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Neil Josten is at a loss. After graduating from college, his life is significantly more boring than he ever thought it would be. Considering the events of his childhood, he had been certain from a young age that there would never be a dull moment in his life.

After the mess of his freshmen year, however, he was as much of a real, normal person that he believed he was capable of becoming. For the remainder of his college years, this had been the biggest blessing he could have asked for. He had a handful of amazing friends, a math degree, and a mafia-free life. Neil counts that as an enormous win. 

After his graduation, however, Neil found himself drifting. He worked a boring nine-to-five as a start-out at his local bank, and while this is a normalcy that would have been wonderful a few years ago, Neil was beginning to wish for a change.

He wasn’t sure why he was suddenly hoping for an adventure, when his childhood and early adulthood had been chock full of it, even if it was the bad kind of exciting. Matt said that it probably had something to do with him wanting to take his life back into his own hands— whatever that meant. Nonetheless, Neil needs a change.

Sharing a dorm and eventually an apartment with Matt had been a great temporary arrangement through college, but now, with Matt moving in with Dan, Neil couldn’t bring himself to keep the old, rundown flat for himself, even if the rent was suspiciously cheaper than his college textbooks. It was time for him to move on, and being in the same space for so long was starting to make Neil nauseous. Revenants of his life on the run, probably.

Neil is craving something new, and he was never good at surviving on his own. 

~

After a long, boring, and nauseatingly predictable morning shift at the bank, where he filled out paperwork and took customer calls, he met up with his coworker Kevin for their lunch break.

Kevin had insisted on a disgustingly healthy vegan restaurant, because he was constantly bugging Neil to eat better, and while Neil hated the idea of so many vegetables on his plate at once on principle, old habits die hard, and Neil was still never one to turn down a free meal. 

Currently, Kevin is trying to set a world record for the largest amount of vegetables consumed in a single lunch hour, while Neil looks on, disgusted, but also vaguely impressed. 

“I just don’t understand why you won’t put in a little extra effort!” Kevin is complaining, “It’s not like you don’t have enough money to be healthy— your rent is practically lunch money!”

Neil rolls his eyes at Kevin’s dramatics and decides to let the health argument go for now. He was already consuming far too much bullshit from his veggie bowl and he doesn't need Kevin’s on top of that. “I’m moving out,” Neil states instead, swiftly avoiding a green pepper with his fork, looking for something edible in the sea of green vegetables Kevin had ordered him, “looking for a change of scenery.”

Kevin opens his mouth to complain about something else, but Neil catches the moment his eyes widen with interest, mouth snapping shut, something rare enough for Kevin that Neil narrows his eyes, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Kevin looks thoughtful for all of ten seconds before he speaks again. “You should move in with me! There’s plenty of space and the rent will probably be even less than what you’re paying now.”

Neil keeps his face carefully skeptical, sopping up the skimpy amount of unsweetened vinaigrette dressing with a raw mushroom, shoving it in his mouth and chewing thoughtfully. It's not like he’s going to completely dismiss the idea — he would be stupid to not consider it. Neil gets along well enough with Kevin that he doubts they would murder each other if they shared a space, and he is looking for an option cheap enough that he wouldn’t have to spend much more than he is currently on rent, which is already a big ask. 

Neil is about to ask Kevin about maybe seeing if he could drop by for a tour when he suddenly remembers a very important piece of information that Kevin had conveniently decided to keep to himself. Neil’s pretty sure he remembers Kevin saying something about a flatmate before this. With his mouth still full, Neil asks, “Don’t you already have a flatmate? You always say he’s an asshole.”

In fact, now that he’s thinking about it, Neil remembers plenty of occasions that Kevin has complained about his roommate Andrew— as well as plenty of times other people complained about his roommate Andrew.

Kevin is undeterred, though, and Neil can almost see the gears turning in his head, clearly thinking up a way to make this go his way. Kevin may be pushy and occasionally annoying as fuck, but when he gets his mind set on something, he rarely looses; it's what makes him such a good salesman. Although this makes Neil wants to refuse Kevin plainly on principle, Neil knows that it won’t take much to convince him. 

Kevin shoves a frankly obscene amount of kale in his mouth before speaking. “Andrew’s just a drama queen! We’ve been talking about getting another flatmate for weeks now! There’s plenty of space and I’m sure he’ll be fine with you so long as he meets you first. It just means he won’t have to put in any extra effort to put up flyers.” Kevin’s practically bouncing in his seat, looking like a child scheming up ways to get his friend to sleep over another night. 

Neil already feels himself swaying towards Kevin’s proposal. Staying with someone he already knew would be better than a stranger, and he could always back out in a few months if he wanted. Andrew sounded like an asshole from Kevin’s stories and literally anyone else Neil knew who had ever met him, including his own cousin, Nicky, who made sure to treat Neil to dinner at least once a month. Even so, Neil was used to dealing with stuck up people, and he figured that between Kevin and his job, he’d hardly have time to be around Andrew anyways. 

Kevin’s still going, talking about eating habits and how if Neil moves in, he can make sure Andrew and Neil eat a balanced breakfast in the morning, but Neil’s heard enough, deciding to bite the bullet and see how it goes, something he excels at in life.

He pushes his bowl to the side, ignoring Kevin’s look of discontentment when he spies more than half of the vegetables still remaining in the dish. He opens his mouth to complain, but Neil cuts him off. “Set up a meeting with your flatmate. If he’s okay with me, I’ll check out the space and move in if I like it—” 

He’s cut off by Kevin’s excited smile, and while a part of Neil finds this endearing despite everything, he makes sure to firmly state, “No promises, Kev. There’s like a 50% chance that this is happening.” 

Nothing can stamp out Kevin’s glee though, and he pulls out his phone and starts texting, presumably setting up the meeting. Neil wonders if Kevin’s been spending more time with Matt or Nicky— he doesn’t remember him being this easily excited. It must just be that he was just happy to have another flatmate, Neil muses. 

He wonders what that must say about Andrew Minyard. 

~

A few days later, and Neil was regretting giving Kevin Day his phone number. 

At first, it was reasonable, with Kevin texting him to let Neil know that Andrew would meet with him at Neil’s potential new apartment on his Friday off, after Kevin’s shift at the bank. 

When Kevin found out that Neil was actually following through with the meeting, however, he began texting Neil with a frequency Nicky Hemmick would be proud of.

Neil

Neil

Hey Neil

Neil Josten 

what

Nothing, I’m just making sure you remember to be prepared for your meeting with Andrew.

okay kevin, i got it.

He’s definitely been hanging out with Nicky too often, Neil decides. 

After making a shitty cup of watered down coffee from a beat up Keurig that Matt found at a yard sale in sophomore year, Neil goes for a run, and takes a quick (and chilly) shower. After a long internal debate about deciding what outfit he should wear to the meeting that Allison would be proud of, Neil pulls out his phone and puts the address Kevin had sent him into the GPS app.

It’s not too far; about a ten minute walk from his current apartment, and he recognizes the area that it’s in. If this all worked out, his new place would be closer to his work than his current apartment. 

Neil dismisses this notion immediately— he can’t be getting too ahead of himself. He’s never even met the other half of his potential company, and the chances of Neil liking Asshole Andrew —as nicknamed by Allison Reynolds, who works as an executive for the same catering company he works for— enough to move in are slim-to-none. 

Neil starts his walk to the address, putting in some earbuds Renee had gifted him and letting the city sounds fade. Despite his attempts to pat down his flighty instincts, Neil still finds himself most comfortable in larger crowds of people. His mother had made sure of that. More people makes it much easier to hide; to blend in. One person alone draws attention; two people are suspicious, one hundred is undetectable. 

This being considered, it was no wonder Neil had decided to go stay with his uncle in one of the biggest cities in the world, though the bustle of London had been a bit much even for him, and he’d eventually moved back to the states for collage. He preferred the strange atmosphere of Denver to any place he’d ever lived before, and he had made many more connections in this city than he thought he would ever be capable of. 

Matt had been an amazing flatmate, and he was honestly a bit sad to see him go when he had moved out, but Dan and he had been sure to assure Neil that he was just as welcome in their new place as he was in his own, and had even gone so far as to give him a key. 

He traces that key now, as he draws closer to the looming warehouse-like building he was looking for. The silhouette of the structure was intimidating by itself, even before he considered the infamy of the man he was about to meet who probably stood somewhere inside. The building itself was a strange build, large and bulky and made of metal, and it stood out like a sore thumb in the brick-and-mortar of Denver.

As Neil gazed up at the large windows and small balconies, he allowed himself a moment to imagine himself coming home to this place. This place that could be his new home. The second place he had ever given such a name. The thought was intimidating, but Neil found that it wasn’t quite as scary as it had been a year ago when he moved in with Matt. 

Calm down, Neil thinks to himself, you don’t live there yet. 

He hadn’t even met one of the men he would be living with, though that was about to change. 

