Andrew arrives at Fox Tower with his usual entourage at the usual time.
Except it’s not his usual entourage because there’s an extra add-on that exits the car with them.
“What’s with the cat?” Wymack asks, raising an eyebrow at Andrew. The ginger cat lifts its head and blinks at him as though it’s assessing him, and then lowers his head and curls up even more where it’s laying in Andrew’s arms.
“Don’t ask about him,” Andrew replies.
“He your familiar or something?”
Andrew doesn’t smile. He hasn’t smiled since he arrived. “Now, now, Coach. I said not to ask.” He brushes past him and Wymack doesn’t shudder at the wisp of magic that curls around him. Andrew’s magic had been dulled by the pills before. Wymack hadn’t realized that Andrew came off his pills over the summer. Without them, he feels the raw energy that pulses from him. His magic had always felt strong, but now, it’s more.
When the cat lifts his head to look at him over Andrew’s shoulder, Wymack gets the feeling that he has something to do with it.
He hadn’t known that Andrew even liked cats.
Matt walks into the dorm in time to see a cat hop on his window sill.
“Aw,” he coos. “Now where did you come from?” He approaches slowly, taking note of the way the cat eyes him warily. When he gets close enough to pet him, the cat jumps from the window sill and darts between his legs towards the open door. “Oh come on!” Matt huffs.
Matt stiffens. “That’s a new one.” He turns to see Andrew standing in the hall. The cat sits at his feet.
“I wasn’t talking to you.” Andrew lifts the cat and looks him in the eyes. “Junkie. What did I tell you about running off?” The cat ‘mrow’s in response. If Matt didn’t know any better, he’d think the cat was sassing him.
“Did you actually get a familiar?” Matt asks. He’d always thought that if Andrew were to summon a familiar, it’d be something vicious—like a vulture. It’s a running bet.
“That’s not your place to ask.” Andrew lowers the cat, but doesn’t put him back on the floor. He doesn’t acknowledge Dan as she walks by, and doesn’t stop even as she does to do a double-take.
“Whoa,” she says. “Did he actually summon a familiar?”
“He didn’t say,” Matt answers.
“The monster got a pet?” Allison says, incredulous.
“Andrew doesn’t do pets,” Kevin snorts from his place on the couch.
“Kevin, shush.” Andrew rubs the cat’s head as the cat stares at the team. “He’s not my pet, and he’s none of your business. I doubt you’d care any about his presence. Leave him alone.” The cat looks up and paws at his face, but he doesn’t react. The cat blinks once, twice, and then almost seems to nod before resting his head back on his paws.
“Isn’t it against the rules to have pets in here?” Seth sneers.
“I just said he isn’t my pet.” The cat makes a noise as though he agrees and swishes his tail.
“No way could a monster have such a pretty familiar,” Allison sniffs. “There’s no way.”
“Good thing it’s none of your business.”
“Guys,” Wymack sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Just… leave the cat alone. Pretend he’s his familiar or something. We’re here to talk about this year.”
“Can we just ignore the fact that Andrew’s blatantly ignoring the rules?” Dan objects.
“The cat hasn’t done anything and it’s too much trouble.”
“The cat’s Andrew’s familiar anyway,” Nicky says, smiling smugly. “There are no rules against letting familiars into the court.”
“So the cat is his familiar?” Allison asks, raising an eyebrow. “I still can’t believe it.”
“And I thought I said it was no one’s business,” Andrew interjects, glancing at Nicky in warning. Nicky backs down before he can say anything else.
“We don’t actually know, but why else would the cat be everywhere?” Aaron says, almost glowering at the cat. The cat swishes his tail again and purrs as Andrew rubs his head.
“This is not open for discussion,” Wymack decides. “If the cat ends up being a distraction, we’ll kick him out. Otherwise, he’s going to stay. Now let’s talk about this year.”
“Trouble,” Andrew mutters. The cat purrs again.
Allison is pretty sure the cat’s criticizing them after they lose their first game. Kevin’s yelling goes in one ear and out the other as she looks at the way the cat immediately makes his way to Andrew. Andrew’s the most human she’s ever seen around the cat, which isn’t much, but he shows more attention to him than anyone or anything else.
When the cat’s finished nosing his way along Andrew’s arm, he goes back to sitting and watching Kevin, cocking his head a little like he knows what he’s saying. Maybe he really is a familiar. Familiars understand humans, unlike most animals.
