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I'll Keep You Safe

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As it turned out, Andrew Minyard had allergies.

None that were very severe, mind you, just allergies that had the potential to force him into bed all day, too tired to move. He’d been well aware of his allergy to seemingly everything in the atmosphere since he was a child. Sometimes, when he was fortunate enough to find himself in a home that had a kind adult who would let him rest to take care of his symptoms, Andrew would take medication. Nothing that couldn’t be found at a local pharmacy, but they’d all send him straight into a hazed out state of mind in which he could barely stand up straight due to drowsiness. Deep naps always followed.

He stopped ever taking allergy medication when he was seven.

The inability to properly be aware of his surroundings made him sick. The heavy tingle in his limbs that forced his movements into slow, dragging things scared him. It was a complete loss of control, and he became too accustomed to how some would take advantage of that. So he refused to take medication that would affect him like that. He dealt with his allergies, becoming more and more miserable when he could find no relief but decided that was better than the alternative.

None of the Foxes knew about his allergies. Over time, they slowly had less affect, more of an annoying discomfort than anything that had real control over his life. And when his allergies did get worse, he managed to hide them. There was no point in telling anyone. They didn’t need to know, it wasn’t like they could do anything. Besides, it wasn’t at all life-threatening. An inconvenience, at worst.

There was no doubt in his mind if any of them knew, they’d try to help. That was a side effect of Neil; the upperclassmen, and even the other monsters, giving more of a shit. Occasionally, it was nice. To feel like there was some semblance of a, rather fucked up, family, but a family nonetheless. Other times, it was just tedious. He tried his best to not want to kill them for caring but that didn’t make them less annoying when they got too nosey. Dan would tell Abby about his allergies, and Abby would dig up some dusty box of meds from somewhere and Andrew would refuse. If he were lucky, they’d drop it at that. If he weren’t, they’d push until either he snapped or Neil did his Neil thing and diffuse the situation.

It was better, Andrew thought, to simply never tell them.

The loss of control that he spent so many years fearing from the various allergy medications was, admittedly, comparable to alcohol and cracker dust, he did realize. There was a different feeling to those, though, that he minded much less. Crackers made him dangerous, a dull blade that still shimmered. Alcohol gave him a fake happiness that was as close to real happiness as he wanted to get. Neither made him feel as if he were being dragged through wet sand against his will.

It wasn’t even until after he came off his prescribed Anti-Murder Pills that he even thought about losing control again. It wasn’t until Neil and his stupidly attractive face turned out to be real and made Andrew want to lose control. He couldn’t let himself, of course, but there was a nagging at the back of his mind every time Neil smiled into a kiss or against his neck. There was trust in Neil, in everything he did, that Andrew couldn’t miss. Couldn’t help but desperately want to keep close.

So, eventually, late at night when they were both mumbling and half asleep, Andrew mentioned his allergies. Not the medication and its effects, but that he had some allergies. Nothing serious. Neil nodded, placing his hand closer to Andrew’s in the middle of the bed, and told Andrew he was allergic to oranges. Andrew moved his fingers to touch Neil’s just barely and closed his eyes.

It was a simple, deeply rooted trust.

Neil knew something that hardly anyone else in Andrew’s life had ever been willingly told and Neil returned the offering with his own. He didn’t mention it to any of the other Foxes, keeping every single one of Andrew’s truths tucked away in a special compartment of his mind specifically for Andrew, keeping them safe and holding onto each of them as if they could solve some riddle.

Andrew told him he wouldn’t solve anything and neither would Neil.

Neil knew that but it didn’t stop him from caring for every bit of Andrew that Andrew willingly shared. He didn’t bring up the issues of allergies again, not verbally, and not Andrew’s. He tossed an orange at Andrew when Abby pulled out a bag and handed them out to each member of the team for a snack. Andrew used it to throw at Kevin but silently let Neil have the apple he had--- most definitely not packed for Neil specifically in case of a situation as such--- in his bag.

