Neil didn't exactly pride himself on having seen it all, but after everything that had happened to him it was only logical that he'd be difficult to surprise. The Foxes' friendship and Andrew's... well. They had been disarming for a long while, and sometimes still were, but it had been years now and he was mostly used to it. Coming from them, kindness was no longer a question. They were his family and he was theirs, and Neil was getting better at responding to this truth everyday.
Still, if there was one thing that could surprise him, it was looking at the caller ID on his phone and seeing Aaron's name flash over the tiny screen. Aaron only ever called him when something was going on with Andrew, which he knew not to be the case that day.
Neil let his ringtone have at it for a while, looking at the caller ID like it would somehow reveal to him the reason for Aaron's strange course of action. He knew Andrew was fine because he was visiting him and had seen him that morning, eyelashes glued together by sleep and his hair a wild mess Neil had run his fingers through when he'd come back from his morning jog. He'd bought a pastry on his way back, something insanely sweet and filled with chocolate, and had been rewarded for his trouble with a lazy kiss and a sleep-soft smile. The latter'd stolen his breath away more than any amount of running ever had.
Neil picked up his phone just as it was about to stop ringing and said, "Hello."
There was a huff at the other end of the line and then Aaron's voice was in his ear. "Neil. This is Aaron. Is Andrew around?"
"Nope," Neil answered, expecting Aaron to sigh and hang up. Probably the twins'd just had an argument. Andrew must have hung up on Aaron and was now refusing to pick up the phone. He did that frequently. Neil had used Renee's cooperation a handful of times himself and, on one memorable occasion, a complete stranger's phone. "He's at the vet for a check-up, won't be back before 1pm," Neil added before Aaron could ask.
"Oh, good," Aaron sighed then. Neil arched up an eyebrow.
"You don't want to talk to Andrew?"
Aaron huffed. Neil could almost hear his eyes roll up. "It's you I'm calling, isn't it?"
Neil waited. Aaron had never out-patienced him.
Sure enough, after a few seconds of silence, Aaron huffed another breath. "Look, I'm not calling to start shit, okay? But you can't tell Andrew I called."
"Okay," Neil said, curious in spite of himself. "Why can't I tell him?"
There was a shuffling noise, then Aaron said, "Our birthday's coming up."
"I’m aware. What does that have to do with you calling me?"
Aaron huffed out another breath. "I don't know what to get him."
Neil's eyes widened in spite of himself. Then he smiled, not bothering to keep the smugness out of his voice. "You want my help."
"Yeah," Aaron grumbled.
"Picking a present for Andrew, who is your twin brother."
"Just because we're twins doesn't mean I can read his fucking mind, Josten," Aaron snapped, bitter and sounding more like the Aaron Neil was used to than he'd had until now. "He visits you more often than he even calls me, okay? So congratulations, you win. Now stop being a dick."
Neil was tempted to snark something back, but he supposed Aaron's little tirade had been as much against Neil as it'd been against himself, so he let it slide. Besides, he knew how distant Andrew could behave first-hand. In a way, Neil was almost sympathetic.
"I live closer than you do, and you live with Katelyn," Neil said reluctantly after a few seconds had passed. "I think if you offered to visit him, alone, he'd probably agree."
"No offense," Aaron said then, defensive enough to bite, "but you're the last person I want to hear this from."
Neil shrugged. "Too bad."
"I don't know why I thought this was a good idea," Aaron groaned.
"Me neither," Neil agreed. "Did you try calling Renee or Kevin at all? Nicky?"
"Yeah, and they were no help at all,” Aaron answered, sounding more aggravated by the second. “Nicky didn't know what to get him either, all of Kevin's ideas were Exy related, and Renee just told me that what mattered was that it was from me, and that it wouldn't count if she helped."
Neil snorted. He wasn't really surprised, but he'd thought Nicky at least would have had some ideas. Then again, knowing him, he was probably panicking over what to get both twins himself, and second-guessing everything. That's what he had been like the last November, anyway.
"Look, Josten, just tell me what you're getting him and we'll be done here. I swear I won't try and out-present you."
Neil grinned. "You couldn't even if you tried."
Aaron snorted. "It's on."
"Tempting, but no. I'm keeping my idea." Aaron huffed and Neil knew he was about to protest, so he went on before he could. "He's gotten into baking though. King managed to push the kneading thing off the counter and it broke. He hasn't had time to replace it yet."
That's what Andrew'd said anyway. Neil wasn't sure how heavy those machines actually were, or how plausible it was for an overweight cat to move them around. But Aaron didn't need to know that.
"Huh," Aaron said. "So you can be helpful."
Neil huffed, trying to sound annoyed. His smile kind of ruined the effect.
It was odd, this genuinely smiling at Aaron instead of the sarcastic curve of the lips he was used to biting with, even if Aaron himself wasn't aware of it. Not that they never tried to be cordial, but they usually managed to get under each other's skin so quickly that no one could see the difference either way.
"Right," Aaron said, sounding like he didn't really know what to say. "I have to go."
"Okay. Andrew will be back soon anyway."
"Right. Uh - it's nothing bad, right? The cats okay?"
Neil blinked. "Yeah, they're fine. Just a check-up."
"Okay, good - I better go," Aaron said again, and still didn't hang up. "And... thanks, Josten."
"...Don't mention it."
"I can guarantee you, I won't," Aaron said with finality, and the line went silent.
Neil was still contemplating his phone when Andrew came back from the vet ten minutes later.