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Honey, You’re Familiar

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They are situational friends; not by choice, and even then their friendship is a jagged and brittle thing. It is silently watching a true crime documentary on the couch together while the others are in class. It is brief nods of acknowledgement as they pass each other on campus. It is close confines and Andrew’s possessive refusal to allow them to interact outside of his orbit.

So, Kevin and Aaron have a quiet understanding, an unspoken agreement to get along for the sake of keeping peace, a tentative not quite friendship in the spaces where their worlds overlap, which is less than you’d think. Aaron splits his free hours between studying and video games, mostly, and Kevin still hasn’t learned the concept of free time. The concept of anything for free is something he’s not sure he will ever get his head around.

Junkie, Andrew calls him, all snide and biting, and maybe he’s right. Why do people take drugs? To blur the edges. To quiet their minds. Isn’t that why Kevin buries himself in exy and training for exy and planning for exy and running to improve his performance during exy? Constantly trying to outrun his thoughts. To make the aching of his muscles louder than the noise in his head. To make the exhaustion stronger than the nightmares. 

Andrew’s indifference to exy is infuriating, but Aaron’s disinterest is painful. It’s a sticking point between them that makes Kevin sure that enduring each other is the best they’ll get, and that’s fine. Kevin didn’t have friends at the Nest, and he doesn’t need friends here. He’s down a torturer and up a protector. That’s enough of a difference.

He simply does not think about how he is also down whispered conversations in French and hands clenched tight in solidarity and careful fingers helping clean up the worst of the blood. If he thinks too much, he runs or trains or drinks until the thoughts stop. Rinse, repeat.

*

Aaron hated Kevin when he first came to them. Not for the reasons the other Foxes did. Not his arrogance, or his criticisms, or how quick he was to snap. No, Aaron hated Kevin for a much more personal and petty reason.

Aaron hated Kevin because Andrew saw him. Andrew made Kevin the centre of his world. Andrew extended his protection, and inserted himself as a permanent fixture at Kevin’s side. Andrew, who could barely spare two words for Aaron on their good days. Andrew, his brother, who had dragged Aaron here with him, to play this stupid game, with this asshole team, and that fucking deal that felt more and more like a choke collar around Aaron’s throat every day.

Andrew, who, no matter how many times Aaron tells himself he doesn’t care anymore, Aaron craves validation from like a drowning man craves air. Not a conscious choice, but a constricting need in his chest.

So Aaron barely spoke to Kevin for months. Ignored him even when circumstance put them so close together. Pretended not to notice, but he’s always been observant, and years of abuse had fine tuned him into a state of high empathy. So he recognised that Kevin’s frequent trips to the bathroom were to hide panic attacks, and that the way he rubbed his right thumb over his left hand was more than just a nervous motion, and that his closeness to Andrew was less to do with Andrew and more to do with Kevin being absolutely terrified of being alone. 

It’s no more Kevin’s fault that Andrew had picked him as his new favourite toy than it is Aaron’s fault he had never been found worthy enough of Andrew’s attention. So he let the ice melt away, bit by bit, let himself be civil in their enforced closeness, enough that Andrew even left Kevin alone with him sometimes. Trusted Aaron to hold him together in Andrew’s absence.

And it’s okay, actually. Sometimes they bicker, both stubborn and quick to jump to defensiveness, but mostly they just coexist. Both of them too drained from the effort of living to extend it on fighting each other. It’s different to have someone on the inside of Andrew’s protective circle with him, someone not bound by blood, and Aaron minds Kevin’s presence less and less each day. 

*

“Move.” Aaron kicks Kevin’s long legs from where they’re resting on the coffee table so he can step past and sit on the couch.

“You could have walked around the table,” Kevin says. He blocks Aaron’s hand when he reaches for the remote. “I’m watching this.”

“You’re not watching anything. You’re reading.”

“I’m doing both.”

“You can’t do both. They both require the part of the brain that processes words and sounds. It’s not something you can do at the same time.”

Kevin always forgets how smart Aaron is. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t speak much. Maybe it’s because he associates him with Andrew in his mind, who’s intelligence is much more tactical and practical than the kind of facts Aaron squirrels away in his brain. That spot in his mind that overlaps the dual image of the Minyard brothers is 90% for Andrew, so maybe he just keeps deleting the fact Aaron is smart for other information. 

Maybe he just hates not being the smartest person in a room.

“Whatever,” Kevin says, and lets him take the remote. He sinks a little further down in his chair and his brow furrows as he glares at the book he’s reading. It’s about Genghis Khan, and Kevin thinks he’d really enjoy it if he could get the time to read more than two pages in a sitting. Like he was hoping to. Except now he’s just distracted by being annoyed by Aaron.

“No,” Kevin says, when Aaron flicks over to one of those programs that is real footage from the ER. “We are not watching that shit.”

“You’re not watching anything. You’re reading.”

“I can see it from my peripheral.”

“Don’t look then.”

“Turn it off. These shows are disgusting.”

“Yet you can watch depictions of murder with rapt attention.”

“That’s different.”

“Yeah. It kills people. They stay alive in this.”

“It’s just a reconstruction. This is real.”

“I didn’t take you to be squeamish.”

He sees a scalpel slicing skin. Aaron leans back against the couch cushion and casually peels a satsuma while Kevin’s skin feels too tight, too hot. His hands shake around the book. He snaps it shut and presses it to his chest so Aaron won’t notice.

“Fuck you,” he says. He stands, jerkily, too fast, bangs his shin on the table. He doesn’t react. He needs out of this room. He can see the blood. He can practically feel the incision. His head is light, but his chest is so, so heavy.

Kevin gets the bedroom door closed and sinks to the floor, head bent between his knees as he tries to keep his breaths steady. It doesn’t work. They keep coming faster until he’s gasping, until he’s grasping tight at his hair and pulling sharply to try and ground himself with the ache. A few tears fall hot and fast before he can stop them.

Riko had to be careful with him. He was his favoured play thing, but he was too valuable to be damaged goods. Kevin had to look pretty and perfect when he stepped out onto the field. All of his scars are hidden. Lines on his thighs that used to burn when he ran, that his clothes would friction tug against the scabs and cause to ache. On his stomach, his chest, over his hips. Clean, careful lines. Slow and long. Drawing the pain out.

He presses his palms to his eyes and staggers to his feet. One of his hands slams heavy on his desk to steady himself, shakes running up his arm and trembling through his torso. It’s over, and he’s safe, Andrew promised, he’s safe, but Andrew is only one man and Riko has so many toy soldiers to command. 

He thinks of his shattered hand and it pulses with phantom pain. How he’s disposable now. How if he ends up back there the cuts might not be limited anymore.

He’s getting dizzy from not breathing enough when there’s a knock on his door.

“Go away.” His voice sounds far away. It sounds like a stranger’s. 

“I’ve left some chamomile tea outside your door,” Aaron’s voice says, just loud enough for him to hear. Kevin doesn’t know why the fuck Aaron Minyard is bringing him tea. 

He listens to the feet walk away and only when he’s safe does he press his hands to his ears, curl down into himself, into the silence, and tries to breathe, breathe, breathe until it comes a little easier. 

His limbs are still trembling slightly when he cracks the door open. He can see the back of Aaron’s head on the couch, and the TV turned to another channel now. He lifts the tea, just barely still warm, and the granola bar Aaron left with it. Actually sits at his desk and Googles chamomile tea.

Soothing… helping with insomnia, depression, or anxiety.

Kevin scowls, but he drinks it anyway.

*

They don’t talk about it. They don’t talk about much, surface level shit and even then it’s sparse words, but Aaron sees it in Kevin and he’s sure Kevin sees it in him. Bracing himself when someone moves too fast towards him. The flinch that comes with raised voices. Bloody fingers from bitten down nails. Bursts of anger when the team fights before fading into silent apathy. 

He hates it. Hates that someone might recognise the vulnerable bits of him he buries down beneath silence and bared teeth. Hates that someone sees the weakness in him he feels should have died with his mother. Hates that he still feels this way after so long.

Mostly, he hates that despite this, Kevin is still Kevin. Successful, confident, self assured. He trembles but he never breaks, even after everything, even after losing it all, he clawed his way back, and Aaron feels like he is constantly collapsing, constantly falling down inside himself and having to pull bits of himself from the dregs. He doesn’t know the shape of the person he’s supposed to be. He doesn’t know the right way to exist.

Katelyn is his spark. The lighthouse at the top of the cliffs. The one hope that keeps him clawing his way back up the crumbling parts of himself, but he can never reach her, will never reach her properly. She is stolen moments and softness he does not deserve. She is kindness soothing over the surface wounds without knowing how deep the cracks run.

He wants to hate Andrew for keeping them apart. Wants to hate his mother for making them this way in the first place. He just ends up hating himself and his weakness and the fear that is beaten so bone deep into him that the thought of standing up in the face of someone’s anger paralyses him, even though the woman who hurt him most is gone.

He aches, constantly, and sometimes he catches Kevin’s eye and is so certain Kevin knows, and it makes him sick. He does not want to be known. He does not want people to see this version of himself. He does not want to be this.

*

Kevin finds Aaron sitting on the corner of the couch, cocooned in a blanket. This wouldn’t usually draw his attention, except Aaron was in the exact same spot when he left for class several hours ago.

“Have you not moved this whole time?” Aaron only makes a vague sound in response, and Kevin clenches his jaw. “I am certain there are better things you can do today than laze around.”

Aaron looks at him, and Kevin almost drops the water bottle he’s holding, because it’s Andrew in the brief periods he comes off his meds he finds staring back. Eyes so empty and blank. There’s dark circles beneath them, and Aaron’s mouth is curved down into a deep frown. The only difference is his eyes are raw and pink around the lash line. Kevin’s never seen Andrew cry. 

“You sick or something?” It’s meant to be gentler, but it comes out like an accusation. Aaron shakes his head, pulls the blanket firmer around him. Kevin ignores this and comes to press the back of his hand to Aaron’s forehead. Aaron doesn’t even try to bat him away. He feels clammy, but not quite feverish. “Have you eaten today?”

The blanket shifts as Aaron shrugs, and Kevin sighs in irritation.

“Could you answer me?”

“Go away,” Aaron says, voice gravel rough.

“I need you on form. You have to eat.”

“Fuck off.” The bite that should be behind those words isn’t there. They ring flat and hollow, and Kevin feels queasy for a reason he can’t place. 

He leaves Aaron and goes to drop off his bag. Whatever. It’s not his job to babysit his useless team. He thinks this, angry and repeatedly, as he makes a sandwich and fills a glass of water. Then he sits them in front of Aaron.

“Eat,” Kevin says, in a tone that leaves no space for argument. Aaron starts to look towards him, but Kevin is already turning away. He doesn’t stay to watch, but the next time he passes through the kitchen he sees the plate and glass drip drying by the sink.

*

Aaron’s lungs won’t take any air. There’s a line of white hot pain down his throat and spreading over his chest. He’s gasping but it feels like he’s getting nothing in. His legs ache. His shoulder slams the wall at the top of the stairs and he staggers, hits the ground hard. He rolls onto his back and she’s towering over him.

“You’re so fucking useless,” Tilda says. Aaron scrambles backwards, heels kicking desperate against the floor, but no matter how hard he tries she always seems to be on top of him. “Pathetic. Good for nothing. You ruined my life, you know? I could have done so much if it weren’t for you. Both of you.”

He sees Andrew flicker in and out of view behind her. He yawns widely, turns a knife in his hand, then throws it to the ground beside Aaron. Aaron grasps at it and pulls it loose just as Tilda dives for him. 

He slashes her arm, but she doesn’t seem to notice. She grabs his hair and pulls his head back. He slashes at her face. Blood trickles from the cut beneath her eye. It catches on the corner of her lips, leaks into her mouth and stains her teeth. She’s grinning as her hand closes around his throat. He stabs her in the stomach. She doesn’t even flinch.

