i only hear your voice when i’m breathing
Based on this post by me :)
Basically just me projecting onto Todd in an anderperry fic. If you don’t know DPS this fic prolly won’t make much sense. It’s kind of a mix of AU and canon, in my mind Todd and Neil met the summer before DPS and fell in love, and were ecstatic to become roommates in the fall. The events of DPS still happen though. sorry. (so tw: suicide)
The song Neil sings is “Never Be Anyone Else But You” by Ricky Nelson
- - - - - - -
“Hey I saw this in a movie once!”
Todd looked up from the sidewalk, trying to keep track of his own feet as people pushed by. Neil was pointing excitedly at a window display (why did he always look so happy?) showing off pairs of matching voice recorders, with a banner that read: “Record messages for your sweetheart!”
“That looks pointless.” Todd mumbled.
“No, no, it was really cute!” Neil insisted. “The two girls in love would record little notes for each other and then they’d swap the recorders and listen to each other’s voice whenever they needed a little pick me up. Let’s get them, Todd!”
“Neil, I don’t have the money right now—”
“My treat. Come on, it’ll be fun!”
Todd knew he couldn’t resist Neil’s ridiculously adorable puppy eyes for long, but he hated having to let other people buy things for him. “Neil, you don’t have to, I don’t want you to have to spend your money on unnecessary—”
Neil grabbed his hands, the smile disappearing as he peered seriously into Todd’s eyes. “Toddrick. I like doing things for you. I like getting you gifts. You’re not a burden. It’s not unnecessary. You’re worth it.”
Todd blushed, but let Neil pull him inside the store and pay for two ridiculously overpriced voice recorders. One was dark blue with forest green buttons, the other green with blue buttons. Neil’s eyes were already sparkling with ideas of messages to record, and Todd had to admit he felt excited about it too.
- - - - - - -
And so it started. As promised, every week they would record messages. Neil kept his on him at all times, pulling it out to rant about random happy moments “Todd, I just saw a cat that looked exactly like Knox!”, or annoying encounters “Oh God, I just ran into my father’s business partner, who said he was glad I was going to military school soon because I looked too happy at Welton. Can you believe it?”, To work out a trig problem out loud with adorable frustrated groans “Darling I don’t understand tangents in the slightest. I wish I could think about tangerines instead.”, or to recite lines from Shakespeare, replacing the lover’s name with Todd’s, which made Todd blush immensely.
Todd forgot to carry his around as much, mainly because if he had anything in his pockets he would get distracted with it, and he was trying to get better about focusing on where he really was. But in his dorm during a free period or at night when he couldn’t sleep, he would verbally recount over and over the things Neil did that made him smile, or a poem he was trying to figure out the next line for. Despite his initial protests, Todd began to love the weekly trades, and had to stop himself from listening to all the recordings on the first day. It was just so comforting to hear Neil’s voice even when he wasn’t right there. After a few months they ran out of space on the recorders, but Todd had saved up enough of his allowance to buy new ones, this time colored purple and dark red. and surprised Neil with them one dreary fall morning. Neil’s face lit up and for a second Todd forgot there was a sun, because what could be more radiant than Neil’s joy?
- - - - - - -
“Todd, you did so good!” Neil ruffled his boyfriend’s hair as the poets streamed out of Keating’s class. Even twenty minutes after being forced to spit out the poem in front of those horrid staring eyes, Todd’s hands were still shaking and his stomach was still churning. He resented Keating for making him get up in front of everyone and make a fool out of himself, even though everyone said they loved his words.
“Todd that was actually amazing.” Knox said with a grin. Todd gave a little smile back. Though the boys were rowdy and rambunctious and often gave Todd a headache, he still couldn’t deny that he loved their banter and laughter. It just felt so amazing to be a part of something. Still, he felt exhausted from the stress of the previous lesson, and soon slipped off to skip chemistry and relax in the study hall for an hour. The Whitman poem had unlocked a flood of random lines and word pairs, and Todd wanted to get them down before they disappeared like stars at dawn. Soon he got distracted by staring into the flames in the fireplace. They were so delicate, so dangerous. They looked soft enough to run your fingers through but you’d get burnt if you touched them.
