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lie to me (for i do not wish to live the truth)

Chapter Text

"It's all wrong!"


Andrew swore, swiping his desk clear and raking his hands through his already wild hair. He'd been working for months now, and yet he only had a single sentence: The man sat alone at the bar every day at 3 o'clock sharp, eyes hollow and tired, mouth sagging, his face so lifeless he really could be dead until he knocked back another shot of rum so easily it was as if it were water. It was infuriating.


Every day he would sit at that godforsaken desk with his ballpoint pen and his Dollar Store notebooks, and every day he would fill pages and pages with the words he thought could save him, yet every night he was back to square one.


Andrew's study was a mess, to say the least. The floor was almost nonexistent, with crumpled up pages and ruined notebooks and broken pencils and dead pens and lumpy erasers and several torn hacky sacks strewn about. His brother brought over a bin one day along with the offering of his services to clean the room with him, but was met with a slammed door and a few choice words. Typical. He was too wrapped up in his work to care for those around him.


Today he decided he needed a change of scenery. This damned study would be the death of him if he didn't get out of there, and where else to go but a bar?


As it happened, he opened the door at five past three, and as he sat at the bar his eyes were drawn to a man in the corner. Eyes hollow, mouth sagging in a soft frown of concentration, face otherwise lifeless. A glass of rum in his right hand and a cigarette in his left.


Andrew watched the man silently, notepad in hand, jotting down anything that struck him as something to be used later. After what felt like hours (it was really only two shots of whiskey, but four of rum), the man stood. It was rather abrupt and disturbed the peace in the air-- at least as peaceful as a bar can get.

"Can I help you?"


The man's voice was nothing like Andrew had anticipated. Neither hollow nor broken, but gruff and honey-sweet, like a biscuit that had been left to grow stale but was remedied with honey that had the consistency of half-dried cement.


The man's eyes darted to Andrew's hands as he scribbled something illegible on the notepad he had been tending to the last thirty minutes, then up to his hair (brown, nothing special), then back to scanning Andrew’s face-- almost fearfully-- as the man tried to memorize every detail.


Andrew was curious, as was the man, but about a completely different matter. Andrew was curious about the way the man walked (like he had shattered his left kneecap one too many times, but refused to acknowledge that he did), and the man was just as curious about the ferocity in Andrew’s eyes as he refocused on him.


"Can I help you?" the man asked again.


"Excuse me?"


The man gestured to Andrew’s notepad with his cigarette carelessly.


“You'll have to give me more than a jab of the cancer stick,” Andrew spat, brown eyes swimming like the whiskey in his glass. A glass that was once again emptied and pushed to the side to make room for the haphazard placement of his arms as he scribbled in his chicken scratch across yet another page of his notebook.


The man's eyes narrowed and he took a long drag of his cigarette before putting it out on Andrew’s pant leg. “I hope that was up to your specifications, princess.” The man peered briefly over Andrew’s shoulder where a single word stood out to him amidst Andrew’s wild notes.


“I am not mouthy,” the man said darkly.


“Who said anything about you being mouthy?” Andrew smirked and closed his notepad, crossing his arms across his chest and staring up at the man. It was intensely gratifying to hear the man’s frustration as he exhaled, huffing sharply as he shook his head.


Andrew slid off his stool without another word, walking out the door and into his car. He wouldn't realize until late in the evening that he had forgotten his notepad.

 

The man leafed through the pages carefully, as if they were the most delicate thing he had ever touched. Never stopping long enough to read what was written, but lingering for just a moment to appreciate the wild genius. The reckless abandon. The absolute beauty amongst the chaos.


This felt too private for him to continue to examine, so he set the well-loved notepad aside and turned off his table lamp. His shithole of an apartment looked better whilst bathed in moonlight. Artificial light merely accented every flaw, every cracked tile, every chip in the paint, every burnt ashtray, every stain on the furniture. Every precious memory encapsulated within the damage.
He had never told the stranger his name, he thought to himself, and the stranger never told him his. How strange to meet a man in a bar like that and walk away with nothing but the memory of his eyes.

 

Andrew was out of whiskey.

 

The man hadn't seen him at the bar in two weeks.

 

Andrew was an absolute wreck.

 

The man was worried. He seemed unstable.

 

Andrew was sober. This was a problem.

 

The man had decided that he was only allowed to think about him when he was six drinks in. Luckily for him, he showed up after four.

 

The man was still there when Andrew stumbled through the door. The same gruff frown, the same cigarette, the same glass of rum. “Whiskey on the rocks, please.”

 

There he was. He looked like hell. “Another rum. Double.”

 


 

 

Andrew woke up in the wrong bed. This was apparent only after he went to stand but found himself restricted by an arm. An arm with circular burn scars haphazardly displayed across the skin. An arm that seemed more ink than not, but yet oddly beautiful. The scars had been turned into suns and flowers and starry night skies and some only the word ‘burn’. He turned his head to the side and was met with a face full of chest and ink and scar tissue.


So Andrew had found himself a bad boy. What a wonderful plot twist. Now if he only had his notepad…

 

The longer the man pretended to sleep, the longer he could stay in bed. But the stranger in his bed-- Andrew, he had learned-- was fidgety and it was making him restless. Incredibly so. The man yawned and stretched out, and the moment he took his arm away Andrew had slid out of bed. The man didn’t completely register this fact until Andrew began to tie his shoes.


“Good morning to you too,” the man grumbled. Andrew merely nodded and stood. “I think you’re forgetting something.”


“What would that be? Sobriety?” Andrew retorted sarcastically.


“You left it at the bar.” The man opened his bedside drawer and pulled out a tattered journal, tossing it at Andrew’s chest, along with the accompanying pen. Immediately Andrew sat and began to scribble on the next available page, chronicling every detail he had learned about the man like he would never write again.


Blue eyes. Angry smile. Skin a canvas of scar tissue. Fucking beautiful.


“Name,” Andrew demanded, looking up at the man (who was so conveniently standing in front of him now) (did he not understand the concept of personal space?) coldly.


The man blinked at Andrew incredulously. “What?” he asked, seeming a little slow on the uptake.


“Your name,” Andrew repeated, narrowing his eyes impatiently. Had he really been so drunk last night that he hooked up with a stranger like this? Although the man was wearing jeans and Andrew had woken up fully clothed, so there was a possibility that nothing really happened.


“Neil,” the man finally replied. “Neil Josten. And you're Andrew… right?”

 

Neil was beside himself. Not only had he recklessly allowed himself to drink more than one shot of rum, but also to take a stranger home to his bed. What had he said? No matter how hard he wracked his brain he couldn't remember a majority of the events following Andrew's arrival at Eden's Twilight. Surely he hadn’t let anything slip or he wouldn’t have woken up holding Andrew.
“Yeah, I am. Fantastic memory you’ve got there.”


Neil assumed it was sarcasm, and rightfully so. But it was reassuring to at least remember something, no matter how trivial. It meant that he still had some control left. Control was safety, and safety was a priority. “Do you want anything to eat?” Neil asked after a beat of silence. It would be rude not to offer despite the lack of sincerity in his voice.
Unsurprisingly, Andrew declined. He didn’t seem the type to make a habit of staying the night with a random fling from a bar, and his feet were practically out the door since he woke up. Neil was mildly disappointed by this, but it didn’t matter. He would probably never see Andrew again anyway.


“I’ll walk you out,” Neil said after a beat. He wanted to steal as many precious moments as he could before Andrew was out of his life forever, and though Neil didn’t fully acknowledge it yet he would be sad to see Andrew leave. Andrew simply nodded at this and closed his notebook, glancing at his arms for a moment before following Neil to the door. He didn’t seem to notice the way the floorboards creaked with every step or the chipped paint or the cracks in the walls, and maybe he wasn’t aware that the apartment was just as damaged as Neil was. Either way he was out the door before Neil could say another word.