“Maybe she’s right,” Andrew says, watching bored and impassive from above. “Maybe you are useless.”

Tilda pulls him forward by the throat, then slams his head back against the floor. Again. Again. A-

Aaron wakes with a whimper. The sheets are tangled around him and he kicks, panicked, feeling like someone’s holding him down. As soon as he realises it was a nightmare he shoves his hand to his trembling lips so hard he feels his teeth press against his knuckles.

His shirt is stuck to his back with sweat. His heartbeat is rapid fire. He holds his breath and strains his ears, but Nicky is still snoring loudly beneath him, Andrew still breathing evenly across the room. Aaron releases his breath slowly and swings his feet out of bed. He pads gently from the room and closes the door as quietly as possible behind him. He turns to the kitchen and freezes when he sees the lights already on.

Kevin is sitting at the kitchen island, staring into space, but he blinks back to himself as Aaron comes closer. Aaron considers veering off and just pretending he was going to the bathroom, but his feet have taken him in this direction and he doesn’t want to look like he’s afraid of Kevin in the kitchen. He’s very conscious of how raw his eyes feel.

He stops on the other side of the island and can see now Kevin doesn’t look much better. His hair is flat at the back of his skull, but sticking up in wild spikes at the top. There’s purplish shadows beneath his eyes. His expression is unnervingly empty. He’s drinking straight from a bottle of vodka.

“Tea?” The word comes out of Kevin so hoarse Aaron wonders if he had to rip it out. Aaron reaches for the bottle. Kevin’s fingers tighten around it reactively, then loosen and let Aaron take it. He takes a shot and winces against the burn. He takes another, then hands it back to Kevin.

The damp material of his shirt feels cold against his back now. He wishes he had grabbed a hoody on his way out. He shuffles in sock clad feet around Kevin and does start to make tea. He stares blankly at his mug for a moment before pulling out a second one for Kevin.

Aaron doesn’t really expect Kevin to drink the tea, so he’s surprised when Kevin pours a big shot of vodka into his mug. Aaron sits beside him and they both cradle their mugs to their chests, clinging to the small source of warmth. Kevin’s blend of vodka and tea can’t taste good, but he takes a long drink. Aaron sips at his. They don’t talk, and when they’re done, Aaron cleans the mugs methodically and goes back to his room. He hears Kevin go to bed not long after.

*

It’s a Columbia Friday. Bass is pulsing up through the soles of Kevin’s feet, thrumming through his bones. He’s very drunk, a little high, and feeling good. This is the first time he realises that Aaron is actually quite attractive.

It’s not a big deal. He thinks people are attractive all the time. Allison, in her sharp edged, bitchy kind of way. Matt, with height that could cage Kevin in in a way that’s pleasing to think about. Andrew; small and sturdy, tight packed muscle and arms that Kevin sometimes stares at too long. Fuck, even Neil is pretty when he’s not being an annoying little shit.

It’s probably weird he accepted Andrew as attractive without thought, but never Aaron. The 90/10 split in his Minyard brothers head space a bias. Except it feels maybe 70/30 now. Andrew’s been directing more and more time and attention to Neil, and Kevin and Aaron have fallen to the wayside together. Nicky on the edges of their space, but he has Erik to fill his time, it’s not quite the same. Thea is so busy and Katelyn is a badly kept secret that has to be kept in the back room anyway.

Aaron’s hair is stuck to his forehead with sweat. His jaw is a tense, sharp line as he bounces along to the song. The shifting lights splash across his face in a myriad of colours, sending the shadows of his bone structure into deep contrast. Kevin doesn’t realise how hard he’s staring until some of his drink spills against his chest and he realises his grip on it is going slack.

He shakes his head and looks away. Downs half of his drink. Pushes a hand through his own damp hair. He looks back, and Aaron is laughing at Nicky’s bad dancing, loose enough from the cracker dust to let actual emotion show on his face. His eyes are crinkled at the edges and his teeth are straight and lovely, except for a chipped incisor on the right that slants into a sharp point. 

Kevin’s eyes hood as he watches him. Imagines kissing that grinning mouth, touching the line of his throat where the lights keep shifting shadows. It’s not so much Aaron specifically that he wants. He’s just horny from the mixture of substance and Aaron has caught his attention. He’s loose enough to let his mind drift. 

Then Nicky catches him lingering nearby and drags him closer by the arm. Kevin tries to put up a fight. He doesn’t dance, really, as much as he likes the way his body feels when it’s pulsing and jumping to the music. It’s unsightly, so he doesn’t do it. Nicky is booing him. Aaron rolls his eyes. The feeling of challenge spikes up Kevin’s spine.

He sways his hips and raises one arm above his head, an exaggerated caricature of sexy dancing, and Aaron laughs his drink down his nose. Kevin takes that as a win.

*

Kevin has been silent and still since Aaron got home half an hour ago. He’s moved between his room and the bathroom and both times Kevin has been sat in the same spot staring at the blank screen of the television. Aaron dresses after his shower, and comes back into the shared space. He walks past Kevin and turns on the TV. Kevin starts, then blinks rapidly. His eyes land on Aaron but they’re still not fully in focus.

Aaron doesn’t say anything. He drops into one of the bean bags and starts up a game. He can just make out in the reflection of the screen: Kevin’s head bowed forward, Kevin’s hand coming up to rub his eyes. 

Aaron throws a second controller at the couch.

“What-?”

“Nicky’s got afternoon classes. Be my player two.”

“I don’t have time for this.”

“You’ve been sitting staring into space for at least half an hour,” Aaron says. “You’ve got time.”

“I- I haven’t been here that long,” Kevin says, but he doesn’t sound sure. He takes out his phone and after looking at it for a long moment quietly drops it to his lap. Aaron sets up the game and looks back at him. Kevin blinks, then sighs. “One round.”

They play five.

*

Kevin thinks he should say something. He’s been thinking this for weeks now. Since he stood numb and paralysed in the doorway. Neil covering Andrew on the bed, and blood covering Aaron. So much blood. He hadn’t even noticed the fucking asshole dead on the ground at first. Probably took longer than it should. All he could see was that blood. All he could feel was the cloying panic in his throat. His stomach had ached for two hours, and then his whole body had gone cold and numb. He’s been floating in an apathetic middle ground since. 

He lost Andrew. He lost Aaron. He got one back and lost Neil, and while everyone eats and laughs and is merry, he watches Aaron, stony faced across the table. He’s forced a few polite smiles for the sake of their hosts, but whenever he thinks no one is looking his expression goes hollow, empty, a dark crevasse.

Kevin knows because he actually has been looking, because he keeps wondering if Riko’s going to kill Neil, or send him back with his hand broken, or maybe go further this time and cut each finger off. He keeps thinking about Andrew alone in a hospital room and the fact that there’s now no one between him and everything he fears. He knows that’s selfish, but knowing something doesn’t ease the terror etched into him by years of repetitious abuse.

So he watches Aaron for something else to think about, and he thinks he should say something, but he has no words for situations like this, and they have no foundation to build that kind of exchange on. So he just trails the cousins like a silent ghost. A tag along with tag alongs. He doesn’t belong here.

You don’t belong anywhere.

Except on a court, stick in his hand, focus on the game. It’s what he was bred for. He never learned the intricacies of social interaction. All he learned was fuck and fight and play. Pretty smiles and prettier lies to charm the media. Fed pretences of how great he was going to be all his life only to realise in the real world he can barely function.

Stupid.

Aaron’s eyes flick up and he catches Kevin staring. He scowls. Kevin doesn’t look away. Aaron does, then his gaze flicks back to him and narrows in a glare. Kevin shrugs; a small movement, unnoticeable unless you were watching him. Aaron’s jaw goes tight and tense. Kevin finally lowers his gaze.

He calls Thea and wishes her a merry Christmas. He sent her a pair of earrings for Christmas; simple but pretty. She sent him a hefty book on American history. Kevin tells her thank you and does not mention that he is not so interested in this area of history. That he is kind of bored of always hearing about America. That he likes history further reaching back, and he likes learning about the world, and that his interest in history was initially a form of escapism, of being somewhere beyond the Nest he was barely allowed to leave.

She doesn’t know, because they don’t talk about those kind of things, and so Kevin doesn’t break tradition now. It’s fine. Their relationship has never been something as menial as gifts or discussions of hobbies. They’re united by the heat of their fire on the court, and as the darling son of exy, what more would he ask from a partnership? What more would he want?

He doesn’t miss her on Christmas, but come New Years when Erik has appeared and Dan meets them, and he and Aaron are the spare wheels at the edge of a couple fest, he wishes she were there with him. He wishes that maybe, maybe he could talk to her about what’s happened, maybe it would be easier face to face, maybe it would be okay in person. Maybe he wouldn’t keep typing out spiralling rants of racing thoughts and then deleting them over and over.

Aaron spends a lot of his time texting. Katelyn, Kevin assumes. He spends a lot of time drinking. He wonders if Neil’s going to make it to the new year. He wonders if he comes back, what message he’s going to bring with him. He wonders if he should be drinking so much when he feels this sick, but he does, anyway. 

The ball drops, and the couples kiss. Kevin sends Thea a pre-typed Happy New Year. Aaron looks up from his phone, and he’s swaying, or Kevin is swaying, or the whole world is swaying around them. He pulls a face as Nicky drops Erik low in his arms and bends after him, kissing wetly, and steps further from them and closer to Kevin.

“Happy New Year, I guess.”

“Yeah. Happy New Year.”

It doesn’t feel like it.

*

Josten comes back in a state. Aaron hates him, but he also feels closer to him than he ever has.

He won’t be grateful.

But neither of them did it for gratitude. They both did what they had to do from the simple, instinctual need to protect Andrew. Their one overlapping interest. Aaron had killed for him, and Neil had walked with hands tied to the executioner for him only to slip free, scarred and inked and barely standing, but here. Aaron still doesn’t like him, but he respects him a little more.

After their hissed conversation in French, Kevin looks pale and sickly. He keeps pressing his nails into his palms. Aaron has picked the skin from around his nails down to the first knuckles on most of his fingers, and everytime he sees Kevin’s shifting hands it makes him want to pick himself apart even more. He stares out the window instead.

Andrew comes back to them, blank faced and hollow eyed. He brushes past Aaron like he’s an uninteresting piece of dry wall, and it is nothing new, but Aaron still feels an ache in his stomach. It’s no different from how Andrew usually treats him, but everything about Aaron feels different now that he’s done something he can’t take back. 

Kevin settles at the sight of Andrew only to slowly grow tense as he realises the difference in him. Aaron sits behind him in the car and watches the back of his neck get more scrunched up as he hunches down further and further in his seat. When he closes the door to their suite behind them, he just stands by it for a moment, wordless. Aaron slumps down heavily in one of the bean bags.

“He’s just- It’s like-“

“Yeah, man. That’s what he’s like. That’s what he’s gonna be like from now on.”

“He didn’t even- No reaction to-“

“To anything, mostly. So stop expecting.”

“You’re just okay with him like that?”

What can Aaron say? No, he’s not. He wishes he had a brother he could talk to. He wishes he had a brother who would take an interest on a more personal level rather than just a general safety level. He wishes they could share in jokes and outings and that neither of them had to kill anyone.

He would never say he wishes he had a different brother, though sometimes the thought comes to him in flashes. He would never say sometimes he wishes he didn’t have a brother at all. In their own awkward, cold, clumsy way, he loves Andrew and Andrew loves him. If he could wish for a change, he’d just wish Andrew never had to go through all the shitty actions of other people that made him who he is. He wishes one of them got to be a fucking happy child. 

So no, he’s not okay with it, but that’s also none of Kevin fucking Day’s business, so Aaron just shrugs. Kevin sighs.

