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Neil, huh?

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It happens when the monsters are watching an exy game at Kevin's ‘request.’ Edgar Allen is playing - why he wants to watch them, Andrew doesn't understand. He also doesn't care. At all. - and their opponent, that might as well be nameless at this point, is being destroyed.

The team moves flawlessly - one cohesive unit, reading each other's movements and twitches, creating entire plays off the tops of their heads that everyone is easily able to translate onto the court (as Kevin puts it before lecturing how the Foxes could be half as good if they only put the work in).

Whenever the backliners appear on the screen - and Riko, of course - Kevin tenses. Andrew originally writes it off as him being in a room with a backliner: “see the way they move, Aaron? Would it kill you to work with the others like that? Just suck it up during game time, Jesus.”

It's when Kevin let's a name slip that he finds himself perking up.

“Damnit Neil!” He snaps when the backliner on the screen passes the ball to a player that wasn't Riko. The move sets up a shot and the Ravens score again.

“Neil, huh?” Andrew finds himself grinning wide, eyebrows raised with amusement as he tastes the name, “Neil. There's no ‘Neil’ on the Ravens, Kevin.”

He shuts up after that, jaw clenched and teeth grinding as he watches the rest of the game in a blissful silence.

The final score is pathetic , 18 to 0. Half way through, Andrew could tell without Kevin's commentary that the Ravens were just toying with the other team, allowing them to break through their front lines, only to be shut down by their defense - by ‘Neil’ - and have the ball sent flying down the court and behind the goal; the cycle starts all over again. He remembers Kevin calling it a ‘Raven Cycle.’

The buzzer beeps and the announcers proceed to gush over the elite team in black, singing their praises over Riko and the rest. The camera shows footage of Riko walking up to a backliner, pulling him into a one armed hug before grinning at the fans and walking off. The backliner keeps his helmet on, but his jersey number (4) tells Andrew he's the ‘Neil’ Kevin let slip.

Kevin gets up and heads to the kitchen the second he takes his helmet off. His face is shown for just a moment before cutting back to the commentators, but a moment is all Andrew needs: auburn hair, ice blue eyes, a pretty face. His cheek is clean. He now knows Kevin's sigh upon standing was of relief, not exhaustion from practice. Interesting.

“I'm done. Bedtime for Nicky,” his cousin stretches before standing, heading back to their shared room, “Don't stay up too late.”

“I don't make promises I can't keep,” he grins in return, his attention focused purely on Kevin as he rummages through the freezer for alcohol. He finds it.

“TV is all yours,” he tells Aaron before heading to the hallway. Andrew gets up from the beanbag he was lounging on and follows, leaving Aaron to his video games.

He catches Kevin as he's about to walk down the stairs. It takes a whistle and a shake of the head to get him to follow Andrew to the roof. He doesn't wait for him to catch up, nor does he check to see if he'll follow. The footsteps and sloshing of liquid in a bottle are good enough signs.

He opens the door with a kick and steps out, inhaling the crisp autumn air before pulling out a packet of Marlboro and tapping out a cig. He's quick to pocket the pack once more before lighting it up, inhaling his first mouthful of smoke. Kevin gives a displeased grunt when he walks through the door.

“There's no railing,” he says. Andrew goes to sit on the edge.

“Then don't fall,” he mocks in the same tone. There's a huff from Kevin before he's plopping down beside Andrew, gulping down an unhealthy amount of the alcohol. That's fine. It'll be easier to pry information out of him when he's drunk.

 


 

 

“Nathaniel,” Riko’s murmur echoes like a shout in the quiet of the bus. The Ravens were driving back to Edgar Allan, sitting numerically down the rows with their partners. Jean had been sleeping with his head resting against Nathaniel’s shoulder when he jolts awake at Riko’s voice. Nathaniel subtly shifts to press his knee against Jeans, a silent show of support.

“Riko,” he responds, hyper-aware of the other Ravens behind them. He’d be stupid to think any of them would ignore their exchange. Jean is tense beside him, pointedly looking forward.

