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Andrew grits his teeth and climbs on his bike. He really wants to punch something, almost did, in fact, but the last time he did that the school counselor threatened to expel him for good. He didn’t know what that meant exactly, so he looked it up in a dusty old dictionary he found at the bottom of the bookshelf, sneezing when a plume of dust tickled his nose.

“Expel,” he read, very quietly, because everyone was asleep. “ to force to leave a place.”

There’s more, but his heart starts pounding so hard that he can’t concentrate enough to continue. If there’s one thing he knows well, it’s leaving. In the eight years Andrew has spent in the California foster system, he’s left more times than he knows how to count. He remembers all of them - he remembers a lot of things other people give him weird looks for - and he definitely remembers that heavy, fluttery feeling he gets in his belly whenever it’s time to go to a new place. He doesn’t like that feeling. He even gets it when it’s time to leave the bad places, because at least he knows what to expect . Every new house is like a guessing game, and Andrew has lost more times than he’s won.

So that day at school, when a kid with crooked teeth and breath that stinks like onions gets in his face, Andrew doesn’t punch him. He really, really wants to, but he wants to not leave even more. He walks away, trembling with idle rage while the crooked teeth kid laughs and calls out the most colorful insults a third-grader can think of. Andrew isn’t shocked by the words because he’s heard worse. He hasn’t tried them yet himself, but he thinks he might soon, just to see what effect they’d have.

Coming up on the curve that swings into the side-street where he lives, Andrew starts peddling faster, breath huffing as he pumps his short legs. It starts to burn a little bit, but he kind of likes it. He approaches the curve, lets himself start to coast, but he’s going too fast and he miscalculates. He overshoots and crashes to his side in a heap of limbs and metal. Stunned, he lays there for several seconds. Very slowly, he pushes up on his hands and knees, hissing sharply when his left leg burns. After dragging himself to his feet, he looks down to see blood and grit covering his knee and trickling down to his ankle, soaking the top of his sock. The world tilts sideways for a moment, because suddenly he’s seeing his legs at another time in his life. There’d been blood dripping down his legs then too.

Trembling, but now for an entirely different reason, Andrew aims a viscous kick at his wrecked bike. A shock of additional pain travels up his injured leg and for some reason his eyes are blurry when he does it twice, then three times. 

He limps home, not bothering to bring the bike. It’s stupid, anyway. Maybe his foster family will get upset with him for crashing it. Maybe they’ll even expel him. At least now he’ll know.

The mom and dad aren’t in the kitchen when Andrew slams open the front door and trudges inside. He’s almost disappointed until he spots Bethany, their teenage daughter, walking down the stairs. A stab of familiar panic shoots through him when she spots his knee and gasps loudly, rushing to his side. Andrew backs up instinctually and clenches his fists.

“Oh, Andrew, what happened?” Bethany scrunches up her face like she’s in pain. “Did you fall off your bike? Are you okay?”

He hesitates briefly, then nods. 

“Okay, that’s okay,” she says. “Let’s get you cleaned up.” She reaches out a hand and pats him on the shoulder, and Andrew can’t suppress his flinch. He really hates the sad look on her face and the urge to punch something is back stronger than before.

Bethany herds him into the bathroom and has him sit on the closed toilet seat while she gets a brown bottle and cotton swabs out of the medicine cabinet. He winces and turns his head away when she starts dabbing at his bloody knee. It stings a lot. It’s not that bad though, not until she murmurs something about needing to get a better look and pushes up his shorts.

With an inhuman noise, Andrew shoves her away with every ounce of strength he has in his tiny body. Caught by surprise, Bethany falls back on her butt, the medicine bottle spilling and sloshing its contents all over the linoleum floor. Andrew scrambles off the toilet and nearly slips in the mess, barely managing to keep his feet under him as he bolts out of the bathroom, and a moment later, out the front door. He runs. He’s not wearing socks or shoes, but it doesn’t matter. His mind is spinning and he can’t seem to stop shaking, not even when his legs fold beneath him and he sinks into the grass. 

He doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting there when he hears a car and then headlights are shining him down in the waning afternoon light. He looks up through bleary eyes and sees Bethany and her mom, Ellen, getting out of the car. They approach him slowly, like Andrew has seen people approach feral dogs on the side of the road. Maybe that’s all he is to them. That’s all he feels like.