“You’re almost as bad,” Kevin says, and storms off to his room. 

Aaron doesn’t care what Kevin thinks. He doesn’t.

The words sit heavy with him for the rest of the day.

*

Kevin realises, one day, why it’s so strange to him to find Aaron attractive. He’s eating sliced fruit and taking exy notes. He sees vague movement around his laptop and looks up to see Aaron shrugging out of his jacket, the muscles of his shoulders working beneath his shirt. A piece of apple falls out of Kevin’s mouth as he stares and he’s glad that Aaron’s back is to him.

The thing is, he’s never found anyone attractive based on physicality alone. Exy has always been part of it. The better they play, the fiercer they are, the innate talent they have; these have always had an undeniable draw to him. Thea’s violence on a court is what made his skin heat for her. Andrew’s potential, Neil’s fight, these are things he finds attractive. Most of the foxes have some spark to them, some potential for their drafting, but not Aaron. He and Nicky were just part of the package deal. The sacrifice to get Andrew Minyard in his goal. Aaron is not particularly talented, and he is not particularly interested, and therefore he should not be particularly attractive to Kevin.

He looks back to his screen with a scowl but he’s not focusing, brain latched on a new problem, trying to work out this inconsistency. He wants to blame his brain for overlapping Andrew and Aaron and that causing confused feelings, but they’re at 60/40 split now in his Minyard assigned brain space, and he knows the difference. 

Aaron sighs, tiredly. Kevin barely hears it past his headphones. He steals another peek and watches as Aaron rubs his eyes with one hand, his shoulders curving in. He looks small and tired and vulnerable, and Kevin’s chest does something tight and confusing that he is not a fan of at all.

Aaron finally spots him and gives a brief nod. Kevin nods back. From the front, just barely poking out over the neckline of Aaron’s t-shirt, Kevin notices a bruise. He squints at it, at first thinking it’s from an injury, because there is always one of them coming bruise splattered from fighting or practice. Then the familiar shape of it clicks and Kevin realises it’s a hickey.

Aaron’s mouth moves. Kevin takes off one of his headphones.

“What?”

“I said: what are you staring at?”

“Oh. Just wondering how Andrew’s going to react to that hickey,” Kevin says, even though he was actually wondering why he got a hot twist of jealousy in the pit of his stomach. Probably misses Thea. Probably jealous Aaron’s girlfriend is so much closer. Probably. That makes sense. That’s a good enough understanding of his feelings for Kevin to accept. 

“He’d have to look at me to notice,” Aaron says, and rolls his eyes. 

“Might want to cover it just in case.”

“Fuck off,” Aaron says, but he sighs again. Kevin holds out his bowl of fruit in a silent offering. Aaron stares at him for a long time, before picking a few grapes and an apple slice out with careful fingers. “...Thanks.”

Kevin nods, then looks back to his screen that he forgot to pause. Completely lost his place now. He gives up and closes his laptop, and after a moment of just hovering, Aaron drops down on the couch. He’s not quite beside Kevin, but he’s not on the far side, either. Kevin sets the bowl of fruit between them. He puts on the TV and scrolls through the listings until he finds a true crime documentary. A small smile quirks at the corner of Aaron’s mouth, and the tight thing in his chest eases and warms.

*

Aaron finds Kevin on the wooden balcony of the cabin. He steps up beside him, breathing in the cool night air. His body is buzzing and his thoughts are scattered, but as he stares into the dark shadows of the forest, he feels slightly more settled. He rests his hands on the wooden barrier Kevin’s arms are folded and leaning on, grips it.

“So. You’re kind of a third wheel now, huh?” His lip still throbs from Josten’s punch, weak as it was with his injury. He’s more angry at Andrew’s hypocrisy than anything. His doubts about Josten settled by the rage in his eyes, though he’d never truly doubted the man who gave himself to Riko for Andrew. Pettiness, more than anything, but that’s a bitter truth to swallow so he tells himself it’s for Andrew’s sake and leaves it be. 

Kevin shrugs.

“Wymack junior. Guess you really are the son of exy.”

That does get a response. Kevin turns with his mouth twisted into an angry frown, and Aaron wonders, a single sober thought through his mind, if he’s going to hit him harder than Josten did. His muscles tense in anticipation. There’s the old, stale childhood terror of violence beneath a dark, satisfied streak of self destructive urge that hopes Kevin does.

Kevin steps towards him quick. Aaron’s too drunk for the pretence of bravery and his body automatically steps away, puts his back to the balcony railings. Kevin has his arm raised, but he meets Aaron’s eyes and suddenly he goes limp. A sad recognition to his features. Instead of hitting him, he puts a hand on either side of Aaron and cages him against the balcony with his stupidly long arms.

“Just shut the fuck up,” Kevin says, his breath warm and alcoholic against Aaron’s face. Aaron bristles defensively. “Even before Neil, you guys were family. I was always the spare part.”

It’s so fucking bizarre to Aaron, when Andrew has always seen Kevin. Lets him ride shot gun. Sits by his side. Physically plants himself between Kevin and other people. Kevin is the fucking prize jewel in the crown of their group. He’s sure Andrew says more words to him in a week than he’s said to Aaron in their entire lives.

Kevin starts to move away, and Andrew grabs his wrist. Kevin jerks, automatic, but Aaron’s grip is white knuckled. When Kevin realises he’s just holding and not riling up for an attack, he stops pulling.

“You’re so fucking stupid,” Aaron says, and Kevin frowns. They glare at each other for a long moment before Aaron finally releases his wrist. “And for the record, having a decent parent isn’t something to be ashamed of.”

He pushes past Kevin and disappears back to his room.

*

The weight of the secret finally aired between them starts a strain. Kevin knows. From the moment Thea storms into his dorm, gorgeous and indignant and fiery as ever, until they’re sitting by Jean’s aching form in Abby’s spare room, until she’s leaving with a promise to watch the final and a kiss burned at the corner of his mouth. It’s not the same.

Kevin has pulled the cover off of their relationship and exposed the empty space beneath. The shaky scaffolding they built in the shape of a couple. The ghost of lies and half truths and secrets. He touches his mouth when Thea turns to leave and it feels too close to Riko’s hateful possessiveness. Kevin blinks back tears.

*

Aaron has never seen Kevin look so alive as he does when they meet Jeremy Knox. Not even when he and Neil get into heated exy discussions has he seen the kind of light in his eyes, the smile warming his features that is a far throw from the polished, camera ready one. Kevin’s shoulders relaxed, his face bright and animated, his hand clutching Jeremy’s several seconds too long after they shake.

Aaron almost bites through his tongue to stop from laughing when he realises this is what Kevin Day with a fucking crush looks like. He turns his head away and fakes a cough to hide the snicker, ignoring the questioning look Nicky throws him. 

He thinks he understands, though, as Jeremy hands Kevin their line up. As they play against the Trojans, passionate and in sync but not unnecessarily aggressive. All laughter and tired smiles and having genuine fun. He’s never seen a team play like this, never imagined a captain that would lead this kind of play. 

When you come from a world where people are always dark and angry, always ready to lash out, always prepared to blame you for their failings, people like the Trojans seem unreal. They seem an impossibility. They feel a little like staring into the sun, too bright to do so directly. Kevin Day is not Icarus. He would not sacrifice it all for that warmth on his skin, the rush of the free fall, but he can imagine. 

Aaron remembers feeling like Katelyn is his light when he’s falling down inside himself. He thinks Jeremy must be more like Kevin’s light across the bay, an imagined better existence than Gatsby’s painted mansion filled with fake friends and cloaked with extravagance, a dream he longed for but might wreck him if he ever grabbed for it.

So in moments like these, Kevin lets himself be the person he might be in a world where he grew up in the sun, rather than the Kevin kept locked in the Nest’s underground shadows. 

This Kevin gives Aaron a strange ache in his chest.

*

Kevin is surprised when Aaron and Nicky show up to evening practice. They don’t say anything, but come onto the court dressed and ready to play. Aaron is leading the way. Kevin meets his gaze, and Aaron juts his chin out, daring Kevin to question them. Kevin doesnt. He grins, slow and sly as a fox, and makes quick mental adjustments to his drills to include them.

He’s never seen Aaron play so hard. He always pushes during games, but usually slacks a little during practices. Now he runs through drills with a silent fury, sweating and panting but never complaining, even when Kevin is in his face trying to yell out some of his own anxieties. 

Kevin steals glances of him peeling off his soaked kit in the changing room and burns down to his core with longing. It makes sense. He’s wound tight. His skin feels stretched too thin across his bones. He wants to blow off steam, and Aaron caught his attention tonight, that’s all. He forces himself to look away, but in the privacy of his own stall he imagines Aaron cornering him with that same burning passion. Imagines teeth at his collarbone and hands on his skin. Kevin bites his own forearm to stifle himself as he comes with a quiet moan.

*

Kevin shows them his new tattoo once they’ve all piled onto the bus, nervous anticipation as they head to Edgar Allan. He stands between the rows of seats and pulls off the bandage without a word, but with enough flair for everyone to look anyway.

The team explodes into wild cheers. Aaron sinks a little lower in his seat and sucks his cheeks in to bite between his teeth. It’s not enough to hide his smile. He presses his knuckles to his mouth just as Kevin meets his eyes, some mutual understanding of exactly what this means passing between them, before Kevin is engulfed by the others and taken from his view.

*

Kevin’s body is numb. He’s pushing it to move even though he can only feel vague, tingling edges of his being. He knows that he’s going to hurt later, from the exertion and the amount of punches he’s taken, but he’s so close. Picking his way between old teammates. He can see the goal. He’s not going to make it on time.

He fires, and the buzzer goes, and Kevin barely has time to deflate before another buzzer goes, and he realises the first was his score.

The breath would be ripped from him if there were any left in his lungs.

He’s half carried by his roaring team to centre court. His legs starting to give beneath them. Their joy a jumble of noise that would leave him over sensitised if he weren’t so shaken with shock that they actually did it. 

Then the crack. The clatter of Riko’s racquet. Andrew beside Neil like a guard dog, and Kevin… Kevin doesn’t feel the expected flicker of fear. He’s free now. Riko can’t touch him. Not again. Not ever. He feels a small, sick twist of satisfaction as he sees Riko carted off with his limp arm.

He sees Katelyn and Eric fussing over Aaron and Nicky, sees Dan and Matt leaning into each other for support. He glances towards the South box and wonders what Thea thinks. He rubs the thumb of his right hand into his left, old aches from his injury throbbing through with the overuse.

By the time they’re allowed to shower, Kevin is really feeling it. He hobbles into a stall and puts the water on as hot as he can bear. The pain doesn’t mean anything. They won and that victory will carry him further than the adrenaline did.

Once they’re all settled on the bus, Kevin kneels up in his seat.

“Good game,” he says, because he’s been yelling at them for the last week and a half in practice, attacking their weaknesses, tearing them down. He can give them this. There’s a mixture of sarcastic jeers and delighted cheering. Aaron snorts behind him.

“Thanks, your majesty.”

Kevin flips him off, but he doesn’t stop smiling the entire way to the hotel and the after party waiting for them. 

Thea squeezes his shoulder hard when she sees him and pain spikes down Kevin’s arm. She presses a drink into his hand. That night he fucks her on a victory high, with shaking limbs, pain numbed down with alcohol. It doesn’t feel half as good as that final score did.

“Your keeper shouldn’t have done that to Riko,” Thea says, when they’re done and sweat sticky between the sheets.

“Fuck Riko,” Kevin spits, fury in his tone. She frowns, but says no more, and that’s fine. They’re used to not talking, after all.

*

If Kevin speaking with Jeremy Knox is full of life, then Kevin when he hears about Riko is a corpse. Aaron watches emotion drain from his face. The only sign he’s still breathing the slight shake of his limbs. His eyes are distant, and Aaron can tell that Kevin is tumbling down inside himself.