“Even the cat could have done better,” Kevin finishes with an angry huff.
“Hey!” Seth growls, at the same time that Andrew says an idle, “Kevin.”
The cat lets out a hissing sound, and Kevin narrows his eyes at him. There’s a staring contest that lasts way longer than necessary before the cat looks away and up at Andrew.
“I stand by my statement,” Kevin says. “And the cat’s a cat.”
Said cat looks at him and then turns and ignores him.
“What is up with your cat?” Allison wonders aloud. “Give a straight answer for once.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Andrew says flatly.
“I guess it would be useless to ask about the cat?” Renee asks as she shrugs out of her jacket.
“Yes.” The cat is perched on a chair on the edges of the large sparring room, sitting up straight and alert.
“Will he at least be joining us?”
Renee smiles. “You’re off your pills now. I’m interested to see how not having them affects your magic.”
Andrew lets a sharp gust of air speak for him. Blood slides down her cheek where the wind turned sharp as it passed her.
“Wonderful. Let’s get started then.”
(The cat does little more than watch as Andrew and Renee dance through a battle of knives, fists, and magic, even as Renee’s familiar joins in)
Nicky pauses. It’s the odd day where they don’t have practice, and Nicky is content to relax while Andrew’s forced to watch Kevin practice.
“Well this is a surprise.” He grins at Allison, Dan, and Matt as they make their way to him. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“We want to know what you know about the cat,” Allison responds, almost slamming her hands on the table he’s sitting at. Almost, because she’s too classy to actually do it.
“And about when Andrew came off his pills, because I didn’t realize he could become even more terrifying,” Matt adds.
Nicky’s grin wavers, but he plasters it back on quickly. “Aha, I can’t tell you much. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what’s going on with the cat. He hasn’t even told me, his adoring cousin, the cat’s name.” He pouts and watches the three take seats in front of him.
“But you have to know something,” Dan insists.
“All I know is that one day Andrew went to rehab sometime in July,” he tells them, leaning forward. They leaned forward too, as though they were all sharing a secret. “He came home one day and told us he was going to rehab. He made us promise to protect Kevin and then he left the next day. We pick him up after like, seven week and barely an hour after we get home, he walks downstairs with the cat in his arms. No explanation, just told us that the cat would be living with us from now on. He didn’t even tell us where he got him.”
“That’s it? Seriously?” Allison narrows her eyes and purses her eyes. She crosses her legs and taps her finger on her arm. “That was useless.”
“That’s all I know, sorry.” Nicky leans back in his seat and smiles at them. “I can tell you that Kevin definitely knows something. Maybe you’ll have better luck with him than I did.”
“We’ll do that,” Matt says as he stands up. “Thanks, Nicky.”
“No problem!” Nicky waves as they leave, and is content when Matt nods back. Andrew doesn’t often let their two groups mingle, so he’s happy with getting some sort of acknowledgement. It’s so lonely only being allowed to interact with his cousins and Kevin, even though he loves the twins more than most things.
He makes a note to tell Erik of this recent development. The cat’s strange, definitely, but he’s brought mostly good things since he’s arrived. So long as that continues, Nicky doesn’t mind what happens.
The cat’s only brought annoyance into Seth’s life.
“I thought we were going out,” Seth grunts, glaring at Allison. She rolls her eyes.
“This will only take a minute, so calm down,” she says, waving him off.
“Who cares about some damn cat?”
“It’s for the sake of bets and curiosity.” She smiles at him with a promise of pain if he tries to argue in it. He grits his teeth and crosses his arm, switching his glare to Aaron when he opens his dorm door.
“What the hell do you two want?” he asks bluntly.
“We just want to talk to Kevin,” Allison replies sweetly.
Aaron eyes her warily, but then shrugs. “Do what you like, but don’t blame me if Andrew tries to stab you for asking too many questions.”
“I didn’t even want to be here,” Seth mutters as he follows Allison inside.
The cat lounges on the top of the couch, cocking his head when he sees the two of them. Seth glares at the cat, too, but he does nothing but blink and swish his tail. It almost seems mocking.
“Kevin,” Allison greets.
“What?” Kevin has an open bottle of vodka in his hand. Surprisingly, Andrew is nowhere to be found. He’s definitely still in the dorm, but he’s nowhere in sight.
“We want to ask you about the cat.”
