Their victory over the Trojan's had just barely passed the 24 hour mark. The finals were only a couple of weeks away, soon they'd be facing Riko and the Raven's.
He was drunk again. Neil didn't think of this discovery as a surprise as he walked into his dorm room and saw his teammate sitting on the couch, head lowered into his hands, bottle clasped between long fingers. Kevin had always been drinking, but this, Neil found, was more severe. He felt as if the former Raven was getting worse and worse by each passing day.
There was something wrong with him and Neil knew that, he could see it. He was witnessing his friend slowly slip deeper into a wallowing pit, that Neil assumed to be self pity. Maybe even self loathing or self hate, he didn't exactly know. Kevin wasn't exactly a man to openly share his thoughts with him.
To say that he was a mess was an understatement. Kevin was a wreck. A burning car wreck, which flames were slowly dying down up until another sudden event threw gasoline into it, making the flames ignite yet again and rise to a new height. Neil had a flash of his mothers burning corpse behind his eyes, the smell of charred flesh flaring up in his nostrils. He bit back the bile that threatened to rise in his throat.
Kevin didn't even look up as the door fell closed behind Neil with an audible click.
Neil hesitated for a bit, before deciding to cross the room towards the other striker. He stopped at an arm lengths away from him, waiting for a reaction to his presence. Kevin eventually did, dragging his stare up to meet his. His face was worn, ragged even, he looked about ten years older. Neil's gut twisted sharply.
“You look like shit.”
Kevin snorted at that, gaze dropping to the floor. “Thanks.”
There was an uncomfortable silence between them, it stretched on for seemingly an eternity as Neil wrestled with himself and the right words to say.
“What do you want?” Kevin finally asked after taking another big swing from his bottle. Neil involuntarily grimaced at that.
“You have been drinking an awful lot lately.” Neil said.
“I've always been drinking.” Kevin drawled, as if stating the obvious.
“True, but this,” He leaned forwards, crossing the boundary of Kevin's personal space, fingers clasping around the bottleneck, carefully tugging it from Kevin's grip. The striker let go, hand dropping into his lap, eyes still not meeting Neil's. He was tense, Neil could see that. “This is getting out of hand, Kevin.”
“It is, Kevin.” Neil bit back, fighting the edge of irritation in his voice. He set the bottle onto the table, out of Kevin's reach. It was almost empty. “You are wrecking yourself.”
“I'm not.” Kevin argued, they both knew he was being unreasonable. “I have always been drinking, so what if it's a bit more?! It's no big deal, leave me be.”
Anger flared up dangerously behind Neil's eyes as he tried to control himself from losing his temper. Both of them knew very well, that this was an issue, a habit, that Kevin needed to quit.
“No big deal, my ass. You are sabotaging yourself.” Neil hissed, his finger shot towards the bottle on the table, not missing how Kevin's eyes were still fixated on it. He hesitated before saying the next sentence. “You are slacking on the court and you will compromise us if this continues.”
This made Kevin's gaze snap towards him. He looked at Neil, eyes dark, snarl set deep on his face. “Shut up, I am not a compromising anything, I'm pulling my own weight, this,” He motioned around himself with his hands. “Has nothing to do with how I preform on the court.”
“You say that now, but I know it will. Everyone knows it will. You will tear the entire team down if this behavior continues.” Neil said harshly, seeing fully well what kind of impact these words were having on Kevin. His posture grew even more tense, fists clenching until his knuckles turned white, for a split second Neil considered taking a step back. He decided against it.
He hoped Kevin would reason with the finals and Exy on the negotiation table. That it would perk his interest enough to make him even consider cutting back, or at least talk to Neil.
It didn't, instead Kevin scoffed. “Leave.” He said, Neil could tell he was barely restraining his temper, as he let his head drop back into his hands. “I'll deal with this shit by myself, just leave.”
Neil pressed his lips into a thin line, but he didn't argue. Instead turning and doing as Kevin asked.
The rooftop was chilly as he stepped onto it, Andrew was already sitting by the edge.
He sat next to him, close, but far enough away to keep a comfortable distance between them. He took the cigarette that had been offered to him without a word. He shielded it from the wind as he lit it. Cold harsh wind brushed past the two of them as Neil's eyes sunk to the pavement bellow. The lamps were illuminating the parking lot. It was eerily quiet for a Saturday night.
He took a long drag of the cigarette between his lips, exhaling the smoke into the cool night air, watching it disappear.
