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Shelter Us, Harbor Me

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Everything is normal in the morning. He wakes up with his limbs twisted together with Nigel’s, soaking in the warm, heavy comfort of it. Nigel holds him tighter when he tries to get out of bed, grumbling and burying his face into Adam’s side.

Adam huffs. “Nigel, I have to go to work.”

“Why?” Nigel asks, tickling Adam with his bony nose pushed between Adam’s ribs. He traces one of them with his tongue, and Adam shivers. “Stay here,” he says, tightening his arms again. “Stay in bed with me all day.”

“We can’t stay in bed all day. We’d have to get up to eat, and go to the bathroom, and brush our teeth. We’d probably get sore from lying down for so long.” He pushes Nigel’s face away. “And I have to go to work today.”

Nigel groans. “You’re killing me, gorgeous.” But he lets go, releasing Adam with one more kiss to the body part nearest his mouth, which happens to be an elbow.

Adam pets a hand through Nigel’s hair, letting the slippery strands of it tangle between his fingers. He bites his lip. “We could stay in bed for the rest of the day after I get back. After dinner,” he adds at Nigel’s keen look.

“Can’t fucking wait,” Nigel says.

He watches Adam move around the room, shucking off his pajamas and pulling on the work clothes he’d laid out the night before. By the time Adam turns around to say goodbye, Nigel is fast asleep again. The sight of his soft, slack face makes Adam smile for the entire bus ride.

* * *

The commute is fine. Ever since Nigel bought him a pair of noise canceling headphones, he spends every bus ride in his head, getting lost in the music he’s downloaded to his phone. The headphones make it so he doesn’t need to interact with anyone else unless he wants to (and he never wants to). As long as he keeps his eye on the location ticker and doesn’t miss his stop, he doesn’t need to pay attention to his surroundings at all.

That’s probably why he doesn’t notice. 

At work, people wave and say hello as he walks to his desk. It’s normal, expected, part of his routine. He’s used to all his coworkers, and he even likes greeting them in the morning. People consider him quiet, so they don’t mind that he doesn’t say much beyond good morning. They don’t expect him to carry on conversations, and it makes their interactions as easy and pleasant as possible.

He sits down and boots up his computer. There was a bug in the design he was working on yesterday, and Adam plans to run another test before taking it apart and seeing what he can fix. He’s just started reading through the lines of code on his computer when there’s a hand on his shoulder.

Adam jumps in his seat, heart racing. He gets lost in his work sometimes and doesn’t always notice when people walk up behind him or when they want his attention. He turns around and sees Janice, one of the women who works on this floor. He knows her well enough to know her name, but not enough to know anything else about her. She works in a different department, and Adam’s skipped all of the ‘team bulding activities’ since Will happened to him.

His mouth pulls tight. “Did you need something?”

This isn’t part of his routine, and he’s annoyed by the interruption.

“No, nothing like that,” she says, and her voice sounds weird. Adam’s frown deepens. She hasn’t taken her hand off his shoulder, and he’s trying to slip himself free from her grasp without actually saying anything. “I know we’re not close, but I just wanted to say that if you need anything, anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask me, okay?”

“Um. Okay,” Adam says. “I guess so.”

She squeezes his shoulder and finally lets go, just as Adam was about to ask her to stop touching him. But she’s still here, and she’s standing there like she wants something.

“I just had no idea,” she says. “You’re so brave.” She sounds like she’s going to cry, and Adam is confused.

“What are you talking about?”

She lowers her voice. “What they did to you. And you’ve just been keeping it to yourself and soldiering on this whole time.”

“What who did to me? Mr. Wilkins said he doesn’t mind extending the deadline. He wasn’t angry about the setback, so if your department is being held up, you should probably talk to him about it. I’m fine, and I can finish this by 2 p.m. at the latest. Sooner, if I don’t have to deal with any more interruptions.”