Neil had of course heard about Andrew Minyard; he was friends with both Kevin and Nicky, after all, as well as Allison— and Renee by extension. 

Neil knew that Andrew was stoic, blonde, and perpetually bored, and that he— according to Kevin’s seemingly endless complaints— had people over often. Neil was sure that Kevin was hoping that he’d forgotten about the many times he had complained to Neil about the noise, but Neil wasn’t really bothered by the prospect. He was supremely talented at keeping to himself, especially when it benefitted him, and Andrew’s late night affairs were quite patently Not His Business. 

Kevin spoke of Andrew as if he were a specimen; distant and cautious and admiring, while Nicky spoke of him like he were a particularly prickly stray cat he had been feeding for months but still refused to come inside. 

So yes, Neil has heard much about Andrew Minyard— perhaps too much. 

None of that mattered now though, as he texted Kevin to let him know he was at the gate; all that mattered was that Andrew approved of him enough to allow him to build a place in this seemingly untouchable building, with Andrew’s seemingly untouchable self as company.

As soon as Neil’s text went through, Kevin burst through the gate in a manner that made it clear he had been waiting for Neil, and he wasted no time in leading him up through a narrow flight of stairs, and then another. And then another. If Neil were a less energetic or a more nitpick-y type of man, he would maybe complain about it. After the fourth flight, they finally came up upon a door that Kevin unlocked with his key. 

“Andrew will be home soon. If you do decide to move in I recommend investing in some noise canceling headphones. Andrew brings home plenty of people, and if I can hear it across the flat, you will be able to too.” Kevin explains as he swings the door open, and before Neil can respond to all that, his attention is quickly taken by the apartment. 

Kevin steps into the space easily, and Neil follows suit, closing the heavy door behind him. As he turns to face the room, Neil is met with a— frankly enormous— open plan apartment. The dark metal and large windows gives the interior the same untouchable and industrial look that the outside had. To Neil’s left, he sees nothing but a bedroom door, but to his right there is a spacious living room with a TV, a loveseat, and a green velvet chair he’s sure Allison would swoon over. Connected to the living room is an amazing kitchen with a copious amount of storage, counter space, and alcohol. 

Neil has never been the type to appreciate material things in the ways that most people do, but he does allow himself a moment of shock as he takes in the beauty of the place. He imagines the living room filled with his friends, Dan and Matt snug on the loveseat and Allison sat with Renee in her lap on the wonderful velvet chair. He imagines Nicky mixing drinks in the kitchen, Kevin hovering as he waits for him to hand over the Vodka bottle. 

Neil is immediately snapped out of his reverie as Kevin steps into his view. “Nice, right?” 

It is nice. But now that he thinks about it a little harder, Neil decides that this is definitely too nice for the amount of rent Kevin said he would be paying. Kevin must see the suspicion written on Neil’s face, because his next words are “We aren’t sure why it's so cheap either. Andrew says he thinks someone must have been killed in here, and we’ve never met the landlord. Renee and Allison live on the floor below us and say it's just as cheap, so…” he shrugs, “we don’t ask too many questions.”

Neil puts aside the fact that apparently Allison and Renee also live here for another day, and decides to focus again on the space itself. There is no hallway leading to any other rooms, but there are two doors lined up along the far right wall of the living room, as well as a corner that must round into another bedroom. 

Kevin leads him toward the doors. “You can see the living room and kitchen. My room is back there,” Kevin gestures toward the door Neil saw immediately to the left of the door. “This is the bathroom,” a gesture to the first door. “This is Andrew’s room,” the next door down. Finally, Kevin leads him around the corner and through the last door, which leads into a small bedroom that looks more like an attic. There is an enormous paneled glass window that stretches nearly floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall.

Neil can’t help the shiver that takes over him when he steps into the room, “Kevin it’s fucking freezing in here.” 

“I know,” Kevin says somberly, “you might freeze your balls off— we had sex in here once just to see if it could be done.”

Kevin did not seem to realize that he had just shared much more information than he ever had previously, and although Neil really does not want to know anymore about that situation, his curiosity gets the best of him, as it often does, “You— what? Who did?”

Kevin wastes no time, “Andrew and I.”

Neil isn’t sure what he’d expected, but it most certainly was not that. As far as he knows, Kevin is an emotional mess who rarely does casual sex, and was eternally pining over three people at once. Neil supposes, though, that if anyone could bring that sort of thing out in people, it would be Andrew Minyard. “Why would you tell me that about the room I might be about to move in to? No—why would you tell me that at all, Kev?”

Kevin shrugs, “It was only the once, if you’re worried about that. Andrew rarely tolerates hooking at the same person twice; I’m surprised he didn’t kick me to the curb after the fact.”

Before Neil can formulate a response to that, the sound of the heavy front door opening, then closing, takes his attention. 

“That’ll be Andrew,” explains Kevin, as he begins to lead the way back to the living room. Neil follows him mutely, nervous and confused, but beyond all, curious to meet the man who was the subject of a thousand stories form many different people. Something Neil had learned about Andrew Minyard is that every single person who’d ever met him has something to say about him.

As they walk out into the living room, it's to see Andrew Minyard himself stalking across the flat in a full-out chefs uniform. 

Neil could almost laugh at the sight if it weren’t for the look on Minyard’s face. The all-white outfit was offset completely by the murderous scowl directed on Neil as he opened his mouth to speak. Before he could do so, however, Minyard simply strolled straight past them and said, “Don’t,” before going into his room and slamming the door shut behind him. 

Neil stares at the door, and then at Kevin, at a loss. Kevin simply shrugs and then walks over to the loveseat, beckoning for Neil to join him. 

He does, and he sinks into the buttery soft cushions as he and Kevin wait in silence until Andrew’s door opens again a few minutes later. He strides into the room looking far more like the man that had been described to Neil, and plops himself directly into the green velvet chair, letting out a sigh and tilting his head to the ceiling, eyes closed. 

Neil takes this moment to take Minyard in. His blonde hair is less messy and pushed stylishly out of his face, no longer a mess from what Neil assumed was the small white chef’s hat that Andrew had had clutched in his fist when he walked in. Andrew seemed to have flipped a switch on his wardrobe as well. Where there had been neatly pressed white slacks there were now artfully ripped black skinny jeans, and the white long sleeve button down had been replaced by a black tank top and armbands. He has pink socks on. 

Neil finally looks back up to Minyard’s face only to be met with hazel eyes already cracked open and watching him. His head was still tilted back, and when they locked eyes he rolled his neck in a slow circle before sitting straight up, exposing the thick tendons of his throat. 

The three of them sit there in silence until Kevin eventually breaks it, “So this is Neil, the coworker I was talking about. He’s interested in the apartment.” Kevin looks just as nervous as Neil feels, and he tries his best to keep his face open and mostly bored. 

Andrew doesn't even look like he has to try. He blinks slowly at Kevin, then at Neil. He looks tired, and his pink socks were incredibly distracting. Andrew continued to stare at Neil until he had finally had enough. 

“Can I live here or not? Are you going to ask me questions or just stare at me all day?” Neil was going for polite but he thinks he probably ended up somewhere halfway between bored and demanding. Kevin looks at him incredulously, then looks up to the ceiling, as if he’s already reconciling with himself about Neil not walking out of here breathing. 

Andrew, for his part, simply tilts his head slightly before dragging his eyes up Neil’s form to meet his eyes, then getting to his feet again. “Sure,” he says, and his voice is deep and raspy like a smoker. “Don’t go in my room. Kevin, order take out. If I have to chop another vegetable tonight I will jump out the window.” And just like that, he’s back in his room, and the flat is silent. 

Neil is flabbergasted. He tries to make sense of what had just happened and fails miserably, turning to look at Kevin again, who just shrugs again, and says “I guess that’s a yes. When are you moving your stuff?”

Neil really doesn’t know what he’s managed to get himself into.

~

Over the course of the next few days, Neil goes through the tedious process of moving. It is much harder to do now than it had been for the majority of his life, when he had been ready to run at any and every moment. As Matt and Dan use their strong arms to carry his mattress down the stairs, Neil allows himself a moment to feel sad about leaving this place behind.         

This cheap, rundown apartment had been the first place Neil had ever called home. He wonders if he will ever be able to call his new place the same.

Once the three of them finally get his stuff set up in his new—and freezing— room, Dan immediately sets about setting up insulation on the windows, claiming that he would actually die of frostbite if she didn’t do so. While she does this, Matt goes out to Best Buy to buy him a space heater, despite the fact that Neil is capable of doing some things for himself.

After a few minutes of hovering, watching as Dan uses various tools Neil can’t even begin to comprehend the function of, she finally shoos him away to work in peace, so Neil goes and sits on the loveseat until she’s finished.

