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Bringing Out the Dead

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Through the glass windows of their office, Nigel could see Bug talking to Lily--and his hand was on the doorknob, on the verge of turning it, before he finally held back. It was something in their faces that did it. The edges of Lily's smile were uncertain, both mobile and tense, as if she was on the verge of tears or laughter--but withholding both. He supposed it was the irony of the grief counselor, to here be the cause and not the succor of grief. Bug's expression was even grimmer than normal.

Their hands told a similar story: Lily's pale fingers clasped a clipboard to her chest like a shield, whilst Bug had his hands in his lab coat pockets, his fists distending the fabric outward and down, putting a strain on the seams at his shoulders. His own hand clenched in sympathy around the doorknob, and he forced himself to loosen his grip, relaxing his fingers and letting go.

More damning still were their postures: Lily's shoulders curved inward, as if she was restraining herself from reaching out to Bug, whilst Bug--

Bug looked determined but resigned, as if he was pursuing to the death an argument he was destined to lose. Still, the two of them stood close together--so close that, from a certain angle, the tilt of their heads as they conversed could be mistaken for the beginnings--or endings--of a kiss.

He found his hands gravitating up to the glass, and he pressed one palm flat against it, so that it covered Bug's chest, temporarily separating him from Lily. The glass, like the metal doorknob, was cold and smooth and he wished, for a moment, to thrust his hand through it, imagining the sudden sharp pain it would cause as the glass cut into him, the wood splintering around his fist.

It was, in many respects, fascinating--and it was only with an effort of will that Nigel pulled away from the closed door before the both of them sensed they had an audience. This deserved to be private, though Nigel couldn't help but feel he was a part of it, somehow--as if he were needed, here, as a witness.

It was very much the same feeling he had about criminology, though he'd never had cause to put it into words. To strip a body bare and understand its secrets was a form of respect, though few outside of this building would ever understand it as such. He sometimes suspected that the dead could only really rest--could only achieve some closure--in this way.


"This a new one?"

Bug looked up from his microscope and nodded, his expression barely changing from the stoic mask he'd worn for most of the afternoon--ever since he and Lily had had their little... tete a tete. Nigel had spent the last few hours searching for something to say to him, but each time he'd thought the time was right, Bug was called away, or he himself was.

After a moment, seeing that Nigel was still examining the thing, Bug came out from behind his equipment to join Nigel in front of the glass display, the preserved insect hanging between them, a convenient--and relatively safe--topic of conversation. When the light hit it, it was strangely pretty, as was most of Bug's collection, with the exception of the odd terrarium of flesh-eating larvae that popped up now and again.

"Phasma gigas--native to Papua New Guinea." Bug traced a finger gently across the thing's outstretched tortoiseshell wings, careful not to touch the glass. It was nearly twice the length of Bug's hand, but looked fairly fragile. When Bug lowered his hand again, their elbows brushed, and Bug stiffened. Nigel shifted a little to the left, and when that didn't seem to put Bug at ease, he walked around to the other side of the desk. Only when he was several feet away did Bug seem to relax again.

"Walking stick?" he guessed, just as Bug looked about to drift back to his computer. He was gratified when Bug nodded.

"Nearly. Flying stick."

Bug moved his hand to trace the outer edge of the wood frame, and Nigel forced himself not to think about the way Bug touched the things he cared for.

"So what--the wings're recessive?"

"Dormant," Bug replied, then blinked, as if he was refocusing to take in his somewhat-willing student of entomology. "Its ancestors flew, then didn't for the last fifty million years. At the moment, flight is once more favored over fecundity, and so the genetic programming for wings has reactivated."

"Hmm. Always thought it was use it or lose it, myself."

Bug frowned, his eyes drifting over to the wall of butterflies, then back to Nigel again. His expression changed to one Nigel was hard pressed to identify, though he sensed disapproval there. "Ones with no wings lay more eggs, blend in, survive."

Nigel sensed that he was expected to say something to that--to perhaps defend the winged species--but his own store of insect-related small-talk was apparently exhausted, and his grasp of anatomy had always well-exceeded his interest in genetics, so he said nothing.

And after a moment, Bug shook his head, looking vaguely disappointed as he went back to his computer, where he spent rest of the hour silent, save for the clicking of his hands over the keyboard. After awhile of searching for something else to talk about, and having done all he could do there, Nigel finally gave up and went to the crypt.

~~*~~

"Something to drink?"

"Yeah. Could use one," he agreed, and was surprised when Bug pulled out a bottle of scotch instead of the usual beer, pouring the both of them doubles.

Bug seemed restless and uneasy, turning the telly on and then off again before Nigel could protest that he was actually interested in seeing the day's news. He followed Bug back to the living room and sat on the sofa, feeling out of place, though it sometimes seemed he spent as much time here as at the office. Despite his familiarity with the flat, he never did feel at home here, though come to think of it, that might have something to do with the fact that Bug never did seem at home here either. He was already regretting the impulse that'd made him follow Bug home from work instead of returning to his own flat or the bar. A mistake to think that Bug--consummate ex-patriot, well-colonized Englishman that he was--would let tremble that stiff upper lip long enough to need a sympathetic ear.

By the time he'd polished off his own drink, highly aware of Bug's unnatural silence, he saw that Bug was already pouring himself another.

Bug wasn't usually an angry drunk, but neither was he prone to become more good natured, if such a thing were even possible for the man. If anything, Nigel realized he had a long evening ahead of him, unless he found a way of gracefully making his exit now. In forty-five minutes, he could be at home... drinking alone, unless he could motivate to actually phone someone. Jordan had a date with someone (not Woody, he'd noticed), though she'd refused to tell him anymore than that the fellow was a friend of a friend. He'd almost asked her if her friend had any friends for him, but had held off, knowing she wouldn't take him seriously if he did ask--not that he would ask. If he got that desperate for sex, he could find it well enough on his own, and with fewer entanglements.

He sighed, realizing that, like it or not, he'd already made his bed here, so to speak.

At last Bug stopped pacing and sat down, putting as much distance between them as the room allowed.

"So you up to a game of cards?"

Bug frowned. "I don't have any cards."

Nigel was about to protest that Bug did have them (he'd shown Bug his latest trick only a week ago), but Bug's look suggested that contradicting him might prove fatal.

Instead, he picked up the TV Guide and riffled through it until he found something worth watching that even Bug couldn't object to. "Blue Hawaii's on at eight."

When Bug didn't comment, he went on, "The album was number one for twenty weeks, though I can't say it was really his best effort."

"It's seven thirty," Bug observed darkly.

And Nigel sighed, because a half hour suddenly seemed an eternity to wait, even for the King. To himself, he hummed a few bars of, "The Trouble with Women," before speaking again. "Look, it's probably for the best, isn't it?"

"What?"

"Office romances, the lure of the convenient coworker, cubicle cuddles and all that. Nothing good ever comes--"

"Don't--"

"All I'm saying is--"

"You've got no idea what you're saying." The low note in Bug's voice was a pretty clear warning, but something--boredom, perhaps--pushed him to continue. After all, he'd come here to offer some much needed assistance in the matter of Bug's love life, such as it was.

"It's not your fault or her fault, really," he offered, though privately, he rather guessed that it was Bug's fault for dragging his feet on the affair.

"My fault?" Bug was on his feet again, closing the distance between them. "Who was it that said I should ask her out in the first place?"

Nigel stood up, setting his drink down on the table hard enough that some of the scotch spilled out onto the TV Guide, smearing the picture of the cast of some old sitcom, back for yet another reunion episode. "What, you saying any of this is my fault?"

"Wouldn't've even tried, would I, if you hadn't--"

"Oh, that's rich, that is--very mature to take responsibility--girl of your dreams doesn't fancy you and it's me that gets blamed for not saying I--"

"You--you've got a lot of nerve--"

"Think you should stay in your bloody great shell and stifle there, you bloody--"

Bug set his own glass right at the edge of the table. "--assigning blame, don't you listening to your bloody--"

"Wouldn't know a female weevil if it bit me--"

"advice about the female of the species--"

"on the arse."

Bug was well into his space now, and when Bug shoved him, he grinned, shoving back hard enough that Bug knocked his shin on the table. They both looked down at once and watched as Bug's glass fell over onto the wood floor. Unfortunately, it didn't break, but just rolled there, spilling a pool of scotch and splashing the hem of Bug's trousers.

Nigel laughed and waited for Bug to react, and when Bug did, raising his arm, Nigel was ready, grabbing Bug's forearms and holding him still as he struggled, relishing the ease of this. Tough little bugger though he was, Bug was no real match for him, and for once, no one was going to interrupt them before they had it out, once and for all.

Bug kept struggling, trying once to kick him in the shins, but Nigel kicked back, forcibly spreading Bug's legs farther apart and throwing him off balance, so he had to lean into Nigel just to stay upright.

"Well this is fun," he said, tightening his grip just enough to make Bug wince.

"Yeah, well if I'm such a bloody joy to be with, why the hell are you here?"

Instead of pulling away, Bug leaned in that much closer, and Nigel blinked dumbly, releasing Bug at once. Bug just looked at him, still breathing heavily. He was rubbing his left arm, where Nigel had probably raised a few bruises, and Nigel suddenly felt a little ashamed. He turned away from Bug and towards the windows.

