Chapter 1: 1
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.
Neil watched Kevin sit restlessly by his desk, the man was seated in front of his computer, but Neil could tell he was only staring blankly at the screen, not really paying any attention to it. Neil's eyes flickered towards Andrew, who sat across from him, face bored.
In the silence the only thing he could hear was Kevin's clothes rustling every time he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Just listening to Kevin behave like that, the way his leg bounced and his fingers drummed against the wood of desk, made Neil's skin crawl with anxiety. To him Kevin was acting as if he had been expecting somebody to bust in through the window, put a gun against his head and pull the trigger. It was unnerving and set Neil's instinctive paranoia on edge.
Kevin abruptly stood up, pushing the chair back with a loud screech, the sudden noise making Neil jump. He turned his head into Kevin's direction, watching him walk past the pair and towards the door. His hand was already and the handle before Neil chose to speak.
"Where are you going, it's late?" He asked, even though he already knew the answer to said question.
"I'm going for a run." Kevin replied, not turning to look at him. Neil could see how tense his shoulders were, there was a slight tremor in his left hand, he watched Kevin flex it in an attempt to control it. He frowned.
"The store is closed, you'll have to go to the gas station in order to get something." Andrew drawled, Neil looked at him, the blonde's eyes were fixated on his as he spoke, not Kevin's.
Neil watched the struggling man at the door, his fingers still clasped tightly around the handle, Andrew's words having a harsh and visible impact. Kevin's entire posture was stiff, almost awkward, something Neil wasn't used to seeing in him. He looked as if he was trying to forcefully ground himself. Kevin stood there for a few more moments, going almost completely still. Then he spoke.
"Do you want Neil to drive you?"Andrew suddenly said.
Neil snapped his eyes towards the blonde, brows furrowed in confusion, he's not helping Kevin get his hands on alcohol. Andrew knew that, so he was slightly irritated when it was even suggested. He opened his mouth to voice his opinion, but Kevin was faster.
"No. I just-" Kevin struggled to get the words out, sounding almost breathless. Neil watched him fight with himself for a couple of more seconds, before visibly relaxing, left hand loosening from it's own death grip. He still had a slight tremor in it, but was no longer attempting to prevent it. "I just need to get out of this room and get moving, I won't buy anything. I swear." His voice was tight, but it had a certain something to it, so Neil oddly enough believed him. When Kevin left, he kept his eyes trained on the door for a couple of more seconds, before finally looking away.
"He is making an attempt, I think." Neil said after a while of complete silence.
“I doubt it will last, he has little self control.” Andrew said.
This made Neil frown. “You think so?” He didn't have to wait for a reply, knowing fully well that none would come. “I attempted to talk to him yesterday, he immediately shut me out.”
“I saw.” Andrew confirmed. “He is stubborn. He won't accept your help so easily, he feels like he has to do this by himself.”
Neil furrowed his brows and looked down at his own shoes. Kevin didn't want to accept their help, he couldn't tell if it was the man's pride, or something else entirely that prevented Neil from being of any viable assistance.
“He will come around eventually, he did back then, he will now. Give him time and be persistent, you're usually so good at it anyway.” Andrew said.
Neil assumed with 'back then' he was referring to the promise he had given Kevin. Neil considered prying for more information, but then decided against it. He sighed and leaned backwards in his beanbag, eyes going up towards the ceiling.
“I doubt he will come around.” Neil couldn't help the feeling of frustration in the pit of his stomach. “I don't even know how to attempt to get through to him. Yesterday felt like running head on against a brick wall.”
"Then climb over it." Andrew said.
"How?" Neil's asked, almost bitterly. “That's easier said than done.”
“Your words did have an impact on him.” Andrew said, gaze meeting Neil's. When Neil gave him a look of confusion, he elaborated. “I heard him sulking in the shower after practice.”
Neil crossed his arms across hist chest, brows perked, as he asked, “Should I be concerned to why you were listening to Kevin shower?”
Neil didn't miss the glint of amusement in Andrew's eyes, even though his stare remained mostly impassive. “Jealous?” His voice was almost mocking.
A lopsided grin spread across Neil's face as he slowly crawled over to Andrew's spot on the floor, halting only inches before him.
“Me? No, never.” He smiled, silently asking their 'yes or no' question, which Andrew answered by burying his fingers in the back of Neil's head and pulling him in for a kiss.