“Good riddance,” Andrew says. Kevin blinks. The other foxes treat this like the news of Neil’s father; a problem finally solved, but Kevin’s hands don’t stop trembling. That’s what Aaron watches. Fingers curling and uncurling. Nails pressing to his palms, to the bump of his wrist bone, little scratches to ground him.

The thing about abusers is most people categorise them as flat out evil in their heads. They see them only as their bad deeds. They can’t understand that there are moments between. That there are okay conversations, and brief flashes of kindness, and that those little moments build part of the picture their victims - and god, he hates that word - hold of them.

The thing is, anger is exhausting. Fear is exhausting. Being in fight or flight constantly is exhausting, and eventually all that exhaustion burns you out. So you take the small moments of kindness. You take the reprieves in the anger and violence. You take them, and you hold onto them, because it makes surviving easier. It makes it a little easier to cope. It’s easier to keep yourself afloat in the waves if you know the tide will eventually ebb, even if only briefly. 

Kevin and Riko were like brothers. Always together. Years and years of conversations and memories and shared games. Aaron can understand that. He can understand hating someone, fearing someone, wanting them gone, but still having a part of you love them in spite of it all. Something you can’t choose. Something you just have to live with around the fear and the pain.

So he watches Kevin’s tense smile, the tremble of his lips, the way he nods and brushes off the others’ words, and when he slips into their room, Aaron follows him. 

“Go away,” Kevin says, when he sees it’s Aaron.

“You need to sit straight.”

“What?”

“You’re having an anxiety attack. Crouching over like that blocks off the air flow.”

“Fuck off.”

Aaron sets a hand on Kevin’s tense shoulder, feels the muscle tight and knotted beneath his skin. He pulls the shoulder back, puts a hand to Kevin’s chest and eases him up straight.

“Slow. Try and copy me.” Aaron takes slow, deep breaths. Kevin’s glare doesn’t last. It’s hard to keep a bitch face on when your body is going into panic stations. His hand comes to Aaron’s wrist, long fingers curling around it, but he just holds tight as he tries to mimic Aaron’s breathing. It takes a while, but eventually he evens out enough that he’s no longer at risk of hyperventilating. “There.”

Kevin sniffs. Aaron looks away to afford him privacy if he’s going to cry.

“They don’t get it,” Aaron says. Conversational, even though there’s pressure in his stomach, an anxious weight. “Andrew expected me to be grateful when he killed our mom.”

Aaron huffs a laugh; bitter and sharp edged. 

“She hurt me, and he made her disappear, and to him, that’s all there was. He didn’t see the nuance. He didn’t see- It’s not always the shit.”

“No,” Kevin says, voice ragged.

“People don’t get that.” His thumb trails over Kevin’s shoulder and brushes the back of his neck. Kevin releases his other wrist. Aaron takes his hands back and shoves them in his pockets. “I’ll try and keep them away from the room for a bit.”

Kevin doesn’t say anything, and Aaron doesn’t expect him to. He waits a beat, just in case, then gives a little nod. He glances back at Kevin as he closes the door, and despite his height he looks so small and fragile curled into himself, arms over his head, head ducked between his legs. Aaron closes the door quietly behind him.

*

With the season over, Kevin is a loose end. News of Riko’s death has come to him at a time when he has nothing to focus his energy into. He’s irritable and restless. Going on extra long runs. Pushing himself harder at evening practice. He’s lashing out more at the rest of the team, and he can sense them getting impatient. He’s had a knife at his throat twice from getting too vicious with Neil. Each time Neil brushes off his words and soothes Andrew away, and each time Kevin thinks about arching his throat forward against the blade.

He calls Thea about the news after a few days, when he feels like he might be able to talk about it without his throat tightening like a vice. 

“That’s awful,” she says. She doesn’t sound upset.

“But kind of a relief.”

“Kevin.”

“What? It is.”

“He wasn’t going to touch you again.”

“That doesn’t erase everything before.” 

“No. Still. This has been a bad season for the Ravens. It’ll be hard coming back from this.”

Kevin’s knuckles are white around the phone. He realises he was foolish to think he might get some kind of comfort from this call.

“Yeah,” he says, and there’s his throat, closing in on itself.

“I have to get to class, Kevin, but we can chat more about next season later, if you want?”

“Sure.” Kevin barely manages the word, but it doesn’t matter, he’s not part of whatever conversation Thea’s having. They’re on two different wavelengths. He listens to the end of call beep and sinks down the wall, knees folded to his chest.

He thinks of Aaron’s hand on his chest. Of Aaron’s pulse beneath his fingers, the beat steady and solid, reassuring. He thinks of the brush of Aaron’s thumb against the skin of his neck. It reminds him of Jean. Of the brief touches of comfort while helping each other through the pain.

That’s the comfort Kevin wants, but he doesn’t know how to ask for it. He hugs his knees closer and presses his face to them. His eyes are hot. He doesn’t want to cry. He nips himself hard in the leg until the pain overrides the sadness. 

*

Aaron’s moved in with Matt now, but Nicky gave him a copy of their key so he can still come hang out. It’s using this that he finds Kevin slumped down low on the couch, watching a documentary with a British man rumbling on about something. He’s got a bowl of mixed nuts resting on his stomach that looks mostly untouched. His hands are limp by his sides. 

Aaron’s been getting as much of his abuse on the court as anyone else, but as pissed off as he is, he knows he wasn’t much better after Tilda’s death. That, and the fact that when he’s not yelling at them in practice, Kevin is largely silent and withdrawn, makes it hard to stay angry with him. 

“Hey, your highness,” he says, dropping his bag by the side of the couch and sitting beside Kevin. Kevin’s gaze flicks to him, then back at the screen. He hums in acknowledgement. “What we watching?”

“Norse mythology,” Kevin says. “It’s not quite the Bundy Tapes, but there’s still plenty of murder.”

“Alright.” Aaron reaches over and steals some of the nuts. They’re plain and not very flavourful, but he eats them anyway. He sinks back into the couch and tries to follow along the story of Loki’s children which he’s arrived in the middle of.

They sit in silence for twenty minutes, when suddenly Aaron feels a pressure against his shoulder. He starts, then looks down to see Kevin breathing softly. Aaron’s first impulse is to shake him off, but Kevin looks like he hasn’t slept a full night through in days. He bites his lip, glances around even though he knows the dorm is empty, then shifts himself so Kevin is resting more securely against his shoulder.

Aaron doesn’t realise he’s also fallen asleep, his head resting against Kevin’s, until he’s woken by Nicky taking a picture of them.

“You just looked so cute and peaceful!” Nicky says, as Aaron aims one of the couch cushions at his head.

“I’m going to kick your ass,” he says, scrambling over Kevin’s legs and chasing Nicky to the bedroom. Nicky slams the door and leans his weight against it as Aaron growls and tries to push it open. When he finally gives up and turns back, Kevin is yawning and stretching his body, cat like, on the couch. He sees Aaron looking and gives him an honest to god fucking shy smile.

“Sorry for crashing out on you,” he says. It’s the least aggravating thing he’s said to Aaron all week.

“You looked like you needed it,” Aaron says with a shrug. Kevin stands, and Aaron comes forward, and then he’s face to chest with Kevin Day. He tilts his head up to look at him.

“I did,” Kevin says. “A lot.”

“It gets easier.”

“Does it?”

“Yes. Not better, but easier. You get used to it.”

“Right.” 

“Let me know if you find any good new documentaries on Netflix?” It’s the most cloaked way of offering his company, but it’s all Aaron can manage. Kevin’s mouth twitches into the ghost of a smile. He nods, and Aaron nods back, then grabs his backpack and heads back to his room.

*

Kevin doesn’t tell anyone when the inevitable collapse of he and Thea’s hollow relationship comes. He doesn’t intend to tell anyone, either, but Nicky’s nosiness makes him incapable of keeping his nose out of other people’s business. He sees a few vague things online and starts making comments around Kevin until Kevin just sighs and tells him.

“Oh. Oh, no. I didn’t think there was any truth to it. Oh Kevin, I’m sorry.”

“Stop.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m not doing this.”

“You can talk to me.”

“There’s nothing to talk about, leave me alone.”

Nicky follows him around the apartment until Andrew comes back from wherever he and Neil disappear to and gets him to cool it. He takes the chance to grab his running shoes and headphones and slip out. 

He hears giggling in the corridor when he steps out, and slows on his quick escape. He expects to see one of the girls from the team, but instead glances down the hall and sees Aaron and Katelyn. Katelyn’s the one giggling as Aaron presses kisses up her throat. He’s got her pinned to the wall, one hand by her head, the other on her hip. Kevin stares a second too long, then closes the door louder than he intended. They jump apart. 

“Oh. Hello, Kevin,” Katelyn says, still smiling, pretty and flushed. Kevin nods at her, feeling dazed and irritated for no good reason. He blames Nicky. Aaron’s ears are a little pink from being caught, but he can’t quite get rid of his smile. Kevin doesn’t think he and Thea ever looked that happy together.

“Hey,” he says, and then turns his back to them and starts down the hall. He jogs down the stairs and strides across the lobby, taking a deep breath once he hits fresh air.

It aches, a little. He feels more alone than he has in a while, but he also feels freer. Feels like something he didn’t know he was waiting for has finally happened and now he can let the anticipation go. The Kevin that Thea wanted was a Raven, through and through. That Kevin doesn’t exist anymore, and Fox Kevin needs someone who isn’t so devoted to the darkest period of his life. 

Kevin pops his headphones on and starts to run. 

*

The familiar restlessness brews beneath Aaron’s skin, and nothing he has tried has gotten rid of it. He’s started feeling the urges again since Andrew cut off their cracker dust supply. It’s not the same as before. Dust was never addictive, and so he isn’t wracked with the same kind of withdrawals his first stretch of sobriety brought, but he still feels an itch beneath the surface, a need for something more. His head has been getting loud lately. He’s desperate to silence it.

Katelyn tries to help, but it’s not a craving a person can fill. Her gentle words and soft hair pets are nice, but they don’t soothe the storm inside him. It’s harder to be around her at times like this. At times when Aaron’s sense of feeling shuts down and he’s just empty and numb. When she says she loves him and he knows he loves her too, but there’s no emotion for him to reach for to back it up. There’s just the emptiness that makes his words feel like lies. 

His phone buzzes beside him on the bed and he reaches for it slow, expecting it to be Katelyn. Instead it’s Kevin who has sent him a picture of a newly added true crime series on Netflix. Aaron looks from the phone to his bio notes, of which he’s barely gotten beyond a paragraph in the last half hour. He flips the book shut and slides off the bed.

“You and Dan have the room for a few hours,” he tells Matt. 

“You going to Katelyn’s?”

“Nah, just next door. I’ll text you before I head back.”

“Thanks man.” Matt grins, already speedily texting Dan. Aaron leaves and makes his way down the hall. He lets himself in and Kevin looks over the back of the couch.

“You came.”

“Yeah.” Aaron takes his usual place on the couch, and examines a bowl on the table with curiosity. “What are these?”

“M&Ms.”

“I thought you didn’t eat candy.”

“I don’t, but you do,” Kevin says, staring at the remote instead of Aaron.

“You got M&Ms just for me?”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“Why?”

“An attempt to bribe you into watching this with me if you didn’t want to come over.”

Aaron snorts, but lifts the bowl into his lap. He eats a handful, then offers it to Kevin.

“You know, a handful of M&Ms isn’t going to hurt.”

“I have to watch what I eat.”

“Season’s over.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“You know you’re allowed nice things, right? A piece of candy now and again isn’t going to wreck your hard work. You get to make your own decisions now.”

“I know,” Kevin says, and looks a little queasy at the thought. He starts the show and then side glances at Aaron. Aaron holds the bowl out to him, and with an eye roll, Kevin takes a handful. “Satisfied now?”

