Fandom: All for the game
Riassunto: Nothing ever happens in Palmetto that Andrew doesn't know. It's why he's surprised to discover that there's someone new in the tavern.
Note: Scritta per la M1 della 5° settimana del COWT9 per "In fuga"
There aren't many things that happen in Palmetto that Andrew doesn't know. A part of it is because Palmetto is a small village and nothing remains a secret for long, another part of it is Andrew's general mistrust of anyone.
There are reasons, of course, and he doesn't much think he exaggerates in his paranoia when literally everyone is out to get him. Or get Kevin, at least.
It also helps that, usually, not much happens in Palmetto at all.
There's no one in Palmetto who doesn't have some kind of past they're running from, or are simply trying very hard to forget, and for that exact reason, everyone tries to keep Palmetto's existence as much of a secret as possible.
It's why Andrew is surprised to enter the usual bar and see someone who he doesn't know. He watches the table in the corner, further from the entrance and closer to the back entrance, with immediate distrust.
He recognizes the signs of someone who put himself as far away as possible from a source of danger and as close as possible to the exit. Whoever this is: it's trouble.
Andrew walks to the bar and doesn't have to wait long for Roland to reach him.
"Andrew..." the bartender starts, but Andrew blocks him immediately.
"Who is he?" he asks, low and urgent.
Roland doesn't look at the table, but it's obvious he knows who Andrew is talking about. There aren't a lot of people at this hour, but Andrew sees that they're all trying to take a look at the guy as discreetly as possible.
He's sure that, soon, half the village will come in to try and unravel this mystery. Which means that Andrew doesn't have a lot of time to assess the threat.
"I don't know," Roland answers, honestly, "he arrived here fifteen minutes ago. Ordered something to eat and water and then moved as far away from the bar as he could."
"Water," Andrew repeats, a little displeased. Water in a bar is never a good sign, he can't help but think. Also it's a lot more difficult to drug someone with water.
Reading his mind, Roland huffs. "Maybe he's just passing by, Andrew. There's no need to drug him immediately."
Someone passing by, Andrew doesn't say, is almost more dangerous than someone who is actually looking for Palmetto. The moment he moves along and reaches the next village, there's nothing stopping him from telling everyone about this little village he found in the middle of the woods.
Not many people traveled this deep into the forest and that's why they've been able to remain this hidden all these years. That and, of course, the subtle magic of Palmetto.
Few people knew about the magic that floated around Palmetto. Few people knew about magic in general.
Once, magic has been something common. Every idiot on the street could use magic like it was part of their blood, it's not really the case now however.
Still, Palmetto has its own kind of magic. The place has been warded long ago, as to make it harder to find by anyone who wasn't supposed to be there.
Hard, however, not impossible.
It wouldn't take much to unbalance this careful equilibrium they have going on, and Andrew doesn't want that to happen.
This goal requires, some times, preventive actions.
He sees the stranger's meal getting ready to be walked over, and so he takes the plate out of Roland's hands.
"Andrew..." he says, but Roland knows better than to stand in Andrew's way, thankfully for him.
Andrew doesn't answer him, nor the hidden warning in his words. There's nothing anyone here can really do to him. He's stronger than most of the others here. Most importantly, he's the only one that would have no qualms hurting anyone else.
He walks over the stranger's table and can't help but notice the whispers that accompany his walk. It's obvious that people are taking notice of his interest and talking about it. Andrew doesn't need the commentary, really.
Especially because it seems that the rat is more perceptive that he lets on.
Andrew sees the stranger tense the moment the whispers starts. He doesn't turn toward Andrew, but it's obvious that all his attention is on him. If Andrew started running towards him now, or threatened him in any way, the strangers would bolt out of the room faster that it would take for the plate of chicken to hit the ground.
But also interesting.
Andrew knows that interesting usually means extremely dangerous.
Still, he doesn't speed up. He keeps his steps measured, and in turn the strangers remains put.
He puts the plate on the strangers table and then sits down on the other chair. It's there that he finally takes a look at the stranger.
Until now his face had been masked under a rather heavy cloak and hood, and he has been very careful not to show his face to anyone.
Andrew... doesn't really know why.
There aren't any particular scars, nor anything strange under the guy's hood. His eyes are a rather boring brown color, and his hair are dark. His skin is also a rather dull white.
