The first time it happened, Neil was already late for practice as a consequence of falling asleep in the library again.
As he flew down the steps, Neil felt his phone vibrate, and seconds after he stopped to dig it out of his pocket he was tumbling as the weight of another body went with him. When he hit the pavement, the body sprawled out on top of him groaned a little bit before jumping off of him shrieking in delight. “Oh my god you’re on the Exy team!” Neil rolled over onto his back to see a small girl, hair pulled up into a tight ponytail to keep it from covering her obnoxiously bright “Go Foxes!” sweatshirt. “Sorry, what?” Neil squinted and sat up a little bit and ran a hand through his hair. “No, don’t even apologize oh my god I don’t even care. You’re Neil Josten!” The girl continued to squeal excitedly and Neil groaned as the high pitched sounds rang in his ears. Before he could say anything else, a strong hand scooped him up from underneath his arm. “Yep and Neil is late for Exy practice so he’s gotta go. Sorry again.” Matt’s voice stirred Neil out of the shock of falling down a flight of stairs and he heard him chuckle as he dragged him off to the car.
The second time it happened, the team was seated in a booth at Sweetie’s during another of their rare outings together. Neil was sat on the edge, across from Andrew and next to Allison who was quietly tapping away on her phone. A waitress had just taken their order before another one showed up to drop off waters for the lot. “Hey, sugar what happened to your head there?” Her voice dripped with a thick southern accent and it made Neil cringe as his hand reached up to brush over the cut on his forehead from his fall the week before. “I fell.” He replied simply. “Aw, little clumsy are we now. You ought to be more careful, don’t wanna ruin that pretty face of yours.” Neil felt Allison shaking in silent laughter next to him and he could feel Andrew’s stare. “What? Thanks, I guess.” Neil didn’t get it. The waitress winked and flounced away, and Neil turned his confused gaze to his teammates who began to cough and return to nonexistent conversations in an attempt to conceal their laughter. By the time the ice cream was delivered, a single napkin had been slid in front of Neil with a name and a phone number. Neil didn’t even get a chance to notice it before Andrew snatched it up and the whole team was dying from laughter, only stopping after the look Andrew shot them threatened to ruin their night of team bonding.
It happened again once they reached the club, Neil went with Andrew to fetch drinks from Roland as usual and Roland returned with a tray in one hand and a glass in the other. “This is for you,” Roland said as he handed over the impossibly full tray over to Andrew, “and this,” as he held the glass out to Neil, “is for you.” Neil stared at the glass in Roland’s outstretched hand without any intention of taking it. “I don’t drink.” Roland laughed, “Oh I know, it’s not from me, that gentleman over there threatened to jump my bar if I didn’t send this over.” Roland set the glass down and walked away before Neil had a chance to reply, and he guided his stare to where Roland had pointed to see a man, presumably in his mid to late thirties, smiling at Neil. Andrew snorted and grabbed Neil’s arm with his free hand, guiding him back to the table and leaving Roland’s drink at the bar. “What took so long! I was beginning to think I was gonna die waiting at this nasty table” Nicky exclaimed, stealing the tray from Andrew and distributing drinks to the others. “Some dude was holding us up, well more specifically towards Neil,” Andrew replied, bored. Dan coughed in an unsuccessful attempt to cover a laugh and Neil looked at Andrew blankly. By the time the group had all been dragged into the center of the dance floor, everyone except for Neil Andrew and Renee was drunk. An overly giddy Nicky danced his way over to Neil and Andrew and yelled “Hey! Neil! Some old dude’s been cruisin’ you for the last 5 minutes! Want me to get him off your back?” Neil looked around to spot the man from the bar a few feet away from where Dan and Matt were dancing, once again he smiled at Neil. “ Um, no I’m alright Andrew’s here.” Nicky laughed, “Ok, but when the cops come, I’m running.” Neil turned back around to see Andrew, standing with his arms crossed while Renee and Allison danced around him. “Hey, what’s a nice boy like yourself doing without a date on the dance floor.” Neil turned to look at the man as his hand settled on Neil’s shoulder. Andrew was by his side at the next second, “I’d watch what I do next if I were you,” his voice was tense. The man laughed and squeezed Neil’s shoulder, “Ah you’re not alone. Don’t worry, your boyfriend can dance with us too if he wants to, the more the merrier.” Neil didn’t even know that Andrew had moved until the man was pinned face down on the floor with Andrew’s knee in his back and arms around his neck. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Matt and Renee handing money to a smug Allison.
Neil began to grow more confused as the weeks passed by. The people he met treated him strangely and their interactions always caused whichever one of his friends who were with him to stifle laughs that didn’t go unnoticed by Neil. Their second game of the fall season the Foxes were to face the USC Trojans. Kevin was in an unsurprisingly good mood when they set out to warm up and hour before first serve and his excitement showed when he spotted Trojan captain Jeremy Knox step onto the court. The Foxes and the Trojans greeted each other in good nature (or as good of nature as Aaron and Andrew could manage) before the Foxes set out on their laps around the court.
Halfway through their third lap Neil bent down to tie his shoe, and seconds later he was sprawled out on the court with the Trojans backliner groaning in pain a few feet away. “What happened? Are you okay?” a still startled Neil moved over to the backliner, and saw a bruise the size of an Exy ball beginning to form on his upper arm. Jean ran over with Jeremy close at his heels “Idiot took a hit from a stray ball for you. It would have hit you in the head since you are,” he paused when Jeremy sent him a look as hostile as Jeremy Knox could be, “vertically challenged.” Jeremy still slapped him on the backside of his head, but a small smile could be seen on Jean’s face. “Why would you do that, what if you got seriously hurt?” Neil interrogated the Trojan, who had now sat up and was holding his arm. “That face, can’t let that get too beat up.” He coughed a nervous cough and quickly followed, “and we can’t have you injured and unable to play before the game even starts. I’ve been dreaming about this game for weeks, the day when I finally get to go against Neil Josten on the court.” He placed his hand lightly on Neil’s knee, and Neil stared at him dumbly.
He heard the other Foxes in the distance as they sniggered and laughed. “Wh-” he was cut off by Kevin who walked over to him and rolled his eyes at Neil. He started speaking in rapid French, “If you say ‘what’ one more time I will personally see that you do not play this game. How can one person be so dumb, it’s been months of these ridiculous encounters and you still can not take a hint. People like to flirt with you Neil, and you look at them as if they’re growing a second head. We have so many bets placed on you, and I lost money to Allison a few weeks ago because Andrew lost his shit when that geriatric creep got too close to you. Open your eyes Neil” Kevin paused and then continued in English. “The next time I see you and your stupidity again you will be running drills until your arms fall off.” and with that, he walked away. The backliner looked sheepishly at Neil, then slightly in fear as Andrew walked up to take his place at Neil’s side. “Watch yourself,” he growled, as he guided Neil away from the crowd of players that had formed around them. “Why didn’t you say anything?” Neil asked Andrew as they made their way towards the locker room. Andrew sighed and replied without looking at Neil, “I’m not gonna be your fucking knight in shining armor or protect you like you’re my bitch every time some waste of oxygen talks to you. I simply don’t like when people touch what’s mine.” Neil grinned, and wrapped his arm around Andrew’s shoulder to kiss the top of his head, causing Andrew to glare at him but not pull away.