Eventually, Dan and Matt leave him to his own devices, and before they leave, they make sure to let him know that Neil is always welcome to stay with them if this doesn’t work out. Neil isn’t willing to entertain that possibility just yet, but he nods anyway, and they hug him as they walk out the door. Dan squeezes him so tight Neil actually hears his back pop, and before she pulls away, whispers, “If Minyard gives you any problems, you tell us, okay? You don’t have to take his bullshit.”

Neil just nods, and then the door closes and his new apartment is silent.

Left to his own devices for the first time in his new space, Neil is unsure of what to do with himself. It’s a Sunday, so the bank is closed today. Neil doesn’t know where Kevin went off to, and as far as he knew, Andrew is at work, although Neil supposes that he could be just lurking silently in his room the same way he had on Friday after he’d told Neil he could move in.

Neil sighs quietly to himself, and then busies himself with setting up his room, making his bed and hanging up a few Polaroid pictures Dan had bestowed upon him. It was already a good 15 degrees warmer in the room, and his bed is feeling incredibly comfortable after a long morning of moving box after box up four flights of stairs. He’s asleep before he can think to get under the covers.

Some time later, Neil wakes up to noise in the kitchen, and he checks his phone, surprised to see that it’s already time for dinner. He wonders into the living room and peers into the kitchen to see Andrew Minyard already occupying the space. He’s sitting on the counter smoking a cigarette, and there’s a small window open behind him, the wind sucking the smoke greedily into the open air.

Andrew raises an eyebrow when Neil walks up to the stove, but stays silent. Neil spies into the large pot on the stove to check its contents and raises an eyebrow of his own, “Boxed spaghetti?” he asks skeptically, spotting the box in the recycling bin, “Aren’t you a chef?”

Andrew flicks his cigarette out the open window and pushes off the counter. Standing next to Neil, he’s a few inches shorter than him, and he smells likes warm combination of cigarette smoke and coconut. He’s wearing all black again, but this time his socks are an abrasive neon green that hurt Neil’s eyes to look at for too long.

“The first thing you should know about me is that I do not cook outside of work, Josten,” is all Andrew says, and Neil can’t stop himself from snorting softly, “Actually, the first thing I knew about you is that everyone says you’re an asshole and a sex addict.”

Immediately after the words leave his mouth, he regrets them. Neil has a habit of not thinking before speaking, and more often than not, his thoughts are not considered very polite. Before Neil can really start to panic about the fact that he’s just called his new flat mate an asshole, however, Andrew simply raises an eyebrow, “The second thing, then,” he says, and scoops up an enormous amount of pasta into a bowl, leaving the kitchen to go sit in the living room, switching the TV on.

As is starting to become a theme from all his interactions with Andrew, Neil is left staring after him for a minute after he leaves.

Eventually, he makes himself a bowl of spaghetti and sits himself down at the breakfast bar. Taking a small bite of pasta, Neil is unable to stifle the surprised noise he makes, and he catches the edge of Andrews smirk from the living room easily. Neil has had dozens of bowls of boxed pasta in his life on the run, but this is easily the best he’s ever had. Shit, it’s probably the best meal he has ever tasted. Flavor explodes across his tongue, and he realizes that this is definitely homemade tomato sauce. It’s rich and sweet and tangy all at once, and he quickly scarfs down the rest of his bowl, glancing at Andrew on the couch. His face is blank as some loud show with a laugh track plays on the TV, and he’s taking slow bites of pasta, looking the perfect picture of boredom.

Later that night as he gets ready for bed, he wonders if maybe there’s more to Andrew Minyard than everyone seems to think.

~

It’s been two weeks of living with Andrew and Kevin and so far it’s… nice. There have been no big fights, although one day last week Andrew did have to threaten Kevin with a kitchen knife when he wouldn’t stop hovering behind him, trying to make sure that he didn’t add any sugar into the curry sauce.

Neil is starting to wonder why Andrew flat-out lied to him that first night about never cooking outside of work. From what Neil has seen, Andrew cooks dinner almost every night and sometimes even breakfast, and seems to enjoy it more than he does much else. There have only been a few days since Neil has moved in that Andrew hadn’t cooked, and on those nights, he tells Kevin to cook or order takeout, and then disappears either into his room or out to what Kevin says is the club, and on most of the nights he does this, he doesn’t come back home alone.

About that. Neil did invest in noise canceling headphones, and while he definitely isn’t appreciative of the noise that comes from the room next to his, he supposes things could definitely be worse.

Today is a Sunday, which means that both Kevin and Neil don’t have to work. After getting changed for a run, he’s walking into the kitchen to find Andrew cooking French toast with tall slices of thick yellow bread. This wouldn’t be out of the ordinary if he weren’t wearing only black sweatpants and armbands, and if he weren’t accompanied by another man wearing only boxer shorts.

It’s a lot to take in. This is the first time Neil has ever even so much as seen one of Andrew’s hookups, and between that and the fact that Andrew’s entire torso is on display, Neil isn’t sure what to do with himself.

Andrew looks up as Neil grabs a granola bar from the kitchen on his way out, and the man next to him extends his hand to him, introducing himself as Roland. Neil shakes his hand, trying extremely hard to keep his eyes on Rolands face and not… any other part of him.

Roland chuckles softly at this and then turns back to Andrew, pressing up against his side.

Neil has to look away and he’s not sure why. It’s not like he’s uncomfortable with Andrew bringing guys home, but he can’t stand watching Roland touch Andrew so casually. If feels wrong— Andrew always seems so untouchable.

“I, um…” Neil’s eyes catch on Andrew’s pecs, refusing to budge, “run.” He walks speedily out the door, and as he leaves he hear Roland ask, “What’s his deal?” But the door closes before he can hear Andrew’s low reply.

On his run, Neil reflects on the conversation. Why was Andrew making breakfast for Roland when Neil’s never even so much as seen any of his other hookups? Are Andrew and Roland dating? Why does it matter to him if they are? Neil puts these questions out of his mind and finishes up his run, dripping with sweat as he trudges back up the many flights of stairs.

When Neil opens the door, he can immediately see Andrew sprawled sideways in that green chair he favors, legs hung over the arm while he reads a thick paperback. He’s put on a black sweatshirt, as well as a pair of tie-dye purple socks. There are dishes piled up in the sink, as well as a plate of French toast waiting on the breakfast bar.

Neil forgoes the breakfast in favor of a shower, and he can feel Andrew’s eyes on him as he passes through the living room.

In the shower, Neil uses Andrew’s expensive coconut scented shampoo just because he knows Andrew will notice. He dries off and applies some of the scar cream Allison had supplied him with, before remembering that he hadn’t brought it to the bathroom with him. He stares at the cream for a minute before realizing that this is not, in fact, his scar cream. He supposes it could be Kevin’s, but something deep within Neil tells him that it’s not. Not for the first time, he finds himself wondering if he will ever know Andrew at all.

He sighs, finishing drying off and then turning to put his clothes back on, heading back into the kitchen to eat his breakfast and think about the man sitting not twenty feet away, covered up head to toe, likely hiding just as many secrets as Neil himself.

~

After about a month more of living with Andrew and Kevin, Neil finds himself looking forward to coming home more and more everyday. On days off, the three of them will order in, or Andrew will attempt to teach them to cook something simple. On a rare occasion, they will invite Allison and Renee, or even Dan and Matt to hang out and watch movies.

Neil has found himself gravitating toward Andrew more and more, and in return, Andrew will show that he doesn’t hate him by teaching him to make homemade pasta, or even confide in him about his latest hookup drama.

Neil had been incredibly surprised when Andrew had brought Roland back to the flat a total of three more times. Neil had thought they might actually have started dating before Andrew suddenly stopped talking about him and then brought home three different guys in the span of three nights.

Neil had asked him what happened, but Andrew had only responded with, “Roland seems to think that because I tolerate him more than I do others, he is entitled to something.” That had been that.

Today, Neil had worked a shift at the bank that seemed to have stretched on for days, and he had been ditched by Kevin before his walk home. He is looking forward to spending some much needed quiet time with Andrew, who had texted him to let him know his gig had gotten canceled today, which meant they would probably attempt to cook something more complex than usual.

This excitement quickly dissipates when he opens the front door and can immediately sense something wrong. For one, it is nearly six, and Andrew is nowhere to be found, and for another, the flat is eerily silent.

Almost as soon as the thought enters his mind, Neil hears a crash from Andrew’s room. For a breath, Neil almost chalks it up to another one of Andrew’s hookups, but that wrongness from before persists. He walks slowly up to Andrew’s door, calls out “Andrew?”

There is only silence before another loud crash sounds, and Neil’s had enough. He slams open the door, not allowing himself a moment to think about the fact that this is the first time he’s been in Andrew’s room. The reason being— there’s a man twice Andrew’s size laying on top of him, hand over his mouth, the other on the belt of his pants.

Neil is moving before he can think twice, using moves still second instinct from his life on the run to knock the breath out of the man, hopefully breaking a rib or two along the way. In seconds he has the man on the floor, a knee on his throat.

