Neil Josten shouldn’t have stayed in Columbia for this long.
His mom had been dead for two years now. He couldn’t fathom the pain he’d be in if she knew the position he found himself in.
He never thought he’d start his senior year in black and red. Making a commitment to the Ravens meant following Riko Moriyama’s dress code. Neil stared at the brown eye contacts in his wallet, frowning and reluctantly dropping them in the trash. He still had a pair in his duffel bag, which he had stashed at Matt’s.
“Nathaniel, we are going.” Neil grimaced, shouldering the new book bag Riko had bought him and complying. He hated that name. He left the bathroom, falling into step behind Kevin and Jean. He had entered the bathroom to inspect his new appearance in the mirror, but he couldn’t do it. He didn’t want to see his father’s eyes, his flare of auburn hair.
Columbia High School had met Neil Josten, black hair and brown eyes, but never Nathaniel. He shuffled into the backseat of Riko’s sleek black car, beside Jean. The passenger seat was reserved for Kevin Day; he was Riko’s favorite out of the group, evident by the 2 on his cheek. Jean and Kevin were apart of his “perfect court”, and Neil was soon to join, as stated by their deal. They were called the Ravens because they already had scholarships to Edgar Allan University, the best school in Class I Exy.
If he joined their exy team, Riko wouldn’t reveal his identity. He’d seen Neil’s skills on the court when he played friendly games with Dan, Matt, Allison and Renee. He had also seen a blue-eyed Neil re-dyeing his hair in the gym showers before school, which is what landed him in this shitty situation.
Once the car cruised to a stop, Neil quickly fumbled out to go seek out his friends when Riko stepped into his path. He stopped, scowling as Riko grabbed his chin and studied his eyes to confirm that he hadn’t put his contacts back in. He scrutinized every other inch of Neil, checking that he’d followed his instructions.
When he decided Neil’s appearance was satisfactory enough, he dropped his hand and turned away. Jean and Kevin flanked his sides while Neil walked behind them. He could already pick up on whispers floating around them and attentive eyes snapping towards them.
“Who’s that with the Ravens?”
“I don’t know, but he’s a total babe.”
“Wait a minute, is that—”
“Neil?” The familiarity of the voice made Neil come to a halt. He turned, coming to face with Dan, Allison and Matt’s shocked faces. Well, Allison’s expression was more judging. The whispers became louder once everyone recognized who the newest recruit was. Neil Josten, Neil Josten, Neil Josten echoed in the hallways. It made him tense; he had never brought this much attention to himself before. It wasn’t very comfortable.
“What happened to you? Are they making you do this?” Dan Wilds demanded, snatching the fabric of his dark clothes between her fingers. “Do they have something on you?”
“What did they do to your hair? And your eyes— Not that they aren’t pretty, I just never thought the Ravens knew any other colors besides black and red!” Matt Boyd rambled. Allison Reynolds had her arms folded over her chest, her lips pursed as she gave him a once-over. She stuck her nose in the air.
“At least he doesn’t look homeless anymore. But it’s not much of an improvement.” She glared at the Ravens, who had drifted down the hallway towards more of Riko’s flock. Neil floundered at the assault of words, his eyes darting between the three. His mouth opened and closed wordlessly.
“Uh…” He exhaled, fiddling with the strap of his book bag as he gathered his thoughts. “They have something on me, but… I can’t really tell you what it is. Riko’s making me join their group and dress like this.”
“Well, I don’t like it. Do I need to talk with them?” Dan questioned, a thinly veiled threat in her tone. Neil felt relieved that she didn’t try to wrench his secret out of him. Allison simply arched an eyebrow while Matt just looked worried. It warmed his chest to know she was ready to fight for him, regardless of why he was being blackmailed by the Ravens.
“No, I’ll be fine.” At their doubtful and scolding looks for those words, he continued, “I can handle them.”
“Whatever. Just make sure you don’t forget about us, Neil. If they give you any troubles, I’ll be there to kick their asses,” Allison sniffed, her pink nails clicking against her phone case in her hand. Neil nodded. He had never had friends before until he was invited into their little group. He didn’t want to lose them. He refused to let Riko break him or drag him down his rabbit hole.
“I second that ass-kicking comment,” Matt tacked on, clapping his hand on Neil’s shoulder protectively.
“Third,” Dan added, raising her hand. Neil couldn’t help but smile.
“Thanks.” His smile slowly dimmed at the marveling looks on their faces. He looked between them, muddled. “What?”
“Oh, Neil,” Allison sighed, wrapping her arms around him in a quick hug. She rested her chin on his head while Dan and Matt smiled fondly at him. Neil awkwardly returned the hug, still confused by their reactions. The blonde kissed his forehead before letting go, shaking her head. “You sweet child.”
After being a Raven for a few days, Neil had to wonder why people wanted to be them so badly. They had a strict daily schedule, hardly let him socialize outside of the Ravens, and Riko would reward him with pain every time Neil disobeyed him. Under his expensive clothes were a growing collection of bruises. Neil rubbed the sore idents on his wrist from handcuffs.
On a lighter note, he had received his own custom exy racquet and equipment. His racquet was designed for his small size. Having a jersey with his name on it gave him an odd sense of something bordering on ‘belonging’, but not quite. The Perfect Court™ wasn’t ideally who or what he wanted to belong to.
“I didn’t mean to miss our movie night. The Ravens operate on a different time schedule and Kevin has started making me come to night practices with him,” Neil informed, rubbing his eyes. Their obsession with health and fitness was nearly unhealthy itself. Kevin had told him he really thought he could become Court one day and become a professional exy player. It was a bittersweet thought; a dream he could never reach. When this year was over, he was skipping town and making himself MIA again. Going to Edgar Allan after graduation would be serving his head on a silver platter to his father.
“No, I get it, you’re with the Ravens now,” Matt replied. His smile didn’t reach his eyes as he patted Neil’s back. Every week, they would gather in Matt’s house with snacks and watch a bunch of movies, rating them afterwards. It was something best friends did, according to Matt.
“This week, okay? I’ll try to get out of whatever bullshit they have planned this time.” The other began to respond when someone grabbed Neil’s arm roughly and yanked him away. He glared at Riko, twisting his arm out of his harsh grip. “What do you want?”
“Watch your mouth around me, Nathaniel. Have I not taught you enough why you should not mouth off at me?” Neil really wanted to watch his fist go into Riko’s mouth. He flexed his fingers, forcing himself not to exercise that thought. He had inherited his father’s temper and Riko made it very difficult to keep it in check. Riko finally stopped at his locker, where Kevin and Jean were standing. “I want you to forge Seth Gordon’s handwriting. Jean.”
Kevin handed him a piece of paper that showed Seth’s sloppy writing. Neil resisted the urge to roll his eyes, grabbing a pencil while Jean turned around to display his broad back. He used him as a temporary desk even though making people bend for him was such a Riko thing to do. He wrote down everything Riko said.
