bare chest and rumpled sweatpants (Roger realises with a jolt that the black smudges are burn marks made by careless fingers) perhaps only a schoolboy on steroids.

“When I sleep, I burn my bed” he admits, so quiet and woebegone that Roger wonders awkwardly if he should hug him like Robin had Juan Martin but the blisters burning fiercely on his hands give him a relieved excuse not to, afraid of what else might catch fire. “Set off alarm. Sorry.”

”You set off that fire alarm?” Roger thinks of the exhausting hour it took to resettle the babies, of standing in the lobby trying to pretend he wasn't wearing Mirka's too-small jacket because he'd grabbed the wrong one in the haze of sleep, of waking up soaking wet this morning possibly because of the resulting sprinkler fault but Rafa looks as small and worried as anyone who's six foot of solid muscle possibly can and Roger can't manage so much as a frown. “It's okay. Not your fault.”

Robin speaks up from the bed, sounding surprisingly sympathetic when he'd made his feelings – or lack of them – for Rafa obvious more than once. “What did you say to hotel?”

“I say scented candle-” Rafa starts, glancing around to see who asked and then he catches sight of Juan Martin. His eyes go wide. “Ángel caído!”

“No!” Roger and Fernando speak together, Roger guessing at the translation and Fernando clearly understanding completely, off his chair and half a step toward them, shaking his head. Over on the bed Juan Martin turns his face into the curve of Robin's shoulder, now mostly wrapped around the Swede and Roger tries to remember if he's ever seen them together before, practising or just hanging out, and can't. Robin keeps so much to himself, everyone held at arm's length with rare smiles while Juan Martin is treated almost as the shy, six-and-a-half-foot pet of the locker room; as far as Roger knows, they've rarely crossed paths.

Still, in unusual circumstances...

“It's just Juan Martin” he says, gently because Rafa's still staring with wide eyes and a fine trembling to his lower lip as if he's unsure whether to cry or grab for the nearest sharp object. “There's something... strange going on.”

“Is there a trophy for Most Obvious Player of the Year?” Djokovic, voice laced with bitter sarcasm and Roger's breath hisses in through his teeth as he tries to hold onto his temper. “You just won, Roger. Add it to the cabinet, or don't you have any room left?”

Look-!”

“Killing each other won't help,” says Murray loudly, still without glancing up from his iPhone. Roger flinches; he'd forgotten the Brit was even there and the pause that follows gives him a chance to firmly squash his anger down, into a hot, tight knot that he'll take out on in practise later. He's almost disappointed that he's not playing Djokovic today.

Although, considering... perhaps that's for the best.

“Look,” he repeats and this time it comes out almost calm. “Does anyone have any idea why this is going on?”

“What is going on?” Robin again, now part of the half-cocoon Juan Martin's made with his wings and seemingly unfazed by the brush of feathers. “Exactly? Wings, fire...”

“Dj-Novak can stretch,” Roger jumps in before the Serb can open his mouth and allows himself a satisfied, inner smile when he gets a glare because he's pretty sure that's a winning point for him.

“Stretch how?” asks Robin. “Like gum?”

“Gum?!” Djokovic turns his outrage from Roger to the Swede, hands spread wide in disbelief and mouth shaping the word as though he's too disgusted to let it touch his teeth. “Gum?!”

“Gum stretches,” Roger points in a deceptively mild tone and enjoys Djokovic's glare until he notices that, while it's quick and furious, it's shadowed by a twist to his mouth as though he's trying to hide his hurt. There's a twinge of guilt, of maybe it's time we stopped provoking each other before it gets out of hand but it's forgotten in a second at a blur of motion across his vision and a yelp of protest from Juan Martin. Arm stretched three metres across the room with apparent ease, Djokovic brings his stolen feather over to Roger and almost pokes him in the eye brandishing it triumphantly.

“See?! Not gum. More- elastic.”

Fernando looks faintly ill at the sight of an arm stretching beyond rational limits. “That is...”

“Interesting?” suggests Andy, still without looking up.

Fernando shakes his head. “Asqueroso,” he mutters under his breath.

A somewhat petulant expression crosses Djokovic's face and his hand tucks the feather behind Roger's ear – he gets a glimpse of soft, dark hairs at the Serb's wrist, tanned fingers and bitten nails that seem entirely too normal to be attached to a three-metre arm – before taking his hand back. There was certainly something off-putting about seeing skin and bone work like elastic, returning back to normal without a mark but it hardly merits Fernando's now faintly-green grimace or Robin's glare, although Roger suspects that's more due to Juan Martin hitting him with a wing when he lost the feather.

He's so intent on examining the smooth curve of Djokovic's arm for stretch marks that it takes him a second to notice that all the attention in the room – that is, everyone paying attention rather than sleeping, iPhoning or being miserable; Djokovic, Robin, Fernando and Rafa, now, who seems to have brightened at the discovery of his problems being generally shared – has focused on him. He stares back, uncomfortably.

“What?” Something pale catches the corner of his eye and he realises the feather still hangs at a jaunty angle from his hair. “Oh.” Only after he's plucked it loose and is holding it awkwardly between his fingers – technically, it probably amounts to the same as him holding a lock of Juan Martin's hair which is just weird - does he realise they're still looking at him. Expectant.

“What?!” he asks again, but defensive now because he hasn't done anything.

“They want to know what superpower you have,” says Andy. He sounds half-distracted; his iPhone creaks dangerously as he thumbs the screen too hard.

“I don't-” Roger starts.

“Wait. Superpower?”

Djokovic looks across at the incredulous Fernando, the Spaniard sinking back into his chair looking thrown and half-ready to argue. “Well?” the Serb demands. “What else?”

“Superpowers?” Robin tilts his head to one side contemplatively, apparently oblivious to his hand rubbing soothing circles against Juan Martin's shoulders as the Argentine settles against him, still hunched with misery. “That- how do you say? Capes and... spandex?”

“Fuck that!” Djokovic takes an actual step back and stumbles against the wall, hand thrown out to catch himself at an angle that should really be impossible. “No. No! This is... fun, not... Adventures of Superman!”

“I-” Roger tries again.

Adventures of Batman?” Robin offers.

I do not have superpowers!”

The pause following Roger's announcement is long and awkward and reminds him of nothing so much as the kind of stunned silence that usually followed the player across the net from him falling flat on their face, in the instant before shock turned to self-centred relief. Beside him Rafa looks as though he'd like to reach out to pat him sympathetically on the shoulder (Roger can feel the heat oozing off him like a radiator so he's relieved when the Spaniard doesn't move) but across the room Djokovic is unsuccessfully attempting to hide a grin that's like salt on the raw hurt Roger's been nursing since Rafa's pyrotechnics. He's the year-end number one tennis player again, almost official now and there's nothing to differentiate him from the others aside from some successes; why would he be excluded from the superhero-clique something has apparently made of the top eight players? Or seven, he supposes and that mental correction hurts.

“I don't,” he says quietly and does not acknowledge Djokovic's eye-roll. “Does everyone else?”

“Ye-s,” says Djokovic but his voice trails from entirely confident into hesitance on the second syllable and a frown shadows his grin. “Maybe. Um. Nikolay?”

There's no response until Fernando, still looking a little shell-shocked, leans over to tap the Russian on the shoulder. Sleepily one eye slits open.

Da?”

“Do you have a superpower?”

The other eye opens and almost-colourless eyebrows raise a fraction. “Is that not why we are all here?”

Roger's heart sinks a little further but he tries to keep the hurt off his face, corners of his mouth tugging down and a persistent whine that he's trying to ignore saying it's not fair, okay so he's glad he's not half bird but that doesn't mean he'd be against the idea of being super. Even just a little-

“Andy!” He seizes on the thought, looks eagerly towards the Brit. “You don't do you? Have anything?”

Something pained flits across Andy's face. “Yes.”

