His doctor said he was lucky.
Lucky, Sam thought, was a funny word to use to describe his situation. It’d been four months since he’d turned up passed out on the side of the road outside Tulane, Nebraska with no memory of who he was or how he’d gotten there or – anything, really, other than the name Sam, and he wasn’t even entirely sure about that.
It wasn’t like there was anyone to tell him differently, though.
Best they could figure, it’d been a seizure of some kind. Sam couldn’t remember having any ever, and was relatively sure he’d never had epilepsy, but apparently he’d had two within a week of being checked into the hospital. If, thankfully, none since, though that was why the doctor: just to keep an eye on him.
He was lucky, Dr. Roberts said, to have fallen into their town; some places people wouldn’t have stopped. He was lucky that he hadn’t aspirated on the side of the road. Lucky that one of the nurses had taken a shine to him and helped him get on his feet from nothing, because whoever he’d been, he apparently didn’t have insurance, or money, or a house, or family.
Tulane was friendly that way. His manager at the grocery where he ended up working went so far as to give him enough of an advance for a cheap apartment, and if it was barely enough, it was still enough.
And if it was the kind of kindness they’d extend to anyone, and sometimes Sam felt strangely invisible and stupidly lonely, well – that was just ungrateful.
Sam wondered, sometimes, if anyone was looking for him. If somewhere out there there was somebody trying to find him. He was pretty sure not, though. People who had someone didn’t just end up on the side of the road, half-dead and practically delirious.
Whatever he’d been in that old life, Sam thought sometimes he was glad he didn’t remember it, between the gruesome scars he was at a complete loss to explain and the nightmares.
Taking that into account, Sam thought, sitting up in bed and sweating in cold fear (something half remembered at the edge of his vision), maybe he was lucky.
Lucky to get a fresh start.
The stranger turned up in town on a Monday. He drifted into the grocery store and stopped, standing there with his hands in the pockets of his jeans and head tilted slightly to the side. Sam didn’t even notice him until one of the other cashiers nudged his arm and said, “Hey, Sam; some guy’s watching you. You know him?”
Sam glanced up and across, and indeed he was being observed. The man had pale grey eyes and other than the curious intensity of his gaze was almost oddly unremarkable. He felt something like a tug under his sternum and for a moment it was like a black gulf yawned at his feet, and then he blinked and it was just a stranger.
“No,” he said. “Doesn’t look familiar. Then again-” He raised his voice and called, “Can I help you?”
“Hm,” said the stranger. “I wonder.” He smiled, a little toothily. “Could you direct me to the produce aisle?”
Something skittered down his back like spiders. Sam pointed, and the stranger strolled off down the aisle. Sam pulled his eyes away with more effort than it seemed like it should take. He came back a couple minutes later with two apples, which he plunked down on the counter in front of Sam, ignoring the other cashiers. He paid in cash, and lifted a hand in a casual wave as he stepped back.
“Thanks, Sam,” he said, and for a moment Sam felt a surge of terror before he remembered that he was wearing his name-tag, of course.
Still, he watched the guy saunter out of the store, and didn’t realize how tense his shoulders were until they relaxed.
The stranger came back the next day. Leaned on the checkout counter and said, “I’m new in town. Any recommendations?”
It was his stare that Sam noticed; intense and fixed on Sam like he was looking for something. Sam shifted. “Uh,” he said. “I don’t know. What’re you looking for?”
“Anything you want to suggest.”
Sam wracked his brain, trying to think of something. Apparently his confusion showed on his face, because the stranger laughed. Softly, head thrown back and the sound from his throat. “Don’t get a lot of newbies around here, I guess? Well, I’ll work it out.”
“I’m pretty new here,” Sam allowed. “Actually.” The stranger looked interested.
“Really? How long?”
Sam took a moment to count. “Maybe five months? –sorry,” he added, apologetically. “I didn’t get your name.”
“No,” said the stranger. “I suppose you didn’t.” He held out a hand. “I’m Nick. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sam.”
Sam blinked, almost taken aback, then took Nick’s hand and shook it. The other man’s grip was firm, his hand oddly cool. “—yeah,” he said. “You too. And welcome to Tulane, and everything.”
Nick rocked back on his heels and let go of Sam’s hand after a moment too long. “I think I’ll like it here,” he said, casually, and then stepped back. “Well. I guess I’ll see you around.”
