He was listening to the ringing sound at the other end of the phone line before he could even process what had happened - it was all so surreal, everything was in slow motion, every face but his was blurred. What it could possibly mean - for him, for them - was a thought that hadn't crossed his mind yet because this: a knee in the back of a green and yellow jersey, a number ten writhing in pain against a green backdrop, simply was not registering within his mind. As he watched the other being carried off of the pitch on the stretcher with tears streaming down his face, as he watched the other man disappear into the tunnel surrounded by medical staff, he could only tell himself that this - the stretcher, the knee, the pain clearly written on the face of the other - was nothing more than a bad dream. A nightmare and nothing more. Still he listened as the other end rang and rang. He knew the other wouldn’t pick up - how could he? - knew that he would only be greeted by silence, knew that his voicemail of “I’m on my way, I’ll be with you soon” wouldn’t be heard but he knew it’d be there and that, that was all that would matter. That it was there. That he’d be there if Neymar happened to look.
He was on the plane listening to the gentle humming of its engines before Emma could even finish asking him where he was going - she knew the second she saw the pixelized version of the number ten going down where he'd be going; it was a question out of courtesy more than anything but his emotions - his feelings, his thoughts, his mind - were far from courteous. He was on the plane, shivering as he remembered seeing the glistening moisture rolling down the cheeks of the other, could almost feel the other's tears on his cheeks - no, he could feel the faint moisture but of his own tears, could feel the pain - his pain. He had wiped away the tears before anyone could ask, had shrugged off everyone who had asked him why he was here seemingly on a whim... He was on the plane listening to the gentle humming of the engines, on his way to be where he needed to be and that, that was all that would matter. That he’d be there, where he needed to be.
He was waiting for the taxi when his phone finally vibrated to life from within his pocket, he had it pressed up against his ear faster than Usain Bolt took off of any starting line, faster than Cristiano on the counter. His eyes were burning from the dryness as more of his own tears fell, as he watched the cab pull up, as he listened to the other vocalizing his concerns. He had been expecting as much when his name had flashed across the screen - when the melancholic voice channeled through the line filled with fear, worry, doubt - he knew that he'd disapprove of the pessimism he'd surely hear permeating from the other end of the line, knew he'd become upset by the abysmal outlook of the Brasilian yet still, still he answered. "...but what if I'm paralyzed...?""...but what if I can play no more...?""Will you...?""Can you..." (No). (No). (Always). (No). (No, because paralysis is within the mind - if you believe you can't you never will). (No, because you can play again if you want to play again, regardless of what those doctors tell you). Always, because I will always be here for you, no matter what). (No, because you will walk again, I know you will). He told him that he wasn’t paralyzed (his 'at least I hope not because I know what that would do to you', remained as it should have been - unsaid, unheard) and tried to tell him that he was plausibly overreacting, reminded him that there’s more to him than what he does on the pitch so no matter what the doctor says, he’d still be okay (his 'but you’d probably never be the same - not just physically but mentally', remained as it should have been - unheard, unsaid) while assuring him that there is a life outside of football despite what he seemed to believe, and he reminded him of what he meant to him (his 'I love you ', proclaimed as it should have been - firm, unwavering) over and over again. He was waiting for the taxi when his phone finally vibrated to life from within his pocket, he had it pressed up against his ear faster than Usain Bolt took off any starting line, faster than Cristiano on the counter… and that, that was all that would matter. That he was there when he needed to be.
He was quietly sneaking through the back entrance of the hospital with the father of the other when the haze disappeared, when the fine lines of reality started to form, when he realized that this - his presence here, his presence in Brasil, his presence in a Brasilian hospital - wasn’t some nightmare. That this - these white walls and sterile air - wasn’t some alternate universe that had been created within the demented mind of some writer of fanfiction, wasn’t some rumor floating around the media and materializing into a headline merely because it was a slow news day. No, the doctors were real, the nurses were real, and somewhere - within these walls, a few floors above him - there was a real bed with a familiar face in it, his familiar face. His person. He was sneaking through the back of the entrance with the father of the other when the haze disappeared, when the fine lines of reality started to form but he knew that as much as he didn’t want any of this to be true, as much as he wanted to simply wake up from all of this, he knew that he was where he needed to be, and that he'd stay in this 'nightmare' as long as he needed to be here.
He knew better than to expect a smiling face, knew better than to expect a warm hug and a jovial “I missed you, thank you for coming” but, in spite of all of his mental preparations he felt himself crumbling at the sight of the other man: the redness of dried eyes that had forced out any and all liquid matter, the stained cheeks that had resulted from the aforementioned, the blank stare on the face of the other, the drooping at the corners of his full lips… He knew better than to smile, he knew better than to tell him that it could be worse, knew better than to approach a wounded animal, a broken man. He sat in the chair opposite of him, exchanged small talk with the father of the other before the latter disappeared with a doctor, and simply shared the silence with the other man. Words weren’t needed, no, not in times like these. He was still sitting in that chair when the other went red faced and challenged any and all of the people within the room in a fit of anger. “...only four to six weeks” the doctor had said. “Only four to six weeks of the most important tournament of your life”, “only four to six weeks out of your first World Cup experience”, he never said. He knew better than to tell him that there would be more World Cups, he knew better than to remind him of his previous fear of being paralyzed to take away from the 'broken vertebrae' verdict, he knew better than to listen to anything the young Brasilian was saying... knew that his “you’re probably happy that this happened to me” was rooted in nothing more than disappoint in his current situation, that his “...bitter about the Wales World Cup Qualifiers…” was nothing more than an attempt to make someone else hurt as much as him; it only made him hurt for him that much more. He knew better than to expect a smiling face, knew better than to expect a warm hug and a jovial “I missed you, thank you for coming” but, in spite of all of his mental preparations he felt himself crumbling at the sight of the other man… but he knew he was where he needed to be - no matter how much it hurt him to be there.
He was sitting beside the other, hand held tightly within his grasp, when the other began to make his unnecessary apology, was holding his hand when he found those brown eyes for the first time since he had arrived in Brasil, was holding his hand when the other whispered his “I’m scared”. He was holding his hand when he told the other that the worst was behind him, smiled when the other whispered “literally”, and felt himself falling hard when he heard the other whisper his own “I love you” for the very first time since the birth of them - absent-mindedly, almost to himself, almost in self-revelation. He was sitting beside the other, hand held tightly within his grasp, lips gently pressed against those of the other and he knew that this - here - was where he needed to be - holding him - physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Was where he’d always be, where he needed to be.