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Spool of Lies

Chapter Text

Neil zoned out Abby Winfield, the host of the show, as she continued with her endless introductions and glanced around at the other contestants around him. They were lined up in two lines of four, including him, and they were waiting to be let into the house while the other eight contestants they had yet to meet made themselves at home inside.

There were four other men and three women outside with Neil and he sized them each up, one at a time.

The first woman was perfectly put together in a way Neil thought couldn't possibly be her regular appearance. She looked like she had spent hours preparing her for TV premiere. Her platinum hair was perfectly curled and her bright makeup looked as though a professional makeup artist had carefully applied every stroke. Her strappy heels stood so tall that Neil was amazed she was able to balance in them. She didn't appear at all fazed by her near stilts or her skin-tight gold dress as she looked her fellow contestants over with a scornful expression that said she didn't believe her competitors worthy of her time.

Another woman had white hair that fell until a few inches above her chin. The last few inches were dyed in pastel colours. Her hair was the only showy thing about her appearance. She hardly wore any makeup and she was dressed in clothes that were nice, but seemed to try a little too hard to cover her skin. The bright lights that surrounded them reflected off of a silver cross at her throat and she smiled at the others as if they were here to make friends instead of compete to be the last one standing.

The third woman had short, dark hair, and a bold smile. She looked ready to face anything and focused on Abby instead of the other contestants. Neil was about to write her off as over-confident, when he noticed her shift her weight from one fit to the other as her thousand watt smile wavered for just a moment.

At five foot three, Neil was by no means tall, but the man standing next to him was at least an inch or two shorter than him. He was dressed in all black as if he intended for his clothes to make him look intimidating where his fair hair and height failed him. The man's slouching did him no favours in the height department and he looked utterly bored with the entire situation as he stared straight ahead with vacant eyes and his hands stuck in the front pockets of his jeans.

Behind Neil stood a man who would tower over them both, even if his dark hair wasn't gelled into spikes. He looked like he would be competition in physical challenges, but he didn't look particularly threatening at the moment as he shot Neil a toothy grin when he noticed eyes on him.

Next to the man with spiked hair was a man who stood around six feet tall, but was still several inches shorter than the man with the spiked hair. He sent a flirtatious smile and a wink at Neil and Neil quickly glanced past him.

The final man stood at the far end of the back line with a grin so giddy Neil would have assumed it was fake if he couldn't feel the excitement rolling off of the man in waves. The friendly smile from this man and the girl with the pastel hair made them more unsettling to Neil than any of the other players, including the man to his right whose gaze had yet to go back into focus.

Finally, Abby finished her spiel and told them they could enter the house. The others all rushed through the door ahead of Neil, except for the one shorter than him. He walked as if he were out on a leisurely morning stroll as he followed a few feet behind the others.

Inside, the house was huge. The doors opened onto the second floor and a set of stairs led to the living room where a few of the first eight houseguests were waiting. As the first group eyed the balcony, the second group scattered throughout the house to claim what beds remained.

The woman in the gold dress walked back out of a bedroom with an open bed in order to search for a more colourful room with enough beds for her and the other woman she had entered with, so Neil slipped inside and placed his duffel on the open bed. Spiky Hair had already placed his bag on one of the other two beds. He grinned widely at Neil and stuck out a hand in greeting.

"I'm Matt," he said as Neil shook his hand. "I guess we're going to be roommates, huh?"

"I guess," Neil agreed.

A third man was sitting on the other bed and when Matt asked his name, he glared up at them before grunting out, "Seth."

"It's nice to meet you both," Matt insisted. "I'm sure we're going to get along just-"

Neil didn't get the chance to hear how exactly they were going to get along before Seth got up and left the room. Somehow Neil didn't think they were going to get along well at all.

At the sound of loud shouting from the foot of the stairs, Neil followed the rush of houseguests as they headed from their claimed beds to the living room.

"Hold on a second. There are two of you?" Someone demanded as Neil made it down the stairs.

He glanced over at where a man from the first group was staring incredulously at the short blonde man. Except, unless he had changed his clothes since entering the house less than a minute ago, that wasn't the same man. Neil glanced over his shoulder in the direction a few others were staring with various levels of confusion and intrigue and found the man who had been standing next to him outside leaning against the wall with a blank expression.

"This is impossible," his wide-eyed copy said.

"I guess we've got another twin twist this season," a man with a number one tattooed over his cheekbone commented unenthusiastically.

"But I don't have a twin," the twin in the blue shirt insisted.

"You're not going to fool anyone saying that," a woman from the first group insisted. "We do have eyes, you know. It's okay to admit you have a twin."

"But I'm an only child," Blue Shirt insisted.

"So am I," Black Shirt responded in a bored tone. "And I'm not looking for a new brother, so don't get any ideas."

Before Blue Shirt had the opportunity to argue or close his gaping mouth, a TV across from the couches and chairs flickered on and Abby Winfield smiled down at them.

"Houseguests, take a seat," she told them in a friendly tone.

Between the two chairs and two extra long couches, the sixteen of them were a tight fit, but they scrambled until they were all seated. Black Shirt claimed one of the chairs and Blue Shirt sat in the other, studying Black Shirt's face as if looking for evidence that Black Shirt wasn't really his twin and was just someone who looked an awful lot like him.

"As you've probably noticed," Abby said with a hint of humour in her tone. "Two of you share quite the resemblance. It might not surprise most of you that Andrew and Aaron are in fact twins. However, from what I understand, neither of them was aware they had a twin. Is that true, Aaron?"

Blue Shirt finally turned his gaze on the TV, then opened and closed his mouth a couple times before finally getting out a hostile, "This is some kind of joke, right?"

"This is no joke," Abby assured them. "We noticed from your applications that you shared a family resemblance, as well as a birthday. We did a little digging and confirmed that you are in fact twins separated at birth. You were both born to a Tilda Minyard, but she couldn't afford to take care of twins. She gave up one of you so that you could have a better life with another family."

Aaron kept looking back and forth between his twin and the TV as if he was waiting to wake up from some messed up nightmare. Andrew watched the TV with the same level of interest as most would watch a commercial for car insurance. Neil didn't understand how he could have a bomb like that dropped on him and sit there, rigid as a statue, without asking any questions or even taking a moment to glance in his newfound brother's direction.

"You'll get the chance to get acquainted over the course of this season though, since you will both be competing for the half million dollars," Abby insisted. "Andrew, how does it feel knowing you have a twin brother?"

"It doesn't feel any different than not having a brother," he responded in a dull tone.

Abby reacted as if he had said life was sunshine and rainbows as her grin widened and she told them, "I'll give you two some time to get to know each other and your fellow houseguests before we start the first Head of Household competition."

The TV turned off and the contestants glanced around the room at each other, still shocked by the reveal that Andrew and Aaron hadn't known they were twins before entering the house.

Finally, a short-haired woman who was barely taller than Neil stood up with a confident smile and clapped her hands together. Neil recognized her from the group that had waited to enter the house with him.

"Alright," she said. "I guess first thing's first, we'd better introduce ourselves. I'm Danielle Wilds, but you can all call me Dan."

Neil could hardly make himself pay attention enough to learn the names of the other players. By the time they made it around the circle, he certainly couldn't remember most of the tidbits of personal information each had offered. He had learned though that he had entered the house with Dan, Allison, Renee, Andrew, Matt, Nicky, and Jeremy. The other eight houseguests were Kevin, Laila, Alvarez, Katelyn, Seth, Jean, Riko, and Aaron.

Neil knew that it would be completely moronic to make himself stand out this early in the game. His strategy going into the game was to lay low for the first few weeks and blend in with the crowd instead of distinguishing himself as a threat in any manner.

He could tell in a glance that Riko and Kevin's arrogance meant he should steer clear of them. The twins were bound to be a drama magnet, so he wasn't planning on going within ten feet of either of them. Seth's attitude wasn't promising either, so even if they had to share a room, Neil was going to avoid interacting with him as much as possible.

The first Head of Household competition was an endurance competition. Neil had no intention of winning it. Sure, the Head of Household got safety for a week and their own room, but they also established themselves as a threat and were guaranteed to make enemies right off the bat since they had to nominate two houseguests for eviction and a third if one was taken off the block at the veto ceremony.

The contestants were standing on a ledge that barely fit Neil's heels as they stood with their arms above their heads and their hands gripping handholds that barely stuck out an inch from the wall. Neil's plan was to hold out until about half of the houseguests had fallen before pretending to fall himself so that he wouldn't stand out as having been eliminated too early or too late.

Neil's muscles were already straining when Matt fell first fifteen minutes into the competition. Neil was surprised he had lasted so long with big feet on such a tiny foothold.

A couple of minutes later, Andrew was the next to drop. He didn't so much fall as he stepped off of the ledge and, moments after landing on the mat, stalked off across the backyard. As he sat down in a lounge chair and lit up a cigarette, he didn't look at all concerned that anyone had noticed how he had blatantly thrown the competition.

Nicky fell off a few minutes later and sat a couple chairs down from Andrew. His mouth moved, saying something Neil couldn't hear, but Andrew just ignored the comment and took a drag of his cigarette.

Nobody looked like they were struggling too badly yet, but none looked as stable as Renee and Allison. Renee was standing perfectly still and straight with her small feet planted stably on the ledge. Her eyes were shut and she looked perfectly serene and oblivious to her competitors. Allison, who had no trouble walking in a pair of stilettos, appeared perfectly calm balancing on the small ledge in a pair of runners. She surveyed the others as she bragged, "I could do this all day."

Aaron was still visibly shaken by the reveal that he had a twin as he stared across the yard at his brother instead of focusing on the task at hand. Neil looked from where Nicky was still trying and failing to engage Andrew in conversation back to Aaron just in time to watch Aaron lean a little too far forwards and fall from the ledge. He got up from the mat with a string of profanity and then headed to sit in a chair a few down from Nicky, on the opposite side from Andrew.

As they hit the forty minute mark, water began to shower down on them and contestants began to fall more rapidly. By a little after the hour mark, they were down to seven houseguests still competing. Neil, Kevin, Riko, Allison, Alvarez, Renee, and Jean were left standing. Jeremy, Laila, and Katelyn cheered the competitors on as Dan and Matt chatted enthusiastically while watching the competition. Seth sat alone, scowling, and Aaron and Nicky watched in silence as Andrew dozed in his chair.

Neil let his hands slip a little, preparing to fall in what he hoped would be a convincing manner, when Riko spoke up.

"You may as well all give up now. I'm clearly going to win and I'm not looking to make any deals with the likes of you."

Neil's fingers clenched, struggling to hold onto the handhold he had already been letting go of as spite fuelled him to stay in the competition for a little longer. He didn't need to win, but he did want to outlast Riko and knock that smug look off his face.

When none of them dropped, Riko went down the line, taking a turn to taunt each. His words must have gotten to Jean, since he fell just after Riko made a comment about his shaking arms.

Allison responded to Riko's princess taunts with venom in her words, but she lost focus and slipped. She got up from the mat and glared daggers at Riko.