He doesn't look like a elf, or a half-orc, or a tiefling. Just another boring normal human. Why would he try to hide himself so much?
"You're not a waiter," the stranger says, raising a hand and dragging his plate closer to him. Andrew refuses to answer such a boring and obvious question, and the stranger thankfully doesn't wait for an answer. "Do you want something? Or did you just wanted to watch me eat?"
Andrew waits a bit, only to see if the stranger would squirm under his gaze.
This is even more troubling. People who are so focused on escaping and hiding themselves, aren't usually foolish enough not to cower under such focused examination. Either this man thinks he has nothing to fear from Andrew (big mistake), or he has no survival instincts whatsoever.
"I know everyone in town," Andrew says in the end, "but I don't know you."
The stranger shrugs and starts eating his potatoes. He's still not touching his meat, but he has dropped his gaze at least. "I won't be in town long," he explains, with a shrug, "time to eat something and I'll be out of your hair."
That's good information to have, and from what Andrew can tell the stranger doesn't seem to be lying about that, but everything he does seems to be crafted to be a lie. This person seems to lie like he breathes and that irritates Andrew beyond belief.
"What brings you here in the first place?" he pushes, watching as the man eats a couple of other potatoes.
It's then that Andrew realizes what's happening. The stranger is only using his right hand to eat and is hiding his left one under the cloak. Maybe what he's really trying to hide isn't his face, but whatever happened to his arm.
"A mistake," the man says, with a sigh. "Look. I'm not looking for trouble. I don't know what you want, but I just needed somewhere to eat."
And heal, probably, considering how he's holding himself.
If this person was running away from a fight, he might have dragged them right at their doorsteps.
"I guess trouble just finds you?" Andrew guesses and he sees the man's eyes flash to him for a second. In that brief moment Andrew sees something in them, something he recognizes. This man has nothing to lose and not many possibilities but fight.
If Andrew pushes him too far, he might snap back.
He's rather tempted to do so.
Before he can say anything else, however, the door to the bar opens and Andrew hears Nicky's voice ask: "Is there really someone new? Tell me Andrew hasn't killed him yet."
Of course the idiot would immediately come here, where Andrew wasn't sure he could protect him, where everything was turning more and more dangerous by the minute.
Roland doesn't say anything, but Andrew knows it's just a matter of seconds before Nicky (and whoever is with him) spots them so he turns towards the man to tell him to go away, when he notices the other's expression.
The stranger had been weary, but confident up until now. He had the air of someone that knew how to act in a fight and knew it very well.
Now... now he looks like a scared little child.
Andrew has to turn then, to see what the other is seeing, but he sees nothing different but Nicky, Aaron and Kevin.
He's sure that nor Nicky nor Aaron could know this man, and so that leaves only one possibility. Isn't that always the case, after all?
Andrew takes a knife out of his armbands and jumps over the table, holding the knife out towards the stranger's throat. He growls at the man, and it seems that the other freezes for a moment, surprised by the sudden attack.
"I should have known you were here for Kevin," Andrew growls, low and dangerous.
Everyone is always here for Kevin, as one of the last magic users left in the world, a lot of people desire his powers. The Moriyamas are just the more stubborn of the bunch and it seems that Andrew might have another Raven on his hands, right here.
The stranger doesn't move, conscious of the mere inches that stand between Andrew's weapon and his neck, but simply says: "I'm not. I didn't even know he was here. I wouldn't have stopped if I had known."
"Why? And why should I believe you?" Andrew asks, taking a step closer so that his blade was touching the other's skin.
"You don't want to do this," the stranger says, something strained in his voice. "I don't like knives."
Before Andrew can see something, he hears the bar open again and the ever annoying voice of Wymack fill the tavern: "What's going on here? What are you doing on the table, Andrew? Stand down from there, or I'll fucking kill you."
Andrew knows the other would never do it, but he imagines that to someone who didn't know Wymack's original brand of care, he would have seemed seriously threatening.
The stranger flinches away from Wymack's voice, out of reflex more than anything else, and so he nicks himself on the blade. Andrew would almost feel sorry, but it's the idiot's fault for moving. And also Andrew refuses to feel sympathy for a Raven, even if he's obviously too scared to take care of himself.
