It was a rainy, lazy day. Neil was surrounded by his family and he felt… content - though that in itself was really fucking weird to think about.
Neil was still getting used to the idea that “lazy days” were things that he could not only indulge in but actually enjoy. Sure, his life hadn’t been all-action all the time growing up - even being on the run. But even on quieter days where no one was actively trying to kill him right then and there, there was always a shroud of anxiety on his shoulders that kept him at the ready for violence, pain, and generally just a bad time.
Last year had been similar. He’d had days of quiet, days where he’d even let himself think maybe for now things were safe enough to relax, just for a second - but that had only made him feel restless. He needed to be doing something with the time that he had left. It felt like a waste to just laze around and do nothing. There was always homework, or practice, or conditioning, or something he should be devoting his time to.
But a full year had come and gone since an execution and a deal won with blood and signed in scars. It was spring break again, and Neil was spending it with his family back up in the cabins - actually able to more fully participate in all of the activities he’d been too injured to really enjoy last time around. They’d gone riding and hiking along the trails, fishing and swimming in a lake that was probably too cold but they were reckless dumbasses so whatever. They’d brought their own groceries in order to attempt cooking only to smoke themselves out two nights in a row already, requiring them to head down to the main lodge for a loser’s feast that was honestly better than anything they probably would have been able to concoct anyway. Each night they’d crowded around the fire pit outside or in the large living room, playing drinking games and watching movies and Neil felt… good.
Today they’d been going to go kayaking down the river but a storm had blown in and the rain was coming down in sheets, battering at the large cabin like it was waging a private war against the Foxes within. Instead of the storm adding tension to the day, though, it seemed to have the opposite effect. Resigned to not being able to go anywhere, the team had instead scattered throughout the house, all still in their pajamas, doing small activities or napping or watching movies like the wind had sucked away all their energy between one gust and the next.
Neil was surprised to find that he, too, was affected. Instead of feeling anxious and restless, he felt pleasantly sleepy and loose. There was no desire to run (or even move, really) and he was more than content to be tugged around by his family.
He spent the morning with the girls - Allison doing his hair as Dan experimented with different colors of nail polish on his fingers and toes, happy to listen to the conversation between the three of them while they played some legal show on a low volume from one of their laptops. It was getting close to lunch, though, and hunger inspired him to slip away.
“I know they seem dry, but they are not so be careful. If you fuck up that impeccable paint job I will smother you in your sleep, Josten.” Allison’s eyes were gleaming with the threat and Neil knew she meant it.
Still, he was genuinely trying to do better about the lying thing. “No promises, but I’ll try.” He gave her his best smile, somewhat ruined - he realized - by the fact that he automatically paired it with Andrew’s trademark two-finger salute.
“Ugh, just go,” she conceded, flicking her free hand at him - freshly painted a deep blood red.
Neil chuckled as he ducked out of the room, looking down at the bright orange nails Dan had given him, detailed in white with the numbers 1 through 10 for the full lineup of last year’s foxes. Instead of going in numerical order from left to right across his hands, Dan had apparently decided to randomly assign the numbers to different fingers. She’d even inverted the colors for the ‘6’ on his right pinky so that it clearly belonged to Seth and not that dipshit Jack who’d taken over the number for this year.
He was pulled out of his musings as to whether or not the glassy sheen of them would last into next week’s return to practice by the hushed murmuring of voices at the bottom of the stairs as he made his way down.
“Is he dead?”
“Don’t be stupid, he’s clearly breathing.”
“Yeah, okay, but like - you should go check.”
“No fucking way! I don’t wanna end up dead.”
“I nominate Nicky.”
“What?! Hello, no. I am adored and will be missed. Let’s send Kevin.”
“You know what, fuck you.”
“I mean, yes please. That’s actually a much better idea. Let’s go.”
Neil paused on the third stair, hands still curled in front of him from his inspection, and stared down at the tops of Nicky, Matt, and Kevin’s heads where they were clustered at the base - right at the entry into the living room.
“What’s going on?” he asked lightly, keeping his voice low since the three of them were also whisper-murmuring.
