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something other than the desperation

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Unsurprisingly, they’re on the rooftop again. Neil can’t help wistfully think that their life revolves around this rooftop, at least for their recent college careers; they’ve spent nights and mornings and much-needed breaks out here. He knows the Foxes don’t really understand but that they chalk it up to one of the weird things they do together. He can't make himself care though, as long as he’s able to watch the light wash over Andrew’s face, as long as he still has this interval in his life. After all, five years is a long time and he’s never been able to stop counting the days.

The cold air flushes against his face, slicing through the fabric of his coat and hoodie, but he doesn’t mind. His chest is warm, bubbling like the champagne they drank during New Years at Eden’s. Neil feels gooey, pliant, like the warmth is dripping into the rest of his body, making him sway with fondness and exhaustion alike. It’s late enough that even his eyes feel tired. He doesn’t want to go to sleep, doesn’t want to lose his time with Andrew when it’s so limited these days. Tonight had been a rare visit when Andrew had no game the same weekend Neil had one, and right after Neil’s finals finally finished, neither could part from an opportunity.

Neil turns his attention back to Andrew, soaking in the sight like he’s been blind his whole life and is finally discovering sight. He watches him devoutly, like a man brought to his knees before his god, like the last inklings of sun in a dark stricken sky. Neil doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to cast his eyes away.

The streetlights play under Andrew’s jaw and into his hair, shining into his hazel eyes, reflecting the starstruck sky. Neil trails his eyes down to his hard cheekbones, his straightedge jawline and the dispersed velvet fuzz growing there. The odd freckle or two, faded and inconspicuous. Neil watches the rise of his chest, the contraction of his neck, the parting of his lips as he inhales. The way his coat hugs his arms and his chest, black wool stark against his the paleness of his hair, curling on his nape. His mouth twitches and his nose flares a little and Neil knows that Andrew can feel his eyes on him, and doesn’t feel the need to comment. It makes a bubble of affection rise in his chest, popping in his mouth, and he grins unabashedly.

Neil watches with interest as Andrew’s jaw clenches and minutely works back and forth as he inhales the cigarette caught between his lips. It’s a tell Neil has picked up on that means he’s working up the nerve to say something, thinking through his words carefully. If it were anyone else, Neil might be nervous. As always though, with Andrew, it’s different. He is the man who said he would keep him alive and did, holding onto him through Evermore and Baltimore, through his low points over the years when he ran and then again when he stayed. The home he always returns to, like a planet always drawn back to its sun. Neil trusts him with whole being irrevocably, and he knows that Andrew reciprocates. They have the weapons to tear each other down and leave truly, inexorably nothing in their wake. Neil knows with an earth-shattering certainty that Andrew wouldn’t use his truths against him. He can’t even fathom doing it himself.

“This,” Andrew says, cutting off Neil’s thoughts with his voice rough like it cut him on the way out. He stubs out his cigarette and immediately lights another, pinching it roughly. Neil waits a moment for a continuation and makes a small inquiring noise when none comes.

Andrew inhales sharply and turns toward Neil. He reaches his free hand toward Neil, and Neil decidedly ignores the infinitesimal trembling as Andrew secures his cool hand into place against the side of his face like it belonged there. Neil's whole body goes numb for a moment when Andrew’s lips wrap around his cigarette, but he pushes it down. He can tell that whatever Andrew is trying to convey is what’s been weighing him down the past few weeks.

“There is a this,” Andrew says, a direct contradiction to his words of the past five years, and Neil’s world shatters a little. Except, it doesn’t really. It feels more like something sliding into place, like a muscle that’s finally relaxed when you hadn’t even known it was tensed. It feels like being invited inside your own home. He’d always known that Andrew was bullshitting when he denied their this, but he understood the reasons behind it and knew not to push. To hear it verbally, rather than their self-effacing gestures, is something entirely else. Lightning crackles in his chest and down to his fingers, sending his heart racing and his appendages numb. He smiles at Andrew, hoping it doesn’t look as watery as it feels.

“Yeah,” he says, because that’s all there is to it. Andrew finally seems to let go of an unseen tension, and he leans forward to press his forehead against Neil’s.

He puffs out a small breath that fans over Neil’s face and nods a little to himself. He repeats back lowly, “Yeah.”

It feels like another promise, unspoken but there nonetheless.

Neil relishes in the cold nighttime air, in their shared cigarette and Andrew’s shampoo, in the connection of their foreheads against each other, and smiles to himself.

He doesn’t know when they ash their cigarettes and move in closer, or how long they sit wrapped around each other in the biting cold, but by the time he sighs contently and drops his head to Andrew’s shoulder, his nose is numb. He doesn’t want to, he wants to stay in this liminal moment forever, but he says, “We should go inside.”

Andrew nods sleepily against his chest, hair brushing under Neil’s chin. They both use each other as a crutch when they stand on numbed legs, and stumble awkwardly toward the door.

