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A Quiet Self-Destruction

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It's unnaturally silent in their apartment. The only sound filling the space is a steady liquid beat from the drippy bathtub faucet. Andrew is ensconced, buried beneath a mound of blankets with his eyes closed. But he isn't sleeping.

Its not just been a bad day. It's been a bad week. Or at least, he thinks it's been a week. He's not sure. Andrew has lost track of time while trapped in the grey fugue that's taken over his brain.

Neil is out of town, away visiting Dan and Matt and helping with their newborn baby. He invited Andrew to come along too, but Andrew had declined. He doesn't know what to do with a newborn.

It was only two days after Neil leaves that it starts. The peaceful quiet of their cozy Boston apartment warps into an unnerving stillness, and it settles deep into Andrew's bones until one morning he lays down in bed and cannot bring himself to get back up.

The cats are still here, kept fed by the timed, automatic feeder he thought to fill up just after Neil left. It's getting close to empty, though. Andrew will need to fill it, if he can summon the strength. He doesn't remember when he last changed their water, but he's certain he's heard them drinking from the drippy faucet, so they probably need it. 

His failings as a pet owner are blaring in his face, but he can't bring himself to correct it. It's as if King and Sir are just watching him decay in his bed behind a thick wall of glass, their presence so small in his mind that they may as well not be here at all.

He misses Neil. He misses Neil like one might miss a limb. The absence of Neil is a phantom pain, and when he closes his eyes, he can almost believe he's still there.

That isn't what started this, though. He could feel an episode coming on before Neil had even left. They happen, from time to time, though it's rare they get this bad anymore. Usually, Neil is able to help him through it until he's functioning again. 

As much as Neil likes to say that Andrew is a wall that holds him up, Andrew knows that's not the full truth. Andrew may be a wall, but Neil is the scaffolding holding him together, propping up the crumbling parts of him and slowly filling the cracks. And without Neil here, the wall has started to collapse.

Andrew can't recall how many days it's been since he showered. It might have been six days ago, but he can't be certain. It's not that his memory is faulty; it's that time slips through his fingers like so many grains of sand when he's like this. 

The roots of his hair are thick with oil, though, and there is grease pooling on his face, so he knows it's been a while. He can feel the scratchiness of his unshaven face against his pillow. He knows that he smells disgusting. He feels disgusting. Neil would be revolted at the sight of him.

He's not sure what day it is, and he can't be bothered to retrieve his phone to check. He knows he last texted Neil on Tuesday, but it's unclear how long it's been since then. He hasn't moved since sending that text. He wonders if Neil is worried. He's heard his phone buzz with unanswered texts and calls a half dozen times, but every time he thinks to get up and answer, the thought evaporates from his mind before he can urge his limbs to move.

He hasn't eaten in a few days, based on the hollow pit in his stomach. Andrew barely notices it, too consumed by the overwhelming numbness that he's sunk into. There's a stack of dirty dishes in the sink from when he ate on Wednesday that he never washed. The foul stench of the rotting food scraps caked onto them pervades the whole apartment.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knows he's let himself get really, really bad this time. Possibly, this is the worst he's been since college. Bee would be so disappointed. 

He wonders how Neil will react when he gets home. 

Will he finally realize that Andrew is dead weight? A crumbling, shattered thing that Neil is forced to carry? Will he finally have enough of Andrew, get sick of him and leave him behind, like so many have done before?

The thought fills him with a numb, chilling terror. He needs to pull himself together, to get himself cleaned up, to hide his ugly, pitiful weakness from Neil. If he doesn't, Neil will leave him, and then Andrew truly will be alone. 

But the will to take action doesn't come, and Andrew has to fight back tears of frustration and panic because he can't get his body or his mind to work together and move.

A key scrapes at the front door, and Andrew wants to scream and bury himself deep in the darkness under the covers. Don't look at me , he wants to beg, don’t come in. I can't bear for you to see me like this. 

It's Neil, he can tell just from the way he turns the key, the way he opens the door slowly as if he's trying not to startle whoever is on the other side. "Drew?" he calls out, and Andrew wants to shrivel up and hide. 

He almost doesn't answer, until Neil's voice calls out to him again from the door to their bedroom. "Drew," he says softly, "Hey, its me. I'm home."