He glances up to see Andrew staring down at them, breath ragged, eyes far away. Neil catalogues him, relieved to see that Andrew is still completely clothed. Neil pushes his knee a little harder when he spies the red ring of bruises around his neck. The man below him is gasping, and Neil lets up a little to make sure he can’t pass out before Neil gets answers.

Andrew finally stands, motioning for Neil to let the man go, rubbing faintly at his neck. Neil does, but he keeps both of the mans hands locked behind him, and now the man is talking. “AJ,” he’s saying, and Neil fights the urge to gut the man right then when he sees how Andrew shivers at the nickname. “Tell your friend to let me go. Tell him we were fine, AJ. I know you missed me. You missed seeing me after class on Fridays, I know you did. I bet you still have those drawings. I always loved to see us how you saw us. God, I miss the way you would—” he wheezes in pain as Neil jabs his fingers into his broken ribs.

“Shut up,” Neil growls. “Andrew who the fuck is this?”

Andrew seems to have snapped out of a trance, and it makes Neil sick to think about what he must have been remembering. “You need to leave, Drake” is all he says, his voice strained and raspy. “I already sent Sarah the text. You better go try to convince her to stay.” He walks out of the room, taking a casual seat on his chair, looking supremely unelected aside from the slight tremor in his hands and the faraway look in his eyes. Drake is panicking as Neil pushes him away with a final jab to his side, and he swears at Andrew once before running out of the apartment, door slamming behind him.

Neil makes his way into the living room slowly, sitting on the cushion farthest away from Andrew’s chair, waiting for him to explain. Or not. Neil would respect it if Andrew decides to completely ignore what had just happened, too.

It only takes a moment, however, for Andrew to sigh, “Hang on,” and go into his room. He comes out not a minute later with a stack of papers, and pushes them into Neil’s hands before he can ask about them.

Neil only looks at the top paper long enough to get the gist of it before he pushes them far away from him, feeling very sick all of a sudden. “He was your teacher.”

Andrew nods.

Neil is going to throw up. “How old were you?”

Andrew’s throat clicks. “Fifteen. Then sixteen. We moved schools after sophomore year.”

Neil says, “Oh my god.”

Andrew continues though, still looking a million miles away. “I felt… special, at the time. When it started. He would always say that I was the only one he ever did it with, and that I could never tell anyone. So I didn’t. We never exchanged numbers. I drew those for him. I ran into him and his wife on the way home today, and he said he wanted to see me again, just one last time. I agreed; I wanted a way to get back at him, now that I understand what he’d done to me. I got his wife’s number and texted her a picture. I wasn’t expecting him to…” Andrew trails off, but Neil knows what he was about to say. “At the time… I thought that I loved him.”

Neil feels like his entire world has been flipped upside down, everything he thought he knew about Andrew Minyard scrambling around in his brain and fitting itself back together like a mismatched jigsaw puzzle. All at once, Neil understands Andrew’s reservations, his prickly-ness, his habit of casual sex. His need for control.

Andrew’s lilac colored socks feel entirely out of place in the room all of the sudden, and Neil feels the need to take a shower, and burn the dozens of pages of illustrations created by a young Andrew, kept all these years. Before he can do either of these things though, Andrew stands again, scooping up the papers and placing them at the top of the trash can, tying off the bag. He says, “Now you know,” and then walks straight into the bathroom, the shower turning on almost immediately.

Neil sits in silence for another minute, allowing himself to absorb everything he’d just learned before springing to action. He puts a new trash bag into the bin and walks the old one down to the garbage. He replaces Andrew’s bed sheets and allows himself a glance around the neatly organized room.

He spies a leather armchair in the corner, a meticulously maintained bookshelf, and an array of black clothing in the open closet. Neil goes to put the old sheets in the wash, and sweeps up the remains of a vase that had been knocked over. As he finally sits back down on the loveseat, Andrew emerges from the bathroom holding his clothes with an enormous fluffy towel wrapped around the entirety of his body like a shield. He goes into his room and glances back at Neil when he notices the changes, meeting his eyes briefly before closing the door, locking himself inside.

Neil tries to cook some curry Andrew showed him last week before giving up when the fire alarm sounds for the third time, letting Kevin know to pick up dinner from Andrew’s favorite Thai place on the way home.

Kevin gets back with the food about an hour later, and Neil has to stop himself from wringing his neck when he says something about Andrew’s bitchy mood after he comes out to grab his container wearing an enormous black hoodie and snowflake-patterned pajama pants. Black socks.

Neil retreats back to his room with his own curry, but he’s unable to make himself eat more than half. He falls asleep to the soft sounds of classical music from the room next to his.

~

The next morning, Neil uses his day off to hover around Andrew, who is acting suspiciously normal aside from a few far off looks and the fact that he’s still wearing the same outfit as last night.

They watch TV until Andrew makes them some lunch and invites Neil into his room to show him two enormous wine bottles his brother had apparently gifted him. While Neil believes that it is most definitely too early to start drinking, he supposes Andrew could use it, so he agrees to join him.

After an hour or so, Andrew is three glasses in. Neil has been nursing the same glass, sitting on the floor in silence. Andrew had shed his hoodie to reveal his usual black tank top and armbands, and Neil has to look away quickly from the distracting sight of his sculpted arms.

He’s smoking a joint, which he only breaks out on the rare occasion that Kevin feels like smoking too, and he’s on the floor leaning back against the wall, Neil sitting a few feet away, leaning back against the bed frame.

“Andrew…” It’s been eating at Neil that he’d seen so much of Andrew without his consent. He doesn’t know if he will ever be able to get them on even ground again, but he wants to try. He looks up from his lap to Andrew’s bored face, determined.

Andrew stares back at him cooly, “Neil.”

“I, um… my dad… wasn’t a… good guy,” he starts, but before he can continue, he’s interrupted by a soft grunt.

“Neil. You don’t owe me anything. It’s not your fault you saw what you saw.”

“No, it’s not.” Neil’s agrees, “But I saw a part of your life you would have never shared with me. At least not in such detail. I do owe you this. I know I don’t have tell you, but I want to, Andrew. We won’t be even until I tell you this, so shut the hell up and listen to me.”

By now, Andrew is used to Neil’s occasional outbursts, but he must have surprised him enough this time, because his mouth parts slightly as he stares at Neil. Andrew takes a drag and motions for Neil to continue, so he does.

He tells Andrew about his father, about how his mother had taken him and ran, about his life on the run, his move to the UK and back, the mess of his freshman year of college. All of it. All the while, Andrew just watches him, intent, joint between his fingers, wine glass beside his thigh.

When Neil’s done, the room is silent, and it stays that way until Kevin comes home and immediately sniffs out the weed like a blood hound. He joins them on the floor with a demand for a joint, which Andrew hands over like he’d been expecting it.

They stay there until the early morning, Kevin easily switching the conversation from topic to meaningless topic, until Neil takes the end of the joints and the rest of the wine out to the kitchen and tells Andrew to get some sleep.

By the time he passes by the open door again, the blonde is laid out on top of the blankets, fast asleep.

~

Neil tries to tell himself that nothing has changed between himself and Andrew Minyard since their secret exchange, but it’s a lost cause.

For one, they haven’t let up with this game Neil had triggered by putting them on even ground. Most nights, Andrew cooks complicated meals at the stove while Neil swings his legs from the spot next to him on the counter, and they talk back and forth at each other, swapping truth after treasured truth.

Andrew tells Neil that cooking for him is like meditation (although he makes sure to specify that this is only when he does so alone). In return, Neil explains that he keeps himself in place by quite literally running away from his problems, which Andrew only clicks his tongue at in response.

Andrew has also been bringing home less and less hookups as the days go on. Neil would chalk this up to the entire Drake debacle if it weren’t for the fact that after those initial few days, Andrew had been bringing home someone new nearly every night.

On a day off, a few weeks after the incident, Kevin, Andrew, and Neil invite the rest of their friends to their flat for a movie night, and Neil is given about a million incredulous looks due to how easily he interacts with Andrew. When Dan and Matt arrive, Andrew is making a lasagna, instructing Neil how to make the cheese sauce and teaching him the order of lasagna operations (SPCSC). They give Neil identical confused stares when he asks them if they want to help, but agree anyways.

Not long after, Allison and Renee arrive, followed quickly by Nicky and his boyfriend, who take up the remaining space on the loveseat and beanbags. When Neil walks back into the living room after checking on the lasagna to find no empty seats, Andrew just catches his wrist and tugs him to sit on the arm of his chair.

Neil feels his face heat up, because he can smell the combination of smoke and coconut clinging to Andrew, can feel the heat of him seeping into his side— but mostly because he wishes that he had been pulled into his lap instead.

Neil looks up to meet Allison’s raised eyebrow and Nicky’s confused but delighted eyes and just shrugs.

After that day, they begin to touch more casually, whether it’s Andrew guiding his hand in the kitchen, or Neil propping his legs on Andrew’s lap on the loveseat.

