Actions

Work Header

Sunrise, Nathaniel, and Death

Chapter Text

Riko held himself proudly as he made his way up the final stairs to the East Tower, flanked silently by two men with numbers on their cheeks. They were always a step behind him, walking in a formation that had been carefully cultivated as a show of power, a trio that had terrified hundreds of Ravens over the last decade. From the outside, they were a perfectly crafted machine, steps in tandem, the kind of well-oiled efficiency that only comes from almost a decade of careful training.

But they were not here to intimidate today. There would be no intimidating the new head of the Moriyama empire, instead a careful flattery and Riko’s pledge to his older brother. The two men flanking his side were there simply to remind Ichirou about the investments he had in Exy, and to stay silent.

They reached the top of the stairs, and Riko couldn’t help but smile, despite Jean’s stony expression- barely a curl of his lips; you did not let your true feelings show in meetings such as this before the doors had even closed behind you. But it was a smile nonetheless, triumph oozing from every pore of his being.

Riko did not notice when the men that had flanked him for far too long silently stepped back, flattening against the wall at the right side of the room. Immersed as he was in his little show of grandeur, he bowed low as the doors closed behind him. His respect had to be unquestionable, had been unquestionable, and it had finally paid off. Ichirou would welcome his brother back into the main branch of the family, and Riko would finally get to show that his talents, his team, that he had honed and shaped for years, were not just a threat to Ichirou’s position that had to be eliminated.

He slowly rose from the bow, keeping his gaze on the floor until the moment he looked up into his brother’s eyes.

Nathaniel Wesninski did not flinch when the shot rang out. He watched as the bodyguard lowered his gun, and he watched as Riko sunk to the floor, the bullet wound in the right side of his head gaping. No, he did not flinch.

You did not let your true feelings show in meetings such as this, but Nathaniel couldn’t help himself as the corners of his mouth twitched up, or when his face split into the kind of grin that promised nothing but violence, the spitting image of his father.

He could see that Jean was as outwardly impassive as ever beside him, and Nathaniel almost marveled that he couldn’t see a flicker of the emotion he showed in private on his face. But then, Jean had learned the hard way how to hide. It was a lesson Nathaniel had never truly managed to master, and it did not avoid the notice of the man in the white suit who stood before him.

Ichirou Moriyama only pushed forward a stack of paper. They made their way around the room carefully to avoid the body that was still sprawled on the carpet in it’s best suit. Nathaniel could appreciate the way the kill had been set up; the left side of the room had been left empty, and Riko’s bloodstains spattered the walls undisturbed. The angle of the shot and the careful placement of every person in the room meant no one had a drop of blood on them. He could see how easy it would be to place a gun in Riko’s right hand, and leave the body for the police to find, none the wiser that almost 20 people had been in the room with him when he died.

It might have scared him, had he not drawn out the floor plan of the room in a letter to Ichirou less than a month ago.

The man in question produced two pens, and waved a hand at the papers in front of him. His voice was smooth, and showed no trace of emotion after watching his brother die.
“Release of contract forms. You are free men.”
Silently, Nathaniel signed his name on the page, Jean signing an identical contract beside him. The contracts were whisked away by a Japanese woman in a white dress that matched Ichirou’s suit, and new pages of text were laid down on the desk by a small man holding a briefcase.

He scanned the text, then signed his name again. A deep bow, and then they were done. Ichirou tapped the desk with his pen as the small man swept the contracts into his briefcase, eyeing Nathaniel closely.
“80%. And we will be contacting Kevin shortly with his own contract. I do hope that this will be worth it, Wesninski. Riko may have been a liability, but he was valuable. For your sake, I hope you will make yourself as valuable as he could have been.”

It was a threat, and they all knew it. Nathaniel let some of that Butcher’s madness seep back in as he gave a tight smile.
“You kept your half of the bargain, Lord Moriyama.” A gesture to the corpse bleeding red into the carpet. “We will keep ours.”

Nathaniel led the way out of the room, but stopped when Jean hesitated by the door. The French man turned back to Ichirou, then pulled a folded piece of paper from the inside of his suit. The woman in white took it from him, and Ichirou trained his eyes on Jean, obviously waiting for an explanation.

“A suicide note.” The words were halting, his accent thick, but he stood upright, his chin lifted.
“I can assure you it will be very convincing. You can copy it in his handwriting.”

The room was silent. Jean bowed, and they left the crime scene.

*****
The tower was oddly quiet as they made their way back down the stairs. It was almost surreal to be walking freely, to know that they were descending into the Nest for the last time, and for the first time without Riko’s presence hanging over them.

There was no one in the lower levels, as practice was in full swing, no prying eyes to question them as they walked to the room they had shared for almost half their lives.
It was not sentimental. Nathaniel would not miss this room. He pulled the suitcase from under his bed, the Edgar Allen Ravens logo matching the one on Jean’s identical black suitcase. He wanted to shred them. God, he wanted to tear this entire room to pieces, from the black walls to the black furniture to the black covers on the bed he never slept in anyway, not when Jean’s was right beside it.

But they could not afford people asking questions. So Nathaniel picked up Jean’s bag as well as his own, leaving the taller man to lug their suitcases, and walked out of Evermore for the final time.

They were not free, would never be free, but with the sun shining down on them and plane tickets tucked into Jean’s bag, it almost felt like the worst was behind them. It was an illusion of an idyllic alternate world, but it was an illusion Nathaniel would cling to with all the strength he had left. No, they were not free, and never would be, but it was a start.

Chapter Text

Wymack opened the door to Abby’s guest bedroom quietly, stepping inside before closing it gently behind him.
Jean and Nathaniel were curled up on the small bed, sleep smoothing out their expressions and making Nathaniel’s tiny frame look almost childlike, his arms wrapped around Jean’s stomach. Wymack sighed gently. He didn’t know what had happened to them to take away that childlike innocence, but Abby had almost broken down in tears after their physicals, so he could guess that a childhood in the Nest had left them with just as many mental scars as it had left on Kevin, as well as some physical ones he had managed to avoid.

As much as he would have liked to leave the boys to sleep, the day was already underway. Wymack cleared his throat, and the result was instantaneous. Jean stiffened, and Nathaniel jerked awake, reaching for something under his pillow. His wild, panicked eyes calmed slightly as he took in his surroundings, and he swung his legs off the bed. It was something Wymack recognized all too well, especially after a year with Andrew.

Wymack noticed that he was already dressed, lacing up his shoes as Jean quietly moved to sit beside him on the bed, thighs pressed together. Kevin had said that they would be inseparable, something about how the Ravens had a paired system, but he hadn’t realized that meant Jean and Nathaniel slept in the same bed, a constant presence at each other’s side.

As they signed the contracts he handed them, Nathaniel scribbling his name without a second glance while Jean took the time to read through the whole document, Wymack wondered whether he would ever get too old for this, for trying and failing year after year to put broken people back together.

******

Jean carded his fingers through Nathaniel’s auburn hair as he dozed, curled up on Jean’s shoulder in the Foxhole Court’s lobby. It was clearly a well-used room, the sofa worn and scuffed, but the photos decorating the room gave it a homely feel. At the Nest, the walls were covered in trophies and awards, not photos. They didn’t take team photos.

Wymack had driven them here an hour ago and disappeared into his office to file their new contracts, mumbling something about boosting the defense line, so they had settled on the sofa and Nathaniel had slept off their late-night run while Jean kept watch.

The peaceful silence was broken as Jean heard a woman’s voice from the hallway, laughing loudly, then the door opened and the first of their new teammates joined them.

Danielle Wilds was a woman who Jean had listened to Riko rant about on several occasions, but who Jean had always quietly respected. Yes, her team was a shambolic mess ranked almost last in Class 1 Exy, but Danielle had always held her head high, despite the insults thrown her way as the first female captain of a college Exy team. She did not seem like a cruel woman, but Jean knew appearances could be deceptive.

She had her arm slung around Matthew Boyd’s waist, laughing at some joke, but Jean did not let that lull him into a false sense of security. Riko had laughed, too.
Allison Reynolds followed them in, and the group seemed to notice them for the first time. Matt let out a sort of quiet exclamation at the sight of Nathaniel tucked into Jean’s side, which he ignored as he gently tugged at a lock of his hair to wake him up.

They sat in silence on the armchair, sides still pressed together, as the rest of the team filed in. Andrew Minyard and his twin sat on the sofa with Nicholas Hemmick, and Kevin, who they studiously ignored as he took his place next to Andrew.
When all the team was there, Wymack came back out with Abby, and started rambling about their practice schedule and physicals, before he decided to introduce them.

“This is Nathaniel Wesninski, and Jean Moreau, backliners. I’m sure you have questions, and you’ll have to ask them because they did not explain why they’re here to me either. They are part of the team now, whether you like it or not- yes Aaron, I know you think we have a secure defense line, but maybe you can learn something from the two best backliners in Class 1 Exy. So, I’m assuming you would like to keep numbers 3 & 4-“
“No.” Jean cut him off before he could continue, then flinched when Wymack looked at him. He almost shrunk back, but Wymack didn’t step forward with a hand or a racquet raised, not like Tetsuji would’ve if interrupted. Jean shoved those thoughts down, and made himself continue, taking comfort in the gentle pressure of Nathaniel’s hand on his arm.

“No, we would prefer different numbers. Thank you.” His accent came out stronger when he was nervous, and he could hear his ‘r’s rolling.

Kevin glared at him from across the room, and Jean couldn’t bring himself to meet his gaze as he hissed at them.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Jean. Riko-“
At this, Nathaniel interrupted, and Jean knew just from the way his fingers tightened on his arm minutely that his partner’s eyes held every bit of violence that came from two murderers for parents.
“Riko is dead, Kevin. Haven’t you heard? Blew his brains out, and they found a lovely suicide note in his pocket. Really poetic, it was. Never would have guessed our darling Riko,” he almost spat the name, “knew what a metaphor was.”

The room was silent, Kevin gaping at them in fury. Jean noticed the way Andrew Minyard’s eyes glinted slightly as they looked at Nathaniel, in a way that betrayed his malicious curiosity despite his carefully blank face. Andrew was going to be dangerous, he could tell. Jean could only hope he directed that danger at a different target. Wymack cleared his throat, interrupting Jean’s thoughts.
“Alright. Numbers 10 & 11 then. Now, one of you can go in with Matt, Seth, and Aaron, the other can go in with Andrew, Nicky, and Kevin.”
Nathaniel cut in quickly. “We’re staying together’”
“There isn’t enough room in either dorm-“
“That’s fine. We can share.”
At this, Wymack did not look surprised. Seth, though, reeled back in disgust, looking between the two of them as if they hadn’t been sitting pressed together for the past half hour.
“Seriously? Nicky was bad enough! Coach, why are you letting these faggots in our team?”

Jean froze. He could feel Nathaniel at his side, tensing up, ready to fight.
“Don’t you ever call him that.” Nathaniel hissed the words, and they promised violence. Jean couldn’t breathe.
“Yeah? What do you call him, huh? When you’re sucking-“
“Enough!” Wymack roared the word, and the room went silent. Nathaniel turned to him, and when the words came, they were in calming French.
“Hey- you’re safe. No one’s going to hurt you, mon soleil, I’ve got you.”
The words drew him back into the present, and he managed to look at Nathaniel. Red hair, not black. Blue eyes, not ones of darkest brown. He was dimly aware that he was crushing Nathaniel’s hand, and that there was conversation going on around them, but it was all he could do to focus on the soothing French, and not drown in a sea of memories.

Chapter Text

“Takeaway’s here!” Nicky yelled back, and a cheer arose from Matt. It came a second too late to be natural, confirming Nicky’s suspicions that Matt was trying to brush over the tense atmosphere in the girl’s dorm. Jean and Nathaniel had been reluctant to join them, but Dan wasn’t budging on the mandatory ‘start-of-the-year team bonding’, and they were sitting on the sofa with their backs just a bit too straight to look natural.

Nicky shook the thoughts from his head and plastered a friendly, welcoming smile on his face, then carried in the boxes of curry and naan breads.
“Do either of you have any allergies?”
Nathaniel shook his head slightly. Nicky could feel his smile wavering.

“Alright then!” With his voice injected with every bit of false cheer he could muster, Nicky distributed the boxes, handing the salads to Kevin and Allison and keeping his mouth shut as Andrew snatched a tub of coconut sweets from the pile.

Nicky settled onto Renee’s bed and tried to tune out Nathaniel and Jean’s muted French muttering by focusing on the Disney movie playing on Dan’s laptop.

The room wasn’t quiet, filled with the rustle of takeaway boxes and Andrew chewing his sweets as obnoxiously loud as he could, but there was a tentative air. The team knew that their new backliners had grown up in the Nest with Kevin, but there was definitely some bad blood there. They seemed to outright ignore Kevin unless he spoke to them, and then Nathaniel was quick to reply with a barbed retort.

Nathaniel was odd, that was for sure. He was barely taller than the twins, so Nicky was considerably larger than him, but even the man’s high cheekbones and piercing blue eyes could not distract Nicky from the danger that lay in every twisted smile and glare he threw Kevin’s way.

Jean, too, was gorgeous, and his broad shoulders and height reminded Nicky so much of Erik that it almost hurt, but there was a darkness in the Frenchman that had never graced Erik’s face. Nicky was yet to see anything but a stony, impassive expression on Jean- even earlier, when he had tensed up after Seth’s stupid insults, his eyes hadn’t flickered- it was more like he had retreated inside himself, only coaxed out by Nathaniel’s soft words and gentle touches.

They were constantly touching, heads bent together to murmur quiet words, or running hands through the other’s hair. The gestures looked romantic, but not; they seemed somehow more than that- tender, almost like comforting a child.

Nicky was shaken out of his reverie when Allison interrupted the cartoon musical number gracing the laptop screen to frown at the pair.
“Aren’t you going to eat anything?”
When Jean replied, it was automatic, as if he was parroting a mantra that had been drilled into him.
“Ravens do not eat unnecessary saturated fats or sugars. Ravens eat high-protein meals three times a day. Ravens do not eat food that has not been approved by the nutritionist and the diet plans.”
It was awfully reminiscent to Nicky’s ears of the exact same sentences that Kevin had spouted months ago, when he first arrived in Palmetto, and left Nicky with unease curling through him.

But he was Nicky, so he flashed a bright grin, and laughed.
“God, not another Kevin! Are all Ravens like this? Here, there’s a box of plain rice, and Matt can give you some of his veg. Oh, yeah, there’s some lemon chicken, if you want it?” He passed the boxes round, and Matt handed over some of his green beans, but Kevin intercepted the box of chicken before it reached Nathaniel and began to cut it up with a steak knife.

Nathaniel simply reached out a hand for it, which Kevin ignored.
“I am not a child, Kevin. I don’t need you to cut up my food for me.” The words were light, but obviously edged with ice.

When Kevin looked up at Nathaniel, Nicky almost shrank back.
“Did you really think I was going to let you have access to a sharp knife, Nathaniel?”
The words were pleasant enough, but Kevin’s tone was sharp. The room watched them carefully, and there would have been silence if not for Mulan proudly swinging her sword on Dan’s laptop screen.

Nathaniel looked at him for a few moments, considering, then laughed, and took the box of neatly cut chicken from Kevin. When his reply came, it was in French that sounded almost conversational, but Nicky had no doubt that the words were anything but.

“Nous savons tous les deux que je n'ai pas besoin d'un couteau tranchant pour te tuer, Kevin”

Chapter Text

They had been put in Matt and Seth’s room, and Aaron had decided to move back in with his family rather than put up with so many people in a cramped dorm room, leaving an extra bed in the room which Nathaniel ignored as he climbed into the top bunk next to Jean.
He was aware of the glares that Seth hands been sending them, and the mutters about there being ‘even more gays’ on the team, but Nathaniel merely tucked closer to Jean, relishing in the warmth and comfort of his partner’s arm wrapped around his stomach.

They didn’t share the bed for the reasons Seth thought, even though it hardly mattered to Nathaniel what the striker thought of them. When it came to a list of Nathaniel’s problems, Seth didn’t even make it into the top thirty, and he was only that high because of the way his words had made Jean freeze up earlier.

No, it didn’t matter what Seth thought of him, not if it meant that Jean would sleep easier knowing Nathaniel could shield him from any visitors during the night, not if it meant that Nathaniel had someone to shake him out of dreams where his father sliced into him again and again.

It wasn’t exactly a friendship he had with Jean- Nathaniel had never had a friend, but he didn’t think that friends clung to each other because they were the only people left to stitch them back up after cruel hands took them apart, just like he didn’t think that friends made jokes not for humor, but to keep up the lie they told themselves that it would be different tomorrow, the lie that if they could distract themselves, maybe even laugh, then the pain would go away.

The bond he had with Jean was not a friendship, but something that formed between people who had had no choice but to rely on the other.

They had been abrasive together, at first. He had been 9 years old, terrified of the world and flinching back whenever a man stood to close, and Jean was 11, crying about the sister he had left behind in Marseilles and the mother who he swore was coming to rescue him.

Nathaniel had never understood loving one’s family- even at such a young age, he had known that if he had stayed in his father’s house he would not have made it to adulthood- and couldn’t understand Jean missing his.

