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Five and a Half First Times

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Neal's debating whether September is too early to get a good case of senioritis going when someone slams into him from behind, hard enough to push him forward a few steps but not hard enough to send him sprawling. As thick as the hallway is, it's almost certainly accidental. Neal's still not just in the mood to be real understanding as he swings around and glares. He has a good glare, and he knows it. It makes the girls want to date him, and most of the boys stay out of his way. All right, some of the boys it makes want to date him, too.

It takes Neal less than a second to figure out that this kid standing in front of him, big-eyed, probably didn't run into him on purpose, and probably doesn't want to date him. In fact, Neal would be hard-pressed to imagine the little shit dating anybody, it looks as if it's all that he can do to get up the nerve to speak. After a few seconds of that, Neal thinks that he just might get his feelings hurt. The kid looks like he thinks that Neal might kill him if he says or does the wrong thing, which isn't fair at all. Neal's wearing a goddamned tie and blazer, no one looks badass in this get-up. Freshmen are weird.

"Sorry," the kid mutters before he pushes past Neal again, but not before Neal realizes that it's not so much that the kid is still scared of him as it's that he has some of biggest, roundest eyes that Neal has seen on anyone who wasn't one of those creepy little praying kids like his grandmother collects. The eyes are kind of pretty, Neal might be willing to admit, in a way that would end up with him having to put a pedo sign out on his front lawn.

"Little freak," Neal mutters. He rubs at the place on his arm where the kid touched him as he pushed past, feeling a touch of warmth even through the wool of the blazer.

"Hey," says the snub-nosed brunette that Neal was doing his very best to impress before he was collided with from behind. "Be nice, I know his sister."

"The fuck does that have to do with anything?" Neal wonders. The snub-nosed brunette punches him in the arm, hard enough to make him wonder what the she does for her extracurriculars, arm-wrestle bears or kick-box alligators or something, before she stomps off down the hall. Neal notices her catching up to the kid and pointedly sliding her arm through his. He looks at her like she's a suddenly-grown appendage and he doesn't quite know what to make of it.

So maybe they don't have a terribly auspicious beginning.
Neal is covered in sweat the next time that he sees the kid, and it's not his finest moment. He doesn't know why band has to practice in full uniform, tie and all, or for that matter why they have to do it outside when they're not going to be marching during football games or anything like that, and there's a perfectly good, nicely air-conditioned auditorium waiting for them. The first twinges of fall are starting to curl through the air, after the sun goes down, but in the middle of the afternoon it might as well still be July. Neal mutters something impolite before he fastens his lips around the mouthpiece of his trombone and begins the song, one more time, this time striving for something that rises towards perfect. If that's the case, then he thinks that they're going to be out here for awhile.

Apparently, the band director comes to the same conclusion, and cuts them all loose with a weary wave of her hand. The flow of students scattering in all directions from the quad probably bears a not-small resemblance to a mound of ants panicking under the first drops of rain. Neal starts jerking at his tie as he heads off in the direction of his car, never mind that he's technically supposed to remain in dress code for so long as he's on school property. He doesn't get three steps before he realizes that he's being watched, and turns.

It's the kid, head cocked to one side and looking at Neal more directly than Neal's seen him watching anyone on campus before, in his grade or anyone else's. From what he's seen of the kid so far, he's so shy that it's amazing that none of his teachers have pegged him as mute and tried to stick in him speech therapy yet. He's sweaty like Neal is, but the difference is that he's at least wearing clothes suitable to the heat, a tee shirt and long athletic shorts, and carrying a tennis bag in one hand. He does something with the hand holding the bag that looks like it might be trying to be a wave.

Neal nods at him. "Hey," he says, before he continues on his way to the parking lot. The kid trails along a short distance behind, not quite following him, but definitely heading in the same direction. He's too young to drive; probably has a relative picking him up. Maybe even that sister. Neal flicks a look back over his shoulder and wonders if the sister looks anything like the kid except for the unfortunate Hidden Camera and Interview With Chris Hansen thing that he has written all over him. That could be cool.

