After the previous year’s Christmas, the Foxes had decided it was more important than ever to spend it together this year. They’d agreed to stay back a few days after the break had started before everyone would split up to go back to their own families. Neil was actually looking forward to Christmas for once. He had a real family and a real home to go to this time.
Once Andrew agreed to come along, the rest followed suit. The girls and Matt were happy for some team bonding time too. They’d all gathered in Matt’s room on the couch or on beanbags dragged in from the twins’ room. Matt was making hot cocoa in the kitchen with Nikkie there to help hand out all the mugs. Dan was taking votes on what movie to watch first. Glancing over at Andrew, his patience was wearing thin, but he didn’t say anything. He knew this was important to Neil and he’d conceded quickly once it became clear it was something that would make him happy.
Outside, it was snowing, only lightly, most of it would be melted by the time it got to the ground and leave a wet mush behind. Inside it was warm though. The heating was cranked up, and Andrew’s body felt warm against Neil’s own where their knees and hands were touching only lightly. Part of him could see himself turning a little more into him, pressing closer to him, letting their bodies touch a little more. Maybe even fall asleep during some Hallmark movie, head resting against his shoulder. He hadn’t thought that about anyone in a long time, let alone allowed himself to think about it.
This Christmas wasn’t one he’d ever dared to dream of either. Surrounded by friends, people who were more like family to him than his mom or father ever was. Not only were they there for him when he needed him, but they were also able to have moments like these. There was no underlying fear of what might happen next, that at any moment this could all be ruined. He was safe. He was home.
The campus was mostly quiet since most of the other residents had gone home already. The little decorations on the streetlamps stuck around though and Nicky had insisted they decorate Matt’s room for their mini pre-Christmas. The fairy lights twinkled where they’d all struggled to put them up earlier in the day. There was a cheap, tiny, admittedly pretty ugly fake tree in the corner as well, a few presents stacked there that they’d exchange later in the evening. Outside you could still see some sad little snowmen and snow angels that were melting rapidly. Alison had already shared her presents with everyone, some fluffy Christmas socks, handpicked to match each person. Neil had gotten a pair with some very grumpy looking cats in scarves and hats. He still wasn’t entirely sure what that was meant to suggest about him.
Matt and Nikkie came in, passing around the cocoa to those that wanted it and everyone settled in. Matt and Dan sat close to each other on the couch, Allison sat with her legs over Renee’s lap beside the other two. Aaron and Katelyn shared another beanbag, Aaron looked a little nervous, still a bit afraid of pissing Andrew off. Katelyn wasn’t so worried and sat cuddled close to him, holding his hand. Kevin looked about as unhappy to be there as Nikkie was happy. Erik wasn’t able to be there, but he was coming later in the month. He didn’t seem to mind being surrounded by the three couples, content to know he would be with Erik eventually. He got to spend time with his friends.
Kevin had grown a little less angry over the year. Without the constant fear of Riko breathing down his neck, he’d been able to loosen up. Niel could sympathise that habits borne from trauma were hard to undo. He felt almost a little bashful, seeing him slowly relax amongst the group again, learning to cope without Andrew’s protection. It was the same process Niel himself had gone through, was still going through.
Renee was essentially the same person, although Niel’s perception of her had changed drastically. He was happy to talk with her, and they’d gotten significantly closer over the last few months. Most of their conversations centred around Andrew still, a safe subject for the two of them. Niel wasn’t avoiding her like the plague though, and Andrew seemed to be happier that they were something like friends now.
Aaron was also learning to gain back his confidence. Still, Katelyn was there for him to lean on now that he wasn’t under the constant supervision of Andrew. The freedom was something he was also learning to get used to. They still clearly cared for each other but were less reliant on each other for whatever kind of validation they provided each other. They would still kill for each other, Niel didn’t think that would ever change, he didn’t really want it to either. But he hoped through their sessions with Bee, they’d reached some kind of understanding of their actions so they wouldn’t be so hostile, towards each other or anyone else.
The slow coming together of the two groups made Nikkie, Dan and Matt, all very pleased. Their energy was always much better when they were cooperating. Spending more quality time like they were right now throughout the year had seen Dan become much more confident in herself. Knowing the team could work together off the field as well had done wonders for when they actually were on the field. Nikkie was even happier to flit between the two groups now. When he’d accidentally pissed of Andrew, he felt safe going to hang out with Matt and therefore Dan by association. Matt seemed happy to have Nikkie as a closer friend, too by the looks of it. Niel still struggled to comprehend why he would ever want to have a better relationship with Andrew, though.
Allison had improved as well, although she’d had a lot more time to comprehend Seth’s death than the rest of them had to deal with Riko’s. She’d been happier and had settled more comfortably into the team as the rest of them grew closer. Niel had noticed moments when she got quiet when Renee would pull her aside. Sometimes she sat out of practice. On the anniversary of his murder, Allison had shut herself up in her room for the whole week. Renee eventually convinced her to let her in, and she started getting better after that. Niel had also spent a few days moping, they all had. Seth hadn’t deserved to die.
Right now, though, things were okay. There were uncomfortable silences; sometimes, they all had bad days. It would still be a very long time before Andrew would ever let someone else drive his car. They were all growing, though. They were all slowly learning to truly and actively appreciate their skills as a team on the field. Niel didn’t want to think about what would happen when the seniors graduated. He wasn’t ready for that right now, he just wanted a moment to be happy for once in his life. And this, with Andrew sitting beside him sipping his hot cocoa, Dan placating an argument about what movie they should watch next, that was what made him happy. That he could have this, that he was allowed to have it.