Chapter 1: Hit Me - The Cold Fronts
The stands were roaring as they filed out of the locker room for warm ups. Neil was full of nervous energy and pulled Renee and Andrew into a light jog around the court. He kept his head down, focusing on the rhythmic sound of their shoes slapping as they ran. He let the sounds of the fans wash over him in a dull, indecipherable roar, trying to avoid the tightness in his chest. This was the qualifying game for playoffs and it meant everything to Neil.
Kevin dragged Neil across the court to run some last minute drills and stretch out before the game started.
Matt came to a stop by Neil and offered him a fist and a smirk.
"Breathe, man. This is our night," he said.
Neil took the advice and took a sharp breath in through his nose and huffed it out his mouth. This was their night. The team had been doing amazing in practices, and Kevin and Neil had attempted to tempt Andrew into giving it his all. Neil was confident. The Bobcats really didn't have shit on the Foxes. Looking into the stands, the bright orange that had come to mean home easily drowned out the smattering of blues and greens.
Dan hip checked him just hard enough to jostle him out of his thoughts. She shot him a toothy grin before taking her place on the court. It settled something that was out of place in his chest. There was no one else he would rather go to the playoffs with.
Kevin tapped the butt of his racquet on the court before passing his racquet from his right hand to his left.
Coach Wymack banged his fist on the plexiglass and shot Kevin a proud smile that screamed, "That's my boy!" And Kevin lit up like a firecracker before settling into an easy reverential seriousness that he reserved for exy and could most readily be found in a monastery. Exy was Kevin Day's deity of choice and Neil didn't think there was anything that would keep them from winning.
Neil closed his eyes for a moment. The ground was solid beneath his feet, and the permanent smell of sweat and hard work overpowered the sharp smell of cleaner. He was strong. This was home. He could do this.
He opened his eyes and allowed a quick glance over his shoulder at Andrew. Where Neil had to convince himself he was capable, looking at Andrew, he needed no convincing at all that the other man was capable. He gave a brief pause for the anticipation of the conversation he was going to have with Andrew after the game, before he got his head back in the game.
Mirroring Neil was Eyan Matthers, the biggest player on the Bobcats. He towered over Neil at 6'3" and 210 pounds, but Neil wasn't concerned; he was faster. Neil took a minute to shake out the kinks.
And then the game was on. Neil focused down to a pinpoint. The only thing in the world was the game. All of his focus was in the game and only as a secondary thought did he consider the pull of his muscles. "Make it to the playoffs." Was a mantra on a loop in his head. The longer the game wore on, the more settled Neil became. Andrew was on fucking fire, he hadn't allowed anything past him. And Kevin played with the versatility his ambidexterity brought. Neil had never been more impressed in his entire goddamn life.
It happened with seven minutes left in the third period.
A poor pass from the Bobcats had Neil snagging the pass mid-play before launching it down the court to Kevin right after yelling, "Back right, down," in French. Kevin spun hard and angled his racquet down to scoop the pass before making a beautiful shot on goal. 3-1, Foxes.
Neil was still riding the high of his interception and Kevin's goal when he got hit.
He hadn't seen it coming and hadn't had time to brace for it.
He felt the body hit him on his blind side. His momentum paired with the hit took him forward too fast. Too fast.
He felt himself go airborne and time slowed down. It was almost comical, it was slow enough that his mind could catalogue all the ways he might save himself, but it was too fast for his brain to get the message to the rest of his body.
He heard the crack of his helmet on the court and had a hysterical thought that his head had bounced like a basket ball.
And then nothing more.
Chapter 2: stillness in woe - Purity Ring
Andrew grabs Aaron's throat for getting in his way and punches him, but that's it for violence.
Andrew wasn't looking at Neil when it happened. He had been watching Kevin for signs of distress from using his left hand. Ironic that it was the sick look of panic on the other goalkeeper's face that had Andrew's eyes tracking back to Neil.
He was sprawled out, helmet gone flying. There was a pool of blood slowly seeping out from under his head. Andrew titled his head, watching the pool of blood quickly grow. Before he could move, Matt and Dan were screaming at the ref to eject Matthers from the game, and Abby and Wymack were on the court and running for Neil.
