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Changing the Rules

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“Adam,” Beth says, her face all scrunched up in a way Adam doesn’t understand, “What’s in Bucharest?”

They’re eating dinner in Central Park, waiting for the raccoons. It was Beth’s idea. She’d packed them both mac and cheese in Tupperware containers and pulled Adam out of his apartment, even though Adam had been reading a brand new book about black holes. Adam thinks he likes her more now that they aren’t dating anymore. He still loves her, and he misses the sex, but it is a lot easier to spend time with Beth when there’s no pressure to talk to her parents or understand all her friends’ little jokes. For her part, Beth seems much more relaxed around him now that she isn’t always trying to figure him out. Adam doesn’t like when people try to ‘figure him out,’ he doesn’t think he’s very complicated.

“My new job,” He tells her again, “Weren’t you listening?”

Beth sighs and gets that look she always gets when she’s about to tell him something she thinks he won’t like. Something like ‘you can’t always eat mac and cheese for dinner’ or ‘let’s go to the theateror ‘I’m sorry, Adam, I just don’t think I can do this anymore.’

“No, Adam, I understand that. You’re right, it’s a really good job,” It is. He’ll be engineering parts for rockets and satellites, parts that will actually end up in space, and he won’t have to talk to anyone if he doesn’t want to, “But what else is in Bucharest?”

Adam is prepared for this. He’s bought books, and spent hours pouring over Google search results. “There are many things in Bucharest. Bucharest is the capital city of Romania, and the largest. It is considered a cultural center for Romania, and there are many monuments, theaters, night clubs-”

“Adam. Adam!” Beth reaches out and squeezes her hand around his arm, like she always did when out with her friends or her parents. Adam trails to a stop and stares at her, waiting.

“For you, Adam,” She says, “What else is in Bucharest for you? Because I know you’re not harboring a secret desire to go clubbing.”

“I could do that here,” He points out, which only seems to make her more frustrated with him.

“Your friends are here,” She reminds him, “Me and Harlan, we’re both here. Your home.”

“I can’t afford the mortgage without a job,” He reminds her, but she pushes forward like he hasn’t even spoken.

“What about your routines, Adam? It’s Romania. It’s Eastern Europe. They’re not gonna have your favorite brand of macaroni, or your favorite rocks to set your telescope on.”

Adam frowns, staring at her. “Of course they won’t,” He says, confused. Why would she think he didn’t know that? He knows that Central Park is only in New York City, he knows that he will have to try and find new food. He is autistic. He is not stupid.

Beth sighs, and her shoulders sink down until she looks like she is going to start crying or hugging him again. He’s not sure which would be more alarming right now. “Then why are you going?” She says, looking at him with big wet eyes. Oh no. It’s the crying.

“Because they are going to pay me lots of money,” Adam explains patiently. Maybe if he rearranges the words, says them a little differently, she will understand him better.

Beth groans and hides her face in her hands.

-----
“The hell is in Bucharest, Adam?”

Adam sighs and zips his suitcase closed with more force than is probably necessary. “Have you been talking to Beth?”

Harlan frowns at him over a box marked for storage. “Why, did Beth try to talk some sense into you, too?”

Adam tucks the suitcase under the bed and reaches for a box. He isn’t bringing much. A suitcase of clothes and toiletries, a carry-on with his laptop, fidget cube, book, and gum for the plane. This box will be shipped over to his new apartment, filled with anything that he can’t cheaply replace, like his weighted blanket and the flag from Dad’s funeral. Everything else, Harlan is going to put into storage for him, so it will be ready when Adam one day moves back to New York. Because Harlan is very insistent that Adam will one day move back.

“You said I needed a job,” Adam says, tucking his photographs of Beth and Harlan and his parents into the box. “I got a job.”

“I meant a job here, Adam. Where you won’t be alone.”

“I already live alone.”

“But you have Beth upstairs and me within driving distance. Someone can come get you in an emergency. If you have an emergency in Romania, it’s at least 12 hours on a plane before we can get to you, and that’s not counting hours of airport nonsense.”

This is a much more valid argument than Romania’s lack of Amy’s Mac & Cheese, but it is also another thing Adam has already thought about.

“Beth said she would teach you to Skype,” He tells Harlan, sealing the box up with packing tape, “And I had to promise to locate the nearest ER and police station to my apartment as soon as I move in, although I told Beth I will probably be jet lagged and need to sleep first.” Beth had not been amused. Adam was going to be very tired his first few days in Romania.

Harlan places a hand on Adam’s shoulder. Adam tries not to flinch, even though Harlan knows Adam hates it when he can’t see people coming first. Adam looks up, staring at the bridge of Harlan’s nose like he and Beth have practiced.

“I just don’t think you’ve thought this through, Adam,” Harlan says in the gentle voice he uses for Adam’s meltdowns. Adam fidgets, hands twisting at his side.

“I’m going, Harlan.”

Harlan sighs. “Yeah, I know you are. You’re gonna be a stubborn old fool, just like me and your Dad.”

“I’m not even 30 yet.”

-----

Adam didn’t like planes, to begin with.

He hadn’t had much opportunity to fly before, but he remembered them being cramped and crowded, not enough room to stretch out his legs, nowhere to go when he got tense. And they smelled wrong, flat and artificial.

That was a regular flight, a few hours to visit family out of state. This was trans-continental, and between arriving early to get checked in, going through security, the flight itself, and going through customs, fifteen hours had passed before Adam could finally walk out of the airport. It’s 6PM, which means it’s 11AM in New York. Adam hadn’t slept well on the plane, cramped and missing his bed, but he still feels over-excited as he navigates the streets of Bucharest, jittery even. He drapes the strap of his carry-on over his shoulder, one hand pulling the wheeled suitcase behind him, while the other flaps against his thigh, rhythmic and soothing. He feels dirty and sweaty. He needs a shower. He needs dinner, which he would not be able to get in his apartment. He’s going to have to drop his things off and then eat out at a restaurant, and the thought makes him more anxious.

Adam knows, from studying maps with Beth, that the lab he’ll be working in is in a good part of the city, busy and bright, easily accessible by public transport, if he’s feeling brave, or by a good half hour walk, if he isn’t.

His apartment, on the other hand, is off a side street, in an area of the city Beth did not seem entirely pleased with. She’d bought him pepper spray, which he had not been able to carry on to the plane. It’s somewhere in his suitcase, tucked between pairs of socks, and therefor of no use to him right now.

The apartment is too far from the airport. Technically, Adam should take a cab. He doesn’t want to. It will mean digging out the Romanian phrasebook Beth bought him, fumbling through words where all the letters have little dots and slashes all over them and he can’t figure out what sounds he’s supposed to make. He has Google maps, and there are wheels on his suit case. He would rather walk.

His walk takes him far, past the street that will take him to the lab, past shops and a museum. A few blocks away from his apartment, people are spilling into a strip club, laughing and hollering, most of them already drunk even though it’s barely 6:30. Adam is, admittedly, curious about the concept of strippers. He likes sex, and he likes pretty women. But he doesn’t like either of those things enough to brave the lights and sounds, the constant press of bodies, or the fact that someone will undoubtedly attempt to talk to him and he will have to respond appropriately. Strippers will continue to be a foreign concept to Adam.

He can still hear the noise of the club several blocks later, although it might be the sound of people hollering in hostels and bars between there and his apartment. Adam’s block is covered in graffiti. One of the neighboring buildings looks like it was boarded up years ago, and a drunk man on the corner gives Adam a strange look when he walks by. Adam has to duck into a narrow alley to find the door to his building, fumbling with the keys to the building itself, then up three flights of stairs to the actual apartment.

It’s not a bad apartment, despite the location. The appliances are slightly outdated, but it’s clean, and the building across the street is only two stories, so his windows can actually give him a little bit of a view. Adam cares about very little else. He has his laptop, and his telescope will arrive in the mail sometime this week. He dislikes that he can’t plan it more carefully than ‘sometime’, but the mail is one of those things he could never properly work into his schedule.

Speaking of which, he has a dry erase marker and two magnetic calendars in his bag, one weekly and one monthly. He takes a few minutes to set them up now, carefully penning chores into the weekly slots. He’d prepared for this ahead of time, copying the schedule he’d once had with his father. Then he calls Harlan and Beth to reassure them that he has made it safely, which he has to do several times before either of them quite believe him, and he doesn’t look forward to the charges for international phone calls.

When that is done, he unpacks, hanging up clothes in his tiny closet and tucking his father’s flag away in a cabinet. He still has the picture of Beth she’d left on his shelf once, but he is fairly certain it would be inappropriate to hang up now that they are no longer sexually intimate. Instead, he tucks it into the photo album Beth had helped him set up, and that goes into his desk drawer. He’s supposed to look at it when he gets lonely, although that seems misguided and likely to make him feel more lonely.

His toothbrush and toiletries go into the bathroom. His laptop gets plugged in and set up on the desk. It is 9 o’clock, well past his normal dinner time, and Adam cannot procrastinate anymore. He grabs his wallet and his keys and heads out.

-----
The grocery store he’d looked up is within walking distance, yes, but not quite so late at night, when Adam is tired and jet lagged and just wants to eat and lay down. He’ll go grocery shopping tomorrow. In the meantime he looks for restaurants.

There are restaurants, of course. He’s in the country’s capital, it’s a big, busy city, there are restaurants everywhere. But he knows if he goes in, the menu will be in Romanian, and the people will speak Romanian, and he will have to struggle through an order and counting out his money, and Adam is just far too tired and hungry right now for any of that. Restaurants were bad enough in New York, where everyone spoke English and Beth would order for him when he got overwhelmed. There is no Beth to order for him now, and Adam can’t make himself walk into any of the buildings.

A pretty girl calls to him from a bar, dark haired in a way that reminds him of Beth. She smiles and bats her eyelashes in a way Adam knows means ‘flirting’, though he has no idea why she would do that. She calls to him again, this time in English, probably used to tourists, and offers him some ‘fun,’ a vague promise that Adam can’t parse. He could go. She speaks English, she could help him find some food. He thinks she might want to have sex with him, too, although he is admittedly not very good at distinguishing sexual excitement from drunken excitement. He doesn’t really want to have sex or conversation with her, though, not tonight, not ever, everything is too much and he’s only been in the country for a few hours. Adam gives up on food and heads for home, where his weighted blanket can press him down into the new (wrong) bed and he can panic until morning, when he has to brave the grocery store or starve to death.

His skin is crawling, hands flapping anxiously at his sides, wanting to tear at his tingling, itching body until the noise stops, and this is how he looks the first time he meets Nigel Lăzărescu.

The men pressed against the door to his apartment building do not set off any warning bells in Adam’s head, because Adam is too far gone to pay any real attention to them. One man is pressed back by the other. The dark-haired man against the door is bleeding, a thick, seeping trail down his cheek, and the taller blond man has him by the shirt collar, pinned in place by a harsh grip and a knife tight against his belly, just out of Adam’s line of sight. Adam will never see the dark-haired man again, because nobody will ever see the dark-haired man again, but as he is not currently making an effort to commit either man to memory, this fact will escape him entirely.

The blonde man is whispering to the other, harsh, staccato bursts of Romanian, aggressive in their tone. Adam understands none of them, and does not care to. His eyes are on the men’s feet, both men planted firmly on his doorstep, blocking him from his apartment building. Adam is rocking, impatient and agitated.

“You need to move,” Adam says, and is dimly aware that both men look up at him. The dark-haired man babbles at him, but Adam does not speak Romanian, and is too frustrated to focus, even if he did. “You need to move, you can’t stand here.”

“Is that right?” The blond man asks, straightening up and dragging the shorter man with him, “Says who?”

Adam frowns at the man’s feet. He has nice shoes, they’re shiny despite the dirt of the alleyway. “I did,” Adam says, wrapping his arms around himself, “Weren’t you listening?”

“And who the fuck put you in charge, smartass?”

Adam frowns again, his entire face clenching up into the motion. This is going badly, he knows it is going badly, he just can’t make himself care. “I’m not in charge of anything,” Adam babbles, scraping his nails against the skin of his arms, soothing himself with the burn, “But you can’t stand there, I need to get in my apartment, you need to move.”

“Are you fucking tweaking, kid?” The man says, and Adam cannot place the tone of voice, if he is disbelieving or angry or amused, Adam cannot place any of it without looking at his face, and Adam cannot stand the thought of looking at anyone’s face right now. “The fuck did you take?”

“I had Dramamine on the plane,” Adam babbles, confused as to why this man is asking him questions and not just moving, “But that was several hours ago and should no longer be in my system.”

“Fucking Dramamine,” The blond man snorts, “And after that?”

Adam frowns, shakes his head, rocks back and forth on his heels. “Most medication should not be taken on an empty stomach,” He recites, “Unless instructions state otherwise. I get nauseous if I take medication without food.”

Drugs, kid, cocaine, heroin, fucking E. What the fuck are you on?”

“I’m not ‘on’ anything,” Adam growls, frustrated, “I just need to get into my apartment, I need you to move, you need to move...” He whines, low in his throat, and cups his hands over his ears. Everything is too loud, he can still hear the thrumming beat of the strip club, he can feel every speck of dirt in the alleyway crusting over his skin. Adam rocks again, back and forth and back and forth until the man- staring always staring everybody stares- finally speaks again.

“You just want to go home?”

“Yes!” Adam yelps, looking up in frantic desperation. The man catches his eyes. It’s too dark in the alley to see much, but Adam thinks he might have nice eyes. He thinks the man might be… Upset? Concerned, maybe? Adam doesn’t have enough function to practice reading faces right now, the man could be laughing at dumb, dumb Adam for all Adam can tell. “I need to be inside, I can’t be out here anymore.”

“Okay,” The man says slowly. He backs his way off of the front stoop, dragging the whimpering dark-haired man with him. “We’re moving. Me and my buddy will go do our business somewhere else, won’t we?”

The dark-haired man babbles something in Romanian. Adam doesn’t hear it, his focus has narrowed down to the door, to scrambling for his keys. He doesn’t thank the man for moving, doesn’t say anything at all, just struggles with the lock, hands shaking, missing the keyhole over and over again until a body slams into the wall next to him.

Adam startles, whimpers, but it’s just the blond man pinning the dark-haired man into place with one hand, the other covering Adam’s.

“Don’t touch!” Adam yelps, yanking his hand away, “Don’t touch me, you’re hurting me!”

“Hey, hey, easy kid,” The man says, grabbing Adam’s hand again, “Just trying to fucking help.” He guides Adam’s hand to the lock again, easily aiming the key for him until the tumblers give way with a click. “There you go, you’re in. You need...” He clears his throat, hesitates like the words are unfamiliar to him, “You need help getting into your apartment?”

“No,” Adam insists, snatching his hand and his keys back towards his chest, “No, I just need to be alone.” Again, he doesn’t thank the man, although his father had always been very clear about social graces. He can feel guilty about it later. For now, he stumbles towards the stairs.

Adam does not shut the door behind him, but nor does he look back at the blond man, and so he does not notice that the man watches him, listening for Adam’s footsteps until Adam is safely locked away in his apartment.

Then he turns back to his victim with a feral grin and gets back to business.

-----

Chapter Text

The first time Nigel met Adam Raki, he thought the kid was on a bad trip. Nigel had been in the middle of cleaning up after a bad deal, taking care of the low-level, idiot grunt who thought he could pull one over on Nigel and Darko, when the kid appeared over his shoulder, shaking and sweating and looking everywhere but at Nigel himself. Later, Nigel would feel a little bit guilty about his first association, but it was hardly his fault! The kid was rocking like a junkie with heroin shakes, and Nigel’s interaction with people included a lot of fucking junkies these days.

Then, after Adam insisted he wasn’t high (And people lied, they lied all the time, but Nigel could see brutal honesty in those baby blues), Nigel thought maybe he was some kind of head case, which was another thing he could feel guilty about weeks later, but Nigel was an old pro at ignoring his own guilt.

Realistically, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if the kid’s a junkie, or if he’s got some kinda brain damage. The apartment’s not far from Nigel and Darko’s home base, but there’s thousands of people pouring these streets every day, Nigel probably won’t ever see the kid again. But the kid had gorgeous fucking eyes and wasn’t the least bit afraid of Nigel, even when Nigel was kicking the crap out of some guy on his fucking doorstep, and there was something intoxicating about that. Something that made him almost disappointed that they wouldn’t run into each other.

And then they did. Because, as it turned out, Adam walked right past the front of the strip club to get home every day.

The second time Nigel meets Adam Raki, it’s just as pure luck as the first time. He’s out for a smoke break, an extended smoke break, lighting each cigarette off the one before it, all to keep from having to go back inside and knock some heads together to make sure shit got done. He’s halfway through his third, enough that even he is starting to hate the taste of ash and tobacco, when Adam walks by, head down, shoulders hunched to shield himself from the pounding base, weaving and dodging through a crowd that parts for him, intimidated by his refusal to look up at it.

He looks more like a magazine ad than a junkie, this time, in neatly-pressed khakis and a button down shirt, jacket thrown over his shoulder with one hand, messenger bag thrown over his shoulder and held against his side with the other, white-knuckled on the straps. A magazine ad, if the men in magazines had tension written across their forehead in thick stripes and didn’t ever look up from the ground.

Nigel follows him before he even knows what he’s doing, cigarette abandoned on the street (and he’s sure he’ll get shit from the girls for that, Darko’ll put ‘em up to it, they take pride in their joint).

“Hey! Hey, kid!”

The kid keeps walking, putting as much distance between himself and the club as he can manage before Nigel catches up to him. Nigel grabs him by the shoulder.

“Kid, I’m talking to you.”

The kid flinches away, jerking out of Nigel’s hold almost violently, wide-eyed and startled. For a second, those big blue eyes meet Nigel’s, before they slide right off of him and into the space over his shoulder.

“You shouldn’t touch people without asking them first. It’s rude.”

Nigel snorts out a laugh. “Fucking rude to ignore people when they’re talking to you, isn’t it?”

The kid frowns, face pinched and confused. “I didn’t know you were talking to me. I’m not a child. I’m almost thirty.”

Nigel wouldn’t have put the kid at a day over 22, not with a baby face like that. Good. He feels a bit less creepy following the kid around if he’s not so much older.

“Well, I’m talking to you,” Nigel confirms, trying to catch the kid’s eyes. “Wanted to see if you were okay after the other night.”

The kid frowns, and his eyes glaze over Nigel’s features, quick little darts taking him in. Absorbing. Nigel feels like the kid’s looking right through him. It’s uncomfortably intimate for someone who won’t look him dead on.

“You were blocking the door,” The kid finally says, and Nigel laughs again.

“Yeah, that’s me. Always in the way.”

“You’re not in my way right now,” The kid points out, “I just needed to be home.”

“Thought you might be on a bad trip.”

“No, the plane ride was fine, just long.”

“You take everything so fucking literally, princess?”

The kid just looks at him, blank-faced, for a long moment until Nigel clues in.

“If you don’t like ‘kid,’ and you don’t like ‘princess,’ you’re gonna have to give me more to go on.”

“Oh. Oh!” The kid straightens up to his full height (Still smaller than Nigel, just small enough to be intriguing…), and holds out his hand like it’s a fucking job interview. “Adam Raki.”

“Nigel Lăzărescu,” Nigel says, shaking his hand. The kid’s- Adam’s handshake is terrible, too stiff, like he’s never touched another human being before. He pulls back quickly, like the touch is too much for him, like he can’t bear to keep touching Nigel. Nigel wants to punch him, for a split second, but then Adam keeps talking and he’s distracted once more.

“It is very nice to meet you, Nigel.”