Neil smiled into it, hand going towards Andrew's neck, wordlessly asking for permission, which was granted. He dug his fingers almost painfully into Andrew's hair, making the blonde hiss against his lips. He dragged his mouth along his jaw, tracing it all the way up to his ear, leaning in as close as he could without actually touching the other any more than he was allowed to.
“I was just imagining how good you two would look together.” He murmured against Andrew's ear, not missing the shudder the other was trying to suppress. Neil smirked against him, lips moving down to place kisses on the skin of his throat. Andrew's finger tightened in his hair painfully, tugging at it in a warning. Neil complied, letting himself get pulled back from Andrew, unable to wipe that grin off his face.
“Your neck fetish is still not attractive.” Andrew mumbled against his lips, going in for another kiss, Neil almost laughed at that, opening his mouth into it.
Andrew's hand moved towards his chest, as he placed hard kisses along his jaw, making Neil groan and tilt his head back.
“Yes or no?” Andrew asked, pausing and waiting for a reply.
“Yes, always yes.” Neil hissed.
“I told you not to say always, it's either yes or no.” Andrew mumbled against Neil's neck.
Andrew's hand went down Neil's clothed chest, pausing briefly at his belt to undo it. Andrew kissed Neil as his cold hand went into his boxers, grabbing a hold of his member, Neil gasped into the kiss, the blonde using the opportunity to push his tongue into the other male's mouth. Andrew worked him hard and fast. Neil's fingernails dug painfully into the back of Andrew's scalp, who responded by biting his lip in a warning. Neil's fingers didn't loosen though, despite the tang of copper in his mouth, not until he was finished.
Andrew withdrew his hand from in between Neil's legs, breaking their kiss. Like always, Neil watched Andrew wipe his hand on his shirt. He grimaced looking down at the new stain. “I wish you wouldn't always do that.” He said slightly disgruntled.
“Why, it's yours, isn't it?” Andrew said tastelessly.
“You don't smear your own on your clothes.” Neil pointed out.
“I also get myself off.”
This made Neil's eyes flicker downwards between them for a split second, his gaze met Andrew's, who was shifting a bit on his knees.
“Can I take care of you?” Neil whispered, throat almost dry as he was aching to touch Andrew intimately. “Yes or no?”
He held Andrew's stare, who considered the offer for a split second, making Neil's heart leap, before uttering a breathless, “No.”
“You want me to leave?” Neil asked, fully prepared to do so. Their sessions usually ended with Andrew getting Neil off and then finishing himself off. Neil understood that and respected his boundaries. So far Andrew had only gotten himself over the edge twice with Neil present.
“No.” Andrew said again when Neil moved to leave. “Stay.”
“Yes.” Neil said, letting Andrew guide him in for another kiss, feeling his breath hitch against his lips.
Neil never once had dared to look downwards at how Andrew was touching himself, not wanting to so recklessly overstep that boundary and break Andrew's trust. He only did as he was permitted to do, no matter if it's talking, touching or looking. Instead he kept his gaze trained on Andrew's face, not missing how his eyes almost always seemed open when he did this, as if fearing Neil would somehow trespass into unwanted territory. He didn't mind, Neil liked watching Andrew's face, seeing his expression shift slightly when he was nearing the end, listening to his breathing change, feeling his pulse race. Watching him allow himself to feel good. Neil enjoyed that.
Andrew stilled and Neil knew it was over, giving him one last kiss, before the blonde moved away and washed his hands in the sink. They spent the rest of the night in comfortable silence, the topics from before not being mentioned again.
Kevin came back a few hours later, Neil propped his head up from his pillow, squinting through the darkness as he heard his teammate climb up the ladder into his own bed.
"Kevin?" He whispered, confusion evident in his voice as his eyes tried to read the digital alarm clock next to his bed. It was far too late.
"Don't." Was the reply he got, it was short and curt, and Neil knew he had been drinking. His eyes moved over to Andrew's bed, his blonde mop of hair spread out on the pillow, even in the darkness of the room it seemed illuminating. He knew Andrew was awake, he was a light sleeper after all, but he didn't move, nor give any reaction to Kevin's arrival.
Neil wanted to say something, but bit his tongue in order to keep himself from doing so. He should have known better than to trust his words, but Neil truly had believed Kevin when he had told them he would just go out for a run. The words seemed determined and truthful to him. But it seemed somewhere along the way Kevin had lost himself, or was just lacking the necessary self control like Andrew had predicted. He turned around in bed, his back towards the room as an unruly feeling twisted in his gut. He felt utterly helpless.
