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Title: In His Absence
Rating: G
Pairing: None
Summary: At Wimbledon 2006, Andy goes through the two weeks trying to hide only to come to a realisation after the final.
Notes: Andy's POV, set around a hypothetical -- god I hope it's only hypothetical -- Wimbledon 2006. Because I had a plot bunny that would not go away and it turned into this. I want to put a warning on it but I don't want to influence the way people read it and it's not so explicit, I don't think. Um.
Dedications: For [livejournal.com profile] scoobydumblonde for telling me to post it. :)
Disclaimer: Not mine, never happened, hopefully never will.




In His Absence



At Wimbledon 2006, Andy Roddick wins his second Grand Slam.

He hadn’t thought about winning. He almost hadn’t turned up, only a sense of loyalty to the tournament dragging him forcibly to the airport to stare, unseeing, out the plane window for the ten hours to took to get to London and he knows the only thing that kept him from flying right back to Texas on landing was Mardy’s gentle grip on his hand. Pushing through the crowds, eyes fixed on a patch of ground five feet in front of him, not looking up, never, not even when they were attacked by press at the exit. Ducking into a taxi, curling into the corner of his seat away from the camera flashes and fighting against the feeling of falling, even though he was safely on the ground. His hand had gripped Mardy’s tight, leaving nail marks that remained for a week, desperation written in red half-moons across the skin but Andy remembers not being able to force himself to let go. The soft cushion of the backseat felt as solid as the clouds they’d just flown through, liable to give way beneath him at any moment and his free hand spent the entire forty minute drive grasping convulsively on air. As if he could find something to hold onto out of nothing.

He remembers the press that had gathered outside his rented house, British tabloid journalists with no sense of tact, shouting questions at him all the way to the door. He remembers Mardy’s comforting presence at his side, Dean’s hand resting on his shoulder and the sudden silence as the door slammed shut behind them, the horrible, sinking feeling when he wondered if he shouldn’t have come to London at all.

The Player’s Party was the day after they arrived and Mardy went alone.

Three days after arriving in London, Andy had gone for his first practise, a quick hit-around on the court furthest from the press. It hadn’t stopped him meeting other players, Grosjean’s usual gentle smile edged with uncertainty as they passed in the corridor, Hewitt opening and closing his mouth wordlessly before walking away, shaking his head. Henman gripping his hand with a quiet “Welcome back” that was warmer than his grave expression and Andrew Murray, meeting his eyes directly in the locker room. They’d looked at each other for a long moment before the Scot dipped his head, mute acknowledgment and Andy had smiled back tightly, making himself not notice that the younger player’s eyes were red-rimmed from tears.

On the fourth day an official came to the house to ask if he wanted to open the tournament, playing in the traditional first match on Centre Court. He’d looked at the man for a long, silent minute and then walked out the room. They’d scheduled him a late afternoon match on Court Two instead and Andy had surprised himself by winning in straight sets, grass soft beneath his feet, some no-name Spaniard across the net. It had felt like the time he’d come home after a tournament when he was eighteen, knowing before he stepped through the door that his mother had repainted his room and thrown out the toys Andy had been too ashamed to admit he still loved. The same butterfly-nausea in his stomach as when his dad had picked him up from school early one day because his brother John had broken his arm and they had to go to the hospital, the eerie, not-right sensation of walking out the school gates like he’d done a thousand times but different this time, alone, the sound of his sneakers scuffing the gravel echoing across the empty yard.

Like he’d woken up to find his world exactly the same, except not. Nothing tangible, nothing that was anything different to his usual Wimbledon routine up until now, nothing at all except—

Except the thing he was carefully. Not. Thinking about.

The officials had waived the fine when he failed to show up for the press conference after his match. Andy had sent them a thank you note and carefully ignored the look in Mardy’s eyes that said he’d have to face the questions sometime, because sometime was better than right then. He’d focused on his tennis, hitting ball after ball over the net for as long as he could keep the practise court to himself and, when he couldn’t any longer, found players on other courts to hit with, exhausting himself into deep, dreamless sleep at night. Ignoring the anxiety in both Mardy and Dean’s eyes got harder when he almost fainted after his third round match against Joachim Johansson, the Swede catching him over the net when he staggered dizzily during the handshake. It became impossible to ignore when he found fewer and fewer players to practise with to the point of exhaustion, Mardy’s warning spreading swiftly around the locker room, and Andy mutely admitted defeat. He toned down the intensity of his practise sessions and barely wavered throughout his quarter final, five-set defeat of Juan-Carlos Ferrero, Court One giving them both a standing ovation at the end. Andy plastered a smile on his face and waved to the crowd as he ducked through the door off the court, safely out of reach of Sue Barker’s waiting microphone.

Sometime-later was better than sometime-immediately, he told himself again and the knowledge that he was lying to himself, that running would probably make it harder in the long term, was easy to repress. The practise of the last few months had given him no small degree of skill in not-thinking.

Think of nothing, think of nothing, a litany running over and over in his head.

His thank you notes to the officials had taken on an edge of grovelling, each call to inform him they understood why he’d missed the conference coming increasingly reluctantly. Mardy quietly told him that the press were retaliating to his no-shows with a range of malicious – and completely fabricated – rumours, in an attempt to drive him out of hiding was the general opinion in the sympathetic locker room. Andy had shrugged without taking his eyes off the TV, pretending to be engrossed in a documentary on bears.

“I don’t care,” he’d muttered.

“But they’re ma—“

“I. Don’t. Care.”

Mardy let it drop.

