Hi! I really like your writing and was wondering if you could do a hurt/comfort type thing where Neil runs away and Andrew has to find him?
Hey! So, a million years later… I hope you like this. It might be a bit lacking on the comfort because this prompt ate my heart *cries*
Neil’s expensive running shoes hit the pavement with satisfying slaps. He’s reached his peak stride and every movement is effortless, his breaths come easily and his heart is ticking at a steady rate. He would never admit it to the others but the natural high from the flood of endorphins is what keeps him moving, even after regular practices and training. Every member of the team has a coping mechanism or two, Neil just happens to have one that is healthy, one that stems from a lifetime spent on the run and the necessity to be fast.
The neighborhood is familiar, one he’s run through almost every day since he first picked this route over a year ago. He was cold when he started the run, the early December chill biting through his sweats and light running jacket and T-shirt, but now he’s warmed up enough that he’s breaking a sweat. Cars pass by, slow. No one is out walking or running at this hour, it’s too early and too cold for the native South Carolinians. But Neil was born and raised in Baltimore, he’s had to endure hours out in the freezing cold, plus he’s lived in some other places, farther north, where the winters lasted for endless months of ice and snow.
Neil takes a right, heading down a narrow side street that runs behind a row of off-campus apartments. He’s not really thinking about anything, just enjoying the burn in his muscles, the rhythmic inhale and exhale of his breaths, when his phone rings.
The tone gives away the caller. Neil didn’t go to the trouble of picking a song, he simply picked the most ominous pre-programmed ringtone and left it, dreading the day he would hear it.
Ducking behind a large oak tree Neil pulls the phone from the pocket of his jacket. His fingers tremble as he stares at the name. It’s been nearly six months since they last communicated. He flips the phone open, holding it to his ear; he covers his mouth with his other hand, trying to silence his breathing.
Neil doesn’t gasp, doesn’t react. You knew this was coming. You knew.
“Are you exercising? You sound out of breath.”
He would stop breathing if he could.
It’s a warning that won’t be repeated.
“Yes,” Neil replies, taking slow, quiet breaths. “I was running.”
He crouches down on the cracked sidewalk, weight balanced on the balls of his feet, ready to run, ready to move. He needs to go, the urge is so overwhelming that he has to close his eyes and focus all his thought on the voice at the other end to keep from taking off.
“My men have been keeping tabs on you. Our mutual agreement is progressing well.” A pause. Neil hears swallowing, the delicate clink of ice in a glass. “You have winter break coming up.”
The silence stretches until Neil realizes that he is meant to speak.
“Yes.” It’s barely a whisper. He’s losing it, fast. The sooner the call is over the sooner he can—Neil doesn’t even know. It feels like someone is stepping on his chest.
“You will come to me.” There is no room for negotiation or argument. There is no acceptable answer other than an affirmative.
“Understood.” It hurts. It hurts. It hurts.
“Good. My assistant will be in touch with the details.” Neil waits, his self-control unraveling by the second. “Take care, Nathaniel.”
The call ends and Neil’s up and running. He pulls the back of the phone open, the thin plastic backing clatters to the pavement, followed by the thunk of the battery hitting the sidewalk. Neil is on autopilot, running another drill that his mother instilled in him. His nails scrabble with the SIM card and he tosses it down the storm drain. The phone gets chucked into someone’s trashcan.
He’s only a few miles away from a decent sized gas station where he can get a ride to one of the major interstates, 20 or 26 or 77. His internal map of the east coast opens up and he weighs the options; he still shies away from Baltimore, from northern cities where the devil he knows lurks. The pull to travel south kicks in, hardwired like a migratory instinct.
At no point during his exodus does Neil stop and think about what—who—he is leaving behind, he doesn’t stop to examine why he’s running. Every step of the way he hears Ichirou’s voice and the cold possession that laced every polite word. You will come to me. He’s running on impulse, he’s running blind, he’s running, he’s running, he’s running—
Andrew gets the call after midnight. He is not in a good place, has not been in a good place since Neil failed to return from his run. Before the panic set in he was calm, able to methodically check Neil’s usual spots, then he contacted Wymack and Abby when Neil did not turn up for his classes. Once lunchtime hit Andrew had met his limit for staying calm and the Foxes were sent on a campus-wide, then town-wide, search for Neil. Andrew followed Neil’s running route and found the pieces of the phone, though he didn’t find the phone itself. Standing there, in the empty space behind the apartments, clutching a fucking cell phone battery… it was almost worse than Baltimore. It was worse because this time Neil had chosen to run. And Andrew didn’t know if he would come back.
“I fucked up.”
