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all that i’ve been dreaming of

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There were a lot of things Neil Josten hated now that he was a free man, but there were three things he hated more than the rest: how much free time he had, how much he resented wishing he wasn’t alone, and how much time he spent studying the professional exy team the Palmetto State Foxes.

Neil could work around the first—all he had to do was mindlessly fill his days with anything he could find and he didn’t have time to think about how the majority of his life he had spent running and hiding and fighting and he didn’t know what to do now that he wasn’t doing that.

The second was a little harder—Neil had a hard time making friends on account of not liking anybody or anything, but he found that despite his aversion to people and places and things, he still went to bed at night wishing that he had anyone at all to talk to.

The third was the only thing keeping his temper from completely crumbling into depression—Neil’s fanaticism toward the Foxes and their shoddy sportsmanship yet immaculate play styles that equal parts infuriated him and inspired him.

There were a lot of things Neil Josten hated now that he was no longer on the run from his murderous father, but at least three of those things were keeping his head above water.

He wondered how long that would last.

*

Discord Server for the video game publication “Gamin’ Watch”
#general-chat-staff

star
are you fucking kidding me

fanboy
no

neil
when are the assignments going out?

star
neil check the #assignments channel

star
fanboy answer me did you really do that

fanboy
yes I’m garbage

star
I cannot 🅱️elieve you requested some rando on the internet to make a fake twitter account SPECIFICALLY FOR YOU so you can ROLEPLAY THAT YOU’RE SPEAKING TO BAKUGO

fanboy
🥸

neil
what

star
what

fanboy
what

neil
you can do that?

star
what?

fanboy
what?

neil
I can ask someone to roleplay as someone else on the internet and they’ll do it?

star
neil are you okay?

fanboy
neil you don’t even like social media

neil
how do I do it

star
oh my god

fanboy
OH MY GOD
NEIL
CALL ME ON DISCORD
I’LL SHOW YOU

*

“Guys, OMG.”

“What?”

“OMG. Someone on Twitter is asking for a roleplay account—”

“What a fucking weeb.”

“That’s just an excuse for porn.”

“Why are you looking for roleplay accounts?”

“Shut up! Listen! They’re asking for a roleplay with anyone from our team!”

“Oh, ew!”

“Seriously?”

“What does it say?”

“Username kneeljawzten says ‘I want to fight with the hashtag-PSFoxes without drawing attention to myself. Roleplay accounts only. Any Fox. DM me.’”

“Oh my god, what ?”

“They want to fight ?”

“Why don’t they just, you know, fight with one of us, then?”

“This is so fucking weird.”

“I told you: porn.”

“Don’t they know we can see this?”

*

At ten o’clock that night, Neil got a message from the Twitter account @rp_aaaaaminyard03 and didn’t know how he felt. He mostly made the request because he was bored, and lonely, and didn’t know how to use Twitter, and just wanted someone to talk to.

But as soon as someone actually committed to his bit, Neil felt silly, and sad, and lonely, so when he saw the message that just said “what did you want to fight about,” he decided maybe he could reply, since he asked for this, and he didn’t have anything else to do, or anyone else to talk to.

kneeljawz10
how shitty you are as a goalie

rp_aaaaaminyard03
and what if kevin was the one who messaged you

kneeljawz10
then I’d fight about how shitty he is as an assistant coach

rp_aaaaaminyard03
what about seth

kneeljawz10
fuck seth and also fuck you are you pretending to be andrew or everyone on the team?

rp_aaaaaminyard03
is that any way to treat your new friend

kneeljawz10
I can say my piece and then you can leave forever I don’t care

rp_aaaaaminyard03
what if I have a piece to say as well

kneeljawz10
you don’t even know me

rp_aaaaaminyard03
you don’t even know me

kneeljawz10
isn’t that the fucking point?

Fake-Andrew didn’t reply right away. Neil thought maybe it was over when, three minutes later, he got another message:

rp_aaaaaminyard03
why do you only follow three people and why is one of them @tonyhawk

kneeljawz10
old man sick shreds

rp_aaaaaminyard03
why is ur profile pic the dell computer background

kneeljawz10
grass

rp_aaaaaminyard03
why don’t you have any pictures

kneeljawz10
because fuck you 

When there was no immediate response, Neil put his phone down for the night. He still wasn’t sure how he felt about all of this. He hated talking to people, real or otherwise. What had he been thinking, requesting this?

