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the prince in the raven tower

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When Kevin was small, too small to know any better but not too old to have lost all imagination, he dreamed that a dashing prince would come to rescue him.

He dreamed that a prince- or a knight, one of the two (maybe both, a knight-prince in shining armor and a crown) -would show up to Edgar Allen and proclaim, “halt!” in a very loud voice. He’d fight off the Master, who would run very far away and never bother Kevin again, and he’d get Riko to stop hurting Kevin for forever. And he’d save Kevin from Evermore castle.

And of course, his prince would be very good at Exy.

Kevin buried himself beneath layers of make believe- he couldn’t leave Edgar Allen because the walls were covered in spikes and there was an alligator moat around the whole school. He was locked in the castle because he was special, and they needed to keep him secure and for themselves only. And one day, one day, he’d be rescued by a prince who was incredibly good at Exy and had a great laugh and they would fall in love, because that’s how the stories always went. Eventually, of course. Kevin was too young to fall in love just yet.

The prince would carry Kevin over the walls and they’d jump over the alligator moat and they’d play Exy together forever, because in all the stories the heroes lived happily ever after.

---

When Kevin was about twelve years old, Jean came to the Nest to replace the boy who’d run away the week before. Jean was nice, and he taught Kevin French at night in hushed voices while Riko was sleeping and the Master was busy.

Kevin confessed all sorts of things to Jean in French. It was like a secret language, just for them. “You know, when I was young and stupid-”

“Then what are you now?”

Kevin just stuck out his tongue and continued, “I used to dream someone would come to save me.”

“Not anymore?” Jean asked, listening very intently.

Kevin looked at the ground. “No. Not anymore.” He’d given up the fantasy years ago, when he realized Riko would never let him go. “I mean… it’s not all that bad here, right?” They went to school at day and trained for Exy at night and maybe they didn’t socialize with their classmates very much, but that was okay with Kevin because social skills weren’t something he was very good at. They played Exy at home and at school and all the time, and it couldn’t be that bad where there was Exy.

Jean just shrugged.

Kevin nodded, because surely it couldn’t be that bad here. And he didn’t need a knight to come save him, because it wasn’t that bad. He was going to be the best at Exy in the entire world… well, the second best. But second best in a world full of about seven billion people wasn’t that bad.

He bet his mom would be super proud of him.

He could learn to make this home.

---

One time during a practice Kevin scored more goals than Riko did.

Riko managed to keep his cool in front of the other Ravens- because even at fourteen, they were training with college athletes, because that was the only way to get better, even if they were just as good as the college kids -but when he looked at Kevin, he’d wanted to hide in the corner forever.

Kevin went back to his room and sat down. And he waited.

That was usually the worst part. Sometimes, Riko would stand in front of Kevin and decide what he wanted to do to out loud. Sometimes he decided silently. It was always easier when Riko was there, because when he was alone, Kevin’s imagination ran away with him.

And sometimes his imagination would bring up his old dream from his youth and he’d get lost in that, in the idea of a brave and heroic knight with shining silver armor bursting through the door and saying, “I am here to rescue Kevin Day,” in French, because people who Kevin actually got along with always spoke French.

When Kevin was younger, the knight had been a boy, because all the knights in the fairy tales had been boys. As he got older, he decided if he was going to run away and marry a knight who saved him, the knight could be a girl or a boy. Girls could be knights, too.

Kevin was startled out of his thinking when the door slammed open and shut and Riko walked in. Kevin bowed his head.

“What does the number on your face say?” Riko demanded.

“Two,” Kevin muttered.

“So why are you trying to be number one?”

“I’m not! It was an accident.”

It was a mistake the second he said it. Riko hated accidents.

---

Kevin didn’t know what started it. He didn’t know how Riko noticed- he hadn’t noticed it himself. In his mind, his mind that always protected him behind layers and layers of make believe and games, his knight could be whatever Kevin wanted. Sometimes he was a boy one inch taller than Kevin, with a giant smile and beautiful eyes. Sometimes she was a girl with better biceps than Kevin and a loud laugh and soft hands.

But that was all in his head, and he hadn’t realized it could bleed out in the real world until Riko was asking him if he always stared at men like he wanted to kiss them.

Kevin was thirteen. He wasn’t sure he was ready to kiss anyone. Hold someone’s hand, maybe. Run away to an ice cream place and go to the zoo and hold hands the whole time, yes.

Kevin just shrugged and Riko made a face at the half answer, but seemed to let it go when Kevin said, “I didn’t think I did that.”

It was a common theme growing up. As Kevin got older he discovered hell yes he definitely wanted to kiss someone. And he realized he wanted to kiss a boy just as much as he wanted to kiss a girl. And that was kind of terrifying.

He ignored everyone. He was fifteen, it couldn’t be hard.

He told Jean, though. He told Jean everything.

“You want to kiss both?” Jean asked in French, tilting his head. “But what if neither of them like you?”

“But I’m Kevin Day.”

“Your arrogance is not attractive, Kevin.”

Kevin stuck out his tongue. “Seriously. I feel a bit… weird. I don’t know why. I… I don’t know anyone else who wants to kiss boys.”

“I do.”

“Oh. Then I know one other person who wants to kiss boys. So it’s okay.”

Jean nodded very seriously and leaned forward. “So, who do you want to kiss?”

Kevin shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Liar.”

“Hey!”

“Liar liar, you have to have somebody. Even if it’s not realistic.”

Kevin deadpanned, “I think Alexander the Great is fucking hot.”

Jean threw a pillow at him.

As Kevin got older and he realized that oh, yeah, he definitely wanted to date a guy or a girl or something, he stumbled around keeping Riko from knowing. Maybe it was the face he’d made when he thought Kevin liked guys years ago. Maybe it was just that Kevin wanted to keep something to himself.

Either way, Riko wasn’t the first to find out. It was the Master.

Kevin had been sixteen and maybe he’d stared too dreamily at one of his teammates while he was benched, because the Master had hit him on the back of the head. “Focus,” he snapped. “I have no time for your schoolboy dreams of romance. Especially ones that will ruin your career.”

“What?” Kevin asked. Riko turned his head to listen to the conversation.

The Master had just narrowed his eyes. “It’s bad for your career to be anything but heterosexual.”

Kevin pretended to know what that meant and nodded very seriously.

(He looked it up in secret at the library in the five minutes he managed to slip his ever present bodyguard and it felt like a stab to the chest. He also found a few other words- bisexual taunted him. It was right there, as if he could reach out and grab it, and he was now forbidden to. Because, if anything happened to his career, the Moriyamas would… not be pleased.)

---

Kevin Day was an unrepentant USC fan. He put his foot down on it. He cheered for their wins and he supported them from afar and oh God he’d give anything to be in that stadium for one day, to see how a team so good could be so nice.

(They won the Day Spirit Award. They kept winning the Day Spirit Award. Kevin knew he’d never get his hands on that award. The Ravens played too rough, too willing to win to care about spirit, but oh God he’d give anything to win the award named after his mother.)

He loved history, and he loved epic poetry, and he loved the Illiad, and for a moment it was like the Trojans could be that knight in shining armor. He’d told himself a thousand time to outgrow the dreams and never had, but whatever. His savior was sometimes a knight in her chainmail with a flail in her hands, sometimes a Trojan warrior with his hair tied out of his face and sandals on his feet, sometimes a Trojan player in their gold and red jersey with an Exy racquet.

---

Two things happened not at the same time, but roughly the same time.

One was that he was officially signed to the Edgar Allen Ravens, and in his contract it was explicitly required that Kevin Day be a heterosexual cisgender man. (When his other contracts for other teams came in, he didn’t even bother to read for that bit. He just assumed it was there, because the Master and Riko would never let him sign any different.)

Two was that he saw Jeremy Knox for the first time and had a new answer for Jean on who he wanted to kiss, no matter how unrealistic it might be.

(If his Trojan prince started to look like Jeremy Knox, it didn’t matter if it was only in his head, right?)

---

Kevin remembered the day he learned he had a father. Well, logically, he knew he had one. But having a name was a completely different feeling.

He and Jean had gone snooping in the Master’s files, because it was late at night and they were bored, and they wanted to see if he was really as scary as he seemed. Maybe if they found something like a desk full of drawers of kitten pictures, he’d be less intimidating.

Then Jean had whispered, “Hey, Kevin, I think you should see this.”

And Kevin opened the letter Jean handed him without reading the front and he realized.

His father was the coach of the Palmetto State Foxes. His father was David Wymack.

He had a living blood relative.

He stared at the note and stuffed it in his coat pocket. It would stay there forever.

“You’re taking it?” Jean looked worried.

“It’s mine,” Kevin said, more vicious than he meant to. Jean flinched back. Kevin felt his heart sink. He’d been spending too much time with Riko. He was wearing off on him.

“We should go,” Kevin said. “We don’t want to get caught.”

Coach David Wymack was his father. He didn’t sleep that night. He hid the letter and only told Jean where it was.

---

Kevin sported a fair number of cuts and bruises, but not as many as Jean. Never as many as Jean. Because he was number two, and Jean was only number three. When Riko found and dragged back the other boy, Nathaniel, he would be four, and Kevin really didn’t want to know how many injuries he would get.

Being number two didn’t feel like being number two. It felt like being glorified last. It felt like being locked into a position, always worried about losing ground or taking any.

He remembered the days he had believed that being number two was okay. He wasn’t okay with being number two but he could never admit he wanted to be number one.

---

In Kevin’s freshman year with Edgar Allen, there was a game.

And in this game, the Ravens very nearly lost. They were at a tie, and the clock was winding down and Riko and Kevin were tied for points stolen and Kevin knew that the last goal was Riko’s to score for the heroic comeback.

But.

Kevin had the ball and Riko wasn’t open and the goal was right there. He weighed the punishment of allowing the Ravens to lose versus the punishment of being better than Riko. He took the shot.

The goal lit up red.

Kevin didn’t meet Riko’s eyes for the rest of the night. He sat in the back of the bus with his history books and tried to tune out the angry glare he knew Riko was sending his way.

When they got back to the Nest, Riko refused to let Kevin ignore him anymore. “You are number…”

“Two,” Kevin managed.