Aaron shrugs and throws an M&M into his mouth. Kevin takes one at a time and lets them melt on his tongue, eyes hooded. It’s an expression that makes the back of Aaron’s neck hot. He looks away, flustered and confused. 

“They were a normal family,” the TV says.

Until,” Kevin and Aaron say at the same time, and then laugh. Aaron realises it’s the first time he’s laughed all week.

*

Aaron knocked the scales into 50/50 in Kevin’s Minyard brother brain space after Riko’s death, but now Kevin thinks it might be starting to lean 40/60 in his favour. It’s concerning for a lot of reasons.

Namely, Andrew would beat his ass if he knew how often Kevin was thinking about Aaron, and how inappropriately. Except, it’s not even just inappropriate thoughts anymore. He keeps wanting to be near Aaron, and see his smile, and make him laugh. He misses the smell of him, the solid presence he didn’t realise he had gotten so used to until Aaron moved out, the quiet solidarity of someone else woken by nightmares. 

It’s stupid for multiple reasons.

    1. Aaron is dating Katelyn.
    2. Aaron is, as far as Kevin is aware, heterosexual.
    3. Even if he wasn’t, why would he be interested in Kevin?
    4. Andrew might kill him.
    5. It’s easier to be heterosexual.

He hasn’t lingered too long on the last one, because he doesn’t expect anything to come of it, but he knows his reputation as an athlete would suffer if he came out. It’s a sad but true fact. Perhaps Neil is willing to deal with that stacked against him. Kevin’s not sure he is.

Knowing it’s not going to happen is one thing, but Kevin can’t turn off the want. He has to stop himself texting Aaron constantly. Even random thoughts he has during class, he now has someone he wants to share them with. It’s new and it’s annoying and Kevin wishes he could turn the feelings off, thanks, because they’re distracting him. 

Kevin’s irritation is forgotten when he gets a message from Aaron.

Finish the series tonight?

He grins like an idiot, then rubs the corner of his mouth until he has the smile under control.

Sure

Kevin thinks about making the living room nicer for Aaron coming over, but he doesn’t want to give himself away. He paces, too restless to sit, and for the first time in his life he thinks he understands the meaning of the phrase disaster bi. This is the most disastrous crush his bi ass could have developed.

When he hears Aaron’s key in the door, he throws himself on the couch in an effort to look casual and unaffected. He ends up looking more like a mess of long limbs, but Aaron’s not looking when he comes in. His head is bowed, the slope of his shoulders heavy and tired, and when he gets closer, Kevin notices his fingers are freshly raw and bloody where he’s picked the skin away from them. A sure sign of a bad day.

“Hey,” he says, testing the waters.

“Hey,” Aaron says back, and slumps down beside him. Kevin hits play and then goes to the kitchen and makes tea for them from the bags Aaron still keeps stored there. He hands Aaron his mug and Aaron manages a small, tired smile. “Thanks.”

“Bad day?”

“Not really.”

Just a bad head day, then. Kevin knows those too well. He doesn’t say anything more, just settles and lets Aaron focus on the screen. He clearly wants the distraction. They make it an episode before Kevin notices Aaron folding his arms across his ribs. The slight shiver of his shoulders.

“You cold?” he asks. Aaron shrugs. “You want me to pause and you can go get a jacket?”

“Nah. Dan’s over.”

“Oh.” When he sees Aaron shiver again, Kevin fetches one of his own hoodies and throws it at him.

“What’s this for?”

“You to wear, dumbass.”

“I don’t need your hoody.”

“You’re shivering.”

“I’m fine.”

“Okay, Neil.”

“Fuck you.”

“It’s just a hoody. You can take it off before you leave. Jesus, it’s not a big deal.”

Aaron grumbles, but after a moment he does pull on the hoody. He’s drowned in it. Has to push up the sleeves to get his hands free. Kevin’s body warms and hums with a possessive satisfaction seeing Aaron in his clothes. Wow. Gotta shut that down, quick.

“Your arms are stupidly long,” Aaron says.

“Nah. Yours are just mad short.”

Aaron tucks his hand back inside the sleeve, then swings his arm so the extra length of empty sleeve smacks Kevin in the face.

“Hey!”

Aaron grins and does it again. Kevin catches his arm where it’s lost inside the sleeve and pushes it away. Aaron pushes back. They wrestle for a bit until Aaron topples Kevin off the couch and he bumps his head on the coffee table.

“Shit,” Aaron says, still laughing. “Are you okay?”

“Fuck,” Kevin says, as his head pulses. “Yeah, just a shock.”

Aaron wriggles his hand free of the sleeve to help him up. Kevin lets him, but then very quickly moves his hand away once he’s up. He hopes he doesn’t look as flushed as he feels.

“Can we restart this episode?” Aaron says. “We missed most of it.”

“Sure.” Kevin clears his throat and restarts the episode. Aaron straightens back up on the couch, and when Kevin sits back, their arms are pressed together. Aaron doesn’t move, and it’s all Kevin can think of all evening.

*

Aaron’s tucked between Kevin and Nicky in the backseat, because Neil always gets to ride shotgun now, and Aaron has the shortest legs. It’s not his favourite sitting arrangement, but there’s no point complaining. At least he and Kevin have something to talk about this week. They discuss the true crime series they’ve been watching and Nicky makes noises of distaste anytime they go into too much detail. Kevin rolls his eyes, and Aaron grins before catching himself. 

When they get to Eden’s they go to the bar. Aaron leans against it. Kevin leans a hand beside him, his body over Aaron’s, merely an inch between them. Aaron can feel the heat of him. If he leans back, he could feel the firm line of Kevin down his back. He swallows and shifts further forward, his bicep brushing the inside of Kevin’s forearm. 

He turns in the narrow space to hand Kevin a shot and the way the lights catch in Kevin’s green eyes make them glow, fucking cat like, and Aaron is briefly captivated. He downs his own shot and blames it on that even though it happened beforehand. He can be really good at denial when he wants to be. 

“Thank you,” Kevin says. He has to lean down to be heard over the music. His voice is warm and honey smooth. Aaron shoulders him in the chest to get some space.

“You alright?” Nicky asks later, when they’re on the dance floor. 

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You’ve been kinda… off? All week.”

It’s true, but it doesn’t mean Aaron wants to talk about it. Doesn’t mean he wants to point out that he’s actually been off for several weeks now, restless and unsettled, constantly pushing down self destructive urges. That his loving girlfriend and studying for the life he wants and everything else that’s going okay hasn’t been enough to distract him from the thought of his trial, of the nightmare flashbacks of what he’s done. That he wants to pledge his life to helping people, and yet he killed one before he ever got there. That he’s finding it harder and harder to get out of bed every morning again. That just existing through the day feels like a weight heavy on him, an ache down to his bones, an exhaustion he can’t shake with sleep.

“I’m okay,” he says, and when Nicky looks unconvinced, he adds: “Just tired with class and stuff lately:”

Nicky nods sympathetically. Finals loom nearer every day, so it’s only a half lie, really.

“Let’s not think about it tonight,” Nicky says. That Aaron can agree with. 

Nicky disappears to go to the bathroom, and Aaron is happy to sink into the crowd. Just an anonymous drunken face among many. Until Kevin appears, towering, his form fitting black shirt hugging against the planes of his body and the muscles of his arms. Aaron stares for a moment and wonders if this is his brain's latest path of self destruction. 

Kevin holds out a drink in offering, and Aaron takes it with a nod of thanks. His lips find the straw and he sucks hard, thirsty from dancing. Kevin stares at him intently for a moment before his gaze shifts away, expression unreadable. Aaron inclines his head towards the smoking area.

“Could do with some air.”

Kevin nods, and follows his lead out into the small outdoor area at the back of the club. There’s a few picnic tables, but most people just stand around in it. Aaron moves to the edge, as far as he can get from anyone actually smoking. Kevin stands between him and everyone else, and with his height, he blocks most of them from view. 

Aaron pushes a hand through his sweat damp hair, smoothing it back from his forehead. A curling strand falls loose when he lowers his hand, and Kevin gently smooths it into place. His hand is cool from holding their drinks and Aaron presses his heated forehead up into his palm. Kevin smiles a confusing, lopsided, painful looking kind of smile, but obliges and presses his hand to Aaron’s heated skin until his palm warms from the contact. 

“You look like you’re having fun,” Kevin says. Aaron doesn’t know what to say, because fun suggests a level of emotion he’s not quite feeling at the moment. 

“I guess.”

“You look so cute dancing beside Nicky. So tiny- hey!” Kevin flinches away as Aaron punches him in the arm. There’s no real violence to the move, just irritation, but Kevin makes a show of rubbing his arm anyway.

“Shut up.”

“Alright, pipsqueak.”

“I’ll break your stupidly tall face.”

“Not my face.” Kevin faux gasps. “That’s my money maker.”

“You don’t play exy with your face.”

“No, but it helps for all the other parts.” Kevin flashes his full professional, press approved smile. Aaron rolls his eyes. He’s seen a lot of Kevin’s smiles by now. That one is not one of his favourites. 

“Your ass could carry you,” Aaron says, and regrets it when Kevin spits the entire mouthful of drink he was taking all over Aaron. It’s vodka with some kind of mixer. Aaron’s face feels sticky. “Ugh, fuck sake, Kevin.”

“Sorry, sorry- did you just- was that a compliment for my ass?”

“It’s an implication it’s better than your face. Not much of a compliment,” Aaron says, trying to dry his face with his bicep.

“Here,” Kevin says. He uses the sleeve of his shirt instead, brushing it over Aaron’s face until most of the droplets are gone. Aaron glares at him through the process. “I said I was sorry.”

“After you spat on me. Gross.”

“I didn’t mean to! You surprised me.” Kevin's voice is urgent, and his body is so close, and Aaron’s hazy brain thinks about it being closer. It would be so easy to pull him in. It would be so easy to bury all his pain in Kevin for tonight.

But it wouldn’t fix anything. He’d still wake hollow and aching in the morning, except with a fresh layer of guilt. He’d hate himself, and he wouldn’t be able to face Kevin again, and anyway, no matter what he thinks, he knows deep in the core of him he would never, ever do something like that to Katelyn. He’s put her through more than enough. 

Other people can’t soothe the damage inside of him, but more alcohol might numb it.

“We should get more drinks,” Aaron says, slipping beneath the arm Kevin has propped on the wall above him. He zig zags his way back to where Andrew and Neil are at their table. He doesn’t look back to see if Kevin is following.

*

Kevin is fucked. Kevin is badly fucked. Kevin is on the couch in the living room below Aaron and all he can think about is Aaron under the flashing club lights, Aaron’s heated skin beneath his hand, Aaron commenting on his ass and he can’t even read people well enough to know if that means something and Kevin is f u c k e d.

He goes to the bathroom and there’s Aaron, standing in a loose pair of pj bottoms and brushing his teeth. He meets Kevin’s gaze in the mirror and quirks a brow. Kevin steps closer. He puts a hand on the sink on either side of Aaron’s hips.

“Tell me to stop,” he says, forehead dipping to press to Aaron’s shoulder. The muscle and skin moves beneath him as Aaron ducks his head to spit toothpaste into the sink. Kevin kisses the curve of his shoulder blade. Aaron leans back into him.

Then Aaron is turning in his arms, and Kevin’s hands are under his thighs, heaving him up to sit on the sink. Aaron’s hands are in his hair, tugging and insistent, and Kevin’s tongue is in his mouth, wet and minty. Kevin moans desperately, slotted between Aaron’s thighs, grinding against him. 

Then he wakes on the couch, sweaty and panting, struck with terror because Andrew is going to kill him before he realises it’s a dream. Just a dream. He presses a hand to his heart, beating a staccato rhythm in his chest.

Kevin is fucked.

