Consciousness comes back to him in slow trickles. He’s aware of lying on his back, something soft bracketing his body—an unfamiliar sensation. He’s not burning anymore. There are voices floating just out of his grasp. Then, as if being slammed through a waterfall, consciousness returns to him all at once.
Neil’s eyes blink open, and he sucks in a ragged, panicked breath.
He doesn’t recognize the room he’s in. That’s not unusual because his entire life is moving through rooms and never staying long enough to leave an impression. But he hasn’t slept inside a real bedroom in weeks, and certainly not on something as soft and comfortable as this bed. The sheets are clean, and they smell nice. Not even the cheap motels he scrounged up enough money for has ever smelled this nice.
He needs to get out of here. Now.
Throwing back the covers, Neil pushes himself up and immediately wishes he didn’t. His ribs hurt. His stomach lurches. His head pounds, and he nearly throws up all over himself and the nice, flowery-smelling sheets.
“Oh, dear, hold still,” a woman’s voice says to his left.
Neil snaps his head up. It takes a moment for the nausea to retreat enough for him to focus on the woman’s face. She’s not smiling at him, but there are laugh lines around her mouth and a kindness to her expression that makes something in Neil’s chest ache. She’s reaching out to steady him, pushing him gently back into the pillows.
“Lie down first,” the woman says firmly. “How are you feeling? Any pain left? Andrew did a number on you but by the time they carried you through my door, your ribs have put themselves back together. I stitched up the cut on your shoulder, but everything else looked superficial.”
Neil stares at her. The last thing he remembered was dark night roads and the constant hunger suddenly a sharp gnawing pain in his gut. He can’t remember what happened to land him here. He can’t remember anything through the haze of hunger and desperation.
Her words catch up, and suddenly Neil can’t breathe.
“Oh, no, it’s okay, you’re in safe hands—”
He tries to fight her hands off, but everything still hurts and his movements are sluggish. He’s not hungry anymore. He can recognize some of the dizziness is his body attempting to repair itself through the sustenance he must have managed to pick up last night. But Neil can’t remember how he ate last night. And that is bad. Extremely bad.
“Don’t—Let me go—”
“I’m not going to hurt you—”
The door slams open. Neil flinches, and the woman takes a step back. A boy strides in, hair as pale as moonlight and eyes as piercing as a silver arrow. He pins Neil to the bed with his stare.
“Out,” the boy repeats sharply. He doesn’t take his eyes off Neil. “Tell Wymack to keep his pride and joy away from the room until I say so.”
With one last glance at Neil, the woman—Abby—leaves the room. The door shuts behind her with a finality that settles in Neil’s bones. The boy studies him in freezing silence. Neil can’t smell any dark blood in him, but there is an aura of danger lingering over him that raises the hair on the back of Neil’s neck.
More than that, the boy seems to glow. Not in the physical sense, but. Neil isn’t hungry anymore, but standing right in front of him is someone who could feed him twice over with the amount of energy radiating off him.
“Here’s how it’s going to go,” the boy—Andrew, Abby called him—says. “I’m going to ask you some questions, and you’re going to answer them honestly. You tell the truth, and I’ll consider not killing you within the next hour.”
Neil swallows. He holds Andrew’s stare like prey cornered before a predator. Don’t take your eyes off what has the power to kill you. “Isn’t murder usually frowned upon?”
Andrew bares his teeth. “Not if I’m ridding the world of a demon.”
He doesn’t flinch, but it’s close. “I’m not a demon.”
“I said the truth, idiot, or I’ll stab you right here.”
“Stabbing me won’t kill me.”
“Because you’re a demon.”
Neil presses his lips together. “I’m not,” he says quietly. “I do... have demon blood in me. But I was born and raised a human first. I’m not a demon.”
Andrew shifts his weight. From the way he’s positioning his arms and the balance of his feet, Neil doesn’t doubt that he is armed. He should be terrified right now. But mostly Neil is just tired. So, so tired.
“What were you doing in Eden’s last night?”
“Yes. The nightclub.”
Neil frowns. He tries to think through the muddled memories of last night. There are flashes of blacklight, neon colours, the smell of sweat and exhilaration and lust and alcohol, the press of dancing bodies and the high of a crowd riding on ridding each other’s inhibitions. In his haze of hunger, he must have wandered in in an attempt to feed. And he must have succeeded in part, because he’s more lucid than he has been for the past few weeks.
“You were feeding,” Andrew says, answering his own question.
Neil can’t deny it. “I didn’t kill anyone,” he says.
“Demons kill to feed.”
“I didn’t,” Neil insists. “And I don’t. A trail of dead bodies is a trail that traces back to me, and I can’t have that.”