Neil pushed himself up on shaky arms and almost caught himself on his face again, but Abby was there to catch him. Confident that Neil was as safe as he could be, for now; Andrew dropped his racquet and gloves and advanced on Matthers. No one was paying attention to Matthers, and Andrew was going to make him bleed as twice as much as Neil had. There was blood all over the court.
Fortunately for for Andrew (and Matthers), Kevin and Aaron had their eyes on Andrew. There wasn't a good way to minimize Andrew's threat to Matthers. Aaron and Kevin couldn't let him murder Eyan on the court but they also knew that if Andrew was determined, he could fight his way through both of him. Aaron and Kevin got in Andrew's path and put up their hands, palms facing out.
"Think about Neil," Kevin said.
Aaron's eyes were searching for something in Andrew's face. Andrew wasn't sure if he found what he was looking for but when Andrew went to slide between them, Aaron shoved at Andrew's shoulders with both of his hands, hard enough to knock Andrew on his ass. Andrew immediately got to his feet and had his hand wrapped around his brother's throat before Kevin could move. Andrew had a deal with Neil, and his knives were kept in a box under their bed but that didn't matter. Both of Aaron's hands shot up to pry at Andrew's hands, and Kevin started yelling about Neil.
"-Likely concussed, Andrew and-"
The rest drowned out in a solitary need to get to Neil. Andrew dropped his hands from around Aaron's throat and he punched him quickly in the gut, dropping him in one quick movement. Kevin backed up with his hands up in an attempt to avoid being hit.
Andrew walked up to the ref. "If he's not benched for the rest of the season, I'll kill him myself." Kevin started swearing, but Andrew was already headed to the door off the court.
"Renee, finish the game," Andrew demanded, passing the rest of the team on the bench and heading to the training room.
Wymack was heading toward Andrew with Bee in tow.
"I'm seeing him now."
"Of course, Andrew, but he's headed to the hospital. Bee is here to drive you," Wymack said.
"I can drive," Andrew barked, pushing past Wymack.
"That was an order. You're not driving in this condition. Leave me your keys and I'll have Nicky bring you both clothes and your car. Don't argue with me, we both know where you want to be."
Andrew gave a terse nod and followed Bee out to her car.
"Andrew, Abby has text me about his condition," Bee informed, sliding into her car.
"And?" Andrew prompted.
"I'm not interested in what they think. We need to get there now, so I can talk to the doctor. He's going to be staying with me. I need to be there to get the instructions on how to care for him."
With that Andrew settled back in the seat and crossed his arms, refusing to speak.
"I'm looking for a Mr. Andrew Minyard?"
Andrew was sitting in the little plastic seat in the waiting room at the ER, violently tapping his foot. When his name was called he gave a sharp glance up and there was a nurse in soft pink scrubs waiting for him.
"You can head on back there. Mr. Josten is going to be discharged soon and Ms. Winfield informed us that he will be staying with you?" With Andrew's nod she continued, "There will be some aftercare instructions that Dr. Morrison would like to go over with you before we let him go."
Bee stood up with Andrew and said she was going to call Coach Wymack.
Neil was in the bed, eyes foggy from whatever pain medication they had given him. He smiled brightly when Andrew walked into the room and chirped, "Drew!"
"You're high as a fucking kite," Andrew said, unamused, walking further into the room. He reached the edge of the bed and dropped his hand down on the bed next to Neil's and Neil grabbed Andrew's wrist.
"I'm so glad you're here Andrew!"
Andrew ran a finger under Neil's eyes. He had two brilliantly bruised eyes and three butterfly bandages on his forehead.
The doctor walked in a minute later with the discharge papers. He pulled out different sheets and handed them to Andrew has he briefly explained what was explained in detail on the papers. "It's just a broken nose and a mild concussion," the doctor concluded. "He might experience some headaches over the next few days. Follow up with a physician if they persist, but he should be fine in a few days. However, if he experiences any of the major warning signs here, you are going to want to bring him back in. Keep him away from television, computers, and phones until he has a follow up with his general practitioner, and try to keep it to light reading, if at all."
Andrew nodded and took the additional pain medication script that the doctor scratched out.
