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          Adam stumbled into the lobby of his apartment building, lungs struggling for air. He tried to find his rhythm, like his father had taught him, tapping frantically at his thighs , trying to encourage his body to stop choking him with fear. He hit the floor and noticed a tile was chipped before the panic took over again. If he found air again, he’d have to bring up reflooring for the lobby at the next Building Association Meeting.

          Building Association…would he still be a member of the Building Association next month?

          His financial advisor told him he should leave as soon as possible. The hospital bills had decimated his father’s savings, and without another steady income, there wasn’t a way for him to cover rent and taxes for more than eight months. Somehow, this news wasn’t supposed to be the end of the world.

          Downsize, Harlan called it. Serious financial risk, the advisor had said. He knew they weren’t trying to be mean. He knew his dad had trusted them both to give good advice. But in that cramped office, with the stuffy air and the chemical scent of Lysol prickling at his nose, all Adam knew was these two men wanted to take away his home.

          It was too much.

          Adam had watched his father wither in a bed, even though dying upset his daily routine. He’d put up with the smells of the hospital and the cold mac n cheese that he wasn’t allowed to heat in the staff kitchen. He had braved his father’s funeral, breathing through all the people touching and hugging him as his fingernails dug divots into his palms. And with Harlan’s help, he’d even found a new routine without his father – it took longer, but he found he didn’t want free time now that his father wasn’t there to share it.

          All this Adam had endured, but losing his home – setting fire to his routine yet again – it was too much. He had screamed that at Harlan, at the financial advisor that threatened him with security if he didn’t calm down. Adam knew his father would be disappointed, angry that Adam abandoned all their painstaking lessons about control and proper interactions. So, he had run. Tearing through the streets and blindly heading home until his lungs burned and his hair matted to his forehead. He lay on the floor, choking on nothing and refusing to see the loss of his home as anything other than the catastrophe it was.

          “Mr. Raki? ADAM! ADAM ARE YOU ALRIGHT?”  

          Adam tried to look up, but his vision blurred as his lungs choked him. He was vaguely aware that he was being lifted, but all he could do was gasp.


 

          “Well, sounds like you’re fucking fucked, kid.” Mr. Dalca, the building’s super, handed Adam a mug with a teabag in it. It smelled like flowers, but Adam clutched it, letting the warmth seep into his fingers. Once Dalca had gotten Adam’s breathing to regulate, he’d brought him into his office and told him to rest. Adam apologized for his outburst, just like his father had taught him to, but Dalca had waved him off. The older man had simply plugged in an electric kettle and asked Adam why he’d melted down on a newly mopped lobby floor.

          Dalca had listened sympathetically as Adam had recounted the story in his monotone. Adam found it comforting to have someone simply nod along without interrupting to offer sympathy. When he finished, Dalca nodded, and made tea.

          Adam looked around Dalca’s office. There was a picture of a pretty lady on his desk and a stack of repair orders strew around his computer. Adam fidgeted; he wanted to straighten the papers, maybe dust the shelves behind the desk.

          Dalca took the seat next to Adam, “I have a way you could make a lot of money quickly, if you’re interested.”

          Adam looked up. “Do you need an assistant?”

          Dalca laughed. “Kid, I don’t know what you think they pay me, but no.”

          “Oh,” Adam tapped against his mug. The tea was growing cold and it smelled.

          “Have you ever thought about getting married?” Dalca raised an eyebrow. Adam frowned.

          “I’m not dating anyone at the moment, but you’re right that two incomes would be beneficial. Can you suggest a dating service?” Adam sat his untouched tea on Dalca’s desk, pushing it away so he wouldn’t have to smell it. “I don’t trust the algorithms on dating sites; they haven’t been peer reviewed. Still, do you think I should sign up for one? A large pool of candidates would likely-”

          “Adam,” Dalca interrupted gently. “I have a person in mind already.”

          Adam squinted. “Are you suggesting I marry you?”

          “Jesus!” Dalca laughed. “No. But, uh, would you mind marrying a man?”

          “Not in theory.”

          “I have this friend, Nigel.” Dalca’s lips twisted, Adam didn’t understand what the expression meant. “Great guy, needs a fucking green card before they kick him out of the country.”

          “Why didn’t he just apply for one?”

          Dalca looked down, studying the grime under his fingernails. “Uh, little trouble with the law back in Bucharest.”

          His head shot up, offering Adam a big smile. “Nothing too bad, just a silly thing with his ex…and a couple of drug charges. He’s a great guy, though.”

          “He sounds like a criminal.”

          Dalca shrugged. “But a nice one. Really, I know he sounds…he’s not that bad, I swear.”

          Adam shook his head. “I don’t think this is a good idea, Mr. Dalca.”

          He stood, taking a moment to brush off his sweater and khakis before heading to the door.

          “Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars!”

          Adam stopped. Dalca stood, rubbing the back of his neck.

          “He can pay you 250K, lump sum.”

          Adam bit his lip. “He’s not a good man.”

          “You just have to marry him, he’ll stay at his place and you’ll never have to see him. He’ll give you 100K now and 150K when you divorce.”

          Adam frowned. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars would pay off his father’s debts and leave him at least one hundred thousand to invest and use toward rent. If done properly, that would give him nearly ten years to find a better paying job or a spouse to share financial burdens with. “He wouldn’t live with me?”

          “No. Wouldn’t bother you a bit.” Dalca smiled. “Just live your fucking life and when he gets his card, he’ll file for divorce, send you the rest of the cash, and you’ll never fucking hear from him again.”

          Adam could see the problems with the proposal, but he thought about the nick in the kitchen floor, where his father had dropped the mixer; the three stains on the living room wall from a painting mishap; the mark on his ceiling so he knew exactly where to put the celestial projector to perfectly display on the walls of his room. He wasn’t ready to leave those things behind – to let a stranger see them, touch them, change them.

           “I think that type of cash influx would be noticeable to the Internal Revenue Service; can I think about the best way to accept the funds?”

          “However you want to do it, as long as you’re willing to say I Do.”

          Adam nodded. This was making a tough decision. His father had told him he’d have to do that after he was gone. “OK. I can take an extra half hour next Tuesday at lunch. We can get married then.”

          Dalca beamed. “Fantastic! I’ll tell Nigel.”

          He held his hand out to Adam.

          “Your hands are dirty, I don’t want to touch them.” Adam opened the office door. “I’ll see you Tuesday.”


 

          Adam adjusted his tie. He had asked his boss for an hour and a half lunch, explaining he had an important appointment. Dan hadn’t even looked up when he said ok and shooed Adam out of his office. He wished he had asked Harlan to come, but he worked Tuesdays.

          Looking at the clock again, Adam frowned. His future husband was 10 minutes late and he wasn’t sure what to tell the lady at the clerk’s office. He took out his phone to call Mr. Dalca when he heard shouting in the hallway.

          “WHO THE FUCK CARES, DARKO? HE’S JUST SOME FUCKING VIRGIN, RIGHT? IT’S NOT LIKE I’M NOT FUCKING PAYING HIM.”

          The doors flew open and Adam saw Mr. Dalca dragging a man slumped over his shoulder. The man in question, the man Adam was supposed to marry, was wearing a stained shirt with dogs on it and had a rip on the knee of his jeans. Salt and pepper hair hung in greasy hanks around his forehead, and there seemed to be some sort of smudge on his neck. As they stumbled closer, Adam could smell the acrid scent of cheap alcohol and tobacco seeping off the man and recoiled.

          “I I-uh…No. I don’t want to marry him, thank you.” Adam moved to leave. Dalca dropped his friend on the floor in a heap and chased after Adam.

          “Wait! Wait!” Dalca rounded on Adam, people were beginning to stare. Adam tapped on his thighs, determined to stay calm. Dalca held up his hands. “I know, he’s a goddamn mess. Threw himself a bachelor party last night. But here.”

          Dalca pulled a satchel off his shoulder and held it out.

          “The first half,” He explained. “Nigel gave it to you in cash, said you could do what you want with it then.”

          Adam felt his anxiety ratchet higher. He needed the money. He needed his apartment.

          “Don’t fucking think about him, Adam,” Dalca coaxed. “Fifteen minutes, you get this cash and you won’t see him again for three years, man.”

          Adam bit his lip, took a deep breath, and nodded.

          “Hey Darko,” Nigel called from the linoleum. “Did the little princess decide my money was good enough or-”

          Nigel flicked his hair out of his face and caught sight of Adam. The younger man tried not to duck behind Mr. Dalca.

          “Well, hello, gorgeous.” Nigel tried to lean backwards seductively but ended up sprawled on his back. He scrambled to his feet and lurched toward Adam. “Have time for a little honeymoon after the service, darling?”

          Adam frowned when Nigel dragged dirty fingers across his cheek. “Please don’t touch me again.”

          “Fucking kicked out of bed already?” Nigel laughed. “Guess I’m not losing my touch.”

          Dalca stepped into Nigel’s space. “Keep your shit together for 20 minutes or you’re on the next plane back to fucking Bucharest.”

          Nigel rolled his eyes, but dropped his hand and moved back. “Had no idea I had such a delicate little husband.”

          “I would appreciate it if you didn’t speak too much; you smell terrible,” Adam said with a glare.

          Dalca laughed.


 

          “I Nigel, take you, Allen”

          “Adam,” Darko hissed.

          “Adam, fine, to be my lawfully wedded husband.” Nigel shoved a ring on Adam’s finger and winked. The band was plain, probably not real gold, Adam didn’t like the weight of it on his hand.

          He nodded through the rest of the ceremony, feeling his chest tighten with every word the officiant spoke. This was wrong, but maybe Mr. Dalca was right – maybe it would all work out once the papers were filed.

          The clerk gave him an odd look when she handed Adam the certificate. Adam squinted, trying to decipher the meaning, but people were so confusing sometimes.

          After they left the clerk’s office, Nigel threw his arm around Adam, pulling him back into the scent of stale spirits and nicotine. “Want to get a bite, talk about married life?”

          “No thank you.” Adam shrugged him off. He scratched at the ring on his finger. “I don’t think we should see each other again until the divorce.”

          Nigel laughed. “Just like fucking Gabi!”

          Adam didn’t know who Gabi was, but he didn’t want to ask if it kept his husband near him. “Goodbye Mr. Dalca, I’ll see you at the building.”

          “What? No goodbye for your husband?”

          Adam sighed and held out his hand. “Goodbye Nigel, I hope I don’t see you again.”

          Nigel smiled, taking Adam’s hand and yanking. Adam slammed into Nigel’s chest with a little gasp, eyes wide when Nigel bent and stole a kiss. “I fucking do.”

          Adam shoved at Nigel, wiping his mouth as the older man winked. He stomped back to his office, shoving the cheap wedding ring in his pocket and clutching the bag full of cash. It was just a small deviation to his routine, nothing more. He’d be back on schedule soon, like nothing ever happened.


 

          “Married?” Harlan spit out chunks of half chewed ham and cheese. Adam pulled his mouth into a moue as he watched the spittle land around them.  

          “Just for the money,” Adam confirmed, taking a bite of his sandwich.

          “Just for the…Son, this sounds illegal.”

          “Not really. We’ll stay married until the government issues a green card, so that’s around three years. It’s not lying if we stay married.”

          Harlan sighed. “Adam, I don’t want you to go to jail over some foreign woman you don’t even know.”

          “Man,” Adam corrected.

          “Man?”

          “Yes, his name is Nigel Belea.”

          “You married a man?”

          “Yes. Temporarily.”

          “Son, you’re straight.”

          “I’ve dated a man before,” Adam explained in a flat voice.

          “What? When? Who?”

          “Harlan, you seem upset.” Adam tilted his head. “I dated Austin during space camp in 10th grade. We helped each other masturbate a few times, but Austin said-”

          “Adam! What did we say?”

          “No sexual specifics. I’m sorry, I was trying to explain.” Adam offered Harlan the untouched half of his sandwich. “Here, you dropped yours.”

          “That’s…that’s ok, you eat.” Harlan ran a hand over his face. “So, you go both ways, huh?”

          “You can’t go both ways, Harlan, it’s physically impossible.” Adam furrowed his brow. “Oh! You’re saying I’m bisexual. Yes, I am.”

          “I don’t like this, Adam, man or woman, you could go to jail.”

          “I needed the money, Harlan.” Adam bit his lip. “I know it’s not totally right, but it helps me. Dad said I would have to make tough decisions and I did. I won’t even have to see him. He lives somewhere else and I can stay in my apartment.”

          “Adam? Just promise me you won’t go to jail.”

          “I promise.”

          As Adam walked home, he ran the calculations in his head. He’d be able to stay in his apartment for 11 years and 4 months now, plenty of time for him to invest his meager savings and find a higher paying income. Maybe he’d even find someone to live with him, like his new neighbor, Beth.

          Adam smiled. Beth.

          She was very pretty. Maybe he should ask her out. Mr. Dalca said he should live his life like normal. He nodded to himself. Maybe it was a good thing he got married. Marriage had made him more decisive.


 

          “Next time we should go to a different restaurant, maybe French?” Beth leaned against her door. She was very beautiful, but Adam frowned at the suggestion.

          “I don’t know. I’d have to look at the menu.” He fidgeted with his hands, tapping them on his thighs when she frowned. “New places are very stressful. I like Tony’s.”

          “Variety is the spice of life!” Beth offered an exasperated grin.

          “I don’t like variety, or too much spice. I like routine.”

          “You’re a weird guy, Adam,” Beth smiled.

          Adam frowned. Weird wasn’t a compliment. Before he could tell her she was being rude, Beth leaned forward and kissed him. Adam liked the sensation, though he wasn’t fond of the taste or smell of Beth’s lip gloss. He’d have to tell her about that so she’d know not to wear it on future dates.

          “I know you’re not good at cues, but that was a cue,” Beth laughed. Grabbing Adam’s hand, she tugged him into her apartment.

          “Are you feeling sexually excited, Beth?”

          She shed her coat, offering him a smile. “Are you?”

          Adam nodded as he watched Beth unbutton her blouse. This had been a good date.


 

          Adam left Beth’s apartment at 7. He was already off schedule and Beth seemed annoyed that he was leaving, but Adam had to get his breakfast and shower.

          He felt little ripples of anxiety in his chest. Should he apologize for leaving? He had explained he wanted to have more sex, later that night after dinner and during his free time. She had rolled her eyes at him, but Adam wasn’t sure if it was fond, like when Harlan did it, or angry, like the counter person at the deli.

          He stopped short when he noticed a man standing in front of his door.

          “Are you Adam Raki or Nigel Belea?” The man asked, looking at something on his phone.

          “I’m Adam Raki.”

          The man glanced at Adam, raising an eyebrow. “Didn’t sleep at home last night, Mr. Raki?”

          Adam ran a hand over his rumpled hair, his heartbeat rabbiting in his chest. “I- who are you? Why are you asking me questions?”

          “My name is Mr. Price, I’m from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.” The man held up a badge, before pocketing it and looking at his phone again. Adam couldn’t breathe; he tried to tap out a rhythm on his legs but his fingers just spasmed mid-air. “I’m here to talk to you and Mr….Belly?”

          “Belea.” Adam jumped at Mr. Dalca’s voice. “Mr. Raki, you forgot your coffee when you left my office.”

          Dalca shoved a cup of take away coffee into Adam’s hand. He blinked at it. It smelled awful. “I don’t drink coffee-”

          “Cold. I know. Maybe you can warm it inside?” Adam watched with confusion as the larger man ushered him toward his door. “Who are you again? Prince?”

          “Price.” The man raised a brow at both of them. “Citizenship and Immigration Services.”

          “Oh, here to check up on the newlyweds?” Dalca shoved Adam into the door. It was hard for the smaller man to open his lock with shaking fingers. “Well, you should come back when Nigel’s here.”

          “Mr. Belea isn’t living here?”

          “Not right now, saw him off myself!” Darko smiled, big and toothy, extending his hand. “I’m Mr. Dalca, the super.”

          Price sneered at the hand. “Saw him off, where?”

          Adam made a whining noise, he was so late and now the air was getting thin.

          “I know, you sure do miss him, huh, Mr. Raki?” Dalca said, grabbing the keys from Adam’s hand and opening the door. “Mr. Belea is in Jersey, got a gig playing a club in Trenton for a month.”

          “He’ll be back in a month?”

          “No! He’ll be back in two,” Dalca said, with slightly manic eyes. “He’s got a gig in Baltimore right after.”

          “Ah, well, two months.” Price typed something into his phone. “I’ll expect to see you both on the 13th of December. Let’s say 9am? Mr. Raki?”

          Adam managed to bob his head a few times, still searching for breath. Darko smiled, pushing Adam through the doorway as Price turned on his heel and walked toward the elevator.

          Adam heard a ding and the sound of the heavy doors opening, he started to draw air into his lungs.

          “Oh, and Mr. Raki?” Adam popped his head out the door to see Price standing in the open elevator.

          “Y-yes?” Adam’s eyes felt as though they would fall out of his head.

          “Mr. Dalca’s not invited to our interview.” Price smiled thinly. “You’ll have to learn to speak for yourself by then.”

          The doors closed and Dalca flipped the elevator the bird. He turned to find Adam, on the floor, coffee spilled beside him. The kid looked like he was hyperventilating.

          “Adam? Adam! Kid, you gotta breathe!”

          Adam stared ahead sightlessly. “I-I promised Harlan I wouldn’t go to jail.”

Chapter Text

          Adam double checked the scrap of paper in his hands. Mr. Dalca’s handwriting was neat, the sign said Mott Street; this must be where Adam’s husband lived. Carefully, Adam refolded the paper and put it in his pocket.

          The building looked like a grocery store, but Adam could see dingy apartments above it. The street was filthy and the air thick with smells from the dozens of Thai, Cantonese, and Szechuan restaurants that lined the streets. Groups of tourists milled along the sidewalk, taking selfies and consulting Waze for directions. Adam could feel his chest constricting in panic, but deep breathing only brought the smells and the tastes of the street into his system, making his panic worse.

          Adam took a small breath, let his fingers start tapping, and decided to rehearse his little speech. Harlan told him there was no shame in rehearsing if it got the point across.

          “Hello Mr. Belea, you may not remember me but I am Adam Raki, your husband. I am sorry to inform you that we have a problem with our marriage. We are being investigated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. We have two options. The first is to go to see Mr. Price and explain that you needed a green card and I needed extra money. I’m not a proponent of this option because the penalties for immigration related marriage fraud are fines up to $250,000 and a possible jail sentence of up to 5 years. I don’t want to lose the money you gave me and I don’t think I would thrive in the penal system, though I understand they do have strict schedules and that might be OK. Our other option is to attempt to prove that we are a married couple under the eyes of the law. This would mean moving in together and attempting to create a relationship that is cordial and affectionate. Though this is a distasteful option because I don’t like you, I think it is preferable to jail. Would you like to discuss the options further before making a decision?”

          Adam nodded to himself. Good, that was good. He didn’t stutter and he was only slightly tense. He kept tapping on his legs, mumbling through the speech again and trying to think of good places to put emphasis so Nigel would understand the point. One of the tourists watched him and Adam frowned when he approached.

          “You an actor or something?”

          “No.”

          “Oh,” The tourist turned back to his group. “Ma! This homeless guy is talking to himself!”

          Adam frowned and fled into the grocery store. An older woman sat behind the counter, watching a soap opera on an old set. Adam looked at the cigarette hanging from her lip.

          “It’s illegal to smoke in public venues as part of The Smoke Free Air Act of 2002,” Adam said. The woman glanced at him, then back at her stories.

          Adam waited for a response. When none came, he drew a deep breath. Harlan had told him not to fuss with people, even when they were wrong. Unless they’re hurting you and you can’t get away, just let it go, son. Adam debated; there were some possible risks due to second hand smoke, but if he didn’t remain in the store for too long, he should be relatively unscathed. With a sigh, Adam decided to pick his battles. “Excuse me, Lady with the cigarette?”