But it was kind of fun, talking to Fake-Andrew. 

*

Fake-Andrew didn’t message again until the following night.

rp_aaaaaminyard03
didn’t you have a piece to say to me

kneeljawz10
you’re short and stupid and could be so much better if you just tried 1% more than you usually do

rp_aaaaaminyard03
is that the best you can do

kneeljawz10
I admire your cousin more than you on the field but only because he knows how to work with other people

rp_aaaaaminyard03
he’ll be delighted to have a fan I’m sure

kneeljawz10
I’m not nicky’s fan he sucks

rp_aaaaaminyard03
let me change my username to rp_ninininicky69

kneeljawz10
taking the cowards way out
classic andrew

rp_aaaaaminyard03
what’s that supposed to mean

kneeljawz10
andrew’s a coward who’s too afraid to try

rp_aaaaaminyard03
I’m not afraid of anything

kneeljawz10
could have fooled me

Neil left his phone on his bed that night as he went to a random paint night hosted at his town’s local bar. He painted a picture of a bee on a flower. It didn’t look very good, but he hung it on his wall anyways.

*

rp_aaaaaminyard03
why are you hiding behind an rp account

kneeljawz10
what

rp_aaaaaminyard03
you seem like someone not afraid to start a fight with the real andrew minyard

kneeljawz10
I don’t want to talk to a real person

rp_aaaaaminyard03
but you are

kneeljawz10
so? you can leave I just wanted to see what this was like you don’t have to keep talking to me

rp_aaaaaminyard03
but I came here for a fight

kneeljawz10
so fight

*

Neil worked three random jobs at home: he freelanced for the gaming publication Gamin’ Watch, he streamed the games he wrote for (no commentary), and he anonymously edited exy articles for another publication. He kept his exy name separate from his real name because some of his father’s people had been in the exy sphere, and though the majority of them were gone and none could hurt him anymore, he didn’t want himself affiliated with the sport at all.

But also he loved it. And also he missed it.

He wanted to talk about it all the time but he didn’t have any friends. He only had a Fake-Andrew.

*

rp_aaaaaminyard03
why don’t you post anything on twitter

kneeljawz10
I hate twitter

rp_aaaaaminyard03
why do you have an account

kneeljawz10
I had to make one for my job

rp_aaaaaminyard03
your writing job?

kneeljawz10
are you stalking me?

rp_aaaaaminyard03
no you’re stalking me remember

kneeljawz10
right I wanted to talk to you about you handing away the game last night. how do the Foxes put up with you

rp_aaaaaminyard03
I’m big and scary or have you forgotten

kneeljawz10
not big and not scary

rp_aaaaaminyard03
didn’t you hear about the knives? maybe I threaten my teammates into letting me stay

kneeljawz10
look I know you’re just pretending to be andrew and you’re trying to “do his persona” or whatever but you should calm down

rp_aaaaaminyard03
what

kneeljawz10
you’re being kind of a dick about it

rp_aaaaaminyard03
about what

kneeljawz10
what makes you think andrew goes around threatening people

rp_aaaaaminyard03
doesn’t everyone think that

kneeljawz10
the only time he was ever charged with anything he did it to protect his cousin. and he wouldn’t sign with the Foxes until the rest of his family could too

rp_aaaaaminyard03
so

kneeljawz10
so I would appreciate it if you stopped acting like andrew is a soulless monster

rp_aaaaaminyard03
I thought that’s what you asked for

kneeljawz10
I asked for a fake way to yell at a fake andrew to vent my frustrations about how he’s a shitty team player. I didn’t ask for someone to take a shit on him

rp_aaaaaminyard03
I hate you

kneeljawz10
I hate you

rp_aaaaaminyard03
the rp me or andrew minyard?

*

That night, as Neil threw axes at a plank of wood at a place downtown, alone and sweaty and declining the throwing knives, he debated if he should block the rp account or not. He didn’t reply to the last message because he didn’t know if he wanted to keep doing this. He knew it was a double-standard to get upset at someone who was roleplaying a man he had never known in his life (especially when Neil had requested it), but he was just so angry at the disregard @rp_aaaaaminyard03 showed to the real goalie, as if either of them had the right to vilify a person they didn’t know.

Neil paid for another hour when his first hour was up, and he threw an axe and he threw an axe and tried to forget and think about nothing.

