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They Can Smell Your Intentions

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THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter one

Nigel Ionescu, Inspector de polite of the Politia Romana, slid a cigarette between his lips and left it dangling there, unlit, as he contemplated the amber liquid in the tumbler before him. Ice clinked as it melted into his scotch, the black, glossy surface of the bar stained with dew that had slid off of the glass and lay in a puddle beneath it. He plucked his unlit cigarette from his lips and downed another two gulps before tipping the glass towards the attentive bartender at the end of the counter, signalling he wanted another. The bartender, a bald, shifty eyed man in his early forties poured his drink without measuring, and when Nigel slipped his cigarette back between his lips he offered a light without asking. Nigel sighed in thanks as he took a drag, the bartender waiting on payment. Nigel nodded his head in time to the music, some dance hall number that was remixed to the point of it disintegrating into digital screeching. He had a half formed memory of Gabi dancing along to this particular tune, the busy nightmare of those days a blur that swirled in unhealthy streams of consciousness that usually ended with him alone in his flat, an empty bottle of whiskey at his side and the sick, sick feeling that permeated the air with its stale promise of protracted solitude.

He hadn't eaten that day and the combination of the crowd and the loud music and the scent of sex and sweat made him slightly dizzy. He downed another gulp and tossed a few extra bills at the bartender to get him to loosen up with the padded payment.

"Haven't seen you around here in forever," the bartender said, his meaty hands braced against the sink in front of him. "Your girl really knew how to tear apart a dance floor. Haven't seen her in a long time, either, come to think of it."

Nigel pursed his lips at this dull observation. He didn't like being recognized, but Bucharest's seedy side had very specific areas and he found he had to use a lot of creative storytelling to get around the fact they knew he was an inspector. "Gabi and I have been done for three years now."

"Divorced?"

"Is that what they fucking call it these days."

The bartender chuckled at this and refilled Nigel's glass without his asking for more. "This one is on the house. You two were like shining stars in this dump. It's gone way downhill since the new management took over. Techno and pink garbage, I have to wash glitter out of my hair every night." He rubbed his bald head for emphasis and Nigel gave him a crooked smile.

"You're here alone?"

Nigel pursed his lips over his drink. "Yeah."

"Break ups ain't easy."

"Since my ex left me, things have been rough," Nigel admitted, and it was true. It had been three years, but what did time matter? Bucharest wasn't so massive that he didn't keep running into her now and then, his Gabi, touring with the symphony, her cello an extension of her being and drawing long notes of sadness out of his heart like arteries along lonely streets. The bartender gave him a knowing nod, and Nigel gave him a sad grin in return.

"Loneliness can be a fickle mistress," the bartender agreed. He picked up random, damp glasses from a bus bin and began drying them with a dishtowel of questionable cleanliness. The music was pulsing behind Nigel's back, its steady thump, thumping pulling his heart into its beat, the flow of his blood out of tune with the music. It was giving him a headache and he downed another gulp of his scotch. Barely dressed girls giggled at the far corner and then dispersed into the crowd. There was a heavy mixture of genders here, Nigel thought, his Alpha nose picking up on the sweat of Betas and a few Omegas, and other fellow sex starved Alphas looking for a quick night of stress relief. He imagined most of them found what they wanted on that dance floor, going home half drunk and making stupid decisions that were based on the body and not on love. It was all such a miserable business, this pandering to hormones and ignoring the quietude of the heart. Love didn't live in places like this, he'd discovered much to his own detriment. Gabi had been fond of clubbing. He should have taken that as a warning sign.

The bartender crept closer, his hands in meaty fists as he rested them on the bar's countertop. Nigel waved him closer, bringing him into his confidence. "I have money, in case you were wondering. I might not be the world's best catch, but even I have needs. Come on, just look at me." Nigel sat back in his chair, his black silk shirt hitched higher on his shoulders as he pushed them back, hands gesturing to his chest. "Sometimes all a guy needs is some comfort he can have until morning, you understand?"

The bartender nodded at the crowd of people dancing to the music behind him. "There's plenty for you to chose from out there."

Nigel made a face. "Don't be so fucking stupid. If I wanted one of those mindless fucks I would have taken it by now. I'm not in the mood to work for it, do you understand? What I want is a transaction. Or do you only pretend to peddle pussy in this place, and my friend was wrong."

The bartender's hackles instantly went up and he crossed burly arms across his wide chest. He looked more bouncer than booze merchant, Nigel thought, narrowing his eyes at him. A pit bull for a gang leader, a bit of muscle to keep the little junkies who worked for him in line. Nigel's crooked smile morphed into a grin. He was definitely on the right track.

"You got strange friends if that's what they're telling you," the bartender said. "So what's it to you? There a pile of chesters waiting for me outside of this dump to arrest me for telling you where to go? It's not my business what the new owners do, I just pour the fucking drinks." There were other customers coming up to the bar but he was pointedly ignoring them. Nigel nodded inwardly, knowing this was going exactly how he wanted. The transaction would happen away from the bar with another go between, and he would be led upstairs, where the cash would change hands first. He had to make sure they showed him the goods before the money came out, he needed to look the part of a savvy customer not willing to be jerked off by some meth head Beta. They knew he was a cop, and they also knew he was a rogue. Reputation was everything.

"This good friend is pretty reliable, and he told me there's lots of Omegas who come here," Nigel replied, shrugging but never allowing his gaze to waver from the bartender's black scrutiny. "I'm not into dancing, and I hate this shit music. I'm here for something sweet. You know what I mean. I'm an unattached Alpha with lots of love to give and I'm ready to fuck until morning." He leaned closer, making sure the stupid, thick headed bastard behind the bar could hear him properly. "I got the cash. Don't try to play stupid with me, I know you have them waiting. I want a room upstairs."

The bartender rolled his eyes and stepped away from Nigel as though disgusted. Nigel didn't care it was all part of the game being played and if the bartender wanted to believe he was now a rogue cop so be it. He tilted his head to one side and Nigel bent over the bar to hear him. "There's this guy, a United Main expat named Paul. He's a tweaker, and his head's not right, he'll be all over the map, but he'll set you up. He's got his body shop over by the restroom near the back entrance. He's the negotiator and he'll take you upstairs from there."

Nigel tossed some money onto the counter, making sure he didn't leave too substantial a tip. "Thanks for the heads up."

The bartender gave him a steely glare. "If anyone asks me, I never talked to you."

"I'm usually too drunk to remember who poured me a drink."

Nigel slid off the stool and headed in the direction the bartender had suggested he go. He caught sight of the young man who had to be the mysterious Paul, a tiny weasel of a creature dressed in ill fitting leathers and a torn t-shirt that was supposed to make him look edgy instead of desperate. He was scanning the crowd like a hawk over a field, his hands deep in his pockets as he held onto both money and drugs. Nigel knew the type well, he was a middle man, a highly forgettable upstart who would end up on the bottom of a canal one day. From the twitching way he stood, his eyes unable to properly focus on the vista around him, it was clear he was high on amphetamines, his constant lip licking and restless demeanour hinting at regular use. Nigel smiled at him, and placed a hand on his nervous shoulder. "Paul, right?"

The little puke grimaced, revealing a row of blackened, rotten teeth, a good chunk of them chipped or missing. "What's it to you?"

"Depends on what you're charging."

"Down or up?" He was talking about the drugs in his pockets and Nigel had no use for those.

"I'm thinking more along the lines of in and out." When Paul remained stupidly silent in the face of this, Nigel sighed, realizing he had to dumb this down a lot further than he'd thought. "I heard you are the man to come to for a fuck."

"Not with me, you're not."

"I know you have extra goods upstairs."

"You want something upstairs it's going to cost you." Paul wouldn't meet his eyes, he kept staring out into the crowd as though looking for easier prey. "I got some special sparkle that can make you forget about it. I got everything you need. You don't need to go upstairs. You got money? How much money? Gotta watch out the po-po are on the down low...Who you been talking to?"

Nigel smirked at this, recognizing Paul asking him where he got his information was an easy way to roll him for money later, on the pretence of not keeping his big mouth shut. Besides, admitting he talked to the bartender would be a big signal that as a customer he was highly untrustworthy, and they needed that trust when it came to Omega trafficking. The laws were getting real tight around the neck of the pimps these days and the traffickers were routinely shipped off to Russian authorities when it was found they had transport and kidnapping connections. Paul, as a United Main expat, wasn't about to get treated very well in a Petersburg gulag. In this case, xenophobia was a two way street. "Let's just say I heard it through the grapevine. Have you got something for me or are you the one who's going to jack me off?"

Paul shifted from foot to foot, catching the eye of someone in the crowd. "Stay here," he ordered, and dove off into the bouncing fray of youth that swept across the dance floor like a colourful, neon blanket.

Nigel sighed, tired of this stupid game already. Paul was dancing and distracted, he'd be a while before he returned to his perch to peddle his wares. Nigel entered the washroom next to the corner where Paul had been standing and pushed his way past the sweaty bodies gathered within, most of them smoking dope on the pretence of taking a piss. Nigel took careful strides to the far side of the urinals, the greasy walls thick with piss and blood from altercations and drunken nights. This was place was never cleaned in its entire history, and the ammonia hit his sensitive nose like a punch. He inched his way to the last stall and knocked on the door. It was opened hastily, and Inspector Dorin Gabor (but everyone called him 'Darko' because of his jet black hair and pale features) peeked around the edge of the stall door, his face like a grimacing weasel. "You got a contact?" Darko asked, and he pressed the earpiece in his ear with the tips of his fingers. "We got the van in position at the back entrance if this guy tries to bolt and we got the hospital on standby in case we run into some sick victims like the last time." Darko's face went pale at the memory. "I really, really don't want this to be like last time."

A flash of memory, of moaning suffering, hit Nigel with anxious fury, and he quelled it with a curse at the air while he sucked on his cigarette, long plumes of smoke leaving him as he breathed it out. "Who the fuck knows? I have to get back out there before the drugged up little piece of puke forgets me. Get the team ready, follow me when you get the word of where we are going, make sure there are no civilians in the way of fire. No fucking lawsuits, right? If you take anyone out, make sure they are worth the paperwork, I don't want to have to wipe my ass on team reports."

"Got it," Darko said, and he closed the stall door, only to quickly open it again. "Nigel!"

Nigel turned, annoyed at his officer. He gave him a questioning shrug.

"Isn't this where you used to take Gabi? I'm surprised the bartender doesn't remember you."

"He remembered me just fine," Nigel said, his face going red. "Fuck's sake, Darko, you always have to bring up the bad memories at the worst possible times, why do you always do this? You know this is where she dumped me. You stupid asshole."

"She still with that Omega guy?"

"His name is Charlie and yeah. If you need some more salt for my fucking wounds let me know."

Darko nodded wordlessly at this. "Let us know when you have the target in sight."

"Don't fuck up," Nigel said.

"We won't, boss."

Nigel gave him the finger as he left the washroom, glassy eyed young men slipping past him. He kicked a small crowd away from the area and leaned against the corner Paul had occupied earlier. It didn't take long to find him in the crowd, finishing up a small drug deal with a pair of partying youths dressed in Adidas gear. They had English accents and cursed with a fluency that rivalled Nigel's. There was a name for them, Nigel recalled. Chavs.

Paul loudly sniffed as he placed one hand into the back of his pocket and wiped at his nose with the other. He'd been testing the product for his customers, showing them it wasn't laced with anything he wouldn't take himself. A good drug dealer always tested his own product, Nigel knew. Paul gave a backwards nod to Nigel and bid him to follow him up a set of narrow stairs hidden behind a red door near the washrooms. Nigel could hear it lock behind them as their steps echoed upwards. "Bit of a back door alley, isn't it?" Nigel said, knowing full well that Darko and his team would know exactly where he was located. "Is there where all the whores live, in an upstairs warehouse?"

"It's a penthouse," Paul sneered down at him, and Nigel was surprised as he broke the barrier of that last top step and wandered into a highly stylized space, complete with expensive white leather couches and a roaring glass fireplace. His black loafers dug into the faux fur rugs strewn about the space, which had a strangely retro feel to it, all Andy Warhol and clear plastic furnishings.

"Wait here. I'll get everything ready," Paul said, and disappeared down a long corridor before Nigel could protest.

He sank onto the white leather couch as he waited, and it was uncomfortable and cold. This was a negotiating room, Nigel realized. It wouldn't be long now, they were already going to set a price. He wondered what they were going to request and he shivered despite the artificial heat coming off of the glass fireplace in tacky waves. There was no doubt in his mind that the offering would be an Omega, one that had already been assaulted and thus wouldn't be worth much on the foreign market--'foreign' being a polite euphemism for the United Main. Only the real creeps used Omegas in the Eastern Unions and it was hardly a lucrative market, the Omegas for that line of work castoffs that were unsellable overseas. The United Main liked them young and unspoiled, and they had the money to pay for them. Nigel felt a sick well in the pit of his stomach at the thought, wondering how anyone could live in such a backwards place that seemed dedicated to making a third of its population suffer. He'd witnessed it himself, weeping Russian Omegas telling him long stories of torture and imprisonment, unable to escape due to the severe bonding laws of the United Main. The best he and his task force could do was make sure none of the skin traffic made it out of the country, because once they hit that cesspit it was over, they disappeared and the world forget they had ever existed. It was almost mythical the way the United Main acted as a black hole of human vice, taking in the sins of the world and holding them close enough to smother them into invisibility.

But Nigel wasn't one to wax too poetically about politics and he could care less about the United Main's issues save for the fact that they were making his life pure hell. There were perverts no matter where you went in the world, there was no getting away from that, but this systematic culling of Omegas was really starting to get under his skin. The new Russian policies that forced a crackdown on Omega trafficking were more than welcome to the citizens of allied countries, but damn if it didn't make his life a lot harder, especially when his task force was one comprised of inspectors more used to homicides than systematic torture. Corpses were ugly but at least they didn't reach out to you with shaking, bleeding hands and beg you to save them.

He got up from the couch and started pacing, wishing the cheap bastards were at least generous enough to leave some booze in the room for him to drink. He lit another cigarette and smoked it quickly, his long legs taking strides back and forth in front of the white leather couches. Who the hell bought a white couch? It was like begging for a stain.

His cell phone rang and he picked it up, his brow raised when he saw it was a text from Gabi. He ignored it and shoved it into the back pocket of his trousers. His whole life was full of blemishes, Nigel figured. A fucking failed marriage because she ran off with a United Main homeless, unemployed sad little depressive brat of all things. A fucking Omega named Charlie Countryman who was so Mainland hillbilly he practically couldn't speak English and it was his first language. That was the one he lost her to, that piece of crap was what she loved instead of him. He could pick his heart to pieces all he wanted in that stupid white room and it still wouldn't give him the answer he wanted. All he knew of love was the obsessive need he felt with Gabi, and it was now three years past their break up and it was long gone.

His cell phone rang again and he picked it up, noting that it was Darko this time sending him a message. *"We got the van in position, weapons ready at the back door. We're just waiting for your order."*

*"Nothing happening yet,"* Nigel quickly texted back. *"I don't like this delay, something feels wrong."*

Pimps usually couldn't wait to get their hands on their money, so a waiting customer who had every chance to change his mind was sitting all levels of wrong within Nigel. He repocketed his cell phone and continued to pace the room, the fake glass fireplace reflected in the clear plastic of the coffee table. He was feeling as restless and punchy as Paul the tweaking drug dealer was, and he puffed away at his cigarette, already longing for the next one and a bottle of scotch to help the horrors of this night go down easy in the pit of his stomach.

Paul bounded back down the hall, his shoulders twitching, his head quickly staring over both of them as he made sure no one else could hear him. "Okay, it's all set up, but here's the thing, I need the money first."

Nigel let out a cruel laugh at this. "Like I haven't heard that one before."

"I'm serious, man, I just need to know what you got for cash. This is going to get me in a heap of trouble. You don't have to pay yet, I just need to know you got it." Paul did another quick look over both his shoulders, as though convinced the devil himself was about to put a knife through his back. "They are going to sell him and ship him off next week, got a buyer and all. There's a real shortage of Omega males in the United Main so anything they can get is considered quality goods. I'm not fully sure if this one's a virgin, but you're getting this one at discount and whatever turns you on, who am I to argue?" Paul shrugged and shoved his hands into his pockets, tattooed fingers curled around drugs and money. "So what's the story? What have you got?"

Nigel wasn't sure he wanted to play the desperate, sex starved punter just yet, and he hoped he showed just the right amount of reluctance before setting his jaw in a firm line and taking out his wallet. He fanned the money within it (all courtesy of the anti-trafficking brigade, of course, and carefully monitored by their accountants to make sure not one tiny cent was misspent. They kept the wads of leu in a locked box, ready to be recycled for the next bust) and then quickly hid his wallet deep in the pocket of his trousers. Paul nodded at this, and he waved Nigel through, guiding him towards a thin hallway with poor lighting, shadows passing over him in thick strips. There were a series of doors, all painted a brilliant red, the tacky suggestion of illicit sex not lost on him. This was where they were housed, punters brought in to meet the unsellable Omegas and where debauchery was sanctioned. Nigel was no prude, if someone wanted to sell their body that was their business, he just had a serious problem with the issue of choice. The Omegas brought here had been stripped of that, they were drugged and forced into these transactions, and with their usual delicate health they became sick fairly quickly. Nigel was getting damned tired of busting down doors and finding tiny Omegas half dead behind them, some of them under aged, most of them so severely traumatized they would never have the hope of a normal life again. His soul was exhausted by it, its substance whittling away with every effort made, of having to play the creep wanting that little bit extra, of waiting in filthy rooms, always keenly aware that the glock hidden at his back could easily be found should they think to give him a pat down. These busts didn't always go smoothly, he'd been beaten and shot too many times to count and he spent too much time recovering, his mind addled with painkillers, a facet that had been a huge reason why he'd ended up with Gabi in the first place. He'd been lying in his bed for weeks, recovering from being shot in the leg and beaten half to death by some coked up punter, and he'd lain on that mattress wondering what the hell he was doing with his life to keep tempting all the evils of the world to take it. Gabi had come into his life then, her cello leaking sorrow up into his apartment, the beauty of the strings wrapping him up in their mournful comfort through the cheap, thin walls and ceiling, and he'd fallen in love as he drifted into the arms of her music.

Even now, as he thinks on it, he can't be sure if it was Gabi he fell in love with or her cello, for the two were definitely far apart in their definition of what love was. He'd been so desperate for something good in his life he'd gone mad for her, that's what he understood about himself, and he couldn't recognize at the time how unhealthy their relationship had been, how he had been all wrong for her. She was filled with a furious energy that exacerbated his own, she sought light and happiness and all he could give her was frantic anger and death.

He was stopped in front of a door and it was swung open, Paul gesturing to him to go inside. "I'm not paying until I see the goods," Nigel said, and Paul huffed at this.

"You need to at least give me half the payment, I'm not sending anything in until I got something in my pocket." Paul sniffed loudly and Nigel wondered if the little creep had done a few lines of coke while he'd kept Nigel waiting. "I can't trust you aren't one of the pigs, and the pigs never pay up front. So unless you got some cash to give me, consider this deal broken."

Nigel was reluctant, but he had to play his part. He dug out his wallet and pulled out some United Main currency, that always made the pimps salivate and Paul, being a United Main expat himself, was no exception. He took the bills and counted them greedily before ushering Nigel into the small room he'd picked. "Just wait here. Might take a bit of convincing on your part, just warning you."

Nigel bristled at this, knowing what Paul was suggesting. The Omega he was bringing in was a fresh one, not used to being whored and still had a bit of fight left. He was expecting Nigel to play the part of a rapist and he had a great deal of trouble with that even as a ruse. "If I have to fight for it you can consider yourself already paid in full. I came up here for an easy lay, not a brawl."

Paul shrugged. "This one is worth it. An Omega from the United Main and you get to pop the cherry, I'd say you got one hell of a bargain. I doubt this one will struggle much, and all you have to do is turn on your Alpha charm anyway, make this one a little puddle of submission, got it?"

He knew what Paul was talking about, and as he walked into the small room, he had to fight every instinct within him that was making him want to turn around and repeatedly punch the little weasel faced bastard in the face until there was nothing left of it. Fucking disgusting little creep. As if he'd do that to anyone, force his pheromones on some unsuspecting Omega and bring them to their knees in simpering submission. Biology said he could do it if he wanted to, but being an Alpha meant you also had self control and were a leader, not a fucking hormone magnet. Little ferret faced fucking piece of shit, he couldn't wait to take Paul down and give him a few good kicks in the stomach and a hard heel to his mouth to take care of what's left of his teeth, that ought to make sure he knew who the Alpha was if that's how he wanted to do it. Instinctively, Nigel spit on the ground near Paul's overly white Nike sneakers and Paul nodded at the gesture of angered dominance, at least being smart enough to step back.

"I'm not saying anything that ain't true," Paul countered.

"Just get the fucking goods and shut up. I've waited long enough."

Paul stormed off as soon as Nigel shoved money into his hands and Nigel was left alone once again in a poorly decorated room. This one didn't even pretend to be pleasant, there were stains on the carpet, and the sheets on the large bed behind him smelled moldy. There was a lingering odour of fear, sweat and sex that made Nigel taste bile in the back of his throat, and he tried to shake it off. He hated these places, his sensitive nose taking in the hormones that permeated the room, the back of his tongue tasting Omega heat and terror, two things that were never meant to go together. He could feel his stomach churning and not for the first time Nigel inwardly remarked he was getting damned fucking tired of his job making him sick.

The theme in this room was (wait for it!) the colour red and Nigel figured it was appropriate considering the blood that was occasionally spilled here. At least this room wasn't devoid of alcohol and he snatched up the cheap bottle of wine waiting on a side table, unscrewing the cap and not bothering with the dusty glasses neatly placed beside it. He stood at the window and took a swig directly from the bottle as he glanced outside, the back alley black and grey beneath the lights of the club. The white van of the politia romana was parked close to the back entrance, and he could feel his cell phone buzzing again. He knew it was Darko, wondering were he was. He quickly answered it, the bottle of wine still in his other hand as he pressed the cell phone to his ear. "I'm upstairs in one of the rooms, they've been using them for transactions. Haven't been given the goods yet, but keep ready, get everyone in position near the back entrance, that's where the pimp known as Paul is going to run. He knows the traffickers, I'm sure of it, he's from the United Main and he likes his drugs. He won't keep quiet."

"We're not seeing any action in any of the other windows," Darko said, sounding disappointed. "What did he tell you about this one?"

"Apparently fresh out of the box and I'm supposed to be a motherfucking rapist for the night."

"Charming. These guys really know how to court romance." Darko paused, and Nigel could hear him bark an order to a young chester who was hovering in plain sight on the other side of the van. He quickly dove behind it, hiding. "I can see your outline from down here. Are you fucking drinking on the job again?"

"Authenticity, you jackass."

"You got suspended last time, or did you forget that, Nigel?"

"Fuck's sake, Darko, you take the fun out of everything."

He hung up the cell and took another swig from the bottle of wine, already tired of the gloom the filthy sex pad was drenched in. He fumbled around the lamp placed next to the bed and brought the room into a seedy glow that revealed a further dinginess, the stains on the bed covers now clearly evident and making Nigel gag. He washed down the bad feelings in his gut with another swig of wine.

He turned with the bottle still poised at his lips and was shocked to discover he wasn't alone in the room. The door had been opened and closed without his ever hearing it, giving the image in front of him a supernatural quality that irked him. The vision in front of him had to be a hallucination, because nothing that perfect could possibly exist, and especially not in Nigel's world. Soft lips, pale, flawless skin, dark curls and blue eyes that pierced through the darkness like some brilliant azure ocean, movements that were graceful and careful, a body exuding innocence and curious desire all at once. He was dressed in a simple v-neck sweater with a dark cotton shirt beneath it, and a tie of all things. Dark pants that ended in Converse sneakers. This darling image was enough to make Nigel take a step back, his Alpha instincts kicking in, wanting to be tender to this sweet smelling little sparrow in his midst, to gently wind his fingers in those soft curls and offer a gentle kiss to assure the startlingly beautiful Omega that he was not there to harm, that he was the protector, that he was going to make sure everything was all right. His cell phone was buzzing like mad, but Nigel was too transfixed to answer it, his focus on the Omega's lips and the fact that they were moving too miraculous an event to make him feel reason.

"What's wrong with your computer?"

Nigel blinked, then frowned, and tried to bring reality back to the disgusting room and found it was difficult to do. "I...What? I don't have a computer."

The Omega standing in his room wasn't impressed with this and his brow pursed into the most adorable little frown Nigel had ever seen. "Paul sent me to here to fix it. Why would he do that if you don't have one?" His voice was as delicate as the rest of him, as though he was picking his words with absolute care and he was clearly worried about being misunderstood. "I guess he made a mistake."

"Who the fuck are you?" Nigel asked, barely registering he was still holding onto the neck of the wine bottle at his side. He put the half empty bottle of wine on the side table near the crusty bed.

"I'm Adam Raki, I'm the IT specialist. You didn't need to swear." He made a disgusted face. "This room really stinks."

Nigel was really confused now, his swirling pheromones mixing in with the male Omega's strangely calm demeanour, making Nigel feel an alien sense of relaxation he couldn't be sure he'd ever experienced before. He sat at the corner of the bed to get his bearings, Adam Fucking Raki standing next to him with his bland yet expectant expression still boring into him. "You were told to come into this room to fix a computer?"

"Yes, and there isn't one."

"How about that. Can you think of any other reason why he may have sent you to this room, Mr. Adam Raki?"

Adam shrugged, his big blue eyes never reaching Nigel's no matter how much the inspector tried to follow them. "He just said there was a computer..."

"You're their IT specialist?" Nigel asked and Adam nodded. Nigel sighed, feeling in his gut that this was going to be a huge waste of time. "Just tell me, what exactly is your job here?"

"I was hired by the Verger Corporation to upgrade their inter office systems. It's a contract position, meant to last a month, though the actual work only lasted a week, so I've been implementing additional programs to assist in the monitoring of their sow to boar ratios. The Verger Corporation deals mainly in pigs. I don't like pork. Why have I been sent to this room if you don't have a computer? What is that terrible smell? My room is down the hall and it's a lot cleaner. This room is very unpleasant."

Nigel groaned at this. "Shit." He dug out his cell phone and quickly contacted Darko, feeling sick to his stomach when his fellow inspector picked up. "It's a fucking hand job. There's only one Omega here and he's not being used for whoring, that little shit pseudo pimp was pulling a scam. Arrest Paul, he'll be going out the back door, we can at least get him for surreptitious soliciting of trafficked humans."

"Fuck's sake," Darko replied, equally frustrated. "What have you got with you now?"

"Some poor Omega sucker who was in the building for a legitimate job. Put on the sirens and shut this dump down, there's at least evidence in these rooms they've been using them for trafficking, though they've moved the Omegas somewhere else." He tucked the cell under his chin and turned to Adam. "You'll have to come to the station for questioning. Right now you're our best witness."

Adam looked incredibly agitated by this, and he began pacing and rocking as he walked, his hands wrung in a steady, precise rhythm. "You're with the police?" Adam shook his head, the motion of his hands increasing in tempo. "I don't like the police. I didn't do anything wrong. I shouldn't be getting arrested. I just came here to fix a computer and there isn't a computer here, and that's not illegal, I didn't do anything wrong!"

"Of course you didn't do anything fucking wrong, just relax." Nigel turned his attention back to Darko who was barking orders to the team. Nigel could hear them storming up the stairs, and the music in the club was abruptly shut off. The silence was punctuated with arguing and loud voices that gradually morphed into cursing complaints that followed the patrons into the distance. Adam Raki was pale enough to be a corpse, his panic sending him into hyperventilation. Nigel watched him carefully, unsure of how to proceed. "Darko, we might need a doctor or something, this guy is losing his shit up here."

"What guy?"

"The Omega. He thinks we're arresting him."

Adam's face pinched in misery and Nigel had to turn away from him, the need to comfort him too damned strong. Well fuck, the little thing was cute, and scared out of his wits by the way he was starting to pant, his chest heaving in sickly gulps of air. The two observations shouldn't have gone together, but Nigel found he couldn't stop himself, the contrasts mixing together into something akin to pity. "What are you scared for? You aren't in trouble."

He pressed the cell phone closer to his ear. "Yeah, Darko, get a car ready for me near the front entrance, never mind the doctor, I'll ride with this one." He hung up and shoved the cell phone into his back pocket, the stupid thing buzzing like a vibrator.

"I'm not going with the police!" Adam fiercely shook his head. "I worked in Russia for the past two years, that makes me an honorary citizen, you can't arrest a citizen of the Unions without cause, and there's no cause here, I just came to fix a computer!" Adam suddenly hugged himself tight as he paced. "I have honorary rights! You can't extradite me back!"

Understanding suddenly dawned on Nigel and he sighed deeply. "We're not sending you back to the United Main, so you can get that out of your head. We just want to ask you a few questions, that's all."

Damn if he wasn't trembling enough to make a butterfly wing envious. You'd think he had a gun shoved in front of his face the way he was acting, like he was about to disintegrate right in front of him and curl into the smallest ball he could. He had no idea why he thought they'd be shipping him home to the United Main, not when the Unions had strict policies against returning unwilling citizens and besides, he was right, he hadn't done a thing wrong, he was blindly panicking.

Nigel is an Alpha and he can't fully deny the fact the Omega before him was unfairly suffering and if there was one thing Nigel couldn't bear to see it was this fragile little terrified thing with such big, big blue eyes staring at him like he was about to cut his throat. So, he did what nature instructed him to do, and if it was too forward and not welcome, he was sure the Omega would let him know. He placed his palm flush against the back of Adam Raki's neck, and applied a small amount of pressure, fingers lightly stroking against his throat. Adam's breath slowly began to return to normal, his eyes fluttering closed as he leaned into Nigel's touch.

"That's...That's really nice."

"I'm not going to arrest you, okay?" Nigel continued to stroke his neck, a part of him answering to the little sighs that Adam was making, a dangerous intimacy he was courting that had very little to do with professionalism. But Adam responded well to it, and he was relaxing beneath Nigel's touch and becoming far more compliant.

"I won't be forced out of the country, back to the United Main?"

"No. But your employer might be in trouble. You might be out of a job."

Adam's eyes were still closed, and he stepped closer to Nigel, as though longing for him to embrace him. This one was certainly a lot more forward than any Omega he'd ever met in the past, if anything they were usually difficult to approach, poisoned by touch instead of healed by it. "I can deal with that." Adam blinked as though waking from a trance, his confusion evident. "What did my employer do that was illegal?"

"We can talk about it at the station. You ride in a car with me and we both go to the station so you can answer a few questions that might help us and that's all, you're free to go after that."

