Chapter 1: But in the dark I have no name
Earlier that evening the team won the first game of the season on home ground, as such the traditional celebration in one of the bars the team frequents in turns resumed. Andrew has accepted the invitation only because The Devil makes three is an English pub with good whiskey, and music that doesn't make him wants to pierce his own eardrums. The fact that it doesn't have a TV constantly broadcasting sport news is also a selling argument.
Now his teammates are well on their way to drunk, and therefore more rambunctious than usual.
Surprisingly he doesn't actually hate all of them, some he even appreciates. Laila Dermott at their head. Somehow the former Trojan goalkeeper, with her fiery temper and dry humour, has wedged herself in a tiny crack of his armour – granted he doesn't wear it as tight as he used to; years of appointments with Betsy helped with that. In some aspects, Laila reminds him a little of Renee. Both of them wear their faith – albeit to differents gods – openly but without imposing it on others. They respect his boundaries but aren't detered by his blank expression and vaguely threatening silences. Andrew's guess is, if it wasn't a natural incline of Laila's character, befriending Jean Moreau in college must have something to do with it.
Even so, Andrew never is comfortable in large group of people for long, and he only tolerates human interaction in small doses before he needs a break. Nicotine addiction is convenient for that.
He escapes through the back door of the pub he's probably not meant to use, but he's not one to be bothered by that kind of rules.
The cool air of the early autumn night is a reprieve from the warmth of the pub. Andrew quickly scans the courtyard, barely lit by the lamp above the door and made darker by the branches of a massive tree obscuring the sky. Some instincts never fade away, especially those born from a far less than ideal childhood. To be aware of his surroundings at all time is one of the very first Andrew picked up, alongside sleeping with his back to the wall.
There's a high stool carefully situated just outside the range of the light. Sitting on it is another smoker. His head is tilted against the wall, and his eyes are closed, but the minute way his shoulders tense when Andrew steps out is enough for him to know the man is aware of his presence.
Well, Andrew corrects himself, he's not so much smoking as simply breathing in the smoke drifting from the cigarette he holds close to his face.
Andrew reaches in his pocket for a lighter at the same time his mind provides him with an image of said lighter sitting on the windowsill of the main room of his apartment, on the other side of the city. The low curse he lets out prompts a scarred hand to breach the circle of light, holding a bright orange plastic lighter toward him.
Andrew lights up and lets the smoke fills his lungs until the need to breathe forces him to release it into the night air before he passes the lighter back without a word. The man doesn't seem to mind the lack of thanks, and Andrew can't help but notice the way their fingers don't touch during both exchanges. People usually don't care enough to be careful with little things like that.
Andrew is intrigued despite himself.
Instead of hating the feeling, he accepts it and lets himself take a closer look to satisfy his interest. Bee would be proud, he thinks dimly.
The stranger appears to be about Andrew’s age, dark-haired, and dressed in a oversized gray sweater and dark trousers. The black lines of a tattoo are peeking out under the hem of one sleeve riding up on his wrist. The night isn't dark enough to obscur completely his features, Andrew can discern a thin face dominated by high cheekbones. He's handsome despite the several thin scars that mar the side of his face turned toward Andrew.
It's not the scars that snatch Andrew's attention. The man's face tugs at something in his memory, but somehow he can't make it surface. It's like he saw it before, but only in passing, without really paying attention so it wasn't neatly labelled and stored on the shelves of his memory, but rather thrown haphazardly in a box in a corner. Most of the memories in that box belong to the years court-mandated medication took over his control. Anything not interesting enough to catch Andrew's skipping attention span ended in there. It doesn't mean he has forgotten; he never does. It will just take more than a few seconds to associate this face with its context.
Andrew realizes he's starring when a self-deprecating smile twists the corner of the stranger's lips. That lapse in control is unlike him. Somehow, Andrew has the feeling that interacting with this man has the potential to make him break character more often than not.
“I tell you mine if you show me yours.” There is a pleasant British lilt to his voice Andrew notes while the man looks pointedly at the dark armbands embroided with constellations (a gift from Renee) concelling knives and old scars. Andrew isn't sure which one he's referring to, he doesn't care to find out.
The refusal is met with a simple nod of acceptance. The man just returns to not smoking and staring at the sky over their heads.
Andrew tries not to watch him from the corner of his eyes, and does not completely succeed.
The comfortable silence shatters suddenly when the door bangs open. Like the first time, fight-or-flight tension take over the other's body for a fraction of a second, and he looks ready to bolt. The word runaway pops unbidden in Andrew's thoughts.
“Abram?” one of the bartender calls – Marissa, Andrew's memory supplies uselessly. She looks relieved at finding him here, like he has the habit of disappearing and not being found. “Giacomo's drunk and blabblering in Italian. Send him home, will you?” The door closes again before Abram has any time to reply.
Abram stubs out his half-finished cigarette in an ashtray with a sigh and gracefully hops off the stool. He isn't much taller than Andrew, a few inches at most. Dark hair shines auburn in the light, a shock of color in his otherwise monochrome appearance. Andrew is surprised to see him grab a cane that was leaning on the wall out of his sight. If you don't know to look for it, the limp is anything but obvious. It should belies his earlier assessment of Abram being a runner, yet Andrew can't shake the feeling that there is truth to it.
The door closes behind Abram with a soft click, and Andrew finds himself almost missing his quiet presence.
Not long after, Andrew takes one last drag from his cigarette and flicks it into the ashtray. The pub is still as loud as before, and he considers calling it a night when he sees the redhead behind the counter. Curiosity alters the course of his path.
In the light of the pub Andrew notices that the scars are not limited to the left side of Abram's face, although on the other the neat lines left behind by a knife have been replaced by perfectly circular burns; the same kind that cover his knuckles. Abram has been put through a very deliberate and probably beyond painful torture. Andrew wonders if the leg was part of it too.