"I told you you could not outlast me," Riko insisted.

"Fuck you," Allison retorted as she stalked off to sit between Seth and Matt.

"Your fingers are slipping," Riko observed as he shifted his attention to Neil. "Why don't you just let go? You know you won't win. I don't even feel this yet. I'm stable as can be. Why torture yourself when everyone can see you are going to fall next?"

Neil bit his tongue to hold back a snarky comment. Riko might be an arrogant prick with a mouth too loud for someone who really felt completely confident in their ability to last, but Neil's arms were burning and his fingertips were trembling. His calf muscles felt like they wear tearing as he pulled harder on the handhold to try to keep from falling. He wanted nothing more than to verbally tear Riko apart, but it was taking all his energy to focus on staying in the competition and he didn't need to ensure he would be nominated if Riko won.

"What? Don't you talk?" Riko asked in an amused tone.

Neil's fingers ached in protest as he clenched them tighter. He opened his mouth to snap at Riko as all self control faded, but luckily he was cut off as Alvarez fell. She let out a heavy sigh, then laughed as she rested with her back against the mat.

"This is tougher than I thought it would be," she commented. "You guys are all doing great. This is going to be a fun summer."

Fifteen minutes passed and Neil's muscles ached so much he couldn't imagine ever getting back up if he were to fall down. His fingers were slick from a combination of sweat and faux rain and they were threatening to slide off at any moment.

Renee's feet still looked stable, but she was struggling to reposition her hands and didn't look like she could last much longer. Her face was contorted in concentration. Kevin and Riko looked pained, but focused. Riko's eyes were open and a smug smirk covered his face, but Kevin's eyes were closed and his head was ducked as he held his facial features completely still with his brow furrowed.

Neil fell next. His shaking fingers locked up and he wasn't able to recover before they slid from the handhold and he fell to the mat.

He tried to get up, but his muscles didn't obey. The wind had been knocked out of him when he fell, so he made weak noises as he attempted to catch his breath.

When Renee fell a minute or two after him, he was only dimly aware of another body hitting the mat until she popped up above his head a moment later. She looked exhausted and sweaty, but she offered him a faint smile and her hand.

"Need help up?" She asked him.

"I'm fine," Neil said and pushed himself into a seated position with arms that screamed in protest.

When he couldn't get any further up on his own and he was afraid he would fall back and have to start all over again, he begrudgingly accepted her still outstretched hand.

Renee helped him up an led him over to a set of chairs by Dan.

"Great job you guys," Matt greeted them. "I don't know how you two lasted so long. I can't believe I fell so soon."

Neil managed a slight nod in response, then sunk in his chair to watch the rest of the competition.

Riko was really hounding Kevin, but Neil couldn't make out most of the words from across the yard. Kevin didn't respond and kept his eyes shut, but he flinched away from the words. The competition only lasted ten minutes longer before Kevin let go for a second to adjust his hold and wasn't able to recover.

"Congratulations, Riko. You are the first Head of Household of the season." Abby Winfield's voice announced enthusiastically through a set of speakers.

Neil forced his aching arms to clap along with the rest of the houseguests as he thought to himself that this was going to be a miserable week.

As Head of Household, Riko was granted the opportunity and burden of choosing three houseguests to be Have-Nots for the week. Have-Nots had to take cold showers, sleep in a special Have-Not room, and eat exclusively slop for the week.

Riko chose both of the twins and Neil, so Neil no longer had to worry about sharing a room with Seth for the week, but he had new roommates to worry about instead. Aaron had tried talking to Andrew once since Neil had entered the room, when he asked which bed he wanted, but Andrew hadn't responded and they had claimed their beds in silence.

Neil's body was beyond exhausted, so he hoped he would be able to fall asleep quickly, even without a pillow or blanket. He certainly didn't want to get involved in whatever was going on with the twins, so he kept his mouth shut. Even when he wasn't able to fall asleep with his sore body resting on the hard surface, Neil kept his eyes shut and pretended he was sleeping.

He had slept on worse than the metal slabs that served as beds in the Have-Not room, but the fluorescent lights that never turned off made it hard to fall asleep. The slabs were by no means long, but Neil was short enough that if he curled up, he could get away with just his knees hanging over the edge of the bed.

Neil wasn't sure if he had been lying in bed for minutes or hours when he heard the door creak open. He forced himself to remain perfectly still as he heard footsteps enter the room. When the newcomer spoke, it was in German.

"Since when do you have a twin? How did I not know about this? Did you know about this?"

Neil struggled to put a face to the voice as he listened with interest.

"No. She never said anything. I guess she didn't want me knowing she gave up my twin," Aaron responded in German. "Do you think your dad knows?"

Neil opened one eye ever so slightly for just long enough to see that their visitor was Nicky. He closed his eye again and hoped no one had noticed him looking. He didn't need them knowing he had seen them speaking in German, even if they had no way of knowing that he had spent a year in Germany with his mother and was able to follow the conversation.

"If he does, he never said anything to me," Nicky responded. "I'm guessing we're not telling anyone we're cousins. You having a long lost twin is already gathering too much attention."

"You two don't look related."

The room went dead silent after Andrew spoke in German and Neil's breathing suddenly felt too loud and unnaturally paced. He hoped they were too distracted by their own drama to notice he was awake.

"You can speak German?" Aaron asked, even though it was already pretty evident that Andrew could.

"If you're his twin, then I'm related to you too," Nicky told Andrew. "My mom's from Mexico. My dad's your mom's sister."

"She's not my mom."

"Okay, well, she still gave birth to you," Nicky responded. "That means we're family."

"I don't believe in family," Andrew told them calmly. "So whatever this is, I'm not interested."

Neil heard movement and the sound of the door creaking open, then falling shut, and for a moment he thought Nicky had left. But then Nicky spoke again.

"I don't think he likes us."

Between the bright lights perpetually shining, the lack of windows, and the absence of a clock, Neil had no way of knowing what time it was when he woke up in the Have-Not room the next morning. He didn't feel like he had gotten a lot of rest and the twins were both still asleep, but he got out of bed anyways.

He walked into the kitchen and checked the digital clock on the stove. The flashing green screen told him it was just after four thirty in the morning. The whole house was still asleep and Neil could go back to bed, but instead he took the opportunity to go for a morning run without being disturbed. Normally, he would run along streets near his apartment, but that wasn't an option here. The only place he could go outside was the backyard, so he pulled the sliding door open and stepped out onto the dew-covered grass.

It was still dark out, but he was able to see well enough in the dim yard that he knew sunrise couldn't be far off. He pulled a couple of outdoor chairs out of the way, then set off running laps around the perimeter of the broad yard.

Running let him take his mind off of how surreal it was living in the Big Brother house. He was able to stop thinking about Riko and upcoming nominations and the conversation he had overheard the night before. He ran until his mind was a blank slate, then ran three more laps for good measure before heading back inside.

No one was up yet still, which meant Neil could shower in private. He didn't even mind that he would have to use cold water, just as long as he got to shower without a crowd. The only showers in the Big Brother house were a private one located in Riko's Head of Household suite and two shower stalls in the house's general bathroom. The only privacy at the front of these stalls were doors just large enough to conceal the contestants' bodies from the rest of the large communal washroom.

With sixteen people living in one house, people were in and out of the bathroom all the time. Whether they were on their way to the small stall holding just the toilet, at the counter getting ready, or lounging on the large couch in the corner for a private conversation, there was almost always someone in the washroom. That meant opportunities to shower alone were few and far between.

Neil slipped back into the Have-Not room as quietly as he could, but Andrew's head still shot up as he clicked the door carefully shut behind him. Aaron was still sleeping and Andrew didn't say a word as he rested his head back on the metal slab. He watched Neil with a bored expression as Neil grabbed his bag from the floor next to where he had slept and headed back out of the room.

Neil took his duffel with him to the washroom, so that he would have his clothes with him afterwards, and went for a brisk shower.

"Hey, Neil, come over here," Matt greeted him enthusiastically when he walked into the backyard that afternoon.

As Matt enthusiastically waved him over, those he was sitting with turned in his direction. Renee offered him a friendly smiled that looked a little too practiced for his liking, Allison looked him over as if appraising his value to her, Dan waved and smiled, and Seth barely spared him a glance before focusing back on his drink instead.

Matt was in the pool, standing at the side with his arms folded over the edge so he could talk to the others. Allison was stretched across a lounger in a rainbow bikini, working on her tan. Renee was on the lounger next to her in jeans and a t shirt, but she sat up cross-legged as Neil walked over and patted the extra room on her chair in invitation. Dan was sitting on the tile surrounding the pool and Seth was standing against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest.

Neil reluctantly took the spot on the end of Renee's chair, leaving as much space between them as possible.

"Have you talked to Riko yet?" Matt asked curiously.

"No," Neil responded honestly.

"Well, you should probably talk to him before the nomination ceremony," Dan advised. "Especially when you're already a Have-Not."

"Maybe," Neil said, although he has no intention of going anywhere near Riko's Head of Household suite. "Have you guys talked to him?"

"Oh, we had words," Allison assured him with a sly grin.

"I didn't," Seth spoke up. "And I'm not about to go kiss his ass just because he's in power for one week."

"We talked to him," Matt said as he gestured between himself and Dan. "But I'm not sure it did any good."

"Riko's difficult," Renee added in a measured tone.

"No, a thousand piece puzzle is difficult," Dan corrected. "Riko's a testosterone driven asshole struggling to assert his fragile masculinity."

Neil was suddenly certain that he was going to like Dan.

"But enough about Riko," Matt said. "What about you?"

"What about me?" Neil echoed in a confused tone.

"How are you doing stuck in the Have-Not room with the twins?" Matt elaborated.

Neil shrugged. "It's fine."

"That room is designed to be awful and borderline impossible to sleep in," Matt pointed out. "There's no way it's fine."

Neil shrugged. "I'm dealing with it."

Matt shot him a skeptical look, but let the subject drop.

Neil knew that he was supposed to make himself go to Riko's Head of Household room and grovel at his feet to try to gain safety for the week, but he couldn't stomach the idea. Clearly, Riko already didn't like him since he had made him a Have-Not. Maybe he was likely to get nominated, but Andrew and Aaron were also Have-Nots and their twin twist meant they were easy targets. Besides, Riko didn't seem to get along with anyone in the house, with the exceptions of Kevin and Jean, who had spent most of their time with Riko since he had gotten his HoH room.

If Neil went to Riko's room, he would most likely guarantee his place on the block though. Neil was self-aware enough to realize that. He wasn't great at holding back his anger and he would probably just ensure he was on Riko's radar if he tried to get off of it.

Apparently, Riko was looking to make as many enemies as possible first week though, since when the nomination ceremony rolled around, none of the Have-Nots were on the block.

Riko's hand rested on the first key for a suspense filled moment as he announced, "My first nominee is-"

When Riko turned the key to reveal his first nomination and Allison's picture popped up on the screen, she scowled in his direction.