"Neil, " he croaks out, voice raspy with disuse. It's the first time he's spoken aloud in days.

"What do you need, Drew?"

Andrew doesn't know. He doesn't know what he needs to fix this. To not be like this. He hates that he's like this. He hates being a burden to Neil. He doesn't know, so he doesn't answer.

He hears Neil comes closer to the bed, but Andrew doesn't open his eyes. He can't bear to see the disgust on Neil's face at Andrew's state. The disappointment. The disdain. He'll never be able to forget that, if he sees it. So he chooses not to.

"Drew," Neil says again, voice gentle, "Can I help you, yes or no?"

Andrew opens his eyes in surprise. Neil sounded so kind. So caring. So understanding. Neil looked at his ugliness, and Neil still wants to help him. 

He's not stupid enough to think it's pity. Neil doesn't bother with feeling pity for anyone, no matter who they are. It's part of why he was so drawn to Neil in the first place. When Neil looked at his scars, it was never pity in his eyes. Just a bone-deep understanding.

"Why? " he asks, lost.

"Because I want to." Neil says easily, "Will you let me?"

Andrew nearly chokes on the relief in his chest. "...Yes."

Slowly, Neil eases him up and out of bed, guiding him with a careful hand on his shoulder and supporting Andrew's weight. His body is bed-sore and his muscles ache with stiffness, but it feels a bit better to be upright again.

Neil guides him to the en suite bathroom and sits him down on the toilet seat while he fills the tub. Andrew complies quietly, feeling a deep sense of shame sink onto his shoulders. Neil looks exhausted from travel, probably sleep-deprived from helping Dan and Matt with the baby, and now he's had to come home and take care of Andrew too. "I'm sorry." he almost whispers.

Neil looks at him, surprised. "For what?"

"For letting this happen." Andrew says, voice flat and empty, "For being like this. You shouldn't have had to come home to this. You shouldn't have to-"

"Stop it." Neil interrupts sternly, "I am not angry or upset. I am doing this because I love you and I want to help. You don't need to apologize for anything, Drew. It's not your fault."

Andrew's throat is too strangled to speak, so instead he just nods and waits quietly. Neil finishes filling the tub, and then, after a quick "Yes or no?", he turns to Andrew to help him undress and get in. 

The hot water is immediately soothing on his cramped muscles. Andrew feels himself relax almost instantly. Neil carefully cups water into his hands and pours it over his hair, then adds shampoo and starts to wash it gently. 

Andrew melts under his touch, his eyes fluttering closed while Neil massages his scalp. It feels so good , being cared for like this. He can't think of anyone else who has ever cared for his body this way. Only Neil.

Neil carefully rinses the shampoo out and then follows it with conditioner. After rinsing that out too, he drops a bath bomb into the water. "Wait here and soak for a bit," he says, "I'll be back in a little while with some fresh clothes. Are you hungry?"

Andrew nods.

"Okay. I'll make some dinner too. Any requests?"

"No."

"Alright. Relax, love. I'll be back."

Andrew reclines against the back of the tub, covered in the calming scent of the bath bomb. It's vanilla, he thinks. It smells nice. He tries very hard to not hate himself for needing this. For wanting this. For enjoying Neil taking care of him. 

He's not sure he succeeds.

Neil comes back almost an hour later with some soft cotton sweatpants, a clean pair of briefs and an oversized hoodie. He helps Andrew out of the tub and dries him off with one of their white fluffy towels. Andrew lets him, limbs feeling like jelly from soaking for so long. 

Neil helps him get dressed too, and then guides Andrew over to the sink to brush his teeth. He nudges Andrew to sit on the counter of their double vanity and face him. Neil soaps him up with water and shaving cream, then holds the blade of the razor and painstakingly guides it along Andrew's jaw and throat, Andrew holds still while Neil works, careful not to break his concentration. 

It's strangely intimate, having Neil so attentively focused on his face like this. They've been this close every time they kiss, but he's never let Neil shave him before. It feels like it should be some sort of milestone, allowing Neil this close to him with a blade in hand, allowing Neil to drag that blade smoothly along his face, trusting him not to nick his skin and draw blood.