Only, the moment the blade nicks the other's skin, he sees panic flash in his eyes and Andrew knows the look of someone having a panic attack too intimately to not recognize it.
"No!" the stranger screams and then raises the left arm, like he was trying to protect himself with it. It's then, however, that Andrew sees what the other was hiding all along.
There are scales covering the back of the other's hand, bright red and disappearing under the other's tunic. They seem to be shining, flickering with the candles inside the tavern, and Andrew has only a second to turn towards the others and say "Duck" before something slams in his chest and pushes him back,
It's not far enough to really hurt him, but enough to knock the air out of him.
"Shit! What the hell is that!" Wymack says, and Andrew opens his eyes to see that the scales are growing up the other's neck and in his face, stopping just below his eye.
The stranger is panting, and looks to be ready to bolt, but he sways in place and Andrew can see what else the damn stranger was hiding. There's blood dripping down from his side, and a little pool under the guy's seat.
"Nathaniel?" Andrew hears Kevin say, with a mix of surprise and shock. No fear, however, Andrew notes.
The stranger turns towards the voice and, inexplicably, it's him that looks afraid of Kevin. This Nathaniel tries to flee, but collapses after a couple of steps and doesn't move, probably knocked out by the blood loss.
No one speaks for a second before Nicky asks, with a concitated whisper: "What the fuck?"
"So," Dan asks, looking at them, "someone wants to tell me what happened exactly?"
Andrew doesn't even turn towards her, staring right at Kevin.
After the stranger seemed to blow up on their faces, Dan and Matt had interrupted them before Andrew could get more informations out of him.
Nathaniel is being treated by Abby, and Wymack is with her to make sure that the man doesn't hurt her when he wakes up.
That leaves Andrew with the guard squad.
"Yeah, Kevin," Andrew asks, when the other isn't forthcoming with what he knows, "why don't you tell us?"
"I'm talking to you too, Andrew," Dan says to him, glaring at him, "after all from what I understand you had a knife on him before he even did anything."
Andrew shrugs, but that's the most he's going to say on the argument. He had known the boy was trouble since the first moment and he's took the precautions necessary.
After a couple of seconds Kevin starts muttering something. Andrew kicks his chair, and the other finally speaks up: "Honestly, i didn't think he was still alive... He shouldn't be."
"Who is he, exactly?" Matt asks, looking towards the door that leads to the infirmary.
"His name is Nathaniel," Kevin repeats, looking at the door as well, "I've met him only once when we were children and he's... he's a sorcerer."
"Like you then?" Nicky wonders, curious, but Kevin immediately shakes his head.
"No, not like me at all." He stands up and starts moving, gesticulating like every other time he starts to talk about magic and the logistic behind it. "I was born with the ability to learn magic. Not a lot of people have it anymore, but without proper training, I probably would have never casted a spell."
"Then the Raven took you and brainwashed you, yes, we remember, can we get to the important part?" Aaron says, with an annoyed huff. Andrew carefully doesn't let anyone understand that he agrees with Aaron.
Kevin seems annoyed at being interrupted, but he still moves along with his explanation. "A sorcerer is someone who is born with the ability to do magic. They don't need to train to do it, it comes naturally to them. It's just like another muscle for them."
No one talks for a second, and Andrew can see in their eyes that they don't grasp the difference between a wizard and a sorcerer. They're idiots, the difference it's plain to see.
Also the fact that this Nathaniel is even more dangerous than what Andrew thought.
"It means," Kevin says, with a huff, "that he never had to study to use magic. He probably casted his spell before he said his first word. If you think wizards are rare, the number of sorcerers in the world can be probably counted with the fingers of a single hand."
"And what was up with those scales?" Matt asks, furrowing his brow. "I mean, that doesn't seem to be something a normal magic user would have, right? But I've never heard of a race that has normal skin and dragon scales."
"No, Nathaniel is human," Kevin explains with a shrug, "those scales are the mark of the source of his powers. Nathaniel's family has draconic blood in his veins. It's why they're one of the last sorcerers alive."
"And how do you know him?" Andrew asks, bored of all this talks already. He doesn't care about a history lesson about magic, wizards and sorcerers. He just needs to know how much of a threat the other boy is.