The Foxes had learned to not question Andrew and were learning just as quickly to not question Neil, especially not when it was both of them at once. The answer would either be such a mind fuck that none of them had that kind of strength to ask, or they’d be ignored. Neil, however, not really caring if they knew about his reaction to oranges, eventually told them. He assure them he wasn’t dumb enough to eat an orange nor was he allergic enough to have a reaction if people around him ate them, but Abby still stocked up on low-dose allergy medication as a precaution.

Andrew recognized the little pink pills immediately. He forced away whatever internal panic he felt at the sight of them and didn’t mention a thing. Abby never suggested that he may need to take the pills, never wordlessly placed one of the pink tabs in his hand without a glass of water. None of them did. None of them even mentioned the pills directly to Andrew. On occasion, he’d get stuck in a conversation with Neil and one of the others, making sure Neil wasn’t dying from oranges, but that was the most association Andrew had between him and the pills, as far as they were concerned.

That was until Nicky had the brilliant idea of ordering take out and watching movies.

They split different meals from different restaurants. Allison, Neil, Andrew, and Matt got Chinese take out from the shitty Chinese restaurant the size of their dorm room down the street. Renee and Nicky ordered pizza while Dan and Aaron decided on tacos. Kevin bitched about their terrible eating habits while sipping on a half empty bottle of whiskey and an abandoned carton of ice cream that Andrew had announced tasted like minty tar.

The seating arrangements were decided based on choice of food. Renee and Nicky had their pizza between them on the floor closest to the TV. Dan sat on the far end of the sofa with Aaron seated in the chair next to her, the plate of tacos resting on the table. Matt and Allison, having ordered the same meal just with different choices of meat, claimed the same sofa as Dan, Matt in the middle. Neil was on the floor beside Andrew’s bean bag chair. Kevin had fucked off to sulk in the other bean bag chair by himself.

Renee chose the movie. No one seemed surprised by her choice: Fight Club. Kevin had seen it before, but the rest hadn’t so he kept his mouth shut and continued to drown himself in bad choices.

Andrew picked at his food, leaning over to whisper dumb jokes in Neil’s ear in attempts to make him laugh. It worked every time. Even earned him little smiles as he pretended to cough so as to not alert the others--- he fooled nobody, they just didn’t comment.

Shrimp lo mein had not been Andrew’s first choice. In fact, Andrew’s first choice had been getting another tub of ice cream but Neil had mentioned that he hadn’t tried shrimp before and didn’t want to waste a good meal on something he wasn’t sure if he’d like so Andrew ordered the shrimp. He’d had it a few times before, not minding the taste.

Sitting in the bean bag chair, the Foxes surrounding him, and a plate of shrimp in his lap, Andrew began to think that shrimp hadn’t been a good idea. It started slow, barely noticeable at all. The skin on the tips of his ears started getting very warm to the touch. He could feel them burning but kept his mouth shut. Surely, it meant nothing. But then his lips and tongue were buzzing, prickling. That was less easy to brush off.

And when Neil turned around to look at him, Andrew knew he was screwed.

It was dark in the room, the only light coming from the TV and the lamp on the opposite side of the room next to Aaron. Still, Neil noticed Andrew’s flushed skin instantly. He frowned, waiting for Andrew to look back at him or explain. He didn’t, not entirely trusting that his tongue could still move.

Neil shifted closer, not touching, but so no one else would be bothered by his talking. “You okay?”

Andrew gave a curt nod.

“Your face is all red. Are you too hot?”

“I’m fine, Neil.” As it turned out, Andrew’s tongue was still functioning, though he did note, with growing unease, the slight effort it took to take a full breath. Certainly, he was imagining it, freaked out by the possibility of something being wrong. Nothing could be wrong. He’d had shrimp before and he’d been fine. Besides that, he was most definitely not going to a doctor nor was he going to take any medicine.

