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seven years that andrew minyard does not catch fire + the one year that he does

Chapter Text

“Have you been sleeping all afternoon?” 

Neil’s head shot up from his desk, and Andrew couldn’t help but snort when he saw the ridges across Neil’s face from sleeping on top of his spiral notebooks. 

Neil blinked blearily, squinting at him. “Andrew? Is it Friday already?” 

“Take a wild guess.” Andrew tossed his keys on the desk and set his bag down beside it, casting a glance around the empty dorm. “Where’s the replacement?”

Neil smiled widely as he stood to meet Andrew halfway, dropping his head against his shoulder and looping his arms around Andrew’s back. “I may have convinced her to stay in Lacey and Sheena’s room for the weekend.” 

“No exhibitionism? That’s not the Neil Josten I remember.” 

Neil laughed, the rasp of it settling pleasantly in Andrew’s ears. “More like no voyeurism for Robin Cross. Don’t tell me you’re complaining.”

Andrew pulled back to look at Neil and the stupid spiral imprint on his forehead. “I move out and suddenly it’s like you don’t even know me.”

Neil rolled his eyes but his smile was wistful and soft across his mouth, gentle like a whisper. “Yes or no?”

Touches like this didn't need permission anymore, but Andrew could appreciate Neil's concern for him all the same, even if it made a little flame of anger curl in his belly. Andrew leaned up and pressed their mouths together, turning it just a little more aggressive than Neil likely intended. He backed Neil against the desk. Neil’s hands were in his hair, Andrew’s hands on Neil’s hips, and they pulled apart slowly, minutes, hours, years later. 

Neil pressed forehead against Andrew’s, his eyes dazed and half-lidded and intense. “I missed you.” 

“How many times do I have to tell you not to say stupid things?” 

Neil hummed, brushed his fingers through the curls at the base of Andrew’s neck. Andrew shivered. “Is it so stupid if it’s true?” 

Andrew tipped his head closer, voice harsh as he said, “That’s the worst kind of stupid.” 

He kissed him again. Neil made a surprised noise in the back of his throat, and Andrew blindly reached behind him to knock the pile of notebooks and textbooks off of Neil’s desk — aiming to settle Neil on its surface and press himself into the space between his knees. 

A loud ringing clatter that was definitely not the sound of a textbook hitting the floor startled them apart. At their feet lay Neil’s silver hanukkiah, thankfully unharmed in its unfortunate tumble from the desk. 

Neil sighed. Something like guilt and defeat settled into his posture and he slumped against Andrew, eyes on the fallen candelabra. “I haven’t lit it once this week.” 

Andrew stepped back so Neil could bend to pick it up. Neil ran a thumb over the still-pristine metal, etched with Hebrew letters down the center branch. “I really wanted to this year, but I’ve been so busy with finals and practice, and I didn’t want to bother anyone else...” 

Andrew took the hanukkiah from Neil and set it on the desk. “Go get the candles.”

“What?” 

“You heard me. You have four nights left. Go get the candles.” 

Neil’s smile was hesitant. If he asked if Andrew was sure, Andrew was going to punch him in the teeth. Neil must’ve known, because he didn’t ask. What he did was lean in to press a kiss to Andrew’s cheek and murmur, “Thank you,” before padding off towards the kitchen. 

Andrew followed, picking the hanukkiah back up to move it to the coffee table in the living room. The writing on it was illegible to to him, but Neil had explained to him once that it was an acronym, that it stood for the phrase, A great miracle happened there

At the time, Andrew had lifted his eyebrows and said “You believe in miracles now?” but Neil had only shrugged. 

“By all accounts I should be dead. Maybe I relate to it a little bit. A small group of my ancestors, who should have been wiped out, surviving and defeating the people who wanted them dead? Reclaiming the parts of their lives that were lost and they thought they might never get back? It sort of hits home, you know?” 

Andrew still wasn’t sure if he believed in miracles himself, but there was no denying the importance of the holiday for Neil. No denying the care in the way Neil opened the box of candles as he plopped down on the floor beside Andrew, as he set five thin blue and white candles out and reached for the hanukkiah in Andrew’s hands. The look on Neil’s face was a little anxious, but contentment glued it together and gave it an air of quiet peace. His expression settled even further when Andrew’s hand brushed Neil’s fingers as they wrapped around the hanukkiah. Andrew had to look away. 

He focused instead on the coffee table, staring at the patterns in the wood, at the cup rings from Kevin and Neil both constantly forgetting to use a coaster. It had been through a lot, this table. It was sure to go through a lot more. Neil would likely leave it with Robin when he graduated after this year. 

Andrew flicked a glance to Neil as he placed the candles into their cups on the hanukkiah, and then realized that it had no way to catch the wax that would be dripping off of them once they were lit. Melted wax was a bitch to clean up. Andrew really didn’t feel like dealing with it. He told Neil not to light the candles yet and went into the kitchen to grab some paper towels. 

“Hit the lights when you come back?” Neil requested. 

In the kitchen, Andrew’s eye caught on the bottle of whiskey on the counter. He detoured to the cabinet and returned to the living room with two paper towels and two glasses of whiskey. Flicking the lights off for Neil as he passed by the switch, the dorm sank into soft gray darkness lit only by the waning evening light outside the window. 

Neil smiled up at him and took the offered drink from Andrew’s hand. “Didn’t take you long to find that.”

“If it was meant to be a challenge, then I’m offended at your low estimation of my intelligence.” 

“The best hiding place is in plain sight. I should know.”

“You should also know,” Andrew said, sitting down beside Neil again and placing the folded paper towels under the hanukkiah, “that that is the worst place to try and hide anything from me.” 

“Yeah.” Neil’s eyes were fond over the top of his glass. “I guess I do know that.” 

Andrew shoved Neil’s shoulder and took a sip of his own whiskey. “Hurry up and light your fucking holiday sticks.” 

Neil grinned before pulling both his phone and a lighter from his pocket. He’d thankfully upgraded from the flip phone they’d both had such a short time ago — he’d quickly learned to make use of the photo messaging features when he did. It had nearly killed Andrew, the first time. He’d paid a little more attention to warnings not to text and drive after that. Now, Neil had a web page open, lines of Hebrew text displayed on the screen.

