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i'm crawling in my skin (it isn't in my blood)

Chapter Text

 

 

Consciousness comes back to him in slow trickles. He’s aware of lying on his back, something soft bracketing his body—an unfamiliar sensation. He’s not burning anymore. There are voices floating just out of his grasp. Then, as if being slammed through a waterfall, consciousness returns to him all at once.

Neil’s eyes blink open, and he sucks in a ragged, panicked breath.

He doesn’t recognize the room he’s in. That’s not unusual because his entire life is moving through rooms and never staying long enough to leave an impression. But he hasn’t slept inside a real bedroom in weeks, and certainly not on something as soft and comfortable as this bed. The sheets are clean, and they smell nice. Not even the cheap motels he scrounged up enough money for has ever smelled this nice.

He needs to get out of here. Now.

Throwing back the covers, Neil pushes himself up and immediately wishes he didn’t. His ribs hurt. His stomach lurches. His head pounds, and he nearly throws up all over himself and the nice, flowery-smelling sheets.

“Oh, dear, hold still,” a woman’s voice says to his left.

Neil snaps his head up. It takes a moment for the nausea to retreat enough for him to focus on the woman’s face. She’s not smiling at him, but there are laugh lines around her mouth and a kindness to her expression that makes something in Neil’s chest ache. She’s reaching out to steady him, pushing him gently back into the pillows.

“Wha—Who—?”

“Lie down first,” the woman says firmly. “How are you feeling? Any pain left? Andrew did a number on you but by the time they carried you through my door, your ribs have put themselves back together. I stitched up the cut on your shoulder, but everything else looked superficial.”

Neil stares at her. The last thing he remembered was dark night roads and the constant hunger suddenly a sharp gnawing pain in his gut. He can’t remember what happened to land him here. He can’t remember anything through the haze of hunger and desperation.

Her words catch up, and suddenly Neil can’t breathe.

“Oh, no, it’s okay, you’re in safe hands—”

He tries to fight her hands off, but everything still hurts and his movements are sluggish. He’s not hungry anymore. He can recognize some of the dizziness is his body attempting to repair itself through the sustenance he must have managed to pick up last night. But Neil can’t remember how he ate last night. And that is bad. Extremely bad.

“Don’t—Let me go—”

“I’m not going to hurt you—”

The door slams open. Neil flinches, and the woman takes a step back. A boy strides in, hair as pale as moonlight and eyes as piercing as a silver arrow. He pins Neil to the bed with his stare.

“Out, Abby.”

“Andrew—”

“Out,” the boy repeats sharply. He doesn’t take his eyes off Neil. “Tell Wymack to keep his pride and joy away from the room until I say so.”

With one last glance at Neil, the woman—Abby—leaves the room. The door shuts behind her with a finality that settles in Neil’s bones. The boy studies him in freezing silence. Neil can’t smell any dark blood in him, but there is an aura of danger lingering over him that raises the hair on the back of Neil’s neck. 

More than that, the boy seems to glow. Not in the physical sense, but. Neil isn’t hungry anymore, but standing right in front of him is someone who could feed him twice over with the amount of energy radiating off him.

“Here’s how it’s going to go,” the boy—Andrew, Abby called him—says. “I’m going to ask you some questions, and you’re going to answer them honestly. You tell the truth, and I’ll consider not killing you within the next hour.”

Neil swallows. He holds Andrew’s stare like prey cornered before a predator. Don’t take your eyes off what has the power to kill you. “Isn’t murder usually frowned upon?”

Andrew bares his teeth. “Not if I’m ridding the world of a demon.”

He doesn’t flinch, but it’s close. “I’m not a demon.”

“I said the truth, idiot, or I’ll stab you right here.”

“Stabbing me won’t kill me.”

“Because you’re a demon.”

Neil presses his lips together. “I’m not,” he says quietly. “I do... have demon blood in me. But I was born and raised a human first. I’m not a demon.”

Andrew shifts his weight. From the way he’s positioning his arms and the balance of his feet, Neil doesn’t doubt that he is armed. He should be terrified right now. But mostly Neil is just tired. So, so tired.

“What were you doing in Eden’s last night?”

“Eden’s?”

“Yes. The nightclub.”

Neil frowns. He tries to think through the muddled memories of last night. There are flashes of blacklight, neon colours, the smell of sweat and exhilaration and lust and alcohol, the press of dancing bodies and the high of a crowd riding on ridding each other’s inhibitions. In his haze of hunger, he must have wandered in in an attempt to feed. And he must have succeeded in part, because he’s more lucid than he has been for the past few weeks.

“You were feeding,” Andrew says, answering his own question.

Neil can’t deny it. “I didn’t kill anyone,” he says.

“Demons kill to feed.”

“I didn’t,” Neil insists. “And I don’t. A trail of dead bodies is a trail that traces back to me, and I can’t have that.”

“A runaway, are we?”

Neil clenches his fists. He doesn’t reply, which is enough of a confirmation on its own.

“What are you running from?”

“I’m not answering that.”

“Need I remind you that your life is literally in my hands right now?”

In a false display of bravado, Neil lifts his chin. “Kill me, then. Why didn’t you do that in the first place?”

Andrew just looks at him. His unblinking stare is unnerving. “What do you remember from last night?”

"I didn't hurt anybody," Neil says. Another memory flickers at the back of his mind. A glint of silver, somebody dressed head to toe in black knocking the air right out of him. He narrows his eyes at the boy before him. "You hit me, the fuck?"

"I did what I had to," Andrew says right back, "to stop you from preying on humans."

"I told you, I don't hurt people. They barely even notice when I take from them—I only feed on their energy. That's why I feed in crowds, so no one feels any loss."

"You're doing it without their knowledge or consent. That's hurting people, asshole."

"Didn't take you for such a saint, Andrew. Let me guess, you're an exorcist."

The smile that Andrew gives him is downright feral. "No. I'm pest control. And you're getting on my last nerve, demon."

Before Neil can throw himself off the bed, pain and nausea be damned, the door bursts open again. Another boy, tall and dark-haired and out of breath, already half-way through a sentence.

"Andrew, you should have waited for me to grab the equipment from the car—"

Andrew is muttering, "Coach had one job," but Neil is staring in horror at the new arrival. He recognizes that proud stance, the green eyes, the tattoo of the number 2 on his left cheekbone.

Kevin Day turns and meets his eyes. He freezes, the same numb horror Neil is feeling reflected on his face.

"What the hell are you doing here?" they both say at the same time.

