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Andrew watches Neil yawn for the third time while he reads the textbook. They are sitting on Andrew’s bed, studying Russian together before practice but Neil didn’t sleep well the night before and is reading vocabulary with droopy eyes.

Neil shuffles even closer from where he’s leaning against Andrew’s side, a comfortable contact that has been making Andrew purr gently for a while now. Nobody else is in their dorm, but Andrew is still grateful that his purring is inaudible. Neil noses at where Andrew’s sweater covers his shoulder, distracted from his reading.

Andrew sighs. “Neil, either study or take a nap. Stop trying to do both.”

Neil makes a disgruntled noise and digs his face further into Andrew’s sweater. “Don’t want to leave. You’re comfy. I like being able to feel the vibrations.”

Andrew scoffs and looks away, even as his chest rumbles harder from his purring at Neil’s words. “Stay here then.”

Neil turned up to look at him. “Oh.” He blinks, as if the idea never occurred to him. “Is that okay?”

“I wouldn’t have offered if it wasn’t.”

In the past year, they have grown more comfortable with each other, but Neil normally sleeps in his own bunk when they are at the Foxhole Tower.

After a moment of shifting, Andrew settles against the headboard with Neil pillowed comfortably on his chest.

“Can I…” Neil started to ask.

Andrew takes stock of his mental state and decides today is pretty good. “Anywhere above the waist is fine.”

Neil brings his hands up to clutch Andrew’s sweater, and closes his eyes.

Sometimes, Andrew thinks it should be embarrassing how easily he purrs when Neil is close. Before they got together, his saving grace was that nobody could tell when he purred since it was always silent. Neil never noticed all the times they were on the rooftop, breathing in smoke while Andrew rumbled away in contentment. His feelings probably would have been found out sooner if Neil could hear them.

Once Neil figured out that, though Andrew’s purring is normally inaudible, he could feel it when pressed together, he took to leaning into Andrew and otherwise cuddling close when Andrew permits it. And maybe it would be embarrassing, if Neil wasn’t purring loudly every time he is with Andrew too.

I feel happy with you, why wouldn’t I purr?

How Neil can say things like that with a straight face, Andrew cannot fathom. Where does he get off, a kid who lied all his life becoming so earnest?

I like the way you feel. It’s soothing, like the rumbling of a car, but better, because it’s you.

Andrew looks down at where Neil is draped and brings a hand up to Neil’s head. He ruffles through the auburn curls and brushes his thumb along Neil’s left feline ear.

Neil makes a muffled half chirp and nuzzles into Andrew’s chest. Too adorable.

Andrew always enjoys the chatty noises Neil made. He tried to keep that pleasure a secret initially, but once Neil figured it out, Neil stopped trying to muffle his sounds and started purring louder, just for Andrew.  

It alarms Andrew sometimes, how quickly Neil became his most precious person. It makes his stomach drop, like he’s standing up on a tightrope, moments from falling. But Neil will be there to catch him if he falls.

With each passing day, Andrew wants to hold onto Neil more and more—it’s a desire that seems all consuming—but Andrew would let him go if he asked. His fear of Neil leaving is tempered by his promise to stay. Andrew holds onto those words with a fierce possessiveness. 

Andrew strokes along the line of Neil’s ear gently to not wake him up, marveling at the softness of the fur. There’s a little notch on one edge from where a bullet grazed him—unnoticeable looking from afar, but easily felt under his fingers.

Neil shivered the first time Andrew traced along the edges of his ears but reassured Andrew it felt sensitive, not bad. He simply wasn’t used to his ears being touched—neither of his parents had bothered grooming him, as far back as he could remember. Andrew wasn’t used to such intimacy either, but now they’re able to explore it together.

Andrew switches between playing with the ear in his hand and the playing with fluffy curls surrounding it. He watches Neil’s tail flicker as he reviews the pronunciation of the Russian vocabulary they are studying—Andrew was better at learning the meanings of new words with his perfect memory but Neil has a better grasp for actual speech.

He gets bored after reviewing all the words he’s learned for the fifth time. The point of learning Russian is so he and Neil can have their own form of private communication, so it’s more interesting when Neil is around to study with and practice on.

Distracted, he almost doesn’t notice when Neil’s hands start tugging and pushing on his sweater. Even though Neil has become vocal with his cat sounds, his physical instincts had been beaten out by his mother—not just consciously suppressed for survival the way Andrew’s had.

Andrew blinks slowly but when his eyes opened again, Neil is still kneading him.

Kneading has a two-fold purpose—to express contentment in a safe environment, and to mark beloved territory with scent. Human hands don’t have the scent glands actual cat paws have, but the intent remains.

