Andrew is peacefully reading when he hears the scrabble of a key being inserted into the door. His hand pauses for the briefest moment. Then comes the click of the lock, flipping this way and that. The door remains shut. He turns the page.
A long moment later, the door swings open to admit the other occupant of the apartment. "Hey," he says, panting a little.
Andrew looks up slowly in a show of great reluctance and promptly forgets what he was going to say.
Objectively, Neil looks disgusting. His hair hangs limply in front of his eyes in a gross, wet, mass. It's far beyond damp. Soaked, more like.
Andrew knows for a fact that the sky was bright blue, not a cloud in sight when Neil left for his run. He glances out towards the balcony. It still is.
"That isn't rain, is it," he says flatly. As Andrew watches, a droplet detaches itself from a snarl of auburn hair, now closer to dark brown, splatting against the clean floorboard.
"Would you believe me if I said yes?"
"I'll end you," Andrew says.
"It's just a little sweat," Neil says. "I can wipe it up in a second." As if to punctuate his statement, they both hear more tiny patters against the floor.
plink, plink, plink.
Neil, pushing hair out of his eyes, just smiles.
Andrew hears a soft ripping noise beneath his fingers. He looks down. His fingers hold a small triangle of paper—the edge of the page he'd been prepared to turn before the walking calamity returned.
Reminded, Andrew looks back up. Neil is taking his shoes off, still dripping sweat. Objectively, he looks disgusting. Smugness exuding from every pore so strongly anyone could smell him across the street, probably.
Subjectively, Neil looks disgustingly attractive. His shirt is plastered to his chest, and while it's not thin enough to reveal every ridge of muscle, the overall definition is dangerously clear.
Andrew looks at him and registers the way his abdomen tightens. "I despise you," he says.
Neil places his shoes on the rack and winks, the bastard. "Do you want me to clean up first? I was going to shower but we don't want all this sweat on the floor, right?"
"Go shower before you stain the wood," Andrew says flatly, tearing his eyes away with a frankly ridiculous amount of effort. "I will deal with your unpleasantness."
"Will do," says Neil, fitness junkie and the worst roommate ever, wandering down the hall leaving a trail of stench in his wake. He ducks into his room.
Andrew fetches some paper towels from the kitchen. After a moment's deliberation, he grabs the Lysol from under the sink as well.
There isn't as much on the floor as he'd assumed there would be, at least not near the entrance.
As he sprays the Lysol, he hears a door open. Determinedly, he doesn't look up, but Neil doesn't get the hint. "Wow," he says, voice filled with amusement, "bringing out the disinfectant spray just for me?"
"Who knows what you tracked in," Andrew says.
Neil laughs, not at all offended. "I'll see you in a bit," he says, disappearing into the bathroom. A minute later, water starts rumbling through the pipes.
Andrew wipes at the wood flooring, inhales the harsh scent of disinfectant, and tries unsuccessfully not to think about wet skin.
A few days later, Andrew emerges from his room midmorning for a snack, just as he hears a key being inserted into the lock. Halfway down the hallway, the front door swings open, revealing Neil, just as sweaty, just as ho—disgusting.
He's wearing the same ratty pair of sneakers. Above his socks, instead of running tights, Andrew's gaze lands on what seems like miles of bare skin instead. The muscles beneath tense as Neil balances on one leg at a time rather than sit down as he tugs his shoes off.
Andrew watches as the pair of legs come ever closer. Skin, shiny with sweat, ripples as, underneath, muscle works. It's not like there's not plenty of that at the gym. He watches anyway.
"How's the studying going?" Neil says from only a few feet away. "If that's what you were doing."
"Fine," Andrew says absently.
"Fine?" Neil repeats.
Neil laughs. Then, "Is there something very interesting about my knees?" His voice jars Andrew out of his reverie, who blinks and flicks his eyes upwards to Neil's face instead. Now, he stares into impossibly blue eyes, bright with delight. These, he thinks, would not so easily found at his gym.
"How was your run," Andrew says in lieu of a response, careful to keep his voice steady.