“Oh no.” Kevin shakes his head, almost frantically. “No, no. Fuck no. I’m not saying a thing and you can’t make me.”
“Kevin.” Allison’s voice is dripping with fake honey. It’s the one that almost makes Seth fear for his life, but Kevin looks more scared of what Andrew could do than of Allison’s hidden threat. “We just want a little bit of information. A name, or where he came from. Or settle the bet on whether or not he’s Andrew’s familiar.”
“Go away” is all Kevin offers. “It’s not my story.” He promptly tilts his head back and chugs down the rest of the vodka. The cat, who had been watching them with a disturbing look of intent, stretches out and hits Kevin with his paw. Kevin lowers the bottle and glares. The cat stares back, unimpressed.
“Have it your way,” Allison says. “Come on, Seth. We’re going.”
“Finally,” Seth huffs. He’s all too happy to leave. The cat’s fucking unnerving.
Aaron hates that cat, and not because Andrew shows it more affection than he’s shown anyone ever. (Well, maybe a little bit, but Aaron will take that secret to the grave)
Not only is that cat constantly around and taking up his brother’s attention when Kevin isn’t doing that, but the cat has appeared to make it his life goal to make Aaron miserable. The cat doesn’t seem to mind Nicky, even if he always ducks out of the hugs Nicky tries to give him, and the cat and Kevin have weird staring contests a lot, but overall, the cat isn’t a nuisance to them.
Meanwhile, Aaron’s found too many of his things shredded, or missing and later found in less-than-ideal places with the indent of fangs in them. On one occasion, after a bad practice, Aaron found the strings of his racquet completely destroyed. It took too long to fix it, and the cat looked too damn smug for it to have not been him.
“I’m going to burn that little shit,” Aaron says through gritted teeth, glaring at the cat, which is standing in a pile of shredded papers and licking his paw innocently. It wouldn’t take long to fix the papers; a quick spell would do it. It’s elementary stuff, but Aaron doesn’t want to have to do it in the first place. He already feels the sparks flicking along his fingers.
“Aaron,” Andrew says, voice hard from behind him. The cat stands to attention immediately and makes his way to Andrew, purring happily as he rubs against his legs. Andrew picks him up, because he always does, and it doesn’t help with Aaron’s temper in the slightest. “Aaron,” Andrew repeats, glancing at his hand. Immediately, Aaron lets the sparks go out.
“Whatever.” Aaron crosses his arms. “You can’t honestly be bringing that thing with us.”
“We’re not leaving him here,” Andrew says. “Who knows what trouble he could cause if he’s left on his own.” He looks at the cat, who purrs again.
“Your cat’s a pain in the ass either way.”
“Get used to it. Now get out. I’ll deal with this.”
Aaron leaves because he doesn’t want to spell the papers back together anyway. Before he closes the door, he hears, “Why are you such a fucking idiot?”
And of course, Andrew lets the cat stretch out over his shoulders when they go to Eden’s. He doesn’t leave the table unless it’s to get drinks. The cat never stops looking smug.
“So,” Dan starts just before practice begins.
“No,” Kevin replies and tosses a ball at her with more force than strictly necessary.
Dan grins behind her helmet and ducks out of the way. “Worth a shot.”
“I feel like you’re being a sadistic asshole with this whole cat thing,” Kevin says as they settle into the house in Colorado. He’s never been so glad for winter break. The bets about the cat and the never-ending questions had made the past few months more stressful than they needed to be.
“Wherever did you get that idea?” Andrew says drily as the cat hops on to the kitchen counter. “No, get off there, you idiot. I don’t want your filthy cat hairs on my counter.” The cat levels him with a look, but Andrew shoos him off again. With a noise like a huff, he hops down to the floor.
“He doesn’t need to be around you all the time,” Kevin says, narrowing his eyes at the cat that stares innocently back at him.
“Nobody else knows that.”
It’s true that the cat is never always around. Sometimes he goes off to do his own thing. He doesn’t actually have anywhere else to go, but he starts feeling smothered if he’s with Andrew for too long. He always comes back, and Andrew always trusts him to come back.
“This was his idea, wasn’t it?” Kevin glares and the cat just flicks his tail in amusement. “It definitely is. Only he would do this. He has it out for me.” The cat meows, almost like he’s internally laughing at him.
“Don’t you have an Exy game to watch?” Andrew asks, but it’s not really a question. He stares at him with hard eyes. Kevin holds his ground for a few seconds, and then sighs.
