“Come on, Neil, there’s got to be someone you’re interested in.”
“Maybe,” Neil says, distracted, propping a foot on the bench to tie his laces a little tighter. He likes his feet to feel snug on the court, but not so snug they can’t breathe. He checks over his padding, then ties his hair back with a bandanna and is about to jog out to join Kevin for warm-ups when he walks straight into a threeway meaningful silence.
“Not what,” Allison says gravely, “who.”
“Spill the beans, Josten,” Nicky demands.
“Who what,” Neil says, itchy to get going.
“Who do you like,” Matt stage-whispers, eyes round like skipping pebbles.
Neil sighs. They’ve been asking the same damn questions ever since Neil made the mistake of mentioning that he doesn’t swing, and he knows there are several bets riding on his answer. There is no answer, of course, but no one ever believes him when he says that, and it’s starting to piss him off.
Andrew walks past him, silent and bored as always, an immoveable wall both on and off the court. Neil thinks a little wistfully that Andrew never has to deal with shit like this. He doesn’t know what he did wrong; he knows the others are afraid of him almost as much as they are of Andrew, though with Neil it seems to be more of a morbid fascination than a deterrent for small-talk and irrelevant gossip.
An idea zings through his brain and his smiles, slow and pleased.
“Fine,” he says casually, “if you must know, it’s Andrew.”
Nicky gasps out loud. Allison’s jaw honest-to-god drops. Matt is shaking his head, over and over.
“Yeah,” Neil goes on, getting comfortable in the lie, “so, you see why I don’t like to talk about it. The guy hates me. I just need to…”
He gestures hopefully at the court, but Matt steps in his path before he can sneak past them and puts his hands on his shoulders.
“Neil,” he says seriously, “you know we support you, right? Even if you have the worst taste.”
“Hey!” Nicky says. “That’s my cousin you’re talking about. But Neil, you really do have the worst taste.”
“At least he picked the gay twin,” Allison points out, twirling the end of her ponytail around her finger. “We can work with this.”
“Don’t worry,” Neil tells them, gently but firmly pushing Matt off. “I’ll get over it. Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to, you know, take my mind off it…”
“No, no, we need to do something about this,” Matt says decisively. “This is what friends are for. We can help!”
“Help what,” Neil whines, making sad little grabby motions at the court and trying to inch around Matt’s bulk.
“I’m in,” Allison says. “I love a good matchmaking scheme. I’ll enlist Renee, she knows Andrew better than anyone.”
“Hey!” Nicky says again.
“And I’ll recruit Dan,” Matt beams. “There’s no way this can go wrong.”
“I wonder if I can bully Aaron into helping,” Nicky muses. “Maybe if Andrew starts dating Neil he won’t be so strict about Katelyn.”
Kevin’s whistle sounds just outside the door, making them all wince. Whoever decided to let Kevin have a whistle should be shot on sight, but at least the momentary distraction means Neil can break through the meddlesome trio and grab his racquet on his way out.
They’ll probably forget about the whole thing by lunchtime, he thinks, then puts it out of his mind and lets his world narrow down to the plexiglass boundaries of the inner court.
They do not forget about it by lunchtime.
Neil does, but is forcibly reminded when the entire team minus Andrew corners him in the cafeteria, exchanging meaningful looks.
“What,” he asks tetchily, shovelling pasta in his mouth without tasting it. He’s got one more class then afternoon practice, then Kevin wants to go for a run with him and talk strategy for the upcoming game. Sometime between dinner and morning practice he has to do his homework and, he supposes, sleep.
“So, we need a battle plan,” Dan announces, smoothing out a page Matt ripped from his notebook for her. Allison puts a pen into her outstretched hand and Renee serenely hands her a juice pouch.
“What do we know so far?” Matt says.
“Neil is secretly pining over Andrew, our, erm, enigmatic goalie,” Dan replies diplomatically. “Andrew is gay—or, we at least know he’s into guys because Matt once walked in on him making out with that male cheerleader. Matt, wasn’t he a redhead?”
“Yeh,” Matt nods. “Maybe that’s his type!”
