woke up on the wrong side of reality
and there’s a madness that’s just coursing right through me
Teammates to Rivals to Teammates: Neil Josten signs with the Atlanta Hawks, where he’ll play with ex-college teammate and current professional rival Andrew Minyard.
Andrew looks at the laptop screen, then up at Neil’s inexplicably delighted face. “Why are you showing me this?”
“Buzzfeed wrote an article about us,” Neil says, as if Andrew can’t read the words in front of his face. “Look, there are pictures.”
The screen blurs as Neil leans over Andrew’s shoulder to scroll down to a picture of them on the PSU court. Andrew is staring angrily at Neil, who is waving both hands in the air.
The caption reads Minyard and Josten exchange heated words while playing together at Palmetto State University.
“I remember that,” Andrew says. “You were being an idiot.”
Neil rolls his eyes. “I’m always an idiot.”
Andrew nods. “Yes.”
Neil scrolls again, to a picture of them from last season. They only played against each other once, and Neil had slipped the ball past Andrew in the last ten seconds, winning the game for his team. The picture was taken right as the goal turned red and Neil looks more gleeful than Andrew has ever seen him as he grins directly into Andrew’s unimpressed face.
Josten taunts Minyard after scoring a goal in the final seconds of their first game as opponents.
“I remember this one,” Neil says. His breath is warm against Andrew’s neck. “You fucked me in your car in the parking lot.”
“You wouldn’t shut up about that fucking goal.” Andrew turns his head and nips at the line of Neil’s jaw. Just enough teeth to leave the skin red. “I had to make it stop.”
Andrew reaches out to wrap his fingers around Neil’s wrist, waiting until they make eye contact and Neil nods before he pushes the laptop out of the way and drags Neil down sideways across his lap.
Neil settles with an arm around Andrew’s shoulders and the look on his face is so open and warm that Andrew has to kiss him to chase it away. He feels Neil sink into it immediately. His mouth opens under Andrew’s and he goes pliant in Andrew’s arms, melting like pulled taffy as Andrew’s hands slip under Neil’s shirt and skate up his ribs. Almost six years in and sometimes Andrew still expects to wake up alone and cold with the lingering memories of an amazing fever dream in flashes of auburn and ice blue.
Instead, he has Neil. Real and warm against his chest.
“I can’t wait for next season,” Neil mumbles. His mouth slides down Andrew’s throat. “I haven’t sucked you off in a locker room for years.”
Andrew has to close his eyes for a second at the influx of raw heat that diffuses through his body. Fever dreams don’t have mouths nearly as dirty as Neil’s.
“Junkie.” Andrew slips his arm under Neil’s legs and stands up, taking Neil with him.
Neil makes a surprised sound and his arm tightens around Andrew’s neck, but he’s laughing as Andrew carries him across the apartment to their bedroom.
and i’m back with a madness, i’m a champion
of people who don’t believe in champions
They win the Olympics. The US Court beats Canada 5-3. It’s the best game Neil has played since the finals his freshman year, and this time he isn’t angry and terrified. It’s exhilarating.
He has Andrew, as always, but this time he also has Matt, Kevin, Jean, and Jeremy on his side. Dan is on the sidelines, coaching the backliners, and the rest of his family is in the stands. When the final buzzer sounds, Neil is deafened by the roar of the Olympic stadium. He’s immediately surrounded by his team, even Dan has been pulled in as they hug and scream, but Neil darts under Matt’s arm and heads for goal, dropping his stick and half of his gear behind him.
Andrew is pulling off his helmet, then his neck guard, as Neil approaches him, but he’s not looking anywhere but at Neil’s face. Neil stops in front of him and puts his hand on Andrew’s shoulder. Andrew doesn’t protest or pull away, so he slides his hand to the back of Andrew’s neck, underneath the sweaty curl of his har.
“Yes or no?” he asks.
Andrew’s brow creases briefly, like he’s trying to figure out where Neil is going with this, but he says yes and that’s all that matters.
Cameras flash and whirr all around them as Neil steps forward, closing the distance between them, and kisses Andrew. It’s hard and hot, Andrew kissing back as Neil pours all of his emotions into it. Joy and pride and his entire fucking heart.
He’s panting for breath when they pull apart, and he feels almost lightheaded with how happy he is. Everyone he loves is in this stadium and he played Court and they fucking won.
Suddenly, there’s an arm around his neck and Matt is yelling about after parties and Andrew is glaring at Jean like he slapped Neil across the face instead of clapping him on the back. Behind him, Kevin is hissing something about “there are fucking cameras here you assholes,” as if that wasn’t the entire point in the first place.
It’s the best day of Neil’s whole goddamn life.
By the time the awards ceremony starts the next afternoon, the pictures of Andrew and Neil kissing on the goal line are everywhere. Neil spends the entire ride from the Olympic dorms to the stadium reading Buzzfeed articles and tweets that range from incredulous to vindicated. He shows the best ones to Andrew, who rolls his eyes so many times Neil almost warns him that they might fall out of his head.
When they arrive, the entire team and all of their coaches are funneled through press and cameras. No one asks about the kiss, which means that some publicist has threatened anyone who was thinking about trying. Neil is trying to figure out if it was Kevin’s idea or someone else’s, when suddenly he’s standing in a line between Andrew and Jeremy and the ceremony is starting.