“Yeah, you too ki- Adam.”

Adam looks him over, frowns like he can’t puzzle something out, and then speaks again. “Yes.”

He doesn’t deliver it with any context, any clues or hints as to what the fuck he’s talking about. “Fucking what?”

Adam’s frown stretches deeper at the language. He shoves his hands in his pockets, a defensive posture Nigel is well-acquainted with. “Yes, I take everything literally. Most things. I’ve been practicing with metaphorical concepts, but I usually can’t tell when they’re being applied.”

Nigel stares at him. Adam hunches in on himself a little further, bundling himself into a tinier package. “Well,” Nigel finally drawls, “I’ll just have to be more clear next time we talk, won’t I?”

“Next time?” Adam asks, and his tone is still mostly flat, but there’s a spark of something in it. Surprise, hope. Need, desperation. He’s a lonely fucking kid, Nigel can see that in every carefully stitched piece of him.

“Yeah, Adam. Next time. Smoke break’s over, I’ve got to get back. But you come talk to me when you see me, alright?”

“Yeah. Yes, okay.”

-----

Nigel Lăzărescu is not his friend. Adam has learned to stop assuming people are his friend just because they tolerate conversation with him once or twice. But Nigel is still the person most pleased to see Adam on a daily basis, as far as Adam can tell.

It’s not that his coworkers don’t speak English. On the contrary, one of Bucharest’s more pleasant surprises has been the amount of people who speak English. In particular, the couple who run the nearest grocery store are very patient with Adam, especially when he gets frustrated over counting his money. Change seems to be something completely superfluous in Bucharest. Adam painstakingly counts out how much he should receive, only to have everyone hand him back something rounded up. He has yet to see anyone actually use minor change, he doesn’t understand the point and it frustrates him.

Many things frustrate him. Like the fact that his coworkers can all speak English, they just don’t. Adam has a cubicle for some semblance of privacy, but it offers no soundproofing. He can hear his coworkers chatting, a mix of both Romanian and English for the benefit of Lucy, the only other foreigner in Adam’s department, but the second Adam walks by everything is in Romanian.

Adam is used to cliques. He understands that a workplace can be close knit, that it can be hard to accept a new person when the newest person before him started working back in 2005 and Adam has taken someone else’s job after their retirement. He understands these things logically, because Beth and Harlan have both helpfully explained them to him, but it is still very frustrating. It reminds him very much of high school, and then college, when people decided they didn’t want to talk to Adam before they had ever actually tried talking to Adam. He didn’t like it. And it was, in all honesty, very lonely.

Life before Beth had been simple, with Adam and his dad and the occasional painful small talk with a coworker. But this was not ‘life before Beth’. There would never be ‘life before Beth’ again. Everything that ever happened for the rest of Adam’s life would, by definition, be ‘after Beth,’ and Adam was used to it already. He was used to having someone to talk to, about space and stars and raccoons, and occasionally things that Beth was interested in that Adam didn’t, exactly, understand, but that he enjoyed listening to because of the way Beth would get excited and start to giggle. He was used to someone he could eat dinner with, if he so chose, and perhaps even walk to the store with if they both needed to shop at the same time (because Beth did not do things like this on a schedule, normal people didn’t do everything on a schedule, Beth shopped when she absolutely needed food and not a moment before, and it was baffling).

And now here he was, in Romania, and Adam had no one. So, even though he knew Nigel was not actually his friend, he took him at face value when Nigel said to come talk to him if Adam saw him again.

(And yes, Adam took everything at face value anyway, but he would have chosen to do so this time even if he did understand the things people didn’t say.)

The third time he meets Nigel, he waves hello from the edge of the street, ducking his head to avoid the funny looks a few passersby give him. Then he panics and keeps walking before Nigel can actually do more than wave back.

The fourth time, he says hello with his words, and makes forcible small-talk about the weather until Nigel rolls his eyes and asks him to talk about something actually interesting.

“Did you know there are planets where it rains diamonds?”

“Shit really, kid?”

“Nigel.”

Adam.

The fifth time Adam runs into Nigel, a full three weeks after their first meeting, somebody throws up on him.

He’s there in front of the club again, waving to Nigel on his way past. He’s decided he doesn’t have time to stop today; he stayed late at work, caught up and hyper-fixated on his coding, and now his entire routine is off and he’s already a little twitchy. And then there’s a girl, throwing herself at him, clinging bodily to Adam, using him to prop herself up.

“Woah, sorry buddy,” She says, as Adam goes stiff and tries to pry her sharp-nailed fingers off his shoulders, “Hey. Hey, hold still a second, I can’t breathe.”

Adam would feel sorry for her, he really would, but he’s too busy starting to panic as she wobbles against him, tearing a stitch in the shoulder of his sweater, and then she leans back, looks up at him, pats his face, and then vomits all down his front.

It’s awful. It’s terrible. It’s so many things, the smell of her, the feel, if Adam thinks about the sensations too long he’ll lose it. He scrunches his eyes closed as the girl’s friends tug her back into their circle, away from him, away from the mess, and he rocks onto his heels, onto his toes, back and forth until a hand comes down heavy on his shoulder.

“Hey, kid… Adam, come on, come inside, let me get you cleaned up.”

Adam wants to flinch away. He wants to crouch down right there in the street and rock, because tonight he has been ignored and touched and thrown up on and he’s so hungry that the world has started to twist in a painful pattern.

But Nigel’s hand is heavy like his weighted blanket. He grips Adam firm and secure, leading him into the noise, and most importantly, he doesn’t touch Adam anywhere else. He keeps that hand just tight enough to guide and leaves Adam his own, very necessary space. At least until the thrum of the base line overwhelms Adam, and then he goes willingly, tucking his face against Nigel’s shoulder, trying to drown out the sound by blocking his ears between Nigel’s shoulder and his own. Nigel obliges him as if he’s done it a thousand times before, as if he’s used to messed-up autistic men tucking themselves into his chest on a regular basis. All he does is shift, wrapping his arm around Adam’s shoulders to pull him close and whisper in his ear.

“Hey. It’s alright. Just a few more steps, I’ve got an office, you’ll fucking love it. Nice and dim and soundproof.”

Adam can barely make out the shape of the words, so he has no choice but to trust Nigel, letting the man guide him through the crowd until everything goes blessedly silent with the click of a door latch.

The office is sparsely furnished, a heavy oak desk and a thickly padded couch. There’s an ominous stain in front of the desk. Adam latches onto it as a focal point, something to look at as Nigel guides him to sit down on the couch. Adam rocks there, arms wrapped around himself, resisting Nigel’s touch until he realizes Nigel is still helping, not hurting. Then he lets Nigel strip him out of his sweater.

“There we go. Better now, right?”

Softness doesn’t come easily to Nigel. It sounds wrong in his voice, but it soothes Adam regardless. Adam gnaws at his lower lip, rocking and humming softly, calming himself in tiny increments.

“Not a bad fucking trip, then,” Nigel says over Adam’s humming, “Just something you do, huh kid?”

“Adam,” Adam croaks, the defense automatic. Nigel smiles to hear his voice.

“Yeah, always able to fucking correct me, no matter how fucked up you get, aren’t you?”

Adam nods, because it seems to be the answer Nigel is looking for.

“Right.” Nigel kneels in front of him, checks his pupils even though Adam has not been injured, presses two fingers under his jaw to feel the rapid flutter of Adam’s pulse. “Want to tell me what the fuck that’s all about?”

“Stimulation,” Adam whispers, “It gets… It’s too much. Sensory processing and emotional drain. I don’t feel things the way you do, the way other people do. Physically and otherwise.”

“So you get overwhelmed,” Nigel sums up, whistling when Adam nods, “Christ Adam, you moved to the wrong fucking city.”

“My job is here,” Adam informs him, the only answer that makes sense.

“Get a different job.”

“I like this one,” Adam says stubbornly, rubbing one of the dry corners of his sweater through his fingers when Nigel finally hands it over. He rubs it over and over until he can feel the soft scrape of the yarn all the way up his arm and through his teeth.

“You gonna be okay now?”

“No,” Adam says, even though he is currently feeling a lot better. Nigel swears loud enough to make Adam flinch.

“Fucking- What do you mean, fucking no, Adam?” He sighs and runs a hand through his shaggy hair, “We got you cleaned up, you stopped shaking.”

Rocking, not shaking, but Adam does not correct him. He is too tired to keep correcting Nigel. “Right now. But I know it’s coming. I can feel it. My sweater. It’s ruined.”

“What, your landlord too fucking cheap to invest in a laundry room?”

“It’s Friday,” Adam explains, “I don’t do laundry on Fridays. I do laundry on Tuesdays.”

“So make an exception.”

“I can’t do that,” Adam says, frustrated. No one ever understands that there just isn’t room in his world for exceptions. “If I do laundry on a Friday, it will shift my whole week, everything will be wrong and out of order.” And there’s the panic, that low-level bubble in his stomach that stretches and expands until Adam wants to be sick, the panic he knew would set in if he thought about it and then Nigel made him think about it. “So I can’t, I can’t do laundry until Tuesday, and by then the sweater will be ruined, and my dad bought me that sweater, and he will never buy me another sweater again, so I’ll have to throw away the sweater and-”

Nigel’s hands land on his head this time, both of them carding through and pushing hair away from his face, forcing his head back until Adam has to settle on a spot around Nigel’s mouth to avoid the too-much of his eyes.

“Adam,” Nigel says, firm and just loud enough to overtake Adam’s senses, “Stop. Breathe.”

“I can’t-”

“You can,” Nigel interrupts, ducking forward until their foreheads press together and all Adam can see and smell and breathe is Nigel. His hands grip tight in Adam’s hair, pinpricks of almost-pain that narrow Adam’s focus down until the world finally is shut away. “Do as I say. Breathe for me.”

Nigel demonstrates, an exaggerated, slow breath that Adam can’t help but mimic. Then again, and again, until Adam’s pulse finally begins to settle and stop banging against the inside of his head. Then, Nigel smiles at him, close and huge. Adam’s face twists up into the same grin before he can help it, falling back on mirroring like he did as a child, keeping himself safe and whole by following someone else’s lead.

“There’s a good boy,” Oh, and something about that feels nice, pleasant and reassuring in a way nothing has felt since the plane took off. Adam blossoms under the praise, his smile taking on something less Nigel, more Adam. “I’m going to take care of the sweater for you, okay?”

“But-”

“Shh...” Nigel hushes him with a finger to Adam’s lips that should grate more than it does. With Nigel blocking out the rest of the world, though, Adam can handle his touches and sounds, something singular to focus on. “Say ‘Yes, Nigel.’”

“Yes, Nigel,” Adam mimics obediently, because really, it’s much easier than trying to argue with someone holding his head in their hands.

“Good boy,” Nigel says again, and it still doesn’t bother him. Adam doesn’t know why it doesn’t bother him. “Now, I’m going to take care of the sweater. It’ll be squeaky fucking clean net time you see me, got that? And you’re going to- to- what do you fucking do on Fridays?”

“It’s late,” Adam informs him, “Normally I would eat my dinner and watch an episode of my show, and then shower and go to bed.”

“Then that’s what you’ll do.”

“But everything’s-”

“Fucking Christ, Adam,” Nigel’s not yelling, but Adam flinches anyway, wincing at the tug from the remaining hand in his hair, “No, no I’m sorry, you didn’t- fuck, it’s not you, it’s me, okay? I’m a fucking cunt, I know. You’ll get used to it. But shut up and listen to me, okay? Listen and don’t interrupt.”

Nigel pauses like he’s waiting for an answer, but he told Adam to shut up, and he’s still tugging Adam’s hair, so Adam does. Nigel looks surprised.

“Okay. That’s… Good, good boy. So, you’re gonna go home. I’ll walk you home, it’s a fucking disaster out there, junkies and wasted fucking assholes everywhere, no place for a pretty thing like you to be walking alone-”

Adam wants to interrupt there, but Nigel is still talking, still holding him, and Adam was told not to speak.

“- And you’ll eat your fucking dinner and watch your fucking show, and get showered and go to bed, and it’s not going to matter what time it is, is it? You’re just going to do what I tell you, and you can start fresh in the morning.”

It’s not that easy, it’s never that easy, that’s not how Adam’s mind works, but there are pinpricks of pain hyper-focused along his scalp and praise echoing in his head from the first person to think Adam was anything good in a long time, so Adam doesn’t argue. Adam says nothing, actually, until Nigel catches on and huffs out a laugh.

“You can talk. But first, say it again.”

Adam stares at him for a long moment until Nigel clarifies.

“Say ‘Yes, Nigel.”

“Yes, Nigel.”

“Good boy.”

-----
Nigel walks him home. Nigel does more than walk him home, Nigel comes up into his apartment and curses up a storm when Adam forbids him from smoking inside and banishes him right back out. He returns when Adam is eating his mac & cheese, not his preferred brand but good enough, and watching his show. He stays, silent when Adam needs him to be, watching while Adam mouths his way through Inside The Actors studio, and is right there when Adam starts to panic because it’s 10 and he hasn’t showered yet.

“No. Fu- No, Adam, we went through this, what are you supposed to do?”

“Shower and go to bed,” Adam recites, flapping his hands, “No matter what time it is.”

“That’s right. Hop to it.”

It’s one of those turns of phrase Adam hates, but that’s not why he pauses in the doorway. “I… I can’t go to sleep if you’re here. You’re a guest. It’s rude.”

Nigel laughs and shakes his head. “Alright, alright, I know when I’m not wanted,” He says, and Adam almost panics again because this is the closest thing he has to friendship in this country.

“No, wait, that’s not what I meant-”

“Adam!” Adam freezes, hand still outstretched towards Nigel, and Nigel…

Nigel smiles at him, like Adam is something interesting and not something obnoxious or rude.

“Figure of speech, Adam. Figure of fucking speech. You don’t think you’ll get rid of me that fucking easily, do you? I’ll still be waiting for you when you walk home. In fact...”

Nigel pulls one of the dry-erase markers off the fridge and scribbles something right across the stainless steel. It’s a phone number.

“You’re gonna call me in the morning, bright and fuckin’ early, right? Call me and tell me you did what I told you, understood?”

“I wake very early-”

“Adam,” Sharp, stern, but Nigel is still smiling at him, “Am I understood?”

“Yes, Nigel.”

And it is not the beginning of something, not quite yet. But it is a stepping stone, and when Adam goes to bed, he sleeps.

Chapter Text

In the morning, Adam stares at the phone, for long, excruciating minutes. He knows what he’s supposed to be doing. It’s echoing in his head, ‘Yes, Nigel,’ in his head and tugging sharply at something inside him. Something warm.

But he can’t do it. He can’t pick up the phone.

Phone calls have always been difficult for Adam. Communication in general is difficult. He can’t read people’s expressions, can’t follow words that don’t mean what they’re supposed to. Without seeing them at all, without being able to so much as watch the movements of their mouths to read their lips, he is completely lost. Sounds get jumbled up in his head, he misses out on things like syntax and tone, worse than even his usual standard, and half the time he loses focus and misses entire chunks of the conversation.

When he calls Harlan and Beth, he uses Skype, so he can practice watching the twitches and tics of their faces. But Nigel hasn’t given him a Skype username. He’s given Adam a phone number. A series of digits to connect them voice to voice and Adam cannot do it.

A text. A text will be fine.

I did what you told me to. I showered and then I went to bed.’

There. That was exactly what Nigel had wanted to know. It would satisfy him, and Adam could go about his normal Saturday-

The phone was ringing.

The phone was ringing.

Nobody called Adam, Adam only had his phone for emergencies, for Harlan and Beth to check on him when there wasn’t time to Skype, and for apps like his maps and his bank account. But even when checking on him, Harlan and Beth were usually courteous enough to text instead.

People did not call Adam, but the phone was ringing.

Adam watched it ring, some unpleasantly cheery tune that grated on his frayed nerves. Finally, it fell silent, and Adam hesitantly reached for it.

One Missed Call, the screen read, and the number was the same as the one scrawled across Adam’s refrigerator.

Should he text again? He could explain that he didn’t like phone calls, but it would be so much typing, and he would have to tell Nigel all those broken things about himself-

It was ringing again. Adam panicked and dropped it. It skidded across the floor to rest, face up, in front of the sink.

It rang three more times, in full, twisting Adam further and further into knots with each call. Finally, a text lit up the screen, then two more while Adam tried to work up the courage to text them.

Answer the phone, Adam.

How Adam was supposed to do that when Nigel was no longer calling was beyond Adam, but Adam would not have done it anyway.

You were supposed to call me right away.

You promised you were going to listen, Adam.

I don’t like the phone, Adam finally replies, fingers tapping an anxious dance across the back of the phone’s hard casing, It’s confusing and it makes it hard to talk to people.

Several long minutes go by, during which Adam tries to keep his anxiety at bay by imagining Nigel typing a series of increasingly foul words, then erasing them, then typing them again. It’s a surprisingly realistic vision, even though Adam is not known for being particularly imaginative.

Alright, I can work with this, Nigel finally responds, Baby steps. You want your sweater back, right?

Adam debates over his response, then finally settles on one that has so far gotten him decent results. Yes, Nigel.

Great. Then you’ll come get it tomorrow.

Adam hesitates. He rereads the words again, and then a third time. Nigel didn’t specify, but Adam knows. There is only one place he would typically go to meet Nigel, and he doesn’t want to.

He takes too long to answer, and another texts comes through.

Don’t panic on me, Adam. You’ve been inside the club before.

I was with you. I wasn’t paying attention.

You won’t be paying attention this time, either. You’ll just come in and go right back to the room. It’s a Sunday, it won’t be half as busy as a Friday night.

What would be the point? You could come here. Or I could meet you on a smoke break.

Because I told you to.

It settled into Adam, into that twisty, anxious place. It soothed him more than it should have.

Because you like to listen, the next text read. Adam set the phone down on the table, his hands trembling too badly to hold it steady. He did. He did like to listen. Things had been so wrong since moving to Bucharest, so confusing and complicated. But with Nigel, last night, all he’d had to do was listen. He didn’t have to try and hold things in place himself. Nigel had helped. Adam wanted him to help again.

Yes, Nigel. I’ll be there.

Good boy.

Adam stares at the words, just text on a screen, nothing more than 0s and 1s. He stares at them and wonders why no one ever told him it could be that simple.

-----
Nigel is a smart man, a strong man. He’s a lot of good things, actually, despite what others might say. He’s a good boss to his girls, ask any whore in Bucharest and they’ll tell you who to work for. He’s a good business partner, and, as Darko can attest, a good friend to have when shit goes sour.

What he is not, is patient.

Adam is a fascinating little creature, all weird little quirks and wide, innocent blue eyes. He folds beautifully under instruction, but getting him to that point, as Nigel had learned from the phone debacle, was like pulling teeth. Nigel had to be careful to dance around all the little things that might set Adam off, and there was absolutely no way of guessing what those things were until they happened.

So on Saturday morning, he sent an underling to do some digging. The man comes back on Sunday with a thick folder, thicker than it had any right to be. Nigel raises an eyebrow at the man when he opens the folder to find several discreet shots of Adam entering and leaving various buildings in Bucharest, clearly unaware of the cameraman.

“What have we here, Ioan?”

Ioan shrinks a little under Nigel’s consideration. “Boss Darko saw you talking to the kid. Thought you might ask for this sooner or later. He’s had me and Gheorghe on it since last week.”

“Doesn’t miss a fucking thing, does he?” Nigel muses, flipping through the photos. There was a lot of information here, stretching back to Adam’s time in America. “Him and his fucking cameras.”