The candles were set up on the right side of the hanukkiah, the leftmost one sitting in the center branch. To the left of it, the rest of the branches were empty, waiting to be filled, one by one, on each remaining night left in the holiday. Neil lit the candle sitting in the center, positioned a little higher than the others. The warm light illuminated his skin, glowing in the darkness. 

Andrew settled back against the couch while Neil read off his phone and made his way haltingly through a traditional Hebrew prayer, repeating the English version afterward for Andrew’s sake. Despite being unfamiliar with the words or the custom, Neil’s voice was still melodic, quietly reverent. Andrew knew Neil wasn’t very big on religion, just as Andrew wasn’t, but Neil had something else in this: a sense of belonging, another community, a connection to something bigger and older than him. Andrew wasn’t about to judge him for that, not when he could see the way it softened Neil’s edges and made him a little more sure of himself. 

When Neil finished with the prayer, he removed the taller candle from its spot and began to light the others with it. He had just gotten to the second candle when it began to tip over against the others. Neil’s mouth curved down into a frown, and he straightened it up to finish lighting the rest. Another one listed to the side, melting its neighboring candle. Neil cursed under his breath and Andrew watched as he hurriedly righted that one as well. 

When Neil replaced the center candle in its spot, two others tipped over. By the time Neil had them upright again, another one had fallen. Neil very carefully stood that one up, moving his hand back slow, eyes glued to it, beseeching. 

“You’re doing a great job,” Andrew said, tonelessly.

Neil made a face at him. “Fuck off.” 

Another candle tilted. 

“Need a little help?” 

“I’m fine, I got this.” 

Neil most certainly did not. Andrew didn’t even get a chance to shoot him a blank look for the use of ‘I’m fine,’ before the taller candle tilted this time. In his haste to grab it, Neil knocked one of the others off completely. 

It fell —

And set the paper towels on fire. 

Neil yelped. Andrew could practically see him make his next move before he did it, but he still had no time to stop Neil from hurriedly dumping his entire glass of whiskey on the fire. 

Flames leapt up, and so did Andrew, running to grab the fire extinguisher from the kitchen. When he came back, Neil was swatting at the flames with a throw pillow which was about as effective as it sounded. 

Andrew ended up spraying both the fire and Neil with the extinguisher, but he didn’t really mind. Neil poured alcohol on a fire .

Neil coughed and blinked owlishly through the white haze. They both looked down at the mess on the coffee table.  

Neil sighed. “The paper towel didn’t do such a great of protecting the table after all, did it?”

“It’s like you want to die,” Andrew said. “I don’t think it was the paper towel’s fault.” 

Neil smiled weakly as the fire alarm went off. Andrew contemplated throwing the fire extinguisher at him. 

“I hope you don’t intend on repeating this anytime soon.”

“What, my holiday traditions not good enough for you?”

Andrew snorted. “If you make this a tradition, I’m breaking up with you.”

Chapter Text

The kitchen was a mess.

A brand new food processor sat on Andrew’s countertop, surrounded by potato peels and covered with the food-processed guts of said-peeled potatoes. Neil had purchased it precisely for this purpose, and then promptly murdered it.

Even if the processor was salvageable with a bucket of dish soap (and the cost of one’s soul), the rest of Andrew’s countertops weren’t nearly as lucky. Cracked eggshells, measuring cups of oil, and half-chopped onions — as well as a torn-open box of whatever the hell matzo meal was made of — littered the granite slab, a whirlwind of Neil’s most recent attempt at cooking.

Apparently, latkes were a Hanukkah staple alongside exponentially increasing your house’s flammability with lit hanukkiah. 

They’d avoided another table-burning disaster after Neil had discovered you could heat up the bottom of the hanukkiah candles with a lighter before shoving them into each candle holder. The candelabra sat on Andrew’s kitchen table, keeping vigil over the sloppy latke preparation happening a room away.

Eyeballing the mess as he approached, Andrew focused on its root cause: Neil Josten acting he’d ever been in a kitchen before in his life.

“Hey,” Neil said softly, flashing him a stupid grin as Andrew entered the kitchen. Neil’s hair was pushed back with a ridiculously garrish bandana, eyes glinting with that I’m going to succeed at this even if it kills me (and it might well) look, and Andrew ignored the warmth that suffused him at the action.

Andrew drawled, “I’m not cleaning any of this up.”

“That’s fair,” Neil nodded. He tossed a few ingredients, seemingly at random, into the large mixing bowl resting atop the only cleared-off area left on Andrew’s countertop. “Can you do me a favor, though?”

“No.”

Neil didn’t even flinch. “Thanks,” he said, pushing up his sleeves and starting to mix the ingredients together. 

With his bare hands. 

It was repugnant. 

“So I got all of the ingredients to make the latkes,” Neil continued, “but now I’m receiving mixed messages.”

Andrew failed to see what this had to do with him and told Neil as much.

“I’m getting there,” Neil said, scrunching his nose up in Andrew’s direction. It was approximately as disgusting as him fondling shredded potato and egg and whatever other nonsense went into the bowl. He gestured to his phone lying nearby, screen open to some cooking website. “One recipe said you use sour cream for dipping, but another said to get applesauce, too. Which I didn’t.”

“Get to the point,” Andrew said.

Neil pointed at him with a wrinkled finger. “Go to the store and get me some applesauce?”

“What do I get out of it?” Andrew asked, even as one hand reached into his pocket to ensure the Maserati’s keys were still where he’d left them.

“Latkes, obviously,” Neil said, holding up a mushy-looking chunk of potatoes and other indiscernible ingredients. 

“Is that supposed to be a reward or a punishment?”

Neil looked considering. “One of your Hanukkah presents is a tiny kippah for King. You can open it early and put it on her. She’ll look very stupid.”

Andrew raised a single eyebrow.

“Applesauce.”

He needed a new pack of cigarettes, anyway. 