In the parking lot, the kid stands still and puts his hand up to shield his eyes from the glare rising off of the few cars still in the student lot. There aren't exactly a whole lot coming in to collect wayward freshman. Even though he has his keys already in his hand and ready to go, Neal lingers. His girlfriends all keep insisting that he's really about as tough as a puppy, never mind that he's only waiting for the magic clock to switch over from seventeen to eighteen before he starts remaking his body with a vengeance.

"You gonna be all right?" Neal asks, finally. The lot is even emptier now. Okay, so the school grounds aren't exactly a hotbed of crime and debauchery, but still. There's one kind of teenager, and then there's another kind of teenager, and anyone under the age of sixteen isn't the kind that you just abandon in the middle of the asphalt and hope that their family remembers that they're minus a member at some point.

"My sister's supposed to be picking me up," the kid finally answers, dropping his hand from his eyes and looking peevish. "She must have forgotten again, damnit."

Neal's startled to hear the kid swear, and startled even further when he realizes that this is the longest that, and probably everyone else in the school, has heard the kid speak since ever. "You need a ride?"

The kid jerks a little and looks Neal up and down; you get your ass kicked out immediately for fighting here, it's a whole no-tolerance thing and then his parents would be very sad but still have no other choice but to murder him, so Neal doesn't know why people keep thinking that he's going to snap them in half and leave their bodies in the nearest convenient dumpster.

"I'm Neal," Neal finally says, because for some reason people tend to think that you're less likely to leave their body in a ditch on the side of the road after you introduce yourself.

"I'm Andy," the kid finally says, even sticking out his free hand so they can shake. They both try their best to pretend that they're not altogether still sweaty and gross. "And I already knew your name." It catches up to him a second later. "Not because I'm a stalker or anything, but because they, you know--" He makes a vague gesture with his tennis bag. "Like us to mingle."

Neal can't remember Andy mingling anywhere in Neal's vicinity before, but the school year's been going on for several weeks now and this is only the occasion on which he's actually heard Andy speak, it's entirely possible that Andy crept through without anyone realizing that he was there. "Cool, whatever," he says, and unlocks his car so that he can throw his trombone case into the backseat. When Neal sees Andy looking slightly dubious about doing the same with his own sweaty tennis gear, he adds, "That's not the worst thing that's ever been in the back of this car."

The corner of Andy's mouth curves up, but he doesn't speak as he throws his tennis bag on top of Neal's trombone case and gets into the passenger seat. Well, well. He's nearly mute, but Neal gets the feeling that Andy might be a tiny bit of a smartass underneath the bush baby eyes. Neal's trying not to grin as they peal out of the lot.

Andy lives in a big house with a nicely manicured lawn and two cars sitting in the driveway, one of them a gleaming sedan and one of them a teenager special, two-toned paint and all. Andy saws a word that Neal would not have bet that he knew when they were informally introduced weeks back, and leaps out of the car almost before it's stopped moving.

"Uh, your bag...?" Neal has started before he realizes that he's talking to himself and his open passenger door. Muttering a few words under his breath himself that he will be really impressed if Andy knows, he grabs it and heads up the driveway. Andy's left the front door open, too. If he does that with his locker at school, he had to have been robbed at least a half-dozen times already.

In the living room, Andy is arguing with more heat than he's shown thus far with a girl who's older than him, closer to Neal's age, and has olive skin and dark hair that unmistakably mark her as Andy's sister. She pauses when she sees Neal standing in the doorway, gives him an up and down that clearly doesn't find itself disappointed when she's done. Neal's not going to lie: he does the exact same thing, and only shrugs a little when Andy catches him at it and rolls his eyes.

"You promised you'd be there," Andy keeps going. "What the hell, Lexie, all of the buses were gone! What was I supposed to do, walk ten miles?"

"My car stalled out, I had to call Mom to get a jump, Jesus," Lexie has her arms folded over her chest and is leaning back slightly, the body language of someone who clearly already knows that if they win this fight it won't have anything to do with actually being right.

