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because i adore you so

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1.

Honestly, the first time it happens is both unexpected and a little fucking humiliating.

He’s decided to tag along and, in his own words, supervise one of Rick’s little outings, because Negan’s starting to suspect that the meager supplies Rick’s been collecting for him have been a little on the light side, lately.

On the one hand, he doubts Rick would risk any harm coming to his people on the off-chance of successfully keeping the lion’s share of their weekly gathering of supplies, but on the other hand, Rick’s undoubtedly crazy enough to at least have considered it.

Negan thinks he knows the guy pretty well, by now; you learn what people are made of in the moment that you see their worlds come crashing down around them, and he’d seen something wild and crazed in Rick’s eyes as he stepped out of that trailer. Desperate enough to try something stupid, maybe, which is why Negan jovially calls for Rick to hold the fuck up right as he’s heading towards the armory to help move things along.

It’s a spur of the moment kind of decision, but Negan doesn’t for one damn second consider backing out. No, he’s more than a little curious about Rick’s scavenging rituals, wondering about how the man handles himself out there with the dead ones. From what he’s seen and heard - rumors, mostly - he’s not impressed, not until Rick’s proven to him in person that he’s got a little spark left inside of him, the remnants of a flame Negan pissed on and quenched long ago.

“Yeah?” Rick asks, his whole fucking body vibrating with unease and impatience. Eager to get this shit over with, same way he is every week, but Negan’s not letting him off easy, this time.

He’s got big plans for them, and it will not do to have Rick trying to squirrel his way out of this, not when Negan’s just dying to get to know Rick a little better.

If nothing else, it’s going to be one hell of an exciting week.

Later that day, with a reluctant and scowling Rick behind the wheel, Negan’s more than a little satisfied to note that Rick’s fingers haven’t been itching to reach for his hatchet, like they undoubtedly would’ve only weeks ago. Rick may be belligerent and capable of holding one hell of a grudge, but even he’s smart enough to see that killing Negan right here and now would leave him in quite a pickle: without a partner to back him up, he could easily get torn to shreds.

Besides, Rick would be in for one bloody welcome back party, returning to Alexandria without Negan.

He doesn’t doubt that Rick’s more than capable of handling himself, out here, because to survive in this new world is to be ruthless, but Rick hasn’t adapted. Not fully. Not the way Negan has.

“Say, Rick,” he chuckles, stretched out on the plush seats, eyes fixed on the back of Rick’s head, noting how he tenses almost imperceptibly as Negan starts speaking, “Where are we going?”

Rick must be fighting the impulse to snap at him, judging by the rigid line of his back. After a moment of gathering the words in his mouth, Rick says “Further out than before. Nothing left to scavenge near home.”

Negan bets it must be a bitch, Rick’s people stretching their runs from days to weeks on end, spending longer and longer on the road to find something worth salvaging. That’s not his problem, and he’s far from sympathetic, but he briefly wonders if that’s why Rick’s been looking so damn gloomy lately, perpetually finding himself searching for supplies in places he’s less and less likely to find any.

Rick’s gone real quiet, and Negan is briefly tempted to let Rick have this one moment of serenity, but his mouth gets the best of him. “You bring any, uh, reading material for the road?” Negan asks, and the implication is made pretty damn clear by the way he licks his lips and raises his eyebrows. Rick, hilariously clueless, cranes his neck to throw Negan a bewildered look that almost instantly melts into irritation after he sees the expression Negan’s wearing.

He figures Rick is going to silently try to ignore him, which is why it’s even more of a fucking delight when the guy mutters “You wanna try thinking with your other head for once?” and Negan, momentarily struck speechless, stares at him.

Then, he laughs - loud and pleased, because Rick sure does have a pair on him, goddamn.

“I’ll be damned, Rick,” Negan grins, “I knew you had a sense of humor buried under all that righteous anger!”

This time around, he doesn’t get the reply he was hoping for, because Rick’s apparently done being chummy. Tightly, he mutters “We’ll be driving for a while. Might as well get some rest while you can,” and there’s a pointed edge there that Negan interprets as for the love of all that is holy, shut up and leave me alone.

He obliges, for a while. Doesn’t fall asleep, doesn’t even come close to it, because he doesn’t trust Rick one fucking bit, but Negan does shut his mouth in a manner of speaking; occasionally, he whistles a tune and watches as Rick pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs, but he doesn’t offer any other protests, so Negan keeps at it.

Maybe he’s even a little taken aback when Rick starts to hum the same melody Negan’s been whistling, and it’s almost companionable, ‘cept Rick’s never going to forget that Negan killed his friends and threatened his kid, and Negan’s not about to apologize for it, so he guesses they’re stuck in a stalemate.

An hour or so out, the walkie-talkie fastened to Rick’s belt crackles to life as a staticky voice eventually clears up and says “-there? Come in if you can hear me.”

Negan doesn’t recognize the person who’s speaking, and judging by Rick’s non-reaction, he supposes it’s somebody who might’ve been in the clearing that night. Somebody that might as well be family, because Rick relaxes into a comfortable slouch and says “I’m here, Aaron.”

Right, the fairy - the one that got the beatdown after Negan took care of Spencer. Not bothering to mask his interest, Negan calls “Why don’t you tell my good pal Aaron hi from me, Rick?”

Unsurprisingly, Rick does no such thing.

“We were just wondering,” Aaron says, his voice briefly lost to background noise, “-be back? In case you’ll be a while, we could send out another scouting team.”

Rick thinks on it for a moment, then raises the walkie, sighing “Might be a day, could be longer. If I’m not back by tomorrow, go ahead and take Tara, maybe Heath.”

Oh, Negan doesn’t miss the way Rick purposefully says if I’m not back, omitting Negan entirely from that equation.

The other end of the walkie goes quiet for a moment, and then Negan’s favorite budding psychopath says “Hey, dad?” and Rick’s whole demeanor changes, softening his features into something painfully happy. Negan hasn’t seen that from Rick in a good long while.

“Yeah, Carl? Everything alright?”

“Everything’s fine - everyone’s fine. Just...be safe?” Carl implores.

Negan doesn’t interrupt. He could, but he doesn’t. Sometimes, he amazes even himself with how goddamn respectful he can be. He is curious, though, about what the little serial killer has to say to Rick.

“I will be,” Rick promises, then clears his throat. “You take care of - everyone. I’ll try to be back soon.”

After a short round of goodbyes, the walkie returns to its position on Rick’s belt and the trailer briefly descends into silence.

“Aw, Rick,” Negan sighs, “You’re breaking my damn heart, you know that? If you want to talk to your kid, talk to your fucking kid.”

“Thanks, but no thanks,” Rick tells him, his voice sharp. “I’d rather focus and get this over with as soon as possible.”

The mood keeps declining; Negan prodding and taunting Rick, and Rick taking it with increasing agitation. When the trailer finally comes to a stop by the curb, Negan’s half-convinced Rick’s going to try to bury his hatchet deep in Negan’s skull and leave him on the side of the road, but all Rick does is rise up and stretch. He turns to look at Negan, then pointedly gestures outside. “We’ve lost the daylight,” he informs Negan. “We’re taking a break, continuing at dawn.”

Not Negan’s preferred method of doing things, that’s for damn sure, but he’s brought himself along precisely to witness Rick’s supposedly legendary leadership in action. He likes to play it safe, it seems, and Negan shrugs easily, settling deeper into the comfortable upholstery.

“Won’t try to stab me in my sleep, will you? ‘cause that would be un-fucking-wise, Rick.”

He’s almost disappointed by Rick’s defeated tone when he says “Of course not,” before he then goes and follows it up with a delightfully sharp-tongued “When I kill you, you won’t see it coming.”

“Promises, promises,” Negan grins, and finds that falling asleep is remarkably easy.

Waking up, that’s the tricky part, because he’d been expecting Rick to play the martyr and try to catch a few hours’ rest in the driver’s seat, but Rick’s apparently had a change of heart, or maybe he just got tired of letting Negan dictate his every fucking move, because Rick’s fast asleep on the other end of the couch, and Negan is...inconvenienced.

Hell, popping a hard-on isn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened in cramped quarters with Rick, but shifting uncomfortably in his fucking pants while Rick’s lashes twitch and his eyes flit restlessly beneath his eyelids-? Yeah, that’s no good, because Negan’s been thinking about that parted mouth of Rick’s, lately, and it’s not helping to have Rick laid out and peaceful in front of him.

It makes Negan want to mess him up, make him cry. Negan wants to ruin him.

His dick’s so fucking hard it's chafing against his jeans, swollen and thick, rubbing against the denim in a desperate bid for friction, and Negan takes a moment to consider his options. He could slink away into that sorry little bathroom stall in the back and give himself a few good tugs, shoot off into the sink, leaving Rick a nice little surprise, but where’s the fun in that? Negan tries to imagine the look on Rick’s face, slowly waking up and finding Negan with his hand around his dick, careless and unashamed, and decides that he doesn’t give a flying fuck about the consequences, not when he feels like he’s been hard for fucking ages, walking around with an itch he can’t seem to scratch.

That's what Rick does to him, and he doesn't even know it.

Negan’s got no reservations about his body, and even if he did, once he’s got an idea firmly planted in his head he’s likely to run with it, determined as a dog with a bone. Sighing softly, he unzips and feels a shudder run from the very top of his spine all the way to his tailbone, his lower lip pulled between his teeth as he gets going.

The significance of the moment doesn’t escape him. There’s something thrilling about claiming Rick’s space as his own, because this is the very same trailer where Negan first debased him and saw the light slowly go out of Rick’s eyes. Taking it for himself is one hell of a power trip, and it makes his cock pulse in his hand, a filthy-slow drip of precome trailing down the underside, catching against the pad of his thumb.

Christ, Rick’s still sleeping, chest rising slowly with even breaths, blissfully unaware of what Negan's doing, and Negan indulges in one of his fantasies, imagining Rick on his knees like he was that first night, his mouth stretched wide and panting, Negan fucking his mouth rough and erratic. He'd pull Rick's pretty curls, too, leaving him bruised and aching.

He could come from the fucking mental image alone, and he damn near ends up ripping his own dick off in surprise when he opens his eyes to get a good look at Rick and finds him staring back.

Immobile and almost frighteningly silent, Rick fixes Negan with an unimpressed look that boils in his blood, but he doesn’t say anything. Curled up on his side, his expression morphs from disinterested to what Negan reads as almost challenging, and his mouth curves into a taunting smirk.

Hell, he’s daydreamed about watching Rick get off, but the reverse does it for him, too. As he deliberately keeps his eyes locked with Rick’s, Negan’s hand starts moving again. He jerks himself slowly, with tight strokes, letting Rick hear every punched-out noise that falls from his mouth, and as much as this is a performance, Negan’s breathy groans are genuine, torn from him with every second that Rick’s watching.

It doesn’t last long at all. Negan comes to an abrupt fucking end when his eyes flit down the length of Rick’s body only to find him adjusting himself in his pants. The moment is subtle and brief, but the goddamn revelation that Rick’s getting off on this, too-? It’s too much. It pushes him over the edge, and Negan shoots off like a damn overeager teenager, panting harshly, laughing a low laugh as Rick sits up and stretches, eyes on Negan the whole time.

For a guy as easily flustered as Rick, he’s wearing an oddly neutral expression, and as the chilly air starts to wash over Negan’s skin, he wonders what the fuck just happened, how the fuck he let Rick walk out of this thing winning. The man's standing up, now, with hands on his hips, unruffled and calm, contrasting with Negan's own heaving chest and sweat-damp hair.

There’s almost laughter lining Rick’s voice when he murmurs “I’ve seen better,” and then easily slips back behind the wheel, leaving Negan bereft and stunned into silence.

His voice carries throughout the trailer, booming like a promise. “Oh, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” he tells Rick, and Rick’s responding bold laugh burns into his memory.

Chapter Text

2.

Negan has made a couple of things pretty clear right from the get-go.

You provide for me. You belong to me, and belonging to Negan means being afforded a certain amount of protection, but it means that Alexandria is his, that the people are his, and that sentiment rings especially true when it comes to Rick.

Rick belongs to him, and Negan doesn’t appreciate other people touching what isn’t theirs.

His weekly visit to Alexandria had started out the same way as always. He’d banged on the gate with Lucille, gone on to spook the townspeople a little, made a few idle threats here and there, but then he’d been on his merry way to Rick’s house, grinning all the while in anticipation of Rick’s displeasure at seeing him. The man’s got the worst poker face Negan’s ever seen, and he can’t seem to get enough of those dark, pointed glares of Rick’s.

After their little roadtrip a couple of weeks ago, Rick’s been exceedingly tense and skittish around him, despite the tough-guy front he put up for Negan in the trailer. The guy’s all bark and no bite, and Negan’s more than happy to get under his skin, making him squirm with the dirty flick of his tongue and the way his hand roams Rick’s back when Negan drags him around town for the sheer pleasure of Rick’s humiliation.

He’d been looking forward to messing with Rick, and then he’d entered Rick’s house to find him on the couch with that damn fairy hovering around him, the two of them talking in low, hushed voices, and Negan had stopped cold in his tracks, surveying the scene.

His voice dangerously low, Negan had asked “If I’d have known this was going to be a social gathering, I’d have brought cake. Did my fucking invitation get lost in the mail, Rick?”

Negan had been waiting too damn long for a chance to receive Rick’s undivided attention, and to be denied...oh, he doesn’t like that at all.

“You mind?” Rick had fired back, gesturing at the map spread out on the coffee table, his and Aaron’s eyes glued to the hastily scrawled notes on it. “‘less you got something helpful to offer, give us a minute.”

Fuming is an understatement; Negan is downright wrathful, watching Rick blatantly brush him off in favor of his buddy, and Negan grips Lucille a little tighter, hearing her creak between his fingers.

