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Dancing With The Devil

Chapter Text

Beyonce’s voice was blaring through Neil’s headphones loud enough for the elderly lady sitting next to him to shoot him a chiding look. Neil turned the volume up a bit more.

He still felt Stuart’s arms around his shoulders and his lips on his forehead, and it was weird to think he wouldn’t see him for the next couple months, but his life was about to change drastically - and Neil was looking forward to it. He was on his way to the US to change more than his own life, and he was on his way there to wreak havoc. A small, satisfied grin spread on Neil’s lips at the thought. The next years would be a lot of fun.

 

He almost missed when boarding started because he was so deep in his thoughts, but when the lady next to him got up from her seat to go to the gate with her husband he blinked a couple times and realised that priority boarding had started. That was his cue, then. He grabbed his small bag, flung it over his shoulder and made his way over with lazy yet smooth steps. Years and years of intense training had him carry himself with the elegance and arrogance of a dancer, his head held high, hips swaying gently.

 

“Good evening, Sir,” the stewardess greeted when it was Neil’s turn. He smiled at her and held his ticket and passport out for her to check.

“Thank you,” she said, handing them back, “Enjoy your flight, Mr. Hatford.”

 

***

 

“What’s the name?”

 

“Neil Abram Hatford.”

 

“Uh-huh. Gimme a sec, sonny.” Neil frowned a bit at the name he had just been called. The lady behind the desk was scrolling through a file on her computer, her glasses sliding off her nose every couple seconds and her pushing them back up in an endless cycle. It drove Neil insane after two minutes. So did the speed she was working at, which was pretty much that of a sloth trying to climb a tree with two broken arms. To be fair, she looked like she was at least five years past her retirement age.

Neil startled when she slammed her palm on the desk and clicked her tongue with a victorious grin.


“There we go. Neil Abram Hatford. Gotcha.” Mrs Alberts - if that even was her name plate on the desk - turned on her office chair and rolled over to a massive file cabinet on it, ripped one of the drawers open and went through the folders inside.

 

“Hatford, Hatford, Hatford,” she kept mumbling Neil’s name to herself until she finally found what seemed to be his folder, rolled back behind her desk and waved it in front of his nose.

“Here’s your stuff,” she told him and threw a look inside to check if everything was there, “Your dorm room is number 214 in the Foxtower. Key’s in the folder. You share the dorm with a sophomore girl, lovely young lady. You’re a lucky boy, aren’t you?”

 

Neil took the folder from her.

 

“I guess,” he said, then smiled a charming smile, “Thank you, Mrs Alberts. Have a lovely day.”

 

“Oh, what a nice accent. English boy?”

 

“Yes, London born and raised.” That wasn’t entirely true, but she didn’t need to know that.

 

“Well, have fun in the US then, sonny. It’s not as posh here as over there, but we sure know how to have one hell of a time,” she grinned, patriotism making her chest swell with pride. Neil lowered his eyes but kept his smile.

 

“Oh, I know. I’ve met a couple americans before. Though I’m afraid they misunderstood the phrase “a hell of a time”.”

 

Mrs Alberts looked at him in confusion, but Neil didn’t explain. Instead he just turned around, left the office and made his way over to the so-called Foxtower.

 

Oh, this was going to be so much fun.

Chapter Text

Neil found door 214 rather quickly and decided to knock first, instead of using his key. He was sharing with a girl after all, and he didn’t want to be rude and invade her privacy. It took only a couple seconds for her to answer with a shouted “Coming!” before she opened the door for him.

 

The girl had at least five inches on him, and straight blonde hair that cascaded down her shoulders, the tips reaching all the way down to her waist. She was lean but athletic, the leggings she was wearing tightly hugging her muscular legs. Maybe Mrs Alberts hadn’t been wrong when she said Neil was a lucky boy.

The girl, his new roommate, gave him a curious look. Neil raised his key at her in return.


“Hi, I’m Neil. I’m your new roommate.”

 

“Oh!” Immediately her face lit up with realisation and a smile spread on her lips, “Hi! I’m Katelyn, so nice to meet you! Come in.”
Katelyn ushered Neil inside, gave him a short look, looked outside again and then back at him.

“Is that all you have?” She asked, pointing at the bag hanging off his shoulder.

 

“The rest is coming tomorrow. I’m getting it delivered. It was too much of a hassle to get it all over here by plane.”

 

“Oh, alright. Where are you from then?”

 

“England.”

 

“Wow! That’s far. Have you been to the US before?” Katelyn guided Neil further inside the room that seemed to be the living room. There was a comfortable looking couch with fluffy, pink cushions, a big TV and two desks, one of them covered in school work. Neil sat down on the couch, after Katelyn made an offering gesture.

 

“Yes, a couple times. But never to South Carolina.”

 

“It’s nice here, you’ll see,” she said, “You want a drink?”

 

***

 

“So, Neil,” Katelyn said after they had been idly chatting for about half an hour, just exchanging basic infos about each other, “Since you’ve been put into Foxtower it means you’re on one of the sport teams. Which one is it?” But before Neil could even answer she stopped him with an excited hand and bounced up and down her seat.

“Oh, wait, wait, can I guess?”

Neil shrugged.

 

“Sure,” he said.

Katelyn eyed him carefully, looking him up from head to toe. She took in his height, his slender but muscular figure, his outfit. Usually his outfit would probably give him away, but since he spent hours on a plane today he dressed for the occasion, which meant sweatpants, sneakers and a plain shirt. Katelyn made a small noise.

 

“Are you on the swim team?”

 

“No.” Though he had to give her it was an educated guess. She seemed like a clever young woman - Neil liked that.


“Well, it’s definitely not the football team.” Neil snorted at that.

 

“No, definitely not the football team,” he agreed, amused. The only reason he’d be found anywhere near the footballers would have nothing to do with sports and everything with the players.

 

“Lacrosse?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“Okay, then there’s only one left I could imagine you in.” A small but excited grin spread on her lips and Neil raised a curious eyebrow.

 

“And that would be?”

 

“The Vixens. Our cheer squad.”

 

“Correct.”

 

To say Katelyn looked excited at that was an understatement. She threw her arms up and yelled a loud cheer that startled Neil into leaning back on the couch until he had to brace himself on one hand.


“Sorry, I’m sorry,” she laughed at Neil’s confused look and waved her hands around in an apologetic gesture, “It’s just, I’m on the squad, too, and I’m so excited that we’re opening auditions for guys, too, this year. There was a lot of resistance from PSU officials about this - you know old straight men and their beloved gender roles - but we wouldn’t let it go so they eventually agreed. And you’re the first one to audition this year I meet, so you get all the excitement.”

 

It was actually cute how pumped Katelyn was for this. Neil didn’t know how these men had resisted for so long - growing up doing a sport that was heavily dominated by women, Neil had a deep respect for them and their strength, both mentally and physically, and wouldn’t want to stand against a group of angry cheerleaders.

 

“Well, I guess I’ll see you at the audition tomorrow, then,” Neil said. Katelyn nodded.

 

“I’m crossing my fingers for you, you seem like a nice guy, I’d love to have you on the squad.”

 

“Thanks. I’ll be giving it all I got.”

Chapter Text

Neil’s things arrived safely at his dorm the day after. Two men carried it all up for him and he only had to sort through the boxes and put everything in its place - but that had to wait until after the auditions. Those were today as well, and they started in an hour.

Once the men were finished carrying all of Neil’s things up to his room he gave them a hefty tip and then vanished into the bedroom to change into something more suitable for dancing. Katelyn was gone since long before his stuff arrived. She had to prepare everything for the auditions with her girls and go through the details again, which meant he could change in peace and then make his way over to court.

 

The Foxhole Court was the home stadium of PSU’s Class I Exy team the Foxes, but the Vixens used it for their practices as well. Usually their schedules didn’t overlap, Katelyn had told him, but when Neil arrived at the building he spotted three girls in front of it that looked vaguely familiar to him. Those must be the Foxes’ ladies.

 

“Excuse me,” Neil stopped a few feet away from them and all three looked up when he addressed them.

 

“Yeah?” One of them said. Neil thought he remembered her name was Danielle Wilds.

 

“Can you tell me where the entrance is?”

 

“Sure, just go along this fence and you can’t miss it,” Danielle said with a friendly smile, pointing Neil in the direction of the entrance.

 

“Are you here for the Vixens’ audition? I heard they are opening them for male Cheerleaders, too, this year,” another girl asked after assessing his look. Her hair was white with rainbow coloured tips and her smile was soft and warm. It was the kind of smile that wrapped around you like a warm blanket on a winter night. Neil answered with a short nod and her smile widened a bit.

“Good luck, then.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

***

 

Neil’s eyes were glued to his phone when he entered the Foxhole Court. Stuart was texting him to make sure Neil and his belongings all arrived safely in South Carolina and sometimes it was hard to shake him off, even after giving him the answers he wanted. He kept asking if his room was alright, if his roommate was nice, how the weather was compared to London. With a small sigh Neil answered all of his questions.

He did not see the two people coming towards him until he ran into one of them, stumbled two steps back and threw the tall young man a withering glare.

 

“Watch where you’re going, mate.”

 

“Excuse me?!” Neil would recognise that face anywhere, even if he was dressed in bright orange. Kevin Day brushed his jersey off with a scandalised look on his face. An excited rush went through Neil at seeing him again in person, but it didn’t lessen the annoyance at what happened.

 

“Apology accepted,” Neil said.

 

“This wasn’t an apology, you ran into me . Do you even know who I am?”

Really? The old “do you know who I am”? Apparently the smile-faced, charming persona people saw of him on TV wasn’t the real Kevin. The excitement turned into irritation and Neil could feel it show on his face.

 

“Actually, I do. But you know what? I don’t give a flying fuck whether you’re Kevin fucking Day or the bloody Queen. Get your head out of your arse, will you? Maybe then you’ll see where you’re going and won’t run into people.”

 

The loud, amused snort coming from the other young man made Neil turn his angry gaze away from a dumbfounded Kevin and acknowledge his neighbor for the first time. Smaller than Neil and blond, and a grin on his lips that was equally amused as condescending - that must be Andrew Minyard, then. Neil had only heard little about him, but he knew that he was always seen at Kevin’s side since Kevin joined the Foxes. And that he turned Riko and Kevin down, when they offered him a place on the Raven’s roster - that last piece of information immediately made him more likeable to Neil.

“Look, look, Kevin, he’s a comedian,” Andrew said, pointing a finger at Neil but looking up at Kevin with a manic smile. Kevin wasn’t too impressed by neither Neil nor Andrew, and Neil was almost certain he’d drop dead on the spot if looks could kill. To be fair, he’d probably be long dead if looks could kill, Kevin wasn’t the first to look at Neil this way and he wouldn’t be the last.

Before either of them could say anything else that could make this encounter go down even worse, Katelyn’s voice reached them.

 

“Neil! Come in quick, we’re gonna start the auditions soon.”

 

Neil looked past Kevin and Andrew at Katelyn who was standing by the plexiglass doors a couple feet away, smiling and waving at him.

“Right, gentlemen, have a lovely afternoon,” Neil said, not even trying to sound sincere, “I have to attend an audition now.” With that, he pushed through between Kevin and Andrew, giving either of them a good push against their shoulder with his own. He heard the exasperated noise Kevin made and couldn’t help the smug grin that reached his lips, but didn’t turn around on his way to Katelyn.

 

“I see you’ve met Kevin and Andrew,” Katelyn said when Neil was close enough for her to curl an arm around his shoulder and gently lead him onto the court.

 

“Yes. Lovely lads. Had a great chat.”

 

Katelyn raised an eyebrow at him, clearly not believing a single word of what he just said. Not that there was any reason to believe him.

 

“Yeah, no, Kevin is a cock, isn’t he?”

 

“He is,” Katelyn agreed, laughing, “But he’s a really good player and the only chance to success we have this year.”

 

“What about Andrew?” Neil asked. He finally threw a glance over his shoulder to where he and Kevin had their little dispute, but both Kevin and Andrew were already gone.

 

“What about him?” Katelyn followed his gaze, then looked back at Neil.

Neil looked back at her, tilting his head ever so slightly as if it was obvious what he meant.

 

“He’s hot.”

 

Katelyn tripped over her own feet, caught herself by holding onto Neil’s shoulders while Neil stretched his arms to catch her, and then just stared at him with big eyes for an eternity.

Did he say something wrong? Oh, shit, was he Katelyn’s boyfriend? That would be embarrassing.

 

“Oh my God, Neil, no.” Katelyn said, shaking her head urgently, “Bad idea, very bad idea. Don’t get close to Andrew. He’s probably not just gonna hurt your feelings, he’s gonna hurt you , too.”

Neil frowned at that. Somewhere in the back of his head he remembered he read something about Andrew serving jail time, but, honestly, that wasn’t a surprise with someone who played for the Foxes. The whole team consisted of delinquents and junkies. Not that Neil had a white vest. At all.

But that was no reason for him not to climb Andrew like a tree.

 

“Calm down, Katelyn, I don’t wanna marry him. I just think he’s handsome.”

 

“No, really, Neil. Andrew is a psychopath. His own teammates call him “the Monster”. He’s on some weird mood-lifting drugs to prevent him from just stabbing people in the face. If you wanna go at it with an athlete, feel free to do so, we don’t have a rule against that, but for your own sake, choose anyone but Andrew.”

 

Neil looked at Katelyn with a blank expression. There was more than pure speculation and rumors behind her urgent advice. She was genuinely worried Neil might get hurt, in many ways, if he tried to get close to Andrew in any way.

 

“You’re scared of him,” he said eventually.

 

“Yes.” Katelyn’s laugh was humorless. “Yes, I am. I’ve had a couple unpleasant encounters with him. Believe me when I tell you, you don’t want to get anywhere close to him.”

 

Neil appreciated the sentiment, but he knew himself too well to believe things like that would discourage him. He met people way worse than Andrew - but Katelyn didn’t know that. If anything, these things only made him more curious about Andrew. Maybe she was right, and maybe Andrew turned out to be a violent asshole, but he’d have to find that out himself. And Neil was in no way helpless if it came down to a physical fight - though people tended to underestimate him.

 

“Kay!” One of the cheerleaders shouted over to them, “I think everyone’s here, let’s start!”

Chapter Text

“I’m so excited about having you on the squad now, Neil!” Katelyn said as she helped Neil sort through his boxes and put all his things into their places.

The auditions had been harder than expected - apparently Americans took their cheerleading a bit more serious than the Brits. After an exhausting hour of testing the candidates’ stamina the current Vixens taught them last year’s choreo. For some people the auditions ended there already, those who failed at cardio and those who couldn’t keep up with the choreo well enough. The others made it to a part where each of them had to present the just learned choreography. Afterwards, the Vixens would decided if it was good enough or not and their Captain - who was, by the way, Katelyn, who completely failed to mention that with a single word to Neil - would declare their decision.

Which, for Neil, had been a very enthusiastic: “We’d like to welcome you on the Squad, Neil!”

 

Now, an hour later, both of them had had a shower and were back at the dorm.

“So what’s the team like?” Neil asked, his hands busy folding his shirts.

 

“The Foxes?” Katelyn asked. She threw a quick glance at him before she went back to putting his books on the bookshelf.
“Hmmh,” Katelyn made a thoughtful noise, then shrugged, “They’re nice. Most of them. Seth is a bit difficult sometimes but he’s okay. Matt is a sweetheart. The girls are all great, even though they couldn’t be any more different from each other personality-wise if they tried. And Andrew’s lot… Well, Nicky and Aaron are nice. It’s actually just Andrew and Kevin who are, like… really difficult to handle.”

When Katelyn saw Neil’s pensive expression she smiled.

“Well, you’re going to meet them later, so you can see for yourself.”

 

Indeed, a little while later the new cheer squad met at the Court again to watch the Foxes’ afternoon practice and get to know the team. Both Katelyn and Coach Wymack thought it important that the team and the cheerleaders knew each other, so they’d know who they were even cheering for. Even if, as Katelyn said, Coach Wymack wasn’t entirely sure if getting to know the Foxes wouldn’t dim the Vixens’ willingness to cheer for the team.

Neil for one was looking forward to meeting them. He didn’t care for the team, really, just two people in specific and for entirely different reasons: Kevin and Andrew. He was fascinated by their relationship. Wherever Kevin went Andrew was and the other way round - either they clicked right after Kevin joined the Foxes - which, honestly, was the less likely option in Neil’s opinion after meeting Kevin earlier - or there was something else behind it.

Neil knew everything about Kevin. He knew about the Moriyamas, he knew about what happened behind the scenes in the Nest and he knew what really happened to his hand. He knew that Kevin grew up with the Moriyamas after Kayleigh’s untimely death, and that it wasn’t a happy childhood. And then Andrew came, refused the Raven’s and months later, Kevin joined the Foxes - and suddenly they were inseparable. Was there more to this boy than he knew? Neil had to find out.

 

The Foxes were in the middle of a scrimmage when the Vixens entered the inner court. They watched through the plexiglass walls, most of the new Vixens excited to meet the team, bouncing on the balls of their feet, hands pressed against the plexiglass. Neil watched them with a small grin, then looked at the others who had been on the squad for longer now. They were decidedly more calm, though they did whisper and giggle occasionally, pointing fingers at players and grinning suggestively. Neil directed his gaze back on the court.

 

Neil liked Exy. It was fun to watch and definitely more interesting than its twin Lacrosse. Neil liked how quick and brutal the games were. He used to play himself, just for a short while though. While he enjoyed being on the court and getting into physical fights, his heart was sold to dancing since he was four years old and there was just too much of a risk of an injury that would restrict his ability to dance. It was something he wasn’t willing to risk, so he went back to being a spectator. He hadn’t really paid american Exy much attention as the sport was a big hit in the UK, too, and they had some fantastic teams themselves, so his knowledge of american teams - especially College teams - was limited. The only reason he knew about the Ravens and Foxes was Kevin.

The longer he watched, the more he questioned Kevin’s choice to join the Foxes. He felt the excitement of the other new Vixens die down slowly, too, as it became evident what an unbelievably dysfunctional team the Foxes were. They got into fights more often than not, especially Kevin and Seth were always at each other's throats. Their defense line was okay . Danielle was more busy with getting her players back in line and off each other than the actual game. The only calm anchor in this whole mess of a scrimmage were the two goalkeepers. Renee Walker was her name, Katelyn had told Neil. Neil remembered her as the girl with the warm smile when she took her helmet off during a short break. She stood in her goal, calmed her teammates down with gentle hands and, Neil figured, just as gentle words, if needs be, and tried her best to block the shots she got. She wasn’t a perfect goalie, but a really good one. At least she actually tried , which couldn’t be said about their other goalkeeper.