“Come sit with me,” he gently grabs Nathaniel’s shoulder, glancing over at Jean. Nathaniel leaves his aisle seat, following Riko’s lead to the back of the bus. Riko gestures for him to take the window seat in the last row; Nathaniel obliges.

“So,” he begins, leaning into Nathaniel’s space. The black ‘1’ is a stark contrast against his pale cheek, “that pass you made to Luke in the second half was clean. Nice precision on that, the drills have been paying off.”

“Thank you,” the bite was going to come, any second now.

“I was open, too,” he continues, “behind that poor excuse of an exy player, to the left of the goal.”

“Yes, I saw you.”

“Why didn’t you pass me the ball? I had a shot.” Nathaniel looks Riko in the eye for the first time since the game ended. If anyone else had done this while Riko was in a foul mood, they would have  been hit. This is Nathaniel, though. He isn’t as oblivious to Riko’s advancements as the older boy thinks he is.

“Luke had a better opening. You would have scored, yes, but it would have been sloppy- that backliner had no control over his feet and would have crashed into you. Then where would we be? A fight starting, you getting carded, and the Master-”

“Is this concern? Were you worried about me?” Riko interrupts with a huff of laughter, “That's cute. Also completely unnecessary. Since you were worried for me, though, I'll be nice; but the next time you pass the ball to someone else when I call for it, you'll be running laps around the court until your feet bleed.”

“Understood.” Riko smiles at him, something soft barely lining the edges of his piercing gaze. Nathaniel doesn't know if he should be sick or pleased that he managed to make Riko happy.  

“Great. You and Jean are going to do conditioning drills when we get back. I don't want to see your faces in the Nest until you've done everything twice- and I will know .”

“We will.” Those drills will take 3 hours to do, and they're not going to be arriving at Edgar Allan until 3a.m.

“Send Luke here on your way back,” Nathaniel stands and shimmies past Riko, ignoring the fact that he doesn't bother to give him space to move. The bus is quiet enough for everyone to have heard their conversation, so Luke is already standing and waiting when Nathaniel passes him.

He sits heavily in his seat, a sigh far louder than necessary threatening to escape. He digs the heels of his palms into his eyes before looking at Jean, face morphing into an apologetic frown.

“I'm sorry-”

“It's fine. Don't worry about it.” Jean is quick to stop him, openly giving him an encouraging smile now that Riko was focused on chewing someone else out. “You did great today, Neil.”

A slow smile spreads on the boy's face. Nathaniel had already played today; he is Neil now.

“You too, man.” They share a dorky fist bump before Jean leans away to get comfortable against the window, tapping his shoulder once to let Neil know he could lean on him. They'll need all of the sleep they can get if they are going to get through conditioning as efficiently as possible.

 


 

 

 

“So, Kevin,” Andrew starts. He's leaning back to support his weight on one elbow as his other hand is occupied with the cigarette, “let's talk about Neil.”

Kevin's sufficiently drunk by this point, and he answers Andrew’s inquiry with a frown, “‘Neil’…” He says, looking out over the parking lot below, “Neil.”

“Yes,” he encourages, “‘Neil.’ There's no ‘Neil’ on the Ravens.”

“No, there isn't,” he agrees, “because ‘Neil’ is a smart mouthed teenager that collects Exy trading cards and has no sense of fashion. ‘Nathaniel’ is the Raven. ‘Neil’ doesn't exist on the court.”

‘Nathaniel.’  That's a name Andrew knows. Rumored son of the Baltimore Butcher (true, confirmed by Kevin). Rumored to have killed his own mother (plausible). Rumored to have stolen millions of dollars when he was in middle school (unlikely). Rumored, rumored, rumored.

Andrew doesn't like him. He doesn't trust the amount of rumors surrounding this player.

“Nathaniel,” he finally says. Kevin nods in confirmation, picking at the label of the bottle with his blunt fingertips.