On another day, Neil is running late to work after losing track of time on his run, sprinting into the shower as quick as possible, ignoring Andrew’s judgmental eyebrow raise from the living room.

He rinses off in record time, only to discover that he’s forgotten his clothes in his haste. Neil swears, wrapping the towel around his waist and saying a quick mental fuck you to his father as he steps out into the open apartment.

Andrew looks up from his book as Neil opens the door and does an almost comical double-take when he sees Neil without a shirt. He stares for maybe two seconds before continuing to read. Neil sighs softly, relieved that he won’t be made to explain just yet.

Neil almost thinks that Andrew has forgotten about it when they’re making dinner that night and Andrew still doesn’t ask. That is until Neil notices his lack of armbands, taking note of the small, precise scars across his forearms.

Truth for truth, it sounds like. As Andrew had earlier, Neil moves on from this without a word, wondering how he had gotten lucky enough to be someone that Andrew Minyard trusts enough to bare his scars to.

~

Kevin’s been begging them to go to the club with him for weeks, but today Andrew finally breaks down and indulges him. Kevin has recently had a spat with one of the three people he seems to be perpetually pining over, so he’s feeling particularly sorry for himself.

Kevin and Andrew used to go to their preferred club together occasionally, some place called Eden’s Twilight. Most of the time Andrew insisted on going on his own, but they had still gone together about once a week. Recently, however, Andrew has hardly been going at all.

Neil has never been to Eden’s, but when Kevin asks you for something enough times, you’ll do anything to make him stop.

So, the three of them pile into Andrew’s car on a breezy Saturday night and they wind through the streets of downtown Denver until they find the place they’d been looking for. Kevin’s practically vibrating in his place in the backseat as Andrew finds a parking spot, and when they finally make their way inside, he disappears quickly to go find a table.

Upon walking inside the club, Neil is almost immediately overwhelmed. He tenses up in panic for a split second at the sheer amount of people all around him before he feels a familiar presence brush up against his back.

Andrew’s presence behind him makes Neil feel safe. It reminds him of nights rolling out pasta dough in the kitchen, or standing side by side outside of Kevin’s room, trying to guess the details to his latest relationship drama while listening to him yelling into the phone.

“Relax,” grumbles the voice of the man in question. “No one will try to touch you if you stay by me.”

“Pretty presumptuous of you.”

“It’s just the truth.”

“You must have quite the reputation, Minyard,” Neil teases, despite his knowlege that Andrew most certainly does. “You staking a claim on me somehow? Is there some kind of Bat Signal all the fuck-boys use to communicate?”

“There’s no way you understood that reference,” scoffs Andrew, finally leading the way toward the bar.

“Is to,” argues Neil, indigent. “Matt made me watch all those movies months ago. You were there.

“Must have blocked it out.”

Neil’s about to respond when he hears a distantly familiar voice ask, “What can I get you—?” Roland pauses when he sees who he’s talking to. “Oh Andrew, the usual?”

Andrew nods, “And a can of Sprite.”

Roland, for his part, doesn’t look surprised or angry to see his… ex? Ex hookup? ordering from him. In fact he looks more happy to see Andrew than anything. Neil can’t help but be curious about the status of Andrew’s relationship with the bartender.

While Roland makes their drinks, Neil looks to his side to see Andrew already staring at him. Neil smiles at him, and Andrew pushes his face to the side, the side of his own mouth quirking up as well. “Shut up.”

Neil grins wider, “I didn’t say anything.”

Andrew’s teasing expression drops, and then they’re just looking at each other for a moment. “Yes, you did.”

Neil doesn’t even know how to begin to make sense of that response, but he’s saved from having to by Roland nudging the tray of drinks toward them. He gives Andrew a look Neil can’t decipher, to which Andrew just glares, lifting the tray expertly over his shoulder.

Neil takes a moment to wonder how Andrew could do so with such ease before remembering that he literally cooks and carries trays around all day.

It always makes Neil grin when he thinks about Andrew being a chef and a caterer. All those niceties must make Andrew sick. Not to mention the outfit, which Neil always loves to see him in.

Andrews muscles bunch as he places the tray carefully on the table Kevin had reserved for them, and Neil is distracted for a beat before shaking it off and sitting down. Kevin is already downing a shot, and in less than ten minutes, he’s off to the dance floor.

Neil is almost tempted to follow him out, if only to see how ridiculous Kevin looks while attempting to dance to electric pop. Instead, he just leans back in his chair, popping to tab to his soda and watching Andrew carefully sip a glass of whiskey. Neil is almost certain Andrew’s only drinking it for aesthetics, because whenever they drink at the apartment, Neil only ever sees him with the sweetest, most brightly colored cocktails ever created.

Neil opens his mouth to ask about this, but what comes out is, “So… Roland, huh?”

Andrew eyebrow lifts as he sets his glass down. “What about him?”

“You guys still a thing, or…?”

“A thing.”

“Yes. That’s usually what people call it when you see someone more than twice— or so I’ve been told.”

Andrew looks almost exasperated, thought Neil can’t imagine why. “Roland and I were never a ‘thing’,” he makes a lazy air quote with one hand, “he was convenient until he wasn’t. Now he’s a…” he winces, “friend.”

“You could try looking a little less constipated.”

“You could try shutting your goddamn mouth.”

“That’s not something I’ve been told I excel at, unfortunately.”

“Can’t imagine why.”

They lapse back into a comfortable silence, and as the night goes on, Neil notices a few guys start to make their way towards Andrew, before being stopped by nothing but a glare.

It makes Neil curious to see how Andrew would be behaving if he were trying to hookup, as he usually does. He wonders how all these other people see Andrew. As some untouchable sex god everyone wants a chance with? As an asshole with a reputation? Neil wonders if any of them know even a fraction of the truths Andrew’s told him about himself. He doubts it.

About an hour later, Kevin stumbles back to their table, and they get set about getting ready to leave. As soon as they step out into the parking lot and try to find the car though, the sky opens up into a near torrential downpour. The three of them sprint toward the car, and by the time they’re inside the vehicle, Neil is out of breath from laughter at the sight of a drunk Kevin running and Andrew trying to jog in drenched skinny jeans.

The silence inside the car is a stark comparison to the thundering of rain they’d just been enveloped in, and the three of them breath heavily for a minute or so before Neil and Kevin both burst out laughing.

They laugh hard and for no reason at all, and when Neil turns to the side, he can see the silent laughter shaking Andrew as well, which in turn only serves to make Neil laugh harder.

Eventually, they all calm down and the car is silent again aside from the pattering of rain on the windows.

As they wait for the storm to pass, Kevin sniffles from the back seat. Neil and Andrew both look back at him, eyebrows raised. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” Kevin sniffles.

Andrew snorts, and Kevin glares at him. “I’m confiding in you, asshat!”

Andrew schools his face, nodding seriously, but then snorts again. Kevin punches him in the shoulder, to which Andrew says, “Okay, okay, go on, Day. Confide.”

“Okay. So basically, on Monday Thea and I got into a fight, so I go to Jeremy, right?” Andrew and Neil both nod in sync, acting as though they hadn’t both already found this out by ease dropping on Kevin’s phone calls.

“So I tell Jeremy everything that happened, and he tells me that Thea already told him! And Jean! I hadn’t even told Jean yet! So I call Thea and ask why she told them, and she just tells me I need to get my shit together. Me! So then I meet up with Jean and Jeremy yesterday, and they tell me that the want to date me! Both of them!”

Neil affects a shocked, “No!” Andrew snorts again, but Kevin plows on.

“I know. So of course I freak out and tell Thea everything, and she’s still being cryptic and she tells me that if I wanted to date Jean and Jeremy, I didn’t have to chose between them and her. And then because I’m an asshole I hung up on her and I haven’t talked to any of them since and my life is a mess and I don’t know what to do.”

Neil half aspects a scathing remark from Andrew after all this, but he seems to be genuine when he says, “Look, Day. You’re an absolute fucking imbecile but this is a confusing situation. You have the right to be confused. I say you think about what you want and take it from there. From what you’ve told us, it seems like everyone but you is cool with whatever. I think it’s up to you where to go from here.”

Neil says, “I think that’s the most words he’s ever said to you at once, Kev.”

Kevin sniffles again, “Thank you.”

“Anytime,” Andrew bites out awkwardly.

The car is silent once again, rain still pouring from the sky. Kevin is the one to break the silence. Again. “Well don’t make me feel like an idiot! I shared my secrets, you guys go now.”

Neil has plenty of secrets, most of which one of the men in his company already know, but none of them feel light enough to bring up in this conversation.

Instead of one-shotting Kevin with his extensive history with the Mafia, Neil decides to go with a secret insignificant enough that even Andrew doesn’t know. “Well, I’ve never had sex.”

Kevin immediately lights up. “What? Yes! That means I’m finally better than you at something!”