Sam watched him go, a little confused. Feeling that he might have missed something, perhaps. His manager, Rachel, wandered over. “That guy bothering you?” she asked. Sam shook his head.
“No. Uh, not really.” He looked at her. “Why?”
“You’ve got kind of a look on,” Rachel said. “Little bit. You know, tense. Well, good. Let me know if he starts?”
“Yeah,” Sam assured her, and found a smile. “Of course.”
(That night, his dreams were blurry and indistinct and full of blood, and Sam woke midway through the night with a name on his lips, but even as he reached for it it was gone, and he was left with just a strange feeling of terror and desperation.)
The stranger came back the next day. He bought some yogurt, paused, looked at Sam, and said, “Want to go out for coffee?”
Sam was so taken aback that he said yes before he even realized what had been asked. Nick grinned like a satisfied cat.
“Excellent,” he said. “When do you get off?”
Sam went, because he didn’t have a number to call and cancel, and ended up discovering that Nick was – almost unnervingly easy to talk to. Within an hour, he’d told the story about turning up on the side of the road, and moved on from there to, curiously enough, favorite philosophical movements, and it seemed like Sam blinked and almost three and a half hours had passed. It was well past dark outside.
Nick smiled. “We should do this again sometime.”
Sam hesitated. He felt good, though. “Yeah,” Sam said on an impulse. “Yeah, sure.”
So they did it again. And then again, talking about books and theology and everything Sam remembered (nothing about himself) and Nick never asked. Never pressed, like a lot of people did, about if he was sure there wasn’t anything, so on and so forth. Sam asked him, once, why that was, and Nick shrugged.
“I don’t care about your past,” he said. “Your present’s all I need to know.”
Rachel thought he was weird. Rachel thought he was creepy. Sam couldn’t really understand why. He was always perfectly polite. “It’s the way he watches people,” Rachel said, pausing by his station as Nick was wandering out of the store. “Like they’re hardly even real, like they’re pictures in a magazine or something.”
“I haven’t seen that,” Sam protested. Rachel glanced at him.
“Yeah,” she said. “Exactly. You’re the only one he doesn’t do it to. That’s what makes it so creepy.”
Sam thought about it. Thought about the way sometimes when he and Nick were together his breath would come short and his thoughts would short-circuit and all he wanted was to run away until he couldn’t even stand anymore. But that was his weirdness. Right?
Just like the dreams Nick kept slipping into, voice soft and soothing as he carved Sam into pieces.
In July, instead of coffee, they went to dinner at a local diner. Not terribly expensive, but it was pretty good food anyway.
It was sprinkling outside when they stepped out of the diner. They walked about a block down, and before Sam was entirely cognizant of what was going on Nick had turned and backed him into a wall and was kissing him.
Sam went rigid at once, felt a distinct jolt of electricity down his spine that was not entirely pleasant, confused and surprised and – he hadn’t really thought about it. Hadn’t really considered that to someone else maybe weekly outings looked a lot like dating.
He was barely even a whole person, still. That wasn’t the kind of thing you put on someone else.
Nick pulled back. His tongue touched his upper lip briefly, just the pink tip. His pale grey eyes had gone dark with – what Sam could only describe as ‘lust’ that made his stomach twist and knot, made him acutely aware of every part of his body. “Too far?” He murmured. Sam stared down at him. Only a couple inches. Nick was a tall man.
“Um,” Sam said, cautiously. “I don’t…I didn’t…” Nick’s eyebrows quirked at him. Sam breathed out. “Just unexpected,” he said a little helplessly, and felt thoroughly stupid.
“In a bad way?”
Sam thought about it. He’d always sort of assumed he was probably straight, but he didn’t actually remember. He hadn’t had any kind of relationship since turning up here, for obvious reasons – except for, apparently, whatever they’d been doing for the past while. There was something strange and familiar here, and Nick seemed to care about him.
And whatever he felt now…wasn’t bad. Maybe it was just nice to feel wanted, and not just in the abstract. As himself.
“I don’t know,” Sam said, finally, wavering.
Nick stepped back, and smiled. “Well,” he said, “I can work with that.”
Whatever he could or couldn’t remember, Sam was relatively certain he’d never been courted before. He was being courted now, in a way that would have been ridiculous if Nick weren’t so – well, playful about it. He got bouquets of flowers on his doorstep with ridiculous couplets tucked inside. Received small notes in his locker at work, you should smile more often, when you laugh I want to lick up the side of your throat.
