Andrew went through the motions of putting on full gear while clearing everything from his mind. He didn’t think a single thought but still picked his phone up one last time. Kevin bitched about phones in the locker room, but Andrew could ignore Kevin.
Three texts came through rapid fire.
[sanctuary for neil]
[time is limited]
[outside palmetto at the bruns ask a dog]
Without thinking Andrew had picked up his helmet and threw it hard against the wall, cracking the heavy duty plastic. The entire locker room froze, but Andrew didn’t notice.
‘Who the fuck is this?’ he demanded. Vomit burned his throat. He knew before he got the answer.
Andrew barrelled towards the door. Going to the lower level was always a risk, but with Neil’s big mouth he should have known better.
“Hey no, where are you going?” Wymack snapped, blocking the door. Andrew snarled at him, legs already bent to fling himself forward and knock him out. “Andrew!” Wymack snapped.
“Riko took Neil,” Andrew grit out. His body thrummed with desire to break through Wymack and leave. And run.
“I can’t let you go running out there,” Wymack said. “You aren’t thinking.”
“I didn’t ask your opinion,” Andrew spat to keep from screaming that time was running out. They knew Riko got off on torture, but he wouldn’t let it last too long and risk Neil being saved.
“I’ll go with you,” Wymack said. “We can go now, but you aren’t going alone.”
“We have a fucking game!” Kevin shouted. Wymack grabbed the back of Andrew’s jersey as he turned to lunge at Kevin.
“Andrew! We are leaving!” Wymack shouted at him wrenching him back by his jersey. Andrew stumbled back as Wymack looked to Dan. “You got this. If you want to call it you can, but you all belong in this competition. I won’t be disappointed by the outcome and you shouldn’t either.
“I’ll have Anderson suit up incase we need a backup goalie,” Dan said. Andrew pulled against Wymack’s hold.
“Goodluck,” Wymack said, opening the locker room door and shoving Andrew out.
The car ride was silent. Andrew didn’t even want to take off his pads. He sat staring directly in front of himself letting every vile form of torture play through his mind. Riko would stop at nothing.
Anxiety rippled through him as he pulled on his gloves. It kept the itch of wanting to wash his hands at bay. He thought about every gruesome way he could find Neil dead. Thirty minutes of those thoughts and he finally threw up all over the floor of the car. Wymack said nothing.
Going through the lower level gate was slow. He ordered Wymack to go to Roland’s. Andrew planned to meet him there to talk to Marseille.
Once Andrew was through, he ran. He ran faster than he ever ran during practice. His lungs ached and his muscles burned but he ran to Neil’s apartment. Tore through the street until he stopped dead at the busted door.
It was jarring. The door was ruined and inside was dark. Andrew crossed the threshold to see Neil’s smashed laptop all over the floor. He could feel his chest heaving, but it didn’t feel like he was breathing any air.
“NEIL!” he shouted, words echoing off the empty walls. “NEIL!” he screamed. He hadn’t screamed in a long time. Not out of fear. Not out of anger. He’d learned to be silent. To scream in his head and to cry silent tears. “NEIL!” the sound tore out of his throat fill with desperation.
But he knew Neil wasn’t there.
His phone buzzed and he looked down to see the message from Neil. [Running late. Be there soon.]
Andrew pulled his arm back and threw his phone directly at the wall. He put all his rage behind the throw and was greeted with the sound of his phone shattering into a million pieces.
He stared at it for a moment and then left the sorry apartment. He grabbed the bug off the doorjamb and ran.
Marseille needed only a handful of minutes to hack into the bug and ID the people. She ran through back doors and called in her people to find the Bruns. When she had a location, Wymack grabbed Andrew’s jersey again before he started running.
“A car is coming,” he said. Marseille had called in a favor and a truck was picking them up in minutes. But every minute was another minute for Neil to die.
The truck was a repurposed army truck with bullet proof siding and glass. They all crammed inside; desperation clouding the fact that people were touching him.
