Todd’s joyful laughter rose through the frosty night air, undercut by the sound of the various pieces of his desk set clattering onto the stone walkway below. He turned to Neil, grinning, his entire body somehow feeling pounds later.
“Oh my,” Neil was laughing now. His face broke in a gleeful smile, eyes shining with mirth and mischief. In that moment, Todd could fully understand why he had been cast as Puck. Not that he’d ever doubted Neil’s skill, Todd ran lines with him every day, and he knew just how dedicated the other boy is to his acting. But to be able to embody Shakespeare’s notorious trickster without lines, props, or costumes was...stunning to see. Especially as it was such a stark contrast to the mask Neil. Wore most often, especially during his studies.
Of course, Todd had seen Neil like this before, but somehow it still managed to catch him by surprise. Watching Neil be himself after so long pretending to be something he was not, was incredible to experience.
God, he’s beautiful.
Despite this thought not being a new occurrence, the suddenness of it shocked him back to reality to hear Neil’s next sentence.
“Well, I wouldn’t worry about it too much, you'll get another one next year.”
His flippant earnestness sent the boys into another bout of joyous laughter.
It wasn’t as though Todd had never thought about Neils appearance before, he was certainly very handsome, and it was almost difficult not to. However, where he figured most boys his age would admire Neils features with envy, Todd imagined them with reverence.
He daydreamed about Neil’s soft brown eyes, his floppy hair, his gorgeous smile. Often his attention to his schoolwork was diverted by staring at the other boy in adoration. The amount of time he was guilty of imagining sweeping Neil’s bangs out of his eyes, or gently taking off his eyeglasses, or sweetly kissing him before bed, had become almost scandalous during their shared time at Welton.
It wasn’t only Neil’s beauty that enchanted Todd of course. From the moment the boy had introduced himself on their first day, Todd was gone. His thoughts were consumed with conversations he and Neil had. Each morning his schoolwork was pushed to the side by his eager anticipation of their daily walks along the lakeside, practicing lines under the massive sprawling trees. What he most looked forward to however, was their weekly society meetings. Under the dim candlelight in the cave, their safe haven, Neil came alive. He spoke with so much life and joy his face appeared years younger, almost childlike.
But of course, nothing could ever come of these innocent fantasies. It wasn’t as though Neil could take him out to diners, or dances, like the girls Charlie often boasted about. Besides, people like Neil weren't likely to return Todd’s affections. And places like Welton weren't meant for people like them, in the unlikely event that his feelings were mutual.
“Let's go back inside, you don’t even have a coat.” Neil was still smiling.
Over and over, Todd forced himself to come to terms with the fact that he and Neil could never be together. Over and over, he pushed his feelings down, resigning himself to unhappiness. But as he looked at Neil, cheeks flushed, eyes soft, he found that he couldn’t do it and more.
Neil glanced over his shoulder, realizing Todd still remained rooted to his spot.
“Todd? Are you coming?”
All at once, Todd moved. He strode across the walkway, heart in his throat, stepped up into Neil's space and kissed him.
* * *
The kiss was barely even a kiss.
It lasted only a moment, but Todd felt every part of it. He felt Neil’s delicate gasp against his lips, he registered tucking his hands into Neil’s soft collar, and then it was over. Todd stepped back, eyes fluttering open, and gazed at the other boy. Immediately, the panic set in.
Neil’s eyes were wide. His face flushed a bright red, and Todd suspected it wasn’t just from the chilly night air anymore. He looked...frozen. His lips-Oh God the lips Todd just kissed-were fumbling desperately around words that never made a sound. Todd could imagine what he was trying to say. He envisioned Neil screaming, calling him disgusting, rejecting him harshly in a million different ways, each more humiliating and heartbreaking than the last.
“Todd I-” he finally managed, reaching out to Todd with shaky hands.
Todd stumbled back, clapping his hands over his ears, as though to block out the rejection that was inevitably approaching, and stammering weak apologies.
“I’m-I’m so sorry Neil I uh I sh-shouldn’t have assumed please-”
“Please don’t hate me I-I didn’t mean anything by it um it'll never EVER happen again I swear Neil-”
He was begging now, heart beating like a rabbit. To make things worse, his eyes were tearing up, helpless tears dripping onto the cobblestones where his gaze was firmly fixed.
His thoughts were racing. Playing out every single scenario in rapid fire. Fuck why had he done that? Neil would never forgive him; things could never go back to the way they were.
Suddenly Neil's chilly hands were cupping Todd’s and prying them away from his ears.
“Todd it’s alright” he soothed, “C’mon, look at me.”
Todd shook his head, his thoughts focusing on how Neil was still holding his hands. He was even stroking them softly with his thumbs, an absent-minded movement to bring warmth back into Todd’s shivering fingers.
“Todd,” Neil said, an edge of sternness creeping into his voice. “You’ve done nothing wrong.”
His stammering was abruptly cut off when Neil wrapped him up into a hug. Todd stiffened, back straight, fists clenched.
Nail’s words were murmured, soft, only for Todd's ears, but they clanged in his brain like a symphony.
“Me...too?” he repeated, bewildered.
Neil pulled away, leaving him shivering in the winter air once more.
“What, do I have to spell it all out for you? Jesus Todd...” he was smiling, tone light and teasing. But his eyes. Todd was almost unnerved by how gently the other boy was looking at him.
Is that how I look? He wondered.
“Well, no... but why?”
“Oh Todd, look at you. You’re kind, smart, sweet, funny, and handsome. You’ve always been so kind to me. So why not?”
Without warning, Neil ducked down and kissed him once more. Even though the kiss was longer, it was just as gentle. Neil settled his hands on Todd’s waist, as Todd cupped Neil’s jaw softly.
When they broke apart, they both had warm flushes spreading from their cheekbones under their collars.
“No buts. Let's get inside, you're still shivering.”
“Alright.” Todd mumbled faintly.
Neil grinned and dropped a quick peck on Todd’s cheek, before tucking an arm around his waist and steering them towards the doors.