Forging had become a talent of Neil’s after faking his mother’s signature so many times. Sometimes, he even had to change his handwriting when taking on a new identity. It was tedious, but rewarding. This note looked very convincing as he handed it back to Riko, who slipped it into Kevin’s book bag for safe keeping.
They headed to the cafeteria, where he forced Neil to eat lunch with them. They didn’t eat the regular school lunch; Riko always had someone sneak them food from outside or packed something. When he could, Neil would slink over to his friends and sit with them. It depended on how tight his leash was each day. He lowered himself into his chair slowly, still wincing at the aching pain that met him. He cursed internally, adjusting before picking up his fork.
While Riko babbled on about a party soon at USC, Neil paused mid-chew. He usually felt eyes on him while he sat at the Raven table, but this specific pair wouldn’t budge. He tensed, his eyes drifting casually until he found the culprit. Hazel eyes were locked on his own. He frowned as the blonde male raised an unimpressed eyebrow at him. He didn’t recognize him, but he felt like he should know him. He narrowed his eyes in return, resulting in a silent staring contest between them.
“Who are you looking at?” Neil heard Jean ask in accented English, side-eyeing him. Neil tore his eyes away from the challenger, seeing that everyone at the table was watching him. He dropped his head, resuming eating. In his peripheral, he could see Kevin twist around all-too-obviously in his chair to peer behind himself.
“That’s Andrew Minyard,” he stated, wrinkling his nose. “He’s in my American history class. He never pays attention, but somehow always gets perfect grades.”
It was almost amusing to see Kevin fume over someone’s good grades. History was his favorite subject and it was his only obsession besides exy. When Riko didn’t join their scheduled study times, Neil would listen to Kevin ramble about his favorite historical figures and why they were important.
“The goalie,” Riko commented in a hiss. “His record is a mile long, I am surprised they allowed him to go here. He has been to ten high schools.”
“Goalie?” Neil echoed, looking back to the blonde. Andrew was now staring at a random point in the distance. He looked like the epitome of boredom. Neil blinked as he noticed the identical clone sitting next to him with an angry scowl. Oh. Twins.
“He played exy in juvie and his saves are amazing, but he thinks exy is a waste of time,” Kevin groused. “He could be the best goalie in Class I exy, but he doesn’t even want to try.”
When Neil looked back over to Andrew, he had company. Seth and Jack, the honorary assholes of Columbia high, were standing in front of him. The entire cafeteria abruptly became quiet.
“Hey, Minyard, I heard you came all the way from Cali. So what’d your boyfriend say when you told him you were moving all the way to South Carolina?” Jack snickered. Andrew’s twin tensed, though his brother just stared through Jack.
“I don’t know if you’ve read, but the cafeteria has a ‘No Fags Allowed’ policy,” Seth said.
Andrew’s voice was perfectly calm as he retorted, tilting his head. “I don’t like that word.”
“I’d call you ‘freak’, but then you wouldn’t know which one of you I’m talking to,” Seth snorted, looking pointedly to the other Minyard.
“How about you say nothing at all?” The twin finally spoke, glaring at him.
“What did you say, dickhead?” Jack growled. He started to move before Andrew made a small movement. Neil could see the glint of a knife under the cafeteria lights. Where the hell did that come from? Jack and Seth lurched backwards as Andrew stood.
“Are you insane?” Seth scoffed, though the tremble in his voice was evident. Andrew waved his knife lazily in warning.
“Run along now before I have no choice but to gut you. I don’t want blood in my food.” The two muttered curses but quickly skedaddled. Andrew sat back down and went back to eating his food, like nothing happened.
His knife was gone.
Neil thought Raven school-clothes were bad, but Raven party-clothes were worse. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t just wear what he did to school or wear his normal clothes. He fingered the constricting fabric of his outfit, walking towards the convenience store. Riko, Kevin and Jean were sitting in the car, waiting for Neil to get them snacks for tonight’s party. Kevin had whined about how unhealthy party foods were and how they needed to watch their diet.
He had partially tuned him out, used to this by now. He was still fuming about his discomfort and the new bruises he had received from Riko, almost running into someone. He snapped his head up, an apology on his tongue when his eyes landed on Andrew Minyard. Andrew just looked at him in boredom and took another drag of his cigarette. He was leaning against the outside wall of the store. Now that he was up close, Neil could get a better look at him.
His eyes were half lidded and hazel, nearly golden in the sunlight. He was shorter than Neil, but his alluring presence made him feel taller. One of his hands were stuffed in his pocket, drawing his gaze to the black bands covering his arms. Judging by his biceps, he visited the gym often.
“Enjoying the view?” Neil’s eyes darted back to Andrew’s, who simply arched an eyebrow and blew smoke into his face. He didn’t flinch back, instead inhaling the acrid smell. It reminded him of his mother. The blonde flicked ash onto the sidewalk before bringing it to his lips again. “Weirdo.”
“Fuck off,” Neil breathed out. He wasn’t the one who brandished a knife in the school cafeteria. Andrew’s eyes drifted past him, ignoring him.
“Neil!” Riko barked from his car. Neil dug his fingernails into his palms, shutting his eyes and counting to ten in every language he knew. It took every ounce of self control he possessed not to twist around and flip him off.
“I don’t like your birdie friends.” His attention was drawn back to Andrew, who was still gazing through him.
“Yeah? Me neither,” Neil confessed dryly. He watched the other stub out his cigarette, dropping it to the ground and reaching for his pack. He grabbed the handle of the store’s door, beginning to step inside when Andrew spoke again.
“He gave you that limp.” The lack of inflection in his voice made it sound like a general statement rather than a question. Neil glanced at him before vanishing through the door. Riko had slammed a racquet into his leg during practice and he’d been trying to disguise it all day. He was fine, it just throbbed a little.
He bought everything he had been ordered to, picking a bottle of water for himself. He wasn’t planning on drinking at this party and didn’t trust anyone not to manipulate anything in the house. Hydration was also a nice bonus. Exiting the store, he pointedly didn’t look at Andrew, who was still smoking.
The bell rang for lunch.
Neil walked down the hall while Matt towered beside him. He was 6’4” but never looked down on anyone. He had a cordial air about him and was always smiling. Neil had befriended him during his sophomore year and Matt had been attached at the hip since; not that he minded. The track marks on his arms and his bright grin were signs of a battle fought and won.
Neil went through the lunch line with him, not caring whether he ate fancy outside-food or cafeteria food. Food was food. He’d be lucky to get a meal every day on the run. He trailed after Matt to the table they normally occupied. The girls were already waiting for them, Renee waving while Dan lit up.
“Oops.” There was a splatter and a clatter as Jack smacked Matt’s lunch tray out of his hands. Everything on it toppled to the floor, milk spraying everywhere. Neil shot the sophomore a dirty look. He didn’t know why Jack got off on bullying students older and much taller than him, but that shit needed to stop soon.
“Hey! Pick that up right now!” Dan snapped, standing up and pointing at him. Jack turned to grin at her.
“I’m sorry, are you actually talking to me?”