"I told you, I only met him once. We were young, and he was brought in to play with me and Riko," Kevin explains, looking at his own foot. "His father was going to sell him to the Moriyama, I think."
"His father works for the Moriyama?" Dan asks, suddenly alarmed, "does that mean they've found us?"
Kevin doesn't say anything for a couple of seconds, but once again he doesn't seem to be afraid. The ever cowardly Kevin seems to be too sure of the fact that this Nathaniel wasn't going to harm them.
"Before his father could sell him to the Moriyama," Kevin continues, "his mother took him and run. The family and the school talked about it a lot. Having a sorcerer between their midst would have been a great source of power."
"If this sorcerer thing is something he has thanks to his blood, does it mean that his father is a sorcerer as well?" Nicky wonders, showing that he has actually been following along.
"No. Nathaniel's powers come from his mother's side," Kevin says, shrugging, "His father is many things, but a magic user isn't one of them."
"I imagine," Matt says, whispering, "that his father wasn't very pleased about any of that."
Kevin nods, his eyes hardening against the memories. "You can say that," he says, low, "it's why I thought he was dead until now. From what I know, his father has never stopped looking."
And there it was. This was what the little rabbit was running from, just like Kevin. But, it seemed, unlike Kevin this one rabbit was a little more stupid.
Andrew still remembers Nathaniel's warning - I wouldn't do that - and there had been nervousness in his eyes, but not for himself. Nathaniel seems to be running more out of habit than anything else.
Still, there must be some survival instinct still kicking in him if he hasn't stopped running until now.
"Where's his mother?" Matt asks, shocking everyone out of their silence. "I mean, you said his mother took him and run, right? So... why is he here alone?"
No one says anything, but it's not difficult to imagine. A life on the run, hunted by someone affiliated by the Moriyama, is not the safest way to live. And, judging by Nathaniel's conditions, they didn't manage to fly under the radar.
She's probably dead, Andrew thinks, and wonders how someone should feel about this realization.
He sees that Matt and Dan are looking at their own feet, the perfect picture of empathy. Aaron is lost in his own mind, probably mourning his own mother. Nicky is probably thinking of the terrible woman that he calls mother, but Andrew doesn't know what he's thinking about.
Kevin seems to be thinking about the horrid things that might have happened to the woman, probably thinking about what would await him if he ever went back to the Nest.
Thankfully, Andrew won't ever let that happen.
A couple of seconds later the door to the infirmary opens and Wymack exits. He looks troubled and he raises his eyes to look at all of them.
"He's out of the woods, Abby fixed him. But he's..." he stops, and doesn't stalk anymore, Andrew can guess what he has seen. Someone that has lived on the run all their lives, probably doesn't have the smoothest skin.
No one talks for a second before Dan sighs and stands up. "I'll explain everything to you," she says, "it's probably better to call Renne, Allison and Seth too."
"Do we have too?" Nicky asks with a sigh. "I mean Allison and Renee? Sure. But Seth is an asshole."
"An asshole who knows how to pack a punch," Dan reminds him. At least she doesn't deny that he's an asshole. It's why Andrew some days can almost stand Dan. "If whoever attacked him is still here, we will need all the help we get."
"We probably should also make a perimeter around the village," Matt says, looking determined, "just to be sure that the coast is clear."
"We can send Seth, if everything goes right he just never comes back," Nicky mumbles, for once not loud enough that the others hear him.
"You guys really need to explain to me what's going on," Wymack says and Dan nods, motioning toward Wymack's office.
As the head of security and mayor of Palmetto, Wymack has certain perks. Not that he usually uses his office much, mostly when he needs to hide from them (Andrew, most of the time).
Wymack nods and send a last look at Andrew before stepping inside his office. Andrew knows that look very well, it's I trust your judgement, but if someone ends up dead I'm going to be very pissed.
Andrew usually doesn't answer, because he can make no promises about no one actually dying and he prefers not to lie.
Matt looks at the four of them and then follows Dan inside Wymack's office.
It seems that the other is still a little uncomfortable around them and Andrew is perfectly fine with it. He doesn't much like Matt, and everything they did to him, he deserved.
"So," Andrew says, now that they're finally alone. He slips into draconic anyway. His accent might not be the best around, but it's one of the hardest languages to learn, and no one else in Palmetto speaks it.
