Andrew was a man of little words. He preferred action over the pretty little lies people tried placating others for their own needs. To most, his silence was unsettling — a mark of his psychotic tendencies and overall monster-like persona. And typically that suited him just fine. Nicky was unlikely to bother him with inane chatter about whatever celebrity gossip he got caught up in; the foxes left him out of their betting (mostly); and strangers gave him a large berth when he walks around on campus. It was blissful silence and he preferred it that way. Yet, while he contented himself in a life without words, Neil reveled in them.
Never before has Andrew known a person who could wield words as sharp as a knife than Neil could — how he could cut a person down as quickly and deeply as Andrew’s own knives. News reporters, rude fans, and even the younger foxes could fall victim to his sharp tongue if they were unfortunate enough to earn his direct ire; and without the need to remain inconspicuous and the impending sense of doom looming over him any longer, very few things stayed Neil’s tongue anymore. Of course, this quickly earned him the reputation of having a smart mouth as vicious as he is quick on the court but was sure to make headlines all the same for the reporter brave enough to weather it.
It had gotten to the point where Wymack flat out banned Neil from interviews unsupervised (not that having supervision did much when Neil got worked up. When that happened, they could only hope to wait him out and drag him by the collar). Andrew would be loathed to admit it, but watching Neil tear someone apart was one of the few joys he got from life — the way his eyes would light with fury even as that cold smile curled his lips and his voice never raised about a volume that way anything but polite. Again, one of his few joys.
But, where most people only saw the attitude problem and the inability to keep his mouth shut, Andrew knew that words held a certain power over Neil. He had seen it when he offered Neil a game of truths, again when Nicky told him they were friends and every time the upperclassmen referred to him as family. He saw it in the way he told Neil’s to stay and how his lips whispered the word like he never expected to be told it. Andrew sees it every day since then when he’s learning a new language and his face lights up. When he’s trading barbed comments in French with Kevin or Jean. Sees it in how he murmurs under his breath when he concentrates too hard one something. In how he smiles around the word yes like it’s his favorite thing in the world. Words mean something to Neil in a way that they never will to Andrew. And therein lies the problem.
Because Neil opened his mouth and said the one thing that Andrew couldn’t give back — that he didn’t think he would ever be able to give back. So he does what he does normally, he shuts down and lets the silence envelop him whole. Because nothing was easier than admitting it was something he couldn’t face. Easier to pretend it didn’t exist until he could safely deal with it later (or never). Bee would call it avoidance, but Andrew liked to think of it as shoving his problem in a box where he didn’t have to look at them. Was she right? Probably, but his method worked quite effectively. Or well, it did for about a week. A week where Andrew avoided being alone with Neil for any significant amount of time in or outside their dorm room; a week where he pretended not to notice the confused and almost hurt looks that Neil sent his way when he wouldn’t meet his eye. A week before Neil corned him on the roof.
“I know you’re generally just shit at communication, but usually you afford me the courtesy of letting me know when I fuck up instead of just ignoring me.” Neil slams the door shut at stalks over to the ledge where Andrew sits.
There is that tell-tale fire in his eyes, but Andrew finds it infinitely less amusing when it’s directed at him.
“Well?” Neil huffs.
“Well, what?” Andrew answers in a bored tone he doesn’t feel. He masks the anxious feeling bubbling in his chest with a drag of his cigarette.
Neil rips the stick from his hands and flicks it over the edge. “Don’t pull that bullshit with me, Andrew.”
His anger slips away to something smaller, something more vulnerable.
“Not now. Just… just tell me what I did wrong.”
Andrew’s finger clench with the need to reach out and wipe the look away from his face. He doesn’t dare to do it now.
“Nothing,” he answers after a moment. “You did nothing.”
Neil flinches like his words burned him. The movement is there and gone in a flash, but Andrew knows he saw it.
The word is dejected and a far-off look starts to glaze over his eyes. It’s in that moment that Andrew knows he had fucked this up already.
“I’ll just-” Neil starts, already curling in on himself and turning to leave.
“No,” Andrew stops him fierce
and desperate. “Stay.”
He stops this time confusion marring his face as he waits for Andrew to say something, anything. But he can’t. Because words have never been easy for him and these words in particular stick in his throat like blades no matter how many times he may try to say them. Even if they are true in the end.
“Stay,” he says again because it’s the only thing he can. “Stay.”
“Okay,” Neil whispers somehow understanding all the words he couldn’t say anyways.
He settles at Andrew’s side, close enough for Andrew to reach out and touch if he so chose, but far enough to give him space if he needed that more. For once, the idea of space from touch made his skin crawl more than the prospect of having Neil next to him — the need to ground himself in the heat of Neil’s skin and remind himself that he wasn’t alone even after almost pushing Neil away for good. He closes the space so their thighs and shoulder press together in a tight line. After a moment, Neil leans his head tentatively on Andrew’s shoulder.
“Was it what I said?” he asks quietly.
“Yes,” he answers because he has never once lied to Neil.
He stiffens, “You don’t have to say it back. I know you might not feel the same, I just had to-”
He was. He was so completely and utterly wrong and that’s what made it all the more
terrifying frustrating. Because Neil was wrong and he still couldn’t say the stupid fucking words.
Neil’s brows furrow, “I don’t understand. If I’m wrong then why were you avoiding me?”
Anger burns in his chest, “Because I can’t give them back to you, Neil. Because I’ll never be able to say them back.”
His face blooms with understanding before softening. “You don’t have to Andrew.”
“And how long will that last?” he scoffs, “How long before you get tired of hearing nothing but silence in response?”
“You don’t have to say it,” Neil repeats seriously, picking up his head to look him in the eyes. “Not now, not ten years from now, not ever until you are ready to say them.”
“Are you not listening? I won’t.”
“Won’t or can’t?”
Andrew remains silent, but Neil hears the answer anyways. Can’t.
“Why Andrew?” he askes softer, but Andrew still can’t answer. He looks out over the edge and tries to feel something other than the thudding in his chest and the weightlessness of his stomach. Tries to feel something other than falling. Than fear.
“Are you afraid?”
He shouldn’t be. It was eight fucking letters. Three fucking words and yet they made fear grip his stomach and strangle his throat around them. He closes his eyes.
“Andrew,” Neil softly prods. “Andrew, look at me.”
“You never have to say them back to me. Ever, okay?” He hovers a hand near his cheek but waits for a nod before gently cradling his face. “Not to me. I know.”
He rests their foreheads together.
It’s like a dam break loose — a rush of relief and want and fear mingling together until Andrew crashes their lips together in a bruising kiss and anchors himself in Neil’s touch. They kiss until their lungs scream for air and the chilly night breeze turns biting but even then, they only stop long enough to swallow another mouthful before slotting back together like they were made to fit.
Andrew was never good with words and it still felt like falling, but as Neil’s nose slides against his and his lips whispers them into his, he feels that tightness in his throat loosens just slightly. Not enough for the words to magically slip free, but enough for him to think that maybe one day they could.