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Monster 2.0

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Andrew's pale hair was plastered to his forehead with sweat as he hung his head over the the toilet. His face rested gingerly on his arm while he waited for the next round of dry heaves to send him into a fit of coughing up bile and bits of both dried and fresh blood. He'd emptied his stomach an hour ago, but the nausea caused by the brutal withdrawal made his stomach roil miserably anyway. It was all he could do to remind himself that he had wanted this. He was ready to be able to feel again, even if all he felt was pain.

In his head, he traced his fingers over Neil's scars and let Neil's words ring in his ears. A quiet mind was something Andrew had never had the privilege of knowing, but listening to Neil ask for his trust was enough to dampen the ever present screams that resided in his head. Just enough that he could remember why he was where he was, covered in vomit and involuntary tears. He wanted to hate Neil for getting him into that house, but even through the labyrinth of his twisted logic Andrew knew that Neil would have never suggested it if he had known everything. A mirthless laugh escaped him just before the next round of heaves sent black spots over his vision. He could have saved himself if he had just told Neil why he hadn't gone back to that house for so long. Andrew knew he had landed himself on that cold, disgusting prison floor because it had felt nice to have family who wished to see him. He should have known. He should have fucking known. 

Andrew didn't regret going. There were bridges there that he had to be sure were better off burned. No, his only true regret throughout the entire thing was that he hadn't had the pleasure of killing Drake himself. He'd spent so much time fantasizing about it, but in the end when he'd tried to fight back Drake had bested him . . . again. And yet, there was still a sick satisfaction Andrew held in remembering the way the racquet had sounded as it shattered that bastard's skull. He didn't think he would remember it so clearly if he had been the one swinging. Aaron, in Andrew's opinion, was too good for murder. He'd given Drake a quick death where Andrew would have given him a slow one. He would have loved to make Drake suffer. Not the way Drake had made him suffer, even Andrew was too good for that, but Andrew usually had blades tucked inside his sleeves that thirsted for that bastard's blood.

Another round of rough, fruitless hacking brought Andrew back to the present. The floor warm under his legs until he shifted them to where it was cold. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and despite the pain pounding through his skull, raised his head to lean it against the cold wall. With each stab of pain, a memory from the past twenty-four hours came with it. The smell of fresh baked goods. The strained smiles. How each stair creaked just the way he remembered as he climbed them with the last ounce of trust intact. Pain. Pain. Pain. Neil's hands saving him from choking. Aaron being hauled out of the bedroom in handcuffs while EMTs swarmed around the room. Anger would forever stir inside of Andrew because even though Drake had never gotten the chance to lay his nasty hands on Aaron, he had still tainted him in a way that would never come clean. Aaron would carry the stain of Drake's death with him forever, and there was nothing Andrew could do to take that pain from him. After everything he'd done to protect his only family he had failed anyway. His fist collided with the cold tile of the bathroom floor and pain ricocheted up his arm. Distracting him from the pain in his head just long enough for Neil's voice to echo in his head again. So clearly this time that Andrew looked toward the doorway, almost expecting to see him standing there.

"You could have destroyed your hand with a stunt like that."  Despite the pain, and the fact that his drugs were out of his system enough to wipe the manic smile from his lips, he smiled then and it was menacing.

Like I fucking care.

Remembering everything truly was nothing but a curse. It allowed for hindsight, but warning signs were only as good as the disaster they prevented. Andrew had destroyed the room more than once remembering how suspicious it had been that Maria and Luther refused to see their own son without his and Aaron's presence. How naive he had been hoping for something impossible. However, he did thank the stars that Nicky hadn't gone alone, because God only knew what Drake would have done to him instead. What Maria and Luther may have allowed him to do.

