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Neil flips his right hand in front of his eyes over and over, looking at his palm and then at the back of it. He flexes his fingers, observing the cuts that are getting older and older by the day stretch when the movement pulls at the tender muscles there. He flicks his gaze down to the bump of his wrist, then turns his hand around to look at his inner wrist. He then forms and un-forms a fist to make the tendons visible. He gives his left hand the same treatment.

 

He doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to the sight of them - the scars. He’s dismissive to all of his injuries, giving them as little room in his mind as he possibly can, treating them as ghosts that sometimes flicker in the corners of his eyes, even though that doesn’t always work. But he has to learn how to carry all of this with him, so for once he lets his gaze roam and stop at every burn, every cut, every scab and piece of bumpy flesh.

 

That isn’t why he’s staring at them in his lap right now. Right now, he’s trying to look past the dark, ruined flesh. He sees the blue of his veins faintly under the criss-cross of Lola’s handiwork. Neil dismisses the uncomfortable feeling and replaces it with another, newer one.

 

Under all the scarring and healing bruises, the colour of Neil’s hands is pale and white. He thinks he bruises quite easily. But maybe his perspective is just biased from being through the grinder so many times and getting pushed around in the court so heavy-handedly at each and every practise and game that he mistakes a heavy punch or a shove for a mere brush of contact.

 

He feels the phantom of Andrew’s thumbs against the pulse points of his wrists. That was relatively long ago - before he was kidnapped and almost mauled to death -  but he still feels it. He’s thinking about the time when he knelt in front of Andrew, when Andrew pushed Neil back onto the floor and -

 

Pressed his fingers against Neil’s wrists. Lightly but enough for Neil to feel his heartbeat.

 

It didn’t leave a mark, not even close. Andrew keeping Neil’s wrists above his head was him drawing lines between them, nothing else.  But Neil still felt the touch on his skin, new and comforting at the same time despite the controversy in feeling both - Neil is hardly a fan of new . Looking forward to new things isn’t coded into his system - or maybe it was, in the beginning, but was then beat out of him a long time ago, both figuratively and literally. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t and all that. Not knowing exactly what lay ahead made him anxious - hell, it still does. It takes a lot of time to undo his instincts, his fight or flight response. He’s not there yet, but waking up without his heart in his throat and a gun on his mind is a start.

 

They’ve kissed since then. They’ve done a lot more since then. Neil thinks they’ve almost fallen into a routine, comfortable in the knowledge that one of them could seek out the other with both of them knowing why. No need for dancing around each other any longer since they knew they want each other.

 

That doesn’t mean Neil knows what to do with the mix of heat and heaviness in his stomach when he thinks about that warm press of fingers against his pulse points. He knows it means something, because when Nicky’s hand found the door handle and interrupted them, it took Neil long, antagonising minutes to recover. Andrew’s kisses burned his lips hours after and his mind wouldn’t stop buzzing, something heavy and molten travelling in his veins.

 

“Neil?”

 

Neil lifts his gaze from his hands. It’s Dan. She is giving him a concerned look that flicks between Neil’s face and his hands. When they first saw Neil in Baltimore they were all worried about Neil’s health first, his ability to return to the court second. After the danger passed and Neil was safe, his ability to play was all their priority again; if he couldn’t hold a racquet, that would be it.

 

Dan mistook Neil’s subdued presence with his eyes glued to his flexing hands as a sign that something is wrong; that maybe some cut was deep enough to hit a nerve after all, affect his mobility or grip.

 

Neil gets up from their lounge couch where he waited for everyone else to be showered and ready to leave. He hoists his bag over one shoulder. Dan’s concerned tone got at least Kevin and Nicky’s attention since they stopped whatever they were talking about. Renee peers up from behind Dan to look what she’s seeing. Beside Renee, Andrew looks up at Neil too.

 

“I’m fine,” Neil says. In his peripheral vision he sees Kevin give him a sharp look.  He doesn’t want Kevin to bully him into a conversation about what downplaying his injuries meant for his - their - career. Neil thinks the next time he says “I’m fine” in Kevin’s presence he’ll get slapped across the mouth.

 

“Don’t make me ban that phrase from you, Neil,” Dan says.

 

Neil lifts up his hands in surrender. “Honest. There’s nothing wrong with me. I was just thinking.”

 

He hears Nicky’s snort and a cheery “now that’s a first” behind him as they start making their way to the parking lot.

 

**

 

Neil avoids Andrew’s searching eyes. Not because he’s afraid Andrew will somehow magically instantly figure out what he’s thinking, but because he’s guilty. And guilt is something Andrew can detect in Neil’s eyes.

 

What setting boundaries is to Andrew seems to be something else to Neil. A fixation, a kink, a preference - whatever. It makes him feel inside-out when he thinks about Andrew’s weight on top of him and his hands on Neil’s wrists. While he’s out there making sure he’s got the control in a way that makes their trysts safe and comfortable for both of them, Neil’s here hoping Andrew would push a little harder so that the next time he feels his past gnawing at his skin, he could look at his wrists and see Andrew’s familiar fingerprints there, like a promise of better things.

 

He tries to convince himself that wanting to give himself over to Andrew is nothing like being held down without consent, but he still has a hard time letting go of the guilt. He’s uncertain, never before having dealt with these kinds of things. More than once he’s glanced around the room of Foxes, hoping he’d find someone smart enough to explain all this to him, but he can't possibly do that. Neil doubts there's anyone who would want to explain this kind of want or dynamic to him even if they do know something about it. Except maybe Nicky, but he’d take far too much pleasure out of teaching Neil that he’d probably completely miss the point.

 

That night, Andrew tilts his head towards the roof and Neil follows him. Five minutes later he finds himself pinned against the concrete wall with Andrew looming over him, his hands on either side of Neil’s face, kissing him breathless and then some.

