Neil readjusted his fox ears while staring at himself critically in the mirror. The headband was already starting to give him a headache and he positively refused to wear the tail that went with it. With the ears, he wore one of the all black outfits Andrew had bought for him for some night at Edens, including the heavy, black lace up boots that made him a couple inches taller. He liked those.
Andrew looked over from where he had just finished pulling a blue sweatshirt over his head, frosted prop staff leaning against the wall by their dresser. He looked good, with his hair already a light enough blond that he had no need for caking cheap spray dye into it for the night.
“Not a fan of the tail?” Andrew asked dryly, walking over to examine it in his hands.
Neil scoffed lightly, looking at it distrustfully. “I don’t need it. Plus, it’s too easy to grab.”
Andrew shrugged and set it back down on the nightstand, then turned back to Neil. He looked him up and down, taking in the tighter than normal outfit and fuzzy ears adorning his auburn hair. He took a couple steps closer.
“Yes or no?’
Neil’s heart instantly sped up, heat rushing to the freckles dusting his cheekbones. “Yes.”
They were able to enjoy their kiss for a few more minutes before Kevin knocked loudly on the door. “We’re supposed to be meeting in the parking lot two minutes ago!”
Neil sighed a bit, disappointed, when Andrew stepped back, hands back to hanging limply at his sides.
“You look dumb.” Was Andrew’s only comment before he grabbed his staff, unlocked the door, and headed out to appease Kevin’s nagging.
Neil smiled quietly to himself before stepping out as well, gaze immediately drawn to Kevin, foot tapping impatiently against their floor.
Kevin stood by the door, ready to go in a white button up tucked into a pair of sleek black dress pants, with dark rimmed glasses perched on the bridge of his nose.
Neil raised an eyebrow. “What are you supposed to be, an official at an Exy banquet?”
Kevin appeared disgruntled. “What are you supposed to be, a slutty woodland animal?”
Andrew snorted and Neil shot him a glare. Then Kevin started unbuttoning his shirt and Neil got progressively more confused. When the shirt was halfway undone and Kevin folded back the sides neatly, it revealed a startling flash of blue and red, with a large “S” in the center.
Right when Neil was about to open his mouth to make a quip about what the “S” stood for, Nicky burst into the room, grinning wide. He was sporting a pair of floppy brown ears, a bright red collar, and a dark brown t-shirt tucked into the shortest brown shorts Neil had ever seen him in. Oh, and his outfit was, of course, complete with a tail.
His grin only widened when he spotted Neil in his corresponding outfit, despite the fact that it really only consisted of a headband. “Neil! You look incredible! Do a spin.”
Neil turned around complicity at Nicky’s twirling finger, and heard Nicky’s gasp of disapproval before he was facing forward again.
“Where’s your tail!?”
Neil sighed. “In my room.”
“Why! Did you forget it?” Without allowing him time to respond, Nicky had already bustled into the room behind Neil to grab the fox tail he left behind.
Andrew’s eyes only shone with amusement when Neil looked to him for help, so he resigned himself completely when Nicky came back out with the words, “Hold still, I’ll clip it on for you.”
Nicky secured the tail and gave it a square tug which had Neil taking a small step backwards in surprise, then Nicky rounded in front of him to run his fingers through the parts of Neil’s hair not covered by the headband, fussing with it this way and that.
“How is your hair such a mess? It’s like you’ve been making out with someone already.” Nicky huffed, then immediately paused as if to wait for Neil to confirm or deny. Neil did neither, and instead headed to the door where Kevin was looking increasingly agitated at their tomfoolery.
“Finally.” Kevin grumbled as if he couldn’t have simply walked down to the parking lot by himself.
When they left the building, most of their group was already waiting for them. Matt, wearing a striped suit, bow tie, and fake mustache, had his arm around Dan’s waist. She was adorned in a skintight, long sleeved black dress, with red lipstick and high cheekbones.