          The lady quirked a brow.

          “Do you know where Nigel Belea lives?”

          The woman never took her eyes from the screen, but pointed a long finger toward the back of the store, where a doorway was visible.

          “Through the door?”

          No response.

          “T-thank you.”

          Adam hurried through the door and found a dark staircase. He touched the railing, but found it sticky and recoiled, carefully cleaning his hand with the packet of wet wipes he kept in his jacket. He bit his lip; the smells had changed, but not improved inside the building.

          To keep the panic from sinking too deeply in his chest, Adam went back to reciting his speech to himself as he climbed the stairs. He tried not to think about the sticky substances pulling at his feet as he ascended.

          Mr. Dalca had told him fourth floor. Adam tried to keep his mind busy as he trudged.

          “Hello Mr. Belea… HELLO, Mr. Belea…” Adam forced deep breaths in through his mouth. “I am sorry to INFORM you that we have a PROBLEM…I am SORRY to inform YOU…I think this is preferable to JAIL…I THINK this is preferable to jail…”

          The fourth floor was dim, the only light coming from a yellowed window at the end of the hall. Adam wandered down, trying to find apartment B. The door, when Adam found it, was as sticky as the handrail on the stairs. He knocked and quickly attacked his knuckles with another wet wipe, grimacing at the grime. He didn’t look up when the door opened.

          “Hello Mr. Belea, you may not remember me but I am Adam Raki, your husband. I am sorry to inform you that we have a problem with our marriage. We are being investigated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. We have two-”

          “HEY NIGEL!” Adam looked up to see a topless woman with a cigarette lodged into the corner of her mouth. “There’s some sort of Mormon or something?”

          “Well, get fucking rid of ‘em!”

          The woman made a shoo motion with her hands and Adam felt the panic welling in his chest.

          “I-I am not a M-Mormon. I need to speak to Mr. Belea about our marriage.” Adam could feel his cheeks coloring. “Also, your b-breasts are exposed.”

          The woman glanced down, then back up at Adam. She blew a plume of smoke toward his face and smirked when Adam dodged to avoid it. “The Mormon wants to marry you!”

          Adam was starting to feel the air thin. He couldn’t seem to get enough of the foul-smelling stuff into his lungs. His hands beat his customary rhythm onto his thighs, but Adam found no comfort in it.

          The dull thudding sound of a heavy step filled his ears, Adam supposed it was preferable to the faint ringing. Nigel stormed around the corner, cigarette clenched in his teeth and tented boxers low on his hips. “Look, fucker, I was planning on coming in the next fucking century if…Andrew?”

          Cold fingers gripped at Adam’s throat, the panic was making his posture stiffen and his eyes bulge. Still, he fought for control of his mouth.

          “Hello Mr. Belea, you may not remember me but I am Adam Ra-”

          “Fucking Adam! That’s it!” Nigel snapped, taking a drag from the cigarette and smiling. “How have you been, gorgeous?”

          Adam took another breath.

          “Hello Mr. Belea, you may not remember me but I am Adam Raki, your husband.”

          Nigel squinted, leaning against the doorjamb. “Yeah, I got that bit.”

          Adam nodded, pushing through. “I am sorry to inform you that we have a problem with our marriage. We are being investigated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. We have two-”

          “FUCK ME!”

          “You’re fucking married?” The topless woman slapped Nigel’s chest. He snarled at her.

          “What? Did you think I was going to give you a fucking ring?”

          “Fuck you!” She thrust a finger into Adam’s face. He went cross-eyed looking at the pointed acrylic nail. “You married a little fucking whore.”

          She turned and stomped back into the apartment.

          “Hey!” Nigel yelled at her retreating ass. “I’m a big fucking whore!”

          Adam felt his head starting to swim. He really didn’t want to collapse on the sticky floor. He rocked, tugging at his sleeves. Nigel turned and raised an eyebrow at the man in his hallway.

          “Well, you might as well come in.” Nigel stepped aside. Adam couldn’t move. “Adam? Gorgeous, you should probably come inside.”

          Adam had almost gotten his breathing to an acceptable level again. He gave a jerky nod and shuffled inside.

          Nigel’s apartment may have been worse than the hallway. Piles of clothes and junk cluttered every surface. Posters were taped haphazardly to the walls. Adam didn’t know who the men clutching the instruments were, but he did know the posters were not centered or leveled. He itched to straighten them, but he feared touching the stained walls. The coffee table in front of the couch, upon closer inspection, was a refrigerator box, the cardboard water stained and slumping to one side. It was piled high with dirty plates and smudged glasses, water rings of varying age dotting the surface.

          Nigel gestured to the couch, brushing off a pile of clothes onto the floor. Adam picked his way over, looking at the faded beige weave.

          “Are these holes from rodents?” Adam said pointing to a few spots on the cushions where cotton had sprouted.

          “Well I’m not the one fucking chewing on the sofa.” Nigel flopped on the sofa and put his feet on the box, pushing the piles of dishes aside.

          “I think I should stand.” Adam said, easing back to the door. “Your home is filthy and I don’t want to touch anything.”

          Nigel shrugged. “I had to let the maid go.”

          “Oh, you should get another one,” Adam pointed to a dark spot in the corner. “I think that’s mold.”

          Nigel cocked his head, taking in the little man rocking on his heels in the middle of his living room. “Darling, let’s worry about the feds first, then you can tell me about my shit-hole apartment.”

          “O-h. Yes. You’re right,” Adam took a deep breath, then wrinkled his nose at the smell. “Hello Mr. Belea, you may not remember me but I am Adam R-”

          “Raki, my husband. And you’re sorry to inform me that we have a problem with our marriage.” Nigel took another drag on his cigarette and rolled his hand. “Let’s get to the shit where we could go to jail.”

          Adam frowned at the interruption, but bit his lip and mentally scrolled through the speech. Nigel watched, seemingly fascinated.

          Adam opened his mouth but the sound of boots stomping on the floor made him turn. The woman was back, dressed in a shiny dress and with boots that surely served no orthopedic purpose.

          “FUCK YOU BOTH.” She held up her middle finger as she walked by.

          “YOU DIDN’T EVEN FUCK ME!” Nigel yelled, thrusting his middle finger at her. When the door slammed he turned back to Adam. “Sorry, you were telling me about jail?”

          “Yes. Um…We are being investigated by Mr. Price from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. We have an appointment to see him in two months.” Adam felt the panic surging back. He started tapping on his thighs again. Nigel watched him, mirroring the movement on his own thighs. “We have two options. The first is to go to see Mr. Price and explain that you needed a green card and I needed extra money. I’m not a proponent of this option because the penalties for immigration related marriage fraud are fines up to $250,000 and a possible jail sentence of up to 5 years. I don’t want to lose the money you gave me and I don’t think I would thrive in the penal system, though I understand they do have strict schedules and that might be OK.”

          Nigel laughed. Adam winced at how loud it was. “You? Fucking hell, darling, you wouldn’t last an hour inside. Those places are for violent cunts, not sweet faced little things like you.”

          “Oh,” Adam drew his lips into his mouth and gnawed on that knowledge for a moment. “Well, I did say I didn’t want to go to jail.”

          “No, you fucking don’t,” Nigel agreed. He stubbed out his cigarette on the box and Adam frowned, wondering if he’d set the cardboard on fire. “Ok, so what’s the other option, then?”

          “What?”

          “The other fucking option,” Nigel sat up, elbows on his knees. “You said we have two options. So, what’s the one that doesn’t involve cuffs and bars?”

          “Our other option is to attempt to prove that we are a married couple under the eyes of the law.” Adam explained, falling back into the speech he had prepared. “This would mean moving in together and attempting to create a relationship that is cordial and affectionate. Though this is a distasteful option because I don’t like you, I think it is preferable to jail.”

          Nigel snorted. “I’m preferable to shower rape and a prison record, huh?”

          Adam nodded. “Yes.”

          “You’re kind of a weird fucking kid, you know that, Adam?”

          Adam pulled up the speech he and his father had worked out about Asperger’s Syndrome, but stopped himself from delivering it. He didn’t like Nigel and his father had always said Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. Instead, he drew his lips into his mouth again.

          Nigel watched the boy carefully. He was still beating out Adam’s rhythm on his leg. “Fuck it, you’re not my first choice either, darling, but it looks like we’re going to be roommates.”

          Adam glanced around the filth that surrounded him, panic rising.

          “Don’t fret your curls off,” Nigel said, offering a grin. “I fucking promise I’m house trained.”

          “You…” Adam frowned. “You want to come live with me and pretend to be married?”

          “It’ll be a pity to leave all this.” Nigel heaved a dramatic sigh, arm waving about the room. “But I think I can fucking manage so we don’t go to jail.”

          “OK, good.” Adam pulled a piece of notepaper out of his pocket and dropped it on Nigel’s lap. “I’ve written down my address, there. Please don’t bring too many of your things.”

          Nigel cocked a brow at Adam. “I travel light.”

          “Good. I’ll find you a place to sleep.” Adam tugged on his sleeves. “Dinner is at 7, should I make enough for you?”

          “Sure, kid.”

          “Alright, please don’t be late. Goodbye.” Adam fled to the door, but stopped. He plucked a wet wipe from his jacket and used it to open the door. He scurried down the hallway, anxious to leave the smells and sights of Mott Street behind him. He decided that just this once, he could change his schedule and take a shower before dinner. Maybe he would still take one after as well.


 

          Adam worried the edge of his sweater as he waited for Beth to answer the door. He had taken a shower and had 15 minutes to tell Beth that his husband was coming to live with him before he had to start dinner.

          Beth opened the door with a smile. “Hi, Adam! I was just about to call you. I’m meeting a bunch of friends at Beyoglu, want to come?”

          “No.” Adam shook his head. “I don’t like new places or new people. I could perhaps tolerate one, but combining them seems unnecessarily stressful.”

          “OK…” Beth looked at him, head tilted. “So, what are you doing here?”

          “I came to let you know that my husband is moving in with me.” Adam’s voice remained monotone, even as Beth’s eyes grew wide. “I would very much like to continue dating and having sex with you, but I think it’s important that you know we can’t really be seen in public and I can no longer spend the night. Which is OK because that was very stressful. I think leaving after sex would be best anyway.”

          “You’re married?” Beth’s voice sounded high. “You have a husband?”

          “Yes, but don’t worry, we weren’t engaged in infidelity.” Adam smiled. “I married Nigel so he could stay in the country and I could have money for my apartment. But we’re not really married. Actually, that’s the problem, we’re not in love and the government might know so if you could-”

          “Stop!” Beth held up a hand. She frowned for a moment. “You got yourself into a green card marriage?”

          Adam nodded.

          “And now you’re being investigated by the government?”

          “Yes.”

          “I…why would you…JESUS ADAM...” Beth shook her head. “We can’t see each other anymore.”

          “I explained there’s no reason to be mad.”

          “Adam, you’re being investigated. That’s dangerous.” Beth let her hand fall on Adam’s shoulder and frowned when he flinched at the touch. “Look, I’m no...Jesus, what am I? I’m…confused? Shocked. Let’s go with shocked. Um…but you can’t be seen dating me if the feds are investigating you.”

          “So…you don’t want to date me anymore?”

          “Maybe when all this blows over we could get dinner.” Beth smiled. “Somewhere you approved, with no friends.”

          Adam nodded. It wasn’t the result he wanted, but her face had settled into a placid expression that he couldn’t quite read. “Are you mad at me?”

          “Honestly? A little.” Beth shrugged. “But I’ll probably need you to rewire my new TV when it comes. You do that and we’ll call it even?”

          “OK.” Adam looked at his watch. “I have to go make dinner.”

          Beth watched him walk away with a sad smile.


 

          Adam was frowning at his ceiling when he heard the banging. It was 8:45. He had delayed dinner for nearly 30 minutes before nerves had gotten the better of him. He chewed forcefully through mouthfuls of grilled chicken, and for the first time in years the soothing voice of James Lipton and the Actor’s Studio questions did nothing to settle his mind. Mr. Dalca had assured him that Nigel would be there, and hadn’t forgotten. He explained to Adam that Nigel probably got distracted. Adam had frowned and nodded – there was little else he could do.  

          Now, he marched to the door, mouth pulled into a moue and arms crossed protectively over his stomach. When he opened the door, Nigel was leaning against the jamb, an unlit cigarette dangling from his smirk.

          “Honey, I’m home.”

          “You’re late.” Adam turned and walked back into the apartment. Nigel huffed, pushing himself off the door and shouldering a duffle bag and carrying a large rectangular case.

          “Don’t help me with my shit or anything.”

          Adam pointed to a bare spot in the living room by the large windows.

          “I’ve cleared a corner for your things, there are sheets on the sofa, but you can’t sleep on it before 10pm or after 7am.”

          “Sure.” Nigel dropped the bags in the corner. “Any other fucking demands?”

          “I would prefer it if you were no longer late, as it’s inconsiderate and makes me tense.” Adam pointed at the cigarette in Nigel’s mouth. “And you can’t smoke in this apartment, or near the building. I would prefer if you showered after you smoked.”

          Nigel raised an eyebrow. “Anything you say, princess.”

          “I would prefer if you called me Adam.”

          “OK, Adam.” Nigel smiled. “But married couples have little pet names, don’t you want one, gorgeous?”

          Adam sighed. “Gorgeous is acceptable.”

          Nigel moved around the apartment, running his fingers over the spines of books and cocking his head at pictures of nebula and stars. Adam huffed at the hands touching his things, depositing oil and nicotine on them. He began tapping on his thighs, trying to keep himself calm. Nigel glanced at him.

          “I’m just getting to know you better, gorgeous, not casing the place.” The fingers on Nigel’s right hand began drumming Adam’s beat as he walked around the living room. “So…you’re a cosmonaut?”

          “No.”

          “Then what’s with the space shit?” Nigel picked up a model of the Discovery Shuttle making it fly around his head.

          “I like studying astronomy.” Adam stepped forward and snatched the shuttle, carefully wiping it with his sweater before putting it back on the shelf.

          Nigel’s mouth quirked. He pointed to a door behind Adam. “That the bedroom?”

          “Yes.”

          “And that?” Nigel pointed to another door on the opposite side of the room.

          “That’s my father’s room.”

          Nigel blinked. “Well, should I fucking meet him?”

          “No. He’s dead.”

          Nigel frowned. “Then why can’t I take that room?”

          “Because it’s my father’s room.”

          Nigel sighed. “Fucking fine. I’m going to pass out and we can talk about the issue in the morning.”

          Adam nodded. “That’s fine, I’ve laminated a schedule for you for our study sessions. If we follow it we should know enough about each other to pass the government interview.”

          “Can’t fucking wait.” Nigel rubbed his hand over his face before pulling his shirt over his head. Adam’s frown deepened as Nigel’s hands moved to his pants.

          “What are you doing?”

          “Look, darling, I sleep fucking naked, so you should decide now – do you want my balls on your couch or on your spare bed?”

          Adam bit his lip, the tapping increasing in rhythm. Nigel mirrored the pacing increase. Finally, Adam moved to the pile of sheets on the arm of the sofa. He carefully shook one out and tucked it around the cushions.

          “Please try to keep your genitals on the sheet.”

          “I’ll do my best not to drag my balls on the coffee table.”

          “Thank you. Good night.” Adam vanished into his bedroom.

          Nigel slipped out of his pants and shoes, leaving them in a heap at the foot of the couch. He looked at a book on the shelf again, carefully picking it up and bringing it to his makeshift bed. Thumbing through the pages, occasionally tracing the large photos of galaxies, Nigel hummed quietly to himself, his hand beating out Adam’s peculiar rhythm on his thigh.

Chapter Text

          Adam could hear the noise the moment the elevator doors opened, some sort of frenetic keyboard music that had his heartrate elevating. He frowned when the racket got louder as he approached the door.

          An annoyed huff escaped his lips when he found the door unlocked. Adam had expressly told Nigel to keep the door locked – it was clearly outlined in paragraph 43 of the handbook he’d spent 5 hours writing, right under the section about proper stacking protocols for the dishes in the cabinets. He had explained everything so clearly.

          Adam could feel frustration building in his chest. Tapping on his thigh, he tried to get his ramping anxiety under control. He’d already been stopped three times while retrieving his mail from the box. Mrs. O’Leary, Mr. Vasquez, and Mrs. Mulgrew had all met Nigel.

          Apparently, Nigel locked himself out of the apartment when he was smoking on the stoop. Shirtless and shoeless, Nigel had bumped into the trio while banging on Mr. Dalca’s office door and cursing. Once Nigel had identified himself as Adam’s new husband, the group had decided to forgo their morning walk and have coffee with the building’s newest resident. They sat on the stoop, with paper coffee cups and chatted until Mr. Dalca came back to his office and let Nigel back into the apartment.

          Mr. Vasquez told Adam that Nigel was a hell of a guy, and asked Adam to remind his husband about the football match they were going to watch Saturday. Mrs. Mulgrew had complimented Adam on choosing such a charming man. Mrs. O’Leary had simply told Adam that she didn’t think he had it in him. Adam didn’t understand why she winked, but it made Mr. Vasquez and Mrs. Mulgrew laugh.

          The whole incident had been upsetting. None of them had ever talked to him, except when his father died. He hadn’t wanted their hugs and pats then, but now it bothered him that Nigel had so easily ingratiated himself to them. Adam was neat. Adam helpfully informed them when they forgot to separate their recycling and he had even printed up a list of noise violations when Mrs. Mulgrew had too many holiday parties. They all sneered at him, but for some reason loud, shirtless Nigel had become their friend.

          Adam pushed the door open and tried to settle himself. His father had told him to take three deep breaths when his chest felt tight. On the first inhale, Adam chocked on the thick smell of grease. He stepped from the foyer to find his living room a disaster.

          A container of wonton soup had slopped onto the coffee table. Adam was certain he’d outlined proper coaster usage in his apartment guide, and he knew for a fact he had stated clearly that food should remain in the kitchen. There was some type of black foul smelling sauce that stood next to an open take out box, both of which were no doubt sweating onto the grain of the coffee table. In the corner, Nigel sat at his massive Yamaha keyboard, the one Adam specifically requested be stored after 6pm so he wouldn’t have to look at the beat-up thing. He was plucking on the keys with his right hand, tapping out a funny arrhythmic tune. With his left hand, Nigel was shoveling noodles into his mouth, not noticing when the grease dripped on his jeans or the floor.

          Adam made a distressed noise, tugging at his sleeves. He wanted to scream. He wanted to smack Nigel’s stupid grin when he finally spotted Adam and waved with the fork, sending more grease droplets into the air. He wanted to douse the whole apartment in bleach and forget that the faint smell of cigarettes was seeping into every porous surface in the place.

          Mostly, he wanted Nigel gone. But that wasn’t possible, not without a large fine and possible jail time, so instead he shouted, “DINNER ISN’T UNTIL 7!”

          “Looks like dinner came early tonight, gorgeous.” Nigel laughed. He pointed his fork at the half open boxes on the coffee table. “Don’t worry, I got enough for you.” 

          “NO.” Adam tried to breathe, but he could feel the grease coating down his throat. “This…I DON’T WANT THIS!”

          "Fine." Nigel frowned. “Don’t fucking eat it.”

          Adam began tapping, making a frustrated noise when Nigel went back to playing his keyboard. “You aren’t supposed to eat in here. I don’t want food in here. It’s in the handbook!”

          Nigel turned, eyebrows up. “You were fucking serious with that thing? It’s like forty fucking pages!”

