The first time it happens, it's a bit of a happy accident. Neil had been hurt on the court again and Andrew was on his final straw at this point, the next person to aim at Neil with anything more than soft touches, apart from himself, was going to get murdered. He’d swear it on his mother, but he’d already killed her so what’s the point in that. After Neil had been cleared by Abby with just some bruised ribs and a sore wrist, they got on the bus and Andrew pulled Neil down to sit with him without a second thought, pressing an icepack to Neil’s ribs and massaging his wrist soothingly without thinking to help the pain. Once Neil had relaxed and seemed to be feeling better Andrew relaxed as well and found himself sliding his hand into Neil’s and clasping it. It felt… right? He could feel Neil staring at him with wide eyes but he just continued to look out the window whilst rubbing circles into the back of Neil’s hand. Soon enough Neil settled down and with a soft yes or no, and fell asleep on Andrew’s lap, nobody but Aaron noticed this display of softness as he looked at Andrew with calculating eyes.
The second time it happens, it is much more deliberate than the first. Both Neil and Andrew were having bad days and, where Neil craves touch when he is having a bad day, Andrew despises it. They are sitting together on the roof, Andrew smoking and Neil fidgeting and breathing in Andrew’s exhales when Andrew makes up his mind on something.
“Yes or no.” Neil looks at him, confused, as he knows Andrew is having a bad day and touch is rare, if nonexistent on these days.
“Yes, it’s always yes.” He responds in his usual way, causing Andrew to scoff but not say his usual response, instead he slides his hand into Neil’s, testing both his own response and Neil’s to the contact. For himself, it doesn’t make his skin crawl, his hands never having been ruined for him like his arms and just about any other part of himself. He had to admit, it is a nice way to warm up his hands, as it was quite cold on the roof. Neil, to his credit, doesn’t say anything, just looks at Andrew with those huge shocked eyes that he gets when Andrew gives him even the tiniest inch of, anything. It’s both endearing and too much, it’s sometimes hard to remember on bad days that Neil has had so much in his life taken away from him as well, and even the simplest acts of kindness will take him aback, even on his good days. They spend the rest of the night holding hands until they head to bed and that night Andrew sleeps with his hand curled close to him and remembers the feeling of Neil’s hand in his. There are no nightmares to follow.
The first time it happens in public they’re at Eden’s. Andrew knows Neil is not a jealous person by nature, but he has also never seen himself in anything other than a negative light. Andrew knows that Neil sees Roland sometimes and doesn’t quite understand why Andrew would give up his ‘thing’ with someone who is conventionally attractive, for a runaway covered in scars, with a list of issue taller than he is. He’s never mentioned these thoughts, but Andrew knows him, he knows the self deprecating smile Neil gives when people point out his scars, he knows the way Neil curls in on himself when someone tells him he’s ugly because of them. Andrew doesn’t understand how Neil could think he isn’t beautiful. He’s a mess, sure, but Andrew is no better. They fit together, their jagged pieces sliding together in a way no one else would.
Although Andrew hates how Neil got them and how much pain they caused, well still cause, Neil, Andrew loves Neil’s scars, because they are a part of him. They ground Andrew when he is with Neil, helping to remind him that this is Neil and not someone who would ever hurt Andrew. They make Neil who he is, and Andrew wouldn’t want anyone else. When Roland comes over, Andrew recognizes the self-deprecating smile when Roland mentions them both being “hot as ever”, or something like that, he’s not really paying attention. But he hates it, he hates that smile, he hates that Neil is hurting, and so he reaches out without thinking, grabbing Neil’s hand and holding it tightly. Neil looks down to their intertwined hands and then up to Andrew, and Andrew sees a universe of emotions behind his eyes, but receives a real smile from him, and a wink from Roland for his troubles. They head back to the table, Andrew carrying the tray of drinks one handed as he continues to hold Neil’s hand, not willing to let him get swept away by the crowd. The others are too drunk to notice when they get back, that Andrew hasn’t let go of Neil’s hand, and doesn’t for the rest of the evening. That night, at the house in Colombia they fall asleep facing each other, their hands intertwined in between them.