“Maybe I’ll carve it into your fucking skin so you don’t forget.”

Kevin managed to repress his shudder. Riko already had the knife out.

Better to just take it. Better to never fight back.

God forbid he say it was an accident. As if he could ever do anything by accident when it came to Exy.

---

Riko’s Perfect Court story had a few holes in it. Mostly because it was nearly empty.

Number four was lost in the wind after refusing the number three spot, but Riko was sure they’d find him one day and reclaim what was theirs. Not that anyone knew that, of course.

Numbers five and six were slated to join the Ravens in three and four years, respectively. They were young, but already amazing, and Riko was more than willing to wait for talent.

Number seven was the next to join the Perfect Court, and he was saying no.

“What do you mean no ?” Riko spluttered.

Andrew Minyard gave a shrug and a grin. “I’m not interested. So, fuck off.”

Kevin couldn’t understand it. He’d insisted to Riko that they needed Andrew Minyard, because his stats were amazing, because his talent was obvious, because Kevin privately thought he could make him care.

And he didn’t care.

Kevin couldn’t imagine not caring about Exy. If he didn’t care about Exy, this would have reached unbearable when he’d joined.

“Aren’t you at least a little interested?” Kevin offered, eyes wide. He was aware he was the more even tempered of the two Exy superstars, the more- ha -charismatic. Really he couldn’t do anything without a script. But this was Exy.

“Not at all.”

Kevin spit out, “You’re wasting your talent. It’s an insult to this sport.”

Andrew gave him a strange look. “When you realize you’re throwing your life away, come find me.”

Kevin turned around and walked away. Hopefully neither of them had seen how much the words had felt like a knife to the heart.

---

Kevin could never shake the feeling he was being robbed.

Like years of his life were being taken away from him as he did things he didn’t want to and was forced to be second best at the only thing that made him happy and he stole moments of quiet in the middle of the night in French and he was being forced to be something he wasn’t and forced to say things he didn’t mean.

Kevin felt like the Moriyamas were taking him apart, thread by thread and by the end of it all, there’d only be a shell that played Exy and sat silently to be beaten on command.

---

Kevin knew the moment it all fell apart. It was when Kathy Ferdinand said something about Riko holding Kevin back. For being too stuck in the numbers on their faces to grow as players.

Kevin had smiled and insisted that wasn’t the case, but maybe it wasn’t enough.

Maybe, on accident, he’d let the relief that someone had noticed slip through his carefully cultivated media face.

Riko was not forgiving of accidents.

---

Thea, Thea, Thea. Kevin could spend the next hundred years trying and never figure out where he stood with Thea. He was pretty sure they were a long term non-monogamous hookup where Kevin was the idiot and got feelings, he thought.

But she said, “You know you’re better than him, right?”

And Kevin refused to talk to her for a week.

---

He couldn’t be better than Riko.

---

Then the ERC started to say the same things and oh God, it had gotten out of control. No amount of damage control could make it back to the way it used to be.

Kevin found himself wishing he hated this sport. He found himself wishing, just for a second, that he was worse at it. He wished he’d made less goals, not run as fast, truly been number two. He wished it had never been a competition.

(He wished he’d lived in a world where it could had been a friendly competition.)

Kevin and Riko had a face off in the dark of the night with all the cameras off and the lights off and only each other and the goals and the Master watching.

And Kevin really tried.

He really tried to be second best.

---

Kevin remembered being on his hands and knees and confused for half a heartbeat and then a foot coming down-

Please, no, please, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please, please don’t do this-

Again-

I’m so sorry, please, you’re number one, you’re number one, I’m number two, please, stop-

Again-

Please, Riko stop, stop I thought we were friends, Riko please, please, I didn’t want this to happen-

Again-

PLEASE-

Again-

It was an accident.

Again.

And then Riko left him alone in the dark clutching at his hand.

---

Kevin stayed there in the dark for a very long time. He didn’t think he drifted in and out of consciousness, but he remembered thinking very clearly that his knight in shining Exy armor, if they even existed, didn’t come to save the prince in the tower in time.

And the wicked sorcerer who’d put him there had already broken him. Already made him a shadow of whoever he used to be. Already made him worthless.

A prince who had just lost the kingdom.

Kevin gave a strangled laugh at the warping of his childhood fantasy. Princes and knights weren’t real. This was real, the pain and the brokenness.

---

Jean showed up later, and his eyes were sympathetic. Kevin thought that hurt worse than the broken hand.

“You’re never going to play again, you know.” He said it so softly, like any amount of gentle words would ever make this okay.

Kevin didn’t answer him. It was then he realized he wasn’t breathing very well.

Strange. He hadn’t noticed.

Jean tried, he did. He spoke in French, in their safe language, that it was going to be okay and Kevin found himself giving a long, strangled sob.

Nothing was ever going to be okay again.

“If you were ever friends with me,” Kevin coughed through the snotty, ugly sobs and the shallow breaths and the rocking back and forth and the anger. “Get him out of my room.”

And Jean left.

And Kevin felt guilty.

---

He went to his room and decided what was essential immediately.

His books, no matter how much it hurt to leave them, would weigh him down. And he couldn’t carry them, anyways.

His Exy gear, obviously, was of no use to him.

As much as he wanted it, he didn’t have time to get his mother’s letter.

He took a coat.

He took a wallet to pay for the bus fares he’d need to pay.

And he walked past the doors he’d always imagined were barred like barricades.

And he walked past the walls he’d dreamed were covered in spikes to keep him in and keep others out.

And he walked past the roads he’d always pretended were moats full of alligators and crocodiles.

And he walked.

And he didn’t dare look back.

---

He rang up David Wymack as soon as he could. It was clumsy on a payphone with his right hand.

“Help me,” was all he could manage at first.

“Who is this?” His father said. Kevin wanted to laugh and cry and he wanted to scream your son and he wanted to say no one.

He went with the simplest answer. “I’m Kevin Day.”

His father went silent. “This is a prank, right?”

Kevin clutched his hand closer to his chest, trying to keep it safe and not look at it. “I wish,” he said quietly. “Please help me.”

“What’s wrong?”

Kevin didn’t want to say it.

“My hand. I broke my left hand.”

There was a sharp inhale of breath. “Where are you?”

Kevin gave him the address. He’d known where the Foxes would be, and he walked accordingly.

“I’ll be right there,” his father promised, and Kevin tried not to imagine if he’d always been there.

The line went dead.

Kevin waited.

---

Andrew Minyard signed with the Foxes, Kevin’s brain reminded him helpfully as he stepped onto the Foxes bus.

At that point, he’d walked too far, and he’d cried too much, and he’d screamed his voice hoarse, and he collapsed onto the seat as soon as he could.

He dreamed of Trojans fighting giant, one handed alligators. He was watching in the stands, and voices were surrounding him uncomfortably. They were talking about him. Talking about how his career was over, and his life was over, and he was a left handed athlete.

In his dream, Jean was there and he spoke French and Kevin didn’t understand.

In his dream, Riko was there and he had left an Exy racquet made of spikes on Kevin’s left hand.

In his dream, the alligators ate all the Trojans.

---

Kevin heard the public statement about his hand.

An accident.

---

Andrew said, “You’re coming clubbing with us.”

Kevin said, “oh hell no.”

And Andrew said, “we leave at seven.”

Kevin completely ignored that. He refused to go anywhere with Andrew Minyard. Anyone who could play like that and not care didn’t deserve the time of day from Kevin.

At seven fifteen, there was a knock on the door. Andrew and Aaron and Nicky were standing there expectantly.

Kevin slammed the door in their faces. He went back to the couch and continued to read. It was a translation of the Illiad- not his favorite version, but he was enjoying it enough. History. He couldn’t play Exy, so he was- temporarily -filling the void with history.

In two minutes, the door was open and Andrew was standing in front of him with an insufferable smile. “How did you-”

“Lock picks. Come on, we’re already late.”

Kevin knew how this went. He put his book away and followed them to the car.

---

They went to an ice cream place called Sweetie’s. Nicky talked the whole time about his history there, and Kevin didn’t say a word. He was waiting for the catch to kick in.

On the way there, Andrew got decidedly more sober. Kevin pretended to ignore it.

They ate ice cream and Kevin spared a fleeting thought to their diet plan. He pretended to ignore them picking up packets of what were definitely drugs, and they paid and they went to a bar called Eden’s Twilight.

Andrew asked for his drink order and Kevin gave his first words of the evening since leaving his room. “I don’t drink.”

“You sure?”

Kevin thought about it. He thought about how alcohol was a depressant and he’d felt nothing but empty and scared and broken.

“Something strong and as tasteless as possible,” he told the bar keeper- his nametag read “Roland”. Roland laughed and said, “how does vodka sound?”

Anything sounded good. Kevin just nodded.

Aaron and Nicky disappeared to dance after downing a few drinks, and Kevin was left with Andrew and the tray of drinks.

“You look terrified,” Andrew commented without any emotion behind it.

Kevin downed a drink. It burned going down and he thought he hated it. That was not tasteless. “Whatever.”

Kevin was silent, but three drinks in, he said, “I didn’t want to come here. Really, aggressively, did not want to come.”

There’s almost a flicker of emotion on Andrew’s face. “Then why did you?”

Kevin has to drink two more drinks before he says, “Because I was scared of what would happen otherwise.”

Kevin hates this. He hates having his filter broken and he hates the way his limbs are buzzing and he hates that he’s telling Andrew Minyard this shit about his life.

Two drinks more and Kevin is whispering in a hushed voice to Andrew, “when I was small I used to dream a knight in shining armor would rescue me from Evermore castle.”

Andrew looked bored. “I am not a knight here to rescue you.”

“I don’t care. I don’t want to go back,” Kevin whispered, and it was true. “I don’t want him to come back for me.”

“You think he will?”

When Kevin teaches himself how to play with his right hand. When Kevin proves he’s still valuable. When Kevin shows the world that he is better than Riko. When he realizes Kevin is thinking dangerous, treasonous things. “Yes.”

Andrew gives him a look. “If I promise to protect you, what will you give me?”

Protection.

Kevin cradles his left hand a little closer to himself, and he says, with all the conviction he can muster, “Exy.”