Now, he mused, it would have been nice to believe there was someone missing him as he grew up in the Nest. As he had slowly picked up French from Jean, who hadn’t spoken a word of English, he had been able to understand that the fervent words Jean muttered to their bedroom ceiling each night were promises to return to the mother who had gently teased him and baked apple pie on the weekend. Instead, Nathaniel had only had one thing that mattered to him, and that was Exy.

To him, Exy was leaving that too-big house in Baltimore for the weekend to play in little league games, his mother stiff and nervous at the sidelines but not hitting him when he showed her the plastic medals he won. Exy was the court he got to go back to with his new friends Riko and Kevin to try and forget about the man they had just watched be cut to ribbons by his father.

He hadn’t realized, at the time, that his father was the only reason Riko was being so nice to him. He had thought it odd, that Kevin had cried as they watched the skin be sliced off the man tied to the chair, and that Riko had seemed shaky when he was told by the Master to go out to the Exy court and warm up. Didn’t they know that crying was for weak children, and that weak children got taught how to stab squealing animals until they could do it without their hands shaking?
Didn’t they know that if you spoke to your father with a tremor in your voice, that he would beat it out of you?

So Nathaniel had watched, and then he had smiled when his father ruffled his hair on the way out and said ‘yes, sir!’ with enthusiasm because his father was happy and that meant he was safe today, and then he had done the drills the coach showed him and hadn’t noticed the horrified look that Kevin had given him, or the spark in Riko’s black eyes that promised that one day, he too would watch such violence and not let it affect him.

But it didn’t escape little Nathaniel’s notice that he wouldn’t hold a knife for the next 7 years, even when everyone else at the dinner table got to cut their own food.

It was when Jean was thirteen that he had made the mistake of wanting. In the Nest, you did not let anyone know what you wanted, because then it was one more thing that Riko could take away to prove that he was Number 1. He had taken Jean’s little photo of Adelaide, his sister, already, and he had taken away the nice cook who had always let Nathaniel have a little extra food when he had noticed that Nathaniel always gave her a wide smile at mealtimes.

They were changing into their tiny jerseys, ready to scrimmage and watch as the students on the team they would one day play on scored and blocked the ball like it was nothing. There was an offensive dealer who had particularly good stats, and who Nathaniel supposed was good looking. Jean hadn’t put his jersey on fast enough, eyes trained on the man on the other side of the locker who was laughing, eyes bright and face flushed.

Riko had seen, and Riko had known, and Riko had slammed Jean into the walls of the court after the team had left later and hissed that they were not to do anything but focus on Exy, that they were his property, made to stand behind him while he was crowned king.

It was a word that he had started to say a lot recently, ‘property’.

Nathaniel was only 11 years old, but he knew what the noises were when Riko visited their room a few nights later. He knew what property meant, he knew that he was property and that Jean was too, but he knew that Jean didn’t have a father who could kill someone with a smile on his face. It meant Jean was allowed to touch knives, but couldn’t do a thing when Riko made him cry out in the night.

Slowly, Riko began to get more violent both on the court, and off it- the Master told him constantly that he was going to be the best, and Riko had no problem in cutting down others to make sure that he was.
So when Nathaniel and Jean were a bit too good at blocking his and Kevin’s shots on goal, Riko answered with a racquet to Nathaniel’s stomach, and kicking Jean to a pulp right there on the court when he protested.

Kevin kept his mouth shut after that, and never spoke a word when Riko discovered Nathaniel’s fear of knives or that he could make Jean cry if he twisted his arm tight enough.

By the time he was thirteen, Nathaniel and Jean had come to a tentative alliance of stitching the other up when Riko sliced into his skin or helping the other swallow down the pain meds and stumble to the shower after he visited at night.

It was not a friendship, but it was whispers in French when the nightmares plagued them, it was calling Jean ‘mon soliel’ in private because he missed his mother’s gentle French teasing, and Jean calling him the name that his mother had told him on the night she had tried to run with him, because it wasn’t Wesninski and didn’t remind him of the father who looked identical to him in almost every way.

So they held each other together with “Neil Josten”s and French lullabies, and pretended that they didn’t notice when Kevin drowned himself in a bottle, or when Nathaniel buried the pain under silent promises and anger, or when Jean left slices in his own skin to try and prove that Riko didn’t own him.

Eventually, they didn’t need words anymore to understand each other- Jean knew when Nathaniel pressed against him that he wasn’t going to hurt him, but needed someone at his back so that they could protect each other when the danger arrived. Nathaniel knew that when Jean stiffened, he needed words of French comfort, and Jean knew that when Nathaniel mouthed off after Jean failed in practice, that Nathaniel was trying to take his punishment instead.

It never did work for long, and when Riko decided to reward some of the Ravens when Jean was 16, he had laughed in Nathaniel’s face when he tried to get them to leave Jean and take him instead.
“Hmm, but you weren’t the one eyeing Jeremy Knox for so long last week, were you Nathaniel? Jean here needs to be taught a lesson, that he is property, and doesn’t get anything unless I give it to him. So if he wants to fuck men so much, he can have 4 at once!”

Nathaniel had screamed the whole time he watched, but it hadn’t done anything but make Riko angry enough to give Nathaniel a knife for the first time in years the next day, and make him carve a single word onto Jean’s back.

If there was one thing Nathaniel knew, it was knives. He cut shallow enough to not need stitches, but deep enough that it would scar- otherwise Riko would only make him do it again. He had shouted, then sobbed as Riko had Kevin and some of the Ravens hold Jean down, but it was better that he did it cleanly rather than letting Riko maim Jean beyond repair.

A tiny nod from Jean, with that hollow look that Nathaniel saw all too often in his eyes, and he began to cut. He was the Butcher’s son, after all, and the word across Jean’s shoulders took shape as Jean began to thrash.

When ‘faggot’ was permanently brandished across his partner’s back, Nathaniel had sat back on his heels, then looked at the knife in his hand.
Kengo Moriyama wasn’t doing all too well, he’d heard. And as he clutched a weapon for the first time in 7 years, a weapon that Riko had stupidly, stupidly given him, a plan began to form in his mind.

It had taken years, but the first step was done. Riko Moriyama was dead, and he had watched the blood drain out of him with a smile. After months of careful bribery and feeding Ichirou lines about Riko’s instability and the money he might cost, months of threats and pushing and endless, eternal waiting, they were at Palmetto State, and it was time for stage two.

Chapter Text

Kevin blinked in confusion the next morning when they visited his dorm before practice, probably needing a minute for his mind to register their presence after the half-bottle of vodka he had consumed the night before ‘to celebrate the start of a new season’.

Nathaniel’s lips twisted in to a sneer at Kevin’s bleary state, while Jean kept his disgust for Kevin’s coping mechanisms hidden as he slid over a stack of photographs.
The man started slightly when he took in the photos- he shuffled through the pile in silence, giving a slight smile when he saw his mother laughing next to Castle Evermore, and an old photo of Riko, with his arm thrown over a far younger Kevin’s shoulders.

Jean could see Andrew Minyard watching them closely from where he leaned against the kitchen counter, but he chose to ignore Kevin’s new guard dog and deliver the news that they had come to Palmetto to deliver.

“It wasn’t a suicide.”
It took a second for the French words to register in Kevin’s brain, and then he recoiled as if someone had hit him. Immediately, Andrew stood next to him with his fingers edging towards the black armbands he wore.
“What? What do you mean it wasn’t a suicide, Riko... he said in the note that he couldn’t handle the pressure anymore- we all saw him seem unstable last year-“
Jean ignored Kevin’s blustering to continue in French.
“I know what was in that suicide note, Kevin,” he let some of the disdain seep into his voice as he beheld the way Kevin’s face had slightly drained of color, “I wrote it. We made a deal with Ichirou- Nathaniel found a way to dispose of an unpredictable and violent threat to Ichirou’s rule, and he let us out of the Nest.”

Jean let himself revel in the smallest bit of satisfaction as Kevin’s eyes widened and he gaped at Nathaniel. It would be easier if Kevin was scared of him- he would be more likely to do what they said when they told him their plans- but that wasn’t the reason Jean relished the vindictive side of him that he knew his partner was only too happy to cater to.

Riko had hated the fact that neither he nor Kevin had ever truly stopped being frightened of Nathaniel, of the way he had come to the Nest littered with scars yet smiled brightly after they had watched a man scream while Nathaniel’s father had used his favored tools. He had hated that no matter how many times he slammed him to the floor and made Nathaniel call him ‘King’, the redhead had never lost the fire in his eyes that told Riko that he wasn’t even close to scaring him as much as his own family already had.

In Riko’s eyes, there wasn’t any fun in torture unless it hurt in more ways than just physical pain. So eventually he had stopped with the burns he left on Nathaniel’s skin and the slices into his body, and had replaced it with a different kind of torture- making him watch or even participate as he broke Jean even further, Riko relishing the hollowness in Jean’s eyes that showed him that Jean was a doll successfully broken, and wouldn’t fight against the men Riko let into his bed or calling him “King”.

Nathaniel was the only thing that had kept Jean sane these last few years, and Jean was the only thing that had stopped Nathaniel from slaughtering Riko and Kevin both in their sleep.

Yes, there was a reason to be scared of the son of the Butcher, and Kevin had known that until he had let himself believe that Nathaniel had broken, that Nathaniel would follow Riko’s orders without question like Kevin had for so long, that you could use a weapon like Nathaniel without cutting yourself, too.

So if he smiled just the tiniest bit when Kevin quavered before them, Jean didn’t think it was entirely undeserved.

Nathaniel explained the bargain to him, his French sharp as he told Kevin that he was free from the Moriyamas for the small cost of 80% of a professional contract. Jean thought that his partner kept his voice remarkably steady for the way it offset the hatred in his eyes.

Speaking of hatred, Minyard was clearly not happy with being left out of the conversation. He hadn’t intervened yet, but the way that his fingers toyed with his armband made Jean suspect that he was hiding some kind of weapon underneath it.

It was when Kevin began to splutter in disbelief, shaking his head as if he actually protested against them getting them free of a sadist and a lifetime as Moriyama property, that his little guard dog finally snapped. He narrowed his eyes at Nathaniel, his voice devoid of emotion but eyes promising violence
“Don’t you know it’s rude to leave people out of conversations, Ravens? Kevin doesn’t want to talk anymore, so get out of my dorm before I shove you out the window.”
Nathaniel only smiled. “I’d drag you down with me,”
The blond scoffed. “I’d like to see you try, red,”

Jean sighed, and grabbed Nathaniel’s arm to make him stop talking before Nathaniel took that invitation and Minyard took out the weapons he obviously had hidden on him. His partner gave him a look that said “What? He started it!”. Jean had a feeling that he would need to drag his partner to the court and run drills for several hours before he calmed down enough not to snipe at the team in their first practice together.

Perhaps it was fun to watch him tear into someone who deserved it so much, but the mouth on the scarred midget had gotten him into fights and extra punishment on more than one occasion, and Jean wasn’t going to start making enemies on their new team until at least a week in.

Nathaniel’s mouth was going to be the death of him one day, if Jean didn’t strangle him first.

Chapter Text

Nicky followed Aaron into the locker room, where Andrew was already changed into his gear and busy ignoring a panicked-looking Kevin. Nicky put his bag down on a bench in the corner of the room, and started changing into his gear, idly wondering where their new teammates where. Aaron had given him a disgusted look earlier when he’d mentioned looking forward to see the team’s new backliners without their shirts on, and while he had said it to rile his cousin up, Nicky wouldn’t deny that he was going to enjoy having some more men that weren’t his own family in the changing room, attractive as Matt and admittedly, Seth too, was.

Talking of the backliners, Nathaniel’s red hair was damp, as if he had showered after a morning run, as he followed Jean into the locker room, and they took a space in the center of the row next to some of the empty lockers.
It was odd to watch, they way they moved as one but bickered and joked. Jean was speaking in French, but the way he opened the locker next to his partner and gestured made it quite clear that he was threatening to shove the smaller man into it. Nathaniel scowled, and replied with something that definitely sounded like ‘Fuck you’, but then passed Jean his shoes and let him adjust the strap of his new orange helmet to size before placing it back on the bench.

Then Nathaniel pulled off his shirt, and the room went silent. Kevin kept up his mini-rant about Andrew’s ice cream habit, but trailed off as he saw what they were looking at. Nathaniel had been facing his locker and rummaging through the new gear he had been supplied with, but slowly turned when he registered the quiet that had settled over the room.

The man’s torso was a map of twisted scars and burn marks. It was all Nicky could do not to burst into tears when he saw the burn in the shape of an iron on his shoulder, and- oh god, was that a bullet hole?

Nathaniel seemed spooked by the eyes on him, his hand reaching into the pocket of his sweatpants to grab something, until he realized that they were looking at the mess littering his torso. Instead of looking worried, he dropped his shirt onto the bench and let them look at his body, watching their reactions closely.

Nicky blinked in shock as the man laughed slightly at the sight of Matt’s crushed expression, the disgust on Seth’s face and the tears that filled Nicky’s eyes. How could someone laugh when they looked like that? What had happened in the Nest to make Nathaniel look like that? Nicky almost choked on his tears when he saw Andrew, as impassive as always as he took in the ruined skin, as if it didn’t look like someone had tortured the ex-Raven.

The redhead wasn’t even self-conscious as he tugged his jersey over the scars, then looked at the room.
“Would have thought a fucked-up bunch like the Foxes would be used to sights like this by now, huh?”

Jesus. The Foxes were used to daddy issues and self-destructive assholes, not torture victims that looked as if someone had tried to skin them alive. The man had a bullet wound in his shoulder for fuck’s sake, and some of those scars looked like they had been sewn up by a child, with how puckered the flesh was.

Nicky’s gear was left forgotten on the bench as he stood, frozen in place. He stared at the casual way Nathaniel was buckling on his shoulder padding, almost forgetting the fact that there was another new backliner.

Jean, facing his locker like Nathaniel had, pulled off his shirt. He didn’t have the myriad of scars that his smaller counterpart did, just a few bruises that hadn’t quite healed yet. The bruising was extensive, particularly and unusually around his hips, but bruises weren’t uncommon- Exy wasn’t exactly swim team, after all.

What was uncommon was the word brandished across Jean’s shoulders, and Nicky had barely finished reading it when he fled the room.

*******

When Dan left the changing room ahead of Allison, the first thing she saw was Nicky crouched outside the men’s locker room, breathing heavily with a panicked look in his eyes. She rushed to kneel in front of him, arms coming round to hug Nicky as he hyperventilated.

“Hey, Nicky. Nicky! Look at me- what happened? Ok, breathe, it’s ok,” It probably wasn’t the most comforting, but Dan wasn’t known for comfort.
“Was it the new guys?” Anger rushed through her when Nicky managed to nod- she may not be the best at comfort, but what she could do was make those assholes run drills until they collapsed for messing with her team before they had even managed the first practice.

The anger dissipated when Nicky gave a rushed explanation through his tears, replaced with horror when she heard what had been carved into Jean’s flesh. It was bad enough just hearing about what had been done to them, and she couldn’t imagine how Nicky felt seeing the word that he had been called his whole life permanently marked on someone.
Nicky had never been exactly forthcoming with stories of what exactly qualified him for the Foxes’ halfway house for messed-up kids, preferring to regale his time in Germany as a romantic vacation where he had met the love of his life, but Dan knew that his peice-of-shit parents hadn’t sent him away for a holiday.

Dan had thought the Nest was bad just from finding out how Kevin’s hand had really been broken- they’d all sympathized, of course, with the possible exception of Andrew, but she was coming to realize that they had no idea what actually went on behind the scenes in Castle Evermore.

It wasn’t surprising, now, the reaction Jean had had to Seth’s slurs yesterday, or the way Nathaniel had reacted. Dan wasn’t a violent person, but thinking of the way they’d found Kevin in a pool of his own blood, and listening to Nicky tell her what he had seen on Jean and Nathaniel’s bodies, she could only think that it was a good thing Riko had killed himself before she had done it herself.

Well. Not herself. She was sure that Andrew would have been more than happy to put those knives he always carried to use.

Chapter Text

By the time the team had calmed Nicky down and taken in some of what they had seen in the locker room, they had already missed half an hour of their first practice. Matt felt slightly sick, but Dan was determined that they shouldn’t treat the backliners any different over something they were so nonchalant over, and had insisted that they make their way to the court after Abby had taken Nicky to Bee’s.

Matt walked out on to the court, where the ex-Ravens had obviously wasted no time in the last half hour- they were running a drill where they passed the ball between them as they ran from one side of the court to another. He stood there for a few seconds, just watching their footwork and powerful throws in slight awe; it took him a minute to realize that they weren’t actually looking at each other.

It was slightly creepy how in synch they were, not even having to look to know where their partner was at all times and catch the ball gracefully. Matt couldn’t even imagine how long they must havre practiced together to get that level of cohesion.

Kevin had explained a bit about the Ravens’ pairing system, and had mentioned that Nathaniel and Jean were inseparable, but Matt hadn’t quite realized how literally he had meant that.

The backliners had been staying with Abby for two weeks before the team had arrived, letting Jean’s bruises fade and their injuries from the Nest heal before Abby cleared them for playing, but in the two days in which they had eaten with the team and sat in the meetings, Matt hadn’t yet seen them more than an arm’s length apart.