 


 

When Andrew returned, jar of Mott’s applesauce in hand, it was to three very alarming things: Neil’s panicked-sounded curses, a litany of Shit, fuck, shitfuck. The acrid smell of smoke. And the actual fire alarm blaring at a deafening level.

Andrew hoped he died before Kevin Day ever discovered that years of Exy training and sports conditioning were likely the only reason he moved fast enough to prevent Neil from burning down the entire apartment complex.

The cast-iron pan on the stove roared with flames, black smoke pouring into the air. Andrew darted forward with the split-second focus of a professional goalkeeper to intercept Neil’s path from the sink to the stove with a bowl full of fucking water. 

Andrew managed to flick the stove burner’s heat off before grabbing a baking pan from the counter and slamming it down on top of the fire. “Salt,” he barked. 

Neil looked startled, but did as commanded. He dropped the bowl of water back into the sink and grabbed the canister of salt, handing it over quickly.

When the fire was smothered and no longer at risk of killing them both, Andrew directed his glare toward his catastrophic boyfriend. He was too furious — at himself for leaving Neil alone with hot oil, at Neil for trying to put out a fucking grease fire with water, at the entire world for trying to end Neil Abram Josten’s life again — to find the right words, and so he didn’t speak. Instead, he slapped Neil’s hand away when he tried to grab at the pan and pushed him toward the living room to disable the fire alarm.

Bee’s breathing exercises had always seemed like a crock of shit — Aaron was the one with an anger problem, not Andrew — but the technique was useful now, as he forced his racing heart to calm down.

“Sorry,” Neil said after blissful silence returned to the apartment, surveying the disastrous kitchen. He looked at the blackened mass of potato pancakes on the stove and then turned to Andrew, frowning. He sounded mournful as he said, “My latkes.”

Andrew couldn’t bear to look at the idiot and shoved Neil’s face away from him. The smell of smoke and burnt latkes lingered. “My sanity. Remember last year?”

“Actually, I try not to.”

“Remember,” Andrew continued, keeping an eye on the cast-iron pan in case it decided to catch alight again, “when you thought it would be a good idea to douse a fire with alcohol?”

“This is just who I am,” Neil huffed, grabbing a potholder and moving to scrape the charred mess into the garbage. He leaned into Andrew’s personal space, ruined pan still in hand, and looked pointedly at Andrew’s lips. “If you can’t handle my accidental arson, then maybe this relationship isn’t going to work out.”

The tension eased from Andrew’s shoulders as he answered the unspoken question, closing the remaining distance so they could kiss properly. Neil making shitty jokes meant he really was alright. After a heartbeat, he pulled away and held up two fingers. “Two strikes, Josten. One more and I’ll legally be exempt from the consequences of killing you. Murder’s only murder when it happens to an intelligent creature.”

Chapter Text

“Remind me to write the worst possible review of this place.”

Andrew was bundled up in layers upon layers of blankets, wrapped around him like foil on a Chipotle burrito. For the past ten minutes, he’d been shivering in a heap against the stone fireplace of the cabin they’d rented out for the week, complaining the whole time. The Airbnb website hadn’t lied about the quaint charm of the small house, nor about the breathtaking views of the mountains and the national park that the property butted up against on one side. What the website might have neglected to explain, and what Neil hadn’t thought to consider, was that quaint was also code for not very well insulated .

Neil sniffed and rubbed his hands together briefly before putting more wood on the weak pocket of flames in the fireplace. “It’ll be warmer soon.”

“For a man so good at starting fires this time of year, you sure are having trouble getting this one going,” Andrew grumbled, voice muffled as he buried his face deeper into a blanket.

“Oh, so now you appreciate my talents?”

“Don’t put words in my mouth.” Andrew’s voice was muffled, and when Neil looked up from blowing gently on the small embers of the fire, Andrew had covered his face entirely with one of the blankets, turning himself into nothing more than a lump of quilted flannel. “I’m merely pointing out the inconsistencies. You start fires to inconvenience me, and when I need one the most you refuse to perform.”

“I’m living with a drama queen.”

“You and Kevin haven’t been roommates in a very long time, Neil.”

Neil snorted and poked at the smaller sticks that were now slowly being eaten by the growing flames. “You know what, maybe you’re right. Maybe I really brought you all the way out here to slowly kill you of hypothermia.”

Andrew made an agreeing sort of noise. “It is a very serial killer location.”

“I wonder how many serial killers ever killed their victims using this exact method in a place just like this.”

“Oh, too many to count,” Andrew said.

“Of course.”

“All of the victims were always their significant others.”

“A scandal.”

Andrew shifted slightly, readjusting himself against the stone of the fireplace. “They always woke up one day, realized they couldn’t do it anymore, and booked a nice place in the mountains to finally get rid of their commitments.”

“Does that make them the Cold Feet Killers?”

Andrew was silent for a very long moment. The blanket slid down slightly and Neil could see one single hazel eye glaring at him from under it. “I hate you so much.”

Neil laughed and set another log into the fire. “I think I’ve said before how little I believe that statement.”

“You’d better start believing it if you can’t get that fire going.”

“Relax,” Neil moved from his crouched position. “It’s going, it’ll just take a moment to really start heating.”

Andrew huffed and Neil could feel his eye on him as he went to the kitchen for a mug of tea for himself and a hot chocolate for Andrew, both laden with alcohol. As Neil returned, he smiled at the sight of Andrew, curled up like a child beneath his mountain of blankets, head resting against the fireplace as he stared into the now crackling fire.

“You’re going to have to come out of your cocoon so you can drink this,” Neil said, holding the mug out.

“You really are trying to kill me.” Andrew shuffled and drew his hands out so that he could reach for the mug all the same, letting the blankets shift until they were only draped over his head and around his shoulders like a cloak. Neil sat down beside him and bumped his shoulder against Andrew’s.

“If I wanted to kill you,” Neil said, sipping his tea, “I would have done it by now.”

Andrew rolled his eyes. “Whatever, junkie.”