Neil sounds exhausted and empty and broken and—
“Andrew. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, I want to come home. I want to explain—”
“Where are you.” Andrew doesn’t want to hear another word, not like this, over the phone with Neil gasping like he can’t breath. Andrew’s anger feels too enormous for this conversation but he tamps it down.
“At your house.” Andrew checks his phone; the number is for the landline at the Columbia house. He had recognized it, of course, when the call came in but he had been too distracted to know what it meant. “I had the key with me. When I left…” Neil sobs once; Andrew shuts his eyes, squeezing his hand into a tight fist. “I want to come home.”
Andrew can’t speak. He wants to yell, to throw all the fucking harshness and recriminations and fear at Neil but he doesn’t. Instead he throws the phone at the wall, the impact hard enough to shatter the phone, to knock a dent in the dry wall.
“Andrew?” Nicky stands in the doorway, hugging himself, his eyes huge and watchful.
“He’s in Columbia.” Andrew collects his wallet and keys, grabs a jacket and Neil’s duffle bag, prepped and packed for a fast exit. “He’s fine.” The word comes out caustic and even as he says it Andrew knows that it’s not the truth. If Neil had been fine he would never have run, if Neil had been fine he wouldn’t be sobbing and begging on the phone. Neil Josten had stopped being a rabbit. Neil Josten had stopped being afraid. Yet some habits and patterns were difficult to unlearn and if anyone understood that it was Andrew.
“We’ll be back tomorrow,” Andrew tells Nicky as he slides out the door, “maybe.”
Neil sits on the couch for hours, waiting for Andrew. He doesn’t trust his body to stay put once he sets it in motion. He isn’t sure how he ended up at the house. Maybe it was the familiar press of the key against his palm, or the way his heart had surged when he saw Columbia on the signs heading south. He had walked for miles from the truck stop to the house. He was exhausted and hungry but felt too unsteady to even raid he fridge. He wanted Andrew. He wanted to know that he could be forgiven, that he could come back, that he hadn’t broken the something that kept the two of them together.
The house is pitch dark and cold when Andrew arrives. Neil sees the headlights through the windows, hears the familiar sound of the car door slamming shut, the quiet rasp of the key unlocking the front door. And he can’t stay still any longer. He’s on his feet, limping and then running, not away but to—straight into Andrew.
Andrew catches him, his strong arms wrapping around Neil, trapping him. Neil doesn’t—can’t—he collapses against Andrew and it’s like the tears won’t fucking stop, even when he coughs, trying to bring himself under control because it’s so pathetic, when did he get so pathetic?
“Neil.” Andrew’s voice is a growl, low and deep, full of emotions that Neil can’t possibly untangle. “Breathe.”
Neil’s arms hang at his sides, hands fisted tight so he won’t touch, won’t grab. He’s trembling, or maybe Andrew is.
“I want to go home,” Neil manages to say. He hates how broken he sounds; he hates the desperation crawling up his throat.
Andrew takes Neil’s hand, presses the key into it, his other hand holding onto the back of Neil’s neck. The faint glow from the automatic porch light illuminates the side of Andrew’s face, showing the hard line of his jaw, the tight set of his mouth and a brief, warm flash in his hazel eyes.
“You are home,” Andrew answers.
It could have been worse. Andrew lies next to Neil on the bed and smokes another cigarette. Neil’s passed out, curled up at his side, looking beat. Andrew taps ash into the ashtray and exhales, watching the smoke drift towards the ceiling. The house has warmed up a bit since he turned on the heat but he still shivers, sweat drying cool on his skin.
It could have been so much worse. Neil could have kept running and Andrew knows that he never would have found him, none of them would, not even Ichirou Moriyama. The name has a bitter tang. Neil told him what Ichirou had said, what he had demanded. Perhaps, at another time, it wouldn’t have bothered Neil as much. But they were nearing the one-year anniversary of Andrew being sent to Easthaven, of Neil going to Evermore, horrible times for both of them. Andrew knows enough about his own triggers to understand where Neil is coming from, to understand how a convergence of circumstances had overwhelmed his rational mind and sent him panicking, running.
It could have been worse. Andrew stubs out the cigarette and burrows under the covers, making sure to leave space between him and Neil. He doesn’t turn off the bedside lamp; he doesn’t take his eyes off the man lying beside him. Neil is still and quiet and Andrew lets that calm wash over him, lets it ease the turmoil that continues to twist him up inside. He came back, he stayed. Andrew pulls the covers over Neil’s shoulders and studies the scars on Neil’s cheek. It could have been worse.
[FYI: inspirational/mood songs for this fic are ZVVL by Chvrches and The Race by Thirty Seconds to Mars]