All three of them jumped like he’d been sneaking up on them, which he hadn’t - not on purpose anyway. They whirled around, and then Nicky’s face lit up with so much abject glee that Neil took an instinctive step back up the stairs. “Dan just painted my nails, Allison said I’m not allowed to ruin them,” he said quickly - hoping to stave off whatever idea had put that look on his face.
“Neil. Baby boy.”
Neil grimaced. “Never call me that.”
Matt cut in, slinging his arm around Nicky’s shoulders with a broad grin. “What Nicky is trying to say, is that you, my impervious friend--”
“Impervious?” Neil shot back incredulously, using one hand to gesture at his constant state of general disaster and the very obvious evidence all over his goddamn body that he was far from impervious.
Matt winced apologetically, but the smile barely faded. “In this case, you really are, though.”
“We should just show him. Move over Kevin.” Nicky gave Kevin a shove that was apparently a lot stronger than it looked because Kevin stumbled loudly into the room - causing all three of them to freeze and hold their breath. They looked deeper into the room, toward where the couches were arranged in front of the massive fireplace. After several tense beats of silence, they relaxed - the object of their conversation (and fear?) apparently having remained unprovoked.
Nicky turned back to Neil and reached up, snagging his wrist and tugging him down the last few steps.
The second Neil stepped into the room the actions of the others immediately made sense - though what filled them with confused fear and wonder instead affected Neil with a wave of intense and irrefutable fondness.
Because laying there on one of the couches, curled up before the fire on his side with his head on his arm and his glasses askew - was Andrew. He was sleeping, chest slowly rising and falling as he napped, one hand pillowed between his cheek and his (rather impressive) bicep while the other dangled, the book he’d been reading barely balanced on his fingers and drooping toward the ground. His mouth was slightly open and his brow slightly furrowed in an expression that Neil was relatively familiar with and had a particular affection for.
“Oh my god,” Nicky whispered from just to his left, followed by a dull thwack and Matt’s aborted protest.
Then Matt also said, “Oh my god.” His voice was less of a whisper and more of a muted squeak, which was odd enough that Neil looked over at him in confusion.
Nicky hit Matt again with a scowl and hissed, “You ruined it!”
Neil frowned. “What?” He really didn’t understand how most of the team had legit gone years thinking that Andrew was the crazy one when they were the ones who regularly did shit like this.
“Your face,” Nicky whimpered around a pout. He reached forward with both hands like he was going to touch said face, and Neil quickly stepped out of reach.
Neil said, “Uh..”
Matt chuckled and ruffled his hair. “Dude. You got it bad. That’s okay. Good even! Especially right now.” Heavy hands landed on his shoulders, then he was being physically turned around and shoved gently toward the couch. “Now go. Shoo. Poke the sleeping dragon. We’ll wait here.” His voice got steadily quieter as he spoke, as if he had remembered halfway through that they were apparently trying not to wake Andrew.
With a small sigh, Neil decided that it was probably better to just accept that his family were a bunch of weirdos. He had absolutely no intention of waking Andrew, but looking at him now he could see that with his glasses askew like that they had to be pressing into his temple and right behind his ear. Which meant that he might be okay right now, while napping, but he would probably wake up with a headache and well Neil just couldn’t have that now, could he?
It was only a few steps more to bring him up to the couch, then he silently knelt down in front of it. He paused there, just for a moment, to let himself unabashedly admire the snoozing goalkeeper. He loved seeing Andrew like this. Relaxed, unguarded, cozy. It filled him with a lot of warm feelings that he still didn’t have all the right labels for - but he was starting to learn them. He could recognize the affection now, the amusement and the comfort. The senses of safety and peace.
Looking at Andrew now, there was all that and more. Enough to warm him up through every muscle and nerve in his body. A quiet, buzzing heat that comfortably filled him to the brim - like a satisfying meal followed by a soft pillow that supported his entire body. If he was honest with himself, Neil could probably look at Andrew all day and never get bored. But he knew that Nicky and Matt were watching and so only allowed himself a few moments more before he reached forward and carefully lifted the book out of Andrew’s hand so that it wouldn’t fall and accidentally wake him later. He bent the corner of the page in to mark Andrew’s place, then set the book on the coffee table.