“Andrew, sweetie, are you okay?” Ellen says softly. She crouches down to his level. She winces when she glimpses his bloody mess of a knee. “Ouch, that looks like it hurts. Beth didn’t mean to make it worse, honey. It’s just sometimes with cuts they hurt a little more before they get better.”

Andrew knows that. He’s not stupid. He almost wants to tell her that his thoughts hurt way worse than his leg, but in the end, he just swallows and nods.

They take him home. Andrew doesn’t freak out this time when Ellen cleans and bandages his knee and he just blinks when Bethany tells him how sorry she is.

When it’s time for bed, Ellen asks if she can give him a hug.

Andrew shakes his head no and closes the bedroom door.

Chapter Text

Tremors roll through Andrew’s body like uncontrollable waves. He feels like he’s going to shake apart, wishes he would, especially when his knees are pushed to his chest and the heavy body pinning him down starts moving in sickeningly familiar movements. It hurts . He throws his head to the side and squirms fruitlessly, making one final attempt to free himself. It doesn’t work. It never works. Squeezing his eyes shut, he presses his cheek into the pillow that’s already damp with sweat and tears and waits for it to be over.

By this point in his life, Andrew knows better than to make unnecessary noise, but sometimes, on nights like this, it proves difficult. Drake clamps a hand over his mouth and hisses at him to shut up . He tries, even though he wants to scream in outrage and disgust. Even so, Drake keeps his sweaty palm pressed tightly to his face until he’s done, grinning and tightening his fingers when Andrew gives his head a hard shake to dislodge him. 

“You look awfully pretty like this,” Drake whispers lecherously. “I bet if I squeezed a little bit harder you’d wear pretty bruises for me tomorrow, wouldn’t you?”

Andrew glares up at him, heart pounding and wishing he would just leave already.

“But we can’t have that, can we? Not where other people might learn about our secret, hmm?” Drake finally releases his face and Andrew sucks in a shaky, shallow breath. 

“Fuck you,” he says hoarsely. He stopped being afraid to use those words years ago, even though he’s discovered they don’t work on his latest tormentor. In fact, Drake seems to like it when he fights. Contrary creature that Andrew is, he’s considered not fighting, just to annoy Drake. But concession is also not in his nature, so he knows that will never happen.

Drake does go back to his own room, eventually, leaving Andrew shaking and bruised on the crumpled bed. After several minutes, he forces himself to sit up, then stand on legs that feel like jelly. His eyes burn and he swipes away furious tears, feeling pathetic. His room is dark so he can’t see if there’s any evidence of what just happened. In the end, he can’t stand the idea of crawling back into soiled sheets, so he quickly strips all the bedding and yanks a small throw blanket down from the closet. 

He showers quickly, scrubbing his skin raw under scalding water. The razor he’s hidden under the sink beckons like a lantern, alone in a sea of despairing darkness. He started using it weeks ago, and so far he’s kept the thin, bloody lines he carves into his skin a secret. No one, not even Cass, questions why he suddenly prefers long-sleeved shirts in the middle of summer. He wishes she would, almost. He wishes she would ask about his late-night showers and obsessive need to change the sheets every day. He wishes she noticed her son’s hand on his thigh at the breakfast table each morning, or the panicked beating of his heart when she and Richard announced they’d be traveling for a week, but don’t worry, Drake will stay here with you. He wishes she would ask, because if she did, that would mean she cares for him as much as he cares for her.

But she doesn’t ask. And Andrew doesn’t tell. Of all the crushing disappointments in his life thus far, finding out she would choose her monster of a son over him would be the worst.

It started after three months. At first, Andrew thinks the world must be playing a cruel joke on him, then he remembers his entire life is a cruel joke. If it weren’t so awful, it might be funny. He hears a term in English class at school: tragicomedy. He’s not sure anyone else would call his life funny, but when he spends entire days with Cass, light and carefree - at least to the extent that’s capable of such things - and then every night trapped in a nightmare, he thinks the term fits quite well. He knows that he’s bad, warped, so he thinks Drake might be his penance for keeping Cass.