Finally, one of them spoke, breaking their comfortable silence.
“What took you so long?” Andrew asked.
Andrew gave a short noise of understanding, he himself also witnessing the striker slowly succumbing to his awful habits. As someone who had also struggled with addiction, he probably understood Kevin the best. It was a while, before Neil spoke again.
"I'm worried about him."
He waited for a response, when none came he continued.
"He has been drinking a lot lately, the only time I've seen him sober is during practice, but even then he seems besides himself."
"He has a problem." Andrew agreed, Neil looked at him, but Andrew didn't meet his gaze. Instead he stared off into the distance, seemingly disinterested at the whole conversation. Neil knew he wasn't.
"The fact that he's going to face Riko soon is messing with him, he's too afraid to think logically. He's letting fear control him. Riko control him." Neil mumbled, eyes going back towards the parking lot bellow. "We might lose the finals if this continues. If he's reacting like this before even meeting Riko, who knows how he will react during the game. We can't have him tearing himself down like this, not now, not when we are so close to beating them."
"Then don't let him." Andrew's answer was short and simple, but Neil still couldn't help the look that he shot him.
"How? Kevin is impossible, he won't listen to me, neither does he want my help it seems. He's being-" scared, difficult, a coward? Neil couldn't find the right words to describe the burning car wreck Kevin Day was.
Instead of trying to figure out what kind of wreck Kevin Day was, he flicked his cigarette butt off the roof and let his hands fall into his lap. A sigh was on his lips but he didn't exhale.
A few moments of silence spoke again, before Andrew broke it.
"He likes you."
Neil turned his head towards the blonde, eyebrows raised in confusion. "What?" He asked, not entirely understanding Andrew's words.
"Kevin." Andrew said, tone not shifting, shoulders relaxed, facade unmoved. "He likes you."
"Like, as a teammate? Funny, I'm pretty sure he can't stand the sight of me anymore, every time we talk it ends in a fight."
"You are the most infuriatingly stupid man I have ever met, Neil Josten." Andrew said blankly, finger going up to point as his own mouth. "Listen to me as I spell it out for you. He is attracted to you."
Neil watched Andrew's lips move, reading them like he had been told. When those words left his mouth he sat there for a few more moments. Too stunned to say something. His mouth was slightly agape as he raised his eyes to meet Andrew's impassive stare. He struggled to speak. "But I- what?"
Andrew blew smoke into his face, making Neil scrunch is nose and turn away.
"It's obvious, everyone can see it." Andrew said, impassively.
Neil said nothing as he blankly stared at the spot ahead. Kevin liked him? Since when? How long? He voice these questions to Andrew.
The blonde took his time to answer. "I started noticing it after the interview."
Then there was silence again.
"Use it." Andrew suddenly said.
Neil flung his head into the blondes general direction, slightly furious look in his eyes. "Use what? His feelings for me? That's manipulative." Neil stated, voice having an edge to it.
This caught Andrew's attention and he lazily turned his gaze to look at him. "Aren't you used to manipulating people for what you want though, what's the difference?"
Neil opened his mouth to argue. "Kevin is a-" friend? Teammate? Neil struggled to find the right words. "This is different."
“How is it different?” Andrew asked. “You did the same to me.”
“This is very different, I didn't know how you saw me.” Neil said, irritation clear in his voice by now.
“I know the feeling is mutual.” Andrew said suddenly, but it didn't sound like an accusation, more like an observation.
Neil almost spluttered at the words. “You are being ridiculous now.”
“Am I.” Andrew asked, but it wasn't really a question. “I have been watching the two of you for a long time, I know you are interested in him.”
“For being so observant about that supposed fact, you don't seem to be bothered by it at all” Neil bristled, not being able to believe the accusation Andrew had so carelessly thrown his way.
“I'm not.” Andrew said. “I don't care if you are attracted to him.”
Neil pressed his lips into a thin line. “I'm not attracted to him.” Kevin was attractive, but was Neil personally attracted to him as a person the same way he had been to Andrew? He thought about it, before realizing were the blonde was coming from. He had been looking at him the same way he had been looking at Andrew. He felt red hot shame threatening to creep up his neck and expose him.
“I-” Neil started, but he couldn't finish. He felt as if he got caught by his mother with his hand in the cookie jar. He hadn't even known that he had been doing it, gazing after another man, while he was already with one. He felt upset at himself, the guilt being like a heavy rock inside his stomach. He decided to swing the conversation into another direction. “I'm with you.”