"But you came home afterwards!" Andy yelps.

"Hey," Neal interrupts, because he's feeling awkward enough standing in the doorway of someone's house when he doesn't even know his last name before they add in maybe watching him get into a knock-down, drag-out with his sister. Maybe it'd be kinda cool if they were both chicks, not related, and Andy wasn't barely fifteen if that, but there's way too much off limits in this room as it is. And Neal's not entirely certain that he likes what he just learned about the inside of his head. He clears his throat and points to a pretty sweet guitar leaning up against the wall in one corner of the living room, next to a piano. The guitar looks like it sees some actual music, too, rather than just being a showpiece, which makes it even sweeter.

"That yours?" Neal says, pointing.

Andy looks in the direction of the guitar and answers with his expression. Neal wonders if they're not going to go back to the place where Andy is entirely big-eyed and mute, before Lexie steps in and offers helpfully, "Yeah, you should hear him play, he's a total savant. There was no way that Mom and Dad would have let him give up piano lessons if he wasn't, like, amazing."

"Piano lessons." Andy tilts his head up towards the ceiling and lets his eyes fall to half-mast. "That's great, Lex, that doesn't make me sound like a seven year-old at all."

Neal grins, and before he quite knows what's happening realizes that he's staying for dinner.

In Andy's room afterwards, he hands Andy the guitar and says, "So play something, then." He expects Andy to look uncertain and shy, since that's been about his MO so far, but Andy looks Neal straight in the eye and takes the instrument from him, their fingers brushing together against the strings for just a moment. Andy gets the instrument situated and then strums out a few chords, starts to sing, "In the eye of the storm, you're dragging me down, can't find the air with my feet off the ground." He's not bad. Hell, he's a lot better than not bad.

"Wow," Neal says after a few minutes. Andy smiles at him, pleased with himself, that shyness that he had been wearing ever since he had slammed into the hallway seeming to belong to an entirely different person. Neal finds a stray piece of paper that looks as if it was being used for algebra homework before Andy had given up and moved on to something more diverting. He makes a few quick changes, then hands the paper over to Andy and gestures for the guitar. "Let's try it this way." Andy looks slightly dubious, but gives the instrument over and views the edits that Neal has made. His face brightens.

"Hey, this is really good," Andy says, looking up. "You don't sing?"

"Not like you do." Neal plucks at the guitar strings a few times and can't stop himself from grinning. "My skills lie in other areas. Give it a try."

"In the eye of the storm, issue your warning play before you're dragging me down, " Andy begins, eyes widening slightly once Neal joins him on the guitar, and even though the door is closed and he can't see the other occupants of the house, Neal has a feeling that they've gone hushed, too, like they know.

At the end, Andy looks at Neal with one corner of his mouth twitching; he felt it, too. "All right, then," he says. "Clearly, you play, and I sing."

"I think that we just might have something here," Neal agrees as he sets Andy's guitar back down.

Neal is on the good drugs. Holy shit, is he ever. If he weren't on the good drugs, he's pretty certain that he would have a nurse by the front of his or her scrubs by now. His whole hand is encased in a black brace, and in the small cracks and lacings of that he can see peeks of white gauze. That's the reason that he hasn't been put in a cast that he can use to get sympathy and interesting signatures; there's a screw holding his hand together right now, and the brace has to be removed twice a day so that a nurse can clean the wound where it was inserted. Yeah, Neal is really looking forward to that experience.

He tilts his head back, stares up at the ceiling of the hospital room, and considers knocking over the IV stand just for the fucking hell of it, just because he can. It's a lot less sturdy than a wall; while he might piss off a doctor or several, he's not likely to break anything else. The anger that led to the whole battle of human versus brick is still there, and not even buried that deeply. The post-surgery morphine is just making it sway back and forth, sick and oily, like a polluted lake with barely a breeze moving over it. Just as soon as he's eased off of the narcotics, Neal's fairly certain that those winds will pick up again. How could she. How fucking could she. The words crest, settle, crest again in his mind, making his nauseous even though his eyes are open and he can tell that the room's not spinning. The hand that's not immobilized for his own good curls into a fist.

