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Tuesday, Neil continued to ride the high of their preseason win. Wednesday, reality set in, and with it came anxiety.

 

Thursday they would be leaving for New York, where the Preseason Banquet would be taking place this year. And Friday, they’d be trapped in the same building as Riko Moriyama for hours. 

Neil wanted to say he wasn’t anxious, wanted to pretend that his hands weren’t shaking as he packed up his brand new suitcase Wednesday night. But alone in his flat, it felt like ice shards were spearing through his veins. He kept losing himself in thoughts and snapping back to reality with more things packed and no idea how long he was lost inside his own mind. 

If it had been a few years ago, when he was still under trapped Riko’s thumb, tonight would have been a reminder night. A pre-punishment to really instill the rules in Neil’s mind. He’d lay down tonight and be greeted with the sharp edge of a blade over his shoulders, reopening the healed scars. It would give them just enough time to start scabbing over before the banquet started, keeping blood from seeping through the black suit jacket he’d be stuffed in like part of a matching set. It was hard for him to believe that pain wouldn’t come tonight. 

Part of him was still expecting Riko to appear out of nowhere, a monster hunting him to the ends of the earth.  

“I don’t know what that shirt did to personally offend you, but we could just burn it.” The voice made Neil jump out of his skin, pulse skyrocketing as he turned in the direction of his bedroom door. 

Andrew was leaning in the doorway nonchalantly, like Neil’s front door hadn’t been locked. But, for whatever reason, the sight of Andrew did calm him. It banished some of his more distructive thoughts, leaving only the barest hints of cold fear in his system and a thudding heart in his chest.

“What?” Neil asked finally, voice strained, and Andrew sighed, walking the few steps it took to close the distance between them. With a little tug he pulled the shirt in Neil’s hands free. Their fingers got close in the exchange, but Andrew was very clearly avoiding touching him. It brought some comfort when Neil realized he was respecting his request to not touch him. 

The shirt was a wrinkled mess despite the fact that Neil knew he’d taken it off a hanger. He must have been standing there twisting it between his hands for at least an hour. After Neil got a good look at it, Andrew just tossed it in the general direction of his dirty clothes hamper. 

“Jean and Jeremy are coming over for dinner. Kevin called to invite you but you didn’t answer and it freaked him out.” Andrew took a step around Neil, glancing into the suitcase. “You forgot socks.” 

“Right.” Neil went back to his dresser and started digging through the clothes that Devin had dropped off for him a while ago. An unopened package of black dress socks was in one of him, and Neil just tossed the whole pack in his suitcase. There was plenty of room and there was never any harm in having extra socks.

Meanwhile, Andrew just went to lean on the wall length window, watching him in a way that Neil didn’t completely understand. 

“Staring.” Neil pointed out as he dumped some other clothes in the suitcase. His garment bag wouldn’t go in there, so he had plenty of room for other shit. They’d only be in New York for three days, but with all of the events they were expected to appear at, it looked like Neil was packing for at least a week. Luckily, most of them were more casual than the Banquet, so he only needed one suit.  

Andrew only kept staring though, and after a few more minutes of him taking Neil apart with calculating eyes, he finally spoke. “It’s my turn.” 

Neil hummed an aknowledgement as he zipped the suitcase shut, adding one of those weird buckled straps to it. He wasn’t sure what it was for, but it had come on the suitcase so he figured it was supposed to be there. 

“Are you going to be able to handle this?” Andrew’s question cut deep to his core, like a hot knife through sand - unnecessary because anyone could reach their fingers through the sand and grab at what was obviously lingering beneath the surface. 

But Andrew wanted Neil to say it out loud, to acknowledge that he wasn’t okay. It was both comforting and just too damn much for Neil to cope with in that moment. He clenched his jaw as he clicked the buckle on the case shut and turned back to Andrew, who was leaning against the glass like he belonged there. 

“You want the truth? I don’t know.” Neil shrugged, his shoulders feeling heavy and only wanting to rise half heartedly before crashing back down. “I don’t know and I won’t until we’re in the thick of it. I’d like to be strong and say I can handle whatever Riko decides to throw at us but I’m not stupid.” He ran a stressed hand through his hair, watching Andrew, but he only nodded, accepting Neil’s truth with the same ease he always did. It made Neil feel a little lighter, but Andrew couldn’t banish all of the negative feelings combating inside him. 