They were always together, usually touching in some way, sleeping in the same bed with Nathaniel curled up to Jean’s chest- hell, Matt was pretty sure he had seen them shower together yesterday night, and not in a sexual way- just two people who didn’t know how to function without each other.

The rest of the team had assembled behind him as he had watched them, but they didn’t pause their drill until they had finished it.

Dan, to her credit, didn’t let it show that she had heard the story of their scars, and just clapped her hands to get everyone jogging around the court for a warm up. Nathaniel and Jean seemed to be racing at the front of the pack, and the red-head grinned up at the other man when he fell behind slightly, taunting him in French as he sped up.

The team gathered to scrimmage, and Jean and Nathaniel sat at the side to watch for the first match. As always, the Foxes were a mess- Andrew didn’t move once, eyes trained on the back of Kevin’s head as he let the ball sail past, and Seth didn’t hesitate to hurl insults about Kevin’s right-handed aim as they continuously failed to score on Renee at the other end of the court.

Matt thought that the Foxes’ defense line was relatively good in comparison to the shambolic rest of the team, him and Aaron blocking most of Allison’s attack as they sent Dan the ball. It wasn’t professional quality, but it stopped most of the balls, and what more could Wymack hope for when he recruited rejects with anger-management issues and drug addicts?

Judging from the disgust on the Frenchman’s face when they paused the scrimmage, Jean didn’t quite agree with Wymack’s choices.

“Your offense is sloppy and lacks coordination- Gordon is ignoring the fact that there is another striker on the team and Kevin’s aim is shoddy at best,” Kevin’s face clouded at Jean’s words, but he didn’t dispute it. “Renee has no power behind her throws, and Allison needs to stop attempting moves far harder than her ability and focus on feeding the ball to Dan. Matt is clumsy and slow, and Aaron doesn’t communicate enough to make the defense line cohesive. The teamwork is practically nonexistent and not a single one of you would be permitted to play a game with the Ravens when I doubt any of you could complete even one Raven drill.”

The faces of some of the team were going red, and while Matt wasn’t exactly happy either, he thought it was probably best to intervene before Seth decided to punch someone.
“What can we do about it? We aren’t exactly the Ravens, you know.”

Jean turned to Kevin. “You didn’t show them the Raven drills? I thought you were a coach last year?” Kevin mumbled something about Riko, and Jean turned away again, disgusted.

“The very first thing that a Raven learns, before they can even participate in scrimmages, is to be able to throw a ball at the wall and have it ricochet to knock over one of ten cones, in the order that the M- that the Coach calls out,”

Seth scoffed. “That’s impossible. You can’t calculate the trajectory of the ball fast enough- no one can do that!”

Nathaniel spoke up for the first time, and he poked Jean in the side as he said “I could do that drill perfectly at ten years old,”. Jean scowled. Matt had the feeling that this was a sore point between the two, and had his suspicions confirmed when Nathaniel grinned as Jean snapped something at him in French. Matt was by no means a French speaker, but as many young boys do, had learnt all the swear words he could before he visited France on holiday.

The two descended into bickering that relied heavily on curse words as they set up the cones, the Foxes pissed off but also slightly in awe as they watched the Jean call out the numbers and Nathaniel knock over the cone by sending his ball in a completely different direction.

Matt could see the excitement on Dan’s face as she watched them, and had a feeling that he would be spending the foreseeable future watching Ravens games and analyzing plays. She was gorgeous like this, her face lit up as she watched their skill, and he could almost see the scenarios running through her head as she pictured herself holding a championship trophy. It would almost be worth trying to defend a goal with Andrew, Matt thought, if it made her look like that.

So he set up his own line of cones, and got to work, the rest of the Foxes doing the same. Seth was grumbling about ‘Raven assholes too full of themselves to eat pizza like normal people’, but even he started hurling a ball at the court wall.

It would take a lot of work, Matt could already tell, as he missed the same cone for the eight try, but he was ready to help Dan propel the Foxes out of the lowest spot in the South-Western division. Although, jesus, this was hard. At this rate he’d be here for days before he even managed cone number 1.

Chapter Text

Stupid fucking Ravens with their elitist fucking drills. Oh, look at us, we’re the Perfect Court, did you know that our brand is worth millions in sponsorship deals? Did you know that the Ravens have never lost a home game? Our backliners are mouthy little shits with fucked up scars and we are so fucking-

Seth seethed at he felt Jean’s eyes watching him as he failed to hit the cone for the third time in a row. He’d hit it earlier, but the Foxes had been running drills steadily for almost the whole of their three-hour practice, and he was dead on his feet.

The new guys might looked all messed up, but who were they to deserve his pity? He knew how much the Perfect Court earned, and it was enough to get his family off that trailer park back in Idaho. Seth was going to go pro one day- he had to go pro.
He didn’t need these fucking Ravens stealing all the limelight of their shitty South Carolina team- the Foxes didn’t get many scouts as it was, and he wasn’t going to be upstaged by a French bastard and a midget who for some reason had Kevin all worked up.

It was when Moreau just couldn’t hold in that fucking scoff when Seth missed the mark again. If there was one thing Seth had never been good at, it was reigning himself back in when he was ready to explode; he whirled to face the man, and all he could see was that sneering, I’m-better-than-you look on his face.

“What the fuck do you think you’re looking at, faggot?”

Seth choked as he was shoved hard into the wall, the breath rushing out of him all at once. There was a body pinning him to the edge of the court, red hair and blue eyes in his face, and the cold press of metal against his neck.

He was dimly aware of the noise around him as Nathaniel pressed the knife further into his skin, not quite piercing the skin but angling the blade so that it would be so, so easy to just push-

Seth could make out Dan in the background, yelling something furiously at Nathaniel, and hear Kevin yelling something. “Who let him have a knife? What was the one thing I told you, no-one let Nathaniel have a knife!”

Kevin’s words made Nathaniel pause from where he was leering at Seth. He kept his eyes trained on him, but his focus was somewhere over his shoulder, where Kevin was approaching cautiously. Seth swallowed, and the knife scraped his skin slightly.

“Nathaniel. Jean, call him off!”
Jean didn’t move from where he had been watching Seth, arms crossed. “No.”
“Nathaniel! Come on, it’s not worth it. Don’t kill him.”

Nathaniel seemed almost taken aback, but his gaze never wavered as he slowly slid the knife round Seth’s throat to angle it against his jugular.

“Why not?”

Kevin stood there for a few seconds, then let out a small “We’ll get disqualified if we don’t have enough strikers to play,”

Seth seethed silently, but didn’t dare to move. The pressure on his neck lessened slightly, but the knife didn’t move. He stared down into the piercing blue eyes, and the man sounded almost pouty when he spoke.

“It would be so easy, Kevin. I wouldn’t even have to use the knife! Speaking of. I haven’t forgotten your little comment there. Were you blabbing about things that should stay silent, Kevin? What did you tell them?”

Seth could barely keep track of the conversation, but he could see the way Kevin’s breath came in shallow gasps.

“No. I only told them to keep you away from the knives. You know why, don’t try and pretend you don’t know why.”

Nathaniel Wesninski smiled at that, and it was a smile that promised violence as he once again dug the knife into Seth’s throat.
“And why is that, dear Kevin? Isn’t it fun when I fight back? Or does all the fun go out of holding someone down to be tortured when they have a weapon to defend themselves? What do you think, hm? Maybe me and Jean should have written you a nice suicide note to go with Riko’s. We don’t need you anymore, Kevin. We got out all by ourselves. I’ve finally got some weapons, and you know how good I am with knives.”

Nathaniel continued, the cold press of metal ever-present. “If I find out you told anyone about the plan, maybe Jean can do some holding down of his own while I carve your face off, starting with that lovely tattoo of yours.”

The man wasn’t even talking to Seth anymore, and he was silently grateful that Nathaniel seemed to have a big enough bone to pick with Kevin that he had forgotten about the reason he had Seth pinned to a wall in the first place.

During his little speech, Nathaniel had brought his knife up to where the ‘2’ rested on Kevin’s own face, and gently pressed the tip of his knife into Seth’s cheekbone before stepping back and turning to Moreau.

“Eh bien, Jean, je pense que je me suis remarquablement retenu.”

Jean smiled slightly, and the two left the court, Jean’s arm wrapping around Nathaniel’s shoulders.

There was silence for a few seconds as Seth breathed heavily, then Andrew turned to Kevin.

“What did you do, Kevin? Someone seems to have a little bit of a grudge against you!” Andrew’s eyes were less dead than usual, which, for the midget psycho, meant he was positively gleeful. Seth had had enough of psychotic midgets for one day, and turned to follow the backliners off the court.

Andrew deliberately shoved past him before he got to the door that led to the locker rooms, his obedient little pet following behind as always. Seth scowled.

Frankly, he couldn’t care less what shit Kevin had done to Nathaniel, although Nicky and even Aaron were asking him quiet questions which he ignored. Seth didn’t care what fucked up shit the newbies had gone through- he wasn’t going to let them say shit like that to him, let alone threaten to slit his throat, and just stand there.

Seth had his own reasons for being a Fox, and he had just heard some very interesting information from Nathaniel himself. Information that would soon become very public indeed.

Chapter Text

Kevin followed Andrew into the changing room, walking right into him when Andrew stopped dead at the door. Kevin peered over Andrew’s shoulder to catch a glimpse of whatever it was in the room that had made him stop, but all he could see was Jean tying up his shoes and Nathaniel packing up his gear.

Seth made a comment behind them, which seemed to bring Andrew back to the world. He sauntered into the room, but his eyes didn’t leave Jean as the pair left the room.

As soon as the door clanged behind them, Andrew turned those eyes onto Kevin instead, and Kevin blanched at the darkness he saw in them.

“Kevin. Tell me why Jean Moreau has those words on his stomach.”

Kevin frowned. He hadn’t seen Jean’s stomach- the backliner hadn’t turned around while changing this morning, and he hadn’t seen anything just now before the man’s shirt had been pulled down.
“What does he have on his stomach?”
Andrew wasn’t one to show surprise, but after being by his side for the last few months, Kevin had learned his tells rather well. Andrew narrowed his eyes slightly when something unpredicted happened, a tiny movement that was a sign that something had actually managed to get through his perfectly blank facade.

“So Riko did it after you left.”
“He must have. I knew... I knew he would be angry that I was gone, but...”
“You’re telling me you didn’t know what was going to happen to them? Somehow, I don’t quite believe that, Kevin. Who cut those words into his stomach?”

Kevin swallowed. “Nathaniel.” Andrew narrowed his eyes again, and stepped towards him. “He wouldn’t have wanted to, he never wanted to hurt Jean, but it was either him or Riko, and Nathaniel would make sure it would be easier to stitch up later,”

Andrew stepped towards him again, and Kevin flinched back. “So you mean to tell me that Jean just lay there while they did that to him? That Nathaniel just stood there while all those scars were given to him? Because, Kevin, speaking from personal experience, most people, especially those as fiery as Nathaniel Wesninski, tend to fight back unless someone holds them down.”

Andrew had a knife, too. Kevin wasn’t sure when he had removed it from his armband, but he could see where this conversation was going. At the sight of Andrew’s knife, Matt had slipped out of the room, presumably to get Renee, and try and calm him down.

Kevin didn’t want more people here to listen to this, but the girls filed in behind Renee, who stepped forward enough to put herself in Andrew’s line of sight.

“Hello, Andrew,” Her voice was as serene as ever, as if this wasn’t the second knife that had been pulled in the space of twenty minutes, “Is there a problem?”

Andrew looked over at her, and his eyes softened slightly. Kevin still wasn’t sure what was going on between them, but he was definitely grateful for it when she was the only one able to calm Andrew down when he was like this.

For once, though, even Renee’s sweet words couldn’t calm him as Andrew turned back to Kevin, his knife twirling slowly in the hand at his side.

“Who was holding them down, Kevin? More specifically, why was Jean held down, and why does he have ‘Raven’s Whore’ carved into his stomach?”

Dan swore. Kevin grimaced.

“Riko... thinks he owns them. He does own them, really.”
Andrew twirled his knife again, although it stayed by his side for now. “Why.”
“You already know that the Moriyamas have mafia ties- well, Jean’s parents sold him to them as payment for a debt. All his earnings belong to them, and he has to go pro or they’ll kill him for not being valuable enough.”

“Nathaniel wasn’t sold, so Riko couldn’t just do what he liked to him, but he was given to the Moriyamas because his father was a crime boss too, the Butcher of Baltimore, and him having a son was a threat. Nathaniel was a way to show goodwill between the empires, and that Nathan Wesninski wasn’t going to be a threat.”

“I don’t know how they did it, but Riko didn’t commit suicide, and they got out- all three of us pay the Moriyamas 80% of our earnings for the rest of our lives, and they let us go as long as we keep bringing in the money.”

Andrew hummed slightly, letting the information settle as the rest of the room looked on in horror. Matt looked sick, slumped on a bench, and even Aaron looked disturbed.

Kevin let out a breath, then gasped again when Andrew lifted his knife. “That was all very helpful, Kevin, but you didn’t answer my question. Why does Jean have ‘Raven’s Whore’ carved into his stomach?”

Kevin could only close his eyes and sink against the bench. “Why do you think?”

Andrew’s voice was disgusted, and Kevin didn’t want to open his eyes and see the rage on his face. “I think someone held him down while they did what they wanted to him, and I think that someone was you.”

Kevin didn’t deny it. They sounded horrified, but no one objected when Andrew spoke again, his voice quiet.

“The next time Nathaniel Wesninski gets his hands on a knife, I will not stop him from using it.”

Kevin opened his eyes. Andrew’s knife was gone, but there was a cold fury burning in his eyes, and a sneer on his face when Kevin’s mouth fell open.

“But-“
“But what, Kevin? You don’t need my protection- two little birdies bargained it for you, even after you left them in the Nest to rot. You let Riko do that to them, and it benefited you. I think that you let Riko do whatever he wanted for years, as long as you didn’t end up with any scars yourself.”

“If Nathaniel decides he wants to kill you, I think you deserve it. And if Jean decides to kill you, I might just help him do it.”

Andrew left the room. The Foxes looked at Kevin, and he closed his eyes again. He didn’t want to look at them when they knew everything, when they were looking at him with shock and horror and disgust.

Kevin wanted some vodka, and he wanted to call Thea, and he wanted to never have to look at the scars on Jean again. Most of all, he wanted the ‘2’ on his cheek gone, wanted to wipe his skin clean and pretend that the last ten years hadn’t happened.

He was a coward, and he knew it. He knew he didn’t deserve to wallow in self-pity after everything he had let Riko do, but he couldn’t bring himself to look Jean in the eye or face Nathaniel knowing he was armed.

He knew he was a coward, but there wasn’t a single thing he could do about it except drink enough vodka to make himself forget for an evening. Hell, if he drank enough, he might not even remember his own name tomorrow. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Chapter Text

“Kevin! And Nathaniel and Jean, of course. Oh, it is so lovely to see you- I feel like it’s been ages since the last time we spoke, Kevin, and can I just thank you again for joining me on the show tonight-“

Andrew watched from his front row seat as Kathy Ferdinand embraced the three men, her red-glossed lips smacking as she made introductions and teased Kevin about his hair. All three of the ex-Ravens were sat with their left sides turned towards the audience, tattoos on display.

Andrew grimaced. Despite Renee’s serene presence at his side, he was on edge as he looked at the way Nathaniel tensed minutely at Kathy’s hug, and that Jean subtly leaned away from Kevin on the sofa.

This wasn’t going to be a friendly interview, he knew. Kathy might be wearing yellow polka-dots and a smile brighter than a megawatt bulb, but he knew that the woman was a shark, and she was out for blood.

His suspicions were confirmed a few minutes in, when Kathy moved on from the simple questions about Kevin’s transfer- ones he easily answered with sentences that had been rehearsed in the mirror months ago. Kathy nodded along to his words, then put on a sympathetic smile, her voice quieting as she asked the next question.

“And how are you holding up, Kevin? Not only with leaving the Ravens, but with such a loss- your fans are worried, especially with so little insight into Riko’s thoughts.” She had leaned forward, and Andrew could see the gleam in her eyes.

Kevin floundered, opening his mouth as if to spout even more bullshit, then closing it again. Nathaniel cut in smoothly, eyes shining in what almost looked like tears.

“I’m sorry, Kathy. You see, Kevin wasn’t there at the end- really, it was his leaving that really pushed Riko over the edge. Me and Jean, we tried for months to try and get him to talk to someone, but Riko has always been stubborn- had always been stubborn, sorry.”

Despite himself, Andrew was impressed. Nathaniel looked completely sincere as his eyes welled up, his hand grasping Jean’s as he leaned against his partner.

“Riko was always determined to be the best, and I guess the pressure just got too much- he would have episodes where he didn’t know what he was doing, or who he was hurting. It broke our hearts to see him like that, you know?”
“God, I just- I feel so guilty, Kathy- that we didn’t recognize the signs earlier. Maybe we could have helped him before it got to the stage where he was taking out his anger on whatever was nearest, on whoever was nearest.”