*

rp_aaaaaminyard03
don’t you have anything to say about my game tonight

kneeljawz10
no

rp_aaaaaminyard03
why

kneeljawz10
am I supposed to be impressed you did your job

rp_aaaaaminyard03
you’ve been cursing me about it for months

kneeljawz10
I’ve only known you two weeks

rp_aaaaaminyard03
I read your review

kneeljawz10
of the fucking video game you’re in?

rp_aaaaaminyard03
yeah

kneeljawz10
and the joke I made about you?

rp_aaaaaminyard03
yeah

kneeljawz10
at least you admit you’re a joke

rp_aaaaaminyard03
where do you live

kneeljawz10
why are you going to send me a death threat

rp_aaaaaminyard03
I want to know

kneeljawz10
why? I really don’t think andrew minyard cares where I live so this isn’t necessary

rp_aaaaaminyard03
why do you keep assuming what andrew cares about

kneeljawz10
because it’s not really that hard

rp_aaaaaminyard03
fuck you

kneeljawz10
fuck you

*

Discord Server for the video game publication “Gamin’ Watch”
#general-chat-staff

fanboy
ummmmmmmmmmmmmm

neil
what

star
what

fanboy
ummm I don’t know how to say this but we have a thing

star
what

neil
what

fanboy
you know that exy team neil likes? the foxes? well their manager just fucking messaged me

star
lol what

neil
what

fanboy
ummmmmm he messaged me on insta and said they would do a feature for our journal

star
lol

neil
what?

fanboy
I’M FUCKING SERIOUS THEIR MANAGER MESSAGED ME AND SAID THE FOXES WOULD PLAY AMONG US FOR CHARITY IF OUR PUBLICATION COVERED IT WE GET FIRST DIBS

star
lmao what?

neil
what?

fanboy
WE ARE THE SMOL
WE ARE THE BB
WE ONLY HAVE THREE PEOPLE ON STAFF HOW DID THEY EVEN FIND US

star
wait are you actually serious?

neil
what?

*

Discord Server for the video game publication “Gamin’ Watch”
#voice-channel-foxes-among-us

“Thanks again for doing this for me, guys!”

“Thank you! It was a lot of fun, if a bit random. None of us are very big gamers.”

“Bald-faced lie. Andrew and Aaron play video games all the time.”

“And this was Andrew’s idea.”

“Why did you want to do this, Andrew?”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“Well, anyways, thanks again! I know my one co-worker will be very excited to read the article. He loves you guys.”

“Why isn’t he here?”

“He doesn’t get out much.”

“Why?”

“Um—”

“Andrew, what are you doing?”

“No, it’s okay, haha. Neil is just a bit shy. Except not really. I dunno. He just doesn’t get out much. A shame, since he’s a straight snack.”

“Oh? Is he single?”

“Shut up, Nicky. You don’t even know what he looks like.”

“Do you have a picture?”

“Andrew, what the hell is wrong with you today?”

*

Frankie, known on Discord as “fanboy,” was the non-binary head editor and owner of Gamin’ Watch, and they covered the Among Us feature. They got to interview some of the Foxes and host the live-stream on their website, along with the feature article. Neil read the article as soon as it was posted and was surprised to see that Andrew had included a quote, though he was known to never speak to reporters, ever.

The quote was only one sentence, and reportedly Andrew got close to his microphone when asked why he agreed to play and he answered, “I came here for a fight.”

Neil thought it was a weird thing to say, but whatever.

*

rp_aaaaaminyard03
don’t you have anything to say about the stream

kneeljawz10
it was a little sus

rp_aaaaaminyard03
how

kneeljawz10
I mean it’s kinda funny how the Foxes picked my online magazine like wtf

rp_aaaaaminyard03
you’re so stupid

kneeljawz10
you don’t even know me

rp_aaaaaminyard03
it’s the only thing I’m sure of about you

kneeljawz10
anyways can we talk about your shit poor performance on the stream why do people like you

rp_aaaaaminyard03
they don’t

*

rp_aaaaaminyard03
what are you doing today

kneeljawz10
why would andrew minyard care what I’m doing today?
you’re not very good at this

rp_aaaaaminyard03
if you know the foxes so well why don't you roleplay

kneeljawz10
okay fine hi I'm aaron and I'm a little bitch

rp_aaaaaminyard03
lol

kneeljawz10
lol

*

Neil went to a farmer’s market and bought tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, peppers, apples, homemade jam, homemade chapstick, a heat rice sack that smelled like lavender, homemade soap, handspun candles, and a crocheted quilt that was green and black and yellow.