 

Andrew leafed through his notebook gently at the haphazardly-scribbled words on the pages until something stuck out to him: a set of numbers written in neat script with a name attached to them. He blinked once or twice in disbelief before shaking his head. Neil had left him a phone number. Neil, who squirmed when he realized he was topless. Neil, battered and scarred. Neil, whose eyes were more broken than lifeless. Neil fucking Josten had given Andrew his phone number.

Chapter Text

It was over a week before Andrew decided to return to Eden’s Twilight. He had yet to contact Neil after their little fling but he had already committed the number to memory. He ignored the way his heart palpitated ever-so-slightly at the thought of Neil’s strikingly blue eyes, passing it off as nothing more than a trick of his imagination. There was obviously nothing between them anyway.

 

Roland greeted Andrew with a quiet smile, nodding his head towards the opposite end of the bar. Neil sat alone like the last time, but something was different besides his seating choice. He seemed… Andrew wasn’t sure how to describe it, but if he had to sum it up in a single word the closest he could think of would be ‘lonely’. It was odd.

 

After a moment of contemplation, Andrew made his way over to Neil, sitting beside him without saying a word. Neil showed no indication that he noticed Andrew’s arrival, but Andrew knew his presence was recognized. He glanced at the can of soda in Neil’s hand with a furrowed brow. Also odd. Who would go to a bar for a soda?

 

The pair sat in comfortable silence for several minutes before Andrew pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. He placed one in Neil’s waiting hand before lighting a second for himself, taking a thoughtful drag and focusing his gaze on Neil’s profile. Neil’s eyes seemed much duller today but that didn’t make them any less striking. Andrew could easily lose himself in them.

 

“You didn’t call.”

 

Neil’s voice startled Andrew after spending so long staring without saying a word. Andrew had definitely underestimated how much he’d grown to fancy Neil’s voice in the short time of knowing him.

 

“No,” Andrew replied simply. He blew a puff of smoke over Neil’s head, feeling the lingering taste on his lips before stubbing the cigarette out on Neil’s pant leg. His mind briefly flashed back to their first encounter and the cigarette burn on his own jeans, but the veiled look of panic on Neil’s face brought Andrew back to the present. “I didn’t. Excellent observation.”

 

Neil took a shaky breath and nodded. “Why?” he asked, grateful Andrew had chosen not to acknowledge the brief moment of alarm.

 

“I saw no reason to,” Andrew replied simply. “If I wanted to contact you I could’ve gone for a drink.”

 

“And you’re certain I would be here no matter the time?”

 

“Not at all. You’re only here after three o’clock until closing.”

 

Neil blinked a few times. Rather than addressing the blanket statement he pushed it aside altogether. It wasn’t worth it right now. He glanced at the cigarette in his hand and stubbed it out, turning his body to fully face Andrew. The blonde was just as emotive as a brick wall with his body language casual and his face slack and impassive.

 

“Why the soda?” Andrew pressed. He needed to know. He needed depth and character development and as much detail as Neil was willing to give him so he could go back to his study and make progress. His curiosity had clearly sparked Neil’s attention, with Neil’s arms folded in a mirror fashion to Andrew’s own. Andrew could easily appreciate Neil’s gorgeous physique from here (with only mild discomfort from either party) and he took advantage of that.

 

The burns weren’t nearly a visible from such a respectable distance, and the myriad of tattoos easily disguised what Andrew only knew existed because of their close encounter. He was interested to see how the ink on Neil’s chest disguised the rest of the wounds from further away, but filed the thought away for a later date. Now wasn’t the time.

 

“I don’t like to drink,” Neil finally answered. “Last week was an anomaly. Soda isn’t exactly my drink of choice either, but the cans are pre-sealed so I’m inclined to trust them more than a glass of water I can’t see poured.”

 

Trust issues. Related to tragic past? Ask about facial burns, not an accident. Not self-inflicted (verify at a later date). Meaning behind tattoos? Doesn’t smoke for nicotine, smells the secondhand.

 

Andrew’s mind threw thought after thought at him in rapid succession until he thought he might explode. He whipped out his notebook and scribbled as if his hands were on fire for at least three minutes before setting it aside on the bar.

 

“What? Did I say something?” Neil asked, eyes widening nervously. Andrew shook his head.

 

“I’m a writer,” he explained. “If I don’t write my thoughts down I’ll lose them. I’ve lost too many to count by now.”

 

Neil nodded in understanding. “I forget a lot too. The little things anyway.”

 

Andrew shook his head violently. “I don’t forget things. I misplace them,” he clarified. “My memory is impeccable but sometimes I have trouble finding the specific thought I’m looking for.”

 

Neil chose not to respond, instead changing the subject to keep the conversation going. “Why do you write?”




Why did he write? It was a question Andrew asked himself constantly but never had an answer to. “I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “I don’t think I’ve ever been consciously aware of the reasons behind my work. It’s certainly not for money since I haven’t published anything yet. Personal gain isn’t even remotely close.” He paused briefly. “If you were a writer, why would you do it?”

 

Neil shrugged. “Escape I guess. To get away from everyone and everything. Build a world that’s not as shitty as the one I’m in.”

 

Andrew nodded, contemplating Neil’s answer before replying: “I never thought about it like that before. Thank you.”

 

“I’m sure you have.” Neil smiled and stood, placing a bill on the bar and leaving without a word.

 


 

 

The pair encountered each other no less than eight times in the next two weeks, purely by coincidence every single time. But with every meeting they grew closer, as people tend to do, and Andrew was beginning to grow used to Neil’s presence. Wherever someone sat beside him at the bar he didn’t have to look to know it was Neil. Only once was it someone else, but the girl scampered away immediately upon being met with Andrew’s chilly stare.

 

Neil wasn’t quite so perceptive. He grew tense without fail every time Andrew approached him, but he was by no means displeased to see Andrew. If anything he looked forward to their random encounters at Eden’s Twilight. Their most recent rendezvous had ended on a rather awkward foot however, leaving Neil with a black eye. Granted he never should have tried to touch the back of Andrew’s neck in the first place. It still hurt like hell.

 

“How’s the eye?”

 

Neil practically jumped out of his skin. “Oh. Hey, Andrew.”

 

“Your eye,” Andrew prompted again. “Let me see it.”

 

“Oh, it’s fine. Really.”

 

Before he could turn further away from Andrew, Neil felt two gentle fingers on the side of his chin, pulling his face around to look at Andrew. Andrew’s face was impassive as per usual, but could’ve sworn he saw an apology in Andrew’s eyes.

 

“Don’t lie to me,” Andrew said after a beat. “If you tell me you’re fine one more time I’ll show you exactly why you’re not.”

 

Neil sucked in a breath. He wasn’t intimidated necessarily, but the ferocity in Andrew’s demeanor was intoxicating. Andrew took notice of the breath and let his hand fall. The absence of Andrew’s fingers on Neil’s skin was immediately apparent and Neil had to fight not to frown.

 

“But I am. Fine, I mean.”

 

Andrew sighed and shook his head. “Why do I put up with you still?”

 

“Because you like me?”

 

“No, I hate you at least 94% already.”

 

“What about the other 6%?”

 

“That’s to be determined.”

 

Chapter Text

Neil's back hit the wall of the bathroom forcefully as Andrew pinned his arms above his head. The ‘no touch’ rule seemed odd but Neil wasn’t about to question it during moments like this one. Not with Andrew’s lips taking him beyond the mortal plane, with their ragged breaths and racing hearts, hands grasping at the slick tiles for something, anything , to hold on to.

