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I tried to live alone, but lonely is so lonely, alone

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Getting Neil drunk might be causing some unwanted side effects, Andrew realizes, as he watches his cheeks flush pink, about the same shade as the burned patch and the scars that already adorn them. He’s having a heated conversation with Nicky about a movie they watched last night, and that alone is a clear indicator to his drunkenness. Andrew has never known him to care about movies, and there’s no way The Princess Diaries would be the first to make him care. He hopes Neil doesn’t talk to Kevin tonight, because if a discussion about the location of the fictional country ‘Genovia’ can rile him up like this, he doesn’t want to know what Exy might do.

So, unwanted side effect number one - Bee would want him to number them. She always tells him to break down his problems, so they’re easier to analyze - is the enthusiasm. He thinks that might simply be the core difference between Neil and himself, whether they’re drunk or sober. While he may not constantly showcase it like this, Neil is always brimming with energy. When it’s just the two of them - stealing cigarettes on the roof or sitting in the dorm, Andrew eating ice cream as Neil attempts to write an essay - the energy lays low, still simmering somewhere deep down, but allowing Neil to be calm for a while. But it’s always there, ready to rise and make him go go go, faster faster faster. Andrew doesn’t have any energy to spare, just enough to keep his mind going and his legs walking, and absolutely nothing to waste on enthusiasm.

Side effect number two: he keeps looking at Andrew, little glances over his shoulder. Even worse: he keeps smiling at him. He’s doing it again, right now, just staring at him with an expression on his face that Andrew doesn’t know what to do with, so he pushes his burned cheek away to redirect his gaze and mutters “Junkie” low enough that only Neil will hear it.

“Am I still boring you?” Neil asks him, a little giggle in his voice. Really, this is not at all going according to plan.

“Incredibly” he lies.

“I guess getting me drunk wasn’t so entertaining after all?”

Andrew sighs and thinks back on how they got here in the first place. A few days ago, Nicky, ever hopeful, invited them to a Saturday evening of “team bonding” in one of the dorms of the new kids (Andrew refuses to call them by their names, even though he can’t help but remember them, eidetic memory and all). Neil just looked at him, awaiting the verdict. He didn’t look hopeful, didn’t press. He just waited for Andrew to answer whatever he wanted to. “We’ll come,” he said and then walked away before he had to see Nicky get all excited, as if Andrew were infected by a monstrous disease and he’d been able to cure some part of it. As if one day, he would suddenly be healthy, not a monster anymore, but normal, if only he went to enough team bonding evenings. It was how Nicky always looked at him.

Neil, of course, picked up on the real reason Andrew said yes. “Why do you want me to drink so badly?” he asked. How he’d figured it out, Andrew had no idea. Perhaps it was because he’d been ordering Neil some different type of cocktail every time they went to Eden’s, and subtly sliding them towards him. Neil had slid them through to Kevin without fail.

“I’m bored,” was all Andrew said. And that was that.

So, Neil finally decided to get drunk today. Typical for his junkie heart to give in on an exy-team-bonding-whatever-thing. Andrew ignores whatever undoubtedly snarky and probably flirty response Neil just gave him and tells him: “Let’s go.”

Back in their dorm room, Andrew shuts the door and heads to the bathroom, partly to brush his teeth, and partly to escape the sound of Neil’s giggles next to his ear. When he re-emerges, Neil has flopped down on his bed and is murmuring something to himself as he stares at the underside of Andrew’s mattress above him. Andrew steps closer to him, and notices he’s softly singing something.

“What are you saying?”

Neil turns to look at him. “It’s a French lullaby, but I forgot some of the lyrics” he answers. He looks seriously sad about it too. Andrew sighs. “Ask Kevin tomorrow.”

This time it’s Neil who sighs, rather dramatically, and turns to stare at the bunk above him again. “I’ll have forgotten about it by then.”

“I won’t.”

Neil’s head snaps back and their eyes meet. Andrew wants to tell him to stop looking at him like that, but he doubts his command would be obeyed.

“No, I guess not”, he says, and then adds on, the curious face of a scientist in place: “Do you remember everything from when you’re drunk too? Like, the morning after? Oh, and while you’re drunk, can you still recall everything then? And what about-”

“Shut up,” Andrew stops him, and goes to hover over him, his face very close to Neil’s, but not touching.

“Yes,” Neil says with a smirk, “sir”. Andrew leans down and kisses it all away. Neil is as desperate as he is restrained, even in his drunkenness. His hands clutch the bed sheets obsessively while his mouth follows Andrew’s around, as though they are glued together. When Andrew manages to gasp for breath, he immediately feels soft lips on his neck, and now he is the one almost tearing the bed sheets with how hard he pinches them.

“Neil,” he says, his voice too low to sound quite as unaffected as he’d wished. The receiving hum against his throat raises goosebumps all over his body and Andrew hates him. “Neil, you’re drunk,” he says, and immediately loses all contact with Neil’s body as the latter pulls away.

“Do you want to stop?” he asks, and it’s unbelievable how he looks just the same as he always does when asking that question. As if any answer Andrew would choose to give, were fine. And he knows Neil is an amazing actor, knows he had to be to survive on the run for so long, but how can he possibly be acting this well when he’s this inebriated? Andrew’s been fooled by many men before, but never by an intoxicated one. It’s why he takes the threats to Eden’s Twilight, why he drugs them. It’s so they will talk, spill all their darkest secrets and show their true colors.

