My take on the “Neil dies in Baltimore” au:
Here’s a list of reasons why Andrew is considering death-by-FBI-agent-who-won’t-shut-up:
- Neil is dead.
- Neil obviously knew he was going to die, since he made sure to break his contract with Andrew.
- He didn’t catch the strain in Neil’s voice when he said “You were amazing” until later, when it was too late.
- Now that it’s too late, he can’t stop hearing it. That little waver, like it meant more than it was saying, which now he knows it was but he was too fucking dense to realize it.
- Even after the disappearance, even after hours of nothing and then the FBI call and Kevin’s stupid confession and stupid throat (which he fully intends to come back to crushing later), Neil was alive.
- But not long enough for them to reach the hospital.
And now here they are, in the hospital lobby, being talked down to by an idiot in a suit trying to make excuses for why the FBI needs his body.
“He is ours,” Dan growls. Actually growls. “You said his father is dead now, and his mother’s been dead for years, so that means we’re his closest family.”
But all Agent Dick dous is raise an eyebrow. “How do you know that Mary Wesninski is dead?” It has the clearly desired effect of shutting Dan up. There are a thousand innocent answers to that question, but they’re Foxes. Nobody ever gives them the benefit of the doubt.
“We need to conduct a full autopsy, get a clearer picture of what was done to him. We’ll hand him over to you post-cremation.”
Matt shakes his head. “Not good enough.”
“You all need to get this into your heads: Neil Josten isn’t real and never was. He was a halfway decent cover that, honestly, probably would’ve been passable if he hadn’t thrown caution to the wind time and again over the past year. He was playing a part, and now he’s dead, and those are the facts.”
Andrew is aware that they’re talking about a corpse, but that complete disregard for who Neil was makes him want to rip out the man’s throat. Anger colors his vision red, but it’s better this way. Because as soon as the red leaves, the gray will settle in, and it will never, ever go away.
“Here’s another fact,” Agent Dick continues. “People don’t spend months in close company of others without letting something slip. So I’m going to need all of you to come in and te—”
“That’s enough, Agent Browning,” a new voice calls to them. A second later, a woman appears next to the agent, towering over him by a good half a foot. “Say another word to them and I’ll personally make sure that anything they say becomes inadmissible in court.” She turns to the Foxes. “Hi, sorry, I’m Ms. Waters. I was — still is, technically — Nathaniel’s lawyer.”
Kevin’s face goes ashy, likely imagining the worst. “He was here for six hours before dying. Why the hell would he need a lawyer?”
Ms. Waters pulls out several small white envelopes by way of response. “Because he didn’t trust Agent Chucklehead over hear to not open these before you recieved them.” She hands each Fox their own envelope, with their name written on the front in Neil’s familiar scrawl. Wymack doesn’t get an envelope.
It makes Andrew’s chest ache and his heart boil, and he doesn’t trust himself to speak. He knows what’s inside that letter: a sequel and an epilogue. All of Neil’s bullshit sap wrapped in a promise that he’ll never have it again. He doesn’t even know wether he wants to read it or tear it into a million pieces. Probably both.
“—two requests,” it takes Andrew a second to register that Ms. Waters is talking again. “That you read your letters in private, and that you destroy them after reading. Preferably with fire.” She smiles at their confused stares and nods at Agent Dick. “Browning here is a man of many words, but he spends very few eandearing himself to others. Nathaniel was likely afraid that he would try to read them.
“In any case, I’ll be in touch soon. Nathaniel left a great deal behind, and while the FBI can scramble over his past, it’s my job to sort out his present, and that means you.” She gives Wymack a teal business card. “In case you need me urgently, in the case I don’t contact you first. Now run along, you were all injured and in need of rest.”
The bus ride back to Palmetto is silent, but nobody is asleep. Like Andrew, they all sit on their individual benches, staring at their letters, trying to decide wether they wan’t to know or not. Is it an explanation? Apology? Questions too big for the heart to ask or recieve an answer to.
In the end, it’s Nicky who breaks the silence. “I know he said to read them alone, but… anybody want to open their’s with me? I just. I can’t. Not alone. Not on this.”
There’s silence again, but then Renee comes to sit next to Nicky, and then Allison, and the next thing he knows he, Kevin, and Aaron are the only ones not crowded together in a massive group hug. There’s sniffling, then a countdown from three, and the sound of several envelopes tearing and pages unfolding. And then silence again.
Dan’s been captain of the Foxes for years, but Andrew doesn’t think he’s ever heard her yell that loudly as her ARE YOU SHITTING ME vibrates throughout the bus. The rest of the Foxes are quick to follow with their own sounds of anger and disbelief.
It’s when Nicky starts laughing hysterically that Andrew finally succumbs to his curiousity and opens the letter, skimming over the words.Andrew is going to fucking kill that boy when he gets his hands on him.