When he got home, he started looking up recipes to cook for lunch.

*

rp_aaaaaminyard03
post something on twitter

kneeljawz10
no

rp_aaaaaminyard03
how do I know you’re not a bot

kneeljawz10
would a bot do this

rp_aaaaaminyard03
you didn’t do anything

kneeljawz10
I don’t want to post anything

rp_aaaaaminyard03
post a picture

kneeljawz10
what?

rp_aaaaaminyard03
go outside and take a picture of the scenery and post it and tag @aaminyard03 in it

kneeljawz10
that’s the real andrew

rp_aaaaaminyard03
do it

kneeljawz10
no

rp_aaaaaminyard03
why are you scared of the fbi finding you

kneeljawz10
the fbi already know where to find me

rp_aaaaaminyard03
what

kneeljawz10
what

rp_aaaaaminyard03
what

*

rp_aaaaaminyard03
do you say pop or soda

kneeljawz10
what

rp_aaaaaminyard03
pop or soda

kneeljawz10
why do I have to tell you

rp_aaaaaminyard03
where do you live

kneeljawz10
fuck off

rp_aaaaaminyard03
I hate you

kneeljawz10
I hate you

rp_aaaaaminyard03
you only hate rp me

kneeljawz10
oh so you remember you’re supposed to roleplay? why are we even here

rp_aaaaaminyard03
you’re supposed to fight me about my performance

kneeljawz10
it’s shoddy at best
or should I say shotty
because most of the time you let shots in

rp_aaaaaminyard03
are you done

kneeljawz10
I guess

*

Neil went to the kitty room at his local pet shop because he wanted to feel something warm and alive in his hand. He spent an hour in there before a family and their daughter came in and flinched at his face, so he set the small kitty down and quietly slipped from the room.

He wished he could have taken one home, but what was he supposed to do with a cat? He could barely take care of himself.

*

Discord Server for the video game publication “Gamin’ Watch”
#general-chat-staff

fanboy
this is so weird but the foxes invited us to an autograph event

star
why, for another article?

fanboy
no just for appreciation

star
why are they so obsessed with you

fanboy
I don’t know! where’s neil and is he shitting his pants

neil
no

fanboy
but do you want to go

neil
I guess

*

The autograph event was in Salt Lake City. Neil lived in Colorado, and Frankie lived in Arizona, and the other member of their team, Karl, lived in Idaho, so Salt Lake City worked best. It was lucky the Foxes were having an event so conveniently between all of them.

Neil had never met either of his coworkers in person, and he was surprised at how excited he was to meet them. And the Foxes, too.

But mainly he was excited to meet Frankie and Karl.

…and the Foxes, too.

*

kneeljawz10
I’m gonna meet you

rp_aaaaaminyard03
when

kneeljawz10
soon

rp_aaaaaminyard03
what do you look like

kneeljawz10
I’ll be the one who hates you

rp_aaaaaminyard03
so everyone

kneeljawz10
don’t worry you’ll know which one is me

rp_aaaaaminyard03
how

kneeljawz10
I’m the one with the face

rp_aaaaaminyard03
I hate you

kneeljawz10
doesn’t everybody

*

“I’m sorry, Andrew’s doing what?”

“He wants to do autographs this time.”

“Fucking what ?”

“He wants to sit at the table.”

“Is that allowed?”

“He’s not a feral beast.”

“He acts like one.”

“Why can’t he just sign a whole bunch of headshots and then hide out on the bus like he usually does?”

“I don’t fucking know; ask him.”

“In this economy?”

*

People paid to get autographs from the Foxes. They stood in line, and then once they got to the panel table, they could stop and chat with each Fox for a little while until they moved on to the next person down the table or security forced them to move on. Though the table was reserved for the starting players and some of the more popular extras, Andrew Minyard never sat at the table.

Today, though, he sat at the last seat on the table and callously signed autographs and barely responded to questions.

Neil watched Andrew as he stood in line beside Frankie and Karl and waited for his turn. He had brought just a sheet of notebook paper for the Foxes to sign because he didn’t have anything else and didn’t care about autographs, anyways. When it was his turn to step up to the table and the first person he made eye contact with was Kevin, he considered all he’d ever wanted to say to Kevin Day, thought about saying it, and then decided that he didn’t want to be known, not by him, not by anyone. Neil didn’t know what he was doing here suddenly, why he drove eight hours to Utah just to meet random people he worked with, random athletes he looked up to but didn’t matter in his life, not really.