The worst part now is touch. Andrew barely remembers when touch was an innocent thing and he has a cacophony of evidence to the contrary. Even the simple, seemingly innocuous touches bother him, but what’s awful is how much he craves them at the same time. Cass is a touchy person. She’s always patting heads and trailing her fingers over wrists and rubbing backs. Andrew sees her do it with Richard and Drake, and he wants it so badly that he digs bloody, half moons into his palms. He tries it a couple times, lets himself stand too close to her so their shoulders rub or doesn’t duck away when she offers him a hug. It burns. It makes his skin crawl. It makes his heart beat so wildly in his chest that feels like he can’t take a proper breath. 

Drake notices, of course. As the months go by, he starts doing things that make Andrew feel good as often as he makes him hurt. The razor shines even brighter during those months. Soon it becomes a challenge to find any unmarked skin on his forearms. 

When he learns about Aaron, his initial reaction is rage. And then he remembers he lives in a tragicomedy, so why wouldn’t he have an identical twin brother who got chosen by their mom over him? Aaron probably has nice friends and goes on family picnics and sleeps in a bedroom that nobody breaks into at night. He’s probably not afraid of hugs or a simple kiss on the forehead. 

Andrew responds to his letter with two words: “fuck you.”

The second reaction Andrew has about his brother’s revelation is protectiveness. It’s almost overwhelming how strongly he reacts to Drake’s crude comments and suggestion that Aaron join them in bed. Andrew trembles with this new feeling. Suddenly knows he will do absolutely anything to keep this stranger whole and untouched in a way he never was.

Weeks later, when they lock him up in juvie, the cell door clanging shut behind him, Andrew lets out a breath of heavy relief. He may be locked up, but for the first time in his life, he’s free.

Finally, no one can touch him.

Chapter Text

On the night of Andrew’s 17th birthday, he drags Roland into the back room and demands he tie his hands behind his back. Roland stares at him for a second with a heated look in his eyes before nodding eagerly. Grinning, he turns around and crosses his wrists on the small of his back.

“Like this?” he asks breathily. “I should’ve figured you’d be into kink.”

Andrew responds by closing the padded cuffs around one, then both of Roland’s wrists. He makes sure they’re not too tight. The point isn’t to hurt him, after all. 

Roland gives an experimental tug, flexing his fingers. He turns around, still smiling.

“What now, birthday boy?” he asks.

Andrew grunts, “shut up,” and crowds him back until he bumps into the wall with a small, surprised exhalation of air. It morphs into a sharp inhale when Andrew presses their lower bodies together and gives an experimental roll of his hips. Both of them are already hard. Andrew shudders as his nerves light up with pleasure, and he does it again. 

With a groan, Roland pushes his hips forward, chasing the sensation, but Andrew shoves him back with a hand to the chest. Roland’s eyes widen in surprise.

“Don’t,” Andrew warns.

“God, you’re a bossy little shit,” Roland says, chest rising and falling unevenly. He doesn’t look upset though, especially not when he leans his head back against the wall and grins down at Andrew. “Have your wicked way with me, then.”

A flicker of irritation works its way through Andrew, because he doesn’t want to be told what to do, even if Roland is right. For just a moment, he considers spinning around on his heel and leaving. He’s sure Roland would figure a way out of the handcuffs. Eventually. He doesn’t though. It’s his fucking birthday, and what he wants is standing pliant and aroused right in front of him.

He hasn’t spent a lot of time thinking about what attracts him to Roland, to be honest. Being a busboy for the past few months, they’ve interacted a fair bit, but never beyond simple flirtations (at least on Roland’s part) and they’ve certainly never interacted outside of work. Andrew has known about Roland’s attraction to him from the beginning. He observes far more than he interacts, and he would have to be blind to miss the heated looks and appreciative glances so often thrown his way. Not to mention, Roland told one of the other busboys that he thinks Andrew’s hot, and the busboy promptly told Andrew.

A small part of him thinks it should bother him. Roland is five years his senior, after all. Legal, while Andrew is still a minor. But Andrew has never cared for the rules and now, faced with something he wants, and more importantly, the choice to have it, he doesn’t think it would be a good time to start following them. It’s not like anyone in his life so far had followed the rules either. 

Andrew doesn’t think, just feels, as he tugs down Roland’s zipper and shoves his hand inside, gripping his hard cock with cold fingers. He starts twisting his fist, gathering the moisture that’s already gathered, and begins jacking him off with quick, harsh jerks.  

“Fuck,” Roland breathes. He thunks his head back against the wall. “Fuck yeah, just like that.”