Silence cuts through the room like a knife. Shock and fear between them, and shrewd suspicion from Andrew.

"Kevin," Andrew says slowly, threat clear in his voice, "explain."

"He's—I know, I knew him," Kevin stutters out. "Nath—"

"Shut the fuck up," Neil snarls. "It's Neil. Don't ever call me by that name."

Kevin stares at him. The fear is still there, but less prominent now. There's a calculative look in his eyes now, almost familiar in Neil's memories of him the first and last time they existed in the same general vicinity. It's the look that Neil always knew would take him places far beyond anybody’s—demon, exorcist, or otherwise—reach, and the same look that made Neil hate him a little bit. 

Neil's spent his entire life resisting the fate of becoming a lab specimen. He's not about to stop now.

When Andrew clears his throat impatiently, Kevin continues. "Nath—Neil. Neil was brought into the Nest, once. When we were still kids. He's the first case of a half-blood they were able to get their hands on. But he disappeared a week later. No one has been able to track him down since. Until now."

Neil's fists grip the blankets covering him so tight that pain shoots up his fingernails. He has to remind himself to breathe. He’s not small and helpless anymore. They can’t hurt him. He’ll hurt them right back if they try.

“Kevin,” he says. “This isn’t the Nest.”

Green eyes meet his, and there’s a steadiness in that gaze that Neil didn’t remember from before. “No,” says Kevin slowly. “It’s not.”

Heartbeat thudding loudly in his ears, Neil asks, “Where are we?”

“We,” says Kevin, “are in the Foxhole Court.”

Neil can only stare at him, panic in his throat. He should not be here. Sanctuaries like the Foxhole Court are not for him. Not for monsters like him. They can’t keep him safe, and he’ll doom them for hoping they could. He should not be here.

But.

But Kevin is here now. That’s something that Neil never thought to factor in. Back then they were mere children, but even then Neil knew that Kevin was something else. That Kevin possessed power, power that could unlock something and free them from the shadows of the Nest. The Foxhole Court is infamous for taking on the odd jobs that no other exorcist community would touch with a ten foot pole, but they get those jobs done. Evermore would never see them coming.

Neil might stand a chance.

Andrew claps his hands. The sound rings like a gunshot through the quiet. “Wonderful sob story,” he says. “Now give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you right now so that Evermore doesn’t come knocking on our fucking door?”

“Andrew—”

“Wasn’t talking to you, Day.”

Neil meets his gaze and holds it steady. He makes his decision. Tosses in all his chips and the last shred of courage his mother couldn’t grind out of him. “I can help you,” Neil says. “I can help you destroy Riko Moriyama. Let me stay, and I can help you take down the Nest for good.”

Kevin is gaping at him, but Andrew hasn’t moved. His dark eyes are trained on Neil’s face, serious and flat and devoid of emotions. But, Neil thinks maybe he sees just the tiniest bit of interest in those eyes. 

“Keep talking,” Andrew tells him, and Neil releases the breath he’s been holding. He pushes aside the panic for another day, and talks.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The worst part of this entire demon-busters brigade is the waiting. 

Andrew slides down in the driver’s seat and flicks his lighter once, twice, three times. Across the street, Renee and Kevin are sweet talking the manager of the community centre into leaving the keys with them for the night. Some mundanes have a weird thing for watching violent supernatural events. And they call Andrew crazy.

Neil shifts in the passenger seat. He’s been fidgeting the entire ride here and it’s fucking annoying. If he wasn’t actually useful on the field, Andrew would have kicked him out of the car already. As it is, Andrew has loads of time to kill.

“Spit it out,” he says. 

Neil startles. One would think that someone who has spent his entire life on the run would be more perceptive of his surroundings, but Neil is full of contradictions. “What?” he says, playing dumb.

“You have a question,” Andrew states.

“Yes,” Neil admits. “Why are you doing this?”

Andrew gives him a flat look. “There is an evil poltergeist haunting that building and endangering a large number of children and mundanes.”

“No, I mean, why are you on the team? The Foxes, I mean. I know you have spiritual power and sensitivity to the Otherworld, but you could pass as a mundane. You hate demons. Why would you willingly involve yourself in dealing with them on a regular basis?”

“Aaron could pass as a mundane. I can’t.”

“What do you mean?”

His fingers are clenching the lighter a little too tight. Slowly, Andrew peels his fingers away. “Aaron only awakened his Sight because of an incident in high school. He should never have been involved at all. I ate his spiritual powers in the womb.”

Neil stays quiet, watching him. Andrew sighs minutely.

“For a half-demon, you’re pretty stupid about all of this,” Andrew tells him. He continues before Neil can protest that he was raised ignorant and paranoid. “Having a strong potential for spiritual energy makes you very delicious to nearby demons. I’m a magnet, Neil. It’s not a mistake that I was the one you ran into that night at Eden’s.”

“Oh.” Neil considers this. “You do have a very bright...” He gestures at Andrew. “Yeah.”

He’s saved from answering whatever the hell that was when his phone goes off. He picks up and watches Neil go back to peering up and down the street warily. 

“We’ve secured the perimeters,” Dan says. “You guys good?”

“Kevin and Renee are still charming the mundane.”

“That’s fine. Aaron’s scanning for activity readings right now, and Seth has already prepared wards for the entrances.”

“I’m going in,” Andrew says.

“Wait—” she sighs. “At least bring Neil with you—”

Andrew hangs up. He unlocks the door, throwing one glance over at Neil. “You good?”

Neil looks back at him. His eyes seem to glow an electric blue for a moment. “Yeah,” he says.

Kevin is still preoccupied with the mundane woman, but Renee smiles at them as they slip past. The community centre is clear of people at this late hour. The hallways are empty and squeaky clean. Some of the lighting is old and flickering. Coloured posters fill the walls. It smells a little like lemon and a little like years-old sweat. Andrew leads the way down to the main gymnasium.

He flicks the light on. Fluorescent lights blink on, flooding the space with bright white. The basketball hoops are down, but the equipment is all stowed away. It is absolutely silent. The place almost looks frozen in time.

A footstep echoes behind him. Neil steps closer, not touching, and peers over his shoulder. “Huh,” he goes. “Big place.”

Andrew doesn’t bother with a reply. He strides forwards, his steps echoing across the gym. He puts his hand along the wall as he circles the room. Neil has crossed the taped wooden floor and is peering up at the lights and beams stretching along the ceiling.

