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It's easy, when you take a moment to look at Neil's height, his build, his eyes, to assume that he is harmless. This is a boy who has spent half his life in pain; a boy who could only run from one meaningless identity to the next; a boy who had no name and no face before the Foxes. 

Most people don't remember that this boy wasn't born a runner — he was made into one. 

These days, he doesn't let anyone forget.

 


 

To say that integrating the freshmen into the team's existing dynamic has been something of a rocky process would be, in everyone's humble opinion, a gross understatement. It is a loudly spoken and often repeated sentiment that Jack and Sheena — not-at-all-affectionately nicknamed Dipshit One and Dipshit Two by Allison — are at the core of the predicament. The one person who has the highest possibility of doing something about it in a violence-free manner predictably keeps his head up his ass when anything other than exy, vodka, Thea and Wymack are concerned and is no help whatsoever. 

Which, fine. It's not like Kevin is the captain. Or vice captain. 

The actual vice cap is at most two more disastrously close matches away from losing his shit, probably, which is fair considering his life is kind of on the line. The freshmen don't know that, but it's not going to save them from Neil's trademark verbal evisceration when the time comes. He doesn't go off on the team very often, since he loves them an unfortunate amount. It's clear, however, that they still aren't anywhere near as cohesive as they should be. 

Surprisingly enough, it isn't either of the Dipshits that pushes the metaphorical lamb over the cliff. It's Nicky. And it isn't even really over exy.

It's half-time and they're down by two. The freshmen haven't learned to pace themselves for college level matches yet, or they haven't really had to, since the upperclassmen have been picking up the slack. Their semi-exhausted line up is up against a fresh rotation in the second half. They need a miracle.

Andrew stares impassively at the opposite wall, rhythmically squeezing his water bottle in his hands, looking for all intents and purposes like he couldn't care less. 

Everyone looks at Neil, then at Andrew. Then back again. 

Neil's eye twitches. "What," he grits. 

Eyebrows scrunch together. Heads tilt in the general direction of the man beside him. The only ones not looking between the two of them are Renee, whose lips thin in slight disapproval, and Wymack, who rubs a hand down his face. 

Neil's eyes go half-lidded, dangerous. "The only reason we've been scraping by is because Andrew has been singlehandedly filling all the holes in our defense. You're telling me that the only team in history who has ever beaten Edgar Allen has a defense line that is so pathetic they not only have to rely on one goalkeeper to pull them through every match," he drawls, deceitfully casual, "they also have to turn to their vice captain to ask him for them?"

There's a long, shame-filled silence. 

The only other thing Neil says before the buzzer sounds is, "Defense, get your fucking shit together."

They lose by one point. 

There's booze, thankfully. Someone throws a bottle at Kevin before he can start another rant about their incompetence, Andrew skips out before anyone can rope him in, and the pity party begins. Neil stays dreadfully sober and dreadfully quiet, nursing his can of soda and staring at it like he's waiting for it to explode on him. 

"Man," Nicky slurs, "if only you'd asked Andrew to do the thing, Neil."

The soda can crinkles ominously. Aaron leans over to elbow Nicky, misses entirely, and falls over. 

"I'm not his keeper," Neil says. "Don't treat him like he's a weapon only I have access to. Next time, you ask him."

Nicky scoffs. "You know he only ever listens to you."

Neil hums. "Maybe that's because I'm the only one who ever asks."

"Nuh uh!" Nicky cries, indignant. "You shoulda seen Kevin when he first came here, he asked Andrew like, half a million times, to take things seriously and he just kept saying no!"

"And did Kevin ask," Neil replies, voice low and tight, "or did he demand it, neglect to offer anything in return, and expect a yes?"

It's times like this that makes it exceedingly clear why Neil was picked to be Dan's successor. He doesn't need to be loud to be heard. 

Nicky blinkss, suddenly more sober than he's been for the past half hour. "Uh —"

"And when Andrew said no, did Kevin back off, or did he push and push and push even though it was clear it was never going to get him what he wanted?" Neil continues, looking at the crumpled can of diet Coke in his hands. He hums, mock-contemplative. "Let's see. If I was Andrew — if I was someone who spent his entire childhood screaming and shouting no, only for it to go entirely ignored, and then I met this stuck-up, arrogant asshole intent on disregarding my right to refuse this future he's trying to push onto me —"

Neil pauses, taps his finger to his chin, and hums again. "— I think I'd be a little annoyed too." He cocks his head, the ghost of a smile misting over his face, there and gone. "Wouldn't you?"

The shame-filled silence is back.

Neil puts the soda down, gets up, heads for the door. "Next time you want something from Andrew, I suggest asking. And then accepting it if he says no."

The door closes noiselessly behind him. 

 


 

The buzz of Andrew's phone is obnoxious in the quiet evening. He resists the urge to throw it off the roof like he did once upon a time with Neil's keys. Just barely.

Kevin's name flits across the screen. night practice?

It's been a bad day. Bad week, really. Exhaustion shivers in his bones, amplified by the nightmares rattling around in his skull. Neil is perched beside him on the edge of the Tower, cigarettes and lighter in hand, shoulder and thigh brushing against his own. Not enough to smother; just enough to remind him he's there. Funny how the bare minimum of contact between them can warm Andrew this much, even in the face of the crisp breeze snaking under their hoodies. 

It's been a bad week, so Andrew replies, no.

Kevin's response is unsurprisingly prompt, but surprisingly brief.

ok. tomorrow?

Andrew raises an eyebrow. It's rare that Kevin manages to surprise him.

"Something funny?" Neil asks, tilting his head slightly in Andrew's direction. That he's able to read humour, of all things, in Andrew's body language is ridiculous. Andrew ruthlessly smothers the warmth curling in his chest with practiced irritation. Ridiculous.

He passes Neil his phone. Neil hums, unfazed. 

Andrew squints at him. "What did you do?"

Neil blinks at him, too-innocent. "Nothing."

"Neil."

"Andrew."

Andrew stares at him, unimpressed. If Nicky was here, he'd probably call them out for eye-fucking. 

Eventually he looks away, taking a drag from his dying cigarette, because he can. Obviously. It isn't because he can't stand the way Neil looks at him, like he's —

— Worth something. 

Worth everything. 

He sends a whatever to Kevin, then puts the phone on silent. 

"Dumbass," he mutters.

Neil only drops his head on Andrew's shoulder, the motion telegraphed enough that Andrew would have had enough to time to simultaneously light another cigarette and push him off the side of the building if he wanted to. 

By some miracle, he doesn't.