Neil gripped Jean’s waist tightly, and ignored the tears misting in the Frenchman’s eyes as he kissed the top of Neil’s head. He’d known Jean was leaving for a week, now, but it didn’t mean it didn’t hurt to see him go.
He knew it would be best, for both of them. He wasn’t what Jean needed, anymore. He had too much darkness, and the tattoo on his cheek would always be a reminder of what they’d gone through. He was glad that Jean would be able to heal in sunny California, with a smiling Jeremy and the Trojans with their ridiculously normal camaraderie. He was glad that there hadn’t been a new scar on Jean’s legs for a few weeks.
Neil wasn’t naive enough to thing that that kind of healing happened in just a year, but Jean’s hollow eyes had gained a spark in them, no matter how dim. It was enough to reassure Neil that this was the right thing, that Jean would be able to move on, one day, despite the words carved into his body and the feelings of handprints that Neil knew never really went away.
So he let go of Jean’s waist, and patted the man’s bag where he knew there was a plane ticket waiting. The sun was shining down through the airport’s glass ceiling, and Jean ruffled his hair again, then walked away.
It wasn’t an illusion, this world. Neil could barely believe some days, that all this sunshine was real, that this wasn’t an idyllic alternate facade, but a hand on his neck and a key in his pocket told him that this life was very much real.
He had people who cared about him, now. The Foxes were leaving for the summer, but they would be back in a few months, with a whole new litter of foxes who would be just as fucked up and angry as they were. Well, Neil mused, it would take quite a lot to be as fucked up as he was.
Kevin was visiting Thea, then would spend a few weeks with Wymack, and they would fumble in an attempt to build up a new relationship as father and son. Neil was glad he wasn’t going to be around for that one- if there was one thing Kevin had never managed particularly well, it was showing he cared for people.
He’d hadn’t spoken to Kevin, really. He’d managed to grow at least a partial backbone before the championships, with his new tattoo and the vodka saved for Friday nights. He was still a coward, when it came to the things that mattered. If he had the choice again, Neil didn’t believe Kevin would choose differently, and not leave them to Riko’s wrath.
Not yet, anyway. Maybe it would get there.
Nathaniel Wesninski had never been one to forgive, but Neil could see that Kevin was harmless. He wasn’t going to hurt him or Jean, or anyone, now that Riko was gone. It didn’t seem worth the effort, to kill him.
Aaron was spending the summer with Katelyn, and Neil prayed to whatever god was out there that he wouldn’t be so much of an asshole after a summer with someone so cheery. There was steel underneath Katelyn’s bubbly demeanor, but Neil hoped that she’d never need to use it.
Neil didn’t know what Seth was doing, to be honest. He’d graduated, by the skin of his teeth, and he hadn’t signed to a pro contract. He’d seemed like less of an asshole these last few months, had spent less time being selfish on the court, and more of a team player. He could have gone pro, if he’d wanted, but Renee had mentioned something vague about social work.
Who knows, maybe Seth would do something good with his life, after all.
Renee herself had decided on a trip to Paris, bankrolled by Allison’s ridiculously large trust fund. It was all very romantic, really- Allison had been bursting to show off all the restaurants they would eat at and museums the would visit. Neil had never been to France. Maybe he’d go with Andrew one day, and see how accurate his accent really was after only ever speaking French with two people.
Dan and Matt were spending the summer with Matt’s mother, a semi-famous boxer who looked rather intimidating from her photos but who Dan spoke of with a fond smile. Dan said she was going to see if any of her ‘stage sisters’ were in town- Neil still wasn’t really sure what the point of strip clubs were, but everyone but him seemed to be very appreciative of the dancing when Eden’s had a show.
Andrew had called it demisexuality, a term that definitely sounded like it came from Bee. He couldn’t quite wrap his head around being attracted to people, or kissing- kissing in general, that was, which was entirely different from kissing Andrew.
Nicky had definitely tried to find an exception to this, with complete failure. He’d spent the last week showing Neil pictures of various celebrities with the question ‘smash or pass?’. Eventually, with a look from Andrew, Nicky had conceded defeat, and left for Germany to visit his fiancé.
And then there was just the two of them left. Neil didn’t know if Andrew had plans, but he did know that he’d asked him to stay.
And he would. He’d been waiting to run- the Foxes had been a convenient way out of the Nest, but he hadn’t expected to stay in the lowest ranked team in Class 1 Exy. He certainly hadn’t expected to get attached, but he should have realized as soon as he’d arrived that this wasn’t like the Nest. There were so many people in his life, so much color, that sometimes it overwhelmed him, made him panic and lash out, Nathaniel taking over his hands with a twisted smile and a violent grin.
But Andrew would be there, with an impassive stare or a hand on his neck, a quiet ‘Junkie’ as Neil gasped in the cigarette smoke that didn’t make him wrinkle his nose anymore, not when it smelled like safety and a grounding presence.
Nathaniel would be there, simmering under his skin if danger reared it’s head, or if he was set off by any of the words or the questions asked by reporters seemingly every day, at the moment. He’d released a statement, had sat in a press conference for what seemed like longer than the damned FBI had questioned him.
He could deal with the stares, with the ‘Wesninski Juniors’, with the stupid comments and questions and the media poking into his past, but he wasn’t going to just let them ask- if a reporter was stupid enough to bring it up, he brought them down with a sharp tongue and a steely glint in his eyes.
He wouldn’t let go of Nathaniel, not yet. It would be helpful to have someone who could cut, and hold a knife to someone’s throat without a tremor in his hands. Ichirou hadn’t sent for him yet, either, and he wouldn’t want to meet with Neil Josten.
When the Moriyama lord called for him, he would be ready. Stuart had been busy, too busy to call recently, but Neil was sure that there were some significant changes going on now that the Butcher’s empire had crumbled. They had been the Moriyama’s main enforcers, in America anyway, and without them the Moriyama empire didn’t yet have a way to keep them in line.
If he wanted to, Neil could run. In the changeover that was happening, no one would be able to spare the resources to find him. He’d get about three months head start, he guessed. Enough time to escape to Mexico, or Brazil maybe, burn the tattoo off his face and dye his hair.
But he didn’t want to, anymore. Instead, Neil was clinging to the present with both hands. The future wasn’t something that was certain, so Andrew would never let him promise ‘forever’- always didn’t exist, but he wanted this for as long as he could have it.
Hands mapped his stomach, lips kissed over every one of his scars. They were working it out, him and Andrew. He had a set of black armbands in his drawer, and a key to the house in Colombia that told him that this was his home, now, too. They were testing the boundaries, the lines they wouldn’t cross and the ones they wanted to explore.
So he said yes, over and over again, and received a yes in return, and maybe he’d never had the opportunity to listen to much music, but he liked this little dance of theirs.
Sometimes it still hurt to look in the mirror, to see those blue eyes and auburn hair, to see the ‘4’ in stark ink on his cheek, but without Riko pouring poison into his ears, he finally felt like his own parson, not just a copy of his father.
Although, as he’d told Andrew on the roof one night, after they’d gasped into each other’s kisses and he’d come down from his bliss, maybe he’d cover up his tattoo, like Kevin had.
Andrew hadn’t said anything, but the look in his honey eyes as he blew smoke into Neil’s face was approving. He hadn’t quite decided on the design yet, though. He had all the time in the world to decide, now, a man with blonde hair and hazel eyes who told him to stay, and a house that was starting to feel like home. It would make Andrew call him sentimental, but maybe he’d get a key.