He could wreak a little havoc, maybe rough up Rick’s new fucking best friend until he’s made his point, but he leans back against the wall and purrs “By all means, go ahead,” and watches for a while until Rick folds the map up and hands it to Aaron.

“Thanks,” he tells the man in parting, and Negan really sees red when the smarmy little prick loops an arm around Rick’s shoulders, nodding solemnly and squeezing Rick’s bicep before he lets go. His touch lingers for too long.

“You need a break, too,” Aaron says, and it sounds like a reminder, as if he’s said it to Rick a dozen times before. Rick sighs and offers a small, grateful smile, his fingers drifting to clap Aaron on the back and then tugging him into a brief, relaxed embrace.

Negan decides that he’s seen enough. As soon as the door has closed, his hand’s there to snatch Rick’s wrist and drag him closer, eyes narrowing dangerously as Rick tries to break free; he has got to tear Rick out of this illusion where he thinks he can make those kinds of choices, these days, and Rick seems to sense his thunderous mood, because he tenses in Negan’s unforgiving grip before he forces himself to reluctantly relax, if only to spare himself the bruises Negan’s bound to leave on him.

He can’t figure out why he’s not making a public spectacle of this. After all, Negan thrives on Rick’s degradation, but this is personal. This isn’t a show for the masses to marvel at.

“Rick,” Negan starts, letting Lucille rest comfortably against the wall while he speaks, his sharp-toothed smile gaining an edge that Rick watches warily, as if he’s waiting for the impending explosion. “What was that, right now? Did you seriously think I wasn’t going to notice that shit?”

Rick’s playing dumb, that much is for-fucking-sure. He’s got a look in his eyes that Negan likens to that of a startled animal, and he keeps trying to jerk himself free from Negan’s hold, which means that Negan has no reservations about sliding his hand up Rick’s back until his fingers are buried in Rick’s hair, yanking hard, being rewarded with a sharp, pained gasp. Rick’s staying right fucking here until Negan’s satisfied, and it’s going to take a lot to make him forgive and forget what he just witnessed.

The thing is, Rick stops struggling. He doesn’t vehemently deny anything, but he’s not going out of his way to confirm jack shit, either, and Negan’s got no patience for playing games, today. “You wanna tell me,” he asks, leaning in so goddamn close he can feel Rick’s breath on his cheek, “What, exactly, made you think that shit would fly? Here I thought I’d made myself perfectly clear, but I guess not, so pay attention this time, Rick.”

Almost tenderly, he brings Rick closer with one arm around his waist, but it gets violent and it gets violent fast. Negan slams Rick up against the wall, their foreheads a hair’s breadth away from touching.

“I own you. What I own, I keep.”

He must not have beaten that point home hard enough, and Negan wonders what the fuck it’s going to take to prove to Rick, once and for all, that he’s lost the privilege of free will. He’s gone quiet in Negan’s grip, but there’s something defiant to that silence; something prideful and stubborn, refusing to break.

Negan isn’t intending to do it, but when Rick twists his head to turn his face away from Negan’s, his fingers catch in Rick’s curls and tug harshly, and Rick fucking groans, the noise more pornographic than anything Negan could’ve expected out of him in a million fucking years.

Today’s a day full of revelations, apparently.

“Would you look at that,” Negan chuckles, “You like it rough, Rick? That what you keep him around for?”

His tone is level, which makes it all the more fucking surprising that Rick doesn’t seem to realize just how fucking close Negan is to blowing up. He’s met with a pair of steady blue eyes, staring at him in confusion that slowly, slowly gives way to -

Amusement?

“What, exactly,” Negan asks slowly, “Are you fucking smiling about, Rick? Believe you me, I will beat your ass into the ground, ‘cause this is not a laughing matter-”

Rick’s shaking his head, Negan’s fingers snagging in the tangles of his hair, and then Rick goes and says “I didn’t take you for the jealous type, ‘s all.”

The air goes right out of Negan, because he can’t have heard right. Rick’s voice is impossibly self-satisfied, all honey-smooth and laughing as if he’s gotten one over on Negan.

“Jealous?” he repeats, boxing Rick in with hands on either side of his head, watching Rick’s face closely as Negan’s thigh presses slowly and inexorably between Rick’s knees. “Oh, sweetheart, that’s where you’re wrong. The fuck do I have to be jealous about?”

Grinning sharply, Negan whispers “I know for a fact that nobody else could make you moan for it like I could, Rick. Not that guy, not anyone else. But you just had to go sticking your dick where it doesn’t belong, huh?”

Now he’s getting somewhere, because Rick’s expression no longer holds that almost pleased smirk; no, he’s all but seething, now, glaring at Negan as his hands come up to shove at Negan’s chest. It would’ve dislodged Negan any other day, because Rick’s got power in those arms and shoulders of his, but Negan pushes right the fuck back, refusing to be budged. He’s making progress, at last, and Rick’s too much fun when he’s riled up.

Not that Negan’s forgotten his own anger. He’s not going to go easy on Rick, and Rick absolutely fucking knows it.

Right from the start, Negan's been wanting to push Rick's buttons, and he hits a fucking home run straight out of the gate. “You’d let anyone have a taste, am I right?" Negan says, keeping his eyes on Rick's, making damn sure Rick's got nowhere to hide when Negan takes his musings to the next level in an attempt to push Rick over the edge. "Shit, Rick, you’re practically begging for it, at this point-”

“No,” Rick snaps, a hell of a lot more defensive than Negan expected him to be. “No. You think I’d do this with-?”

His mouth closes and pinches into a stubborn line, and Negan realizes what Rick’s just unintentionally given away, the revelation so goddamn sweet that Negan can’t help but laugh under his breath.

No, Rick wouldn’t do this shit with just anyone, would he?

“Rick,” he grins, feral and gleeful, “You sayin’ I’m your first? Your one and only?”

He doesn't succeed in making Rick blush, but there's an unmistakable and universal look of utter shame on Rick's face that Negan delights in having put there. He had wondered, for a while, about Rick and that archer of his, but maybe he was wrong. Maybe Rick's been too busy trying to save the whole fucking world and everyone in it to get freaky, and Negan is never going to let go of the fact that of all the possible people out there, Rick's ended up with him.

Not that it was much of a choice, really. All that fucking tension was bound to reach a boiling point, sooner or later, and with Rick pinned between him and the wall, Negan's got no intentions of letting this go.

"See, Rick," Negan tells him, because the atmosphere is getting denser and denser with want, and it isn't one-sided, "You can say no. You can say stop-"

Judging by Rick's flat stare, he's expecting a threat, and Negan doesn't fucking like that one bit. Biting out the next sentence tersely, he whispers "You can say stop and I'll take my hands right off of you and leave you alone. You can count on that. But, here's the thing."

His mouth caresses Rick's jaw, feather-light and promising. "I'm not hearing those words, am I?"

The words seem to hit Rick like a punch to the gut, judging by the sudden leap of his pulse beneath Negan's lips; his mouth has drifted to Rick's throat, content to stay there for a while. He means it, though, and he wants Rick to fucking understand that; if he says yes, Negan wants him to mean it.

Almost disbelievingly, Rick says "It can't be that easy," like he's expecting a punchline that never comes, but Negan's hands don't wander, and he draws slowly away from Rick until he can't feel the heat radiating off Rick's skin, anymore, staring down at him with an expression that's tight with exasperation.

"I may be a lot of things, but that ain't one of them."

Maybe Negan's disappointed tone is what snaps Rick out of it. The distrust and hesitation takes a while to be replaced by a strange sort of intrigue, but when it does, Rick lets his hands fall to his sides; he's kept them close to his belt, this whole time, near his knife. Negan chooses to take that as a positive sign, inching his way back into Rick's space until they might as well be sharing the same fucking air.

Rick doesn't apologize for his assumption, and Negan doesn't expect him to. It stings in the worst kind of way, because he knew that in Rick's eyes, Negan hasn't exactly given him one single good reason to believe he's not a monster, but he appreciates that Rick seems to believe him. After a moment of silence, Rick's mouth twitches into what's not quite a smile, but close enough.

"Yeah," Rick drawls, his voice suddenly very fucking cocky, one finger curling through Negan's belt loop. "Maybe you're not that, but you were jealous. Still are."

"Oh, christ," Negan snorts, "You're still going the fuck on about that?"

Shrugging, Rick says "I'm not wrong, though," and then his voice falls to pieces, because Negan chooses that moment to drag Rick's hips forward, right up against his own, suspended in a cradle of warmth that's got Negan's dick taking interest real fucking fast.

The second time ends up being a whole lot dirtier than Negan thought it'd be, and he has to give credit where credit's due; Rick's got one hell of a fucking mouth on him, this time around, spitting curses under his breath as Negan's hand works him over, each slow jerk of Rick's cock leaving him trembling against the wall. Negan figured he'd be doing most of the talking, but Rick's alternating between sharp groans and little high-pitched gasps, whispering is t-that the best you can do? and forcing Negan to step up his fucking game, taunt after taunt.

The second time is an intense, messy affair, the two of them pressed tightly together, doing the fucking deed right up against Rick’s living room wall.

He's grinding his teeth when Rick's voice splinters into a laugh. "Told you the first time, I'm not impressed."

Negan growls "I beg to fucking differ," and gives Rick's hair a nice, sharp tug, drawing a thick noise from Rick's throat.

He's calling Rick out on his act, because Rick's a fucking live wire beneath him and against him, moving in frantic grinds against the thigh Negan's got pushed between his knees, nudging slowly but surely up against Rick's cock, and it's a welcome change of pace from last time, with Rick thinking he was in control. This time around, it's made crystal fucking clear who's calling the shots, Rick's whole body trembling as if Negan's gotten under his skin and made a home for himself, there.

Maybe he will, one day; maybe he'll prove to Rick, once and for all, what belonging to him entails. The good and the bad.

For now, it's enough to watch Rick trying his damnedest not to shatter, and Negan wonders if Rick's going to be thinking about this every time he's making his kids breakfast in the kitchen, his eyes finding this one spot on the wall where Negan's got him pinned, reliving the moment over and over and over until it's seared into his fucking bones.

It ends the same way it started: too goddamn abruptly for Negan's taste, but Rick's bucking against him, responding with dirty groans to Negan's whispered promises: One of these fucking days, Rick, I'm gonna slip into your bedroom, keep you on edge all fuckin' night. Bet I could make you beg for it, like you've never begged anyone else, because there is nobody in this fucking world who can give it to you like I can.

Afterwards, with Rick's panting breath filling the space between them, Carl wanders in and narrowly misses the sight of his old man adjusting his jeans, flushed from cheeks to chest as Carl hovers in the doorway and looks suspiciously between them. "Gabriel wanted to talk to you," Carl relays, folding his arms across his chest. "You can go," he tells Negan.

"Sure thing," Negan chuckles, "I got what I was promised, ain't that right?"

Rick's averting his eyes, clearing his throat as he asks Carl to give them a minute, and once they're alone, Rick's voice carries steadily. "This," he mutters, "Is not becoming a habit. You hear me?"

And Negan, softly, says "Bullshit. I'll see you next week," and lets his fingers drift from Rick's hip to his shoulder, giving him a firm squeeze.

Before he reaches the porch steps, Rick's voice calls out to him. "Aaron's seeing someone," Rick tells him, gauging Negan's reaction. So what if his spine stiffens before it relaxes? That's the best damn news he's heard all day.

"Good for fucking him," Negan retorts, "'cause you damn well know you're mine."

For all that Rick's had a hard time accepting that fact, he nods shortly in agreement, a half-smile tugging at his mouth, and Negan laughs as he leaves, knowing it won't be long 'til next time, and he bets that between the two of them, Negan's not the only one who's anticipating it.

"So long, sweetheart," he tells Rick, saluting him as he strolls away. He never cranes his neck to check, but he can feel the weight of Rick's eyes on his back during the entire walk.

Chapter Text

3.

Negan may not have the patience of a saint, but he does know how to bide his time, and he’s never made that more fucking clear than now.

Twice in a month, he’s had to push Rick into actions and confessions he’d rather not make, but after their sordid little tryst back at Rick’s house, Negan’s been nothing short of a fucking gentleman, keeping his hands entirely to himself, and it’s clear as day that Rick’s been taking notice, shooting Negan startled looks that manage to convey both his relief and confusion perfectly.

Alexandria runs as a well-oiled machine, with everyone at their posts, seeing to their assigned duties while Negan and his men stir things up a little. The people aren’t as easily spooked, this time around, and Negan wonders if maybe he’s gone too fucking soft, because when the guy with the mullet starts chatting to him as if they’re pals, asking Negan about his fucking hair care routine, Negan realizes he might’ve been affording this community one too many liberties.

All because of Rick and that pretty fucking mouth of his. Negan’s drawn to him like a moth to a flame.

Negan’s got no qualms about using underhanded methods to rile Rick up and leave him wanting for something he’s too afraid to name, but even Negan is bound to run out of patience. The game was fun, at the start, but the point of cat-and-mouse is to eventually catch the damn mouse, and Rick’s not playing along, not one bit.

It’s almost sad, how Rick’s so damn insistent on being passive and playing it safe, because Negan knows he’s not the only one who’s been starving for something volatile to happen between them. No fucking way; Rick’s been giving him these eyes all day, dark and curious, as if he’s stunned by Negan’s distance.

All day, Negan doesn’t pay Rick one shred of attention. He drapes himself across Rosita, instead, and needles the samurai until she looks fit to explode. At one point, Negan even entertains himself by bouncing Judith on his knee while Carl glares at him from nearby, and it’s so, so sweet, seeing Rick battle with the urge to snatch his daughter back and simultaneously allowing Negan to hold her, because Judith, the little angel, settles right down in Negan’s arms.

He used to fantasize about this shit; a baby, a white-picket fence, a suburban neighborhood to have a family in. Funny, the way it finally happened, if only for a brief moment.