“Oh, you little—”
“Hey,” Neil spoke up. He shoved Jack backwards with force, causing him to bump into a table. He twisted the brunette’s shirt in his hand, yanking him down to eye level. He tilted his head, his father’s smile crossing his lips. It was a cruel thing. He hated it.
“You’re a high school dropout waiting to happen and you obviously never got all the attention you wanted as a child. How many times do you have to get your ass handed to you? What gives you the fucking right to pick on someone who actually has a future? Your only future is working as a fucking gas station attendant and that’s at the most, so back off.”
There was a stunned silence in the cafeteria before the room erupted into ‘ooooh’s and hooting.
“Whatever,” Jack snarled, ramming his shoulder into Neil as he walked past him.
“Neil, you’re so badass,” Matt marveled, fond admiration in his voice.
“He never learns,” Neil stressed, glaring at the doors the sophomore had shoved through. He spun to head back to the lunch line when he noticed a familiar gaze on him. He turned to see Andrew Minyard, whose fork was still frozen midway to his mouth. He had an eyebrow raised. Disregarding the enthralled look in his eyes, he led Matt to the lunch line.
The lunch ladies weren’t usually lenient about giving out second dishings, but they were swayed by his new status as a Raven. Being apart of Riko Moriyama’s posse meant special privileges, however big or tiny. He had only been sitting with them for five minutes when Kevin grabbed his arm and hauled him back over to their table. Neil swatted his hand away, sending him a deadly look.
“Stop doing that.” He begrudgingly sat beside Jean, while Kevin ignored him and took his throne next to Riko. The king himself looked Neil up and down emotionlessly before resuming their conversation. He apparently had an assignment that required him to do a lunchtime poll. He dragged Neil around the cafeteria with him as he repeated the question to different groups. It was ridiculous.
“You win five million dollars from a sweepstakes, but on the same day, aliens land on the earth and say they are going to blow up the world in two days. What would you do?” It was admirable that Riko could repeat that question with a straight face. The students gave them weird looks but retorted. Their answers ranged from throwing a party to giving it to the homeless to hiring a prostitute. One girl said, ‘Go on a romantic trip… With a boy’ and looked pointedly at Neil, batting her eyes.
Overall, astoundingly stupid or useless acts.
“Does it not bother you that when you approach tables, people look at you like you’re a piranha?” Neil deadpanned. He grimaced as Riko twisted his wrist, a threatening smile on his face. Asshole. He jerked his hand away, crossing his arms and sweeping his eyes over the cafeteria. He locked on Andrew Minyard, who wasn’t peering at him for once. He pried the clipboard with the poll on it from Riko’s hands, heading over.
“I’ll take it from here.” Andrew looked up from crushing a bag of chips with his hand. Next to him, his twin frowned at him. Across the table, another guy with a darker complexion was chattering away. He stopped when Neil approached, beaming with delight.
“Heeey. Are you here to see me? Please say yes,” he chirped. Neil stared back blankly before turning back to Andrew.
“Lunchtime poll. You win five million dollars from a sweepstakes, but on the same day, aliens land on the earth and say they’re going to blow up the world in two days. What would you do?” He read. Andrew stared at him for a good portion of a minute, in which the talkative guy sent Neil a pitying look. But he didn’t back down, staring back until the blonde cocked his head.
“He’s not going to answ—” His twin began in a know-it-all tone.
“I would buy vodka and a new pack of cigarettes, then go up to the roof to just smoke and drink. That’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard.”
“I know,” Neil quipped, a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth while the two other seniors gaped at them. “But I can’t exactly write that down, it’s inappropriate.”
“Am I hallucinating? Aaron, did that really just happen?” The dark-haired guy whispered to the twin. Neil was internally relieved at finally having a name to put to his duplicate’s face. He started to head back to the Raven table when chatty-guy whined. “Wait, aren’t you going to ask us the same question?”
Neil halted, looking at him and nodding after a beat. He grinned.
“I’d spend my last moments with my boyfriend, Erik.” Neil was jotting down his contribution in Riko’s handwriting when Aaron grumbled defiantly.
“I’m not answering that.”
“I didn’t ask you anything,” Neil shot back. He spared Andrew one last glimpse before striding back to the Ravens. He could hear chatty-guy’s jubilant laughter behind him.
“Shut up, Nicky.”
It was a few weeks later when Neil bumped into Andrew in the hallway. There had been a few more glances and short words exchanged between them. His face was normally carefully blank, but today he looked rigid and had irritation etched into his features. He looked at Neil sharply and bulled past him.
“Mr. Minyard. Perhaps you didn’t hear the bell because you’re sometimes hard-of-hearing, but you’re late for class.” Neil’s eyes flew from the teacher to Andrew’s stiff figure, his fingers twitching. It was obvious that the teacher was specifically targeting the blonde, because Neil Josten’s name was all over school by now.
Andrew was a taut rubber band, dangerously close to snapping. Neil flipped over the notepad in his hands, swiftly scribbling a hall pass in Coach Hernandez’s handwriting. Sorry, coach. “Get back to class or I’ll give you a week’s worth of detention.”
He wasn’t even sure what class Andrew had journeyed out of, but hopefully this would fool the man and prevent any damage. He ripped it out quietly before holding it out in the teacher’s view.
“Actually, we’re out on a hall pass. Coach Hernandez sent us to bring some equipment in for P.E,” he lied smoothly, faking a smile. The teacher skimmed the paper before handing it back to Neil.
“Hurry up and get where you’re going.” He scowled at Andrew before marching away. Neil watched him go, rolling his eyes. He hated teachers who held personal grudges against students and tried to control their lives.
“I don’t need you to lie for me,” Andrew spoke up, having to force the words out like he was pulling teeth. Neil began to walk away when Andrew snatched the paper out of his hands, observing his writing. “A big mouth, a liar and forgery. Oh. You’re interesting.”
He tossed it back to Neil, watching it flutter to the ground. “I’m sure I’ll get bored of you eventually.”
“I’m not a toy,” Neil griped as he bent down to grab the torn sheet. He slotted it into his notepad in case another teacher came along.
“But I still want to play with you.” Andrew swept a very heated gaze over him. He wheeled around, strolling away. Neil had started to go back to his class when the blonde glanced over his shoulder, frowning at him.
“What?” He asked, straightening.
“Are you coming or not?” Oh. He was merely out for a bathroom break, but… He guessed he could afford to skip one period.
Neil nodded, tailing him as he led him across the building. They crossed into an abandoned sector of the building that was being remodeled. Just when Neil was about to ask where the hell Andrew was taking him, he pushed open a door and climbed up a short staircase. Neil was bewildered, but followed him up until he jiggled a door knob.
Once it gave way, he pushed it open and Neil could see the sky. They were on the roof. He dragged his eyes from the clouds, seeing Andrew seat himself near the edge. He sat down beside him and swallowed his surprise as he was handed a cigarette. He accepted it, watching as Andrew lit his own and then his. He took a puff to get it started before inhaling the scent, content to let it burn between his fingers.
They sat in silence for a long stretch of time, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. The strain in Andrew’s frame left minute by minute until two bells had passed. He released an exhale, smoke flowing from his mouth.