 

“Touch me - if, if you want to,” Neil whispers against his lips and stumbles around the words a little bit. He wants to say, ‘if you want to just kiss me, that’s okay too’ but he’s not that advanced with his words, with this thing between them. Neil watches the way Andrew’s eyes darken as he unzips Neil’s jeans. He doesn’t break eye contact and Neil takes that as a challenge not to break it first, either, so he ends up gasping uneven breaths against Andrew’s lips, hips shaking with the effort of not thrusting forward, eyes locked on Andrew’s until they roll back in his head.

 

**

 

It’s not about bruises or getting marked, per se - even when the thought of having bruises on him left by Andrew as a possessive, devoted gesture and not by someone who wants to hurt him is soothing and makes him feel grounded.

 

No, it’s something more complex and scarier than that. Neil could stomach the idea of himself wanting to get spanked over Andrew’s lap a lot easier than what he finally realises it is: he wants to place his trust and his consent in Andrew’s hands. He wants to close his eyes and sometimes, sometimes , not push back. It’s against everything he’s willed himself to be: don’t trust anyone, not even your own shadow, don’t give away your weakness or bare your throat to the beast. He wants to yield to Andrew’s confidence and trust him to make Neil feel good in the privacy of their room.

 

But he also wants to do that to Andrew - be the person who Andrew could lower his guard with. That’s why what Neil wants feels something that’s unfair to pour on Andrew.

 

On the outskirts of Neil’s mind he’s already realised that he feels a lot more for Andrew than he pretends he does. Andrew doesn’t bring up feelings, doesn’t give up space for situations or conversations where something like that might surface. (After both of them getting punched in the gut with their panicked, scattered feelings in Baltimore, Neil is on board with steering away from anything too personal.) That’s why the only person he has to pretend to is himself, but he’s not doing a great job at it.

 

Realising that he feels his heartbeat in his lower stomach every time he thinks about giving himself to Andrew speaks volumes. He wouldn’t want that out of anyone else in the world. Only Andrew.

 

There is a whole wall of feelings Neil has to climb some day but he’s willing to ignore them as long as he possibly can.

 

**

 

Neil’s hesitant fantasies - no, daydreams - always crash to a halt when he thinks about the person he wants to do them with. Neil’s afraid that whatever he’d ask would ricochet back to what happened to Andrew. He doesn’t want anything they do together reminding Andrew of his past and he wants no correlation whatsoever between then and now. He wants Andrew to be able to build his boundaries - which, Neil mindfully goes over every single time, asking for permission to kiss, to touch his cheek, neck, hair, shoulders - without thinking that he should do more for Neil than he’s comfortable with. He wants Andrew to lay even a tiny breath of trust in Neil’s hands - not think that he should find a headspace to take care of Neil, and Neil feels that if he starts demanding anything more he’s going to shatter what they have now.

 

Besides, Andrew already takes care of Neil. He already has , in so many ways. Even now, when no-one’s actively trying to hunt Neil down (a realisation that never fails to make Neil dizzy with relief), he can feel Andrew’s gaze on him - keeping tabs on where Neil is going and who with. He never quite wants to let Neil out of his sight. Neil wonders if it’s because he remembers the feeling when the Foxes realised Neil wasn’t with them anymore, only finding his abandoned racquet and duffel bag on the asphalt, and decisively doesn’t want to have a repeat performance of that or whether it’s just a habit that he sweeps his gaze across the room until his eyes find Neil.

 

**

 

Neil tries to avoid thinking about this fixation of his, but it’s hard when he spends half his time on the court, the other half getting kissed by Andrew. Well, maybe he’s exaggaring, but that’s what it feels like. That’s what occupies his mind at least: Exy, and Andrew.

 

Neil wants to keep things nonchalant between them because he’s not ready to be consumed by feelings he doesn’t know the depth of yet, but it’s painfully difficult to keep that in mind when Andrew’s lips find his, his tongue chasing Neil’s.

 

He’s not once stopped thinking about it. He’s still thinking about it when they drive to Eden’s Twilight and he sees Roland  - instantly remembering his comment about padded handcuffs and the stare Andrew gave him because of that. He’s still thinking about it when everyone else besides him, Kevin and Andrew are on the dance floor and Neil sees a man pulling another man closer to him by yanking at his tie, then kissing him possessively, other hand cradling his neck and other twisting around the tie until his fist is on the other man’s throat. The man then releases his grip and they resume to dancing, and Neil imagines the look on the other man’s face is close to what he looks like when Andrew holds him down.

 

Andrew’s gaze follows Neil’s internal battle, but Neil shrugs the weight of his eyes off him and goes to Roland for a new tray of drinks, carefully avoiding any requests to shine some light on his and Andrew’s relationship.

 

**

 

Neil wakes up feeling disoriented and stiff all over. He doesn’t remember falling asleep on the beanbag chair but he’s not surprised to find himself there. Yesterday’s rough, difficult game and driving straight to Eden’s afterwards took a toll on him. Neil even allowed himself a few shots in the safe company of his friends. He sometimes does, nowadays - there are no more secrets he could accidentally spill and he trusts them all enough to take care of him if he ever got so drunk he’d lose his wits. Neil remembers throwing himself onto the beanbag chair, thinking he wasn’t tired enough to go to bed. Two minutes later he fell asleep mid-thought.

 

Neil blinks.There’s a blanket draped on his frame that wasn’t there last night. He yawns and follows the sound that woke him up with his eyes. He sees Andrew in the dim light, opening cabinets in the kitchen. There’s a window open so Neil assumes he smoked a cigarette or is about to. He’s puttering around and Neil scrunches his eyes because Andrew hasn’t bothered with the lights and it’s still dark. It can’t yet be morning.