"I'm glad you asked," Neil says. "It was great. I met a lady who was walking a very agreeable labrador while I waited to cross Hawthorn Ave. So I come home covered in not just my own sweat but also the affectionate attentions of Tom. Thoughts?"
"Her dog's name is Tom," Andrew says blankly.
"He's sweet," Neil informs him. Then he grimaces. "I feel very sticky," he says.
"I don't know what else you expected after rigorous physical activity," Andrew says, raising an eyebrow.
"I'm used to that," Neil says, pushing his limp hair out his eyes patiently. "But the drool is new. He did a good job of bathing my shins while we waited for the light."
Andrew glances back down at said shins. He means to inspect them, but he can't manage a critical thought.
"I've never had my legs appreciated so thoroughly," Neil continues.
"Go shower," Andrew says, turning back around and retreating to his room. A snack can wait. "You stink."
Neil's laugh escorts him down the hall.
Andrew feels the tips of his ears heat as he flees.
Once he's inside, he locks the door.
He immediately feels stupid. It's not like Neil's going to barge in. He unlocks it. Then locks it again, swearing softly under his breath, before flopping onto his bed on his back.
As the sounds of water rushing through the plumbing trickle through his ears, Andrew reaches down.
It's a little embarrassing how little it takes, but why wouldn't it be easy? Neil is only a wall away, washing the sweat off his very unclothed body while Andrew sits here and cleans himself off with a crumpled tissue. His skin still feels slightly tacky when he finally tosses it into the trash, but he doesn't even think about using the shower.
Not when it means he might bump into Neil.
As the momentary euphoria fades away, Andrew sighs.
He doesn't leave his room until late, just lays in bed and stares at the sky growing dim outside of his windows. But finally, his stomach drives him to open the door.
The knob clicks softly as he turns it, the lock disengaging.
He has his phone flashlight turned on, but the hallway is, bizarrely, not dark as he'd expected. It's lit dimly, with what Andrew realizes is the glow of Neil's bedside lamp.
The other boy's door is wide open. Andrew makes out a scrunched-over lump on the bed. It's Neil, wrapped in his comforter, his chin nearly touching his chest. There's something in his lap, maybe a book. His chest rises slowly.
Neil is an early riser. It's one of the most annoying things about him. He's the sort to make obnoxious smoothies with superfoods that are apparently expensive yet taste and resemble cherries ("they're acai, not cherries! They contain so many more antioxidants, Andrew, here, drink this"). He's always in bed by eleven pm, whereas the only reason Andrew is sometimes forced to sample acai and the like is because he's still awake at dawn.
"Andrew," Neil says sleepily, sitting up. His blankets fall to his waist.
"Why is your light still on," Andrew says, frowning. "Did you fall asleep?"
"No, I mean, kind of, but I didn't intend to," Neil says, rubbing his eyes. "I was worried about you. I texted you earlier about ordering takeout for dinner, but you never responded."
"Oh," Andrew says. He processes this. "My phone may be out of battery," he finally says. "Sorry."
"It's okay," Neil says through a huge yawn. "There's leftovers in the fridge if you want any. I got pasta." Backlit by the warm glow of the lamp, his shoulders rounded with exhaustion, he looks soft and vulnerable.
"Go to sleep," Andrew says tightly. "It's late. Don't you have to make a uselessly expensive concoction in the morning?"
"You'll regret not consuming all those superfoods when you're old and wrinkly and I'm old and substantially less wrinkly," Neil says, yawning again, but he does close his book and set it aside.
"I don't think a fruit will hold back the ravages of time," Andrew says dryly, stepping forward.
"That's where you're wrong," Neil persists, pulling his pillow out from behind him and fluffing it.
"Mm," Andrew says, closing his door before he can really get going. "Good night," he says, through the wood.
"Night," Neil says, muffled.
Andrew waits until the light vanishes from the gap beneath the door before he heads for the kitchen.
The leftovers Neil mentioned is an untouched plate of pasta arrabbiata placed prominently on the middle shelf in the fridge. Neil hates spicy food.