Remembering everything also allowed him to replay the moments that mattered. At the time he'd been too medicated to care, but he would always remember the way his name sounded on Neil's tongue as he wrapped the sheet around his shoulders and that it had been the only thing keeping him from losing what was left of his already shattered mind. He remembered the way Neil's hands shook as they held that bloody sheet, because Neil had known that Andrew would never want the rest of the group to see him like that. Neil's grip, holding him up when he'd been too dizzy to sit, and his gentle guidance that helped him lean so that he wouldn't choke on his own bile. His understanding when all Andrew needed to see was Aaron to know that he was okay after he'd seen all of that blood. Aaron's face as he realized what had happened, and the way he had tried to call his name. Andrew had thought that if there had ever been a time to bring his brother back to his side, to make him understand, that moment would have been it. But his mind had been pure static with the concussion he'd received after Andrew had raked his nails down his face. He'd been unable to use it. Now Aaron was farther from him than he had ever been.  He also remembered Neil's face when he had told him that it had all been his fault, and the way Neil looked like his entire world had bottomed out. And the guilt that had pierced through his thick veil of indifference, not for the first time, to stab him in the chest when he'd seen it. He remembered the rest of them as well, but Neil and Aaron in those moments had been his anchors to the world and he prayed that he was remembering wrong, because Neil wasn't something he could have forever and Aaron was something he was losing. He knew it.

At least now he didn't have to act. There was no reason to put on a tough face for Kevin's sake anymore. At that moment, Kevin was Neil's problem, and as Andrew felt the next round rising in his throat he was glad for it because he didn't think there was any way he could be strong enough to handle Kevin's demons as well as his own and pretend not to be in pain when he could still very much feel Drake's hands on him with every retch.

~

The next few weeks had passed in a blur for Andrew. He hadn't been well enough to move very far from the toilet in his room for the first few days of his stay, and the others he had spent destroying everything within reach as everything the medication had worked so hard to drown out came rushing back. More than once, Andrew was placed in a special confinement, leaving him with nothing to destroy seeing as the walls and room was as barren as he felt. Several times though, he had to stop himself from breaking his hand against the cemented walls just to ease the frustration. Instead, he settled for pacing, stretching and going through the motions of drilling with the team. He'd never tell Kevin or Neil how grateful he had been to have that as a sort of distraction.

However, true to Andrew's life, the withdrawal, while absolute hell, had been the easiest part of Andrew's time in Rehab. He had to give life a sarcastic hand for life's consistency though, because the next bit of his very own personal hell reached a new low. Once the drugs were out of Andrew's system long enough that he could hold food in his stomach and force himself to stay calm, Dr. Proust had introduced a new regimen into Andrew's therapy. Proust called it something that made it sound innocent on a treatment slip, but it was anything but in reality. A promise of death hadn't been enough to keep Proust from touching him, and again, Andrew had to rely on those memories of Neil to hold him up.

He was almost done, and then he could go home to the Foxhole. He didn't realize that he would ever miss it. Or come to think of it as home.

The thing was... Andrew thought, no, he knew, he that was fucked up. But it didn't take him long to finally realize that it was the ones who appeared not to be that you really had to watch out for. Those were the ones who liked hurt people for fun, and would forever get off on the fact that they would never get caught doing it. He liked that about Neil the most when he had come to think of it. The glaring issues and flighty habits Neil had made it so easy to tell what kind of person he really was. He'd trusted Neil before he'd even meant to, and missed him, and their game, more than he would ever care to admit.

Dr. Proust liked it when he cried out, so Andrew focused on Neil's voice to keep himself quiet, because he would be damned if he would ever give another sick bastard what he wanted.

"Are you afraid of your own happiness, or do you like being miserable all the time?"  Neil had asked him that once.

He knew that Neil had always known the answer to those questions, he heard the answers in the quaking frustration that Neil had tried so hard to mask from his voice. It was terrifying really, for someone who hadn't even seen him before the drugs to pick him apart so easily and understand how awful it was not being allowed to feel anything as if that made it all simply go away. As if somehow he would just see through him straight down to his bare, naked soul. Neil had pushed every button he could to break through Andrew's drug induced mania to allow Andrew to feel something. It had been such a relief, and yet it scared Andrew half to death, because he did not believe in happiness.

