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The Definition of Caring

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"I used to never get how you guys talked, but I think I get it now," Nicky says, looking pleased over the large mug of beer in his hands. His flushed cheeks and wobbly neck give away just how drunk he is. Neil just returns his gaze quizzically.

"Like when he says I hate you." Nicky leans forward in his seat as though he can physically tug this new understanding between him and Neil. "He says that but means the exact opposite, right? He is saying that because he knows you know he doesn't actually hate you, that you know he actually means the opposite, that he loves you." Nicky drags the love out like he is 6 years old teasing a classmate for having a crush. The unapologetically smug curl of his lips doesn't make him look any more mature.

Neil frowns. "But he does hate me. Andrew doesn't lie." Nicky's face crumples.

"Neil," Nicky sounds pained, "He doesn't, he doesn't hate you."

Neil shakes his head. The denial is clear but Nicky plows on anyway. "He cares for you. You have to know that. After everything..."

"Exactly," Neil interrupts, his tone frustrated.

"What do you...?"

"Caring for me doesn't mean he doesn't hate me."

"That doesn't..."

Neil feels his temper flare. "Look, Nicky, what does caring mean for you?" Nicky opens his mouth but pauses trying to think of a reply. Neil doesn't wait for him. "It means Eric, right? Andrew saving you from those assholes outside of Eden's twilight. You coming back from Germany to take care of Andrew and Aaron. It means Christmas presents and shopping trips. It means people helping each other, saving each other, right?"

And Nicky is just staring at Neil, clearly unsure of where he is going with this. Neil stares right back waiting for a response. "Right?" He asks again, his tone growing sharper.

Nicky nods, frowning slightly. "Yeah, yeah I guess."

"What do you think caring means for Andrew?" Neil prompts.

Nicky's frown grows. He doesn't know.

Neil leans forward then, refusing to let Nicky drop his gaze into his drink. "For Andrew, caring means Cass and Drake and going to juvie and being hated by Aaron for keeping a promise and being put on drugs that don't let him think because he saved you and just always fighting and fighting," Neil lets out a low long breath and leans back in his seat, glancing away from Nicky, "and Baltimore." He looks back and can see the realization slowly hitting Nicky. "Caring isn't a good thing for Andrew, Nicky. Caring...?" Neil doesn't have the words to finish that sentence so he sighs. "Andrew hates me. He's never lied about that. But he hates me because he cares. That's what he's saying."

Neil follows Nicky's slack mouthed gaze towards where Andrew stands at the bar across the room. For once Nicky's expression towards Andrew isn't one of fear, worry, guilt, or yearning but some of the bottomless empathy he manages towards everything else in his life. His expression is soft and tired and Neil wishes that the cousins had an easier time understanding each other. Life would be easier for the both of them then.