Neil frowns, but before he can ask Kevin to maybe elaborate on that, Andrew asks “Never?”

“Nah. When I was a kid I never really had the chance, and in college I never really felt like it. There’s not much to it, I don’t think.”

Silence again. Kevin sighs in the backseat. “Well that makes me feel so much better Neil, thank you.”

“What the hell’s that—”

“What about you, Andrew?” Kevin cuts him off.

“What about me?”

“My sex life’s a mess, Neil’s a virgin, what’ve you got.”

Andrew looks as if he’s genuinely trying to think of something, but in the end he just shrugs. Kevin scoffs, “Well of course you’re just perfect, then.”

“Could be taller.”

Neil scoffs quietly and Kevin shouts, “Yes! Another point for me!”

~

Neil and Kevin’s bank is holding a banquet for the staff. Something about announcing awards and giving honor and promotion to those who deserve it, Neil thinks. That’s not what’s important about this, however.

What is important is that the bank has hired the catering company that Andrew works for and Kevin and Neil have the once in a lifetime opportunity to witness Andrew being civil to people and wear his chef outfit.

It’s a dream come true, really.

Neil and Kevin stand leaning against the wall, watching Andrew flit around the room with practiced ease, making speculations about what he’s thinking Vs. what he’s saying.

At one point, Andrew emerges from the kitchen with a heavy looking tray, only to be intercepted by a middle aged woman who proceeds to ask him personal questions in an obvious ploy for attention and compliments. Neil and Kevin are shaking with silent laugher as they watch from across the room, laughing harder when Andrew looks to them in an obvious cry for help.

Eventually, after the woman attempts to put a hand on Andrew’s bicep, Neil does step in to ask Andrew if he could have a glass of champagne from his tray.

When the woman doesn’t immediately leave, Neil asks Andrew to show him where the bathrooms are, and as soon as they’re out in the silent hallway, Neil buries his face in Andrews shoulder and shakes with laughter once again.

He can feel Andrew shaking his head in exasperation, can smell the ever present scent of coconut and smoke. He relaxes into Andrew further before he imagines Andrew getting hit on by middle aged woman at every venue he does and starts laughing again.

“Oh my god,” he wheezes, trying to calm himself and failing spectacularly. He doesn’t think he’s ever laughed this hard in his life. “That was the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Glad to hear that you find my suffering hysterical,” is Andrew’s deadpan response.

“How can you put up with that,” Neil chuckles.

“By reminding myself that if I get fired I will have to start all over again.”

“Oh my god,” Neil says again, his laughter faltering as Andrew lifts his face from where it still rested in the crook of his neck. His nose and ears are pink, and he’s still wearing his little chef hat. The sight brings a slow smile onto Neil’s face.

“Neil,” says Andrew, low and quiet.

“Yes?”

“When we get home, I want to kiss you. Yes or no?”

As if that doesn’t turn Neil’s entire world upside down.

Neil will have time to reflect on when exactly he started to feel like this later on, but for now the only thoughts in his mind are yes, yes, yes, and why wait?

 “Yes,” Neil breaths. “Now? Yes, kiss me now.”

Andrew looks tempted for all of one second before a smirk takes over his features, dimples popping out and oh no why is that so hot all of the sudden. “Nope. You’ll have to wait I’m afraid. Kissing the clientele is very much against the rules, Josten.”

Neil pouts, because now that he knows he could be kissing Andrew, it’s all his mind seems capable of focusing on. Andrew smiles softly at the sight, and so Neil says, “Okay, fine. Even though I think you’ve cared about the rules maybe twice in your entire life.”

They separate and head back into the venue area, and Andrew is immediately ushered back into the kitchen. Neil watches him go, ignoring Kevin’s appearance at his side and his demands to know where he’d been.

For the rest of the event, Andrew tortures Neil. Not in the way that Neil is usually tortured, thankfully, though Neil would ague that this could be classified as worse.

Every time Andrew is out of the kitchen, he’s locking eyes with Neil any chance he gets. He walks over to talk to Kevin while Neil glares at him, and by the time the employees are free to go, Neil’s about ready to drag Andrew home with them.

He doesn’t. Neil lets Andrew do his job, and Neil and Kevin return to the apartment. Kevin leaves again almost immediately, and Neil wishes him luck on his first date with Jeremy and Jean, as does Thea from Kevin’s speakerphone.

Now that Neil’s alone, he’s not sure what to do with himself. What does one do when they know they’re about to be kissed?

He heads to his bedroom, changes out of his work clothes and into a sweatshirt and some running shorts that he likes to wear around the apartment.

Next, he does a load of laundry and is just turning to head back to the living room when he hears keys jingle in the door. Neil freezes, unsure of where he should be, ending up just standing motionless a few feet away from the door when it swings open.

Andrew has unfortunately changed out of his chef outfit, and is instead wearing his signature black jeans, tank top, and armbands. He glances cooly at Neil while he closes the door behind him, toeing off his dress shoes to reveal electric blue socks with little giraffes on them. Neil absently wonders if Andrew actively buys these for himself or if its some kind of running gag with a friend.

Andrew clears his throat, tearing Neil away from any and all sock-related thoughts. He steps closer to Neil, whispers, “Still yes?”

Neil nods quickly, swallowing, nervous. Ever since Andrew had asked the first time, it’s all Neil had been able to think about, but now that it’s actually happening, his stomach flutters with the intruding wings of inexperience and nerves. Andrew must sense this, because he says, “Neil.”

“Yeah,” Neil whispers. “Yeah, yes, kiss me, Andrew.”

So Andrew does. Neil feels large hands wrap around his ribs as warm lips press against his. Neil raises his hands to Andrew’s arms, touching lightly at first and then holding on tight when Andrew hums against his mouth in approval.

Neil’s mouth feels clumsy and dumb, but then Andrew’s tongue swipes against the seam of his lips and Neil knows exactly what to do. It’s never felt like this with any of the other random faces Neil had kissed in his lifetime. Never felt like a coming home or a new beginning. Never felt like a sigh of relief or a finally.

Eventually, Andrew pulls away, and Neil whines in discontentment, recovering quickly when he sees the look of disbelief and awe on Andrew’s face.

“So,” Andrew’s voice is rough, and he clears it before speaking again, “dinner?”

~

Neither of them had eaten much at the venue, so they make homemade ravioli using some frozen pasta sheets they had made in bulk a few weeks ago, and decide to go all out with a heavy cream sauce since Kevin is still nowhere to be found.

It’s not any different than it had been for the last few months. They work around each other as they cook, and Andrew gives him instructions when Neil’s unsure.

That’s to say, it’s not any different from before except for the fact that they kiss now. A lot.

Andrew smooches the back of his neck while Neil feeds the pasta through the machine. They kiss while they wait for the water to boil. Neil runs his hand through Andrew’s hair and tells him how much of a shame it is that their first kiss didn’t involve Andrew’s chef hat.

They kiss after they’re done eating, watching some reality show that quickly fades into background noise when Andrew pulls Neil into his lap and starts kissing down his neck.

Neil makes small gasps and groans and lets Andrew push and pull him into feeling things he’s never felt before. Neil delights in the small hitch of breath that he pulls from Andrew when he kisses his neck back.

“Neil.” It’s a gasp from Andrew.

“Hmm?” Neil hums lazily in reply, drunk off the feeling of Andrew’s mouth on his.

“Neil.” It’s firmer this time, and Neil pulls back a few inches to look Andrew in the face. His eyes are blown wide and his cheeks are red, his lips swollen. Neil smiles at the sight of him, shifting his hips forward to get more comfortable and oh. Andrew groans softly and places his hand on either hip to keep Neil back and oh Neil is absolutely interested in where this is going.

“Yeah,” Neil pants, and Andrew frowns up at him.

“Neil,” Andrew repeats one last time. “We should stop for now.”

Neil looks down at him. The first thing to come to his mind is why, and he’s about to ask when he realizes.

Ever since Andrew was young, he’d been used. By his teacher, by his hookups, by the people at Eden’s who looked at Andrew like he was a trophy they wanted to earn. Neil had put together a few months ago the fact that Andrew probably used casual sex as a coping mechanism— as a way to regain control and take things back into his own hands. That’s why Neil had been so confused when Andrew had suddenly stopped the hookups and the long nights out.

Andrew wants to stop this where it is for tonight because he doesn’t want Neil to become just some hookup, and as soon as he realizes that, Neil almost feels like crying. Neil would never, ever even think of using Andrew in that way.

So while Neil is still very interested in the whole situation, he just says, “Okay,” and pecks Andrew on his lips one last time before trying to move off his lap.

Neil feels Andrew’s hands pause on his hips before he tugs them back to where they were. “You can stay,” he whispers. Neil settles back down, wrapping his arms around Andrew’s neck, pushing a hand into his soft hair, feeling Andrew’s own hands rubbing up and down over the sides of Neil’s bare thighs.