“He's a fantastic backliner - he and Jean are a force to watch out for if we ever play against the Ravens,” he chuckles humorlessly and shakes his head, “he's barely in college. Only recently turned 18." Andrew raises his eyebrows at the juicy fact.

“Barely legal,” he grins, all teeth. Kevin shakes his head, giving Andrew a narrowed eyed look.

“Don't. Not Neil.”

“You seem to like him.”

“I do. So does Riko.”

“Riko likes him?" He hums, tucking that useful bit of information away.

“A lot. “

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” There's a brief silence before he continues, “The Master forbade him from doing anything, though. He's a Wesninski, and the alliance between the Moriyamas and the Baltimore Butcher is fragile enough-”

“Boring~,” he sings, interrupting Kevin's train of thought, “why ‘Neil?’”

“Why do you care?”

“This is information I need, Kevin. I told you to tell me everything about the Ravens. Clearly, you haven't.”

“Neil is not a threat.”

“No, but he could be useful,” He takes the bottle from Kevin to steal a sip, noting how it's almost empty.

“Don't do anything to Neil. Not him,” Kevin whines again, sobering up only slightly.

“I need you to give me a reason not to.”

“He's a good kid. He and Jean are good kids.”

“You regret leaving them behind.”

“More than anything,” Kevin admits, hiding his face in his hands, “When I left, I wasn't thinking about the consequences of my actions. Now that I've been here, now that I've had some time to think...I'm worried. For all of them, Neil and Jean especially. Neil is the smallest one on the team and Jean is like me - he doesn't fight back. He's been taught not to.

“When I was still there, I talked Riko out of doing a lot of stupid stuff. Not everything, but a good amount. There's nobody who's as close to him as I was who can do that, no one-”

“You're underestimating this ‘Neil’ kid. If Riko likes him as much as you imply, then he already knows-”

“No~!” He groans. Andrew knew he was truly drunk if he was willing to interrupt him. Kevin removes his hands from his face and looks at him, eyes red and watery, “You don't understand what Neil would have to do...what he would have to give up to do that!”

Andrews blood feels ice cold at the implication, his own discomfort clawing at the back of his throat. He swallows it down with more alcohol.

“Kevin,” he starts, directing his attention to the 40ft drop under his dangling legs, “is there a chance that those Ravens would stand by and let him-”

“Riko won’t do that,” Kevin was quick to catch on, “he's not like that. He's not above offering it as a bargaining chip to Neil, though. Neil can be cold, but when it comes to things he cares about he's a fucking martyr.”

Andrew's grin is all teeth when he gives back the bottle. “You shouldn't be worried about them. They're not your problem, you made that abundantly clear when you left. Now go to bed, you're drunk.”

Kevin chokes on a strangled whine and finishes the bottle, tears freely falling from his eyes. “I can't. Neil messed up tonight, h-he passed the ball to Luke instead of Riko when Riko called for it. He's gonna be punished- He and Jean are- I can't sleep knowing they're gonna be-”

“They're sure as shit not worried about you so get over it. Go to bed, now.” Kevin hesitates before standing. He accidentally kicks the bottle over twice before he has a grip on it and heads to the door. Andrew doesn't look at him.

He's processing the information he's learned, wondering if he should interrogate Kevin again for more info on his old team mates. He doubts that any of it will be as insightful as tonight's conversation.

In the end, though, he doesn't care. He doesn't feel bad for the Ravens, nor for Jean and Neil/Nathaniel/whatever. It's nice to have a sore spot on Riko to prod at that isn't limited to Kevin's departure, though. And who knows, pissing off another Raven could prove to be eventful; especially if the Raven's got a mouth on him.

 

 


 

Andrew gets his chance to meet the source of Kevin's guilt at the Raven’s district welcoming ceremony a month and a half later. Their transfer to the Foxes district came as no surprise to Andrew, though the same can not be said for the rest of the team.