 

“Coffee?” He asks, voice rough and catching in his throat. It’s the closest he can get to ‘hey, what time is it?’ in his current, drowsy state.

 

Andrew doesn’t spare him an answer, only flicks his placid eyes to Neil as he tries to get up from the chair as gracefully as possible with his arms and legs aching.

 

“Stretching,” he says lightly, like he’s suggesting a completely novel and new activity for Neil to try.

 

“Fuck off,” Neil manages behind another yawn and stumbles to the bedroom, determined to catch a few hours of more sleep. He has just enough energy to change his clothes to a t-shirt and sweatpants before he crawls under the covers and falls asleep.

 

*

 

When he wakes up, it’s definitely morning. Soft light is slipping through the closed curtains, letting in slivers of warm, golden light, and there’s a hot puff of breath tickling Neil’s neck and a possessive palm splayed across Neil’s chest, under his t-shirt. The second Neil realises this, a smile spreads on his face.

 

This is the newest addition to - this. Them. Before, Andrew was always careful to choose a place he could walk away from afterwards - Neil’s room before he switched rooms with Aaron, the rooftop, empty changing rooms. Lately he’s began pressing Neil against the wall of their bedroom, against the sheets of his bed. Sometimes he smokes a cigarette afterwards or disappears for a few moments, but more often than not he falls asleep next to Neil. Neil counts this as a win because when they’re sleeping, they’re touching from ankle to shoulder (the beds aren’t very big) and it gives Andrew the chance to get used to another body touching his. Andrew always has the choice to return to his own bed, and he always maneuvers Neil to sleep between the wall and Andrew, giving himself more space and an easy way out if he starts feeling panicky, but it’s still progress.

 

Neil feels better than he did a few hours before but he’s still sore when he attempts to move. A sound escapes his throat when he feels the muscles in his shoulders protesting when he tries to switch position because his arm is uncomfortably numb under him.

 

“Wiggling,” an accusing voice laced with sleep says against his neck.

 

“Can you even form a full sentence anymore?” Neil says, trying to keep the smile off his voice. “Andrew, I thought you were the smart one.”

 

Andrew only grunts and starts to get up. Neil’s feeling warm and good and he doesn’t want Andrew to leave yet. He doesn’t reach for him like he maybe would if he’d be with someone else.

 

“Andrew,” he says instead. He doesn’t know what his voice sounds like to Andrew’s ears but it’s enough to make him pause for a few seconds, then relax behind Neil, abandoning his thoughts about leaving. Neil awkwardly turns enough to look at Andrew over his shoulder and give him a smile as a thank you, and then they’re kissing. Neil doesn’t know how Andrew’s capable of going from sleepy to this so quickly, but he’s all pent-up, barely controlled energy when he licks his way into Neil’s mouth. He lifts himself up on his shoulders and presses Neil’s down - rolling him on his back. There’s an awkward moment where they try to kick the duvet to their feet, but then Andrew leans to kiss Neil again.

 

Neil’s happy he’s got his back securely against a horizontal surface for once. Andrew’s kisses never fail to make him feel off-balanced and dazed, no matter how many of those they’ve shared. He lets himself whine against Andrew’s lips and spread his legs so that Andrew fits better between them.

 

Andrew pulls back enough to consider Neil. His face doesn’t give anything away, but Neil’s used to pay attention to even the smallest things: does he look Neil directly in the eye or look at the spot on his cheekbone that’s only scarred flesh now, does he squint his eyes the tiniest bit to shut him out or feign disinterest. Now, his gaze flickers down to Neil’s mouth.

 

Neil’s arousal is an insistent hum under his skin and in his head. He feels daring and hot under Andrew’s passive face, content in the knowledge that there’s a sea of emotions behind those eyes. He keeps his eyes on Andrew’s  when he lifts his hands above his head and crosses them at the wrist. In these moments, he wants to touch Andrew and kiss him all over, but he also wants Andrew to press him against every available surface, hold his arms and devour him whole. He doesn’t know how to explain this all to him so he bites his tongue and says nothing.

 

Andrew’s palm catches Neil’s crossed wrists and he presses down . All air leaves Neil’s lungs in one big rush and he lets a stuttering ‘oh’ pass his lips. Neil’s eyes shut, but not before he sees Andrew’s eyes morph from passive to something more calculating.

 

With his other hand, Andrew pulls down Neil’s sweats and pants. It’s awkward with Neil’s legs splayed on either side of Andrew and Andrew seems to realise this because he pulls himself up enough to take Neil’s pants entirely off. Neil lets Andrew in his space when his lower half is naked by spreading his legs. The contrast between them is stark and inebriating; Andrew, still dressed, looming over Neil, and Neil under him, already panting like he ran a marathon. The usually soft fabric of Andrew’s college pants feels rough against his cock and he can’t help squirming from the sensation. He feels the line of Andrew’s cock through his fabric and wants to cant his hips up and rub himself against him until both of them come, but he doesn’t.

 

“Neil,” says Andrew. He places his palm back against Neil’s crossed wrists and pushes them down so much he feels the mattress dip under the movement. Neil stutters another moan out, trying to be quiet since they’re still in a dorm and he would rather not give away something so personal to anyone - and Kevin’s fury for not getting sleep because of Andrew and Neil would come back to haunt Neil when they have their late night practises on the court.

 

“Neil,” Andrew says again and Neil opens his eyes. “Yes or no?”

 

Neil nods his head a few times, eager and enthusiastic. His reply dies on his tongue when Andrew widens his knees, making Neil’s legs spread even more, and hovers over Neil, bringing his other hand in Neil’s neck, fingers finding his hair. He twists his finger around the strands and pulls lightly - enough to make a point. “Yes,” he asks again, slow and pointed, “or no?”

 

“Yes, Andrew,” Neil says. There’s static noise buzzing in his mind and urgency under his skin, but he can’t help voicing out what he needs to hear.