"Right." Behind him, he could hear Bug sigh and begin moving about, apparently not waiting for his answer. He heard Bug pick up the glass of scotch and set it on the table, then the sound of Bug in the kitchen running water in the sink, the familiar domestic sounds oddly soothing as Nigel took several deep breaths and watched the last few lines of sunset fold into the horizon. In the growing darkness, Nigel saw himself reflected in the window, a hollow ghost with a black fall of chin-length hair framing a rather cruel mouth below a too-sharp nose. He shut his eyes against that image but found himself unable to turn back and look at Bug, half-afraid that if he did, he'd answer Bug's question, and in the mood he was in, he'd no idea what he might say.

The truth was, Bug was a touchy, unpleasant, irritating little sod with few redeeming values when there were no dead bodies or arthropods on hand. Really, the sheer amount of work one went through to even get the man to crack a smile was bloody amazing, and it was hardly worth the trouble to jolly him out of his misery if he was going to take offense at perfectly reasonable advice. Nigel really had no idea why the hell he was here, nor why he hadn't left already.

He opened his eyes and turned around, about to say as much, only to be stopped by Bug's standing next to the sofa with his arms crossed over his chest, looking at him as if he was some bloody great specimen.

"What?" Nigel asked.

But Bug didn't answer except to shake his head.

"Look, I don't--" Nigel began, but was unable to finish with Bug looking at him like that. Bug didn't move, which was just as well. He wasn't sure how well Bug'd take to his close proximity right now, half-suspecting that if he got any closer himself real violence might ensue.

Instead, he edged toward the door, giving Bug--who was still watching him--as wide a berth as possible, getting his hand round the knob and turning it before Bug found his voice again and said, "Blue Hawaii's on in fifteen minutes."

He almost laughed, but didn't, continuing to pull the door open.

"Coward." Such a low, measured voice from such a little, ill-measured man. It was a voice he'd found himself responding to more and more lately.

"Git," he answered back, but didn't leave. He shut the door again, slamming it a bit and then leaning back on it. He was... tired. Perhaps that was why he stayed.

He let his knees go, then, carrying the rest of him to the floor, the closed door solid and safe against his back.

"Here--" The warm brush of Bug's hand across his own barely registered, but the cold sweating glass, more than half-filled with scotch, was a relief. Something to do with his hands besides grip his own bony knees. "Drink up, genius."

"Cheers," he shot back, not looking up at Bug until after he'd drained most of the glass, holding it steady for a refill. Bug got down on the floor in front of him, barefoot and cross-legged, the bottle wedged between them.

"This really won't help," Nigel observed, taking another deep swallow and wondering how it'd turned from his comforting Bug to Bug trying to comfort him. But it did help--the warmth of it in his throat and gut counteracting the sudden chill in the room. Bug's expression was soft around the edges, the blur of drink, perhaps. He restrained the urge to reach out and put a hand to Bug's cheek, wondering if he'd feel stubble there, or if Bug's cheek was as smooth as it looked.

Bug took a drink straight from the bottle and Nigel couldn't help but admire the line of his neck as he swallowed.

"Alcohol lowers one's inhibitions," Nigel said, quickly looking away and seeing the bottom of his once again empty glass. Funny how the glass was nearly always half empty, when it wasn't entirely empty, that is.

"Thought you were immune to its effects," Bug said, refilling the glass, then refilling it again as he drank that down. Another couple of shots to the chest and belly, and in just a few more, it wouldn't really matter what side of the door he was on. This was, Nigel decided, a day that had already gone on too long. He could go back to England. The dead were everywhere.

"Nige--Nige--"

"Hmm?"

He opened his eyes, taking a few too many seconds to focus on Bug, whose familiar, lovely, exasperating face was closer than he'd expected, close enough that he felt the warmth of Bug's exhalations against his own--the scent of good scotch passing between them. He had the urge to rumple Bug's hair just as he so often did, to pretend, just for a moment, that he still could. He could see the faint marks his fingernails had made on the inside of Bug's forearms where he'd held him too tightly.

He set his glass down beside him, and the bottle--where had the bottle gone?--nevermind--Bug had gotten up onto his knees and was hovering over him, poised, he thought, to help him to his feet. But as he made a weak effort to get his own legs under him, he found he couldn't--Bug's hands on his shoulders instead seeming to hold him down.

And then the warm wet of a kiss.

He let it happen, finding it a bit odd, given the company, to be tilting his head up slightly.

He let his hands reach up to touch Bug, to push him away--but his hands found purchase on Bug's hips, pulling him closer. It felt--it was--so close to perfect, he gasped against Bug's mouth, and Bug's hands clenched tightly against his chest, pulling at his shirt.

Despite the alcohol, he was actually getting quite hard, the constant pressure of Bug's mouth against his own depleting what little good sense he had stored away once, to protect someone like Bug from someone like himself--someone who, if provoked, might take advantage--take what was on offer, especially as he didn't fancy Bug--didn't--much--and even if he did, what of it? wasn't any point in it, was there, so he just... didn't, not in a hundred million years, ever expect Bug to offer. This.

People got desperate, took what they could get--what was on offer.

He struggled against Bug--against the press of Bug's mouth on his own--so bloody insistent, desperately clinging to him because--because--

Bug was lonely, wasn't he? No time or energy to cultivate friendships outside of work, and that was... so... lonely. It was hard--difficult--to be anything but, wasn't it? People needed you--wanted you--but for what you could do, not who you really were.

And Nigel was here, wasn't he. Why was he here?

Bug was whispering in his ear, and he caught the one word, "Bed."

This time, he pushed Bug away, hard enough that Bug landed awkwardly on his arse, and Nigel, somehow managing to stand on unsteady legs, looked down at him for a few seconds before offering him a hand to rise.

Bug took his hand and got to his feet, leaning up against him so that they were again pressed up together, and again, Nigel gripped Bug's forearms, half-trying to push him away.

But Bug again said, "Bed," his expression set and stubborn, as if he'd given this some thought.

"You're pissed," he answered back, trying hard not to smile and smiling anyway. Bug looked very un-Bug-like: disheveled, his vest unbuttoned, his T-shirt half-untucked, and his khaki trousers, loose though they were, showing the clear and distinct outline of an erection.

"So're you, I imagine," Bug muttered, his hands edging up under Nigel's shirt at the small of his back and sides, tickling slightly and then turning hard, grasping, short nails raking against Nigel's skin, raising goosebumps there.

"We'll miss the movie."

"It's a stupid movie."

"Sacrilege," he said back, then thought to add, "You like girls, remember?"

Bug muttered something that was lost against Nigel's chest as Bug worried the fabric there with his teeth.

And Nigel moaned, arguing with himself with every backward step to Bug's bedroom, where he managed to at last find purchase against the doorframe.

Bug stumbled up against him, but Nigel resisted going any further, dimly aware that he must look utterly ridiculous, passively resisting because he couldn't bring himself to do more, though Bug seemed undaunted, rubbing up against him in a way that was--again, he thought--un-Bug-like.

"Mahesh Vijayaraghavensatyanaryanamurthy," he said at last, when nothing else seemed to get through. He was actually quite pleased that, drunk as he was, he'd gotten all the syllables in the right order.

"Yeah?" The low voice was out of breath but defiant, almost a growl. Bug had stopped his attack, a small scowl curling his lip, drawing together his brows so that Bug looked both angry and puzzled and altogether too attractive in that way that Nigel had once firmly believed was only possible when you were in love or deeply astigmatic.

"I'm queer. And you're--" not. Irritating. Short. Humourless. Irritating. Bug.

A rough shove from Bug forced Nigel backwards into the room, his legs catching against the bed and bringing him down on it before he'd had a chance to decide if heterosexual was precisely the right word for what Bug was.

"Besides which, you don't like Elvis," he protested instead, finding that arguing about sexual orientation at a time like this seemed beyond him to manage. "You don't even like me."

"You know, you were right the first time." Bug nodded, removing his vest and shirt with several economical movements. "Drinking has absolutely no effect on your intelligence."

And just then, Bug's trousers fell to the floor, and Nigel forgot to be insulted.

Bug sighed.

Nigel sighed as well, the air rushing out of him so fast the room spun again.

For a few weighted seconds, Bug's hands rested on his hips, his stance more resigned than defiant, before he at last hooked his thumbs into his pants, sliding them down.

"Sweet Nancy!"

Bug wasn't no longer quite so erect. But in all other respects, he was a reasonable approximation of the substance of Nigel's most common, most repressed, fantasies. Bug's hairy chest was lightly muscled, as were his arms--his biceps flexing slightly as he clenched and unclenched his hands into fists--evidence of his strength and pugnaciousness. But where Bug normally wore his shirts loosely tucked into his pants, now Nigel could see--and anticipate running his hands over--the slight softness of his belly which Bug thankfully didn't try to disguise with an in-drawn breath.

Nigel realized he'd never wanted anyone so much in his life, and wondered if that in itself was a good reason to get the hell out of there while he still could. Because this was Bug.

And Bug was... he'd seen him before, of course, seen that body: the skin so many shades darker than his own, and the black hair on Bug's chest and legs slicked down with water in the showers at work when they'd had cause to use them. But back then, he'd been so careful not to look (at the water riding the shadowed curve of his arse; at the water clinging to him; at the expression on his face--a rare pleasure--when he opened his mouth to the spray and shut his eyes tight and let it--the water--touch him everywhere), and now... he could--was apparently being invited--to look. And perhaps touch.