Todd decided he needed something to listen to while dissociating, so he played one of Neil’s recordings.
“Hello darling! I’m getting ready for the day right now, you’re at breakfast, I still don’t understand how you can possibly eat food right now, it’s 7:30! Anyway, why have you stolen all my sweaters? I get cold too, you know! I’m trying to find something to put on and I know I just did laundry, just yesterday. And then I go over to your closet and boom. All my spare hoodies and sweaters.” Neil let out a long sigh. “You know, I love that you’re comfortable enough to take my stuff. I really do. But I get cold too, Toddothy.”
“Still not my name.” Todd mumbled.
“So, I don’t want to deprave you of my hoodies cause you really do look adorable, but I get cold too. So here’s the deal. You get your own hoodies, and then I’ll steal yours and you can steal mine. Ok?”
Todd smiled. “Ok.”
- - - - - - -
On Halloween afternoon Neil caught a stomach bug that was going around. Todd hadn’t planned on going trick-or-treating with the poets anyway, he was going to call Jeffery and catch up, but Neil and Charlie had planned out a couple’s Cinderella themed costume and now Charlie was insisting that Todd stand in as Prince Charming.
“Please, Todd? You could call your brother tomorrow and Halloween only comes once a year!” Apparently none of the other poets could do it, Meeks and Pitts were going in matching robot costumes, Knox was going as a mouse (“it’s very important ok”), and Cameron insisted that he had to catch up on his studies, and no amount of “you’re already the top of literally every class and it’s one night!” could change his mind. So the only option left was Todd.
Eventually, with a lot of pleading from both Neil and Charlie, and a quick phone call to make sure Jeff was ok with it, Todd consented. He was rewarded by Neil’s hoarse fawning over how good he looked in the outfit (“quiet, Neil, you don’t want to ruin your voice”) and after a lot of Neil insisting he didn’t need someone to cuddle him to help him feel better, Todd finally decided to just enjoy himself. And for the first hour or so, he did. Charlie had insisted on wearing high heels he’d borrowed from Meeks’ mom, even though you couldn’t see his feet under the ridiculous skirt (“it’s to get into character, Todd.”), and he had ripped the dress twice already because he couldn’t balance on stilettos. Also the Cinderella wig was made out of yarn and kept flopping around because there weren’t enough pins in it. Charlie kept saying “Trick or treat” in a ridiculously falsetto voice that made Todd die laughing every time.
But as much as Todd tried to keep up his cheer, he couldn’t stop the feelings of panic as the crowds of trick-or-treaters grew and the noise built and there was so much movement, people walking this way and that and someone shouting and another twirling and the colors and the noise and the motion—
“Todd, you okay?” Charlie dropped the falsetto as he tried to peer into Todd’s face. Todd knew he was being stupid, but everything was so much, it was too much, and he dropped his bag of candy and hunched over, now all the poets were crowding around him and he knew they meant well but it was too small of a space and they were all overlapping voices and blurry faces and he couldn’t breathe. Now someone was touching him, hands on his back or shoulders, it was Knox or maybe Pitts, Todd couldn’t see he couldn’t breathe he had to get out. In a last burst of energy he shoved them off, pulled away, had to find somewhere quiet. He heard the poets calling after him and then Charlie saying “Leave him be.”
Todd didn’t remember how but now he was sitting against the side of a house, his royal jacket thrown off somewhere, the cold brick on his back and firm concrete beneath his feet. He closed his eyes and breathed in and out, hearing echoes of Neil’s breath in his ear. Slowly his senses cleared. He could see the blades of grass in front of him, hear a cricket somewhere to his left, feel the cold wind on his face, smell cigarette smoke from somewhere. And as the panic dissipated, lines of poetry replaced it. Todd reached for his notebook, but of course it wasn’t in the pockets of the Prince Charming costume. Instead he found his voice recorder. He pressed record.
