Andrew had always known he'd die painfully. This was his life after all, so why not let it be ruthless this last time? Why would it have mercy at his last months of life?
He thought it'd be knives that took him, or maybe some sadistic men like the ones from his past. But he never knew he'd go like this. Bloodied flower petals in the palm of his hand, his throat scratched raw by the sharp thorns and his lungs full of vines and blood.
And of course, it had to be because of him. The one person he can't have.
No, it was Andrew's own fault, he knew better than to fall for someone out of his reach, or fall at all. How foolish of him to fall, when he was oh-so-afraid of heights and afraid of the impact that'll inevitably follows.
Life was cruel and unfair. But then again, he already knew that.
The first time it happened was two months after Andrew saved Neil from his heartless, murderous father.
The two were on the roof as usual, and Neil was going on about how the girls painted his nails that ugly shade of orange, while Andrew smoked his tenth cigarette. He was excited, Andrew could tell.
"Look, Allison did a tiny little fox paw too!" Neil put his hand in front of Andrew's face, as if to make sure Andrew wouldn't miss his brightly colored nails.
Andrew looked at the white paw then back at Neil's enthusiastic face. A big, happy grin was plastered on his face, and Andrew wondered, not for the first time, how?
How could Neil still smile? How could he smile after all he's been through? He's been through far more than anyone should have, and yet here he was. All bright smiles like the world hadn't taken away everything from them. Their innocence, their dreams, their happiness, and it was still taking. No, life was never satisfied by what it took, it needed to leave them an empty shell of what they once were.
They were so different, Andrew thought. His body was rotten to the core; his blood, his lungs, his heart. Neil—though everything he went through—was everything he was not, everything he could never be.
And here Neil was. His icy blue eyes were almost shining as he looked at Andrew, freckles were scattered on his handsome face, and his smile was kind and open.
Andrew felt tingling in his throat, an overwhelming need to cough overtook him, and he started to cough. His hand came up to cover his mouth, and for a second he couldn't breathe, until he tasted a familiar iron in his mouth, then he started coughing again. He stifled the next cough and took a couple of long breaths.
"Andrew?" Neil's worried voice came from his right, and he started coughing again.
He turned his head to the other direction and looked at his hand.
There were a few drops of blood and what looked like, seeds?
What the fuck.
"Andrew?" Neil asked from behind him. "Are you OK?"
Andrew nodded absentmindedly.
"I'm gonna get you a cup of water," Neil stood up, and didn't leave until Andrew nodded again.
As soon as the roof door closed behind Neil, Andrew went into another coughing fit. he forced himself to stop coughing, and looked down to his hand again.
More blood was there and a few more of those seeds. Andrew glared at his hand then rubbed it on his black jeans.
Neil came not long after, and with him two water bottles that he handed to Andrew. He stayed silent until Andrew finished the first bottle, which made him feel marginally better.
"How are you feeling?"
Andrew rolled his eyes, "it's just a coughing fit."
"But it sounded serious, maybe you should talk to Abby."
"I'm fine," he replied, lighting a cigarette. He probably shouldn't smoke after what just happened but oh-well, might as well.
"That's my line," Neil pouted sarcastically.
"You can take it, I don't want it."
Neil smiled, "that's fine, I'll share with you."
Andrew had the urge to cough again but he stifled it.
The second time was a few weeks later, and it was the worst.
The team had an early morning practice, which Andrew hated, but still went because of Kevin's loud and annoying voice. That didn't mean he participated through, he just took a nap on the bench.
He was awoken by someone calling his name.
"Andrew," Neil said, but still didn't touch Andrew. He never did without permission.
Andrew glared, "why?"
Neil laughed like it wasn't seven a.m. "Coach asked me to wake you up, come on, we're doing laps around the stadium."
"And what makes him think that you can make me do that?"
Neil shrugged, "'dunno, I asked but he just sighed like I was stupid or something."
"Thanks," Neil rolled his eyes. "Now, come on! Let's run together."
Andrew ignored his stupider-than-Neil heart and said, "what's in it for me?"
"um, how about being good at Exy?"
Andrew stared at him, "you think I care about that?"
Neil sighed, "You're right. You're already great at Exy. OK, if you run with us, I'll buy you ice cream."
Andrew felt the familiar need to cough.
He coughed violently and it hurt. It hurt more than the first time. It felt too dry, too hot, too suffocating. Andrew sat up on the bench and coughed into the palm of his hand.
Everyone watched him as he continued to cough, Neil walked closer to him but Andrew waved him off.
"Go, I have to use the bathroom," said Andrew when he was able to, and walked to the bathroom, feeling Neil's worried gaze burning his back.
Andrew rushed into a stall and locked it behind him. He looked down at his palm and found small, bloodied, silky flower petals.
Before he could react, another fit took him by surprise and he coughed into the toilet seat. He tried to be quiet but it was difficult when blood came from his mouth with actual flower petals.
