Not based on or conforming to what is generally done or believed.
A word most often found tucked between thinly-veiled insults, wrapped up inside an article titled something along the lines of Palmetto State Foxes: From Rock-Bottom Delinquents to National Champions. A word that Neil had experienced over and over as he sat, sore and aching and nervous in the expensive office of Charles Whittier, listening to the disembodied voices of University officials as they surmised, well, it is an unconventional case, David.
Neil Josten was never going to be anything but unconventional. Not when he could hold a knife before he could hold a pen. Not when he had watched a man be chopped into pieces before he was old enough to understand why, when he had spent what should have been his formative years running from more hitmen than any one person should know of. That he was now a University student and an athlete did nothing to negate the fact that his life would always err on the side of unusual.
Even so, he sometimes thinks that having two boyfriends might be pushing it, just a little.
Neil blames Andrew, honestly. Andrew blames Kevin, and Kevin huffily points out that they probably shouldn’t be assigning blame to the conception of their intricate polyamorous relationship. That Andrew let him get away with a comment so ridiculous sort of proved Kevin’s point about it being a relationship, though Neil wasn’t about to tell him that.
Officially, it all started to come together a few months after Baltimore.
Healing from something like that was always going to be a slow, laborious process, but it was one Andrew had strong-armed both Neil and Kevin through without question. The Foxes had all been more than willing to coddle Neil; to protect him from wayward remarks and prying reporters and distract him from his own memories when they surfaced, threatening to choke him from the inside out. Kevin was a different story. No one but Andrew, Neil and Renee really understood why Kevin grieved for Riko, that his grief wasn't about the loss of Riko so much as it was about the abrupt dismantling of a system that had controlled Kevin his entire life. When Kevin announced his new sobriety, Dan spearheaded a mission to dig out every bottle of alcohol in Fox Tower and ceremoniously throw it into the trash, but none of them could look at Neil’s scars and reconcile that with Kevin’s raw anguish every time a sports channel aired a Memoriam clip in the weeks after his death.
That meant it was down to Neil and Andrew to pull him back from the brink of panic again and again and again; to pile him into the Maserati and drive until his hands stopped shaking, to pick him up from the curb outside the liquor store before his resolve shattered completely. It took a few months of putting each other back together piece by piece for Neil to realize that something about their dynamic felt open-ended. It felt…strange, sometimes, to spend hours sitting down with Kevin through one of his breakdowns, Andrew a stoic sentry at Kevin’s other side as Neil took to the task of murmuring straightforward reassurances until Kevin fell into an exhausted slumber on the sofa of their dorm suite. It felt strange for them to leave him there, curled in on himself looking more vulnerable than Neil had ever known him to be, whilst he and Andrew retreated to bed, often together.
It took him far too long to understand why it felt strange and empty and open-ended, courtesy of being an emotionally stunted young-adult with a questionable past.
Though, too be fair to himself, he hadn’t even realised he was attracted to Andrew until Andrew went and kissed him on the mouth.
And God, is Neil attracted to Andrew.
Neil likes the slight swell of his biceps, likes feeling them beneath his fingertips or his mouth when they’re in bed (or the shower, or the backseat of Andrew’s car, or the spare gear closet at the court). He likes the sharp lines of Andrew’s jaw, the colour of his eyes, strong whiskey in the sunlight. Neil likes the soft jut of his bottom lip, likes how it blooms pink beneath Neil’s teeth, likes the strong line of his nose and the soft sweep of feather-light eyelashes.
And Neil had understood, aesthetically, that Kevin was an attractive man. It certainly helped that he was a little bit famous, the renowned Son of Exy, and that Nicky periodically found posts online detailing exactly how pretty some young fan thought Kevin was. Ordinarily they would be printed and tacked to the refrigerator in their dorm, until Kevin inevitably took it down and hurled it at Nicky’s head with all the precision of a professional athlete. The problem, if you could call it one, had been that Neil was primarily attracted to Andrew, who looked nothing like Kevin, and Neil had no way of understanding what it meant to be attracted to a person you weren't actively kissing.
At the time, Neil’s frame of reference for is this person attractive could be narrowed down to one simple question - are they Andrew?.
In the end, Andrew put the clues together far sooner than Neil ever would have. Knowing him as Neil did, he could also safely assume that Andrew had probably attempted to clue Neil in more than once before he finally got there himself.
In the end, it looked something like this:
Returning home from class to find Kevin, folded in on himself at the far end of their sofa, fast asleep alongside an unopened bottle of vodka. It must have taken all of his willpower to not open it, to not break his four-week sobriety, knowing that he was alone in the dorm suite with no one to see him hit a relapse. Neil had no idea where he'd even gotten it from - most likely he went out and bought it in a fit of desperation, slowly exhausting himself by fighting the urge to down it before eventually succumbing to sleep. Andrew had wasted no time in crossing the room to lean in close to Kevin's mouth, inhaling once, slowly, and then thankfully deeming him sober. One sealed bottle wasn’t enough to completely rule out the possibility of inebriation, unfortunately, and Neil could not explain the relief in his veins if he tried. Beneath that, tucked away somewhere hidden, a prickling warmth had unfurled in his chest at the sight of Andrew, his face close enough to Kevin’s that his breath filtered through Andrew’s curls. Neil stuffed it down, piling it beneath cottony layers of concern and relief, instead deciding to focus steadfastly on the rise and fall of Kevin's chest and the twitch of his dark eyelashes, ensuring that he wasn't having another nightmare.