Renee and Allison were standing next to each other, Allison with part of her hair tied back in a red scrunchie, matching her blazer and plaid skirt. Renee nodded in greeting to them, a strand of white hair on either side of her face braided back and tied together behind her head, going with her almost all white outfit. A light, long sleeved dress complete with blue accents was accompanied by soft blue leggings. With both of their winter themes, Neil assumed Renee and Andrew were supposed to go together.
“The Fox and The Hound? That movie made me cry, man!” Matt exclaimed as soon as he laid eyes on Nicky and Neil’s costumes. Neil had been informed it was from a movie, but had never seen it. Nicky had just wanted Neil to be a fox and Neil needed a costume last minute.
Nicky’s grin was back full force. “Me too! Alas, I am but a strong hunting dog and Neil, a wild fox. We must overcome our inherent differences in order to salvage our friendship!”
While the two men laughed and high-fived, Neil glanced at Allison’s costume again. “Heather Chandler?”
Everyone went silent at Neil’s question, with Allison smiling triumphantly. She came over to smugly flick at his fluffy ears. “Correct, my foxy boy.”
Kevin looked affronted. “How have you watched Heathers, but not seen Superman?”
“Oh, I’ve seen Superman, I just don’t like you.” Neil fixed his headband from where Allison had knocked it crooked.
Dan snorted, while Nicky full-body laughed, and Allison’s smirk widened. “I had him watch Heathers in our dorm last week in preparation for this day.”
At long last, their two missing members appeared, dressed as characters even Neil could recognize: Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. As Katelyn readjusted the red feather in her hat, Aaron tugged irritably at the sparkling fairy wings on his back. Aaron had forgone the dress, in favor of a slightly warmer option of dark green pants and a lighter green sleeveless shirt, complete with dark brown boots. Katelyn stuck with the original leggings and tunic.
The others, who presumably had not been informed of his choice of costume, were struggling to hide their smiles. Nicky however, had no qualms about bursting out into laughter. “That fits you guys too well! Aaron is just like Tink!”
“In what way?” Matt ventured.
“Oh, you know. Needy, annoying, small-”
Aaron shot a glare that might have been more effective if he wasn’t already shivering a bit without sleeves, making the glittery wings behind him tremble. “Shut the fuck up. You cry when you miss your evening call with Erik.”
“You look adorable, hon.” Katelyn grabbed his hand gently and Aaron immediately relaxed, huffing quietly and turning his glare to the side. Renee smiled placatingly at the couple, while the others exchanged amused grins.
Andrew, however, was already walking off in the direction of the festival, as there was no point in waiting now that everyone was here. Neil followed after him quickly.
The festival was loud. And crowded. And loud. And despite the fact that the sky was already darkening, it was very, very bright.
It wasn’t exactly Neil’s scene, though he will admit it was the perfect kind of scene to blend into if one needed to, especially with all the costumes. However, Neil had been to Eden’s enough times to be more used to the flashing lights and multitudes of bodies, so this place wasn’t so bad. Especially since it was outside, it was a lot easier to move around and find quieter places if you needed.
Nicky had gone off with Matt, Dan, and Allison to go through the haunted house, and Aaron and Katelyn had found a photo op booth with masks and props and shit. Kevin was on his second styrofoam cup of hard cider and was leading the way to some food stalls a little farther down.
Neil felt a tug on where his tail was clipped and turned around confused, scanning the crowd, but he couldn’t see the offender. Andrew was beside him, with Renee walking slightly ahead of them. Andrew raised an eyebrow at his sudden movement. Neil just shook his head and kept going.
After they ate, they met back up with those who went to the haunted house, that group in absolute hysterics. Matt was gasping for breath, Dan leaning heavily against his side, shaking with laughter. “And then the zombie-”
“He appeared in the corner-”
“And Matt screamed-”
“So loud that the actor had to fucking stop and cover their ears!”
“And this dude-”
“He had a saw-”
“And he fucking grabbed Allison-”
“And I fucking decked him so hard, he landed on his ass.” Allison finished proudly. She held out her fist towards Neil and he bumped it, grinning.