They drove out into the barren land that sat between cities. It was illegal to occupy the space, but Andrew knew there were eyes watching them from abandoned buildings and dilapidated houses.
“Dogs first,” Marseille said as they got out at a squat, concrete building. There were fresh tire tracks all over the ground. He gave the dogs ten seconds before he went charging in.
Two people dressed for surgery were blood splattered and on their knees, guns to their heads. And Neil’s mangled corpse was behind them on the table.
Andrew’s mind went blank. No thoughts of anything. He felt bones break in his hands. He felt himself screaming. He felt other people screaming. But everything was blank wrapped in white noise.
Neil was in bad shape, but there was a weak pulse. Just enough for Andrew to hold him while he died.
He felt his throat going raw. He felt Neil’s broken body limp in his arms. He tasted Neil’s blood on his lips because he’d buried his face in Neil’s hair.
Andrew didn’t know there was anything left in himself to break, but he knew he was breaking apart. He did it so many times before that he thought he was numb. He thought he’d locked it all away because he never wanted to feel like breaking again.
Hands were on him, pulling him away from Neil. He lashed out with everything in himself. People were yelling, but he had to fight. He had to fight for Neil.
There were so many hands pulling and pushing him away. He was dragged out of the door and shoved into the truck while he screamed, while he cried like he was dying. Hands held him down as he breathed fire, completely out of control.
Andrew had no memory of getting to the hospital. They were back in the Upper Ring. Andrew was set loose as medics unloaded Neil from the truck. Andrew wanted to tear them away. They weren’t helping him. Neil was dying and they weren’t doing anything.
Jean Moreau was unloaded next with both his arms broken and dried blood on his face. Andrew wanted to strangle him. Jean’s dark eyes met him and Andrew reached out grabbing his neck. Jean did nothing but stare at Andrew.
“You said alive,” Andrew hissed as security flooded the scene. Wymack pulled Andrew from Jean before hospital security could. He was threatening to handcuff Andrew. There was a crowd forming. Most of the people were worn out Foxes and Kevin had the gall to step forward.
“You broke his fucking arms? Over some guy?!” Kevin screeched. Andrew didn’t let him continue. He smashed his hand into Kevin’s jaw; satisfied with the pain that laced through his hand. He’d have done it again if Wymack hadn’t full body tackled him and handcuffed them together.
He wasn’t allowed to follow Neil into surgery. Wymack let Andrew pull at the cuff and scream and kick and hit. He let Andrew and he did not budge. Not even when Andrew fell to his knees shaking. Neil was going to die because he wasn’t fast enough. He wasn’t strong enough to stop it.
All the blood on Andrew made him dry heave as old nightmares crawled out of the shadows. Phantom pain surged through him as he felt all the hands on him. He tore off his gloves, but he needed to get it all off. He needed to get everything off and washed before someone saw.
“Andrew,” Wymack said as Andrew attempted to undress himself. “Andrew stop,” Wymack said, but if Andrew stopped then he’d get in trouble.
“Too much blood,” he said. “I need to clean it off. I need it off!” he screeched at Wymack just short of hyperventilating.
“Okay, Andrew? Andrew here,” Wymack streered them into a bathroom before undoing the cuffs. Andrew locked himself in the stall before tearing all his clothes off. His entire body was shaking. Everything with Neil was his fault. All of it was always his fault for being stupid and weak, weak, weak.
Andrew drove his fist into the wall. Pain brought calm. He needed to wash his hands. He needed to shower. He needed to do laundry. But pain worked in place of that. He was about to pull his knives out when the stall door burst open. He blinked at Aaron letting his hands fall limply to his sides.
He stared at his brother as he crowded into the small space and dropped a bundle on the floor. “I got wipes from the nurses station so that I… you could clean up,” he said not looking Andrew in the eye. Neither of them moved. Andrew stood numbly, urging his mind to be and stay blank instead of showing him every injury Neil sustained.