"Allison. Perhaps you should have played nice," Riko taunted her, before moving on and placing his hand on the second key. "My second nominee is Seth. You get on my nerves. I wish I could send you both home this week."

Most of the table looked shocked by Riko's brutal honesty. Neil was just relieved that as long as whoever won the Power of Veto didn't use it, he should be safe for the week.

Chapter Text

“If he thinks nominating me is going to get to me, then he’s wrong,” Allison insisted. “I’m going to win that veto and then HoH. I can't wait to send his ass home.”

Neil was outside on one of the couches in the corner of the backyard, next to the pool table. He had come out to get a little fresh air and time to himself, but a crowd had slowly formed around him.

Allison sat with her feet up on the edge of the table as she leaned forward to paint her toenails while she vented some of her anger to Renee, who nodded along as if in understanding. Dan was sitting in front of the couch with her back leaning against Matt’s legs and she sometimes spoke up to add another insult to Allison’s ever growing list of nicknames for Riko.

Seth was inside, either trying to calm himself down or riling himself up even further after a confrontation he'd had with Kevin that morning in the kitchen. Neil hadn't heard all the details, but Matt had told him it’d had something to do with Kevin putting the milk back in the fridge before Seth got to pour it on his cereal.

Laila and Alvarez were cuddled up in the hammock across the yard and were chatting animatedly with Jeremy and Katelyn, who had brought drinks over for them and then sat down beside the hammock.

Aaron and Nicky had started up a game of pool and when they started a bet on who would win, the others on the couch had quickly placed their bets, even though they had never seen either of the men play before. Neil refrained from betting and watched Andrew with a burning curiosity.

Neil had never seen him hold a conversation more than a few words long with Aaron or Nicky and he hadn't said a word to anyone since he had shown up in the backyard, but he had come outside a minute after Nicky and Aaron had. He sat on the table that held Aaron and Nicky’s drinks with his legs dangling over the edge, slowly kicking them back and forth, as he watched the game with seemingly no opinion on any of what was happening around him.

Riko, Kevin, and Jean were nowhere to be found, but that wasn't surprising. They had been holed up in the HoH room for days. Riko hadn't left since the nomination ceremony, except when called to the diary room for an interview. Kevin and Jean had only left for long enough to sleep, get changed, go to the diary room, or grab food for themselves and Riko. They rarely spoke a word to anyone, which had only made that morning’s kitchen blowup more surprising.

“I already miss Erik so much,” Nicky complained as he lined up a shot. “I thought if I could handle long distance, I could handle this, but I haven't gone more than a day without talking to him in years and now I can't call him or text him and I cannot handle this.”

“Who’s Erik?” Matt asked. “Your boyfriend?”

“Fiancé,” Nicky lamented.

“How far away does he live from you?” Dan asked. “Do you guys drive out to see each other sometimes?”

“Fly out,” Nicky corrected. “He lives in Germany. Maybe I should self-evict and spend the summer in Germany instead. I've already got my schedule cleared anyways.”

When Aaron spoke up, it was in German and he sounded annoyed. “You are not leaving me here alone just because you miss him.”

“I know,” Nicky responded in German as he watched the cue ball bounce around the table after Aaron’s missed shot. “I couldn't do that to Erik anyways. You know he’d feel guilty that I quit for him. Besides, even at twenty, you still need me as a babysitter.”

“Shut up.”

Matt looked between them suspiciously.

“You both speak German?” Allison asked as she arched a brow at them. She had forgotten all about her own conversation as soon as an opportunity to find out more information on the others had presented itself.

Nicky switched back to English as he explained, “I lived in Germany with Erik for a while and I still go visit him whenever I can, so I picked up a lot there.”

“I've got family that used to live in Germany so I picked up some that way and I took a German class last year,” Aaron added.

Neil was surprised that the others accepted the answers so easily. Then again, they had no reason to suspect that Aaron and Nicky were related. There wasn't much of a family resemblance and they already knew about the twist with one of Aaron’s family members.

Andrew knew better though and apparently he wasn't worried about subtlety because he spoke up in German as he deadpanned, “What a coincidence. Maybe Nicky and your family that lived in Germany were in the same area at the same time.”

Aaron glared at his twin and switched back to German as he demanded, “What is your problem?”

There was a long pause and all eyes were on the twins before Andrew finally responded, “I don't have a problem. Project your issues onto someone else.”

Aaron spoke in English as he muttered out, “Dick.”

Andrew was unfazed by the insult.

Nicky looked like he was searching for something to say to get the twins to get along, but Renee found words before he did.

“You grew up completely separate, but you both learned German,” she commented in a perfectly serene voice that grated on Neil’s nerves. “How interesting.”

“Maybe it’s because of some telepathic twin connection neither of you knew about,” Matt suggested.

Andrew glared daggers at him and his voice was thick with hostility as he warned, “Don't say shit like that. There’s no fucking twin connection that made us learn the same language. I had the choice of either that or Spanish and I flipped a fucking coin.”

Matt didn’t have the chance to respond before Andrew had already gotten up and left.

Matt glanced around at the others for help as he said, “I was just joking.”

 The entire house gathered in the living room when it was time to pick contestants for the veto competition. As the Head of Household, Riko was guaranteed one of six spots. As nominees, Allison and Seth took up the second and third spots. The other three players were chosen by random draw. Riko, Allison, and Seth would each pick a chip from a bag to select a player. Each chip would either say either the name of a player or ‘houseguest’s choice’.

Riko pulled his chip first and read it aloud.

“Houseguest’s choice,” he said in a smug tone. He wasted no time considering his decision before he chose, “Kevin.”

Kevin went to stand with Riko and the nominees as Allison yanked the bag out of Riko’s clenched hand. There was a clear struggle before the bag finally slipped from Riko’s fingers, but Allison’s catlike smile never faltered.

She drew a chip and sounded unimpressed as she read out, “Andrew.”

Andrew looked annoyed that he had to get up and he took his sweet time on his way over to where the other competitors were already standing. He stopped a little off to the side from the others and didn’t glance in Seth’s direction when he took the bag from Allison.

Seth drew the last chip and made no effort to conceal his disappointed as he read the name. “Katelyn.”

Katelyn didn’t appear bothered by Seth’s sour mood as she grinned and practically skipped over to where the others were standing.

“I also have to choose a host for the competition,” Riko added. “And I choose Jean.”

Jeremy clapped a hand on Jean’s shoulder in support as some of the houseguests shot him encouraging smiles, while others looked indifferent. Jean’s expression remained perfectly neutral and unreadable.

“Big Brother will let us know when it is time for the competition,” Riko said to finish the meeting, then with a sharp jerk of his chin he indicated for Kevin and Jean to follow him back out of the room.

When the houseguests were called outside for the veto competition, they found that the backyard had been transformed into a giant swamp. There were six large boards set equidistant apart at the edge of the swamp. Each board said one of the player’s names and the six houseguests who were competing lined up next to the board with their name on it. Jean stood off to the side, holding a card that stated the rules of the competition while the rest of the houseguests sat on benches to watch the competition.

As the host of the competition, Jean read the rules to his fellow houseguests.

“Today's competition is called Spelling Search. Hidden throughout the swamp are tiles with different letters on them. You can bring back as many letters as you would like, but you may only carry one letter tile back to your board at a time. The object of the competition is to form the longest correctly spelled English word. You will have twenty minutes to search for tiles and create a word. If you are ready early, you may pull the covering over your board to lock in your answer. If time runs out, the tiles on your board will be locked in. In the event of a tie, the houseguest who locked in the longest word in the shortest amount of time will win the golden power of veto.”

The competition began at the sound of the buzzer and the houseguests trudged into the swamp. Neil realized quickly that whatever filled the swamp was thick and syrupy and stuck to the contestants’ clothing and skin, which made it more difficult for them to search.

Riko rushed in and grabbed the first tile he could find, clearly intending to hoard as many tiles as he could get his hands on. He rushed back in and did the same thing again a few times before he even looked at his letters to try to determine what letters he needed to form a word.

Kevin started sifting through tiles immediately, tossing aside those he did not believe he needed into a pile near the edge of the swamp. When he found a letter he needed, he rushed it over to his board and then went back to methodically searching the swamp.

Allison started off searching for tiles on her own, but quickly changed her strategy and began picking out letters from Kevin’s reject pile. Each time she made it back to her board, she gave her letters a quick once over before returning to the swamp. Although her hair was thick with swamp syrup, her makeup somehow remained perfectly flawless.

Seth seemed to care less about finding letters he could make a word out of than he did about ripping letter tiles his opponents wanted from their hands. While his strategy wasn't likely to help him form a word, Neil supposed it might make the others have to rethink their word choices.

Andrew didn't seem to have any strategy at all. As the others ran, he walked. He grabbed tiles when they were near him and looked at them for a few seconds before slowly carrying them over to his board. He never spared his board a second glance before returning to the swamp.

Katelyn wasn't grabbing letters as quickly as some of her opponents, but each time she made it back to her board, she rearranged her tiles to see what words she was close to being able to make before she returned to the swamp.

When Jean announced that they had reached the halfway mark, the contestants began to scramble to organize their letters into words and discard the letter tiles they did not need.

Allison looked at her board and cursed, then headed back into the swamp. She seemed to be looking for a specific letter, since she tossed aside many letter tiles with an annoyed grunt as she waded through the swamp.

Gradually, the contestants locked their answers in until time was finally up. The contestants would each reveal their words one at a time and would be told if their word was a correctly spelled English word or not.

They went in alphabetical order, so Allison was first. She opened her board to reveal the word ‘mascara’.

“That is a correctly spelled seven letter word,” Jean informed her. “That means Allison is currently in the lead. Andrew, you're up next.”

Andrew opened his board to real the word ‘fuck’. Neil had seen him grab more than enough tiles to create a longer word, even despite his slow pace, and he didn't understand why Andrew did not seem to care about even appearing to put in any effort, let alone trying to win. Andrew could easily end up a replacement nominee if someone else won the power of veto. So why did he look like he couldn't care less about his loss?

“I’m sorry,” Jean said after a slight pause. “Your word is not long enough to defeat Allison. She is still in the lead with a seven letter word.”

Next up was Katelyn, who opened her board to reveal the word ‘penguin’.

“That is a correctly spelled a seven letter word,” Jean told her. “That is the same number of letters as Allison. However, you locked in you answer before Allison, which means you are now in the lead. Sorry, Allison.”

Allison slammed her board shut in aggravation, then turned to watch the next reveal.

Kevin was up next and Neil heard impressed murmurs from his fellow houseguests as Kevin revealed the word ‘philosophy’.

“Kevin, you have a correctly spelled ten letter word. That means you are now officially in the lead. Riko, you're up next. What word have you spelled?”

Riko scowled as he revealed the word ‘stadium’.

“I’m sorry, Riko,” Jean told him. “Although your words is correctly spelled, it is only seven letters long, which is not enough to take the lead from Kevin. Seth, you are up next. You need to have locked in a correctly spelled English word that is ten letters or longer to have won. What word have you spelled?”

Seth opened his board to reveal the word ‘tattoo’.