The US National Anthem begins to play, but Neil tunes it out in favor of scanning the crowd. He finds them in the first row of the balcony. Nicky, Allison, and Abby are leaning against the railing and screaming while Wymack, Erik, Renee, and Bee cheer beside them. Katelyn is jumping up and down next to Aaron, who isn’t yelling or clapping, but who is wearing one of Andrew’s old jerseys. Neil has no idea how he got his hands on it, but he has a vague suspicion that Bee was involved. His uncle is in the crowd somewhere, Neil knows, but he doesn’t look for him. He will always be grateful for what his uncle did for him, but he’s not the family that counts.
His eyes do catch on one of the VIP boxes, though. On the cluster of men in black suits and sunglasses, standing guard around Ichirou Moriyama as he watches the value of his investments increase before his eyes.
Ichirou is always watching, Neil has come to realize. When the Hawks won the National Championship last season, Ichirou sent them a giant television, a new gaming system, and a cat tree that was so big they had to clear out half the guest room for it. It would be a nice gesture from anyone else. From Ichirou, it’s a reminder that he has his eyes on them--and that, for the moment, he is pleased. Neil hopes to never find out what happens when he is displeased.
Finally, the anthem ends and they’re being draped in gold medals. The man handing them out drops the medals easily over Andrew’s neck, and then Neil’s, before being forced to reach above his head when he gets to Jeremy.
The gold is heavy against Neil’s chest, weighing down on his scars. He presses his hand against it and wonders if his mom would be proud of him. He hopes so. Hopes that wherever she is, that she can see that he’s alive and loved. He’s pulled out of his head by Andrew’s hand on his wrist, tugging him closer until Andrew can talk into his ear.
“I can hear you thinking over all of this shit,” Andrew says in Russian. “If you don’t stop I’m going to leave you here.”
Neil laughs, loud enough that Jeremy looks over and grins at him. “Liar,” he says to Andrew. “You’d miss me too much.”
“The cats might,” Andrew says. He’s still holding Neil’s wrist, though, so Neil leans into him, bumping their shoulders together.
Neil thought he was going to die before he turned 20.
Somehow, he’s 26 and his life is the best it’s ever been.
some princes don’t become kings
even at the best of times, i’m out of my mind
The television is on in the background, Wheel of Fortune playing quietly while Andrew reads and Neil stares down at his phone, swiping back and forth across the screen. Matt sent him a link to an exy game you can play online and Neil is trying to figure it out. “We can play on the same team!” Matt’s text said.
A commercial fades in and out, then the Jeopardy theme comes on and Neil grabs the remote to turn up the volume. Beside him, Andrew doesn’t even look up from his book, but Neil settles closer anyway. He likes trying to answer the clues and Andrew seems to enjoy mocking the contestants when they’re wrong. It might be their favorite show.
One of the categories is “Exy Stars”. Neil nudges Andrew, who finally looks away from his book to glare. “Stop being annoying.”
“Do you think we’ll be a clue?” Neil asks. Andrew doesn’t respond, but when he looks back at his book, he keeps part of his attention on the television.
The first answer is Kayleigh Day, the second is Jeremy Knox, but the $600 dollar question reads “After five years at Palmetto State with his identical twin brother, this goalie is currently wearing the yellow and blue of the Atlanta Hawks.”
Andrew has gone still with surprise as one of the contestants buzzes in. “Who is Andrew Minyard?” she says, and adds $600 to her total score.
Neil can’t keep the grin off his face. The show has gone to a commercial and Andrew is still staring at the screen. Neil is honestly not sure he’s ever seen Andrew this shocked.
“You’re a star,” he says, jiggling his knee against Andrew’s until Andrew looks at him.
“Don’t tell Kevin,” is all Andrew says, but Neil can see the small smile tugging up the corner of his mouth as he goes back to reading.
Neil texts Nicky and Allison instead. They’ll tell everyone else for him. He has a feeling that this Jeopardy clip is going to get a lot of mileage within their family. Hopefully he can keep it mostly out of Andrew’s range of hearing or sight.
He won’t be able to do anything about the fans on Twitter, though. Andrew’s just going to have to deal with them.
“I’ll take Exy Stars for $1000,” one of the contestants says, and Neil turns his attention back to the television.
“After his untimely death, this Edgar Allan striker and captain was the first college Exy player to have his number retired and memorialized.”
The text is accompanied by a full screen picture. Riko stares out into Neil and Andrew’s living room, his eyes flat and cold, but with a charming smile laced across his face. It’s the same smile he gave Neil as the knives slid under his skin. The tattoo on his face is burning into Neil’s vision.
Andrew snorts. “Untimely.”
Neil hears a contestant buzz in, but he doesn’t hear her answer. His head is filled with static. Riko has been gone for years, but something about seeing him in living color on their too-big television screen has turned Neil’s insides cold.
He feels Andrew’s hand on his knee as he tries to take a deep breath and push down the images flashing through his head. Riko sneering at him across the Ravens’ court. Riko’s blank eyes as he told Jean to hold Neil down harder. Riko’s mocking laughter when Neil couldn’t hold in how much it hurt. Riko’s all-consuming rage when Neil beat him at the finals.
Riko’s dead stare as he lay on the floor, blood seeping into the carpet under his head.
“You know,” he says. His voice comes out weak. “Kevin said once that it wasn’t all bad. That when they were kids it was good. Fun.”
Andrew moves beside him, bringing his hand from Neil’s leg to his face. His fingers are like a brand against Neil’s cheek as Andrew turns Neil’s head so they’re facing each other.
“Breathe,” Andrew says.
Neil breathes. He counts to ten in French and German, then to twenty in Russian. The tension eases a little. Just enough for him to focus on Andrew’s face.