Even inside his own head though the other person scarcely makes a sound, Neal still knows when someone else enters the room with him. Mostly because that person is pissed. His parents weren't exactly thrilled with him, either, when they got a call saying that their son was in the emergency room and already doctors were talking about surgery because he had decided to see what was stronger, his temper or a wall, but there had been a lot of worry there, too. This person feels like they wouldn't mind strangling Neal right there in his hospital bed; they're throwing it out like radioactive heat.

Neal opens his eyes, sees Andy standing against the wall, leaning back onto his hands, and says, "Huh."

"You." Andy stops, presses his lips together tightly. "You are a goddamned motherfucking idiot, do you know that?"

"Don't let your dad hear you talking like that," Neal answers automatically.

"My dad agrees with me and gave me the vocab lesson before I ever came in here." Andy starts to come forward, only to abruptly settle himself back onto his crossed wrists again. Someone underneath the sweet pain meds before pumped into his arm, Neal realizes that he's never seen Andy this angry before, and that's because he's never seen Andy this afraid. Not even right before they all went on stage together for the first time; he's practically vibrating with it. "Do you have any idea what the fuck you did?"

"Becky was cheating on me." There's a growl in Neal's voice and he knows that it makes him sound a little scary--he was definitely scaring the fucking out of Becky without even meaning to, and that was before he snapped and had to inflict his damage on something that was neither her nor the other guy that she thought she could keep in reserves on the side before the urge overwhelmed him and he did something terrible. "I hit the wall so that I wouldn't hit her." It sounds awful when he says it like that, like hitting her was an actual possibility that had crossed his mind, but he would be lying if he said it hadn't. For a handful of black, awful seconds that had hung like buzzing flies forever, it had been damned near all that he could think about. Neal wants to tell Andy that he's too young to have had his heart broken like that, he can't possibly understand how someone else can fuck you over like that, but doesn't have to be battling with a clear head to know that it would not go over well. Andy's so scared and angry that his eyes are falsely bright, but Neal doesn't think that it would be a good idea to point that out, either. It's a different kind of anger. He knows that it is.

Andy rocks back a little further when he hears that Neal came so frighteningly close to knocking the living shit out of someone so much smaller than himself and on so little provocation, but his face is set in stubborn lines, and Neal doesn't think that the meanest nurses on the ward (he's been here less than a day, start to finish, and he's already met several) could force him out the door until he's good and ready to go. "But you didn't," Andy says quietly, like it was a foregone conclusion right from the beginning that Neal could never do such a thing, even though Neal has just done his very best to tell that him that that's not the case at all, that for more than a second there it was Schrodinger's assault. "I don't care what you wanted to do, you didn't."

"Then why the fuck are you so goddamned pissed at me?" Neal snaps irritably. He's getting the feeling that Andy is taking advantage of the fact that his brain is full of narcotics right now, and it's not fair.

Andy is across the room and leaning over Neal's bed faster than Neal thinks he can even see Andy move. Andy's not made of looming, but the way that he's suddenly over Neal, Neal thinks that maybe he's totally not the right one to be pegged as having the temper problem. "Do you even realize what you did to yourself?" Andy hisses.

Neal looks down at his braced and bandaged hand. Some things were explained to him, before and after the surgery, but he was too addled with pain on the one end and pain meds on the other to really be paying attention. "Look, Nick can fill in while I'm healing up," he starts, uneasy with the prospect of finding himself placating Andy of all people, the single person in the world who ordinarily keeps him from spinning entirely out of orbit without even trying.

"You're a goddamned moron," Andy says, head tilted to one side, strange look on his face like maybe he wants to smile, but shouldn't before there is no way that it would be a pleasant one. "There's a screw in your hand. They take it out, you lose dexterity, maybe you don't play guitar again."