          Adam drew his lips into his mouth biting on them to keep himself from wailing. After a moment, he started to feel the tension easing. “I’m going to make dinner at 7. I want to eat alone. Please stop playing that keyboard, it’s stressful and the sound is annoying.”

          Adam marched into his bedroom and shut the door. He dug an air purifier out of his closet and plugged it in. He sat by the whirring machine and took deep breaths of clean air.


 

          “So, you were born in Bucharest? In…it starts with an L,” Adam frowned; he hated when he couldn’t recall information. It was probably because Nigel was humming again.

          “Livezilor,” Nigel offered. He was fiddling with the coffeepot. Adam didn’t like it on the counter, but Nigel had insisted they needed one if he was going to live there. He returned to the table with a mug, Adam was horrified to note he was getting used to the foul smell. He was also getting used to seeing Nigel without a shirt. “Just say some shithole in Bucharest, gorgeous, same thing.”

          “Livezilor. Livezilor.” Adam moved his mouth around the strange syllables, doing his best to mimic Nigel’s pronunciation. “OK, I think I have it. What’s next in your history?”

          “My mama taught me how to play piano when I was little, and after she died, I used to sneak down to Parohia Bumbacari and play the organ between masses. The priest used to chase me out with a broom,” Nigel laughed, his hand running through his hair. Adam liked the way he looked when he laughed. “But I was a stubborn little shit, I convinced the altar boys to sneak me in when he wasn’t around.”

          “Why wouldn’t he let you play?”

          “Probably because Led Zeppelin was the devil’s music.”

          “Who is Led Zeppelin? Is he a Romanian singer?”

          Nigel snorted into his coffee. Adam braced himself; when people did that, they usually made fun of him for something he said.

          “It’s a band, Adam. A great fucking rock band.” Nigel licked the coffee off his upper lip, Adam followed the trail of his tongue. “I could play you some of their stuff?”

          Adam shook his head. “I don’t enjoy rock and roll. The noise levels are too high and the unsteady rhythms are stress inducing. I’m very particular about music.”

          Nigel grinned, leaning back in his chair. “Just your luck to marry a composer, huh darling?”

          Adam thought about admonishing Nigel for leaning back on the chair; it was against the house rules, but he found he couldn’t bring himself to look away from the long line of Nigel’s torso as it arched in the chair. “I…I thought you were a drug dealer?”

          The chair landed back on the floor with a thud. “Jesus! Don’t fucking tell the feds I’m a drug dealer!”

          “Well, aren’t you?”

          “Only because I haven’t sold any music yet.” Nigel drained the rest of his coffee with a sigh. “I deal drugs because I need money to live. I write music because it’s in my head and I need to get it out.”

          “Is that why you’re always humming?”

          “Yeah, gorgeous, it is,” Nigel said with a grin.

          “Oh,” Adam nodded. “It’s an annoying habit. You’re very loud.”

          Nigel raised an eyebrow, but made no further comment.

          “OK - you’re a composer from Livezilor who likes to hum and curses too much. Your mother taught you how to play the piano and you were chased out of churches for playing Led Zeppelin on their organs – I think I’ve got that down. I’ll review during lunch.” Adam stood, carefully washing his bowl and glass before stacking them in the dish rack. “While I’m at work, you should study the biography I printed for you. I’ll quiz you at dinner!”

          “Will there be an essay?”

          Adam turned, confused. “No, I meant I would test your knowledge through conversation.”

          Nigel rolled his eyes. Adam frowned, and left the kitchen. He had a schedule to keep.


 

          “Please stop humming,” Adam rubbed at his temples, cringing when he felt soapy water drip down his face. He dabbed at it before going back to washing the dishes. “You need to focus.”

          “It helps me fucking think,” Nigel grumbled, thumbing through Adam’s autobiography.

          “Not that well, you’ve only gotten 17 answers right!” Adam had hoped for at least a 90 percentage from his impromptu quiz, Nigel was hovering in the low 70s. He’d given the man nearly a week to memorize the 20-page summary, it was more than enough time.

          “Jesus fuck, I didn’t know I’d need to have this fucking thing memorized!” Nigel tossed the autobiography on the table with a huff. After a moment, he looked up. “Look, I don’t have your memory, kid. It’s going to take me some time. How about we do something else? I can learn about you and you won’t have to interrogate me like you’re the goddamn Securității.”

          “What do you want to do?” Adam dried the last dish from dinner and stacked it neatly in the drainer.

          Nigel tilted his head. “Tell me more about the stars.”


 

          The walk to the park was quicker than usual, with Nigel toting Adam’s telescope over his shoulder. They moved to Adam’s favorite spot, a small clearing that was far enough off the path to discourage random interlopers. Adam spread the blanket he carried and took the telescope case from Nigel. As he worked to arrange things, Adam heard the click of a lighter.

          “Please don’t smoke near me,” Adam said over his shoulder as he set up the telescope on the blanket.

          “I’m not, I’m smoking near the fucking tree,” Nigel said. Adam turned and saw that Nigel was leaning on a tree about 10 feet away. The older man smirked. “Trust me, gorgeous, the tree will get cancer long before you do.”

          Adam frowned, but decided to keep his mouth shut. Technically, with the wind blowing, Nigel was right. “OK, the telescope is angled properly. If you extinguish the cigarette you can come look through it.”

          Nigel raised an eyebrow, but stubbed out the cigarette on the sole of his boot before jogging to the nearest trashcan to flick the butt in. When he returned, Adam frowned at the smell, but moved over to allow Nigel to look through the telescope.

          “Fuck me, it’s pretty up there,” Nigel murmured as he squinted into the eyepiece. “So, what am I – FUCK! Adam, look! A shooting fucking star!”

          Nigel shifted back pointing excitedly toward the sky. Adam shook his head, but leaned into the telescope, adjusting the angle to enhance the frame. “That’s a meteor, one of the Draconids. Those are meteors near the constellation Draco. Draco used to be one of the most important constellations in the sky, it’s star Thuban-”

          “Used to be the north star.” Adam looked up in shock. Nigel smiled. “The Egyptians built the pyramids so that Thuban was visible from the entrances.”

          Adam sat up, studying Nigel’s face. “You know about stars?”

          “No, but I can read,” Nigel smirked. “In two fucking languages.”

          Adam frowned.

          “Your book, gorgeous, the one you keep bitching I leave on the coffee table?”

          Adam’s mouth formed a perfect O. “You’re reading 300 Astronomical Objects: A Visual Reference to the Universe?”

          “What the fuck did you think I was doing with it?”

          “I thought you were using it as a coaster.”

          Nigel laughed, Adam watched the way his eyes crinkled and felt himself smiling. “Honestly? I thought about it.”

          Adam surprised himself by laughing. He caught Nigel’s eye as he did and felt something strange and tight form in his chest. It didn’t feel like anxiety, but it was an odd sensation. Nigel shook his head, dipping back down to look at the stars.

          “Tell me more about the fucking meteors, Adam.”

          “Really?” No one but his father had ever asked Adam for more information on the stars. It felt like a trick.

          Nigel glanced up from the telescope; Adam liked the way his eyes glittered in the dark. “What’s the matter? Don’t you know any more?”

          Adam smiled, his mouth stretching wide as he took a deep breath. “I do! The constellation Draco gets its origin from the Greek myth of Athena killing a great dragon and tossing its defeated body into the sky to celebrate. Though Thuban is the most famous star in Draco, there are also two other magnitude three stars in the constellation…”

          Nigel kept his eyes on the cascading lights as Adam told him the history of Draco. Occasionally, he’d look up and watch Adam excitedly ramble off a whole encyclopedia worth of information. When the Romanian started to hum, Adam didn’t say anything. Maybe the tune wasn’t so bad.  


 

          The tension that had been plaguing Adam since his meeting with his boss was slowly beginning to leach out of his body. As the elevator brought him closer to his apartment, Adam felt his breathing even and his tapping on his thigh abate. He knew he was behind on the project, but he had explained why the mechanism was giving him such trouble. His father had always told him anything worth doing was worth doing well. Programming was no different – what good was a voice response system for a doll if it didn’t respond realistically?

          Adam needed a quiet night. Maybe after dinner he and Nigel could go to the park, Uranus would be at opposition soon. Nigel liked hearing about the planets, and he asked good questions that Adam enjoyed answering. It seemed odd to think he’d begun looking forward to spending time with Nigel, but it was nice to have someone to share the stars with.

          When the elevator doors opened, Adam heard the blasting music. It sounded like screaming. The tension was back in his chest, clawing at his lungs and keeping him from taking full breaths. He rushed toward the apartment, frowning as the noise got louder.

          As the door opened, Adam was bathed in a cloud of nicotine. The smell had gotten more familiar in the past few weeks, but he gagged at the strength of the stench now. Anger twined in his head, pushing at the anxiety and making his whole body throb. He tried tapping, but his fingers faltered when he found an open pizza box on the coffee table, a large grease stain on the sofa cushion beside it.

          He called for Nigel, but the music was too loud, blaring from somewhere in the kitchen. Adam followed the din, hands clamping over his ears as he got closer to the source.

          In the kitchen, Adam found Nigel, shirtless and thrashing around to the music. Adam noticed the cigarette in his mouth, but chose to focus on the portable speakers that were blaring the ungodly music. When he slapped it off, Nigel kept dancing.

          “I come from the land of the ice and sn- Gorgeous! You’re fucking home!” Nigel smiled yanking Adam into a hug. Adam shoved at him, backing up to the doorway when he was released. “Come on, Adam! We have to celebrate! I sold a fucking song! I’d not much money, but that-”

          “STOP!” Adam’s hands were tearing at his hair. It was too much. It was all too much and he couldn’t breathe. His lungs were filling with smoke. “STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT!”

          “What the fuck is wrong with you?” Nigel tried to put his hand on Adam, only to be slapped away. He looked around as Adam rocked. “Is this about the fucking cigarette? JESUS! It’s out!”

          “You’re r-ruining everything! You a-always mess up my schedule! There’s grease on the sofa! Your music is too loud! I-I asked you! I gave you the h-handbook!” Adam smacked into the coffee table as he retreated, sending the pizza to the floor. He wailed again, smashing his hand into the wall.

          “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?” Nigel tried to catch Adam, ducking when the smaller man thrashed out of his reach. “ADAM!”

          Adam flinched from the yelling; he couldn’t breathe. Everything was choking him. Nigel was choking him.

          “Nothing’s wrong with me! YOU’RE WRONG!” Adam slapped at his head.

          “You’re being fucking crazy! St-”

          “Crazy Adam! Stupid retard Adam! Stupid stupid STUPID!” Adam grabbed the model of the Discovery and threw it at Nigel. It smashed into the wall by Nigel’s head, falling into five pieces on the floor.

          “YOU FUCKING THROW ONE MORE THING AND I’LL-”

          “GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT!” Adam was on his knees rocking, his hands bashing at his head and the floor.

          “Fuck this shit.” Nigel muttered. “You want me out. I’M FUCKING OUT!”

          Adam fell to his side when the door slammed, still trying to fill his lungs properly.


 

          “You fucking married me to a goddamn psycho!” Nigel paced the length of Darko’s office in four long strides. He wanted to hit something. He wanted to tear something to pieces until it was unrecognizable.

          He wanted to go back upstairs and check on Adam.

          “What the fuck did you do?” Darko was rubbing his temples. Nigel had caught him just as he was leaving for the night. Now, they were both in his office drinking stale coffee and trying to figure out exactly what had happened.

          “Fuck you, you fuck. What did I do? What the fuck did he do?” Nigel shoved his hands through his hair, nervous energy thrumming through his veins. “He threw a goddamn space shuttle at my head!”

          Darko raised his eyebrow.

          “He fucking did - The Discovery! It was a model, but fucking FUCK! It was like Gabi all fucking over again!”

          “Uh huh,” Darko said calmly. “And when Gabi threw shit at you it was because you fucking did something stupid.”

          “I just wanted to fucking celebrate!” Nigel flopped into one of the chairs in the small office. Darko winced as it squeaked across the linoleum. “I finally sold that stupid fucking tune!”

          Darko grinned, “The fucking jingle for the chicken place?”

          Nigel flicked his middle finger up. “Fuck you, it’s fucking something!”

          Darko laughed, holding his hands up. “If it gets you cash and doesn’t involve a cop chasing you through a nursing home-”

          “One time. ONE FUCKING TIME that happens and you can’t let it go,” Nigel let his head fall back. He wondered if Adam was calm now, if maybe Darko should go and check, since Adam didn’t want to see him.

          “OK, fucker, let’s get back to the reason I’m still at my office at fucking 8 on a Wednesday.” Darko leaned forward. “What the fuck did you do to Adam?”

          “Nothing!” Nigel frowned looking at his feet. “I just wanted to celebrate. I ordered us a pizza, I was playing my tunes. Fuck, I’d even gotten him a fucking star chart I thought he’d like. It was a whole fucking thing about Uranus’ path in the fucking orbit or…fuck, whatever, Adam explains it better.”

          Nigel made a frustrated swipe with his hand. Darko tilted his head, studying his friend.

          “You bought your fake husband a present?”

          “Who fucking cares? He went nuts! Fucking clean freak. I have one fucking cigarette in the house and suddenly I’m getting space shuttles launched at my fucking skull! Who cares if dinner’s fucking early, or not goddamn cheesy noodles for once? I’ve never met anyone so goddamn fussy about-”

          “You fucked his schedule up!” Darko smacked his hand on the table. “What the fuck is wrong with you? You can’t do that!”

          “What the fuck is wrong with you? Schedules fucking change! Who fucking cares?”

          Darko blinked, then leaned forward. “He didn’t tell you?”

          “Oh, he fucking told me,” Nigel rested his head in his hands. “Gave me a fucking handbook for the house! Who fucking does that?”

          “Did he tell you why?”

          “Cause he’s a fucking prissy little bastard that wears grandpa sweaters and eats bran!” Nigel’s head hurt. He kept seeing Adam’s red, gasping face whenever he closed his eyes.

          “Did he tell you about the Asperger’s, nenorocitule?”

          “The what?” Nigel squinted at Darko between his fingers.

          “He’s got a thing with his brain, it’s fucked up.”

          Nigel let out a short laugh, “Fucker, there is nothing wrong with that kid’s brain. He’s the smartest person I’ve ever met.”

          “He’s not slow like you, dumb fuck,” Darko flicked a pen at Nigel. “But his brain doesn’t work the same…How the fuck did his father explain it…It’s like Adam’s brain doesn’t know what information is important to focus on, so he focuses on any information around him. He can get overwhelmed if there’s too much stuff happening, it’s why he-”

          “It’s why he needs the routines.” Nigel looked up. “Fuck. Is that why he drums on his leg like John Bonham?”

          “That’s called stimulation or some shit?” Darko scratched the back of his head. “I can’t remember what his father said, but it’s some sort of thing he does to prevent those panic fits.”

          “Shit.”

          “Yeah.” Darko stood, stretching. “You fucking ready to go apologize?”

          “Why didn’t he tell me?”

          Darko shrugged. “Would you tell you?”

          Nigel sighed, running his hands through his hair and yanking at the ends. “You mind if I stay here for a bit? I’ll lock up.”

          “Don’t fucking steal anything.” Nigel flipped him off and Darko smiled. He let his hand land on Nigel’s shoulder, squeezing briefly before he lifted it and smacked Nigel in the back of the head. “Night, fucker.”

          “Fuck you.” Nigel mumbled.

          After Darko left, Nigel took out his phone. He typed Asperger’s into Google and bent over the screen, tapping the first link.


 

          Adam opened his eyes before the alarm. He refused to get up early and snuggled lower under his weighted blanket. His whole day had been ruined yesterday when he fought with Nigel. When he had finally gathered his breath, Nigel was gone and Adam didn’t know why that made him feel uneasy. He had made dinner and milled by the door, listening for the heavy tromp of Nigel’s boots.

          After an hour, Adam felt his anxiety ramp up. He hadn’t touched his chicken and it was getting late. Throwing the perfectly good dinner into a Tupperware container, Adam washed his dishes and went to bed. His father always told him a good night’s sleep was what he needed after he panicked. Adam had a fitful night – his blanket was too heavy, the sheets too warm, his mattress uncomfortable. He knew he had slept, but it wasn’t restful.

          Adam sighed and forced himself up when the alarm rang. He would start today on schedule.

          The water in the shower was hotter than Adam usually preferred it, but it helped Adam focus his mind sometimes. He thought about Nigel as he washed his hair. Maybe he should tell him about the Asperger’s. He should probably apologize for throwing something, too. Adam began to work on the wording of the apology, using the formula Harlan had given him.

          “Nigel, I’m sorry I threw something at you, even though you provoked me by-” Adam stopped himself. Harlan said that it wasn’t a real apology if you tried to justify your poor behavior. “Nigel, I’m sorry I threw my space shuttle at you.”

          Adam nodded to himself, that would do. If Nigel forgave him, maybe they could have breakfast together. Then maybe Adam could explain his brain to Nigel, over foul-smelling coffee and the familiar taste of bran. He decided to skip masturbating in the shower, turning off the water and drying his hair. He didn’t feel in the mood for sexual stimulation, and he could use the extra minutes he’d saved to clean up the mess he and Nigel had made last night.

          Fidgeting with his sleeve, Adam finally opened the bedroom door, ready to face Nigel and the day. He found a spotless apartment and no half-naked Romanians. The floor shined; it had been swept and mopped. The grease spots had been carefully removed from the sofa, the cushions fluffed and arranged exactly as Adam had diagrammed in the handbook. The air smelled like chemical flowers instead of cigarettes.

          Walking over to the shelf in the far corner, Adam found the Discovery Shuttle, glued back together. Adam traced the fracture lines in the shuttle, his nail catching on a raw patch where the paint had chipped away, revealing the solid mahogany beneath. Adam’s belly did a funny little swoop as he studied the shuttle, he could feel himself smiling as he pictured Nigel cursing as he glued the bits back together.

          Adam’s smile faltered when he realized where he was standing. Nigel’s keyboard should have been where his feet were. He whirled, looking for piles of dirty clothes or crumpled pieces of sheet music. The only trace of Nigel’s presence was the stack of sheets, neatly folded on the corner of the coffee table. Adam took a shaking breath, little pricks of anxiety beginning to claw at his chest.

          “N-Nigel?” Adam bit his lip and hurried toward the kitchen. He couldn’t smell coffee, and the absence of the smell made his gut twist.

          On the kitchen table, Adam found a note, scrawled on a piece of sheet music. Underneath the note was a star chart, one that showed Uranus’ progression through the night sky. Adam took a moment to follow the planet’s orbit with his eyes before picking up the note.

I’m sorry I fucked up your sofa and your living room. The stains came out and I sprayed some air freshener to get rid of the cigarette smell. I’ll smoke outside from now on. Darko told me about the Asperger’s. I wish you had. I know it’s not my business, but if I had known you weren’t trying to fuck with me I wouldn’t have been such a fucking ass. I’m sorry I freaked you out and I promise I read the whole fucking handbook – even the appendix on fucking sponge cleaning. If you want me to come home, ring me. If not, I get it. I truly am fucking sorry, gorgeous.

          There was a phone number scrawled at the base of the note in lieu of a signature. Adam ran his fingers over the note. He read over it again, then one more time. Each time his eyes passed over the words he felt his anxiety ease a little and his smile curl.

          Nigel was sorry.

          Nigel wanted to respect his routines.

          Nigel didn’t blame him.

          Nigel understood.

          Adam retrieved his phone from the charger, dialing in the numbers after a few minutes of trying to decide whether Nigel had written a four or a seven. The phone rang a few times before going to voicemail.

          “If you’re fucking calling me, there had better be a good fucking reason.” Adam furrowed his brow at the message. It wasn't professional, even for a drug dealer.