Neil smiled and dipped his head over to rest on Andrew’s. They sat together in silence for a moment, watching the fire dance and slowly come to life. Neil shivered just as a particularly large crack rang through the room, one of the logs splitting apart in the flames. Andrew sighed and extended his blanket shell around Neil, drawing him close against his side. His body heat felt delicious against Neil’s still-cold skin, and Neil sighed in contentment as he grabbed the edge of the blanket to curl it tighter around the two of them.

Andrew knocked his mug against Neil’s. “Only you could build a fire that doesn’t actually heat.”

“Maybe I planned it all along. This cocoon is a very nice piece of real estate.”

Andrew hummed, and that was that for a while. They finished their drinks, setting the empty mugs to the side in favor of curling closer against each other beneath the blankets, slowly shifting around until they were mostly lying on the floor. A drowsy sort of peace draped over them, just as thick and real as the blankets they shared.

Gradually, the fire did begin to grow warm, heat seeping into the room around them. Neil got up a few times to throw another log into the fire, trying to make it bigger so that when they got up later they wouldn’t freeze. He’d just done so and settled back against Andrew when his phone vibrated in his pocket. Normally he’d ignore it, but one of the cats had come down with a cold before they’d left, and Neil had nervously told the people at the kennel to keep him updated if there were any changes.

There weren’t any calls from the kennel, but instead, a text from Matt. A photograph of him and Dan in New York, in front of a giant hanukkiah displayed in the middle of a city plaza.

‘happy hannunuka!! hope you n andrew are having a great time!’

Neil grinned at the screen, pleasant surprise filling his chest as it always did when his friends affirmed this side of him. He showed the message to Andrew.

Andrew grunted in acknowledgement but didn’t say anything else. Neil typed a response to Matt and saved the picture to the album he kept specifically for days when he needed reminders of all the good things he had in his life. Andrew ran a hand through Neil’s hair, fingers scratching gently at his scalp. Neil shut his phone off and settled his cheek against Andrew’s chest, listening to his heartbeat as Andrew continued dipping his fingers through Neil’s red-brown curls.

Neil felt himself drifting, lulled near sleep by the crackle of the fire alongside Andrew’s breathing and the soft motion of hands playing with his hair. Soon, without really realizing he was talking, Neil found himself murmuring to Andrew how happy he was to have this.

Andrew’s hand stopped its motion, and Neil felt Andrew’s attention focus onto him. Neil thought about sitting up, but he didn’t. He wanted to stay pressed against Andrew’s chest, mouth a heartbeat away from being able to brush a kiss over Andrew’s ribcage.

“It’s just, very surreal to me, if I think about it,” Neil elaborated. “Having you, having friends, having my life — being able to openly live it the way I want to.

“I never thought I’d live this long, but I’m here. I never thought I’d have a family, but I do. And it’s Hanukkah. I’m a Jew, and it’s Hanukkah, and I’m able to celebrate without being afraid of dying — which is more than a lot of my people could say in the past — and my family wants to be included in my traditions even though they mean nothing to them.” Neil gave in and tilted his head to press that kiss above Andrew’s heart. Beneath his lips, Andrew’s breath caught.

Neil smiled drowsily against him. “You’ve always supported me. You’re… you’re my shamash candle.”

Andrew’s grip tightened against Neil. “Don’t be a sap. What is that supposed to mean?”

Neil snuggled deeper into Andrew’s arms, sleep pulling harder at him. His eyes drifted closed. “The spark that got me going,” he murmured.

Neil didn’t hear if Andrew responded before sleep finally took him under, but he was too blissed and warm to care.


Neil awoke to a loud crack! and nearly startled out of Andrew’s hold on him. Andrew, somehow, didn’t stir. Neil silently wondered at that, at how far they had come together since those first few years at Palmetto and that Andrew could remain asleep even when Neil moved near him. But then Neil noticed that another log on the fire had split open. That was what had made the loud cracking noise — but what it had also done was propel a handful of embers out of the fireplace. There were a couple on the rug at their feet, and another one sinking its way into the blankets over Neil’s calves.

Neil jumped up, frantically scrabbling at the fire scoop sitting on the other edge of the fireplace. If he set another fire this year Andrew would more than likely keep his promise from the last one and start a real Cold Foot Killer case.

Neil scooped up the coal melting into their blankets first, worried about it burning Andrew. He accidentally brushed against Andrew’s leg with the edge of the scoop, and Andrew jerked awake beside him as Neil tossed the first coal back into the fire.

“What have you done now?” Andrew’s voice was flat and slurred with sleep as he sat up to lean on his elbows.

Neil turned and put himself in front of Andrew so he couldn’t see Neil chasing the embers sitting on the rug. “Nothing.”

When Neil tossed them back into the fire and turned to Andrew, Andrew was squinting at him. “You set something else on fire,” Andrew accused.

“No!” Neil said hurriedly, glancing at the new holes in both the blankets and the rug. “Not on fire, and I didn’t do anything. A log cracked and things just. Got a bit melty.”

Andrew tipped his head back so it hung between his shoulders and sighed. “First you start a fire that isn’t warm. Then you set the rug on fire in your sleep. A man of your talents should not exist.”

Neil laughed sheepishly and decided not to mention that it wasn’t just the rug that had been burned. He replaced the fire scoop in its spot and picked up their mugs from where they’d been abandoned on the floor earlier. “I believe I’ve been told this before. What can I say? It’s a Hanukkah miracle.”

He nudged Andrew with his foot as he stepped over him on his way to the kitchen. Andrew muttered, “Why do I subject myself to this,” under his breath and flopped back down on his back, pulling the quilted blankets back over top of himself. Neil smiled.

He remained smiling all through washing the mugs out, until Andrew’s calm even voice floated in from the living room.

“Neil. There is a hole in my blanket.”

Neil didn’t suppose if he blamed the cats that Andrew would believe him, this time.

Chapter Text

Andrew was dreaming. He had to be.

It was the eighth night of Hanukkah. A lit hanukkiah sat on the counter, all nine candles blazing and dripping wax onto the foil beneath it. Several styrofoam takeout containers riddled the coffee table in the living room, the aroma of Chinese food that was definitely-not-cooked-by-his-disaster-of-a-boyfriend guaranteeing that Neil had not been tempted to start any kitchen fires.