"It should go without saying that he's done for the season, if the game ended up in your team's favor," the doctor said, eyeing Andrew's uniform.
"Of course," Andrew said, turing toward Neil, effectively dismissing the doctor.
"Thank you," Abby said, walking toward the doctor and ushering him into the hall.
"Right, well I'll get those discharge papers squared away, and you should be out of here in two shakes."
"I'm tired," Neil whined, grabbing the front of Andrew's jersey.
"Why don't you wait until we get you into the car. I don't want to have to carry your fat ass to the car."
That made Neil laugh and he pulled Andrew down until their foreheads touched. "Do you think we won the game?"
"You fucking Junkie."
"Andrew, do you want me to go see if I can get his script filled real quick before they discharge him?" Abby asked.
"Yeah, that sounds good." He handed her the paper before dragging the chair over to the edge of Neil's bed.
Chapter 3: Loser Like You - Argonaut & Wasp
Neil gets a migraine.
Will I ever stop titling things based off of what I am listening to right at that exact moment? Nah
Neil woke in the foggy confusion that let him know he had taken strong painkillers recently. His head was throbbing and he felt like he had been hit in the face with an exy racquet. He was in his own bed, not dressed out in his uniform, and he had no recollection of changing himself. He tried to sit up and it felt like gravity had increased on his head sevenfold and he lay back down and groaned.
There was a shuffling noise at the foot of his bed, and Neil shot back up so fast he whited out for a hot second between laying down and sitting up. It was just Andrew sitting at the foot of his bed. Now that he was awake, he was feeling irritated, and he told Andrew so.
"You sustained a head injury. You're probably going to be moody for awhile."
Neil felt his emotions right under the skin, ebbing and flowing like the tide. His head hurt and he wanted to cry or drive his fist through the wall, and he couldn't decide which would be more satisfying.
He elected to cry a little in frustration and curl up with the blanket over his head when Andrew looked at him shocked. It was embarrassing.
Andrew let him cry himself out. Neil didn't know how long it lasted. Before Andrew scooted off the bed. "Rest for now. I'm going to go grab your meds and something for you to eat to take it with. Then you should probably sleep again."
"That's a lot of sleep," Neil complained.
Andrew didn't respond, just walked out of the bedroom. Neil was frustrated with his situation, but the crying had taken a lot out of him. He was in that weird middle ground between sleep and awake where you had to decide whether to succumb or push back, and his head hurt too much to push back.
Hours later Neil woke with a raging headache. It felt like someone had taken a really long pencil and driven it through his eye and out the back of his head. Opening his eyes sucked, and Neil wished for a tiny foolish second that they had blackout curtains.
There was no way to have good curtains in a dorm room. Not that Neil had ever cared before this moment, but the best you could do with tension rods was those shitty little flimsy curtains. Neil didn’t know much about curtains but Allison had some and she complained all the time because they just collected dust. “They bring the room together though Neil.” Neil didn’t care about bringing a room together; he cared about the light that he couldn’t escape even when he closed his eyes. His head had only ever hurt this bad when Nathan had knocked him sprawling on his ass. Fuck this headache.
Neil was going to make blackout curtains. His thoughts were jumbled and it took him time to remember where his snuggie was discarded, but when he found it minutes later he silently crowed in triumph. No one was home and it took him 13 minutes but he finally duck taped his snuggie to the wall above the window before walking over to the couch and collapsing and pulling the jacket, tossed on the back of the couch, over his head to block out more light.
He didn't wake up again until a hand touched his clammy face. He squinted one eye open and saw Andrew sitting on the ground next to him. He didn’t feel like he had slept at all. In fact it felt like he had closed his eyes only moments before, but the raging headache had eased until it was just background noise. Neil was confused though; he hated losing time.
“Neil?” Andrew asked.
“Mmyeah, ‘m up,” Neil managed, pushing himself up off the couch. He tried to swallow but everything was dry and he had the worst cottonmouth in the world. “Water?” Neil asked hopefully.
Andrew handed him a water bottle, and Neil ended up missing his mouth. He just looked down at his wet shirt in that confused half-asleep way you’re not really aware of anything happening when you wake up from a headache sleep.