Renee was giggling along with them, her braids starting to come undone a bit from the strong wind around them. “I’ll have to go try it before the night ends.”
“I’ll go through it again with you! It barely phased me.” Nicky scratched the back of his head, grinning.
Dan scoffed. “Yeah, sure. Once we finally managed to convince you to go through the entrance.”
Neil felt the back of his neck prickle with the well known weight of unwanted eyes on him. He glanced behind him, searching for anyone who looked out of place or staring at him, but honestly, everyone looked out of place. People with fake knives and swords, people under sheets, people with various animal ears and bodysuits. Neil couldn’t pick out an individual. So, he turned back to his group hesitantly.
He spotted Andrew watching him closely, well-tuned to Neil’s instincts. His eyes asked if there was a problem, but Neil just shook his head again, taking off his headband and running a hand through his hair. He was just overreacting.
An hour later, Neil was definitely ready to go home. Most of the group was still up and running though, a constant supply of sugar and alcohol probably to blame. Neil decided to get his own cup of non-alcoholic cider, so he could at least keep up when the group was walking somewhere.
Something prompted him to whip his head behind him, looking the crowds of slutty costumes up and down to find what his instincts told him to see. But, again, there was nothing. When he turned around, Andrew had stepped closer to him than before.
“Do you want to head back?” Andrew asked, searching his face for the answer before Neil even responded verbally.
“No, it’s okay. Everyone will probably be done in another hour or so, anyways…” Neil’s sentence trailed off when Andrew’s gaze was attracted elsewhere. He followed his eyes to a tall man wearing a football uniform, who was heading towards them.
“Heyy, what’s up, foxy?” The man grinned and Neil thought he might actually be a member of the University football team. What a creative costume.
Andrew’s glare could have cut glass, but the man didn’t seem too afraid. That was a mistake.
Neil looked the footballer up and down, curled his lip, and quipped, “I’m not interested.”
The man laughed it off easily. “Who said I was interested? Can’t you take a compliment? Look at these ears-”
The man reached for Neil’s headband and that was mistake number two. Andrew's hand moved, lightning quick, and grabbed the man’s thick wrist in a bruising grip.
“Touch him and you will regret it.” Andrew snarled.
Neil saw something in the man’s eyes flicker for just a moment, but he couldn’t tell what it was. The man took a step back, raising both his hands in surrender when Andrew released his hold. “Chill, man, I get it. He’s your boytoy, taken.”
Neil opened his mouth to respond to that, but saw Andrew’s hands inching towards his armbands and decided he didn’t want the police called tonight. He wouldn’t give the man a chance to make mistake number three. “Andrew, let’s go. I think Kevin wanted to try one of those ring toss booths.”
Neil started walking to catch up with their group, letting Andrew finish whatever staring contest he was currently having with the flirting baller. Meanwhile, he took a sip of his drink and grimaced. Fuck, he hated cider.
They caught up with the group, they all tried their hand at ring tossing, with Nicky nearly hitting the person behind the booth twice and Kevin somehow managing a perfect score despite his current level of intoxication. Katelyn and Renee had to step in when Aaron almost got in a fist fight with a guy just because he mentioned his costume (“Aaron, you can’t punch him just because he called you a fairy, you’re literally wearing a Tinkerbell costume.”). And Neil finished his absolutely disgustingly sweet cup of cider.
They had passed an area containing a few porta potties a couple of minutes ago and Neil threw his cup away in a nearby trash can, then let Andrew know he was headed back in that direction.
Andrew looked like he wanted to follow him there, but Neil rolled his eyes. “It’s fine, Drew. Kevin looks like he can barely stand straight right now and I can see a few people eyeing him up. Stay here with him and I’ll be back in five minutes, okay?”
Andrew glanced at Kevin, then Nicky who honestly was not faring much better, and finally nodded. Neil smiled at him and brushed their knuckles together briefly before turning and heading for the bathrooms.