“Does your cat want to join?” he asks mockingly. The cat looks up at Andrew, and then stands and walks towards Kevin. “At least this hasn’t changed from when you were ten.”
This time, there’s something like an actual laugh.
Winter break and one month changes absolutely nothing with The Great Cat Debate. It’s partially an attempt at bonding and partially an attempt at getting more information when Matt goes to fetch Andrew. Somehow, they’ve managed to wrangle Aaron, Nicky, and Kevin into Matt’s dorm for a movie night. It was most likely through blackmail that they managed it, but nobody was complaining except Aaron and Kevin.
“You really don’t want to bother Andrew right now,” Kevin warns.
“It’s not a team bonding experience without the entire team,” Dan says stubbornly. “Matt, go. Andrew will come because Kevin’s here.”
“Dear god, he’s going to kill you all,” Kevin groans and rubs a hand over his face. Matt doesn’t doubt him, but he walks determinedly towards Andrew’s dorm. He doesn’t knock, because Andrew would certainly slam the door in his face. Instead, he creeps in, and pauses. He gapes.
The boy on the couch is asleep. It’s not the scars on his face or the fact that he’s a stranger that surprises him the most. It’s his head in Andrew’s lap, and Andrew’s fingers buried in his hair that has him choking in surprise.
“What the fuck?” Matt says.
“Oh goddammit,” Kevin mutters harshly under his breath. Matt would jump at his sudden appearance, but he’s too busy staring.
“What do you want?” Andrew says lowly. The boy in his lap stirs.
The boy yawns, leaning ever-so-slightly against Andrew. Andrew is glaring at the team, and Kevin sits on the other side of Andrew, alternating between glaring at the boy and looking as though he wants more vodka. Everyone else is sitting across from them. Wymack and Abby stand nearby, having been called earlier after the boy had been found with Andrew.
“Who are you?” Dan asks after they’ve all been silent for a minute.
“I’m Neil,” the boy says.
“Okay,” she says, “but where did Andrew find you?”
Neil glances at Andrew, who stares back at him blankly. He apparently gets something from that look, because he shrugs and looks back at the team. He gives no warning before he starts to shrink down and change shape.
“The fucking cat?” Aaron says, mouth agape like the rest of the team.
Neil shifts back to human and smiles sheepishly. “Yeah, I’m Andrew’s, uh, cat, I guess. I didn’t plan on being found out…”
“Why are you Andrew’s cat?” Matt asks.
“What are you?” Allison demands.
“He’s not my cat,” Andrew says.
“I’m not Andrew’s familiar,” Neil explains. “You probably guessed that by now. It’s not physically possible for me to be his familiar. We made a deal over the summer, actually. I… needed some help, so he promised protection in return for some truths. So that’s why I’ve been around him all year.”
“That’s it?” Allison says, incredulous. “That’s all you have to say?” Neil nods. She looks like she wants to demand more answers, but Renee places a hand on her arm and shakes her head.
“It’s been torture,” Kevin mutters. “You would not believe how many times I’ve walked in on those two doing… whatever.” Nobody needs him to elaborate—it’s enough.
Everyone begins talking at once. Neil blinks in surprise, overwhelmed at the sudden loudness and demands. Through the jumble of noise, he can just barely make out Nicky yelling something about straight cousins, Allison wondering about their sex, and Aaron expressing his want to leave. Kevin looks regretful. He darts a look towards the door.
“All of you, shut up!” Wymack yells. “They aren’t finished!”
“Neither are we,” Dan says and points at Kevin. “Is that how you found out about Neil? Don’t give any bullshit about not knowing! It explains your looks this whole year!”
Kevin looks at Neil, who shrugs and motions for him to go on. “No,” he tells them. “Look, all you need to know is that we used to play Exy together. We learned some magic together for a while too. He’s damn better at you guys, that’s for sure.”
“Does that mean he’ll be joining our team?” Renee asks, speaking up for the first time.
There’s a contemplative silence.
He joins the team.
“Renee and I win the bet on whether or not the cat was his familiar,” Allison decides. “We were totally right.”
“You also said that he was his pet, so no, you don’t win,” Matt says.
“None of us won,” Renee says. “We never expected him to not even be an animal. We all lost.”
“But—my money!” Nicky whines.
“Get out of my room!” Aaron shouts.