"There's no 'with you'." Andrew cut in, gaze sturdy. "Don't say stupid shit."
"It's not stupid." Neil hissed and crossed his arms across his chest. He hesitated for a few more seconds, before carefully asking the next question. “Are you mad at me?”
"No.” The answer was simple and short, but Neil couldn't keep his eyes from darting over Andrew's relaxed form, looking for any change in posture to indicate the contrary to what he had just said. It didn't.
“Why not?” Neil asked.
“Why should I?”
“Because apparently I am gazing after another man, while being with you.” Neil pointed out. “You should be upset at that.”
“I should be a lot of things, but I choose not to.” Andrew said instead. “You can do whatever you want. I don't care.”
“Don't say stuff like that. It's not fair to you.”
“Nothing is fair. Besides, I dislike Kevin Day.” Andrew said, watching him from the corner of his eye, his voice holding a hint of amusement. “That doesn't mean I wouldn't blow him.”
“Oh.” Was all that Neil said for a while, as realization dawned upon him. Andrew had repeated almost the exact same words to him as he did when he had first confessed his interest in him, knowing fully well Neil would catch on. It took him a few tries to regain his voice. “Why didn't you say something?”
“There was no point. The feeling wasn't mutual, so I moved on.” Andrew said.
Neil said nothing to that, instead giving a nod in understanding.
“What do we do now?” Neil asked after a few beats of silence.
Andrew took one last drag from his cigarette, before tossing it off the roof to the pavement below. He didn't look at him when he spoke. “That's up to you?”
“Didn't you promise him you'd protect him?” Neil suddenly asked.
Andrew shrugged, leaning back on his hands. “I promised to protect him from Riko and from his past, not from himself. That's a job for an entirely different person.” Neil didn't miss how his eyes flickered towards him.
He understood what Andrew was suggesting, but he still couldn't help the gnawing feeling of guilt in the pit of his stomach. If he really did attempt to cross this boundary, there was no going back, potentially no fixing it either. It could work out in their favor, or destroy everything. Destroy the things which he already had and those which were to come. He thought about this, mind going through almost all the negative outcomes he could think of.
“What will it be, Neil Josten?” Andrew asked after a while.
He couldn't let Kevin wreck himself and everything around him. He had to do something, anything. His gut twisted sharply, as the feeling of anxiety clawed it's way up his throat.
He could hardly believe himself as the next words left his mouth. “Yes or no?”
Andrew knew for what exactly Neil was asking for. It wasn't establishing consent for touching or kissing. It was for something entirely different. Andrew's face didn't change as he turned his head to look at Neil.
Kevin was passed out on the couch when they walked back into their dorm room later that night. Neil almost pulled a face at the harsh stench of alcohol and sweat that invaded his nostrils when he had opened the door. His eyes flickered to the second bottle that was laying carelessly on the floor besides the couch. Kevin had helped himself to another one as soon as Neil had left it seemed.
Andrew brushed past him, leaving Neil to quietly close the door behind them.
The blonde walked over to the couch and slapped the strikers knee. "Get up." He said.
Kevin inhaled sharply, eyes flying open. He looked around the room hazily, gaze landing on Andrew for a split second, before closing them in an attempt to go back to sleep.
Andrew didn't waste any time, not tolerating Kevin's behavior. He grabbed his ankle and harshly yanked him towards the floor, Kevin tumbled off the couch and landed on the ground with a loud thud. He knocked one of the two empty bottles over, it rolled away and came to a halt at Neil's feet, he didn't spare it much of a glance.
Kevin groaned, voice croaking, obviously irritated. "What the hell Andrew?!" He wasn't sober yet, hadn't slept it off, Neil could hear it in his voice. "I'm tried."
"Sleep off your self loathing sometime else. Get up."
Kevin groaned and slowly moved to stand. He swayed slightly, moving towards the bathroom, fumbling with the light switch and slamming the door closed behind him. He ignored the feeling in his gut as he heard Kevin empty the contents of his stomach. He moved over to the desk that Kevin usually occupied and grabbed the bottle of water that was sitting there.
Andrew had moved to open the window, letting fresh air into the room, the stench of alcohol and sweat slowly fading. He watched him collect the bottles off the floor and throw them in the trash.
After waiting for five more minutes, having no longer heard Kevin retch into the toilet , Andrew grew impatient. He walked up to the door and pushed the handle down, only to find it locked. He then banged on the door loudly. "Don't fall asleep in there. Get out."