The light from the kitchen, weak and yellow as dirty glass, framed Andrew in a glow so harsh it softened some of his edges when he paused there, halfway back from hiding the unopened bottle somewhere in the depths of a cabinet. Neil could only assume that his own expression landed somewhere a little too close to enamored, if Andrew’s dead stare was any indication. The interaction is so comfortably familiar that Neil couldn’t possibly have been prepared for it when Andrew said, “Kevin kissed me, once.”
Neil had made a rather valiant attempt at forming some sort of coherent verbal response, but in the end it took him three stumbling starts to finally push out, “he - he what?”
Nothing about Andrew's expression was introspective in the slightest; his ever-placid gaze had simply assessed Neil carefully, likely trying to figure out the specifics of Neil's reaction to a statement like that. It had thrown Neil for a loop, initially. Did Andrew expect him to be jealous? Indifferent? Angry? And if the latter, angry at whom? Andrew, for hiding it? Kevin, for potentially kissing Andrew without consent? Neil had looked over at Kevin, at his mouth, slightly parted by the force of sleeping breaths, and had inexplicably found himself wondering at the softness of Kevin’s lips.
Something like shame coloured his face, at that, and he had turned his head quickly, so quickly that the quirk of Andrew's brow caught him in the act of it. Neil had instead focused steadfastly on the groove carved into the side table, collateral damage from a Matt-and-Allison wrestling escapade, and he had been unable to do anything but wait for Andrew to speak again.
"He was drunk. When he came around the next morning with a split lip and a headache, he made his apologies and left with his tail between his legs. He was too stupid to realise that my problem was not that he had kissed me, but that he had not asked"
Neil considered this for a moment. "But if he had asked?"
Andrew pushed himself away from the wall. "Now you are asking the right questions"
When he had settled on the little table by the sofa, elbows on his knees, hands clasped loosely between them, Andrew was close enough that Neil could have counted the individual freckles on his nose. Something in his expression told Neil that he had to be the one to make the next move in their conversation, and because he knew Andrew, Neil settled back against the sofa to think about it.
Fairly quickly he concluded that the when didn’t matter. Neil had been an unwilling witness to some of the sourer parts of Allison and the late Seth's relationship during his first year; had seen the unbridled fury in Allison's eyes when Seth had staggered into Fox Tower in the early hours with a lipstick mark on his collar. It hadn’t taken much digging for Neil to realize that none of those emotions were stirred up in himself.
Idle curiosity is the first thing that really struck him. Kevin had more than a foot on Andrew, height wise. Against his better judgement, Neil found himself wondering what a kiss between the two of them would have looked like, should Andrew be a willing participant. Andrew would not concede to stretching up onto his toes, Neil knew; whilst Neil himself only had three inches on Andrew, those three inches were enough of a hindrance that Andrew periodically resorted to tugging Neil down by his collar or neck whenever he wanted a kiss. Kevin would have had to bend significantly to even reach Andrew's mouth in the first place.
Almost of their own accord, Neil's eyes had drifted back over to Kevin, still oblivious in his slumber. He wondered if Kevin swung, or if he was more like Neil in that regard. Or maybe he was bisexual, like Matt, since his relationship with Thea had been real and significant enough to wound him when she called it off. Neil wondered why it mattered to him, when his issue should have been that Kevin was apparently interested in Andrew.
Neil supposed the real issue was that he didn’t think that it was an issue at all.
"Would you," Neil started. Words piled up uselessly at the tip of his tongue and he waited impatiently for the right one to push through. "Would you kiss him, now? If he asked you properly?"
"You are the only person I am currently kissing" Andrew had answered, which hadn't been Neil's question at all, but it did settle something insistent that had been welling up unnoticed. A tiny smile tugged at the corner of Neil's mouth as a result of the explicit verbal confirmation of their exclusivity, and Andrew added, "be quiet "
"Okay" Neil had agreed, "but if I said I was okay with it, and Kevin asked you...would you kiss him?"
Andrew hummed. "Perhaps. If you admit that you want to kiss him, too"
Neil spluttered before he could help it. Andrew watched him, calm as ever. Heat crept up the side of Neil's neck, infiltrating the line of his jaw, and he had clamped a hand there as though to prevent it. His traitorous eyes landed on Kevin again, on the shock of black hair that curled at the ends like Andrew's, at the black stamp of defiance settled on a sharp cheekbone, at the little white scar splitting one eyebrow in two.