“Sorry, Seth. Although that is a correctly spelled word, it is only six letters long. That means Kevin, you have won the golden power of veto.”

Neil watched as Jean placed the veto around Kevin’s neck. He would have rather someone outside of Riko’s group won, but at least Riko himself had lost. If Neil was lucky, nominations would stay the same and he wouldn't have to worry about Riko using him as a replacement nominee.

“Well, I think we all know he isn't going to use the veto to save Seth,” Dan commented later that day in the living room. “Especially after that kitchen blowup.”

Matt had talked Neil into joining him in the living room, so he sat with Matt, Dan, Allison, and Renee as they discussed Kevin and his veto win.

“I doubt he's going to use it on me either,” Allison admitted. “I caught him coming out of the diary room earlier and tried flirting with him, but I got no reaction out of him. Besides, he seems pretty dead set on being Riko’s lackey and Riko hates me. So unless someone pisses Riko off more before the veto ceremony, I don’t think nominations are changing.”

“I do not think you’ll go home either way,” Renee told her in a gentle tone. “We all have to live in this house together. Seth is not an easy person to live with. I think the house will see that.”

“I hope so,” Allison said. “I came here to win. Not to go home on the first week.”

Neil zoned out as Kevin went through the obligatory explanation at the beginning of the veto meeting. The gist of it was that Kevin could use the veto to take one of the nominated houseguests off the block, or he could leave Riko’s nominations the same. If he chose to save one of the nominees, Riko would have to name a replacement nominee and would not be able to nominate Kevin.

Allison sat in one of the nominee chairs with her chin held high. Seth rolled his eyes when Kevin asked for the nominees’ speeches.

“Allison, why should I use the power of veto on you?” Kevin questioned.

Allison stood up and shot a glare in Riko’s direction, then turned her attention on Kevin.

“Well, you could leave me on the block and do whatever Riko tells you to,” she told him. A cruel smile formed on her lips as she added, “Or, you could grow a pair and make your own decision. Take me off the block and I can make you a deal much better than whatever he offered you.”

With that, Allison sat back down and ignored the sour look Riko gave her.

“Alright, Seth, why do you think I should use the veto on you?” Kevin asked.

Seth didn’t stand up.

“We both know you’re not going to use it on me. You hate me. I hate you. I’m not going to beg to be taken off the block.”

Kevin waited a moment to make sure Seth was finished before he announced his decision.

“I have decided not to use the power of veto.”

Neil felt a wave of relief wash over him as Kevin told them that the veto meeting was adjourned. Maybe Neil hadn’t managed to stay completely off of Riko’s radar, but at least he wouldn’t be the first one sent home.

Chapter Text

Andrew’s eyes followed Neil to the door again, when Neil got up to go for a run on the morning of eviction day. When Neil returned to the Have-Not room to grab his bag before his shower, Andrew watched him again, without lifting his head or saying a word.

Neil didn’t think much of it until he was in the shower and opened his eyes to find Andrew standing just inside the doorway of the bathroom. He stared Neil down with a blank expression and did not shy away when Neil met his gaze.

Neil’s heart was pounding out of his chest. Logically, he knew the shower door kept Andrew from seeing his body and the scars across his chest. He was too short to have anything but his head show over the door, but he felt as naked and vulnerable as if the shower had no stall at all.

For a long moment, the only sound in the room was that of the water hitting the shower walls and floor. Neil knew he should say something, but he couldn’t find the air to speak.

Andrew wasn’t headed for the couch or the counter or the toilet. He wasn’t headed anywhere at all. He stood there with furrowed brows for a few moments longer, then turned away and disappeared down the hallway again.

Neil stood there, letting the cold water run over him, for several long minutes before he finally finished his shower and got dressed as fast as he could, in case Andrew came back or anyone else headed for the bathroom.

Neil was in the kitchen, eating Frosted Flakes, when Allison came and sat down beside him. She leaned across the counter towards him, so close that her elbow was almost touching his bowl.

He could feel her eyes on him, so he reluctantly turned to face her. She was sizing him up and Neil felt his skin crawl under her heavy gaze.

“We’re friends, right?” She asked.

Her words sounded like a trap to Neil’s ears, so he stirred his spoon through his cereal as he considered his response.

Neil did not think they were friends. He did not think he had any friends in the house. But Matt did invite Neil to hang out with him fairly often and that usually meant spending time with Dan, Allison, and Renee too.

“I don’t know about friends,” he said in a careful tone.

Allison’s brow furrowed as her lips puckered. Her sour look told Neil that was not what she had wanted to hear. He instantly became worried that he had already blown up his game. This did not feel like lying low.

“We haven’t been in the house long enough for me to have any friends yet,” Neil said.

Allison’s features relaxed and Neil felt a wave of relief. He would have to be more careful, since future situations might not be so easily diffused.

“We’re close though, right?” She asked. “Considering we’ve only been here a week?”

Neil didn’t feel particularly close to her, although he did respect her a lot more than he respected players like Riko and Seth. He knew from her reaction before that she wanted him to agree though, so he responded, “Right.”

“You’re going to vote to keep me in the house then,” she said. Although that had clearly been a statement and not a question, a few seconds later she added, “Aren’t you?”

Neil knew her whole talk of friendship and being close had been a front to try to secure his vote, but he didn’t mind. Seth was difficult to live with and Neil had already decided he would rather keep Allison in the house. Neil thought he was much more likely to get into a fight with Seth than with Allison and he knew that Allison had Riko in her cross-hairs, so she was not likely to target him anytime in the near future.

“Of course,” he assured her.

“Perfect,” Allison said.

She shot him a dazzling smile, then pushed off the counter and left the room.

That night, Neil sat on the couch, wedged between Matt and Jeremy, as Abby Winfield asked Allison to tell her fellow houseguests why she thought they should vote to keep her in the Big Brother house.

Allison rose with a grand smile on her lips and surveyed her fellow houseguests.

“I didn’t come here to get sent home week one. I’ll give anyone who votes to keep me in the house this week a hundred bucks when we get out of here,” she said.

Neil watched as some of the houseguests glanced around uncertainly.

“I’m serious,” Allison added, then sat back down in her nomination chair. “And I will watch the episode to see who you all voted for.”

“Thank you, Allison,” said Abby. “Seth, it’s your turn. Please stand and tell your fellow houseguests why they should keep you in the house.”

Seth stood up slowly and focused a glare over at where Riko was sitting on one of the couches, with Kevin at one side and Jean at the other.

“Keep me and I’ll make their lives a living hell until they walk out the door,” Seth said, then sat back down in his chair with his eyes still focused on Kevin.

While the thought of them suffering did appeal to Neil, he thought Seth was more likely to make everyone else’s lives a living hell while Kevin, Riko, and Jean hid on their own.

“Alright. Thank you, Seth,” Abby said. “Now, it’s time to vote. Renee, you’re up first. Please enter the diary room and cast your vote for the nominee you would like to evict.”

The living room remained in tense silence as each of the houseguests, except for the Head of Household and nominees, were called into the diary room, one by one, to cast their votes.

When it was Neil’s turn, he voted to evict Seth, then returned to the couch and waited for the results.

Laila sat back down next to Alvarez after casting the final vote. There was a moment of silence before they heard Abby’s voice again.

“Alright, houseguests, the votes are in,” Abby told them. “When I reveal the vote, the evicted houseguest will have just a few moments to say their goodbyes, gather his or her belongings, and walk out the front door. By a vote of thirteen to zero, Seth, you have been evicted from the Big Brother house.”

Seth didn’t waste any time with polite goodbyes. He rose from his seat, grabbed his bag, and headed straight for the front door. He opened the door and turned around for just long enough to warn the house, “If you don’t get those assholes out fast, you’re all going to regret it.”

Once the door closed behind Seth, Neil followed the rest of the houseguests to the memory wall in the kitchen to watch Seth’s picture turn grey while they waited for the next Head of Household competition to begin.

Neil studied the oversized mini-golf course that the houseguests would be competing on. There were objects acting as obstacles throughout the course and at the end were slots labelled with different numbers from zero to thirty.

As the previous Head of Household, Riko was not eligible to compete in the competition, so he acted as the host. The rules were simple. They each had one shot and whoever’s ball landed in the slot with the highest number would become the new Head of Household. If there was a tie, the houseguests in the lead would each take another shot in order to break the tie.

Allison was up first. She carefully studied the obstacles, then took her shot. The ball ricocheted down the green, then landed in one of the slots.

“Allison,” said Riko in a tone of disgust. “You have earned a score of twenty-one. That means you are currently in the lead.”

Allison remained in the lead as Aaron, Laila, Renee, Nicky, Matt, and Jean took their shots.

Andrew was up next and he didn’t even glance at the obstacles or slots. The second his ball was on the ground, he hit it as hard as he could. It ricocheted off of one of the obstacles and bounced over the short walls that were supposed to keep balls from leaping off of the green.

Andrew watched expressionlessly as Katelyn narrowly dodged the ball, then he shrugged and dropped his club.

“Sorry, Andrew,” Riko said in a tone utterly devoid of sympathy. “Your ball has gone out of bounds. That means you have earned a score of zero and have been eliminated from the competition.”

Andrew didn’t look concerned as he went to sit a few feet away from the other players who had already been eliminated.

Neil did not see the next shot because he was too busy watching Andrew, but Riko said that Jeremy had been eliminated with a score of eighteen.

Katelyn was eliminated next, with a score of fifteen, and then it was Neil’s turn.

He had studied the board for long enough that he knew which area he wanted to aim for. He couldn’t be too obvious that he didn’t want to win, so he picked the area that had one high number surrounded by several low numbers.

Neil took his shot and watched in horror as it moved towards the slot marked thirty. He did not want to win. He did not want to stand out. He did not need to make enemies this early on in the competition. Sure, he wanted Riko to go home, but Allison had that goal anyways. Allison winning Head of Household would be better for Neil’s game and he knew Allison wanted to be HoH.

The ball hit the divider between thirty and the zero beside it. Neil was filled with dread as he watched, then tried to hide the wave of relief he felt as the ball landed in the slot marked zero.

Riko’s voice was snide as he said, “Sorry, Neil. You have scored a zero. That is not enough to beat Allison’s score of twenty-one. You have been eliminated from the competition.”

As Neil headed over to the benches, both Matt and Nicky gestured for him to come sit with them. Neil was surprised Nicky even bothered, since Neil had never spoken to him and he had been actively trying to avoid Nicky since he had discovered he was Aaron and Andrew’s cousin. Matt and Nicky’s gestures were obvious though and Neil thought he was more likely to call attention to himself if he dodged them than if he sat with them, so he took a seat between the two men.

Neil leaned forward to watch the rest of the competition. He tried to look as absorbed as possible so that hopefully Nicky would not try to talk to him.

Kevin’s turn was next and he stared down the green with a concentration that none of the other houseguests had matched. He lined up his shot, almost took it, then stopped and double-checked his position compared to the slots at the end of the green. He adjusted slightly, then tried again. He must have been more satisfied, since he took the shot instead of stopping again.