They’re breathing together, now. If Neil concentrates he can almost imagine he hears their hearts beating in the same rhythm.
The moment breaks when a small furry body lands between them. King’s tail brushes under Neil’s nose and he jerks away. On the television, Alex has moved onto Double Jeopardy.
Neil runs his hand down their cat’s back, watches King arch into the touch before wandering into Andrew’s lap and flopping down.
Andrew sighs. “You’d make a nice hand towel,” he mutters. King purrs in response.
This is real. His life. Andrew, their cats, their apartment, Exy.
Neil got everything he never knew he wanted. All Riko got was dead.
i never really feel a thing, i’m just kinda too froze
you were the only one, that even kinda came close
The first time Andrew met Neil, he felt something. Hatred, he assumed, because what else was there? What else could he possibly feel for this skinny kid gasping in pain at the end of an exy stick.
A lot of things, apparently.
“This is why we can’t have nice things,” Wymack had said.
He’d been wrong. They can have nice things. Andrew can have nice things.
Nice things like cars and cats and apartments and boyfriends. Well, a single boyfriend, but he belongs to Andrew. He’s the nicest thing Andrew has.
Which is why, when other people treat Neil like he isn’t worth everything, Andrew gets a little testy.
It’s halftime and he’s still holding ice against Neil’s knee from a hard fall in the first quarter, when one of the new assistant coaches makes his way over to them.
“You’re up, Minyard,” the coach says, jerking a clipboard over his shoulder to indicate the court.
Andrew looks up to see that halftime is ending and the rest of the team is heading towards the locker room door. Before he can tell the coach to fuck off, Neil squeezes Andrew’s arm.
“Go,” he says. “I’m fine. Win the game.”
“You have a one-track mind,” Andrew mutters. He lets Neil take over the ice pack, reluctantly, and gets up to strap his helmet back on. When they get to the court, he makes sure Neil is settled on the bench, then lets himself be swept through the doors with the rest of the line.
The third quarter is fast, Andrew keeps one eye on Neil and still doesn’t let anyone score on his goal. Neil is behaving for once, sitting still and icing his knee and watching the game.
Until the buzzer sounds at the end of the third quarter. Andrew glances over to see the same coach from earlier waving Neil onto the court as one of the other strikers limps away.
Fuck that. Neil is hurt. If Neil plays injured, and gets more injured, then Neil can’t play anymore and there’s no reason for the fucking Moriyama’s to keep him around. Which means they’ll have to kill Andrew, too, if they even want a chance at Neil, and Andrew isn’t ready to die yet.
He’s across the court before he even notices how far he’s gone, grabbing Neil’s elbow and dragging him back out the door. He vaguely hears someone behind him call for a time out.
“What the fuck, Minyard?” the coach is yelling. “Get back to the goal.”
Andrew steps in front of Neil and throws a punch. His fist connects just under the coach’s jaw and drives into his throat, knocking him off his feet.
“He’s not playing,” Andrew snaps, swinging around to face their head coach. There isn’t any argument, so at least one person isn’t a total moron around here.
He leaves the coaches behind to figure out their problems for themselves and directs Neil back to the locker room. When they get there, he shoves Neil down on a bench and glowers at him. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Neil says. He sounds irritated. “You’re going to get fucking fired, Andrew.”
“No, I’m not,” Andrew counters. “They’re not that stupid.”
Neil looks like he’s going to say something else, so Andrew closes the distance between them and tips Neil’s face up with a hand on his chin.
“The internet is going to love this, “ Neil says, despite Andrew’s efforts. “I can see the headlines now.”
“I hate you,” Andrew says, and kisses Neil until neither one of them can think straight.
i am a collapsing star with tunnel vision
but only for you, but only for you
Neil doesn’t understand dating, not really. He gets the idea of it, from television and books and movies, but he doesn’t know how you accomplish it in the real world. It doesn’t help that the only person in his life who really dates is Allison. Nicky was practically already married when Neil met him, same with Dan and Matt. Aaron has been with Katelyn for almost as long. Neil has no idea what goes on with Kevin and Thea most of the time. He’d been about to ask Nicky if they broke up when Kevin had announced their engagement. Renee seems to be eternally single. That leaves Allison and her string of suitors.
“Can I ask you something?” he says. Allison is in town on a layover for all of six hours. Andrew had passed on her offer of lunch before her flight out, but Neil had been more than happy to take her up on it.
Allison looks up from her salad. “Literally always.”
Neil thinks for a second, then asks, “Do you think you would have married Seth?”
“Oh.” Allison looks startled. “I don’t know. Probably not. I loved him, but we weren’t good for each other.”
“So, like,” Neil tears a chunk off a breadstick, trying to figure out how to put his thoughts into words that will make sense. “How do you just...date people? How do you have feelings for someone and then just stop?”
One of Allison’s eyebrows arches. “Are you and Andrew having problems? Because I might not be tiny or terrifying, but I promise I can make him regret being born.”
Neil shakes his head quickly. “No, no. We’re good. Great, maybe. I just don’t think I understand relationships. Normal ones.”
“They suck. It’s weeks of trying to decide if you like someone enough to see a future with them. Sometimes you think you do, and then find out eight months in that they’re a secret racist.” Allison makes a face around a bite of grilled chicken. “It’s a shit show.”
Niel frowns. “Then why do you do it?”
“Because not all of us were lucky enough to fall directly into our soulmate’s lap, Neil.” Allison is rolling her eyes, but her tone is fond. “We have to put in the effort to find them.”
“Soulmate?” Neil asks. He quirks an eyebrow at Allison, who shrugs.