It has come in handy over the years.
"Care to tell us why we never hear anything about Nathaniel?" Andrew asks, watching as Kevin actually lowers his gaze.
"I told you, I thought he was dead," Kevin repeats, looking awed. "I mean, years on the run from the Moriyama and his father? I..."
He thinks about asking more details about the other's father, but Andrew feels like he already knows everything important: Nathaniel's father was a dangerous man, ruthless enough to sell his only son.
"Once he wakes up," Aaron says, his tone bored, "we're kicking him out, right?"
Andrew nods, but before he can say anything, Kevin speaks: "No! We can't! Don't you understand?"
Andrew raises an eyebrow, annoyed and very much not seeing whatever Kevin points is.
The other huffs, annoyed. "He's a source of raw magic. He's probably one of the most powerful magic users alive, or he can be anyway. He can help us."
"We don't need him," Andrew says, low and dangerous. "I told you I would protect you, don't you believe me?"
Kevin seems to take a step back, scared of Andrew's voice. Good, at least the idiot still knows how to act.
"That's not the point, Andrew. You're... very good, but there are a lot of them and they have magic. Me and Renee are the only ones that can wield any magic here," Kevin says, with a huff. "We need to be able to pack more of a punch if we want to face the,."
"Woah," Nicky stops them, blinking. "Face them? I thought the plan was to hide in Palmetto until the end of the world?"
"One day they're going to find us," Aaron says, looking a little miffed. "I mean, Renee has been spotting people coming closer and closer every week."
"I thought the magic protected us?" Nicky wonders, looking at Andrew.
Andrew doesn't know why he looks in his direction. Out of everyone in the room, Andrew is the one with the least amount of magical potential in his blood. Still, Andrew has made Renee explain to him the magic that protects Palmetto at length.
Andrew doesn't want to explain it, however.
"The Ravens have magic strong enough to disrupt the protection spell of Palmetto. The more they scry to search for me, the thinner the veil that obscures Palmetto becomes," Kevin jumps in, when it's obvious that Andrew won't say anything.
No one says anything for a moment, taking that in.
This is certainly not new information for Andrew, but it still puts him on edge.
He looks at the room of the infirmary and stands up. "We'll see once the rabbit wakes up," Andrew says, "but I'm telling you, Kevin, it's a bad idea."
"It's the best one we got," Kevin tells him, looking a little ill.
That night, Andrew sneaks into the infirmary easily, pick pocketing the door and walking inside the room where Nathaniel is sleeping and sitting down in the chair beside him.
He notices immediately that the scales that had covered the other's face aren't there anymore, just like when the two of them had talked at the bar. His hand, however, is still half covered in deep red scales. He wonders if the scales are activated by his magic, or if the magic only works as an amplifier. His hair are red as well, and not black anymore.
Abby is still in the building, but she's probably with Wymack and won't come back for a while unless her patient makes a noise.
Andrew has no intention of allowing him that luxury.
From what he has understood, the other man is a little worse for the wear, but the cut had been patched up easily.
It's why Andrew stands up and walks towards the other's bed. He will put a hand on his mouth, one on his throat and wake him up. Their little chat got interrupted way too quickly and, most importantly, now Andrew has some more answers.
Before he can get closer to the bed, however, Nathaniel speaks. "Get closer and I will burn your face," he says, appearing almost calm.
Andrew raises an eyebrow, surprised, and Nathaniel turns towards him. "If you don't want to be heard, try actually being quiet next time."
It's surprising that the other actually hear him enter, no one else is usually able to. Still, Andrew won't give him the satisfaction of telling him that.
He notices that the other's eyes aren't brown anymore. A spell, then, to hide everything about his original appearance. He wonders if something else is false, or why he hasn’t glamoured himself again now that he’s conscious. It seems rather stupid to leave himself so defenseless.
He’s lucky that it was just Andrew that decided to sneak into his room, and not one of the many people that want him dead. Or, maybe, and it’s a rather strange thought to have, it’s because he recognized Andrew that he seems to be so relaxed.
Nathaniel had noticed his entrance, and probably prepared for it. How close had Andrew been to have a spell thrown in his direction? It’s a rather interesting possibility: for once it’s not Andrew the most dangerous in the room.
