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I Never Told You

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Andrew is not merely scared of flying. He has also learned to detest it with his entire being. When he first found out about his phobia of heights, he has vowed with himself not to ride airplanes unless absolutely necessary.

Yet here he is, two luggage by his side and a backpack slung over his shoulder, realizing that Neil Josten will always be an exception.

Few weeks ago, he has officially graduated from Palmetto State University and in several more weeks, he will begin his training as a pro Exy athlete. His last year as a Fox was one hell of a roller coaster. He never realized how different their lives would become once the seniors graduated, how much there was to arrange when it comes to signing onto a new team, how much separating from Aaron, Nicky and Kevin actually affected him. Most of all, he is just figuring out how difficult it is to leave Neil Josten behind.

A feet apart, he and Neil stare at each other, silent and tense. Despite countless talks about this separation they had on the rooftop, imagining the future and facing reality have nothing in similar. When this was still something they just talked about, it was fairly easy to muster apathy and nonchalance. But now, seeing Neil holding back and keeping his hands in his pockets, seeing Neil –strong, strong Neil—actually looking like he is in verge of tears while staring at Andrew, the blond couldn’t pretend that his own chest doesn’t ache.

Neil bites his bottom lip and gives him a self-depreciating smile, “This is so stupid. We’ll see each other in a couple of months. Why am I being so unnecessarily emotional?” He whispers, voice cracking a little.

Andrew looks over his shoulder, at the departure door he will go through all alone, in which once he enters, he couldn’t step out again until boarding time, and feels something akin to desperation when he looks down at his wristwatch. He only has few minutes before he could safely check in without mingling with the crowd on the same flight.

“Andrew.”

His name shouldn’t sound like a prayer coming from a mouth that could leave a reporter crying after an interview. He lifts up his gaze and meets Neil’s. “What?”

“Can I call you every night?”

His answer is immediate. “I’m not much of a talker, Josten.”

Neil accepts that with a nod. It’s a question answerable with yes or no, yet his response makes sense to Neil, because he’s despicable like that. “Mm. That’s fine. You don’t have to reply to my babbling. I just want company when I go up the rooftop.”

“Keep your phone fucking charged, or I will personally fly back just to stab you with it.”

A short laugh. “More reason not to charge it, then.”

Silence reigns between them for several moments.

Clenching his jaw, Andrew takes a deep breath and takes a step closer to Neil. Lifting his chin slightly, he stares straight at those bright, bright blue eyes he couldn’t believe he wouldn’t get to see every day anymore. Between his teeth, he grinds out, “Neil, we’ll be fine. We promised to fight for this.” It wasn’t easy to spit the words out, but Andrew knows he should. Bee has talked to him about his aversion to vulnerability, and how it shouldn’t be something he feared when it concerned Neil.

That seems to loosen something in Neil as the auburn-head sags, his façade cracking to show the anxiety he has been trying so hard to hide since Andrew’s graduation. He nods twice, repeating, “We’ll be fine.” Then he adds, “Just two months. Two months. I can do this.”

“Promise me you won’t lie to me about your condition while left alone here, Neil.”

It takes a moment, but he eventually gets a resolute nod. Neil’s expression is serene when he murmurs, “Promise me the same.” When he gives the striker a glare at that, he receives a smirk that makes his stomach do a somersault. “You’ve got my back. I’ve got your back. I don’t care about the distance. My words remain the same.”

Andrew hates him so much. “Shut up,” He snaps, crossing his arms. That earns him another laugh that doesn’t sound as choked up as the previous one.

The two of them return to staring at each other. Andrew has had four years to fully memorize every edge, every corner and every dip of Neil Josten, but he couldn’t help himself from backing up a copy at the back of his mind. Two months he wouldn’t get to see the real thing. This is one of the few times he’s thankful for his eidetic memory.

His phone pings to remind of him that he should have entered the airport by now, and he forces himself to say, “I have to go.”

Neil nods and gives Andrew a smile that is only reserved for the goalkeeper for reasons he still doesn’t understand. He doesn’t deserve that look. He doesn’t deserve that adoration. He doesn’t deserve Neil Josten. “Safe flight, ‘Drew.” The nickname sends a pang of ache through him, making his chest twinge. It has been three years since Neil has given him that nickname, and Andrew still doesn’t understand why it matters that only Neil could use it and could say it with such meaning. “Don’t stab anyone before arriving at Boston.”