Adam was still reticent, his gaze moving over Nigel's face and doing his best to avoid his gaze. For a millisecond their eyes met in fleeting scrutiny, and Nigel felt such a jolt of electricity through him at the eye contact he could almost see the spark.

"Can I trust you?" Adam whispered to him, and Nigel felt his heart break at the pure honesty of the question. All he wanted to do in that moment was curl Adam Raki up into his arms and tell him everything was going to be okay, whether it was the truth or not.

"Yes, Adam, you can trust me."

Adam's lips parted as though he wished to say something more, but he closed them and simply nodded his head instead. "Okay."

"You'll come to the station with me?"

"Yes."

Well, that certainly felt like a victory. He relaxed his hand and brought it away from Adam's neck to rest at the small of the Omega's back. He was very close to him at this point, and damn the Omega smelled so sweet and lovely, his skin absolutely perfect even at this close an inspection.

Stop it, Nigel chided himself as he steered Adam out of the room and to the car waiting for them downstairs at the front of the club. Stop it, stop it--You aren't falling in love, you pisslick. It doesn't happen this easily. Learn your lesson, you jackass, this isn't the strum of a cello wire, this isn't mournful Chopin wandering around in your heart. It's just a frightened Omega's body close to your Alpha own, it's all biology. It's not love. It's nothing even close to that. Not one bit fuck of it at all.

 

Chapter Text

THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter two

Adam Raki is a quiet Omega male from the United Main, specifically the Mainland region of Ohio, where his father settled into a small house along Lake Erie. He had a fairly unremarkable life up until his father's passing two years ago, and while he had been content to remain in isolation within the small area that comprised Two Cent where the constantly roaming residents along the Lake Erie coast were long used to his eccentricities, it wasn't until he met his now ex-girlfriend, Coastliner and wealthy debutante Beth that he realized the world was far bigger than the limited stimulus that Two Cent provided. With help from his father's long time friend Harlan, Adam applied and got his dream job at the esteemed Roscosmos State Corporation in Russia where he worked as a planetologist for their space colonization program. Space had always been his first love and his obsession had landed him a coveted post within Roscosmos, one that he had been sure was going to occupy his life for quite some time.

"Lots of big changes are happening now for you, Adam," Harlan had warned. "You remember what I told you. Keep alert, don't go thinking people are being nice for no reason, and some thoughts you need to keep to yourself."

He should have taken the advice.

Alas, the usual problems arose even in the enlightened environment of Roscosmos, and an innocent romantic observation directed at an interdepartmental chemist resulted in an abrupt termination. The leading team members understood he was in heat at the time and was thus focused on less cerebral things, but they were correct to admonish him. The facts were he knew he should have stayed at his small apartment in Moscow and called in sick for a few days instead of going into work. He had a pressing need to be in the lab, however. He was conducting experiments on the arid conditions of Mars and needed samples of the planet's actual soil to repudiate claims that it could be manipulated through the careful engineering of minerals into a twin chemical composition identical to Earth's, thus making agricultural efforts attainable. The study was flawed in several places, Adam noted, and he quickly proved the hypothesis was impossible, engineering minerals into different compositions was similar to alchemists using magic to create gold. The sediments of Mars would never have the proper alkaline conducive to plant life and it was important that he ensure the team proposing it knew of these findings immediately so they did not waste further time on useless, imperfect research.

He hadn't expected his biology to get in the way of his efforts to sway their opinions, which were, naturally, wrong. Regardless of how strong the suppressants were they didn't cure his rather flippant attitude towards the other team member's personal space and social mores. He still couldn't understand the big deal, he'd told Dr. Curie his findings and all he'd done afterwards was remark to the chemist that she'd be an excellent Alpha to sleep with, and if her Beta husband, the leading biologist of the team, was willing to join in Adam would not be averse to the concept. He hadn't done either of those things, of course, he'd simply observed this would be an interesting thing to do because he did find both of them attractive at that time, thanks to going into heat, and he was curious as to how it would turn out. As an Omega, he knew he had plenty of options to offer sexually, and when he thought back on it, perhaps he had been a tad too detailed in his descriptions of his sexual dexterity.

But it was a simple observation and all for naught. That same day at lunch he'd witnessed her biologist husband eating an egg salad sandwich with pickles and all thoughts of him sexually vanished and thus the entire complex erotic scenario was dropped immediately from his mind. Unfortunately, the chemist continued to be outraged at his suggestions, and somehow finding errors in their Mars sediment research had mixed in with his remarks that were mere sexual curiosity and the whole thing became a highly strange mismatched jigsaw puzzle of fury that he couldn't untangle or understand. His termination was handed to him a few days later.

He missed his work terribly for there was nothing he loved more than being able to concentrate on the complexities of space, its massive chaos oddly comforting to him. The fact that he had actually touched sediments *from Mars* still left him giddy.

"Adam? Are you listening to me?"

Adam shook his head slightly and was momentarily surprised to find himself sitting in an uncomfortable chair at a messy desk, with the Romanian police officer who he now knew as Nigel sitting across from him. He was still smoking, which Adam didn't think was healthy, but he refrained from harping on the matter since Nigel had already gruffly told him that he liked smoking *because* it was bad for him and one had to live a little to die a lot. It was an odd thing to say, but Adam wasn't going to question him too much about it, Nigel had proved to be surprisingly patient with him, and he was grateful for the man's blunt speech that rarely held the dreaded metaphor within it.

"I have plans to go back to Russia, to try and get back into their space program, this time in a different department. They may be able to hire me in as an astrophysicist instead of a planetologist, I wouldn't even mind theoretical astrophysics if it meant being a part of the team again, but that group is very insular and they kept making Schroendinger jokes when I was in the cafeteria. They kept saying things like, 'If Adam makes a sound is he really here?' They were jerks." Adam watched Nigel scribble some notes in a long, scrawling script on the paper before him. "After all, they were able to observe me, which completely ruins the experiment. Observation is what taints the outcome and creates either my presence or absence. Do you have any orange soda?"

Nigel ignored the question and took a drag of his cigarette, the tip burning brightly for a brief moment, like a tiny burst comet. "Adam, do you understand what happened this evening? Do you know why you were sent to my room?"

Adam suddenly felt uncomfortable, and his voice was small when he answered Nigel. "Paul was trying to sell me. I don't know what that means. How can you buy a person? It's not like I'm a piece of furniture. You don't have to feed a couch."

Nigel sighed and he propped his head against the heel of his palm, his cigarette still burning between his fingers. He gave Adam a crooked smile and Adam interpreted this as Nigel being pleased with him. He must have given the right answer, it was hard for him to understand what people really wanted because he couldn't decipher what their expressions were saying. Nigel's face was very open and he had no problem explaining how he felt, and Adam found he could feel at ease in his presence. Nigel was an easy person, Adam thought, and he smiled back, glad that he found someone he could interact with in such clarity.

"He was selling you for sex, Adam. I was in that room because I gave him money to have sex with you. Does it makes sense now?" Nigel took a drag of his cigarette and turned his head away to avoid drenching Adam in smoke.

Adam frowned at this, unable to comprehend what Nigel was saying. "Why would he do that? I had no intention whatsoever of having a sexual encounter and I wasn't hired as a prostitute. I am their IT specialist."

"You're an Omega, Adam, and sadly that carries with it some risks thanks to little dickfucks like Paul and your employer. I'm still trying to figure out how you didn't know there was an entire Omega trafficking ring running right outside your door and yet you heard nothing. So what's the story there? You getting some kind of kickback or something, they paying you off to keep quiet? Not the kind of fucking friends I'd want to have, believe me. Paul sold you to me as a little side margin for the business, knowing damn well you aren't part of their usual package. He figured I was horny enough to rape you. He said he's got some buyer in the United Main waiting on you as well, did you know that?"

Adam's mouth went dry at this information, a feeling of tense fear winding hot knots through his system. His began to wring his hands, his knees quaking at the thought of what could have happened. He'd been so stupid. He hadn't recognized the dangers and he *should* have been more alert, they were a United Main company, he *should* have been on his guard right from the start.

"These are some kind of bastard sick fuck friends, Adam, and you don't strike me as the kind to be hanging out with these pieces of shit. It doesn't make sense to me that you didn't at least question some of what was going on. Astrophysicist, hunh? A little spaceman who has a very big brain and he can't tell that he's sitting beside monsters. You're not stupid Adam, don't pretend that I am."

"You aren't stupid." Adam felt sick to his stomach at what Nigel was telling him, all the warnings that Harlan and his father has spewed at him over the years washing over him in drowning waves. 'Never trust an Alpha', 'Be careful of your environment', 'Never go anywhere alone', 'Always take your suppressants'. He'd left the United Main because of these problems, and had been lured outside of it to the Eastern Unions because of their open policies. As an Omega he was permitted to have a life and a career and there were laws in place to make sure he was safe, that people weren't allowed to do what the Verger Corp's employee Paul nearly did. He felt shaky as he looked up briefly at Nigel and then hung his head down again, frightened at what could have happened if it had been someone else, and not an anti-trafficking inspector he'd met instead.

"I like it here, in Romania. Bucharest is an interesting city, the architecture is remarkably detailed," Adam said, his voice small and shaky. "I shouldn't have got involved with an employer from the United Main, I know what they are like and I thought I could protect myself here because you have very strict laws against harming Omegas. In the United Main, if I lived on the Coastline where the universities are I wouldn't be permitted to go to work or study space, I'd be locked away and forced to bond with an Alpha and I didn't want that to happen. The Mainland, where I grew up, they don't have those restrictions, but the people there are very poor and there's no opportunity to learn more, I had to do all of that myself, and I really needed to be a part of the Russian space program, it's all I've ever wanted."

Tears welled up and Adam felt his throat constrict as the gravity of all that he had lost suddenly hit him. Romania was nice, but it wasn't Roscosmos and its promise of colonizing Mars and he could no longer touch the sediment of an alien planet, the universe opening up within his mind at every grain of sand that he could still feel between his sensitive fingertips. "When the Eastern Unions began their program in the 1950's, and Sputnik IV made its first lunar landing in 1962, the United Main tried to follow suit with their own satellite program, but they have remained behind thanks to a lack of co-operation over various corporate sponsorships and interdepartmental infighting. There are also vast restrictions on who can conduct the theoretical components of the research, limitations such as the matter of gender assignments in space travel since United Main sponsors insist only Alphas become astronauts and no one really wants to be sending their most important citizens out into space. Roscosmos, under the Eastern Unions Equality Ruling established in 1937, has no such restrictions and if I wanted to become an astronaut, I could. It's very difficult, and with the tragedy of Sputnik IX where four astronauts died while orbiting the moon due to a miscalculation in gravitational trajectory, there are a lot of specific physical and mental tests that are now being implemented that reduce the risk of human error during these flights into space and..."

Adam stopped as he felt something warm and rough against his cheek, and he was startled to discover it was Nigel's thumb, wiping away a tear that had escaped. He really did have such pleasant, warm hands and Adam instantly tried to nuzzle his face into Nigel's palm, only for the inspector to abruptly take his hand away. "I--I'm sorry," Adam said, convinced he'd said something wrong again, and he could feel the slow burn of shame wind its way through his being, his face hot and his neck on fire. "Sometimes I talk too much. It's a bad habit. I'm feeling nervous and it gets worse when I'm not comfortable. Sorry."

Nigel shrugged and stubbed out his cigarette in his ashtray. "So you like to talk about what you are passionate about. You're a little spaceman. What's so bad about that?"

"It's not bad, it's..." Adam hesitated, unsure of what was appropriate to reveal and what wasn't, his anxiety ramping up within him. He hugged himself again, for though Nigel was oddly comfortable to talk to, the subject matter was always difficult to broach and he never knew how people were going to react. "I can go on about it for hours and people don't like that. I...I have a condition, it makes it very hard for me to relate to people and it's why I misunderstood what was happening at the club. I have Asperger's, it's on the autism spectrum, and it doesn't mean I am lacking mentally or that I'm deficient in any way, it just means I relate to the world very differently than most people."

"You seem to be relating to me just fine," Nigel said.

Adam nodded, but his words didn't match his agreement. "I have trouble understanding body language and visual cues, it's like being face blind. I have a lot of trouble interpreting innuendo and metaphor, I think of things in a very literal way so abstract speech confuses me. It does make me very honest, sometimes too honest." He swallowed, feeling the fearful stone in his throat not wanting to go down. "There are benefits to it, I can focus on tasks I'm interested in with great detail and while some unenlightened experts claim that people with Asperger's lack imagination that is highly untrue. Einstein had Aspergers, so did Mozart, and they are both highly creative thinkers."

Nigel was frowning and Adam stopped talking, worried that the inspector had instantly determined he was deficient and thus easy to dismiss. The fact Adam was also an Omega had never helped matters and being heard was always a challenge, so much of who he was wrapped so tightly around his condition that he found the only way to cope with it was to withdraw into the things that gave him comfort. Space. Routine. Functionality. How could he express properly just how stressful ordering a cup of coffee could be, especially when confronted with a monumental amount of choices and he was unable to pick just one. When he wasn't in his comfort zones the world felt like a crushing, oppressive weight, all of his senses overly attuned and on high alert. It was all too much sensory information and he would automatically shut down, retreating inside of himself to find that insulating, safe place.

After meeting Beth, he knew he had to force himself out of that protective shell and do things that made him extremely uncomfortable and at times terrified. He couldn't grow to his full potential without pushing his own boundaries. She had helped him in so many ways and though their relationship had fizzled out and she had disappeared from his life so abruptly, she had left a sense of adventure behind that he couldn't shake. He still had his many quirks, those routine measures would never leave him, but he was far more open to trying new things. Leaving the United Main had been the healthiest thing for him, even if he did end up at present in a Romanian police precinct, answering questions about a white slavery brothel he didn't know he'd been staying at.

"You function better than most cops I know, I can't see how it's a problem. If you want to talk about space for hours, who the fuck cares. It makes you happy and you aren't hurting anyone. So you're going to become an astronaut because this condition makes you focus better? Well fuck me, if not being able to tell someone is being an asshole is a disability sign me up. I'd have a much happier life."

"I don't think that's a good idea at all, considering why I'm sitting here," Adam reminded him.

Nigel pursed his lips as he considered this, and added a few sentences to his notes. "No, I guess it isn't. Here's the thing, Mr. Spaceman, you can't go back to the club, you're going to have to find another place to stay. The place is shut down indefinitely while we investigate it. Your laptop has been temporarily seized because of the work you've been doing for the Verger Corporation and we want to see if we can find any transactions that could be masking Omega trafficking." Nigel tossed his pen onto his desk and clasped his hands together, putting Adam firmly into his sights, the scrutiny making him uncomfortable. "Do you have anyone we can call? A friend or a relative?"

A feeling of real panic suddenly overtook Adam, and he rocked slightly in his seat, unsure of what was to happen the minute he walked out of the precinct. The chesters in the room eyed him with question, and Nigel, noting their curiosity, shifted his chair away from the back of his desk to move it and himself in front of Adam, blocking the rest of the dingy view of the precinct. Adam only then realized that soft whines were escaping his throat, and they didn't stop until Nigel placed his strong, warm hands onto Adam's knees, stopping them from quaking. "I guess you're in a fucking mess right now."

"I have a relative, a cousin. His name is Will Graham and he lives in the United Main, in a place called Wolf Trap, in the Virginia region. I haven't seen him since I was five years old, but I send him a Christmas card and a gift set of Old Spice every year. Dad said it's important to maintain some sense of family, even if it's only symbolic." He tentatively stroked the back of Nigel's knuckles, liking the feel of his skin beneath his fingertips. "Will is an Alpha. He works for the FBI, he's a criminal profiler. He never sends a Christmas card back."

Adam became bolder as he traced his fingertips in languid circles around Nigel's knuckles, thinking that they reminded him of the craggy dunes of Mars, dry and red with cracks on the surface, though the warmth of his skin was definitely a contrast, since the surface of Mars was well below eighty degrees Fahrenheit. He wondered what had made Nigel's knuckles look like this, and Adam quickly calculated that the possibility he'd had to use his fists on suspects was statistically very high. He wondered if this redness was indicative of new or old injury. The Roman god of war was named Mars. It was a pleasing congruity to Adam that such observations came together when studying Nigel and he focused on remaining safe in the man's presence, even if there were pressing disasters looming close by.

"Criminal profiler for the FBI. They don't do anything half assed in your family, do they, little spaceman? Does he have your condition, too? Ambergers?"

"Aspergers. No, he doesn't. He's been diagnosed with an empathy disorder, but I have my doubts of the validity of the science that determined that. Will is just a jerk."

Much as he found Nigel's knuckles fascinating, Adam couldn't stop thinking that the warmth of his hands would be very pleasant wrapped around him, and it would be so nice to just lean into him and feel the pulse of his heart against his ear. He didn't even mind the lingering scent of cigarettes and alcohol that permeated the air around Nigel like a poisonous halo, it was his distinctive scent and since Nigel was now congruous with safety in Adam's mind, the vices had morphed into that sensation as well. He forced himself to hold back and not lean in like he desperately wanted to because he knew it wasn't quite the right thing to do in public, he was an Omega, and despite how kind and patient Nigel was being with him Adam couldn't stop thinking of his father's warning words that Alphas were all after one thing, though he'd never been explicit about what that was. Adam guessed it was sex, though as an adult he couldn't see what was wrong with that. He enjoyed it when he and Beth had indulged in the physical act and he was sure he would enjoy it just as much with Nigel.

"Where are you orbiting now, little spaceman?" Nigel asked, ducking his head to force Adam to look at him, and Adam blushed at his attention. Nigel straightened up, his fingers drumming along Adam's knees. "So, you are telling me you are a United Main Omega in a foreign country and that you can't read people's expressions and have no idea when you are in danger. Sounds like you've got some serious problems that need solving. The first one being, where are you going to stay. I can give you a list of some hotels in the area, and they have computers you can use so you can find another job, which I doubt will be any trouble for someone as fucking smart as you."

"I can't go to a hotel," Adam said, shaking his head.

"I won't send you to some rat infested hell hole if that's what you think."

"No. I didn't get paid by the Verger Corporation yet, I've only been working on their system for a week. I don't have any money." Adam frowned at this and did a quick calculation in his head. "Well, I have a little bit. Twenty-seven leu and a dollar and fifty cents in United Main currency."

The precinct had morphed in Adam's mind into a place of absolute security, especially with Nigel's presence within it, and he longed to just stay here, maybe borrow a closet to sleep in until his funds could be replenished. He'd spent everything he had to leave Russia and start work with Verger and had been relying on the contracted payout to get him through the next few months while he put in roots into his plan to get back into Roscosmos. He was now destitute, if not outright desperate. Winter was on the periphery and Romania was already fiercely cold at night.

"You're going to be just fine, then, you can afford a cup of coffee," Nigel said, smiling. Then, when Adam didn't get it and frowned at him, he added, "I was being sarcastic."

"I don't really understand sarcasm," Adam reminded him. But he gave Nigel a small shrug and a smile. "However, I imagine sleeping on a bench could be considered an option, given my circumstances. The coffee can keep me warm while I sleep on the park bench, so that's good."

Nigel was confused for a long moment before his face lit up in understanding. "You just joked with me? Ah, very funny. Funny little spaceman." He grinned, chuckling lightly as he tapped at Adam's nose with his forefinger only to bring his hand back and cough into his fist as his subordinate, Inspector Darko, approached him, a stack of Excel printouts in his hand. "What's all this?" Nigel thumbed through the stack, his attention gripped at intervals by interactions highlighted in yellow marker.

"We were going through the accounts and we found some regular payments that have suspicious amounts sent through to an unknown receiver. Could be an illegal tax shelter, but the amounts are too small to make it worthwhile." Darko pointed at the numbers and Nigel rolled his eyes at them, his mouth creeping into a sickly grin.

"Twice a month, only slight variations in prices, and what the fuck do you know, the exact amounts going for what a trafficked Omega goes for these days." He turned in his seat and handed the stack of papers to Adam, who took them without looking at them. "He labelled these transactions CMB, what does that mean?"

But Adam was still further behind in the conversation, and he didn't want to miss an opportunity to tell Nigel what he was thinking, so he blurted out, smiling widely, "You are very handsome when you laugh."

Darko snorted loudly at this observation and Adam's happiness fell as he watched Nigel's face contort into a sneer, his neck turning a deep purple hue. "You need to think about what he's saying, boss. Handsome when you laugh, ha! That's the power of positive thinking in action."

"I'm going to ram my fist down your throat and out your asshole, you fucking moron."

But Darko continued to laugh, and he wasn't at all handsome when *he* did, and Adam shifted in his seat, wondering how it was that everything that ever came out of his mouth was wrong. Darko clapped him heavily on the back of his shoulder blades, making him wince. "Don't worry about it, this old bastard doesn't know how to take a compliment!"

"Old?? I'm the same age as you, fuck you, Darko."

Adam wasn't sure if the conversation was a friendly one, but since Darko didn't seem upset by Nigel's angry outburst he figured everything between them was okay. The sheets of paper Nigel had handed him were rife with notes and circles, and he concentrated on the transactions that Darko had mentioned, remembering them all very clearly because he had also detected a certain anomaly within the payments. "I had asked about these transactions, and I called Verger's accountant in Virginia last week to clarify what they were for. I had originally thought they were a payment error but it seems the letters stand for Campaign McBain, who is a Coastline candidate who was running for governor of the entirety of the Coastline states." Adam quickly shuffled through the papers and was surprised that they ended quite abruptly. He double checked the dates and gave the papers a quizzical expression that Nigel instantly alighted on.

"Something wrong, my little spaceman?"

The nickname seemed to be sticking and Adam found he didn't mind as long as it was only Nigel who used it. "Yes. These are only accounting reports for the last three years."

Nigel stared at Adam blankly. "So what's the problem? We have potential evidence right here that he was sending suspicious 'contributions' to this McBain guy, whose to say he isn't the buyer?"

"But he can easily say that it is campaign money, Verger is one of the main McBain backers, what can't be explained are the exact patterns of supposed contributions his company has been making for over twenty years." Adam sat primly in his seat, not meeting the gaze of the two inspectors who were staring at him with a sense of shocked wonder. "When I noticed the pattern of payments I wanted to be thorough before I brought it to the attention of the Verger accounting department, so I itemized all of the suspicious amounts for the past twenty years. I did add annotations to the purchases in my Excel drafts which are still in my laptop. His accounting department was not willing to explain these other purchases which are in near exact amounts to the ones used in the McBain contributions and since they don't seem to be a part of any sort of tax shelter, I have to wonder at what these large purchases represent."

"Twenty fucking years." Nigel shook his head and gave Darko a frowning glare. "What the fuck are you standing there looking stupid for, get his laptop, we're going over this like we're picking fucking lice. You'll help us out, won't you little spaceman?"

Adam gave Nigel a shy shrug in acceptance of this. "Okay. It might take a while though."

Nigel was clearly happy about this new development, though Adam wasn't exactly sure as to why. Even though the evidence was there that Verger was spending these regular amounts of money on *something* if it was for illegal activities it would be very difficult to trace back to exactly what he was purchasing. It seemed to Adam that they were grasping for any evidence they could and in scientific circles that was the last gasp of a disproved theory. They needed more information.

Adam had a few ideas as to how to get it.

***

Adam sipped at his orange soda and watched the lines of numbers as they slid across his screen, pausing every now and then on a highlight to insert it into an algorithmic program he'd designed on the fly that afternoon to analyze these specific 'contributions'. Nigel was still sitting across from him at the table, but they were no longer in the crowded, noisy bustle of the main floor of the precinct, where drunks shouted Romanian curses at the officers and there was an overall feeling of chaos that permeated the ancient, crumbling space. Dark wood and chipped plaster permeated every room of the old building and Adam had to wonder how these old structures managed to remain, as though they had become rocks against the landscape. They were now in a damp, stone floored basement office of the building, the dim lights suiting Adam's photosensitive vision just fine, and the quiet was near tomblike in its muffled silence. Nigel had Darko go out and get them a couple of orders of iskender kebap from Dristor Kebap along with a bag of gogoasas, sugared donuts with plum filling from the gogoserii down the street. Adam had accepted both without question, though the plate of kebap meat and vegetables was a tad larger than he usually ate and a bit on the peppery side. Still, it was a long way from his usual macaroni and cheese which he had lived on for decades and he was proud of his own efforts to force himself to try new things. The meat was tasty enough, even though there was too much of it, and the vegetables were plain enough not to overwhelm his palate. He was still picking through his meal while he worked and Nigel had already wolfed his down, inhaling it with barely time to chew. The inspector was already digging into the bag of donuts before he realized that Adam hadn't yet finished his dinner, and he held back on taking too many, making sure the quiet man in his midst had dessert as well.

"It's very quiet down here," Adam observed and Nigel nodded at this.

"It's because we're in the graveyard," Nigel said.

Adam paused over his meal. "I beg your pardon?" He glanced behind him, expecting coffins, but all he could see was row upon row of carefully labelled boxes.

"See all these boxes?" Nigel gestured to the layers of numbered legal boxes on dozens of rows of metal shelving behind them. "These are cold case files. Not so many as in other places, someone always sees something in Bucharest and people in general can't keep secrets. These ones, though, it's unlikely we will ever find out what happened to them. More than half are disappeared or murdered Omegas, I think the oldest case is fifty years." He tore into his donut, taking smaller bites that he washed down with cold, black coffee. "People say this whole Omega trafficking to the United Main thing is new but it's been going on for a long time and no one really noticed. Weird how something that big can slip beneath a country's radar, but there it is. You don't like the food?"

Adam glanced up from his plate, momentarily confused. "I really like it. I'm just not a fast eater."

"You're picky," Nigel observed.

"Well, yes, but I'm trying very hard not to be. I'm forcing myself to try new things, it helps me open my horizons." Adam speared a few pieces of meat and shoved them into his mouth, chewing them thoughtfully and not taking a drink of his soda until he had swallowed first. "It's sad that those boxes are full of unsolved murders, but I still like it down here. Do you think I could sleep here for a few days while I look for a new job, or at least until I get some money in the bank? I promise I won't touch anything I'm not allowed to, and I won't take up much space."

Nigel shook a cigarette out of its case and gave the near darkness of the cold case file room a low growl. "You are not sleeping with the forgotten dead, Adam. Don't worry about where you are going to go, I'll figure out something. Here, forget the fucking meat, you don't like it, I can tell, stop forcing yourself to eat what you don't like." Relieved, Adam let Nigel take away his too large portion, though he wasn't so full he couldn't take a still warm donut from the paper bag Nigel was now shaking at him. Smiling, Adam dug into it and took out the warm pastry, its softness belying the sweet goodness it was destined to deliver. One bite and he groaned in pleasure, licking his fingers of sugar after every torn piece. The plum filling was soft and thick and he licked at it, scooping out the centre with his tongue until none of it remained.

He hadn't realized Nigel was carefully watching him, an unreadable expression on his handsome face. Adam tore at the rest of his donut and ate it furtively as he returned his attention to the laptop screen.

"It must be very hard not being able to solve those cases," Adam said, glancing behind him again at the rows of boxes. "I'm guessing it's like having an experiment that never ends and never gives you a result no matter how long you study it. Deep space is considered such a mystery, it's so vast and alien it is impossible at present to navigate, though through the Hubble, our nickname for the Sputnkik 27, we've been able to get excellent images. The Carina Nebula would be very difficult to send anything living through, it is a boiling collection of severe ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds and keeping a vast distance from it would be important. Deep space may be forever out of our reach, especially since the images the Hubble sent back are not in real time as light takes significant time to reach us and also the Hubble's camera, thus the images are in fact millions of years old."

"Being a cop sucks," Nigel said, as though Adam had asked him what it was like. He hadn't, but since Nigel had been patient enough when Adam rambled on about space, he would return the favour and allow Nigel to talk uninterrupted as well. Nigel propped his feet up onto the table and leaned back in his chair, streams of smoke circling above him from his cigarette. "I thought I was going to be some kind of big shot when I first go into this, like I was going to clean up Bucharest of corruption and crime all by myself. Fucking stupid kid, that's all I was. You know what, there's not much difference between a cop and a gangster, really. They both use the same tactics of intimidation and stealth. Both like to get their hands dirty if it gets them what they want. It's a never ending circle jerk between the two worlds, I'm telling you the truth. They both live miserable lives, stressed out and always looking behind their backs. They're both arrogant pricks who think they are the righteous ones."

Adam frowned as he noted down several transactions that were made in the month of May in the early nineties, and he had to wonder if this was the beginning of Mason Verger's dabbling in Omega trafficking. He glanced over the lid of the laptop at Nigel's tired face, watching as the inspector's eyes kept drooping as he fought against sleep. "The two aren't the same at all," Adam said, and Nigel blinked, shifting in his chair and sitting up slightly as he focused back on Adam. "Gangsters don't care about what happens to people. It's obvious as I'm going through this list that they don't believe in seeing others as more than collateral, to them the people they sell are just transactions, not living and breathing organisms with thoughts and feelings. You don't think that way. You have been very kind to me and you didn't have to be. You're a good person."

Nigel chuckled at this, but he didn't seem very happy and Adam was able to pick up on the notes of sadness within his voice. "It's very sweet of you to think so, darling. You see me as a good person. I can assure you I am not."

"You drink and smoke too much," Adam said, agreeing, noting the endearment that slipped into Nigel's speech and consciously choosing to ignore it. "But there are levels of good and bad and if I were to create an analytical graph that outlined your positive and negative points, I'm sure that they would very much lean in favour of you being a good person as opposed to a bad one. I could make one for you. Having solid proof of your good qualities could help in making you feel better about yourself."

Nigel scoffed at this. "What makes you think that's what I want to do? Pardon me, darling, but you know fuck all about me. Being nice to you is part of my job, we need the information you are giving us. This isn't altruism, I am manipulating you to get what I want, do you understand?"

"No," Adam said as he watched Nigel with all the careful precision he gave to his Mars soil samples, as though he were that same, fascinating alien terrain. "You made me stop eating food you could tell I didn't really like and insisted I eat a donut. You're a good person."

Nigel gathered up the empty plastic plates and bags and tossed them in the bin next to his chair. His cigarette was waiting for him in the ashtray but he ignored it for the time being, content instead to clasp his hands behind his head and put Adam in his tired sights. "I thought you said you can't read people at all, that you are face blind and can't tell how people feel. You're acting very perceptive for a person with that kind of problem."

"I'm simply inwardly comparing and contrasting your actions," Adam replied. "I have enough information of you now to make better connections between specific mannerisms and frames of speech that betray your emotions. I may not be able to read your facial expressions with any accuracy but I am now able thanks to the juxtapositions of your speech patterns and phrasing to understand certain emotional cues. For instance, you are rocking your foot back and forth as it is propped up at the edge of the table, and this is suggesting to me that you are feeling both comfortable and curious."