 

Andrew pulled back with a heavy inhale. Somehow he’d forgotten to breathe in the midst of things. Neil was a flustered mess beneath Andrew’s arms, a sight that found a light smile tugging at the corners of Andrew’s swollen lips. “Sick of me yet?” Neil rasped, grinning mischievously at Andrew.

 

“Ninety-eight percent,” Andrew grumbled in response, fighting back the smile threatening to betray his emotions. He reached out to press his hand to Neil’s chest but stopped short before making contact. “Yes or no?”

 

Neil furrowed his brow quizzically. “Hm?”

 

“Yes or no?” Andrew repeated, letting his arm drop to his side. Neil appeared to understand and tentatively reached for Andrew’s wrist. When no protest arose he gently moved Andrew’s hand up to the place on his chest that Andrew had hesitated to touch.

 

“Yes,” Neil said softly. “You don’t have to ask, Andrew, the answer will always be yes.”

 

“You say that now,” Andrew replied, “but one day it might not be.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Stop talking.” Andrew’s eyes spelled trouble as he leaned in again, effectively shutting Neil up. He brushed his lips against Neil’s before stepping away like he had been burned. Not now , he willed himself, but the damage was done. He swore under his breath and locked himself in one of the two stalls before Neil could react, effectively ending whatever had been going on beforehand.

 


 

 

The man sat alone not because he was lonely, but because he was waiting. Waiting for what he didn’t know, but when it came he would be ready. Not sober, but ready. Ready for whatever would come to him, would end his everlasting despair, would heal his scars and mend his bones. He was ready to be saved.

 

But as the days turned to weeks to months he began to forget why he was waiting. One drink became two became four became a taxi home in the rain and a headache in the morning. It overcame him in waves of pain and hopelessness, empty bottles and broken promises, thoughtless actions and hollow words.

 

He knew he needed help. Anyone in his situation would, really, but he held to the faintest glimmer of false hope that one day he would find what he was looking for. He waited in bars and alleyways and dilapidated motels until he didn’t have the courage to get up when he fell down.

 

He was drowning in liquor and lullabies when he awoke. The place was unfamiliar (as most had been lately) but it was certainly too nice to be one of the motels he could barely afford anymore. This was the home of someone who knew what they were doing with their life every morning they woke up, of someone who believed that life was worth living and the glass was half full and happiness could be found in the littlest of things and things that break can always be fixed. This was the home of the man he had once been.

 

Andrew closed his laptop with a content sigh. His work was coming to him more and more since he had started seeing Neil, and he felt satisfied for the first time in a long time. After the incident in the bathroom of Eden’s Twilight he had been almost embarrassed to see Neil again, but Neil didn’t mention it and everything was normal. That night Andrew had written three chapters.

 

It didn’t take long for him to notice the correlation between his productivity and the amount of time he spent with Neil. Whether it was casual banter between more-than-friends or heated arguments solved with fervent kisses, Andrew was beginning to see Neil as a necessary factor to his success rather than an entertaining pastime to occupy his already busy mind. So when Neil had suggested that Andrew move in with him almost a month later, Andrew agreed.

 

Neil’s apartment was just as dilapidated as it was when Andrew had first been there, but now that he had moved in it seemed lived in rather than just sitting to collect dust. Andrew’s favorite place in the apartment was easily his side of the dresser. Even though he wasn’t the sentimental type, it was thrilling to know that Neil trusted him enough to share his space so completely. Neil didn’t trust easily, Andrew had noted, but once he began to open up it was like they had been together for years rather than months. It went without saying that Andrew ate these little details up eagerly; with every new discovery came another page in his notebook dedicated to his work.

 

Andrew’s obsession with his notebook was beginning to pique Neil’s curiosity. “What’s so important about this notebook anyway?” he had asked. Andrew merely rolled his eyes and pressed a gentle kiss to his lover’s cheek. It went similarly whenever Neil found Andrew desperately typing on his laptop at three in the morning, eyes drooping as he struggled to stay awake, a mug of coffee on his right side and the notebook on his left. Andrew would dodge the question and Neil would let it drop.

 

For weeks Andrew had been in a frenzied state of mania as he dove deeper and deeper into his work. He barely ate or slept, getting up from his place at the sparse dining table only to relieve himself every once in awhile. There were bouts of completely halting his writing whenever he got stuck, and Neil made a point of keeping Andrew well-fed and hydrated during those times. Only once had he stopped Andrew during an episode of writing, and after seeing the fierceness in Andrew’s eyes Neil decided it was best to let him be.

 

It worried Neil how little Andrew cared for his own wellbeing, but Andrew’s promise of keeping to his limits was comforting enough to appease Neil’s concern. Andrew wouldn’t lie to him after all, and Neil trusted Andrew’s judgement in regards to the extremes that his body could handle. And even if Andrew did lie, who was Neil to judge after everything he had painstakingly hidden about himself? He could still remember the colored contacts swirling in the toilet bowl and disappearing down the drain, the shredding of every last page of information in his binder, the burning of anything that remained of Nathaniel Wesninski as soon as the name change was approved. Andrew’s secrets about his health were nothing compared to what Neil had buried.

 


 

 

“What’s your favorite color?”

 

Andrew looked down at Neil, his hand pausing its careful strokes through Neil’s hair as they laid in bed. The mop of reddish brown curls on Andrew’s bare chest shifted so that blue eyes (the same shade of blue as the bottle of Windex under the kitchen sink) stared up into Andrew’s brown ones. He wasn’t sure he heard Neil’s question right. “What?”

 

“Your favorite color,” Neil prodded gently. “I don’t know anything about you like that. I know you don’t like being touched without warning, you love ice cream, and you’re passionate about your work. I know you don’t like the soft romantic things and you don’t care about anything, but I don’t know your favorite color.”

 

Andrew blinked a few times, considering Neil’s words with mild interest. Neil never struck him as the type to care about meaningless details like favorites and preferences (god knows Andrew didn’t). As far as Andrew knew he didn’t even have a favorite color. He’d never stopped to think about that at any point in his life; if he had to guess it would be black.

 

“Mine is yellow,” Neil continued. “Or grey. Cigarette smoke grey. It’s calming.” As he said this, images of his mother’s burning corpse filled his mind. Memory after memory hit him like a freight train: Mary taking his hand and telling him to run. Mary reaching for the gun under her pillow. Mary smoking a cigarette in a rare moment of peace. Mary’s fists on his skin. Mary’s last laugh before her death. The weight of Neil’s loss overwhelmed him in that moment, and Andrew didn’t know a thing that could help him.

 

“Neil?” Andrew asked softly. “Neil, look at me. Get out of your head. I don’t know what’s wrong but it’s over now. You’re safe here.”

 

Andrew had experienced plenty of panic attacks in his life, firsthand and otherwise. Each person was different in the way they handed things, so Andrew couldn’t just use other tactics that worked on him and hope it worked. Instead he tried for a more basic approach.

 

“Neil, look at me,” Andrew said again. “How old are you?”

 

Neil looked at Andrew like he had grown a third head, but whispered a frantic “twenty-four”. Andrew nodded, satisfied.

 

“Favorite color?”

 

“Yellow.”

 

“Did you ever have a pet when you were younger?”

 

“I don’t-- I can’t--”

 

“Shh, it’s okay. What’s your favorite animal?”

 

Andrew fed one simple question after another to Neil, slowly so as not to overwhelm him. The answers didn’t matter, nor did the questions. All that mattered was distracting Neil from whatever was going on in his head.

 

“Where did you go to high school?”

 

Neil stopped short as the names came to him. He didn’t want to lie but he didn’t want to tell Andrew how much he moved around as a kid. That would only lead to more questions, questions that he couldn’t answer.