The morning came far too quickly. During practice Neil couldn't help his gaze that kept shifting towards Kevin. He looked like a dead man walking, his hair was a mess, eyes sunken and tired, his performance was lacking too. His responses to the passes were slow, he missed the goal a couple of times, Andrew not even making an effort to try to block the ball. He would have expected the striker to lose his temper over that, or grow frustrated over the lack of coordination he himself was displaying. Instead he did nothing, his expression didn't change as he jogged around the court with his teammates. To Neil it seemed like the man was on a completely different planet.
Allison passed him the ball, Neil ran ten more steps with it before passing it towards Kevin. The man watched it roll towards him, catching it and tossing it towards the goal, Andrew watched it, almost lazily as it just barely missed the post. Kevin was far too slow in his reactions. Neil assumed he was either feeling like absolute crap, or still slightly intoxicated from the night before. Whatever it was, it was dragging him and the entire team down. And Neil knew that Kevin could tell, the man wasn't stupid after all, but oddly enough, he didn't seem to care.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?!” Neil's thoughts halted as his gaze snapped towards Allison who had thrown her Exy racquet carelessly towards the ground, angrily stomping her way over to her teammate.
Kevin didn't move, nor show any kind of actual reaction to her words, as he lifted his head to regard her, racquet hanging loosely in his hand by his side. Allison stopped a couple of inches before him, furious look in her eyes as she raised her shaking finger to poke it accusingly at Kevin's chest. Neil was already moving towards them, a hurried glance flickering towards Andrew. The man had taken his helmet off, watching the scene unfold before him, Neil could tell he was tense and just waiting for Allison to make a wrong move. He knew Andrew had no qualms laying his hands on people who he thought were hurting the people he swore to protect and saw as family, even someone like Allison, who posed no actual threat. Renee apparently had the same thought cross her mind, as she rushed passed Neil, taking a hold of Allison's arm, not yanking her away, but in a silent warning. The woman shook her off with a snarl, eyes not leaving Kevin's, but her finger remained, hovering a literal inch from his chest. She was vibrating with anger.
“What's wrong with you?!” Allison repeated, voice seeming almost hateful. “Why are you playing like that, are you even trying?!”
“Allison!” Renee warned, Neil watched her tug lightly at Allison's arm, gaze briefly flickering towards Andrew. She opened her mouth to talk again, but was silenced by her friend who just continued talking over her. Getting as close as she could to Kevin without actually touching him, Neil watched Kevin tense up as he struggled to hold his ground against the woman, as she spewed more accusations and insults his way. He knew she was taking a toll on him. The words out of her mouth were harsh and some things were even aimed low.
He half expected Kevin to retaliate and argue back like he always did, but instead he watched him slowly crumble, fighting to not back down. There was something seriously wrong with him.
“Allison, enough.” Neil said, as he moved closer to them, the rest of the foxes slowly gathering around too.
“No, it's not enough.” Allison hissed without missing a beat. “He is playing like a fool, he's going to cost us the finals if this shit continues.”
Neil opened his mouth to say something, but he couldn't because he knew she was right. And Neil knew Kevin did too.
“Hey, are you even listening to me-”
“Enough!” Coach Wymack's voice bellowed across the field, Neil turned to look at him, as he jogged over the field towards them, he looked utterly furious. “Everyone off the court and go get your stinking asses into the shower, now!”
“But-” Allison started but Wymack cut her off.
“Now!” He snapped.
Allison closed her mouth in an instant, lips pressed into a thin line, she gave one last spiteful glance into Kevin's direction, before letting Renee tug her towards the locker rooms.
“You.” Neil watched Wymack point a finger at Kevin, anger clearly evident in his voice. “In my office, now.”
Neil couldn't help but feel sympathetic as he watched Kevin leave the court without a word.
Kevin stood awkwardly in front of his dad's office door. He didn't look up as he heard him approach, eyes instead fixated on the very interesting door knob before him. He blinked slightly when he saw his dad's hand enter his vision to unlock the door. Wymack motioned for him to walk inside first so he did, silently shuffling past his coach. Wymack said nothing as he slammed the door shut behind him, making Kevin involuntarily flinch, jaw set tightly in place, his head was killing him.
The uncomfortable silence dragged on for seemingly ages, as Wymack brushed past Kevin, crossed the room and sat down at his desk. He watched Kevin for a couple of more moments, who was fighting the urge to shift awkwardly from one foot to another. He wished just some type of sound would emit from anywhere in the room, he could hear his irregular heartbeat and was fearing the man in front of him could too.
