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players only. takes place shortly after the boys go dancing at Citadel.

Checking the time on the microwave, Christos frowns and gives the stew another slow stir. It's not like his lover to be late for dinner, but he knows how hard Alfonso has been working and figures maybe rehearsal ran late. He turns down the gas flame and settles down in front of his laptop to make an update to the code he wrote earlier, trying to calm his impatience.

Rehearsals proved a mess, his cellphone died, the outlet in the car wasn't working and then traffic was the worst he's seen it since coming home. Alfonso's excited about the play but right now, tonight, he feels like he's had it. He really just wants to take a shower and crawl into bed, a pillow over his head, and shut out the world until morning. Dragging himself from the car, he says goodnight to his driver, good evening to the concierge and makes a beeline for the elevator, even more grateful than usual for its direct journey to the 55th floor. Walking to the end of the hall, he lets himself into the condo, shoulders sagging as he calls out, "I'm home..."

With a smile Christos gets to his feet and goes to greet his lover. "You look exhausted, my love," he murmurs, enfolding Alfonso in his arms.

Alfonso leans into the embrace, burying his face against Christos's neck and letting his lover hold him. "I am," he nods, mumbling against Christos's skin. "Today was awful."

His smile melts into a frown, and Christos squeezes him a little tighter before letting him go. "Dinner in bed," he decides, taking Alfonso's hand and leading him down the hall.

"Do I have time for a shower?" Alfonso asks, more than happy to be led.

Christos gives him a stern look. "You have five minutes. And then I expect you to be in bed," he says, aiming his lover for the bath. "I'll go get dinner."

"Yes, sir," Alfonso says, a small smile creasing his lips. In the bathroom, he pulls off his clothes, dumping them in the hamper and takes a quick but hot shower, washing the day from his skin.

In the kitchen Christos fills two bowls with beef stew and sets them on a tray along with napkins and spoons. He deliberates over their choice of drinks, then finally adds a couple bottles of beer to the array, before hefting the tray and carrying it back down the hallway.

Out of the shower, Alfonso's dried himself off and pulled on a pair of boxer shorts. He's settled in bed, between the sheets, waiting for Christos to bring food and he gives his lover another smile when he appears, fighting the waves of exhaustion washing over him.

"Was it a good rehearsal at least?" Christos asks, pleased to find that his lover listened to him. He sets down the tray and hands Alfonso a warm bowl of stew.

"Gracias," Alfonso says, using the edge of the duvet to keep his hand from the hot bowl. "This smells so good." He blows out a breath. "It was... a frustrating rehearsal," he admits. "One of those ones where you wonder how you're ever going to be ready to open, and you know you will be, that it will all come together, but it's hard to see in that moment."

"Do you think people are just getting tired?" Christos asks, sitting cross-legged next to his lover and blowing on a spoonful of soup. "I mean, I remember being in the planning stages of an op and you get to that point where everyone's just practiced and memorized and prepared and... it's just so hard to keep waiting."

"They could be," Alfonso allows with a nod, taking a bite of stew. "Mm. But we're not where we need to be yet. If we had to open today, we'd fall flat on our faces."

"Hmm. I see. So if they're getting tired, it's much too early for it," Christos says reflectively. "Do you think it's that you've been working so hard without a night off? Maybe everyone needs to blow off some steam."

"Maybe," Alfonso agrees, digging into his dinner, hunger starting to kick in. "This is so good. Thank you."

"You're welcome. I like feeding you." Christos leans in and steals a quick kiss. "And it's good you're getting your strength back."

"Why?" Alfonso asks with a smile. "Do you have plans for me?"

"I always have plans for you," Christos chuckles, and finishes off his stew. "But I was thinking you needed rest more tonight."

Alfonso nods. "I do," he admits. "Maybe we could watch a short something and just curl up together?"

"Yes, that sounds good," Christos agrees. He pops the cap on his beer and takes a sip. "I promise I can behave when motivated."

Alfonso smiles, spooning the last of the stew from his bowl. "What's your motivation here?"

Christos leans in and brushes his lips over Alfonso's. "Taking care of the man I love," he says softly. "I want you to be well." He shrugs, bland. "So that you can jump me this weekend."

Alfonso laughs. "Ah. That makes sense," he says, smiling, brushing a kiss of his own over Christos's mouth. "Thank you." He feels the need to say it again, unused to having anyone - as an adult - take a real interest in his well-being.

"No need to thank me," Christos murmurs, a little uncomfortable with the gratitude. "It's the way things should be, no? We take care of each other."

Alfonso stares at Christos for a moment then nods, "Si. But it feels like you've been doing a lot more taking care of than I have lately."

Christos shrugs. "Maybe someday our positions will be reversed. It's no big deal. And I like making your life easier."

Alfonso leans in and kisses Christos on the mouth again. "Gracias," he says, "for taking care of me, for making my life easier, for putting up with me when I came through the door like a lump." He chuckles. "I love you," he whispers with another brush of lips.

"I love you too," Christos tells him with a smile at the kisses. "Do you want seconds or are you done?"

"There's more?" Alfonso holds his bowl up. "Please?"