*

Summer draws closer, and in the rush of studying and finals, Aaron and Katelyn see less of each other. Aaron finds he doesn’t really mind this, which in turn sends him on a bit of downward spiral thought-wise, because Katelyn was supposed to be his person. She was supposed to be the one.

He fought for her. He risked everything for her. He risked his relationship with Andrew. He risked Andrew’s anger. She was supposed to be it and the fact that she doesn’t make him happy in the same way anymore starts to solidify the thought that he must really be broken. That whatever part of him was meant to hold happiness and love must have been ground down under Tilda’s heel and now it’s too cracked to store them for long.

So it’s not surprising to him when she breaks it off a few weeks before they leave for the summer. It hurts. Katelyn cries, and Aaron comforts her, and it hurts like fuck, but it’s not surprising. Not when he’s been trying to muster up some kind of feeling for weeks. Not when they’ve been going days without texting. Not when he can’t even remember their last date.

“Can we stay friends?” Katelyn asks through tears, and Aaron manages a smile. It feels stiff and plastic on his face.

“Of course,” he says. He smooths her tears away, and she hugs him fiercely, and he wonders if maybe they would have been better as friends all along. She kisses his cheek when he leaves.

Aaron walks back to the dorms with a weight in his stomach. He feels like he should cry, like his body really, really wants to cry, but no tears come. He aches from fatigue. He aches from the fucking weight of living, to which this is just another pebble tossed atop the mountain.

Aaron collapses into bed when he gets home and curls into himself. He pulls the blanket over his head so when Matt comes in he’ll think he’s napping, but he just lies there in the stifling dark of the blanket, listening to his own shaky breathing.

*

Kevin finds Aaron with pink eyes on their couch. He’s dug out Kevin’s bottle of vodka that he thought was well hidden. It’s half empty. 

“That’s mine,” Kevin says dumbly.

“I’ll replace it,” Aaron says, and takes another shot.

“Okay, I think that’s enough.” He tries to take the bottle, but Aaron holds tight. “Aaron.”

“Kevin.”

“Let go.”

“I don’t deny you your coping mechanisms.”

“... Alright, at least give me some.” 

Aaron finally lets go, and Kevin takes the bottle and downs a long shot. Aaron makes a grabby hand at him and with a sigh Kevin hands the bottle back. He sits beside Aaron.

“Want to talk about it?”

Aaron shakes his head.

“Did something happen with Andrew?”

Aaron snorts, shakes his head again.

“Okay.” Kevin opens Netflix and goes to put on a true crime documentary, but Aaron’s fumbling hand takes the remote from him and sticks on Our Planet instead. Attenborough’s voice fills the space between them. Aaron sniffs and sinks further into the couch. Kevin glances at him but says nothing.

They finish the vodka between them (though mostly Aaron), and Aaron ends up crashing out halfway through the first episode. Kevin gently eases the bottle from his fingers and sets it aside. He uses his sleeve to pat a little drool from the corner of Aaron’s mouth, then brings out a blanket from his room and drapes it over him. 

Crouching beside Aaron’s sleeping form, Kevin looks at him in the late afternoon light. The skin beneath his eyes is purple. His skin is rough and unhappy, stress break outs along his jaw and chin. His delicate lips are dry and chapped. His complexion has a sickly gleam. Despite it all, Kevin thinks he’s beautiful. He strokes his thumb over the crease between Aaron’s eyebrows, feather light, afraid of waking him, and Aaron’s expression smooths into something more peaceful. 

Kevin moves to one of the bean bags, letting Aaron have the couch to sleep, but close enough to keep an eye on him until Nicky comes home. Nicky raises his eyebrows questioningly. Kevin puts a finger to his lips. Nicky clicks the door shut quietly behind him.

“Why is Aaron asleep on our couch?”

“Irrelevant. If you wake him, I’m going to make you run laps until you cry,” Kevin says.

“Okay, coach junior. First of all, you’re not even the captain-“ Nicky must see something fierce in Kevin’s expression, because he holds his hands up in mock surrender and steps towards the bedroom. “Okay, okay, didn’t know you cared so much.”

Kevin didn’t either.

*

Aaron’s glad finals are over, because he can’t focus for shit at the moment. The foxes go out for lunch to celebrate and he sits silently between Nicky and Andrew. No one has noticed that he’s losing his grasp of himself again. That whatever progress he made of crawling out of the hole inside him is gone, and it’s all avalanched back in on top of himself.

He supposes that’s what happens when you don’t speak to people anyway. When you don’t let people know you. It means they don’t recognise the signs when it all goes to shit.

He glances up when Kevin starts talking about things they can do over the summer to keep up their stamina for next season. Kevin barrelling on despite everyone booing and trying to quiet him.

“It’s not even summer yet and you’re already trying to train us for next year,” Matt says. “Chill for once, Kevin.”

“Kevin doesn’t know how to chill,” Aaron says, and some of them laugh, even though it wasn’t a joke. Kevin looks at him for half a second and then turns his head away. He hasn’t really been looking at Aaron much since after the breakup, but Aaron wasn’t that drunk. He’s quite certain he didn’t say anything that would have annoyed Kevin into ignoring him.

Having his one attempt to join in rebuffed by Kevin sends Aaron back into silence. It’s fine. He’ll just push through this stupid lunch and then he can go back to his room and sleep again.

He’s been sleeping a lot. It doesn’t matter how many hours he gets, he’s still tired. He’s not back to chronic nightmares again, but he keeps having fragmented dreams, some of them with nightmarish elements, most of them just confusing and unsettling. 

It’s still better than being awake.

*

“Come with us,” Neil says. “At least for a few weeks. No one’s going to be here to practice with, anyway.”

“I can practice by myself,” Kevin says. Andrew rolls his eyes beside Neil.

“Kevin, you’ll be an absolute sad case if you spend your whole summer here by yourself,” Nicky says.

“I won’t be by myself.”

“Third wheeling Wymack and Abby doesn’t count.”

“Fuck you.”

“I mean, you are on my list.”

“Ugh,” Aaron says, pulling his hood up over his head. “Gross.”

Kevin looks at him. He’s been trying to distance himself from Aaron lately, which has ended up taking little to no effort because Aaron has barely spoken to anyone since Katelyn. Nicky keeps fussing over him and giving useless advice about more fish in the sea. Kevin’s pretty sure Andrew said something a lot more nasty, because Aaron has become a mirror of Andrew’s dismissive behaviour. Neil mostly just looks, which makes Aaron more bristled and defensive than any words could.

Kevin knows this is good, and that distance is good, and that he should use this opportunity to drive the gap between them further, but seeing Aaron all small and sad and distant just makes him want to try harder

“Kevin, are you even listening?” Nicky says.

“Uh. No,” Kevin says, and Aaron huffs a just barely audible laugh. Nicky sighs.

“Kevin!”

“Oh, just come up for a few weeks to shut them up,” Aaron says, sounding tired of the conversation. Kevin looks at him, but Aaron’s gaze is set in front of him, glassy and distant.

“Fine,” he says, and Nicky scoops him, struggling, into a bear hug. 

*

Coming back to Columbia is good. It’s not quite home, but it’s the closest thing Aaron has anymore. He thinks maybe he’s never had somewhere that feels exactly like home. He thinks maybe he never will.

Josten is an unwelcome addition. Hovering in joined spaces. Trailing after Andrew. Always looking at Aaron as if he can see into his head. Aaron finds himself picking more and more compulsively at the skin of his fingers to distract from the urge of wanting to punch Josten in his stupid face. His hands are constantly raw and aching. Sometimes it’s the only thing he feels.

Nicky has flown out to Germany to spend time with Erik for a few weeks, so Aaron spends a lot of time on his own, avoiding Neil and Andrew. Sometimes he hangs out with Kevin, but Kevin seems to have no problem being a third wheel, so mostly Aaron is alone. He walks a lot. Heading out in the evenings with the fading summer sun and not coming back until it’s dark. Tries not to think about his impending trial and ends up thinking of nothing else. His stomach is constantly in knots from the anxiety.

He finds Kevin sitting on the front steps when he gets back. Aaron stops near him, folding his arms and leaning against the porch.

“Did they kick you out?”

“No. I just wanted some air.”

Aaron presses off the porch and moves instead to sit by Kevin’s side. They both look up at the sky, a little too light polluted to pick out any stars. 

“You’ve been quiet lately,” Kevin says eventually, and Aaron folds his arms against his ribs defensively.

“I’m always quiet.”

“Sometimes. With the group. Less so around us.”

“I already have a therapist.”

“Good. I’m not trying to be one.”

“Then what?”

“Just observing,” Kevin says. He hasn’t looked at Aaron since he sat down. Aaron glares at the side of his stupid face; all handsome lines and angles. 

“I don’t know how you can stand being around them so much,” Aaron says instead, because he doesn’t want to talk about him, because someone actually recognising the fact that he’s barely holding together at the seams makes him feel panicked.

“It’s easier being around people, sometimes,” Kevin says. Aaron looks at his hands. Kevin’s rubbing his thumb nail back and forth over the bump of his wrist bone, which is already red and raw. “Less room to think.”

Aaron’s been so busy hiding the mess of himself he didn’t even notice Kevin is crumbling too.

“Yeah,” he says, squeezing his arms tighter around himself. Kevin shrugs out of his jacket and puts it around Aaron’s shoulders. Aaron doesn’t argue, even though he wasn’t hugging himself from the cold. Kevin’s fingers brush against his bicep as he moves his hand away and Aaron suddenly, inexplicably, desperately needs to cry. The tears burn at his eyes even as he tries to blink them away.

For once, Kevin keeps his stupid fucking mouth shut. He sees the first hot tears streak down Aaron’s cheek. He lifts a thumb to brush one away, but when Aaron recoils from his touch, he lowers his hand and just sits, shoulder to shoulder, and lets him cry without acknowledging it.

*

There’s a knock on Kevin’s bedroom door, which is really Nicky’s bedroom door, but he’s been upgraded from the couch during Nicky’s absence. When he answers, Aaron is standing ashen faced in the doorway. Kevin raises an eyebrow.

“I can hear them,” Aaron says, voice strained, and Kevin laughs loud and wild until Aaron tries to suffocate him with one of his pillows. The threat is somehow softened by the way Aaron has to reach up to press the pillow to his face.

“Okay, okay,” Kevin says, wheezy with laughter. “You want to go downstairs and watch something?”

Aaron nods, and Kevin, only wearing a pair of loose sweats, pulls on a hoody and leaves it open as he follows Aaron down the stairs. Aaron goes to the kitchen first and starts making tea, so Kevin slices some fruit into a bowl for them to snack on, and then they make their way to the couch together.

There’s a small blanket draped over the back of the couch, and Aaron shifts close enough to Kevin that he can drape it over both their laps. Kevin rests his arm along the back of the couch as Aaron grabs the remote, and when Aaron sits back he’s dangerously close to having his arm around him.

“So there’s this show I found that’s kind of part documentary, part dramatised, about the Roman Empire,” Aaron says, pulling it up so Kevin can read the description. As if Kevin wasn’t totally sold the second Aaron said Roman Empire. He fucking loves the Romans. “What do you think?”

“Yes,” Kevin says, hand over Aaron’s as he presses play with both their thumbs. “Yes, yes, yes.”

Aaron giggles; this soft, small sound that makes Kevin’s chest twist. 

“You’re such a fucking nerd. I knew you’d love this.”

“Whatever. Shut up, Doctor Minyard.”

Aaron tilts his head and grins at Kevin, and he’s so close, and it would be so easy to just lean in those last two inches and kiss him. Kevin sits back instead.

“Shhh,” he says, pressing his hand to Aaron’s mouth. He presses harder when Aaron bites at his palm. Aaron shoves his arm away, and Kevin tenses to try to push back. They wrestle until Aaron ends up on top of Kevin, breathing heavy, hand pressed to Kevin’s bare chest in a way Kevin is certain he must feel the erratic beat of his heart beneath his fingers.