“Neil. I wish you were here right now.” The sound of his own voice was grounding. “Uh, it’s halloween right now, you’re back at the dorm and I’m, uh, I’m next to someone’s house. There was—there was too much noise. And movement. And I—“ the panic was coming again. Why had he started this recording? Right. “Neil.. I heard your breath in my ear and it was a symphony of calm, like the ripples of a lake at daybreak. I, um, remembered your hand on mine and I may be a star in the night sky but you are my tether to earth. Gravity has no hold on me, when I lose my grip on reality, but your voice in my mind keeps me from drifting into nothingness.” Todd slipped into silence, focusing on breathing. A smile drifted onto his face. “You’re my sun, the point I revolve around. You’re my moon, you light up the darkest nights. You’re my everything, Neil Perry.”
Soon Charlie found him and sat down a few inches away, letting Todd have space if he needed it.
“We were all really worried about you, Todd. You okay?”
Todd nodded. He just needed to sit still a bit longer, and Charlie allowed it. Eventually Todd scooted over and rested his head on Charlie’s shoulder. It wasn’t quite as comforting as Neil’s, but he knew Charlie loved him too, in a different way.
We must look so stupid. Todd thought with a little grin, picturing what someone watching them would see: Charlie in his stupid ripped up, oversized costume with that ugly wig and Todd in a stained t-shirt with sparkly pants. And then Todd wanted to cry because at Balincrest he’d had hundreds of panic attacks and there wasn’t a single time someone had tried to comfort or help him, and now here he had Neil, and Charlie, and Knox, and Meeks, and Pitts, and sort of Cameron too. And they didn’t care that he needed more breaks than other people, or that he couldn’t handle noise and light too well, or that he needed a lot of reassurance because he never felt good enough. They just adapted, and made him feel welcome and cared for and loved. Todd realized he was crying now, and he didn’t even care.
- - - - - - -
The rain was beating down on the window and Todd was laying with his head in Neil’s lap. It was a quiet evening after a stressful day of tests, and the two boys had decided to skip study hall in favor of relaxing together in their room. Neil was playing with Todd’s hair and Todd was trying to memorize everything in this moment, the way the rain sounded, the way Neil’s breath blew down just slightly onto Todd’s face, the way Neil’s hands felt in his hair and how comfortable and amazing it was to just be in Neil’s presence. Neil’s eyes were glowing, not like a raging bonfire but like candlelight. Todd could faintly smell Neil’s cologne and while he knew it was cold outside, in here, in this private solitude, everything was comfortably warm. Todd was perfectly content. The planets aligned when Neil’s gaze caught his, and everything was right in the world. And then somehow it became even better.
“You know I love you, right?” Neil asked softly, still gently smoothing and carding through Todd’s hair.
“What?” Todd whispered.
“I love you. You know that, right Todd?”
“Say it again.” Todd breathed.
“You heard me the first two times.” Neil laughed lightly.
“Say it again.” Todd said. “I want to know I’m not dreaming.”
“Todd Anderson, I love you.” Neil’s voice was still low, still soft, but his words carried the weight of a thousand dying stars. “I love you as the sun loves the earth. I love you as the grass loves the rain. I love you and I will never stop loving you. If you were the only person I ever knew I would be perfectly happy.”
Todd breathed. He breathed and he was alive and Neil Perry loved him.
“I love you too.” Todd said, and with all of his heart he meant it.
(Later, when listening through recordings, Todd heard this conversation played back. He let himself be taken back to that wonderful, calm content day, and once more everything was right with the world.)
- - - - - - -
Thanksgiving was hard for most of the poets. The Perrys always had a silent, formal dinner that was pretty much the opposite of giving thanks. The Camerons didn’t believe in Thanksgiving, just business. The Meeks family was the only happy, loving one in the group, so Steven would always invite everyone over, but most years only Pitts was able to come. The Overstreets always had big party-like meal with Welton board and alumni. The Andersons had a family dinner which consisted of praise for Jeff and barely concealed insults for Todd, snide remarks about how they’d heard he kept making up those “panic attacks” and how he needed to just settle down and focus on schoolwork. To make it worse, all the relatives came, and the grandparents and aunts and uncles took Todd’s parents words as truth. It was almost torture.