"Fuck off!" Kevin snapped back, his voice irritated and muffled, probably propped on the seat.
"Open the fucking door, Day, or I will kick it down." Andrew said almost calmly, not even having to raise his voice as he got the wanted effect regardless.
They heard a flush and the water of the sink running. The door opened shortly after revealing the human wreck that went by the name Kevin Day. Neil regarded him quickly, gaze shifting over his body, settling on his face. He seemed even worse for wear than we he had left him to his thoughts only hours before. He looked terrible.
"What do you want, Andrew?!" Kevin hissed, pushing past them and taking the bottle of water Neil offered him without a word. He opened it and downed almost half of it in an instant. He dropped back down onto the couch. His eyes were livid, almost hateful as he regarded the two of them. "And?"
"Practice with me." Neil said, words rushing out of his mouth before he could stop himself. Andrew didn't say anything and Neil was glad for that, not wanting him to rile up Kevin even more than he already was. He studied him as he patiently waited for a reply, the strikers posture was tense, almost aggressive.
Kevin furrowed his brows and dug his phone out of his back pocket, the screen illuminating his face in the dimly lit room. "It's almost one in the morning, Neil." He rasped.
"That never stopped you before, come on." Neil said, not waiting for a reply as he moved to the door to grab Kevin's jacket of the hanger, tossing it towards him.
Kevin didn't bother to catch it, instead letting it hit his shoulder and land on the couch besides him. His eyes went to Andrew, who was standing a bit further away, arms crossed. He read his face, it seemed emotionless, but Neil knew to Kevin it wasn't. Neil could tell that Kevin understood that if he didn't get up by himself Andrew would physically drag him to the court by his hair.
The bedroom door opened slowly, making Neil's gaze snap towards it. Nicky stood in the doorway stifling a yawn. "What is going on guys? I heard some yelling." His voice was thick with sleep, Neil was surprised it had taking him this long to wake up, they weren't exactly quiet.
Kevin didn't spend another glance at Andrew, slowly getting up from the couch. "Nothing, we are going to the court." He muttered.
"Really?" Nicky asked confused, checking the time as Kevin walked past him, followed by Andrew. "Isn't it a little late for Exy, even for you?"
"Yes." Kevin said, brushing past Neil and heading out of the door.
The drive to the court was as short as always, but the almost uncomfortable silence that stretched on between them, made it last for seemingly an eternity.
He knew he reeked. He could smell his own breath every time he exhaled, an almost putrid stench of alcohol and vomit. He was drenched in his own sweat as his most likely greasy hair stuck to his forehead. Kevin couldn't help the shame that welled up in his gut. He felt disgusting.
Andrew had barely pulled the car to a halt, before Kevin had already thrown his seat belt off, rushing to get out of the car and the smell that he so suddenly seemed hyper aware of. The night air was cool, almost sharp to his clammy skin. Nausea crept up his throat from the sudden movement, head pounding harshly already. He knew he was going to feel like shit in the morning, but oddly enough he couldn't help but to look forward to it. He would rather feel absolutely terrible than nothing at all.
Neil walked past him, Kevin stood still a couple of seconds, Andrew stepping up besides him, his eyes fixated on the back of Neil's head. He waited for Andrew to voice something, but when he didn't, he moved to follow.
Playing Exy felt amazing to Kevin, even though it hurt like hell, every swing at the goal tore white hot bolts of pain up his arm, spine and into his temple. His head was killing him, he could feel his heart pounding in his ears, every beat almost like a shrill scream tearing through him. His entire body shook with adrenaline as he pushed himself to move against the pain, tossing another ball into the goal. His breathing felt like it would tear his throat apart.
His eyes snapped towards Neil just in time to see him mess up his shot.
"Focus!" He snarled. Neil shot him a cool, almost annoyed look and took another swing, the ball thumping off the back of the goal with a satisfying sound.
"We need to talk." Kevin lined up his next shot and took a few steps forwards, choosing to ignore Neil's words. “Kevin.” His voice had a slight edge to it, making Kevin spare him a glance. He was starring at him intently, racket loosely in his hand.
"There's nothing to talk about." Kevin finally said, but he knew that was a lie. He had a lot of things to talk about, none of them he considered any of Neil's business. But then again, when had Neil Josten ever minded his own.