“Shut up,” Andrew says again.

Roland lets out a laugh. It morphs into a moan halfway and he says, “yes, sir.”

He doesn’t talk again, not even when Andrew drops to his knees and takes him in his mouth. He’s also definitely not quiet, but Andrew doesn’t mind. He works him mercilessly with his hand and mouth, bobbing up and down with his eyes closed. At one point, Roland jerks forward by accident, his cock hitting the back of Andrew’s throat and triggering his gag reflex. Growling in warning, Andrew uses his free hand to push Roland’s hips flush against the wall. He lowers himself back down, holding him there until Roland is twitching and gasping loudly.

“Gonna come,” he warns in a strained voice.

Andrew pulls off just in time, sitting back on his heels and watching while Roland shudders through his release.

“Jesus, Andrew,” Roland says once he’s caught his breath. “Fuck, that was good.”

Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, Andrew stands up and whirls Roland around. He releases the cuffs and lets them drop to the floor with a soft clatter.

“My turn?” Roland says hopefully, reaching for Andrew’s jeans.

Andrew shoves him violently away. “Get out,” he orders shortly.

Roland laughs again, though this time it’s tinged in confusion. When Andrew’s stare turns deadly he backs up with his hands raised in mock surrender.

“Okay, okay, I get the message” he says, tucking himself back into his jeans. “You sure though? I mean, it is your birthday.”

Andrew points at the door.

With an exaggerated sigh, Roland nods. “Suit yourself. Next time you’ve got an itch to scratch, you know where to find me.” He winks, then slips out the door and closes it quietly behind him.

After double-checking the lock, Andrew yanks down his zipper and takes himself in hand. He’s so hard it hurts and he lets out a small breath as he finally starts to move. Mouth and lips still tingling with Roland’s taste, he lets himself think about what the other man’s body felt like beneath his firm hands. He’s drunk on the power of choice, of consent, the control he had over Roland just then. Making Roland come apart in his hands because he wanted Andrew to take him apart - it’s the most arousing thing he’s ever done.

He comes with a quiet groan. He continues fisting himself until over-sensitivity forces him to stop and then he tucks himself away with quick, perfunctory movements. A trickle of bone-deep shame worms its way through him then, threatening to burst into a downpour if he doesn’t cut it off right away. Glancing around the room, he sees a half-full bottle of bourbon on the desk so he grabs it, unscrews the lid, and takes a healthy swig. It burns going down, but not nearly as much as the alternative would. He takes one more swig then shoves it into his coat pocket.

As an afterthought, he grabs the padded cuffs off the floor and tucks them into his other pocket. Because, who knows? Maybe he’ll use them again after all.

Chapter Text

The first time Andrew picks up a knife for something other than eating or utility is when he’s 12 years old. He spends a long time staring at it, twirling it idly around in his hand, watching how the light reflects off the blade like sunlight skipping across open water. He makes a couple experimental lunges, even though his heart beats wildly at the idea of actually using it. It’s not that he wouldn’t; he would do anything to defend himself. But the odds of him succeeding, of winning such an exchange are low, and what makes his heart beat wildly is the idea of what would happen to him if he loses. 

He learns a lot about fighting in juvie. He doesn’t have any knives, of course, though it turns out juvenile delinquents can be quite creative in what counts as a weapon. The first time Andrew gets jumped is in the cafeteria, and the tall kid with beefy arms and a pockmarked face tries to stab him with a plastic spoon. It still hurts, even as the plastic bends and snaps in half when it rams into Andrew’s shoulder blade. He throws himself backward in retaliation, slamming his elbow into the kid’s gut and swinging a fist into his nose before he even knows what’s happening. He doesn’t win that fight though. The tall kid didn’t come alone, even though he’s twice Andrew’s size, and while he cries and cradles his bloody nose to his face, his friends proceed to throw Andrew to the ground and kick the shit out of him until the guards finally intervene.

Andrew learns a lot about fighting over the next three years. He doesn’t particularly enjoy it, rather, he sees it as a fact of life. If he doesn’t fight, and fight to win, then someone else will; by proxy, Andrew will lose, and that is simply not an option. 