“Do you count?”

That earns him another light laughter. “Go,” Neil whispers, wringing his hands together in front of him. “Go before I actually beg you to stay. My rationale is not functioning correctly right now, so I am doing my best not to entertain it.” Brokenly, Neil repeats, “Go.”

And Andrew understands, because he is so close to begging for Neil to come along with him. He is so close to booking another flight under Neil’s name. Grabbing the handles of his luggage, he turns around and storms towards the departure door, glaring at it the whole while as if it personally offended him.

Few steps in, he hears Neil call out, “Andrew!” When Andrew looks over his shoulder at the striker, Neil switches to Russian just to say, “I’ll miss you.”

Three words. Three syllables.

Andrew terribly wants to stay just to get rid of those unshed tears lingering on Neil’s eyelids.

Come with me. Come with me. Come with me.

Andrew merely inclines his head, because he doesn’t trust his words, he doesn’t trust his brain to function. Then he enters the door to go through the long process to boarding, because fuck Exy.

He might hate flying.

But he hates Neil Josten more.

 

Andrew doesn’t know how Neil manages to calculate the time between him entering the departure doors and arriving to his gate to wait for boarding, but somehow, Neil did. Then again, Neil is good at mathematics, and isn’t he just an anomaly? Ten minutes after he finds a secluded section of a café near his gate and purchasing a couple of slices of chocolate cake and a cup of hot chocolate to pass the remaining time, his phone pings to alert him of a message.

He and Neil have discarded their flip phones last year because they know that it wouldn’t be practical to use once Andrew graduated. Despite how much Andrew stated that he hates Neil Josten, the thought of not being able to see Neil Josten through his phone’s camera just because he’s a stubborn asshole sounded stupid. So they caved and bought the latest smart phone models that would give them the best quality when video chatting with each other.

Neil has sent him a photo of the road from the driver’s seat, just few minutes from Palmetto earlier. Now, Andrew just received a photo of the campus’ view from the rooftop.

Boarded the plane yet?

not yet. eating at the café while waiting.

Bee’s hot chocolate is better.

You’re just biased.

and you’re a dumbass

I’m your dumbass.

you’re my nothing.

 

The two of them exchange text messages of no context for almost forty-five minutes until finally, Andrew’s flight number is called to prepare for boarding. Seated on the benches, waiting for the flight attendant to call the attention of his seat number, Andrew’s phone pings again.

Hey, ‘Drew.

Long message incoming.

Don’t judge me, okay?

You know what, you can judge me.

I just know I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight if I didn’t tell you this before you officially leave South Carolina.

Andrew Minyard, I am not good at spoken words despite my liking to tearing people apart with them. I tried putting it on writing in case it would be easier. Whatever gibberish you’ll read, that’s on me.

You’re the best thing that ever happened to me. Being and staying as a Fox coming right after it. Because if it wasn’t for you, I would have ran away long ago, I would have remained a rabbit for the rest of my life, I would remain existing, but not living.

 You’re the best thing that ever happened to me, because you made me feel like I could be more than nothing and no one.

I’m so proud of you, I hope you know that. I am so proud of the steps you’re taking towards healing. I know how hard it must have been to let go of Aaron and Nicky, but you did, because that’ll make them happy. I know how much the thought of actually having a future scares you, yet you’re boarding that plane towards your pro team.

I never told you, but I stole your Fox hoodie because it smells like you.

I never told you, but I keep a photo of you in my wallet. It’s a photo of us Dan has taken few years back, but I cut myself out because I have issues and you know that. Now it’s just a picture of you, and I stare at it sometimes.

I never told you, but I got myself a tattoo of a key on my wrist right where my pulse is because you gave me a key and called it home.

I never told you, but I adore watching the sun shine on you because it makes your eyes look incredibly golden.

I never told you, but I am incredibly terrified of what the future holds.

I never told you, but I was already missing you before you even graduated because I knew that we would separate soon.

I never told you, but you matter so much to me. So take care of yourself there, alright?

Oh, and Andrew?

 

Andrew doesn’t even register that he has boarded the plane, has placed his hand carry under the seat and has tucked in his seat belt, until the flight attendant asks him to turn off his phone soon because they will take off in few minutes.

His heart is racing, and not for fear of flying, as he waits for Neil’s message.

 

I never told you, but you’re the most important person in my life. See you in two months. Safe flight.