Ioan nods. “Boss Darko says to remind you that he’s not the only one watchin’, if you’re doin’ all your business out on the sidewalk.”

“Tell Darko to say that fucking shit to my fucking face, I don’t need to hear it from you.”

Ioan cringes, shrinking back. “Yessir.”

Nigel sighs. “Well, fucking talk then. You did all this fucking work, I might as well get something out of it.”

Ioan immediately starts in on whatever little spiel he and Gheorghe had practiced, prepping themselves for whenever Nigel would finally ask.

“Adam Raki, American, formerly of New York. 29 years old. He works as an engineer, designing microchips or some shit. As far as we can tell, he’s good at it, but we couldn’t get any more detail than that. None of his coworkers would be any help. They don’t talk to him. He’s got some sort of… His brain’s all fucked up-”

Nigel’s hand comes down hard on the desk, the loud bang echoing through the room. Ioan flinches back, sharp and scared enough to make Nigel’s warning glare turn almost feral with glee.

“Try again,” Nigel drawls, slow and seemingly patient.

“S-sorry, boss,” Ioan stammers, “I just mean… He’s got this thing, this autism thing? He’s-”

“I know what autism is,” Nigel interrupts, “So the kids a little fucking different. He’ll fit right in.”

“He will?” Ioan looks confused. Nigel brushes him off entirely and returns to the folder. No social network information, so Adam’s smart enough to keep himself off all the Facebooks and Myspaces that make Nigel’s head hurt. It means Ioan and Gheorghe would have had to work harder to find out what they did, and Nigel is almost impressed with them. Almost.

Nigel flips over another sheet and comes face to face with Adam’s sleeping figure, curled up on his side in his bed, tangled in the sheets. It’s not a shot through the window, no. One of them had been in the apartment with Adam. “What’s this then?”

Nigel’s men were not prone to nervous gestures. They were good men, proud men. In the face of Nigel’s clear irritation, however, Ioan looks like he wants to fucking piss himself.

“We checked the apartment to get more information,” Ioan says, sounding confused. It’s not the first time he’s been sent to spy on a mark, after all. A midnight break-in was standard procedure, a chance to poke around at the private lives people hide in their drawers. Nigel tries not to see red.

“Did either of you drug him for this?”

Ioan shakes his head. “Nah, didn’t need to. Kid’s a heavy sleeper, and I’m not some huge oaf like Gheorghe. I left Gheorghe on look-out.”

Nigel nods, tracing his fingers over the edge of the photo, carefully away from Adam’s sleep-slackened features. “No more of this,” He says, low and dangerous, “I don’t care what Darko says to you. Stay out of the kid’s apartment.” It sets Nigel’s teeth on edge. His men are good men, but the idea of someone else invading Adam’s space while Adam was so vulnerable…

Ioan is on of Nigel’s smarter employees. He hesitates before he speaks, but ultimately decides Nigel would rather hear it. “Boss, it was real easy to get in. The lock on the building itself is all rusted, and the kid’s deadbolt doesn’t even work.”

Nigel gives up on holding back his irritation. He’s never been any good at it anyway. “Fucking lazy landlords,” he swears, shuffling through the papers until he finds the information he’s looking for. “Pay him a visit. Handle the situation.”

Ioan nods and leaves. Nigel spreads the papers and photos across his death and shoots a quick text message to Darko. He’s likely just down the hall, but Nigel has no desire to see his smug face right now.

You’re a fucking cunt.

A moment later, the reply comes in: You’re welcome.

-----
Nigel had been telling the truth: the club was far less crowded on a Sunday than it had been on Friday night. Far less crowded, for one of the most popular strip clubs in Bucharest, is still far too crowded for Adam. He cringes his way through the crowd, curling in on himself. There is a different guard blocking the hallway when Adam finally makes his way to it, and for half a second Adam worries that he will be turned away, barred from social interaction once again. Instead, for the first time in his life, Adam is ‘on the list.’ The man lets him in with scarcely a nod in his direction, and Adam finds himself counting doors, trying to remember which one he’s meant to be in.

Adam hadn’t been paying attention the last time. He’d been too focused on slowly melting down, a state he is carefully driving himself back into. He can barely hear the thumping beat from the club, but a bare minimum of sound is still sound, and Adam is still tingling from feeling the music pump through his skin, too many bodies pressing in on him.

On this third pass down the hall, Adam bumps into a child, maybe eleven years old, heading down from the opposite direction, towards one of the doors Adam has already passed. The child looks up from his game and babbles something in Romanian. Adam is shaking from the noise and the crowds. He can barely muster up a handful of words.

“I’m j-just looking for Nigel.”

The kid rolls his eyes and smacks his fist against the closest door, shouting something through it when Nigel’s voice shouts from behind it. “That one,” He tells Adam, and by the time Nigel wrenches the door open, he’s disappeared into another office.

“Son of a bitch,” Nigel swears at the kid’s back. He offers Adam a sheepish smile. “I see you met Darko’s spawn. He’s a spoiled little shit, don’t let him fuck with you.”

None of those words mean anything to Adam, who’s hands have started to beat a rhythm against his thighs. Nigel frowns down at them and then grabs them in his own, squeezing tight when Adam tries to pull away.

“None of that now,” Nigel lectures, pulling Adam through the door and sealing them inside the office. Adam shakes his head, yanking at his captured hands.

“You can’t do that,” He tells Nigel, shaking his head again and again until he’s dizzy with it. “You can’t do that, you’re making it worse.”

“Shh, trust me.” To Adam’s surprise, Nigel presses him down to sit on the couch, and then fills his hands with something soft and malleable to stim instead of his own body.

It’s clay. Good clay, not play-doh, which had always set Adam off as a child with it’s strong scents and habit of leaving technicolor residue on everything it touched. Adam works it back and forth until it loses some of its stiffness and he can breathe again.

At some point during all this, Nigel had sat next to him and wrapped an arm around Adam’s shoulder. It’s nice and heavy, weighing him down into the couch. Adam leans into it as soon as he comes back to himself, pleased to find Nigel welcoming the touch, pulling him tight against his side until they press up in line, side to side, a point of contact to ground him.

“Better?” Nigel asks when Adam’s hands finally slow. Adam nods and spares a glance at him.

He can’t read Nigel’s face. Adam can’t read most people’s faces, honestly, unless they’re projecting a single, firm emotion. Crying means sad, except when it doesn’t. Laughing means happy, except when it doesn’t. Nigel is smiling now, and Adam has hope that it’s a good thing.

“I came,” Adam points out.

“You did,” Nigel agrees, and hands him a piece of chocolate. Adam stares at it for a long time, until it starts to leave a melted smear against his palm. “Positive reinforcement,” Nigel finally explains, gripping Adam’s hand and guiding it upwards until the chocolate slid between his lips. “Don’t chew. Savor.”

It’s good chocolate, even if Adam doesn’t entirely understand. He sucks on the chocolate as Nigel wipes his hand clean of chocolate and then reaches up to press a loose strand of hair away from Adam’s face.

“There’s a good boy,” Nigel whispers, his face entirely too close. It startles Adam so badly that he swallows, and loses what remained of the chocolate.

“Why-” Adam tries and fails to ask. Nigel studies him for a long, quiet moment, frowning. Then he stands, fetching Adam’s sweater from his desk and pressing it into Adam’s hands.

“Because you like it,” Nigel says, staring down at Adam’s hands, at the way they clutch the sweater, fingers rubbing over the soft fabric. “Because I like it when people listen. And because it works. You’re here, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Would you have come in here if I hadn’t told you to?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t like crowds. Or loud noises. There are too many people and they touch me. It makes my skin hurt.”
Nigel sits next to him again, reaches out to trail a finger over Adam’s thumb where it rubs the collar of his sweater. Adam freezes, every piece of him locked onto that touch. It’s not gentle, not the light sort of touch that Beth would try and that always made him itch. This is solid, secure. Nigel has no hesitation in touching Adam.

“There are a lot of things that do that to you, aren’t there?” Nigel asks him. Adam thinks about the crowds of New York City, about the loop he gets stuck in when dinner is late or his alarm doesn’t go off, and nods.

Nigel watches him, thoughtful. “It’s easier if someone else handles it, isn’t it? If all you have to worry about is listening?”

Adam looks at the bridge of Nigel’s nose, just close enough to enjoy the color of his eyes without actually having to look at them, and nods again.

Nigel nods in return, and smiles at him. Adam thinks it’s a real smile, genuine happiness. Happiness at something Adam has done. “Well then,” Nigel says, “We’ll just have to push your boundaries a bit more often.”

Nigel doesn’t tell him to do anything else in the office, or make him answer any more questions, or clarify what he means by ‘pushing boundaries.’ He does walk Adam home, though, close enough to touch, if Adam wanted to, and at Adam’s doorstep, Nigel brushes his hands through Adam’s hair again and leans in to be heard.

“Dinner. Then shower, then bed. At whatever pace you need. But in the morning, Adam, you’ll answer when I call.”

And Adam just nods.

-----

In the morning, Nigel calls twice, and both calls go unanswered. He’s not surprised. Even though Adam is obedient to a fault, Nigel is not so egotistical as to think he can cure 29 years worth of defensive behaviors and neurological tics with a bite of expensive chocolate. He’ll have to think of a proper response regardless. Adam will be expecting it, even if he won’t be entirely sure what he’s expecting. Adam practically preens every time Nigel tells him how good he’s been, it won’t mean anything at all if there’s never anything to compare it to.

Nigel has just laid out a plan when the phone finally rings, and this does not surprise him either. “Hello, Adam,” He says, and waits, patient for once in his life.

I tried,” Adam finally says, his voice creaking through the speaker, “I tried, but I couldn’t, I couldn’t do it.”

“Shh...” Nigel hushes him, soft as he can manage with his own innate roughness, “You made up for it. Can’t expect you to get everything right the first time, can I?”

I tried,” Adam repeats, sounding a bit affronted this time.

“You did. I’ll remember. Did you do what I told you to?”

I do those things every night, Nigel,” comes the confused response.

“That’s not what I asked you. Did you do what I told you to?”

Yes, Nigel.”

“Good boy.”

There’s a long moment of silence, during which Nigel can almost picture the soft, pleased flush that will have settled over Adam’s face.

I have to go to work,” Adam finally says, breaking the spell that has settled over Nigel. Nigel wants to laugh, but he knows Adam will take it the wrong way if he does.

“Go to work, then. I’ll talk to you later.”

And Nigel doesn’t really know what he’s fucking doing yet, or why, but he’s enjoying it, and doesn’t that just beat all?

-----
Adam does not eat lunch at the lab.

He knows that the others do, that there is an entire big break room dedicated to lunch and other varieties of not-working, but Adam has never set foot in it, besides his obligatory trip on the first-day tour. It would risk too much interaction with people who still looked at him funny when he walked the halls. He didn’t want to have to stammer his way through hopeful conversation that always seemed to end poorly.

Instead, Adam spent his hour lunch break in a different location each time. This was stressful, and not out of any real desire. Rather, it was because he’d yet to find a location he felt comfortable in. Not like curling up in Central Park, although an actual park had been the first place he tried. Back in New York, Adam had always journeyed to Central Park after dark, looking up at the stars. Noon was a lot more crowded, families and their picnics set out everywhere. Everywhere, Bucharest was full of picnics. Adam, who would have eaten inside if he’d had a better option, didn’t really get it.

This week, Adam was trying a brightly-lit side street. The restaurants all had outdoor tables set up, and as long as he bought something to drink, no one looked at him too funny for unpacking food from home.

The music overtakes Adam slowly. He doesn’t listen to much music to begin with. Poetry, in all its forms, is full of people not saying what they mean, and it frustrates him. Besides, he works best in silence, no chatter to distract him from the task at hand.

This, though, this is different. Adam has listened to orchestral music before. It’s superior to normal music due to its lack of poetry, but there is so much of it that Adam has never really bothered to dig much further. Now it washes over him, the shuddering of strings sinking in under his skin.

It has not occurred to Adam before that music could feel good. Physically speaking. But it does. His body wants to tremble with it, close enough to make out every variation but not so close that the strings make his teeth begin to ache with the volume.

The woman who makes the music is just a few tables away, drawing a bow over a large instrument propped before her- cello, some part of Adam remembers-, and accepting tips in a dish before her on the table. Adam watches her, fascinated. The look on her face is not any clear-cut expression he recognizes. She plays with her eyes closed, feeling her way across the strings, and her mouth does not quite smile, but when the piece finishes, she drops her bow and absolutely beams.

It’s a nice smile, Adam likes it, but what he likes more is the music, the way it had flowed through her limbs, down into the cello, and then out to echo within Adam himself. His father had taken him to the symphony once, on the encouragement of a teacher who had read that music was good for autistic children, but it had been packed full of people, too crowded, and Adam had gone into a full meltdown before they’d even made it to their seats. He has never heard anything like this before. Adam moves before he can stop himself.

“Are you going to play more?”

The woman looks up at him with a smile, on that Adam recognizes as the ‘customer smile’ so many people in shops wear.

“Would you like me to?” She asks, and Adam nods and sits himself down at her table, watching intently. She wavers under his gaze, like most people do when Adam is too much, and after a moment, Adam remembers his manners.

“Oh, right!” He pulls a blue-toned bill from his wallet and sets it into her dish. She stares at it for a long moment, long enough that Adam starts to panic.

Then she plays.

It’s too loud at first, now that he’s so close. Adam shoves back from the table and takes a few steps back, and the woman falters for only a second before she loses herself in the music again. With a few more feet of distance between them, Adam can enjoy it. He closes his eyes like the woman does and just listens. People have said before that music means something, that it is telling a story. Adam has no idea what story he is being told, and he doesn’t care. He cares that his skin tingles pleasantly with the sound and that the whole alley sounds like nothing but music, all the noises of ‘people’ washed out and pushed aside.

When the music finishes, the woman stares. Adam is used to this. He smiles back at her and says, “Thank you.”

“You are very welcome,” The woman says, glancing back at the bill in the dish. Adam wonders if he was supposed to leave more. “Would you like to sit down…?”

She stares at him, waiting. This, Adam knows, from watching Beth. The woman wants his name.

“Adam,” He tells her, sitting back in the seat he’d abandoned. “Adam Raki.”

“Gabi Ibanescu.”

Gabi is not like Beth. She curses a lot more, for one, almost like Nigel does. And she smokes, offering Adam a thin cigarette which he enthusiastically declines. But she is also a lot like Beth, in the way she smiles when Adam gets excited, rambling about his pitiful experiences with music and the few facts he can remember about how string instruments produce sound, a smattering of things learned in his childhood, when music was forced upon him as a weekly torture in elementary school. Gabi smiles, gently corrects a few things Adam is mistaken about, and when Adam checks his watch and starts to panic, she helps him pack his lunch back into his bag.

“You are an interesting person, Adam Raki,” She says to him, which is not something Adam hears very often, “If you would like to learn more about music, I will be playing again tomorrow.”

And Adam, who has not had a positive social experience in a long time (Besides the ones with Nigel, and Adam doesn’t think it counts if all he has to do is do as he’s told, it’s too easy), eagerly promises to return.

-----
Nigel is not having a smoke break when Adam walks by that night. Adam is disappointed, for a long, lingering moment. And then he thinks about it.

He thinks about Gabi, pretty, talented Gabi. She is the kind of girl that high school peers had described as ‘out of Adam’s league’ (Although they had ascribed the term indiscriminately to all women), and she had not only talked to him, but asked to talk to him again tomorrow. He had successfully navigated interaction, somehow, without Beth squeezing his arm to shut him up or Nigel patiently and explicitly telling him what to do. He’s proud of himself.

Still riding the high of that experience, Adam makes himself go into the club. He makes himself shut out the music, not at all like Gabi’s cello, and he walks with his eyes on his shoes.

He was not invited, this time, but the big burly men let him past anyway, and this time, Adam remembers which door to go to.

Nigel looks surprised when he answers the door, cell phone tucked between his chin and his shoulder. He rattles something unintelligible into the speaker and snaps it closed.

“I… You weren’t outside,” Adam tells him, and that turns out to be the extent of his courage. Suddenly, he realizes all the rules he’s broken. He has invited himself into someone’s space, into someone’s work, without being welcomed or even calling ahead. The gaze he’d managed to lock on Nigel’s collar suddenly drops back to the ground, and Adam’s fingers begin to twitch.

“Adam, I’m kind of in the middle of something-”
“I’m sorry!” Adam doesn’t let him finish, tapping his fingers against his palms. This was stupid. He had Nigel’s number, he could have called. Or, better, texted. He could have gone home, but now here he was. Stupid and embarrassed. “I’ll go, I should go, I-”

“Adam!”

Adam freezes. Nigel has perfected that tone, that stern voice that sinks into Adam’s head so easily. Adam dares to peek up at Nigel’s chin and try to read his face.

Nigel is smiling, which is better than Adam could have hoped for.

“I like that you surprised me,” Nigel tells him, “But I do have something to take care of.”

“Right, I can-”

“I didn’t say you could speak.”

Adam’s jaw snaps shut with an audible click. If anything, Nigel’s smile only seems to grow.

“I have to take care of something,” Nigel says again, “But you can wait for me, can’t you?”

Adam does not speak. Doesn’t do anything, except let his gaze creep a little further up Nigel’s face.

“Yeah,” Nigel decides, stepping aside. “Go stand in front of my desk.”

Adam goes, facing the desk, stock still with his hands at his side. He can’t see Nigel like this, but he can feel the way Nigel looks at him.

“Put your hands on top of your head,” Nigel finally says, when Adam starts to fidget. Adam starts to raise his hands automatically, and then frowns, hesitating.

“Why?”

Nigel doesn’t answer him for a long, long moment. Adam cannot see his face, but he realizes that maybe, just maybe, he is not the only one who doesn’t know what’s happening here. “Because I want you to,” Nigel finally tells him, and Adam raises his hands and settles them both neatly atop his own hair. Behind him, Nigel lets out a slow breath, and the heavy feeling of staring creeps up and down Adam’s spine. Unpleasant, anywhere else, but he finds he likes Nigel’s eyes on him. “Stay there,” Nigel says, “Stay just like that until I come back for you.”

And even though the door clicks shut and Nigel’s footsteps echo down the hall, even though there is no one left in the room to see him, Adam does. Because Nigel wants him to. Because Nigel said to, and never has Adam had anyone who was so easily pleased with him before. Adam wants that feeling, he wants it every day, he wants to keep it close in his chest and let it fill him.

Adam doesn’t know how long Nigel is gone. He has a watch, but checking it would mean moving from how he’d been told to stand, and he doesn’t want to. Nigel wouldn’t know, but Adam would. He stands there, and drifts. He feels tingly, pleasant and floaty. He feels the way he felt when the music was playing. This is easy. All he has to do is stand like this and when Nigel comes back, Nigel will be pleased with him and will probably tell Adam he was good. All Adam has to do is listen, and he gets to feel like this.

Adam barely notices the click of the door when Nigel returns, but he notices the hand that reaches out to cup his chin, tilting his head to meet Nigel’s steady gaze and oh.

Nigel is pleased with him. Nigel is beyond pleased. Adam can only barely distinguish most emotional responses, but he knows that no one has ever looked at him the way Nigel is looking at him. Nigel smiles with his teeth, and his hand is firm on Adam’s jaw. Adam feels untethered. He is no longer in control of the situation, has never been when he’s with Nigel, and he doesn’t want to be. Nigel looks him up and down, every piece of him, and Adam wants.

“Are you interested in me?” The words burst forth before Adam can stop them, years of practice with other people vanishing. Adam wants, and he wants Nigel to want, and both of those things are tumbling out of him faster than he can restrain them.