 

“But - this,” he stammers. “Andrew - is it okay? Is it a yes?”

 

For a split second Andrew looks stunned and Neil can almost see what he’s thinking - why is Neil hesitating when Andrew was the one to crawl between Neil’s legs, to spread him out like this - but then he takes in the positions they’re in. Neil’s splayed open in a submissive manner, his ass almost in Andrew’s lap, bruised knees and thighs lax on either side of him, hands above his head.

 

“You are,” Andrew says and leans closer to Neil, his lips an inch away from Neil’s, “an absolute fool . I can’t stand you.”

 

“That’s not a yes, Andrew,” Neil accuses.

 

“Yes, I’m saying yes,” Andrew says and he sounds annoyed now, but Neil knows he isn’t. This is safe, this is familiar - this is them checking in with each other, making sure they’re on the same page.

 

“Kiss me again, then,” Neil says. Andrew does, and Neil instantly forgets everything else. Andrew’s a ferocious kisser and some day Neil wants to find out whether it’s possible for him to orgasm simply having his tongue sucked. He whines into Andrew’s mouth and squirms under him, trying to get friction to relieve the ache in his cock. They’ve never been in this position before; with Neil bared under Andrew like this.

 

Andrew grinds his hips down and Neil moans. Andrew receives it by biting Neil’s lower lip - a clear sign to stay quiet.

 

Neil can’t breathe and having to silence his pants makes his breathing uneven and shaky and he can’t get enough air in his lungs. He’s dizzy with it and Andrew has to shush him again with biting kisses until his lips are raw and sensitive. Neil is spiralling already, only being able to focus on the fixed points of Andrew’s possessive touch; his hand pressing Neil down, the other cupping the back of his head, his kisses on Neil’s lips.

 

A loud bang on their door interrupts them. It sounds like something moderately heavy, maybe a shoe or a book, was thrown against the door from the other side of the room. Neil snaps his head towards the sound.

 

“Two minutes,” Kevin’s tight , furious voice yells through the door.

 

“Until what?” Neil says, directing his question at Andrew. “It’s Saturday.”

 

Saturdays after games usually mean rest or at least practises later in the day.

 

“I told you to be quiet. You pissed Kevin off,” Andrew says, uninvolved.

 

“Make him take it back,” Neil says. He’s wondering about everything they can do it two minutes, but then Andrew lets go of his hands and gets off the bed entirely.

 

“No,” Andrew says. He starts looking for his car keys and something else to wear. “See you at the parking lot.”

 

Neil almost screams in frustration, but a part of him is impressed by the confident stride Andrew takes to the living room despite the fact that he’s still got quite a noticeable hard-on. Maybe he’s pissed at Kevin for interrupting, too.

 

Neil tries to scrape his scattered wits to himself as quickly as he can because he knows Kevin’s not kidding about waiting exactly two minutes before he snaps.

 

Neil didn’t think he’d have energy to even move a muscle today, but now he thinks he can fuel some of his pent-up energy on running laps around the court, so at least there’s that.

 

**

 

Neil loves Exy. It’s nothing new; Exy’s the only thing that has been keeping him sane all these years, but the novelty of realising it over and over again every single day never seems to wear off.

 

Neil realises it today, too, when they’re all practising together and it’s, for once, seamless. It’s not the perfect game, but it’s perfect enough to make a smile dance on Neil’s lips throughout the last 30 minutes. With the way they played today they wouldn’t beat any team in the country but that isn’t the point. Today, they played like a team, yelling instructions to each other, communicating. Perfect synchrony.

 

And Andrew, oh . He shot back every single ball directed at him, giving them a generous amount of challenge, knocking the balls away as far as he could. Neil saw the whole team instantly perk up at that, and a lazy, late-Wednesday practise became a sweaty, euphoric game of strength, speed and talent.

 

Neil couldn’t help but sending Andrew heated looks every few minutes. He didn’t bother hiding the desire in his eyes; he was too far from Andrew for him to see Neil’s eyes, and the helmet covered most of his face, anyway.

 

By the time they’re finished, Neil is biting his lip in unspent energy. He almost asks Kevin to stay for another round of drills but resists; despite what his body thinks now, he’s done more than enough today. He needs to learn how to pace himself.

 

He stumbles up the stairs to the locker rooms the second they’re dismissed. From the corner of his eye, he can see Andrew pausing before he seemingly makes a decision and follows Neil.

 

Neil has gotten rid of most of his equipment when the door clicks shut behind him. Andrew’s flushed with sweat, like Neil, and his hair sticks to his head when he removes his helmet. Neil waits, patiently, for Andrew to lose his protective gear, getting hard at the sight of Andrew undressing himself - even if he doesn’t really even divest himself of his clothing.

 

“You’re such a junkie,” Andrew says when he crosses the room and presses into Neil. “It was just a boring practice, no need to get so riled up.”

 

Neil answers by kissing Andrew, his teeth tugging at his lower lip. “You liked it too,” he says, cheerily. He's overflowing with adrenaline and is hot for getting kissed and touched all over, but his heart still does an uncharacteristic thump when he thinks that Andrew made a decision to follow Neil here, to find him and kiss him. He could have stayed and lingered with the others a few minutes longer, but he chose to come after Neil.

 

“Your obsession with Exy is insufferable,” Andrew says without heat and takes control. He lifts Neil’s hands above his head with his other hand and grips a handful of Neil’s shirt.

 

Neil gasps out an overwhelmed “A-Andrew” and goes limp in his arms at the sudden rush of endorphins and arousal, his whole being screaming yesyesyes, but then catches himself and straightens up, eyes shooting open, embarrassed, like he was caught doing something illicit.