Neil was too distracted by the way Kevin watched stone-faced to see where the ball landed. Kevin’s expression did not alter when Riko announced that he had taken the lead with a score of twenty-nine.

Alvarez went next, but she was eliminated with a score of twelve.

Dan was the last contestant to take a shot. She carefully eyed the green, lined up her shot, took a deep breath, then hit her ball.

Neil’s shoulders tensed as he watched. He hoped for Dan to pull off a score of thirty, but her ball landed in a spot marked twenty-four.

“I’m sorry, Dan. You scored a twenty-four,” Riko mocked. “That is not enough to take the lead. That means, Kevin, with a score of twenty-nine, you are the new Head of Household.”

Chapter Text

When it was time for Kevin to choose the Have-Nots, he stood in the kitchen and shot a look to Riko, who gave him a nod in return.

Kevin looked uncomfortable, although he was clearly trying to hide it. Neil saw his discomfort in the rigid hold of his shoulders and the too tight set of his jaw.

“As the Head of Household, it is my job to choose three houseguests to be this week’s Have-Nots,” Kevin said in a measured tone. He glanced over at Riko for a fraction of a second before he continued, “And I have decided to leave the Have-Nots the same as last week.”

Neil felt his jaw clench and balled his hands into fists. He turned to watch the twins’ reaction because he knew if he kept looking at Kevin, he wouldn’t be able to keep himself from starting a fight with Kevin.

On one side of Nicky, Andrew didn’t have a reaction. Neil wasn’t sure the words had even registered to him. On Nicky’s other side, Aaron was glaring daggers.

“This is bullshit,” Aaron hissed out in German.

“I know,” Nicky responded, also in German. “But don’t start a fight and get yourself nominated.”

“I decided, he says. But we all know that isn’t true,” Andrew said in English. “How pathetic. How sad. Kevin the coward can’t even choose Have-Nots without someone to hold his hand and guide him on the way.”

Anger flashed across Kevin’s features, but before Kevin could answer Renee interrupted in a tone that was far too calm for how loud she spoke.

“Actually, if you don’t mind, Kevin,” she said. “I would like to volunteer to be a Have-Not. At least that way, one of those three can sleep in a proper bed and eat this week.”

Kevin looked shocked. Riko looked pissed as his mouth pulled into a tight line.

“I’ll take Aaron’s place,” Katelyn volunteered as she raised her hand.

Aaron looked relieved for a moment, then shot a concerned look in Katelyn’s direction. Andrew glanced over at Katelyn and his twin for a moment, then focused his attention back on the nothing he had been staring at before.

Neil hadn’t even been aware that Aaron and Katelyn had ever even interacted with each other. Apparently, Neil would have to keep a closer eye on his fellow houseguests after he had so blatantly missed something.

“Well…” Kevin faltered.

“And I’ll take Neil’s spot,” Matt piped up in a cheery tone.

Neil couldn’t believe it. The so-called beds in the Have-Not room were uncomfortable and too small for Neil. Matt was much taller than him. Neil had only known Matt for a week. Why would Matt volunteer to take his place?

Matt shot him a wide grin and Neil wasn’t sure how to react. He forced the slightest of smiles onto his face, then turned away and watched Kevin again.

“Fine,” Kevin said in a harsh tone. “You’re the Have-Nots then.”

Houseguests split into small groups and pairs and began to talk amongst themselves while Andrew slipped out of the room by himself.

“Thank you,” Neil said when Matt came over to where he was standing.

“No problem,” Matt said with a big grin. “No one should be stuck in that room two weeks in a row.”

Kevin did not move as Riko stared him down with an icy glare.

Kevin,” Riko snapped, then exited the room. Jean and Kevin were close on his heels.

 Neil was sitting on the bed in what had become his personal bedroom, since Seth had been evicted and Matt had become a Have-Not, when Nicky appeared in the doorway.

“Wow. Are you always this boring?” Nicky asked.

Neil scowled in response.

Despite all his talking, Nicky had barely spoken three sentences to Neil since they had entered the house. Neil had been hoping to get some alone time away from everyone else and he was not happy to have company.

“No one in this house knows anything about you,” Nicky pointed out. “It’s about time you and I hang out and get to know each other. Come on.”

Neil did not want to go with him, but Nicky seemed insistent and Neil didn’t need to stand out as the stand-offish loner who wouldn’t talk to anyone. He needed to blend into the middle of the house, so he got up and followed Nicky out of the room.

The sound of voices in the kitchen died down as soon as they made it halfway across the living room.

Renee poured sugar into a mixing bowl and Andrew stood at her side, eating chocolate chips out of an open bag, when Neil and Nicky entered the kitchen. The scene did not add up to Neil. Why was Renee baking when she was a Have-Not and why was Andrew, who had shown zero interest in talking to anyone in the house, helping out?

By the time Neil spotted Andrew and Renee, Andrew’s eyes were already on Neil and Nicky. Andrew’s eyes followed them until they stepped through the sliding glass door to the backyard and stepped around the corner, out of sight.

Aaron and Katelyn sat together on the couch next to the pool table. Like his brother, Aaron’s eyes were trained on them the moment they stepped into his line of sight. Aaron shifted slightly further from Katelyn as he eyed Neil in an unfriendly manner.

Aaron turned his attention to Nicky and spoke in German as he asked, “Where is he?”

“Kitchen,” Nicky responded in German. “Baking cookies with Renee. He was actually talking to her too. But of course he cut that off the second I showed up. Do you think there’s something going on there?”

“I doubt it with his charming personality. Why would she put up with him?” Aaron questioned. He switched back to English as he eyed Neil again and questioned, “What’s he doing here?”

“We’re getting to know him,” Nicky said as if it was obvious, then in German he added, “You know, it wouldn’t kill you to try to be friendly. One of these days we’re going to need votes on our side.”

Neil glanced over at the pool so that he wouldn’t glare in Nicky’s direction. Laila and Alvarez were splashing each other and laughing. Alvarez grabbed Laila’s wrist to stop her and then sent a wave of water in Laila’s direction with her other arm. Laila was drenched from head to toe while Alvarez’s hair remained mostly dry. Laila said something Neil couldn’t hear and then kissed Alvarez.

Apparently, Neil had been missing a lot around the house. Maybe he should try to venture out of his room more often so he could keep an eye on things. How had he completely missed Aaron and Katelyn’s connection, whatever was going on with Andrew and Renee, and Alvarez and Laila’s relationship? He was losing his touch. He was usually more observant than this.

When Neil had calmed down enough that he thought he could face the cousins without snapping at them in German, he turned back to the others. Aaron still did not look impressed that Neil was there, but he didn’t question his presence any further.

Neil had no desire to share any information with Aaron or Nicky when they blatantly talked about him in German right in front of him and he didn’t know anything about Katelyn, but she came off as far too bubbly for his liking.

Neil reluctantly sat down with the group, but Aaron did not say a word to Neil again and his attention remained divided between Nicky and Katelyn. Neil was too relieved at the lack of attention to feel properly offended.

Nicky and Katelyn seemed more than happy to fill the silence while Neil and Aaron remained silent. Neil zoned most of their conversation out.

He knew that Nicky talked about his time in Germany and Katelyn mentioned something about chemistry, or maybe biology, but he could not focus on what they were discussing. Neil was too busy worrying about who Kevin would nominate and whether or not he was still on Riko’s radar enough to end up on the block.

 A while later, Neil tried to escape from them with the excuse of going inside to eat.

Nicky stood up as soon as Neil did. Aaron looked perfectly content to remain outside with Katelyn, but when Nicky switched to German and told Aaron to come with them, Aaron got up and followed. Katelyn noticeably stayed behind, away from Aaron, as she headed towards Laila and Alvarez.

When they walked into the kitchen, Renee had finished baking dozens of chocolate chip cookies and the smell hit them hard the moment the sliding door opened. Andrew stood at the counter next to her and took a bite out of the half eaten cookie he held with one hand, while his other hand grabbed another.

“Oh, Neil! Aaron!” Renee said in an excited tone once she spotted them. “Come here! Have some cookies. I made them for all the former Have-Nots. Nicky, have some too! There’s plenty to go around.”

Neil did not want to have a cookie. He did not want to sit down. But Andrew was watching him with an eagle eye and Neil did not need to gather any attention, so he reluctantly sat down next to Nicky at the counter.

Nicky and Aaron grabbed cookies without hesitation. Neil wasn’t interested.

When Neil didn’t take one, Renee urged, “Go ahead. I promise they turned out alright. I couldn’t try them, but Andrew taste-tested them for me.”

Andrew didn’t respond and showed no sign that he recognized his name had been mentioned. He did continue shovelling cookies into his mouth though, so he must have agreed that the cookies tasted okay. Neil was having a hard time looking at the others as Andrew kept his heavy gaze constantly on Neil, even as he ate.

Neil didn’t like anything too sweet, so he had no desire to eat the cookies that were about seventy-five percent chocolate chips and twenty-five percent actual cookie. Renee was still watching them though, so he took one anyways. He did not need to get on anyone’s bad side and he wanted Andrew to stop staring at him.

As Neil nibbled at his cookie, Andrew watched him for a moment longer, then grabbed a handful of cookies and sat at the kitchen table on his own,

 When the nomination ceremony came around, the tension in the room was palpable as Riko sat smugly next to Kevin and Kevin stood to present his nominations.

Kevin did not waste time as he set his hand on the first key and said, “The first person I have decided to nominate is Allison.”

Allison scowled as Kevin turned the first key and her picture appeared for the second week in a row.

Riko looked pleased and unsurprised by Kevin’s nomination. Kevin looked nervous. His voice was steady and he stood with perfect posture, but he would not mean anyone’s eyes for more than a moment. Neil wondered if Kevin was nervous about nominating anyone or if he was nervous about nominating who Riko had obviously suggested.

“The second person I have decided to nominate is Renee,” Kevin said as he turned the second key and Renee’s picture appeared.

Apparently, Riko was upset that Renee had volunteered to be a Have-Not and had ruined his plan to have the same Have-Nots for a second week in a row. Kevin nominating her was probably meant as a warning.

Renee nodded her head. She still looked perfectly calm. She had never appeared more false to Neil than she did as she smiled at Kevin in response to being nominated by him.

“You are both nominated for eviction, but you have the chance to compete to take yourselves off the block,” Kevin said in lieu of an explanation of why they were on the block or who his target was. “If you can win the veto, you deserve to stay. If not, you’re putting your fate in the house’s hands.”

Chapter Text

Neil was a few minutes into his regular early morning run when he heard the sliding doors open. He glanced over his shoulder for just a second and saw Andrew step into the backyard.

He thought he could feel Andrew’s eyes on him, but when he rounded the corner at the back of the yard, Andrew had his back to him as he headed to the couch in the corner of the yard.

Neil kept running and watched out of the corner of his eye as Andrew sat down with his feet up on the couch and pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket.