At his mouth, soft and lax without sharp critiques of Neil's footwork falling out of it.
Sometimes, regardless of where they are or what it is that they're doing, Neil will look at Andrew and be overcome with the inexplicable urge to feel the plump of Andrew's bottom lip between his teeth.
And Neil remembered his first kiss with Andrew. Remembered the feeling of his heart ricocheting against his ribcage, of air being stolen from his lungs and the distinct sensation of heat. Andrew's fingertips warm as cigarette embers where they had curled into the lines of his jaw, his tongue licking fire into Neil's mouth. More distinctly, he remembered laying in the dark in his dorm bed afterwards, fingertips running lines over his bottom lip as though looking for evidence of Andrew there, and he remembered thinking about how bad an idea it was for him to have even befriended the Foxes in the first place, never mind having kissed one of them.
Neil had been certain that he would never think about anyone else that way, would never want to, never have to, but he had found himself looking at Kevin, now. He was looking, looking, looking.
And then, he had looked at Andrew.
Something as close to humor as Andrew could manage had made the corner of his impassive mouth twitch, and Neil had stopped panicking, just like that.
"Were you ever going to tell me, or was I just supposed to figure it out by myself?"
"You are not subtle"
"No," Neil considered, "but I am stupid"
"And self-aware, so it seems"
Beside them, Kevin had shifted in his sleep, completely unawares.
And Neil considered him, in that moment, his sweeping eyelashes and his classically angled face, and Neil looked to Andrew, attractive and unbothered as always. Neil thought about himself, about the scars dappling his skin, about the relationship he had with Kevin that was rooted in shared trauma, and he felt himself frown.
"What if Kevin doesn't- "
Andrew cut him off before the thought could even take root. "Don't say stupid things. Kevin made us fly halfway across the US to sign you because he liked your idiot face"
Neil had frowned again. "Kevin is more professional than that. He signed me because he saw my potential"
"Yes," Andrew said, "but the other four options had potential. All of them were closer and had more experience than you. He did not know it at the time, but he saw something in you that was not just Exy"
"Be quiet," Andrew insisted again.
"I look different," Neil had said, quieter, "now"
"Different is not bad"
"Maybe when it doesn't mean face scars"
In an instant, Andrew's fingers had curled around Neil's chin and his eyes were suddenly close enough to become thoroughly disorienting. In a low voice, he said, "you are no less attractive now than you were back then. Moreso, even. I will not say it again, so stop looking pleased about it"
Neil found that he could not, and so instead he tipped his chin forward - a question - and Andrew met him halfway - an answer. They came together once, twice, three times, and then Neil had pulled back just a little, eyes landing helplessly on Kevin's slumbering form. "What if he doesn't think so?"
"He does. Anyone with eyes can see that he does. He is lucky that I find jealousy so thoroughly boring, or we might be a striker down by now"
Neil had just barely managed to stifle a laugh. He didn’t say that the luck stemmed from Andrew's own attraction to Kevin as opposed to Andrew's supposed lack of jealousy, because Andrew had been patient and open enough that Neil decided not to risk a sudden cold shoulder. Instead, he wondered aloud, "would he really risk being with the both of us, when he consistently has cameras in his face and everyone knows who we are?"
"We are not going to all hold hands in the street, Neil" Andrew answered, flatly.
A beat of silence followed. Neil had looked at Andrew, who looked at Neil. From beside them, a sleep-scratched voice had asked, "is…this a good time to admit that I'm awake?"
It should not have been easy.
None of it should have been so easy. Not when Kevin had sat up, sleep-rumpled but clear-eyed, folding his stupidly long legs beneath himself and running a hand through the back of his hair. Not when Kevin looked Andrew in the eye to apologize for not understanding his boundaries, back then. Especially not when he looked at Neil, his ridiculously fair skin blooming pink, as he told Neil in no uncertain terms that he was ".....quite attractive."
Not when he admitted, straightforward as he was in every other aspect of life, that he was willing to try and make it work if Neil and Andrew really were offering to open their relationship up to him, that he would instantly forget about it if it was just talk, talk that he wasn’t supposed to hear.
If you were not supposed to hear it, Andrew had said, I would not have begun the conversation in here.
Oh, Neil had thought. Of course.
Even when Andrew had finally curled his fingers around the material of Kevin’s shirt to pull him in, had asked yes or no, Kevin? in an unmistakably clear tone, had slotted their mouths together at Kevin’s eager affirmation. Even then, Neil had thought, it should not be this easy. But the final crack had appeared in the flimsy wall keeping Neil away from these feelings, and as it tumbled to debris Neil had gasped.
At the sight of Kevin settling a slow, careful hand on the round of Andrew’s shoulder, fingertips brushing up against the part of his neck that Neil knew from experience was the most sensitive. At the sight of Andrew’s strong, capable fingers slipping through the black silk of Kevin’s hair, tugging a pointed hiss from between occupied lips. At the sight of Kevin’s lower lip disappearing between Andrew’s teeth, returning plump and red and followed shortly by Andrew’s tongue.