They’d finally survived a year of Hanukkah without burning anything that wasn’t meant to be burned.

Neil only had three days off before he needed to be back in New York for practice, and they intended on making the most of it. What this boiled down to was doing absolutely nothing, wrapped up in comfortable clothes and avoiding the Denver snowfall outside, Neil cuddling up against Andrew he focused on his terrible sports addiction.

“Shit,” Neil said, eyes glued to the television screen. He was watching a rerun of Kevin’s last game against the Cincinnati Vipers, the team that New York was set to play against in a week and a half. “This won’t be an easy game.”

Andrew supposed it was slightly more difficult to mock Neil’s Exy obsession when it was their jobs, but not impossible. “Guess you’ll just have to forfeit.”

“That backliner.” Neil pointed at the screen with his chopsticks in between bites of chow mein. “Number 7. She’s going to try to murder me.”

“Par for the course, then,” Andrew said, watching her movements idly. He’d been trying his best not to pay any attention to the game, but even without full scrutiny it was clear she was keeping Kevin on his toes. Andrew derived no miniscule mount of pleasure watching Exy’s golden child struggle to score a goal. (It was, after all, almost entirely what got him through his first year of college practice.)

Leaning over to put his empty plate onto the table, Neil nestled in against Andrew’s side, feet kicked up onto the coffee table beside a container of fried rice.

They watched as Kevin finally managed to dart past his mark. Number 7 shot forward and slammed him up against the plexiglass wall, but he’d already managed to fling the ball toward the goal, red LEDs lighting up a heartbeat later.

“Goalie’s pathetic, though.”

Neil made an affirmative noise in the back of his throat. “Their defense is usually stronger. This is Clark’s first official game in goal after their starter got a concussion last month. I think Hopkins will be back in by the time we play.”

Andrew’s already waning patience dissolved into nothing at the thought of someone joining a professional sports team only to choke the moment they were up to play. He reached for a handful of chocolate coins — Hanukkah gelt, according to Neil — that was placed in a shallow dish on the coffee table. It was cheap milk chocolate, but there was something satisfying about peeling back the thin layer of foil that made it worth it.

He made a trail of empty foil coins along one of Neil’s outstretched legs, slightly-crumpled foil marching along the material of his sweatpants. It took far too long for Andrew to notice that his ongoing-trail wasn’t actually gaining any length, the pieces at the end going mysteriously missing.

With Andrew’s attention keyed in, it wasn’t hard to figure out the culprit of chocolate-gelt-foil theft.

“What are you doing.”

Neil froze with one curved piece of gold foil pressed to his lips. “Um. It’s exactly what it looks like?”

Andrew hooked a finger into Neil’s mouth, squinting at the chewed-up foil in disgust.

“One question: why are you like this?”

“It’s something I’ve done since I was a kid,” Neil said, something almost sheepish about his tone. “I don’t know, it’s satisfying. You should try it.”

The sound of something metallic clattered to the floor, interrupting Andrew’s interrogation and Neil’s most recent bout with insanity. Andrew turned his head toward the source of the noise, the kitchen, just as Neil’s eyebrows furrowed and he asked, “Do you smell something burning?”

The words caused a deeply visceral reaction within Andrew, but before he could truly react, a multicolored blur shot out from the kitchen and into the living room, trailing smoke.

“King!”

Neil sprinted toward the kitchen as Andrew grabbed the blanket hanging off the back of the couch — a gift from Nicky last year to replace the previously burnt one — and threw it over the panicked cat. 

Gritting his teeth, Andrew grabbed at the lump of blanket-cat. King squirmed from within the confines of the blanket, growling. He could handle it if she mauled the shit out of him, but cat bites and scratches were a bitch to take care of and a trip to Urgent Care would definitely interrupt his holiday plans to do jack shit.

She settled eventually, unhappy but nonviolent, as the blanket smothered whatever flames had caught onto her fur.

Neil emerged from the kitchen, hanukkiah in one hand and the remainder of its candles in the other. “It was on the ground,” he said. “She must have brushed up against it while the candles were still burning.”

King’s growling quieted as Neil approached, transforming into a chirpy meow as if she hadn’t been on fire mere seconds ago. 

“How did you manage to adopt a creature stupider than you are?” Andrew asked, still holding her tight. He needed to make sure she was alright before she freed herself and went to nurse her wounds under the bed or in some other equally unreachable place.

“Runs in the family, or something.” Neil rubbed at King’s ear. “Are you alright, little idiot?”

She started purring, and Andrew maneuvered her in his arms until he could pull her tail out of the blanket. It was a singed mess, long fur blackened and curling wildly at the ends. The stench of burned hair was not a pleasant one, but it seemed like her coat was the only damage. Her thin, bony tail beneath the abundance of calico fur was unscathed.

“She’s fine,” Neil said after a moment’s inspection. “She’s lucky she didn’t actually get burned. We can probably trim all of the singed hair off with some scissors.”

We,” Andrew said disbelievingly, finally releasing King from her blanket cocoon. She bolted toward the bedroom the moment her paws touched the floor. “Nope. Good luck with that.”

 


 

“Anyway! Enough about us,” Nicky said after a long-winded rant about his work. Erik sat beside him, wearing what was presumably a Santa hat. It was hard to tell across the weak WiFi connection; their faces were pixelated messes on the laptop screen. “How’s my favorite little arsonist doing?”

“Three guesses to what he set on fire this year,” Andrew drawled. He refused to be caught by their laptop’s webcam, but he’d consented to sitting slightly out of view of the computer for the duration of the call. 

It was still morning in Denver, but timezones meant that Nicky and Erik were getting ready for their Christmas dinner. Andrew sipped on his coffee, watching all four pixels of Nicky’s eyes move between Neil, who was visible, and in the direction of Andrew, who was not.

“Hold on," Neil said, shooting a glare at Andrew. “There is absolutely no way this one was my fault.”

“King doesn’t live here,” Andrew said. “You flew her across the country.”

“Because Sir loves her. You would have been upset if I didn’t bring her.”