When Abram finally stops in front of him, the icy blue eyes that settle on Andrew's face contain an emptiness that Andrew isn't used to see outside of the kids at the center he volunteers when he has time, or outside of the mirror on bad days. An emptiness caused by firsthand experience of the horrors the world can inflict on someone.
There is a beat of silence, and then Abram huffs out a breath of faint amusement that makes the ice of his eyes melt a little.
“Whiskey, right ?” At Andrew's nod, Abram sets down a glass with a soft clink against the wood of the counter.
“What about you ?”
“I don't drink.” A shrug accompanies the reply, resignation to the inevitable comment of how odd a bartender who doesn't drink is.
Andrew, who resents being predictable, says nothing. Instead he sips his drink and tracks Abram's efficient movements cutting slices of lime to put into the colorful drinks ordered by an elderly couple. His grip on the knife is easy and all control; to Andrew's trained eyes it speaks of more than a simple use on fruit.
That thought finally makes the memory clicks into place.
Five years ago, in the mist of Kengo Moriyama's death and the subsequent takeover of his empire by his elder son, Andrew was too caught up in Kevin dealing with his breakdown by drowning himself in liquor to really pay attention to anything else. But he does remember seeing news reports about the dismantling of a crime circle in Baltimore by the FBI that ended in bloodbath. They never failed to mention the numerous murders of Nathan Wesninski, wife and son allegedly among them. Both events were seemingly unrelated for anyone not privy to the working of the Moriyama's family. Andrew knew enough to connect the dots and concluded the new Lord was cutting loose ends at the start of his reign. He didn't give it much more toughts.
Finding the missing son of a mass murderer in a quiet pub of the East Cost isn't the most far-fetched thing to happen in Andrew's life. It may be one of the most interesting though.
For the second time of the night, Andrew catches himself staring at Abram's face and hates him a little for it because in addition to being unfairly attractive, he's intriguing. A puzzle Andrew wants to solve.
He hasn't felt this curious about something in a very long time; it's unnerving.
And a little bit exciting if he's completely honest with himself, which he tends to be these days.
“Staring,” Abram points out with the barest edge of a smile on his lips.
“You don't add up.”
“I'm not a math problem,” Abram replies, nonplussed.
I still want to solve you though, Andrew doesn't say, then turns back to his table to get his jacket and leave.
Laila flicks a look from him to the counter where Abram is filling a line of shot glasses with pink liquid. She turns back to Andrew with a raised eyebrow and a smirk but wisely doesn't comment on it.
Chapter 2: When the silence speaks words you don't wanna say
Some questions are answered. Some answers just raise more questions.
I'm not quite satisfied with this part, but if I don't want to let 6 months pass before the next update I have to stop obsessing over it. So here it is. I hope it'll still be enjoyable for you to read, though.
Maybe this should have been established before : assume everything that happen in canon, to Andrew in particular and the Foxes in general, somehow happened in this universe too with a few tweaks here and there that hopefully will be understandable in the course of the story (says the writer who can't be arsed to think too much about the repercussions of her AU and only wants to write the parts she's interested in).
Andrew hasn't planned to go back to The Devil so soon. It is, after all, on the other side of the city from his apartment. Curiosity and the memory of a cigarette shared in comfortable silence have drawn him back.
This time, he sits at the counter even though he hates bar-height stools since the rung where your feet are supposed to rest is usually to low for his legs. He's pleasantly surprised to find a second rung, placed higher than the standard one, which he can actually reach for once. He suspects Abram is behind this addition, seeing as he isn't much taller than Andrew and must pass much more time than him sitting on these stools.
Thinking of the devil, the red-haired bartender comes out of the backroom and pauses when he sees Andrew.
He sounds a little surprised as he says, “You're alone.”
“Keen observation skills,” Andrew comments dryly.
“I mean, I never saw you here without your team.”
Andrew raises a eyebrow. He's been to the pub a few times and always with his teammates, true. But before last week he's certain he never saw Abram; he would remember.
Abram shrugs. “Observing people is part of the job.” Answering another unasked question he adds, “Marissa,“ he tilts his head towards the opposite end of the counter where the tall dark-skinned woman talks animatedly with another patron, “and her partner follow Exy.”
“And you don't ?”
Abram's fingers tighten on the glass he's holding before he puts it down with a sharp clink, amber liquid sloshing dangerously close to the edge. The life retreats from his eyes and the curve of his mouth darkens as he answers. “Not anymore.”
Andrew never saw someone react this negatively to Exy before. There is a story there, an intriguing one. Curiosity pushes Andrew to ask and find out what it is. Instinct tells him not to, not if he doesn't want to cross a line, and by doing so ending all chances to keep talking to Abram. And he doesn't want that. He'd rather ask Abram all the questions that are budding in his mind.
Over the years some people managed to grab his interest and hold it more than a few moments, but it still uncommon enough to make him pause every time it happens.
Oblivious to Andrew's interior debate, Abram has moved to the other end of the bar where Marissa called him for help. Without the puzzling bartender to stare at, Andrew's eyes fall on the tumbler of whiskey he hasn't ordered but that Abram poured him anyway. The glass is cool in his hand, grounding. He takes a full-mouth sip of alcohol, relishing the delicate singe at the back of his throat when he swallows.
A part of Andrew that he doesn't quite acknowledge relaxes when Abram comes back to this side of the counter, all traces of his earlier turmoil gone from his eyes.
“I didn't mean to snap at you earlier.”
Andrew waves aside the not quite apology. “How come I never saw you before ?”
“I used to deal with the administrative side of the business, but accounting gets boring after a while. So when the other bartender resigned last month I decided to replace him rather than hire someone else.”
