The ride on the bus goes surprisingly fast, considering no one is talking or doing much of anything. Mats stares at the window the whole time while I fumble in my seat, trying to stretch my legs.
When the bus hits a bump on the road, I groan, struggling again to find some comfort in my sitting position.
Mats turns in my direction, glancing at me with tired eyes. "You okay?" he asks.
"Yeah…" I am.
I am but I'm not. I'm sore, and I hurt, and I can't think of a day I've been more tired than right now.
"How about you?"
"I've been better." He shrugs. "We gave everything, Piszczu, didn't we? Every last single bit."
The image of Robben's goal plays in my head. A thousand 'what-if's swimming in my mind. "We did," I say, refusing to give it any more thought.
"We came close." His eyes are glistening, and I wonder if he's putting up a strong front. He didn't break down like some of us did.
God, like I did… I let everything out. I couldn't hold back. Not with the world of pain — hard work, sacrifice, tiredness — crushing me down to my bones.
"So close…" I say as the bus comes to a stop.
Mats gets up quickly, clearing his throat. "We'll come back stronger."
He pats a hand on my shoulder as he moves pass me, squeezing between my legs and the seat in front of us, seemingly in a rush all of the sudden.
I know him. He just needs some space to deal with this. He won't break down in front of anyone.
I don't manage the strength to move from my seat until I see the head of brown hair coming out of the van parked next to our bus. She peeks in the direction of the bus but, through the heavily tinted glass, I know she can't see me. As she makes her way into the lobby, I am suddenly desperate to get out of this bus as well.
When she sees me approaching, her face crumples, and a frightening look of worry flashes through her eyes.
Is she okay? Is she hurt? Did something happen?
I am overwhelmed by the need to hold her in my arms and make sure she's alright.
"What's wrong?" I ask, as soon as I'm close enough to her. I'm a bit out of breath, in my haste to get to her.
She seems confused as she stares into my eyes. My fingers itch to touch her, but we are surrounded by so many people in the lobby. Braun was right — I need some time off, to be with her, before the surgery.
"Are you okay?" I ask again, since she doesn't answer.
"Me?" She sighs. "How bad is it?"
"What?" Now I'm the one sounding confused.
"Your hip… you were limping… I…"
"Oh…" I stop for a second to think. Was I really limping? With the weight of the season off my shoulder, I guess I forgot to try not to. I don't need to pretend anymore, not for Klopp, nor for my teammates. "No, no… I'm fine." I step closer to her. "I'm okay." On its own, my hand reaches for her cheek. The back of my fingers rub softly over her skin.
I've tried so hard not to limp in other occasions; she must think I am in horrible pain.
"It's a little easier this way," I explain. "I don't have to pretend not to limp anymore."
She still eyes me suspiciously, unconvinced.
"The shot worked, I promise. It's not too bad," I insist. "Come on…" I gesture toward the elevators as my hand makes it to her lower back. I give her a little smile, and she sighs in relief.
I avoid limping as we make our way to the elevators, for her sake, mostly. I don't want her worrying about me. Whatever Braun gave me was good, but not enough to numb everything. My whole body is sore, and my hip and back ache, but it is definitely manageable.
I don't get to take two whole, straight steps though, when Cecilia turns to glare at me.
"No," she whispers gravely. "Not for me."
"Geez, woman…" I laugh through my nose. "Okay." Then I limp the rest of the way.
Once in the hotel room, I close the door behind me, leaning slightly against it. Cecilia sets her purse on the coffee table. Next to it, her suitcase.
I instinctively smile. "Your stuff is here."
She turns to me, matching my grin, and walks closer. "I was told to leave my bag here. I thought maybe you had something to do with that."
Her hands meet me at my waist, and she runs them up to my chest.
I barely manage a nod. I've waited so long for this — for her — for her to be here with me.
When her hands reach my shoulders, a shiver runs through my body. Her fingers make pressure over my muscles and behind my neck. My eyes give into the weight of my eyelids and they flutter closed.
"It's over," she says. "You can relax now."
My body feels so heavy against the door, I have to effortly push myself up to keep from sliding down to the floor.
I force myself to open my eyes. "Actually, this is just the beginning…" I say with a smile, bringing her lips closer to mine.
Her hands cup my face as she pulls away from the kiss. "You look so tired," she says, her eyes searching mine, her voice filled with worry. "Would you be opposed to a nap before dinner?"
Even though a nap sounds tempting, and I can't even begin to comprehend how my body is actually holding its weight up at the moment, sleeping is the last thing I want right now. My mind is going a thousand miles per second. Even if I allowed myself to lie down, I don't think I could sleep.
I shake my head at her, trying to open my eyes wider. "I'm not really sleepy."
"Of course not…" she says teasingly. "How about a bath?"
"With you?" The thought makes me almost stand up straight.
She grabs my hand then, pulling me from the door, and I suppress a groan as I force my legs to move.
She takes the lead towards the bathroom as I follow quietly. Once there, she lets go of my hand to start the water, and I stand there awkwardly, not really sure of what's going to happen.
A bath does really sound pretty nice right about now.
She stands in front of me, a small grin on her face as she looks up to me. Her fingers toy shyly with the hem of my shirt before she pulls it up to my shoulders and I help her get rid of it all together.
Her fingers trail from my shoulders down my arms before running back up tracing a little pattern over my chest and down my abs. My hands reach for her face, fingers trailing in her hair as I push it back behind her shoulders.