By the time he shows up on Tilda and Aaron’s doorstep with a ragged backpack slung over his shoulder and an exhausted social worker waiting anxiously several feet away, Andrew hasn’t lost a fight in years. The other kids in juvie learned not to mess with him. Small and deadly, vicious, a mad dog - those are just a few ways they refer to him behind his back. Andrew doesn’t mind. He’s grown from the abused, feral puppy, stranded on the side of the road, to a fighting dog, a pitbull, scarred and angry and willing to do anything to survive. 

The first time he sees Tilda - because he refuses to call this woman who abandoned him and denied his existence for 16 years ‘mom’ - hit Aaron, Andrew just stares. His pulse kicks instinctually and he stands very still, waiting to see if either of them even notice his presence. Aaron does first, and he flushes hotly, pushing angrily through the back door a moment later and letting it slam shut behind him. When he comes back a few hours later, his pupils are unnaturally large and he just looks vacantly at Andrew before climbing into bed and passing out with a huff.

“You shouldn’t let her do that,” Andrew comments one day over breakfast. Tilda has retreated to her room with a bottle of cheap vodka and a brown paper bag she swears has her medicine inside. Before she disappears, she slaps Aaron for opening her liquor without asking and makes him promise to go get more. No matter that he’s only 16, apparently.

Aaron glances up, startled. His expression quickly morphs into a scowl and he stabs at his eggs.

“It’s none of your business,” he says, somewhat sulkily. “Like you even give a shit.”

“It ruins my appetite,” Andrew retorts mildly.

Aaron scoffs. “Just stay out of it, okay? You don’t understand. How could you?”

Andrew only raises his eyebrows at the rebuke. Aaron can have an acidic tongue when he wants to, but usually he’s too high or drunk to put the proper words together.

“You allow that woman to put her hands on you when you don’t want her to,” Andrew says a short while later. “Since I live here now, that makes it my business.”

Aaron scowls harder but something in his gaze is searching as he watches Andrew. In the end, Andrew looks away first, shoving back from the table and dropping his soiled dishes into the sink with a noisy clatter. He doesn’t like the way Aaron was looking at him, because he hasn’t given him permission to know him like that, nor does he ever intend to. 

Not long after that, Andrew makes Aaron a promise. He fulfils it by letting Tilda think he’s the wrong twin one morning, even allowing her to smack the back of his head and grab him by the arm. It takes every ounce of Andrew’s self-control to not kill her then and there. Skin crawling from the unwanted touch, he gets behind the wheel of the car and drives silently until they’re on a fairly deserted highway. 

“You sure this is the right way?” Tilda grunts, squinting at their surroundings and then at him. “I don’t think this is the right way.”

Something in his expression, or perhaps in the lack thereof, registers in Tilda’s face just then. Shock and the barest hint of fear creeps into her eyes.

Andrew says, “oh, but it is.” 

And then he crashes the car.

He wakes up in the ambulance and struggles briefly against the restraints and unfamiliar hands holding him down before someone jabs a needle into his arm and he falls unconscious. When he wakes again, Aaron is sitting silently by his bedside, pale and tear-stained. He stares at Andrew for a long while before his mouth finally forms the words, “Mom is dead.”

Andrew blinks once, twice, and lets his heavy eyes slip shut. Whether or not Aaron knows it, he is one of Andrew’s, and touching something of Andrew’s is as bad as touching him. Like fighting with a knife, Andrew didn’t enjoy doing what he did, but he also doesn’t regret it.

Chapter Text

Andrew sits on the front steps of Fox Tower, cross-legged with an unlit cigarette dangling from his fingers. Blank-faced, he pays no mind to the occasional PSU student who wanders past. Most of them know who he is, by reputation at least, and they’re wise enough to make a wide berth and keep their eyes fixed elsewhere as they pass. 

His feet have started to tingle by the time he sees Renee pull into the parking lot. Allison is sitting beside her in the passenger seat. He waits patiently while the two of them talk inside the cab for a few minutes before getting out and approaching the steps, arms loaded with groceries. Renee spots him first, eyes finding and staying on him as they walk. To her credit, her only noticeable reaction is a slight tightening of her jaw. Her step doesn’t falter, not even when she comes to a halt before him and sees the bloodless grip he has on the flask in his left hand.

“Hi Andrew,” she says kindly, though she doesn’t mock him by smiling. “Have you been back long?”

Before Andrew bothers to answer, he glances at Allison, finding exactly what he expects on her face. It’s the same expression he’s seen from people all goddamn day - okay, except for Neil and Bee, but they don’t really count because they’re infuriating for a whole different reason - and it makes him want to put a fist through a wall. Or maybe their faces. 