“Staring,” he sighed. Neil shifted, looking down at the students bumbling on the ground beneath them. He took another drag of his cigarette.
“How do you sneak knives into school like that?” Since they had captured each other’s attention, he had witnessed Andrew threaten multiple people with knives. He had always pondered on where they had come from, but couldn’t quite solve that riddle. He looked back to Andrew, who had shifted and was squinting at him in thought.
“Let’s play a game, shall we? A truth for a truth. I’ll answer your little question and I get to ask something. And so on.” Neil considered it before nodding. Andrew reached for his armband, slowly drawing a slender knife. He held it out, dropping it in Neil’s open hand. He stared down at it, curling his fingers around it and studying the blade.
“Hidden sheathes,” Neil guessed. Andrew pointed at him, indicating that he was right. He handed him back his knife, watching the way he slipped it back with ease.
“Now it’s my turn. What do your Raven friends have on you? With a mouth like yours, you should have torn him apart by now.”
“They’re not my friends. It’s more like they’re people I work with and our job is being popular and shit.” Neil hesitated, conflict crossing his face. “Riko… Knows who I am.”
“Maybe it’s time to take a vacation,” Andrew mused. They shared a moment of eye contact before the blonde snuffed out his cigarette and stood. Without another word, he left the roof.
They began meeting on the roof regularly. Other times, he’d catch Andrew standing outside the convenience store. He learned that he worked there and cherished his smoke breaks. He threw a jacket over his uniform during them so people wouldn’t ask him any favors.
Neil stopped by on one of his jogs one day. It wasn’t the first time, actually. He’d gotten into the routine of buying water bottles under the excuse of seeing Andrew. The blonde was usually deeply unimpressed, flicking ash at his clothes or ringing up his purchase.
Neil burst through the door, his chest heaving and his hair sticking to his sweaty forehead. He closed his eyes, basking in the cool air from the vents.
“You stink. Leave.” He opened his eyes, looking at Andrew standing behind the counter and grinned. He was starting to get used to his rude dismissals, which he didn’t always mean. He walked to the refrigerated drinks, grabbing a cold water bottle and rubbing it against his cheeks. Andrew had complained once about him defiling their products and Neil had surprised himself with a laugh.
He paused by the candy section, grabbing a candy bar. He set the items on the counter and unfolded a crumple of dollar bills. Andrew rang him up, eyeing the new addition.
“That kind of contradicts the point of all your precious exercise,” he deadpanned. Neil’s cheeky grin widened as he took his water and pushed the candy bar over to him.
“It’s for you.” Short surprise flickered across Andrew’s face before it became carefully blank again. Neil had learned that Andrew liked sweets and retained that information. The blonde grabbed the chocolate bar, slipping it into his front pocket.
“I hate you.”
“Only 86% of the time,” Neil teased as he opened the door, taking off.
It was a relief to get a moment away from the Ravens and Riko’s harsh stare. Sometimes he and Andrew would sit in silence on the roof or outside the store. Periodically, they would play the truth game. They’d give each other tiny, insignificant truths or bigger ones. Neil learned that Andrew, in fact, had gone to ten high schools.
But, despite the rumors, it wasn’t due to him getting expelled.
He had been passed through foster care all his life. He was legally in the custody of his uncle, but under the care of Nicky, who was actually his cousin. He worked at Sweetie's to make ends meet. Andrew’s job helped and Aaron was trying to get an internship at a hospital.
Neil revealed that his father was involved in a crime organization. He told Andrew that his fear of knives came from him and that he had to learn to use a gun. He told him the story of his father smacking him with a hot iron for squirming too much. Sometimes, little half-truths were sprinkled in.
It was when Neil had winced too visibly while settling down on the roof that Andrew calmly stated, “If he lays his hands on you again, I'll kill him.”
He flicked some ash onto the roof. Neil brushed off his threat, saying nothing into the silence.
“I want to take a turn.”
“I want to kiss you. Yes or no?”
Neil froze, swiveling to look at Andrew in disbelief. He blinked a few times, digesting his request.
“... You like me.” He received a raised eyebrow before he fumbled to add, “Yes. Yes, you can kiss me.”
Andrew put out his cigarette, shuffling closer and placing his hand on Neil’s face. He leaned in, pressing his lips to his. Once he tested the waters, he kissed him harder. Neil cautiously wrapped his fingers around his wrist, leaning in and kissing back.
He had learned that Andrew didn’t like being touched without explicit permission, but that was more from observation than trading truths. It explained some of his violent outbursts; people just didn’t know how to respect boundaries.
Neil wouldn’t overstep those lines. His blue eyes fluttered opened as Andrew pulled away, dragging his hazel eyes away from his lips with visible effort. Neil touched his fingers to his lips. Kissing had never felt like anything before. It had felt like a chore and he was relieved when it was over. Those kisses weren’t worth the violent retaliation from his mother.
But kissing Andrew was different.
It set all of his senses on fire and his skin buzzed. For the first time, he was dizzy with this foreign need and all he knew is he wanted more.
“I think I’d like for this to be a regular thing,” he confessed, astonished at his own words.
For years, he had repeated, ‘I don’t swing’.
… But maybe he swung a little bit for Andrew. That maybe became a oh yeah, definitely as he was pulled into another kiss.
Matt hooted loudly as Dan scored another goal. Their group was goofing around, playing a game of paper football. Renee smiled gently at them as Allison challenged Dan’s high-score. Matt was using his thumbs and forefingers as a makeshift goal.
They burst into laughter when the paper football landed in Matt’s gravy. He pulled out another piece of paper and went to make a new one while Neil watched them fondly. They had ‘banned’ Neil from playing after he flicked it into Matt’s forehead three or four times too many but promised he could come back after halftime. Riko wasn’t being as insufferable today and Kevin was too hungover to bitch about night practice, so they were going to have a group movie night.
He looked around the cafeteria, his gaze subconsciously drawing itself to Andrew. He was breaking a chocolate bar into small pieces, one Neil had given him before school. He caught his gaze and even from a few tables away, he could see him mouth ‘staring’.
“Oooh, Neil’s smiling and intentionally,” Allison crowed. She twisted around, trying to see who he had been gazing at. “Who is it?”
“No one.” He hadn’t realized he was smiling, it just… Came naturally around Andrew.
“Uh huh. Tell me their name. You said you didn’t swing, but I know a lovey-dovey grin when I see it.”
“I don’t swing.” His eyes betrayed him, bouncing back to Andrew. Allison started to follow his line of vision until a paper football hit her cheek. She spun back around, glaring at Renee who just smiled innocently and winked at Neil.
“You’re going to pay for that! Matt, make some more, we’re playing paper dodgeball now.”
“Oh, my God,” Dan laughed.
If Neil recalled correctly, this is what they called third base.
He had a hand clasped over his mouth, shuddering as Andrew swallowed him whole. He had one hand on Neil’s hip as he bobbed his head. Neil’s other hand curled into blonde hair, shaking apart as he tried to contain his moans.