Neil is so strange, so mysterious, one visit just wasn’t quite enough to figure him out. He never got to hear what went on in that wondrous mind anyway, because of the whole paying-a-busboy-to-knock-him-out-thing. But this time Neil got drunk by himself, and Andrew is ready to take explore all the dark caverns his mind must be hiding. Yet still his act seems to add up, there’s no slip-ups, no 'accidental' touching. Just painful honesty on his face as he asks Andrew whether he wants to stop.

“Yes,” he says, because he can’t take Neil or his little answering smile anymore. He stares out of the window and listens to the muffled music coming from the dorm room next to theirs.

“Okay,” he hears, and he refuses to look at Neil, even though he’s probably being stared at again. “Then do you want to dance with me?” he giggles.

Andrew does look at him then, to give him the blankest stare he could possibly muster.

“Please?” Neil whines, and ah. Finally. There it is. The slip-up.

Andrew arches one eyebrow until Neil realizes what word he just used, and clamps a hand over his mouth.

He didn’t really think he would feel anything when Neil finally turned out not to be perfect, but he certainly hadn’t expected to feel relief. He’s just so relieved that he can stop the paranoia. He thinks he might have kept testing Neil until he inevitably would have gotten sick of it and left. And maybe that’s been his goal all along. Maybe Andrew really just wants Neil to leave, to abandon him, to take this chance and run far away from the monster he’s for some reason stuck around with for so long. He needs Neil to get up and get out, and in doing so, showcase what Andrew’s known about this world since he was far too young: no one ever stays just because they want to. People only stay because they have to, because it’s beneficial for them, because he makes deals with them.

Neil’s deal expired long ago, yet he’s still here, and Andrew doesn’t know why. Bee says he just likes Andrew, doesn’t want any more than he has to offer. And if Andrew ever wanted anything, it would be to believe just that, but alas, he doesn’t know how. Hence, the testing. Sober thoughts are drunken words and all that. Bee would disapprove of his methods, of course, but she should be happy he’s even giving Neil the benefit of the doubt.

And now the test has been conducted and Andrew can’t tell whether Neil passed or failed. He crossed a boundary, used a word he knows Andrew has a horrible relationship with. A word that makes him feel small and vulnerable and so helpless.

“Andrew?” His voice is quiet, but steady as he says: “Will you look at me?”

Andrew hadn’t realized he’d been staring fixedly at some point above Neil’s head, but lowers his gaze a little to Neil’s blue eyes, impossibly luminescent for such a dark room. They don’t seem to plead or beg for forgiveness or show any emotion at all. His face is as expressionless as Andrew’s own, carefully maintained blank stare.

Perhaps that’s why his eyes look so honest when he states: “I’m sorry”. Perhaps it’s why Andrew believes him. Emotions only serve to manipulate people. What he’s seeing is a rare showing of Neil’s painful honesty.

There’s really no point in deciding whether Neil passed his test. Despite anything the logical part of his brain may tell him, Andrew believes that he’s sorry, and that he isn’t malicious, and - he will certainly regret this - he’s starting to believe that he won’t leave. That he’s here to stay.

“Do you want me to go?” Neil asks, so ridiculously well-timed that Andrew has to suppress a laugh.

“No. You can stay”, Andrew says, “It’s fine.” This time Neil crooks an eyebrow at the bad word choice and promptly giggles again.

Luckily, Andrew doesn’t do regret, because he would hate to regret anything that makes Neil sound like that. Instead, he clambers over Neil to lie beside him in his bunk bed, pressing his back against the wall and leaving just a little space between their bodies.

“You still want to sleep with me?” Neil asks, his voice filled with surprise and drunken happiness. Andrew, of course, doesn’t answer him.

“Turn around” he says instead, and when Neil is looking the other way, he wraps an arm around him to pull him a little closer. They’ve slept like this before, and it feels easy when Andrew doesn’t think about it. When he does, however, he realizes how impossible it would have been to imagine this vulnerability a few years ago, and how stupid he probably is for allowing it right now. Not even just allowing, but instigating it. He feels Neil’s breathing grow slower and he realizes yet again that Neil is just as much of an idiot for letting himself get so comfortable. He suddenly has a burning question he needs to ask, and it’s out of his mouth before he has time to reconsider.

“Neil, do you trust me?”

He feels Neil go stiff for a second when he falls through the cloud he had been slowly sinking in as he drifted off to sleep. He tries to turn around to face Andrew, but is held in place by the arm wrapped around his stomach.

“Yes”, rings his answer, simple and clear. Just how Andrew likes it.

Neil really is a pipe dream, and even more than that, he is an idiot with a death wish. But Andrew’s always known that.

“Junkie”, he says and they both know it’s not yet a reciprocation of this dangerous feeling Neil has just admitted to. But Andrew's considering the possibility of returning the favor someday. The possibility that he will stop feeling the need to test Neil, that perhaps a small spark of trust might ignite. Trust that there is goodness in the world, his life, and himself.

“Go back to sleep”, he whispers.