“Here’s a free truth for you, and don’t make me repeat it because I hate giving shit away for free.” Andrew managed to hold Neil’s eyes, the fierce hazel daring him not to look away. “You aren’t alone anymore. You have Kevin, Jean, Jeremy...” He paused, and Neil didn’t know if it was for dramatic effect or if Andrew was picking his next words. “You have me. And if it gets to be too much for you, we can help you. But you have to tell us; you can’t just assume we can read your mind.” Andrew checked his watch and pushed off of the window. 

“Dinner is in half an hour. If you don’t want to join, you don’t have to. But I think it’d help the three of you.” And then Andrew was gone, oversized black hoodie vanishing down Neil’s hallway and he heard the front door click shut behind him. 

In exactly 29 minutes, Neil left his flat and went across the hall to Andrew and Kevin’s. Their living room was full of spicy smells and warmth; Jeremy was helping Kevin unpack three brown paper bags of Indian food. Andrew was perched in his usual window seat, a sucker between his lips instead of a cigarette this time. Jean entered in from the kitchen a few seconds later with a stack of plates and forks. Surrounded by the warmth, Neil felt the rest of his fear slip away, like the last ice of winter melting away to spring. 

They settled into an ease that Neil hadn’t thought was possible. Andrew came over from his window and plopped on the floor by the coffee table, digging into something that smelled spicy enough that it actually made Neil’s eyes water. Jeremy and Kevin shared the couch, and Neil wondered where they would leave Jean, but he just flopped into Jeremy’s lap like obviously belonged there. He wasn’t so much eating Indian food as he was dipping the naan into the sauce from Jeremy’s butter chicken and snacking on that. 

It looked funny, because Jeremy was about Neil’s size and Jean was taller than Kevin, but Jeremy just wrapped one arm around Jean’s waist and left his plate in his lap for both of them to eat off of. 

Neil hadn’t realized he’d been staring until Jean tossed a little piece of his naan at him. It hit Neil in the cheek and he flinched, blinking sharply. 

“Stop staring at us.” Jean didn’t sound mad, more just... bashful? Neil wondered if the rings of pink on his cheek was from embarrassment or because Jean couldn’t handle spicy food for shit. 

“Sorry.” Neil said quickly. It was a trained response from The Nest, where apologies may make things hurt a little less. Not that he thought Jean would ever lay a hand on him. He was probably the least violent person in the room. “I’ve just never seen you sit in someone’s lap before.” Neil shoveled a bite of something into his mouth - it was creamy and spicy and made his tongue burn. 

“You’ve never seen me date someone before, so.” Jean mumbled and Neil choked on whatever the fuck he just shoved into his mouth. Andrew just sighed next to him and passed him a cup of water, which he downed like his life depended on it. 

When he could finally speak again, Neil looked between Jean and Jeremy, and Jeremy just shrugged. 

“It’s not like we were hiding it.” Jeremy pointed out as he took another bite of his chicken. But even that confused Neil - how bad he not noticed it. “I mean, we even live together.”

Neil paused, narrowing his eyes. “So do Andrew and Kevin, but they’re not dating.” 

Jean snorted. “Our apartment only has one bedroom.”

“Bunk beds are a thing!” That was apparently the wrong thing to say because the other four began to laugh, even Andrew snorting and having to take a drink of his water. 

“Is this going to be a problem?” Jean finally asked when the laughter dissolved. 

“No!” Neil replied quickly, fidgeting. “I mean, you’re happy, right? That’s what matters.” After Jean nodded, Kevin moved the conversation on to something else, but Neil wasn’t really paying attention.

Jean was in a relationship. That was... shocking. Romantics weren’t something that was strictly allowed in the Nest. Not that they had to play by those rules anymore, but Neil had never even thought of finding someone to settle down with. It wasn’t safe. 

The only people who’d ever touched him intimately had done so under contract after stuffing envelopes of cash into his pocket. What would it even feel like to have hands on his body that he wanted to have there? Would he still feel the urge to scrub every inch of his body raw in an attempt to fend off the ghosts of touches that still lingered on his skin hours after he was left alone? 

Would he ever even deserve that?

 

 

 

Their flight left early the next morning.  The five of them climbed into Jeremy’s Jeep, suitcases and garment bags piled in the backseat. It was the first time Neil had seen Andrew in a car without driving. Instead, he was sat beside Neil, fidgeting with a ballpoint pen. Jeremy was upfront talking excitedly about all the stuff they could check out in New York, pointedly not mentioning the Banquet, but it was undoubtedly on all of their minds anyways.