“A runaway, are we?”
Neil clenches his fists. He doesn’t reply, which is enough of a confirmation on its own.
“What are you running from?”
“I’m not answering that.”
“Need I remind you that your life is literally in my hands right now?”
In a false display of bravado, Neil lifts his chin. “Kill me, then. Why didn’t you do that in the first place?”
Andrew just looks at him. His unblinking stare is unnerving. “What do you remember from last night?”
"I didn't hurt anybody," Neil says. Another memory flickers at the back of his mind. A glint of silver, somebody dressed head to toe in black knocking the air right out of him. He narrows his eyes at the boy before him. "You hit me, the fuck?"
"I did what I had to," Andrew says right back, "to stop you from preying on humans."
"I told you, I don't hurt people. They barely even notice when I take from them—I only feed on their energy. That's why I feed in crowds, so no one feels any loss."
"You're doing it without their knowledge or consent. That's hurting people, asshole."
"Didn't take you for such a saint, Andrew. Let me guess, you're an exorcist."
The smile that Andrew gives him is downright feral. "No. I'm pest control. And you're getting on my last nerve, demon."
Before Neil can throw himself off the bed, pain and nausea be damned, the door bursts open again. Another boy, tall and dark-haired and out of breath, already half-way through a sentence.
"Andrew, you should have waited for me to grab the equipment from the car—"
Andrew is muttering, "Coach had one job," but Neil is staring in horror at the new arrival. He recognizes that proud stance, the green eyes, the tattoo of the number 2 on his left cheekbone.
Kevin Day turns and meets his eyes. He freezes, the same numb horror Neil is feeling reflected on his face.
"What the hell are you doing here?" they both say at the same time.
Silence cuts through the room like a knife. Shock and fear between them, and shrewd suspicion from Andrew.
"Kevin," Andrew says slowly, threat clear in his voice, "explain."
"He's—I know, I knew him," Kevin stutters out. "Nath—"
"Shut the fuck up," Neil snarls. "It's Neil. Don't ever call me by that name."
Kevin stares at him. The fear is still there, but less prominent now. There's a calculative look in his eyes now, almost familiar in Neil's memories of him the first and last time they existed in the same general vicinity. It's the look that Neil always knew would take him places far beyond anybody’s—demon, exorcist, or otherwise—reach, and the same look that made Neil hate him a little bit.
Neil's spent his entire life resisting the fate of becoming a lab specimen. He's not about to stop now.
When Andrew clears his throat impatiently, Kevin continues. "Nath—Neil. Neil was brought into the Nest, once. When we were still kids. He's the first case of a half-blood they were able to get their hands on. But he disappeared a week later. No one has been able to track him down since. Until now."
Neil's fists grip the blankets covering him so tight that pain shoots up his fingernails. He has to remind himself to breathe. He’s not small and helpless anymore. They can’t hurt him. He’ll hurt them right back if they try.
“Kevin,” he says. “This isn’t the Nest.”
Green eyes meet his, and there’s a steadiness in that gaze that Neil didn’t remember from before. “No,” says Kevin slowly. “It’s not.”
Heartbeat thudding loudly in his ears, Neil asks, “Where are we?”
“We,” says Kevin, “are in the Foxhole Court.”
Neil can only stare at him, panic in his throat. He should not be here. Sanctuaries like the Foxhole Court are not for him. Not for monsters like him. They can’t keep him safe, and he’ll doom them for hoping they could. He should not be here.
But Kevin is here now. That’s something that Neil never thought to factor in. Back then they were mere children, but even then Neil knew that Kevin was something else. That Kevin possessed power, power that could unlock something and free them from the shadows of the Nest. The Foxhole Court is infamous for taking on the odd jobs that no other exorcist community would touch with a ten foot pole, but they get those jobs done. Evermore would never see them coming.
Neil might stand a chance.
Andrew claps his hands. The sound rings like a gunshot through the quiet. “Wonderful sob story,” he says. “Now give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you right now so that Evermore doesn’t come knocking on our fucking door?”
“Wasn’t talking to you, Day.”
Neil meets his gaze and holds it steady. He makes his decision. Tosses in all his chips and the last shred of courage his mother couldn’t grind out of him. “I can help you,” Neil says. “I can help you destroy Riko Moriyama. Let me stay, and I can help you take down the Nest for good.”
Kevin is gaping at him, but Andrew hasn’t moved. His dark eyes are trained on Neil’s face, serious and flat and devoid of emotions. But, Neil thinks maybe he sees just the tiniest bit of interest in those eyes.
“Keep talking,” Andrew tells him, and Neil releases the breath he’s been holding. He pushes aside the panic for another day, and talks.