Well, it’s not completely accurate. What has always made Andrew dangerous is not being the strongest, but being the one that doesn’t hesitate.
"I was thinking we could start our conversation back again," Andrew says, sitting back down.
Nathaniel laughs and sits up. The movement seems to make him wince in pain, but he doesn't stop. "I'm sure you know everything you need to know about my life by now."
True enough, Andrew supposes. But Andrew knows Nathaniel's past, not why he's here or what he wants.
"Why don't you start by telling me where you were attacked, Nathaniel?" he asks, and this time the other winces quite plateally. Interesting.
"Don't... don't call me that," the other whispers, low and urgent. It seems that Andrew touched a sore spot he didn't even know existed.
"And what should I call you?" Andrew wonders, interested.
The other hesitates for a second before answering. "Neil. My name is Neil Josten."
Andrew doesn't really know why, but he understands the feeling of wanting so desperately to leave something behind.
"Fine. Neil. Why don't you tell me where you were attacked?" he asks again, looking at Neil.
The sorcerer shrugs and huffs. "It doesn't really matter. No one survived the encounter beside me," he says, calmly. He doesn't seem to be too shocked about having just admitted of having killed who knows how many men.
"And their bodies?" Andrew can't help but ask.
Neil doesn't even hesitate before answering: "Burned."
Efficient, Andrew thinks. And smart.
Before Andrew can ask him anything else, however, Neil starts talking as well. "Can I ask question as well, or is this an interrogation?"
Andrew is a little surprised by the other's insolence. It seems that without a knife to his throat, or Kevin in the room, the man really is a stupid fearless idiot.
"The second. I still haven't decided not to kill you," Andrew specifies. Neil smiles, but there's really no humor in his expression.
"You can try, but it seems to end badly for anyone who tries," Neil says with, Andrew supposes, every right to. After all, from what Kevin has told them, the fact that Neil Josten is here at all, talking to Andrew so normally, is really a miracle.
Andrew is... interested beyond what he should be. It's worrisome, but he can't help but try to scratch this itch.
"Then how about a truth game?" Andrew proposes, glancing at him. "You answer me with nothing but the truth, and I'll do the same."
Neil turns towards him, interested and wary at the same time. Andrew gathers that, probably, the truth is a currency that comes in high demand during a life on the run. He wonders if Neil is ready to give it up.
"Fine," the other says in the end, "but it's my turn. I already gave you a truth."
Fair enough, Andrew supposes, and so he nods and motions for the other to continue.
Neil doesn't hesitate to ask his next question, and Andrew shouldn't have been surprised either. "You've got magic all over you," Neil says, looking at him. "Are you a wizard like Kevin?"
Andrew almost smiles. Almost. "No," he simply answers. He can see Neil waiting to know more, but he should have realized sooner that that was the wrong way to pose the question. "My turn."
Andrew wonders for a second if the other will protest in any way, but he just nods.
"Where's your mother?" It's a low blow, Andrew realizes it immediately, but he's not in this to play fair. There's a threat in front of him, and Andrew doesn't care how far he has to go to assess the damage.
Neil doesn't flinch this time and stares straight at Andrew. His voice is dead cold when he says: "Burnt."
It's a rather peculiar answer, but Andrew remembers what Neil had done with the body of his attackers. I burned them, he said. And so Andrew has the answer he wanted.
Neil's mother is dead. He doesn't know at whose hands, but it doesn't matter. The important thing is that no one is going to be following Neil beside his father and his man.
It's Neil's turn again, and so Andrew remains silent and waits. Neil will probably asks about the magic surrounding him again and this time he won't do the same mistake.
Andrew doesn't want to really explain it. Doesn't really know how most days. But Andrew never goes back on his word, and so he will have to do it.
"Why am I still alive?" Neil asks, instead and Andrew almost shows his surprise. He manages to rein it in at the last second, but can't help wonder what kind of game the other is playing.
"Because the others are a bunch of bleeding hearts," Andrew answers, truthfully. He doesn't add that he would have killed Neil, or at least made sure to shackle his magic.
They both know it already.
"They heard about your sob story from Kevin," he continues, "and decided you were too pitiful. Another one of their disaster projects."