          “Hello, Nigel. This is your husband, Adam. Please come home. Goodbye.” Adam ended the call with a smile on his face. He put the star chart next to his telescope. He could use it in the park tonight, when he and Nigel tracked Uranus to its opposition.

          He left for work with an easy gait, the anxiety of the morning almost forgotten. He would come home tonight and find Nigel’s keyboard in the corner and Nigel in the kitchen drinking one of his beers. Everything would be where it should be.

          Adam didn’t realize he was humming until his boss tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to stop.

Chapter Text

          “I see one fucking mushroom in those steamed vegetables, I’m going to fucking come down there and cram it down your fucking throat.”

          Adam came into the apartment and smiled at Nigel, who winked as he threatened the person taking his order. One of the concessions Adam made as Nigel moved his things back into the apartment was Nigel Fridays. Nigel could order carryout from one of the places he liked and Adam had to pick something on the menu and at least try it. Adam agreed Friday was a good choice for this day, since he didn’t have to go to work the next day if he felt gastrointestinal distress. Their first week, Nigel had ordered from a fancy burger place a few blocks over and Adam had eaten most of his grilled cheese and fries. This week, Nigel said it was time for adventure and had chosen a Thai place. Adam had selected Kai yat sai muu and steamed vegetables – without mushrooms.

          It was all part of the new routine that he and Nigel had worked out over two weeks. First, Adam held a comprehensive cleaning workshop, showing Nigel how to prevent messes and clean the ones that couldn’t be avoided. Nigel huffed and complained through the lesson, but diligently followed Adam’s guidelines. In return, Adam had relaxed his no food in the living room policy, allowing chips, popcorn, and pretzels.

          Nigel had asked Adam to try changing his routine once a week. The idea made Adam nervous, but Nigel had helped him choose a time period that wouldn’t be too disrupting to his schedule. On Saturdays, from 1pm to 4pm, Adam and Nigel were spontaneous. Last week, Nigel had taken Adam to the park to sit and read in the sunshine. It was a good day until Nigel had run into an ex and started shouting.

          Adam had bought noise cancelling headphones that plugged into the keyboard, so Nigel could work on his music whenever he wanted. Adam liked to watch Nigel work, the older man’s lip curled as he tapped the keyboard in different ways until he found something that made him smile. When he smiled, it meant there was something to write down and Nigel would scribble a few notes onto his sheet music. He had gotten another jingle commission, Adam knew, but most nights he worked on his song. It was an odd lilting melody with an erratic rhythm. Adam had listened to it several times; there was something so familiar about the tune.

          “What are you doing in here?” Adam turned to find Nigel leaning against the kitchen doorjamb.

          “I’m making some macaroni and cheese in case I don’t like your Thai food.”

          Nigel rolled his eyes.

          “Ye of little fucking faith.” Nigel flopped in a chair and watched as Adam moved around the kitchen. “So…how was your day, dear?”

          “Frustrating,” Adam tossed the frozen mac n cheese into the microwave and tapped the buttons. “I still can’t get the perfect response function I was hoping for.”

          “You try that defrag thing you were talking about?”

          “Yes, I defragmented the hard drive, but it didn’t offer any more clarity.” Adam sat next to Nigel, his fingers began to drum on the table. “I might have to settle for 80% response accuracy.”

          Nigel laid his hand on Adam’s shoulder, gripping gently before letting his fingers trail down Adam’s spine. Adam didn’t flinch at the touch, instead letting out a deep breath and slowing the tapping of his fingers. “You’ll fucking figure it out; you were only at 65% last time.”

          Adam frowned when he felt Nigel’s hand leave him. “How was your day? Did you sell many drugs?”

          Nigel smirked, the expression drawing a little mirroring smile from Adam. “Yeah, I did. Went to resupply my guys at NYU. They’re pretentious little fucks, but they make a mint selling weed and Adderall to those little art school shits.”

          “I’m glad you had a productive day,” Adam rose to retrieve his alternate dinner and sit it on the counter to cool.

          “I try,” Nigel said. “Hey, we going to the park tonight?”

          Adam shook his head. “Too much cloud coverage. We could watch a documentary? Maybe study some more for the interview?”

          “Sure,” Adam turned, Nigel’s tone sounded off, his voice tight and higher than normal. The older man was rubbing the back of his neck and looked flushed. “I’ll be right back.”

          Nigel sprung from his seat and ran for the living room. Adam could hear muffled cursing and shuffling as he dug through a bag. When he returned, Nigel held out a large box. “Here.”

          Adam took the box, peering at the large picture of the Discovery on the front. “You bought me a new model.”

          “Now you can get rid of that fucked one in the living room.”

          Adam carefully opened the box, it was the same exact model. Nigel must have written down the model number to make sure of it. He smiled, gently extracting the shuttle from the Styrofoam pads. He flew the shuttle between him and Nigel, his heart skipping when the older man laughed. “I’ll keep both. Thank you very much for the present.”

          Adam walked into the living room, placing the display stand next to the other Discovery model. He fussed with their placement for a few moments, moving a few other knickknacks until everything was centered. Adam felt warmth up his back and knew Nigel was standing behind him.

          “Why do you want to keep this thing?” Nigel tapped at the large paint chip and crack in the older model. “It’s fucking broken.”

          “It makes me think of the night I threw it.” Adam said as he studied the spider web of cracks that radiated from the central fracture point.

          “Why the fuck do you want to remember that night?” Adam could feel Nigel’s breath on his ear and neck. He was getting used to the scent of nicotine and coffee.

          “When I saw that you fixed it, I knew you did it to make me feel better.” Adam turned; Nigel was only a few inches away. He glanced at Nigel’s lips, but reminded himself that just because he felt an impulse didn’t mean Nigel felt it. “It makes me happy to think about that.”

          Nigel’s face contorted, his lips curling and pursing as his eyes shifted over Adam’s face. Adam didn’t know what the expression meant. A loud knock on the door distracted him from asking Nigel, who ran to pay for their food.

          After dinner, Nigel hummed absently as Adam scrubbed the dishes. Adam found himself scrubbing in time to the melody.


 

          “OK,” Nigel said, flopping onto the couch next to Adam. He opened his beer, taking a long pull before carefully sitting it on a coaster. “What’s next on the Newlywed Game?”

          “What?” Adam adjusted the coaster, just to watch Nigel roll his eyes and adjust it back.

          “The fucking questions, Adam,” Nigel leaned back on the cushions. “What’s next?”

          “We should probably discuss physical characteristics.” Adam said tilting his head thoughtfully. “It would seem odd if we didn’t know each other’s bodies.”

          Nigel leaned forward, eyebrow raised. “What did you have in mind?”

          “Well,” Adam’s mouth formed a little moue. “Let’s start with scars.”

          “Scars?” Nigel frowned.  

          “You have a big scar on your side and one on your nose.” Adam tugged at his sleeve. “Do you have any more?”

          “Those are the big ones,” Nigel said, pausing to swallow more beer. “One’s from a little shit with a knife, the other’s from my bitch ex-wife.”

          “Gabriella?”

          “Gabi, yeah,” Nigel ran his hand over his head, ruffling his hair. Adam smiled. He smiled a lot when he talked to Nigel. “Fucking crazy bitch cold cocked me and fucked up my nose.”

          Adam reached out, touching the little trench of skin that stretched over the bridge of Nigel’s nose. Nigel went cross-eyed following the movement. “Why?”

          “What do you mean, why?”

          Adam tapped his finger on the scar. “She must have had a reason.”

          “She was a cheating bitch.” Nigel snarled, snapping his teeth at Adam’s hand. The younger man huffed out a laugh, dropping his finger.

          “Are you sure that was the reason?”

          Nigel’s mouth curled into a smirk. “I might have innocently had my hand down the pants of another woman.”

          “So, you’re both cheaters.”

          “It was dark,” Nigel tilted his head and lifted his chin. Adam wondered if Nigel knew he did that when he lied. “I... thought it was Gabi.”

          “You should only make sexual advances in well-lit areas with informed consent.” Adam paused, then raised his eyes to Nigel’s. “And you shouldn’t lie to your spouse.”

          “Good to fucking know.” Nigel leaned forward cocking his head. “Would you break my nose if I cheated?”

          “You already have.” Adam said matter-of-factly. “We’ve both engaged in sexual intercourse with other partners while married, so technically we’ve both been unfaithful.”

          “Really?” Nigel smiled. “Who’d you fuck?”

          “Beth.”

          “OH SHIT!” Nigel sat up with wide eyes. He poked at Adam’s middle, smiling when the younger man didn’t flinch. “Beth from the building, Beth? What was she like?”

          “You’ve met her.” Adam furrowed his brow. He could see Nigel was excited, but why was still a mystery. Beth had stopped by to ask Adam to fix her entertainment system and Nigel had answered the door naked and told her to fuck off and come back after nine in the morning if she wanted any favors. “You know what she’s like.”

          “In bed, Adam!” Nigel rolled his eyes. After a beat, Nigel’s toothy crooked smile emerged, the one Adam associated with teasing. Adam liked that smile best. “I bet she’s uptight. Probably not into any of the fun stuff.”

          “It was a perfectly serviceable evening. We both had orgasms.”

          “But was it fun?”

          “Having an orgasm is fun, Nigel.” Adam rolled his eyes.

          “Having a dirty one is better, gorgeous.” Nigel waggled his brows. Adam shook his head, mouth twisted into a little smile. Nigel leaned forward, his hand near Adam’s cheek. He rerouted it suddenly and grabbed his beer off the coaster, taking another long pull. “OK, fuck Beth, and fuck Gabi, back to our questions. Any scars on that creamy skin of yours?”

          “Three.” Adam pulled up his shirt and twisted so Nigel could see his back. “That was from Billy Angelo. He pushed me down the stairs and called me retard.”

          “Fucking bastard,” Nigel grumbled.

          Adam released his shirt and pointed to the hairline scar running through his left eyebrow. “This, I did to myself the first time I smashed a mirror when I got upset.”

          Nigel touched Adam’s brow, his fingers cold from the beer. Nigel’s eyes looked soft, but Adam didn’t understand what that meant. He didn’t feel the need to pull away, though. When their eyes met, Nigel dropped his hand, shaking his head a little.

          “And the last one?”

          Adam shrugged. “I have scar tissue on my penis from my circumcision. Though that’s fairly common, I think.”

          Nigel smiled, eyes sharpening. “Shouldn’t you show me that one too?”

          Adam frowned for a moment, then laughed. “You’re teasing me.”

          “Not as much as you’d think.” Nigel settled back on the sofa and took a long pull from his beer. He was careful to set the drink back on the coaster.

          “I’m uncut by the way…” Nige smirked and raised an eyebrow. “And big.”

          “Yes, I know,” Adam nodded, face impassive. “I’ve seen you naked.”

          Nigel’s mouth opened, then he snapped it closed. After a moment, he rubbed his hand over his eyes. “Fuck me. OK, so any other physical things?”

          “Tattoos, piercings, body modifications.”

          “No piercings, though I did have a nipple ring for a couple years in my 20s.” Nigel scratched absently at his chest. Adam felt warm, watching Nigel’s fingers intently. “Tattoos. Hmmm, I have-”

          “Four.” Adam offered. “A girl on your neck, a tiger with Romanian words on your bicep, a phrase on your left index finger, and Gabi’s name on your hip.”

          Nigel cocked his head. “Taking notes, were you?”

          “You’re naked every morning when I make breakfast.” Adam said. His fingers tapped on his thighs. “You have a nice penis and an attractive shape.”

          “Thanks, darling.” Nigel winked. He brought his beer to his lips and paused. “What about you, gorgeous? Any ink?”

          “Yes,” Adam said, his eyes flicking up. “I have a tattoo of the eagle nebula on the left buttocks cheek.”

          Nigel choked on his beer. As he sputtered, trying to keep the mess from the sofa, he caught the smile curling Adam’s mouth. “Is that a fucking joke?”

          Adam grinned.

          “Well,” Nigel drawled, sitting his beer on the coaster. “Now you have to drop trou so I can fucking check.”

          “What?” Adam looked up with wide eyes. “No!”

          “I have to know these things, for the interview!” Nigel laughed, wiggling his fingers as he slowly reached for Adam’s belt. Adam huffed, grabbing a pillow and hitting Nigel in the head.

          “Oh, is that how it’s going to be?” Nigel laughed, fending off the pillow.

          “Yes.” Adam found himself laughing back, swatting at Nigel before launching himself off the sofa. He took off, hoping Nigel would follow him, not quite ready for the game to end.

          Nigel was on his heels in a heartbeat, laughing wildly as he chased Adam around the apartment.


 

          Adam fumbled with the box and his keys, wondering how he had ruined his whole life.

          Fired.

          It had taken him so long to find a job and he had tried so hard, but in the end, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that his motherboard and programming was better than his coworkers. It didn’t matter that his standards were higher. It didn’t even matter that he needed the job. His boss had told him productivity was better than perfection and kept touching him, each press of his clammy hand like a slap.

          Adam had felt the anxiety in his chest. The hissing voice in his head telling him nothing would be OK. He had pushed at the cold claws in his chest, trying to keep his panic down and in control as he methodically packed his things. He didn’t remember the trip home, just that the noises and smells of the city made his head ache and his breathing shallow. He had stumbled through the lobby, feeling the iron grip on his throat, making his breathing thread. He tried tapping on the box, but the noise and the rhythm felt wrong.

          When he finally got into his apartment, he thought the feelings of safety would come, but the air was still too thin and his temples throbbed. Adam wanted Nigel, but he also dreaded telling him about this failure. He thought of Nigel working on his music and drew his first full breath. He let the box slip from his fingers, not turning when there was a shattering noise from its depths. He walked in stilted steps to his mirror and let himself calm down as he studied his reflection.

          Adam looked at the man staring at him. He looked so ordinary. Just like everyone else. But he wasn’t. He was awkward and people didn’t like him and he never understood why. He was stupid. Stupid Adam. Stupid Adam with the poorly wired brain.

          The mirror cracked when Adam slammed his head into it, making his reflection fracture and distort. The tightness returned to his chest. Adam couldn’t seem to draw enough air. He sank to the floor, gasping sightlessly as he felt blood trickle down his brow.

          “ADAM!” Nigel was on top of him, his big hands cupping Adam’s face and running down his chest.

          Nigel would know. Nigel would know and Nigel would hate him.

          Adam flailed, trying to get Nigel away. It felt like Nigel was crushing him. It felt like the air was crushing him. He needed to breathe.

          Nigel moved, dodging Adam’s hands and turning him until Adam’s back was pressed firmly to his chest.

          “Come on, darling, deep breaths. Deep fucking breaths with me now,” Nigel cooed, breath tickling Adam’s ear.

          “I-I-I-” The words were lodged somewhere in Adam’s throat. His tongue felt thick and heavy in his mouth. He was drowning on air.

          “Later, Adam. You can tell me later, right now we fucking breathe.” Nigel began to hum, Adam recognized the melody. Air started to trickle down his throat, little puffs at first and then lungfuls. When his shaking had lessened to tremors and his stiff limbs had fallen limp in Nigel’s arms, Adam felt himself being lifted.

          Still humming, Nigel carried Adam down the hall and to his bedroom. Adam had thought about this scenario a few times in the shower, but he would have to explain to Nigel that he couldn’t get an erection when he was still in the tail end of a panic attack. He opened his mouth to do so, but snapped it closed when Nigel gently placed him on the floor instead of on the bed.

          “N-Nigel?”

          Nigel smiled at Adam and went to his closet, retrieving the small projector Adam had shown him last week. He carefully aligned the mark on the projector with the mark on Adam’s ceiling and flipped it on. Adam was bathed in the universe, and took his first steady breath. He watched Nigel walk toward the bathroom to pick up some damp tissues, then back to him, covered in stars and grinning.

          “I can’t do your star speech the way you would, but you probably don’t need me to, huh, gorgeous?” Nigel settled back down behind Adam, drawing the younger man to his chest and humming again.

          Adam watched the expansion and felt calm as Nigel dabbed the tissues at the smear of blood on his head. “I was fired today.”

          Nigel stopped humming. “Good. Those fuckers didn’t deserve you anyway. We’ll have to find you a better job.”

          “I’m not easy to employ. I’m terrible at interviews. I can panic. Environmental problems in a potential employer’s office can set me off. People find me odd. And I-”

          “Adam?”

          “Yes?”

          “Watch the fucking stars.”

          “O-OK.” Adam leaned his head against Nigel’s shoulder. The last thing he heard before sleep took him was Nigel’s humming.


 

          Adam woke up and frowned at the clock. It was nearly seven; he should be having dinner. He didn’t remember climbing in bed, so Nigel must have laid him on the mattress and covered him up.

          He rubbed at his eyes, listening for Nigel. He heard paper shifting and the odd clack of keyboard keys. It made him smile.

          Shuffling into the room, he watched Nigel working on his music. Eyes closed and noise cancelling headphones secured on his ears, the older man danced his hands over the keys, snarling at a sound. His fingers made a small adjustment, then Nigel smiled. Grabbing his sheet music, Nigel scribbled something, humming the whole time.

          When Adam was close enough he looped his finger around the headphone chord, pulling it free from its dock. He flinched when the notes from the keyboard rang loud in the room. Nigel’s eyes popped open. He smiled at Adam, knocking the headphones off his ears and around his neck.

          “I fucking knew you’d wake up for dinner! Mac n cheese or chicken, gorgeous?”

          Adam sat on the floor next to the keyboard. “Mac n cheese, but I want to hear what you’re working on, first.”

          “Jingles or the song?”

          “The jingles are nonsensical,” Adam dismissed. He heard Nigel huff in amusement. “I want to hear the song.”

          Nigel played. Adam watched him with a small smile. The girl on Nigel’s neck seemed to dance to the music. Adam focused on the music. It always sounded so familiar; there was something about the progression from arrhythmic tapping to bold sweeping melodies that made him feel warm. Changing chords and rapid notes typically made him nervous, but he found comfort in the music Nigel played.

          When Nigel finished, he nudged Adam with his foot. “Well?”

          “You added more chords.”

          “I did. What do you think?”

          “I like it and the rhythm changes, it’s interesting.”

          Nigel smiled down at Adam, offering him a hand. “Come on, gorgeous, off the floor. You’re 15 fucking minutes late for dinner, I don’t know how you’ve survived.”

          “I can be a few minutes late,” Adam said, letting Nigel pull him up.

          Nigel raised an eyebrow, smirking when Adam laughed.


 

          “You were born in ’77 right?” Nigel asked as he looked up from where he pecked out letters on his laptop.

          “No! Nigel I was born in-” Adam leaned over him to look at the screen, only to find a 1975 written in the application. “You’re teasing me!”

          “Someone has to,” Nigel said with a wink. Adam huffed but sat down next to Nigel, opening his laptop. “Come on, Adam, I’m not going to fuck up your application to fancy fucking science company.”

          “It’s called Virgin Gallactic.”

          Nigel snorted. “Sounds like a porn.”

          “Not one I’d like,” Adam said as he opened up the SpaceX application he had been working on and resumed typing. He could feel Nigel’s eyes on him.

          “I’m going to need more on that fascinating fucking tidbit.”

          “I don’t like pornography that features virgins; it’s always clearly a lie. I don’t like lying,” Adam said as he typed. “Also, pornography set in space has a shocking number of factual errors.”

          Nigel cocked his head, eyes smiling. “You’re the weirdest person I’ve ever married.”

          “You’re the weirdest person I’ve ever married as well.”

          Nigel’s mouth curled into a grin. “Still, this is better than it was with Gabi.”

          “Well, she was a cheating bitch,” Adam looked up just in time to watch Nigel’s mouth fall open. He laughed when Nigel started to hoot, loud wheezing noises that sent tears streaming down his sharp cheeks as he slapped his knee. Adam loved getting that sound from Nigel.