Andrew is already walking away and Kevin cannot let that happen. “No, hear me out-”

“No.”

Please-” Please, don’t hurt me, please I didn’t mean it.

Andrew gives him a scathing look. “I hate that word. Don’t use it.”

Kevin stops and knocks back another drink. “Okay,” he says. “But one day, you’re going to have to come off those drugs. One year, two years, ten years- one day, you will. For good. And you’re going to need something to build your life around.”

“And you think stickball can do that for me? Look what it did to you.”

Kevin flinches from that. “But-”

“We’re done here.”

---

They were back at Palmetto. Aaron and Nicky had already stumbled back to their rooms- Andrew was left sitting in the car with Kevin.

Kevin wasn’t looking at him.

“You have potential,” he muttered. “And it’s- it’s fucking frustrating that you won’t use it.”

Andrew gave a dry, meaningless laugh. “Tragic.”

“Give it a try.”

“You’re desperate for my help, aren’t you?”

Kevin said, “yes.”

“You’re drunk, aren’t you?”

Kevin lied, “no.”

“I hate liars. Try again.”

“Yes.”

“Better.”

“Ple- If you would reconsider…”

Andrew just sighs. “You’re infuriating. You just don’t give up. Maybe it’ll keep my interest for a while.”

It took Kevin a bit to realize that meant yes.

---

Kevin had discovered in Columbia that he hated being vulnerable. So, as harsh as he’d already been to the Foxes- full of fear, anger, not at them but at the unfairness of it all, lashing out because he needed something to get rid of that ball of anger and pain in his chest -he became ten times harsher. They wouldn’t push him if they didn’t like him.

Besides, it was how to get better. They’d only get better at Exy if they were pushed.

The only people who still tried to be friendly with Kevin were Andrew’s lot- the monsters, he heard the others whisper. Guess he fit right in.

Andrew was either drugged to high heaven or filling the lack with drinks and crackers, and he hated Exy all the while, so Kevin had nothing to talk to him about. Aaron only seemed to tolerate him. Aaron only seemed to tolerate most people. And Kevin didn’t talk to Nicky unless he had to.

Kevin knew Nicky would… understand? Sympathize? Kevin could, sober or drunk, theoretically sit down in front of him and say you know I’m bi, right ? And Nicky would probably say something joking but kind, and Kevin would feel better.

Then Kevin would think about that one clause that’s always been in his contracts. He didn’t know if it was in his Foxes contract in the drafting stages, but he knew he couldn’t bear to look.

It didn’t matter what state he was in. He was Moriyama property, marked by the number on his face.

(And he couldn’t look because seeing it again would definitely kill him this time.)

---

They needed a new striker sub after his father’s first (and only) choice had tried to kill herself. So Kevin took it upon himself to look, because his time as assistant coach was drawing to a close, and he wanted to know who he was going to have to deal with on his line.

Milport, Arizona, had sent in a video and a file. Kevin glanced at the file- this kid’s numbers were abysmal. But by the time he’d looked at the file, he’d already watched the video.

Kevin slammed the file onto his father’s desk. “I want this one.”

His father and soon to be coach raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“He will be Court,” Kevin promised. “Watch.”

He dragged his father over to the screen and forced him to watch the video.

“He plays like he has nothing to lose.”

“That’s the only kind of player worth having on a court,” Kevin said, practically vibrating. He grabbed one of his hands to keep them from flapping wildly- definitely not allowed.

But this striker from Milport was what they needed.

---

Neil Josten was a blessing onto any court he entered, a sign of promise and potential and passion for Exy. He cared more than all the other Foxes combined, and he put in just as much effort. He was willing to practice all summer.

Neil Josten was Kevin’s personal headache. He was a nightmare, he was nowhere near where he needed to be, and everywhere he went he brought his attitude with him. He was exhausting and dealing with him made Kevin want to jump off of something tall.

He wasn’t what he needed to be. But he would. He would go pro, he would make Court, because Kevin refused to let him waste his potential. He would be great.

---

He’s coming for me.

The Ravens were coming south.

He’s going to take me back.

His immediate reaction was to run back. Maybe if he did it right now, Riko would take him back with open arms. He’d be punished, but not as badly as if Riko had to come drag him back.

His second reaction was, My father won’t let them take me back. And with that, he started to get incredibly drunk.

He couldn’t tell anyone, which meant he couldn’t tell Andrew, which meant he had no idea how safe he was. At least Andrew stuck to promises. But he didn’t like liars.

Kevin took another drink. He’d learned to love it, learned to have something to fill the empty part of him where his fear stayed like a constant reminder.

If Kevin had a knight coming, weren’t they in for a surprise. The prince guarded by the viciously jealous dragon was a broken alcoholic with an obsession no one tried to understand.

---

The only thing that mattered was Exy, getting better at Exy, perfecting his right hand aim and relearning his left hand skills to be the best at Exy. The only other things Kevin cared about other than Exy were history (because when his muscles simply couldn’t go on because he wasn’t a machine, he could read himself to sleep) and drinking (because then just for a second, just a wonderful second he could pretend everything was okay and nothing was wrong) and that was fine with him.

Kevin told Bee as much. He’d worked out his system- he didn’t have time to see her regularly, but he could talk about Exy. He could talk about what he wanted. He wanted Exy.

Bee just listened and stirred her hot chocolate.

---

They lost the first game and Kevin tried not to feel the utter failure. When was the last time the team he’d played on lost a game? He didn’t even remember.

---

Kathy’s show had been a mistake, he realized suddenly. And it had all been okay until then. Kevin heard the Raven anthem blaring, and he froze. No. No, not even he can be this cruel.

And Riko Moriyama walked onto the stage.

Kevin felt himself going cold. Don’t show fear don’t show fear. Deliriously, Kevin thought Riko could smell fear. That was why he was smiling so wide.

They hugged, because there was a part that needed to be played. Two starring roles that needed to be filled- the fallen star and his heartbroken best friend. (The broken toy and his ex owner.)

Kevin sat back down in a daze. This couldn’t be happening. This could not be happening.

It was bad enough he had run away. It was bad enough that he had signed with the Foxes. It was bad enough the Ravens had to come south to fetch him. It was bad enough he hadn’t run back. But now Riko had come for him. On national television.

He barely said a word. He stayed as silent as he could, as still as he could.

And then Neil piped up and Kevin felt the world come crashing down.

You don’t talk back to Moriyamas.

And here Neil was. Talking back.

(This would not go unpunished, but Kevin was foolish enough to believe it would fall down on his head.)

---

Orange and black. Black and red. Mourning colors look an awful lot like the past.

Kevin should have known it would come to this.

He tried not to be desensitized to Seth’s death. He really did try. But it had been the last thing keeping the Foxes from getting along, was Seth’s inability to work with anyone. Maybe now they stood a chance.

The game above the people. Kevin would always be a Raven at heart.

---

Shopping for the winter banquet (where Riko would be) was always a pain. Nicky complaining about trying to get Neil a Vixen date to the banquet (where Riko would be) was starting to get on Kevin’s nerves.

“I am going to make him Court.” Kevin ignored that Neil had no belief in himself (yet). “It’ll be easier if he remains heterosexual.”

And his voice didn’t shake. Kevin was at least a little proud of that- that the broken part of him that still wanted to breathe had finally shut up enough to let him focus on Exy. It still hurt. But it was the quiet hurt, at least.

---

The banquet is just as painful as Kevin expects it to be, and he’s only in the bus.

I can’t see him, I can’t see him, I can’t see him. Kevin had lost track of if he was thinking about Riko or Jean.

(He’d known what would happen to Jean if he walked out. He should have told him. He should have invited him to come with him.)

His father gave him a bottle and a time limit, and Kevin went for it. He needed this. When his father finally took the bottle away, he started to believe it could be okay.

---

The Foxes and Ravens were sitting at the same table, nothing would ever be okay again.

Kevin stayed with Andrew. Andrew kept promises, and he’d promised to keep Kevin safe, so Kevin would stay with Andrew even if it meant going towards the Ravens when every single part of his body wanted to run.

Kevin took his seat stiffly and tried too hard to not look at Riko, and he glanced once at Jean before he thought he was going to be sick but he couldn’t look away. There was no way this wasn’t planned.

Last chance, Jean’s eyes seemed to be saying once he’d gotten done antagonizing Neil and given his hello to Kevin. Kevin stopped looking at him.

Kevin zoned in and out, alternating between hearing every word and not hearing a single thing other than white noise. He kept rubbing the scars on the back of his hands and chewing the inside of his mouth.

“-Kevin wants to be here,” Dan was saying.

I do? He was almost unsure now. One of the Ravens- backliner sub, #11, George -laughed and kept talking and Kevin zoned back out until Aaron spoke.

Kevin offered his words and Jean snapped something and Kevin really wanted to leave and he wanted out and he wanted-

Oh my God, what is Neil doing.

Neil was speaking, and it wasn’t even speaking. It was a full on insult, directed straight to Riko’s face. Kevin tried to stop him and Neil just kept fucking talking. When he was done, Matt had left to get Kevin’s father.

“You can’t say things like that,” Jean said. Riko was still in shock. Neil gave his asshole reply, and Jean turned to Kevin and spoke French and it dug a deeper hole into his chest. Oh, how the times changed. “What the hell is this?”

“His antagonism is a personality flaw we’re learning to live with,” Kevin managed in the same language. The language of late nights spent talking about life and boys and leaving and surviving.

Jean continued to ask things, and most of it went over Kevin’s head, because it wasn’t his fucking place to discipline Neil (if anything he would just make it worse) but.

“Why doesn’t he know his place yet?”

“Neil has no place in Riko’s games. He is a Fox.” And so am I, he wanted to snap.

“He is not a Fox!”

Neil piped up to defend himself and Kevin’s blood went cold at what Jean said next.

Did you forget who bought you?

Nobody bought me.

“Jean what are you talking about?”

How can you not know?

“He has potential.”

God save you both, you useless fools. No one else can.

Kevin’s father was here now, but Kevin couldn’t find it in him to care about that. Hesitantly, hesitantly, he started to ask Riko, “Tell me he isn’t-”

His father interrupted before he was done asking, and Riko just gave him a soft smile.

And Jean spoke.

And Kevin made a low, pained noise.