Kathy jumped on that. “What do you mean?”
Nathaniel smiled sadly, and Jean’s arm wrapped around him.
“Well... we knew, all of us, that Riko was crumbling. Especially Kevin- he was a brother to Kevin, and we would have done anything to try and keep him from getting worse. He didn’t know what he was doing, when he hit Kevin with that racquet. When he found out he had broken Kevin’s hand, had crippled him so much that he couldn’t play Exy, he was so overcome with guilt and grief.
We decided it would be best not to have fans backlash against him by keeping what had really happened a secret, and Kevin transferred to Palmetto to try and spare Riko from some of the guilt.”

Andrew had to give it to him- the room was silent, hooked on his every word. Even Andrew was drawn in by the intricate story the man was spinning, even when he knew that every word was a lie.

“In the Nest, Jean and I did what we could, but I guess it just wasn’t enough. With Kevin gone, he just couldn’t cope anymore, and he was spiraling into depression. On that day, he hadn’t even been able to get out of bed and practice with us- he insisted that we went on. Then he put on his favorite suit, and went up to the East Tower, where he could watch the court for the last time-“

Nathaniel shook his head, and looked up as if willing his tears to dry. Kevin had gone white at some point during the speech.

Kathy rushed to press some tissues into Nathaniel’s hand, and murmured her sympathies. Then she turned to Kevin.

“Is it true? Riko broke your hand?”
Kevin nodded minutely. There was silence for a few seconds, then Jean spoke up, for the first time showing an emotion other than distaste in the Foxes presence. Dan, seated on Andrew’s other side, would have been excited at the progress if they weren’t all aware that every word their new teammates had spoken in the interview had been scripted, right down to Nathaniel’s tears and Jean’s sadness.

“Thank you, Kathy, for giving us the opportunity to tell the truth- we hope that by telling the world what Riko was really like, how he changed so much, we can help others spot the signs in their own friends before it is too late. We want to honor Riko’s memory by making it known that anyone can struggle, and that we need to do better as a society at helping troubled people like our lost brother.”

They thanked her, and left the stage. The Foxes, led by Wymack, walked around the building to the back exit, where they were already waiting- Kevin was hunched over, eyes shut, looking like he was going to be sick.

What interested Andrew was the way Nathaniel was already stood straight, eyes empty of the tears that had welled in them mere moments earlier. He looked completely unaffected.

Nathaniel Wesninski was dangerous, that much was obvious. Andrew had never been a liar, but he had also never met anyone who could lie with such ease. And if perhaps it had not escaped his notice how sharp Nathaniel’s cheekbones were, or how his eyes were the most piercing blue, or how good his lithe body looked in that perfectly tailored suit, it was irrelevant.

Andrew had never cared particularly for his own life, but he knew better than to be fooled by the man’s pretty eyes or sharp tongue. He wasn’t going to let this little weakness stop him from taking out Nathaniel if there was any chance that he posed a threat towards his family.

It was time for a trip to Colombia.

Chapter Text

“You look fine, Nathaniel,” Jean was fixing his sleeves in the mirror of the dorm’s bathroom, watching him twist from side to side trying to see if there was any scars showing. Nathaniel looked up at him and scowled, tugging the hem of of the shirt Andrew had given him down.

It was a ridiculous item of clothing- mesh over a ripped black t-shirt, tight-fitting and slightly shimmery. Andrew hadn’t given Jean any clothes, which was good; there was no way he would have worn anything other than his permanently all-black ensemble.

Jean ignored his scowl, ruffling his auburn hair then gently shoving him out of the bathroom.

Matt stared at them, taking in the black clothes, the heavy boots, and the smudge of eyeliner Jean was wearing. His face dropped, and rushed to put his textbook down.

“You’re not going with them, are you?”
Jean ignored him, tucking twenty-dollar bills into his boot as Nathaniel made sure his knife was hidden.
“I didn’t think they were even going to go to Colombia- our first game isn’t till next week, and with Kevin hiding in the girls’ room too drunk to talk most of the time...”
Jean sighed. “Is there a point to this, Matt?”

“Don’t go. They drugged Dan when she went with them, and they tried with Renee- they got me hooked on speedballs again!”

That caught Nathaniel’s attention. “Why?”
Matt gaped at them, then caved, sitting down again. “Andrew wanted to make sure I got properly clean, and wouldn’t be doing any drugs while I shared a dorm with Aaron.”

“There you go. They have no reason to hook us on speedballs, and I know what rohypnol tastes like- we won’t drink anything that doesn’t come out of a can.”

Matt looked even more concerned by that statement, but wisely didn’t question why he knew what date-rape drugs tasted like, and reluctantly watched them as they left the room, only calling after them to yell that his phone would be on if they needed to call him.

******
The car ride had been tense as they drove, the only one seemingly immune to the hostile atmosphere being Nicky, who sung along to the music at top volume. Nathaniel wasn’t going to complain if it meant that he didn’t have to talk to anyone, and dozed on Jean’s shoulder, trying to ignore Aaron’s surly expression at how crowded the backseat was.

When he woke up, the car had pulled into the car park outside a diner called Sweetie’s, looking almost cartoonishly American with its bright sign and greasy tables.

They sat in a booth, and Jean and Nathaniel watched in silence as Andrew ate a ridiculous quantity of ice cream and purchased a ridiculous quantity of drugs. Jean turned up his nose at the sight, despite Nicky’s reassurances that the cracker dust was harmless fun that wouldn’t show up on drug tests.

Ravens didn’t do drugs or alcohol- it wasn’t available in the Nest, although Kevin had always seemed to be able to get a steady supply of vodka through Riko. Cigarettes were banned, too, because they stopped your lungs working properly.

Nathaniel had a vague recollection of his mother smoking, but he had never liked the smell. He supposed Andrew was a goalie, so didn’t need to do as much running as a backliner, but he couldn’t imagine ruining his lungs and damaging his speed for something that made him dissolve into coughing fits.

There was a lot about Andrew he didn’t understand.

When they arrived at Eden’s, a seedy nightclub where there was more skin than fabric on show, they were handed VIP parking passes. Andrew took the car round, but Nicky and Aaron seemed perfectly happy to lead them into the club and take their places in one of the booths lining the walls.

Andrew dumped the drugs on the table, then turned to Jean and Nathaniel. “What can I get you?”

Nathaniel spoke for himself and Jean. “Soda. In a can.”
Andrew smiled, baring his teeth. “Smart. But I wasn’t planning on drugging you tonight,”
“Gee, thanks,”

As soon as the drinks arrived, on a tray carried by a tall man who gave Andrew a significant look, which he ignored to focus on Nathaniel, Nicky and Aaron wasted no time in spiking them with dust and pouring shots down their throats at an alarming speed, then making their way to the dance floor to find strangers to grind against.

Andrew’s gaze was heavy, his full attention on regarding Nathaniel. When he spoke, it was in German.
“Do you speak German?”
How did he know? He hadn’t spoken any for years, but he was pretty sure Romero Malcolm had left enough of an imprint in his brain for him to be able to hold a conversation. Nathaniel nodded, and Jean tensed at not being able to understand what was being said.

“Does Jean speak German?” Ah. It was clear that Andrew wasn’t going to have this conversation unless it was completely private. That was fine- he would just tell him everything later, in bed.
“No. What do you want?”
“I want to know if you’re dangerous.”
Nathaniel grinned. “Yes,”
Andrew was not amused, apparently. “Dangerous to us. The team. Even Kevin- I might not care what you do to him, but I want to know if you’re planning to do it,”
Nathaniel’s smile dropped.
“Why should I tell you?”
Andrew regarded him for a few seconds, then he leaned forward, hazel eyes flickering from the flashing lights of the club.
“How about a little game, Wesninski. Truth for truth.”

And looking into those hazel eyes that glittered slightly as he waited for an answer, Nathaniel couldn’t help but want to know a bit more about this man in front of him too, a man who everyone called a monster, but who only seemed to match the monster that was inside of Nathaniel, too.

After all, Nathaniel had seen real monsters, bigger and badder than Andrew Minyard.

“No, we’re not going to kill Kevin.” Andrew’s expression didn’t change, holding neither approval nor judgement, so Nathaniel continued. “Jean and I forgave him for that a long time ago. I won’t say that he didn’t have a choice, but we did what we had to in there. It’s why Jean forgave me for the scars, and I forgave him for not fighting back. What we haven’t forgiven, and won’t forgive, is Kevin leaving us there.”

“We didn’t have a plan, exactly, but we had promised for years that one day we would be free, all of us- and then the first time it looked like Kevin himself might get a taste of what we had endured for years, he ran, and he left us, even though he knew what Riko would do to us when he found out Kevin was gone.”

Andrew nodded slightly, then continued in German. “And the rest of the team?”

Nathaniel leaned back, crossing his arms and scowling when he thought of Seth’s comments. “I won’t hurt them if they don’t deserve it.”

“Fair enough. Your turn.” Andrew’s eyes were molten gold, and for some reason Nathaniel wanted to keep looking at them. Maybe Jean would know why.

But his mind was unable to focus on anything else but those eyes at the moment, so he just murmured “I’ll let you know when I think of something,”, and let Jean drag him to the dance floor to dance.

Chapter Text

Jean scowled. Nathaniel rolled his eyes.

“I told him, right before the game! Two weeks I ran that drill with Nicky, and he ignores the play and passes it to Aaron instead of Allison!”
“Yes, Jean. I know, because you’ve been bitching about it for five minutes straight.”
Jean twisted to look at him, waving a hand disdainfully at the court where Nicky and Aaron were managing an abysmal attempt at keeping Breckenridge away from the goal. His French accent always came out stronger when he got worked up, and right now he was slipping into French every other sentence.

“You see, if we’d have signed with the Trojans-“
“You know why we didn’t sign with the Trojans, Jean. Palmetto is far more convenient for our purposes.”

“Merde, Jeremy would not have let his team screw up this badly! Why are we sitting on the sidelines? Coach knows that we are far better than them!”

Nathaniel’s eyes lit up, and Jean knew he’d made a mistake.
“What would Jeremy be doing, Jean? We both know that if you were on the same team as Knox you would spend the whole time looking at his-“
“Shut up!”

Jean swore in French as the Jackals scored again. The buzzer sounded, signifying the end of the first quarter with a score of 5-0.

Nicky and Aaron trailed off the court, Aaron as disgruntled as ever and Nicky grinning as he guzzled down water then chucked it at him. Allison squawked as it missed Aaron and soaked her, letting out a furious stream of curses, before storming off to Renee, who was downing her own water while asking Andrew something about zombies. It sounded utterly nonsensical to Jean.

“Sorry to steal your girlfriend, monster, but I need to vent about your cousin to someone who isn’t going to pull a knife on me!”

Renee smiled at Andrew, then let Allison pull her away. Jean wasn’t sure whether she actually was dating Andrew, but it seemed unlikely when you watched Renee’s calm, Catholic conversation be answered by Andrew telling her how he would dissect a zombie in great detail.

They walked onto the pitch for the second quarter, with Renee staying in the goal, but Dan switching out for Seth as a striker.

Jean was ready- he had played thousands of Exy games in his life, through a multitude of injuries, and despite the ineptitude of their goalkeeper and the fact that their substitute striker had almost no training in this position, he could guarantee that the Jackals weren’t going to score again tonight.

Beside him, Nathaniel hefted his racquet, then the buzzer rang. Breckenridge were starting the quarter with the ball, and the offensive dealer, a bulky man with a number 17 on his back was racing towards him.

Jean was not a violent person. He had always been more self-destructive than vicious, although his tongue was sharp and his approval was hard to win. But Exy was Exy, and you didn’t win this game by being nice.

So he ran at the man, putting all his weight behind a shove that was just on the right side of legal, forcing the man’s arm back and making him release the ball. Ten steps later, he didn’t even have to look to know that Nathaniel had caught the pass.

The ball made it’s way across the court, and Kevin managed to score the Foxes’ first point. Dan was cheering, but he didn’t really see what there was to celebrate.

The goal returned to it’s normal color, and Jean lifted his racquet again. And again, and again, and again until the game was over, and the score was 5-7 in the Foxes’ favour.

Really, the score was embarrassing. Jean didn’t know if he liked Exy, but he did know he was good at it- he was arguably one of the best backliners in the world.

This game had not been good.

He had allowed his striker mark to knock him over about five minutes into their first quarter. He had almost tripped over a relatively new bit of footwork after half-time. He had sent a shot to Seth that the other man had failed to catch.

If it had been Riko, instead of Seth, and Jean had made him look bad in a game, he would be covered in bruises that couldn’t be seen under Exy gear the next day.

If it had been Tetsuji, instead of Wymack, he would have heard the thud of a cane smacking the ground as they ran a drill until midnight.

And while this court was filled with orange seats, and not red ones, Jean’s breath came quickly as he shook hands with a line of the other team.

Nathaniel stood next to him, but he knew that he wouldn’t do anything, couldn’t do anything, because if a camera picked up on Jean gripping his hand until it went white, or Nathaniel running gentle fingers through his hair, then it would be bad for them when Riko saw the speculations and the photos-

And suddenly Andrew was next to him, crushing the hand of a poor Jackal’s member, and he looked at him and said “Riko is dead.”

Jean couldn’t reply, but he could breathe a little easier, and it was just enough to get him off the court and gasping as he collapsed on an orange bench.

Nathaniel was sitting next to him, and he was singing. He wasn’t a good singer, but that didn’t matter because the words were French and his fingers gently carded through Jean’s black hair.

He didn’t know how long he sat like that, but when he looked up, the room was empty apart from them and a bottle of vodka next to his feet.

He wondered if Kevin had left it. If it was supposed to be an apology.

He didn’t care if it was an apology.

When they went to bed that night, Matt was yelling the words to a karaoke track at the top of his lungs, obviously drunk, and Seth was blissful looking- he’d probably been having sex with Allison.

Jean wrapped an arm around Nathaniel’s small body, his legs curling up to fit around him.
The bandage on his inner thigh rustled slightly at the movement, and he felt rather than saw the despair on his partner’s face.

Nathaniel didn’t understand why he did it. He didn’t understand why he hadn’t stopped, now that Riko was buried and the rest of Jean’s monsters would be too, soon enough.

Nathaniel understood pain, but he didn’t understand that Jean didn’t know how to function without it. Sometimes Jean thought the other man was almost reproachful when a new scar appeared on his thighs- as if asking why Jean kept doing this to himself when Nathaniel had worked so hard to get them away from the pain and the hurt.

If he was honest, he didn’t know.

The Foxes were partying in the dorms on either side of their room, and Kevin Day was probably passed out on the girls’ couch rather than face Andrew.
He didn’t know what had happened to make Kevin exile himself from the monsters’ dorm, but he rather thought that Kevin deserved it.

He didn’t want to think about Kevin.

Instead, Jean tried to fill his thoughts with sunshine, with Nathaniel’s snarky French judgement on their new team, of the Trojans and California, and push aside the memories and the slices he left in his own skin for tomorrow. It almost worked, when Nathaniel snuffled in his sleep and managed to sound pissed off when Jean turned over to bury his head in the pillow. Almost.

Chapter Text

Nathaniel’s finger hovered over the call button. It was a number that he’d never called, but one that had been drilled into him by his mother as a child.

Jean looked at him with concern. “We don’t have to, you know. Your father can’t come for us while we belong to the Moriyamas, not without starting a war.”

“I know. I’m going to call, though.”

They sat there for a few minutes more on the edge of Fox Tower’s roof, legs pressed together as their feet dangled off the edge.

Eventually, Nathaniel couldn’t think of a reason to delay pressing the button any longer. The phone picked up after five rings, and a British man’s voice answered.

“Hello?”
When Nathaniel spoke, he did so in the same British accent he had heard his mother speak in as a child. “This is Nathaniel Wesninski.”

There was static on the other end of the line for a few seconds as Stuart Hatford readjusted the phone, and someone muttered something in Polish.

“Nathaniel. What does an American do when he meets a woman wearing a beret?”
The question was nonsensical to an outside observer, but Nathaniel had had this code drilled into him as well.

“He gives her a red lollipop. It’s me, Uncle Stuart.”

There was more polish at the other end, then a creaking noise as if Stuart had sat down heavily. “Well, shit. Nice work on Riko Moriyama, kid. I don’t know how you managed to convince Ichirou to sign those contracts, but I’ve got to admire your style,”

Nathaniel smiled slightly. “Thank you. But I think you know that’s not why I’m calling.”

“No. I guess not. Kid, if you’re trying to get out of the Moriyama contract, I can’t do it- the price is too high. Unless you intend to move back to London and swear to the family any time soon-“

“No, Stuart.”

A sigh. “Well, it was worth a try. Are you secure there?”

“Jean’s here. He can hear you.”

Stuart paused. When he spoke, Nathaniel could almost see his eyebrows raised as he tried to put together the pieces of why they were never seen without each other, and came to the entirely wrong conclusion. “You’re fucking Jean Moreau?”

It was Jean who answered this time, sounding revolted. “Non, Stuart, I wouldn’t fuck your bastard nephew if you paid me,”

The British man laughed, and then abruptly stopped, because Nathaniel said “I want you to kill my father.”

