Neil drives them back.
His mouth is a thin line and he keeps glancing at Andrew in the rearview mirror. He hasn’t said a word since they left the courthouse, but then again, neither has Andrew.
Nicky sits in the passenger seat, and even he can’t seem to find something to say. He turns the radio on, but then almost immediately turns it off again. He anxiously peers behind him into the backseat.
“Okay?” he asks, utterly wrung out, but as ever full of concern for his cousins.
Aaron sits in the middle seat, his hand firmly in Katelyn’s who’s behind Nicky. His voice is hoarse when he says, “Okay.”
And he is okay. At least, he’s not going to prison. They got the outcome they needed, and Drake is still dead, buried where he’ll never be able to hurt anyone ever again. Aaron did the world a favour.
So he’s okay, and Andrew’s okay, except for the fact that neither of them really know what ‘okay’ even looks like. Aaron’s had to gruellingly defend his actions over and over and over again, and as for Andrew? He’s had to recount his abuse at the hands of Drake in order to corroborate Aaron’s claims in front of a jury, and in front of Cass who had the audacity to sit there and weep for her son…
He’s not angry. Not really. He doesn’t have enough left in him to be angry, which is fine, because Neil has that covered for the both of them.
Andrew’s shoulder is pressed right up against Aaron’s where he sits behind the driver's seat, and even though Nicky’s gaze flickers to him after Aaron has spoken, Andrew doesn’t have the energy to reply himself.
He looks away and leans his head against the window. The vibrations of the moving car are probably going to give him a headache if he doesn’t move, but that’s alright; the pain will give him something else to focus on.
Following behind them in another car are Wymack, Abby, Kevin and Bee. The only reason Katelyn is in the Maserati instead of Kevin is because Aaron needs her, and the only reason Andrew is in the back and not the front is because he needs Aaron; to know he’s there, and that he’s safe.
It isn’t said out loud. It just is.
He shifts a little in his seat, leaning ever so slightly more on his brother. He exhales, then he closes his eyes.
When they get back to Fox Tower, Neil parks in the space in between Allison’s Porsche and Matt’s truck.
Wymack pulls up behind to drop Kevin off, but he gets out of the car too, and comes over before Andrew can escape upstairs.
“No practice tomorrow,” he says, and not even Kevin complains; instead he stands solemnly by Nicky, a hand on his shoulder.
“Got it, Coach,” Neil says when no one else offers a word.
Wymack nods then glances between the twins. “You two, take all the time you need. Betsy’s door is always open, but so is mine. So is Abby’s. You know where to find us if you need to.”
Andrew says nothing, but Aaron nods slightly. “Thanks, Coach.”
Wymack clears his throat then heads back towards his car. “Stay out of trouble.”
“You know us, Coach,” Nicky says with a weak smile. “Always on our best behaviour.”
With a last wave, Wymack gets back into his car and drives away, leaving the rest of them standing in a loose circle. Neil’s not touching Andrew, but he’s standing very, very close. Close enough to touch, if Andrew wanted to reach out.
And he does want to, but he resists the urge. Instead, he yanks off his tie and drops it on the ground in a puddle leftover from earlier rainfall.
After a moment’s hesitation, Aaron does the same.
Nicky sighs. “Those were Hugo Boss ties.”
Kevin cracks a smile at that, and so does Katelyn. She takes Aaron’s hand and links their fingers together.
“I’m going to Katelyn’s for the night,” Aaron says, his eyes on Andrew and Andrew alone. “But I’ll be back in the morning for team breakfast.”
Andrew again doesn’t speak, and Aaron doesn’t need his permission, but he nods in acknowledgement that he’s heard and then abruptly turns and heads inside Fox Tower.
He takes the stairs to the roof, and once up there, sits at the edge. He lights himself a cigarette, and he waits.
Sure enough, it’s not long until he hears the door to the roof open and close behind him, and Neil’s familiar footfalls as he makes his way over to Andrew.
He sits down beside him, hand palm up on the ground in the small space between them. A clear invitation, should Andrew feel like taking it.
Andrew chain-smokes through three cigarettes before he says anything. Neil’s just been sitting there the entire time, a silent sentinel Andrew didn’t need or ask for. There’s a million other things he could be doing right now – homework, exercise, Exy-related crap with Kevin, video games with Nicky, movies with the upperclassmen – but instead, here he sits. With Andrew. Just in case he needs him.
“Leave me alone,” Andrew says, and the words come out more bitter than he’d intended. Neil looks up sharply in surprise, and so Andrew softens the blow. “For a little while, at least.”
There’s a silence, and then Neil nods. “Okay, Andrew. Okay.” But he doesn’t move, and Andrew sighs.
“I know. It’s just–” Neil lifts his hand, and to his mild surprise, Andrew’s moves with it. Because it’s in Neil’s.
Andrew can’t even remember reaching out, and isn’t that strange for someone with almost perfect recall?
He stares for a moment at their joined hands, his thumb rubbing across the scars dotted across Neil’s knuckles absently.
Neil likes hand-holding, Andrew has learnt as they’ve carefully navigated their relationship, such as it is. But it’s not something he’s ever particularly initiated himself before. He hasn’t really felt the need. He didn’t think he felt the need now.
“Do you really want me to go?” Neil asks. It’s a quiet question, but asked in such a way that Andrew knows he won’t be offended with the answer. Neil’s sole concern here is what Andrew needs, and it’s irritating and endearing all wrapped up in one five-foot-three package.
Andrew thought he wanted to be alone, but now he’s not so sure with his words telling Neil one thing and his actions another.
He still hasn’t let go of Neil’s hand.
He puts his cigarette out and flicks the remainder away, looking out across the campus before them. His heart’s beating just a little bit faster than it should be, but Andrew can’t tell if it’s because of the height or because of everything else.
He pulls Neil’s hand closer, and says, “No. I don’t want you to go.” He’s sure this time.
Some of the tension leeches out of Neil’s posture – not all, because he’s clearly still wound up from the trial – but enough that he relaxes slightly next to Andrew. He gives Andrew’s hand a gentle squeeze.
“Then I’m not going anywhere.”
Neil’s said this before, or an iteration of this. More than once. Every time, it gets a little easier to believe it.
They sit there in silence. At some point, Andrew’s head ends up on Neil’s shoulder, and Neil rubs his cheek gently against Andrew’s head. He closes his eyes, and when he opens them again, the sun is starting to set.
Neil is still there. They’re still holding hands. Andrew wants to get in the shower and wash this whole day off of him, but for now, he’s calm, and he’s with Neil, and there’s a sunset.
There’s worse places to be.
He pulls his phone out of his pocket and opens his contacts. Aaron’s number is right at the top, and Andrew’s thumb hovers over the dial button.
He presses it.
Aaron picks up almost immediately. “Andrew?”
“Here,” Andrew says, which seems obvious; he called Aaron after all.
There’s a brief pause, and then, much like Nicky had done hours earlier, Aaron asks, “Okay?”
Andrew breathes out. They’re all safe.