Butcher’s son Butcher’s son Butcher’s son Butcher’s son Butcher’s son. Oh, what had he done.

Neil was dragging him back and keeping him upright and Kevin managed, “that’s not true.”

“Shut up. Don’t say anything else.” So it was true.

They were already getting dragged to their next table. Kevin let it drop when Neil told him to. Tomorrow. He leaves as soon as he can manage to.

Dear God help me, I stole the Butcher’s son from Riko Moriyama.

---

He drank until he couldn’t care anymore. Hell yeah, he’d stolen the fucking Butcher’s son from Riko Moriyama. He had the original number three. What was Riko going to do about it?

Kevin had Nathaneil Wesninski.

And he was going to make Court.

---

The rest of the banquet was bearable until the Ravens made another appearance. Kevin tried very, very hard to be very, very invisible.

That lasted until the Master called his name, and Kevin immediately turned back into the loyal Raven child. Then he shook it off then it was back and God, God he just wanted to leave.

---

Leaving was heaven. Kevin saw the gates of heaven that night, and they were the doors to the Foxes bus.

---

Neil hated him, he was sure, but he stayed for night practices.

They explain whatever happened at the banquet to each other, and it hurt more than Kevin had expected it would. Kevin found himself caring more that Neil lived than the season. If Neil ran, the season was over. But Neil would be alive.

“Let them kill me. It’ll be too late by then,” Neil finished his declaration he’d never run, he’d give up everything to the FBI, he wanted to be a Fox, he wanted to stay. (He wanted exactly what Kevin wanted. Freedom. Exy.)

(Friends.)

“You should be Court,” he found himself whispering. Because he should.

At least one of them should have been able to make it.

“Will you still teach me?”

There was only one answer. “Every night.”

---

Raven game was in five days.

Raven game was in four days.

Raven game was in three days.

Raven game was in two days.

Raven game was tomorrow.

Raven game was today.

Raven game was in three hours.

Raven game was in fifteen minutes.

---

Raven game was now.

---

Riko hugs him and it’s a show, but he hisses in Kevin’s ear, “Remember who’s number one.”

He can’t move. There’s a concussive sound and when Kevin turns around Andrew is hitting his racquet on the wall. (Because he promised to protect Kevin, and part of that is protecting Kevin from himself.)

The game doesn’t go as well as Kevin wanted. But damn.

Damn if he isn’t satisfied that this mess of a team and his mess of a right handed style is coming together.

---

This is the worst Thanksgiving in the history of every Thanksgiving ever.

(When Kevin was small, Thanksgivings were celebrated with extra practice. Not even by the Master’s command- that was just how Kevin decided he wanted to spend his day. Even Riko and Kevin got the day off.

But Kevin had no family, so he spent the day on the Exy court.)

He’s stuck in a loop, thinking about the blood on everything and the red on goalposts and Andrew’s laugh and kid-Kevin’s laugh and.

He hates Thanksgiving.

---

Andrew is leaving.

Kevin, by now, is over thinking there’s any way to make him stay. But it doesn’t make it any more bearable to know he’s going to be alone in the same district as Riko.

---

Why must Neil always pick fights with Riko.

Jean drags Kevin away despite his best efforts, and Kevin tries to look back, and Jean forces him to look at him instead of where his idiot teammate is trying to get himself killed.

“Neil is spending Christmas at Evermore,” Jean says, handing Kevin an envelope. “Here’s his ticket.”

“There’s no way he will ever agree to this,” Kevin warns.

Jean just looks cold. “He will.”

Jean is leaving but Kevin grabs his hand. “Just… just tell me. Were we ever friends?”

“I got him out of your room, didn’t I?” Jean said. “And you knew what would happen to me. So I guess the question is were you ever mine?”

Kevin looked at the ground and let Jean walk away.

---

Jean will help you if you help him. It was the only encouragement or aid Kevin could think to put to words for Neil Josten as he went walking to his doom.

Kevin tried too hard most days to not think about Jean. His first, his only friend. His one, good, true, best friend. Kevin had a friend, before he went and fucked it up quite thoroughly.

Kevin, all holiday, tried too hard to not think about Neil and he tried too hard not to think about Jean. Maybe they’d become friends. Maybe Neil would hate him by the end. That would be fair too. Ravens did all sorts of things to survive the Nest, and Jean would never be an exception.

They were both just trying to survive. Kevin leaned on his status as two- he was the face, the future, part of a half. It killed him, every day, he was starting to realize, and left him with dead smiles and an empty void that needed to be filled, but it kept him safe.

Jean’s version of staying safe was agreeing with whatever Riko wanted. Safer that way.

“What’s got you so down, Kevin?” Renee asked sweetly. Kevin looked up. It was two in the morning, and he was sitting on a couch with a bottle he was too tired to drink from. What a first.

“What are you doing up?” He deflected. Renee sat down next to him.

“I couldn’t sleep. Sometimes that happens to me. You?”

Kevin closed his eyes. “Same, actually.”

“Bad thoughts or dreams?”

“Thoughts.” Kevin wouldn’t give up Neil’s secret. “I’m thinking about Jean.”

And the only reason he’d said it was because it was Renee, and Jean seemed to like her. Maybe they could be friends, too. Maybe Jean could have every friend in the world like he deserved and Kevin would still be prickly and unlikeable to anyone who knew him.

Renee nodded. She didn’t say anything, not yet, just let Kevin continue to ramble on. “And- And it’s my fault he’s still there. I wasn’t thinking, and I left him.”

“You had just gotten your hand broken. You weren’t thinking clearly in the moment. If you’d had even a day, you would have thought to take him with you.” Renee tilted her head. “That’s why you feel guilty, isn’t it?”

Kevin took a swig. “I didn’t come up to New York to be psychoanalyzed.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, and she meant it. If Kevin told her to go away, she would.

He kept talking, “I miss him. I want to go home.”

“The Foxes are your home,” Renee said, always with her gentle faith.

No you’re not. None of this, none of you are my home. Home was my mother, and the smiles she gave before she went to play Exy and I cheered from the bench. Home was red and black and stolen moments in French between being among the best Exy players in the world. Home is where my father knows who I am and offers me condolences and says he always wanted to be there for me. My home does not exist because none of those things are here anymore.

There is no such thing as home for Kevin Day. There is only an Exy court, broken hands and promises, and enough heart stopping guilt to ruin every life around me.

To Renee, Kevin said, “I’m going to go to sleep.”

---

His father insisted he tell the others. Kevin thought that was a horrible idea, but he was nothing if not an obedient son.

“Neil spent Christmas at Evermore,” he announced solemnly to the entire team as they sat at a breakfast table.

There was an immediate reaction. Kevin lost track of all the people screaming at him.

“It’s not my story to tell,” Kevin snapped finally. “Coach said to tell you all because you couldn’t go in blind, but if you want to know what happened go bug Josten.”

And he refused to elaborate on the matter.

(He wondered what Riko had done to Neil. He would be so, so angry.)

(A terrible part of him wondered if that meant Jean had been spared, just for the few weeks.)

---

Neil looked different. It was chilling. The same red hair and blue eyes of the boy from tryouts, all those years ago, and beaten to hell and back.

Neil seemed to have utterly no regard for his appearance now. Riko was trying to get him found by his father’s people. Kevin tried to raise this concern with him and Neil brushed it off.

You do what you do best and focus on Exy.

He had a point. It was all Kevin was good for.

---

“I know what he’s like. Riko. If you want to talk.”

The foray into well expressed emotion was… new. He was halting, and he nearly forgot the proper French for to talk. Jean would laugh at him.

He continued, and Neil brushed off the awkward offer at halting and hesitant socializing and empathy (he was good at neither of those things most days), and then hit him with an entirely new topic: he knew.

He knew Wymack was Kevin’s father.

Jean told him. It was like a secret that had just existed between the two of them had suddenly become more. Only three people knew now. But three was a lot more than two. It felt out of control.

Kevin lied about his reasons. He lied lied lied because the only reason he hadn’t told his father that his son was Kevin Day was because he was scared.

(He couldn’t lose the Foxes. It was terrifying to admit but losing them would probably kill him.)

---

Getting Andrew back was… an interesting ordeal.

Destructive and joyless.

And you’re going to need something to build your life around.

Please. I hate that word.

Kevin would give him Exy. He would be amazing. He would make Court.

Someone on this damned team had to.

---

Kevin did something completely unexpected at his scheduled appointment with Betsy Dobson: he talked about something other than Exy.

He gave her the story- the whole story, with some uncomfortable details omitted -about Evermore. It went over the time limit. He found he didn’t care.

She didn’t talk and he didn’t let her. He talked his head off about dreaming of daring rescues (neither princes nor princesses were mentioned) and psychological torture and Riko and Jean and finding out who his father was (no name stated) and then when he was done he got up and walked out the door.

He felt a little lighter, then.

---

Neil and Andrew were talking over him in German. Whatever they were talking about shocked Neil. He considered throwing something at his head, then took another drink.

Whatever. He was used to people ignoring him by now.

---

Why are they here? Kevin wanted to scream when he saw Riko and Jean in fucking Texas, just moments before the Longhorn game. They’re here to upset you. It’s okay. You can do this. They’re just here to shake you.

And Kevin was shaken. They kept coming back to fetch him. But Kevin had already convinced himself that if he looked into Jean’s eyes for long enough, he’d see sympathy. He’d see compassion, and he’d know Jean didn’t really want to hurt Kevin.

Just trying to survive the Nest.

Neil eventually brought his attention back to where the Foxes were talking about offense, and Andrew- oh, Andrew, he knew the exact height of a backliner, who was the opposite of his problem.

He does care, Kevin’s Exy-driven heart cheered. He will be Court! He cares!

We’re going to win.

---

Kevin almost laughed when Neil tried to say Jean was interested in Renee. It was ridiculous. Then Kevin remembered that he knew what Neil didn’t- Jean liked men. He just shrugged it off. “It won’t work.”

Thinking about Jean was the quickest way to get him depressed, Kevin was finally figuring out. Riko made him scared. Jean just made him sad.

And Neil said do you still know his number and Kevin was shocked to realize he did. He didn’t remember anyone’s number.

