Adam doesn’t smile anymore.
He can’t, not after—
Not when smiling reminds him of—
He doesn’t smile anymore.
Adam doesn’t look in the mirror anymore. He used to like his face, in a distant sort of way. People told him it was handsome; he liked the attention. Maybe that’s why—
He covered all the mirrors in his house, stapled black cloth over them like shrouds. It’s safer that way. It looks like someone’s died, and it feels like that too, so maybe it’s better.
Adam’s face looks like his face, the charming man who’d looked like him and been so interested. Adam was trying new things. He never tried new things, but since he moved to California, he was trying, and—
It’s daytime again. The sun is shining in through the windows, and it’s musty and hot in the house. All the windows are closed and the air is still as the grave. He’s sweating through his clothes, a NASA t-shirt and powder blue boxers. Dust motes mingle with the floaters, make patterns in his eyes. The light stings, and his mouth tastes stale and sour.
Adam rolls over and goes back to bed.
* * *
Adam doesn’t go to work for two weeks. He hasn’t called in—had been too much a wreck, too afraid of the phone. The first days after—just, after—had been a noisy, colorful blur of faces and names, all of them poking and prodding. He didn’t talk, didn’t want to talk. Screamed at people to go away even though it was bad manners.
He flinched away from the men, anyone who tried to touch him. They took him to a hospital and there was so much touching.
He’s torn but not so badly that he needs stitches. Just dehydrated enough that they hook him to an IV. He can’t look at the IV line because it looks like a rope if he squints his eyes, and that makes him panic, and then they’ll come back and give him drugs again.
There’s a woman with a nice face who talks to him in quiet tones that remind him of Hannibal. He feels sick again.
He closes his eyes and thinks of a stream.
* * *
There are so many interviews. They all blend together.
Son, can you tell us—
We only want to help you—
These are dangerous men, so—
He doesn’t want help. He wants to be left alone.
Adam is tired.
He’d have probably been fired, but someone asks him if he’d like them to call his employer, and he must have nodded because he keeps his job. His boss puts a heavy hand on his shoulder when he finally goes back and says Let us know if you need anything. He flinches under the hand. He wishes everyone would stop touching him.
Everything feels numb and cold.
Adam goes back to bed.
* * *
Adam never paid much attention to the news before. He pays even less attention now, but where before it was disinterest, now it’s self-preservation. His name is kept out of the news. All they say is that a 28 year old man was abducted and sexually assaulted by notorious serial killer and cannibal Hannibal Lecter and his accomplice, former FBI special agent Will Graham.
The first time he sees their faces on tv, it’s an accident. The news is playing with the volume off in the laundromat. He rarely ventures outside his apartment anymore, unless it’s for work, but his clothes are dirty and his cupboards are bare.
Adam looks up, and it hits him like a slap to the face. Those faces, those two, in matching mugshots—Hannibal smiling and Will looking like the end of the world. He freezes like a scared rabbit and only stutters back to life when someone jostles him trying to get by in the narrow aisle.
His clothes are still wet, but he pulls them out of the dryer anyway. He shakes the entire way home and doesn’t leave the house for another week.
* * *
The woman with the nice face and the soft voice gives him a list of therapists. They’re all in his insurance network, and he has every reason to go. People who sustain trauma are supposed to see psychologists.
He takes the neatly printed list and throws it in the trash.
* * *
At least there won’t be a trial. If Hannibal and Will are caught, there are enough murder charges between them to put them away for life. They won’t need Adam to testify, that’s what people keep saying. It’s not comforting at all, not when he doesn’t feel safe anywhere.
He jumps at every shadow and every sudden noise. He doesn’t like when people approach him from behind, doesn’t like being touched. He’s always afraid it’s going to be him. Adam sees him in his dreams.
A letter shows up in the mail. All Adam gets in the mail are bills, but this is different. His name and address are handwritten in looping calligraphy instead of printed by machine, and the envelope itself is heavy, the color of cream and not the stark white of office supplies. There is no return address.
His heart starts hammering as soon as he sees it. He sets it on the kitchen table and means to open it. (He doesn’t open it.)
He has a breakdown and takes a bath, and the letter stays put on the table until he puts it in a drawer unopened, holding it pinched between thumb and forefinger like it might bite.
He should give it to the police, but he won’t. He just wants everyone to leave him alone.
* * *
Adam is walking home from the bus stop (broad daylight, safe—he doesn’t stay late at work anymore, doesn’t go out with colleagues, doesn’t talk to strangers)
He’s walking home from the bus stop in his quiet, safe neighborhood. His hood is pulled up because he doesn’t want to be seen, and it’s winter so no one is looking anyway. There’s a woman standing outside his building wearing bright colors and a beanie pulled down around her ears.
She catches his eye before he can look away, determined to make him notice her. She opens her mouth to talk because she wants something. He just wants to be left alone.
“Hi!” She says before he can sidle his way around her and into the building. “Do you live here?”
“Yes,” he says, and he’s careful not to look. He studies the sidewalk, the cracked concrete where little spines of grass poke out, doomed and out of place.
“I’m looking for an Adam Raki. He’s supposed to live here. I don’t suppose you can tell me which apartment he’s in?”
His heart starts jackrabbiting, pounding out threatening rhythms in his chest the minute she says his name. The rest is lost to the roar of blood in his ears. He swallows once, twice. His mouth is dry and his throat is sticky.
“I have to go,” he blurts, shouldering past her and fumbling his key in the gate.
For a second he thinks she might try to push her way inside, but she stays on the other side of wrought iron when he closes it behind him thinking safe safe safe. She shoves one small, white hand through the bars, and he instinctively shrinks back.
It’s only a business card. He doesn’t want to touch it.
“Take it,” she says, thrusting it at him. “In case you ever want to talk.”
He trips over his feet getting away.
“I just want to talk, Adam!”
He runs up the stairs.
His dreams are still full of handcuffs and a deep, dark bed. They’re still full of someone who holds him down and someone who watches, but this time he sees flashes of bright red hair too.
* * *
She starts following him around. He learns eventually that her name is Freddie Lounds, although he didn’t want to learn anything about her at all. She shows up at his work, and security escorts her outside. She starts waiting for him outside, and that reminds him of Will, and he thinks about not going to work ever again.
He’s out of sick leave and the bills need to get paid, so he goes. Freddie is outside when he leaves to go home, hands tucked in her bright red coat, and Adam grits his teeth and doesn’t look and doesn’t yell even though he wants to.
“I just want to talk,” Freddie says.
“You’ve said that eleven times. I don’t want to talk to you. Please leave me alone.”
“But you have valuable insight. You’re the first victim to survive Hannibal the Cannibal and Will Graham. People want to know your story. I can help you tell it.”
Adam is pressed against the clear acrylic of the bus stop shelter without knowing how he got there. Freddie leans in, and he shrinks further back. She smells like cinnamon and flowers. “I don’t want people to know my story. I don’t have a story. I want you to leave me alone.”
He’s getting agitated now, fingers tapping out an uneven, jittery rhythm against his thighs. She puts a hand on his arm, and he flinches.
She turns sad, knowing eyes on him. “Boy, they really did a number on you, didn’t they? They’re monsters the FBI should have put down when they had the chance. Look, I really do want to help you.” He shakes his head, and she keeps talking, smooth and quick. “I bet they recommended a therapist, huh? The cops?”
“Yes,” Adam says.
“And I bet you didn’t go, did you?”
Adam shakes his head reluctantly.
“Of course you didn’t.” She cocks her head. “I don’t blame you, but you should talk to someone. If not me, then someone else. I’m a good listener, Adam.”
“I— I—” Adam’s brain isn’t working right. He wants to run, but his legs won’t listen. He’s trapped, and he wants her to go away, wants her to stop talking but his thoughts are speeding and his tongue feels thick and slow. There’s a buzzing in his ears, and she’s just pressed so close and—
“Hey!” They both turn to look. A tall man flicks a cigarette on the ground and frowns as he walks over. He jerks a thumb at Adam. “He owe you money or something?”
Freddie’s eyes narrow. Adam tries to disappear.
“Who are you?” Freddie asks.
The man grins. “The name’s Nigel.” He nods at Freddie. “What’s your deal, Red? He doesn’t owe you money, so why’re you bothering the kid?”
Freddie draws herself up and stands a little straighter. “I don’t think that’s any of your business. Adam and I were just having a chat.”
Nigel snorts, unimpressed. “Didn’t look like much of a conversation to me.” He turns to Adam. “Kid, you want to talk to her?”
“No,” Adam says, watching his feet.
“Well there you fucking have it. Why don’t you scoot along and run your con on someone else?”
Freddie looks like she might say something but decides against it. She presses a business card into Adam’s hand that’s bright just like her. “Call me,” she says. “I’m a good listener, I promise.”
She shoots one last glare at Nigel and stalks off down the brightly lit street, heels clicking.
“What was that about?” Nigel asks when she’s gone.
“I’m not a kid,” Adam says. He realizes he didn’t answer the question. “I don’t want to talk about it.” He takes a deep breath and several steps back from the man, enough to be noticeable.
The man blinks. “You know people usually say thank you, but alright.”
“Do you eavesdrop on people’s conversations a lot?”
“Look, I wasn’t— if you want me to fuck off, you just say so, okay?” He runs a hand through his hair. It flops back in his eyes immediately. “Christ, no good deed,” He mutters to himself.
Adam doesn’t mean to be rude. This man did just make Freddie leave.
“Thank you for telling her to go away,” Adam says. His manners are rusty.
“You’re welcome, gorgeous,” Nigel says.
He has a nice smile.
So, I really don't know how to tag this fic. I wracked my brain, and I still don't know. I updated the tags to include "disturbing themes" because yes.
I have a plan for this fic. It will have a happy ending, but that might look kind of... different. I guess what I'm asking you to do is trust me, but also take into account the themes of this series so far and realize that we're going to visit some dark places. If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask me on Twitter, and I'll answer them if I can.
But I think it'll be good. I'm so excited. And this is the last disclaimer I'm going to give. 🖤
Adam can’t quite look at him head-on, but he takes in Nigel in pieces. Nicotine-stained fingers with brittle fingernails, a collared shirt that stretches tight around thick, muscled arms. When Adam skirts his eyes up toward Nigel’s face, he sees crooked, sharp-pointed teeth and a half-naked woman winking from his neck.
“What’s your name, gorgeous?” Nigel asks.
He’s handsome, but that’s not what pushes the wind from Adam’s lungs. It’s not even that he looks dangerous with a fang-lined grin and sleepy, hooded eyes.
It’s that he looks just like Hannibal.
There’s a moment where Adam can’t identify the feeling he’s having. Where the prickle along his skin and the fluttering in his stomach might be the first stirrings of attraction, and his heart might be speeding because he’s happy and not because he’s still struggling to calm down after Freddie. The seconds stretch between them, full of clear, bright possibility—
—and then Adam can identify the feeling just fine. It’s nausea and illness and a need to peel his skin right off, and his ears start ringing, and he’s sick on Nigel’s shoes.
“Whoa! Whoa, kid.” He’s stepping back, away, out of the line of fire, and Adam is so stupid, why is he always so stupid. Now this stranger is going to be angry, going to yell at him, and—
Hands are on his shoulders, steering him, pushing him down onto the bench behind him, and Adam doesn’t even think. His arm swings out and his fist connects with Nigel’s nose.
“What the fuck! Kid.” Nigel is glaring at him, pressing his nose which is freely pouring blood, and Adam is hyperventilating.
He looks like he might hit Adam or yell, but something he sees must change his mind about how mad he should be because he takes one look, and his face softens.
“Hey,” he reaches for Adam’s shoulder. Adam makes an involuntary keening noise and cringes back against the acrylic wall—stupid—and Nigel lets his hand fall. “Okay, okay, no touching, got it.”
Nigel takes a step back, and it helps, a little. The air gets a little thinner, feels less like it’s choking him. Adam can breathe. He can. He closes his eyes and thinks of a stream. He’s never seen a stream except on tv and in Central Park, so his mind makes do. He thinks of the cascading light of the cosmos reflected over his bedroom walls, imagines a river of stars. He wades into them barefoot, feels them tickle his shins.
"Jesus, are you okay?"
He keeps his eyes squeezed tight and shuts it all out. Nigel who’s still saying something, the cars driving by, the people staring at him. He knows stars smell like combustion, like burnt fuel and soot, but in his mind the stream smells light and clean. Like laundry detergent and fresh bread. There’s a woman’s voice in the distance, and the stars are all singing.
He opens his eyes after several minutes have passed and he feels… better. Not good—he feels tired and wrung out, but he feels more in control. Less like he’s going to lose his mind, shatter into a million pieces, a million points of light. He’s surprised to see that Nigel’s still there, with blood dripping down his nose and chin looking at Adam like he doesn’t know what to do.
“You didn’t have to stay,” Adam says. You’re supposed to apologize when you’ve done something wrong. “I’m sorry for hitting you in the face. And for throwing up on your shoes.”
Adam doesn’t know what he’s expecting. For Nigel to be angry, probably, so he’s surprised when Nigel laughs. It’s a big, sudden laugh that makes Adam start.
He’s too tired to be properly angry, but his face darkens. “You don’t have to laugh at me.”
“I’m not laughing at you, gorgeous. It’s just my fucking luck, isn’t it? Just my luck to meet a damsel in distress with a face like an angel and a mean right hook.”
His face. Adam brings a hand to it automatically. He shares a face with someone, and it isn’t an angel. It isn’t an angel at all.
Nigel sighs. “I’m fucking this all up, aren’t I, darling?”
Adam shakes his head. He’s doing this wrong. Why does he always do everything wrong? “It’s not you. It’s— I’m not good with people. I never have been, and I am even worse at it now. I’m sorry to have bothered you and thank you for saving me from Freddie.”
He sticks out his hand to shake. Nigel eyes it for a moment before rolling his eyes and ignoring it.
"Look, I can't just leave you alone like this. You’re shaking like a leaf, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep thinking something happened to you. Is there—shit, I don't know, is there someone I can call to pick you up or something?"
“No. I catch the bus home.” Adam’s eyes widen as he realizes what he’s said. Now this man knows he lives somewhere along the 15 bus line. He could find Adam and do things to him, never mind that he seems nice. Will seemed nice too. Adam’s been so good about not talking to strangers and now this. It’s pathetic that all it takes is someone being nice to him. Pathetic. Stupid.
Nigel keeps talking, oblivious to Adam’s self-loathing. "Okay, uh, do you live far from here? Can I call you a cab or something?"
Adam can't talk past the panic clawing up his throat so he just shakes his head.
Nigel runs a hand through his hair with another sigh. “Christ, kid. You’re not making this easy, are you? I really don’t want to leave you here. Is it okay if I wait with you until your bus comes?”
Adam should say no. He should say no and tell this man to go away. But he’s so nice, and Adam is tired, and he feels like crying again. A couple looks at them as they walk past, holding hands and whispering to one another while they stare.
“Hey! Fuck off and mind your own business,” Nigel snarls at them. He’s stopped bleeding, but there’s blood dried around his mouth. He looks terribly frightening. The couple must think so too because the girl gasps and the man pulls her away by the arm as they hurry down the street avoiding eye contact. “Stupid fucks,” Nigel mutters.
If Adam thinks back on it later, he’ll identify that as the moment he decided to say, “I’d rather walk. I live about half an hour away if you’d like to walk with me.”
For a moment Adam wonders if he’s said the wrong thing, if that’s too much to ask of a stranger who probably has other things to do today, but Nigel smiles at him. “I’d love to, darling.”
He doesn’t try to touch Adam, doesn’t offer to help him to his feet and doesn’t put a hand on his shoulder, his arm, or any other part of him. He does keep himself between Adam and the road, shielding him from traffic and glaring at people until they look away. It’s then that Adam decides to say, “My name is Adam.”
Nigel grins, slow and crooked and easy. “It’s nice to meet you, Adam.”
* * *
"I'm sorry again," Adam says. "About your shoes."
They talk and walk at the same time. It’s easier when he doesn’t have to face Nigel, when he has grass and buildings and dogs to look at instead. He sees more walking than he does from the bus window, passing familiar shops and parks in slow motion.
Nigel chuckles. "It's not the worst these shoes have seen, darling. Don't worry about it."
Adam tilts his head. “Why do you keep calling me that?”
“Calling you what?”
“Darling, gorgeous, kid.”
Nigel shrugs. “Why not?”
Adam’s brow furrows. “That’s not a reason.”
Another shrug. “Reason enough to me.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
Nigel lifts an eyebrow. “You mean to tell me you never do anything just because you want to? Just because you feel like it? Not everything has to have a reason. Some things just are.”
“Asking you to walk me home,” Adam says after a long stretch of silence.
“What about it?”
“Something I did just because I felt like it, without a good reason.”
Nigel slaps a hand over his heart like he’s been wounded. “I’m hurt, darling. You mean the pleasure of my company isn’t reason enough for you?”
Adam frowns, wondering if he’s said something wrong. “No, I mean you—” he cocks his head. “You’re joking, aren’t you?”
“I’m joking,” Nigel agrees. “You’re a strange kid, Adam.”
Adam has heard those words a lot, or if not those exact words, then ones just like them. They don’t sting when Nigel says them, though. Nigel says them with a smile, like it’s part of a joke and Adam is included. Like Nigel wants to laugh with him and not at him. It makes Adam want to smile too.
* * *
The walk is pleasant. It clears Adam’s head, and he finds himself surprised and disappointed when it comes to an end, when they find themselves outside familiar wrought iron gates.
“This is where I live,” Adam says.
Nigel nods, looking up at the apartment building. “Nice place.”
“It is. It reminds me of where I lived in New York. The railings look the same although this building is three stories shorter and was constructed in 1991 while that one was built in the '70s. They’re two completely different styles of architecture. Many buildings in California are inspired by Spanish architecture, and the homes are often poorly insulated despite the cold temperatures the area can reach in the wintertime.” He cuts himself off when he sees Nigel looking at him with a strange smile on his face. “I’m sorry, I’m talking too much.”
“Don’t stop on my account. I could listen to you all day, gorgeous. You know a lot of things about a lot of things, don’t you?”
Adam swallows. He clenches his fists and blurts it out, "I don't want you to come upstairs."
Nigel blinks. Nods and leans in. "Okay, but only if you promise me one thing."
Ice water crawls down Adam's spine. He knew it. He knew it. No one is this nice. Nigel wants something, same as everyone. "What?" Adam asks, voice gone prickly and mean.
There's that crooked smile again. "Don't pick any more fights with mean little redheads when I’m not around."
For the first time in weeks, Adam smiles back.
* * *
Adam thinks about Hannibal a lot. He’s never far from Adam’s mind.
Adam doesn’t go to see a therapist. He still doesn’t want to talk about it even though everything he reads online says he should. Talking about the trauma with a trusted person is supposed to help him heal, but Adam doesn’t trust anyone and he doesn’t want to talk about it. He reaches for the breathing exercises Hannibal taught him often. Finds himself picturing his river of stars and letting their quiet light fill him.
He feels worse than he has in years, maybe in his entire life. He’s out of control and out of his depth, but he has fewer outbursts. The same men broke him and fixed him, and he doesn’t know how to think about that. He just… tries not to.
Hannibal was kind to Adam, sort of, but that doesn’t mean Adam’s not afraid. Hannibal features in all his nightmares, a slick, cool voice wrapping around him while he sleeps. Some nights the nightmares wake him. It’s bad when he wakes up scared, alone in the dark and for a second he’s not sure where he is. He feels like he can’t move and thinks maybe he’s still there—maybe he never got out.
But his arms aren’t tied and when he calms down he can move them, can push them trembling through his hair and shove himself up out of bed, can turn on the tap to brush his teeth and chase away the taste of blood where he’s bitten through his cheek.
Those nights are so bad, but the other nights are worse.
The other nights, when he wakes up panting and aching, cock straining painfully against his pajama bottoms.
The first night it happens, he very resolutely does not touch himself. He closes his eyes and counts to ten and wills the erection to fade on its own. It doesn’t work so he counts to ten again, then again and again. He gets back to sleep eventually, but not before the cloudy winter dawn seeps in through his windows.
Some nights it works like that.
Some nights it doesn’t. It’s maddening and it keeps him up, and he wants nothing more than the oblivion of sleep, so he touches. His hand finds its way to the brushed flannel of his pajamas, and he presses against the seam just to relieve some of the pressure. He sighs as soon as the heel of his hand makes contact, rocking into it just a little bit. It’s not enough; he just wants to go back to sleep so badly he could cry, so he snakes a hand beneath his waistband, pushes his pants low around his hips.
It’s the first time he’s touched himself in weeks, the first time anyone’s touched him since—since, and it feels good in a way that makes him feel sick. He hears Hannibal’s voice in his head when he curls his hand around his own skin. He lets his grip tighten, and one, two, three strokes and he’s coming, making a mess of his sheets and biting the hand clapped over his mouth. He feels ill afterward, but at least he can roll over and go to sleep if he doesn’t roll in the wet spot.
He just wants to sleep.
It becomes a habit. He tries to think of other things—anything. Anything else. Pornography, Beth, even Nigel from the bus stop. It ends with him chafing himself raw, half-soft and unable to come, sobbing into his pillow with frustration. So he does what works, tells himself it’s only logical. It’s just masturbation, it doesn’t have to mean anything. It’s a natural and healthy biological function, excellent for prostate health—
He knows that. He knows it, so why doesn’t it make him feel less guilty?
He touches himself and thinks of Hannibal’s voice in his ear, saying things he never said like good boy and that’s it and just take it a little deeper, you can do it, can’t you? and he comes so hard he sees stars.
Will has taken to Central America remarkably well. Hannibal knew he would.
Will loves the warm weather and sandy beaches. Whenever he disappears, Hannibal finds him swimming in the ocean behind their house more often than not. He’s started teasing Will that he might be part fish for the pleasure of seeing Will roll his eyes at him, an uncouth gesture that hails back to simpler times.
Will has already amassed a small pack of dogs, three mutts that he found roaming the streets. He imagines Will lures them home with bits of meat and soothing, soft words—the kind that aren’t for Hannibal—as locals stare and shake their heads. He never puts up more than token resistance when Will shows up with a canine in tow. He protests just enough to bring that sharp smile to Will’s face, the one he gets when he feels like he’s won something at Hannibal’s expense.
Will is happy here, and Hannibal often wishes that Will had seen fit to let him bring them here long ago.
Will is often happy here, but today he isn’t. This morning he’s agitated and uneasy in his skin, picking fights with Hannibal before they’ve even finished breakfast.
“Has he been to see one of your friends?”
Ah. It’s this again.
Hannibal shakes his head. “I would have told you if he had.”
Will drums his fingers on the counter. “He should be seeing a therapist.”
“We don’t know that he isn’t, darling. He could be seeing someone recommended by a friend. He might have his own psychiatrist. We don’t know him particularly well, you remember.”
Will sighs. “He isn’t seeing someone. He doesn’t trust therapists. He saw a handful when he was younger and hated all of them. Any psychiatrist he saw and kept seeing would have to be… special.”
He favors Hannibal with the ghost of a smile, and it seems Hannibal still is not immune to flattery after all these years. Will’s manipulations are no less effective for how blatant they are, and isn’t that what makes him so darling and dangerous.
“Adam isn’t you, Will,” Hannibal reminds him gently.
“I know he’s not,” Will snaps, but Hannibal wonders if he does.
Will’s sense of self has always been permeable, and for the most part, it’s something Hannibal has encouraged. He certainly doesn’t mind that the borders between Will and himself have largely ceased to exist—they were superfluous anyway. He does mind when Will gets lost in people who are not him.
It doesn’t happen often these days; Will has a better sense of the delineations between himself and others—the killers he subsumes, the victims they’ve hunted. The antipsychotics have helped, and Hannibal pays careful attention to Will’s mental condition. He’s willingly, if not happily, picked back up the mantle of Will’s psychiatrist. He adjusts the medications and dosage as necessary. It’s helped. Will is no longer feral and incoherent, but he isn’t quite as adept at remembering that he’s distinct from others as he one was.
Will likely wouldn’t believe him—he persists in believing the worst of Hannibal at all times—but he doesn’t want to weed all the strangeness out of Will. A certain amount of malady can be tolerated, particularly when it’s interesting. Hannibal is quite uninterested in dull, perfect health. The holes in the floor of Will’s mind are endlessly fascinating, and if there have been caverns in Will’s mind that he hasn’t preferred, Hannibal must at least admit that the illness has done an admirable job of cultivating the darkness within him.
If that darkness has taken a different turn than Hannibal himself was expecting, well. Will always did find ways to constantly surprise him. Of course this would be no different.
And if Will’s heart is set on Adam for the time being, then fortunately for Will, Hannibal has had a hard time denying him anything for years, for far longer than he’s known. Long before he realized a way to craft Hannibal’s love into a noose to hang them both.
He’s made endless adjustments for Will Graham. He is certainly willing to make a few more, and so he mentally adjusts his plans for their future, changing the rooms in which those plans reside, clearing away furniture and building new structures. Hannibal had discarded the idea of a family when he’d killed Abigail. It seems Will had not.
That’s fine. Arrangements can be made.
Hannibal places a hand on the back of Will’s neck and lets his smile deepen and grow when Will leans back into it, pliant and trusting. He runs hotter these days, an echo of the months when Will’s sweet fever was a third companion in every room shared by the two of them. Occasionally Hannibal indulges in nostalgia, closes his eyes and lets the warm scent transport him to a time when all things were new.
He tightens his grip in Will’s hair and pulls, letting the way Will moans and grows slack fill him with vicious, ravenous desire.
“Do you want to keep him, my darling?” Hannibal asks as he shoves Will down, folding him in two over the tiled island in their kitchen. “Have I not given you enough pets to keep you warm? Do you need another?”
Hannibal doesn’t have to ask. He already knows the answer, even as his hands make quick work of his own belt, opening his fly and pulling himself out while Will does the same in frantic, jerky gestures. He knows the answer, but he also knows his wicked, lovely boy. He knows how much he wants to say it, to confess all of his terrible desires. Will loves this part of what they do, almost as much as Hannibal loves hearing him say it.
Hannibal pushes Will down with a hand between his shoulder blades, smudging the pristine tile beneath him.
“Yes,” Will hisses before Hannibal shoves his fingers into Will’s mouth. He talks around Hannibal’s fingers, drooling around them. “I want him.”
He’s rough because Will likes it that way, murmurs in his ear, “Get it nice and wet so I don’t hurt you, darling.”
Will moans, loud and wanton, then slams his jaw shut. A bright bolt of pain shoots through Hannibal. He yanks his bitten fingers free, then pulls Will’s head back and slams it into the counter. Will turns to grin at him, smile mocking and bright. His eyes are slightly unfocused. He looks dazed, and it’s all Hannibal can do not to kiss him. Instead he shoves two fingers into Will, feeling the skin catch and tear, and wipes the smile from Will’s face.
Will’s eyelids flutter shut even as his mouth twists in a snarl, and Hannibal’s name falls out of his mouth like prayer.
“Wicked boy,” Hannibal murmurs. “You like it when it hurts.”
Will grins at him with bloody teeth. “Don’t you?”
Hannibal bares his teeth and moves, stretching Will open hard and fast for the pleasure of hearing the pained noises Will makes even as he fucks himself back on Hannibal’s fingers. He does like it. He loves Will any way he can have him, and if he’d sometimes like to touch Will in ways soft and gentle, he can’t deny that he loves this as well.
“Do you want to touch him like this?” Hannibal asks, scissoring his fingers apart and driving deeper, as deep as he can reach, hollowing Will out. “Do you want him spitted on your fingers and cock, screaming for you again?”
Will shakes his head, rolling it along the counter. “No. Nngh, Hannibal, fuck.”
“No,” Will insists, pushing his hips back chasing the friction when Hannibal pulls out. Hannibal pulls Will’s cheeks apart, exposing his reddened hole and spitting on it. It’s a bit crass for his tastes, but Will loves it, moaning as spittle disappears into his willing body, as it drips down to the hardwood floor. Hannibal lines his erection up against Will, rubbing the head of his cock along his opening.
Will looks back at him, catches him with those stunning eyes. “Not until he wants it. I won’t force him.”
Again, hangs unspoken between them. Hannibal privately thinks that Will would, that he’s found a taste for something dark that Hannibal understands in an abstract way but does not share. It’s strange to find places between them where the pieces don’t quite align.
“I want him to beg for it. Hannibal, come on,” Will pants as Hannibal pulls away, teasing, keeping his cock just out of reach when Will tries to push his hips back to take Hannibal in. He growls, frustrated. “I want him to need me.”
“You want to show him how we love each other,” Hannibal says. Will looks away, embarrassed, and Hannibal feels a rush of tenderness for him. “He’s not Abigail, you know.”
“A pretty, dark-haired thing without a friend in the world and nowhere to turn but us.” His mind still stalks the same ground that Hannibal’s does. “He doesn’t need to be.”
Hannibal takes pity on Will and nudges forward, bringing their skin back into contact. Not breaching him, just reminding. I’m here. He leans forward and presses a kiss to the top of Will’s spine. “Save that for later,” Hannibal says. “Your dreams will keep. Be here now. Take what you want from me.”
And Will does. Hannibal holds himself still while Will moves, grunting and sighing as he impales himself on Hannibal’s cock faster and harder than Hannibal would have.
The friction burns. It’s tight and just this side of too dry, and Hannibal lets Will take what he desires. Will rocks against him, hurting himself with Hannibal’s body. It’s not selfless, none of this is. Hannibal loves this too. He grips Will’s hips tight enough to leave bruises and fucks him hard enough to bang his knees against the cabinet doors. It’s loud and messy and entirely satisfying.
“You’re so good to me,” Will says after, quiet and still and so soft Hannibal could have imagined it—but Will is the one prone to flights of fancy, not him. Hannibal doesn’t imagine such things. It offends some deep-buried part of him that Will sees goodness here and nowhere else, but Hannibal tamps it down and takes what Will allows him.
Will lets Hannibal hold him in these moments and only these. He lets Hannibal bring him back to bed, wrap him up in blankets and love and kiss the parts he hurt.
This is exorcism for him—Hannibal holds no illusions about that. He wonders sometimes what the demons in Will’s mind look like these days. He wonders how many of them look like him.
* * *
“My memory palace has changed,” Will says, leaning back with his head on Hannibal’s chest.
It’s too hot for blankets in this part of the world, never mind that it’s November, but they bed down in a nest of comforters anyway. Will looks up at him, waiting for a response.
“Has it?” Hannibal asks.
Will hums in agreement. “It’s brighter there. There are lights in the water. Sometimes I think I could catch them if I tried.”
“Why don’t you?”
“They’re not for me.” He says it with absolute conviction, as though it’s self-evident. Maybe it is, to him. Hannibal loves Will, but he can’t always follow where his mind goes.
“Everything is for you, my love,” Hannibal says. That is a conviction for him.
Will catches his eye and smiles, easy and light. His smile is fragmented and ruined, half of it twisting because half of it will move no more. Hannibal thinks it’s beautiful.
“You are,” Will says.
“I am,” Hannibal agrees. “I and the rest of the world.”
Will settles back into his chest, bringing his arms around Hannibal and holding him close.
“He’s waiting for us there, you know. Can’t you feel it too? He’s waiting, and he doesn’t know it.”
“He doesn’t want us,” Hannibal says gently.
“That’s never mattered to you before.” Will nuzzles his scarred cheek into the hair on Hannibal’s chest. If he were a cat, Hannibal thinks he’d be able to feel him purr. “But he will.”
Hannibal has seen lights in his halls too, floating lights that illuminate the castle, that refused to be extinguished in the foyer. He’s tried to put them out.
They were fathers once. He supposes they could be again. There could be room for one more.
you wanted to touch his hands and lips and this means
your life is over anyway.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Adam gets up in the morning and goes to work. He finishes at 6 o’clock and comes home on the 15 bus. He only reads his book while waiting for the bus and waiting for his stop—it’s part of his routine, and it makes the book last longer. Even so, he finishes that book and starts another before he sees Nigel again.
He looks up at the bus stop every so often, hoping for a glimpse of too-long blonde hair and a familiar angular face. Sometimes he sees people who look a little like him (Hannibal/Nigel) but it’s never the right person. He catches a whiff of cigarette smoke one day and jerks his head up, but it’s only a girl. She has blue hair and a nose ring, and a kind of keen interest that makes him shrink back into himself. It reminds him of sharks.
“Looking for someone?” She asks, blowing smoke in his face.
He coughs and waves it away.
“No.” He goes back to his book and doesn’t look up again.
It’s been two weeks since Nigel walked him home, and Adam tells himself it’s better that he doesn’t see him.
He doesn’t want Nigel following him around—that’s something people with bad intentions do. And even if he did see Nigel—if Nigel needed to catch the 15 bus too, and he saw Adam and it wasn’t because he was stalking him—Adam isn’t ready for a relationship. That’s what all the websites say. The first step is healing from trauma so he doesn’t drag his emotional baggage into a relationship, and Adam hasn’t started healing. He doesn’t go to therapy, and he’s stopped taking Beth’s calls that have grown increasingly frequent. He knows he’s worrying her. They’re supposed to talk every week, but Adam can’t bring himself to use the phone, not even to tell her sorry.
He would not be good at a relationship at all, but he especially wouldn’t be good at one right now. And that’s if Nigel is even offering a relationship, which he probably isn’t. Statistically, most men are heterosexual, and some of those men get violent when propositioned by another man. Adam doesn’t want to deal with violence, but it probably doesn’t matter because he won’t see Nigel again, and so he won’t have to ask if Nigel wants a relationship with him.
* * *
Nigel doesn’t follow him, but that doesn’t mean that no one does.
“It’s not nice to sneak up on people,” Adam says when Freddie falls into step with him as he leaves the observatory.
“It’s also not very nice being escorted off the premises and threatened with police intervention, so I’d prefer to stay out of sight.”
Adam glances back into the building. He could go back inside and get Frank so the security guard could make her leave. Freddie seems to be waiting for him to do just that. Adam sighs. He wants to get home before it gets dark, and that will take too long, so he heads for the bus stop with Freddie in tow.
“Why do you keep following me?” Adam asks. “I asked you not to, but you don’t listen.”
“Because I need a story, and I want to tell yours. And because I live in New York and want to get back before Christmas. It’s too damn not here for the middle of December.” The conversation lapses into silence. “You know, you could help me if you talked to me. You’d be doing me a big favor.”
Adam shakes his head. “I’m sorry, but no.” And then, “I used to live in New York too.”
“Oh yeah? What part?”
“In the city. In Manhattan,” he clarifies. “I liked it there.”
Freddie whistles. “Manhattan. Guess you’re not doing too bad for yourself. Why move out here if you liked it so much?”
Freddie lets that one pass without comment. “Where’s your friend?” She asks. She actually does seem to be looking around, as though Nigel might jump out of the bushes.
“He’s not my friend,” Adam says, because he isn’t. The words make him feel a little sad as he says them.
“Have you taken my advice about talking to someone?”
The walk to the bus stop isn’t long, but there are at least things to look at. Their footsteps crunch in the leaves underfoot. Freddie’s boots are nice, black and shiny, made from supple leather and built for New York winters.
“I bet it must just eat you up inside, what they did to you. How do you sleep at night knowing they’re still free?”
Adam clenches his fists, taps a hand against his thigh. “I don’t sleep very well. Masturbation helps, but I’m tired a lot, and it’s beginning to affect my work.”
“Really?” He can feel her looking at him, but they’re walking which means he has a reason not to look back. She stops, so he stops.
Adam frowns. “Yes, it’s taken me longer than it should to complete my current project. Everyone has been understanding. They’re asking me if I need help—if they should bring someone in—but I don’t. I don’t need help. I can do it, I just need to be able to focus.”
“Do you have trouble with focus, Adam?”
“When I’m tired. My brain doesn’t—it doesn’t work right. It doesn’t work like yours. I’m overwhelmed easily.”
Freddie smiles. “My brain doesn’t exactly work like other people’s either.” She huddles into her jacket. “Can I buy you a coffee? It’s cold out here, and we can keep talking.”
She can’t possibly be cold if she’s from New York.
Adam shakes his head. “I want to go home. I don’t like being outside after dark anymore.”
“Are you afraid?”
“Of course I’m afraid,” Adam says. It feels good, somehow, to admit it. Even if it’s just to a stranger. Maybe he does need to talk to someone.
She nods. “You should be. Do you know they’ve left very few victims alive? I could count them on one hand.”
“Why?” Adam asks, even though he’s not sure he wants the answer. “I’ve read about them, you know. I didn’t want to know, but not knowing is almost worse, isn’t it? Why didn’t they kill me?”
There’s an expression on Freddie’s face that he can’t place.
“Because they’re not done with you yet,” Freddie says. “I can help you, you know. I survived them too. Now don’t you want to talk with me?”
He doesn’t, not really, but he does want to know. He wants to know what she knows, wants to know if they did anything to her like they did to him. “I want to go home,” he says again. “But—maybe we can talk another time? If you promise not to write what we talk about.”
“Of course,” she says very quickly. “You have my number. Call it any time. Sleep well, Adam.”
He thinks about it later, riding the bus home, the expression that Freddie’s face had made. It looked like Beth’s face sometimes looked. Like she felt sorry for him. He never really liked that.
* * *
It’s the second Saturday of the month, which means it’s laundry day. Adam empties his hamper into his laundry bag and double checks to make sure he has his quarters and keys and trudges down the stairs.
Nigel is leaning against the gate, smoking a cigarette and holding a cup of coffee. His face is all stormcloud dour, but it clears when he sees Adam.
“Nigel? What are you doing here?” There’s a moment of confusion, of seeing something usually relegated to daydreams and nightmares walking around (he looks so much like Hannibal).
Nigel shouldn’t be here, but Adam can’t help smiling a little anyway.
“I brought you a coffee,” Nigel says, holding it out. It’s a paper cup from Peet’s with ‘Nigel’ scrawled over the side. “Think it’s cold by now.” He shrugs. “It was hot an hour ago.”
“An hour? Were you waiting for me?” Adam looks around, takes in the cigarette butts littering the sidewalk that were not there last night. “You know chainsmoking is bad for you. Well, really all smoking is bad for you, but chainsmoking introduces nicotine into your bloodstream in higher quantities and can lead to heart attacks. Although you look pretty healthy—” Adam stops himself. “Thank you for the coffee?” It comes out sounding like a question.
Nigel chuckles and takes another drag of his cigarette. “You’re welcome, gorgeous.”
Adam flushes a little at the nickname. Nigel is careful with his hands when he passes Adam the cup—their fingers don’t so much as brush. It’s thoughtful. Adam notices. He wonders what Nigel’s fingers would feel like and flushes again. Then he frowns at the cigarette butts strewn around; littering is a terrible habit.
“You shouldn’t be waiting outside my apartment for me.”
“I’d have called, but I seem to have misplaced your number.”
Adam frowns. “I didn’t give you my phone number.”
“That’s the joke, kid.” Nigel grins, and he looks so easy leaning against the gate to Adam’s apartment. Like he belongs there. Or like he belongs anywhere. “So I shouldn’t be here, but are you sorry I am? Two different things.”
Adam thinks about it. “No,” he decides, and he hides his smile in a sip of coffee.
It is cold. It’s cold and too sweet, but he takes little sips of it anyway.
* * *
Nigel offers to carry his laundry for him.
“So what’re we doing today, gorgeous?” He’d asked, and just like that they were a we.
“I have to do laundry,” Adam says, and Nigel makes a gesture with his hand. “What’re you doing?”
Nigel sighs. “Your laundry bag, give it here.”
Adam thinks about saying no, but it’s nice to have someone offering to do something for him. They walk to the laundromat, and Adam finishes his coffee on the way, stops to toss it into a trashcan while Nigel watches, amused, and lights another cigarette.
“Don’t you have better things to do today?” Adam asks.
“Than hang out with you? Never.”
Adam stops so abruptly that it takes Nigel a second to realize he’s no longer with him.
Adam is tired of being charmed. He’s tired of people saying things they don’t mean and sending signals he doesn’t understand. “Why are you being so nice to me? Why do you want to go to the laundromat with me?” Nigel opens his mouth, and Adam talks over him. “Laundromats are boring, don’t lie. I’m a stranger. You don’t even know me. I could be a serial killer for all you know, so why don’t you go spend time with someone else?”
Nigel frowns. “You’re kind of an asshole, anyone ever tell you that?”
“No.” Adam’s been called a lot of things, freak, weirdo, dumbass, and child among them, but never an asshole. “You’re the first.”
He starts walking again, jerky quick movements with his cheeks burning, and Nigel is still walking with him.
“Give me the bag back,” Adam says.
Adam makes an impatient gesture. “Give me the bag back so you can leave. I insulted you and you called me an asshole, so you don’t have to be nice anymore. I still need to do my laundry, though.”
Nigel huffs and hoists the laundry bag higher on his shoulder. It looks like it weighs nothing when he carries it. “I’m not giving it back. I told you I’d carry it, and I will. And when we get to the laundromat, I’ll leave if you want.” He shakes his head and mutters something in a language Adam doesn’t understand.
Adam’s heart is pounding because—
“I don’t want you to leave,” he blurts. “I want you to stay, and then maybe—I want to buy you lunch to say thank you for the coffee. If you want.”
Nigel smiles, and Adam can breathe again. “That sounds great, Adam.”
“Why?” Adam asks. The answer to the question suddenly feels very important. “I haven’t been very nice, and I’ll keep saying things that upset you. I won’t even know that I’m doing it.”
Nigel hums. “Because you’re gorgeous and the most interesting person I’ve met in weeks. Or because you looked like a baby bird who’d been stepped on with no one to look after you. Or because I kept thinking of you, and it made some fucking shit days pass quicker.” He shrugs. “Who knows. Why overthink it? I like you.”
Adam carries that with him as they walk. A few blocks later, Nigel laughs.
“What’s funny?” Adam asks.
“Nothing, just—” He laughs again. “I’m pretty sure you’re not a serial killer, kid.”
And just like that Adam’s good mood dims. He’d forgotten for a little while.
No, he thinks but doesn’t say. I’m just bait for them. I think I’m their favorite food.
* * *
Lunch is nice. They talk about things that aren’t upsetting until Adam has to go. He gives Nigel his phone number so he doesn’t have to stand outside waiting next time. Because there will be a next time, because Nigel wants to see him again.
Nigel feels like sunshine, but when he’s gone, he takes it with him. Adam’s apartment is just as cold when he gets home. It’s just as dark. He sets his keys on the counter and hangs his jacket for tomorrow. He puts his laundry away one piece at a time, socks first, then boxers, shirts then pants.
Adam is tired of things happening to him. He’s tired of being the one standing still while people do what they want—show up places unannounced asking for things he doesn’t know how to give. People will take things, and then what will he have left for himself?
He opens the kitchen drawer that holds the letter, the heavy envelope with his name printed in flourishing ink. He puts his hand on it, and nothing happens. (Of course it doesn’t, it’s a piece of paper.)
He wraps his fingers around it and draws it out of the drawer. This is something he can decide.
He picks it up and tears it open.
(poetry in the first author's note is by Richard Siken)
And no one can ever figure out what you want,
and you won’t tell them,
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Adam visits a river in his dreams. It isn’t his river of stars, not exactly. It’s more real than the fairytale images his brain conjures in the daylight—his river is nothing like the real thing, but it calms him all the same.
This place is full of rushing water, green and murky. The sun filters through the trees and dapples his hands and face. He has the niggling sense that where he’s standing is an actual place that exists in the world, although he’s certain he’s never been there. Maybe he saw it on television once, an image lost to the stew of memory, regurgitated and remixed while his brain sleeps on.
But that doesn’t explain the scent. It smells like salt water and pine. When something brushes his legs in the water, slick and fast, he feels the drag of skin and scales. In the corner of his eye, a thing with feathers. He’s afraid to turn his head to look.
Adam knows what dreams are. He knows that they don’t mean anything, that they’re the unconscious processes of a brain at play, filing away things thought and seen and heard during the day. Unspooling memories for longterm storage.
He knows this, and yet he can’t shake the feeling that someone is there in the dark of his mind, watching him. Waiting for him.
When he wakes, he wakes with a start.
* * *
Adam doesn’t know what he was expecting, but it wasn’t this. He expected threats, maybe. Photographs. Something to taunt him and turn his stomach inside out. The envelope holds nothing menacing, just a short letter on a piece of expensive paper.
I hope this finds you well, or as well as can be expected under the circumstances. I apologize for leaving the way we did. Time was a pressing concern, as I’m sure you understand. I’m writing because we believe it would be beneficial for you to begin a therapeutic relationship with a trusted counselor. As it’s unlikely you’ve already done so, I’ve taken the liberty of including two suitable candidates.
Some sexual assault victims have a preference for gender when selecting a therapist. I’m uncertain which you prefer, so I’ve included both a man and woman. I expect you’ll want to do your own research, but I can attest that they’re both excellent psychiatrists who specialize in trauma recovery. Feel free to choose whomever suits you best. Pick someone who makes you feel safe.
Both of us send our regards.
There’s no signature. He didn’t think there would be. He doesn’t need a signature to know who it’s from. He traces his finger across the phrase both of us and jerks it back as though he’s been bitten.
He might have preferred threats and photographs. This makes him feel… guilty. Complicit. It makes him feel so angry he could scream.
He slides down the wall to the floor and sets the paper down with shaking hands. He flattens it out, pressing the creases out of it with a thumbnail once, twice. He stares at the words like they might change into something that makes sense. They don’t.
Beneath the body of a letter, there are two names along with phone numbers and addresses. Marcia L. Brown and James K.D. Jacobs.
Adam neatly folds the letter and puts it away, then screams into a pillow until he’s hoarse.
* * *
Nigel feels like sunshine. It feels good just to stand beside him.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Right now Adam is pacing the floor of his apartment while Nigel watches him from the couch. They’d agreed to meet here this time—Adam’s suggestion. Nigel is a wrench in his routine, but he’d like to keep to it as much as possible. The outside is too loud. There are too many people who look at him and too many things to look at. It’s less overwhelming here.
Adam hadn’t quite realized how hard it would be, though, having Nigel in his space. (His bed is right there and what if Nigel holds him down and what if his neighbors aren’t home and he screams and screams and—)
Nigel sits on the couch and watches him pace.
“Would you like something to drink?” Adam asks.
Nigel holds up his glass of water. “You already got me. Adam, do you want to sit down? You’re making me nervous with all the pacing.”
“Oh. Sorry, I—uh.” Adam bolts into the kitchen to stand in front of the refrigerator, staring into the open door.
He hears the clink of a glass being set down, the heavy footfalls behind him. He still jumps when Nigel’s voice sounds so close to his ear. Nigel closes the refrigerator door gently. “Come sit down,” he says. “Please.”
Adam looks at the floor. He’s acting weird. He’s being a bad host. He’d invited Nigel over, and Nigel feels like sunshine, but—
“It’s alright, darling. I’m not going to hurt you. Is there a reason you don’t want to? Something I can do, or not do, or…?” Nigel’s voice is gentle. He cocks his head and his hair catches the sunlight. It paints his cheek and lip golden, and Adam wants to taste, to see if they’re as smooth as they look.