Things were more hectic when they got to the airport. The whole team was there for the most part, Matt directing them in a sleepy symphony so they’d all get through security and to their gate on time to board. He masterfully even got Kevin going, who still looked like a zombie after being woken up before the sun was even awake to greet them. 

Most of the team seemed to pass out during the flight, including Kevin. Andrew sat beside Neil, still messing with the same pen from before, staring straight ahead. Neil didn’t have the energy to ask if he was okay though, because his own anxiety was building, like someone squeezing his heart in a vice. Every minute spent in the air meant they were getting closer to Riko.

Andrew’s free truth from the night before was still present in his mind, but he didn’t feel right bothering him when he was clearly stressed himself. He refused to take his panic to Jean or Kevin though - not when it could be contagious for them. So he held it, letting it stew inside of him. 

Eventually the plane did land and tired looking athletes filed off after grabbing their carry-ons. Their coach barked instructions that were on the lines of obtaining their bags and waiting for the bus they’d rented to take them to their hotel for early check in. Easy enough to follow, especially with Andrew and Jeremy directing them to the baggage claim. 

Neil was vibrating out of his skin with nerves, but before he knew it he was in a hotel lobby being handed a slip of key cards. He’d missed who he’d been told he was staying with, but when they all split up to head to their rooms, Matt was a step behind him. 

Matt was a good guy, and an incredible player, but being alone in a small room with him made Neil distinctly uncomfortable. He watched as Matt hung up his garment bag in the closet and hefted his suitcase onto the bed to unpack, knees locked in place.

He wouldn’t be able to sleep here.

He trusted Matt on the court, seen the talent there and respected it. He trusted Matt in the locker room, but Andrew was there to step in if anything happened there. He didn’t trust Matt alone with him while he was sleeping. He’d be completely vulnerable, unable to protect himself, unable to call for help if Matt really did try to do anything to him. Instead of putting his garment bag away or unpacking, Neil escaped to the hallway. 

With shaking hands, he took out his phone and typed out a message. 

To Andrew: Room #? 

He waited, hand clenched around his keycard. He’d already given the other to Matt, which was probably a good thing. The flimsy plastic was already threatening to break as he squeezed it. It took exactly three minutes for Andrew to text him back, and Neil knew because he was counting the seconds in his head, trying to stave off the butterflies threatening to riot in his stomach. 

From Andrew: 619

The room was three doors down on the opposite side of the hallway and Neil cleared the distance with startling speed. His hand was starting to hurt where the plastic bit into his skin, but he ignored it and squeezed tighter as he knocked on the door.  

Kevin answered, clean shirt half unbuttoned like he’d been in the middle of putting it on. “What’s wrong?” Kevin’s eyes washed over him, no doubt taking in the stiffness of Neil’s frame, the clench of his hands, maybe even the hints of panic in his eyes that mirrored that of a cornered animal. “Did something happen?”

“I need to switch rooms with someone.” Neil hated that he was asking for this, hated that he couldn’t even handle the thought of sleeping alone with Matt. 

A look of realization washed over Kevin and he nodded quickly, stepping inside the hotel room with a jerk of his head for Neil to follow. “Are you okay with being alone with Andrew?” His words were soft as he shut the door behind them. Neil could hear the shower running now, see the steam rising from under the bathroom door. Kevin was talking quietly so Neil would feel safe that Andrew hadn’t heard the question and wouldn’t know what he’d answered. This was just between them, with no judgement. 

Neil nodded a little, hand still holding the keycard tight enough to put a small bend in it. “That should be fine.” He trusted Andrew, and part of him hated that he did, but Andrew had given him no reason not to. He wouldn’t put all this effort into protecting Neil just to hurt him in the end; Andrew didn’t seem like the type of person to waste the effort that would involve.

“Alright. Let me finish getting dressed. Did you leave your stuff in there?” Kevin took the keycard from his hand, gripping it for just a second so Neil could unclench his fist and avoid injury. He shoved the offending piece of plastic into the back pocket of his dress pants. 

Neil wondered what he was so dressed up for, but he decided ultimately it didn’t matter. 

“I left my bags just inside the door.” He responded as Kevin finished buttoning his shirt. 