 

Andrew pauses and looks at Neil. There’s sweat everywhere and their shirts are clinging onto their skin. Red blotches have formed on Andrew’s cheeks from exertion and drops of sweat are travelling from his head to his neck, and Neil wants to lick him clean. Neil thinks they both probably smell awful from running hours on the court but Andrew doesn’t seem to care.

He considers Neil, calculating and put out. His voice is sharp when he speaks out. “You think this is where I cross the line? Why?”

 

Neil breathes out deep and touches Andrew the only way he can right now, with them held above his head  - twisting his wrists in Andrew’s grip enough to touch his knuckles with his fingertips. “I don’t - I don’t want you to -”

 

Neil doesn’t want to treat Andrew with kid gloves because Andrew doesn’t want that, but he’d rather die than hurt Andrew, so.

 

“Unless you want to hold me down,” Andrew says pointedly, like this is not a sore subject, “we’re good.”

 

“I want you to be comfortable with me,” Neil pushes the words from inside him with great effort.

 

“Neil, I’m about to leave this goddamn room because I can’t stand your stupidity - “

 

“Are you?” Neil says louder. He needs to.

 

Andrew breathes out a heavy breath, face passive as ever.

 

“I don’t want to force you out of comfort zone just because -”

 

At that, Andrew pulls Neil closer to him just to slam him again against the lockers. “You’re not forcing me into anything, Neil,” he hisses between his teeth like Neil just insulted him in the worst way possible. Maybe he did; everything they’ve done together has been based on loud, mutual consent.

 

“You’re not,” Andrew says again, voice gentler this time.  “You always ask.”

 

“It’s selfish of me,” Neil insists, because he feels like it is.

 

Andrew huffs a breath of something that's close to a laugh and dips in so close that his lips touch Neil’s when he’s talking. “Neil Josten,” he says slowly, “do you really think it does nothing to me to see you react like that -”

 

The door bangs open an a horde of sweaty Foxes stumble in through. Andrew is quick to  step back and give his teammates a cool look while Neil looks guilty as charged. He knows that Nicky at least got a good look at Neil pinned against the lockers before they untangled since he was the first to burst in through the doors. There’s a short beat of stunned silence from the Foxes, but none of them look surprised. Nicky is the first to speak out.

 

“Yes! I win!”

 

Matt swats him on the head. “That doesn’t count, they’re both still dressed -”

 

“You can do plenty with your clothes on,” Nicky supplies helpfully.

 

“They were barely gazing into each other’s eyes!”

 

“I saw Neil’s hands  -”

 

“Nicky”, Neil lets out an embarrassingly high yelp. He wants the ground to swallow him whole, feeling his face heat with red.

 

Nicky lifts his hands up in surrender before a sour-looking Aaron punches him for getting into explicit details and laughs. “Sorry, sorry.”

 

Neil turns around and gathers his towel and clothes in his lap and starts to make a beeline for the showers. He doesn’t dare to look at Andrew. He stops just before he disappears and looks at Nicky who’s still smiling sweetly at him. The others have started taking off their gear and Kevin’s directed the conversation back to Exy even if he looks a bit put out by what he had to witness.

 

“You’re having a bet about me and Andrew?”

 

“Oh, we have three,” Nicky grins. “It would benefit me greatly if you’d get it on in public before next month, Neil.”

 

Neil makes a face. “That’s never going to happen.”

 

“Oh, honey,” Nicky says, aiming for a condescending tone. It works. “It always does, at some point. If I win, I’m going to buy you something pretty.”

 

“I’m never going shopping with you ever again,” Neil grumbles and leaves the room, determined to get showered before the others arrive, though he knows they’ll probably wait until Neil is done, anyway.

 

In the shower, he presses his hot forehead against the cool tiles and breathes.

 

**

 

Neil took a run to the court and back. He didn’t mean to go inside but he changed his mind when he got to the parking lot and he ended up running up and down the stairs until he was too tired to lift his legs, tripping on the steps. He then jogged back to Fox Tower.

 

It was easier to focus on other things when he wasn’t sharing a room with Andrew, but now that he is, Neil sometimes has to take time for himself and running is the most efficient excuse for that. He doesn’t want to pine for Andrew because he knows he would shoot down this promising flicker of a relationship they have going on if he started doing that. He’s also positive that he’d definitely demand and crave Andrew’s company more and more if he doesn’t force himself to physically take distance from him.

 

Neil walks upstairs to Fox Tower and grimaces at the sweat gathered in the nape of his neck. He keeps looking at his feet to make sure he doesn’t trip over them again, so he jumps in surprise when a palm touches his shoulder.

 

“Hello, Neil,” Renee says and smiles. There’s a glint in her eyes that makes Neil think she was waiting for him to show up.

 

“Hi,” Neil says, his intonation like in a question. Renee’s smile is knowing and a little mischievous despite the familiar warmth radiating from them.

 

“We’re hijacking Kevin for a movie night in our room,” she says, her palm on Neil’s shoulder heavy and her voice pointed.

 

“Okay,” Neil says, confused. He guesses that means no late-night practise unless Kevin changes course halfway through the movie.

 

“Everyone’s coming except Andrew,” Renee says.

 

“Oh,” Neil says. “I can talk him into it.”  Well, he can try. He doesn’t always manage that but he’s got a much better success rate than everyone else in the team. And while Andrew’s not a fan of movies, Neil knows he probably doesn’t have anything against a movie night - maybe he just declined to piss the others off.

 

“No,” Renee shakes her head, biting her lips in what looks like mirth. “No, Neil. Everyone’s coming except you and Andrew.

 

Neil stays silent for a moment too long because Renee continues: “Do I have to spell it out for you, Neil? You have the room to yourselves for the evening, alright? So you should probably take advantage of that.”

 

Renee sees something - probably shock - pass Neil’s features, because she laughs then, kind and warm. She winks and does a crude gesture with her hips before disappearing back into the girls’ room.