“I’m surprised you’re not with Neil,” Allison comments hesitantly with a slight frown. She purses her lips. “Do you want us to go find him?”

Andrew ignores her and returns his attention to Renee.

“Hi Renee,” he says. “Are you busy?”

Renee watches him for a second before shaking her head. “Let me grab my stuff and I’ll meet you in the basement. Deal?”

Andrew nods. He rises to his slightly numb feet in one fluid motion and lets the cigarette drop to the ground. He considers picking it back up for a second, decides against it, and without a word, whirls around and leaves the girls standing on the steps behind him. Just as the door’s about to swing closed, he hears Allison whispering furiously to Renee.

“- really think that’s a good idea today? I mean, look at him! Who knows what they said in that fucking trial? They - ”

The heavy glass door shuts with a soft whoosh, sealing away the rest of their conversation. Andrew doesn’t give a shit what Allison thinks about him, but he’s really not in the mood to hear stupid things either. He’s not in the mood to talk at all - now or maybe ever again - so he heads down to the basement and waits for Renee to join him.

Sensing his need for silence, Renee remains quiet when she comes, simply handing Andrew a pair of light gloves - which he accepts - and a mouthguard - which he waves away dismissively. She raises an eyebrow at that but doesn’t argue, and they fall into their now familiar dance of lunges and footwork and quickly moving bodies.

Andrew realizes he’s off his game after Renee lands three punches and one glancing kick in just a few minutes. She realizes it too - he sees her mouth tighten - but she doesn’t hold back and Andrew is grateful. The last thing he wants right is to be handled with kid gloves. 

He grunts as pain shoots up his shin at her latest blow, dancing back a few steps and giving his leg a vicious shake before darting forward again to continue. Only a short while later, Renee sweeps his legs from under him and he crashes to the ground, breath punching out of him with the forceful impact. He lays there, blinking up at the fluorescent lit ceiling, waiting for his lungs to re-expand.

“Maybe that’s enough for today,” Renee says, dropping down the floor beside him. “If the point of this is to beat yourself up, I’d rather not be the one to do it.”

Andrew doesn’t bother arguing because she’s not wrong. 

“It’s me or them,” he says.

Renee furrows her eyebrows questioningly and Andrew sighs.

He says, “if another one of them looks at me like that again, I’ll kill them.”

“Ah.” She nods, staring down at her gloved fists. “Is that why you’re not with Neil right now? Because he looked at you with pity?”

Andrew immediately scoffs, earning him a raised eyebrow from Renee.

“Neil isn’t smart enough to pity himself, let alone anyone else.” He snorts softly, stretching out his arms above his head. “I wouldn’t keep him around if he did.”

They fall into a companionable silence for a while. On any given day, Andrew tries and fails to sort through the warring impulses he has when it comes to Neil Josten. Half of the time he wants to staple his tongue to his forehead, and the other half he wants to kiss him. It’s as infuriating as the man himself, and especially today, he’s struggling with it. 

During the trial, Nicky cried openly, and afterward, asked Andrew if he could give him a hug -  obviously, Andrew declined. Aaron, on the other hand, looked somewhere between sick to his stomach and murderous the entire time and disappeared without a word the moment the judge struck her gavel. Neil though, he didn’t do anything. He sat there, quiet and stone faced, observing every ugly detail and unwillingly disclosed truth the opposing lawyer wanted to rip apart. He’d looked briefly at Andrew after his cross-examination, but he didn’t offer his hand or reassurances, because he knew Andrew wouldn’t accept either. Andrew isn’t used to being known like that. He’s still figuring out how he feels about it most days, but today, it makes him feel as raw and vulnerable as an exposed nerve. His aversion to touch, he’s realized, is just as much emotional as it is physical. 

At length, Renee climbs to her feet and works her way through a few stretches before turning to Andrew and offering him a hand up. He stares at it for a moment, because it’s nothing new, but his stomach turns sickly at the idea of any touch right now so he rolls the opposite direction and stands without assistance.

“Dan and Matt stocked the fridge this morning,” Renee tells him on their way up the stairs. “And I heard something about an 80s b-rated horror movie marathon. If you’re interested.” She doesn’t say, t hey’d understand if you’re not, and Andrew appreciates her once again.

