When Wymack pulled in to the parking lot of the Foxhole Court on Wednesday morning, he wasn’t the first one there. He was, however, the only one who was actually meant to be there, and in the state of South Carolina, for that matter.
“What do you want?” he asked, because politeness was for other people, especially when it came to the kind with numbers tattooed on their faces. This one was emblazoned with a three, though it was a little hard to make out under the lurid bruising.
“Heard this is the place to go if you’re a broken thing,” the kid said. His mouth had a savage curve to it, not at all obscured by the split in it. He looked like a broken thing, sounded like he’d spent some time in pain pretty recently, but his expression was all Raven arrogance. Kevin did at least have a touch of softness in his eyes – this kid looked like he’d had it beaten out of him. Wymack’s brain said once, too young, before he shut it down.
“Get up,” Wymack replied. He didn’t offer a hand, knowing it’d probably get bitten off, instead just watching the kid lever himself off of the concrete. He was in pain, that much was obvious, but he could move even if his shoulders stayed a little curved over against it. “Most people would pick a hospital, not my court.”
“I’m not most people,” the kid replied through his teeth.
“You gonna tell me who you are, then?”
The kid looked up at him. Wymack had been acclimatised to tiny people after a year of the Minyard twins; this one only had a few inches of height on them but a lot less mass on a lean runner’s frame. His expression was familiar in its deadness, every bit of emotion walled off so his eyes were like glass. There was something there though – something evaluating, if nothing else.
Eventually he said, “My name is Nathaniel Wesninski.”
“Well, Nathaniel Wesninski,” Wymack said, because he would have hated to start surprising himself in his old age, “You’d better come in.”
Nathaniel Wesninski did come in, sitting where Wymack put him in the lounge and nodding seriously when Wymack told him to stay there. Wymack wasn’t worried about leaving him to his own devices, not really, but he hurried into his office anyway.
Kevin picked up on the fifth ring with a bleary, “Coach?”
“You and that little psycho better be at the court in ten minutes or I’m going to come down there and drag you here,” Wymack bluntly informed him.
“Am I – am I late?” he asked, because Kevin was useless in the morning. However, the implication that he was late for practice was probably the quickest way to get his brain engaged anyway. It was barely five-thirty, and practice wasn’t due to start for a while yet, which was either lucky on Wymack’s part or well-planned on Nathaniel’s.
“Maybe, it depends. Does the name Wesninski mean anything to you?”
There was a long silence at the other end, though Wymack could hear the increase in Kevin’s breathing that was pure panic.
He whispered, “Nathan?”
Wymack frowned. “He said it was Nathaniel.”
There was an explosive gust of air from the other end of the line, and the sound of rustling as Kevin levered himself out of bed.
“Nathaniel,” Kevin said, as if to himself, and then, “I’m coming,” right before he hung up on Wymack.
Nathaniel was still sitting stock-still where Wymack left him when he came back, his eyes flickering from half-closed to wide and alert in the split second that Wymack came through the door. It was probably a lapse, he thought, a show of weakness that he wasn’t supposed to see.
“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Kevin Day scatter that fast,” Wymack observed, leaning up against the doorframe.
“Probably because you were the one he was running to, last time,” Nathaniel replied with a bored little shrug. His attempt at casual missed the mark a little, subtle though it is.
“Are you about to set him to running again?”
“Is my name Moriyama?”
“No. And apparently it isn’t Nathan, either,” Wymack prodded a little more firmly. He didn’t like the look he got at that, or the way Nathaniel touched a hand to his side like he definitely, definitely had a weapon hidden under his shirt. Exposure to Andrew had made Wymack intimately familiar with that kind of economical motion of reaching for a knife.
“You can keep that to yourself,” Wymack warned him with a very pointed look. Nathaniel edged him a smile.
“I wouldn’t dare,” he answered, levering himself to his feet again. The sounds that he’d apparently heard reach Wymack’s ears a second later: the rattle of rapid footsteps up the stairs.
Andrew came through the doorway first, grin firmly fixed in place. His brother and cousin may have not been very good at determining when Andrew was faking taking his medication and when he actually was, but Wymack was, and he could tell that Andrew was drugged to the gills. He wouldn’t take that chance – Andrew on his drugs might care less, but he was also a faster, fiercer thing with a promise to keep to Kevin Day.
Kevin himself was pallid and stayed at Andrew’s back, though he looked like he was torn about that. Nathaniel turned to face the two of them, any pain suddenly very well hidden in his loose fighter’s stance. Wymack felt a little like he was suddenly about to be the host of a dogfight.
The two of them looked at each other for a long moment. They were nothing alike, bar the tattoos: Kevin was tall and all his mother, dark haired and attractive with his deep green eyes, strikingly dark against this auburn-haired scrap of youth. Kevin eventually said, “Where is Jean?”
For the first time, Nathaniel’s expression cracked from its cool façade. What was underneath reminded Wymack a little of a sober Andrew, the few glimpses he’d gotten. Nathaniel snarled, “Shut up.”
His tone was fierce enough that Andrew tensed visibly, his smile flattening a little. It wasn’t a threat though, not really. It sounded like it hurt on the way out for a start.
“Why are you here?” Kevin rapped out.
“Same reason you are,” Nathaniel replied. “Well, maybe not quite the same reason. But I’m not here for you.”
“Nathaniel, Riko – ” Kevin started, and then, “They’ll kill you. They own you.”
Nathaniel shrugged his narrow shoulders. It was something of a tell. “They can try.”
“It looks like they already did,” Andrew drawled out. He was closer to Nathaniel than he had been before, which Nathaniel had clearly noticed by the way his weight shifted. “Did Riko do that to you himself, or did he pay someone to?”