“Am I wrong?”
Neil doesn’t answer. Because no, she’s not wrong.
Instead, he says, “But how do you just do that? Move your emotions from one person to another?”
Allison takes a long drink of her pink wine, emptying her glass, and signals for the waiter to bring her another one. Finally, she says, “What would happen if you and Andrew broke up?”
“Um.” Neil has no idea how to answer that. He tries so hard not to think about a time when Andrew wasn’t by his side and he finds it impossible to think about a future without him. “We wouldn’t.”
“But if you did,” Allison says. “It would be awful and it would hurt. Eventually it would hurt less and the way you felt about him would just be a faded memory. Then one day some other asshole with a knife fetish would come into your life and there would be new feelings.”
Neil thinks about that. He tries to picture it, exactly like she said. Another guy, maybe taller than him, who talks more, laughs freely. The mental image he’s trying to build ends up disturbingly similar to Matt, and Neil shakes his head. Not-Matt slides away and is replaced by Andrew and his blank expression that no one except Neil seems to be able to see the depths of.
“No.” He smiles at Allison. Somehow she’s managed to answer his question. “I don’t think there would be, but I don’t think I’m going to have to worry about it.”
“Of course you aren’t.” Allison returns his smile with genuine warmth. “Soulmates.”
The subject changes to Allison’s job and Allison’s new house and Allison’s next vacation. Neil mostly listens and nods along, soaking in her presence before she’s gone again to make her next million.
While they’re waiting for the check, he pulls out his phone and texts Andrew. “Do you think we’re soulmates?”
The answer comes as he’s getting in his car. “Fuck off.”
And then, seconds later:
if i can get my shit together
i’m gonna run away, and never see any of you again
Kevin’s car is parked outside their condo when Neil gets back from his run, which isn’t something that happens often. Birmingham is a two hour drive from Atlanta in the best of traffic, and Kevin isn’t exactly big on social calls. He’s marrying Thea in a month, as soon as the off-season starts, so it must be bad for Kevin to be spending his free time here instead of on a plane to Houston.
When Neil gets inside, there’s a fist-sized hole in the drywall, with one of Andrew’s knives stuck in the wall beside it. Neil wishes he could be surprised, but it’s not the first time he’s had to patch up a wall since they moved in. Who knew their friends had so many anger issues? The answer is, of course, that everyone knows. It’s basically the Foxes’ calling card.
He finds Kevin and Andrew in the kitchen. Kevin is drinking straight vodka, his knuckles bloody and red where he’s gripping the glass neck of the bottle. Andrew is smoking out the kitchen window and ignoring Kevin entirely.
Neil checks his watch. It’s 8:37 AM, which is early for even Kevin to be drinking and hitting things. He considers his options for a second, then steps around where Kevin is sitting on the counter, towering over both of them even more than usual, and starts making coffee.
He’s poured himself and Andrew a mug of coffee and settled at the table with a bowl of cereal before anyone speaks.
“They’re transferring him to Dallas,” Andrew says, and takes a bored sip of coffee.
Neil frowns. “Why is that bad? He’ll be closer to Thea. Oh --” He thinks about the Dallas uniforms and understands.
Black and red.
“You can’t say no,” Neil says. It’s not a question. Saying no would be breaking a lucrative contract and they can’t risk pissing off the Moriyamas. They can’t risk displeasing Ichirou.
Kevin takes another swig of vodka and turns his glare on Neil. “No shit, asshole.”
“He can.” Andrew shrugs. “He just doesn’t have a death wish yet.”
“I’m not wearing those colors,” Kevin says, like Andrew isn’t there. He’s looking down at the bottle of vodka, but his voice is steady. “I would rather play for the NFL.”
Andrew makes a disgusted noise. “Don’t be dramatic.”
Neil has to agree with Andrew there. Even playing with Riko again would be better than the NFL.
Kevin turns his head, his face icy and closed, but is smart enough not to say anything. Neil ignores both of them in favor of pulling over the box of cereal and pouring more of it into his bowl.
No one says anything else, so Neil sighs and looks over at Kevin. “I wouldn’t do it either and I was only there for two weeks.”
“Three,” Kevin corrects absently. He rubs a hand over his jaw and pushes it through his hair. “I’m not that person anymore. I shouldn’t be letting this fuck with me.”
“You’re still human,” Neil points out. “You can’t run away from that.” Neil should know. He tried.
“I can’t believe you’re eating that shit,” Kevin mutters, looking down to stare disapprovingly at all the marshmallows floating in Neil’s bowl.
Neil shrugs, accepting the change of subject. “It’s Andrew’s.”
“Figures.” Kevin goes back to staring at his vodka, so Neil assumes the conversation is over and lets the silence stretch out, filling the small kitchen.
Neil finishes his second bowl of cereal, dumps the dishes in the sink, and is considering another cup of coffee, when Andrew finally speaks.
“San Diego,” he says.
It only takes a second for Neil to figure out where Andrew is going with that. It’s a benefit of spending the vast majority of their time together.
Kevin still looks confused, so Neil turns to him. “Jeremy can pull some strings. He’s won them enough trophies and made them enough money that the coaches and owners owe him at least one favor.”
“You want me to ask Jeremy Knox to try to get me transfered to San Diego?” Kevin raises an eyebrow in disbelief. Andrew’s only response is a flat stare.
“I’ll ask him,” Neil volunteers. “If he won’t do it for me or you, he’ll do it for Jean.”
