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Under the Melting Sun

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Neil shifted his head, adjusting his neck just enough to let his breath reach past the suffocating grip of his pillow. If he'd had the energy to retain sound, he might've noticed the gentle tickle of each exhale along the fabric. What consciousness his mind had mustered for the slight movement it let go just as soon as he could breathe steadily again. Neil slept.

Exhaustion was a familiar taste on Neil's tongue. Heavy, but even during his time in Little Leagues he had gotten used to its weight. Swallowing post-practice tiredness was as habitual as checking new locker rooms for shower dividers. His exhaustion rarely kept him from late night runs and never kept him from late night practices with Kevin (and, needless to say, Andrew). Nonetheless, if muscles could scream, his would have gone hoarse long ago. Neil simply muffled their aching cries with stubbornness and just a touch of spite-- which he learned from Andrew.

Even still, Neil couldn't always starve the throbbing in his arms of his attention. Oftentimes what little mind he paid it was consumed in pride. With every labored breath, trembling step, and stretch of his arms that he feared would snap his bones like a rubber band, Neil was proud. The aches he brushed away were for his team. The throbbing in every inch of his body that he willed himself to ignore brought the Foxes a pained step closer to finals. Each yellowing bruise from where he had endured the blunt stick of a racquet was proof of his undying devotion to Exy.

Neil was used to pain, anyway. The burn of skidding across the court floor that had Matt and even Dan swallowing endless slews of curses and pained cries was nothing but a tickle along Neil's scarred skin. For the most part he'd forget that he was supposed to feel pain until he finally let himself relax-- as much as he could, anyway-- into his stiff mattress just a pillow's distance away from Andrew after his night practices. That's when his mind drifted just far enough away from the court to remember to let his muscles feel the pain that they'd been tasked to ignore.

Post-practice naps were the epitome of 'too good to be true.' But at this point, Neil had started to lose faith in the phrase. His every waking, and non-waking, moment was drowned in 'too good to be true's. Neil was walking, breathing, Exy-playing proof that the phrase maybe wasn't as powerful as he had once thought it was. Waking up without someone from whom to run, going to sleep in a bed in which he was sure he'd fall asleep again the next night and every one after, letting his possessions outnumber what could be stuffed into a battered duffel bag-- all had been too good to be true for longer than they hadn't. They were fiction and Neil wasn't supposed to live long enough to see them become reality.

But Neil still didn't like post-practice naps. They meant less time to watch old Exy games, less time to run, less time to spend staring at his textbooks longing for a racquet to replace the pencil that he fiddled between fingers. He resisted them for the most part. Whenever sleep tugged at the corners of his mind with its weighty hand, he'd steal a sip of an energy drink from Andrew's collection in the fridge-- he never failed to wince at their sweetness-- and force motivation into his drooping eyes.

But today Neil's mind had resisted the jolt of sugar-- or caffeine or whatever awful-for-your-body substance was in there-- from the energy drink. He laid so heavily into his mattress that one might have mistaken him for a corpse. All the energy he had spent resisting the gravity that had wanted to pull him into his mattress' embrace had only made it easier for him to fall directly into it. The throbbing of his muscles moved in time with the ticking of his watch, steadied to a stable rhythm against the blanket under which Neil hadn't bothered to crawl.

He hadn't shut the curtains, hadn't toed off his shoes, hadn't even had half the mind to change out of his jersey, which bled his sweat into the fabric of his covers. Neil was unfamiliar with the "just one more minute" mentality of naps and so hours had passed. Sleep was easily brushed away with panic every morning in a jump at the sound of his alarm and a desperate wandering hand searching for the weapon at his bedside that wasn't really there. Sleep was fuel for Exy, not a luxury in which Neil was allowed to indulge. Restfulness was a luxury, but that was just as foreign to Neil as clear skin.

The sun's light, spilling without relent through the unguarded windows of Neil's and Andrew's room, only made it easier for Neil's mind to push away what wakefulness he would have wanted it to have. Light meant awareness, it meant the vulnerability of sleep was held just slightly at bay. If he needed to run, he could do so with just the quick opening of his eyes.

To say he was disoriented when he woke would be a grave understatement.

