Neil woke up early Friday morning before his alarm had even sounded. He rolled out of his bunk, his t-shirt riding up his torso and his auburn hair in disarray.
Kevin and Andrew were, unsurprisingly, already awake. Kevin, because they had a game that evening and Andrew, because he often woke up before Neil did.
There was already a coffee waiting for him on the kitchen counter, steaming hot and inviting. Andrew leaned casually against the fridge, cup in hand.
“Morning,” Neil said croakily. He cleared his throat. “Thanks for this.” He gestured to the coffee and Andrew merely shrugged as he took a welcome sip.
They drank their coffees in silence. Neil considered going for a run before his first class but he didn't want to wear himself out too much before the game.
Andrew eyed him carefully. He took his cup and Neil's and placed them in the sink before coming to stand in front of Neil.
His face was as expressionless as ever but there was something in his eyes that Neil was slowly beginning to understand.
He pre-empted Andrew's question by saying: “Yes.” Andrew studied him a moment longer before reacting, taking his hand to Neil's hair and gently smoothing down the wayward tufts. Neil leaned into his hand, half-tempted to close his eyes. Instead he watched Andrew, always enjoying being this close to him especially as he wouldn't have many opportunities to be alone with him today.
As if on cue, Kevin walked through the door, holding in his arms what Neil could only assume were stat sheets for tonight's game. Andrew lowered his hand slowly. Kevin barely registered what he had walked in on. He unloaded the stat sheets on Neil, taking a seat on the sofa and gesturing for Neil to do the same.
“I was going to go for a run,” Neil attempted. Andrew snorted beside him before disappearing into the bedroom to get dressed.
“No time for that, we have these to look through,” Kevin said, gesturing once more for Neil to sit.
Neil sighed and took his seat. It was definitely going to be a long day.
Andrew sat through his classes listlessly. The students around him were buzzing with excitement about tonight’s Exy game. It was their first of this season. He supposed to some people that might be significant, but not to him.
He met Neil and some of the other Foxes at lunch time. Kevin was eating a pile of carbs, as usual, and was forcing Neil to do the same. Nicky opted for something lighter in a sandwich and Aaron followed suit. The upperclassmen were elsewhere and that suited Andrew fine. He took a big bite of his cheeseburger and eyed Kevin challengingly. Neil snorted into his pasta beside him and Kevin sent a glare his way.
“What's the plan for tonight after the game then? Drinks at Abby's?” Nicky asked jovially, licking his fingers clean after he finished his sandwich.
Andrew turned away from him in disgust.
“We have to win first,” Kevin said, a ray of sunshine as ever.
Nicky pouted. “We'll want a drink either way. Right, Andrew?”
Andrew nodded, bored already. He glanced at Neil only to find he was being stared at, blue eyes shining with something he couldn't place.
“You're quiet today,” Neil said softly once the others started talking again.
Andrew shrugged in reply. Some days he just didn't feel like talking. It was too exhausting and utterly pointless in a team that never stopped talking.
“Do you fancy it then? Abby's after the game?”
Andrew looked at him. He didn't like repeating himself when he had already given an answer.
Neil sighed and turned away which made Andrew feel... something. He moved his hand and Neil caught the movement, nodding his assent before Andrew rested it on Neil's thigh, squeezing.
Neil smiled at him brightly and it made Andrew's chest ache. In a dark world like Andrew's, sometimes Neil seemed a little too bright.
Neil looked at him questioningly, his smile faltering. He must have read something on Andrew's face that he hadn't been able to mask quickly enough. Neil opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by a buzzing in his trouser pocket. Andrew moved his hand away for him to retrieve it.
Whoever had messaged Neil wasn't welcome. Neil frowned, biting his bottom lip.
“What?” Andrew said finally, unable to help himself. The other three foxes went quiet immediately at the sound of his voice.
Neil placed his phone face down on the table before answering.
“Ichirou wants to see me.”
Kevin's face paled. He put down his fork. Andrew knew he wouldn't take another bite.
“Why?” Andrew asked. He tried not to sound impatient.
“He didn't say.”
“When?” Andrew pressed.
“Now,” Neil said, swallowing thickly.
Andrew stood up but Neil moved his hand as though wanting to take his wrist. He didn't. Andrew still paused.
“Alone,” Neil said emphatically.
Andrew remained standing. His left eye twitched.
