i’m sure this has been done. but. eh.
“I don’t think it’s that bad,” Neil says.
Andrew looks away from the road to Neil, and then back again.
“They’re not,” Neil attempts.
The only reason Neil finally agreed to go to the dentist was because of the threat of being benched by the coaches. Not because the pain has been affecting his playing - of course it hasn’t - but because everyone on the team is sick of him holding and rotating his jaw all the time, obviously in pain but completely unwilling to admit it.
“You do as the doctors say now,” Andrew says, a reminder of an old agreement made back when Neil first went pro. Neil’s innate distrust in people wasn’t ever going to be a good enough reason for him to be stupid in regards to medical care when he was out of Abby’s hands. Andrew would like to think that now they’re on the same team he would have slightly more sway over Neil, but that’s never really been the case.
“He’s not a doctor.” The level of scorn in Neil’s voice is truly impressive.
“Medical professional, then.” Andrew imagines the look on the dentist’s face as hearing Neil’s real opinion of him.
“Lots of people keep their wisdom teeth,” Neil says. “You still have yours.”
Andrew’s aren’t growing sideways out of his skull and threatening to crowd all his other teeth together. The term the dentist had used for Neil’s was ‘severely impacted’. He’d referred Neil to a maxillofacial surgeon and said that Neil would be lucky if they could be removed under sedation rather than a general anaesthetic.
“I know,” Andrew says, rather than attempting a logical argument. There’s really no point.
“I know, it’s hard to believe that my mouth really is bigger than yours,” Andrew says.
The threat of benching works well enough to get Neil to the surgeon, which is unsurprising to anyone who actually knows Neil. He’s calm and unafraid all day, except for the piercing look he gives Andrew in the moments before he’s ushered away.
“There’s a quiet waiting room just through here,” someone says, indicating a door. “You would be amazed how ill people have to be before they stop considering asking for an autograph.”
It’s been a while since anyone over the age of about sixteen asked Andrew for an autograph - the older ones got the idea eventually - but the offer of a quiet place to not be stared at isn’t anything to be sniffed at. Andrew goes through the door and takes a spot on a chair next to the window with a clear view of the door.
His fingers itch for a cigarette. He reaches for his phone instead.
Social media isn’t of much interest to him, so he spends a good half-hour reading news articles spiralling into scientific studies and then into the rabbit hole of wikipedia. He’s not sure quite how long it’s been when a knock at the door interrupts him from the page he’s reading on Indian mathematics.
Someone in scrubs puts her head through the door. “Mister Minyard? Neil is in recovery now. You can come sit with him.”
Andrew stands and follows her quick bustle of a walk, putting his phone in his pocket as he goes. The nurse is chatting as speedily as she walks. “Once he’s more awake and we know for sure he’s feeling himself he can be discharged. He’s a little quiet right now, but he asked for you before.”
She ushers him into a private room - another perk of being professional athletes - with a smile.
Neil is lying on his back on the bed with his eyes closed, but he opens them when he hears Andrew sitting in the chair at his side. He looks a little like a chipmunk with the gauze stuffed in his cheeks, his jaw swollen enough that it’s grotesquely square rather than its usual fine-angled shape.
“Hey,” Andrew says.
He’s not necessarily expecting chattiness, but he is expecting an answer. Instead Neil just stares at him. His eyes are very large, as are his pupils.
“Hi,” he says eventually. He sounds exactly like he’s talking through a mouthful of cotton. The nurse comes in and fiddles with the blood pressure cuff on his arm, and Neil rolls his head around to watch her doing it.
“I’m just going to squash your arm again, okay?” she says, with the manner of someone talking to a child or an adult who is exceptionally out of their mind on drugs.
Neil doesn’t say anything for a moment, and then comes out with, “This is Andrew.”
The nurse flicks Andrew a look and a small smile. “We met, actually. He was waiting outside for you.”
“He’ll always wait for me,” Neil tells her, matter-of-fact. “He’s my partner.”
The nurse’s expression doesn’t change much, but it’s only through power of will, Andrew suspects. She looks like she would love to laugh. “That’s really nice of him.”
“Yeah,” Neil sighs warmly. He’s pathetic.
“I would have recognised him anyway,” the nurse says, still looking amused. “I’m a Rebels fan.”
Neil, who is the biggest Rebels fan in the city, does something that might have been a half-smile if it weren’t for the current state of his face. Then it falls off. Mournfully, he says, “I can’t play this week.”
“No, but you’ll be back out there before you know it,” the nurse comforts. Her name tag says ‘Helen’ and has a yellow flower on it. “Are you playing, Andrew?”
“He’s the starting goalie,” Neil says before Andrew can say anything, almost making it to sounding affronted. Mostly he just sounds loopy. Andrew has never seen him have so many emotional shifts in thirty seconds before.