Abram is a study in contradictions. His expression manages to be open and attentive without giving any of his secrets away. Obviously self-conscious about his scars, he still holds his head high and stares down anyone that stares too long. The patterns inked on his arms are both beautiful and violent at the same time, not hidding the scars but diverting the attention away from them.
Andrew should know better than to find him fascinating. He should get away from the scrutiny of Abram's blue eyes, clear like the deceptive waters of a deep lake, lest he drown in them. It's been a long time since Andrew felt this self-destructive. He's not quite sure what to make of it, but he doesn't want to stop just yet.
Being a professional athlete means Andrew is actually busy most of the time, and a few months pass before he returns to the pub. Therefore it's slightly disappointing to find the place exceptionally closed for the night even though some of lights are still on inside. A glance through the window makes his eyebrows rise in amusement at the scene that seems straight out from a film noir.
The space in front of the counter, usually devoid of furniture to facilitate the passage of customers is occupied by two men in expensive suits sitting face to face on opposite side of a table, several files spread out between them. Their respective bodyguards are standing aside, arms folded across their chest as they survey the meeting.
The man with his back to the counter has light brown hair already streaked with gray and a neatly trimmed beard. The fine architecture of his face and his cheekbones are reminiscent of Abram's in a way that makes it easy to assume they are related somehow. His relaxed stance and serene expression are almost enough to conceal the air of quiet danger that emanates from him.
Andrew stiffens instinctively when he identifies the other man. He never met Ichirou Moriyama in person before, but he has seen enough pictures of his face to recognize him without hesitation. Dark hair slicked back don't do much to lessen how youthful the Japanese businessman is. Although there's a kind of stillness in his face that speaks of power, he doesn't wear it as casually as the man in front of him. It's odd to see Kevin's equivalent of the Bogeyman uncomfortable.
Perched on the counter, one leg swinging idly but never hitting the wood, Abram's the only one who looks out of place. Casually dressed in plum pants and a dark hoodie that reads 'Sorry I'm late I didn't want to come' on the front, he seems especially bored with the proceedings.
Andrew smothers the whisper of a smile that shouldn't tug at his lips when alarm bells are ringing in the back of his mind. He turns around and leaves before any of them can notice him.
He has figured out who Abram was and who his family used to be connected to on their first meeting. Andrew hadn't considered he still could be in some other way. Andrew has already dealt with more Moriyama related drama than he'd have liked in his life. This discovery should be an incentive to stay the hell away of the pub and its attractive owner. He should not involve himself further. He should find another tolerable place to join his team on celebratory nights. He should leave the puzzle that is Abram alone.
Andrew has never really been inclined to do what he should.
Curiosity does unpleasant things to cats according to the proverb, but Andrew knows what it says about satisfaction too. So he starts to think of a way to ask Abram about the whole thing without being shot down. Neither figuratively nor literally.
The porch light casts a soft yellow glow on the backyard. A chilly breeze whips dead leaves around, forming small piles only to disturb them a moment later. Andrew's addiction doesn't care for the weather, and while it's not full blown winter yet, it's cold enough to make smoking outdoors uncomfortable. Bundling his coat tighter around his body to retain some of the heat, he tilts his head back to look at the sky. The moon glows silver, but the stars are hidden by the city lights.
Abram's voice brings his vagrant mind back to Earth. “May I borrow one of these?”
“So you can waste perfectly good nicotine?” Andrew retorts, but he still pulls out his pack of cigarettes and offers it to Abram along with his lighter. He watches as the tip catches flame on a inhale before asking, deliberately desinterested, “So. How does one become the owner of a front for the mob ?”
Abram pauses for a second, cigarette halfway to his lips, then takes a deep drag and holds the smoke in his lungs a long moment. When he turns toward Andrew, his grin is as sharp as the knives Andrew keeps under his armbands.
“One would have to be killed after hearing the answer to such a question.”
The refusal to answer is unsurprising. The confirmation – however implicit – of Andrew's accusation, less so. Not that he's complaining, it actually makes it easier for him to pursue the conversation.
“How about we play a game then ? One truth of yours against one of mine.” It sounds more like a challenge than a suggestion, and Andrew relies on Abram's curiosity to get him to accept.
Abram's gaze is analytical, like Andrew is a puzzle to figure out. And aren't they well-matched the both of them? Andrew would laugh if it wouldn't distract them from the matter at hands.
“Seems fair,” Abram agrees after a moment. His grin holds a playful edge when he adds, “but I'm still not answering that first question.”
There are several things Andrew could ask. He ponders for a long minute before he decides to start with one of the safer option, even if he doubts such a thing as safety exists when it comes to Abram.
“Why do you do that ?” Andrew gestures toward the cigarette Abram holds cupped between his fingers close to his face, breathing in the trails of smoke without taking an actual drag. Abram's odd smoking habit was the first thing to puzzle him, and the list only grew from there.
Abram hums thoughtfully. “It used to remind me of my mother. For a long time, it was a reminder that freedom existed, that it could be mine. It's still that sometimes, but mostly it just became a habit. How many knives do you carry ?” There's no hesitation before he asks, as if Abram too has a list of questions about Andrew.
“Three.” One in each armband and another in his boot. Abram nods, as if Andrew just confirmed something he was already aware of. “But you knew that. How ?”
“I was taught to search for them.” Abram tilts his head to the side, directing Andrew's attention to the scars that slide from the outside corner of his eye to the corner of his lips like indelible tear tracks. The turn of phrase doesn't escape Andrew. He supposes the Butcher intended for his son to follow in his steps, and wonders when that plan derailed from its tracks.
“And the other side ?”
“A dashboard lighter.” Any kind of burn to the face must feel awful but that's downright vicious, particularly compting the numerous circles marking his cheek. The emptiness in Abram's voice makes it worse; he says it like it happened to someone else. Irrational anger surges up Andrew's throat and he forces himself to swallow it back with a mouthful of smoke.