“Really,” Robin says but it's not a question, tone almost amused and he returns the raised-eyebrow look Andy gives him with a grin which suggests at least some of the players talked before this little pow-wow. Regardless, Roger's glad someone else spoke because he's overwhelmed with disappointment at the death of his best hope, envy fierce and sour-tasting on his tongue. “And?”

The slight frown returns between Andy's eyebrows as he looks away from Robin, back to tapping furiously at his iPhone. “Doesn't matter,” he mutters and that's it, the final push Roger needs to snap because he's had a long night with little sleep, a terrible morning and now apparently he's not good enough to be a superhero which is just- he cuts off the word unfair this time and settles for snapping out his words with bite to his tone.

“How can it not matter? This is quite important Andy, in case you haven't been paying attention?” The tap of fingers continues without pause and the hot, prickly anger and disappointment Roger's been holding back comes surging out on a yell: “Would you put your goddamn phone down!”

Into the stunned silence that follows – Roger wishes he could sink into the floor, if he could just develop that as a superpower right now, please, god, anyone - Andy says as calmly as if everyone else isn't staring incredulously at their blushing number one, “No.”

Djokovic takes his narrowed, thoughtful stare away from Roger long enough to remark sarcastically, “Why? Is it superpowered to your hand?”

“No,” repeats Andy. He stabs a thumb particularly viciously at the screen. “But as soon as I stop concentrating on this game all I can hear is you listing the best ways to use your stretching to have incredible sex.”

There's a pause while they all process that. Wait Roger thinks, if he's hearing that then... Suddenly he becomes very conscious of every single thought going through his head because-

“Oh, and,” Murray adds as the flush of dark pink starts at Djokovic's cheeks and spreads rapidly, “if you try that position by yourself, all the blood will rush to your head and I think you'll probably pass out.”

Uncomfortable silence – this time broken only by a stifled snort of laughter from Robin – is becoming far too familiar. As fun as it is watching Novak Djokovic try to dig himself a hole through the carpet with only his toes, Roger was there a second ago and knowing how it feels decides him that enough is probably enough.

“On that,” he suggests, a little weakly. “Maybe we should go back to whatever we were doing and try to act normal until someone comes up with answers? I-”

He's interrupted by a light knock on the door, a gentle rap that has them all freezing in panic as though they've been caught doing something wrong. Even though we're not Roger thinks after the split-second rush of adrenaline eases to a low-grade hum, common sense taking over. We're only talking, there's nothing to see... His eyes slide to Juan Martin's pale face and the white-knuckled grip he has on Robin's hand. To the wings arching up above his head. Oh. Right.

“Juan Martin?” The voice is muffled through the heavy door and the following sentence is in Spanish anyway, untranslatable to Roger although he guesses from Robin's muted gasp when Juan Martin's grip crushes his hand that the Argentine understands just fine. None of them move, except their eyes flicking to each other in panic and silently passing along the message We're screwed aren't we? Yeah. Roger catches himself holding his breath and lets it out as quietly as he can; he feels a little silly but he'd hate to be the one to give the game away.

Except, he'd be a lot more comfortable keeping the secret if he knew what the game was and why they're all here with ridiculous superpowers, hiding in a hotel room like little boys who'd not only raided the cookie jar but emptied and smashed it too. It wasn't even their fault.

Another knock. “Juan Martin?”

“Headache!” Juan Martin seems to seize the first word that comes to mind, desperate and stumbling to get it out so loud that it seems to echo around the tension in the room. “Sleeping it off.”

“Oh.” Muffled as it is, the voice still sounds concerned and despite not understanding the following Spanish Roger recognises the voice of Franco, Juan Martin's coach. For a wild second he's tempted to call out, suggest that he come in because Roger knows and they all know, rationally, that there's no way they can isolate Juan Martin for... however long this lasts. Especially if it's permanent. What is the Argentine supposed to do, live in this hotel room for the rest of his life? Be smuggled back to Argentina in the dark and kept there, secret and a vanished mystery of the tour until he's just another name in a dusty history book?

Ridiculous, but Roger bites his tongue anyway because he knows that if it comes down to it, that's what they'll do. Anything is better than throwing Juan Martin to the press frenzy that's inevitable once they start inviting everyone else in.

On the bed, Juan Martin shuts his eyes and calls out something that even Roger can translate as “I'm fine, really, please go away” or at least that general sentiment. There's a pause, utter silence suggesting that every man in the room is holding his own breath, even Andy who Roger happens to be looking at as Franco calls, uncertainly, “Okay.” The Brit is still staring at his iPhone screen, held slack in his hands now but Roger gets it after a second, what was so odd; the tense set of Andy's shoulders relaxed before the coach spoke, as if Andy had known what he was going to say.

As hard as he tries to squash his bitterness – because after all, there's every chance Andy will hear him, god – he can't help the little wriggle of resentment that escapes. Mind reading would've been an amazing superpower. Why couldn't he have had that instead of a wet bed and grumpy babies-

- and he's never, ever telling Mirka that he just considered swapping their offspring for a cool superpower. The only way he'd survive that is if... no, actually no superpower invented or yet-to-be could save him from Mirka when she's really on the warpath. Not that it matters, since she's not the one who can read minds.

Andy shoots him a surprised glance and Roger hastily cuts the bitter thought off, looking away and trying to think of nothing. He's surprisingly good at it after so many years of big match points and when he risks another look, Andy's back to staring at his phone.

“We should go.” Djokovic breaks the silence, obviously judging that enough seconds have passed for Franco to have gone away. “I have practise, match.”

“Match!” With a sudden flurry of panic Rafa goes to check a watch that isn't there. “What time is it?! I must go too.”

“So do I,” says Robin and smiles a little at Juan Martin's sudden, pleading glance. “For match,” he says softly to the Argentine, leaning in and Roger wonders again, surprised, if this is new for them. “I come back after.”

Glancing away from the misery on Juan Martin's face and hesitantly – because he's as much of a tennis player as the rest of them and, mind-reader or not, he knows the reaction he'll get but morals push him to try anyway – Roger says slowly “Should we play? Like this? It is fair?”

“To who, audience or you?” Djokovic shoots it back over his shoulder as he turns to the door. “Don't worry Mr Normal. We won't cheat.”

It's Andy who bursts into laughter, actually lowering his phone and looking up with his frown wiped clean by amusement, grin broad and mocking. “Really Novak? You won't cheat?” he asks sarcastically and ducks the Serb's half-playful swing with ease. “I'll believe that when it happens.” For a second, his grin falters as Novak glares. “Oh, you'll do what to me? I think that's illegal in Britain.”

“Sometimes I think Novak should be illegal in Britain,” Robin comments as he disentangles himself from Juan Martin. He blushes a little at Djokovic's dirty look but glances away from it to smile at Roger. “We will... take it easy on you?”

Stung, Roger forces an answering smile that he doesn't mean a millimetre of before he stalks to the door, pushing past the smirking Djokovic with a mutter of “The day you all need to take it easy for me to beat you is the day I retire.”

As he opens the door, Djokovic speaks so close to his ear that his breath sends prickles of warmth and outrage across Roger's neck:

“Should we put the champagne on ice then? As you'll be leaving so soon?”

Roger bites down fiercely on the short, rude instruction that's his automatic response, swallowing it unsaid but from the choked laugh behind them he's pretty sure that Andy got the picture.


9:27am

“Oh there you are Roger,” Mirka says without looking up as he opens the door to their new room, still seething slightly over the sheer front of Novak-fucking-Djokovic. She's sitting in the uncomfortable armchair by the window, Myla settled in the crook of her arm while Mirka buttons her pink baby dress one-handed between sips from her coffee mug. The television is on but muted, a frazzled-looking weatherman gesturing wildly at a map of Britain and before Roger can work out what that's all about, Mirka taps the remote beside her mug to turn it off.

“Your mother called,” she says, still absorbed in Myla's tiny diamante buttons. “She wants to know if we have time to meet for lunch around your practise. And whenever you're ready for breakfast, Lena can take them to give us some space.”