********
Nathaniel sat on the roof for a long time after that, even when Jean muttered a ‘bonsoir’, and went to bed. It was dark when he heard the door to the roof creak open again, and Andrew Minyard came to sit next to him.

They sat like that in silence for a while, Nathaniel looking at the stars and trying not to breathe in Andrew’s cigarette smoke, while Andrew pretended he wasn’t there.

When he looked over at the blond man, he could make out a bruises on his eye and jaw that were purpled enough to be clearly visible, even in the darkness.

“Who punched you?”

Andrew didn’t look at him, but he blew a trail of smoke up as if in answer. After a few moments, he spoke, his voice low.
“That your question?”

It took a moment for Nathaniel to connect the dots to the little game he had started with Andrew in the club; it seemed more real here, with only the silence and the street lamps. There was no music, or haze of alcohol and sweat to mask the fact that he was telling Andrew his secrets, but somehow, Nathaniel didn’t mind.

“Yeah,”
“Renee. We spar.”

Huh. That didn’t sound like something people usually did when they were dating, but then Nathaniel had never been in a relationship, had never felt any kind of attraction towards anyone. His only point of reference was his parents, and they had delighted in ripping each other apart, quite literally.

Allison had definitely called Renee Andrew’s girlfriend.

They sat like that for a few minutes, and Nathaniel made himself slightly dizzy by staring up at the endless expanse of glittering darkness above them.

Technically, he was looking down into an endless abyss, gravity the only thing keeping him from falling into the sky. Kevin had rambled about it to him once, completely drunk, until Nathaniel had shoved a pillow over his face to shut him up.

He didn’t really want to think about Kevin when Andrew was barely two feet away, looking more alive sitting on the edge of that rooftop than he had since Colombia, hair tousled from where Renee must have pulled it as they fought.

“Staring,”

The thought snapped him out of his reverie, and he choked when his sudden inhale of breath was mostly cigarette smoke. He coughed, looking away from Andrew’s white-blond hair, looking almost silver from the light of the stars above them.

“Jesus. Those things are disgusting.” Andrew hummed his agreement. “How do you run with cigarettes polluting your lungs?”

“I don’t- why else would I become a goalkeeper?”
Nathaniel actually laughed. If it had been anyone else, he would have thought they were joking, but with Andrew, it was just the truth, blunt and honest.

“I’m surprised you managed to leave Jean for long enough to wallow up here.”
“We’re not actually joined at the hip, you know.”
“Could’ve fooled me.”
“What, did I interrupt your own personal scheduled wallowing-on-the-roof time?”
“Yes.”

Nathaniel laughed again, because of course Andrew sat up here looking like a cliche straight out of a teenage romance movie, smoking cigarettes and scowling at the world.

“Why did you become a Fox?”

Nathaniel stopped laughing, but his guards hadn’t gone back up- it was an innocent question, he supposed. Not that Andrew did anything without a reason.

“Because the Foxes were the only team desperate enough to take us on so late without asking awkward questions.”
Andrew hummed again.

“Why did you become a Fox? I know you said yes because Coach signed Nicky and Aaron, but why were you on his radar in the first place?”

Andrew’s eyes darkened, but he answered after finishing his cigarette and throwing it off the edge of the building to be trampled under the feet of university students come morning.

“Foster kid that no one seemed to want to keep. Plus, I went to juvie when I was fifteen. Then last year, before I came to Palmetto, some guys attacked Nicky in a club. I almost killed them, but Aaron’s mom’s life insurance paid for a good lawyer, and I got off with only some community service.”

His voice hadn’t changed between talking about a lawyer and talking about almost killing three people, but Nathaniel was almost comforted by that. Andrew hadn’t flinched away from the violence written all over Nathaniel’s torso either. Impassive was a lot better than Riko’s fury or his father’s grin.

They didn’t speak again, and eventually Nathaniel went down to bed, sleeping on Matt’s couch instead of waking Jean up. When he left, Andrew was still there, feet dangling off the edge, another cigarette dangling from his lips.

Chapter Text

Dan looked up from her laptop when Allison stormed into the dorm, slamming the door behind her. The noise startled Kevin awake from where he had taken up semi-permanent refuge on their sofa, and he mumbled something about getting something to drink and made a swift exit.

It was a wise call- Allison was seething, and looked about ready to decapitate the next person who looked at her wrong. Dan sighed, and turned off the Trojan’s game she had been analysing.
“What’s wrong, babe?”

Allison almost ripped the strap on her heels as she tore one off and threw it at the wall, then began pacing the room, gesticulating wildly. “Fucking Seth is wrong, that’s what!”

Dan wished Renee was here, because she was always better at helping people be rational; if she was honest, Dan’s advice usually leaned more towards the ‘Dump him and key his car’ end of the scale.

“Do you want to talk about it?”
“What I want is some fucking vodka, but we’re out again because Kevin is too fucking pussy to face Nathaniel!”

Allison had stopped pacing, but she was stood in front of Dan with fury twisting her Barbie-doll perfect face.

“He’s such an asshole! I’ve broken up with Seth how many times, and yet he thinks I’m going to let this slide?”

Dan was getting slightly concerned. “What did he do?”

“He got pissed because Nathaniel threatened him- rightly threatened him, too, I would have cut someone’s balls of with a Louis Vuitton shoe if someone had something like that to my boyfriend, especially when he saw Jean’s scars- and he wants to leak that they killed Riko,”

“And yes, I know we’re all in agreement that they did actually kill Riko, and Nathaniel basically admitted it, but Riko was a piece of shit, Dan, let’s be real.”

It wasn’t exactly like Dan had been heartbroken over Riko’s murder/suicide, no.

“Is that why you’re mad?”

Allison sat heavily, the shitty sofa that Kevin had been sleeping groaning under her weight. “I mean, kind of. I don’t really care about those two, but I don’t want them in prison for taking out someone like Riko- he was going to be murdered at some point. I’m pissed because Seth was going on about them having to ‘face up to the consequences of their actions’.”

She scoffed. “As if Seth’s ever faced up to the consequences of his own actions in his life. He wouldn’t give a shit about it if Nathaniel hadn’t threatened him, and now he’s pissed because a man half his size had him almost shitting his pants in front of everyone.”

She seemed to slump, then, the fight draining out of her. Dan sat next to her on the sofa and let Allison lean on her shoulder. She knew from experience that Allison wouldn’t let anyone see her cry, but she could feel the blonde trembling slightly.

Allison could be haughty and aloof, and a catty bitch, but she wasn’t the distant celebrity princess she presented herself as. She was just a girl, 21 years old and estranged from her family, with only Dan and Renee to rely on, and Seth to clash against and love despite their endless fights and petty arguments.

Inside, Allison was just holding it together, the same as they all did. She would cry at night, and then cover her puffy eyes in the morning with concealer and winged eyeliner, and stare down anyone who tried to claim she was anything but perfectly fine.

Dan loved her like a sister. She knew that Allison loved Seth, and that Seth was the source of her tears half the time, and that Allison would never let him know how much he meant to her because that was just one more person to leave her, to ignore her existence and not even bother inviting her to the family Christmas dinner, just like her parents had.

Allison Reynolds was many things- fiercely loyal to those she counted as her family, critical but with an eye for detail that spotted the mistakes others skipped by, beautiful and vain, but she was not delusional.

She knew that Seth wasn’t good for her; it was plain to see for anyone who cared to look.

“He says shit like that, Dan, that they need to take responsibility for their actions, but he blames every one of his problems in everyone else. He’s failing half his classes, you know. I caught him paying a guy in the library to write his essays for him. And then he comes and tells me that his teacher is being unreasonable, that they had no time to finish the assignment, when really he was partying the whole night.”

Her anger wavered, and Allison’s voice was quiet as she continued, as if admitting a secret.

“He started with the drugs again. He says he’s gonna quit, and that his friends pressured him into it, that they were handing them out at the party and he didn’t know what they were. He promised me, Dan. He said he was done with that shit, and then he went and did it to himself, ruined his progress- I was here, if he needed help. He’s on the drugs again, and he’s failing, and he’s gonna lose his night shift at the gas station soon if he keeps showing up high.”

“He promised me, and he lied, and then he dares to come and ask me for help in ruining someone else’s life on top of his own, and talks about ‘responsibility’.”

She sounded so tired, and Dan just wanted to hug her, so she offered comfort the only way she knew how. “Well. Kevin didn’t finish all our booze. I can make margaritas?”

Allison laughed. It was quiet, and too weak to be real, but it was a start. “Give it another day, and Kevin will have gone through the tequila too.”

At Dan’s questioning look, she laughed again, a real one this time. “Of course I want the margaritas, babe. Who do you take me for? Renee?”

So they sat and did shots, and Allison licked salt off her thumb and squeezed lime juice directly into her mouth. It was far too late, even though it was a weekend now, and they wouldn’t have to get up early tomorrow morning. They stumbled to bed, a bottle of tequila heavier, and Dan silently hoped that this time the break-up would last.

Chapter Text

Renee paused on her way back up from the basement to see Kevin sitting on the stairs outside the Foxes’ dorms. She was sweaty and needed to bandage up a few cuts after sparring with Andrew, but Kevin was cradling a bottle of vodka and groaning slightly, his head tipped back against the wall.

He didn’t seem to notice her until she nudged him gently with her foot. “Hey, Renee. Are you escaping Allison and Seth’s latest breakup drama too?”

Renee sat down next to him, and gently pried the bottle out of his hand. They sat like that for a few seconds, and she began to hum a quiet tune.

Kevin broke the silence. “You know, Andrew does that. Hums. Not a tune, like you do, but when he agrees with you.”

Renee smiled slightly. Andrew hadn’t spoken to her for at least two days when she had first pointed out that he’d adopted her habit.

Kevin sighed, and leaned more against the wall, turning his body slightly to face her. “I can’t talk to him, Renee. Somehow, it’s easier to look at Jean than it is to look at Andrew- every time I get close he just seems so- cold. And, I know it’s Andrew, so cold is to be expected, but...”

“Andrew isn’t cold, Kevin. He doesn’t display his emotions in the same way you and I do, but he isn’t cold until you give him a reason to be.” Her tone was gently chiding, but she wasn’t telling him off. He seemed to slump even further.

“I don’t know what to do, without him. I know I don’t need his protection anymore, but it meant that I had something to do, someone to be with, and now I’m just drifting around with nothing to do except hide from Nathaniel and try not to look Jean in the eye-“ He cut himself off with a choke, trembling slightly.

“What do I do, Renee?”

She rubbed small circles onto his back, and he leaned into the touch, his body shaking. “I can’t tell you what to do, Kevin, that’s for you to work out. I hate that things like what happened at the Nest still happen, and I try and do what’s best, but not everything can be fixed. The world’s never going to be perfect.”

“What if I can’t be fixed? I didn’t want to do those things, I swear, but I didn’t have a choice- Riko would have killed me-“

“You had a choice, Kevin. And you made the one you made, and you can’t change that.” Her voice remained level, but she wrapped an arm around Kevin as he sobbed quietly.

“What if it was a bad choice, Renee?”

“Sometimes the only thing we can do is decide between two bad choices. I won’t try and judge whether what you did was right or not- that’s for the Lord to decide, not for us. But I know what it feels like to make bad decisions to protect myself.”

“I killed a man, and in doing so I saved who knows how many other girls from him. But if I’m honest with myself, I didn’t do it for them, I did it for me.
When the police caught me and I had the chance to send people to prison as long as it meant that I went free, I took it. I know what it feels like, the guilt because you left people behind.”

“But I won’t go back- I had a chance to get out of a bad situation, and I took it- I don’t regret that. I regret that people were hurt by my choices, and that I caused even more harm, and I know that the Lord will decide to punish me however He feels fit, when the time comes.”

“You got out, Kevin. But you are wasting that chance. I try everyday to make up for what I did, and make the world a little bit better despite the things I’ve done. Maybe I’ll never be able to atone, but I will try for the rest of my life. You think I’m a good person, Kevin, and that you are bad- maybe we’re both bad for what we did, but we did it out of desperation and terror.”

“Don’t condemn yourself too harshly, unless you’re going to condemn me just the same. Instead, use the chance you’ve been given- do some good, balance the scales a little bit.”

Kevin snuffled into her shirt, then whispered with a tiny smile. “When did you get so wise, Church Girl?”

“Come to church one day, and maybe you’ll get a little wisdom yourself,” she replied dryly, poking his side.
“We get to move on, Kevin, whether we think we deserve it or not. The world keeps moving, and Jean and Nathaniel are dealing with things in their own way. You should try it.”

Kevin smiled sadly. “I can’t move on, not when I see it every day in the mirror.” He gestured at the ‘2’ on his cheek. “Every time I see it, I think of what Riko would say if he could see me know. I can’t just move on, Renee. Even now, he’s been dead for six months, but if he told me do do it all again I don’t know if I would be able to say no.”

“You have to believe you would, then. He’s dead, he can’t make you do anything ever again. And maybe I have too much faith in humanity, but I believe you would. We’ve changed, we aren’t sixteen anymore.” She tapped the tattoo gently with her finger.

“You know, it wouldn’t be that hard to cover. It’s small, a ‘2’. You’re lucky- I can’t exactly cover my extensive gang symbols up with flowers.”

“Please. Flowers?”

“Maybe you should think about it.”

“I can’t get rid of it, Renee. No matter what I covered it up with, everyone would know what was hiding underneath. I’m not sure the Moriyama’s would even let me, if I asked. There would be fan backlash.”

She pretended to muse for a few seconds. “So don’t ask. Maybe it would be nice, to turn something Riko did to you into a little symbol that you aren’t that person anymore.”

He sighed. “Maybe.”

They walked up the rest of the stairs, and left the half-finished vodka bottle sitting behind them. Kevin could borrow the spare bed in Matt’s dorm, the one that Nathaniel had never slept in. Renee would bandage up her scrapes, then say a prayer before bed- today, more than ever, she wanted to pray for forgiveness.

Chapter Text

It had been another shitty day of practice, and Andrew was about ready to throttle Nicky if he didn’t get a cigarette soon. He trudged up the stairs to the roof, then stopped right before he opened the door.

Someone’s voice was drifting under the door.

No one else in the tower went onto the roof- even the footballers from the floor below them had got the message to stay out after Andrew walked in on some idiots having sex near his spot, and had just sat down like usual, smoking and glaring at them until they left.

“...Brett Cooke, yeah. Don’t bother killing that one, it’s too suspicious if they all die, just make sure he can’t play anymore. Maybe you could put him in a car crash with Jackson Talley, get two birds with one stone...”

Brett Cooke and Jackson Talley were ex-Ravens, ones that had graduated in the last few years. Andrew remembered reading that they had both signed onto pro teams.

Nathaniel was silent for a while, or maybe he was just speaking quietly enough that Andrew couldn’t hear him. When he did speak, his voice didn’t seem all that upset about contracting someone to permanently cripple two of his ex teammates.

“Yeah, thanks, Stuart. We can wait a month, it’ll be better to wait until we can get Lola and Romero too- just make sure you do it on a game day, so I have an alibi. I know you know! I’ll send over the basement blueprints this evening, and any details I can remember about Lola’s disposal sites. Yeah. I’ll visit soon, I swear, but London’s a long way away and Jean won’t want to go- ok. Bye.”

Andrew pushed open the door, and immediately Nathaniel had a knife pointed at him. It was remarkable, how quickly his whole demeanor changed, all his focus on Andrew. It didn’t look right, the smile on his face. It was unsettling and twisted in a way that looked more like a sneer than genuine humor.

Andrew held his hands up and approached him slowly. “I’m not gonna snitch, as long as I’m in the clear if the police investigate all those deaths you just ordered.”

Nathaniel’s smile looked a bit more normal, now, but the knife was still out as Andrew sat down and pulled out a cigarette, trying not to let it show how little he like turning his back away from someone pointing a weapon at him.

Andrew heard a rustle behind him, and sincerely hoped that it was the sound of a knife being tucked back away. It looked like he was in the clear, though, when the redhead settled a meter away from him, swinging his feet so that he kicked the brickwork in a steady rhythm.

“Truth for truth, Nathaniel. Where did you get all those scars? I can’t imagine Riko ever using an iron, even if it was to torture someone.”

It wasn’t the question he wanted to ask, but Andrew could tell that Nathaniel wasn’t going to spill about the details of his phone call tonight.

Nathaniel kept kicking the wall beneath them, the thuds almost imitating a beating heart.
“My father. He wasn’t a good man. It’s alright though, I’m going to kill him”

He snuck a glance at Andrew, waiting to gauge his reaction, and almost smiled when Andrew’s face remained impassive. It wasn’t like Andrew was in a position to judge- who hadn’t killed a family member at some point or the other?

Andrew noticed the man’s eyes flick down towards the black armbands, then smiled sadly. “What about you? Any scars of your own?”

Wan’t that interesting. Most people thought the bands were a gimmick, a way to tell him apart from Aaron or to hide weapons. Well, they did hide weapons. But he didn’t think anyone had ever guessed what was really under the fabric, not even his own family.

Nathaniel seemed to see right through him, and Andrew couldn’t decide if he liked it or wanted to throttle him before he could guess any more of his secrets, leaving him vulnerable and exposed. Maybe he wanted both.

“Ding ding ding. Wrists. All cut up, just like your boyfriend’s thighs.”