There are no movements. No sound. Andrew walks back over to where Neil is standing. “Anything?” he asks.

“No,” Neil says. “Well. Not exactly. This whole place just feels... lonely.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. Cold, kind of heavy. Maybe it’s the ghost affecting the place.”

Andrew looks around again. A sudden chill shoots down his spine. His hands twitch towards his armbands. “Don’t let yourself be affected.”

Neil opens his mouth but before he can give a snarky reply, a deafening boom slams through the gym. The doors slap shut with a finality that feels wrong. Dust flies up, suspended in midair. White noise rings in Andrew’s ears, a low buzz of pain and soundlessness. 

Knives out, Andrew backs towards Neil. He does a wide sweep across the gym, but there is no other movement. His skin is covered in goosebumps. He can’t hear anything, but he can feel that familiar static of something supernatural nearby. 

Neil tugs on his sleeve. His eyes are glowing now, the more-than-human part of him slipping through. 

Andrew points to his ears and shakes his head. Neil nods. He points to the end of the gym, the raised part of the stage. Andrew nods back.

They’re halfway to the stage when another boom echoes through. Andrew still can’t hear, but he can feel the vibrations underneath his feet. He throws out a hand and shoves Neil onto the floor just as something flies out from the curtains of the stage, shooting clear through where their heads were moments before.

It’s small, smaller than Andrew, but fast. It flies around them, taunting, diving low on the floor in an attempt to trip them, stirring up dust to obstruct their vision. All the while, it is flinging tiny sonic booms through the air, the force strong enough to push them back a few feet. Andrew plants both feet on the ground and refuses to give.

Somewhere to his left, Neil has his hands outstretched and lips drawn back in a snarl. With his eyes glowing and fangs peeking out, he looks almost feral. His eyes dart around, tracking the poltergeist with a speed that Andrew can’t keep up with. 

If Kevin was here, he'd be able to bind the chaotic spirit in place so Andrew can stab it out of existence. Hell, if Renee was here, Andrew might be able to do something other than dodge. Unfortunately, the doors look to be glued shut. They're on their own.

He catches Neil's eye. Andrew points at himself, then at Neil. Neil's eyes widen as he pieces together Andrew's meaning. He shakes his head frantically. Andrew grits his teeth. The poltergeist has broken open the equipment room and is starting to launch balls of all shapes and sizes at them. 

No choice , Andrew signs at Neil. He's only just started to memorize the alphabet, but Andrew doesn't have time to fingerspell everything. He signs one word Neil has managed to drill into his head.

Eat.

Neil hesitates. A hockey stick comes sailing towards them. They both duck out of the way, coughing at the dust. Andrew slings a rubber ball back, but it bounces off the wall harmlessly. 

He absolutely despises ghosts. 

Neil shoves into him. He meets Andrew's eyes and signs back, Okay.

Ideally, they'd find somewhere quiet to sit, but there's nowhere to hide here. They've only done this once before. Andrew can only hope that Neil can take as much as he can as quickly as he can.

Straightening, Andrew flings his knives at the poltergeist. They miss, but they embed themselves in the wall. The blades burn bright for a moment; the binding spell activated. Vibrations travel towards them in waves, signalling the poltergeist's tantrum. It won't hold, but it should buy them enough time to do what they need to do. 

Neil crouches next to him. His entire being is screaming danger now, but still he waits until Andrew holds his hand out to take it. Sometimes Andrew thinks that he's more of a monster than this supposed half-demon is.

Neil presses their palms together. He ignores the vibrations violently ruffling their clothes and hair. He closes his eyes, and eats.

It's a weird sensation. Kind of like something is tugging at Andrew's core, not enough to hurt but enough to be noticeable. Neil tried explaining it to him once. He used to feed from crowds, without touching, just tasting the high in the air. Through skin on skin contact, it's like chugging alcohol directly from the keg, but a lot more filling. And warm. On Andrew’s end, it’s like sinking into a warmth so comfortable, he’s in danger of wanting to fall asleep and never waking up.

It feels safe, is the thing. And Andrew’s not used to that at all.

The cart for basketballs whips towards them. Andrew shoves Neil away, and they go rolling, barely avoiding being crushed by the cart. The poltergeist has freed itself from Andrew’s knives. Sucks. They’re too far away to reach now. Good thing Andrew always carries backup knives.

He distracts the spirit as best he can, inching it towards the corner of the room. He can feel Neil somewhere behind him. His presence suddenly seems larger than life. A single glaring flame. It is incredibly distracting. 

Dodging a badminton racquet aimed at his face, Andrew nearly crashes to the ground. The effects of him sharing his energy with Neil is catching up through the adrenaline. He lifts his knives one more time, summoning the last of his strength to cast a shield spell.

The static buzzing in his ears rises to a painful high. The poltergeist is screaming again. Sharp pain splits through Andrew's skull. His grip on the knives falter. His shield cracks.

He keeps his eyes open, watching as the poltergeist finally materializes before him, grotesque mouth stretched open with sadistic glee. A terrible and utmost unsatisfying parting image, in Andrew's opinion. Then— 

Neil is there. He is a blur of flame red and ice blue, snarling in time with the poltergeist as they lock themselves in a violent dance. Andrew can only move back out of the way. The white noise in his ears rises and falls like high tide. He winces, squinting, refusing to close his eyes. He promised, he promised he’d have Neil’s back.

It takes hours, or maybe minutes, maybe less and maybe infinite more, but when the vibrations die down and the dust settles, Neil is on his knees, the poltergeist pinned to the floor. It looks less like a maniacal monster and more like a crying child. As Andrew watches, the spirit seems to fade. Then, between one blink and another, it disappears completely.

Like a bubble popping, noise starts to filter in through his ears again. Andrew shakes his head to clear it. He makes his way around the gym to gather his knives, checking them for damage. He still feels tired, but his worst injury is a large bruise forming on his shin, so he counts that as a win. He makes his way back to Neil, who hasn’t moved.

“Neil,” he says. “What did you do to it?”

Neil blinks up at him. His pupils are still slightly dilated. “Andrew,” he says. “I think I... ate it.”

Andrew stares at him. “Well, spit it out before it gives you indigestion,” he says flatly.

Neil sinks back on his heels and laughs. When the sound curls up in a hysterical manner, Andrew takes a cautious step closer.

“Neil,” he says. He snaps his fingers. “Neil. Can I touch you? Yes or no.”