Instead he blurts it out, says, “I was raped. Recently. I—I’m nervous around strangers. I’m nervous around men, but I like you a lot.”
Nigel does not seem surprised. He runs a hand through his hair, says, “Yeah, I figured it was something like that.”
“What?” All the air leaves Adam at once. “You can tell? Can everyone tell?”
“I doubt most people can tell. You’re just—you’re twitchy in this certain way. I’ve known people who were twitchy like that, girls mostly. Girls whose old man touched them the wrong way or who got jumped walking home from the club.” Nigel nods at him. “How about you, your dad? Ex-boyfriend?”
Adam flinches. Something crawls up his throat, a feeling that might be anger and might be panic. He swallows around the feeling, tries to swallow it back down.
“Not my dad, not— I don’t have a—” He swallows again. Gulps down air. Why does his throat feel so sticky? He’s breathing too fast, but he can’t slow down.
Nigel holds a hand up to his cheek but doesn’t touch. He lets his hand fall before Adam can lean into it. “Look, I—that was shit of me. It’s none of my fucking business, yeah? Forget I asked.”
Adam breathes. He finds his stream, wades in a river of stars.
“No, it’s okay,” he says when he can talk again. “You didn’t make me tell you. I brought it up. I decided to. It’s not wrong that you want to ask questions.” He squeezes his eyes shut tight because it makes it easier to say the words, and they come out all in a rush. “Have you heard of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham?”
Nigel frowns. “The cannibal and his faggot boyfriend?”
“Nigel.” Adam opens his eyes to glare at him. He doesn’t like homophobic slurs, and anyway it doesn't make sense when he thinks he and Nigel might be dating.
“You know the man they—” He takes a deep breath. He can do this. He tries again. “The man they assaulted. It was—that was me.”
“Oh, fuck,” Nigel says. And then, “Oh, fuck. Shit. Do you want to—I don’t know, do you want to talk about it?”
Adam considers it. Nigel doesn’t like talking about feelings, and it’s nice of him to offer.
“No,” he decides eventually. “Not right now. But… maybe sometime? I think I want to talk about it with you.”
“Whenever you want, sweetheart. Anytime you want.”
* * *
It’s easier to go to the couch with Nigel once he knows, although Adam doesn’t know why that should be true. Nigel promises not to touch Adam unless he says it’s okay, promises not to do anything Adam doesn’t like.
Adam believes him.
It’s Tuesday, and Nigel stays until it gets dark. When it's dinnertime, Adam makes mac and cheese for the both of them, and they eat it sitting side by side at the kitchen table.
“You’re supposed to take the seat across from me,” Adam tells Nigel, who just grins.
“My dad, Harlan, Beth,” Adam says, ticking off names on his fingers. “The occupational therapist I had when I was nine.”
Nigel looks around. “I don’t see any of them here. What do you say?”
Adam grins back. Nigel’s smile makes it easier to smile too, like a moon reflecting the sun. “I say it’s okay. I like it.”
Nigel’s foot jostles his under the table, just a glancing brush, and Adam smiles around a bite of Amy’s.
They settle on the couch after dinner to watch a movie. Adam doesn’t really watch tv, doesn’t care for most shows, and the ones he does like he can watch on his computer, so he never bought a television. It means they sit close so they can both see the laptop screen.
Nigel smells like cigarettes and cologne as he scrolls through movie options, flicking through Adam’s Netflix account.
“Do you watch anything besides space documentaries?”
“Sometimes I watch behind the scenes footage of classic films. And interviews with actors. The ninth episode of the ninth season of Inside the Actors Studio featured one of the only recorded instances of Julie Kavner performing the voice of Marge Simpson live. She usually disapproves, but she agreed to do it with her face hidden behind a cardboard cutout that time.”
Nigel raises an eyebrow. “You don’t say.”
Adam smiles. “Mostly I watch space documentaries, though.”
“You don’t find that stuff boring?”
“Never. I like space. I think it’s fascinating. It’s so vast, and there are so many things we still haven’t discovered. It’s why I like working at the observatory. Well, one of the reasons. What do you do for a living, Nigel?” It occurs to him that he hasn’t asked yet.
“Nothing as interesting as what you do, gorgeous.”
“That’s not a real answer.” And then, because he wants to know more about Nigel, “Do you like space?”
Nigel hums. “I guess I never really thought about it. I lived in the city my whole life. Hard to see the stars, even if you do bother to look up. I mostly didn’t. Still don’t, to tell you the truth.”
“Maybe you just haven’t had it explained to you by the right person.”
“Maybe so. You gonna teach me about space, kid?”
“I could, if you want. I want to take you to look at the stars.”
“Sounds great,” Nigel says. “But first I’m going to teach you about good movies.”
Nigel picked a movie while they were talking, something Adam’s never heard of with a rugged male lead and a pretty blonde actress, but that Nigel claims is a classic. A few minutes in, Nigel asks if he can put his arm around Adam, and he nods. They settle in like that, shifting to make themselves comfortable, and Adam leans his head against Nigel’s shoulder. The story is a little boring and a little hard to follow, and before long Adam is watching Nigel’s face more than he’s watching the screen. Nigel laughs at the parts that are funny and mutters to the actors during the fight scenes.
“You’re not watching the movie,” Nigel says, but he doesn’t sound upset. He looks at Adam, and his eyes are the color of moss before Adam looks away.
“I like looking at you,” Adam says softly.
Nigel pulls him in a little closer with the arm around his shoulder. “You can keep looking if you want.”
“Can you—” Adam stops. He isn’t sure it’s is a normal thing to ask.
“Can I what?”
“Can you keep watching the movie? So I can look.” Adam feels himself blushing as he says it, and Nigel’s mouth goes soft before it curls up at the corners.
“Sure thing, gorgeous. Anything you want.”
Anything you want, baby. Will, a warm mouth on his body, fingers inside him sparking pleasure he didn’t want, stubble scraping his thigh—
But he isn’t there, he’s here. He’s here, and he’s determined to be here now, with Nigel. His breathing grows shaky, but Nigel doesn’t turn to look. He watches the movie like Adam asked, rubbing his fingers lightly over Adam’s arm. His hands aren’t wandering; they’re just stroking the little patch of skin below Adam’s shirt sleeve, just soothing. Grounding.
Adam studies Nigel in profile, the slope of his nose, the bump of his chin, the lady winking from his neck. His lips stick out in a pout, and Adam wants to, he wants—
“Can I kiss you?” He asks. But, “Can I kiss you, and can you just hold still and let me? I don’t want you to touch me or kiss me back, I just want to—I want to see what your lips feel like.”
“Close your eyes,” Adam whispers.
He does, and Adam leans in. He brings a hand to Nigel’s face and rubs his fingers along his jaw, feeling the sharp planes of bone and the slight rasp of stubble against his palm. He pulls a little, and Nigel turns his head, obliging. Adam drags his hand up, sliding his thumb over Nigel’s lips, testing. They’re warm and dry and just the slightest bit chapped. Soft.
Adam sighs on an exhale and pulls his thumb down a little, catching Nigel’s bottom lip and watching the way it moves. He leans in.
It’s a chaste kiss, just a brush of skin on skin. Nigel feels softer like this, and it’s strange thinking of any part of Nigel being soft. He’s so loud and full of energy, so many hard angles and sharp lines all at once. Adam stays there for a second, just letting their lips just rest together. Just breathing each other’s air. He smells more like cigarettes here, but it isn’t bad; it’s just different.
Nigel stays perfectly still and keeps his eyes closed. Adam can see them flickering beneath his eyelids when he pulls back to look. He kisses him again. Adam parts his lips this time, just a little. Just enough to suck Nigel’s bottom lip between his, to run his tongue delicately along it. Once, twice. Nigel’s breath speeds up; he can feel it in the little puffs of air where their noses meet.
Adam feels brave.
“You can kiss me back,” he says.
“I’ll be gentle,” Nigel promises.
He angles his head and catches Adam’s lips in his. He doesn’t touch but hums appreciatively when Adam’s hands come up to frame his face, to fit them together better. Adam whimpers at the feeling of a tongue sliding against his, soft and pressing. Offering and not insisting.
He wants to get closer, wants to kiss without craning his neck, so he gets up on his knees and climbs into Nigel’s lap, settling himself so they can kiss, so he can get closer to that soft slide of tongues and lips. Everything is fine until it isn’t.
He brushes against Nigel’s erection by accident, and Nigel groans. His hands come up to grip Adam’s hips automatically. It’s such a small sound, such a little thing, and Adam immediately tenses up all over.
He’s on the other side of the room before Nigel even gets the chance to ask what the matter is. Stupid, awful.
“Hey, I didn’t mean—”
“I mean I wasn’t trying to—”
“I know.” Interrupting people is rude, but, “You didn’t do anything wrong. I did,” Adam says, hands fisted tight in his hair, pulling hard enough to hurt.
“Whoa, whoa, hey. Fuck, kid, don’t hurt yourself. Everything’s okay.” Nigel brings his hands up like he’ll make Adam stop. Puts them down again. Sighs when he realizes he can’t help Adam. (Adam can’t even help himself, so really, how is anyone else going to?)
It’s Tuesday. It’s late. He should be sleeping by now, and if he thinks about that for too long, he’ll panic.
“You didn’t do anything, but. I think I want you to leave now. I’m sorry, I’m just. I’m tired.” He looks into Nigel’s eyes even though it’s too much. He wants Nigel to understand. He wants Nigel to be good at this in the way that he isn’t, but mostly he wants to stop making everything terrible. “I’m sorry,” he says again.
“It’s okay,” Nigel says. “I’ll go.”
He grabs his jacket, and Adam walks him to the door. He can’t look at Nigel, so he looks at the floor instead. Twists his hands together even though it makes the joints of his fingers creak.
Nigel doesn’t try to kiss Adam on the mouth again, but he brushes a lingering kiss to his temple. Adam’s eyes flutter shut at the touch. He leans into it. “I’ll see you soon, gorgeous.”
Adam wishes he understood people well enough to know if Nigel means it.
(poetry by Richard Siken)
In another world, Will and Adam live a quiet life in the woods. Adam doesn’t like Will’s dogs at first. They're messy and noisy, and they leave fur all over everything, so Will compromises by giving most of the wolf pack away before they move in together. He hangs onto Buster who’s got a heart like a lion and “even less of a sense of self-preservation than you” according to Adam, and Winston, who is his heart. Winston who he met before—a tenuous lifeline to a time back before the name Hannibal Lecter meant anything to him.
Before, when things were simpler, and he wasn’t happy, but he wasn’t broken either. Not in the ways that Hannibal broke him. Broke him and shaped him and molded him until he was almost something else.
* * *
It’s been a long day, and his headaches are back. Everyone’s emotions are weighing too heavily on him, and Will is ready to snap at the next person who looks at him the wrong way. He’d spent the day sitting in a courtroom across from Hannibal, who’d smiled at him the whole time. Like he knew something that Will didn’t know. His eyes never left Will for a second.
He tells lies that will get Hannibal locked up but not executed. His feelings for Hannibal are complicated and expansive, but no one should get to kill him but Will, so he spends the day corroborating the story that Hannibal is insane, although they both know he’s no such thing. Hannibal is something else—the devil, probably—but he’s not insane
He spends the day wanting to jump over the table and run to Hannibal—to kiss him or hit him or choke the life out of him—he doesn’t know which, and he figures he wouldn’t know until he got his hands on Hannibal, and maybe not even then. But they’re in a room full of people, and Will is tired. Just bone deep, sleep forever tired, so instead he looks away and lies through his teeth and adds perjury to the list of things Hannibal has goaded him into
The smile on Hannibal’s face says he’s thinking it too.
* * *
He’s supposed to go on a date with a woman named Molly Foster tonight, and he’s wandering through Rite Aid looking for a pack of razors when he bumps into a younger man, clips him with a shoulder while navigating a narrow aisle. He says nothing because he’s too deep in his own head, too buffeted by misery to bother.
“Excuse me,” the man says. He’s a bit odd and a more than a little too thin. It’s a lot like looking in a mirror.
“You’re supposed to say excuse me.”
Will gapes at him for second, brow furrowed, before something possesses him to ask, “Do you want to get a drink with me?”
Will is about to apologize, to say never mind when the man finally answers. “If you mean alcohol, then no, but if you’re asking me for a date, then yes. I would like that.” He tips his head to the side. “Can we have coffee?”
Will smiles, and it feels rusty and awkward in his mouth because he hasn’t smiled in months, but the man doesn’t seem to mind.
When he gets back to his car, he texts Molly to cancel. She’d seemed nice enough, smart and pretty. He’s sure she’ll find someone else. Probably someone better than him. Less damaged, at least.
* * *
It isn’t like before all this happened. Nothing’s been rewritten. Will still measures his life in before Hannibal and after Hannibal—but it gets better. Not immediately, but slowly. Gradually. Glacially, over time. The passage of time matters again because now he has before Adam and after Adam too.
Hannibal means something to him now, still. He probably always will, but what exactly he means grows smaller by the day. It turns out they can survive separation. They were conjoined once, but the place where they were severed heals over. And if the scar still aches by the dark of the moon—if Will is a vegetarian now because there are too many associations with meat that he no longer wants to look in the face—well, the ache gets farther and farther away with every kiss and touch and moan uttered in the dark. The life they’ve built for themselves is good, and Adam is his refuge.
Adam is easy in a way that Hannibal never was. He says what he means, and Will never has to guess. They don’t blur together so much as grow around each other, the way trees planted close will eventually entangle. They lean on each other.
When Jack comes by looking for Will, Adam tells him to leave. He threatens to call the police if Jack doesn’t and doesn’t care a bit when Jack explains he is the police.
“You’re an FBI agent, and you’re trespassing. Local law enforcement will still remove you if you don’t get off our property. You aren’t welcome here, and I want you to leave. Please.”
Jack goes before it becomes an issue, but there’s no doubt in Will’s mind that Adam would have called the cops on him. People only think Adam is fragile, and only because they never bother to look past the nervous tics and shifting eyes, past the slight frame and soft sweaters. If they did, they’d see the steel running through him. If they did, they’d love him as much as Will does, and that would be a terrible shame because Will is selfish and doesn’t want to share.
They talk about it in bed, later. Jack’s visit. Will’s life before—he can feel it encroaching on their space. Trying to press in around them.
“I don’t want to go,” Will says.
“I don’t want you to go.”
He doesn’t go.
The Dragon kills more people than he otherwise would—a few more, or many—but Will never hears about it. He doesn’t read the papers and anyway, people die everyday. God drops churches on grandmothers at mass. Terrible things happen to good people; it happens all the time.
The darkness Hannibal brought out of him is still there. It always will be, but it’s dormant these days. It’s a sleeping black dog, and everyday it falls a little deeper asleep, and the people around him are just a little safer. He holds Adam while he sleeps, all knobby knees and soft tousled hair. He sticks his nose in it and breathes in the scent of soap, clean skin, and the shampoo they both share.
Adam is so easy to love, and Will wants to protect him.
A letter arrives at their door eventually, hand-delivered by Jack. Jack tries one more time to get Will back, and part of him is tempted. Part of him wants to catch the old scent again, to lay eyes on Hannibal one more time. It’s been years.
Will says no. He shuts the door in Jack’s face because love and solitude have blunted his edges, but he can still be rude when it counts, and this is important. It’s worth defending.
He doesn’t go because it’s dark on the other side, and madness is waiting—it’s no less true in this universe. It’s absolutely true, and even now Will has a sense of it. But Will won’t ever think those words in quite that way, because he will never read them. He receives Hannibal’s letter stuffed in a posh envelope with Jack and the FBI’s fingerprints all over it. He takes it and throws it into the fire unopened.
He knows what he has. He doesn’t care to lose it. It’s too important, and Will Graham has learned his lesson.
In this universe, Hannibal rots in a jail cell alone until he expires of old age. He is mourned by no one, survived by none.
Someone might wonder if he gives up on Will at any point. Adam would say yes, and Will would say no, but neither of them will have to bother because they’ll never think on it. It’s a problem built and bred for another world.
Another time, another place, another life.
* * *
In this world, Will Graham wakes up gasping. Adam is thousands of miles away in the arms of a rough-mouthed drug dealer, and Will has his monster. He shudders and presses himself tighter to Hannibal, who snuffles softly and folds him in an arm without waking.
He doesn’t remember his dreams, and he wonders why he’s crying.
Can I come to your house?
Caught in the ropes and the wires
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Adam doesn’t want to see a therapist. He still doesn’t want to talk to someone, but he wants to be good for Nigel. He likes Nigel, and he wants to be someone normal. Someone who can kiss and hug and touch, someone who can have sex without thinking about their rapist. He wants to be better, to be healthy the way normal people are healthy.
It’s hard to use the phone. He can text just fine, mostly, but making calls is difficult. That much at least isn’t new. That much isn’t trauma—it’s just him and his particular peculiarities. He psychs himself up for a full half hour before he can finally pick the phone up, and then it’s another fifteen minutes before he can actually dial.
He calls the office of Doctor Marcia L. Brown. A woman seems easier to talk to, and he’s glad that Hannibal gave him the option. He tries not to think about what it means that he’s using the psychiatrist Hannibal recommended. It’s just—everything is so overwhelming. He knows that if he has to find a therapist himself, he’ll never actually do it, and surely a therapist, any therapist, is better than none at all. He did take the time to look her up, and she’s a real doctor. She’s gotten good reviews from patients and doesn’t seem to be involved in any scandals.
There’s no reason why he shouldn’t see her, besides the source of the recommendation. He reasons that the source of the recommendation isn’t her fault, so it’s fine.
Calling the number feels less like a decision and more like an act of will, like throwing himself across a finish line with the last bit of strength in him. Just this thing, and then you can stop.
The call goes to voicemail.
“You have reached the office of Doctor Marcia Brown. I’m unavailable at the moment. Please leave your name, phone number, and your reason for calling, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. If you’re having a medical emergency, please hang up and call 911.”
There’s a dial tone, and Adam almost hangs up. Instead he says, “Hello, my name is Adam Raki, and I would like to please schedule an appointment for psychotherapy. I’d like assistance recovering from sexual trauma.” He leaves his phone number and repeats it twice, like Harlan taught him, then he hangs up.
He buries the phone under his pillow and puts the other one over his face. He presses down on it, just breathing in thick air filtered through pieces of cloth and down until he feels better.
* * *
By the time Doctor Brown calls back, Adam had actually managed to forget all about it. He picks up the phone only because he’d saved her phone number when he’d called. He doesn’t pick up calls from unknown numbers anymore. He doesn’t think Will or Hannibal would call his phone, but he also didn’t think they’d send him a letter. They shouldn’t have his phone number, but they shouldn’t have had his address either, and they did.
(He tries not to think about this too much. If he does, he’ll panic.)
“Hello? This is Adam Raki speaking.”
The doctor’s voice is warm and friendly. “Hello Adam, this is Doctor Brown. Is this a good time to talk?”
Adam looks around the office. He gets up from his desk and walks into the hallway where it’s quieter. “Yes, this is fine.”
“I just want to ask you a few questions to find out if we’re a good fit for each other. Have you been in therapy before?”
Adam nods before he remembers that she can’t see him. “Yes, a little bit, but not for a long time. I’m on the autism spectrum, and I saw a few therapists who helped me learn to interact with others when I was a child. I didn’t like it very much.”
“I see. Can I ask why you’ve decided to seek therapy now?”
“I had a traumatic experience recently, and I’m trying to begin a relationship with someone I like. I think I’m not coping with the experience very well. I panic and freeze up, and sometimes I get angry. I want to get better.” And— “And several people have recommended that I see a therapist, and the internet says I should as well, but I wasn’t interested in any of that until I met Nigel.”
He’s not sure if he needed to say all of that, but it’s out now, and she did ask.
“Thank you, Adam,” Doctor Brown says. “I’d be happy to help you, if you’re still interested. When is a good day for you to meet? I have an opening on Thursday morning and another on Friday evening.”
It’s nice having choices, just two of them, simple and clean. The idea of going somewhere unfamiliar at night is appalling, but the thought of having to rearrange his entire schedule on Thursday to accommodate an extra appointment is worse. “Friday, please.”
“Does 6 o’clock work for you?”
Adam chews his lip. “Can we meet at 6:30 instead? I finish work at 6.”
“Of course, that sounds fine. Did you have any other questions for me before we hang up?”
He has questions, but he’s not sure what they are, and he’s not sure how to ask them. “No,” he says. “Goodbye.”
“Goodbye, Adam. See you on Friday at 6:30.”
He doesn’t feel lighter after making the appointment, doesn’t feel the sense of relief he thought he might, but he doesn’t feel worse either, and that seems like a kind of progress on its own. He’s mostly just glad he’s done with the phone for today.
* * *
Nigel takes a long drag of his cigarette and flicks it in the direction of the stupid fuck that decided chasing some pussy was more important than guarding the goddamn merchandise. Fucking Americans. No one knows how to do goddamn anything in this country. If this was Bucharest, he would have killed the kid—not a man, barely even more than a child with scraggly whiskers clinging to his chin.
If this was Bucharest, Nigel wouldn’t be having this fucking problem.
“Do I look like the guy you want to fuck with? Huh?” He slaps the kid on the back of the head so hard his teeth rattle. It shakes loose more pathetic whimpering, some mumbling he can’t make out. It sets his teeth on edge, and Nigel slaps him again. “The fuck did you say? Speak up.”
“N-no,” the kid says. “No, sir! I don’t want to fuck with you. I’m sorry! It—it won’t happen again.”
Nigel snorts. “Oh, you’re sorry. You’re fucking sorry. That’s just fucking great.” He turns to the other three men lingering along the edges of the room. They’re silent as the grave, doing their best to blend into the walls. Everyone tries to stay out of Nigel’s way when he’s pissed, if they know what’s good for them. Fucking pussies, all of them. “Hey, guys, Jason is sorry.” He rounds on the kid again. “Is that going to bring my money back?”
Jason cringes away from Nigel, expecting another blow. One of his eyes is already swollen shut, surrounded by rapidly purpling skin, and his lip is cut and leaking. “N-no.”
“So tell me what you’re going to fucking do about it.”
* * *
Nigel slams the door behind him and flexes his fingers. He’d split his knuckles on that dumbfuck’s face. He’ll pour some vodka on it later. The pain in his hand puts him in a foul mood, and his blood is up. He’s still itching for a fight, or a fuck. He’s begging someone to try him, look at him the wrong way. People must be able to smell the violence on him because every passerby gives him a wide berth. He grips a cigarette between his teeth and lights it up.
His phone buzzes in his pocket, and he yanks it out with a muttered curse. His face clears a little, loses some of its snarl when he sees the name on the caller ID.
He stabs the answer call button with a thumb and brings it to his ear. “Hello, gorgeous.”
Nigel frowns. The kid doesn’t sound right. “Adam, that you sweetheart?”
“Can—can you come over?”
Nigel is instantly focused. “Adam, gorgeous, are you okay? Did something happen?”
There’s a soft sound like a sob. A voice so small Nigel has to strain his ears to hear it. “Can you just come over?”
“Yeah. Yeah, baby, of course. I’ll be right there.”
He’s about to suggest that Adam stay on the line, that Adam talk to him and tell him what’s the matter when the line goes dead. Adrenaline shoots through him like a rocket.
Nigel isn’t in a fit state for company, especially not company as good and wholesome as Adam’s. He’s in a black mood, his knuckles are swollen, and someone’s blood is on his shirt. And right now none of that fucking matters. He doesn’t consider the prudence of it, doesn’t stop to think. All Nigel knows is that he’s never heard Adam sound like that. That Adam shouldn’t ever sound like that, and he’ll fucking pulverize anything that fucking caused it.
He just gets in his car and goes.
He isn’t sure how or when Adam became so important to him. Adam, his well-being, his happiness. After Gabi, he hadn’t been looking for anyone. Gabi and her fucking fake-faggot American child. Nigel’s always been a romantic—freely admits it, in fact—but getting set up by your wife will do things to even a romantic’s conception of love and beauty.
Nigel was done with love. The world could fucking keep it. He would be a nightmare—a rich nightmare—and the rest of it could go and hang.
And then Adam.
And then Adam with his skittish nature and nervous jitters, the way he flinches from contact and jumps at shadows. Adam with his beautiful face and quick mind, still so full of goodness for all the ways he’s been fucking damaged. Nigel wants to kill the bastards who did it to him, punch their faces to a goddamn pulp and blow their brains out. He wants to soothe Adam’s hurt edges and lay him down and kiss the pain away.
It’s a new feeling. For all Gabi was (and she was a fucking lot of things, fucking hellion and heartbreaker and animal in the sack among them), she never needed saving. Which is why it’s fucking hilarious—hilarious and insulting—that she acted the part for that know-nothing American brat. As if Gabi ever needed saving from him. From him. As if he’d ever lay a fucking hand on her. He’d never, not even once, not in the most knockdown, drag-out screaming brawls they’d had. He’d call her a fucking cunt, and she’d holler and shove him until his back hit the wall, and then he’d grab her wrists and wrestle her down, and they’d make up. Just like that. With teeth and tongues and love.
Nigel has never been in a position to protect someone before, to chase the nightmares away and make everything better. He is the nightmare, the monster under the bed, but not with Adam. With Adam he can be something different, someone soft and understanding. Someone good, because the kid deserves good. And he ain’t it, but he can fill the role as long as Adam will let him.
It’s surprising that he likes it. Surprising that he wants to.
He drives too fucking fast to Adam’s apartment, breaking the speed limit and running stop signs like he doesn’t have a kilo of coke in the trunk. The route is already familiar, which means he doesn’t have to fuck around with the address on his phone, he just drives. He taps impatiently on the steering wheel, cusses out morons who don’t know how to fucking drive, and lets his body do the thinking. (He usually does.)
When he arrives, he probably parks illegally. He doesn’t bother to check. He barges his way in the gate behind a scandalized woman with an armful of reusable grocery bags and takes the stairs two at a time. His heart is pounding by the time he gets to Adam’s apartment, and not with exertion.
The door is locked, and he tries the handle before remembering he should knock. (Knock, you idiot. You don’t want to scare the kid.)
He raps on the door with bruised knuckles. There’s no answer, so it tries it again, but louder.
“Adam? Hey Adam, it’s Nigel. I’m here, gorgeous.”
He waits. Nothing.
“Adam?” He frowns. The kid had asked him to come over, and he sounded fucking distraught. Nigel doesn’t know him that well, but he’s pretty sure he wouldn’t just fucking leave.
Knock. Knock, knock, knock.
He uses his head (doesn’t break down the door) and tries Adam’s phone. It goes straight to voicemail, but he can hear the ringer coming from inside. A tinny jingle that sounds bright enough to set his teeth on edge. If he presses his ear to the wood, he can hear muffled crying that makes him want to hit someone.
“Adam?” (Keep the fucking murder out of your goddamn voice. Don’t scare the kid.) “Darling, if you don’t open the door, I’m going to break it down. I don’t have to stay, but I need to know that you’re alright. Can you talk to me?”
He really is about to break down the goddamn door. He’ll fucking do it if Adam doesn’t give him some sign of life. But he doesn’t have to because in a minute there are soft footsteps shuffling across a hardwood floor, and then the sound of the door being unlatched, a deadbolt being retracted.
The door swings open, and it’s worse than he expected. A lot fucking worse.
(lyrics from "Winter Bones" by Stars)
I felt bad about leaving you hanging on a cliffhanger the way I did, so I hustled to get this update out quick. There might be a little bit more of a break before the next chapter because the rest of the week is looking busy for me (but also I write compulsively, so who fucking knows. You might just get another chapter again tomorrow.)
Thank you all so much for reading this bonkers story and being so enthusiastic about it right along with me. I'm enjoying the ride immensely. 💙
Adam looks fucking terrible.
That’s the first thing Nigel notices before Adam barrels into his chest hard enough to knock the wind out of him. The kid is deceptively strong for how thin he is—Nigel can feel ribs and sharp bones under the thick sweater, and they’re definitely talking about that later—but for now, he just brings his arms up to hold Adam while he shudders against Nigel.
“Hey, baby. Hey, it’s okay,” he shushes him, and when Adam doesn’t seem to mind the embrace, he rubs little circles into Adam’s back. “I’m here. It’s okay.” It’s probably true, even if he doesn’t know what’s wrong.
One of the dancers in Darko’s club used to have panic attacks. Not a lot, but sometimes, especially when one of the patrons got too grabby. Nigel didn’t make it a point to hang around for them, but he’d witnessed a couple. He figures that’s what this is, that Adam remembered something that got him worked up. That he just needs to calm down, and he’ll be fine.
There are footsteps behind them, and Nigel’s head snaps up. He glares at the source of the sound over the top of Adam’s head, but it’s just a neighbor who pays them no mind as he fishes his keys out of his pocket and lets himself into an apartment three doors down. Still, he’s reminded that there are other people outside the two of them, and Nigel doesn’t particularly want those people seeing Adam when he’s like this.
“Can we go inside, gorgeous?” Nigel asks.
He isn’t expecting Adam to shake his head so ferociously. Nigel frowns. “But why not?”
Adam only shakes his head harder, so hard Nigel’s afraid he’s going to shake something loose.
“Okay, okay,” Nigel says. He runs a hand through his hair. “We don’t have to go inside. Do you want to come back to my house?”
Bad fucking idea. Nigel doesn’t know why he’s offered, and he regrets it as soon as the words leave his mouth. His apartment isn’t any place for Adam between the drugs on the counter and the gun on the nightstand, the sheets that haven’t been washed for weeks and the fact that mustard and vodka are probably the only edible things in his refrigerator. But Adam just shakes his head again, so Nigel doesn’t have to worry about talking his way back out of the offer.
“Can we go for a walk?” Adam asks.
Adam refuses to go back inside to get a jacket, and he won’t tell Nigel what’s wrong, so they make their way outside without it. It’s probably fine. Winter in California is nothing compared to the temperatures he’s used to.
Adam doesn’t say much, and Nigel just follows his lead, content that Adam probably knows where he’s going. It can’t be later than 8 o’clock, but it’s already dark outside. The street is mostly deserted, and they’re the only ones on the sidewalk. Adam leads them to a little park a few blocks away from his apartment complex, one that Nigel’s probably passed but never really taken note of. Adam opens a little latched gate and holds it open for Nigel. The park is situated below an overpass, and the low rumble of cars up above fills the silence. The dark shadow of the concrete above paints the ground black underfoot.
There are no lamps here. The streetlights are far away on the main road, and Adam leads them deeper into the park, away from the street. Nigel follows the flash of Adam’s white sweater until they get to the edge of a little stand of trees.
“Here’s good,” Adam says when they stop, and Nigel doesn’t have time to ask what he means before Adam is getting to his knees and lying on his back in the grass.
Nigel looks around. There’s no one in the park but the two of them, and he only hesitates for a second before climbing down beside Adam. There’s an empty playground to their right, and somewhere behind their heads must be a stream because he can hear the quiet sound of water burbling even under the hum of traffic.
He frowns when he realizes the grass is damp beneath his palms. “Adam, you’re going to get all wet lying there.”
“It’s not okay if you catch a cold,” Nigel grumbles, and he pulls off his jacket and passes it over. “Here,” he says. “Put this on.”
Adam runs his fingers along the edges of the jacket before slowly sitting up. He pulls it on over his clothes and zips it,, and even in the dark Nigel can tell it’s too big for him. Nigel flips up the hood, and he can just make out the ghost of a smile in the moonlight before Adam lies back down.
“It smells like you,” Adam says. “I like it.”
Nigel laughs. “Good. I’m glad.”
He sits beside Adam for a second, just watching the way the moonlight highlights the curves of his face. He really does look like an angel in the dark. Nigel can feel a goofy smile stretching over his face, and he feels powerless to stop it.
“Nigel,” Adam complains after a little while. “You’re staring at me.”
“Sorry,” Nigel says, although he’s not sorry at all, and Adam can probably tell. He stops, though. He lowers himself the rest of the way down to the grass with a groan and stretches out beside Adam.
“Do you want to talk about it?” He asks after a while.
He hears rather than sees Adam shaking his head, a soft rustle in the grass.
“Okay,” Nigel says. He settles back to watch the stars. There are more of them here, away from the phosphorescent yellow glow of the streetlights. “It’s fucking pretty out here.”
“It is,” Adam agrees. He points to something in the sky. “You see those three stars in a row?”
Nigel follows the line of his arm. “The diagonal ones?”
“Yeah. Those are Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, the Three Sisters that make up Orion’s Belt. If you follow Alnitak straight up, you’ll see Betelgeuse and then Bellatrix to its right. Those are his shoulders.”
“Does he have a head?”
“Yes. Meissa, at the top.”
Nigel traces the stars Adam points out in his mind, trying to make a picture out of them, but they don’t look like anything but stars to him. He points at one of the ones Adam called a shoulder. “That one looks kind of reddish.”
“Betelgeuse. Yes, it is. It’s a red supergiant, one of the brightest stars in the sky and easy to see with the naked eye. That red color means it’s dying. Sometime in the next ten to one hundred thousand years, it’ll explode, but we’ll still be able to see the supernova remnants for hundreds of years.”
He can hear the smile in Adam’s voice, and it’s more comforting than any of the stars.
“You sound better,” Nigel says. “I mean happy. You sound happy.”
“I think I am,” Adam says. “For now I am. I wanted to show you the stars.”
“And now you have.”
The grass is prickly where it’s stabbing into his bare arms and neck, and it’s cold out here without his jacket. Nigel’s pretty sure his clothes are soaked through with whatever dampness is on the ground, and he’s hoping it’s water. It’s incredibly uncomfortable, but he wouldn’t disturb the kid’s peace for love or money. Not now that he finally sounds like that.
Something is pressing against his fingers, and he realizes it’s Adam’s hand. He turns his hand palm up so Adam can slot their fingers together, and they lay together like that, unmoving. Grounded by a single point of contact. The stars twinkle overhead.
“You said you don’t look up much, but you are now.”
The kid’s right; he is.
Nigel looks up.
* * *
By the time they stand up—Nigel getting to his feet amid the protest of stiff joints and old injuries, then giving Adam a hand as well—Adam seems calmer. Whatever shivering upset had driven him to throw himself at Nigel seems to have burned off while they laid in the park. Nigel thinks that if this is the effect it has on Adam, he’s going to take the kid stargazing every night. He’ll let Adam teach him every star in the sky if it makes him happy.
They don’t let go of each other’s hands during the walk back to Adam’s house.
Nigel isn’t the kind of person who holds hands. He certainly isn’t the kind of person who holds hands with a man, even if he isn’t opposed to a quick fuck with one in a bar bathroom—mouths are all the same when you’re coked out of your mind. He isn’t that type of person, and yet he doesn’t want to let go. Maybe it’s because the streets are still empty with no one around to see.
Maybe it’s just because Adam is different. They haven’t even fucked yet, and there’s another fucking first for Nigel, but he almost doesn’t mind. It’s nice just to be close to him. He doesn’t want to let go of Adam’s hand.
But they can’t spend all night outside, and the walk isn’t all that long. They’re back at Adam’s place within a couple minutes. Nigel can practically see the nervousness and tension settling back onto him like a mantle the nearer they get. He wants to ask what’s wrong, but he won’t push. He’ll bite his teeth shut around the question if he has to. He stands off to the side waiting while Adam unlocks the door, and he’s confused when Adam swings it open but refuses to go in.
“Can you go first?” He asks.
Nigel’s brow furrows, suspicion prickling along his spine. “Yes, gorgeous, but you’re going to have to tell me what this is about.”
Adam takes a deep breath. His hands are clenching and unclenching, and one is tapping a quick rhythm against his leg. “It’s on the table. It—a package. There’s a package. I don’t want it, but there’s a package. Can you just—” He trails off, looks at Nigel with this helpless expression. “Please, can you go first?”
Nigel nods. He can’t say no when Adam’s looking at him like that.
He walks in the apartment and fumbles his hand along the wall until he finds the light switch. There’s a box on the table sitting next to a scrap pile of torn black wrapping paper. The box is turned on its side, sagging where its cardboard is sagging and warped thanks to the puddle it’s sitting in. More water drips off the table into a small pool collecting on one of the kitchen chairs.
He frowns and rights the box so he can look inside.
There’s a second where Nigel doesn’t realize what he’s looking at. A second where he frowns and asks, “Is that meat?”
It smells like meat.
Adam sobs behind him. “It’s a tongue. A human tongue.”
Then he retches, and he’s running to the kitchen sink, and Nigel follows him with a face like an atomic bomb. The blast radius is going to be impressive. Someone sent his fucking angel a human fucking tongue, and he doesn’t have to ask to know exactly who it was.
He asks anyway because he needs to know who exactly he should fucking kill. “It was them? The cannibal serial killer and his f— his partner?”
Adam nods, on the verge of hysteria. He’s breathing way too fast, and the thing he’s doing with his hands looks like it must hurt. “It was them. Nigel, they know where I live. What if they come back for me? Why are they doing this to me? Is it because they let me go? I don’t understand, I—”
The rapid fire questions end on a wail that’s positively alarming, and Nigel doesn’t know how to make this better. He’ll kill the fuckers that did this to Adam. He’ll bring their heads to his angel on a fucking pike, but that isn’t what Adam wants or needs to hear right now.
He looks around, opening cupboard doors until he finds one that holds drinking glasses. He fills one up at the tap and offers it to Adam. He pretends like he knows what the fuck he’s doing.
Adam is shaking like a leaf, and Nigel keeps his voice soft. “Come away from there, darling. Come on, let’s go sit on the couch, yeah?”
Adam isn’t looking at him. He seems lost somewhere in his own head, holding himself tight in his own arms and rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet.
Nigel is better at talking with his body, always has been. He instinctively wants to reach out and take Adam’s hand, to tug on it and lead him to the sofa, but that seems like the wrong fucking thing to do under the circumstances. So he uses his voice as a lead instead, talks to Adam the way he’d talked to a litter of stray kittens when he was a boy—coaxed them home and let them live in his dresser until his dad had found them and drowned them all in a pillowcase in the river.
“Adam? Adam, darling.” He calls the kid’s name until Adam finally looks at him, eyes glossy and unfocused. “Come on, come with me. Please, Adam.”
It takes a long fucking time, but Adam finally goes. Nigel puts himself between Adam and the box of tongue and ice melting on the floor. “Don’t look at it baby, okay? Can you do that for me? Don’t look at it. Look at me.”
Soft and fucking gentle. Like leading a kitten home.
* * *
Nigel gets Adam set up on the couch. He puts something on Netflix—something about space, he doesn’t know what—and flips the lid back on the box. He cleans the water off the floor, gets rid of as much of the evidence as he can.
“Should we call the police?”
The words actually startle Nigel. Adam hasn’t spoken in over an hour, and Nigel’s been keeping company with the darkest parts of his mind. To keep from hitting something (you can’t break something in the kid’s apartment), he’s been dreaming up things he’ll do to Lecter and Graham once he finally gets his hands on them.
No, we absolutely should not call the police, is right on the tip of Nigel’s tongue. He’s managed to stay off the cops’ radar through a combination of prudence and blind luck, and the last thing he wants to do is to give them any reason to come poking around his life. He made a clean start when he moved here, and he wants to keep it that way.
Nigel bites the words back and manages to keep his tone even and neutral when he asks, “Do you want to call the police?”
Adam thinks about it for a second. He’s stopped crying, but his eyes are still puffy. They look swollen and warm, and Nigel wants to kiss them better.
“No,” Adam says finally, and thank fucking god for that. “I didn’t like talking to the police last time. They asked me a lot of questions that made me nervous, and I had to talk to a lot of people. People kept touching me. I’d rather not do that again.” He frowns and starts tapping. “But we’re supposed to call the police, aren’t we? They sent me evidence. We could get in trouble if someone finds out we didn’t report it.”
“We don’t have to call the police if you don’t want to.” Nigel says, firm. “No one is going to find out if we just get rid of it.”
Adam purses his lips like he might say something else, but in the end he just nods. But then, “The note—the thing they said. What does it mean? Why did they send me this? Did they think I’d want it?” Adam’s brow scrunches up as he talks.
There had been a note in the box along with the tongue—a recipe handwritten on a piece of cardstock with a smaller note scribbled below it in a different hand. Nigel found it while he was cleaning up, and he glances at it again.
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
He crumples it up and throws it in the trash. He’d light it on fire and piss on the ashes if he didn’t think it would upset Adam more. “It doesn’t mean fucking anything. It means a couple of sick bastards are trying to play games with you.”
“I don’t want to play games with them. I want them to leave me alone.”
“You don’t have to do anything with them. Look at me, darling. Please. Look at me so you can know I mean it.” Nigel keeps his hands to himself. He doesn’t grab Adam’s chin or stroke his face or do anything but ask and wait. The minutes stretch out between them, but Adam finally looks. He meets Nigel’s eyes for just a second.
Nigel thumps the grotesque gift box with a fist. “Now I’m going to throw this fucking thing in the dumpster outside, and then I’m going to make you mac and cheese and run you a hot bath. And then I’m going to sleep on your sofa so you know that no one is coming to get you. Not without going through me.”
“You don’t know, Nigel. The things they’ve done—I read about them. I did research, after. You don’t know what they do.” He huddles in around himself, hunkers down into the nest of blankets and pillows Nigel made for him on the couch, and Nigel perches beside him. “They frighten me.”
Nigel bares his teeth. “Yeah? Well I’m fucking scarier. They should be afraid of me. No one is going to hurt you. Not while I’m around.”
“I see them in my dreams.”
Nigel opens his arms to offer a hug. “Can I?”
Adam nods and leans into his embrace, lets Nigel wrap him up and hold him. Nigel kisses the top of Adam’s head, his sweetheart with the fragile bird bones. “Dream about me instead, gorgeous. I promise I’ll keep you safe.”
I’m with you in Rockland
where you’re madder than I am
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Adam sleeps easier knowing Nigel is right outside.
Adam isn’t stupid. He sees the way other people are afraid of Nigel when they walk down the street together, the way he snarls and snaps and stares until everyone gives them a wide berth. But Nigel tries so hard to avoid hurting Adam, to avoid upsetting him, even by accident. Trust is hard for Adam now, but he thinks he could trust Nigel. Thinks he already does, at least a little. Enough to fall asleep with him in the same house with nothing but an unlocked door between them.
When his heart beats fast, and he’s worried about the tongue in the dumpster outside and the men who put it there, he reminds himself that Nigel is right outside. That Nigel said he would keep Adam safe. He holds it up as a talisman against all his fear, and then he curls in on himself and he sleeps.
* * *
Adam has started sorting his dreams into two categories: the bed dreams and the river dreams. The bed dreams are awful. They’re the place where Adam relives everything that was done to him in vivid, excruciating detail. They’re where he finds pleasure he doesn’t want, wakes up sticky and wanting and hot under his skin, grasping and moaning.
The river dreams are worse.
In the river dreams, Adam does nothing more than wade into a quiet stream. There are no stars in the sky, and it makes the night sky feel so lonely, black and devoid of color. The only light comes from the moon, round and full and close as a disaster.
He’s alone there, but he isn’t. He never sees anyone. No one talks to him, and nothing scares him—that isn’t the point of the dream. He knows that somehow, in the manner of dream logic. He doesn’t see anyone, and he doesn’t hear them either, but he can feel something watching him, something intelligent and real.
He walks along the riverbank searching for an end to this place, but he never finds it. He lets the splashing of his body in the water cover up the sound of his thumping heart. He’s always standing in water up to his thighs, but he never gets wet. He wears clothes he doesn’t recognize here, rubber coveralls that cover his feet and legs. They keep the water out but let him feel the coolness of the stream rushing by him.
Adam never talks to the thing that watches him. Talking to it would mean admitting he knows that it’s there. Talking would mean admitting that he knows who it is. That he’s always known.
Today is a day of firsts.
“Why did you do it?” He asks.
The answer doesn’t make a sound. There’s the impression of a laugh floating by on the breeze. It kisses his cheek and turns his stomach.
* * *
Adam’s eyes fly open.
He’s still half-tangled in his dreams, and he thinks, I don’t want to know why. Asking for a reason is tacitly accepting that there’s a reason to be grasped. It runs the risk of making this understandable, and Adam does not want to understand.
He only believes there’s someone watching him while he’s sleeping. In his quiet bedroom with the orange light of streetlamps filtering in through his curtains, he believes in no such thing. Dreams are the brain’s filing system, the unconscious processes of a mind at rest. It’s nothing. Nothing at all.
Even so, it takes a few minutes to shake the sensation, the prickling gooseflesh and raised hair along the back of his neck. Adam runs his hands along his comforter to remind himself where he is. That he’s here and nowhere else, warm and safe, and Nigel is outside.
He gets out of bed, careful not to make too much noise. The hardwood floor is cold beneath his feet, and it sends a bracing chill through his body. Grounding. Present.
(You are here.)
Adam opens his bedroom door and pads into the living room just to see.
Nigel is there, curled on his side on the couch, back facing out toward Adam. Adam watches the steady expansion and contraction of his rib cage for a few moments, comforts himself with Nigel’s presence.
(He’s still here, he didn’t leave.)
Nigel stirs. There’s the soft sound of blankets rustling as he rolls over. His hair is mussed and soft and hanging in his eyes when he leans up on an elbow.
“It’s nothing. Everything is okay. Go back to sleep, Nigel.”
The older man doesn’t argue. He doesn’t want a conversation, and Adam is glad. Nigel just nods and settles back into his makeshift bed. His breath evens out almost immediately into the quiet rhythm of sleep.
Adam finds himself wishing that Nigel snored. Most people find snoring annoying, and maybe Adam would eventually, but it would be a nice reminder that there’s someone else with him. Someone safe. That he’s here, and he’s not alone.
Adam goes back to bed.
* * *
He has a bed dream this time. It’s just as bad as it always is.
They’re getting better, which means they’re getting worse.
He’s tied down in his dream (he’s always tied down), but this time he urges Will closer and closer. There’s enough slack in the ropes that he can twine his arms around Will’s shoulders, so he can dig his heels into the meat of Will’s ass to push him deeper. He moans things like closer and please and more. Whispers harder and chokes back a sob when Will obliges.
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. I’ll always take care of you, my darling boy. I’ll give you just what you need.
Words hissed into his ear, humid and warm, and when he looks up there are wet blue eyes that look so much like his own. He wraps his fingers around Will’s throat and doesn’t squeeze. He could dig his nails in. He could draw blood and scream, but he doesn’t.
He doesn’t, and that makes him part of this.
Hannibal is sitting up by his head. He strokes the hair back from Adam’s forehead so gently, wipes away the sweat with his palm. Adam leans into it, leans into all of it, caught between two suns wondering if their gravitational field will pull him apart.
Look at him, Hannibal says. Look at him and see. See how he loves you?
Adam means to say no, but it sounds like yes. He’s not sure what the difference is anymore, and that’s the worst thing of all.
He thinks he says thank you. He thinks he sees a tongueless man watching from the hall, with a grin wide and bloody.
Nigel isn’t here now. Nigel isn’t anywhere close.
* * *
He wakes, and it’s morning. The birds are singing outside, and daylight streams in through the sides of his curtains. He feels hollow and tender all over. He’s tired before his feet hit the ground.
("Howl" by Allen Ginsberg)
I realize Asperger's isn't a diagnosis anymore, but it's how Adam self-identifies in the movie, so I'm just going with that for the purposes of this fic.
