not necessarily in that order, perhaps.
the first time he sees marat safin, dmitry thinks what a waste.
he hasn't actually met him yet then, but he knows marat, he knows him. (everybody does: he's the one who smashes almost as many racquets as he owns them; the one who pulls his shorts down to his thighs just to celebrate a point won; the one of whom nobody's ever really sure which version would turn up on court on the day, distorted, and larger than life; the one they all say "suffers" the most.)
it isn't until quite awhile later, when he finally meets marat, that dmitry comes to understand just how much he doesn't, really.
moscow gets to him in a way he doesn't expect it to, seeps through to his bones, and her language and people wrap tightly around dmitry like a second skin. when he eventually gives in and shudders from the cold, marat turns to him and asks if he's sure he's really russian. dmitry flips his finger eloquently at him, and marat laughs, the long hallway echoing it louder than it really is. says here, california boy, and drapes his coat carelessly around dmitry's shoulders, too long to really fit, but at this point dmitry really can't bring himself to care.
they're sitting through yet another one of tarpischev's inspiring rallies when his foot starts to fall asleep. he tears a corner off their schedule sheet, scribbles you're so cute when you pout, and hands it to igor. tells him to pass it to marat, just to see what will happen- tells him not to look at it, like they're back in fifth grade again. igor unfolds it almost immediately, snickers then tosses it into marat's lap. marat picks it up, glances, just barely, and crumples it into his pocket.
he waits a beat, then turns towards dmitry, and purses his lips into an exaggerated pout.
(later that day, he practices with marat. marat who plays him completely off the court, whose grin is wide and free as he hits the last point right on the line. dmitry smiles, a little, and thinks you could've been great.)
the thing about marat is, he soon realises. the thing is, the thing is--
(he's all light and mirrors, heartbreak hidden in a kaleidoscope of flamboyance and, even then as a precocious twenty-year-old us open champion, charming in a manner that only marat safin can be. too often, he speaks with a false sort of fluency -- yet still he bites his thoughts, tries so hard to fit them into words in a tongue that almost always inevitably fails him (perhaps, dmitry thinks, russian should be a prerequisite to knowing marat safin. but even then-), -- reels you in with a composure he shouldn't have.
dmitry watches that final against sampras over and over: pause, rewind, play. stares, each time, at the cup snug in marat’s hand, (falls for) the easy grin on his face, and wonders what ever happened to that same boy.)
--you don't have a choice. right from the start, he never even gives you one.
they meet, for the first time, in london. and dmitry's talking even before he realises: woah, woah. and holds up his palms, says what did they feed you in spain, miracle-gro? it isn't until later in the night, back in his hotel room, dead drunk on his victory over the great marat safin (afterwards someone will comment to him that marat had played averagely that day, and dmitry will pause, not sure exactly which one of them he's insulting), that he starts to think maybe he didn't make such a good first impression afterall. he stops himself, frowns.
the second time, though. they're back home and marat greets him like they've known each other all their lives, hooks his arm lazily around the back of dmitry's neck and draws him into the crowd. drunk, marat seems older than just the two years between them; visibly ages with each slur, as his shoulders loosen.
dmitry finds out then, it's easier to talk to marat in this state: (a side of his lips tilted in a lazy smirk, and he's leaning over closer than necessary, each breath ghosting across dmitry's cheek) all tall tales and smoke. he tells of his time in spain, of his first coach, the legendary rafa who gave him everything he has, of dasha whom he seldom ever talks about anymore, of the last time he saw anna kournikova back in moscow, whom dmitry's never known, but marat remembers so fondly of.
staring into marat's face then, cheeks flushed with sleepy contentment, and that same old grin with the sort of ease that comes only (in) with youth, he thinks he knows: that that's why, maybe, that's why.
there's this dance they do, every now and then: one step forward (dmitry stands mockingly in the center of the room, oversized glasses perched loosely atop his nose and trousers pulled too high above his waist in a poor imitation of marat), then two steps back (bored enough, everyone watches and they laugh indulgently; marat follows: his laugh careless, like everything else about him, and never, never quite reaches his eyes fully).
dmitry wonders how long they can keep this up; but it's like breathing, this, clockwork, and he thinks maybe he doesn't ever want it to stop.
once, though, once. when he thinks no one's watching, marat grabs his arm. caught off-guard, dmitry lets marat pull him into a darkened room. marat forces him into a corner, and traps dmitry with his body up against the wall, presses his thumb deliberately into his pulse:
"do you want me, or do you want to be me?"
dmitry breathes (carefully measured: in, out. in, out.), and counts to ten. opens his mouth to speak
somehow, they end up in his room after the davis cup final, neither more sober than the other. but if dmitry were a little more, he'd have questioned why exactly marat had followed him back to his room.
as it is he merely leans back, closes his eyes, and only half-listens to marat's recount of that deciding rubber. it's only when he hears the clink of glass, marat setting his bottle heavily on the ground, that he notices marat's grown quiet for awhile. he looks up questioningly at marat, whose face even now is still flushed (with victory, dmitry thinks), who turns to him. and says dima, says dima. i could've been great.
then he looks away, casual as he can as though he hadn't said anything, and dmitry thinks now, now is the time, thinks he should say something reassuring like, like-
well you won today, at least.
and leans in, lines their sides up as best as he can.
thank god, rolls his eyes exaggeratedly and marat laughs, presses back warmly against him.
it's igor who calls him on it, eventually, calls them. waits till it's just the two of them, then nonchalantly (so, what's with you and marat.), nudging his side a bit, irritating elbow digging into his ribs. dmitry's surprised it's even taken him that long. still. he faces igor, features arranged into a mask of innocence, a rehearsed what? poised at the tip of his tongue. the lobby doors swing open just then, and he catches marat and volkov entering the room in the corner of his eye. dmitry looks over in an instant, can already feel his grin forming as marat nods slightly at them in greeting, and watches them carefully until he can't see them any longer.
he turns back to igor distractedly, asks what his question was again; igor only shakes his head once, and gets up, a small smile playing at the sides of his mouth.
marat quantifies himself and everyone around him according to their profiles, charts their history, compulsively categorises each invisible detail. he never lets you forget who you are, or who he is. never lets you forget that he's muslim, that he's russian (uses that one far too often as though it explains everything- uses it like it's nothing, like it's everything). he says, i'm russian, you know, when dmitry finally pushes one step too far. dmitry stands up, looks him in the eye. says i'm russian too, and pushes.
waits for marat to push him back.