Andrew wheezed the final of the petals out and no more threatened to exit. He gasped in, finally able to breath. His throat hurt like hell, and he could still taste the blood in his mouth.
He clenched his hands with his eyes tightly shut, and took deep controlled breaths for a few minutes. A picture of Neil, worriedly looking at him, invaded his mind and he sighed, hitting the stall door with the back of his head.
Andrew had a vague idea of what was happening to him. He wasn't an idiot, he could see a pattern.
He stood up and flushed the toilet, leaving the stall. Andrew looked at the mirror, red coated his mouth and his chin, and his hands looked even worst. It was more than the few drops from the first time.
He quickly washed his hands and face and walked out of the bathroom.
Neil was waiting on him in the locker room, already out of his uniform, and wearing his normal clothes. He stood up when he spotted Andrew.
"I talked to coach, and he excused us from practice early," Neil explained before Andrew could ask. "Let's go back to the dorms."
Andrew didn't say anything and walked to his locker, quickly changing into his normal clothes.
Neil handed him a water bottle when he was done and looked like he wanted to say something but didn't. the two walk out of the locker room, then out of the stadium to Andrew's GS.
"Want me to drive?" asked Neil. Andrew shook his head and got into the driver seat.
They reached the dorms six minutes later and the two walk into their dorm. Neil went to the kitchen and Andrew goes into their room, perching himself on top of the desk, and lighting a cigarette.
Andrew then opened his phone and googled 'Hanahaki Disease'. What he found only confirm his suspicion.
- Hanahaki Disease: An illness born from one-sided love, where the patient throws up and coughs up flower petals when they suffer from a one-sided love. The infection can be removed through surgery, but the feelings will disappear along with the petals.
Andrew thought he was on the edge, but it turned out he was already falling. For Neil, to be more exact.
For the person that didn't swing. How pathetic.
Andrew let out a tsk and deleted his search history, throwing his phone on the bed.
He finished his cigarette before Neil walked into the room, with a steaming cup in his hands.
"I made you hot chocolate, it'll help with your sore throat," Neil said handing him the hot cup.
Andrew took the cup, then took a sip. It burned his mouth but it was better than the taste of blood and the petals that were there no more than thirty minutes ago.
"How are you feeling?"
"Better," Andrew was about to take a drag from his second cigarette but Neil skillfully took it from his hand. Andrew rolled his eyes and took another sip of the hot drink.
Halfway through his drink, Andrew had another coughing fit and went into the bathroom.
Red petals with blood were flushed down the drain.
He can deal with this pain, it wasn't a new experience, but he can't ever tell Neil or let anybody else know. If this was how he dies, so be it, but he won't let Neil suffer with him. He won't let Neil know that he was the reason Andrew was in pain, and that he can't do anything about it.
Neil may be grateful for Andrew for saving him from his previous life, and maybe that's why he's stuck with Andrew all this time, but it was just that. Gratitude. Nothing more, nothing less.
Andrew won't be like them. He won't let this stupid disease let him be.
This was how things should be, anyway. Neil was healing, he didn’t hate life like Andrew did. He sees a family in the foxes, not like Andrew sees potential people to hurt him, or his own.
Neil has his entire life ahead of him, one more fragrant than the petals rotting Andrew's lungs.
Andrew can't find it in himself to open up, he was bred on harshness. On cruelty.
Sometimes Neil pulled it—the truth—out of him, but did he really deserve it? No.
It will be easy to hide it. He's hidden worse, experienced worse.
He gasped as another coughing fit overtook him. Andrew vomited red in the toilet, and choked on the petals.
When he calms down, Andrew looks down.
All he could think about is the hot chocolate he drank and vomited. What a fucking waste.
Andrew washed his hands and brushed his teeth, then left the bathroom.
This time, Andrew was prepared for it.
The ravens fans trashed their cars after Neil ran his sassy mouth. And Andrew, unlike the other foxes, didn't have the money to fix his car. It was in a worse shape than the rest.
That night, Neil came to find him on the roof.
Andrew was smoking, looking down at the trashed parking lot. They rented a car to use temporarily until they found the money to buy another car.
Neil was standing by the roof door, and Andrew could actually hear him overthinking, could feel the nervous energy, and it was getting annoying.
Neil took a couple of steps closer to Andrew, but was still standing.
"Don't. I don't want your apologies."
"I wasn't gonna apologize. I'm not sorry for what I said. I just, well I thought that…" Neil trailed off.
Andrew continued looking in front of him, taking another drag of his cigarette, and giving Neil some time to say what was on his mind.
"Let's make a deal."
Andrew finally dragged his gaze to look up at Neil, he was looking back at Andrew earnestly. Andrew raised an eyebrow, but otherwise, stayed silent.
"You need a car, I have the money-"
Andrew scowled, "I don't want your charity either."