Negan doesn’t bother following Rick around and pestering him for details on their inventory. Today, he chooses to dismiss Rick, telling him he’s deserved a day off, but Rick’s reluctant to scamper off and make the most of it. Strange, because Rick sure did seem eager as hell to end this thing between them and go back to what passes for normal, and now that Negan’s doing him a fucking favor and giving Rick the damn space he's been pushing for, Rick’s looking at him like a kicked puppy.

Biting his tongue, Negan resists the urge to call him out on it. He doesn’t want to provoke, today. He wants Rick to man the fuck up and make his own damn decisions, this time around.

“You look troubled,” someone pipes up, and Negan barely manages not to whirl around and bury Lucille in the thoughtless brain of whoever thought it’d be a good idea to sneak up on him, except...Negan’s standing out in the open, no clue as to how he got down the street, and he's dragged out of his thoughts by Aaron, who’s standing a few feet away, wearing a slightly hesitant smile.

Negan doesn’t care that the guy has a live-in boy-toy. He still feels raw inside, remembering how those hands that are currently raised in a gesture of peace had lingered on Rick’s body.

“What was that?” he asks, forcing his patented, oh-i-am-gonna-make-you-shit-your-pants grin into place, dangling Lucille between his fingers. “I must not have heard right, because you are not seriously standing there, ready to offer me advice, now are you?”

Eyebrows raised, Aaron responds “I never said I had advice for you, but it seems like you might be in need of it.”

Well, damn. The guy’s more perceptive than Negan gave him credit for, or maybe his brain's finally fried after all the fucking sexual tension that's been going nowhere.

Negan’s ready to dismiss him, let him run back home to his little boyfriend, but he pauses and weighs his options. Before the end of the fucking world, he’d never considered men in the way he’s been considering Rick, and for all that he’s cocky and determined and able to figure shit out on his own, maybe approaching Rick the same way he’d approach a girl at a bar who’s giving him the cold shoulder isn’t working out for a reason. Besides, any guy he picked up back in the before, Negan didn’t really have to try all that hard to win over. Those twinks were a lot easier to figure out than Rick Grimes is.

Carelessly, daringly, Negan drags Aaron close with an arm around his shoulders, the pressure he puts there a clear instruction to shut up and listen. “Rick’s playing hard to get,” Negan grins, “And let me tell you, I have a severe case of blue balls goin’ on, courtesy of dear, cock-block Rick, and I think it’s only fair he fixes it. You with me on this one?”

Aaron swallows, and Negan can hear the sound as if it’s amplified from a loudspeaker, given how dry and hoarse the noise is. He’s nervous, and he should be, but Negan brings the douchebaggery down a notch, relaxing his grip around his new friend and squeezing his shoulder in a mocking approximation of reassurance.

“I...see,” Aaron eventually responds, seemingly not bothered or at all shocked to discover Negan’s been fornicating with his leader. “Have you - been the one to initiate things?”

“Damn right,” Negan scowls, and, hell, this is something he hasn’t even told Simon, so what the hell’s he doing, spilling his guts out to the local gay best friend?

He’s got nowhere else to turn, though, so he swallows his pride and pastes on a smile. “I’m gonna ask you something, and you’re gonna be real fucking honest, ‘less you want me to burn your house to the ground with your boyfriend still inside of it.”

Gesturing at himself, watching Aaron’s face tighten, Negan says “What the fuck is there not to want, right here? What am I doing that’s so repulsive Rick won’t fucking loosen up and let this thing happen?”

“You’re really asking the hard-hitting questions, today,” Aaron sighs, but he’s wearing a reassuring smile that only wavers a little. “Listen, you...you must know you’re good-looking. We can establish that, but Rick’s not shallow, so if you ask me-”

He runs a hand through his hair, then finishes “It’s your approach he’s having a hard time dealing with, not your, uh, appearance. Not by a long shot. And,” Aaron adds thoughtfully, “I guess this is as applicable to two men as it is with a man and a woman, but you’re doing all the chasing, and all he has to do is enjoy it. Maybe it’s time for him to step up and show he’s willing to chase you back.”

Wrinkling his nose, Aaron adds "God, I sound like a 90s rom-com, don't I?"

For once, Negan’s got no fucking idea how to respond.

Rick’s playing him hot and cold, and Negan’s letting him. Rick always ends up giving in when Negan pushes, but he otherwise refuses to acknowledge that anything has happened between them, and it’s tiring as shit to never know where they stand. Negan’s been doing all the damn legwork, his grand seduction halted by Rick’s own stubborn insistence that this ain’t happening, and with that attitude, Negan’s getting nowhere with him.

It fucking irks him, but maybe he does feel a little bit better after saying that shit out loud, even if it had to be to the person he least wanted to talk to it about. “How ‘bout that,” Negan muses, “We agree on something.”

If Aaron’s expecting gratitude, he’ll be waiting a long damn time for it. He only smiles, though, with an edge to it that looks amused. “No problem,” he offers Negan, then nods subtly down the street where Rick is lurking in plain sight, a look of annoyance pinching his features. “Go get him.”

-

Rick clashes their teeth together in a kiss so brutal it draws blood.

It doesn’t escape Negan’s notice that Rick initiating this is significant, especially considering it’s the first time his mouth has met Negan’s, and if he was a goddamn teenager obsessing over first kisses, he’d be downright giddy about this development.

He’s not a teenager, and Rick’s not the popular girl he’s dying to take to prom. They’re two men, standing chest to chest, and Rick’s body is a firm, hot line up against Negan’s own, the two of them secluded in a house nobody seems to live in.

There are empty picture frames lining the walls. Negan doesn’t think too hard about that.

“That,” Negan groans, one hand fisting in Rick’s hair, “Is the fucking spirit.”

A little smugly, he whispers “What’s the occasion, Rick? Got tired of playing hard to get?”

Rick’s irritation is radiating off of him in waves of heat, and Negan must’ve said exactly the wrong fucking thing, because Rick withdraws - or, he would have, if Negan didn’t have an iron fucking grip on his arms, keeping him firmly in place. He’s not running away, this time. As little as Negan likes it, it’s time to fucking talk.

Unsteadily, Rick bites out “What do you want from me?” and Negan outright laughs, because it’s the most ridiculous question he’s been asked in years. What does he want?

Not mincing his words, Negan responds “I thought I made it pretty fucking obvious what I want, Rick, or was my hand around your dick not clear enough?”

The reminder makes Rick’s face flush hot, and that is a fucking sight to behold. It ain’t the act itself that embarrasses Rick; it’s the reminder of how willing he was when Negan had him backed into a corner.

Except having Rick at his mercy isn’t doing it for him, anymore. He doesn’t want it to be a damn struggle, each and every time; he wants Rick to surrender willingly, knowing what he’s getting into and shedding that self-conscious, reluctant air he has about him whenever Negan invades his space.

After a minute of heavy silence, Rick mutters “Yeah, you did,” and then places a hand in the center of Negan’s chest to keep him leaning back against the wall. “I get that. What I don’t get is why? Why me?”

Why not, Negan almost responds, resisting the urge to knock Rick down a peg, but he finds it within himself to be honest. It still might not be the perfect fucking answer Rick’s waiting for, but it’s the best that Negan has, and it’s the closest to the truth.

“‘cause I want you,” he tells Rick, as if it could really be that easy. It’s not, considering where the two of them started out, and the road ahead of them is uncertain, but Negan watches Rick as that simple truth sinks into his head and settles, because it’s all Negan’s got. If it’s not enough, then he’s all out of fucking ideas.

He expects Rick to keep questioning him, prodding for deeper answers that aren’t there, but Rick looks at him in an almost affectionate way, his eyes bright and laughing. “Alright,” he concedes, shaking his head, voice coming out faintly disbelieving. “Alright, then.”

Rick’s always looking for ulterior motives, and Negan almost can’t blame him, but he means what he said, back at Rick’s house. He could break this off without warning or explanation and Negan wouldn’t fucking punish him for it; this isn’t about blackmail. It’s something mutually beneficial, because Rick and Negan keep being drawn together, with no rhyme or reason.

It’s about time Rick accepted it. Negan’s patience has been wearing thin, lately.

“Were you,” Rick asks, his voice strained, “Were you trying to-?”

Yeah. Negan put a lot of fucking effort into seeing Rick pine from afar, but half the fun’s keeping him in the dark about that. They might see eye to eye on a couple of things, now, but Negan still delights in messing with Rick. “Nah,” he denies, except Rick shoots him a glare that says I don’t believe you, and Negan shrugs in response, toying with Rick’s belt buckle.

“With Aaron, earlier,” Rick questions, “What was-”

He’s cut off, gasping. Negan’s hand is yanking at his hair, and he very calmly whispers “The only name I want to hear you say is mine, Rick. You got me?”

Rick’s nodding feverishly, a hazed look to his eyes that Negan’s not as familiar with as he wishes he was, and then Rick goes and bowls him right the fuck over by practically snarling in Negan’s face. “You got wives for this,” he says, his voice low and hushed. “Don’t you?”

“I sure do,” Negan chuckles, practically fucking thriving on Rick’s blatant jealousy, because that’s a side of him Negan’s never seen before, and he can’t fucking wait to explore it. Maybe he’ll show Rick around the Sanctuary, let him mingle with the ladies; he imagines the look on Rick’s face when he discovers Negan’s own personal harem, all his lovely wives lined up and waiting.

Wrong approach. Rick’s face pinches.

“You want me to scream your name tonight?” he asks Negan, the tone of his voice somehow off, both too calm and edged with agitation. “Don’t talk about them. Don’t think about them. Not for one second, ‘cause I’ll know. I’ll be able to tell, and I’ll walk away. I swear I will.”

He’s not fucking around, is he? Rick’s really got it in his head that he’s in a position to make ultimatums.

Unfortunately for Negan, he caves. Christ, he’d happily think of the mullet guy naked doing the fucking can-can if that’s what it took to keep Rick’s attention focused singularly on him.

It’s a damn dream come true, the way Rick’s moving against Negan with determination, and despite the fact that Negan knows Rick’s never been with another man, before, Rick seems pretty fucking confident, unbuttoning and unzipping Negan’s jeans.

Don’t fuck this up is running on an endless loop in the back of Negan’s head, because if he blows this fucking thing before Rick’s so much as put a hand on him, he’s never going to forgive himself, and he’s been waiting ages to figure out what that lovely mouth can do.

Turns out Rick doesn't intend to keep him waiting. His hands yank at Negan's jeans, loose around his hips, dragging them down to mid-thigh and leaving them there, and there's something gorgeously filthy about the way Rick sinks to his knees; there's no weakness in the gesture, and it's lacking all the submission Negan was expecting from Rick, at this point, staring down at Rick's tousled hair and wondering how the hell a man so stoic manages to look like a seasoned porn star, his mouth making a map down Negan's stomach, detouring to one sharp hipbone and, son of a bitch, biting hard.

There's bound to be a bruise there, but after Rick's comments about Negan's wives, he's not so sure it's unintentional, especially not after he catches sight of Rick's self-satisfied smirk. "They get to leave marks?" he asks, raising an eyebrow, but Negan pointedly groans "Thought you didn't wanna know about that, fuck."

Rick seems to be in agreement. There's a storm gathering in his eyes, dark and trembling. "I don't," he confirms, raking sharp nails down the back of Negan's thigh, like he's intent on leaving bruises everywhere he possibly can, and Negan can't say he's complaining. His head thuds back against the wall, resting there as he breathes heavily, his goddamn toes curling in their boots. There's no limit to what Rick does to him, and it's starting to be more of a turn-on than something to be afraid of.

Negan's been afraid of a lot of things in his life, but Rick's greedy and half-starved touch ain't one of them. "Been thinkin' about this," Negan confesses, hissing through his teeth when Rick snaps the elastic of his boxers against the sensitive skin of his stomach, fighting the visible shiver that runs down his spine. He does a poor job of it, judging by Rick's pleased little laugh, and Negan tangles his fingers in Rick's hair to remind him that Negan's patience isn't fucking infinite.

"That so?" Rick retorts, his voice too damn conversational for Negan's taste. He's not unaffected, Negan can tell, but Rick's calm and composed and determined, his hands wandering Negan's thighs and scoring lines along his skin. The slow, tantalizing slide of his boxers down to his knees makes Negan groan out loud, and it's pretty damn near devastating, the sight Rick makes down there on his knees, mouth inches away from Negan's cock.

He expects Rick to be shy about it, but Negan's never been happier to have been wrong in his fucking life. Rick's mouth opens, pink tongue darting out, stealing a taste of the precome that's pearling at the head of Negan's cock and keeping his eyes locked on Negan's the whole damn time.

Quietly, knowing it's Rick's first time and almost, almost not giving a shit, Negan groans "Wanna fuck your mouth, Rick. Wanna make you a fucking mess."

Rick's full of fucking surprises, today. "What are you waiting for?" he asks, and if that's not a fucking invitation, Negan doesn't know what is.

He's imagined this, before, but never with Rick taking it so beautifully, gripping Negan's thighs like his fucking life depends on it and still managing to stare up at Negan with half-lidded eyes, the blue almost disappearing behind his lowered lashes. It's a sight to behold, and Negan groans "Fuck, baby, 'm gonna rock your fucking world," and then thrusts.

Rick's mouth is heavenly, a goddamn wet dream of velvet softness and tight, hollowed-out cheeks. For a first-timer, Rick's taking everything Negan's got to give him with no more than a hitched groan or bitten-off keen, letting Negan fuck his mouth in sharp, controlled thrusts, letting Rick get used to it. The way Rick impatiently squeezes his thighs might just be the hottest fucking thing Negan's ever witnessed, and he obliges with Rick's unspoken request. "You want more?" he laughs, breathless and dazed. "You fucking got it."