He hated Neil for being able to see how desperate he actually had been underneath it all, probably as much as Neil hated him for seeing through him, too.

~

Eventually, his time in hell was over. Slosky, perhaps the straightest doctor in the place, came in to announce that he was a free man and hand him all the paperwork that detailed his so called treatment. He looked him straight in the eye as he dropped them into the waste basket, and didn't look back after walking out of the room but he could feel the doctor behind him in the way the back of his neck prickled with dread. He didn't think this one would touch him, but he had long ago developed a severe dislike of having anyone behind him.

Since Aaron had been arrested, and Andrew hadn't exactly been kept up to date on things outside it was a surprise to see him sitting in the waiting room. There was a new layer of dark underneath his eyes. It only darkened when Aaron looked up from the spot he had chosen to stare at and saw him. Andrew would have been able to recognize that fear blindfolded. Nicky's expression held the exact same thing. Nothing had changed. Almost involuntarily, he searched faces until he found Neil, the only one who had never been afraid. It hadn't been a surprise that he was waiting for him with the rest of his group and the bruises weren't a surprise either. Andrew had known when he climbed into Bee's car and watched the house grow smaller and smaller in the side mirror that he was making a mistake. That Neil was too cocky to truly understand what he was up against. Guilt had curled darkly in his gut, but he'd needed to get out of that goddamn hospital before he could address anything. So he pushed past them, first order of business being to burn the clothes in the duffel bag he had slung over his shoulder. A well placed dumpster was an adequate second choice. The bag hardly had time to land with a sickening thud before he spotted his car in the parking lot. A sight for sore eyes. He'd missed the highway, the way that if he raised the music loud enough he could feel the bass rattling inside his chest. There was a conversation to be had, and it was very clear that the others expected it from him, but Andrew couldn't spare the energy then. He needed to breathe air that didn't smell like Proust and vomit. He needed to be home.

Chapter Text

Upon reaching the car, which Nicky and Aaron had wasted no time climbing into, Andrew decided to wait for his charges. With each arm propped up, Andrew watched Kevin and Neil. Whatever had happened between the two of them had obviously brought them closer, the two of them weren't speaking but their body language had changed. There was less tension between the two of them somehow. Another altercation with Riko perhaps? Kevin stopped in front of him as if to inspect him, So Andrew looked him up and down. He was obviously banged up, but there was a light still left in Kevin's eyes that he didn't imagine could possibly still exist there if he had faced Riko. He certainly wouldn't be sober enough to see straight. Bracing his middle finger with his thumb he flicked at Kevin to get him moving. There would be a time for questions, but not now. He glanced at Neil, but his head was already disappearing as he ducked into the backseat. Once in the car, he held up his hand for his keys. The weight of his keys in his hand was almost a nostalgic thing at this point. He mulled over the key in his hand before starting the car. The music started up with the engine just as something was happening in the backseat.

"It's fine," Neil said quietly. There was a strain of pain in his voice.

"It isn't! I mean, Jesus, Andrew," Nicky protested. Andrew had known this was coming. He could feel it ever since they were all still inside. It was in the sheepish slide glances and the lines that appeared in the corners of mouths as they tried their best to hide their frowns. "Aren't you even going to ask?"

He would ask, just not now. Instead, he turned the volume dial as far as it would go, and threw the car into reverse. The tires squealed as they left the parking lot. Save for the music, the rest of the ride was silent. At one point, Kevin had made an attempt to turn the music down, but Andrew smacked his hand away. He knew that Kevin had no idea how therapeutic the music pounding through his head was. For that much longer, Andrew did not have to face reality. Not Kevin, not Neil. Not Riko, or Wymack. It was just him and the road that whirred past as he took the drive by muscle memory with his left foot tapping out the rhythm of the lyric-less EDM music blasting through the speakers.