The laughter trails off. Neil closes his eyes and nods. When Andrew places his hand against the back of his neck, Neil shudders and goes limp. They stay like that, suspended in the moment, just breathing together.

The gymnasium doors burst open behind them. Kevin and Renee come running in, Dan and Matt close on their heels. Kevin is already ranting about broken protocols and why they should have waited for the rest of the team while Renee is kneeling down to check the both of them over for Taint and injuries. Andrew keeps his hand on Neil. 

He doesn't let go until they're safe back in the car.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The most vivid memories Neil has of his mother are the intricate patterns spelled out in bold black and red ink on her body. To Neil’s curious eyes, they looked like pictures, little paintings spilled across the canvas of her skin. Older now, Neil understands that those tattoos were spells, wards, enchanted blueprints to summon demons and bend them to her will. Otherworld script, as Allison calls it, showing off the ink on her own skin.

The thing is, Neil can read the script just fine. His demon blood ensured him of that. But his mother, for all her warnings about the dangers of the Otherworld, neglected to teach him anything beyond how to keep himself under the radar. So when Allison drags him along for her self-imposed study sessions on the art of demon summoning and deciphering Otherworld scripture, Neil has to admit that he’s of absolutely no help. He can translate, sort of, but he has no idea about patterns or the proper order of words to channel power or the history of certain names or phrases. All he knows is that the swirly writing reminds him of his mother and he leaves feeling like he’s carrying extra weight in his ribcage.

 

 

They've been researching and gathering intel between their usual cases and odd jobs. Kevin is convinced that the more they learn about demonology and the ancient rituals of exorcist strategy, the more they're likely to win against the Moriyamas. As if any text they can find here will beat the sheer amount of history the Moriyamas guard so preciously. Andrew is itching to just march into the Nest and pummeling the shit out of every ‘scientist’ there, while Wymack wants to avoid blatant conflict altogether. Neil just wants to survive.

They're gathered in the rec-room-turned-meeting-room one evening when Kevin throws up some pictures on the projector and Neil’s blood turns to ice. 

Flame-red hair. Ice blue eyes. Jagged black lines down one cheek, like lightning struck and left a mark. A grin as sharp and promising pain as the cleaver in his hands.

Neil is suddenly four years old, the first time his father’s flames burned through his skin, leaving it raw and bright red—he is seven, screaming and bleeding from his father’s knives—he is eight, running through shadows with blood in his mouth and the echoes of his father’s laughter chases him—

“Neil.”

Andrew is in front of him. He’s standing squarely in front of him, blocking the rest of the room from view. The flickering of the projector is just out of frame behind him. The concerned gazes of the rest of the Foxes just an afterthought. 

“Andrew,” Neil says, but it only comes out halfway. His hands are shaking.

They stare at each other for a heartbeat, then another. Neil focuses on breathing. Andrew stays still, anchoring him. He must see something settle in Neil because he moves back, far enough for him to see everyone again. He kicks at Matt’s feet until Matt gives up the chair next to Neil, dragging it closer until they’re basically pressed together.

“Um, Neil?” Nicky asks nervously. “What was—Are you, uh, okay?”

Neil takes in another breath. It shudders through his lungs. “Yeah. I just. I was just taken by surprise.”

“Kevin,” Andrew says. His expression doesn’t change, but impatience exudes from him just the same.

“Right.” Kevin shuffles the papers in his folder. “I called you all here today because of new intel we’ve received. Riko knows we’ve been cracking down on him, but he has the Moriyamas’ wings to fall back on. We need to go after the big powers, his secret weapons, in order to cripple him enough to really take down the Nest. And this,” he points at the projected image—Neil keeps his gaze on Andrew’s knees. “This is the Moriyamas’ first general. If we take him out, we can turn the tide in our favour.”

“Neil?” Renee is watching him with her too smart eyes. Neil meets her gaze for just a moment. He never liked the way she seems to read his secrets from his face. “What do you think?”

He looks down. Shakes his head. “No.”

“What? What do you mean no,” Kevin says, annoyed. “Jean told me—or told Renee, I guess, but the point is, Jean practically lives in Riko’s back pocket and there’s no way his information is incorrect—”

“No,” Neil says, louder. His hands are shaking again. He feels Andrew shift next to him. “That’s—the Butcher,” he forces out. “He’s not just a—a demon from your every day hauntings, he’s—he’s a monster. He’ll kill m—kill us all.”

“We’ve survived everything that’s been thrown at us so far,” Allison says.

“Barely,” Seth mutters.

“No, you don’t get it,” Neil says, frustrated. He turns to Andrew, but he just looks at him calmly. Neil can barely sit still. They don’t get it. They don’t understand. They haven’t seen the wild glint in those blue eyes, they haven’t felt the hot slash of pain from those knives, they haven’t seen the bloody imprints of bodies burnt from demonic fire. 

“Neil,” Andrew says. He waits until Neil looks over at him before lifting his hands and asking, “ Who is he to you?

And Neil, still quaking in fear and fighting back nausea from sudden flashbacks, Neil clumsily signs back, “ My father.

 

 

The thing is, Neil is pretty sure the demon known as Nathan Wesninski is his mother’s main summon. 

There’s a tattoo on her back, something red and sprawling and crooked and jagged. It’s half-ruined with burn scars, but Neil catches half-words, enough to get the picture. Enough to know it depicts something he should never utter aloud, something he should do his best to never write down. 

He knows, somehow, what the tattoo means, just as certain that he knows the small, circular tattoo on his mother’s thigh corresponds with half of his own soul. 

She’s only tried summoning once in all the time they’ve been running. Neil felt the tug in his very core, a sensation like something was pulling him out of the planes of existence while gravity disappeared on him altogether. In the end, his mother dies, and Neil is left alone. He doesn’t touch Otherworld script for a long, long time.

 

 

Panic has taken root in his chest, but Neil keeps it at bay long enough for him to sketch out what he can remember of his mother’s tattoos. The Butcher’s summon is incomplete, but Allison is already bent over it with Renee and Dan, quietly discussing theories for where to begin piecing the rest of it together.

Neil lets Andrew lead him down the hall to a quiet room. His limbs are numb and he’s drained from the adrenaline still rushing through his body, searching for a threat that isn’t there. Yet. He collapses onto the floor and gulps in air.

Andrew sinks to a crouch in front of him. He doesn’t touch Neil, just watches him quietly, surely, steadily. It’s grounding in a way that Neil has never felt before. Strange, how this one boy, who possesses enough energy to light Neil’s soul on fire, can make him feel so calm.