Adam looks anxious in the morning. He’s jumping at shadows.
He heard the kid moaning through the door last night, and Nigel wonders if that’s what this is about, if Adam thinks he’s going to embarrass him or get pushy about it. But there’s so much other shit wrong that he thinks better of assuming. When it comes to Adam, it always seems better to ask.
“What is it?”
“I feel safer with you here,” Adam says.
Something blooms in Nigel’s chest at that, filling it with a fizzing warmth.
“That’s good, isn’t it?” Nigel asks, and Adam nods. “So why the long face?”
Adam hesitates, eyes flicking around the room, eventually settling on the space to the right of Nigel’s face. “Because you’ll have to leave eventually. You have work and your own house and other things to do, so it’s better that I don’t get used to you here. It’ll just be more painful when you go, if I know what safety feels like.”
He sighs, and he looks so tired. Nigel could hear him thrashing around all night. He wanted to go to him, to comfort him, but he had the terrible suspicion that it would only make things worse. Adam’s so wary of innocent touch in the daytime when he’s awake. Who knows what dark shit his mind would conjure up if Nigel touched him in the middle of a nightmare.
He hates being helpless. He likes enemies he can see and grab and fight. If he could, he would scrub Adam clean of this.
Adam tips up his chin and sets his jaw. “So please don’t let me get used to this.”
He says it like that’s that. Like it’s final. Like he’s said something that makes sense and not something stark raving mad.
Sometimes this kid breaks his fucking heart.
* * *
Nigel spends the morning explaining to Adam that he can get used to this. That he should. That he deserves it, and anyway, Nigel wants him to. He explains it over tasteless, dry bran cereal and milk, conveying devotion as best he can when he’s not allowed to touch. He wishes he could press the words into Adam’s curls, along the curve of his jaw, into the soft skin beneath his ear where his pulse jumps. He wonders if Adam’s hair is as soft as it looks.
“I’m not going fucking anywhere, darling. I’m here for as long as you’ll have me.”
He considers mentioning that he’s probably here for longer than that too, if his track record with Gabi is anything to go by, but Nigel isn’t completely brainless. He has enough sense to know it’ll only freak the kid out, even if it’s probably true, and so he keeps the thought to himself, along with the less civilized parts of him that love a good fight and already think of Adam as mine.
“People don’t do this.” Adam frowns. “People don’t promise things like this when they’ve known each other a few weeks. It isn’t how relationships work.”
“Says who? And if you say Beth, Harlan, or a fucking occupational therapist, I’m not going to fucking listen.”
Adam shuts his mouth, brow furrowed.
“What do you want, gorgeous?” Nigel asks as gently as he’s able.
“To be better already,” Adam says, plaintive and raw. “To be better and to be with you.”
* * *
Nigel means what he says. He’s not going anywhere, and he’ll spend as long as it takes proving it. Even if he has to sleep on the fucking couch. Nigel’s back isn’t what it used to be, but fuck it, he’ll do it for Adam.
He does have to get his clothes, though. Clothes and a toothbrush and a few other odds and ends from his apartment, so he leaves Adam’s house with a promise to be right back. (“Bolt the door and call me if you need anything.”) He doesn’t think those two are lurking anywhere nearby, but it makes Adam feel better, which is all he really cares about.
Darko would call him whipped, and Darko would be right. But Darko’s also the son of a whore, and he can go fuck himself. Nigel snarls at a man who isn’t even there. He flips off the memory of his oldest friend and laughs when the driver in the next car over returns the favor.
Lecter and Graham probably aren’t even in the fucking country. He wouldn’t be, if he were one of the FBI’s most wanted who’d just kicked up a hornet’s nest of a manhunt. If they were in the country, they’d have hand-delivered that package to Adam themselves, he’s sure of it.
His lip curls thinking of the package. Nigel’s no stranger to violence. He’s not a shrinking daisy who quivers at the sight of blood, but that was foul. You have to be a certain kind of fucked in the head to cut out a tongue and gift wrap it for someone. He briefly wonders what they did with the rest of the body before shaking it off and deciding he’d rather not know.
Adam’s right that he doesn’t know them. He doesn’t know what kind of game they’re trying to play, but he doesn’t need to. A threat is a threat, and violence is the same in every language. Obsession looks the same, too. He’s never seen it look like this, but he knows the glint of greed in men’s eyes well enough. You see a lot of empty saps in the drug business, a lot of people trying to fill holes where something else should be. This doesn’t look so different.
Nigel doesn’t exactly spend the night at other people’s houses. He’ll fuck and crash in someone’s bed before staggering home in the early light with a pounding hangover and some broad’s smell all over his skin, but he doesn’t spend the night on purpose.
He’s got a duffel bag in the back of his closet, though, the one he’d brought with him from Bucharest stuffed with whatever he could grab on his way out of the country. It wasn’t much. He’d mostly started over from scratch when he left, and he’s made a good life for himself here. He has work and men who are loyal, if a bit fucking simple at times. He’s got money, and none of the cops here know his face, let alone his name. He’s got it good.
It’s not smart getting tangled up in something like this. Not smart for him or Adam. He should’ve told Adam to call the police, to go give them the box, the note and the little gift wrapped piece of meat.
He knows he couldn’t do that, though. Not even if he weren’t selfish. He doesn’t need to know Lecter and Graham to know the feds have no chance of catching them.
They haven’t caught them yet, and they probably won’t. He knows firsthand how incompetent law enforcement can be. After all, he benefits from it on a daily basis.
But there’s a difference between being bold and being stupid, and this—what he’s doing—is definitely inching towards the latter. Getting himself wrapped up in a pretty face trailing two notorious serial killers is just begging for the feds to put their noses in his business.
And yet none of that stopped him from making Adam that promise, and none of it is going to keep him from seeing it through. Nigel is objectively terrible in a lot of ways, but he’s never had problems with commitment. He said until death do us part to Gabi, and he’d fucking meant it. He’d be by her side even now if she hadn’t made it crystal clear she wanted nothing to do with him.
The thought of Gabi still smarts like an old bruise, like putting his tongue into the socket of a missing tooth. There’s nothing to be done for it. He shoves clothes in his bag, a toothbrush and a razor. He takes the gun off his nightstand and shoves that in too.
* * *
It’s Saturday, which means Adam doesn’t have to go to work. Nigel isn’t gone for long, but it’s long enough that Adam starts pacing the floor, tapping his fingers and catastrophizing about things that could have possibly happened to him.
His new therapist had some things to say about catastrophizing. She was nice and different than what he’d imagined. Adam doesn’t know what he had been expecting—someone who’d scold him more, maybe. His mental model of a therapist is based on the one he’d seen as a child, who had seemed more concerned with teaching him to get along with others than interested in hearing anything he had to say.
He supposes Hannibal was a therapist, but he wasn’t Adam’s therapist.
He doesn’t know how he’s going to go back, how he’ll find his way to her office when it’s dark outside and anyone could be lurking.
When Nigel returns, he’s wearing different clothes than the ones he left in. The shirt he wore yesterday was white with little flecks of rust-colored brown all down the front. This one is black and collared.
Adam isn’t stupid. He knows it was blood—knew it at the time, but it hardly seemed important. Now it seems like something they should at least talk about. He comes right out and says it because that’s the only way he knows how to talk about anything.
“You changed your clothes.”
“Well, yeah, darling. I was wearing those for over 24 hours.”
Adam shakes his head. “There was blood on your shirt. Why was there blood on your shirt?”
Adam hopes he doesn’t lie. He’s gotten better at dealing with people lying since the meltdown he had in front of Beth, but he still doesn’t like it. He still doesn’t know if he can deal with Nigel lying to him, especially when he’s not good at telling when people are doing it. He needs one safe person. Just one.
Nigel’s face pinches together like he’s trying to work something out.
“I hit someone,” he says slowly. “I uh, hit him a few times.”
That both is and isn’t what Adam’s expecting. He asks the only question that makes sense.
“Did he deserve it?”
“He did something wrong. Not, y’know, wrong wrong but something he shouldn’t have done. I don’t know about deserve, but he should’ve known better.”
Adam nods. “Okay.”
Nigel's eyebrows shoot up. “That's it? Just ‘okay’?”
“Just okay. I probably should care. I know hitting people is bad, but I’m just tired. I don't want to care. I like you, and I feel better when you’re around. If you do… Whatever it is you do that means you carry a gun and get blood on you, I just. I don't care. I don’t need to know. It’s okay.”
Nigel stands very still for a long time. He blinks, and Adam’s worried that he’s done something wrong, but Nigel doesn’t sound mad when he finally comes unstuck and speaks again. His eyes are keen and he looks interested. Or maybe Adam is interested. It’s hard to tell.
“How do you know about the gun, gorgeous?”
Adam gives him a look. “Nigel. I have Asperger’s, I’m not blind.” He taps the small of Nigel’s back where his waistband ends below his shirt. “You usually keep it here.”
Nigel grins. “Well how about that.”
* * *
Touching gets easier.
They touch in fits and starts, a kiss on the forehead here and a quick squeezing hug there. Adam stops jumping when Nigel walks up behind him. They get used to sharing space. Nigel sleeps on the couch, and Christmas comes sooner than either of them expected.
Adam hasn’t celebrated Christmas since his dad died. They had their own small traditions in their apartment in New York—a Christmas tree from one of the roadside stands, hot chocolate made with Swiss Miss and extra marshmallows. For as much as Adam loves routine, he hasn’t been able to bring himself to celebrate without his dad. Those had been their things. Their Christmas trees strung with popcorn and lights, their cocoa made with milk and not water.
It felt like every clock should stop when his dad died, but of course they hadn’t. Everything just… kept going, so Adam kept going too. When December happened, Adam didn’t even try to make Christmas by himself. There was no point. It wouldn’t be the same.
There’s even less reason to celebrate now. The weather in California at least supports his abdication of Christmas, so his house isn’t decorated. It isn’t even that unusual. Most houses on the block aren’t. Today is December 24th which comes after December 23rd—Adam hasn’t forgotten so much as he just doesn’t care. It’s just a day. They’re all just days.
“It’s Christmas Eve,” Nigel says.
“Do you usually… I don’t know, do anything for Christmas?” Nigel looks like he does when he’s asking Adam about one of the space documentaries Nigel finds boring. It’s the face he makes when he doesn’t like something but is trying for Adam’s sake.
“No,” Adam says. And then because if Nigel is trying, he can try too, and maybe Nigel likes Christmas, “Do you?”
Nigel laughs. “No, never really got into the habit. I mean there were a few years there with Gabi where we did the tree thing. We’d go walking to see the lights in Cismigiu Park, but not so much after that.”
Silence stretches out between them, long and thin. For a little while, Adam doesn’t think he’s going to get an answer.
“My ex-wife,” Nigel says finally. He’s looking up at the ceiling.
Adam digests the new information.
He hadn’t thought of Nigel being married, but it makes sense. Statistically speaking, by age 45 most American men have been married at lease once. Adam is unclear on whether or not Nigel is a naturalized American citizen, but he figures the point still holds. It’s not unusual that Nigel’s been married. He examines his own feelings about it and finds that he doesn’t mind. Nigel being married and divorced from a woman named Gabi doesn’t actually matter, except in the way that it’s just another thing he can know about Nigel.
“Do you miss her?” Adam asks.
“Sometimes,” Nigel says. “I try not to. To tell you the truth, most days I don’t think of her at all, but there’s all the little things that remind you. A song, someone with hair like hers. Sometimes it feels like a phantom fucking limb.”
“I’ve never been married, but sometimes I miss my dad like that. He died two years ago.”
Nigel looks at him. “What killed him?”
“Sudden cardiac arrest, which is different from a heart attack. He was healthy—he seemed healthy on the outside, anyway. Later the doctors said it was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. His heart was literally too big.” Adam tries to smile, but it immediately falls off his face. “The inner parts of it couldn’t get enough blood, so he just collapsed one day. It’s not supposed to hurt. People who die of sudden cardiac death usually lose consciousness first, so it doesn’t hurt.”
Adam kicks at a scuff on the floor with his toe. There’s a speck of mud dried in the center of a whorl of wood, and he’s suddenly very invested in seeing if he can smudge it off. Kick. Kick kick.
“Did you see it?”
Kick kick kick.
“No.” He shakes his head. “No, my dad’s friend Harlan was there. He told me about it later. He didn’t want to, but I asked a lot of questions.”
There. Adam tries to smile again, and it works better this time.
Nigel nods. “It’s usually better to know than wonder.”
He doesn’t try to make it better. Nigel doesn’t do any of the things people usually do when they find out Adam’s father is dead. He doesn’t hug Adam too tight or say things like it’s okay and I’m so sorry for your loss. People never ask before they touch, and they aren’t ever actually sorry. They just say they are because they want to say something, and it’s strange when they apologize for something they didn’t do.
Nigel just sits with him and traces patterns along his back while Adam types on his computer. Nigel’s on the couch while Adam sits on the floor. He has to finish a report by Monday, and his new favorite thing is working with his feet folded under him and Nigel’s legs braced against his back.
Adam smiles as he recognizes one of the patterns. “Orion?”
Nigel chuckles. “The very same.”
His dad is still dead and two killers keep sending him things in the mail, but there’s a man in his house who traces constellations down his back, who paints the stars along the ridges of his spine.
It means things can't be entirely awful, and Adam asks, “Do you know how to make hot chocolate?”
Nigel tries his best not to let Adam spend the whole day working. Adam complains that he has things to do, but in the end he gives in. When Nigel finally closes Adam’s laptop himself with a wink and a smile, Adam doesn’t fuss if only because there’s nothing he would rather do than spend his time with Nigel.
Love doesn’t heal all wounds. It does not pave over the gaping holes in hearts and psyches. Adam isn’t even sure he would call what he has with Nigel love, but what they do have does make everything just a little better.
They spend the day cocooned in warmth with the heat turned up. The sun dips low and evening falls, and the world grows a little colder. The arrival of carolers is heralded by tinkling bells, and even though they can’t get in, they sing anyway. There are so many of them they spill off of the sidewalk and into the street as they gather around the apartment’s gate. Nigel pushes the window open to let the harmonies of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” float through the room along with the chill December air.
They stand stacked together to listen. Nigel stands behind Adam almost close enough to touch, close enough that Adam can feel the radiant heat of him warming his back. He leans back to close the gap. Lets himself lean his body into Nigel’s, lets himself trust.
It feels like falling.
Nigel makes a contented noise and brings his arms up to wrap around Adam. He perches his chin on Adam’s shoulder, and Adam relaxes into it. It feels warm and safe, smells like cigarettes and hot chocolate. Like good memories and something new. He closes his eyes and listens to the song.
Good tidings to you, to you and your kin,
Good tidings for Christmas and a happy new year
The carolers sing a few more songs, before moving on, whooping and laughing. The sound of bells follows them down the street, and when their singing starts up again, it’s already ghostly and faint.
It’s quiet now, and it’s dark outside. There’s nothing to see beyond the tops of streetlights and the occasional lone pedestrian. The streets and sidewalks are deserted. Everyone is inside sharing Christmas with their loved ones, having parties or else drinking in bars. Adam is too, he realizes—he’s spending Christmas Eve with the person who means the most to him, and the thought fills him with a warm flush.
The shadows have grown long and deep all around them. Night fell while they were listening, and now the house belongs to the liminal space of the twilight dark.
There’s nothing to see, and they look anyway, staring into the black night. Neither of them move. The sound of their breathing is suddenly the loudest thing in the room, and Adam can hear his own breath quicken just as he becomes aware of it. He wants Nigel. He feels it in his quick-beating heart, and he wonders if Nigel feels it too.
He turns around. He can see the pale light from outside glinting softly in Nigel’s eyes. This feels right. It feels good and happy.
Nigel must see something on his face—one of those things Adam can never quite find, that everyone else sees—because he’s asking, “Adam, what is it?”
Adam shakes his head. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want to talk anymore at all. He gets on his knees instead and hopes Nigel will understand.
He’s not graceful. He thinks probably other people are graceful when they do this, but Adam’s not. His legs are stiff from a day full of inactivity, and there’s a lot of shuffling as he gets to the ground. The floorboards are hard and cold, even through his jeans. He think it’ll probably start to hurt his knees soon, but he doesn’t want to move. He wants this now, and he doesn’t want to change a thing. Like it’s a spell that might be broken if he so much as breathes wrong.
Adam shakes his head again and reaches for Nigel’s zipper. Nigel catches his hand and threads their fingers together. It’s an effective restraint, a nonthreatening one.
“Can we talk about this?” Nigel asks, and Adam finds his voice. Realizes he’s going to have to, if he’s going to get what he wants.
“I don’t want to talk about it. Can I just suck you? Please?”
Nigel groans, a soft exhalation. “Sweetheart, when you talk like that— you don’t know what you do to me.”
“I do know,” Adam says, because it’s not that different, none of it is. It’s physiology, biology. Arousal response to stimuli, which doesn’t necessarily have to be touch. A high school sex ed teacher was fond of saying that the brain is the largest sex organ, which is woefully inaccurate, but even Adam has to admit it describes the general gist of it.
Adam’s had sex before, consensual sex with men and women, and this doesn’t have to be different, but it is somehow, in some of the ways that count. It’s different because it’s Nigel. It’s different because he’s different. He’s not the same as he was before.
Nigel closes his eyes and says something in a language Adam now knows is Romanian. He looks down at Adam and places a gentle hand in his hair, and it feels like a benediction.
“So soft,” Nigel murmurs, almost to himself, and then, “You don’t have to. You know that right?”
“Humor me, gorgeous. Just, tell me that much.”
“I don’t think you expect it,” Adam says slowly. “I don’t know why you’re still here, but I believe you when you say you don’t need this to stay.”
Nigel looks like he’s about to say something else, but he cuts himself off and frowns. “We’re working on that later,” he tells Adam. “Your self-esteem. You’re better than you think you are, you know.”
Adam shakes his head. He doesn’t want that; he wants this. “But can I?”
Consent is important.
Nigel nods, wordless. This time when Adam reaches out, Nigel doesn’t stop him. The wool of his pants is soft beneath Adam’s hand, with just a little bit of drag to it. Nigel groans when Adam makes contact, and again when he presses his palm into the seam of his pants more firmly.
It’s hard doing this in the dark. Adam fumbles with an unfamiliar zipper, an unfamiliar belt, and Nigel helps. He nudges Adam’s hands to the side with his own and opens his belt, takes down his zipper. He takes away his hands and lets Adam do what he will.
Nigel’s cock is bigger than he thought. It’s tenting the boxer briefs he’s wearing, and Adam has to pull back the elastic waistband to free it. It’s heavy and hard when Adam takes it out. He likes the weight of it in his hand.
“I’ve never been with someone uncircumcised before,” Adam muses, and he gives it a squeeze and an experimental pump to feel the way the foreskin slides back and then back up over the glans. “Is this okay?”
“Christ, the way you’re looking up at me with those big doe eyes, you have no idea. Anything you do is okay, sweetheart.”
“I want to taste you,” Adam says, and he sticks his tongue out to lick, catches a bit of the bitter-salty fluid collecting at the tip. It doesn’t taste good, but it’s satisfying in an animal way. He opens his mouth to take the whole head in, and Nigel’s hands fly to the top of Adam’s head as he curses. He takes them away just as fast, clenching his fists at his sides to avoid the urge to grasp, and Adam wishes he wouldn’t.
He pulls off to say, “It’s okay if you touch me. Put your hands in my hair, I want you to.”
Nigel moans. “Anything you want, baby.”
Anything you want.
He’s flooded with memories—a deep, dark bed, hands around his wrists. Glacial blue eyes—but this time he leans into them instead of away. He leans into the knot of confused desire banked in his gut, presses hard into the way it lights him up from within.
He puts his mouth back on Nigel and swallows him down as far as he can. Part of him wishes Nigel would force his head down, force him to choke and take it, but Adam doesn’t ask because he doesn’t think Nigel would. He wants, though.
He does his best instead, pushes his mouth down as far as he can go and then further, choking himself on Nigel, letting the head of his cock bump the back of his throat and trigger his gag reflex. His eyes are watering, and he can’t breathe.
“Oh Christ, oh fuck, Adam.” Nigel’s hands tighten in his hair reflexively, and Adam moans.
He gags around it and doesn’t let up, setting a quick rhythm that’s almost meditative. He goes somewhere hot and liquid in his mind, ignores the way he’s drooling on the floor. He palms himself through his jeans and whimpers around the flesh in his mouth stretching his lips wide. Nigel is panting above him; it feels heady and powerful.
Adam pulls off just long enough to gasp, “Talk to me. Tell me how it feels. Tell me how you see me.”
“It feels fucking amazing.” He grunts as Adam pushes himself all the way down again. “Sloppy and wet and—fuck—so tight when you do that with your cheeks. Do that again, baby, please.” Adam hums to feel the vibrations buzzing from his mouth to Nigel’s skin. Hollows his cheeks out and sucks. He taps at Nigel’s leg when he goes silent, losing himself in the feeling. He wants Nigel to talk to him.
“You look—oh, baby. You look beautiful. Like a goddamn angel. My angel, mine.”
Nigel’s voice swirls around in his brain, and he chokes himself on the cock in his mouth, and oh. Oh, it almost sounds like Hannibal.
* * *
Giving pleasure was fine. Enjoyable, even, but the thought of receiving it is somehow both harder and worse, so after Nigel comes with a shout—after Adam swallows his come and makes a slight face at the taste—when Nigel reaches for him with the intention of reciprocating, Adam says, “No thank you.” Nigel frowns, so he adds. “Please.”
“Okay,” he says, and Adam likes that he’s not pushy. He helps Adam up from the ground and leads him away from the window, back into the heart of the room. Neither of them turn the lights on.
Nigel lies down on the couch and holds a hand out to Adam in invitation. Adam hesitates, but only for a second before accepting and fitting himself against the long line of Nigel’s body. Nigel is a large man, and Adam is thin, but he isn’t particularly small either. They both fit, but only if they press close together. Nigel winces a little when Adam wiggles to try to get more of himself on the couch.
He makes a questioning noise.
“Sensitive,” Nigel explains. “After.”
“Was that okay, kid?” Nigel asks after he’s wrapped Adam snug and warm in his arms—tight, but not too tight. “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” Adam says. He thinks he is.
He wonders why he feels so much like he’s done something awful.
Adam doesn’t quite work up the nerve to invite Nigel into his bed, but he doesn’t get up either. They spend Christmas Eve night on the couch together, and Adam’s sleep is deep and dreamless.
He wakes with a resounding thud as he’s startled out of slumber by the sound of heavy footfalls.
Adam blinks and looks around bleary-eyed as he takes stock of his surroundings, trying to reorient himself to waking up in an unfamiliar space. It takes a few seconds for his brain to come back online, for him to remember where he is and why. His cheeks flush a little at the why. He fell off the couch, and he sits up and rubs his shoulder where he’d struck the ground on his way down. Nigel is still asleep beside him, face open and unconcerned, mouth slack and lips parted. He looks younger when he’s asleep. Less tense. Less dangerous.
It’s morning, and Adam’s apartment is warm and flooded with light. Christmas morning. He wonders if Nigel might want to get a tree with him after all. It’s late for that, but that only means they’ll be able to find an inexpensive tree if they go. If anything’s open. If Nigel even wants to.
There are a lot of ifs.
There’s that sound again—not footsteps at all, but a heavy, persistent knock at the door. Adam frowns. He isn’t expecting anyone. He takes another lingering look at Nigel and levers himself up off the ground, careful not to make too much noise. He better get the door if he doesn’t want Nigel to be disturbed.
He pulls open the front door before the person can knock for a third time. There’s a man he doesn’t recognize standing there, young and looking like he’s just come in from the cold. He’s wearing a jacket and beanie still pulled down around his ears. It’s kind of funny how people from California dress like it’s actually winter.
“Can I help you?” Adam asks.
“Packages for Adam Raki.”
Adam looks around the man. There are two large boxes stacked beside him, one nearly as tall as the man himself and the other short and squat.
“I didn’t order anything.”
The man shrugs. “They look like gifts to me. Wrapping paper and everything.” He holds out a clipboard. “You gotta sign for ‘em.”
Adam hesitates. No one sends him packages. He doesn’t get mail except for bills.
He swallows hard because that’s not quite true, is it? Not anymore.
The last package was terrible. He had nightmares about it for a week. He should decline the delivery, send this back, make the man take it back to whatever truck it came out of. He should shut the door and go back inside, curl up on the couch with Nigel and not imagine the look on Hannibal and Will’s faces if he declines, because surely they’ll know. And yet—
Some part of him is curious. A small, awful part that he didn’t know existed until recently. Until after. That part of him feels new.
They do look like gifts.
Adam makes an impulsive decision. He signs his name to the offered paper like signing his soul away to the devil.
The delivery man helps Adam take the packages inside because they’re too heavy for him to carry on his own. By some miracle, the racket doesn’t wake Nigel. When he leaves after wishing Adam a Merry Christmas, Adam’s left standing alone in his entryway with the two boxes. He stares at them, at a loss for what he should do next. He kept them, so he must want them. (He does and he doesn’t.)
They’re wrapped in a deep emerald green paper that looks expensive. It’s faintly iridescent and catches the light when Adam moves around it, circling the boxes as though they might combust.
He sighs. He should take these to his bedroom.
If he can even get them into the bedroom.
He looks at Nigel again, still fast asleep, and feels a twinge of something that might be guilt. He sighs and goes to put on a pot of coffee. It’s too early for this, and his shoulder still hurts. He doesn’t think he can move those boxes on his own anyway, and he doesn’t want to wake Nigel by tearing off the wrapping paper. They can sit for the time being.
The routine of measuring out the coffee grounds and pouring it into the filter paper is comforting. He gets down two mugs—a new part of his routine—it used to only be one, and the little change makes him smile. He putters around in the kitchen for a while longer, putting away the dishes left in the drying rack overnight, but soon the fragrant smell of coffee permeates the apartment, and predictably, Nigel rouses at the scent. Olfactory memory is fascinating.
He comes up behind Adam in the kitchen and waits until Adam acknowledges him before wrapping his arms around Adam’s waist from behind. They touch now, easily and often, but there are still certain types of touches that are hard for Adam. He doesn’t like surprises, for one—doesn’t like being grabbed when he doesn’t know it’s coming.
Adam smiles despite himself, despite the worry over the boxes in his entryway that makes him want to chew his nails. (They wouldn’t really send a body, right? Not a whole body? They’re heavy, but surely they’re not that? Bodies must be heavier.)
He pours a portion of coffee into each mug and hands one over, and they stand in the kitchen sipping their drinks. The quiet companionship is nice, and the heat soothes Adam’s throat where it’s still aching from last night. He thinks of it and shivers.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
“I was thinking about giving you oral sex last night.”
Nigel chokes on his coffee. “Fuck, kid. Warn a man before you say things like that.”
Adam frowns. “You asked.”
“Guess I did, didn’t I?” He nudges Adam’s shoulder with his. “Good memories?”
“Yes,” Adam nods. “Good memories.”
“Good.” Nigel’s eyes crinkle at the edges when he smiles.
Adam takes a minute to just take him in, soft hair that hangs in his eyes and an easy smile as he stands barefoot in Adam’s kitchen. His shirt is rumpled, and Adam knows it would smell like Nigel if he buried his face in it. He wants to bury his face in it.
Nigel is leaning against his kitchen counter, drinking from his NASA mug and staring out the window. It’s early enough that there’s condensation clouding it over still, not much to see past a pane of fogged glass. His Adam’s apple bobs when he swallows, and Adam stares at the muscled line of his neck, wonders how it would feel to have Nigel swallowing around him, holding Adam in his hands and telling him how beautiful he is. What it would look like if Nigel was on his knees instead.
The thought sends a hot thread of lust right down into his stomach, and it isn’t at all unpleasant.
He’s looking away for Adam—because Adam likes looking, but he doesn’t always like when people look back. Adam isn’t good with people, isn’t good at understanding their motivations or reading their feelings, but he knows that this is for him. Because Nigel cares for him.
He’s about to suggest that they try sex again, that maybe Nigel could touch him this time, that they could try something new, when he’s startled out of his own thoughts by the clink of a coffee cup against the sink. Nigel gives him a long, lingering kiss. He tastes like arabica beans, and his tongue is fever hot from the coffee.
“I’m going to have a shower,” Nigel says. He stretches and the hem of his shirt rides up, exposing a sliver of skin, a flash of silvering hair.
Can I come? is right on the tip of Adam’s tongue, but Nigel gives Adam one last squeeze, and then he’s gone.
That’s—better. It’s better There are boxes in his hallway anyway.
* * *
Adam manages to drag them into the living room without doing injury to his back. He doesn’t bother trying to be neat about the wrapping paper. He’s too nervous, too impatient now. He tries not to think about the fact that he’s trying to finish before Nigel gets out of the shower—tries not to think about what that means.
He isn’t hiding. He isn’t doing anything wrong.
The gifts might be from Beth.
(They’re not from Beth.)
Beth might be what people call a best friend. She’s who Adam talks to when he needs to know about something—why people do what they do, how he’s supposed to act in situations he doesn’t understand. He tells Beth about the things he doesn’t understand, and she tells him when she feels overwhelmed—when everyone just wants too many things and she isn’t sure how to stand up in front of them.
It’s a friendship built on mutual help. Friendships can be that.
Beth was the person he called. Now she seems more like a relic from a different life. She might have sent him a Christmas present, but she’d probably have sent a card if she sent anything at all. She certainly wouldn’t have sent something this large. The cost of shipping alone must have been outrageous.
But Beth wouldn’t have sent a card because she probably wouldn’t have remembered. She’s his friend, but she’s selfish, and he doesn’t really mind it. Selfishness is easy to understand.
He tears away the last of the paper, and his breath catches as he sees the lettering printed along the side of the first box. It’s repeated down the length of the other: Orion Telescopes & Binoculars. He finds a knife in the kitchen and scores each box carefully along its seam, cutting through the tape so he can lift the lid.
He can’t stop the enormous grin that spreads over his face when he clears away the packing foam and looks inside.
It isn’t a body at all.
“They got me a telescope,” he breathes.
For handful of seconds, Adam doesn’t think about the implications.
He doesn’t think about the givers, he simply enjoys the gift, lets the feeling of raw joy suffuse him. He holds onto it like a lifeline.
It isn’t just any telescope. It’s a really nice telescope, a SkyQuest XX12g, a twelve inch Newtonian reflector on a Dobsonian base. It can be programmed to find any celestial body in the sky, to track its movement as it ticks toward the horizon. It’s something Adam could theoretically afford to have bought for himself but that he wouldn’t—it’s too extravagant, too much of an unjustifiable expense.
Adam doesn’t realize he’s pressing his hands to his mouth until Nigel’s arrival startles him into pulling them away.
“Who got you a telescope, gorgeous?” Nigel stops short when he gets into the living room, blinking at the mess of wrapping paper and packing peanuts surrounding Adam. “Whoa. When you said telescope, you weren’t fucking kidding.”
“It’ll be much bigger when it’s put together,” Adam explains, already chattering excitedly. He tap the box in front of him. “This is the base. It looks like it shipped in pieces with its component panels stacked on top of each other.” He taps the other box, the larger of the two. “This is the reflector, the part that gathers light and brings it into focus. The eight trusses can be removed and reassembled without tools so you can fold it up and put it in a car.” He looks up at Nigel, grinning. “We can go stargazing. I want to show you Mars. We might be able to see one of the polar ice caps if there isn’t too much atmospheric turbulence.”
Nigel grins like Adam’s happiness is contagious. “Sounds great. Want to spend Christmas night watching the stars? I bet we could carry this to the park next door.”
Adam nods, already distracted by the directions for assembly. He shouldn’t put it together now, of course. If they’re going to move it anywhere it’ll be easier to do in pieces, but he could construct the base in advance. It’d be easier still if he had a car. They can see the brightest stars and a few nearby planets from the city, but there are other things—galaxies and nebulae he could show Nigel if they could just get somewhere without so much light pollution.
He bites the edge of his thumb and flicks through the manual. “Nigel, could you teach me how to drive? Do you know how to drive? We can drive to one of the designated International Dark Sky locations if you do—there are four in California.”
It takes him a minute to realize he hasn’t gotten an answer. He frowns and looks up.
Nigel’s face looks like a stormcloud. He looks angry. Very, very angry.
The smile falls from Adam’s face, melting into confusion and finally understanding. Nigel is holding a card that Adam had missed in his excitement. There’s an envelope on the floor near his feet, ripped open now, heavy cream-colored stock and Adam’s name written in a looping, ornate hand.
“Adam, what the fuck is this?”
Adam flinches at his tone. “I don’t know. You read it, not me.”
Nigel reads aloud from the letter in his hand, and his voice gets louder with every word. “‘Merry Christmas, Adam. You should enjoy this gift better than the last one, although you might come to appreciate that last token of our regard more than you think. We’re both so pleased that you’ve started therapy and hope that you continue. Change is hard, but sometimes cutting away the old makes way for the new. Give Nigel our love.”
Nigel throws the card on the floor. “What the fuck is this?”
Adam swallows. He tells himself that he hasn’t done anything wrong, technically, but that feels like a lie. “A letter.”
“A letter from fucking who?”
“They never sign them.”
“But you know who it’s fucking from. Never sign—” His eyes narrow. “You’ve gotten more of these?”
“Just two. The one you saw, and then…” Adam walks to the drawer, pulls it open and draws out the letter. He hands it to Nigel who scans it while his mouth grows hard as knives. “That was the first one.”
Nigel takes a deep breath. “Okay. Okay, fuck. We’re going to put all this shit outside right now. Let the garbage men take care of it. You want to help me with that box?”
“It’s Christmas morning. There aren’t any city services today.”
Nigel growls. “Then they’ll take it tomorrow, Adam, fuck. Let’s just get it the fuck out of the house.”
Adam is looking at the floor. Looking at the sleek lines of the telescope peeking out from packing peanuts, lean and chrome.
“No,” he says.
Nigel raises an eyebrow. “I beg your fucking pardon?”
“No,” Adam says more forcefully. “It’s mine. I want to keep it.”
Nigel’s laugh is bitter. He drags a hand over his face. “Doamne dă-mi puterea. Adam, do you know what this fucking is?”
“A Christmas gift,” Adam says, stubborn.
“It’s a fucking leash! They’re setting their lead on you. Have you forgotten that you called me over—the whole reason I’m here, sleeping on your fucking couch is because they sent you a goddamn tongue in the mail. A tongue, Adam. A human tongue from some poor fucking asshole they killed.” He shakes the letter at Adam. “And you took fucking therapy appointments from them? What the fuck is wrong with you? Come on, you’re smarter than this. They’re digging their claws straight into you, and you’re letting them.”
Adam jerks back like Nigel’s hit him. “I’m what?”
Nigel jabs a finger into his chest. “You’re letting them! How the fuck am I supposed to keep you safe when you’re doing shit like this behind my back?”
Adam clenches his fists. “It’s none of your business.”
Nigel’s eyes narrow. “Sorry?”
And that’s it, Adam snaps. He loses it; he yells even though yelling isn’t how you’re supposed to solve problems. “It’s none of your business! None of it is your business. I didn’t ask you for this. I didn’t ask them for this. I didn’t ask you to live in my house. I told you to do the opposite. I told you to stay away from me so it wouldn’t hurt when you left, but you wanted to be here, so you’re here. You can’t blame me for that because I didn’t make you do anything. You can’t tell me what to do. I’m not a child, Nigel. I let you call me kid, but I’m not one.”
He’s panting and tapping out a quick, frenetic rhythm against his leg, and Nigel looks him up and down. He looks nothing like the man who’d called Adam beautiful. Who’d called him angel, baby, gorgeous.
“Could’ve fucking fooled me.”
It hurts. It hurts a shocking amount, more than Adam thought it would. Adam stands there with his mouth open, gaping like a fish. He tries to talk, but his words won’t work right and barely any sound comes out.
Nigel stalks over to the couch and scoops up his jacket. He grabs his cigarettes from the table and stuffs them into his pocket, takes his phone and his wallet and the gun too—the one Adam knows he has but Nigel never lets him see.
Adam’s heart is in his throat, and he only finds his voice once Nigel is at the door.
“Where are you going?”
“Out,” Nigel says, and he slams the door behind him.
Doamne dă-mi puterea - God give me strength
Things are easier when Nigel’s around. Nighttime is easier. The quiet is kinder, less full of knives. Adam knows these things, has known them for a while, but he’s still surprised by the void created in Nigel’s absence. He hadn’t realized the extent to which he’d begun to rely on Nigel. His house is too silent when he’s in it alone. The stillness has the quality of a grave.
Panicking without Nigel there to calm him down is so much worse than he remembers.
He has a panic attack the first night, then again the second. Crawling under his weighted blanked helps, but it doesn’t stop the shivers or the jittery, gulped breaths. It doesn’t stop him from feeling like if he were to disappear, maybe no one would notice.
* * *
It’s been three days, and Nigel still hasn’t come back.
He’s had the time off for the holidays, and the time he’d briefly thought might be spent looking at the stars and curled up in bed with Nigel is mostly spent looking at his phone, which doesn’t ring. Adam keeps picking it up and tapping at the screen, hoping that maybe he’s missed a call. He hasn’t. There’s nothing in his inbox but a missed call from Harlan and a text from Beth wishing him Merry Christmas.
He thinks about calling Nigel. He doesn’t.
He has a therapy appointment that he thinks about skipping because he doesn’t actually want to leave his house. Waiting by the phone isn’t doing him any good, and he thinks of Nigel calling him a child. It’s probably childish to skip your therapy appointment because you don’t want to get out of bed. It’s rude to skip without calling ahead to cancel.
In the end, he goes because letting himself be swept along by the tide of routine is easier than picking up the phone to cancel.
Outside on the street it’s too loud, but his apartment is too quiet. Being alone never bothered him before, but it does now.
* * *
He talks about it in therapy, and Doctor Brown nods, peering at him over the rims of her glasses.
“Do you think that maybe you’re relying on Nigel a little too much, Adam? It’s good to have support, but I’m concerned that perhaps you’re looking to Nigel to provide all the stability you need. What would it feel like to provide your own stability instead?”
It’s raining outside. The drops blow sideways against the windows, and it sounds like pebbles tinkling against the glass. Watching the water slide down the windowpane, it looks like the whole world is crying.
“I just don’t like it when Nigel is gone,” Adam says. “It’s a lot harder. Everything feels harder, and I don’t want to get used to it. I just want him to come back.”
Doctor Brown scratches something on her notepad and leans forward. “It’s good to be aware of what you want. There’s no harm in desiring a relationship with someone, but I’m more concerned with giving you the tools you need to support your own recovery. It’s fine to hope that Nigel returns, but I want to make sure that you’ll be okay either way.”
Adam shrugs. “I guess.”
He keeps looking out the window.
“Now how have you been sleeping?”
* * *
Adam doesn’t feel better or worse after leaving Doctor Brown’s office. He feels slightly wrung out. Tired. Ready to crawl back into bed again. Watching a livestream of the Hubble telescope doesn’t make him feel much better. Neither does eating dinner or watching Inside the Actor’s Studio. His apartment looks the same as it did before Nigel left, and Adam is glad they didn’t get decorations to make Christmas after all. Sitting in a room full of cheery tinsel and lights when he isn’t feeling festive sounds even more depressing than lying huddled under his weighted blanket in the dark.
It’s still raining, and Adam watches the rivulets cast shadows across the floor. He holds up his hand and look at it, thinks how strange it is that just the other day he was touching Nigel with the same hand. Wonders if he’ll get the chance again.
The cloistering dark in his room is pierced by a sudden brightness as his phone lights up and starts to buzz.
Adam picks up on the first ring. He doesn’t bother looking at the caller ID.
“Nigel?” He breathes, hopeful.
There’s a soft laugh on the other end of the line. “Sorry, not quite.”
Adam’s stomach drops all the way down to his feet. Lower. The room constricts, and the air grows thin.
Oh no. Oh no, oh no.
“Breathe, Adam. Breathe,” a familiar voice says.
He is hyperventilating, stuck somewhere between shock and horror.
“Shh, shh, stop. Take a deep breath.”
Adam does, and he chokes on it.
Adam does as he’s told. He breathes until he can do it without throwing up. He doesn’t hang up the phone. He swallows around a throat filled with glass.
He can hear the sound of a smile through the receiver, twisted and dark. “Hey, Adam. It’s been a while.”
“I don’t want to talk to you,” Adam says.
“But you do. You haven’t hung up yet.”
Will lets that hang in the air, and Adam’s fist tightens around the phone, claw-like and tense, but—he doesn’t hang up.
“Why did you call me?”
There’s a sound that might be a screen door sliding shut. A soft cadence of footsteps. A small shuffle and groan as if Will’s sat down. Adam can see it if he closes his eyes, and his stomach cramps up.
“Because you’re alone, and you don’t want to be. Because you’re sad.”
“You can’t know all that.”
“I do, though. Nigel isn’t with you, and he’s the only person you really talk to these days, isn’t he? You talk to your coworkers when you have to, but only for work-related purposes.” A pause. “You talk to your therapist.”
“I don’t want to talk about Nigel with you.”
“Don’t you, though? Who else are you going to talk to? Let me help.”
“You raped me. Repeatedly.”
There’s a soft sound, a hesitation.
“Yes,” Will says.
He doesn’t say that he’s sorry. Adam can’t tell if that makes him relieved or angry, and Will doesn’t say anything else. He just stays on the line and waits. Adam can hear the sound of seagulls vague in the background, the quiet breathing of another human.
“What would you do if I hung up?” Adam asks.
“I probably wouldn’t call you again.”
Adam laughs even though it’s not funny. “Does my consent matter to you now?”
“Kind of? It mattered before, just—not enough.”
He sounds so much like a person and not a monster, and that makes this all so awful. It kind of feels like being ripped apart, hearing his rape discussed so dispassionately. A sob escapes despite his best intentions. He does not particularly want Will to hear him cry.
“I don’t want to make you unhappy, Adam.”
“But that’s all you’ve done.”
“Did the telescope make you unhappy?” It’s manipulative—even Adam can see it, but it makes him feel guilty anyway.
“Not at first. But it made Nigel leave, so in the end it did. It contributed to my unhappiness.”
“He’ll come back, Adam. He’s not angry with you. He’s angry with me, and he’s frightened.”
Adam shakes his head and remembers that Will can’t see it. “I don’t think Nigel gets scared.”
“Everyone gets scared.” Will laughs suddenly, loud and sharp, and it almost startles Adam into dropping the phone. “Except for Hannibal. Hannibal maybe doesn’t get scared, but his brain is wired differently from the rest of humanity. Everyone else does—Nigel too.”
Adam still doesn’t want to talk about Nigel, but— “What’s he scared of?”
It’s almost like talking to Beth.
“Losing you. Not being able to protect you. He’s afraid Hannibal and I will do something to hurt you.”
“You are hurting me,” Adam points out.
Will doesn’t try to deny it.
“And he couldn’t stop me. Imagine how terrible that must feel. Imagine if something awful was happening to Nigel, and all you could do was watch.”
Adam swallows hard. “I would hate that.” He’s slid out of bed while he’s been talking to Will, and now he taps his fingers along the joins in the floorboards. “Why did you send me a tongue? I don’t think you’re neurotypical, but you’re not like me. You’re good with people. I don’t think you thought that I would like it, so why?”
“That was possibly more for me than it was for you, but I did hope you’d like it once you figured it out. He was one of the first responders at your crime scene. He had a loose tongue, tipped off Freddie Lounds.” Will spits the name. “It’s possible Hannibal is having a terrible influence on my sense of humor.”
“Did you eat him?”
“Adam,” Will chides. “I’m not in California.”
That should make him feel safer, but it doesn't. Adam wants to get off the phone, so he asks the question he doesn’t want to ask. The one with the answer he’s afraid of:
“Why? Why are you doing this to me?”
It comes out shattered and harsh, and it’s followed by a long silence where Adam’s heart pounds so loud he thinks Will might be able to hear it over the airwaves.
“Don’t you know? Because I love you.”
Adam stops breathing. He closes his eyes so he won’t have to see. “This isn’t love.”
“Isn’t it? How do you love someone if not by ruining them for the world outside of the one you build together? We could give you so much, you know.”
“I don’t want what you have,” he whispers. “I want Nigel.”
“You can have him too. I’d let you. I never meant to take anything away from you, Adam. That isn’t what this is about.”
Adam blows out a shaky breath. He tries to find the edges of this thing he never asked for. “Would you stop, if I asked you to?”
“Probably not,” Will admits.
“Even if it upsets me.”
They lapse into silence again, silence that’s far more comfortable than it should be. This time, Will breaks it first.
“Adam, call Nigel. Tell him you’re sorry. Ask him to come back.” He laughs softly. “Probably don’t tell him about this conversation. I know you don’t like lying, but you really shouldn’t.”
“Okay.” Just, okay. Adam is quiet for far too long. Then he says, “Will?”
“Don’t call me again. Please don’t. I didn’t like talking to you.”
I read and adored all your comments. I'm sorry I'm so bad at responding to them. I promise I'll get back to you later, but first, a new chapter.
Adam hangs up the phone and stares at it for a few minutes, waiting for it to do something. For Will to call him back, for the police to call and tell him that they know, that they’re bringing him in for questioning because surely everyone must know that he’s… what?
That he’s doing something with Will and Hannibal. He’s taking their gifts. He’s just had a conversation on the phone with a wanted criminal.
He’s not sure those are things innocent people do. Neither of those things are calling the police. He doesn’t want to call the police.
He taps his fingers along the edge of his phone. It’s late. He should go to sleep and call Nigel in the morning. It’s rude to call people late at night because they might be sleeping, and the phone could disturb them. Some people leave their phones on in case of emergencies.
But Adam hasn’t slept well in days, and he won’t be able to sleep tonight either. He’s tired of having panic attacks—tired enough that he’s feeling selfish, so he picks up the phone, scrolls to Nigel’s name and hits dial—quick, before he can change his mind.
The phone rings and rings again. He’s tapping faster now against the floor, rubbing the fingers of his free hand together to soothe his nerves. He doesn’t know what he’ll say when Nigel picks up—if Nigel picks up. He should have practiced.
It rings for a fifth time, and Adam’s heart is in his throat. Nigel isn’t there. He’s sleeping, or he doesn’t want to talk to Adam. He’s not coming back, and Will was wrong, and—
Everything in Adam relaxes when he hears Nigel’s voice.
He launches into everything he’d planned to say, too much and too fast. “Hi, Nigel, it’s Adam. I’d like to apologize for yelling at you on Christmas, and to ask if you would please come back.”
“What?” Nigel yells over the sound of thumping speakers. “Sorry, gorgeous, I can’t hear a fucking thing—give me a sec.”
There’s loud music and a lot of ambient noise in the background. Adam can hear people talking and laughing, so many voices that it all blurs together into a shapeless din. A woman giggles enough for Adam to hear it clearly, loud and high and clearly intoxicated. The noise is grating, and he’s glad when it fades away.
He waits nervously while Nigel finds somewhere better to talk. The sounds fades into the background, and then there’s just the two of them.
“That’s fucking better,” Nigel says. “What’s up, kid?”