Neil has previously expressed cheesy verbal sentiment about how Andrew’s hands are safe while pressing delicate kisses on his fingers and palms that gradually became more heated.

But this isn’t Neil, awake, trying to reassure Andrew. This is Neil’s subconscious making an undeniable declaration that Andrew is safe, is comfort, is home .

Andrew doesn’t know what to do with this knowledge, or with the pressure in his chest that has started building or the rock getting steadily lodged in his throat.

There’s nothing he can do, really, but resume the hand that had paused in Neil’s hair while he had his little revelation.

As Neil keeps up his push and pull biscuit making on Andrew’s sweater, Andrew alternates between stroking the soft curls on Neil’s head and gently scritching circles into his scalp.

Andrew can feel himself get lulled to sleep by the comfort of his own purring and the faint rustling of Neil kneading on him. It’s a little bubble of domesticity he never thought possible—at least, not for him.

He glances at the clock and, through half-lidded eyes, reads that there’s fifteen minutes until they need to leave for practice. This is fine. He’ll just—

—control a flinch as a car alarm starts blaring from the street below their dorm.

Neil startles awake. “Hmm?” He blinks blearily even as he continues kneading on Andrew’s sweater.

There’s a loaded pause as Andrew looks at Neil and waits for him to realize what he’s doing.

It takes a few more beats for Neil to finally look down at his hands pushing and pulling on top of Andrew.

The moment he stops, Andrew immediately wants him to start up again.

The keen loss he feels for such a simple gesture surprises Andrew, but he tries not to let it show. He tries to take comfort in how Neil is still draped over him like a warm weighted blanket.

“Was that…okay?” Neil looks at him casually but his tail, twisting behind him, betrays his uncertainty.

Odd, how they can and have pursued carnal intimacy, with not ease, per se, but directness certainly. Yet throwing in feline aspects trips both of them up.

Poor socialization , Bee would say. And she would be right. Even when Andrew found moments to explore his sexuality behind closed doors and in dim lighting, there was never space to revel in his feline characteristics.

He doesn’t know why it feels more vulnerable than sex, just that it inexplicably does. Sex is mainstream and commodified in a way people’s animals characteristics aren’t, even if stereotyped—feline types are cold and aloof, canine types are friend and charismatic. It’s a lot of bullshit but that never stops prejudice. Or shame.

“It’s good.” Andrew can admit that much. No lies, not from Neil, and not to Neil.

Neil rolls up and off Andrew with a delight chirp and doesn’t give him a chance to miss the warmth. “Yes or no?”

He hovers over Andrew’s head, intent to groom clear.

Andrew clears his throat and says, “Yes.”

Not a second is wasted as Neil sets out to groom Andrew’s feline ears. He licks soft but confident strokes across the fur, sometimes switching gears to nuzzle into Andrew’s hair before returning to the grooming.

Andrew’s ears twitch occasionally under the attention, but he’s sure Neil knows by now that it’s not a bad sort of twitching, he can read Andrew’s body language well enough to sense it isn’t out of discomfort—especially since Andrew is now purring hard enough to be audible.

Neil gives one ear plenty of attention before moving on to the other and by the time he’s done, Andrew’s ears are wet, clean, and scented like Neil.

Andrew growls playfully as he pulls Neil in front of him to return the favor.

Neil squirms a bit in Andrew’s lap—when asked the first time they did this, Neil said Andrew’s tongue tickled as it ran across his fur, even though it didn’t on skin.

When Neil doesn’t stop twisting about, Andrew clamps one hand onto the back of Neil’s neck to settle him down.

Neil calms down for a bit, enough to let Andrew finish before turning so he can rub his cheek against Andrew’s.

Only the sound of their soft purring and even softer breaths can be heard.

Andrew turns his head, checking in non-verbally before drawing in Neil for a kiss that turns into two, three, four kisses.

He shifts so his tail can intertwine with Neil’s as he arranges Neil on top of him but before they can go any further, Andrew’s alarm goes off.

Andrew lets himself imagine skipping practice in the short amount of time it takes to snatch his phone from the nightstand and shut off the alarm. Neil is already untangling himself though, and there’s certainly no point in skipping by himself.

He runs his tail along Neil’s and rubs their cheeks together again before hopping out of bed.

Kevin will come barking if they drag their feet and Andrew wants no business with that.

There’s time in the world for more exploration, more heated kisses, more everything. Time that Andrew thought was a fool’s hope at best but inexplicably gets more and more of each day.  

But right now, it’s time for practice.