Wymack gestured to the seat in front of him and said, “Sit.” Kevin did as he was told.
He watched his dad exhale deeply, fingers going up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “So, do you want to tell me what that was all about?”
Kevin swallowed thickly, throat suddenly extremely dry. “I played like shit.”
“No shit you played like shit, if we can even call that playing, you more like strolled across the court.” Wymack snapped, missing the way Kevin winced. “What I want to know is why?”
Kevin licked his lips, fighting the urge to drop his gaze towards the floor. Why? Kevin could be honest and tell him that he had emptied almost an entire bottle of vodka in an hour, due to a panic attack that seemingly thought it was okay to appear out of nowhere and just ruin his night. He could tell him that he had only slept two hours and was still very much intoxicated, tired and in pain. His entire body felt ten times too heavy to be his own, the Éxy racquet, which he was so accustomed to, felt like a foreign object to him. His gear was too tight. He felt like he couldn't breathe behind his helmet. He couldn't see or follow the ball and when Allison was yelling at him, he hardly understood her over the rushing of blood in his ears. He could tell his dad all this, all of it, it would be the truth and maybe even help him. But Kevin chose not to do so.
Instead he struggled to hold his dad's gaze. Kevin couldn't take the look he was giving him, it seemed like disappointment and something else that he couldn't quite place. Wymack raised a brow at him, in silent question, still waiting for an answer, as Kevin barely managed to get his racing thoughts sorted. “I'm sorry.” Was what he settled on.
“I don't care for your half assed apologies, Kevin.” Wymack quickly followed up, his voice wasn't harsh, but Kevin couldn't help the sharp feeling in his chest. His left hand started shaking, he dug his fingers into the cushion of the seat he was sitting on, in an attempt to still it. He felt anxious. Wymack opened his mouth, to speak again. “I want to know what's wrong with you?”
“Wrong with me?” Kevin asked, he licked his lips, deciding to play stupid, pretending he did not know what the older man was referring to. Then he smiled, it was fake and small, forcing his tense posture to relax, he had to be believable. “There is nothing wrong with me, Coach.”
“Don't give me that bullshit, Kevin. And wipe that fake smile off your face, it doesn't suit you.” Wymack snapped at him without missing a beat. Kevin frowned, the ugly feeling of anxiety spreading out in his chest as he knew his dad wouldn't let this go easily. “I want to know what the issue is.”
“Nothing, there is no issue, I know I played like shit, but it won't happen again.” Kevin said quickly, far too quickly and he knew. His jaw was set tightly in place as he watched his dad study him, his own gaze flickered to the clock on the wall behind his dad's head. He licked his lips, impatient. His leg started to bounce, but he quickly caught himself in the act, restraining himself from continuing the movement. “Can I go now?”
“No.” Was the sharp reply he had gotten. Wymack leaned back in his chair, arms crossed. “You're not leaving until you tell me what's wrong.”
“I had already told you, Coach, there's nothing wrong. I messed up today, it will not happen again.” Kevin said through grit teeth. He wanted to leave, he had to. He felt like the situation was going to suffocate him, he needed to get out of it. He dug the heels of his feet into the floor, grounding himself in an desperate attempt to keep himself from bolting out of that door behind him.
“Maybe you should consider asking Neil to teach you how to be a better liar, because quite frankly, you're pretty fucking shit at it.” Wymack said bluntly and Kevin swore he felt his heart stutter in his chest. “You look like death, Kevin.”
“I-” Kevin said, words faltering as he dug his fingers almost painfully into the cushion underneath his his palm. His mind was racing as he was focused on doing damage control, knowing fully well he wouldn't leave this office until he had given the man an explanation for his terrible performance on the court this morning. An explanation that he deemed reasonable, that is. After a few more beats of silence he raised his eyes to meet his dad's.
“I haven't slept well.” Kevin said slowly.
“I don't feel so good.” He said cautiously, studying his dad's face for any kind of reaction, when none came, he elaborated further. “I am sick. A cold, I think.”
Uncomfortable silence fell over the room, as he struggled to hold Wymack's gaze, fearing he would see right through his veiled half truth. Kevin was indeed sick, just more mentally than physically.
“Why didn't you say something?” Wymack finally said and Kevin felt relief rush through himself.
“I didn't think it was this bad.” He said, Wymack raised a brow at him, probably doubting his explanation. Panic rose in his chest, so he hastily added, “I didn't want to get benched.”