Lena is their Swiss nanny, young and pretty and Mirka's rival for ruthless efficiency. Roger finds her somewhat terrifying in that way of competent, baby-knowledgeable females who treat him with sympathetic disdain when he tries to feed the twins cow milk or gets carried away telling them about the importance of the strings on his racquet being exactly the right tension and no they are not chew toys, all of which he sees as perfectly rational.

Lena disagrees with him (usually multiple times per day). She is, of course, impeccably diplomatic – she is Swiss - but there's something, like a vague air of concern whenever she's in the room and Roger goes within a foot of either of his daughters, that's... off-putting.

“Okay,” he says reluctantly, a little dazed too at going from real-life X-Men to lunch with his mother and for all that he knows Mirka's knowing look is for his reaction to Lena, he can't quash the spark of anxiety that she'll realise that something is up, that he'll give them all away. Luckily she's too busy rolling her eyes until she notices something in his hand and her expression creases to a frown.

“Is that a feather?”

“No. Yes. What?” Roger glances down and is mildly surprised to see Juan Martin's feather, still held lightly between forefinger and thumb in a sweep of gold that's rigidly silky against his fingertips. He'd forgotten all about it in the rush to get away from Djokovic's smirk and his own complete lack of superness. “I mean, yes it's a feather.”

“Well throw it away and wash your hands. They do have bird flu here you know.” Briskly, Mirka lifts Myla into the carry chair sitting ready on the table, cooing soothing nonsense in a mixture of languages because, as she's informed Roger on several occasions, the baby books say it's good to get them used to different sounds. Charlene's already dressed and gurgling contentedly in her own chair on the bed. “Don't touch the babies until they're clean.”

“Right,” Roger says, more to let himself believe he actually has agreement to signal in the matter than because he thinks Mirka's listening, and escapes to the sanctuary of their bathroom.

It's all gleaming grey tiles and green marble around the sink and bath, just a colour-change away from any five-star hotel anywhere but he can let the door swing almost-closed behind him to hide from Mirka until he's come up with a game plan for Lunch With His Mother Without Mentioning That There's An Argentine With Wings in the Hotel.

He'd almost be glad that he doesn't have to explain a superpower of his own, except the thought that he's 'only normal' is still knife-edged with bitterness.

His washbag's beside the sink where he'd left it earlier in the flurry of moving rooms, the safest place to tuck Juan Martin's feather ready to return to him later. He couldn't say why the thought of throwing it casually away makes him uncomfortable but it does, maybe because it wasn't really his feather to take in the first place (trust Novak to make him into a thief) and he zips it carefully into the side pocket of the bag, out of sight. Things he puts there for safekeeping have been known to stay there for six months or more (he kept a wristband of Andy's for most of '07, returning it with a sheepish smile in Melbourne the following January) but this, this he thinks he'll remember. Just looking at Juan Martin, or the newspapers if this gets out, will remind him.

It's when he's obediently washing his hands that he hears the room phone ring, the short, doubled rings that mean an internal call. It could be his mother calling up from reception to substitute breakfast for lunch, or Lena asking if they're ready, just one of the hundred pointless phone conversations he needs to run his day but, perhaps because of his crazy morning, he leans over to nudge the door a little further open to listen. Mirka's curse is hastily cut off as she remembers the twins, and her voice when she answers the phone is nothing but polite.

“Hello, the Federer's ro- oh, hi Rafa.”

Rafa? Roger thinks of fires and the stinging blister on his palm, and turns the tap down to a trickle so he can hear better. Mirka makes her non-committal mmm noise that he knows from experience she uses to avoid outright disagreement.

“Yes he's here, but we were just heading down for breakfast. I can check. Roger?” she calls and Roger aborts his reach for a towel to quickly step out of the bathroom, hands still dripping and trying to appear nonchalant because this, this could be his chance to escape another pleasant-but-boring day of parents and practise and baby-shuffling. It's hard to keep the warm glow of excitement off his face – ten minutes ago he couldn't wait to get out of a room filled with superpowered tennis players but reality is something of a let-down after Juan Martin's towering wingspan and paper bursting into spontaneous flames at Rafa's touch; jealousy aside, maybe spending time with them (especially the ones that can't mind read) will help him work out what's going on, something lunch with his mother certainly won't be of any use for.

He doesn't let himself look too closely at the thought if I can work out why they have superpowers, maybe I can get them too because that's just silly. Probably.

“Roger, it's Rafa.” Mirka is looking at him with one eyebrow raised in a carefully-shaped arc, hand over the mouthpiece of the phone. “He says he needs your help with something.”

“Does he?” Affecting casual disinterest, Roger shrugs and wipes a hand on his t-shirt before reaching for the keycard on the desk, only to hesitate when Mirka's sigh is loud and exasperated, and makes him glance guiltily down at the dark smears his hands left over grey cotton. Before she can suggest he change he says quickly, “I'd better go check on him then yes?”

Mirka looks at him for an endless, suspicious moment with her eyes narrowed and mouth pursed as she considers; only long practise keeps Roger from shifting his weight uncomfortably. Finally, just when he thinks he's lost his chance she says “I suppose so,” and lifts her hand from the phone to murmur, “He'll be right there Rafa.” The click of the receiver going down is almost enough to drown her second sigh, smaller apparently involuntary as she fusses the zipper straight on Myla's tiny jacket.

His default setting today seems to be guilt, Roger reflects, as the cold knot of shame for the lies has him crossing him the room, resting a hand on Mirka's shoulder while he leans down to kiss his daughter's forehead. Her baby skin is softer than suede; it smells a little like soap, milk and very faintly, like Mirka's perfume.

“You okay?” he asks quietly as he pretends to be intent on neatening Myla's dark wisps of hair. Out the corner of his eye he sees Mirka raise an eyebrow again.

“I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be?”

“No, I mean after this morning and the bed.” Gently tapping Myla on the nose to elicit a happy gurgle, Roger tries to keep his tone casual. “You feel fine? Not... odd?”

“No. What? Are you feeling okay?” Mirka's gone from arch to bewildered in a second. “Roger, is there something going on that I should know about?”

“No!” He does some frantic mental backpeddling, realises too late that his automatic flinch backwards looked anything but innocent. “Of course not! Except you know, wet bed this morning. And Rafa. I shouldn't keep him waiting you know? I'll just see-”

He knows he's making it worse, biting his tongue on the excuse as he turns from his wife's confused frown and tries to not look like he's running to the door. He pauses by the bed to give Charlene a quick kiss on the way past, partly to look casual and partly because he'd done it for Myla and he's always uncomfortably aware of balancing affection between the two. As he leans down, the odd feeling - the one that's still unfamiliar and nameless and utterly surprising even after months - clenches in his chest at tiny, perfect faces of either of his daughters.

Charlene blows a happy bubble at him, clean and content and completely normal; no wings, no ridiculous stretching, nothing super at all and for the first time he wonders if it's just the tennis players and how many of them. Maybe someone should check on the doubles players and he wishes Andy – the other Andy – was here this year instead of limping his way around Austin. If say, the Bryans had woken up with superpowers then Andy would've known almost before they did, weird American radar for each other that he just doesn't share with Stan and Yves, no matter how much time they spend together.

“Don't be too long,” Mirka calls after him as he pushes out the door. He waves a preoccupied hand to show he's heard but it's pushed to the back of his mind as he turns toward Rafa's room, not really listening in the first place. Maybe it's something in the rooms since everyone in his seems normal and un-super. Maybe the milk in the little cartons for tea and coffee has been there long enough to mutate.