Andrew stared Neil down as he lit up a cigarette while Neil turned the corner so that he was running towards him. Andrew’s eyes were hooded as he watched Neil and took a drag of his cigarette. Neil couldn’t tell if Andrew was watching him or just staring through him.

Neil glared Andrew down on his way by and felt eyes on his back when he rounded the corner.

He didn’t know what Andrew was doing, but he was certain Andrew had not just coincidentally come outside to smoke. He had been watching Neil too closely for a while now and Neil was worried about what Andrew was watching him for and why. He was terrified that Andrew would draw other players’ attention to him and he wished that Andrew would just leave him alone or get himself evicted.

Neil had never done anything to Andrew. He hadn’t even talked to Andrew, let alone done anything to make Andrew so fixated on him. Andrew was a threat to Neil’s game and Neil did not even understand why.

Andrew remained on the couch, puffing away at his cigarette, as Neil ran in an attempt to clear his mind. But that was impossible when he could feel Andrew’s eyes following his every move. He refused to give Andrew the satisfaction of seeing him intimidated though, so he kept on running anyway as his mind ran rampant.

The scent of Andrew’s cigarette struck Neil every time he rounded the corner the couch sat in. The smell was as terrible as it was comfortingly familiar.

Neil ran for longer than usual and his muscles were shaking by the time he finally gave up and stopped, even though his mind felt more cluttered than it had when he had begun his run.

He wanted to snap at Andrew to stop staring at him or to demand that he explain why he kept watching him like that or to ask what the hell Andrew wanted from him. That would just ensure he painted a target on himself though, so Neil decided to go inside and shower before he would end up doing something he knew he would regret.

Andrew remained seated, cigarette in hand, and Neil felt Andrew’s gaze on him all the way to the door.

Later that day, Neil sat outside on the grass, half-listening to the conversation around him as he studied his fellow houseguests.

“I can’t believe I’m on the block again,” Allison said. “Now, one of us is going to go home because Kevin is a giant coward.”

She scowled across the yard at Kevin, who was leaning against the wall of the house, in the middle of a conversation with Jeremy.

“There is still plenty of time left in the week,” Renee said in a gentle tone. “We haven’t played the veto competition yet and there is still time for someone to make themself a bigger target.”

Dan nodded her agreement from where she sat behind Matt, giving him a back massage because he was sore from sleeping in the Have-Not room. Neil felt queasy at the thought that he could end up the target when it came time for the veto ceremony.

“Maybe, if we’re lucky, one of you can come down and he’ll put someone else up instead,” Matt suggested. “Like one of the twins.”

“There’s a chance we could all make it through this week,” Dan insisted. “Or that you both make it through this week and one of us goes home.”

Allison’s glare remained fixed on Kevin as she commented, “I can’t believe Riko let him come downstairs to socialize with the peasants.”

She had a point. As the week progressed, Kevin had slowly begun to spend less time locked away in his HoH room with Riko and Jean. Neil hadn’t thought much of it when Kevin had just been eating and keeping to himself, but there was definitely something unsettling about the way he and Jeremy were chatting away.

Almost everyone was outside, trying to compensate for their inability to leave the house by spending their time in the backyard where they could at least look up at the sky. Katelyn and Alvarez were playing a game of pool while Laila watched and cheered for her girlfriend. When Alvarez made an impressive shot, Laila kissed her in congratulations.

Nicky and Aaron were sprawled out on the couch. Neil watched as Nicky talked Aaron’s ear off and Aaron tried and failed to pretend he wasn’t watching Katelyn. Aaron stared out at the yard, but every few seconds his gaze flickered back over to the pool table again. Neil didn’t understand why Aaron seemed set on pretending there was nothing going on between him and Katelyn when Andrew was around, but Neil filed that information away in the back of his mind in case he could use it to control Aaron and help himself later.

Andrew was in a chair beside the couch. He was either sleeping, or staring blindly out across the yard, or watching someone or something specific. Neil could not tell if Andrew was awake since he remained perfectly still and his sunglasses prevented anyone from seeing his eyes.

Jean and Riko were the only ones not in the backyard. They were probably in Kevin’s HoH room, thinking they were too good to spend any time with the rest of the house. That was not surprising. The mystery was why Kevin was not upstairs hiding with them.

“Let’s make bets. Who do you think is most likely to make the biggest target of themself this week?” Dan questioned.

“Can Allison pick herself?” Matt asked with a lopsided grin.

“Shut up,” Allison said with a glare.

“I think it’ll be the twins,” Matt said. “Or Nicky.”

“You can only choose one,” Dan insisted.

“I’ll go with Andrew then,” Matt said.

“Fine. Then I’ll bet on Aaron,” Allison said.

“I guess that leaves me with Nicky,” Dan said.

Renee considered for a moment, then said, “I do not think Riko will be happy with Kevin and Jeremy getting along so well.”

“How about you, Neil?” Dan questioned. “Who are you betting on?”

“I don’t bet,” Neil responded. Even if he did, Neil wasn't sure who else other than him could make a threat of themself this week and he was not going to bet against himself and make them wonder what could possibly make him a worthy target.

“Ugh, boring,” Allison retorted.

Neil shot a glare in her direction, but she remained perfectly unfazed as she stared past him at the sliding door.

Jean stepped into the yard and walked over to where Kevin and Jeremy stood. He said something brief to Kevin and then Kevin’s brow furrowed and he followed Jean inside.

For a second, Neil thought he saw Andrew’s head move out of the corner of his eye, but when he turned to look at Andrew, he found him in the same position he had been in the whole time.

Tensions ran high as the houseguests gathered in the living room to pick players for the veto competition. Kevin was the Head of Household, so he was first to pull a chip.

Kevin reached into the bag and pulled out a name, then read, “Nicky.”

Nicky looked delighted and let out a cheer as he sprung up from the couch and headed to stand next to Kevin.

Kevin passed the bag to Allison and she stuck her hand in the bag and grinned as she looked at her chip and read, “Dan.”

Dan grinned as she walked over to take her place at Allison’s side.

Renee was last and Neil’s pulse hammered as she stuck her hand in the bag. His heart sunk as she read, “Neil.”

Neil did not want to participate in the veto competition, but he was also terrified of throwing it. He did not want to win and make himself a target. He did not want to appear too good at competitions and he did not want to draw any attention towards himself. He was terrified of the idea of throwing the competition and then going home after he had purposely lost the competition, but he did not want the responsibility that would come with winning. If he didn’t use the veto, he would make Allison and Renee mad. If he did use the veto, he would make whoever went up in their place angry and would ensure he would be on Riko and Kevin’s radar.

Neil walked to stand beside Renee and did not return her encouraging smile. He wished his name had not been called. He had no idea what he was going to do.

“As Head of Household, it is my responsibility to choose a host for the competition,” Kevin said. “And I choose Jeremy.”

Riko’s face turned red as he stared Kevin down with a furious glare. Kevin made a point of avoiding Riko’s gaze as he focused his eyes on Jeremy.

At Riko’s side, Jean looked tense and on high-alert.

“Big Brother will let us know when it is time for the competition,” Kevin said.

No one got up from the couch for a moment, then Andrew glanced between Kevin and Riko. Neil watched as he studied the two, then looked away.

Kevin left the room, headed for his HoH room, and Andrew walked out of the living room in the opposite direction a moment later.

When Neil walked into the backyard for the competition, there was a giant platform at the centre of the yard. Off to the side of the platform was a row of six transparent cylindrical containers. Each of the containers had one of the competing houseguests’ names on it and next to each container was a big red button.

“Today’s competition is Niagara Balls,” Jeremy said. “When the competition begins, different coloured balls will rain down from above. There will be a limited number of green balls hidden within a multitude of balls of other colours. You may only transport one ball from the platform to your container at any given time. The first houseguest to fill their container with eight green balls and then hit their button will win the golden power of veto.”

When the competition began, plastic balls like could be found in a ball pit poured down from above and for a moment, Neil couldn’t see anything but the balls.

Allison was the first to find a green ball. As she dropped her ball into her container, Kevin ran towards his.

Somewhere behind Neil, Nicky commented on the excess of balls in his face and then laughed at his own crude joke.

Neil spotted a green ball on the ground a few feet away and headed for it as Jeremy announced that Kevin had dropped another ball into his container. Neil couldn’t look like he wasn’t trying, so he brought his ball over and dropped it into his container. He wanted to throw the competition, but he did not need to be as obvious about it as Andrew was in every competition he had played in so far.

As he waded back through the platform, Neil spotted a flash of green out of the corner of his eye but ignored it. He did not need to find another ball too quickly.

Neil did not start looking again until after Jeremy announced the score.

“Kevin and Allison are tied for first place right now with four balls each,” he said. “Dan is close behind with three. Nicky and Renee have two each and Neil is in last place with one green ball.”

Neil began to look again for good merit so that he did not look like he was trying to finish in last place. He did not want to look completely pathetic and he was worried that he had been trying too hard to throw the competition.

Kevin and Allison had at least four balls each, so Neil played like he was trying to win until he had four green balls in his container. He glanced at the other containers and saw that he was trailing behind, so he kept his eyes open for green balls as he returned to the platform.

“Right now, Kevin and Allison are neck-in-neck with six balls each. Dan is close behind with five and-”Jeremy did not get the chance to finish his run-down before he interrupted himself as he said, “Oh, it looks like Kevin has just found his seventh ball.”

Neil glanced over in Kevin’s direction and watched as Allison struggled to tear the ball out of Kevin’s grip.

“I saw that one first,” Allison insisted.

“Then you should have grabbed it first,” Kevin said unsympathetically.

He tried to tug the ball back out of her grasp, but she leaned back suddenly and used her weight to help her pull the ball with both hands. Kevin swore as his grip slipped and Allison gained sole possession of the ball.

He tried to stop her, but Allison rushed off and dropped the ball into her container.

“Kevin is still at six balls,” Jeremy corrected. “And Allison now has seven balls. That means she only needs one more ball to win the competition.”

Neil was certain he would not win, so he rushed through the platform, searching for green balls as if he actually wanted to win the competition. He had just dropped his fifth green ball into his container when Allison rushed over with her eighth ball in her hand.

She dropped the ball into her container, then slammed her hand into the button.

Allison stood behind her button and beamed as she gloated, “Eat it, Kevin.”

Kevin looked defeated and annoyed as he ran his fingers through his hair and struggled to catch his breath. Everyone who participated in the competition looked as out of breath as Neil felt.

“Congratulations, Allison,” said Jeremy. “You have won the golden power of veto.”

Allison looked brilliant and triumphant as Jeremy placed the veto necklace around her neck.

Renee smiled and patted Allison on the back as she congratulated her on her win. Neil did not understand why Renee appeared so happy. Allison’s victory almost certainly meant that Renee would be on the block on eviction night. Neil hoped he would not end up in the chair beside her in Allison’s place.

Neil was filling a glass with water from the kitchen sink later that day when Riko stormed into the room with Jean on his heels. Kevin was sitting at the kitchen counter, eating a salad while he watched Jeremy cook.

Jean stopped just inside the doorway to the kitchen, but Riko stormed into the centre of the room and hissed out, “Kevin. You are leaving now.”