He wasn't used to waking to the flickering time of his bedside clock reading 18:02. He stared, trying to decipher what the numbers meant if not the time. His eyelids faltered for just a second and a half before opening so wide no one would be able to guess he'd just slept through the day with even a second or a third glance. His hand clattered against his bedside table searching for... he didn't know. He stared at his empty palm that rested beside a lighter and box of cigarettes. They weren't his, but he didn't pay that any mind.

His hand was decorated-- no, 'decorated' is far too kind a word; his hand was littered, gripped, claimed, marred-- by scars far too severe for him to not remember. He wiggled his fingers, watching their shadows brush to and fro along the gashes on his skin. This was his hand. He dug the nail of his middle finger into his thumb and let the slight sting fade to nothing. This was his hand. He traced a burn mark with a finger that he would have thought to be delicate had it not been for the cuts and bruises proving it otherwise. This was his hand.

Still unsure of what the hand was doing on the table, he grabbed his phone, not so much as wincing at the tiny square of light that shined onto his face. 18:03 flashed before his eyes. He didn't remember sleeping, but he was now awake in a world just slightly darker than the one he last remembered seeing.

Maybe another room would have an answer.

Neil sat up, startled slightly by the throbbing of his abdomen. He lifted the hem of his shirt, checking for... something; some reason it should be aching for such attention. He looked for one possible explanation. He found a million.

He prodded at at least eight different bruises that marbled his front. None of them hissed back the same ache that had surprised him just a moment prior. Unable to stare any longer at the skin that he couldn't honestly claim as his own-- whether that was because he didn't recognize it or because there wasn't enough unmarked skin to truly belong to him, he didn't know--, he pulled his shirt back down. He was gentle with it as though he didn't want to further pain the scarred body underneath.

The light of the bathroom might have been grounding had it not directed his attention right to the mirror.

Neil stared into the mirror and Nathaniel Wesninski stared back.

The scars made sense now.

This wasn't the reflection of a person. This was the reflection of a chest with a heart beating against the will of most who knew it. It was the reflection of skin that was only there to bring some twisted sense of satisfaction when it split apart and was stained with blood. This was the reflection of a boy who knew nothing but to run.

Neil swallowed that urge just as he normally swallowed his exhaustion, but this taste was acrid. Unbearable and triggering to every reflex in his body. His arms twitched at the urge to shatter the mirror, his stomach threw itself to his throat in desperate pleas to rid of the resistance to run. But Neil didn't move.

He was used to this. Waking up in a body that wasn't his own wasn't rare. Finding the strength to stand still was.

A full-body flinch claimed Neil when his eyes matched Nathaniel's again. He still didn't run.

Maybe he should have. Three years ago, maybe two, maybe even one, Neil would have been gone by now. With barely a breath's hesitation, Neil's duffel would have been packed-- not that packing it was a timely or strenuous task-- and any sign of his presence in South Carolina would have been tarnished. Nathaniel would never meet the chilled glass of that bathroom mirror again and Neil would be free.

In this moment Neil couldn't remember why he didn't want that. Freedom. Without Nathaniel staring him down with eyes sharp enough to scar his body all over again, Neil Josten would have gone over his reasons to stand still. Every 'too good to be true' and pipe dream in which Nathaniel wouldn't have been capable of believing.

Neil gripped the sink with knuckles that turned white not two seconds after his hand met the counter. He held on because if he didn't he would go. If his hands weren't trembling under the effort it took to grip the bathroom sink, he'd be free from the obligation of care. Whatever or whoever it was that had such an unrelenting grip on his heart would only ever meet him again in dreams and pained memories that he would pretend to ignore. Their memory would only resurface in immaterial tears that would never find their way down Neil's cheeks.

Neil didn't know the delicacy of tears. He knew the beads of sweat that grazed his cheekbones from his temples, he knew the pelting stream of water from locker room showers, but he didn't know tears. Surely they couldn't be so different. Or maybe they'd sooth the burning memory of his scars. He didn't care to know. At least not now with Nathaniel staring him down and refusing to look away until Neil left first.

Neil didn't move.

He searched for his name in the mirror. But it was fogged. Fogged by the auburn hair that he could barely feel tickling his forehead, fogged by the blue eyes trying to will him away, fogged by the memories of a face he wished he could erase with the wipe of his sleeve. If Nathaniel were a person and not just a heart groping helplessly for any extra beats, maybe he would have looked away first. Maybe the sheer force of Neil's eyes would have forced away Nathaniel's stare.

Nathaniel Wesninski didn't move.