Eventually, Neil raises his head. He reaches for Andrew’s arm. Pauses. “Andrew,” he says, and then signs, “ Yes or no ?”

Andrew says yes and lets Neil take his hand. He’s silent as he watches Neil carefully draw lines into his pale skin. Soft swirls and curving letters, sharp lines cutting through, tracing upwards into a circular shape. No bigger than the back of Andrew’s hand.

Neil lets his hands drop after the last stroke. It looks clumsy, awkwardly drawn in ballpoint ink. But he can feel his pulse respond to the sign just the same.

Andrew trails his fingertips over it. Neil shivers. “Neil,” Andrew says quietly. “What is this?”

Taking a deep breath, Neil looks up and meets Andrew’s eyes. “You asked me for the truth, once,” Neil whispers. “This. This is the truth.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Andrew has never liked the aquarium.

His chances to go to one have always been small, being a foster kid and all. The one field trip back in grade school he had missed because he was sick. When he finally got the chance to go, he was nineteen and high on those stupid drugs and fifth-wheeling his stupid brother and stupider cousin. 

Now, he's back with the rest of the ragtag group of demon-busters. Seth is hovering by the entrance where Allison is flirting it up with the security guards. Dan and Matt have gone ahead to the penguin exhibit. Aaron and his little girlfriend are slowly following a group of fourth-graders. Nicky is chatting up the worker at the hands-on area, while Renee is making the rounds towards the gift shop. Kevin is wandering just next door where the sharks are. Wymack usually wouldn't put all his foxes in one basket like this, but today's circumstances call for desperate measures.

Riko Mori-fuckface is here.

Ever since their risky little showdown with the Moriyama's demon general—Andrew's only regret is not being able to kill him once and for all to give Neil some peace of mind he clearly needs—Riko has been more aggressive in his advances into Fox territory. He's never liked them, especially since the Foxhole Court is where Kevin fled for refuge. And now he knows that Neil is here, too. Riko is absolutely furious. And furious people make mistakes.

The lollipop Andrew has been sucking on splits down the middle. He crunches down on it, grinding his teeth with glee when the hipster-looking guy standing next to him shoots him a glare. 

"Making friends like usual, I see," a voice says behind him.

Andrew doesn't flinch because he's long since trained himself out of that useless reaction. But he does swear colourfully in his head. He turns slightly to look at Neil, leaning against the wall next to him nonchalantly.

"You sure you're a demon and not a ghost?"

"Half-demon," Neil responds predictably. "And I identify as half-human first."

"Where are you supposed to be?" Andrew asks. If he follows Neil's script, they'd be talking in circles all day.

Neil shrugs. "No one said. I just assumed I'd be with you."

If Andrew believed in a god, he'd curse that god for making him endure the sheer existence of this idiot. Maybe Neil is his eternal punishment for all the sins he committed with cold calculation. Andrew has never met anyone who can push his buttons just by breathing in his near vicinity.

Another field trip group filters through. The children's loud chattering makes Andrew's head ache. He watches Neil's gaze linger over the small crowd gathered by the glass. 

“Do you need to feed?”

Neil blinks. He looks over at Andrew and shakes his head. “You were enough.”

Andrew looks away. His teeth grinds down harder on the lollipop. This boy is a recurring migraine all on his own. Andrew’s been told his spiritual energy is strong, strong enough to attract nearby demons. That fact has never been anything more than frustrating, but since Neil came along, Andrew’s excess spiritual energy is less of a curse and more of a blessing. Neil’s hunger isn’t bottomless, but his appetite is a lot more than he lets on. Andrew suspects that he never really fed properly all those years on the run. But they have an agreement now; Andrew keeps Neil fed and Neil keeps using his powers to bring down Evermore.

But the way that Neil looks at him, eyes wide and earnest and so, so blue. The way Neil's voice curls around his name, the way he says things like you were enough and I trust you so shamelessly, so easily. Andrew is torn between the urge to punch him with his fists and the urge to punch him with his mouth.

Their comms flare to life. Nicky's voice filters through their devices.

"Raven spotted diving into the shark tank."

Andrew and Neil exchange a look. The Foxes can take care of themselves and the stray mundane but even after an entire year of being removed from the little tyrant's presence, Kevin still freezes helplessly like a fish caught in a net. Andrew has no patience for it. The point is that Kevin should not be left alone with Riko.

“I’ll cut him off from the other side,” Neil says. He’s gone before Andrew can reply. 

In his ear, Aaron is confirming that they’re herding the mundane children out of the way. Dan is asking everyone to stand clear and confirm positions. Renee has already snuck into the closed exhibit and is lying in wait. Andrew ignores them all and heads straight for the shark exhibit.

He intercepts Kevin in the doorway. Kevin is standing facing the other end of the glass tunnel, back to Andrew and posture too stiff to be anything but terrified. Andrew grits his teeth. The lollipop’s sweetness is not enough for this shitty turn of events. 

“You brought your little guard dog along.” Riko sneers at them from the other end, a menacing shadow underneath the blue glow of the water around them. “How cute.”

Andrew’s fingers trace the outline of his knives in his armbands. He steps slightly in front of Kevin. “Where’s your pet, Riko,” he says mockingly. “Awkward seeing you all by your lonesome.”

The smile that Riko gives him screams wrong in many, many ways. “I really think you should be worrying about your little pet fox. Quite a bit of a runner, isn’t he? So quick to bite. No discipline at all.”

Andrew wants to bury his knives in that cocky little smirk. Kevin makes an aborted motion behind him. “Riko,” Kevin manages. “We know what you’re planning to do. And you’re not going to succeed.”

“Oh, we’ll see about that. You’ve always been so full of doubt, o brother of mine. I told you before, didn’t I? Together, we’re capable of so many great things. Just think, the power of demons on our side, the entire Otherworld bent to our will. Your stint at the Foxhole Court can be just a footnote, a child’s mistake. I’ll give you another chance, Kevin. Come back home to the Nest.”

What Andrew wouldn't give to wipe that self-assured smirk off the bastard's face. Going for a new record, Kevin stands his ground and replies, "The Nest isn't my home and never will be. What they're doing isn't right. Demons aren't meant to be captured as slaves, Riko."

"Don't bother appealing to the soulless," Andrew drawls. He flicks out a knife. "How many more chances do you have left, Riko? After you allowed your family's pet demon to be so drastically hurt by a bunch of untrained exorcists, after you managed to not only lose Kevin Day once but a whopping three times?"