Kid had always seemed affectionate when Nigel said it, but now he wonders if Nigel still thinks he’s childish. He wishes he could read tone better so he could tell what Nigel is thinking. Sometimes it’s frustrating to be missing a whole set of information it seems like everyone else has access to.
Adam takes a deep breath and starts again. “I’m sorry for yelling at you. You were trying to keep me safe, and I didn’t consider your feelings. I think I put you in an unfair situation, and I’m sorry.”
There’s a pause on the end of the line, and Adam is listening so closely with the phone pressed to his ear that he can hear the soft sound of an indrawn breath as Nigel takes a puff of a cigarette. “Is that all?”
“And I miss you. Please come back.”
Nigel’s voice softens. “Yeah. Yeah, okay. Let me just—I have some shit to wrap up here, and then I’ll come over, alright?”
“Alright,” Adam breathes. “Thank you.”
“I gotta go, gorgeous.”
They hang up, and Adam leans back against his bed with a smile. Nigel is coming back.
He stares at his phone’s call log. There are two entries there—his brief call with Nigel and a call from an unknown number.
If he’s going to lie, Adam reasons, he should at least lie well. His thumb hovers over the delete button. He deletes the number, the record of his conversation with Will, but not before flipping to an empty page in a notebook and painstakingly copying it down.
Just in case.
* * *
Adam didn’t think to set an alarm because it didn’t occur to him that he might fall asleep. Sleep’s been hard lately, but apparently Nigel’s imminent return has set his mind at ease enough that he managed to drift off. That, or his body simply found its limit.
He’s startled awake in the pre-dawn dark by something clattering against his window. His head jerks toward the sound, just in time to see a long crack spider across his window. His heart pounds in his chest as he gets to his feet to peer through the glass.
He shoves the window open.
“Nigel?” He hisses, trying to keep his voice down out of concern for the neighbors. “What are you doing?”
“Adam!” Nigel is worried about no such thing. He drops the fist-sized rock he’d been holding poised for another throw. They’re separated by a fence and two stories, but Nigel’s voice is still louder than necessary when he calls, “You weren’t picking up your phone, and it’s fucking freezing out here. Let me in.”
“Okay. I’ll be right there.”
He looks at his phone. It’s 4 a.m., and he has three missed calls, all of them from Nigel.
He’s still wearing all his clothes, so it doesn’t take more than a couple minutes to walk downstairs to let Nigel in. It’s pouring rain, and the short walk from the stairs to the front gate is enough to wet Adam’s shirt and shoes. Nigel is much worse off. He’s drenched from head to toe.
“You’re soaked,” Adam says.
“Left my umbrella at home,” Nigel says, and Adam can’t tell if that’s meant to be a joke. He leads Nigel up the stairs and into his warm, dry apartment where Nigel stands dripping on the floor.
“It’s good to see you, angel.”
Now that he isn’t yelling in the rain, it’s clear that Nigel’s drunk. He speaks with a slight slur and sways on his feet.
“You should take off your clothes,” Adam says, plucking at one of Nigel’s sleeves. “You’re soaking wet, and you’re going to catch a cold. Or you’re going to drip all over the furniture, and it will start to smell, and I don’t want either of those things.”
Nigel doesn’t make any move to actually do so. He grins down at Adam, eyes heavy-lidded and sleepy. His pupils are blown wide even in the bright light of Adam’s living room, and he nuzzles into Adam’s neck, drips and all, sticking a cold, wet nose into the seam where Adam’s collar meets his skin. “Missed you.”
Adam smiles despite himself. He reaches a hand up to clasp the back of Nigel’s hair, slippery and sodden, and presses him closer. “I missed you too.”
He wraps his other arm around Nigel and they stand there swaying together, and never mind the rain soaking through them both.
* * *
Somehow Adam gets Nigel into clean, dry clothes. He’s not at all cooperative, but Adam tugs his at sleeves up and pulls on the hem of his shirt until Nigel grudgingly lifts his arms. The fabric has lost all of its structural integrity, stretching and clinging to the wet planes of Nigel’s skin when Adam tries to pull it free. In the end, it takes a team effort, although it’s possible that Nigel makes it harder rather than easier.
The pants are another ordeal, and Adam huffs at the difficulty of getting a belt off someone else. It feels strange and unintuitive from the opposite angle. Undressing an uncooperative Nigel is hard and annoying. Drunk people are annoying, Adam decides.
What it isn’t, is frightening. They finally manage to peel off Nigel’s socks, shoes, and pants. His underwear is soaked through, so that goes too. He’s not going to start a load of laundry at 4 in the morning, so it all gets tossed into the bathtub. He doesn’t want to go looking through Nigel’s things so he fishes a pair of loose pajama pants out of his dresser and gives Nigel one of his sweaters that’s already stretched out.
Nigel smiles at him sweetly the whole time, out of his head and trusting, and it makes Adam’s heart thump with tenderness that feels like pain. Nigel talks to him in Romanian, little snippets of phrases, and he has no idea what they mean.
“Okay, Nigel,” Adam says, when it looks like Nigel’s expecting a reaction. “Yes, me too.” He doesn’t know what he’s just agreed to, but it seems to make Nigel happy.
He’d thought seeing another man’s penis—even Nigel’s, even though he’s seen it before—might jar memories loose, but it doesn’t. He’s just tired and wants to finally go to bed—to go to bed and sleep. Really sleep.
Nigel soft and pliant and trusting just makes Adam want to get him warm and dry, tucked into bed where nothing can hurt him—not the rain, not the police, and certainly not Will and Hannibal.
* * *
Waking up in the same bed is something new. It’s something they haven’t done before, and it feels somehow different from waking up on the couch with Nigel. More intimate, more real.
It’s Saturday, so there’s no alarm. They sleep until sometime in the mid-afternoon, until the sun shines bright and hot through the curtains Adam hadn’t bothered to close the night before. He wakes before Nigel, who’s dead to the world. His arm is a heavy weight across Adam’s chest, and when Adam tries to get up, it tightens, dragging him closer as Nigel snuffles and mutters something into the pillow.
Adam tenses, considering the merits of pulling himself free to go to the bathroom and start a pot of coffee. In the end, he decides that he’s far too comfortable. His bed is soft and warm, and it smells like Nigel all over. He snuggles more firmly into Nigel’s chest and goes back to sleep.
When he wakes the second time, it’s because Nigel is making a racket.
Nigel groans and drapes a hand over his eyes. “Fuck, my head is fucking killing me.”
Adam turns toward the sound, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “You were very intoxicated last night. You probably have a hangover.”
Nigel laughs, but it ends on a wince. “Brilliant deductive skills, kid.”
Adam tilts his head. “Is that sarcasm?”
“Right again. I don’t suppose you have any vodka lying around? Hair of the dog that bit you and all that,” he explains to Adam’s disapproving glare.
“More alcohol seems like a bad idea. I have Advil, and I can cook you breakfast if you want, though.”
“Mm, breakfast. You really are an angel,” Nigel says, rubbing his stubbled cheek against Adam’s. It scrapes and chafes at his skin in a way that makes him want to push closer rather than pull away. Nigel smells like a distillery, like morning breath and late nights, but Adam wants him in his bed anyway.
“Not an angel,” Adam says. Then, “I’m sorry—for before.”
Nigel groans again. “No, it’s too early for this. There’s an icepick pounding inside my head, and I don’t want to think about those cocksuckers until after breakfast at least.”
“Okay,” Adam says, relieved to let it drop.
Nigel holds Adam tighter. “But I’m sorry too, gorgeous. I’m sorry for leaving you alone.”
Adam nods, and the corners of his eyes feel hot and prickly. “Okay.”
* * *
Adam thinks they’ll have to talk about it at some point, about what happened with the telescope—what he said, what Nigel said. You’re supposed to talk about issues until you come to a mutually agreeable resolution. He means to do that over breakfast, when they’ve both finished their coffee and Nigel is picking at the eggs and toast Adam made. What he says instead is, “You cracked my window last night.”
Nigel sounds more like himself and less like someone who’s dying, for having eaten.
“I’m uh—sorry about that,” he says. He mumbles something that Adam can’t quite make out.
“I said it’s what they do in the movies!”
Adam blinks. “What kind of movies do you watch where people throw rocks at windows?”
Nigel mutters something else.
“Nigel, I can’t hear you if you mumble.”
“Chick flicks, okay? Romcoms. I watched a lot of them after Gabi left. I had a bullethole through me, and there wasn’t much else to do.” He stabs at a bit of scrambled egg with more force than absolutely necessary. “They were on TV, and it was better than watching the paint peel off the walls.”
“You threw rocks at my window because you saw characters in a romantic comedy do it. That’s very weird,” Adam says, but he grins so Nigel knows he’s only teasing.
* * *
After breakfast Nigel’s stomach still feels uneasy, so Adam suggests they go back to bed. He doesn’t think he has ulterior motives for it, but then, that might not be quite true. After all, there’s no reason for him to crawl into bed with Nigel. No reason except that he wants to, that the heat in his house is turned down so snuggling up to Nigel’s skin feels warm and good. No reason except that he wants to drink in Nigel’s presence after being without for days.
“I shouldn’t miss you this much,” Adam says when they’re both horizontal again. “When you were away, I missed you terribly.”
Nigel drags a gentle thumb over Adam’s lips. “The feeling’s mutual. The things you do to me—you make me crazy, baby. I want to hurt anyone who’d hurt you.”
His eyes are burning bright, promising madness and murder, but Adam doesn’t feel afraid. He only feels thrilled. Safe. Alive.
“Would you ever hurt me, Nigel?”
“Never,” Nigel swears. “Never. I’d cut my own arm off first.”
Adam sighs, breathless. “I believe you.” He touches Nigel’s face, curious. “Would you hurt me if I asked you to?”
Nigel’s body stiffens in a way Adam can feel when they’re pressed together so tightly. His voice is light when he speaks. It makes an odd contrast to the tension beneath Adam’s hands and legs. “Now why would you go and do something like that, angel?”
Adam licks his lips, nervous. He feels like his heart is in his hands. “I fantasize about it—about being hurt, sexually. I dream about it. I want to know if I like it, so I wanted to know if you would. If maybe you’d like doing that to me.”
Nigel pulls away, pulls back so he can look at Adam. “Adam, I don’t want to hurt you.”
Adam nods, face shuttering, and Nigel sighs.
“Look, I’m crazy about you. I want to help you however I can, however you need, but— I don’t want this to be about them. I don’t know if I can do it, darling. I can’t.” He closes his eyes. “I just—I need to know, are you using me to work through what they did to you?”
Fair questions can still hurt.
“No,” Adam says, and it’s the truth. It’s part of the truth. “I like you. I want to be with you. I just—I want this too, sometimes. I want to try it. I want to know.”
Nigel looks pained. “I don’t want to be like those bastards.”
“You won’t be. It’s different if I say it’s okay. It’s different if I know that you’ll stop.” He chews the edge of a thumbnail, willing Nigel to understand. To not think it’s strange or that Adam’s wrong for wanting the things that he wants. “If you’re doing it for me instead of to me, that makes it about love. It makes it different.”
“Fuck.” Nigel shuts his eyes. “Fuck. Okay, I— Okay.”
Adam figures it out before he gets off the phone with Will. He brings it up the next time he’s in therapy, as soon as he steps into Doctor Brown’s office and before he even takes his coat off. “You’re supposed to keep the things we talk about confidential, but you don’t.”
She folds her hands and peers at him over the rim of her glasses. “What makes you say that, Adam?”
He paces the room, irritated. She watches him, unmoving, eyes tracking his progress across the carpet.
“Can you not lie and pretend you don’t know? Because people know things about me that they couldn’t have heard from anyone but you.”
Adam frowns. He probably shouldn’t tell her that her that those people are internationally wanted fugitives. Therapists aren’t supposed to break doctor-patient confidentiality by reporting clients to law enforcement agencies, but then therapists aren’t supposed to break doctor-patient confidentiality at all.
She sighs and taps her pen against her notepad before setting both aside. “Your father was very adamant that he be apprised of your progress. I’m sorry, Adam. I’ve broken your trust.”
Father—the word strikes through him, a frisson of inappropriate, gut-churning lust mingled with revulsion. He wonders if it was Hannibal or Will.
“Are you going to report me?” She asks.
Adam blinks. The thought honestly hadn’t occurred to him. “Why would I do that? If I was going to report you, I probably wouldn’t have talked to you about it first. It gives you the chance to create a story to discredit me.”
“You could have reported me already,” the therapist points out.
“But I didn’t.”
“That’s good news for me,” she says.
Adam isn’t good at reading people, but Doctor Brown’s face hasn’t changed at all. She’s wearing a pleasant, neutral expression. She doesn’t look worried or relieved. Her voice is smooth and even when she speaks.
“Why did you agree to it? To give information to my—father.” He hopes she doesn’t notice the hitch in his breath as the lie slides off his tongue. “You could lose your license.”
He desperately wants to know why Hannibal and Will are so compelling, how they can make people do such terrible things. He wants to know why he participates.
Nigel had called it a game. If it’s a game, it’s one where he doesn’t understand the rules, and he doesn’t know why anyone is playing. Will had called it love, but that couldn’t be right. If he can learn why Doctor Brown did it, maybe he can learn why he does too. Maybe he can stop. He leans forward in his seat, craning toward an answer.
“Honestly? He offered me a considerable amount of money.” She laughs at herself, and it isn’t a nice laugh. For a second it’s like seeing a different Doctor Brown. She sounds tired, and he notices all the little lines around her eyes for the first time.
“Oh,” Adam says, crestfallen. He fidgets in his seat. “That’s very disappointing. I’d hoped you’d have had a better reason.”
The other version of Doctor Brown is gone just as fast, the one who looks like she needs a good night’s sleep as badly as Adam does. Then she’s slick and smooth and clean once again—the perfect therapist, never mind that she’s taking money to break the law.
“He was well-spoken, polite. He seemed very concerned about you, spoke highly of you. He worried that you weren’t coping well.” She shakes her head. “I honestly just didn’t see the harm. I know it’s probably not my place to say this, and I have no reason to expect you to take my advice, but I do hope you’ll continue your therapy. If not with me, then with someone else. I think we’ve been making real progress, and I’d hate to see you lose that. I’ll write you a referral, if you’d like.”
Adam laughs, and his laugh isn’t very nice either. He wouldn’t trust another therapist any more than he’d trust Doctor Brown. He would never trust that they weren’t just another person meant to spy on him for Hannibal and Will. Is this his life now, forever looking over his shoulder?
I probably wouldn’t stop, even if you asked me to.
He manages not to choke on the word dad when he says, “Why wouldn’t my dad just pay that one too? I don’t want another therapist. I like seeing you. I’m comfortable with you, and you’re good at helping me.”
Doctor Brown nods. “Of course. Whatever makes you feel most comfortable. I’ll call your father tomorrow and tell him that I’m no longer able to update him on your progress.”
“No, please don’t.”
“You can keep doing what you’re doing. Keep taking his money, keep telling him things about me, but please don’t tell him that I know.”
She studies his face, eyes sharp and clear. “Of course,” she says smoothly. “If that’s what you think is best.”
Everyone lies so much. How are you supposed to trust a liar?
* * *
Will doesn’t call again. Whether it’s because Nigel is back or because he’s actually choosing to respect Adam’s wishes is anyone’s guess. Life goes on, and the knowledge of Will’s phone number scribbled into his notebook burns him all the while. Nigel lives with him now, or close enough. He goes back home to pick up more clothes, his own computer, a small stack of books.
“You read?” Adam asks, interested.
“Of course, I read,” Nigel says. “Christ, don’t tell me you thought I was some kind of illiterate. I might not work above board, but I can fucking read.”
“I’ve offended you.” Adam picks up one of the books. It’s a dog-eared copy of something called Music and Tricks. The back blurb is written in Romanian, nothing he can understand. “I’m not surprised that you can read. Compulsory schooling is legally enforced from the age of 6 in Romania. I’ve just never seen you read before.”
Nigel tweaks his nose, and Adam rubs the feeling away. “You don’t know me that well yet, darling.”
It’s true. He doesn’t.
He’s learning though.
He learns a lot of things about Nigel, more every day. He learns that Nigel doesn’t like to sleep in the dark, although he’ll never admit it. When the house is pitch black, Nigel tosses and mutters in his sleep. Adam learns that Nigel sleeps better when there’s at least one light on, and that’s why he keeps them on all night, even after Adam complains about the waste of electricity.
Adam stops complaining once he figures it out. He leaves the hall lights on, tilts the door so a crack of light falls across the room. Then Nigel doesn’t wake Adam thrashing, and Adam can sleep just fine as long as Nigel is beside him. The small variation in his routine makes him nervous, but if he puts on an eye mask, the room looks just the same—like nothing’s changed at all.
After that first night spent in Adam’s bed, Nigel doesn’t go back to the couch. He sleeps in Adam’s room, shuffling in at all hours, quiet not to disturb him, because while Adam is in bed by 10 p.m. every night, Nigel is a night person. He works, or reads, or stays up drinking and looking out the window. On the nights Nigel works, he comes home smelling like liquor and smoke, perfume and oil. Sometimes Adam can taste gunpowder on his hands when he kisses them.
He should have feelings about that, probably—Nigel firing a gun that shot a bullet that likely punched a hole through someone’s body. Someone might be bleeding out in a gutter, dying slowly, but Adam doesn’t think of it. It’s warm in their house while it rains outside. It rains all the time in January. The smell of gunpowder reminds him of fireworks. It’s part of Nigel like all the other parts.
It’s the little things. Little bits of knowledge to collect, little pieces of Nigel to know, to tuck away in the part of his heart that belongs to this man with all his rough edges. The rest of his heart feels thorny and dark, but the place where Nigel lives is a garden.
They don’t talk about their living arrangement; it’s something that just is. Like the sun setting in the west and the universe continually expanding, it is. Nigel’s things creep from the living room into the bedroom in a steady trickle. First a shirt, then a sock, then the book on the nightstand alongside the reading glasses Nigel tried to hide for days. One day Adam shakes his head and drags the rest of it into the room himself.
Nigel nods at his bag slung over Adam’s shoulder. “Where’re you going with that, gorgeous?"
“Bedroom. Moving your things one at a time and hoping I don’t notice is inefficient. I’m making it easier.”
Nigel just barks a laugh and kisses him until he melts and the duffel bag slides from his shoulders and onto the floor.
* * *
They talk about sex in fits and starts. Sometimes Adam is more nervous about it. Sometimes Nigel is, but they make each other brave and help each other through it, talking through the sticky things no one wants to talk about— Would you like it if and Can I touch you there and Is it okay when.
When Nigel is nervous, it makes Adam regret asking for things he doesn’t want to give. Nigel shouldn’t look like that because of him. It seems somehow cosmically wrong. Everyone gets scared, Will said. Even Nigel.
As if fear is an illness that Adam is spreading.
“Choose a word,” Nigel says. “I think that’s what you’re supposed to—so I know if you want to stop. Really stop. You say the word, and I’ll know you mean it.”
Adam’s heart beats faster at the thought of what they could do with that. He could say stop, and Nigel wouldn’t stop. He could say please and no. It sparks something hot and wanting in his gut, and he says the first word that comes to mind.
Nigel quirks a brow at him. “Abigail? You got a girlfriend I should be jealous about, sweetheart?”
Adam starts to open his mouth to say no, of course he doesn’t have a girlfriend, but Nigel grins and tugs one of Adam’s curls.
Nigel nods. “I’m joking.”
Adam shrugs. “I don’t know why Abigail. It’s just a word I thought of.” He has the strangest sensation that he’s forgotten something important, a phrase on the tip of his tongue, but he shakes it off. “It’s a nice name, though, isn’t it?”
“Very pretty,” Nigel agrees, then he kisses the tension from Adam’s mouth and licks all the rest of the words clean away. Adam doesn’t have time to wonder about a flash of blue eyes and long hair whipping through a forest.
* * *
Adam can’t say that he called the number without thinking, because dialing it takes a lot of steps. He pulls the notebook out of its space on his bookshelf, flips through it until he comes to the page he wants. Punches the number in his phone and hits the green dial button before he can change his mind.
He waits until Nigel was in the shower because now he has something to hide.
He swallows. It rings once, twice.
The phone is picked up before the third ring even finishes, and an Eastern European accent, light and cultured, answers. “Hello?”
“Hannibal?” He can’t quite quash the tendril of hope that snakes upward toward the light when he hears that voice. Adam hadn’t been expecting the relief that courses through him at getting this person instead of the other. His stomach had been tying itself into knots at the prospect of talking to Will, and this feels like being given a stay of execution.
“Hello, Adam. I wasn’t expecting you to call so soon. Is everything all right?” Just like that. Like he knew Adam would call. Like this is what they do.
“I’m not sure. I’m confused about a lot of things.”
“I see. I’ll certainly help you if I can.” He hears the sound of running water. “I’m afraid you’ve caught me at a crucial juncture for this sauce. Do you mind if I keep working while we talk?”
“No,” Adam says immediately. “That’s fine.”
“So tell me, Adam, what’s on your mind?”
“Why did you tell my therapist that you’re my father?”
Because this is why he called. He’s been turning it over and over in his head, cursing himself for all the things he wants and all the things he doesn’t. Hating himself for thinking it at all, but now that the word has been given to him, his mind worries it like a dog with a bone.
“Why do you think?”
Adam chews the inside of his cheek. “Because you wanted access to information about me, and it was a convenient lie to tell in order to make that happen.”
“That’s true, although I would say effective rather than convenient—nothing about you is particularly convenient. However, that’s not the only reason. I find that I’ve begun to feel responsible for you. I’d like to help you, to guide you into what you will become. I care about your wellbeing. Fatherhood is as good a name for that feeling as any other.”
Adam is silent on his end of the line.
“Does that shock you?” Hannibal asks.
“I don’t know.” Adam lets out a soft, injured sound. “I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel. Why am I like this?”
“Adam.” He wants to lean into that voice. “Close your eyes and take a deep breath.”
“Picture a stream?”
“If you like.”
Adam shakes his head, cupping the phone like a wounded bird. He doesn’t want to be soothed. “If I like talking to you, that means I’m guilty.”
“Humans are highly social creatures who find ways to flourish in the darkest of situations. The connections we make with others ground us more firmly in the world around us. I’d posit that you’re no more guilty for reaching out to the comfort available to you than a plant is guilty for reaching up toward the light. What is it you think you’re guilty of?”
“Everything. I’m guilty of wanting it, guilty for participating. Every time I talk to one of you, every time I lie about it or take one of your gifts, I become more guilty. Did you do that on purpose?”
Hannibal tsks on the other end, and he doesn’t answer the question. “It’s not a crime to want things, Adam.” There’s a metallic clatter and a pause, the sound of another voice cursing faintly, and Hannibal speaking in quick tones with the phone pulled away from his mouth. “I’m afraid I need to go now, and I suspect you do as well. Do one thing for me, if you would. Look up captor bonding. I think it will clarify things for you. Will you do that?”
“You don’t need to feel guilty, not for this.” He sounds more distant already. “I’m usually up quite late. Don’t hesitate to call if you need anything.”
Where are you? Adam doesn’t get the chance to ask. He wonders if they’d tell him.
He wonders if he really wants to know.
He hears the shower turn off. By the time the bathroom door opens, the evidence is gone. Nigel walks into the bedroom a few minutes later wearing nothing but a towel and the smile he saves for Adam. He wanders over to where Adam is sitting and wraps his arms around him. His skin is damp and hot from the shower, and Adam turns his head to breathe in the spicy, clean scent of soap.
“Did you say something, gorgeous?”
“No,” Adam lies.
“Huh. Could’ve sworn I heard you calling.”
It seems impossible that Nigel can’t see the lie all over his face, but he looks clear and untroubled. His mouth is warm when he presses a kiss to Adam’s upturned mouth like Adam still deserves it.
This is a short one, but... I think you'll understand why. I updated the tags <3
It starts like this: Adam, naked and on his knees with his hands clasped behind his back. The chill from the floor seeps up into his skin, and his kneecaps ache from contact with the hardwood. Nigel prowls around him like a wild thing, looking down on him from on high.
It starts like this.
“Open your fucking mouth,” Nigel growls, and Adam whimpers.
“I don’t want to.”
He does. He doesn’t. It doesn’t matter because Nigel grips him by the hair and pulls, just hard enough to tilt his head back. He drags his eyes up to Nigel’s face just in time to see the smirk that twists across his lips.
“Did I fucking ask what you want?”
He does as he’s told. He opens. Nigel’s fingers are in his mouth immediately, two of them dragging over his tongue, pushing into the back of his throat and making him gag. He tries to turn his head, but Nigel doesn’t let him. He’s held fast by the hand at the nape of his neck, keeping him in place while Nigel plays with his mouth, dragging his fingers in and out while Adam’s eyes water.
He closes his lips and sucks, and it draws an approving groan from Nigel, makes him push further in. He pulls his fingers out and wipes them on Adam’s face, streaking saliva across his cheek. It’s embarrassing, and it makes his cock jump. He’s leaking on the floor, desperate with wanting.
“You’re a pretty little whore, aren’t you?” Nigel asks, and Adam moans. “Got a mouth made for sucking cock, so pretty and red.” He lets Adam go with a final shake of the hand fisted in his hair. “Now don’t fucking move.”
Adam doesn’t move. He waits, panting, while Nigel unzips his pants and shoves them down around his hips. He’s bigger than Adam remembers, hard and glistening at the tip, and he strokes himself once, twice. He looks at Adam like Adam is prey. It makes him feel prickly and hot, even though he’s naked and the room is cold.
Nigel’s face softens, becomes someone Adam recognizes again. He touches Adam’s cheek gently. “Is this okay, darling?” He asks. “Are you alright?”
Adam nods because he doesn’t trust his voice.
Nigel takes a deep breath. “Okay.”
Then the fierce grip is back at the back of Adam’s head, and Nigel jerks him back by the hair hard this time, hard enough to bring tears to his eyes and make him cry out. Nigel brings his cock to Adam’s mouth, painting pre-come across his lips. It’s bitter and salty when he darts his tongue out to taste.
“Open your mouth,” Nigel says again, and Adam shakes his head.
He struggles because it’s okay if he struggles. Because Nigel is here and he’s got him. Nigel slaps him in the face, hard enough that he sees lights where a heavy palm catches him in the eye. It startles him more than it hurts, but there’s a sharp sting in his face when Nigel uses the moment of surprise to force his way into Adam’s mouth.
He shoves his way in deep, so deep that Adam’s choking, throat working to push the intrusion out. Nigel pins him there and starts to thrust, working his hips in little shallow motions that mean he pulls out just enough to give Adam little sips of breath before plunging back in.
Tears are running down his face, and he’s gagging, and Adam clenches his hands together tight, so hard that the nails bite into his palms. This is good, or it’s bad—or it’s something else completely and good and bad don’t actually mean anything anymore—
And then Nigel swears and pulls out, pulling away and leaving Adam bereft.
Adam blinks, trying to come back from wherever it is he’s gone, sorting through the situation and trying to understand why Nigel’s used his safeword.
Nigel sits heavily beside Adam, dragging a hand over his face. His cock is laying against his thigh, halfway to soft while he mutters something in Romanian. He switches to English to say, “I’m sorry, gorgeous. I just can’t. Anything—fucking anything else. I can’t watch you cry like that. I love you. I just can’t do that to you.”
“It’s okay,” Adam says, voice small. “But you hurt people for a living. You sell drugs, and you hurt people, so I thought it would be okay. I didn’t know it would be so bad for you. I thought maybe you’d like it. I was hoping you would. He liked it.” His voice is raw from tears and rough treatment, and Nigel looks stricken when he hears it. “Are the things I want that wrong?”
“C’mere, baby, please?” He holds a hand out to Adam, who shuffles forward on his knees until his body meets Nigel’s.
Adam’s still hard, but that seems unimportant now. Nigel folds his arms around Adam, leans them both back so he’s resting against the back of the couch and Adam is resting against him. He buries his face in Adam’s hair and breathes in deep, shuddering. He is warm and solid and real.
He is so upset, and Adam did this.
“I’m sorry,” he says. He tugs at Nigel’s sleeve. “Nigel, I’m sorry,” and then he starts to cry.
Nigel shushes and gentles him through the tears, (“It’s fine, darling. Everything’s alright. I’m fine and you’re fine, yeah?”) and it only makes him cry harder.
Nigel waits until Adam falls asleep. He tucks him under his weighted blanket, folds himself around him, and holds him until his breathing evens out. Then he creeps out of the apartment with a pack of cigarettes, falling back on old habits. He isn’t looking for a fight, not in so many words, but he wouldn’t fucking mind if one fell into his lap. His hands itch, and he badly wants to punch something.
He taps a smoke out of the box harder than necessary, clamps it between his teeth and lights it up. He sucks the smoke down, letting the hot air burn through his lungs. The nicotine barely does anything. It’s not nearly enough to take the edge off the crackling rage boiling under his skin—he’ll need something harder for that.
“Fucking cocksuckers,” he mutters.
He can’t get the picture out of his head, and he wishes he could—Adam on his knees crying while Nigel called him names and fucked his throat. Time was he’d have been into it. He’s not opposed to getting rough in the sack. Some girls like that shit, and he’s always been one to show a lady a good time—but the ones he’s been with have always acted like they fucking like it.
Adam just looked shattered, running nose and teary eyes.
Adam should be fucking worshiped. Nigel wants to kiss every inch of his skin and make him come so hard he forgets his own name, and the fact that two psychopaths have convinced him he needs to be treated like that in order to get off is just beyond the goddamn pale.
Nigel is in a bad fucking mood. If he was still in Bucharest, he’d go to Darko’s club and get high on coke, watch the dancers, and drink until his blood was more clear than red. But he’s not in fucking Bucharest, so he does the next best thing, which is ducking into the first dive bar he finds.
The place isn’t far from Adam’s apartment, and he’s been here before. Not often, but enough. Enough that the tattooed bartender looks vaguely familiar, enough that she smiles when he leans over the bar to order and cuts him off good-naturedly. “Vodka soda, right?”
“Yeah,” Nigel says, gruff and not in the mood to be charmed tonight. “Double.”
“You got it, chief.” She pours generous helping of well vodka into a glass and tops it off with soda water. She passes it over with a sympathetic look. “You wanna talk about it?”
“Not really,” Nigel says.
She thumps the counter in front of him. “Good. It’s a busy night, and I’ve got enough to do without mopping sad drunks off the floor,” but she says it with a smile, and Nigel at least appreciates the effort.
“I don’t want to talk, but I’m making no promises that you won’t have to mop me off the floor, darling.”
“Fair enough, but I’m taking your wallet if you pass out.”
He snorts a laugh and shakes his head while she walks away to help patrons at the other end of the bar. He drains his drink in a few neat gulps, and when the bartender comes back, he orders another.
* * *
Nigel’s tolerance isn’t what it used to be. He still drinks, of course he does, but he drinks less since he’s been living with the kid. Adam’s never said anything about it—about his drinking, smoking, about any of it—but he doesn’t have to. He knows Adam doesn’t like it, even without the way his nose wrinkles when Nigel comes home smelling like whiskey, smoke, and weed. His darling is clean as a whistle and sober as a judge. It just feels wrong, somehow, tracking his mess and habits through the kid’s life.
He frowns. It’s fucking weird to think of himself living with someone, after Gabi. Gabi was supposed to be it for him, ‘til death do us part. He shakes his head and shakes it off. Drinking alone makes him maudlin. He’s lost track of how many he’s had, but it’s enough that he’s unsteady on his feet when he gets up to take a piss. He fishes around in his pocket, meaning to check the time, and he realizes that he can’t—must’ve left his phone back at the apartment.
He sighs and leans over the bar counter. It’s late, and he’s drunk. He feels significantly less like murdering the next person who looks at him the wrong way, so he figures that’s his cue to go home. He waits for a chance to signal the bartender so he can close out his tab, and he thinks of Adam—Adam cozy and warm, soft skin tucked in among a mass of blankets. Nigel wants nothing more than to wrap himself up in Adam, cocoon themselves both together, and forget. Fuck the rest of the world. The appeal of the smoky neon lights and girls in hot pants has worn thin, and Nigel is ready to go home.
He frowns when another vodka soda materializes at his elbow. He opens his mouth to tell the bartender that he didn’t order this—doesn’t want it—but she shrugs and jerks her thumb at a woman sitting alone at the far end of the bar.
She’s a little thing with enormous hair—a mass of it, curly and red, framing a small white face. Her lips curl up in a pointed smile when Nigel raises his eyebrows in her direction. She takes his acknowledgment as an invitation and saunters her way around the bar, perching atop the barstool beside Nigel.
“You’ve caught me at a bad time, love.”
“Have I? Drunk and close to closing time, when all the lonely people are looking for love. It looks to me like I’ve caught you at the perfect time.”
“I’m not looking for love. You’ve got me dead to rights on drunk, though.”
She pouts, and Nigel can’t help imagining those lips wrapped around his cock—he’s only human, and he hasn’t gotten off with another person in weeks. He realizes he’s staring and not listening.
“Sorry, what?” He asks.
“I said I’m not, either.” She nods at him. “I’ve got some catching up to do before I hit drunk, though. Share a drink with me. We can not look for love together.”
Nigel hesitates. He should go. He doesn’t have his phone, which means Adam might try to call him, and he’d never know. He doesn’t want Adam to wake up scared and alone in the apartment.
“Just one,” she says. “For the road.”
As much of him doesn’t want to go home as does. There are minefields there, the ghosts of other men haunting Adam’s memories. It makes it easier to agree.
“Fuck it, just one.”
* * *
One turns into two, turns into him staring at the little spitfire in the leopard print coat while she tells him a story of a man she caught pants-down in the break room of her office. She’s got a cutting humor and a way with words, painting a picture so Nigel can practically see the poor fuck, wide-eyed and limp-dicked between the syllables of the words she chooses. He nearly spits his drink out more than once, laughing. It feels fucking good to laugh.
Something’s bugging him though, like a name on the tip of his tongue, and he interrupts her story. Nigel’s not polite at the best of times, but he gets even worse when he’s drunk. “Hey, you look familiar. Have we met before?”
She cocks her head, and a vague smile slicks across her face. “Not that I know of, and I think I’d remember you. I’ve been told I have one of those faces. People stop me on the street all the time.” She nudges his shoulder with hers, birdlike and bony. “Are you sure you haven’t seen me in your dreams?”
He laughs. “You’re dangerous, aren’t you? Fucking charmer like you must break hearts wherever you go.”
And it’s so tempting. It wouldn’t be an effort; she’s all but holding it out on a platter. He could go home with her, get his hands in that hair, hoist her up and fuck her against the wall. It would be quick and easy and good, and God knows he could use something fucking simple in his life, but— “Sorry, Red. I’m taken.”
He leans back and puts some distance between the two of them, trying not to pitch over in the process. Falling on his ass is a good way to get thrown out of his new favorite dive, and he’s not entirely sure the bartender was joking when she said she’d take his wallet.
The woman is nonplussed. “Are you? She must be a lucky woman.”
Nigel snorts. “Not a woman.”
Because fuck it, he’s drunk enough to admit that to a stranger.
“Lucky man, then.” She leans in, closing the gap between them again. Nigel can feel the heat rising off her skin. “So why are you out here drinking alone at two in the morning when you’ve got someone waiting for you at home? Trouble in paradise?”
Nigel laughs, and it’s bitter and sharp. “Red, if I told you, you wouldn’t fucking believe me.”
She covers his fingers with one small hand. Her skin is soft as velvet and almost luminous against his. Her red brows draw together, and she looks so sweet. “I think you’d be surprised at the things I’d believe. I’m a very good listener.”
There’s something unnaturally keen in her eyes that makes him uneasy, but the part of him that notices is buried under a swell of alcohol.
“Hannibal, what the fuck is this?”
Hannibal frowns as Will chucks the tablet at him. It’s what Hannibal would consider rude, but right now he can’t be bothered to care.
“Tattlecrime, front page.”
Hannibal turns his eyes obediently to the page Will’s left open, and Will watches with some satisfaction as Hannibal’s frown deepens. His eyes move rapidly, scanning the article while the rest of his face goes very still, taking on the look that Will associates with blood and knives. The one that sends a jolt of heat right to his stomach. Usually. Usually, it does. Right now he’s livid.
Will quotes filth from the article without needing to look at the words. It’s already seared itself into his brain—one of the curses of a near-eidetic memory. “‘Trouble in paradise? A source reports that the notorious Murder Husbands might be adding a third to their torrid love affair. Meet Adam Raki, the lover Will Graham had to have so badly he wouldn’t take no for an answer.’ She talks about his sex life.” His voice takes on a pained quality. “Hannibal, she included his fucking picture. His life is over.”
Because if there’s anyone who knows firsthand the kind of devastation junk journalism and public opinion can wreak on a life, it’s Will. He locks eyes with Hannibal, and he knows Hannibal is thinking of it too—a time back before Will was a murderer, after Hannibal framed him. Back when he couldn’t go outside without people giving him a wide berth and stopping him on the street, You look familiar, are you—? Before their eyes widened and they scurried away with their heads down.
Hannibal is quiet for a long time, lost in thought, before he speaks. “You know he couldn’t have straddled both worlds forever. He was marked for this the minute you choose him and allowed him to live.”
Will grits his teeth. It’s true, and he knows it. That doesn’t mean he wants to hear it.
“He could’ve had a little longer,” Will says. “Longer to be—I don’t know, fucking normal. To have friends, lovers, acquaintances who don’t whisper about him behind his back, pitying him or else afraid he’s going to snap and kill them. Now that his name has been released, other journalists will come. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jack comes knocking at his door.” He imagines it—nervous, prickly Adam accosted by Jack Crawford. It isn’t a pleasant thought. “He won’t be able to deal with this, Hannibal. You know he won’t.”
“I know no such thing, and neither do you.” Hannibal folds his hands and sets the tablet aside with a tiny click on the end table.
In this moment, Hannibal is entirely calm, self-possessed and relaxed—but only if you don’t know how to look. Will does. He knows how to look, and he knows Hannibal, enough to see the tiny tick of a mouth held too tight, the infinitesimal tension of displeasure around his eyes.
Hannibal is furious.
In all their years together, Will has never seen Hannibal raise his voice; that isn’t his style. He’s nothing at all like Will’s father with his fits of loud, drunken rage. Hannibal’s anger is quiet. It runs deep. It’s glacial and deadly, and it still pulls Will up short when he has cause to see it, even after all these years. Even now that Will is more than a match for him in deadly ferocity.
Will takes comfort in Hannibal’s anger now, feels it blend into his own, matching it. Changing it. Tuning it to their own mutual purpose.
“Adam is stronger than you give him credit for.” Hannibal gives him a pointed look. “He survived you.”
“Did he?” Will asks, but he’s only being petulant. Adam did; it’s undeniable. Survived and therefore became something new—is becoming still. Will’s face softens, just a little. “And I survived you.”
Hannibal practically glows with soft pride as he pulls Will closer, sliding Will into his lap using no more pressure than a finger through a belt loop. “Are you sure? I think our love is fatal.”
Will hums. “You and I as the walking dead. Marked to die, but still breathing. Still ambulatory with the chance to fuck and fight and kill until our time’s up.”
“Isn’t everyone?” Hannibal asks with a tilt of his head. The serpentine motion makes Will want to press a kiss to the vulnerable skin beneath Hannibal’s jaw, and he follows the impulse. Ends it with a stinging nip of teeth that makes Hannibal’s eyes flutter. “All of us walking around under God’s thumb, surviving at his sufferance.”
“Except for you,” Will says. “I’m pretty sure you’d break his finger if he tried to squash you.”
“You as well. And Adam?”
The easy flirtation of a moment before evaporates. Everything pulls back into sharp focus, past and future and all the dreams that won’t leave him alone.
“He isn’t like that,” Will says quietly.
“No, he isn’t,” Hannibal agrees. “Do you still want him?”
“Yes. Very much.”
Hannibal presses a kiss to Will’s temple. “Then you shall have him.”
Will’s eyes find their way back to the tablet and its blank screen of their own accord. His brow furrows.
“It bothers you a great deal,” Hannibal says. “What Ms. Lounds wrote about him.”
“It was invasive. Violative. Vulgar. She had no right.” He shakes his head. “It bothers you too.”
“Yes.” Hannibal doesn’t deny it.
He’s quiet for a moment before making a face. “What’s the point of a fucking drug lord, mobster boyfriend if he can’t even keep Adam safe?”
Will waves off Hannibal’s admonition. “Relax, I’m not going to do anything to him.”
He slides off of Hannibal’s lap and goes back to pacing the room like a caged thing.
He’d looked the man up the second he’d heard the name Nigel, and he’s sure Hannibal had done the same. He’d been expecting someone of no particular note, ordinary and safe. He should’ve figured that wasn’t Adam’s type because what he found was something else entirely. Their Adam had taken up with Nigel Ibanescu, a man around Hannibal’s age, wanted for drug trafficking and at least fifteen counts of murder across eastern Europe. Will’s eyebrows had risen into his hairline when he’d read the man’s rap sheet. What Nigel lacked in finesse, he made up for in sheer brutality. He was a mercenary, a thug for hire, connected with the Romanian mob—the blunt instrument to Hannibal’s precision.
Nigel is interesting, but more than that he’s good for Adam, from what Marcia’s said to Hannibal. It’s that second part that’s keeping him alive.
Will looks at Hannibal—placid and unmoving. He lets his mind soak in Hannibal’s, pushes aside his own hot anger to see what Hannibal sees. What he finds there makes him smile. “You won’t let her get away with this either.”
“Of course not. I think it’s time we pay Ms. Lounds a visit, don’t you?”
“Past time,” Will agrees.
* * *
Will stays up late that night, plotting and scheming. It’s one thing to say that Ms. Lounds’ discourtesy won’t be left unpunished. It’s another thing entirely to find their way back onto American soil undetected. Returning so soon is imprudent. If Hannibal was on his own, it’s a risk he wouldn’t have taken, but he finds he’s willing to make any number of unwise decisions where Will is concerned. He wonders when that will stop surprising him, if ever.
He’s cautious even now, knowing what he knows—that Will is unlikely to return to Costa Rica with him without at least seeing Adam first. Hannibal knows it even if Will doesn’t, but no matter. He’ll make those arrangements himself, no need to trouble Will with them.
He glances over at Will, who’s bent over his laptop, craning toward the screen. It brings a smile to Hannibal’s face. Even after all this time—after the drugs and the betrayals on both sides, after the ways they’ve rebuilt—even now, Will is never more fully himself than when he’s planning a hunt. It fills Hannibal with a fierce feeling that must be love. Love for his vicious boy who loves nothing better than spilling blood.
Will stays up late, but Hannibal stays up later. He stays up to watch the moment Will grows sweet and pliant in sleep.
Will doesn’t complain about Hannibal’s eyes poring over his face. He flings a careless arm over his eyes and says, “Just turn off the light when you’re finished.”
He drops off into sleep easily these days, a far cry from the months when he didn’t sleep at all, unless Hannibal drugged him first. He’s full of so much snarling tension, always. It’s a small joy to watch it ease as he slips the bonds of consciousness and floats away somewhere Hannibal can’t join him. He tells Hannibal about his dreams, sometimes. He dreams often of Adam these days—the two of them in a house by a lake.
Hannibal knows Will well enough to know that he only shares his dreams because he knows it causes Hannibal pain, but it doesn’t bother him the way Will imagines it does. Pain has never meant much to him, not in the way it seems to matter to others.
Occasionally on the mornings Will is feeling kind, he’ll tell Hannibal about other dreams, dreams where they live together in a house surrounded by a field, cloistered from the outside world. On those mornings, tenderness is allowed, and he strokes the hair from Will’s eyes with the back of his hand. On those mornings, Will paints a picture with his words, describing the peeling paint and shell-colored tile until Hannibal can see it in his mind; so he can walk with Will there.
He’s folded each and every one of those mornings up and placed them in gilded rooms of his memory palace.
Hannibal watches Will sleep. He’s struck the way he always is by Will’s trust. It seems a fragile gift that Will is able to sleep beside him so easily. There are not many people left alive who would, and certainly none who would do so without at least an inkling of concern for their safety. But here Will is every night, laid out in their bed with his belly soft and vulnerable, the tanned line of his throat bared.
Hannibal often thinks how easy it would be to cut it. He imagines in vivid detail the way it would drip ruby on their cream satin sheets, warm and vital. He thinks about reaching inside, staining his fingers with Will’s lifeblood and crushing the bone-pale cartilage below.
He doesn’t do so. It’s possible he doesn’t only because he knows that Will would let him—there is less interest in a thing when the outcome is inevitable. He doesn’t think the reason is that he fears Will’s death. He carries Will in his memory palace, in the place that they both share. It’s possible that living without Will would be much the same as living with him, now. They will always stroll the same halls as long as one of them is breathing. If there’s a thought that gives him great comfort, it’s this.
Or it’s possible that simply knowing is enough. Knowing that Will is his, wholly and completely. That he’d never deny Hannibal anything, not even his death.
It makes it easy to allow him this. To allow him Adam as a lover or a child—as whatever Will’s lovely, twisted mind can dream up. All of that and more.
The bone saw is years gone, but sometimes Hannibal’s fingers itch for it. If he could see into Will’s brain it would surely be a thing of beauty. For all he knows that Will’s skull contains ordinary grey matter no different from that of any other man or woman, Hannibal feels certain he would know it on sight. That he would be able to pick it out of a lineup, that it would call to him even in death.
Adam is a surprise. A complication, but not an insurmountable one.
They’ve been so long inside their own world of two, so long without anyone to lay a name to what they are together. Freddie Lounds suggested Hannibal might be jealous. He tries the word on and is unsurprised when it fits him poorly. Hannibal isn’t jealous—it’s too common an emotion to fit anywhere inside this thing he and Will share together. Jealousy is nothing more than an insult.
He wouldn’t dream of keeping Will from this. He worked so long to shape Will into someone who could feel and claim his desires without self-recrimination or apology. It thrills him when Will takes what he wants at Hannibal’s expense.
Their relationship isn’t built on denial but on excess. Desire and fulfillment bought with blood.
At this point I feel like it's probably obvious that I've been posting every day. Not gonna lie, I feel kinda weird about that! I'm not committing to daily updates in an 'I'm definitely promising this will continue' kind of way, but I feel like I should mention that I've at least mentally committed to the idea. In the spirit of Kinktober and daily ficlet challenges, I'll do my best to keep it up because it's fun for me and hopefully for you as well.
This chapter's going up a bit early, but you know what, it's 12:04 a.m. here, which is technically tomorrow, and I know for a fact it's already tomorrow where you guys are. So good morning! Have a little more fic. 💚
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.
* * *
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.
When Adam wakes in the morning, he feels wrung out, coltish and new. He has a few minutes to blink into the stillness of the room, staring up at the morning light on the ceiling, before his alarm goes off. He gropes around on the nightstand for his phone, hits the snooze button and doesn’t even mind when the phone goes clattering to the floor. He nestles back into Nigel’s side.
“Don’t you have to go to work?” He feels the words as much as he hears them, feels them rumbling in Nigel’s chest.
“Not today,” Adam says. “I don’t want to.”
“Fine by me.”