He shakes Neil’s shoulder enthusiastically. Neil narrowly avoids faceplanting into his pasta. Being touched by people is still very strange to him, but he doesn’t have the heart to tell Matt to stop. It’s not a bad kind of strange, anyway. Just… strange.
“Renee will neither confirm or deny because she’s too good for this world, but I’d say it’s safe to assume Andrew is generally open to making out with fit, redheaded guys. So, we just need to figure out how to get him to make out with our fit, redheaded guy.”
Dan reaches over to ruffle Neil’s hair, but Neil manages to lean just enough to the side that her hand doesn’t quite reach. In an unforeseen twist of events, this brings him into Allison’s orbit, who has no qualms about grabbing him in a loving headlock and grooming him.
“I know,” Nicky announces, clapping his hands. “We need to get them alone together, so Neil can make his move and Andrew will realise how hot Neil is.”
“My move,” Neil repeats dubiously, feeling very fluffy when Allison releases him back into the wild. “Guys, I really don’t think I need your help with this-”
“Um, I think you do,” Allison tells him, offended. “So far, your attempts to seduce him have consisted of walking around wearing a sweaty bandanna and groaning unsexily when you stretch after practice.”
“Don’t forget that time Andrew asked him for the ketchup and Neil threw the bottle at him from the other end of the table instead of passing it on like a normal person,” Nicky points out.
“He’s the best goalie in collegiate exy!” Neil protests. “I knew he’d catch it, it was fine.”
“It was a glass bottle, Neil.”
Nicky sighs and shakes his head.
“Okay, okay, let’s think. What interests do Neil and Andrew have in common?”
There’s a stumped silence around the table, then Dan ventures: “Brooding?”
“I’m going to class,” Neil announces.
“Brooding isn’t an interest,” Allison says. “What about-”
“Shh!” Matt hisses, frantically flapping his hands around, then changing tack and humming loudly over Nicky and Allison’s discussion as Andrew walks up to their table with a deconstructed salad and two protein pudding cups on his tray. Allison and Nicky shut up mid-sentence, and it’s very blatantly obvious they’ve all stopped talking because of Andrew’s arrival.
Neil rolls his eyes, steals one of the pudding cups from Andrew’s tray and enjoys the suspicious look on his face as he walks away.
“Minyard, Josten, you’re on clean-up duty,” Dan commands after their last full practice before the game on Friday. The court looks a bit like a battleground, and Neil nearly blew out his arms trying to score on Andrew with little success. Sweat is running down his back in uncomfortable streaks and his lungs strain to get enough air. He’s too exhausted to realise this is a ploy to get him alone with Andrew until they’ve all cleared out in record speed and he feels Andrew’s eyes on him like a stage light, hot and blaring.
“I’ll get the balls, you do the cones?” Neil offers, picking up a bucket. Andrew shrugs but starts snagging cones off the floor and stacking them, carrying them easily with one arm. Neil kicks stray balls across the court and collects them in his bucket, enjoying the big, echo-y silence of the empty court.
The locker room is deserted by the time they’ve locked up all of the equipment. Neil can hear Andrew showering at the other end of the row and wonders for a brief, drowsy moment what he looks like naked and sudsy, rubbing soap into his tired shoulders. Kevin is on a fancy massage bar kick lately and has equipped everyone on the team with one for easing sore muscles and strains. Neil has yet to try his, but he likes the herbal, medicinal scent of it. He wonders if Andrew uses his, then shakes that thought loose and turns off the shower.
In the dripping silence, he hears a faint, “Fuck,” from the other stall.
“Alright?” Neil calls over, towelling himself off.
“Fine,” Andrew replies tightly.
Neil gets dressed quickly, gathers his things into his shower caddy and unlocks the stall. Andrew is still in there, so he makes his way out into the locker room, flip-flops squelching wetly, and puts his stuff away. He puts on his socks and shoes, sorts through his padding and makes a mental note to bring a fresh towel tomorrow. When Andrew still hasn’t emerged after several minutes, he goes back.
“Did you pass out or something?” he calls.
There’s a pause, then Andrew says, “I left my armbands.”
“Oh,” Neil says, frowning, before something clicks. “Oh. Hang on.”
