They were all standing in the soup aisle when Nicky opened his mouth.
" No, " Aaron said immediately. His cousin shot him a faux wounded expression.
" I haven't even said anything yet ! "
Aaron looked bored. " I know you, Nicky. You've got that look on your face. The one which always means you're about to say something incredibly stupid. So, whatever you're thinking, no. "
" You're wrong. Hear me out, " Nicky insisted, a slow grin spreading over his face as he eyed the rest of the Foxes cluttered loosely around them.
" I don't even know why we're here, " Kevin interjected.
Nicky rolled his eyes. " Because we bullied Neil into bullying Andrew to drive us here ? To stock up on snacks for movie night tomorrow ? Great call, Dan, by the way. "
Their captain just shrugged and returned the grin. " I've been dying to do a Star Wars marathon in ages, and this probably the last chance we'll get to hang out together as a team in a while. "
" Right, " Aaron said skeptically. " Because we just can't get enough team bonding. "
" Babe, " Katelyn gave his arm a nudge in reprimand, giving him a look.
" Still don't see why we all had to come, though, " Kevin said blatantly.
Nicky shook his head.
" We're going to get lots of chocolate, Kevin. Skittles and M & M's. Freddo frogs. Caramel popcorn. Salt and vinegar chips. At least five different flavors of ice cream- "
Before Kevin could object, Nicky smiled sweetly.
" And Kevin ? If you say another word, we just might end up getting twice all that. "
Looking somehow both outraged and ill at the same time, Kevin opened and then shut his mouth immediately.
" I thought so, too ! " Nicky said cheerily. " Alright, now listen up. Here's my idea. "
There was a brief moment of silence in which everyone turned to look at him.
Nicky took in a dramatically exaggerated deep breath.
" We're going to race each other in these shopping carts, " he announced.
Neil was the first to break the silence.
" As in, we get in the carts and run around the aisles like depraved schoolchildren ? "
Nicky beamed. " Yes, exactly like that ! We can pair up and push each other- "
Aaron looked like he was trying very hard not to disappear into the floor.
" I don't know you, " he muttered. " Any of you. "
Matt cleared his throat. " Actually, " he said. " That sounds kind of fun. I never got to do that as a kid. "
Kevin was staring at him like he'd sprouted a second head. " This is not happening in a supermarket. We're adults. We're- "
" Going to shut the hell up and stop being a complete killjoy once in a while ? Have some fun ? " Nicky suggested. " Look, I'll pair up with you, Kevin. I'll push you. Renee can push Allison. Matt can push Dan. Aaron can push Katelyn. And Andrew- "
" Is not going to push Neil. "
Looking unimpressed, Andrew took another drag from his cigarette.
Neil shook his head. " There are surveillance cameras everywhere, Nicky. You don't think the store managers are going to have a bit of problem with us tearing through the place and wreaking havoc ? "
" There are barely any customers right now, " Nicky insisted. " And besides, what's the worst they can do to us ? "
" Uh, press charges ? "
Nicky threw up his hands. " You're missing the point ! Come on, Neil, I swear it'll be fun. Please ? "
Neil raised his eyebrows as he slid a sideways glance at Andrew.
" I can push you, " he offered weakly.
Andrew gave him flat look.
" We'll buy you extra ice cream, " Nicky said quickly. He shot Neil a desperate look, and the other boy sighed loudly.
" Everyone else is on board with this ? Really ? "
Renee smiled encouragingly, and Dan was looking vaguely exasperated but amused. Katelyn seemed to have convinced Aaron after whispering something to him which definitely turned him a dull red. Allison just smirked while Matt beamed. Kevin was silenced after a very pointed look from Nicky.
" I'll... make it up to you ? " Neil tugged on Andrew's sleeve in resignation.
" Two extra pints and you still owe me, Nicky, " he informed his cousin.
To Neil, " Get in the fucking cart then. 203%. "
Andrew should never have agreed to this level of idiocy.
Neil was wrapping his arms around his knees in the cart, trying to get as comfortable as possible while his hoodie rode up just a little with the movement and his stupid curls fell into his face.
" You're actually okay with this, right ? "
He twisted around in his position to peer up at Andrew, who hated the way his gut twisted at seeing the way his eyes were wide entirely with concern for him.
The way his brain reminded him that this was Neil trusting Andrew completely, willingly confining himself into a small and most likely uncomfortable space, most importantly giving up entire control of his body to Andrew.
He forced himself to stare back without giving anything away.
" Just thinking about how you're going to pay for this ridiculousness when we get back. "
The corners of Neil's mouth twitched. " So demanding, " he teased.
" Shut up, " Andrew told him.
And then just because he couldn't help it, leaned forward and snagged Neil's hoodie strings, leaving only a few inches between them.
" Yes. "
The unexpected softness of that single word stole Andrew's breath away in a way which was all too familiar by now and yet somehow, annoyingly, still never failed to have the same effect on his chest. It wasn't the hushed tone, or the breathlessness, but the heat and gentleness of that single syllable which stirred something trembling in his heart.
He tightened his fingers around Neil's shoulders in frustration as their lips molded together with a quickening sense of urgency and once again, he hated the way his heart rate accelerated and he foolishly never wanted to let go.
From the next aisle over, he heard the unmistakable sound of Nicky's ringtone blaring, the get ready signal which indicated five seconds before the start of the race.
" We're going to win this, " Neil said as they broke apart, eyes shining.
Andrew gritted his teeth and gripped the handlebar.
" 240%. "
And then they took off like the wind. Andrew could hear his own heart pounding in his ears, could see cans and boxes flying past them in a brightly colored blur as they tore through the supermarket. He could hear laughter, too- excited screams coming from nearby filling the rushing air as adrenaline pumped through his bloodstream and his feet slapped against the linoleum floor.
He should have felt more annoyed about the whole thing- he could hear someone shouting something in a distinctly angry tone as he ran- but the store exit was coming into view already, and sunlight was pouring through the glass.
He stopped abruptly once he'd burst through those automatic doors and they'd arrived in the parking lot just seconds before Matt and Dan did, making sure the cart didn't go spinning out of control and Neil was secure.
" Oh my god, " Dan was laughing as the others barrelled out in quick succession.
" Never thought I'd say this, " Neil was starting with a grin.
" Don't even finish that sentence, " Andrew managed to get out between trying to catch his breath.
" That was actually sort of fun. "
The idiot really didn't have an ounce of self preservation in him.
Neil caught hold of his fingers, easily fitting them together over the top of the cart.
" Thank you, " he told Andrew quietly.
" If you say I was amazing, I will stab you right here and now. "
He had the nerve to laugh, a sound which sent a rare feeling of warmth shooting through Andrew's body like it had no right to.
It felt suspiciously like happiness.
He knew that he'd been falling for some time now. That spiraling sensation he got in the pit of his stomach whenever he caught a glimpse of auburn hair or electric blue eyes.
Something was changing in Andrew.
He could recognize the subtle shifts and the way his many jagged edges were coming to realign now. A little closer to healing, perhaps.
Andrew didn't fool himself into thinking for a heartbeat that those old haunts would simply fade into nothingness. But somehow looking at the way Neil smiled with so much ease at him now, it felt like truth in a world otherwise full of lies.
And that was enough for the moment, he decided. He closed his eyes against the unforgiving glare of the sun and took a deep breath. He allowed himself to loosen his tenacious grip on the too familiar fear and fall just a little further for the stupidly gorgeous striker who had kept his promises and stayed. And if the feeling felt sort of like the very opposite of nothing, Andrew silently acknowledged that he just might be able to live with that.