“So, King. Here. In my apartment. You, also in my apartment, celebrating Hanukkah. Are you with me still, junkie?”

“Uh, guys,” Nicky interjected, a bit nervously.

Neil’s lips twitched in the beginnings of a smile as he caught on to what Andrew was doing, but his tone remained indignant. “Oh, should I have not flown out? Or is your complaint about me lighting the hanukkiah?”

“Your track record speaks for itself,” Andrew said. “Lighting candles is a guaranteed hazard when it comes to you.”

“How dare you insult the traditions of my religion like this—”

“Well, Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and all that!” Nicky said quickly. Too quickly. “Erik and I just realized we suddenly have to go do... something. Something that isn’t talking to you, so love you gotta go bye!”

Neil stared at the abruptly-ended call on the screen before laughing, a clear and high sound. “Did you just stage an argument so we wouldn’t have to talk to your cousin for too long?”

“I would never,” Andrew said flatly.

King mewled pathetically, settling down near Andrew to try and groom the damage out of her tail. Neil cooed at her singed fur, and Andrew swiped the remote so they could watch something other than fucking Exy.

Sir, the only intelligent one out of them all, had avoided the chaos of the evening, and waddled out of the bedroom a few minutes later, meowing for her dinner. Andrew thought that maybe there was some merit to that saying about pets being like their owners.

Chapter Text

The tension in Wymack’s living room was thick and palpable, a living thing that Andrew could almost grip tight in his hands. Neil, sitting against Andrew’s knees on the floor beside the couch, shook with barely restrained laughter as Dan, Allison, and Erik stared each other down, Allison’s eyes furious and Erik’s grin mocking.

On the table between them was a dreidel sitting innocently with the Hebrew letter gimmel displayed proudly on its top face.

“I don’t understand,” Nicky wailed “We’ve been getting nothing but shin for the past twelve turns!”

“Your husband is in the occult, Nicky. This is dark magic. Dark, evil magic.” Dan shoved the pile of chocolate coins towards Erik, spilling them over the side of the coffee table and into his lap. “If it were not for the laws of this country I would have called for a burning.”

Allison had not moved, simply remained staring angrily at Erik — who was laughing as Nicky beat him over the head with a santa hat, courtesy of Abby before dinner. Allison pursed her lips and breathed in a shaky breath. “Fuck you, Klose. Fuck you and your stupid, goddamn beginner’s luck.”

Erik crowed as Nicky toppled him over onto the floor. “Beginner’s luck or not, I am officially the richest man at this table.”

“Rich in cheap candy.”

“Rich in the glory, Reynolds.” Erik pulled Nicky into his arms and clamped Nicky’s hands down at his sides, wrangling them both into an upright position so he could lean closer to the table. “Glory and prestige: I have stolen all from you.”

“I would not antagonize her,” Matt said sleepily from his position laying across Neil’s lap. He had previously been playing dreidel with the rest of them, but ended up so drunk that he’d settled down and given his coins to Neil in exchange for using him as a pillow.  “She will remember it for like, forty years.”

“Longer,” Aaron said from his spot on the couch beside Andrew. Katelyn was curled up asleep on his other side, though Andrew wasn’t sure how she was sleeping in a room full of loud drunk people. Maybe being pregnant made you able to pass out when and wherever you could. He didn’t know.

Neil began to wriggle where he leaned against Andrew’s legs. “Hey, Matt, can you sit up for just a second?”

Andrew furrowed his brow, watching as Matt lifted himself up so Neil could push off the floor and pull something out of his back pocket. He settled back down. Matt flopped back into his lap. Neil tipped his head back to look at Andrew, and his headband — which had two springy antennae topped with glittery dreidels on their ends — bobbed violently. He held up Andrew’s wallet, keys, and lighter. “It was getting uncomfortable.”

Andrew didn’t make a move to take them. There was a reason he’d asked Neil to hang onto his things. His pockets wouldn’t hold anything, courtesy of the tight black jeans he’d chosen to wear to the Foxes’ Christmas/Hanukkah/reunion party. Neil held Andrew’s gaze for a moment longer before moving to place Andrew’s belongings on the floor beside him, his hands returning to Matt’s hair as he waited for his turn to come back around.

Andrew watched him play with Matt’s hair, not jealous in the slightest.

“Yes!” Nicky suddenly howled, “Finally!” He reached forward to swipe at the renewed pile of chocolate coins in the center of the table.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Allison slapped Nicky’s hand away. “That’s a nun . Again.”

“What! No!”

“Shots!” Erik yelled and everyone but Andrew, Aaron, and Matt tipped their glasses back again.

Nicky groaned. “They shouldn’t look so similar.”

Dan scoffed and wrinkled her nose at whatever was in her cup. “That excuse wore off like. So long ago.”

Matt raised his hand, nearly smacking Neil in the face. “I would like my drink back, please.”

“I don’t think so, honey.” Dan said, leaning over to pat Matt on the head. “You’re falling asleep.”

Matt pouted up at her and Neil giggled, although Andrew wasn’t really sure why. Andrew reached out a hand and flicked one of plastic glitter dreidels on Neil’s headband, prompting Neil to tip his head back again and grin at him. Neil’s cheeks were flushed and warm, his eyes blue and bright and crinkled at the corners with tipsy excitement. Andrew indulged in them for a long moment before pushing Neil’s head back down when he didn’t look away first.


Matt had found Andrew’s lighter. His grip on it was loose and open as he flipped it open and shut, open and shut, open and shut. In the glint of the metal as it spun in Matt’s hand, Andrew was reminded of the past several Hanukkahs and Neil’s uncomfortable penchant for starting fires. It was probably better that it wasn’t in Neil’s hand, but having a sleepy drunk man-puppy playing with a firestarter wasn’t much more of a comforting thought. Neil evidently had the same thought, and reached for it at the same time that Matt flipped it open again and struck the flint. Neil startled, and it dropped from their hands into Matt’s hair.

Fire leapt up from Matt’s head with a whoosh, his hair heavy with product. Andrew heard himself curse as Neil jerked back and Matt leapt up, screaming. Dan was faster than Andrew was to throw something over Matt’s flaming hair, and the fire went out quickly.