“You're a fucking idiot, Kevin.”
Kevin almost laughed out loud at that as relief washed over him yet again.
“I want you to go to your dorm and get some rest. If it doesn't get better, you'll have to go to the doctor.”
Kevin opened his mouth to characteristically argue, but was cut off by Wymack. “I don't fucking care, I will see you tomorrow at six am if you're feeling well. Now get your stinking ass into the shower, you reek.” He snapped at him and Kevin could barely restrain himself from jumping out of the chair.
“Kevin.” Coach called, before the young man was able to fully close the door behind him, he cursed inwardly and turned to face him. Wymack's expression was soft as he spoke and Kevin felt dread spread through him. “You know you can come and talk to Bee or me about anything that's troubling you, right?”
Kevin nodded slowly. “I know.” He said, voice more quiet than he intended for it to be. He didn't give his dad the chance to follow up with anything as he shut the door quickly.
He exhaled shakily, trembling hand going up to his hair to brush a hand through the mess. He fucked up. He truly had. Neil had been right, Allison had been right, his behaviour was not only affecting him, but also everyone around him. He was sabotaging the finals with his reckless and cowardly behaviour. Why was he so afraid anyway? What was Riko going to do? He couldn't break his hand again, not in front of thousands of people. He wouldn't even be able to touch him, Andrew wouldn't let him. His hand went up to his throat automatically, almost flinching at his own touch, brief memories flashing before him. He had lost his trust in Andrew some time ago, but he knew the man wouldn't break his promise. Even though he knew that, he couldn't help the feeling of doubt rise in him and he hated himself for it.
He pushed himself away from the door he was still standing before, deciding to no longer linger in the hallway and moved towards the locker rooms, hoping the majority of the team had already left by now.
When he opened the door to the locker room he was greeted with the sight of Aaron, Andrew, Neil and Nicky, they had waited for him, which was reasonable, considering they all rode in the same car. Aaron looked up briefly from what he was doing, eyebrows raised in a silent question, Kevin was glad he didn't voice it.
Nicky on the other hand had other plans. His playful and mocking voice, cutting through the silence of the room. “Did daddy scold you, Kevin? Are you grounded?”
Kevin was barely able to keep his temper in check, as it flared up dangerously. Instead of taking the bait and giving into Nicky's mockery, he headed for his locker, yanking it open. He felt eyes on him, the atmosphere was tense.
“I'm going cut back.” He said suddenly, the words surprising even himself, as fluent French echoed off the walls.
“Are you sure about that?” Neil asked almost immediately, he came a bit closer, but far enough away to respect Kevin's personal space. Kevin met his gaze.
“I won't be able to stop, not fully, at least.” Kevin said, throat feeling suddenly very dry. “But I am fully capable to minimize my intake and restrain myself from drinking almost every night.”
“We will help you.” Neil said, referring to himself and Andrew, but Kevin shook his head.
“No, I don't need help.” He moved to close his locker, but Neil reached for his wrist stopping him.
“You do.” Neil said slowly, eyes going over Kevin's face, searching for something in particular, he couldn't tell what though. The next words seemed almost pleading, as the grip on his wrist tightened slightly. “Let me help you.”
“I can't.” His heart was pounding in his ears, as he almost shook with effort to speak. He couldn't let them help him. He needed to do this by himself. He just had to. He had no control in his life right now, even over the smallest of things it seemed, so Kevin, in an almost pathetic attempt of desperation, chose to use this to regain his control. Neil wouldn't understand this, but this was so very important to him, he couldn't let anyone take it away from him. He had to do this by himself.
“I can't let you help me.” He repeated, feeling Neil's grip loosen on his wrist, face shifting into a frown. “I need to do this by myself.”
Kevin moved away from Neil, who didn't attempt to hold onto him. “Go on without me. Coach said I should sleep this off.”
“You told him?” Neil asked, surprised.
Kevin shook his head. “No, I told him I was sick.”
“And he believed you?”
“Kind of.” Kevin said. “But he suspects it's more.”
Kevin grimaced at that. “I know.”
Neil said nothing more, so he grabbed his towel and headed for the shower, ignoring Nicky's questions about what they were talking about. When he closed the stall door behind himself, he leaned against it, a long sigh escaping him. Oddly enough he felt excited, a small tang of happiness spreading in his chest, the feeling almost foreign to him. Kevin had another battle to fight and he felt determined to do so.
Thank you for reading! :)