Once that was done, he turned back to the ‘sleeping dragon’ and used both hands to very gently lift the silver wire-framed glasses off his face, making sure that he didn’t touch him by accident.
Even though he kept his movements slow, Andrew must have sensed the change in weight against his nose and temple because he huffed softly and shifted against the cushions. Then Neil watched as pale lashes fluttered against freckle-kissed cheeks. Andrew’s eyes opened to bleary slits, but it was clear he wasn’t exactly awake if only because there was a distinct lack of a scowl on his face - and Andrew never actually woke up without a scowl on his face.
Instead, his expression remained lax, brows easing up slightly and his mouth pressing shut only long enough for him to lick absently at his lower lip. The motion was a clearly unconscious motion to wet the chapness there, but it still drew Neil’s attention. Neil had never paid so much attention to anyone’s mouth like this before - but after being the subject of Andrew’s kisses he probably spent the majority of his day sneaking glances at the pale pink of those lips like they held the goddamn secrets of the universe.
Andrew made a small sound like a lazily scrawled question mark and Neil felt that warmth inside him suddenly amp up like an oddly pleasant punch to the throat.
“Glasses,” Neil explained quietly, holding them up for Andrew to see. “Didn’t want you to get a headache.” He folded them and set them on top of the book he’d put on the coffee table, then looked back at Andrew. It took considerable effort not to reach forward and brush his fingers over his hair, which wasn’t that strange of an impulse when Neil thought for a second. He did love having his fingers tangled in those soft blond locks. “Go back to sleep.”
He shifted his weight to push up from the floor, but Andrew made another sound, this one vaguely protesting, and freed the hand that had been pillowed under his cheek. That hand swung limply in his direction, snagged a hold of his shirt, and tugged with enough force that Neil had to catch himself on the couch so he didn’t fall onto Andrew.
Another of those annoyed, sleepy grunts - then another tug. This time Andrew rolled more fully onto his side and straightened his legs out, and it took a moment before Neil realized that he was making room on the plush couch.
Neil blinked, surprised, then relaxed - that warmth now at a very soothing simmer that brought a tingle to his fingers and toes. “Want me to join you?” he asked, just to be sure.
Grunt. Tug. Then a grumbled, “Neil. Yes. Now. Stupid.” The words were muffled and partially slurred, but understandable enough.
Neil smiled - nay, grinned - and he didn’t even try to stop himself from doing it. “Dan did my nails. I promised to try not to fuck them up.”
“‘N don’t fuck ‘em up.” Tug. “Mm.” Tug. “C’mon.” Tug. “St’pid.” Tug.
Well. How could Neil really say no to that? Careful not to drag his nails against the fabric of the couch, Neil crawled up onto the couch and let Andrew nudge and poke him into place against him, Neil’s back snuggly slotted against Andrew’s front. As soon as he was settled, Andrew’s arm locked firmly around his waist. Neil could feel the buzz of Andrew’s satisfied hum against the back of his neck - followed only a few moments later by the return of slow, deep breathing as Andrew easily fell back to sleep.
Over in the corner of the room near the stairs, Neil could see the other three men and felt a brief surge of surprise - as he’d completely forgotten they were there at all.
Nicky’s eyes were wide, both hands clapped over his mouth in a wise effort to keep himself from making unnecessary noise. Matt looked weirdly like he was about to cry. Kevin… well, Kevin looked tired. But there was a slight smile on his face that if Neil didn’t know any better he might think was approval except Kevin didn’t approve of anything. In fact, if it didn’t happen on an exy court - Kevin was kind of allergic to joy. Neil would know, because he was mostly the same way.
At least, he’d used to think so. Analyzing the feelings flickering in his chest and buzzing in his fingers and toes, Neil thought that maybe that wasn’t exactly true anymore. He thought that maybe the kind of joy he was feeling right now was, in it’s own way, just as powerful as the kind he found on the court. It was a quieter bliss, but no less potent and no less real. In some ways it was maybe even better.
Neil let out a long sigh and let himself fully relax in Andrew’s hold, soaking up the warmth of him through his back. Then he made the active decision to ignore his teammates and close his eyes.
Perhaps lunch could wait, he’d rather stay right here - and enjoy this.