“Do the armbands hide anything else ?”
Andrew might have set himself up with his questions about Abram's scars. It's not because his own are hidden that they are invisible, especially to someone who knows how to look. This game he started is a doubled-edged sword. If he lets it, it will tether them together in ways Andrew has never allowed with anyone else.
“Why would they ?”
“Because there are more convenient ways to carry knives around than sewing sheaths inside armbands.”
“Scars.” Andrew doesn't trust Abram enough to give him the whole story, so the self-inflicted goes unsaid. Abram seems to hear it anyway. A little crease appears on his forehead, and the look in his eyes is not quite understanding, but it's not pity either. It could be concern, but that wouldn't really make sense.
“Are they recent ?”
Andrew wants to call him out on the double ask, only to avoid having to answer, but he can't do that when he asked two questions of his own already. That's not how the game works.
Abram simply accepts the answer with a nod. Then, sensing Andrew's change of mood, Abram holds his half-finished cigarette to him and goes back inside without another word.
Chapter 3: Spit a venom dream, recalls a stranger scream and a broken hand
Guess who appears in this chapter? (I never said I was being subtle with my titles...)
cw : mention of abuse (life in the Nest is not nice), discussion of Riko's suicide/murder.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Andrew mostly tunes Kevin's rant about whatever his team did wrong during tonight game, which is apparently plenty since they lost against Andrew's. Andrew has yet to tire of denying Kevin, especially when it comes to Exy, but he’s starting to reconsiders the idea of spending the rest of the night with his former teammate. After seven years the two of them have reached what Andrew could admit was a companionable friendship, even if there are times such as now when he wonders why he puts up with the Exy obsessive. At least Abram will provide a nice distraction, Andrew thinks as they step inside the crowded pub and he spots the redhead behind the counter.
Since they started their game of truths, their interactions had actually developed from mostly silent staring into actual conversations. With every answer they unveiled layers of bad memories and hurt but also inconsequential things like Andrew's sweet tooth, Abram's half-affected half-inherited British accent, their shared fondness for science-fiction.
Andrew looks up at Kevin when he falters in the middle of a sentence. He looks pale, guilty, and every bit the coward Andrew knows he can be on occasion. Gone is the hard won spine ripped from Riko’s hands under Andrew watchful gaze on his second year at PSU. It's been a long time since he saw Kevin like this, but Andrew remembers what the edge of a panic attack looks like on the other man.
Andrew turns back to the counter just in time to see Abram's smile slides off his face. With the notable exceptions of Betsy and Renee, people don't smile when they see Andrew. The novelty of this reaction has still to wear off, and it feels wrong to see it go so abruptly. There’s a shift in Abram, his posture stills, the deep waters of his eyes freeze over. Andrew wonders about the line he just crossed.
He had guessed Abram’s and Kevin’s paths might have crossed in the past, linked as they were by the Moriyamas. But the combination of their reactions brings about the sudden realization that maybe he hasn't grasped the full extent of their connection. The instigator in Andrew is curious to see what the outcome of this encounter will be while the part of him that attached itself to Abram without Andrew's consent knows there's a high probability he's not going to like the repercussions.
“Nathaniel.” The name seems to escape Kevin involuntarily. It makes Abram flinches.
Kevin starts to say something else, but Abram is quick to silence him with a warning finger and a snarled “Don't” that makes Kevin snaps his mouth closed again.
Andrew is reluctantly impressed. He wishes he had known the trick to make Kevin shut up this fast. It would have been quite useful back in college.
“I'm taking a break,” Abram tells Marissa. Then without waiting for her acknowledgment he turns away and grabs hold of a bottle of vodka on his way to the back door.
So, not only they know each other, but they're familiar enough for Abram to know Kevin's poison of choice.
Marissa watches with a frown as Kevin leaves after Abram. She stops Andrew from following with an extended arm just shy of touching him ; she's more observant than he gives her credit for.
There's a hard glint in her eyes when she says, “Make sure he doesn't get himself killed, will you ?”
She doesn't clarify who he is but Andrew has the suspicion she's not talking about Abram.
Once in the courtyard, Abram throws the bottle carelessly in Kevin’s direction. It's only the striker's faultlessly honed reflexes that allow him to catch it with minimal fumbling.
“I thought– You're supposed to be dead!” The words spill out of Kevin like he's physically incapable of retaining them any longer.
Seeing ghosts does terrible things to one's sobriety, Andrew muses as Kevin takes a generous swig from the bottle. It's a testament to the striker's progress that he caps the bottle after that single swallow and is content to simply clutch it like a lifeline. There is a flicker of surprise on Abram’s face, there and then gone again.
“Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” Abram replies flippantly, but Andrew notices the slight tremble of Abram's fingers ; Kevin’s presence shocks him more than he’s willing to show. Abram turns toward him next, dismissal of the gaping striker clear in his posture. “Why did you bring him here ?”
“I guess I was testing a theory,” Andrew replies with a shrug. That's an oversimplification of his thought process since there was nothing premeditated in this meeting, but it'll do for now. The hard glint in Abram's eyes takes on a calculating edge.
“Nathaniel...” Kevin tries again, once the silence has stretched longer than he's comfortable with. The name doesn't win him any favor with Abram, but it does draw his attention back to Kevin.
“That’s not my name anymore,” Abram snarls, which sounds more like I’m going to rip your fucking throat out if you say it again.
Andrew probably shouldn't find it attractive.
Kevin throws Andrew a quick glance, reassuring himself that Andrew is still at his side. Their deal ended years ago, but Kevin apparently still assumes Andrew will protect him from anything when they're together. Not so long ago Andrew would have stood between the two men, back turned to Kevin. Now he stands to the side watching the conversation unfold before him with a blank face. If push came to shove in this instance, he's not sure he would step in, and if he did, whose side he would choose. Although a traitorous voice in the back of his mind tells him it'd be a shame for Abram's pretty face to be bruised.
