David was awake and he didn't know why.
A glance at the angry red numbers of the alarm clock revealed it was 1:34AM. He almost rolled back over, cuddling up to the curve of Abby's back, except that in the silence between the periodic hum of the overhead fan, he heard a glass clink and his microwave door close downstairs.
“Go check on him.” Abby mumbled and David sighed and rolled out of bed.
He made sure to thump down the stairs, giving his late night guest plenty of warning, a return of the courtesy of making noise to let David know that his intruder meant no harm. It was a lesson they'd both learnt the first time when David had snuck down the stairs, armed with a handgun and nearly gotten a knife in the face in return.
“At least you used your key this time.” David said.
Andrew, perched atop the counter, kicking socked feet silently against the cabinets said nothing as he stared at David from over the top of his mug. Even from his position leaning against the doorframe to the room, he could smell the near sickening sweetness of the hot cocoa he kept especially for Andrew.
Four years and one mouthy, scarred striker had changed the man sitting before him. It'd brought new grey hairs to David's temples, streaking through his dark hair enough that dying it would too obvious. It’d softened Andrew's hazel eyes, chipped away at some of the ice he'd packed in around his heart. There was light in his eyes and a looseness around his shoulders that David was proud to see. The bruises under his eyes looked more like regular college student bags instead of the result of a fist fight.
Tonight they were a touch deeper than usual, which is why David figured he was here. He took the second mug that Andrew had placed on the opposite counter, relieved to find it full of tea instead of the watered down syrup that his goalie was drinking. He leaned his back against the opposite counter, looking up at where Andrew had transitioned from staring at him to staring through him.
“I'm graduating in three days.” Andrew said.
David took a long drag of his tea and waited.
“I will be moving to Columbus.” He continued, “Neil is not.”
“I have him for another year,” David said, “Are you worried?”
David watched Andrew swallow the kneejerk denial that he felt anything, chasing it with a sip of cocoa. “He requires a certain level of supervision and he's gotten used to companionship.”
“You, what, think he's going to be alone ?” David asked, “He has the team and you know how to use a damn phone.”
“It's not the same.” Andrew snapped.
David met his eyes and shrugged his agreement.
It wouldn't be the same. Those kids, that team… There would never be a group like them.
They would always be special.
“What am I then, chop liver? He'll still have me and Abby.” Betsy, David knew, wasn't worth mentioning.
“That’s my point.” Andrew sighed.
David blinked, shocked, then hid his smile in his mug. When David continued his silence, Andrew let out a noise that could have been a hiss, “So I'll need your assistance.”
To make a comment about Andrew Minyard asking for help would be the best way to ensure he never asked anyone for help ever again, so David simply nodded, respecting the seriousness of the request.
Andrew dragged his gaze up from the jagged, pale scars marring David's tattoo, sunken in his forearm to David's eyes, reading the promise there.
They finished their drinks in silence and with a final, satisfied nod Andrew hopped off the counter, crammed his feet into his shoes and reached into his pocket. He pulled out his sizable key ring and began to pry off David's house key.
“Uh uh uh! No. That's yours.” David said. The key was patterned with flames, a reference to his own tattoos and he noted that time had chipped and scratched the design just as it had to himself. “If I wanted it back, I’d ask for it. That’s yours.”
Andrew let the key pop back onto the ring and slid them back into his pocket. He kept his hand in his pocket, and David could see the shape of his fist balled around the key ring.
“Alright,” David sighed, “Go get some sleep kid, moonlights-a-wasting. I’ll keep an eye on Neil, don’t worry.”
Three wins, one loss.
David thought they were doing pretty well, all thing considered. The freshmen were... adjusting but it certainly wasn’t the worst start to a season he’d seen.
The bags under Neil’s eyes begged to differ.
The transition was subtle until it wasn’t; until he turned his back to accept a phone call for one second and turned around to the sounds of a fight.
The court was chaos.
At goal, Robin was whaling on the largest of the freshmen backliners, Marcus, with her racquet, face savage behind her mask. The sight was so unexpected that David didn’t even react until Neil stepped in to block her racquet with his own, redirecting it up and away. She let it fall and ripped off her helmet to screech, speaking so quickly that as David threw himself onto the court, he couldn’t understand what she was saying.
Marcus was on his feet the instant she stepped back and he ripped off his own helmet to sneer. He was hissing something that, while David couldn’t hear, knew to be was something awful . A theory backed up as Neil ditched his helmet, ripped off his gloves and launched himself forward.
“That’s enough!” David thundered, “We’re not playing this happy horse shit! Break it up!”
Neil was mouthy, confrontational and fierce, a Fox from head to tail. He could talk his way into a fight and back out of it, verbally flaying his opponents until they were begging for mercy. But it took considerable pushing to provoke him into striking first. David knew better than too get to close if he’d been whipped up into that level of fury. Approaching him would be like backing a desperate animal into a corner; a bad idea.
Neil, who had Marcus by his collar, standing over him with his fist still raised, paused at David’s voice and snarled something low and threatening inches from Marcus’s bloodied face. He threw him to the ground and turned to David, face blank and dangerous. His eyes, flat and emotionless, were ringed with dark, raccoon like rings that made the unusual paleness to his face starkly obvious.
“That piece of shit doesn’t belong on a court, let alone this school. Let Robin tell you what he said to her, because if I repeat it, I’ll kill him.”
“Robin,” David called, “My office.”
He kept his gaze on the stranger in front of him, searching the glaciers of his eyes for traces of his team's captain.