          “You, Adam fucking Raki, are a goddamn menace.” Nigel wiped his eyes and started typing again, squinting at the screen. “You want to go over our marriage again?”

          “We met when I was walking home from work,” Adam’s voice hitched just a little as he mentioned his former job, Nigel offered him a nudge with his foot and a small smile. “I-in the spring. You called me gorgeous and asked me out. I couldn’t resist you-”

          “No one can.”

          “And I don’t mind your ego or your annoying humming or your smoking.”

          “You’re a goddamn saint.” Nigel snorted. “Ok, genius, what’s my story?”

          “You were born in 1965 in the Livezilor section of Bucharest. Your mother taught you how to play the piano, but died of a drug overdose in 1977. You were remanded to an orphanage where you met Mr. Dalca, who you call Darko. You two sold…newspapers.”

          Nigel laughed. “People loved snorting our newspapers.”

          Adam frowned. “We need to come up with a better business for you both. Maybe you were stock boys?”

          “Sure, gorgeous.” Nigel handed Adam his laptop. “Think I’m done filling out that form. Check it for me and I’ll start working on Interorbital Systems.”

          “OK, then maybe we can go to lunch?”

          “Sure, Tony’s?”

          “Yes. I like Tony’s.” Adam scanned the page. “You’re very good at filling out forms, Nigel.”

          Nigel shrugged. “I know the subject.”


 

          Adam washed his hair in nervous movements. He had heard back from four companies. Four interviews. Four. He could feel his chest tightening as he thought about being examined by four strangers. Four strangers who would find him odd, off-putting. Four strangers who would ask him questions and who wouldn’t care if their sniffling or the scent of their cologne made him uncomfortable.

          He took a shuddering breath when the bathroom door banged open, making him gasp.

          “Hey gorgeous, you want me to-”

          “Nigel!” Adam yelled at the vague shape in his shower curtain. “I’m naked.”

          Adam could see Nigel’s shoulders shake and knew he was laughing. It made him smile. He liked making Nigel laugh. “I fucking hope so, Adam. If you’re wearing your clothes you’ll fucking ruin those ugly sweaters you like so much.”

          Adam huffed. “I meant that it was inappropriate for-”

          “A husband to see his better half naked?”

          Adam frowned, worrying his lip for a moment. It was true, he and Nigel were married. And he had certainly seen Nigel naked enough. “I suppose it’s alright. What were you going to ask?”

          “Should I start dinner?” They had gotten back from the Hayden Planetarium late, but Adam had wanted a shower after a sticky child had mistakenly grabbed his hand. He had been worried about the schedule, but Nigel assured him a quick shower wouldn’t hurt things.

          “Yes, please.” Adam leaned into the spray of the shower, washing the suds from his hair. His breathing was deep and easy, until he felt cold air on his backside. He turned to find Nigel, poking his head in the shower. He looked at Adam with a broad grin.

          “Just checking for that nebula tattoo.” His smile grew crooked. “I’m a little disappointed it’s not there, if I’m honest.”

          Nigel winked, laughing when Adam flicked shampoo suds in his face.


 

          “Yes, hello Mr. Raki, have a seat and we’ll start the interview.” Nigel gestured to the sofa before sitting back at his keyboard, which had been relocated to the center of the living room to serve as a desk.

          “This is silly,” Adam huffed before squinting at Nigel. “And where did you get those glasses?”

          “They’re Darko’s,” Nigel said, pushing them up his nose. “And they’re giving me a fucking headache, so sit down and let’s practice for this fucking interview, shall we?”

          “We should be practicing for our interview with Mr. Price.” Adam tugged at the end of his sleeve.

          “We’ve got time for that,” Nigel said, stepping around the keyboard and gently pushing Adam onto the sofa. “Your job interviews are first, gorgeous. And you’re going to be fucking prepared.”

          “Alright,” Adam said with a small frown. “But then we have to go over my teen years again, you’re still shaky on my first sexual encounters and when I first learned about atomic theory.”

          Nigel smiled. “Fine, but for now I’m Mr. fucking Belea and you’re going to be a good little candidate and sell your best qualities.”

          “O-ok Mr. Belea.” Adam straightened up in his seat, practicing the chest out, head up position that Nigel had told him looked confident. It made his back hurt.

          Nigel sat down behind his keyboard. He pushed the glasses up again and shuffled sheet papers in his hands. “Now, Mr. Raki, what makes you a good fit for this company?”


 

          Darko cracked open a beer and sat it on the table. He raised an eyebrow when Nigel immediately picked it up, running his hand over the droplets of moisture that had formed and placing a coaster underneath.

          “What?” Nigel glared at his best friend.

          “Not a fucking thing, Martha Stewart,” Darko said with a smirk. “Should I have left my shoes by the door?”

          “No. Adam doesn’t like the idea of-” Nigel snapped his mouth shut and punched Darko in the shoulder. “FUCK YOU.”

          “I don’t think I’m who you want to fuck,” Darko grinned when Nigel flipped him off and sank into the sofa with a grunt. “Christ, man, is this a real fucking marriage now?”

          Nigel looked up and for a moment, Darko’s smile faltered. “Fuck, Nigel.”

          “It’s fucking fine.” Nigel took a long pull of his beer, keeping his eyes down. He reached into the pocket of his hoodie. “Here are your fucking glasses, thanks.”

           “Sure, fucker.” Darko kicked Nigel’s shin softly. “You sure it’s fine?”

          Nigel rubbed a hand over his face. “I’m fucking doing laundry and I know the proper way to vacuum an area rug.”

          Darko nodded sympathetically. “Bev taught me how to properly invest for retirement and has me buying organic.”

          Nigel hmm-ed. “Adam wanted me to invite you for dinner. If that goes well, he’d like to invite you and Bev. It’s better if we do new people one at a time, he’s more comfortable.”

          Darko laughed, propping his feet up. “Aren’t we getting fucking domestic?”

          “Get your fucking feet off my coffee table, nenorocitule.”


 

          “And Nigel said that I shouldn’t correct an interviewer, even if he was wrong. I told him that’s what you told me to. He said you were a smart guy. So then Nigel asked me if we should have dinner with you. I told him I thought that would be a good idea. But we’re already having dinner with Darko this week so you’ll have to wait until next-”

          “Adam?”

          “Yes?”

          “This thing with Nigel? It’s…uh…still fake, right?”

          “He’s a real person, Harlan. I married him.”

          “The marriage, son. You’re still planning on divorcing him in a few years?”

          “If he wants to get a divorce, we can. Maybe we could still be roommates.” Adam frowned, studying his sandwich. “I’m going to tell him he can have Dad’s room. It’s not being used and I think I’d like him to stay. His things wouldn’t be in the way, then. Except for his keyboard. I think his keyboard should stay in the living room, so I can watch him compose sometimes.”

          Harlan hesitated, then patted Adam’s shoulder, drawing the younger man’s eyes. “Are you in love with this man?”

          “I-I like him very much. He’s my friend. He helps me and he understands when I get upset.” Adam looked up. “I think I’d like to have sex with him, but I know that just because I feel something doesn’t mean someone else does.”

          “Adam, I think you should talk to him.”

          “I talk to him all the time.”

          “About your feelings.”

          “Do you think he’ll stay if I tell him about my sexual desires?” Adam started tapping on his thigh.

          “I think you deserve to find out.”

          Adam nodded, his eyes on the pavement and fingers still tapping. After a few minutes of silence, Harlan snorted.

          “What?”

          “You’re humming,” Harlan said with a scrunched brow. “You hate humming.”

          “No, I don’t.” Adam said with a small frown. He took a bite of his sandwich. “It’s soothing.”

          Harlan nodded, and went back to watching over Adam in silence.

Chapter Text

          Adam was heating broccoli when he heard Nigel stumble in. Wednesdays were always his late night, because the NYU kids were good fucking sellers but always fucked up the money. Adam had offered to go with Nigel on his collection run, since he had always been good with numbers, but Nigel had refused. The last thing I need is for those little Park Avenue shits to see you – they’ll fall in love and then I’ll never get my money, Nigel had told him.

          As a compromise, Adam had altered their schedule. Adam made dinner late on Wednesdays, moving up his tidying routine by an hour so they could dine at 8. On clear nights, Adam would make sandwiches and pack water so they could go stargazing. Tonight, Adam had frowned at the clouds and started preparing mac n cheese. He was trying to select an episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio for dinner when he heard Nigel stomp in.

          “Fucking kids! Sorry I’m late, gorgeous, goddamn Teagan had a movement class. Had to wait forty fucking minutes for her. Now I smell like cloves and…Adam? Adam, where’s my shit?”

          Nigel appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, frowning.

          “You do smell. Please shower.”

          “Adam, where’s my bag?”

          Adam bit his lip, he felt his cheeks heating up. “I put it in my dad’s room.”

          “Was it in your way today?”

          “N-no, I…” Little claws of anxiety dug into his chest. “I thought you should have dad’s room.”

          Nigel’s face hardened. “I’m bothering you? You don’t want me in the living room?”

          “No!” Adam stepped forward, his fingers tapping on his thighs. “It’s not nice to make you sleep on the couch. It makes you stiff in the morning and you’re too old to have your spine misaligned.”

          Something flickered across Nigel’s face. Adam tried to study the expression, but Nigel ducked his head. “You don’t have to-”

          “I want to.” Adam smiled. “I want you to like staying here.”

          “Adam, I fucking love it here.” Nigel’s voice was soft. “But that was your dad’s room.”

          “He’s dead. It’s OK.” Adam paused. “But you have to dust it and make the bed every morning.”

          “Can I still come to breakfast naked?”

          “I don’t mind seeing you naked.”

          “Good to know, kid.” Nigel snorted. “Alright, I’ll move my keyboard into the other room and shower, then.”

          “No! You-I- Leave your keyboard.”

          “You hate my keyboard, it’s fucking loud.”

          “Not if you wear your headphones.” Adam licked his lips. “I like watching you work. And I like hearing your song, sometimes. Not all the time, though. Please use the headphones unless I request you don’t.”

          Nigel grinned, Adam smiled back, feeling an odd thrill when he held the older man’s eyes.

          Nigel was the first to move. “Right, well, I’m going to shower, then go fuck up my new room.”

          “I know you’re teasing!” Adam shouted after Nigel’s retreating form. He smiled and went back to fixing dinner.


 

          “What kind of pictures?” Adam asked around a mouthful of macaroni and cheese.

          “Couple shit! Selfies together on our phones, maybe an album with a few snaps at Halloween or from our honeymoon.”

          “We didn’t have a honeymoon, Nigel.”

          Nigel sighed. “I know that, Adam, but do you want Mr. Price to fucking know that?”

          Adam pursed his lips. “So, we’ll just spend Saturday taking pictures to look good for the interview?”

          “Yeah! Exactly! I want to give those fuckers an album of our life together, maybe hold up my phone and prove my gorgeous husband sends me selfies because he loves me that much.” Nigel raised an eyebrow. “Maybe a few nudes.”

          Adam rolled his eyes. “You’re teasing.”

          “You always think I’m teasing,” groused Nigel. “Send me a dick pic and see if I laugh.”

          “Does it have to be my penis?” Adam grinned as he forked another noodle.

          “You’re a little fucking shit and I liked you better when you had no sense of humor.” Nigel tossed his napkin at Adam’s face, laughing with the younger man easily batted it away.


 

          “Well, isn’t this fancy?” Nigel raised an eyebrow at the hand-painted blue wrought iron chairs and the Italian menu that was hand-drawn on a chalkboard.

          “I prefer gelato to ice cream,” Adam sniffed primly, walking into Grom and getting in line behind an older woman. “The texture is better and a higher ratio of cream is more pleasing to the palate than a higher ratio of ice.”

          Nigel snorted. “They better have fucking chocolate. I see any pumpkin apple field bullshit I’m taking us to Baskin Robins.”

          Adam walked up to the counter, ordering a Fiordilatte and Cioccolato cone. Nigel swatted the younger man’s hand away from his wallet, paying for the cones and handing one to Adam. “I knew you’d get vanilla.”

          “It’s not vanilla,” Adam protested with a frown. “It’s Fiordilatte!”

          Nigel glared at the cone.

          “It’s fucking vanilla, Adam. I know what vanilla looks like.” Nigel found himself smiling down at his husband, nudging him with his hip so Adam would recognize the statement as teasing. Adam rewarded the gesture with a slight twist of the lip. He had never cared for teasing before, but Nigel’s crooked smiles and soft nudges left him feeling flushed and happy.  

          “It’s not as overpowering as vanilla.” They settled on two wrought iron chairs outside the shop and watched New York walk by them. Adam lofted the cone to Nigel’s mouth. “Try it.”

          “Not as overpowering? Only you would find a way to make vanilla more boring.” Nigel bent forward taking a long lick of Adam’s cone.

          Adam watched closely as Nigel’s tongue burned a winding path through the frozen treat before flicking delicately over the top. It was a silly way to consume gelato, but Adam found he couldn’t comment, only let his mouth hang open as he watched the muscles in Nigel’s throat flex. Adam huffed out a little breath, annoyed that he could feel arousal pooling in his stomach. He reminded himself that just because he felt an impulse didn’t mean Nigel did.

          “W-well?” Adam had dropped his eyes, studying the groove Nigel’s tongue had left in the cone while his flush grew.

          “You know, gorgeous. I spent so many years looking for new flavors, I never took the time to appreciate the classics. Vanilla might be the perfect flavor after all.” Adam lifted his chin as a grin curled at the corner of his cheek, preening at Nigel’s praise. Nigel, reached out, grabbing the metal edge of Adam’s chair and pulling the younger man closer. He smiled at Adam’s little yelp, holding up his cell phone. “Now smile pretty, Adam. We need a good shot.”

          The picture on Nigel’s cell was of Adam grinning aggressively, too many teeth and lips too wide, a smear of Fiordilatte on his cupid’s bow. Nigel sat to the side of the frame, laughing at Adam’s expression, his Cioccolato cone resting on his lips.


 

          Greenacre Park was a little inlet in the middle of Manhattan that featured a few seats, a coffee stand, and a 25-foot waterfall. It had been Adam’s secret spot for years, where the people-watching was good and the noises of the city were lost to the sounds of crashing water.

          His heart began beating erratically as he led Nigel across the flagstone, trellises of greenery and trees blotting out the skyscrapers.

          Adam smiled when Nigel heard the water. The older man squinted across the stone park before smiling. “Is that a waterfall?”

          Adam nodded. “My father used to take me here when I got stressed after a day in the city. The sounds of the water drown out a lot of extraneous ambient noise. I find it relaxing to sit nearby.”

          “I never knew this was here.”

          “Find a seat, no closer than ten feet to the waterfall, please, as it can splash. I will buy us drinks. Do you want a cocoa? They use real cream here to make it.”

          Nigel watched him for a moment, Adam didn’t know what the facial expression meant, but he liked it when Nigel’s eyes grew soft and crinkled at the edges.

          “Cocoa sounds great, Adam.”

          When Adam found Nigel, he noted that his husband had carefully moved two chairs out of splash range of the falls, selecting a spot near a tall potted shrub and some flower beds. Adam handed Nigel his drink before grabbing his chair and moving it closer Nigel’s. When he sat, his side brushed up against Nigel, and Adam felt that familiar warm sensation in his chest.

          “Y-you want to take the selfie now?”

          Nigel smiled, setting his cocoa untouched by his feet and standing with a hand extend. “Waterfall should be in the background, right?”

          “O-oh, yes!” Adam stood by Nigel, leaning back when a strong arm came over his shoulder to wrap around his chest. Nigel held up his phone with his free hand, and Adam tried his frozen smile again.

          This time, just before the shutter snapped, Adam felt a warm press on the knob of his jaw. Nigel was kissing him for the picture. Adam let his eyes slip closed as he tilted his jaw toward Nigel’s lips. After a few snaps, Nigel pulled back. Adam leaned into the heat of Nigel’s chest, unwilling to be released just yet.

          “I, uh, probably should have asked.” Nigel stepped back, his face looked a little red from the fall air. “Sorry.”

          “I-it was for the picture, right? T-to show Mr. Price that we’re married?”

          A muscle twitched in Nigel’s jaw. “Yeah, of course. Gotta make it look real.”

          Adam frowned at the answer. Lying was becoming confusing. It didn’t feel like lying anymore.

          Nigel stalked back to the chairs, taking a moment to move his a few inches away before he sat down. He retrieved his cocoa and chugged at it, his brow set in a furrowed line.


 

          “That shirt doesn’t make any sense.” Adam frowned at the green fabric clutched in Nigel’s hand. He had refused to let Nigel take a selfie in the Hayden Planetarium, as there was a sign clearly warning against flash photography. Nigel had insisted if they didn’t get a selfie, they at least needed some cool fucking shirts from the American Museum of Natural History for their next photos.

          “Look, I buy you a shirt, you buy me a shirt – that was the deal.”

          “But we’re in a learning institution; if you’d like a dinosaur shirt, what about the button down there with the fossil pattern?”

          “I want this shirt.”

          “It’s ridiculous.”

          “I’m ridiculous.”

          “You’re annoying.” Adam felt his chest tighten. People were looking at them. He brought his hand down to tap at his thigh only to have it caught by Nigel, who gave it a small squeeze.

          “Look, gorgeous, it makes me smile.” He held up the shirt, featuring a roaring T-Rex and the word Hangry. “Come on, doesn’t that look like me?”

          “You are not a thunder lizard.” Adam squeezed Nigel’s fingers, making no move to free himself from the older man’s grip. “But you do get very fussy when you’re hungry.”

          Nigel grinned. “See? You buy me my shirt, and I buy you this rocket shirt that you can immediately hide under one of your grandpa sweaters.”

          “I don’t wear grandpa sweaters.”

          “You do,” Nigel brought their joined hands to his lips, ghosting a kiss over Adam’s knuckles. “You’re the only person on earth that makes grandpa sweaters sexy.”

          Adam froze, his eyes flitting back and forth, looking everywhere but Nigel. He couldn’t figure out if his husband was flirting or this was part of their lie. He knew he should ask; Harlan had told him to, but the chance that Nigel didn’t want to have sex loomed large in his mind. He hated lying. He hated that this whole wonderful day had been for nothing but a lie – a lie that could put them both in jail if they didn’t maintain it.

          “I’m going to wait outside.” Adam said, turning to flee the gift shop as Nigel frowned after him.


 

          Nigel blew his hair out of his face as he held the green backdrop up. He’d been holding the top of the screen aloft for about five minutes, patiently waiting for Adam to find a good height.

          “A little higher, I think,” Adam said.

          “Make a fucking decision, Adam, or I’m dropping this thing.”

          “That’s fine.” Adam ducked down and twisted the stand until it held the screen’s weight. “Now we can take more pictures.”

          “Why did we need this thing?”

          “It’ll be easier to photoshop with a solid color background.” Adam explained. “Now, please, get dressed for our Halloween photo.”


 

          Nigel had emerged from his room with a black t-shirt that he had painstakingly marked with whiteout, only to stop dead in his tracks when he saw Adam.

          “Holy shit.”

          Adam looked at Nigel’s face and felt panic flutter in his chest. It was a mistake to wear the suit. Nigel would laugh at it, just like everyone else did. “I-It’s a r-replica. I-I-”

          “It’s amazing.” Nigel moved forward reaching out to gently brush his fingers over the suit. “Gorgeous, this is the coolest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. You just had this in your closet?”

          “Yes.”

          “I’d wear this every day.” Nigel tilted his head, inspecting the detail work on Adam’s chest. Adam, felt the urge to brush the hair from Nigel’s face, maybe run a finger along his upper lip. Instead, he clenched his fist, releasing his fingers to tap on his thigh. Nigel glanced down, frowning slightly at the fingers before taking a step back.