“Alright, I’ll go grab them. Andrew likes the window bed, so sit on the other one, ok?” And Kevin was gone from the room, the door clicking shut behind him. Neil listened easily, sitting in the middle of the queen sized bed nearest to the wall. Kevin’s suitcase was open on it, looking way more put together and organized than Neil’s suitcases ever did. 

It only took a few minutes for the door to click back open and Kevin wheeled his suitcase in, his garment bag slung over his shoulder. He deposited them both in the open closet before starting to throw what he’d unpacked back into his suitcase. 

“Alright. I’m gonna take this stuff to the other room, then I’m leaving for the evening. I have reservations with someone. Are you going to be okay with Andrew?” Kevin asked him again, and Neil knew if he said no, Kevin would drop his plans in a second. But he’d put a lot of effort into looking good for whomever he was meeting, and Neil didn’t want to ruin their first night in New York with more of his issues, so he just nodded. 

“I’ve been alone with Andrew before. It’ll be fine.” Kevin nodded and grabbed a few things from the closet, tossing them over his shoulder as he gripped the handle of his own suitcase.  

“If you change your mind, call me. I don’t care if you feel like your interrupting or you’re ruining my night or whatever your brain tries to convince you. If you need something or you feel unsafe, you call me. Or Jean. Jeremy even.” Kevin waited for him to give a nod of agreement before he fished a keycard out of his pocket and dropped it in Neil’s lap. “Alright. I’ll check in with you when I get back from dinner.”

And with that, Kevin was gone.  

Neil didn’t bother unpacking. He just sat on his bed, trying to distract himself from the silence in the room by playing a brick breaking game on his phone. He dropped it though when he heard the bathroom door open. 

Andrew emerged fully dressed, blonde hair still wet and plastered to his skull. He gave Neil a look of confusion before continuing across the room to the suitcase on his bed. 

“Kevin move in with Matt?” Andrew asked simply and Neil nodded. 

“Yeah.” That was apparently an acceptable answer because Andrew didn’t continue that line of conversation.

“Cool. Are you hungry?”

 

  

 

Renee Walker was one of the goalies for the Kansas City Valkyries and she definitely wasn’t someone Neil thought Andrew would go out of his way to hang out with. With her blonde hair that faded into all colors of the rainbow at the tips and the silver cross around her neck, she couldn’t have looked more different from Andrew, clad in all black with a cigarette tucked between his lips. Neil didn’t understand her, but she greeted him with a smile that only could be described as soft. 

But despite the softness of her exterior, Neil got the distinct feeling that a dangerous woman was beneath the white chiffon top and rosary.

She and Andrew had an easy side hug in greeting before Andrew led them all into a small pizza shop. It was bustling despite it only being like four in the afternoon, but Renee and Andrew split at the door, Andrew heading to the counter to order food, Renee securing them a table that had just been vacated and was currently being bussed. 

Neil joined her, sitting across from her and leaving room for Andrew to sit down beside him when he arrived with the food. But it took a while, and the silence was a bit awkward for the moment it lasted before Renee broke it. 

“Andrew said you’re a backliner, right?” Renee asked, clearly trying to be polite, but Neil was a bit confused by the need to ask that question at all.

“Yeah...” Neil nodded. “We played against each other several times in college, remember?” Because he remembered her - remembered being confused as to why some innocent pretty girl was on a charity team like the Foxes. Riko had dirt on her of some sort, but it wasn’t like he shared everything with Neil. 

“That’s right.” Renee nodded, as if suddenly remembering. “Sorry, ah... everyone looks the same with helmets on though. And it’s been a few years.” She shrugged it off. “Anyways!”

“Anyways, we need to finish our conversation.” Andrew sat down just then, passing out large slices of cheese pizza between the three of them. “Where would you make your stronghold during the zombie apocolypse?”

Neil lost track of most of the conversation from there, eating his pizza in small bites as Renee and Andrew went on about strongholds and weapons and people they’d go back for. 

Andrew claimed he could count the people he’d go back for on one hand, which seemed odd to Neil since he seemed so close to so many people. More than five so far, that much was obvious. Then they joked about how he obviously wouldn’t go back for Renee, he didn’t need her picking up every stray human they passed with her bleeding heart. 

It made Neil wonder who he’d go back for during a zombie apocolypse. It seemed obvious at first - Jean and Kevin. Those were the only two people he’d risk his life for. But he thought now... maybe he’d go back for Andrew too. 