The shallow scrape of teeth against his cock shouldn't be a turn-on, but Negan can't find it within himself to mind; everything between them has been brutal and broken and a little deranged, and Rick's got this flush rising in his cheeks, mouth swollen around Negan's cock, and it's everything Negan ever envisioned it'd be. Rick's taking it like a goddamn pro, and Negan's cock pushes deeper with each thrust, forcing Rick to suck him harder, faster, pushing him closer and closer to his breaking point.

Negan would love to see it, some day, but it's no good to make Rick cry now. "That's it," Negan encourages, hand cupping Rick's jaw, thumb finding the seam of his lips and pushing inside. Christ, it's unbearably hot, the way his thumb fits next to his cock and stretches Rick's mouth wider, wider, his throat working to swallow, lashes fluttering with each breath. "Goddamn, I could do this for-fucking-ever, Rick. Keep you this way 'til I've had my fill, how 'bout that? You wanna be on your knees for me, sweetheart? Let me use you all up until that's all you are: mine."

It's not Rick's mouth that does it for him, it's the blatant yearning in his face. He's been laid bare and stripped raw, a choked noise escaping his throat as Negan thrusts and grips Rick's hair tighter, forcing him down, down, gasping something half-broken that sounds a hell of a lot like sweetheart when he comes.

And Rick, afterwards, is a mess. His forehead meets Negan's trembling stomach, resting there; it's instinctual, Negan's fingers loosening in his hair and stroking, easing them both down from something wretched and primal, their erratic breathing filling the whole damn room.

Rick rests against him for a long, long time, and Negan offers him the only kindness he has left. "You did good," he breathes, Rick's responding smile like a broken mirror. "You did real fucking good."

"Thank you," Rick whispers. Negan thinks about that for a long, long time.

Chapter Text

4.

Lucille swings down, down, down; the hand wrapped around her isn’t Negan’s.

He’s aware of several things, in that moment. Among them is the squelch of flesh and crunch of bone ringing in his ears, and beyond that, there are the raw, animal sounds coming from a damnably familiar mouth. Rick is standing tall, fucking magnificent in each and every swing, wielding Lucille the way she was always meant to be, and Negan wouldn’t call himself starstruck, but he’s damn close.

The blood splatters across his cheekbone, carving a red streak across the bridge of his nose, and from his position on his knees, Negan licks his lips and tastes the tang of copper.

A short distance away, Rick finally comes to a stop. His white-knuckled grip on Lucille tightens and then releases as he stares down at the flesh embedded in the barbed wire, but there’s something unseeing about it. Rick looks far-away and dazed, and Negan’s knees creak as he finally rises to stand.

Not for the first time, Rick’s rendered him fucking speechless.

Negan approaches him slowly, cautiously. It’s been a long time coming, Rick’s vacant expression, his body loose and numb with shock, but Negan is not about to lose Rick to whatever fucking crisis he’s experiencing, because murdering the men who tried to murder them, first-?

In Negan’s book, there’s no shame in that. No guilt, and no regret.

“Hey, Rick,” he says, his voice rasping in his throat. “You wanna hand her to me, ‘fore you fucking hurt yourself?”

Raising his head slowly, Rick returns Negan’s gaze, wild-eyed and lost. Somehow, it reminds Negan of the clearing, of Rick on his knees, but there’s a world of difference between the beaten man he subjugated and the trembling beast in front of him, because Rick is a beast, in this moment, his thin-lipped and savage mouth shaping words Negan can’t hear.

Of all the damn things Rick could’ve said after brutalizing these jackasses, he goes and whispers the last thing Negan would’ve expected to hear from him. “I couldn’t let them,” Rick says through gritted teeth, a bead of sweat trailing from his temple to his jaw. “I - I had to. I had to.”

“Hell,” Negan chuckles, “You don’t have to convince me. How about you hand me back my dirty girl, already, Rick? You showed her a good time, now let her come to daddy.”

Finally, there’s a spark of something in Rick’s eyes. Something that lets Negan know that no matter how far away inside himself Rick retreats, sometimes, Negan’s capable of bringing him back.

His hand rests briefly atop Rick’s own as he retrieves Lucille, and he barely pays any mind to Rick’s low, tired laughter. He’s seen Rick come dangerously close to the edge, before, and he’s seen Rick pull himself away, so Negan languidly surveys the scene around them and lets Rick lose his sanity, for a moment, if that’s what he needs.

Rick doesn’t startle him, exactly, but Negan most certainly listens intently when Rick sighs “For you. Can’t believe I - for you, of all people.”

Maybe Negan should feel a little fucking offended, but he doesn’t. He knows exactly where he and Rick stand, and when it comes down to it, he knows Rick’s sole motivation to get him out of this sticky fucking situation was for no reason other than self-preservation. If Negan dies on a scouting mission with Rick, Rick’s going to be greeted by a swift fucking death at the hands of Negan’s men.

Shrugging, Negan responds “Not that I’m not fucking flattered, but what the fuck took you so long?”

See, Negan had been in the trailer when two morons had come knocking - or, shooting is a better term, and Negan could’ve taken care of those shit-for-brains if it wasn’t for the fact that a bullet grazed his thigh and made Negan go down, and go down hard, finding himself being dragged out of the goddamn trailer in a parody of what he’d done to Rick, not too long ago.

He’s usually a silver lining kind of guy, but right now, he doesn’t appreciate the humor in the blatant irony. All Negan feels is heavy, and ready to get this fucking trip over with.

Meanwhile, Rick had been - somewhere, and Negan had honestly thought that Rick was going to let him die, but then he’d seen the light glinting off barbed wire, and Negan knew. Knew Rick wasn’t going to stand back and do nothing, and here they are in the bloody aftermath.

There’s a part of Negan that can’t stomach the sight of Rick with blood on his hands, blood splattered hot across his trembling mouth. Another part of him revels in the fact that Rick’s sunk so low, because he utilized the weapon that killed his friends to protect the very man responsible for their untimely demise, and ain’t it funny, how things work out?

Negan doesn’t feel much like laughing. He rubs a hand across his face, and glances Rick’s way. He’s being real fucking quiet, little tremors running down his back. Negan can see the way his shoulder blades move with each heavy breath.

“Christ, Rick,” Negan blurts, exasperated, “What the fuck’s the matter with you? Not your first time killing, I know that for fucking sure. Hey. Hey,” he snaps, because Rick’s gaze shifts and skitters away. Negan has to draw him back in with the steel infused in his voice. “We’re going, now. Get your ass in the trailer.”

Rick does. Maybe Negan would’ve celebrated it as a victory, a couple of months ago, but there’s no fucking satisfaction to be found in Rick’s dazed compliance.

Negan hates it. Hates Rick, for a moment, before he gets a handle on the feeling brewing in his chest and churning in his gut.

Rick’s not shaking, not throwing up; Negan counts those as good signs, but Rick isn’t there.

Negan drives, glancing back at Rick at regular intervals, because now is the worst of fucking times for Rick to lose his damn mind. Maybe Negan should’ve anticipated it, but for all that he saw it coming and delighted in it, Rick’s broken spirit doesn’t make him laugh, doesn’t make him grin. It makes his hands grip the steering wheel tighter, until he almost loses circulation in his fingers.

He lets go, and Rick starts talking.

“There was,” he says slowly, haltingly, and Negan finds himself hanging onto every word. “There was a church. Bad people were comin’, comin’ for us, and I cut them down. Hacked their leader into pieces.”

Every new insight into Rick paints a distorted picture, the saint contrasted against the sinner Negan so badly wants to set free. “There was nothing left of him,” Rick confides, “Only meat.”

And Negan, far from squeamish, suddenly can’t fucking take it, can’t stand Rick’s calm tone. He screeches the trailer to a halt and spits “I didn’t fucking ask, now did I? Not another word, Rick, or I swear to god-”

“What?” Rick challenges, still so goddamn serene. “Whatever you do, I’ve survived worse.”

His smile is all wrong. Rick is all fucking wrong.

“In fact,” he goes on, but there’s a weariness in him that wasn’t there a minute ago. Dropping his head into his palms, he whispers “Whatever you do, whatever you come up with...it won’t be the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. Not even close.”

There’s a story there that Negan wants to pry out of him, but he’s done entertaining Rick’s madness. Sharply, he says “You’re not going back to your kids, Rick. Not until you get your fucking head on straight.”

He’s not Rick’s keeper and it’s hysterical, being the voice of reason, but right now he’s the best Rick’s got.

Together, out on the road, Negan absently thinks that he and Rick are nothing more than two ships in a storm, colliding violently, one taking the other down with him. Rick’s ranting is bad, but his silence is worse, so Negan stalks towards him until Rick raises his head, looking right at Negan as he says “You’re not losing your shit, not right now.”

Whatever’s left of Rick, Negan’s going to rebuild. It’ll be his fucking pleasure.

Wordlessly, Rick reaches out. His hands land on Negan’s thighs, but softly, without any real intention. Swallowing dryly, Rick says “It should’ve been you.”

Negan scoffs, because no matter how much Rick might’ve liked to see him beaten to death alongside those men out on the road, that long since ceased being an option. “But it wasn’t,” he reminds Rick. “Now, why is that?”

There’s something wavering in Rick’s voice, something terrified and small. “Because I need you,” he confesses, and when his forehead meets Negan’s stomach, resting there, he’s so fucking shocked his actions are on autopilot, one hand rising to caress Rick’s hair.

Goddamn, he thinks, the inside of his mouth bitter and acrid. I broke him.

Now isn’t the time to push, but Negan’s never been great at resisting his impulses. “Why?” he demands to know, forcing Rick’s head back until he meets Negan’s eyes and stops trying to flinch away. “Why?”

Rick gives him another answer Negan isn’t prepared for. “Because,” he chokes, his voice wavering between shame and liberation. “Because you understand.”

His breath rattles out of him, gets caught up in his throat. “And it fucking terrifies you,” Negan guesses, unsmiling. “Doesn’t it?”

Rick’s shaky nod is the only answer he gets, but Negan can work with that. “You’re going to listen real fucking carefully, understand?”

Unzipping his jacket, Negan’s voice fills the trailer until it’s all that’s left for Rick to focus on, to cling to. His anchor in a storm, Negan muses, because sometimes being dragged down to the depths isn’t exclusively a bad thing. “You’re going to answer me, every fucking question. Who do you belong to?”

“You.”

“Who owns you?”

“You. You do.”

Negan’s jaw aches. There’s something terrible and enchanting about Rick, and Negan can’t make sense of it. Doesn’t want to.

“And,” he says, one hand gripping Rick’s chin, keeping his head raised. “Who understands you?”

“You do.”

Exhaling, Negan forces his smile until it comes naturally, all on its own. But now comes the other question, the most important one, the one Rick’s not likely to answer yes to, but Negan still asks. He has a fucking obligation to.

“Rick,” he says, “Do you trust me?”

He can see the conflict in Rick’s eyes, one instinct warring with another, until eventually, words fall from Rick’s chapped lips. “Right here,” he whispers, “Right now...I do. Yes.”

Right now. That’ll have to do.

“Close your eyes,” Negan asks him - asks, doesn’t order - and Rick does, nodding slow and trembling when Negan adds “Until this is over, not a word out of your mouth, you understand?”

Rick has to know, by now, that there’s a loophole; that the one word he’s allowed to say is no, whenever he wants to, and Negan is satisfied to see Rick’s throat relaxing, his body shuddering into something soft and malleable.

Negan fucks him for the first time in that trailer, and Rick lets him.

From beginning to end, Rick’s an endless line of straining muscle, of heated breath, his chest rising in a heaving rhythm. His mouth is wide open, but he doesn’t make a noise, and Negan can’t get rid of this nagging, mournful feeling in his chest that’s telling him he’s corrupting something he never should’ve touched in the first place.

He finds encouragement in Rick’s little whines; finds approval in the parting of his thighs; finds anticipation in Rick’s quivering breath, because without words, things are simpler. Rick’s reduced to a body, nothing more, and Negan’s good with bodies. He knows what makes them sing.

It’s not brutal, not in the way Rick clearly seems to be expecting it. His knees slip-slide on the upholstery with sweat, hot to the touch, thrumming with restless energy wherever Negan decides to put his hands. He’s tired of having to remind Rick that he’s not going to hurt him, at least not in the way that Rick anticipates. The way that Rick wants to be hurt, maybe, but Negan can discover that another day.

“After all this time,” Negan says, his fingers tight and almost, almost cruel around Rick’s cock, sending him into a gasping, breathless groan. “You still don’t get it, do you?”

I’m with you, Negan almost says, but he doubts Rick would hear it, no matter how many times Negan tries to beat that into his head. It’s a sad, uncomfortable truth; Rick’s never going to trust him the way Negan wants him to, and Negan’s never going to be deserving of that trust.

He’s gotten a glimpse of it, though, in Rick’s desperate movements, in his willingness to surrender himself, but a glimpse isn’t enough. Negan wants it all, wants all of Rick; all the dirty, shameful secrets and the ugly things he’s done.

Negan’s seen his fair share of fucked up shit. He’s done his fair share of fucked up shit, but for all the times that he wanted to see Rick broken and defeated, he didn’t imagine it’d be this way. Didn’t want this, not for one second, because there’s no fucking victory in Rick’s hollow compliance.

The anger threatens to choke him. The sudden fucking fury of knowing that he’s done this nauseates Negan, but instead of letting the red-hot revulsion drag him down, he lets it guide his hand.

This is the fourth time the tension between them has shifted into something tangible, but it’s a sad, sad fucking affair. Negan fucks Rick hard, hard enough to jostle him, and when Rick starts to cry silently, he knows the pain isn’t physical.

Negan does the kind thing: he pretends he can’t hear Rick’s gasping breaths, pretends he can’t see the moisture clinging to Rick’s lashes. “Goddamn,” he whispers, because he has to fill the air between them with something other than ragged breathing and helpless groans, and, struck by a strange impulse, he says “You can let go, Rick. Fuck, you can let go with me,” and makes it a promise that he intends to keep.