Andrew was as much of a calm anchor as Renee, if for an entirely different reason: he just didn’t seem to care. At all. He stood in goal, his racquet propped against the floor and leaning on it, not even trying to block any shots. When a ball shot past him he just followed it with a lazy gaze, watched as the goal lit up red, and turned back to his teammates without any indication of interest. Kevin was going insane, shouting at Andrew to guard his goal loud enough Neil could hear it, if muffled, through the plexiglass. Andrew just shrugged and said something that seemed to get Kevin even more angry. Right, definitely not friends. There must be more to Andrew than Neil knew, and this not-knowing was infuriating yet tempting to him.

 

Katelyn sighed next to him and Neil teared his gaze from the fight on court to look at her questioningly. Katelyn smiled a tired smile.

“See, this is why we need Kevin,” she said, gesturing vaguely at that whole mess playing out in front of them, “He’s an asshole, but he’s a champion. He’s good at what he does. We need someone who’s good and who cares.”

 

“But does he care enough for everyone?” Neil asked, raising an eyebrow. He had never seen someone care so little about something as Andrew seemed to care about guarding his goal. Why they even put up with his attitude was a mystery to him. Katelyn just shrugged with a humorless smile on her lips. It was answer enough.

 

It got only slightly better until the scrimmage was over. They all took their helmets off for a short drink break. Next to him, Katelyn perked up suddenly, standing on her tiptoes and staring onto the court intently. Before Neil could ask he noticed one of the players turning towards the plexiglass. Neil was taken aback for a second, thrown off by the face that was looking at them that looked like Andrew’s, when Andrew was clearly still standing in goal. Oh. He didn’t know there was a twin.

The twin smiled when he spotted the Vixens - not the same manic grin Andrew usually wore, but a genuine, somewhat shy, smile and waved. Katelyn immediately waved back. Oh . Okay.

 

“So is that twin not crazy, then?” Neil asked, teasingly. Katelyn jumped and turned to Neil with an expression as if he caught her doing something forbidden. She grinned, her cheeks turning a pretty shade of pink.

 

“No,” she said, half-laughing, “Aaron is the normal one.”

 

“Is he now? And do you maybe have a crush on him?”

 

“Maybe,” she answered, her grin widening but turning a bit embarrassed.

 

“So should I expect regular visits to our dorm?” Katelyn seemed almost shocked at this suggestion and hit Neil’s shoulder without any power behind it.

 

“No, it’s not like that,” she said. Neil just raised an eyebrow at her.

 

“It’s… Difficult,” she said, squirming on her feet and lowering her voice so only Neil would hear her. What could possibly be so difficult about this, when Aaron clearly liked her back? Come on, that smile he just threw her spoke a thousand words. “Andrew hates me.”

 

Oh, dear. This sounded like the beginning of a high school movie.

 

“I don’t know what’s going on between the two, but it’s keeping Aaron away from me.”

 

“Really? That’s a bit childish, isn’t it?”

 

“If you knew Andrew, you’d know it’s better not to go against his will. It can go really badly. I think Aaron just wants to protect me from him.”

 

Neil frowned. When Katelyn talked about Andrew, it was as if she was talking about a monster, not a person. But then again, she told him his own teammates called him exactly that - the Monster. Maybe Andrew really wasn’t someone Neil should underestimate, considering the way people seemed to talk about and act around him, in addition to the fact that Kevin was glued to him since leaving the Ravens. Kevin, whose whole life was full of torture and murder. Maybe Andrew was more than what met the eye.

Unfortunately, that only made Neil even more curious.

 

“Okay, Ladies.” Neil and the other Vixens turned at the sound of a voice and were faced with a middle-aged man, tribal flame tattoos snaking up his arms. Coach Wymack looked at them and his expression wavered for a second before he hastily added: “And- uh, Gentlemen. Sorry. Not used to you guys being a mixed squad yet.” The Vixens snickered, and Neil couldn’t help a tiny grin either.

“Are you ready to meet the team? It’s your last chance to run.”

 

“We’re ready, Coach,” Katelyn said in all of their stead and Wymack nodded. He pounded a fist against the plexiglass and the team stopped, lowering their racquets and taking off their helmets.

“Break time! Get presentable, I’m sending the Vixens in. And if any of you shitheads isn’t nice I’ll sign you up for a marathon! Did you hear that, Andrew?!”

Andrew took his helmet off and answered with a grin and an exaggerated shrug that had Wymack sighing and shaking his head. The doors were opened for them and the squad went onto the court. Most of the Foxes were gathered in the middle of it by the time they arrived - the only exception were the twins and Kevin. Aaron stood a couple feet away, arms crossed and a blank expression on his face. Andrew was still in his goal, taking his sweet time taking off his gloves and taking a drink before looking at the Vixens with a manic grin. Kevin just didn’t seem to care at all, not even when Danielle shot him a dirty look.

 

“Hey guys,” Katelyn greeted happily and was welcomed with just as much enthusiasm from the Foxes. She introduced the present Foxes and her new Vixens and in a matter of seconds, Nicky was all over them, going on about how great it was to have male cheerleaders, too, now.

 

“Finally I’ll have something to look at, too. No offense, girls, you’re all gorgeous!” Katelyn and some of the older Vixens laughed and waved him off.

Neil didn’t pay much attention, he was too distracted by Andrew. He watched as Andrew gathered his stuff and noticed in the corner of his eye how Kevin made his way over the court towards him. When he reached Andrew he said something to him, which Andrew only regarded with a shrug. Kevin said something again, this time with more heat and Andrew looked up, eyed him, then held out his hand. Neil wondered what it was that he wanted, and only a couple seconds later Kevin offered his left hand. Andrew took it, placing it in the palm of his own right hand while he undid Kevin’s glove with his left. It was a show of casual closeness Neil hadn’t expected at all, especially not from those two, so his eyes were trained on them as Andrew examined Kevin’s scars. Suddenly Andrew ripped his eyes off Kevin’s hand and looked up, right at Neil. Neil didn’t avert his eyes and stared back. This seemed to amuse Andrew, because a big grin split his lips. Or maybe he didn’t find it funny at all and it was his medication that made him respond like this. Either way, Neil lowered his eyes at him but smiled back, calm and pointedly unbothered by the threat in Andrew’s grin, then turned towards the others who were busy getting to know each other.

It took more than a scary grin and some violent rumors to turn Neil away from someone he found fascinating. With the life he lead up to this point even literal murder would probably only make him more curious. It was a mixture of morbid fascination with violence and danger, an obsession with knowing whether someone was a potential threat or helpful tool to him, and an unhealthy apathy towards violence and death. All of these were the reasons he was here in the first place. Well, these reasons and Neil’s undying need to make the life of those he hated a living hell. Maybe Stuart was right when he told him he had an attitude problem. But, really, whose fault was that?

 

“Hey, Kevin, are you finally coming over to meet the Vixens, too?” Dan asked, arms crossed over her chest, heat in her voice. Matt placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it gently.

Kevin and Andrew were approaching the group of Foxes and Vixens with Aaron a foot behind them. It was if Aaron awaited permission to approach them. This was ridiculous.

Kevin didn’t dignify her with a verbal answer, just a mere look that oozed so much disapproval and arrogance it didn’t just make Dan visibly angry, even Neil felt his temper burning up deep inside his chest. He knew he should just let it be, but he was so annoyed by Kevin’s attitude he couldn’t hold a snarky remark in.

 

“Oh, look, it’s Thicc und Doof finally reunited after an excruciating 60 minutes of practice,” he snapped. He expected the confused looks around him - because he chose to say these words in german. One of Neil’s favourite ways to say something rude without getting into trouble for it was saying it in a different language. Kevin looked very confused, as expected. What he did not expect, was the sudden laugh coming from Andrew, and Aaron and Nicky looking at each other with a mix of shock and confusion.

 

“Did he just call them Dick und Doof?” Nicky asked - in german.

 

“I think he said thick ,” Aaron responded, also switching to german.

 

“Hey, he really is a comedian,” Andrew snickered. In german, too. Oh shit.

 

“Please tell me who of them is “Thicc” and who is “Doof”, I need to know this,” Nicky pleaded.

Neil stared at them in disbelief.

“Wait, you guys speak german? Shit.”

 

“Yes, we do,” Aaron said, eyeing Neil warily.

 

“I lived there and those two took it in middle school, because I could tutor them,” Nicky explained, “And now please tell me who is who.”

Well, that was something to remember then: be careful with his languages around the cousins.

Nicky was still looking at him expectantly, so Neil let his eyes wander to Andrew and Kevin and, switching back to english, said: “Well, I’m surely not calling Kevin clever.”

That was enough to send Nicky into a laughing fit. Andrew looked amused and annoyed at the same time and Kevin, now understanding his insults again, gave him the dirtiest look yet. Aaron just made a disgusted noise and rolled his eyes.

 

A hand curled around Neil’s wrist and pulled on it, and when Neil turned his head he was looking right into Katelyn’s questioning eyes.

“What on earth?” She whispered. Neil just shrugged.

She made an effort to get past those weird few minutes and soon the conversation lived back up. Kevin was too busy shooting daggers at Neil with his eyes to say anything, and Neil was too busy ignoring him to contribute much to the conversation as well.

 

Coach Wymack gave them half an hour for the two teams to meet before he ushered the Vixens off the court again and the Foxes took their practice back up. They didn’t hang around afterwards, instead everyone went back to their dorms and said their goodbyes until tomorrow.

Neil and Katelyn retired to their couch and turned on the TV, sharing a bag of crisps and drinking soda. She didn’t ask about the incident earlier anymore, but Neil knew it was still on her mind.

 

“I learned german at school,” he said. Katelyn looked surprised but not displeased. It wasn’t the whole truth, but enough to give her. “I like to insult people in it because most don’t understand. I didn’t expect the cousins to.”

She laughed at that and pushed a crisp in her mouth.

“Understandable. What did you guys talk about?”

 

“Nothing, really. I was surprised they speak german and they were surprised I speak german. I insulted Kevin and indirectly called Andrew hot-”

 

“Excuse me you did what ?!” The face she made was priceless. It was utter shock written all over her features, but then she suddenly burst out laughing. “Oh my God, Neil!”

 

“What? I’m just telling the truth.”

 

“But it’s Andrew ! I’m surprised you’re still alive.”

 

“Let’s see how far I can get and stay alive, shall we?”

 

Katelyn shook her head at him. It was an equally exasperated and resigned gesture.

 

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

 

“I won’t.”

 

For a while they stayed quiet, watching TV, until Katelyn spoke up again.

“Word is, Andrew and Renee have a thing.” Neil raised an eyebrow and looked at her when she said that. “Just saying. If I can’t keep you from trying I might as well help you out with all I know.”

Now, that was the kind of support Neil needed. He grinned and turned towards her on the sofa, pulling one leg up to sit on it.

“How reliable is that rumor?”

 

“I don’t know. I don’t see it. I mean, I guess he’s kinda friendly towards her - as friendly as Andrew gets - but I don’t see anything else between them. But I’m not on the team, and I know some of the Foxes think Andrew and Renee are fucking. They’re betting on it.” This was certainly a piece of information worth finding out. How, Neil didn’t know yet, but he was positive he’d find a way.

 

And now on to some breaking news about the Class I Exy championships that are just about to start!

 

The news anchor’s words immediately attracted both Neil’s and Katelyn’s attention and distracted them from their current conversation.
“Breaking news?” Katelyn asked warily, as if he would answer to her directly. She did get an answer, though, even if it was one she clearly didn’t want.

 

The ERC announced today, that there will be a historic district change just before the start of the championships. The undefeated South Carolina’s Edgar Allan Ravens will transfer to the southeastern district, pitching them against teams such as the Breckenridge Jackals and South California’s Trojans. But the probably most anticipated match will be when they meet Palmetto State’s Foxes, the district’s outlier team which has recently been joined by Kevin Day, the Ravens’ former starting striker. Fans and officials alike are anticipating this monumental match between the formerly inseparable Riko Moriyama and Kevin Day, meeting on court as rivals for the first time!

 

There was no sound in the room. Katelyn turned the TV off as soon as the anchor finished his speech and complete silence settled over them. Neil didn’t even dare to breathe. The Ravens changed districts. Riko Moriyama would be in the same room as him in a short while, and the thought alone made Neil’s pulse rush, his palms sweat and his head dizzy in anticipation. So many plans and ways and tricks to meet Riko in his mind, all thought up and planned out before he even came to the US, and now Riko made it so easy for him, literally running right into his arms. Of course Riko had no idea Neil was part of the Vixens now. Neil knew exactly what this district change was for. They wanted to pitch Riko and Kevin against each other. Riko wanted to put fear into Kevin again, wanted to have his hand back over him and control him. But Neil didn’t care. All he could see was this opportunity to be close to Riko again.

 

He couldn’t wait for the season to start.

Chapter Text

The first day of classes was fun and interesting. A lot of people had been wearing orange as a show of school spirit. So had both Katelyn and Neil, and in addition they were sporting little fox ears throughout the day that Katelyn put on their heads just before they left their room. But the really important day was the friday after - game day.

It was the first Foxes game of the season and the cheerleaders were expected to flounce around campus in their uniforms and get everyone fired up for the upcoming game. It was the first time Neil got to wear his new uniform; it was was a blinding orange with white. The design of the uniforms were the same for girls and boys, a big foxpaw right on the chest and in big letters it said “VIXENS” right above it. But where Katelyn had a crop top and a skirt, Neil was wearing a regular tank top and shorts.

 

“What are you doing?” Katelyn asked, trying to keep the laugh out of her voice as she watched Neil modifying his uniform.

 

“Making it look better, obviously.” He said as he put a knot into the front of his top so it was showing just as much midriff as Katelyn’s.

 

“Obviously,” she giggled. When Neil pulled the shorts higher up so the waistband was almost all the way up to his waist and the hem of the shorts just so covered his ass, Katelyn let out a scandalised yet clearly amused, “Neil!”

 

“What, Kay?” Neil asked, turning to Katelyn to let her marvel at his creation, “Just because I’m a guy I’m not allowed to look good in this?”

 

“No, no, you are,” she laughed, giving him a thumbs-up, “Love it. Now come on, let’s get some school spirit into our fellow students!”

 

They took their pompoms and made their way to campus where they met the rest of the squad. Everyone was excited for the day and especially for the game later. Neil didn’t ask if anyone thought the Foxes would win - he didn’t know what Breckenridge was like, but he doubted a win nevertheless after seeing them practice. But a bit of good mood wouldn’t hurt either way.

They split up to go to their classes, waving pompoms and cheering for the Foxes, getting the other students in the right mood for the game. It was fun, Neil thought, the Vixens were a lovely group and Palmetto’s students seemed to pick up on their cheer rather quickly.

For lunch, Neil met up with Katelyn again. They didn’t share any classes since Katelyn majored in biochem while Neil majored in maths, and she was a year above him.

Lunch was filled with idle chit-chat and mediocre, at best, food, before they went off to stroll around campus again. This time it was just the two of them, but that didn’t mean the students around them didn’t holler at them to which Katelyn and Neil replied with shaking pompoms and cheers. That was until Neil spotted two people in Foxes jerseys. Immediately, Neil grabbed Katelyn’s arm and jerked his head in their direction.

 

“Oh, no. No, Neil,” she said, shaking her head, but Neil was already pulling her towards them.


“Go, Foxes, go,” Neil said when they were in earshot, then pointed one pompom at Kevin and added, “Except you.”

 

“Very mature,” Kevin grunted.

 

“Oh, the funny one, hello!” Andrew’s grin was wider than ever and he pushed his hands into the pockets of his jeans. He didn’t even look at Katelyn, let alone greet her. Katelyn didn’t seem to mind, she half-hid behind Neil despite being five inches taller than him and stared in the other direction.

“Hello, Andrew,” Neil responded instead of acknowledging his and Katelyn’s childish display of dislike, “Are you excited for tonight’s game?” The response was a laugh and Andrew throwing his hands up in an exaggerated gesture.

“Oh, so much,” he said, “I can’t wait to waste another 90 minutes of my time on stickball.” Kevin threw him a disapproving glare, but Andrew completely ignored him in favor of grinning his manic grin at Neil. Instead of directing his frustration at Andrew, Kevin decided to take it out on Neil.

“Shouldn’t you be wearing your uniform properly?”

 

“What’s it to you?” Neil asked, raising his chin in a challenge. Kevin lowered his eyes at him.

 

“You represent our team. You should look acceptable.”

 

“What exactly is your problem with how I’m wearing my uniform? Got problems hiding your boner, Day?” Kevin immediately flushed a deep shade of pink at that accusation.

 

“What?! I- I’m not--,” he stuttered.

 

“Gay?” Neil suggested with a blank stare.

 

“Yes!”

 

“Just homophobic, then?”

 

“No!” Kevin made a frustrated noise and threw his hands up angrily. “Andrew, we’re leaving,” he huffed, cheeks still burning, before storming off.

Andrew stayed behind for a couple seconds longer and just followed Kevin with his gaze and a slow grin that didn’t reach his eyes. As he set off to follow him, Andrew let his gaze wander to Neil one last time, who winked at him in return, which Andrew chose to ignore.

 

A shaky sigh behind him led Neil’s attention back to Katelyn. She looked defeated and disbelieving, and slowly started to shake her head when Neil was looking at her.

“Honestly, Neil,” she said, “Do you have a death wish?”

 

“Not really,” Neil replied before setting off in the opposite direction as Kevin and Andrew.

 

***

 

Neil had to admit, he admired the Palmetto students’ loyalty to their team. It wasn’t hard for the Vixens to get them cheering and screaming in the stands, despite how broken and low ranked their team was. The Foxes were still in the changing room, likely talking strategy or getting a pep talk by coach Wymack - or maybe they were going at each other's throats, who knew.

Neil only threw a quick glance over his shoulder when the Foxes fans started to shout profanities and whistle and saw the Jackals coming onto court for their warm-up. Katelyn tried to get their attention back to the cheerleaders by starting another choreo and the others fell in quickly with a semi-successful outcome. Well, at least they weren’t cussing the other team out anymore. For the most part.

 

“Do you think this is gonna end well?” Neil asked Katelyn when they made their way to the sidelines to have a drink and give the teams enough space to run laps. Katelyn shrugged and opened her bottle.

 

“Honestly? Not if they keep up the same attitudes as last season.”

 

Well, that was encouraging now, wasn’t it?

Neil watched as the Foxes and Jackals ran past them in steady rhythms and slowly felt the buzz of game night flaring up in his veins. Right now he didn’t care how bad the Foxes were, how broken their team was, how much Kevin annoyed him or what he was really here for. Right now he was just Neil Abram Hatford, part of the Vixen squad, ready to get the fans fired up and here to see his team wreak havoc and win.