He doubles back, jimmies open Andrew’s locker and skims the topmost shelf with his clothes. There’s a pair of clean armbands in the back and he grabs them, getting up on tiptoes to hand them to Andrew over the top of the shower stall.
He lets go when he feels a tug and doesn’t wait around. The broken vending machine in the lounge needs some persuading until it spits out one of the blue sports drinks and he sits down on the arm of the sofa to sip at it. Stretches, and groans at the pull in his muscles, then stops abruptly when he notices Andrew’s standing in the doorway.
Maybe he should try out that massage bar before bed.
Andrew holds up his car keys like a question mark and Neil, feeling the heaviness in his legs, nods gratefully and offers him the rest of his drink in exchange.
They drive home in companionable silence.
Neil isn’t sure how the others manage to time it but most days he ends up having lunch alone with Andrew. It’s fine; they both just sit and eat quietly, and sometimes Neil steals Andrew’s apple and Andrew nabs his pudding instead. Andrew doesn’t try to touch him like everyone else, Andrew doesn’t expect him to talk about things he doesn’t care about, and as far as Neil can tell Andrew doesn’t give a shit about who he spends his lunch break with as long as it isn’t Kevin trying to talk stats at him.
Nicky sends them both on a late night store run after they unexpectedly win their game against the Nighthawks, and Neil is still riding the high when he gets into Andrew’s car, legs aching and restless at the same time. Andrew looks like he wants to say something for a moment, then he simply turns the volume up on something bass-heavy and buttery-smooth, streaks of streetlight like war paint on his face as they fly down Perimeter Road in the darkness. Neil’s heart beats faster in time with the car and the music and he feels like his chest is full to bursting, like he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right now except here.
The bright light of the supermarket makes his eyes ache as they step inside. Andrew grabs a cart and on a whim Neil climbs inside it, laughing when Andrew starts to push him down the aisle and jumps on once it has picked up enough speed.
It’s dumb and wonderful, and they nearly careen into a cereal display, but Andrew stops them at the last moment with squeaking shoes and a ridiculous show of strength. Neil grins at him, then leans out of the cart and expertly removes three boxes of cereal, just enough so that the pyramid is still stable—until the next person comes along.
Andrew shoots him a look that Neil can’t decipher, then starts pushing him down the next aisle and piles overpriced candy on him while Neil tries his best to snatch everything they need in passing.
It gets colder, and more often than not, Neil lets Andrew give him a ride to the court now. The others seem to think there is some greater meaning to the fact that Andrew lets Neil sit in the passenger seat, replacing Kevin who now has to squeeze between Nicky and Aaron in the back, but Neil knows it’s just because he usually keeps quiet and doesn’t pester Andrew with Exy. He figures sooner or later they’re bound to lose interest in the whole matchmaking scheme, but every once in a while they spring a new tactic on him out of nowhere, and Neil is starting to wonder if Andrew is really that oblivious or if he’s aware of what they’re doing but just doesn’t care.
At least Nicky has stopped pointing out potential date prospects to Neil and interrogating him about what exactly his “type” is. And if Neil is honest, hanging out with Andrew is fun.
A team movie night at the cinema gets turned into a surprise date when everyone apart from Neil and Andrew just “happens to” cancel at the last minute. Andrew shrugs and buys a bucket of popcorn, and they decide to watch some crappy zombie horror movie instead of the rom-com the others had originally picked out. They sit in the darkened theatre, surrounded by hushed whispers, dusty velvet and the scent of butter and caramel, and Neil kicks his feet up on the seat in front of him and slides down until he’s comfortable, stealing handfuls of popcorn from Andrew and wondering vaguely what it would be like to kiss him.
He’s kissed a few people in the past. It was alright. Nothing compared to the thrill he feels at the sound of an Exy ball ricocheting off the plexiglass, but alright.
“Dumbass,” Andrew mutters, almost inaudibly, as one of the characters stumbles and falls on screen in the middle of a chase.
If he had to kiss someone, Neil thinks, he’d probably pick Andrew. Andrew isn’t much to look at, but he’s ridiculously good at everything he does, and he respects Neil’s personal space, which is more than can be said for most of the Foxes. Andrew wouldn’t trip and fall while running from the bumbling undead. Andrew wouldn’t run in the first place—he’d stand his ground and fight, and he’d win.