“Josten,” David said, voice pitched low. There was no flicker of recognition, no light in his eyes. “Neil. ”
A slow, almost lethargic blink.
A deep, shuddering breath and Neil was staring up at him, still openly furious but without the edge of easy violence. His shoulders dropped and he drew himself to his full height and out of the slumped predatory position he'd taken up before.
“Christ on a cracker, kid, when was the last time you slept? Ya know what?” David cut off his lie with a sharp shake of his head, “Don't even- Just don't. Go home, take a goddamn nap and meet me back here at 3:30 to talk about whatever the fuck this shitshow is.”
“I didn't ask for your opinion, Josten.”
Neil grumbled, but left after gathering up his discarded gear. Marcus stayed back, eyes on the floor as David tugged his phone out of his back pocket and typed out a message.
Come get your boy. He just almost gutted a freshmen.
Three hours later, David's phone buzzed on his desk as he sat across from a stony faced and visibly exhausted Neil. They were writing up their formal misconduct complaint to the Dean, removing Marcus from the team and hopefully the entire program.
“Didn't know you knew how to text, Coach.” Neil said without looking up. He was slumped over David’s desk, one hand holding up his head and pressing the knife scars on his cheek white.
“Oh hello, Kettle. How nice of you to visit a little old Pot like me.” He snorted and flipped his phone over.
The text simply said "10-4.”
Almost simultaneously, Neil's phone buzzed, startling him into jumping and cracking his knees against the top of David's desk. He cursed as he dug his phone from his pocket, flipping it face up on the desk and froze, eyes as wide as saucers at whatever was on the screen.
“I,” He said and the quiet fury melted from his shoulders, “Andrew is- I gotta go.”
“Is he okay?” David asked.
“Yeah, yeah, he's fine it's just- he's here? He came here?” Neil sounded confused, but the delight on his face was clear as day as he snapped into a sitting position, cradling the little chunk of technology like it was the most precious thing he owned.
“Go on then.” David said. He waved his hand dismissively and kept his head down to hide his smile, going so far as to lift the paperwork to tap it down evenly in the manila envelope bound for the Dean’s office. Neil shot up like a rocket and darted from the room, the door slamming shut behind him.
Two days later, Josten and Minyard strolled into the locker room, walking so close that they brushed together, shoulder to thigh, with every step. It wasn't too hard. Neil, despite Abby's best efforts, was still all lean muscle although he'd definitely gained enough to lose the gaunt and haunted cut to his scarred cheeks. Meanwhile, professional training combined with Andrew's improved diet meant that he'd noticeably bulked, his chest now straining against a Foxes t-shirt that was undoubtedly stolen from his striker.
“You couldn't have trained like that when you played for me?” David asked, eyeing the fresh flush to Neil's cheeks, the lack of bruises under his eyes and the bright purple hickey he was making no attempt to hide at the base of his neck.
“Did you pay me a million a year?” Andrew asked, lifting an eyebrow.
“Are you going to sass me all day or teach these kids some respect?”
Neil brightened like the thought of Andrew joining a practice had never occurred to him and his hopeful smile was so stupidly endearing that David knew immediately that Andrew would agree.
“What will you give me.” Andrew said, glancing sideways at Neil. Neil's cheeks went positively crimson.
“Whatever you want.”
Once, Andrew would've immediately denied the accusation that he wanted anything. Now, he simply met Neil's eyes, searching them for an unknown answer and sighed.
“You know where the gear is.” David said and waved them away.
The freshmen were suitably awed when Andrew casually strolled onto the court behind Neil in his old gear. He took up his old post and leaned heavily against his racquet, visibly bored. Andrew only moved when the team got close enough to launch a doomed shot. Then, and only then, would he strike like a viper to bat the shot away with excessive force, hurling it repeatedly to the other end of the court. David figured after the first four shots that he was trying to make a goal from across the court.
Robin, Neil and the rest of the upperclassmen took the challenge for what it was; the freshmen were more frustrated, playing angrily in contrast to the almost playful manner that the others were dancing up and down the court. A difference that Andrew punished by aiming his deflections at their ankles.
It was the best they’d played all season.
Later, when practice was over (a few minutes early in deference to their special guest) Andrew strolled to a stop beside David and motioned Neil into the locker room with a nod of his head. The freshmen slunk off the court past them, not quite making eye contact on account that Andrew wasn’t looking at them. He was looking at the giant jerseys hanging above the court, at his own number fluttering softly in the air conditioner’s breeze next to Kevin’s. Retired, like Neil’s would be, upon graduation.
“You should have let him kill him.” Andrew said at last, when the locker room door hissed and stayed shut. Wymack snorted, glancing down at Andrew before looking up towards the ceiling with him. Seth’s number was positioned on the other side of the stadium, a special position for lost players. Edgar Allen, he knew, had hung Riko’s in a similar spot.
“Maybe.” David conceded.
“Thank you,” Andrew said after a moment, finally shifting his gaze back down to earth and to David.
“Don’t thank me,” He said, shaking his head, “I’ll always have y’all’s back.”
David and Andrew both turned at the sound of Neil’s voice. He was poking his head out of the locker room door, smiling and flushed, hair still wet from his shower and beginning to curl rebelliously in all directions.
“Robin wants to grab dinner with us.” He said. Andrew took a step towards him, but paused and glanced over his shoulder at David.
“For everything.” Andrew said, and before David could reply, he’d grabbed Neil by his collar and dragged him back into the locker room.
“Saps.” David sighed, “The lot of us.”