And then Andrew had pulled back, enough that Kevin, breath coming out in quick little bursts, could turn his face to Neil and ask, very proper, yes or no?
When Neil met Kevin halfway, his yes, yes being gasped into the heat of Kevin’s mouth, his chest brushing up against the firm line of Andrew’s shoulder, it was easy.
It was so, so easy.
There were conversations to be had, of course. Real ones, serious ones, discussions of boundaries and exclusivity and the importance of consent. Of secrecy, a temporary measure, something they all needed so that they might figure out the specifics of their new dynamic without the prying eyes of their well-meaning friends, so that Kevin might be able to prepare for multiple important conversations with his father.
And though important, though quickly and efficiently dealt with, these conversations led to more than a few hurdles, problems they had to tackle head-on, together.
The three of them had agreed, unanimously, that privacy was the only way their relationship would ever progress, in the early stages. Which was fine, except that to their team, Andrew and Neil were already in a relationship, and Kevin was their friend. Neil lost count of the amount of times he had watched Kevin flinch quietly when Matt would joke, well-meaning, come on, Kev, you can hang with the girls and me tonight. Let Neil and Andrew have their alone time. Of the amount of times he had to physically restrain himself from dropkicking Aaron, who had developed the infuriating habit of trying to set Kevin up with any cheerleader he came into contact with. That one was a Neil problem more than anything else, in that it led to Kevin poking fun at his badly-concealed jealousy while Andrew pointedly avoided disputing it from his position on the sideline.
Mostly, though, things were just good.
And, if Neil is being honest – which he is, now, more often than not – the sex is really good.
Sex with Andrew had always been good. Andrew definitely knew what he was doing, and Neil had been the unfortunate recipient of far too many knowing looks during the end of their first year, when Andrew had decided he much preferred hearing exactly how much Neil enjoyed it when Andrew took him into his mouth. The walls of Fox Tower had always been thin, and Neil secretly thinks Andrew liked exploiting that fact. It had taken Andrew a while to reach a place where he felt comfortable enough to let Neil touch him, and before Kevin it had only happened a handful of times.
It was a heady, overwhelming feeling to be allowed to bring Andrew to the edge. To have the privilege of being responsible for the tiniest of gasps, for the clench of Andrew’s fingers in the sheets beneath them. To be able to pull Andrew to the brink and push him over it, immersing himself in the gorgeous, mesmerizing moment when he finally let himself fall apart beneath Neil’s hands.
Neil had wondered whether adding Kevin to the mix might undo their progress, might shove Andrew back behind his walls. It didn’t stop him from wanting to touch Neil, wanting to watch Neil gasp and writhe beneath Kevin, wanting to watch with darkened eyes as Neil took Kevin in hand, but it was a while before Andrew let Kevin see him lose control, longer before he could be the cause of it.
Six months has done wonders for their trust in one another, though, and Neil doesn’t think he will ever enjoy anything as much as he loves sex with both of his boyfriends. There are still times that see Andrew preferring to remain fully dressed, perched on the desk by the window and facing the bed, telling Kevin exactly how he wants him to take Neil apart. Times where he prefers not to be involved at all, will wander off somewhere for a cigarette until Kevin and Neil are done.
And Neil loves sex with Kevin, loves how expressive he can be, how easy it is for Neil to get him going. But more than that; he loves when Andrew will let Kevin go down on him, will fist a hand in Kevin’s dark hair and use the other to pull Neil close, have him kiss Andrew through it. Loves being able to feel the hitches in Andrew’s breath that come with every clever flick of Kevin’s tongue, and the tiniest of vibrations that rumble through his throat, the skin there damp with the traces of Neil’s eager mouth. He loves how loud Kevin can be, how Andrew sometimes has no choice but to lick into his mouth in an attempt to contain the sound there, when Neil gets a hand between his legs. Neil is quieter, though not by much, and Kevin generally finds himself far too distracted by the sensitivity of Neil’s nipples to remember that he’s supposed to be keeping him quiet when Andrew takes his turn.
For someone who came into college having never experienced sex in his life, Neil certainly finds himself having a lot of it, now.
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that sex is the thing that nearly gets him into trouble, in the end.
It happens, as most things do, right before an incredibly important semi-finals game against Penn State.
Ever since Kevin read some article on his Exy News App regarding the benefits of exercising before the sun comes up, he and Neil had taken to having early morning practices as opposed to late night practices. Andrew had point-blank refused to leave his bed at four in the morning for "fucking Exy" and had simply aimed his keys at Neil's head in response to being woken up by Kevin's alarm the first time it had happened.
So this switch means that Kevin and Neil will drive through campus to the backdrop of birdsong, Kevin's fingers drumming idly against Neil's upper thigh as they trade sleepy, half-formed ideas for practice drills and strategy. Ordinarily they push themselves for two hours, with three being their limit.