Their fingers brush as Neil reaches blindly for more popcorn in the dark. Neil jerks back guiltily and tries to put thoughts of kissing out of his mind for the rest of the movie.
When they exit the cinema, it’s dark outside and the streets are glazed with rain. Neil flicks the collar of his denim jacket up against the wind and shoves his hands in his pockets, pressing a little closer against Andrew’s space bubble to shelter behind his bulk.
“That was awful,” he says. “Let’s do it again some time.”
Andrew hums, lights two cigarettes and passes one along to him. Neil takes it, surprised that Andrew even knows he smokes sometimes, and puts his lips where Andrew’s were only moments before.
A tiny shiver trips down his spine.
“Are you hungry?” spills out of his mouth before he knows it. Somehow he doesn’t want to go back to the dorms just yet, and Andrew is right there, smoking and looking like he has nothing better to do either.
“I could eat,” Andrew says after a moment of deliberation. He always makes people wait for answers, like he’s testing if they really want to know. Most of the time, the conversation moves on without him.
Neil is willing to wait for whatever morsel Andrew is willing to divulge.
They walk down Perimeter Road together, past the patchwork squares of yellow and orange light from the shops and cafés, loosely stitched together with the blue and red thread of flickering neon signs. Halloween decorations have started to pop up, looking cheap and gaudy by daylight but transforming the window displays at night. Andrew stops at a small takeaway and Neil gets a sausage roll, piping hot in a grease-stained napkin, emitting a small puff of steam into the cool air as he bites into it. They stand in the buzzy light by one of the bistro tables, eating their food and watching people place their orders, the warmth of the fryer mingling with the cold outside and creating an odd medley of sensations. It’s nice.
“What do you think is scarier,” Neil says, licking a smear of mustard from the corner of his mouth. “Deep space or deep sea?”
Andrew stops eating and considers this. Then he says, “Space. You?”
“Sea,” Neil says.
Andrew is quiet. Takes a sip of his orange cola.
“Space kraken,” he says, like that explains anything.
“What about them?”
“Anything that might live in the deep sea could just as well be out there somewhere.” He waves his fingers vaguely in the direction of the night sky, which is a wet black with barely any stars visible.
“I see,” Neil says. “But for all we know about the deep sea, anything that might be out there somewhere could also be down there.”
He imitates Andrew’s little finger wiggle, up and then down.
“Hmm,” Andrew says, finishing his food.
They go back to the dorm, talking about how the movie could have been scarier. Neil shivers in his light jacket and when his teeth actually start to chatter halfway through a rant about the glorification of serial killers in media, Andrew stops walking, takes off his coat, and holds it out to Neil with something like a challenge in his eyes.
Neil raises an eyebrow.
“If you catch a cold, Kevin will never let me hear the end of it,” Andrew mutters, still holding out the coat.
Neil doesn’t smile, but it’s a close thing. He takes the coat, drapes it around his shoulders, inhales the smell of cigarette smoke and that sharp, piney scent of the massage bars he still hasn’t tried. He imagines, for a moment, getting to rub them into Andrew’s muscles after a game. Smoothing the bar over his skin, kneading his fingers into the tight flesh to really work the oils in. There’s a small mole in the crook of Andrew’s neck and Neil wonders if there are more hidden by his clothes, if he could count them.
He forgets to return the coat when they part ways at the door to Andrew’s dorm.
“Ta da,” Allison says, removing her hands from Neil’s eyes. They’re in the girls’ dorm, and there’s a giant blanket fort on the floor in front of the TV, prepped with bowls of popcorn and snacks, soft fleece blankets, and a basket with mysterious cosmetics. Allison told Neil he was to wear his nicest pair of pyjamas, then promptly went out and bought him some because she guessed—correctly—that Neil didn’t actually own pyjamas. He usually just sleeps in boxers and a t-shirt.
“Okay,” he says, still unsure what he’s doing here. Allison ushers him onto a cushion between her and Dan and sits down cross-legged, wearing black silk pyjama bottoms with lace at the hems and a matching strappy top. Renee is in a long, simple night gown, and Dan is wearing loose harem pants and a tank top that accentuates her strong arms.