Nigel stills, stiff in front of him. “What?”

And Adam knows he should stop, remembers how this went with Beth, but he has always been terrible at working his way out of trouble, and so he says it anyway. “Sexually. Are you sexually aroused when I do what you tell me?”

Nigel’s face changes. His smile drops, but he is not frowning, is not doing anything that Adam could hope to identify. “Jesus fucking Christ, Adam.”

Adam immediately starts to back up, dropping his hands from his head. Nigel’s hands seem to come from nowhere, gripping Adam’s wrists in a tight hold that Adam could not have broken, even if he’d been willing to try. They stare at each other, two men frozen in this space, a feedback loop of something that makes Adam tremble.

And then Nigel starts to laugh.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Adam,” He says again, “You just say whatever pops into your pretty little head, don’t you?” Nigel tucks both of Adam’s wrists into one hand, shifts them out of his way, wraps his free hand in Adam’s hair-

-And kisses him.

Chapter Text

Adam isn’t the first boy Nigel has kissed. He has a bit of a reputation for being indiscriminate with lovers, so long as they’re beautiful. It’s part of the reason he’d pushed so hard to build his empire; it was a lot harder for people to give you shit when you could have them shot down in the street.

Adam is not the first boy Nigel has kissed, nor the most seductive. He kisses like it’s a curiosity, like he’s mapping out Nigel for further study.

Not the first, not the most seductive, not the most skilled, and yet Nigel cannot fathom why he had ever kissed those other men, when he only had to wait a few more years to find Adam.

There are a number of flat surfaces in Nigel’s office that he can lay Adam out on, but he chooses the wall instead, just to feel Adam pinned against it, held in place by Nigel’s weight and Nigel’s hands. He drops his grip on Adam’s wrists to tug at the hem of Adam’s shirt instead, pushing and pulling until he can get past layers of sweater and button-down and undershirt, all the way to soft, smooth skin. Adam makes a helpless little noise, a whimper that slows Nigel’s hands until he’s tracing circles on Adam’s stomach, trying to coax that sound out again.

“We can’t have sex here,” Adam says, tilting his head back to break the kiss. He says it calmly, like he’s discussing the weather, like he hasn’t just been kissed within an inch of his life, and Nigel has to hide his chuckle against the exposed line of Adam’s throat.

“We can’t?” He asks, nipping gently at the soft flutter of Adam’s pulse. Adam whimpers again, and shoves at Nigel’s shoulders.

“There’s no bed here,” Adam informs him, sounding dead serious.

And that is, admittedly, true. There is a desk, and what Nigel considers to be a perfectly serviceable couch, but if Adam wants a bed, he can have a fucking bed. He can have silk sheets and rose petals if he wants, and they can work their way up to the desk.

“But if there was a bed,” Nigel says slowly, “We could have sex?”

“Yes,” Adam says, as if it’s that simple, but a little bit of hesitation has crept back into his voice, a little bit of nerves, of wariness. Nigel soothes the wrinkle of his brow with soft kisses, until Adam closes his eyes and just relaxes in his arms.

“You’re a fucking marvel, Adam, that’s what you are.”

Adam’s whole face crinkles up when he’s confused, but Nigel softens him up again with little pecks to his forehead, to his cheek. He feels giddy, a word that has possibly never been used to describe Nigel Lăzărescu, and yet here he is.

It’s not like he hasn’t thought about it, of course. Whatever he and Adam were doing, with commands and praise, there has definitely been a sexual undercurrent, something sharp and hot running through every interaction. But thinking about something and actually expecting to get it are two different things, and up until now, feeling Adam’s erection pressed up against his thigh, Nigel wasn’t entirely sure Adam was a sexual creature at all.

Nigel makes himself break away from Adam, giving him space. He doesn’t entirely trust himself not to try to convince Adam, if they keep touching. Past lovers had occasionally wanted to be goaded into new experiences, but with Adam, Nigel suspects the lines are a lot more firmly drawn. The desk is hard, the couch is squeaky leather, the faintest of bass beats can be heard creeping into the office. There are a thousand different sensory inputs in Nigel’s office, and he’s pretty sure Adam’s keeping track of each and every one of them.

But there will be time later. Hours and hours to lay Adam out and enjoy him. For now, Nigel has things to do.

“You were a good boy for me,” Nigel whispers, just to watch the way Adam shudders, eyes half-closed as he hums, pleased. “You deserve a treat.”

Adam looks vaguely hazy, has ever since Nigel walked back in the room, like he’s floated off somewhere, but now his whole being perks up, a tiny smile gracing his face. He’s so easy, it’s wonderful. There are landmines to knowing Adam, things that will set him off quicker than Nigel even knows he’s done them, but if Nigel is careful, if he watches his step, it takes so little to light Adam up.

Nigel leads Adam to his desk, sitting down and pulling Adam into his lap. It’s a little awkward; Adam is nearly as tall as Nigel is, and graceless in his struggle to sit upright. Finally, though, Nigel manages to arrange him properly, tucking Adam’s head under his chin and holding him close, almost like a child. Adam tilts his face into Nigel’s throat and breaths in, deep and slow, while Nigel rubs slow circles into his back.

When Nigel offers up a piece of chocolate, Adam reaches for it with his fingers.

“No,” Nigel says, gently directing Adam’s hands back into his lap, “Open.”

Adam’s face scrunches up and he looks adorably confused, but he opens his mouth and let’s Nigel set the chocolate on his tongue.

“Savor,” Nigel reminds him, and Adam does, throat working with every swallow as he lets the chocolate melt against his tongue. Nigel’s hand is still there, fingertips pressed to Adam’s lips, feeling every shift. When the chocolate is done, Adam sticks his tongue out licking traces of chocolate from Nigel’s fingers in a way that Nigel is sure is meant to be practical, not seductive. And then Adam’s tongue curls against the tip of Nigel’s middle finger, and Adam looks up through his lashes, shy but sure, and Nigel reevaluates everything he knows about Adam’s sexuality.

If Adam wants a bed, he gets a fucking bed, but Nigel might just die before they get there.

-----
Adam understands sex – mostly. He understands, from porn, the type of things that people (mostly men) find sexually arousing, even if he doesn’t quite understand it (Nigel’s fingers tasted more like salt and skin than chocolate, but Nigel’s breath had hitched and he’d hardened beneath Adam). He understands, from Beth, that porn cannot be literally applied to sexual intercourse if you want to have a good result. And he understands, from himself and from Nigel, exactly what he likes, what makes Adam squirm and feel hot and achy all over.

Sex is not like emotions. Sex is entirely logical and straightforward: you like something, or you don’t. If you don’t like it, like Beth had not liked being touched along her sides, where she was ticklish, then you don’t do it. If you do like it, like Adam likes being held tightly, pinned and moved and adjusted, then you tell your partner and you do it, again and again and again.

Some people are shy about sex. Adam is not. He doesn’t see the point. If he’s not upfront about what he likes, then he’s not going to get what he likes, and then there doesn’t seem to be any point in having sex at all.

The only thing that makes Adam anxious is initiating contact. He knows about informed consent and making sure your partner is okay with everything you’re doing. But while sex is straightforward, foreplay is not. Flirting is a haze of nonverbal cues and body language, neither of which Adam is any good at. He doesn’t know if someone is aroused by him, if they want to have sex, if they want Adam to touch them. And people, Adam knows, do not always like to be asked outright. It had taken a few missteps before he and Beth had learned to talk to each other, to tell each other when they were interested. And that was fine, great even, but Adam wasn’t having sex with Beth anymore.

Adam has done the reading. He has studied faces. He knows that when he’s aroused, Nigel’s pupils go wide, his hands tense on whatever they’re holding, and he smiles with all his teeth.

Nigel also does all of that when he’s angry, though, so when Nigel comes to Adam’s apartment for dinner, Adam is still not entirely sure Nigel wants him.

Right up until Nigel pulls the dishtowel from Adam’s hand and pins him back against the counter with his tongue in Adam’s mouth. At that point, Adam thinks it’s safe to assume Nigel wants to have sex with him.

Kissing Nigel is… interesting. It’s different than Beth. Sometimes, Beth would take the lead, guide Adam to where they needed to be, but once they’d worked out how they were best together, she’d expected Adam to take charge occasionally.

Nigel doesn’t wait for Adam to take the lead, and he isn’t trying to guide Adam, either. That would require something slower, gentler, and there’s none of that to be found here. Nigel is rough in all the right ways, licking into Adam’s mouth, shoving Adam’s shirt up around his armpits so he can thumb at Adam’s nipples. Adam squeaks, unused to that sort of touch. It only makes Nigel smile against his mouth and gently pinch at them again.

“There’s a bed here, gorgeous,” Nigel points out, lips gliding over Adam’s jaw, down to his throat, until Nigel can latch onto a sensitive spot near Adam’s clavicle with a harsh suck.

“Y-yeah,” Adam says, hopeful, but unwilling to push. Nigel, Adam is learning, has no problem taking what he wants. Adam’s earlier fears vanish. He doesn’t have to try and decipher Nigel’s moods. If Nigel wants to have sex, then they will.

Nigel takes that moment to roll his hips into Adam’s, letting Adam feel every inch of solid heat against the inside of his thighs. Adam is hard too, sensitive and aching. He’s thought about it, in the days since that first kiss, in the shower, hands reaching and grasping. Thought about if he’d changed his mind, if he’d let Nigel have him over the desk instead of spending the rest of the evening chastely cuddled in Nigel’s lap. Adam’s never been known for his imagination, but fantasies are a lot easier than reality. In his fantasies, there is no sensory overload, and Adam can have whatever he likes.

“I want you,” Nigel whispers against the new bruise he’d left on Adam’s skin. “I want you, gorgeous, Adam, tell me I can have you.”

Maybe it’s meant to be a command. It certainly feels that way. It sends the same thrill through Adam as everything Nigel has demanded so far, listen to me, say ‘yes, Nigel’, hands on your head, tell me I can have you.

But even as Adam whines at the sudden surge of arousal, Nigel pulls back to look him in the eyes. Adam can’t read his expression, but it’s softer than he’d expected, lines around his eyes as he looks at Adam and waits. Not for obedience. For permission. It’s not a command, but a plea.

“Yes, Nigel,” Adam answers anyway, because whenever he does, Nigel’s eyes go just that little bit wider, heated by Adam’s submission the way Adam is by his control, “I want you, too.”

“Fuck,” Nigel hisses, and then they’re kissing again, and Nigel’s hands are steadier, more sure as they yank Adam’s shirt off.

“That’s not where that goes,” Adam protests when the shirt ends up sprawled across the kitchen floor. Nigel isn’t listening, too busy locking his arms under Adam’s thighs and hoisting him up off the ground. For a long moment, Adam is distracted from his fuss, too focused on clinging tight to Nigel’s neck, afraid of falling. Nigel maneuvers them back to Adam’s bedroom just like that, without the slightest bit of hesitation under Adam’s weight.

It’s only when he’s got Adam sprawled out over the bed that Adam can get his focus back. “That’s not where that goes,” Adam says, straightening up. He almost makes it to the edge of the bed before Nigel is on him again, shirtless as well now. Nigel presses him down into the bed, braced over Adam, pinning him down with his body. It’s almost soothing, a pleasant pressure across Adam’s hips and thighs, or it would be if Adam’s mind wasn’t still out in the kitchen with his shirt.

“Nigel!” Adam protests, shoving at Nigel’s shoulders when Nigel tries to kiss him. His hands are starting to flap, twisting twisting twisting in the air as he tries to get his point across. Nigel reaches for his wrists, pins them in place, and Adam knows it’s meant to soothe him, knows it should soothe him, but he’s beyond soothing now. He’s still in the kitchen, still on the floor, still wrong and out of place.

“That’s not where it goes,” Adam insists again as Nigel presses kisses to his shoulder. He wants to let it go, he wants to give in to the teeth that suddenly graze against his skin, but Adam can’t focus when things are wrong. Everything in life has to go exactly where it belongs, or Adam starts to feel like he’s dying. He is not typically hyperbolic, but there’s no other way to describe what a panic attack feels like when it’s clenching in his chest.

“It’s okay, baby,” Nigel whispers against his skin, because he doesn’t know, he doesn’t get it, “I’ll pick it up for you later.” His hands start to tug at Adam’s belt.

“No!” Adam yelps, almost a shriek, “Get off of me! Don’t touch me!” He brings a knee up to shove at Nigel’s chest. Nigel goes immediately, letting go of Adam and toppling back onto the bed, even though Adam knows he didn’t shove that hard. It’s somewhat of a relief, to know that no matter what Nigel might want, no matter how Adam might want to please him, Adam can still have some sort of power here.

“Fucking- What the fuck, Adam?”

“That’s not where it goes,” Adam says for a fourth time, chest heaving with the force of his breaths. His hands are flapping in front of him, he can’t stop them, they move all by themselves. Nigel stares at them and Adam wants to hide, everyone is always staring, “That’s not where it goes, I can’t just leave it there, I have to put it away, laundry goes in the basket. Laundry goes in the basket.” His voice is raising higher and higher as he shakes and stumbles from the bed and it wouldn’t be like this if Nigel had just picked the shirt up when Adam told him to-

Nigel comes up behind him and wraps two strong, sturdy arms around Adam, pinning Adam’s hands to his chest and rocking him on his feet in slow, steady motions.

“No no no,” Adam whimpers, squirming in Nigel’s arms. Nigel shushes him, soft little sounds in Adam’s ear, nuzzling into his throat as he rocks.

“Hush, gorgeous, I’ve got you. I’ll get the shirt. I’ll get every stitch of clothing and put it right in the basket, will that help?”

“Uh-huh,” Adam whimpers in agreement. He can’t stim properly like this, and while the pressure feels good, he also feels like there’s too much energy under his skin. His fingers taptaptap against his collarbone, the only little motions he can manage.

“Every stitch,” Nigel promises, “But you need to do something for me. Can you, darling?”

“Uh-huh,” Adam says again.

“Let me take off the rest of your clothes. Then you’ll sit on the bed and count for me.”

“Count what?”

“Anything, Adam. Just the numbers. Just keep counting until I tell you to stop, okay?”

“Okay, Nigel,” Adam breaths. He feels like he’s under his weighted blanket, safe and secure. Nigel isn’t much taller, but he’s big in ways that Adam just… isn’t. Broad shouldered and heavy against Adam’s back.

Nigel strips them both with care, but without any of the sensual touches of before. He’s giving Adam time to breathe, and Adam appreciates it.

Soon they’re naked, and Adam’s almost sturdy enough to want to peek, but Nigel doesn’t give him the chance. He guides Adam back down to the bed and Adam sits, legs folded, eyes closed, hands twisting in his lap. Adam takes a deep breath, and he counts.

He can hear Nigel moving around the apartment, and there’s a part of him that’s anxious about it, but he trusts Nigel. Nigel will fix things, and all Adam has to do is sit here and… and be good. Count, because Nigel told him to.

Around fifteen, Adam starts focusing more on the numbers than on the sounds in his apartment, the rush of water from the kitchen sink, the heavy footsteps. He tunes them out. By forty, the numbers have synced up with his breathing. He counts every inhale, every exhale. He feels better. He’s drifting.

Ninety-three comes on an exhale, and when he goes to take the next breath, Nigel’s mouth finds the sensitive place just behind his ear. “Nine-Ah!” comes out on a startled squeak, and Adam loses count completely when Nigel’s chest presses up against his back.

“All better, gorgeous?”

“Is the shirt in the basket?”

Nigel chuckles against Adam’s neck. His hands are wandering again, one caressing Adam’s stomach, just above where Adam wants it, and one grazing over his nipples, back and forth, little pinches and tugs that leave Adam breathless and make him sensitive, until he whines with every new tug.

“The shirt’s in the fucking basket,” Nigel whispers, “All of our clothes are in the basket. Even mine.”

“That’s not always how this works,” Adam tells him, because he has to warn him, even with how fuzzy his brain has gone, focus narrowed to points of sharp pleasure on his chest, “You can’t just tell me to calm down and have that fix everything, not always, my brain doesn’t work that way.”

“We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it,” Nigel says, and Adam tilts his head back glares at him because he hates figures of speech and that one doesn’t even make sense. Nigel smiles back and shifts to tease both of Adam’s nipples at once, rolling them between his fingertips until Adam lets out a high moan and closes his eyes again. “As long as it works, Adam, does it matter? I’ll think of something new when I have to.”

“I don’t think-” Nigel leans forward, hands shifting to caress Adam’s sides and his hips. The new closeness means Adam can feel him, hard and hot against Adam’s ass, and Adam is lost. “Nigel!”

“Tell me I can have you, Adam,” Nigel says, just like he did in the kitchen, and there is nothing else Adam can do except tilt his head back for a kiss, and say ‘please.’

That little plea seems to rile something in Nigel. He kisses with teeth, clutching Adam closer with a hand across Adam’s throat. It’s gentle, no pressure, but it’s solid in a way that makes Adam arch his back, rolling his hips up into nothing.

Adam’s not quite sure how he ends up flat on his back. He misses a few steps somewhere, misses everything but Nigel’s mouth, tongue and teeth and an intimacy that makes Adam shudder.

Nigel seems even broader this way, on all fours over Adam, strong hips pressed up against the insides of Adam’s thighs. Adam can see everything now, and he…

He’s a little nervous, if he’s being honest.

Adam knows how men have sex. His pornographic DVDs have always been an eclectic collection. He’s been fastidious in the shower, ever since Nigel, making sure he’s clean and tidy, just in case. He’s even fingered himself before, both before and after Nigel, pressing into himself until he feels good, until there are sparks shooting up his spine and his wrist aches from the angle. Adam is not opposed to anything that will feel pleasant.

And yet he looks at Nigel, at his… at his cock (And Adam knows the words, but it’s so very different to think them himself, it sends a thrill through him he wasn’t expecting), long and thick, and Adam wants, he does, but…

He tenses at the first touch of Nigel’s fingers to his entrance, slick with something Nigel had set out on the bedside table. Nigel presses in in in, and Adam is scared and aroused and everything, everything all at once, and all he can do is tilt his head back and say ‘please.’

Adam doesn’t know how Nigel knows what he needs, when Adam doesn’t even know what he needs, but he tucks his face into Adam’s throat and presses his body down until Adam is pinned, one hand trapping Adam’s wrists between their chests and the other pushing, pushing, opening Adam up in steady, firm strokes. It works, because of course it does, somehow all of Nigel works for all of Adam. Nigel’s weight is holding him down and his fingers are opening him up, and all Adam has to do is let him. And Adam wants so badly to let him.

“Please,” Adam begs again, and this time he knows what he needs. He nuzzles into Nigel’s hair until Nigel lifts up and kisses him, soft and sweet, licking into Adam, opening him up in every way.

Adam can’t move, can’t sit up or pull away, can’t do anything but welcome Nigel into his body. He can squirm, a little bit, and when he does, Nigel’s hands tense and his hips roll down against the bed, and Adam likes that so he does it again. He shifts his body and tugs at his wrists, making Nigel hold him down, making Nigel put that beautiful pressure on him. There are three fingers inside him now, and a fourth demanding entrance. Adam rolls his hips and moans into Nigel’s mouth when they graze his prostate.

“Again,” Adam demands, and Nigel chuckles against his mouth and curves his fingers inside of him, pressing over and over again in short little bursts until Adam sobs with the pleasure of it all.

“I want inside of you, darling,” Nigel says, releasing Adam’s wrist and pulling back to stare at his face, “Will you let me?”