The ocean that was rocking back and forth and taking all of Neal's emotions on the ride with it is gone; most of the air in the room goes with it. "Then the screw stays in," Neal says calmly, eerily calmly, knowing that he sounds like a robot. If Andy gives him shit about it, he swears to God--he might not play--he might--

Neal takes a very deep breath, and then another, and keeps going until the room is spinning around him even though he's not on oxygen. "It stays in," he repeats, even though Andy isn't trying to argue with him, maybe because he's never seen Neal this close to an outright state of panic before. Fair enough: Neal had never seen Andy that angry, and he had never known until this moment right here that he could actually be this scared of losing something. Becky seems small and ridiculous in comparison. Hell, even the fact that he came so dangerously close to actually hitting her seems like nothing in comparison; he loses music, he loses air.

"That's going to hurt like a bitch," Andy observes softly.

"Hurts like a bitch now," Neal snaps back. He can feel the pain under that thin veneer of morphine now; he has no idea what it's going to be like after the morphine wears off. That has to fade at some point, right, or else it might not be long before he goes back to punching things.

Andy looks at his face and sighs before he pushes himself up onto the corner of the hospital bed, muttering to himself and shoving Neal out of the way without seeming to care much that Neal is still the not-so-walking wounded here. He's gotten kind of bitchy in the time since Neal met him, or maybe it's just a layer that Neal didn't notice right away.

"If a nurse comes through, you have to tell them that I'm family," Andy says. He still looks more worried and pissed off than Neal has ever seen him, even if he's at least making an effort now to hide it down deep.

"Okay." Neal wiggles a round a little to make more room for Andy, bites back the word he wants to say when his IV tugs. If Andy knows that it hurts, he'll just get right back down, and Neal doesn't want him to go. God, Chris Hansen's ears must be burning right off his fucking head about now.

"I think that I need to start dating a different class of girl," Neal says instead, looking up at the ceiling.

Andy snorts. "I've been telling you that for months."

"Your sister's pretty hot."

"If you make a move on Alexis, I'll kill you." Andy is silent for a long moment before he says, "Don't ever do something so stupid like that again, all right? I mean, Jesus."

"Won't, trust me," Neal answers immediately. Choosing between fighting and music, it's not even a comparison. He keeps watching the ceiling so that he doesn't have to know if Andy is looking at him, and listens to the machines beeping soft commentary to each other.

"Holy shit," Nick keeps saying. "Holy goddamned motherfucking shit." He's draped halfway across Neal's back--goddamnit, he picked up that habit from Dave, no one in their circle knows what personal space is any longer--and is staring up at the television screen above the bar. It would normally be a day for hot cocoa and sweaters in hell before this particular television in this particular bar was turned anywhere near American Idol, but this is a special night. A very special night, because their guy isn't just on the show, he just won the whole motherfucking thing.

"Seriously," Neal answers before he shoves Nick off, or tries to. Son of a bitch hops right back on again within seconds, gives Neal a wide grin as if he's asking what Neal seriously expects to do about it. Aww, fuck it, everyone's boozed-up and leaping all over each other, at least Nick is someone he knows. Neal lets him stay and takes a pull off of his whiskey, not even trying to hide the fact that he's grinning like a damned fool, too. Everyone who knows David is saying that they always knew that he could do it, but it's only the little cluster of them--him and Andy and Nick and Jeff--who fucking knew. On the television screen that's already turned up as loud as it will go and still doesn't stand a chance against the pandemonium that's ringing throughout the bar right now, Dave look so bunny-stunned happy that Neal's kind of surprised he doesn't go falling right off the edge of the stage.

"He looks like he could die happy, right now," Andy says from beside Neal, elbows propped up on the bar and a beer resting in front of his folded arms. He's drinking lightly tonight; Jeff told him that he was going to make a collage of all of the pictures of Andy drunk-vomiting and mail it to Jennie if he didn't.

"Yeah." Neal reaches out, punches Andy lightly in the arm. "Your ass had better come out to see me this summer, all right?"