 

Neil stands in the hallway for what feels like an eternity, staring at the door of his room. He probably should be more offended and embarrassed by his teammates setting him and Andrew up like this but all he’s feeling is nervous excitement. After getting interrupted for the nth time in the last week, Neil’s definitely feeling frustrated.  

 

He opens the door and finds Andrew on the windowsill with a cigarette in hand. The window is facing the yard which means he’d have seen Neil jog up towards the building. The thought makes something warm settle in his stomach.

 

Neil would have liked to cross the room and beg Andrew for a kiss, but he can’t ignore how awful cooling sweat feels on his skin.

 

“I’m going to take a shower,” Neil announces and winces. He doesn’t want to sound like he’s just buying time for himself or that he wants Andrew to explicitly to stay away until Neil’s done. Offering out loud makes him feel vulnerable, but he says it anyway: “You can join me, if you want.”

 

Andrew waits until he’s taken a long drag of smoke inside his lungs before answering. “Being in a cubicle that small with you sounds hellish.”

 

Neil shrugs an unbothered shoulder and smiles only when he’s reached the bathroom because that wasn’t a no.

 

Neil leaves the door a few inches ajar and steps into the shower, directly under the spray, letting the sweat and grime leave his skin. He relaxes his sore arms and neck, sighing at when he feels his muscles unclench surrounded by the hot steam. Usually his showers are quick and perfunctory after Exy practises and he doesn’t waste time on them, so the rare luxury of being under hot water feels good.

 

And sure enough, a few minutes later he hears the door creak open. Neil holds his breath and doesn’t turn around; sometimes Andrew doesn’t want to undress in front of Neil or even be naked, so Neil wants to give him space to decide what he feels like doing today. He almost expects to feel Andrew’s clothed chest against his back, so the first contact of skin on skin makes him gasp in surprise.

 

“Yes,” Neil says even before Andrew voices out the question that is no doubt already on his lips. Andrew wraps his hands around Neil’s middle and kisses his neck. Neil sighs and presses back against Andrew, revelling in his warm touch. He lets Andrew caress him, his stomach and the tops of his thighs, kiss his spine and shoulders.

 

Neil is shuddering and aching and he wants. He turns his head over his shoulder and silently begs for a kiss, which he receives a split second later.

 

“Can I suck you?” He asks against Andrew’s lips. In the quiet of their bedroom Neil wouldn’t be so bold, but somehow the warm fog around the and water hitting them both makes Neil drowsy and daring and words are easier to say when they are almost swallowed by the noise.

 

Andrew stops kissing him and turns him around. Neil bites his lip at the sight of Andrew’s body with drops of water caressing and travelling down his body, his hair a shade darker after gotten wet.

 

Neil doesn’t say “please” because he knows Andrew’s history with the word, and saying that isn’t going to make Andrew change his mind. Besides, Neil doesn’t even want him to change his mind; he wants Andrew to give him the truth, voice out the first emotion he feels.

 

“I’d really like doing that to you,” he says instead, giving Andrew his truth. “I want to make you feel good.”

 

Andrew’s not the talkative type but Neil knows the difference between his normal silence and stunned silence, and this one is definitely the latter.

 

After what feels like minutes, Andrew gives him a nod, a crease appearing on his brow and then disappearing in the next second. He almost looks confused, like he can’t understand why Neil would want to do that.

 

A lighting bolt of feeling shoots through Neil when he drops to his knees, ignoring how uncomfortable the hard tiles feel under his bony legs. He really wants to do this to Andrew - to show him how much Neil wants him and how much he loves pleasuring him. Sometimes Andrew doesn’t let Neil retaliate when he gets him off. Neil’s not offended by it, but he wants to make it clear that Andrew should only turn Neil down when he doesn’t want to be touched; not because he thinks Neil doesn’t want him.

 

Neil almost puts his hands on Andrew before remembering. He looks up at Andrew and asks: “Where else can I touch you?”

 

Andrew places both his hands on the tile wall for support. “Only my hips,” he says and Neil nods in understanding.

 

Andrew’s cock is perfect, Neil thinks, before he licks the head of it. He doesn’t hear whether Andrew makes a sound at that or not, but he sees his stomach quiver. Neil grins and does it again, placing his hands flat Andrew’s sides, his thumbs gentle on the v of his hips. He tries to remember all the things Andrew does with his tongue when he blows Neil off, but he doesn’t remember much. Next time he’ll take notes. Now, he settles for experimenting with different licks, getting used to having something so big in his mouth. Andrew is so quiet above him it’s almost like he doesn’t exist: his hips are still and he’s not letting out any sounds. But his dick twitches when Neil sucks the head and tongues the underside of it so Neil assumes he’s doing something right.

 

He tries to take more in his mouth, trying to deduce what is too much before his gag reflex would inform him of it. Neil picks up a rhythm, pushing his mouth on Andrew’s cock to replicate what a stroking hand would feel like.

 

Neil’s own cock is excruciatingly hard and hot between his legs but he keeps his hands on Andrew’s lips, thumbs dancing on his hips in a soothing manner. He’s probably panting harder than Andrew, but he can’t help but feel dizzy at having the permission to do something like this to him; to pleasure him like this, with his body.

 

Neil moans around Andrew’s cock, and that’s when he feels a hand in his hair.

 

“Up,” Andrew says and Neil preens at Andrew’s cracked tone. He lets his cock slip from his mouth and he gets up. He can’t but grin when he gets a good look at Andrew. The look on his face is familiar; like Neil’s whole existence offends him. But his chest is heaving and there is red on his cheeks that wasn’t there before.

 

“You weren’t that good,” Andrew hisses and kisses Neil hard, licking inside Neil’s mouth. Neil moans because he didn’t expect to get kissed after doing that. “No need to look like you just won the fucking lottery.”