Kevin starts again in French, as if the change of language will make Abram more amenable to hearing him out. It seems to work for a few minutes until Abram's mouth curves and he says something that drains the blood from Kevin's cheeks, leaving his face impossibly more ashen than it already was.
Despite Kevin's proposition to teach him, Andrew has never bothered learning French besides a few swear words. He doesn't need to suffer hearing the striker talk about Exy in yet another language. Now, though he considers that maybe he should have.
Abram glances at him and must notice the barely visible frown on Andrew's forehead because he switches back to English. Andrew would hate the way the other man can read his expression if he wasn't appreciative of it at times like these.
“Kevin needed to be reminded to whom he owes not to be afraid of the psychotic king's whims anymore,” Abram summarizes for Andrew’s benefit.
“Riko killed himself,” Kevin mutters, probably more to reassure himself than anything else.
Abram challenges the statement anyway, head cocked to one side, sharp smile with too many teeth on display. “Did he now ?”
Andrew never truly believed in Riko’s suicide, and he suspects that Kevin's acceptance of it is more a form of coping mechanism than real belief in the official version of the event. Suicide did not fit Riko's personality, and the timing was awfully convenient. Convenience, when dealing with the Moriyamas, is rarely natural Andrew has learned. But at the time the how and why of Riko’s death didn’t matter as much as the fact that the nuisance was gone for good. Had Abram been a simple witness or fully responsible of Riko's demise, Andrew finds he doesn't care either way.
Andrew's gaze drifts to the cheekbone where a dashboard lighter has left perfectly circular marks. Before tonight, he hasn't had any reason to make a connection between the peculiar placement of these burns and the one of Kevin's and Riko’s tattoos. But his mind puts clues together easily once he has them.
“You were the notorious missing piece in Riko's game,” he says. Abram's expression turns scornful, but he doesn't deny it.
When Jean Moreau appeared with a number four emblazoned on the back of his jersey and under his eye, the rumor mill ran rampant with speculations about who the third player of Riko's Perfect Court could be. Was the spot already filled and the player too young to play yet ? Was Riko saving it for a another position than backliner ? In any case, why make Jean four and not three ?
Eventually, when number three failed to make his appearance, and all questions on this matter were systematically deflected, even the most persistent reporter moved on. Then Kevin defected to the Foxes because of his injury, before coming back on the court right-handed. One year later, Moreau disappeared for months only to come back in the crimson and gold uniform of the Trojans, and the Ravens were under investigation for psychological and physical mistreatment of their players. Gossips had better stories to obsess over, and number three joined the great conspiracy theories of Exy, along with the identity of Kevin's father (solved), the real cause of Kayleigh Day's death (Andrew knows better than most how easy a car accident is to engineer), and the origin of the name 'Exy'.
“The pub's name makes sense then,” Andrew remarks.
The shark-like grin comes back on Abram's face, but this time there is a delighted edge to it. “It's the only proposition Ichirou vetted.” Kevin flinches at the casual mention of 'Lord Moriyama'. “And it has the added bonus to piss off my uncle.”
Of course, Kevin ruins Abram's flickering mood when a realization settles on him like a load of bricks. “Jean knew, didn't he ? Why didn't he tell me ?”
“Maybe because he was asked not to, and, unlike some, he knows how to keep his promises.” The venom in Abram’s voice makes Kevin recoil so hard it's almost as if he'd been slapped.
“I couldn’t stay. Not after-” Kevin breaks off, his left hand cradled against his chest in a unconscious gesture of protection, even though it is long healed.
“How many times have Jean and I broken bones under Riko's wrath ? It only took one for you to run.”
“You ran away first !”
“I didn't have a choice. What would you have done if you had woken up on a plane halfway across the Atlantic ? Jumped and swam back to your masters ?” A laugh rips from Abram's throat, unexpected and ugly, so far from the light one Andrew’s heard a few times that makes things - that are not butterflies - flutter in his stomach. “You know what, I wouldn't be surprised if you had. Riko was cruel but you were his brother, his second. You never had to go through the hell Jean and I did. You knew how he was, but the second he turns against you? You leave! And Jean had to face the fallout alone because you couldn't hold one goddamned promise !”
When Abram stumbles in his agitation, Andrew raises a hand to steady him without thinking. They stare at each other in disbelief, waiting for a panic that doesn't come despite the unexpected contact. Kevin, blissfully oblivious and still gaping from Abram's outburst doesn't notice. He opens his mouth but no words come out, and he wisely decides not to answer.
Abram sighs, anger still coursing through the tense line of his shoulders but no longer visible on his face, and he gestures toward the door. "Get back inside. I'm done dealing with you tonight."
Abram takes his place behind the counter, while Andrew and Kevin settle at one of the rare free tables on a friday night.
Kevin doesn't talk much after that. It would have delighted Andrew any other time. Now though, it's starting to bore him; especially when Kevin was the one to insist on 'catching up' on each other's lives. Sure he didn't expect to meet his presumed dead childhood friend, but still. As much as the evening has been instructing, Andrew would rather speak about it with Abram than not speak about it with Kevin.
Each time Kevin stops speaking, his gaze settles either on his drink (inwardly lamenting the lack of vodka in it maybe) or on Abram behind the counter. Andrew is surprised there isn't a hole in the side of the bartender's head by now. After twenty minutes of this, Andrew gives the striker a not-too-gentle kick under the table that jostles Kevin out of another bout of staring.
Kevin looks like he's going to protest, but then for the third time tonight he wisely shuts up.
Andrew drives Kevin back to his hotel, and then drifts through the streets for almost half an hour before he turns the car back toward the Devil.
“You didn't tell me.” Despite Andrew's best effort to keep it out of his voice, the accusation seeps through the words.