 

***

 

The fans certainly did get fired up. That was, however, neither thanks to the Vixens nor to an upcoming win for the Foxes. The Vixens tried their best to cheer, but as the game progressed and the Jackals practically ran the Foxes over on court, it got progressively harder to keep a smile on their faces. By the time one of the Breckenridge backliners went out of his way to try and hurt Kevin, not only the fans were shouting profanities again, so was Neil. His temper got the better of him when he saw the backliner take a swing and Kevin’s racquet fall a second later. Kevin was clutching his hand and shaking it while that asshole backliner stole the ball and took off across court.

Neil didn’t remember moving, but he was thumping his fist against the plexiglass angrily and yelling a string of very colourful curses that wouldn’t carry through the plexiglass, let alone all the way to said backliner, but Neil felt like he’d explode if he kept his anger in a second longer. These Jackals were playing unfair, they were trying to hurt the Foxes, specifically Kevin, because they knew he was their best player and their only chance to a somewhat successful season, and Neil wanted to rip each of them a new one for that.

 

“Neil!” A hand was placed on his shoulder and Neil turned, slapped the hand away with too much force and froze when he saw Katelyn in front of him, holding her hand to her chest and looking at him with wide eyes.

“Shit. Sorry, Katelyn.” Okay. Breathe in. Breathe out. Neil clenched his teeth, trying to remember the breathing exercises Stuart taught him to get his temper under control.

 

“Neil, calm down,” Katelyn said. She rubbed her wrist one last time before holding her hand out again, with a careful distance to Neil this time. Neil took the hand and let her lead him back to the others.

“They’re playing unfair,” he said through gritted teeth.

 

“I know,” Katelyn said. Apparently she gathered herself again after Neil’s little outburst, because she curled a gentle arm around his shoulders and pulled him close without hesitation, “Get used to it, honey. The other teams think the Foxes are a joke. It’s on them to prove them wrong.”

 

“He tried to hurt Kevin’s hand!”

 

“I know. I know,” she sighed and rubbed a hand across her neck, “But, doesn’t that just mean they’re scared of what Kevin’s presence on the Foxes’ roster could mean for them?”

 

She was right. Of course she was right. Neil turned silent and threw another glance to court. Kevin and Seth were going at each other again and the Jackals were watching with glee. But maybe Kevin could really turn this team around. Neil certainly hoped so.

 

“But we can’t leave all the work to Kevin, can we?” Neil said eventually, looking back at Katelyn.

 

“No,” Katelyn said, shaking her head softly with a grin growing on her lips, “No, we can’t. So let’s go and do our part of the job, yeah?” Neil nodded, and together with the rest of their squad they made the fans chant encouragement and sing the Foxes’ fight song.

 

***

 

When the final buzzer sounded, the game ended with a sobering 7-9 score, Breckenridge’s favour. It could’ve been worse, but it certainly could’ve been better, too. The team looked defeated and angry at the same time when they made their way past the Vixens to their locker room. The cheerleaders left shortly after, showered and changed and made their way out of the stadium. Neil noticed Katelyn hanging back and saw her turning around a corner when the rest of them went straight ahead to where they parked their cars.

“Neil, where are you going?” Melissa, one of the older girls on the squad, asked him when Neil stopped and turned.

“I forgot something inside, just leave without me,” he said.

 

“Are you sure?” Melissa asked.

 

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

 

“Okay. See you tomorrow.”

 

Neil followed where Katelyn went. He thought he lost her when he followed the path he thought she took but didn’t spot her. He didn’t know where or why she went and was about to give up on finding her when he turned another corner and spotted two familiar blond heads.

Quickly, Neil went a couple steps back and hid behind the corner. Oh, okay then. That explained it.

A quick glance around the wall confirmed what he thought he saw: Katelyn was meeting Aaron behind the Court’s building. It was almost cute, if it wasn’t so childish. They were holding hands, whispering words to each other Neil couldn’t understand and exchanging chaste, almost shy, kisses. But instead of doing it at the dorm or the library or a bloody café they met in secret after a disastrous game, hiding in the dark because, apparently, both were too afraid of Aaron’s brother to make it official. Cowards.

 

Well, it wasn’t Neil’s business, so he didn’t linger. He might find it childish, but he did want to give them their privacy and time, so with a little huff Neil turned around and made his way back to the parking lot. Maybe someone was still there and could give him a lift.

He made it halfway back before he stopped dead in his tracks.

 

Andrew.

 

Andrew was coming towards Neil, heading in the exact direction where Katelyn and Aaron were schmoozing in the dark. Oh dear.

He seemed somewhat unsteady on his legs and slightly disoriented, and Neil realised he hadn’t seen him anywhere since the halftime break. After the buzzer announced the end of the first half Andrew went to the locker room with his teammates, Nicky’s arm slung tightly around his shoulders, and didn’t return - neither to the court nor the benches. Neil hadn’t thought anything of it during the game, but now he realised how weird it was for Andrew to accept such an intimate touch from his cousin when usually he seemed one wrong word away from snapping his neck. What was almost stranger though was for him to not return from the locker room for the second half of the game. Not that he doubted Andrew’s disinterest in the outcome of the game, but he doubted Wymack’s willingness to let one of his players just hang around the locker room when he might be needed as a sub on court.

 

Neil’s thoughts were interrupted when Andrew’s eyes landed on him. He straightened his shoulders and went straight for Andrew, who, in return, stopped and just watched him with a blank expression. It was disorienting to see Andrew like this, since he usually wore his drug-induced smile.

 

“Hey Andrew,” Neil said and stopped a step away from him, “Are you okay? You seem-” But he didn’t get to finish his sentence. The manic grin returned to Andrew’s face with such surprising force and intensity, Neil almost took a step back. Almost.

 

“Oh! The new cheerleader. The funny one. A true comedian! What's your name, by the way?”

 

“Neil.” The answer was slow. Neil lowered his eyes at Andrew suspiciously. Something was wrong, but he hadn’t figured out what it was yet.

“Neil,” Andrew drew the word long, as if testing it out, rolling his head from side to side without looking at Neil until suddenly he did, his eyes intense and sharp enough to make Neil flinch, “Neil, Neil, Neil. I don't have time for you right now, little Neil.” Little? He was taller than Andrew! Just a couple inches, but still.

“I'm looking for my brother. Bye-bye!”

 

That was exactly what Neil had feared. He had to stop him from finding his brother and Katelyn or this might end ugly, especially considering the unsteady mental state he seemed to be in right now.
“Hey, Andrew, wait,” Neil was in Andrew’s space in the matter of a second, stepping right in front of him, their bodies just a breath away and both palms flat on Andrew’s chest, digging his fingertips into his pecs as he leaned in.


You learn something new every day, as they said. Today, Neil learned it was a mistake to get too close to Andrew without warning.

Before he realised what was going on, Neil was pinned to the nearest wall, his back hitting the cold stone and harsh fingers wrapping around his throat. The hit he took to his back pushed the air from Neil’s lungs, but the grip on his throat was too tight to let it out in one breath, so he was left gasping it out in broken stutters. Neil’s hands flew up to wrap around Andrew’s wrist, then they both went completely still. The grin was gone again, replaced by the emotionless expression from before. Andrew’s eyes were empty and cold. They were staring each other down, neither of them moving an inch though it grew harder for Neil with each passing second. Andrew’s fingers dug into his neck and tightened around his throat as Neil’s fingers tightened around his wrist. Neil wheezed.

 

“Andrew,” he said hoarsely, but as calm as he could. Quiet again. Neil’s head started to feel dizzy and his fight or flight instinct was screaming at him to fight back, but Neil stayed still. This would only get worse if he’d move.

“Andrew,” he said again and finally Andrew showed some sign that he even heard him. His eyes darted down to his own hand where it was wrapped around Neil’s throat as if he hadn’t even realised he was strangling him, then back up to Neil’s face.

 

“Didn’t your mother teach you not to touch things that aren’t yours?” Andrew’s voice was casual, a complete contrast to his tense shoulders and his cruel fingers. Neil knew he should probably keep his mouth shut, but he wasn’t known for being good at that.

 

“No, actually, she did a piss poor job at teaching me these things.” His voice sounded hoarse and weak, and Neil wanted to kick himself for his big mouth. Andrew seemed just as unimpressed by his words and tightened his hand even more. If he wouldn’t stop soon, Neil would have no other choice but to hurt Andrew, and he really didn’t want to hurt any of the Foxes. Not out of kind-heartedness, but because it would hinder his intentions for coming here. The Foxes were a weak team anyway, weakening them even more by hurting one of their players wouldn’t get him closer to Riko.

 

“Andrew,” Neil wheezed, “Didn’t you say you were looking for Aaron? I saw him a couple minutes ago.” That seemed to catch Andrew’s interest - thank God - and all of a sudden he let go of Neil’s throat.

“Oh, did you now?”

Neil nodded as he gulped in air, rubbing his aching neck with one hand.

 

“Yeah, he went down that way.”

 

Andrew’s eyes followed the direction Neil was pointing his finger at, then back at Neil. He eyed him, probably figuring out whether he believed him or not, then started to walk in the direction Neil sent him without any further words wasted between them.

Neil stayed where he was, leaning against the wall, holding his neck and breathing hard. He watched Andrew go and shook his head. That was a close call. This was what people meant when they called Andrew a violent monster.

But, really, in some way it was his own fault, wasn’t it? He got into Andrew’s personal space and touched him, put his hands on him in a clear attempt at flirting with him, and, even though this might have been a very drastic response, Andrew clearly didn’t like Neil coming this close. Neil didn’t know if it was because he just didn’t like him in particular or because he wasn’t interested in men or because of something entirely else, but Neil knew he went out of his lane and Andrew put him back into it. Neil himself tended to take more drastic actions when people did things he didn’t like, so he couldn’t really hold it against Andrew for doing the same.

He’d just have to be more careful around him in the future.

 

Eventually, Neil pushed off the wall and quickly went in the opposite direction of where he sent Andrew.

 

“Hey.”

 

Aaron and Katelyn startled, jumping apart at the sound of a voice and looking terrified for a moment.

 

“Jeez, calm down, it’s just me.” Neil rolled his eyes at them and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I’m just here to tell you that Andrew is looking for you, Aaron. I sent him in the opposite direction.”

 

“Oh-” Was all that Aaron said. Neil waited a moment to see if he had more to say, but he didn’t.

 

“You’re welcome.” Neil grunted, “Now, be a fucking darling and make your way over there because I’m not gonna take another violent outburst from your brother when he realises I lied to him to save your arse. Chop chop.”

 

Aaron threw Neil a glance Neil couldn’t read, but before he could ask Aaron said his goodbye to Katelyn with a last kiss and reluctantly made his way to find his brother. Neil watched him go, before turning to a stunned Katelyn.

 

“Thank you, Neil.”

 

“It’s fine. Let’s go back to the dorm.”

 

***

 

Neil was in the bathroom, eyeing the marks on his throat in the mirror. They were just a faint pink, but they were there, and Neil frowned at them as he reached for his makeup bag. This was by far not the first, and certainly not the last, time he had to cover up bruises, but they were annoying him.

 

“Neil!” Someone shouted from the living room, “Hurry up, the show starts soon!”

 

Neil made a frustrated noise and all but smashed the blending sponge into his throat as he tried to blend the foundation into his skin. He didn’t even have a coffee yet, okay, he wasn’t in the mood to be rushed for some stupid talk show featuring Kevin “smug bastard” Day as the hot topic of the morning. And he didn’t even know who this Kathy hosting the show was, but everyone seemed to lose their collective shit about the Foxes, or just Kevin, being hosted on her show. He’d rather be watching Good Morning Britain and hear about Prince Harry’s latest escapades right now, but over there it was fucking night time or whatever.


When he left the bathroom, Neil frowned at the group of cheerleaders lounging on and around his and Katelyn’s couch, all chatting excitedly and being way too cheery for fucking 7am. Katelyn turned to look at him and as soon as she saw the frown on his face she looked way too amused.

“Coffee’s all ready in the kitchen, honey,” she said to him, “Go have a cup and join us then, yeah?”

 

The coffee helped (at least a bit) and soon enough, Neil found himself on the couch, squished between Melissa and Katelyn, clutching his mug to his chest as if it held all secrets to life. He tried to watch the show, but as soon as Kevin’s face came on the screen and he smiled this fake publicity-smile of his, Neil rolled his eyes, took a sip of his coffee and decided to look through the news on his phone instead.

He noticed the girls and guys around him talking excitedly after a while but didn’t really pay it any attention, they had done barely anything else but chatter like a bunch of excited fangirls - but then everyone went quiet.

Katelyn reached for Neil’s arm, but when he looked up at her, confused, she just stared blankly at the TV screen.

Neil turned his head in time to see Kathy’s smiling face announce:

“Please welcome on to the stage with us: Riko Moriyama!”

Chapter Text

The camera switched and Kathy’s face vanished off the screen to make room for a full shot of Riko coming onto the stage with a hard smile, waving at the fans chanting “King! King! King!” from out of shot.

Neil felt his heart beat all the way to his throat. They didn’t. They couldn’t have done this. There was no way they really put Riko and Kevin in the same room like that.

 

But they did.

 

And Riko stood in front of Kevin, holding out expecting arms. Neil felt sick when he watched Kevin hug Riko, like the separated brothers they pretended to be.

The Vixens suddenly kicked back into motion, shouting at the TV, cursing Kathy and Riko, but Neil stayed quiet. He watched Kevin’s face on the screen, and he saw how his usually pristine television-smile didn’t reach anywhere close to his eyes. He saw Kevin clutching his hands together to stop them from shaking. He saw him rubbing the scars on his left hand.

 

Neil wanted to hurt someone. Instead he wrapped his hands around his coffee mug in a white-knuckled grip and clenched his teeth.


“Neil?” Katelyn’s voice was soft but it still made him flinch. “Are you alright?”

 

“I’m fine,” Neil said through gritted teeth.

They were all angry at Riko for being on that show, at Kathy for inviting him. But not for the right reasons. They didn’t know what really happened to Kevin. They didn’t know the things going on in the Nest. They didn’t know anything, they were just angry about Riko stealing the spotlight from the Foxes.

Neil got up and went to the kitchen to pour himself another cup of coffee. The temper he inherited from his father was burning hot inside his chest and he had to put the mug down and brace himself against the counter so he wouldn’t throw it.

 

One. Two. Three.

Neil took a deep breath as he counted in his head. His fingers dug into the countertop at the same time, a death grip on the cheap wood.

 

Four. Five. Six.

Breathe out. His breath was shaky and so were his hands. He couldn’t fucking wait for the day he met Riko again.

 

Seven. Eight. Nine.

Another deep breath. Neil let his head drop between his shoulders and stared at his socked feet and the tiles beneath.

 

Ten. Eleven. Twelve.

He felt his grip on the counter relax, flexed his fingers and rolled his shoulders. One more breath.

 

Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen.

Neil pushed off the counter and took one last deep breath. He heard Stuart’s voice somewhere in the back of his head say ‘Atta boy. Remember, don’t let that temper of yours get the better of you as long as you don’t have someone to take it out on.’ . That someone to take it out on was several hundred miles away on a morning TV show right now, so instead Neil just reached for his mug and went back to join the squad on the sofa again.

 

***

 

Ever since the disaster that was Kathy’s show, the Foxes were on edge whenever Neil saw them. But especially Kevin and Andrew seemed ready to snap at every wrong breath. Neil kept away from them as best as he could, not trusting himself not to say something to Kevin.

Of course he could say it in french, he knew Kevin knew french from being close to Jean back in the Nest, but he didn’t know if any of the other Foxes spoke french, too. He didn’t want another surprise when he spoke to Kevin about Riko, like when he spoke german a while ago.

It didn’t seem to help any of the Foxes’ nerves that the fall banquet was just one day away, where they would meet Riko again. When Neil was on his way back to the dorm from today’s classes, he saw Allison and Seth fighting on campus. He didn’t linger to find out what they were fighting about, figuring it was likely something stupid and petty, and just kept walking. He had homework to do after all.

 

He hadn’t done any of his homework by the time Katelyn came back to the dorm and when they settled down on the sofa together to watch TV, Neil decided he’d have enough time between and after classes tomorrow to do them.

Katelyn told him about something a classmate of hers did today when a knock on the door interrupted their rather one-sided conversation and made both of them turn their heads to the sound. Katelyn was the one to get up and get the door and Neil leaned forwards to sneak a look at their visitor. He started to grin when he saw who it was.

 

“You want me to take a nice, long run?”

 

Katelyn looked over her shoulder at Neil and giggled, whereas Aaron just threw him an unimpressed stare past her.

“I’m not here to visit,” he grunted and directed his gaze back at Katelyn, who turned back to him as well, “Allison asked me to ask you to get her a date for tomorrow.”

 

Katelyn looked surprised at that request.

“You mean for the banquet? What about Seth?”

Aaron made an annoyed sound and rolled his eyes, then gave her an exaggerated shrug.

 

“They were fighting, again. And now they have an off-phase, again. She wants to get back at him by taking someone else to the banquet or whatever, and figured since you’ve got male cheerleaders now you could find someone for her quickly.”

 

“Oh,” Katelyn said and made a thoughtful face. Then she turned again. “Neil? Fancy a fall banquet with a bunch of fit athletes in suits?”

 

“What?” Aaron immediately asked, looking horrified.

 

“Sure!” Neil said before Aaron could protest any more.

 

“Great, that’s dealt with then. Do you want to come in and have a drink?” She turned back to Aaron, but Neil heard the smile in her voice. Aaron looked completely dumbfounded and just blinked at her stupidly before snapping back and pressing his lips to a thin line.

“Kay, come on, don’t you have someone else-”

 

“Nope. No, I don’t, sorry, Aaron.”

 

Neil had a feeling Katelyn was taking great joy from sending Neil on that trip with the Foxes, knowing how much Aaron didn’t like him. He didn’t know where that pettiness was coming from, but he figured it had something to do with how she was not attending the banquet, despite her boyfriend-not-boyfriend being there.

Whatever it was, it was getting Neil to where Riko was - and Neil could not be more ecstatic. He hadn’t thought he’d get this close to Riko so quickly, but the sooner the better. He wondered if Riko, other than Kevin, would recognise him or if the time since they last met had been too long for both of them. Other than Riko and Kevin, Neil had kept up with how their lives went, using all of the sources available to him to stay on track and find out all of the Nest’s dirty secrets. Riko and Kevin, however, probably forgot he even existed. Neil was about to change that.

 

Aaron did not come inside to have a drink, so Katelyn sat down next to Neil on the sofa again and turned back to the TV.

 

“You know he doesn’t like me, right?”

 

Katelyn looked at him with a look of fake innocence.