Neil’s so relaxed in this position that he almost falls asleep like that until Andrew jabs him gently in the side.

“My legs are asleep,” he explains apologetically.

After this, they both get ready for bed, saying goodnight and heading to their own rooms for bed.

Neil feels light and safe as he falls asleep.

~

Over the course of the next week or so, Neil and Andrew make a game out of how long it will take until Kevin realizes something is different.

They aren’t exactly hiding it, per-say, but the only thing that has really changed is the fact that they’re kissing now, touching more often, and that isn’t necessarily something they would do around Kevin anyway.

Still, it’s funny to watch the cogs turn in Kevin’s head when Andrew pulls Neil into his lap on the couch or puts a hand on his hip while they’re cooking together. Andrew says he’s probably trying to remember if they’ve always done this or not.

For someone so smart when it comes to business and numbers, Kevin is particularly ungifted when it comes to using common sense, as demonstrated by the entire three-way debacle that is his relationship, though that seems to have been working out well enough recently. At least— Kevin hasn’t had a meltdown about it since that night in the car.

After about a week they lose hope in Kevin ever finding out at the rate things are going, so they decide to have a little more fun with it.

They become increasingly more obvious as the days go on to see when Kevin will finally start to question it. Kevin narrows his eyes when Neil feeds Andrew a spoon of ice cream, but still says nothing. Andrew picks Neil up from where he’s sitting in the armchair before placing him easily back in his lap, but Kevin stays silent.

Finally, when Kevin watches Neil and Andrew emerge from Andrew’s room together after an hour of kisses, he yells, “What the fuck is going on?” and glares at them when Andrew only snorts and Neil starts laughing uncontrollably.

Kevin leaves shortly after for a date with Thea, still shaking his head in disbelief and betrayal.

~

After the comedy of Kevin finding out about them, Neil and Andrew head to the kitchen to make some dinner.

Cooking with Andrew had quickly become one of Neil’s favorite activities. Before meeting him, Neil had always thought of cooking as a chore and a pain, but now he looks forward to making dinner with Andrew every night. It’s routine, and it’s fun, even if Neil doesn’t get that same calming effect out of it that Andrew does.

“I like cooking with you,” Neil admits quietly as Andrew sautés peppers. Neil only eats them when Andrew cooks them. When Kevin complains about the amount of butter Andrew uses, Neil reminds him that he’s at least eaten vegetables in some form, which is better than he was doing before.

“Really.”

Neil is undeterred by Andrew’s deadpan response. “Yes. I like seeing you in your cooking zone. I still wish you would wear the hat though.”

“In your dreams, Josten.”

Neil sighs dreamily, “Yeah.”

Andrew scoffs, turning his attention back to the stove.

Eventually, when Neil wonders off into his room to grab a hoodie, he spies the hat in question draping off the door knob, no doubt left there from when Neil had ambushed Andrew with kisses as soon as he got home from work.

Neil smirks to himself, tugging on the hoodie and then placing the silly little hat atop his curls. It is not, unfortunately, an enormous fluffy hat like the one in that movie Matt had made him watch with the rat. It’s more of a boxy shape, rounded on the sides and flat on the top, but Neil manages to look ridiculous in it nonetheless.

He makes his way back to the kitchen and watches for the exact moment that Andrew spots him, smirking when his hands pause mid-motion. He glances back at the peppers he’s sautéing, clicking off the stove, making his way over to Neil. He crowds him back against the counter easily, fingers playing with a coil of hair that’s sticking out the side, pulling it out straight and letting it spring back into place.

“I understand now,” is all Andrew says, and Neil laughs softly, leaning forward to press his mouth to Andrew’s.

Neil is sure that he could never get tired of this, the addictive push and pull of Andrew’s mouth against his, the strength in his arms as he lifts Neil effortlessly onto the counter. He sighs into Andrew’s mouth when he feels large hands sliding up his thighs and underneath his hoodie, pressing lightly at the scars there. Neil’s hands go to clutch at Andrew’s biceps, where they always gravitate.

Andrew’s fingers brush against Neil’s nipple and he groans softly as Andrew drags his palms around his sides to scratch lightly at Neil’s shoulder blades.

The kiss derails pretty thoroughly after that. Andrew gently pulls Neil’s hair to push his head to the side so he can kiss up his neck, tugging at the collar of his hoodie so he can mouth at Neil’s shoulder and collarbones. Neil clutches at Andrew’s head to keep him close, making helpless little sounds at Andrew’s ear until Andrew’s had enough, pulling away and dragging Neil toward his room.

Neil follows eagerly, feeling nerves wriggle insistently deep in his stomach. They’ve kissed in a bed before, but they’ve yet to go further than that, and while Neil absolutely wants to, he can’t help his nervousness. The last thing Neil wants to do is disappoint Andrew, and while he’s sure Andrew would deny the possibility, the reminder of Neil’s inexperience lingers low in his stomach.

Andrew closes the door behind them, keeping a little space between them as he assesses Neil. “Neil. Is it a yes or a no?”

“It’s a yes, Drew, always a yes. I just… I’ve never…” Neil trails off as Andrew finally swipes the hat off of his head. He runs his fingers through Neil’s curls and brings their faces close once more.

“I know,” Andrew kisses him once, deeply, before leading him to the bed, “I’m gonna make it good for you, baby.”

And oh if that isn’t the hottest thing Neil’s ever heard. Andrew’s words evoke a full-body reaction, shivers running down Neil’s spine as he allows himself to be pushed lightly onto the bed. “I want it to be good for you,” Neil rebuts, “it’s not like I’m as… experienced as you. Or at all.”

Andrew pulls his tank top over his head, and Neil’s staring again, watching the way his muscles move and bulge as Andrew lowers himself onto Neil. Andrew down looks at him, says, “It will be good for me. Because it is you.”

And then Neil is gone, lost to the rolling tide that is Andrew Minyard kissing him, touching him, undressing him. Neil lets go of his thoughts as Andrew pushes into him, stretching him carefully and then filling him up, holding Neil close as he cries out, overwhelmed and so, so, high off the sensations.

Neil’s in the same place countless others have been before— underneath Andrew Minyard. Neil smiles into Andrews neck nonetheless because he knows this is different. It’s different because Andrew makes sure to let him know it is, has been doing so for months now.

It’s different because Andrew is gentle, kissing him sweetly, whispering praise in his ear, moving so well against and inside of Neil, pulling out sounds Neil never knew he was capable of.

It’s different because when Neil tells Andrew how good he is, how amazing it feels, he gets to watch Andrew’s nose and cheeks flush bright red; gets to hear him make a sweet little moan when Neil asks for more, tells him how pretty he looks above him.

Andrew picks up the pace, driving Neil crazy with how perfect it feels, pushing at the spot Neil feels it most and staying there when Neil cries out. Soon enough, Neil is burying his face in the side of Andrew’s neck as he comes with a whinny, “Drew!” Andrew’s pace is stuttering as he grunts out Neil’s name, pushing his hips forward one last time and staying there. Neil whines when Andrew leaves him empty, but Andrew kisses him sweetly as apology, eyes intent as he looks Neil over.

“Mmm,” Neil hums, watching Andrew dispose of the condom and then come to lie back on his side facing Neil.

“Yeah?” asks Andrew, tracing his fingertips lightly across Neil’s side, following the curve of his hip and the dip of his waist, letting his hand come to a rest on Neil’s ass. Neil raises his eyebrows at him in question, but Andrew only squeezes his hand once in response, keeping it there.

Neil smiles at him, “Yes. You were so good, Drew. Was it good for you?”

Andrew glares at him. “Yes.”

After a few more minutes, Neil complains about feeling gross and Andrew helps him off the bed and into the shower, watching for any discomfort in Neil’s step. Neil catches his searching eyes under the spray of water and admits in a low voice, “I like how it feels like you’re still in me,” just to see how Andrew will react.

This works in his favor because Andrew’s eyes darken, and before he can say anything more, Neil is being kissed against the cool tiles of the shower wall, Andrew dropping to his knees in front of him, bringing out all those complicated feelings once again.

After, Neil tries to return the favor and ends up gagging hard around Andrew and slipping on his ass. The momentary embarrassment is worth is when Andrew laughs at the sight, dimples popping out and cheeks flushed, hair plastered to his forehead.

Andrew is still laughing when Neil takes him into his mouth again, but his smile drops soon after.

~

After, they’re dry and warm— content, lying face to face in Andrew’s bed. Neil has stolen a pair of boxers and a too-wide t-shirt on the reasoning of not wanting to get up, and ignores Andrew when he points out that Neil’s room is quite literally 10 feet away.

Eventually, Andrew gets up to revive the dinner they’d left unattended, bringing two plates into the bedroom. They eat in comfortable silence and when they’re done, Andrew goes to put their plates in the sink and returns with the familiar-looking tub of scar cream from the bathroom.