Now it’s Janice’s turn to look confused. “What? I’m not talking about the microchip.”

“Then what are you talking about?”

She bites her lip. “You know. Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham.” She speaks even softer so her next words are barely more than a whisper. “What they did to you.”

Adam jerks away like she’s hit him. For a few seconds, all he can hear is the sound of his own ears ringing.

“Who told you that?”

She takes a step back, and maybe he said that louder than he meant to. “I—I’m sorry. It’s none of my business. Maybe I shouldn’t have—”

His heart is pounding. “How did you know?”

“It was on Tattlecrime. I thought you’d done an interview. Did you really not know?”

Adam shakes his head. Clutches at his hair. Maybe if he shakes it hard enough, he’ll wake up, and this won’t be happening.

There’s a hand on his shoulder again, gentle and warm. “Adam, are you okay?”

“STOP TOUCHING ME,” he yells.

She gasps and takes a few more steps away. When he looks up, her eyes are wide. She backs up until her back hits the wall.

People are looking at them now, craning their heads to watch from their desks. A few people are poking their heads out of offices to see what’s going on. People are whispering. Everyone is whispering.

He runs.

* * *

The trip home is a blur. By the time the front door slams behind him, Adam couldn’t have said how he got there or what happened on the way. It must’ve been fine because he’s here in one piece. Nothing is bleeding, no one is dead.

Everything sounds like the world ending. Everything feels like cataclysm.

Nigel is cleaning his gun at the kitchen table, rumpled and wearing nothing but a t-shirt and boxers. It could be comforting, but nothing is, in this moment. Nigel’s head jerks up at the sound of the door banging shut.

“Adam?” Surprise and confusion give way to concern as he takes in the look on Adam’s face. His voice turns focused and quick, “Adam, what’s wrong? Baby, did something happen?”

Adam shakes his head. Nigel’s hands frame his shoulders, cupping his arms so he can gently twist Adam this way and that, looking for injuries, looking for the source of what’s wrong with him. Something’s wrong with him, but it’s nothing Nigel will be able to see. Nigel hasn’t seen Will written all over him these past weeks.

“Talk to me, sweetheart. Tell me what’s wrong.”

It’s the word sweetheart that does it. Adam shoves him away, then shoves him again. “You told.”

“What? I don’t understand. Told who? What did I say?”

Adam bares his teeth. “You told, and now everyone knows! Everyone knows what they did to me. Janice at work knows, so everyone must. They were all looking at me.”

“I don’t— baby, please. Try to calm down. I didn’t tell anyone anything.”

Adam shoulders his way past Nigel and drops onto the couch beside his laptop. He yanks it open and ignores Nigel while he types in ‘Tattlecrime.’ He’s heard of it. When he was looking for information on Hannibal and Will, it was one of the sites that came up often, although he didn’t pay any particular attention to it then.

He does now, and what he finds stops him dead. There on the front page, looking out at him, is a smiling picture of himself. He scrolls down. There are more pictures—pictures of the crime scene. Of the bed where they’d raped him.

“Oh fuck,” Nigel says over his shoulder, but it’s distant. It barely registers over the sound of Adam’s own blood pounding in his ears.

Adam reads the whole thing, every word. Every insinuation that he liked it, that he wanted it. His deepest secrets—that he fantasizes about it—written large for the whole world to see. He is very, very still while he takes it all in, barely even breathing. Then he closes the computer and throws it against the wall.

The laptop doesn’t survive.

It only escalates from there. There is Nigel, wide-eyed, and utterly at a loss for what to do with Adam when he’s like this. If Adam was feeling better, he’d have told Nigel not to worry about it—he doesn’t know what to do with himself when he gets like this, so there’s no way Nigel can be expected to know.

There’s more throwing things. Tears and yelling. Shoving, hitting, pushing—all of it Adam’s doing, and only until Nigel wrestles him down to the bed to make him stop. But that brings on a panic attack, and then Adam is screaming while Nigel pins him under his weight, hugging him tight, holding him still so he can’t hurt either of them. A neighbor bangs on the wall and yells. Someone is going to call the cops.