"Their?" Neil asks, looking straight at Andrew like he knows more than he should. There's no way that the other knows about Andrew and his deals, and so he wonders what this man has seen in the minutes they've spent together.
Still, now it's Andrew's turn. "What is your plan, now?"
Neil shrugs again and turns, looking at his own hand. "I told you already. I never wanted to stay here this long. I'm going to move on."
Andrew doesn't ask move on where because, once again, the answer it's obvious. There's nowhere to go for Neil, who will wander the Earth for the rest of his life, running away from his father's man and the ghost of his past.
Neil turns towards him again while he thinks about his question and then asks him, with a serious voice: "What's your favorite color?"
Andrew furrows his brows and looks at the other, annoyed. Neil simply shrugs. "That's my question. I don't have anything else I want to know."
It's bullshit, and Andrew knows it well. The question about Andrew's aura of magic hangs between them, unspoken. What is he waiting for. "Grey," he answers, any way, and he sees Neil guffaw, but nod all the same.
This is where Andrew can stand up and walk away. After all Neil has been forthcoming enough, and he's sure that Kevin won't convince him to stay. Neil is too unsettled by Kevin, by such a vivid memory of his past. Kevin will try to convince him to stay, and that will only make Neil run away faster.
Andrew can stand up, walk away, and his problem will be resolved easily enough.
Instead, Andrew inexplicably asks: "How good are you with magic?"
Neil blinks, surprised by the question, and then seems to be thinking about it. "It depends on what you mean. I'm sure Kevin is better trained than I am."
"That's not what I asked," Andrew pushes. "Can you feel the magic of the town?" like you feel the one on me?
Neil hesitates and then nods. "It's what drove me here in the beginning, it's getting weaker, however. Soon there will be nothing left."
Andrew nods, because that's exactly what Renee told him. She might not be trained like Kevin, or born with magic flowing in her veins like Neil, but her connection to magic is strong. Just as strong as the connection to her God.
"Do you know how to reinforce them?" Andrew asks, then, and Neil seems surprised for a second before, reluctantly, he nods.
"My mother and I... we used a lot of spells to hide. But this... it's stronger than most of what I know. What we used were temporary and based on our location, to build up defenses as the ones you have here..." Neil doesn't continue, but Andrew knows what's coming:
He would have to stay.
What a strange problem just landed on Andrew's lap.
However Andrew has been noticing Kevin's restlessness, his fear that grows with every night and pushes him ever closer to going back to the nest.
Andrew has a promise to keep, and he knows that the biggest danger of failure is Kevin himself.
In light of all of this, Andrew's options are rather limited, aren't they?
He can admit that he's attracted to Neil. Not only because of his face, but because Neil is interesting. And Andrew hasn't found anything interesting in entirely too long.
So he stands up. "Stay," he says, looking into the rabbit's eyes, "I will protect you."
"You can't," Neil immediately replies. Still, he looks surprised by the proposition.
"I've been keeping Kevin safe all this time, haven't I? You make sure that we're hidden, and I'll make sure that no one will hurt you," he says, putting behind this promise all his might.
Neil can't know how much promises mean to Andrew, but he will soon learn.
The other doesn't answer for a second and then he frowns. "So I keep this place hidden, and you protect me in case someone arrives?"
"The magic isn't perfect," Andrew explains, even is he's sure Neil knows this.
Neil doesn't answer for a second before he closes his eyes. Andrew knows that he almost got him, but he needs one last push before he accepts.
"Aren't you tired, Neil?" he asks, looking at him. "Do you think you can keep going much longer?"
The other doesn't answer, and so even if it's not his turn, Andrew decides to ask for a truth: "What do you want, Neil Josten?"
For a second silence fills the room, slithers in all the spaces between them and grows like a mold. And then Neil speaks, almost as if it hurt him to do so: "I don't want to be nothing."
It's something Andrew can understand too well, really. And so he nods and repeats: "Stay."
This time, Neil accepts.
Abby almost screams when, the next morning, she returns to Neil's bedside only to find Andrew still in her chair.
Andrew doesn't really know why he's still there, but Neil hasn't asked him to leave yet.
Behind Abby he can see Matt, Dan and Renee, watching him.
Matt and Dan seems to be immediately wary of his presence, Renee is more curious than anything else. She knows him better than them, after all, and she might already guess what's happening there.