 

Andrew turns off his phone right after finishing reading the last text bubble. He wants to re-read everything, but his mind has enough storage to memorize every single word.

“Fuck you, Neil,” He whispers, gritting his teeth and squeezing his phone so tight between his hands.

 

 

The next couple of months pass in a blur, but also felt like forever.

Andrew has started practicing with his new team, and his roommate is alright. Most of his team mates are still afraid of him, but that’s not his problem. He has established a routine that mostly composed of Exy training, gym and Facetiming Neil. The fact that there isn’t time difference between South Carolinand Boston helps, because they managed to make a schedule of when to talk every night.

Sometimes Neil falls asleep on him, because of a long, tough day. Andrew understands. Being captain, tending to the stubborn, asshole Baby Foxes alone, tutoring those who are struggling with the training regime, maintaining his grades while also researching the offers he receives, Neil barely has time to sleep. When Neil falls asleep in front of his laptop, head resting atop his folded arms, Andrew unashamedly stares at the striker, lightly touching the screen to virtually ruffle Neil’s hair.

Every night, he tells Neil, “Good night,” but it is never enough.

From the way that Neil sometimes stop and turn silent just to stare at Andrew through his screen, his blue eyes glassy, Andrew knows that Neil despise the distance between them, too.

Every morning, Andrew crosses out a date until his two week break. He has managed to make a deal with his new coach to give 50% more energy and effort in training in exchange of having half month breaks every two months. Andrew knows his talent and potential, and he knows it’s a hard thing to find, therefore it’s only fair that he takes advantage of it. It takes a while, but the Boston Bears have been accommodating. They are not the worst bunch as well.

Nothing could replace the original Foxes, because despite whatever transpired between him and the others, they stuck with him. They still do not fully understand him, and he doesn’t expect them to, but they are accepting of who he is. It is partly because of Neil, but Andrew, again, do not care of the technicalities.

He is Fox, and forever will be Fox.

 

On the day he crossed out his 199th night of leaving South Carolina, Andrew is lounging on his bed with his phone raised over his face as he watches Neil babble while scribbling equations to solve his homework. After that was done, Neil moves on to his final research paper. Neil has chosen to center his paper around the topic of how fucked up and how to improve the USA’S foster care system, and Andrew hates him even more for it.

Once he is exhausted from playing good student, Neil rests his chin atop his forearm to stare back at Andrew through the screen. “’Drew,” He mumbles.

Andrew grunts.

“I—“ Neil hesitates then looks down at his pinned apps while chewing his lip. “I never told you, but I had a nightmare last night.” Andrew stiffens, and waits it out. “I dreamt that instead of bringing me to Baltimore, Lola and Na---my father took me abroad instead to train me into the next Butcher. Then when they believed I was ready, they made me target you first. I was holding a cleaver and everything, silently as I approached your Columbia home because I just knew you were there that evening. My dream ended with me posing to knock, hiding the cleaver behind me.”

When he hears Neil breath hitch, Andrew growls, “Stop.” When Neil hiccups, he snaps, “Breathe.” His hand is itching to ground Neil by placing his hand at the back of the striker’s neck. He loudly instructed Neil to breathe him until he hears Neil calming down, enough to stop panicking himself.

Neil raises his shaking hand, continuing with a small voice, “I wondered if the me in that universe ever went along with it. But then again, I would rather slit my own throat than hurt any of you.” He closes his eyes, smiling slightly, “I would rather remain nothing than become something akin to a monster. I thought that if that nightmare was true, I was thankful that I at least left you with nothing, and I wouldn’t—“

“—Neil,” Andrew interjects. Once Neil opens his eyes to stare at him through the screen, Andrew swallows his trepidation and says, firmly, “I never told you,” He starts, “but this has not been nothing for years now.”

The implications of his words take a while for Neil to understand, until he does. A smile finds itself on Neil’s face, small but genuine, slight but grateful, so, so fucking beautiful.

They don’t say anything else after that, and after almost fifteen minutes, Neil begins to doze off, and before he completely succumbs to slumber, Neil mumbles, “Miss you, ‘Drew.”

Andrew strokes Neil’s burnt cheek with his thumb through his screen.

 

It is Coach Wymack who picks him up from the airport the next day.

They make small talk along the way, but Andrew finds his fingers drumming over his thigh in impatience as they near Palmetto State University. The orange and white almost blind him after months of not seeing the hideous combination.