Andrew curled a strong arm behind Neil’s neck and supported his head while he helped Neil drink. Neil finished the entire water bottle but Andrew kept his arm supporting Neil while he lifted his other hand to take Neil’s pulse.
Neil weakly batted at Andrew’s hand, “’m fine.”
“You’re not fine. How long were you asleep?” A shrug. “Have you thrown up?” A negative. “Use your words, Neil.”
“I—no, but I wanted to. I got a headache and the light hurt so I—“ he trailed off.
“Is that why you duct taped a fucking snuggie to the wall? It’s going to ruin the paint.”
“You don’t care about the paint,” Neil said, petulant.
Andrew ignored that. “Where does your head hurt?” Neil’s hand swung up to trace from his eye, to where his head was hit, and then a vague gesture to the back of his head.
“Neil, look at me.” Andrew grabbed Neil’s chin and titled his head back. “I need you to be completely honest with me. How badly does the back of your head hurt?”
Neil looked like absolute shit. Two black eyes, a thick adhesive bandage sort of thing across the bridge of his nose, two neat stitches at the corner of his forehead by his hairline. His hair was greasy and his curls were matted together and his clothes were so wrinkled it looked like he had been crumpled up and thrown into a corner. Andrew wasn’t worried about any of that. If the back of Neil’s head was bothering him it could mean something very bad.
Andrew remembered Cass taking him to the doctor very soon after he had moved in because he had a persistent headache. He was very afraid Cass would give him away. Believing him to be defective in some way, so he tried to put it off for as long as he could. But the headaches persisted to the point that she dragged him down the local Urgent Care clinic. He remembered the doctor, all cold hands and beady eyes, probing his head and asking him where his head had been bothering him. He remembered the doctor telling him what each place a headache manifested usually meant. It had turned out Andrew had stress headaches from trying to overcorrect his dyslexia, but he’d never forget the doctor sternly insisting that he immediately get help if he ever got a headache at the base of his skull because it could mean a traumatic brain injury. At the time, Andrew had been relieved that there was an easy explanation for what was ailing him. Cass was relieved too, and had scooped Andrew, all frail limbs, and told him that he would be “Just fine” because the nice doctor would help him.
Neil speaking dragged him out of his memory.
“What?” Andrew asked.
“I said, that it felt like someone jabbed a pencil through my eye and out the back of my head.”
Andrew groaned. “Wait here.”
Neil slumped back into the couch and then reached for the box of granola bars he knew Kevin had squirreled away under the couch. Neil heard a heated conversation in German that he let wash over him and didn’t bother to translate, but he zoned back in when he heard, “Fuck, Aaron, come on.”
Andrew walked back over to Neil, and lifted his chin again before shining the flashlight on his phone in his eyes.
“The fuck, Andrew?”
“Kevin is going to kill you for eating that,” Andrew said, before rocking back on his heels and telling Aaron about how his pupils looked or something. Neil was too irritated from the flashlight shit to really give a shit about what Andrew was saying.
“Aaron wants to talk to you,” Andrew said, holding the phone up to Neil’s ear.
“Yeah, and what the hell do you want?”
“Neil,” Aaron started, very obviously pitching his voice to be as soft as possible, “I think you just have a migraine. Nicky is driving me back to the dorm right now. Andrew wouldn’t let me bring Abby, but it you’ll probably need to be seen. When is your follow-up?”
“I didn’t bother. I’m fine.” Andrew snatched the phone back.
“I made his appointment for after my last class tomorrow.”
Neil started complaining, and then started swearing when Andrew flashed the light in his eyes again. Andrew hung up after telling Aaron they would meet him outside.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Neil grouched.
“You’re going to the doctor, even if I have to carry your heavy ass out the door.”
“It’s not that heavy,” Neil complained getting up off the couch and snatching his bandana and Nicky’s sunglasses before following Andrew out the door.
“You are literally the most insufferable human being on the planet. I should just put you out of your misery,” Andrew said, locking the door behind them.
“I wish you would try, shithead,” Neil snarked back.
“Tempt me and I just might.”
Neil followed obediently behind Andrew, fixing the bandana so it covered his gross hair.
“When we get back, I want to shower.”
“When you get back, you’ll do as you're told.”