His roommate, Andrew thinks sardonically, grabbing a fork and eating it all, standing by the sink, is a lying liar. But there's no bite to it.
His tongue feels pleasantly warm. So does his chest as he pads back to his room, deftly avoiding all the squeaky floorboards.
Two days later, Andrew's sprawled on the couch, flicking through channels aimlessly, when he hears the jingling of keys and soft, toneless humming outside their door. Not waiting for Neil to unlock it, Andrew leaps up and darts down the hall and into his room.
Clearly, something about Neil post-run makes half of his brain go dormant. Andrew isn't waiting around like an idiot to have it confirmed with a third demonstration.
Unfortunately, Neil manages to get into the apartment in record time. Just as the blond's hand lands on his doorknob, the front door swings open.
"Andrew!" Neil says, sounding a little out of breath but just as enthusiastic as ever. Maybe more, even.
"Neil," Andrew says reluctantly. Steeling himself for the inevitable, he looks down the hall.
As it turns out, it's worse than he'd imagined.
Neil stands in the doorway, wearing neon pink shorts, the ones he'd worn last time. Probably. Andrew's eyes hadn't really ventured past his thighs, but the color seems familiar.
He is also, crucially, shirtless.
For one prolonged moment, Andrew just stares.
"How am I? Great! Was my run good? It was. Really," Neil says, exasperated, "Are you just going to stand there and stare? Do I look that awful? It wasn't that hot out. I could have sworn I'm less sweaty than usual." He leans down to pull his shoes off, treating Andrew to rippling back muscles and the tensed thighs.
Andrew makes a strangled noise. Not giving Neil a chance to react to that, he performs a strategic retreat, mumbling something about homework.
When it comes to day-to-day living, Neil is remarkably oblivious about most things. Last semester when they'd had a party in the apartment after finals, a girl had laid her hand on Neil's forearm and asked breathily which door led to his room. Neil gestured vaguely towards the hallway with the same arm, then cheerfully went to get Andrew another drink.
Unfortunately, in his panic, not that he'd admit to panicking ever, Andrew forgets how perceptive Neil can be. Around him. (Of him.)
So he flees, sinks into his chair, and stares blankly at his desk, feeling his pulse thundering in his ears.
As it turns out, Neil, skin gleaming and bared save for the coverage provided by a tiny pair of neon shorts, is devastating to look at unprepared.
He sits and throbs, each beat of his heart echoing in his ears, until he hears a knock at the door.
"Andrew," says his roommate, who he despises disdainfully and feels nothing else about. "Can I come in?"
"Yes," Andrew says, because he's an utter fool and also a liar (and lastly, a hypocrite).
"Sorry," Neil says, closing the door behind him. "I know I must smell pretty rough, but I'll be out of here soon—,"
"You don't," Andrew interrupts, unable to help himself. Internally, he shrieks. Maybe even thrashes about. Who knows.
"I, uh, what?"
"Never mind," Andrew says. It's better unexplained and forgotten about, anyway. Shouldn't have said it at all.
"Hm," Neil says, looking rather like he understood anyway. His eyes fill with a worrying light.
"Well, to be honest I thought it wasn't working," he says, "but the look on your face when I got the door open fast enough—were you trying to avoid me? The TV's still on, by the way, I wasn't sure if you'd want to go back to it after this—anyway, the look. On your face. Um. Basically." Neil bites his lip.
It's a very bitable lip, Andrew notes. Soft and pink, slightly reddened under Neil's teeth.
"Do you like my shorts?" Neil blurts.
Andrew's gaze gets drawn inexorably to the hot pink scrap of fabric. He gets a little absorbed with taking in the wonderful way it clings to Neil's front but said person, fidgeting and antsy, takes the non-response as an answer.
"If you don't, uh, that's fine. It's just my leggings are in the wash. So, no other choice."
"For seven whole days?" Andrew says.
"Er," says Neil.
"They're offensive to the eye, but only because of the color," Andrew replies, finally looking away from them and onto the floor instead. He traces a long pale scratch along one plank with his eyes and misses the way Neil's eyes brighten.