They're sitting in the backyard where, at some point, a second stool joined the first. Abram seems unbothered by the cold while Andrew nuzzles deeper in his scarf, not quite ready to acknowledge he feels safe enough here that he thinks of this second stool as his.
“You didn't ask.”
And Andrew could have, of course. It is the only rule of the game they play after all. He assumed Abram's first reaction to the mention of Exy was a refusal to broach the subject. But it was a refusal addressed to a stranger, and they're maybe not quite friends, but they are not strangers anymore.
Andrew doesn't care much for Exy and the drama that surrounds it as long as it doesn't threaten him and his promises. Kevin's deal ended the same day Riko's life did and Ichirou Moriyama agreed to let him go against eighty percent of his yearly earnings. Knowing Abram had played a part in that is not what unnerves him the most.
“You knew who I was from the beginning.” It's not a question but Abram nods all the same.
“I didn't say anything for the same reason you didn't tell me you had guessed who I was, I suppose. I knew who you were then. A man can change quite a lot in five years. I wouldn't want people assuming I'm the same as I was five years ago. It seems courteous to apply that logic to you as well.”
Something unidentifiable loosens in Andrew's chest at the words. Every time he figures something out about Abram, the man does or says something like this and renews Andrew's interest. It could be a problem, he thinks not for the first time, and surely not the last either. His fingers itch for a cigarette, he asks a question instead.
"What promise were you talking about ?"
"Jean and I talked about escaping the Nest, making elaborate plans like we were in a movie. It was a dream, foolish and unrealisable. We were property, Jean more than me, we had no ressources, we wouldn't have survived past the doors. But the delusions helped sometimes when the nightmares or the punishments got too much." Abram runs a hand through his hair, the only sign that the story affects him. "Kevin heard us once, he must have thought we were serious or something. He made us promise not to leave before we graduated college. Then the three of us could be free together." The smile he turns toward Andrew is all bitterness. "We are free now, as much as we'll ever be at least. But I don't think I can forgive him for what it cost us."
Andrew nods, understanding perfectly the damage broken promises could do. He nearly destroyed his relationship with his own brother because of one.
“Kevin made a deal with you too, to protect him from Riko. I never figured out what you got in exchange.”
“He said he would find me something to do with my life.”
“Did he hold his end of the deal ?” The skeptically raised eyebrow that accompany the question might be involuntary.
“Not really.” Exy is not what Kevin promised it could be, but it's something. It's a job Andrew is good at even if he doesn't inject it with the passion Kevin does. It's a comfortable income and the companionship of people he tolerate. "It was close enough," he says out loud.
Hi, long time no see !
I'm still alive ; so is this story even though, as I feared, I couldn’t write it at the same time as my master’s dissertation. And that's without taking into account the massive writer block I had on chapter 3… Which was originally not this chapter, but I remodeled the story a little in hope it would unstuck itself and it did. Kind of ?
How did Andrew and Aaron mend their relationship in this universe, you ask ? I wish I knew…¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I hope the next chapter will be completed by the end of the summer, but I know better than to make promises I can’t keep.
Thanks to everyone who left comments and kudos ❤
Chapter 4: A stained glass variation of the truth
Walter Browning is a stubborn man. Unfortunately for him, so is Abram.
Andrew in the meantime keeps using curiosity as a synonym for “pining after a certain redhead”. Laila is not fooled, neither is Marissa.
One chapter every six months is some kind of posting schedule, right ? Another unexpected visitor for Abram, and more bad memories. Sorry, I swear I thought there would be some fluff when I started writing this story but it just keep not happening...
This is the infamous original third chapter. It was supposed to be longer but I'm sick of looking at it and trying to make the second part fit better. So have this while I decide what to do with the rest...
Thanks to everyone who's still interested in this despite the rare updates. Your comments and kudos give me life ♥
They lose tonight game by a small margin, but it's the captain's birthday and Carter suggests they still do something to celebrate. No one needs more convincing to go for a drink in the middle of the week ; Laila only has to throw the Devil’s name with a sly smile to make Andrew joins them.
The pub is unsurprisingly quiet for a wednesday night, only populated by a few regulars, a couple talking quietly at a table near the windows, and a group of girls whose laughter rings from time to time from the back. Marissa is nowhere to be seen while Abram is perched on a stool behind the counter, reading. From his place at the table where the team is sitting, conveniently in line of sight of the counter and the bartender behind it, Andrew cranes his neck a little to decipher the title of the book. Which turns out to be in Russian, therefore incomprehensible. The information adds itself to the ever growing list of thing he notices about Abram.
Andrew pays no mind to the entrance of a new patron until he situates himself at the counter, blocking the view. His dull gray suit and the stiff posture speaking of military training give him away as a fed. Or maybe it's Andrew's experience with this form of authority. Either way, he sticks out like a sore thumb in the relaxed atmosphere of the pub.
The suit waits for his presence to be acknowledged, and not just because he wants to order a drink if Andrew is any good at reading body language. As Abram doesn't look up from his book, Andrew decides this is a conversation he wants to hear.
Using his empty glass as an excuse and ignoring Laila's knowing glance, he arrives at the counter just in time for the man to decide he doesn't want to be ignored anymore. The agent casts a glance in his direction; Andrew makes sure the look on his face conveys how much he’s utterly unimpressed with any ideas the man may have about him. A tiny crease appears between the man's eyebrows but he just turns back toward Abram, dismissing Andrew as unimportant.
“How's the leg ?”
Abram finally lowers the book a little to level a flat look at the fed and deadpan, “Still attached.”
Browning visibly expects more than a two words answer. When nothing else is forthcoming, he tries to change tactics. “Aren't you supposed to ask me what I want to drink ?”