“No you aren’t. I know an allergic reaction when I see one. Probably the shrimp. Can you breathe?”

Andrew kept his eyes on the screen, firmly ignoring both Neil and the tightening of his chest.

“I’ll take that as a no.” Neil shifted again, even closer. “Don’t go suffocating because of an allergic reaction. It isn’t a game and you’re not dying on me today. Yes or no?” Andrew glanced over at Neil, at his outstretched hand. He had no idea what that meant, no idea what Neil was thinking, but it was Neil. Foregoing any verbal response, Andrew put his hand in Neil’s and let himself be pulled out of his seat.

Neil padded out of the room with Andrew behind him, being given no attention from any of the others in the dorm. Neil flipped on the light switch in the bathroom and quietly shut the door behind them.

“What are you doing now?” Andrew leaned against the wall, watching Neil shuffle around in the cabinet under the sink. He forced himself to take deep breaths and not think about the sensations in his mouth. His breathing hadn’t gotten any worse but that didn’t make him feel much better.

“Finding the pills Abby gave me.” He pulled out a white box with pink and blue lettering and opened it. The silver sleeves inside were all too recognizable and made Andrew’s skin crawl. Neil broke off one of the pills in its casing and held it out to Andrew, closing the box.

“No way in hell, Junkie.”

Neil huffed. “It’s either this or the emergency room. Your choice.” Neil held Andrew’s gaze, pushing his hand out towards him more. The slightest flinch--- more of a shift in Andrew’s eyes than any movement in his body--- made Neil back up slightly to give Andrew more space.

“I don’t need your ridiculous allergy pills.” Andrew was highly aware of the tingling that was spreading into his cheeks and throat. He did his best to not let on any of his discomfort, not wanting to give Neil a good reason to worry or push the pills more.

“Andrew.”

“What?”

“There isn’t a whole lot of choice here.”

“I don’t need your pills, I already said.” Keeping his voice level was becoming more difficult.

Neil placed the silver tab down on the sink and moved just slightly towards Andrew. “Yes or no?”

Andrew looked at him, considering. Anyone else and Andrew would have threatened them with a knife to the throat for pursuing this topic for so long. Anyone else would have made Andrew feel like a child with no say, trapped in a cage made by someone with no real interest for his well-being. But Neil was keeping his distance, matching his gaze with the same intensity without trying to over-power him. The very thought of allowing anyone close at that moment was terrifying. He was starting to unravel with mild panic from both the sight of those pills and the growing numbness and allowing anyone near him meant they had the advantage. 

Neil was always the exception.

“Yes.”

Neil stepped closer until they were face to face. He kept his hands to himself, letting Andrew adjust or pull away from the new proximity. When Andrew stayed put, his arms crossed in front of his chest to keep space between them, Neil said, “You don’t need to tell me anything. Something about all of this is putting you off, I can tell, but I don’t particularly want you to die. Taking that pill is the only option here, Drew.”

“I’m not going to die from eating a fucking shrimp.”

“What’s the point in taking that risk?”

“Get away from you sooner.” Andrew almost regretted it as soon as he said it. If he cared enough about anything outside of not letting the reaction spread more, he would have said more to correct his mistake.

“I’d follow you into hell just to annoy you.” Neil placed a hand on Andrew’s arm, letting the full weight of it rest there. Andrew didn’t pull away so Neil left it there. “I don’t know what’s wrong and I don’t expect you to tell me, but I’m not willing to lose you yet.”

Andrew chose to brush past those words. “I haven’t taken anything for my allergies since I was seven.”

The significance of his words weren’t lost on Neil. He found Andrew’s hand and squeezed it gently, still maintaining eye contact. “You don’t have to stay. You can go back to our dorm and sleep off the medicine. I’ll stay here tonight, with everyone else.”

Somehow, the idea of not being with Neil was even less appealing. “No.”

