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Maybe, Just Maybe

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“So now you’re going to talk to me,” Aaron said, “and I’m going to give you exactly one chance to tell me the truth. Are you really fucking my brother?” He waited a beat, but when Neil just gazed back in silence, asked, “Do you take your cues from dead men?”

“What?” Neil asked.

“Just wondering how you went from your whole I-don’t-date high horse to Andrew’s bed,” Aaron said. “Either you were lying to us to hide the fact that you’re a flamer, or you saw Drake rape Andrew and realised he’s easy prey.”

Neil punched him – a terrible mistake in retrospect, as he ended up half-crumpled over his screaming hand.

It was worth it, though, seeing Aaron fall to the floor like a house of cards. He clearly thought he’d had the upper hand given how injured Neil was. His mistake was not taking Neil’s rage into account. Neil wasn’t surprised, though. It was hardly a secret that Aaron was the dumber twin.

He stepped over Aaron’s crumpled body without a backwards glance and stormed out the back door just off the side of the kitchen. The cabin’s walls had started to close in around him from the confrontation. He needed to be outside. He needed to breathe unstifled air before he passed out.

Neil made it only a few steps to the outskirts of the surrounding forest before lighting a cigarette – a task that took him more time than it should have, courtesy of his trembling fingers. He was just so angry, but the edge of it started to dissipate with each drag of his cigarette.

Looking at the cabin’s exterior, Neil came to the uneasy realisation that he wasn’t angry. He was sad, and he was scared. Aaron’s accusation had shaken him because it dove into his most intimate fear. Grief overwhelmed him when he considered that he wasn’t any good for Andrew. Fear crippled him shortly after when he realised that Andrew would figure it out sooner or later and get rid of him.

Neil heaved a shaky breath and inhaled the cold night air off the back of his cigarette. It didn’t stop his trembling. The reality of losing his home, the one thing he had wanted so desperately and had fought so hard to obtain, was enough to have him pulling at his hair.

He started to pace, taking deep drags from his cigarette. Anything to try and get his body under control so he could stave off the impending panic attack warring to make its appearance.

He was pacing so furiously, tugging his hair so violently and thinking so chaotically that he didn’t hear Andrew’s approach until he stood just outside of his periphery. Neil jolted to a stop, and Andrew scowled when he made no attempt to explain himself.

“What happened?” Andrew asked.

“Nothing.”

“Really?” Andrew crossed his arms and hefted a brow.

“Leave it.”

“Leave it,” Andrew mused, feigning boredom. “Aaron sneaks out of the kitchen, sporting a black eye and trying to act like nothing has happened while you conveniently manage to disappear all at the same time?” He glares at Neil when he’s met with stony silence.

“I can’t leave it.” He steps forward. “I won’t.”

Neil watches him wordlessly, and Andrew tilts his head in speculation, eyes hardening. “Thanks for that, by the way. It’s not like any of us jumped to the worst possible conclusion when we realised you were missing.”

Neil flinched at the admonishment and tried to swallow his guilt. It felt like his mouth was filled with molasses, and it took all his courage to raise his head and look Andrew in the eye. He sighed when he saw that Andrew had not moved and was still glaring at him, waiting for an explanation.

“Andrew,” Neil sighed tiredly, “not now.” He made to turn away from him, but Andrew marched forward and got right in his face before he could.

“You know what I do to those stupid enough to lay hands on my brother,” Andrew hissed. “I thought you wanted to live given how hard you fought your way out of Baltimore, but it seems that was also a lie. Clearly, you have a death wish.”

Neil’s fractured composure cracked as his hysteria kicked in. He threw his cigarette to the ground angrily and almost knocked into Andrew with the force of the movement.

“You think I don’t know the repercussions of getting into it with Aaron?” he asked harshly. “Me, of all people, when I’m the one who figured you two out? No one is more aware of the consequences than me. I’ve seen what you mean to each other. I’ve seen what you can do. So, if I put hands on your brother, despite knowing this, despite knowing the repercussions, and despite risking your wrath, then you best believe I had a very good fucking reason!”

Neil shoved past Andrew and retreated to the cabin, surprised when he wasn’t yanked around by his collar and given a punch that would have rivalled the one he gave Aaron.

The team was waiting for them when Neil stormed inside, and his guilt came back ten-fold. They were clearly all anxious about his disappearance, given their expressions and the way they huddled around each other, but he didn’t have the strength for their prying. He simply didn’t have the energy it would take to lie to them about what Aaron had said.

