The way the lock clicked open was extremely satisfying - Neil had gotten good at the whole breaking and entering thing through the years. Perhaps it would have been more satisfying without the rage of pain that made his hand quake now that the pain killers he’d taken earlier were wearing off. At least they lasted the drive from Edgar Allan to Cincinnati. Three and a half hours - should have been almost five but Neil didn’t have time for petty things like speed limits that night.
Finding Kevin’s place had been a bitch and a half, since it was kept out of public reach. But Neil had learned that where his own talents fell short, money could always grease the way for him. It was the one thing he learned from Riko that was fucking useful.
He made sure to be quiet as he set his dufflebag down on a coffee table that was littered with papers - most of them about Exy statistics. At least Kevin’s obsessions remained consistent through the years. He dug through the duffle, yanking out the small black pouch in the bottom, dumping it over the table before he thought to be quiet again. Freezing, hand still holding tight to the bag, Neil waited in silence for a minute before remembering that Kevin had always slept like the dead. The rustle of needles and bottles of pills and what not wouldn’t wake him, especially since the hall leading to what Neil assumed was the bedroom seemed like it was pretty damn long.
He grit his teeth together as he pulled black hoodie he’d been using to hide the injury off of his left arm - not caring that half of his bare torso was exposed, though he usually didn’t allow anyone such a view, if Kevin did come in it wouldn’t be anything he’d never seen before. It made a ripping sound as the dried blood separated from the fabric, reopening some of the wound that had finally stopped bleeding with the ruined fabric pressed against it.
The bullet had just grazed him, but it bled like he’d been shot in the fucking heart, and his fingers were numb after the bleeding had lasted so long. He grabbed the bottle of alcohol he kept in the pack, dumping it over his shoulder while trying to keep it from absolutely ruining Kevin’s white leather couch.
Who the fuck even owned a white leather couch?
The pain as the alcohol soaked into the wound was enough to distract Neil from the soft footsteps that grew closer. He didn’t know anyone was behind him until he felt the familiar sharpness of a blade against his throat. The man he’d come to see wouldn’t be stupid enough to put a knife to the throat of Nathaniel Wesninski.
“Ooh, you’re not Kevin.” Neil’s voice didn’t betray any anxiety over the situation - there were only two people in the world that could make him fear a blade, and he knew neither his father nor Riko could possibly be standing behind him in the dark living room. One was dead, the other probably still throwing a fit at The Nest.
“You have five seconds to tell me who you are and what you’re doing in here.” The voice was gravely from sleep, but Neil recognized it easily from interviews - both with the Palmetto Foxes, then the Cincinnati Kings more recently. The more damaged of the Minyard twins - Andrew. Kevin’s bodyguard, on an unofficial capacity. Riko spent hours on end bitching about how much of an annoyance he was, but Neil thought maybe that was because Andrew was the one person he couldn’t really exploit much. He was too damaged to give a shit about anything but the promise he made Kev.
“If you’re aiming to kill me, move the knife a bit higher.” Neil replied in a bored tone.
“Five.” Andrew’s voice was firm. But the next count didn’t come from him as the lights flicked on in the living room, making both of them blink as the sudden light assaulted them.
“Four?” Kevin sounded exhausted, but also surprised. The name twisted like a knife in Neil’s stomach. A cruel reminder of when Riko was angry enough to strip them of even their names. For a split second, he was back there - blade biting into his skin, the word like venom on Riko’s lips, reminding him just where his place was. Had been. Not anymore. He wasn’t Four anymore, he was-
“Neil Josten.” Andrew sounded annoyed as he moved the knife away. His whole body lurched forward just a bit, the last of the memory shattering and reminding him where he was. The knife was gone, and Neil guessed that meant the man thought he wasn’t a threat. Shitty decision on his part, but Neil wasn’t going to complain.
“Two.” Neil replied as he turned, watching Kevin’s face twist slightly at the word, nose scrunching and sleepy green eyes growing sharper. It only gave him a moment of bitter satisfaction before he felt like an asshole. “Kev.” He corrected himself, tone warming. “Long time, no see.”
“What the hell are you doing here?”
News broke the next morning - papers, sports magazines, the networks that were calling Neil’s phone so often that he couldn’t even keep it charged. He didn’t even know how they’d managed to get his phone number so fast.
Kevin sat beside him, scrolling through headlines on his computer, reading each one out loud with varying degrees of distaste.
“The Last of The Raven King’s Men Defects”
“The Riko’s Dog Shakes His Leash”
“You Should See Him In A Crown: Neil Josten Signs With The Cincinnati Kings”
He’d spent the night on Kevin and Andrew’s couch after Kevin had helped butterfly him together.... after Kevin downed a fifth so he didn’t vomit at the sight of it. How he couldn’t stand blood and violence after what they’d been through together, Neil didn’t understand. And he’d refused to let the “bodyguard” patch him up.