~

Getting back to the campus had been a godsend after seven weeks in hell. Hell, just being able to drive his car and drown out the world with music was almost more than he could ask for, and pulling into the parking lot of Fox Tower felt like so much like a dream he had to sit with his arms on the steering wheel and just stare at the building for a moment. In the time after Andrew had come to live at Fox Tower he had hated it so much that he imagined being able to see it burn to the ground without sparing a second thought. Only now was it hitting him that it was his home. He hated it. It meant that he had an attachment.

When he got out of the car, Neil was there, holding the door open. Andrew stayed put as Neil reached into the car and reached under the seat for a bag, He wondered if as Neil came up he would catch a glimpse of the same fear the rest of them had. That was why he moved closer, or that's what he was telling himself. Andrew wasn't going to admit that having Neil close enough to feel the heat coming off his skin was a relief. That more than once he had dreamed of seeing the scars his fingertips had grazed. That if there were fear in his eyes when Neil faced him that it would hurt worse than anything he'd endured in the past seven weeks. The others were watching the two of them, chest to chest, with bated breath.

The fear he expected wasn't there. There were bags under Neil's eyes, and Neil reeked of iodine and antiseptic, but the way Neil looked at Andrew in that moment nearly took his breath away. Without words, Neil's eyes told Andrew a story he wasn't ready to comprehend yet. It scared him so much he had to take a step back to break the spell of it. Neil looked at him as if he were an answer.

"You stay," He said to Nicky. "The rest go."

Andrew needed Neil to be gone from his sight. Quickly. Things that shouldn't be woken up were stirring around in his chest.

Kevin tried to stay, but Neil dragged him away as Nicky came to lean up against the car. Andrew ducked back inside the car and fished around for a pack cigarettes he had seen in the center console. He lit one, cupping his hand around it to shield from the wind and took a long drag, letting the smoke burn for a length of time before blowing it out through his nose. He didn't bother looking at Nicky, he simply fixed his gaze on something indistinguishable in the distance and said, "Talk."

"A-about what?" Nicky's eyes were shifting nervously, which only meant that they had a lot to cover.

"Start with telling me how Aaron is here and not locked up." Andrew said around the cigarette.

The request seemed to startle Nicky, but he told Andrew everything from the moment Andrew left for rehab to the moment they arrived at the rehab center to pick Andrew up. Well, almost everything. He left Neil out of pretty much all of it, which was interesting. With his contacts gone and natural hair color back there was obviously a story to be told.

It turned out that Mr. Perfect, Matt Boyd, had been the one to post bail for Aaron. The need to be grateful eclipsed with a bitterness for affluence as Nicky went on and told Andrew about Aaron's nightmares, the fight at the banquet, and christmas in New York. The longer Nicky talked, the apprehension faded from his voice and stature, Andrew listened, tossing his cigarette butt when he was finished and lighting another to replace it. There was still no word about what happened with Neil.

"That's about it, I guess," Nicky said. "Unless you want to hear about the ridiculous amount of spending Allison did up in New York. I'm so jealous."

"What happened to Kevin's face?"

The animated Nicky from a few seconds prior vanished.

"Ah... well. Before I tell you I just need you to know that he completely deserved that." Nicky was wringing his hands in front of himself now.

"Who was it?"

"...Matt," Nicky said after a moment of hesitation. "But listen, Kevin really did deserve it, he was a total prick and Matt paid Aaron's bail so it's even, right? I mean not really but it's like... Matt's a good guy, you know he would never really hurt Kevin, or anyone."

"I see." The truth was, Andrew was less concerned about Kevin's state than he was Neil's but he wanted to hear that from Neil himself. He tossed his second cigarette butt and pushed off of the car. "Send Neil down."