Nathaniel bristled. “He’s not my boyfriend.”
“You sleep in the same bed.”

“Yeah, we do.” His chin jutted out, and he looked quietly defiant. It didn’t do anything to Andrew’s stomach, that combination of auburn hair and fiery eyes.

Andrew changed the topic before his body could betray him with a blush. “So, daddy’s dead, or soon-to-be. What about your mom?”

“She’s dead. When the Ravens first tried to recruit me, she tried to take me and run- she left the passport, the one with my new identity, in a place she thought he didn’t know about. We got as far as the border, and she’d been preparing me for months, training me to reply to ‘Neil Josten’. He caught us, and dragged her back to Baltimore. I was sent straight back to the Nest, but Romero made sure I knew what had happened to her, complete with photos.”

He said the words like he was trying to copy Andrew’s blank facade. It didn’t quite work- Nathaniel was a brilliant actor, when he needed to be, and he certainly didn’t let any weaknesses show when he was in danger or someone else was. His violent mask, the twisted smile, was a coping mechanism, designed to keep him safe when threatened, in the same way Andrew’s blankness was.

 

Nathaniel shook his head, as if trying to dispel the words that he had just spoken. He smiled slightly, then turned to Andrew. “So, what’s going on with Renee? Is it normal girlfriend behavior to leave bruises as impressive as she does?” It was a transparent attempt to lighten the mood, but Andrew let him get away with it.

He let his own smile show. “Renee’s not my girlfriend, no matter what Allison says. That is one thing that is literally never going to happen.”

Nathaniel was visibly confused. “Dan said you were going to take her to the winter banquet?”

“Yeah. We’re friends. She can’t exactly take Allison, and I can’t exactly take Roland.”

“Roland? The bartender?”

Andrew levelled him with a look, and realization dawned across the idiot’s face. “Oh. You’re gay?”

Andrew nodded.

“Wait, Renee’s gay too?”
Andrew snorted. “She literally has a pride flag permanently dyed into her hair- how has literally no one noticed her pining? She mildly dislikes Seth, which for Renee is like being ready to decapitate him for stealing all of Allison’s attention.”

“Oh.” Nathaniel looked contemplative. “What’s the appeal of Allison? I know there is one, but it’s never really made sense to me.”

Andrew ignored how the words sparked a bit of hope in his chest, and snorted. “You’re asking the wrong person. I wouldn’t know what was attractive about women if someone wrote me a bullet-point list.”

Nathaniel nodded slightly, and Andrew hummed.

“So what’s going on with Jean? How come he’s not here, shadowing you like the ridiculously tall, brooding Frenchman that he is?”

“He’s calling Jeremy Knox,” he said absently, “they’ve been talking a lot recently. I think Jeremy wants to be his friend.”

Andrew was slightly disbelieving. He was pretty sure that everyone except Jean and Nathaniel had noticed the man’s huge crush on Knox, although, like with Allison, he couldn’t see the appeal of someone who was like the human incarnation of a golden retriever.

“It’s not like that, with us. It’s not romantic, or sexual.” Nathaniel wrinkled his nose at the thought of it. “That would be weird, with him. We help each other, when it gets hard.”

“I wonder sometimes, if we even would have been friends if it wasn’t for the Ravens. We needed each other to survive, needed to trust each other if there was even a chance of us getting out of there alive. Now that we’re out, it’s less... all-encompassing, I guess. I’m getting rid of everyone who hurt him, but I’m not sure if he’ll stay around when it’s done. He doesn’t like being here with Kevin, or even with me, really.”

“I think, if he could, he would get rid of anything that remained of the Nest, so he never has to look at it again, and remember. It’s been three months, since we left, and I- I never knew the world was this big. I’ve never really been anywhere, just Baltimore and the Nest. I have more than Jean now. I don’t need him so much.”

He looked as if he was admitting it not only to Andrew, but to himself. He didn’t know what was going on inside Nathaniel’s head, and the only thing he could do was take in his face, those piercing blue eyes turned towards the sky again.

Neil Josten was a pipe dream, but Nathaniel was real, and Andrew couldn’t take his eyes off him.

Chapter Text

Jean sat in the dorm room’s kitchen, ignoring Allison who had decided to wait for Matt in here. They were going clubbing with Dan tonight, to celebrate their win against Belmonte yesterday, but he took a guess that the reason Allison was in the room was less to do with Matt and more to do with the fact that Seth was glaring daggers at her.

He didn’t know what had caused the break up, but nothing seemed to have come of it- Seth hadn’t bothered him any more than usual, since Nathaniel had threatened him.

Allison seemed determined to smack her gum as loudly as possible, arching her back against the all and pointedly not looking at Seth.

Jean ate his chicken in silence. The dorm kitchen was nothing close to the state-of-the-art facilities in Castle Evermore, and he’d made do with wilted green beans done in the microwave. He could barely taste the chunks of boiled potato as they went down.

Eventually, Allison decided she wasn’t pissing off Seth enough and sat down next to him.

“How do you even eat that stuff?” She looked vaguely disgusted. “I thought you were French, Jean- this has to be the blandest meal I’ve ever laid eyes on,”

He blinked in confusion. Of course it was bland. Too much sodium lowered his performance, so salt was out. Spices and flavorings were unnecessary, and only added calories.

He wasn’t underfed by any means- the Ravens didn’t get the luxury of a diet that was anything but perfect. Jean’s meal plan included the correct amount of vitamins for him, and gave portion sizes designed specifically for his height and muscle mass.

“It’s good for you- Ravens do not eat unnecessary saturated fats or sugars. Ravens eat high-protein meals three times a day. Ravens do not eat food that has not been approved by the nutritionist and the diet plans.” He knew that Allison’s face was growing concerned as he recited the mantra.

Jean deflected, smiling before she could tell him something about ‘moving on’. “Well, maybe the Foxes would be better if you didn’t live off pizza and takeaway curry.”

It worked, somewhat. Allison sniffed, and latched on to his feeble attempt at changing the topic. “We are currently undefeated this season, I’ll have you know.”
That actually got a laugh out of Jean. “I do know- do you really think you would have managed it without me and Nathaniel? Anyway, wait until you play the Ravens. You will lose by an embarrassing amount.”

“You know, you’re on this team too. For all your boasting, you can’t stop the Ravens scoring on you?”

Jean hummed. “Maybe. Riko is dead, and Kevin is gone. I wouldn’t mind playing against the Ravens now.”

“What, you and Nathaniel couldn’t stop Riko and Kevin scoring?”

“We could have, if we wanted to spend the night stitching each other up. It is best to let people as deluded as Riko believe they are the best, or they’re not very pleasant.”

Allison looked slightly horrified. Jean considered that perhaps it was not normal to say things like that, when you weren’t in the Nest.

She shook herself out of it quickly, though, and rummaged in one of the cupboards until she found a pack of gummy worms. Jean was pretty sure they were Seth’s. He didn’t really understand where she was going with it, until she ripped the pack open and waved one at him.

“Oh, non, thank you. I will not ruin my training or body with sweets.”

Allison gasped, mock-offended. “I’ll have you know, I eat these by the dozen, and my body has men drooling, you French bastard!”

Allison’s body certainly had Seth drooling over it, although Jean had never tried to pretend to himself that he had any attraction to women, not even when Riko had been determined to beat it out of him. It didn’t matter if Allison ate sweets, anyway- her life didn’t rely on making Court.

She waved it at him again. “Eat it. We’re athletes, Jean, one gummy worm isn’t going to ruin your status as number 3.”

“Don’t call me that.” The words came out sharply, but Jean couldn’t make himself care, when she was just using him to get back at Seth, who was resolutely not watching as Allison leaned forward so her cleavage was very visible to Jean.

“Riko wouldn’t let you, right? Kevin would have a fit. Show them they don’t control you.”

“Riko is dead. I have nothing to prove to him,” Jean said stiffly.

Allison eyed him, considering. “I think you do. I still prove to my parents every day that I don’t need their money or their love, even though they pretend I don’t exist. Say a little ‘Fuck you’ to Riko, because he can’t do anything to you now.”

Jean scoffed, but he took the gummy worm. It was sour, and made his tongue explode with taste in a way that was almost painful, after a decade of eating boiled vegetables. He grimaced, but he ate it.

When it was done, Allison leaned back, satisfied.

“I already said my ‘Fuck you’ to Riko, you know. Did you ever get to read the suicide note?” Allison shook her head, but looked delighted. Even Seth looked interested, from his seat on the sofa.

“I wrote about how Riko felt he would never be enough, that he would never be the King he pretended to be. I wrote that he’d never deserved the ‘1’ and wished he’d given it to Kevin instead. I wrote that he was sorry for hurting me, and that really he’d loved me the whole time, and had always thought the world of me.”

“That’s what would have really pissed him off, you know. The world thinking that he cared about me, thought I was better than him. He liked to call us his property, and he would tell me that the only thing I was good for was a fuck. If there’s an afterlife, he’s fuming that we managed to convince everyone he was nothing more than a scared child at heart. “
Allison smiled. “Jesus, Jean. That’s fucked up.“ Jean hummed slightly in agreement. “I made it just homoerotic enough that if it ever gets released that’ll be just one more thing to tarnish his good name.” Allison paused. “You know that people don’t actually care if you’re gay?” Jean stiffened, the word across his shoulders burning, but she continued. “No matter what Riko told you, there’s plenty of out athletes, even more so in Exy than most sports. Hell, Renee has a pride flag dyed into her hair.” Jean knew she was well meaning, so he nodded and tried to ignore the slurs carved into his body and the fact that he had no idea what pride was. Allison seemed to see that she wasn’t going to get through to him, and sighed. “The bastard deserved all of it, though.” Her eyes were on Seth as she said it. There was a pause in the room, as if the two were having a silent conversation.

Finally, Seth nodded.

Allison let out a breath, and dragged Matt out of the bedroom. Seth went back to the TV, and Jean thought that maybe he would call Jeremy.
He was talking to Jeremy a lot, at the moment. He was nice, ridiculously enthusiastic and so, so happy. Sometimes it hurt, to see how much happiness there was in the world- like Jean couldn’t cope with his own darkness, now that he knew how much sunshine he’d been missing out on.

It made him feel so out of touch, when Jeremy sounded genuinely upset at the thought of even an animal in pain, when Nathaniel was on the roof right now, making sure that no one who’d ever hurt Jean would be able to again.

Sometimes, Jean wondered if he was too broken, too full of darkness and pain to ever know someone so full of sunshine. But then, Jeremy would call him, and he would hear the smile in his voice, and Jean could almost believe that he was the one who had caused it.

Chapter Text

“Alright assholes, listen up!” Wymack interrupted Nicky’s moaning about the defense line. “The Ravens game is on Friday, so we have four more days to prepare. I want actual teamwork, so I don’t care what bullshit is going on this week, you are calling a truce until after the match.”

Aaron snorted. Wymack couldn’t really blame him- it was a speech that he spouted every time they had an important match coming up, and it hadn’t worked yet.

The team filed out of the gym in groups, making their way to the classes before they would meet in the afternoon for practice.

Wymack stopped Kevin before he left, and motioned for Jean and Nathaniel to wait behind. He didn’t comment when Andrew stayed leaning against the back wall too.

Kevin seemed to be doing better at the moment- Andrew still hadn’t spoken to him, but someone had obviously been able to talk some sense into him because he wasn’t hungover, which was what Wymack had expected from him so close to seeing the Ravens again. Luckily, this game was in the Foxhole Court, so the three wouldn’t have to go back to Evermore.

It was sometimes hard to watch Kevin, when he drowned himself in alcohol. It was always painful when his Foxes relapsed, but Kevin was almost like a son to him, and he looked so like his mother that Wymack sometimes choked up.

He probably wasn’t helping in the long term, by letting Kevin drink when the world got to be too much to face, but it was better than seeing him pale and shaking from the fear. He didn’t know whether it was just Kevin being odd because of the game coming up, but the boy had been skittish around him all week, and at one point had seemed as if he wanted to tell Wymack something important, before rapidly switching topic to his thoughts about covering up his tattoo.

He shook his head, and brought his thoughts back to the three men waiting for him to talk- and Andrew, of course. Andrew seemed to be hanging around Nathaniel a lot, recently. Wymack didn’t know when that had happened, but Nathaniel seemed completely oblivious.

“Are you lot going to be alright, seeing the Ravens again? We can sit you out of the game, if you want.”

Nathaniel laughed, but it was slightly forced, as it always was around Wymack, and any men his age, he’d noticed. “You can’t play without me and Jean. Kevin, maybe.”

Kevin had gone slightly pale, but he didn’t dispute it. He always did look a bit scared around the redhead, and Wymack suspected it had something to do with how adamant he’d been that Nathaniel was not to have a knife.

“That’s not the point. Maybe we’d lose, but I’m not putting you on a court if it’s going to hurt you in any way.”

Nathaniel turned to Jean, and they seemed to have a silent conversation.
“We’re good. The Ravens were never the issue, Coach, and we already took care of Riko.”

Wymack fixed him with a stare. “I need plausible deniability, kid. If you’re going to kill people, stop telling me about it.”

Nathaniel shrugged. “I didn’t pull the trigger.”

Kevin said something in French, and Nathaniel just rolled his eyes.

“Grow a spine, Kevin. You don’t have to talk to Tetsuji, we won’t go near him. Most of them graduated, and the remaining issue on the team will have been taken care of-“ He looked at Wymack, then switched to French.

Wymack sighed. He hated what had been done to them, when they were just kids, but it worried him how Nathaniel seemed to have got himself even deeper into this situation, using any favors he was owed to ‘take care’ of the people that had hurt him.

He knew that not everyone shared his belief that everyone deserved a second chance, but he wasn’t sure that Nathaniel and Jean’s revenge would make them feel any better in the long run.

“We’ll be fine, Coach.”

Kevin interrupted. “You can’t say that- Riko-“

“-is dead. The Ravens aren’t some hive mind. They’re kids, same as the Foxes. They didn’t know what was going on, but what they did see, was explained away or covered up. Riko was deluded of his own self-importance, and he liked to think he was just as powerful as his older brother, but he didn’t even know all of what happened on his own team.”

Nathaniel continued, glaring at Kevin, Jean’s hand resting on his neck. “We’ve dealt with a lot worse than a team that had coordination beaten into them and has to wear matching outfits and rehearse their entrances to the Winter banquets.”

Kevin mumbled something that Wymack didn’t catch, and left the room. Immediately, Andrew came up to Nathaniel, glowering at him and grumbling in German. The other man just smiled at him, and Jean rolled his eyes at their antics.

Wymack wondered when Nathaniel was going to clue on.

The team wasn’t ready for the game- the Ravens might have lost all four of their best players, and the Foxes might be on their way up for the first time in years, but he doubted it would be enough when their offense was so weak. They would try, and they would do their best, and Wymack would be proud of his Foxes no matter what the outcome was.

At the end of the day, he did what he could. Jean and Nathaniel still tensed every time he raised his voice or moved towards them too quickly, and Kevin still drank vodka like it was fruit juice. Andrew had finally found something- someone- that interested him, and he would be as close to happy as he ever got until the interest waned.

Seth and Allison had broken up, but they were playing nicely and were civil, which was a hell of a lot better than their endless cycle of on-again, off-again.

Wymack was a gruff, shouty old man, but he knew what it was like to have people look past you, to leave you to fall through the cracks, rather than see that all you needed was just one more chance than you’d been given.

Sometimes he didn’t know what had inspired him to make his own life so hard by taking in stray after stray, but then moments like these reminded him why it was all worth it.

Chapter Text

“Mr Wesninski, do you think that the Foxes are ready to face the Ravens after your unprecedented winning streak this season?”

“Kevin, how do you feel playing against your former team, do you think it will too be hard to cope without Riko?”

“Jean Moreau, will you be playing a full game today? The previous match against..”

The questions were unrelenting, but the three men kept those smiles plastered to their faces. Andrew supposed that the shining press smiles was better than Nathaniel’s twisted one, but he didn’t like how eerily identical all three of their expressions were, and how easily they had slipped into these identical new personalities.

He stayed at the back of the room, leaning against the wall and pretending to talk to Abby on the phone so no one bothered him.

“Nathaniel, have you heard the news?”

This caught Nathaniel’s attention. “What news is that?”

The reporter seemed delighted to get a first-hand reaction, shoving to the front of the crowd to push a microphone and a camera in Nathaniel’s face. “Your former teammate, Julien Pritchard, was found dead this morning from an overdose. Had you spoken to him since you left Edgar Allen?”

Nathaniel’s smile dropped, and he looked appropriately somber. “I’m very sorry to hear that. My best wishes and condolences to his family, and I know the Ravens will miss such a loss.”

Andrew hated the concerned look on Nathaniel’s face- hated it, because it was just so realistic, and because it was so fake. He hated that he’d had to learn to hide like that. He hated the way Nathaniel seemed split into two entirely different people, one who sat on the roof and looked at the stars, and one who could slice someone apart without ever dropping that twisted Butcher’s smile.

He’d been silent on his pretend phone call for slightly too long, watching the interview, and a reporter had come a little closer. He ignored the microphone, leaving the press room. Nathaniel and Jean seemed to use it as an excuse to make an exit as well.