"Just listen to me," Neil glared slightly, then sighed. "Technically, it's the Moriyamas' money that my mom stole when we first ran away. It was gonna go into my next identity, but because of you, I don't need another false identity. I don't have any use for it."
Andrew stayed silent, putting out his cigarette and lighting another, just to have something to do. What Neil said was true but, "and what do you want in return?"
"Is letting me stay here and have an actual life not enough?" Neil sat beside him, his feet dangling over the edge. Andrew's heart pounded faster, it wasn't only because of the height. He suppressed the need to cough.
"That was for the first deal, you need to ask for something else."
Neil hummed, "I had a feeling you'd say that. I want… I want you to stop taking cracker dust. You don't need another addiction."
Andrew was prepared for it this time, but that didn't mean it didn't take him by surprise or that it didn't hurt. It burned swallowing and containing the coughing fit, smothering the discomfort while Neil was watching at him.
Andrew only nodded with his sheer force of will to not let Neil find out.
Neil smiled, "great. I'll bring the money to the dorm tomorrow."
Andrew stood up, leaving his cigarettes and lighter behind, and walked out of the roof, then ran down the stairs to his dorm when the door closed behind him.
He quickly sprinted to the bathroom and doubled over the toilet seat, coughing violently. The usual crimson-stained petals fell out of his mouth, but now they were bigger in size, and they had thorns. Andrew wheezed. This was way worse than the other times. It was getting worst.
He could feel his lungs constrict, breathing becoming hard. His head was pounding and his chest was aching. Even his eyes burned, and he'd bet they were red.
"Andrew?" Kevin's voice came from the bathroom's open doorway. "What.. what the fuck?!"
Andrew groaned. He didn't even close the damn door. "Go away." Andrew's voice was ragged and raspy.
Kevin looked terrified when Andrew glared at him. "You're… bleeding… Andrew-" Kevin choked.
"No shit, Sherlock," Andrew took a deep breath and leaned back against the tub. This wasn't going according to plan, but he knew Kevin wouldn't say anything if Andrew told him not to.
Kevin looked around the bathroom, at the red petals, at Andrew's red eyes. Everything was red. "You're sick. You have Hanahaki, don't you? Oh my god, Andrew! This- who is it?"
Andrew ignored him. His head was aching more now with Kevin's screech.
"It's Neil, isn't it?" Kevin asked, then continued when Andrew didn't respond. "Fucking hell. Goddammit, Andrew! You realize that you're dying, right?"
"You're worried I won't be able to play Stickball anymore?"
"What? How can you say that now?" Kevin screamed. "That's not all there is! God-"
Kevin walked out of the bathroom, and Andrew relaxed. Finally. He probably went to drink himself into oblivion.
Andrew dragged himself up and flushed the toilet. Looking at himself in the mirror, he looked horrible. Well, more than usual.
The bags under his eyes were darker than ever, and his lower face was red. Andrew was tired. And his throat and chest felt wrecked and burned.
Andrew took a quick shower, then made himself hot chocolate, and took the ice cream Neil bought for him out of the freezer and sat on one of the beanbags. Kevin came out from the room ten minutes later, a vodka bottle in his hands.
"You're an idiot."
Andrew laughed, "your liquid courage isn't impressive."
"You need to tell Neil," Kevin ignored Andrew's provocations.
"Oh?" Andrew mocked. "I thought Stickball was easier without homosexuality?"
Kevin glared, "you won't have a career at all if you're dead!"
Andrew ignored him, and continued eating his ice cream which was giving him some relief to his damaged throat.
"If you don't wanna tell him, just do the surgery. You don't have anything to lose that way."
Andrew huffed. He already knew about the surgery. They'd remove the flowers petals that's rotting his body and mind, in exchange, he'd be void of feelings.
Someone, like Kevin, would ask so what? Andrew was already a heartless monster, right?
But why would he do that stupid surgery? Why would he lose feelings intentionally when he was oh-so-desperately looking for something to feel? Like being on the roof, or playing Exy? Like visiting Bee every Wednesday?
"Shut up, Day," Andrew growled. "This stays between us, or I'll cut your tongue."
The next morning, Neil handed him a couple of a hundred thousand dollars like it was nothing. Andrew choked on scarlet petals when no one was looking his way.
The fourth time was an unexpected shock.
Andrew's group were at Eden's after a win, and everyone was having fun and dancing on the dance floor, after some mild argument after Andrew told them that they would stop taking cracker dust.
Andrew and Neil were silently sitting on their table, Andrew drinking whisky while Neil settled on some soft drink.
After Kevin came back to the table, looking for more booze, Andrew stood up and shook the cigarettes in front of Neil's face, then walked to the back of the club.
He exited from the back door, leaning back on the wall and lighting a cigarette. Neil came shortly after, he too lit a cigarette and leaned next to Andrew.
For a while, all they could hear was the faint sound of music coming from the club, until Neil broke the silent.
"You were amazing today, we wouldn't have won without you."