Or not, but it's about as likely as radioactive spiders or aliens or genetic mutation, which pretty much exhausts his superhero origin knowledge without getting him any closer to an answer. He's halfway through a heavy sigh when he realises he's already gone a pace past Rafa's door and catches himself, reaches back to rap smartly on the wood. Hopefully the Spaniard doesn't want help getting dressed around his burning hands and the thought has Roger wincing, rubbing a fingertip over the sore blister on his palm. He has nothing against Rafa, could even be described as fond of him when there's not a net between them perhaps but-

The door is yanked open. Before Roger can stop himself, brain too surprised to run a filter, he's snapped out “Oh god what, are you following me today?”

Djokovic's grin lights up his whole face, as if ruining Roger's day had been his sole aim in life and he'd just made it. His glasses are gone and his fresh navy t-shirt has the creases of being folded rather than slept in, but he still manages to convey an impression of rumpled untidiness as he leans against the doorframe, shoelaces trailing and his smile all insolence.

“I will say that you knocked on my door before and now,” he points out in an airy tone that has Roger gritting his teeth but then he shrugs, as if dismissing his teasing. “But no. I came to see what time Rafa catch the boat so I can go too.”

“But your match is tonight-” Roger trails off before he can finish the thought because there's mist curling lazily out from the room behind Djokovic, drifting past with the air brushing warm and damp against Roger's face. “Why is Rafa's room steaming?”

Djokovic follows his stare and spits out something in Serbian that's too exasperated to be anything but a curse; Roger's disapproving eyebrow goes unnoticed as he's yanked inside by a stretched arm. Djokovic gives him a non-too gentle push further into the room while he reaches back to slam the door.

“Hey, what-!” Through his confusion, Roger belatedly remembers to protest the manhandling but his inhale of outrage is of surprisingly hot air, heavy with water and he breaks off to cough as it catches in his throat. With the door closed the room feels like a sauna, clouds of white steam making it hard to see clearly and condensing on the walls; when he puts out a hand to steady himself, it slides across the wallpaper. He turns to look back at Djokovic who's leaning casually against the door.

“What're you doing?!”

“I am doing nothing.” He raises his voice, looking down the hall. “Rafa? Roger's here.”

There's something, a half-muffled response and Roger realises there's another noise he'd been tuning out automatically, just background but it's an explanation for the steam at least and sure enough, when he looks toward the bathroom the white clouds are drifting out though the open doorway as if the shower he can hear running is set to boiling. “Novak?” he demands but the Serb just waves a lazy hand.

“Go, see. It's- interesting.”

As much as he hates to do anything Djokovic tells him, Roger has to admit he's curious and he walks toward the sound of running water with an irritated glance back at the Serb. Djokovic just hitches his shoulder in a half-shrug, casualness belied by the grin that he can't seem to hold back.

“Rafa?” Half-afraid of what he'll see – not that he hasn't seen half the tour naked in countless communal shower rooms but it's a little different when they're in a hotel room, a little too personal – Roger leans cautiously around the door. “You okay?”

“No,” a mournful voice says and Roger looks to his left, into the shower cubicle where Rafa's sitting in a wet, steaming huddle on the tiles beneath the cascade of water, shoulders bare but thankfully still wearing now-sodden sweatpants. He peers up at Roger through dripping strands of hair. “Tell Novak I hate him.”

Roger blinks, partly from surprise and partly because the steam is making his eyes water. “Okay. Um. Why?”

“He couldn't cool down,” Djokovic says from behind him, all innocence. “I suggested a cold shower might help.”

Roger looks at Rafa and the steam billowing up, water hissing on the tiles. “That's cold?” He takes a step closer, sparing a rueful thought for his hair that's been soaked once today, and now he can see the drops of water bubbling across Rafa's bare skin, evaporating almost as soon as they've touched although the spray hitting his face is freezing. Only the Spaniard's hair and sweatpants seem immune and normally-wet.

“Very.” Rafa looks miserable and bedraggled, but not at all cold. He's not even shivering. “Is unfair. I would like to trade for wings, no?”

If it was possible, Juan Martin would probably be happy too Roger thinks but instead of a comment asks “Is it working at all?”, meaning the shower. Rafa shakes his head and more wet strands of hair fall into his eyes.

“I hate Novak,” he mumbles.

“Many people hate Novak. I think there should be some sort of club by now.” Ignoring Djokovic's annoyed “Hey, it was a good idea!” Roger reaches through the spray of water – which is freezing; on a normal day Rafa would be turning blue beneath his tan – to flick the dial to off. Into the sudden silence broken only by the faint hiss of water drops still on Rafa's skin, he says “Clearly we need to try something else.”

“That's why I call you. Before Novak invite himself in.” Cautiously Rafa starts to push himself to his feet, shaking his head at Roger's thoughtlessly-offered hand which is probably for the best considering that the Spaniard could possibly fry an egg on his palm right now.

Roger catches himself wondering where he could get an egg, if room service would fetch one from the kitchen and bites down hard on his lip, because Rafa doesn't seem to be finding this at all funny and it's probably insensitive to even think such a thing. Regardless of how cool it would look- stop he chides himself, because he's in no position to find the problems everyone else is having funny. He's getting as bad as Djokovic. As a distraction he reaches for the bathmat to spread across the slippery tiles, takes a step back to let Rafa step out onto it.

“I didn't know what to do.” Rafa sounds utterly miserable, more so than any of the times Roger's left him standing beaten at the net; Roger makes a silent, fervent note for himself not to mention his envy of them all for being superpowered. “Cannot touch clothes, racquet. I call you in case you think of anything. Please?” He glances at Roger through the thinning steam, eyes pleading and suddenly Roger feels old, like the parent of the tour.

Why hadn't they gone to Nikolay? he thinks bitterly, he has the experience and the superpower. Not that a few more years means any more experience of situations like this, not exactly an annual event but still, why him when he's not even included in Club Super?

Forcing a smile, he looks down as if to think. Smoke, he notices, is rising from beneath Rafa's bare feet on the white mat, which is slowly charring black around his toes.

“I said he wouldn't know,” Djokovic says from where he's hovering in the doorway but he sounds disappointed, perhaps even (though Roger hates to admit it) concerned. “Maybe we cover you in ice?”

“Okay Novak,” Roger says and startles even himself with the level of sarcasm in his tone, “you call room service and ask them for a bathtub of ice cubes, yes? I'll go to Harrods and see if they sell snow machines, because that's the best way to keep everyone from noticing what's going on. Great idea.”

Novak stares at him, mouth half-open on a protest that he can't seem to form and the exuberance he's been bouncing with all morning deflating in an instant. The space for a comeback slips past, untaken and Roger remembers, now, why he let parents and coaches beat if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all into him years ago because he never thought he'd regret the loss of Djokovic's smart-ass grin but then, he's never so much as made it flicker before today. He'd usually had enough self-control not to try.

“Sorry,” he mutters and watches Novak's expression shutter down tight as he realises how obvious he'd been with his hurt. Far too much of Roger's morning has been spent feeling guilty – especially when he hasn't done anything, resentment at his day being co-opted without so much as a flicker of superpowered reward for him - and he has no intention of extending that to Djokovic but he can't help thinking that maybe, he hasn't been particularly nice this morning and wet bed aside, his terrible mood is all his own fault. Meaning it makes it easy to sound sincere as he repeats, “Really. That was... sorry.”

Djokovic shrugs, stiff and unsmiling. “Forget it.”

There's a pause, broken unexpectedly by a snort of laughter from Rafa. Surprised, Roger glances around to be met with a grin, Rafa looking cheerful for the first time all morning despite water dripping from his hair into his eyes.

“You two are like married couple, no?”

”No.” Roger and Novak snap it out together which only makes Rafa laugh harder, one hand pressed to his mouth in a futile attempt to hide it. About to snap irritably that hey, he does have other things to be doing today, Roger catches the words between his teeth and stares at the giggling Rafa. Catching his intent look the Spaniard falters, suddenly unsure.

“What?”

“The water on your face, it isn't- wait.” Even as Roger speaks the water dripping from Rafa's wet hair onto his cheeks hisses and evaporates as if dropped onto hot metal. “That's odd?”