That is, Andrew only allows them three hours of early morning Exy nonsense before deciding to physically walk the short distance to the court, insisting that they stop pelting balls at each other and instead eat breakfast like normal people.
(Only once had Kevin made the mistake of asking, what do we know about being normal - with Neil making the similar mistake of adding, he has a point. Andrew had taken the car and had them walk back to Fox Tower on legs shaky with exertion, refusing to share his breakfast spoils when they finally made it back.)
This particular morning is not dissimilar to most, in that Neil is driving the two of them to the court under a navy blue sky, the Maserati humming loudly against the sleepy campus. The crucial difference is that this time there is a quiet, unspoken anger infiltrating the car, seeping in through the vents like a deadly smog, and Kevin is sitting as far from Neil as he can possibly manage.
They had fought, last night.
Neil isn't sure how it started, only that when Andrew finally returned from his appointment with Bee, Kevin and Neil had been in each other's faces, near-snarling, tearing into one another in rapid-fire French. The stress of the upcoming semi-finals had gotten to them, so much so that Andrew had to physically insert himself between the two of them. He had sent Neil for a run, Kevin to Wymack and Abby's house, and when Neil got back, Andrew told him where Matt's couch was in the interest of not picking sides. The three of them had slept in separate rooms the whole night; while they rarely shared a bed, considering that Andrew hated being crowded and three athletes in a dorm bed was completely ridiculous, they were still always within reach of one another. So when Neil woke, a crick in his neck and a hollow space between his ribs, his irritation towards Kevin was still sky-high.
It was too much to hope that Kevin Day would skip out on practice, but that didn’t make Neil any less angry when he found Kevin dutifully waiting in the hall, especially considering he had the audacity to look remotely pleased upon realizing that Andrew hadn't taken Neil's side, after all.
They drive in silence, change in silence, grab their sticks and gear and head to the court in silence.
And Neil hates it, of course he does, but he refuses to be the first to back down.
Kevin arranges the orange plastic cones in formation, and Neil alters it just to be contrary.
Then there's nothing else to do but practice.
The first hour, though deadly quiet and overrun with a furious tension, is efficient as always, if not slightly more aggressive. Only when they pause for water, determinedly looking away from one another as they retrieve their bottles from the Away goal, does it finally go into high gear.
"You need to watch your footwork on those trick shots," Kevin tells Neil around a hefty swig of water, breaking the silence properly for the first time that morning. Neil seethes quietly and says nothing. "You can ignore me, but you know I'm right"
"Kevin," Neil says lowly, "I don't fucking care"
"You will care when it costs us the semi-finals"
"Yes, because that will be entirely my fault" Neil scoffs, "not your fault, not the teams fault, not your incompetent freshman striker-"
"He is not the problem here," Kevin snaps back, "if you would concentrate on your own game-"
"My game is perfectly fine"
"Right, its your bias that's the problem"
Neil whirls on him. "My bias? Right, i get it. I'm biased because I refuse to see the flaws in my shitty striker pick. Except, oh, that's right, I do critique Riley when she fucks up. It's you who is so far up his ass and your own that you refuse to admit he's dragging the whole line down"
"As the Vice-Captain," Kevin says, voice haughty, "it is your job to keep him in line. Ergo, if the line is failing, that is on you, so fucking-"
Neil will admit, later, that his own insecurities about being unfit for the position of Vice-Captain are what make him see red in that moment. One minute Kevin is moving into his space again, gesticulating with a furious hand, and the next Neil is taking him by the shoulders, knocking him back into the wall so hard that the goal lights up red.
Kevin unleashes a slew of vicious French and Neil just barely restrains himself before he knocks Kevin's head from his shoulders, height difference be damned.
"Fine, whatever, I'm incompetent. But you forget I can use my sway as vice to bench you for the first half of tomorrows game, so go ahead, keep fucking talking"
"You wouldn't," Kevin accuses. "You know we can't win with me on the bench"
"And wouldn't that be a shame"
Kevin frowns at him. "You would sabotage a whole game just to get one over on me?"
"You would sabotage a whole relationship just to get one over on me?" Neil fires back, and Kevin flinches so hard that he knocks his own shoulders into the plexiglass.
"You started it," Neil reminds him, "don't fucking look at me like that"
"I did not - no, you know what, that's irrelevant.” Neil scoffs at him, but Kevin stumbles on. “You - I - you would really break it off with me? Over this?"
Neil grinds his teeth together so hard that it starts to hurt, but better that than acknowledge the deep, aching pain in his chest. Injecting all of the venom he can muster, Neil returns, “you were the one who said you couldn't stand the sight of me, last night"
"Temporarily!" Kevin yells, flinging a hand out in exasperation, "because we are fighting, and you are infuriating. I love you, you stubborn fucking idiot. I'm not about to walk just because you refuse to admit that you're wrong"
"I am not -" and Neil gears himself up, until the rest of Kevin's words hit him full force and he feels it when the whole world tilts. He stumbles back a step and gapes at Kevin, feeling the shock on his face and forgetting to hide it away. "You love me?"