Andrew holds it out in question. “Yes or no?”

“Yes,” responds Neil, and he allows Andrew to pull his own shirt off of Neil, scooping a generous amount of the cream into his fingers and dolloping little dots onto every single one of Neil’s scars. Andrew rubs in the cream, massaging the tight skin of the scars, kissing over the memories of iron and bullets and road rash.

After he’s done, he holds out the cream for Neil to take wordlessly. Andrew had put aside his armbands before their shower, and he hadn’t put them pack on after. Now, he holds out his arms wrists-up for Neil, giving him a quick, “Yes,” before Neil can ask. Neil swipes the rich cream over the faded scars on Andrew’s wrists, pressing gently to encourage them to soak up the moisture.

“Yes or no,” Neil asks, dipping his head forward to make his intentions clear.

“Yes.”

Neil presses gentle kisses onto the fragile skin, feeling the slow beat of Andrew’s pulse beneath his lips, and wonders how it’s possible that he could possibly have this.

“Truth for truth?” Andrew asks, setting the scar cream on the nightstand.

“Sure.”

“Does it bother you that I’ve slept with so many people?”

Neil looks at Andrew, surprised by the amount of anxiety in his tone. He’s never heard Andrew sound so unsure. “No,” Neil replies honestly, “I know why you did. You don’t have to justify those decisions to anyone. I know that this means something to you, and that’s all that matters to me.”

Andrew closes his eyes for a beat, kisses Neil once when he opens them again. “Okay.”

They lapse into another comfortable silence, still sitting cross-legged facing each other on the bed, Neil shirtless and Andrew with bare arms. “You can ask me something now,” Andrew reminds him.

Neil hums noncommittally, about to tell Andrew he doesn’t have a question when he remembers something. Andrew narrows his eyes when he catches Neil’s smirk. “Did you actually fuck Kevin?”

Neil bursts out into laughter at the look Andrew gives him for that. “When did he tell you that?”

“Literally before I even met you.”

Andrew groans, shoving his face into Neil’s neck as he laughs. “Did he criticize your form?” Neil teases, “Maybe make a PowerPoint to show you how you could improve?”

“Oh my god.”

“Did he compliment your workout regiment?”

“I will smother you, Josten.”

Neil just laughs again softly and allows Andrew to push him into a lying position, head on his chest, and he closes his eyes and listens to Andrew’s steady breathing until sleep overtakes him.

~

Neil wakes up the next morning comfy and content in Andrew’s arms. He feels Andrew’s front pressed against his back and sighs happily, remembering the events from last night, grin widening when he feels Andrew’s arms tighten around him. “Morning,” comes Andrew’s raspy voice from behind him.

Neil turns in his arms to face him, grinning with he feels Andrew’s hands drift down to grab Neil’s ass. He’s about to respond when there’s a deafening crash from somewhere outside their apartment.

Andrew and Neil both jump, getting dressed quickly to see what’s going on. They make their way down the stairs to Allison and Renee’s flat to see Allison screaming in the face of an enormous man with tattoos and a leather jacket while Renee watches on with a few of the other tenants from other floors.

“—know how much that cost?” Allison’s screaming. The man looks like he’s seen a ghost with the way he’s staring at her, fear obvious in the line of his body.

Andrew and Neil watch on as Allison continues to yell at the man, Renee eventually joining them. “Apparently this guy works for the guy who used to own this building,” she explains. “He had been money grabbing using this place for years, keeping the rent crazy cheap to encourage people to buy expensive technology and whatnot so they can come in and sweep the place.”

Renee shakes he head fondly as Allison points back at her apartment, still screaming at the man. “Allison suspected something was off as soon as we moved in. She got into contact with that guys boss and bought this building from him a few months ago. This guy missed the memo. He broke into our apartment and threw our TV out the window.”

After a few more minutes, the guy finally manages to run away with his tail between his legs, the small crowd dispersing.

Allison walks over to them, looking for as the world as if she’d just walked off the runway instead of woken up to her apartment being broken into. She raises a cool eyebrow at Neil and Andrew. “Nice hickeys,” is all she says before she gives Neil a quick hug and then returns to her flat, no doubt about to call her lawyer or destroy another man’s life.

Renee stays out for a few minutes to talk to Andrew, arranging a sparring session for sometime later in the week. She gives Andrew a meaningful look as she squeezes his shoulders in parting, waving to Neil as she heads back after her girlfriend.

Neil looks to Andrew, “Did you know Allison was our land lord?”

Andrew scoffs, “Yes. Though I’m not surprised I’m the only one out of us who actually pays attention to who they’re paying.”

At that moment, Kevin comes trodding up the stairs, overnight bag slung over his shoulder. “Why are you guys in the hallway?”

~

Neil is supposed to meet Andrew’s adoptive mother Bee and twin brother Aaron at the same time. Apparently, Andrew’s family gets together at Bee’s house for dinner every few months, and now Neil is invited to come with him.

Neil is more than pleased that Andrew considers their relationship serious enough to want him to meet his family, although he is pissed when Andrew waits until they’re on the freeway to tell him that Bee is a phycologist. The thought of meeting both Andrew’s mother and a therapist at the same time is a more than a little disconcerting for someone like Neil, who, he’s been told, definitely needs both.

They’re in the car, already halfway there, and Neil is freaking out mildly. “She’s already your mother! She was going to judge me because I’m dating you anyway. Now she’s gonna judge me for all the other reasons too!”

“She won’t meddle.”

“Doctors make me nervous.”

“Probably not a great time to mention that Aaron is also a doctor, then.”

Neil groans, knocking his head perhaps a little too aggressively against the window. Andrew hums unsympathetically, but places a hand on Neil’s leg nonetheless. “You’ll be fine. She’s going to like you.”

“What about your brother?”

“He’s going to tolerate you because I do.”

“That’s reassuring.”

Andrew hums again, drumming his fingers on Neil’s thigh, and Neil places his hand atop Andrew’s, easily twining their fingers together, and they hold hands the rest of the drive.

They’re the last ones there, thankfully, so Nicky and Erik greet them at the door, leading them to a small living area, where Bee stands up to greet them as well. She hugs Andrew and turns to hug Neil too. Neil tries to stay relaxed but probably fails if Andrew’s quiet snort has anything to say about it. “Hello, Andrew. And Neil, it’s very nice to finally meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you too,” Neil tries, and Bee just smiles warmly at him before heading into the kitchen. Next, they’re greeted by Aaron and his wife Katelyn. Andrew and his brother nod at each other, and he and Katelyn do the same.

“Hello guys,” Katelyn says, “Nice to meet you, Neil.”

She nudges Aaron with her elbow, who had been staring at Neil with narrowed eyes. At her prompting, he clears his throat, “Nice to meet you,” he grumbles.

“You too.”

The four of them stand there in silence until Katelyn drags Aaron away to help in the kitchen.

Until dinner is ready, they all take turns helping Bee in the kitchen and sitting in the living room. When it’s Neil and Andrew’s turn to help, Neil learns that Andrew is only allowed to help with trivial things like setting the table, because otherwise he will take over the dinner completely.

Neil asks for stories about young Andrew and finds out that he had had an emo phase, a space phase, and a musical theater phase all within the span of a year when Bee had first adopted the twins their sophomore years.

The three of them talk some more and then dinner is ready and all of them talk together and it’s nice. It’s nice to sit down with Andrew and his family and see a different side of him. None of them ask Neil about his parents or his scars, and he thinks Andrew probably asked them not to.

The mystery of Andrew’s sock situation is also solved during dinner, when Bee tells him excitedly that she’d managed to find a limited edition pair with farm animals for him to take home.

Neil holds Andrew’s hand under the table, and when it’s time to go home, Bee gives him a handshake instead of a hug. “I’m glad he’s found you, Neil. I think you’ll fit in here just fine.”

Andrew hugs his mother again, and says goodbye to everyone else, and then they’re back on the road. On the way back home.

The thought almost startles him, and he wonders when he’d starting calling the apartment home. He doesn’t remember, so it must have been months ago. The thought doesn’t scare him anymore. It feels right.

He has Matt and Dan cheering him on, Renee and Allison a floor below them. He has Kevin as a permanent fixture in his life— a best friend, always there when he needs him (or, more likely, the other way around). He has Andrew’s family now, who seem to like him well enough to invite him back, and he has Andrew himself.

Andrew, who’s here with him now, humming along gently to classical music on the radio, one hand on the shift with Neil’s own, the other hand on the wheel, driving them home.

Neil remembers where he was six months ago, moving out of his old apartment in search of a change. He remembers how he’d felt when Andrew Minyard first walked into his life: nervous and excited and curious. Andrew was the change he’d needed, and he couldn’t ask for anything more.

Andrew parks in front of their building, getting out of the car, looking back at him with softness in his eyes, mouth quirked up, cheek dimpling. “Neil? You coming?”

“Yeah,” Neil responds, “I’m coming.”