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growing up it made me numb

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Time passes, as time is wont to do. It passes, however quickly or slowly it seems, at the same pace. For some: it is three weeks of hell, breaking slowly and desperately clinging on to what makes them them, even as it is slowly and systematically torn away. For others: it is four weeks of a similar hell, broken only by the knowledge that for two of those weeks, those with binding promises will be free to have fun however they wish, in any corner of the world they choose.

Perhaps that isn’t entirely accurate, but, it is a comfort; and who would begrudge a boy left to torture by his family (although they did not know of it when he was admitted, and, if he has his way, they will never know, regardless of tapes and new scars) the meagre comfort of knowing those he considers his are safe?

Anyway: two boys, thousands of miles apart. One lies down to let his partner cuff his wrists to the headboard, and as the knife comes down, he thinks for Andrew. That thought keeps him sane.

The other boy, the one the first is trying to protect, strains against his cuffs and snarls at his therapist, free from the haze of drugs for the first time in a long time. All he can think is that he is ever so glad that it is not his twin in his place.

It is… odd, to the boy—feeling glad, that is. He is angry a lot of the time, and that is an emotion he knows. He is bored even more than he is angry, and so boredom is an emotion he knows intimately.

The first boy is Nathaniel Wesinski, as his tormentor insists upon calling him. Personally, he prefers Neil Josten, but his tormentor (his owner, really) will not let him answer to that name.

When night falls, he traces it on a numb arm with numb fingers and tries desperately to grab enough sleep to face the next day.

The second boy is Andrew Minyard, the person that Neil Josten is trying so desperately to protect. This is their story, sometimes, and a girl’s story others—it is the story of a boy who leaves for Germany to escape his awful home; the story of a girl who sells her dignity to pay her way through school; the story of a boy with parties and drugs in his veins; the story of a girl with knives in her hands and blood in her hair; the story of a boy with his mother’s poison of choice digging into his heart—but this part? This part is all about Andrew Minyard.

Andrew has never been the kind of person to break easily. He knows his limits intimately; knows what it would take to stretch them, what it would take to break them, and knows what it would take to utterly bulldoze them. Luther and Drake did the third, as a pair; stretching and breaking and bulldozing the limits of his patience, his calm, his restraint. Together, they take family and make it synonymous with poison, and Andrew hates them all the more for it. Drake takes laughter and physical contact and twists them both into something ugly, while Luther takes truth and honesty and belief and turns it into a commodity—something that he owes everyone, but does not believe anyone will give him.

Even with Neil—Neil and his game of truths and his careful acceptance and acknowledgement of all of Andrew’s boundaries; Neil who brings Aaron into the same room as Drake; Neil who takes his knives and his armbands without question and does not push when he sees the scars—Andrew never fully believes he’s getting the truth. He knows, though, that this is an issue he has, and is nothing to do with Neil in the long run; even if, perhaps, it will become an issue with him later.

(Andrew hopes that it will not become an issue with him later, and then he hates himself for hoping.)

Luther takes Andrew’s hope and trust and throws them into a gutter, and five years later, he stomps on it; grinds it into road-grit and broken glass and dirty rainwater. He takes a twelve-year-old’s horrified confessions and tells the boy it’s a misunderstanding, and Andrew has never forgiven him for it. Now he is twenty years old, bleeding from somewhere—he can’t tell where, and he can’t tell if he has a concussion either; his mind was fuzzy before he got hit—and there is a strong arm across his throat and fingers digging into his hips.

His mind is static; buzzing echoes far too loudly in his head, and then Neil is kicking down the door and Andrew cannot stop laughing. He laughs and he laughs and he laughs, and he doesn’t stop because he doesn’t know how to, and it’s far too quiet now without cruel voices in his ears and a heavy weight across his neck to turn breaths into broken gasps.

He sits up, careful, and—”Oh,” he says, “Oh, I don’t like that.” He laughs more, because of course he doesn’t like that; everything hurts after this sort of thing. It almost hurts worse, seeing Aaron and his blood-stained racquet and hearing Neil’s voice tell him Drake’s dead, he never touched Aaron, but...

Andrew has to check. He made a promise, long ago, to protect Aaron from women if he would not protect himself from them, but—but Drake is not a woman, and Drake is someone who should never have been anywhere near this close to Aaron. Drake shouldn’t have been near any other children after Andrew; and yet here he was, at Luther’s request, whispering filthy things about Aaron and Nicky and Neil and Kevin; all those who are Andrew’s to protect and Andrew’s to stand with.

Here he was, speaking of six children after Andrew, just as Pig Higgins had said. Six children, and they are not Andrew’s fault but they are Luther’s , and so he says, “I’m going to kill him,” just as Nicky makes a wounded noise in the doorway. It’s all too much, and he has Aaron in his arms and Neil wrapping blankets around him and he thinks he laughs a little more, but he’s not sure, and he doesn’t really care anyway.