Though now he hesitated to do more than look. Where Bug had seemed confident (well, pushy, actually) getting them to the bed, now he just stood there, looking a bit lost.

Nigel tried not to stare, and considered that this might be a good time to say something reassuring--that tomorrow, this would seem funny (or perhaps they could both develop a convenient case of drunken amnesia). This didn't have to change anything. Of course, that sounded less than convincing, given that everything had changed. You couldn't very well pretend it hadn't, could you? Could Bug?

But there was always England. Just lie back and think of England.

"All right?" Bug asked, very softly, in that voice he usually used when Lily was in the room. And Nigel wondered whether he shouldn't be asking Bug that.

"Yeah. Yeah," he agreed, and, when Bug made no further move toward him or the bed, he gestured to his own clothes in a vague way.

"Hmm. I had heard it's easier if both parties are undressed." And then Bug smiled, the smallest of mocking smiles.

So Nigel removed his shirt, then remembered his boots were still on and kicked them off, managing (with a finesse born of many nights' practice) to remove his socks without an awkward struggle. Then he lay back, head on Bug's pillow, and shimmied out of his jeans and pants--sucking in a breath to ease them past his own erection.

And Bug was right. It was a bit easier to be naked than dressed. Evened things out, he supposed. And he let himself relax, a little, ignoring the light-headedness that might have been drink, or just the anticipation of what might--most certainly would--happen next.

But after a moment during which Bug continued to stand there, Nigel asked, "We really going to do this, then?"

Bug said nothing, but he did walk around the bed and tentatively sat down beside him, placing his left hand on Nigel's shoulder before leaning in to kiss him again.

This time, Nigel allowed himself to do more than he had before, drawing Bug up across him so that he was straddling Nigel's lap. Nigel waited for the inevitable tense moment when Bug would realize he had a man's prick nestled against his quite vulnerable arse.

But Bug didn't so much as flinch, even when Nigel (carried by instinct more than care, now), lifted his hips up slightly, forcing the issue with a half-swallowed moan.

He wasn't going to go any farther than this, of course. No matter what Bug was expecting of this little experiment. Fucking a drunken straight man on a dare was apt to do more damage than he was ready to be responsible for, and he suspected that Bug was quite damaged enough. But as a warning to Bug--and a small pleasure for himself--it was all right. Brilliant, actually.

"Nige--"

He lifted his head up and caught Bug for another kiss, biting down gently on that lush lower lip that so often verged on an irritable frown. He used his teeth again against the curve of Bug's jaw, up to his ear and then down his neck to the slight hollow of his collarbone.

"Hmm." Bug seemed to approve, and so he continued, working his way back up again to kiss Bug's Adam's apple, the underside of his chin (slightly rough with stubble after all), and then that mouth again--wet and hot under his, still tasting slightly of scotch, faintly smoky sweet tongue against his own.

And then Bug straightened his legs and stretched his body over Nigel's own, so that their hips were aligned, the friction exasperatingly almost-perfect as Bug shifted on top of him. Nigel rolled them both over, because he knew what to do better than did Bug--knew exactly how to line them up to make this happen--reassured by the solid length of Bug's erection against his own.

Friction, frottage, fire building up between them--sticky-hot press of flesh against flesh--and Nigel wondered if this was what he lived for--the reason for his still being. He felt very much alive, just now, driven by a purpose.

And then he couldn't think about anything anymore--not even the warmth of Bug's body under his own. There was only the tightening of his own balls, the tensing of his thigh muscles clenching hard around Bug's legs as he ground down, hard, fast, until he stilled for a seeming endless moment that didn't last nearly long enough.

And a short breath later, awareness returned as he felt the wet spill of Bug's climax joining his own, as he listened to the short panting breaths and the soft, surprised sigh Bug made as he came.

~~*~~

He awoke to the green glare of Bug's bedside clock, which informed him that they'd only been out for a few hours--just long enough to miss Blue Hawaii--which was a relief as that meant it was not yet "the morning after," and if he was quick there was still time to avoid that scene. He had a crick in his neck and an elbow in his side, Bug still fast asleep, his body still awkwardly and heavily sprawled across his own, limbs the color of milk chocolate tangled in a bed of cream-colored linens.

Nigel let himself appreciate the view for a few seconds, then, with a determined shove, he was free of that burden. He looked around for his clothing but didn't see it anywhere, and couldn't quite figure out what might have happened to it. He supposed he could borrow something of Bug's, though he would look bloody ridiculous in anything of his but a pair of shorts, so he held off, focusing on his more pressing need to empty his bladder.

His tongue felt thick, the symptoms of dehydration leading him from the loo to the kitchen, where he searched for a glass. Then back again, for water and something for his head. The man peering back at him over the sink stared back at him with red-eyed disbelief as he scratched at the itchy patch of dried come on his belly.

He wanted a shower, but he could already hear Bug stirring slightly, and worried that the sound of the shower would fully wake him. He'd do well to leave as quickly as possible--leave him a note--something polite... "Had a wonderful time, mate. Must do it again, soon." Not bloody likely. "Thank God It's Friday, right? See you Monday. No hard feelings." That sounded so much better. Yeah.

The lights were still on all over the flat, and he went into the living room in search of a pen and paper. A moan from the bedroom made his hands shake as he came across a notepad in the top desk drawer. He opened it to the last written-upon page, realizing that, with his luck, it would be the same notebook Lily had found during what he'd come to think of as Bug's mental break-down (although, considering what just happened, it seemed clear that Bug was not yet himself--although he hadn't done anything to nearly get himself killed. Lately.).

He flipped back through the pages, feeling a bit perverse--as if this was a diary and not a bog-standard notebook--until he found it, neatly written in Bug's hand. Jordan had confessed that when she first saw it, when Bug had gone missing, she'd thought it looked too much like a suicide note--though it was only a few words: Bug's admission (to himself, if no one else) that he didn't think he belonged. The words still stood out starkly, centered on the page. But just two pages after it was a recipe for ratatouille above what looked like a shopping list, followed by a "To Do" list that included laundry and calling his mother. Life apparently went on.

Nigel was tempted to rip the page out and destroy it, but instead he shut the notebook quickly, hearing a second moan from the bedroom, and the sound of a very disturbed man heading for the loo.

Nigel occupied himself with his guilt, realizing it was too late to make his getaway, and he'd have to face up to his actions in person. He drank another glass of water, then poured a second for Bug, wondering when the aspirin would start to affect his growing headache.

He looked around the kitchen, half-hoping he'd see his clothing there, but instead settled on filling up the electric kettle and hotting up some water for tea. He looked back toward the bedroom, seeing the bathroom door was now partially shut, the sound of the shower running giving him a vivid image of Bug, naked and wet and... oh bloody hell, he was a hanged man already, wasn't he?

He gave in, if only because he had the excuse of needing to know where his clothes were. The small room was already filling with steam, but Bug was clearly visible beyond that (cream, again) shower curtain, and, though he knew it was very wrong, he decided he deserved at least one last look before they went their separate ways.

"You need a wash as well," Bug observed crossly as he shut the door. Bug had pulled the curtain aside and was casually surveying him up and down, making him feel strangely naked--or rather, more naked than he was.

"I--Yeah."

Bug moved out of the way, and Nigel stepped into the shower and under the spray, finding that when he did so, he automatically blocked the water from Bug, who seemed not to mind, pressing up against him and wrapping his arms around Nigel in a tight embrace that made him shiver again, although the water, like Bug's body, was comfortably warm. He awkwardly returned the hug, resting his chin on the top of Bug's damp head and feeling a little odd about the whole thing, because, outside of bed, he really didn't hug the men he slept with much more often than he hugged the men he worked with. He wondered if Bug usually hugged the women he shagged, and decided he probably did.

It was a sobering thought.

After a few seconds, Bug let go of him and Nigel found the soap and made short work of washing away the traces of sweat and come. He turned the hot water up until it was as near to scalding as he could stand, still shielding Bug with his body as he ducked his head under for a good soaking. The water on his face felt oddly like tears, and he shook his head, a bit disgusted that he was handling this so very badly. One of them had to be sensible and find a way out of this mess. In the kitchen, the kettle would have already shut itself down, keeping the water warm for them.

"Here--" Bug handed him the shampoo, and he blinked the water out of his eyes, shocked at the mundane boringness of it. Shampoo. Soap. In a few minutes, towels and then what? Tea, of course. He wondered if Bug had an extra toothbrush lying about. He wondered if Bug had ever called his mother, and if she'd asked him (yet again) when he was getting married.

Bug blinked up at him wetly, and Nigel very nearly hugged him again, but the urge passed as Bug said, "I'm hungry. What do you say to pizza?" and though he couldn't imagine eating, Nigel nodded.

"I'll order one, then." With that, Bug stepped out of the shower, and Nigel had a brief glimpse of his slick, dark body before Bug wrapped himself in a white robe and was gone.

~~*~~

Nigel stayed in the shower until his fingertips pruned up and the water turned cool enough to be uncomfortable. And then he stepped out and found a set of towels laid out, alongside another robe--this one black flannel. It was, as he'd expected, a bit on the short side, but he cinched it tight around his waist. On the sink was an extra toothbrush, still in its wrapper.