 

Neil drowns his fingers in Andrew’s hair and submits to the hard kisses. “I just really liked doing that,” he admits, breath hitching. He doesn’t care that Andrew attempts to insult him at every turn; they’re always half-hearted at best.

 

“Bed,” Andrew says, short and snappy, and ushers Neil from the showers. Neil thinks about towelling himself dry but then decides that he doesn’t really care if he has to sleep in wet sheets tonight. He sits on the bed and waits for Andrew. He comes a minute later with a bottle in his hand. Neil’s heart thumps when he sees it’s lube. They usually don’t bother with it, either being in too much of a hurry to find it or being in a public-y place where there wasn’t a chance for lubrication.

 

Andrew doesn’t want to be scrutinised about his body so Neil keeps his eyes obediently on Andrew’s eyes when he crosses the room and towers over Neil.

 

“There’s something I want to do,” Andrew says as he kisses Neil again. Neil thinks that words whispered against each other’s lips are the easiest way to say them, syllables swallowed by tongues and sighs.

 

“Anything,” Neil promises even when he earns himself a painful tug of teeth on his lower lip for that.

 

Andrew moves Neil aside enough to sit on the bed with his back against the headboard. He then beckons Neil to him with a bored flick of his wrist. Neil obeys and stumbles as he crawls closer, dick swinging heavy between his legs. He might feel embarrassed later, but right now the arousal clouding his mind is enough to shut down any kind of self-consciousness.

 

Andrew takes Neil’s chin between his thumb and forefinger, giving him a hard peck on the mouth. Neil hovers awkwardly on all fours before Andrew. They aren’t touching save for Andrew’s fingers and their kisses. Droplets of water are running from Neil’s wet hair to his cheeks, chin and Andrew’s fingers. Neil wants. Neil wants.

 

“Andrew,” he says. It’s a warning that he doesn’t have any more self-control left but the word leaves his lips more as a plea than anything else.

 

“Come sit in my lap,” Andrew says and Neil swears he hears the rush of blood in his ears. He’s like a fawn on ice when he complies, limbs coordinating quite badly for someone who’s about to make being quick and agile his career. Neil stares at Andrew’s cock beneath him before he carefully lowers him against his thighs, their cocks almost touching but not quite.

 

Neil lifts his gaze to Andrew in question. Andrew’s considering him with bored detachment, hands relaxed by his thighs. The moment stretches on and Neil half-expects Andrew to conjure a cigarette from somewhere and start smoking. 

 

Neil shifts his weight back, widening his stance in Andrew’s lap. They’ve never been in this position. Neil’s never been on top of Andrew and the emphasis of is making it hard to breathe. He doesn’t dare to move.

 

A spell breaks or Andrew’s done with his internal monologue; he reaches forward and gathers Neil in his arms. Their cocks touch together and Neil gasps. Andrew kisses him once, twice, thrice, before ducking his head and looking for the bottle of lube he had in his hand just a moment ago. Neil takes the opportunity and kisses his neck. Andrew huffs out a breath and Neil thinks he’s aiming for an annoyed tone. Neil doesn’t care when he feels Andrew’s rapid pulse against his tongue. Neil doesn’t leave marks - he only kisses Andrew’s neck and chin wetly, sucking and licking gently, puffing hot breaths of air in his ear.

 

A slick hand touches Neil’s cock and he jumps, moaning. It feels like he’s been hard for hours and he instantly aches in the tempo of his heartbeats. It’s been days and days since they’ve gotten past the kissing part and the thought of Andrew’s tight fist around his cock almost sends him reeling towards an orgasm. Andrew doesn’t linger, though. He only slicks Neil with the lube, then gives his own cock the same treatment. Ineloquently he wipes his hand on the sheet  and places his hands on Neil’s chest, thumbs grazing Neil’s nipples, fingertips spreading over his scars. Neil doesn't feel bothered by that. He doesn't want anyone else seeing his scars, but Andrew is the exception; he knows everything about Neil, there are no secrets between them. Not once has Andrew looked at them with disgust or anger, averted his gaze or tried to kiss them better. He treats them with efficient practicality: they're a part of Neil and they mean he's survived all the things life has thrown in his face. 

 

“A suggestion,” Andrew says. “Will you keep your hands behind you back if I tell you to?”

 

A blush on Neil’s face travels down his chest, making it impossible to breathe. He nods, eager and honest. “Yes, of course.” Anything, anything.

 

He does exactly that, crossing his wrists behind himself and straightening his back, leaning slightly back to create distance between them and to signal Andrew he respects his space.

 

Andrew’s eyes flicker to the movement and he frowns a little - it's barely a twitch of muscle around his eyes. Neil knows that look. It’s the I don’t know whether Josten is being obtuse on purpose or is he just genuinely this stupid look.

 

“Neil,” he says. “I want you to keep your hands behind your back but it’s not because I don’t want your hands on me. I want you to keep your hands there -”, he puts a possessive hand in the back of Neil’s neck and leans to whisper in his ear, “- because I know you get off on being good for me.”

 

Neil’s head drops back when Andrew seals his words with a playful bite on his neck. There’s constant ringing in Neil’s ears and the water on his skin is starting to cool and it’s replaced by a new layer of sweat. Neil nods his head in rapid rhythm.

 

“Yes, yes, I want that,” he admits and hitches his hips forward.

 

“I know,” Andrew says, voice even. “The next time you realise there’s something you want in bed, you ask me for it, okay?”

 

“But -” Neil says, turning to look at Andrew again.

 

“I hate you. Stop arguing with me.”

 

“I can’t help it,” Neil says. “But you have to tell me too, yeah? Tell me if something isn’t working for you. I want this to be mutual; I want you to enjoy this as much as I am. We’ll stop if you don’t like it.”