“What?” Rafa asks again with alarm flickering over his expression and he reaches up to feel his cheeks anxiously. “What is? Am I burned? Is smoke?”

“No. No Rafa you're fine, calm down,” Roger says it on auto-pilot, just something to say when a pregnant Mirka drank a sip of wine without thinking or his mother thought she'd lost her car keys, but the moment it's out it's like a light goes on. “Wait, Rafa- you weren't this bad in Juan Martin's room, burning carpet you know.” At Rafa's frown he points to the bathmat which, from the look of the spreading black, now has two perfect footprints burnt through the middle. “Why haven't you burned the hotel down yet?”

Rafa is staring guiltily at his own feet. “Almost I did, last night.”

“No, no I mean-” Roger takes in the Spaniard's expression, back to misery with mouth twisted into a pout and enough heat drifting off him to sting Roger's skin. He wonders how to test his idea when Rafa's so upset; it makes sense in theory, Juan Martin's wings clearly reacting to how he felt but they were extra limbs, he just hadn't thought. Only now with the odd discrepancies with Rafa's pyrotechnic abilities are making him wonder if it isn't just the same principle, just less easy to see.

The only problem is cheering a determinedly miserable Rafa up to see if it makes a difference. Although he was smiling a minute ago which gives them a clue in the right direction. Roger looks speculatively back at Djokovic who's still hunched sulkily in the doorway.

“Novak,” he demands. “Do something funny.”

Novak doesn't bother straightening from his slouch, just stares at Roger as if he's completely cracked. “Funny? Like what? Fall over banana?” With exaggerated care he pretends to examine the floor around his feet. “Sorry, can't see one. Anyway,” as if the thought has just occurred, “Why me? You first Mr Normal.”

Roger swallows his three initial knee-jerk responses of you know, I hate you, why can't you ever just help and, less eloquently, argh to settle on an icy “I'm sorry, I forgot we were five years old. And it's not as if we all have a problem here or anything Mr Superhero so no need for you to grow up any time today, you know?” He's distracted by his glaring battle with the Serb into almost forgetting what he'd been trying to do, until there's a muffled giggle beside him and he glances at Rafa to see him failing to hide a smile. Forgetting Djokovic in the flush of success, he reaches out before his common sense can stop him – and wraps his fingers around Rafa's thick left wrist.

The skin is pleasantly warm against his palm, smooth and with the faint press of a pulse against his fingertips. Normal. He looks up from the pale bracelet his fingers make against Rafa's tan, pleased, to find both Rafa and Novak staring at him with matching expressions of horror.

“It's fi-” He barely makes it past the first word; scorching heat flares against his palm and he lets go with an “Ow!” at the same moment Rafa flinches away, babbling an apology.

“Sorry! Sorry Roger, I would have said don't, sorry-”

“It's okay.” Trying not wince as he examines his heat-reddened hand, Roger shrugs off his disappointment. “My fault. Bad idea.”

“No.” It's not Rafa but Novak that disagrees, the Serb closing the gap between them to hold his left hand out beside Roger's. Blisters are obvious on the pads of his fingers and thumb, the skin around them flushed an angry red. “I touch him for a second earlier, less. You hold on and see?” He touches Roger's smooth palm with his other hand, callused fingertips light and ticklish and Roger twitches away without meaning anything by it, wishing he'd resisted the impulse when Novak gives him an impatient look. “I do not bite, Roger.”

“I know. I didn't mean- it tickled,” Roger mutters, a little defensive and he quickly seizes back the point. “But I see what you mean. It made a difference when he was upset. I think-” But he forgets what he thinks, because Djokovic still has his hand held out with fingers curled slightly as if the blisters hurt and Roger wouldn't wish that on any player, no matter how infuriating. “You have a match today. Can you play tennis like that?”

Novak shrugs dismissively. “We all have disadvantage. But is not important, I can hide stretch better than Rafa setting things on fire. He didn't burn you until he got upset, so stay calm and-”

“-he'll be fine.” Unconvinced by Djokovic's casual acceptance of his hand, all concern is dismissed in Roger's a rush of satisfaction; super or not, it was his idea and he was right. He's so pleased for the first time all morning that he smiles at Novak to share the triumph and after a brief hesitation the Serb returns it, a little crooked but better than the sulk.

It's a shock then, to glance at Rafa and be met with a glare. “I can't,” Rafa says, snapping it out with a mix of anger and panic, “not control it; it is how you say, mind of its own. No,” he interrupts as Novak opens his mouth on a protest, “You don't know. See?” He makes a grab for each of their hands but the heat rolling off him in waves has them flinching away. “See! You do not believe.”

“Because you aren't calm,” Djokovic points out in the exact superior tone that Roger always finds impossibly infuriating. Seeing it register in Rafa's angry expession, he takes a hasty step back.

“Rafa, calm-”

I AM CALM”. Rafa's shout cracks on the last word. At the same moment, sudden and with a crackle like breaking glass, the bathmat under his feet explodes up into bright searing flames.

The sheer heat has Roger stumbling back, arm thrown up shield his face but when he risks a glance over it Rafa is staring down at the fire licking harmlessly around his ankles, bafflement all over his face. “For the love of- do something,” Roger shouts across to Novak who'd flinched back toward the door but the Serb is already stretching out an arm to the shower controls and flipping the dial to full. Realising his plan, Roger spots a towel beside the sink and grabs it to wrap around his hand before dragging Rafa away from the rapidly-disintegrating mat and the snapping fire at arm's length.

Smoke rises from the cotton where it touches Rafa's skin but it keeps the worst of the heat from Roger's hand, just edging on too-warm for comfort. The moment they're clear, with a stretched-out leg and the toe of his sneaker, Novak gingerly flicks the crackling mess of towel, ash and flames into the shower; in a second it's hissed out to nothing but grey shreds of cotton and ash, swirling away with the water before Novak leans in with spray splattering his t-shirt to turn it off.

Into the sudden silence, Roger clears his throat pointedly. “Superhero lesson one,” he says, letting go of Rafa's arm and tossing the smouldering towel in the sink, “Do not piss off Rafael.” He looks at the Spaniard who's staring at the black scorch marks on the white tiles, some of them starting to crack where his feet had touched and bites his tongue on what he really wants to say -I told you so - because Rafa's got his mouth twisted around and eyes screwed up in the way that always means he's trying not to cry. Novak however, either doesn't notice or had too much of a fright to care.

“See? He demands – from a safe distance across the room Roger notes, annoyed. Typical. “You have to stop throwing tantrums or you'll burn everything on court.”

“Novak,” Rogers says warningly as Rafa's lower lips trembles. Novak ignores him, mouth twisted into a scowl and yes, he'd been as scared too which is enough to make Roger hesitate over a reprimand. Until-

“There are ball girls; what if you burn your towel when they hand it to you? What if you burn them? Or explode the balls or give Robin blisters when you shake hands or-”

Novak.” This time Roger snaps it out and the Serb actually stops, mouth half-open as he really looks and sees the tears trickling down Rafa's face. He rocks forward onto his toes as if his first impulse is to offer a hug but Roger sees him wince as he fists his blistered hand and pause, looking genuinely guiltily.

“Sorry Rafa,” he says, voice cracking. “Really, sorry. I only mean that at least now you see, you have a way to play match? You won't do anything like that. You know to stay calm and it will be fine, yes?”

Rafa blinks, scrubs a hand across his face and then takes it away to stare at his own fingers. The wet streaks of tears are already evaporating and he makes a fist, the corners of his mouth turning down miserably. “I don't know. Is hard, no? Yours, you don't hurt anyone.”

“I could,” Novak offers with a faint air of desperation. “If it makes you feel better. I could tie Roger's shoelaces together when he's not looking so he falls over?”

