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Cough Syrup and Cuddles

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Andrew avoided sickness. As a child, he took care of himself and never dared to show any kind of weakness. He hardened his walls and fixed the problem himself after the one time he received bad treatment. Now, he didn’t have to try so hard, although he still did.

Neil was a handful in itself and dealing with the junkie took a lot of his self-inflicted worry away. He could make sure he wasn’t about to run rather than live out the torturous old memories in foster care. But that was years ago, back in college dorms and orange-colored walls. The walls that surrounded Andrew now were the ones of his and Neil’s choosing. Warm grey with picture frames along the walls. The soft tinkle of cat toys along the floors. The junkie’s old, stolen, foxes jersey framed with pictures from games. It was their own apartment. Their couch, their kitchen, and their bedroom. No more uncomfortable bunk beds. It took a year for them to both become completely comfortable with someone else in their bed, but now it was hard to sleep without the other’s warm presence.

Neil was on a different professional team than Andrew, for the last two years. This was the week Neil finally transferred and signed to Andrew’s team. The week Andrew decided it was just allergies rather than the cold.

“Minyard!” Andrew’s Coach called him off the sidelines after another missed shot. The concern was scattered all over the older man’s face. “What’s going on?”

Andrew shrugged keeping his usual bored expression.

“I know your attitude,” Coach softened at something he saw on his player's face. “You hate being here but you never miss a shot. You're the best goalie in the league.” Andrew scowled at the praise. “Go see Ceceal.”

“I’m fine Coach,” Andrew said using his junkie’s famous phrase.

“Yeah and I’m the coach of swimwear models,” Andrew raised an amused brow nearly smiling at his coach's idiotic expression. “Whatever, Minyard, go see the our team doctor. If Ceceal clears you, you can return to practice.”

With a sneer and a deliberate eye-roll, Andrew walked into Ceceal’s office. After Abby Andrew knew the drill with nurses and medical professionals. Make his boundaries clear and if they aren’t followed leave, or better use the knives. With Ceceal, it never came to that. She respected Andrew’s boundaries. The woman was round and plump. Her lips were bigger than her nose and her eyes took up most of her face. You couldn’t say she was beautiful, but you couldn’t say she was ugly either, not that Andrew cared. When he realized this woman reminded him of a teddy bear, he wanted to laugh.

Ceceal perked up from behind her computer to smile at Andrew who’s bored expression didn’t change.

“Andrew, lovely to see you,” said Ceceal in a singsong manner. It was odd but Andrew couldn’t find anything to hate about this woman, she reminded him of Renee. Too sweet for her own good, but could probably cut you to pieces and not blink an eye about it. “Is there something wrong?”

“I missed goals and now coach thinks I’ve contracted a disease.”

“You missed some goals,” she tilted her head reading between the lines of Andrew’s statement. “Alright, well sit. I’m going to take your temperature.”

Andrew plopped down on the examination table crossing his arms. Ceceal came back with the handheld thermometer, one that doesn’t require her to touch him Andrew noted. That was why we liked this woman. And despite her point with the touch-free thermometer she still asked to take his temperature.

“Alright,” she sighed taking a seat in the creaky rolling chair in front of him. “Have you had a runny nose at all?”

“Yes,” Andrew replied.

“Headaches? Body aches? Chills?” It was a yes to all, but Andrew hadn’t thought much about it. Oftentimes, the past took hold of his body making it hard for him to get out of bed, bad days. That basically what the entire week had been.

“Andrew, your temperature is 101,” Ceceal frowned. “And yet for anyone else that would have them barely leaving their beds in the morning. So, I have to ask how are you here and practicing?”

“I have bad days, it’s hard to get up. They feel the same,” Andrew said bored and hating that he had to admit it to her.

“Have you told Betsy about these bad days?”

“Yes,” Andrew nodded. “She knows. They don’t happen often.”

“Well, how long have you not felt the best?”

He shrugged, “since last week.

“I think you contracted a common cold if you had a runny nose last week,” Andrew nodded absentmindedly. “But now, with the temperature and your pale complexion, I think you might have the Flu.”

“Great, am I good to go or?” After Ceceal swabbed him for Flu Andrew was ready to leave. Go back to practice and distract himself from everything. To wait for Neil’s arrival at the end of the week.

“Andrew, having the Flu means you need to take the rest of the week off. As well as next week,” he bristled at the statement. “And I’ll call in some medication for you to take.”

“No,” Andrew answered simply.

“I know how you are with these things but this time I cannot take no for an answer. If you don’t fight the Flu with medication for your fever it will only make it worse,” Ceceal said writing a prescription on a paper. “I’ll tell Coach about this. You go home and drink something cold. Lots of fluids and pick up your medication in the morning. Alright?”