The first time they hold hands in front of the foxes, it is not particularly on purpose or planned out. Neil hasn’t been sleeping, his nightmares keeping him up and leaving him in a daze for most of the day. Unfortunately for both him and Andrew, being Co-captain means that when the upperclassmen throw a “team bonding movie night,” Neil has to attend, which means Andrew has to attend. Tonight they’re watching some stupid movie chosen by Matt, which consists of talking cats trying to end the world and dogs being spies or something ridiculous. Andrew is sure if Neil wasn’t half asleep he would be very upset about this portrayal of cats, as he has ranted more than once to Andrew about how unfair the general image of cats is. Luckily for Andrew though, he does not have to listen to another rant, but instead ends up with a sleepy Neil’s head on his chest and his hand clasped by a scarred hand. Andrew is not complaining in the slightest, a sleepy Neil is one of his favorite Neils, as all his harsh edges from years of abuse are sheared away for a short while and he just relaxes. It’s only when the movie ends that Andrew looks up and finds all the foxes have been staring at him as he looks down at a sleeping Neil, all (minus Kevin who lives with them and is used to it,) with varying looks of shock at the fact that he’s allowed Neil to sleep on him. When they see him looking they all look away quickly but he feels their eyes on him as he wakes Neil softly to attempt to get him back to their dorm. It’s only once they are standing, when the whole room goes silent again as Andrew leads Neil out, that he realizes he’s still holding Neil’s hand clasped in his own.
Handholding becomes a big part of this “nothing”, they do it without thinking which is fine for them, they are happy in their way of doing things no matter whether they’re being unconventional or not. Kevin had continued to hold on to his “heterosexuality is the best option”, earning himself a black eye and almost a broken right hand when he mentioned to Neil that “Andrew was probably just a phase and hopefully they wouldn’t pull either of their careers down whilst being in their relationship.” Needless to say, Neil had not taken kindly to that comment, and proceeded with enough threats of leaving Exy, and promptly beginning to follow through with those threats when he wasn’t taken seriously enough, that Kevin had never mentioned the issue again, in fact he had become quite supportive of their relationship “as long as they kept it away from the media.” Luckily for Kevin, neither of them had any plans to tell the media about their ‘something’, which Andrew had been able to admit to in his fifth year at Palmetto. Through the first few years of their careers, the press have an amazing time with their supposed rivalry, the ‘frenemies of palmetto’, and have a field day when they finally joined the same team and work like a well oiled machine, each knowing the others movements better than they know themselves. If only the outside world knew that each night the enemies-turned-teammates, went home to two cats and bickered over what show to watch until one shut the other up with kisses and promises of some sort of food. Needless to say it was usually Neil who got to choose the show, which they watched settled on the couch together, with hands entwined.
Things get a little tricky at a press conference. They’re taking questions about The Hurricane’s most reason win, it’s just the usual comments and questions of how the game was for them and what’s next for the rivals-turned-dream-team, they answer with the same things until a reporter decides to overstep.
“It’s the anniversary of your father’s death coming up this weekend Nathaniel, how are you doing with that?” The comment made to sound caring whilst full of barbs from past memories. Neil hadn’t been called Nathaniel in so long, his opposing teams having moved onto other insults at this point, that he stumbles on his answer, allowing for Andrew to lean forward before him.
“There are no Nathaniel’s on this team, I think you may be in the wrong interview sweetheart,”his voice is filled with just as many barbs as hers, his mouth turned in a snarl as she flinches away from his tone. “You should probably show yourself out before someone realizes you shouldn’t be here.” The threat is obvious, but not enough for him to get in trouble. With his part said, Andrew stands up and, without thinking, takes Neil’s hand as they walk out. A stupid mistake on both of their parts, but they were shaken by old memories being dragged up unexpectedly. Needless to say, the next day the press was full of videos and reports of Andrew “The Wall” Minyard, defending his enemy turned lover Neil “Lightning” Josten in front of a whole room of journalists. When Neil sees the headlines he laughs so hard he has to sit down, Andrew’s whole body feels light from the pure joy on Neil’s face and he has to sit down as well. A slew of texts ranging from “!!!@@QYIGWUIYDGHJABSDOUYADSH!!!!” from Nicky to “Congratulations on coming out in the dumbest way possible,” from Aaron, which makes Andrew snort, are sent to them. Neil laughs at all the reactions and looks at Andrew with his eyes shining.
“Just wait until they find out how long we have really been together.” Ah, yes, just wait. Andrew pushes Neil’s face into the couch instead of answering, feeling the cheek beneath his fingers stretch into a laugh beneath his hand as Neil bats at it and eventually pulls it off, sliding their hands into a comfortable hold of each other instead of letting go.
They’re not what one would call a ‘normal’ couple, both of them with demons. But they both know each other better than they do themselves, and although they aren’t a conventional couple, Andrew has to admit, the feeling of cold metal on his hand, or the clink of their rings hitting each other as he covers the top of Neil’s hand with his own, isn’t half bad. And seeing Neil’s eyes light up every time he sees the rings, or Andrew’s face. That isn’t half bad either.