Kevin glanced up at Riko and hesitated. Riko did not look impressed that Kevin did not jump to immediately follow his command.

“He’s eating,” Jeremy pointed out in a tone far too friendly to be used on Riko of all people. “Why don’t you talk to him here or wait until he’s done?”

Jeremy’s words were not particularly ludicrous, but Riko looked at Jeremy like he had just asked him to eat shards of glass.

You are telling me to wait?” Riko demanded in an offended tone. “I cannot believe you have the audacity to tell me what to do. This is none of your business. Kevin knows the deal he agreed to and he is going to come with me now.”

“I’m not trying to steal your alliance,” Jeremy said calmly. “I just think Kevin should be allowed to make his own choice and finish his salad.”

“Are you still talking?” Riko questioned. “I do not care what you have to say. Quit trying to be friends with Kevin. You will not be feeling so friendly when he puts you on the block.”

Jeremy looked too surprised to say anything. Kevin grabbed his plate and moved to leave the room. Neil should have remained silent but instead, he let out a chuckle and suddenly Riko’s attention was focused on him.

“Did you have something you wanted to say?” Riko asked in a tone that clearly meant Neil was supposed to be shamed into silence.

Neil bit his tongue and focused on his breathing. He did not need to get into a fight with Riko. He did not need to get himself put on the block.

“That’s what I thought,” Riko said in a smug tone when Neil remained silent.

Maybe, Neil would have been able to maintain control if Riko hadn’t laughed. But Riko did laugh a derisive little snort as he looked down at Neil and any semblance of restraint disappeared from Neil’s mouth.

“I just think it’s funny how clearly you are overcompensating for something,” Neil said. He was only encouraged by the shock that crossed Riko’s features. “I mean you must be really pathetic in your normal life if you have to grasp at every little sliver of power you can find in this house. I’m curious. How insecure do you have to be to so clearly get off on keeping Kevin and Jean on the shortest leash possible at all times?”

Riko was seething. Neil knew he should shut up, but the words kept spilling out. He had never been very good at controlling his temper.

“You must be so fucking impotent in your life outside of this house and it is so fucking obvious with the way you cling to your minions in the hopes that no one will see how utterly fucking pathetic you are.” Neil let out a cold chuckle as he added, “I mean, you are completely incapable of playing a social game. You have to manipulate and micromanage the only two people in the house who can stand to look at your weaselly face and even they hate you. No wonder Kevin doesn’t want to leave with you when your personality is about as appealing as a rusty knife in the eye. I would gladly be a Have-Not for the entire summer if it meant I never had to spend another second in your presence ever again. I guess I it won’t be long before I’ll be rid of you though since you’ll be walking out the door back to your miserable, unfulfilling, shit show of a life the second someone other than you and your minions wins HoH. But, sure, keep bossing them around and dictating every little thing they do. Cling to whatever power you can get because the second you’re back in the outside world, I’m sure you’ll be looked down on and ordered around just as much as you look down on and over around Kevin.”

Kevin was frozen in place and his face was contorted so that he somehow looked annoyed, shocked, and terrified by Neil’s outburst all at the same time. Jeremy’s eyes were wide and his jaw was open. Neil should have been worried about their reactions, but adrenaline was pumping through his veins and for the moment he felt invincible.

The sight of Riko’s clenched jaw and the veins that throbbed at Riko’s temples was far too satisfying for Neil to regret his words. His heart was pounding in his chest and he felt sick and disoriented like the kitchen floor had suddenly tilted beneath him, as he realized he had probably just made sure he would replace Allison on the block if Kevin did not nominate Jeremy. That should have been enough to wipe any trace of Neil’s cruel smile from his lips, but it was not yet.

Riko inhaled sharply, then looked down at Neil as he questioned, “And who are you? What have you done besides sit on your incompetent ass and gather pity from your housemates? The only reason you are not on the block already is because you are so insignificant, you are not even worth the nomination. You are nothing but an inconsequential bug and it is beneath me to stain the bottom of my shoe stepping on you.”

Neil laughed a cruel laugh because he was already in too deep and he knew it would rub Riko the wrong way. Riko shot him one last glare, then turned to Kevin again.

“Kevin. We are leaving,” he said with venom in his tone.

Kevin did not hesitate this time. When Riko exited the room, Kevin and Jean were right behind him.

That night, Neil was on his way to the washroom, to change into his pajamas where there would be no possibility of another houseguest walking in on him when he passed Riko and Jean on their way from the HoH room to their bedroom.

Jean looked through Neil with an unreadable expression. Riko shot Neil an icy stare and, when Neil did not flinch, pushed past him. Neil was almost certain he would be nominated at the veto meeting.

The house was quiet once again when Riko and Jean disappeared into their bedroom. It was the kind of quiet the house only got when it was particularly late at night or particularly early in the morning. Neil did not come across anyone else until he had gotten ready for bed and headed back upstairs.

He stopped halfway up the stairs, surprised when he spotted Andrew standing outside the door to the HoH room. Neil watched for a moment, then Kevin opened the door and let Andrew inside.

Neil was surprised that Kevin had let Andrew in for a conversation without Riko and Jean there. He wondered what the hell could have possibly made Andrew decide to seek out Kevin. So far, Andrew had shown no sign that he had any intention of putting any effort into the game. So then, why was he knocking at the HoH door this late at night?

Was he trying to make sure Kevin would put up someone who would go home instead of Renee? Or, was he telling Kevin everything he had noticed about Neil and all of his suspicions that had grown as he had watched him?

Neil felt sick to his stomach as he turned the opposite way and headed for his bedroom. He did not think he would be able to fall asleep for a long time.

The next morning, Neil was at the kitchen table, minding his own business and eating toast. Matt was at the table with him. He was eating slop and any time that Neil glanced in his direction, Matt made a clear effort to not cringe at how bad the slop tasted. Over at the counter, Jeremy was eating cereal and Kevin was dropping ingredients into the blender for some awful looking smoothie.  The kitchen was silent other than the occasional sound of spoons against bowls until Jean walked in.

Jean took one look between Kevin and Jeremy and then stared Kevin down as he snapped at him in French.

“What are you doing?” Jean demanded. “You had better leave or get rid of him before Riko comes downstairs.”

Besides Germany, Neil and his mother had also spent some time in France, but he kept his face perfectly composed and took a bite of his toast. He hoped he looked like someone who did not understand a word of French.

Kevin glanced in Jean’s direction, then responded in French. “It’s not my fault he was already eating cereal when I came down. I’m not even talking to him.”

“It does not matter,” Jean insisted. “Riko is already mad that you are spending too much time with him. He is not going to care if you two are here together intentionally or by coincidence. He will not believe that you were not talking before he showed up if he comes down to find you like this.”

Instead of responding, Kevin turned the blender on. Jean scowled his silent disapproval.

Jean watched Kevin closely as he turned the blender back off and poured the contents into a glass. When Kevin picked the glass up and left the kitchen without a word, Jean’s face relaxed as he followed Kevin back in the direction of the HoH room.

“Is it just me or was that weird?” Matt questioned once they had gone.

“That definitely was not normal,” Jeremy confirmed.

Neil was washing his hands in the washroom when Nicky walked in and leaned with his back against the counter. He stood a little too close to Neil and shot a beaming smile in his direction.

Neil shut the water off and pretended he did not notice Nicky as he dried his hands.

“I heard you tore Riko a new one yesterday,” Nicky said and Neil internally cringed. “I wish I could have been there to see the look on his face.”

Neil walked out of the bathroom, hoping the conversation would be over, but Nicky quickly caught up to him and walked at his side.

“I guess I’ll be able to watch it when we get out of here though,” Nicky added. “What with all the cameras.”

Neil was not sure why Nicky was trying to act all buddy-buddy with him suddenly. He was not about to fall for the act after he had seen Nicky and Aaron talk about him in German right in front of his face. He knew Nicky thought of him as a potential vote down the line and he did not trust Nicky one bit. He had no desire to participate in whatever it was Nicky had tracked him down for.

A pit of dread formed in Neil’s stomach when he realized Nicky was herding him to the bedroom that he and the twins shared. Neil tried to turn away, but Nicky wrapped an arm around Neil’s shoulders and maneuvered him forwards.

“I can’t believe I’m going to have to wait that long to see it though,” Nicky added as he pulled Neil through the bedroom door.

Andrew was sitting on his bed with his head leaned back against the headboard. His eyes flew open when they entered and he gave them a quick once over before he shut his eyes again. Andrew’s body was tense enough that Neil was pretty sure he was listening though.

“What did you say to him anyway?” Nicky continued as he sat down on his bed. “I hear it was a real doozy.”

“I don’t remember,” Neil said because he had no desire to recap the event for Nicky.

Neil shouldn’t be surprised that word had gotten out about his confrontation with Riko, but he still internally panicked at the idea of the attention he was bound to get for that.

“You know, it takes balls to go off on Riko like that,” Nicky continued. “Especially during Kevin’s HoH. I’ve got a lot of respect for you, kid.”

Neil felt like he might throw up. How had he let his temper take over so easily? He was probably going to go home this week because he had been too stupid to stay quiet.

“I swear, I could kiss you right now,” Nicky insisted. “I officially have a crush on you now.”

“Don’t you have a fiancé?” Neil questioned.

“Of course, my heart completely belongs to Erik,” Nicky said. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t check some of the guys here out and flirt with you. I’ve got to do something to pass the time in this place. Maybe, I’ll even give you a few drinks one night and see what happens.”

Andrew’s eyes shot open and glared over at Nicky. His voice was pure danger as he warned, “Nicky, shut up or I will rip your throat out so that you can never say anything like that again.”

Nicky’s face fell as he raised his hands as a sign of innocence. “Sorry, sorry. I’m just joking. Really.”

Andrew did not turn his glare away from Nicky.

Neil was confused and annoyed. He did not understand why Andrew was so pissed that Nicky had hit on him. He knew he shouldn’t say anything, but they already knew about his altercation with Riko. It wasn’t like they would be overly surprised if he snapped at Andrew too.

Neil focused his iciest glare on Andrew and feigned surprise as he asked, “Oh, should he just follow me around and watch me at all hours of the day instead?”

Andrew’s gaze flickered over to Neil as his jaw tightened.

The room was silent for a moment then, when Neil did not look away or back down from his cold look, Andrew said, “You are hiding something and I am going to find out what it is.”

There was no doubt in his tone. It was a promise.

Neil felt like there was a ball of lead in his stomach as he said, “Go ahead. There is nothing to find.”

“No one with nothing to hide gets up to shower in private at four in the morning.”

Neil glared at Andrew and Andrew just stared back. After a moment, Neil gave up on trying to intimidate Andrew and just left the room instead.

When the veto meeting came around, Allison did not waste time by asking Renee to give a speech about why she thought Allison should use the power of veto on her. Instead, she just stood up and announced, “I have decided to use the power of veto on myself. Kevin, since I have vetoed one of your nominations, that means you have to name a replacement nominee.”