He cleaned his teeth and, not finding a hair brush, finger-combed his hair to some semblance of order. And when there was nothing left to do, he went to find his host.

~~*~~

The pizza was salty and hot and messy enough that Nigel remembered why he never ordered it on a first date. No one made a particularly good impression covered with tomato sauce--although Bug was seemingly oblivious to the necessity of impressing him. He took another long pull on his now almost-empty beer. Bug had set out a six-pack with the pizza, and he wondered if he shouldn't just have another--get good and drunk again--although he half-suspected he still was. Everything seemed vaguely detached from him.

"God, I was hungry."

He nodded rather than saying the obvious--that sex was second only to marijuana for stimulating the appetite. He supposed it was a lucky thing for his waistline that he got stoned only slightly less often than he ever got laid. And probably just as well that he not mention either of those things to Bug, who he was sure would disapprove of his rampant hedonism.

Funny, how they weren't arguing, now, but he still found himself disagreeing with this all-too-agreeable Bug, if only in his head. He winced and rubbed at his temples.

"Head still hurt?"

"A little," he admitted. "Yours?" Oh, so polite they were. So civilized, except for the smear of tomato sauce on Bug's cheek. Nigel imagined what would happen if he licked it off, then realized with a start that Bug wouldn't stop him--might even encourage him--if only to keep him here, a little longer, on this side of the door.

Was he going to spend the whole night, then? Would Bug expect that, and if he did, could Nigel possibly say no? Not that he wanted to go home, now, to an empty flat. But--

"I'll survive," Bug said.

"Yeah, I expect we both will at that," Nigel agreed, taking it for a more global diagnosis.

He set down the last bit of crust and wiped his fingers with the last of the clean napkins, then leaned his head back against the sofa cushion, resting one hand on his now full stomach. Drunk or not, he was definitely hung over, and for a moment, the ceiling swam uncomfortably, and he regretted the pizza.

"So, it's after eleven." Bug was sitting cross-legged on the floor, pushed up against the coffee table, finishing off his third slice.

Nigel searched the wall for a clock and saw the time on the VCR. "Hmm."

"We could watch Letterman. Or we could go to bed."

"Or I could go home," Nigel added, just to see what would happen.

"You could. Do you want to?"

He sat up, despite the protests of his stomach. "Do you want me to?"

"Does it matter what I want?"

"Of course it bloody matters," he snapped back, although his heart wasn't really in it.

"Then stay."

"Fine," he agreed, laying back down again, heavy-limbed with the beginnings of a post-drunk, post-sex, post-friendship, post-fucking-modern depression. When sex didn't simply complicate things, it fucked them up entirely.

"Don't fall asleep."

"Not," he mumbled, although, truth be told, he couldn't imagine moving right now.

~~*~~

The sun was burning off the top layer of skin, and he drew the blanket up over his head, only then noticing that he had a blanket--and that he was still on the sofa--and that he only felt like the living dead. He squinted past the painfully bright sun to the dim green clock on the VCR, which told him he'd been asleep for almost seven and a half hours.

"You awake?"

"No."

"Here. This should help."

"If it's more scotch..."

"Coffee, idiot. On the table beside you. Can you eat?"

"Don't eat breakfast," he said, though Bug had to have noticed that by now.

"Oh." The sofa cushions sank by his feet as Bug sat down, rustling what sounded like a paper bag. A very loud paper bag. "Jelly doughnut?"

Nigel sat up with a near-draining effort, reaching for the mug of coffee--a welcome spot of blue crockery in the sea of blinding cream cushions.

"You going to be sick?"

"Hmm." Nigel considered. "No."

"Good."

"Thank you for your concern. It's touching, really."

Bug frowned and got up. Nigel watched him wander around the flat then come to rest against the far wall under the windows, whose light was growing more acceptable by the minute. He noticed that Bug was wearing jeans and a burnt-orange T-shirt, untucked. He was barefoot, and his fringe was damply sticking to his forehead.

Nigel looked away, wishing the tightening in his gut was just nausea. He reached for the bag. Inside the bag were two more doughnuts, then another bag, and inside that, well-insulated from contaminating Bug's own choices--a chocolate glazed.

"Thanks. For this."

Bug shrugged. "You should keep some of your clothes here."

"Why?"

"So you'd have something clean to wear." Bug drew the words out slowly enough that Nigel winced.

"I have something to wear." He didn't add that he had no idea where his clothing was, at the moment.

"You can borrow one of my shirts today."

He nodded, wishing Bug would just... leave.

"I have to go," he said, after a minute of such profound silence that he wondered what it would be like at work on Monday--if it was going to be this awful. Perhaps he should just call in, say he was ill.

"We could see that movie, tonight. If you don't have plans."

Saying he didn't would be dangerously easy, even though he did, as it happens, have plans. "I'm meeting Jordan for dinner."

"You could come by afterwards."

"We're eating late."

Bug chewed on his lower lip and Nigel felt another (by now familiar) wave of guilt.

"But I'll... see."

Then, after another awkward silence...

"I'll bring over some clothes."

Bug didn't smile, or otherwise acknowledge his concession, but Nigel could tell by the set of his shoulders that he was relieved.

~~*~~

As soon as he got home (Bug having at last revealed that he'd woken up before Nigel did and, seeing the clothing all over the floor, had folded it all neatly and placed it in the top drawer of his dresser before falling back asleep again), he stripped off Bug's T-shirt and his own creased trousers and got dressed for the gym, hoping it would help him clear his head.

Bug apparently needed him to spend the night again tonight, so he would--on the sofa--and make it clear that the offer of his friendship was (this time, as he should have made clear last night) entirely without strings or sexual obligations.

By the time he'd finished packing a bag with enough clothes to spend the week at Bug's flat (longer if he did a load of laundry), he'd almost convinced himself that was true. He didn't need the sex, but it apparently hadn't damaged the friendship (such as it was). So really, last night could best be considered a fair trade--friendship with benefits, wasn't that it? So long as he didn't pretend it was anything other than what it was, he'd come out of it all right. And in a few days, Bug would be back on his feet and mooning and swooning over Lily again. Case closed.

At the gym, spinning an uphill course and swimming a few laps took the rough edges off, and in the locker room, a bloke with blond, moussed curls checked him out blatantly enough that Nigel was half-tempted to take him up on the implied offer, if only to prove that he could. The blond was pretty, no more than twenty-five, if that, and Nigel was more than a little flattered. But the image of Bug, loose-limbed and sated and surprisingly warm, hungover and needy and strong enough to demand that he stay the night--strong enough to trade what he had for what he needed--convinced him that it wouldn't be worth it.

~~*~~

Jordan's dimpled grin was a welcome sight, and Nigel took a moment to admire her dress--a vintage Dior that made him wonder what he might do to convince her to model his designs for him.

The restaurant was trendy-dark, shadows on velvet, but the tables were candlelit, and the warm wash of light gave Jordan the Vaseline-lens treatment that was deeply at odds with her character, though it flattered her nonetheless. If he ever slept with any woman, he'd already decided that Jordan would be the one to tempt him--although the pull he felt for her was slight--an aesthetic appreciation heightened by the certainty that he never, ever would pursue it outside of the odd moment's idle speculation. For a long while, Bug had held that same charm of the impossible fantasy.

He wondered if Bug had ever fantasized about Jordan, then remembered that Bug thought Jordan was "hot." Not that Nigel would--or had--disagreed, precisely. Jordan did have everything a heterosexual male could want, as far as he could tell. Of course, that fact alone put her far out of Bug's league. Besides which, Jordan wasn't really Bug's type, was she? Bug seemed to favor the free-spirited soul, whereas Jordan was more... complicated rather than eclectic. And far more dangerous, he considered, although eager boyfriend Woody seemed not to notice. Woody, Nigel considered, was about as charmingly oblivious as a man could get--and Nigel sensed that was probably what Jordan liked about him.

"White wine, thanks." Jordan turned her smile on the waiter, who was almost certainly gay, but looked a little stunned at the attention.

"Scotch, neat," Nigel added, then winced at the ease with which he'd come to associate that with Bug, and sex, and--not to put too melodramatic a point on it--the end of everything that made sense in his life.

"So, you look like a man with a lot on his mind. What's up?" Jordan leaned forward in her chair, her elbows on the table, her chin resting on her hands.

"Hmm. This and that."

"Details, Nige. You sounded... funny... on the phone." Her voice was pitched low, the better to suggest intimacy, he supposed. Once again, he felt that odd frisson of almost-desire that spoke more of how wound up he was over Bug than anything else.

"Nothing, love. You caught me at a funny time. Midway through a sinkful of dishes. It was the height of hilarity, me in my pinny, soap up to my elbows."

Jordan grinned. "I've seen your apartment. You eat off paper plates."

"Ah, caught in a lie. You'd make a fair detective, Cavenaugh."

"All right, don't tell me. Yet."

And he didn't, through dinner, at least. By the time they'd ordered coffees and he'd heard her latest theories on the last two homicides that would, he was sure, lead him to play Watson to her Sherlock come Monday, he was nearly ready to confess to his own crimes.

"It's Bug," he started, just as the waiter returned with his Irish coffee. "I-- He-- We..."

But Jordan failed to finish his sentence, seemingly incapable of following the leap of logic that would put sex into that particular mix of pronouns. He sighed, taking that for a sign that it really was as impossible as it sounded. Then he tried again, spelling it all out for her.