"No shit," Nigel replied, and he wiggled his foot in playful response.

Adam typed in several more annotations into his current findings in the accounts and didn't look up from his work as he continued talking. "You also have a habit of rubbing the underside of your thumb against the second last finger, otherwise known as the 'ring' finger in Eastern Unions bonding ceremonies. In the United Main, bonded Omegas on the Coastline must cover their necks. In the Eastern Unions, all sexes show proof of bonding through the use of simple, plain rings of either silver or gold, though the traditional rings are made of carved black obsidian. You are not wearing a ring, but your thumb keeps seeking it out and when I talked to you about being a good or a bad person, you kept rubbing your thumb along the underside of that finger, as though touching that ring that isn't there. You were bonded and you are now divorced and you feel it is your fault." Adam typed in a few more lines and then sat back, confident that he was finished, at least for now. "I have been able to pinpoint the exact timing of when these possible Omega trafficking transactions had begun. Verger and his associates would have been sloppy in the beginning due to inexperience and questioning what he spent this amount of money on should give you some results. Was it your fault?"

Nigel stared, dumbfounded, at Adam, and he watched with grave curiosity at how long it took for Nigel to close his gaping mouth at Adam's assessments. "That's great, I'm guessing Darko will want to see these right away, and we'll get the white collar team on it, put the pressure on the Verger accountants. Yes, it was my fault, for all the reasons you've already listed--I drink too much and I give a shit. It's hard to have room for someone else when you have to keep giving all of your energy to fucking bastards who hurt strangers."

Adam watched the droop of Nigel's eyes, and the sigh that escaped him, narrowly hiding his yawn. Nigel was a person with a lot of things weighing heavy in his head, sad things like the unsolved deaths in boxes that were piled high behind them and the worry for purchased people who were no doubt being badly hurt and hoping someone like Nigel was going to come along and rescue them. Like he'd rescued Adam himself. Adam couldn't stop himself, not with the way he understood that Nigel was so tired and sad and wasn't taking care of himself and was a good person who had just fallen into this realm of need that Adam himself knew well. Though he didn't mind his own company there was a vast difference between being alone and being lonely. And it was with this in mind that he leaned back against Nigel as the inspector bent over him to look at the computer screen and Adam stroked Nigel's cheek in a soft motion, fingers feather light, determined to show Nigel affection.

Nigel caught Adam's gaze as he did this, and Adam kept the eye contact as long as he could before shakily breaking it. He hoped Nigel understood what a huge, symbolic gesture of trust that was. His mental graph of checks and balances put Nigel overwhelmingly on the side of good. Adam always checked his evidence very carefully, he was never wrong.

"You are very tired and you need to get some sleep. You can't focus properly without adequate rest, it is a human necessity." Adam watched as Nigel straightened up, somewhat reluctantly, and groaned in agreement. Adam closed his laptop after sending the files to Darko's email as per Nigel's instruction and the room was now in a soft blanket of cool darkness that he was ready to pass out in. "Where will I stay?"

"I'll take you home with me," Nigel said, and if there was reluctance in his voice, Adam didn't hear it. He was overjoyed as he grabbed his windbreaker jacket and eagerly followed Nigel out of the room full of the history of sad, dead people, his laptop tucked under his arm. He'd been right, and the thought overjoyed him though it shouldn't have surprised him. His anxiety was, for now, neatly tucked away. Nigel was someone safe.

 

 

Chapter Text

THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter three

It was late enough to be turning to dawn soon and Darko, being the shit that he was, wasn't about to let Nigel go home without a good few word punches thrown his way. "You can't go taking witnesses to stay with you, what the fuck are you doing, Nigel?" Darko, his weasel face contorted into anger, eyed the small, rather dour little male Omega across the street and pulled Nigel out of his view with a rough hand clasped around his colleague and friend's arm. Nigel roughly pulled out of his grip and Darko stood in his way, forcing him to listen. This was an intervention in his view, and while Nigel appreciated the concern of his friend, he was also annoyed by it . "So this is how it is, you're going to be one of those creeper cops, taking home the fragile candy. Are you fucking joking right now, Nigel, I know you've been rough since you and Gabi broke up but it's been three years, you jackass, and this is what you do? Honest to God, shake your fucking head off and put it back on right!"

Nigel wasn't one to back down, especially not with a well meaning idiot like Darko, who couldn't see the long tail of this current crisis. "So, tell me, what's the solution? Are *you* going to take him home and babysit him then? Because I got a funny feeling your wife wouldn't be too happy housing a male Omega when you're a full blooded Alpha like me. She gets jealous of the attention you give your damn dog, how do you think she'll feel about that little ball of sweet smelling hormones on her couch?"

Darko clearly wanted to argue further, but he knew Nigel had a point and he couldn't instantly find a better solution to the problem. Holing him up in a hotel was out of the question, it would cost too much money and if there was one thing their department hated was wasting leus on witnesses. They'd have to do it out of their own pockets, and while Nigel had been bleeding heart enough to dig into his funds and do it himself in the past--it wasn't uncommon for him to be paying for plane fares back to Russia so rescued Omegas could be reunited with their families--he'd been bled dry enough thanks to Gabi's current financial woes to leave him scraping by himself. Besides, Adam needed a bit more help than most, walking around Bucharest blind to grifters and traffickers was an exceptionally dangerous prospect for the coveted male Omega. Considering this, having their main witness sleep at his flat didn't seem like such a bad idea, especially since the guy clearly needed *someone* out there to watch out for him since he'd accidentally stumbled into a danger that most people would have seen coming a mile away.

"If I fuck up, that's my business, Darko. I'm taking the responsibility, so it's not your problem, got it?"

Darko rolled his eyes at this, and cursed at the sidewalk. "You're acting like a fucking typical stupid ass Alpha holding an Omega with a broken wing. You're a fucking idiot, and you never learn. See you in the morning, you stupid prick."

With a final shake of his head, Darko waved goodnight to Nigel, who crossed the street to meet Adam, the younger man patiently waiting on the crumbling sidewalk next to Nigel's beat up Oltcit Club. The car was ancient, and ran poorly even when it was first purchased almost two decades ago, but it had served Nigel well enough to get around the city and if it needed a kick to get it started every now and then, so what, he'd let it sputter until the engine caught its breath. Besides, it was the first thing he'd ever purchased with his paycheque from the politia Romana, and the old beater held evidence of both his stubbornness and pride. He motioned for Adam to get in through the back passenger door facing the street and Adam did so without question, settling himself into the back, which Nigel quickly corrected as he got into the driver's seat. "These two side doors don't open," Nigel explained. He patted the passenger seat beside him. "Crawl on up, I'm not your fucking taxi driver."

He put the key in the ignition while Adam gingerly made his way from the back seat to the front, careful not to step on the gear shift as he fell into his seat. A tear in the side of the grey fabric revealed sickly yellow foam rubber and Adam lightly touched it, only to curl his fingers away from it. "This is a very old car. Are you sure it's safe to drive it?"

Nigel turned the key in the ignition and it took a few tries before the engine finally turned over, its geriatric grinding wheezing in sympathy with Adam's observation. "It still runs, that's all that counts. I don't get rid of things easily, especially if they still work." Adam shifted in the seat beside him, and pulled the seatbelt over him, frowning over how hard it was to lock it. "You have to press the little red button first or it won't stay." The engine rattled as Nigel idled it, waiting on Adam, and when it was clear the little spaceman was struggling with how to put on a damned seatbelt, Nigel unbuckled his and leaned over the passenger seat, his shoulder brushing against Adam's chest as he pressed the red button and shoved the metal catch into the slot and with a bit of tricky manoeuvring managed to get it locked. He didn't miss how Adam sighed at the close contact, his tentative little touch brushing against Nigel's shoulder, his aura soft and sensual. Nigel quickly sat back into his driver's seat, the proximity of Adam's sweetness far too close and he realized he made a big mistake insisting he sit up front with him. Fucking biology. Maybe Darko had a point after all.

The drive back to his flat was uneventful, the mindless music on the radio filling in gaps in conversations that Nigel was too exhausted to have. It was close to three o'clock in the morning and Nigel's body was ready to drop dead at any moment from sheer tiredness, but Adam was alert and wide awake, his big blue gaze taking in every detail as they made their way down the side streets of Bucharest, out of the main centre of the city and well into the apartment blocks that were situated on the far end. He pulled up into the driveway of an old, dark grey concrete building with art deco detailing carved in centric circles along its centre and curved balconies with twisted, rusted iron rails. Thick trees lined the street in front of it, thankfully obscuring the view of the modern tenement next door, a monstrosity of glass and steel with rents that were twice the price of his older, albeit more run down, flat. The car slid into the underground parking, which was modern in construction, as was the thick, colourful graffiti that lined the walls, and Nigel read these hieroglyphics with a hawk's fluency, seeking out the messages of who to contact for drugs and where the latest whores were being kept. It was like a kaleidoscopic bulletin board for crime and Nigel knew how to interpret it. But there was nothing new this evening, and updates had become sparse as the gang members in the area learned a fucking cop was living in the building.

He parked the dying car in its assigned spot and it gratefully sank into death as he killed the engine. Nigel got out of his seat and bid Adam to crawl over and get out on his side, an awkward prospect as Adam tried to balance his laptop in his grip and inch his way past the steering wheel. Nigel put out his hand to help him out and Adam was grateful for it, taking his grip eagerly and leaving Nigel with that renewed sense of electricity pulsing through him in all kinds of inappropriate places. They took a slender elevator up to the eighth floor, the space within it cramped, the close air making Nigel dizzy as he kept breathing in Adam's sweet Omega scent, his body aching with a want he had to fight to suppress. It would be so easy to just lean over and give the little spaceman a fleeting kiss on the back of his neck, a simple curiosity welling within him at the image of what might happen if he did it. He forced the idea away. He figured it was exhaustion wreaking havoc with his inhibitions, and as he steered Adam towards his apartment, he kept the smaller man ahead of him, just to keep the temptation to touch him well out of reach.

They stopped at apartment 815B, the darkly stained wooden door a sharp contrast against the scuffed white hallway, paint chipping in clumps. Adam blinked beneath the harsh fluorescent lights, which were already hurting his sensitive eyes. Nigel unlocked his door, which took over a minute due to how many keys he had and then ushered Adam in before following him and closing it behind them, several locks and a deadbolt clicking into place. Nigel had a lot of enemies, he couldn't be too careful.

"This is a nice place," Adam said, taking in the small flat. "It's much nicer than my room at the club. Smells like cigarettes, though. You shouldn't smoke indoors." He eyed the kitchen to his left, which was clean save for the several bottles of palinka and whisky littering the countertop along with the ugly, full ashtrays, three in all. Along the opposite side of the small front foyer the bedroom and adjoining bathroom lay in wait, the bed neat and perfect and clearly not slept in for a long time. Curious, Adam opened the small windowed doors that led into the living room, and was greeted with a messy tan leather couch that had a pillow and a sad looking wool blanket thrown across it, along with two more ashtrays on the coffee table in front of it and a half empty bottle of whiskey. Nigel felt a wave of embarrassment at the obvious pathetic condition of his life, he clearly lived in this one room when he wasn't at the station, and the reality was that he only came back to the flat to sleep and smoke and drink. The flat screen TV plunked in the centre of his faux teak press board entertainment unit wasn't even hooked up to cable. Some dusty DVDs were shoved underneath it, and Adam picked them up, reading the titles with a slightly raised brow. "Grand Hotel, with Greta Garbo. The Fifth Element--a highly unrealistic depiction of space, and potential space travel, by the way. Alpha Deadpool and Omega Spiderman, Slick Spideypool, Spideypool My Omega Cock, The Walking Dead, season one...I'm actually quite fascinated by the statistical logistics of a zombie apocalypse, regardless of the ridiculous premise."

Really mortified now, Nigel gathered up the DVDs and slid them into a drawer under the television. "The bedroom is down the hall, you've seen a glimpse of it."

Adam remained in the living room, his face a blank. Nigel fussed with cleaning up a tiny bit, emptying the ashtrays into a nearby metal bin, only to stop at Adam's immobilized state. "What's wrong?"

"I don't have any pyjamas. I can't sleep without pyjamas."

"Oh." Nigel frowned at this and then shrugged, his hands full of ugly, dirty ashtrays. "There's flannel pants in the top drawer."

"Do you have t-shirts? I can't sleep without a fresh t-shirt."

"What, you want to pilfer my entire fucking wardrobe? Those in the top drawer too. You're awfully picky for a guy who doesn't have many options." Nigel walked past him and then turned right into the kitchen, the ashtrays quickly finding their way into his empty sink. "You need anything else? There's a toothbrush still in the package in the drawer under the bathroom sink. If you need a fucking mint on your pillow let me know."

"I don't like mint," Adam said. He followed Nigel back into the living room, his blue eyes taking in the sad arrangement lingering there. "You have a big bed, why are you sleeping in here?"

Nigel fluffed his musty pillow and gave the room a discerning once over. "Habit, I guess. Look, it's three o'clock and I have to be back at the precinct by seven, go the fuck to bed, all right? We can talk about all the stupid shit you want in the morning."

"The ergodynamics of this couch can be very damaging to your spine," Adam observed. "You will have better rest if you use your bed and it's important to have adequate sleep in your line of work. Your mind needs rest to be properly replenished in order to work out puzzles. You should share your bed with me, I am a sound sleeper and I don't snore."

Nigel tossed his pillow into its usual spot on the couch and set his jaw at Adam. Damn if he wasn't so sweet and cute he might have taken him up on the offer, but the facts were he was getting a boner just thinking of Adam lying close to him, his warm, soft flesh too tempting to taste. "I am not going to share my bed with you, this is where I usually sleep."

"If you are worried about being sexually aroused while we share a bed I would not be averse to that attention. I find you very attractive. If that makes you uncomfortable, there is no need to pursue a sexual encounter."

Nigel choked at this, wondering how that kind of sordid suggestion could be said to him drenched in such a weird, sultry innocence. The little spaceman sure had the ability to send Nigel's cock on high alert and his body, though exhausted, was practically begging him to take advantage of the offer. But the facts were, Adam was a witness and getting into that kind of trouble wasn't on Nigel's current list, not when he had enough piled high on his plate and he had no way of clearing it off.

Case in point, his cell phone started buzzing again, and he pulled it with a curse out of his back pocket, and bid Adam to go into the bedroom, silently mouthing for him to go the fuck to bed already. Adam thankfully left the living room, and Nigel answered his phone, his heart hammering in anxiety over what he was about to hear. "Yeah, Gabi. What is it?"

"You don't know how to answer your phone? I've been calling all night! Oh my God, Nigel, what the hell, why are you doing this to us?"

Nigel frowned and pinched his fingers against the bridge of his nose, not understanding her. She was shrieking now, and he couldn't decipher her words. There was a calmer voice behind her, no doubt belonging to Charlie Countryman, but it was Gabi's pushy Beta instincts that were at the fore. "I told you we were having problems and you promised me that amount was going to be in the bank *yesterday*! What the hell, Nigel, there's nothing there! What the hell kind of game is this?"

Shit. He'd meant to transfer the funds for her mortgage over the night before but he'd been too busy at work and her current crisis, one of many if he cared to admit it, had simply slipped his mind. He groaned and headed for the bedroom, snatching up Adam's laptop before the young Omega, who was already heading for the shower, could protest. He sat on the edge of the bed and powered it on, all the while listening to Gabi rail about how awful he was and how he knew that Charlie's investments had gone tits up since the United Main started closing off trade with Omega run businesses, and how they were barely able to pay the mortgage on their tiny two bedroom home, and did he want them all to be homeless, and he'd promised, he said he would help and this is the shit she gets...

An image of stars and planets greeted him on Adam's laptop screen, a happy grey moon circling Earth. He opened up Adam's Firefox web browser and typed in the web address of his bank.

Gabi continued to shout at him through the phone. He let her fury spew on, ignoring the jibes against how he was a cop and how he would have been better off being the bad guy, at least gangsters had money, how he'd been crap in the bedroom and him being an Alpha was a joke, how his professional life had left her alone too long and it was no wonder she ended up in the arms of an understanding Omega like Charlie--all of it arguments and accusations that he'd heard non-stop for the past three years and that had little impact on him now. He typed in the password to his bank account on Adam's laptop and transferred the money she had requested, thirteen thousand Romanian leu, the transaction immediately taking her out of the red. "Gabi, it's taken care of," he said, talking over her shouting. "I can't give you any more than what you asked for, I'm sorry if there's a late payment penalty, but I can't cover it right now."

"You know what, Nigel, this is so fucking typical of you, always leaving me with the shit stick!" She shouted something unintelligible at Charlie, who mumbled a calmer response. When she returned to the phone she was white hot with rage. "After all the suffering you put me through, you'd think you would at least try to make better amends. I'm tired of being your footnote, Nigel!"

Nigel bristled at this. "Well, we're not fucking married any more are we, darling? You're not my anything, come to think of it. For fuck's sake, I give you what you need and this is the bullshit thanks I get, every fucking time, Gabi! You know why I give you the money? Because I fucking feel sorry for Charlie, not you, Gabi! Never you!"

A shadow overtook the bedroom and Nigel turned to see Adam, freshly washed and in a pair of his pyjama pants and an oversized t-shirt that hung loose on his smaller frame. "She sounds very angry with you," Adam said. "I could hear her screaming at you while I was in the bathroom."

"Who is that?" Gabi shouted. "You have someone in that shit flat with you? Oh, so *that's* what this is all about, you 'forgot' to give me the money you promised because you have some fucking whore in your bed!"

"You couldn't be more fucking wrong, darling...It's...This is work related, and it's complicated, I can't talk to you about it, it's part of an ongoing investigation."

"Yeah, right." Gabi's voice dripped with a renewed, unexpressed fury. "What the fuck else is new." And with that, she hung up on him.

Nigel cursed over his cell phone as Adam slid onto the surface of the bed, the covers pulled down low enough to invite Nigel in as well. Nigel tossed his cell phone onto the end table beside him, only for it to fall onto the carpeted floor, and he found he was too damned tired to pick it up. He could feel Adam's feather touch on his shoulders, bidding him to lie down, and the suggestion was far too pleasant to deny himself. He sank back onto the mattress, the back of his head hitting the pillow. He had a vague understanding that Adam was taking off his shoes, and his socks, fumbling fingers working off a belt and his zipper, stripping him to his underwear. Cool bedcovers were pulled over top of him and Nigel sank beneath them, his body near shivering in sleepy relief. He could feel Adam nestle underneath the covers beside him, and it was nice the way his body felt, so gentle and close. Adam propped himself up on his pillows, and brought the laptop onto his thighs. "I'm feeling a burst of adrenaline thanks to the frantic activity of the evening and am having trouble settling," Adam warned him. "Is it okay with you if I take a look at some of the deep space images taken by the Sputnik 19 satellite, nicknamed the Hubble by some of my international peers? I find studying the spiral galaxy M51 (NGC 5194) incredibly relaxing, as well as the Horsehead Nebula , which is part of the Orion constellation. It is quite beautiful though it is an image that is slowly dissipating, thanks to the ultraviolet influence of younger stars behind it. It only has five million years left and then it will be gone. Even in space, the passage of time has finite parameters."

Nigel could barely hear him. He leaned over, his head on Adam's soft stomach as the little spaceman showed him the image of the nebula, Nigel's eyes drifting closed. He had a vague feeling of fingers deftly streaming through his hair and stroking the back of his head, and the feeling was so comforting all it took was having his eyes closed just that millisecond too long and Nigel was fast asleep.

~*~

He could see Gabi's face barely breaking the surface of the water, her panicked eyes reaching him while her hands splashed in terrified flailing. She tried to reach for him only to go under, the black water covering her yet again, a few seconds going by before she managed to break free and gasp in a gulp of sea water laden air into her waterlogged lungs. Nigel reached to her from the dock, the grey boards creaking under his weight and threatening to plunge him in with her into the dangerous current. He clung to the dock post with one arm and reached out as far as he could while Gabi sputtered and panicked, her eyes black with smeared mascara. On the far shore, he could see Charlie pacing in terror, his arms waving wildly at Nigel, begging him to save her.

His fingertips grazed hers, and then he felt a warm touch at his shoulder, and he drew back to find Adam standing quietly behind him. "Why do you feel the need to do this? You aren't responsible for everyone."

"The fuck is wrong with you, I helped you, didn't I? Ungrateful shit," Nigel shot back.

Adam smiled at him, blood seeping out of his stomach, a massive wound dripping onto the rotting wood of the dock. The grey wood soaked it in, leaving behind a massive black stain at his feet as Adam bled out. Nigel abandoned his attempt to save Gabi and concentrated on Adam, his palm cupped tight against the wound. In the distance, he could hear Charlie wailing and as he looked over his shoulder he could see Gabi sink below the surface, her white skin disappearing beneath the opaque, inky water. Adam collapsed in his arms and he fell with him onto the dock, the blood seeping out of the wound into a wide circular halo around Adam's body. "This is like the bands of gas that surround Saturn, rings that are suspected to contain space dust and debris collected from its surrounding moons. Nigel, will you save me like you did Gabi? I'm slipping into the water, Nigel. Hold me close, and I'll take you down into it with me."

The dock disintegrated beneath him and Nigel awoke with a tortured groan, gasping heavily, a sheen of sweat covering his skin and leaving him a shivering mess in the brightly lit morning that attacked him through the open bedroom window. He collapsed against his pillows and alongside something far softer and warmer, and it was then that he realized he was in his bed with Adam, and that he was pressed close to him, his head resting in the crook of the younger man's shoulder. Adam was thankfully still asleep, but Nigel was momentarily confused as to what he was doing there, a vague recollection about comets permeating his consciousness.

He glanced at the clock next to him and seven thirty in the morning glared at him in bright blue lines. There was no way he was going to make it into the precinct before nine. He noticed that his black shirt was unbuttoned and he was wearing nothing else save his polka dot burgundy boxer shorts, which did little to hide the morning wood he sported. He tried to inch his way out of the bed, only to have Adam turn on his side and wrap an arm tightly around his waist, tucking him close around his soft Omega sweetness. Fuck, this was a disaster. Adam nuzzled his face deep into the crook of Nigel's arm and he felt his cock twitch in curious response.

"I'm sorry my little spaceman, I need to get up," Nigel whispered to him and Adam frowned, the most adorable little wrinkle of skin Nigel had ever seen, and he hugged Nigel closer until it was near painful.

"You've had an erection all morning, don't worry about it, I'm not embarrassed by it. Who is Gabi? You were shouting at her in your sleep. Is that your ex wife? The person you were fighting on the phone with last night?"

"I wasn't the one fighting," Nigel clarified, smoothly ignoring Adam's astute powers of observation. What, he didn't know how to just say 'good morning' like regular people? "She needed money I had promised her and I had to make sure it went through."

"Fighting when you are broken up is pointless, the relationship is over so why bother? When I broke up with Beth it was a fairly simple process. I did have strong feelings for her, but she felt the need to leave and she did it in a very hurtful way, but people make mistakes. I still talk to her now, as a friend instead of a romantic interest. I don't expect anything from her, that would be obscuring the point that we are broken up. Perhaps this is what Gabi is doing, she is trying to keep a connection open with you that is no longer there. Otherwise, why keep asking you for money?" Adam yawned against Nigel's shoulder. "Are you making breakfast?"

Nigel's head was already pounding, and with a helpless resolve he draped his arm around Adam's shoulders, liking the weight of the Omega in his light embrace. "Are you always like this first thing in the morning?"

"Like how?"

"Full of uncomfortable questions and observations. You really are a sweet little thing, my spaceman, and I get that you like me, but the trouble is, as you've already figured out, I come with too much fucking luggage. I have lots of problems, Adam Raki, I have an ex that keeps bothering me for money and I help her because she'll make my life hell otherwise, and I have a job that reminds me that people are piss and I have to keep swimming in it. Kind of makes my head a fucking mess sometimes, and I'm going to admit it to you, love does terrible things to me. I go fucking crazy when I fall in love. So I don't really want to get into that, not right now, when everything going on in my life is one big fuck up mess, okay?"

"It's not good for a person to shut off their feelings, Harlan, my father's friend, he told me so. It eats them up inside, he said, it makes their soul hurt. I didn't quite get what he was saying at the time, but I think it has something to do with what's going on with you. You see too many bad things, and you've forgotten all the beautiful things still left in the world. It's okay, I'll help you find it again, it's all up there, in space, in the Orion constellation and the Bubble Nebula and Carina Nebula, which is an image of both the birth and death of millions of big beautiful stars. But we can see them now, thanks to the Hubble, and that's amazing, they sparkle and gleam in the dark even when they aren't there any more, even though they've changed drastically since the billions of years it took for their light to reach us." Adam's lips brushed against Nigel's clavicle and he shivered at the warmth of the Omega's mouth. "I would very much like to have sex with you, Nigel."

Fuck, this was not easy. "I should have been at the station already." Nigel moaned and wiped wakefulness into himself with a rough rub of his palms over his face. "I'll make you breakfast. I think I still have some eggs in the fridge . I hope they aren't expired. There's no bread, I can't make you toast. I think there might be coffee, I'll boil us up some."

"Okay, but I don't like it too strong and I like it with milk and sugar." Adam slid up in bed and dragged his laptop into his lap, and turned it on as he opened the lid and brought an image of the Sputnik 19 into high definition. "Sex is a very good stress reliever, I don't understand why you wouldn't want to partake of that with me. I can only assume it's because you don't feel an attraction to me."

Nigel's headache was getting worse, and he tossed off the covers and staggered out of the bed. Adam was concentrating deeply on what was on the computer screen, but Nigel got the distinct feeling the little spaceman was disappointed, and he simply wasn't getting the point. "I am very much attracted to you, that is the whole fucking beginning and end of that problem. Darling, you are absolutely delightful, and there is nothing I would like to do more than enjoy everything you are willing to offer--but I am an officer of the law and you are a key witness, and they have names for bastards who take advantage of little Omegas like you who are in distress, and they are not nice names, not at all."

Adam frowned at this and broke his concentration from his laptop for a moment to process what Nigel had said to him. "But I'm not in distress, in fact I feel quite calm now and I feel very safe in your company. I simply find you very appealing, in both a sexual way and in our growing friendship. I think you need to understand that this is very rare for me, I don't get close to other people very easily." He chewed his bottom lip and Nigel found the gesture so adorable it just about melted away all of his resolve. "If it is the sexual act itself that is making you nervous, we could engage in heavy petting. I think we would find that to be a mutually enjoyable alternative."

"Determined little thing, aren't you?" Nigel couldn't help but give Adam's bland, almost cold assessment a smile that was instantly returned. "I'm not fucking you, Adam. But I will make you breakfast. You're not a whore and I'm not treating you like one, you are a guest in my home not a one night screw. I don't know how they do things in the Mainland in the rest of the United Main where you grew up, but in the Eastern Unions we don't just hop into bed with anything, especially when we are becoming friendly. You are so open about what you want, it's kind of strange, really, I'm not used to seeing that, I see the opposite all the time, you understand?"

Adam cautiously nodded and Nigel couldn't be sure if he really was getting what he was saying. "I'm going to flat out ask you, in case there's a bigger problem here than you just being persistent. Were you ever taken advantage of when you were younger?"

Adam frowned. "How did you mean? I suppose so. When I was a kid in school, fellow classmates used to steal the answers off my tests and in high school I was bullied into writing a couple of science papers for other students. They ended up getting expelled, and I got detention, which I didn't think was fair. I only wrote them so they would stop stealing my lunch."

"No, Adam, I'm asking if you have been assaulted in the past. Abused, sexually."

Adam's face blushed a dark scarlet at this, and Nigel hated himself for even asking. But Adam was from the United Main and Nigel had heard and witnessed enough horror stories to fill a library on the subject and being a young, isolated, rare male Omega with no one to watch out for him had put Adam at significant risk, not to mention his rather bold sexuality could be an indication as well. He could be offering it as an assumption that this was how payment for being taken care of was made, and Nigel didn't want that kind of misinterpretation.

"No, never. I'm still a virgin, which I'm getting really tired of, quite frankly. I'm a thirty-four year old healthy human being and sex is a form of expression that is considered physically important. My heats are definitely getting worse the older I get, and I have been told by medical professionals that it's due to my unmated state. It's why I would like to have sex with you, I know you would be a good partner to engage in that particular life step with. Beth was nice but she wasn't a lesbian or had any hint of bisexuality so she wasn't interested in the parts of me that make me an Omega, so she avoided them. I've explored them myself, but that's not the same thing as sharing the experience with someone else."

Was this guy for real? Nigel could feel the blush spreading along the back of his neck, Adam's overly innocent angelic face staring back at him from the bed with an expression of such bland matter of factness it made Nigel wonder what it would take to erase it from him. Which was not a good idea to contemplate because then he was thinking of Adam splayed out on those pillows beneath him, writhing in ecstasy, mouth slack jawed as sweat pooled off of his brow and slid down his pink neck towards those slender shoulders, a salty dew he would lick from that smooth, alabaster skin.

Stop it. Stop it, you fucking pervert jackass, stop it.

"My father warned me that Alphas are only after one thing, and yet you don't seem to want it." Adam yawned and ran his fingers through the softness of his curls, a latent bedhead laziness to him that only added to his allure. "You're safe to me, and yet there are parts of you I have trouble figuring out."

"I'd say that problem goes in both directions, my darling little spaceman. You keep me at a loss for words, you really fucking do. You want scrambled or over easy eggs?"

"I like scrambled. Do you have ketchup?"

"Packets from McDonalds."

"That is acceptable."

Nigel nodded and slid off the edge of the bed, a lingering exhaustion still trailing after him. "I'm going to shower first. You don't have to come to the precinct today. I would prefer if you stayed in the apartment, however, and kept the deadbolt on. I don't like the idea of the Verger Corporation knowing they've lost you to us, especially if they are dabbling in Omega trafficking." He dug into his shirt pocket and searched for his cigarettes and began patting himself down to find them when he found it empty. "Where are my smokes, darling?"

"They are very bad for you," Adam said, not looking up from his opened laptop, his fingers busily working the keys. "Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. The carcinogens are highly toxic and also cause plaques within the bloodstream, leading to fatal heart disease."

"Sounds about right, where the fuck are they?"

"In your pants pocket. I folded them up and put them on the top of the dresser. I know you can't quit cold turkey, cigarettes are highly addictive, I've been doing research into it and have been determining your best course of action. I believe a gradual diminishing of them, using a placebo supplement such as an e-cigarette, would be most effective. You will, however, still be suffering withdrawal for up to two weeks, and this can be highly unpleasant."

Nigel rummaged in his pants pockets and was thrilled when he found his pack of cigarettes only to find it was mostly empty and only seven little cancer sticks remained. "The fuck is this? I had a full pack!"