Kevin takes another long pull from the bottle in his hand and then waves it at Neil. It’s a gesture of surrender. In response, Neil pulls his phone out and starts typing out a summary of the events to send to Jeremy.
“Think of how far away you’ll be,” Andrew says. Neil hears the flick of a lighter as Andrew lights another cigarette. “You won’t be our problem anymore.”
Kevin turns the vodka up to drain the last of it, then tosses the bottle towards the trash. “Thank God,” he says.
Neil just shakes his head and props his hip against the counter beside Andrew, leaning in close enough to inhale the smoke drifting from the end of his cigarette. They all know that Kevin will always be Andrew’s problem, no matter where he goes.
my sanctuary, you’re holy to me
if you were church, i’d get on my knees
They’re the only ones left in the locker room. The team had wandered out five minutes ago, throwing waves and goodbyes over their shoulders. Neil is leaning against a locker, watching Andrew sit on a bench and glare at him. It’s an impressive glare, but totally wasted on Neil.
“We’re not leaving until you ice it,” Neil says. Andrew had reached too far to deflect a ball moving too fast and nearly wrenched his arm out of the socket. Or at least that’s what it had looked like to Neil. God knows Andrew isn’t saying anything.
“I will flay you open and steal my keys back.”
Well, maybe he was saying something.
“Ten minutes,” Neil says. He steps close enough to press the ice pack in his hand against Andrew’s shoulder. He can see Andrew trying not to flinch. “I can distract you if you want.”
Andrew looks up at him, utterly bored, but Neil can see the flicker of interest.
Neil lets go of the ice pack, then waits for Andrew to cover it with his own hand before he quickly crosses the locker room to flip the deadbolt on the door. When he gets back, he drops to his knees between Andrew’s thighs.
“Yes or no?”
Andrew stares at him. Neil waits.
Neil loves it when Andrew says yes.
He rests his hands on Andrew's knees, rubbing his thumbs over the soft sweats he’s wearing. Andrew is watching him, and the focused intensity of it makes Neil shiver.
“Andrew,” he whispers, like a prayer. Andrew’s eyes close, just for a beat, before they lock into Neil’s again.
Fabric bunches and pulls under Neil’s fingers as he slides them up Andrew’s thighs. He leans in so he can rub his face against Andrew’s stomach, breathing in the scent of his body wash and the faint smell of smoke.
Fingers slide into his hair, Andrew using his free hand to nudge Neil down. Neil takes that for the permission that it is and moves his hands from Andrew’s legs to push his shirt up and get his mouth on smooth, warm skin. He trails his lips over Andrew’s abs, listening to the hitch in Andrew’s breathing when Neil gets to the waistband of his sweats.
Neil tilts his head back to meet Andrew’s eyes as he tugs the sweats down just far enough to wrap his hand around the thick length of Andrew’s cock and pull it free.
This isn’t new. Andrew said yes to this years ago -- and so much more since then -- but Neil still feels like he’s been given a part of Andrew’s soul every time he goes to his knees.
“You’re beautiful,” he says, ghosting his breath over the slick head of Andrew’s cock. The noise Andrew makes is quiet, muffled low in his throat. Neil thinks it sounds like victory.
Andrew’s voice is rough when he threads his fingers deeper into Neil’s hair and says, “Shut the fuck up.”
“You like it when I talk.” Neil grins up at Andrew. He can read the hunger and want in Andrew’s gaze, no matter how much Andrew still tries to hide from him.
Andrew rolls his eyes. “I literally hate it. Are you going to suck my dick or can we go now?”
In response, Neil traces his tongue over the head of Andrew’s cock. Andrew tugs at his hair again, leaving the ice pack balanced on his shoulder to use both his hands to try to direct Neil where he wants him. Neil has an idea.
He reaches up, wraps his fingers around Andrew’s wrists. “Yes or no?”
“Yes,” Andrew says. His glare doesn’t agree, but Neil ignores that.
Andrew doesn’t resist when Neil loosely wraps his fingers around Andrew’s wrists and guides his hands to the bench, so they’re pressed flat on either side of his thighs. Neil holds them there with a gentle pressure on the top of Andrew’s fingers.
When Andrew doesn’t object or pull away, Neil refocuses his attention. He drags the flat of his tongue up the underside of Andrew’s cock, then slides his mouth down and takes Andrew all the way into his throat.
With his hands covering Andrew’s on the bench, Neil only has enough leverage to hold himself up so he doesn’t choke. Andrew seems to get the message, though, because he rolls his hips. The motion drags his cock halfway out of Neil’s mouth before pushing back in, heavy on Neil’s tongue.
Neil makes a noise low in his throat, encouraging, and lets his eyes close. The world around him narrows down to the slide of Andrew’s cock between his lips and the soft noises he’s making as he fucks into Neil’s mouth. He’s been on high alert most of his life, but it’s so easy to get lost in the taste and feel of Andrew.
Even with his own cock aching, all Neil wants -- has ever wanted -- is to watch Andrew fall apart under Neil’s hands and in his mouth. He sucks, his cheeks hollowing, and opens his eyes. Andrew is staring down at him, hot and intense. His breathing is ragged around the edges. That, along with a bitten off cry of Neil’s name, is the only warning he gets before Andrew’s cock twitches and he comes down Neil’s throat.
Neil swallows and works Andrew through it. He doesn’t stop until Andrew’s hands slide out from under his and Andrew’s fingers are back in his hair, pulling Neil away. He sees Andrew’s eyes drop to where Neil is still hard, but Neil shakes his head.
“I just wanted to make you feel good.”