Aaron finally sighed and took Andrew’s hand and began wiping it off. He went up Andrew’s arm and over his shoulder and across his chest down to his other hand. He wiped off Andrew’s face and then knelt down to wipe off his shins and calfs.
“That’s all I’m doing,” Aaron said picking up the bundle. “It’s my work out clothes,” he said and left the stall. He left the wipes and after relocking the door, Andrew began wiping off the rest of himself. He used all 128 wipes and it wasn’t nearly enough.
Aaron’s clothes smelled like Aaron. Andrew didn’t like it but along with shorts and a tee he’d brought his sweatshirt and track pants so Andrew could be totally covered. He had no shoes and no socks, but he couldn’t put his court shoes or socks back on. He went barefoot to the sink.
Wymack still waited by the door and waited while Andrew began methodically washing his hands. He eventually picked up all of Andrew’s gear.
“I don’t want any of that,” he said flatly and Wymack nodded.
“Can I trust you to go out there and be calm?” Wymack asked.
“Yes,” Andrew said without looking up from his hands. All he saw was Neil’s blood.
Wymack eventually left and Nicky came in to wait with Andrew. He chattered nervously but Andrew didn’t listen.
When the soap was gone and his skin was raw he went back to the waiting room and sat in the corner. He stared at one spot on the wall and went through his list of tricks to lock himself back up. Lock up, toss the key, and think about nothing.
Neil’s stupid face was a hard thing to shove away. It taunted Andrew, smiling and laughing and concentrating and groaning. With Neil’s face came Neil’s lips; Andrew’s least favorite part of Neil.
And then his big stupid hands always twitching and waiting. Andrew could feel them card through his hair.
And Neil’s stupid scarred chest. All the pain that was carved out of him, in to him. Everything he lay bare for Andrew because he was stupid enough to trust Andrew.
His back where people tried to lay claim to his body. Neil’s legs, powerful and strong and ready to carry him far, far away.
And then there were those blue eyes. They were like a stunning sky on a frigid day. Taunting and electric and covered by stupid brown contacts.
“Wymack is here to take you to see him,” Nicky said. Andrew rolled his eyes to his cousin. Sun streamed in the windows around them.
“Okay,” he said distantly. His body stood and moved, but his mind had gone far away to it’s safe haven where no one could touch him. Where he sat with Neil in his memories watching them play over and over on a screen just for them.
“He’s in bad shape, but through the worst of it,” Wymack said. Andrew could see Neil, but it was more tubes and wires and bandages than Neil. “I’ve agreed to fast track his recovery because when he gets up I plan to sign him. It’s the easiest way to keep him safe.”
“Okay,” Andrew said not listening. He knew things died. He knew people died all the time. He’d seen people die. He’d been killed little by little over and over again, so he didn’t know why looking at Neil made his body ache. He tried to hold steady to his safety island in his mind, but his memories wanted to consume him.
Wymack pulled a chair up to Neil’s bed and Andrew sat.
And he sat.
And he sat letting his mind take him apart and kill him over and over and over. Every terrible memory he’d locked away flooded his brain replacing him with Neil. He watched Neil suffer and die over and over again until he realized those icy eyes were real and they stared at him unseeing.
Andrew stood and sat on the bed. He didn’t touch, but waited as Neil’s mouth tried to find the words.
“Am I dead?” Neil croaked. Andrew felt like the world tilted and then snapped into place because no, he wasn’t dead and neither was Andrew. They were both very much alive. Andrew stood, dunking a washcloth in a pitcher of water.
“What have I told you about asking stupid questions?” Andrew asked rolling his eyes. He pressed the cloth to Neil’s lips. Neil said nothing else, eyes slipping closed as he fell asleep.
Andrew remained standing over him. Someone had put slippers on Andrew’s feet. The sun was setting outside. The hospital bustled on the other side of the door.
And Neil was alive.
Deep in his thoughts, on his safe and tiny island where he sat with Neil, Andrew smiled.