“Does he?” She asked, her voice high as if in real wonder. Neil snorted at that and Katelyn grinned back at him. “Yeah, I do.”

 

“Then why ask me to go with them? Is this your revenge because he’s too much of a coward to take you?” Judging by the look on Katelyn’s face maybe that hadn’t been the best way to phrase this question, but it was too late to take it back now, so Neil just sat and looked at her patiently. Katelyn tilted her head to the side a bit, as if considering his question.

 

“Maybe a bit,” she admitted eventually, “But not just that.” Neil raised both eyebrows in question. Katelyn sighed and twirled a strand of hair around her finger.

“I figured, since you’re after Andrew… Spending the night with the Foxes at the banquet could give you a chance to get closer to him - or help you figure out you should maybe re-evaluate your choice and pick someone - anyone - else but Andrew.”

Disbelieve was immediate and it definitely showed on Neil’s face as he stared open-mouthed back at Katelyn.

“Are you actually trying to be my wingman on this?” He asked.

 

Katelyn shrugged, then laughed and let herself fall against the back of the sofa with a loud sigh.

“I mean, you’re still alive, despite your very obvious advances. Maybe this isn’t as hopeless as I thought it to be - only one way to find that out, right?”

Chapter Text

Luckily Neil had taken his favourite suit to the US. Sure, he probably could’ve gotten one at a store last minute but, to be perfectly honest, he was rather spoiled. He wouldn’t be caught dead in an off the rack suit. How would one of those possibly be able to hug his form as perfectly as his tailored suits? Everything he was wearing tonight, down to the bow tie wrapped around his throat, was hand-sewn at a small, posh tailor shop in Central London.

 

“Whoa, look at you. Looking like a million dollars, Neil.” Neil turned and spotted Katelyn standing in the bedroom door, eyeing him appreciatively. “I’m glad you’re gay, otherwise I’d have real problems sticking to my “no flirting with your roommate”-rule.” Neil grinned at that - not about Katelyn’s joke though.

 

“Who said I’m gay?” He asked while he gathered his phone and keys from his bed. As he passed Katelyn on his way out of the bedroom, he threw his startled friend a wink.

 

“Wait. You’re not gay?” She asked, dumbfounded, and quickly followed him.

 

“Nope.” Neil answered.

 

“But I thought-- what about Andrew?”

 

“I never said I’m straight either, Kay.” Neil raised one eyebrow. Straight people were so clueless sometimes, it was almost sad. “I mean, I know people usually assume I’m gay because I’m small and a dancer. But the truth is, I don’t give a shit about someone’s gender as long as they’re hot.” The full truth was, Neil didn’t really care about much else than looks. He wasn’t after a relationship. He didn’t need a relationship. His parents’ marriage had been anything but happy, and once he got away from his abusive family he grew up around a man who never once was in an actual relationship. And he was completely and truly content that way.

So, naturally, Neil prefered it like this too. He’d rather fuck a hot stranger than go through this whole dating mess and deal with all the emotions attached to relationships. And, really, even the fucking he could live without if he had to.

Which was why Andrew was the perfect choice. The second Neil had met Andrew, he just knew Andrew wouldn’t even think about asking more than sex from Neil. He was violent, anti-social and probably a sociopath, or a psychopath, or both. There was no way in hell Andrew would want to date Neil.

 

“Oh,” Katelyn said. Neil waited if she had more to say, but she just kept looking at him with surprise in her eyes.

 

“But I do prefer guys, if that makes you feel better,” he said eventually. Katelyn immediately threw up her hands and shook her head.

 

“No! Gosh, no, don’t get me wrong. It’s fine with me, no matter who you like. I just thought-...Doesn’t matter, I shouldn’t have made assumptions. Sorry, sweety.”

 

“It’s okay. I get it a lot,” Neil shrugged. “Alright. I gotta go now, I don’t think Allison would be impressed if I was late.”

 

“No, I’m sure she wouldn’t,” Katelyn agreed, giggling.

They said their goodbyes, and Neil made his short way over to the Foxes’ dorms. A couple of them were already in the hallway, making their way to the bus that’d get them to the banquet.

“Hey, Neil!” Nicky greeted him cheerfully, “Shit, it’s a shame Allison was quicker. I should’ve asked you to be my date.”

 

“Hello Nicky,” Neil responded, but didn’t stop to chat, “Maybe you’re more lucky next time. I heard there’s a couple more banquets for you guys to attend.”

Nicky threw him a wide grin and gave him a thumbs up, and promised to ask him to be his date for the christmas banquet. When Neil looked over to where Kevin and Andrew stood, he was met with a disapproving frown from Kevin and Andrew’s usual manic grin.

 

Allison looked stunning, as it was to be expected. She inspected Neil and seemed to be satisfied with what she saw, because she gave him a short nod before grabbing his arm and all but dragging him down the hall while provocatively side-eyeing Seth. Seth, who didn’t seem to have a last-minute date for the night, looked anything but happy about the situation. Maybe Neil shouldn’t have gotten involved in this.

But it also got him close to Riko, so he had to endure the relationship drama he was now in the middle of to get what he wanted.

 

The ride to the banquet was uneventful. Neil sat with the upperclassmen and mostly just listened to their conversations. Wymack ushered them off the bus when they arrived, except for Kevin and Andrew. Neil saw a bottle of vodka in his hand, a second later he was off the bus with the others. He figured the vodka had been for Kevin, because when the three rejoined the group Kevin suddenly seemed a lot less anxious than just a couple of minutes ago. Neil decided not to comment on it. Now was not the time to pick a fight with Kevin.

The court had been rearranged and was now filled with a bar and long tables that seated two teams each. Neil was trying to figure out where they’d sit when he heard someone gasp. Next to him, Kevin stumbled a step back. He was the source of the gasp, too, Neil realised, and looked as pale as a sheet. Neil followed his eyes.

 

Oh.

 

The only table that had only one side filled with exy players was far from them, but even without recognising faces, it was clear who the Foxes would be sharing their table with.

All people at the table were dressed in black and red and sat the exact same way. Neil was pretty sure they were probably breathing in sync, too.

Honestly, it was a bit ridiculous. He knew it was supposed to be intimidating, but a bunch of young adults dressed in black, playing mime to look scary was so unbelievably cliché, Neil couldn’t help rolling his eyes.

 

“Are you kidding?” Dan hissed, “They seated us with the Ravens?”

 

“Just try to be civil,” Wymack said with a clear warning in his voice. “Don’t let them provoke you. You hear me, Andrew?” Andrew threw Wymack an unimpressed glance. His grin was wiped off his face upon seeing the Ravens, but it was slowly coming back to his lips. He stayed silent though, which was probably not a good sign, considering Wymack’s defeated sigh.

“Just…go,” Wymack waved them off, but none of the Foxes made a move to go. They just stood in awkward silence until Dan finally gathered herself enough to do the first step. That brought the others into motion, too.

When the Foxes and their dates approached the table, the Ravens all leaned forward in one smooth, synchronised move and braced their chins on their right palms. Neil barely managed not to groan.

In the center of the group was the one they were all shadowing. As his eyes fell on him, Neil’s pulse rose. He felt his heart beat all the way into his throat and his stomach clench in excitement. Riko Moriyama was right in front of him. If he made two more steps he could reach out and grab him. It had been so long until Neil and Riko had been so close last.

But Riko didn’t even spare him a glance. His eyes were fixated on Kevin, who was visibly rigid. Neil wanted to smack him for showing his fear so openly and giving Riko exactly what he wanted to see.

 

“Kevin.” Riko’s voice was low and icy, chilling even Neil down to the bone. A second later, his blood started boiling.

“Take a seat,” Riko made a gesture to the seat right opposite him. Kevin took it immediately. What a fool. Just a moment later the chair to his right was pulled out by Andrew, who sat down with a calm demeanor.
“Hello, Riko,” he said, his grin back on his lips. He didn’t seem to care about the degrading look Riko spared him before focusing his attention back on Kevin.

“It’s rude not to say hello when someone greets you,” Neil said and sat down to Kevin’s left. Both Andrew and Kevin looked at Neil, with two very different expressions. Kevin looked terrified, while Andrew looked genuinely amused. Or as genuinely as he was capable of. When Riko looked at him with disapproving eyes, Neil felt his pulse go up another notch. This was the moment he had been waiting for. Would Riko recognise him? How would he react?

 

To Neil’s great disappointment, Riko just lowered his eyes at him before training his eyes on Kevin again. He didn’t recognise him either. Too much time had passed for both Kevin and Riko to recognise him. But Neil wouldn’t drop it. Not after the trouble he went through just to get here.

 

“Kevin, you should keep your pets on a shorter leash,” Riko drawled, “Since when do you have another lap dog anyway? Another useless addition to your team of incompetent scapegraces and delinquents?”

 

Neil grabbed the edge of the table, hard, to keep himself from throwing his glass. Anger was burning hot inside his chest.

“Hey, you better keep it down,” Dan growled angrily, but Riko wasn’t phased by her anger.

 

“Or what?” He asked.

 

“We just arrived, let’s try to keep it friendly,” Renee said. Neil wondered how she managed to stay so calm when Riko was insulting her friends, but at least her warm smile calmed Dan and the others down a bit. Well, except Andrew.

“Oh, but being friendly is so boring, Renee,” he said in a too cheerful tone while his eyes looked more like he wanted to wrap his hands around Riko’s throat and give it a good twist. Neil was with Andrew on this. He’d be happy to hold Riko down while Andrew strangled him to death.

Renee just smiled at Andrew from her seat next to him. It reminded Neil of the rumor Katelyn had told him, about how Andrew and Renee might be fucking. They did seem to be a lot closer than Andrew was with the rest of the team. And she was his date for the banquet. Maybe the rumor was true after all.

 

But this wasn’t the time to wonder about this. He had to focus on Riko.

“Kevin, I think we both know this little adventure of yours has been going on for long enough.” Riko sat back in his chair, straightening his back, raising his chin. He looked taller than Kevin like this. Not because he was, but because Kevin looked like he needed another bottle of vodka while Riko radiated nothing but poise and arrogance.

 

“Adventure?” Neil asked, his voice dripping with fake curiosity, and leaned forwards, bracing his arms on the table, “I didn’t know you went on an adventure, Kevin!”

Riko threw him another glance, this one noticeably more annoyed than the last one.

“It’s time for you to come back to where you belong. You had your fun. You shouldn’t waste your talent on a case as hopeless as this team.”

Neil heard Dan, Matt and Allison make varying, but equally angered, noises, but neither of them said anything.

“They’re not hopeless,” Kevin answered and even though his voice was cautious, there was also certainty in it, “The Foxes already improved, and they will improve more in the future. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I know they can do it.”

 

Neil hadn’t expected Kevin to talk back to Riko, especially not to defend the Foxes. But he was pleasantly surprised. Other than Riko, who looked at Kevin as if he was an utter disappointment.

“Stop being an idiot, Kevin. You know they will never have any potential. Come back, before you turn into just as much of a laughing stock as they are.” Under the table, Kevin was squeezing his knees nervously, but he gathered enough confidence to speak without showing how anxious he really was. Maybe Neil had been too hard on him.

“The Foxes took me in, and I promised them to get them on track in return. I won’t break that promise, Riko.”

 

“You’re a fool,” Riko spat, his face turning into an angered grimace now. He was like a spoiled child, not used to being denied what he wanted and easily angered when people told him no. It was beautiful to watch.

 

“Maybe you’re the fool, Riko,” Neil chimed in with a fake smile on his lips, “Still trying to make Kevin come back to your madhouse, even though he already told you no. Several times, even.”

Riko’s eyes snapped to Neil, his temper burning in his eyes, then back to Kevin.

“Kevin, who is this annoyance? You should teach him some manners before I will.” But before Kevin could say anything, Neil leaned over, into Riko’s view, and answered for him.

 

“Riko. Hey, Riko, you can talk to me directly, I won’t bite you, promise. I only bite people I like.”

Kevin hissed at Neil to stop it and pushed him back into his seat, but he probably already knew it was to no avail.

“Kevin, get this child away from here. It is mind numbing to listen to him.”

 

“What, you want me to leave already? But it’s been so long, Riko, I thought we could chat a bit!”

 

The table went silent as everyone slowly registered Neil’s words and their meaning. Neil felt Kevin stare a hole into his temple, but he kept his eyes on Riko who slowly turned his head to look back at Neil. The anger was almost gone from his face, replaced by a carefully blank expression. He was looking Neil up and down, trying to figure out what Neil meant, who he was.

 

Neil felt the corners of his mouth pulling up in a humorless, violent smile. It was the smile Stuart didn’t like on him, the one he said that, together with Neil’s auburn curls and ice blue eyes, made him look too much like his father. Neil didn’t care. The realisation that lit up in Riko’s eyes was enough to make it worth the smile. Riko finally knew who was sitting on the other side of the table. After 15 years the self-proclaimed King of Exy saw himself face-to-face with the Butcher’s son again. Two estranged sons, one still trying to get his father’s attention, the other wanting nothing more than his father’s death. They were two sides of the same medal, no matter how much both of them didn’t like that fact.

 

“You,” Riko said, voice slow as if he couldn’t quite believe what he just realised. “You’re supposed to be dead.”
“Sorry to disappoint, Riko. I’m not. And planning on keeping it like that for a bit longer.”

 

“Oh,” Neil heard Andrew’s voice from his right, but didn’t turn his head to look at him. He kept his eyes on Riko until a sudden movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention. When he did turn his head he saw Renee’s hand wrapped around Andrew’s wrist beneath the table - and Andrew’s fingers wrapped around a knife. That was definitely not one of the knives from the table. Did Andrew bring that in here?

“You two are friends?” Andrew asked. When Neil looked up from the knife, Andrew was already staring at him with a wide, toothy grin that carried the desire to kill in it.

 

“Not friends,” Neil said calmly, “I’d call it...old acquaintances.”

 

Riko gave a short, sharp laugh after Neil’s words and shook his head.

“Oh, Kevin, I can’t believe you’d think surrounding yourself with this boy would offer you an advantage in this fight. You’re even more of a fool than I thought you were.” Kevin looked at Riko with open confusion. He had no idea what Riko was talking about, because he had no idea who Neil really was.

Riko noticed Kevin’s confusion just a second later and lowered his eyes at him before saying something in japanese. Neil didn’t like them talking in a language he didn’t understand, but he had no other choice than watching their faces closely to figure out what they were saying. Kevin frowned at Riko, stuttered and then quietly replied in japanese, looked at Neil and back at Riko. The answer was sneered and accompanied by a dismissive wave of Riko’s hand. But whatever he said, it didn’t seem to shed light on Kevin’s confusion, as he just shook his head at Riko. Jean Moreau, who had been quietly sitting next to Riko, looked to and fro between Riko, Kevin and Neil and frowned.

 

“I see.” Riko raised a hand to his chin and stared at Kevin. Without moving his gaze away from Kevin, Riko directed his words at Neil. “Why did you not tell Kevin who you are, Nathaniel?”

 

Hearing this name out loud felt like a punch to the stomach to Neil, taking his breath and making him feel sick, and it ignited his hot temper in one second straight. His throat closed up with blind anger and whatever words Riko was about to say were stopped by the cracking sound of chipping wood. The knife they placed next to Neil’s plate for him to cut up his food with was stuck an inch deep inside the wooden table, with Neil’s fingers curled around the handle in a white-knuckle grip. It had been a choice between the table or Riko’s eye.

“It’s Neil,” he pressed out between gritted teeth, his lips curled into the murderous smile of the Butcher, “You better remember that, Riko. I really don’t like that name you just used, you know.”

An aborted breath of Neil’s old name got stuck in Kevin’s throat to his right and Neil heard the feet of his chair scratch across the floor as he almost fell into Andrew’s lap in an attempt to bring space between himself and Neil. Neil didn’t spare him any attention and stared Riko down instead. Riko, however, didn’t seem bothered by the situation. If anything, he looked slightly amused. Neil swallowed hard in an attempt to bury his burning rage, but it was all in vain when Riko opened his fucking mouth again.

 

“Do I look to you like I care what you want to be called? You’ll always be a Wesninski, whether you like it or not.”

 

That was enough to snap every last bit of Neil’s already thin patience. No breathing exercises would help at this point, but Stuart’s advice only applied when the subject of Neil’s anger wasn’t there to let said anger out on. And Riko was right in front of him.

Neil wasn’t thinking, just acting on instinct, and the instinct of the Butcher’s son was to hurt before he got hurt. His chair crashed to the floor, glasses and flower vases fell and shattered on the tabletop as Neil reached over and pulled Riko across the table by the collar. A sharp pain ran through his hand and his arm but Neil barely registered it. He only felt the satisfying crunch under his fist as it hit Riko’s nose, then warm blood on his skin.

Suddenly, the world around him roared back to life after his fury had silenced it out. Loud voices around him and hands that grabbed his arms and pulled him back forcefully, making Neil stumble backwards. He fought back, struggled against their grip, but they were stronger. He knew he was shouting at Riko, but he couldn’t hear his own words over the blood rushing through his ears. He wasn’t even entirely sure in what language he was shouting.

The blood on Riko’s face shone bright against his pale skin and was probably the most satisfying sight of Neil’s entire life. He wished he could put more blood on him.


“Neil, shit, calm down!” Nicky’s voice was close and Neil realised he had his arms curled around Neil’s struggling body, holding him tight to keep him from hurting Riko more. There were two more hands on his shoulders that Neil recognised as Matt’s.

Neil did not calm down. However, he minimised his attempts at breaking free, though he didn’t stop completely. He was too angry to keep still. Instead of answering Nicky’s words he glared at Riko who was back on his chair at this point. Two Ravens had caught him as he stumbled back after Neil’s punch and he was now holding a napkin to his bleeding nose, throwing daggers at Neil with his eyes. He was talking to his teammates in angry japanese and Neil didn’t understand, but he heard Kevin’s panicked gasp. That was enough to get an idea of what Riko was saying.

In the distance Neil saw a handful of coaches running towards their table. Before they could throw Neil out he looked back at Riko and snarled:

“You should use the right name next time, Riko, or you’re gonna wish it was just your nose I’m breaking.”

 

No one had time to react to that threat. Wymack had a hand on Neil a second later and pulled him out of Nicky’s and Matt’s grips, another step away from the table.

“What the fuck is going on over here?” He stared at Neil with disbelief in his eyes and shook his head, “I thought I’d have to worry about Andrew sitting at this table, but apparently some of our cheerleaders are even bigger idiots.”

 

“Riko and I had a small argument, Coach Wymack,” Neil said.

 

“A small argument?! You shut the fuck up now, Hatford, or I’ll send you back to the Queen myself.”