It was a moment where Kevin was very close to liking Neil before he went and did some fucking dumbass shit with the press. Again.

Stop dragging me into this! Kevin wanted to scream at him as he yammered on about how Riko shouldn’t have given him a tattoo four. Stop it!

Yes, I am fucking afraid of him, Josten! Yes, I am! He owns me! He owns Jean. He has everything and he can ruin my life and you keep upsetting him-

“What’s so important about being second best?”

Absolutely nothing.

---

Who the fuck put a dead fox in a car ?

Moriyamas, Kevin thought dully, in a semi state of shock. He’d bet anything the Master had this arranged. No, actually that wasn’t his style. This screamed Riko.

Fuck you, Josten, this is your fault.

Fuck you, Day, this is your own fault. You left you left you left and you keep making him come back for you.

This unhealthy obsession Riko had with him was beginning to tire him out.

---

Kevin was fucking done with the yelling. He was fucking tired of roaringly painful sounds in a language he didn’t speak and the biting comments in the ones he did. He wanted to play Exy, not get dragged into every single inner team conflict these disasters had.

He was being judgemental, he knew. If this was a charity project, a halfway house for broken people, he fit right in.

---

Kevin absolutely would not root for the Foxes if they played USC. He couldn’t find it in him to cheer this broken team that hated each other and him and the game when his Trojans in shining Exy gear who won spirit awards and second place were the other option.

---

Kengo Moriyama was in the hospital.

That could go. Very bad.

“At least you’re not there anymore,” Neil had commented.

“Jean still is,” Kevin managed, and it felt like a concession that yes he did still care about Jean. It was his fault Jean was still there. I left him there.

Kevin silently prayed to any universal being worth their salt that Kengo Moriyama would not die and Riko would have no reason to hurt Jean.

---

Kevin was going to fucking kill Neil for continuing to antagonize the Moriyamas.

Kevin screamed as soon as he was alone and kicked the wall until his toes hurt. “You know who they are!” He growled in French to himself but he imagined he was giving Neil a well deserved scolding. “My only fucking friend is there! My only friend!”

Best friend, by default then. Ex friend, probably technically. But did it matter if all Kevin knew was that if Jean was hurt too badly because of the Foxes he would never forgive himself. He already didn’t forgive himself for leaving him.

He needed to stop thinking about Jean and focus on Exy. (The Master had been right for once. A distraction like a relationship or friendship or whatever was ruining his career.)

He didn’t care when Andrew left for something or other that night. He just needed a drink and to scream at the pillow he was pretending was Neil Josten.

---

Kevin stared at his phone.

He knew Jean’s number. He’d given it to Renee. Obviously Jean had made the connection that he still knew it and had given it to Renee. It would be so easy to reach out.

I heard Lord Moriyama was hospitalized again and I wanted to make sure you were okay.

I miss having a place to call home.

I miss you.

Crazy that I’m starting to realize I might have a crush on you, huh? When we’re bitter rivals and states away and you probably hate my guts because I left you alone in the Nest. I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m feeling.

Kevin took a deep breath and started to type out a text.

Dear Jean, I dreamed too long of princes and knights come to rescue me from the Moriyamas. Now I’m free and all I want is to go back. Because I am so fucking scared. I’m living in fear. You aren’t afraid. You’re resigned. I don’t know what kind of courage that is, but I admire you for it. I miss you. Please stay safe.

He didn’t hit send.

---

Kevin was torn between a defense of the Trojans and a critique of the Foxes when he felt something hit the back of his head.

And he froze and the room shifted a little, and he was back in the Nest about to face punishment for saying any team could be better than the Ravens.

It only lasted a second before he realized it was, in fact, Neil fucking Josten.

The fear melted into annoyance. Maybe that was some fucked up version of healing.

---

Kevin was no stranger to violence, but a riot seemed a little much. There was a lot of everything and he found himself pressed up against Andrew’s side desperately.

Making it back to the bus was a disaster. Kevin tried to keep his head down, and he felt distinctly Andrew grab his arm and drag him forward. Not all the Foxes were there. Where were they?

Kevin felt a little dizzy. He thought something might have hit his head.

It took him until he was sitting on the bus to realize he had been cradling his left hand close to his chest, where it was most tucked out of the way and easiest to protect.

Andrew was sitting across from him. “Breathe,” he commanded.

He was, wasn’t he? Kevin opened his mouth to argue and realized Andrew was right. All his breaths were shallow and panicked.

“I’m sorry,” Kevin managed. “We’ve been… rough, lately.”

Understatement of the year award goes to Kevin Day.

“It’s been rough lately,” Andrew deadpanned. “But I don’t break promises.”

Kevin nodded. “I want my father,” he said.

Andrew paused at that. Kevin remembered no one else knew. He shut up because Nicky had managed to stumble onto the bus.

“Ambulances,” he managed. Now that he listened, Kevin could hear sirens. “I saw Dan get loaded into one. Matt went with her. Wymack is doing rounds looking for everyone else. Aaron and I got separated, and I saw Renee with a nasty scratch on her head.”

Andrew nodded at the information. Kevin just stayed still.

Eventually, his father came back onto the bus, cursing. Allison trailed behind him. “Matt called to tell me which hospital Dan is at. Renee is in the wind but Allison swears she’s in a hospital because there was an ambulance, and I can’t find Neil or Aaron.”

“Then we should start looking,” Nicky insisted. Kevin’s father just nodded and started making calls.

---

Andrew went out briefly, looking for Neil. He came back with only a beaten bag and a racquet.

Later, Wymack got a call from the FBI.

No.

Something terrible had happened, and Andrew made the connection, because his hand was around Kevin’s throat three seconds later.

“What happened?” Andrew growled. “Your eyes just went wide and horrified so what are you holding back ?”

Kevin gasped for breath and the people on the bus (Dan being released from the hospital with a simple scratch that looked worse than it was, Renee for a head wound that was purely surface level, and Aaron for a very beat up looking face) started screaming. His father nearly brought the bus to a screeching halt. “What the hell ?” Matt screamed.

“You-“ Kevin managed. The fingers dug in deeper. He felt like choking. “Stop-“

“What do you know, Kevin?” Andrew asked. “I won’t break his promise.”

“I-“ Kevin tried to think what Neil would be okay with and what Andrew would want and realized the two were completely incompatible. Was he imagining the black spots in his vision?

“Cut it out!” Wymack snapped. “Andrew, let him go. I have a few answers, too.”

“Not as many as our Day. Talk.”

Kevin tried and it just came out as a rasp. “Riko, stop-“

Andrew recoiled enough for Kevin to breathe. He didn’t let go, but Kevin took a deep breath. “Neil is lying about his name. Legally, it’s Nathaneil Wesninski. His father is the Butcher of Baltimore. And I don’t- I don’t know why the FBI has him. But I know who he was.”

Andrew was reaching back forwards, but Matt and Allison and Nicky were already pulling him back. Andrew just hissed, “spill.”

And Kevin told them all everything.

When the tale was done, his father just said, “so, we’re going to Baltimore.”

---

When Allison called out Neil and Andrew for their relationship, Kevin was surprised to realize he wasn’t surprised.

He hadn’t known. But he couldn’t say it was unexpected. And he definitely didn’t want to think about the unnameable feeling currently curling its way through him.

( Jealous, his head sang to his stubborn heart. Jealous jealous jealous. )

He kept silent and started tallying up the money he’d just lost.

(And part of him started calculating how fucked they were when Riko realized someone had ruined the tattoo on Neil’s face.)

(And part of him wondered, what if.)

(He almost brought it up with Neil but he was pushed away. So he was left alone with his treasonous what if.)

---

Neil Josten and his big lying mouth had a point. Kevin could make this all brush away with a name.

A name and a connection.

Oh yeah, my father is David Wymack.

My coach is my father.

Coach is my dad.

He was so not ready.

Neil had his mother’s letter though, and he wanted this. He wanted it to be concrete.

---

Neil suggested taking the tattoo off.

What if.

“Don’t even joke about that.”

It was his last tie to the Nest. His last tie to Riko.

No, actually. His reputation would always chain him to Riko. What the tattoo tied him to was Jean, and the pain and suffering they shared.

---

Kevin didn’t want to get dragged up to the mountains. After all this, he was starting to lose sight of the real important thing- Exy.

He needed this. He needed to win. He didn’t want to but he needed it.

He needed to win and he needed his mother to be proud of him.

---

“Coach.” Kevin felt all wrong. The back of his neck was hot. He wanted to run away.

His father looked up. “Yes?”

“I need to talk to you about my father.”

He winced. “Not take it well?”

Kevin swallowed. “Well, I don’t know yet.”

“Waiting for a response back?”

“It’s you.”

His father froze and Kevin knew this was the moment it all came crashing down.

He just said, “I hadn’t even hoped.”

“You really didn’t know?”

“She told me you were someone else’s. I wanted to believe she wouldn’t have lied to me.”

Kevin just waited for the next part. He didn’t know what was next.

His father cleared his throat. “If. If I’d had the chance… I would have been there for you.”

I know. “Well. That’s all.”

Kevin left as quickly as he could.

---

In the cabin, Dan cornered him. “What right did you have to hide that from Coach?”

Kevin blinked. “I am not having this conversation.”

“Oh, yes you are.” She poked his chest and gave a snarl. “You should have told him the second you learned.”

“And what?” Kevin demanded. “What would I have said? To him? To Riko ? Did you think the Moriyamas wouldn’t notice a long lost father- who is David fucking Wymack -showing up to my door. And where did I find this father? Oh, only after snooping in your office, Master. Yes, member of the actual fucking mob, one of your orphaned investments isn’t an orphan anymore!”

“You robbed him of the chance to have a relationship with you! You could have told him, explained it all.”

“No, and it isn’t fair that you demand I should have,” Kevin insisted. “None of you- none of you -will ever understand what it was like. Neil is the only one who will ever come close, and it’s nowhere near. He knew he would get to leave. I grew up thinking I would die there. So shut up about how by keeping my mother’s secret, I actually robbed my father of something. I saved his life, and I kept him out of this until I couldn’t.”

Dan was tearing up but she still looked angry. “It’s just not fair. That you had a father and threw it away. But I… I understand why you did it. I just… he always got to be the Foxes’ dad. And now he’s just… Kevin’s dad.”