Neil Josten didn't move.

Hands fading whiter by the stubborn second, eyes losing confidence under the glare of their own reflection, legs trembling in desperate urges to stay still.

Neil didn't want to go. Though he didn't want Nathaniel to either. He itched to prove possible every 'too good to be true' that Nathaniel didn't believe he'd ever have. If Neil could move his hand from the sink, he would wipe away the blank stare of Nathaniel's eyes and find a person beneath the vacancy that smudged the mirror. He wanted nothing more than to reach out and offer Nathaniel the first gentle touch he'd remember feeling. But he couldn't. Not because reality lacked a dimension or two for it to be possible, but because Nathaniel did want to go. Or, thought he did, at least. Neil saw in Nathaniel's eyes the frantic search for an escape. An escape from someone who could see him so clearly. Nathaniel itched to run. So Neil let him.

He averted his gaze and let his reflection shift.

Neil didn't notice the sound of the water trickling from the sink until he felt his hand under the stream. It was cold. He hadn't meant to turn it on. Maybe he did it because that's what you do when you see a sink. It's a habit of a person. Neil stared at his hand, grateful to it for pulling his stare away from the reflection he refused to accept as his own. The chill of the water stopped registering in Neil's mind-- he got used to it, maybe. His gaze didn't shift, but he wasn't looking at a hand filtering a stream of water. He was looking at a distraction. Something that gave him reason enough to delay looking back into the mirror and realizing that Nathaniel was still there, that this was Nathaniel's hand.

Neil stared down at the fingers that had once outnumbered the months Nathaniel Wesninski had left, stared at the hands that had held the weight of counting down his remaining months, weeks, days, breaths. It had been a forever since he'd been a person. He'd been a number-- one counting down months, one ranking his skill, a lifeless symbol. He had been a body-- one with legs that could run, with a tongue that could lie, with a heart that could stop beating at the will of a blade. But not a person. Barely even human.

Neil looked up, searching for any amount of humanity in the reflection whose name he didn't know. He looked first to the eyes that hadn't cried since the first time his delicate skin met the wrath of his father's blade. Then to the lips that shouldered the habit of a lie so much easier than the weight of the truth. He leaned forward and let his breath stain the mirror; humanness fogging the glass. He wiped it away with the hem of his sleeve as though just the slight breath could bring the reflection the tenderness it craved. It didn't, so he looked to his skin. Marred in every which way. Pure humanness etched into his every inch.

Humanity was an existence defined by its faults more than anything else, and Neil Josten, staring at the reflection staring back, was proof of that.

He just couldn't see it.

So he stopped trying.

He looked to his hands, just remembering that they were there, splitting the otherwise steady course of the water spilling from the faucet. He didn't think he'd been staring at the mirror for long, but the wrinkles hugging his fingertips said otherwise. He believed them. He turned off the faucet and held his hand to the bathroom light as if to prove to the ceiling that it truly was his. The few drops of water that hadn't fallen to the sink were slow to inch down his hand and he wondered if that gentle almost non-feeling was something akin to crying. He paid that thought little mind before shaking the water off and stepping back into his bedroom.

The sun had only sunk a little further since he had last been in the presence of the window. It slumped over the horizon as though it couldn't carry its own weight much longer. Neil let his eyes rest on its light for a moment too long for his eyes to bear and blinked away the shock of the natural light. He reached for his phone; another habit of a person, he wasn't sure why he did it. He looked at the time but didn't see it. Didn't care to look again. He set it on his bedside table because that's what you do, and paused.

He took the lighter whose counterpart was no longer resting at its side and studied it in his fingers, whose wrinkles had started to fade. Testing the reliability of a flimsy short-term memory, Neil looked back to the door. He had to take two steps closer to be sure that it wasn't closed like he had left it. He hadn't heard anyone enter or exit the room, but the silence of his fickle reflection had been distracting enough for him not to trust that.

His steps started out of the dorm room, pulling an echo from the halls once he started down them. Still unsure of the name he'd give his reflection, Neil studied the lighter in his hands, trusting his steps to lead him where they knew to go. He was fiddling with he handle of the rooftop door before he remembered where he was going and the chilled air of the sky with the setting sun was just cool enough to remind him.