          “Didn’t mean to crowd you,” He murmured.

          “N-no. I- I wasn’t feeling crowded. I was feeling excited.”

          “Me too, gorgeous.” Nigel’s mouth quirked. He dropped his eyes, picking at a speck of whiteout on his shirt.

          “Don’t do that!” Adam grabbed his hands. “You’ll damage Thuban!”

          Nigel laughed, pulling at the ends of the shirt to display the white out markings. “You got the shirt, huh?”

          “Yes. You’re Draco.” Adam smiled. “The proportions on the stars are wrong, but I think the meaning is clear.”

          Nigel rolled his eyes, but grinned. “Look Copernicus, just take the goddamn picture.”


 

          The Halloween picture turned out well. It wasn’t difficult to insert them into a picture from Harlan’s Halloween party. Adam hadn’t dressed up that year, and had only stayed a few minutes before the noises and the sticky makeup people kept rubbing on their hands after they touched their faces drove him away. He had gone home and watched two episodes of Cosmos coiled under his weighted blanket.

          Now, Adam and Nigel were in the middle of the action, hugging each other and laughing. Adam had even added another photo of Nigel photoshopped over Harlan’s army buddy Stan; the two looking like they were laughing at some unheard joke. Adam liked the way the picture looked. It reminded him of all the times Harlan and his father had chatted together in the park. Nigel looked like part of the family. Adam right-clicked on the image and saved it to his personal drive, where all the photos of his dad were stored.

          “That looks fucking great!” Nigel settled next to Adam on the couch. He had meticulously packed away the screen and the lighting equipment while Adam worked, making sure the floor was unscuffed and all the furniture returned to its proper place. “How did you do that so fast?”

          Adam smiled. “It’s photoshop. It’s easy.”

          Nigel sat beside him, leaning over Adam’s shoulder. Adam could feel Nigel’s breath ghosting along his chin. “Show me.”

          “OK.” Adam pulled up another picture. Adam was laughing in a blue shirt while Nigel beamed at him in a tuxedo t-shirt. They were both meant to be smiling, but Nigel had made a joke about being better dressed than their wedding and done a little impression of his drunken fumbling. The picture was a little fuzzy, but Adam liked it. He liked how relaxed and happy he looked with his arm looped around Nigel’s waist and his head thrown back. He liked Nigel’s crooked teeth and the crinkles around his eyes. “What should this picture be for?”

          “Valentine’s Day.” Nigel’s voice was low in Adam’s ear. “I made you laugh when I showed up in my fancy fucking shirt. Then we ate mac n cheese on the roof and made love under the stars.”

          “The roof is locked.” Adam felt a flush of heat in his cheeks.

          “I know the super,” Nigel winked. “I can get the keys to the roof.”

          “Oh, yes, Darko helped you.” Adam nodded. “So, we want the skyline. Here are some images I took of sunset from our roof last year, which do you think?”

          They spent the next two hours carefully arranging their life together: Dinners on the town, cuddling in a cabin upstate, stargazing in the park, smiling at a dinner party in Harlan’s apartment. It was a good life. Adam realized he wanted that life and wondered if he could have it.

          “Hey! We need to go to bed.” Nigel pushed the laptop from Adam’s lap.

          “OK.” Adam’s heart rabbited in his chest.

          “Sorry, gorgeous, I lost track of time. It’s midnight, you’re way off schedule.”

          Adam blinked. It was midnight. He hadn’t looked at the clock once, he’d been so focused on patching together photos and the feel on Nigel leaning against him. “Oh.”

          “Come on, I don’t need you glaring at me over your goddamn bran tomorrow. You’ve got that fucking interview in the Monday anyway.” Adam cocked his head. He hadn’t thought about the interview all day. Usually he spent the days before interviews stressing and practicing speeches. But Nigel had told him Friday that he was ready and Adam had believed him. Now, he felt a little flutter of anxiety in his stomach. Nigel rose and stretched, Adam’s eyes fixed on the sliver of skin revealed when his shirt rode up. He glanced down at Adam and made a shooing motion. “To bed with you.”

          “What about you?”

          “Not tired. Think I’ll play around on the keyboard for a bit.” Nigel smiled, holding up a preemptive hand. “I’ll put the headphones on, don’t worry.”

          Adam nodded; he was tired. He let Nigel push him toward his bedroom. He wondered faintly if he should ask Nigel about taking a picture in bed together, but decided against it.

          He would ask Nigel to have sex after the interview. That would be better, when there was nothing forcing them to be together.

          “Goodnight, Nigel,” Adam said closing the door.

          “Night, gorgeous.”


 

          Nigel waited 15 minutes until he was sure Adam was in bed. Once he heard the mattress settle, he creeped to the corner, where Adam’s spacesuit lay. He smiled, picking it up.

          Fuck, he hoped he remembered enough of that damn photo program.


 

          Adam started humming in the elevator, his hands tugging at his tie. Nigel had offered to go with him, but Adam knew he needed to supervise a resupply in Brooklyn. He tried not to listen to the throbbing of his pulse. He told himself his lungs were drawing air, even if it didn’t feel like it. Instead of trying to control his body, he tried focusing on something external.

          He hummed a little louder, keeping his eyes down so he wouldn’t see the woman next to him stare. Nigel’s tune gave him something to think about. He could see Nigel playing it, eyes closed, weaving slightly as his fingers danced over the keys.

          In the waiting room, he stopped humming, afraid it would make a bad impression. As he sat in the uncomfortable chair, he found his fingers tapping on his leg. The familiar beat that he’d used since childhood.

          Adam paused, mid tap.

          The beat.

          He hummed again, starting Nigel’s song from the beginning and tapping his fingers. The beat matched. Nigel had used his rhythm for his song. Adam smiled, thinking about Nigel mirroring him, learning his rhythm and making it beautiful. He liked the idea of inspiring Nigel. He hoped that meant Nigel liked him too.

          “Mr. Raki?” A tall brunette woman approached him. She smiled when Adam stood and adjusted his tie. “Hello, I’m Dr. Susan Voss, head of the engineering team. Please, follow me.”

          Adam felt his throat dry; he tried to swallow. The air seemed thinner as he followed Dr. Voss into her office. He looked around the room, filled with small space shuttle models and pictures of star systems. His stomach rolled. He wanted this job. He should work in a place like this. Adam tapped at his thighs, trying to reign in his anxiety. He needed to focus.

          Voss leaned against her desk, waving Adam to a leather seat. “Would you like anything before we start? Coffee? Tea? Water?”

          Adam shook his head. His chest tightened. Should he have asked for water? Was it rude to refuse a beverage? Did the other candidates ask for something? She probably thought he was weird already.

          “Alright,” she smiled at him. He felt light headed. “I believe you had a microchip blueprint and a proposal to show me?”

          Adam nodded, reaching with fumbling fingers to retrieve the folder from his bag. When he opened the folder, a photo fell out.

          Dr. Voss leaned over, grabbing the photo first. She raised her eyebrows and let our a surprised laugh, handing it back to Adam. He blinked at the picture, his heart fluttering in his chest.

          The image was of Nigel, clad in Adam’s spacesuit. He’d been poorly photoshopped into a picture of the eagle nebula, posed like he was soaring through space. The edges around Nigel’s image were clearly visible, and the blend of the two images wasn’t very good, but Adam smiled anyway.

          “Who’s that?” Dr. Voss was still smiling.

          “O-oh, that’s my husband, Nigel.” Adam kept his eyes on the picture, he laughed softly. “He wanted to make me laugh because I get nervous in interviews and don’t do well.”

          “He sounds like a keeper.”

          “Y-yes. I want to keep him.”

          Dr. Voss nodded, taking the proposal from Adam’s hands. “I don’t need you to do well in interviews, Mr. Raki, I just need you to design a better navigation system.”

          She scanned Adam’s proposal. Adam felt air returning to his lungs as his fingers carefully traced over Nigel’s picture.


 

          Adam sat on the blanket, adjusting the telescope. “We should go in early, review one more time for the interview.”

          Nigel stretched out under the stars, his head next to Adam’s thigh. His breath curled toward Adam in white puffs. “What was the first song I learned how to play on the piano?”

          “Nocturnes by Chopin,” Adam let his hand rest on his thigh, his fingers brushing the edges of Nigel’s hair. “You heard Gabi playing it when you were sick; you thought it was a sign.”

          “A fucking warning sign,” Nigel snorted. “What’s my ideal threesome?”

          Adam rolled his eyes; he pretended to take a puff on a cigarette. “Any threesome is an ideal threesome, gorgeous.”

          Nigel laughed, a loud, barking sound that arched his back. Adam wanted to trace the girl tattooed on his neck, follow the lines of the muscles there. Instead, he started tapping.  

          “Who’s the greatest drummer of all time?”

          “John Bonham.”

          “Wrong!” Adam looked down in shock as Nigel smiled. “It’s Adam fucking Raki.”

          Nigel reached up and tapped on Adam’s thigh, mirroring his beat. Adam smiled, his blush concealed by the darkness.

          “We’re ready for this fucking interview, gorgeous.”

          Nigel’s hand stopped tapping, but the fingers stayed on Adam’s thigh. Adam didn’t want them to move. “I know you, but what about me?”

          “Try me.”

          “What is my favorite food?”

          Nigel rolled his eyes. “Fuck you. Challenge me.”

          Adam laughed. “What is my favorite star?”

          “Tabby's Star in Cygnus,” Nigel said, squeezing Adam’s thigh. “It doesn’t act like the other stars we know about. It fluctuates in brightness, and no one can explain why. Your father told you about it when you were little. That even though it didn’t act like the other stars, it was still a star – and just as beautiful.”

          Adam stretched out his fingers, touching Nigel’s hand. “What’s the best way to store dishes in the cabinet?”

          Nigel grinned, squeezing Adam’s thigh before sitting up. He adopted a tight, higher voice and pretended to adjust his sweater. “Well, there are two schools of thought on this subject. One maximizes storage space, the other maximizes convenience for dishes that are in daily use. I prefer the first method, as New York kitchens are small. First, one must take the measurements of the shelf in question….would you like me to draw a basic diagram?”

          Adam grinned in the dark. He felt warm in spite of the December air. He rested his hand on Nigel’s chest, shoving him back to the blanket.

          “I suppose we’re ready.”

          He went back to adjusting the telescope, Nigel sprawled beside him.


 

          Adam tugged at his sleeves as he eyed the man sitting at the desk. He hadn’t wanted to do separate interviews, but Mr. Price had insisted. Nigel had squeezed his hand, whispered you’ll knock ‘em dead, gorgeous, and left before Adam could panic too much. Adam looked at his hand; he could still feel Nigel’s warmth if he concentrated.

          “Mr. Raki?”

          Adam looked up. The man tapped a pen on a pad, carefully studying Adam.

          “Tell me about your husband. I believe Mr. Belea is a song writer?”

          “Composer,” Adam corrected. “He writes jingles right now. They’re silly and I don’t like them, but he needs to start somewhere. He’s working on a song. It’s beautiful. He’s very talented and we’ll both be happier when he’s not writing ridiculous songs about fried chicken and only writing serious music.”

          “How did you meet?”

          Adam felt a little pang of anxiety, but tapped his fingers until it quelled. He knew this answer. He had reviewed their fake life together until it was rote. He’d spent long hours at night wishing it were true.

          “I was lost in Chinatown, I was trying to find a store that sold electronic parts. Nigel saw me and said ‘need some company, gorgeous?’. He’ll tell you that I couldn’t resist him, but that’s not quite true. I didn’t understand he was hitting on me until later. Then, when I realized we were both sexually attracted to each other I suggested we have intercourse and perhaps date.”

          The man with the pad blinked. “So…the sex was good?”

          “Oh yes, it’s why we’re married.” Adam smiled. “That, and we’re a very compatible couple. Would you like to see pictures?”


 

          “You going to ask me any questions, or are we just going to look lovingly into each other’s eyes all day?” Nigel slumped in his chair, glaring at Mr. Price.

          “I only have one question,” Mr. Price leaned forward tossing some photos on the desk. “Is this what a typical marriage looks like in Romania?”

          Nigel leaned forward. The first picture was of Adam and Beth at dinner. Adam looked so uncomfortable, Nigel wondered if Beth understood he didn’t like it when people crowded him. The second picture was Beth kissing Adam in front of her apartment. Nigel felt jealousy rolling in his stomach, cold and heavy as he flipped to the next picture – Beth tugging Adam inside.

          He felt panic at the back of his mind, but schooled his face into a careful neutral expression. Christ, he hoped they weren’t doing this to Adam. “It’s just a fucking kiss; that’s not proof of anything.”

          Mr. Price raised an eyebrow. “I spoke to Ms. Buchwald Friday. She would be happy to attest to the nature of the sleepover, should you or the courts need convincing.”

          Nigel’s jaw ticked. “Of course she fucking would.”

          “I wouldn’t blame her too much, Mr. Belea.” Mr. Price glanced at his computer screen. “According to the file, the clerk at the courthouse was the first to raise questions that lead to the investigation. Apparently one of you was inebriated and making quite the scene, talking about money.”

          “Why’d you wait?” Nigel snarled. “Why fucking give us two months?”

          “Honestly?” Mr. Price folded his hands on his desk. “Seeing what type of ridiculous fairytale fraudsters create to sell me on their sham unions is the highlight of my day.”

          Nigel ran his hand through his hair. He tried to think of a plan, think of something he could say to fix this. As his mind raced under the watchful eye of Mr. Price, Nigel found he had only one concern.

          “I don’t care what you do to me,” Nigel leaned forward, resting his hands on the desk. “but please, leave Adam alone.”

          “Mr. Belea, surely you understand the US Government can’t allow our citizens to engage in-”

          “I fucking made him. I-” Nigel’s chest felt tight; it was hard to draw air. “He had just lost his father, he wasn’t thinking clearly. Please.”

          Mr. Price studied Nigel quietly. For once in his life, Nigel allowed every bit of the panic and desperation he felt to play clearly on his face.

          “I-I know it was wrong, but he didn’t. Not really. I’ll go quietly. I’ll leave whenever you say and never come back.” Nigel swallowed, flushing slightly when he realized there were tears in his eyes. “I love him now. I know that’s not good enough to stay, but isn’t it good enough to spare him? Please don’t punish him because of me.”

          Mr. Price cleared his throat, looking away from Nigel.

          “Two weeks.” He said, typing into his computer. “It’ll take me two weeks to process the uncontested deportation paperwork with the holidays coming. If you don’t report back here on the 27th at 9am for deportation, I’ll arrest Mr. Raki and he will spend five years in jail. Do you understand?”

          Nigel nodded. “Thank you.”

          Nigel stood, swiping at his eyes and trying to get his breathing under control.

          “What will you tell him?”

          “Nothing.” Nigel said with a small smile. “It’s for the best. He’d only blame himself and he doesn’t need someone like me hanging around him anyway.”

          Mr. Price watched Nigel walk out the door. The Romanian smiled wide when he saw Adam and pulled him into a hug. The smaller man hugged back, pressing his face into Nigel’s neck. With a sigh, Price brought up the deportation forms and began typing.


 

           Adam held Nigel’s hand as they walked out of the office. Their fingers stayed entwined for the elevator ride down and the walk around the block. Adam frowned when Nigel let go of his fingers.

          “I think that went well,” Adam said with a bright smile. “Do you want to have dinner at Tony’s? I know it’s not a Friday, but I thought-”

          “I, uh, I have a thing tonight, actually.” Nigel ran a hand through his hair. “Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, I guess with all this shit I uh, I forgot.”

          “That’s OK.” There was something odd in Nigel’s expression. He was smiling, but it didn’t look quite right. Adam squinted at him. “We don’t have to pretend anymore, do we?”

          Nigel huffed a small laugh. “No, gorgeous, I guess we don’t.”

          “You don’t have to call me gorgeous anymore, then.” Adam stepped closer, something in his stomach twisted. What was wrong with Nigel’s eyes?

          Nigel’s hand came to Adam’s face. He closed his eyes as a thumb brushed his cheek. “I call you gorgeous because you are, Adam, not because of some fucking sham marriage.”

          “Oh…well, thank you.” Adam let his head rest in Nigel’s hand. “I wanted to ask you about our marriage. I thought maybe we could-”

          Nigel dropped his hand. “Don’t you fucking worry, gorgeous, I’ll be out of your hair by tomorrow.”

          Adam’s face fell, panic clawing sharp and fast in his chest. This wasn’t how the conversation was supposed to go. “You want to move out?”

          “I’ll get my things tomorrow while you’re out.” Nigel laughed, but it sounded wrong. “I promise, everything will be back the way you like it by the time you get home.”

          “I-I could just give your things to Darko tonight?” Adam started tapping on his leg. He felt sick. “O-or you could stay? I-I really don’t mind you there.”

          Nigel touched a finger to Adam’s chin, smiling softly. “No, darling, I’ve fucked with your life enough. Time I got you the rest of your money and left you alone.”

          “Nigel, I- you d-don’t understand, I-” The air was thinning again. Adam had to make him understand.

          Nigel grabbed Adam into a tight hug. His arms and the pressure helped Adam focus. He drew deeper breaths and melted a little into Nigel’s arms.

          “Thank you, Adam,” Nigel whispered into his hair. “Thank you for being the best fucking husband I could ever have.”

          Nigel released him, stepping back. His eyes looked watery, but he turned before Adam could ask him about it. “See you around, Adam.”

          Nigel started to walk away. Adam felt another stab of panic in his chest. “Nigel!”

          The older man turned, blinking rapidly. “Yeah?”

          “D-do…” but Adam couldn’t think of anything to say. Nigel didn’t want him. Nigel wanted to be divorced. He felt the heat rising in his cheeks and dropped his gaze to the pavement. “Do you want your ring back?”

          “O-oh, uh, sure, gorgeous.” He walked back holding out his hand. Adam pulled the cheap gold band from his finger immediately regretting the loss when it slipped from his knuckle. He placed it in Nigel’s open palm.

          “Thanks, darling.” Nigel winked at him. Adam tried to twist his mouth into a smile. “Goodbye, Adam.”

          “Goodbye.” Adam stood, tugging at his sleeves. He watched as his husband walked away and tried to remember how to breathe.

Chapter Text

          “You sure about this, son?” Harlan raised a dubious eyebrow as he inspected a carryout box. He peeked in a container.

          “It’s Friday,” Adam said sadly. “I try new things for dinner on Friday.”

          Harlan watched as Adam fiddled with his tablet, cueing up his episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio. “Since when?”

          “Nigel said it would be good to try new things once a week, at home. Where I can throw it out and make my food if I don’t like it.”

          Harlan frowned, but nodded. “So, what are we eating?”

          “Käsespätzle.”

          Harlan opened the container again. “Looks like mac n cheese.”

          Adam tilted his head. “But it’s German, I think that counts.”

          Harlan smiled, spooning the cheesy noodles on plates. “You, uh, you talked to him since the interview?”

          Adam shook his head. “N-no. He doesn’t- He got his things and left.”

          He hadn’t seen Nigel since the older man had left him on the street outside their interview. He’d phoned once, asking if Nigel wanted to have dinner. He received a text an hour later, telling him that Nigel had plans. Adam had thrown his phone and spent the next hour repairing it while humming quietly to himself. Nigel’s song served as a reminder that Nigel did get something out of their time together. That maybe Nigel hadn’t been faking the whole time.

          “I’m sorry, Adam.”

          "It’s OK. It was never a real marriage." Adam’s mouth ticked into a smile; he knew people reacted better when you smiled at them. “Just because I liked him sexually doesn’t mean he desired me that way. I don’t always read people well.”

          Harlan reached out to pat Adam on the shoulder, but stopped when he saw Adam brace himself. “Well, now that you aren’t busy being fake married, why don’t you and I make some time, try to find you a job.”