In the end, he decides against it. Nicky informs him that Aaron is holed up with Katelyn for the weekend, and then Andrew shoves him out the door to join the other Foxes when Nicky’s eyes start to blur with tears again. Andrew settles into a beanbag chair in the living room, with Kevin at the table watching old Exy videos on his laptop and Neil absently paging through an Exy magazine. It’s so normal - and ridiculous - that it’s nearly enough to distract Andrew from his thoughts for a while. The whisky helps too, of course.

Eventually, Neil tosses the magazine aside and rises from the couch. When he comes back into the room, he finds his magazine sitting on the beanbag chair next to Andrew. He looks at Andrew and then the chair, which is within touching distance, giving them both a significant look. 

Andrew rolls his eyes and kicks the beanbag with one leg. “Sit before you hurt yourself.”

With a knowing look that Andrew wants to wipe off his face, Neil folds himself into the chair. For a few minutes, he pretends to be interested in the random documentary Andrew has playing on the tv, but soon enough, Andrew feels his gaze on the side of his head. Without looking, Andrew reaches over and pokes a finger into Neil’s cheek to turn him away.

“Stop it,” he says.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Neil’s slow smile. For now, it’s enough.

Chapter Text

Andrew’s eyes slip inadvertently shut and he jerks awake. The digital clock on the nightstand reads 01:03AM, and he sighs in slight annoyance. Already arriving home close to midnight, Neil’s flight ended up getting delayed over an hour, and the lack of text on Andrew’s phone tells him he must still be in the air. He would prefer to stay awake and wait, but apparently the long day of practice (without Neil) and sitting bored at home (also without Neil) have taken more out of him than he thought. 

Dog-earing his page, he sets his book down next to the clock and flips the light off. He spends a while staring into the darkness, listening to the quiet hum of the fan and the soft tap, tap, tap of rain on the roof. He considers checking his phone one last time, decides he’s acting pathetic, and finally allows himself to drift to sleep.

He wakes with a start, entire body coiled tight for a fight, his eyes flying open to find Sir’s glowing green eyes staring back at him. He exhales with a violent huff of air. 

“I’m going to skin you and wear you for slippers,” Andrew informs his cat. Apparently unimpressed with the threat, Sir blinks owlishly at him before turning in a circle and flopping down on his side, pressing his warm, furry body against Andrew’s chest. He starts to knead and purr loudly.

“You know, in some countries people eat cats,” Andrew says, as he rests one hand on Sir’s head and idly strokes him. “Or use them for medicine. Or target practice.”

Sir purrs louder in response and Andrew closes his eyes again. “Next time you do this, I’m donating you to science.”

He falls asleep again with his fingers tangled in soft, gently vibrating fur.

He wakes up again at 3:37AM to an unread text from Neil flashing across his phone. 

Just landed , it says. Be home soon.

Not so long ago, both of them might’ve scoffed at such a word. Home was a concept, an abstract idea rather than a fact. It was something neither of them had ever truly had, and therefore never expected to find. Only they had - against insurmountable odds, against their own survival instincts and self-destructive habits, they had found each other and rewritten what the word ‘home’ really meant. 

Knowing he might as well stay up until Neil’s arrival, Andrew slips out of bed (leaving a rather offended looking Sir underneath the thrown-back covers) and heads to the kitchen. The pot of decaf coffee is just sputtering to a finish when Andrew hears the familiar sound of a key turning in the lock. He didn’t bother turning a light on in the kitchen, so he waits for Neil to see him instead of calling out.

Neil, of course, spots him almost immediately and gives him a look that’s halfway between exasperated and amused. 

“What are you doing up?” he asks, dropping his duffel by the door and toeing off his shoes. “Did you stay up? Wait, is that coffee?”

“Yes,” Andrew replies.

He doesn’t particularly care what Matt and Dan named their newborn daughter, and he definitely doesn’t care about the drama Dan’s going through with her Exy team, but he listens patiently and sips from his cup while Neil rambles on about his trip.

“Aaron and Katelyn are visiting them in a couple months,” Neil comments casually. “If you’re interested.”

Andrew takes another sip and hums in acknowledgement. It’s not acceptance, but it’s also not outright denial, so Neil seems satisfied and drops it.

“Do anything interesting while I was gone?” he asks.