He set his torn out piece of paper silently on the table in front of each Fox, ignored their questioning glances at his eye and their poor attempts to socialize with a lowly pleb who had always wanted to play exy but never could. By the time Neil made it to Andrew, he was almost exhausted enough to be annoyed.

*

Neil had watched Andrew show no interest in anyone or anything all day, so it was curious to see that, when Neil slapped down his wrinkled piece of notebook paper in front of him, Andrew sat up. Andrew at first blinked at the burns and scars on Neil’s hands, and then up his arms, and finally stopped to stare at his face. Neil knew what he would see: a man in a baseball cap covered by a hood, one blue eye and another eye covered by a classic black eyepatch. On the cheek without the patch, Neil had four slice marks. On the other cheek, spider-like veins peaked out beneath the eyepatch, and a vicious burn scar was scrubbed onto his cheekbone. Freckles spattered his face where there wasn’t scar tissue. 

Andrew looked down at his autograph sheet again and tapped a light finger on the “To Neil Josten” at the top of the page, followed by all the Foxes’ signatures. Then he looked over at Frankie and Karl, who were beaming and jostling each other over their autographs on the other side of the line, out of everyone’s way.

Andrew finally turned back to Neil. He said, “Ah. The one with the face.”

Neil’s frown deepened. He saw Nicky, who was sitting next to Andrew at the table, whip his head in his cousin’s direction, aghast at his tactlessness.

“What?” Neil asked.

Andrew was indifferent to Neil’s annoyance. Fine. Neil could be indifferent to it, too. It’s not like this wasn’t the first time someone was rude to him because of the scars on his face. Andrew slid the paper closer to himself and hummed. “And who should I make it out to?” he asked, a bit condescendingly since they both knew Neil’s name was right at the top of the page.

“I don’t care.” Neil just wanted to be out of line.

“Don’t you care who your autograph is for, Neil Josten?” Andrew drawled, looking back up at him.

Neil scowled. What was Andrew doing? Andrew had spent all night not speaking to anyone. Why was he suddenly speaking to Neil now? “I’m not always Neil Josten,” Neil said.

“What does that mean?”

“It means sign the fucking paper so I can leave.”

Nicky gasped. The person in line behind Neil gasped. Andrew stared at Neil with nothing in his eyes, nothing on his face. His finger was tapping Neil’s name again on the lined and signed piece of paper. He said nothing. Neil stared back.

After a minute, just as security was coming to break up their weird staring contest, Andrew looked down and signed with his bright red sharpie, right over Kevin Day’s signature, “I hate you,” followed by a scribble that was presumably his name.

Whatever. Neil moved to snatch the paper away from Andrew so he could leave and never come back, but in his haste, he accidentally touched Andrew’s hand with his own scarred one.

Neil yanked his hand back, shot a nervous glance at security and hoped they wouldn’t think he was harming Andrew, and then looked back at Andrew.

“Sorry,” he said, though he didn’t sound it. “I didn’t mean to touch you.”

“And you think I care?” Andrew asked, leaning back and throwing a casual elbow behind the back of his chair. He stared up at Neil with hooded eyes.

Neil said, “Look, I might not know a lot about you, but even I know that you don’t like to be touched. So thank you, fuck you, and goodbye.” Neil turned and left before Andrew could respond. He met up with Frankie and Karl. They left the convention center and found a place to eat downtown. Frankie and Karl returned to their hotel rooms. Neil walked around downtown and people-watched and considered the weight of a crinkled and folded piece of paper in his back pocket—considered throwing away, but didn’t.  

*

rp_aaaaaminyard03
how did the autograph go

kneeljawz10
I hung it on my wall

rp_aaaaaminyard03
I thought you didn’t like the foxes

kneeljawz10
I don’t like anybody

*

Andrew’s recent search history
neil josten
who is neil josten
kneeljawz10
josten
neil josten 28
neil josten exy
neil josten salt lake city
man with scars on face and missing one eye
how do you get involved with the fbi
witness protection program
neil josten neil josten neil josten neil josten

*

kneeljawz10
wow I’m actually inspired

rp_aaaaaminyard03
by what

kneeljawz10
your amazing shut out

rp_aaaaaminyard03
don’t you have anything else to talk about

kneeljawz10
I don’t want to talk about anything else

rp_aaaaaminyard03
what happened to your face

kneeljawz10
why are you asking about my face?