Andy's punch back is quick and sure, hampered only slightly by the fact that he has to aim around Nick, who still hasn't shown any signs that he intends to move. "Like I would miss it."

Neal shrugs Nick off a final time and hands him the whiskey bottle. Nick puts on an expression of faux-affront, but still takes the bottle. "You think I'm so cheap," he says before he disappears into the crowd and smoke again. For a handful of seconds, at least, Neal and Andy are alone even though it's so packed that Neal can taste the body heat.

"Don't guess that we'll see much of him around here anymore," Andy says softly, staring up at the screen. Neal dips his head in close and tells himself that it's so he can hear Andy better in the din; if Andy were to turn his head, they would be doing a lot more than whispering together.

"Nah," Neal says calmly, meaning it. "Have faith in Dave. If he can't come to us, he'll bring us to him. He's not the type who lets people go."

Andy nods, but doesn't look convinced right away, and Neal is reminded all over again of meeting him for the first time almost eight years before, how he had thought that Andy was simply scared and hadn't yet realized that it was just a layer of shyness, and once the varnish was rubbed off of that, underneath, a poet.

He's hardly had a drink in spite of cradling that bottle before Nick ran away with it, he can't blame anything other than himself and the crush of bodies all around filling the air with a tinge of adrenaline that's like mescaline, making everything seem bright and wild. His mouth is on Andy's, his shoulder is curved and Andy's hair is falling down so that anyone looking at them casually would think that they were simply whispering to one another like they always do. Andy's lips are parted and warm; they part further and Neal starts to taste him before Andy gasps softly and pulls away. His eyes are even bigger and wider than usual.

"Jennie," he says. Not I don't want to but We can't, and Neal doesn't know if that actually makes it better or worse. He nods once and starts to drop his arm away from the small of Andy's back. "Hey, where the hell are you going?" Andy demands, and Neal can't help but laugh.

"You are such a weird little motherfucker," he says as he puts it back.

"And you obviously have a fetish for Skibs, so shut up." They go back to watching the television set, and end up having an argument about whether or not that Johns guy has to grab Dave by the back of his jacket to keep from tumbling off of the edge of the stage, after all.

Neal doesn't know what happened, and he's not certain that asking will make it better or worse. All that he knows is that there was going to be a wedding in two weeks, and now suddenly there's not, and that Andy will not go back to the condo that he shares, or shared, with Jennie. He's also so drunk that he's missed Neal's toilet entirely and is currently throwing up in his shower. Neal leans up against the door and grimaces.

"Man, I went this far without having to hire a cleaning service, and then look what you go and do," he says. Andy has his body angled away so that Neal cannot see his face. Neal doesn't know whether or not he prefers it that way. Every other awkward and amazing thing that they've been through together, it's strange to Neal that he can't ever remember seeing Andy cry. Still turned away, Andy twists his arm back so that he can flash Neal his middle finger, even if he does have to put his hand against the wall quickly so that he doesn't tip over. "You've never been a mean drunk, man, don't start now."

Neal lets Andy stay like that for a few more moments because he's not certain that Andy is finished rejecting his food and because he doesn't know whether his shoulders are trembling because throwing up fucking sucks or because he might just be about to start sobbing. Finally, Neal reaches out and takes his Andy gently by the shoulder. "Come on," he near-whispers. "I've got a spare room and a spare toothbrush, consider them both yours." While Neal expects Andy to protest that he might be way too drunk to drive, but he's at least sober enough to sit sedately in the back of a cab and let someone else drive for him, Andy shifts towards him as if he has no will of his own. That almost scares Neal even more than getting confirmation that those really are tear tracks making silvery-salt trails down Andy's face. "Come on," he repeats, even softer and more gentle than before.

Andy staggers a little going down the hall, but he doesn't run into anything, and Neal's there even if he did. He's going to have a hangover bad enough to make him hate the whole world in the morning, though. Neal gets him into the guest room, gets his shoes and jacket off. Outside, the sky is just starting to build up with that eerie, silent rain that Neal doesn't think he's ever going to be entirely accustomed to, and Andy is staring out the window like he sees his soulmate out there. Poet. Always has been.