It was Andrew’s idea to forge a hall pass so they could make out for a bit in the restroom before lunch. He hadn’t known it would lead to, well, this but he wasn’t complaining. If Andrew hadn’t pinned his hip against the wall, he would have fallen by now. He was so strong, he could probably hold up Neil and all his problems without breaking a sweat...
He flinched as the restroom door swung open.
“Nathaniel,” Riko called, impatience tinging his voice. Neil’s eyes darted to the small gap under the stall, watching him walk over to the sink. “Get your ass out here. You will answer to me when I call for you.”
Neil had to swallow multiple times before he could speak. Andrew’s nails dug into his hip and he didn’t stop sucking. “I-I can’t.”
“You will. I ordered you to keep your phone on and you disobeyed me.”
“I forgot to charge it.” His voice tapered off into an unwilling whine at the end. Andrew’s head bobbed faster, working his tongue around his cock. Neil tightened his fingers in his hair.
“You can’t even begin to imagine what I’m going to do to you. Now get out here, you have five seconds.”
“Oh, fuck,” Neil whispered, trembling as he came in Andrew’s mouth. He gasped for air, covering his face with his arm. He was frankly fucking horrified. Andrew tugged his boxers and pants back up before standing. He wiped a hand across his mouth, unphased.
Neil uncovered his face, swiftly unlocking the stall and slipping out to appease Riko.
“What Riko called you in the bathroom...” Andrew didn’t finish his sentence. Neil winced at the mention of it. There was no use lying when he had heard it. Riko knows who I am.
“The name I was born with. But I don’t like it.”
“Then what shall I call you?”
“Neil. Or, if you need a name, call me Abram. It’s my middle name; what my mother used to call me when she was trying to protect me.”
The one at USC hadn’t been so bad, but this one was a house party. Neil strayed away from consuming any alcohol. He was currently in the kitchen while Kevin was trying to teach him how to make drinks. Out of all the Ravens, Kevin was the least irritating even though he was still a pain in the ass.
“No, Neil—” Kevin began to correct, swatting his hands away.
“You’re doing it wrong,” Riko snapped at him, his arms crossed. Gee, that was helpful. His ‘number two’ flinched at his tone but tried to disguise it. Neil took Riko’s abuse while Kevin was still too afraid to defy him. He glared at him before redoing the drinks.
“Hey, Neil. You’re looking so good tonight.” He was too concentrated on the beverages to notice when the girl had snuck up beside him. He spared her the briefest of glances, replying.
“Thanks.” She pouted and continued to try to initiate conversation with him, but he brushed her advances off each time. His newfound attraction to Andrew didn’t make him see anyone else differently. He still had no desire to make off into the night with a random stranger he didn’t trust.
She finally huffed and pranced away while her friends glared at Neil. He didn’t care. Dan and Matt had informed him that he could come off as a bit rude while rejecting girls. It happened a lot; apparently, a good portion of the school considered him very attractive.
“You are very horrible with girls, Neil.”
“Fuck off, Jean. How’s it going with Renee?” Jean pursed his lips and glared at him. He had an incredibly transparent crush on Renee but never acted upon it. He heard someone whooping about jello shots and a loud crash somewhere in the house. Riko re-appeared next to him, two cups in his hand. He handed one to Neil.
“I don’t drink,” Neil reminded him, frowning. Riko dug his fingers into his hair, burying his heel into his foot and yanking his head back hard as he whispered.
“You will drink or you will not even be able to walk at practice for the next two weeks,” he hissed into his ear. Neil bit his tongue to force back a yelp of pain. He jerked away from Riko, glaring at him and taking a swig of his drink. He grimaced at the taste. Riko handed him drink after drink, trying to figure out his limit.
Neil didn’t drink unless it was to lessen his pain while on the run, so his tolerance wasn’t very high. He stumbled around the party, staying close to the walls.
“Neil?” He spun around, wobbling on his feet. That was a bad idea. He blinked at the blurring image of Matt. He was smiling, like always. He had a cup in his hand, the other tangled with Dan’s.
“Matt? I didn’t know you were coming.” His eyes darted wildly among the party goers. His friends weren’t usually invited to Raven-esque parties. It put a bad feeling into the pit of his stomach that wasn’t from the alcohol.
“I wasn’t, but Seth wrote me a note about there being something for me.” What? Neil narrowed his eyes, straining to remember what Riko had made him write in Seth’s penmanship. From what he could recollect, there wasn’t anything… Implying something bad.
“Hello, Matt. Are you looking for Seth?” Jean suddenly materialized at their side. Matt nodded. Jack was an asshole to Matt, but he and Seth had been good friends all through elementary and middle school. They had drifted apart during that time, but he was visibly excited about hanging out with him again.
Jean led them to another section of the house, where people were gathered around a table and Neil could see Seth towering above most of them. Riko was there.
“Wait—” Neil started, waving a hand towards Matt. “Stay here.”
Matt looked perplexed but obeyed. Neil shoved his way through the fence of people, looking at what was on the table.
Riko was trying to make Matt relapse. Neil cursed under his breath, whirling around. Did this asshole ever stop? He seethed.
“Matt. I need you to leave.”
“I’ll explain later, just go home. Riko’s just being a piece of shit.” He didn’t bother to lower his voice. Dan and Matt exchanged a worried glance before nodding and weaving their way back through the house. Once they were out of sight, he turned on Riko. “What the hell is your problem, asshole?”
A blanket of silence fell over the room as everyone watched him and Riko. Suddenly, Riko grabbed his chin tightly in his hand, digging his fingers into his jaw. He looked royally pissed.
“That is strike three. You cannot even imagine what is coming next. You think you can defy me? Come Monday, you are going to wish you were never born. You will wish I had delivered you to your father’s waiting hands instead. You will kneel at my feet and beg for my forgiveness. I cannot wait to turn you away.”
Neil’s blood turned to ice at his cold words, at the mention of his father. Riko hadn’t said it, but it was implied in his words: Everyone will know your secret . But he was already dead either way, so he just smiled his father’s smile and held up his steady hand.
“I’m shaking with fear.”
( He emptied the contents of his stomach on Jack's new shoes on the way out. )
( He was not happy; Neil simply saluted him and told him to lick it up. )
Neil had to get out of town.
He had gotten his duffel bag from inside Matt’s closet and was throwing in everything that could fit. He checked his binder, recounting his money and scouting through his IDs. He put in his contacts and searched up the bus schedule. He tugged the duffel bag over his shoulder, grabbing his wallet. What color should he dye his hair next? He walked to the nearest convenience store, his hoodie pulled over his auburn hair as he scanned the aisles. Neil stopped, picking up two boxes and debating on buying both. Money wasn’t exactly scarce for him, he just wasn’t very extravagant with it.
He was as un-Raven-like as one could get. He purchased both boxes, along with a few essentials like toothpaste and dry shampoo. Neil exited the store, rotating the box of blonde hair dye in his hand. The image of a certain blonde kept clouding his mind, taking over his thoughts. His next stop was to a man his mother listed who could supply him with burner phones, but he supposed he could make a quick detour. It wasn’t something Neil usually risked, but… Andrew was an exception.