"The long and the short of it is, I went over there last night, and I left there this morning."

Still, no bites.

"Look, we had sex."

"Together?"

"No--we rented a pair of whores. Fraternal twins, if you'll believe it."

Jordan's eyes widened.

"Sweet Nancy, Jordan. Yes. Together. Bug and I. Together."

"That's... what is that, anyway?"

"An unmitigated disaster!" He set down his coffee hard enough to make the china rattle.

"Oh. Sorry. That bad?"

"I'd rather not say."

"So it was good?"

"Jordan, the quality of the experience does not have an impact on whether or not it was a mistake."

Jordan leaned back and smiled. "So it was good."

And he couldn't resist smiling back at that. "Brilliant, actually. But."

"Ah. But..."

"Look, I need advice."

"Nige, you do know I'm probably not the best person to ask about relationships."

"Yeah, well, if the best person would be Lily, I suspect there's a conflict of interest there."

"Yikes. All right. So. Advice. How do you, um, feel. About... Bug."

Her barely controlled smirk did not endear her to him at the moment, but he pressed on, because he could almost see the humor in the situation. Hot-headed though she might be, Jordan was as loathe to discuss feelings as any Englishman.

"Look, he needs a friend right now, and I--"

"You..."

"I think--"

"You think..."

He tried again. "I think I'm in love with him."

Saying it out loud like that, it sounded unduly sappy, and he wondered just when he'd got so cynical that he couldn't just say it without wincing. He wondered just how it had happened at all--given that, if he stopped to be rational about it, he was never quite sure he actually liked the man, and half the time, he was convinced Bug found him equally unpalatable. Then again, perhaps that was the draw--which he supposed made him a masochist. It was not, all in all, a flattering diagnosis. He wondered what Doctor Stiles would have to say about that, then realized, with a shudder, that he'd likely find out soon enough. His quarterly "Still sane?" checkup was already scheduled for late in the month. For the first time, he had serious thoughts he might fail that particular test.

Jordan tapped his hand, bringing him back out of his head. "And he's..."

"Oh. Heterosexual," he replied, as that about summed it up.

"Except for last night," Jordan countered.

"Last night was--look, right before that, I'd just about told him he was the last person on earth I wanted to spend any further time with--"

"Nice!"

"And then suddenly, wham, he's plying me with drinks."

"Plying you with drinks?"

He frowned. "Look, do you want to know what happened, or not?"

"Sorry. So he got you drunk and had his way with you. Good for Bug! Never knew he had it in him."

"Jordan, he's not--he doesn't--for godsake, he's in love with Lily. Red hair, breasts... va-gi-na."

Jordan didn't even blink. "So why'd he sleep with you?"

"I told you. I told him I'd as much as met corpses with better personalities and he got all defensive--"

"I wonder why--"

"And then, I dunno what happened, exactly."

"But you have your suspicions."

He nodded.

"Which are...?"

"Look, he's lonely, right? Drunk. Damaged."

"Sounds familiar," Jordan agreed, and Nigel wondered if she were referring to herself or him. Come to think of it, the same terms could rightly be used to describe their entire staff. It was no wonder they had their own pet shrink.

"Yeah."

"Maybe he just figured out you, um--"

"What--you think he puts two and two together and concludes that I must put up with him because I--"

"Want him for his body?" The Cavenaugh smirk was growing more annoying by the minute--enough so that it occurred to him to wonder whether he actually had reason to like any of his friends. But Jordan just patted his hand again. "Sorry--so you think that he figured he had to--"

"If you say 'put out,' I swear I'm leaving--"

"--give you what he thinks you want to keep your friendship," Jordan amended.

He nodded, as that had been his conclusion as well. "A harsh summary, but essentially correct."

"So what are you going to do about it?"

He looked heavenward and sighed. "You do remember this started out with me asking for advice because I have no clue."

"Okay. Okay. So, basically, it sounds--" Jordan nodded, at last looking like maybe she was finally taking this all seriously, but he had to wait for the waiter to offer her a refill on her barely touched coffee before she would continue. "It sounds like you need to make it clear that you'll still be his friend even if the relationship remains--from now on--strictly platonic, and that you're happy enough getting sex elsewhere."

"I--"

"Unless that isn't true, in which case, you'll have to be straight with him and let him decide."

"What--give him an ultimatum?"

"I would have said 'choice.' Be straight with him."

He ignored that damned word again, focusing on the one word he could deal with. "Choice. It's not that I don't want to be his friend."

Jordan didn't say anything to that, but he sensed some disapproval that he was glad remained unvoiced. He had enough trouble with his own conscience without adding hers. As it was, he wanted to say something about sexual orientation not being a matter of choice, but somehow, in light of his own advice to her not that long ago, it sounded less than convincing.

"No--you're right," he conceded at last, and Jordan brightened a little, as if she wasn't usually right. Despite himself, he found himself liking her again--if only because anyone else would've spent the last half hour outraged on Bug's behalf. Which would have been entirely justified. "He invited me to come by tonight."

"Hmm."

"I told him I might."

"So are you?" She took a last sip of her coffee and stood up, gathering her wrap from the back of the chair. He stood beside her, and she put her hand on his arm, squeezing lightly. "You don't have to tell me."

"Good. Because I wasn't planning on it." He kissed her cheek, and the scent of powder and perfume was pleasant enough that he pulled her in for a hug. "Thanks."

"You're welcome. And I know it isn't funny."

"Hmm. But it is, love. It is."

As he walked her to the train, he slung the overnight bag onto his shoulder, decision already made.

Only after she was safely to her train did he turn around and head home, hearing Bug calling him a coward, and thinking that yes, that he most certainly was.

~~*~~

"Time: Eleven thirty-five p.m. It's me."

The message was so short that he pressed play again, then a third time as he realized that was all. The time stamp and then Bug's message: "It's me."

At twelve thirty a.m., Saturday night, he sat beside the phone and got as far as one ring before he hung up, trying to remember if Bug had caller ID, and whether it even mattered.

~~*~~

Sunday, after sleeping in so late he got a headache, he went to the gym again, half-hoping to run into the curly-haired blond. But he didn't, which was just as well, and instead he worked doubly hard to get to that point at which exhaustion makes thought impossible. Still, midway through his workout, the world turned too sharp, the deceptive clarity of endorphins driving him to disembark the equipment and reach for his cell phone.

When Bug answered, "Hello," he was so short of breath he could only pant for a second, trying to figure out what he'd planned to say.

"Bug, I--"

"Yeah?"

"Sorry. I didn't call last night."

He heard the echo of his own heavy breathing on the line, a tinny irony that he fought to get under control.

"I'm at the gym."

More silence.

"Look--we need to talk."

And at last, Bug spoke. "I'll meet you by the doors in three quarters of an hour."

~~*~~

After calling Bug, he'd spent a few minutes trying to cool down. The shower helped, and trying to decide what to wear took his mind off his more pressing troubles. He settled on jeans and a button-down black velvet shirt that had seen better days. The overnight bag hung heavily at his side. He hadn't meant to take it to the gym, but it seemed attached to him, now, a sort of literalised emotional baggage.

Bug arrived promptly, in pressed khakis and a light purple, rough-weave silk shirt Nigel had never seen before under a familiar, dark linen vest. And yes, he had mentally catalogued Bug's somewhat limited wardrobe over the years. Nigel had to fight the urge to stare, wondering if Bug had picked the shirt color on purpose, then deciding that it was unlikely Bug had gone out shopping just to make a point.

Bug walked up to him and stopped just short of touching him, close enough that he could smell Bug's aftershave and the lingering scent of Earl Grey.

"I suppose Jordan knows? If you're planning to say you made a mistake, I'll save you the time." Bug took a step forward, and Nigel felt the concrete wall of the gym cold against his back. For such a short man, Bug had a good grasp of physical intimidation.

He shrugged, the bag slipping off his shoulder, where it drew Bug's eye. "I wasn't going to say that, precisely."

"And what, precisely, were you going to say?"

He forced himself away from the wall, although Bug held his ground. A steady stream of people came and went through the gym doors. "Let's go somewhere where we can talk."

Bug shook his head. "Come on."

They cut through the pedestrian park across from the gym, empty, except for a homeless man sleeping on a bench. Habit made him check for the rise and fall of the man's chest as they passed. He saw Bug do the same.

It was a strangely macabre moment of intimacy, untroubled by sex or love--and he smiled to himself, wondering if Bug felt it too.

Bug turned the corner and walked a block farther, coming to Bug's Fairmount. They got in, but said nothing during the drive to Bug's flat.

Inside, Nigel dropped the bag, and Bug looked at it again.

"Good. You brought a change of clothing. So I take it you're staying the night?"

He wondered how Bug knew it wasn't his gym bag--aside from the outlandish size of the thing.

"I--Bug, we're mates. You do know that. I--we are friends."

Bug raised an eyebrow at that.

"I'm just saying, if you need to, you can talk to me."

"Right. Because you're listening and your door is open. You quite sure you're English?"

Nigel purposefully didn't respond to the mocking tone in Bug's voice and continued with his offer. "You can talk to me. About anything. Lily, if you like."

Bug blinked, as if not expecting that. "Leave Lily out of this."

"Why? You're in love with her. I'd think that makes her relevant."