 

To Neil’s surprise he was not thrown out. They relocated the Foxes to another table - half the coaches sat with the Ravens and the other half with the Foxes now. Neil didn’t turn to look at Riko. He did not look at the Foxes either. He ate his dinner in silence, ignoring the stares around him.

Until Kevin whispered to him.

 

“Is it true? Are you….are you really-”

 

“Shut up, Kevin,” Neil said in french without looking up from his plate, “This is not the place for this conversation.”

Kevin kept staring at him and Neil knew the others had realised he was speaking yet another language. Neil took a sip of his wine.

 

“I was surprised you never recognised me,” he added eventually, “It’s not like I made it a secret.”

 

“You’re using a different name!” Kevin hissed back in french, “I’d call that making it a secret.”

 

“No. I’m just using my legal name.” Neil turned his head ever so slightly to look at Kevin when he didn’t respond and looked into confused eyes. “I told you. This is not the place for this conversation. Now leave me alone.”

 

The Foxes left as soon as possible. They didn’t see the Ravens again on their way out and soon they were back on the bus, Wymack in the driver’s seat, on their way back to Palmetto.

Of course they tried to make Neil talk, but Neil just answered with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes and said: “I already told you we’re old acquaintances. I never said of the good kind, now, did I?”

Questions about his name he ignored. Luckily the Foxes were clever enough not to say his birth name out loud after they saw his reaction to it when Riko said it.


The only one not to ask a single question was Andrew. He had eyed him silently ever since the fight at the banquet and Neil still felt his eyes in his neck when he was sitting on the bus. He didn’t turn around. He was not in the mood to deal with Andrew right now.

Chapter Text

Neil did not want to talk to Kevin about this. Kevin knew who he was, that should be enough, shouldn’t it? It wasn’t like Neil was obliged to tell him about the hows and whys of his presence at PSU. Kevin wasn’t his mum.

On the other hand, he’d rather tell Kevin than Mary Wesninski about his reasons.

 

So, of course, as any reasonable man would do, Neil did everything to avoid Kevin and his entourage ever since the incident at the banquet. Surely, Kevin and the Foxes would just forget about it if he let enough time pass, right?

 

“You hit Riko in the face?!”

Katelyn almost smashed a hole into their wall with how forcefully she threw the dorm door open and Neil dropped his bowl of dry cereals in shock. Great, that was supposed to be his lunch snack.

“And most importantly: you didn’t tell me about it?!?”

 

“Well,” Neil grunted and crouched down to pick up the cereals that were now scattered all over their floor, “It’s not that big of a deal.”

 

“‘Not that big of a deal’? Are you kidding me? You broke Riko’s nose ! Oh my God, Neil, you are literally a hero, the little pest deserved it!” Katelyn seemed absolutely delighted about the news of Neil’s tantrum. And, honestly, Neil didn’t regret it. The only thing he regretted was that Kevin was now suddenly doing everything to confront Neil, when Neil really did not feel like discussing this with Kevin.

Kevin was a fool who was scared of Riko, which, okay, fair, what Riko did to him was not exactly a pleasant experience, but he was out of the Nest now. He could man up a little, couldn’t he? So no, Neil had no desire to share his plans with Kevin. He didn’t even really have a plan as such. Except you considered ‘making Riko’s life as miserable as possible’ a plan.

 

“I agree, he did deserve it. How do you know about this anyway?” Neil looked up from his cereal-disaster and right into the eyes of a smug Katelyn.

"I have my ways,” she said.

 

“Did Aaron tell you?”

 

“....yeah, we just had coffee.”

 

“So you’re not angry at him anymore for not taking you to the banquet, I take it?”

 

“No, actually, now I’m even more angry, because I didn’t get to see you hitting Riko in the face!”

 

Nei laughed at that and put the last cereal into his bowl. A knock on the door surprised them both, but Katelyn waved Neil off and told him she’d get that, so he took his bowl to the kitchen instead, threw the cereals away and reached for the box to pour new ones, when Katelyn called from the door:

 

“Neil! It’s for you!”

 

Confused, Neil put the box back in the shelf, left the bowl on the counter and stuck his head out.

“Who is it?”

 

“Neil, did you already lose all your manners? You’ve only been here for, what, two or three months? Come to the door and see for yourself if you want to know who your visitor is.” Neil froze when he heard the accent that sounded like it came straight from Buckingham Palace, the dark voice and the hint of british outrage in it.

A second later he was by the door.

 

“Stuart?!”

 

“Hello, Neil,” Stuart smiled his charming, polite smile, but Neil knew it was meant for Katelyn, not him, “It is so good to see you, may I come in?” Neil nodded and stepped to the side to let Stuart in, but he only entered their room when Katelyn agreed as well.

“Lovely place,” Stuart said as he slowly walked into their living room, looking around and taking everything in, “Did you decorate it, Miss…?”

 

“Katelyn,” she sputtered, staring at Stuart with big eyes, “It’s uh- it’s Katelyn. Katelyn is fine.” Stuart smiled and bowed his head in a single, polite nod.

“Very well. I’m Stuart - I’m sure Neil has told you about me already?”

Katelyn looked at Neil, who pointedly looked at the wall.

 

“Oh, Neil.” Stuart said incredulously, “Now I’m hurt.”

 

“I was busy,” Neil mumbled, crossing his arms tightly in front of his chest.

 

“So busy you forgot to tell your lovely roommate about your family?”

 

“Stuart, I’m not five years old anymore, I don’t tell people about my family all bloody day. No one cares.”

 

“My, my, when I sent you off to the US you had better manners than this,” Stuart said, wagging his finger at Neil, before he considered him for a moment and sighed, “Actually, no you didn’t.”

 

“What are you doing here anyway?” Neil asked and frowned at Stuart, “You didn’t even tell me you’d come to visit. Is this because I hit Riko?” Stuart blinked at Neil stupidly.

 

“You did what?! ” He asked, his voice full of surprise and exasperation. Oh, dear, apparently he hadn’t known about that yet. Quickly Neil shut his mouth and bit his bottom lip, then threw Stuart an innocent grin.

“Nothing.”

 

“Neil, what on bloody earth.”

 

“Anyway. Why are you here then?”

 

Stuart huffed and shook his head at Neil, but Neil knew he’d drop the topic as long as Katelyn was around. He wouldn't discuss Moriyama-related issues with clueless people around.

“I am here for business, but I came a day early to see how my nephew is doing at the other end of the world.”

 

“Business?” Neil raised an eyebrow. Was he here for the Moriyamas?

 

“No,” Stuart just said. He knew exactly who Neil was thinking about, “Other business than you think. I do have more than one business partner in the US, you know.”

 

“Yeah, I know,” Neil responded and shrugged. It would probably be better if Stuart wouldn't meet the Moriyamas any time soon. On the other hand, Kengo and Ichirou probably didn't even know about the incident yet, let alone care enough to have it influence their business. Riko's escapades were unimportant to them, as long as they didn't interfere with their work.

 

“Anyway,” Stuart clapped his hands and smiled at both Neil and Katelyn, “I would die for a decent cuppa right now. Would you two care to join me?”

 

* * *

 

Katelyn did care to join them. That was how the three of them ended up at a little coffee shop about twenty minutes from campus.

Stuart pulled a face when he took the first sip of his tea but drank it without complaint. He was an absolute tea-snob, but he was too polite to say anything about the taste.

Neil had a coffee. He only drank tea at the dorm – where he had about three large boxes of PG tips in the cupboard. Enough to last him till his next visit to the UK, hopefully.

 

“So, Katelyn, you're Neil's friend from cheerleading?” Stuart asked, put his tea down and pushed the mug a few inches away.

 

“Yeah,” Katelyn said with her usual cheerful smile, her ponytail bouncing with the nods of her head, “We've become really good friends since Neil moved into the dorm, I'd say.”

Stuart looked to Neil for confirmation. He was rightfully sceptical, since Neil picked his friends very carefully. He rarely liked people enough to call them friends to begin with. With Katelyn, however, he was happy to call her exactly that, so he gave Stuart a nod. The nod seemed to satisfy Stuart. A relaxed smile spread on his lips and he looked back at Katelyn.

“That's lovely. I'm glad Neil is making friends here.”

 

“So you're Neil's uncle?” Katelyn asked. Stuart nodded.

 

“Indeed.”

 

“Does your whole family life in England, then?”

 

“No,” Stuart pulled the tea closer again and took a slow sip, his gaze wandering back to Neil, then to Katelyn as he lowered it back onto the table, “Neil's parents live in the US. However, he came to the UK to attend school there and has been living with me ever since.” Neil felt his blood freeze when Stuart mentioned his parents. Nathan and Mary Wesninski were closer to him now than they had been for years now, and Neil didn't particularly like it, but he had to make some sacrifices to get what he wanted. It had taken weeks and months of persuading from his side to even make Stuart consider letting Neil go to university in the US. This visit was probably to check whether Neil was still alive, or if Nathan had found him already. Just the thought of his father standing on his doorstep made Neil feel sick.

 

“Oh,” Katelyn made a surprised noise, “So did you visit them already?”

 

“No,” Neil's voice cut Katelyn off too harshly, making her flinch a bit, looking frightened and concerned at the same time. “No,” Neil said again, with less heat this time, “And I'm not going to. I'm not on good terms with my parents. It was for the better I stayed with Stuart.”

 

“Oh...” Katelyn sounded genuinely saddened at that. Neil knew she had a great relationship with her parents and loved them a lot. He had heard countless stories about them and Katelyn's sister. Really, he was surprised she didn't notice he never even told her one single story about his own family.

“Oh, I'm sorry,” she said, “I didn't want to....I mean-”

 

“It's fine,” Neil waved her off, “Don't worry about it. Family doesn't always have to be your parents. It doesn't even have to be blood related people, for that matter. I've had Stuart, and that was more than enough.”

The smile was back on Katelyn's face and she threw a soft glance at Neil and Stuart.

“That's so sweet,” she said, “And you're right.”

 

Katelyn asked them a couple more questions, this time more careful about what she said and asked, and Stuart and Neil answered them, just as careful not to give her too much truth. But they had told these stories a million times already – it almost felt as if they were real.

When they had finished their drinks Katelyn said her goodbyes as she was supposed to meet a friend of hers, but she agreed to meet them back at the dorm that night. She seemed to have taken a liking to Stuart – or maybe just to his handsome face, his tailored suit and his british manners.

 

Stuart took Neil to a mall to have lunch and go shopping. There wasn't much talking happening now that they were by themselves, until Stuart went back to the elephant in the room over the pizza they shared.

 

“You hit Riko in the face? Bloody hell, Neil. I knew you were here to make his life hard, but that's a bit brash, isn't it? I thought you'd be a bit more...subtle.”

 

Neil rolled his eyes at that and took a big bite of his pizza slice, frowning at Stuart. Stuart was happy to wait him out. When he swallowed his bite and was about to taker another, Stuart sat up straight.

“Neil,” he said, the tone of his voice enough to make Neil lower the slice back onto his plate.

 

“Fine,” Neil hissed, “He called me Nathaniel.”

Even Stuart froze at the mention of Neil's birth name. Neil pushed the plate away, all of his appetite gone in a second. “And then he told me I'd be a Wesninski, no matter what. I was angry, okay? He's lucky it was just his nose I broke.”

 

“Neil...” Suddenly Stuart's voice was low, trying to be soothing, but just thinking about the words Riko said made the blood in Neil's veins boil.

 

“I know it's not true,” he grunted, “But it still made me angry. Riko is a cunt, and I want to see him suffer. If he ever dares to call me that again I will-”

 

“Neil!” Stuart's voice was strict again this time, his shoulders and back straightened and his eyes hard. But as soon as Neil stopped speaking and looked at Stuart, ripped from his angry thoughts, Stuart relaxed. He raised a hand, placing it on Neil's cheek.

 

“You're not Nathaniel. You're not a Wesninski. Do you hear me?” Stuart said quietly, “You're Neil Abram Hatford. It doesn't matter what Riko or anyone else says. Do you understand?”

 

The fire under his skin was soothed by the gentle touch, extinguished by the softness in Stuart's words. Neil leaned his head into Stuart's palm and took a few deep breaths. Stuart was right. Of course he was.

 

“Yes, Pops,” Neil mumbled. Stuart smiled.

 

* * *

 

Laden with shopping bags, Stuart and Neil returned to the dorm a couple of hours later. Katelyn wasn't there yet, so they just dropped Neil's bags in the bedroom and then made themselves comfortable on the couch, drinks in hand.

When she returned it wasn't long until she joined them and they soon decided to watch a movie. Since Neil chose their last movie it was Katelyn's turn this time, though she gracefully offered to let Stuart choose, since he was their guest.

 

“Oh, no,” Stuart waved her off, “I'm fine with whatever you choose.”

Katelyn decided on Legend. The irony of this choice wasn't lost on Neil nor Stuart, it was, however, completely lost on Katelyn, who didn't realise she just suggested a movie about the british mob to a british mobster.

 

“Lovely choice,” Stuart said way too cheerfully. Neil couldn't help the snort, but tried to hide it by taking a sip of his drink. “I love movies with Tom Hardy.”

 

“Yeah, I bet you do,” Neil answered, rolling his eyes. Katelyn looked at Neil with confusion in her eyes.

“I mean he's a great actor,” she said.

 

“And a great lover,” Stuart said with a blissful smile. Neil gagged. Katelyn looked even more confused.

 

“Let's say I called Tom Hardy “Uncle Tom” for about two years of my teenage life,” Neil muttered as an explanation for Katelyn, but frowning at Stuart, “Stuart has a thing for actors.”

 

“And actresses,” Stuart added.

 

“And actresses,” Neil sighed.

 

Chapter Text

Friday morning rolled by and Neil was pretty sure he'd never forget the look on Katelyn's face when Stuart casually mentioned he had been dating Tom Hardy for two years.

Not that dating was the right word here. There were no emotions involved in this whole 'relationship', but before Stuart had the opportunity to explain the Tom-situation to Katelyn in great depth Neil had cut him off to spare both her and himself the details.

After the movie Stuart went off to his hotel. He hugged Neil so tight Neil's spine popped, and gave him a kiss to the forehead. Neil hadn't realised how much he had missed this until he was back in Stuart's arms, smelling the familiar cologne and resting his head on the shoulders that had dried so many childhood tears.

 

There was a knock on the door again.

Neil, sitting by the kitchen table with a mug of coffee in both hands, squinted towards the direction of the door. Was it Stuart again? But he said he was going to go to another state today. If he had been telling the truth he should be on the road since 6 am. It was 9 now.

Katelyn was in class, so Neil had no other choice but to get the door himself.

 

It wasn't Stuart.

When Nicky grinned at Neil from the other side of the door, Neil raised one eyebrow at him in question.

 

„Morning, Neil,“ Nicky said too cheerfully, „How are you?“

 

„What do you want Nicky?“ Nicky pouted when Neil was so clearly unwilling to do smalltalk with him, but instead of protesting he just pushed a plastic bag in Neil's arms.

 

„We're going to party in Columbia tonight,“ he said.

 

Neil frowned at him. Columbia?

 

„Okay,“ he said slowly, „Have fun, I guess? Did you come here to tell me you're taking a trip?“

 

„No. We as in Andrew, Aaron, Kevin, me and you.“

 

Neil's other eyebrow shot up as well. Now, this was news to him. But he had an inkling whose idea this was.

„Are we now? Who's saying I'm coming with you?“

 

„Andrew.“ Nicky's grin turned a bit pained and he shuffled on his feet uncomfortably. „If I were you, I'd just do as he asks.“

 

„Good thing you're not me,“ Neil deadpanned. Nicky looked even more uncomfortable.

 

„Look,“ Nicky tried again and gestured at the bag in Neil's arms, “Andrew even bought you an outfit. He never buys people gifts. Just take it and come with us, okay? Please? Please, say yes, Neil.”

Neil's eyes snapped down to the bag he was holding to his chest. An outfit? What? He didn't know whether to be flattered or offended, and he sure as fuck didn't know what to think about this whole idea.

On one hand this was his best shot at actually flirting with Andrew, on the other hand this meant he was going to get himself cornered by four people in their territory. One of those people being Kevin, who Neil was trying very hard to avoid at the moment. Besides, Neil knew Andrew was suspicious of him. He didn't know how much Andrew knew about the Moriyamas and the Nest, but it seemed to be enough for him to react with murder when he thought Neil and Riko were friends.

But if he said no, Andrew would probably either kill him right away or make him come to Columbia himself.

He didn't have a choice. He had to go to Columbia with Andrew and Kevin.

“Okay,” Neil said eventually.

 

* * *

 

He had to give Andrew one thing – the outfit actually wasn't that bad.

It was simple, yet stylish. He even got his bloody size right. No way in hell was this guy straight.

The ripped jeans were a nice, snug fit, the long-sleeved shirt felt soft against Neil's skin, and the ankle boots looked heavy but good with the rest of the outfit. The thing that struck Neil the most was the fact that it was all black – from shirt to shoes, all of the items Andrew bought for Neil were a deep black. Just like Andrew's outfits always were.

He told Katelyn he was going out tonight but not with whom, which she accepted without question and wished him fun. However, when he entered the Foxes’ hallway and Dan, standing in front of her dorm door, spotted him, she raised an eyebrow.

 

“Neil?” Dan looked like she didn't know what exactly to say – he hadn't really spoken to any of them since the incident.

 

“Hi, Dan,” Neil replied and raised his hand in lieu of a wave. Instead of offering her a cue, Neil just went to Kevin's dorm and knocked on the door. A second later, Andrew opened the door. He looked delighted when he saw Neil.

“Oh, Neil! I didn't think you'd actually turn up,” he grinned, “Just a second, we'll be with you right away.”

 

“Wait, what are you doing?” Dan asked warily. She made a couple steps towards Neil. Andrew just grinned at her even wider.

“Neil is coming to Columbia with us,” he told her.

Dan looked absolutely shocked at that. Neil would like to think that this was a very exaggerated response to Andrew taking someone to a club, but instead it gave him another wave of anxiety. This was just bad news for Neil.

“No, Andrew,” she said, “You're not taking him to Columbia. He's not even on the team.”

 

“Oh, but Dan, I'd like to get to know him a little bit better.” Andrew sighed, disappointed, as if Dan's no would have any influence on his decision. “I'm even gonna pay for his drinks, promise.”

 

“That's exactly what I'm afraid of,” Dan responded with a deep frown. She looked at Neil, then back at Andrew and her expression started to turn into something angry. But before she could say anything else, the door to the girls' dorm opened again and Renee walked out. She seemed surprised to see them on the hallway, then surveyed both Neil's and Andrew's outfits, and began to smile. Her smile, however, seemed less happy than usual. More forced.

“Oh, are you taking Neil to Columbia, Andrew?”

