“That sweater is new,” Kevin comments as he seats himself in the beanbag next to Andrew’s, passing over a mug of coffee as he does so. It’s a small, meaningless comment - the kind of small talk they both collectively despise - but it’s something, and since the death of Riko, Kevin’s found that there are not really any other threads connecting the two of them. Silence has panned out between them for weeks. He tells himself he’s irritated by it because it’s bad for the team’s dynamics - a rapport with your teammates is essential for a successful team. He won’t admit that Andrew is probably the closest thing to a friend Kevin has around here, except for maybe Neil.
He doesn’t expect his comment to be dignified with a response; he knows Andrew well enough to know to expect perhaps a nod of acknowledgement, or a stony look his way, questioning and judging his observation. Nevertheless, the silence makes him ever-so-slightly self-conscious, so as his eyes catch the way the sleeves fall over Andrew’s hands, he tacks on a lousy “–and too big for you.”
Andrew Minyard has always been best at defying expectations.
“It’s not mine,” he responds coolly, devoid of emotion or even acknowledgment, eyes still trained on the contents of his mug as he mutters, as though talking to no one.
It’s an easy enough admittance, casual and shameless, yet it still manages to leave Kevin embarrassingly taken aback. He knows, realistically, that he probably has the best insight into the relationship between Andrew and Neil than any other outsider, however he’s still never quite got it. The logical part of his brain tells him it shouldn’t work - two people both so shattered and fiery, like shards of broken glass, in such close proximity can only end in further shattering, as far as he’s aware. And flames. It’s concerning, something with so much power, with so many sparks - just one wrong move could become a savage wildfire that burns his team down to nothing more than ashes. It’s risky and dangerous and stupid and he hates it, is terrified of it, but this admittance that comes so easily changes something in him.
Because something about the idea of Andrew Minyard curled into a beanbag with a cup of coffee and his boyfriend ’s (and isn’t that in itself another unexpected and ever-so-slightly strange thing to wrap his head around) sweater on feels less like untamed sparks and more like a candle light. And that’s much more soothing than terrifying, even if it is still a little strange to him.
Perhaps trying to understand this would be a good idea, he concludes. So he asks “When did all this start for you anyway?” waving a hand conspiratorially to punctuate the question. And this time he’s almost convinced he’ll be ignored, or delivered a vague, meaningless answer as a result of the unspecific question, but the furrow of Andrew’s brow as he lifts his gaze up to Kevin’s tells him otherwise. It’s a strange, uncharted territory.
“You liked him before then,” Kevin suddenly finds himself accusing before he can stop himself, still processing this new information, whilst considering every sign he could remember, the most poignant being the way Andrew did things for nobody but Neil. Could only have his arm twisted by Neil. Had always drifted towards Neil, had never raised a knife to Neil, had always been straight with admittances to Neil; Neil, Neil, Neil was the exception to every rule of the Andrew Minyard handbook, the one Kevin had studied meticulously and still never found a loophole in. He finds himself itching to know more.
“I hate him.” Andrew deadpans, a reflex at this point, and if Kevin was anyone else, he’d have furrowed his brow, wrinkled up his nose, frowned and found himself reprimanding Andrew, but he’s not anyone else, so he smirks instead, because he thinks he’s finally starting to understand how Andrew works, and this kind of understanding is as scintillating as it is spine-chilling, like watching a horror film, driving past a car crash or finding a spider in your room - the kind of fear that keeps you captivated, unable to tear your eyes away from it even when you know it’s awful, and you shouldn’t, and if this is what Andrew feels around Neil, no wonder he hates him. Andrew has never enjoyed feeling, as far as Kevin knows, and something so intense and contradictory, something that can’t be calculated and analysed can only be devastating.
The words “I know,” feel foreign and awkward on his tongue, his body tense as they slip out and it all multiplies when Andrew’s blank stare shifts from the mug he warms his hands on to Kevin’s face. “Why him?” he eggs on, trying to coax something out of Andrew, whether it be more answers and information, something to help him understand, or just a reaction, something to put the world back in order and dissolve the itchy curiosity and mere residue of fear that has settled on his skin.
Andrew ignores it entirely. “You’ve reached your daily quota of questions you can ask me for free.” He pauses, as though considering something for a moment, before finally deciding against whatever it is and dismissing Kevin with a curt “You can go now.”
The next time Kevin sees Andrew, it’s because he’s paused the exy game on his laptop and emerged from his room for the first time in hours after smelling something divine. He is greeted with the sight of an unholy amount of Indian food scattered across the table, and isn’t sure whether he wants to kiss Andrew (if he was not in a relationship, if Andrew was not in a relationship, if either of them were in any way attracted to each other and if he had a death wish - none of which are even remotely true) or kill him, because really , this is not how future professional athletes should eat, but he can hear Jean’s voice in his head telling him to relax, to loosen the tight leash of control he has over his life in order for total success, thus he reluctantly picks up the spare fork left on the side and a tub of something orange, before sitting on the other end of
the sofa to Andrew.
“Nicky and Aaron will be here soon,” Andrew states at the exact same time that Kevin asks “Where’s Neil?”, changing his course of action to start Kevin down instead.
There’s a handful of new mottled bruises adorning his face from who knows where, and a nasty looking cut beneath his eye that he’s certain Aaron will fuss over later, much to Andrew’s dismay, and for a moment he considers asking if he’s okay, before swiftly realising what a stupid idea that is and dismissing it completely as Andrew opens his mouth again.
“I’m not his keeper.”
“I know.” Again. Andrew sighs.
“Did I or did I not tell you that you have asked as many free questions as you are permitted to today?” This time, as Andrew snaps, Kevin hears it.