“I'm standing right here,” Roger points out, mildly because he's pretty sure Novak is joking and at least the Serb is trying - which he's startled to realise warms him towards Novak more than he'd thought possible. It's sweet. Even if it was his fault in the first place.

Rafa shakes his head. “No-”

“Or mess up his hair? He hates that.”

“Hey? Still here.

Novak's grin is patented Djokovic, all fake-sweet innocence as he holds up a hand, palm outwards. “See?” he says and waits for Rafa to raise his head before his fingers stretch out six inches, ten, a foot long and still growing about an inch a second as he reaches out towards Roger who suddenly understands Fernando's nausea earlier. There's something wrong about a normal hand with fingers so long they don't look like fingers any more, Ripley's-level bizarre and Roger's stepping back before he can stop himself as they come wriggling toward him.

“Don't, Novak!”

“What's wrong Mr Normal?” Novak's entire look is wicked, from his grin to the way he tilts his head as he pauses in his stretch. “Don't like it?”

“No, I mean yes. No. I mean, this is hardly the time or the place-” Roger dodges the fingers as they grab for his hair and collides with Rafa. He barely has time to expect the blistering heat before he realises Rafa's laughing again and he's nothing but pleasantly warm. His I told you so however, is forgotten as stretched fingers rake though his curls, ticklish and rough; he lets out an undignified yelp that he regrets the instant Djokovic bursts into laughter.

“You're just doing this because I can't fight back,” Roger says with every effort at annoyance but there's a smile lurking behind his irritation, he can feel it pulling relentlessly at the corners of his mouth. It surfaces when he catches Novak's own smile, helpless not to grin back at the bright eyes crinkling at the corners when they flick to the smiling Rafa and back to Roger as if to say look what we did before he replies with a shrug and another lazy wave of his hand that Roger ducks.

“Yes. But I would be doing it if you could fight back too. It just wouldn't be as much fun, no?”

Without thinking Roger says “You always did prefer the odds to favour you,” and the moment the words are out he wishes he could take them back, too close to bitter to be fair when Novak's only teasing. But the Serb's grin just widens and he lunges for Roger's hair with his unnatural fingers again.

With a yell of “Don't! I'm sorry!” Roger ducks down behind the laughing Rafa to use him as six-foot of human shield. “I take it back, Novak!”

Half-turning, Rafa grins down at him in his half-crouch and puts a steadying hand on Roger's shoulder when the Swiss' feet slip on the damp tiles. It's heavy, just-under the threshold of what Roger would class as 'too warm to be normal' but it's nothing like burning.

“I knew you would have answer,” the Spaniard says, managing to sound grateful around the laughter he's fighting down, words tripping over it as he tries to keep a serious expression. “Maybe to play tennis all I can think of Novak chasing you for the hair, no?”

“Thanks Rafa,” Roger says dryly without straightening from his crouch in case Djokovic is poised, waiting. “Glad I could-”

For the second time in an hour there's an unwelcome knock, bang at the outside room door and for the second time all three of them freeze in panic, rush of indrawn breath. Roger doesn't need to be a mind-reader to know they're all thinking their own versions of oh shit, what do we say this time?. And then the thought occurs that Rafa's hand is still on his shoulder and the Spaniard's smile is vanishing into panic and-

The wave of heat almost sears off his eyelashes. Rafa's hand goes scalding on his shoulder, white-hot shock through his t-shirt and biting down on hard on his tongue as he leaps backward because whoever's at the door is hammering on the wood loud enough to drown words, but not the yell of pain caught between his teeth. No matter that his screwed-shut eyes are watering, that his shoulder smarts with needle-pricks of pain at the shift of fabric against his skin when he moves; Roger backs until his legs hit the cool marble of the bathtub and breathes deep until he's sure he's fine, that he still has eyelashes at least; he can feel them soft against heat-sensitised skin.

Someone hisses ”Roger?” but he's too distracted to know if it's Rafa or Novak. After a second it dawns on him that it was a question.

“I'm fine,” he says and wishes his voice wasn't so shaky. “Rafa, calm down.”

Outside the knocking that's more like fist-versus-door goes on, as if the owner of the fist thinks Rafa might still be asleep and is determined he shouldn't be. When Roger blinks his eyes clear, the first thing he thinks is that they're damaged because Rafa's still fuzzy but it only takes a moment to realise Novak's worried expression over by the door is sharp and focused; looking again, he sees the shimmers of heat around Rafa, distorting the air. The Spaniard's almost crackling with it.

“It's Uncle Toni,” he says, in the same way that someone might say 'It's a T-Rex', or 'we're all doomed'. Having met Toni Nadal, Roger doesn't blame him. “He's here for match, to ask why I not ready for boat. I can't-” He has to break off to gasp in a breath, heat still fizzing off him in little shimmers. “What- I can't say to him. But I cannot play, I burn towels, I can't stay calm whole match. Roger-”

“You did it just now,” Novak snaps impatiently but Rafa just flinches with a fresh surge of heat and Roger tries to death-glare the Serb into shutting up before the hairs on his arms shrivel to nothing. His skin feels tight with heat but he's backed as far as he can be without falling into the bath. It might come to that yet, he supposes. He tries to remember which tap is the cold in case he has to turn it on in a hurry.

“I can't.” Rafa's voice cracks. “I won't. I won't play like this.”

Novak makes a disgusted sound. “Because you won't try.”

First chance he gets, Roger resolves to hit Novak Djokovic as hard as he can for being a complete and utter idiot because Rafa's angry on top of scared now and Roger's sure his t-shirt is beginning to smoke, only he can't see because his eyes are streaming in the heat. In a last-ditch effort in the second when Rafa takes a breath to start yelling, he channels every last one of his mother's terrifying lectures in his teenage years to find the tone and shouts, almost snarls:

“RAFAEL. CALM THE FUCK DOWN.”

Rafa spins around to look at him, face going slack with shock but the temperature plummets from skin-blistering to uncomfortably-warm in an instant. Over the Spaniard's shoulder Roger can see Novak staring at him with his mouth hanging open in surprise and he almost loses his stern expression to the urge to roll his eyes.

He resists (barely) and says in his best no-room-for-argument voice (finally he has a reason to be grateful to his mother for those lectures), “That's better. Rafa, go and answer the door.”

“But-”

”Go and answer the door. Tell him you'll be down in a minute.”

The shock-panic warring across Rafa's expression relaxes; Roger can practically feel his relief that someone knows what to do. Not that Roger does of course, something like dread cold and twisting in his stomach at the thought of Rafa possibly bursting into flames in front of all the O2 cameras but he hasn't spent years working on his poker-face just to win tennis matches. He gives Rafa a small, reassuring smile over the next knock and Toni Nadal's muffled yell of “Rafael!” and Rafa smiles back, takes a deep breath and turns to push past Novak without looking at him to reach the bathroom door.

“And what do you say about us?” Novak enquires the moment Rafa's out of the room. “We say our bathrooms broken so we come to use Rafa's? Strategy meeting in the shower?”

“He won't come in.” Roger says it more confidently than he feels. “Stay here, we won't be noticed. He'll go away.”

Novak raises both eyebrows at him, dubious. “Which Toni Nadal have you met?”

He does have a point; Rafa's uncle isn't the type to let anything go easily, especially when it came to his nephew. Roger winces at the thought of Toni finding him hiding with Novak Djokovic in Rafa's bathroom (if it was possible for Toni to tell the press without mentioning that it was Rafa's bathroom, Roger would fully expect to see the British tabloids screaming inventive variations on EXCLUSIVE; ILLICIT GAY TENNIS LOVE AT LONDON MARRIOTT across his newspaper tomorrow) but it's already too late, the sound of Rafa answering the main door with a nervous “Uncle Toni, lo siento,” coming through the open bathroom door. Equally audible is the spate of gruff Spanish that cuts him off, that's-

-that's coming closer and frozen-to-the-spot Roger has time to think so, that was a bad plan and that explaining their presence in the bathroom is going to be a lot more embarrassing than explaining the superpowers before there's a stretched hand fisted in his t-shirt and Novak drags him across the room into the shower cubicle. The instant he's tripped inside with a wince for his burnt shoulder, Novak yanks the curtain shut.