Except now that he’s up, sleep feels far away. He won’t be able to fall asleep again, but he feels languorous and warm, and he doesn’t want to get up. Their bed has become one of his favorite places to be, especially when Nigel is there. He wonders idly what he ever saw in the world outside the fabric of his sheets.
“I can feel you staring, darling.”
“What does it feel like?” Adam asks.
Nigel groans. “Like I’m not going to get anymore sleep.”
* * *
Eventually they get up. It turns out Adam was right about the pitfalls of staying in bed all day, although this is one instance when he’d have happily been wrong. Nigel gets up before him for once. He ruffles Adam’s hair on his way past the bed, and Adam just grumbles and sinks deeper into the covers.
It’s the smell of coffee that finally lures him from the bedroom—coffee, and the fact that the bed gets a lot less interesting without Nigel in it.
He grabs his mug and pours himself a cup. “Do we have to talk about our fight some more? I’ve never had a fight. I don’t know how you’re supposed to do it.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Then let’s just call it settled. Too much talking doesn’t always make things better.”
“Okay,” Adam says. He stares into his coffee. It’s gone tan from the milk, and he can see little iridescent patches of coffee oil floating along the surface. When Nigel joins Adam at the table, he rests his arms against the tabletop and sends little concentric ripples through the liquid.
“I have to tell you something,” Adam says without looking up.
He’s thinking about Freddie’s article, the things she’d said about him. Awful things. True things.
He bites his lip. He doesn’t want to say it because he likes Nigel. He feels better when he’s around, and if he says it, Nigel will leave. He’ll see what Adam really is, and then he won’t think Adam’s worth it. Not anymore.
He doesn’t want to say it, but he’s tired of lying. Everyone lies so much, and he wonders how they all manage it. It’s exhausting.
“It was my fault,” Adam says.
“What was your fault?”
And it’s not fair. It’s not fair that Nigel doesn’t just know, that Adam has to actually say it.
“Everything. All of it. It was all my fault. I went home with them. They were strangers, and they invited me over for dinner, and I went. I took off my clothes and got in their bed.” He grips his coffee cup so tight that his fingers turn as white as the porcelain. “I told him he could tie me up. I let him. I asked him to touch me.”
Nigel blows out a breath. “Okay. Look, I’m not—I’m not good at this, kid. I’m not good at comforting people, at knowing the right thing to say. I’m going to say something stupid that’s going to offend you or hurt your feelings sooner or later, so I’m not promising I’m not going to fuck this up. But that? Everything that happened to you, everything they did? That wasn’t your fucking fault. I don’t need to know exactly what happened know that fucking much.” He rubs his hands over Adam’s knuckles, loosening his death grip on the cup. “Fuck Freddie fucking Lounds and fuck her fucking website. She’s wrong. You didn’t ask for any of that.”
Adam bites his lip harder, so hard he tastes blood. This is harder than he thought. “But I have. I did. I’ve been talking to them on the phone. Will and Hannibal.”
Nigel’s hands tighten over his, squeezing to the point of pain, and Nigel’s never hurt him before but there’s a first time for everything. There’s a terrifying look on his face. “What do you mean?”
“Will called me, and I didn’t hang up. I kept the number. I called it again, and I didn’t tell you about it. I’ve had conversations with the both of them. They gave me advice. Good advice, I think. Advice about us, about how not to feel guilty.” He worries at his bloodied lip. “I think Hannibal wants to be my dad.”
“Fucking hell, Adam.”
Nigel shoves away from the table so hard that the coffee sloshes out of their mugs. The chair legs make an awful noise as they screech across the floor. Nigel punches the wall, and his fist makes a hole that joins the collection of things they’ve broken in the last couple days. Plaster rains to the floor.
Adam just watches him with wide eyes.
“Fuck,” Nigel growls.
“Fuck,” Adam agrees.
The corner of Nigel’s lip twitches upward at the curse, and then he’s laughing. And then Adam is laughing, and nothing is funny, but everything is. There’s a hole in his wall, and his laptop is still in pieces on the floor. The entire world knows he wants to fuck the two murderers who raped him. He laughs until he cries, and they both end up on the floor howling.
They laugh until they’re both hollow again.
Nigel looks at him in the aftershocks. “What the fuck am I gonna do with you, kid? How’d a little angel like you get so twisted?” He asks, but he still pets Adam’s hair. Still looks at Adam like he’s worth something.
“I don’t know,” Adam says.
“Are you going to keep talking to them?”
“Maybe. Probably. I shouldn’t want to, I know that.”
“But you do.”
“Part of me does.”
“I don’t fucking like it,” Nigel says. “I’m not going to pretend that I do. The idea of you talking to those fucks makes my skin crawl. I’m going to fucking kill them if I ever see them, and it’s not going to be pretty.”
“Yeah,” Adam says. “That makes sense.”
They lie on their backs and look up at the ceiling.
“Are you going to leave?”
Nigel snorts. “I would if I had any sense.”
Adam tenses, but Nigel reaches out, groping blindly until he finds Adam’s hand and fits it into his own. His hand is warm and solid, and Adam runs his fingers over Nigel’s knuckles. They’re swollen and hot from where he hit the wall. Adam brings their joined hands up to his mouth on impulse and traces the ridges of Nigel’s knuckles with his tongue, licking the copper tang from the little cuts where the skin is split.
Nigel makes a soft sound that Adam wants to hear again.
“Do you have any sense?” He asks quietly.
“None at all,” Nigel says.
“Yeah. Me neither.”
Adam is irresponsible for the first time in his life. He doesn’t go back to work. Doesn’t even bother picking up the phone.
“Aren’t you going to get that?” Nigel asks the next time it rings.
Nigel shrugs. Eventually Adam just blocks the phone number, and then the apartment is much quieter.
* * *
“Are you going to go back to work?” Nigel asks.
“I don’t think I have a job anymore,” Adam says, only half paying attention as he scrolls through the latest post of Tattlecrime on his phone.
He’s almost certainly been fired by now, but he never actually answered a single phone call, and he hasn’t bothered to check his email, so he doesn’t know for sure. His job at the observatory had meant a lot to him at one point. It was the first thing he’d ever really done for himself on his own. He’d been proud of it, proud of the work he did there, but now he can’t bring himself to care that it’s gone.
Nigel leans over the top of the couch. “You know you don’t have to go back if you don’t want to. To work, I mean. In general.” He rubs a hand over the back of his neck. “I could take care of you.”
Adam looks up. “Nigel, we can’t do that.”
“Technically, we don’t even live together, for one thing.”
“Technically,” Nigel says. “But we could. I could give up my apartment. The lease is about to run up anyway.” He glances at Adam’s screen and doesn’t bother hiding his disgust. “You’ve gotta stop looking at that crap. It’s only going to make you crazy.”
Adam pulls the phone to his chest defensively. “I’d rather know what she’s saying.”
He’s made a habit of reading Tattlecrime ever since the first story about him broke. There have been three more since then. Apparently the ‘murder husbands’ are good business again. Apparently he is too. Most stories have involved heavy speculation about Adam’s involvement with Hannibal and Will. They’re sensationalist, but some of them come uncomfortably close to the truth.
Adam skips back to the thread of their previous conversation without missing a beat. “You can’t take care of me financially because we still don’t know each other that well.”
“What’s there to know? I know you have to eat at 6 p.m. or you get fussy. I know you hate the movies I put on, but you watch them to humor me. I know what you like and what you don’t, and you know basically all there is to know about me, kid. I’m not a complicated man.”
“Nigel.” Adam says. “Everyone is at least a little complicated.”
Nigel looks up at the ceiling as if entreating a higher power for help. “Okay. You remember I told you I got shot, back in Bucharest?”
“Right before you moved to America, yes. You told me you got shot in the shoulder.”
“Yeah.” He rubs a hand over the spot absently. “So the thing is, I got shot on purpose.”
Adam sits bolt upright from where he’d been sprawled over the couch. “What? Why?”
Nigel sighs heavily. “Because Gabi didn’t want me. She didn’t want me. She chose some fucking American she’d known for all of two days over me, her own husband, and she tipped off the cops, and I just didn’t—I couldn’t fucking live with it. I didn’t want to try. I let the cops think I had a gun so they’d finish it for me. So they’d kill me.” He shakes his head. “So there you go, gorgeous. Now you know my worst secret, and I know yours. We know each other, Adam. I’ll take care of you if you let me. Any way you need.”
There’s something hot and tight in Adam’s throat, and he doesn’t think he can talk around it. He nods.
Nigel studies his face for a while longer, and Adam wonders if it looks as stricken as he feels. Then Nigel starts to walk away, and Adam catches him. Throws himself over the back of the couch so he can wrap his arms around Nigel in the biggest, tightest hug he can manage. He kisses his face all over.
“I’m glad you didn’t die,” he whispers.
“Me too, gorgeous,” Nigel says, holding him just as tight in return. “Now I am.”
It’s in moments like these when everything makes sense. When everything stops moving so fast, and it feels like they might be alright.
* * *
Time trickles on. They find new routines together and solidify old ones. They fit themselves into the cracks in each other’s lives. Nigel keeps working, and Adam doesn’t.
It’s fine. It’s nice.
Adam finds himself thinking of a certain number in his phone sometimes—the one he hasn’t called in weeks—but he pushes it out of his mind. This is enough. Nigel is good and kind and good for him, and it’s enough to be content. He doesn’t want to hurt Nigel. He doesn’t want to hurt himself. He stops going to therapy and tries not to think of the rest.
They patch the wall and replace the laptop, and life goes on.
* * *
They still don’t have sex.
Nigel doesn’t push, and Adam doesn’t offer, so they don’t.
Adam thinks about it, though. It’s not that he doesn’t want. He wants, but he’s pretty sure Nigel doesn’t want the same things he does. Not in the same way.
He doesn’t want to hurt Nigel. Maybe next time he’d go out and find someone who wasn’t Freddie, but who was terrible in an entirely different way. Someone pretty, willing, and uncomplicated. Someone who doesn’t come with as many thorns as Adam. It would hurt in a way he doesn’t want to think about, so he doesn’t push. He doesn’t ask for things Nigel can’t give him. He doesn’t want to hurt himself either.
But he has dreams, and he leans into them. Rushing water and grave-cold hands. Desire that feels like a stomachache. He touches himself in the shower where the sound of running water will cover up the slap of skin on skin. He bites into his arm when he comes, but never hard enough to leave a mark. He watches milk-white fluid circle the drain and wonders if he’s trying to hide the evidence.
He thinks they should talk about it, but it’s too hard. Adam doesn’t push, and Nigel doesn’t offer, so they don’t.
* * *
The last Tattlecrime article ever written is posted on a Tuesday, three weeks after the feature on Adam. It only stays up for an hour before the police take it down, and frankly it’s a miracle that it stays up even that long. Its dubious longevity is probably a testament to the macabre interest of Freddie Lounds’ readership more than anything else. It probably took about that long for anyone to bother notifying the authorities.
An hour isn’t much time. If Adam hadn’t made a new habit of religiously checking Tattlecrime, he never would’ve seen it. He wonders later how Will knew. If he knew.
The picture is enormous. It takes over the entire page, commanding attention. It’s hard to tell what he’s looking at, at first, because there’s so much red everywhere, like one of the abstract paintings he’s seen in the MoMa.
There’s a figure centered in the frame. It’s Freddie Lounds—Adam would know that hair anywhere. He’d seen it often enough in his dreams, in those weeks when she’d been stalking him. They probably left the hair alone on purpose because the rest of her doesn’t look very much like Freddie.
She isn’t wearing any of the bright, patterned clothes Adam had come to associate with her during their brief acquaintance. Instead she’s been stripped nude and posed in a chair. She’s sitting at a desk in the middle of what looks like an office. The swiveling chair is pointed away from the computer, facing the camera. Giving a clear view of a chest sliced open and ribs cracked down the middle. Wrists that end in bloody stumps because her hands are missing.
So are her eyes. The wet tracks down her cheeks could almost be tears if they weren’t so red. She looks surprised.
Something is piled on the keyboard behind her, and it takes Adam a few minutes to realize they’re fingers. An entire pile of fingers. He knows enough about Will and Hannibal to know they probably took them off while she was still alive. Some horrible part of him wonders what they used.
He stares at the picture for a long, long time trying to figure out how he feels. He should feel horror, he thinks. He should be upset. He wonders if that will hit him later. Right now, he just feels relieved. Horribly, terribly relieved.
He glances over at Nigel, who’s yelling into the phone on the other side of the room. He should tell Nigel. This is something he’d want to know. They’d agreed no secrets—that had been Nigel’s rule. No secrets and no hitting. They’re good rules.
He should tell Nigel. He will. Just—later. In a minute. He stares at the picture some more. Reaches out to touch.
When he thinks he’s memorized all of it, he keeps scrolling. Tattlecrime’s articles are usually several pages long, but this one isn’t. It’s so short you could almost miss it if you weren’t paying attention. Beneath the picture of Freddie Lounds’ gory death is a single sentence:
I know you aren’t the best at metaphors, so I’ll help you interpret mine: you are mine now; I’ll always protect you.
It isn’t signed. It doesn’t need to be.
When he sleeps that night, he dreams of fingers. An entire pile of them floating down a brightly lit river that sparks and crackles with stars.
Y'all just don't know how much tei has helped me with this fic. From letting me bounce ideas off her to helping me nail down characters' motivations, she is an absolute star. In this case, she actually wrote Will's final Tattlecrime love letter to Adam. It flattened me when I first read it, and I'm so glad she let me use it. ♥
“I’m going to show you something, but please don’t break my wall again,” Adam says when Nigel gets off the phone.
Nigel’s eyebrows shoot up. “Are you going to show me something that’s going to make me want to hit a wall?”
“I think so. But please don’t.”
“I’m not making any promises.”
It isn’t the answer Adam wanted, but he figures it’s the best he’s going to get. He shows Nigel the Tattlecrime website, and Nigel only glances at it for a second before he starts swearing. He’s actually a lot angrier than Adam thought he would be. He yells and curses and looks like pure murder, but to his credit he doesn’t hurt the wall.
“I don’t want you going anywhere without me,” Nigel says when he’s yelled himself out.
“Nigel, that isn’t practical.”
“Not forever. Just for a little while.” He gives up on English and lets off a long string of Romanian. Adam’s been living with him long enough to recognize the words fuck, mother, and dog. He says fuck a lot in every language.
“He hasn’t forgotten about me,” Adam says. He stares at the red-painted screen, transfixed, until Nigel closes it.
“No one is going to do anything to you, gorgeous. No one’s even going to get close enough to try, not while I’m around,” Nigel says, but he doesn’t really understand how Adam meant it.
* * *
He should be unhappy about Freddie Lounds being murdered because killing people is wrong, and most people find images of violence and death disturbing. Most people don’t revisit the picture of a dismembered corpse in their heads, poring over the little details of it like they’re new constellations to learn. Adam knows these things are wrong. Abnormal. Different.
He isn’t unhappy, though. He isn’t exactly glad Freddie is dead, but he’s glad she won’t be able to write about him anymore, and that’s functionally the same thing. She can’t hurt him anymore, and that feels warm. It almost feels safe.
He tries hard not to think of them and family in the same sentence, but it’s like the pink elephant. Like being told not to look. He tries on the feeling of family, and it doesn’t not fit.
“They did that for me.”
“Gorgeous, they did it because they’re crazy.”
He wonders if both can’t be true.
* * *
It isn’t long before Adam calls the number saved in his phone. An automated voice tells him it’s been disconnected. He calls twice more over as many days, always with the same result.
He’s both surprised and strangely disappointed. It does occur to him that he should feel relieved, but he isn’t very good at feeling how he’s supposed to lately.
Nigel sticks by his side like glue for the next week straight. He’s unwilling to leave Adam alone for even a second, and it’s nice. It feels like living in a cocoon, wrapped up in each other where the rest of the world can’t touch them. Of course, eventually it has to end.
“One of us has to work,” Adam says, and Nigel doesn’t like it, but he can’t say that Adam’s wrong.
He’s irritable the entire morning. He snaps at Adam when Adam fusses over him using the wrong coffee cup, painting the morning over in shades of anxiety.
“I’m sorry, darling,” he says right after. “You’re perfect; it’s not you. I just worry.”
“I know,” Adam says. He does know. “’ll be okay. You showed me how to use the gun.”
He did. Nigel had spent a whole afternoon with Adam at a shooting range, showing him how to use a gun without hurting himself. Adam isn’t a great shot, but he’s passable. Even Nigel had agreed when he’d clapped Adam on the shoulder at the end of the day and proclaimed him ‘not a total disaster.’
“Don’t be afraid to use it if you need to,” Nigel says.
He scoops Adam into a lingering kiss at the door that leaves them both panting and a little dazed.
“I’ll be back in time for dinner,” he says.
“Okay.” Then, “I’ll miss you.”
It’s strange being alone for the first time in weeks. The house is quiet without Nigel in it. The shadows make him nervous, and the silence is too loud, like a buzzing in his ears. Adam finds a solution when he fishes around in the hamper for one of Nigel’s dirty shirts. He curls up on the couch with it, holding it to his nose for the familiar smell of cigarettes. He falls asleep like that, still clutching the shirt in one hand.
* * *
He wakes up restless in the early afternoon and decides to take care of the dishes. Lazing around the house has lost most of its appeal in the last couple weeks, and the level of mess in the apartment is starting to creep up to a level that makes him feel itchy and agitated.
Nigel gets back before Adam’s gotten very far in the cleaning process. The sound of the front door opening and closing reaches him when he’s still elbows-deep in suds.
“Did you forget your wallet again?” Adam calls from the kitchen. He’s washing the dishes from breakfast and doesn’t bother to turn around. “You should put it in the same place every night so you don’t forget. It ends up in the hamper when you leave it in your pants pocket, and you don’t always remember to take it out.”
“I didn’t forget my wallet,” says a familiar voice, amused. A familiar voice, but not the right voice.
The plate slips from Adam’s grasp and crashes into the sink. He whips around and flattens himself against the counter without bothering to see if it’s broken or not. For a few hopeful seconds, Adam thinks he might be hallucinating, but the world isn’t that kind.
Hannibal and Will are standing in his kitchen, and he has the most horrific sense of vertigo.
He doesn’t talk so much as squeak.
“This must be quite a shock,” Hannibal says, and his accent is so much thicker than Adam remembered. “You might want to sit down.”
Adam shakes his head, unsure if he’s saying no or if he’s still hoping this is a hallucination. Maybe they’ll disappear if he closes his eyes shut tight and counts to ten.
Just in case it’s not, he gropes around on the counter behind him for something. Anything. Something to defend himself because he doesn’t want and if Will touches him again, he’ll scream. Or die. Or both.
Nigel left him the gun, but the gun is all the way in the living room, which doesn’t help him at all. He shouldn’t have left it in the living room; that was stupid, but he hadn’t actually expected to actually need it. He knew they might come in the same way he knows an earthquake could hit the Californian town where he lives—a possibility and not even a particularly remote one, but one far enough away to seem implausible.
He’d hoped they would come, and for one wild, mad second he figures that makes it his fault.
He deserves this. (Does he? Is that how any of this works?)
He’d dreamed of them, dreamed of them for months, warm fingers and slick voices, but imagining something in the safety of his head is so much different than staring down the reality of it. They’re standing not more than six feet away, so close he can smell them, the rain and ozone and cologne of them. The kitchen feels so, so small with the both of them in it, as if they’ve sucked every bit of light and air from the place with their presence alone.
His hand closes around something in the sink, and it’s the first ray of hope he’s found—unfortunately, what he finds is the blade end of a knife, and it slices into his fingers when he grips it. He drops it back in the sink with a surprised cry.
His hand is bleeding when he pulls it back. He’s dripping blood all over the floor. The pain jolts him back to life, unsticks his feet from the ground and unstops his throat.
“Oh, Adam." Will is grabbing paper towels from the holder on the wall, while Hannibal strides toward him.
“Stay back,” he says, a little bit wild. “Stay away from me.”
He’s surprised when they do. Adam clutches his hand to his chest, ignoring the way it smears blood all over his favorite shirt.
“Do you have a first aid kit?” Hannibal asks.
“Under the bathroom sink,” he says slowly.
Will and Hannibal exchange a look, and Will hands Hannibal the paper towels and leaves the kitchen. The oxygen rushes back into the room in his absence. Adam knows that’s not true—a person can’t actually affect the oxygen content of a room. It’s as constant as gravity, unless something displaces it or the elevation changes significantly—but that’s how it feels all the same.
Once Will’s gone, Adam can breathe again. When he leaves, he must take whatever was left holding up Adam’s spine because his shoulders slump, and he curls in on himself. Curls over his hand or his heart—both in the same place, both in desperate need of protection.
Hannibal takes a few deliberate steps toward him, slow enough that Adam can watch it happening. Slow the way Adam’s dad told him to walk up to the raccoons in Central Park, if you didn’t want them to run.
“Don’t,” Adam says. He shrinks against the cabinet, but there’s nowhere left to go.
Hannibal doesn’t stop this time, not until he’s within touching distance of Adam. He holds out a hand. “May I see it?”
Adam keeps his hand right where it is. “Can I say no?” he asks flatly.
“You could. However, considering the amount of blood you’re losing, I’m concerned that you might need stitches. I’d prefer if you let me look.”
“You were a doctor,” Adam says.
Adam worries his lip. He holds out his hand, slowly.
“Thank you,” Hannibal says. He leads Adam over to the sink and turns the tap on cold. “You don’t need soap to clean fresh cuts. Just hold it under the water for a moment to rinse it clean. It’ll be easier for me to see without all the blood.”
Adam nods. The cut hadn’t hurt until now, but the water stings badly, and he hisses at the feeling.
Once Adam’s hand is rinsed to Hannibal’s satisfaction, he takes it and gently uncurls his fingers so he can assess the damage. Hannibal’s hands are cool and dry, and when Adam looks, he can see the cut that runs across his fingers. He’s managed to slash three of them open, and blood starts to well up again immediately. He swallows hard and looks away.
“Does the sight of blood bother you?” Hannibal asks, sounding curious. “Some people get faint.”
Adam shakes his head. “No,” he says. It comes out too soft to hear, so he tries again. “No, I don’t think it does. Not usually.”
“Good,” Hannibal says. “Blood is nothing to be afraid of. In many cultures, it’s a symbol of vitality and life.” He presses a wad of folded paper towels to the cut on Adam’s hand. “Hold this. Squeeze hard, and keep your hand elevated above your heart. It will stop the bleeding.”
Adam does as he’s told. Hannibal is kind and calm, and his hand hurts. It’s just easier to listen.
That’s the moment Will decides to come back. He sets the first aid kit down on the counter beside Adam, who sucks in a breath and flinches when he comes near. Hannibal flips the first aid kit open and rummages through it. His movements are confident, purposeful. He acts as though he belongs here and not like he’s just forced his way into Adam’s apartment and life.
“Will, would you wait in the living room until we’re done here?” Hannibal asks without looking up. “We won’t be more than a moment.”
Will looks at Adam in a way that makes his stomach flip over. He looks hungry. Possessive.
You’re mine now. The words from Will’s love letter echo in his head.
Adam inches closer to Hannibal, who looks just enough like Nigel that Adam has the illogical, fervent desire to plaster himself to Hannibal’s side and hide in his chest until the danger passes. His heart clenches painfully at the thought of Nigel.
Will shrugs. “Sure.”
“He won’t hurt you, you know,” Hannibal tells him when they’re alone. “Not today. Today is a happy day for him, a day for celebrating.”
“Why?” Adam asks despite himself. As much of him wants to know as doesn’t. Understanding is dangerous. Understanding means admitting there’s a logic to anything they do, an order and a sense to it. He hisses again when Hannibal swipes the cold alcohol swab across his skin.
“Because to his mind, his family is back together again, all under one roof.” Hannibal bandages each finger individually, pressing nonstick gauze to the wound and wrapping it tight with cloth bandages. He’s quick and efficient, and by the time he’s finished, the pain in Adam’s hand has settled into a dull throb. “There. One of those fingers will need stitches, but I don’t have the right supplies here. That will do for now.”
Adam presses his other hand over the bandaged cut, hard, just to feel the sting of it. He expects Hannibal to pull his hand away, to tell him to stop, but he doesn’t. He just watches with that curious bird-of-prey expression.
“Thank you,” Adam says at last, because that’s what you’re supposed to say when someone does something nice for you.
“You’re very welcome. Shall we join Will in the living room now?”
“I don’t want to.”
“I know. But sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do. I’ll be right beside you the whole time.”
It shouldn’t be reassuring, but it is. Just a little.
“I have to?”
* * *
It’s easier to be in the same room as Will Graham when he doesn’t have a choice. It’s easier because Hannibal is there as a buffer between the two of them.
But Adam remains standing when they two of them sit down because it’s not that easy.
He probably couldn’t actually run away—not far or fast enough to keep them from catching him—but the illusion that running might be a possibility helps. He fidgets with his good hand and avoids looking at them as much as possible. He looks at the flaw in the wall instead, the place where the drywall is a different color because he and Nigel had patched it together.
Will follows his gaze and frowns. “How are you doing?” he asks.
“I’m okay,” Adam says. “I mean I’ve been okay, mostly. I’m not okay right now. You’re making me feel nervous, and I wish you weren’t here.” He looks at the coffee table where the gun was resting when he went into the kitchen. It’s not there anymore. “You took Nigel’s gun.”
“You stopped going to therapy,” Will counters.
“I haven’t wanted to leave the house since Freddie wrote about me. I haven’t gone back to work either.”
He doesn’t know why he’s telling them this.
“Hiding from problems rarely makes them go away,” Hannibal says.
“Killing them does,” Will says. “Freddie Lounds isn’t going to be a problem anymore.”
“I know. I saw.”
“Did you like your present?” Will asks, and Adam doesn’t say anything.
He doesn’t know how to answer the question. Yes. No. I wouldn’t have asked for it, but I’m so glad that she’s dead.
Hannibal gets up from the couch, and Adam’s eyes track the movement. He looks so out of place in Adam’s living room. They both do, somehow too refined and too wild all at once, like seeing a lion at the zoo. Adam’s living room looks common in comparison. He likes common. He likes the safety of routine. There’s no safety here, and he feels entirely unmoored.
Hannibal smiles when he sees the telescope set up by the window, and he wanders over to it.
“May I?” He asks before he even sets his hands on it.
Adam nods, and Hannibal bends to look through the viewfinder.
“You won’t be able to see anything now,” Adam says. “You can barely see anything at night, but if you point it above the grocery store, you can see Taurus. On clear nights you can see the Crab Nebula.”
“Fascinating. Have you used it, then? I wondered if you would.”
“A little. For a while I thought Nigel and I could go to the park to look at the stars together, but he refuses to use ‘the fucking telescope my rapists gave me,’ and I can’t carry it alone. So I only use it in the house, and usually only when he’s not home.”
Nigel. His heart hurts.
“Did you give me the telescope to make Nigel and I fight?”
“It was intended as an honest gift,” Hannibal says, “But I admit I was curious what would happen.”
“He left,” Adam says flatly.
“But he came back,” Will says, still eyeing the patched wall. “Did you take my advice?”
Will smiles, and Adam hates it.
“Are you here to hurt me?” Adam asks abruptly. “Hannibal said you aren’t, but I don’t think I believe him.”
“We’re not here to hurt you,” Will says. “I missed you. I wanted to see you.”
The raw honesty of it makes Adam’s gut churn. He thinks of rivers and lakes, stars and beds—things that happened and things he only wished for. The things that happened win out.
“You’re not supposed to miss me.”
“But I do. I have.”
“How long are you going to be here?” Adam asks. He looks at the door, half-hoping it’ll open and half-hoping it won’t. “You should leave before Nigel comes back. He said he’d kill you, and he probably will.”
“You don’t want him to kill us, Adam?” Hannibal asks.
Adam looks at him with wide eyes, feeling as though he’s been caught at something terrible. Everyone is looking at him.
He shakes his head slowly, as if doing it slowly means he is somehow less responsible. Like maybe no one will notice how guilty he is. “I don’t want you here,” he says carefully. “But I don’t want you to die. Can you please just leave?”
“We will,” Will says. “But you’re coming with us.”
Adam’s heart is pounding like a jackrabbit.
“I told you I missed you,” Will says. He favors Adam with a soft smile that makes his heart do complicated things.
Adam shakes his head. “No. I’m not coming with you. You can’t make me.”
“Adam,” Hannibal says. He doesn’t point out that very much isn’t true, even though it is. They can make him. Like last time.
Like last time.
Oh no. Oh no.
The panic swallows him down like a tidal wave. Having a meltdown in front of Will is at the very bottom of the list of things that Adam wants, but no one here cares about what he wants. There’s a high, terrified sound coming from somewhere, and it’s him. It’s coming from him.
He tries to run, but Hannibal catches him easily, wraps him in arms that are sturdy as iron with no give at all. Adam struggles and gasps when he clenches his hand around Hannibal’s forearm, sparking new, bright trails of pain from the cuts there. He kicks and hits Hannibal in the shin, which earns him a soft grunt, but nothing more. Hannibal’s grip doesn’t loosen at all.
“NO,” Adam yells. “No, let me go!”
“Calm down,” Hannibal says, clapping a warm hand over his mouth. “Breathe. You aren’t trapped. Calm down, and I’ll let you go.”
He thinks about biting the hand in front of him, but he’s read about Hannibal. He knows how many people he’s killed, and how easily. A muffled sob escapes his throat because he is trapped, but his body is only a body. It turns out he can’t sustain that level of terror forever, and eventually he runs out of adrenaline. Eventually his breathing falls into sync with the steady, even rise and fall of Hannibal’s chest. He can feel his heartbeat through layers of cloth, rhythmic and slow. He sags a little in Hannibal’s arms, and that’s when Hannibal lets him go, as promised.
Once all the fight’s gone out of him.
He perversely misses the tight grip around him as soon as it’s gone. He looks at Hannibal, who tilts his head in a question, but Adam won’t ask to be held again. He won’t.
He wants to.
Will is staring out his window. It’s started raining while Adam was having a breakdown, and he wonders if Nigel is getting wet. He hopes he isn’t. He hopes he’s staying dry and warm. He tries not to think of Nigel because if he does, he’ll start to cry, and he doesn’t want to cry right now.
He wonders if he’ll be held again if he yells, or if something worse will happen to him this time.
“Sit down,” Hannibal says. “Please.”
He does. It’s just easier, and Hannibal sits beside him. He doesn’t rub at his leg or give any indication at all that it hurts where Adam kicked him.
“You can, of course, choose to stay here,” Hannibal says. He crosses his legs and folds his hands, and Adam wonders how someone can look so comfortable when they’re sitting so straight like that. “But in that case, we’ll be staying with you.”
“You’ll let me stay? Just like that?” Adam asks, and for a second he hopes. His brow furrows. “But Nigel’s coming back.”
Will walks over to where they’re sitting, but he never comes close enough to touch. Adam still shrinks so far back that his leg collides with Hannibal’s, who doesn’t complain, even when Adam remains pressed up against him.
Will speaks for the first time in a long while, “Nigel is good at what he does, Adam. You’ve never seen it, but I think you can tell. He’s brutal. Ruthless. Efficient.” His mouth quirks up. “But we’re better.”
Adam shakes his head.
“What do you think will happen when he comes home and finds us all sitting in the living room like old friends?” Will asks.
“He’ll be angry,” Adam says. “He’ll kill you like he promised.”
“He’ll try. If he’s lucky, he might hurt one of us badly. He might even take one of us with him, but there are two of us, and he doesn’t know we’re here.”
Adam swallows. “And you have me. I’m your hostage.”
Will smiles like he’s proud. “And we have you. It’s your choice: we can stay and wait for Nigel, or we can all leave together now. Nobody has to get hurt, Adam. No one has to die today.”
It sounds so reasonable. He hates it.
“I have to decide?”
“How long do I have?”
“How long is it going to take Nigel to get home?”
“Four hours, then.”
Adam balls his fists up and presses them into his eyes, ignoring the sting of the cuts on his left hand. “Why couldn’t you have just made me come with you?”
Will’s voice sounds closer, but when Adam looks up, he hasn’t moved at all.
“Because it hurts more when you have to do it to yourself.”
Adam looks at Hannibal, but Hannibal only looks at Will.
* * *
They sit in the living room together for what feels like an eternity.
Hannibal asks Adam if he can use the kitchen, and Adam nods, too numb and miserable to care. It’s only when Hannibal disappears, leaving him alone with Will, that Adam realizes he probably should have cared. He feels like a rabbit in a fox den.
“I’m not going to touch you,” Will says. It isn’t reassuring at all, but he stays on the other side of the room. Will looks at their things, his and Nigel’s, running his hands over everything but Adam, and Adam hates that too.
“Why me?” Adam asks. “Why do this to me? You don’t even know me.”
“Why anybody? Love grows over time, but what makes that first spark of interest that drives you to get to know someone better at all? It’s all pretty arbitrary, isn’t it?”
“Protection,” Adam says. “Nigel was kind to me. He protected me. That’s why Nigel.”
“I know you won’t believe me, but I’m glad you had that for the time you did. You’ll have it again.” He huffs a small laugh. “I wish I could touch you, comfort you.”
“Please don’t,” Adam says.
Hannibal returns from the kitchen with two steaming mugs, saving Adam from whatever else Will might have said. He sets them down and makes a second trip into the kitchen for the final mug and a plate of the store-brand oreos Adam keeps in the pantry.
Adam takes a mug at the same time everyone else does. He holds it in his uninjured hand and brings it up to his nose, inhaling the fragrant steam. It’s Nigel’s Irish breakfast tea, hot and bracing. He thinks of tea-tinged kisses and doesn’t cry.
He doesn’t drink the tea.
“It’s not drugged,” Hannibal says once he sets his own cup down. “I find drugging food and drink to be vulgar.”
Will rolls his eyes. “He’s not lying. If he wants to drug you, you’ll know.”
They share a look between them that Adam doesn’t understand.
“Here,” Will says. He takes Adam’s cup, grasping it by the rim so their fingers don’t touch, and slides his own across the table. “You watched me drink it, so you know it’s not poisoned. Have mine.”
Adam eyes the new mug before him. He doesn’t really want to take anything from Will, but it’s his favorite NASA mug, and in the end that’s what makes him decide to wrap his fingers around the handle.
The tea is perfectly steeped, strong and bitter, and Adam gulps it too fast. He embraces the way it stings his throat—the way the pain feels almost soothing. He memorizes the spot where Will put his lips and very carefully does not touch it.
* * *
They make small talk for what remains of the hour, with Hannibal driving the conversation. He asks Adam little questions about his old job, his hobbies, what he’s been reading. He interjects observations and stories of his own. He’s good at conversation, Adam notices. Will stares at Adam, who just tries not to look at him.
And then Adam’s phone rings.
It’s on the coffee table, and Will picks it up. Looks at the screen.
“It’s Nigel,” he says. He holds it out to Adam. “Do you want to get that?”
Adam swallows. “You’re going to let me talk to him?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“Because you’re kidnapping me.”
“It’s not kidnapping if you have a choice,” Will says. “You should get that, if you’re going to. It’s going to go to voicemail.”
Nigel will worry if Adam doesn’t pick up. He’ll worry if he does. Adam wants to pick the option that ends with nobody getting hurt, with no one dying. The one that means he gets to stay here with Nigel, and that Hannibal and Will go back wherever they came from. He doesn’t know if there’s a choice that does that. If there is, he doesn’t know which one it is.
He presses the answer call button.
The sound of Nigel’s voice, warm and deep, curls around him like smoke. He has to muffle a sob with his palm before he can speak.
He hears Nigel’s voice sharpen. He can picture the accompanying look on his face, fierce and concentrated. “What’s wrong, Adam? Is everything okay?”
Help me, he wants to say. Help me, save me. And then Nigel will hurry home, and they’ll kill him.
“I got scared,” Adam says instead. “I miss you.”
There’s an indrawn breath, and he imagines Nigel sucking on a cigarette, imagines the ridges of his knuckles as they hold the filter steady. He holds onto it for dear life.
An exhale. “Miss you too, baby. I’ll be home soon. Just go lie under your weighted blanket and watch something nice until I get back, okay? Can you do that for me? I think you still have an episode of The Sky at Night downloaded.”
“We were waiting to watch that one together.”
“You gonna mind watching it again with me?”
“No,” Adam says, and the teasing makes him smile just a little. “Of course I don’t mind.”
“That’s what I thought. Now go get cozy, and I’ll be back before you know it.”
“Okay,” Adam lies. “I will.” He clutches the phone to his ear, wishing he could live in this moment, that he could memorize it. That he could carry Nigel’s voice with him everywhere he goes from now on. “Nigel?”
“I love you. I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize, baby.” Another pause, another draw on the cigarette. “I love you too.”
Adam manages to hang up the phone before he falls apart again.
* * *
There’s a suitcase Adam’s never seen before pushed against the wall near the front door. He didn’t notice it before, but he does now that Hannibal deposits it in front of him.
“Take anything that’ll fit in here, anything you’d be sorry to leave behind,” he says. “Don’t worry about necessities; we’ll provide for you. Prioritize comfort.”
Adam clutches the suitcase to his chest, riding the edge of hyperventilation. He doesn’t know where to begin.
“Am I ever coming back here?”
“Probably not,” Hannibal says.
Adam thinks that’s meant to be a kind tone of voice, but it’s utterly devastating.
He walks around the house listlessly, looking at everything he owns. He’s never felt a particular attachment to his belongings, but now, looking at everything and knowing he might never stand here again, even the smallest, most mundane object takes on a heavy significance.
I’ll miss that spoon so much, he thinks. I’ll miss the scratch in the floor and the patch on the wall.
He doesn’t know how he’s supposed to choose.
He fingers the shirt sitting on the couch. It’s rumpled and smells less like Nigel now that it’s been sat on. He holds it anyway. Like a talisman, like a lifeline. In the end he takes his mug, newly washed and dried. He takes his noise-canceling headphones, the book Beth had given him when he moved to California. Illogically, he also takes the spoon.
“Can I have my phone?” he asks Hannibal, who shakes his head.
“It’s traceable. We’ll get you a new phone once we get home.”
Home. There’s a word that hurts.
He flips open his notebook and copies Nigel’s phone number down painstakingly, making sure every number is big and clear. He checks it five times before he’s satisfied that he got it right. He’s suddenly terrified the numbers will somehow change, that Nigel will be out there somewhere in the world, but he won’t know how to get in touch with him.
He turns to the page where Will’s number is written and crosses it out with big, bold lines. He scribbles over it until there’s nothing but a black stain. It’s a pointless gesture; it solves nothing, but it gives him a certain bleak satisfaction.
By the time he’s done, the suitcase that isn’t his is filled with the odds and ends of his life. He looks at the shirt still in his hand, russet-colored and wrinkled, and carefully tucks it alongside his mug. Nigel will forgive him for taking it, he thinks. He knows Nigel will have bigger things to worry about, but it’s easier to just think about the shirt. To think about Nigel walking around the house looking for it, swearing and cursing the way that makes Adam laugh. When he remembers it’s gone, he’ll think of Adam—and that’s almost like pain, and it’s almost like comfort.
He’s zipping up the suitcase when Hannibal catches his attention.
“Here,” he says. He’s holding something out, and Adam takes it in numb fingers.
“That’s not mine,” Adam says. “That’s Nigel’s gym shirt.”
“He’d want you to have it, I’m sure.”
Adam yanks it to his chest like someone might snatch it away. He can’t help crushing the fabric in his hand to his nose, chasing the familiar scent, but Hannibal doesn’t seem to mind. At least he doesn’t say anything about it. He stands off to the side and lets Adam have a moment.
“Am I going to see Nigel again?” Adam asks, and he hates how small and scared he sounds.
“Do you see him when you close your eyes?” Hannibal asks.
“No. When I close my eyes I only see Will. I see darkness and a sky without stars. There’s a river that’s always cold, and your voice follows me everywhere.”
Hannibal holds out a hand and helps Adam to his feet. “You’re more like Will than you know.”
“He’ll miss me,” Adam says, clenching his fists and ignoring the sting. “He’ll miss me, and he’ll blame himself. He promised he would keep me safe, and he’ll think he did it wrong. I’m worried about what he’ll do. I’m worried he’ll be in pain. What if he gets hurt? What if he hurts someone else? What if the power goes out, and he has a nightmare, and I’m not there to wake him up?”
“Pain is the price of living. Nigel knows that. He has survived admirably well for a very long time without you, Adam. It’s best to assume that a man like Nigel will be fine.”
“Were you fine?” Adam asks. “When they put you in jail, when they took you away from Will—you were in a psychiatric facility in Baltimore for three years; I read about it in the papers. Was that fine?”
Hannibal sets a hand on Adam’s shoulder. “I went to jail for Will, and you’ll do the same for Nigel. We do terrible things for the ones that we love.”
* * *
Adam doesn’t ask if he’s allowed to leave a note. He just tears the cover page out of the nearest book and starts writing. It starts Nigel, before he doesn’t know what else to say. There’s too much. Too many things to say, and he doesn’t know how to say them. He needs the rest of their lives to tell Nigel all the things he needs him to know.
In the end he settles for I love you. I’m sorry. Please don’t get hurt because I want to see you again. Promise you won’t think it was your fault.
He adds, I’m sorry for taking your clothes. He signs his name and leaves it on the table, where Hannibal and Will look at it but don’t touch it.
Neither of them ask if he’s ready to go. He’s glad they don’t, because he doesn’t know what he could have said. He takes one last look around the apartment and turns out the light.
HI, I know I've been beating your hearts up on a regular basis so here is an enormous hug. I LOVE YOU, YOU ARE ALL WONDERFUL, THANK YOU FOR COMING ON THIS BONKERS ROAD TRIP WITH ME. Your comments are the actual best.
Y'know how I said we were gonna go dark places? We're gonna go dark places, but I promise it's going to be okay. If you need more hugs or to just scream for a while, you know where to find me on Twitter. Seriously, I love you so much.
Hannibal sits between Will and Adam for the duration of their flight. Adam is given the window seat and isn’t completely oblivious to the reasoning behind it. It would be much harder for him to run, to signal anybody or to do anything seated like this, even if he wanted to. He mostly doesn’t want to.
Will had spoken to him in hushed tones before they got into the car.
“Look, I know you probably want to run or call for help, but your boyfriend is wanted in several European countries, and I’m sure the LAPD would be extremely interested in his current line of work. It’ll be better for everyone if you don’t try to get law enforcement involved. You won’t like what happens if they do.” He makes a face and turns to Hannibal. “I don’t like threatening him. It feels so… inelegant.”
“Peace, mylimasis. This was your design, remember?”
“Your design,” Will says.
“A necessary evil for your greater good. We’re almost done now, darling. We’re almost home.”
Adam catches most of the words Hannibal murmurs into Will’s ear, but not all of them. Will turns away, face shuttered, and Hannibal rubs slow circles into his back while Adam stands awkwardly beside the car. It all makes Adam very uncomfortable, like he’s witnessing something he isn’t supposed to see, but he takes their meaning and doesn’t try to call for help, not at the car rental place or the airport, not even on the plane.
So instead Adam fidgets in his seat and is rude to the flight attendants. He’s difficult when someone tries to hand him a little bag of pretzels. He’s tapping an anxious beat into the thigh of his jeans and jumps out of his skin when the speakers ping for the fasten seatbelt sign.
A flight attendant wearing too much sticky-sweet perfume appears at the end of the aisle. “Are you okay, sugar?” she asks in a Southern drawl.
“He’s fine,” Hannibal cuts in smoothly, and it’s honestly a relief not to have to speak for himself. “Our son is just a nervous flier. Could we trouble you for a ginger ale to settle his stomach?”
“Of course,” she coos. “Poor dear. My youngest gets airsick too. I’ll bring a straw. Sipping the bubbles slowly always helps.”
Hannibal rests a casual hand on his thigh, and Adam presses into it. He barely notices when a can of soda and a cup of ice materialize in front of him, too busy trying to untangle the complicated knot of our son.
* * *
He’s tired and cranky by the time their plane lands, emotionally wrung out and overstimulated. He’s bad-tempered and short with everyone and doesn’t actually notice the way Will positions himself between Adam and the worst of the crowd.
It’s all so loud. It’s all so noisy. The din of hundred voices digs at his skull like a vice. The pressure builds behind his eyes until he thinks he might actually lose his mind. The humid air feels entirely too thick, and he’s gasping for breath before he knows it.
There’s a voice in his ear, a firm grip on his arm. “Adam, come. Let’s go wait in the car.”
He nods, totally numb. It’s all evenly terrible. They can kill him here as easily as in the car. At least a car sounds quiet.
The walk to the parking lot is a blur. Adam can’t tell if it’s better or worse that most of the people around him are speaking a language he doesn’t understand. It removes some of the burden, at least. Removes some of the impulse to absorb, to understand. It also highlights how foreign this place is, how far removed from his life. He looks at the arcs of skylights overhead, now blackened by night, the cold industrial chrome and carousels of luggage.
It still feels like relief when the car door closes behind him. He sits in the backseat, and Hannibal gets behind the wheel. He starts the car, and the engine purrs to life. The new car smell intensifies as the cabin fills with blessedly cool air. It’s soothing against his fevered skin.
“I feel like I’m dreaming,” Adam says, pressing his forehead to the smooth glass of the window. He thinks of opening the door, thinks of running. Thinks of Nigel being arrested and doesn’t do either. “Like this is a nightmare, and I’m going to wake up.”
“Derealization isn’t an uncommon response when the mind is faced with upsetting events. There are swaths of my own childhood that seem strange to me. It will get easier, Adam.” Hannibal twists in his seat to speak to Adam face-to-face.
“What happens now?” he asks, baleful and bleary-eyed.
“Now we go home,” Hannibal says. “You take a bath to get the grit and grime of travel off you, and I’ll make us a light dinner. Then I imagine we’ll all want to rest. It’s been a long day for everyone.”
Adam hits his fists against the leather seats, and Hannibal’s face doesn’t change. It doesn’t so much as flicker.
“I don’t understand what you want from me. Is this about sex? Is he going to rape me again? Are you?” He tries to ignore the jolt in his gut, the sickness mixed with desire that rears its head when he speaks the word aloud. He tries to ignore the darkest, twisted part of him that wants exactly that.
“Does it feel better to have your fears out in the open?” Hannibal asks.
“Not unless someone gives me an answer,” Adam says. “You just ask me more questions. You do it all the time. Talking about what I’m scared of just makes me feel more afraid.”
He looks out the window, watches a man and a woman get in a car across the parking structure. They look as tired as he feels. He wonders if they’re happy.
Hannibal tilts his head. “Is there an answer you would believe?”
“Then the outcome is the same, isn’t it? Whether I answer or not.”
“Those were both questions,” Adam says. He grits his teeth and very intentionally does not scream.
* * *
They’re in the car for a long time. There are street lights and traffic signals close to the airport, but within a few miles, the terrain melts into narrow one-lane roads illuminated by nothing but headlights.
“The airport in San Jose is closer, but it’s more heavily monitored,” Hannibal explains, although Adam didn’t ask. “The drive is very beautiful during the day. It’s a shame it’s too dark to see anything outside.”