Nathaniel nodded politely, and they finished the interview. Andrew didn’t miss the way Jean shook slightly, or the way Nathaniel embraced him as soon as the door shut behind them. He was whispering to Jean in French, but he definitely didn’t look too upset at the news.

Andrew guessed this Julien Pritchard was another one of Jean’s demons.

Jean and Kevin both seemed shaken until the moment they stepped onto the Court. Then their focus honed, letting everything else drop away, irrelevant. It was a testament to the Raven’s brainwashing, he supposed, that when on the court they ceased to be anything but machines, designed to play flawlessly.

Andrew reluctantly followed Renee into the stadium, jogging around the outer court for their warmups, although he didn’t deign to acknowledge the cheering orange crowd or the booing black one. Nicky was waving and blowing kisses, and Kevin flashed his press-smile at the crowd as if he hadn’t had a breakdown over seeing the Ravens again half an hour earlier.

He tried to keep up with Renee, then stretched his shoulders before the twenty-minute time was up. It was the Ravens, so he would put in some effort today- even if it was just so that Nathaniel wouldn’t have to lose to them.

He supposed it was a stroke of luck that Julien Pritchard had so conveniently OD’d before the game; he was a good striker, one who had always been able to strike on him when Riko let him. Kevin had told Andrew a bit about Riko’s rules, how he had to score the most points no matter what. Nathaniel had probably planned it like this, to get rid of the man before Jean had to play against him.

Wymack gave them the classic pep-talk, in which he promised them booze in exchange for a win. His speeches were always passionate but long winded, and, in Andrew’s humble opinion, entirely useless. He recalled one game where Wymack and then-assistant-coach Kevin’s speech had pissed him off enough to make him stand stationary in his goal until the Coach pulled him off after twenty minutes.

The memory of Kevin’s spitting fury almost made him smile.

When the glass doors shut the court behind them, the sounds of the crowd fell away. Andrew hefted his racquet.

He blocked goal after goal after goal- someone told him at half-time that the Ravens had shot on him 83 times, and he had only let through 5 goals. It wasn’t enough to win them the game, not when a group had scored a barrage of shots on Renee after she was winded from a ball to the stomach.

They lost by one point, but Nathaniel and Jean didn’t look too upset. When they lined up to shake hands with the Ravens after the game, Jean hugged a small girl who was the sub dealer, and didn’t object to the offensive dealer clasping his hands fondly. Nathaniel smiled at one of the boys who he must have trained on the defense line, and they exchanged some words in German.

It didn’t quite make sense, to Andrew. The Ravens must have known at least some of what had gone on in the Nest- hell, even the ones who weren’t almost killed on a daily basis didn’t exactly have a normal, easy college experience, not with Tetsuji and Riko running the team.

Even if their teammates had been a speck of kindness for Jean and Nathaniel in a world which had been against them their whole lives, Andrew couldn’t quite forgive them for not seeing.

But then, he knew all too well how easy it was not to see the things that went on in your house at night, to turn a blind eye or simply stick resolutely to your belief that people couldn’t really be that bad, even when every piece of evidence pointed to the contrary.

He hadn’t contacted Cass since he’d left that house, had thrown out the single letter she’d sent him, and he wasn’t planning on it anytime soon, either. He wasn’t a person that could ‘move on’, not when he could perfectly recall every second of every night in that house.

In books, and the movies Nicky bawled his heart at in the evenings, the protagonist was always told that they needed to forgive and forget, before they could find happiness. Andrew wouldn’t forgive, and he couldn’t forget, and he wasn’t stupid enough to think he was the protagonist in whatever story the universe was writing, but perhaps one day soon he could find something that was close enough to happiness anyway.

Chapter Text

Aaron was pissed. Aaron was pissed because a redhead Raven had turned up, looking all innocent as he curled up on Jean and sung French lullabies, but threatened the team with knives and a serial killer smile that was fucking creepy.

He was pissed because he’d been demoted to sub backliner, because suddenly there was celebrities on his team, and the press wouldn’t leave him alone. He was pissed because Andrew had the nerve to threaten Katelyn, because of some stupid fucking deal he’d forced Aaron into literal years ago, and then turn around and look at Wesninski like he hung the stars when the man pushed back his hair and smiled.

Why did Andrew think he had the right to control Aaron’s life? Maybe there was a reason behind the threats and the knives and the sullen silences and stupid armbands, but hey, Aaron didn’t know. Because his brother didn’t deign to share these secrets, just like he didn’t share the car that had been bought with Aaron’s mother’s life insurance, just like he didn’t share anything at all.

He’d always dreamed of someone who would come to save him, when he was a kid. When he’d found Andrew, he’d been overjoyed- here was someone who looked just like him, would be just like him- someone Aaron could trust, and finally let the guard he’d had to build against his mother down with. Instead, Andrew had ignored his letters, and they’d met for the first time in fucking juvie.

He was just about at his breaking point. Since the game against the Ravens a month ago, three ex-Ravens, who had graduated last year, had been found conveniently dead. He was going to be a doctor, for fuck’s sake; no one had ever claimed Aaron Minyard had the best bedside manner, but he wasn’t about to let murder slide. Nathaniel, Jean, and Kevin had been working them non-stop for the last few weeks, and he hadn’t slept properly in weeks.

So yeah, Aaron wasn’t having the greatest day. Katelyn had cancelled their study session for after practice, and they had a hard game against the New York Bears coming up, and then, just when he thought practice was over, and he could stand under the shower until some of that ever-present tension in his shoulders eased, the FBI showed up.

There were two agents, one with brown hair and one who was wearing a grey hat. They followed Wymack onto the court, the door shutting behind them and catching the Foxes attention.

Dan called a halt to the drills, and the team slowly came to a halt, clumping together in the middle of the court as if trying to defend themselves from the men. Jean murmured something in French to Nathaniel, who stared at the men.

Aaron sneered when Andrew came to stand next to Nathaniel, folding his arms. He sneered even more when Nathaniel looked at Andrew, and seemed more sure of himself when he spoke. “Is there a problem?”

One of the agents, the one with the hat, pulled out a recording device and hit play. The other, with the brown hair, introduced himself. “I’m Agent Browning with the FBI, and this is Agent Towns. We have a few questions for you, Mr Wesninski, so if you could follow us to the station-

“No.”

All Aaron could do was groan internally. He leaned against the court wall, and watched Andrew’s little boyfriend dig himself into an even deeper hole. Maybe they’d actually pinned something on him- wouldn’t that be nice, to finally have some peace and normality returned.

The agent seemed taken aback by the words. “We need to ask you some questions, and if you are resisting a federal investigation, we can have you taken in in handcuffs.”

Nathaniel jutted out his jaw. “I am complying. I will answer all your questions right here, you can record them. But you’re not taking me away.”

The men sighed, and seemed to have a silent conversation. “Fine. The rest of you need to leave, this is a federal investigation.”

“They don’t have to leave. This is private property, you can’t make them leave and unless you have a reason to arrest me, you can ask those questions right here.”

Why? Why couldn’t life ever be on his side?

Wymack motioned for the Foxes to stay put, and Nathaniel nodded slightly at him.

The agent shook his head, and sighed. “Fine. If you want this aired to the rest of your team, that’s up to you. We’re here to ask about the death of your father, Nathan Wesninski.”

Nathaniel began to smile, a twisted thing that stretched his face unnaturally. “Really. What awful news. How did he die?”

“He was shot in the head, which killed him instantly, but the body was mutilated after death. He had another bullet wound in his right shoulder, extensive slashes across his torso and arms. and a burn, presumably from an iron, on his left shoulder.”

Aaron wasn’t stupid. Marred flesh didn’t affect him, not when he saw so much of it in his textbooks, but he’d still catalogued Nathaniel’s extensive injuries after seeing them twice a day for the past six months. Someone had obviously gone a bit overboard on the revenge.

Nathaniel’s smile only stretched wider. “How sad.”

The agent fixed him with a look. “He was found dead in your childhood home in Baltimore on Friday, time of death estimated to be 7pm, in a basement which was not on any official blueprints of the house. The body of Lola Malcolm was found in the master bedroom, upstairs, and a Romero Malcolm was found a few miles away in a ditch yesterday, after extensive searching.”

“What are you accusing me of?”

“We are informing you of his death, and asking if you had any involvement.”

“As I’m sure you are already aware, Agent Browning, I was in Dakota on Friday at 7pm, playing a game on live television. I’m not sure what you’re asking me.” Nathaniel’s grin looked almost painful on his face, and his hand was gripping Jean’s so hard it would leave bruises.

The man changed tack. “When was the last time you spoke to your uncle, Stuart Hatford?”

“When I was nine, we called him on Christmas Day.”

“And if I look at your phone and laptop, would they say the same thing?”

“Yes.” Nathaniel had known this was coming, then. How had Aaron’s life turned out like this? He was listening to the FBI question someone about the brutal murder of their gangster father, for fuck’s sake.

“We have reason to believe that your family in England, the Hatfords, organized the killings. The Butcher of Baltimore has been on our radar for a very long time.”

“I play sports, why do you think I know anything about my father’s business? I haven’t been in that house since I was nine.”

“Around the time your mother disappeared, yes?”

Nathaniel didn’t even flinch. It was fucking terrifying, the way he stood there, just smiling. “She’s dead. If you look hard enough in the septic tank behind the old swimming pool a few blocks away, you might find remains of her DNA and the acid Lola used.”

Nicky looked like he was going to be sick.

The agents talked quietly for a few seconds, tones urgent, then turned back to the team. “We’ll be back with follow up questions tomorrow. Apologies for interrupting the practice- we’ll come to the dorm next time, so we can take our time and get the story straight.”

There was silence as Wymack closed the door behind them, and then Nathaniel sunk to his knees, gasping. Andrew was kneeling in front of him immediately, grasping the back of his neck and shoving his head down.

“Breathe. You’re in Palmetto, Nathan’s dead, Riko’s dead. Nathaniel, listen to me.” His breathing only became more labored at the name.

“Neil. You’re Neil Josten.”

Jean whipped his head towards Andrew at the words. Andrew sat there, talking, and it almost would’ve sounded like he was telling Nathaniel off it it wasn’t for the way he held his neck, and the way the shuddering subsided slightly.

Aaron didn’t stick around to watch. Clearly, Nathaniel was Andrew’s priority now- he didn’t know who the fuck Neil Josten was, but he did know that the most comfort Andrew had ever showed him was locking him in the bathroom until he’d scratched the paint off the walls, shirt streaked with vomit and fingernails bleeding, then handed him a cup of coffee three days later and acted as if he hadn’t forced him through withdrawal.

He ignored the team’s concerned muttering, and yanked off his helmet, shoving open the door and almost stomping to the shower. Maybe it was childish, but he was viciously pleased that Nathaniel finally seemed to be feeling some of the consequences of killing people. He stepped under the shower spray, and wished until it hurt for the problems of a normal life.

Chapter Text

“Breathe, Neil.” Andrew was dimly aware of Aaron storming off the court, but he had more important things to deal with than his brother’s brattiness. He turned to Jean, who was running his hands through Nathaniel’s hair.

“What do you usually do?”

Jean grimaced. “What I can. Sometimes putting him under the shower helps, sometimes he wants to be held, sometimes he’ll gut anyone who comes near him.”

Andrew swore, then leaned down. “Hey, Neil, I’m going to get you out of here, ok? It would help if I could carry you, yes or no?”

Neil was gasping, but he nodded a yes. Andrew scooped him up, and carried him to the door to the court. He was a lot heavier than he looked, for someone so short and scrawny. Andrew managed to get him settled in the front seat of the Maserati, then pulled out of the parking lot, ignoring Jean’s outraged look. The Frenchie could hitch a ride with Dan.

It wasn’t a situation in which he could be gentle, but he tried to stop any of Nathaniel’s limbs from hitting the doors as he manhandled him into the elevator, and into the bathroom of Andrew’s dorm. He turned the shower on, and let the hot water soak Neil’s clothes through where he was hunched under the spray, knees tucked into his chest.

The redhead had stopped gasping, at least, but he didn’t react to either of his names, staring blankly at the shower door. Andrew sat on the toilet lid, and started to talk.

It might have been an hour, by the time it did anything. Thank god for endless hot water in Fox Tower, was all he could say- he did say it, several times, because there wasn’t much conversation to be made when the other person was hunched over, shivering and silent.

He talked about everything and nothing; he talked about Nicky’s breakfast burritos, and Cass’s house, and the stupid football team on the floor above them that always partied too loud. He was talking about Roland, and how he’d found him easy to get along with- they’d always seen eye to eye on topics, especially ones such as how weak at the knees blue eyes made them.

Nathaniel stirred slightly. When he spoke, it was raspy, as if he’d been crying, but he managed a weak chuckle. “And here I was thinking it was my winning personality that had you all a-swooning.”

Andrew fixed him with an unimpressed look. “No matter how pretty your eyes are, nothing could ever make up for the fact that you actually like Exy.”

“So I’m pretty, huh?” Neil smiled up at him, and he looked like a bedraggled cat, but damn him if those eyes weren’t the most gorgeous fire Andrew had ever seen.

Then the idiot spoiled it all. “Don’t pretend you don’t like Exy, too. You voluntarily practice with Kevin- no one would subject themselves to that unless they cared just a little bit.”

“You are a junkie, Neil. Hooked on that pathetic sport like it’s your lifeblood.”

A dry cough. “Don’t remind me.”

Shit. That probably hadn’t been the most well-thought-out of barbs. Andrew helped Nathaniel out of the shower, and helped him out of the sodden jersey and gear. Some of it was ruined, by now, the water warping the plastic. He chucked it into a pile for Jean to deal with, and definitely didn’t look when Neil shucked off his underwear and slipped on Andrew’s sweatpants.

He’d seen him naked before, of course- Nathaniel had never been particularly shy about his body in a way that spoke of modesty not even occurring to him after a lifetime of not having the option of it. Seeing him in Andrew’s clothes, the number 3 emblazoned onto his back, was better.

“Lie down. I’ll get us some food.”

Neil looked around him. “Is this your bed?”

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly put you in Nicky’s would I?”

Neil snorted, and lay down, hair leaving a wet patch on Andrew’s pillow. Andrew left the room briefly, to make two sandwiches, but when he came back five minutes later, he was fast asleep.

Andrew checked the time. It was only half-six, and he guessed that if the others weren’t back by now, then Dan had made them stay out of the dorm. He’d hung up Nathaniel’s clothes, and eaten the sandwiches, but he wasn’t exactly keen on watching the man sleep, no matter how peaceful he looked without his Nathaniel mask on.

So he stole Aaron’s pillow, and Nicky’s jacket, and lay there on the floor next to the bed. It didn’t take long for him to fall asleep, early as it was- the thoughts were swirling in his head, and he’d exhausted himself talking for so long in the bathroom.

It was odd, he thought, how quickly he’d decided to trust Nathaniel Wesninski. It had taken him a long time to be able to sleep properly in a room with just his family, and he still woke reaching for a weapon every day. By all his own logic, his own rules, he shouldn’t be so comfortable sleeping next to someone who he knew had killed, and was a significant threat, but somehow Andrew didn’t mind.

He didn’t look like a threat, like this. Andrew could admit to himself that he cared about the man curled into his sheets. He hated Josten, for making him care, he really, truly did. Caring wasn’t a good thing, when you were Andrew- caring meant that you wanted something, and that meant that it would be taken away from you. Caring meant wanting to keep Cass, even when it meant he had to suffer Drake. Caring meant Aaron, a brother, and it meant juvie, and hatred, and Tilda. Caring meant weakness, one more thing that people could use against him, one more thing to tear himself into pieces for, as long as it meant they were safe.

So he hated Nathaniel Wesninski, and he hated Neil Josten even more.

But he wasn’t a threat, not to Andrew. He was almost wary of how much he trusted Nathaniel not to hurt him, not to cut him, not to hold him down like so many others had done. So he left the knives on the dresser, and let sleep overcome him, and if he dreamed of a certain redhead, instead of the usual men who had been in his bed, then that was something he would keep to himself.

Chapter Text

When Nathaniel woke up, the room was dark. It took him a few moments to get accustomed to his surroundings, the dorm room that looked so similar to his own, but from a different bed and without Jean’s comforting weight at his back.

He was vaguely aware that he was wearing Andrew’s clothes, a mix of of glaring orange training gear and Andrew’s permanently black wardrobe. It wasn’t like Nathaniel had any place to make judgements- he’d barely replaced his black clothes from the Nest, although he did make a point to always wear at least one item of clothing that wasn’t black or blood red.

Andrew himself was curled up on the floor next to the bed, blond tufts of hair sticking out the top of Nicky’s jacket. The alarm told him that he’d been asleep for roughly two hours- he should go back to his own dorm before night. Despite how much Nathaniel wanted to keep the peaceful expression on Andrew’s face for as long as he could, he didn’t feel quite right just watching him sleep.

“Andrew,” It was barely a whisper, but it caused a violent reaction.

He jerked awake, reaching under his pillow for a knife in a gesture Nathaniel was all too familiar with. It took him a few seconds for the glaze over his hazel eyes to clear, and for him to lower his hands. It made Nathaniel wonder, why he slept in a position so defensive, hands covering his face- he’d learned to reach for a weapon before he could talk, living with his father, then with Riko.