Outside, the rant of Spanish pauses. “What's that?”

“Nothing.” Rafa's voice cracks again, just slightly on the second syllable and Roger stares at Novak's wide eyes a few inches away and prays for Toni Nadal not to notice any rise in the temperature. “Shower drips.”

Another spate of Spanish. From the tone Roger guesses it's a commentary on hotels that allow fire alarms to go off at three a.m. and can't fix showers but he's distracted, because Novak still has a handful of the front of his t-shirt and every time Roger takes a breath (faster than normal with Toni Nadal about to catch him in an apparently compromising position) the fabric pulls tight against his burnt shoulder, stinging under the pressure.

Not to mention his ribs pressing into Novak's fingers, over-familiar in a way that shouldn't matter when Roger's been hugged and touched and massaged by the hands of more players, doctors and trainers over his career than he can count but for no reason he can find – other perhaps than the fact he wouldn't be upset to see Novak fall in the Thames or develop a sudden hideous phobia for the exact yellow of tennis balls - this time, his shoulderblades are practically digging holes into wet, cold tile as he tries to back away. The skin across his chest prickles uncomfortably. Maybe he'd been burnt through the thin cotton of his t-shirt.

Novak isn't looking at him now, staring off at nothing as he listens to Rafa's attempts to convince his uncle of- something, probably that he'll meet him by the boat in a minute. Carefully, Roger reaches up an prises one of Novak's fingers out of the grip.

Green eyes flick to his, black-fringed and wide with a question until they glance down to his own hand tangled in t-shirt beneath Roger's prying fingers. The stare flicks back up, something briefly unreadable in it as he meets Roger's uncomfortable look before Novak lets go with an eye-roll of obvious amusement. Roger takes a deeper breath at the easing of tension, manages a half-smile in response to Novak's grin. Outside Toni Nadal sounds like he's being pushed slowly back towards the hall by Rafa's now-steady “Si”s, which means they're almost out of this ridiculous situation and maybe lunch with his mother will be a relief after this. Plus six inches away, slouched back against the opposite wall of the cubicle, Novak's grinning at him and Roger thinks that, at this moment, he could almost like the Serb because between them they've found a way for Rafa to play his match and hidden from Toni Nadal, though that latter is mostly down to Novak's quick thinking.

He smiles back and is about to whisper you know, we should get along more often when there's a twitch to Novak's grin which is- well, wicked, something Roger's seen enough to know that he's about to get pranked.

“Don't-” he starts, frantic whisper too late. A brush of stretched fingers over his hip is his only warning and then-

And then they pinch his ass. Hard.

Roger yelps, sound jerked free by his violent flinch and he knows immediately that he's given them away, sees the grimace twist Novak's smirk before callused fingers clamp over his mouth a second too late.

“Rafa?!” Toni Nadal's demand is loud and accusing; Rafa's desperate protest is overridden with a snapped line of Spanish that sounds anything but happy. Not to mention closer again, footsteps stamping back from the outer door towards the bathroom.

Idiot! Roger rants silently, both at Novak for the prank and himself for not seeing it coming. Really, he should expect nothing better from Novak Djokovic and Roger glares at him in disgust over the hand still covering his mouth, debating sinking his teeth into it since they're screwed anyway, Toni right outside now with Rafa sounding past desperate and into incoherent babbling and while being caught mid-fight with Novak is still compromising, it's almost preferable to the other option.

In response to the glare, Novak smiles. It's small and rueful, one shoulder hitched in a silent couldn't resist apology that has Roger rolling his eyes. If this hits the papers maybe he'll say Novak tried to kidnap him he thinks, inane with suppressed panic. It'd almost be worth the scandal to watch him try to wriggle out of that.

“Here,” says Toni Nadal's voice, inside the bathroom and Novak's hand tenses against Roger's mouth, warm, rough skin brushing his lips when he swallows against the panic and the though that this is it. There's about to be some impossible explanation and Roger doesn't know if even Rafa bursting into flames can save them right now, fuck Djokovic for hiding them in the shower. This could be their careers over in a free-for-all press frenzy and Roger doesn't know what he minds more, that he's about to be humiliated or that he's about to be humiliated with Novak Djokovic-

“Hey, Rafa?”

For a panicked second Roger can't work out who spoke. No one that's in the bathroom right now, coming from outside and only when there's a polite knock at the room door that must have been left open, does he understand. Relief is like someone's turns on the cold shower to full, making his knees weak until he has to lean back against the tiles. They can still get out of this. Maybe.

Andy he thinks as loud as he can, shouting it in his head because superpowers got them into this and if there's anything fair in the world then they can rescue them too. Andy, help..

“Hola Andy!” Even a Toni Nadal on the warpath could catch the gratitude in Rafa's voice, too-fast and just edging on too loud but there's no way to comment when Andy must be hovering by the door. There's a grunt that could be good morning, gruff and irritable but most importantly, nowhere near the shower. Toni must have followed Rafa back out into the bedroom.

Inches away, Novak's shaky exhale is still barely audible but all the tension eases as his shoulders slump back against the tiles. Not without a pang of regret Roger decides biting the hand over his mouth now might only give them away, again and focuses instead on thinking hard about Murray getting Toni Nadal out of the room. Preferably sooner rather than later, because he's not sure how long his willpower can last with his teeth and Novak's hand right there.

“You're catching the boat now, right? Andy sounds as laconic as usual, nothing to suggest he can hear Roger's silent yelling (or Novak's, from the look of the Serb's screwed-up expression of concentration). “The concierge asked me to tell you it can't wait long because they need the dock. They have to leave in two minutes.”

“Dos-!” Toni Nadal's voice cuts off into a growl. “We'll see. Gracias Andy!” Heavy footsteps stamp away and Roger thinks, hopes out into the corridor but he doesn't let go of the breath he'd been holding until there's a yell of “Be quick Rafa!” that's faint enough to be down the hall, almost to the lifts maybe and Roger hadn't even realised how tense he'd been until he relaxes.

This is already turning into his most stressful day since the French Open final (automatic guilt kicks in and he corrects that to 'when the babies were born', relieved Mirka's not the mind-reader) . All this and he doesn't even have superpowers.

“Fuck,” Novak whispers – that Roger understands; it's hard to get past the necessity of panicking in silence – and lets his hand drop from Roger's mouth. “That was close.”

“Close? You idiot!” Now he doesn't have more immediate problems, all Roger's fury comes rushing back and he hits Novak's chest with the back of his hand, not really enough to bruise though because he's still not convinced of his ability to win an outright fight, despite his desperate want to punch the Serb in his irritating smirk. At least it makes a satisfying thud and the smirk flickers briefly to a wince. “What were you going to say when-”

The sound of footsteps squeaking across the tiles silences him again. Novak goes still, one hand half-raised to fend off more attacks; Roger hesitates, angry words caught behind gritted teeth as he thinks it's just Rafa, it's fine before the shower curtain is pulled aside.

“Well well,” Andy Murray remarks, without so much as a hint of surprise. “Imagine seeing you two here.”

“Andy!” Novak's out the shower so fast that he trips over the tiny ledge, catching himself with his arms flung around Andy in a hug that has the pair of them stumbling back. “Knight in shining armour yes?”

Stepping out the shower, Roger's perfectly placed to see Andy flush a deep shade of red. “Get off me you oaf,” the Brit mutters and wriggles free of Novak's arms. “You didn't deserve to be rescued. Anyone would think you're still five years old.”

“Me?” Novak takes an exaggerated step back with a hand over his heart, the picture of wounded innocence. Roger barely resists the urge to hit him again and that only because he's mature, really, more so than idiotic Serbs who don't know when not to prank someone. Besides Murray's watching so it'd be even more humiliating to lose and anyway, it'd be impossible to explain any bruises from a fistfight to Mirka, all of which are excellent excuses- he means reasons. “What did I do?”