"You're trembling," she whispers, her hands on my shoulders and her face crumpled with worry.
I shake my head at her as a traitor shudder runs down my spine. I'm not sure exactly why I am shaking... I don't feel particularly cold.
She raises a disapproving eyebrow at me as my body contradicts my words.
"I'll be alright," is all I can say.
Her soft hands feel so good against my skin, I feel like I could just melt under them. My battered body is reacting to everything I've put it through this season. With her hands on me, and the promise of upcoming rest, I crave nothing more right now than to let her take care of me.
As soon as I realize this, my body shuts down. Whatever energy I was using to function properly leaves me, and I feel like I could just collapse.
My arms hang limp on my sides. I tell them to get to work — she is wearing too many clothes — but they don't seem to respond.
When her fingers reach my waistband, another shiver runs through me. She looks up at me as she pushes my pants down which leaves me in my boxer briefs.
"C'mon…" She pulls at my hand and helps me step out of my pants.
I look down at my underwear and then back at her.
"Yeah…" She smiles. "I don't want to get distracted."
I want to wrap her in my arms, kiss her, undress her… but my body is no longer responding to my brain. It's all hers now — whatever she wants to do with me.
She guides my unsteady steps to the edge of the bathtub where the water is already half way filling the tub. She tests the water with one hand before turning up to see me.
"In you go," she orders.
The steamy water sloshes as I not so gracefully let myself in. I bite back as hiss as the heat of the water pricks my skin.
It feels so good.
I realize my eyes are closed, and when I open them she's no longer there. "Cecilia?" I sit up brusquely, wincing at the pain that shoots from my hip.
"Shhh…" she says behind me, her hands on my shoulders. "Just relax." I don't realize she's actually in the bathtub with me until her knees appear under my arms, and she pulls me back to rest against her chest.
"God…" I close my eyes again, resting my head against her shoulder, feeling my body slowly start to unwind.
Everything else happens in a blur. Her hands are everywhere — in my hair, on my chest, down my arms, on my shoulders, behind my neck. She unhinges every part of me and puts me back together as a new man.
I don't really know how long we're in there. Something in the back of my mind keeps reminding me that I might be crushing her, but every time I try to sit up and get some weight off of her, she pulls me back down.
I am only slightly aware of her lips at my ear until she whispers the next few words.
"I love you." Her nose grazes the back of my ear. "I am so proud of you."
A kiss on my neck jolts life back into my body, and I turn as much as I can manage, sitting up straight, searching for her. I grab on to the edges of the tub as my hip complains, but I have no ears for that right now.
Her eyes are a shiny shade of green, and I get lost in them for a second, before I remember her words one more time.
"Say that again," I whisper.
"I'm proud of you?"
I shake my head, feeling the air leave me through my nose. She knows what I want. She will say it again. I smile in anticipation.
"I love you," she says, as her hands cup my face. "I love you so much."
I close my eyes and let her words sink in for a second as my head drops and my forehead meets hers.
After so many years — hopelessly dreaming that she would one day feel this way — the overjoy her words bring compares to nothing I've ever felt before.
"I love you too," I manage to say. "I've loved you for so long."
I am unable to keep my lips off of her any longer. My hands resume their purpose, reaching from her knees, down to her thighs. When our lips connect I draw in a breath through my nose in desperation. I need more of her — I need all of her.
My hands now work on their own, roaming her body. I squirm and I turn and I try as best I can to find a comfortable position, but there just isn't enough room in this bathtub for us. My lips seal a little yelp that comes from her mouth as my arm surrounds her torso and I lift us from the water.
I stumble out of the tub on numb legs and with her wrapped around me.
"You're supposed to be resting," she says as I quickly grab a towel, wrapping it mostly around her body as it clings to mine.
"We'll have time for that later," I reply, heading back into the bedroom. We only have a couple hours before dinner — I do not plan to waste any time resting now.
I sit on the edge of the bed, fumbling with my tie, trying to loosen the knot a bit. As uncomfortable as sitting down is, I'm just too tired to stand anymore. When Cecilia walks out of the bathroom, shining in her dress, I try to strengthen my position as much as I'm able to.
Her heels click-click their way to me, and when her eyes land at the stupid thing folded over my thigh, her face scrunches with worry. As soon as she's within reach, I pull her to me, our fingers intertwine, and my legs cage her.
"You look beautiful." I try subtly to hide the thing behind me with my other hand. But she notices it. Of course she notices it.
"Are you really okay about this?" she asks, breaking the kiss.
"I am," I say at once, looking up at her, retrieving the medal from behind me.
I take a deep breath before I get up. "I thought — four years ago — I had lost the one last chance I had to be with you, to have you be mine. And now look at this." I lift our hands, still intertwined, between us. "Look at us…"
She smiles sweetly, her eyes water.
"Now, who's to say I won't get another chance at this too?" My fingers grip tightly around the medal. "At another final? At least I will try my damn hardest for a second chance at it too."
Letting go of her hand, I walk to my bag where I deposit the medal, and then back to Cecilia, extending my hand to her.
"Are you ready?"
"Absolutely." She smiles widely, eyes beaming, and grabs my hand. I know her answer doesn't merely mean she's ready to go for dinner. She's ready for everything else as well.
And so am I. I'm ready to get this night over with. Ready to restart tomorrow, or as soon as physically able. And most importantly, ready to have Cecilia by my side the whole time.
A/N: Well, there you have it. Thanks for reading and hoped you enjoyed this journey. RM