“I’m willing to share him,” Kevin offered, and Dan started crying. On an impulse, Kevin hugged her.

And if she noticed he was crying too, she had the good grace to not mention it.

---

“Where is Renee?” Allison asked in the morning.

“She went to Evermore to pick up Jean.” Neil looked at Kevin. “Kengo is dead.”

Kevin knew enough about Riko’s tendencies to know why Renee had gone. He had no words to say. So he went upstairs, locked himself in his room, and screamed into a pillow and retaught himself to breathe.

Jean. He hurt Jean. He hurt my friend.

He wanted to be there. He knew he should stay away.

---

Jean was in Abby’s house and Kevin had to see him but would rather die than go there. He wasn’t ready to face him. He had to.

He knew Jean wouldn’t see them as friends, no matter how badly Kevin wanted it to be true. Renee was here, a beacon of calm in the storm that was Kevin’s terrible emotions.

When they walked into the room, Kevin lost his breath.

Jean looked like a mess. He was worse than Kevin had ever seen him, and it twisted something dark inside him. I will make him pay. Blood for blood. The Moriyamas would fall.

Then Kevin felt sick for even thinking it.

“Hello, Jean,” Renee said pleasantly. Jean glanced past her to look at Kevin.

“I’m sorry,” Kevin said in French. “I’m sorry.”

Jean was glaring at him. “I need to go back.”

“Please don’t.”

“You’re insane, Kevin. Time to stop running from this, time to go back and beg mercy.”

Kevin looked at the ground. “I have a father, Jean. I have a team. I can’t go back.”

Kevin had spent too long fighting for this terrifying version of freedom to understand why Jean couldn’t want it.

“You want to win.”

Kevin couldn’t say it so he nodded. “We can never play together again, can we? We would offer you a spot on the team if you wanted it but you wouldn’t stand for it.”

“Exactly.”

“If I find you a team, will you go?”

Jean narrowed his eyes and didn’t answer. Renee seemed content to let them hash out whatever in their language of Ravens.

Finally, Jean said, “you assume you can find a team.”

“I’m Kevin Day.”

“Your arrogance is still not attractive,” Jean said, and Kevin smiled.

---

An asset to the main family. It seemed like a dream.

Protection. So he’d never be free of the Moriyamas, but he had protection from the only ones that mattered now.

Kevin’s entire world view was starting to get exhausted from being flipped on its head so many times. Reality needed to pick a version of picking on Kevin and stick with it.

Free, he thought deliriously. There was no way he’d be able to form a single cohesive thought tonight, much less speak.

He looked in the mirror. What if.

---

“Take me to the court.” The court was the only place Kevin had ever felt anything remotely close to happiness.

They went and he started hitting balls at the goal, left handed.

Protection. Hit a foot off.

A family. A little closer.

Protection. Not close enough.

A future. He needed to hit the same spot every time. He’d get a rhythm.

Number one. It landed.

Kevin paused only briefly. All his other shots- for freedom, protection, a future, healing -landed perfectly well.

Andrew stepped into goal.

Finally, Kevin thought. Finally we’re getting somewhere.

When Kevin won their skirmish, he walked up and slammed Andrew into the wall. “There,” he hissed. “There it is. You can be great. You will be, if you tried. Let me help you try.”

Andrew shoved him away and they kept practicing.

Finally.

---

Another win, and Kevin was on press, and he gave his best award winning smile.

“I’m excited to play USC again.” His shining light in the dark. His mouth went on autopilot about their merits, and his mind drifted to the statement he’d prepared for weeks now. Years if he was honest. Always planning for the news to drop.

"I don't want to talk about the Ravens anymore," Kevin said. "Ever since my mother died it's been Ravens this and Ravens that. I am not a Raven anymore. I never will be again. To be honest, I never should have been one in the first place. I should have gone to Coach Wymack the day I found out he was my father and asked to start my freshman year at Palmetto State."

Ball dropped. The reporter looked stunned. And Kevin hated himself for taking a page out of Neil’s playbook, but he kept talking.

He went through his checklist of things he needed to answer: he’d known about his father since high school, Ravens were about being the best, best meant one, the Ravens had never intended for Kevin to be the best, they were shady they were awful and-

“Did you know I’ve never been skiing? I’d like to try it someday, though.” So much for the accident. He should thank me for clearing it up. He always hated accidents.

He gave one last inflammatory statement about the rematch and walked away. He felt incredibly light, as if he’d unloaded all his baggage. He distinctly did not like the feeling- it felt like he was going to blow away.

He kept a straight face until he made it to the mirror. He stared at the two on his face- such a simple little number couldn’t cause him this much strife, could it? His mind was imagining it gone. Kevin decided he didn’t like his face bare.

He gave his dire pronouncement. “We’re all going to die.”

“No we’re not,” Neil said.

Kevin ignored him and put a hand over his tattoo. Not a removal- maybe a cover up. Something else. Something better than a number.

Something more powerful than a King.

---

Thea was here. Lovely.

She analyzed his scars, his face, and they started their argument.

It was complicated.

“If you’re going to believe me, you need to see Jean.”

She agreed to it, and Kevin took her to Jean.

She looked at him, then back at Kevin, and managed an oh.

Kevin took her aside. “I’m sorry.”

She just nodded. “I don’t know if I can forgive you. But I understand.”

“Funny. That’s how I feel about me too.” Kevin looked at the ground. “Will this… work?”

“Sure.” Thea shrugged. “And I’m okay with open.”

“What?”

“Don’t worry, you’re very subtle. But I know you better than most. You like Jean.”

“I- I do?” He wasn’t entirely sure.

“Yes.”

Kevin shrugged. Thea was rarely wrong. He wasn’t even bothered Thea had figured it out- she was Thea, and he would have told her by the end of the year anyways, now that he was free of the Ravens. “It doesn’t matter if I do or not. Not allowed. And he can’t stand me anymore.”

Thea gave him a very gentle hug. Kevin found himself melting to it.

“I want to go home,” he whispered. “But I don’t know where it is.”

“Here, if you want it.”

“Okay.” That felt okay. Home is where the heart is. Yeah. “Home.”

---

Kevin remembered every game he’d ever played against USC. They were and always would be his favorite team, and even when they lost to them, it would feel okay. Because they were USC.

Kevin could never begrudge the Trojans for winning.

Then Jeremy Knox showed up and Kevin tried to remember how to breathe. And Kevin remembered why he’d always liked him.

They were friends, of a sort. Talking after and between games and having a long standing game of compliment tag with the press. Kevin wanted- something. Maybe to be better friends.

(The more hopeless romantic part of him wanted to go on a date. Like a useless idiot.)

“I have a backliner for you,” Kevin said. Jean would be safe with the Trojans. Far away where he didn’t have to play with Kevin, and Jeremy would take care of him.

Kevin pulled Jeremy aside. “My hand wasn’t an accident. Jean had a… similar experience. He needs a place to stay safe, and he hates me now. And I don’t blame him. You’re the only one I would ever trust with him.”

Jeremy gestured around. “Well, this place is definitely big enough for another backliner. After the game, I’ll give you my number, we can sort it out paperwork wise?”

Kevin beamed. “Thank you. Thank you.”

Just put all your crushes in California, that seems like a good plan.

Jeremy gave and explained the Trojan’s plot to give the Foxes the finals on a silver platter. Kevin couldn’t breathe.

They were going to win. And they were going to face the Ravens.

It felt like too much to have ever hoped for.

---

“I got you a team,” Kevin said. Jean looked at him incredulously.

“You said you’d go if I got you a team,” Kevin reminded him. “I found a team willing to let you transfer.”

“Which one?” Jean’s eyes (grey, like storm clouds about to start a downpour) were wide.

“USC.”

Jean started laughing. “Of course you did. Asshole. Of course you made me a Trojan, you biased motherfucker.”

“You don’t have to sign the paperwork,” Kevin said hastily. “But I thought-“

“Just give me a pen, Day.” Jean wasn’t laughing anymore. “You’re sending me to California.”

“I’m not sending you anywhere you don’t want to. But I thought you’d be better the further away I am. And the Trojans are an amazing team.”

“Says you,” Jean muttered. “Obvious bias.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Jean didn’t answer and signed the transfer papers.

He was on a plane a few days later.

---

Kevin skipped the last night practice before finals to go to the tattoo parlor.

He didn’t tell anyone where he was going. He knew if he said it before he was there, he wouldn’t go through.

What if, Kevin’s brain continued. What if.

And he got halfway there and wanted to back out. No no I can’t. Luckily for him, he’d taken a bag of liquid courage with him- half a bottle down and he was good to go.

He walked in. Very professional looking. He went up to the desk and tried to calm his breathing. “Do you-“ his voice was too high. “Do you-“ and this time he whispered it.

The guy at the front looked in shock. “Are you Kevin Day?”

“Do you do. Coverups.” Kevin grabbed the wood of the desk to keep himself steady.

“Not a removal?”

“No. I want a queen. Like in chess. Can you do that?”

The guy nodded. “Sure, sure.”

Kevin breathed out. “Thanks.”

“Why a queen?”

Kevin had a rehearsed answer for everyone- his team, his father, and the press. His answer to the tattoo artist was, “My mother. She was the Queen of Exy.”

Slightly untrue. She had been the goddamn founder of Exy. Kevin was simply carrying on her legacy.

It hurt, of course, but he’d been through worse. He didn’t flinch and he took note of everything the man said. He paid. He nodded. He said thank you.

Then he went outside and got roaringly drunk.

What have I done? What have I done? What have I done?

If Lola burning off Neil’s tattoo had been bad, his crime was ten times worse. Because he’d done it willingly.

He called Thea. “Thea. Thea.”

“Kevin? What are you doing up?” It would be earlier in the day for her- she lived in California because of her professional team.

Because everyone Kevin liked was in California.

“I got a tattoo.”

“Are you drunk?”

“Yes. Thea, am I better than Riko? Did I just make a horrible mistake?”

“Kevin Day, listen to me.” She said sternly and he shut up and listened. “You are better than Riko. What did you do?”

“You’ll see,” Kevin said. “I want it to be a surprise.”