“Okay, you win,” Kevin says, swallowing thickly. “Can we please learn about Commodus now?”

“Since you said please,” Aaron says, still panting lightly. He’s slow to move his hand from Kevin’s chest, and Kevin’s skin feels cold after the warmth of his touch. They readjust themselves to sit side by side again, but Aaron ends up more tucked against Kevin’s side when he smooths out the blanket. Kevin keeps his hand planted very firmly on the back of the couch to resist wrapping his arm around him.

*

They go to Eden’s to celebrate Nicky’s return, because of course they do. Any excuse, really. Aaron’s glad to blow off some steam after weeks in close quarters with Andrew and Neil, after anxiety building as his trial gets closer, the fear of it constant. 

The last week and a bit hasn’t been as bad, though, since Kevin started seeking him out for Netflix or video games or, one particularly dangerous morning, an attempt to take Aaron on his morning run with him. Aaron, grumpy and bleary in the 6am sunlight, had refused to run, and Kevin had to slow his pace to a jog, circling around Aaron as he stubbornly walked. Kevin had still bought him breakfast afterwards, though, so not a total shit show.

Kevin’s beside him now, holding up his shot glass for Nicky and Aaron and, surprisingly, Neil to clink theirs against. Andrew refrains, but waits for the rest of them before downing his. 

“Let‘s dance,” Nicky is saying.

“I’m not drunk enough yet,” Aaron says. Nicky pouts.

“I’ve been gone for ages. You have to dance with me.”

Aaron grumbles, but grabs a glass for each hand and lets Nicky lead him to the floor. He puts a straw from each glass in his mouth and gently bobs along as he drinks. It’s not like Nicky even needs him. He gets absorbed into the crowd pretty quickly.

Aaron abandons his empty glasses on a random table at the edge of the dance floor, feeling a little more buzzed now. Kevin appears at his elbow with two glasses in hand. He offers one to Aaron.

“Thanks.” Aaron takes it and leans back against the wall. Kevin stands beside him. From here all they can make out is the bounce of Nicky’s curls above other people’s heads. Kevin tilts his glass towards Aaron, and Aaron clinks their glasses together.

“Busy tonight,” Kevin says.

“Summer. Always busier.”

“Ah.”

They’re close enough that Aaron can feel the heat from Kevin’s skin. He glances up at him; the sharp cut of his jaw, the strong line of his nose, the fucking ridiculous queen on his cheek. Kevin is something sturdy and still beneath the flashing lights, in the midst of the pounding music, in contrast to the shifting bodies on the floor. If Aaron didn’t know Kevin had his own storms brewing beneath the surface, he’d think someone like that was untouchable.

Nicky, realising Aaron has escaped him, appears from the crowd to drag him back. Aaron looks to Kevin, who just gives a shrug as he watches Aaron tugged away. Aaron flips him off. Kevin smirks, before people are blocking Aaron’s view of him. 

He doesn’t know how long he’s on the floor with Nicky. In the thrum of moving bodies, with music vibrating up through his feet, it’s hard to keep track of time. He can’t even track it by the music, all the EDM songs blending into each other, no coherent spaces between them. He just knows that when he breaks away from the crowd his black shirt is clinging to him with sweat and his mouth is dry. He’s heading for the table but Kevin meets him halfway, drink in hand.

“You look thirsty.”

“This is water.”

“Yes. It’s generally what people drink when they’re thirsty. You can have another drink once you’ve hydrated.”

Aaron pulls a face, but he downs half of the glass, then sips the rest of it as he makes his way back to the table. Andrew and Neil aren’t doing anything particularly coupley, but the way they’re leaning close and simply staring at each other intently is enough for Aaron to just grab a drink and depart. He turns and bumps face first into Kevin’s chest.

“Oh, careful.” Kevin’s fingers are long and gentle as they steady Aaron at his elbows. Aaron blinks at his shirt a few times before remembering he has to look up to see his stupid face. Kevin gives him a warm, lopsided smile. An imperfect smile. His natural smile.

“Alright, Goliath,” Aaron says, and slips beneath his arm. Kevin grabs a drink and follows him back onto the floor. Aaron’s torn between wanting to say something snide and not wanting Kevin to go. He settles for staying quiet. Hard to be heard over the music anyway.

His defences are lowered with drinking, and Aaron’s thoughts come unfiltered, running on instinct, and his instincts very much want him to be close to Kevin. He looks up, and Kevin is watching him with intense eyes, flashing so bright when certain coloured lights hit them. Kevin is so warm, and solid, and bright. He is Enjolras, Achilles; the blazing hero, self righteous and certain, and Aaron is just a lost companion stumbling in his wake, grateful to be in his presence. 

When the fuck did he become a Kevin Day fanboy? Because fuck that.

Aaron starts when Kevin’s thumb touches lightly between his brows.

“You’re all furrowed,” Kevin says, leaning down to be heard, and Aaron thinks fuck this. He loops an arm around Kevin’s neck to keep him down and presses their lips together, hot and urgent.

*

Kevin blinks dumbly, and Aaron Minyard is still kissing him. He’s pretty sure it’s not a dream this time. He can feel the slight ache in his neck from the angle that Aaron has him pulled down, so he’s really, almost definitely sure that this isn’t a dream. 

Aaron gives his hair a little tug and Kevin realises he’s just letting himself be kissed, and as a possible one time opportunity, he should really be making the best of this. His arms loop around Aaron’s back, bringing him closer as he licks into Kevin’s mouth. It’s sloppy, and messy, a little overly wet, but it still feels like the best kiss Kevin has ever had. His heart is doing some mad attempt to get out of his chest.

Then he’s being hauled away from Aaron and slammed into a table and his fluttering heart changes to a rapid fire beat of anxiety. Kevin stumbles back, but the hands grab him again and slam him against a wall so hard his head makes a sickening thud on impact. Then there’s a familiar knife to his throat, and that, bizarrely, calms him some. Just Andrew. Not someone trying to avenge Riko.

“I thought you would know better, Kev,” Andrew says, point of his knife beneath Kevin’s Adam’s apple. “You fucked up.”

Kevin swallows, and feels the point of the blade press into his skin as his throat moves beneath it. He says nothing. He’s not sure he’s got words in him yet. Even with Andrew’s blade at his throat, he’s still thinking about Aaron’s mouth.

“Andrew!” Aaron is suddenly at Andrew’s shoulder, and he’s looking at twin faces twisted in grim expressions. Slanted brows, serious eyes, mouths turned down in dual frowns. “Let him go.”

“He shouldn’t have put his hands on you. He knows the price for mistakes like that.”

“I kissed him,” Aaron says, shifting slightly so he’s more to Kevin’s side and can look Andrew in the face. “So are you going to stab me for touching him?”

If Andrew has any feelings about this news, it doesn’t show on his face. Kevin hears Nicky gasp from somewhere behind him, and he can see Neil raise his eyebrows curiously. “Andrew.”

“You know, I don’t get it, brother,” Andrew says, and he leans his blade a little more firmly to Kevin’s throat. “You make a big fuss about the girl. You anger me for the girl. You poke and you push, and then I agree, and now she’s gone. So tell me, oh young Casanova, was she worth your valiant heart?”

“I don’t think I was worth hers,” Aaron says after a moment.

“Wrong answer.” Andrew draws a thin, bloody line along Kevin’s throat. It stings, but no more than a shaving cut.

“Jesus Christ, Andrew, not everything lasts forever. I loved Katelyn, but we didn’t work out. Sometimes that happens. It doesn’t mean you have to gut Kevin to prove a point.”

“Yeah, we need him for next season,” Neil says, coming to stand at Andrew’s other shoulder. Kevin, for his part, focuses on being very still. 

“So this,” Andrew says, eyes flicking from Aaron to Kevin and back. “You’re fighting for this now?”

“I-“ Aaron looks at Kevin. “I don’t know if there is a this yet.”

Andrew looks back to Kevin, and tilts the knife up, point aimed at the soft spot beneath his jaw now.

“Well?” Andrew says.

“You realise holding him at knife point is forcing a response,” Aaron says. “That’s a conversation we need to have. Alone, and not with a fucking audience.”

Andrew throws a bored glance over his shoulder at the crowd that’s started gawking at their exchange. He sighs and steps away from Kevin, finally. Kevin’s hand goes to his throat automatically. Aaron plants himself half in front of him as if he’d have any chance of stopping a second attack.

“Home,” Andrew says, tone so sharp even Nicky doesn’t protest.

*

The drive home is silent and tense. Andrew presses the keys into Neil’s hand, and he sits in the back with Aaron and Nicky. Aaron does not really want to be near Andrew right now, but he knows well enough to keep his mouth shut. 

“You sort this out by morning,” is all Andrew says when he gets out of the car. He doesn’t look at either of them, but Aaron still feels the implicit threat. 

“Oh my god,” Nicky says quietly when Andrew and Neil have headed to their room.

“Shut up, Nicky,” Aaron says.

“But- you- oh my god.”

“Shut up, Nicky,” Aaron says again, but this time Kevin says it with him. They glance at each other, and then Aaron can’t look away. Nicky gets the hint and backs off. Kevin tilts his head towards the stairs. Aaron nods and leads the way to his room.

Kevin closes the door softly behind them and then turns to look at Aaron. He rubs the back of his neck, shifting his weight. 

“So, uh… that was… different,” Kevin says. Aaron snorts. He steps closer, and Kevin steps back against the door. Aaron raises a brow and steps closer again, until they’re toe to toe. Kevin swallows.

“Are you afraid of me?”

“Knife to the throat will do that.”

“I didn’t put a knife to your throat.”

“No,” Kevin says. He doesn’t say but you’re the reason. He doesn’t need to. Aaron frowns. Kevin sighs. “No. I’m not afraid of you. I’m just- trying not to fuck things up.”

“Maybe a bit past that.”

“Maybe.” 

God, Aaron wants to kiss him again. Lanky and awkward and anxiously watching him, Kevin Day, and Aaron wants to kiss him again. He clenches his hands into fists.

“Hey. I know you’ve been drinking, so, it’s totally fine if it’s nothing,” Kevin says. 

“I knew what I was doing,” Aaron says. Calm. Level. “Drinking just gave me the confidence to do it.”

Kevin exhales shakily. His hand lifts, hovers, then drops again. 

“So, what, you always staring at me and making your big eyes and wanting to hang out, that’s just- what? You wanted to fuck me?”

“What? No.”

“Then what, Kevin? Because you kissed me back.”

“I know.”

“Then could you please give me some fucking clarification on what’s going on in your head. I’m not a mind reader.”

“Feels like it, sometimes.”

“Kevin.”

“You’re not saying anything either.”

“I’m not-?” Aaron laughs, disbelieving. “I put myself between you and my brother, Kevin. Does that not say enough? I’ve made my stand, and thus far, it’s gone unanswered. Tell me to fuck off and I’ll-“

Kevin doesn’t hear what Aaron will do, because he surges down to kiss him, and Aaron’s whole body flushes warm and triumphant. He kicks Kevin’s feet apart so he’s a more accessible height, leaning into the door as he kisses Kevin breathless against it. One of Kevin’s hands is in his hair, fingers softly working against his scalp, a contrast to the tight grip on Aaron’s low back, keeping him close. 

*

It’s surreal to think he’s kissing Aaron Minyard for the second time tonight. Kevin’s imagined it plenty, but he never got it right in his head. Aaron’s kisses sear through him like a gas trail going up in flames, burning Kevin from the inside out, leaving no space for anything but Aaron and Aaron’s mouth and Aaron’s hands which, annoyingly, haven’t moved off the door. 