“Fine.”

***

Andrew’s stance was stiff and ridged as he sat slumped on the couch. It’d been two days since he received the medicine. It was taunting him from the coffee table in front of the couch. Friday, Neil was meant to be getting off the plane and back to the apartment any minute. Andrew didn’t feel good enough to move or prepare for his arrival, instead, he just stared at the medicine as if it would simply disappear.

After the court-mandated happy pills, Andrew despised medication. It was simple cough syrup and a fever aid, but he knew after his run through with the manic-induced meds that all medicine caused him to float. He’d never felt normal after the drugs he knew now that this would be no different.

The front doors lock turned pulling Andrew’s attention to it, knife in hand. With all the loathing to the medication, it clouded the memory of Neil showing up. At the sight of the auburn hair and distinct scars, Andrew swiftly put his knife back into its armband.

“Honey, I’m home!” Neil chuckled as a joke locking the door.

“Yeah, why don’t you walk back out,” Andrew scowled tugging his blanket tighter around his shivering body.

“Drew?” Andrew’s frown deepened at the nickname. “What’s wrong.” Andrew didn’t answer.

Neil quietly walked to their bedroom and set his bag down. He changed into a hoodie and sweatpants before walking back to assess Andrew’s current state. The first thing he noticed was the medication on the coffee table, the next was Andrew’s stiff and weak body wrapped in his bad day fluffy blanket. The one Renee crocheted out of giant puffy yarn balls while visiting in between travel.

“Hey,” Neil said sitting on the coffee table. Andrew scowled again giving him an irritated glare. Andrew didn’t want to be sick the first week Neil arrived for good. He had planned to welcome Neil home with his favorite dinner then take Neil apart with his tongue, not sit on the couch with barely enough strength to breathe. “I missed you.”

The words hurt Andrew more than make him smile. He had missed Neil, probably more than Neil missed him, although he would never admit it. Instead, it made him feel guilty, and he hated the feeling. Guilty for not being okay when Neil arrived. Having to look week and useless in front of him.

Neil sighed at the lack of response picking up the medication instead. It was labeled Minyard, Andrew. 12/10. On both bottles. The first was a dark purple liquid and the second was tiny red pills.

“Drew?” Neil questioned. “How are you feeling?”

“Like shit,” was Andrew’s curt reply. Neil was used to the aggression and thought nothing of it. Andrew hated him a little more for that.

“Can I touch you?” Neil asked setting the bottle down. “I wanna feel your temperature.”

“Yes. Neck up.” Neil nodded standing to lean close to Andrew. The back of Neil’s palm touched Andrew’s forehead before softly touching the underside of his jaw. Andrew was burning up.

“Have you taken any of this?” Andrew gave a firm no. “Why not, you are burning up Andrew.”

“Fucking drugs,” he replied. “I don’t want to fucking float.”

“So, you are pouting and letting your fever take over instead?” Andrew didn’t reply, Neil sighed again. “Have you eaten?” When Andrew nodded Neil looked at the dosage on the bottle and started pouring the right amount. “How about this? You take the medicine, and I’ll run the bath. While you get rid of your chills I’ll eat something and then we can go to bed?”

“No.”

“Andrew, pl…” Neil caught himself before letting the word slip. “You said you’d be here with me.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Andrew said despite his chagrin.

“And this,” Neil held out the medicine cup. “Will ensure you aren’t going anywhere.”

“It’ll affect me the same way,” Andrew said quietly. “The happy pills. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“It won’t.”

“It does,” he shook his head. I’ve taken it before.”

“You won’t hurt me.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do,” Neil said firmly. “You protected me on them and off of them, I’m confident you won’t. And if you’d rather I’ll sleep on the couch.” Andrew gave him a bored stare, ignoring the fondness he felt towards the striker.

After a long staring contest Andrew took the medicine from Neil watching him leave and return with a bottle of water. Andrew swallowed down the sourness in the cup then took the tiny red pill complaining when Neil directed him towards the bathroom. Andrew shooed Neil out once the junkie put bubbles in the warm water. Cursing his enduring smile while he shut the door.

Andrew stripped down and put his armbands on the closed toilet seat. The warm water engulfed his aching body leaving him warm and completely calm. That was when the thought hit hi, Neil was there. He was home, for good. He’d be transferring onto Andrew’s team. Andrew smiled and tilted his head then immediately froze. After a second he felt the wave. His medication was slowly dispersing itself. The bored expression was no longer intact.