Andrew peels the ice pack off his shoulder and drops it on the bench. “Your loss,” he says, getting to his feet and pulling his sweats back into place.
He cards his fingers through Neil’s hair one more time, though, and Neil feels his chest grow warm with a glow of affection he doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to.
if there were any more left of me
i’d give it to you
Andrew watches, impassively, as his brother and Katelyn exchange vows underneath a flower-woven arch. It’s pretty, he supposes. If you like making a spectacle of yourself.
Nicky is standing beside Aaron, tears sliding down his face as he watches Aaron fit a ring onto Katelyn’s finger. Everyone is being dragged to Germany for Nicky and Erik’s wedding next year, and Andrew can only imagine what a fucking ordeal that will be. He’d refuse to go, except God knows one of them would probably die without him there.
He’s distracted from his waking nightmare about Nicky’s wedding by Neil’s fingers slipping into his. Andrew flicks a glance to his left, but Neil isn’t looking at him. He’s watching Katelyn as she somehow manages to come up with a list of things she likes about Aaron.
“No.” He says, speaking in quiet Russian. “Don’t even think about it.”
Neil still doesn’t look at him, but he can still see the eye roll. “You’re not the marrying kind, I know. Don’t worry.”
That should be good enough, but Andrew isn’t sure that it is. Before he can dwell on it any further, though, the ceremony is over and everyone is standing and crying as Aaron and Katelyn walk back down the aisle.
Later, he leans against a wall outside the reception, listening to the music thump inside as he lights a cigarette. He’d made it through the endless first dance and about three of Katelyn’s older female relatives trying to talk to him before he stole Wymack’s flask out of his jacket pocket and went out the back door.
He isn’t surprised when the door opens before his cigarette is even half finished, and Neil steps out to lean against the wall beside him. Andrew passes him the pack of cigarettes and they stand there in silence, watching smoke curl up into the night sky.
“If we ever did,” Neil says, breaking the calm. Andrew glares at him. He keeps talking. “It wouldn’t be like that. It would just be us at a courthouse.”
Andrew stubs out his cigarette and takes a long drink from the flask before he responds. “Then what would be the point? This is all for show.”
Neil turns to face him, the faint glow of the cigarette between his fingers plays over his face. “Not all of it,” he says. Their eyes meet and hold for a long moment.
The door slams open with a bang, making them both startle. Andrew has Neil behind him and a hand on Nicky’s throat before his cousin can get a single word out.
“Let him go,” Erik says in German, immediately tense and angry. “We didn’t know you were out here.”
Andrew considers choking Nicky a little harder, just to show Erik that he’s not in charge of anyone, but he drops his hand instead. He can only imagine the yelling if he strangled someone tonight. It’s not worth it.
“C’mon,” Neil says. He touches his fingers lightly to Andrew’s elbow, guiding him towards the door. “I think they probably cut the cake by now.”
“Fine,” he says, as uninterested as possible. He catches Neil’s smirk out of the corner of his eye, though. He hates how well Neil knows him.
“I hate you,” he mutters, even as he lets himself be herded to their table, where someone has already dropped off two thick slices of chocolate cake with ridiculous shimmery white icing.
“I know,” Neil says cheerfully. “That’s why I’m giving you my cake, too.”
Andrew considers that for a second, then sits down and drags Neil’s plate over beside his own.
“89%,” he says, feeling generous.
Neil smiles at him. It’s painfully fond and something about it makes Andrew’s chest clench in response, but he buries the feeling under layers of sugary frosting. Cake, he decides, is the only useful part of a wedding.
you are my truest feeling yet
i love you so much, it’s just like oxygen
Nicky’s wedding is less of a nightmare than Andrew was expecting. Someone must have warned Erik’s family off, because they barely even come close to him the whole night. He makes a mental note to find out who did that and, well, not thank them. If he’s lucky, it was Neil, and Andrew can show his vague appreciation with a blowjob.
There’s no back door in the outdoor clearing where the reception is being held. Just trees strung with tiny lights and white tables scattered around a makeshift dance floor. Andrew weaves his way to the back of the group of tables, to a shadowed corner, and sets both his and Neil’s slices of cake down before he slides onto the bench.
Andrew doesn’t care about this wedding any more than he cared about Aaron’s, but Neil does. He hasn’t said anything, he would never say anything. He’s just not nearly as good at hiding his feelings as he thinks he is. At least not from Andrew.
He works his way slowly through Neil’s cake and watches the dance floor. Neil is dancing with Renee, but he doesn’t seem to be quite on the same rhythm as the music. He’s lost his jacket and tie and his hair is in his eyes, glinting deep red in the glow from the lights. Feeling blooms under Andrew’s breastbone. He doesn’t want to put a name to it, but it’s always there, bubbling up until he shoves it down as deep as he can.
Watching Neil like this, carefree and gorgeous, makes the emotion harder to keep at bay. He’s almost succeeded, though, when Neil turns and sees Andrew watching him. His face lights up and he leans over to kiss Renee on the cheek before he pulls away from her and starts towards Andrew.
Andrew pushes Neil’s empty cake plate at him as he sits down beside Andrew, straddling the bench, and starts in on his own. Neil watches him for a long moment, a smile playing around the edges of his mouth.
“You know how I feel about that look,” Andrew mutters between bites of cake. “I think all these weddings are getting to you.”
“Maybe.” Neil drops his eyes from Andrew’s face and tugs on his shirtsleeves. The happiness drains from his face a little and Andrew sighs. Guilt is another feeling he usually manages to tie down and ignore. It’s a useless emotion, but the slight slump in Neil’s shoulders sends a sharp pang right through his barriers.