Todd sat through it this year barely hearing a thing, his mind consistently focused on Neil. Neil’s smile, the little noises Neil made whenever he was really happy, Neil picking flowers and putting them in Todd’s hair and telling him how pretty he was, Neil, Neil, Neil. Todd didn’t realize he was smiling on the outside too until one of his aunts leaned in and made a rude comment about his teeth. Todd just took it in stride. He knew Neil would tell him just to ignore it.
After eating, the various relatives collapsed in food comas around the house, and Todd went upstairs to his room, which he and Jeff were sharing over the holiday weekend. He found one of the messages from Neil and closed his eyes to listen to it.
“Hey Todd!” Came a chorus of boys voices. Todd opened his eyes.
“I know Thanksgiving gets hard for you sometimes, so I wanted to have everyone say something to cheer you up.” Neil explained. “Hopefully you like it.”
“Todd, I just wanted to say I hope your family isn’t too awful to you this year, and if it gets to be too much you can come and spend a day with me and Pitts, my moms would be happy to have you!” from Meeks.
“Definitely, we’ll try not to bore you too much with our inventions, and also Meeks has a cat we thought you might like to meet.” from Pitts. (Todd was allergic to cats, but it was the intent behind the suggestion that made him smile)
“I can’t offer the same invitation, but Todd I hope you do have a good weekend!” from Knox.
“Don’t miss me too much, Anderson.” came Charlie’s voice. “And if those asshole relatives of yours try to beat you down, you beat them up back, got it?”
A few more clambering remarks were tossed out, then Neil reclaimed the recorder. “Have a great week, darling. Love you.”
“Love you too.” Todd whispered as the recording ended. He laughed to himself. What did he ever do to get such amazing friends?
- - - - - - -
“Todd, are you coming to rehearsal with me?”
“I don’t know, Neil, I’m really tired today. I’ll see you tonight, though.” Todd forced a smile, he really was tired. He wanted to ask Neil just to stay here, in their dorm (forever) but he knew he shouldn’t. In a whirlwind of fluttering script pages, a scarf, and a final kiss Neil was gone, and Todd was left alone with his thoughts. This was never good.
All his life Todd had lived in a shadow, and he had become convinced that he belonged there. So even when he got a group of friends and a boyfriend who constantly made sure he didn’t stay in the dark, he still had trouble convincing himself, especially after a long day and when Neil was away at rehearsal. A few minutes after Neil left, Charlie had barged in to invite Todd to study group, pressing for truth when Todd replied with “I’m just tired”. But Todd had become a good liar with his own feelings, and Charlie didn’t want to push it too far. So Todd was curled on his bed, barely trying to fight the self hatred that poured in. “Neil’s only with you out of pity.” His mind insisted. “All of the boys are. None of them actually care. They wouldn’t mind if you were gone. You don’t make a difference.” Todd felt a single tear fall from his eye as he succumbed to the waves, too exhausted to swim for the surface. Then he shifted a bit in bed, and a button was pressed.
“Todd.” A voice whispered into the dark room. Another tear fell. “You’re asleep right now and I know you’ve had a long day so I didn’t want to wake you, but there’s a fox on the lawn. It’s bright red and so gorgeous.” There was rustling of bed sheets in the recording and then Neil spoke again, obviously smiling. “You’re prettier, though.”
Todd knew it was stupid to be missing Neil when he had just seen him an hour ago and kissed him goodbye (something he still marveled that he was able to do). But it felt like ages.
Neil’s voice was still speaking. “The moon is shining down on your hair and face. You look like you’re glowing, Todd. You look like an angel. My angel.” A pause, Todd could hear Neil’s breathing and he synced his own breathing with it. “You’re so beautiful, my love.” Neil’s voice was full of so much wonder, almost tangible awe, that Todd felt for a second like he was somehow worthy of it. The voices that were so heavy just a few minutes ago were forgotten now, darkness pushed away by the irresistible light of Neil’s love. Todd fell asleep with the recorder on his pillow, Neil’s voice still showering praise.