Neil headed straight for the stairs instead and made his way down, grimacing when his injuries screamed at him to take it slowly. His weakness was frustrating, but it afforded him the opportunity of hearing the team pipe up behind him and demand, probably not for the first time, that Aaron tell them what had happened. He couldn’t be bothered to eavesdrop, though. Aaron was too much of a coward to admit to what he’d said about his brother, especially when Andrew stood right in front of him.

Neil surveyed the bedroom and felt his stomach twist in dismay when he remembered there was only a double bed in this room for him and Andrew to share. The thought of sharing with Andrew, of putting him into that level of discomfort was enough to make him ill. He cared about Andrew, despite what anyone else said, despite what Aaron said, and he’d never hurt him. He’d be damned if he ever did something that would remind him of his time in foster care. Of the things that had been done to him...

Going upstairs to demand a change in their sleeping arrangements would draw too much attention to what had happened. He didn’t want to embarrass Andrew, and he doubted he had the strength to climb the stairs again anyway.

Neil was almost finished placing pillows on the floor and laying a blanket down for a makeshift bed when Andrew walked in. He surveyed the scene in front of him with his usual air of indifference, but his narrowed eyes gave him away.

“What are you doing?”

“Going to bed.” Neil turned around and didn’t dare look back at him.

“I can see that. Though I’m not entirely sure why you’ve chosen the floor. I know you’re an imbecile, but this is a whole new level of stupidity, even for you.”

Neil stayed quiet and continued to focus on his task. Andrew frowned. It was wholly unlike Neil not to rise to the bait.

“You –”

“Drop it, Andrew.”

“It's –"

"I said, leave it!" Neil snapped, glaring at Andrew to get his point across.

Andrew gazed back at him for just a moment before turning around and stalking towards the stairs.

"Andrew, wait!" He tried to grab Andrew's arm, but he was already halfway up the stairs by the time Neil made it to the landing. "Just leave it!"

Andrew was moving too quickly, though, and Neil was too sore and too tired to follow. He'd only just made it back to the bedroom when he heard Andrew start yelling in German.

"What the fuck did you say to him!"

Neil buried his head in his hands and perched on the side of the bed. He could hear angry voices retaliate to Andrew's outburst, but he couldn't quite make out what they were saying for the thundering sound of his heart in his ears. This was all wrong. This wasn't how it was supposed to go.

A big thump sounded from upstairs, followed by a crash as a body fell into the entertainment system in the lounge. Loud voices continued to sound, and Neil grimaced, thinking about Allison. His presence was going to cost her even more money now. It was only a matter of time before she got sick of him too…

He heard Andrew's angry footsteps when he returned and sighed, readying himself for a confrontation he couldn't bear to have.

"Look –" he started but was cut off when Andrew clapped palms on either side of his face and kissed him within an inch of his life. Neil only startled for a second, whispering "yes" when Andrew withdrew to ask him for permission before leaning in again.

Carefully, so that Neil could break the hold if he chose, Andrew lowered him onto his back and leaned over him. His hands went everywhere. Andrew touched every inch of Neil as if it was the first and last time he would ever get to do so. No matter how hard he tried to hide it, it was obvious that Baltimore had rattled him, enough to break through his cool façade.

Neil wanted nothing more than to return Andrew's touches, but he wouldn't make a move like that even if his hands hadn't been wrapped in bandages. Perceptive as always, Andrew grabbed Neil's hands, moving one to knot in his hair while he cradled the other delicately. Neil wasn't sure what to make of that new development, but he would never deny anything that Andrew was willing to give him.

Slowly, Andrew manoeuvred Neil's hand until it lay flat against his own chest. He breathed deeply and tensed at the discomfort, shying away from his boundaries but wanting desperately for Neil to know how much he cared. He might not have been able to muster the courage to find the words, but Andrew could certainly show him.

Though his shirt was in the way, Neil could still feel the thrum of Andrew's racing heart. He broke away from the kiss and looked up to see Andrew watching him intently, trying to gauge whether or not Neil understood. He was rewarded when Neil bunched his shirt in his hand and tugged him gently downward. He halted Andrew right before their lips touched and looked at him expectantly.

"Yes," Andrew whispers before he leans down and bites into Neil's bottom lip, relishing his sharp inhale and smirking when he smooths the burn with his tongue. Andrew feels the sticky slide of Neil's hand against his chest and looks down in confusion. Blood is seeping into his shirt from where Neil is grasping him tightly. He must have split his hand open when he went for Aaron.