He had only 30 hours left in Columbia and by 8 am, his name would be all over the school. His real name. When he arrived at the Minyard-Hemmick residence, all the lights were flickered out. It was two in the morning and Andrew was probably asleep, but it was worth a try. He put his climbing skills to work once he found a steady foothold, balancing on a shaky branch outside his window. He leaned forward to knock on the glass, his duffel secured in his grasp so it wouldn’t slip.
Neil heard the creak of the bed and the lights quickly flicked on. A moment later, the curtains were shoved aside and he was gazing into hazel eyes. Andrew didn’t look too surprised, undoing the window lock and pushing it up. He stepped back, allowing Neil to climb inside.
“Aren’t you supposed to be at a party, Josten?” Andrew deadpanned. Neil couldn’t help the smile that surfaced on his face. Seeing Andrew again was like a breath of fresh air after being underwater for so long. “Stop that.”
He stood by the bed, his smile faltering as he remembered why he was here. He sighed while Andrew eyed his duffel bag and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He lit two, holding one out to Neil and taking a drag of his own. He took advantage of the open window, sitting.
“Running away so soon?”
Neil took a puff on his cigarette to get it started, watching the cherry glow in the room. Aside from the lamp Andrew had clicked on, the only other source of lighting was from the moonlight.
“I have to go. Riko’s going to tell the entire school who I am tomorrow. I have to leave before it gets to my father,” he explained solemnly. Andrew hummed, staring out of the window. He finished two cigarettes and took a few drags of a third before stubbing it out. He turned, stating simply:
“What?” Andrew didn’t repeat himself, he never did. Neil frowned. “Andrew, I can’t. If I stay-”
“Stay and I’ll protect you,” Andrew offered, pointing a finger at him. Neil fingered the strap of his bag, glancing down at his duffel. Inside of it were all his chances at escaping. Here in Columbia, were all his chances of having a normal life. He longed for the latter option so badly, he could taste it.
“I don’t have a choice,” Neil finally settled on. The former option tasted like ash, or maybe that was because of the cigarette in his hand. He twirled it between his fingers, watching the wisp of smoke trail upwards.
“There’s always a choice. Running won’t save you this time. Running was an option when no one was looking. You should have left before you insulted him in front of his fan club. You can’t outrun your past anymore, you’re a Raven now.”
“I’m not one of them,” Neil whispered.
“Then prove it. Give your back to me. If you want to stay, I’ll protect you.” Andrew turned his head, his expression blank but his eyes intense. Neil’s throat felt dry as he considered his options. He didn’t want to let go of movie nights with Matt, kisses on the roof with Andrew, or shopping trips with Allison. He wanted to hold on to jogs with Renee and Dan's fierce mothering over him. He didn’t want to let go of his own personal racquet and having a uniform with Josten scrawled on the back, for all to see. He licked his lips.
“I don’t want to go.” Andrew slipped down from the window, crossing the short distance between them.
“Then don’t.” There was silence for a few heartbeats before Neil gave a jerky nod. The tight ball in his chest finally unwound. His shoulders dropped. He cleared his throat, speaking clearly.
“Okay.” Andrew took the abandoned cigarette from his hand, taking a drag before stubbing it out. Turning back to Neil, he let his gaze drop to his lips.
“Yes or no?”
“Yes,” Neil answered without hesitation. A hand clasped onto the back of his neck and he melted as his lips met Andrew’s. He dropped his duffel bag aside, exchanging a few kisses until Andrew pushed him back by his chest.
“Contacts,” he grumbled. Neil was puzzled for a moment before remembering about them. He paused, grabbing his contacts case and taking them out. He blinked a couple of times until his vision readjusted. Andrew deemed him worthy of his kisses again, stepping forward and yanking him down.
Neil’s hands automatically slipped into his pockets. He felt Andrew’s fingers poke around to make sure they were there. Satisfied, he went back to kissing him. Neil sighed into his mouth as a warm tongue swept over his and groaned lightly as teeth tugged at his lip.
He didn’t know when they had started moving, but he felt the back of his knees hit the mattress. He sank down onto the sheets, allowing the blonde to push him onto his back. Andrew followed shortly after, pinning his arms above his head. Neil’s fingernails dug into his palms; he wouldn’t be surprised to find angry red marks afterwards. He felt that newly-familiar growing heat as Andrew steadily took him apart and their kisses grew hungrier.
His hands roamed every inch of his torso, learning what made Neil Josten. A sharp gasp escaped Neil as Andrew rolled his hips into his. He muffled a soft moan in Andrew’s neck as he did it again. He didn’t miss the way the blonde shuddered, planting a kiss against his pale skin.
Andrew’s stoic face was flushed as he pushed him away, panting softly and glaring. Neil grinned triumphantly.
“Aaron’s gone.” Neil searched his gaze, realizing what he was implying. He nodded slowly, muttering a ‘yes’ and leaning up to kiss him again. He paused when Andrew guided his hands to his hair, allowing Neil to grasp on. “Just here.”
“Okay,” Neil breathed against his lips, combing his fingers through it. Andrew caught his lips, rocking his hips into him again. He didn’t muffle his moans anymore as the blonde ground against him, his pants uncomfortably tight around his crotch.
As if reading his mind, Andrew stopped and unzipped his jeans. Neil lifted his hips, allowing him to tug them down to reveal his boxers and the obvious tent in them. He was painfully hard. He groaned as Andrew squeezed his hard-on.
He gasped as Andrew pulled him out of his boxers, wrapping his hand around his length. He set off at a fast, unforgiving pace. Neil squirmed underneath him, his mouth open with harsh pants. He tipped his head back, a pleasant shiver going through him as Andrew sucked a hickey into the side of his neck. He bucked weakly at the swipes of his tongue across his skin and thumb across his leaking tip.
Andrew stopped, letting go of his stiff cock to pull Neil’s jeans and boxers completely off. He placed a hand on his chest, sending him a meaningful look.
“Yes or no?”
“Y-Yes,” Neil managed to choke out, his mind still swimming. He dropped his hands from Andrew’s hair, instead curling them into the sheets as the blonde licked from the base of his cock to his tip. He gasped as he swirled his tongue around the head before sinking down around him. “F-Fuck.”
Andrew pushed his twitching hips down to the bed, taking in every inch. Neil’s knuckles whitened as he clutched the fabric harder, his breath hitching at the pleasant sensations rippling through him. He bit his lip, tugging lightly on Andrew’s hair when he got close to tipping over the edge.
The blonde retreated with a wet 'pop', his mouth glistened with spit. His face was devoid of emotion, but his eyes told another tale. He crawled up the bed until he could meet Neil’s eager mouth again, trading desperate kisses.
“... Still yes?” Andrew questioned, breaking away. Neil was dazed, replaying his words twice in his mind.
“Yes. It’s always yes with you.” ‘I want you’. He had never felt an attraction like this, the need to just be close to Andrew.
“Junkie,” Andrew muttered, pushing off of him and reaching over. He opened a drawer, taking out a bottle of lube and a condom. He ripped the wrapper open with his teeth, his gaze rolling over Neil.
