It was snowing.
Neil sat next to the window in Kevin, Andrew and his own shared dorm. He had moved his desk near the window to get some sort of freedom from looking at the white walls of the dorm room. He was damn near Fox Tower happy with how snowy it had been.
But, really, when he had said one thing about it Matt had looked at him funny and pointed out, “Dude, we are up north.”
“But I looked it up.” Neil insisted as he motioned to his laptop.
“You looked up the weather?” Matt’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline.
“Yes? I can’t go running if it’s constantly snowing. I looked it up and it said that our area should only get five inches of snow.”
Neil shook his head and sighed as he pointed towards the door. “That is more than five inches of snow.”
Matt couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face. “You REALLY hate the weather, huh?”
Neil couldn’t deny that.
After all, it meant he was trapped in some way, and that made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. He might be safe, but he wasn’t exactly used to being safe. His self preservation instincts were kicking into over drive.
He had only been able to go for a few runs since the winter season had started.
Matt chuckled and had just patted his shoulder as he turned on something to listen to while he and Neil hung out and studied together. Now Neil was staring out the window as white snow swept across the grounds in visible trails and flurried throughout the side. He pressed his palm to the window, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.
You’re safe. You’re fine.
Instead of chasing his thoughts down a darker path, Neil let his eyes wander around the campus grounds as he watched several lone figures scurry around. One person even fell on their ass and took a moment to get up. Neil let out a wince in sympathy.
That would really suck.
Anything was better than chasing his own thoughts right then.
He pulled his focus on the grounds back towards the window of the dorm room window. He looked up and at the top of the window just barely formed were tiny icicles. He hummed as he tapped the window with his pointer finger. They were outside and too far up to bother or dislodge.
“Pretty.” He mumbled as he stared up at them from the safety of his warm dorm room.
He wouldn’t have been able to stop and do this if he had still been with his mother. He could almost feel the ghost of her hand threading into his hair and tugging.
Stephan, don’t waste your time on such frivolous things.
His heart picked up in his chest as he let out another steady breath. He was okay. He was in his dorm room, in the warmth, safety, and among friends. He sat back and thought about Andrew, Kevin, Matt, Dan and all the other foxes that made sure that he was taken care of.
The tension in his shoulders relaxed and he sighed tipping his head back against the head rest of his desk chair.
He didn’t realize that Andrew must have heard him that morning.
The other had been in the living room ignoring Kevin’s insistence that they all go and practice. He had ignored him and then they had settled down to watch something on their t.v. Neil had felt a little too exposed so he had kind of kept himself in the room for as long as he was able to.
Then he had been summoned by Allison to go help pick out gifts.
“I’m not going to be much help.” Neil pointed out as he got out of the passenger side of Allison’s car.
She stood up, brushed her hair back from her face, and shut her door. “I’m well aware of that.”
“Then why did you ask me to come?”
“Bonding Neil, we’re bonding.” Allison answered with a satisfied hum.
He wandered up and into the crowded mall beside her. Even before they were fully into the hustle and bustle of the throng of mall patrons, Neil felt his phone buzz. He took it out and flipped it open.
It was a message from Andrew.
Well, to be precise, it wasn’t a message but a picture.
It wasn’t anything grand, but it was an artistic picture of icicles.
Neil puzzled over it for a second, shrugged and put up his phone.
“What did the monster want?” Allison asked.
Neil frowned, “Don’t call him that.”
Allison waved her hand at him, “Well?”
“Nothing. He just sent me a picture of icicles.” Neil answered as he turned around and shived his hands and phone back into his pockets.
“Icicles?” Allison asked again.
“Icicles.” Neil answered with a nod.
They stood there for a second, and before Allison could ask anything else, Neil shrugged at her, “Where are we going first?”
“Oh. Yes, I was thinking that I would get this cute bracelet I saw for Renee. It’s got her asthetic written all over it.”
Neil frowned, “Asthetic?”
“Yeah you know, her style. Oh. Wait. You don’t know.” Allison teased him as she eyed him, “For your Christmas present we’re getting you some new clothes again.”
“Oh boy.” Neil murmured as he followed after the tall blonde as she moved through the crowd with practiced ease.
The second picture came later when he was with Kateyln studying in the library.
They had the same cast off elective, so they tended to work together. Andrew hadn’t said not to work with her, but he still didn’t acknowledge her existence. Maybe that might change a few years down the line after Aaron and Katelyn had more time together.
“Neil. Why don’t you look up these terms, and I’ll start on the bottom half.” Katelyn suggested with a small smile.
She hummed and fell into a comfortable silence with him.
If there was one thing Neil had learned about her, it was that she was kind of like him in some ways. The best way was that if it was quiet she didn’t fumble for words to try and fill the space, she just let it be.
“Oh. I saw that they were doing apple cider and cinnamon cider down on the bottom floor. I think I’ll get some. Do you want some Neil?”