Rick listens, and then lets go. He trusts Negan to bring him back.

He does, hours later, when Rick’s face has regained color and his eyes aren’t so goddamn glassy and unreachable. Rick’s hands are steady as he does up his jeans and buckles his belt, but unlike last time, he doesn’t offer Negan a thank you. No, he offers Negan something much, much better.

“Sometimes,” Rick tells him, stopping Negan from moving out of his space, and that’s new. “Sometimes, I don’t know who I am.”

“I do,” Negan counters. “I know exactly who you fucking are,” he continues, watching Rick carefully, waiting to see if Rick’s going to lash out at him or not. He does no such thing, and chooses another path.

Rick’s mouth is chapped, but it fits remarkably fucking well up against Negan’s own in a slow, indulgent kiss, and Negan thinks to himself that Rick tastes like a new beginning.

Chapter Text

5.

Negan took his sweet, sweet time before deigning to join Rick in his room. After a carefully worded order passed along to Simon, his right-hand man had driven off to Alexandria for their weekly pickup and dutifully taken Rick right back with him, and Negan might’ve been a little cruel, instructing Simon to let Rick stew in his room all by himself, but that’s part of the test.

Simon had done exactly what Negan told him to, popping by the wives’ den to say your boy’s looking awful lost, boss, but his sharp-toothed grin had assured Negan that Rick was behaving, if seething, at the humiliation of being forcibly taken to the Sanctuary and made to wait, as if he was a neglected pet.

While Rick had been pacing, Negan was paying close fucking attention to one of his wives, testing a theory; his dick’s gotten hard for Rick time and time again, and a morbid fascination had prompted him to double-check if after Rick, Negan could still treat his girls to a roll in the sack without imagining wild curls and steely blue eyes.

Turns out he could, to his satisfaction, grunting thanks, honey, before zipping up and taking his leave. There ain’t nothing special about Rick. Negan’s seen to that, alright; a warm mouth is a warm mouth, and Rick’s got one spectacular pair of lips on him.

Leisurely walking the hallways back to his own quarters, whistling loudly, Negan’s got a feeling in his gut that tells him Rick’s going to do one of two things when he realizes where Negan’s been and what he’s been doing. Jealousy isn’t what Negan imagines, because Rick’s no fucking fool. The man understands the arrangement the two of them have, and when they aren’t fucking, Rick can barely tolerate him.

No, Negan doesn’t imagine Rick will get jealous, but he can clearly see Rick reacting with either disgust or anger, or maybe both at once, at the realization that all Negan wants is a warm, willing body; that Rick’s just one person in a whole line of them.

Maybe something’s been festering in his damn gut, lately, every time his thoughts stray to the memory of Rick, tense beneath him, Negan’s mind conjuring up images of Rick on his knees, on his back, baring himself completely to Negan, reminded of who he belongs to.

He enters the room, all swagger and contentment, to find Rick's impatient eyes meeting his own.

Negan’s shirt is untucked. That’s what draws Rick’s surprised gaze, at first, before his gaze abruptly skips lower and lower, trailing from stomach, to hips, to groin.

Around Negan’s hips, his belt is undone. In Rick’s eyes, Negan can see it: the calm before the storm, waiting to be unleashed, and he’d be lying if he said he didn’t have high fucking expectations for Rick’s impending fury.

He’s far from predictable - unhinged, at best - but Negan can read Rick like a fucking book, and he sees Rick tensing his jaw and locking his eyes on Negan’s, his mouth moving slowly, deliberately, as he says “I waited two hours for you to get your dick wet?”

More bewildered than anything else, Negan surmises with a brief flare of disappointment, and shrugs in response. “You ever get an itch you can’t scratch?” he asks Rick, grinning broadly, rows of teeth on display. “I don’t. I have plenty of takers to scratch it for me, so do forgive me, Rick, for being late. Shit, that must’ve been real impolite of me, huh?”

Rick doesn’t rise to the bait. He’s tense, leaning back against Negan’s desk. It makes him curious, why Rick wouldn’t take the chair and make himself comfortable; after all, it had been deliberate, leaving the whiskey out on the desk, a perverted peace offering that he figured Rick might take after an hour or so, but Rick resisted. Shit, he’s always resisting, as if making himself at home in Negan’s domain would’ve been some fucking mortal sin.

It frustrates him. Negan’s been trying, but there’s no getting through to Rick, is there? Nothing that sticks.

Rick still hasn’t said anything, and Negan pins him with a flat stare. “What, were you-? Were you expecting special treatment, is that it? I stick my dick in you once and you think I’ll let you wear my varsity jacket, take you to prom?”

Laughing, Negan says “Hell, Rick, you know I’d have loved to make you one of my wives, but I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. See, what we’ve got here is one mutually beneficial agreement, and nothing more.”

“Why ‘m I here, then?” Rick snaps, raising his eyebrows, one hand straying to his hip, fingers tugging at his belt, searching for a gun that hasn’t been there for months. “If that’s all I’m good for, why send for me? Why make your man lock me in here ‘til you bothered to come ‘round? Looks to me like you already got yours, and I’m not about to give you round two.”

“Three,” Negan corrects lasciviously, “I figured fair’s fair, right? I’ve been in your house, now you’re in mine. Quid pro quo, ain’t that what it’s called?”

Maybe he should’ve given up on getting a reaction out of Rick long ago, given that the man’s only two states of existence around Negan are apathy or rage, but he wants something from Rick, and Negan will have it before Rick leaves.

He doesn’t fly into a jealous rage, but Rick does give Negan his back as he’s shaking his head and running a hand across his face, staring down at the carpet beneath his feet. It’s impossible to tell what that man’s thinking, so Negan doesn’t bother trying to puzzle it out. He pours himself a glass of single malt and settles in on the couch, keeping himself occupied with the schematics laid out on the table before him.

Rick wants to be quiet, that’s fine by him. Negan can endure the silent treatment. Most of his wives are prone to giving him the cold shoulder, now and then.

“You know what,” Rick mutters, “I thought I was beginning to understand you, maybe even like you-”

Negan’s heart just about stops.

“-but then again, who was I trying to fool? This is it,” Rick exclaims, gesturing around the room, at Negan. “This is who you are. A sick, selfish man. That’s all. You use people. You use’em right up ‘til there’s nothing left, and then you move on to the next one. All this time, I wanted to think maybe, maybe there was something else, some fraction of humanity left in you, but I was wrong.”

Negan doesn’t believe what he’s hearing, because of all the things he expected this to do to Rick, he never in a million fucking years imagined that it might hurt Rick, wounding him in a way that’s going to leave a mark. Maybe he was on the right track, coaxing Rick to see him in a more flattering light, but he went and fucked that right up.

Used. That’s how Rick feels.

“But you go ahead,” he tells Negan. “Screw your wives, torment my people, kill anyone who stands in your way, but don’t expect me to ever do what we’ve been doing, not ever again. Not on your terms.”

Not a slap to the face, exactly, but Rick’s words still almost manage to take the air right out of Negan’s fucking lungs. “Rick,” he chuckles, barely concealing the strained tone of his voice. “You breaking up with me? Is that what this is?”

“I don’t see why you need me,” Rick counters. “Seeing as how you’ve got plenty to choose from.”

There’s a challenge there, one Negan can’t rise to. He’s not about to disperse of his girls, and Rick’s got it all wrong if he thinks Negan’s willing to take a shot in the dark on the off-chance of Rick actually feeling something for him other than hatred, despite the attraction he knows is there. What the fuck does Rick think he has to offer other than a convenient lay?

“See, Rick,” Negan points out, “It isn’t about need. Hell, I could put your boy Aaron in your place and shit’d keep running just as smoothly. I don’t need you, but want...now, that’s a different animal.”

“That’s not good enough.”

Negan blinks, then grins. “You honestly thought,” he says, slow and exaggeratedly surprised, “That there was more to this thing than me wanting to get my rocks off?”

Rick’s honesty never fails to floor him. “Maybe,” he agrees. “But I can see I was wrong. Don’t worry,” he tells Negan, sharp and cold. “I learn from my mistakes.”

Stalking towards Rick, Negan can see the fire blazing behind his eyes, building momentum with each step that brings Negan closer and closer. “Now, sweetheart,” he croons, “Don’t feel bad about it. I know I must’ve made you feel so damn special, but we had our fun, and there’s nothing more to it than that.”

A hand lands on his chest. Rick’s looking right at him, mouth twisting, as he spits “Liar,” and, in a move so goddamn unprecedented Negan has no chance to see it coming, Rick plants him face-down on his desk, wringing an arm around Negan’s back and pushing down, hard.

“What the fuck,” Negan groans, because he thought they were over this shit, already. “What the fuck, Rick, don’t you go and do something stupid, now.” If the guard hasn’t already heard the commotion, he will soon enough, and Negan’s going to make Rick fucking pay for trying to get one over on him.

But Rick’s not moving, not sinking a knife into Negan’s skull.

“This ain’t a fight,” Rick tells him, and Negan’s having a hard fucking time believing that sentiment, considering the brute force Rick’s using to keep him pinned. Now, Negan knows that he could easily maneuver himself free and clock Rick, send him falling to the floor, but the fact that he’s not struggling doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s a willing seduction, letting Rick turn the tables and push him around, that dark streak of his making one hell of an appearance. “Not unless you make it one.”

Negan can hear the smirk in Rick’s voice, and he pinpoints it as jealousy, biting his tongue when his own mouth curves to match Rick’s, intrigued. There’s something downright dangerous about Rick, right now, but Negan never liked’em tame.

“Your man, at the door,” Rick goes on, his iron grip letting up the slightest bit, enough for Negan to raise his chest off the desk only to reposition himself more comfortably. He bets it must be infuriating for Rick, having Negan stay confident while he’s being manhandled, splaying out across the wooden tabletop with a chuckle, craning his neck to look back at Rick. “Tell him to leave. You won’t be wanting an audience for this.”

The air rustles, Rick’s shoulders moving in a shrug that Negan only half-sees. “Maybe another day. Call him off.”

“My, Rick,” Negan grins, “That’s what gets you hard, imagining people watching? Kinky,” he drawls, but Rick’s not wrong. He would not fucking appreciate the halfwit stationed as guard walking in and seeing some shit Negan can’t have him spreading around, all things considered.

He’s nobody’s bitch, but Rick’s not going to get the better of him. Power is power; doesn’t matter if Rick sticks his dick down Negan’s throat. Neither one of them is going to forget who’s really calling the shots.

With Rick hovering at his back, heat radiating clear through Negan’s jacket, he shouts “Dennis, go take a break! Make yourself useful somewhere else.”

After a brief silence, the man’s jittery but relieved voice comes through, loud and clear. “Roger,” he bellows back, “Thank you, sir!”

“You’re fucking welcome,” Negan barks, and waits with badly-veiled impatience for the footfall outside of the room to fade to nothing. Rick hasn’t moved an inch, and Negan glances back at him, tongue between his teeth.

He was Rick’s first man, and as long as Rick belongs to him, it’s staying that way. Negan’s had his fair share of ass, but not this way, and he wonders if Rick knows it, suspects it. Maybe he’s under the impression that Negan doesn’t take too kindly to being subjugated, that way, ‘cept Rick’s got another thing coming if he thinks Negan’s ever weak, his fucking preferences in the bedroom be damned.

Might be a little apprehensive, but scared? Far from it. Let Rick do his fucking worst.

A lifetime of silence is suspended between them, and then Rick laughs, huffing warm breath against the back of Negan’s neck, making the fine hairs stand up with every chuckle. Negan’s got no reason to worry about Rick slitting his throat from behind, and he moves beneath Rick’s weight, snorting “You ever gonna get this show on the road, or am I gonna have to bring one of my wives in to finish the job?”

That does it. Rick’s whole demeanor shifts from pleased to chilly. His fingers find Negan’s throat and squeeze.

“No,” Rick hisses between his teeth. “You want them, I ain’t stopping you, but we both know they can’t do this for you.”

“Do what?” Negan grins, “Get my dick hard? Hate to break it to you, sweetheart, but they’re damn good at their jobs.”

Shaking his head, Rick says “Nah, not that. This.

Negan’s about to ask him what the fuck he’s on about, but then Rick’s slotting himself up against Negan, heated and deliberate, his hips pushing sharply up against Negan’s ass and, goddamn, his fingers tightening around Negan’s throat like a noose, and the pressure against his airway, the heat of Rick’s hard cock pressed against him, it makes Negan make a sound he’s never made for any of his wives, not a single one of them.

God damn it.

“That, that right there,” Rick whispers, soft and pleased. “They do that for you?”

Negan calls the shots; that’s Rick’s way of life, now, until his dying day. It fucking infuriates him, having given Rick more than he was willing to part with, but something clicks in that moment, something that hasn’t occurred to Negan until now.

Rick’s not asking for a fucking proposal. All he wants is some proof that despite all the bad blood and all the differences between them, Negan gives a shit.

He wants to know that he matters, at least a fucking little, that Negan might want to keep him around for more than a roll in the hay, now and then.

“Nah,” Negan finally says, but he makes damn sure to keep his voice dismissive, like it doesn’t bother him to ‘fess up to this one damning fact. “You know what, Rick? I can’t say that they do.”

That’s the best he can do, and ain’t it pathetic, the way Negan can’t bear to say any more than that? After all the times he’s pushed Rick, and pushed him hard, Negan doesn’t expect Rick to go easy on him. He’d be disappointed if Rick did, but if Rick isn’t content with what Negan’s willing to barter with, this ends right here, right now, slipping away between his fingers like fucking quicksand, and Negan doesn’t want that.

Shit, he doesn’t want that at all.