Kevin says, “Oh" and Neil sees it, the abject horror on his face, the confirmation that he probably hadn't meant to say that out loud. Neil’s anger dissipates like fire faced with water and he blinks up at Kevin stupidly, for once thankful that Andrew isn't here. No doubt he would waste little time in calling them out for being complete fucking idiots.
"You don't, uh. You don't have to say it back? Not that you would want to, or….Fuck, I'm gonna...I'm just gonna go"
And he really does make to leave, the complete and utter moron, really does attempt to turn away and sneak out of the space between Neil and the plexiglass, and if Neil didn’t like him so much he would probably let him
"Kevin" Neil says, and he wonders when his voice got so quiet. He grabs Kevin's elbow to pin him in place, impulsively stretching onto his toes quickly enough that he very nearly topples into Kevin's chest. "I...you…yes or no?"
That is not a question they tended to ask one another often. At first, they did. It was more out of habit, because with Andrew that explicit yes will always be important. Neil loves that about Andrew, will never stop asking, or answering, but it quickly became apparent that it was less necessary when it was just he and Kevin, that sometimes Kevin could just kiss him, and it was okay. That Neil is asking at all shows his uncertainty, shows more vulnerability than he’s comfortable with, but he reconciles this with the knowledge that it cannot be any more vulnerable than Kevin accidentally dropping an I love you.
Slowly, shakily, Kevin’s hands come up to frame Neil’s face, his fingertips cold when they touch at his jaw.
"Yes, Neil. Still yes. Always yes"
That is all the reassurance that Neil needs and he surges up, taking Kevin's mouth in a desperate kiss. It isn't gentle, but neither of them have the capacity for softness after so much anger. Neil finds himself fisting Kevin's jersey to pull him harshly into his space when Kevin sucks eagerly at his lower lip. His other hand is curved around the back of Kevin's neck, fingers locked tight around the hair there, and he uses the leverage to pull Kevin back a few scant inches, separating their mouths for long enough to admit, "I....me too, if that wasn't already clear"
It takes Kevin a moment to connect Neil’s words with an appropriate context. When he does get there he immediately flips their positions, leaning Neil up against the wall to take his mouth again, bracketing him in with all six feet and two inches of his stupidly athletic body. Once upon a time that move alone would have activated Neil's fight or flight responses but, much like when Andrew pushes him into the bed, it makes him feel oddly safe.
It doesn't escape his notice that his survival instincts have hit the back-burner in favour of romantic pursuits, but with Kevin licking determinedly into his mouth, Neil can't quite bring himself to care very much.
Kevin makes a frustrated noise, then, and Neil feels it when he struggles for a long, drawn-out moment, trying to simultaneously kiss Neil senseless and tug his body close.
It is, predictably, an impossible task.
Kevin leans away, breathless. Then, hilariously, he complains, "the two of you are so goddamn short."
Neil shrugs, amused despite himself. There is a glint in Kevin’s eye, achingly similar to the one Neil often sees from across a court, Kevin silently communicating that he has a clever plan. Then, Kevin's hands find the back of Neil’s thighs. Neil is hoisted upwards, as though he weighs nothing at all, and an unmistakable wave of arousal crashes over him.
Neil says, "Oh" and Kevin looks irritatingly smug.
“Yeah,” Neil agrees, "but I wouldn’t recommend trying that one with Andrew"
Kevin laughs and Neil zeroes in on the plump pink of his lower lip, helplessly lifting a hand to drag the pad of his thumb across the tender, kiss-swollen skin there. “Do you think I have a death wish?”
"Looking at your choice in boyfriends, I think most people would answer yes to that question"
There are many advantages to being held up against a wall and kissed, Neil very swiftly discovers. Namely that he is in the perfect position to shift his hips down in one long, languid roll, a movement which makes Kevin's fingers tighten like vices around Neil’s thighs, has him hissing into Neil's mouth. Andrew often remarks that Exy gets them both going, a taunt that Neil always steadfastly rebukes, but the fleeting thought of Kevin making him come against the wall of the court has Neil making a frankly embarrassing sound against his mouth.
As though reading his mind, Kevin shifts impossibly closer, pinning Neil up against the wall with his own body and just one hand. The movement gives him the leverage to free his other one, which promptly disappears under the front of Neil's jersey, fingers fiddling determinedly with the straps of his chest guard. He manages to unfasten one side, shifting it enough that he's able to pinch Neil's nipple between thumb and forefinger. Neil gasps, his head slamming back against the plexiglass and Kevin instantly latches onto the newly exposed column of Neil’s throat. Pleasure thrums through Neil like a current, and he is faintly thinking about how best to convince Kevin to leave a mark when the doors to the court fly open.
Neil initially assumes it to be Andrew, appearing to make sure they haven't murdered one another, and he briefly entertains the idea of kissing Andrew, too, having Andrew hold him against the wall like this.
Then Kevin drops Neil so quickly that he barely gets his footing.