Andrew seemed to understand what he was thinking. “I don’t like being woken up.”

Nathaniel swung his legs out of the bed, and didn’t miss the way hazel eyes tracked them. “Neither do I. Usually, getting woken up means a knife to my throat, or Jean screaming.”

“More truths? Don’t go giving too much of yourself away, Neil. One day you’ll find there’s nothing left.” Nathaniel had a feeling that Andrew wasn’t talking about him, there.

“I’m giving it to you, Andrew. You’ll be there to give it back.”

Those hazel eyes fixed on him. “You seem awfully sure of that. The future is not something you can promise- ‘always’ is unattainable. Your hopes for the future are not truths; truth is irrefutable and untainted by bias. Sunrise, Nathaniel, and death; these are truths.”

Nathaniel could barely breathe as he stared into those eyes of honey. “Maybe. But I can hope, can’t I?”

“Hope is useless, as is regret. What matters is people, and words. Don’t give me hope, when it’s so easy to take away. Give me something real.”

It was so easy to look at him, at the way the streetlamp shined in through the open window to light the strands of Andrew’s hair up like spun gold. Andrew scoffed. “Don’t look at me like that.”

“Like what?”

He felt like he was missing something, when Andrew poked a finger into his cheek and shoved his face away.

“I hate you.”

A smile broke out on Nathaniel’s face- a real one, soft and full of mirth. “I know.”

It was a statement he’d heard a lot, after weeks of sitting on the roof exchanging words about everything and nothing. Andrew glared at his smile. “I could push you off the roof.”

“I’d drag you down with me.”

It was an admission of guilt- he’d let himself care, and now this wasn’t something he wanted to let go of. Nathaniel was familiar with dangerous things, and this was definitely dangerous- he felt like he was burning up every time he saw Andrew block a goal, or strain in training, or let out a curl of smoke that smelled so foul but also smelled like him. This was dangerous, but it was also the safest Nathaniel had ever felt, here in an empty dorm with Andrew sitting next to him, sides brushing slightly where their bodies were pressed together.

He’d given a truth, so Andrew began to speak. “At Cass’s house, I told you he had a son, Drake. He was a bit too fond of little blond boys who couldn’t fight back.”

The words took a while to settle in Nathaniel’s head. He wasn’t one for pity, or sympathy, and he had a feeling Andrew wouldn’t appreciate it anyway, but one thing he’d always been very good with was knives.

“I can get rid of him, if you want.”

Andrew shook his head minutely. “He went back to the Marines after I left the house. Killed in Iraq.”

“Good.” The word hung between them. They were not people like Renee, who could forgive. They were people with the power to do something about the sins that had been inflicted upon them, finally, after a lifetime of being helpless.

********

Nathaniel did not let the men see him squirm. He locked on his smiling mask, hiding behind a personality that did not let him flinch, or cry, or panic. Right now, he was Nathaniel Wesninski, and Nathaniel Wesninski did not show weakness because it had been beaten out of him for eighteen years.

He answered the questions, hours and hours of questions that asked the same thing but were worded slightly differently, and gave the same answers but worded slightly differently. No, sir, he had no idea that his father had worked for the Moriyamas. No, sir, he didn’t know who Ichirou was, or how his mother had gotten the fake IDs, or how his father had dealt with the undercover officer he’d discovered pretending to be a chef.

He knew that Andrew was just outside the door, and that Jean would be there to run gentle fingers through his hair, so he lied through his teeth and smiled until his jaw hurt, the lies spinning through the air and weaving an intricate web that he was sure would hold up to any scrutiny.

The FBI wanted to put him in witness protection. It was something he didn’t need, now. He had a team, and a home, and a blond with hazel eyes who told him to stay with every action.

He did ask for one thing, though. He signed the papers, and checked the boxes, and scribbled along dotted lines, until Neil Josten was a real person.

And when the FBI left, and Andrew came in, the only thing he could do was smile, a real smile, because Neil Josten was not a pipe dream, and Neil Josten wasn’t going anywhere.

So when Andrew asked “Yes or no?”, it was all Neil could do to chant yes, yes, yes, forever yes, because it was Andrew, and he was finally safe.

Chapter Text

“I can do the paparazzi, Dan, I’ll be fine.” Neil protested, but quieted down when Andrew sent him a glare. He strapped on his helmet, and let the blond drag him to the inner court as Dan sighed and called Kevin over. She was wearing her press suit, and Kevin had run a comb through his hair- it was ridiculous, really, that they had to dress up for these pre-game interviews, but she wasn’t going to give the press any more reasons do vilify her.

The noise was immense when they stepped into the interview room- there hadn’t been this many reporters at one of their games since Kevin’s transfer, and maybe not even then. There was more than just the sports channels here, too- every news station in the country wanted to hear Nathaniel Wesninski’s statement on the way his father’s empire had crumbled. The ‘Butcher of Baltimore’ was splashed across every news station, and Neil’s famous and rather attractive face had certainly garnered it more attention than it deserved.

She was worried about Neil. He’d asked them all to call him that, now. She didn’t want to know what sway he had with the appropriate government divisions to get a legal name change through so fast, but he had a newly-issued social security card and student ID to his name.

He’d scared them, that day, when the FBI came to practice, and when he’d answered their questions all the next day, Andrew scowling from his post outside his door.

Neil was dangerous, that was plain to see, but the Foxes were protective of their own. It broke Dan’s heart to listen to what had been done to him, to watch him gasping and terrified, to see him silent for days after, clinging to Andrew and Jean.

When the questions came, Dan could barely make out the individual words over the barrage of noise hurled at them, but the name Wesninski was easy to pick out among the din.

She would not show her anger- she couldn’t afford to appear as anything less than perfect, as the first female captain in Class 1 Exy- but she wouldn’t hesitate to show her displeasure as she spoke in clipped sentences.

“Neither I nor Mr Day will be answering any questions to do with Neil today, except to make the statement that he would like to be referred to as his legal name, Neil Josten. We will not be commenting on the death of Nathan Wesninski or any of his associates.”

There was uproar, but she didn’t raise her voice to be heard. If they wanted to hear what she had to say, they were going to have to listen.

“Mr Josten will be making a statement within the next week, but he will not be doing any interviews today. Now, I’m aware that you only came here to get your claws into someone’s personal life, but are there any questions about the actual game, both of us would be happy to answer.”

There was general grumbling. It didn’t seem like many of the reporters crammed into the room had actually come to ask anything about the game, despite it being so high-profile. Vultures, all of them.

Finally, a reporter, a young woman with ridiculously huge glasses, spoke up. “The Trojans are a formidable team- there’s no denying that the Foxes have come far this season, only having lost one game, but are you ready to face USC?”

Dan could have kissed her. “Thank you. Yes, we believe that we are ready for today’s game, and as always, Jeremy’s team are worthy and enjoyable opponents.”

Kevin was fielding some reporters by simply talking over them about USC’s sportsmanship, his slight crush on Jeremy Knox very obvious. “Yes, the Trojans are a great team, one I’ve always admired, and of course Jeremy is a wonderful captain...”

Dan sighed, and hoped Neil would be alright.

**********

They’d won by two points, and Dan was pretty sure Matt crushed her internal organs as they kissed after the final buzzer rang. They were exhausted, and the defense line looked dead on their feet, but Neil looked more alive than he had all week as he collapsed against Jean. The Frenchman grimaced at his sweaty body, shoving him away as Neil pretended to fall and sprawled onto the court floor, laughing.

It was quite amusing to see Jean run a hand through his hair before they lined up for the handshake, and Dan was sure that Neil’s french teasing had something to do with how long Jean gripped Jeremy’s hand.

Andrew didn’t wait around to shake hands, as usual, but Dan could only smile as she hugged Laila and listened to Alvarez admonish her for ‘not replying to the memes I sent you, bitch!’.

They stripped of their sweaty gear, and laughed when Nicky poured half a bottle of water down a scowling Aaron’s shirt, and collapsed onto the bus to take them back to the hotel.

They could almost forget the fact that their lives had become something out of a mafia movie, when they crammed into one booth with Jeremy, Laila, Alvarez and a few of the Trojans. Kevin got drunk enough to dance with Nicky, which involved some moves not entirely appropriate for anything but a club floor.

Allison was stumbling along in those ridiculous heels, a smiling Renee holding her up as she slurred something about Kevin’s haircut, and Matt almost passed out trying to keep up with Aaron’s alarming consumption of alcohol. Really, she didn’t know how he did it- he didn’t exactly have the largest body mass, at five foot even.

There where some whoops and some jeers when Jean left with a grinning Jeremy, whose’ constant heart eyes must have paid off, even if Dan was sure they weren’t going to do anything more than kiss. She was happy for Jean- Jeremy was lovely, and Jean deserved sunshine after a life in such darkness, after Riko had tried to use even his own sexuality against him.

Somewhere along the evening, amid the prank calls and all the embarrassing stories about Kevin that Jean and Neil had managed to garner over the years, Neil had managed to slip off.

Dan almost frowned, worry cutting through her alcohol endured haze, until she noticed Andrew’s absence- he’d be okay with Andrew, even if she didn’t understand how on earth he was comforted by the monster.

They’d be here for him. It was the least he deserved, some kindness, after everything that had happened.

Dan put Neil out of her mind, and smiled up at Matt when he dragged her out to dance with Nicky and Kevin, putting her years of practice to use as Alvarez hollered and whooped. They were the best they’d ever been- Kevin was smiling, Seth was joking, and even Andrew had softened slightly. The Foxes were finally working as a team, and now that they qualified for finals, they were going to show the world exactly how much they were worth.

Chapter Text

Kevin was ready for this, he was. Renee smiled at him, and the tattoo artist wiped his cheek with disinfectant. Tomorrow, they were playing the Ravens- the championship game.

Renee had found him this morning, his resolve crumbling as he uncapped a bottle of vodka. He’d tried for so long, but with the Ravens game tomorrow, he’d weakened and had been ready to drink. She’d prised the bottle out of his grip, and held his hand as he cried, then driven him to the tattoo parlor where he now sat in a chair ready to wipe Riko’s memory off his skin forever.

He could recognize, now, that Riko had never loved him. But he’d barely been a child, and he’d so desperately wanted a brother to love after his mother’s death. Love didn’t have to come with so much pain, he knew that now.

The world was better off without Riko, and so was he. That was what Nathaniel- Neil- had told him, and the words were finally resonating. So he leaned back, and let the needles prick his face, and when it was done he walked out of that shop with his head held high, and a bandage covering the new mark.

It was a queen. Kayleigh had liked chess, had told him that smart people always did. Kevin wasn’t quite sure about how true that was, but he liked to remember the soft words and laughs, even if her advice hadn’t been too great.

The queen wasn’t for her, anyway. She had been the Queen of Exy, that was uncontested, but this was for Kevin. He wasn’t second to Riko anymore, wasn’t the number 2, never quite the best no matter how hard he strived. Instead, Kevin would be the deadliest piece on the board, even if Riko was rolling in his grave.

Renee dropped him off at the dorm. Matt saw it first, and let out an over-enthusiastic whoop. Neil was sitting on the sofa, leaning against Jean’s legs and staring at Andrew’s hair- why was Andrew here, anyway?- and gave Kevin an appraising look.

Jean actually stood up, ignoring Neil’s disgruntled protests, and came to look at it. “What did you get?” His voice was soft, but it didn’t feel any less momentous. It was the first time Jean had started a conversation with him, apart from to send insults and jabs which were entirely deserved.

He swallowed, and tried not to mess it up. “A chess piece. The queen.”

Jean smiled. It was barely a flicker, but it was there. “Good choice.”

Andrew was watching the exchange. Kevin was still wary around Andrew, but the way the blonde gave him a small nod told him that there weren’t going to be any more knives pulled, not unless Jean wanted it.

Jean stared at his bandage for a few seconds, absently stroking his own ‘3’ in a way that made Kevin suspect he had no idea he was doing it.

Maybe he’d get it removed, one day. The technology was improving for that kind of thing. Kevin didn’t blame Jean for wanting to get rid of everything that connected him to the Nest- he’d latched onto Jeremy Knox’s sunshine and simple, happy, life with both hands. The Trojans were everything that Ravens were not, and Kevin had a feeling Jean wouldn’t stay in Palmetto for very much longer, not even for Neil.

Neil seemed to be doing alright, too. He was more soft than not these days- a personality Kevin had only seen brief flashes of in all those years in the Nest. Even at nine years old, Nathaniel had learned to keep his guard up, and Kevin guessed he’d never put it down.

They were never going to be friends, the three of them. There was too much history, too many scars for that. But maybe they would be able to keep the tentative peace they’d built, and maybe one day Kevin would be able to forgive himself for what had happened.

 

Right now, the game was what mattered. Kevin had walked out onto the pitch, helmet removed so that the cameras he knew would be there had a full view of his cheek, and the crowd had gone wild, both at the sight of the new tattoo, and the three of them walking on to the court together again. They’d taken their positions, and the buzzer had sounded.

At the end of the first half, the Foxes were up three points. Seth and Kevin scored goal after goal, although they had to work for it. Jean, Neil and Andrew kept the Ravens out of their goal, and not even the Ravens could get through that formation. They didn’t have those tattoos for nothing.

But this wasn’t a game they could afford to swap out Jean and Neil for, not when they were the only thing stopping the Ravens from closing the point gap. They stepped back onto the court, but Jean already looked tired, and they still had half a game to go.

Slowly, the Ravens used their huge team and the Foxes’ tiredness to close the point gap, scoring two more points before the last five minutes of the game.

They couldn’t afford for the Ravens to even out the score, not now. They wouldn’t get another chance to score before the final buzzer, and if the game went into overtime, the Foxes would collapse.

The Raven’s starting striker was back on after sitting out most of the game, and he looked almost comical next to Neil’s small frame, huge and bulky and not afraid to body-check him to get possession of the ball. Kevin, from the other end of the court, could only watch. He and Seth waited, knowing the only thing left to do was pray that Jean and Nathaniel could keep the Ravens from scoring for just one more minute now.

Neil yelled something at Jean, presumably in French- it always helped, so that the other team didn’t know your plan, then Kevin swore as he ran straight at the striker, who had his racquet raised high to strike.

He turned at the last second, and the striker’s momentum sent him crashing into the plexiglass wall. He prised himself off the glass, and roared at Neil, who danced away with footwork light as a feather.

Neil was taunting him, baiting him into attacking him rather than focus on scoring in these final moments.

It worked, although Kevin almost wished it hadn’t as Neil crashed to the floor under the solid mass of the striker, head thudding against the floor sickeningly. The striker punched him, and just as the referee pulled open the court door to blow her whistle, the final buzzer rang.

It took Jean and Andrew to pull the man off Neil, who had blood dripping down his face from the punch as he yelled insults after the man as he was dragged off.

Kevin barely registered the fight, though- he was almost dazed as he watched Seth punch the air, and Dan kiss Matt, and Allison whoop and cheer as Renee and Nicky yelled from the sub bench.

They’d won. By one point, by the skin of their teeth, but they’d won. Kevin could’ve cried, right then and there.

The after-game handshakes were skipped, what with Neil’s injury and the striker being restrained on the sidelines, and the Foxes piled into the changing room with joyous cheers and whoops.

Wymack was yelling for quiet, and Abby was trying to help Aaron with a sprained ankle, while Neil stuffed tissue into his bleeding nose, as Andrew yanked his helmet off, muttering something about ‘fucking idiot junkies’. He was grasping Neil’s jaw, turning his head to inspect the blossoming bruise there, when Allison’s shriek cut through the din.

She was pointing at the two, at the way Andrew was clutching Neil’s face and the smile on the redhead’s, and yelled “When the fuck did that happen?”

Kevin didn’t understand. “You were watching, Allison. He got punched by someone three times his size.”

Allison looked at him like he was stupid, and Kevin began to think that maybe he was missing something. “Not the injury, you moron. When did Neil hook up with the monster?”

“What?”

Kevin’s reaction was mirrored by Aaron and Seth, but Neil and Andrew didn’t deny it. Kevin was incredibly confused.

“Well? What the fuck, Neil? Jean? Are you okay with this?”
Jean looked startled to be brought into the conversation, and looked at Allison disparagingly. “They have not been very subtle, Allison. We did tell you I wasn’t with Neil. What do you think they’ve been doing alone on the roof for the last two months?”

That let off a whole new round of screeching. Nicky seemed overjoyed, Dan was yelling “TWO MONTHS?”, and Aaron was making disgusted faces and going “The roof, Andrew? Seriously? You had sex on the roof?”

Wymack did not look in the least bit surprised, and yelled at them all to shut up until there was relative quiet.

Then Neil piped up, and Kevin knew just from the devilish look on his face that it was not going to be appropriate. “Technically, we’ve never had sex on the actual roof. The sofa, though.”

That set the room off again, and Kevin felt his lips beginning to twitch as the Foxes laughed in mock-outrage (and actual outrage from Matt, whom the sofa belonged to), and they piled onto the bus for the long journey home. Kevin left Evermore behind again, but this time it was with his hand intact and a championship trophy in the mail.

Chapter Text

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.