*

For some reason, as Neil was streaming a no-commentary play-through of a heavily modded fan-made game of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, one of his viewers, username @monster0305, donated one thousand dollars. Neil stared at his screen in silence for five seconds before he unmuted and said through his shitty microphone, “Uh, thanks.”

@monster0305 responded with the flipping-off emoji in chat, and then they left the stream.

“Well, that was weird,” Neil said, and then remembered his mic was still on. His chat blew up with laugh emojis and exclamation points.

*

kneeljawz10
you let in too many shots tonight

rp_aaaaaminyard03
is that all you have to say to me

kneeljawz10
what do you want me to say

rp_aaaaaminyard03
[link to article titled “Minyard vs. Gordon: Foxes Fighting Like Hens”]

kneeljawz10
why are you sending that to me as if I don’t obsessively know everything about you already

rp_aaaaaminyard03
sus

kneeljawz10
lol
I bet kevin chewed you out

rp_aaaaaminyard03
sus

kneeljawz10
lol
I’m just glad they didn’t call you a monster again

rp_aaaaaminyard03
why

kneeljawz10
mean & sus

rp_aaaaaminyard03
I bet andrew minyard would hate you

kneeljawz10
no question

rp_aaaaaminyard03
no answer

kneeljawz10
what

rp_aaaaaminyard03
send me a selfie

kneeljawz10
?
no

rp_aaaaaminyard03
fuck you

kneeljawz10
fuck you?

*

Discord Server for the video game publication “Gamin’ Watch”
#general-chat-staff

fanboy
GUYS I THINK SOMEONE FROM THE FOXES MUST BE IN LOVE WITH ME THEY INVITED US ALL TO A GAME???? LIVE IN PERSON???? THEY’LL PAY FOR THE TICKETS TO FLY US OUT????

star
lol

neil
lol

fanboy
I’M NOT KIDDING
LOOK
[screenshot of @fanboy1275 DMs]

star
LOL WUT

neil
what?

fanboy
WHAT IS HAPPENING

star
ADKJFKSJD
I’M DYING
WHO DO YOU THINK IS IN LOVE WITH YOU

neil
what?

fanboy
I DON’T KNOW BUT I HOPE IT’S ALLISON

star
OMFG WHAT IF IT’S KEVIN

fanboy
OMG

neil
whaT

star
I think we broke him

fanboy
lol

star
lol

*

kneeljawz10
I think I’m going to meet you again

rp_aaaaaminyard03
what

kneeljawz10
I’m going to a Foxes game

rp_aaaaaminyard03
congratulations where are you flying out of

kneeljawz10
I don’t have to fly anywhere it’s in Denver and I live in Colorado

rp_aaaaaminyard03
fucking finally

kneeljawz10
what?

rp_aaaaaminyard03
I hate you

kneeljawz10
say it to my face

rp_aaaaaminyard03
I will

*

Their seats were right in front of the Foxes’ goal. Neil watched, enraptured, as the Foxes began their warmups and circled around the court, jogging or running or stretching.

“Did it look like Allison looked at me?” Frankie asked.

“Which one is Allison?” Karl asked. Neil was watching Andrew and Kevin keep pace with each other as they jogged. He tuned out his coworkers’ conversation, his breath caught in his throat. For some reason, as Andrew and Kevin passed by in front of them, Andrew had searched the stands and stopped as soon as he saw Neil.

And then, without pausing in his run, he tapped two fingers to his temple and saluted Neil. Neil, without thinking too much about it, saluted back. And then Andrew was looking away and turning the corner and soon gone.

Frankie and Karl were still arguing about who was who, so they hadn’t noticed the strange moment with Andrew Minyard.

Maybe Neil had imagined it, too.

*

“What the fuck was that?”

“Nothing.”

“You just waved at someone.”

“No, I didn’t.”

*

“What is going on?”

“Is that allowed?”

“Is this game always so violent?”

“I’ve never actually seen an exy game before.”

“I see blood out there!”

“Did it look like Allison was looking at me?”

“No, but it did look like Andrew was looking over here.”

“God, I hope it’s not Andrew secretly in love with me; I’ll shit my pants.”

“Why?”

“Um, he’s kinda scary?”

“Whatever.”

“Well, sorry, Neil, that we can’t all be simps for Andrew Minyard.”

“More for me, I guess.”

“Oh my god.”