Kevin is dizzy when Aaron draws back, panting, and looks at him with glassy eyes, pupils blown wide. His lips are saliva slick and Kevin can’t look at anything else. Aaron slowly licks them, and Kevin makes a low, ragged sound.

“So,” Aaron says.

“So,” Kevin repeats dumbly, mind still fixated on his tongue. Aaron pokes him in the stomach and he blinks into focus. “So?”

“Are we doing this?”

“Oh. Yeah, shit, if you want,” Kevin says, peeling his shirt off. He tosses it aside and moves for Aaron, who takes a step back out of his reach with a frown.

“I didn’t mean fucking, Kevin. I meant are we doing us.”

“Oh.” Kevin looks at Aaron, and he aches, but then he thinks of exy, of his future, of how he’s finally free to do it for himself, and his muscles start to freeze up with fear. “I don’t… know.”

“Expand.”

“I- it’s- It’ll be hard, you know. Being out and playing.”

“Oh my god. Are you really thinking of fucking exy right now? Seriously? You were ready to topple into bed with me but oh, oh, god forbid we fucking put a name on it, because boo hoo, a few meanies might nasty tweet about you.”

“It’s not just that.”

“What, Kevin? What is it then?”

“It’s all I have.”

“And who’s fault is that?” Aaron looks at him with more anger than he’s ever seen from Andrew. Andrew goes blank and withdrawn in his rage, or grinning and wild eyed when he was on his meds, but Aaron, Aaron’s expression is a storm, is a hurricane rapidly approaching to swallow him. “I used to sympathise. Everyone called you a coward about Riko, but I got that. I understood that. I understood what it was like to be afraid of someone. I understood what it was like having that hold you back. But he’s gone now. The only one standing in your way is yourself, and I can’t make you fucking move.”

Aaron turns from him. He pushes a hand through his hair. He barks out a laugh; harsh, sharp, and Kevin winces at the sound. 

“No, this is on me. I was stupid to think there was more to you. To think that under the layers of fixation and bullshit was a Kevin that gave a fuck about anything outside himself.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Yeah. Life’s not fair. You’re worried about what people will say next season, Kevin? Ha. I mightn’t even be there. You’re worried about committing now. I could be in a fucking jail cell in a few months.”

“You- They’re not going to send you to jail.”

“People go to jail for defending themselves all the time. People go to jail for killing their own fucking abusers. I wasn’t even defending myself.” Aaron’s voice breaks. His hands are trembling where they’re waving in the air. Kevin has never seen him afraid. It makes his blood feel ice cold. “But hey, your fucking reputation is more important.”

Then, like a balloon deflating, all the fight goes out of Aaron. He curls in on himself, hugging his arms around himself, shaking. He sniffs, and then starts to walk past Kevin.

“Aaron, wait.” Kevin reaches for him, and Aaron steps back out of his reach. Kevin is suddenly full of frantic fear. He knows, instinctively, if Aaron opens that door and tells him to go, he’s lost his chance. This is over. 

That would be easier. 

Kevin doesn’t want it to be easier.

“For what? You’ve made your stance clear.”

“Please.”

“I’m too tired to keep arguing.”

“I don’t want to argue.” Kevin tries to touch Aaron again, and he allows it this time. Kevin wraps him gently in his arms and Aaron trembles with a sob against his chest. “I don’t want to go. More than anything, I don’t want to go. I’m not- fuck, I don’t know. Thea and I weren’t like this. I don’t know what to say.”

Aaron sniffs and presses his face further into Kevin’s chest. Kevin smooths his fingers through his hair and down his back. He lets Aaron quietly work it out and compose himself. Aaron leans back, rubbing his eyes with his wrist.

“Sometimes it’s best when you shut the fuck up,” he says, and Kevin laughs, and the tension lightens a little. Kevin smiles weakly. Aaron steps away and sits on the edge of the bed. “I’ll make it simple. Don’t think about anything else yet. Just us. Yes or no?”

“Yes,” Kevin says, no hesitation.

“Okay.” Aaron nods. He folds his knees up to his chest and hugs them. “That’s a starting point.”

Kevin comes to sit beside him. Aaron leans against his arm. Kevin lifts it and wraps it around him, tucking him in against his side.

“You’re going to be okay,” Kevin says.

“You don’t know that.”

“I do. No matter what happens. You’re strong. You’ll be okay.”

Aaron laughs; a thick, wet sound.

“I’m not strong,” he says.

“I think you are. You’re always pushing me back up again.” He touches his fingers to the back of Aaron’s hand. Aaron lifts one of his fingers in response. They tap them together. 

“ET phone home,” Aaron says, and Kevin ugly snorts. 

“I changed my mind,” he says, and laughs when Aaron elbows him in the ribs. Kevin grabs his arm, and Aaron presses back, wrestling Kevin onto the bed. They push and shove and roll until Aaron’s fingers trail along Kevin’s ribs, and Kevin screams indignantly and shoves him away.

“Is Kevin Day ticklish?” Aaron says, joy brightening back into his eyes. The lashes are still damp, but he’s smiling now.

“Listen, I don’t want to hurt you, but I will not be held responsible for what happens if you do that again.”

“Sounds like a challenge.”

“Aaron, don’t. I will give you a black eye and Andrew will skin me.” 

Aaron ignores him, and Kevin flails wildly as he tickles him again. He twists and flips them, catching Aaron’s wrists and pinning him to the bed. Kevin’s breathing hard, a breath away from Aaron’s face. Aaron blinks at him, then leans up and kisses Kevin before he can catch his breath. 

*

He can feel Kevin all over him. His thighs framing Aaron’s, the press of his crotch over Aaron’s hips, his hands on his wrists, his tongue pressing into Aaron’s mouth and sliding against his own. Aaron moans against Kevin’s mouth, feeling feverish with his touch. He’s so much firmer than Katelyn, less delicate, sloppy and frantic and somehow still so fucking hot. 

Kevin’s hands slide down along Aaron’s arms, and once he’s free of his hold, Aaron wraps his arms around Kevin’s shoulders and pulls him close. He tangles a hand in Kevin’s hair and tugs his head sideways so he can easier lick into his mouth. Kevin fucking whimpers and Aaron thinks he might just combust.

“This alright?” He whispers between them, even as Kevin is grinding down against him.

“Uh huh.”

“Do you… like having your hair pulled?” 

Kevin nods, and Aaron gives another tug. Kevin makes a sound that’s half whine, half moan, and dips his head to start mouthing at Aaron’s throat. Aaron tips his head back with a soft sigh, scratching his bitten down nails up Kevin’s back. Kevin nips at his ear lobe.

“Can I suck you off?” Kevin asks, and Aaron’s brain has to reboot. In the beat of silence, Kevin draws away slightly. “If you don’t want-“

“I think that might be the best fucking use for your mouth ever, actually,” Aaron says. Kevin grins. He kisses him hard into the mattress again as he palms him through his jeans. Aaron’s hips push up off the bed and into his hand. 

Kevin’s hands shift up, sliding under Aaron’s shirt. They move across his stomach and up, fingertips following the curve of his ribs. Aaron sits up and lets Kevin pull his shirt off. Kevin kisses him, then his shoulder, then his chest, stomach, hip. He undoes Aaron’s jeans and takes them off with his underwear, pausing to take in the sight of him once he’s got him bare and spread before him. 

“Fuck,” Kevin says.

“Are you going to say something gay?” 

“No. My blood flow is focused somewhere other than the brain right now. ‘Fuck’ is all I had.”

“That’s fair.”

They grin at each other, then Kevin hooks his arms under Aaron’s thighs and pulls him flat on his back again. He presses little kisses up the soft flesh of Aaron’s inner thigh, giving a teasing little nip near the top that has Aaron twitching beneath him. Then Kevin fucking Day is glancing up at him with those too bright green eyes and a hand around his cock, and Aaron flushes right down his chest.

He was right. This is definitely the best use for Kevin’s mouth. It’s hot, and wet, and Kevin seems to know exactly what to do to take Aaron apart. It’s not long before he’s swearing quietly, tugging on Kevin’s hair, head tipped back and the line of his neck taut. Aaron presses his forearm to his mouth.

“Hey.” Kevin draws back and tugs his arm. “I wanna hear.”

“My family are in this house,” Aaron hisses.

“Oh, yeah.” Kevin pouts. He flicks little kitten licks along the head of Aaron’s cock and Aaron stifles a whimper. “That’s a shame.” 

“Kevin.”

“Hm?”

“Can you stop talking and keep sucking my cock?”

“I mean, I can-“

“This was a mistake. This was- oh.” Aaron falls silent as Kevin takes him into his mouth again. Then he makes a strangled noise as Kevin takes him right in the back of his throat and starts to hum around him. “Sweet Jesus holy fuck. Kevin, I’m close. Kevin, Kevin, fuck.”

Kevin hollows his cheeks and bobs his head, and when Aaron comes, he keeps swallowing until Aaron is spent and quivering. Kevin sucks a bruise into one of his trembling thighs, then crawls up to lie beside him, stroking himself.

“Hey,” Aaron says, fucked out and hazy. “Gimme a minute. I can do that.”

“It’s fine. I got myself off back in the Nest all the time.”

Right. The Ravens. Aaron suddenly understands why Kevin is so good at sucking cock.

He reaches out and takes Kevin’s wrist gently.

“You’re not there anymore. You’re here with me, and I’ll take care of you.”

Kevin softens, and shifts to meet Aaron in a lingering kiss. Aaron breaks away just to give his palm a long, wet lick - Kevin watches with rapt focus - then kisses him again as he reaches between them and starts to jerk Kevin off. It’s fast and rough, and Kevin clutches Aaron like a lifeline as his hips fuck against his fist. He comes with a fuck muffled between their kisses. 

Kevin sags against the sheets post orgasm, grabby handing at Aaron to come closer.

“Hold on, you got your fucking jizz all over me.” 

Kevin whines needily. Aaron ignores him and gets some tissues to clean up between them. He eyes the wet spot on the bed with disdain.

“I’m not lying on that.”

“So fussy,” Kevin says. He kicks the duvet down so they can get underneath it instead, then pulls Aaron close to his chest once he’s back on the bed. He nuzzles against Aaron’s temple and Aaron can’t help his soft smile. It feels foreign on his face. Tenderness he hasn’t felt in so long. 

“Says you.”

Kevin gives a vague hum but he’s obviously too fucked out to argue. Aaron trails his fingers down Kevin’s side, traces the curve of his hip. He’s never seen Kevin so relaxed. All his guards down. Even after Riko’s death, he was struggling to keep his defences up. Now he’s just laid bare. Trusting Aaron to see him like this.

One of Kevin’s eyes opens and squints at Aaron.

“How are you still thinking so much after that?”

“Who said I’m thinking?”

“I can practically hear your brain whirring. I must be losing my touch. I’ll need lots of practice.”

“I mean, I won’t argue with that, but I think you’re pretty set as far as blowjob skills go.”

“A compliment? From Aaron Minyard? The end times are upon us.” Kevin gasps. Aaron flicks him in the forehead. “Ow.”

“You’re unbearable.”

“You love it.”

“Obnoxious.”

“You find me charming.”

“Incorrigible.”

“Big words from the man in my bed.”

“Too big for your little brain?”

Kevin bites Aaron’s shoulder. Aaron laughs and shoves his head away, but then lets Kevin pull him into a series of soft and smiling kissing. 

“You ready to face Andrew in the morning?” Aaron asks, tilting his face into the pillow to stifle a yawn. The soft caresses of Kevin’s fingers on his back are soothing him into sleepiness.

“Ready? Probably not. But I’m willing. Maybe we’ll fuck this up. Maybe I am too annoying for you to bear. Maybe we won’t be able to stand each other before we even get back to school, but I’m in. I’m all in. I’m willing to see where this goes.”

“So am I,” says Aaron, and that’s enough. For now, that’s enough.