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Shadows and Monsters

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The final match against the Ravens was nothing but a blur in Neil’s mind. It was moments strung together haphazardly, blurring into each other. It was bodies checked into the wall, teeth flashing behind feral grins, the goal lighting red and the taste of blood on his tongue.

Neil didn’t know they’d reached the last minute of the game until the buzzer blared overhead but his body understood and finally gave out on him. He fell to his knees on the court, stomach twisting and entire body feeling like a big bruise. His gasped breaths did nothing for him but he forced his head up to look at the scoreboard when the buzzer blared again.

Nine-Ten, Ravens’ favor. They’d lost.

They’d lost.

Neil could not stop the way his hands trembled and his heart stuttered in his chest. He watched Riko with glazed eyes as he gloated in the win, pretending to be charming for the media. No one paid attention to the ugly smirk he directed at Kevin which claimed otherwise. No one paid attention as Riko’s hungry eyes settled on Neil, dark and menacing and greedy.

The post game formalities were intelligently skipped considering the rivalry between the teams and Andrew brushed his fingers along Neils’ back as they made their way to the away locker room. Neil recognized it for the silent apology it was but they had given their best. They had pushed themselves to their peaks, Andrew had pushed himself. Nine-ten was absolutely nothing to be ashamed of when they were against the Ravens’. After everything the Foxes had been through, they had only lost by a single point to the best team in Class I Exy. That was much more than anyone else had managed. Sometimes it was just a matter of luck after all and the Foxes had never had much to begin with.

Neil did not blame anyone. So, he looked at Andrew with a question in his eyes and when he got a nod, curled his fingers around Andrews’. His free arm slung itself around Kevin and they stumbled their way inside, a strange three-legged creature each half leaning into the other.

As they all gathered together, shouldering their bags, Kevin stumbled beside him. Even in the aftermath of their loss, he was quiet and fierce. He had proved that the Foxes were not nothing when they could stand up to the Ravens. He had proved that he was not nothing.

“You did good.” Prying praise from Kevin was as difficult as prying a bottle of alcohol from his hands when he had fully decided to get wasted. It was impossible and yet here he stood with green eyes aglow and voice firm. This man was not the one Neil had met at the beginning of the year. Somewhere along the way he had changed and Neil could not help but be enchanted.

Neil was supposed to be the stubborn and resilient one and yet here was Kevin, still confident, head held high. Neil on the other hand had retreated into himself. His teammates had given him worried looks but had left him to his own company for a while. His hands had still not stopped trembling and he could not shake off the feeling of wrongness that had settled into his chest like lead.

Andrew had stopped too, watching the two of them curiously. Neil responded with a wry twist of his lips. “Not good enough.”

You did good.. Do not try to down play your performance. We lost today, it won’t happen the next time”, Kevin was adamant.

Neil flashed him an exhausted smile. “It won’t.”

Kevin nodded once and then stalked away to Wymack who was engaged in a heated debate with Nicky about the merits of an after-loss party on the bus itself. Andrew settled his hand at the back of Neil’s neck while Neil settled himself at the back of his family as they trudged slowly towards the door of the locker room.

“Roof later?” Neil asked and Andrew gave a quick nod. It did not seem like sleep would come easy to Neil tonight and he would rather spend it with the weight of Andrews’ lips against his own and a warm hand splayed by his neck.

It happened too fast.

 

There was a loud curse as the door slammed open of its own accord, angry Fox voices warring over each other as Riko Moriyama came into view. His hair was still wet and the hungry gleam to his eyes looked even more pronounced now as they settled onto Neil.

“You didn’t think I was letting you go, right?”

Wymack was quick to intervene, putting himself between the psychopath and his team, “Riko, I don’t thi-”

Andrews’ knives were out already as he pushed past him and blocked Neil from view. “I think you’re lost, ugly Raven. Come on, I won’t mind showing you the way out.” His voice was malevolent with violent intent and Neil held no illusion that Andrew wouldn’t cut Riko open when he got him alone, away from his family, consequences be damned. Riko had already proved himself to be a problem, but this close to the people under Andrews’ charge, he was a danger.

There was a click behind Neil and he remembered too late the presence of another door here for it had remained firmly shut before he was grabbed. His startled gasp turned everyone’s attention but before anyone could do anything, several other bodies were pushing into the room.

Andrew moved lightening fast but there was already a man behind him, twisting his arm behind his back. He lashed out with his free arm and managed to throw him off with a well aimed elbow. His knives were no longer an option once they were knocked away and Andrew fought wildly with his fists instead. He caught one man in the throat with a brutal punch that choked him and another was slammed unapologetically against the wall. As fast as he was though, there were too many men for him to fight off. They were most likely trained as they wrenched him away from a comrade with lethal technique. He felt a hard blow across his face, too close to his eye as he was forced onto his knees, immobilized. Around him, the Foxes were similarly restrained. Kevin was held against a locker with an arm across his shoulders, his knuckles painted red. He had fought too. Wymack and Matt had evidently cause considerable damage but were now on their knees too. Aaron, Nicky, Allison and Dan looked similarly battered and Renee had to be held in a painful arm lock.

Neil still struggled. He was like a wild animal held in a choke hold. There were too many men upon him, holding him down and that made him struggle harder. There were hand shaped bruises on his wrists and arms, his lip was cut and bleeding and one brilliant blue eye was in the process of swelling shut. A cut on his forehead bled freely. However, Andrew found satisfaction at the sight of a man lying by the wall, he could only hope dead. It was evident that Neil was the priority here as he was slammed face first into ground, finally restrained completely.