 

“Yes, we're gonna have a lot of fun with him tonight,” Andrew agreed and gave Renee a thumbs up. The gesture softened her smile a bit.

“I'm sure you will,” she said and let her gaze wander to Neil slowly, “Or maybe Neil would prefer a quiet night in? Maybe I could invite him to-”

 

“Oh, no, Renee,” Andrew interrupted Renee, whose eyes immediately went back to him, “Tonight Neil is my problem. Maybe I'll let you invite him another day.”

Neil had no idea what was going on here, he was pretty sure the conversation between Andrew and Renee had a layer that no one except them seemed to understand, but somehow Renee's slow nod unsettled him even more. What sort of agreement had they just settled on that he didn't understand? Neil hated not knowing, but there was a lot of not knowing happening for him at the moment.

 

“Wait, are you just gonna agree to that like this?” Dan seemed genuinely upset by the idea that Renee would let Neil go with Andrew and his lot. What on earth was it that Andrew would do to him on this trip?!

“I'm sure they'll make sure to get Neil home in one piece,” Renee said.

 

“Are you sure about that? May I remind you that last time--”

 

“I'll be fine,” Neil interrupted Dan. It was the first time he spoke up in this conversation, and immediately all eyes were on him, “I'm sure I can handle Andrew.”

Andrew snorted at that and raised both eyebrows.

“God, I really fucking hate you already,” Andrew said with a big smile on his face.

 

“That's okay, you can get in line with all the others who'd prefer to see me six feet under,” Neil said with a shrug and a bored expression. Andrew didn't respond to that. He just turned around, went into the dorm and left Neil standing in front of the open door.

 

“Neil...” Dan said when he was gone and made her way towards him, “You don't have to go with them.”

 

“I know,” Neil said and tilted his head towards her, “But I kind of want to. I'm curious about what they have in stock for me.”

 

* * *

 

The car they drove looked expensive, and apparently it was Andrew's. He didn't drive it though, Nicky did. He explained that Andrew wasn't allowed to drive due to his medication, so the only people driving the car were him and Renee. Neil was somewhat surprised to hear that Andrew would lend his car to Renee, but then he remembered Katelyn's rumor and how she was Andrew's date for the banquet. He really needed to find out whether Andrew and Renee were a thing or not.

 

Kevin was on the passenger seat, which Neil was thankful for because that meant he wasn't stuck on the seat next to him for the entire ride to Columbia. It did, however, leave him seated between both twins, and Neil didn't know how much better he liked that.

Andrew and Nicky chatted away about a million topics while Aaron just stared out of the window with an angry frown, and Neil mostly listened in to their conversation but didn't participate.

Almost 45 minutes into their ride, Neil suddenly realised that Andrew's responses had died down to a bare minimum and it was mostly Nicky talking now. He didn't know when it happened, but Andrew was barely talking anymore and when Neil looked at him, his smile was gone too. He was staring at the headrest of Kevin's seat with a weird intensity. Neil realised what this was about when Nicky pulled over onto the right lane to take the next exit.

 

“Nicky, stop the car,” Andrew demanded with an unusually flat voice.

 

“What? Now?” Nicky asked, surprised, and looked at Andrew through the rearview mirror, “We're almost off the highway, let me just-”

 

“Now.” Andrew said with more force.

 

“Andrew, look, can you wait--”

 

Now.

 

Cars blew their horns at them as Nicky hit the breaks and steered the car onto the small patch of grass growing at the side of the highway exit. Andrew didn't even wait until the car was standing completely to open the door and bend over, just his upper body hanging out of the car, his hands holding onto the door frame. Neil heard him heave a second later. He scrunched his face up in a mix of disgust and some weird sort of concern.

 

“Shit, Andrew,” Neil said, leaning towards and over him, but not enough for their bodies to touch, “Are you okay?”

 

“It's his meds wearing off,” Nicky said as he turned in the driver's seat and threw a look at his cousin before grimacing in disgust, “If he doesn't take them in time he gets sick.”

 

“Well, fuck me, how about this genius solution I just came up with, then: take the bloody medication. Don't tell me you forgot to take it with you?”

 

Andrew pulled himself up by the frame and wiped his mouth with the back on his hand. There was an expression on his face Neil had only ever seen on him once – after the game, when he was looking for Aaron.

“Shut the fuck up or I'll kill you before we even made it to Eden's.”

 

“Andrew doesn't take his meds when we go to Columbia,” Nicky explained. He didn't seem to care about the cars honking at them.

 

“What?” Neil looked to Nicky, then to Andrew. So this meant he was going to be sober at the club. Neil didn't know how this would shift his chances in Columbia, because he didn't know what Andrew was like off his medication, but what he was wondering about the most wasn't even that.

“If it makes you so miserable, why would you skip your meds then?”

 

Suddenly Andrew grabbed Neil's face with one hand, burying his fingers in his cheeks so hard it hurt, and pulled him close enough for Neil to feel Andrew's breath on his skin. Neil tried to turn his head away, but Andrew didn't let him. He waited until Neil stopped to struggle and their eyes locked.

 

“Because I prefer to be sober when I make a decision about whether or not I need to kill you.”

 

Andrew's low voice and his piercing gaze sent an uncomfortable shiver down Neil's spine. It wasn't even the threat itself, it was the way he said it, the open animosity and icy sincerity in his voice, that had Neil's breath stop for a second. In this moment, he believed Andrew without a doubt that he'd kill him if Neil turned out to be something he didn't like him to be.

What that meant exactly, Neil didn't know. He could only hope he wouldn't find out.

Chapter Text

They took Neil to a place called Sweety's first. It was a diner but when the waitress came they only asked for the ice cream menu. Neil noticed Andrew stuffing empty cracker wrappers into the waitress's apron and couldn't help but think how rude that was. But then again, it had been rude to just walk over to the salad buffet and grab a handful of crackers to begin with. But this was Andrew. Neil had yet to see him being polite.

Neil settled on a small bowl of ice cream, since he was not really hungry. The waitress came back rather quickly, gave them their ice cream each, and before she could walk away again Andrew already asked for the bill.

 

“So eager to get to this nightclub?” Neil asked teasingly and only earned a blank stare from Andrew. This wasn't fun when Andrew only reacted with silence or death threats. There had to be a way to get a reaction from him when he was sober, too. Neil refused to believe that all this cheer and sass were a result of just the medication, it had to be a little bit of Andrew's true nature as well.

Neil was halfway through his ice cream when the waitress came back. She put the bill into Andrew's hand and placed a ridiculous stack of napkins on the table too. How much exactly did she think they'd spill? Neither of the others seemed to be bothered by the napkins though, they just ate their ice cream in silence as Andrew paid for them.

That was the moment Neil really began to wonder. That looked like a lot of money, even for five portions of ice cream. Even for five portions of really good ice cream. But, again, none of the others seemed to mind.

Neil watched closely as Andrew handed over the money. The waitress gave it a quick once over, then stuffed it into her apron pocket without counting properly, grabbed their menus and went off to another table. Andrew looked at Neil who was watching him.

 

“What-” Neil started, but was cut off when Andrew reached for the stack of napkins and stuffed them into his jeans' pockets.

 

“What the fuck, Andrew?” Neil asked.

 

“We're leaving.” Andrew said and got up, his own ice cream barely touched. Nicky made a disappointed sound but put his spoon down and gathered his stuff, and slowly all of them got ready to leave again, despite the fact that neither of them finished their ice cream.

 

“Alright, kids, we're off to Eden's now!” Nicky said cheerfully as he fell into the driver's seat and didn't seem to mind the silence he got as a response. He was probably used to it at this point.

Neil was busy buckling up his seat belt when, in the corner of his eye, he noticed Andrew pulling the napkins from his pockets and throwing them into his lap instead.

“What on bloody earth are y-” Suddenly, Neil noticed little, transparent bags with a white powder inside between the napkins. Neil stopped in his movements, stared at the bags, then at Andrew.

 

“Is that cocaine ?”

 

“Shit, Neil,” Nicky gasped from the front, “That's not coke, Jesus Christ.”

 

“Crackerdust,” Andrew said and waved one of the little bags in front of Neil's nose, “Want one?”

 

“No, thanks, I'm good.” Neil pushed Andrew's hand away, and Andrew gave a short, sharp and humorless laugh in response. He ripped the package open and emptied the contents into his mouth before Nicky even started the engine of the car.

 

“So you don't take your meds, but you take Crackerdust? That's not what I'd call sober.”

 

“Good thing I don't give a shit about what you consider sober, Hatford.”

 

“By the way, while we're at the topic again, aren't you required to take your medication at all times as part of your probation?” Andrew looked at Neil with an unimpressed stare, opened another bag of Crackerdust and poured that one into his mouth, too.

 

“Yeah. What now? Are you gonna run and tell the cops?”

 

“Oh, no,” Neil waved him off, “I'm not particularly fond of the police myself. I'm just...curious.”

 

“Curious.” It wasn't even a question the way Andrew said it.

 

“Yes. Curious.”

 

“About what?”

 

Neil almost laughed at that question. Shouldn't that be obvious? All the flirting - and Andrew still asked what Neil was curious about.

“Uhm. About you, of course?” Something went across Andrew's face; something Neil couldn't put a name to, but it was neither blankness nor murder. Neil wanted to make it return to Andrew’s face to find out which emotion exactly it was. Before he got to try, though, Aaron kicked the back of Nicky’s seat, hard, and made him squeal.
“Can you fucking go, Nicky?” He grunted, “I don’t wanna spend all night on Sweety’s parking lot.”

Nicky muttered something under his breath but started the engine and got them all on the road again. It wasn't too long of a drive until a big night club came into view. A ton of people were queueing in front of it, all dressed in black, a lot of them in leather or corsets. Neil watched the crowd with a raised brow as they drove past slowly.

“Hey, so, I’m into some kinky stuff, okay, but I don’t know how I feel about going to a BDSM club with you guys,” he said, resting his arm on the back of Andrew’s seat and pushing himself up to watch the passing crowd over his head a little longer, “I don’t feel like we know each other well enough for that yet, you know?” Nicky laughed, Andrew shoved his elbow into Neil’s ribs. With a wheeze, Neil fell back into his seat and pressed a hand to the hurting spot.

 

“Twat,” he said, glaring at Andrew.

 

“Shut the fuck up,” Andrew retorted without looking at him.

 

Nicky stopped the car and they all got out. Neil started to make his way to the back of the queue, but Andrew grabbed him by his arm and pulled him back, going straight for the door. Apparently the bouncers knew them, because as soon as they spotted the twins their faces lit up and they greeted Aaron with an elaborate handshake before nodding towards Andrew. They handed a VIP parking pass to Aaron who brought it back to Nicky, who was still waiting in the car.

“I’ll take it you’re regulars,” Neil said.

“Obviously,” Andrew answered.

Neil looked down to where Andrew’s hand was still curled around his biceps. Andrew seemed to notice, too, now, because he quickly let go of Neil and pushed past him, through the heavy metal doors. Neil grinned, then followed short.

The music was loud, the bass so heavy Neil felt it in his bones. It was a familiar feeling, and he immediately felt his pulse going up in anticipation. It had been months since Neil was out clubbing last, he didn’t have the opportunity yet since he moved to the US. This wasn’t exactly in optimal conditions, considering he was pretty sure Andrew, Kevin and their entourage had planned something that would probably not be in his favour, but for now Neil decided to push that fact to the back of his head and just enjoy the thought of a night out drinking and dancing.

They were lucky enough to find a table pretty quickly with a sofa next to it that would seat three people. Kevin and Aaron found two available chairs close by, while Andrew started to collect empty glasses off the table.

“You,” he said, jerking his chin towards Neil, “Come on.”

 

“Did you forget my name already?” Neil asked, rolling his eyes, but didn’t get an answer. He still followed Andrew. He stayed behind him and let Andrew push people out of their way until they reached the bar where he squeezed next to him and crossed his arms on the bar top.

The barkeepers were quite busy, as it was to be expected on a friday night, but it took only about ten seconds until one of them noticed Andrew and Neil. He started smiling as if he just walked into the living room on Christmas morning, which had Neil raising his eyebrows. It was a bit like being in a parallel universe here, where everyone started lighting up as soon as they saw one of the Monsters instead of avoiding them at all cost.

“Andrew!!” The bartender shouted over the music and leaned over the bar, grinning at Andrew widely. The guy was tall and handsome, all dark skin and bright eyes and brilliant smile. “Haven’t seen you in ages, where have you been?! I almost thought you forgot me.”

Andrew grunted in response and pushed the empty glasses towards him. The bartender took them without seeming to mind Andrew’s rudeness, then he turned to Neil.

“And this is?”

 

“Neil,” Andrew said, “Drinks, Roland.”

 

“Yes, yes, alright,” Roland answered, waving Andrew off, “The usual?” Andrew nodded.

“And what can I get for you?” Roland then asked Neil. Neil threw a look at the shelf full of bottles behind Roland and thought for a second.

 

“I’ll have a vodka lemon.”

“Alright, coming up.”

 

Neil watched Roland vanish to another corner of the bar to prepare their drinks. While he was busy and they were forced to wait, Neil trained his eyes on Andrew instead, who was pointedly not looking at him.

“So,” Neil started, but got no reaction from Andrew, “What exactly do you have planned for me?”

That did catch Andrew’s attention and he slowly dragged his gaze over to Neil. For a few seconds he didn’t say anything.

“Don’t believe everything Dan says.”

 

“Do you think I’m asking this because Dan flipped out about you taking me here? You really must think I’m an idiot.”

 

“I do.”

 

“I know you wouldn’t just take me here to have a good time, Andrew. Especially not after what happened at the banquet. Did you bring me here for Kevin?”

 

“I don’t care what Kevin’s deal with you is,” Andrew said, “I have my own questions for you.”

 

Well, that wasn’t surprising in itself. Since Kevin and Andrew were basically connected by the hip Neil figured Andrew would have his own issues with Neil. He didn’t know how much Kevin had told Andrew, but it didn’t matter. Andrew would probably try to get all the information he wanted himself.

And, honestly, Neil wasn’t making it a secret who he was. Of course he wouldn’t tell Andrew the truth, his truth wasn’t for ears of people who weren’t involved with the mafia, but he’d willingly give Andrew all his carefully studied lies and half-truths, the same ones he gave Katelyn.

 

“So you take me to a nightclub? Honestly not the best choice for a chat.”

 

“I think it’s perfect,” Andrew said and then directed his gaze back at Roland who returned to them with a tray full of glasses. It was far more than what they’d need for five people.

 

By the time Andrew and Neil returned to the table Nicky had re-joined them. Him and Aaron were each sitting on a chair while Kevin occupied one of the seats on the couch. It was obvious they decided that Neil was going to sit with Andrew and Kevin, but it was not surprising. At least at a nightclub, filled with people, they couldn’t try to do anything really bad. There’d be too many witnesses.

The others didn’t wait for Andrew or Neil to sit down, but immediately reached for the drinks the second Andrew put the tray down. They did wait, however, for them to sit down and get their own drinks before they had theirs. Neil reached for his longdrink, but Andrew put a shot in front of him. When Neil looked up each of them was holding a shot like this one, looking at him expectantly.

“Have a drink with us, Neil,” Nicky said smiling, holding his own glass a little higher, “On a fun night out!”

 

Neil didn’t like taking drinks from strangers or people he didn’t trust. And right now he didn’t trust any of them. It was the first lesson Stuart taught him when Neil got to an age where he got interested in partying and drinking. He never told him not to do all that, he just told him to be careful and always purchase his own drinks. Never take them from strangers, and if you do, stay close to your friends. And it hadn’t just been the usual talk to prevent harassment and assault almost everyone got when they started to go out, for Neil it had another layer to it. Being save from people who were after him or Stuart, who wanted to kill him for being involved with one of the biggest british mob families. And he had always taken Stuart’s advice seriously.

 

Neil eyed the other’s glasses, then his own. From what he could see, they all had the same content. Anyway, he was there when Roland poured the drinks and walked right behind Andrew as he carried them to their table. So he took the shot and raised it.
“Cheers!” Nicky exclaimed and drank it in one big gulp. The others did the same and Neil just hesitated for another second before raising his glass to his lips and drinking it in one go.

He pulled a face as the whiskey burned its way down his throat. He smacked his lips and shuddered before extending his arm to set the glass down.

The bottom of the glass was half an inch from the tabletop when Neil stopped dead. As the strong, sharp taste of whiskey slowly ebbed away Neil tasted a faint sweetness on his tongue, and even though he barely drank whiskey he knew it wasn’t supposed to taste sweet.

The one time he broke his rule. The one time he thought he could be sure his drink was what it seemed to be - and it was a lie. Neil had no idea how they managed to put something in his drink, but as he turned his head to look at Andrew and was met with indifferent but attentive eyes already staring at him, he knew they did. Neil slammed the shot glass onto the table.

 

“Did you really fucking spike my drink?” He spat angrily. Andrew didn’t respond, just kept staring at him, and when Neil let his gaze wander to Kevin, Nicky and Aaron he realised they were all in on it. Of course they fucking were. Neil’s eyes snapped back to Andrew and he felt adrenaline and anger burning up in his veins, igniting the violent fury he kept buried inside his chest, mixed with growing panic. He was so close to breaking the first of Andrew’s limbs he could reach. Instead Neil turned on his seat so he was seated sideways, facing Andrew, and dug his fingers into the plush couch.

 

“Are you fucking serious? Are you a creep, or what? What are you trying to achieve - make me willing? Helpless? Did you take me here to take advantage of me?”

Andrew visibly flinched at that accusation and his face turned to stone. Neil didn’t expect a strong reaction like that from a sober Andrew, but he couldn’t care or wonder about it right now.


“It’s just Crackerdust. It might help you answer my questions,” Andrew responded eventually, his voice chilly and tight. Neil couldn’t help the short, humorless laugh that escaped him at this. If Andrew thought this would get him any further he’d soon realise how wrong he was. If he wanted to force answers out of Neil he’d have to make up a better plan than drugging him up.

“No, it won’t,” Neil spat back and leaned over until his face was just a couple inches from Andrew’s, staring right into his eyes, “Because I’m really petty and I really don’t like when people try to force me to do things. You know what would’ve helped?” He gave Andrew a second but not enough to actually answer, and tilted his head to the side. “If you would’ve just asked, like a normal person.” Neil leaned back now, but kept glaring at Andrew with angry eyes.

“Oh, just wait until it does its thing and I’m sure you’ll find your tongue a lot looser than usual,” Andrew said. He was back to being indifferent and relaxed, and seemed oh-so-sure of his plan. Well, seemed like Neil had to pop that little dream bubble of his.