Chapter 4: swimming in the flood - passion pit
Here's the chapter that hopefully wraps it all together!
Neil sat down heavily in the car. “I don’t have health insurance.” He was cheerful about throwing a wrench in their plans to take him to the doctor. Neil absolutely loathed the doctor. A consequence of a life lived on the run. Doctors asked far too many questions to be an option.
“You can afford one doctor’s visit without insurance,” Andrew said from the driver’s seat.
“We will get you some insurance for the future, Neil. You need to take your health seriously, especially when you go on to play professionally,” Kevin boomed from the seat behind Andrew.
“Kevin has a point. You need health insurance,” Aaron informed. Kevin looked smug and Aaron continued, “But now is not the time for an exy lecture. He has a concussion and a migraine.” Kevin looked much less smug.
“Get wrecked, shithead,” Neil sounded out from where he was slumped in the front seat, wearing Nicky’s massive sunglasses.
Nicky snickered from the backseat. “I like Neil on painkillers; he’s a riot.”
Andrew smoothly pulled into the parking lot of the more upscale doctor’s office in town. When Neil went to complain about not being taken to the campus clinic, Andrew slammed the car door in his face.
“Just get it over with,” Nicky suggested.
The wait was long and Neil ended up sleeping on Kevin’s shoulder, but the appointment itself went quickly. Nicky, much to Neil’s chagrin, ended up putting the trip on his card. Neil’s wallet was still in the side pocket of his gym bag. He promised to pay Nicky back, plus interest before Nicky got his credit card statement. Nicky wasn’t concerned and cheerfully informed him that’s what family did.
That made Neil cry, just a little bit, and he started swearing about his head making him a baby.
The doctor wasn’t too concerned with his condition, and he was entirely unfazed at having five college athletes crammed into one exam room. He answered all the questions Aaron asked on behalf of Andrew. The doctor just gave him something for the pain and a script for more meds, to fill on his way home.
“I would just keep an eye on it, and it looks like you have some good friends to keep an eye out for you as well. Migraines are common with concussions and how long they persist is entirely dependent on the person. If they get worse, come back in.”
The doctor and Andrew chatted for a little bit, but Neil didn’t care because whatever the doctor had given him had eased the persistent ache in his head without making him feel loopy.
On the way out, Neil tried to drop the script in the trashcan and Andrew snatched it out of the air.
“You’re taking the medicine until the headaches stop.”
Neil went to protest but his stomach chose that moment to let out an ungodly sound.
“And on that note, Andrew, I think we should eat,” Nicky offered over his shoulder before sliding into the backseat.
After they all ate and headed back to their respective dorm rooms, Kevin went into their shared room by himself to watch exy film on his laptop in bed. Neil couldn’t look at screens for another week or so still, so Andrew put on some soft electronic music and he and Neil fell together on the couch to sit in companionable silence. Every so often, when a thought came to one of the men’s mind, they would offer it up and share a soft chuckle or veer off into another story.
Eventually, Neil’s thoughts came more slowly, longer pauses in between each of his sentences, and his eyes started drooping. He briefly thought that he should go climb in bed and kick Kevin out to watch tape on the couch, but his brain was too tired to carry the message to his legs to get him to start walking. Andrew shifted a little bit closer, and Neil leaned in with a quiet hum.
“You’re falling asleep,” Andrew informed him.
“Shh, I’m sleeping.” That made Andrew chuckle softly.
“At least stretch out.”
“Mm—can’t, you’re in the way.”
Neil was too tired to protest when Andrew shifted him easily so their legs slotted together and their feet bumped together against the arm of the couch. When a warm arm wrapped around Neil’s back, he thought about how he hadn’t slept next to another person since his mother, and she hadn’t been quite so solid and warm.
When Neil woke up, he was tucked against Andrew with his neck propped up at an odd angle against his shoulder. He was sweating under an afghan from all the collected body heat under the blanket. His head was cottony from the remnants of a migraine but otherwise, he felt fine. Neil thought he could maybe use a good stretch; he was worried about disturbing Andrew though. That's when Andrew's arm tightened around Neil's waist, pulling him further onto the couch. Neil decided that he could always stretch later and closed his eyes again.