Drake is dead.

Aaron killed him.

Andrew doesn’t stop laughing until the sound of police sirens reach his ears.

Wymack, predictably, is there to pick him up from the hospital. Less predictably—Neil is there too; as if he’d been waiting the whole time Andrew had been in there. Knowing Neil, he probably had been, but—well. Andrew didn’t invite Wymack.

Again, predictably, it was Kevin who did.

Andrew sits in the front seat and laughs through the pain instead of taking up Wymack on his offer to let him stretch out in the back. Maybe it would have been the easier choice. Maybe stretching out in the back would have hurt less. But what does that matter—he is Andrew Minyard, and he’s never taken the easy way out. He gets his own retribution; makes promises and does not bother with revenge.

He protects those that are his, and he does not tolerate the terrible, broken-glass look Neil gets whenever he hears Andrew laughing.

So: he signs Neil up to distract Bee, both because with the way he is at the moment, he doesn’t want to talk to her, and because he knows Neil hates psychiatrists. He knows Neil distrusts Bee.

He also knows that Neil had a hand in all of these events; by listening to Nicky and ignoring Andrew’s discomfort; by breaking what Andrew had maybe, tentatively trusted him with; he had a hand in these events.

Neil didn’t set Andrew up purposefully. Luther did that.

But Neil helped. He should know that.

(Andrew doesn’t blame him. He’s too tired for blame.)

Bee talks to him, and looks just as uncomfortable as Neil had when he laughs. They don’t understand that it really is something to laugh about: a family reunion with too many families reuniting; what is almost a show of solidarity for Nicky turning into a man finding out far too soon—because the right time was never—what his father had done to the one he’d been asked to look after.

It’s amusing, in the horrifying way that makes people laugh at Zombie movies and at the Addams Family. It’s amusing in the same way that people making fools of themselves is; amusing in the same way that created shows like Ridiculousness. It’s amusing more because he can’t feel anything else than it is because it’s actually funny, and he says as much to Bee. Her concern at those words is like a bright, shining beacon of the kind of purity Andrew had associated with people entirely unlike the Foxes (and the Ravens, really) and she tells him, calm in a way that speaks of shutting everything down because there’s no way else to function, that she wants to get him off his drugs, now.

She tells him that he’s served his sentence. That his meds, as they are, were wrong for him the entire time, and she tells him that because of NCAA interference she couldn’t change them.

She tells him she’s sorry.

He tells her that he hates that word. He does not tell her that he knew all three of those things the whole time.

He does, however, say in a voice as calm as he can make it, “I’d like that.”

At least, he thinks he would. Will.


Andrew leaves that night, but not before this: Neil Josten—a gorgeous, trusting idiot who is, in the end, just a pipe dream; a connection created for him by his meds—shoves Andrew’s hand up the front of his shirt and says, in a voice made of broken-glass desperation and an odd kind of star-bright want, “Trust me.”

It’s amusing, this, so Andrew laughs; traces heavy scar-tissue where it lies under his palms and knows that he will remember this, even if he doesn’t want to. “I’ll trust you,” he says, calm and careful and deadened, and the quiet, triumphant shock on Neil’s face almost makes him want to laugh more.

It would, in fact, if he did not want for anything.

This, he reflects, is the last time he will see them while too ‘high’, as it were, to be bored.

Andrew wonders if it will all change when he’s sober.

Bee drops him off, and the man who collects him from the front desk—Slosky, his primary therapist, apparently—smiles a smile too wide and perfect to be real. That’s okay though; Andrew knows fake smiles. This fake smile isn’t one to watch out for.

When he’s introduced to the ‘team’, though; oh, that’s when everything changes. Andrew meets Proust and the smile on the therapist’s face is enough to make him sick; even without withdrawal tugging at his veins. Proust’s smile is a smile that pulls on all of Andrew’s long-buried instincts, brought back to the light by Drake’s presence. He almost cringes; only barely fights it off and almost doesn’t hear Slosky when he says, “I hand-picked this team, and I assure you they are some of my finest.”

Everything is ‘almost’, now, because Andrew almost doesn’t hold back his snort.

‘Some of my finest.’

Andrew eyes Proust and smiles, pretending he’s not sceptical. Pretending he’s not worried.

Here, he has no choice. At least he can pretend he doesn’t care.

He soon comes to dread his sessions with Proust. He knew he would; he always knew—from the moment he saw Proust’s grin, Andrew knew he would try to avoid the man as much as possible. Would try, desperately, to give him no response; whatever he dreamt up; whatever he said or did to Andrew, he would try to give him no response.

Bullies, people always say, will stop if you don’t react.

Rapists, Andrew remembers, enjoy a fight; but they don’t care, in the end. Lying pliant will help no one. (Lying pliant is his petty revenge.)