“Do you think he’ll fight for you?”
It was true, in the beginning Neil didn’t think Andrew would fight for him. He was fine with that. He knew he was nothing, certainly not a person worth fighting for. He also knew that Andrew had somehow snuck up on him and made him... care. He knew that when Andrew got bored of him like he said he would from the start, Neil would crack a bit. So he held on to every glance, every stony stare, every flash in Andrew’s eyes. He saved every memory of hungry kisses, vicious growls, and hard weights on his neck. He buried all of it, every little piece of Andrew, deep inside and locked it tight. They would be easier to dispose of that way when the end came.
But a strange thing happened, Neil’s collection kept growing. He had to make room for the new softness he sometimes caught in Andrew’s eyes. He had to sort through the overwhelming and ever increasing variety of kisses. He had to figure out where to place the rush of emotions that flooded him the first time Andrew and he went all the way. He wasn’t sure what to with the piling instances of Andrew wrapping his arm around Neil’s waist in the night when they slept. Time went by. Neil’s chest of secret thoughts and feelings and memories expanded, and perhaps he grew a little more comfortable with the idea of forever, as silly as that felt. But his treasure chest was still buried, still locked, because letting himself truly believe this was anything but temporary or that Neil was something other than nothing was dangerous. Andrew had to be ready to move on anytime now.
The day finally came during Neil's fifth year. He was visiting Andrew just for the weekend, it was the first time they'd seen each other in a while. It wasn't... awkward exactly, but Andrew had been keeping his distance since Neil arrived early that morning. Pushing his uneasy feelings away, Neil wandered into the kitchen while Andrew took a shower to get something to eat. He was opening up a yogurt when Andrew approached him, hair wet, expression was blank as ever. But his shoulders were tense. And Neil just knew this was it. The past few years had made him too soft, too comfortable, too willing to believe Andrew wanted this for the long haul. A wave of insecurities and anxiety hit him like a truck. He’d been preparing for this day since the first time Andrew had kissed him on the roof years ago. But even with all that preparation, Neil could feel something inside start to tremble. No... he could self destruct later.
Andrew still hadn’t said anything. He just stood there with his tense shoulders. Neil wished he would just get it over with and was about to say something when Andrew reached into his pocket and pulled something out. He slid it over on the counter towards Neil. It was a silver band. A ring. Neil frowned, and looked up to meet hazel eyes which were regarding him carefully.
“What is this?” Neil asked softly.
“What does it look like.”
Neil swallowed, feeling stupid for thinking what he was thinking. No way. He didn’t look at Andrew for a really long time, but he could feel Andrew’s gaze piercing the side of his head. “I don’t understand,” he said finally.
“You’re stupider than I thought you were.”
“Why are you doing this?” Neil hated how his voice shook ever so slightly. He met Andrew’s stare and for a moment he thought he caught that softness for a minute. The same softness that he got a glimpse of some mornings when Andrew woke up and looked over at Neil. But now Andrew’s stare was hard as ever and–
“Yes or no.” They were whispering now. Andrew didn’t let Neil break his gaze, and Neil had never felt so confused or conflicted. He took a deep breath, searching for some sign that this was all a cruel joke. But nothing really made sense anymore and Neil could feel his guarded and locked chest of treasures that had Andrew all over them slowly open and flood his system. He suddenly felt an overwhelming rush in his head as he was jolted by a memory of a key that had given him hope and the beautiful man who had become his home. This was real. Neil reached over and took Andrew’s hand in his.
“It’s always yes with you.”
“Don’t ‘always’ me.”
“Really? Not even now?” Neil raised an eyebrow. Andrew didn’t respond, but he picked up the ring with his free hand. He held Neil’s left hand up in his and stared at it for a moment before carefully slipping the band onto Neil’s ring finger. Without letting go of Neil’s hand, Andrew reached into his pocket again and pulled out an identical silver band. He pushed it towards Neil, who picked it up and hastily put it on Andrew’s finger. Neil let go of Andrew’s hand only to find that his own was shaking badly. “What now?” he asked, his voice rough with shock, still processing the last few minutes.
Andrew stared at the band on his finger, as if he had just realized what it meant. Neil closed his eyes with an uncomfortable jolt of anxiety, wondering if Andrew had changed his mind. He’d barely completed this thought when he felt a tight grip on the back of his neck and a question breathed on his lips. “Yes or no.”
“We literally just got engaged.” Engaged. The word felt weird in Neil’s mouth. Andrew stared him down until Neil nodded vigorously and then Andrew kissed him. And he didn’t stop kissing him for a long time.
It wasn’t till much later, when they were in bed and Andrew was pressed up against his back with an arm thrown around Neil’s waist, that Neil took off the band and studied it properly for the first time. He was glad that Andrew was asleep and couldn’t see his face when he discovered the engraving on the inside of the ring. It was just one word. Just one word. Just one word that shook Neil to the core and finally, finally he reached inside himself and gathered all of the memories floating inside. He put them back in that box which had stayed buried for so long. But he didn’t lock it this time. He left it open, because this one word told him he didn’t have to hide anymore. Because this one word made his heart clench with love for the sleeping man curled up behind him. Because this one word said “everything.”