~

Andrew gave Nicky a head start before heading inside to wait for Neil in the stairwell. When he came around the corner, the first thing he noticed was the band-aid on Neil's cheek. The second thing, was Neil's offering of his arm bands, complete with knives. Turning his back on Neil's he pulled them on, taking solace in the familiar feeling of each blade pressing through the fabric and the knowledge that he was no longer vulnerable. Once he pulled his sleeves down over the bands, he passed Neil and finished up the stairs and then kept going until he reached the top.

The door read, “ Roof Access - Maintenance Staff Only ” but if the maintenance staff had been worth their access they'd have noticed that Andrew had botched the lock over a year before. The door required a bit of force, but that kept the illusion that it really was locked just in case anyone else was stupid enough to try the door.

Andrew walked to the edge of the roof and looked over the campus. When he looked at it after such a long time away it made it feel like he hadn’t been gone for very long at all. Everything was exactly as he had left it. The drop from the rooftop to the sidewalk below, as usual, sent an icy spike of fear straight through his heart. That was still the same. Drugged or not, falling scared the hell out of Andrew.

After a while, Neil handed him a cigarette. His third in less than an hour, but he took it nevertheless.

“I'll take an explanation now.” He said quietly. The longer he was around Neil, the more he noticed the extent of his injuries, and as the one who had promised to keep Neil safe, each new injury he noticed felt like nails on a chalkboard ringing in his head.

“You couldn't ask for answers inside where it's warm?” Neil asked, he looked like he was cupping his hands around his cigarette for warmth. The wind was bitter, but Andrew didn’t really feel it.

Neil must have taken a hit to the head if he truly didn’t realize why Andrew would bring Neil up here for answers. Having this discussion anywhere else on campus ran a risk of being overheard. That risk just wasn’t worth it.

“If you're worried about dying of exposure you're a little late.” For a moment Andrew had almost forgotten himself and reached out to Neil. His fingers were so close to Neil's cheek he could feel the promise of warmth from his skin, but he stopped himself just before he could touch him and dropped his hand back to his side. He couldn't look away from Neil's eyes. They were a terrifying shade of blue that he had only had the privilege of seeing briefly nearly a year before, and he knew there were stories inside of them, but they were guarded by fearsome demons that Neil obviously wasn’t ready to release yet. “Did I break my promise or were you keeping yours?” 

“Neither.” Neil replied. His eyes stayed steady on Andrew's in such a way that it felt forced. A lie?

“I know you have had ample time in my absence to come up with your precious lies, but remember I gave you a truth on credit in November. It is your turn in our game and you will not lie to me.” Andrew warned.

“Neither, I spent Christmas in Evermore.”

What?  

When Andrew first saw the bandage on Neil's cheek, he assumed there had been a fist fight and that Neil had taken a glancing blow that tore his pretty face up. But then, Andrew held that bandage between his fingers while a bold number four on Neil's cheek stared him in the face. He'd never felt so betrayed.

“This is a new low for even you.” Andrew said, taking a long drag off of his cigarette. Neil needed to start talking, because the places Andrew’s mind was taking him were dark.

Neil seemed offended when he said, “I'm not wearing it by choice.”

“You chose to go to Evermore.” 

“I came back.”

“Riko let you go. We are doing too well this season and no one would believe that you willingly transferred to Edgar Allan mid-season.” He couldn't stand to look at that stupid four any longer so he slammed the bandage against it and smoothed the tape down so hard he could feel Neil's cheek bone underneath the skin. “You weren't supposed to leave Kevin's side. Did you forget?” 

“I promised to keep him safe,” Neil countered. “I didn't say I would hound him every step of the way like you do. I kept my end of the deal.” 

“But not like this. You already said this had nothing to do with Kevin. Why did you go?”

Neil hesitated and suddenly he looked sick.

“Riko said that if I didn't, Dr. Proust would--”

Andrew could not let Neil finish that sentence. He launched himself forward and covered Neil’s mouth with his hand. With the other hand, he flicked the ashes off his cigarette. The very second Neil realized that he failed, a small noise escaped Neil’s lips and Andrew got to watch as all the emotions cascaded through Neil’s eyes. Despair, anger, hatred giving way to even more despair. Neil made noises against his palm as each new emotion crossed his face, as if he could protest what had already happened. Once Neil went still against his hand, his eyes intense, Andrew pulled his hand away from Neil’s lips.