 

“Neil?”

 

“I don’t remember,” Neil said softly. His voice was cracked but he sounded calmer. He hadn’t realized what Andrew was doing until now, and the thought brought a bubble of laughter to his lips. The words didn’t matter at all in the first place.

 

“Better?” Andrew asked, his voice growing cool and detached once more. Neil nodded, so Andrew pressed a kiss to his temple. “Good.”

 


 


After making sure Neil was able to fall asleep, Andrew took out his notebook to journal the day’s findings. The little voice in his head was nagging him to stop focusing on keeping up this façade with Neil and spend his time working so he could be out of Neil’s life sooner rather than later, but Andrew wasn’t sure he was ready to end things quite yet. Just a little longer, he promised himself. Just until you finish. Just a few more months. It won’t hurt you if you don’t fall in love.

Chapter Text

“Absolutely not.”

Neil pleaded silently with Andrew, blinking his pretty eyes sweetly into Andrew’s emotionless ones. “Please?”

Neil never said please. He never begged. He never acted nearly so innocent. Andrew wasn’t sure how he felt about this change in attitude. On second thought, he was simultaneously repulsed and willing to do whatever this boy asked of him so long as he looked at Andrew as soft as he was now.

“We are not getting cats,” Andrew said flatly. But Neil already knew that Andrew had caved. He also knew that the cats would have wonderfully ridiculous names by the end of the day if he blinked enough. Andrew would never admit it, but Neil knew he had a soft spot when it came to Neil. He never exploited it like some people might, but today was the only exception. And if Andrew was firm enough Neil would drop it. He would never force Andrew to do anything if he wasn’t willing.

“Fine. But please, for the sake of my patience, they need to have normal names.”

Needless to say, that fell through immediately.

 


 

 

Andrew had never had an excuse to describe anyone as ‘lovely’ before, but Neil was decidedly the loveliest person Andrew had ever known. His scars did nothing to mask this; if anything they made Andrew even more attracted to Neil. Andrew often forgot that he wasn’t supposed to feel this way. Neil was only temporary.

But there was nothing temporary when Neil pressed his lips to the skin of Andrew’s neck. There was nothing temporary in the way they would whisper to each other as they fell asleep. There was nothing temporary about Andrew’s affection for Sir and King. Temporary was the moments when Andrew considered leaving before he fell in too deep. Temporary was the locked bathroom doors and slamming shot glasses. Temporary was the fleeting doubt that crossed Andrew’s mind with every new paragraph he wrote. Temporary was all Andrew needed to ensure that everything remained as fleeting as he intended.

Temporary died on the year anniversary of Andrew’s living with Neil. He hadn’t meant for things to go as long as they did, really he didn’t; but every day Andrew told himself he would leave Neil gave him another reason to stay. Some days it was a smile, others it was the ghost of fingertips on his hip. It was the mop of curls on his chest and the balls of fur by his sides. It was the warm feeling that lanced through his chest when, sleepy and delirious, Neil would whisper promises into Andrew’s skin that only Andrew would remember in the mornings.

If he ever felt as though he was forgetting his purpose, Andrew would repeat the words he had told himself the first time he found his priorities shifting: It won’t hurt if you don’t fall in love . For the most part it was enough to allow him to refocus, but he found his lingering stares growing longer and occurring more frequently until a simple reminder wasn’t enough to satiate his selfish desire to simply care for Neil with no strings attached. And when Andrew started slipping he panicked.

Panic was a rare emotion for Andrew, who felt so little and so infrequently, but it was no stranger. Panic first reared its head the first night that Drake had his way with Andrew. It faded into fear, anxiety, and eventually annoyance. The second time Andrew had panicked was also because of Drake, but for the threat upon his newfound twin brother instead. Now was the third time Andrew had ever considered panic to be the proper term for his emotions.

Andrew began to close himself off again. It had been months since he last closed his heart to Neil, but it came as no surprise to Neil when it finally happened again. This was to be expected after all. Neil knew Andrew had some type of past baggage in regards to relationships and commitment. He just didn’t know why. But it was Andrew’s decision whether or not to open up to Neil, and Neil wasn’t going to force anything onto his lover.

As it happened they were lounging on the sofa one afternoon when Neil found himself speaking, almost to himself, about the past traumas he himself had endured. “I was a runaway,” he said absentmindedly. “I never told you about it because I didn’t think you were going to stay with me.”

Andrew felt a painful squeeze around his heart. If only Neil knew; he’d be devastated.

“My mom ran with me for awhile,” Neil continued. “She actually started everything, you know? Took me in the middle of the night and just started driving. She was crying but I never said anything. I knew why we were leaving.” He paused to gauge Andrew’s reaction. Finding no reason not to, he carried on.

“We lived everywhere, from Germany to France to a small town in Arizona that no one’s ever heard of before. Every time we moved we were new people. New eyes, new hair, new names, new ages. New accents too.” He laughed humorlessly. “I forgot my real name only once, and my mother said to me, ‘Abram, I don’t care how many times we have to run. Never forget who you are.’ She loved my middle name. She called me Abram in private as often as she could. Looking back I realize it was the only selfish thing she’d ever done.”

“How so?”

Neil hadn’t realized how closely Andrew was listening. The discovery made his heart swell and for a moment three very dangerous words lingered on the tip of his tongue. He brushed them aside before he even had a chance to consciously think them, however, and entwined his fingers with Andrew’s.

“It was the one thing she had that my father could never take away from her.”

Andrew blinked once, twice, then gave Neil’s hand a supportive squeeze. This rare moment of raw vulnerability had to last as long as possible if Andrew wanted to leave before Christmas. He filed away the new information carefully as the words spilled from Neil’s chapped lips, playing the part of the supportive lover and masking the inquisitive writer from immediate view.

Neil fell silent after that. Andrew brushed his thumb under Neil’s eyelids to swipe away the traces of pooling moisture, pressing a kiss to the tip of Neil’s nose and resting their foreheads against each other. “Thank you,” he murmured. Neil shuddered lightly and Andrew wrapped his arms around Neil’s quietly shaking frame. They stayed like that for what could have been eons, Neil sobbing into Andrew’s chest as Andrew held him close. Andrew decided then that he was done shutting himself off from Neil. He wasn’t going to tell the whole truth, per se, but he would be as open as he felt comfortable with instead. At least it was a start.

Chapter Text

Neil propped his chin atop Andrew’s shoulder, peering down at the notebook in front of the shorter man. Almost immediately Andrew closed the notebook, pivoting around in the dining chair to gaze into Neil’s face. “Sorry if I startled you,” Neil apologized brightly, a soft pink blush warming his cheeks.

“You know how I feel about apologies,” Andrew bit back. He leaned forward and pressed a chaste kiss to Neil’s lips before Neil had the chance to reply. The contented flutter of eyelids sent butterflies soaring through the pit of Andrew’s stomach (as it tended to do), and Andrew found himself smiling softly at the red-headed mystery in front of him.

“If you told me what’s in that notebook of yours I might just have to leave it alone for good,” Neil teased. Andrew’s ‘no’ was immediate and expected. Any other notebook Andrew would have indulged Neil’s curiosity with, but this was his most coveted possession. He made a mental note to share one of his older notebooks later.

“Let’s go to Sweetie’s,” Neil suggested after a beat.

“I’m writing,” Andrew replied, but rather than drop it at that he slid his chair back and stood, leaving the notebook unguarded on the table. “Come on, I’ll drive.”

“You always drive.”

“It’s my car.”

“I just meant it was implied that you’d drive.”