Adam doesn’t think he’d have enjoyed it either way. He’s having a hard time caring where they are or what happens to him now. He’s gathered that they’re in Costa Rica, but only because it was impossible to miss the signs at the airport. It isn’t up to him, so it doesn’t seem worth knowing.
He doesn’t remember falling asleep, but he jolts awake suddenly when the car stops. His heart’s pounding, and for a few blissful seconds he thinks he might have dreamed the whole thing. Awareness filters back to him in pieces. Hannibal and Will are sitting in the front seats, talking to each other in hushed tones as if they don’t want to wake him. The clock on the dashboard says it’s just after one in the morning.
They get out of the car, and Adam unfastens his seatbelt in a hurry, suddenly fearing getting left behind. There are no street lights here either, no neighboring houses or convenience stories. Nothing but pitch dark. Insects whistle from the bushes, and in the distance something howls.
“Watch your step,” Hannibal says as he hands Adam his suitcase. “Parts of the path are uneven.”
There’s a two-story house that stretches up against the sky. Hannibal and Will walk up to it together, not checking behind to make sure Adam is following. He figures there’s nowhere to run. He figures they could still turn Nigel in.
They’re walking close together, laughing and talking about something Adam can’t follow—continuing a conversation they had started while he was sleeping, probably. Will is still shaking his head and chuckling when he stops at the door, as Hannibal pulls keys from his pocket and sorts through them to find the right one. It’s so strangely normal, and Adam stands at a distance watching them. He feels strangely left out, on the outside looking in.
Hannibal stands aside to let Will in, and he smiles at him in a way that lights up his whole face. He turns to Adam before that brightness has the chance to fully fade.
“Coming in?” he asks.
Adam nods and hefts his suitcase over the step in the threshold.
Where else would I go?
* * *
Nothing happens to Adam except exactly what Hannibal said.
Will disappears somewhere as soon as they get into the house, and Hannibal shows Adam to his room upstairs at the end of a hallway. There are large windows that let a cool breeze in, a bed, a bookshelf, a desk, and a chair. The air smells like the ocean here. The walls are cheery and white, and all the furniture is made from a beautiful, deep wood that matches the floor, all of it polished to a high shine. Midnight blue linens cover the bed, and there’s an enormous stack of fluffy white pillows at the head of it.
It’s lovely, and it makes him feel so lonely that it hurts like a physical pain.
Hannibal shows Adam to the bathroom across the hall from the bedroom. It’s stocked with every kind of toiletry he could conceivably need, and there are plush towels the exact same shade as his bedspread hung over towel racks.
Hannibal leaves him to it, promising to give him a tour of the house later. “Tomorrow,” he says. “I think we could all use a good night’s sleep first.”
“I don’t want a tour,” Adam says, but it doesn’t seem to actually matter.
He finds clothes in the dresser in his room, all of it his size, in the kinds of fabrics that don’t irritate his skin. He desperately wants a shower, but he doesn’t think he can bear it. He feels uncomfortable in his clothes, tired and sweaty, but they’re his clothes. They’re the last clothes Nigel saw him wearing.
He thinks of Nigel, who has certainly realized he’s missing by now, and he turns on the shower so no one can hear him cry.
He stays there until the room grows thick with steam, until he feels dizzy from the heat. He waits until he can breathe without sobbing. He’s damp by the time he emerges, with condensation clinging to his clothes and hair.
When he goes back downstairs to find everyone else, he’s wearing the same clothes, and he probably smells like an airplane. His face is blotchy and red, and his eyes are swollen, but no one says a word about it. Hannibal and Will eat some kind of cheese and bread with wine. There’s Amy’s mac and cheese for Adam, which he doesn’t touch.
Will keeps looking at him like he’s concerned, and Adam pretends not to notice.
* * *
If there’s a silver lining in any of this, it’s that Adam is dead on his feet by the time he climbs the stairs to his room. Although he hadn’t done much more than sit all day, he’s more tired than he’s ever been in his life, and that means he’ll be able to sleep. He’s looking forward to being unconscious and unaware for a few blessed hours. Maybe if he’s lucky, he’ll go to bed and sleep forever and wake up when all of this is over.
He’s horrified when he can’t sleep at all.
As soon as his head hits the pillow, he’s wide awake. The pillows are too soft; the mattress is too firm. The clean linens drag across his body in a way that makes his skin crawl. Everything smells wrong—it’s the wrong kind of laundry detergent, and everything’s absolutely covered in it. He thinks of Nigel’s shirts tucked into his suitcase with a pang of longing and refuses to touch them. If he brings them into bed with him, they’ll smell like the awful laundry detergent too.
It’s too quiet and too dark. He’s never realized before now that cities never really get dark, not like this. Insects chirp outside his window, but he’s missing the dull roar of midnight traffic.
Worst of all, his bed is too empty. He hasn’t slept alone in months, and it feels wrong to be able to sprawl his limbs out without hitting solid flesh, to turn without Nigel grumbling at him to settle down—without Nigel there to call him kid and pin him beneath a heavy arm.
So he tosses and turns, and there’s no one there to tell him to stop. He gets more frustrated by the minute, tangling himself up in the awful sheets, fighting with them until he finally kicks them to the ground. He’s crying again before he knows it.
He’s tired and lonely and scared, and none of it is fair.
It’s okay, he reasons. It’s okay to cry just this once because everyone is asleep. He’ll be brave tomorrow. In the morning. He can be scared until then.
Of course that’s the moment his bedroom door swings open, when Will is standing at the threshold looking bleary and half-asleep, curls sticking up every which way. He’s silhouetted by a light that hurts Adam’s eyes and makes him squint.
Adam sits up in bed and thinks finally. If he’s doomed, he’d rather be doomed all at once. He never had to know it before, but waiting is worse. Not knowing is worse.
“Can’t sleep?” Will asks, voice sleep-roughened and kind.
It takes Adam a few seconds to parse the words. To make sense of the fact that Will isn’t attacking him. To grapple with the reality that he still might.
“No,” Adam says at last because he’s tired. He’s tired, and he’s stuck here so he might as well complain about it. “Everything is wrong here. It smells wrong. It feels wrong. I can’t sleep without Nigel.”
Will sighs. He scratches at the back of his head.
“Do you want to come sleep with us? Just to sleep,” he adds, when he catches sight of the look on Adam’s face, illuminated by the sliver of light. “You can sleep next to Hannibal, and I’ll stay on the other side. You won’t even know I’m there, I promise.”
Adam nods mutely.
Will blows out a breath. “Come on,” he says.
Adam gets out of the bed he’s decided he hates and follows Will down the unfamiliar hallway, feeling entirely disoriented by the shadows in the dark. He doesn’t think about what he’s doing—that can wait until the morning too.
Their bedroom is warm, filled with the same ocean air as Adam’s. Hannibal is sleeping, but he murmurs something at Will’s touch.
“Move over,” Will says, and Hannibal grumbles but rolls over.
Adam can’t tell if he even wakes up, which is suddenly strange. Someone like Hannibal should sleep with one eye open, but he just seems sleepy and normal. Quiet and harmless, like Nigel when he sleeps.
Adam hesitates at the edge of the bed, fidgeting with the hem of his shirt.
“It’s alright,” Will says as he gets in the far side of the bed. He curls himself around Hannibal, who leans into his touch. “Don’t think about it. Just go to sleep.”
Adam glances back at the door, at the long, dark hallway that leads to an empty bed filled with slippery, cold sheets. The air here is filled with the sound of deep, even breathing, comforting and familiar.
He pulls back the covers and slides into bed. He doesn’t think he’ll sleep at all, but the radiant warmth beside him is soothing, and he falls asleep like that, a lamb bedding down with wolves.
Adam wakes and doesn’t even have the luxury of forgetting what he did last night; he remembers with perfect clarity and dreads opening his eyes. He doesn’t know what he’ll do when he sees the inevitable: Hannibal lying next to him smelling like sleep and cotton sheets—or worse, just Will, staring at him with clear blue eyes.
But closing his eyes doesn’t mean they won’t be able to hurt him. It just means he won’t see it coming, so he counts to three and blinks them open.
There’s no one beside him. The bed is smooth and empty, and sunlight filters in through sheer curtains.
He sits up and takes a good look around, now that he can see by the light of day. It doesn’t look anything like a monster’s lair. There’s a pair of reading glasses and a book sitting beside a lamp on one of the nightstands. The nightstand nearest him holds a leatherbound book and a set of pencils. There’s a scalpel there, gleaming dully in the light, and Adam tries not to think about how close it was all night. There’s a pump bottle of hand lotion and a tube of clear, viscous liquid he looks away from quickly.
There are shoes tucked under the bed and a light jacket thrown over a chair in the corner.
It’s all so ordinary. It’s all so foreign.
He’s hard beneath his boxers, and it’s mortifying. He refuses to do anything about it, so he waits. He can see the ocean out the window. He has a sudden, vivid mental image of Will finding him here, hard and aching—of Will slipping his hand beneath Adam’s boxers and using the lube sitting on the nightstand. He bites back a gasp with a pang of guilt. He clenches his hand hard around the cut in his hand until the nauseous pain of it kills the arousal in its tracks.
He makes it down the hall without seeing anyone, although he knows they’re there. He can smell something cooking downstairs and hear faint voices drifting up from the kitchen.
He badly needs a shower. He’s starting to be able to smell himself, and he feels awful, sticky and gross, so he gives in. He strips and gets into the shower, but not before triple-checking the lock on the door.
They broke into his house; he has no doubt they could break into the pop lock on the door, but the little bit of metal between them makes Adam feel just a little safer. The shower itself makes him feel better too, and by the time he’s dressed in new clothes—clothes that smell wrong but fit right, clothes that don’t irritate his skin—he feels just a little less miserable.
He considers staying in his room all day. (He hates thinking of it as his room and resolves not to do it again.) He wonders if they would make him come out eventually, but in the end, his stomach makes up his mind for him. It growls loudly as soon as he tosses his dirty clothes into a hamper he finds in the closet. He’s desperately hungry and can’t remember the last time he’s eaten. Breakfast yesterday, he thinks. Bran flakes with Nigel.
He unzips his suitcase and draws Nigel’s gym shirt out. He sits on the floor and holds it to his nose, just inhaling the scent of the fabric for several long minutes. He feels tears pricking the corners of his eyes, but he refuses to let them fall. That was his bargain with himself last night. He can be as miserable as he wants when it’s late and there’s no one to see, but it’s morning now, and it’s suddenly important to him that he doesn’t cry. As if this is something he can win—that he can master himself, if nothing else.
His stomach rumbles again, and he tucks the t-shirt carefully back into the suitcase, struck by the desire to ration the scent. It’s illogical, he knows. That isn’t how it works. The scent will dissipate over time through contact with the air, regardless of how often he sticks his nose in it. But irrational is what he has, so he holds onto it—another small victory over nothing at all.
* * *
The smell of food gets stronger as he walks downstairs, and it makes his stomach growl. The scent of rich coffee and frying meat fills the air, and Adam finds Will and Hannibal in the kitchen.
“Good morning, Adam,” Hannibal says from the stove.
“Morning,” Will says around a bite of meat.
“Hi,” Adam says. “Can I have some coffee?” His stomach grumbles again.
“Certainly. Sit,” Hannibal says, gesturing at the tiled island in the middle of the kitchen.
Adam takes the seat furthest away from Will. He notices dogs for the first time, three of them, their nails clicking on the tile floor as they sit and wag behind Hannibal, clearly hoping he drops something. Hannibal brings him a cup of coffee, and Adam takes it in his bad hand, wincing before he remembers and switches to the other hand.
“I want to see to that after breakfast,” Hannibal says. “I still think one of those fingers needs stitches. Do you eat pancakes?”
“I—yes. I like pancakes.” He wonders if he can say no to the stitches. “You have dogs?”
“That’s Hurry, Mia, and Garmr,” Will says, pointing to each dog in turn. They cock their heads at the sound of their names. “Hannibal named Garmr.”
“It’s a perfectly respectable name,” Hannibal says as he slides a plate in front of Adam. “The blood-stained guardian of Hel’s gate. It seemed an auspicious name for a dog of yours.”
“Oh, he’s my dog now.”
“Only when he chews my Italian leather shoes,” Hannibal says mildly. He takes his own seat and turns his attention back to Adam. “Buttermilk pancakes and dry cured ham. I have fresh blackberry jam, if you like.”
“I don’t like blackberries.”
“’No thank you’ is better,” Hannibal says evenly.
“Okay,” Adam says. “No thank you.” He reaches across the counter for the syrup, which Will slides his way. He smothers his pancakes with it before cutting into them and taking a bite. They’re fluffy and sweet, and he licks the syrup off his fork. “These are really good,” he says. “Thanks,” and Hannibal smiles.
Now that Hannibal is no longer cooking, the dogs come to nose around at Adam’s legs, begging for food from the table. He pulls away from their inquisitive noses, trying to move his feet out of reach.
“They’re friendly,” Will says. “Just push them away if they’re bothering you. They know better. Don’t you, guys?” That last bit is addressed to the dogs, who actually seem to understand that they’re being scolded.
Will makes a shushing sound at them, and they move away, although they still sit at a distance, watching and licking their chops. All except the white one that stays right by Adam’s feet.
“Mia, hey. Don’t bother Adam.” Will starts out of his seat to grab her.
“That’s okay,” Adam says quickly. “I don’t mind.”
“Suit yourself,” Will says, sitting back down.
Adam gives Mia a tentative pet with one of his feet. He sinks his toes into the plush carpet of her fur and smiles when she licks him in return.
He cleans his plate but doesn’t touch the meat.
* * *
Hannibal does see to his cuts after breakfast, as promised. Adam stands in the kitchen awkwardly, unsure what to do with himself as Hannibal loads the dishwasher and wipes down the counters. Will has disappeared somewhere again.
“Do you want me to help?” Adam asks.
Hannibal shakes his head. “Not today. Your hand is still hurting you, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Adam says.
“Take a seat and relax, and I’ll be with you in a moment.”
“I don’t think I can relax,” Adam says, but he sits down anyway. The dogs have gone somewhere too, and the house is quiet again. He didn’t notice it last night, but he can hear the gentle sound of the waves rushing in the distance.
“Is Will avoiding me?” Adam asks once Hannibal sits down beside him after laying a much more extensive first aid kit out on the table before them.
“What makes you say that?” Hannibal asks, unwrapping the gauze around Adam’s hand. The wound has started to scab over, and even the nonstick pads pull a little when Hannibal removes them. “Not infected,” he says. “That’s good.”
He gets up to wash his hands and prepares a syringe of something, drawing a clear liquid through a hypodermic needle.
“Lidocaine,” he says at Adam’s alarmed expression. “Just a local anesthetic. I didn’t think you’d want to do it without?” A pause for Adam to disagree, if he’s going to. He doesn’t. “Sometimes Will prefers it that way.”
There’s a hesitation that could be nothing more than concentration as Hannibal swipes Adam’s skin with a cotton swab.
“Will is complex,” Hannibal says as he injects Lidocaine around the deepest cut on Adam’s middle finger. He feels a slight pinch and then a tingling numbness. “He resents me for a great many things, most of them deserved. It’s not easy for him to accept gentle care. He often prefers pain.”
“I can understand that,” Adam says. “I mean I don’t want getting stitches to hurt, but… sometimes it’s easier when things do. Other things. Worse things.”
Hannibal studies him until Adam turns away, reading whatever it is other people see when they look at faces.
“We’ll let that sit for a moment,” Hannibal says, and they do.
When he does the stitches, a small neat row of them with black thread, it doesn’t hurt at all. There’s just a curious tugging sensation as Hannibal pulls a curved needle through his skin with forceps.
“You’re very good at that,” Adam says.
Hannibal hums. “I was an ER trauma surgeon. I was more often treating fevers and placing the viscera back into people who had been damaged in auto accidents, but I stitched up my fair share of wounds. The muscle memory never really fades.”
“Because you spend more time cutting bodies up than putting them back together these days,” Adam says.
Hannibal looks at him evenly. “Yes, that’s right.”
“It’s hard to imagine you doing those things,” Adam says, thinking out loud as Hannibal cuts the thread. He re-bandages and rewraps Adam’s fingers one by one. “I’ve read all about you, but you’ve been nice to me.”
“You shouldn’t harbor any delusions about me,” Hannibal says. “It will make nothing easier. I am exactly what you’ve read about, Adam.”
“But I like you anyway.” Adam frowns. “Isn’t that wrong?”
“I don’t subscribe to traditional notions of right and wrong. There is beauty, and there is ugliness.”
It isn’t actually better when Hannibal does answer his questions. Not when the answers still don’t make sense.
“What if you can’t tell them apart?” Adam asks.
Hannibal smiles. “Then I think you’re beginning to understand.”
* * *
Adam doesn’t see Will until the early afternoon. After breakfast, Hannibal disappears into his study, saying he has work to catch up on. Adam wonders what kind of work he does but doesn’t ask. No one seems worried that he’s going to run away. He opens the front door and understands why, once he’s standing outside with no idea where he is. He closes the door and goes back inside.
It turns out you can still be bored, alongside being afraid. Bodies aren’t meant to sustain extended bouts of terror, and now that he’s alone, he’s just restless in an unfamiliar place. He pokes through the house, half certain someone is going to see him and do something terrible in retribution. He thinks of Nigel’s phone number upstairs in his suitcase and looks for a phone but isn’t surprised when he doesn’t find one.
There’s a television in the living room, and he flicks through the channels restlessly, utterly bored with each one. The couch is made of leather, squeaky and uncomfortable under his legs. He wonders if they’d give him a computer if he asked.
By the time Will comes back with the dogs, it’s almost a relief. He’s happy to see anyone again, possibly up to and including Will, and he’d liked Mia this morning.
Maybe if Adam was better at reading people, he’d have realized something was wrong sooner. At first he thinks Will is on the phone. He’s talking quick and hushed to someone who isn’t Adam.
“It won’t happen again. No, I told you it won’t. It won’t. I won’t let it.” The dogs pace anxiously at his heels, licking their lips and casting around the room. “I didn’t forget about you, sweetheart. He wouldn’t let you visit. He took you away from me because that’s what he does. That’s what he always does.”
Adam gets up to leave. He doesn’t really want to be alone in the same room as Will, and it’s rude to eavesdrop on other people’s phone calls. Will looks at him like he’s seeing him for the first time, eyes drawn by the movement.
“Adam,” Will says, and he sounds different. “Adam, I won’t let anything happen to you. You know that, don’t you?” He glares at the space next to him. “She doesn’t believe me. She says—I know what happened last time!” Will yells, raising his voice and making Adam flinch. “Tell her, Adam. Please tell her.”
Adam backs away, tripping over the couch. “There’s no one there.”
“No,” Will says. “No, not you too. Everyone’s always lying to me. He poisons me, you know. He does it all the time, and he’ll poison you too. He’s not even sorry.” He breaks off into a high-pitched giggle that curdles Adam’s blood and tilts his head at an odd angle. “Or did I already poison you?” He gets close to Adam—too close. “Will you love me if I say I’m sorry?”
“I don’t know,” Adam says, backing away. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Something is wrong with you. Just—don’t hurt me.”
“I would never,” he says. “I would never hurt you. She thinks I can’t keep you safe, but she’s wrong.” Will reaches up to lay his hand along Adam’s throat, and Adam gasps at the contact. Will rubs his thumb along the side of Adam’s neck, along the pulse hammering there, and Adam is too scared to scream. Too scared to move. “I would never let him do it to you, never. I’ll keep you safe. I’ll cut out his eyes first so he can’t even look at you.”
Will presses harder, curling his fingers around Adam’s throat and cutting off his breath.
“I’ll keep all your blood inside, and no one will ever hurt you. We’ll hide together like a family. You’ll be my darling boy, and no one will take you away from me.”
Adam shoves Will away and turns to run, and Will is on him in an instant. He’s tackled to the floor, and there’s a jolt of pain in his shoulder when it hits the ground.
“Stop!” Adam yells. “Get off me. Get away from me.”
“Shut up!” Will yells, eyes fixed on something above Adam’s head. He’s pinning Adam to the floor, and he can’t move. He tries to struggle his way free, but Will is stronger. “You’re all so loud.” He looks down at Adam with wide eyes. “They’re all so loud. Can’t you hear them? Can’t you see?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Let me go. Let me go, you’re hurting me.”
Hannibal’s voice comes from the door, clear and sharp, and Adam’s never been so relieved in his life.
“Help,” he gasps. “Hannibal, help me.”
“Will, get off him.”
“No,” Will growls, digging his fingers into Adam’s shoulders in a way that makes him whimper. “You can’t have this one. He’s mine, Hannibal. I found him; he’s mine. You can’t kill him.”
Adam tenses below him.
“No one is getting killed, mylimasis.” Hannibal holds out a hand to Will. “You’re hurting him, can’t you see? Look at his face, darling. Look how frightened he is. You’re scaring him.”
“I’ll protect him,” Will insists, tightening his grip. “He’ll learn to love me. I learned, didn’t I?” He looks up at Hannibal, confused. “I love you, don’t I? Why won’t you let me keep them? Why did you take Abigail away again?”
“My heart, I’ll let you have anything you want, but not at the price of your life. Come away from there now. Let’s go to bed.”
Adam holds his breath, watching it all play out, afraid to move in case Will notices him again.
“I’m not tired. I don’t want to,” Will says, flexing his fingers deeper into Adam’s arms, peering down at him with a gaze that’s too wide, too keen. “I want to say here with Adam.” He rocks his hips down into Adam’s, who doesn’t have time to bite back a startled groan at the sudden friction. “See, Adam wants me to stay. Don’t you?” he asks, stroking his thumb under the hollow of Adam’s eye.
He’s too afraid to shake his head no.
“Will,” Hannibal says. “Darling, please.”
Hannibal seems to appear behind Will without moving at all. Adam didn’t even hear him coming. He hauls Will up off Adam with hands tucked under his armpits, and Will twists like a viper. He takes a swing at Hannibal that doesn’t connect.
As soon as the weight of Will’s body is gone, Adam shoves himself out of the way, pushing himself back on his elbows until he’s pressed against the wall, tucked away in a corner of the room. He rocks himself back and forth and tries to imagine he’s somewhere, anywhere else. He thinks of a stream.
A glass lamp falls to the floor, shattering when Will shoves Hannibal into it, and then they’re fighting in the shards. Will bites Hannibal, who backhands him across the face and kicks him in the gut. Will punches him in the nose and fights him to the ground. By the time it’s over, Hannibal is kneeling in glass, bleeding freely from a dozen small cuts and choking the life out of Will.
He doesn’t stop until Will stops moving.
“He’s fine,” Hannibal says in Adam’s direction, to the question Adam didn’t ask. “He’s not dead, only unconscious.”
He pushes himself to his feet with a groan and picks Will up, heedless of the pieces of glass that are clinging to his clothes. Pieces of it fall to the floor. For a second Adam worries about the dogs, but they’re nowhere to be found.
Hannibal carries Will up the stairs with a sigh, depositing him on the bed in their bedroom. Adam scrambles up from his place against the wall and follows, feeling lost and at loose ends. Hannibal doesn’t even notice him standing there for the longest time.
Will looks so small there, laid out on the bed. Not like a monster at all, just bloody and hurt. Adam stands in the doorway staring.
“Adam, I’m sorry, this isn’t a good time,” Hannibal says, and he shuts the door in Adam’s face.
Adam doesn’t know what to do, so he goes back downstairs to wait in the living room next to the shards of glass and blood.
* * *
He creeps out of his room late at night when he can’t sleep. He’s afraid to knock on Will and Hannibal’s door after what happened earlier, but he doesn’t want to be alone. He sees a faint light coming from downstairs, and he follows it.
He finds Hannibal sitting at the table in the kitchen, looking out at nothing in particular with a glass of wine at his elbow. He seems to come to life once Adam enters the room.
“Can I be here?” Adam asks. “Do you want to be alone? You need to tell me if you do. I’m not good at those types of social cues.”
“You’re fine,” Hannibal says. “I find I wouldn’t mind the company. You still don’t drink?”
Adam shakes his head. He fills a glass of water at the tap instead and sits down beside Hannibal. “I want company too. I feel lonely tonight. I still can’t sleep.”
They sit in silence for a while, with Hannibal taking occasional sips of his wine. The quiet is nice. It’s nice to sit with someone without worrying about the right things to say.
“What’s wrong with him?” Adam asks. “With Will.”
“He hasn’t been taking his medication.” Hannibal says. He sounds frustrated, and it’s the first time Adam’s heard him sound anything but perfectly polite. It makes him terribly curious. “He told me he would; that was our agreement when we took our trip. He lied.”
“I hate it when people lie to me. You don’t seem very upset about it.”
“I’d prefer that he didn’t, but it’s something I’ve come to expect from Will. It’s part of being with him.”
“Like the medication.”
“Like the medication,” Hannibal agrees.
Hannibal props his chin on a fist and looks at Adam. “What is this about, Adam?”
“Why aren’t you jealous?” Adam asks. “You love Will, and he loves you, but he wants… something with me. I can’t figure out what it is, but I know he wants something. That’s why you brought me here isn’t it? For him.” Hannibal inclines his head. “So why aren’t you jealous?”
Hannibal is silent for a long time, running his fingers over the rim of his glass.
“Will is mine,” he says at last. “Heart and soul, body and mind. There is no bit of him that does not belong to me, just as there’s no part of me that doesn’t belong to him.” He reaches out and strokes a gentle hand down Adam’s cheek, and Adam lets him do it. “You’re very lovely, but nothing that you are could jeopardize what we have, and so there’s no need for jealousy. No one could ever be to Will what I am, and he knows that too, as much as he hates it.” Hannibal cocks his head. “Do you think Nigel would be jealous, if you had something with Will? With me?”
Adam shudders, both from the praise and the images that percolate their way through his brain at the question—love and pain, violence and devotion. “He would never forgive me. I know he wouldn’t.”
“You might be surprised at the things people will forgive for love.” He stands up, and Adam can hear his back crack. He clears their dishes into the sink. “Something for you to think on, perhaps. And now it’s time for me to retire. It’s been a long night.”
“You said that yesterday,” Adam says. “Are all your days so long, or is that new?” He tilts his head. “Is it because of me?”
“Perceptive,” Hannibal says. “They often are, but not all are so trying. You’re welcome in our bed on any other night, but not tonight. Tonight I fear neither of us will be the kind of company you’d prefer. I’ll see you in the morning. Goodnight, Adam.”
“Goodnight,” Adam says.
He’s left standing alone in the kitchen, wishing he were anywhere else. Upstairs with Hannibal and Will, in his own bed with Nigel. For the first time, he feels jealous, and he’s not sure who of.
I promise I haven't forgotten about Nigel. Pinky promise.
Adam hears noises from Will and Hannibal’s room during the night. They’re so loud it carries down the hall—weeping and yelling, moans and the sounds of hitting. It makes Adam’s stomach clench and his bed feel cold.
He doesn’t see Will at breakfast that day, nor the day after. Whatever quiet vulnerability Adam had seen in Hannibal that night in the kitchen is gone, buttoned up under pressed shirts and put back wherever it came from. It’s easier when he doesn’t have to look at it.
They talk about little things at meal times. Hannibal knows a lot about theater. He tells Adam about the productions he saw in Florence and Palermo and answers all his questions, and he listens with rapt interest when Adam tells him about the history of the St. James Theatre. Hannibal never makes him feel like he talks too much.
He can tell, somehow, that Hannibal is trying to make sure he doesn’t feel left out, to make up for all the times he and Will disappear behind closed doors.
Several days pass before Adam sees Will at all. When he does, Will looks thinner, subdued and troubled. There are dark rings under his eyes, and he looks like he hasn’t slept all week. He picks at his food and avoids Adam. When they’re in the same room, he doesn’t talk, but Adam can feel hungry eyes on him all the time. Will and Hannibal argue constantly. He can still hear crying from their bedroom at night.
Adam stops Will in the hallway on the third day. He says it as fast as possible before he can think about what he’s doing.
“You can hold me, if you want. If it will make you feel better.” He peers up at Will through hair that’s getting too long—he’d meant to cut it, before, and had never gotten the chance. “Do you want that?” he asks quietly.
Will looks around like it’s a trick. He nods.
It’s awkward and terrifying.
They just look at each other for long moments, wide-eyed and startled. Will brings his arms up around Adam’s back, and Adam stands there letting it happen. He doesn’t move. He barely breathes. Will lets out a shuddering breath against his shirt, and Adam thinks he might be crying.
After a few more minutes, Adam wraps his arms around Will too. They lean into one another, drawing strength from each other or maybe consuming it. Burning it on a pyre.
He doesn’t want to let go.
They stand there forever, and for a while he doesn’t have to think. Stars burn out and die as they embrace.
“Hey,” Will says softly after forever ends. “Do you want to move this to the bedroom? I won’t do anything you don’t like.”
Adam nods, and Will takes him by the hand and leads him there. They don’t speak, as if speaking would make this real. Would shatter the fragile shape of whatever this is—wanting, comforting, needing.
Adam freezes when he sees the cuffs curled up on the bed. Four of them, leather lined with midnight blue. He presses his hand to his mouth so hard he can feel the imprint of his own teeth.
“Those aren’t for you,” Will says. “They’re for me. For when I don’t take my meds like I’m supposed to. When I lose myself and Hannibal has to find me.” He smiles, and it looks so painful. “I never like it when he finds me.”
He brushes the cuffs aside, brushes them to the floor like they’re nothing but leather—like they haven’t haunted Adam’s dreams for months—and he holds his hand out. This is a decision; Adam doesn’t pretend it isn’t. It’s something for which he won’t be absolved. He takes Will’s hand and lets Will tug him down to the bed. Will lays on his side, and Adam fits his back against Will’s chest. They press together all over.
“Like this?” Will asks.
Adam nods. “It’s better when I can’t see your face.”
He breathes out a shaky sob when Will wraps arms around his chest and pulls him snug, pulling Adam’s ass flush against his crotch. It feels dangerous. It feels good. Everything makes him want to cry.
“It’s okay,” Will says. “It’s okay not to know. It’s okay not to be sure.” He nestles his chin against Adam’s shoulder. “It’s okay if you’re sad. I can feel it, you know. I can feel it too.”
“It hurts,” Adam says. “It hurts so much, all the time. When I stop moving, when I sit by myself.” His voice cracks. “I used to like being alone.”
“I’m sorry,” Will says. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I hurt you so badly, didn’t I?”
The apology cracks something open in Adam, and he starts crying in earnest.
“Why did you do it?” he asks. He turns so he can see Will’s face. He wishes he could tell if Will looks sorry.
“I wanted to know what it was like, to do something terrible. I wanted to watch him love you through it. I wanted you to be me.”
“That’s awful,” Adam says. “That’s awful, and I don’t forgive you.”
He buries his face in Will’s chest, and Will holds him tighter.
“You shouldn’t,” Will says fiercely. “Don’t ever forgive me as long as you live. Promise me that. Don’t you ever forgive me.”
* * *
There’s something healing in being miserable together. Something addictive. It becomes part of their routine, holding each other in Hannibal and Will’s big bed every afternoon while the sun sets and paints everything orange. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes they talk. Mostly they say nothing but cling together and breathe each other’s air, with mouths almost-but-not-quite touching.
Sometimes Adam thinks Hannibal might say something, might make them stop, but he never does. Adam looks up from where his nose is buried in the collar of Will’s shirt, chin pressed against ridges of a too-bony spine, to see Hannibal standing in the door. He has an odd expression on his face, but when Adam opens his mouth to ask, Hannibal just shakes his head. He presses a finger to his mouth and disappears again.
Adam can hear steps growing faint as he walks back downstairs.
It should make him feel strange that Hannibal watches them sometimes, but it doesn’t. It feels a little like family.
As long as nobody talks about it, it’s still okay.
* * *
“I want you to be my child,” Will says one day, smoothing the hair from Adam’s eyes. They do that now. That’s a way they can touch.
They’re lying face to face on a copper bedspread that smells like brine.
“I’m an adult,” Adam says. “I’m 28 years old.”
“You could still be my baby. My darling boy. I’d keep you safe from everyone who isn’t me.”
Adam shivers, and when they’re lying like this, he can’t hide it. It travels from his body into Will’s, so that Will can feel it too.
“You like it,” Will says. “It’s okay. I won’t make you say it.”
* * *
Sometimes Adam gets hard, and sometimes Will does. They never, ever talk about it.
Will doesn’t do anything to Adam but hold him close, petting his hair and whispering things in his ear that send shivers down his spine. He wants Will to touch him. He’d die before he asked for it.
He’s pretty sure Will is actually crazy—he doesn’t think the medication Hannibal gives him helps as much as they both think it does. He tries so hard not to think about what it means if he likes it.
“Why do I like you?” Adam asks.
He can ask when they’re like this. From their vantage point on the bed, the world almost seems kind.
“Because I ruined you,” Will says like it makes sense. “I bent you out of shape, and now your broken places only fit when they’re scraping against mine. We’re only free when we’re together.”
Maybe it makes a certain kind of sense. Maybe it makes sense here, at the end of the world where he can’t leave and nothing can matter but this. Adam nods and presses his lips to Will’s for the very first time.
It tastes like crying.
Just letting you know I updated the tags. 💜
Adam starts sleeping in Will and Hannibal’s bed again. It’s such a relief not to be alone at night, not to have to face the cold and dark all alone. It gets easier and easier not to think about the implications, about all the reasons why he shouldn’t.
He stays away the entire while that Will’s sick and for a time after. He comes to their door one night, finally, when he can’t stand the suffocating silence anymore, when the sound of waves crashing against a distant shore are beginning to drive him insane.
The door is closed, foreboding and intimidating, and he knocks on it and waits. And waits. There’s no answer, and he stands in the darkened hallway alone, shifting from foot to foot and trying to decide if he can knock again, weighing the fear of disturbing them against the crushing defeat of going back to his room alone. He almost has to come to a decision when the door swings open.
Hannibal is standing there in nothing but soft pants that cling low around his hips. He looks rumpled and tired.
“Come in,” he says.
He gets back into bed without looking to see if Adam does or not, and Adam only hesitates for a second before walking around to the side of the bed where Will is. He’s bare beneath the covers when Adam pulls them back, and it’s only shocking for a second. Adam is too tired to be properly shocked or frightened, especially when Will blinks up at him with unfocused eyes that don’t look frightening at all.
It’s easy now, to slip into a sleepy embrace. When Will folds an arm around him and pulls him near, it feels just like every other afternoon. Adam tucks himself into bed and pulls the covers around them both, and Hannibal holds them close.
* * *
In the morning, Hannibal is gone. Adam and Will have migrated toward the center of the bed, and Adam wakes with his cheek pillowed on a bony sternum. The body beneath him doesn’t smell or feel like Nigel. Where Nigel is solid and broad, Will is slight, with bony angles and sharp edges. Adam is suddenly very aware that there’s nothing separating their skin besides the the thin fabric of his pajama pants. Will feels hot even through the cloth, and they’re both hard against each other’s legs.
He tries to roll over, to extricate himself, and Will’s arms tighten around him, holding him in place. His breath picks up instantly.
“Your breathing changes when you wake up,” Will says in his ear. “If you’re ever trying to fool someone, you’ll want to keep it even and deep.”
He shifts his hips so their erections line up, brushing together for just a second, and Adam bites back a moan. Just when he’s ready for something terrible to happen, Will lets him go with a soft brush of lips against the corner of his mouth.
Adam chases Will’s mouth when he pulls back, looking for more, but Will is quicker. He pulls himself just out of reach and smiles at Adam, soft and mischievous.
“What’re you doing, Adam?”
Trying to kiss you, Adam thinks, but he says, “Nothing.”
He looks at the pillow. The walls. The clock. Anywhere but Will.
“Okay,” Will says. He sits up and stretches with a yawn, and Adam’s eyes snap back to his body, taking in the hands clenched in loose fists, the corded muscles of his arms, the trail of wiry black hair that dips down toward a cock that juts out, flushed and hard.
Adam’s mouth goes dry as he’s hit with a wave of desire and shame, and Will knows it. Of course he does. There’s an edge of hysteria that comes with the thought that maybe Will knows everything about him.
“Look at you, already wet for me,” Will murmurs, dragging his finger along the front of Adam’s sleep pants, through the wet patch of pre-come there. He touches the head of Adam’s cock through the thin fabric, and the slight contact makes Adam hiss. “Should I make you ask me for it?” Will asks, that same smile lingering on his lips, twisted and terrible. “Do you want me to wait? Wait until you’re begging for it?”
He runs the damp finger over Adam’s lips, and Adam darts his tongue out, chasing the bitterness, tasting himself on Will. He’s afraid to move. Afraid to breathe. Will keeps talking, and it’s wonderful and terrible.
“Or is that too cruel? Do you want me to just take you again, so you don’t have to ask for a thing?”
Adam moans at the word again.
“If I take what I want, you’re still innocent. That’s what it is, isn’t it? You don’t want to be a monster like me.” His voice is so reasonable and kind, and Adam bends toward it. He can’t bring himself to even nod, but that’s the point, isn’t it? He doesn’t have to.
Will leans forward and closes the gap between them, taking Adam’s lips in a sweet, lingering kiss, probing his mouth with a clever tongue. Adam is so turned on he could cry.
“It’s alright, baby. I’ll take care of you. Tell me to stop all you want. I don’t mind being a monster for you.”
He doesn’t know if he could say no, even if he wanted to. He doesn’t know if he wants to. It’s so much easier to just let it happen. It’s easier when it isn’t his fault.
Will slips his hand beneath Adam’s t-shirt, raking blunt nails down the planes of his chest and belly. It’s the most skin contact they’ve had since, and it feels positively electric. Will scratches him to the point of pain, and Adam gasps and shoves forward into his hands when the edge of a nail catches his nipple.
Will’s mouth curls into a smile against his neck. “Do you like being hurt, baby?”
Adam doesn’t answer. He doesn’t have to, and that’s the point. He just moans when Will pinches a nipple between two fingers, when he digs in with his nails and pulls until Adam whimpers.
Will pushes his shirt up and replaces fingers with teeth, and it shortcircuits everything in Adam’s brain. He tangles his fingers in Will’s curls, trying to shove him away while pulling his hair to hold him close.
“Stop,” he gasps when Will bites him so hard his vision goes black. “It’s too much, I can’t.”
Will just grins against his skin and licks it better—licks until Adam is moaning and squirming again—then bites down just as hard. Adam yelps and yanks on Will’s hair, and the sound Will makes gets him so hard he’s dizzy.
Adam shoves a hand down his own pants to relieve some of the pressure, and that means he wants it. He kisses Will like they’re drowning, a sloppy mess of teeth and tongues while they pant and groan into each other’s mouths.
“Let’s get you out of these clothes,” Will says.
Adam says no, but he lifts his hips to help. He raises his arms obediently, and his mouth finds Will’s again the second he’s free of his shirt.
Being undressed feels like being dissected. He feels raw and peeled open when Will sits back on his haunches and just looks, like he’s cataloguing Adam’s skin. Will looks at him like he’s hungry. Like Adam is special.
Adam hides his face in his hands and wishes it were dark. Wishes he were blind.
“Don’t look at me,” he says. “Please don’t. Just—do what you’re going to do. Do whatever you want, just don’t look at me like that.”
“Like I matter.”
Will is stronger than Adam is. He peels Adam’s hands away from his face, pins his arms down, and Adam scrunches his eyes shut tighter. He can close his eyes, but he can’t shut out the words.
“You do matter, baby boy. More than anything else.”
“Don’t say that,” Adam whispers. “Don’t lie.”
“Everyone loves you, Adam. I love you.” Will leans down to nuzzle their noses together. “This is all for you.”
Adam didn’t think it was possible to choke on grief. “Stop,” he says. “If you love me, please stop.”
He thinks Will might argue, but he doesn’t. He just presses a kiss to Adam’s forehead before sliding down the length of Adam’s body to take him in his mouth. Adam bucks up at the first touch of wet heat.
“You’re so hot,” he gasps. “Your mouth. You’re so—” He snaps his teeth shut before he can say anything worse.
Will doesn’t say anything, and Adam is so grateful that it almost feels like love. He doesn’t think he could stand it.
It doesn’t last long; it couldn’t possibly. It’s been months since Adam’s been touched by anyone but himself, and Will licks and sucks him like he’s starving. He wrings a blinding orgasm from Adam’s eager body, and after it’s over, there’s no way left to pretend he didn’t like it.
“You eat a lot of meat,” Adam says at breakfast. Forks pause halfway to mouths. “You both do, but you especially,” he says to Will.
Will and Hannibal glance at one another, exchanging one of the looks Adam is growing so used to.
“Adam—” Hannibal starts, but Will cuts him off with a touch. It’s strange to see Hannibal quelled like that.
“It’s okay,” Will says to Hannibal, resting a hand on his. To Adam, he says, “It makes me feel safe. You know how you like eating the same type of mac and cheese over and over? Like that.”
Adam chews the inside of his cheek. “But it’s people. It is, isn’t it? The meat?”
“Yes,” Hannibal says. He cuts another neat bite and chews.
“Is all of the meat you eat people?”
“All of the meat Will eats, yes. The fish is, of course, only fish. The prosciutto is unfortunately store-bought. I’d thought to cure some myself in the refrigerator, but it seems there was insufficient moisture. Curing meat in the tropics was a bit of an experiment.” He gives a faint smile. “Alas, a failed one.”
Adam takes a second to parse that. He wonders how well Hannibal cleaned the fridge—if there are bits of human meat, cells and juices, clinging to anything he’s eaten—but he’s seen Hannibal clean, and he’s very fastidious. It seems unlikely he’s eaten someone by accident. It also seems like thinking about it might drive him mad, so he pushes it forcefully from his mind.
“Are you going to make me eat it too?” he asks bluntly.
“Not until you want to,” Will says firmly.
Adam makes a face at the meat on their plates. “I won’t ever want to.”
He takes another few bites of his cereal. It’s started to grow soggy while they’ve talked, and he scoops the last bits into his mouth to save the rest of it from its fate. He doesn’t know if he’s allowed to drink milk from the bowl when he’s eating with Will and Hannibal, but it’s what he’s always done so he does it now. No one tells him to stop, so he chalks it up as probably fine.
He’s finished before Will is, but no one else is getting up from the table, so he fidgets and stays seated.
“You didn’t eat people before you met Hannibal,” he says.
“You’re right,” Will says.
“What did you eat to feel safe then?”
The kitchen grows quiet. Even the seabirds outside seem to hush.
“I didn’t need to feel safe before I met Hannibal,” Will says. “I was safe.” He spears a piece of meat and takes it between his teeth.
* * *
Adam stays in the kitchen after breakfast to help Hannibal put things away.
“You don’t need to help me clean up, you know,” Hannibal tells him, even as he hands Adam a pan to dry. “This isn’t required of you. You can go with Will.”
Will never stays to help wash up or put dishes away, and he and Will have been nearly inseparable for weeks—at each other’s side more often than not, always touching, leaning into one another, breathing each other’s air like a closed system.
Adam shakes his head. “I want to help you. I like being around you because it’s easy. You aren’t hard to talk to.”
“That is a skill honed over many years,” Hannibal says. He gives Adam a wry smile. “Call it a professional pitfall.”
“Because you’re a sociopath. That’s why you had to learn?”
“‘Sociopath’ is an outdated designation. You’d be hard-pressed to find any psychiatrist worth their salt who still uses that tired terminology.”
“But you’re not like me,” Adam says.
Hannibal seems amused when he hands Adam the next dish. “No, dear boy. I’m nothing like you.”
Adam carefully dries all the pristine white plates Hannibal hands him and stacks them in the cabinet, mindful not to chip the edges. It’s nice standing with Hannibal in the kitchen. Easy. Hannibal doesn’t tie his stomach into knots the way that Will does.
“Is it hard to talk to Will?” Hannibal asks.
Adam tenses. Sometimes he thinks they can read his mind. Some part of him—the rational part, the part that still makes sense—realizes that’s impossible and probably insane. The part of him that has to live with them day in and day out can’t always tell anymore.
“It’s hard to do anything with Will. He scares me.”
“But you like him?”
Adam shrugs. “I don’t know. Does it matter if I like him?”
Hannibal nods in acknowledgment, in a way that suggests it probably doesn’t matter.
“What is required of me?” Adam asks at last. “If not helping you clean up, then what? No one’s told me anything. I don’t know what anyone wants. You both keep calling me your child, but I don’t know what that means. You said you’d give me a phone, but you haven’t. I’ve been here for—I don’t know how long I’ve been here.” He works himself up as he talks, until he’s twisting the dishrag between his hands.
“Six weeks,” Hannibal says, perfectly placid.
It staggers him to the point that he actually needs to grip the countertop, white knuckled, to keep from sliding to the floor. A month and a half.
He shakes his head so hard it hurts. “No. No, that can’t be right. I can’t have been gone for that long. I would have noticed— I would have— Nigel,” he says helplessly, casting about for the right words, eyes darting frantically around the kitchen as though there are answers for him here somewhere. “Can I talk to him? Can I call him, please? I won’t tell him where we are. I’ll stay, and I won’t try to run away. Can I just—” He breaks off with a frustrated sound.
“That isn’t a good idea,” Hannibal says. “Not right now. It wouldn’t be good for anyone, least of all you.”
Adam snatches one of the plates from the drying rack with half a mind to throw it, but before he can manage, Hannibal grabs his wrist. He’s faster than Adam could have imagined, and his grip is bruising-tight. He gasps and opens his hand reflexively. Hannibal takes the plate away before Adam has the chance to shatter it against the floor.
“None of that,” he says firmly. “Not in my kitchen.”
It’s the first time Hannibal’s laid a hand on Adam, and the shock of it pulls him up short. He’s suddenly aware that he’s standing in the kitchen with something very dangerous. He doesn’t do anything smart with that knowledge.
“I hate you,” Adam spits. “I hate both of you.”
He runs to his room and locks the door. He pushes the desk in front of it to keep them both out, but no one chases after him. There are no footfalls on the stairs, no shadows under the door. Adam paces the floor and yells, stomps his feet and screams into his own pillows. He yanks his suitcase open and buries his face in one of Nigel’s t-shirts, clutching it in his hands as if it might save him.
Nigel is thousands of miles away, somewhere where they don’t eat human meat, where he doesn’t have to sit at a table until everyone is done eating. Where things are easy and love isn’t barbed, and he doesn’t have to hate himself for wanting the things he wants. He thinks of nights sprawled out on the couch with Nigel in nothing but their underwear, limbs tangled together while they spilled popcorn into the cushions and watched Netflix on a tiny screen. He thinks of Nigel, and then he thinks of Will—Will’s long fingers and legs tangled with his—he misses Will, and the thought of it makes him scream.
He fingers the fabric of the t-shirt in his hands, threadbare and soft. He presses it to his nose, and pretends he’s back home.
“What if you forget me?” He asks the empty room and the gathering shadows. “What if you forget me, and then there’s no one left to remember? What if I die here and no one knows it?”
He hugs his knees close and hopes he’ll disappear.
* * *
The sun falls beneath the horizon, his stomach growls and aches, and Adam refuses to leave his room.
And no one cares.
No one knocks on his door or tries to coax him out. He can hear the sea through the windows and laughter through the floorboards. He feels shut out and alone, and when he cries no one comes to comfort him.