Which would have been weird – which was a little weird, except that the same day Nick would turn up at the grocery store and smirk and lean over the counter, ask in a perfectly innocent voice, “How are you doing today, Sam?” with a little gleam in his eyes, like he was laughing quietly at his own joke.
Sam found that expression almost endearing.
It was so easy sometimes to feel like he was disappearing, drifting anchorless through life, and suddenly someone was looking at him and no one else, and it was…yeah, flattering. And nice. To feel like someone had a vested interest in his life.
And Nick was interested, and he was patient, and despite the shift he didn’t stop taking Sam out to coffee and coaxing him into conversations that Sam couldn’t seem to manage with anyone else.
“Sometimes I wonder,” Sam found himself saying over his tea, to Nick’s attentive expression, “If there’s someone out there. You know. Looking for me. I wouldn’t know.”
Nick tilted his head to the side. “Does it matter?” Sam blinked.
“Why do you say that?”
Nick shrugged. “Seems to me – you’ve left that behind. Either you’ll remember or you won’t, and it seems to me…however you ended up here, maybe it’s for the best, hm?” He leaned back in his chair. “Why look back? You have people here who care about you.”
Sam made a face. “I have you. And maybe Rachel. That’s about it. Everyone’s decent, but…”
Nick looked almost wounded. “What,” he said, pressing a hand dramatically to his heart. “That isn’t enough?”
Sam couldn’t help a laugh. “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe it is.” Nick smiled his small, private smile that made something deep in Sam’s belly twitch in a way both pleasant and disconcerting.
His dreams, though. Like some kind of perverse reaction to things in waking hours looking up, they kept getting worse. Darker. He almost never remembered what it was that made him wake up on the floor half under his bed, tears streaming down his face and heart thudding painfully against his ribs, but sleep was becoming something to dread.
“Sam,” Nick said quietly at their weekly coffee date (god, Sam didn’t even remember when ‘outing’ had become ‘date’, probably somewhere around that first and thus far only kiss), “You look exhausted.”
Sam stared into his cup of coffee. His stomach was churning and he’d slept maybe two hours the night before, and woken up to stagger into the bathroom and throw up his dinner without even knowing why. He’d gone in to see Dr. Roberts a couple days ago just in case, dealt with the pain in the ass of an EEG only to be informed that everything was still normal, no sign that this was some kind of seizure activity. He had a quick gulp of his drink and didn’t care that it was scalding. “M’not really sleeping well,” he said. Nick looked concerned.
“Something on your mind?”
Sam shook his head. “No. Not…no.” Nick frowned more deeply.
“I’m not pushing too hard, am I?” he asked, quietly, and Sam blinked, startled, and then shook his head.
“No,” he said, hastily, “No, that’s not,” and something skittered into his mind, dark and enough to almost make Sam flush. If anything, not hard enough, it murmured. He cleared his throat. “No. Honestly…” He stopped. Nick just waited, and finally Sam said, “You’re pretty much what’s keeping me sane at this point.”
Nick looked pleased. “Is that so?” He murmured, and Sam flushed even more warmly.
“Well,” he said, “People are nice, here, but when it comes right down to it…we’re both strangers, right? This isn’t home, not yet, not even if I don’t know where else would be.” Nick’s expression went slightly amused.
“Both outcasts, if you will?”
Sam blinked, and then nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess you could say that.”
The next time, it was Sam who initiated the kissing. It was an impulse, evening and it was raining outside this time too but they were standing under the stoop covering the door to Sam’s apartment building. It was graceless and less sure than the first time but after a moment Nick’s hand still slid into the hair at the back of his neck, tongue tracing the line of his lower lip.
When the other man drew back, his eyes were almost gleaming. “What will the neighbors say?” he said, mock-scandalized, and there was something hot and dark and deep back in his eyes that made something warm pool low in Sam’s stomach even as the hair on the back of his neck tried to stand up.
“None of their business,” he said, and Nick laughed quietly.
“No,” he said. “It’s really not, is it?” He tilted his head up. “Kiss me again, Sam,” he said, and Nick’s voice made it an order that Sam obeyed before he was thinking about it. Nick’s hands clamped on his shoulders, dug in, and just for a moment Sam was very aware of the closeness and warmth of his hips.