“Do not make the mistake of thinking I need your protection.” Andrew said. Had he been medicated, Andrew would have probably laughed at Neil’s expression. Unmedicated, it mattered to him how genuinely upset Neil was that Andrew had been hurt again.

Don’t do this to me.

“I had to try,” Neil said, conviction making his words sharper than they needed to be. If I had the chance to stop it but did nothing, how could I face you again?”

How was Andrew supposed to face Neil knowing that not only did he technically break his promise for not only being there to bail Neil’s stupid ass out of trouble, but also knowing that Neil would go down in history as the only person to walk into a trap on the small chance that it could protect him?

“Your crumbling psyche is your problem, not mine. I said I would keep you alive this year. You make it infinitely more difficult for me when you actively try to get yourself killed.”

“You spend all this time watching our backs. Who’s watching yours? Don’t say you are, because we both know you take shit care of yourself.”

It was going to be a cold day in hell before Andrew was going to let Neil strip him down like that. No amount of care or concern in the world could pull Andrew from the path he was on.

“It seems you have a hearing problem. Too many balls to the helmet, perhaps? Can you read lips?” He pointed to his own lips and said the words slowly. “The next time someone comes for you, stand down and let me deal with it. Do you understand?”

“If it means losing you, then no.”

The defiance in Neil’s eyes when he said it made it feel like the roof of Fox Tower was about to cave in. In that moment, Andrew very much wished it would.

“I hate you.” Oh, and he did. He hated everything about the way Neil was becoming a part of his life. He hated to care for the wounds. He hated that he wanted to see the scars and know the story behind each one of them. Hated that he wanted to understand just as much as he wanted to be understood. He hated that he was understood and that he had no idea how to handle it. He took one more drag from his cigarette before sending it off the roof to land on the sidewalk below. “You were supposed to be a side effect of the drugs.” 

“I’m not a hallucination.” Neil said.

“You are a pipe dream.” A mindless self indulgence is what Neil had become. Somewhere along the way, Neil had become Andrew’s only hope. He needed to be away from him as soon as possible before he did something incredibly stupid. “Go inside and leave me alone.”

“You still have my keys.”

Andrew’s hands were shaking when he pulled his car key off the ring. There was a part of him that wanted to let Neil keep the key, but Andrew didn’t have a back up and he needed this opportunity to make a statement to Neil that he wasn’t as important to Andrew as he probably thought he was. So he sent the keys right over the side of the building where they landed on the sidewalk with a small yet still audible clink . It was not the most mature thing he had ever done, and he regret it almost immediately, but he stared out at the parking lot waiting for Neil to leave.

“Not anymore.”

Go. Just go.

It was taking every ounce of everything Andrew had to contain the panic attack that was rising up inside of his chest.

When Neil made it down to the sidewalk to retrieve his keys, Andrew was still on the edge of the roof. Thoughts of jumping had bounced around inside his head until he saw Neil. He watched him look for the keys… and then pause before picking something else up, too. It wasn’t until Neil placed the cigarette in his mouth that Andrew realized what it was. With the cigarette propped between his lips, Neil stared up at him and gave a two fingered salute.

Andrew turned away. He had to.

~

Andrew had not been prepared for the turn his conversation with Neil had taken and it had left him reeling. Aside from the fact that Aaron had murdered a man for him, he couldn't remember the last time, or if there had ever been a time at all, when someone had tried to protect him. It was too much to deal with sober, so he'd made his way back to the room just long enough to grab a bottle of whatever he touched first. He ended up having to silence Nicky's protests with a harsh stare before he was able to drag himself back up to the rooftop. He leaned against the concrete wall and slide down it, ignoring the protests of his sweater as it grabbed at the concrete and refused to let go. With the bag Nicky had insisted he take in one hand, and the bottle of vodka in the other, Andrew allowed himself to take a shaking breath.