It isn't Andrew.
"I'm going to kill you. I am going to fucking kill you, you piece of shit" and Neil realizes, awfully, that Kevin had arranged an early start today, because Penn State is tomorrow. Realizes that he personally had sat and convinced his entire team to wake up at 7AM for this practice. Realizes that Aaron Minyard is marching towards them in a whirlwind of absolute fury, that Nicky is hot on his heels, looking hurt and confused and angry all in one.
"No, wait, it isn't-" Kevin starts, and Aaron hurls his racquet in their general direction.
"Don't you tell me it isn't what it looks like, you fucking-"
"Kevin," Neil says, low and urgent, "either we tell them, or I let him kick my ass. You need to decide"
Kevin had been the one to ask for secrecy, not ready to let the entire team in, not ready to tell his father. Neil isn’t sure that there even is a way to wiggle out of this, but he has to try and give Kevin that option. Kevin needs to feel like he has a choice, Neil understands, but Neil is seconds from being beaten within an inch of his life and Kevin is still frozen in shock.
"Aaron," and that’s Renee’s voice, patient as ever, coming from the inner ring of the court, "maybe we should let Andrew handle this"
Unfortunately, while Neil appreciates her valiant attempt at intervention, evoking Andrew’s name only serves to make Aaron doubly furious. The rest of their team is filing onto the court, now, and Neil thinks, this is a fucking disaster. Andrew isn’t here but neither is Wymack, which can only mean that Andrew had the time and foresight to see what was going to happen and somehow find a way to distract Coach for long enough that Kevin is able to get his shit together.
"Kevin," Neil says again. "Decide, or get out of the firing line. Snap out of it"
Kevin blinks at him, uselessly. "Where's Andrew?"
That one sets Nicky off. "Oh, now you're thinking about Andrew? You didn't seem so concerned when you were trying to fuck his boyfriend just now, I can't believe you would do this to him, after everything-”
Neil doesn't hear the rest of that sentence because Aaron is coming for his blood and Neil finds himself grappling with Aaron’s unrelenting fists, trying to avoid being punched in the nose. Aaron is cursing him out in whip-fast German, and Neil thinks, stupidly, that at least Aaron is finally learning how to care about his brother. That Aaron is ready to defend Andrew as quickly and steadfastly as Andrew would defend him. Which, honestly, is not an ideal thing to be pleased about when that particular area of character growth involves Aaron trying to break Neil's wrist, but the thought is there.
No one, Neil realizes as he scans the cluster of Foxes by the entryway, is making any effort to stop Aaron at all. Neil makes brief, unintentional eye-contact with Matt, who looks devastated and disappointed, and he realizes, startlingly, that all of them are on Andrew's side. Every single one of them sees what they believe to be an injustice towards Andrew, and every single one of them has made the silent decision to have his back. It makes Neil smile, completely by accident, and Aaron lands a punch right on his cheekbone, which Neil privately admits he probably deserves, all things considered.
And Kevin, bless his stupid, stupid heart, yells don’t fucking hurt him, which just incites everyone more, and Neil really does believe that his whole team is about to let him get his ass kicked to Hell and back. Before he can make the decision, should he let it happen or should he try to explain, regardless of Kevin’s potentially-fragile emotional state, a familiar voice breaks through the chaos.
"Aaron. Put him down”
It takes a second for the words to register. When they do, Aaron finally stops struggling and then he smiles, cold and vicious and every inch a Minyard. "I hope he fucking kills you"
Andrew has crossed the court in an instant, his hands firm on Aaron’s shoulders as he wheels him away from Neil and into Nicky’s custody.
The Court is completely silent, now.
One deliberate step puts Andrew in Neil’s space. Slowly, he digs a finger into the mark blossoming at the hollow of Neil’s throat. He leans in and, in a low voice, too low for anyone else to make out, he simply says, “slut”
Louder now, Andrew asks, “so you thought you were going to fuck Kevin on the court, is that it?"
"Something like that"
His seemingly blasé attitude serves to induce a slew of whispers, ranging from angry to confused. Aaron visibly struggles against Nicky’s hold for a moment, before regaining himself. Andrew only tsks. "Just yesterday I had to stop you from killing each other"
In his peripheral vision, Neil finally sees Kevin take a few measured steps toward the two of them. "You might say we kissed and made up"
It shocks Neil enough that he turns to look at Kevin, who has one brow raised as though to say, what did you think I was going to do?
Oddly, Neil feels…proud of him. Though that probably isn't the right emotion for such a fragile situation, and there are likely more pressing matters at hand. Andrew sighs as though put-upon, and it feels incredibly deliberate when he folds his arms across his chest in such a way that his biceps push lightly against the hem of his jersey sleeves, drawing Neil's attention and no doubt Kevin's, too.