"There," Neil says after wiping the remnants of shaving cream away. He sounds pleased. "All done." He cocks his head at Andrew, "A kiss on the forehead, yes or no?"

Andrew blinks at him slowly, his mind feeling floaty and a little disoriented from Neil's intense attention. "Yes." Neil presses a lingering kiss to the top of his head, and Andrew all but shudders and leans into the touch.

"Ready for dinner?" Neil asks when they finally part.

Andrew nods and stifles a yawn. His eyes feel heavy with tiredness, but he needs to eat today. His balance is already shaky from lack of food. It's been too long. 

"Alright. Sit in the living room while I make a plate?"

Andrew nods silently and follows Neil out of the bathroom. He settles on the couch and is immediately greeted by the cats. He can see from here that the cats' water and food have both been refilled. The foul smells coming from the dishes in the sink and the litter box are also gone. Neil must have cleaned up while he was in the tub.

He swallows down that looming sense of shame again and turns his attention to the cats. They're starved for attention, having been left to their own devices for so many days. King is tapping his knee gently with her little paw, so he reaches out to stroke her behind the ears, just the way she likes. Sir immediately gets jealous and hoists herself into Andrew's lap, curling up on his legs and purring loudly. It's a bit silly, but Andrew can't help but be relieved that they seem to have forgiven him for his negligence.

Neil comes to join them, a massive plate of spaghetti and a large glass of water in hand. It smells good, and suddenly Andrew is aware of how ravenous he is. Neil hands the plate and glass to Andrew and then goes to retrieve his own food from the kitchen. Dinner in hand, Neil rejoins him on the couch and flicks on the TV. He switches the channel to what seems to be a nature documentary and leaves it there, the volume turned down low. 

Andrew eats his food quietly, trying not to wolf it down too fast and make himself sick. It's difficult, but he manages to match his pace to Neil's. When he's finished, he gulps down his water a little too quickly. He hadn't realized how thirsty he was. Neil hands him the rest of his own water glass once he's done, and Andrew gulps that down gratefully too.

Clean, fed and with a lap full of purring cats, Andrew can already feel his eyelids drooping. It's an odd sensation, feeling so sleepy after spending a week trapped in his bed, but it's not like he was getting much restful sleep during that time. 

Neil seems to notice his exhaustion catching up with him, so he takes Andrew's plate and washes up the dishes quickly. Once he's done, he returns to Andrew and takes his hand. "Bed?" he asks.

Andrew nods and gets off the couch, disturbing Sir from her perch. He follows Neil into their bedroom, the cats trailing close behind. He slides under the sheets and immediately notices that they're clean. Neil must have changed them when he tidied up.

For the second time that day, Andrew is struck with the sudden urge to cry. These aren't tears of frustration, though. These are tears of gratitude. Neil took care of him, Neil didn't judge him, and Neil thought to change the sheets.

"Do you want me to sleep on the couch or in here?" Neil asks softly.

And oh. The dam finally breaks. Because, even after all of that, after taking care of Andrew and cleaning him up, feeding him and dressing him and even shaving his face, Neil respects his boundaries. He doesn't assume. He doesn't take advantage. It's more than Andrew deserves. It's more than Andrew can bear.

He's never cried in front of Neil before, but he can't stop the tears rolling down his cheeks. "In here," he chokes out, "Get in here, god damn it. Get in bed, Neil, I-" He reaches out an arm from under the sheets towards Neil, beckoning him closer.

Neil joins him without hesitation then. He pulls Andrew into his arms, shushing his choked sobs and wiping away his tears. "It's alright, Drew." He murmurs into Andrew's hair, "I'm here, I'm here. It's alright."

"You're such an idiot." Andrew mumbles into Neil's neck, struggling to get his shaking sobs under control.

"I know." Neil says calmly, stroking Andrew's hair, "I know."

After a few moments, Andrew has finally managed to calm himself, and the exhaustion hits him once more. Neil held him all the way through his breakdown, and Andrew wants so badly to sleep. He can't drift off yet, though. He needs to tell Neil. "Thank you." He whispers against Neil's throat. "For everything."

Neil presses another lingering kiss to his forehead and murmurs his reply against Andrew's skin, "Always."