“I’d let you do anything,” Adam says, and almost means it.

“No you wouldn’t,” Nigel says with a smile, pulling his fingers away and lining himself up. And he’s right, because as he does, Adam tenses up and shakes his head.

“Condom.”

Nigel frowns, but doesn’t push forward. “I can’t get you pregnant, darling.”

“There are other reasons to-”

Nigel interrupts him, which is one habit Adam would like to break him of. “I’m clean. You can trust me.”

And the crazy thing is, Adam does. He trusts a man with scars on his skin and nicotine stains on his fingers. He trusts a man who holds him in place and maneuvers Adam however he likes. He trusts Nigel, with everything he is.

But sex is messy. It had been hard enough, getting used to Beth, to the way women are slick and soft. It wasn’t that Adam didn’t like it, or thought she was gross. It was just… sensory input. The sticky dampness of it all, when they were both sated. Even when Adam masturbates, he does it in the shower, or wears a condom to contain everything. And he wants to give Nigel what he wants, but there are some things Adam just can’t do. Some places Adam is still broken.

“I’m not going to have sex with you without a condom, Nigel.” Adam tries to imitate Nigel and how sure and steady he sounds when he commands Adam. He’s not entirely sure it works, because Nigel ducks his head against Adam’s shoulder and starts to laugh.

“Alright, gorgeous. However you want it.”

“In the drawer,” Adam tells him, and there’s the frown again.

“You do this often?”

“I wanted to have sex with you.” Adam has been told before that he is too blunt, but Nigel, Nigel smiles like Adam has said something brilliant.

And, more importantly, he puts the condom on.

Nigel doesn’t pin him this time. He leans back instead, Adam’s hips propped up on his thighs, and watches Adam’s face as he presses in.

Nigel is bigger than his fingers, bigger than Adam’s fingers, firm and unyielding as he pushes in in in. Adam whimpers, fingers clutching the sheets as he tries to adjust. It’s never been like this. There’s never been anyone inside Adam like this, and for a moment, he can’t relax.

Then Nigel moves. His mouth finds Adam’s throat, his fingers rub gentle circles over Adam’s hyper-sensitized nipples, and Adam moans. Nigel pulls back, until Adam whimpers at the emptiness, and then pushes back in, just as slow and steady. It’s not quite pleasure, yet, not quite the sparks of Nigel’s fingers, but it feels good, right. Adam’s body relaxes with each new wave of sensation, until Nigel’s teeth graze over the hickey he’s made and Adam finally goes limp.

He can feel Nigel smiling against his throat as he shifts his hips, fucking just a little bit faster into Adam, a little bit harder. Adam likes it, definitely, but he doesn’t quite understand all the fuss, until Nigel gets a hand up under Adam’s knee and presses, bending Adam’s leg up to his chest. The angle changes; the next thrust hits Adam’s prostate and oh, Adam gets it now.

“Nigel-” Adam’s voice cracks and breaks, almost like he’s crying, and just as out of his control. Nigel rocks forward again and this time, stays put, circling his hips in tight little motions that grind up against all the right spots. Adam writhes underneath him, clutching Nigel’s shoulders for leverage, rocking into the motion as much as he can with his hips up off the bed like this.

Nigel’s mouth finds his again, seals Adam’s moans between them as they move together. Adam closes his eyes and lets the pleasure roll over him, clinging to Nigel every time Nigel moves to pull back again.

A callused hand wraps around Adam’s cock, and the next thrust is a stuttered, desperate motion as Nigel groans against him, and that’s all it takes. Adam’s orgasm is overwhelming, sparking up his spine and pulsing through him in waves, drawn out with every rough, eager thrust as Nigel reaches his end inside him.

Nigel collapses over him, and for a moment it’s too much, too much pressure, too much contact. And then Nigel rolls onto his side, leaving Adam empty and aching, and that moment ends and Adam wants him back.

Nigel wraps Adam up in his arms, rolls him until they’re chest to chest, and tucks his chin against Adam’s hair, breathing him in even though Adam is sweat-damp and sticky.

“You’re fucking gorgeous, Adam. Gorgeous and perfect, you know that?”
“I’m not,” Adam protests, but he can’t fight the smile he presses into Nigel’s chest. They stay like that for a minute, a minute in which Adam thinks he can do this, can just be normal and lay here in post-coital bliss. But he’s slick with lube and drying semen, and he doesn’t understand how anybody rests like this.

“Nigel? I need a shower.”

“Right now, baby?”

“Right now.”

-----
As much as Nigel would love to fall asleep still sticky and sated, or better yet, slip out for a cigarette, he’s starting to learn the ins and outs of Adam. There are things his boy needs to feel alright, and Nigel will give him every last one.

Except space. Not right now. In the shower, he holds Adam close, skips the washcloth to rub him down with his hands. Nigel isn’t getting any younger, but he thinks he could manage another round, if he didn’t think Adam would drag them right back into the fucking shower. A thought for another time, then.

Instead, he lingers over Adam’s curls, massages shampoo through his hair with gentle fingers, picking apart tangles as he goes. Adam is nearly boneless under his hands, looking for all the world as though no one’s ever touched him but Nigel. Nigel knows it’s not true, but it still sets off a sense of pleased pride within him.

“I’m going to stay the night,” Nigel says. Doesn’t ask, because Adam needs him to be sure right now. He still looks a little hazy and lost from their lovemaking, and Nigel suspects he’ll end up sleeping half on top of Adam, just to weigh him down. Adam looks up at him with big, wide blue eyes, and nods.

“I have work in the morning.”

“I’ll make sure you’re up early enough.”

Adam hums thoughtfully and closes his eyes again as Nigel pulls him from the shower and begins to towel him off. “Nigel?” He asks in a soft voice that has already sunk it’s hooks into Nigel’s skin.

“Yeah?”

“Are we together?”

“What’s that, baby?”

“Together. Dating. Boyfriends.” Adam peers up at him, half-hidden by the soft towel. “I think I could be okay if we weren’t, maybe. It may take some time to adjust, I think I might be a little hurt at first. But if you don’t want the commitment, if you just want sexual intimacy, I will try to be understanding.”

The thought of it, of not claiming Adam in that way, of Adam feeling free to share his ‘sexual intimacy’ with someone else, makes Nigel want to rage. It makes him want to drag Adam back to bed, flip him over onto his stomach and fuck him again, until Adam is crying and squirming with sensitivity and pleasure, until Adam can’t think of anything but Nigel and how good Nigel makes him feel, until he wouldn’t ever dare want anyone else.

He doesn’t, because Adam is a beautiful, fragile thing and Nigel thinks it would scare him, this early on, but the urge lingers just beneath the surface.

“Of course we’re fucking together, baby. You think I spend the night with just anyone?”

“I don’t know where you spend the night,” Adam points out, because he’s refreshingly, irritatingly precise.

“Well, we’ll have to change that, won’t we?”

“Okay, Nigel.” Adam smiles up at him, trusting and breathtakingly beautiful. Nigel has no idea how he managed to get this lucky, but he’ll fight to keep it with every last breath in his body.

In the morning, Adam complains that he’s sore, but Nigel is learning when Adam wants him to push and when he doesn’t. It takes a little coaxing, whispered words of reassurance and praise, but Adam opens up for him again. He lets Nigel press in between his thighs, and when he whimpers, it’s not pained but pleased. Adam makes breathy little sounds, little ‘ah-ahs’ of pleasure that send Nigel toppling over the edge with almost no effort. Nigel brings Adam with him, strokes him in long, steady pulls until Adam bares his throat and comes all over himself.

Then, they have to shower again.

Chapter Text

“Adam!”

“Hello, Beth.”

Beth’s grinning face fills the laptop screen, bright and eager. She’s always happy to see him, almost too happy to see him. Sometimes she’s too much, too loud, too sharp. The artificial quality of a Skype call warps her voice to something mechanical and shrill. Beth is not shrill, but computers go a long way towards adjusting that. She statics across the screen in sharp, jagged motions, but she’s there. Adam has missed her.

“So tell me about it,” Beth insists, “I’ve set aside plenty of time. You have thirty minutes to tell me all about your job, no interruptions, just fresh, undiluted Adam talk. And then we can have a real conversation.”

Adam understands what she means, but he still frowns. For him, talking about things that excite him is a ‘real’ conversation. He likes listening to his friends talk about things that excite them, too. Active listening is more difficult than talking, and he needs a lot of practice if he’s going to get good at it.

“Adam,” Beth says softly, when the silence has stretched on to an awkward point. “Tell me about your job. I wanna know. Really.”

And so he does. He tells her about the project he’s working on, the chip he’s been engineering. He talks and talks and talks about the mathematics and the coding. And, when Beth pushes gently, he talks about his coworkers.

“Nigel says they’re just...” Nigel had said ‘cunts,’ but Beth would not like that, Adam knows. “Jerks,” He substitutes.

“Does Nigel work with you?”

“No, so I don’t know how he would know whether or not my coworkers are jerks, but-”

“Where’d you meet him, then? Have you been going out?” Beth grins, her voice pitching up like excitement. Adam knows she wants him to get out more, push his comfort zones.

“I met him outside my apartment,” He says, impatient to get back to his story, “But Gabi says maybe they just need time to adjust-”

“Wait wait wait-” Beth loses her focus, frowning at the screen, “Wait, who’s Gabi?”

“Gabi is a musician,” Adam informs her, “She plays the cello outside a restaurant by the lab. I eat lunch there every day now, but just my lunch, I still don’t like strange food. I think she’s my friend? I haven’t asked.” He’d wanted to, but Gabi seemed to enjoy talking to him, and he was reluctant to shatter that peace.

“Just a friend?” Beth asks. Adam can’t place the strange tone in her voice, or explain the sudden downward tilt to her mouth. “Not a girlfriend?”

“No,” Adam says, frowning. Nigel would be furious, not that Adam would dare. “I don’t like Gabi that way.”

Beth’s shoulders relax and she smiles again. “Okay. Well, I’m glad you’ve made a friend, Adam. Two friends! That’s. That’s really great. I know how hard it is for you to talk to people.”

“I’m getting better,” He protests. Beth grins, wide and bright and beautiful.

“Yeah. You really are.”

-----

They sit with cigarettes and booze in Darko’s office. Nigel’s itching for a hit of something stronger, but he’s going straight to Adam from the club, and he won’t fuck his boy with a high running through his veins. Adam needs too much concentration, too much care. Nigel thinks it would scare him.

Darko sips at his whiskey and stares, no attempt to hide his curiosity. “So. Boys again.”

“Boys again,” Nigel confirms. “On and off, boys and girls, you know I’ve never been picky.”

Darko sighs and takes a slow drag of his cigarette. “I don’t care that you’re a fag, Nigel. You know I don’t. But it might be easier if you would just pick one instead of bouncing back and forth like this. Indecision makes you look weak.”

“It’s not indecision,” Nigel snapped, “I know what I like. I just happen to like a variety of flavors. We can’t all just eat vanilla pussy the rest of our lives.”

“Like you wouldn’t touch my wife if I’d let you.”

“Maybe if she hadn’t spent so much time riding your skinny little dick. You’re not my type, Darko, not even secondhand.”

They’re brutal with each other, always have been, but they’re both grinning.

“I’m not indecisive,” Nigel says again, a little more subdued, “In fact, I’m feeling more decided than I have in a long fucking time.

“I know that,” Darko assures him, “So do some of the boys. They whisper back to me, you know, when you make moves without asking me first. Did you really buy out the building?”

Nigel shrugs. “It needed a new owner after the last guy up and split. I gave him a week to fix the locks. More than he deserved.”

“I assume they’re fixed, now?”

“Solid as fucking steel.”

Darko shrugs his shoulders and pours another round. “Like I said. I know you. But others, they don’t know so well. They only know the rumors. You hop from cunt to ass like changing your socks, you let yourself be seen on the streets with some pretty little wide-eyed American.”

“He’s hardly little,” Nigel insists, and it’s as much a defense of Adam’s height as it is an innuendo. He smirks at Darko just to see him glare.

“He’s tiny,” Darko insists, “Not in size, but in being. Fragile.”

“Adam’s not fragile,” Nigel says, but he’s not entirely sure that’s true. Doesn’t know Adam well enough, yet, to say for sure. Oh, he’s starting to learn. He can trace the shape of Adam’s triggers and head them off as best as he can. But he doesn’t yet know what it would take to crack or break him. He’s confident he can put Adam back together, should it happen, but he has no way to predict it. Not yet.

“Adam,” Darko says slowly, drawing out the syllables, “is a weird little shit, isn’t he?”

He kind of is, but Nigel likes that about Adam, and he’s certainly not about to let anyone else say it. He growls, showing his teeth. He once bit out a man’s throat for his backtalk, and he knows Darko remembers in vivid detail.

“He’s glorious,” Nigel bites out, “He’s beautiful and brilliant. The other day he talked to me for over two hours about Higgs-Boson particles. What you know about Higgs-Boson particles wouldn’t fit on the particle itself.”

Darko raises an eyebrow. “Ah, yes. Tell me, Nigel, what exactly is a Higgs-Boson particle?”

Nigel, who had spent that entire two hours pressing tiny little kisses to Adam’s throat and watching the way his lips moved, does not have an answer. Darko’s smirk says all it needs to. “Shut the fuck up,” Nigel hisses, flushing.

“You are lost, my friend. Completely lost.”

“I’ve never felt less lost in my life.”

Dark smiles at him over his glass, a hint of sorrow in his eyes. “I know. Which is why I am warning you to be careful.”

-----

“You’ll get used to the money thing soon enough, kiddo.”

“I’m not a child,” Adam protests. Everyone always calls him that. It makes him feel small and inept.

“You’ll always be a kiddo to me,” Harlan tells him, smiling on the screen.

“I’m almost thirty,” Adam reminds him, but Harlan just keeps smiling, big and wide and familiar and safe.

“Adam, I’ve known you since you were a tiny, screaming thing in your mama’s arms. And I’ll always remember that no matter how old and gray you get.”

“I’m not gray!” Adam brings a self-conscious hand up to his hair and tugs at it, suddenly wondering if he’s supposed to be checking in the mornings.

“Figure of speech, Adam. Just another figure of speech.”

“Oh.” People are weird. Adam has always suspected this, no matter how much kids at school had called him ‘freak’ and ‘weirdo’ and ‘Adam Ass-Burgers,’ which was particularly lacking in creativity. People say what they don’t mean and pretend things they don’t believe, and yet somehow Adam is supposed to be the odd one. Adam, who says exactly what he means and translates the world as it should be. People are weird.

“Nigel calls me ‘kid’ too,” Adam muses. And princess, and angel, and baby, none of which apply to Adam in any way. Mostly when he’s teasing, but ‘baby’ in particular has started slipping in and out of Nigel’s speech. Adam isn’t sure yet if he likes it.

“Who’s Nigel? He work with you?”

“No, Nigel owns a strip club.”

Harlan’s grin twists a little, into one of the weird smiles people make when they talk about sex, because that’s another thing that people should be logical about and yet aren’t. “That’s a pretty good friend to have, Adam.”

Adam shrugs. He’s not really aware of Nigel’s relative merits as a friend, they were only friends very briefly before the kissing started. “I guess so.”

“Although I guess you’re not really the strip club type, are you?”

“I went inside a few times. It was very loud. I didn’t like it. I looked at the floor until I could leave.”

Harlan sighs. “Yeah, that sounds more like you. But at least you’ve made a friend, right? You and this Nigel hang out a lot?”

“Yes. He was here last night for dinner and sex.

Harlan’s face turns a weird color, and he chokes a bit even though he wasn’t eating anything. “You… Jesus, Adam, you can’t just spring things on an old man like that.”

“You’re not that old, Harlan.”

“You know what I mean, Adam, you’re bad at metaphors but you’re a smart kid. You gotta ease people into stuff, not just start talking about sex.”

“Oh.” This doesn’t sit right with Adam. They’d been talking about the strip club, after all, and the strip club related to both sex and Nigel, both of which had been contained in Adam’s contribution to the conversation. It seems like a logical topic, no matter what Harlan says about it, but Adam tries to listen to NT’s advice when they correct his conversational skills. Even if they aren’t making any sense. “Nigel is my boyfriend,” Adam says, pulling back to a more vague version of the previous topic.

“Yeah, I think I got that, kiddo. I didn’t even know you were still into guys. Haven’t heard you say anything about that since college.”

“You and Dad made me join clubs. You asked about them. I saw sexually appealing men on a more regular basis.”

Harlan’s face is still flushed, but he nods. “Right, okay. I guess that makes sense. Woulda been nice to have some warning, though. Next time you meet a guy, I wanna know ahead of time. Maybe meet him? Through the computer?”

Adam runs this over in his head, thinking it through and applying it to what he knows of people. “Do you mean all men, or just the ones I find arousing?”

“Just the potential boyfriends, Adam, not every guy you bump into on the street.”

“Nigel would be upset if I brought sexually appealing men home.”

Harlan laughs. The tension breaks and Adam tries a small smile.

“Yeah, okay, sounds fair. But I want to meet this Nigel, got that? Sooner, rather than later.

“Okay, Harlan.”

-----

They don’t get much time alone. Adam will let Nigel invade his life on a work night, but he doesn’t like it. He’s tense if Nigel stays too late, running the risk of pushing Adam’s bedtime off. Nigel knows Adam was five minutes late for work, that first time Nigel stayed over and woke to fuck him slow and sweet into the sheets. He knows Adam had spent the entire rest of the day off-kilter and wired, awkward even through the scattered text messages they shared. Nigel’s promised it won’t happen again, that he won’t distract Adam for his morning routines, but Adam is once-bitten and twice-shy in all areas, cautious and wary. Nigel likes to push just to see Adam give in, but he tries to press one boundary at a time, rather than all of them at once. He’d rather have Adam in his office, chaste but relaxed, than tense underneath him.

He’s got plans for the next weekend he can take off, though. Marathon sex plans, Adam sweet and pliant beneath him, breathless with pleasure. He wonders if he can get Adam to beg, or if Adam’s obedience stops short of that, if Adam will demand pleasure rather than plead for it. He wonders if he can get Adam to go either way, depending on what Nigel wants from him.

Nigel wonders a lot of things about Adam, honestly, but they’re all long-term goals. He’s not getting inside Adam tonight, is not even ready to start pushing the idea of the office, even if Adam would look gorgeous, pale skin against the dark leather of the couch. Tonight is about Adam, because Adam made it all the way through the club and back into the office without devolving into shakes for the very first time. He’s already praised him, settling him onto the edge of Nigel’s desk so that Nigel can tower over him properly, nuzzle into his hair and feed him pieces of chocolate by hand. Adam always looks so adorably confused when Nigel presses chocolate to his lips, like he can’t quite figure out what Nigel gets out of it, but isn’t willing to talk with his mouth full.

Adam won’t sleep with him in the office, but he’ll let Nigel press kisses to his throat, and even dig his teeth in a little, gentle pressure that gets him squirming. Nigel’s just about coaxed Adam into allowing a dark little bruise when someone knocks on the door. Adam flinches at Nigel’s growl, but Nigel hushes him with another piece of chocolate. He normally only gives Adam a piece or two, but Adam can have the whole fucking bar if he keeps licking his lips like that. “Shh, baby, I’ll take care of it.”

“You’re needed on the floor, boss!”

It’s one of the girls, and Nigel can never say no to the girls, they all know it. He’s worked too hard to make sure every working girl in Bucharest knows, if you have to be a whore, you want to be one of Nigel’s.