“Okay. Go kick his ass, okay?”

“Okay. Bye.” Kevin continued to get drunk on his way back to Fox Tower.

---

His father found him before he could get to his dorm. Must have been coming back from something or other.

“Kevin?” His father was suddenly holding his shoulders. “Where were you? You- you’re drunk.”

Kevin nodded and pointed to his face. “Tattoo.”

His father looked at him in awe. “You’re kidding.”

“Did you know? When I was younger, I wanted someone to save me from Evermore. Like I was a prince in a tower, and they had to save me like it was a fairytale. Boys, girls, whatever. I imagined them coming in shining armor or Exy gear and whisking me away.”

“And that never happened,” Kevin continued. “Never. Not once. The closest I got was when I ran away. And even then, I wasn’t really free. Cause I was too scared to be.”

He was speaking far too eloquently. He took another drink. His father just looked stunned.

Kevin peeled back his tape to show off the small chess piece now covering that ever damned and damning 2.

“Fuck all the knights and princes and princesses I dreamed would save me,” Kevin slurred. “The Queen of Exy is saving himself.”

His father smiled at him. “Let’s get you home.”

---

Kevin fixed Evermore castle with a steely glare. He was here to take the throne. Everything between him and that was an inconvenience.

Cameras flashed and people would see the tattoo soon. Good. He hadn’t gotten it for it to be quietly tucked away and forgotten. He was here for his throne.

You’re better than him, Thea’s voice whispered to him while Kevin remembered Jeremy’s smile.

Jean’s voice was telling him your arrogance is not attractive. But it was always their joke, so Kevin chose to feel energized rather than disappointmented.

“Queen!” Someone shouted. Someone else took up the chant, and Kevin didn’t let that or the boos distract him.

I’m here to win.

---

In the court, Nicky was hugging his boyfriend and Kevin tried not to feel jealous.

Neil and him were the only ones with no one in the seats. Everyone else was off with someone, even as a guest.

His father tried to get him to go over. “Thea is watching from South tonight. And my father comes to all my games. That is enough.”

And it took Kevin three heartbeats to realize he hadn’t lied at all.

“Your mother would be proud of you.”

“Not just of me.” The Foxes. She would have loved my family.

---

This king’s ruled long enough.

It was time for the queen to take the mantle.

---

Riko was staring at his face. “You didn’t. You- I am going to ruin you,” he hissed in Japanese.

Kevin didn’t answer.

“Did you hear me? Has your stupidity made you deaf? I’m going to destroy you, your insolent Foxes, your family- everything.”

“Will you go away? I have a game to win,” Kevin snapped.

---

The bell rang to begin and it felt like:

Run fast, run faster.

Push hard, play harder.

Score.

Win.

It felt like:

This is where you belong, Kevin.

This is where you have always belonged. At the head of a winning team.

First.

It felt like:

Go Foxes.

Destroy them.

---

Half time was over and Kevin was done pretending.

He entered his court with a high head and his racquet held high in his left hand and listened to the screaming of the crowd.

He scored and he kept scoring and he refused to let up. There were two outcomes- he’d be the best or his heart would give out trying to be.

They were tied and Kevin had a desperate voice in the back of his head. No shootout. Please, no shootout.

His mother’s voice shut out the crowd and the noise and the confusion. In his head, she was reviewing how to swing a racquet. She’d taught him Exy when he was a child.

Elbows bent, extend. You need the ball to go very fast. It’s the best way, you know, the Day method.

Kevin swung.

Goal. And two seconds later the bell rang.

He gasped. He was running still until he collapsed to his knees to stare at the scoreboard in shock and awe.

The crowd was screaming. Kevin couldn’t stop grinning. He turned and blew a kiss to South tower with his right hand, still holding his racquet in his left and went to join his screaming team in their huddle in the middle of the court.

Then everything went quiet and the only scream was a scream of pain.

---

Kevin stayed in the court with interviewers and police until the morning. Exhausting. He was exhausted.

And all for an accident.

When he finally left with the Foxes, Thea was waiting outside the door. He started to call to her but she had already rushed to him. “Idiot,” she whispered as she crushed him in a hug. “Are you alright?”

“I- I’m okay.” Kevin didn’t really feel okay. Riko Moriyama would never play again. A shattered arm was worse than a broken hand.

Thea was holding him close. “You were amazing, Kev.”

He smiled. “Yeah?”

“Your ego is not attractive.”

Kevin grinned. “I’m starting to think it might be.”

---

When the news broke that Riko committed suicide, Kevin wasn’t sure if he believed it.

He did know he didn’t want to give out his opinion to a thousand hungry reporters.

He hid in his room and called Jeremy instead. “Is Jean okay?”

“He- he’s shaken. Everyone is.” Jeremy paused. “Are you ?”

Kevin was halfway to his third panic attack, but whatever. “I- I’m managing.”

“It’s okay. Breathe.”

Kevin breathed. Jeremy said, “it’s okay.”

It was.

For some horrible, twisted reason, he was okay.

---

Kevin had to get incredibly drunk to have a conversation with Nicky. They were on the couch of Kevin’s dorm (Neil was out running and Andrew was buying ice cream, so he has free reign of the dorm) and Kevin took a giant swig of whatever was in the bottle and let it spill out.

“Do you ever stop feeling robbed ?” Kevin blurted. Nicky looked at him, confused. Kevin elaborated with huge, halting arm movements. “I mean, do you ever wake up and just be okay with the idea that you had actual years of your life where you could have been yourself stolen from you? Because someone didn’t like who you were.”

“Kevin, is this about Exy?” Nicky asked. “Because you get to be number one now. You always were, really.”

Kevin snorted. “This isn’t about Exy. This is about me.”

“Okay.”

Kevin huffed and felt, oddly, like crying. “I’m bi, Nicky. And years of my life were- I was fucking robbed ? Does it ever feel… do you ever get better?”

Nicky’s eyes went wide. “You… okay.” He cleared his throat. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “But the happier moments start to drown it out. And one day you’re going to realize you were out longer than you weren’t, and that’s going to make it suddenly all worth it. Apparently.”

Kevin nodded. “I just… does the feeling ever stop? Do you ever wake up and realize you’re okay now?”

Nicky opened his mouth to answer and before he could Andrew walked in the door and said, “No, it doesn’t. You never get those years back and you never become okay with it.”

There was a stunned silence as Andrew put his groceries (one tub of vanilla ice cream, and some juice boxes) in the mini fridge. Then he turned and looked at Kevin intently. “You never become okay with it. You never stop thinking about the what if. But one day, you find someone- anyone -who understands. Who listens. Someone who cares, dammit. And then it seems… not worth it. But an acceptable pay off.”

“Andrew Minyard, that was almost romantic,” Nicky teased. Andrew just walked away.

Kevin just nodded and continued to get drunk.

---

Kevin always wanted to reach out to Jean but he knew it wouldn’t be fair. He had too much to say and not enough amends had been made.

Jean was the first to call. Of course, it was at two a.m., but Kevin would take what he could get.

“Hey. You free?” Jean asked, easily slipping into French. French was their language of the night, of the quiet moments between the stars.

“Sure,” Kevin whispered in the same language, getting out of bed and leaving the room, careful not to wake up Neil and Andrew. They were sleeping in the same bed tonight, and Kevin tried not to feel jealous that they were allowed to have that.

After those few words, neither of them spoke for a while. Kevin sat on the couch and waited for Jean to speak first. He didn’t know what to say.

Jean said, “do you forgive yourself?”

“No,” Kevin said simply.

“That’s good. If you had, I would have hated you forever. I accept your apology.”

“Huh?” Kevin managed. Jean just gave a small laugh- that sarcastic half laugh he gave when he wanted to communicate as succinctly as possible to Kevin that he was an idiot.

It meant we can be friends again.

It meant I missed you.

It meant you’re an idiot.

Kevin found himself smiling, deliriously happy. “Okay.”

“Get that smile I know you have off your face, Day.”

“No.”

Jean just sighed. But Kevin would bet he was smiling, too.

---

“I love you,” Kevin said on a phone call to Thea. “And you’re not allowed to say I know.”

“Okay. I love you, too.”

“And I think I love Jean, too. Even if we’re not completely okay yet, I-“

“Kevin. I know.”

“That’s not fair, I told you not to say that.”

“Next you’ll want to tell me about your crush on Jeremy.”

“Look, even I know that’s going nowhere fast.”

“I have the most uselessly bisexual boyfriend in the entire world.” Thea sighed. “And I love him even though he’s stupid.”

Kevin grinned. He’d been doing that a lot lately.

---

The last weekend of summer break, Jean flew down to visit. Kevin had nearly had a heart attack when Jean had showed up on the Foxhole Court with a luggage bag saying, “I’m here for three days.”

Kevin had just said, “okay.”

They were getting better, he knew. Slowly, surely. And maybe this was the step in the right direction.

---

Driving Jean back to the airport was a strange feeling, because it would be the only time Kevin had ever gone to the airport with Jean and not gotten on the plane with him. Andrew had let him borrow the car (Kevin thought he’d just wanted a moment or two alone with Neil) and they were only a few minutes away now.

Kevin said, “Excited to go back to California?”

Jean said, “I guess. It’s…”

“Different,” Kevin finished for him. He knew the feeling. Maybe he’d be the only person who ever understood.

“Tell me it gets easier.”

“I think it does.” Kevin shrugs and pulls into a parking spot. He turns off the car and neither of them moved. “It would have been easier with a friend.” ( We’re friends again, right? )

“Well, Jeremy has been good on that front.”

Kevin bit his lip. “Right. Of course.”

Jean suddenly turned to glare at him. “What?”

“What’s what ?” Kevin snapped back, defensive.

Jean narrowed his eyes. “Your jealousy is not attractive.”

“I- I am not jealous !”

“Oh, of course not!” Jean left the car.

Kevin hurried to follow him. Jean was grabbing his bag out of the back seat, and Kevin said, “I’m not jealous! Who would I be jealous of !”

“I don’t know! Me?”

“Why-“

“Because of your giant crush on Jeremy Knox?”

Kevin didn’t want to have this argument in the middle of an airport parking lot, but he didn’t want this to be the last thing he said to Jean, so he had to clear it all up. “That’s absolutely ridiculous. I just- I want to be okay again! Us!”