“I could hear you down the corridor.” There's dark circles under Andy's eyes, Roger notices, and he wonders with concern if the mind-reading's like Rafa's power, out of control. Immediately Andy flinches back with his eyes screwed shut, almost stumbling until Novak reaches out to steady him.

“Could you- not, please?” he asks tersely. “Think so loud I mean. Especially about me, those ones are louder and...” The fading traces of his blush still colour his cheeks as he opens his eyes but stares uncomfortably at the floor as if to avoid looking at Roger. “And it's a bit odd.”

Roger doesn't have a clue as to how to think 'quietly' but he owes Andy for saving him from potentially career-ending humiliation right now so trying is the least he can do. “Of course,” he agrees and tries to think of other things, anything other than Andy. Like trying not to think of pink elephants after someone's mentioned them, he vaguely remembers his mother complaining once and immediately all he can think of is pink elephants which for some reason – he's blaming his bizarre morning – have wings and are circling the spire of Big Ben.

There's a burst of startled laughter from Andy. “It's okay Roger. That's probably trying too hard.”

“What?” demands Novak but Andy waves a dismissive hand, still smiling. “What?

“Nothing you need to know Novak.” Andy shoots him a mocking look when Novak growls in frustration. “Hey, you owe me remember. Toni was all set to beat the tar out of whoever made Rafa oversleep. He could tie you in knots even if you weren't made of gum.”

There's no way the sentence of Serbian Novak spits out can be anything other than an insult but Andy just laughs again, some of the tension lines around his eyes easing although Roger is annoyed to catch himself worrying again so soon. Pink elephants he thinks desperately, my shoulder hurts, I really need a coffee, how can I have lunch with my mother when I'm worrying about Rafa bursting into flames on court...

“Rafa?” he asks Andy. The Brit glances away from the glaring Novak, meets his eyes barely before they slide away toward the door.

“Getting his stuff. The boat does have to leave soon, I didn't make that up.”

“Fuck!” Novak abandons his attempt to, apparently, tie Andy's shoelaces together with a stretched hand and scrambles into a half-run, half-skid to the door with a mutter of “Have to get my stuff,” and yelling “Rafa! Hold the boat for me!” as he disappears into the hall.

“It'd be fun to make him swim,” Andy remarks dryly, “but we'd never hear the end of it.”

Unless we got lucky and he was eaten by a lost shark Roger thinks, his usual Djokovic-autopilot annoyance and it's only when Andy turns to stare at him that he realises with a flush of guilt how loud that thought probably was.

“I didn't mean it!” he says in a rush, stumbling over the words because he's always made sarcastic remarks in his head, just a way to keep smiling or to stop his teenage tantrums from erupting again. He doesn't mean them, mostly. Well, maybe on the times Novak's being particularly obstreperous “I- sorry. This must be incredibly annoying for you.”

Andy's smile is crooked and awkward. “Yeah, you don't want to know what woke me up this morning.” He clears his throat before Roger can decide if he wants to think about that in too much detail, especially with a mind-reader standing next to him. “Look, Roger I know this is your day off but I've been thinking about the matches today and... this isn't going to end well. There's cameras and all those people. I know Davydenko's not going to do anything stupid,” he adds hastily as it starts to dawn on Roger what he's asking and he opens his mouth to protest, “but Novak? These matches are too important for him to not try anything he thinks he can get away with. And if Rafa gets the hang of this flame-throwing thing or someone annoys him mid-point that's a whole bunch of cameras watching. It'd help to have someone you know, sensible there to keep an eye on them.”

Roger sighs heavily and reluctantly lets go of his arguments. Yes it's his day off and yes Mirka's going to give him hell possibly until Christmas because as much as she likes his mother, she hates the inevitable complaining after Roger's wriggled his way out of yet another lunch or family day out, even when his excuses are genuine... but Andy's right. If nothing else, his morning's proving how easy it'd be for this all to snowball out of hand in a split-second of bad judgement. And with Novak playing today, the odds on that have to be through the roof, not to mention that he still has no clue what Nikolay and Söderling can do and how it might show up on court, with slow-motion cameras and spotlights; it'll be a miracle if they make it through today undiscovered anyway.

Nevermind what might happen if Novak's left to run amok.

“There's no chance that you could...” he asks hopefully, knowing before he's finished that it's hopeless. Andy's expression is all tight lines and tension again, eyes half-shut. He takes a breath and says, slowly as if he's forcing the words out between his teeth.

“If I walk into the O2 with all those people, I think my head might crack like an egg.”

“Right. Yes. Bad idea, sorry.” So he's going to the O2 then, definitely and he should go on this boat if he's going to keep an eye on everyone. I'll need my phone, Roger thinks, mentally calculating how quick he can grab the necessary stuff from his room and how long Mirka will have to argue back, wallet, tennis bag because he may as well practise while he's there since he can't see himself making his planned trip to Queens club now. He's already two steps toward the door when another thought occurs and he glances back at Andy. “Juan Martin, will you-”

“I'm not going anywhere today. I'll keep an ear out for him.” Andy smiles awkwardly, as if he's made a joke and it takes Roger a second to realise he means he'll be 'listening'. He can't help the shiver that runs down his spine, instinctive recoil at the thought of anyone keeping that close a watch on his private thoughts but when he starts to apologise, Andy shakes his head.

“It's freaking me out too,” he admits, and his voice is small and rough. “I think I might get the hang of it if I practise though. Juan Martin can help me out, it'll be distracting.”

Good idea. Roger deliberately thinks it slow and loud, and is rewarded with a startled smile from Andy. Thanks. For saving us from Toni and... and not bouncing off the walls like Novak.

A frown-line appears between Andy's eyes as he seems to concentrate. In Roger's head he hears, like a thought of his own but in Andy's voice, lilt of Scottish accent You're welcome.

“That's a pretty neat trick,” Roger says out loud and they share a smile, Andy looking slightly less tense although the circles under his eyes are just as dark. Pink elephants Roger reminds himself as he turns to hurry toward the door and he successfully keeps his mind blank out into the hall where he meets a harassed-looking Rafa laden with tennis bags.

“Keys, wallet, phone,” the Spaniard mutters, patting his pockets. He's dressed in t-shirt and jeans now and even though the t-shirt is an eye-smarting shade of neon green, Roger's pleased and a little proud to note that they're not smoking at all. Rafa glances up as Roger taps him on the shoulder on the way past and all the harassment vanishes behind a smile.

“Roger, again, thank you! I feel okay! Maybe play tennis okay, no? Will you watch on TV?”

“I'm coming with you. See you at the boat in a minute,” Roger says and it's worth the fight he's about to have with Mirka to see the flash of relief on Rafa's face, patting the Spaniard's shoulder reassuringly on his way past although the reach makes his own shoulder smart again slightly, skin still sensitive.

Still he thinks a little smugly as he walks to the door, superpower or not, he's apparently indispensable. Take that Novak-superstretch-Djokovic, thinking you're so-

At which point he remembers Andy, just in the next room and flushes as he walks faster back to his own door. He suspects he's going to be grateful, by the end of the day, that it was Murray who got the mind-reading out of all of them. At least he's fairly sure the Brit won't be blackmailing him with his own thoughts before the week is over.

Fumbling his keycard out of his pocket as he reaches his door he decides, amused more than bitter, that that's more than he could say for Novak.




*
From:
Anonymous( )Anonymous This account has disabled anonymous posting.
OpenID( )OpenID You can comment on this post while signed in with an account from many other sites, once you have confirmed your email address. Sign in using OpenID.
User
Account name:
Password:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
Subject:
HTML doesn't work in the subject.

Message:

 
Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.

Style Credit

Page generated Sep. 20th, 2017 10:06 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios
December 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 2011