He makes it until late in the night. He’s hungry and tired, and he shoves the desk back where it belongs, wincing at the screech it makes across the hardwood floor. He creeps down the stairs and stands in the threshold of the living room, where Hannibal is sketching and Will is doing something at a table with feathers and string. They both turn to look when he enters the room. Their conversation hushes, and he wonders why he feels so ashamed.
He shuffles into the room and stops in front of Hannibal’s chair. He has no idea what Hannibal’s face looks like, because he refuses to look up from the floor.
“I’m sorry,” he says. His cheeks are burning. “I’m sorry I said I hated you. I’m sorry I yelled and tried to break your things.”
There’s no immediate answer, so at last Adam hazards a glance. Hannibal’s face softens.
“Are you hungry?” he asks, and it’s such a non sequitur that Adam just blinks.
His stomach rumbles loud enough to be audible, and he nods.
Hannibal stands, and he holds his hand out to Adam. “Then let’s make you something to eat.”
Adam is an adult who doesn’t need to hold someone’s hand to walk into the other room, but he’s afraid of being shut out again. Afraid of being alone. He thinks of his lonely, dark room and takes Hannibal’s hand.
He follows quietly into the kitchen and sits where Hannibal puts him, on one of the tall stools at the counter. He watches as Hannibal opens the fridge and takes out a two glass tupperware, one full of noodles and another packed with some kind of white sauce. Hannibal is making Adam dinner even though it’s not dinnertime, even though he and Will have already eaten. The gnawing sense of shame is back.
“I’m sorry,” Adam says again.
Hannibal turns down the stove and walks over to him. He tips Adam’s chin up with a finger so Adam has to either meet his eyes or close them. “You only ever have to apologize once, Adam. No one will hold anything against you in this house. Is that clear?”
Hannibal presses an unexpected kiss to his forehead. “Good.”
He tips the reheated pasta from the pan into a clean bowl and sets it in front of Adam, then takes his seat across the counter. Now that it’s in front of him, Adam can see little pink flecks of meat studded throughout the dish.
“Eat your food before it gets cold,” Hannibal says.
Adam picks up his fork. He pokes at a bit of the meat and is only a little surprised when it doesn’t scream. He cleans his plate and gags only once, when he can’t help but think about what he’s eating. He wonders what their name was. He wonders if they were happier than him and thinks that they must have been.
Eating Hannibal’s food just feels like another kind of apology.
Chapter 29: Spring
Updated the tags! Might wanna check it.
It’s just easier if he doesn’t mind. It’s just easier if he likes it.
The thing is that it’s easy to like as long as he doesn’t let his mind wander down certain paths. Hannibal and Will are nice to him. They treat him well.
He stays out of his bedroom as much as possible, only venturing in to change his clothes or take his laundry to the washing machine that’s tucked away in the bottom corner of the house. He thinks about Beth when he does, wonders what she’s doing now. He wonders what she’d say to him if she were here.
Beth with her rape whistle and self-defense classes would probably tell him he’s doing it wrong.
“You do it, then, if I’m doing it so wrong,” he tells the stucco laundry room.
There’s no response. Of course there isn’t. He needs to stop talking to himself.
He sticks to Will’s side like glue, and it’s better that way.
Will disappears for a few days once, takes the car and goes, and Adam is beside himself until he returns. He paces the house like an animal in heat, anxious, fidgeting. He feels itchy in his skin.
“Where’d he go?” he asks Hannibal for the fourth time that day.
Hannibal looks up from his tablet. “On a hunting trip,” he says again, still infinitely patient. “The same as the last time you asked.”
Adam doesn’t have to ask what Hannibal means by ‘hunting trip,’ but the knowledge doesn’t make him feel any better.
“Isn’t that dangerous?” he asks. He makes another circuit around the living room. “Should he be alone? What if he hasn’t been taking his medication? What if he has an episode? What if he gets arrested?”
“We usually hunt together,” Hannibal says, “But Will is more than capable of hunting on his own. He’s quite formidable.”
His face takes on a fond glow that mesmerizes Adam. His pacing stutters to a stop.
“I’m the reason you’re not with him?”
“Yes,” Hannibal says. He sets the tablet down on the table beside him. “Adam, you’re not an imposition. There’s no one on this earth that can force me to do something I don’t choose to. You’re here because we want you to be, and I’m here because I choose to be.” He glances at his watch. “Now, I think it’s almost time for dinner. Would you like to help me prepare it instead of wearing a hole through my throw rug?”
Adam glances down at the carpet, sheepish. He nods.
He likes helping Hannibal in the kitchen. There’s something meditative in chopping the vegetables he’s handed, in drying the herbs and chopping their fragrant leaves. He knows what he’s meant to do here because Hannibal tells him. Hannibal is a patient teacher who never gets frustrated with all the questions Adam asks.
“Turn the oven to 350 degrees please,” Hannibal says tonight, and Adam does as he’s asked with the practiced ease of familiarity.
He washes the carrots in the sink, then peels them into the trash can as Hannibal slices the ends off onions and pulls the paper away. Hannibal drifts over to Adam’s cutting board as soon as he’s finished stacked the pile of carrots in a neat row at the top.
“Do you know how to do an oblique cut?” Hannibal asks.
“No. I know how to make carrot sticks.”
Hannibal smiles the way other people laugh. “All right, I’ll show you.”
Adam moves to the side to make room, and Hannibal picks up the knife. He holds it like it’s an extension of his hand, and Adam wonders how many people have seen this same sight and had every reason to be afraid. (He wonders if someone, somewhere is afraid of Will right now.) He should be afraid, he knows—he probably should. He isn’t in a safe place.
It feels like it, though. He feels safe at Hannibal’s side, protected and warm in the still, humid air of the kitchen.
“Adam, are you paying attention?”
“No, I was thinking about something. I’ll pay attention now.”
Hannibal shows him again, talking him through the process as he presses down on the handle and glides the blade through the length of carrot, before turning it on its side and doing it again. He shows Adam a few more times, slowly, then speeds through the rest of the process.
He places a new carrot on the cutting board and hands Adam the knife. “Your turn.”
Adam takes the knife in hand and tries to copy Hannibal’s movements. He isn’t as graceful; his cuts aren’t as neat. Little chips of carrot flake off, and some of the edges are wobbly and uneven. Hannibal watches with a critical eye and says nothing until he’s done.
“Good,” he says when Adam has successfully reduced the carrot into a pile of geometric chunks.
“They don’t look anything like yours, though.”
“Proficiency comes with practice, and that comes with time,” Hannibal tells him. “It was well done for a first try.” He hands Adam a metal bowl for the sliced carrots and goes back to his onions. “Now finish the rest, and I’ll put them in the oven when you’re done.”
Hannibal walks back to his own cutting board on the opposite counter, and Adam can’t help watching him, the way his sure hands made quick work of the onions, reducing them to a pile of neat, even pieces.
“Keep your eyes on your work, Adam, and keep your fingers tucked. I don’t want to give you new stitches again so soon.”
Adam doesn’t apologize because he knows he doesn’t need to. He cuts the rest of the carrots, drinking in the drowsy calm and the scent of oil and alliums mixed.
* * *
Will comes back, and it’s like breathing after being underwater. He doesn’t run to the door, but it’s impossible not to notice the similarities between himself the dogs, all of them waiting to be acknowledged and patted.
Will comes back with a big white cooler that Hannibal helps him unload from the trunk of the car. It’s big enough to need two people to carry it, and he wonders how Will got it into the car in the first place—if he had to fill it up piece by piece, loading it full of bags of bloody meat before hiding it all beneath a blanket. He doesn’t want to think about these things.
He’s sitting on the stairs, watching through the slats in the banister while they carry it into the kitchen. Dogs prance underfoot, a mottle of wagging tails and multicolored fur, while Will laughs and tries to shoo them away. They’ll put the meat away now, probably. He’s seen the freestanding freezer and knows what it’s for, although he won’t even touch it.
He doesn’t offer to help today.
After the food is put away, Will and Hannibal disappear into their room for the rest of the afternoon. Adam is anxious, but he doesn’t bother them. He has to wait his turn.
He plays with the dogs in the meantime, throwing sticks for them out on the lawn. He doesn’t like the feeling of dog slobber beneath his hands, so he holds the bark by the edges, using his fingertips and hoping for the best. A bad throw sends Hurry into the bushes—he emerges triumphant with the stick, but covered in burrs and muck from the recent rain.
Adam doesn’t actually know what he’s supposed to do about that. He thinks about throwing the stick into the ocean and getting him clean that way, but he’s not really sure if dogs know how to swim, or if this particular dog knows how. He walks back to the house and calls them inside, and he’s surprised when they listen.
* * *
He’s done his best to shoot Hurry down with a hose, but he’s been sitting on the kitchen floor picking burrs out of his fur for the last half hour. He’s still at it when Will comes downstairs. The other two dogs look up from their beds at the sound of their owner’s footsteps but settle down again, deciding they’d rather sleep.
Adam is so absorbed in his task that he jumps when Will’s voice comes from right behind him.
“Hey, baby,” he says with the smile that’s just for Adam. “What’re you doing with my dog?”
He rests his hands on Adam’s shoulders, and Adam leans into it, seeking out more contact. Will provides, digging his fingers into the meat of Adam’s shoulders and kneading with just the right amount of pressure.
“He got dirty,” Adam says. “He ran into the bushes, and I’m trying to get all the burrs out so he doesn’t hurt himself or rip the sofa. It’s very frustrating.”
Will squats down beside him. He holds his hand out to Hurry and lets the dog give it a lick before rubbing over the top of his head, behind his ears. He tilts the dog’s head this way and that, runs his other hand down the dog’s side.
“Looks like you did a pretty good job,” Will says. “I’ve got a brush that can get the rest—I’ll show you later.”
“I think we can leave it for now.”
He gets to his feet with a groan and offers a hand to Adam, who only considers it for a second too long before accepting the help
Will hauls him to his feet, and Adam’s reminded that they’re very nearly the same height. He looks at Will, studying him at the edges, the parts of him that are safe to look at: the scar visible on his cheek beneath newly-trimmed stubble, the lean cheekbones that form shelves above it, the curve of a pink mouth. His hair is wet from the shower. He looks different than Adam’s used to, loose-limbed and easy with a sleepy, sated expression on his face.
“I missed you, baby,” Will says. He pulls Adam into a hug, and Adam lets himself be drawn in. He buries his face in the crook of Will’s neck and breathes in familiar soap and laundry detergent.
“I don’t like it when you’re not here,” Adam says, voice muffled by skin. “I worried something happened to you.” The words sound accusatory even to his own ears.
Will pets his hair, drawing soothing lines up and down his spine and toying with the fine hairs that grow at the base of his neck.
“I’m here now,” Will says. He tips Adam’s face up for a kiss. “I’m here with you.”
The hand on Adam’s back sinks lower, dipping beneath the waistband of his jeans. He bows his head to scrape teeth over the side of Adam’s neck, making his breath hitch as he wonders if Will is going to add a new bruise to the few that are fading there, but he doesn’t. Not right now. He just runs a gentle tongue down the tendon there, nibbling and nipping with ticklish teeth. Adam clings to him, pulling him closer and fitting them both together.
Will unbuttons Adam’s jeans while he’s distracted, easing the zipper down so he can slide his hand down the back of Adam’s pants. He gives him a playful squeeze before moving his hand lower. He doesn’t put anything inside Adam—he never does—just drags the tip of a finger over puckered, sensitive skin. Just smiles when Adam shifts uncomfortably, spreading his legs wider while trying not to fall down, so Will can touch him.
He tries to touch himself, but Will catches his hand easily and pulls it away, making the sort of sound he makes at the dogs when they’ve done something wrong. He presses a laughing kiss to the inside of Adam’s wrist, chaste and gentle, when Adam makes a frustrated noise.
“That’s for me,” Will says. “Ask if you want it.”
He plays with Adam for a while longer, rubbing against his hole with firmer strokes, pressing hard enough for his finger to dip in just a little. It’s nowhere near enough. It’s going to drive Adam out of his mind. He needs more—something, anything.
“Please,” Adam says.
Adam grits his teeth shut. He shakes his head.
“No? Okay. That’s alright then. I’m pretty worn out anyway.” He stops. Pulls his hand back. Presses a pop kiss to the middle of Adam’s lips.
Adam is aching and frustrated when Will kisses him on the nose and gets up to wash his hands at the sink.
* * *
It turns out what happened in the kitchen wasn’t a fluke—Adam isn’t allowed to touch himself anymore.
“That’s for daddy,” Will says when he tries, pulling Adam’s hands away the next time they’re in bed. “If you want to touch, you need to ask first.”
Adam frowns. “Why?”
“Because I said so,” Will says, kissing Adam on the forehead and smoothing overlong curls out of his eyes. “Because I want what’s best for you.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Adam says, but Will refuses to budge, and in the end Adam just gives up.
He doesn’t have to listen—he does know that. He still sleeps with Will and Hannibal every night, so he can’t masturbate in bed, but he’s alone in the bathroom, in the shower. If he did it quickly, if he just kept quiet, no one would ever have to know.
He doesn’t, though. He keeps his hands to himself and doesn’t think too hard about the reasons why.
In part it’s because he inexplicably thinks that maybe Will and Hannibal can actually read his mind. He knows—most of him knows—that’s stupid and impossible. They’re perceptive, that’s all. They were a criminal profiler and a psychiatrist; reading people were their jobs. And yet he believes it enough to not want to find out for sure.
It’s partially because he wonders if it’s true. Maybe this really is better for him.
So he listens, but Will doesn’t make it easy. He starts touching Adam all the time, cornering him in hallways to kiss him breathless, rubbing his crotch with bare toes underneath the breakfast table.
That time was the worst. Will had rubbed his foot over the seam of Adam’s pants all throughout breakfast—not enough to get him off, just enough so he couldn’t forget it was happening, even for a second. Adam had gripped his spoon so tight that the pattern of the handle was still imprinted on his palm for an hour later, and he’d nearly choked when Will pressed down with the ball of his foot. Hannibal’s only reaction was a raised eyebrow in Will’s direction, who only shrugged and wriggled his toes.
“Would you clear the breakfast dishes, please?” Hannibal asks after they finished eating. He never asks Adam to clean up, and that’s how Adam knows this is part of the game they’re playing with each other—the one whose rules he doesn’t know. He can never tell if he’s a player or a pawn.
It doesn’t matter because he doesn’t say no. He just nods tightly and stands up with burning cheeks, the bulge in his pants clearly visible. They’re so tight it’s nearly painful to walk as he picks up the empty dishes from the table and loads them into the dishwasher. It takes him three mortifying trips.
Will keeps talking about the bone lures he’s planning to carve, but Adam can feel two sets of eyes watching him the whole time.
* * *
It keeps happening. The next day, Will finds him in the laundry room while he’s loading his clothes in the dryer. He crowds Adam up against the washing machine and gets on his knees before Adam can fully parse what’s happening. Adam is already hard by the time Will yanks Adam’s fly open and draws him out. It seems he’s always two seconds away from getting hard these days. He’s already moaning from the feeling of Will’s hands on him, and then Will is swallowing him down, bobbing his head and hollowing his cheeks and being sloppy about it.
Adam groans. He thrusts into Will’s mouth and pulls his hair, too keyed up to care that the door is wide open and anyone could walk by. He’s so close, so close, when Will pulls off with a wet pop. The sudden loss of contact is very nearly pain.
“No,” he moans, letting his head thump back against the wall behind him. “Why?”
“Why not?” Will asks, sitting back on his heels and licking his lips.
Adam balls his hands into fists to keep from grabbing himself or from strangling Will. He glares down at him instead.
“There are faster ways to kill me.”
Will grins. “But none that are this much fun.”
* * *
He doesn’t even last a week.
Will is merciless, teasing Adam at every opportunity, winding him up and leaving him wanting in every room of the house until he’s sure he’ll go mad from it.
When he finally breaks, it’s early in the morning. He and Will are spooned tightly together, and Adam is at least half in the realm of dreams, chasing after cigarette smoke and the rough sound of cursing. Someone’s kissing his neck, leaving warm sucking kisses in a line down his throat. He sighs and leans into it, tipping his head back to give those lips more room.
“Roll over,” Will says, whispering it in his ear with a wet lick that goes straight to his cock.
Even half asleep, he tries to comply.
Strong hands are rolling him onto his belly, and there’s a warm weight settling against his back, someone leaning over him. There’s the sound of a cap being popped open, cool fluid dripping along his crack. His eyes fly open at the sensation.
He blinks, trying to make sense of his surroundings, the reason he can’t move. It’s very early. The room is barely lit in soft tones of blue and grey. It’s early enough that Hannibal is still sleeping beside them.
“Shh,” Will says softly, from his seat astride Adam. He pets a hand down Adam’s back. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m going to make you feel good, but you need to be quiet, okay? Don’t wake daddy.”
Adam stays very, very still. Finally, he nods. He wonders if Will can see it.
“Good boy,” Will whispers. “Such a good boy.”
He shifts his weight lower and runs his hand through the slick lube coating Adam’s opening, pressing a finger inside in one quick, fluid motion. It’s been so long since he’s had anything inside him, and he’s been on the edge for days. He can’t stop the moan that slips out, and it sounds so loud in the quiet room.
“Shh,” Will says again. “Quiet, remember?”
Adam nods again and bites his lips shut.
Will’s hand doesn’t stop moving. He fingers Adam open, rubbing along his inner walls until he hits a spot that makes Adam gasp, and he won’t stop talking. “You’re so tight for me, baby.” He licks along the top of Adam’s spine and fits another finger into him. “Do you know I saw your bedroom back in Los Angeles? Your nice, neat bedroom with your pretty, pristine sheets. You’ve been saving yourself for me.”
A warm, wet kiss and teeth in his earlobe that make him rut against the sheets. He bucks back onto Will’s fingers, chasing more.
“You haven’t let anyone else touch you, have you, sweetheart?”
Adam shakes his head, burrowing his face into the pillow like maybe he can hide. Will wasn’t supposed to know that, and he feels flayed open, pinned and exposed. Will picks that moment to pull his fingers out, and there’s an aching, intolerable sense of loss as Adam clenches around nothing. He’s going to scream if Will leaves him like this again.
“Please,” he gasps. “Will, please.”
Will nuzzles against his neck. “Please what, baby? You can have anything you want. All you have to do is ask.”
He knows. He knows what Will wants. He knows because right now he wants it too, more than anything else.
“Please fuck me. I want you inside me, Will, please. Please let me come.”
He’s being too loud, and he doesn’t care. Will doesn’t care either—has probably never cared. Adam can’t see his face, but he can feel the predatory grin against the back of his neck, the counterpoint to the gentle fingers carding through his hair.
“I’ll take care of you,” Will says. “My pretty baby. It’s alright, I’ve got you now.”
He spreads Adam’s cheeks with his hands and lines himself up. The push in is torturously slow, a burning stretch that goes on and on, splitting him open and leaving him raw. Adam makes a sound he’s never heard before, satisfied and so fucking relieved. Will gives him barely any time to adjust, just picks up the pace and starts thrusting into him in a quick, sharp tempo that curls his toes and makes him see stars.
Now that Adam’s started asking for things, he can’t seem to stop. He begs and begs, says harder and please and more. He learns that whining daddy makes Will fuck him so hard the headboard hits the wall, and then it barely takes anything before Adam is spilling into the sheets.
They’ve definitely woken Hannibal by now, but he doesn’t care. Right now, he doesn’t care about anything but this.
Later, he’ll be horrified. Later he’ll feel sick about what he’s done—what he begged for. Right now there’s just searing pleasure and sobbing, aching relief.
Adam hasn’t spent a lot of time being touched in his life—he’s always shied away from it, and most people weren’t all that invested in touching him anyway—but Will touches him constantly. Adam thought that maybe he’d stop once he got what he wanted, as if it was just a means to an end, but if anything the touches are more frequent now.
It’s often sexual, and that’s something Adam understands—Will wants to fuck him; that makes sense.
It’s the other touches that confuse him. The way Will puts a hand on the small of Adam’s back when reaching around him for something in the cabinet. The way he rests his toes against Adam’s leg when they’re both sprawled out on the couch reading. The way he covers Adam with a blanket when he falls asleep watching a movie on the sofa.
There’s a certain aching intimacy to it, quiet and small. It feels like an echo of the way Hannibal and Will touch each other—as if touch is just a new language, one of many they can share.
* * *
“Why don’t you ever touch me?” Adam asks Hannibal one day, not so long after.
They’re in the kitchen together. Adam is peeling parsnips while Hannibal sears an enormous shank of meat in a large, flat-bottomed pot. There’s something that might be a thigh bone running through it. The savory scent fills the air, and Adam’s stomach growls. He’s excited for dinner as long as he doesn’t think too hard about what’s in it.
“Because you’ve never asked,” Hannibal says, turning the meat onto its side with a pair of tongs and holding it in place until it’s adequately seared.
Adam worries his lip between his teeth, gathers the parsnip peels in his hands and tosses them in the trash. “Will never asks. He just takes what he wants. Do you not want me?”
“Will and I share many things, but we aren’t exactly alike. There are places he goes that I can’t follow. Other places where I won’t.”
“You don’t like that,” Adam says. He knows it’s true, even as he starts rocking his knife through the white flesh of the vegetable, cutting out the fibrous core. “You don’t like that you’re different. You wish you were both just the same.”
Hannibal tilts his head. It’s not a yes or a no. “Do you want me to touch you, Adam?”
“Yes,” Adam breathes.
They don’t finish their conversation because a timer goes off. Hannibal pulls the meat dripping from the pot and sets it on a waiting platter, and Adam tosses the root vegetables in to braise. The dogs nose around their feet, hoping for anything to fall.
He and Will fuck a lot. It feels like fucking, not like making love or having sex.
The first time Will has him in front of Hannibal, Adam tries to say no. He buries his face in Will’s shoulder like no, you can’t; he’ll see.
“It’s okay, baby,” Will says, gentling him with soft words even as he takes Adam’s pants down in the living room. Even the warm air feels chilly against his newly bare skin. “It’s okay. We’re all family here.” He pulls out his own cock, half-hard and shocking against the rest of his clothes when he’s fully dressed. “Will you suck me, sweetheart? Will you show daddy what a good boy you are?”
Adam can’t tell if the goosebumps on his skin are from the chill in the air or Will’s words. He scrambles to his knees and breathes through parted lips, opening his mouth when Will grabs the back of his head and pulls him down.
“There you go, baby. Open nice and wide.” He makes a soft, satisfied sound, and the line of his neck is mesmerizing when he tips his head back against the back of the couch.
It’s the middle of the day, in summer in the tropics, and he smells like musk and sweat. The taste is salty and sharp, and tears prick at the corners of Adam’s eyes when Will shoves up into his throat. He isn’t gentle. He takes what he wants, holding Adam’s head down until he gags, swallowing and swallowing, the muscles in his throat working in vain to push the foreign object out.
Will doesn’t let Adam up until well after he starts to panic from the sensation of choking.
He coughs when Will lets him go, sputtering and gagging and gasping to catch his breath. Will looks at him like he’s a marvel, drags a thumb through the mess on his face, the tears and spit trailing from the corner of his mouth.
“You’re so beautiful,” he says, and he means it. He means it so much that when he shoves Adam down and fucks his throat, when he clamps a hand tight around his windpipe, it all just feels like love.
Adam is hard and leaking, dripping precome onto the carpet, and he forgets. He takes himself in hand and moans around the cock in his mouth, the vibrations setting off an answering moan in Will above him. The sound is all the encouragement he needs. He pushes himself harder, wanting so much to be good. To be perfect. He hollows out his cheeks and breathes through his nose and feels like he’s won something when Will finally spills down the back of his throat.
Adam swallows it down and whines when Will finally pulls out of his mouth, still chasing his own release when there’s a sharp tug in his hair.
“You know the rules,” Will says. “What are they?”
“I need to ask before I touch myself.” He swallows down the shame and makes himself say it. He hates this part. “I’m sorry, daddy. Can I?”
Will smiles and pulls his hair a little more just because he can—because he knows that Adam likes it and that it makes him shudder. “Go ask your father.”
Adam swallows hard. He turns to face Hannibal sitting in the chair opposite. He isn’t disheveled at all compared to him and Will, but Adam has lived with them long enough to see the difference between this Hannibal and the one he sees day to day, the one he recognizes from days spent sharing quiet peace in the kitchen. This Hannibal is watching them both too intently, breathing a little too hard with half-lidded eyes. The difference is there in the rigid line of an erection in his trousers, the one that Adam desperately wants to taste. He wants to put his mouth on it and lick it through the fabric, ruin the wool and see what Hannibal sounds like when he comes.
But that isn’t what Will asked him to do, and he wants to be good, so he doesn’t.
“Can I?” Adam asks, voice gone breathy and strange.
Hannibal’s voice is full of amusement, deep and resonant. “Can you what?”
“Can I make myself come? Please?”
The very corners of Hannibal’s eyes crinkle. “You may.” It’s mercy or cruelty that makes Hannibal keep talking, makes him say, “Come here,” soft and kind.
Adam looks back to Will, who nods at him. He sighs with wanting.
The distance from where he’s kneeling before Will and where Hannibal is sitting isn’t all that great. It’s no more than a few feet, but it feels like a vast distance when he shuffles across the carpet with his pants around his knees. The fabric hobbles him, and he makes his way, slow and undignified, to avoid falling face-first to the floor. It feels like blessed relief when he finally sags against Hannibal, when he can finally rest his head against a clothed knee.
Hannibal sinks his hand into Adam’s hair, stroking him like a favored dog, and Adam presses into it, preening under the attention.
“Show me,” Hannibal says, and he does.
* * *
Adam gets used to being touched. He gets used to the way Will casually grabs him as he walks by, hauling him into his lap to grind into the sorest parts of him. He gets used to the way Will takes his pants down, getting Adam on his hands and knees to use him up while whispering I love you, I love you, darling boy.
He feels loved and special, wanted and cherished. This is how you have a family.
He walks around sore and tender, loose and open—body, mind, and heart. It’s hard to tell the pain from the love, and he thinks he understands Hannibal a little better every day. Right and wrong only hurt you. Beauty and ugliness all blend together if you stand close enough to the source.
“Are you ever going to let me out of the house?” Adam asks.
“We’re outside right now,” Will says.
It’s true. They’re walking along the beach, the three of them all together with the dogs yipping and prancing up ahead. As the days have gotten longer, they’ve started taking walks along the shoreline after dinner. Sometimes Hannibal picks up interesting shells that they find, and they show up in a centerpiece cleaned and polished a few days later.
Adam gives Will a look. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it. Am I ever going to get to go outside, where other people are?”
“Do you miss other people?” Hannibal asks.
Adam bites his lip and squints into the setting sun, still bright enough to make his eyes water. “Not really. I never liked crowds. I didn’t know I’d miss them, but I liked knowing it was an option—to go places. To do things.”
“Where would you like to go?” Hannibal asks.
They end up going to Marino Ballena National Park the following weekend.
They go when it’s busy so they can get lost in the crowd, just another bunch of American ex-pats trying to see the whales. They dress just like tourists, so anyone might mistake them for just another family taking in the sights. They do see a pod of whales—the great grey bulk of them rising for air in the distance. Adam is mesmerized, and Hannibal hands him the binoculars to get a closer look.
Will looks happy when he’s near the ocean, the way he always does. Something hunted and hard falls away when he sees the beach, and Adam is grateful that Hannibal picked a home by the water for the three of them to share.
Will’s given him a necklace of bruises for the occasion, a collection of hickies dark and vibrant, some of them vivid with teethmarks. They’re high up where his summer clothes can’t hide them even a little. Anyone who sees him would know what he’s been doing. The thought makes him blush.
He thinks people will stare, but if they do, they do it so well he never even notices. It fades from his awareness as the day wears on, except when he presses on a bruise to feel the echo of an old ache.
Hannibal and Will don’t hold his hand here, the way they often do at home. It would draw too much attention, and they’re trying to blend in. Even so, he can tell that he belongs in the easy way Hannibal grips the back of his neck, steering him clear of other tourists when he’s distracted reading a pamphlet and about to collide with another couple. It’s there in the way Will takes little licks of Adam’s ice cream cone without asking—the way he taps Adam’s nose with his own ice cream when Adam tries to shove him away.
“Boys,” Hannibal says when it looks like they’re about to escalate into an all-out ice cream war.
He looks so pained over the whole ordeal that Will and Adam take one look at each other and start giggling. Hannibal takes his napkin and wipes chocolate ice cream off Adam’s nose with longsuffering sigh, and Adam can’t remember ever having a better day.
* * *
When it happens, it’s because Adam decides it should. Hannibal is polite and affectionate, gentle and kind. He always has a place for Adam in his kitchen, some vegetables to chop, a sauce to stir. He always has time to listen to Adam when the nightmares get too bad and he can’t bear the thought of being alone in his head for even an instant.
Hannibal makes it better.
But he still doesn’t touch Adam.
When it happens, Will is away on a hunting trip. Adam drifts into the bedroom when Hannibal is getting ready to go to sleep, when he’s pulling socks off his feet and unbuttoning his shirt. He lingers in the doorway just watching, which means of course Hannibal knows he’s there.
“Yes?” Hannibal asks without turning around. His fingers don’t miss a button, and that’s the kind of comfortable they are with each other these days—the kind of comfortable they all are. They are family and not threat.
Adam can’t see his face, but he can hear the smile in his voice. It makes him bold.
“Touch me,” he says without preamble. “Fuck me. I’m already his, but make me yours too.”
He thought it would be hard, but it isn’t. He should have known better. Things with Hannibal are always easy.
Hannibal sits down at the edge of the bed, bare-chested, the pomade in his hair long since worn off. “Come here,” he says.
Adam crosses the distance between them, and Hannibal pulls him into his lap.
He doesn’t play games the way Will does, doesn’t tease and make Adam beg for it. He just slides his hand up to cup the back of Adam’s head and slots their mouths together, easy and confident.
His lips feel so different from Will’s, thinner and more prominent. He kisses different than Will, and Adam shivers with the illicit thrill of it. He’s allowed, he knows. He isn’t doing anything wrong, but this kiss feels so much like getting away with something. He tries to deepen the kiss, to lick and bite, and Hannibal pulls back with an amused chuckle.
“A thing worth doing is worth doing well,” he says. “There’s no hurry, mielasis, we have all night.”
Hannibal bends to take his mouth again, and Adam is gentle. He lets Hannibal lead, lets him nibble and lick and suck until Adam is a squirming knot of need, aching and gasping from just a kiss.
He squirms against Hannibal, feeling gratified by the hard press of an erection beneath him, the satisfaction of knowing that Hannibal wants this too.
“Your other father is rough with you, isn’t he?” Hannibal murmurs, tracing a finger over the livid bruises on Adam’s neck, along his wrists.
Adam nods, and Hannibal drops a chaste kiss over one of the marks that sends heat burning through him.
“Don’t worry,” he says. “I’ll be gentle,” and he smiles with teeth.
He is. He’s so gentle, taking Adam apart with his fingers, pressing delicate, shivery kisses over the sensitive parts of Adam’s skin. He finds every part of Adam that makes him writhe and moan and plays them again and again.
Adam means to be good, to reciprocate, but all he can do is cling on for dear life and try to stay upright. Hannibal is a force of nature.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry I’m not better.”
“You’re perfect,” Hannibal says as he wrings another low sound out of Adam. “You’re just how I want you, sweet and overwhelmed and mine.”
“Yours,” Adam agrees.
Hannibal hauls Adam onto his hands and knees and doesn’t mind when Adam’s shaking arms mean he slips forward until his cheek is pillowed on the bed. He’s panting and watching Hannibal, who’s looking at Adam like he’s something to devour. It should be frightening. It isn’t.
It just makes him push his hips back and say, “Fuck me, daddy, please.”
Hannibal takes his time with this too. He puts his mouth on Adam and licks and sucks until Adam is making sounds like he’s dying. He’s wet and open and practically sobbing with relief by the time Hannibal finally pushes into him.
Hannibal is so gentle, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. He flinches at the raw burn of it, cries out even as he fucks himself back on Hannibal’s cock, chasing the feeling.
“How does it feel?” Hannibal asks. He pets a hand down Adam’s spine.
“Hurts,” Adam says, honest. He knows Hannibal wants him to be honest. “I’m sore from—from earlier.”
“From Will fucking you.”
Adam moans and nods against the sheets. He makes a helpless noise when Hannibal draws out and slides back in, stretching all the places that feel tender and swollen inside him.
Hannibal bends to lick a trickling drop of sweat from the side of Adam’s ribs.
“You still smell like him,” he says right beside Adam’s ear. His voice is low and dangerous, and Adam wonders how many people have died with it still ringing in their ears. “I can smell him all over you.” Another torturously slow thrust. “Tell me what he did to you, Adam.”
“He—ah—he pulled my pants down and fucked me over the kitchen table. He told me he’d find a way to keep me quiet if I made a sound.”
“And did you?”
Hannibal does something that makes him moan.
“Yes. I—fuck—I was loud.”
Hannibal tsks. “Did you enjoy it?”
Adam nods. He whimpers when Hannibal angles his hips and slides against his prostate on the next thrust.
“Poor dear,” Hannibal murmurs. “You’ve been used so hard today. Maybe I should let you go. Let you rest.” He says it, but his hips keep moving. He keeps inexorably finding the spot in Adam that makes lights dance behind his eyes, in a way that suggests he intends to do no such thing.
“No!” Adam says. The thought of this stopping is suddenly the worst thing on earth. “No, I can take more. Let me. I want to make you feel good too.”
“What a sweet boy you are,” Hannibal says, fond and affectionate. It’s the same mild tone of voice he uses when he praises Adam for keeping an emulsion from breaking, and then he slides so far into Adam it makes his toes curl.
It hurts—there’s no way it can’t. He’s been fucked too many times, chafed in a way that even the silicone slide of expensive lube can’t help, but he pushes back against Hannibal like it’s the last thing that matters. Being wanted feels safe. It feels like home.
This is how you have a family.
It’s slow and endless until it isn’t. After what feels like an eternity, Hannibal grips him by the hips and thrusts into him so hard it jars his teeth. He rocks back into Hannibal and whines into the sheets. He’s so close. He’s been close since he walked into the room.
“Nigel,” he moans. He doesn’t mean to; it just slips out.
“Hannibal,” he breathes. The next thrust hits just right, and then, “Dad.”
Hannibal bites the back of his neck, and Adam comes so hard he sees stars.
“Can I see Nigel?” Adam asks
Nigel is more of a concept than a person to him, at this point. Something like a security blanket, like a story he tells himself in the dark. A spell against bad dreams that nip at his heels no matter what he does.
He doesn’t ask about him often, but sometimes he does—he picks his moments with care. You’re not supposed to ask about other people during sex, but Will never seems to mind when Adam does things you aren’t supposed to do. He doesn’t mind now.
“If you’re good, baby.” Will nuzzles against his neck. It’s the same answer it always is, sweet and hollow as spun sugar. “You want to be good for me, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Adam says. “Always.”
He’s flat on his back, stretched wide around Will. The fit is so tight he can feel the burn and tug of it when Will shifts even slightly. His legs are spread open, and they both groan when he clenches his muscles tight.
Adam grins. He hooks a leg around Will and neatly flips them both over in a move that has Will landing on his back in the middle of soft sheets. He raises an eyebrow, and Adam grins wider. Will runs his hands down Adam’s chest, smoothing over the sweat collecting there, just cataloguing. Caressing. Then Adam starts moving, and Will’s hands fly to his hips, encouraging but not controlling.
Adam goes slow, grinding his hips down in deep, even circles, feeling filled and held. He holds them both on the edge for as long as he can.
“Can you come like this?” he asks. “If I barely move?”
“Is it good for you?” Will asks.
Adam nods. Sighs.
“Then I don’t care.” He reaches up to brush a reverent hand down Adam’s cheek. “Take what you want, baby.”
He does. He turns his head to kiss Will’s palm, taking it in hand to hold it to his lips. He nuzzles against it for the tactile pleasure of it.
“I love you,” Adam says. It tastes so sweet in his mouth that he says it again. “I love you, Will.”
Will makes a sound like he’s wounded—looks like he’s been punched. His hand tightens around Adam’s, squeezing so hard Adam can feel his bones grinding together. Will’s hips stutter out of time, and he comes buried so deep inside it feels like a brand.
He tugs Adam down after he comes back to himself. He licks into Adam’s mouth and sucks on his tongue while stroking him to a messy, perfect finish.
“I love you,” Will says, holding him tight and raining ticklish kisses all over his face that make him squirm to get away. “Fuck, I love you.”
Adam can still feel the echo of Will inside him when he laughs, tired muscles contracting around nothing, and he thinks he could laugh like this all day.
They lay wrapped around each other for as long as they can, until the humidity and the sticky heat of their bodies makes it too uncomfortable to continue. Then Will gets up with one last kiss to Adam’s forehead. He disappears into the bathroom, and Adam tips his head back, drowsing with a head blissfully full of nothing at all.
He’s half asleep by the time Will returns, lulled by warmth and contentment. He jumps when he feels the first press of something between his legs—a soft washcloth, cool and damp.
“Sorry,” Will says. “Are you tired?”
Adam shrugs. “Not really.”
“Take a nap with me anyway?”
“Maybe just for a little while,” he says, but his eyes are drifting shut again already.
Will drops the wet cloth on the nightstand once Adam is less sticky and clambers back into bed.
“Hannibal’s going to be annoyed about that,” Adam murmurs, and Will just laughs.
“Hannibal lives with three dogs and the two of us. He’ll be fine.”
Adam nods and burrows deeper into the covers, surrounded by the scent and feel of home.
All the months start to blur together. There’s really no point in keeping track.
It’s fucking December—the beginning of December, and there are goddamn fucking carolers outside. They crowd around Nigel when he’s trying to open the gate, smiling and ringing bells, and—
“Will you fucking shut up?”
The song grinds to a halt, drifting off in sections as the carolers nearest Nigel stop mid-word and shuffle nervously away from him, and the ones in the back take longer to get the memo. They all just stand there gawping at him, and he rolls his eyes.
“You’re about three weeks too early, and I’m not donating money to shit, now get the fuck out of here.”
A mother holding a small child’s hand shoots him a dirty look as she hurries past, muttering something about holiday spirit. Nigel’s about two seconds from telling her where she can shove her holiday spirit.
Fucking December. A rotten end to a rotten fucking year.
Nigel gets upstairs and tosses his keys into the little dish that Adam had bought him when he’d forgotten his wallet just one time too many. It fucking works—he hasn’t lost his keys, wallet, or phone since.
He flops down onto the couch and pulls his phone out. Clamps a cigarette between his teeth and lights it up, scrolling through missed calls. There’s one from that fuckhead Jason—still just as incompetent—and he ignores it. His head is killing him, and he’s not in the mood. He’ll fix whatever Jason managed to fuck up tomorrow. He tosses the phone on the couch and walks into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator out of habit. It’s practically empty, save for some bread, a bottle of mustard, and one of the shitty beers Cindy brought over last time she was here.
He closes the refrigerator door and opens the freezer. There’s a bag of frozen chicken breast sitting beside three sad boxes of Amy’s mac and cheese. They’re covered in a thick rime of frost, probably well past their expiration date, but he hasn’t been able to bring himself to either eat them or throw them away. He won’t tonight either. He ignores them and reaches for the bottle of vodka leaning on its side instead.
He considers a glass but in the end just shrugs and takes the bottle with him. He’s got no one to impress.
* * *
Nigel’s never been one for Christmas, but it turns out he hates it even more now. Even without the fucking carolers (who had been smart enough not to come back), even without a scrap of Christmas decoration in the house, everything reminds him of the kid.
It’s Christmas Eve, and he’s drunk off his ass thinking about hot chocolate and shy, skittish kisses—his little angel who was so prickly and so sweet. He should have done more. He shouldn’t have left him alone. He knew those sick fucks had their eye on him, and Nigel had just sat around with his thumb up his ass.
He gave the kid a fucking gun like it was enough—like that sweet thing would even be able to pull a fucking trigger—and then he went to move product and fucking left the kid alone.
Adam’s probably dead by now, he knows that. They probably fucking ate him. He knows it’s true, because that’s how life works and there are no miracles, and yet some stupid part of him refuses to believe it—the part that refuses to die no matter how many times he tries to drown it in fucking, fighting, and booze. The same part that keeps paying the kid’s rent and refuses to move out of his tiny apartment. Just in case.
It’s worse if Adam is still alive; he knows that too. If he’s alive, he’s probably suffering, and there’s a thought Nigel can’t even begin to cope with.
“You fucking moron,” he snarls.
He punches a hole in the wall for old times’ sake.
* * *
He’s woken by some annoying sound too close to his ear, tinny and loud. He groans and wills it to stop. There might be a God because it does, finally—only to start right back up again. Nigel curses and picks up on the fourth ring.
“Hello to you too, motherfucker.”
Nigel sits up, groaning as the dark room spins around him. He must’ve passed out at some point, and whatever the fuck time it is, it hasn’t been long enough to sober up.
“Yeah, who else would it be?”
“Not someone with any fucking sense, clearly. What time is it?”
“Half past one.”
Nigel does the math in his pounding head. “The fuck are you calling me at 3 in the fucking morning for?”
“To wish you a merry fucking Christmas and to make sure your sorry ass isn’t still moping. You sitting there being a sadsack, găozar?”
Nigel doesn’t dignify that with an answer, just uncaps the bottle of vodka at his elbow and takes a pull.
Darko sighs at the other end of the line. “Nigel, buddy. I love you like a fucking brother, but you’ve gotta stop doing this to yourself. You knew that fucking kid like, what, two weeks?”
“Three months,” Nigel grunts.
“Three months, I’ve got a fucking cabbage in my refrigerator older than that. You’ve got to let it go. It sucks what happened to your boyfriend, but you gotta fucking move on. Go find yourself some new pussy—or cock, fuck it, whatever you want; it’s a free country—just cut that shit out. You gotta stop, man.”
“Fuck you,” Nigel says, lighting up another cigarette. “What’re you, my fucking mom?”
“Fuck you too. I’m prettier than your mom.”
Nigel flicks the end off his cigarette, watches the cherry burn in the dark. They sit in silence, and the freeway hums in the distance.
“Thanks,” he says finally. “For calling.”
“Yeah, well. Don’t be a bitch about it.”
“Merry Christmas, Darko.”
“Merry Christmas, Nigel. Take care of yourself, man.”
Christmas in Uvita isn’t so different from Christmas in LA. It’s bright and sunny either way, with not a flake of snow to be found anywhere. It’s nothing like New York.
In the ways that matter, it’s nothing like California either. Where his apartment was barren and devoid of holiday cheer, their house in Costa Rica looks like Christmas spirit exploded and dragged its corpse all over the walls. Adam gets dragged into the holiday preparations, and there’s never even the possibility of saying no. Not that he wants to.
No one here asks about his dead dad. There’s a tacit agreement that the past is dead and buried—they’ll dance on hallowed ground, but they won’t dig it up.
Garlands are pressed into his hands, bright things made of gaudy golden tinsel, and he strings them over the doorways while Hannibal says higher or lower. He holds a ladder so Will can climb up to drape Christmas lights over the roof.
“What’s the point?” Adam asks. There are no houses for miles. “No one will see them.”
“We’ll see them,” Will says. “That’s what matters. We can watch them from the beach.”
“They’re pretty,” Adam says at last, and Will hums in agreement.
They drive to get a cypress tree from a farm further inland. The tree they find smells almost right, like sweetened pine mixed with something like pepper. It’s the closest they can get to a fir without driving more than an hour, and Hannibal keeps them in the field long after Adam gets bored, painstakingly inspecting trees for sparse branches and dropped needles until he finally finds one that passes muster.
They drive back with it strapped to the roof of the car.
Will turns on the radio and finds a station playing holiday tunes, saccharine songs that Adam remembers blaring in all the department stores all December long. Hannibal shoots Will a withering glare.
“I should make you listen to that,” Hannibal says as he reaches for the dial.
“Wait,” Adam says. Will turns to look at him, and Hannibal glances at him in the rearview mirror. “I want to listen to it. Can you leave it, please?”
“Sure,” Will says.
Hannibal puts both hands back on the steering wheel, and that means yes.
Sweet, easy melodies fill the car, and Adam sits in the backseat looking out the window, watching the coast roll by.
* * *
The table is heaping with platters of food, far more than the three of them can eat together.
“Why so much?” Adam asks. “It seems like a waste.”
“Because we’re celebrating,” Hannibal says.
“Our first Christmas together as a family,” Will says. He nudges Adam with a shoulder. “If you think this is a lot, you should have seen some of the spreads he made in Baltimore.”
This isn’t something they talk about much—their pasts, the before of it all—and Adam listens with rapt attention.
“You ate with him then,” Adam says. “Before you knew.”
Will inclines his head. “A lot of people did. His dinner parties were the talk of the Baltimore social scene.”
Adam tries to picture it in his head, Hannibal and Will at a dinner party, tricking everyone into eating human flesh. He finds that he can’t.
“I wish I could have been there to see it.”
“You really don’t,” Will says with a laugh that isn’t altogether nice. “They were tedious social affairs full of sycophants and morons. Hannibal didn’t even like his friends.”
Hannibal shakes his head and changes the subject. “In Lithuania, the Christmas Eve meal is called Kūčios, and it’s comprised of twelve distinct dishes for each one of the twelve apostles. Traditionally people fast all day leading up to it.”
“But we didn’t,” Adam says, and his belly gurgles in agreement. He’s still a little queasy from eating too many of the powdered sugar cookies earlier.
“I don’t find asceticism particularly interesting, even recreationally,” Hannibal says. “I see no reason to deny any of us anything when we’re meant to be celebrating—which is why we’ll be having roast lamb, although the traditional Kūčios meal is meatless as well.”
“Is it actually lamb?” Adam asks.
“It is. I admit I found the symbolism too appealing to pass up,” Hannibal says. He hands Adam a tureen of blood red soup to take to the table.
“The Lamb of God,” Will says. “Of course you did. You would think it was hilarious to eat lamb for Christmas.”
Hannibal smiles with teeth. “God loves his jokes. Is it not fitting to make a few at his expense?”
“Arrogant,” Will says, but he smiles with the same teeth that eat Hannibal’s meat. He takes the platter of lamb out of Hannibal’s hands and sets it carefully aside before leaning in to kiss him.
Adam watches from the doorway and feels so drowned with love.
* * *
There isn’t Swiss Miss hot chocolate, but there’s wassail, spicy and hot and spiked with heady brandy. Adam sits on Will’s lap and lets Will feed him little sips while Hannibal pulls presents out from beneath the tree and distributes them.
“I’ve never done this before,” Adam says, warm and flushed and a little tipsy.
“You’ve never opened presents on Christmas Eve?” Will asks, tightening his arm around Adam’s waist and nuzzling into his neck with a teasing growl.
Adam shakes his head, giggling. “Not like this. We always waited until Christmas day, and there were never this many presents.”
There are a lot of presents, a small pile for each of them, and Adam had helped pick some of them out. He’d gone into town with Hannibal and walked through the stores, waiting patiently while Hannibal spoke with the shopkeepers in Spanish. He’d only understood about every third word, but he’d been content to listen to Hannibal’s voice—the way it turned into music when he could hear only tone and not meaning.