Wind hadn't always been so refreshing. Breezes were nice on midday runs when he started at a sprint as though he could outrun the heat of the sun-- it chased him anyway, but the wind slowed it somewhat. But jumping from house to shaggier house had only been made more impossibly miserable under the influence of the Winter wind. Nathaniel had spent countless nights on benches hugging his duffel so close to his chest it might as well have been his heart and blanketed by nothing but the natural breeze that had at least had the courtesy to numb his skin.

Now it was sobering. Kind and not overly insistent on numbing his fingertips. He breathed in some of it and let the rest rustle his hair.

Andrew sat on the edge of the building, slumped over his own lap, which only brought him a slouch closer to the ground over which his short legs dangled. Neil approached him, letting his steps warn Andrew of his presence, though Andrew had already wordlessly invited him.

One step of Neil's was stumbled in a moment's hesitation when Andrew's hands came into view. His armbands were piled at his thigh-- not an oversight or a delay to put them on, but an undeniable gesture of trust. Tucked between his third and fourth fingers like a pen was a dagger so small Neil had no idea where Andrew had chosen to hide it-- it could fit anywhere on his person.

Andrew traced delicate lines across the face of his wrist, just barely dragging the blade across his skin. The tip of the dagger left white lines to fade pink at the motion of Andrew's hand, barely tickling his skin. Neil let loose the breath that he hadn't realized he was holding as he studied Andrew's careful lines teasing his mortality rather than testing it.

Andrew turned the blade into his palm and held it out of sight from Neil-- not keeping it a secret, but allowing for Neil to breathe steadily out of the line of sight of a blade. Neil took his place next to Andrew, legs dangling over the ledge of the building, just a small scooch away from proving to him just how human he was. Andrew didn't so much as offer him a glance; the blade tucked into his fingers was proof enough of his acknowledgement of Neil's presence.

Neil eyed the handle of the dagger, more calm than he expected in its half-presence. Knowing Andrew wouldn't move it without warning, Neil fiddled with the lighter, failing a few times before the flame lit at the will of his left hand. Still hovering a little ways away from reality, the close light of the flame was slightly grounding to Neil. He led it to the cigarette already propped carefully between Andrew's lips and swallowed the unease in his throat at the scent of fire.

Andrew inhaled gradually-- proof of the humanness that wasn't in his gaze. Neil inclined his head when Andrew lifted his free hand to pluck the cigarette from his lips. Andrew turned to Neil, studying his eyes with an unmoving expression before exhaling through their shared locked gaze. The smoke drifted through the slight part of Neil's lips and buzzed along the roof of his mouth. He inhaled, letting the same sting claim the rest of his face before fading into the slight breeze of the darkening sky. The scent lingered for a moment and a half, pulling at his heart just a little before he found himself just a breath closer to Neil Josten.

Andrew must have noticed the shift in Neil's expression. He looked back to the sky with what seemed to be an approving nod. Neil hadn't realized that the shift was external too, but wasn't resistant to it. The disconnectedness of his reflection left him alongside the smoke that he blew from his mouth in a weak circle that was eager to fade into the breeze.

When Neil was sure of his name again, he looked to Andrew's hand-- the one gripping the dagger. "You don't have to hide it, I'm fi-" Neil cut himself off at Andrew's glare. "It's okay," he corrected.

Andrew was slow to loosen his grip around the blade. A deep pink line pressed into his palm told Neil just how insistent Andrew had been on hiding it, as though he could tuck it into his skin as easily as he could a sleeve. Andrew slid his hand to the handle of the dagger and repositioned it like a pen again. He looked to Neil; a question. Neil nodded.

Andrew was back to tracing painless lines into his skin, fascinated by the quickly-fading mark of each stroke.

Neil stared at the blade. He felt the quickening beat of his heart in his neck as it crescendoed. He waited for fear, for some haunting memory to grab him and haul him back into the cage of Nathaniel Wesninski. Nothing came. Neil Josten simply sat, legs kicking the side of the building in a steady rhythm, watching Andrew treat a blade as a crayon. Watching the harmless lines along Andrew's skin disappear after just half a second, Neil was almost mesmerized. His gaze traced Anderw's hands luring the acute tip of the blade to an almost-kindness. It was sharp. Andrew made sure of that daily. But Neil's unprecedented trust acted as a sheath keeping the blade from cutting fear into Neil's skin.