The seething anger rippling on Riko's face is almost amusing to watch. Just as Andrew is preparing to strike, the ground shudders beneath their feet. The hairs on the back of his neck rises. Riko's face morphs back into a disgusting smile.

"Looks like you're a little too late, Minyard." Riko takes a step backwards. "We'll have to catch up some other time, Kevin.” Then he turns and disappears around the corner.

Before they can follow, a shadow solidifies halfway down the tunnel. Kevin sucks in a breath. 

"Jean," he says, slightly strangled.

"Kevin," Jean says back evenly. Andrew has only seen the demon's human form once, at a distance. But he looks worse than before: more gaunt, more scarred, more defeated. Still, he stands with his back straight, ready to carry out his master's bidding.

"Step aside, crow," Andrew advises him.

Jean's eyes flick towards him. "Where is Nathaniel?"

Both Kevin and Andrew tense at the name. "None of your business," Andrew tells him.

Something like numb horror seeps into Jean's face. Andrew's gut turns to ice. "Don't tell me," Jean says, almost too quietly, his accent stronger in his distress, "you let him come with you, here, where Riko is waiting? I know you Foxes were rash and reckless but I didn't think you were so stupid!"

“Shut the fuck up,” Andrew snarls. “Where?”

Jean glares at him. He looks at Kevin, and the two exchange a look over Andrew’s head. He tightens his grip on his knife, annoyed and angry. Kevin curses. Jean exhales through his nose.

“Left,” he says. “Tell your Foxes to run. I can only stall him for so long.”

Andrew shoves past him. Kevin is asking for more, asking Jean to come with them, hopefully and naively like always. Andrew has no time for wasted breaths. Jean is bound to Riko and even Renee cannot just steal him away from his master without a word. There might have been the beginnings of a plan for Jean somewhere, but it was none of Andrew’s business.

Neil. He has to find Neil.

He turns the corner sharply, and skids to a stop. The room is dark, almost too dark. Opposite him, the wall is glass from floor to ceiling. Small floating blobs drift through the water, soft light causing them to emit an eerie blue glow. Jellyfish. Andrew steps forwards cautiously. 

A movement to his far right. Twin blue eyes, reflecting the jellyfish’s glow.

“Neil,” Andrew says. His voice is too loud in the dark.

Neil steps forwards. He doesn’t stop, continuing towards Andrew with measured steps, face blank and empty and wrong. Andrew has just enough time to twist out of the way before Neil is lunging forwards, claws extended and mouth open to reveal deadly fangs.

“Neil!”

If Neil hears him, he gives no indication of it. Andrew dodges, but Neil’s inhuman speed will tire him out too quickly. Andrew’s knives slash the air. Warning swipes, purposeful misses. The blades glow with protection spells, but Andrew knows, just as surely as his heartbeat thudding too fast in his chest, that they will never connect with skin.

He won’t break his promise, not even if Neil kills him first.

A claw digs in the flesh at his side. Pain sears through him. Andrew drops a knife to shove at Neil’s chest. The half-demon staggers backwards, growling. The stench of blood fills the air. They stare each other down, prey and predator, locked in a standstill.

“Neil,” Andrew says again. He keeps his voice low, holding Neil’s hollow gaze. His left hand creeps up his side, up his torn shirt and over to his right rib. There’s a mark there. No larger than the palm of his hand. “Neil,” Andrew says, pressing down on the tattoo. His hand feels sticky and wet as his fingers trace the Otherworld script, first shown to him in shaky ballpoint ink and then forever ingrained in his mind. The mark burns. “Neil, wake up. Come back to me.”

With a shudder, a whimper, Neil does.

He falls to his knees, hands going up to clutch at his hair. Andrew almost stops him, but his claws are already retracting, his hair darkening from fiery red to his usual auburn. Neil shakes at his feet, gasping in air.

Slowly, Andrew kneels down in front of him. He doesn’t touch. He waits until Neil lifts his head and looks at him. He watches as Neil’s eyes drop down to where his hand is pressed against his wound.

“Fuck,” Neil breathes. “I—I hurt you. Andrew, I, I’m so—”

“Neil,” Andrew says. “Shut up. Yes or no?”

Eyes wide and unblinking, Neil tells him yes. Andrew leans forwards carefully, until his forehead rests against Neil’s shoulder. Neil tenses. Then, just as carefully, familiar hands come up to cradle the back of Andrew’s head, calloused fingers slipping through his hair. 

Outside the room, the rest of the Foxes are subduing an ancient sea demon suddenly awoken from its slumber. A dozen jellyfish cast a gentle glow upon them. Andrew closes his eyes, and rests.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

It’s one thirteen in the afternoon and no new cases have come through. The Moriyamas have been suspiciously quiet, but nothing too worrying. Most of the Foxes are out enjoying the nice weather and rare day off. Neil yawns and considers the pros and cons of taking a nap.

Something meows at his hip. He looks down lazily in time to see a ball of white fluff leap onto his stomach. 

"King," he says, running a hand through the cat-demon's white fur. "Did you gain a few pounds while I wasn't looking?"

The only response he receives is another meow and a paw on his ribs. 

Neil pets her absently as he goes back to staring at the ceiling. The apartment is quiet despite being located downtown. The sounds of traffic below is muffled by the closed windows. There are no sounds of movements in the other rooms, just the constant humming of the appliances and electricity. It's been a while since Neil was left alone to his own devices. He isn't sure what to do with all this free time if he's not running.

He doesn't know how long he laid there on the floor of the living room, but he must have dozed off at some point. When he wakes up, both Sir and King are curled up against him, and Andrew is sitting on the couch, scrolling through his phone.

"Hi," Neil says.

Andrew flicks him a look. “There are better places to sleep than on the floor, idiot.”

“Maybe I like the floor.”

“Stop being contradictory just to be annoying, asshole.”

“I love it when you call me pet names.”

Andrew glares at him. He taps something on the phone and then tosses it to the side. Leaning forwards onto his knees, Andrew stares down at him with those piercing eyes of his.

"Neil," he says. "When was the last time you ate?"

Neil looks away. "We had brunch at Abby's, remember?"

"Cut the shit, Josten. When was the last time you ate?"

"Not too long ago."

"I thought I told you not to lie to me."

"I'm not lying."

"You're not telling the truth, either."

Neil huffs. "What do you want from me? I thought you hated my feeding off humans."

"You're human, too." Andrew leans back to cross his arms. "We have an arrangement, do we not? I said you were allowed to feed from me. We have a deal, Josten."