“Stop talking.” Andrew laced his fingers through Neil’s and snagged his keys from their hook by the door. Neil only checked the door locks once today and Andrew couldn’t help but feel proud that Neil was beginning to lose his paranoia over the little things.

 


 

The soft music playing from the car’s speakers made several facts come to Andrew’s mind:

  1. He adored the sight of Neil in the passenger seat of his car.
  2. Neil bit his lip when he was concentrating on lyrics.
  3. He was 137% in love.

Andrew knew this was a bad thing. Love was dangerous and he couldn’t afford the distraction. More than that, Neil certainly didn’t feel the same way. It was impossible. Neil was simply intrigued, and the moment Andrew became uninteresting Neil would leave. There was no doubt in Andrew’s mind that their ‘relationship’ had an expiration date.

“I’m almost done with the first draft,” Andrew said casually, glancing over at Neil again. Neil perked at the sound of Andrew’s voice, sitting up straighter and turning to face him.

“That’s good,” Neil replied. “You've been working really hard. Maybe you can take a break for a few days? I hardly see you lately, I miss you.”

Andrew resisted the urge to scoff dismissively, instead opting for complete silence. This response-- or lack thereof-- seemed to answer the question enough to let it drop. Neil, however, pressed on.

“Andrew are you even listening to me?” Yes. I’m listening to every word, you beautiful nightmare. “It’s like you don’t even care anymore. For all I know you’ve never cared at all!” I care more than you could ever imagine . “You don’t care about anyone or anything. Not me, not your brother, not the cats, nothing. You don’t care about anything but that goddamned book!”

Andrew nearly slammed the brakes into the floor. Before he got either of them killed he pulled the car to the side of the road and parked, eyes wild and heart racing. “How fucking dare you,” he said darkly, almost too soft for Neil to hear, “assume that I don’t care? Neil, I care so much that it hurts . It physically pains me to care about you as much as I do. Maybe you’re right, maybe I don’t care about anyone. But I care for nothing, Neil, and that is what you are. You are nothing. We are nothing. I love the nothingness that exists between us. I love you , Neil.”

The breath hitched in the back of Neil’s throat. Andrew was livid, that was certain, but more importantly Andrew loved Neil. Neil couldn’t comprehend the words Andrew had spoken but he didn’t have to: Andrew was already driving again.

 


 

The rest of the drive to Sweetie’s was eerily silent. Andrew had turned the radio off and neither of them spoke a word. You idiot , Andrew chastised himself. You did the one thing you weren’t supposed to do. You fell in love with him. Of all the things you could’ve done, you fucking -- “We’re here.”

Andrew cut the engine and opened his door, slamming it harshly behind him. Neil hadn’t moved a muscle since Andrew’s confession, but the bang of Andrew’s door motivated him not to tarry too long, lest Andrew decide that this wasn’t worth his effort anymore.

They sat at their usual table in the back. Neither of them spoke, and Andrew was actively avoiding making eye contact. As he glanced around Sweetie’s for the fifth time a familiar face stuck out to him. A face he knew as well as his own, because he and Aaron had the same face (being twins and all). Before he could look away Aaron noticed a set of eyes on him and turned. His jaw nearly fell to the floor, and the petite blonde hanging on his arm turned to see what he was staring at. Aaron began walking towards Andrew and Andrew swore under his breath.

“Aaron, what a pleasant surprise,” Andrew greeted flatly. Neil nodded in acknowledgement, turning away almost immediately after.

“Where the fuck have you been?” Aaron snarled.

“I moved,” Andrew replied casually, taking a bite of his ice cream.

“Why?”

“To be with Neil.”

At the sound of his name Neil perked up again, flashing a quick grin at Aaron and the girl he was with. Andrew had mentioned something of brother once or twice, but never of a girlfriend. Scratch that, fiancé. She had a ring but Aaron didn’t.

“Jesus, Andrew, why didn’t you call? I dropped by your place a few weeks ago but the ‘For Sale’ sign was still up.”

“You could have called me.”

Neil scoffed at this. Andrew was unlikely to answer his phone in the best of moods. On any normal day he ignored all the texts he received and muted the incoming calls. When he was writing he left his phone in another room. The likelihood of Aaron’s calls receiving an answer was nonexistent.

“Who’s the girlfriend?” Andrew asked, effectively changing the subject.

“Fiancé, actually. My name is Katelyn. Wonderful to finally meet you, Andrew. Aaron’s told me so much about you.”

Andrew ignored Katelyn’s proffered hand, instead folding his arms across his chest and staring at her coldly. Neil glanced between the two before deciding he didn’t need to intervene, and after a moment cleared his throat.

“Um, my name is Neil,” he said. “Nice to meet you all.”

After his outburst in the car, Neil figured he was on thin ice. But that didn't make Andrew's words any less real. Neil had instinctively shrunk away from the subject and had no intention of revisiting it any time soon. His own feelings be damned; his mother had taught him better than this. There was simply no time for love, and when his father's men came for him again it would only slow him down.

After it became apparent that neither of the twins were going to speak again, Katelyn turned her attention to Neil. “Nice to meet you, Neil. Have you and Andrew been together long?”

Neil nodded, a bit confused, but grateful that Katelyn had absolved some of the tension. “We’ve lived together over a year now, and we’ve been together even longer.” He couldn’t help but smile ever-so-slightly at the thought. Neither he nor Andrew seemed to be the commitment type, yet they had made it work for a year and a half already. Aaron also seemed surprised at this, as he balked at the statement.

“Andrew, what the fuck.”

Neil placed his hand over Andrew’s clenched fist as a silent plea not to make a scene. Andrew clearly understood, but he pulled his hand back anyway. Neil felt almost wounded at this. At least the probability of a fist fight had been reduced.

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

Katelyn was mirroring Neil’s attempts at playing mediator with a similar outcome. Aaron shrugged her hand off his shoulder and took a step closer to Andrew so that his hip pressed into the table.

“Because I saw no need to,” Andrew replied simply. “Whether or not you’re involved in my love life is my choice, and the information wasn’t something you needed to have. Simple as that.”

Neil registered the balling of Aaron’s fists just as Andrew snagged a knife off the table. The blade glinted in the low lighting of the ice cream parlor and for a brief moment Neil was unsure of what was going to happen. The tip of the blade was pressed to Aaron’s stomach and Aaron’s arm was tensed as if to take a swing at his brother. Neither Neil nor Katelyn moved to intervene this time; there was too much at stake if something went awry.

“The information ,” Aaron snarled through gritted teeth, “will always be something I should know. You are my brother whether I like it or not, and I’ll be damned if I let you get absorbed in some fucking fantasy because you can’t see past your overly imaginative mind.”

Andrew chuckled darkly, knuckles turning white as he tightened his grip on the blade. “This is exactly why,” he said lowly. He pressed the knife more forcefully, not enough to cause Aaron anything more than mere discomfort but just enough for Neil to snap out of whatever was holding him back.

“Drew,” he said gently. “Let’s talk about this, okay? Put the knife down. You don’t want us to get kicked out, right?” At the slight twitch of Andrew’s upper lip Neil decided it was safe to reach out again. He wrapped his fingers around Andrew’s wrist with a soft pressure, silently willing him to get the message and stand down. After several agonizing seconds Andrew broke his eye contact with Aaron and slowly took his hand away. Katelyn seized the opportunity and pulled Aaron back from the table, just out of arm’s reach.

Neil released Andrew’s wrist and turned his own palm up. Andrew begrudgingly handed over the knife, and as soon as Neil had set it aside Andrew reached out to lace their fingers together. It wasn’t a casual display of affection; no, Andrew was drawing strength from Neil’s groundedness just as Aaron was of Katelyn.