To his credit, Neil recovers quickly and looks back up at Andrew. “I think I’m getting better at dancing, at least.”
“You aren’t,” Andrew drawls, and this time Neil smiles, genuinely, and his eyes warm again.
The feelings from earlier snake their way up higher, until Andrew can feel it heavy in his throat every time he swallows. Maybe all these weddings are getting to both of them.
Neil scoots closer on the bench until their knees are touching and takes Andrew’s hand. “Can I kiss you?”
“Yes,” Andrew says. He leans in to meet Neil halfway and their mouths slot together. Kissing Neil is familiar in a way nothing else has ever been for Andrew. There’s almost nothing they haven’t done by now, but it always comes back to kissing, to the warmth of Neil’s lips and the quiet noises he makes as their tongues slide against each other.
Neil pulls back eventually and leans their foreheads together. They stay there for a long time, sharing breath and listening to the music and the sound of voices from the dance floor and the surrounding tables. Finally, Andrew closes his eyes and drags down another wall, at least long enough to let Neil inside of it.
“Just because I don’t want any of this,” he says, carefully. “Doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”
He hears Neil’s breathing hitch in surprise and he pulls back just enough for their eyes to meet. Andrew holds his gaze steadily, forcing himself to let Neil read the emotions in his face. He manages for all of two seconds before it’s too much, too open, and he reigns it back in, letting his expression go blank.
It was enough for Neil. Andrew can tell because Neil’s eyes have gone soft and fond. He touches Andrew’s chin, feather-light, and Andrew rolls his eyes, but allows Neil to hold him there.
“I love you, too,” Neil whispers, like a secret, like anyone who has ever seen them together doesn’t know. The words hover between them and this time Andrew thinks he might be feeling something close to happiness.
i’m living out of time, eternal heatstroke
spiritual revolt from the waist down
When they do get married, it’s in the Atlanta courthouse with Wymack, Abby, and Bee as their witnesses. They’re the closest thing to parents either of them have and Andrew shot down the idea of any more guests. Not that Neil minds. He’s still shocked that Andrew is standing beside him, signing a marriage license.
The ceremony is fast. Neil has a suspicion that it goes a little quicker than usual due to the way Andrew is staring at the woman conducting it like he’s imagining her without skin. Neil tries to smile warmly enough to make up for it, but he knows from years of experience that it’s not possible.
Andrew slides a ring onto his finger. The gold warms quickly against his skin and Neil can’t help touching it. It was the one thing he insisted on that Andrew let him have. He wanted something he could touch and remember that he has a family now. The family didn’t magically appear with the ring, of course, but Neil has always liked physical reminders of the good things in his life. Too many of his are from the dark times before Andrew and the rest of the Foxes.
The good ones, though. His binder, the Columbia house key, their Olympic medals, their college Exy sticks hung on the wall in their apartment. The ring on his finger. Those are the things that remind him of who he is now, not who he used to be or was supposed to be.
This wedding is not about love. They don’t need a wedding to love each other. They’re doing this because Andrew almost punched a doctor in the throat when Neil got hurt last month and no one would let him into the hospital room. Neil isn’t going to pretend he’s not happy about it, though. It wouldn’t work anyway, Neil’s emotions are an open book where Andrew is concerned.
“If you start crying, I’m going to cut both our fingers off,” Andrew says while Neil is slipping a matching ring onto Andrew’s hand.
The woman -- a judge, Neil thinks -- looks horrified, but Wymack lets out a burst of laughter and Neil turns to see him shaking his head, while Abby and Bee look fond and pleased beside him.
“I’m proud of you,” Bee says. Andrew must have looked especially murderous over Neil’s shoulder, though, because she stops talking and puts a hand over her mouth to hide her smile.
Andrew doesn’t object when Wymack takes them out to lunch, he just orders a milkshake and works his way through it slowly while Neil makes conversation. Thea is pregnant, so mostly they talk about that. It’s never been easy for Wymack to be Kevin’s father, but the way he talks about his future grandson makes Neil hope that this baby will make it easier for them.
Wymack and Abby hug Neil outside the diner before they head back to Palmetto. Andrew lets Wymack squeeze his shoulder with one hand and nods coolly at Abby. Meanwhile, Bee has produced a huge pink box from her car.
She holds it out with both hands. “Open it,” she tells Andrew, nodding at the top of the box.
Andrew looks at her with the suspicion of a feral cat, but Bee just smiles at him encouragingly. It speaks endless volumes to Andrew’s trust in her that he reaches out and flips open the lid. Inside the box is a blank sheet cake covered in a truly obscene amount of puffy white frosting.
“You said it was the only good part of weddings,” Bee says. She lets the box fall shut and pushes it into Neil’s arms. “I wanted to make sure you had one for yours.”
Neil takes it and turns to the car, taking as long as possible to stow the box in the backseat and give Andrew a moment with Bee. Behind him, he can hear them talking in soft voices and the quiet rustle of clothing as they hug.
Then she’s gone and Neil is climbing into the passenger seat of Andrew’s car. He stares at his left hand all the way home, twisting the ring around and trying to get used to the weight of it.
“Junkie,” Andrew says.
He tugs Neil upstairs when they get home and shuts the bedroom door in the cats’ faces. Neil lets himself be shoved down on the bed. He just leans back into the pillows and looks up at Andrew, waiting.
“Take off your clothes.” Andrew is already working on his shirt as he says it, lazily flicking each black button free. His expression is blank, but Neil can feel Andrew’s eyes on him, burning into his skin.