It is terrible.

But eventually Adam runs out of volume, runs out of steam, runs out of anger. Eventually he’s just tired and sore. He stops trying to fight Nigel off, and he wraps his fingers around Nigel’s wrists where they hold him still. It’s the only part of Nigel can reach, just the barest touch, a brushing of fingers. It’s a start, a truce. Right now it’s enough.

Nigel sags against him and lets him go. He rolls onto his side and lays an arm’s length away, giving Adam space. Letting Adam retreat if he wants to.

He doesn’t want to.

He rolls off his back so he can look at Nigel, so they can look at each other. He inches closer across the mussed comforter of the bed—their bed. He doesn’t stop until his body makes contact with Nigel’s chest. He buries his face there so it blocks out the light—until there’s nothing but Nigel, the solid, comforting smell of him. He snakes his arms around Nigel’s broad back and cries.

Nigel brings his arms up to hold him. He doesn’t push Adam away or demand apologies or try to continue the fight. He doesn’t even complain when Adam soaks his shirt with sticky tears and snot. They just stay like that until the sun goes down.

* * * 

After everything, there’s this: the two of them chest to chest, arms clinging like shipwreck, breathing each other’s air. Quiet in the wake of the storm. A conversation that creeps along in fits and false starts.

The words crack through like wings through a chrysalis, exhausted and pained. Necessary and effort-laden.

“Why did you do it?” Adam asks.

Nigel peers at Adam through the curtain of his hair. His head is pillowed on the slant of his arm. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I was upset. Sad. Angry.”

Adam chews his thumbnail, taking that in. “Were you angry with me?”

“I hate that they did this to you. I hate that everything is so hard because of it, but I wasn’t mad at you. I was just fucking mad, so I drank about it. I met a pretty girl in a bar. She was friendly and chatty, and I just—I wasn’t fucking thinking. I didn’t know she was a fucking reporter. I’d never have told her anything about you if I’d known. Please believe that.”

“I know,” Adam says. He does know. “I am so angry at you.”

Nigel holds him tighter. “I know, darling. Be angry, it’s alright.”

Adam squirms his way out of Nigel’s grasp just a little, enough that he can look Nigel in the eyes. It’s uncomfortable, but he wants to see. Wants to see what other people see when they do this. “Did you want to have sex with her?”

Nigel blows out a breath. Traces a line down the side of Adam’s face where it feels itchy from dried tears. “You sure know how to put a guy on the spot, don’t you, darling? Yeah, I wanted to. I thought about it.”

“But you didn’t,” Adam says, furrowing his brow. “You and I don’t have sex, but you didn’t.”

“Because I’d rather have you. I—look, this is fucking complicated, and I hate some of it a lot. But you’re worth it. You’ll always be worth it.”

“I don’t think I am,” Adam says, and now it’s Nigel’s turn to look at him, hard.

“Don’t say shit like that. Of course you are.”

“I’m sorry I hit you.”

Nigel shrugs it off. “Don’t worry about it, darling. I’ve taken worse knocks from people bigger and meaner than you. I can take a few love taps, yeah?”

Adam scowls. The idea of Nigel letting someone hit him, even Adam—especially Adam—is disturbing. “No. You shouldn’t ever hit people you love. That’s not okay. You can’t hit people when you get angry.”

Nigel smiles. Adam recognizes it as the look he gets when he’s teasing. “Was that Beth or Harlan?”

“Neither,” Adam says. “It’s a new rule I just made up.”

* * *

There’s the fight, and then there’s after. After, they hold each other in the twilight dark, wrung out and tired and clinging together like life rafts.

I’m so fucking sorry meets I’m sorry too. Sorry, sorry, sorry. They share apologies between them like kisses.

They spend the rest of the day in bed.