Neil looked up from where he had his laptop and dictionary both open as he had been looking at one of the referenced articles. “Oh. No, I don’t think so.”
“I bet the cinnamon one is just spicy. I’ll get one for you to try.”
With that the vixen was gone with a wave and it was quiet again. Neil sighed and leaned against the study table as he flipped through a few pages in the book and hummed quietly. He had been so focused on what he was doing that he didn’t even notice Katelyn had come back until he felt the warmth of the styrofoam cup against the side of his arm.
He flinched and looked up. Katelyn smiled apologetically at him, “Sorry.”
“It’s fine.” Neil forced his fingers around the cup as he peered at the red liquid.
Katelyn smiled, “It’s not going to kill you.”
Of course not. Well, probably not. If it had been Riko that handed him that cup it would have probably had a greater chance.
Before he could take a sip, he felt his phone buzz in his pocket again.
Neil set down the cup and took out his phone.
Another message from Andrew.
Again, after opening it there was a picture of the overhang at Fox Tower and a ton of larger icicles on the edge. The picture was taken just so that the light hit right into the icicles and made them look like they were glowing.
“I haven’t seen you smile like that before.” Katelyn teased him, bringing Neil’s attention back to the present company.
Neil cleared his throat and shut his phone. “It’s just a message from Andrew.”
Katelyn’s smile waned for a second, before it was replaced with something softly. “He’s something isn’t he? With you it seems like he’s softer.”
Neil blinked, “Not really.”
Andrew was just able to let more of himself out. He had been working hard to start trying to patch things up, but there would always be those things that stuck around and made it hard for him to show that to everyone.
He didn’t need to work to show Neil though. Neil knew without a doubt that there were sides to Andrew that others would never see. They just didn’t care to look deep enough.
“You’d be surprised.” Katelyn told him.
The third and last picture was during dinner.
Dan and Matt had caught him coming out of the library and whisked him off for Italian. They had met Allison and Renee and they found themselves having several different conversations. Neil’s partner at this point in dinner was Renee.
Things had always been a little awkward with her, but if there was one thing his time at Palmetto had taught him was that Renee could be trusted. She had been beside and still was Andrew’s best friend. They still sparred.
She had even kept in touch with Jean through his transition into the USC Trojans.
He had even sent her a small thank you card.
They had been finishing up their dessert and talking about classes again when the conversation touched on the upcoming full school break and their plans.
“I think Neil should come up with us to New York.” Allison offered.
“I think Randy would love to have more time to talk to him. After all he is Matt’s best friend.” Added Dan as Matt nodded.
Neil blinked, “We’re best friends?”
Matt couldn’t help the dopey smile on his face as he reached over and ruffled Neil’s hair, “Yeah Neil. We are.”
Neil swatted at Matt’s hands causing him to laugh and pull them back away from the striker.
It was a foreign word. Another something that Neil wasn’t supposed to have.
“I don’t think you should include Neil in your plans.” Renee gently added.
All attention turned to her.
“Why not?” Allison demanded.
“I just have a feeling that Neil is already spoken for.” Renee answered diplomatically.
His cell phone buzzed in his pocket.
Neil fished out his cell phone and there was another message from Andrew. This time it was outside the Italian restaurant, again icicles in the picture. The picture was again artfully taken and there was a note underneath the picture this time:
Neil looked up and everyone was staring at him.
“Andrews here so I’m just going to go.” He told them. He stood up and reached for his wallet, but Allison rolled her eyes and waved him off.
“You have your lover boy waiting out there. We’ll cover you.”
“He’s not-” Neil started.
“Oh no. He totally is.” Dan agreed as Matt nodded along with her.
“Tell Andrew hello for me.” Renee added as she smiled up at him.
Neil felt the heat in his cheeks. He nodded and turned around waving once, but otherwise checked out. He made his way outside to see the Maserati idling by the curb. He opened the door and slid inside.
Andrew had the heater on blast and he waited until he heard the door shut before merging back into traffic.
Neil put on his seatbelt and he turned to look at Andrew.
The other didn’t look at him, “Did you miss me today?”
Andrew didn’t answer. He did however put his hand on the console between them. Neil stared at the outstretched palm and murmured, “Yes or no?”
The intimacy they had was hard won. Neil would never take it for granted.
“Yes.” Andrew muttered quietly.
Neil covered Andrew’s palm with his own and threaded their fingers together. Andrew squeezed his hand gently, and Neil squeezed back in answer.
“So, why did you keep sending me icicles today?”
“I heard you say they were beautiful.” Andrew’s fingers flinched as his thumb brushed against the side of Neil’s pointer finger gently.
Neil felt as if his heart pinched hard inside his chest and made it hard to breathe for a couple of seconds.
Whatever this was between them, Neil would always cherish it.
He turned to look outside as the snow fell softly outside the window as they drove back to the Fox Tower, “They really are.”