Andrew clenched his cigarette. "Shut up."
"It's the truth."
"I hate you," Andrew said, walking away from Neil and further into the alley, just in case another coughing fit took him.
Neil hummed, "do you really?"
"Yes," Andrew almost hissed. "Now, shut up."
Neil did shut up then, but he didn't look like he believed Andrew at all. A tingling sensation at the back of his throat was all he got, thankfully.
His hard concentration on not coughing was interrupted when two large men entered the alley way, laughing, and obviously shit-faced drunk. Andrew slowly walked back towards Neil, who was looking at the two men with caution.
"Hey, aren't- aren't you two Josten and Minyard, from the foxes?" one of the two men said, surprising Andrew by how undrunk he sounded. He quickly stood in front of Neil, a hand rubbing the edge of his armband, just in case.
"What's it you?" glared Andrew.
The two, now standing in front of Andrew, looked nothing like a couple of drunks.
"We watched your game tonight," the other said. "You were lucky, but the king will definitely beat you."
Neil laughed, "so, you're that bird-brain's fans?"
The two glared, "you're gonna regret saying that, shitface!"
Before Andrew could say anything, two other men came from the other side of the alley, and stood in front Neil.
Four against two. Andrew had no time to think, as the first guy threw his fist at Andrew's face.
Andrew skillfully leapt out of the way, his knives in his hands, and ready to fight. Neil was in the same position with the other two. Andrew was about to walk to him but the second guy ran to him.
Andrew struck his knife to the larger man's face, his hand came to his bleeding face and he screamed. Andrew took the opportunity of the first guy's surprise and punched him in the stomach.
Neil's scream pulled him from his punching, and he quickly ran to the redhead. It looked like one of the men used a broken bottle to hurt Neil.
Andrew saw red, he clenched his knife and stabbed the guy in the shoulder.
At the end of the fight, Andrew and Neil were panting. Neil was holding his injured and bloodied left hand to his chest and Andrew got the same broken bottle at his right wrist. But the other four men were in a far worse condition.
"Let's go," Neil gasped.
Andrew walked to him, "how bad are you hurt?"
"Just a small cut. Let's just go before the police get here," Neil looked desperate.
Andrew nodded, "I'll call the others to tell them we're leaving."
The two walked out of the alley and to the parking lot, to Andrew's new Maserati. Neil got into the passenger seat and Andrew started driving back to the Colombia house.
They arrived ten minutes later, and quickly walked to the house.
Andrew walked to his bathroom to get the first-aid kit, and back to the kitchen where Neil was washing his not-so-small cut under the faucet.
"Sit on the stool," Andrew instructed. Neil sat, and showed him his left palm.
Thankfully, it didn't look like the wound needed stitches but Andrew needed to clean it. Andrew prodded at him, leaning forward.
His fingers settled on the inside of Neil's wrist, right on his pulse.
When Andrew looked up, Neil's eyes were instantly on his. His pupils were blown wide; his lips were slightly parted as he breathed softly.
The room was too quiet, and too still.
Andrew could feel Neil's pulse fluttering beneath his fingertips. It was from the adrenaline, Andrew told himself
Andrew leaned away.
He looked down and grabbed some antiseptic, steadily applying it to the wound.
Neil hissed slightly but otherwise didn't protest.
"My shirt is all ruined now," Neil pouted, looking at his gray shirt, now stained with blood and had holes.
"Thank god, then," Andrew continued cleaning the wound. Neil insisted on choosing what to wear this time, and would you look at what happened. It was a sign, Andrew was sure.
Andrew reached into the kit to find some gauze, and bandages. He quickly finished patching Neil up and then stood up.
"Wait," Neil reached his hand to Andrew's right wrist but didn't touch. "You're bleeding too."
Andrew looked down at his wrist. It looked like he got cut from the base of his palm to his armband.
"Can I?" Neil asked, his hand close but still not touching.
Maybe it was because Andrew loved torturing himself, or maybe it was because he wanted to see Neil's reaction. Perhaps he really didn't care. But he nodded.
He agreed, knowing that this fresh wound and the ones under his armband are different kinds. The fresh one, a consequence for defending himself and Neil. The others were a different sort of violent, the only kind that used to bring him some form of relief.
Andrew's shoulders were stiff as he sat on the stool.
“Yes?" asked Neil, still not touching Andrew. Not without his explicit consent. There were flowers choking his throat. Andrew took in a deep breath, hoping for some oxygen to fill his flower-infested lungs.
Andrew was used to playing around with death.
Neil smiled, his fingers cradling the older man's wrist gently.
What's another game?
Neil was proficient, from years of experience. He pressed a cotton to his cut, his brows furrowed in concentration. It would be easier to remove Andrew's armband, but he doesn’t.
Andrew exhaled, feeling the petals blooming more in his lungs.
“The cut is a bit long,” Neil says. He looked at Andrew for permission. “Can you moved the armband up a bit?”