Jean gave a harsh laugh. “You left me!”

“And if I could take it back, I would! Literally nothing you say can make me feel worse about it, I know exactly what he did to you afterwards, and I’m sorry. But please stop pushing me back, I miss you.”

“Yeah, and you sent me across the country!”

“I thought it was what would would prefer! Could you stand being on the same team as me?”

“No,” Jean admitted. “But it’s just- it’s frustrating. Because I feel like-“ and he switched to French because they were drawing stares “-like it won’t ever be the same again.”

“Why would you get mad at me for being jealous, anyways?” Kevin asked, because that had started this.

“Because- because damn you, you really don’t know?”

“Know what?”

Jean sighed. “Forget it then. Let’s just go.”

“Jean, wait-“ he was already walking for the door. Kevin followed him. “Jean, what don’t I know?”

Jean furiously got his boarding pass and then turned to look at Kevin, and said in French, “Do you remember when I asked you who you wanted to kiss? We were fifteen-“

“I said Alexander the Great,” Kevin whispered back. “And you threw a pillow at me.”

“You. My answer was you.”

Kevin froze. And he blinked. And every interaction he’d ever had with Jean rearranged itself in his head. And he looked without his lens of assuming Jean would never want to be his friend again, and he thought he saw it. And he said, “oh.”

“Oh,” Jean repeated. He looked as confused as Kevin felt.

“How did I not know?”

“Because you’re an unobservant idiot who spends every second of every day thinking about Exy.”

They were holding up airport traffic. Jean had to get in the security line soon or he’d miss his flight. Kevin’s world was still trying to figure out what to do with this information. “I love you,” he blurted out.

“Let’s not say things we don’t mean.” Jean crossed his arms. “Don’t say what you think I want to hear.”

“I’m saying what I want to say.”

Jean paused. He opened his mouth to say something, then paused. Kevin felt like his face was burning. This was ridiculous. He wondered if he was allowed to call Thea for advice.

In the language of love, Jean whispered, “you were the best thing about the Ravens. And you weren’t allowed. And part of me will always be a Raven.”

“You say that like I won’t,” Kevin offered hopelessly. “But I’m trying to be more Fox than Raven. More Kevin than not.”

Jean nodded. “You have no clue how many times I almost told you. Then you left.”

Kevin winced. “I- I know.”

“It’s… I’ve spent all summer and most of spring trying to reevaluate my feelings for you, Kevin Day. And they’re overwhelmingly biased in your favor.”

Kevin nodded. “Yeah.”

There was silence for a while.

“I have a flight.”

“I know.”

“I should go.”

“I know.”

Jean didn’t go anywhere.

“Thea.”

“Yeah.”

“She’s, uh. She knows how I feel about you.”

“Oh.”

There needs to be a how to guide for this.

“I love you,” Kevin whispered again. Kevin was learning new things about himself: without Ravens, and with healing, Kevin had a tendency to put his heart on his sleeve.

Jean leaned forward and kissed him.

Someone who understood. Who listened. Who cared.

Kevin had always wanted a prince, and maybe Jean wasn’t a knight here to rescue him. But he had been a prince in the Raven Tower just as much as Kevin, and that was a prince.

So Jean kissed him and Kevin kissed him back.

And it felt like oh, oh so this is what I was missing.

And it felt like I want him to like me.

And it felt like I love him.

In the full light of a crowded airport, two international Exy stars were kissing just about ten feet away from the start of the security line, and anyone could see. Hell, anyone could take a picture. And Kevin couldn’t find it in him to care, because Jean Moreau was in love with him and Kevin loved him back.

Kevin finally pulled away first, and he said, “You have a flight to catch.”

And Jean just nodded. “Okay.”

“Call me when you land?”

“Of course.”

And Jean took his hand and kissed his knuckles. And it felt different than the first kiss. Kevin’s poor bi heart was going to give out.

“I should go.”

“Okay. Bye. Call me.”

“I will.”

“Does this mean we’re okay?” Kevin asked.

Jean gave him the sarcastic laugh. And Kevin realized how much it felt like a nebulous, impossible home.

---

“Thea. Thea I kissed Jean.”

“About TIME.”

---

Kevin: So.

Kevin: About that whole. Thing.

Kevin: In the airport?

Jean: yeye?

Kevin: Are we like dating now or???

Jean: … I don’t know, if you want.

Kevin: Oh. Yeah. Yeah definitely. Definitely definitely.

Jean: Found an article on us btw.

Jean: “Ex Ravens Turned Lovers? Tragedy Pulling These Two Men Closer- Or Has It Been Happening All Along?”

Kevin: SHIT.

---

“Dad. Dad. I need you to set up an interview for me. With that, uh, that gay sports magazine that Nicky came out with.”

“Why?”

“I need to play damage control.”

“What did you do?”

“I kissed Jean Moreau?”

His father said, “I’ll get something set up.”

“Thank you.”

---

“Being out all at once is terrifying. And hard.” Kevin flopped onto the couch. “I highly do not recommend it, zero out of five stars. Stay in your precious little I hate him bubble forever.”

Andrew just tossed a cookie at his head.

---

Kevin went through the next season with the Foxes. The freshmen were either annoying or awestruck of him for about five minutes before they all hated him. Kevin was okay with that. His team liked him, he was pretty sure.

Thea liked him. Jean liked him. He was definitely sure of that.

---

Jean called him. “Kevin.”

Kevin answered. “Isn’t it one am your time?”

“It’s four your time, what’s your point?”

Kevin didn’t answer that.

Jean took a deep breath. “Jeremy kissed me.”

Kevin covered his mouth with his hand to keep from waking up Andrew and Neil. “ What ?”

“I don’t know!” Jean said. “He just. Did. About five minutes ago and now he’s being awkward about it, and I just needed to talk to you about it? Because we’re our thing, and you have Thea too and I just wanted to make sure it was okay I liked him?”

“Who doesn’t like Jeremy Knox?” Kevin took a deep breath. “Yes. Of course it is. I am totally cool with you kissing Jeremy.”

“How about. Dates and stuff.”

“Yes.”

Jean paused for a second. “You good?”

“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”

“You liked him first.”

“This isn’t about dibs. This is about you being happy. You deserve it.” Kevin tried to figure out how he wanted to say if Jeremy makes you even a fraction as happy as you and Thea make me, he’s good for you and I want you to be happy.

Jean took a deep breath. “Okay. I’m going to go talk to him. Love you.”

“You too.”

“Come visit. I’ve seen the way he talks about you, so-“

“Jean. Jean please you’re going to make my poor heart give out. My poor bi heart.”

“I think he might like you, too.”

“Fuck you and your stupid insightfulness.”

“Really though. Visit. I miss you, Thea misses you, and you can talk to Jeremy.”

“You have a surprising amount of emotions at three am, Jean.”

“Yeah. Visit.”

“Okay.”

---

Two hours after the fourth game of the season, he was on a plane to California. Thea had a game on Saturday, and for once he was caught up enough on homework to skip town for the weekend. And he’d been meaning to visit for a while. Lots of reasons.

Jean was picking him up from the airport and Kevin tried very hard to not have a heart attack when he showed up with Jeremy Knox.

“Hey,” Jean said, taking Kevin’s carry on.

“Hey.” Kevin turned to Jeremy. “Hi.”

Jeremy waved. “Hey Kevin!” He was far too cheerful for what was 2 am for him. Kevin’s body still thought it was 5 am and was protesting wildly at being awake.

You slept on the plane, shut up, Kevin told his body.

“How does dinner sound?” Jean asked. “Unless you’re good with airplane peanuts.”

Kevin yawned. “God, yeah, breakfast. Or sleep. One of the two.”

Jean allowed him to sleepily lean on him as they walked to Jeremy’s car. “Great game, by the way.”

“You too.”

“You were on a plane while we played.”

“I still know it was good.”

The entire car ride was spent in a three way conversation about the ongoing season. Kevin had nothing but critique for the Fox freshmen, and Jeremy was more inclined to point out their high points. Jean occasionally made a sarcastic comment about Kevin’s obsessiom with Exy.

It felt strange and oddly domestic. Like coming home.

Jeremy took them to a 24/7 diner (International House of Bancakes, obviously) and Kevin only mildly fell asleep waiting.

When he woke up, Jean and Jeremy were talking to each other, low voices and holding hands. They looked comfortable, at ease. Happy was definitely a good look on them, Kevin decided.

He stretched. “Figures you didn’t tell me they’d brought food.”

“You just played a rough game, did press, then immediately hopped on a plane to California,” Jeremy pointed out. “We thought you should rest.”

Kevin smiled and stabbed at his pancakes with a fork. “So. Elephant in the room?”

Jeremy cleared his throat. “That would be me, wouldn’t it?”

“You like Jean.”

“And I like him,” Jean interjected. He then went back to his pancakes.

Kevin nodded. “Yeah. And, uh, I just. Wanted to say. That. As an option… I like you, too.”

Jeremy’s jaw dropped. “What!” He looked absolutely thrilled. It was three am.

“Yeah.” Kevin stared at his food, face bright red. He reached up to scratch his tattoo.

“That’s- Kevin, look at me?” Jeremy reached across the table to hold his hand. Kevin looked at him. “That’s awesome. I like you, too.”

Kevin blinked. “Okay. I didn’t think I’d get this far.”

“So… date?”

“This is a date. A pancake date.”

“Amen to that.”

---

Jean: welcome to the group chat jer

Jeremy: there’s a GROUP CHAT TOO!!!!

Thea: Of course.

Thea: We call it the “Loving and Appreciating Kevin Day Squad”

Kevin: I have always objected to that name

Thea: Hush.

Jeremy: <3

Kevin: why am I in love with a gaggle of idiots

Jean: YOU’RE THE IDIOT

Thea: Remember that time you got surprised when I referred to you as my boyfriend?

Jeremy: when i asked you out you made the :0 face

Kevin: :///

---

Love.

What a strange, wonderful thing to be able to hold onto.

---

Kevin felt jittery and strange and put together slightly wrong, and the tattoo on his face was heavier some days than others.

But hey. He’d be okay.

---

… And they all lived happily ever after.