"Those are what you are permitted to smoke," Adam said. "I calculated that you are up to a pack a day, which is about a dozen. You are permitted seven today, and then six tomorrow, the numbers gradually decreasing until there are none left. It will help with the withdrawal symptoms."

Nigel wanted to be furious, he really fucking did, but he was gradually coming to the understanding that Adam Raki didn't pull stunts like this because he was a miserable prick, he had some other idea in mind that followed along his weird little map of reasoning. "Why are you torturing me like this?"

Adam shrugged. "I like you and I would prefer you did not die."

Nigel, an unlit cigarette dangling between his lips, gently sat on the edge of the bed beside Adam, the nearly crushed package of cigarettes in his tight grip. "Oh someone will die if I don't get my smokes, darling, and I doubt very much it will be me."

Adam's skin was lovely and pale against the contrast of the dark, plain headboard of the bed, the overly simple furnishing of the room seeming to welcome him into the fold. In truth, it was as if Adam belonged in his apartment, and his influence upon it was to be expected, and it shouldn't have come as a surprise that he'd tampered with Nigel's smokes. He was not at all perturbed by Nigel's empty threat, and he even went so far as to pluck the lighter out of the cigarette case and light the cigarette dangling between Nigel's lips. Nigel took a few experimental puffs before relaxing, his mood only slightly less on edge. Adam smiled at him and stroked his cheek with those soft, warm fingers of his and to Nigel it was as if his little spaceman had plunged to Earth straight out of the heavens and into his life with all the gentle flutter of a feather falling from a tall building. Life outside of Adam's influence was tightly wound, a place full of anger and unrelenting sorrow and yet Adam, with just one small, truly innocent smile, could wipe all of it away into a sense of lovely calm that Nigel had never experienced in his life.

He took a long drag of his cigarette and spewed the smoke away from Adam before reaching over and pressing his palm against the back of Adam's neck, liking the way the Omega purred into his touch, his eyes closing in a delightful bliss that Nigel wanted to burn into his memory. It would be so very easy to lean in and kiss him and taste the lingering sweetness that seeped out from between those slightly parted lips. Already, Nigel could detect Adam's slick, the tender arousal wanting to morph into something far more dangerous. But Nigel held back, an Alpha instinct within him telling him that moving too fast would only ruin this pleasant arrangement they had growing between them. If he was going to have his spaceman angel, it was to be permanent.

No, no, no, what the fuck was he thinking? He'd been down that track before, and look it where it got him.

Stop it, asshole. You're not in love.

You're not.

"You are trying to take care of me," Nigel said, and Adam curled into Nigel's hand as he worked the back of his neck, a pleased murmured agreement escaping his tender smile. "It's a big job to take on. Not too sure how you're going to manage that." Nigel slid his hand forward to cup Adam's chin, his fingers pinching it slightly in a playful caress, his stomach doing strange little flips at the widening of Adam's smile. Nigel peered over the edge of the laptop and saw it was full of stars. Of course, his little spaceman, staring up into his heaven, his home.

"These are images of the Megallinic Clouds, which are satellites of the Milky Way, our own galaxy. The Megallanic Clouds are another galaxy that is formed of interstellar debris and are the sites of star formations. They have less mass than the Milky Way. I am studying the images and using theoretical hypothesis to see if there are ways we can measure their trajectory, which is extremely slow in execution, a full orbit taking hundreds of millions of years to complete a circuit." Adam's concentration broke as Nigel rested his chin on the top edge of the laptop with bemused interest, and Adam's lips curled into a delicate smile. "You're going to be late for work. I can make breakfast. I'm very good at making scrambled eggs."

Nigel sighed, a feeling of sublime, sweet happiness overtaking him and he couldn't be sure where it was coming from. Fuck, if this wasn't just the most delightful morning he'd had in a long time and he hated the thought of having to ruin it by going back to the precinct and all of its ugliness. Sweet Adam Raki, propped up in his bed with his head full of galaxies and his lips soft enough to melt the sun. Nigel pulled away with a reluctance that left him heavy, and finished his cigarette, butting it out in yet another nearby ashtray before heading for the shower. Adam closed his laptop and slid out of the bed, his rumpled form moving past Nigel as he headed for the kitchen, eager to help. Nigel's fingers trailed after him, lightly brushing down the back of his neck and then his spine, a ghost of a touch that left him shivering.

He curled his hand into a fist and forced himself into resolve. He had to get ready. He might be housing an angel, but the devils were strong in number and it was his job to keep them at bay.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter four

Nigel shoved another forkful of perfectly fluffy scrambled eggs into his mouth and gulped down a hot measure of strong, black coffee with it. Adam hadn't been kidding, he'd perfected the art of breakfast and though it was simple fare, Nigel was appreciative of the effort made. As he brought his mug of coffee back to his lips, he was again shocked at the neat efficiency Adam had already injected into his life. Gone were the dirty ashtrays and the collection of empty booze bottles on the kitchen counter, leaving behind a pristine, empty cleanliness in their wake. He'd been quite busy throughout the entire apartment cleaning up, Nigel noted, and it had only taken him the time it took for Nigel to have a shower to bring his apartment into a semblance of home rather than a neglected crash pad.

Adam was still rumpled with sleep, the too big t-shirt hanging low on his shoulders as he softly smiled over his serving of eggs. He wasn't fond of coffee and managed to make orange juice from a can of freezer burned concentrate Nigel didn't know he had. "You live a very spare life," Adam said, looking around the kitchen and its decided lack of dishes, cutlery, appliances and food. "I've never seen anyone make coffee using a sauce pot before." Adam finished his helping and then left the very tiny dining room table, which was a slab of curved wood affixed to the wall and came with the apartment. He put his dishes in the sink and instantly rinsed them off. "It's like you aren't really living here. I do appreciate a lack of clutter and I like things to be neat and tidy, but this is different, it's like you don't exist at all in this place you consider your home. My father said it was important to put at least a small imprint of one's personality upon a place, it helps ground it into a sense of permanence. Is it okay if I put up some posters of the Orion constellation in the bedroom? I find the blank walls reminiscent of an institution and lacking a human element. Maybe some stars would brighten it up. I also have a spacesuit in storage that I would like to bring into the apartment, I have a stand for its display."

Damn, he moved quick the sneaky little minx, already shoving his personality over Nigel's personal space and laying claim to it. Omega all the way that's for sure. Nigel paused at this, and gave Adam a confused look as he considered the last thing he'd said. "A spacesuit? What, you mean a real one, like the astronauts use?"

"Yes, it was issued to me at Roscosmos but the likelihood of me actually journeying into space is now statistically at slightly less than ten percent. It gives me a sense of grounding having it with me, and when I feel extremely stressed I sometimes put it on, I like the way it shuts out the outside noise, it acts like a tool of sensory deprivation."

Nigel raised a brow at this. "You walk around in a fucking space suit when you get upset?"

"Yes."

"You're a strange little man, Adam Raki."

"You chain smoke and drink alcohol excessively when you are stressed. I believe what I do is significantly healthier."

Nigel frowned, wanting to argue the matter, but the image of Adam, his darling spaceman, walking around his apartment in a padded, insulated silver suit made laughter bubble up within him. "You got me there." Nigel was still smiling as his cell phone buzzed and he plucked it from his side pocket, answering it when he saw it was Darko on the other line. "If you want to play pretend you are on the moon, I won't object and as for the poster use tape, I don't want any holes in the walls--Yeah, Darko, I know I'm late. Give me half an hour."

"Get over here as fast you can, we got some new developments in the Verger case." Darko sounded breathless on the phone, like he had been running full tilt around a track. A pang of guilt hit Nigel at this since he'd been spending his morning lazily dragging his feet over going into work, enjoying Adam Raki's easy company far too much.

"What kind of developments?" Nigel asked, and Darko cursed, but not at him. He'd spilled his coffee and he barked at a distant subordinate to get him a new one.

"You know how Adam was to be sold, right?"

A sick feeling twisted into Nigel's gut at this as he looked on Adam, who was inspecting the spent, boiled coffee grounds in the sauce pot with curiosity and adding a little more water before turning the sauce pot back on.

"Yeah, I'm listening."

"Paul's been talking and he says Adam was sold to some guy in the United Main, and it didn't matter if he'd been double-dipped with you. It seems our tweaker Paul has got a big mouth, and he's been singing all fucking morning, on and on about how the Verger Corporation's investments in pigs is going south thanks to them getting sick with pneumonia and Mason's careless inbreeding causing lots of problems. Mason Verger, the head of the Verger Corporation, has been desperate enough with his stock to be doing genetic research in an effort to increase bacon production. It's not working so well, and he's had to prop up the family business with some highly unsavoury side projects." Nigel heard Darko loudly sip at his new mug of coffee, the highly strung man cursing over it being too hot. "Paul told us about a shipment of Omegas, and the possible warehouse they're heading for before overseas transport. The handing over of Omega goods is supposed to go down on Sunday."

Adam took away Nigel's empty plate and replenished his coffee with a quick pour from the sauce pot, a thoughtful gesture Nigel was instantly grateful for. The coffee was painfully strong, but he drank it anyway. If his little spaceman thought it was good for him, it had to be. "Get some unmarked cars staking out the place for the next few days, and tell them to hold a position far back, so they aren't detected. These fucking bastards can smell the stink of a cop a mile away, so make sure they use the shit cars, maybe borrow some from the drug trafficking brigade, those pricks are good at hiding in the open air." He tucked the cell phone under his chin and nodded at Adam who was quietly sitting across from him at the small breakfast nook. "Darling, please grab me a pen and paper, I need to write this address down."

"Darling?" Darko's voice angrily shot at him. "Adam Raki is there with you?" He swore, louder than before. "Did I just hear you call him that?"

Nigel cursed himself for letting the tiny endearment slip. "It's nothing, Darko, we didn't do anything..."

"You're fucking calling him 'darling' already! I warned you that this was going to happen, next thing you know he'll be going into heat and you'll be mating him and then you'll really be fucked, your head will be all messed up every time you knot and you can't do that right now, we need your head clear for this case!"

"Last I looked, Darko, you were my subordinate officer and I'm starting to lose some serious fucking patience with your nosy bullshit. If I want to call him darling while I shove a knot so deep into him he tastes it what's it to you? Oh, and just since you so desperately need to know, no, I haven't fucked him, so get off that high horse of yours and do what the fuck I told you to do."

Darko added a string of curses of his own, only to growl them down. "I'm your friend as much as your colleague, you asshole. I'm stupid enough to not want to see you hurt again."

Nigel sighed as Adam silently gave him a sheet of paper, the blank side of a pizza flyer, and a ball point pen that was imprinted with gold stars. He decided to permanently borrow it, the imprint of Adam's mind and soul all over the cylindrical surface. He wrote down the address Darko had gotten out of Paul, and he circled it while he asked a far more troublesome question. "How many Omegas are we talking about this time? They usually only transport three or four. Any male Omegas in the mix? They get double the price for those."

Darko hesitated and something black stirred inside of Nigel's instincts, and he felt his body tense in anticipation of Darko's answer. "It's a big deal, boss," Darko said, confirming his worst fears. "We're talking at least a dozen. Paul said it's some kind of bulk purchase, ,meant to coincide with that fiasco of a Coastline election in the United Main that happened a couple of weeks ago. Some asshole named Jeb McBain was in the lead and he liked them fresh, he was giving them out as bonuses to his backers. Then he got assassinated and everything went up shit river, so who the fuck knows where these Omegas are going to go. The United Main is a fucking mess right now." Darko paused a long moment, taking deep breaths that wheezed into Nigel's phone. "You know, we could really use a heads up about all this political shit going on over there, and not from some little weasel looking to get a lesser prison sentence. You think you can convince that precious houseguest of yours to come back to the station and give us all a lesson? If McBain was the one purchasing Omegas and handing them out like candy to his financial backers, this could be the tipping point in opening up the levels of corruption. Right now the place is barely functioning politically. It would give the European Unions and the Eastern Unions an excuse to overthrow the current United Main government."

Nigel felt sick at that thought, because what Darko was suggesting was that they incite a damned world war and they hadn't had one of those since 1810, when the United Main became powerful enough financially to break off all world ties and ousted all old world Union rule, plunging the regions into chaos. "Bit of a big leap there, my friend," Nigel cautiously warned him. "I'll ask him, but he doesn't have to be there if he doesn't want to. The politics of that place have nothing to do with us, our job is to make sure Omegas aren't getting bought and sold for them, and that's where our involvement begins and ends."

"Yeah, but it's all interconnected when it comes to the United Main, with the Coastline and the Mainland being so different in how they do things, and if you read the papers these days the tension between them is getting worse..."

"It doesn't matter right now, for fuck's sake." Nigel pressed his fingertips against his brow, easing away all the uncomfortable thoughts lurking there. "Just get those unmarked cars at that warehouse and to let us know if there's any sign of activity. I'll be at the precinct in less than an hour." He hung up the cell phone and let it drop to the kitchen table, his hands bracing his aching head as he sank his face into his palms. He could sense Adam standing behind him, uncertainty marring an otherwise perfect morning. He wiped the weary feeling from his face and looked up at Adam who was standing at the sink with such a look of serious contemplation it was as if he'd just been told the moon disappeared. "No need to be so worried, darling, it's just another day at the office. Darko wants you to come to the precinct and give a little United Main politics 101. You don't have to come if you don't want to, I don't think it's that important."

"I disagree, it's vital to understanding why the trafficking of Omegas has become such a serious problem. The United Main is not a good place, there is considerable political tension between the Mainland and Coastline and very wide cultural gaps. It has hindered education and has destroyed all hope of a possible space program within the United Main. It's why I like it here, even if I did accidentally meet up with trouble, I should have stuck with Romanian and Russian based businesses. I will never make such a mistake again." Adam's eyes flitted to the floor of the kitchen and he gave the tiles a very soft smile. "Although, I must admit, that meeting you was an interesting side effect of that mistake. Sometimes doing things wrong can bring about the right answer, it forces you to see a problem in a different light." Adam steeled himself at the kitchen counter, his hands braced behind him as he clung to the faux marble rim. "I will go with you to the precinct, but I need to shower first. I have a very strict morning routine. I will try to hurry."

"Sure," Nigel said, not in the mood to argue, especially since they were so late already. "Do whatever you have to do, just don't go flying back off into Heaven."

Adam frowned at this. "Why would I do that? Besides, I don't have wings, and even if I did that would be impossible, I'm not a bird, I don't have hollow bones."

Nigel shrugged. "Isn't Heaven where angels go?"

"I'm not an angel," Adam said, making face, and Nigel laughed at this.

"Oh yes, you are. A very modern one. You got the spacesuit and everything, and like you said, all you need are wings."

Adam didn't understand what Nigel was saying and with a confused stare at him he shook the words off and headed towards the bathing room to take a shower. Nigel smiled to himself thinking about Adam's skin getting pink beneath the hot steam, and he kept all thoughts of that strictly to himself as he brought up his mug, ready to sip the last of his now cold coffee. But Adam quickly dove back into the kitchen and stole a fleeting kiss from Nigel's mouth, the affection taken from Nigel so quickly he barely had time to register the soft, quaint little lips meeting his and fluttering off like butterfly wings into an ether of memory that his consciousness frantically tried to collect.

"I think you called me an angel. That's very nice of you. Your shirt has dachshunds on it. It's playful but the colours are all mismatched in hue and aesthetically wrong, the pattern is like what a kid would wear," Adam said, grinning, and before Nigel could react, or even exclaim 'What the Hell...' Adam was gone, the shower already spewing hot water and steam.

His lips still felt the feather weight of Adam's lips and his sweet taste lingering like scant grains of sugar and what the fuck, did Adam just call his shirt ugly?

***

Adam stood in front of the dozen officers assigned to the anti-Omega trafficking brigade, who were presently staring at him with anxious expressions, arms crossed and determined to find fault with everything he said. Adam cleared his throat, and began fumbling with his laptop. He'd made a quick power point presentation during the ride into the precinct, a feat Nigel still found astonishing since he himself couldn't even open the damned program. Adam now stood in front of a large white screen, his opening notes in clear point form for all to see.

"The United Main came into being in the year 1817, after the first World Disagreement, a term historians use to describe the various wars that suddenly erupted across various countries and regions that culminated in the boundaries and laws we now live under. The Earth's politics are divided into five regions which are as follows: The European Unions, The Eastern Unions, Arctic Habitats North and South, The United Main and Unclassified Independents, which are countries and 'soft' regions that are continuously changing their boundaries. The Unclassified Independents occupy much of the Earth's surface and are fairly peaceful among themselves though the rare, occasional bloody skirmish is not unheard of. The United Main region, which is what we will be talking about today, is comprised of the land masses known as North and South America, New Zealand and the upper coastline of Australia."

Grotzky, one of Darko's lower level inspectors, snapped the toothpick he was chewing on and spit it into a waste bin near Adam's feet. "What is this shit? I thought you were going to tell us about the politics, not this grade school crap. Everyone knows what the regions are, we learn it in nursery school."

Of course it had to be Grotzky, Nigel mused with no small amount of disdain for the dishevelled officer. The man was an impatient, disgusting mass of ignorance, who wasn't beneath cracking off colour jokes while driving traumatized Omegas to the local hospital. "Try shutting your trap and learning something for a change," Nigel admonished him. "You ought to start chewing on thoughts instead of those fucking candy bars you stuff into your face all day long. Did you know that Australia was part of the United Main? No, didn't think so, they joined up a couple of years ago, so what do you know, you learned something. So sit down and shut your stupid mouth and get educated for a change, you slimy fat fuck."

Grotzky growled as he sank into his seat and glared with Alpha aggression at Adam, who was having a very hard time keeping the attention of the room. Nigel crossed his ankle over his knee and nodded at Adam to continue.

"Every region has a very different set of laws and customs, and it would take too long to go into detail as to all of them, so I will concentrate instead on The United Main. This region's wealth relies on border trading, which is why the Coastline has continued to be a place of monetary focus. A good ninety percent of all of the United Main's wealth comes from Coastline business and since they have the largest mass of unified Coastline as opposed to the Eastern and European regions which are predominantly inland based, trade has continued unencumbered for nearly two hundred years and has amassed the United Main's Coastline the majority of the world's wealth.

With this rapid accumulation of wealth and population, the Coastline has historically had to implement strict rules to govern its people. Since the concept of their trading practises were based on the religious sect known as Meso, a shortened form of an ancient middle eastern clan known as Mesopotamia, the Coastline follows the social mores of that belief system. Alphas are considered prime citizens and are given substantial perks both socially and in business, as they are the ones given optimum careers, education and interest free loans for starting businesses. Betas do not have these perks, though they may benefit from having an Alpha partner and can earn contacts for employment through them, though they are rarely afforded positions of power within government or in highly successful companies. The United Main has a fierce obsession with gender exclusion, which is difficult for the other regions to comprehend. The origins of this gender inequality seem to stem from modernist Meso teachings that suggest aggression and hormones relating to aggression are to be prized, pheromones Alphas contain in abundance. Supposedly 'softer' hormones, related to childbirth and supposed submissives, are not prized because they do not bring skill to battle, but rather are designed to avoid it. Rearing a child takes a great deal of energy away from conquering enemies, and forces a temperance of greed. An unspoken resentment of this is evident in Coastline policies, though the importance of continuing the production of Alphas is also considered of prime importance. Thus, a cultural conundrum. In United Main Coastline society, Omegas are to be hidden away, they are not permitted to walk the streets of Coastline cities without their Alpha beside them, and their sole purpose is to continue the Alpha lineage. Omegas are usually bonded at a very young age, the average being sixteen, and from that moment are the sole property of their Alphas and are never permitted to leave the confines of their homes save for public ceremonies, where they are put on public display to be exalted for their beauty."

An ugly quiet had come over the dozen officers under Nigel's charge and he crossed his arms, knowing what came next in Adam's presentation. They had a good idea of what was going on in the United Main, but it was a very different thing to be told it from the perspective of an Omega who was actually from the region, the oppression they witnessed every day given a face, and a rather elegant, angelic one at that.

Adam stood in front of the screen and eyed the crowd of politia Romana with a sense of shy trepidation. The computer hummed beside him at his hip and the image he had used to highlight this next segment in his presentation was one of malignant controversy. A 1927 sepia photograph of a male Omega, an iron clasp at his neck indicating the United Main practice of 'bonding', his face bruised and a stark, despairing emptiness swirling within his gaze that only a psychopath couldn't empathize with. Adam cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable with the image himself, but from the murmurs among his officers he'd already accentuated his point.

"This treatment of Omegas is extremely stifling to United Main society, and maintaining these laws are the responsibility of the Gender Sentry Forces, or the GSF. They are a group separate from general police forces and the FBI, and are solely in charge of all gender related crimes. As can be imagined, Omegas are not given the opportunities that other genders are, and even if they do show significant intellectual prowess, they are not permitted to expand upon them. Thus, gender subterfuge has become an increasing problem. There is a recent case from Baltimore, where a few months ago a talented male Omega psychiatrist and surgeon was forced to give up his license when it was discovered he was lying about being an Alpha. He is currently bonded to an Alpha, and from what I have read in current articles, is now sequestered in their home and raising a child. He was a very successful psychiatrist prior to his outing and now that he is bonded, it is his Alpha that holds all of his money and assets. Should his Alpha decide he no longer wants him, he can call the GSF and accuse his Omega of being noncompliant and they will sequester him in a GSF facility for 'retraining'. This merely means he will be institutionalized indefinitely until his Alpha decides if and when he wants him back. This particular Omega was lucky in that his Alpha allowed him to continue to work, however, his attempts to continue his practise were met with a great deal of resistance and his office had been vandalized. It has clearly been determined that it is too unsafe for him to continue his practise, especially when a child is now involved and public sentiment is so negative."

Darko sneered in response to this, though it wasn't directed at Adam. He shifted in his plastic chair, the darkness of the room not hiding the fact that the politia Romana's anti-Omega trafficking brigade had some serious monetary issues, as evidenced by the scuffed, ancient desks and neglected, overburdened offices. Right now they were watching Adam's presentation in a room usually reserved for criminals waiting to be processed, and the longer they stayed in here the more they earned dirty looks through the dusty windows from the lower level chesters forced to keep crooks in cramped seating near the front desk. Darko glared at one of the younger chesters peering through the window and flipped him his middle finger, a clear sign to mind his own damned business.

"You're a smart guy, Adam, so I don't get it. How did you manage to get a position at Roscosmos if you're a male Omega from the United Main? You're not bonded..." Darko glanced over at Nigel and didn't hide his concern. "At least, not yet. So what gives? How can you be standing here telling us how it's all so oppressive and yet you clearly have managed just fine."

Adam blinked in confusion at this and his voice was soft and nervous as he replied, his eyes darting through the crowd but not meeting their gaze or truly seeing any of them. Nigel could tell he was starting to spiral into a sense of panic and while Darko had a valid point, he had to fight the urge to run up and gentle the back of Adam's neck, a gesture he probably would find embarrassing in front of so many people. Fuck, he was so fragile and sweet standing up there, like a little leaf in a gentle breeze. His poor little spaceman...

"I did not grow up on the Coastline, I am from the Mainland," Adam said, the note of pride within this admission belying an inner strength that was wholly unexpected. Adam straightened up at he marched to his laptop and flicked past other, less relevant sections of his power point presentation, settling onto an image of a shack with two smiling, dirty children in front of it, and two male farmers leaning against a post, one of them smoking a cigarette. "This is what the Mainland still looks like," Adam said, and the corners of his lips actually upturned at this image that others in the room were determining was one of abject poverty. "We are not subject to Coastline laws and are predominantly land based. The Coastline, being vast, has had no need to tap into the rich resources within the Mainland, and this large, mostly neglected region has thrived with its own version of economy and social mores. It is, in many ways, an alternate universe to the one offered by the Coastline."

Adam was proud of this analogy, and he smiled over it, though his audience didn't get what he meant by it. Nigel slid a cigarette between his lips and, remembering he now only had four left for the rest of the day, he quickly secreted it into the top left pocket of his bowling shirt. "Just how different are we talking about?" Nigel asked, and his crew nodded in agreement with this question.

"As different as the Earth is from the moon," Adam said, and Nigel worried that Adam would start going off about quarks and quasars instead of the necessary information they needed. But he was surprisingly restrained and he turned back to his power point notes to keep him focused. "This image, taken in 1917, is a highly relevant example of Mainland life. Not much has changed. The people do not fully settle in the Mainland and they move around a lot, usually in a circular pattern within either continent. I myself grew up in a small area called Two Cent, in a larger province known as Upper Ohio, which takes up a considerable amount of space along the shores of Lake Erie, and my father and I did travel up and down that lake many times throughout the year to obtain supplies and employment. The Mainland operates on a mostly barter system since so much of their economy is excluded from Coastline influence. Occasionally, Mainlanders take work on the Coastline to obtain certain necessities, such as food supplies, which are meant to last them throughout the year, and it is not uncommon for them to do contractual work and to return to the Mainland at first opportunity. Though the area is rich for farmland, the Coastline takes most of the crops through enforced tariffs and leaves very little for the Mainlanders to survive on. Thus, the people within the core of the continents have become more nomadic, and it is not uncommon for strangers to suddenly appear in one's home and seek food and refuge, which is to be given without question as per Mainland culture."

Grotzky coughed at this, his arms crossed over his wide chest as he looked at the image of the farmers and the laughing, dirty children on the their front porch. "What has this got to do with anything? All I am hearing is that you are some country bumpkin, it doesn't explain how you ended up here."

Nigel was about to tell Grotzky off again, to tell him to be patient and stop flapping his ugly mouth, only for Adam to be the one to shut him down. "The relevancy of this photograph is significant because the two farmers are an Alpha and an Omega. These are *their* children. As you can see, there is no gender line between who can or can't work, or issues of dominance between them. This is a joint effort, and it is proof of the egalitarian nature of the Mainland culture that is in direct opposition to the Coastline laws. Omegas are permitted a great deal of autonomy in Mainland culture and are free to pick and chose what lovers they wish. They are not obligated to bond with anyone and are in fact encouraged to enjoy their sexuality. The choice of a mate is solely in the Omega's domain, and there are rarely Alpha confrontations as a result. The Coastline has misinterpreted this freedom as 'uncivilized' and there have been accusations that Omegas are victimized, often raped in Mainland society. I can tell you from experience that this is an outright lie. I have been in heat in a room full of Mainland Alphas and though they expressed interest, they would not touch me without my consent. This is not true of Coastliners, who see an Omega in public as an object of sexual use." Adam shrugged off this information as though it was common knowledge, not recognizing that the sudden quiet in the room was indicative that the officers had received quite a detailed education.

"You were in heat and you were out in public?" a young officer in the back row asked, and Nigel turned to see who it was. Inspector Dula, the youngest member of his team, and an Omega himself. Dula shook his head at the very thought. "I have to take the time off even with suppressants, and even with our anti-discrimination laws I can't walk around Bucharest stinking of Omega hormones and slick. Not to mention it's hard to resist attention at some point during it. How did you manage it?"

"The Alphas were uninteresting to me," Adam said, as though this was enough information. Then, thinking maybe he should expand upon his explanation, "Of course, I do have toys. They sufficed. I highly recommend the Knot Tickler, it's quite an effective tool to ease the discomfort of heat. I can email you the company catalogue."

If Adam was disturbed by the sudden open mouthed shock he was given at this highly personal admission, he didn't show it. "I myself am still a virgin, in the Omega sense, but I do enjoy the stimulus of touch from a willing partner and one does not always need sex to obtain that comfort. For instance, last night I slept with Inspector Ionescu, and I was content to simply be embraced by him. Touch is important to Omegas, especially by partners they find desirable."

Nigel could feel every eye in the room boring fiery holes into him, and he shrank in mortification in his seat, his bottom lip chewed fiercely as Adam continued, oblivious to the embarrassment he'd just caused. Nigel tried and failed to avoid seeing Darko's mouthed 'What the fuck?' directed at him, and Nigel hid his face under the pretence of scratching his brow with his fingertips.

"In regards to Mainland versus Coastline culture, this vast difference in belief systems has caused no end of conflict. I am not suggesting that the lifestyle of the Mainland is one that is ideal, it is simply one that I am most familiar with. It was very frustrating not being able to pursue my education, and efforts to leave the United Main region to come here were shrouded in secrecy. I had to take an overdose of suppressants to pass as a Beta through airport security in New York and I did not feel secure of my escape from Coastline scrutiny until I was well established into my position at Roscosmos. The GSF are always on high alert as to the movements of Omegas from the Coastline areas. The GSF are rumoured to be highly volatile members of law enforcement and are of dubious moral character at best. Most instances of Omega rape occur between bonded Omegas and their Alpha partners or increasingly at GSF facilities."

Adam was about to continue with is presentation, but Nigel cut him short, leaving his seat and closing the laptop which Adam tried to protest. "But I have another hour's worth of information!"

"We have what we need, Adam," Nigel softly said to him.

The officers began to disperse and Darko approached them, his face pinched into an expression of extreme distaste. "I've talked to those GSF bastards in the past, they've never been helpful. I half suspect some of them are traffickers themselves, especially given how easily they have access to vulnerable Omegas. It's an angle I think we should be thinking about." He gave Adam a disgruntled nod. "Thanks for the information. This actually helps."

Adam lit up at this, and Nigel felt a surge of pride for the Omega, every facet of delight dancing through Adam's being and alighting like bursting stars on the surface of his soul. His eyes briefly met Nigel's before turning away, his smile wide and blindly seeking approval for his joy. "I'm glad, Inspector Darko. I hope you aren't angry with Inspector Ionescu, he really didn't do anything last night he just fell asleep. I don't fully understand how things are done here in the Eastern Region, people are open but they aren't, it's very confusing."

"You're blameless," Darko said, and he glared at Nigel, who took the admonishment for what it was.

"I'm not taking advantage of him, Darko." Nigel sighed and steered Adam out of the room, the laptop tucked tight under Adam's arm as he happily allowed the touch and even sank into it a little, much to Nigel's consternation. Nigel turned back towards Darko, talking to him over his shoulder. "Any word on the whereabouts of Mason Verger?"

Darko shook his head. "He's been off our radar for far too long and I don't like it. With this raid coming up I have half a mind to expect him at the exchange, and you know if that's happening it's going to be a dangerous takedown, he's got some expert hired muscle with him." He glanced over at Adam, who was now heading for Nigel's desk and he held Nigel back with a tug on his arm. "Look, the guy's a sweet piece, I'll give you that, and he obviously adores the fuck out of you, but dammit, Nigel, the whole office is going to be talking now. He's got no filter, does he? Subcomisar Grocker is going to know about this, that shit Grotzky will make sure of it. Get ready for some bullshit fallout."