Leaning over the open window, Andrew looks back at Wymack, seated on the driver’s seat with an eyebrow raised. “Thanks, Coach. Don’t miss me too much, I will raid your apartment within my visit.”

Wymack couldn’t hold his short, loud laugh. “Fuck you, Minyard. Glad to have you back.”

With that, the man drives away, leaving Andrew staring up at the Fox Tower. It has only been two months, but it felt like years since he been atop this hill. The guards surrounding the building recognize him, earning him easy access into the dormitory.

The place is mostly empty except for those who have vacant time in between their classes. He only gives himself few seconds to hesitate, thumbing through his key ring, before unlocking Neil’s dorm room.

Andrew throws his luggage somewhere around, changing into a more comfortable outfit before sitting on a bean chair. He picks up the Fox hoodie that is haphazardly thrown on the coffee table, cradling it when he realizes that it is Neil’s, which means Neil still uses Andrew’s instead. Putting it on, he relinquishes to the smell he has categorized as home: Neil’s peach-y shampoo, Neil’s strong smelling soap, and Neil’s natural scent which is a combination of something musky and the smell of freshly-cleaned linen.

He is home.

 

Few hours later, Andrew raises his gaze when he hears Neil’s voice from outside the door. It is followed by Neil’s loud laughter that makes Andrew’s fists clench in anticipation. The doorknob rattles, jostled by the key, then the door is opening.

Andrew lets himself stare as Neil enter the room, wearing a gray turtleneck paired with black jogger pants and a pair of white Nike sneakers Andrew gifted him on his last birthday. He looks fucking gorgeous, Andrew wants to either throttle him or kiss him until his lips get bruised up.

Neil stops dead when he turns his head from whoever he was talking to outside to give his attention to the room, and makes eye contact with Andrew. It takes him several heartbeats before Neil releases his breath and shuts the door behind him quietly.

Then, they are staring right at each other. The sunlight streaming through the windows hit Neil just right that his blue eyes almost become green with the help of it. They look unreal in person.

Neil should be unreal. Neil must be a pipe dream. Andrew must still be high in meds, because what has he done to deserve the pure adoration Neil conveys through his eyes comparable to precious sapphires.

Andrew has always high regard when it comes to his poker face, but something must have slipped through, because Neil is the first one to break, murmuring an awed, “Andrew,” like an answered prayer.

So Andrew lifts up his arms, beckoning Neil closer, because he has to know if this was still a dream, and he’s too afraid to stand and banish this fantasy himself. Neil swallows and crosses the distance in a couple of steps, going on his knees to be on Andrew’s eye level once he is close enough.

“Andrew,” Neil repeats. A sigh. A breath. A worship.

Finally, Andrew finds his voice, “Neil.”

They are not soft people. They were raised by knives, raised in violence, born for madness. They grew up with jagged edges, and somehow, they fit just right without cutting the other.

They are not soft people, but the past couple of months tugged their strings too taut, and a puzzle can only be incomplete for so long, especially when it took them almost two decades just to figure out that they were meant for this, meant for someone, meant together.

Neil lifts up his hand and stops mid-way to grasping Andrew’s, “Can I—“ He cuts himself off. “I want to hug you. Yes or no?” He whispers, looking at Andrew through his eyelashes.

“Yes.”

Then, Neil is throwing himself at Andrew, clutching the back of the goalkeeper’s shirt as if he was also afraid this was a dream. He keeps on lowly murmuring Andrew’s name, almost as if it was his own name.

It takes a while, but Andrew does not feel his skin crawl when he lifts up his arms to hug Neil back, his hand cradling the back of Neil’s head. Since he is seated on the bean chair, it gives Andrew more height difference, enough to bury his nose on the top of Neil’s hair, inhaling his scent.

“I never told you,” Andrew whispers. It has been some sort of alternative to their truth game. A way to exchange truths without explicitly asking the other for one in return. A willingly given truth. A willingly shown vulnerability.

Neil lifts up his eyes to meet his, looking incredibly comfortable in Andrew’s arms. “Mm?”

“I also miss you when I’m in Boston, Neil.”

Andrew knows everything –flying despite his fear of heights, waking up incredibly early, waiting for two months and healing -- is worth it when Neil hides his face on the crook of Andrew’ neck, smiling widely, going lax.

They’re home.