“Oh! Was that a goal?”

“Jesus Christ.”

*

After the game (Foxes’ favor, 6 – 3), Neil piled out behind Frankie and Karl so he could go to the merch table while they went to get some food. His heart had started rapidly pounding the moment the game started and it hadn’t stopped the entire match. It was a close game: the Denver Stallions were a tough team, and Andrew couldn’t be on the court the entire game to block every shot. Neil was just happy that Andrew—that all of the Foxes, really—had decided to put aside their differences for tonight. It was the most cohesive he had seen them play. Neil loved every minute of it.

He didn’t know who he needed to thank for the opportunity to come to a real, live exy match, but Neil felt so grateful and thankful in that moment to be alive—to know that he did have things to do besides run or hide or survive, and that even if they were remote or fake, he did have people in his life, and that the Foxes, despite their flaws, were still Neil’s favorite exy team.

Maybe he’d be okay. Maybe he’d learn to be okay.

When Neil made it to the front of the merch line, he debated for a minute which jersey to buy before finally settling on Kevin Day’s.

“Really,” someone drawled from behind him after he made his request. “After all I’ve done.”

Neil turned around and came face to face with starting goalie for the Palmetto State Foxes Andrew Minyard. He was wearing a large gray hoodie and a baseball hat and he smelled like sweat and leather.

Startled and a bit starstruck after the game, Neil asked, “Did you not even shower?”

Andrew raised a brow. “Is that all you have to say to me?”

“Right now?” Neil asked. He grinned. “Yeah.”

Andrew huffed, and then he pulled out his wallet and paid for Neil’s jersey as soon as the vendor returned. Andrew grabbed the shirt he paid for and started walking away.

“Um,” Neil said, following Andrew away from the merch table. Andrew stopped them in a secluded spot away from the crowds. “Thank you?” Neil said, confused.  

Andrew shoved the shirt into Neil’s chest. “I hate you,” he said.

“Um?” Neil said, grappling for the shirt with anxious fingers. What was going on?

Andrew looked up at Neil and said again, a little more pointedly, “Don’t you have something to say to me?”

And then Andrew just waited, and Neil looked down, baffled, out of his depth, as he frantically thought of what he wanted to say to Andrew Minyard.

And then he remembered @rp_aaaaaminyard03.

And he remembered when he said I’ll be the one with the face .

And he remembered when he first saw Andrew, and Andrew had said Ah.

“Ah,” Neil said. He was grinning again. Andrew’s gaze flitted down to his lips for one second before returning to his eye. “I see.”

“Do you?”

“Sorry,” Neil said, but he couldn’t stop smiling, and actually, he couldn’t remember ever feeling this giddy before in his life. “How was I supposed to know you had so much free time on your hands?”

“You assumed everything else about me,” Andrew said.

“You never told me I was wrong,” Neil countered.

“I hate you,” Andrew said again.

“You know, you say that a lot,” Neil said. “I don’t think it means what you think it means.” 

“Shut up.” 

“So antagonistic.”

“I thought you came here for a fight?” 

Neil laughed. Andrew abruptly turned and walked away. Neil didn’t know if he was supposed to follow or let him go, but he decided that he didn’t want to let him go just yet. Neil rushed to follow. “Where are we going?” he asked. 

Andrew didn’t slow down for Neil. “I don’t care.” 

“Don’t you need to grab your stuff?” 

“No.”

“What are we going to do?” 

“It doesn’t matter.” They were walking away from the stadium now, and Neil was about to ask where Andrew’s car was when he realized that probably Andrew arrived in a bus and didn’t have a car in the city. Neil had taken a public bus to the stadium with Frankie and Karl. He wondered if he was supposed to tell them where he was going. 

Andrew was five paces ahead of him and wasn’t turning around as he walked the streets, farther away from the stadium, away from everyone. After they walked five blocks in silence, Neil asked, “Are you sure you want to go on a date with a stranger?” 

Andrew finally stopped. He turned to Neil. “Date?”

“Don’t tell me I wasn’t supposed to know that, either.”

Andrew sighed, and when Neil smiled, Andrew reached out to grab hold of the sleeve of Neil’s hoodie and tugged him until they were standing side-by-side, walking in sync and saying nothing. 

“It’s a nice night for it,” Neil said after a while. 

“A date?” 

“No.” Neil tugged on the hem of Andrew’s hoodie, smiling when Andrew didn’t stop him. “A fight.”