“For you,” Neil whispered. He was flushed prettily, stars in his eyes and his cock spilling over with precum. Andrew removed his own jeans, kneeling over Neil as he peeled off his shirt. His briefs were straining from his erection and he didn’t miss the way the other ogled his forearms.
Neil sat up, hesitating with his fingers gripping the hem of his shirt. Conflict flashed across his features.
“You don’t have to take it off,” Andrew reminded him as he gnawed his lip. He furrowed his eyebrows before pulling his shirt over his head with a determined set to his jaw. He tossed it to the floor, lying on his back again.
The blonde paused for a moment, but he didn’t look horrified or revolted. He simply studied his numerous scars, taking it all in and then reached out. Neil tensed for a second but relaxed, nodding. Those intense eyes were calculating, not judging. Andrew traced the scars with his fingers, aligning his fingertips with the holes from the hot iron. He pressed into what looked like a bullet wound. He’d ask about that later.
He readjusted Neil on the bed to his liking, uncapping the bottle of lube. Blue eyes looked on as he coated his fingers, taking hold of one of the runner’s muscular thighs. He circled his fingers around his entrance. He heard a quiet hitch of breath, his eyes darting to his for any signs of him changing his mind.
“Cold,” Neil stated clearly before he could even ask. “It’s still a yes.”
Andrew nodded shortly, slowly pushing a finger into him. He pumped it inside of him, letting him adjust before adding another finger. He continued stretching Neil out while he gave the occasional hum of approval. It felt odd having something inside of him, but not unwelcome. He jolted as Andrew grazed his prostate, inhaling sharply and blinking in surprise. That was new. “... Oh.”
“Oh,” Andrew mocked, withdrawing his fingers while Neil just smiled at him. He pushed down his briefs, rolling on the condom and covering himself with lube. He cast the bottle aside, grabbing Neil’s legs and hauling him closer. He was careful to keep a space between their bodies as he aligned himself. “Shoulders and up.”
“Okay,” Neil whispered, tangling his fingers in his hair again. Andrew slowly pressed into him, entering him inch by inch. He stopped once he completely filled him, waiting for an okay. The redhead shifted, leaning up to steal a long kiss and placing one under his jaw. After a minute, he breathed out, "Move."
Andrew drew his hips back and slowly started thrusting into him. He gripped Neil’s hips, setting a quickening pace when he got the okay.
Neil wrapped his legs around his waist, panting into his mouth. His hands untangled from his hair, grasping his shoulders. He matched Andrew’s movements as he rocked into him endlessly, moaning. Everything about Andrew was hot and fast and intense.
“A-Andrew,” Neil whimpered against his lips. “S-So good. Harder, fuck. You’re amazing.”
Andrew smothered his rambling with his lips, mumbling a half-hearted “be quiet”. He sounded just as wrecked as Neil, digging his nails into his hips and obediently fucking into him harder. With each rough brush against his prostate, Neil jolted and shuddered with pleasure. He loved the friction of his cock rubbing against their stomachs with each thrust.
“.. ‘m close…” He gasped.
Andrew stroked his cock in time with his thrusts, rubbing his thumb over his slit. Neil trembled when he finally tipped over. He arched his back, crying out. Andrew’s hips stuttered to a stop after a few more thrusts. He bit into Neil’s jaw, his shoulders shaking as he spilled inside of him.
They lay there, struggling to catch their breaths before Andrew exhaled and rolled off of him. He discarded the condom, pulling on his briefs and leaving the room. Neil closed his eyes, the sweat beginning to cool on his blistering skin. His body felt completely lax, soaking in this haze.
He startled when Andrew wiped the cum off of his stomach with a damp, cold rag. He flopped down on the other side of the bed. There was an obvious space between them, but Neil didn’t mind. Andrew had given him a lot today and he was grateful for it. He was already blissfully toeing the line between sleep and consciousness.
“Andrew?” He waited until the blonde hummed, his eyes fluttering with exhaustion. “Thank you.”
Andrew scowled, throwing a cover over him. “Go to sleep.”
Neil grinned, watching him with drowsy eyes until he fell asleep.
Neil shot awake, his eyes wild as he gasped for air. He instinctively reached for his gun, his eyes darting around the room as he found none. Where was he? Where was his mom? A loud thunk echoed throughout the room as he hit the wooden floor. His legs were tangled up in the bed sheets as he scrambled back until his back hit the wall. He buried his fingers in his hair, struggling to breathe.
He had a nightmare about his dad finding him and cutting the tendons in his legs so he couldn't escape. He could still see the horrible expression on his face, those blue eyes mirroring his own. The glint of his dad’s cleaver still replayed in his mind, making his stomach churn and his legs ache.
“You’re a mess.” Neil flinched as he felt the weight of a hand on the back of his neck before relaxing as he recognized Andrew’s voice. It had a grounding effect on him, bringing him back to the present. He was Neil Josten, he was in South Carolina, he went to Columbia High School. His mom was dead and his father was in prison. He studied Andrew’s features as he squatted in front of him. “Breathe.”
Neil worked on breathing in, counting, breathing out, counting. English, French, German. Repeat. After a few minutes, he managed to uncurl while Andrew squeezed the back of his neck. “Sorry.”
He merely received an unimpressed look as Andrew stood up and tossed him his boxers. Neil stared at them for a moment before blinking as the memories of last night flooded his mind. Now that his head was clear, he noticed a dull but pleasant throb from their activities. He remembered how full he felt. He bit his lip, getting dressed as Andrew sat on the bed and side eyed him.
It was Monday morning and he had a little over an hour to apologize to Riko before he ruined his reputation. Now that Neil was planning on staying, he could make his high school experience a little easier by not having a target on his back.
“I have to apologize to Riko or staying is going to be more of a living Hell,” Neil sighed, nearly choking on the words. Honestly, he’d rather choke on his own tongue than apologize to that pretentious asshole. He dug through his duffel for the clothes Riko had deemed worthy, changing into those.
“I’m coming with you,” Andrew replied, his tone leaving no room for argument. His eyes dared Neil to protest, but he just fixed his dress shirt and buckled his pants.
“Fine.” Andrew hopped down from the bed, going to get dressed. Neil grabbed his duffel, walking to the kitchen and brewing a pot of coffee. He was fiddling with the toaster when he heard footsteps that didn’t sound like Andrew’s. He glanced over his shoulder, his pounding heart calming when he saw Aaron. That relief turned to annoyance as he noticed Aaron was trying to glare a hole through his head.
He nearly asked what his problem was, but decided to ignore his presence. He turned back to the toaster as the toast popped up. He waited for them to cool before biting into a slice. Andrew walked into the kitchen, not sparing his brother a glance. Neil took a moment to appreciate his muscular arms, his eyes trailing to his neck where he earned a hickey from last night.
“Staring.” Neil’s eyes snapped to Andrew’s hazel before his mouth curled into a grin.
“Yeah,” he agreed, nonchalant.