"Let go."

While it wasn't a command, Andrew loses his breath when Neil lets go immediately. He wasn't testing Neil, but the gesture was welcome regardless. It’s never been like this. He's never had someone listen so intently or retreat so swiftly before.

Andrew shifts and gets up, reaching for Neil's things and pulling the first aid kit out. It's only then that Neil sees the blood on Andrew's shirt and looks down at his hand, taking note of the injury with a level of detachment that has Andrew gnashing his teeth together. He settles on the bed in front of Neil and unwinds the bandages from his arm, exposing the damaged skin for all the world to see.

Neil's recoil is instinctive, and he snatches his arm back to hold it against his chest protectively. Andrew looks at him dispassionately, and Neil slowly uncurls his arm into Andrew's patient hand. He doesn't understand how Andrew can bear it. His arm is hideous.

Neil shifts in discomfort, but Andrew ignores him and sets to work with the antiseptic. The silence is comfortable despite it being deafening, and Neil startles them both when he speaks.

"Is Aaron okay?"

Andrew doesn't answer him. Neil lets the silence stretch on until Andrew is finished tending the wound and starts bandaging his arm up again.

"Andrew?"

"His eyes are a matching set now," Andrew says sharply. "The stupid raccoon might think twice before running his mouth again."

Neil gaped at him and struggled for words. "He's only trying to protect you."

"Don't." Andrew snaps. "Don’t make excuses for him.”

Neil tries to placate him with the most calming voice he can muster. “I’m not. But I – I understand. I just, I know what it’s like to want to protect you. I’d do it all over again if I had to.”

Andrew glares at him. “I hate you.”

He finishes his task of bandaging Neil’s hand and examines his work closely. Satisfied that Neil doesn’t need stitches, Andrew brings Neil’s knuckles to his mouth and kisses them slowly, pensively. He ignores Neil’s sharp intake of breath. The gesture is quick and fleeting, but the message accompanying it is loaded.

“Go to bed,” Andrew says, dropping his hand.

He gets up to put the first aid kit away, and Neil grabs the last of his pillows, dropping them onto his makeshift bed. He’s about to lower himself to the floor when Andrew hisses at him dangerously.

“Stop being obtuse and get in the bed, for fuck’s sake.”

It’s not really an order, and there’s plenty of room for Neil to reject him if he wants – though he can’t fathom a time where that would ever be the case. Despite Andrew appearing threatening and acting domineering, the entire situation is filled with consent, and Neil hides a smile when he turns towards the bed.

Too exhausted to put his body through the wringer of changing into sleeping clothes, Neil climbs into the bed clad only in his boxers and shirt. Andrew finishes picking up the discarded bedding before switching the lights off. He undresses as Neil did and climbs into bed as well.

Neil respects the space, lying right on the edge of his side of the bed even though he doesn’t want to. He hears Andrew turn to face him and reach over slowly, giving Neil ample time to pull back.

“Look at me,” he says.

Neil turns hesitantly, the weight of Andrew’s hand a boulder on his chest.

“I’ll take my turn now,” says Andrew.

Neil holds his breath.

“I pursued you. You’ve proven yourself each and every single time.” He levels Neil with a stare, making sure he understands what he’s said and also what he hasn’t.

“Yes or no?” Andrew asks.

Throat dry, Neil takes a breath. “Yes,” he whispers and swallows thickly, schooled by Andrew’s trust and unwavering loyalty. He flounders at their implications.

It’s not something he deserves. Nathanial Wesninski didn’t deserve this kind of faith or this second chance. He didn’t deserve Andrew. But maybe, just maybe, Neil Josten did?

The hope blooming in his chest is almost too much to bear, and Neil inhales a breath that sounds watery even to his ears. He feels the burn of a tear running down his cheek and is overwhelmed with shame. He hadn’t given it permission to escape.

Neil looks at Andrew wearily. Andrew nods, in return, satisfied that he, and his intentions, have been understood. Nothing else needs to be said. Andrew slopes over him and works the bandaged fingers of one of Neil’s hands back into his hair. He holds the other close to his heart, as if it were a secret, and kisses Neil the way they have both always wanted him to.

He didn’t care how much it hurt so long as he could pull Andrew closer, and he let Andrew take him apart until he couldn’t think anymore.