He’d stretched out in the bed with Will while he scrolled through Amazon, both of them pointing to things Hannibal might like, sometimes agreeing, sometimes vetoing each other’s picks, until they settled on a nice stack of gifts.
There are presents for him, too, boxes of various sizes wrapped in shiny red paper with pretty gold ribbons. He’d seen them sitting under the tree, but it didn’t occur to him until now just how many there are.
“You didn’t have to get me anything,” he says softly.
Will scoffs. Rubs his back. “Of course we did, sweetheart.”
“We wouldn’t make you do without on Christmas,” Hannibal says.
And Adam knows. He knows enough about them now to know that they’ve both had many Christmases where they’ve done without, and so has he. He thinks of Christmases spent alone in cold apartments, Christmases huddled around a space heater with his dad. He thinks of one bright Christmas where there were no decorations, but he laid on the couch with someone good and felt like nothing could touch him.
He looks up into the smiling faces of his fathers now.
He throws his arms around Will’s neck, and then Hannibal’s. His heart is so full.
“Open your presents,” Hannibal says gently, when Adam’s hung on just a little too long.
Adam slides to the floor and tears into bright paper while Will and Hannibal lean into each other on the couch, sipping drinks and watching. They all take turns unwrapping things, holding up shirts, trying out novelty items, saying thank you and kissing. Even the dogs get presents.
By the time the clock strikes midnight, Adam is sleepy and worn. There’s a pile of paper and bows scattered around the floor, and Will sets his drink down on the coffee table to chase Mia, who’s decided wire ribbon is more fun than her new chew toy. Adam yawns and starts thinking about getting changed for bed.
“You forgot one,” Will says when he returns, handing Adam a small package he’s sure wasn’t under the tree before.
Hannibal and Will share a look, and Adam glances between them, curious.
“Go on,” Will says. “Open it.”
Adam rips the wrapping paper at the seam. Below is a sleek, smooth white box with a recognizable logo and a colorful picture of a phone on top.
“You got me a phone?” He asks, confused.
“Consider it a promise deferred, finally fulfilled,” Hannibal says.
“There’s, uh, a phone plan for it and everything,” Will says. “All you have to do is set it up.”
Adam blinks, dumbfounded. He can’t seem to find the words.
“Merry Christmas, baby,” Will says.
And Adam decides he doesn’t need words. Not today. Not right now.
He tosses the box aside where it lands harmlessly on a pile of sweaters. The dogs sniff at it while he jumps on the couch, knocking the wind out of both his dads. He throws his arms around both of them together, taking turns kissing one and then the other.
“I love you,” he says. “I love you, Merry Christmas.”
And it doesn’t really matter who says it, because it’s true either way.
There’s not enough room on the couch, so they end up on the floor. They add more clothes to the pile of Christmas debris and find out how many ways they can fit together.
The phone lies forgotten because there’s no one to call. Not when he has everything he needs right here.
Adam wakes up with a warm, heavy weight pressed on top of him. There’s something hard and thin nudging at the corner of his mouth.
“Open,” Will says.
Adam does. He always does. Bitter liquid spills across his tongue, and his eyes blink open, owlish and accusing.
“Swallow,” Will says, putting a hand over his mouth, and Adam does.
He makes a face as soon as Will pulls his hand away, taking the eyedropper with it. “What was that?”
“A present,” Will says, screwing the cap back onto an amber bottle. “Part of one, anyway.”
Adam sits all the way up. “What’s it going to do?”
Will smooths a hand through his hair and kisses his forehead. “It’s going to make you really sleepy and maybe a little sick. Don’t fight it.”
Will says it, but his hand tightens in Adam’s hair—not enough to hurt, just enough to make him feel it. He tilts Adam’s head back and licks the bitterness from his mouth. His hands wander, and Adam touches Will’s arms, his face. One of his hands snakes lower to where Will is already half hard in his pants.
“Do you want me while I’m sleeping?” Adam asks, already squeezing Will through the cloth, feeling his cock harden and fill with blood.
He tips his head back further to give Will better access, and he’s rewarded by teeth clamped around his neck, a hard suction that makes his eyelids flutter shut as he cries out.
“I want you all the time, baby,” Will says. He licks along Adam’s collarbone. “We have a few minutes until it kicks in. Do you want to?”
“Always,” Adam sighs.
Will pulls Adam’s t-shirt off then tugs down his boxers. Adam lifts his hips to help, still muzzy with sleep, and then Will is settling between his legs and rubbing his thighs. He spreads them wider to make room and sighs when Will licks along his shaft—long, wet drags of tongue that have Adam squirming for more.
“Tease,” Adam huffs. He knots his hand in Will’s hair and meets no resistance when he pushes Will’s head down. Will just opens his mouth and takes it, and Adam sighs at the feeling of being enveloped in warm, wet heat.
Will hums in approval, and the vibrations feel so good. Adam thrusts lightly into his mouth, crushing his fingers in Will’s curls. Will pulls off just long enough to stick a finger in his mouth, and then he’s rubbing at Adam’s hole, pressing and stroking.
“Do you want to come now or later, baby?”
Adam shivers. “Now,” he says.
Will raises an eyebrow because they both know what that means. If Adam comes now, Will won’t stop. He’ll keep going, using Adam even after he grows sensitive and sore, even after he curls up and pleads for it to end. It’s one of Will’s favorite games. Sometimes it’s Adam’s too.
“You got it,” Will says, replacing his mouth on Adam’s cock, taking him in deep, hollowing out his cheeks and sucking hard.
It’s tight and hot and so good, and before long, every muscle in Adam’s body goes taut as he gasps and comes. Will swallows around him, taking the opportunity to slide his finger into Adam’s hole, pushing past the token resistance his body puts up before giving in. He keeps it there as he leans over Adam to snag the bottle of lube from the nightstand.
Now that the fog of lust is receding, a different sort of fog is taking its place. Adam feels floaty and strange, as if he’s watching himself from outside his body. It’s an effort to keep his eyes open.
“Will?” he says. His tongue feels thick and weird in his mouth.
“Shh, baby. It’s okay.” He pets Adam’s insides in a way that makes him squirm. “Are you feeling it?”
“I feel funny,” Adam says. He scrunches up his face. “I don’t feel good.”
Will slicks his cock and presses the tip against Adam’s opening. “It’s okay, sweetheart. I’ve got you. You’re going to be a good boy for daddy, right?”
Adam nods. He thinks he nods. He tries to nod. He’s not actually sure if it works, but the nice thing about Will is that it doesn’t actually matter what Adam says. He’ll take what he wants anyway. He’ll always take care of Adam.
This is no different. Will doesn’t wait for a better response. He just pushes forward and opens Adam up, groaning as he seats himself fully inside. Adam tries to reach up to touch, to run his hands along Will’s body, but he’s having trouble. He gets a hand off the bed, but it won’t do what he tells it. Everything is moving in jerky, disjointed freeze frames like watching a movie over a bad connection. There’s no pain, but there’s a mounting pressure where their bodies are joined that might be pleasure or something else.
Will pushes Adam’s legs up to his chest and holds him open, loose and pliant as a rag doll. His head lolls against the sheets.
Will fucks him, and he watches until it makes him too dizzy. Then he closes his eyes and just lets it happen.
* * *
He wakes up warm and dry and tucked into bed. The afternoon sun is streaming through the curtains, and his head feels sore and stuffed with cotton. He sits up, and there’s a familiar soreness that makes him wince when he pushes himself out of bed. Walking hurts.
He goes downstairs and finds Will and Hannibal in the kitchen.
“Morning, sleepyhead,” Will says.
Adam squints against the light. Everything feels too bright today, and his brain feels like it’s working slower than usual.
“Did you do something to me?” He asks.
“Will gave you ketamine,” Hannibal says. He hands Adam a glass of water. “Drink this. All of it, please.”
Adam sips at the water, drinking it without question. “Why?” he asks.
“I wanted to,” Will says, as if that’s reason enough. It actually is. “How much do you remember?”
Adam wracks his brain, trying to find files that just aren’t there. “Not a lot. I remember you waking me up and making me swallow something that tasted terrible. I remember you giving me a blowjob.” He shrugs. “Bits and pieces. Impressions, not narratives.”
“Did you like it?” Will asks.
Adam shrugs again. “Does it matter?”
San José, Costa Rica
Nigel gets off the plane and is immediately buffeted by a wave of wet heat. The architecture of this place is white and modern with skylights dripping sun all over everything, but there’s no air conditioning to speak of. He’s sweating within minutes, shirt sticking to him unpleasantly.
He checks his watch. He’s got a few hours to kill before he needs to meet Marco’s friend and more hours still until he’s supposed to meet with the new supplier. He walks outside the airport terminal and lights up a cigarette, letting the soothing swirl of tobacco knock the edge off. A cab pulls up with its windows down, driver asking if he needs a ride. Nigel waves him off with the hand he isn’t using to feed nicotine into his bloodstream as fast as humanly possible.
He’d been on that plane too fucking long, and the thought of sitting down for another second sets his teeth on edge. He could use a chance to stretch his legs and take in the city. It wouldn’t hurt to play tourist for a while. After all, Nigel’s never been one to be shy about mixing business with pleasure.
He’s been in LA too long, and he could use a fucking vacation.
The hours trickle by in a hurry. He wanders the streets, gawking like a tourist. When he gets hungry, he ducks into one of the many restaurants wafting tantalizing odors onto the sidewalk. When he finally tires of walking, he finds his way into a bar and orders una cerveza, then one or two more.
He meets the guy—a small-time arms dealer who still lives with his mother—and pays cash for a Glock the kid swears has never been used to commit any crimes.
Nigel just shrugs. It has or it hasn’t. He doesn’t plan to get caught with it either way.
* * *
By the time Nigel arrives to meet the supplier, the sun has retreated behind the city’s tallest buildings. It casts long shadows over everything, eerie and strange, but at least it’s not so fucking hot anymore.
The place they’ve agreed to meet is a real shithole. It’s a warehouse that couldn’t scream ‘drug deal’ more if it fucking tried, and Nigel shakes his head and mutters about working with strangers. If Darko hadn’t vouched for the man in charge of the operation, a guy named Ricardo Mora, he wouldn’t be here. Even so, his lip curls at the junkies standing on the corner who turn hollow eyes on him as he strides past.
He doesn’t pat the newly acquired gun tucked into his waistband—he isn’t a fucking baby, and he wasn’t born yesterday—but he knows it’s there, its solid weight all the fucking reassurance he needs. He snarls at anyone who so much as looks at him sideways, and everyone gives him a wide berth.
He knocks on a dilapidated door and waits long enough that he lights up another cigarette by the time it swings open. A dour-faced man who barely speaks motions him inside, bolting the door behind him before leading him deeper into the warehouse. If there are lights here, they don’t work—the only light comes from the windows high above the ground, half of them broken with the glass still scattered along the scarred cement floor. He’s been plenty worse places, but he doesn’t usually like to conduct business in them.
The man leads him into a back room that’s furnished like an office, and his impression of his prospective new colleague does an about face. The floor is the same bare cement as the rest of the warehouse, but beyond that, he could be sitting in the lobby of a hotel. Folk tapestries line the wall, and there’s a large desk made from dark, burnished wood in the middle of the room. Ornately shaded lamps cast warm light over everything and give the desk a bloody glow. Two more bodyguards stand against the far wall holding assault rifles, eyeing Nigel as he swaggers in.
A man Nigel immediately knows is Ricardo Mora leans in front of the desk. He and this room could be a matched set, completely at odds with the rest of the warehouse. He’s slick and clean, wearing a white linen suit despite the heat. His face is young and boyish, but there’s a certain sharp cruelty in his eyes.
Nigel likes him immediately.
He holds out his hand and clasps Nigel’s with both of his. “Nigel! I’ve heard so much about you. It’s good to finally meet you. How are you finding San José so far?”
“Can’t complain,” Nigel says.
“Ah, good, good. I do hope you enjoy your stay here. It’s a fine city, and I can make some recommendations if you like—help you find some entertainment.” He nods at the bodyguards at the far end of the room. “I won’t do you the insult of having my men pat you down. We’re all gentlemen here, yes?”
Nigel smirks at the veiled threat, the way his attention is called to the fact that he is very obviously outnumbered here. He schools his smile into something more civilized. “Of course.” He nods at the brick of cocaine on the table, stark white against the cherry wood. “That what you’re selling?”
“Right down to business, eh?” Mora thumps the tightly wrapped package with his knuckles. “This is it. Would you like to sample it?”
Nigel inclines his head. “Please.”
Mora walks behind his desk and takes a seat. He gestures to the chair sitting on the other end of the desk and leans forward as Nigel sits down. The chair is uncomfortably soft, and it feels like he’s sinking when he lowers himself into it. It doesn’t escape his notice that his chair is slightly lower than Mora’s, but he manages not to roll his eyes at the posturing.
The drug lord takes a sharp, gold letter opener and slices into the package. He scoops some of the fine white powder out along the length of the blade and taps it out on the table. He tells Nigel about the beaches he should see (“Jaco Beach is closest, but bah, tourists. You must visit Playa Conchal if you have the time.”) while he cuts it into lines. He rolls a bill into a tight tube and does one of the lines himself before offering it to Nigel.
Nigel snorts a line, shaking his head at the sharp, familiar burn of coke in his sinuses. He grins as it hits his bloodstream and lights him up.
“That’s fucking good shit.”
Mora claps him on the back. “Would I sell you trash?”
“No, you fucking wouldn’t,” Nigel says, feeling lighter than he has in weeks.
They do another line each and hammer out the details—how often Nigel will get shipments, where and how. They talk money. Nigel lays an envelope on the table and slides it over, which Mora takes without checking.
That raises an eyebrow.
“You’re not gonna count that?”
Mora smiles. “Our mutual friend Darko vouched for you as well. Trust is the basis for any successful partnership, I find.”
Nigel grunts in approval. He keeps his mouth shut and avoids mentioning that he would’ve counted the fucking money, trust or no.
“A drink!” Mora says suddenly, slapping his hand on the table.
He signals to one of the men standing in the corner, who disappears and returns with a brand new bottle of tequila and two glasses. Mora cracks the bottle open and pours a portion of golden liquid in each.
Nigel nearly knocks one of the glasses off the table with the sudden sound of gunshots outside, distant but recognizable. His head swivels toward the door, and he tenses, reaching for his gun reflexively.
“Don’t concern yourself,” Mora says. “Kids have been fighting in the neighborhood recently. Turf wars,” He makes a dismissive gesture and chuckles to himself. “In many ways, I don’t miss being a young man.”
He slides one of the glasses to Nigel and raises his own in a toast. “To being wiser than young men.”
Nigel raises his glass. “To being wiser than somebody.”
They clink their glasses together and drink.
They down their drinks in a few neat gulps, and Nigel smacks his tongue against the roof of his mouth, trying to chase away the bitter bite. He taps a cigarette out of the pack crumpled in his pocket.
“Yes, yes, go ahead,” Mora says. He refills their glasses, and they drink the next round slowly, savoring the taste of smoked sugar, syrupy and thick.
Nigel leans back and puffs on his cigarette, tipping his head back for the luxuriant stretch of it. The uncomfortable plush cushion beneath him is seeming more inviting by the minute, and he wonders why he ever hated this chair. He asks Mora a few questions about his business in San Jose, and then about Playa Conchal, letting his eyes slide shut as the answers wash over him—just for a second. He’s more tired than he thought, jet lag and too many late nights finally catching up with him.
He blinks his eyes open with great effort, and finds he’s no longer in the chair. His face is pressed against bare cement, the cold radiating through his clothes, and his limbs feel like they’re cut from stone.
He tries to raise his head. “What’dyou— didyou—”
There’s the click of leather shoes on the ground as Mora stops in front of Nigel. A flash of white linen that Nigel tries to grab but can’t quite manage.
“Sorry, my friend. It's just business, eh? It's nothing personal.”
Nigel reaches for his gun with thick, heavy fingers and finds nothing at all in the place where it should be. He closes his eyes and retches.
There are hands on him, rolling him out of a pile of his own puke. His eyelids feel like lead, and he fights them open. Thick curls. Blue eyes, intent and bright.
The first thing he thinks is, “Adam?”
His voice sounds wrong.
Nigel’s arms are wrenched behind his back so hard he grunts. There’s no pain where there should be, only a spreading, sinking numbness. There’s the high sound of a zip tie being pulled tight, and his wrists are bound together.
“Wiggle your fingers for me,” The man says. “I don’t need them falling off.”
Nigel does no such thing. He wouldn’t do it even if he could.
The man seems to understand that because he sighs and slips a finger beneath the makeshift cuffs, doing a quick circuit to check for circulation. The motion turns his head, and now Nigel can see a livid scar cutting across the side of his cheek. He knows that fucking scar. He knows that fucking face.
His eyes slip shut again before he can tell Will Graham to go fuck himself.
He wakes up in a car trunk with twilight shadows all around him. He’s bound at the ankles and knees, contorted into a cramped, uncomfortable position.
Will leans against the trunk of the car. “I’m turning you on your side and leaving the gag off so you don’t choke on your own vomit, but if you make a sound, I’ll make you wish you hadn’t.”
“Fuck you,” Nigel slurs.
The car truck slams shut above him, and everything is lost to the disorienting dark. He smiles as he slips away again. He’s probably about to die, but at least he finally told Will fucking Graham to fuck off.
* * *
The drugs wear off sometime in the first hour. When they do, he realizes how fucked he is.
He is going to fucking kill Darko if he makes it out of this with his skin intact.
“Fucking ‘vouched for,’ my ass,” Nigel mutters to the rumbling dark. “The fuck did you fucking find this guy, the back of a Crackerjack box?”
He can move and think again, but his head is pounding, and moving more than a few inches at a time makes his stomach churn. He pulls at the cuffs on his wrists experimentally. There’s absolutely no give whatsoever. His head knocks against something hard when they go over a particularly bad bump in the road, and he snarls.
* * *
He doesn’t go back to sleep. He lies in the dark, alert and awake, on the off chance there’s fuck all he can do to help his situation. If he sees an opportunity, he’ll take it. He’ll headbutt the fucker if he has to—he just needs one good shot.
He has no way of knowing how long they drive, but it’s long enough that his leg cramps up and he loses feeling in the arm beneath him. It’s long enough that he has a chance to curse Will Graham’s driving and every motherfucking pothole in the country of Costa Rica at great length.
“You hear me, you dumbfuck? You’re a terrible fucking driver.”
But no matter how much he yells and hollers, Will Graham never makes good on his promise to make Nigel regret it, so he never gets his shot.
It’s pitch black outside by the time the trunk finally opens up. He gulps in the fresh air, taking in as much as he can after being shut up in the dark for hours. He has no fucking idea where he is. He can’t see anything but the stars above over the lip of the trunk, and he has no way of pushing his head up to get a better look.
A rag that smells like gasoline is clapped over his nose and mouth, and he thrashes and fights, but the ties that bind him hold fast. He bites, but the rag over his face is so thick he gets nothing but a mouthful of foul-tasting cotton.
Will clamps the cloth in place, holding Nigel’s head immobile in a solid grip until everything gets fuzzy and fades out again. The man looks like the devil silhouetted by the moon.
* * *
He wakes up tied to a chair. His clothes are clean and dry, which is fucking horrifying considering they aren’t the clothes he put on when he woke up this morning. The smell is an improvement; they smell like rosemary and cedar, nothing at all like the scent of stale booze and sick he’d been surrounded by in the trunk for the better part of fuck-knows-how-long.
He’s alone in a small room. A bedroom. There’s a neatly made double bed against one wall, and the walls are warmly lit by a cheerful blue lamp painted with golden stars.
Nigel has had it up to fucking here with waking up in new places.
He’s gagged this time. There’s a wad of dry, sticky cloth shoved in his mouth and something that’s probably duct tape holding it in place. His legs are pulled back and tied to the rear chair legs—tight, without a scrap of give—so he has no leverage at all. His hands are still wrapped behind his back, tied all the way to his elbows, tingling and numb in a way that worries him for the state of his fingers, no matter what that creepy fuck said.
He considers throwing his weight forward to tip himself over. It’ll probably break his nose, but it might at least break the chair too. The thing he’s tied to looks wooden—solidly constructed, but everything’ll fucking break if you hit it hard enough.
It’s a shitty fucking plan, but it’s this or sit around waiting to be turned into lunchmeat, so he rocks himself forward, then back. He really has no leverage, no way to gain momentum. He clenches his muscles and throws himself forward, succeeding in lifting the back legs a half inch off the ground before they thump back to earth.
He does it again, then again, gaining a little more height each time. Maybe if he can throw his weight to the side as he falls, he’ll save himself the broken face.
He hears the thumping of footsteps outside, probably one of those fucks coming to see what all the racket is. He bares his teeth. If the fuckers get close enough, he’ll take a chunk out of one of them. Fuck them, he’s not going down without a fucking fight.
The door swings open, and Nigel’s eyes widen. He lets out a wounded sound through the layers of spit-soaked cotton in his mouth.
The kid looks just as gobsmacked.
His chair rights itself, all four legs returning to the ground with a resounding thump, and Nigel just stares. His eyes feel hot, and he might be crying because what the fuck.
He tries to talk, tries to say Adam, darling, angel, holy shit you aren’t dead, and it all comes out as garbled gibberish.
Adam stares too, and it is—it’s him, in the flesh, looking like he’s still got all the important bits attached. There are five fingers on the hand that flies to his mouth. There are ten toes altogether where he’s standing barefoot in blue jeans.
It’s me, he wants to say. Gorgeous, it’s me. Untie me so we can get the fuck out of here.
Adam whips around and talks to someone just outside the door. “I don’t understand. What is this? Why— I don’t—”
And then Will fucking Graham walks into the room and snakes an arm around his angel’s waist, pulls him close and nips at his ear. And Adam doesn’t fight, doesn’t cry or push him away. He just squirms and sighs and relaxes in his arms.
“It’s a present for you, baby. Happy anniversary.”
Adam looks back at Nigel, sweet little brow furrowed. “Do you want me to kill him?” Nigel makes a short, sharp sound at that, which everyone in the room ignores. “I don’t want to kill him.”
Will laughs. “You don’t have to kill him. You can do whatever you want with him—he’s your present.” He squeezes Adam again. “Remember I told you I didn’t want to take anything away from you?”
“I meant it,” Will says softly. He turns Adam around and kisses him on the mouth, a long, wet kiss that leaves Adam panting and clinging to him. He gets his hands on the kid’s ass and grinds into him before finally letting go. Adam moans, and Nigel feels sick.
Will untangles himself from Adam, extricating his arms from grasping hands to the sound of protests.
“Go say hi to Nigel, baby. It’s not nice to keep guests waiting.”
“I don’t want to,” Adam says quietly, but the room is so silent you could hear a fucking pin drop, so of course Nigel hears it.
It feels like a fucking knife to the heart—all of it does, every bit.
“But I want you to,” Will says. “You want to be a good boy for me, right?”
Adam bites his lip and looks at the ground. “Yes, daddy.”
What the fuck is this?
Nigel watches in horror because he can’t bring himself to look away. Will kisses Adam on the forehead and leaves the room, presumably to go be equally fucking creepy right outside the door in case Nigel escapes.
Adam looks at the closed door for far too fucking long before finally looking back at Nigel. He chews his lip and his eyebrows knit together—familiar expressions on this entirely unfamiliar person that only make his heart clench painfully in his chest.
“You’re crying,” Adam says. It’s not fair that he sounds exactly the fucking same. He touches his fingers to Nigel’s face and gently wipes the tears away. “Did anyone hurt you? I hope you’re not hurt.”
Nigel doesn’t talk because he can’t.
“I’m going to pull the tape off your mouth, okay? Please don’t bite me.”
Nigel makes an angry sound and pulls against the ropes holding him down. He would never. He’d never fucking hurt Adam. It’s possible Adam doesn’t know that because he draws back as if he’s scared of Nigel. Like the real threat isn’t that fucking monster Adam was just letting shove his tongue down his fucking throat.
Adam doesn’t come back until Nigel closes his eyes and makes a conscious fucking effort to control himself. Counting to goddamn ten and everything. His eyes blink open when he feels a soft touch against his face. Adam’s fingers are gentle when they feel for the edges of the duct tape, and despite everything, the small touch feels like a miracle.
“I think this is going to hurt,” Adam says, concentrating as he starts to pull the tape back.
He does it slowly, obviously trying not to hurt Nigel. If Nigel could talk, he’d tell the kid to just rip it off like a bandaid to get it over with—there’s not a lot more the kid could do to hurt him than he hasn’t already fucking done—but he can’t, so it doesn’t matter.
So the kid peels the tape back painstakingly slow, probably taking some stubble and skin with it in the process. From up close, Nigel can see the bruises all over him, bite marks and deep purple welts that snake down his neck and arms, rings of bruises around both wrists. It makes him fucking livid. Revives every fantasy he’s had in the past 12 months of fucking up those evil assholes.
When the tape’s finally gone, Nigel tries to spit out the wad of cloth stuffed in his mouth. There’s a moment of hesitation, and then Adam sticks his fingers in Nigel’s mouth to help fish it out. Nigel coughs and sputters when his mouth is finally clear, when it feels like he can finally breathe again.
It feels like something died in his mouth.
“Water?” he croaks hopefully. His voice sounds like shit.
Adam nods and disappears, going away for long enough that Nigel wonders if he’s even coming back. He tips his head back and wonders what the fuck happened in the past year.
Adam does come back. He comes back with a glass full of ice water and a straw, turning the cup so Nigel can pull the straw between his teeth and suck. He drains the entire glass while Adam waits patiently. By the time he’s done he doesn’t feel any fucking better, but at least he’s less thirsty.
Adam sets the glass down on the nightstand and puts a fucking coaster under it, and Nigel just stares at him.
“You’re letting him touch you now?”
Adam shifts uncomfortably under his gaze. “If he wants.”
“He fucking you too?”
He doesn’t have to ask. He knows the fucking answer from looking at the two of them, but some part of him wants to hear it. The same part that tried to commit suicide by cop when Gabi turned him in, probably.
“Nigel. That’s none of your business.”
He knew it. He shakes his head. He can’t fucking hit anything but he’d really like to—Will Graham’s smug fucking face, for starters, again and again until it shatters.
“What the fuck did they do to you, kid?”
“They made me part of their family,” Adam says, defensive.
He doesn’t even know where to start with that and decides not to even try. He changes the subject.
“Can you untie me, Adam? I can’t feel my arms, and I really need to piss. I’ve been shoved in the trunk of a car for—what time is it?”
“For about four hours.”
“I don’t know,” Adam says. He looks toward the door again. “I don’t know if it’s okay. I can go ask—”
Nigel closes his eyes. He can’t. He can’t listen to his beautiful, bruised fucking angel talk like this.
“Adam,” he says sharply. “You can do whatever the fuck you want. You don’t have to ask permission from fucking anyone and sure as fuck not from them.”
“I do,” Adam says immediately. There’s a weird, fanatical light in his eyes that Nigel doesn’t like one bit. He smiles, and it’s so hollow and so wrong. “I do because I want to be good. They love me when I’m good.”
Nigel breathes through his nose very slowly. He does not fucking yell. He tenses his arms against the ropes and pulls rather than fucking yell.
“Adam,” he says, grits it out through his teeth. “Gorgeous. They’re hitting you. How much can they possibly fucking love you to let you walk around like that?”
“A lot. More than anything. They want me. I’m special. They treat me well and take care of me. We’re a family—you just don’t understand it yet.”
“You don’t hit people you love, remember, Adam? Remember our rule? Whatever happened to that?”
Adam looks stricken.
“It’s different,” he says finally. “You don’t understand. It’s not the same. Do you want more water?”
Nigel considers saying yes, just to keep Adam here longer, but in the end he shakes his head. He lets his angel walk back into the lion’s den alone.
“No, darling. I’m good.”
“Okay,” Adam says. He picks up the empty glass and the coaster and hesitates in the doorway. He looks like he might say something else, but he just turns to leave and shuts the door on the way out.
Nigel keeps quiet. He doesn’t so much as breathe so he can listen to Adam’s steps receding all the way down the stairs. He holds his breath until they fade away into nothingness, and then he tosses his head back and closes his eyes.
Thanks for waiting, y'all. Updates might be a little slower for the next week or so because I'm horrifically busy with IRL stuff, but like, writing is still where I find comfort so it seems unlikely I'll leave you hanging for all that long.
They can’t leave Nigel tied up forever. Adam knows that. It still doesn’t mean he wants to hear it.
“Mielasis, you do need to let him go.”
Adam shakes his head and keeps pacing the floor. Chews his thumbnail.
“The way he’s bound places pressure on his ulnar nerve. There could be permanent damage and loss of sensation if you leave him there too long.”
Adam makes a frustrated sound. “Why did you bring him here?”
“Baby, you asked about him for months,” Will says.
“I stopped asking,” Adam says. “I didn’t want this. Why did you give me this?” He narrows his eyes and jabs a finger in Will’s direction. “You’re being cruel.”
He doesn’t stop to look, doesn’t stop to see how his words land. He just keeps pacing like he’s trying to wear a hole in the carpet. He knows how Hannibal hates that.
Sure enough, “Adam, come here,” Hannibal says.
His voice is just as calm, just as kind, but there’s an undercurrent of command in it that soothes Adam right down to his bones. He stands sullenly in front of Hannibal, who tilts his chin up and forces Adam to meet his eyes.
“Everything will be fine, dear one. What is this about?”
“He’s going to hurt someone when I let him go,” Adam says, not daring to tug his face away, although he desperately wants to. “Or he’s going to get hurt. I don’t want either of those things to happen. I want things to stay the way they are now.”
Hannibal keeps looking at him, waiting for more. He has an uncanny knack for knowing when Adam is hiding anything, when there’s something he doesn’t want to tell them. It doesn’t fail now. He sits perfectly, eerily still, waiting for the thing Adam really doesn’t want to say.
Of course it spills out of him.
“He thinks you’re hurting me,” Adam says at last. He rubs at one of the bruises on his neck, pressing into it with the pads of his fingers to really feel it. “He doesn’t understand. I don’t like the things he thinks about you.”
Hannibal pulls Adam into his lap, and yes. Yes, this.
“But you can make him understand, can’t you?” Hannibal asks.
He tilts his head up to lick along the underside of Adam’s jaw, tasting him, and Adam tips his head back and sighs. His hands go to Hannibal’s shoulders, and he grinds down into his lap, shamelessly seeking friction.
“I want you,” Adam says. “Daddy, please.”
He’s rewarded by Hannibal pressing a hand to his crotch, rubbing with firm strokes that make him gasp. Hannibal kisses him, and Adam does it the way Hannibal likes, slow and unhurried, even when he wants it faster and harder. He gasps when Hannibal bites his lower lip, closing his teeth around the soft, tender flesh until the feeling tips over into pain. Adam makes a low, desperate sound and grinds into Hannibal’s hand.
He licks his lip once Hannibal lets him go, chasing the residual pain, surprised when his tongue comes away without the taste of copper. He’s disappointed.
“Show me,” Hannibal says with heavy-lidded eyes. “Show me what you want.”
He takes his hands off Adam all at once, withdrawing against the arm of the couch. It’s all the permission Adam needs. He unbuttons his pants and squirms his way out of them, shoving his underwear down and kicking both onto the floor.
He lies on his back and spreads his legs as wide as he can, knees falling open against the couch. Hannibal watches as Adam sucks two fingers into his mouth, coating them with spit. His cock lays heavy and leaking on his stomach, and he ignores it. He’s not allowed to touch it, but he’s allowed to do this. He reaches down and finds his opening, sliding both fingers in without preamble—too dry, too fast to be comfortable. It’s good anyway. It’s friction and pleasure that makes him squint his eyes shut tight and moan.
He fucks himself while Hannibal watches, and he knows Will is watching too. The thought sends a jolt of heat to his belly, makes his cock twitch and leak. He opens his eyes and groans when he sees Hannibal looking at him, hungry and intent. Hannibal has taken his own cock out, and he’s holding it it loosely, obscene and flushed against his pants, foreskin pulled back. Adam wants to taste it. He licks his lips and fucks himself harder.
“What do I look like?” Adam asks, breathless. “Daddy, what do you see when you watch me?”
“I see you,” Hannibal says. “My darling boy, so beautiful and brittle. So eager.” His lips curve. “I see something that’s mine.
Adam sighs. "Yours. Fuck me, daddy, please.”
Hannibal leans forward so that he’s folded over Adam. He sticks his fingers into Adam’s mouth, proprietary and testing, just because he can. Adam sucks them eagerly, glad for the privilege of touch. He chases them when Hannibal finally pulls them back, thumping his head back against the couch when Hannibal drags those same fingers lower—when he circles Adam’s nipple, painting it with saliva so it catches a chill from the still air in the room.
Hannibal gets to his feet and undresses while Adam watches, breathing hard. Adam turns his head to look at Will sitting on the chair opposite, stroking himself lazily as he looks on. He gives Adam a smile that makes his heart flutter.
Hannibal slicks himself with lube from the end table, and then he’s settling between Adam’s legs and pushing in and oh.
Oh, it’s perfect.
Adam wraps his limbs around Hannibal and clings, rubbing their bodies together, opening up and letting it happen.
“Yes,” he pants. “Yes, yes, yes.”
Hannibal kisses him and fucks him and loves him, and it’s perfect. Nearly perfect.
Adam turns his head and locks eyes with Will, whose gaze is exactly where he knew it would be—on his face, watching him. Loving him too.
“I want you,” Adam says softly. “I want you too.”
Will gets up, slow and deliberate as a predator and kneels beside the couch, close, so he can bend his head near and capture Adam’s lips with his own. He swallows down the short, sharp sounds Adam makes as Hannibal fucks him impossibly deep. He pulls back to lick Adam’s ear, drawing a long, full moan from him.
“How do you want me, baby?”
“My mouth,” Adam says, gasping for air. “I want to taste you.”
Will groans. “Fuck, baby. Okay.”
He looks at Hannibal, who pushes Adam forward like he’s no heavier than a doll, so his head hangs off the edge of the couch. Will crouches so he can bring his cock to Adam’s lips, and Adam opens so he can slip the head inside.
It’s awkward and ungainly, all of it. This is far from the best place they’ve picked to fuck—the couch is too small and the wrong height—but they manage. They find the right angle so Will can thrust into Adam’s mouth as Hannibal fucks him, the dual sensations nearly short-circuiting his brain. Will shoves deep into the back of his throat, cutting off his air and bringing tears to his eyes, and he moans around it and rides it out. He can hear the sound of Will and Hannibal kissing above him, wet and messy, the sound of them getting lost in each other—but they never forget him.
When Will comes, Adam keeps sucking and licking as long as he can, until Will finally pulls away with a whimper, oversensitive and sated. He stays, sitting up by Adam’s head and petting the hair from his sweaty forehead. He tells Adam what a good boy he is, You look so pretty, sweetheart. Look how well you take daddy’s cock. You can squeeze my hand if it hurts, baby.
“Can I come?” Adam asks, frantic. “Please, can I come?”
“No touching,” Hannibal says, pulling Adam’s wrists away and pinning them up near his head. “You can come from this or not at all.”
Adam whimpers at the cruelty of it. It’s so unfair he could cry.
And he tries, oh, he tries. He’s so close to the edge, and he tries to tip over it, clenching his muscles and grinding down on the cock buried deep in his ass. In the end it’s almost but not quite enough.
Hannibal stills suddenly and spills in him with a soft groan. He holds Adam, staying inside him until his cock stops pulsing, until he grows soft and slips out with a strange sensation that makes them both grimace.
He gives Adam a deep, thorough kiss that only ratchets his need higher.
“Please,” Adam says, clinging and petting and wanting, so hard that it hurts. “Please, please don’t leave me like this.”
“But it’s what I want from you,” Hannibal says. “You’ll endure it for me won’t you?”
Adam grits his teeth and nods, sitting up with a wince.
Hannibal bumps their foreheads together affectionately. “I’ll hold you until you calm down, if you like. Then you’ll put your clothes back on and go see to your guest. All right?”
He nods again.
* * *
It’s much later by the time he returns to his room. He can’t tell if he’s surprised to find Nigel awake—surprise requires expectation subverted, and he’s not sure he has any of those these days. It’s hard to expect anything when you won’t let your mind light on it for long enough. He open the door and closes it softly behind him, as if this is somehow secret. As if he can hide it from prying eyes.
He avoids looking for as long as he can. He looks at the floor, the maps lining the walls, the curtains, the lamp. He looks at the edges, at safe places only. He doesn’t look at Nigel until there’s simply nowhere else left.
Nigel is watching him with the saddest eyes. “You’re loud, you know. Would you have been that loud with me?”
He smiles like Will used to, the one that looked soaked in pain.
“I don’t know,” Adam says. “We never got to find out.” He looks at his hands because it’s better. “I would have liked to have found out.”
“Me too, gorgeous,” Nigel says. He sniffs and straightens. “So what happens now? You kill me for your new boyfriends?”
Adam tenses at the word boyfriends. It’s not the right one. It’s nowhere even close. “I’m not going to kill you. I wouldn’t do that.” He takes a deep breath. “I’m going to let you go.”
Nigel raises his eyebrows. “Just like that? You’re just going to fucking let me go?”
Adam nods. “You should probably go home. I don’t think anyone would try to stop you. That isn’t the point of this. Just—just go and forget this ever happened. Forget about me. Go and be happy somewhere. I’d like that for you. I’d like for you to have that.”
Nigel nods at the knife in his hand. “Alright, just go ahead and gut me with that thing.”
Adam’s eyebrows knit together. “What? Nigel, why would I do that?”
“Because that’d be better, Adam. Jesus, don’t you fucking get it? You can’t ask me to do this. You can’t ask me to just leave you here. I can’t fuck off back to America knowing that you’re here, and you’re letting them kill you.”
“They fucking are. They’re killing the best parts of you, sweetheart. If you want me to leave so bad, you can take that knife and stick me with it yourself because I’m not going anywhere without you.”
Adam closes his eyes and swears.
“I said fuck, Nigel,” Adam says, far too loud to be polite, yelling for the first time since the one and only time he raised his voice to Hannibal. “You don’t get it. This is what they do. They knew that this would happen. That you’d want to stay.” He throws the knife at the floor and can’t bring himself to care that it gouges the wood.
Nigel smirks. “It feels good to get angry, doesn’t it?”
Adam shoots him a withering glare, but it can’t last. He’s looking at Nigel. Nigel who he thought he’d never see again, Nigel who’s looking at him like he’s smart and capable and not at all fragile. A small smile cracks through.
“It feels pretty good,” he admits. He sighs and picks up the knife on the ground, scuffing at the divot in the wood with a toe.
“Your boyfriends gonna be mad about that?”
Adam makes a face. It’s easy to do that now—easier. It’s just Nigel. “My dads. Not boyfriends.”
“Don’t,” Adam says, gesturing with the knife before he realizes he shouldn’t. He drops the hand to his side. “I don’t want to talk about it, not right now. Please.”
Nigel shakes his head. “That’s so incredibly fucked up, I hope you know that.”
Adam purses his lips and frowns at Nigel before shaking his head. He starts cutting away the ropes holding Nigel’s arms together. “This is actually really hard to do. I feel like I’m going to cut you.”
“Well I’d appreciate it if you didn’t, darling. Although on the bright side, I can’t actually feel my arms anymore so it might not hurt if you did.”
“Sorry,” Adam says. “For not letting you go earlier. Hannibal said the ropes are impinging on your ulnar nerves.”
“Hannibal says,” Nigel mutters, and Adam ignores it.
He works slowly and carefully, sliding his fingers underneath the rope so he can slide the knife in and saw upward, away from the vulnerable flesh of Nigel’s arms. It takes a long time, but finally the last coil of rope falls to the ground.
Nigel groans and brings his hands in front of him, stretching and flexing each finger one by one. He grimaces as he rolls his shoulders. “Fuck, that hurts. I’m going to fucking feel that for the next week.”
“Sorry,” Adam says again.
The ropes binding Nigel’s feet are easier. Adam’s had practice, and Nigel’s pants provide some cushion between blade and skin. He can work faster when he’s less afraid about slicing Nigel open.
Adam hesitates before starting on the last foot. “What are you going to do when you’re free if you’re not leaving? You’re still not leaving?”
“I’m not fucking leaving,” Nigel says, like it’s final. “I’d like to go downstairs and murder those two sons of bitches is what I’d like to do.”
“Nigel,” Adam says sharply. “I’m tired and sore, and I want to go to bed. I’m not going to thank you if you kill someone I love. That would hurt me badly, and I’d rather not be hurt any more today.”
Nigel twists so he can look at Adam. “You love him?”
“I love them both,” Adam says, sawing at the rope. He glances up at Nigel’s face, just for a second. He can tell Nigel’s upset, but he doesn’t know what to do about it. “A year is a long time,” he says at last. He jerks his head toward the window. “You’ve been living your life out there. I’ve had to make my life in here. I know it’s wrong in some ways, but it’s mine. It’s what I have, and I want to keep it.”
Nigel had been so good about keeping still that Adam is startled when he wrenches his leg away before Adam’s finished cutting the final rope. He jerks it hard enough that the last length snaps free anyway.
Nigel stands up immediately, although he’s unsteady on his feet from sitting for so long. When Adam goes to steady him, he jerks his arm away.
“Don’t touch me,” he snaps.
He leans against the wall, and Adam just stands in the middle of the room, flexing his hands helplessly.
As soon as Nigel can walk without falling over, he does, yanking the bedroom door open so hard the hinges creek.
“Are you leaving after all?” Adam asks.
The question pulls Nigel up short. He drags a hand through his hair and swears.
“I’m not fucking leaving,” he says. “I’m going to have a fucking smoke. I’m sure your dads wouldn’t like me smoking in the house.”
Adam bites his lip and winces when it’s still tender from Hannibal’s bite earlier. Nigel doesn’t miss that—his eyes narrow at the flinch.
“There’s a beach outside, a little ways from here. I don’t know if you got the chance to see it when you—when you came in. If you keep walking behind the house, you’ll find it in five minutes. There’s no lights so be careful not to walk into the water. I’ve done that before.”
Adam trails him down the stairs like a shadow, stopping at the foot of the stairs to watch Nigel storm through the living room, past Hannibal who barely glances up from his sketchbook on the couch and Will who smirks.
Nigel slams the door on his way out.
“That went well,” Will says.
“Appalling manners,” Hannibal murmurs.
* * *
Sure enough, the beach is right where the kid said it would be. It’s vast and deserted. Nigel can barely see the water, but he can hear the quiet crash of waves against the shore. The air is salty here, brine flooding his lungs on every breath.
It’s not nearly enough to soothe his foul mood. Not even fucking close.
He pats his pockets looking for his cigarettes and a light and growls with frustration when he comes up empty. Of fucking course. He’s not wearing his own clothes, is he? He growls again and kicks at the sand, sending a spray of it flying. It’s wholly unsatisfying.
He sits on the shore with a heavy grunt, ignoring the way the sand’s dampness leaches up into his clothes. The calm rush of the waves doesn’t make him feel any better.
He turns when he hears footsteps.
For a second he’d hoped it would be the kid, coming after him, hopefully coming to his senses and snapping out of whatever they’ve done to him, but of course Nigel has no such luck. Of course it’s Will fucking Graham.
Will takes a seat on the sand beside him, utterly silent. Must be easy to move like a fucking ninja when you haven’t spent the better part of the last day stuffed in a trunk and tied to a chair.
Nigel turns back to the black water, unimpressed. “I may not have a gun, but I can still kick your fucking ass.”
“Is that your plan?”
Nigel shrugs. “It could be. The kid seems to think you’d let me go, let me just walk out of here if I wanted. That true?”
Will shrugs. “You going to tell the cops about us?”
Nigel’s lip curls. “I’m not leaving.”
Nigel sighs and takes the pack of cigarettes out of Will’s hand. It’s worse for the wear, crumpled and a little bit damp from the humidity. The cigarette he takes between his lips is crushed and crooked, but he lights it up anyway.
He glances up at Will. “You smoke?”
“Not really,” Will says, but he takes a cigarette from the extended pack anyway and catches the lighter when Nigel tosses it at him.
They sit there smoking on the beach in silence, invisible save for the lit ends of their cigarettes glowing in the dark.
“He loves you,” Nigel says. It sits between them like a heavy weight.
“He loves you too. It’s not a zero sum game.”
“Of course it is,” Nigel says. “Christ, I ought to kill you.”
“But Adam asked you not to, so you won’t. That’s what your love is. Sacrifice. Martyrdom.”
Nigel sneers. “And how the fuck would you know?”
“I love him too,” Will says simply.
“Fuck you. I love him. You fucked him up.”
Will shrugs, and Nigel considers punching his lights out.
“They’re not mutually exclusive.”
Nigel stabs his cigarette in the sand. “From where I’m sitting, rape, kidnapping, and love are all mutually exclusive, asshole.”
Will finishes the last of his cigarette before stubbing it out beside Nigel’s. “You’d think they would be, but you’d be wrong. Forgiveness, goodness—not really necessary to build a love.”
“Adam’s got goodness in fucking spades.”
“I know,” Will says. “He’s so unlike us, isn’t he? It’s beautiful.”
“That’s why you’re out here sulking instead of trying your luck against Hannibal and I—you would lose, by the way.” His lips quirk up in a creepy smile. “Hannibal would give your heart to Adam on a platter, and he would eat it and say thank you. I could fuck him with your blood still on his mouth.”
Nigel is on him in an instant. He tackles Will to the ground and punches him in the face, grinding his head into the sand with a tight grip around his throat. Listening to him struggle for breath is fucking satisfying.
“I should fucking kill you. I should do the entire world a fucking favor and kill you right here. I should kill you for ever so much as looking in Adam’s direction, you sick fuck.”
The beach is dark, and Nigel is running on nicotine and fumes. He doesn’t even see the knife before he feels the slash opening in his side. His hands loosen for a moment, and then Will is twisting out from under him, elbowing him in the face and staggering to his knees with a cough. Now Nigel can see the glint of a blade in his hand, dripping and ready to bite again.
He puts a hand to the wound on his side, and it comes away sticky black in the moonlight. He laughs and bares his teeth. “Is this the part where you try to kill me?”
Will spits out blood. “I’d rather this was the part where we go back inside, and you let Hannibal take a look at that cut.”
“Adam won’t thank you for bleeding out on the beach. I’m tired, and I don’t want to move a body tonight.”
Nigel considers jumping the fucker again. He doesn’t think the cut in his side is that deep, but it burns like fire, and his shirt is quickly becoming soaked through.
Will holds out a hand to help him up, and Nigel ignores it, staggering to his feet on his own. They walk back to the house in silence.
“Nigel?” Will stops suddenly.
“What?” he spits, still trudging his way doggedly toward the house.
“Hannibal would kill Adam, you know. If you’re going to try to kill me, make sure you kill us both.”
Nigel grunts, not in the mood for anymore creepy bullshit tonight. “Thought you two were his daddies—which is fucking weird, by the way.”
“Hannibal’s killed all my children,” Will says. “Why should this one be any different?”
Nigel stops dead in his tracks trying to parse that, wondering what the fuck he’s just stepped into.