“Right,” Dan says, rubbing her hands. “What’s first on the agenda?”
First on the agenda are face masks, apparently. Allison hands Neil a small pot with a bright blue, grainy paste that smells kind of oceany and instructs him to smear it all over his face. The girls do the same with theirs—Dan’s is chocolate and peppermint, Renee picks a rosy pink one, and Allison goes for a dark brown coffee scrub that makes the whole living room smell like a coffee roasting plant. The stuff dries on Neil’s face as the girls talk about their coursework and plans for Thanksgiving and it’s a pain to wash off, but he feels weirdly fresh after, like he’s gone for a run on a winter morning.
“Moisturise,” Allison commands, handing out more little pots from her basket. The face cream smells a bit like the vanilla protein pudding Andrew always eats at the cafeteria. Neil rubs it in and nearly has to laugh at the thought of Andrew seeing him like this.
The next step involves watching and picking apart some crappy reality TV nonsense while Dan finagles Renee’s hair into a complicated set of braids. Neil eats his way through a bowl of pretzels and candy corn and finds he’s not not enjoying himself, even if he’s completely bemused by everything that is going on. Allison and Dan share a bottle of wine between them and have a burping contest while Neil is pulled into a conversation about the best weapons during an apocalypse with Renee. They make waffles. The girls spray whipped cream directly into their mouths and at each other, and somehow midnight sneaks up on them as they’re sitting in a circle in the blanket fort with all the lights off except for a few candles, talking about summoning demons and what they’d use them for.
“So, Neil,” Allison says slyly when the conversation has burned down to a stub. Rain patters the windows and Renee has put on a Halloween playlist that is almost exclusively songs from Nightmare Before Christmas. “Status report. How are things going with loverboy?”
“Loverboy?” Neil asks, playing dumb.
“Andrew,” Dan chimes in. “You two have been spending an awful lot of time together lately…”
“You came home wearing his coat the other day,” Allison sings. “And you were smiling.”
“Believe it or not, I do that sometimes,” Neil says dryly.
“You were basically eye-fucking at lunch the other day,” Dan tells him.
“In an entirely platonic way, I assure you,” Neil replies.
“So you admit you want to fuck him. Platonically.”
“I… no?” Neil says. “Is that a trick question?”
“You want to fuck him non-platonically?” Allison smirks.
“No, I don’t want to fuck him,” Neil corrects, rolling his eyes.
“I see how it is,” Dan teases, using his moment of distraction to steal the best pillow from him. “You want him to fuck you.”
Neil sighs and lets himself fall backwards until he’s lying down with his legs still crossed.
“Not everything is about fucking, you know.”
“You only have two modes, Andrew and exy,” Allison laments. “And there are no secrets in exy. What else are we going to interrogate you about?”
“I thought we all agreed we weren’t going to interrogate him at all,” Renee points out, sounding amused.
“For what it’s worth,” Dan says, poking Neil’s ribs and making him squirm, “I think you two are weirdly good together. I know I was sceptical at first…”
“So, has he admitted he has the hots for you yet?” Allison interrupts, business-like.
“No,” Neil says, feeling weirdly warm. “Can we talk about something else?”
Allison clicks her tongue.
“That boy is almost as repressed as you,” she sighs. “I guess you two deserve each other.”
“Just give them time,” Renee says diplomatically. “And space.”
“Lots and lots of space,” Neil agrees, nodding. “Oodles of space.”
“Maybe we should dress you up,” Dan muses, poking Neil again. “I have a few ideas involving athleisure and fishnets…”
“Nope,” Neil says, sitting up so abruptly he feels dizzy for a moment. “No, thank you. I’m going to bed.”
He gets to his feet to protests and cajoling, but he really has reached his limit for tonight. Allison walks him to the door, looking utterly regal despite the creases in her silk pyjamas and the little flecks of coffee scrub in her hair.
“Listen, there are several bets going about you and Andrew,” she whispers, leaning down to give him a very dignified hug. “If you help me win them, I’ll split the money with you.”
“Right,” Neil says, bemused.
“Just think about it.”
He thinks about it, and then immediately puts it out of his mind.
It’s definitely time for bed.
Andrew is acting weird.