“Stuffed your cat down the garbage disposal.”

Neil raises an eyebrow. “I’m not sure that’s covered in the warranty.”

Andrew shrugs. “Neither are smart-ass boyfriends who take stupid flights in the middle of the night. Yet, here we are.”

Neil doesn’t attempt to hide his dopey smile and Andrew scowls.

“Stop it.”

“Stop what?”

“Your face.”

“I should stop my face?”

“It looks ridiculous.”

Neil doesn’t stop smiling, but now there’s slight heat behind it. “Really? Wonder what we could do to fix it?”

“There’s an obvious solution,” Andrew says.

Neil leans forward. “I’m a slow learner. Maybe you should show me.”

They make it as far as the living room before Andrew has his hand stuffed down Neil’s pants and wrapped around his cock. He strokes roughly and Neil pants into his mouth, clutching hard at Andrew’s shoulders.

Tangled in each other’s embrace, they shuffle back a few more steps until Andrew feels the back of his legs hit the couch. After the slightest hesitation (because being pushed down will never not be a big deal for Andrew), he sinks down on the cushions and pulls Neil with him. Neil continues kissing him while he straddles Andrew’s waist and plants his legs on either side of Andrew’s thighs. Neil shifts his weight forward, rubbing their erections together, and Andrew’s pulse quickens with the vaguest hint of discomfort. Neil’s isn’t light, after all. His body is solid, compact muscle pinning Andrew beneath him. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s not unpleasant. And the uncomfortable part? Well, that’s more bodily memory than current experience, so he simply chooses to ignore it. Andrew has always been a bundle of contradictions, after all, and despite years of growth and healing, some things will never change. 

(And then there’s that pesky fact that he trusts Neil.) 

Andrew slides his hands beneath Neil’s shirt, feeling the raised edges of scarred skin that’s almost as familiar as his own. Neil responds with his own touches, sucking a line down Andrew’s sensitive neck, smoothing his palms up Andrew’s stomach and chest when he tugs off his shirt and tosses it behind the couch. Neil chucks away his own shirt after a minute and then they’re skin to skin, trembling limbs and pounding hearts locked against each other in a way neither of them ever expected to allow.

After a lot more kissing, a pile of discarded clothes, and quite a bit of prep, Neil slowly lowers himself onto Andrew’s aching cock. They lock eyes as he descends. Andrew has his hands on Neil’s hips, but he lets him control the slide, and watches carefully for even the barest sign of discomfort. This part is always intense for both of them, no matter the position. Even though Andrew usually just grits his teeth while he adjusts and tells Neil to get on with it ( not that he listens), Andrew would never expect the same of Neil. He stays completely still until Neil releases a shaky breath and nods. Only then do either of them start to move.

For a while, the only sounds in the house are heavy breathing and strained moans and the wet slap of skin on skin. Andrew jacks Neil while he rides him, and soon Neil’s rhythm stutters and he comes hard over Andrew’s hand. Neil’s body, already so hot and smooth, tightens around him, sending Andrew over the edge as well. He digs his free hand into Neil’s hip while his body convulses and his vision fuzzes out. 

“Fuck,” Neil mutters, leaning forward and resting his sweaty forehead against Andrew’s neck. Both of them continue to breathe hard. “I missed you.”

Andrew scoffs lightly, even as he tightens his arms around Neil’s back. 

“You’re so fucking sappy after you come,” he says.

Neil laughs and then kisses him until they’re ready to go again.

The sun is peeking over the horizon by the time they tumble into bed together, sated and freshly showered. Still bundled in the blankets, Sir gives a lazy stretch to acknowledge their presence and then promptly heads off in search of food.

They don’t normally lay touching each other in sleep, except maybe a hand, but for some reason that Andrew doesn’t care to dissect, he decides to tug Neil back against him and wrap a possessive hand around his belly. Neil yawns contentedly, tangling their fingers together. He’s asleep before Andrew has even closed his eyes.

Sir jumps back on the bed several minutes later and curls himself against Andrew’s back. For once, Andrew doesn’t waste his time on idle threats because he has this strange, contented feeling in his chest that he doesn’t want to disturb. For the first time in his life he feels safe. For the first time he thinks that life might just be interesting enough to keep living. And for the first time in his life, he knows what it is to be seen, to feel. To touch.

All he needed was proof.