"There's plenty more." Getting up, Christos takes their dishes and piles them back on the tray before disappearing into the kitchen. "There's ice cream for dessert," he calls back.

"What kind?" Alfonso returns, settling back against his pillow, a smile on his face at being taken care of like this.

"Chocolate, with fresh strawberries. I just have to melt the fudge," Christos calls. He sets the fudge in a saucepot on the burner, and scoops up two more bowls of stew as well. He can't sing while he works, but he does whistle.

Alfonso turns on the television, scrolling through some choices for shows, stress and tension easing with every passing moment. "Have you seen Casa del Papel? I think it's called Money Heist in the States."

"No, I haven't heard of it. Any good?" Christos asks, delivering Alfonso's refill to him and dropping a kiss on his lover's forehead. This feels good, taking care of Alfonso at the end of a long day. It feels like something he could do well.

"It's supposed to be," Alfonso says, smiling at the kiss. "It's in Spanish but I can put on the subtitles for you."

"Yeah, I'd appreciate that. I'm learning a little, but when you get going fast..." Christos shakes his head with a rueful grin. "Be right back," he says, ducking into the kitchen once more to stir the fudge before it scorches.

Alfonso happily lays into his second bowl of stew, his stomach settling nicely. They'd been so busy today he's not sure he even remembered to have lunch and that might explain a lot. "We can watch something else if you want?" he offers.

"No, that's fine. If it's about money then there must be guns, I'm sure it'll hold my attention." Christos sets aside the tray with their dessert and settles in next to his lover once more. "What do you want to do this weekend?"

"Pablo and his girlfriend wanted to get together with us," Alfonso says between bites. "We could do a nice dinner somewhere, unless you want to cook for everyone," he adds with a smile.

"I'm happy to cook," Christos answers, gaze racing over the subtitles. He gives up after a few moments, though; he thinks he can follow along with the plot well enough just by watching. And the fact is, the plot looks shockingly similar to his old line of work, back before Antony took his practice legit. Hell, he can probably guess at some of the dialogue too, come to that. "This is the girlfriend still waiting for him to propose?"

"Si. Verónica," Alfonso supplies helpfully. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah. I might want your help making the menu," Christos adds. "You're sure you don't want to invite your father, too?" he teases.

"Positive," Alfonso says with a laugh, finishing his stew and reaching for a bowl of ice cream. "Not if we actually want to have a good time."

"Wait, how good a time do we want to have?" Christos asks, chuckling. "When's the last time you and your brother got drunk together?"

"Never," Alfonso says, shaking his head. "With ten years between us and him living with my mother, we've moved in different circles."

"I think I get the picture now," Christos says. "I'll make sure to buy the good tequila." He's only half joking.

Alfonso laughs, leaning in against Christos's shoulder, bowl of ice cream in hand. "I'll tell them to take an Uber over so no one has to play the designated driver."

"Good idea." Christos leans over the bed's edge and sets his empty stew bowl on the tray, snagging his own dessert. "We'll see what happens."

"Mm. This is so good," Alfonso says, the fudge making a simple dessert absolutely decadent. "I'd like to get to know him better," he admits. "Now that I know there's no judgement there - that he's not like our father."

"And he said - what was it? - that Verónica's brother is gay. That's promising," Christos points out, licking hot fudge from his spoon. "So she's not going to judge either."

Alfonso nods. "And I'm assuming we can trust her to not gossip," he says. "If they were a new couple I wouldn't want to risk it."

"And I promise not to throw myself at you in front of them," Christos adds, his eyes sparkling.

"What about after they leave?" Alfonso says with a smile.

"After they leave, all bets will be off," Christos replies, grinning back at his lover.

"Can I send dessert home with them, or would that be rude?" Alfonso asks, snuggling in close with his bowl of ice cream and pressing a cold-lipped kiss to his lover's mouth.

"Very rude," Christos says, laughing. He kisses Alfonso again, chasing between his lips for a hint of hot fudge.

"That's too bad," Alfonso says with a smile, more focused on Christos than his ice cream - or the TV - now.

Christos slowly thrusts his tongue into his lover's mouth, tasting him. His free hand comes up to tangle in Alfonso's thick dark hair, and he holds him in place for a lazy exploration.

Alfonso moans into the kiss, bowl tipped dangerously to one side.

Reaching out Christos snags both their bowls and sets them aside on the tray. "You were going to go to bed early," he reminds his lover with a grin, lying back and pulling Alfonso to sprawl atop him.

"I was... I am..." Alfonso agrees, staring down at Christos. "It's all your fault for distracting me."

Christos smiles, pleased. "Give me a minute," he says, slipping out of bed and stripping off his clothing. He leaves it in a pile on the floor next to the tray and climbs back into bed, reaching for his lover. "You'll sleep well tonight."

His boxer shorts dropped out of the bed, Alfonso snuggles in, exhaustion already washing back over him. "As long as you hold me, I will," he murmurs.

Wrapping himself around his lover, Christos grins. "Yes, you will," he agrees, content to simply hold his lover like this. When he needs him.

[feedback welcome. comments screened.]