“Drew, I think--”

Andrew cut Neil off with the loud scrape of his chair against the tile floor. “We’re leaving,” he said, then brushed past Aaron and went out the door. He didn’t need to look back to know that Neil was following him, and so he didn't. If he had, he might have seen the watchful set of eyes that had been fixed on their table since he and Neil had arrived.

Chapter Text

The drive home had been entirely silent, save for the distant whir of the engine and the occasional sigh. It had greatly unnerved Neil to see Andrew so impassive; he hadn’t been like this in almost a month. A whole month of raw emotion (albeit muted at times) was a stark contrast to the wordless impassivity within the car. Neil assumed that he and Andrew would discuss everything at home, but that was not the case. Andrew had locked himself in the bathroom immediately upon crossing the threshold.

Andrew wasn’t avoiding Neil, but he needed to be alone. More than anything he needed a cigarette, but to his dismay Neil didn’t have a key to the roof of the apartment complex. Smoking inside wasn’t exactly polite, so standing in front of the bathroom window would have to suffice. The acrid smell of nicotine and tar burned Andrew’s lungs in the most pleasantly familiar way as he breathed it in. He was reluctant to blow the smoke out but he had a whole pack of cigarettes in his pocket if he needed a second. And if he needed another pack, well, he could walk; the gas station was less than a mile away.

Luckily for Neil, Andrew was satisfied after his second cigarette. He could very easily have smoked a third, but he figured he should at least step outside for that. It wasn’t really an appealing option anyway. Not unless a certain auburn-haired travesty of a human being wanted to tag along. This aforementioned entity was asleep when Andrew finally stepped out of the bathroom and into his and Neil’s bedroom. Andrew hadn’t realized how late it had gotten, and he assumed Neil would be awake when he finished his, for lack of a better word, temper tantrum. Not wanting to wake him, Andrew gently closed the bedroom door and laid down on the living room sofa.

Now was a perfect time to write, but Andrew felt no motivation to do so. He wasn’t tired or uninspired or even bored of his work; he simply didn’t want to. He had to explain himself before he could do anything new. He had to fix whatever he had broken by snapping today. He had to find the muse that he had lost to emotion. He had to take back Neil Josten.

 


 

Andrew was nowhere to be seen when Neil awoke. His side of the bed was cold and his keys were gone. But Neil knew he would return; his coveted journal was still on the coffee table where he left it yesterday before they went to Sweetie’s. This struck Neil as odd. Andrew was always writing in that thing, and not a day had passed in their time together where he wasn’t. Neil’s curiosity was piqued. He stopped himself from opening it, however, and resigned himself to ask Andrew when their quarrel blew over.

Andrew returned around noon and was greeted by the sight of Neil laying on the sofa, a small book in his hands. It was without a doubt in Andrew’s mind that Neil was utterly gorgeous in every sense of the word, and the current state of affairs did nothing but reaffirm this thought. Not many men of Neil’s stature could make the graceless display of their limbs draped over arm rests and sofa backs look so methodical and alluring.

“Hey,” Andrew greeted, risking an awkward smile. Neil looked up from his book and set it down, swinging his legs onto the floor and standing quickly.

“Where did you go?”

Andrew cleared his throat and looked down at the floor. He had never felt this on-the-spot in his life. The flowers in his hands felt heavy all of a sudden, like it was a mistake for him to even consider buying them. But he was here now, and there was no going back. “I got you something.”

Neil’s eyes widened as Andrew procured a bouquet of tiger lillies from behind his back. “Andrew, you didn’t have to…”

“I had to apologize somehow, didn’t I?”

Neil felt something warm lance through his chest as he approached Andrew. “Yes or no?’ he asked. After a sound and and confident, ‘yes’, Neil leaned in and pressed a kiss to Andrew’s forehead. “They’re beautiful, Drew, thank you.”

“Don’t thank me,” Andrew replied, and Neil smiled. He understood what Andrew meant even if Andrew would never say it.

 


 

The vase of lillies on the coffee table was a beautiful addition to the apartment. It added a slice of color to an otherwise dull landscape, and because of this Neil felt it was appropriate to breach the topic of conversation he had been meaning to after they left Sweetie’s.

“I haven’t been totally honest with you.”

Andrew looked up from his laptop to gaze at the beautiful tragedy in front of him. He’d known from the start that Neil had been keeping secrets from him, but he never saw the need to push further than Neil was willing to reveal. His fingers screamed for him to get a pen and start writing, but his brain told him to store the information away and write it down later. His heart made a feeble cry to stop using Neil, but it fell on deaf ears.

“Before you say anything,” Neil continued, “I just want you to understand why I kept this to myself.” Andrew closed his laptop and folded his hands on the table in front of him. His eyes seemed empty and far away but Neil knew he was listening.

“I’ve never been in a long-term relationship like this one before. I’ve never had the chance to, either. Even when I had the chance the person was never right for me. There was nothing wrong with them, but they were just wrong . But you’re different, Drew. You’re-- you’re right. And I know it sounds ridiculous but I just know, you know? I know that this is it for me.”

No, Neil, you’re wrong. I’m wrong. I’m so so wrong for you.

“I’ve never met anyone like you before. No one quite as understanding and trustworthy. You respect my privacy and it makes it so much easier to feel safe staying in one place for so long.”

Andrew nearly flinched at this, and Neil must have seen something in Andrew’s eyes that alerted him to this because he switched gears after that.

“My past isn’t something I really like to talk about. It’s not pretty, and it’s potentially dangerous for me to put it out in the open but I need you to know. I’ve mentioned once that Neil isn’t my real name.” Neil paused and sucked in a shaky breath. “My real name is Nathaniel Wesninski. Neil Josten wasn’t a real person until the end of my freshman year of college when I legally changed my name.

“I’ve had so many names and faces and accents and personalities it’s hard to keep track of them all. But I liked Neil. I liked Neil so much that Nathaniel became another lie and Neil took his place as the truth. I stopped dying my hair and wearing  colored contacts because I was really me, you know? I was who I was meant to be.

“I’ve been on the run since I was eight years old. My father wasn’t a nice man, to put it lightly, and my mother decided she’d had enough. We moved everywhere together, and we never stayed more than a few months. It was safe that way. It was safe for a long time, until my father found us. Later that day I had to burn and bury my mother’s corpse.”

Andrew visibly flinched. Killing your own mother was one thing, but disposing of her body? That was scarring on so many levels.

“I went to college at Palmetto State University. It was far away from the beach where I left Mary Hatford’s body, but it was maybe ten hours from my hometown. It was dangerous and I didn’t care. I guess I just wanted a place to call home for awhile. One that I could keep. But near the end of my freshman year, my father’s men found me.

“I barely made it out alive, but I cooperated with the FBI and in return I became Neil Josten legally. My father was dead, as were most of his lackeys, but I still didn’t feel safe so close to Baltimore. I transferred to another university but I dropped out halfway into the semester. I moved around for a few years, but I ultimately decided to come to Columbia. Face your demons, you know? And then I met you.”

The breath caught in Andrew’s throat. He didn’t want Neil continue to speak because he knew it would tear him up to hear it. He didn’t want to have Neil confirm what he already knew. If Neil said it then it was true, and if it was true Andrew wouldn’t be able to live with himself for what he was inevitably going to do to Neil.

“Andrew, I was in a bad place when I met you. I’d never been much of a drinker, but something in me changed when I decided to settle for Columbia. I decided I didn’t care. For a long time I decided I was okay with being not okay. You changed that. I don’t know why or how, but before there was even a ‘this’ there was a something.”

Internally, Andrew felt like he couldn’t breathe. His throat was closing as the iron chains of commitment threatened to overtake him, and suddenly he wanted nothing more than to pitch himself off the roof and end this conversation forever. On the outside, he remained impassive.