The rest of the Foxes sat frozen in varying positions, staring in wide-eyed shock. Nicky laughed, nervous and high. “I, uh, I knew this happened every year, but—”

“Nicky.” Andrew said warningly, watching how Neil was slowly freaking out. He stood to stand beside Neil and rested a hand against the nape of Neil’s neck. “Neil, it’s okay.”

Neil sighed shakily and leaned back against Andrew, watching Aaron check over Matt’s head to make sure he wasn’t hurt.

“I think the worst of it is your hair. The skin looks fine, it was over very fast, but you’re going to have to cut this.”

Neil looked like he was going to be sick. “Matt, Matt, I’m so sorry, I—I didn’t mean to—”

“Hey, Hey, buddy, it’s okay.” Matt laughed, somehow still drunk and in good spirits even though he’d literally been on fire a moment prior. “I’m honored to be included in another one of your traditions.”

Andrew snorted and Neil smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. Andrew tightened his grip on Neil’s neck. He had a feeling Neil would need a quiet moment, and shuffled him out of the room towards the back door; ignoring Nicky’s weak laugh as he said to the room at large, “I guess this makes Matt the hottest guy in the room?”

Outside, Neil slowly pieced himself back together and accepted the cigarette Andrew handed him.

Andrew watched him breathe out a mouthful of smoke, and sighed. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Neil turned to him, incredulous. “No comments about murdering me for setting something else on fire? About me lighting up an actual human being this year?”

“I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I am stuck with you.” Andrew stared at him evenly, assessing, and finally pulled his hand away from Neil’s neck. “And at this point, that includes all of the various styles of felonies that you incur.”

Neil didn’t laugh, but his posture relaxed a bit. “Guess I’m cursed, huh?”

“You’ve been subjected to Nicky’s ‘flaming gay’ jokes for the past five years. Of course you’re cursed.”

Neil knocked his hip into Andrew’s, his face calmer, expression fond. “Of the two of us, I think there’s only one of those.”

Andrew rolled his eyes. “I refuse to fit any definition of that word. Especially the literal one.”

“That’s what you think, but after tonight, who knows?” Neil ground his cigarette out and set it on the porch railing. “You can’t get any gayer, but I have a feeling we can definitely arrange for a little more fire in your life.”

Chapter Text

Neil’s alarm woke Andrew up. This wasn’t exactly out of the ordinary, given that Andrew had spent multiple years waking up to that god-awful early alarm in their shared dorm so that Neil could go on runs around campus. What was out of the ordinary was this happening six years after Andrew had graduated from Palmetto State University. 

“Go back to sleep,” Neil murmured. Something brushed against Andrew’s hair — his eyes remained screwed shut in defiance of being awake, so he couldn’t tell for sure if it was Neil’s lips or his fingers.

“‘M not awake,” Andrew responded sleepily, burrowing deeper under the blankets. His foot nudged one of the cats aside, who let out an equally sleepy mrp? noise before settling back against the length of his leg.

Neil giggled softly in the quiet.

Andrew must have fallen asleep again after that, because when he woke up next, it was to the sound of Neil dragging something into the bedroom.

“What is that.”

“A bookshelf,” Neil said, as if it was normal to be dragging furniture into the room this early in the morning. “We have all this space now and no furniture to fill it, so I stopped at a garage sale on my run and grabbed it for cheap.”

Andrew sat up in their bed — just a box frame and mattress resting on the ground of the barren bedroom until they got the actual bed frame set up — and stared at the beaten-up bookshelf Neil was pushing up against the far wall.

“Why a bookshelf?”

Neil looked slightly amused. “You have like, three boxes full of books in the garage.”

It was a decent argument, but Andrew needed caffeine before he was conscious enough to respond. He grunted unintelligibly and moved toward the kitchen.

Once Andrew had had his coffee (loaded with sugar), the morning became easier to face, hazy and content. They didn’t have their first scheduled practice together until Monday, and Andrew had every intention of doing nothing but reacquainting himself with having Neil so close.

Permanently.

It almost didn’t feel real, after the past six years.

“Hey,” Neil said, a grin lighting up his face. It was the kind of grin that promised trouble as he gestured for Andrew to follow him into the garage. “Look what else I got.”

He led Andrew over to a couple of cardboard boxes. They would have blended in with the other boxes littering the garage, but these ones were well-worn, several layers of packing tape pressed over the flaps. The boxes stood out against the crisp, brand-new ones that had been unloaded by the truck just a few days prior, containing Neil and Andrew’s lives.

The obvious thing to do would have been to ask where they came from, what was inside them. 

Andrew just stared until it clicked. “The garage sale.”

Neil nodded. “Got both boxes for ten bucks. They’re a little old, and I’m not sure they’re all for Hanukkah, but we can adapt.”

It had been a while since Andrew saw Neil do something so… scavenger-y. He seemed genuinely excited about the find, regardless of how old and burnt-out the various holiday lights were, and Andrew still felt too fuzzy with sleep to truly object. “Since when did you become an expert at weekend yard sales?”

“It’s where my mom and I got most of our clothes,” Neil explained. “Thrift stores had cameras, which we needed to avoid. But nobody gives a shit who comes to their garage sales if they’re buying stuff.”

It made sense, in a morbid sort of way, just like most of the times Neil spoke of his mother. It still left a sour taste in Andrew’s mouth that he hadn’t been there to interfere with Mary’s treatment of her son, but dwelling on the past was idiotic. You couldn’t change shit, so why bother imagining you could?

“We’re still a few months out,” Neil continued, futilely trying to untangle the fairy lights in one of the boxes. “But it’s our first year having a house together. I felt like we needed some sort of way to claim it as ours.” 

“Our name on the deed isn’t enough, of course,” Andrew said. 

Neil smiled, and Andrew knew he was thinking about his name, printed on another legal document, another tie to the real world. Andrew scoffed at him but reached to help untangle the lights anyway, his hand brushing alongside Neil’s.


 

Andrew forgot about the lights until the first week of December, when Neil hauled the boxes out — looking dustier and no-less-decrepit — with the full intention of stringing them up around their house’s exterior.