It was a dangerous thought that had him setting down the crust he’d been chewing on, going a bit stiff in his seat. He wouldn’t go back for Andrew to protect him, he’d go back for him so he’d have someone to watch his back while he was protecting the others. And he couldn’t afford those thoughts; they’d cost him more than anything if Andrew failed. 

After a while, they bid Renee a good night. She was apparently Andrew’s date to the Banquet the next day, which shocked Neil until she explained that they usually went to these things together just so no one bothered them about bringing actual dates. Honestly that made more sense to Neil than this whole encounter had.

Andrew wasted no time getting them back to the hotel. They took a taxi again, like they had to get to the pizza place, and Andrew waved Neil inside while he took a moment to light up a cigarette in front of the hotel’s sliding glass doors. It wasn’t one of the designated smoking areas, but Neil didn’t give a shit and neither did Andrew. 

He took the stairs up to the sixth floor, just to stretch his legs after being cooped up for so long. The flight, then the bus, the taxis, and the pizza place where he’d been shoved into a narrow booth with Andrew. It was too much of being kept in the same place for too long. He took his time walking, step after step on the carpeted stairs, surrounded by white walls and passing labeled doors on the way up to the floor his team was occupying. The hotel was nice, upper class, something that the Kings could definitely afford with their successful history, but the white walls and fluorescent of the stairway left something to be desired. 

It felt like it was much too soon when he got to the door labeled with a big black six, but he pushed his way through it and into the hallway, which was more lavishly decorated. He didn’t stop to admire it on the way to his room though, pausing when he passed the room that Kevin was sharing with Matt. He took a few steps back to get a better look at what caught his eye. 

Hanging on the door knob was a garment bag, but it was so familiar that it made Neil’s stomach clench. It was one of the custom garment bags that usually held Raven suits. There was a tag hanging off of it, looking out of place, and written on it was a simple two in Roman numerals. 

Without much thought, Neil snatches the garment bag off of the door knob and continued down the hall, his pace faster. Sure enough, there was another bag hanging on his and Andrew’s door, marked with a Roman numeral four.  

He dropped Kevin’s garment bag on the floor by the door before continuing down the hall at a fast pace. The whole team was on the same floor, so it wasn’t hard to find the door that held the third garment bag. He double checked to see if it was marked with the Roman numeral 3 before yanking it off the door knob and storming back to his and Andrew’s hotel room. 

He struggled with the key after hauling up all three garment bags, he kicked the door shut behind him though and threw them all on his bed. He didn’t know what to do with them now, but his head was buzzing with anger and anxiety. 

Anger because it was so easy for Riko to find them, and he’d dared to go after Kevin and Jean too. Anxiety because it was so easy for Riko to find them, and he’d felt confident enough in what he had planned that adding Kevin and Jean into the mix was an easy task. 

They were clearly intended to wear these to the banquet the tomorrow but Neil wasn’t even sure he was going to tell Kevin and Jean that they even existed. He didn’t want them to melt down, not when they still needed to survive two more days before they got on the flight back to Cincinnati on Sunday.  

He fisted his hands in his hair, pulling at it firmly as if the pull and pressure would distract him from the wave of nausea that was pushing through him. It helped, but only slightly. He had to get rid of these. It wasn’t unlikely that Jean or Kevin would stop by and Neil wouldn’t be able to explain the garment bags. 

He heard Andrew slide the keycard into the door and push it open. He wanted to hide the bags, but he only had a split second and that wasn’t enough time. Instead, he just let Andrew see when he walked inside. 

Andrew paused, looking at the bags that were piled up haphazardly. He didn’t recognize them for what they were, but he lifted a tag and snorted when he read whatever number was on it. 

“Where did these come from?” He didn’t look like he actually cared as he plopped down on his bed, folding his arms back behind his head. 

“Someone left them hanging on our doors.” Neil paused and immediately felt sick as another realization hit him. “They even knew Kevin and I switched rooms. I... we need to get rid of them. I don’t want them to even know they were there.” Neil fidgeted with the sleeves of his hoodie and then pulled his arms right around his chest. 

Andrew sat up again, looking interested, a glint in his eye that reminded Neil that his college nickname had been Monster. “Alright, what do you want to do with them?”

Neil looked at the bags for a solid minute. He had no idea what to do with them, but as he thought, he remembered what Andrew had said to him when he was packing and twisting his shirt up in his hands. 

”I don’t know what that shirt did to personally offend you, but we could just burn it.” 

