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I Can't Outrun You (Why Would I Want To?)

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Neil’s good days were Andrew’s good days and Andrew’s good days were Neil’s. Going along with that, Neil’s bad days were Andrew’s bad days and Andrew’s bad days were Neil’s. The problem therein lay when Neil’s bad day bled into Andrew’s good day and vice versa.

It always felt like his fault.

Andrew could wake up feeling fine, could go about his day normally, Neil could see his lips quirk up the smallest bit in amusement when Renee proposed a new insane theory to discuss, could see him bat away balls from his goal with decisiveness. While Neil could feel like shit, could find himself reaching under his pillow for a gun he wouldn’t find, could go running for hours only to wind up back at his dorm with sweat dripping off him and his body feeling ragged and sore.

And Neil could see it affect Andrew.

Could see his mood deflate, could see his eyes harden, could see the anger build up inside him against those who’ve wronged Neil, could see the bone-deep tiredness weigh him down as he prepared himself to bring Neil back to the present.

Neil hated it.

But he had the same kind of days. Ones where he’d get a good grade from his class, go to the movies with Matt, practice with Kevin for hours, and then return to the dorm to find Andrew’s door locked against threats that weren’t coming back and evidence that he hadn’t left his bed that day.

And Neil would feel guilty.

He would feel guilty that he didn’t notice this morning. Guilty that he spent his day oblivious, enjoying time with his teammates. Guilty that he didn’t even check in. Guilty that his brain decided to let him live today while the most important person in his life suffered.

They never discussed it, but Neil didn’t know how they would go about it anyways. It was neither of their faults when they had a bad day and it shouldn’t be punished when they had a good day, but Neil wished Andrew would tell him when ghosts of hands pushed against his mind and wouldn’t let him sleep nor get out of bed. And Neil wished he could hide himself away whenever his scars ached and his muscles twitched to run until nobody knew his name or his face and he could start brand new again. He wished he didn’t affect Andrew and he wished he didn’t feel that way in the first place.

He wished he didn’t feel dread whenever he felt good and wished he didn’t feel worried whenever he felt bad. He wished he could just feel. He wished they both could.

Today was a bad day that started out like a good day. Neil went on his morning run and came back to Andrew making them coffee, his hair ruffled and his eyes tired, but alert. Andrew leaned into him slightly as they drank their caffeine before morning practice, all signs pointing to a good day for the both of them. They shared a fond kiss before heading out and Neil felt refreshed and content.

He didn’t know what went wrong. He practiced, he went to class, he ate lunch with Allison, Dan, and Matt, and caught up on homework in between. Somewhere in all that, his brain flipped a switch and he started zoning out more. Started hearing footsteps behind him or whispers of his given name in his ears. He’d hit his shoulder on a door frame and find himself immediately masking the pain and bracing for another hit.

He’d catch his leg bouncing in class, catch himself looking over his shoulder more often than not, and pretty soon his whole body was crawling with insects that dug under his skin and urged him to move.

So he ran.

He forgot practice, forgot class, forgot dinner, and only knew the slam of concrete under his sneakers and the way it felt to breathe beneath bruised ribs. The top part of his mind screamed: Don’t let them find you! And the bottom part whispered sweetly: Don’t let Andrew see you like this.

He had to keep moving.

He realized, sometime later, that it had gotten dark. That the streetlights he’d been relying on had given way to trees and it was getting increasingly harder to see his feet beneath him. And to keep his feet beneath him.

He sat down heavily on the dead leaves that cluttered endlessly on the grass and instinctively cataloged his condition. His heavy fatigue showed helpfully that he’d been running for quite some time and his back and legs seized up strongly, suggesting he’d have a hard time getting back up.

He breathed heavily and shakily, sweat turning cold on his forehead. He was getting cold far too quickly from how burning his skin still felt around him, how constricting and suffocating it clung to him. The wind blew strongly around him and as he looked up at the clouds that were now concealing the moon, he thought it might rain.

As he continued to look around, he realized he had absolutely no clue where he was and that that might turn out to be a problem for him. He dug his phone out of his pocket, which he doesn’t remember placing there, and checked the time. Finding it well after 10pm, he unlocked the screen to navigate to Google maps, only to find his phone full of notification after notification from his teammates.

He saw Kevin’s first, of which there was only one, sent five minutes after the start of practice:
You’re late.

The thought of the hours of practice and extra practice he missed felt like nails against his bones, and Kevin’s text was just as grating. He hadn’t thought this through and he should have known he’d regret it. He only felt worse.

Nicky’s messages ranged from the start of the day to only an hour ago, a whole slew of regular conversation that quickly devolved into questions of his whereabouts. Neil scrolled past them, along with the inquires from his other teammates, until he found a text from Andrew, sent around 4pm:
Where are you

Neil’s chest ached and he felt his jaw clench against his will. His fingernails bit into the palm of his free hand as he scrolled through the rest of his notifications. After that, they consisted of missed calls from various members of the team, most of which though, were from Andrew. Neil had only the time to think I’m in trouble, before another call from Andrew took over his screen.

Neil nearly dropped his phone in surprise, then fought with himself over whether or not to answer it. The whole point of this was to get away from the others and get this awful feeling out of him. To not worry anybody and to figure this out on his own. He could start walking back now, despite his muscles’ protests, but he’d admit it’d be difficult. His mind was an indecisive mess and his body answered for him after a solid three rings had gone by, fingers instinctually pressing the answer button at the sight of Andrew’s name on the screen.

He thought that maybe he had already failed at the ‘not making anybody worry’ part anyways.

He brought the phone to his ear hesitantly and choked out a lame, “Hello?”

Andrew’s voice came crackling through, the rumble of it instantly relaxing his shoulders and allowing him to take a full breath for what felt like the first time in hours. “Location.”