Andrew stared at him.
He contemplate showing Neil the truth of why he always wore his armbands, seeing his reaction. Scare him away, maybe then, his feelings for the redhead will ease.
Proof to him that Andrew will never heal. That he was a dying man who didn't deserve him.
"Yes," His heart hammered in his chest as he removed his knives, putting them on the table, then taking off his right armband.
They sat in silence as Neil worked, not stopping too long to stare. He didn't touch more than necessary. He didn't touch the old white and healed scars on Andrew's arm.
Andrew didn't believe in regret, and wasn't about to start now, but with the way Neil's acted, it seemed like his plan wasn't going like he thought.
Neil quickly wrapped the bandages when he was done cleaning, and withdrew his hands. "There."
That night, Andrew was in his bathroom, with the door locked, remembering Neil's smile and how he didn't even mention the scars, with blood-red petals falling from his mouth.
The petals were larger than ever, completely bloomed. His chest, more specifically his lungs, were getting tighter than with every breath he took. He could feel the vines wrapping around his lungs.
It was getting life-threatening and Andrew knew he didn't have much time left.
That night, Andrew didn't sleep, and the next day, he didn't talk to anyone.
The fifth time, Andrew didn't remember it happening.
A soft beeping sound filled the room as Andrew opened his eyes slowly, feeling sluggish and worn out. A dull ache swarmed his head and he groaned.
What the fuck happened?
"Andrew!" Neil's voice pulled him from his thoughts. The redhead was standing next to the bed Andrew was currently laying on.
Andrew looked at him, Neil looked worried. He looked scared, and his eyes were red.
Andrew hated seeing him like this.
"Wha-" he stopped himself from talking. His voice was guttural. Like his throat was scratched raw. It also hurt like a bitch.
Neil winced and went to the bedside table to bring him a water bottle. "Here," he said, opening the bottle and putting a straw to make it easier.
Andrew drank the warm water, and it helped put out the fire burning Andrew's throat.
"You collapsed during practice," Neil explained after Andrew pulled from the straw, his voice gentle. His brows were furrowed, and Andrew wanted to reach out and smooth them. "You didn't wake up so we thought it was best to bring you here."
Andrew looked around the room, and found it familiar. They seemed to be in Abby's office in the stadium. He was laying on the white bed.
He took another sip of the water, and sighed. "How long was I out?" his voice still sounded croaky but it was much better that the first time he tried to speak.
"Almost two hours," Neil put the now empty bottle on the table. "Everyone was so worried." The I was so worried hung in the air.
"You were coughing blood and collapsed," Neil said. "Kevin was being such an ass, and wouldn't let anyone help you. He carried you here and wouldn't let me in for five minutes."
Huh, would you look at that. It seemed like Kevin didn't want the team—and Neil—to know he coughed up petals, too. That he had Hanahaki. Andrew wasn't going to thank him, but maybe the next time he asked Andrew to drive him to the stadium, Andrew wouldn't complain. Much.
"How are you feeling?" Neil asked.
“Like I was run over by a train, and miraculously survived, only to be hit again by a bus."
Neil's face fell, "I should go call Abby." He said that but was still standing beside Andrew, biting his lips, his hands were clutching the white bed sheets.
Andrew kept staring at his scrunched up face. God, how he wanted to smooth those stressed lines.
Neil's hand twitched besides Andrew's, "I want to hold your hand, yes or no?"
Andrew was silent. He wasn't expecting that.
“Never mind, I'll just go find Abby!" Neil turned around, but Andrew moved without thinking and clasped their hands together.
The two freeze in place, and it was as time froze, along with them. Neil's eyes widened, his mouth falling open slightly.
Andrew's heart pounded in his chest, but kept staring up Neil.
That spot where his fingertips touch the skin of Neil's hand, it tingled and It burned. He was hyperaware of every breath, of the shadows falling on Neil's beautiful face, the flutter of his lashes on soft cheeks.
Something burst in Andrew's chest. The sharpness tried to crawl up his throat, threatening to burst out of his mouth.
He released Neil's wrist as he began to cough.
Crimson petals accompanied by droplets of blood fell from his mouth and dripped down his palms, staining the previously white sheets.
Neil almost slipped over in his rush to the door, calling for Abby.
Andrew shut his eyes tight as he expelled the poison that's rotting his lungs. He felt like he was drowning, and yet the hand that Neil held was still warm.
What would Neil think if he knew that he was the reason for Andrew's condition?
How can he ever tell the oblivious idiot how much power he had over him?
Andrew clutched the petals in his bloodied hands, his head throbbing in pain.
The room stayed eerily silent for a few more seconds until Abby walked into the room, permanent stress lines on her face from all the worrying she does over the team.
"Thank goodness you're awake Andrew!" she exclaimed. "Everyone was so worried about you. Especially Aaron and Neil." Andrew hummed as she continued. "Kevin told me about your… situation. He had to, but he only told me.. Andrew.."