Nigel scoffed at this. The unlit cigarette he'd tucked into his shirt pocket was back at his lips, ready to be lit. He brought the flame of his lighter against the tip and sucked on it with blissed out passion, his eyes closing over the rush of nicotine coursing through his system. "We all have vices, Darko, but I'm not a fucking creep, I'm being a fucking gentleman if you can believe that."

"Kind of makes me wonder," Darko said, frowning as he looked on Adam who was now seated at Nigel's desk, his laptop opened once again, slender fingers working away at the keys. He approached Adam and sat on the corner of Nigel's desk, Nigel watching Darko carefully in unspoken question. "Hey, Adam, I'm curious, did you ever actually meet Mason Verger?"

"Yes," Adam said, not looking up from his computer.

Nigel felt a sick feeling in his stomach at this. Mason Verger was on their watch list and he wasn't permitted on Romanian soil due to several cases of pederasty he was involved in when he had visited Bucharest in his youth. When it came to being a human piece of shit, Mason Verger's face is what first came to mind. "That's quite upsetting, darling. He is an exceptionally dangerous man and you are very lucky to have escaped his clutches. What can you tell me about him?"

Adam frowned and kept typing. Nigel closed the laptop gently, disorienting Adam from his distraction. "I...I didn't like him. He kept trying to touch me, and I could tell he was aroused and there was something very wrong about it. It's strange that I can't explain it, I don't usually feel that kind of suspicion around others, perhaps it was his hormonal scent that alerted me to a sense of danger. He kept offering me chocolate and I refused. He talked to me like I was a simple child, which was uncalled for. I'm a grown adult who is far from mentally deficient. I'm not Forest Gump. I found his patronizing speech highly offensive."

A burning sensation of rage flowed through Nigel at this, the very thought of a slimy piece of human garbage like Mason Verger thinking he had any right whatsoever to touch his little spaceman angel...He fought to keep the involuntary growl at his thoughts suppressed, but Darko was giving him an alarmed unspoken warning through the corner of his eye and Adam stepped back, meekly acknowledging Alpha anger.

"It's not you, Adam." Nigel sank into his chair at his desk and lightly stroked the back of Adam's hand, the Omega shaking at the touch. "I'm furious at the thought of an awful person like Mason Verger even being in the same room as you."

"You instinctively wish to protect me," Adam clarified, and Nigel sighed in impatient agreement, wishing with all he had that Darko wasn't looking on in his usual judgement.

"He infantilized you and offered you a chocolate," Darko said, and with the facts of the interaction laid out that plainly, the plans Verger had for Adam took on a far more sinister perspective. Darko clearly understood it as well, for he grimaced in disgust and shook his shoulders as though feeling the touch of Verger on him himself. "When exactly did you meet him?"

"Five months ago, on February 28th. I had come to Romania with a colleague for a week long vacation and was offered a permanent position with the IT department at Verger Corporation at that time, and I had refused it because I was still working with Roscosmos. It's why I contacted them when I was fired. They had a contract IT position and they accepted my application immediately," Adam replied, not missing a beat. "Four o'clock p.m., he was with two other associates, one of whom was the owner of the club and the other was from the United Main. He wore a suit and carried a leather briefcase with a gold handle. He did not stand close to Mr. Verger, and refused to shake the hand of the club owner, which was rude."

"And you haven't seen Verger or this associate since?" Darko asked, and Adam shook his head.

"Not Mason Verger, no, but I did see his associate with the same gold handled briefcase at the club on Monday. He still didn't shake the club owner's hand. "

Nigel stood next to Darko, the wheels turning in fast, connecting gears as he pieced together what Adam was saying. "Gold handled briefcase. That's the money and that guy was his accountant. Sounds like he might be a weak link if he's not willing to play nice with the goods provider. What else do you remember about him, Adam?"

"He was very nervous and sweaty, a Beta, he has a scar on his left cheek and he was balding, mid to late forties, a soft accent, possibly Australian, dialect from the Sydney Coastline. Since portions of Australia are new to the United Main Coastline, I would say he is not accustomed to the business etiquette of the upper North American region."

"I don't think it's that, darling, I think it's more a case of lazy remorse." Nigel shook his head and Darko gave him an understanding nod.

"You don't have to tell me twice, I'm on it. We'll check for all foreign accountancy hires on the Verger payroll, focusing on ones from Australia. This is a huge lead, you're a godsend, Adam." Darko smacked his shoulder with his palm as he left and Adam flinched at the touch.

A steady silence grew between Nigel and Adam, one that wasn't uncomfortable but merely pensive as Adam slowly worked through the process of subtle information he had both given and received that morning. Nigel shuffled through his paperwork and began the gruelling task of going over the Verger accounts, a continuation of yesterday's investigation. Adam was agitated, his knee was shaking, Nigel noted, and he was wringing his hands again, hints of an anxiety that was gradually building up within him and needed to be quelled lest it overtake him. He had a head full of the complexities of the universe and yet the base cruelties of the earthbound world aimed to crush him. It was a difficult thing to be an angel, Nigel mused, and he placed a strong hand over Adam's fidgeting digits, stopping him from the rhythmic wringing. "What's going on in that beautiful, brilliant brain of yours now?"

"I'm thinking about your job," Adam said, and Nigel pursed his lips in surprise at this.

"What about it?"

Adam's eyes were wide and glassy with unshed tears. "Your work is dangerous. You have red knuckles and I noticed some latent healing and old injury to them so you have used your fists on bad people before and there's a good chance you have been hurt as well, statistically that would be a given."

"There's always that risk," Nigel agreed.

Adam licked his lips, choosing his words very carefully, as though afraid the weight of them were bullets. "You help Omegas who are being hurt and you often see the worst of what can happen to them. I did some research while you were sleeping beside me this morning and read the newspaper reports on the kind of work you do and it makes me feel very frightened and sad for the people you are rescuing and it makes me very uncomfortable seeing that people can be hurt like that. I never truly understood it before I studied it and read those articles. I was able to stand outside of it if I didn't expose myself to the truth too much, but now that I know...It's very difficult what you do. The things you deal with make me cry. I really don't like seeing people hurt."

How precious his little spaceman was. Nigel wiped away an errant tear with his thumb, a habit that was forming if he cared to inspect it, and he couldn't quite figure out what this soft, warm feeling was that was overtaking him every time he had Adam with him, or even thought about him. The fact he was so genuinely confused by the evils of the world was what made his existence so very necessary, Nigel thought. What would it be like, he wondered, if all the fucked up shit and the rotten things people do to each other was simply incomprehensible? He'd love to have that kind of perspective, and the closest he was going to get it was with Adam Fucking Raki, who was fast becoming his soul's guardian angel.

"I don't like seeing people hurt, either, darling. Especially not ones who don't deserve it. It upsets me a great deal, too."

Adam sniffed at this and another tear escaped, followed by another on the opposite cheek and Nigel pouted at his little spaceman's sorrow, framing his face into his hands and wiping away his worry as best he could. "But you don't cry," Adam said, and it took every ounce of willpower within Nigel not to kiss Adam's confusion away.

"Oh yes, I do, my darling angel. I cry a whole fucking lot."

 

 

Chapter Text

THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter five

As was common, the next few days of the Verger investigation slowed down in activity while they waited on information from United Main sources and their forensic accounting departments. This was the part Nigel hated, the long waiting game saturated in expectation, leaving him constantly tensed and on high alert for any news. This was the tide of an investigation, Nigel knew, for patience could be rewarded in one of two ways, either they would suddenly have enough evidence to go after Verger's accountant, or the information they'd already gleaned wouldn't hold up under international scrutiny and they'd have to cut their best lead loose . Nigel really hoped the decision hung on the former and not the latter because losing that many man hours to a creep like Verger and not getting anywhere would mean a hell of a reaming from their Subcomisar. If that happened, the investigation was dead in the water and fuck if that wouldn't suck, they'd have to cut their man hours in half thanks to Verger's slippery wriggling out of their scrutiny and hope that the next wave of Omega victims would provide more solid leads. And there were always more victims. That was one rotten inevitability he hated counting on.

The last three days since Adam had moved into his apartment weren't all terrible, however, and Nigel found he was tardy getting into work, enjoying the weird but oddly comforting rituals that were Adam's morning routine. First, there were Adam's arms around his waist as he woke up in bed, his head tucked sweetly against the curve of Nigel's neck, his moist, warm breath tempting the pulse that it found there. Adam had insisted he couldn't sleep without Nigel's presence in the bed with him, and while nothing overtly sexual had happened, Nigel discovered he couldn't resist the temptation of keeping the little spaceman close. Even drifting into sleep had become a comforting ritual, with his head on Adam's stomach as the smaller man balanced his laptop on his knees and explained the complexities of the planets that orbited beyond their selfish, blue sphere. Last night the lesson had been on the Galilean satellites of Jupiter, the four moons that had been discovered in 1609 by Galileo."

"Didn't he get arrested?"

" Yes, he was the scientist nearly executed for daring to say the Earth revolved around the sun."

Nigel closed his eyes, drifting into sleep as Adam stroked his hair, fingers absently combing through and nails gently scraping along his scalp. "So you see, it's not just you, is it, darling? People have been getting in trouble for telling the truth for ages."

The moons had strange, beautiful names, and Nigel's dreams had rolled along vibrant, fiery rings within them; Ganymede. Europa. Callisto. Io. In the darkness of space, Gabi and Charlie watched from afar as Adam pulled him ever closer, his big, eager eyes wide with joy and the colour of moons. Adam had Nigel waking up thinking of Heaven, which made perfect sense because one should never wake up not thinking of stars and moons and planets when in the arms of a fucking gorgeous angel who loved nothing more than to be held. If Nigel's lips brushed Adam's neck once or twice as he was awakening, what the fuck did it matter? His shuddering sighs were delightful to witness, accompanied as they were by that little curl of a smile that teased the corners of Adam's very sweet mouth. That was the hardest part of the morning, other than the one in Nigel's boxer shorts, of course. Resisting a taste of those precious, soft lips was a testament to Nigel's stubborn resolve.

And Adam, ah, his sweet cosmonaut angel, his eyes would flutter open like the wings of a lazy butterfly and once those big blues were on him Nigel could feel himself slip and fall and get hopelessly lost in the vastness of that infinite, complex, beautiful world Adam lived in and fuck if he wasn't up in there too, leaving the black, filthy shit of his life behind. "Good morning, my little spaceman."

"Good morning, Nigel. I'm going to brush my teeth and then make breakfast," Adam said, and Nigel closed his eyes and nodded happily into his pillow. Adam had said the exact same thing every morning, and as he lay there pulling himself onto Adam's side of the bed and stealing the emptied warmth, as had become Nigel's custom, he went through a mental checklist of the precise routine Adam had put into place. Water running and the sound of a toothbrush scraping across white teeth, check. More water as Adam washed his face and hands, check. The sound of a toilet flushing, check. More hand washing, check. Squeaky sound of sink being quickly cleaned, and countertop wiped down, check. Hands washed, under less water this time to keep from wetting the sink again, check. A quick pace out of the bathroom, his outline barely visible as he made his way to the kitchen, check. A saucepan for eggs and a sauce pot for coffee placed on the stove burners, check. The sound of the refrigerator opening, check. There is a pause, and this is different, and Nigel frowns slightly into his pillow, wondering what had stopped Adam from his precise movements, so predictable they were like gears in a clock.

"What's wrong, Adam?" Nigel shouted from the bedroom.

"We're out of ketchup packets," Adam replied.

Nigel sighed and let his head rest easy back on the pillow. "No, my darling, there are some in the drawer, under the one with the cutlery."

Just like that, the clockwork mechanism of Adam's day began again, the drawer quickly opened and shut and then the water running to fill the sauce pot, check. The sizzle of margarine in the sauce pan, check. The sound of a whisk in a metal bow, check. Adam never talked or hummed or played music while he did these tasks, they were automatic and strictly regimented, grounding tools to help him in this new environment, or so he'd explained to Nigel. It suspiciously felt like he was being grateful, this enforced domesticity Adam's version of a prayer of thanks. He could hear Adam take down two very specific plates for the eggs, the ones with the cherry blossom print, check, and two forks were taken out of the top kitchen drawer, check. The fussiness was easy to deal with, and if Nigel really wanted to examine it he'd have to admit that Adam was doing a good job of taking care of him. The past three days had been a bliss of adequate sleep, this breakfast ritual giving him a sense of clarity he hadn't felt in a very long time. He eyed the bottom drawer of his dresser and pressed his lips together in a slight measure of guilt. He hadn't quit smoking of course, though he used the silly little e-cig when he was in the apartment around Adam, the metal cylinder a weird weight against his lips, though he was getting used to it. He smoked his usual cigarettes on the balcony, so the smoke didn't bother Adam. He didn't smoke a pack a day anymore, which was at least some progress. He'd hid the several packs he bought yesterday under the trousers folded up in his bottom dresser drawer. He hoped Adam wouldn't find them.

He waited, breathing in the scent of Adam from his pillow, his consciousness drifting into that intergalactic realm that Adam had so firmly entrenched his dreams in. He nearly fell back asleep when Adam's cheerful voice shouted from the kitchen, announcing with a pride that was always fresh and welcome, "Breakfast is ready!"

Nigel got out of bed, groaning, his joints cracking in places and muscles reluctantly stretched. As he sleepily made his way from the bedroom and down the hall into the kitchen, he had to remark to himself the intense contrast of these several days with Adam against the two years he'd been married to Gabi. There had never been these kinds of mornings, he realized. Most of their good times together involved drinking and sex, which in the beginning was great, usually enjoyed the night before, and the morning was for hangovers and angry recovery. When they fought, which was every damned day by the end of the marriage, it was always when waking, the tone of the day set into cruel barbs delivered by both sides, a seething anger woken up with coffee and fuelled hard with one cigarette after another. He'd been waking up into a fucking battlefield for far too long, Nigel realized. An inner landscape full of burnt out lungs and scorched, black lakes.

He sat at the kitchen nook and Adam presented him with the small plate of scrambled eggs, a fork, a cup of steaming black coffee and a napkin. Check. Adam had the same, except he'd traded the coffee for a glass of milk. His laptop was closed, but waiting, on the clean and otherwise cleared kitchen countertop. He wouldn't open it until after Nigel had left for the precinct because breakfast was a time for conversation and easement into the day, his dad's friend Harlan had taught him this, check.

"I have had several job offers within Romania," Adam said over his glass of milk. He licked off the white moustache it left behind, but a tiny drop remained at the edge of his lips. Nigel reached out and gently wiped it away with his thumb, his heart doing happy flops inside his chest at how that curve uplifted at the corner of Adam's mouth, a brief hint of a smile. Nigel let his fingertips linger at Adam's chin before bringing his hand back to his mug of coffee and sighing into the way the heat was perfect against his palm. Adam took another swig of milk and daintily wiped the residue away with his paper napkin. "I may have a contract position lined up with a Russian toy manufacturing company, they need a programmer to help develop a new product. It will pay me a considerable advance which will solve my financial problems and I can move into an apartment of my own by next week."

Nigel felt a hit to his gut like he'd been sucker punched. He let his fork fall angrily to his plate and glared at Adam. "Why in the fuck would you move out? You don't have to do that, you're fully settled here, you got your spacesuit in the living room and everything." He bit his bottom lip thinking of the weird suit and its heavy construction sitting like a third person in the corner of his living room, a rather creepy, alien insertion looming at them. It felt like a fucking chaperone inspecting his every move on Adam and making him feel like he was being watched, especially when he'd drape his arm over the slighter man's shoulders while they watched DVDs, but he wasn't about to let Adam know this. "What kind of fucking bullshit stupid talk is this? Moving out. Bull fucking shit. Aren't you happy here with me? It's a nice apartment, you said so yourself." A simmering panic was rising within Nigel at the thought of no longer having these pleasant mornings and the soft, warm weight of Adam in his bed, and if he had to hide his smokes and wait to get into the shower a little longer than he was used to, so fucking what? What kind of fucking inconvenience was Nigel causing to this little brat of an angel of his, who was now sitting there in front of him, all blank faced and sipping fucking milk and talking about abandoning him back to the rubble that was his pathetic fuck of a life. Fuck that shit!

"You're upset," Adam observed, and he poked at his scrambled eggs with a half hearted effort, his mouth opening and closing as he tried to inwardly formulate the best answer and constantly coming up empty. "I thought maybe you wanted your apartment back to yourself as soon as possible, this was supposed to be a temporary place for me."

Nigel glared into his fluffy scrambled fucking eggs and began stabbing them angrily with his fork, the metal hitting the ceramic plate in loud pings. "Whatever, Adam. Just do what you fucking think you need, nothing to do with me."

Adam frowned. "Is it what you want me to do?"

"What the fuck does it matter what I want?"

"Nigel." Adam picked at his scrambled eggs, staring into them and refusing to lift his gaze. He didn't eat, just pushed the yellow bits around the plate, smearing them in the small amount of ketchup he'd put in a pile along the edge. "You are very upset with me."

"Like I said, it doesn't fucking matter."

"You are saying that, but I suspect you mean something else. I don't know why you are upset, I thought my getting my own apartment was expected of me."

The coffee tasted bitter and the buttery eggs held no appeal. Fucking honesty, right, that's what works with this guy? No subtle hints, no passive aggressive bullshit. He glanced over his mug at Adam's tense inspection, his shoulders hunched as he waited for Nigel to respond. Nigel closed his eyes and sighed, and fuck, why did the truth always feel so damned difficult to express? "I like having you here, Adam. I barely use this place anyway, this week is the most I've ever lived in it. You don't need to leave, I like your company." He turned away from Adam, suddenly infected with the smaller man's inability to face him eye to eye. "Maybe it's my companionship you don't like. I don't blame you, I can be a fucking asshole."

Adam's head shot up. "Oh, no, Nigel, that's not true at all!" His head shook at the perceived misunderstanding. "Please don't be angry with me, Nigel. I would very much prefer to stay here, I feel safe and your company is very comforting to me. I was just worried that my presence here in your life has been disruptive, and I know that my routines can be very daunting. As you have made clear since our meeting, you have a significant amount of stress in your life and I didn't want to add to your burdens."

"You are a lot of things, Adam, but a burden isn't one of them." His initial anger gradually morphed into a feeling of such intense fondness it took a great amount of self control not to wrap his little spaceman up in his arms and kiss away that delightful wrinkle of skin between his eyes. Seriously, how was it humanly possible a frown could be that fucking cute? "For someone as smart as you it's pretty damned annoying you can't see how much I enjoy having you around. Breakfasts, a nice warm bed at night, pretty lectures about your home in Heaven, what's not to like?"

"I talk about space," Adam corrected him, annoyed, and Nigel couldn't help but grin at him. "Okay," he said, finally. "I'll stay here."

The mood between them was much lighter now, and Nigel was happy that Adam had changed his mind, it was nice having him here and he'd be damned if he was going to let that kind of positivity just wander out his front door and out of his life like a fading star that had died millions of years ago and he'd only just noticed its light was missing.

"Nigel," Adam said, and his voice was small, expectant. He glanced up at Nigel, meeting his eyes ever so briefly and sending that tiny thrill of a spark between them that made Nigel's body shiver in sensual high alert. "Are we in a relationship?"

Nigel pursed his lips over his coffee, blowing on it before taking a sip of the hot, black liquid. He glanced over the rim at Adam, who was very heavily concentrating on his now empty plate. "Maybe. I don't know. I like how things are, don't you?"

"Yes," Adam said, and he blushed and smiled and Nigel's heart did flip flops and fuck if it all wasn't just perfect. "I guess this is what they mean by 'taking things slow'. Harlan talked to me about that. Is that what's happening right now, between us?"

Nigel's happiness faltered just a tiny bit at this, and he had to inspect what Adam was suggesting carefully, and with a slow realization hitting him he knew that yes, Adam's perception of what was going on was exactly on the mark, and wasn't that some kind of miracle all on its own. "Well, fuck me, my little spaceman, you might be right."

"I'm an Omega and you are an Alpha," Adam said, shrugging. He picked up both their empty plates and brought them to the sink, his back turned to Nigel. "It is perfectly natural for us to feel this way, though the nature of compatibility is yet to be established. I like you very much, Nigel. Should our relationship progress beyond certain boundaries, I will not be resistant to it."

Nigel swallowed his coffee, hoping Adam didn't notice the red blush he could feel rolling along the back of his neck, or the sudden sensation of arousal working its way through his groin. "I'll keep that in mind," Nigel said, and Adam seemed happily satisfied with this answer.

Adam gave him a wide smile as he rinsed the dirty dishes off in the sink and set them on a dishtowel he'd placed on the countertop next to it to air dry. His steps were light as he passed Nigel and placed a feathery touch on the inspector's shoulder. "I'm going to take a shower."

Adam's fleeting ghost of a kiss meeting Nigel's lips before he headed back down the hall. Check.

~*~
Nigel was feeling damned good when he got out of the shower, so much so that he didn't even try to hide his near nakedness from Adam as he damply padded back into the bedroom, a bath sheet wrapped around his waist. Adam didn't look up from his computer screen as he sat cross legged on the surface of the neatly rearranged bed covers, the laptop balanced on his knees. He was watching some crappy romantic comedy from the European Union made in the early nineties, the cheap costumes and poor production values not bothering Adam in the least as he repeated each line, careful to borrow the emotional nuances. He had told Nigel that he used this movie as a method to help him with social interaction because he had been accused in the past of sounding like a robot. He added that this was why he liked watching The Walking Dead, because the highly emotional scenes were an excellent study of expressions during times of crisis. Watching Chief Superintendent Rick Grimes's tortured woe as he hacked away at the dead through the decaying streets of London in a vain attempt to find his family was also a safe way to explore those emotions. Nigel told him he probably wasn't the only one who watched it for that reason.

Nigel rummaged through his top drawer, dragging out underwear and socks and tossing them on top of the dresser as he leaned down and picked out a pair of trousers from his bottom drawer, surreptitiously tucking a pack of smokes into the back pocket as he did so. "Another day indoors, my little spaceman? Your eyes are going to burn out looking at that screen all day."

Adam frowned at this. "That's not going to happen." He glanced over at Nigel just as he discarded the bath sheet and hung it over the edge of the bed and began getting dressed, quickly averting his eyes, his neck blushing furiously. His sudden shyness made Nigel chuckle. He'd been so open in his talk about sex and yet the sight of someone naked in front of him freaked him out. "You should go outside, get some fresh air. Take a walk around the neighbourhood, just don't go into the parking lot that's where the gangs hang out, there and out the back where the children's park is. Don't go there. But go for a walk down to the store, maybe pick up ketchup and some more eggs, it will do you good to get out,darling, human beings aren't made to be sitting in front of fucking screens all damned day, no matter how productive you are when you do it." Nigel's cell phone rang and he opened his bedroom closet door as he answered it, and blindly grabbed the first shirt his hand fell on. "Yeah, Darko, I'm on my way, it's not like I'm going to get that overtime they fucking owe me so quit bitching that I'm late."

Darko growled on the other end, and cursed loudly. "We got a goddamned development, Nigel and it's an ugly one. Our boys you had parked at the loading dock just sent word that the owner of the warehouse we've been staking out has put out a notice of non-payment. There hasn't been any movement of the goods to or from the warehouse from what we can see and the warehouse has been chained closed since before last week. We've told the owner not to open it until our crew is there to make sure nothing rotten springs out, and we're waiting on the snipers just in case there's Verger Corporation muscle hanging around. The owner says Verger's accountant is supposed to stop by at noon to check on why the payment hasn't gone through and to maybe cut a cheque. I say we put a team in place and strike while that transaction goes down. The warehouse owner originally contacted the drug trafficking brigade and they were the ones who jumped departments to let us know. This whole thing isn't sitting good in my gut, Nigel. There's something really wrong here."

Fuck no, it wasn't right, and Nigel felt something sick worm its way though his stomach, his nerves tingling with an edgy sensation he couldn't shake. It didn't make sense for the warehouse not to be paid, and Nigel had to wonder if maybe they were staking out the wrong building, another waste of man hours he was going to have to explain. But that still didn't make sense, it was clearly being utilized by the Verger Corporation, and though it seemed to be sitting empty it was definitely poised to be housing something sketchy. It wasn't like Mason to not pay a bill and draw attention to himself like this. The fucking creep kept his accounts in order, it was the easiest way to hide.

Nigel slid on his pants, buttoning and zipping up with one hand as he talked to Darko, his long arms diving into an ugly bowling shirt with pineapples dotting its black surface. "I like the idea of surprising the accountant, but we can't afford to have him assassinated by Verger's men if we're sloppy during the take down. Let him think he ironed out the problem with the warehouse owner and then we'll take him while he makes his leave. The team knows the layout of the place, we've gone over this all week, so there's no fucking big surprise, we get in when the warehouse owner nods and we take him down after we've scouted out the high points where Verger's sharpshooters might be hiding. No fucking casualties, got it?"

Darko let out a low whistle at this, clearly upset with the whole thing. "That is a lot of fucking crazy set up for an empty warehouse, Nigel."

"It's what we have to do, I can fucking feel it right into my goddamned DNA. If it's for nothing, Subcomisar Goreck can ream my ass for it, so don't lose any beauty sleep. I'll be there in less than an hour." He hung up his cell and tossed it onto the surface of the bed, near Adam's stockinged feet, the blue argyle a sharp contrast against the beige coverlet. Nigel buttoned up his shirt and after snatching up his phone and pocketing it, he sat at the edge of the bed, close to Adam's waist and leaned over his laptop with a raised brow.

"Black holes," Adam said, not looking up. "They are created by supernova explosions where the force of gravity is too strong thanks to an excess of matter, preventing the ability of a neutron star to form. The star then collapses in on itself and a black hole is formed, which has a massive gravitational pull, sucking all surrounding mass within it. Not even light can escape it."

"Pretty fucking scary," Nigel observed, and Adam silently nodded his agreement. He leaned on one elbow closer to Adam, the mattress depressed slightly beneath his weight. "I'm going to go to work. Don't go wandering too far around Bucharest, I would hate for you to get lost, and Verger's men are still out there. I doubt they know you are with me, you are probably safe, for the most part, in this shitty neighbourhood. If someone asks, you tell them Nigel Ionescu is your boyfriend, okay?"

"Okay," Adam said, and gently smiled at this. "I won't have any problem saying that because you *are* my boyfriend."

Nigel wasn't sure how to respond to this, especially since they had been fucking sleeping together all damned week, even if he didn't get his rocks off. He stared at Adam's expression of deep concentration, his wonderful head so full of intergalactic danger the ones on Earth barely mattered. Nigel traced a long finger down the length of Adam's cheek and Adam's attention was momentarily distracted.

"Can I kiss you, Adam?"

Adam frowned a little at this, so pretty the way his brow pinched. "Why?"

"Because I'm going to have a very bad day and I think I could use something nice to remember while I'm up to my neck in shit."

Adam shrugged at this, disbelieving him. "How do you know it's a bad day? It's barely started. But I don't mind kissing you. In fact, I would like that." He lifted his head up from his laptop his gaze startling everywhere in a halo around Nigel's face, meeting his eyes only fleetingly before he blushed and quickly focused on Nigel's shoulder instead. Oh, how sweet was that mouth, parting ever so slightly as Nigel leaned in, Adam's body tense and expectant and making Nigel feel, ridiculous as it was, like some fucking prince in a shit piss dorky Disney movie breaking an evil spell. Capturing Adam's lips with his own felt so damned fucking gorgeous, his heart leaping into the heat of it, and at that moment he knew what a fucking black hole was, because Adam's delightful, *heavenly* fucking mouth was sucking him deep into its core, destroying every last shred of Nigel's ability to tell his little spaceman 'no', all his pain and his worry and the rot of his life just plain *gone*. Dammit, was that Adam's sweet tongue sliding against his, tasting his teeth, that soft angel's mouth opening wider to take more of him in? Fuck, oh fuck, this was too delicious, this was a fucking disaster, shitfuckdammitfuck, he was going to cum if they kept kissing like this, and it was so good. *So* good.

He broke free through some wilful miracle and forced himself away, breathless and feeling slightly feverish. Dammit, he'd never reacted like that before, they were just *kissing* for fuck's sake. He pulled himself into a semblance of edgy decorum and managed to gently wave good-bye.

"Have a good day at work," Adam replied, his voice monotone, automatic.

Well, fuck, with all those fucking exploding stars rolling around in his body and his head and heart what choice did have now?

~*~
"How many does that make?"

"Seven casualties in all. The remaining thirteen here in hospital have mostly been stabilized, but there's two who are still in critical condition in the ICU and the doctors have said they might not last the night, they're too dehydrated and malnourished, their organs are shutting down. Fuck, Nigel, this is fucking crazy shit, just what the fuck!"

Darko howled in frustration and punched the wall of the hospital corridor, hard enough to leave a dent in the plaster. His hand was bloody when he pulled it back. At least they were in the right place to get him bandaged up. Nigel, for his part, could still feel the blood coursing down his face and into his mouth, his fractured nose running like a tap, the blood in his mouth seeping out and trickling down his neck. He didn't dare look at his face in a mirror, he was sure the sons of bitches who were Verger's henchmen had done their job turning him into fucking hamburger.

They thought they were taking down the accountant and bringing him into custody, not operating a goddamned rescue mission. They'd shown up with plenty of muscle, and a good hit on the two sharpshooters waiting on the roof of the warehouse. Taking them out had been easy and when Nigel gave the shout to go after the accountant, the guy barely had anywhere to run. He was breathless and talking about needing his United Main lawyer and that he wasn't saying anything, he didn't know a thing, and the fucker clammed up in the back of a chester's cruiser and started reciting international trade law. Nigel gave him a kick in the stomach for good measure and then, the pivotal point came. He turned to the warehouse owner and demanded he cut open the locks and open the fucking doors, fuck you very much.

Of course, the warehouse was empty, Nigel expected as much, but there was a scent lingering in the air that was getting more potent the more he went into one specific corner and it wasn't entirely Omega in origin.

"The fuck is that stink?" Darko had said, wrinkling his nose and keeping his hand on his glock, a motion that had Nigel also reaching for his piece. Being Alphas they had more sensitive noses than their Beta counterparts, and Nigel let his do the sleuthing, the reek of Omega and that ever unpleasant fear mixed with sex mixed with death. His heart sank at that and he quickly spoke into his earpiece to the rest of his team waiting outside of the warehouse. "Get an ambulance out here, and the coroner, cover all our bases. I'm smelling some serious shit around here."

The warehouse was silent, and both Nigel and Darko began inspecting the walls, which were made of corrugated aluminium and weren't exactly ideal when it came to hiding contraband goods, or the shadows of moving Omegas behind them. There had to be a secret spot hidden away in here, and it was when Nigel was kicking at the dirt, following the strengthening scent of death, that he found the outline to the trap door. Darko near exclaimed over it, and Nigel pressed a finger tight against his lips, ordering him to keep his fucking mouth shut. With his glock poised and ready, he reached towards the seam of the trap door that had been buried under a scant inch of dirt.