He groans anyway, because he’d specifically dumped his paperwork off on Darko just to make sure he had time for Adam. “I gotta go, baby. You need a focus?” Adam’s already starting to look a little glazed over, just from soft praise and Nigel’s lips against his throat, and he nods hesitantly. Nigel folds him up with careful motions, until he’s cross-legged in the center of the desk, palms flat against his knees. He digs the clay out of his drawer and sets it down next to Adam.

“If you need it, it’s there,” He says, pressing a kiss to Adam’s forehead, “No hitting, okay? No tapping if you can help it. You can stretch if you need to, but otherwise I want you in that position, eyes closed, okay?”

Adam blinks up at him, still alert enough for that hint of confusion that always comes when he’s been ordered, just before he sinks so beautifully under the command. “Should I count?”

“Sure, Adam. Count for me.”

Adam frowns, thoughtful. “What if I get bored?”

Nigel laughs. “Gorgeous, if I’m gone that long, you do whatever you like.”

“I don’t want to do whatever I like,” Adam says, stubborn and honest as always, “I want to do what you tell me.” There’s a pause, a breath, where they both realize exactly what he’s just said. Adam is not prone to embarrassment over his own bluntness, doesn’t see a reason for it, but there’s a faint flush across his face anyway, the red heat of shyness and a hint of arousal.

Nigel kisses him. He doesn’t have a choice, not with Adam looking up at him like that. He licks his way into Adam’s mouth, and when Adam goes to cup his cheek, he presses his wrist back down against his thigh with a firm, almost bruising grip. Adam whimpers. It’s the same sort of sound he made when Nigel was pressing him face-down into his own sheets, and Nigel can barely tear himself away when the knocking starts up again.

“Boss!”

“Fucking...” Adam doesn’t like it when Nigel swears so close to him, at least not out of anger, so Nigel switches to Romanian. “Fucking Christ, I’ll be right there!” To Adam, he gives another kiss, this one sweet and gentle. “You do what I tell you to, then, and close your eyes and wait for me, just like this.”

“Yes, Nigel.” Soft as a breathe, Adam’s eyes are already closed, obedient and eager.

It’s Elena at the door, peering around him, trying to get a glimpse. Nigel puts himself between her and Adam, sealing Adam into his office with a twist of the key. Adam could get out, if he wanted to, but no one else can get in, and Nigel knows damn well that Adam won’t go anywhere else in the club without him.

Elena pouts at being denied the view, and Nigel ruffles her hair like she’s a kid. He likes Elena, probably likes her best of all his girls. She’s tiny, at least next to him, with big tits and a bigger mouth. Nigel’s always liked a girl who sasses back. He fucked her once, in the back of someone else’s car, cherry red lipstick all over his neck, and she’d never expected it to be a big deal or even have an encore.

But he was hers ever since. Not in the romantic sense, but in the sense that Elena lays claim to everything she touches. The girls are all hers too, even though she’s one of the newer strippers in the joint. She protects everyone with claws and fangs, her little family. Nigel thinks, when she gets tired of letting drunk assholes try to shove money into her cunt, he’s gonna give her a gun and teach her the real business.

But for now, Elena likes being on the floor, looking out for everyone. It’s what she’s doing banging on Nigel’s door during his personal time, after all. Another coked out motherfucker trying to lay his hands on Nigel’s girls, and dumb enough to do it in front of Elena’s watchful eyes. She relays the information as fast as she can, and then leans around, as if she thinks she’ll see right through the fucking door.

“Was that your boy?”

“And the rumors keep flying,” Nigel complains, lighting up a cigarette now that he’s out from Adam’s watchful gaze. He’ll need a mint before he goes back, but right now he needs nicotine.

Elena snorts. “They’re only rumors if they aren’t true. You’re keeping him, right? That’s what Darko says.”

“Since when do you listen to anything Darko says?”

“Since he’s telling of Gheorghe on your behalf.”

Nigel’s jaw clenches. He nearly snaps the filter off the cigarette. “Gheorghe running his mouth again.”

“Don’t worry,” Elena says, darkness in her eyes, “I handled it afterwards.”

Nigel pauses. He knows that look, that sharp defensiveness. Knows that, as much as he may be one of Elena’s, it’s not him she’s looking out for. And not him Gheorghe was likely to be shit-talking, not where Darko might hear, anyway.

“Are you trying to claim another kitten, Mama?” The younger girls started calling her that first, but now they all do. Sometimes even Darko goes around backstage yelling for Mama to get her ass out front, not that Elena ever does anything more than exactly what she means to.

“If he’s going to stick around, he’ll need more than you watching him. I hear he’s a bit of a lamb.”

That he is, and Nigel won’t argue with more eyes he trusts on Adam.

“Is he?” Elena asks, when Nigel doesn’t respond right away, “Sticking around?”

“Yeah,” Nigel mumbles, “Yeah, I’m keeping him. As long as I can.” Maybe forever, he thinks, even though really, they barely know each other. This thing between them is still so fresh, and yet, Nigel wants to consume it, carry it around inside him for eternity.

“Good,” Elena says, nodding once, prim and sharp, as if it was her fucking idea. “You’re better with him. Less grumpy.” She grins with a ferocity that tends to make even Nigel a bit uneasy. “You just leave the Gheorghes of the world to me.”

When Nigel makes it back to the office Adam is still in position. The clay’s been moved, so Nigel knows he stretched, but he’s just as Nigel left him, not held with chains or ropes, but just with his own desire to be good for Nigel.

Nigel’s never wanted anyone so badly.

-----

Adam feels loose limbed the next day, relaxed and at ease. He doesn’t know why. It just feels good, when Nigel presses compliments and praise into his hair, his face. The chocolate helps, too. He’s tempted to ask Nigel for the brand, but he likes that there is a designated Nigel-chocolate. He likes the routine, knowing what to expect. If Adam starts buying it for himself, Nigel might be tempted to switch to another treat, and Adam hates change.

He likes Nigel, though. Maybe too much. He finds himself masturbating to just the soft kisses he gets in Nigel’s office, to thoughts of sitting on a desk, waiting for Nigel to come back to him. Things that, logically, should have nothing to do with sexual arousal, and yet somehow do. He’s started feeling uncomfortably warm when he has to count things, now, which is distracting and not as pleasant as the increased rate of masturbation.

He tells Gabi this over lunch, minus the part about masturbation.

“He’s distracting,” Adam complains between bites of his sandwich, “I see him every day, but sometimes he only has a few minutes. And then I have to go back to my life by myself, and all I can think about is how he smells like smoke and it’s not as unpleasant as I thought it would be. It should be unpleasant. Cigarettes are unpleasant.”

Gabi is smiling at him over her tea. Adam bought it for her, because it is polite, and because she had very gently suggested that maybe Adam should stop tipping her with such large bills if they were going to spend so much time together. When Adam frowns, brow creasing and hands tapping away at the tabletop, she giggles.

“It’s not funny,” He tells her.

“It is a little funny.”

“It’s not,” Adam insists, “I never had this problem before. Work is at work and home is at home, and people are contained where I need them to be.”

“And yet, here you are, talking to me about your boyfriend and torturing that poor sandwich.”

“Sandwiches can’t feel pain,” Adam tells her, but he loosens his grip on his lunch. There are stiff fingerprint dents all through the bread. Gabi grins and one of her eyebrows quirk up. This is the face she wears when she is about to make an observation. So far, all of her observations have been startlingly accurate. People who can read other people so easily are always a little bit intimidating to Adam.

“You must like this Nigel more than all of those other people,” she says. “You are connected. Perhaps he is your soulmate.”

“There’s no such thing.” Adam does not believe in instant connections and love at first sight, although he is not surprised that Gabi does. She ascribes feelings and romance to music, not just interpretation, but assigning characteristics to the notes and the sounds themselves.. To apply them to people instead is the next logical step.

“Maybe so,” Gabi concedes, “But you are attached to him. That can only be a good thing, Adam. You worry too much.”

Adam thinks it over, hums around a mouthful of sandwich. He hums a lot now, little half-remembered tunes from lunch with Gabi. He likes his stims, twitches and taps, but humming has started to soothe him so easily, a soft, buzzing familiarity. Maybe Gabi is right about the emotion behind sound, that music is more than just mathematical interpretation of a feeling, but carries feeling of its own. Maybe Gabi is right about a lot of things.

“What if I am attached to him?” Adam asks. “Attachments have not worked out well for me.”

“You say he comes to see you. That he has brought you into his work, he has come to your home and eaten your mac and cheese. I think he is just as attached to you, Adam.” Gabi reaches out, places a gentle hand over Adam’s. Nigel’s hands are calloused and rough, but Gabi’s are soft, gentle. Adam likes them both differently.

“Okay,” He says, “I can be attached.

-----

They’re in bed, Nigel spread out over Adam. Still in their clothes, way too many clothes, but Nigel has plans to fix that. Adam has to be eased into it with soft little kisses, bumps of their noses together.

“Gabi said I was attached to you,” Adam whispers, despite Nigel’s best attempts to distract him, “She says it’s a good thing.”

“Who the fuck is Gabi?”

“Gabi’s my friend. I eat lunch with her.”

“She’s not prettier than me, I hope.” Nigel says with a playful grin.

“Yes,” Adam says, blunt and honest. Nigel knows better than to be offended, but he winces anyway.

“Ouch, baby, you gotta warn a guy before you gut him like that.”

Adam just stares at him, confused, until Nigel clarifies.

“That’s one of those things you don’t say, Adam. Might hurt somebody’s feelings.”

Adam’s frown deepens. “You are a very handsome man, Nigel,” He finally says, “But you’re not ‘pretty.’ Pretty denotes a very specific type of attractiveness, particularly when used to describe men. I might be considered ‘pretty’-”

“Fucking gorgeous,” Nigel corrects, and Adam smiles as he continues.

“-But you have rougher characteristics. You are not ‘pretty’, although I find you very sexually attractive.” Adam pauses, thinking something over, before adding, “Gabi is a very pretty woman, but I don’t desire her sexually. Just you.”

“Even though I tell you what to do?” Nigel asks, before he can stop himself. Adam looks up at him, with that little furrow his brow gets when he’s having trouble figuring something out.

“You like to tell me what to do.”

Nigel sighs and rolls onto his side. Adam lets out a disgruntled little squeak that is almost enough to bring Nigel back to him. Almost.

“Some people might not have such nice things to say if they knew,” Nigel suggests, choosing his words with more care than he typically saves for conversations. It does nothing to sooth the tension in Adam’s face.

“Knew about what?”

“Knew… Knew… Shit, Adam, you’re not supposed to boss your lovers around. You’re an adult, you don’t need me running your life.”

Adam hums thoughtfully, considering. “Nigel,” He finally says, “Do I do things I don’t want to do?”

Nigel chokes out a laugh and shakes his head. “No, Darling, I’d say you’re pretty set in your ways.”

“Then, do you think I would listen to you if I didn’t want to?”

The thought had occurred to him, honestly. That maybe Adam was just indulging him, that Adam might listen to Nigel because he didn’t have enough experience to tell him not to. Now, with Adam staring intently at the side of Nigel’s face, Nigel regrets those thoughts. Adam is not a child. A bit naive, at times, and young for his age, but not a child. He knows who he is and what he likes. And what he likes, unbelievable as it may be, is Nigel.

Nigel reaches out for Adam’s waist and pulls him close, so that their legs tangle together. “I think you’d have no trouble telling me where to go, if you wanted to.”

“I don’t want you to go anywhere,” Adam whispers, beautifully fierce in his intensity. Nigel presses a kiss to his forehead.

“Then I’ll be right here.”

“Good.” Adam steals a better kiss, a proper one, soft little presses of his lips against Nigel’s. For a moment, Nigel thinks they’ve gotten the mood back, but then Adam pulls back again.

“What are we doing, Nigel?”

“What do you mean?”

“What are we doing, the two of us?”

“Didn’t we already have this conversation?”

“You said we were dating,” Adam says with a nod, “But I’ve dated before. I don’t want you to go anywhere.”

“I already said I wouldn’t.”

“You don’t know that. Nobody knows that. But I want… I want this to be something I get to keep.” Adam looks away from him, flushed, stammering. “I want… I like what we do. I know it’s not normal. I’m not normal.”

“Nothing fucking wrong with you, sweetheart.”

“I know there isn’t!” Adam says, voice tipping into a high-pitched, anxious cry. Nigel shushes him with a hand in his hair, tightening gently until Adam’s eyes flutter closed at the pressure.

“That,” Adam says, voice raspy, “That’s what I want to keep. That’s what I want, with you.”

Nigel looks at the way Adam’s face has smoothed out, at the dark curls growing just a bit too long over his fingers. Then he smiles, a slow, eager grin.

“Gorgeous, are you saying I’m not bossing you around enough?”

“You’re fine,” Adam says, but he’s not much of a liar, and his face is starting to flush. Nigel may be fine, yes, but Adam wants more than fine. Nigel wants to give it to him.

“Okay, baby,” Nigel whispers, tilting Adam’s head back to suck a bruise into the line of his neck, “I’ll give you anything you need.”

That night together is quiet, easy, peaceful. But Nigel has a list of plans, and it’s growing longer. They’ll find their way together.

Chapter Text

It starts small, light. Nigel knows how to coax Adam into things. He’s gotten so good at it. Adam will start out entirely sure that there’s no time for sex, or to be held, and Nigel will ease him into it so gently that Adam doesn’t even realize it’s happening until Nigel is sprawled out on top of him.

“I took the whole weekend off,” Nigel tells him, three days ahead of time, so that Adam has time to prepare. He does it carefully. He waits until Adam has had his mac and cheese and his show, waits until they’re curled up on the couch and he’s pressing a piece of chocolate to Adam’s lips (‘But I didn’t do anything,’ Adam says. ‘Of course you did,’ Nigel tells him, ‘My good boy, taking care of himself.’), so that Adam is already relaxed and open to coaxing.

“You’re busy on weekends,” Adam tells him, “You’re busy every day.”

“Well, not this weekend. This weekend it’s just you and me, and that bed of yours. All weekend long.”

Adam’s face scrunches up. “The male refractory period-”

“Do you trust me, baby?”

“Yes, Nigel.” Automatic, no thought to it. Adam has never trusted anyone more.

“Then trust me now. I’ll make you feel so good.”

“You always make me feel good.”

Nigel laughs. Kisses him, again and again, until Adam has to shove him off and remind him that he has work in the morning.

Days later, they go through the same routine. Dinner, show, cuddle. It isn’t until Adam starts to head for the bathroom that things change. Nigel follows, catching Adam around the waist and pulling him back against his chest.

“Not yet, baby. You’re going to want a shower later.” Adam wants to protest that now is shower time, but he knows that Nigel hates the idea of showering twice. As long as the shower comes before bed, it can’t be so bad to put it off for a little bit. Just not until morning, like he knows Nigel would prefer.

They pass the bathroom. Nigel guides Adam to the bed with steady hands on his hips. Adam knows he’d prefer to strip them both slowly, make it part of the sex, but this is one of the compromises Nigel makes for him. They both undress, quick and perfunctory, and Nigel makes sure Adam sees him put every bit in the laundry basket, except for a scrap of cloth he’d been keeping in his pocket.

“You trust me, right, gorgeous?”

And Adam nods, helpless to say anything else. Nigel guides him down into the sheets, climbing up along side him. He takes Adam’s hands in his and stretches them out above his head, carefully wrapping Adam’s fingers around the slats in the headboard. “Don’t let go, alright? Hold on until I tell you to stop. Be good for me.”

Those are the magic words. Adam’s fingers tense, and he grips the headboard like he might fly away otherwise. He feels like it’s true. Nigel always makes him feel things that are ridiculous, nonsensical, and yet intense.

The scrap of cloth dangles over Adam’s face. “Head up, Adam. I’m going to blindfold you.”

It’s not a question. Nigel is not asking. Adam’s instincts tell him to hesitate, to inquire. Instead, he lifts his head and lets Nigel wrap the cloth around his eyes, blocking out the light.

Adam’s senses are sharp, taking in too much too fast at the best of times. Without his sight, everything else is magnified. He can hear Nigel’s steady breathing, his own slightly quicker. Nigel’s hands slide gently down his chest, and Adam breaks his grip on the headboard to swat them away.

“Adam-”

“Too soft,” Adam interrupts, “Please, I can’t-”

“Shh, I know, baby, I’m sorry.” Nigel’s hands grab his wrists and guide him back into place. “Don’t move,” He says again, and pulls away.

This time, he waits. Adam drifts in blackness and silence, long enough to tense in anticipation, and then relax entirely. This, it seems, is what Nigel was waiting for. The second Adam sinks back against the bed, Nigel’s nails scrape bright, hot lines of pain down Adam’s chest.

“Oh,” Adam says, “Oh, that’s...” It’s pain, yes. Definitely pain. But Adam’s been half-hard since Nigel laid him out across the bed, and the pain stirs his arousal up into something sharper, more intense. Nigel does it again, down his sides and back up again, teasing around his nipples but not yet touching.

“That better, gorgeous? Not too soft for you?”

Adam is pretty sure he’s teasing, just as his nails tease paths across Adam’s skin. Adam throws his head back with a whine.

“Yeah, baby, that’s what I thought.” Wet heat encircles Adam’s nipple. Nigel licks over it, quick little grazes with his tongue, until it stands at attention. He sucks at the sensitive bud, until Adam arches his back, lifting up towards his mouth with soft, eager whimpers. He nips at it with his teeth when he pulls away, just hard enough to draw a hiss from Adam’s lips, before kissing his way across Adam’s chest to give the other nipple the same treatment.

Without his sight, all Adam can think about are the tight peaks of his nipples, the way the air feels cool over each spit-slick bud. Nigel pulls off of him with a slight ‘pop’, teasing over sensitized flesh with his fingertips. What had been too soft on his sides is a rough tease against his chest. Adam bucks his hips up into empty air and clenches his eyes shut tight behind the blindfold. Nigel’s grip grows bolder, soft little pinches, stronger and stronger until Adam’s thighs quake with the pressure, with the effort of thrusting up against nothing. Nigel’s fingers are brutal, unyielding. He tugs and twists until Adam sobs, head thrashing.

“Poor baby,” Nigel croons, but he does not sound particularly sincere, even to Adam’s limited understanding. He presses himself down between Adam’s thighs, trapping Adam’s aching cock against his stomach. It gives Adam something to grind up against, and he does so greedily, rubbing himself against Nigel’s stomach until Nigel presses down tight enough to trap Adam’s hips against the bed.

“Shh, baby, you’ll get what you need, just wait.” Nigel is all Adam can think about. His voice, his hands. He feels like he’s tied in place, rather than just holding on. “You’re so red, baby,” Nigel breaths against his throat, “So red and sensitive. Does it hurt?” He punctuates his question with a sharp twist of Adam’s nipples, and Adam sobs.

“Yes!”

He can feel Nigel’s smile against his throat as Nigel twists again, the same side, leaving Adam off balance, making the pain all Adam can think about. “Do you like it?”

And he does, he does. It’s not pain, the way Adam has experienced it before. It’s not agony, not suffering. It’s a constant heat, a pleasure that spikes, that builds and builds in his stomach. “Please,” He begs. Nigel thrusts down against the bed. Adam can’t feel his cock yet, but the roll of his hips is enough to grind his stomach against Adam, to put blissful pressure where Adam is hard and desperate.

“Answer me, gorgeous. If you want more, you have to answer.” Nigel sucks hard at Adam’s throat, sharp teeth against sensitive skin, and Adam forgets the question. Forgets everything but the heat of Nigel against him, until Nigel bites gently at a nipple and asks again. “Do you like it, Adam? Do you like that it hurts.”