“I have to do as he says, you know that.”
Andrew didn't respond. There was no way to argue it. Once, he would have. He remembered Baltimore and insisting that he stay with Neil through the interrogation because he didn't trust them to give Neil back. But this wasn't the FBI.
It wasn't that Andrew was afraid of them. If Neil asked him to go, he would. He was afraid of what he might do if one of them looked at Neil wrong or dared to lay a hand on him. He knew Neil knew it too. That was why he nodded and watched as Neil squared his shoulders and left.
Sometimes Neil forgot that his life wasn't really his own. When he was with his Foxes, he could forget about Ichirou and his promise. No, forget was the wrong word for it. He could deal with it. It was worth the sacrifice, knowing that he could play Exy and stay with them.
The Foxes were his home now. Nothing Ichirou could say would change that.
Neil thought about the game tonight, wondering if this would take long. He thought about Andrew, actively not waiting for him. He smiled at the thought.
Ichirou's car came into sight. Neil steeled himself and approached. There was no avoiding this, he knew. He put his hand on the door handle and after taking a deep breath, opened the door.
It was late. The Foxes had barely eaten dinner, despite Wymack's protests about keeping their strength up. He hadn't eaten anything either though.
Even Kevin couldn't let the game distract him from the overwhelming elephant in the room.
Neil was gone.
No, not gone. He was late. There was a difference, Andrew knew. It had been hours since that text message from Ichirou. Andrew couldn't even call him because Neil had left his fucking phone behind.
The Foxes changing room was uncharacteristically quiet. It was lucky really that they were at home tonight because Andrew doubted many of them would have been willing to get on the bus.
Dan and Matt were huddled together in the corner whispering, their postures tense. Allison sat by herself, pretending to inspect her gear but her gaze kept darting to the door as if expecting Neil to appear at any moment. Nicky wore his worry for all to witness. It was exhausting just looking at him. Aaron was the only one who looked unconcerned but Andrew knew better by the way his gaze wandered off unseeing.
Kevin and Wymack came in then, both looking identically tense. Andrew would have laughed if he'd had the temperament for it.
He waited for the big speech from Wymack but none was forthcoming.
Kevin opened his mouth to speak but Andrew cut him off before he could.
Kevin paused. The rest of the Foxes turned to look between them.
“Whatever you were about to say. Don't.”
“Andrew...” Nicky began worriedly.
Andrew silenced him with a look.
“All I was going to say was that no matter what, Neil would want us to play.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Andrew couldn’t disguise the venom in his voice.
Kevin bristled. “You know I'm right.”
Andrew knew but it didn't make it any easier to stomach. Instead of answering, he took off his goalie gloves with a little more force than was strictly necessary. Kevin's eyebrows shot up and Andrew wanted to tear his head off for making this about Exy and not about what was really important.
“You aren't going to play then?” Kevin looked annoyed but not like he was going to argue the point.
“I can step in,” Renee offered, walking into the room for the first time. She took a seat beside Andrew in apparent solidarity. Andrew wasn't in the mood for her optimism right now.
“Should we call the police?” Nicky blurted out, seemingly unable to help himself.
“And tell them what exactly?” Aaron asked drily. “He's only been gone a few hours and it's not as if we can tell them about Ichirou, is it?”
Nicky wrung his hands together. “The FBI then?”
Andrew looked at him darkly. “No.”
“Then what are we supposed to do? I don't think I can play like this, I'm so worried. Aren't you?” His eyes darted towards Andrew, hardly daring to linger. Andrew tensed and Renee spoke up softly beside him.
“There's nothing we can do but wait, Nicky. Neil's tough, he's been through worse. Besides, Ichirou has no reason to harm him, not on the first game of the season. He has a direct investment in him.”
Andrew knew she was right but it didn't make him feel any better. It did the trick in quieting Nicky though, so he was grateful for that at least.
“Renee's right. And sorry Andrew, but so is Kevin,” Wymack began. “Neil would want us to play so that's what we're going to do. There's still half an hour before game time, he could still show.” Despite his words, Wymack didn't look as if he really believed them.
“If he doesn't though, coach?” Matt asked, his arm around Dan comfortingly.
“I'm gonna send Bee out during the game to look for him. If you're not playing you might as well go with her.” He looked at Andrew, who nodded. “The rest of you need to get out there for drills, out you go.”