Two massive brutes suddenly erupted out of it, the corner of the door smacking against Nigel's nose and sending him reeling, his glock knocked out of his hand. He was tackled to the ground while the second bastard lunged for Darko, who pistol whipped him, getting in a few good hard punches before sending a fatal bullet through the middle of his skull and dropping him right quick. The guy's partner in crime tried to make a break for it, and Nigel pursued him, tackling him at the back end of the warehouse and earning a few good kicks and punches into his side and abdomen. He was a hell of a big guy, twice the size of Nigel and Darko combined and made of nothing but muscles and bone. What blows Nigel managed to inflict were shaken off and significantly more powerful ones were slammed against Nigel's back.

Nigel collapsed and the son of a bitch was getting ready to give him a fatal body slam to his skull, his boot about to crush him, when a bullet whizzed through the air and hit him flat in the centre of his forehead, a twin injury to his crony who was still dead at Darko's feet. Darko's aim was unwavering, and he kicked Nigel's glock towards him, keeping his own weapon out and ready. "You fucking dropped your gun, you asshole? Are you fucking kidding me?"

Nigel coughed up a pint of blood as he stood up, forcing himself not to sway as a wave of dizziness hit him. The stench of death was overpowering now, and Nigel wasn't sure what was worse, the fact he was swallowing a good portion of his own blood or that he was undoubtedly approaching the same condition as the corpse lurking under the ground. Every portion of his body ached, and he knew he'd suffered some broken ribs, that guy's hands had been the size of boxing gloves.

"Aceasta este politia! Aven dreptul de a trage pentru a ucide!" Then, switching to English in case the sons of bitches were United Main punters and needed the heads up, "This is the police! You are on Eastern Union soil, we have the right to shoot to kill!"

A soft whine met this and, frowning, Nigel hesitated as he stood at the edge of the opened trap door, unsure of whether or not he really did want to go down those crudely constructed metal stairs leading into what was clearly a hastily manufactured trafficking cavern. He leaned closer and could hear the damp drip of water seeping into the underground space, and the stench of death nearly knocked him over. Darko stood beside his crouched form, the back of his hand pressed tight against his mouth.

"That's fucking foul, man." Darko gave Nigel a knowing look. "We got a graveyard here? Should I call in homicide?"

But the tiny whine increased in tempo and was joined by another and, admittedly fearful of what he was going to find, Nigel swung his legs over the edge of the opening and began the descent. The iron rungs were imperfectly shoved into the dirt, and some were falling off. He had to be careful not to fall, though it would be a small drop, only about seven feet.

When he found firm ground, he took out his cigarette lighter and lit up the black gloom into an orange brilliance.

"Inspector Nigel Ionescu?"

Nigel shivered where he had collapsed in the blue plastic chair in the hospital emergency room, dried blood flaking off his hand as he shakily brought it over his face. The horror of what he'd seen in that cavern couldn't quite make it into his present reality, and if there were black holes out there, it had to be a merciful thing sometimes to be swallowed up by one.

He looked up at the concerned face staring down at him, a pleasant, plump woman of African roots, the stethoscope draped around her neck telling him she was a doctor. She kept her grip tight on her clipboard and stood back from him, her brow furrowed into a deep frown as she visually assessed his condition.

"Yeah, that's me."

"My name is Doctor Ella Torus. The Omegas your team brought in are in no condition to answer questions, you do understand this. Several of them were very close to death when you found them. It's my professional opinion that your investigation is going to have to wait at least a few days until we can determine what drugs were pumped into them and just how advanced their malnourishment and dehydration is. I can tell you from my initial findings they are not in good shape. One of the first admitted into ICU has already succumbed to starvation." She gave Nigel another once over, and bid him to raise his head with a nudge from the tip of her pen. He really was too much of a mess to touch. "You need to be checked in yourself, we need to assess your injuries."

"I'm fucking fine," Nigel barked, and he woozily stood to his feet to prove it. He saw Darko storming back down the hall, his injured hand bandaged, and Nigel weakly waved him over. All he could smell was soured blood and death. "Tell me you got that bastard accountant in ironclad custody."

"He's not going anywhere," Darko promised. "Not a peep from the Verger lawyers, and he can't get a hold of Mason. The son of a bitch is out of friends. The two goons who attacked us, according to one of the Omegas, they were on the scene just before the accountant arrived. They'd been chained up in that damp hole for nearly two weeks and no one went in to feed them or check on them. It's fucking weird, Nigel, this isn't how Mason Verger usually works, he's got his hands all over every piece of his operation and he wouldn't let drop the ball like this, this is a lot of money he just let go to rot."

Nigel winced at the analogy, thinking on the corpse he'd accidentally stood on as he made his way into the underground bunker, the stench of waste and decay and terror lingering still in every pore of his body. "What's the body count?"

"Twenty in total. Seven dead at the scene."

"One more so make it eight. She died in ICU just now."

"Fuck this shit, Nigel. Fuck everything about this."

"Don't punch another fucking wall, you idiot, I don't have the money to cover the damage."

Dr. Torus aimed to find a reasonable person in Darko, and hell, if that wasn't barking up the wrong tree. "You need to convince Inspector Ionescu that he can't leave the hospital. We want to keep him overnight for observation, he has some serious lacerations, a broken nose and there is the possibility of internal injuries."

"I'm going home," Nigel announced.

Darko gave Dr. Torus's frustrated glare a helpless shrug. "Look, how easy is it for you to tell *your* boss what to do?"

"At the very least if he starts showing signs of distress you're bring him back to emergency." Dr. Torus cornered Darko, refusing to let him leave until he gave her an answer.

"Yeah. I'll drag his sorry ass back here."

"Good."

She marched away from them, though it was clear she didn't want to, and Nigel had to hand it to her, it wasn't easy being the tough doctor on the block dealing with belligerent, stupid ass patients like himself. "Fucking pushy Betas," Nigel said, shaking his head and Darko sadly laughed in agreement at this.

"Nothing like what you got waiting for you at home, my friend, you'd better brace yourself."

Nigel could feel chunks of clotted blood going down the back of his throat and he fought the urge to gag. "The fuck you talking about?"

"That little spaceman of yours is going to be real upset with you, Nigel. He'll have all kinds of facts as to why you should have stayed at the hospital and he's going to be real mad that you never called him and let him know what happened. I bet you twenty leu he's got a now cold dinner waiting for you and he's been sweating and pacing a hole in the floor wondering why you're not home. Hope you can make it up to him and good, my friend. You're not one of his stars right now, you're so far from fucking heaven you're a bullet in the devil's asshole."

~*~

"Why did you leave the hospital!"

Was there anything more unbearable than Adam's big, fat blue eyes brimming with tears and knowing he was the miserable cause of it? Right now, Nigel was sure there wasn't. He should have at least made an attempt to clean himself up before he headed home, but he was so fucking tired and bruised, the aches coursing through every measure of his soul, and damn if it all wasn't one big black maw just waiting to swallow him up. By the time he made it to the apartment and opened the front door, Adam had leapt from his seat in the kitchen to greet him, his face crumbling like a fragile teacup smashed hard against concrete. He'd howled and wrung his hands and hugged himself and rocked at Nigel's appearance, and Nigel had gently eased his way into the apartment, his mouth barely able to form words.

"Hello, my angel."

The interrogation had begun at that moment, Adam demanding to know what happened and Nigel gave him the highly edited notes, information that the news reporters on the scene would be spewing out over the next couple of weeks. That they'd found the Omegas being trafficked and it was clear they hadn't been at the club for a while, and were holed up in an underground bunker in a warehouse for the past two weeks. He'd had to fight his way past a couple of Verger's henchmen, but they were dead and sadly so were some of the Omegas and they got that slimy fuck of an accountant in custody and holy shit, he was feeling dizzy, couldn't he just sit down here on the fucking couch for a while and try and catch his breath? Then Adam did exactly what Darko promised he would do, he started listing all the reasons why Nigel should never have left the hospital, all in a startling, rolling detail that would have made Dr. Torus proud.

"Well you're home now, so we have to make the best of it," Adam said, and he sniffed loudly, his tender jaw set in a determination that made him look like an angry kitten. "I went out and obtained ingredients for dinner and I made a traditional Romanian dish called sarmale, which looks exactly like cabbage rolls and I don't particularly like cabbage rolls, but I made them because I thought you might like them because they are a type of food you might be familiar with and..." Adam trailed off, choking on his tears again, wringing his hands so hard he was at risk of tearing his damned fingers off.

Nigel found it difficult to keep Adam in focus. Dried blood shaved off of him in flakes and he fought the urge to be sick. His poor little angel, so traumatized and scared and it was all his fucking fault.
"I'm sorry my little spaceman," Nigel said, pouting his self admonishment with a decided moue of agreement. "I'm a shit boyfriend."

Adam's tears faltered at this and he sniffed loudly, his head cocking to one side then the other, mentally doing his usual checks and balances and seeing where Nigel showed up on his inner graph. "No, you're just very foolish for not staying in the hospital and for not getting someone to call me and let me know you were okay. Dinner is cold and you don't look like you are very hungry right now, I know I wouldn't be if I was...If I was covered in blood. So, I'm going to go the bathroom and I'm going to draw you a hot bath and I think that will help." Adam nodded, more to himself than to Nigel. "Yes, that is a good course of action. I will do that."

~*~

How was it that this person who had such a remote understanding of how things were supposed to be knew exactly the right methods to make Nigel feel better? He contemplated this as he sank further in the tub, the vanilla scented bubbles piled high around him, the water deliciously hot and easing all the aches out of his fractured bones and bruised skin. Adam had propped an iPod behind the taps in the bathroom sink and soft classical music wafted through the small bathing room. He'd lit several scented candles and created a quiet, spa like ambiance within the tiny space, and as if this wasn't enough he had gone so far as to use the shower head to wash Nigel's hair, the warm water a soothing balm against his scalp and washing away the scabs of blood smearing it.

Nigel grinned and propped his neck at a better angle beneath the rolled up towel Adam had given him as a bath pillow. "This is definitely better than staying in the hospital, my little angel spaceman."

"It was still a bad choice to leave, but you do look much better now that you are cleaned up. That does not mean you do not have serious injuries, however, and I will be monitoring you carefully for concussions and internal bleeding and the possibility of infection and ensuing sepsis."

Nigel placed a wet hand on Adam's wrist, halting him from rinsing his hair with the shower head. "Do you know what I need right now, my angel? I'm sure it will cure me of all that ails me, right away."

Adam turned off the shower head and then carefully re-attached on the hook near the ceiling of the bath. He crouched back down beside Nigel, his expression one of intense concentration. "Do you need whiskey or a cigarette? They are comforting measures but they will not cure you, in fact they will impede your healing progress."

"Oh no, none of those things, darling. What I need is so much more fucking important than that shit, that crap doesn't compare, not even a little."

Adam remained blank. His shoulders shook as he momentarily met Nigel's gaze and quickly looked away. "What is it?"

Nigel's smile spread into a crooked grin, one that he hoped pulled Adam directly into it. "I need a kiss, darling. Maybe more than one, seeing as how badly beat up I am. I may need a fucking overdose of them, I hope you have some ready to give me."

Adam blushed and damn if he didn't *giggle* and it was the most delightful, sweet, precious thing Nigel had ever heard and fuck he was getting hard underneath these bubbles, better not let him know that or things would get weird. Not that it wouldn't be fantastic, it was just..he was doing that whole 'take it slow' thing, and kissing wasn't so bad, it was a pleasant stepping stone, a little practise note before the big symphony.

"Kissing you is not going to facilitate rapid healing," Adam said, and he was grinning.

"You're very wrong about that, darling, they will make me feel much better."

Adam shyly smiled before he nuzzled Nigel's neck and gave it tiny, uncertain nips with his teeth. He pressed his lips over every bruise he found lining Nigel's jaw and taking especial care to be light on Nigel's split lip, tender little endearments put at the big gash on the bridge of his nose. As Adam continued, as thorough as ever, Nigel could feel it, the madness swelling up deep from that place inside of him that started pushing away all sense of reason, his heart singing as it did a pirouette within his chest and demanded it be heard above all else. He opened his lips against Adam's, seeking to explore that pleasant little planet that was Adam Fucking Raki and dammit, fuck it all to hell, he was in love. Inspector Nigel Ionescu, fucking jackass, was in over his head through that big black hole and out of the reach of time and space, well past the Orion constellation and hurtling headlong into deep space. He was in love, a supernova kind of love. Fucking exploding nuclear neutrinos birthing suns. Oh shit, he was so in love. Every galaxy was full of stars and every star was Adam in his beautiful world and yes, kiss there, darling, kiss me right there, and you are my universe, my little spaceman, you are my every fucking thing.

 

Chapter Text

THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter six

Gregory Masters is a fucking slimy asshole who is about one notch above a mangy wet field rat and looks like he was the runt of the litter. Nigel had to hand it to Mason Verger, he sure knew how to pick his team members, and it was clear that Gregory was one of his major players. As an accountant for the Verger Corporation, Gregory had access to all of its funds, and his job was specifically outlined to be one that managed 'accessory' purchases, which were in actuality the buying and selling of captured Omegas. He sat across Nigel and Darko in sweaty worry and it was clear that it wasn't going to take much by way of threats to get the bastard to start singing every song he'd ever heard.

"I'm invoking international protection law, Section 1, article 5, in which I am assured the benefit of the doubt and legal council in accordance to international treatises with the United Main and all other Union regions..."

Darko laughed at this, and he crossed his arms as he leaned back in his seat and gave Nigel behind him a knowing grin. Nigel was standing in the corner, staring Masters down with as much threat as he could muster. He knew that his battered face was more frightening than pathetic, he gave off the air of a man just itching to be provoked so he could add some bruises of his own onto his prey.

"How about that, Nigel, this creep thinks he knows what he's talking about. Let me educate you, you snotty little fuck--That law was nullified in 2006 due to the United Main's repeated rejection of it and the unlawful arrest of Eastern Union region citizens by your GSF. Arrested citizens of the United Main are treated as hostile in the Eastern Union, you do not have rights here. Any other fucking legal lessons you need to learn on the fly, Mr. Masters? How about the fact we caught you at that warehouse red handed, your involvement in the death of eight Omegas is obvious, and you're looking at life in a Russian Siberian gulag without the wasted time of a trial."

Masters looked stricken at this. "The crime happened on Romanian soil."

"Doesn't matter," Darko said, and he pursed his lips at satisfaction at this. "Omega trafficking crimes are immediately sent to be processed in Moscow and punishments are metered out from there, Romania is just a go-between. We're all part of the same package, so don't go thinking you're going to slide past this one or that anyone is going to bail you out of trouble. Mason Verger is abandoning his projects, and I'm guessing you're one of them."

Gregory Masters was shocked at this, and he clenched his fists on the surface of the table between himself and the two Romanian inspectors, clearly carefully weighing in his mind just how much did he want to play along. Nigel wasn't an especially patient man with creeps like this and as far as he was concerned Masters getting accidentally murdered in custody wouldn't be such a bad outcome. The memory of the dying and dead Omegas were still furiously fresh in Nigel's mind, and the bruises on his body were smarting reminders of just how brutal this fucking business really was.

Masters wiped at his pale mouth, his other, cuffed hand following the gesture. "Verger is in some serious trouble with the FBI," Masters revealed and both Nigel and Darko exchanged curious looks.

"We know he's a sick fuck pedophile you stupid shitdick, you aren't telling us anything new." Nigel shook a cigarette out of his pack and eyed the accountant with a specific predator gleam. He lit his smoke and inhaled it with deep breaths, eyeing the amber end of his cigarette as he talked. "What we want to know is how much more is that fucker hiding? You know, you don't strike me as a man who has much going for him in the soul department, but you know enough to take care of your own interests. Are there more warehouses out there like the ones we found yesterday?"

Masters shook his head, his bottom lip quivering with sweat. "I don't know."

Nigel nodded at this, stringy lines of blond hair hanging in front of his face as he took another drag of his smoke. "Tell me something," he said, around his cigarette. He pulled it from his lips and again contemplated its fiery tip. "Are you an alto or a soprano?"

Masters gave him an odd look. "What kind of question is that? Is this some kind of joke?"

And it was then that Nigel leaned down, Darko pushing his chair aside to allow Nigel better access, and he put out his cigarette in the side of Masters' neck. The accountant shrieked in terror and pain, the stench of his salty, sweaty flesh sizzling beneath it wafting up into his nostrils, making him as pale as one of those Omega corpses Nigel had to help dig up out of the muck of the wet underground cell. Nigel put his cigarette to his lips and lit it anew before he took another drag, this time placing the amber tip dangerously close to Masters' watery right eye. "Just as I thought, soprano. You don't have a dick big enough to be alto. I think my associate here was pretty clear about what can happen, Mr. Masters. As a prisoner of United Main background, you have no rights on our soil. So here's what can happen. You can tell us where the other Omegas are, and how many pieces of pie that fucker Mason Verger has hidden around here. You know how it is, it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye."

Sweat pooled down the length of Masters' neck and he flinched as it coursed across the ugly, blistering skin where Nigel had burned him. He trembled where he sat, staring in horror at the two officers who were glaring down at him, as eager as hungry tigers ready to partake of a meal. The cotton collar of Masters' starched shirt was soaked, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down in his throat like a dry stone rasping against slate. "There was a shipment last night, it had been bought and paid for ages ago, but I have no idea what warehouses in the United Main they were heading for, other than that they were docking in the Baltimore area." He flinched as the cigarette Nigel held hovered closer to his eye, the burning end moving forward with him the more he tried to lean back away from it. "I can give you a bonus tip right now. If want Verger's home movies those are at the club. I can give you those." Masters nodded fiercely at this, snatching onto the questioning look that Darko gave Nigel. "They're VHS tapes, they're pretty old, but Mason was using them as insurance in case McBain ever tried to cross him. He moved them to the club here in Bucharest when the bodies started showing up on his main property at Muskrat Farm."

Nigel kept his cigarette hovering close, the ash brushing against Masters' eyelid. "What fucking bodies?"

Masters blinked, ashes spilling onto his cheek, and then catching Nigel's quizzical gaze he began to laugh. "You don't know about that? The Chesapeake Ripper singled Mason out, he left two mutilated bodies of Mason and Jeb McBain's associates strung up amongst the pigs. It was all over the news in the entirety of the United Main, you people really need to start keeping up on what's going on around there. They originally thought he was a serial killer, but with the way Jeb McBain was assassinated, they've bumped him up to domestic terrorist. They think he's running some kind of Omega based cult."

"These tapes," Darko said, his fingers steepled and gently pressed against his thin lips. "Where can we find them in the club?"

"Behind the bar, there's a safe. They're in there. Mason never thought anyone would care enough about shipped Omegas to go looking. He always paid his bills. It makes me wonder if it's finally happened."

Nigel narrowed his eyes at this, the cigarette tip hovering in a circle close to Masters' watery grey retina. "What do you mean?"

Masters laughed again and this time the threat of Nigel's cigarette tip did nothing to alleviate the sudden, renewed terror that erupted throughout Masters' being. "The Chesapeake Ripper got him and he'll be coming after the rest of Mason's inner circle. He's got me on that list. I can't wait to get to that Russian gulag, even if I die along the way. Anything is better than getting into that monster's clutches. Death. Prison. Those are reprieves." He laughed as Nigel leaned away from him and stood up, his cigarette now dangling loosely at his lips. Nigel was getting real sick of Masters' shit. Masters stared up at Nigel in antagonizing triumph. "You're not immune. You're asking too many questions, you're on his radar now. You're just as fucked as the rest of us."

~*~

Nigel spent three hours going over old Chesapeake Ripper news articles and editorial speculation over the killer's identity. He requested and had the FBI file on him faxed over to him and the file was so fat it damn near killed the ink in the printer. The main investigators were an FBI agent by the name of Jack Crawford and a profiler with a highly familiar name and an uncomfortable connection. Nigel didn't like that Will Graham, Adam's cousin, was so prominent in the notes of the investigation, the profiler's strange descriptions of the crime scenes not just overly detailed but betraying a latent admiration within his choice of words that Nigel found disturbing. There was no room for ethical polemics in homicide investigations and yet Will Graham's flowery language permeated everything he'd witnessed.

'The Chesapeake Ripper moves with the stealth of a deer, masked into the background and seemingly benign. McDermott's body is the instrument by which his artistry is displayed, the body cavity filled with pig hearts as a symbolic gesture of what the victim's human heart was comprised of. A sacrifice to his brethren, to the snarling boars at his feet. This was an Alpha, and as such was mired in his base urges, his soul reduced to cruel unthinking rut. The Ripper has pushed the boundary of punishment and created a tableau of suffering that is to make all who understand its message shiver in despair. This is not the battle cry of a general, this is the warning of a goddess. He is her conduit. Her subjects are empowered by this symbol of her strength...'

What kind of fucking bullshit was this to be putting in a homicide file, this was about a murder not a fucking poetry essay! Fucking moron, it's no wonder they never caught the Ripper with this kind of shit unnecessarily padding up the file. Unfortunately, Will Graham's name was all over most of the notes and Nigel was having a hell of time trying to decipher the convoluted, abstract mess that was his thought process, not the least of which was further complicated by the overly academic observations of the psychiatrist on scene, Dr. Hannibal Lecter:

'...Will Graham's astute observations as to the nature of the Chesapeake Ripper entirely encapsulate the problem of dividing the nature of Alpha ego from its intrinsic need to destroy. I would add to Mr. Graham's assessment that the grandiose display of the Ripper's work is one of carefully constructed layers, not the least of which is a smaller message hidden deep within the body, hiding behind the noise of pigs where the fluttering beat of a wren's heart encourages the viewer--in this case, apparently, Mr. Graham himself--to extract a message that is highly personal. The plea is obvious, the Ripper says this tiny heart is what I have expected you to seek and find. The question it commands is such--Do you dare to listen to my song?''

Nigel tossed the note to one side in angry impatience. For fuck's sake, it was no wonder the two of them started fucking each other, they both spoke the same incomprehensible language, fucking never saying what they mean and god forbid a plainly open thought pass between them. Nigel snatched at his smokes and angrily placed a cancer stick between his lips, not lighting it and hoping he could just let it sit there for a while and he could glean the nicotine he craved out of the filter alone. He didn't want to smoke just before going home, he was supposed to be cutting down and he'd burned through an entire pack already. He sighed, the cigarette lazily stuck to his bottom lip as he took in the reams of paper and copies of crime scene photos from Muskrat Farm that had told him nothing. There was a contact number for Will Graham in the upper corner of one of the reports and though it was a long shot, Nigel wondered if talking to the obtuse son of a bitch would be easier than reading his purple prose.

He picked up his phone and started dialling. He checked the time on his watch. Six o'clock. Adam was expecting him home by eight. He wondered what the time difference was between Baltimore, Maryland and Bucharest, Romania. Probably a good chunk of time, come to think of it, and this was confirmed by the sleepy voice that groggily answered the phone on the third ring, the sound of a wailing baby erupting in the background.

"H-Hello...?"

"Yeah, is this Will Graham?"

He could hear an exhausted voice, heavily accented, close to Will, and probably sharing a pillow if the huffed squeak of a bedspring was any indication. "Will, who is it calling us at this hour? They woke the baby, tell them this intrusion is not appreciated." But the infant's startled wailing was quickly reduced to soothed cooing and Will Graham, for that's who it had to be, cleared his throat to speak, only to be interrupted again, this time by a far more alert and angrier partner. "Why is there a dog biscuit in her cradle? Are you giving them to her again? I don't care if you think they are good for teething, they are terribly inappropriate. Really, my dear Will, what were you thinking?"

"They aren't dog biscuits," the long suffering, groggy voice on the other end of the phone replied. "They're Num-Num Bars, they're made especially for teething, I gave her one last night, I thought she finished it."

"They smell and look disgusting, you're absolutely sure you didn't get these in the pet food aisle? She's covered in slimy crumbs, William, seriously, what a mess." The foreign voice descended into baby talk. "That's right my little precious, your daddy thinks moldy cookies are appropriate for his little princess. Maybe he needs a reminder of what it's like to be in the dog house since he is so determinedly canine around you."

"You lock me in that shed again and so help me...!" Will cursed and the cell phone was dropped and then picked up again. "This is Will Graham. Who are you?"

Nigel fought to keep the expletives out of his voice and sound more professional, no point getting reprimanded by Subcomisar Gorecky for foul language when trying to smooth talk potential leads. "This is Chief Inspector Nigel Ionescu of the anti-skin trafficking brigade with the politia Romana in Bucharest. We have been looking into the potentially illegal activities of Mason Verger, specifically Omega trafficking, and considering he is on your radar I am hoping you can help us track down his whereabouts."

"Mason Verger?" Will's voice was artificially light and Nigel picked up on the latent falsehood within it immediately. "Sorry, can't help you. Haven't seen him since the McDermott murder."

"The Chesapeake Ripper," Nigel said, and didn't miss the small whispered aside to his bedmate, the coo of their baby revealing how close she and her Omega parent were to the phone. "Made quite the mess on his property, twice, according to your own reports. Just to be clear, I don't give a shit about the murders or why they occurred, I just want to know how possible it is that Mason Verger is still alive."

Will Graham hesitated at his, the child next to him making soft noises that soon descended into lazy suckling. "Do you have to do that right now?" he heard Will harshly whisper, unaware that his hand over the phone's speaker was ineffective. "Can't you go in another room?"

"Your persistent need to sexualize my breasts is not appreciated, Will, and I'm uncomfortable how much you are turning them into your favourite fetish. This is what they're designed for, I'm not going anywhere."

An exasperated Will Graham returned to the phone call. "This is kind of a bad time...But if all you need to know is if the Chesapeake Ripper has offed Mason Verger, well, chances are very high that has happened."

"That creates a serious problem for me, Mr. Graham," Nigel said, the papers spread before him telling him a far uglier tale that reached well onto his own shores. "I just spent the whole day yesterday pulling Omegas out of an underground bunker, several of whom were corpses by the time we found them. They were neglected and starved and from what I can figure it was due to Mason Verger not being able to get to his pet projects and ensure they were running smoothly. There's rumours he may have some warehouses with Omegas trapped in exactly the same way on United Main soil, specifically the Baltimore area, and I'm wondering if you have any idea where he would keep them. We put the screws to his accountant this morning, apparently these prepaid shipments went out last night but there's no word on where the Omegas went."

He could hear Will Graham softly curse and then apologize to his baby. "How many are we talking about?"

"Twenty yesterday, here on Romanian soil. Could be triple that on yours."

Will let out a long, measured sigh at this. His voice was shaky on the other end, sleep banished no doubt for quite some time as the puzzle Nigel presented had some serious consequences if it wasn't solved. It was a heightened sense of worry that Nigel wasn't above taking advantage of, for he knew himself how powerful he felt about his own Omega and he could only guess what Will, with his similar Alpha instincts and not only with a mated Omega but a child in the mix, was now plunged into the same miasma of outraged care that Nigel was. "It says in these files that you were their criminal profiling 'consultant'. You're familiar with Mason Verger. We could really use your expertise right about now."

"Mason Verger is a hands on man, he won't want to leave the Omegas somewhere he can't get them." He heard the bed springs ease as Will stood up away from the bed headed into some unknown dark corner of his house. "I can give you possible locations due to his movements, but with the way things are around here I won't be able to get law enforcement to do a thing about it. I don't know if you've noticed, but this area of the United Main has been plunged into near martial law while the civil war starts ramping up between the Mainland and the Coastline. We got GSF on our front doorstep right now, and I can tell you flat out that I don't want them involved in this." Nigel could hear the buzz of a computer as it was turned on. "Your best bet is to contact Jack Crawford, the acting chief agent on the Chesapeake Ripper case. But even he can't go tearing apart people's property without cause and there would need to be an international liaison in order for him to get clearance to do so. Otherwise, he's at risk of incarceration himself, and believe me, the forces in power around here can't wait to undermine the FBI."

"Sounds like you're in the shit," Nigel observed.

Will grunted an assent. "We're in a war zone here in Baltimore, Inspector Ionescu, and my mate and I are at its epicentre. If I start asking questions about trafficked Omegas I could alert some very high, corrupt officials to my family and I can't risk their safety. Whatever has to be done has to be done very, very carefully."

"Yeah, I fucking get it. It's the same story all the time with those GSF fucks. They have no friends here, make no mistake. They've hindered our investigations before." He frowned as he looked at the images of death before him, wondering why the Chesapeake Ripper had to be such a fucking drama queen about it all. The assassination of Jeb McBain, at least to Nigel's outsider perception, was furiously self indulgent and he had to wonder if the Ripper had a personal stake in killing him, using his Omega accomplices as worshipful tools for his highly stylized agenda. Cults were common enough for well adjusted people to get embroiled in, it wouldn't be a huge stretch to discover Omegas were falling into the same traps. Nigel had to wonder what the United Main would look like if the Chesapeake Ripper got his way. He had a real problem with Alphas, at least that's what the surface of his murders suggested. He could tip the gender scale all the way to the other side and end up creating a society just as oppressive as the one he clearly hated.

"You got knocker trouble, hunh?" Nigel chuckled into the phone at Will's uncertain silence. "Yeah, it's always a surprise when they sprout tits after the babies are born. One of the chesters in our precinct just got back from maternity leave. Still can't find a suit that doesn't nearly pop the buttons and that's the only part that got bigger. He's been wearing plain black t-shirts for now. Hides the leaks, too."

"Over here we're told male Omegas are barren. It's been quite an education since I've been involved with one."

"They're a bit more fragile, and it's not that common. That chester I mentioned was off work for over a year while he was being monitored by a whole shit ton of doctors. I guess you had the same problem."

"Yeah, it was...Difficult." Will hesitated slightly before he let out a wistful sigh. "Don't get me wrong, this is a nice bonus, though he doesn't see it that way. They really are fantastic. He doesn't like me touching them and it's...They drive me crazy. They are...You don't understand, they are *perfect*."

Nigel rolled his eyes, wondering if every fellow Alpha he knew thought this much with their dick. "We have someone in common, by the way," Nigel said, testing the waters of Adam's mysterious family connections. "Adam Raki. He's a...He's a good friend of mine."

"Adam?" Will sounded confused and Nigel could practically see the twisted face he was making. "What's Adam doing in Bucharest? Really, he's a 'friend' of yours? He has autism, and the last time I saw him I don't even know if he knew I was there. Poor Adam. Haven't seen him since he was five, but he was a handful for his dad. Does he still do that thing with his hands when he's upset? His dad had a real challenge there, I guess Bucharest was a safer place for him to be raised than Two Cent, seeing as how he's an Omega. I wouldn't have thought you guys would provide disability allowances for ex United Main citizens, though. How's he doing?"