When Neil was sure of the dagger's innocence, he looked to Andrew's face. Surely Andrew felt it-- he had a way of noticing the weight of Neil's eyes on him--, but he seemed to pay it no mind. The sun seemed to be losing confidence with each passing moment. Its light wasn't even arguably yellow. It was an orange so bright Neil might even compare it to the Foxes' uniforms, but it was just a touch prettier than that. It melted into the horizon as though at the will of its own heat and Neil was almost surprised when its light didn't turn liquid and bleed from its low place in the darkening sky. Neil could have sworn the light was liquid. Like it was just moments from dripping from the golden tips of Andrew's hair and running along the blade in his hand. Watching the fluid light nearly seep from Andrew's fingertips, it looked almost appetizing. Neil wondered what it would taste like. Sweet, probably. Probably unbearably so like the energy drinks Andrew seemed to inhale as though they were oxygen. The sunlight's flowing appearance nearly tricked Neil into thinking it was cold to the touch-- like the ice cream Nicky would bring back on movie nights--, but Neil was quick to discard that thought when he remembered it was the sun about which he was thinking.

"Stop looking at me like that."

"Like what?"

Andrew glared up at Neil for just a moment before resolving to let the weight of Neil's gaze rest on his sunlight-soaked shoulders.

A corner of Neil's mouth tugged slightly up in a shy smirk that Neil hadn't noticed until he felt Andrew's hand covering it. Andrew hadn't looked back, he'd simply dropped the blade to cover Neil's pleased smile.

Now he looked. "Like that."

"I will eat your hand."

Andrew retracted his hand as though Neil were honestly about to follow through on the threat. "Weirdo." He picked up the dagger again.

Neil didn't stare. The tug of the sun's light dripping from Andrew's every inch was almost irresistible at which to look, but Neil stared out at the sinking sun as though its liquid light to his left weren't so much more compelling.

"Thank you," Andrew remarked with less than no sincerity.

"I didn't know you knew those words."

"Shut up."

Neil stifled another smirk but took the opportunity of the short conversation to steal away just one admiring glance. He was surprised that he found the strength to look away. He set his arm to the side of Andrew's thigh just a moment later, brushing the gesture off as curiosity rather than a craving for touch.

He felt Andrew's stare; heavy and considering.

"Are you sure?"

Neil hummed his approval.

"I need a yes."

"Yes."

Andrew picked up Neil's arm by the wrist and set it in his lap. He traced lines into Neil's palm so soft Neil could have sworn it was the breeze tickling his skin rather than a blade.

"Still a yes?"

"Still a yes."

Andrew was more confident after that, but still so gentle Neil hardly believed it was the tip of a dagger tracing lines into his hand. He didn't look to check.

Neil closed his eyes, letting the sun wade its light just below his chin. The tide of the orange glow was gradual and grounding against his throat. It soothed the scars that he'd forgotten were there the same way he'd imagined tears might. He let his mind follow the lines of the blade's tip, which Andrew had somehow tricked into a softness that Neil didn't quite understand. He didn't question it, lost in the comfort of a hand holding his. He relaxed into the warmth of the melting sun.

"Andrew?" Neil was just as surprised at the sound of his own voice as Andrew was.

Andrew kept tracing soft lines.

Unsure of what he meant to say, Neil let the heaviest question on his tongue fall off it. "Am I human enough?" As though it could be measured.

Neil mistook the shakiness of his voice for quietness. He saw the words fade into the breeze and a light gust of wind carried them off to nestle them somewhere in the clouds. He didn't realize the words still lingered between him and the boy playing with a blade until Andrew set the dagger to his side and considered Neil for just over a minute.

Andrew's gaze was just as unreadable as ever, but Neil knew better than to mistake that for indifference.

Andrew considered his own response, the unsteadiness of Neil's voice echoing in his mind rather than the actual words.

Andrew let Neil's hand fall from his own and Neil drew it back without letting it so much as brush Andrew's leg. Andrew placed an ungentle hand on Neil's chest and after a lingering moment, tapped an echo of Neil's heartbeat with a single finger along Neil's front.

Neil let Andrew's finger mimic his heart for at least two minutes.

"You know that's not what I mean."

Andrew directed a glance at Neil that anyone besides Neil would have taken as disinterest.

"Mortality and humanity aren't synonymous," Neil explained.

"Humanity isn't something to be sought after."

Neil considered that before regretting immediately the moment of freedom his eyes took to observe the scars thrashed across Andrew's wrists. He redirected the gaze immediately, but the silent question lingered; and mortality is?