After all, they're the only ones that know about their deal.
Andrew's presence, today, is a clear sign that Neil is under his protection.
"Nathaniel," Abby says, recovering from the shock of seeing Andrew. Neil flinches, one again, at the use of that name, and so Andrew interjects.
"He's called Neil," he says, leaving no room for arguments.
Both Matt and Dan turn towards him, looking unsure, but Renee immediately nods.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Neil," she says, stepping into the room. "I'm Renee, these are Abby, Matt and Dan. We wanted to make sure you were alright."
Abby nods and walks forward, reaching Neil quickly. "I was the one who dressed your wound. I would like to get another look at it. We can do it when the others have left."
Neil seems a little uncomfortable, probably thinking about the scars that Wymack had alluded to the day before, but simply nods.
So Dan steps inside as well. "We talked with Kevin about your situation, and we wanted you to know that you're welcome to stay here for as long as you need. Regardless of what other people might tell you." She looks at Andrew while she says the last part.
"Yeah. I mean, you can stay with me and Dan for a while," Matt interjects as well, smiling. "Until you find a better place, of course. Or forever, we don't mind."
Before Neil can say anything and make a fool of himself, Andrew intervenes. "Neil will stay with us," he says, and then decides the others don't deserve to have any other explanations.
Everyone looks at Andrew and then turns towards Neil, surely to warn him, or maybe to make sure he's still in one piece.
Neil himself seems to be looking at Andrew, shocked. They hadn't talked about that, sure, but if Andrew needs to keep an eye on him, it will be more easy to have him under the same roof as the others.
"Andrew," Dan warns him, the threat evident in her voice. So Andrew simply smiles.
"Neil wants to live with us, right, Neil?" he asks, as sweetly as he can.
The other hesitates a second before nodding. "Yeah, thank you... both of you, but I'm going to go with Andrew."
Matt and Dan both gather around Neil, lowering their voices, probably trying to make him see how dangerous Andrew is, and Renee takes advantage of that to get closer to Andrew.
"So, he's one of yours?" she asks, curious. She's smiling, knowing the answer to that question already. it seems she enjoys making Andrew say things that are obvious.
What she doesn't understand it's just they're all just deals, not a sign that Andrew cares about any of them.
So, Andrew doesn't answer her boring question, and instead tells her the important part: "He can help us with the town's magic. Says he can strengthen it."
Renee actually seems surprised about that and she turns towards Neil, considering. "That would be a huge help. Can we trust him?"
Andrew doesn't say about their game, about the truths shared and the ones Neil backed away from. He doesn't say that he seems to be foolish enough to actually trust the goddamn liar, instead he says what he should say: "No. But if he does something, I'll kill him myself."
Renee doesn't call him on his lie, lets it slide easily and nods. “I trust you, Andrew,” she says, smiling at him. “And it seems that everyone else already likes Neil. I think you’re making the right decision.”
She doesn’t say anything about Andrew’s threat. She knows as much as he does what length they have to go to in order to keep Palmetto safe and hidden, and she has done as many terrible things as Andrew. Maybe even more.
They look at each other for a second before she turns back towards the other. “Come on, let’s leave Neil to Abby, she has to make sure his wound is healing nicely. He has to be alive for Andrew to kill him.”
It’s a joke, but Matt and Dan don’t seem to find it very funny. Andrew does, but he refuses to smile.
Still, the other start walking towards the door, glancing worriedly between Neil and Andrew.
When they’re gone and it’s just the three of them (Andrew, Neil and Abby) in the room, Andrew glances at Neil to see what the other wants him to do.
Neil doesn’t hesitate to shake his head and motion for Andrew to leave. It seems that their truth game doesn’t extend to the scars, and that’s fine by Andrew.
The other hasn’t asked about the magic, and so Andrew will leave the scars alone, at least for now. “Once you check him out, I’m taking him home.”
Abby seems conflicted, but she nods, relenting. Satisfied, Andrew walks away.
Once he’s out of the door he finally stops to wonder what, exactly, did he agreed to. It’s too late to change his mind, but he’s afraid that, for once, he picked up a stray that will be too much for him to handle.
Also, he can already hear how annoying Kevin, Aaron and Nicky will be. He really hopes Neil will be worth it.