In the bag was a jacket, he shrugged it on even though he was too wound up to even feel the cold and drank while he tried to make sense of his thoughts.

He'd never had to worry about being found up here before, but now there was one person who would know where to look. Even as his stomach churned with anxiety at that fact, he couldn't bring himself to mind. Not if it was Neil. The thing was, Neil had always known exactly what words to  say to throw him off balance. Even under the smokescreen of his medicated mania, Neil had been able to move in and scratch something raw inside of Andrew, but this…

"If it means losing you, then no."

Those words had undone him entirely and it had been all he could do to hold on to that mask he wore, Andrew had almost wished that he had been medicated to hear that if it could have lessened the pressure it had left in his chest. Years ago, he'd given up on the hope that anyone might want to keep him around. It wasn't that he didn't know why they all left. Who would want someone that was so dead inside all they were capable of was anger, right?

So Andrew had learned to make deals. To protect people to keep them close. He protected them for the low, low price of not having to be alone.

Then Neil came along… and even though their first meeting had ended with Neil gasping for breath after Andrew had attacked him with a racquet- somehow they had ended up here, with Neil wearing God only knew how many new scars for Andrew's sake. 

Andrew felt like the world was tilting sideways, there was no explanation in the world that could make him understand why someone like Neil who had always run for his life, would put himself in so much danger to try to make Andrew's life easier. He gripped his hair so tight he could feel the skin of his scalp pulling tight against his skull as if that would make comprehension possible.

"You idiot." He didn't know if he meant himself or Neil, probably both.

Long ago Andrew had vowed to himself that he would never make the mistake of letting anyone into his heart again. It never ended well for him. It was too easy for everyone else to move along. That would hurt anyone, but for someone who had been walked away from since birth, it was absolutely torture to watch it happen again and again.

There was a special hell reserved inside the heads of people who knew they were unwanted by the mother that birthed them. However it was worse, to know that of two children his mother had only chosen to give up one. Growing up, Andrew had always rationalized the people who left him with the dark thought that if his mother didn't want him, why would anyone else? In a twisted way, Andrew learned to understand at an early age that something must have been wrong with him for his mother to give him up. No matter how many counselors had tried to tell him otherwise.

A dark promise to himself to keep everyone away was easier than subjecting to the pain again and again with a false sense of hope.

The only people who hadn't walked away from him were the ones who hurt him and Cass Spear, the foster mother who actually wanted him, and by a cruel twist of fate, the only one he would have been willing to suffer to keep. 

Andrew thought of Neil's hauntingly blue eyes in the moment he'd realized he'd failed to protect Andrew, and the noises he'd made against his palm in pure grief for Andrew's pain, and leaned his head back against the wall hard enough for it to hurt and stared up at the sky. Could he really have this? How much would he have to suffer to keep Neil?Remembering Neil's words again felt useless now, but again, he heard them as clear as the day Neil had spoken them.

"Are you afraid of your own happiness, or do you like being miserable all the time?"

Andrew pulled his hands out of his hair, and reached for his cigarettes, only to watch his hand shake as he held them. He told himself he wasn't trying to shake away the feeling as he shook the cigarette and lighter out, but without the medication he couldn't fool himself anymore.

"I am so fucking afraid." He whispered, and the cold breeze swallowed it as it howled through the mostly empty campus.

His outward reaction had been to tell Neil that he hated him in hopes that might deter him if Andrew happened to be wrong, but when he'd watched Neil pick up his cigarette and put it to his lips in silent challenge, that was the exact moment he realized that he was already falling, and fast. He'd had to move away from the ledge for fear that he'd actually fall.

Andrew took a long drink from the bottle, held it up against the sky to see how much he had left before throwing it back for another and silently prayed that he would finally die when he hit rock bottom this time.