"Okay," Neil says, almost to himself. "Okay. Well, so, good. But, um, what about. This." He gestures to his torso, which Andrew pointedly does not look at. Instead, he meets Neil's feverishly bright eyes.
"What about it," Andrew says, nails digging into his palms as his eyes dip to Neil's collarbones inadvertently. He drags his gaze back up with immense effort.
Neil looks somehow sweatier than when he came in, even though all he's done is stand in place. "Same question. As my shorts."
"Do I like it?" Andrew asks, "Your chest?"
"I, um. I guess."
"It's well developed," Andrew says neutrally. "In terms of muscle."
"Right," Neil says faintly. "Thanks. Is that all?"
(No, it isn't, because I should mention I'd like to lick the sweat off of it before it gets all over the floor. Also, I should tell you that if I look at it directly, I can't seem to process words.)
"Yes," Andrew says.
"Okay," Neil says, suddenly not meeting his eye. "I'm going to go shower, then. See you later."
Andrew doesn't say anything as Neil leaves. He brings the door closed softly behind him, but even his attempt doesn't do away with the click as it latches. It feels oddly final.
Andrew turns his computer on. Halfway through typing in his password, he stands up and goes into the hallway. The sound of water hitting tile is louder here. It's been a few minutes, long enough for Neil to get wet and soapy. Enough to keep him from answering the door.
Andrew knocks sharply. Once. Twice.
"Neil," he says evenly, then waits. If Neil doesn't hear him, he'll go back to his room and his unstarted essay. But if he does, then—
The shower stops.
"Yes?" Neil says, after a moment, his voice echoing off glass and tile.
"I lied," Andrew says. "I do like your chest. A lot. And your legs." He scowls. "Also, the pasta. It was good."
Neil doesn't answer right away. Andrew can picture the stunned look on his face exactly. Eyebrows raised, the left slightly higher, the tiny wrinkle between them, the precise angle of his lips.
"Well, anyway," Andrew says. "There you go. You can continue."
"Wait, wait," Neil says, recovering.
Andrew hears a thud, then wet footprints smacking against the floor. The door opens abruptly, and suddenly he's face to face with Neil.
His hair is damp and sudsy, darkened copper instead of rusty auburn. He looks remarkably similar to how he is post-run, sans soap.
Neil's hand shoots out and grabs a handful of Andrew's shirtfront. "Andrew," he says, "this, are you saying that you—look, I need you to say it. I really don't want to move out because I like you as a roommate," he adds hastily, "I am not fucking saying it first. You've pretty much already, but I want to hear it. I deserve to."
Andrew keeps his eyes trained on Neil's face. "I like you," he says softly.
Neil's eyes widen slightly before relief fills his face. He slumps over, tilting to rest his head on Andrew's shoulder slowly, but Andrew doesn't move away, even when his hair soaks into his shirt and he feels suds against his cheek.
"Thank fuck," Neil said. "It worked."
"What," Andrew says. "Wait. Did you try to specifically seduce me with your pink shorts?"
"I wasn't just trying to seduce you. I want more than that. But yeah. That, and the lack of other clothing, among many other things," Neil mumbles. "Acai really isn't cheap, you know."
"I don't even like it," Andrew says, offended.
"Shut up," Neil says. "It's good for you."
"Are you completely naked," Andrew asks after a minute.
"You didn't look?"
"You should," Neil says, stepping back, grinning.
Andrew flicks his eyes down.
A towel sits low on Neil's hips, tied loosely. It's slowly unraveling. As Andrew watches, a clod of suds slips down his neck and plops onto the floor.
"Oops," Neil says. "Want to help me get the rest off? You're already wet anyway." He wiggles his eyebrows.
"Only my shoulder," Andrew points out, but he steps forward.
"Details," Neil says dismissively, closing the door. Then he reaches for Andrew again. "Kiss me?"
Neil's mouth is very bitable, it turns out. So are many other parts of him.
They don't leave the shower until the water is icy and they're both prunes.
Neil does not move out.