Neil can’t put his finger on how exactly he’s acting weird, he just knows that he is. It’s late and Andrew is driving them home from Eden’s pre-Halloween bash in the pouring rain, hands gripping the steering wheel more tightly than usual. Nicky, Kevin and Aaron are fast asleep in the back seat. Aaron’s mouth hangs open, Kevin is snoring, and Nicky is mumbling incoherently. Neil feels wide awake. He watches the rain skid along the window, breathes in the silence after the noise of the club. Looks at the tight curl of Andrew’s hands, and back out the window.
“Okay?” he asks, glancing at Andrew again. Light streams over them for a moment, highlighting the angry dimple in his cheek, the pink flush of his neck. Neil is momentarily fascinated by how green his eyes look at night. It makes him think of those dried-up desert plants that revive when you put them in water.
Andrew doesn’t answer, just keeps driving, fast and relentless.
“Just out of interest, how many speeding tickets have you got in your lifetime?” Neil asks, clutching his seat as Andrew makes a very swift turn.
“You like me,” Andrew forces out through gritted teeth, slowing down a minuscule amount.
Neil blinks. Opens his mouth, then closes it again.
“According to them,” Andrew tacks on, glancing briefly in the rearview mirror at the still life of Nicky, Kevin and Aaron in the back seat.
“Ah,” Neil says. “Well.”
Andrew doesn’t say anything.
It had to happen sooner or later, Neil thinks. He doesn’t really know what he expected, but—it wasn’t the angry twist of Andrew’s hands, the frustrated jut of his jaw. Something clogs up Neil’s throat, large and cumbersome. Maybe his heart.
“It was just a joke,” he explains. The lights of the town bubble up around the next bend in the road, fat and orange like pumpkins lining the street. “You don’t need to worry about it.”
Andrew is still quiet. His hands haven’t relaxed around the steering wheel, but his eyes have lost something of their hyperfocus.
“I am not,” he says at last.
“Right,” Neil says, “good.”
They don’t speak again for the rest of the drive.
Allison bullies them all into going to an impromptu Halloween party at the edge of campus. Neil tries to stall for as long as possible, sinking deeper into the couch cushions, but Matt digs him out with ease and tells him to get a move on. Since not all of them have come prepared, they stop at a department store to scrounge for last minute costumes. Allison picks out something that Dan calls “a sexy pumpkin spice latte”, Kevin immediately starts to critique the historical accuracy of the Roman foot soldier costume, and Andrew wanders off and comes back with a pair of glittery pink fairy wings from the children’s section strapped to his back over his otherwise all-black combat boot attire.
“Ah,” Neil jokes, “so you’re Legolas.”
Andrew’s eyes snap to him for the first time since their conversation in the car.
“Legolas,” he repeats.
“From The Rings Of The Lords,” Neil continues sagely. “He’s a fairy, isn’t he?”
“Elf,” Andrew bites out, like it’s being dragged out of him against his will.
“Tomato tomato,” Neil grins. “Help me find a costume? We could match.”
Andrew looks around the selection, then picks a pointy red hat off a rack and places it on Neil’s head.
“Garden gnome?” Neil guesses.
“Gimli,” Andrew offers.
“Bless you,” Neil says, though he’s ruining it by grinning and adjusting the hat. He knows full well that Gimli is supposed to be a dwarf.
Andrew is funny.
Nicky laments both of their lack of seasonal spirit when they all reconvene in the parking lot, but everyone is hungry, so they pile into the cars and get food. Neil shares a pizza with Matt and keeps stealing bites of Andrew’s supremely cheesy one, and doesn’t miss the others exchanging significant glances over his head at that, but for once he doesn’t even mind.
The party is massive.
Neil instantly gets lost in the crowd, because that’s one of his many talents and because Nicky is talking about drinking games and he wants to not be around when that happens. He wanders the different rooms of the house for a while, idly watches a karaoke rap battle between a Dracula and a Mothman, skirts the edges of a dancefloor mostly used for making out, loses his hat somewhere along the way but acquires a cape instead. He nurses a soda, bops his head to the music, finds a patch of wall to lean against and stays there, lets the differently coloured lights slide over him until Andrew finds him.