The stairs are, unfortunately, almost as cold as it was outside. Andrew grumbles annoyedly, “Whoever the fuck didn’t put heating in the stairs will meet the end of my knife,” and Neil laughs a little too giddily, judging by the raised eyebrow sent his way. The lack of sleep and Andrew’s admission combined is causing some weird chemical reaction in his chest, and Neil isn’t exactly sure he can control himself at the moment.

The dorm is dramatically hotter because Kevin had stopped by after their game, visiting since he was in between games at the moment as well, and didn’t want to handle the cold for the half hour he was there. They both relax into the heat though, and the isolation of the dorm room. With everyone having moved out but Neil, and Kevin staying the night at Wymacks, the seclusion is a drastic but welcomed change when living out of dorms.

Andrew goes into the kitchen to start a pot of decaf, and Neil goes to turn the shower on all the way. Andrew meets him while he’s stripping off his jacket and presses a slow kiss to his temple.

“Shower with me?” Neil offers, tossing his jacket on the floor before kissing up his neck.

Andrew grimaces at Neil’s pile of clothes on the floor but starts stripping as well, leaning toward Neil’s mouth on his neck even though it means he has to awkwardly take his clothes off.

In the shower, Neil rests against Andrew’s broad chest as steam billows around them. There’s a hint of attraction between them, faint arousal sparking in his spine, but he’s too tired to act on it and he knows Andrew feels the same.

Instead, he pressed open mouthed kisses on Andrew’s chest after receiving a mumbled yes. Andrew sighs softly, grunts a little when Neil bites into the juncture of his shoulder. He trails gently across Andrew’s collarbone, always hesitant to do much more than that since Andrew told him how he had broke it once in foster care. He licks sluicing water up his neck, a gentle tease of the first time they had showered together. Andrew slides his hands up Neil’s back, grips his sides a little in warning, and Neil huffs laughter at the marvel of it all.

Eventually, as they always do, like they’re both waiting for the other to take that step even though there’s five years between them now, like they’re stuck in a gravitational path where each others lips are the final destination, he meets Andrew’s mouth once more. It feels like tracing keys, or Abby’s failed cooking but her always having dessert at the ready, or he and Matt’s biweekly calls. It’s coming home.

He could kiss Andrew forever. The world could give out around them and the earth could explode into the stars, and he would kiss Andrew through it all if he could. Andrew pulls back though, rests his cheek against Neil’s.

“Clean,” he says, reaching behind him and feeling for the shampoo bottle.

Now that he’s not being kissed mindless, a wave of exhaustion hits him and he sways on the spot. Andrew grips his forearm, pulling Neil against his chest again. Neil mumbles against his skin. “Just hair?”

“We can shower again in the morning,” Andrew concludes in agreement, and squirts shampoo into his palm.

Neil looks up at him, mind stirring and piquing interest. “Promise?”

Andrew ignores him and begins to gently rub shampoo into Neil’s hair, but doesn’t deny it. Neil grins to himself and closes his eyes, letting the feel of Andrew’s fingers working through his hair put him to near sleep. He drifts a little, the feel of warm water pouring over his head carefully bringing him peace and a tender feeling that makes him want to melt into a puddle.

He muses when he became so soft, when he let all these walls down, but he knows. When Andrew picked him back up time and time again, promising protection and safety and home. When Andrew let him into his world, because as dark and mangled that it was, so was Neil’s. When the Foxes found out who he really was and let him stay. He could probably pinpoint several of the little moments that led up to this, to him becoming a person his mother would have shoved into a corner. Really, he thinks as Andrew begins massaging his neck, he could look through the photo album he’s steadily been making since his second year now.

The lack of hands on him makes him peer up, and he sees Andrew vaguely struggling to wash his hair while keeping Neil upright at the same time. It’s so endearing Neil is dizzy with it. He reaches his arms up and takes Andrews soapy hands in his own before clumsily attempting to tangle his hands in Andrew’s hair and simultaneously continue leaning on him.

Andrew sneers at him, pushes his hands away. “Go back to sleep.”

He’s trying to keep indifferent, but Neil knows all his intricacies by now and lets himself be tepidly coddled.  

By the time they’re dried off and half-dressed, it’s too late and their pot of decaf coffee goes ignored. Instead they trail into the bedroom with drifting hands, caressing backs. They lay down, and it’s so intimately sublime that Neil wants to stay awake forever.

He does for a while, lay there simply staring into Andrew’s eyes, pitch black in the shadowed room. He eyes Andrew’s jaw, clenching and releasing, minutely moving back and forth. He’s curious what else there is to tell tonight and how long Andrew’s been holding things to himself, going over what he’ll say and parsing his own thoughts.

“Neil,” he asks, questioning, prodding, divine.

“Andrew,” he answers, wondering, accepting, consummate.

Two planets in orbit of each other, two suns in the sky, rising and living and in extremis.

He breathes out, shifts closer. “Will you move in with me,” he says, assiduous and poised like he’s ready to cut off all ties if need be. Like if Neil said no, he could just pack up and move on.

“Yeah,” he says, because that’s all there is to it.

Andrew’s lips twitch, his hand comes up to Neil’s face and molds into his skin like a key locking into place. He brings them forward, touching foreheads and knees and hearts. He repeats back, “Yeah.”