"Our deal was that you let me stay. Not—not take care of my needs this way.”

“You're no good to me if you're half-dead on your feet.”

“But you hate it when I do it," Neil bursts out.

Andrew blinks. "What."

Neil doesn't look at him. He pretends to be engrossed in petting Sir and King. "You hate touch. Not even Aaron and Nicky gets to touch you. I hate that you have to tolerate physical contact just to satisfy the demon in me."

Silence fills the room. Neil doesn't looked up, but he can feel Andrew's incredulous stare anyway. He hunches his shoulders.

"Are you possessed?" Andrew says flatly. "Last I checked, there was no demon in you. Your demon blood is a part of you. That means when you need to feed, you need to feed. Got that?"

"I'm fine—"

"You have no idea what that word means, so shut the fuck up."

"Andrew—"

"I don't tolerate you," Andrew continues, voice quiet yet somehow demanding Neil to listen. "If I really hated it, I wouldn't let you, Neil. I have the right to say no."

"So say no," Neil tells him. "You shouldn't have to do this for me."

Andrew's eyes are burning. Sir squirms out from under Neil's stilled hand, disgruntled at the tension in the air. King rolls over and continues purring. Neil is quivering, helplessly caught within Andrew's stare. 

"What," Andrew asks slowly, "are you going to do if I said no?"

Neil hesitates. He can't go back to feeding off crowds, ever since Andrew pointed out their lack of consent and especially since Neil has begun to unravel the tangled dark of Andrew's past. "I don't know," he says honestly.

Andrew's eyes narrow. Then he turns away, scoffing. Neil watches as he slides himself off the couch and onto the floor by Neil's head. Sir has come back, snuffling by Andrew's socked feet until he picks him up into his lap. It's a strange sight, surely: the most deadly Fox, dressed in all black with knives always within reach, gently stroking between a cat-demon's ears in a quiet apartment on a sunny afternoon.

“I’ll say this again until it’s drilled into your brain,” Andrew says. “If you need to feed, if you feel even the slightest twinge of hunger, you come to me. If you don’t want to feed from me, fine. We’ll figure something out. But if I catch you trying to starve yourself again, I’ll get the rest of the idiot brigade involved.”

Neil shudders to think how the rest of the Foxes would react. Nicky and Matt would be suffocating, Dan and Wymack would be disappointed. Renee’s concern would be quiet but unable to ignore, Allison would probably bitch at him almost as much as Kevin would. Even Aaron and Seth would probably spare a breath to call him stupid. Because, yeah, some part of Neil knows it’s stupid. But he doesn’t want to cause them any trouble. Any more than he already has.

“Do you understand me, Neil?” Andrew is pinning him with those eyes of his again. “Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking I need your concern. I can take care of myself. You, on the other hand, clearly cannot be trusted to do the same.”

Neil swallows. “No,” he says.

Andrew squints at him. “No?”

“No,” Neil says more firmly. “You’re always looking out for all of us. Who is watching your back?”

Andrew’s eyes widen minutely. “You—” Andrew surges forwards and grasps the collar of Neil’s sweater. For a moment, they just stare at each other, too close and too far all at once. Neil doesn’t dare move. He lets Andrew search his face, studying the anger and frustration and the slightest bit of confusion and something else Neil can’t name in those dark familiar eyes. Then, for just the briefest moment, almost as if Neil imagined it, Andrew’s eyes flick down at his mouth. Neil holds his breath.

A meow between them startles them into jumping apart. Andrew leans back against the couch, ignoring Sir butting at his hands. Neil runs a hand down King’s back. His heartbeat is a little louder than usual.

Andrew is glaring across the room, jaws clenched tight. “I hate you,” he says.

Somehow, it doesn’t sound as harsh as it should have.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Neil knows fear better than he knows anything for certain. He was raised drenched in fear, learned to live and breathe fear until it's melted right into his bloodstream. It's because he knows fear like a second nature that he's survived this long. 

But now, sitting in an abandoned train station in the half-dark, watching Andrew's light start to fade, Neil has never been more afraid.

"Andrew," he says. He won't day please, but they can both hear it. 

"Shut up," Andrew grounds out. "Don't touch me."

"I'm not. I won't." Neil clenches his fists. He hates feeling helpless. The taste is sour in his mouth and all too familiar. "I've never seen anyone's energy level drop like this," he whispers. He feels as if he says it any louder, fate might take it as a challenge.

"Good for you." Andrew sits with his back against a graffitied pillar, curled in on himself. His hair is a mess from running frustrated hands through it, his face tight with discomfort. In his dark hoodie and under the flickering orange light above them, he looks small. Younger than the twenty-something he is, smaller than the cold, commanding presence he projects. There are no physical injuries, but Neil can feel pain radiating from him. The warm glow of his spiritual energy had dimmed, pulsing too slowly and weakly. 

It's almost hurts to look. But Neil refuses to look away.

He attempts a steadying breath. It's shaky at best. "Andrew," he says. "Being stubborn isn't going to help."

"I don't need your help," Andrew snarls.

"I know," Neil says softly. "But you can have it anyway. It's okay. I just—I need you to be okay."

"Why."

Neil blinks. "What do you mean, why?"

"You don't need me. Our deal is over. The Foxes have accepted you as one of their own, Kevin is willing to take you on as an apprentice. You have a place to stay. You're not alone anymore. You can go anywhere you want and know that you have somewhere to come back to, people to come back to. It doesn't have to be me." Andrew ducks his head against a wave of pain, his light wavering. "You don't need me," he repeats, too quietly.

The train station is quiet. The only sounds are the low buzz of the flickering lights, the rustle of ripped posters from the tunnel air, the croak murmured chattering of the dust-demons in the distance. The rhythm of their breathing is off. It feels wrong, after all these months of learning how to breathe together and synchronize their heartbeats. They're sitting barely an arm's length apart and yet Neil has never felt more far away from Andrew.

He finds his voice eventually. "I was never meant to stay this long. The Foxhole Court was—still feels like—a pipedream. The safety you offered, I didn't believe you at first, because how could I? I didn't know—I never had the chance to be safe like this before. But somewhere along the way, it changed. The Foxes gave me a home, but Andrew—You gave me the key.

“Andrew,” Neil says. “I need you to be okay. Yes or no?”

A heartbeat passes. Then another. Andrew breathes in, the breath shuddering on the way out. He unscrunches himself the slightest bit. The light of his energy is so weak, Neil is trembling just watching.