“Riko isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty,” Nathaniel replied. His hands stayed politely at his sides, which was more than Wymack could say for Andrew, who was playing with the edge of his left armband with his fingers. “But you already knew that.”
Wymack cleared his throat, interrupting their little staring match. “To be honest, I’m more interested to hear about who you are than hear you talk about Riko Moriyama.”
“He’s a Raven,” Kevin answered after a moment of deliberation. “We grew up together – he’s a backliner.”
“So how have I never heard of him before, if he’s a Raven?”
“Because I’m only meant to be starting my freshman year this year. I’ve lived in the Raven’s Nest for the last five years, since my father sold me to the Moriyamas,” Nathaniel provided.
Andrew laughed. “So you picked now to get tired of your cage? Or did it take you all that time to grow a spine? Either way, that’s one hell of a coincidence.”
“I never claimed it was a coincidence. I’m an athlete, and an investment. I’m not willing to become worthless just because Riko can’t control his temper. I didn’t want to be next,” he explained with a pointed look at Kevin. “I went to Kengo Moriyama and told him that I’d give their branch most of my earnings for my competitive career as long as they let me choose who I played for. Including college. I’m not a Raven, and I never will be.”
“That’s-” Kevin said, and then stopped. He looked completely taken aback.
“So you’re another obsessive. I’m starting to see why you’re here after all,” Andrew commented. “The spine, though – you didn’t learn that from Kevin.”
"What would you know? It’s not that hard to have a spine when you don’t give a fuck,” Nathaniel snarled again, abruptly defensive. It was kind of heart-warming, though that only may have been because Wymack was getting used to hearing people complain about every single aspect of Kevin’s personality.
“Riko wouldn’t just let you go,” Kevin blurted out, heading off what was most likely about to be something brutally honest from Andrew’s mouth. Not that Kevin probably realised that seeing as he was still a large step behind the conversation.
“He didn’t have a choice. Do you really think he’d defy his father like that?” Nathaniel challenged.
“Did he specify that Riko let you leave in one piece, or was that artistic licence?” Andrew asked.
“Don’t talk about things you don’t understand,” Nathaniel snapped. That time his fingers did twitch a little at his sides.
“I understand that I would have taken off both of his hands if he’d put them on me,” Andrew said.
Nathaniel’s glance was bladed and rather more knowing than anyone would like. “Would you, though?” It drew blood, too – Andrew laughed, because that was the only response he was capable of right then. It felt like two dogs circling again, all snarling and posturing.
“Why the Foxes?” Wymack interrupted. Nathaniel shot him a look that said he thought Wymack knew the answer to that particular question. He wasn’t necessarily wrong.
“I couldn’t think of another coach stupid enough to take me,” he said, which wasn’t polite but was mostly true, even though what he actually meant was, where else could I belong? He spread his hands a little to indicate his entire self, from his bruised face to his feet, and all of the accompanying baggage.
“Maybe the Trojans need another backliner,” Andrew said meditatively, back to his usual smiling calm like Nathaniel hadn’t scored at least one hit.
“I – he should stay,” Kevin said to Wymack, cutting them both off again. His look was pleading underneath the imperative, which was familiar to Wymack because it was the exact same expression Kevin had worn when he’d asked Wymack to help him escape from the Ravens.
Andrew didn’t say anything. Wymack wasn’t sure if that was because he didn’t object, or if he was thinking that it’d be easier to kill Nathaniel if he stayed.
“Well, that’s good, but I have a few more questions before we get to that part,” Wymack said. “I took Kevin on because the team agreed that they could deal with whatever Riko and the Ravens could throw at them, but they didn’t agree to the other branch of the Moriyamas. How much trouble are you going to make for my team?”
“Kengo will keep his word, but I can’t promise that Riko won’t try to get around him to make my life difficult,” Nathaniel admitted.
“And your father,” Kevin started. Nathaniel shot him a glare so hard Wymack was impressed that Kevin didn’t burst into flame where he stood.
“And your father, who apparently has an interest in child slavery,” Wymack commented. He had a feeling there was rather more to it than that, but it sounded like it was more of a personal problem. He had a rule about getting involved with those for a reason.
“He’s in prison. He won’t be a problem,” Nathaniel said, still narrow-eyed. “So really I’m not all that different from the rest of your recruits. Also, I heard you have a space on your line-up.”
“Yes – for a striker. Which apparently you aren’t.”
“I could be a striker. Are you really going to say no?”
It was one hell of a reach, but Wymack could see why. The kid said that because he knew what all of them did – the Foxes were a man down and were struggling anyway. They couldn’t afford to say no to a player of Nathaniel’s presumed quality.
“I think that this is another decision that requires the consideration of the entire team,” Wymack said, with perfect timing seeing as the entire rest of the team was clattering up the hall as he spoke.
Nicky was the first one through the door, talking as usual. “Andrew, you could have waited for us, what the-”
He ground to a halt when he realised that there was a stranger in the room, causing a pile-up in the doorway that would have been comical if it had been anyone else at any other time. Aaron pushed Nicky forward with a scowl on his face so the rest of them could get in, looking from Andrew to Wymack to Nathaniel with blatant distrust.
Dan forced her way past the mob of them, and her expression was at least business-like rather than openly aggressive. “Coach, what’s going on?”
“Foxes, this is Nathaniel Wesninski,” Wymack said, indicating the person in question with a wave of his hand.
“Neil,” Nathaniel interrupted, apparently before thinking. He paused, his eyes flicking between all of the unfamiliar faces before settling back on Kevin. “Neil is fine.”
Wymack continued more slowly, “Neil wants to join the line, but there are a few complications.”
Dan let out a sigh. “When isn’t there?”