“Next time you have someone over, at least give me a warning about coming home early,” Aaron hissed, grabbing an orange juice carton from the fridge and stomping back to his room.
Neil looked to Andrew, who didn’t seem to care that his brother heard them having sex. He assumed that Nicky had spent the night at Erik's.
Andrew poured coffee into a thermos and grabbed his keys. He followed him outside and climbed into the Maserati. The drive to the Moriyama residence was filled with silence, but a peaceful one. Neither he or Andrew were very talkative and Neil liked soaking in his presence.
He had finished his toast by the time Andrew parked down the street and they walked to the back patio. Due to spending so many nights here with the Ravens, Neil knew where the back entrance was. He jimmied the lock with a pick before pushing it open.
Riko, for the most part, lived alone. He was under his uncle’s supervision while his older brother and father lived in Virginia. His father was training Ichirou how to run the family company some day. His uncle, Tetsuji, was never home.
They cut through the kitchen and Neil padded up the stairs where Riko’s room was located.
Kevin usually waited on Riko hand-and-foot, but Riko disliked being seen at his weakest points. Crippling hangovers were included in that.
“Riko?” Neil called. It was strange calling him by name when it was usually ‘that asshole’ or ‘piece of shit’. He could hear the sound of bed sheets rustling and then a groan of pain. He must have sprang up too fast in reaction. Neil couldn’t help an amused smile behind the door.
“What do you want, Nathaniel? I thought I warned you what I would do to you starting today.” He winced at the name, biting his tongue as Andrew shifted next to him. He balled his fists as he spat the words out.
“I want to apologize.” There was a long pause, then more rustling.
“I hope you brought knee pads. Fix me a prairie oyster and I will think about it,” came Riko’s voice with a smug undertone beneath his haughty authority. Neil looked at Andrew, his eyebrows knitting together.
“Raw eggs, vinegar, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, tomato juice, salt and pepper,” Andrew listed off without a beat, setting off towards the kitchen. At Neil’s stunned silence, he added bitterly, “Aaron’s mom liked to drink.”
“Isn’t she your mom too?” Neil questioned as they opened cabinets and the refrigerator. Andrew didn’t answer for a minute or two as they prepared the hangover cure.
“Let’s play another round. What else is behind that name that makes you flinch so much?” Besides the obvious. So he had noticed. Neil grabbed a mug and poured the ingredients inside.
“It… I’m named after my father. … Nathan,” he confessed quietly, looking up to meet his eyes. Andrew held his gaze before declaring his statement as truthful.
“Tilda gave birth to Aaron and I, but she was not my mother. She abused him and I warned her to stop.” Warned her to stop, not told. Neil digested this truth, thinking back to when Andrew said he’d kill Riko for bruising him.
“Did you kill her?”
“Are you offering another truth?” Neil thought it over before nodding.
“Yes,” Andrew stated simply. There was no regret in his words. “She mistook me for Aaron. Tilda tried to hit me and drove into oncoming traffic.”
He stared at Neil, waiting for a shocked or horrified reaction. He got neither. He waggled his finger. “I’ll take my turn later.”
Neil should have felt something other than apathy about Andrew literally killing his own mother, but found nothing there. He had grown up surrounded by death, seen it firsthand many times. He stared down at the mug in his hand.
“Do you think he’d notice if I gave him something else? What makes a hangover worse? Maybe orange juice and milk,” Neil mused. Andrew’s eyes flickered to him for a moment before he reached into the cabinet, grabbing another mug. It was identical to the one in Neil’s hands. He bent down, reaching under the kitchen sink and retrieving a bottle of drain cleaner. He poured it into the mug, gesturing to it.
“I say we go with big blue,” he suggested. Neil rolled his eyes.
“I said make it worse, not kill him,” he informed, snorting. He couldn't say he’d never fantasized about getting a clear shot at Riko Moriyama before, but murder was more his dad’s practice. Andrew merely tapped two fingers against his temple.
“Thus, ending his hangover,” he concluded dryly.
Neil gave a short laugh, finishing the prairie oyster and inspecting it. “He’d never drink that.”
Andrew contemplated quietly before reaching up and grabbing a lid to top the mug. He did the same to the other, setting them beside each other. There was an ironic joke somewhere in there about them being identical, but one was deadly…
Neil stared at the mugs before tensing as Riko called his name again. He glared in the direction of his room. Now he was considering it.
“Yes or no?” He turned back to Andrew, the tense set leaving his shoulders.
“Yes.” The blonde walked closer, pulling Neil down. He threaded his fingers in Andrew’s light hair, letting him kiss their mouths numb without complaint. He felt dizzy once they broke apart, his head clouded. He still felt the ghost of Andrew’s lips against his mouth. His hands fumbled blindly to grab the white mug, his blue eyes focused on everything about Andrew. His golden eyes in the morning light, his pale hair, his flushed cheeks, his swollen lips…
He pecked them one last time before whirling around, making his way to Riko’s room.
There was a short pause before he heard Andrew’s footsteps following.
“Finally,” Riko groaned, his arm thrown over his eyes to block out the light. The comforter of the giant bed seemed to swallow him. He slowly sat up, his hair sticking up in all directions. He looked paler than usual, glaring at Neil and then Andrew. “Why did you bring Doe?”
Neil said nothing, holding out the mug. Riko sat it down on his night stand, sitting up straighter.
“Whatever. Get to it. Beg.”
Neil huffed in disbelief as Andrew came to stand by his side. “Look, I think we both said a lot of things that—”
“Oh, Nathaniel... I would actually prefer to see you do this on your knees. In front of your new guard dog, here.”
He stiffened, his face flushing with anger and thinning patience. He spoke through gritted teeth, “Look, I’m sorry that I—”
“Does it look like I’m kidding? Down,” Riko ordered, pointing to the floor. The smile on his face was downright sinister. “Kneel before your king.”
Neil hesitated, glancing at Andrew who was pointedly looking away. He couldn’t hide his glare as he slowly went down to his knees, his hands shaking with restrained rage. He wanted to wrap his hands around Riko’s throat. Riko moved to stand in front of him, looking down his nose at him.
“Good.” He smiled, reaching behind himself. He grabbed the hangover cure, tipping the mug back as he downed it all at once. Neil flinched as he suddenly dropped the mug, watching the ceramic shatter on the floor. He looked on in alarm as Riko’s eyes widened. He began to make retching noises, his hands going to his throat. He stumbled forward, his tongue a bright shade of blue that made Neil blanch.
He grabbed the wrong mug.
Riko tried to speak but could only cough. He dropped to the ground, his body smashing into and shattering a glass table. There was silence for a full minute as Neil stared at his unmoving body, wordless. The liquid dribbled from the corner of Riko's mouth, like blue blood. Neil felt Andrew grab his arm, bringing him to his feet. He hadn’t realized he was still kneeling.
“Did I just…” He gingerly checked Riko’s pulse, but found nothing. He stood straight again, staring at the lifeless body before looking to Andrew. The blonde looked as calm as ever, his eyes sliding to Neil’s.
“I never liked shitty Raven fashion on you anyways.”