When he got there, he took a bit of notice of how this part of the festival was not the best lit, but there were some booths across from the row of porta potties, so people were still passing through pretty frequently. He wasn’t worried. He did notice that what seemed like a migraine was coming on, so he figured that after this, he’d suggest they start walking back to the dorms.
He found an unoccupied stall, came out a minute later and took some hand sanitizer. As he rubbed his hands together, he found himself blinking a bit harder, trying to get rid of the sudden fuzziness surrounding his vision. He rubbed his eyes harshly, then winced as the strong smell of hand sanitizer surrounded him.
He stumbled back towards the main path, but couldn’t remember which way he came from. Where were the others again? They had just gone to the haunted house, right?
His legs suddenly gave out, but a pair of large arms caught him before he could hit the ground. His brow furrowed and he tried to look up, but he saw grass instead of sky, so he thought he failed. He tried to get his feet back under him, but his muscles weren’t cooperating with him.
“Shh, I got you. Just hold on.” A deep voice came from above him and he struggled to place it as the person started maneuvering him back towards the porta potties. Neil blinked hard. But he’d already used the bathroom, shouldn’t he be headed the other way?
“N...No, I already…” Neil trailed off, his feet dragging behind him. What was he saying again?
Neil doesn’t remember closing his eyes, but he opened them again when he was laid on his back in the grass. He did feel sleepy. But he really should be going home… He managed to get his arms under him and start sitting up, but suddenly his arms were grabbed and twisted above his head and he winced as his back slammed back on the ground and his shoulders twinged in pain.
“Ow…” Neil sniffed slightly as he tried to get his eyes to refocus. He completely froze when he heard the sound of a zipper being pulled down. He couldn’t tell the direction it came from, but he felt a tug on his fox tail again and then a harder tug and suddenly his legs were very, very cold.
“No, no, no-” Neil mumbled, feeling like he was screaming, but breath was suddenly harder to come by and he didn’t think he was making much noise. He tried to seize control of his legs again, but it felt like he was trying to move through jelly.
The dark shape above him chuckled and ran a rough hand through his hair, knocking his faux ears askew. Neil clenched his eyes shut and curled in on himself as much as he could, knowing what happened next, knowing he couldn’t stop it, just make yourself small, be small and be quiet and they’ll move on, they’ll forget about you, it’s okay, you’re okay-
A large hand clamped over his crotch, hard, and then it was gone. Then all the weight was gone and Neil was left, boneless and cold, on the grass. He shivered and heard scuffling to his right, heard yelling, but he couldn’t move. Couldn’t turn his head to investigate further.
It felt like forever had passed when someone laid a hand on his shoulder and Neil flinched away violently. He curled back up, whispering nonsensically, interrupted by choruses of “no, no, no”.
He heard yelling again and the hand was gone, but there was someone else crouching by his side now and Neil opened his eyes cautiously, though it didn’t help much to identify the person.
“Neil.” The person said and Neil felt himself relax, but he didn’t know why.
Neil nodded slightly, or he thought he did and uncurled himself fully. He felt his clothes get tugged back on and then he was floating above the grass. He blinked in amazement before feeling the warm arms surrounding him.
“‘Ndrew.” He heard himself mumble, and the person’s chest rumbled against his side in response. Neil hummed, feeling himself grow sleepy again, though his whole body was shaking. “Thnk’kyu.”
When Neil woke again, it was with a pounding headache and a swirling stomach. He grimaced and got out of bed quickly, almost falling over with how light headed he got, and made it to the toilet just in time. He coughed harshly, his whole body aching, and wiped his face with toilet paper before flushing everything.
He stood up carefully, using the sink to help and began the laborious process of rinsing out his mouth and brushing his teeth with trembling arms. When he finished washing his hands and mouth, he turned back to the open doorway to find Andrew standing there, gaze hard and eyes searching.