Andrew is reluctantly impressed with how much sass Abram infuses in as simple an action as closing a book. Then he pointedly reaches for Andrew's empty tumbler, refills it, and puts it down on the bar’s polished wood surface with a thump. He looks Browning straight in the eyes the whole time.
“Is there something you needed ?” The question is civil enough in itself; Abram's inflexion makes it anything but polite. He relaxes back on his stool, posture all the more threatening for it. Andrew is reminded of another man with the same aura of quiet danger, and he wonders once again how they are related.
“The hearing for Romero Malcolm's appeal is in a few days. I was wondering about the chance of you turning up...” Browning trails off as the cool blue of Abram’s eyes turns downright arctic at the mention of Nathan Wesninski's henchman.
“Haven’t you been removed from that case? What with misplacing your witness and all that.” Abram waves his hand dismissively, but Browning doesn't recognize the gesture for the warning it is.
His features twist in badly concealed anger as he spits out, “I know exactly where that witness is. I also have a string of offenses I could charge him wi—”
“Don't lie to a liar,” Abram cuts him off. He drops the feigned conversational tone and his voice takes on a deadly edge, the British accent no longer softening his words. The touch of violence in his eyes, usually well-concealed, is now on full display. “You don't have that power anymore, you never did. We both know I would have been back in a holding cell a long time ago otherwise. You messed up, Browning, and you refused to admit it. There's nothing you can do about it now so don't waste our time threatening me." He looks like he could go on for hours ; words precise and sharp as knives, each one finding his target in the fed's confidence. Instead Abram takes a deep breath and visibly reigns his temper in. "Get the hell out of my pub.”
The sentence sounds more like a threat than a demand ; Browning complies with a last righteous glare.
“You alright ?”
Captivated by Abram verbally tearing Browning to pieces, Andrew hasn't noticed when Marissa appeared from wherever she was.
Marissa rolls her eyes at the answer and quips back, “Don't use words you don't know the meaning of.”
Abram flips her off over his shoulder on his way to the door. Dramatic exits following the appearance of unexpected visitors apparently don't get old in this place.
Marissa turns to Andrew then and assesses him with a considering look. “You better follow him if you want to know more about that. I doubt he'll be willing to talk, but you might have a chance.”
Andrew's not one to be ordered around, but he is curious about the interaction. That's why he came up to the counter in the first place after all. He willfully ignores the implication at the end of Marissa's statement and follows Abram outside.
Unsurprisingly, the redhead is sitting on his stool, head tilted toward the sky, cigarette burning uselessly between his fingers. Andrew stands in front of him and steals the cigarette, pressing it to his own lips and inhaling. He ignores the slight quickening of his heartbeat at the proximity while Abram's gaze follows the smoke curling in the air between them. They stay like that in silence until the cigarette burns down to the filter.
“I think it’s your turn, but I need to know something first,” Abram asks then. He takes Andrew’s silence as the permission it is to go on. “How did you know about the family's business ?”
That’s unexpected. Refusing to answer a question about the mob with a threat apparently doesn't mean not talking about said mob.
“A criminology degree and my pessimistic nature.” He pauses for effect and the small pleasure of seeing Abram's eyes widen, before he adds, “also the fact that I saw Ichirou Moriyama meeting whichever relative of yours is the boss I assume.”
“Uncle Stuart,” Abram nods in understanding. “Alright, you can ask now.”
Andrew takes a moment longer to think the question over, rolling the words around in his head. In the end he decides to go for the simplest formulation. Abram never shied away from his bluntness before.
“What happened to Nathaniel Wesninski ?”
Abram doesn't quite suppress a flinch at the sound of his birth name. “You could have saved this turn with a quick internet search. He's got his own Wikipedia page, did you know ?” The puff of air that escapes his lips could be a laugh if his eyes weren't so hollow. He's stalling, and they both know it. Andrew indulges him anyway.
“I don't cheat with my own rules.” That doesn’t make a lot of sense, seeing as their game doesn’t have rules besides their agreement to be truthful in their answers. It makes Abram smiles gratefully anyway.
He smooths his hands over his forearms as he says, “My mother kidnapped me when I was fifteen. We managed to run from my father for four years before he caught up to us." Abram's knuckles turns white at whatever memories the sentence summons, but he takes a steadying breath and continues. "My uncle saved me while Nathaniel was supposed to die with his father in a basement in Baltimore. Ichirou didn’t agree to leave him buried here, though. He became the bargaining chip that allowed a deal to be made between the Hatfords and the Moriyamas. Even though Ichirou changed a few things around in the way his empire is ruled, like his father before him he quite like the idea of having his own personal executioner in certain circumstances.”
Andrew let the story and its implications sink, reshaping the puzzle of Abram in his mind to fit Nathaniel's pieces in it. Another part of his earlier rant does not quite fit still. “Why did you called yourself a liar?”
Abram's previously hollow eyes fill with confusion. “Because I am."
Andrew has noticed, Abram wields his words like a magician his cards, he presents them like the truth while always hiding their real meaning. Except… “You don't lie to me.”
It's not really a question, but not quite an affirmation either. Andrew might call it a hope if he wasn’t so wary of the feeling.
Abram tilts his head, like he’s considering it. “No, I didn't,” he agrees, and it comes out as a revelation, like something he hasn't quite realised he was doing until now.
After a few minutes, Abram's left hand raises from where it was laying on his thigh until then and hovers above Andrew’s forearm. Andrew braces himself for the upcoming question, but of course Abram's words are not the ones he anticipated.
“What did you survived ?” Abram's ability to see him should be frightening, but it also unfurls something warm inside him.
Andrew carefully turns the answer in his head, he wants to repay Abram's trust, but he can't tell him everything, not yet at least. Despite the cold, he pushes one of his sleeves up and peels the armband covering the marks of his desperation to hold onto Cass Spear.
"I lived in foster families until I was thirteen. None of them were decent, the last one was both better and worse. For once I wanted to stay."