The team grudgingly got to their feet and filed out of the locker room. Kevin looked back at Andrew and opened his mouth to speak but thought better of it at the dark look on Andrew's face.
“He'll be okay, Andrew,” Renee said quietly before following the others out. Andrew didn't reply.
He didn't know how long he sat there staring out into the empty locker room. He could hear the cheers and stomps of the crowd outside warming themselves up for the game.
Andrew didn’t care about things in the same way other people did. If there was any part of him that cared, he didn't reflect on it too closely. It was weak. He felt weak now, not knowing where Neil was and knowing that he couldn't do anything about it. He didn't want to think too hard about why it bothered him so much. Neil was nothing, this thing between them was, equally, nothing.
But then why did his chest feel so tight, his stomach feel so hollow? He breathed out and put his face in his gloveless hands. Fuck this.
Andrew's head whipped up and there was Neil, smiling weakly at him. He looked shattered.
Andrew didn't hesitate. He was in front of him in moments, taking Neil's murmured “yes" before checking him over for any obvious injuries.
“I'm f-" Neil began to say until Andrew stared at him flatly. “I mean, I'm not hurt.”
Andrew didn't want to demand answers from him: Where were you? Why were you gone so long? So instead he went on the defensive and shoved Neil's phone into his chest.
Neil winced, looking at Andrew apologetically. “Ichirou just wanted to talk about the new season and to make sure I knew where I stood. We drove somewhere, the windows were dark so I couldn't see. They dropped me off and I didn't have any money on me or my phone so I had to hitchhike back. I didn't mean to worry you.”
“I wasn't worried,” Andrew said automatically.
“Andrew,” Neil sighed. “It's just us here.”
“Yes or no?”
Andrew placed his hand on the back of Neil's neck and squeezed lightly. He brought his other hand up to Neil's chin, checking his face once more for any new marks. When he was satisfied, he pulled Neil in close, resting their foreheads together.
“Don't forget your fucking phone next time,” he couldn't keep the strain out of his voice. Neil smiled. Before he could say anything, Andrew kissed him. He moved his hands to Neil's waist, tugging at his t-shirt. The kiss was fierce, it said everything that Andrew couldn't.
When they finally broke apart, they were both breathless. Neil kissed him once more, so softly that Andrew almost lost it right there in the locker room.
There was a commotion behind them and the other Foxes piled in.
“Neil!” Nicky exclaimed, rushing towards him with the others following close behind.
Neil gave the same explanation he gave Andrew, Kevin staring at him in disapproval.
“If you'd missed the game tonight, Ichirou-"
“I know. I'm here now.”
“You better change out.”
Neil nodded, finally noticing Andrew's gloves on the floor.
“You’re not playing?” He asked incredulously.
Andrew rolled his eyes but didn't reply. He picked up the gloves, earning a small smile from Renee as she removed her own.
The others went back outside while Neil changed. Andrew helped him get into his gear quicker. When Neil was ready Andrew traced his fingertips lightly over Neil's jersey number.
“All of this for a stupid game.”
“You don't really believe that,” Neil pointed out.
“It's not worth your life,” Andrew said bluntly in response.
“I know,” he said softly. It had been, once. But now Neil had a lot more to lose.
Andrew scrutinised him for a moment longer before tugging on his jersey.
“We better go before Kevin has kittens.”
Neil laughed. After the day he'd had, it felt so good. He felt free again. Almost.
“One more thing first,” Neil said softly. He reached out to Andrew, waiting until he nodded before hooking his fingers in Andrew's collar and tugging him close. He kissed him with the same ferocity that Andrew had shown him earlier. Andrew tangled his fingers in his hair, a contrast to what he'd done this morning but just as pleasant.
They pulled apart and Neil couldn't help the smile spreading across his face.
“Stop looking at me like that,” Andrew said familiarly.
Neil sighed but nothing could deflate him now.
“Next time maybe you should come with me,” he said.
Andrew gave him a blank stare. "Do you really want to chance that?"
Neil shrugged. "These days I'd chance anything if it means I get to stay here with you and the others."
Andrew's jaw tightened. His silence said more than any words could.
"We'd better go," Neil said. Andrew still had a hold of him. He pulled Neil close one more time, pressing a kiss to his forehead. Neil flushed.
"Don't start," Andrew warned, but his face had softened.
Neil flashed him a grin before heading towards the exit, Andrew close behind him.