“Free?” he asks around a mouthful of rice, swallowing hastily before he continues. “So if I give you something, I can ask more?”
It’s a rhetorical question, but Andrew grants him a small nod anyway. “Neil and I have - had - a thing.” Kevin agonisingly anticipates his next words as Andrew scoops up another mouthful of food. Static silence stretches out between them until he swallows again. “Truth for truth. For everything you ask me, I ask you something.”
“It’s my turn.” His gaze shoots skywards, face contorting in mock-thought. “Why are you so interested?”
He rolls his eyes. “Do I have to spell it out?” is punctuated with a sigh. “Me and Neil.”
“I don’t understand it,” is all Kevin replies, because, really, he’s not all too sure.
“Any of it. It’s a lot to process.” Andrew nods as Kevin finishes, despite the answer being indisputably lame.
“It’s your turn.”
“Why him?” falls out of Kevin’s mouth again like a reflex. He watches as Andrew’s blank expression twitches and his eyes shut for a second in something akin to stoicism.
“He’s interesting.” Kevin knows how much that means from a perpetually bored man.
“He’s kind of messed up,” he replies hesitantly, though there’s really no “kind of,” - there’s not doubt that Neil’s messed up - and he isn’t sure whether his words are a challenge or a disagreement.
There’s something almost wistful in Andrew’s eyes. “Exactly.”
Kevin gets that, too. The reason things have always worked with Thea, even when others told him, told both of them , that they shouldn’t, is because she always got it. She knew what it was like to be a Raven, she knew the complicated relationship he had with Riko and the Moriyamas, she never judged, never told him his reactions were gratuitous or invalid, she just understood .
Understanding, true understanding, is unparalleled in rarity, and perhaps the most coveted trait of all.
“Why alcohol?” interrupts Kevin from his thoughts, and it takes him a moment longer than it should to process that it’s Andrew’s turn again.
“What?” Kevin asks, wrinkling up his face.
“You could have any coping mechanism you wanted: drugs, self-harm, running yourself to the bone, food addiction, therapy, adult colouring books…” he lists off, his eyes infinitesimally lighter than usual, and Kevin resists the urge to roll his eyes, because of course the only person who can amuse Andrew Minyard is Andrew Minyard. “Why alcohol?” he repeats.
“It’s the only thing that can make me forget.”
“There are drugs that could do that much easier,” Andrew replies, but there are lines in his forehead as he tacks on “probably.”
“After Seth and Aaron,” Kevin responds cautiously, “and you – cracker dust is the worst I swore I’d ever do. And that–” he pauses again, mind casting him back to nights at Eden, panic attacks in toilet stalls and the burn in his throat that leaves his brain null and void of all things Evermore. “–It’s not enough on its own.”
“It’s weak. And unhealthy.”
“I know.” He replies, and there’s something cold and cumbersome building up at the pit of his stomach as the topic is stretched out like an elastic band, millimetres away from snapping or closing back in on itself, so he tries his hardest not to trip over words as they stumble out of his mouth. “It’s my turn again. How does it work - you and him - after everything? Your past. How do you–”
“No.” Andrew cuts him off, fists clenching tighter around the cutlery in his hands. “You don’t get to ask that. Something else.”
Kevin doesn’t say sorry, but his face does, even if there’s something about pulling a reaction out of Andrew that sets his nerves on fire. “What are you scared of?”
Andrew blinks at him once, empty composure regained. “Heights.”
Kevin’s face wrinkles up. How can a man who has spent so long mocking Kevin for his fears of the Moriyamas, of the Ravens, of death , be afraid of something so trivial, something that is a fear of death, in a way, in itself. “I thought you said you weren’t afraid of death.”
“I’m not.” Andrew replies, a hint of a sneer on his face as he adds “And I hate that word.”
“Afraid?” Kevin asks, shrugging when Andrew nods. “If you’re not afraid of death, what is it about heights that you’re scared of?”
“Falling.” Andrew replies hollowly, and Kevin’s about to ask more, about to ask about how he can go to a rooftop so often with Neil - does Neil know? - when the conversation is interrupted by the sound of a key in the lock, and the two boys shift around just in time to watch a drenched Neil, looking like he’s just taken a fully-clothed shower, stumble through the door, flanked by Dan and Allison, both also varying levels of waterlogged.
As the girls immediately make their way over to the excess of food lying on the table, eyes wide and begging Andrew and Kevin to let them have some, Neil slides effortlessly into the space between them and turns to Andrew, who tentatively reaches out towards him and ruffles a hand through his hair, watching as Neil slides his soiled jacket off and finally wiping his now wet hand on Neil’s shirt to dry it.
The sides of Neil’s mouth twitch and Kevin battles with the urge to turn away, to leave.
“There’s enough food there to feed a small army,” Neil mutters, low enough that the words were really meant only for Andrew, and softer than Kevin’s ever heard. It’s more than slightly disconcerting.
“You’re a small army,” Andrew retorts, only Neil must be hearing something else completely in that, because next thing he knows, Neil’s turned around to face the girls who are still fawning over the makeshift banquet.
“Invite the rest of the team and you can help yourselves,” he states, watching with eyes showing something reminiscent of fondness as Allison immediately pulls her phone out and Dan digs through their drawers for extra cutlery.
Neil turns back to Andrew, the ghost of a smile hanging from his mouth fading after a second, face wrinkling up.
“Isn’t that sweater mine?”
Kevin’s mind may say “Disgusting,” but he can feel the sides of his mouth quirk upwards as he finds Andrew’s face encrusted with crumbs of fear like he’s tumbling, freefalling, into an abyss.