"Love," Bug said as he picked up the overnight bag, seeming to weigh both it and the word before tossing the bag in the bedroom next to the bed. Nigel found himself following, as if he was still tied to the thing. "Just leave it alone, Nige."

"You--"

"You have no idea how I feel, so just--just shut up about her, all right?"

"Fine. Yeah. Just remember who invited whom here."

Bug scowled, and Nigel realized with a shock that, once again, he was a few seconds away from threatening to leave. And what then? Force Bug's hand--make him beg for it? "Sorry. Look, I'm just... we're mates. That's all I'm trying to say."

Bug sighed, looking just beyond him to the door. "Yeah, well make up your mind, mate. Either you want to be here, or you don't."

"What do you want?"

"I'd thought that was pretty clear."

And with that, Bug's hand was flat against his chest, pressing him back against the bedroom doorway. He had a brief flash of deja vu, and the sense that whatever he'd been trying to communicate about choice had been lost.

On the bed, his shirt unbuttoned and bunched around his armpits, he tried again. "Whatever you need to say. If you need to get anything off your chest--"

"Yeah, well, if I have a sudden need to unburden myself, I'm sure you'll be the first to know."

~~*~~

Work on Monday was, if not normal, then at least largely unremarkable, considering they'd spent much of Sunday afternoon and evening alternating between sex, food, and sleep, at last sharing Bug's bed for the night. During that time, Bug had unburdened himself of nothing but a copious amount of semen, and Nigel was almost glad, because, though he'd made the offer, he had to admit that he was less than thrilled at the idea of actually having that heart to heart about Lily.

And Lily, bless her, missed the morning meeting, and Nigel somehow managed to avoid saying more than a polite hello to her all day.

Bug and he spent most of the day on separate duties, meeting only once, when Bug made a short stop by their office for a file just as Nigel was finishing his lunch. Bug didn't so much as acknowledge that anything had changed between them since last week, though he did bring Nigel a fresh cup of coffee and a muffin from downstairs.

It was a relief that Jordan, too, kept whatever she was thinking largely to herself, only sharing a raised eyebrow when she spotted them stepping off the lift together that morning. She kept him occupied (when he wasn't doing his own work) with her newest pet projects, while Garret had ordered Bug to work with Winslow, showing off some of the more esoteric equipment available and lecturing him (or so Nigel assumed) on the wonders of the insect world.

Yet, for all that the work itself wasn't a strain, Nigel was still bloody exhausted when Bug and he met up at the end of the day, and there was no real discussion as he followed Bug home to his flat--the route already feeling dangerously familiar.

Once in the door, Bug wasted little time before stripping them both of their clothes. The sex was practically auto-erotic, but for the vivid sound of their heavy breathing. After they cleaned up, they reheated their now cold Chinese takeaway, and they ate quietly, watching Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. He watched Bug watch the film, fascinated by Bug's ability to recite most all of the dialogue along with the characters, apparently without feeling the slightest bit like an idiot. It was almost... charming.

If not for the fact that he was again wearing nothing but Bug's black robe, it might have been any normal night after any normal day's work. Bug was perched on the edge of the sofa beside him, absently bringing his chopsticks to his mouth as he stared at the film, apparently oblivious to Nigel's own discomfort. Still, the food was good--better than anything near his own flat--and he indulged in a brief, impractical fantasy that he'd moved in with Bug. There was hardly enough room in this flat for his sewing machine--although if Bug gave up that corner, there...

Bug's beeper went off a few seconds before his own did, and Bug reached for the phone, not taking his eyes from the screen. "Bug here. Yeah. Great. How many?" Bug listened, then nodded in his direction. "Don't bother. I'll fill him in. Yeah. Yeah. Got it."

He hung up and Nigel waited.

"Turn on the news," Bug said, his voice rough.

Nigel turned off the movie, and then he saw it--the six o'clock news cameras circling outside an office building that he actually recognized. "Police have no comment at this time, though witnesses say the explosion was on the tenth floor, home of the offices of Vital Trust Industries. Firefighters are working now to control the blaze, and we've been asked to keep our distance, as there are concerns the smoke may contain traces of asbestos."

"Lovely."

"Yeah."

In a few minutes, they were both dressed and headed for the office for the necessary equipment. Three quarters of an hour later, the bottoms of their shoe coverings were grey with soot, and at least some of the bodies were accounted for and tagged, including the firm's young intern, the best friend of the police commissioner's daughter and the reason this case had been marked a priority, though they'd already identified the man responsible as dead, taken out by his own bomb.

The most challenging identification came as they determined that the remains in the corner office were not the secretary, as they'd initially thought based on work schedules. But in the end, the body--or rather, her clothing--told the story. Her shoes--the one that still remained on her foot (the other had somehow ended up in the elevator shaft)--were Manolo Blahniks, and her dress was from Escada's spring collection. The tailoring was exquisite--and he took a moment to admire her taste before affixing a numbered tag to the hem of her skirt. Not a secretary then; they eventually identified her as the wife of the CEO, come to deliver something to his office (roses, Nigel decided, although the petals were hardly recognizable, charred as they were).

Through it all, Bug hardly looked at him for more than the few seconds it took to coordinate the cataloguing of evidence. But a few times, as they passed in the blackened hallways, Bug would brush against him, barely a touch--but enough to disorient him, the world tilting oddly at the awareness of warmth and life in the midst of so much death.

By half past eight, they were standing over what they'd determined was the body of the perpetrator. Nigel couldn't see Bug's expression through the protective mask. Perhaps because of that distance, he stepped a little closer and put his hand on Bug's shoulder. Bug leaned into the touch, just a little, and Nigel let go reluctantly, and with the space between them again, he was suddenly uncertain if he had felt that closeness, or simply imagined it.

Their mad bomber was wearing an off-the-rack charcoal suit with a small pinstripe. His silk tie was loosened around his neck, his shirttails had come untucked, and he had hair implants at his temples, masking his receding hairline. He'd been standing near a window when the bomb went off, and the force of the blast had shattered it, a small avalanche of blue-green safety glass blanketing his body. Several squareish pieces of glass had embedded themselves in his face and neck, though the cause of death was the more profound hole in his midsection--a piece of filing cabinet shrapnel piercing his gut.

"An unusually patient man," Bug observed at last, opening one of the numerous filing cabinets with a gloved hand, standing on tiptoe to peer into the top drawer. "Make paperwork, not bombs."

Nigel grinned back, feeling a little sorry for the dead man, who'd apparently spent a lifetime writing out life insurance policies for a wealthy clientele. Beyond the obvious--job dissatisfaction--there was no indication of why he did the deed, but the fact that nobody for months noticed the absent files--or the presence of his personal bomb factory--was telling.

The fellow had, according to the experts who'd trod through here earlier, incrementally built his bomb, storing the materials as he went in two of the emptied filing cabinets in his own office. Luckily, his electrical skills were insufficient to the task. As it was, only the bomb closest to the door had fully detonated, causing a fire that spread outward into the main office, which in turn set off the waterworks. No one was yet certain why more damage wasn't done, as the man had brought to work enough fertilizer to conceivably blow out the entire floor--and perhaps bring down the building, which at the moment, appeared none too solid. The cabinets themselves (on top of which he'd positioned each of the two bombs) may well have protected their contents from setting off a chain reaction.

But, as they discovered when they surveyed the bodies, the bomb was only Act II, with most of the casualties caused by the gun the man had carried. Nigel tried to imagine how he'd done it, an invisible man moving from room to room on one floor, shooting each person in turn with the silencer, then moving on to the next, no one noticing in time to raise an alarum. The cubicles, with their thin walls, isolated each person in turn. A few were still slumped over their keyboards, headsets trailing from deaf ears. And only then, when everyone was dead, had the man set off his bombs.

"Three rooms left."

Bug nodded, heading out the door to finish the job.

~~*~~

During the examination, Bug hovered over the man's body, then moved away from it, as if searching for something. Nigel leaned in to take a look.

"There--" Bug pointed, and Nigel followed his hand, seeing only skin, at first, shadowed with soot. But Bug adjusted the lamp and moved the man's arm over and then Nigel could see it--a darker shadow at the man's hip that was now clearly visible as a tattoo--the familiar roses and thorns. "Vestige of a former life."

"A bit risque for such a milquetoast."

Bug shook his head. "When he was eighteen, nineteen, he was someone else--and then he became this," Bug gestured at the body, taking in not only the violent death but the more prosaic aspects of the man--the marred face that showed few signs of any positive expression--lines deepened by soot emphasizing the downward turn of his mouth and eyes.

"Hmm. A budding rock star," Nigel mused aloud.

"Maybe not that. But something like it--a fast car, an exciting job. A life."

"Fine aspirations," Nigel agreed.

"Now look at him. Unhappy, but he cares about his work, doesn't he? Carries home the files to protect the people who don't even know he's alive. Maybe he wasn't alive, then."

"Jonathan Harriman," Nigel said, and Bug looked up at him sharply. "His name."

"Doesn't matter. He's a John Doe, just like the rest of them."

And Bug turned away from the body, leaving the room so suddenly that Nigel could only stare after him, not sure whether he should follow.

~~*~~

"What was that all about?" he asked, keeping his voice down.

Bug shook his head, and then it was too late. Garret came in and the meeting began.

"We have files attached to everyone now. Good work, people."