Then Nick stepped back, smiled. “Good night, Sam,” he said, turned and strolled casually away.
Sam stumbled back against the door and couldn’t tell if the racing in his heart was panic or excitement (or both, two edges of the same thing like pain and pleasure); either way, he felt more alive than he had for months.
They went to a fucking movie. The movie was terrible. What Sam could remember of it, anyway, what Nick hadn’t spent leaving casual hickies down Sam’s neck. “I like seeing you with my mark on you,” he murmured, in a way that made Sam shiver.
“That’s a little fucked up and possessive,” Sam whispered back, and Nick had leaned in close, mouthed at Sam’s earlobe.
“Do you mind?”
Sam didn’t. Not really.
They went to Sam’s apartment afterwards. Nick ground Sam up against a wall, hands all over his body, and pushed him down on a couch, his smaller height disguising compact strength and Sam didn’t really resist that hard. He mouthed warmly at Sam’s neck; caught some skin in his teeth and sucked hard. Sam made a strangled sound somewhere between a groan and a whine, and his head thudded back against the arm of the couch.
“Yes,” Nick murmured, breath hot just below his jawline. “Like that.” He did it again, the weight of his body warm and close, thigh nestled between Sam’s legs all taut muscle, and Sam was strung tight as a bow string. Nick paused.
“Do you want this?” He asked, suddenly, voice low and heated, but the question sincere. Sam squirmed.
Nick pulled back and Sam made a small sound of protest. “I’m not going to do anything you don’t want,” Nick said, that curious intensity back in his stare, something about his expression almost determined. Sam twisted his head to the side to avoid that gaze.
“I’m pretty fucked up,” Sam said, finally, in a small voice. “You shouldn’t have to…don’t have to deal with it. With me. I just want you to know-”
Nick kissed him, sucked his lower lip into his mouth and bit it lightly. “Stop right there,” he murmured. “I know what I want, Sam. I’d take you however you came to me. You won’t scare me off like that.” One of his hands lifted from the couch and traced the line of Sam’s hipbone. He smiled, that slightly edged, almost terrifying expression. “There is nothing you can say to make me change my mind about you. Just tell me what you want.”
Sam swallowed hard. A strange feeling was crawling down his back but it didn’t feel like fear. He licked his lips, mouth feeling curiously dry.
“Okay,” he said, quietly. Nick’s eyes were boring into his.
Sam felt his face, whole body, go warm. “Yes,” he said. “I. Yes.”
Nick’s smile bloomed, and Sam felt the muscles of his thigh tense, pressing in a way that made Sam’s hips jerk. “I was so hoping,” he murmured, “That you would say that.”
The couch was small and awkward and borderline uncomfortable, but Sam’s vision still went white when Nick coaxed him over the edge with hands and teeth and tongue just this side of rough.
The first night they shared a bed was the first night Sam woke up to the sound of his own screaming, trying desperately to throw himself out of bed, trapped trapped trapped he needed to get away. “Stop, please,” he heard himself say, and then Nick’s voice, level and calm, cut through his daze.
That was all. Somehow, it was enough, at least to stop him from struggling, before Sam even reoriented and realized again which way was up (forgot again what he’d been dreaming about). Nick’s fingers eased into his hair, other hand skimming down his back. “Easy,” he said, soft voice somehow still managing to cut through Sam’s still too-rapid breathing. “It’s fine. It’s all fine.”
“I’m sorry,” Sam said desperately, trying to pull away, “I’m sorry, I didn’t, I don’t-”
Nick didn’t let him pull away. Drew him in closer instead, kissed him slow and lingering and gentle until everything else seemed to diminish in importance. Sam didn’t know how Nick could tell, but only then did he pull back and run a thumb lightly over Sam’s lips. “Hush,” he said, affectionately. “I said, didn’t I? I’m not leaving you. I’m…happy to be here.” He rested his forehead against Sam’s. “Happy that you trust me with this.”
Sam blinked at Nick, mind blank. All his nerves were still humming and his body kept trying to shudder. Nick looked almost disappointed for a moment, and then closed one eye and looked at Sam thoughtfully through the other.
“Hmm,” he said, and shifted, rolling Sam to his back and straddling his hips in one smooth movement, resting one palm flat on his stomach and sliding lower. “Let’s see if I can’t find a way to help you get back to sleep, yes?”