          Adam looked up from his noodles. “I got a job.”

          “WHAT?”

          Adam frowned. “Dr. Voss called Monday. She liked my specs. I start with Interorbital Systems January 2.”

          “Jesus, Adam, why didn’t you tell me?”

          “I just did.” Adam went back to eating his noodles, poking at them speculatively before forking them into his mouth. “I don’t like this. I think I’m going to have mac n cheese.”

          “Well send your kay-special my way.” Harlan smiled.

          Adam handed him the plate and waited for Harlan to scrape the noodles off. He took the plate to the sink and washed it before retrieving his mac n cheese from the freezer. 

          “Adam?”

          “Yes?”

          “I’m really proud of you, son.” Harlan shoveled some of the noodles into his mouth. “You dad would be proud too.”

          “OK.” Adam went back to pressing buttons on the microwave. He started humming as he waited for the food to heat.


 

          “Hi Beth.” Adam waved as he sat his laundry basket next to the free washer. He tugged at his t-shirt, a soft green cotton with the word Hangry and a dinosaur emblazoned across the front. For days, it smelled of Nigel. Now, it just made Adam remember.

          “Y-you’re talking to me?” Beth looked shocked, taking a step back from Adam. He wondered if she was still mad about Nigel yelling at her while naked.

          “Yes, I thought you said you weren’t mad at me anymore, after I fixed your sound system?” Nigel had come with him that day, offering to help Adam with the wiring. He had laughed when Nigel shocked himself and called the wires sparking cunts.

          “I-I just thought after the interview-”

          “Oh, yes.” Adam added soap to the machine. “That was disappointing.”

          “You’re not mad?” Beth stepped closer, squinting.

          “I’m sad. I miss him.” Adam moved back; he didn’t like the feeling of her scrutiny. His eyes flitted across her face for a moment before settling over her shoulder. “But it’s OK. Sometimes life is disappointing.”

          Beth laughed, a soft huff of air. “I didn’t think – I…thank you, Adam.”

          Adam cocked his head. “For what?”

          Beth stepped forward and hugged him. He flinched, keeping his shoulders tensed while she pressed into him. His nose filled with a light floral scent and he remembered he didn’t like the way her perfume smelled. He missed the way coffee and nicotine lingered in the air when Nigel hugged him.

          “Thank you for being you.” Beth pulled back. “Now that you’re done with the whole marriage thing, do you want to maybe grab some dinner? Talk about it?”

          Adam studied Beth’s face. She was still very pretty, and she was smiling and blushing – but he had to be sure. “Are you suggesting we resume dating?”

          She rolled her eyes, but continued smiling. “Yes, weirdo.”

          “I’m sorry, but I think I’m more interested in sex with Nigel.” Adam smiled as he disentangled from her arms. He offered her a light pat on the shoulder. “You were very satisfactory in bed, though. Please don’t take my rejection as a criticism.”

          Adam offered Beth a short nod, starting the washing machine and leaving the laundry room.


 

          The knock interrupted Adam as he poured out his bran. He frowned for a moment, wondering who would be bothering him during breakfast. When the polite knock was replaced by a loud banging, Adam’s heart hammered in his chest.

          Maybe it was Nigel?

          Maybe Nigel came back? Maybe the last two weeks had been a mistake.

          Adam flung the door open. His face fell. “Oh, hello Mr. Dal- Darko.”

          Darko smiled. “Hey Adam.”

          “I-is there something wrong with the building?”

          “No,” Darko shook his head, holding up a small stack of papers and a zip drive. “I, uh, I came to give you this, from Nigel.”

          Adam took the drive, setting it carefully on the small table by the door before studying the papers. They were sheet music. The title Stargazer was scrawled across the top in Nigel’s handwriting.

          “His song!” Adam looked up smiling. “I-can you ask Nigel to come play it? I don’t know how to read sheet music. I’d like to hear it now that it’s finished.”

          Darko’s face changed. Adam didn’t understand what had happened, but he knew something had shifted. “He, uh, he can’t. He’s leaving today.”

          “Leaving?” Adam’s stomach twisted. “Did he get a gig?”

          Darko shook his head. “The country, Adam. He’s being deported.”

          “Deported?” Adam blinked; he felt like he’d been slapped.

          “Yeah, he didn’t want you to know, thought you’d worry.” Darko licked his lips. “He just wanted you to have this. To know, that he lov- uh, appreciated you and everything you did for him. It meant the world to him, Adam.”

          “I-I don’t understand.” Adam’s fingers twitched, then started tapping. “Why didn’t he tell me?”

          “Look, kid, I swore I’d wait until he was gone to give this to you, but that didn’t feel right. I-I thought maybe you’d want to say goodbye.” Darko tilted his head. “Please fucking tell me I’m right.”

          “Where is he?” Adam could feel panic coiling cold and hard in his chest.

          Darko smiled. “Get your fucking coat, I’ll take you to him.”


 

          Adam tapped the whole cab ride, feeling anxiety build in his chest. He knew Darko was talking to him, but it was all Adam could do to draw air into his lungs.

          This was a mistake. Nigel leaving was a horrible mistake.

          He could fix it. As long as he got to Nigel, Adam could fix this.

          He didn’t wait for the cab to park or Darko to pay, scrambling onto the sidewalk and hurrying toward the doors of the Citizenship and Immigration Services office. He stopped when he saw a small group of people being led toward a waiting black van.

          He scanned the group and froze when he saw a familiar neck tattoo peeking above a scarf.

          “NIGEL!” Adam ran, his heart pounding as he raced to his husband. He still had time.

          “Sir! SIR! STOP RIGHT THERE.” Hands were holding onto his arms, dragging Adam back. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see Nigel. He tried to cry out but made nothing but abortive choking noises – the hands felt like they were closing in around him.

          “GET OFF OF HIM!”

          Adam dropped to the ground. Released, but still in the cold grip of panic, he rocked, his vision blurry. He was immediately enveloped in strong arms, the scent of stale coffee and nicotine filling his nose. Adam inhaled in great gluts, taking as much of Nigel into him as he could.

          “Shhhh...It’s OK, gorgeous.” Nigel’s breath was warm against Adam’s ear. “Breathe for me Adam. Just breathe.”

          “Get up, Belea!” Adam felt Nigel being tugged from him and forced his hands to work, gripping as tightly as he could to the Romanian’s back and arm. 

          “Give them a minute.” It sounded like Mr. Price, but Adam couldn’t be sure as he burrowed deeper into Nigel’s chest.

          Adam’s ears were still ringing when Nigel started humming, the music starting as a faint rumble in the older man’s chest until Adam realized what it was.

          Adam closed his eyes and let himself sink into the music, Nigel’s melody letting him breathe as Adam slowly came back to himself. When the song ended, Adam could find the air again, his chest heaving painfully.

          “There we go,” Nigel whispered softly, fingers combing through Adam’s hair. “Let me see those pretty blue eyes one more time, huh?”

          Adam opened his eyes, his gut twisting when he saw Nigel’s smile.

          “Why didn’t you tell me?” Adam’s fingers dug harder into Nigel’s bicep and back.

          “I didn’t want you to blame yourself, gorgeous,” Nigel’s voice was rough so close to Adam’s ear.

          “Of course I don’t blame myself! I answered all the questions perfectly.” Adam pulled back, brows furrowed over teary blue eyes. “What did you get wrong?”

          Nigel laughed, dipping to press his forehead to Adam’s. “It all got fucked up. I-I just wanted to do the right thing for once in my fucking life.”

          “Y-you sh-should have told me. We could have fixed it.” Adam blinked, two new tears trailing after the others. “We can still fix it.”

          Adam looked up at Mr. Price. “I love him. I-I want to stay married to him. He’s my husband. Please, he has to stay.”

          Adam’s breath started getting reedy again, his fingers tapping against Nigel’s body. He heard the humming again, and let himself be lulled.

          “It’s for the best, Adam. It’s OK.” Adam could feel Nigel’s lips against his ear. Nigel gripped Adam tighter. “My darling love.”

          Adam heard footsteps and looked to find Mr. Price and two other men standing over them. Adam took Nigel’s face in his hands.

          “Do you love me?”

          Nigel looked up, and Adam realized there were tears in his eyes too. He nodded once. “Yeah. Yeah, I fucking do.”

          Adam pressed forward, kissing Nigel with everything that he had. After a moment of shock, Nigel melted into the gesture, parting his lips and fitting himself closer to Adam’s body. Nigel tasted of coffee and his morning cigarette, Adam savored it, memorizing the taste of his husband.

          Above them a throat cleared. Adam looked up to see Mr. Price. “I’m sorry, but we need to leave. Now, Mr. Belea.”

          Nigel caught Adam’s chin, guiding him into one more soft kiss. He stood, dragging Adam upright with him. Nigel smiled, brushing soft fingers through Adam’s curls. When Nigel took a step back, Adam threw himself forward.

          “NO!” Adam clung to Nigel’s arms, trying to embed himself into the older man. “You can’t go. I don’t want a divorce. I want to s-stay married! I want to stay married to you!”

          Nigel swiped at his eyes before pulling a chain from around his neck. On it were the two cheap bands they had exchanged months ago. Nigel wrapped a hand around the rings and yanked, snapping the chain. “We are fucking married, Adam. ‘Til Death do us fucking part.”

          Nigel held up the smaller ring. Adam smiled, tears spilling down his face as he held out his hand. Nigel slipped the ring on Adam’s finger, kissing it when it sank into place on Adam’s hand.

          “You keep that there. I’ll find a way back to you.” He kissed Adam’s knuckles again. “No matter what it takes, I fucking will.”

          Adam sobbed once, grabbing the other ring in Nigel’s hand with shaking fingers. He slid the ring onto Nigel’s hand, smiling through his tears. “You love me.”

          “I do.” Nigel leaned in and kissed Adam one more time, slow and sweet. “Go home with Darko, gorgeous. I’ll call you when I get where I’m going.”

          Adam let go of Nigel, nodding his head as he clutched at his middle, rocking. “O-OK. C-call me. I-I don’t care when. E-even during dinner…I’ll answer.”

          Nigel smiled tears falling down his face as the men in suits lead him backwards toward the transportation van. Adam stayed rooted to the spot, rocking long after the van had driven from sight. He jumped when a soft hand landed on his shoulder.

          “Come on, kid,” Darko said. “Let’s get you home.”


 

          Adam let Darko take him home and settle him on the sofa in the living room. Tears streamed down his face as he stared into nothing. Vaguely, he could hear Darko in his kitchen, the sounds of dishes clicking together and soft murmuring. When the man returned with tea, Adam accepted it, holding the hot mug in his hand.

          “I know this is bad, Adam,” Darko sat close, but was careful not to touch him. “But, there’s an appeal process. Hell, that immigration prick might even testify for you. He looked pretty upset when he took Nigel.”

          Adam nodded. He was supposed to nod to acknowledge when people talked.

          “I called my girl,” Darko tried again. “Her cousin is some big deal lawyer in DC. She’s gonna call him, see what he suggests.”

          Adam blinked, and nodded again. Darko shifted on the couch, hands coming up to touch Adam and stopping suddenly. Adam didn’t like the feeling of Darko watching him, it made the knots in his stomach tighten.

          “Look, kid, I don’t know what to do.” Darko sounded tired. “You want me to call your dad’s friend? You have his number?”

          Adam shook his head. “N-no. I th-think I’d just like you to leave, please.”

          “Adam, are you going to-”

          “I’ll be OK.” Adam glanced at Darko, eyes connecting for a breath before flitting away. “I won’t hurt myself or break anything. I just don’t like people watching me when I’m upset.”

          Darko sighed. “Me either, kid.”

          The older man stood, heading to the door.

          “Darko?”

          “Yeah?”

          “I-If you’re free, maybe you and Bev should come to dinner?”

          “Sure, man, name the date and we’ll be here.”

          “OK.” Adam smiled, his eyes still watery. “I think Nigel would like it if I got to know his friends.”

          Darko grinned. “He’d love it.”

          Adam dropped his eyes back to his tea, studying it as it cooled in his hands. He heard the door close and looked up to find himself alone. Fear and panic started to claw at him again, the enormity of never seeing Nigel again looming large over him. He took deep breaths.

          Nigel loved him.

          Nigel wanted to stay married.

          Adam could feel the weight of the small band on his finger, the slight pressure a reminder that Nigel was coming back to him.

          When the ceramic turned cold in his hands, Adam stood, dumping out the tea and carefully washing the mug. When it was clean and stored properly, Adam went to the refrigerator and retrieved some coffee. He made a pot, just as he had done every morning since Nigel left. For a few minutes, it felt as if Nigel was in the other room, and that the smell of fresh coffee might draw him, sleep rumpled and muttering, in to the kitchen. Adam would leave the coffee in the carafe until the smell of caffeine turned stale, then dump the brown liquid down the drain.

          As the pot started to fill, Adam inhaled deeply. He couldn’t remember why he’d ever hated the smell of coffee.


 

          Adam didn’t remember the zip drive on the hall table until he was picking his way through dinner. He abandoned his cold noodles to retrieve the small drive. He studied it quietly as he forked a few more bites into his mouth.

          It contained only one file, a video.

          Adam bit his lip as he pressed play, smiling when Nigel’s unfocused mouth filled the screen.

          “Just fucking stay up, you fucking cunt.” Nigel muttered as the camera shook. “Fucker.”

          The camera fell over. Adam realized it must have been Nigel’s phone. He laughed softly as Nigel continued to struggle with it for a few seconds before giving up and stepping back. Adam cocked his head to adjust for the slightly crooked angle.

          Nigel was wearing the tuxedo shirt from their Valentine’s Day photo, he was in a small apartment that Adam didn’t recognize. It was neat and filled with bright colors and furniture. Nigel smiled at the camera, running a hand through his hair. He looked tired and his eyes were sad. Adam’s heart raced at the sight.

          “Hi, gorgeous,” Nigel said, smile twisting into something sad. “I- uh, I know you didn’t always like my music, but I thought you should know that I wrote this for you. I, fuck, where’s the fucking sheet mus-”

          A smiling woman hopped in front of the frame, handing Nigel a stack of papers. She paused, turning to the camera and offering a little wave and smile before walking out of frame. Adam recognized her from the picture on Darko’s desk. He made a note to talk to Darko tomorrow and set up a dinner date. Adam wanted to ask her if Nigel slept naked when he stayed with them, or if that was just something he did with Adam.

          Nigel stacked the pages onto his keyboard, taking a moment to stretch his neck and flex his fingers. He looked back at the camera. “The sound quality’s shit, darling, but hopefully you’ll get the idea.”

          The music started and Adam instantly felt some of the pressure release in his chest. He began tapping on his thighs, keeping time to his song with Nigel. Adam watched as Nigel’s eyes slipped closed, his head bobbing slightly as he played, making the woman on his neck dance. Adam knew he was crying, but he smiled as the tears trailed over his cheeks.

          Adam had never been one for metaphors in music or literature. Interpreting people was hard enough without picking apart their use of imagery. But now, alone in his apartment watching the man he loved play their song, Adam could see it. He could see the Draconid meteors in the descending scales. The twitchy disagreements and the nervous laughter in the odd rhythm that drove the song. Crashing dissonant chords for each meltdown, soothed by a lilting melody that Nigel had often hummed in his ear.

          It was all there, everything they had experienced together. Nigel’s love letter to him, filled with all the beauty he’d found in their chaos.

          He was sobbing by the time the music ended, trying to keep his choked breaths quiet so he wouldn’t miss a note. When Nigel finished, his eyes opened. He smiled again before getting up and approaching the camera. He was close, his face filling the frame.

          “I-hope you fucking understand now.” Nigel’s smile faltered. “I hope you get what I never had the balls to sa-”

          “Fucking say it now, pussy!” Adam smiled at Darko’s voice. He laughed when Nigel turned to glare out of the frame.

          “I’m trying to you fuck! Make your own fucking video!” Nigel turned back, his cheeks flushed. “I know I fucked up your life, and your routines. But I’m not sorry. I’ll never be sorry for getting to love you. Just for a little while.”

          Adam touched the screen, Nigel’s face a blur through his tears.

          “Goodbye, Adam.”

          The screen went black.

          Adam closed his eyes, letting the tears come as he struggled for air. He hit play and watched the video again. He didn’t know how long he sat in the living room, hitting repeat and listening to Nigel declare his love with a cheap keyboard, but each cycle through the video chipped away at the grip anxiety had on his chest.

          He was smiling faintly, fingers tapping along with Nigel, when he heard his cell ring. He glanced at the clock – 2am. Adam made a grab for the phone, accepting the call from an unknown number.

          “Hi Nigel,” he said, hope blooming warm in his chest when he heard a familiar voice huff a laugh into the speaker.

          "Hello, gorgeous." 

Chapter Text

          April in Paris was supposed to be romantic. That’s what the fucking song had said. But Nigel couldn't see what was so fucking great about it as he stomped through a frigid puddle and toward his flat, cursing the rain and the wind that still whipped through the streets.

          Fuck Paris.

          He sneered at the group of 20-somethings wandering down Oberkampf, looking for excitement in the gritty part of town. A few girls winked at him as they clopped by in their heels, no doubt thinking the man with the long hair and the tattooed neck would be a good story for their friends over brunch. He could smell their perfumes in the wet air, acrid and floral.

          Nigel smelled like camembert and sweat, his shift at the Fromagerie always leaving him tired and reeking of cheese. Adam had asked Nigel to quit dealing, insisting he keep the rest of his savings as he looked for a place in Paris. He had also requested that Nigel find legal employment, because it would look better when Adam filed his appeal about the marriage.

          Nigel had wandered from shop to shop, getting polite rejections until he found Le Jardin Fromager. Sabine had patted his cheek with her wrinkled hand, telling him such a handsome face will certainly bring in customers. He spent hours cutting hunks of cheese for the hipsters and locals, making sure to flirt with every customer. Adam told him it was OK to flirt, as long as he wasn’t selling drugs.

          Even in foul weather, Nigel walked. The air took some of the cheese smell from his skin and it gave him a chance to wander down Boulevard Richard-Lenoir. The gardens along the street would bud soon, and Nigel planned to film his walk to show Adam, who would appreciate the bits of greenery in the midst of a busy city.

          Turning down Rue de Lappe, Nigel dodged the bar crowds that were beginning to line the streets. His postage stamp of an apartment was above Le Bazar Egyptien. He could afford a bigger place, but Nigel didn’t see the point. This was just a place to sleep until he could find a way back to New York and the blue-eyed boy he’d left behind. Most nights he could smell the hookah and the cumin in the air as laughter and conversation floated through his open windows, but he rarely felt the desire to go out. Nigel was content to stay in, nursing a beer until it was time to Skype with Adam.

          He snorted. Marriage had finally made him a homebody. Now, he just needed the man to stay home with.

          Nigel’s knees creaked as he walked up the stairs. Cold air, rain, and a steep incline combined to make Nigel feel all the years of shitty living he’d accrued. He leaned against his apartment door, wondering if he should try a little harder to quit smoking, before he wheezed himself to death.

          Opening the door, Nigel tossed his keys on the foyer table and took a moment to hang up his coat. The apartment was small, but neat. Darko had given him shit for using Adam’s handbook to set up the place, but keeping things in Adam-approved order made him feel closer to his husband.

          He glanced at the clock; he’d have enough time to order food and shower before Adam got home. He smiled, he’d gotten at least two emails a day about Interorbital Systems and Dr. Voss, who had already put Adam in charge of the navigation systems. He hadn’t gotten his normal lunch time email today, but Nigel pushed the worry from his mind. Adam was busy sometimes. It just meant they’d talk longer when they Skyped tonight.