"Clearly. You might have picked a less public location. I did have half a mind to let Aaron get a few more punches in"
"It's nice that he's so defensive of you," Neil says, because it is nice, and it makes Andrew give him a long, warning look. "Though, I would like to see him try to give Kevin the same shovel talk that he gave me”
So far, Neil realizes, none of their team appear to have pieced anything together. The general consensus appears to be confusion, though Aaron still looks angry and Nicky has a strange, sad expression on his face. Matt is the only person looking at Neil with a wide-eyed wonder, as though he thinks he understands what's happening but isn't sure he's deduced it right. Neil sends him a wink, and he slams a hand down onto Dan's shoulder in surprise.
"You laugh, Neil Josten, but your next shovel talk will come from Coach"
Neil blanches. Kevin looks at Andrew and adds, "yours too," which is all the confirmation they needed that while the situation isn't ideal, Kevin is going to be okay.
Very tentatively, Matt finally interrupts to ask, "is...is what i think is happening, like, actually happening? Am I having a really weird dream, right now?"
"I just learned more about your dream proclivities than I ever needed to," Kevin frowns.
Nicky takes a few tentative steps toward them, carefully nudging Aaron behind him as he does. Neil does feel a little bad as he watches Nicky wring his hands together, brows furrowed in deep thought. “Are you…I mean, what’s happening? Are you okay? Because Kevin and Neil were-”
“I know,” Andrew cuts him off. The flat, bored intonation of his voice makes it inexplicably funnier when he adds, “I have unfortunately saddled myself with two idiots who cannot keep it in their pants for more than five minutes at a time”
“Well,” Kevin huffs, indignant. “You don’t usually have any complaints”
it falls so utterly silent that if someone dropped so much as a pin, the quiet would shatter. And then Matt whispers, “holy shit” and it is as though someone hit the play button.
Allison shrieks, “no fucking way” and Nicky makes a noise that falls halfway between a gasp and a shout, lurching forwards on autopilot before simply freezing on the spot and staring incredulously between the three of them. Matt is gesticulating in a way that suggests he’s explaining the finer points of this newest revelation to Dan, whose mouth opens wider and wider with each flick of Matt’s hand.
Aaron looks like he wants to be quite literally anywhere else, all of the fight drained from him in a startling instant, but at least, Neil thinks, there is no anger or disgust - a definitive improvement on the last reaction he had towards Andrew’s love life, in any case.
“There is literally not a single bet on this,” Allison complains, stalking toward them quite grumpily. “I cannot believe you, any of you”
“What I can’t believe is that Josten somehow showed up and seduced the two most difficult members of this team” Dan comments. “Like, get it, Neil, but what the fuck, dude”
Neil just shrugs at her, but he’s biting back a smile despite himself. Nicky seems to snap out of whatever reverie this whole escapade had sent him into and he barrels towards Neil at a rate of knots, dragging Kevin into their impromptu hug but wisely leaving Andrew out of it. He does eventually pull back to rest a slow, careful hand on Andrew’s shoulder, one which Andrew doesn't immediately shrug off, and his eyes are warm and pleased when he says, “I’m happy for you, you know?”
Andrew gives him a vague grunt of acknowledgement.
Nicky takes a pointed step back before he speaks again. “I suppose I will have to respectfully remove Kevin from my celebrity list. God, I’m going to have to call Erik, this changes everything”
Andrew misses, when he swats at Nicky, but Neil privately thinks that it was deliberate.
“Okay,” Kevin sighs, “I think we’ve exposed our love life enough for one morning. We won’t beat Penn State if we don’t actually practice”
“Oh?” Dan asks, “because you and Neil were so busy practicing when we arrived?”
Kevin points at her like he means to rebuff this. Words fail him and instead, he flushes pink.
“Ha! I win” Dan cheers. “Kevin is right, though. We can interrogate them later, when they buy us breakfast for our troubles. Everyone get your shit together”
As everyone dutifully files off to pick up their hastily discarded gear, Dan jabs a finger at Neil, Kevin and Andrew in quick succession. “If Matt and I can’t suck face on the court, neither can the three of you”
It makes Neil laugh, a startled and unabashed thing, but when her Captain face doesn't waver he puts on a solemn expression, nods gravely. “Aye, captain”
She hums, seemingly satisfied. Still, she points two fingers toward her own eyes and then flips them to point at Neil's, an I'm watching you, before skipping off toward Matt and Allison.
“You are both so stupid” Andrew tells them, immediately. The three of them are alone, now, but they're being closely watched.
“Yes,” Neil agrees, because he knows he's an idiot. Then, much to Kevin’s spluttering protest, he adds, “Kevin told me he loved me, earlier”
“I wasn’t going to,” Neil says, “but I…do. It doesn’t matter if we don’t say it. I still do”
Kevin nods in agreement.
“You’re lucky I gave up on those percentages,” Andrew says after a long moment, “because I am running out of numbers to express just how often I consider killing you”
“Noted,” Neil says, mouth curling smug, and he considers it a victory when Andrew kisses him.
Distantly, he hears someone complain about kissing on the court, but...
Neil figures he’s already kissed one boyfriend here, today. He may as well make it two for two.