"I'll be down the hall," Neal says, even though he thinks that he should probably stay, and Andy is flicking him quick little looks like he thinks the same thing. There's too much history in this room, there are too many spaces that they've already covered, and Jennie is too much a part of the last eight years of them for Neal to feel safe thinking about the things that he's thinking about now. To feel right about the things that he's thinking about now.

"Here," Neal says, and puts the wastebasket closer to the bed. "I'll bring you aspirin and hold your hair back in the morning, all right?"

"Yeah." Andy flops back against the pillows and throws his arms over his eyes. Neal knows that he's doing something wrong here, but after more than ten years, he can't for the life of him figure out what to do that's right. "See you in the morning."

Neal gets all the way to the door before he remembers Andy climbing into a hospital bed when Neal was too drugged-up and in too much pain to either push him away or pull him closer, who knows. He remembers how scared Andy had looked, how scared Neal had been once it had really sunk in, and how much better it had been to have a body there than to be alone.

"I'm gonna push you right out of this bed if you throw up on me," Neal warns Andy as he slides into the bed beside him. Andy's eyes are a faint gleam in the dark.

"Okay," he answers, and then, "Was I just in your shower?"

"You are going to have so much fun tomorrow, son," Neal says before he goes quiet and just listens to Andy breathe.

In the morning, Andy is every bit as sick as Neal had thought that he would be. Neal denies him the hair of the dog, says nothing about the shower. The previous night was the first time that he had ever seen Andy cry, but it's not the last. They don't talk about that, either.

Neal manages to fool himself into thinking that he has everything under control until David finally snaps out, one day shortly after rehearsal, "Oh, for fuck's sake, man."

Since said rehearsal had been something less than a satisfying experience for any of them, Neal raises his eyebrows and doesn't answer right away. After he uncaps a bottle of water and takes a long drink, much to David's obvious impatience, he adds, "The fuck are you talking about?"

David makes an impatient sound from the back of his throat. "Dinner and a movie, you dumbass," he snaps. "Something you should have figured out once you were about fifteen."

There aren't any women on Neal's radar right now, and David goddamned well knows that. Peeved both by the realization that he's being that obvious and that David doesn't how to keep it to his fucking self that he noticed, Neal snaps, "When are you and Johns going to make out, already?"

In the five years since his win, David has gotten way too many jokes about whether or not he and Michael Johns are dating to so much as flicker an eyelash about them now. He does raise one eyebrow slightly, as if asking Neal if that's really the best that he's got, before he sighs and says, "And you guys think that I'm the goddamned emo one." Neal doesn't bother telling him that he's kind of proving their point in the way that he stops off to put his guitar away, mostly because he sees Andy out of the corner of his eye doing a fair enough job of moping himself. It's been four months since Jennie changed her mind without offering any explanation. Neal doesn't have much, or any, of a damned idea what the etiquette of a situation like this is, but he hasn't been afraid to ask someone on a date since he was sixteen, and that seems to be a good place to start.

"Andy, would you like to go to dinner?" he asks without preamble. Andy looks up at him with a raised eyebrow that is not terribly different from the expression that David was giving him a few moments before, when they get right down to it.

"First off," Andy says by way of answer, "stop acting like I'm still fifteen, all right?" He pauses. "And yes, we've been flirting around each other for too long to not do something about it now, haven't we?"

There's something to be said for the friends-make-the-best-lovers thing, namely in the fact that Neal already knows what Andy likes, they know how to talk to each other, there are none of the awkward pauses that come with every other first date that Neal has ever been on. He doesn't even remember that first dates are always auditions, no matter how well you know the person or for how long, until they're back at Neal's house and suddenly he's feeling a little like the girl in every bad romantic comedy ever made, standing on his doorstep and wondering what the hell is supposed to happen now.