“You could stay? I’ll be here. The others are probably going to fall asleep within the next hour, anyway, so if it makes you tired no one has to know.”

Andrew bit his lip, looking at Neil and trying to figure him out. It was pointless to do so, Andrew had realized, but he continued to do so. Neil was impossible to figure out. He was a liar but also willing to lay everything out for Andrew to see. He covered his emotions just as well as Andrew but also convinced everyone he had nothing to hide. Neil was a contradiction in the form of a human. Neil was a liar, a junkie, an asshole, a pipe dream, a yes , a stay . Neil was exactly what Andrew had wanted so desperately as a child and exactly what Andrew was learning to want again.

Finally, Andrew bit out a “Fuck you, Josten.”

“Is that a yes?”

“What do you think?”

“I think it’s a yes, but thinking doesn’t mean enough.” Neil smiled softly, leaning his forehead against Andrew’s and touching their noses together. “I told you I wasn’t gonna let you let me be like them.”

“400%.”

“Is that a yes?”

“...Yes.”

Neil grinned, letting go of Andrew’s hand to turn back around and pop the pill out of its case. He held it out, waiting for Andrew to open his hand to take it. When he did, Neil dropped it into his palm. Without asking, he filled the cup on the sink with water and handed it to Andrew. Quickly, he leaned over to kiss Andrew’s cheek and whispered, “Can’t leave me yet.” Then walked out, taking his previous spot on the floor.

Andrew swallowed the water and pill, refusing to give any attention to the thoughts that flooded his mind. Instead, he walked back to the living room and sat on the floor next to Neil. He leaned back against the bean bag chair, arm and leg pressed against Neil’s. He sent Neil a look--- is this okay? --- and relaxed when Neil smiled and nodded.

Unlike what Neil had predicted, the Foxes seemed to be full of energy and set on having a movie marathon. Andrew noticed the reaction to his food subsiding as sleep pulled at the edges of his mind. Paying attention to the movie became pointless as he could barely understand what was being said through his haze of fighting sleep. However, Neil was the only one who noticed. The others were focused on the movie while Neil was watching Andrew fight a losing battle.

“Drew?”

Andrew grunted in response.

“You can fall asleep, it’s okay.”

Again, Andrew only grunted, shaking his head in an effort to clear it a bit.

“You’re tired. I’ll wake you up when the movie ends. The bean bag chair is empty, you can fall asleep there. I’ll get you a blanket.” Neil nudged his shoulder trying to get him to respond past a grunt.

“No. Don’t want you to leave me.” The filter that usually monitored his words have officially failed him. Full awake, Andrew would have sooner sworn off drinking than admit to wanting Neil around. The implications of what he said would have left him reeling had he been aware of his words.

Neil forced the smile out of his words, not wanting to make Andrew shut down on him, though his heart was hammering in his chest at Andrew’s words. “I won’t leave. You can use me as a pillow. I’ll keep you safe.”

“Okay.” Andrew nodded and allowed Neil to put his arm around his shoulders once Andrew had put his head down on Neil’s shoulder. Neil’s arm around him was grounding despite his faulty grip on reality. Distant memories threatened to resurface but were shoo-ed away by Neil whispering against the top of his head.

“You’re okay. It’s just me. You’re safe with me.” Andrew relaxed fully into Neil’s touch--- a hand toying with Andrew’s hair and lightly brushing over his jaw and cheekbones. The next day Andrew would be distant, pulling away to get a grip on what happened the night before and Neil would give him the space he needed. But then, as the Foxes all huddled together and watched an old horror movie Matt suggested, Andrew couldn’t recall a time he had felt more at peace.

“Don’t worry, love. I’ve got you. Nothing’s gonna happen. You can let go. I’ll keep you safe.” Neil, feeling the way Andrew relaxed against him, combed his fingers through his hair and continued to whisper assurances until he felt Andrew’s breathing fall into an easy pattern.