- - - - - - -
The night of the play, Neil was whisked away by his father before Todd could properly tell him what an amazing job he’d done. So he sat on his bed and looked at Neil’s, picturing his boyfriend smiling back at him. Usually an empty bed would be a sad sight, but this one wasn’t. It was a promise that Neil would be back in the morning, or maybe in two days, and Todd could properly tell him how much Todd loved him, and then maybe they could cuddle until class started. Todd was a bit worried about Neil, because dealing with horrible parents was never easy, but Neil had dealt with it plenty, he’d be back soon, and everything would be okay. Todd smiled again and started recording.
“Neil, you were so amazing tonight. I can’t even tell you properly, not without you being right here, but I had to get my thoughts down before they slip away. That crown you wore, it was only made of sticks and berries but it made you look more noble than the wealthiest king. The way you spoke your lines, I know we’ve rehearsed together but tonight you weren’t just playing Puck, Neil you were Puck. You were glowing with pure joy, Neil I don’t care what your father says, you were born to act on the stage. You were the brightest star in the sky tonight.”
Todd lay back, not stopping the recording just yet. He thought back over the past few months, which had been the happiest he’d ever known. Neil was easily the best part of his life. He was Todd’s universe, everything Todd needed was found in Neil.
“Neil, I adore you.”
Todd drifted to sleep, the recorder still clutched in his hand.
- - - - - - -
After the two words that woke him, Todd couldn’t hear a thing anyone said to him. Everything felt like a horrible dream, it had to be a dream, because none of this could be real life. Todd knew he had stumbled outside at some point, he remembered snow on his bare hands and on his face. There were blurry figures around him, holding him back and then letting him go. And then he was at the lake, scrabbling past the place where he and Neil had practiced lines, where he and Neil had rowing together, where he and Neil had sat and read poetry together, everything was him and Neil, and now Neil was—no he couldn’t be, Neil would never leave him behind.
“You’re my sun, Neil!” Todd was screaming, his throat was ragged but he couldn’t stop, it was either scream and defy or sob and accept. “You’re my moon, you’re my stars, you’re my universe, you’re my everything!” He couldn’t breathe. “Neil!”
The softly falling snow reminded him of Neil’s soft footsteps when he was trying not to wake Todd at night, and the cold reminded him of the chills he still got when Neil looked at him, and Todd’s hands grasped at his clothes and of course he was wearing Neil’s pajamas. Everything in his life led back to that boy. Nothing would ever be right without him.
“You’re not gone. You can’t be gone.” His voice was too hoarse to scream anymore, now it was a choked whisper. He lay curled in the snow, probably shaking from cold but he didn’t feel it anymore. But of course Neil wasn’t gone. Neil was right next to him, staring with those warm eyes into his soul. Todd smiled back.
“I had the most horrible dream.” He whispered. Neil mouthed something back, but no sound came out. Todd sat up, reaching for his love, but he was gone.
“Neil?” Todd sat silently, staring at the white emptiness. He couldn’t think, couldn’t feel anymore. Todd looked down at his hands and found they were red and shaking. Todd knew he should go inside and warm up, but he didn’t think he could walk. He put his hands in his pockets and felt an object.
The recorder. Numbly, Todd pulled it out and found one of the messages Neil had left.
“Hey Todd. I just heard a song that reminds me of you.” Neil started humming a slightly upbeat tune, then began singing in a soft voice. “There'll never be anyone else, but you for me. Never ever be, just couldn't be anyone else but you.” Todd smiled. Neil had a good singing voice, he should use it more often. The next time Todd saw Neil, Todd would tell him so.
“A heart that's true and longs for you, is all I have to give. All my love belongs to you, as long as I may live.”
At some point Todd made his way inside. At some point he looked at Neil’s bed and the promise he’d saw last night wasn’t there. At some point he played the recording of Neil singing over and over until he’d memorized every word and exactly how Neil’s voice said it. At some point Todd drifted off to sleep, dreamlike memories floating through his mind like clouds.