“Yes,” Andrew says finally. His voice is barely above a whisper. He meets Neil’s eyes. “Yes,” he repeats.

Carefully, Neil holds out his hand. He waits for Andrew to take it. Andrew’s hands are freezing, so Neil presses their palms together and urges his warmth to transfer over. Andrew isn’t shaking, but he’s so still, so, so still. Neil squeezes his hand gently.

“Andrew,” he says, “can I hold you, yes or no?”

Andrew’s eyes are closed. Neil watches his light pulse as he considers. “Yes,” he murmurs.

Softly, slowly, Neil lifts both hands and cups them around Andrew’s cheek. He’s traced that jawline with his fingertips before, he’s studied the faintest trace of freckles across that nose. He’s counted the flecks of gold in those dark eyes, he’s run his hands through that messy hair. He’s kissed Andrew before, or been kissed, but there’s a difference to this sort of intimacy.

He leans forwards and presses their foreheads together. Andrew’s eyes remain closed, but a breath escapes from his lips in a hiss. His hands are fisted in Neil’s shirt, fingers hooked in at the hem and tugging it down slightly. Neil gives Andrew’s face one last look, searching for any sign of pain, any sign of a no . When he finds none, he lets his own eyes fall closed. 

There’s a heat burning at Neil’s core. He pictures it like a small campfire, crackling quietly in the depths of his soul, safe from the cruel outside, never going out. Even when he’s weak and stumbling in self-inflicted hunger, the tiniest flames somehow keeps themselves alive. When he feeds, when he takes from Andrew, he imagines the flames roaring with life. Now, he pictures the fire dancing lightly, and he imagines the heat carrying over to Andrew.

He pushes, just the slightest bit. Andrew’s hands tighten on his shirt. They sit there, huddled in the eerie train station, connected and feeling. Neil holds Andrew in his hands and doesn’t let go until he’s glowing again.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Andrew’s down to his last lollipop when the balcony door finally slides open and Neil steps through.

He shuts the glass door behind him and folds himself next to where Andrew is sitting crossed-legged by the railing. Andrew doesn’t turn away from staring blankly out at the building across from them. They’re on the tenth floor, not high enough for anything to happen properly, but high enough to set off his heart rate. 

“Doing okay?” Neil asks.

Andrew chomps down on the lollipop. A piece breaks off in his mouth. He lifts his hands and says, “ Okay is relative. Wrong question.

Neil rolls his eyes. He wraps his fingers around the railing and peers through the gaps at the street below them. Andrew grinds his teeth on the lollipop. He knows they’re not high enough and the idiot will probably survive a fall this height anyway, but his stomach still drops at the way Neil presses his face against the railing. He ignores the way his shoulders relax when Neil leans back.

They sit in silence for a while. Andrew doesn't know when this became a regular thing between them, he doesn’t know when his moments of solitude started to feel incomplete without another body beside him. The last rays of daylight slants across Neil’s hair, kindling a muted flame. His scars are striking in the soft gold. Andrew finds his gaze drawn to the way Neil’s long lashes cast shadows on his cheeks, the alertness in his eyes as he tracks the movements of a pedestrian crossing the street, the absentminded way he chews on his chapped lips. Neil isn’t beautiful, not the way that Allison commands a room’s gaze when she enters, not the way Kevin naturally looks great in every photo. But, Andrew thinks, there’s something about Neil that makes him hard to look away from.

His lollipop splits clean off the stick. Andrew turns the pieces in his mouth, twirling the stick between his fingers. Neil has his head tilted back now, staring up at the sky. Andrew flicks the stick at him. It bounces off his shoulder, and Neil turns to look at him.

I’m out of lollipops, ” Andrew tells him.

I’ll buy you more, ” Neil replies without missing a beat.

Andrew wishes he never made the rash decision to quit smoking just so he didn’t have to witness that small, pleased smile grace Neil’s face. He shoves himself to his feet and heads inside to find his keys.

Wordlessly, Neil follows him through the apartment, murmuring a soft goodbye to the cats, locking the door behind him. If Andrew slows his steps before opening the door to the stairwell, that's nobody's business but their own. The silence that settles between them in the car is like a familiar blanket, simple and unrushed, soothing and unheavy. He pulls out of the parking lot and they slip into the night.

Neil doesn't say anything when Andrew ignores the turn towards the twenty-four hour grocery store. The evening streets are emptying. Andrew navigates around the slow cars, up the winding roads of the hill, past the old houses that will soon be flipped into something bigger and more modern-looking and unaffordable to the families who have lived there for ages. He parks hazardously across three spots in the open lot of the building at the end of the road.

The church building is old, with boarded up windows and spiderwebs hanging over the doorways. Cigarette butts and broken glass litter the cracked pavement outside, a sign of others before them taking advantage of the abandoned church as a site for releasing their inhibitions under the cover of the night. Breaking in through the lock on the door is easy, easier still with Neil's years of practice. They pick their way through the dusty pews and up the stairs onto the balcony. A few ghosts materialize out of the air and float over to inspect Andrew, but they dissipate easily enough when Neil tells them to shoo. 

Neil climbs through the window first, balancing on steady feet while he waits for Andrew to clamber through the sill after him. It's not as high as the balcony of their apartment—and Andrew can only muster a sigh at realizing he thinks of it as their apartment now—but the weathered stone and shingles make the perch feel all the more precarious. Neil crouches on his heels, unafraid and curious as he gazes at the city down the hill. Andrew settles himself as close to the window as possible without looking like he is clinging to safety.

The quiet out here is different. A more active hush. Like they're in their own bubble. The only sounds in this silence are the rush of the night wind, the muttered chatterings of minor spirits in the church behind them. They could be the only two left in the world and Andrew knows that he wouldn't mind it at all. 

He doesn’t notice he’s biting at his hangnails until Neil’s hand is hovering in his vision. He allows Neil to pull his hand away from his mouth. He doesn’t shiver at the warmth blooming from Neil’s palm, but he does watch the way Neil carefully folds their fingers together.

“You really do have an oral fixation, huh,” Neil says.

Andrew scowls at him. He tugs his hand out of Neil’s grasp to sign, “ You really do have a death wish, huh.

Neil grins unabashedly. He shuffles closer, face tilted towards Andrew’s, close enough that his blue eyes are all Andrew sees. “Andrew,” he says, voice low, “yes or no?”

And Andrew, like the fool he is, says yes, and yes, and yes.