It was almost overwhelming, that something so huge could be theirs, but the house was a testament to how far they’d come. Neil’s excitement about finally being on the same team was near-contagious as well, and Andrew found himself, to his horror, looking forward to Exy practice. He rationalized this with the reasoning that it was more time to spend with Neil, something he’d been starved of for an entire six years. 

The stress of the move, on top of integrating Neil into Denver’s professional Exy team, meant that they had little time to spend together in the hectic whirlwind of practice and unpacking. The time they did have together felt limited. Limited to gentle touches in the kitchen, brushing past each other with warm hands pressed against a back or hip, a kiss pressed quickly to a cheek with an ease that would have been unfathomable just a few years ago. At night, they were worn out and exhausted, tangled together in a jumble of limbs, comfortable with each other even in their sleep — another thing that Andrew would have thought impossible before. He craved the contact like he was drowning, and the life preserver that he’d been thrown was the sound and feel of Neil’s heartbeat thumping steadily in his chest. 

For days, Andrew had felt this way: a simmering in his veins, a pressure in his lungs. He and Neil had both been too busy and too exhausted for anything beyond collapsing in a heap with tired, languid kisses in the weary hours of the evening. But today they had the day off, which meant the time to do whatever they wanted.

And Neil was choosing to spend it putting up lights.

Andrew would take no part in that. Instead, He settled for drinking his spiked hot chocolate while Neil struggled to string the lights up. Even on the highest rung of the ladder, it was a battle for him to reach the higher parts of the house’s exterior. As a result of his fight with the corded holiday lights, Neil’s shirt rode up attractively as he stretched to hang the wires up.

“It looks terrible,” Andrew offered, hoping to inspire an end to this new endeavor.

Neil flipped him off, not even deigning to turn around at Andrew’s words. Not that Andrew was complaining. Neil’s sweatpants hung low on his hips, and as he strained to apply the lights the thin fabric clung to the curve of his ass, hiding nothing.  

Even without his glasses, Andrew could appreciate the view.

Neil continued to commit Hanukkah light crimes while Andrew watched from a strategically placed patio chair, the warmth of the chocolate vodka suffusing throughout his body. A hazy sort of contentment settled over him, and he considered the best ways to distract Neil from turning their home into a tacky nuisance of holiday lights and decorations. 

Neil was far too oblivious to notice a come-on unless Andrew was directly in front of him, and there was no way Andrew was about to climb the ladder. He could possibly lure Neil in with a bowl of fruit or something, but that’d require heading back inside and seemed like an awful lot of work just to reach the endgame of sucking Neil’s dick.

Really, the reality of it all was that it was nearly impossible to pull Neil’s attention away from a task when he’d set his mind to it, and Andrew thought that he could do Neil the honor of at least waiting for him to finish before jumping him.

Decision made, Andrew stayed curled up in his chair, blanket wrapped around him, as he sipped his drink.

An indeterminable stretch of time later, Neil crouched beside Andrew’s chair. “All done with setup. You ready to see what it looks like all lit up?”

“I’m sure it will be just as appalling as it looks now.”

In a quick motion, Neil tugged at a longer strand of hair falling into Andrew’s eyes. “You’re such a brat.”

Andrew scowled. “Show me the abomination, then.”

“Gladly.” Neil moved toward the tangle of cords with plugs on them and Andrew noticed, too-late, that Neil had no intention of plugging the lights into a surge protector. He went straight for the outlet alongside the outside wall of their garage, plugs in hand.

“Wait—”

Sparks flew from the outlet the moment Neil pushed the plugs in. They settled into the browned grass of their front yard, thin tendrils of smoke rising as they smouldered and caught alight.

Neil Josten was going to be the death of him. They’d hung up a fire extinguisher in the garage a few weeks after unpacking everything else, as not-really-a-joke, and it came in handy as Andrew quickly unhooked it and pointed the nozzle at the fire catching on the grass. 

He was quick enough that it resulted in nothing more than a few blackened patches of grass, covered in the thick white foam of the extinguisher. Andrew whirled on Neil, dropping the fire extinguisher so he could have both hands free to throttle the redhead.

“You could totally be a fireman when you quit Exy,” Neil said, lips quirked and tone light and carefree. For someone with literal burns scored across his face, his lack of fear around fire spoke volumes about his intelligence. His panic at possibly injuring Matt the year previous wasn’t present at all, even though this fire had the potential to harm him.

Andrew glared, unmoving. If he stepped any closer to Neil, he’d have to decide between tearing the idiot to shreds and kissing him within an inch of his life, and he honestly couldn’t tell which one it would be. Something hot pooled in his stomach, setting Andrew himself on fire.

Neil’s smirk faltered. “Wait, are you actually mad this time?”

Arousal mixed with annoyance, and Andrew hauled Neil in close by the collar of his shirt. “You are so monumentally stupid,” he growled. “Yes or no?”

“Oh,” Neil said dumbly. He leaned in closer to where Andrew was gripping his clothing, clearly lacking any sort of survival instinct. Several years of relative stability had made him stupid… er. “Yes.”

Andrew dragged him in for a searing kiss. It was… possible that the smell of fire had begun to have a conditioning effect on him, reminding Andrew solely of his pyromaniac boyfriend in an arousing way that was equally as frustrating. He slid his palms around the curve of Neil's ass, enjoying the flex of muscle as he pressed the length of Neil's body against his own.

“Inside,” Neil murmured against his lips. He clung to Andrew’s frame like there was nowhere else he’d rather be. “Otherwise our neighbors might report us for public indecency.”

“Since when have you ever cared about a single law?” Andrew asked, hooking his fingers into the waistband of Neil’s sweats and dragging him back into their house.

“How are you going to fuck me if we’re both in jail?”

“I’d manage.” Andrew tugged at Neil’s clothes. “I’m surprised you haven’t already been incarcerated for arson. It’s only a matter of time, so we might as well get some practice in.”

Neil scoffed against his lips, even as he wiggled out of his sweatpants. “That implies I’d get caught.”