“I think you should cut back on the drinking.” Neil's voice was calm and the words simple, but Kevin couldn't help the sharp stab that drove itself into his chest. He ignored it in favor of knocking another ball into the goal. And another and another. Neil cut in, “Kevin, are you even listening to me?”
“I heard you.” Kevin confirmed, voice tight, barely managing to keep the irritation out of it. His hand was shaking slightly at the next swing. He could feel Neil's on him, judging him, he wish he wouldn't look at him like that. He wished no one would. His feelings of self hate, shame and disgust threatened to close off his windpipe.
He forced himself to breathe, swinging the next ball into the goal, it didn't go exactly where he wanted it to. The next one didn't either. He felt anger building up in him, harshly pushing and tugging at him. He still felt Neil's eyes on him, digging into the back of his head, he swallowed thickly, fingers tightening almost painfully around the Exy racket. He couldn't take it anymore.
“Stop it!” He snapped, turning to look at his teammate. Neil stood a safe distance away, he had taken his helmet off, watching him carefully, his brows furrowed at the sudden outburst.
“Stop what?” Neil asked, there was no edge in his voice, nor any expression of judgment as Kevin searched for it frantically.
“Stop looking at me as if-” He cut off, mouth shutting tightly. As if what? As if he's disgusting, a coward, a mess. Kevin knew all those words applied to him, he wasn't stupid after all, just afraid. Weak. Pathetic.
His head was killing him. He tried to control the tremor in his left hand, but he couldn't. He grit his teeth, he wasn't even in control of the smallest of things. Neil knew that, so did Kevin and everyone else. He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, flexing his hand in an attempt to keep it still. When he exhaled he opened his eyes.
“I'm going to take a shower.” He said, moving to turn and walk towards the locker room, hearing Neil approach him quickly, uttering a small 'wait'. He felt his hand on the back of his shirt, tugging it softly in an almost childish attempt of getting his attention. Kevin barely managed to restrain himself from snapping, his patience gradually slipping. He locked his jaw tightly in place, gaze drifting towards Andrew who was watching them from his usual spot. The blonde looked almost bored.
"Kevin, listen to me.” It wasn't a plea, it wasn't an order either, Kevin didn't really know what it was, but he remained still and did as he was asked. “If this continues, we are going to lose. We are going to lose against Riko and the Raven's. Everything will be for nothing, all those times you spent practicing with me, will be worth nothing. Don't let him win like this, you're better than him, stronger than him.”
Kevin almost laughed out loud at those words, not so long ago he was calling him a coward, now he was giving him a pep talk, telling him he's better than the one man he had learned to fear so damn much. But instead of laughing he struggled to breathe, feeling as if sharp fingernails were clawing their way down his throat. Kevin was a smart man, he knew that, he also knew that Neil's words held some truth to them. If he continued like this they would most certainly lose. His self destructive habits were slowly not only destroying him, but the team too. But it wasn't all that easy. He couldn't just quit what he was doing, he could try, but Kevin knew it wouldn't last very long. He had lost every ounce of self control he once had weeks ago. Neither could he so simply lose his fear of Riko, he grew up fearing and respecting him, it wasn't something he could so easily shake off. Neil of all people should understand this, but oddly enough, he didn't.
“I know.” He finally said. “I know that if this continues, I will be the reason we lose, I will be the reason Riko wins.”
“Then don't let him.” Neil's words sounded almost desperate, as he felt his fingers tighten in his shirt. He was trying so hard to 'not let him', but it just wasn't that simple. “Let me help you, but you have to meet me halfway, I can't stop you from destroying yourself and everything around you if you won't let me.”
These words sounded familiar, yet so different. He pushed that thought back.
Kevin gave no response, he couldn't, he simply wasn't ready. After a few more beats of silence he felt Neil's hand drop from his back. Kevin moved away from him almost instantly, walking towards the locker rooms, struggling to keep himself from bolting off the court. He went straight into the first stall, slamming the door shut behind him, turning the water up to the highest possible heat. He felt his clothes cling to his body and get heavier, as the stream got gradually hotter and hotter. He inhaled sharply, struggling to fill his lungs will the well needed oxygen. The water was almost boiling as is drummed against his skin. He leaned against the shower wall, willing himself not to slide to the ground. His hand shot up to his mouth, as he tried to muffle the sob that threatened to claw it's way up his throat. All the anger and hate in him causing such a turmoil of emotions. His mouth was open in a silent cry of desperation, as he wished the water would be hot enough to kill him.