They weren’t exactly living together. Officially. There weren’t a whole lot of nights that Nick didn’t spend at Sam’s apartment, though. (There weren’t a whole lot of nights that Nick didn’t have to coax him back to sleep after he woke up, frantic, but Nick was good about it, didn’t get pissed like Sam would expect.)
Everything else, funnily enough, seemed to stay just the same. The job. The apartment. The other pieces of his life.
Somehow that was weird.
“It’s hard to believe,” Sam said. “Just a few months ago I was…I had nothing. Nothing at all. I was just a half-dead nobody on the side of the road.”
“You were never nobody,” Nick said, with that strange tone of voice he got sometimes, almost offended. Sam made a face at him over his coffee.
“Yeah, I was. No one was looking for me, I didn’t have money or a memory or anything. And now…” Sam shrugged. “I guess maybe I am lucky after all.”
Nick smirked at him. “Are you calling me your savior, Sam?” Sam felt himself flush.
“No, I’m just-”
Nick’s smile broadened. “Maybe a little?”
Sam balled up a sugar packet and threw it at his head. “You’re a dick. I’m just saying. Things are…okay.”
There was one night that Nick was out, on business or something. Sam woke up screaming and frantic and with blood under his fingernails from where he’d clawed his own chest raw. He took a shower, trying to slow down his breathing and calm himself with the sting of hot water on torn skin, then staggered back to bed, but he couldn’t close his eyes. Couldn’t make himself close his eyes, and his heart wouldn’t stop racing.
It was early morning.
All he could think was that Nick would manage to chase the dream away. He curled into himself, back to the cell phone that seemed to beckon, and lay there, eyes open, for hours.
Nick wandered in somewhere after four and took one look at Sam, stopped dead. His nostrils flared, once. “What happened?” he asked, quietly. Sam twitched.
“I couldn’t get back to sleep,” Sam said in a small voice, and hated how pathetic it sounded.
Nick frowned. “You should have called me.”
“You were busy,” Sam said, and Nick came and sat down on the side of the bed, rested a hand lightly between his shoulder blades. Sam felt the tension ooze out of him, even just for that.
“I’m never too busy to help you,” Nick said, quietly, gently. “You should have called, Sam.”
Sam took a deep, shuddery breath. “It’s pathetic,” he said. “It’s sad and weak and pathetic, I can’t even…”
“Sam.” Nick’s voice went sharp. “I don’t want to hear you talk about yourself that way. Whatever happened to you, it left scars. You don’t need to be okay. I told you: I love you as you are. And that won’t change.” He leaned over and kissed Sam under his eye. “Let me help you.”
Sam shuddered, slightly, and made a small noise in his throat. His heart was still pounding painfully hard. “Please,” he said, and blinked when he looked at Nick and his eyes were oddly – hungry. Reminiscent, like he was thinking of something else, a fond memory from another time. Then he just smiled.
“Since you asked so nicely.”
Nick traced the scars on Sam’s chest with a single finger, expression one of studied concentration. “I wish,” he said lazily, “I could kill everyone who ever hurt you.”
The hair on the back of Sam’s neck prickled, but he laughed. “Yeah, good luck with that,” Sam said dryly. “I don’t even know who they are.”
“Mmm,” Nick said. Leaned down and ran his tongue along a thin white line just below his sternum. “I could just kill everyone for good measure, then.”
Sam frowned, twitched, pulled away. “Stop that. It freaks me out. You sound so serious.”
“Who says I’m not?” Nick said, and smiled that edged smile that always made Sam’s heart beat a little faster. “It’d just be you and me. No one else. The whole world to ourselves.”
“We’d get bored,” Sam said, and Nick laughed.
“Would we?” he asked playfully, and shifted, palm smooth and warm wrapping around his dick, and Sam jerked violently with a small and almost plaintive noise. His breathing stuttered. “I think we could entertain ourselves. Just us and the whole empty world. Like paradise.”
Sam’s stomach clenched and he wasn’t sure if it was arousal or something else, something in Nick’s voice that tweaked something like fear. “I don’t think-”
Nick’s hand paused and his other moved to stroke Sam’s flank. “That’s your problem,” he said. “You think too much. Stop thinking, Sam. Just be. Just…feel.”
“Sometimes I worry I’m too dependent on you,” Sam said ruefully, and for some reason that made Nick laugh for a long, long time.