"Hell with it," Neal mutters after less than five seconds of deliberation. He's always liked bossy chicks, or else he and Andy's sister wouldn't have been together for so long. He kisses Andy, and this time he does it right, without a crowded bar or significant others to make him stop, and Andy grabbing his hair hard to make certain that he receives the message. Oh, yeah. Neal gets it.

"Get in here," he mutters to Andy when they have no other choice but to breathe or else crumble there on the porch and let the neighbors find them in the morning. Neal might be the one to fumble his key into the lock and open the door, but Andy's the one who kicks it shut hard behind them. Neal can't quite be certain, because he has one hand in Andy's hair and the other one in the small of his back, pressing him up against the wall of the hallway only so that he won't bend him back into some total Clark Gable shit, but he doesn't think that Andy releases or even loosens the near-strangling grip that he has in the front of Neal's shirt the entire time. They're a lot different, now, from the high school senior and the shy freshman who met twelve years before. Neal, for one, is intensely glad of that, since it means that for one has to worry neither about a shocking camera crew in his bedroom nor going straight to hell. Andy jerks Neal's shirt open so hard that buttons ping off the baseboards as Neal walks him backwards down the hall to the master bedroom, all but hurls him down onto the bed. Andy snickers as he bounces off of the mattress without bothering to untangle his fingers out of Neal's shirt, so they both go down in a graceless mess of limbs. Neal doesn't think that he would have it it any other way. It's been a long damned time for them, leading up to this particular first time, and Neal kinda wishes that he had thought it out more, thought out ways to make it...all special and shit. (Shit, he's so far gone that he's a goddamned blip on the horizon, for real.) Neal guesses that they'll just have to do it more than once, until they can work out all the kinks and also work a few more back in. His shirt's already done for, so he shrugs out of that quickly, makes a quick fuckitall decision and doesn't strip any further than that except to unbutton the front of his jeans and hook his boxers down so that he can release his cock into his hand. He and Andy are staring at each other, and Neal can see that Andy is every bit as nervous about this moment as Neal is, every bit as aware that all they've done so far is go out and eat like they've done hundreds of times before that, made out a little. Fuck, if college girls can call it experimenting, then there is no reason why two dudes who just a little past that can't claim the same. There's nothing done yet that they can't take back, if either of them decides that they liked the status quo just fine.

They go any farther, and that's no longer going to be possible.

"Here," Andy says by way of answer to the unspoken question, reaching and and swatting Neal's hand away so that his is the hand on Neal's cock, he's the one stroking Neal until his breath is hitching in his throat. Neal quickly releases Andy into his own hand before it goes too far for him to remember that, generally speaking, reciprocity is a good thing. Andy makes a strangled gasping noise when Neal puts the calluses from years and years of playing guitar to good use. He arches up against Neal, bumping their hands and cocks against one another before he shifts his hips for more friction. If Neal weren't already losing all capacity for rational thought with each exhale, then surely that would be enough to push him over the edge. They're nearly writhing against one another, sweat prickling out over their bodies already; Neal cannot believe that they really waited this long. It's easily the longest seduction of, oh, Neal's entire life. He shudders against Andy and comes so hard that the edges of his vision go blurry in the darkened room; he doesn't forget to continue stroking Andy in the meanwhile, and listens to Andy's breathing steadily growing faster and threadier, approaching a whine.

"My God," Neal whispers, still out of breath himself, as he leans back onto his elbow and looks down at Andy. Andy's head is thrown back to expose his throat and his eyes are closed; the sounds that are emerging from his mouth as soft, needy before they suddenly cut off on a gasp. Andy shivers and comes across Neal's hand and both their jeans. It's a few seconds before they come down enough to look at each other, and the corner of Andy's mouth crooks slightly into a smile.

"There's a part of me that's been wanting to do that since way before I was actually old enough to do that," he admits. It's a little strange, at first, trying to find ways to fit angles against angles rather than angles against curves; experience having been on a crowded bus together helps.

"You have no idea how much better that makes me feel about myself," Neal answers. He feels Andy's smile, soft and slow, crooking against the side of his neck.