Yes.

“There’s my good boy.” Nigel lines them up properly, shifting so their erections press together, slick with arousal and almost too-much in Adam’s blinded state.

“Nigel, please,” Adam begs. He lets go of the headboard with one hand, reaching, but Nigel grabs it before he can touch.

“If you let go again, I’ll stop,” Nigel warns, wrapping Adam’s hand back around the slat. “I’ll stop completely, jerk off over your stomach, and drag you into the shower. You’ll go to bed hard and wanting, baby, and you know you won’t be able to sleep like that, will you?”

“No, Nigel,” Adam says, and it comes out in a desperate whine that he’s never heard himself make before.

“Then be good for me. You’ll come when I’m ready to let you.”

Something about the words does something for Adam. He’s never found conversation to be particularly sexy, too much nuance and interpretation. But Nigel… Nigel says exactly what he means, especially to Adam, and Adam can’t help but thrust up against him. He can feel Nigel’s laughter shaking his body.

“Alright, impatient little thing, I’ve got you.” He grips Adam’s hip, lifts him up off the bed with one hand cupping his ass, and lines them up. They slide together in rough, shaky motions. Whatever Adam feels, it is matched in Nigel. Adam can feel Nigel’s control slipping. Nigel’s cock thrusts against Adam’s, and his fingers find Adam’s nipples again, rubbing over them in firm circles, back and forth until even that smooth motion aches. Adam sobs.

“Please, Nigel, please please please,” He’s never had to ask for pleasure before, never had to beg. His trysts with Nigel so far have involved careening towards the end, pushing and pulling each other until they get there. This drawn out suffering is addicting, but still so new, so beyond anything Adam has experienced.

“Alright, baby, okay.” Nigel pulls away abruptly, leaving Adam bereft. Adam sobs his displeasure, hands clenching hard around the headboard, barely able to resist disobedience.

“Shh,” Nigel soothes, a hot breath against him, right where Adam is so desperate. Adam has maybe a second to connect the dots, to brace himself, before Nigel sinks his mouth over Adam’s aching cock.

“Oh!” It’s a sudden wave of hot, wet pressure. Nigel sucks around him, cups Adam’s ass with both hands and lets Adam thrust up into the slick slide of his mouth.

Objectively, Adam is aware that Nigel has slept with other people, other men. It doesn’t bother him. He sees no reason to be jealous over people who no longer matter, although he knows from Nigel’s careful avoidance that most people do not feel the same. It has not occurred to him, however, that he might benefit from this experience, not until he rocks himself up in frantic, short little bursts and Nigel just keeps swallowing around him. Tugs him closer, even, until every inch of Adam is lost to the pleasure of Nigel’s mouth, his eager tongue.

There’s no sight. No sound beyond Adam’s slick thrusts, the occasional swallow. Adam’s pleasure is concentrated, two aching points on his chest, still sore and tight in the cool air, and the heat of Nigel around him. He feels like he’s breaking apart. He tenses, his whole body a single line of tightly curled anticipation.

“Nigel,” He gasps, “I’m… You should stop...”

Nigel doubles down, pulling back to suck hard at the head of Adam’s cock, tonguing over the slit in a way that sends shock waves through Adam. Adam thrusts hard up into his mouth, and comes, shaking.

Nigel swallows around him, cleaning Adam up with tiny, gentle swipes of his tongue, until the sensation is too much and Adam squirms in his grasp. Then he pulls up to press kisses to Adam’s face. Adam can feel him pant against his skin, hears a slick, repetitive sound that can only be one thing, and then Nigel spills hot across Adam’s chest.

They collapse together, Nigel pressed up against him, heavy over Adam’s stomach. The mess smears across Adam’s body, distracting from Nigel’s comforting weight. Adam whimpers softly, until Nigel pulls the blindfold away and mops them both up with it. It’s a hasty, halfhearted job, but it’s enough to sooth Adam and relieve some of the ache that strange textures bring.

Adam feels like he’s floating away. He blinks up into the light of the bedroom, struggling to make sense of the sights that had been robbed from him. Nigel presses into his side, sucking kisses into Adam’s jaw and gently prying his fists from the headboard. He places a softer kiss into each of of Adam’s palms, guiding his trembling hands to rest between their chests. Adam is a haze of sensation, of nerve endings firing and twitching.

It’s only Friday.

-----
In the morning, Adam is needy and clingy, in his own Adam way. He’s not generally as desperate for touch and physical contact as Nigel is. In fact, sometimes he will bristle and sharpen under Nigel’s hands, ducking away from an overwhelming sensation. Clingy, for Adam, largely means orbiting like Nigel’s own personal little satellite. He trails Nigel through the apartment, always just a few inches away, close enough for Nigel to reach out and touch if he so chooses, which he usually does. Even when Nigel disappears into the bathroom, he practically trips over Adam on his way back out. It is clear that Adam has no idea what to do with Nigel for an entire weekend, a Nigel who doesn’t head off to work when breakfast is over. The exact moment Adam tips over from nervous excitement to unsteady anxiety is clear in every stiff line of his features.

“Come here, iubiţel,” Nigel finally coos, when he finally has his fill of Adam’s sweet hesitance, of the way he curls up on the other end of the couch and then stares longingly at the middle cushion, unable to bring himself to ask for what he wants. Nigel knows that Adam has an idea of himself as something frustrating, obnoxious even. He has no idea what his very presence does to Nigel, the way Nigel wants to constantly have his hands on Adam, for hours, whether they’re naked and entwined in Adam’s bed, or Adam is rambling about the millions of little facts he keeps tucked away in his brain. Nigel loves both versions of Adam, and would gleefully eviscerate every single person who ever made Adam feel annoying, given the chance.

“I don’t speak Romanian,” Adam reminds him, as if Nigel could forget, but he crawls into the space Nigel has made for him anyway, sinking into the welcoming curve of Nigel’s body with a nearly inaudible little sigh. Nigel hears it. Nigel notices every single little thing Adam does.

“You don’t need to. Just another way for me to call you my baby, my darling, and watch your skin go nice and pink.”

“I don’t do that,” Adam insists, even though he is already flushing. Nigel eyes it eagerly, every bit of pink skin he can see. He’s learning what buttons to push to get exactly the reaction he wants, and he pushes one now, laying his fingers out over Adam’s hips. He rubs little circles into the hollow between the bone and Adam’s groin, until Adam’s breathing tightens and a tiny little whimper breaks from him.

“I want to go to bed,” Adam whispers against the collar of Nigel’s shirt. Nigel lets his hands still, pretends to think about it. He moves from Adam’s hips to his ass, cupping with both hands and guiding Adam forward until he can feel the hard line of Nigel’s erection against his stomach.

“What if we didn’t?” Nigel asks, taking the soft lobe of Adam’s ear between his teeth and tugging gently. Adam squirms, half pleasure and half discomfort. His ears are always a fine line between pleasure and too-much. “What if you let me have you right here?”

Adam’s squirming dwindles. He tucks his face against Nigel’s shoulder and breaths him in. Adam compartmentalizes, Nigel knows this. They have sex in the bed because the bed is where Adam has always had sex, and because the sheets are easy to clean, and because then Adam can keep the pieces of his life distinct: meals in the kitchen, movies in the living room, sex in the bedroom. But despite his need for boundaries, Adam is not entirely unreasonable, and Nigel knows he is a lot more comfortable in his own living room than he’d been in Nigel’s office.

Still, Adam needs coaxing. He likes to be convinced. He likes when he says no, or hesitates, and Nigel tries to change his mind with soft little kisses. Sometimes, he doesn’t change his mind, and they both enjoy the sharp-edged frustration of a chaste make-out session, but lately, he’s been particularly eager to let Nigel make decisions for him.

Now, Nigel uses his hands on Adam’s ass to guide Adam into slow, deep thrusts, pressing a thigh between Adam’s to give him something to grind against. Adam takes the bait, whimpering as he rolls his hips into Nigel.

“Wouldn’t it feel good, baby?” Nigel whispers in his ear, letting the soft puff of breath send shivers through Adam’s tense form. “I’ve wanted you to ride me for ages, since I first got a handful of this pretty little body.” His hands tighten, emphasizing his point, and Adam whimpers against him, hips stuttering in a desperate jerk.

“I don’t… I don’t...” Adam tries and fails to form an argument. Nigel has already won, but he’s more than happy to guide Adam into place with his words anyway.

“You could have whatever you wanted, darling, as deep or as slow as you like. I know you love the way I look at you, don’t you want me to watch?”

“I don’t have anything out here,” Adam finally says. Nigel grabs one of his wrists and guides it to his pocket, to feel the little bottle of lube and the foil square he’d hidden there while Adam was in the bathroom.

“Would I leave you high and dry, Adam? Don’t you trust me to take care of you?”

“Oh...” There it is, the soft little moan that means Adam is convinced. Adam tugs frantically at the buttons to Nigel’s shirt, and Nigel lets him, content to watch Adam’s desperate fumbling even if he’d be faster doing it himself. Adam is gorgeous in all situations, but there is a particular beauty to his eagerness in sex, to the way he throws himself wholeheartedly into getting what he wants. It amuses Nigel to know that the shyness that keeps Adam’s head bowed in public conversation dies entirely when it comes to sexual gratification. So long as he knows exactly what is going to happen.

Nigel lets Adam ease him out of his shirt and get his pants open before he finally returns the favor, and then Adam stills, holding the shirt in his hand. Nigel realizes the problem immediately.

“What if we folded it?” He suggests, “Nice and neat in a pile on the coffee table, and then showered and put it right back on when we’re done? Then it doesn’t have to go into the basket, because it’s not dirty laundry, but it won’t be messy and all over your floor.”

Adam nods, although he doesn’t look entirely certain. Nigel coaxes the certainty from him with his teeth, nipping a line of gentle bites down his throat. Between them, they get everything folded and tucked away, without Adam stressing too much, although his eyes keep darting over to the pile. No matter. Nigel has a new distraction already prepared.

“Will you open yourself up for me?”

Adam falters, staring at the tube in Nigel’s hand, gaze lingering over Nigel’s fingers. Hesitant. “I don’t want to,” he finally says, “I like it better when you do it.”

Nigel considers that. It strokes at his ego, something that always gets lovers what they want. And oh, does Nigel want to give Adam each and every thing he wants. But Adam wants more than just the physical aspect of Nigel’s fingers. He wants Nigel’s control, his command. “You will, though, won’t you? If I tell you to?”

There is no hesitation in Adam’s nod, but there is a bit of disappointment lingering over his features. Nigel doesn’t want him disappointed, not right now, not when he’s being so good for Nigel. He wants the sight of it, Adam braced over him, on his knees, three fingers deep in his own body and squirming with the eagerness of it. But he can wait. “Not today,” he tells Adam, drizzling the lube over his own fingers instead, “But next time, you’ll put on a show for me, won’t you?”

“Yes, Nigel.” No hesitation, no shyness. Nothing but Nigel’s beautiful, obedient boy. Nigel drags him into a kiss with a tight grip on his curls, and slides damp fingers over the curve of his ass. Adam is tense in his lap, but he goes boneless at the first gentle touch to his hole, slick fingers carefully begging entrance. He hums against Nigel’s mouth, whining softly when Nigel goes straight for two, sliding into him in carefully measured thrusts. Neither of them are patient men, and Nigel likes to kiss away the crease of Adam’s brow when pleasure is intertwined so carefully with pain. He likes Adam on the edge of sensation, close to his limits and taking it because it is something Nigel has given him. So far, they’ve had very little chance to play with it, but Nigel is willing to push the boundaries every chance he gets.

A third finger comes almost before Adam is ready. Adam gasps into Nigel’s mouth, pressing back against his insistent thrusts, arching his back for more. Nigel’s fingers press forward, searching, until Adam whines and reaches back to hold his wrist in place.

“There?” Nigel asks with a sharp grin, crooking his fingers again. Adam sobs out his confirmation, grinding his cock against Nigel’s thigh. Nigel twists his fingers, again and again until Adam is shaking with pleasure. “Let go,” Nigel says, and when Adam hesitates, he twists his fingers more firmly through Adam’s hair and tugs sharply. Adam releases his wrist immediately, bending into the touch with a pleased moan. Adam, it is quickly becoming clear, has a little bit of a kink for roughhousing. Nigel is happy to oblige. He gives Adam a few more cursory thrusts, spreading out the lube, before pulling his fingers free. Adam’s back is still arched from Nigel’s grip, but he pouts a little, rocking his hips to chase the feeling.

“Easy, baby,” Nigel soothes, “I’ll give you what you need.” It takes a little bit of fumbling to get the condom on, with Adam heavy in his lap and entirely unhelpful in his desire. Adam’s steady little thrusts against his stomach are distracting, enough that Nigel almost wants to forgo the condom altogether and just let Adam rub one out over his chest.

Almost.

Adam, in the end, would not be satisfied with that. He’s always hot for it, always willing to welcome Nigel into his body. Nigel thinks he could get Adam to beg for cock, if he tried, with very little prompting on his behalf. He’s not going to make him, not tonight. Not when Nigel wants it just as bad.

Adam is just as tight and hot around him as he was the first time. He tilts his head back, eyes closed, as Nigel guides him down slowly. He breaths out in short little gasps, rocking his hips in tiny motions as he adjusts. Nigel forces himself still, even though every instinct screams at him to flip them over and fuck Adam until the carpet leaves reddened burns all up his back. Adam would let him, Nigel knows he would, and that only makes the yearning worse.

But Nigel… He is not a good man, and he never will be, but he tries to at the very least be good for Adam. He lets Adam adjust, waits until the thin line of tension leaves his brow before he plants his feet and bucks up, encouraging Adam to move with a tight grip on his hips.

The noise that breaks from Adam is more of a whimper than a moan, but all pleasure. Technically, Nigel is strong enough to guide their lovemaking, even now, but it’s the first time Adam has had enough leverage to take what he wants. And take he does, moving in rough little bursts until he finds his rhythm and ends up practically bouncing in Nigel’s lap. There’s always a bit of shame in this position, a little bit of embarrassment, but not with Adam. Adam stares at the curve of Nigel’s jaw with his mouth open, frantic gasps ripping from him as he fucks back onto Nigel’s cock, moving however it pleases him to move without the slightest bit of hesitation. It’s a fucking masterpiece, is what it is, Adam flushed with pleasure, cock leaking as he grinds down, sobbing as Nigel rubs against his prostate in increasingly vicious thrusts. Nigel lets Adam guide the show until his thighs start to tremble, until Adam reaches down to wrap a fist around his cock, and then he decides to give Adam some of the direction he so craves.

Nigel’s hand comes down against the soft curve of Adam’s ass with a sharp ‘smack!’ Adam freezes in place, one hand braced on the back of the couch for leverage, one still clutching his achingly hard cock. A breath of air escapes him, soundless in his shock, as he tries to find reason in Nigel’s eyes.

“Don’t touch,” Nigel says, swatting him on the other side to give him a semblance of balance. This time, Adam’s eyes flutter closed. Nigel had known there was a masochist buried in there somewhere. He’d just needed a reason to bring it out. “You can come on my cock, or you can beg me to touch you, but you don’t touch yourself unless I tell you to, understand?”

Adam drops his hand like he’s been burned, flailing helplessly for a minute before bracing himself against Nigel’s chest. The position bends him forward, exposing more of his backside to Nigel’s wandering hands. Nigel caresses the heated flesh. It wasn’t hard enough to bruise, not this time, but Adam will have reddened hand prints across his ass when he looks later. The thought makes Nigel arch his back, fucking up hard into Adam’s willing body.

“I asked you if you understood me, baby,” Nigel says, gripping tight to Adam’s hips as he grinds up against him, “Are you listening to me?”

“Yes,” Adam babbles, fingers grasping at Nigel’s chest, tugging at the soft curls there and grazing helplessly over his nipples, “Yes, Nigel.”

“There we go,” Nigel sighs, guiding Adam into a new rhythm, raising and lowering him, deep thrusts that make Adam gasp every time. “I knew you were my good boy. You are my good boy, aren’t you, darling? Going to do everything I tell you to, and get off on it.”

Adam’s mouth shape the words, but there’s no sound behind them. He’s lost to the push and pull of their bodies, the heavy press of Nigel’s cock inside of him. It’s just how Nigel likes him, desperate and aching for him.

“I’m going to spank you again,” Nigel warns, resting a hand over Adam’s ass, “Not because you did anything wrong, you’re still my good boy. But because you liked it, didn’t you, Adam?”

Adam moans, eyes squeezed shut as he rides Nigel, shaking in his lap.

“Use your words, baby. How can I give you what you want if you don’t tell me what that is?” To emphasize his point, Nigel tightens his one-handed grip on Adam’s hip, stilling him. Adam whines unhappily, fingers dragging over Nigel’s skin as he clenches and unclenches his fists.

“I want it,” He says, voice high and desperate, “I liked it, I want it, hit me.”

Something about that clenches in Nigel’s gut. Spanking is fine, spanking is sexy. Everyone does a little bit of it.

Something about the way Adam asks to be hit sends of warning bells in Nigel’s head, flashes of the man he truly is, the man he tries so hard to keep Adam safe from. For a moment, he pictures it. Working Adam over until he’s sobbing, until he aches. He wonders if Adam would let him, if Adam would like it.

He brings his hand down harder than he meant to, with a crack that echoes over Adam’s little moans. Adam sobs out his pleasure and comes, untouched, all over Nigel’s stomach, clenching hard around him and dragging Nigel’s orgasm from him in frantic rolls of his hips. They collapse together, a sweaty, messy heap. Nigel pets a hand roughly through Adam’s hair and tries not to think too hard about his own fucked up mind.

Later, in the shower, Adam stares at him, curiosity bubbling just under the surface. His backside is fading, but Nigel can still see the flush-red imprint of his own hand, where he’d gotten too carried away. Adam rubs a hand over it, thoughtful.

“Out with it,” Nigel finally says, tucking guilt behind a mask of confidence, “What’s going through that pretty little head of yours?”

“You hit me,” Adam says, all blunt certainty, without a hint of shame. Nigel swallows a mouthful of sudsy water and doesn’t say anything, lets Adam work through his thoughts on his own time. Adam huffs, unsatisfied with the response. “Are you going to do it again?” He prods.”

Nigel sighs and tilts Adam’s head back, working shampoo through damp, limp curls. “I didn’t hit you,” He protests, “I spanked you. There’s a difference.”

“I don’t think there is,” Adam says, eyes closed, smiling like he does when he explains to Nigel just how backwards people can be. He’s so casual about it, so cavalier. Like it doesn’t bother him at all. Nigel rinses the suds out and swallows around a knot in his throat.

“Do you want me to do it again, darling?”

Adam peeks at him through his lashes, dangerous in his beauty. “Yes, Nigel.”

-----
In the morning, they are both a little restless. At least, Adam assumes that it is restlessness on Nigel’s behalf. Nigel has been off since their shower the night before, but it’s easy to assume that he feels the same way Adam does. After all, they’ve never spent so much time together before, without a break, and it makes sense that it would leave them both feeling off-kilter.

(Adam knows better, by now, than to assign other people emotions just because he himself is feeling them, but his confidence is still through the roof from their sexual intercourse, and he has trouble coming back down from that.)

Regardless of what Nigel is feeling, Adam is definitely restless. He’s aware that his routines are not typical of most people. He feels awkward offering Nigel the same simple meals he always eats, or forcing Nigel through episodes of ‘Inside The Actor’s Studio’ which Adam can recite word-for-word. So, when Nigel’s phone rings and he starts arguing with the man on the other end about his ‘day off,’ Adam reaches out to place a hand on his arm.