Andrew noticed the question even before Neil. His hand was back in his lap, twitching against the urge to grab his armbands, just a regrettable second later.

In a motion Neil was more than sure was meant to be a reach for the armbands, Andrew picked up the cigarette that he had set down by his leg and brought it to his mouth. He played with it, rolling it between his lips and staring down at the smoking tip as though it were nothing more than a source of entertainment, before finally inhaling and pulling it away from his mouth to swish around the exhale before releasing it to mingle with the fresh breeze. He didn't pass it to Neil. He directed it to Neil's lips with his own hand and held it until Neil was through with a rather profound inhale whose exhale he let out to follow the smoke of Andrew's breath until it faded completely.

Neil watched the sunset again. It bled slowly out of sight, as if resistant to let the rest of the world in on the secret that was the moon. Willing to obey such secrecy, Neil laid back, allowing for the weakening sunlight to sink into his skin and trickle along his jaw.

Andrew watched the orange tide of the sun undertake Neil's complexion. He grabbed his dagger again and kicked his legs to face Neil from their familiar position of dangling over the side of the building. He sat with his legs crossed and his elbows propped on his knees, facing Neil.

Not wanting to scare away Andrew's rare gaze, Neil kept his eyes closed and let the shield of Andrew's shadow claim the side of his face that favored Andrew.

Andrew put Neil's hand in his lap and left it there; another question.

"Yes." Neil's word was sure, confident enough to allow Andrew to go back to tracing his soft lines without need for repetition.

The sun ran along the edge of the blade like honey eager to reach the tip and bleed onto Neil's hand. Andrew didn't let it, pressing his pinky to the edge of the blade as though to check that it was dry. He went back to tracing lines.

"You can press harder," Neil whispered.

"I'm not drugged enough to truly enjoy that."

Neil exhaled a small laugh, "fair enough."

Neil relaxed into a sleep-adjacent state, lured into comfort by the soft lines being traced along his skin. The blade of Andrew's dagger wouldn't leave a scar. And if it did, Andrew would erase it through the power of sheer spite. He felt the shadow of night creeping into the sky and draining the sunlight, which he could almost feel trickling through his fingers like the stream of water from his sink had just a few hours before.

The sun's light was practically a small sip away from disappearing under the horizon in favor of the moon and Neil was willing to endure Andrew's forced frown as he admired up at him if it meant Neil could spend the last dwindling light of the day taking in the wonder that was Andrew Minyard. Neil felt words lean against his lips. He let them go with an easy breath. "How many do you think I have left?"

Andrew didn't have to ask for elaboration when he saw Neil's hand resting on his chest; he was asking about heartbeats.

"Not many if you keep looking at me like that."

"Right." Neil let his free arm drape over his own eyes, willing to let the last of the day's light slip away without his monitoring it.

What felt like just a few seconds later, Neil felt the back of his hand meet the cool material of the rooftop. He slid his arm back to his side, granting Andrew whatever space he needed for what he was doing next.

When Neil didn't hear or feel anything beside him, he assumed Andrew had left.

He hadn't.

Andrew laid next to Neil, his shoulder just a gentle breath's distance from Neil's. He placed his hand back over Neil's chest and shifted it until his wrist rested just over Neil's heart. With his own pulse thrumming in his wrist, Andrew followed the syncopated rhythm of the two heartbeats, tracking their differing patterns. He felt Neil's hand rest just beside his head; a question.

"Mhm." When Andrew heard his own lazy response, he cleared his throat, "yes." The word was sure and solid enough to not be carried away in the breeze of the aging night.

After being sure of the 'yes,' Neil placed his hand in Andrew's hair, threading his fingers through the strands that he had been sure were soaked in golden sunlight just an hour-or-so before. He left his other hand at his side, unwilling to ruin the impossibly peaceful moment by approaching a boundary he was unsure he should cross.

Andrew didn't wait for him to ask, anyway. He took Neil's free hand with a solid grip and placed it over his own heart. He pressed it to his chest, keeping himself in control of the new touch. He mimicked his own heartbeat with a single finger tapping along Neil's hand.

"Human enough?" Andrew asked.

"Painfully so."

They stayed relaxed into one another's presence in the aftermath of the melted sun; hands resting over chests, heartbeats slightly out of sync, mingled breaths drifting up to the sky to greet the moon.