“I’ve never had this before. I’ve never been able to trust anyone as much as I trust you. I’ve never had someone around in my life because they wanted me, and never for this long. I don’t know what it is about you that made me want to stay, but you gave me a home by becoming a part of my life. And I know I didn’t say it when I should have, but Andrew, I--”

Andrew cut him off by reopening his laptop and effectively closing the conversation. He couldn’t bear to hear the other two words because he knew exactly what they meant. They meant that he was going to leave a trail of destruction in his wake and ruin the only good thing that had ever happened to him.

 

Chapter Text

The silence that followed was nothing like the that of the previous altercation. This one was empty, unfeeling. It was cold where it had once been hot, raw, passionate emotion. It spanned for several days, several agonizing days of curt nods and blank stares, of avoidant hands and unused pillows. It was almost funny to Neil that Andrew was more at home in his apartment than he was, when it was Neil’s name on the lease and not Andrew’s. But Neil was fine with camping in the living room; he’d slept in much worse conditions.

Three days after everything, Neil was awoken by the sound of a shout and a thump. He bolted upright and practically sprinted into the bedroom, turning on the light to reveal Andrew, sweaty and tangled in the bedsheets, sitting on the floor with his head between his knees. “Drew?”

Neil took a cautious step towards the shaking man, stopping only when his head snapped up to meet Neil’s gaze. Andrew’s eyes were glazed over with fear. Raw, unadulterated fear that sent Neil into a state of shock. “Don’t touch me,” Andrew warned, voice dark and threatening.

“It’s just me,” Neil replied. “It’s Neil. You’re safe, Drew. I’m right here.”

Andrew drew in a shaky breath before nodding. He knew. “Yes or no, Drew?” It felt like an eternity before Andrew whispered out a paltry “yes”. It was an invitation and a prayer and a cry for help; an apology, a promise, a plea, a sob. In an instant Neil was on his knees before Andrew, folding him in a safe embrace. “I’m here,” he murmured into Andrew’s hair, “I’m right here, Drew. It’s me. You’re safe.”


The hot chocolate in Andrew’s hands had gone cold long ago. He and Neil had sat on the sofa, a blanket thrown over their shoulders, for the majority of the night. As the sun finally began to peek over the horizon, Andrew set down the mug and turned towards Neil. “My mother put me in the system at birth,” he began, bringing Neil’s attention out of his head and back into the present.

“I moved from home to home to home, and every time I thought it was the one. And then there was Cass. She was perfect, and she was going to adopt me. But Cass had a son, and he had a thing for little boys who couldn’t fight back.”

Neil stared at Andrew blankly as the words processed in his mind. Even when they clicked he wasn’t sure he had heard correctly. But he did. “Drew…”

Andrew shook his head. “Don’t do that.”

“Sorry,” Neil replied.

“No.”

“Who said it that made you hate the word so much?”

Andrew considered him with a dispassionate gaze. “I did.”

Chapter Text

Christmas came and went without fanfare. Andrew had laid in bed with Neil and watched Christmas movies on Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day they visited with Aaron and Katelyn. Andrew walked away with a wedding invitation, Neil walked away with enough leftover cookies to last a lifetime. New Year’s was similarly quiet, except Andrew begrudgingly Skyped with his cousin Nicky and his husband Erik. Nicky had been thrilled to meet Neil. Neil had been quiet.

New Year’s fed quickly into Valentine’s Day, which passed in a silent exchange of flowers and promises. Valentine’s Day soon folded into the bright throes of spring, then gave way to a moment of remembrance on their second anniversary. The words that had torn them apart and glued them back together again hadn’t been spoken since their first utterances; rather, they were conveyed in the simplest actions and gentlest silences.

As the springtime gave way to the summer heatwave, Andrew had finally extricated himself from the fanciful daydream he had allowed to occupy his mind and distract him from his work. He again retreated within himself and shut Neil out, only he knew with absolute certainty that this would be the end.

Andrew was pleased with what he had written. His third draft would be complete by Thanksgiving, and he could always edit and revise somewhere other than with Neil. But a part of him still longed to stay. He wanted to stay with Neil until the crisp autumn leaves carpeted the winter snow, and the soft rains of spring coaxed the bluish-purple crocuses to bloom, and then the harsh summer sun withered the hardy crocuses and dried out the grass, until the green leaves curled and browned in the midst of autumn. He wanted to stay with Neil until the cycle came to an end, until their hands withered with age, until their scars had long since faded and their hair went grey. It was a terrifying thought to want to grow old with someone when Andrew wasn’t certain he would live to see thirty. If anything he hadn’t expected to live past nineteen, but he regretted that fact less and less as time went on.

Even still, Andrew’s desires were nothing in comparison to the importance of his work. He just needed another three weeks and then he would be done with Neil. He hated that, if he was being perfectly honest, but when Andrew published a sensationalized retelling of Neil’s life and trauma there was no hope for their relationship. It was betrayal and the thought made Andrew sick to his stomach. But the twist in his gut was the exact reason why he had to go. Feeling this way was dangerous at best, and he couldn’t afford the hurt again.


“Drew?” Neil said groggily, reaching out to where Andrew had lain down to sleep several hours earlier. His space was cold. Groggy and confused, Neil rubbed the sleep from his eyes and pulled the comforter around his shoulders as he slipped out of bed and walked lightly out into the living room. Andrew sat motionless on the couch and if Neil hadn’t seen the slight rise and fall of Andrew’s chest he might have assumed he was dead. “Drew? Come back to bed, it’s three in the morning.”

“Not tired,” Andrew replied gruffly. Neil stepped toward him cautiously.

“Are you okay?” he asked, concern knitting his brows together. Andrew nodded and turned to face Neil. If it hadn’t been so dark Neil would have seen the heavy bags and dark circles under Andrew’s eyes. But he didn’t, and so he accepted Andrew’s nod with one of his own.

“Do you want hot chocolate? I can put the kettle on, and we can watch a movie?”

Neil’s words fell on deaf ears. After enduring the weight of Andrew’s empty stare for eternity and then some, Neil cut the tension and tore his gaze free, instead fixing his eyes on his bare feet. He felt rejected right then, although that was nothing new; he had grown used to Andrew shutting down and pulling away, no matter the fact that it still hurt when he did.

 

Andrew could feel his heart breaking. He hated the moments when Neil wore his heart on his sleeve, as they only made him want to wrap his arms around him and chase the pain away. He hated how much Neil made him feel. It was sickening. If Andrew hadn’t been writing when Neil came to find him, maybe (just maybe) he would have cracked. But Andrew was writing his goodbye. It was not yet time for Neil to see it; no, that time would come soon.


Dearest Neil,

Chapter Text

Dearest Neil,

 

Who are we but specks of dust in a cruel and uncaring universe? And if we are dust, then we must be brushed away. As such, I am brushing you away, love.

Love .

I did not want to tell you again. It would be easier for us both if I did not, easier if it was not true. But as we know the universe is cruel, and where the universe is cruel I must now be crueler.

Oh, Neil. I never meant for any of this to be real. I never meant to linger. So many times I had thought to leave and end my charade, but I am human. Humans are selfish and, by association, so am I. I am selfish and I am cruel.

I will not forget you, dear, and even if I were able to I would not. I never want to see you unhappy, because I am a coward, and so I have written this letter for an easy escape.

Ah, what a clever trick. Leaving with the pretense of coming back. I have stayed too long.

These last years have been nothing if not lovely. You are lovely .

I do not know if I will ever move on. I hope you will be lucky and forget me, but you are a hopeless dream from which I must wake up.

With the pleasantries now aside, I must move on to the purpose of this letter.

Neil, Neil, Neil.