Andrew hated her pitying voice but he knew she meant well. "Let's keep it that way, then"
The nurse continued, "o-ok. But how long have you had these symptoms?"
From the start of this year. "A few weeks perhaps."
They both knew it was an obvious lie. The flowers were already bloomed, after all.
"Andrew… these don't look like it only been weeks," she pointed at the petals in his hands.
Andrew stayed silent. Abby sighed.
“Andrew, Hanahaki Disease—if not treated—could kill you, I'm sure you at least know that much, and with the looks of these petals, you don't…" she stopped talking.
You don't have much time.
Andrew knew that already.
Abby continued, "whoever this person is, you need to tell them immediately."
Andrew sat up, already having enough. Abby didn't touch him, but tried to stop him as he threw the petals in the trash can and walked to the door.
Before he could escape, Renee walked into the room. "I wish to speak with you."
“Well, we don't always get what we wish for, now do we," a hint of bitterness seeped out of him before he could stop himself.
Renee looked at Abby, "could I have a word with Andrew, please?"
Andrew sneered halfheartedly, and walked to the window as Abby left the two alone.
As soon as the door closed, Renee's eyes turned dark. "You need to tell Neil the truth."
“Says who?" he replied, sounding utterly bored.
"I think you'll be surprised with the results, Andrew," Renee continued, hands clasped in front of her.
Andrew snorted, "what fairy tale did you steal that one from?"
"Neil obviously feels the same about you," Renee ignored his jab as always.
"Neil obviously feels an exaggerated form of gratitude," he continued before Renee could respond. "In his eyes, I'm the person that saved him from his miserable life, the first person to show him 'kindness', if you could even call it that."
"That's not true, and you know it. the reason you won't tell Neil is because you don't think you deserve happiness. You don't think you deserve Neil, you think you'll hurt him," Renee said confidently, but still kind. "I'm your friend, Andrew. And I know that's what you think, but you do deserve to be happy. Everyone does."
Andrew glared and tried to look for his cigarettes but it looked like he was still in his workout clothes. Dammit. Damn Renee for knowing him better than anyone else.
Damn Neil for being an oblivious idiot. Damn him for making Andrew fall, when he vowed not to.
Renee gave him a moment to collect his thought, the started again, "Neil also deserves to be happy."
"What does his happiness have to do with this?" Andrew looked out the window. The sun was low in the sky.
"And you call Neil oblivious," she shook her head.
Andrew glared at her, "what's that supposed to mean?"
"You're smart, you'll figure it out. Just tell him the truth, you owe him that much."
How could Renee insist that Neil deserved this? Deserved someone like Andrew? That Andrew must make the move—treat Neil like a pawn, to save his own life.
No. He would never be like them.
"You know," Renee said, like she could tell what's going on inside his head, maybe she can, Andrew can't say for sure anymore. She had a steely expression on her face, the one she only wore when one of her family and friends were being hurt by someone. "You're hurting him too. But he won't die when you do, you'll be leaving him behind."
Andrew clutched his shaky hands, and walked to the door, "he'll get over it."
Renee let him walk out. And he went to the locker room to change back into his clothes. It looked like everyone was already back at the dorms.
Andrew placed a hand on his chest, and felt the unsteady rise and fall of his breaths.
There was poison in his lungs and it was brought there by the only one that made him feel a damn thing. The irony made him want to laugh. He didn't, though.
Andrew stepped outside after he changed back, and was playing with his keys. His group already caught a ride with the upperclassmen. And it was just him— Or not.
Waiting for him outside, was Neil, who was leaning against the Maserati.
They stare at each other for a few moments in silence.
Neil's auburn hair and clothes were fluttering in the breeze. His pink lips were pursed into a thin line, eyebrows furrowed. And his eyes were hard.
It looked like Abby said something, after all.
The light from the sitting sun shined on Neil's profile, making him look so out of reach. Tsk. Andrew rolled his eyes at his own thoughts and walked to his car, and Neil.
"How long?" Neil whispered when Andrew was close. His voice was cracking, and his hands were clenched into fists at his sides.
"Abby didn't tell you?"
Neil's jaw clenched. "She wouldn't tell me what was wrong, only that you… might not have that long t-to l-l-live anymore"
Andrew looked at Neil. His eyes were shiner than normal, and he looked angry.
"Why didn't you say anything?" Neil's voice raised in volume. "How could you be so, so fucking stupid?!"
Andrew narrowed his eyes, but let Neil scream his frustration out, and lit a cigarette. Only for it to be snatched by Neil.
Neil stepped on the cigarette like it killed his family. "Is it because of the smoking?!" Neil also took the box when Andrew took it out of his pocket.
"I'll just buy another one," Andrew leaned on the car.
"And I'll keep destroying them!" Neil stood in front of Andrew. His eyes filled with tears. Andrew wasn't ready. "Why- why would you keep buying them when they're killing you?"