The dinner is being held in a hotel ballroom 4 hours from Palmetto State, and the upperclassmen are not happy.

“What the hell do they think they're doing?!” He can hear Dan screeching from the front of the bus. Wymack doesn't look too happy being yelled at, and his response is cut off by Nicky's interruption.

“Would you have preferred having them on our court?” He hollers, giving an exaggerated shiver and crossing his arms, “they would have soiled the integrity of the arena. I hope the insurance on that place is good, because I would have had to burn it down-”

“That's not what I'm referring to and you know it,” she hisses, her irritation causing the vein on her forehead to pop out, “Is this some desperate attempt to intimidate Kevin into going back to Edgar Allen? Because there’s no way-”

“Don’t ask questions you already know the answers to,” Andrew silences her with a smirk, “It’s not a reputation you want to have.”

“As if I care what the press writes about me,” she’s quick to snark back, rolling her eyes and glaring at Wymack again, “Why are we going? They’re obviously baiting us.”

“It doesn’t look to good if we don’t show up, either,” Renee pipes up from her seat in front of Allison and Seth, “Let’s be the bigger people and act like adults.”

“Good luck getting the monsters to do that,” Seth snorts as he turns up the volume for his music. Andrew chooses to ignore him in favor of being more productive with his time. He looks at Kevin, who is nursing a flask in his lap and staring out the window. His jacket, like the rest of the boys, is safely stored in the front of the bus, leaving him in a crisp white button up and an untied orange tie slung around his neck. There aren't any available changing rooms at the venue, so they have to wear their formal outfits on the bus. He looks like a hot mess.

“You look awful. Pull yourself together.” He says, looking at the striker until he understands Andrew was talking to him before relaxing back into his seat and looking towards the upperclassmen. He easily makes eye contact with Renee, who is asking with a lift of her brow, ‘will Kevin be alright?’

He shrugs in response.

Time flies after that, with Andrew falling into a dreamless sleep and waking up to punching Nicky in the chest. He ignores his cousins complaints and stands up, following the rest of the upperclassmen off of the bus. Wymack is outside, passing out the jackets to the men. When he grabs his, Wymack doesn’t let go.

“Don’t start anything tonight.”

“I never do,” he grins and rips the clothing from his hand, “These idiots tend to start fights and I put an end to them.”

“No fights, Andrew, I mean it,” Wymack warns once again, “If you need to leave, then leave. If Kevin needs to leave, then leave. You know you can call Bee and Abby is already inside. Remember that.” Andrew gives a sarcastic two fingered salute and walks away, shrugging into the jacket and buttoning up the front. He turns and sees Kevin pocketing the flask, tie tied and hair fixed. He laughs at how Kevin is acting as if he didn’t get buzzed during the bus ride to the hotel.

“Alright, everyone,” Wymack claps after giving out the last of the jackets. Coordinators for the event have already spotted them and are on their way. Andrew spots a couple of the other teams buses, making a note that the Ravens and a few other local district teams have already arrived. “I don't want you sticking together the whole night, but make sure you're able to spot each other at any given time. No one is allowed to be alone, got it?”

“How annoying!” Seth loudly complains, earning glares from the rest of the group.

“I'm sorry, Seth. Is this an inconvenience for you? You know what, if you're ever in a room full of people who basically want to destroy you, we'll be sure to leave you alone,” Matt snaps from his position next to Dan.

“Nice one, Boyd. Real encouraging.” Andrew laughs glancing at Kevin to see a light sweat breaking out on his forehead. Matt realizes quickly what he's done and curses.

“Shit, I'm sorry. I didn't mean-”

“Boring, let's go inside now.” Nicky is the one to lead the way, the rest of the Foxes trailing behind with the event coordinators rushing up to Wymack for a quick check in of who he did and didn't bring.