 

“Yes,” Andrew says.

 

“And you’ll let me know if there’s something specific you want?”

 

Andrew pulls at Neil’s earlobe with his fingertips. “And you’ll let me know there’s something specific you want before half the Foxes do?”

 

Neil laughs at that. “Fine, okay.”

 

Andrew isn’t as amused. “Now, keep your hands where they are. Be as loud as you want; not that you’d be quiet even if you had to,” he says and leans back, placing both of his hands on Neil’s thighs, the part where his hips met stomach.

 

Neil’s almost one hundred percent convinced that Andrew’s flippant ‘be as loud as you want’ actually means ‘I want to hear you’ , and he almost chastises Andrew for not simply saying that when they just promised to be verbal about their wishes with each other, but he’s done talking.

 

Andrew pulls Neil forward by the hips, and Neil keens . Their slick cocks rub against each other and Neil’s hips want to snap forward and back, but Andrew tightens his hold on Neil’s hips as if to say, I control the pace, not you.

 

Neil stops and goes limp, shivers of heat reaching his toes and fingertips. He lets his head fall back, giving Andrew the power to do what he likes with him. Andrew pushes Neil further back before pulling his forward again, setting up a slow rhythm. Neil gasps cut-off words against the ceiling, pressing his hands together behind his back until he knows his knuckles are white from the effort. He lets his knees widen, going lax and submissive in Andrew’s lap.

 

Andrew’s grip tightens and Neil can feel him pulling himself more upright, gathering Neil in his lap. His mouth finds Neil’s collarbones and he kisses them, tongue following the prominent lines of bone.

 

“An - Andrew, yes, yes ,” Neil gasps and whimpers. He’s going to come the second he gets a hand on his cock, he knows it. His orgasm has never been this close for such a long time -  it usually surprises him and he knows about five second before it happens, but now the pleasure in him is being dragged out and there’s nothing he can do about it.

 

Andrew isn’t being rough with Neil, but his movements are sure and authoritative. That makes Neil’s mind start buzzing with drowsy arousal - the same feeling he felt when Andrew pressed him against the floor in the living room, months and months ago.  

 

“I’m so close,” Neil whines, the words hard to get out when his heart is hammering in his chest and throat. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

 

Andrew’s cock is hot and heavy against his and Neil can feel it twitching against his. He has no coordination to open his eyes and look down, but he imagines the slick head of Andrew’s cock leaking precome, leaving a mess on his stomach.

 

“God, I want to feel you come against me,” Neil confesses, overwhelmed.

 

“Finish us both,” Andrew says, gritting his teeth. Neil blinks away the white spots behind his eyelids and shakily untwines his hands behind his back.

 

“With - with my hand?” He asks, pausing before he’s finished he movement. The side of Andrew’s mouth quirks up.

 

“Yes, with your hand,” Andrew agrees. Neil snakes his right hand between their bodies with an enthusiastic hitch of breath and takes both of them in his fist. He can’t fit them both, obviously, but the added pressure is just enough to make Neil spiral towards an orgasm.

 

“Oh, shit,” he moans and drags his thumb across the heads of their cocks. Andrew bucks beneath him so Neil does it again, and again.

 

Andrew takes his hands off Neil’s hips and instead wraps them around his shoulders, pulling him forward. They both fall back onto the sheets, Andrew’s back against the mattress. Neil lifts his hips just enough to continue what he’s going for a few, messy slaps of skin before he’s spilling between them, biting Andrew’s lower lips in the process. He whines and pants and shivers in Andrew’s arms, letting his noises be drowned by long, wet kisses. Neil hasn’t come off his high when the wind is knocked out of Andrew and he comes, too, pulsing against Neil’s sensitive cock.

 

Afterwards, Neil’s too tired to move a muscle so he just gives up and drapes himself on Andrew like a blanket. Neil lays his head on his heaving chest and kisses his collarbone - a small fragment of affection he’s willing to let slip. Andrew tickles his forefinger down from the top of Neil’s spine to the bump of his buttocks, then goes upwards again, making Neil shiver.

 

“I need another shower,” Neil confesses after a few breaths and forces himself up to his elbows. He knows it’s going to feel awful then the come dries on his skin and cock, but the main reason for getting up is that he doesn’t overwhelm Andrew. He suspects Andrew isn’t one for cuddling and he doesn’t want to ruin a perfectly good afterglow by suffocating him.

 

“Yes, you do,” Andrew agrees.

 

“Fuck off. Will you order us something to eat while I go?” He asks as he slowly gets up. He’s fearing his legs won’t carry, suddenly remembering he took a long run just before coming here and getting it on with Andrew.

 

Andrew doesn’t answer.

 

“Or we can go spend time with the team. I bet they have pizza,” Neil offers, knowing full well that Andrew doesn’t want to see any of their friends’ smug faces right now.

 

“You’re a high-maintenance fuck,” he says as he reaches for his phone. Neil just grins and walks butt-naked towards the bathroom. He stops just before he disappears and glances back, just to have one final proof of what they just did; Andrew, naked on the bed with both of their come on his stomach, sheets tangled around him. Neil expects to be ignored already, but what he sees when he glances behind him is Andrew looking back at him over the phone he’s holding. Andrew would kill him if he knew what Neil’s thinking, but - to Neil’s eyes - the look on his face almost looks admiring.

 

Andrew scoffs at Neil the second he realises Neil is looking back, but Neil knows what he saw.

 

Neil usually avoids looking at mirrors as much as he can, but when he passes the one in the bathroom he gives it a quick glance. He doesn’t remember the last time he’s seen himself smiling, but there’s a careful, happy smile on his face now, and for once, despite the hard, blue eyes he’s seen on someone else before,  he sees Neil Josten looking back at him.