“Sorry,” Neil grimaced, straightening himself up to begin the trek back to his bed. “Did I wake you?”
Andrew’s gaze narrowed and Neil found himself searching for what was wrong. Why did he feel like shit? Did he drink last night? He didn’t remember.
Andrew held out his hand, presumably to help Neil maneuver himself back to their room, and Neil came closer to him to allow it to rest across his back and on his opposite shoulder. But when he felt the first brush of Andrew’s arm behind his back, his body immediately tensed and he sucked in a sharp breath. The arm withdrew instantly.
Neil’s already heavy head was suddenly stabbed with broken images of flashing lights, football jerseys, and dark grass.
“Ow…” He mumbled, fingers wound in his hair and he sank to his knees on the cold tile floor.
“Neil.” Andrew’s voice sounded incredibly on edge, and Neil realized that Andrew probably thought he was falling into a panic attack. But this was just pain, so Neil reached up blindly, hoping for Andrew’s hand to help him back up.
“I’m fine.” He was given Andrew’s hand almost hesitantly, which made Neil’s eyebrows scrunch together a bit, before hauling himself back to his feet. He swayed dangerously and held on tighter to Andrew’s calloused hand. “I think I might be getting sick.”
When Neil was finally laid back in his bed, he breathed out a slow breath, relieved. “I don’t think I’ll be able to practice today…”
“It’s Sunday.” Came Andrew's voice suddenly.
Neil blinked at him as he sat in a chair by the bed. “Hm?”
“Today is Sunday.” Andrew repeated, which he rarely does.
“Oh.” Neil rubbed his eyes groggily. “Oh, Halloween was last night, right? Did I drink?”
“No. You were drugged.” Andrew’s eyes were pure fire and his hands clenched dangerously on the edge of the chair.
“I was-?” Neil closed his eyes suddenly as more flashes of memory pervaded his senses, and abruptly, he was cold. His eyes opened slowly, remembering only enough to make scary assumptions. “Oh.”
Andrew’s jaw clenched. Andrew didn’t believe in regret, but Neil remembered himself telling Andrew to stay with the others while he went off by himself. He could see that fact waging a war inside Andrew’s head. Neil knew nothing he could say could stop that wildfire until it burned itself out. No amount of “I’m fine”s, could reassure him.
Neil felt like his chest was caving in, and he had to look away from the guilt (not guilt. Andrew doesn’t believe in regret, it’s not guilt-) burning a hole through Andrew’s gaze. His eyes caught on the remnants of a wooden staff stuffed into the trashcan by the wall and he decided to focus on that instead.
“What happened to your staff?”
“I broke it.” Andrew answered flatly.
Neil looked back at Andrew as he processed this. It wasn’t difficult to know who he was referring to. “Is he…?”
“He’s alive. Fucker won’t be going to the police anytime soon though.” Andrew crossed his arms and Neil noticed that his fingers were shaking.
Neil nodded slowly. “Good. Thank you.”
“I mean it,” Neil sat up. “For not bringing me to a hospital, for not getting the police involved, for beating the shit out of him. Thank you. I know some of that went against what you wanted to do.”
“Most they would’ve done for you in a hospital is put you on an IV or some shit.” Andrew mumbled, but his grip on his arms loosened and his hands stopped shaking.
“Yeah,” Neil smiled, small, but there. “I can sleep it off.”
“The drugs, maybe.” Andrew wouldn’t meet his eyes anymore.
“Hey,” Neil reached out for his hand, palm up expectantly. He waited, and eventually his request was fulfilled. He held it tenderly, feeling Andrew’s heart beat faintly against his palm. “I’ll be okay.”
Andrew didn’t look up, but he squeezed Neil’s hand. “Go back to sleep.”
Neil laid back down carefully, keeping his hold on Andrew’s hand.
“Love you,” Neil whispered.
Andrew’s grip tightened on his hand briefly, before he squeezed three times in a row. Neil smiled softly as he let his eyes fall closed.
They’d be okay.