Neil leaned back on his free hand, eyes falling closed as his brow furrowed. Andrew sounded unbelievably stressed, despite the dull mask trying to hide it in his voice. Neil couldn’t stand the idea of him being the reason behind that anxiety. “I don’t know.”

Neil heard shuffling on the line and the telltale sound of keys jingling that told him Andrew was getting ready to drive out to him. Neil tried to sort through the ways he could figure out where was, when a distant memory of Andrew teaching him how to share his location popped up in his mind.

He mumbled out a small “oh” in realization and heard Andrew still when he received the notification. The line was silent for a few more moments while Neil shifted anxiously.

Finally, Andrew spoke, “You walked there.”

It was said as a statement, but Neil confirmed it nonetheless. He assumed he was quite a ways out from campus.

Neil heard Andrew start to move again. “I’ll be there in fifteen. Stay on the line.”

Neil nodded dutifully before remembering that Andrew could not see him and voiced his assent.

“I’m sorry,” Neil mumbled, the guilt coming back and hitting him full force like a truck who’s brakes have gone out and he can’t get control of the vehicle no matter how hard he pressed the pedal.

“Shut up. Are you injured?”

“No,” Neil double checked himself for pain in case he had forgotten getting mugged on the way here, but still only felt exhausted and guilty.

Something cold hit the back of his neck and he jumped, his breath catching in his throat and head whipping around to look behind him. It took another raindrop splashing on his forearm for him to realize what it was. He ran a hand through his hair crossly, done with being jumpy and done with trying to outrun his problems.

“It’s raining,” Neil explained to Andrew’s questioning silence, annoyed with himself and already starting to shiver.

“What are you wearing.”

“A hoodie and joggers,” Neil shoved his hands in his pockets and could almost see Andrew’s judging eyes.

“Dumbass.”

“I know,” Neil’s response was almost whispered, more to himself than anything else.

--

Neil spent the ride back to campus wrapped in a blanket, shaking, and avoiding Andrew’s eyes. He felt even worse for getting Andrew’s passenger seat wet, as by the time Andrew picked him up, the drizzle had progressed to a downpour and he was condemned to looking like a drowned stray cat.

Andrew allowed him his silence and avoidance until they climbed the stairs and made it safely back into their dorm room. Neil headed to their bedroom and dug out some dry clothes for himself. He could tell Andrew was waiting for an explanation, but Neil took his time getting dressed.

He wrapped his wet clothes in the damp blanket and set them gingerly in his laundry basket. He stuffed his hands in the pocket of the dark hoodie he had put on and only realized it was Andrew’s when he sat on the bed, his shivers finally lessening somewhat.

Andrew sat next to him patiently and tugged the comforter over their legs. Neil sighed, rubbing his socked feet together as he thought, trying to get some feeling back into his frozen toes.

Neil ran a hand through his wet hair and then rubbed at his eyes. “I didn’t want to worry you.”

His mumbled admission earned him only a quirked brow in response, so he continued, “The day started out fine and then it got bad all the sudden and you were having a good day so I didn’t want to ruin it.”

He wrung his hands nervously, wincing a bit at his rushed explanation, “I felt like it was just something I could handle on my own, so I didn’t want to bring anyone into it. I didn’t know it was going to get this bad.”

“So you ran off by yourself for the better part of seven hours. Without telling anyone where you were going and not answering your phone.” Andrew’s expression was still blank, voice still bored, but Neil saw the worry tightening the creases beside his eyes. Worry that Neil had put there.

“It was stupid. I know. I just...I just couldn’t stay here. I don’t-...I don’t know, I just...I had to get away, you know?” He attempted to explain, but his broken words only served to frustrate him.

“Then you call me. We’ve talked about this.”

“But you were part of it, Drew. No, not like that-” Neil hastened to correct his wording when Andrew’s expression threatened to shutter off. “I didn’t want you to see me that way and worry. For you to have to stop what you’re doing and halt your good day just to attend to me.

“Which-” Neil sighed, running his hand through his hair again. “I know I made you do that anyways and I’m sorry. I know it was illogical.”

Andrew seemed to take some time to choose his next words carefully. Meanwhile, Neil pulled the blanket up higher, trying to get as much heat back in his body as he could. When Andrew appeared to have picked and chosen a response, Neil leaned back into the pillows and turned his head so he could meet Andrew’s eyes.

“First off, don’t apologize for having an off day. I don’t need you apologizing for such stupid things. Secondly, the birth of your bad day does not mean the death of my good day. They can coexist. They do coexist.

“But when you go off and pull some shit like you did tonight, their coexistence is no longer peaceful and the whole pattern is disrupted. I can’t protect you when you try to outrun your demons in the middle of nowhere.”

Neil shifted under the comforter, eyes flicking away from Andrew’s eyes again. “I told you I don’t need your protection anymore…”

Neil didn’t even need to see Andrew’s eyes to know just how much he disagreed with that statement and Neil’s wavering voice seemed to betray his own hesitation. Neil closed his eyes and sighed through his nose, suddenly feeling the weight of today’s actions take their toll on him. “I understand.”

“You also understand that you’re probably gonna wake up with a cold tomorrow.” Andrew got up to turn out the lights and got back under the blanket when he finished, shifting closer to Neil as he laid down.

Neil relaxed further into the bed, laying down fully and soaking in the warmth that Andrew was steadily giving off next to him. He grimaced slightly at the reminder of his damp hair and soaked laundry he’d need to do tomorrow. “Yes.”

Neil felt like he could melt when Andrew’s arm settled over his waist, his concerns and guilt dissipating from his mind, at least for the moment. He could instead focus on Andrew’s calm breathing, the reassurance of a body next to him, and the reminder that he didn’t have to do this alone anymore.

He had him.