Few smiles echoed Garret's own, though Nigel did share a feeling of satisfaction. Everytime someone did this, it became easier--the routine more familiar. Tag and bag them, transport and unwrap them, each in turn. No large mysteries, this time, but a few small ones--enough to keep his interest up. And then there was Bug, who sat across from him at the long table, his eyes a bit too wide, as if he was keeping himself alert by force.

"So, we have any idea why Harriman did this?"

Nigel looked at Bug, indiscreetly enough that Jordan cleared her throat, and Garret waited. Bug shot him an irritated look, but finally nodded.

But when he didn't say anything, Nigel stepped in. "Bug has a theory..."

Bug nodded. "Harriman planned something, but from the look of things, he didn't finalize the plan until last month, when he purchased the handgun. He removed the files first, over the last several months. The police found them in his apartment, perfectly ordered. Either no one there had a sense of smell, which seems unlikely, or he smuggled in the fertilizer sometime last night.

"He was unmarried, unhappy, family all dead--but it's unlikely any single thing will ever be identified as the trigger for his decision. He didn't leave a note. Economically, he was solvent, with a small policy with Children's Hospital listed as beneficiary. Nigel looked up his work record, which was spotless--no signs they had any plans to get rid of him, nor signs he himself planned to leave. But sometime before he started shooting, he took the nameplate off his door and desk."

Bug paused, and Nigel nodded, adding, "John Doe."

Bug continued. "No name, no family--an unremarkable record with the company for the past thirty years. Nobody noticed when he became a different person, or when he stopped being one entirely. His work never suffered enough to tip them off that anything was awry. Then--"

"Bang," Jordan muttered, and Bug echoed her.

"Bang, but quietly. He carried the extra clips in his pants pockets and used a silencer."

"Everyone was dead or unconscious before the bomb went off," Nigel added.

"But why kill them all first? Who sets a bomb and kills everyone first?" Peter Winslow, still relatively new at this, looked a little green. Nigel sympathized. It took awhile before ten bodies were no more tragic than one, and fifteen no more than ten, and after that...

Lily, who up till now had been quiet, spoke up, her voice soft but certain. "He didn't want anyone hurt. He probably liked some of them, and he didn't want them to suffer."

Bug nodded. "Clean shots, for the most part. Probably watched a lot of crime stories on television, read a few books on the subject. There's no indication he had any experience at this, but somehow, he was able to move through the office without anyone really noticing until he was right behind them, giving him a clear shot at close range. Once he made his decision, he worked quickly."

Lily shivered at that, and when no one else seemed to have anything to add, Garret shuffled the folders in front of him into a neat pile. "Okay, then. The families have all been notified, so Lily, we'll need you for a while longer. Everyone else... let's close the book on this one, and get some sleep."

Lily and Jordan started to stand, but Bug said, "Wait--" and they turned and, at Garret's nod, sat back down again.

"I..." Bug stopped, took a breath, and Nigel saw Garret glance at him, but he could only shrug back.

"This is--" Bug stopped and looked over at Lily, who smiled at him, a bit too warmly for Nigel's taste. Nigel hated her fiercely for a moment, for no good reason except that she could offer Bug that much more than he could--and Bug would accept.

Bug glanced down at his hands, then back up again. When he spoke, it was with the same clinical detachment he'd used earlier in giving his report, but this time he spoke more quietly, his voice rough and tight. Nigel's throat ached, listening to him force each word out. "Jonathan Harriman--he wanted--he wanted to be someone else. He didn't like himself--who he'd become--his life. He gave up. He resigned himself to death. But he was impatient, and finally couldn't wait any longer."

Bug looked across the table at him, and for a second, Nigel felt like he was seeing a different person--a stranger.

"I am not a John Doe," Bug added at last, and everyone save Winslow knew at once what he meant, though no one seemed to know what to say to that. Garret looked uncomfortable but resigned to it--as he always did at emotional scenes. Jordan inclined her head slightly and looked like she wanted to give Bug a hug, but wouldn't--at least till Garret had left the room. Lily reached out a hand and patted Bug's arm, still with that warm smile, fairly radiant with it. Winslow looked even more confused, as if he'd just realized he'd joined the a show already in progress: A very special episode: Part II of Bug's identity crisis.

Nigel realized that nobody would've seen fit to mention to Winslow that Bug had gone missing while on a case not so very long ago--that Bug had gotten caught up tracking a John Doe, another immigrant, and that he'd apparently over-identified with the corpse, as sometimes happened.

All that was already part of the past, not worth mentioning, perhaps because they saw death so often that the near misses, however harrowing, hardly counted. Non-fatal traumas were somebody else's business, weren't they? Here, you were either dead or alive, period. Episodic television at its finest. Again, as if he were drunk, Nigel felt that odd sense of distance, as if all this were occurring at a safe remove--as if he was seeing it all from behind a window.

But Bug was still talking. "I still-- I dream about it. I'm playing hide and seek with--with my brother. In the rain. It's raining, and--" Bug stopped, cleared his throat. "And I climb into a shipping crate to keep dry. Then I'm trapped inside, and the thing's turned into a coffin. My Achilles' tendons are cut, so even had I the means to escape, I couldn't run. I try to yell but I speak the wrong language--I have no voice."

Except--Nigel almost said aloud--you weren't in a box, you were in a train, being thrown from the damned train car.

In his own dreams he was always trapped after the crash, sinking. He was still the only one alive, but he was never going to get free of the train, and he could only watch as the car sank underwater, that blasted saxophone rising up beside him like a disembodied limb, whilst the dead man's briefcase gently floated amongst the corpses.

Nigel had never said anything about his own dreams--not even to Lily--though she'd asked him often enough when she caught him looking less than his normal, cheery self. Not even Stiles had gotten it out of him yet, though damned the man, he did keep trying, always asking, "Sooo... what did it feel like to survive a train derailment and see everyone else die?" Bloody stupid question, since it didn't feel like anything. How did everyone expect it would feel? Only Bug had the sense not to ask. How does it feel to survive when you let someone else die? How does it feel to feel responsible, even though you weren't, just because you lived?

Nigel saw that Bug's hands were trembling slightly. He half-wished he could bring himself to reach across the table--but he didn't. Couldn't.

And Bug was still talking, the words coming out more quickly now, though Bug's voice was still tight. "My mother--she called and asked me last week when I was getting married, and I told her the truth for once--that I wasn't. I wasn't getting married. She didn't understand. She wants me to come home, but I told her this was home--that I'm a citizen, now. An American."

Bug stopped, then, finally, and looked down at the table, pressing his hands flat against it.

Garret looked relieved, though Nigel had a hard time understanding why. It was Jordan who took the initiative and started to clap her hands together hard enough to shatter the awkward silence. Soon enough, everyone else joined in, filling in the silence, the way people did when all the nerves were firing at once. Even Nigel's own hands began to sting as he brought them together, and for a moment, he, too, was caught up in the drama, wondering if it was genuine emotion they were all feeling, or just relief that there were no more dead bodies here, sharing space in this room with them.

The applause softened, then stopped. But despite the mood, which had seemed, for a moment, to have lifted, the silence once again settled and once again seemed fraught. Nigel saw Garret wince as he struggled to decide whether it was safe to again dismiss everyone from the meeting.

And then Bug said it: "I'm also a homosexual."

And everyone--Sweet Nancy, every last person in the room, including Bug--turned to look at him.

~~*~~

Four hours later, in what had to be the longest day of Nigel's life, Bug was in his boxers and T-shirt, sitting on the edge of the kitchen countertop, and Nigel, also half-undressed, stood between his legs. The kisses had been long and deep, but hadn't led to anything more. Yet.

"Hmm," he said, approvingly, as Bug's lips found his neck, laying small damp open-mouthed kisses all the way up to his left ear.

"Nige, I've been thinking... I want to get an earring."

"You what?"

"Can't remember, though. Which side's the gay one?"

Nigel started to take a step back, but Bug's legs crossed behind him, trapping him there.

"Dunno about you, love, but both my ears seem about equally homosexual."

Bug drew him closer and laughed, low and rough. "You know exactly what I mean. I don't want to hide anymore."

He frowned. "Yeah, well, there's a difference between keeping a secret and--"

Bug let go of him, pushing him away with enough force that Nigel stumbled backwards, grabbing onto Bug's shoulders for balance. "Look, I said I was sorry. It's not as if I outed you."

"And what makes you so sure you didn't?" Nigel shot back, shouting but still holding onto Bug, even as he was suddenly furiously angry and damned glad to finally have the opportunity to say that, after hours of holding it in reserve in favour of being supportive, or whatever it was he was doing here. To be honest, he had no real idea of how one was supposed to feel when one's lover came out, as Bug had, in such a--such a public way.

After all, Bug hadn't spent a lifetime carefully cultivating a life that, while not fully ambiguous, certainly dared anyone to ask for confirmation of what may have seemed bloody obvious. He was a Navy man for godsakes, as his father had helpfully pointed out on more than one occassion.

Bloody hell. It was all so... so... damn it, not to mention that he'd spent time trying to find a way to dissuade Bug from compromising his physical desires to fulfill his emotional needs, and now Nigel himself felt like exactly the sort of idiot that Bug so often claimed he was.

Not to mention also that Bug had just put an end to his casual flirting with, well, everyone. Not that that was precisely the point, which was...

That he was in love with Bug.

And Nigel thought that he was possibly almost on the verge of being able to say that to Bug himself. Almost.