As he talks, Andrew watches Abram staring at the thin lacerations lining the pale skin on the inside of his forearm from wrist to elbow, both similar and nothing alike Abram's own scars. Neither censure nor pity appear on his face, only the same concerned crease on his forehead as the last time he asked about the scars, the one Andrew doesn't know what to make of.
Chapter 5: Light a cigarette, set a fire in my head
Hi there !
This chapter was meant to be part of the precedent chapter, therefore it's on the short side. The next one though is already twice the size of the others and not finished yet. I don't think I'll be able to post it before the summer with school taking most of my time this year, but who knows, maybe I'll surprise myself.
Your kudos and comments delight me every time and keep me writing in moments of doubt. Thank you !
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
People are milling in the streets, hurrying in the cold with last minute concerns about family gathering and presents and food. Andrew watches them pass on the other side of the window with apathy. He spent half the day at the community center distracting some kids from the nonexistent or unhappy holidays that await them at home with Exy, and the other half distracting himself from the now familiar dread of having to board a plane later that evening in order to visit his brother's family.
The Devil's only concession to the holidays cheer are the small twinkling lights running around the ceiling and on the shelves of bottles behind the counter. The pub is empty but for Abram and Andrew sitting on their respective sides of the counter, empty mugs of tea and hot chocolate forgotten between them.
They are debating probable starting causes for the Third World War when Abram's argument is interrupted by the appropriately apocalyptic London calling. Andrew knows for a fact that Abram keeps his phone on silent ; both a defiance and a concession to the necessity of carrying the device. So he's quite curious at the sudden burst of music coming from Abram's pocket.
Annoyance flashes through Abram's eyes for a second, and the smile he turns Andrew's way doesn't reach his eyes. “I'll be back,” he says, as he grabs his cane and walks out of the pub, leaving Andrew at the counter. There is a strange note in his voice, one Andrew can't place and that bothers him more than he wants to admit.
Andrew’s been working on reducing his cigarettes consumption for weeks now, following the team health coach’s advices, Kevin’s nagging, and — if he’s honest — his own body’s signals. Being almost out of breath after climbing the six stories to his apartment when the elevator is out of order is not fun.
Half an hour after Abram left and hasn't returned, his fingers itch for the familiar weight of a burning stick of paper and tobacco.
Andrew thinks he might be trading an addiction for another. One made of blue eyes and dark secrets, whose side effects Andrew doesn't know yet. Abram gives back as much as he takes, and never takes more than Andrew is willing to give. He wants to hate Abram for it, like his nineteen years old self would have.
Now, hate is definitely not the first word that comes to his mind and Marissa dropped enough hints in the last few months to leave Andrew wondering about the possibility of reciprocation.
As if conjured by the thought, Marissa sidles up to him on the far side of the counter where he's been staring at the bottom of his empty mug.
“He’s not coming back tonight,” she says.
Andrew has guessed already, but he couldn't help hoping he'd be proved wrong. He also has figured out that the odd note in Abram's voice had been a lie. It shouldn't surprise him; the self proclaimed liar never promised not to lie to Andrew, he just acknowledged he hadn't lied to him so far. Now that he has, Andrew finds he's not fond of the disappointment that spreads through his chest.
He’s also not fond of the look on Marissa’s face as she considers him thoughtfully for a moment.
“How much did Abram tell you about the family ?”
“Not enough to know I can tell it back to you,” he replies a bit harshly, but for some reason it only makes her laugh.
“I guess I understand what he sees in you.” Before he can react to that statement, she continues, “We never were properly introduced, I think. I'm Marissa Okoye, head of Abram's security on behalf of the Hatford family.”
As she talks, she shrugs off the left sleeve of her pastel green cardigan to reveal the coat of arms made of two interwoven H tattooed on the inside of her upper arm. A stray part of Andrew’s mind wonders if Abram also has one of those hidden somewhere in his collection of tattoos.
“He told you about Nathaniel, right ?" Andrew can't help the glare he sends her at the use of that name, even though the way she said it indicates she's fully aware of the weight it carries. "And you're aware enough of the Moriyamas I suppose.” Andrew’s face is blank again but she must see through it somehow because she nods in acknowledgement.
“Be careful with him, Andrew,” Marissa warns softly. It sounds like a threat that her next words confirm. “If you hurt him, I will hurt you.”
Andrew keeps staring at her without concern. Not because he doesn't believe her – despite his fighting skills he has no illusion that he could win against her, he's seen her tossing men twice her size out of the bar without breaking a sweat – but because he has no intention of hurting Abram. The both of them have been hurt by people they were meant to trust, people that should have protected them. Andrew will not be like them.
I didn't mean to lie to you.
The text comes as Andrew powers his phone back up after an uneventful yet unpleasant flight. Abram's number has sat unused in his contacts for weeks; Andrew didn't feel the need to use it when he could simply wait for his next visit to The Devil and tell whatever he wanted to Abram in person. Until then Abram apparently felt the same.
The message is oddly reminiscent of the only other time Abram apologized to him ; sincere but not remorseful. The relief it provokes is disconcerting. As if between a truth and a lie Abram might have disappeared completely from Andrew's life.
He blinks at the thought, the intensity of the feeling terrifying and better to examine when he's not in the crowded hall of an airport.
He slips the phone back in his pocket and goes looking for his doppelgänger.
Marissa is to blame for Abram's ringtone (London Calling, The Clash) when Stuart calls. She
unfortunatelyinherited my sense of humour and my taste in music.
Fun fact – around the time I started writing this fic (soooo long ago now...) I read at least three other stories with a Marissa in them. Wondering about the coincidence, I then realized it's the name of a Vixen in canon. I became too attached to my OC to change her name though. I just thought it ought to be mentioned : they're not the same character in my head. But if you want to make it so, who am I to tell you not to ?