 

“No, Andrew, you don’t understand, it will not work,” he said. Then, to prove his point, Neil turned to the table and grabbed one of the little bags with Crackerdust that were left, opened it and poured it into his mouth. He washed it down with a big sip of his vodka lemon, then looked back at Andrew.

“If I started spilling my secrets every time I was high I’d have no secrets left to spill,” he said, “Now I’ll go to the dancefloor and I better not run into any of you cunts down there or I might break your fucking ankles.”

Neil stood, everyone except Andrew staring at him in dumbfounded silence, but before he left he pointed an angry finger at Kevin.
“And, Kevin? Fuck you. Fuck you for agreeing to this and fuck you for thinking it’s a good idea to force secrets out of me when you know exactly what’s on the fucking table. I hope you choke on your fucking drink.”

Chapter Text

The world was turning slightly too fast and the flickering, colourful lights had Neil feeling a bit nauseous, but when he closed his eyes it was fine. He didn’t need to see what was going on around him anyway, he just listened to the music, felt the bass in his bones, let the melody carry his body.

Neil loved when his head felt empty and light, every worry and problem gone for a couple hours thanks to some party drug or another, and all he cared about was the dance floor. And the best part was that the drugs gave him so much energy, he could dance for hours on end. Sometimes he did, literally dancing the night away, other times he stopped dancing early and used his leftover energy on someone he picked up that night. He knew that neither of those were an option tonight. Even though it sounded like a fantastic idea to just dance through the entire night, leaving the others to wait for him until he was done. Or maybe they’d leave him. That’d be great, too. He’d just stay here until they closed the club and then he’d find a way home. Maybe he’d take a cab, Stuart would surely pay the bill. Or maybe he’d hitchhike back to PSU - that’d be a new experience.

 

Neil opened his eyes and threw a glance up to the seating area. If Andrew went as far as to spike his drink to make Neil talk, he wouldn’t just leave him here. He’d make sure Neil would come back with them, and then he’d try to find another way to get what he wanted, Neil was sure of that. Just because Andrew was a college boy with anger issues instead of a mobster out to kill Neil, Neil wouldn’t dare to underestimate him. If he tried to run away or trick Andrew, this all might turn ugly quick. He had to give Andrew something. Some information that told him enough to soothe his suspicions, but wouldn’t give away too much.

But - things in life never came free, did they? Neil might as well get something out of this whole situation, too. Two could play this game.

 

When Neil returned to the table a solid two hours later the only ones left were Kevin and Andrew. Kevin’s head was resting on the armrest of the sofa and the way he was half-lying on there looked like it would give him a ton of back and neck pain the next day. Andrew looked utterly disgruntled as he glared at Kevin’s passed out form, arms crossed in front of his chest. His eyes flicked up to Neil when he noticed him approaching the table. He didn’t say anything, but he was watching him closely. Neil made his way over to them and fell back into his former spot right next to Andrew instead of picking one of the two empty chairs on the opposite side of the table.

 

“Where are Nicky and Aaron?” Neil asked and reached for the drink he left there after their argument, smelled it and then put it back down. He didn’t trust any of these guys with his drinks anymore.

 

“Dancefloor.” Andrew answered. Neil felt his eyes burn a hole into the side of his head. He grabbed a mini pretzel instead and popped it into his mouth before sitting back again, sinking into the backrest of the couch.

 

“One question,” Neil said, pointing his finger towards the ceiling. He turned his head to look at Andrew, who was just staring at him silently, though his eyes were questioning. “That’s how much I’ll grant you tonight. I would’ve answered all of your questions if you would’ve just asked, but I’m pissed off with you now, so I will make this a lot harder for you out of pure spite.” A raised eyebrow was the only answer Neil got, but it was enough. Andrew was interested. Now he had to keep his interest and his plan might actually work out.

“You’ll get one question that I will answer truthfully tonight. After that I will only answer questions for an answer in return. Look at it as a little game we play. A truth for a truth. If you’re willing to play, you’ll get all the answers you want. If not, good luck figuring me out by yourself.”

 

To say Andrew looked doubtful would be an understatement. Neil lost the last shred of hope for his plan to work when Andrew just turned away and reached for his drink. No response whatsoever. He didn’t say no either, but honestly, this didn’t look good for Neil. But he refused to give up until he got a clear no from Andrew. There’d be no use in pestering him about it, that much Neil knew. He’d have to let Andrew answer in his own time or it would backfire.

The problem was that Neil only had little patience. Just sitting next to Andrew who seemed to ignore him now, and not saying anything might have been the hardest thing he had done in a while. It went on for another hour before Aaron and Nicky returned to the table. Nicky’s face lit up the second he saw Neil and he was all over him, telling him how he thought Neil might have just left them and how sorry he was for everything, which Neil didn’t buy for a second.

“If you were so sorry you wouldn’t have agreed to it in the first place,” he said unimpressed and Nicky’s shoulders crumbled. Aaron looked somewhat surprised to see Neil back at the table, but the surprise was gone quickly and he just returned to his own seat. He didn’t get to sit for long though, because soon enough Andrew decided it was time to leave. He let them know by getting up from his seat, kicking Kevin in the shin to wake him and then walking away. Kevin startled so violently he slipped off the armrest and almost fell, but managed to catch himself on the table’s edge just in time.

 

“You’re a wreck,” Neil told Kevin as he watched him struggling to get off the couch. He wasn’t sure Kevin even registered the words because he was so drunk. With a heavy sigh Neil got off his seat and helped Kevin get up, then curled his arm around his own shoulders.

“Shit, Kevin, you’re heavy.” With a grunt Neil started walking, a drunk Kevin leaning on him too heavily. It was a long, slow walk to the car.

“Why are you here?” Kevin slurred as they made their way out, the two bouncers holding the doors open for them. They exchanged a knowing smirk that told Neil this wasn’t the first time Kevin had to be carried out.

“Because I have some business here,” Neil replied and Kevin had the audacity to laugh at that. His laugh, however, didn’t sound happy.

“Business? Like what? Getting yourself killed?”

“Very sweet of you to be so concerned for me,” Neil replied sarcastically, “But killing me isn’t that easy.”

“You should run away as long as you still can,” Kevin mumbled and slumped more against Neil. He stumbled to the side, Kevin’s weight pressing against his smaller body, and had to find his footing again before they could continue their way. “I thought you were dead anyway. They told us your father killed you.”

“Yeah I bet they did. The truth hurt his ego too much.”

“How’d you do it? I mean you were a child, how’d you get away?”

“Kevin, you’re drunk.” Neil grunted and stopped to pull Kevin a bit closer, holding him tighter so he wouldn’t slip and fall, “And I don’t trust you after the stunt you and your friends pulled earlier tonight. I’m not gonna tell you shit.”

“That’s fair,” Kevin said. He slurred his words so bad at this point, Neil could barely make out what he was saying. Luckily the car pulled up at the curb and he just had to drag Kevin a couple feet further. The door was opened from inside and Neil could just drop Kevin into the passenger seat. Thankfully Kevin was still with it enough to pull his limbs inside himself, but Neil had to lean into the car and help him with the seatbelt. Only when he was leaning in did he realise it was Andrew who was driving, which should’ve been obvious, because Aaron and Nicky had both been walking behind Kevin and Neil. Andrew frowned at Neil, clearly unhappy about something.

“I thought you’re not allowed to drive when you’re on your meds?” Neil asked as he clicked the seatbelt shut.

“I’m not my medication,” Andrew responded, then threw a glance at the back seats when Nicky and Aaron got in. He glared at Nicky, but turned his attention back to Neil when he spoke.

“Oh, yeah, sorry, you’re just on Crackerdust and whiskey. That’s better, obviously.”

 

“Shut the fuck up and get in, Hatford.”

 

“Fuck you, Andrew.” Neil threw Kevin’s door shut and walked around the car to get to his seat. It only took him a few seconds, but when he opened the door and got into his seat something had already happened inside the car. Aaron looked to and fro between Nicky and Andrew with an annoyed frown on his face. Nicky had his arms raised protectively while Andrew was reaching back, as if trying to hit Nicky.

“Shit, Andrew,” Nicky whined, “We were right behind them! If you’re so worried about Kevin, you drag him out of Eden’s yourself next time.” For that Andrew grabbed Nicky’s wrist and pulled it down, then turned in his seat enough to reach back with his other hand too and hit Nicky around the head. Before he could, though, Neil caught Andrew’s wrist and pulled on it, hard. He was annoyed with Andrew and there was still the anger from earlier simmering in his veins, so he had no patience for any of this. Suddenly all eyes were on him, Andrew’s angry and threatening, Nicky’s wide and surprised. Aaron just looked surprised but intrigued.

 

“What’s the problem?” Neil asked, putting on a calm, unconcerned facade, “You think I hurt your precious boyfriend while you weren’t looking? Nicky’s right. Don’t leave him for others to deal with then. Now drive.”

Neil knew that sometimes he had a tendency to tempt death to come and get him. And Andrew’s eyes were saying this was one of those moments, but right now Neil couldn’t care any less. He just stared back, pointedly unimpressed. If Andrew wanted to play a game of dominance Neil was happy to play along. They just stared at each other silently for a minute and the tension in the car rose with each breath they took. Eventually, Andrew pulled his wrist from Neil’s grip, turned and started the engine. Pleased, Neil folded his hands in his lap and directed his gaze outside the window. No one said a word the entire ride. Neil had no idea where they were going, but he wasn’t about to ask. He suspected they’d go to a hotel, but Andrew drove through city roads and residential streets until he pulled up in front of a pretty little house in the middle of what looked like a family area. They had passed a school ten minutes ago and the streets were covered in chalk drawings made by children.


“This is our house,” Nicky explained quietly as they all walked up to the front door. This time, Andrew was dragging Kevin along the way with one arm while fumbling in his jeans’ pockets for his key. Neil looked at Nicky questioningly and Nicky understood it as the prompt to explain further that it was meant as.

“I bought it when I came back to the US to look after Andrew and Aaron. We lived here before we went to South Carolina.”

 

“Wait, rewind that. To look after Andrew and Aaron?”

Nicky looked down at his feet, a sad smile spreading on his lips, and nodded. The twins and Kevin were both at the door already, but Neil and Nicky hung back. They were stood in the front yard, not moving, but the others didn’t care. They left them and went inside without them, though Aaron left the door open for them.

“Yeah. Man, it’s a long story, and I don’t think Andrew would be happy if I told you about it all, but our family is pretty fucked up.”

“Yeah, I’m not surprised by that,” Neil said. Nicky looked up at that and frowned, so he quickly added, “I mean, you are Foxes. And as far as I know each and every one of you has a fucked up past.” Neil was right and Nicky knew that. He didn’t try to deny it either, he just laughed and ruffled his own hair.

“Yeah. Well, I was actually living in Germany - and one day I’ll go back. I’ve got a perfect man waiting for me there. Anyway. We found out about Andrew - we never knew Aaron had a twin, you know. And I… I couldn’t let Andrew come into this family as it was, alright? I wanted to give him and Aaron a real family, at least a little bit. So I told Erik I had to come back and I bought this house in Columbia for us to live in. And now we stay here whenever we go to Eden’s.”

 

Neil didn’t know what it was that made Nicky tell him all of this. Maybe he had no qualms telling people his story. Maybe it was the drugs and alcohol. Or maybe Nicky was just happy that someone was listening. Either way, Neil felt something in his chest clench and his throat tighten. There was no way for him to make much sense out of this story. Yeah, he got the gist of it, but he had nowhere near enough information about Nicky and his family to make sense of the rest, but it didn’t matter. The way Nicky gave up everything for his cousins, even though he didn’t even know Andrew apparently, reminded Neil of someone else. And it hit close to home. Too close.

“Nicky, that’s…”

 

“Stupid?” Nicky offered. The sad smile returned to his lips.

 

“A bit,” Neil agreed, “But mostly really sad.”

 

Nicky sighed and threw a look at the door. No one was there, the lights inside the house were turned on. He looked back at Neil.
“I just wanted to give them something like a home. They’ve both been through enough. I know they’re difficult, but don’t go too hard on either of them, okay?”

 

The feeling in Neil’s chest grew heavier. It wasn’t the first time he heard words like these in a similar context, but muttered from a different mouth. Holding a small, shaking child instead of talking about two young men. He stared at Nicky silently, who grew visibly uncomfortable with each passing second.

So Neil made a step forward and curled his arms around Nicky. It was awkward, Nicky was so tall Neil barely reached to his collarbone. He still wrapped his arms around Nicky’s waist tightly and leaned his head against his chest. Nicky took in a sharp, confused breath and went completely rigid. A second later his entire body slumped, and he curled his arms around Neil’s form, drawing him close and pressing him against his body tightly. Neil didn’t say anything, he wouldn’t know what, but he felt like he needed to give Nicky this. Suddenly Nicky’s form shook and Neil heard him hiccup.

“Sorry,” Nicky mumbled and wiped the back of his hand across his eyes, “Shit. Sorry, Neil. Let’s go inside, yeah? The other’s are probably waiting for us.”

Before Neil had the chance to say anything else, Nicky let go off Neil, wiggled out of his arms and quickly walked over the grass to the front door. Neil watched him. He still felt the warmth of Nicky’s body against his chest. For a moment, Neil let himself think of Stuart.

“Are you coming?” Nicky called for him from the door. The usual smile was already plastered back onto Nicky’s face, but Neil could see the strain in it.

He just followed Nicky inside silently and closed the door.

 

***

 

Aaron was the first one they found. He was in the kitchen, filling a glass with water at the tap.

“Where are Andrew and Kevin?” Nicky asked as they walked in.

 

“Andrew is tucking Kevin in,” Aaron said, rolling his eyes. “Probably giving him a kiss to the forehead, too, so he’s gonna have sweet dreams.”

 

“You sound jealous,” Neil said with a mocking smile and was rewarded with an angry frown from Aaron. “I can give you a good night kiss, if that makes you feel better.”

 

“Fuck off, Hatford.” Aaron stormed past them and Neil just grinned. Nicky snickered quietly but stopped abruptly when Andrew’s voice came from behind them.

 

“What’s so funny?”

 

Nicky shrugged but Neil just smiled at Andrew.

“For some reason your brother didn’t want my good night kiss. How about you?”

 

“One day I will kill you. It’s on you how soon that day is,” Andrew replied with a blank expression.

 

Andrew vanished into another room and Nicky offered Neil to share the bed with him.

“To be honest there’s not much more we can offer you, the other two bedrooms are Aaron’s and Andrew’s and I doubt any of those two would offer you the other side of their bed. And the couch is taken by Kevin.”

 

“I’ll go and get some fresh air and then I’ll take you up on that offer.”

 

Nicky nodded and wished Neil a good night, then went to his bedroom too. Neil found a door in the living room that lead to a small garden with a bench, two chairs and a table. He sat down on the bench and just enjoyed the quiet - at least until he heard the door open again.

Andrew set two glasses and a bottle of whiskey on the table, then sat down next to Neil. He had shed his club clothes and wore sweatpants and a worn out cotton shirt instead, his feet bare against the tiles and didn’t say anything, just poured some whiskey into the glasses and pushed one towards Neil. Neil raised an eyebrow.

“You think I’m ever taking a drink from you again?”

 

“Then don’t,” Andrew replied.

 

Silence reigned between them, until Neil eventually took the glass. Andrew lit a cigarette, then offered it to Neil, too, who took it. They stayed quiet, but the silence they were sitting in wasn’t heavy nor uncomfortable.

 

“I’ll play,” Andrew said suddenly, and Neil’s eyes flicked up to him. He wasn’t looking at Neil, but he knew he got Neil’s attention. “Your stupid truth game. I’ll play it.”

 

“Oh.” Neil had given up on that already, he didn’t think Andrew would actually agree to it - but that was good news. This way he could find out everything he needed or wanted to know, too, and they’d both get what they wanted. It was a dangerous game, because Neil wouldn’t lie to Andrew in this. He promised honesty. He might give him half-truths where he had to, but he’d have to be careful and clever about it. “Alright. You have one free question, but only tonight. So what do you want to know?”

 

Andrew took a drag of his cigarette, blew the smoke from his lungs and flicked the ashes off, then turned his head to Neil.

 

“Are you going to be a problem?”

 

Clever. But Neil didn’t expect anything else from Andrew. Others would have asked about who he was or what his plans were, but Andrew asked what was really important - whether Neil was going to be a problem or not.

Answering this wasn’t hard, because Neil knew exactly what he wanted.

“I certainly hope I will,” he said and saw Andrew’s face turned harder, “Not necessarily for you though. I’m here for Riko, not you or Kevin.” Neil didn’t know if that answer was satisfactory to Andrew or not, but it seemed to be enough to take the strain from his shoulders. It was quiet again and they both sipped their drinks and finished their cigarettes. It was a warm, cloudless night and the moon and some stars shone their light onto the garden. Neil wanted to get out of his club clothes and sleep the Crackerdust off. And yet he asked:

“Do you have another question? Remember, if I answer that one, you’ll owe me an answer too.”

 

Andrew looked at Neil and thought. Neil let him, there was no need to rush. Now that Andrew agreed to play his game, Neil had all the time in the world to find out whatever he wanted to know about Andrew. He knew Andrew wanted to know who he was, so he wasn’t worried he wouldn’t get enough opportunities to ask his own questions.

 

“Who is Nathaniel Wesninski?”

 

Neil flinched. Andrew saw his reaction and seemed interested. If he remembered the name he surely remembered Neil’s reaction the last time it was mentioned. That was probably why he asked this question.

Neil took a deep breath and braced himself.

“Why do you ask? I’m sure Kevin told you already.” Andrew was silent, so Neil looked at him. And suddenly, he realised.

“Wait. Did Kevin not tell you?”

Andrew stayed silent and Neil couldn’t help a little, gleeful grin. Now, that was interesting. Kevin didn’t tell Andrew about Nathaniel Wesninski, but Neil was absolutely positive that after the incident at the banquet Andrew asked him.

“Aw, that’s sad. Is your boyfriend not talking to you?” He asked, mocking Andrew, but Andrew just spared him his unimpressed stare, “Well, I’ll tell you if he doesn’t.”

 

“Nathaniel Wesninski is the son of Nathan and Mary Wesninski, and he tragically died when he was just four years old.”

Chapter Text

“Okay, everyone focus, we will start in one, two, three, four and-- plie. Plie. First arm in first position, now second. Second arm in first position, second, and plie. Plie. First arm down, second arm down...Well done, kids!” 