He was glad to feel the last of his anger draining out of him as he accepted that really, he was angrier with himself than he ever could be with Bug, at least in this instance. And by tomorrow, he guessed that it would all feel different. He might even come to admit that it was better this way, to not have to choose his every word so very, very carefully.

Bug was still glaring at him, though Nigel noticed that Bug's state of arousal was somewhat at odds with his expression.

Nigel shook his head and leaned in to kiss Bug on his not insubstantial nose. "Sorry for shouting. And... apology accepted, love. But in future, I'd prefer a little advance notice and mutual discussion before my bedroom becomes a public spectacle."

"My bedroom," Bug snapped back, voice harsh even as he once again crossed his legs behind Nigel, heels digging into Nigel's arse. Nigel leaned into the embrace, edging Bug further off the counter so that their cocks ground together a bit. Bug moaned softly, then repeated, "Bedroom."

"First good idea you've had all day," Nigel agreed, easing Bug off the countertop, swaying a little as he took Bug's full weight.

Managing to get them both from the kitchen to the bedroom without falling over, he at last dropped Bug onto the still unmade bed, where Bug remained passively on his back, waiting, as Nigel pulled down Bug's boxers, then removed his own pants. Thus far, they'd done nothing more revolutionary than rub each other off--though he was not complaining. He could spend years doing that and not complain. Of course, he had visions of other things--wanting to move down Bug's body and take Bug into his mouth, bringing him off there. Hoping that Bug would do the same for him. But, until now, he'd been afraid to do more--as if, with his mouth on Bug's cock, Bug might suddenly notice that what they were doing couldn't possibly fall under the rubric of heterosexual acts.

But something told him that the events of today called for a bit more, and it would be for him to determine a plan. For a moment, he knelt on the foot of the bed and surveyed the terrain before him. Bug really did look lovely against the rumpled sheets--still very much the troubled--albeit troublesome--virgin.

"Hang on a sec--" Inspired, he went to the loo and found what he was looking for--the lube he'd brought over in his kit, which he'd been hesitant to put out on display, afraid it might seem... a bit pushy. For safety's sake, he grabbed a condom as well.

Standing in the doorway, supplies in hand, he again enjoyed the view.

"What?"

"You, love, are absolutely charming."

Bug scowled at him, raising himself onto his elbows. "And you are a slut. Hanging about in every doorway like some two-bit whore marking his corner. Very subtle. Very heterosexual. No way anyone might guess the awful truth."

Nigel laughed at that, seeing that he really was hanging in the doorway. But, given his height, the top of the doorframe was just a convenient place to hang onto, though he supposed it wouldn't seem so to Bug. Still, seeing as how it clearly had an effect on him (if on no one else), Nigel purposefully leaned against the side of the doorframe, drawing one leg up, knee bent, making a better show of it.

Bug drew in a harsh breath, clearly moved, and when he spoke, his voice was sex itself, very low and very dark. "How much?"

"Depends what you're into. Ten quid for a lick and a spit. A bit more and I'll swallow."

Bug said nothing, and Nigel was almost afraid he'd gone too far with it. This was new stuff, even for him. But then Bug frowned. "That all that's on offer?"

Nigel grinned and shook his head. "Fifty and you can bugger me. Seventy-five and I'll do you. So what'll it be, mate?"

"Why more one way than the other?"

"Personal preference."

"Really," Bug said, as if he'd never actually considered that one might prefer to take a man's cock up the arse. And again, Nigel worried a bit. Some blokes were okay fucking you, as long as they assumed you were doing them a huge favor, and that they were in control. Not that he'd throw Bug aside if that were the case, but, when he'd been optimistic enough to consider it, he'd hoped that Bug would be a bit more flexible than that.

But Bug just nodded. "Hmm. Not sure just where I've put my wallet..."

Nigel watched as Bug brought his hand down to his bare hip, as if to check his non-existent pockets, then casually moved to stroke his own cock instead.

Nigel shrugged. "Can settle up later. So what'll you have, then?" But he didn't wait for an answer, instead moving onto the bed, replacing Bug's hand with his own. Bug was still very hard, and inhaled sharply at Nigel's touch. Nigel used a light touch unrolling the condom onto Bug's cock while Bug watched him, seemingly amused.

"You do that very well."

"Practice makes perfect, darling." And then he uncapped the lube, slicking the condom with it until Bug fairly glistened with it. "Lovely."

Bug seemed to hesitate, then, his body tensed up to move, and Nigel laid a hand to his belly, pushing him back down again on his back as he straddled Bug, low on his hips. Bug's eyes widened at that, and Nigel shivered at the intensity of Bug's gaze--and at the intensity of what he was about to do as he reached behind himself and took hold of Bug's cock, his hand slipping slightly over its length. And then--there--he was in position, and could at last lower himself, ever so slowly, down.

Bug gasped, and Nigel took a deep breath as he sank further down on Bug's cock, taking more of him in, then more still. He took it slowly more for Bug than himself, remembering what it was like that first time--how it was tighter than you'd imagined, and hotter, and how at first, you were afraid to move, then, not long after, it nearly killed you to hold still.

But Bug was smiling, softly, and Nigel wiped his fingers on the blanket and reached out to grasp his outstretched hand, leaving the other on Bug's thigh for balance as he lowered himself that last bit, Bug's balls tight and warm against his backside.

"All right?" he asked, and Bug bit his lip and moaned.

"Nige--"

"Yeah?"

And Bug's hips jerked upward, just enough to startle him. He gripped Bug's hand a little tighter, countering the thrust by pushing back down again. Bug thrust up again immediately, and then Nigel gave in to it, settling into a rhythm he controlled, a gentle ride, at first, then harder, letting more of Bug slide out before he pushed back again, hard, letting gravity do much of the work. He leaned forward just a bit, angling his hips until Bug's cock slammed against his prostate hard enough to make his thighs tremble. And again, this time with Bug's full cooperation, the slow glide and the hard, sudden thrust that split him open again, forcing the air out of his lungs in a harsh panting gasp.

It was brilliant--and he wanted to tell Bug that this was where Bug belonged--snug up inside of him, their bodies fit together like they were made to do this and nothing else.

But he was coming before he found the words to say it--and he wanted to watch Bug but instead had to shut his eyes as he threw his head back, going very still as he gave himself up to it, feeling the orgasm shudder through his body with enough force that he felt changed by it in some way that he knew he could never put a name to.

Seconds later, he could feel Bug coming inside him, the pulses of it distinct enough that he counted them, like heart beats, each accompanied by a short, sharp thrust of Bug's hips into him before Bug finally rested, spent.

He waited a few seconds before gently easing off of Bug's hips, pitching forward and settling against Bug's sweat-slick side, throwing one leg over Bug's, draping one arm across Bug's chest, idly tracing the come there into Bug's skin, matting down his chest hair with it.

Bug's eyes were closed, but at last they fluttered open, and Nigel saw that his lashes were wet, and small tear tracks streaked the corners of his eyes and into the sheets.

He wanted to say something profound or comforting, but Bug spoke first.

"Worth every penny."

Nigel laughed at that, laying a kiss to the side of Bug's neck as he carefully removed the condom from Bug's spent cock, tossing it over the side of the bed.

"Did it hurt?" Bug asked, his voice quiet and low.

He shook his head, burying his face there against Bug's neck and shoulder. He felt Bug shift, then turn off the bedside lamp, and the room went suddenly, blissfully dark.

It was several minutes before Bug spoke again, and Nigel, nearly asleep, could feel the words vibrating in Bug's throat. "You should know that, in university, I earned a reputation with the ladies."

"Hmm. Did you now." He licked the salt from Bug's neck, feeling the pulse there, under his tongue.

"Yeah. Got quite good at pleasing them."

Bug tensed against him, and Nigel knew that Bug was intentionally provoking him, though as to why, he wasn't quite sure, nor was he awake enough--or foolish enough--to ask. He remembered just how vehemently Bug had once insisted that he liked girls (a pity, Nigel considered now, as only that had prevented what Nigel now saw as a fairly agreeable "marriage" to the man). With the issue somewhat settled in his own mind (perhaps the only foreseeable benefit of Bug's workplace indiscretion), he had to admit that he was intrigued by the somewhat implausible notion of Bug as a campus lothario, sleeping his way through the girls' dormitories. In fact, thinking of it was going a long way towards waking up at least some parts of him.

Bug turned to him, legs tangling against his, Bug's partially renewed erection a pleasant pressure against Nigel's belly. "Hmm. Yeah. Was easy--easy to be good-- when I felt so very, very little--doing it."

"Hmm." Nigel sighed, understanding that, at least a little. He pressed himself more closely against Bug's warm body, letting himself be lulled by the sudden surprising ease of this, as Bug began to rock against him, a subtle rhythm that felt like it could go on forever with no further resolution.

"I'm afraid I'm out of practice, feeling," Bug added, his voice just a low whisper, his movements picking up speed suddenly, the gentle rocking turning into more aggressive thrusting.

"But you're a quick study," Nigel whispered, hoping he was saying the right thing. "With a natural talent."

Bug said nothing to that, though Nigel felt his assent in the sudden deep hitching breaths, and heard it in the almost silent sobs that followed. He held on, then, tight as he was able, pushing back against Bug's body with an equal force that only drew them together again.

FIN