- - - - - - -
Todd didn’t think there was a worse way to spend Christmas than at home, with his parents grilling him about grades, classes, girls, and showering Jeff with compliments that turned into backhand insults to Todd.
But sitting in his and Neil’s empty, quiet dorm room was definitely worse. Only Knox, Meeks, and Pitts had gone to Neil’s funeral, three days after his death. Charlie was already gone from school and no one really knew what was going on with Cam. The poets had their own funeral of sorts in the cave. No one acknowledged Neil’s death, instead they read poems that spoke of life. Todd recorded the whole thing. He wasn’t sure why.
He’d still been recording messages for Neil, just like usual. With every new recording he forced away the need to accept the truth. He pushed everything away, burying things that needed to be dealt with.
- - - - - - -
When Neil Perry’s eyes caught Todd’s, the planets had aligned. When Neil’s eyes closed forever, chaos replaced order and everything good became broken and twisted. Todd, who in the past year had bloomed for the first time, closed up his petals and settled in for an unending winter. Life might go on, but on December 25, 1959, Todd’s smile went with Neil to the grave.
- - - - - - -
December 15, 1964 (5 years later)
Todd hadn’t written a poem, sang a song, recorded a message, or spoken to any of the poets in five years. By the time the second semester of school started Todd was gone, Jefferey had finally gathered the funds to get them both out of there, and they’d moved a few states over. No one from their old life had the address.
So there was no way to predict that Charlie Dalton was the one knocking at the door.
Todd stood for a few seconds in shock when he saw his old friend. Charlie smirked his signature smirk and Todd felt something inside him twist, he couldn’t tell if it hurt or it was good to see the boy.
“You gonna let me in or just gape until the sun goes down?” Charlie asked, then pushed past Todd before he could reply.
Todd shook himself out of the shock. “Uh, what are you doing here? How did you find my address? What are you doing here?”
“I brought you a present, Toddrick.” The nickname set off another internal twist. Charlie plopped onto the couch. “Come sit.”
Todd slowly came over. “What is it?”
“So. You disappeared really soon after… everything, and I couldn’t track you down for the longest time. Then I met a guy who knew a guy who could find where people lived. I needed to find you. You see, after… everything, I went to go through his stuff before his dad could throw everything out. His mom let me in, she’s not as bad as his dad, just a bit of a pushover. And… I found this.” Out of his pocket came two little devices. One blue and green, the other purple and red. Todd froze. Charlie held the second one up. “There’s a last message on here, Todd. From.. that night. You need to hear it.”
Todd took the recorder with a trembling hand. All the memories Todd had buried were coming back, in a torrent. Textbooks and standing on desks and reading lines and sitting in a cave and in every one, a boy’s smile. Neil.
Charlie left the room to let Todd listen to the message in silence. Todd took two deep breaths, then pressed play. Neil’s voice. He hadn’t heard it in so long.
“The moon is so bright tonight.” He was so young that night, only 17 years old. “I’m the one glowing now. And the wind is so cold. But it feels good, too. Fresh, like a new day. An end, and a new beginning.” A soft chuckle. “Todd, you’re my angel. You’re the one who made my life worth living again. You saved me, Todd.”
“I found this quote in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and… I wanted to leave you with something. Here goes.” A breath. “And whether we shall meet again I know not/ Therefore our everlasting farewell take/ For ever, and for ever, farewell!/ If we do meet again, why, we shall smile/ If not, why then, this parting was well made.” Neil’s breathing wasn’t shaky, nor were his words, instead it sounded like he was smiling.
“I love you so much, Todd.”
Todd gulped. Then choked. Then he sobbed. Out came all of the tears and the pain he’d been storing inside for the past five years. At some point Charlie was in the room again and they were holding each other. Nothing would be okay, the world was broken and cold and heartless but Todd could finally let himself crumble, and there would be rubble everywhere but in every pile of rubble was hope for new life.
Neil was gone. Neil was really gone, and there was nothing Todd could do about that. But he’d been pushing it away for so long, refusing to accept it, and now he finally could. It still ached and twisted, and there would always be a hole that no one could fill, but Todd was finally acknowledging that that hole existed.
He could breathe.