 

Nathaniel always thought it sounded a bit funny when Miss Dubois was speaking. She had this way of saying things differently, making them sound like they were not quite english. Mummy had explained to him once that she was from France, and that was why she said words differently than Nathaniel. Just like Mummy was from England and she always spoke a bit differently than anyone else in Baltimore. That was where Nathaniel was from - Baltimore. They lived here, in a big house with a big garden. That was where Nathaniel spent most of his time, because he had no one to play with but himself and Melissa, his babysitter. Sometimes Mummy would play with him, too, but she never wanted to play the things Nathaniel did. She always just wanted to play things she called ‘educational games’. Those were boring. Melissa was a lot more fun, but she would only come to their house when his parents weren’t there, so Nathaniel would have to play by himself most of the time. A lot of other children lived on the same street as them, but they never played with him. Their parents didn’t allow it. One time Mrs Jackson from next door said Kim wasn’t allowed to come out and play because Nathaniel was ‘a bad influence’ or something like that. He didn’t know what that meant.

Suddenly there was a hand in his hair and Nathaniel blinked up into Miss Dubois’ face. She wore a warm smile and ruffled his curls a bit, making them stick up even wilder than they usually did anyway. 

“You’re doing really well, Nathaniel,” she said, “You’re going to be a great dancer one day!”

Nathaniel beamed at her, pride making his chest swell, and his eyes scanned the small crowd of parents watching their kids’ ballet class. He spotted Mummy and Father between them and expected them to be just as proud of him, just like all the other parents watching their kids with smiles. But Mummy’s lips only twitched into something that resembled a smile when she saw Nathaniel looking at them, and Father’s eyes were hard, his mouth pressed into a thin line and arms crossed over his chest tightly. Nathaniel’s smile vanished immediately. 

Miss Dubois clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention and asked them to get back into their starting position to do it all over again. Suddenly Nathaniel didn’t feel as excited about his first ballet lesson anymore, but he still tried to do his best. Maybe Father would be happier if Nathaniel just put more effort into it.

 

“I can’t believe you let him do this,” Father snapped at Mummy in the car on the way back home.

 

“Excuse me?” Mummy replied sharply, “I distinctly remember you being on my case about getting the boy out of the house a couple times a week.”

 

“Yes, by making him do something a boy should be doing. Get him into Exy, for example. He could play for the Ravens if he put a bit of effort into it. Not dance like a fucking faggot in a dress!” Nathaniel didn’t know what faggot meant, but he knew what fuck meant and he was pretty sure faggot was just as bad a word as fuck. Father used a lot of bad words, but Nathaniel wasn’t allowed to use them as well. He wanted to tell Father he wasn’t even wearing a dress, even though Nathaniel liked playing dress up, but he knew better than interrupting them when Mummy and Father were fighting. They did that a lot, fighting. Nathaniel didn’t like it. It made him feel all sad and scared when they were shouting at each other. 

 

“It’s what he wanted to do, Nathan, for Christ’s sake. You don’t have to deal with his crying and complaining if he has to play this bloody stupid Exy of yours when he doesn’t want to do it.”

 

I have to deal with the embarrassment of a son dancing fucking Swan Lake!” Father shouted and hit the steering wheel with his fist. The car swivelled a bit at that and Nathaniel yelped, holding onto his seatbelt. 

“Shut up!” Father yelled at him, looking at Nathaniel through the rearview mirror before directing his eyes back on the street. Nathaniel felt hot tears burn behind his eyes but he tried to keep them from rolling down his cheeks. Father hated when he cried. It only made him angrier.

“What am I supposed to tell Moriyama-sama?” Father asked Mummy, still angry, but at least he wasn’t yelling anymore, “‘Oh, I’m sorry, Moriyama-sama, my son doesn’t have time to do what he’s supposed to do and go to the Nest, because he’s busy flouncing about a stage in a tutu’?! Do you ever fucking think , Mary?!”

 

“Shut the hell up,” Mummy spat and turned away from Father, facing the window instead with crossed arms. Father kept yelling at Mummy, but she ignored him. Meanwhile Nathaniel sat in the back, tears silently rolling down his cheeks.

 

***

 

A few months later, Nathaniel had his first ever recital. He was so excited for it, especially because both Mummy and Father were attending. Father didn’t want Nathaniel to talk about ballet class at home because he hated him going, but ballet was so much fun and Miss Dubois was an incredibly nice teacher. So of course Nathaniel was double as excited when Father finally gave in to Mummy and agreed to come, too. Maybe, when he saw how well Nathaniel was doing, he’d finally be proud of him. Just a little bit at least.
Nathaniel even got one of the leading roles, because Miss Dubois said he was extremely talented. Father just had to be proud when he saw that.

 

Nathaniel was very nervous, but Miss Dubois played a game with them before the show began and afterwards they all felt a bit better. Once Nathaniel was on stage he had so much fun he forgot he was supposed to be nervous. He fell only once, which was his best go at the play they were doing, and Nathaniel was incredibly proud of himself. He had shown his best performance when Mummy and Father and all those other parents were watching and the audience was clapping for them when they came back onto the stage afterwards to take a bow. Miss Dubois told them all how well they did and how proud she was of them, and gave every child a big hug before sending them off to find their parents. With a giddy feeling in his chest Nathaniel ran off and into the foyer where he knew Mummy and Father would be waiting for him. He could already imagine how they’d give him compliments and pull him into their arms like Miss Dubois did, and how Father would always want to come to any future recital now. How could they not? 

 

“Mummy! Mummy!” Nathaniel shouted when he spotted his parents and ran towards them with open arms, “Did you see? How much did you like it?” He hugged Mummy’s leg, bouncing up and down at the same time, a smile so bright and wide on his lips his cheeks hurt. 

Mummy patted his head with one hand. 

“Yes, yes, it was fine, calm down, Nathaniel. Don’t be so wild,” she said. Nathaniel opened his arms for her to pick him up, but Mummy wrapped a hand around his wrist and pushed it down instead.

“You’re old enough to walk. It’s just a minute to the car anyway.”

 

Nathaniel turned to Father now, hoping that maybe he had some nice words, or maybe he’d ruffle his hair or pick him up, but Father just turned and walked away. In that moment Nathaniel’s heart sank. The giddiness was replaced by a heavy feeling that weighed down his shoulders and closed his throat, and he felt the tears coming again.

“Mummy,” he whined but didn’t even get any further than that. Mummy just grabbed his hand and pulled him outside, dragging him to the car and then strapping him into his seat. Then it was silent in the car. Neither Mummy nor Father spoke a single word the entire ride home and Nathaniel was too sad to say anything. 

 

As soon as they were home and inside their house, Nathaniel wished he was still at ballet school, wrapped in Miss Dubois’ gentle arms. Instead he was at home, Father yelling at him from the second the door closed behind him. He was shouting about what a failure Nathaniel was, how embarrassing his dancing was to him.
“I let you do this stupid dancing of yours and even that you can’t do properly!” Father shouted at Nathaniel who was crying hysterically at this point, his tiny, shaking hands wiping away tears after tears, “Why am I paying hundreds of dollars each month for you to go to this fucking ballet school when after four months you still can’t do it?! It’s a complete waste of money! They can’t even teach you not to fall over your own feet!” 

Then, pain. The entire left side of his face felt like it was burning and Nathaniel cried out before stumbling to the floor. Reflexes kicked in and he curled into a ball, but it didn’t help. Father grabbed him by the hair and pulled him up to his feet again, just to hit him again, on the same spot. Nathaniel fell again, and this time Father left him on the floor.

“You’re a fucking embarrassement!” He shouted. Mummy, who had been standing a few feet away from them with her arms crossed and a frown on her face stepped closer now.

“Jesus, Nathan,” she said calmly, “What did you expect, a perfect performance? He’s four.”

 

“Then why am I paying for these lessons if he’s too young to at least be good at it?!”

 

“Fine, then stop paying for them. Let him go play Exy and see how that works out.” Mummy shrugged, then turned to Nathaniel. He could barely see her through the tears and his swelling left eye, “Go to your room, Nathaniel. It’s bedtime anyway.”

Nathaniel scrambled off the floor and fled to his room as quickly as possible. He shut the door tightly, didn’t lock it, couldn’t lock it because Mummy took the key from him after he locked himself in for the first time a while ago, and threw himself into bed. He cried and cried and cried until the pain in his face turned to numbness and his small, shaking body turned still as he drifted off to sleep.

 

***

 

Today uncle Stuart was coming to visit. Nathaniel was already excited ever since Mummy told him a week ago, because he loved uncle Stuart. He was fun, he played with him and he had the same funny way of talking as Mummy. He wished uncle Stuart would’ve come two days earlier, then he could’ve seen Nathaniel’s recital, too. Nathaniel was sure uncle Stuart would’ve loved it.

When the doorbell rang, announcing uncle Stuart’s arrival, Nathaniel rushed to the door so fast he almost fell down the stairs. He opened the heavy front door by grabbing the handle with both hands and hanging off it with his entire body weight, and then pushing his feet off the floor with enough force him and the door both swung towards the wall. Luckily Nathaniel managed to let go just in time so he just fell to the floor and the door crashed into the wall without him. Quickly he scrambled to his feet and wrapped his arms around both of uncle Stuart’s legs.

 

“Uncle Stuart! Uncle Stuart!” He yelled then stretched his arms out for him. Uncle Stuart looked at him in surprise for a second before he started laughing, set down his suitcase and picked Nathaniel up. 

“Oof,” he said as if Nathaniel was the heaviest thing he ever lifted and wrapped one arm under his butt to hold him up, “Look at you! You’ve grown so much since I’ve seen you last, little bean.”

Nathaniel wrapped his arms around uncle Stuart’s neck and hugged him as tight as he could. Uncle Stuart chuckled, then pressed a kiss into Nathaniel’s hair, and Nathaniel felt incredibly happy at the gentle show of affection.  

 

“Nathaniel!!” His father’s voice thundered through the entire house and Nathaniel flinched immediately, looking in the direction the voice was coming from before hiding his face in uncle Stuart’s neck. He felt his uncle tense and clung to his shoulders a bit tighter.

“What the fuck are you doing, Nathaniel?!” His father’s voice was angry and his steps loud as he rounded the corner to the hallway, “What did I tell you about opening the front door?! I swear to fucking God, if I catch you opening that damn door one more time--”

“Then what?” Uncle Stuart asked with a calm demeanor and placed a gentle hand on Nathaniel’s back. Father was quiet save for an angry huff and his heavy steps coming closer.

“Hello, Nathan,” Uncle Stuart said, “So lovely to see you again.” 

 

“Yeah, yeah, just come in,” Father growled. Nathaniel dared to throw a glimpse over his uncle’s shoulder and saw his father shutting the door, then inspecting the wall and frowning unhappily. Nathaniel spotted the little dent in the wall that wasn’t there before and his stomach dropped immediately. He hid his face deeper in uncle Stuart’s neck, knowing what was about to come.

“Nathaniel,” Father growled and Nathaniel whimpered quietly, “Come here right now.” Nathaniel clung to Stuart. He didn’t want to go to Father. Uncle Stuart patted his back and set his suitcase down in the hallway.

 

Nathaniel .”

 

“Jesus, Nathan, give the boy a break,” uncle Stuart said.

 

“It’s none of your fucking business, Stuart, he’s my son. Now set him down.”

 

Uncle Stuart muttered something under his breath that sounded like not for long before he bent over to set Nathaniel down gently.
“It’s okay, buddy,” he said and combed his hand through his curls before standing up straight again. Nathaniel looked up at him, hoping he’d pick him up again, his little hands fiddling with the hem of his shirt, but Stuart did not pick him up again. So Nathaniel looked to where his father was waiting for him, visibly growing more impatient with every passing second. Slowly he made his way over, hoping if only he was slow enough fate would change and be on his side for once, but as soon as he was in reach his father grabbed him by the collar and dragged him to where the dent was. 

“Do you see that?!” He barked. Nathaniel nodded, his lips pressed together tightly, tears already in his eyes. “If you open that goddamned door one more time I’m gonna beat that fucking habit out of you! Do you understand?” Nathaniel nodded again, a sob shaking his body. His father’s hard hand sat tightly curled around the nape of his neck and he shook Nathaniel’s small body with it as he started to cry.

“Don’t you fucking dare start crying, you should be thankful I’m not punishing you for getting that dent into the wall!” Father yelled. He wished he could stop it, but the tears kept coming and Nathaniel sobbed again even though he knew it would just get Father even more angry. Relief washed over him when Father just gave him a little shove, making Nathaniel stumble into the wall, and then turned and walked away. 

 

“You’re a disgrace, Nathan,” uncle Stuart hissed when Father passed by him, “You disgust me.”

 

“Shut the fuck up, Stuart,” Father replied cooly, his eyes scanning uncle Stuart from head to toe, “Your father should’ve given you a couple more beatings too, maybe you wouldn’t have turned out to be a faggot then.”

Nathaniel saw uncle Stuart press his lips to a thin line and curl his hands into fists. Father saw it, too. His eyes flicked down to Stuart’s hands, back up to his face, there was a moment of silence where they just stared at each other, then Father grinned. Without another word of either of them, Father left Nathaniel and Stuart in the hallway and went back to the living room.

Uncle Stuart took a couple deep breaths, closed his eyes and counted to 15, then looked to where Nathaniel was still standing, entire body shaking and silently crying.

“Come here, dear,” he said quietly as he went to his knees and opened his arms for Nathaniel. Nathaniel started to run immediately and fell into his uncle’s arm, sobbing, wetting his impeccably ironed dress shirt with tears. 

 

***

 

Nathaniel woke up to a quiet voice calling out his name.

“Nathaniel. Nathaniel, wake up!” A hand pressed to his shoulder, shaking him gently and Nathaniel jerked up, holding back a surprised yelp, his breath getting stuck in his throat. 

“Shh, it’s okay, it’s me, uncle Stuart.” It took him a while to get used to the dark but soon Nathaniel recognised his uncle and blinked at him questioningly.

“Is it morning already?” Nathaniel asked, rubbing his eyes. 

“No,” Stuart said, brushing curls out of Nathaniel’s face, “Come on, get up. We’re leaving.”

“Where are we going?” Nathaniel yawned but shuffled out of bed, his short legs hanging off the bed as he stretched his tired muscles before he jumped off. “Are we going on a trip?”

“Yes,” uncle Stuart whispered and laid some clothes out on the bed before hurrying back to the wardrobe and stuffing clothes into a duffle bag. 

“Mummy didn’t tell me we’re going on a trip. Is it a surprise?” Nathaniel asked as he struggled out of his pajamas, then into the clothes uncle Stuart laid out for him. He managed to get his legs into the trousers, struggled a bit with pulling them all the way over his butt, then fought with the button before asking his uncle for help. 

“Do the shirt first, I’ll help you in a second,” Stuart whispered, now putting Nathaniel’s favourite stuffed animal and some toys and books into the bag as well, “And Mummy doesn’t know we’re going on a trip.” 

Nathaniel stopped with the shirt halfway on and looked at uncle Stuart. He tilted his head in question and frowned at him.

“Won’t she be worried if she doesn’t know?”

“Probably not,” Stuart sighed and closed the zipper of the bag. He walked over to Nathaniel on tiptoes, knelt down and closed the button for him, then pulled the hem of his shirt down the rest of the way. 

“Where are we going?” Nathaniel asked as uncle Stuart threw the duffle bag over his shoulder and took Nathaniel’s hand with his other hand. 

“England,” he said, “You’re going to live with uncle Stuart now.”

 

Nathaniel stopped, staring at him. Living with uncle Stuart? Without Mummy knowing? Surely she’d be worried! But then he remembered how his father had taken him by the neck and shook him today. Or how he hit him and Mummy just stood, watching them, sending Nathaniel to his room afterwards instead of consoling him. She never hugged him anymore, never gave him kisses and didn’t tell Father to stop when he was being mean. But uncle Stuart, he was always nice to Nathaniel. He would take him into his arm, gave him kisses, called him love and dear and darling and little bean. He brought presents whenever he was here to visit, took Nathaniel to have ice cream and listened with a smile on his face when Nathaniel told him about ballet class. He even asked him to show him a little dance and clapped when Nathaniel was done.

“Come on, we need to hurry,” uncle Stuart whispered and pulled on Nathaniel’s hand. And Nathaniel went.

 

There was a car parked in front of the house, engine running, and a lady standing in front of it. When she saw Stuart and Nathaniel emerging from the house she opened the car’s back door so Stuart could lift him into the car and strap him in the booster seat. The lady and Stuart exchanged hushed words as she put the bag with Nathaniel’s belongings into the trunk of the car. The door was shut, and Stuart sat down in the passenger seat. The lady locked the car from inside, then drove off. Nathaniel watched his house getting smaller and smaller as they drove until it completely vanished into the dark veil of the night. 

 

“You okay, buddy?” Uncle Stuart asked, his head turned so he could see Nathaniel. He nodded, and Stuart smiled at him.

“By the way, this is Billie,” Stuart introduced the lady behind the wheel and she smiled at Nathaniel through the rearview mirror, “She helps me with my work.”

 

“Hey, Nathaniel,” she said. Her voice was warm and nice, and Nathaniel really liked the sound of it, “It’s nice to meet you. Stuart told me so much about you already. You’re doing ballet, right?”

At the mention of ballet Nathaniel perked up and nodded excitedly. Billie laughed quietly.

“That’s so cool. I did ballet, too, when I was a child. Tell me about your classes, yeah?”

And Nathaniel did. He told her all about his classes, about the recital and how well it went, and how proud Miss Dubois had been. Billie nodded along to his words and Stuart smiled as he listened to Nathaniel’s story for what must have been the fourth time in not even 24 hours. 

 

At the airport, Billie and Stuart played a fun game with him where Nathaniel got to pretend his name was Neil and they were his Mummy and Daddy. After they went through security, they told him how well he did after Nathaniel told a TSA Agent I’m Neil! before running away, giggling. He even got to have some crisps, even though it was so late. Or was it early? Either way, Mummy and Father would never have allowed him to have crisps. 

Eventually, Nathaniel fell asleep with his head on Stuart’s lap and his legs thrown over Billie’s. When he woke up again he was on an airplane, mid-flight, seated between uncle Stuart and Billie. Billie was napping but woke up with a jolt when Nathaniel climbed over her to look out the window. She laughed quietly as she rubbed her eyes.

“Coffee?” Uncle Stuart asked.

“Yeah,” Billie replied.

Uncle Stuart called one of the Stewardesses and ordered two coffee, and hot chocolate for Nathaniel. She brought the order, plus a colouring book and some pencils.

“Thank you,” Nathaniel said, because it was important to be polite, and the Stewardess smiled at him sweetly.

 

A few hours later, Nathaniel Abram Wesninski would arrive in London Heathrow, but Neil Abram Hatford would leave the airport.

 

At the same time, Nathan and Mary Wesninski would find a letter in their son’s empty bed, written by Mary’s brother, informing them that he took their son to England where he was to stay. And if either of them would ever try to get too close to him again, Stuart would make them regret it.