That should have been the end of the speech. She should have sat down on one of the couches and left her chair open for whoever Kevin decided to nominate in her place, but Allison was not done.

She flashed a giant smile as she continued, “Why don’t you surprise us all and actually grow a spine this week? Oh, that’s right. We all know you’re just going to continue to be Riko’s spineless little bitch and that you’ll do whatever he says and just hope and pray you’ll get the runner-up money for it. So, go fuck yourself, Kevin. Or go jerk Riko off. Or go do whatever it is that you do with all that time locked together behind the door of the HoH room.”

Kevin looked furious as Allison curtsied and then took a seat next to Dan on one of the couches.

Neil waited with a feeling of dread for Kevin to nominate a new houseguest, but Kevin remained silent for a long moment.

Across the living room from Neil, Riko was watching Kevin closely, waiting for him to nominate who Riko had told him to. Neil glanced back over at Kevin, wondering what the hold up was, and found Kevin staring at Riko. For just a moment, Kevin’s gaze flickered over to the empty nomination chair, then he focused back on Riko.

Neil wasn’t sure if this was really taking forever or if it just felt that way because his heart was beating so fast.

Andrew set his elbows on his knees and let his arms dangle between his legs. He blocked Kevin’s view of Riko as he leaned forwards, seeming almost interested by Kevin’s hesitation, although his face remained perfectly composed.

Neil was almost certain that he was going to be nominated instead of Jeremy. He could feel the panic rising up in his chest and struggled to maintain a calm exterior.

Finally, after what felt like hours, Kevin cleared his throat.

“Allison has taken herself off the block, so it is my job as Head of Household to name a replacement nominee,” he said, then he paused to stare at the empty nomination chair instead of meeting any of the houseguests’ eyes. “And the person I have decided to nominate is Alvarez.”

Neil almost stood up before Kevin’s words registered and he realized that he had not been nominated.

Jeremy hadn’t even been nominated.

Neil was beyond confused and, judging by the sudden whispering and the shocked faces around the room, he was not the only one.

Riko’s entire face contorted in anger and his skin turned practically purple when he heard the nomination. At his side, Jean microscopically flinched, then quickly composed himself and stared down at his lap. Andrew was still leaning forward and did not react at all.

Kevin’s eyes still hadn’t left the nomination chair as Alvarez stood up and Laila gave her hand a quick squeeze.

As soon as Alvarez was in her chair, Kevin said, “This veto meeting is adjourned.”

Riko sprung from the couch immediately and shouted in outrage, “Kevin, you idiot! Why would you nominate her? You just wasted an entire week!”

Andrew stood up a second after Riko and positioned his body between Riko and Kevin. His expression remained perfectly neutral and he somehow managed to look bored as he acted as a physical barricade between a furious Riko and an anxious Kevin, who had turned into a complete nervous wreck. Neil would not be surprised if Kevin passed out at any moment.

Andrew held an arm up, between him and Kevin, and wordlessly ushered Kevin out of the room as he continued to block Riko from Kevin. Riko did not give up that easily though and he continued to yell at Kevin over Andrew’s head.

“Oh, now you are too afraid to even talk to me?” Riko demanded. “You are a coward, Kevin Day. You nominate a nobody and you can’t even stand your ground? You need some five foot nothing deadbeat to protect you? You do not deserve to play this game if you are too afraid to make a move or even stand and face me without a bodyguard.”

All the colour drained from Kevin’s face as Riko followed him and Andrew to the foot of the stairs. Riko did not stop screaming, even when the door to the HoH room closed behind Kevin and Andrew.

“Go hide in your room, coward!” Riko shouted. “What are you going to do next week when you have to move out of there?”

The rest of the houseguests were still scattered around the couches in the living room. No one seemed to know what to say as they watched the scene around them. Everyone looked confused.

Neil was confused too. He had only ever seen Kevin and Andrew interact once when Kevin tried to make Andrew a Have-Not and Andrew called Kevin a coward. Even though he knew Andrew had gone to Kevin’s HoH room for something, he still did not understand what they possibly could have discussed that had led to this turn of events.

He glanced over at Aaron and Nicky, wondering if they’d had any idea that any of this was going to happen, but they looked just as confused as he felt.

Nicky’s gaze was focused on Aaron and he spoke in German and asked, “Do you know what just happened?”

Aaron shook his head no in response, then turned his attention back to the top of the stairs, with his eyes fixed on the door to the HoH room.

Laila hugged Alvarez as she and Jeremy comforted Alvarez. Neil saw no point to it since their reassuring words would not make any difference in whether she stayed or went home on eviction night.

The room went quiet as Riko stopped yelling and stormed off in the direction of his bedroom. Jean did not follow at first and only moved when Riko paused in the doorway and turned a death glare in his direction.

Chapter Text

Neil’s run the morning after the veto ceremony was blissfully uninterrupted and just for a moment while he was running, he managed to stop thinking about Riko and Kevin and Andrew and what would happen with someone else as HoH next week. That didn’t last long though since Neil had barely gotten dressed after his early morning shower and made breakfast before Nicky joined him in the kitchen.

Neil had never once seen Nicky up this early and the grin he shot him was too much for this hour.

“That was some veto ceremony yesterday, huh?” Nicky asked in greeting.

Neil picked at his eggs with his fork instead of acknowledging Nicky. He didn’t trust Nicky and he hated how Nicky kept trying to befriend him and flirt with him and get information out of him like Neil was too stupid to realize Nicky wanted him as a vote on his side in case he or Aaron got nominated.

“I still can’t believe Kevin went against Riko like that,” Nicky said. He sounded as enthusiastic as if Neil had eagerly responded to him instead of completely ignoring him and it rubbed Neil the wrong way. “The look on Riko’s face was priceless. Is that what he looked like when you told him off?”

Neil internally flinched at the mention of his snapping at Riko. He didn’t need Nicky asking him about that again, so he spoke up to shift the focus off of himself.

“I don’t see why Kevin didn’t just nominate Riko,” Neil said. “What’s the point of going against Riko if he’s too much of a coward to nominate him?”

Nicky opened his mouth and then abruptly closed it and frowned. It was the first time Neil had seen Nicky hold back any comment and it would have been a lot more satisfying if Neil wasn’t dying to know what Andrew had told Nicky about whatever was going on with him and Kevin.

“I don’t know,” Nicky said finally with a casual shrug before he broke eye contact as he turned and opened the fridge.

Neil was a good enough liar to know a blatant lie when he heard one.

 Andrew and Kevin had been inseparable since the veto meeting.  Neil felt a little more comfortable with Andrew fixated on Kevin and going everywhere with him so much that he seemed to have forgotten all about Neil.

Neil had hardly even caught Andrew glancing his direction since the veto ceremony and it was a relief to have Andrew’s attention off of him. He even found himself almost relaxed, or as relaxed as he could be while trying to go unnoticed in a house full of nosy people, while he was safely away from Nicky’s attempts at talking to him as he sat cross-legged on the ground at the edge of the pool that Matt and his friends were wasting their afternoon away in

Matt was crouched down and leaning against the pool wall as he tried to make more of his large body fit under the water. He glanced around at the others as he asked, “How do you think the vote is going to go this week?”

“I don’t know,” Renee said. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how it goes.”

Allison was lying on an inflatable pool lounger and working on her tan as she insisted, “Don’t worry about it, Renee. You’re a sweetheart. There’s no way anyone is going to send you home.”

Neil said nothing and glanced across the yard at nothing in particular to avoid meeting any of their eyes. He still couldn’t stand Renee and the way she always seemed to be putting on a show. He was planning on voting her out, but it was better if they didn’t know that. There was no way they could prove he voted against her, especially when for whatever reason they seemed to believe he was one of them so they would have no reason to expect he would vote one of them out.

“I don’t know,” Renee said. “Alvarez is sweet. Have you spoken with her? She’s very nice and she has a lot of friends who I’m sure would like to keep her around much more than they want to keep me.”

“She might have friends, but you’ve got more,” Dan insisted.

“I don’t know about that,” Renee responded. “But I certainly hope you are right.”

Neil did not particularly care if Alvarez stayed or left, but he hoped Dan would be wrong so Renee would go home.

 When it came time for the eviction, Neil tried his hardest to zone Renee’s speech out as she shot that smile that shone a little too bright to be real and spoke in that sickeningly sweet voice that he was sure must be an act.

He was relieved when she finished up after saying something incredibly fake about how lucky she felt that she got to meet everyone there and had the chance to compete on the show.

Alvarez’s speech was next and her speech started off just as polite and boring, then turned into her flirting with her girlfriend as she turned to Laila and insisted, “I’d love to stay, but if I get voted out then you had better call me when you get out of here.”

Laila laughed and said, “Believe me, I will.”

Alvarez took her seat again and one by one, Abby called houseguests into the diary room to vote for the nominee they would like to evict.

On Neil’s turn, he voted for Renee and then returned to the couch and waited to find out who would be evicted.

When Allison finished casting the last vote, Abby told them, “The votes are in and it seems we have a tie. Renee and Sara, you each received six votes against you. That means, Kevin, as Head of Household, you must cast the deciding vote. Once Kevin has voted, the evicted houseguest will have just a few moments to say her goodbyes, gather her belongings, and walk out the front door. Kevin, please stand and cast your vote.”

Kevin stood up and looked at the nominees, then glanced over at Andrew. He and Andrew held eye contact for a moment before Kevin turned his attention back to the nominees and said, “I vote to evict Alvarez.”

Alvarez was immediately swarmed by her friends and girlfriend. Neil barely registered their goodbyes though because he was too busy staring Kevin down. Neil was annoyed beyond belief and his verbal filter was nowhere to be found.

“I'm impressed, Kevin. Really,” he said in sarcastic French. “It is truly incredible how you managed to break away from Riko just to be Andrew’s bitch instead. What is the point of winning competitions if you are just going to hand all the decisions over like a coward anyways?”

Neil didn't care that Alvarez was leaving. It wasn't like he talked to her anyway. He cared that Kevin was a pathetic coward. He cared that Riko was sitting on the couch instead of one of the nomination chairs. He cared that Kevin could have picked a side and gotten out a real competitor from the other side out. Instead, Kevin hid behind Andrew for constant protection, still couldn't pull the trigger, and probably only voted to keep Renee because his useless new ally that couldn't care less about the game wanted to get into her pants.

Kevin and Jean both looked taken off-guard, although Neil couldn’t tell if it was by his words or the language he spoke them in. Maybe both.

“At least I can win competitions,” Kevin retorted in French. “What have you done besides get pissy at anyone who can?”

“That’s better than being a pathetic little bitch competing to win someone else’s path to the end,” Neil retorted.

He stood up to confront Kevin, but Andrew stood and stepped between them before Neil could get close.

Neil managed to cool down a little with Andrew blocking him from Kevin and Kevin scowling instead of responding. By the time Alvarez left the house after one last goodbye kiss with Laila, Neil had calmed down enough to realize what a stupid mistake it had been to confront Kevin in front of the entire house moments before the next HoH competition.