But Rick, accommodating as always, doesn’t push. Now, Negan could be mistaken, but he thinks the breath of air that ruffles his hair might just be Rick’s laughter, and he chooses to take that as a good sign. “There we go,” Rick says, as if things are ever as simple as he wants them to be. “How hard was that?”

Swallowing his pride is like swallowing crushed glass mixed with gravel, but Negan snorts, shifting under Rick’s weight, starting to get more than a little impatient. Rick’s made his damn point, already. He’s turned the tables on Negan; isn’t that enough?

“Plenty hard,” Negan drawls, resting his cheek lightly against the desk. “Gave it to you, nice and honest. I get a reward for my outstanding performance?”

Amused, Rick says “Yeah. You do.”

Fucking finally, Negan can feel Rick’s arm let up, his hand wandering slowly from Negan’s back to his hip, resting there for a split-second before getting to work, going straight for Negan’s zipper and tugging it down. No need to take care of the belt, after all, but Negan hopes Rick can overlook that in favor of putting his fucking hand to good use, already.

“Round three, huh?” Rick asks him, warm breath still ghosting along Negan’s neck, and if he wasn’t face-down and about to get fucked six ways to Sunday, he’d consider it almost soothing, the fact of having Rick so close. As things stand, he just twitches, letting his forehead touch the polished wood as he groans.

“What about it?”

He can hear Rick smirking, which doesn’t fucking bode well for him. “After all that, you don’t think your wives wore you out? I wouldn’t want to bore you,” he chuckles, “If you can’t even get it up.”

“Watch your fucking mouth,” Negan grunts, shifting his knees apart as Rick yanks his jeans down, snapping the waistband of Negan’s boxers against his skin in a way that he cannot let himself think of as playful, because that’s too damn much. This ain’t Brokeback Mountain, he thinks. There’s no time for this shit. “You wanna feel for yourself?”

“Yeah,” Rick drawls. “Think I might.”

Christ, all this fucking buildup and all Negan’s getting is a lousy handjob. He bites his damn tongue; he might not be able to sweet-talk Rick into letting him have a go at that pretty mouth of his, but he sure as hell will enjoy whatever Rick’s got planned for him.

Rick’s hands are callused, rough. Negan can feel each and every scar as those tantalizingly long, slender fingers wrap around his cock and tighten. He might’ve stretched the truth, a little, with the whole round three things, ‘cept he had enjoyed three of his girls all at once, which means he’s not lying. Not really, and if nothing else, no matter his exhaustion, Rick Grimes pushing him around might just do it for him every fucking time.

His hips jerk, but there’s nowhere for him to go, seeing as how Rick’s got him bent right over and pressed up tight against the desk, but that doesn’t stop Negan from trying. He pushes back, then forward, and it’s nowhere near enough friction, not at all, not when Rick’s just rubbing the pad of his thumb right there, right at the hopelessly sensitive skin right beneath the head of Negan’s cock, making him suck in a sharp breath and then groan.

Undone from a damn handie. He’d laugh himself sick if he had enough breath for it.

“You really ain’t gonna give me more than that?” Negan scoffs, fighting against the urgent tightening of his stomach, because he’s gonna hold out, he’s gonna show Rick just what the fuck he’s been missing out on, and he’s going to prove to Rick that if he just gives in, Negan can rock his fucking world. “Really?”

Rick makes a soft humming noise, thoughtful and inquisitive. “What more do you want?” he asks Negan. “Can’t do nothin’ about it unless you tell me, first.”

Rick’s a talker when he’s in charge. Negan hadn’t seen that coming. He licks his lips, then grinds forward in a slow, dirty rock of his hips, sighing when Rick’s hand tightens around him and gives him something to chase, a sensation his body is burning up for. “Tell you what,” Negan groans, “You do whatever the fuck you want, Rick, but you better fucking impress me.”

He’s being lenient, letting Rick get away with taking the reins, for a while, but they both know what this means. It’s not about Negan giving anything up; it’s about offering something.

Give and take. That’s what he’s aiming for, here. After doing more than his fair share of taking, he figures it’s about time to let Rick have his way.

Relaxing that one last bit, chest flat against the desk, Negan says “I ain’t got all day.”

It seems to spur Rick into action. Negan can hear the rustle of clothes, the soft noise of a heavy jacket falling to the floor, and Rick drags Negan’s underwear down in one smooth tug, fitting his fingers around Negan’s hipbone and squeezing hard enough to bruise. There’s no doubt about it; his girls will see the mark and know it didn’t come from their hands, and shit, what’s he supposed to do about that?

“I don’t need all day,” Rick tells him, his voice thick with promise. “Trust me.”

Negan barely bites back a groan about how trust is supposed to go both ways, but Rick doesn’t give him a chance to say it. The breath gets punched out of Negan with the first steady press of Rick’s fingers beneath his balls, a tantalizing slip-slide of dry skin where he’s so goddamn sensitive he almost tears himself away from the sensation in a violent shudder, but there’s no escaping it. If he’s being honest, he doesn’t want to escape it.

His heart is beating so hard against the cage of his ribs that he thinks he’ll be wearing bruises on the inside for days to come, hissing out a strained breath as Rick ups the ante, his touch firmer, now, but still a tease. The best fucking kind of tease, because it promises more to come.

“Rick,” Negan groans, his voice pitched low and damn near furious, body coiled tight and waiting for Rick to give it to him, hard and rough. It’s a craving, a heat in his blood, something he hasn’t felt since Lucille, something he never expected to feel again.

The realization makes guilt boil up inside of him, but he supposes Rick would understand. He lost his wife, too. Maybe that’s what’s been drawing them together, the silent and subtle acknowledgment of each other's’ grief.

“Easy,” Rick tells him. “No more waiting. I promise.”

The scratch and drag of his stubble across the back of Negan’s neck makes him hiss, torn between pleasure and discomfort, walking a fine line between the two. There’s a noise behind him, and when Negan turns just enough to be able to look over his shoulder, he finds Rick’s lips wrapped around his fingers and despite the uncomfortable position, Negan’s cock pulses against the unforgiving wood of the desk.

He knows exactly what he’s got coming to him, and it stirs heat in his belly. There’s a hitch in his breath that might as well be a fucking confession to how gutted he feels, his lungs rattling with deep, long exhales as Rick spreads him open and sinks his fingers inside, slow and deliberate, the finest undoing Negan’s ever been subjected to.

It’s almost torture, the way his body strains to move towards two different points of friction all at once, but Rick doesn’t make him work for it. Not like Negan would’ve.

“Tell me,” Rick groans, his voice surprisingly soft. “My hand or my fingers? ‘f you could only have one or the other?”

Negan’s eloquent “What the fuck?” comes out both bewildered and needy, because goddamn, he didn’t know Rick could be that cruel, asking Negan to make a decision like that when his dick’s so hard it could cut diamonds. He bites the inside of his cheek to the point of drawing blood, because when Rick doesn’t get an answer, he twists and jabs his fingers deeper, forcing a incoherent curse from Negan that’s followed by a deep, throaty moan.

Rick’s still waiting for an answer, and Negan spits “Jesus, you expect me to be able to answer that? In case you hadn’t fucking noticed, I’m pretty invested in both.”

Rick hums, and then strikes like a fucking viper: he wraps his hand around Negan’s cock hard, fingers curling smooth and slow before inching deeper, pushing harder, and Negan jolts up off the desk in a helpless arc, making a noise he’d be embarrassed about if he gave a shit about what Rick thinks about him. There’s a droplet of sweat clinging to the tip of his nose, a deep flush painting him red from cheeks to chest, his whole body a live wire of need.

“That’s not what I asked,” Rick reminds him, and Negan snaps before he realizes what he’s saying.

“Fingers, goddamn it! Your fucking fingers.”

Rick’s moan is rich with pleasure. “Thought so,” he laughs. “Told you those wives of yours couldn’t do this for you. To you.”

Negan can’t fucking come like that, he can’t, but if Rick insists on him trying, then he’ll damn well do his best. Shifting his hips back with a shudder, Negan gasps out a breathless, ridiculous noise, his whole fucking world narrowing down to the devastating push and pull of Rick’s fingers, slender and delicate, narrowly and deliberately keeping Negan on the edge. Rick knows exactly where Negan wants him, where he needs him, but he steers clear, choosing to tease.

Rick has always been so damn quiet when Negan’s had him pushed up against walls, down against whatever surface is the closest, but he’s a fucking chatterbox today, resting his chin gently between Negan’s shoulder-blades and whispering “I can feel your pulse,” as he scrapes his teeth lightly from Negan’s throat to the back of his neck, tongue darting out to follow the path of welts he’s leaving behind. “Here,” Rick emphasizes, lips brushing Negan’s throat, “And here,” he adds, fingers pushing deep, making Negan clench around them.

It’s fucking filthy. It’s everything he’s ever wanted, Rick’s low voice whispering in his ear.

“It’s racing,” Rick tells him, still in that soft voice. “You’re shaking.”

He’s not wrong, and Negan groans, too focused on Rick’s fingers twisting and rubbing and pulling apart inside of him to form the words he wants to say. With his free hand, Rick tugs Negan’s head back by the hair, but still softly, like he’s fucking scared of hurting Negan, and that’s not something Negan can deal with, right now. Being treated like fucking porcelain by the man he’s broken, time and time again.

“I want you to come,” Rick murmurs, his mouth drifting across Negan’s cheek, light enough that he won’t leave marks from his stubble, but Negan can’t say that he’d mind if Rick did. “Just like this. Just for me.”

Those last three words ignite a fucking fire inside of Negan, and he digs his nails into the desk so damn hard there are going to be deep claw marks, there, come morning, evidence of what Rick Grimes reduced him to. Slowly, haltingly, managing to drag some cockiness back into his voice, Negan groans “Just for you.”

It’s a spectacular exchange of power, a give and take that Negan’s never experienced before in his whole fucking life. When Rick’s fingers push forward, Negan pushes back; when Rick’s hand strokes him lightly in a downward motion, Negan fucks into his barely-there fist with punched-out groans, and when Rick bites at the junction of Negan’s shoulder and neck, Negan turns his head to give him room.

He can come like that, apparently. Leave it to Rick Grimes to prove him wrong.

Negan’s orgasm is practically forced from him, wringing him dry; Rick’s fingers are endlessly brutal, pushing and stroking and searching until Negan’s gasping, sweat running into his eyes, chest heaving so violently with breath that he feels like he might be seconds away from a fucking heart attack, but then Rick increases his efforts. Jerks Negan off tight and rough, too damn dry, exactly the way Negan likes it, and Rick’s fingers sink into him 'til the last fucking knuckle.

Negan loses himself to it. Whites out, moaning, until he’s blinking his eyes open to the sight of his own fucking spunk covering the desk, dripping down Rick’s fingers.

“Christ,” is the first word he manages to say, stunned and breathless with laughter. “Christ. Goddamn.”

Still laughing, Negan manages to push himself upright, then whirls around to haul Rick closer until their chests are pressed together. “You got me all dirty, Rick,” Negan grins, inching forward and forcing Rick to walk backwards. “How ‘bout you get me clean, now?”

Negan gets in the shower, first; when he feels Rick’s chin hook across his shoulder from behind, he closes his eyes and lets the warm spray wash over them both.

-

Later, when the two of them are sprawled out in the same bed, Rick’s voice fills the room, and Negan does nothing but listen.

He knows he’s put Rick through too much shit to ever get them to see eye to eye, but the funny thing is, Rick’s never made it clear exactly how much shit Negan’s sentenced him to wade through until the man offers tense, bitter stories about it. Sometimes, it’s meant to be a dig at Negan, to get under his skin in a way it never does, but sometimes, Negan actually listens and halfway remembers what guilt feels like.

“The supplies, the day you gutted Spencer,” Rick starts, his voice quiet and solemn. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Rick had to go into the nasty details; he wants to remind them both of how fucking reprehensible he thinks Negan is, how little he agrees with Negan’s methods. It eats away at him, slowly but steadily. “Aaron and I, we had to make it through a lake full of walkers for’em. Barely got there, in the end, and your men…”

Rick’s voice is hoarse, and Negan feels damn pleased about it. “If he hadn’t been there, I’d have died, and I can’t imagine you’d want that. But your men beat him, hurt him.”

No, Negan does not fucking want that, but if Rick’s expecting him to treat Aaron with gratitude and respect for not letting Rick get his ass killed, he’s sorely wrong. Negan owes nothing to any of these people, ‘cept Rick might have a point. Daryl isn’t there, anymore, and it was obvious he was Rick’s closest ally. Aaron stepping in to fill his shoes was no small thing, Negan can imagine, and suddenly wonders about that, if Rick was telling the truth when he said there was nothing going on between the two of them. He wonders if Rick was telling the truth, confessing to Negan that he was the first man Rick had ever been with.

His curiosity is a stubborn beast. One day, he’ll sink his claws into Rick and tear the truth from him.

Sharply, Rick turns his head to meet Negan’s eyes. “You kill another one of my people,” he tells Negan, “You hurt another one of my family, and you’ll have a war on your hands.”

After all Rick’s threats, after all Rick’s promises and after all Rick’s warnings, Negan shouldn’t take this one statement to heart, but he does. Rick’s seen enough of his people killed that Negan understands the gravity of what he’s saying; Rick’s never going to forgive him, but Negan killing one more of Rick’s people would be the last straw, and he damn well knows it.

“What makes him so special?” Negan asks, blatantly avoiding any kind of response to Rick’s threat. “Tell me, Rick, you two never did the dirty? Not the once? ‘cause you say you didn’t, but I’m not buying it.”

Rick’s staring at him, letting out a frustrated sigh. “No,” he insists, but his voice wavers, and Negan wonders what makes Rick feel compelled to tell him the truth, because he knows Rick is one pretty fine liar, judging from the platitudes he feeds his people. “No, we - once. It was…”

Swallowing thickly, Rick says “It was a moment of weakness. He was shaken. I was, too. But we never…”

Somehow, Negan gets the feeling that this has everything to do with that archer of Rick’s. He keeps that to himself, for now.