Andrew remembered what Renee said earlier. Would he tell Neil the truth or let him believe that smoking was the reason?
Andrew exhaled slowly, trying to calm his suddenly frantic heartbeat.
"What? I can't choose when to die?" Andrew pretended to be annoyed. "Besides, It's impossible to cure at this state."
"But I don’t want you to die!" Neil yelled, now crying.
Andrew's eyes blinked widely. Of course, he knew this, of course he knew it would hurt, and yet it still hit him harder than he expected.
"I know." Andrew replied simply. He didn’t know what else to say.
Maybe he'd say, I love you. or I'm abandoning you because this is the way it should be. This is the kind of man I am, but we already knew that.
Neil's fists were shaking now. He took a couple of steps closer to Andrew. And came to a complete stop in front of him. Two hands gripped the fabric of Andrew's hoodie.
Neil was so close.
Andrew breathed, trying to read Neil's grim expression but then Andrew turned his head, the palm of his hand coming up to cover his mouth as coughs wreck his body.
Neil's fingers didn't lose their strength. He continued holding onto Andrew. His hand slowly reached for the older man's back. His touch was gentle—so unlike the ones he was used to—even when he shook with the anger and pain that Andrew caused. Andrew truly didn't deserve it.
The petals drip between Andrew's fingers. The wind carried some away.
Neil didn't watch them. He ignored their existence completely, his eyes entirely focused on Andrew.
Andrew's breaths came out hoarse, from Neil's serious stare.
"Step aside, Josten. You don't want to get infected too, then you won't play your precious Exy any-”
"I don't care if I got it too, since you don't care if you died either."
Andrew glared but didn't say anything.
"Your family will be a completely shattered without you having their backs," said Neil, his grip faltered, but he kept his hands against the Andrew's chest. Right on top of his frantic heart.
Neil linked their fingers together, and continued. “And because I—because I'm selfish. I don't want you to die, even if you already accepted it.”
All Andrew could hear was Neil's breaths, his gentle voice repeating those words in his head over and over again.
No. it was an exaggerated form of gratitude, of codependency, Andrew told himself weakly. But Andrew himself could tell, that he was beginning to disbelieve it.
"Andrew, I lo-"
Andrew quickly put his clean palm on Neil's mouth. "Don't. Don't just say that, don't lie."
Neil held his wrist gently, and pulled it away from his mouth. "I promised you the truth, didn't I? well, I'm not lying now."
Andrew clenched his jaw and walked to the driver's side, "who told you to say that."
Neil followed him, "what're you talking about?"
"You only think you feel this way," Andrew turned to face Neil.
Neil looked confused for a moment, then angrier than before. "I know how I feel," he sighed. "If you don't feel that way, it's okay."
Andrew stared at him. Wow. He really was an idiot. "You're a pipe dream. I hate you."
Neil looked confused about the first part, but replied reluctantly to the second one. "That's… okay."
Andrew clenched his teeth painfully. Fuck. He took Neil's hand and put it on his pulse point. "I. hate. you."
His heartbeat was frantic.
Neil's mouth opened slightly. Even he can't be that dense, right?
It took him a moment. The sun was over the horizon, hues of orange, yellow and purple colored the blue sky. Neil's eyes widened. "Oh."
Oh? "That's all you have to say?"
"You want me to say something? I thought you hate me," Neil teased.
"90% of the times, I want to kill you," Andrew stated calmly.
"What about the other 10%?"
"Don't be a smartass."
Neil smiled, and Andrew found himself entranced by his lips. Andrew leaned back on the driver's door, with Neil right in front of him.
"I want to kiss you, yes or no?" Andrew asked.
"Yes," Neil answered quickly. "Always."
"Don't 'always' me," Andrew's hand came to the back of Neil's neck, and pulled him down. His lips hovered over the other boy's.
Andrew closed the remaining distance, and their mouths pressed together, hard and sure.
Neil's lips were, unsurprisingly, soft, just as silky as the petals corrupting Andrew's lungs. Andrew pushed the thought out of his head and continued kissing Neil like his life depended on it. The irony wasn't lost on him, though.
Neil's hand reached to hover over Andrew's head, not touching.
Andrew's unoccupied hand guided Neil's to his head, as if to say you can touch here. Neil's hands gripped his hair gently, and he made a small sound at the back of his throat as Andrew gently bites on his lower lip.
Andrew can still feel his hand trembling slightly, but he only grips the back of Neil's neck tightly, his other hand on Neil's jaw.
Andrew tilted his head and pressed a gentler kiss on the corner of Neil's mouth.
He finally stepped back down, breathing only slightly irregular. Neil, on the other hand, his mouth was opened and took big gulps of air.
They stared at each other, their bodies close together. Neil's cheeks were flushed, and the sight was more than enough enough to make Andrew's chest throb.