I may love you , but you are nothing. You are nothing, you have always been nothing, and you always will be nothing. Nothing but a means to an end, I suppose; for this is the end. There is no ‘this’. There is no ‘us’. You are nothing. I do not want you. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

Nothing but a Wesninski, no matter how hard you try.

You may have been interesting, Nathaniel, but I have always had a fascination with broken toys. They never quite work the way they are supposed to and I have enjoyed watching you try . But I have grown bored. So, very bored. And now I cast you aside like the broken thing you are.

You are broken. (So very broken.) You are nothing. You are a shadow, a shell, an echo. No matter how fast you run you will never escape from yourself, Nathaniel.

I would call you irrelevant, but the protagonist cannot possibly be irrelevant. If the protagonist is irrelevant, so is the story, and the story is all I care about.

Our time is up. Our time has been up from the start, yet the only difference between then and now is that the alarm has grown to be a bit bothersome.

You are bothersome, you are a pest, and I could never love you.

You are worthless. Pathetic. Nothing but a burden.

I do not care enough to say that I hate you.

You are not broken. You are too incomplete to break. And if you want me to complete you, the answer is no. I am not your answer, and you sure as fuck are not mine.

 

Andrew.

P.S.: Keep the cats. They never meant anything to me anyway.

 


Neil had never once considered opening Andrew’s notebooks without his consent. But Andrew was out cold on the sofa, his notebook lying carelessly on the floor, and a piece of paper with Dearest Neil written at the top was (quite literally) calling his name.

It was a miracle that Neil could even decipher Andrew’s hasty chicken scratch, but as the words hit him he was decidedly less grateful for his ability to read. It seemed forced to Neil, but he was too deeply hurt to care.

“Fuck you,” Nathaniel heard himself say to no one in particular. His heart-- or, rather, the shattered pieces that were left-- beat feebly in his throat, and without pausing to think he snatched the notebook from off of the floor.

As he skimmed through the pages, the story began to feel oddly familiar. His tattoos mirrored those of the protagonist. Their struggles were his, until suddenly Nathaniel wasn’t sure who he was anymore. Was he Neil Josten? Nathaniel Wesninski? Or was he Felix Jones, the main character of A Bloody and Butchered Soul ?


Andrew awoke to the feeling of eyes on him. Without looking to confirm, he merely said a gruff “staring” and readjusted himself on the sofa. Neil gave no reply.

“Neil?” Andrew asked.

“Who’s Neil?” replied a voice too cold to belong to the man he loved. “I thought I would only be a Wesninski no matter how hard I try. Or was that another lie?”

Andrew’s face contorted into something resembling anger as he sat up. “You went through my things,” he snarled, eyes narrowed threateningly at the stranger in front of him. “You read my work.”

“I didn’t have to,” Nathaniel bit back in reply, “because I have the strangest feeling that I know that story. Felix Jones, really? How boring.”

Andrew shot to his feet as Nathaniel rose to meet him. “Neil-”

“Try again.”

“Nathaniel, you were not meant to read that."

Nathaniel barked out a cruel laugh. “The letter of rejection or story of my life? Although I must admit your censored version is much prettier than the ugly truth of it all.”

Nathaniel locked eyes with Andrew and removed his shirt. Then slowly, calmly, “Is this too grotesque for a writer such as yourself? Is the torture not executed the way you would have preferred? Is the truth too terrifying for you?”

A beat.

“Get out of my apartment,” Nathaniel said darkly. “I don’t take kindly to monsters freeloading when they have no idea what impact their words have.”

Andrew refused to be the first to move, but so did Nathaniel. The violent fury clouding his icy features stewed until, suddenly, Neil cried out.

“Get out of my apartment! I never want to see you again!”

It hurt.


The wail of anguish and despair could be heard from the street as Andrew got into his Maserati to drive away. He turned out the car door and emptied his guts into the street.


The next morning when Nathaniel awoke, he stupidly asked his empty apartment where Andrew had gone. But his keys were still gone, and the bed was still cold. From the kitchen, Sir and King demanded to be fed. Andrew always fed them in the mornings.

Chapter Text

Two months later

 

Felix Jones was gunpowder and gasoline. He was fire and ice and everything in between. Felix Jones was a pipedream. 

Andrew closed his laptop with a huff. His editor had yet to get back to him on the final draft and he was growing impatient. The sooner he published the damn novel the better. It hurt too much to think about what he had lost. And if it was for nothing, well, Andrew may as well pitch himself off the roof. 

 

Felix Jones had Windex-blue eyes, lovelier than they had any right to be. 

Neil was decidedly miserable. He missed Andrew. The apartment was too quiet without him. The shadows moved. He craved a cigarette. 

 

Felix Jones had a tattoo of a fox on his heart and a death march in his head. 

Sir and King missed Andrew. He always fed them a little extra in the mornings. 

 

Felix Jones smoked when he felt like it. Ate when he was hungry, drank when he was thirsty. He was the dictionary definition of living, and yet he was barely surviving. 

Aaron Minyard knew the absolute certainties of life: death, taxes, and the fact that his brother was depressed. He hadn't left the guest room except to use the bathroom. He didn't eat, he didn't speak, and most nights he didn't sleep. 

Katelyn was worried. Aaron was scared. 

 

Felix Jones was meant to be seen through a haze of cigarettes and daydreams. 

Two brisk knocks on the door drew Andrew out of his stupor. Moments later, the mirror image of himself stepped inside and closed the door. 

"My editor emailed," Andrew said blankly. "She sent the draft to the publishing company. It's going to print."

Aaron sat on the foot of the bed and stared at his brother. He was pale, losing weight. The wooden desk chair practically dwarfed him. It was concerning. 

"Andrew," Aaron said after a moment, "you can't publish that."

Andrew chuckled. "And why is that, brother of mine?"

"It's not human."

Andrew looked up--suddenly seeming very tired, and much older--and favored Aaron with a perfunctory gaze.  "What a fool you are, Aaron. Who ever said that I am human?"


 

Neil ached. This was a new sort of ache he had not yet felt before, an ache of the soul. It was not the familiar ache of his legs after a run or the ache of his lungs after his second cigarette. It was the ache of loss and pain. 

The cats' presences in his bed were comforting, but nothing could replace the weight of Andrew's head on his chest after a nightmare, the heat of his skin in the cold of night, the rumble of his chest as he told Neil stories to help him sleep. The silence was suddenly deafening and the air suffocating. 

One of Neil's friends from college, at least before he dropped out, had sent him a text three days ago that Neil had yet to open. Matt was always too bright, and right now Neil wanted the darkness to consume him. 

But the little notification was annoying. 

Neil opened the massage begrudgingly. He wasn't sure what he was expecting, but it certainly wasn't this. 

 

FROM: Matthew Boyd

RECEIVED: 3 days ago

Renee emailed me today. One of her clients has a story about a man whose life sounds an awful lot like yours. You okay?

 

Neil blinked at the screen for a solid ten seconds before hurling his phone across the room. It slammed against the wall and shattered, startling Sir from her nest amidst the covers. 

Of fucking course he was one of Renee's. This was just perfect. Why couldn't he just stay away? Neil wondered. Since Andrew had walked into his life he just couldn't leave Neil alone. Even when he closed himself off, when he left for hours without warning, when he acted like Neil wasn't there. Even when he was so far removed from the world around him that Neil wasn't sure he'd come back, Andrew was there. And even now, after everything, he was still here. 

Neil hadn’t realized that he had screamed until he felt a burning sensation in the back of his throat. It was both cathartic and concerning. 

The landlady would stop by later to warn him about the noise again. 

 

TO: Matthew Boyd

SENT: 5 minutes ago

I’m fine