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Neil had made it to the curb outside their apartment building before collapsing.
The blood is coming quickly. The hand he clutches to his abdomen is doing little to slow the gush leaking from the knife wound. He knows he left a trail from down the block, red handprints on railings and trees where he had leaned for stability. He hopes it will be enough to go on.

The man was trained well, Neil had seen that immediately. Or maybe it was what he didn’t see that made it so clear. Not a trace of the man’s face remained in his memory, not hair color, eye color, not a single distinguishing feature. He was just there, a blur of steel and pain and fear. Neil can’t remember the last time he knew that level of fear, thought he had finished with it.

The fact that the man had left him alive felt more terrifying than any of it. It meant more, much more to come.

Neil couldn’t think about that now though. Not with the rain. The rain that pounds on his face like sea spray and smells like gasoline and all he can hear is the crackling of the fire he has raised and the sound of his mother’s skin on the vinyl and his own screams as the dashboard lighter melts the skin on his palms again and again. He cannot think about what will come after this because there is only this, this night where he will die as he always knew he would: cold and alone, hunted and afraid— falling into the cold embrace of the nothing that he would always belong to.

His hand falls off his abdomen. His eyes flutter. He sees the sky, gray and rumbling. He sees nothing. He sees the ocean and the foxes and the ocean again. He sees nothing. He sees Andrew.

He smiles.

Nothing.

 

When he wakes, it is a surprise.

He lays in a hospital bed. His body is sore everywhere. He can feel the stitches all over his abdomen, the bruises on his face. He is alone. He groans as he attempts to shift to a sitting position.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing, Josten? Lay down.”
Wymack stands in the doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest, a wry grin thinly veiling his concern.

Neil slips back down, “Yes, Coach.”

Wymack enters the room fully, coming to stand beside Neil’s bed.

“Where’s Andrew?”

“I actually persuaded him to go help Abby carry coffee. First time he’s left this room since he brought you in. He’s going to kill me once he sees you woke up-“

Neil barely sees him before he is pushing a tray of coffee into Nicky’s hands and forcing Wymack out of his way. Andrew’s grip finds the back of Neil’s neck immediately. He pushes Neil’s forehead onto his own, his other hand rooting into Neil’s hospital gown. Neil is barely breathing. He reaches his hands up to Andrew’s face, one resting at his cheek and the other gripping the hair at the back of his head. Andrew’s breath is deep and minimal, a forced exertion that seems to pain him. Neil rubs his thumb across Andrew’s cheek, struggling to keep a grip on this reality.

“Tell me.” Andrew’s voice is a near growl.

“I don’t know who he was. I was on a run, he took me by surprise. I don’t know why I’m not dead. I got as far as I could, I tried to call but he broke the phone. I tried to get back Andrew, I tried—”

“I know. I know.”

“I’m ok—”
Andrew tugs at Neil’s neck, a silent warning.

“I’m going to be ok.”

Andrew is silent.

“Yes or no?”

Andrew just nods.

The kiss is not like the ones on the roof or those stolen in the darkness, it is like waking up (from a dream that is too much like a memory), it is like going home (and realizing the word means something again), it is like a key (to a door you never let yourself believe could open for you).

It is a kiss that says I love you and forever and yes. Always yes.