“He’s a friend,” Rick finally says, firm and uncompromising. “I trust him with my life. My children’s lives.”

Quietly, Negan says “But not me.”

“No,” Rick agrees, equally as quiet. “Not you. Not ever you.”

-

After Rick hits the road in the morning, heading back to Alexandria, Negan tries not to think too hard about the fact that Rick had spent the night, if only because it would’ve been a fool’s errand to drive on home in the darkness. He doesn’t let himself think about Rick’s scent lingering on his sheets at all, but he can’t help but be reminded of the fact that Rick stood in his shower, dried off with one of Negan’s towels, and then, of all things, borrowed a fucking shirt to wear for the drive.

His other shirt, he’d left behind. Negan throws it in with his own washing.

Later, he joins Simon in the rec room, and gets the shock of a fucking lifetime as Simon speaks up, bold in a way that nobody but his right-hand man ever is.

“You’re sweet on him.”

Negan can’t tell if it’s an accusation or a statement. Half the time, whatever’s coming out of Simon’s mouth is tinged with either satisfaction or good-natured ribbing, but hell if Negan’s in the mood to figure this shit out. After the stunt Rick pulled, he feels both boneless and too damn heavy to take his own weight, and he doesn’t have the presence of mind to decipher Simon’s bullshit.

“That right?” is all Negan responds with, raising a daring eyebrow. Nobody but Simon gets this damn smug around him. To be fair, nobody but Simon has a guarantee of not being killed for whatever stupid shit they decide to say to Negan’s face.

Nodding, Simon’s grin widens and widens, and Negan stares at him until Simon raises his hands, backing off, but his mouth keeps working overtime.

Another nod, and Simon says “I get it, boss. If I swung that way, I’d probably go there, too.”

“Thank your lucky stars you don’t,” Negan snarls out, pleasant smile still in place. “That man is mine, and you damn well know it.”

“Sure,” Simon agrees. “But does he?”

Negan thinks about that for a moment, then shrugs. “He will,” he decides, watching the road, imagining Rick driving as the sun beats down on him overhead. “Mark my words, Simon. He will.”

Chapter Text

6.

There are days where Negan wakes up, blinking at the ceiling, and realizes that he is tired.

The heaviness has already sunken into his bones by dawn; the light filtering through the curtains is soft and rosy pink, incongruous in the otherwise dark room, leaving a warm trail all the way from the wall to the foot of the bed. He’s not awake, yet, mind still lingering in a half-remembered dream, clinging to snapshots of two broad hands and a warm smile that carry over into Negan’s conscious awareness.

Pathetic, he thinks to himself, his throat thick and dry, thoughts muddled. Longing isn’t his fucking style.

After having his bed warmed by Rick, it feels too big for one man to sleep in. He reaches an arm out, resting it in all that empty space, wondering. Would Rick rest easily beside him, the second time around, or would he twitch and fidget through the night, not trusting Negan to keep his distance?

As much as the thought offends him, he can’t find it within himself to be pissed off at Rick’s imaginary response. After all the pushing Negan’s done, it’s a miracle Rick hasn’t put his foot down and pushed back, yet.

He shakes his head, slowly sitting upright. The walkie-talkie on the nightstand crackles to life, same as it does every morning, Simon’s voice coming through loud and clear, same time as every other day. It’s starting to get real fucking repetitive. “Morning, boss. When do you want us to leave?”

Right. Today is the weekly pick-up from Alexandria, and for once, Negan isn’t looking forward to it. Rubbing his forehead, groaning, he grumbles “Give me a fucking minute to wake up, will you? Get everything ready on your end.”

He’s brisker than usual, this morning. Simon might notice, if his surprised “Who pissed in your cereal, sir?” is anything to go by.

Negan stares up at the ceiling. On the couch, Rick’s washed and dried shirt is folded over the backrest. Might still smell faintly of him, but Negan resists the urge to find out. “Don’t smartmouth me,” he tells Simon, then clicks the walkie off. There’s a sour taste in his mouth, something acrid and primal stuck behind his teeth.

“Lucille,” he sighs, putting his head in his hands. “You’d get a fucking kick out of this, sweetheart. Your husband’s gone and lost his damn mind.”

He can almost hear her voice, can almost imagine it. That’s what I love about you, she’d say, with sparkling eyes and a bright smile. Can he replace that, baby? What we had?

“Oh, no you don’t,” Negan says out loud, because there’s a difference between naming your baseball bat after the woman you never loved enough, and it’s another to have conversations with her in his own head, conversations she’s winning. “You’re dead. He’s not.”

It feels poignant, the sudden silence, but Negan mutters that reminder to himself as he gets ready for the day, wondering if Rick’s been assaulted by the same guilt since the two of them had that first moment in the RV. He wonders if Rick’s ever heard his wife’s voice, despite her being gone, and shudders under the spray of the shower.

His hand wanders, straying down his body, curling around his cock. When he comes, images flash across his eyelids: Lucille’s warm smile. Rick’s sharp teeth. Her broad hips, and Rick’s narrow waist. All these monuments that Negan has explored and conquered, all of them out of his reach.

When the moment passes, he can’t decide which one of them he misses the most.

-

In Alexandria, Negan doesn’t immediately go in for an arm around Rick’s shoulders. Doesn’t offer any innuendo, and he never so much as lets his eyes scan Rick from head to toe, despite the temptation to drink him in and never let himself stop. It’s a fucking obsession that’s never going to do more than push Rick away.

He’s had that hunger sated; he’s had his fill of Rick’s skin. It isn’t enough, anymore, provoking a response out of Rick, who meets him at the gates with the slightest hint of a smile, nodding as he says “Negan. Expected you earlier,” as if he’s disappointed or surprised that it took Negan so long to arrive.

Or, more likely, Negan’s fucking projecting. He can feel a headache coming on. All the things he wanted from Rick, he’s received, hasn’t he? He’s seen the man on his fucking knees, but it just doesn’t do it for him.

Lucille used to say his heart was a bottomless black hole; insatiable. She might’ve been onto something.

Rick’s people aren’t in on their secret, but the ones in the inner circle are eyeing Negan warily, as if they’re trying to figure out what kind of spell Negan must’ve put on Rick to make the other man act so damn friendly. Negan could milk the moment, make a big deal out of telling each and every one of Rick’s loyal followers exactly what they’ve been up to, but Negan only shrugs, matching Rick’s smile, then grins and says “Terribly sorry about that, Rick. How about I make my unseemly and late arrival up to you?”

Rick’s brow is furrowed, now. Not distrustful, not wary, but unsure. “Dwight!” Negan calls out. “Come on out with the guest of honor, will you?”

From behind the truck, there’s a thud of feet hitting the ground, and the shuffle of an unsteady gait, and finally a gruff voice going “Get off’a me, asshole,” and Negan sees Rick stiffen out of the corner of his eye, one hand reaching out, hoping to bridge the distance that’s getting shorter by the second.

Dwight’s hauling Rick’s archer towards him, and the people assembled explode into questions, into shouted warnings not to fucking touch him and, amidst that, gasps of disbelief, because Daryl’s dressed up real nice and pretty for this reunion, cleaned up and cut loose. Negan even went so far as to return Daryl’s crossbow to him, although he hadn’t let Daryl get away with loading it.

Dwight wasn’t too pleased about giving back that vest, but it’s Negan’s call, and if he tells Dwight to eat a fucking steaming pile of shit, he expects Dwight to do it with a smile.

This is not a gift. It’s a peace offering, long overdue.

“Daryl,” Rick says, his tone wondering, and in the same moment, Daryl breathes Rick’s name in return. The two of them collide, and Rick’s laughing through tears, clutching Daryl close to him, being held tightly in return.

He sees Rick’s gaze turn to him, for a split-second, a frail hope building there. Rick’s trying to assess him, trying to figure out if this is a cruel fucking joke, but it’s not. Negan inclines his head, then regards his own people with a critical eye. Anyone who doesn’t like his call isn’t showing it, but he’ll be sure to watch them all closely.

“Everybody listen up,” Negan says, drawing the people’s attention, trying not to look at the gleam of genuine appreciation and gratitude in Rick’s eyes, focused on him. He and Daryl are standing apart, now, but still close enough to bump hips. “This, right here, is what happens when you follow the rules and bring me the shit I want! Keep it up,” he tells everyone at large, “And your new way of life doesn’t have to be fucking difficult. Any of you sorry pricks want to question me, mark my words: I won’t hesitate to take Daryl right back.”

For all that it’s a threat, and not an empty one, Rick doesn’t blow up at him. He gently pushes Daryl towards the rest of their people, murmuring something that Negan doesn’t quite catch.

Rick isn’t the only person who’s looking at him. Daryl’s eyes burn into his back, wary and distrustful, but he turns his attention back to Rick soon enough, the two of them hovering around each other, Rick’s hand on Daryl’s shoulder, Daryl’s hand on Rick’s bicep. It’s a closeness Negan’s witnessed, before. It’s something he’s been craving.

He looks away.

-

“You grow a heart overnight?”

Negan doesn’t react. The voice is filled with spite and vitriol, and when he turns around, he’s faced by the prettiest, angriest little thing he’s seen in years. It’s the chick he’s seen around, with the dark hair and stormy eyes.

Tyra, he thinks, then corrects himself. Tara.

“Hello to you too, sweetheart,” he snipes, “And what was that out of your mouth, just now?”

He’s not fuming, but he’s getting there. He doesn’t appreciate Rick’s people questioning his motives; the more Rick seems to trust him, the more his people are going the other way. Shit, what does he have to do to prove to them that he’s not about to start bashing more of their skulls in?

Maybe a few, he thinks to himself, but only if they give him a fucking reason, and with the way she’s talking, she’s gonna get on Negan’s nerves sooner or later. It’d be a shame to have to teach her a very public lesson, but for now, he refrains.

His temper might get the best of him, sometimes, but after giving Daryl back, delivering him home, Negan wants to keep the goodwill of the people for as long as he can. He searches Tara’s face for clues, wondering what the hell she wants.

Eerily, she reminds him of Lucille, before the cancer. Uncompromising, and tough as nails.

Her arms are crossed, and she’s staring Negan down unflinchingly. “Listen,” she says, “I get your angle. I do. But-”

“And what might my angle be?” Negan cuts her off, hands on his hips, his stance going wide, preparing for confrontation. “Go ahead, do fucking tell me. You better pray I like what I hear.”

“Rick. It’s for Rick.”

Shit on a stick, now she’s catching on, too? Negan exhales sharply, and wonders why it suddenly bothers him, people realizing why he’s been zeroing in on Rick, going easy on him when he shouldn’t. Simon knows, that curly-haired recruiter knows, and he’d bet his left nut Daryl knows, too; he wouldn’t have scowled at Negan so damn harshly if he didn’t. Wouldn’t look so damn crushed, either. That’s too many people for his comfort.

Negan doesn’t mind people cottoning on, as long as they figure he and Rick have been taking their frustration out on each other, but he knows Rick wouldn’t want them to figure out the other part, where his vulnerabilities were all laid bare to Negan.

“And?” Negan prompts. “You have a fucking problem with that?”

“I don’t,” Tara scoffs, “But it’s not going to work. He’s never going to see you that way. Never.”

Tell me something I don’t already know, Negan thinks, then shrugs. “You jealous?”

Her laugh isn’t friendly, but it’s close enough. He doubts she’s stupid enough to try to threaten him, and they’re not gonna be braiding each other’s hair anytime soon, but she’s not seething in his presence like some of her friends would be. “Dude,” Tara says, “I like girls. Had a girlfriend,” she adds. “Then your guys killed her. So, no. Even if I was straight and you were the last person left on earth, I’d rather take my chances with the walkers.”

“Fair enough,” Negan says, laughing a deep, throaty laugh that echoes and reverberates around the neighborhood. “But you watch what you say to me, sweetheart. I’m not as forgiving as you seem to think I am.”

Nodding, Tara takes a step back, turning on her heel. Hesitantly, she looks back, then sighs. “I actually feel sorry for you,” she mumbles, “Thinking he’s ever going to give you what you want.”

“Me, too,” Negan says, but Tara is already long gone, and his words are lost to the wind.

-

Negan lets Simon and Dwight take care of gathering all the shit from the pantry. He spends his time wandering around, taking in the sights, and wondering if he could be comfortable here in Alexandria. The Sanctuary has a sweet setup, but Alexandria is all open streets and green gardens, houses made for families to live inside of. He toys with the idea of claiming a house for himself, maybe spending the day, but he quickly shuts himself down. Sentimentality isn’t going to get him anywhere.

He makes it to Rick’s house, then stands there on the porch, musing. He wonders where Rick’s been sleeping since he took most of their mattresses, eyes going to the door.

It opens right on cue, and Carl pokes his head out, frowning. As he turns to head back inside, he leaves the door wide open.

Negan lets himself inside the house, and Carl lets him without making a fuss. Outside, the mood is still joyous, Daryl’s friends crowding around him, welcoming him back into their midst. Without speaking a word, Carl places a bottle of beer in front of Negan and shrugs when Negan raises a questioning eyebrow.

“I get it,” Carl tells him, still too fucking perceptive for his own good. The kid scares the shit out of him, usually, but now he’s looking at Negan with pity, and he doesn’t like it one bit. “Drink. It’s supposed to help, isn’t it?”

“Help with what?” Negan asks, but he opens the beer and takes a long sip, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. The taste is piss-poor, at best, but he doesn’t grimace. Shit, if Carl had offered him a sandwich made with nothing but shit, Negan would have accepted. He’s trying to make a fucking effort, here.

He can feel that one-eyed stare on him. Carl fidgets, then blurts “You can’t do this, anymore,” and ducks his head, cheeks flaming after his outburst. “To my dad. You can’t keep doing this.”