Nigel could feel his rage boiling up inside of himself, so hot it could melt fucking metal. He was spinning in his fury like a white dwarf imploding. What the fuck was this shit, was this bastard trying to say that Adam was, what--delayed? Stupid? He checked Will Graham's credentials and yes, the fucker was still a supposed criminal profiler and yes, he was bonded to a goddamned *psychiatrist* for fuck's sake, he ought to have some understanding about his long lost cousin who was kind enough to send him a fucking Christmas present every year, one that Will Fucking Asshole Graham didn't appreciate.

"Adam's doing just fine," Nigel coldly replied. "He's an astro-fucking-physicist."

Will laughed lightly at this, and it took a few moments for his mirth to falter when he realized that Nigel wasn't kidding. "I...What?"

"He was in the space program at Roscosmos, he's hoping to get back in there soon. He said you've been out of touch for a while, since you were kids. It has been thirty fucking years, I guess a lot has changed since then."

"I guess..." Will was acting like he couldn't believe it. Just what the fuck, he hadn't seen Adam since he was five! He'd like to know how many times Will Graham was pissing his pants at that age, or was he just as much of an asshole right out of the womb? "I never would have thought him capable..."

"What do you know, he's something really special now. Goes to show what happens when you underestimate someone. He's gearing up to be an astronaut and he's going to do it, you watch. He's a motherfucking genius."

"I..." Will stammered and Nigel could practically feel the confused frown winding its way through his cell phone. "I really don't know what to say."

How about 'Way to go!' or 'Congratulations!' or 'I knew you could do it!', you fucking judgemental asswipe.

"Adam was hard for me to read," Will said, and the confession didn't make much sense to Nigel, he was a fucking tiny *kid* at the time, after all. "He was completely closed off, didn't say a word until he was six. I had no idea that kind of brilliance was hiding under there."

"Yeah, well, what do you fucking know, people change."

"Yeah," Will said, reflexively and to himself, though there seemed to be a hint that he was catching on to Nigel's annoyance and how about that for an empathic fucking clue bus. Empathy disorder. What the fuck ever.

They said their goodbyes and Nigel was left staring at his cell phone and wondering, not for the first time in his life, how seemingly intelligent people could be such stupid shits.

~*~
He'd sent Darko to the club earlier to pick up the VHS tapes and while he was busy going over their contents Nigel decided to make a quick stop at the hospital before he went home. He needed to check on their Omega victims, he wanted to see if any of them were conscious and willing to talk, medical teams hovering over them be damned. Key information was lurking in their trauma and the last thing he was going to do was let that kind of heads up slip out the door the second they were well enough to escape. It's usually what they did, thinking they were still being hunted, and they'd end up in hospital gowns in coffee shops, shivering and getting picked up by religious nuts trying to save souls. They made Nigel uncomfortable with their fawning talk of higher powers, and he knew the Omegas didn't buy it no matter how traumatized they were, and he figured it was a tough call selling them that what happened to them had a purpose. They weren't all bad, though, and the religious charities had deep pockets. At least the Omegas they took in got their way home paid for.

Nigel's nerves were on edge, his mood sharp and unpleasant like the gleam of a razor seeking skin. The hospital held all the smells he hated, antiseptics and a pervasive sickness masked with Detol. There were so many things cutting into him today, the little razor's edge of information shearing into his memory and leaving tiny scabs in its wake. He didn't like that Adam was linked to Will Graham or to his Omega mate Dr. Lecter. The phone call had been innocuous enough, but he'd detected something unpleasant in Will Graham's voice when he'd talked about Mason Verger, as though he was hiding highly valuable information, and though his mate was playing Mama beside him just fine, he had to wonder why Dr. Lecter was compelled to listen in so closely, even offering deflection distractions. It felt like a ploy to Nigel and his gut was rarely wrong when it came to these things. The two of them imprinted one word on Nigel's consciousness: Sinister.

It was a word that brought dark feelings with it as it crept with him while he walked down the hospital corridor. Nurses hurried past him carrying syringes, medicine, clipboards, and machines and IVs attached to pale, miserable patients who slowly paced in between the bustle. The fluorescent lights were never in perfect working order, and there was always two or three that either flickered or had burnt out completely, surrendering chunks of the corridor into shade. Nigel wasn't sure why it bothered him. Maybe it was because a burnt out light bulb suggested a certain vulnerability in this big ass building that was supposed to heal the sick. Burnt out lights gave the suggestion of its hard working reality, that there was just as much death here as life.

The ICU was full to capacity, and he slipped past the nurse's desk and into an adjoining room that housed a couple of the Omega victims that had been fully stabilized. There was still a sickening plethora of wires and tubes stuck in them, giving them fluids and nutrients intravenously, they were too starved to take it in the natural route. A feeding tube pumped beige liquid into their stomachs, their sole source of feeding for now. He stood at the side rail of the young, brunette Omega closest to the door, and pulled the curtain over just in case one of the nurses quickly walked by.

The young woman in the bed rolled her head to one side and Nigel grabbed a chair, sitting beside her at the head of the bed, close enough to hear her if she actually talked. The pink and blue curtains swayed slightly and he peered underneath them, hoping he could stay undetected for a long enough time to get what was needed.

'Hey," he whispered to her, her sick body making his stomach churn as Omega pheromones wafted off of her, the stench of death close by. "You probably don't remember me, but I'm Inspector Nigel Ionescu, I was the one who found you and your friends. The doctors say you're doing better. You're a strong girl, getting through a shit deal like this. We're closing in on the sons of bitches, but we can't do that unless we have some more information."

Her lips were cracked and bleeding and when she tried to speak her tongue was a strange, blue hue, contrasting deeply with her white mouth. "I know you..."

"I'm Inspector Ionescu. Tell me, do you remember anything about your captors? Can you give me a description? We took out the two gorillas in the bunker with you, were they the ones who captured you?"

"You're the Bearer of Light. You have a job to do, and you'll be called to battle, just as we all will. We will stand tall and proud before the Demons and we will vanquish them. They will worship at *our* feet."

She was trying to smile and it came across as a bleeding grimace. The Omega scent of her was practically a stench in the curtained space around her bed, and it was difficult not to look at her and think of his sweet little spaceman in her place. The thought of him suffering even in theory like this made Nigel curl his fingers into tight fists. "It says here on your chart that your name is Darlene?" She nodded. "That's nice, Darlene. It's a pretty name. Darlene, I need to know what the men looked like who first picked you up. Were you drugged?" He pulled out his cell phone and brandished an image of Mason Verger in her direct line of sight. "Was one of them this man?"

She continued to eerily smile, not seeing him or any facet of the world around her. "We will sing such beautiful songs, they will make ballads of our accomplishments, they will harken us as the New Beginning. We cannot be vanquished."

She was gone into the fucking batshit crazy cave. Nigel sighed and pinched his brow and wondered how long it was going to take him to get home, he didn't want to be late for dinner again, he couldn't afford to disappoint Adam. He sat back in the chair and leaned his head back, sighing into the ceiling. All this suffering for nothing, and Mason Verger had created every bit of it, the probably dead son of a bitch. Well, fuck the asshole who took him out, that was supposed to be Nigel's job.

A cold hand wrapped weakly around his wrist and he looked down to find Darlene moving her mouth, her words barely a whisper. He leaned in to listen, humouring her madness. The poor thing needed to be heard, even if it was all gibberish.

"Valhallah is opened and her warriors are spilling out, from all over the world, we are a part of her great design, our goddess, our Mother. Male and female in one and supreme in power, s/he guides us. The GSF won't stop us, we'll charge the borders and slaughter them like we did McBain, we'll break into their homes and free Her captive daughters. They thought they brought us into slavery, but we allowed them to take us. We are trained and ready to fight. We have our mission on the United Main...Our Mother awaits her daughters..."

Nigel frowned at this, and he gently took her hand off of his wrist to lightly embrace it in the warmth of his hands. She felt like paper beneath his palms. "What are you saying, Darlene? What does this have to do with the assassination of Jeb McBain?" He frowned. "Is this some kind of online network, where you meet a bunch of people online and chat with them?" He latched onto this as her silence grew. "A newsgroup or something like that? This Mother you're talking about, what is it she wants?"

He could feel his veins freeze in anticipation and he closed his eyes before asking his final question. "This Mother...Is she the Chesapeake Ripper?"

"Yes." Darlene licked her lips and she shuddered, her vitals stressed to their highly limited endurance. Nigel got to his feet, knowing he had to get the hell out before the nurses found him. "Valhallah for all who help us. She knows of you, Inspector Nigel Ionescu. She admires your tireless pursuit. You will be greatly rewarded. You will be exalted and all will know the importance of what you have done."

He slipped out from behind the curtain and out of Darlene's room before the nurses spotted him, a harried looking one already heading for Darlene's room to check on her mild distress. His head was reeling with the information he'd been given and he didn't have a fucking clue what to do with any of it. The fucking Chesapeake Ripper was involved, and he couldn't wrap his head around it. Just what the hell was he thinking right now because it was looking like these Omegas were fucking *moles* in Mason Verger's vile system and the only reason they didn't make it to the United Main was because Verger was too fucking dead to send them off.

Shit, this was fucking scary, it was bad enough having the smell of Verger's piss all over everything now he had to contend with the fucked up crazy that was the Chesapeake Ripper. A rational part of him told him to take it easy, to think carefully on what the hell he'd just heard and remember it was the speech of a dying girl who'd also mentioned goddesses and Valhallah. But Nigel's gut was wrenched tight and he knew, without needing any further evidence, that it was true, the Ripper had spread wings wide across the globe and was calling her daughters home to join in the slaughter. Jesus, this was some kind of fucked up. He had to get home. He needed to bury himself in his precious little spaceman and forget that self serving evil had the most purchase in this world.

~*~

Adam's smile didn't falter when he answered the door and Nigel rushed in, quickly closing it behind him and slamming the half dozen bolts in place before scooping Adam into his arms and giving him a nuzzling kiss. "It's been a long day, my darling. Tell me you have something good for me."

Adam's grin was wide and infectious in his excitement. "I made spaghetti. Without a recipe!" Adam took Nigel's hand and led him into the kitchen, not giving the officer time to get his shoes and coat off. "I might have made a bit too much, but it turned out like it was supposed to. I hope you enjoy it. I used to only eat macaroni and cheese and chicken and broccoli, but when I left Two Cent I decided it was very important to try new things, and one of the easiest was a new diet. So, I made it a point for a whole year to never eat the same thing twice. But I really missed spaghetti after I'd tried it. I had it in Italy and it was very good."

Nigel saw the steaming pile of pasta and deep, rich red sauce placed in a casserole dish in the centre of the breakfast nook and his heart swelled with appreciation. "You are one big little miracle, you know that?" He slid off his coat and shoes and carried them back into the hallway, towards the closet by the front door. He hung up his jacket, making sure it was near the far right as per Adam's preferences, and neatly placed his shoes next to Adam's Converse sneakers, on the left, the way he liked it. "I was talking to your cousin Will Graham today. You're right, he's an asshole."

"Really? How is Will?"

"Pussy whipped and obsessed with tits. He didn't believe me when I told him you were an astrophysicist."

"I'm not one," Adam said, frowning. "Though I did apply at the University of Bucharest, for a teaching position. I may be a practising one by the end of this week." Adam sat at the table but not before Nigel swung close to him and stole a quick kiss from those pursed lips, his forehead pressed against Adam's as he nuzzled playfully against his nose, his little spaceman burning hot at Nigel's touch.

"Fuck me, gorgeous, I've been looking forward to being here with you like this all damned day. You are very special to me, Adam," Nigel confessed.

Adam grinned at this and shyly hid his face in the crook of Nigel's neck before returning his attention to dinner. "I used a sauce that contains parmesan, basil and mushrooms. I was worried that perhaps you would be allergic to mushrooms, because there was a Beta at Roscosmos who was allergic to mushrooms, beets and kiwi, and even though statistically it is unlikely it was a concern. I haven't asked you if you are allergic to anything."

"Just being away from you," Nigel said, and Adam's smile faltered. "I'm not allergic to anything, my angel," Nigel clarified.

"Okay, good." Adam nodded happily and they both sat down at the small table affixed to the wall and began to serve dinner. Large plates took up ample amounts of pasta and a thick, sweet smelling sauce. Adam was the first to break the silence, his curiosity plain. "Did Will ask about me?"

"No, I told him that I knew you. He was very surprised you were in Romania." Nigel tried not to let his irritation at Will Graham's dismissal of Adam show. "He seems to think you came here with your father, that you were on some kind of fucking disability. I made sure to correct him on that."

"Oh." Adam's lower lip softly quivered and Nigel felt a renewed hatred for this fucking idiot cousin who was so stupid he couldn't see the hurt he caused even though he was supposed to be some kind of 'empath'. Fucking bullshit, Adam was right, there was no science involved there, he was just a jerk.

"Will doesn't know me," Adam said, and he was doing that thing where he was carefully choosing his words, each one paused over and thought about carefully before they slipped from his lips. "When we were kids I was very different from how I am now. I had a lot of behaviours. I was non-verbal and I was so overwhelmed by outside stimuli that I retreated inside of myself. It is likely he thought I was going to be like that forever, and that was a risk. If my father hadn't been so diligent and did so much early intervention, I could have remained that way." Adam poked his forked through his spaghetti, twisting the noodles onto it in slow movements as his thoughts drifted. "I wouldn't judge Will too harshly for not expecting me to resemble someone who is neurotypical."

"There is nothing fuck all typical about you, darling, and that is what I love about you."

Adam sat very still in his chair, his fork poised over his plate of pasta. The ghost of a smile curled across his lips and it was as if a whole little galaxy of possibility was opening between them as they sat there at the breakfast nook, and Nigel held his breath, wondering how he'd let something so intensely guarded slip.

"You love me?" Adam asked, and the words were fragile filigree that hopped across moons and stars.

Well, fuck, he was cornered now, it wasn't like he could lie or deny it, not when they'd argued already about Adam staying in his life, and how they in a relationship and dammit, the spaghetti was good, and if Adam ever disappeared from his life right now, well what kind of fucking astronomical catastrophe could ever compare to that?

"A whole fucking lot, my little spaceman," Nigel confessed.

"It made me very upset seeing you hurt last night. And I like it when we kiss, that is highly pleasurable. You like it when I talk about space and you didn't want me to leave and get my own apartment, and I'm very glad about that, because I like being around you, Nigel. You are very comforting to me. I would feel a terrible absence if you weren't in my life." Adam smiled over his plate of spaghetti that was near neglected now. "There are certain patterns of compatibility and expectation that are required between partners and I am pleased to see that we fall under a highly parallel measure of feelings and..." Adam framed his plate with his wrists, his hands shaking slightly. He fleetingly caught Nigel's eye and smiled into its patience. "What I am saying is that I believe I love you, too."

They both sat in silence at this, plates of spaghetti toyed with as the universe and its possibilities expanded into incomprehensible, beautiful stretches of stars between them. There was relief and tension all at once, and Nigel felt immobilized by it. Fuck, what was this love doing to him? He could feel a lump in his throat thick enough to choke him dead. How was it he could wander all day around the ugliest fucking shit piss of the world and yet the second his little spaceman welcomed him home it was like all that hideous black muck of his life disappeared.

"Nigel?"

Soft, tentative fingertips reached across the casserole dish of steaming pasta and sauce and Adam touched just underneath Nigel's eye, capturing moisture. And he couldn't stop then, all the hurt just came gushing up and out, all the disappointment that was Gabi's need that he couldn't fulfill, all the torture and death that reached out for his help and he couldn't do a thing about it, all the blows he took and it didn't make one lick of difference, but he had Adam, and he had him in his arms and Nigel was fucking crying into his shoulder, into his neck, and kissing him and smoothing back his feather soft dark hair with his strong, nicotine stained hands and telling him everything will be all right, everything was going to be okay. But he wasn't talking to his precious little spaceman angel when he said it, he was talking to himself.

It was in that moment, when he himself was so fucking overwhelmed with all the shit he had to wallow through, he understood what Adam's day was like, he fucking *knew* how hard it was, and fuck if he didn't want to wrap up his little spaceman in the tightest little cocoon of love he could and keep him feeling safe and happy. Fuck, that's all he wanted. Come on, universe. That's not such a big order, is it?

Chapter Text

THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter seven

Nigel could think of far better ways of spending his morning than going through Mason Verger's sex tapes with Darko, the grainy VHS images curing him of any erections for the next long while. Most of the Omegas were drugged and Jeb McBain wasn't an especially picky bastard, though from what Nigel and Darko witnessed he certainly had a sadistic streak that was set to grow over the years. From what they'd gleaned from the FBI discovery in McBain's campaign trailer, where Agent Jack Crawford found a photo album of his past brutalized conquests, these home movies were the turning point for his sick fantasies. The depictions of college rape were hardly varied in scope, and their Omega victims blended into a namelessness that Nigel found increasingly disturbing.

An Omega groaned loudly and Jeb McBain urged her to 'keep giving it up' while an unknown Alpha, probably Mason Verger, giggled in the background. Feeling sick, Nigel left his chair and clumsily stepped over Darko seated beside him and headed for the coffee maker at the far corner of the room, pouring himself a cup though he didn't particularly want one. Anything to get him away from those images and give him the smallest amount of reprieve. He stretched his limbs and heard joints crack, the bruises of his healing injuries still smarting when he bent at certain angles. It was cold in the basement room, and his thin bowling shirt did little to keep him warm, even if it did have an ugly tropical print. His exposed arms were pockmarked with gooseflesh. "How many fucking hours of this shit are there?"

"Three tapes on SLP, so twenty four hours," Darko told him,yawning. The initial shock had worn off for him, and he'd seen worse over the years, if one could put this kind of thing on a sliding scale of torture and abuse. "I guess Mason didn't know about McBain's little Polaroid scrapbook. No honour amongst fucking creeps, that's for sure."

"Turn this fucking shit off, I can't watch any more."

Darko complied and he sighed as Nigel wiggled his way back in front of the TV in the tiny space they were currently occupying, the coffee held aloft in Nigel's hand along with a cigarette now placed between his forefingers. Darko sat perched beside Nigel on a milk crate, the cramped space of the small aisle between the cold case files barely enough room for one person let alone two. The cords for the TV and dusty VCR were too short to be used in the open space just beyond the boxes and the only outlet was at the back of the files. Numbers, names and dates glared at them from the neglected shelves and Nigel kept his gaze guiltily hidden from them.

"This reminds me hardcore of that weird email I got a while back, where that guy was trying to sell me a middle aged male Omega. He put the sale up on fucking ebay of all places, the fucking moron." Darko pulled out his cell phone and began thumbing through his emails, the messages flying by. "It was about eight months or so ago, I remember because it was so fucking cold this past winter. Polar vortex and all that shit."

"You saw all the tapes?" Nigel asked him, and Darko nodded, his elbow roughly hitting Nigel in the back of his head. He cursed and stood up from the crate, squeezing out of the cramped space to stand behind the TV and brace his arms on its bulky width. The TV was as ancient as the VCR, so old it practically had manual dials.

"This is it. Doesn't leave a thing to the imagination, does it?

Nigel reached up and took the cell phone Darko handed down to him from behind the TV and Nigel lit up the screen with a brush of his thumb. There he was, in his full glory, annotated anatomy and all by the eager seller, and Nigel's gut twisted into knots that were squeezed into all kinds of unpleasant shapes. "I know who this is," Nigel said, and Darko paused at this, his weasel face scrunching further into question. "This is Will Graham's Omega. This is Dr. Hannibal Lecter."

"The one accused of gender subterfuge?" Darko sneered at this, a fierce, angry finger pointing at the cell phone. "The Verger connection is pretty strong here, we got an ID on the seller just last week, his name was Dr. Cornell Doemling and he's on the Verger payroll."

"What a fucking shocker."

"No kidding. It all goes back to Verger, doesn't it? But this case, I don't get it, Mason Verger deals in fresh stock, what's he doing messing with an Omega he'd consider past the prime? I'd been in contact with an FBI agent named Jack Crawford, but he was all tied up in the Ripper case at the time, so I outreached to our Russian sister site instead. They were already in communication with the creep keeping this guy hostage. They traced the global positioning of his cell phone to Muskrat Farm, cementing the Mason Verger connection, but Doemling seemed to be operating as an independent seller."

"Right," Nigel said and, put out his spent cigarette on the milk crate beside him, the butt tossed into his now empty coffee mug. He was sorely tempted to take one of his smokes out of the top left pocket of his shirt but he refrained, patting them down instead and sliding through the pictures again on Darko's cell phone with a swipe of his thumb. "This ebay creep, did he give us anything to go on?"

"Not really. He was delusional type. He sent this long, weird email that kept outlining this master plan he had where he was going to build a crop of Omegas, and grow them in his garden and then, when the time came, he would sell them out to the highest bidder as the freshest meat on the market."

"Fucking sicko piece of shit dicksap." Nigel ran his fingers along his jaw, nails scraping at the day old stubble that was growing there. "The fuck was he talking about?"

"I have no idea, he kept sending illustrations of ovaries, it was sick shit, that's all I know. In the end, the whole deal went tits up when the male Omega in question--You're saying this is Dr. Lecter?--came to and killed him. Fucking *mutilated* him. Check this out." Darko swept his finger past the images of an unconscious Dr. Lecter and revealed one of a man in a lab coat lying on the ground with a large shard of ceramic in his eye. The email it was attached to had a surprisingly bold message:

'It seems there are those who have made the mistake of underestimating my ability to save myself.   I am aware that you have been in correspondence with Dr. Doemling in an effort to stem his Omega trafficking operation and to facilitate what you believe is my rescue. I assure you, that will be unnecessary, however, you are free to use this image of his death as a future deterrent to other traffickers. Perhaps as a public service poster, I believe it will be quite effective.'

If that wasn't proof of some serious balls, Nigel didn't know what was. Darko watched Nigel's serious expression with one of his own, the dark confines of the precinct's graveyard entwining them in shadows that snaked along the length of Nigel's spine and made him shiver. "This whole scenario doesn't make sense, there's something very personal attached to this." He reluctantly picked up one of the three VHS tapes and read the label, the blue ink faded and barely legible. "Why capture an Omega male in his mid forties? That's not Mason's style, and there's no way he didn't have a specific buyer in mind. There's an answer on these fucking tapes, I'm sure of it."

Darko drummed his fingers on the black plastic surface of the old TV, its bulky shape pressed against his stomach. He winced and ran his had across his chest, as though it was paining him. "I bet there is, but I can't do any more right now, Nigel, come on, I need a fucking break."

Nigel was about to put one of the tapes into the VCR when he paused at what Darko had just said. He looked up at his friend and colleague, taking in the dark circles under his eyes that made them smaller than ever, like little black pinpricks. Nigel let the VHS tape drop back into place on top of the VCR and he leaned back, his hand instinctively reaching for the pack of smokes at his shirt pocket. Before he knew it, he had one lit and between his lips as he looked up at the misery of his friend. "What's going on?"

"Just fucking tired, man."

"I've seen you work three days straight and not drop once. What gives?"

Darko sighed, and kicked at the base of the TV stand. "My kid's been having trouble at school. Bianca's been on my case about it, and I don't know what she thinks I can do, I mean, it's not like I can just march into the classroom and demand to know why my kid doesn't say a word in class and is pretty much a mute while he's at there. He talks just fine at home, with us. We told the teachers already, he's just fucking shy, but they're calling it some kind of delay and they're saying he has an anxiety disorder and now his marks are starting to get affected." Darko closed his hands into fists on the top of the TV, his lips pressed tight as he kept his anger at the situation in. "He had to do a project where he had to stand up in front of the class and present it, you know, one of those things where you have to give a speech. He did it on gamma rays affecting marigolds, really advanced shit for a ten year old, if you ask me. He worked real hard on it, he had a binder full of notes, everything he discovered all laid out, used coloured pencils and ink, the whole thing real neat and tidy. And he had the flowers in their little pots as proof of his experiments, and you know what, gamma rays are pretty fucking weird, man. Some of those flowers bloomed like crazy, all doubled up and messy and some didn't bloom at all."

Darko rapped his knuckles on the top of the TV while Nigel carefully listened to him, his cigarette smoked between pauses. Darko's issues with his kid's selective mutism were nothing new, and Nigel already had a good idea where this conversation was going. "So he choked, right?" Nigel said, and Darko sighed and nodded in agreement.

"The teacher said he stood in front of the class, his head down and his neat little notes on the note cards in front of him, and he didn't say a word. Just stood there until the other kids started fucking laughing. The teacher had to give him a failing grade because he didn't do the major part of the project, which was the presentation. Bianca is furious, she thinks they're pushing him too hard, and I don't know, I mean, he's got to learn to speak up some time, he's got to learn there's consequences to not doing part of a job no matter how uncomfortable it is, right?"

Nigel shrugged at this, taking another drag of his cigarette and contemplating it before taking another. "I doubt I'm the fucking asshole you need to talk to about raising kids." Nigel could only think of Adam, and the difficult childhood he'd had and the huge efforts his father had made to pull him out of his insular shell, and even now, the lengths he'd gone to reach his goals, efforts that would seem small to others but were monumental in scope to someone who had no readable map to get there. "Maybe Bianca has a point. Throwing him into a situation like that was probably too much for him. He just needs to start building up to it, you know, maybe he could just present it to the teacher at first and then to smaller groups. I don't know, I'm not a fucking child psychologist, I'm just thinking out loud, and I don't fucking know a thing about kids or those kinds of problems. I just know your boy Micah and it seems to me if he's too scared to say a word then maybe start small and work up to it so he doesn't clam up completely." Nigel tossed his spent cigarette into the cold coffee cup to join the other one. "Traumatizing the little shit doesn't do dick but no way is he to get a fucking free pass. He'll be gun shy over doing any project now, but don't you let him get away with it, he has to fucking face his fears. He's a smart little fucker, your Micah, talks my fucking leg off every time I visit, so it's not like he doesn't know how."

Darko pressed his fingers to his brow. "That's what makes it so damned frustrating."

Nigel took in the tired stance of his friend, the slumped shoulders and rumpled appearance of his black cotton shirt which was usually pressed and spotless, his attire a reflection of the intimidation of his nickname. The VHS tapes lay in dusty wait for Nigel's perusal and he groaned to himself as he waved his friend away. "Go the fuck home, Darko, I'll finish this. Don't even try to say no to me, you've been slaving over this case for fucking weeks and I need you alert and focused so do me a fucking solid and get the fuck out. That's a fucking order you little prick."

Darko smiled at him over the edge of the TV. "Bianca wants you and Adam to come over for dinner tomorrow night. Think you could manage that? I know you're real busy these days, snuggling up to the little thing at night, and getting all warm and cozy. I gotta say, Nigel, whatever he's doing to you, it's some kind of miracle. You aren't your usual mess these days, you even look like you're getting some sleep. It's real weird, if I didn't know any better I'd say you were happy."

"Just fuck off, okay?" Nigel said, and Darko laughed.

"Thanks, man," he said, and Nigel gruffly acknowledged him.

Darko gave his friend a nod and his grateful middle finger as he left him alone in the near dark of the precinct's graveyard, the unsolved murders embracing him in the gloom as Nigel picked up one of the VHS tapes to begin his viewing of image after image of nameless, phantom suffering.

~*~

He felt nauseous, but he knew he couldn't stop, and though eight solid hours had passed, Nigel wasn't about to let up. Darko had suggested they get Adam to put his computer skills to use and put the contents of the tapes on disc, just to make sure there was no risk of them of them getting damaged in replay. It was a good idea, but there was no way in hell Nigel was going to expose Adam to this kind of monstrous evil and he much preferred his little spaceman concentrate on calculating the distance between galaxies rather the perverted actions of monsters. The young Omega on the screen in front of him moaned in drugged protest, and Nigel hit the fast forward button again, not liking that Adam had showed up in his mind while he was forced to endure this shit. It was too easy to put Adam in the Omega's place, and a deep seated hatred welled up inside of Nigel, so hot and dangerous it scared him with how much simmering violence was just itching to get a hold of Mason Verger and make his eyes take a good, long, intimate look at the tip of his fucking cigarette. The fucking creep liked to watch and Nigel comforted himself with thoughts of that being the last fucking thing that son of a bitch would see.

Of course, it was to remain in fantasy, because the facts were piling up that Mason Verger was no longer alive. Calls to Muskrat Farm went unanswered, save for a quick email from Mason Verger's sister Margot, who outlined in a very clipped, cold tone that she had no idea of her brother's whereabouts and she did not keep any tabs on him. She might live at their farm, but their lives were completely separate. He didn't doubt the validity of this, he got the impression she was distancing herself as much as possible from her brother, and he had to wonder what kind of rotten life she'd had, as an Omega herself, suffering under his maniacal influence. It didn't take much of an imagination to understand it was some level of hell similar to what he was being forced to watch right now. She was probably on one of these, he thought in disgust, and he shuddered at the incestuous implication.

The tape finally came to an end, and out of habit Nigel absently fast forwarded through it, feeling a kind of relief at the snowy emptiness that was offered up on the screen. There was a cleansing property to it, like it was wiping off something filthy, and he absently watched it as he thought about Darlene, the Omega he had visited in the hospital yesterday. If there was an army gearing up to take down these bastards, Nigel figured it had nothing to do with him and he'd be loathe to alert anyone of their threat if that's what it came down to. His job was to find them and make sure they survived, what they did with that second lease in life was out of his influence, and if it meant they picked up a gun and started a war, well, couldn't happen against better fucks as far as he was concerned.

The emptiness of the end of the VHS tape suddenly erupted into images and sound, and Nigel was so startled he nearly fell off of the crate he was sitting on. He frowned as he took the contents of the video in, upping the volume so he didn't miss the muffled conversation happening onscreen. There was a young Mason Verger in his late teens staring back at him, along with another male Nigel didn't recognize. The third person, behind the camera, was Jeb McBain. "You got to help me out with this," he was pleading at Mason and the unknown male beside him. "This cunt whore is going to ruin everything, if word gets out it's mine there goes my career, I'll be stuck bonding with the bitch."

Mason looked uneasy as McBain trained the video on him and his friend. "Look, Jeb, he hasn't revealed anything, and chances are he won't, I mean, it's not like he'd be allowed to finish medical school if they find out he's both an Omega and pregnant, right? I mean, so what, he can't prove anything."

Jeb McBain was incensed, the camera shaking with his anger and putting Mason into jerking focus. "Are you stupid? They can do paternity tests now, DNA profiling! You don't get it, this is going to ruin me and you have to fix this! This was all your idea in the first place!"