“You should go,” Adam says, “If they need you in your office.” This is not a surprise, to either of them. Adam has spent the whole weekend alternating between blissful joy that Nigel is here, and frantic anxiety over when he is going to leave. The next words out of Adam’s mouth, however, surprise even Adam himself. “I’ll come with you.”

Nigel stares at him. Adam stares back, hesitation and anxiety flooding his chest with every thump of his heart. He goes to the club, of course, has settled into Nigel’s office many times before. But he does it because Nigel requests it of him. Never does he volunteer himself.

But he knows what he wants to do there. Nigel has been pressing Adam’s boundaries since they met. Adam isn’t stupid, he knows Nigel does it on purpose. Adam wants to show that he wants it, that he will let Nigel take him out of his comfort zone. Even if the thought makes his fingers start to tap against his thighs.

-----

Nigel is grinning the whole way through the club. Adam can tell, because he looks at Nigel to avoid having to look anywhere else. Too noisy, too bright. It never gets any better, though Adam had hoped it would.

Nigel has to talk with Darko, a man Adam has only seen in passing. He settles Adam onto the couch with a ball of clay and two bites of chocolate at once, which is how Adam knows he’s made the right decision. He locks Adam into the office with a promise to return as soon as possible, and Adam soothes himself by passing the clay from hand to hand, squeezing out his shakes until he can breathe again.

He knows things about Nigel, understands him in a way that he has never understood another person. Adam knows that Nigel wants him, that Nigel likes him happy and sated. He knows that Nigel wants to push his boundaries, but doesn’t want to hurt him, not outside of sexual contact. And even there, Nigel hesitates, like he can’t quite believe Adam wants these things. But Adam does. He wants everything Nigel has to give him, and he wants to give Nigel everything he wants. Adam frequently has trouble pushing past his own needs to see other people’s, with how distracting and too-much the world can be, but he wants to cater to Nigel.

And he knows, though Nigel has never outright said it, that Nigel wants to have sex with him in this office. Adam doesn’t quite understand why, since Adam’s house is quieter and more comfortable and has a shower, but Nigel can never keep his hands off of Adam while they’re here, and Adam… Adam wants to do what Nigel wants.

They had sex on the couch, and nothing went wrong. Adam could do this, for Nigel. Especially if Nigel didn’t try to touch him in return. Adam can’t handle the idea of being sticky and sweaty all the way home. But Nigel doesn’t care. Adam can give Nigel an orgasm, and then they’ll both be satisfied.

These are the reassurances Adam tells himself, as the heavy beat of the club blends with the beat of his own heart, until his hands are trembling where they clutch at the clay.

In the end, he doesn’t manage to ask Nigel what he wants. The words never make it from his mouth, caught in anxiety and twisted up in his chest. They stutter and die there, with Nigel standing in front of him. Like this, with Adam seated on the couch, Adam’s eyes can’t help but focus on the front of Nigel’s jeans, the glinting metal of his belt buckle. He fixates on that buckle, so intent that whatever Nigel says goes right over his head. Adam swallows, dry mouthed, and grabs for the buckle.

Nigel jerks back, just out of reach, but Adam pulls him forward by the belt loops and works his pants down in unsteady motions. Nigel gives up his protests when Adam gets a hand into his briefs, dragging them down to join his jeans.

He hasn’t done this before, and any similar acts with Beth were not similar enough to give him any sort of idea. Nor has he learned anything useful from being on the receiving end. But Adam wants it, he’s fantasized about it, the thick, heavy feel of Nigel in his mouth.

The reality of it is both better and worse. Better, because Adam can properly feel the weight, the way Nigel thickens with every slow drag of Adam’s lips. Worse, because Adam cannot stop thinking. He thinks about how loud everything is, (And it’s not, not really, he knows it isn’t, but it feels loud), how Nigel’s office is not quite one of his safe spaces, how anyone could walk in on them, and while he knows that’s part of the appeal for Nigel, it makes Adam tense and freeze up on the inside. On the next bob of his head, Adam practically chokes himself in his determination to do this right.

Nigel drags him back with a hand tight in his hair, a grip that always makes Adam shiver. “Baby,” He says, in that sweet, slow tone he uses to sooth, “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”

Adam looks up at him, mouth red and damp with his own saliva, chest heaving. He does and he doesn’t. He is uncomfortable, and he is eager. He is.. He is scared, but he is willing.

“I want to,” Adam says, “Please?”

Nigel’s eyes are wide, pupils blown until already dark eyes are practically dark with arousal. Adam knows all of his physical tells, and he can feel a slight tremor where his hands rest on Nigel’s thighs. He’s done something right, and the response is worth trying again.

Adam tilts his head back, exposes the length of his neck where Nigel always likes to bite and kiss. Lets his eyes drift over Nigel’s firm cheekbones, the bridge of his nose, as close to eye contact as he usually gets. He licks his lips and tastes Nigel on his tongue. “Please?” He asks again, and can’t help but smile when Nigel groans, “Please, Nigel, let me?”

And Adam can’t entirely say he gets it, what Nigel likes about the words, but they get Adam exactly what he wants. Nigel’s grip tightens in his hair and he thrusts forward into Adam’s waiting mouth, in tiny increments that go deeper and deeper, until Adam can swallow around the entire hot length of him. Like this, Adam can barely move, held tight in place for Nigel to take his pleasure. It’s too much sometimes, pressing against the back of his throat, a flutter of warning that doesn’t quite tip his gag reflex, but it’s even better this way. Adam’s neck doesn’t ache from bobbing his head, he doesn’t have to worry that he’ll go too fast or slow or shallow. He knows he’s doing it right, because Nigel leaves him no other choice.

He wants to touch himself, but he remembers everything Nigel tells him, and the words echo now: Don’t touch. You don’t touch yourself unless I tell you to. Adam knows that Nigel had meant then, that if he had wanted to truly forbid Adam, he would have been more clear. He’s always specific and careful with Adam.

But Adam thinks about what it will do to Nigel, days later, when he figures out what Adam has given up for him. How his pulse will quicken and his eyes will darken, as they do every time Adam is good.

Adam swallows hard and doesn’t touch himself, grips hard to Nigel’s thighs and works his tongue against the slick slide of the cock in his mouth.

When Adam loses himself to it, when he closes his eyes and hums around the heavy thrusts, when he finally shuts out the rest of the world, he feels like he could do this forever. Nigel tastes like salt, like skin, and a hint of bitter sourness that Adam finds unpleasant but not intolerable. He likes the thick scent that is just Nigel, underneath the unpleasant cologne he applies in the mornings, and like this, Nigel is all he can smell. Smell and taste and feel. Nigel’s grip tightens, his hips stutter in their rhythm, and Adam nearly chokes as Nigel presses up against the back of his throat and comes and comes until he’s filled Adam so completely that Adam has a flash of unfamiliar fantasy, the vaguely ridiculous idea that he might never be rid of Nigel again. That he might close his eyes hours later and still taste this.

It’s not a pleasant taste, but Nigel is buried deep enough in his mouth that Adam swallows most of his semen before it ever hits his tongue. And keeps swallowing, undulating his tongue against Nigel, over and over again until Nigel curses and pulls himself free. Adam gasps for breath he hadn’t known he’d lost, hands trembling against his thighs, hair mussed beyond repair, lips swollen and still tingling with the memory of Nigel’s cock fucking into him. He doesn’t know what he looks like, but he can see the sensuality of it in the way Nigel looks him over with a toothy grin and shoves him back to lie along the couch.

Nigel brings him off with a firm hand shoved underneath the waistband of his briefs, with Adam writhing and bucking beneath him, squirming and whimpering until he can barely stand to hold back. Then, Nigel ducks his head and licks and sucks his way down, until Adam comes with desperate, needy cries.

Nigel licks up the mess like it’s something delicious, something to be savored, and Adam loses a little more of himself to this new life, little pieces he will never be able to untangle again. He regrets nothing, even with all the noise.

-----

“You have a glow,” Gabi says at Monday’s lunch. Adam wrinkles his nose and frowns at her until she corrects herself with a smile that looks like amusement. “You look happy, Adam. Very happy.”

Adam mulls that over for a moment, and then nods. “I am happy. I had a very good weekend.”

“Did you spend it with your Nigel?”

Adam reaches for his social cues and fails to find them, struggling silently until Gabi takes pity on him.

“I am your friend, Adam,” She says, “It is alright to tell me about your relationship.”

“Harlan says it’s not polite to talk to people about sex.”

Gabi waves him off. “Harlan is… Harlan is like your uncle. He has seen you as a little thing, has helped to raise you. He is more family than friend. Friends, you can talk to about sex.”

Adam drums his fingers listlessly against the table. He had been warned, by Harlan and his father, that people were weird about the things two men did together. But Gabi was all smiles, and she had asked.

“He took the weekend off for sexual experimentation. I gave him a...” Adam stumbles over the clinical term and ends up sounding more like Nigel than he means to, “A blow job in his office at work.”

Gabi’s eyes go wide and her mouth opens.

“It’s alright,” Adam reassures her hastily, “Nigel owns a strip club. Many people have had sex in the offices.”

This does not seem to be as comforting as he means it to be. Gabi’s gaze narrows and a furrow appears between her brows, but she reaches out and takes his hands anyway.

“You are safe, and you are happy?” She says.

Adam smiles. “Yes. Very happy.”

-----
Things are going well for Adam, impossibly well, and so, he should not be at all surprised when things immediately go south. He still is, of course, because when a man drags you backwards into an alley with a too-tight grip on your hair and a knife at your throat, it is impossible to avoid surprise. Adam whimpers and gets a rough shake as punishment. Nigel’s hand in his hair is a source of both reassurance and sexual pleasure. This is nothing like that. The man grips hard enough to bring tears to Adam’s eyes, and the knife at his throat is bitingly sharp. The man says something, a burst of sounds, aggressive and rushed. Adam panics and flaps his hands at his sides.

“I don’t, I don’t understand.”

The man says a word that Adam recognizes as a curse, one of Nigel’s favorites, and then switches to English. Fucking tourists. Your wallet. Which pocket is it in?”

His left front pocket. Adam reaches for it on instinct and the man panics, shoving Adam roughly to the ground. Someone braces a boot on the back of his head, pinning him into place. Adam realizes the man has a friend when another foot lands on his wrist, grinding it into the concrete until Adam cries out in pain.

“Shut up!” Someone, Adam can’t see who, delivers a kick to Adam’s side. It’s hard enough that Adam gags, dry heaving as he’s kicked again. His free hand starts to tremble, flapping hard against the ground.

“Fucking crazy little...” The voice trails off into Romanian. Someone pins Adam’s hand against the small of his back and begins to rifle through his pockets, crowing in triumph when they finally free his wallet.

“We were never here,” The first man says to Adam, “You never saw us.” Adam doesn’t have the breath to reassure him that it’s true. The man quickly makes it a lie, anyway, flipping Adam onto his back to spit in his face. Adam freezes, staring up unseeing.

“Fucking tourists,” The man says again, dragging the knife against Adam’s cheek. Adam flinches hard enough the that knife bites into his skin. The man grins and finishes the slice, a long, thin line from cheekbone to chin. Adam can feel the dampness of his own blood.

He kicks Adam in the chest, hard enough to knock every bit of oxygen from Adam’s lungs, and leaves Adam to gasp and vomit, alone in the empty alley.

-----
Nigel gets the call in the middle of a ‘business transaction’ with a man who tried to swindle the club. Normally, he doesn’t answer his phone in meetings, but normally, Adam doesn’t call him. A hot knife of panic twists in his chest. Nigel waves frantically at Darko. “Shut him up, I have to take this.” He waits for Darko to stuff a cloth into the man’s mouth before he answers.

“Is everything alright, darling?”

A long moment of silence, then Adam’s voice comes through, soft and hesitant. “I need a ride.”

“Of course, Adam, anything,” Nigel promises, checking the time. He’s a bit busy, but he could send Ioan, if he’s around. “Did they let you out of work early?”

I’m not at work?” Adam’s voice is pitched high and tight with nerves, braced for Nigel’s reaction. Nigel checks the time again. Adam should be at work for another hour, still.

“Why aren’t you at work, darling?” Another burst of silence. Whatever it is, Adam knows Nigel is not going to like it. Nigel growls into the phone. “I cannot fix it if you don’t tell me what’s happened, Adam. I don’t want you keeping secrets from me, do you understand? Where. Are. You?”

Adam whispers something to someone, and then rattles off an address that makes Nigel growl again, hand tight on the phone.

“And why, exactly, are you at the hospital?”

He hears Adam take a deep breath and knows, just knows, that he is about to get everything except the information he actually wants. Adam, in his attempts to appease and in his literal thinking, is occasionally predictable.

I have a laceration on my cheek and some bruising on my chest and arms, but my ribs are not cracked like I thought they might be.”

Adam,” Nigel hisses, “What. Happened?”

Adam whimpers, then. Clearly, he’d hoped to avoid this entirely, but Nigel is already angry and he won’t be placated with distractions. “They took my wallet.”

This is still not a direct answer, but it is enough, and Nigel is far too angry to try and correct Adam’s conversational skills. Furious, in fact, and his brain keeps repeating like I thought they might be, over and over again, wondering exactly how hard someone had dared to hit Adam, Nigel’s Adam. Nigel is going to find them and crack each and every one of their ribs with his hands.

“I’ll be there,” Nigel says, forcing a calm he doesn’t feel, “I will be there as soon as I can, but I’m in the middle of something, darling, you’ll have to wait for me. Can you do that?”

Adam whispers something again. “The nurse says I can wait for you in the lobby.”

“Good. You sit wherever they put you, and don’t move until I come for you. Sit in your chair and be a good boy, alright, gorgeous?”

Yes, Nigel.”

Nigel hangs up the phone, and then throws it against the wall as hard as he can. It smashes into pieces, and Nigel gives the pieces a proper stomp, for good measure. He turns to Darko and their companion with venom in his eyes. “Let’s finish up here, shall we?”

-----
As much as Nigel wants to get to Adam, he takes his time with his victim. There is too much rage in his system for his boy, right now. Adam would bear an unfair amount of it himself, and Nigel has no desire to put that on him. Instead, he cuts his hatred into the man, slicing and ripping until he’s a mere shell of what he’d once been. Darko looks impressed, by the time all is said and done, although he still grumbles when Nigel leaves disposal to him. He’s kept Adam waiting long enough.

Nigel finds Adam in the lobby, seated in a chair with a thick white bandage taped to his face, arguing with a nurse trying to call him a cab.

“My boyfriend is coming to pick me up,” Adam tells her. From the look on her face, it’s not the first time, and she’s believed it less and less each time. Worse, Adam is starting to look a little worried, as if he really thinks Nigel isn’t going to show up. Guilt twists Nigel’s stomach, and he hastens his pace.

Adam’s face lights up when he sees Nigel, although there is still a trace of hesitance there. “See?” He says to the nurse. “I would like to go home now.”

“We’ll get you home, baby,” Nigel promises, “Just let me take care of a few things, first. Sit right here.”

Adam squirms uncomfortably, but does not argue.

The nurse continues to give Nigel dirty looks, but she abates some as Nigel charms the woman at the desk and writes an excessive check to cover Adam’s treatment. It’s a pretty penny, but Nigel and Darko have savings to spare for emergencies such as this, and Nigel doesn’t need Adam fussing or worrying over it. He needs Adam at home, healing. Where Nigel can watch him.

He collects Adam from his seat with lingering hands, tugging Adam close enough under his arm that Adam stumbles until he adjusts to the weight.

“Come, iubiţel, let’s get you home.”

“Nigel...”

Nigel sighs. “Not now, Adam. We can talk about it later.”

Adam fidgets for a few more steps and then tugs at Nigel’s shirt.

“Nigel. I have to go to the bathroom.”

Nigel runs over his instructions in his head, don’t move until I come for you, and can’t help but laugh. His boy, obedient to a fault. Nigel shakes his head, smiling, and changes direction.

-----

Nigel does not relax until they are out of the car and safely locked inside Adam’s apartment. Adam looks weary. Nigel knows he’s due for another dose of painkillers, but it will be a while yet before Darko has Nigel’s supplies ready for delivery. Instead, Nigel guides Adam to bed, stripping him carefully and tucking him into the sheets. He knows his boy must be hurting when he doesn’t even protest about it not being time for bed.

“Are you mad?” Adam asks, tugging Nigel down alongside him. Nigel goes willingly, sliding under the sheets and drawing Adam close to his chest.

“Not at you,” He promises.

“But you are mad?” Adam presses. Nigel sighs.

“I’m fucking furious, darling, but there’s nothing I can do right now, is there? We’ll talk about it tomorrow, you can tell Darko everything you remember. I’m going to take care of this.”

Adam relaxes in his arms, tucking his face against Nigel’s chest and breathing in deeply. He nods, curls tickling at Nigel’s throat, and Nigel tightens his grip. There are worse things that can happen to a man than a few bruises. Especially a man as tightly intertwined with Nigel as Adam is. Nigel brings destruction with him wherever he goes, gleefully. Adam is a bright spark in Nigel’s darkness, and Nigel feels heavy and weak with the knowledge that he could lose Adam. That Adam could vanish if Nigel let him out of his sight for too long.

He doesn’t want to let Adam out of his sight. The thought twists and turns through Nigel’s head, tainted with the knowledge of what they’ve done. Sit here, Adam. Not until I say, Adam. Be a good boy, Adam.

“Adam,” Nigel says, slow and cautious. The weight of what he is about to do sits with him, heavy with arousal and shame. Nigel shouldn’t. He shouldn’t dare.

But he will. And Adam is going to let him.

“Adam,” Nigel says again, clearing his throat, “I don’t want you to go out without me, anymore.”

Adam tilts his head back to look at Nigel, brow furrowed. Nigel should turn back now, before Adam has the time to fully process what he’s asking.

He doesn’t turn back. He pushes forward, reckless and desperate. “I’m not saying you can’t do what you want, baby. Go where you want to go. Take your walks. I’m telling you not to do it by yourself. Wait for me, wait here. I’ll come and take you where you want to go.”

Adam chews thoughtfully on his lower lip, eyes ticking over Nigel’s face in a quick scan that makes Nigel feel exposed. “I have to go to work,” He reminds Nigel.

“I think you should take some time off work,” Nigel insists, “At least a couple of days, until the pain fades.”

Adam nods; Nigel is repeating the same thing he heard the nurse tell Adam. “But when I go back. I need to get too and from work every day.”

“I’ll drive you.”

“It’s early and you’re busy.”

“I’ll get up early,” Nigel says, and much to his embarrassment, there’s a thick desperation to his voice, a hint of a pleading whine. “I’ll be here every morning, and I’ll take you to work.”

Adam looks him over, and then slowly nods. “Okay. But I don’t want you to be mad at me. You don’t have to do this if it is going to disrupt your routines-” Adam is willing, Nigel can see it in his face, but he feels so much pressure to be as little of a bother as possible. Nigel wants to shred the people of his past into a thousand forgotten pieces. Instead, he’ll give Adam what he needs.

“Adam,” Nigel says, sharper than he means to, a commanding tone that always drops Adam right where Nigel wants him, “If I’m not here, don’t leave this apartment.”

Adam’s gaze lingers on Nigel for a long time, quiet and thoughtful. Then:

“Yes, Nigel.”

Adam presses forward, presses the whole line of his body against Nigel’s. It’s not explicitly sexual, no demand or heat to it. But he’s unmistakably needy, hot against Nigel, clinging. Nigel has no idea what he’s doing.

But he doesn’t want to stop.