“Hey,” he says, shuffling a bit to the side so Andrew can lean beside him. Andrew knocks back his drink, sets the empty bottle on the floor and looks at him. There’s a smudge of glitter on his cheek from his fairy wings, and Neil reaches out to tweak the tip of one between his fingers.
For a moment, he thinks Andrew shivers, but it’s probably just the erratic twitch of the lights.
Neil takes a sip of his lukewarm soda and leans closer so to say: “So, when the clock strikes midnight, will you turn back into a pumpkin?”
“Stop deliberately getting pop culture references wrong,” Andrew tells him. “It’s not cute.”
Neil grins and winks at him, then goes back to leaning against the wall.
“Neil,” Andrew says.
Neil rolls his head around to look at him.
Andrew looks back.
“What,” Neil says.
Andrew just keeps looking at him. The light paints over his skin, orange and blue and red. Neil is pretty sure that whoever blinks first loses, except then Andrew’s gaze abruptly drops down to his lips and stutters back up.
“I win,” Neil murmurs, before leaning in.
Andrew’s hand stops him a hair’s breadth away from his goal. Neil waits. Andrew’s fingers fist slowly in his t-shirt, as if unsure whether to push him away or pull him in. He does both, in the end; flips them so he can crowd Neil up against the wall, shielding him completely with his body.
Neil melts a little bit.
“Still a joke?” Andrew asks, low and dangerous.
“No,” Neil admits. “My sense of humour is self-destructive, not stupid.”
“Shut up,” Andrew tells him, then does it himself when Neil immediately draws breath to speak.
Being kissed by Andrew isn’t like he imagined. He wasn’t wrong about Andrew being good at it, but—it’s not just alright. Not even close. It’s—
Like all the lights of the court are flaring up inside him at once.
Like the roar of a crowd.
Like the goal flaring red.
Adrenaline thunders through him as Andrew’s mouth takes him apart, slowly and methodically. His hands come up to grab for support and stop short of touching Andrew’s back, settle on the fairy wings instead, holding on for dear life. Andrew crowds closer and their bodies press together and Neil is pretty sure his soul leaves his body for a moment, in a good way.
Fuck. Okay. Fuck.
“Huh,” he says when Andrew pulls off with a series of lingering little kisses. “Is that what it’s like.”
“What,” Andrew murmurs hoarsely.
“Nothing,” Neil says, and busies himself with smoothing out Andrew’s ruffled wings.
After a while—they both need to catch their breath it seems—Andrew speaks up.
“You never said anything.”
“About what,” Neil asks.
Andrew looks exasperated. Neil grins and tugs on his wings.
“Okay, so I do like you,” he admits. “But you like me, too.”
Andrew rolls his eyes but doesn’t refute it. Neil grins wider, and Andrew leans in to kiss the smugness away.
“On a scale of one to ten, how interested would you be if I told you I might know of a way to make some money off this?” Neil says when they break apart again, thinking of Allison and her bets and already having a few ideas how they could use that to their advantage.
“You and your schemes,” Andrew growls.
“You like me and my schemes,” Neil reminds him.
Again, Andrew doesn’t even try to deny it, so Neil counts it as a win.
“You did what?” Allison asks, aghast.
“Yep,” Neil says, stretching languorously. “I know, I know, anyone could have walked in, but we were just so caught up in the heat of the moment…”
He shrugs, spreading his fingers. His whole body smells like pine and whatever else is in those massage bars—he discovered Andrew’s secret stash last night, and it’s been glorious—and okay, the story he just told Allison about hooking up in the laundry room may have been a little bit exaggerated, but it’s her own fault for making stupid bets about him.
Allison squints at him.
“Considering the fact that it took you several months to get here, you’ve been awfully quick about getting down and dirty with him,” she remarks.
“Must be all the pent-up sexual frustration,” Neil says innocently. “You know, because I’ve been pining for so long.”
“I know you’re fucking with me somehow, I just can’t tell in what way,” Allison grumbles, counting out bills into his open palm. “Never mind, I guess you deserve it. Go buy yourself something nice. And treat your man while you’re at it.”
“Will do,” Neil smirks. “Oh, and Allison?”
“Don’t ever try to matchmake me again.”