“Hey drew, I think we should… oh. Are you okay?” Neil stood in the doorway holding a large sandwich and an old Foxes coffee mug.

“I told you it’d happen, Josten,” Andrew frowned at the use of Neil’s last name. He didn’t use it much anymore, it was replaced with Junkie or Rabbit these days. “I feel weird.”

“It’s just the medicine,” Neil amended. “You are okay. You’re safe, I’m safe, and all the doors are locked. You’ll be okay.” He sat down on the floor using the toilet to lean his back on while he finished his sandwich.

“I don’t want to feel like that again,” Andrew said through gritted teeth.

“When you get out, you can sleep it off,” Neil suggested. Andrew nodded forcing the sweet smiled away from his cheeks. He moved his hand mindlessly around in the bubbles. His attention caught on Neil when he moved to sip his mug full of clanking ice.

“You’re pretty,” Andrew blurted out. Neil froze then turned completely pink, before looking at Andrew. “I’m going to keep you forever you know.”

Neil chuckled at how flat Andrew’s tone was despite the words he was speaking.

“Forever as in what?” Neil mused. “Like a pet? A boyfriend? A husband?”

“Husband,” Andrew shrugged then shook his head as if coming back to reality. “What the actual fuck Neil?”

Neil laughed, “you alright drew?”

“Fucking drugs messing with my thoughts,” he groaned.

“No,” Neil shook his head. “I think you are just speaking about what’s already going on up there.”

“Fuck off,” Andrew spat. “Leave while I get out.”

Andrew dried off and dressed in the clothes Neil laid out for him. All of the junkie's stuff, his sweatpants, and his shirt. Andrew added another percentage to the total before going in search of the other man. He found him setting up the couch with his pillow and blanket. Clearly ready to crash.

“What are you doing?”

Neil looked up, “oh you’re done. Are you feeling any better yet?”

“I still feel like shit,” Andrew shrugged, feeling the wave of medication go in and out of his feelings. “What are you doing?”

“I thought I was sleeping out here, that was our deal.”

“No,” Andrew said simply. “Bedroom. Cuddles.”

“Cuddles?” The grin on Neil’s face made Andrew want to rip his throat out, but instead, his face spoke for him. The smile and tilted head made Neil feel odd. He was used to Andrew’s blank expression, reading everything from his eyes. This was like when he first met Andrew, the smile. It wasn’t authentic it was drugged. Andrew snapped out of his daze and realized what he was doing before cursing himself and walking off to the bedroom. Neil brought his pillow following.
Andrew got in bed first, as always, and Neil fell in after. Flicking off the light on the side table.

“Take your shirt off,” Andrew advised poking softly at Neil’s chest. It was an odd request but Neil obeyed nonetheless. “I wasn’t to touch you, yes or no?”

“Yes.”

Andrew’s fingers softly moved over Neil’s scars as if he was reminding himself who he was with. Neil hummed at the soft touch.

“Closer, yes or no?”

“Drew…”

“Is it a no?”

“No, it’s a yes,” Neil sighed. “But you aren’t fully aware. I don’t want you to…”

“I’m fully aware of what I’m doing. So are you. I’m not drunk, just feel floaty. I want to lay on your chest yes or no?”

“Yes, Drew.”

Andrew let himself lay on Neil tense for a moment then fully relaxing into his junkie’s warmth.

“Where can I touch you?”

“Shoulders up,” he whispered. “Or run your fingers softly through my hair.” There was a pause Andrew squeezing his eyes shut then opening them. “I fucking hate medication.”

“At least you aren’t on any anymore,” Neil sighed running his scared fingers through Andrew’s blond hair. “And at least the worst of this one is drowsiness. It doesn’t make you think I’m a hallucination.”

“Drowsiness means fucking floating,” Andrew mumbled. A long beat of silence passed. The soft sound of the cats playing in the hallway drifted into their shared space. It was calm, and usual, and home. They both felt the word deeply.

“Thank you.” The words came out more like a cough than anything. But Andrew was fighting the gushy he actually wanted to say.

“Always, Drew,” Neil replied kissing the top of Andrew’s forehead. Noting that his fever had gone down.

Andrew felt himself drifting and clutched onto Neil’s side a little tighter.

“Stay,” he said when Neil shifted.

“I’m not going anywhere. Sleep it off. I’ll be right here when you wake up.”

Andrew’s grip weakened. He felt around for Neil’s other hand bringing it to his lips for a soft kiss. Andrew wanted to say the three words, he had wanted to for a while, but saying them was hard. It meant too much and not enough. He’d say them someday, he swore it, but Neil understood it from the kiss. He returned the silent exchange with another forehead kiss. Reveling in the feeling of being home.