“I thought he might be stuck looking after you,” Helen replies. “I know what athletes are like.”
“I can look after myself.” That’s a very Neil answer, and also a complete lie. Andrew is banking on Neil being too miserable to want to come to the game in two days, because otherwise he’ll be on the bench in all his swollen-faced glory.
“I’m sure you can,” Helen says, and pats him on the shoulder condescendingly. Neil doesn’t notice at all. “I’ll come back in fifteen minutes and see how you’re doing.”
She bustles back out again, closing the door behind her gently. Neil sighs and rolls onto his side, muttering something indecipherable when the blood pressure cuff gets pulled tight under his body. It doesn’t sound pleased, and it’s definitely not in any language Andrew recognises.
Neil raises his unrestrained hand towards Andrew. It swerves a little in the air. “Can I?”
“Yes,” Andrew says. He’s expecting Neil to take his hand, but he doesn’t flinch when Neil reaches for his face instead. What he currently lacks in coordination he makes up for in gentleness, but Andrew closes his eyes anyway to lower the risk of losing one to a poorly-aimed finger.
“You look weird,” Neil mutters.
“You look weird,” Andrew tells him, mostly because it’s true, partly to see Neil wrinkle his nose at him.
“Do not,” Neil replies. He pats Andrew’s cheek, and then gets distracted by Andrew’s hair. That’s not unusual, to be fair, though the level of concentration he’s giving it is. “Hey.”
“Hey.” More insistently this time, like he doesn’t already have Andrew’s full attention. He tugs Andrew’s hair.
Never let it be said Andrew can’t take a hint. He lowers himself onto his elbows on the edge of the bed and puts his forehead to Neil’s. Even though they’re at odd angles, Neil sighs in satisfaction. His eyelashes flutter against Andrew’s temple, fingers stroking idly over the arch of Andrew’s ear.
“Good,” he mutters, seemingly to himself.
They stay like that, Andrew’s chin pillowed on the starchy sheets and his forehead likely leaving an imprint on Neil’s fairer skin. Neil dozes, hand going lax, and Andrew closes his eyes and thinks in circles for a little while about the Bakhshali Manuscript.
Another knock at the door makes him raise his head. Neil’s eyes flash open, and then he blinks like he’s reeling a little. His fingers have fallen to Andrew’s wrist, and they tighten for a split-second before dropping away.
“Hi again,” Helen says gently. “Let’s get a look at you, Neil.”
Andrew moves aside and lets her at him, ignoring the disgruntled sound this earns from the bed. Neil is distracted quickly by Helen extracting the arm with the cuff from under his body and taking his blood pressure again, before removing it and making him sit up. Then she leaves, and returns with clothes and a clipboard. The clothes she leaves for Neil to attempt to put on. The clipboard she gives to Andrew.
“Rather than it turning out as a discharge form as signed by Alexander Pushkin,” she explains with a shrug. It’s fine, Andrew is all over Neil’s paperwork these days. He flips through the notes and signs in the right places then hands the board back, and gets a sheet of discharge instructions in its place.
“I’ll leave you guys for a sec and sort things,” she says, and does just that. It leaves Andrew to subtly ensure that Neil puts all his clothes on the right body parts. He’s looking less high but still dazed, his eyes hooded but his face pulling tighter. In the fall down, he’s always uncomfortably aware of the abnormality of being out of control of himself. Years later that hasn’t changed. Andrew isn’t surprised.
“You’re good to go,” Helen tells Neil when she returns, and then says to Andrew, “Good luck!”
He would like to think, as he manoeuvres Neil out, that she means for the game on Friday. It’s not likely, though.
Neil falls asleep against the window on the drive home. Andrew prods him awake so he can walk himself into the elevator, where he sags against the wall, and then into the apartment. He shuffles into the bedroom, still making gentle smooching noises at Sir and King as he winds himself into the duvet. He’s out ten seconds later.
Andrew watches for a moment while King curls up beside him and Sir gently begins to groom his hair, and then retreats to the balcony for a cigarette.
Andrew has relocated inside to the couch by the time he hears stirring from the bedroom a few hours later. The Neil who emerges is rumpled but sleepy in a normal sense rather than because of lingering sedation.
He lowers himself gently onto the cushion beside Andrew, and then even more slowly lowers his head down onto Andrew’s thighs.
“Painkillers?” Andrew offers. The discharge notes included strict instructions on dosage and timing, but Neil’s been asleep long enough to be due another couple of pills.
“In a minute,” Neil mumbles, like he’s trying to move his jaw as little as possible. He pats Andrew on the shin. “Stay.”
In an hour Neil’s going to be pissed off and probably a little anxious, wanting to move but knowing he can’t, irritated by the pain. But for now, it’s pretty easy to read a book and play pillow while Neil rests.