His chest pounded as the flowers threatened to spill out of his throat. The world goes red—
"Let's find a cure, Andrew. I have the money. There has to be one, you only been smoking for what? It can't be that long, you're only 20!" Neil said earnestly, his hands were still buried in Andrew's blond hair, unconsciously scratching his scalp gently.
—But nothing spilled. It was quiet around them, with only traces of light left above him. In front of him, a beautiful—though a little stupid and dense—boy stood in front of him.
Andrew rolled his eyes and withdrew himself from Neil's soothing hands, and got into the driver's seat. Neil glared at him through the window, then walked to the passenger side and sat there. Still glaring.
"Fine. I'll just find it myself then," he huffed, pouting slightly.
Andrew didn't correct the idiot, he just started the car, and intertwined their hands on the console. Neil's smile—that he pointedly ignored—was bright and content.
He'll have to buy Renee some hair dye, as a thank you. And probably some disgustingly green smoothie for Kevin.
Andrew had always known he'd die painfully. This was his life after all, so why not let it be ruthless this last time? Why would it have mercy at his last months of life?
He thought it'd be knives that took him, or maybe some sadistic men like the ones from his past. But he never knew he'd go like this. Shot down and laying on the woods floor, hearing the foxes shouting in the distance.
And of course, it had to be because of him. The one person he thought he could never have.
No, it was Andrew's own fault, he knew better than to leave his back unguarded. How foolish of him to fall, when he was oh-so-afraid of heights and afraid of the impact that'll inevitably follows.
Life was cruel and unfair. But then again, he already knew that.
"Andrew!" Aaron shouted from his right, a paintball gun in his hands, shooting at the other side of the woods, where the upperclassmen plus Neil were shooting back. "Stop being dramatic and get back into the game!"
Nicky came from his left with Kevin, while Renee covered their back, they too shooting at the other team. "No! Andrew's dead, and by the hands of his boyfriend, no less! We'll avenge you!"
"You'll never get my son!" Matt shouted from the other side, dramatically shielding Neil's armored body with his own. He then immediately fell to his knees by Kevin's shot. "Neil, go on without me!"
Andrew got up and, with the rest of his group, hid behind the trees on their side as the other team did the same.
Neil was with the upperclassmen and Renee was with them, and unsurprisingly, he was the best out of them even though it was his first time.
A few minutes later, Andrew was separated from his team and was contemplating just leaving the rest of the team and getting ice cream when he heard someone curse.
"Oh, come on!" Neil was looking at his gun like it betrayed him.
This was Andrew's chance for revenge.
He quietly walked to stand behind Neil, and pointed the gun at him, and said in a complete deadpanned manner, "we meet at last."
Neil whipped his head to look at Andrew, and pointed his gun at him. "Oh, Andrew. Sorry about shooting you, but in my defense you were gonna shoot Matt so I had to step in. but I shot you in the leg, so you're not dead!"
Andrew hummed, "is that what you tell yourself to sleep at night?" Looking at Neil's gun, it looked like he was out of paintballs. "What an unfortunate situation you got yourself in."
Andrew walked closer to Neil, still pointing the gun, and Neil walked back slowly. They kept walked until Neil's back hit a tree trunk.
"You won't kill me," Neil said, looking smug.
"That attitude is gonna get you killed."
"Well, what do you want in order to let me go?" Neil asked, smiling.
Andrew pretended to think, inching closer to Neil until his face was only few inches away. "Ice cream."
"Fine," Neil laughed breathlessly. "What else do you want?"
Andrew brushed a finger on Neil's lips, "yes or no?"
Andrew didn't comment on that, just closed the distance and kissed Neil just like he did the first time, rough then soft and gentle.
When Andrew pulled away, Neil chased after him for another kiss, and Andrew indulged him.
Warmth bloomed in Andrew's chest, spreading to his the tips of his limbs. He expected a violent cough but it didn’t come—it never did, nowadays.
There were no thorns in his throat, no ache. There was only an unfamiliarly pleasant feeling.
Andrew stared at Neil's face as his eyes opened slowly, he smiled softly when his eyes focused on Andrew.
Andrew pulled back from Neil, holding his gun down, and walking towards the exit. "You owe me an ice cream pint."
Neil followed, "we still haven't finished the game."
"I want it now."
Neil hummed, "I guess our team can win without my help."
Andrew huffed but remained silent as the two left the woods, changed their clothes at the paintball place and walked to Andrew's car.
Neil quickly sent a text to the group chat, telling his friends he left with Andrew. Then looked at him, still smiling at Andrew like he hung the moon,
Andrew lit a cigarette and took a drag, blowing the smoke out of the open window, gently moving Neil's head away to face the front of the car. "Don't look at me like that."
Neil groaned dramatically, "like what?"
"Stop being a smartass."
Neil just smiled, muttering ‘so demanding,’ under his breath but he still kept looking at Andrew all the way to the ice cream place. Andrew didn't protest further.