          By 2am, Nigel was trying not to do something stupid, like violate a Federal law and hop a plane to New York. Adam always Skyped by midnight – always. His texts had been ignored and there were no emails explaining what had happened.

          Nigel's mind raced. His gut roiled as he considered accidents, pretty scientists, and Adam realizing Nigel just wasn’t worth the trouble. Nigel knew he should call Darko, but he couldn’t bring himself to hear his friend mock him for sending him to spy on Adam.

          Instead, Nigel glared at his keyboard, determined to get something new written. It had been weeks and the only thing Nigel could seem to write was Adam’s song, over and over. He’d close his eyes and all he’d hear was the odd tapping of the man he loved. With a sigh, grabbed a pen and drew a dick on his sheet music. He might as well, it wasn’t like he was writing anything worthwhile.

          Nigel was debating adding ball hair to the dick when a knock startled him. He sighed, fucking tourists, they’d get a little dizzy off the hookah and wander through the apartments, looking for a bathroom.

          “Va te faire foutre!” He yelled at the door.

          There was a pause and Nigel turned back to his music.

          “Je, uh…je ch-cherche Nigel Belea.”

          Nigel’s heart stopped. He knew that voice. He vaulted over his chair scrabbling to get to his door and throw it open.

          There, standing in his cramped hallway, was his husband.

          Nigel blinked.

          It had finally happened, he’d cracked, and now he was hallucinating. He scrubbed a hand over his face, but Adam was still there, surrounded by two large suitcases.

          Adam frowned at him. He looked awfully tired and stressed for a figment of Nigel’s imagination. The little specter before him began to tap on his thighs, letting out an annoyed huff. “The taxi dropped me here without any instructions on how to get to your apartment. I had to ask Asim at the restaurant where you lived. Did you know Paris smelled like this? You didn’t tell me it smelled like this in any of your emails. Your apartment looks nice. Except for the takeout on the coffee table. Nigel, you know you should clean that u-”

          Nigel crashed into his darling, sealing their lips together. Adam let out a little squeak at being pressed into a wall, but was soon licking his way into Nigel’s mouth while his hands tugged Nigel’s t-shirt from his pajama pants. When his cold hands finally touched the small of Nigel’s back, the older man gasped and released his husband.

          “You’re fucking real,” Nigel whispered into Adam’s neck, taking tiny little bites just to hear the younger man’s breath catch. Nigel kept Adam anchored to him with an arm, pressing little kisses on wind bitten cheeks. He blindly grabbed for Adam’s suitcases, dragging them inside before kicking the door shut. He pinned Adam back to the wall, brushing his lips over the skin behind Adam’s ear. “You’re real, you’re real, you’re real.”

          “Yes, of course I’m real.” Adam frowned again, but kept returning Nigel’s pecks with soft kisses of his own. “Are you alright?”

          “I’m fan-fucking-tastic, Adam,” Nigel licked at the knob of Adam’s jaw, before scraping his teeth over it. “I just can’t seem to stop kissing you.”

          “O-OH.” Adam sounded a little breathy. He ground his hips into Nigel’s. “T-that’s OK.”

          Nigel hummed, pulling at the buttons on Adam’s shirt. He looked down long enough to realize Adam was wearing the rocket shirt he’d bought him months ago. The knowledge made him press softer kisses to the base of Adam’s throat.

          “Can we have sex in your bed?” Adam threaded his fingers into Nigel’s hair, pulling him close as the older man slid a hand down to cup his erection. “I-I don’t think I want to have sex in your foyer. It l-looks dusty.”

          Nigel gripped Adam’s ass and lifted, snarling playfully when his husband was wrapped around his waist. “You little shit, I fucking swiffered two days ago.”

          “Every other day, Nigel, not every two da- OH! Do that again,” Adam’s head fell back as Nigel rolled his hips, driving their cocks together.

          “You sure? You might get dusty,” Nigel whispered in his ear.

          “B-bed. P-please.” Adam sank his fingers into Nigel’s shoulders, holding on for dear life as Nigel traversed the room.

          Nigel laid Adam gently on his double bed, immediately regretting that he didn’t spring for a larger mattress. He moved to stand, only to find Adam still clinging to him, unwilling to be separated.

          “It’s going to be a lot easier to get naked if you let go, Adam,” Nigel murmured into his husband’s ear, pausing to worry the lobe with his teeth.

          “I know.” Adam’s voice was breathy as he continued to pull Nigel to him. “B-but I’ve never had you on top of me before and it is a very pleasant sensation.”

          “Pleasant, huh?” Nigel huffed a small laugh into the crook of Adam’s neck as he moved to press himself fully against Adam. He bit gently at Adam’s shoulder as he rolled his hips, smiling at the little moan and shudder he drew out of the younger man. “I can think of some other pleasant things, gorgeous.”

          Adam pushed at Nigel’s shoulders. “Yes. OK, I think we should be naked. I don’t want to ejaculate in these pants.”

          Nigel dropped his head, shaking with silent laughter as he eased off his husband. He watched as Adam sat up, flushed and a little dazed looking, panting through kiss-swollen lips.

          Adam undressed in the same methodical way he did everything else. First, his shoes were untied and removed, laces tucked neatly inside them before they were set aside. His socks and shirt came next, each carefully removed, smoothed and folded before they were placed on the dresser by Nigel’s open window. They were joined by a precisely coiled belt, a wallet, a passport, and a set of keys. Finally, the pants, folded to maintain the iron creases, united with the rest of the outfit. Adam looked up at Nigel, pale skin red from the restaurant lights below them, frowning in a pair of badly tented briefs.

          “What are you looking at?” Adam crossed his arms to cover his middle.

          “My husband,” Nigel said with a crooked grin. “Just thinking how fucking much I’m going to enjoy watching that little display for the rest of my life.”

          Adam’s mouth quirked into a smile. He shoved his briefs down and climbed onto the bed, his pink cock bobbing as he crawled to the center. Nigel grabbed the neck of his shirt, pulling it over his head. Before he could reach for his pants, Adam was on him, tangling his fingers in Nigel’s thatch of chest hair and pulling delicately.

          “It’s softer than I thought,” Adam said with a smile. He leaned forward and brushed his cheek against it. “I like this very much.”

          Nigel preened under the attention, letting his darling stroke and explore as he liked. Adam kissed each pec, his fingers trailing over Nigel’s ribcage and pausing briefly at the scar. Adam bent, kissing the scar and looking up at Nigel with wide blue eyes. When firm hands gripped the elastic of Nigel’s pajama pants and shoved them down, the older man felt his knees buckle.

          “I would like to do everything in email 48, please.” Adam’s chin was scrapping against the soft flesh of Nigel’s belly.

          He shook his head and tried to focus on the words coming from Adam’s mouth. “Wh-what?”

          “Email 48, where you described in detail me fucking your mouth and then you rimming me before making me ride your cock like a screaming whore? I found that email very arousing.” Suddenly, Nigel felt cold and he realized with a slight frown that Adam had let him go. “One moment, I have the print out with me, just in case you needed a reminder.”

          Adam stumbled over to the dresser, hard-on bobbing as he walked. He pulled a precisely folded paper out of his wallet. “Ok, so the email starts out as usual, you love me, you miss me, you are miserable without me….AH! Here!”

          Adam pointed to a paragraph. “Where it says what you’ll do to me when you see me again. Start reading here and I’ll wait.”

          He handed Nigel the paper and settled on the bed hands tapping on his thighs. Nigel’s mouth opened but words wouldn’t come. He cocked his head and squinted at Adam, who gave him a confused smile.

          “Is the print too small? I can read it to you.”

          “Gorgeous, not everything needs a fucking handbook.” Nigel moved to put the paper down, but stopped when Adam frowned.

          “The chances of mutual sexual satisfaction are greatly increased if both parties have clearly defined goals and expectations.” Adam pointed at the paper. “Those are mine.”

          Nigel tucked his lips into his mouth to hide his smile. He knew this mood. There were two options before him – A quick skim and lots of sex, or a fussy husband and a night of blue balls and groveling. “OK, gorgeous, two ticks.”

          Nigel scanned the pages. He’d written so many dirty fantasies to Adam over the last four months, it was hard to keep track of what he’d said. Adam had clear favorites, ones he’d asked Nigel to read to him over the phone or expand upon as they lay naked in beds separated by an ocean.

          In person, it was so much better. Adam’s flush of arousal was pinker, his eyes brighter as he watched Nigel. He took in every little hitch in breath and scent now. Adam on a screen was fine in a pinch, but nothing compared to having the man before him.

          “Right, OK, think I’ve got it,” Nigel crawled onto the bed, dropping the email by Adam’s head as he bent down to kiss his husband. Nigel took his time, enjoying the warmth of Adam’s mouth and the desperate way the man below him rolled his hips.

          Nigel shifted, lining up their cocks and pressing himself flush against Adam.

          “Oh.” Adam’s voice was monotone, but his fingernails dug into Nigel’s shoulders as he pressed himself up. “T-that feels…”

          “Fucking great.” Nigel supplied, rolling his hips again just to hear Adam gasp. “You want my mouth, gorgeous, or more of this?”

          Adam looked conflicted, so Nigel made the decision for him, slinking down Adam’s body with a smile. He stopped to press kisses on pale skin as he moved, teeth scrapping over a nipple, tongue flicking over a stray freckle on the rib cage. Nigel marveled at the muscles he found as he kissed down Adam’s stomach, nipping at each straining ab.

          When he reached the cradle of Adam’s hip, Nigel paused, rubbing his stubbled chin along the soft skin he found. Adam gave a little cry, breath shaking as he grabbed Nigel’s head and rubbed against his rough chin again. Nigel kissed him, lips a breath away from the base of Adam’s cock. He trailed his fingers down Adam’s thighs just to watch the pale skin quiver under his touch. “Such beautiful little sounds. I might have to write you another song.”

          Adam whimpered and Nigel decided to see what he could compose on Adam’s body. Nigel dipped his head, licking Adam from base to tip, drawing a high-pitched keen from his love. Nigel sucked a kiss onto the leaking tip of Adam’s cock, smiling when he drew a hitched breath and moan.

          “You going to sing for me, darling?” Nigel lipped at the base of Adam’s cock, moving to carefully draw his chin over the sensitive flesh of Adam’s balls. Adam whined, pressing himself against Nigel’s mouth as his hands raked across the sheets.

          “N-Nigel, please.” Adam’s voice was tight. Nigel took pity on the man beneath him, laving his cock before sucking him down. Nigel hollowed his cheeks as his tongue stroked Adam’s shaft. He scraped his teeth against Adam’s frenulum just to hear the throaty moan it drew from the man in his mouth. Adam was a symphony, reedy breaths, bombastic moans, and a melody of wails that Nigel would spend the rest of his life trying to capture.

          Nigel lost himself in the music of Adam’s body, mouth working to draw every possible tone from it. He lost his rhythm when two small hands grabbed at his hair, tugging sharply.

          “Adam? What’s wrong, my darling?” Nigel panted, spit slick-lips resting against the tip of Adam’s cock.

          “S-stop. I don’t want to ejaculate yet.”

          Nigel nuzzled into the curls at the base of Adam’s cock. “You can come as many times as you want, gorgeous; I’m not going anywhere.”

          Adam shook his head, chest heaving as he tried to bring air back to his lungs. “No. I w-want to orgasm with you inside me. Like you wrote in the email.”

          “The email said first I suck you, then I rim you, THEN I fuck you,” Nigel pointed out, smiling when Adam raised his head to glare at him.

          “I know what it said, Nigel.”

          “Oh, so you can change the plans, but I can’t improvise?”

          Adam bit his lip, then frowned. “I know you’re teasing me, but I’m too sexually aroused to tease you. I would like to have sex now.”

          “Alright, bossy little thing. Hands and knees for me.” Nigel kissed Adam’s thigh. “Please tell me you have lube.”

          “Carry-on,” Adam said as he scrambled to his knees. Nigel moved as quickly as he could on shaking legs, riffling through the bag until he found the small bottle. He smiled when he realized Adam didn’t complain about the disarray from his bag – he must have been distracted.

          “Alright my darling,” Nigel settled behind Adam, leaning forward to press little kisses along his darling’s spine. “You sure you want to skip paragraph 5 of email 48?”

          “Nigel!”

          Grinning, Nigel sank back onto his knees, nipping once at Adam’s pert little ass before taking the time to slick up his fingers. “Just breathe, baby. I’m going to make you fucking fly.”

          Nigel parted Adam’s cheeks, pausing to gently lick at the pink ring of muscle he found. Adam’s whole body shook. Nigel lapped at Adam again, adding more pressure and flicking his tongue with each pass. Adam’s voice caught in his throat, his body rocking back into Nigel.

          Nigel pressed his tongue inside, carefully massaging the tight ring of muscle before sliding back out. Adam’s back bowed, his head falling forward to grind into the mattress as Nigel worked. Only when he had Adam clawing at the sheets did Nigel press a slick finger inside the younger man.

          Adam pushed back, taking Nigel deeper and wailing when the pad of Nigel’s finger found his prostate. Steadily adding a second and third finger, Nigel worked until Adam was frantically fucking himself on his husband’s hand.

          “N-Nigel, please. Please,” Adam sounded hoarse, his breath erratic and his cheeks flaming as he rocked himself. Nigel pulled his fingers from Adam, quickly slicking his cock before pressing inside.

          The heat was nearly unbearable. Nigel snarled at the tight bliss of finally being inside Adam. His ears were ringing as he tried to control his breathing, tried to think of anything that wasn’t the panting boy beneath him.

          “Adam?” Nigel’s voice was tight in his own ears. “Darling, are you alright?”

          “Your p-penis is very big.” Adam’s back muscles were clenched tight. “S-slowly please.”

          Nigel looked down at the tension in Adam’s body. He wanted his darling to enjoy this, not bear it. He ran tender fingers over Adam’s back rubbing softly. Slowly, Nigel leaned forward and wrapped gentle arms around Adam’s chest, pulling him up sit fully on Nigel’s lap.

          “O-oh.” Adam panted at the new angle. He tilted his head to catch Nigel’s lips. “Wow.”

          Nigel rolled his hips, hands anchoring Adam to him. The barest movement made Adam’s head fall back to Nigel’s shoulder. “That’s it, gorgeous. Relax for me. You ride me so fucking well. I’ve never felt anything like you.”

          Adam moaned as Nigel began to move them again.

          “You like that?” Nigel caught Adam’s earlobe between his teeth. His hand slid down Adam’s stomach to wrap around the younger man’s bouncing cock. “Come on darling, let the fucking neighbors know how good it is.”

          Adam’s head lulled on Nigel’s shoulder, eyes sightless as he lost himself to the sensations around him. He wailed, beautiful voice lilting loud and desperate as he fucked himself between Nigel’s fist and cock. With his free hand Nigel scraped his nails lightly over Adam’s nipples, creating the most beautiful staccato hitches in Adam’s moans. Latching onto Adam’s neck with teeth and tongue raised his pitch, while sharper hip thrusts lowered it.

          Nigel felt himself getting lost in their new song, trying to write more bars even as his orgasm coiled in his gut. Adam went stiff, hips convulsing a few times as he spurted across the bed spread. Nigel followed shortly after, clutching Adam as tightly as possible as he filled his husband.

          They collapsed sideways, panting and shivering in each other’s arms. Vaguely, Nigel could hear clapping and catcalling from the street below. Adam glanced at the open window.

          “They approve,” he said, yawning as he burrowed back into Nigel’s chest.

          “Fuck them,” Nigel mumbled, nosing at Adam’s curls. “Do you approve?”

          “Oh, yes. I would like to work sex into our daily routine.” He shifted, sighing softly as Nigel slipped from him. “I thought maybe an hour each night? Or do you think we should schedule sex for morning and evenings?”

          Nigel grinned, detangling from Adam to pad on sex-weakened legs to the bathroom. Returning with a warm washcloth, Nigel wiped them both while nipping kisses into Adam’s shoulder. “Mornings, evenings, lunch time, whenever the fuck you want, gorgeous.”

          “I have to go to work, Nigel.” Adam turned in Nigel’s arms to frown. “Unless you think we could have sex during my lunch breaks? If I ate quickly that would give us 35 minutes…no, it’s not professional to have sex in the workplace. Human Resources had a video about that which new hires had to watch.”

          Nigel ghosted a laugh over Adam’s ear before his chest clenched.

          Work.

          Adam had to go back to work, back to America.

          “When do you have to be back in New York?” Nigel inhaled, treasuring the scent of sex and soap radiating from Adam’s skin.

          “Uh, three years.” Adam paused and shook his head. “Actually, three years and four months.”

          Nigel froze. “What?”

          “Oh, I was going to tell you when I arrived, but then you started kissing me and I forgot.” Adam yawned. “I’m moving to Spain. Well, hopefully both of us are moving to Spain. I’ve already started learning Spanish. I can teach you some. ¡Hola! Soy Adam Raki y este es mi esposo Nigel.

          “Adam, I just came so hard I may have lost a filling,” Nigel rubbed a hand over his face. “Fucking explain this to me like I’m stupid.”

          “You won’t have your appeal for at least 18 months.”

          Nigel nodded. That much, he fucking got. Bev’s cousin had filed the appeal, but the court was backlogged and getting a date would take well over a year.

          “That was too long to be apart, don’t you think?” Adam stretched, snaking his arms around Nigel’s middle. “Especially now that I know how good you are at sex.”

          Nigel kissed the crown of Adam’s head. “I agree, darling, but how did we get to fucking Spain?”

          “Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory wanted to upgrade their adaptive optics. Interorbital is in charge of the project.” Adam nuzzled Nigel’s chest. “Dr. Voss was looking for an engineer to head the project on site. I volunteered.”

          “Adam, you don’t like sleeping in strange beds.”

          “I don’t.”

          “Then why the fuck did you volunteer to move to Spain?”

          Adam tipped his head up to frown at Nigel. “Roque de Los Muchachos is in the Canary Islands.”

          “Yeah.”

          “And the Canary Islands are in Spain.”

          “And?”

          "And you can live in Spain because Romania is part of the European Union.” Adam yawned again. “I looked it up, you just have to register once we move. I know you have a job here, but there are probably cheese shops on the Canary Islands too. And now you have cheese shop experience you can put on your résumé. Bev’s cousin thought it was a good idea; if we live together outside the country it will strengthen our appeal.”

          “Adam, you fucking hate strange places.” Nigel cupped his husband’s face, thumb tracing along the trench below the cheekbone. “This whole thing started because you didn’t want to leave your apartment.”

          Adam nodded. “I know, and I don’t want to live in Spain. I don’t like the idea of living in a strange place. I don’t like Paris. And travel is incredibly stressful.”

          “Then, don’t-”

          Adam’s hand came to Nigel’s lips, silencing him.

          “I’d rather be uncomfortable with you than comfortable without you.” Nigel closed his eyes. His chest felt tight. He smiled when Adam’s lips grazed his chin. “I talked to the company lawyers; they’ll support our claim. Dr. Voss will testify. In three years and four months we can go home together.”

          “What about your apartment?”

          “I sublet it to Darko and Bev.”

          “You’re letting fucking Darko live in our apartment? NO! Adam he’s worse than me.”

          “It’s OK, he passed the written quiz I gave him on the handbook.” Adam sat up, stretching before he ventured toward his suitcase. He rummaged for a moment, before producing his weighted blanket. Falling back into Nigel’s embrace, Adam let his husband wrap him up in warm arms and heavy cloth. “Don’t worry, Bev said she’s Skype us once a week so I could be sure the apartment was being maintained properly.”

          Nigel snorted, curling around the smaller man in his arms. “So…Spain, huh?”

          “Uh-huh. I can teach you some Spanish in the morning, if you want. But right now, I want to sleep.”

          Nigel ran his fingers idly through Adam’s hair, humming a new tune as he watched his husband drift off.