“I’m not doing anything,” Negan retorts, offering a brittle smile to little Judith, who’s banging toys together in her playpen. He’s not about to lose his temper around a toddler, but if Carl keeps prodding, Negan’s gonna have to set him straight. There’s enough gossip around Alexandria, as is.

Carl sighs, resting his chin in his hand. “Exactly,” he responds. “It’s nothing or everything. Hurting him or stringing him along. You can’t do that. I won’t let you.”

Christ, it’s bad enough that Simon has been needling him about this, now Carl, too? How many more people are gonna walk up to him, today, and tell him to leave Rick alone?

“Listen,” Negan says, “I’ll fucking stay away from Rick, alright? You happy, now?”

“No,” Carl whispers, moving to scoop Judith into his arms, “And neither is he.”

-

Negan drinks his fucking beer. He drinks his beer in Rick’s kitchen, making up his mind.

“Shit,” he says to himself, laughing out loud. “Yeah. Lucille, baby? It’s like you always said. It’s time to nut up or shut up.”

-

Outside, it’s still sunny and bright. Negan squints as he steps off the porch, then goes to join Simon, who’s supervising the trucks they’re loading up. Negan sees them taking all manner of food from the pantry, and normally, he wouldn’t care about the specifics, but he sees one of his guys grab some jars off the top shelf - cans of applesauce and cans of other equally as unappetizing flavors - and stops, considering. Isn’t that the shit he’s seen in Rick’s kitchen, for Judith?

“Hold up,” he calls out, then approaches at a leisurely stride. “What you got there, Trevor?”

Shrugging, the man looks down at the jars in his hands. “Jam,” he says, and Negan stares him down until the man realizes that was a rhetorical fucking question.

“I can see that,” Negan tells him, his voice calm and deadly. “Now, what the fuck do we need six jars of jam for, Trevor? That really what you stuff down your thick throat in the morning?”

Flushing, the man stammers “But we’re taking half, right? That’s all. I just thought…”

“Leave it,” Negan orders. “Fuck, get out of my damn sight. Load up the truck before I decide you can make do with one kneecap.”

The man scuttles off, and Negan pinches the bridge of his nose. What kind of fucking idiots does he have in his employ?

He’s not expecting Rick to be right fucking there when he turns around, wearing an expression that Negan can’t decipher, but there he stands, hands in his pockets, glancing between Negan and the jars safely tucked back on the shelf.

It says a lot about Rick, the fact that he didn’t attempt to hide it. It must speak volumes about Negan, too, the fact that he let Rick keep it.

He doesn’t know if Rick saw the little exchange, so Negan saunters up to him, saying “You not enjoying the festivities? Hell, Rick, I figured you’d be jumping at the opportunity to have a little fun now that your best fucking buddy is back, so what’s with that face?”

“Nothing,” Rick tells him, voice soft with thoughtfulness. He keeps looking at Negan, searching his expression, his body language. Whatever he finds seems to please him, because Rick nods just the once, and murmurs “Had something of a realization, is all.”

He remembers Rick’s despair, his defeat, his desperation. He’d all but broken Rick, in the clearing, and then again later, when he’d made Rick cry. Negan remembers Rick’s jagged, torn edges, and he sees none of them before him.

“You coming?”

The invitation is bold, especially considering that it’s spoken out loud where Rick’s people are all capable of hearing it. Asking Negan into his home at this hour carries implications he thought Rick would rather not put words to, but Negan’s feet are following Rick across the asphalt before he’s consciously decided to do it.

Dusk is already approaching, but Negan enters the house two steps behind Rick, closing the door and for the first time, he feels like a fucking intruder, posing in a house where he doesn’t belong. Rick wanted him here, though. Negan has to keep reminding himself of that.

It’s giving him a fucking headache, trying to keep up with Rick, but it’s his own fault. Negan doesn’t know how to find a balance, and it’s all but alienated Rick from him in the past. It makes him pause by the door before he strides inside; not quite like he owns the place, but like he’s decided to make himself comfortable.

“Your kid gave me a talking-to,” Negan informs Rick, sliding out of his leather jacket and placing it on the back of a chair. He doesn’t know if Rick notices exactly which shirt he’s wearing. “Gotta say, he’s got balls of fucking steel.”

He doesn’t mean for it to come across as a threat, but Rick’s amused expression tells him that it didn’t. “What’d he say?”

Desire is crawling up his throat, like a monster crawling out of a lake, demanding to be seen. He can’t keep track of what he wants, anymore.

Negan takes the glass Rick offers. It’s just water, which means Negan can’t use the excuse of being drunk out of his mind when he says “He told me to stop jerking you around.”

Rick’s expression goes stoic. Negan should’ve known Rick didn’t want this thing between them to go public, and it must hurt him, knowing that Carl’s got them all figured out. “And how, exactly,” Rick asks, his voice strangely serene, “Are you jerking me around?”

“I am,” Negan says, unashamed only because maybe, in some fucking bizarre way, the truth does set you free. “...I was,” he corrects himself, then shrugs. “See, my wife, she used to say I had intimacy issues. That I didn’t fucking know how to communicate.”

Years too late, he realizes she was right. Chuckling, Negan says “She was a smart woman. Always saw right fucking through me. She knew me better than I knew myself.”

Both of them are wearing wedding rings belonging to the dead. There’s got to be more, Negan thinks to himself, than a strange understanding between them.

“You were,” Rick repeats, voice as soft as silk. “Not anymore?”

“Nah,” Negan agrees. “What’s the fucking point? I could tell you you’re just a warm mouth to me, but would you honestly believe that?”

A little quieter, Negan asks “You wouldn’t believe that, would you? Tell me you know fucking better than that.”

It’s dangerous, making confessions like these, but Negan’s beyond the point of caring.

Chuckling. Rick is chuckling. “You talk too much,” he declares, and puts his palms flat on the kitchen table, watching Negan closely. That’s the thing: while Negan talks, Rick watches. You learn about people in different ways, and Rick’s attention never wavers when he locks his gaze on Negan and attempts to puzzle him out.

“Rick,” Negan says, going for brutal honesty over sugar-coated fiction. “I can’t be what you want me to be.”

Rick considers that. He nods, but it isn’t an agreement; it’s an acknowledgement of what Negan’s saying, nothing more. “You don’t know what I want,” Rick tells him, and Negan wonders why that is, why they can’t ever seem to get anything straight between them.

Rick’s better at this honesty shit than Negan will ever be, and it leaves him stricken, the way Rick’s looking at him, a lump growing in Negan’s throat.

He thinks that if he handed over his body, Rick would do something interesting.

“You don’t know,” Rick repeats. He sounds resigned.

Negan isn’t having it. “Then tell me,” he demands, fingers curling into fists, breathing hard, because at the end of the world, the one person that wants him - the one person that’s been able to peel back his skin and look inside of him without running away screaming - isn’t who he thought it’d be.

Rick’s quiet. All this time, Negan’s been the one insisting that shit between them is never going to be simple, and it hits him fucking hard, the fact that while Negan was building walls, Rick was trying to break them. All this fucking time, Rick’s been waiting.

“You might not be what I want you to be,” Rick slowly agrees. “You’re not a good man.”

His hand reaches across the table, and Rick’s staring him down, keeping Negan’s eyes locked on his own, as he repeats “You’re not a good man, but you’re mine.”

There are echoes of Lucille in that statement. Her ghost always lingers.

He knows Rick can’t have forgotten about his wives, back at the Sanctuary, but maybe that’s not what matters to Rick. God knows he’d choose death over being paired with the ladies, but Negan hasn’t shared their beds like Rick shared his. Negan hasn’t gone above and beyond to bring his wives back from the edge, the way he tried to help Rick. He’s done a lot of fucking things for Rick that he never dreamed he’d do, and Rick must know it.

“Yours?” Negan asks, and Rick nods solemnly, and nothing is alright, but Negan can breathe again. His lungs aren’t seizing. There’s a calm settling in his bones, and he nods back at Rick, watching the muscles in his back move as he grabs himself a glass of water and drinks. His throat is long and pale and unmarked.

Deep down, Negan doesn’t trust this. Doesn’t trust that Rick’s not just stringing him along in the hopes of winning his favor only to one day put his hatchet in Negan’s head, cold and calculating, and he bets Rick feels the same way. Desire doesn’t equal loyalty. Fuck, love doesn’t equal loyalty, and Negan knows that first-hand.

There’s no way to know for sure, but Rick has a dozen easier options for gaining Negan’s trust in the hopes of betraying him. There are a million easier ways to slowly slither beneath Negan’s skin and make him relax, but Rick doesn’t strike him as the kind of man to use his own body as a bargaining chip. Negan can’t say the same for himself. The day may very well come where he has to execute Rick to make a point, but after having tasted Rick’s skin and seen his hair mussed first thing in the morning, he knows his heart wouldn’t be in it.

His little breakdown must show on his face, because Rick grabs his chin and makes Negan meet his eyes. “You talk too much,” Rick tells him once again. “You think too much, too. Anyone ever tell you that?”

“Lucille used to,” Negan says without thinking. “She must’ve been right.”

“Sounds like a smart woman,” Rick offers, and Negan’s chest constricts.

His wives could never replace her, could never hope to be one tenth as fucking divine as her, and maybe that’s what draws him to Rick. It’s easier not to make comparisons when the differences are so stark.

Deflecting, Negan musters up a grin. “If I’m your man,” he asks, waggling his eyebrows, watching Rick’s mouth twitch into a reluctant smile, “Does that make you mine?”

The mood doesn’t sour, exactly, but a change happens. Rick withdraws his hand from where it’s placed on the table, pulling it out of Negan’s reach. He gets it, he does, and it only stings a little.

“Maybe one day,” Rick says, brazen and bold. “After you see to your wives.”

That’s the kind of guy Rick is: all or nothing, but for Negan, he’s making a strange exception. It’s not an ultimatum, but a fact. As long as Negan has his wives, this happens on Rick’s terms, and he has to either accept that or let it go, and he’s never been good at letting go of the things he wants.

“Until then,” Rick’s saying, snapping Negan out of his musings, “Come upstairs. It’s late.”

It is late, and Negan didn’t notice until just now. His men must’ve been waiting ages for him to come round them up and lead them back home, but this is an invitation Negan can’t pass up, and it’s going to be blatantly fucking clear to everyone why he’s spending the night in Rick’s house, but he nods, heading outside to meet Arat across the street.

“Change of plans,” he tells her. “Me’n’Rick are having a sleepover. Let Simon know. Don’t let the place burn down while I’m gone.”

Heading back inside the house feels like a death sentence. It feels like freedom.

-

“When you said you couldn’t be what I want you to be…”

Rick’s voice is hushed in the darkness. Negan’s looking right at him, but Rick’s face is shadowed and peaceful, his eyes closed. He didn’t sleep this easily, last time. Negan notices.

“I don’t need a knight in shining armor,” Rick goes on. “I don’t want that. But that man, the one I saw today, giving a shit about my daughter? That’s all. That’s all you gotta be, for now.”

Exhaling an exhausted laugh, Rick murmurs “That’s all you gotta do. Give a shit, from time to time.”

Negan’s fingers are stroking through Rick’s hair. Once upstairs, Rick had undressed, stripped down to his underwear and slid into bed, beneath the covers, making room for Negan as he joined him. They haven’t so much as kissed. It feels important, that fact.

“And I don’t want a fucking damsel in distress,” Negan retorts, because if they’re going to be making confessions in fucking metaphors, he might as well go all-in. “You know what I am, Rick. Who I am. The day you stop looking at me like half of you wants to kill me and the other half wants to fuck me, you’ll be breaking my damn heart.”

Rick hums, slow and muted. He seems comfortable, one leg slung across Negan. The first few minutes, laying beside Rick, Negan had felt like he was playing pretend, but then Rick shifted just so, bringing their bodies closer, and Negan’s arm had gone around him like it was natural, and something had settled inside of him, then purred.

After their talk, Negan feels like maybe instead of a standstill, they’ve come to a compromise. Both of them know where they stand, at last, and it’ll have to do for now.

He thinks of Lucille, again, and tells himself that this is a small crime compared to everything else he’s done since she died and the world went to shit. She’d understand.

There’s never going to be a right time for him and Rick, after everything that’s happened between them. The world for romance is gone, and the time for reckless passion is dead; whatever they’ve got is going to have to fucking do, for however long it lasts, but Negan can admit that he wouldn’t mind lazy mornings spent tucked against Rick, if only once in a while.

“You’re not what I imagined,” Rick tells him. “Not after my wife.”

Negan doesn’t know what to say to that, so he says nothing. He listens, instead, as Rick’s voice fills the dark room. “Nothing about this makes sense. You don’t make sense, or I didn’t want to think you did. But I understand. I finally understand, and sometimes it kills me to admit it.”

“Admit what?” Negan asks under his breath. His heart is beating so, so fast, and Rick’s answering murmur makes Negan bury his face in that pale throat of his, desiring the closeness.

“The world isn’t black and white, anymore. I see it now.”

“What do you see?” Negan asks, his whisper quiet in the dark. He can hear Rick’s elevated heartbeat, the long breath of air he releases as he turns on his side. Their knees are touching, Rick’s fingers making their way slowly from Negan’s wrist to his shoulder, landing there like birds on a wire, feather-light and peaceful.

“I see you,” Rick tells him.

Three words, that’s all. Three words is all it takes for Negan to let go of his doubts and fears, if even for a moment. Three words that he never expected to hear come out of Rick’s mouth, but they do, and a part of Negan wants to ask Rick to say it again.

Negan has his eyes closed. He breathes deeply, letting the stillness settle over them both. He can imagine Rick’s chest rising and falling slowly, his heart beating against his ribs. “Yeah,” Negan says, matching Rick’s soft, tender cadence. “I see you, too.”