Semi-final against Grosjean that passed in a blur of shots and congratulations, the feeling of sick almost-familiarity with the whole situation increasing from the handshake onwards to the point where he couldn’t sleep the night before the final. His bed stretched out around him in all directions, too big, nothing to hold onto when he closed his eyes to half-dreams of shadowy faces that retreated when he tried to chase them for a clear look. Mardy had grunted when Andy crawled into his bed but made no protest, wrapping his arms around the younger American and letting Andy use his shoulder as a pillow. Untangling themselves in the morning took twenty minutes, fifteen of which were Andy convincing himself that he absolutely had to let go and the delay made them late enough that he had to rush his warm-up when they got to Wimbledon. At the last minute before leaving to take his seat in the stands, Dean hugged him close.

“Just—“ He’d broken off, voice cracking and when he leaned back there was a wet shine to his eyes, a not-smile twisting at the corners of his mouth. “Good luck Andy.”

Andy had nodded, attempted an answering smile that came out nowhere close, skewed by the lump in his throat that held back any words he might have had. It hadn’t mattered. There was nothing to say.

Standing on Centre Court now, sweaty fingers smearing across the polished gold of the trophy under his arm and Andy thinks back over the match because it’s better than thinking about the interview he’s going to have to do in about thirty seconds. Coming down the stairs through the beautiful lobby had been agonising, eyes down as he passed the board of Champions’ names by the door but, waiting in the tiny in-between-room before they were allowed on court, the sick feeling in his stomach began to fade. For two weeks he’d not thought about winning, it hadn’t seemed to matter, and it was only in the few minutes of waiting that he’d realised he was going to win. Wimbledon trophy in his hands, his name in gold letters, close enough to believe and he’d lifted his head and walked out onto Centre Court with a painted-on smile for the cheering crowds. In front of him Lleyton’s tension was written in the hunched set of his shoulders, in the jerky strides he took to his chair. Out the corner of his eye as he passed, Andy had seen the same gritted-teeth smile he knew was on his own face and felt a wave of sympathy for the Australian. It was pushed away, as quickly as he’d pushed away everything else over the two weeks. He didn’t want to feel anything.

There’d been a minute of silence before the coin toss. Andy had closed his eyes and thought of nothing.

Lleyton’s talking now, quiet, muted words that express his disappointment and his determination to come back next year. Empty words, skating over the surface of what everyone’s thinking. Andy shifts his grip on the trophy as he half-listens, fingertips rubbing against engraved letters that he could read by touch if he wanted.

R…

Stops himself abruptly, Sue announcing his name as Lleyton walks back to his chair. A short distance of grass that feels longer, not long enough for him as he crosses it slowly but there’s a look in Sue’s eyes that reassures him she’ll make no attempt at their usual banter. Her first question isn’t one, more a quiet statement of how nice it is to see him back in the final which he answers with a smile and a thank you, a non-answer of the sort he keeps up for the entire interview. Sue asks if it’s a good feeling to win Wimbledon, how hard he had to train without Queens to prepare, compliments him on how he played, beginning to look a little desperate at his monosyllable answers, yes, very hard, thank you. There’s a name hovering behind her every word, the question he’s been avoiding for two weeks but they get through a minute and a half of interview without so much as a syllable of it passing her lips. He could kiss her when she puts a note of finality into a random question about his possible participation in the US Open, grateful that he’s seemingly escaped this final hurdle unscathed.

“Yes, I’m hopeful that I’ll be at New York this year,” he answers and waits for her to wrap it up. The last ‘thank you’ is forming on her lips when a tinny voice from her earpiece murmurs “One more question.” There’s a second of panic in her eyes and then the presenter façade takes over so smoothly, Andy wonders if he imagined it.

“Do-“ She hesitates, barely. “Any tips for who you think might win in New York? Apart from yourself of course.” The latter added with a quick laugh and Andy forces a smile, lips curving up and he’s going to have to say it. He can feel Lleyton’s eyes fixed on him from by the umpire’s chair, Dean watching him from the crowd. Mardy staring at him with a hand pressed anxiously over his mouth and a hundred thousand people around the world wanting him to mention just one name.

He can’t, the letters won’t form on his lips, caught in a sharp lump in his throat. With a shrug, he says the first thing that comes into his head.

“No one.”

“You mean no one apart from you?” Sue’s cautious, unsure of whether or not he’s joking. A tight shake of his head cuts her off and he thinks his knuckles must be strained white where he’s holding the trophy, wonders if his fingerprints will forever be imprinted in the gold with the force of his grip.

“No,” he says quietly. “No one will win.”

The entire stadium is almost silent, someone coughing in the choked, embarrassed way that comes from being surrounded by a crowd of quiet people, a few shuffling feet, every face that Andy can see looking at him blankly. He looks back, drawing it out. Waiting until he has everyone’s complete attention before he looks back at Sue, her eyes wide with surprise or fear or anticipation, he can’t tell. Doesn’t much care, taking a deep breath to speak, breath whispering across the microphone as his fingertips trace over the letters in gold.

Rog…

“No one will win,” he says and there’s nothing in his voice, could be discussing the weather. He presses his palm flat to the engraved names with a pause and thinks of sweat-damp cotton under his hands, dark curls against his cheek.

There’s winning and then there’s this.

“Because…” He’s proud of his voice barely wavering on the murmur, that he’s not running anymore. Not that he can spell it out, maybe never will, but no one needs that, not when he can say what they’ve all been thinking for two weeks. He looks back at Sue and sees his words reflected in her expression before he says them.

“It’s not winning if you don’t beat the best.”


~Fin~


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