“I need a dumpster and some gasoline.” Neil unzipped one of the bags, not sparing the velvet suit jacket a second look as he started attempting to shove the other two garment bags into the first. They fit with some solid shoving and fanegling with the zipper. Andrew hopped off the other bed and put his phone to his ear, ordering them another cab. Neil wasn’t sure where they were going exactly but he followed Andrew down to the hotel lobby with the garment bag slung over his shoulder. It was heavy, but they felt lighter than they had when Neil first found them. 

Soon they’d be nothing but ash. 

The cab dropped them off at a gas station across town. It was kind of a shitty area and a shitty gas station. But they didn’t question when Andrew bought three jugs of lighter fluid and a bottle of Jameson. 

They walked from there, papersack loose in Andrew’s hands, the bag slung over Neil’s shoulder. They probably looked like two teenagers that were up to no good, thanks to the fact that they were both vertically challenged. No one paid them any mind here though - the streets were all but abandoned this time of night.

Neil didn’t know where they were going, but Andrew was walking with confidence so he let it go. He felt relaxed for the first time in hours, walking through the dark streets with flickering signs and passing alleys that smelled distinctly of piss and mold. Neil counted his blessings that Andrew didn’t lead them down one of those. He didn’t know if he’d be able to stand the smell long enough to watch the suits burn. 

They got on a bus, where to Neil still wasn’t sure, but he sat next to Andrew, who still had that far off twinkle in his eye. Like he was indulging in a darker part of himself that he hadn’t gotten to let out in a long while. It thrilled Neil, deep down, to see this new mix of emotions moving through Andrew in swirling waves. He had a feeling he was getting a glimpse at something few were ever allowed to see. And he felt like he’d crave it like an addict if he never got a chance to see it again. 

They got off the bus near the edge of the city, and Andrew kept walking. Neil stayed beside him but this time Andrew cracked open the bottle of Jameson. They passed it back and forth between each other a few times, Neil almost gagging the first time the firey drink hit the back of his throat. It warmed him from within, making his stomach feel like a radiator. 

They reached a diner on the side of the road. It was closed for the night, the only light shining from it was red neon. But sure enough, there was a dumpster when Andrew led him around back. It was tall and probably used to be green, though it was mostly rust now. Andrew plopped on the paved ground about thirty feet away from it and passed Neil the paper sack, keeping the bottle for himself. 

“After you light it, we probably have twenty minutes before someone calls the cops. Then we’ll high tail it to the Motel Six down the road and take a cab back to the bus station.” Andrew spoke like he’d done this a thousand times before, and honestly Neil wouldn’t doubt it. 

He opened the garment bag and withdrew the other two, just sorting through them so he could see the suits in all their glory one last time.

Black vevet with crimson pocket squares. The cuflinks were ravens wings engraved in gold. Neil knew which suit jacket was his even though he’d mixed them up a bit. The dark lining of his jacket was stained with blood that couldn’t be seen from the outside. It’s where Riko had dug his hand into the wounds on his back and shoulders countless times, breaking open the skin and letting blood soak into the fabric.  

He dumped them in piece by piece, followed by the bags. The scent of lighterfuild made his head a bit light, or maybe that was just the alcohol he’d consumed on the way here, as he dumped the jugs out into the dumpster, dropping the plastic in after the liquid to get rid of any evidence. He didn’t think criminal investigations were usually done on dumpster fires, but he wasn’t taking that risk. 

At the very bottom of the bag was a book of matches. He tore six from the book and struck them, watching the large flame dance on the heads for a moment before tossing them into the dumpster. 

It lit with an audible woosh, and Neil barely pulled his hand back in time to not be burned. The heat from it dried the sweat on his cheeks and he moved back to plop down beside Andrew. 

Andrew offered him the bottle and he took another deep drink off of it. He’d be stumbling to the motel, but it was worth it. They sat next to each other, close enough to feel the heat between their bodies in the cool air but not touching.  

They probably sat there longer than Andrew had planned, watching the flames roar from the dumpster. 

When they finally stood, Andrew took another swig off the bottle before offering or to Neil. Neil places his lips in the same spot that was still damp from Andrew’s and took a small sip before handing it back. 

Andrew looked to Neil and then to the bottle. Neil didn’t know what he was thinking - his head was warm from both the fire and the drink. But Andrew looked away eventually and he threw the bottle hard into the fire. There was a big burst of flames as the alcohol hit them, and the sound of exploding glass. But then Andrew was leading them off, and Neil was content to follow him anywhere.