The main color scheme for the event is red, white, and black in honor of the newly transferred Ravens. It's overbearing to see it on the walls, tables, dripping down from the ceiling and in all of the center pieces. The Foxes’ orange ties stick out like a sore thumb. There's a ripple of whispers that pass throughout the hall upon their entrance, but none care enough to comment. A majority of the teams are already there, dressed in their own respective home colors of blue, red, gold, purple, and yellow. The Ravens are decked in black.

In the center of the room, towards the podium sporting the ERC and Ravens emblem, stands Riko and his coach chatting with a representative from the committee. Andrew zeros in on the Raven captain, feeling a smile forming on his face once Riko looks up and spots them.

Riko returns the grin with one of his own, looking over Andrew and at Kevin. He gestures with his head to the left, a challenge, before re-engaging himself in his group's conversation. Andrew knows Kevin will (hesitantly) accept the dare, and looks off to the side himself to see what Riko wants them to acknowledge.

It takes a brief scan for Andrew to spot the surprise he was looking for. Off to the side, holding drinks and sporting bored looks, are Ravens number 3 and 4 - Jean Moreau and Nathaniel Wesninski (publicly known as 'Nathaniel Josten'). They’re dressed in black with red ties, like the rest of the team’s men, and are doing an excellent job of speaking to no one.

Nathaniel is facing his left and looking at the crowds of exy players gathered in the ballroom, giving a clean cut view of his profile. From what he can see (and what he remembers seeing on the TV screen months ago) Nathaniel’s cheeks are still slightly round and full of youth. Even without making eye contact his blue eyes stand out sharply, complimented and intensified by the red tie and black ensemble. He looks as bored as Andrew feels, but he doesn't think he'll mind looking at the Raven every once in a while during the event.

“Great, they're already staring,” he can hear Dan groan behind him. The click of her heels, as well as a quizzical grunt, tells him that she and Matt are finally separating themselves from the group. Allison and Seth are quick to follow, with Seth groaning over how his back and ass hurt and Allison laughing at his misfortune. Renee sticks with Wymack as they look for Abby, casting Andrew a weary glance as she passes.

When he looks back over, Jean is now looking at the Foxes; eyes scanning over Andrew’s team mates quickly until his focus locks onto Kevin. The Frenchman is made of sharp angles and ice. The only warmth on his person is the soft brown hair styled up and away from his forehead, leaving light eyes and the number three on his cheek as the focal points of his face. He’s saying something, nudging Nathaniel only once and not even attempting to be subtle in his stares at Kevin and the remaining monsters.

Before Jean is even done speaking, Nathaniel, blinks and tilts his head towards their group. Even from a distance, Andrew can tell he perks up upon spotting Kevin. A sharp smirk slices its way onto his face and he turns to face them fully. Andrew can feel Kevin stiffen beside him and he knows exactly why: Nathaniel has a ‘4’ on his cheek.

“Ooh, they're cute!” Nicky says behind him, and Andrew has to resist the urge to punch him, “you know, for Ravens. They'd be much cuter without the numbers, though.”

“Dude. No.” Aaron huffs and walks away. Nicky squeaks and chases after him.

“No, don't leave me! There's too much black in this room - I don't feel safe!”

“Stick to someone who cares.” Comes the dry reply. Andrew glances to Kevin, who's gone white and still staring at Nathaniel.

“At least your mouth isn't open,” he huffs, playfully tapping at Kevin's chin with his pinkie. Kevin flinches, finally snapped out of his trance, and blinks rapidly.

“Let's go.”

“What, you're actually gonna go talk to them? I thought we already had this conversation, something about those two and caring-what was it that I said? Oh yeah: ‘DON’T.’”

“Let's go, Andrew.” Kevin leads the way, with Andrew trailing behind him.

As they approach, he can see Jean is asking Nathaniel a question while the latter sips his drink. Reading his lips, Andrew can't help but notice the way Nathaniel’s mouth curves around ‘Minyard’ in response. Nathaniel notices this too, and when Andrew looks back at his ice blue eyes, Nathaniel shamelessly winks.

Andrew can't wait to break him.