Riko Moriyama stepped forward, a gleeful smirk on his lips and laughed lowly. “You didn’t really think I was letting you go, did you, Nathaniel?”

Neil growled in reply, trying to wrench out of the arms holding him to get a shot at Riko. Riko on the other hand, calmly took a step away from Neil’s grabbing hands, smirk still in place as he tutted like a disappointed teacher. “One would think you would’ve learned by now but then again, you were always quite dense. Let me spell it out for you again. I own you. You are mine.”

Neil, ever the mouthy bastard, could not keep his lips sealed. He spit venom and Riko was the recipient. “The Moriyamas own me. The first branch, not disowned second son’s with no worth.” Neil’s grin was a terrible parody of a smile, bathed red in blood, all teeth and none of the mirth.

With Rikos’ anger there was simply no transition period. He did not grow frustrated to angry to angrier. He just went from cool and collected to seeing red. It was a particularly volatile emotion when curled around Riko Moriyama’s chest in a choke hold and accordingly, the black haired man lashed out. He kicked into Neil’s vulnerable side brutally and Neil’s breath stuttered out of him in a choked groan. Even as Neil tried to curl into himself, limbs still restrained, Riko did not stop. He did not stop until after a particularly hard hit, Neil screamed.

The Foxes around him flinched in unison. Attempts to free themselves were renewed with increased ferocity and Andrew managed to free an arm before it was wrenched back again, at the verge of being broken.

Riko leaned down and grabbing Neil’s’ hair, wrenched his head back. His free hand curled around the slender arch of Neil’s’ already bruised throat and squeezed. “You do not speak to me that way. I am your King and you will respect me.” Riko hissed, his hand tightening.

Andrew could see the difficulty with which Neil’s breaths came now and yet his lips pulled into that hideous grin again. “Worthless second son.” Neil never did know when to stop.

In retaliation, Riko slammed Neil’s head against the floor and when he pulled Neil back up again, his eyes were dazed and the cut on his forehead had widened.

“Worthless second son? Then you will be happy know that you really are mine now. Ichirou gave you to me.” It took a second for Neil to process that and Riko smirked when understanding finally dawned on his face. “Yes. The Foxes lost. Or do you need a reminder of that? I’m sure your failure is flashing across all the news stations by now. You failed, so now you must face the consequences. Ichirou has decided that you are to join the Ravens.”

There were angry protests from all around the room. Neil was a fox, he was family and you did not let go of family.

“Kevin and Jean can stay where they are. The terms of their contract do not change, they are at their full potential. You on the other hand, have a long way to go. You still have potential but that is evidently wasted under a team as pathetic as the Foxes. So I’ve graciously stepped forward, Nathaniel. I’ll help you.”

Wymack had had enough. “Riko! You cannot do that. He still has contract with me for five years. You are not taking him away.”

Riko smiled charmingly, “I’m sorry, Coach Wymack. I understand you don’t want to let go of such a player. But his contract will be handled and he will be transferred one way or another.”

“Riko…”

But Riko had stopped paying attention. He was focused on Neil again, psychotic smile in place. “So, what do you say, hmm?”

Neil simply shoved his middle finger in Riko’s face even as he was held down. “I say that you shove your contract and your help up your ass and-”

Riko’s hand curled around Neil’s finger. His face blank, he twisted and twisted and twisted. Neil whimpered in pain and then screamed as the finger broke with a wet sounding crack.

“I think you said thank you. You’re welcome, Nathaniel.” Riko’s voice was as placid as if they talking weather.

Even under the glaze of pain, his gasped breaths, eyes clouded with tears, Neil could see his teammates trying to fight back. They were already bloody and bruised because of him and Riko was proving with every passing second that he really was psychotic and volatile. Neil was used to this kind of heedless violence, his family was not and so he kept his mouth shut for once. He would go willingly if that meant his family could be safe.

“You’re learning. That’s good, Nathaniel.” Riko patted Neil’s cheek like he was dog and then got up. “I think we’re done here.” He looked pointedly at the men who held Neil. “Take him.”

Halfway up, Andrew freed himself with a growl and lunged at Riko, throwing him against a locker with a resounding crack. His hands wrapped around Riko’s throat like they had always wanted to. It did not matter what the consequences would be. At least the world would be rid of something as vile as Riko Moriyama. Riko scrambled pathetically at his tightening hands, defenseless without his hired goons and Andrew let a vicious smile snake up his lips. Other hands were reaching for him trying to pull him back but failing until someone hooked his arm around his throat and pressed at the pressure points in his hands until they fell ineffectively to his sides. Riko was pulled out of his reach immediately as Andrew was pushed down once again and then there was a knife held just under his jaw, pressed hard enough that it drew blood.

Riko clutched at his throat but that did not stop from speaking. “Leash your dog, Kevin or I won’t be so kind next time.” He turned to his goons then, lips curled in disgust. “Get these people away from here and make sure they do not cause any more trouble.” He grabbed for Neil’s once again. “And take him away. Show him where he belongs.”

Riko had the audacity to throw a careless smirk to the Foxes. “I’ll keep you all updated on his progress.”

Neil was manhandled to his feet and Andrew watched with fire burning in his veins as he was dragged away. Their deal was no longer in place but Andrew had long accepted him as one of his. It was his job to protect Neil and he had failed once again.