“You could have warned me.” Kevin complained beside him - he’d signed to The Kings a year ago after finishing college with the Palmetto Foxes. Of course, Neil was a year behind the other three, a year younger. Stuck at The Nest while Riko went into a rage over ‘Two’ and ‘Three’ thinking they had any right to sign with The Kings without his permission. As if they’d left The Nest with his consent in the first place.
“You never return my calls.” Neil shrugged, not letting it show how much that effected him, after everything he’d done for Kevin and Jean. When they knew he probably needed help just as badly as they had. But he got it - neither of them had ever been able to stand up to Riko on their own. Neil didn’t think that was going to change just because they got out. They were still scared of being dragged back there. Scared of handcuffs and knives and bodies over them - not that they’d ever had it as bad as Neil had for getting them out when they were too injured to move on their own, Jean even on the brink of death.
“Riko shot you?” Kevin asked, finally questioning it, breaking the tracks of Neil’s train of thought. He hadn’t even felt the need to ask when he was patching him up at three in the morning - but now it was bothering him for some reason. Neil could see it written on his face.
“Tried. He’s better with knives.” Neil flipped through channels on the television, but everything was boring today - he hadn’t given anyone that exclusive interview they were looking for, so anything they were talking about on the sports networks was purely speculation. He’d call the assistant The Kings had assigned him when he signed yesterday when he damn well felt like talking about it. But it had to be soon, before Riko could get a word out.
“He won’t let you go.” Kevin spoke like those words were law, and a year ago they would have been.
Neil just rose a brow and quirked a lip, amused by that astute observation. “Funny. I don’t think I asked your opinion on the subject.” But then he got serious for a moment, sitting up a little straighter. “Fact of the matter is, he can’t force me back. Not without pissing off the Lord. I’m his investment now.” Acid burned through his veins at the admission, and Kevin went stock still beside him, skin paling. And perhaps the conversation would have been over, if it wasn’t for Andrew.
He’d been sitting in the window, one leg outside and the other in, as if no one would be able to push him right out if they wanted to. He blew the smoke from his cigarette outside, but it hadn’t completely kept it from blowing back inside the apartment a bit.
“You sold your soul to the devil to keep it out of the hands of a demon.” It was a statement, not a question.
“If you’re going to put it that way, my soul always belonged to the devil.” Neil licked his lips - it was a nervous motion. He could really use one of those cigarettes that Andrew had been chainsmoking since they’d gotten back up that morning. But he could still feel the phantom pain of the cigarette burns along ribs, where Riko had stubbed out an entire pack after catching Neil smoking the first time. It was enough to make him not even consider asking for one. “I paid off the debts attached to my father’s contract, but the Moriyama’s raised me and put me through college. I’m Ichirou’s only until that money is paid back.”
“Yeah? And how long will that take, Neil? What price tag did he put on all of that?” Kevin was back, looking like an angry child. Looking like he thought Neil had any choice in the matter. It was enough to make Neil seriously consider hitting him, but he’d learned to control his rage long ago - let people do what they will and say what they will, reacting will only make it hurt more. Hold still, be silent, they’ll get bored.
Neil took a shaky breath before looking to Kevin. “One million dollars.” He shrugged, like it wasn’t anything considerable. “Professional Exy players make half that in a year - he agreed to fifty percent of my wages for four years. All I have to do is play Exy and not breathe a word about what the Moriyamas really do. Slandering Riko is fair game though - made sure that was in the contract because you know how mouthy I am.” How mouthy he had been, before he’d been alone. Just One and Four and anyone Riko brought in to help punish him for daring to exist. But he wouldn’t be the complacent, tamed dog on Riko’s leash anymore - like the media loved to describe him over the past few years.
Kevin laughed, but it was more of a bark if anything else - loud and abrupt and it made Andrew curse from the window. “Do you really think that’s smart?” As if Kevin had ever thought “Neil” and “Smart” belonged in the same sentence unless the word “Not” was also involved.
Neil shrugged. “If I’m going to survive, I don’t think there’s any other choice.” He reached over and stole Kevin’s coffee, taking a large drink and wincing when the burn of rum followed the bitter coffee. He would have said something about morning drinking being a sign of alchoholism, but it wouldn’t be anything Kevin hadn’t already heard. “Riko lost the last piece on his board - he’s going to get desperate and say shit he shouldn’t. It’s only a matter of time. And I’m not going to take his shit lying down anymore. I can’t afford to.”