Nei wiggles out of his clothing quickly and inelegantly, not even trying to be smooth as he yanks off his socks and kicks his jeans over the edge of the bed. His shirt follows, then his boxers, and Neil falls gracelessly back against the pillows.
Andrew climbs onto the end of the bed and crawls up Neil’s body, not touching him at all until he’s straddling Neil’s thighs and settling on top of him. Neil reaches for him, hands hovering just over Andrew’s knees, waiting for Andrew to answer.
“No.” Andrew shakes his head, but he doesn’t seem angry or wary, so Neil just lets his hands fall to the comforter.
He’s not expecting Andrew to redirect them to the headboard. When he leans forward to wrap Neil’s fingers around the wooden slats, their dicks slide together and Neil hisses at the rush of pure arousal. He will do anything Andrew wants if it ends in Andrew’s hands on his body and Andrew’s cock inside him.
“Leave them there,” Andrew says. “Or I stop whatever I’m doing.”
“Fuck.” Neil tightens his hands on the headboard and lets his head fall back. “If I’d known you were going to get kinky, we’d have gotten married years ago.”
Andrew doesn’t even deign to respond. Instead, he’s tracing his fingertips down Neil’s chest, over skin and scar tissue. Neil shivers, goosebumps appearing in the wake of Andrew’s hands.
His eyes slide closed and he arches a little, pushing his hips up against Andrew’s. Andrew digs blunt nails into Neil’s skin and Neil blinks his eyes open.
“Don’t close your eyes,” Andrew says. He leans over Neil again to grab the lube from the nightstand. The movement puts his shoulder close enough that Neil could lean up and press his lips against Andrew’s skin, so he does. He drags his mouth across Andrew’s bicep as he sits back up, savoring the salt of Andrew’s skin and the slight redness his stubble leaves behind.
It takes a second for him to realize what Andrew is doing when he squeezes lube onto his fingers and reaches behind himself. Neil expects to feel Andrew’s hand around his dick or sliding between his thighs, but it doesn’t happen.
Instead, Andrew’s face tenses up and his eyes close. He shifts higher on his knees, knuckles brushing against Neil’s hip and...oh. Oh.
“Andrew,” Neil breathes. “Are you…?”
“I want to ride you,” Andrew says. His voice is rough enough to make Neil’s dick somehow even harder. “Yes or no?”
““Yes.” Neil knows he sounds desperate. He can’t help it. “Fuck yes. Andrew."
Andrew rolls his hips, taking his own fingers deeper, or maybe adding another one. Neil can’t see anything that’s happening, but he can see the way Andrew’s face slowly relaxes, and the flush spreading up his chest and neck, bright pink on Andrew’s pale skin.
Neil’s fingers twitch with how badly he wants to touch Andrew, to feel how warm he would be under Neil’s hands. Instead, he tightens his grip on the headboard, feeling the wood bite into his skin.
Above him, Andrew makes a soft noise and braces his hand against Neil’s chest. The contact is searing and Neil can’t help how he arches into it, desperate for more.
He tries to say Andrew’s name, but it comes out as a pleading whine. Neil feels like he’s burning up on the inside and Andrew is barely even touching him. He makes another sound, dragged from deep in his chest when Andrew wraps a slick hand around Neil’s cock. Then Andrew is pressing down on him and it’s so fucking good that Neil’s vision starts to go black around the edges. The impossible tightness and heat of Andrew’s body is overwhelming, all -encompassing.
“Andrew,” he begs, helpless. “Andrew.”
The hand braced against Neil’s chest slides upwards until Andrew’s fingers are wrapped around the base of his throat. His grip is loose, but his palm is heavy against Neil’s collarbone. Grounding.
Neil concentrates on the pressure and weight of Andrew’s hand until the world comes back into focus. Andrew is moving on top of him in slow, hitching circles of his hips that send shocks of pleasure racing down Neil’s spine.
“Welcome back,” Andrew says. He’s going for dry, Neil can tell, but it’s ruined by how breathless he sounds.
“More,” Neil urges. He digs his heels into the bed and lifts up to meet Andrew’s movements. Andrew bares his teeth, sharp and wild, and the hand on Neil’s throat gets heavier as Andrew starts to ride him in earnest. He drives himself down on Neil’s cock, hard and fast, setting a pace that makes Neil writhe and pant beneath him.
“You’re amazing, it’s so good.” Neil can hear himself babbling, the words coming without thought as he chases after the wave he can feel building in his gut. “Feels so good, Andrew.”
He sees Andrew’s other hand move, hears the slick sounds of Andrew jerking himself off, but Neil doesn’t look away from Andrew’s face. He couldn’t if he wanted to. Andrew’s eyes are liquid in the light streaming through the bedroom windows and he is the most beautiful thing Neil has ever seen.
His orgasm takes him by surprise, washing through him until he’s wrung out and exhausted. Andrew pushes down one more time and makes the most desperate noise Neil has ever heard from him as he clenches around Neil’s dick and his come stripes hot against Neil’s stomach.
Andrew slides off of him carefully and collapses on the mattress beside him. His skin is glowing with a sheen of sweat and his hair is a mess. Gorgeous, Neil thinks.
“I love you,” he whispers, turning on his side to face Andrew.
Andrew doesn’t respond, but he does curl closer, tucking his face against Neil’s shoulder. In a minute, Neil will get up and get a washrag and Andrew will bat his hands away and not let Neil clean him up the way he wants to. But for the moment, Neil rubs his thumb over the ring on his finger and buries his face in Andrew’s hair.