Mason glared darkly at the camera at this and gave Jeb a smile that was significantly more sinister than friendly. "If you're trying to entrap me, Jeb, just remember you're just as much in this tangled up spider web as the rest of us. It's not my fault you like to keep audio visuals of your conquests, or that you rewatched the tape so much with this one you snapped it. That's a lot of replay, Jeb, even I'm impressed. You must have been working that hand of yours on the hour."

Nigel tried to figure out where they were, it seemed to be an attic room of some sort, with low level beams cutting across a small, open window that let in just enough daylight to make Mason and his companion visible. "This isn't a joke, Mason, this is serious."

Their third companion moved to the window and then waved at Jeb McBain to bring the camera around as he noted their target on the ground below. McBain fumbled with the camera before aiming it through the window and Nigel was struck by the fact that they were on the grounds of a hospital, the wide green space below dotted with patients and nurses and the occasional doctor. There was one sitting on a bench that McBain brought into zoomed focus. The doctor was quietly eating lunch, a simple sandwich by the look of it, alone and unaware of the cruel scrutiny imposed on him. Being as perceptive as he was, Nigel knew this was one of McBain's victims, and from the smooth flawlessness of his skin that had that certain sheen to it, he knew this Omega was pregnant.

What did shock him, however, was who the male Omega in question was.

Dr Hannibal Lecter finished his sandwich and tossed the paper it had been wrapped in into a nearby trash bin. The camera followed him as he walked, and Nigel had no trouble distinguishing the slightly uneven waddle of the Omega's gait, suggesting to him the gestation was fairly advanced. It was a real source of wonder to him that Dr. Lecter had been able to hide this from the rest of his peers, but the United Main was so hyper focused on gender they probably never thought to question that he'd be anything but Alpha and doctor's coats were good at hiding a growing gut. Nigel frowned, wondering how in the hell Dr. Lecter had managed to keep his pheromones hidden, especially since synthetic Alpha hormones would have seriously harmed the growing child.

"What do you think?" Mason said to his companion, who was hesitant when he was put on the spot. He was smaller than the other two men, and though he clearly wanted to be a part of their sick little crew, he knew he was also considered an outsider. This was part of his initiation, Nigel realized. Perverts performing ritual for their club.

"It wouldn't be too hard. Some really hard kicks to the stomach. Omega males are pretty fragile when it comes to this. I'm worried, though, I mean..." He glanced at Mason nervously before casting a similar look to the camera. "He might bleed out and die and then it would be murder."

Jeb McBain whirled the camera away from the open window to put the worried upstart into the sight of his lens. He zoomed in on the young man's fear, Alpha posturing with a weapon, in this case a video camera. "You want in on this McDermott, you have to play the game," McBain warned him. "You know too much already, so if you think you're going to be able to walk away from this you need to start thinking about that future you want to have. My family has strong connections along this coast, either you ride with me on my future success or you get left as something I stomp behind me on my way, do you get it?"

McDermott. Nigel frowned as he looked on the frightened young man, the doubts wiped away so easily with the promise of a threat. McDermott had become Jeb McBain's PR guru and he'd had tight ties with the Verger Corporation as well, assisting in obscuring e. coli scares in the runoff water from Muskrat Farm. It was his spin that made sure the Verger Corporation was never sued for the contamination. Mason still suffered financially, however, the Eastern and European Unions both banned all Verger pork products from entering their regions, regardless of the legal findings. It was an economical bone of contention that Mason Verger brought up in news articles and interviews in United Main society magazines.

"So you'll do it?"

McDermott shyly nodded. Yes. Mason let out a whoop of victory at this and he shook his fat hands at the camera, piggy eyes opened wide. "Turn that thing off!"

The tape descended into a rolling hiss of empty static once again and Nigel fast forwarded through it until an audible click echoed out of the VCR, signalling it had come to its end. He sighed, and hit rewind, bringing the tape back to the beginning so Darko could go over the whole thing one more time, especially the hidden section he'd just watched. The implications it left behind swirled in a miasma of strange political and murderous connections that Nigel wasn't sure he was supposed to make. McDermott had been killed on Mason's property. McBain had been assassinated. The long, unlikely protracted silence of a messy little blowhard like Mason suggested he was dead, too. And all of it was the responsibility of the Chesapeake Ripper and fuck, fuck it all, if Nigel didn't feel in his gut that he'd just found out who the damned hell that was.

It certainly explained why Dr. Lecter had been captured so late in his life, a sad, pathetic warning on Mason Verger's part and one that had surely secured his fate and all those associated with him. Nigel had to wonder about the kind of patience that sort of revenge took, and it wasn't a stretch to see it morphed into a kind of lifelong madness where every action had been enacted in order to fulfill it into its worst possible outcome. It wasn't enough that McBain, McDermott and Verger were dead, the whole system that made them had to come crashing down and damn if the demons weren't set loose to go ahead and do it.

Nigel turned off the TV, plunging the narrow aisle of cold case files into a shrouded darkness that he felt soothed by. The whispers of ghosts in the boxes near his ear seemed to find some amusement in what he'd witnessed, all their forgotten hurts wandering through the Chesapeake Ripper's poetry sculptured in human flesh.

"It's really that bad," they seemed to whisper to him. "A sick psychopathic serial killer is our saviour. And he's doing a better job at vindicating us than you, you useless fuck."

~*~

The Oltcit Club wheezed its way into the parking lot of his building, the headlights lighting up the massive wall of graffiti near the entrance, half of which had been wiped clean thanks to the building's owner, who periodically white-washed the concrete, leaving behind a fresh canvas for the gangs in the area. But this time there wasn't a multicoloured note detailing who was new to the neighbourhood or what they were selling. In a wide expanse that took up most of the wall, an oversized depiction of the photograph Adam had shown in his United Main power point presentation was spread across the concrete, the suffering eyes exaggerated, tears profoundly seeping down the male Omega's cheek to settle against the large iron chain clasped around his neck. The historical image was disturbing enough without the artist's embellishments, the bruises highlighted, a smeared darkness overtaking the background, rolling like black clouds up from an unknown abyss. In unsteady, scrawling script the message was clear: Salva fratii si surorile noastre Omega! 'Save our Omega brothers and sisters!' The local gangs had placed their messages high above it, giving the artistic graffiti on their turf an unexpected measure of respect. There was an important message here, too, sprayed in the black calligraphy of thugs, for those who regularly read this wall. 'This is too important to erase.'

Nigel parked his car and sat in its silence for a long moment, catching a needful sense of calm before heading towards the elevator that would take him back up to his apartment. He wondered how Adam's day had gone, and he smiled at this, his thoughts wandering to his precious spaceman's puttering through his day, accomplishing so much while he seemed to be standing still. He was like those stars he studied, full of wild fire and activity that nobody looking up could see. He'd had an interview with the University of Bucharest that afternoon and he hadn't texted Nigel with the results. He hoped it went well.

He made his way up the elevator, the floor of which was sticky thanks to a spilled coffee that had dried, leaving behind a thick, brown residue beneath his shoes. He cursed at how careless people were as he left the elevator when it hit the eighth floor and he rummaged in his jacket pocket for his apartment keys. After unlocking all the bolts, he stepped in as was his habit and was momentarily surprised that Adam didn't greet him, only to remember he had told Adam he was coming home later than usual and Adam had strict routines when it came to ending his day, the little checkmarks of duties done long and convoluted and helping him wind down from processing all that activity. He was probably in the bedroom, smelling of vanilla and honey shampoo, in a Roscosmos t-shirt and a fresh pair of Nigel's pyjama pants, his face buried in either an astronomy or physics textbook or his computer, searching endlessly within God's eye for hints as to the divine nature of their existence. The physics of angels. He certainly knew how to concentrate on the really important things.

He slid off his coat (putting it to the right of the closet, as Adam preferred) and stepped out of his shoes (placing them neatly to the left of Adam's Converse sneakers, as he liked) and then slowly padded in his black socks towards the bedroom, hoping he could slide across Adam's demure and shy little body and steal more than a few kisses from his blushing lips. But Nigel was surprised to discover that Adam wasn't in the bedroom, and when he backtracked to the front foyer and then to the kitchen, he discovered he wasn't there either. Puzzled, Nigel opened the fridge, and Adam's strange neglect was evident. He hadn't made dinner. Which was weird because Adam *always* made dinner, and had a plate waiting for Nigel for when he came home on late nights, a sweet little yellow post it note on top of it labelling it as to what it was and how to reheat it and a tiny, neat happy face drawn beside the instructions alongside a heart.

Frowning, Nigel approached the doors leading into the living room, and he opened them wide and there, to his drop dead shock, was Adam. He let out a few expletives before near running to the end of the couch, standing in front of his tiny little spaceman and exclaiming in his panic, "What the fuck! What's happened?"

How was it possible he could even move in that thing? Adam was wearing the spacesuit he'd been given at Roscosmos, complete with the helmet, the opaque black glass reflecting back Nigel's abject shock. The shoulders of the suit pushed back slightly and the black glass seemed to peer up at Nigel, the clasped gloved hands of the suit primly resting on its stomach. Nigel knocked on the glass with his knuckles and a gloved hand raised up and slowly opened the opaque visor, revealing a very unhappy little spaceman inside of its fishbowl confines.

Nigel's heart broke at the red hue of Adam's usually perfectly blue gaze and the smears of still damp tears that stained his cheeks. "My poor little space angel," Nigel pouted at him. "The interview didn't go well?"

Adam's bottom lip quivered behind the glass. "N-No..." he said, but Nigel couldn't hear a thing. Though Adam tried to protest, he unfastened and pulled the helmet up and away, tucking its large, round shape beneath his arm as Adam's head was freed.

"What happened, my darling?"

Adam wouldn't meet his gaze, and kept his eyes firmly on the helmet propped on Nigel's hip. "The rector of the university said I was overqualified for the position, and I told him that I didn't mind, I simply wanted the opportunity to engage in further study about space and the logistics of space. He had no concerns about the reasons why I was fired from Roscosmos, but he said that I would not be 'optimal' for the university because a certain number of international students may take offence at my presence there." A tear escaped and Adam tried to wipe it away only for the bulky silver gloves of the spacesuit to be too cumbersome for the action. Nigel reached out and did it for him, his hand splaying wide across Adam's hot cheek, smoothing away his sorrow. He smiled at the way Adam pressed against his palm, which slid along the side of his face, fingers diving into damp curls at the back of his head and gentling his neck, which resulted in a delicious trill of purring from deep in Adam's throat. "He also said I won't be able to engage the students properly. They will find my position at the university questionable."

The memory of Darko talking about his kid hit Nigel and he felt a small sense of outrage on Adam's part, seeing as how harshly judged he was for something he couldn't help. "Goes to show what he knows, you talked to a room full of seasoned bastard cops just fine. So what if you have a bit of a different way of doing things and you are so blunt and honest? You certainly fucking know how to hold a crowd's attention."

Adam gave him a delicate, down turned frown at his and Nigel leaned in closer giving that quivering lip a small kiss that made Adam's eyes blink and meet his, ever so very briefly, before concentrating on the pulse of Nigel's neck. "He didn't care about my Aspergers, he has two other professors who are on the same spectrum, a Professor Harang in statistics and Professor Doel who teaches immunobiology. His problem was with my gender, he says that Omega males are not able to meet the needs of the newer influx of students from the United Main. They are Alpha and too disruptive when Omegas try to teach them."

Nigel's soft petting instantly stiffened at this, and that ugly ball of fury began welling up inside of him, the one that was just dying to march into the University of Bucharest and give its rector a good few bruises to remind him that such discrimination is still illegal in the Eastern Unions and oh, yes, he insulted his Omega, not something any red blooded Alpha would stand for.

"Don't you worry about it, darling, why don't you get out of that suit, you're overheating in it, you're like a little sweaty rag. My poor little space angel, were you sitting here like this all that time? What is his name, darling, I will be sure to stop by his office tomorrow and give him a nice, pleasant reminder of our laws. He's not permitted to deny you a job because you are an Omega, I'll make sure he's perfectly fucking aware of that fact."

Adam faltered at this reassurance, his big blue eyes widening and then fluttering as he tried to calculate his question as carefully as possible. "Nigel...I...I'm not sure that's what he meant, it's what I interpreted him as saying...I know what he seemed to suggest was illegal and I have never experienced that kind of thing here in the Eastern Unions, I have been very happy here. I don't know why he brought up the students he has from the United Main, apparently there are about fifty and he's got lots of problems with them." Adam frowned and grimaced, tears threatening to fall again. "I feel like I can't do or say anything without it being wrong. I hate being like this. It's been very difficult for me, for a very long time and I just want to study space and I had that at Roscosmos and I lost it and I still don't fully understand why."

Adam loudly sniffed as Nigel placed the helmet on the tan leather couch and began fiddling with buckles and snaps, looking to free him from his confines in the suit. "I will still talk to him," Nigel reassured Adam. If there was some kind of miscommunication, he'd make sure it was solved real damn quick. The suit slid to the floor and Adam, damp and sweet smelling with Omega sweat, eased his feet out of it and smoothed out wrinkles before carefully rearranging it back on the stand in the corner of the living room.

"I worry that the same thing is going to happen to us," Adam said, and Nigel pushed aside some errant, damp curls that were plastered against Adam's neck, liking the way he leaned back against even the softest pressure Nigel put there. "I misinterpret a lot of what people say, and then the fact I'm an Omega causes even more problems. When I was dating Beth, she found it easier to tell her parents I had Aspergers than to tell them I was an Omega. And yet those are simply two very basic facts that make me who I am, it was like she wanted me to deny an entire section of myself and that was not possible. I am both things and they cannot be separated." Nigel opened his arms and Adam gratefully sank into them, his shivery little body releasing itself of tension the more Nigel stroked the back of his head and planted small kisses into his scalp. He smelled beautiful despite having nearly sweat to fucking death in a damned creepy spacesuit. Nigel wound his arms tighter around Adam, enclosing him in a hug that the Omega sighed in pleasure into, his tense muscles easing into relaxed bonelessness.

"Beth wanted me to be something I wasn't," Adam whispered to him. "She wanted me to be someone she could take home and brag about. She liked that I talked about space and knew so many things and that I was so good with computers. She bragged I was her genius. But she didn't like listening to me when I told her things she didn't like, or when I reminded her that I was an Omega. She got really mad when I told her that her father had tried to convince me to have sex with him and that I had to be very forceful when rejecting his advances. She didn't like me telling her that at all. She broke up with me not long after, she didn't tell me why or anything, just went back home to the Coastline with her parents and never talked to me again."

Nigel continued to hold him, swaying slightly in a rocking motion that he knew Adam found comforting. "That was very selfish of her, my angel. I'm glad you tried many new things as a result of what she awoke in you, we wouldn't be having this moment otherwise. But you don't have to change yourself for me, Adam, I will not discount what you have to say because you think you are rambling, and I will never ask you to hide anything about yourself or to change it to suit me, do you understand? You are perfect as you are. Angels don't need improvement." He broke the embrace slightly, pulling Adam gently away from him so he could bend down and get a good look at those baby blues that had so much difficulty meeting his own. He smiled into them as they momentarily took in Nigel's gaze before his lids partially shut and his concentration fell to the parquet floor. Nigel framed Adam's face in his hands and kissed his forehead, the salty sweet taste of his skin dizzying him like a drug. "I take it you haven't eaten."

Adam shook his head.

"Pizza?"

Adam nodded.

"No pepperoni, extra cheese, pineapple and ham?"

"Yes, that is how I like it."

Nigel chuckled softly as he pulled out his cell phone and began to dial his favourite pizza shop, located down the street. He put in the order while Adam retrieved the helmet to his suit from the edge of the tan leather couch and placed it back where it belonged, affixing the clasps holding it in place. Nigel had to fight the urge to grin at the image of Adam floating happily in space, a little blob of white and silver that was barely noticeable amongst the massive bulk of all those galaxies. His sweet little spaceman, with his thoughts so full of the great big sky and his life so complicated by how small everyone was down here on Earth. He sat on the couch and bid Adam to join him, and he snuggled his warm body close against Nigel's, all of the evil the day melting away into his shy smile that was teasing against Nigel's cheek as he snuck a kiss onto it. "I'm glad you're home," Adam whispered, and Nigel wrapped his arm around Adam's shoulders and pulled him even closer to him.

Adam's ear was pressed against Nigel's chest. "I can hear your heart beat. It has a strong and healthy rhythm, which is unexpected since you have many habits that can cause heart disease."

Nigel dove down, his lips teasing against Adam's mouth, speaking against the softness he found there and not allowing Adam to properly deliver a kiss. "It's because I'm taking the right medicine, my darling. A good dose of you cures me of all kinds of terrible things."

"Like your bad temper," Adam said, nodding at the sage observation. "And your smoking, which I know you haven't quit, but you have cut down. You sleep in a bed now, which is better for your back and you sleep much more soundly as a result. You also eat better--except for tonight, but expert nutritionists say a treat once a week is acceptable."

Nigel laughed and captured Adam's lips into a kiss, one of many he indulged in that Adam certainly returned. If the play became a little more serious and his hands started roaming a little, cupping that pert ass while his tongue dove in past gleaming, clean white teeth, what of it? Adam wasn't exactly being hands off himself, and if his fingers started straying to the buttons of Nigel's trousers, well, he wasn't going to stop him. Mm, he liked this, the taste of Adam's mouth a sugar he couldn't resist.

Fuck, he was getting so hard, the kisses becoming more urgent, Adam's mouth nipping and needful on Nigel's own, his neck crooked for Nigel to explore it, which he did, eager tastes taken breathlessly along the pulse points of his jugular. He was getting dizzy with the way Adam's hands kept moving, and his own, and he was touching all those sensitive little places that left slick moistening his fingers, Adam burying his face in the crook of Nigel's neck as he began soft mewling into it. His palm cupped Adam's erection, the tips of his fingers pressing harder, instinctively finding that little nub inside him that made him moan into Nigel's neck...

Fuck what was he doing? Nigel pulled away abruptly, noting with some shock that his hard on had escaped his open pants and there was Adam, dishevelled and breathless, shorts halfway down to his knees. "I'm sorry baby," Nigel said, putting himself back together and then easing Adam's shorts back up, urging him to redress. "I don't want to do anything we regret, if we went further I might have...I don't want to do that, not yet. I really fucking want to, make no mistake, but I don't think we're there yet, okay?"

A small, understanding smile was given to him, and Nigel wondered what was going on in his brilliant little angel's head. "Okay." Adam slid his shorts back up and gave Nigel a gentle kiss on his cheek. "I love you, Inspector Nigel Ionescu."

Oh that was just great, his heart was melting into this miserable ball of goo and dammit if he didn't *want* to take Adam, make him his and not let any fucker out there even think they could look at him or insult him or believe he was anything less than absolutely perfect. But he couldn't fuck this up, he had to move slow, had to make sure when he said, "I love you too" it had to mean so much *more*.

"It's not enough, baby," Nigel lamented as he looked at Adam's worried pout and spread his thumb across that tender bottom lip. "Me saying 'I love you'. It's just not enough, I have to fucking *prove* it."

Adam frowned at this, a tiny smile erupting over Nigel's words. "But you do that every day."

There was a loud knock at the door and both of them nearly jumped out of their skin. Pizza. He'd ordered fucking pizza. He left the couch like it was mired in hot lava. Like that even fucking mattered. He was done in anyway. "Fat chance that this one will keep going easy," his heart lambasted him. "You're fucking burnt already and you don't even know it yet, you stupid moron."

 

Chapter Text

THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter eight

As he sat across their breakfast table from Nigel, Adam contemplated that the supernova remnant of Cassiopea A. would be highly influential upon the dust and gases lurking within the interstellar space around it. The hot gases of the exploded supernova have an organically widespread effect, one that looms in hot gaseous trails that are detectable as radio waves. Electrons move in an advanced rush, at the same level as the speed of light, whipping through a spiral path through the magnetic field, spitting photons over a wide variety of wavelengths. Cassiopea A., at three hundred years old, is the youngest of such remnants and as such has much more information to give in regards to its continued evolution.

He outlined his current fascination with both this and the second youngest supernova remnant, Kepler's supernova which is three hundred and seventy years old, the night before while Nigel rested his heavy head on Adam's stomach, drifting into a worried sleep. Though he had been sorely disappointed in the results of his interview at the University of Bucharest, by the end of the evening Adam had calmed enough to view the entire exchange in a significantly more outsider viewpoint. The rector had not seemed unkind, and there were certain cues in his body language that suggested he was highly apologetic, not the least of which was his constant use of the word 'sorry'. "I'm sorry that this is the decision, I want you on our faculty, but the United Main students are giving the university its much needed funds. I'm sorry to say they are prejudiced and ignorant, absolutely useless as students, and in the end will wander off without a thing we've taught them in their heads. I really want to bar them from entry, they are disruptive and unkind to our Omega students, I can't even begin to think what they would do to you. You'd think just fifty of them wouldn't make much of a difference, but they sure know how to toss their weight around, and their demands are high. By next year, we can dig our heels in and really make them start paying attention to how we do things here in the Eastern Unions, but for now, I'm so sorry Mr. Raki, we are at the mercy of their culture shock and their money."

Adam thought carefully about the rector's tone of voice and his words, and he sipped his milk in thoughtful reflection over all of it and finally came to the conclusion that he didn't really want to work at a place that bought and sold its knowledge so easily. He would go somewhere else.

"Adam?"

He glanced up at Nigel who was quietly sipping his coffee, his head slightly downcast in a tired sort of expression that made Adam wonder if he'd had a fitful sleep. He hoped his discussion of the Cassiopea A. supernova remnant hadn't been the cause of it, it truly was a riveting development in the study of interstellar phenomenon, the remnant an odd third option between a neutron star and a black hole.

"Yes, Nigel? Would you like more coffee?"

Nigel pressed his lips firmly together and he didn't look happy, and Adam frowned at this, wondering what had happened to put Nigel in such an unpleasant mood. The morning had gone through its usual routine, and if Adam had kissed Nigel a bit too hastily as he made his way to the shower, he was sure he would make up for it later on. Nigel promised him he was working from home today, a prospect that made Adam's heart positively beam in anticipation. They could spend some quality time together exploring Bucharest, which he hadn't done since his arrival, and going to job interviews certainly didn't count.

Nigel sighed deeply and put down his coffee mug, his head bowed as he tucked his chin close to his chest. "Adam, I want to court you."

Adam took a forkful of scrambled egg, making sure it got a tiny amount of ketchup before shoving it into his mouth. He glanced up at Nigel, who still had that same, tired, worried aura about him that Adam couldn't quite place into their otherwise pleasant morning. "Okay," Adam said, and he watched as Nigel's shoulders slumped in relaxation at this, and it was then that he realized this was a serious issue in Nigel's mind and perhaps he'd better examine it more closely. "But first I need an explanation, I don't know in what context 'to court' means."

Nigel frowned at this and his lips curled in small sneer. "What the fuck do you mean you don't know what courting is? Why are you saying okay to it if you don't know what I'm asking of you?"

Adam shrugged. "You would never ask me to do something that would harm me, Nigel."

Nigel paused, then slowly nodded his assent at this, and Adam felt his heart soar at how Nigel reached across the table and took his hand in his, the calluses on Nigel's palm welcome and rough to the touch. Adam wasn't usually outwardly affectionate but Nigel's touch always drew that neglected part of his Omega nature out of him. Adam discovered he'd often go through his day and feel sudden pangs of longing for Nigel's hands on him, for the pressure of his palm on the back of his neck and the press of his mouth on his own in what was always a delicious, nicotine infused kiss. As he sat across from Adam at their breakfast nook, Adam took in the contours of Nigel's muscles as he sat shirtless in the sparse space, the yellow outline of nasty bruises along his abdomen finally beginning to fade.

Nigel's pressure on Adam's hand squeezed tighter and Adam inhaled a sharp breath at how delightful it felt. "If I'm courting you, Adam, it means I want to take this relationship into a very serious next step. I'm not looking at you as just some lay I found along the way, I want what we have to last a very long time. Forever, if I'm being honest."

"That's impossible," Adam said, and he ran a thumb along Nigel's liking its congruous heat beneath his skin. "One of us will die first. We are finite beings."

Nigel's voice was terse. "I know that, Adam, I'm just saying I want you for keeps, I don't want anyone else showing up later or me losing you in any way, you're too important to me. I'm talking fucking marriage here, black obsidian rings on fingers, do you understand?" Nigel put down his mug of coffee and his breath was coming in gasps, like he was having trouble breathing. "I'm just...I don't want to fuck up like the last time, like I did with Gabi. We got hooked up and I put a fucking ring on her finger within a week and it wasn't what I should have done, we were all wrong for each other, it was nothing like we've got here, and...I can't lose you, Adam. Please tell me I'm not going to lose you, I can't stand that kind of pain again, and especially not with you."

He was wanting an answer and Adam could only stare into his plate of eggs and wonder what the big deal was, he'd already decided he liked Nigel being in his life and he hadn't really thought about the prospect of him, suddenly, *not* being there. And though that question had all sorts of unpleasant scenarios rolling around within it, Adam decided to push it aside for the time being in order to reassure Nigel, who seemed to be--angry? Sad?--that he was perfectly willing to go along with whatever it was a courtship ritual, the Eastern Union version of bonding, entailed.

"It's okay, Nigel," Adam said, and he resumed eating his eggs. "I want you to court me, I like the idea of placing our relationship into a parameter of permanence. It's a highly uncommon thing for me to connect with people, so the fact that I find myself in such an intimate understanding with you, and so quickly, well...It's very much an anomaly in my personal experience." Adam finished his eggs and his glass of milk and took his plate and glass to the sink where he rinsed them off and placed them on the small tea towel he used as a drying rack. "We have expressed feelings of mutual care for one another. You have told me you love me and I have returned that exclamation. Bonding is a natural next step."

The scrape of a kitchen chair violently tore at the cheap linoleum floor and Nigel was suddenly at Adam's back, his arms encircled tight around the slighter man's waist, his face buried in the back of Adam's neck. He kissed the start of Adam's spine and it sent a shiver of want throughout his body as he instinctively pushed back against him, curving his neck in wanton submission to allow Nigel further access to it. He could feel Nigel's low, possessive growl vibrating between his shoulder blades and it sent such a feeling of erotic need through Adam he could sense the slick before it even escaped, his legs parting slightly in an effort to give Nigel better access. But the caress remained a painful tease as Nigel eased off of him, his muscles still tensed as he embraced Adam, forcing his touch to be lighter. Adam knew the Alpha was fighting for self control and he wished Nigel wouldn't feel the need to treat him as though he were so fragile. He had needs that were being denied, too.

"Courting is a long process," Nigel warned him, his voice gruff at Adam's ear, his hot lips tracing along the cartilage and nipping at the lobe. "First, we have to meet up with a witch and..."

"A what?" Adam asked, aghast.

"A witch, darling. Gabi and I skipped that step and I should have known then that nothing was going to work out, we just threw all the courtship rituals away, but they are there for a reason, my darling. We need to see a witch to make sure we are properly blessed by the spirits, everyone knows that."

Adam instantly balked at this, his head shaking at the very idea. "Nigel, witches are superstitious nonsense, as a person of science I can't agree to the validity of the advice that would be given, the very idea of entrusting someone with our perceived future who believes in magic is ridiculous to me." He clasped his hands over Nigel's , which were still encircled around his waist. He wanted to argue further, but he had to think about this, and much as he hated the very thought he had to put himself into Nigel's perspective.

"I don't believe in them either, they're a bunch of fucking fraudster assholes, but it's part of the ritual, darling, like the ones you have every morning and night. Scrambled eggs every day, at a specific time, the way you make coffee, the times you take a shower, the specific times you slot for job interviews and studying space, that I use the cherry blossom plates for breakfast and the blue plates for dinner, these are your quirks and I accept them and love them because they make you feel better. Can you not humour mine?"

Adam still felt trepidation, but he nodded into Nigel's throat, his lips longing to taste his flesh and leave kisses wherever he could. "I will not wear a chain with a nazar, I draw the line at adornments warding off the evil eye."

Nigel chuckled at this and fingered the small woven necklace he himself often wore, the blue circle embedded in white glass a crude facsimile of a human eye. "It barely works anyway," Nigel said, smiling into the back of Adam's neck and stealing more kisses there. This was a gentling he could appreciate and he smiled as Nigel began showing him affection in earnest, his hands pressed tight against the sides of Adam's waist, kneading the flesh just above his hips. "The next steps are more practical, geared to proving compatibility. I'm to take you out to a public place, preferably a formal setting. Tradition says a funeral, but a nice dinner would work. Then I'm to offer worship of you, pamper you in some way and, you know..." Nigel gave Adam a nipping kiss behind his ear. "Please you."

"I'm looking forward to that one," Adam said. "Perhaps we could revisit that particular step several times."

"Mm, my little space angel, so full of so many good ideas." He smiled as Adam turned around from his position at the sink, facing Nigel and stealing kisses from his mouth in tiny, darting promises he hoped became more urgent. He frankly wanted to skip to step three right then and there, but Nigel wasn't finished yet. "And then, for the fourth step, we are to take care of a child. Preferably a baby, just for a few hours. I'm sure there's someone at work I can borrow one from."

Adam stiffened at this. "I...I don't know about that one, Nigel, I'm not good with kids." He made a disgusted face and shook his head. "Especially ones in diapers. They're so..." He gagged at the thought of a dirty diaper. "...Messy and noisy and you can't predict what they are going to do, and they can be frustrating and...No, Nigel, I don't know about that, I have no confidence in that regard."

Just the thought was putting Adam into a mild panic, and he began to wonder if perhaps this courtship ritual could prove certain untenable differences between them. It wasn't that Adam didn't dislike children, he rather enjoyed their open honesty and some were certainly precocious enough to join in his enthusiasm when he talked about space. The problem was the idea of having one of his own, of giving up control of his body for the formation of another human being, and it was such a monumental responsibility in the scope of things he could feel a whine eking its way out of his throat, the very idea striking a cord of terror within him. He wasn't sure how he would he deal with the pregnancy, which as a male Omega was destined to be fraught with complications and careful monitoring by a team of doctors, all of whom would be eager to impose on his personal privacy. Actual childbirth was such a horror filled prospect he felt instantly queasy at the memory of that ancient film in Two Cent's health class in grade eleven. He'd thrown up all afternoon after being forced to watch it. And then the fact of having an actual human larvae in his arms, its helplessness begging of him to take care of it when he often struggled to take care of himself. He wrung his hands and began to rock just thinking about it, the monumental weight of that concept bearing down on him until he actually felt as though he was being crushed.

"What's wrong my little spaceman? Are you not feeling good? Your face is all hot. Fuck, you are like a little furnace."

"I need to lie down," Adam said, and though he hated having to do it, he broke free from Nigel's embrace and headed for the bedroom, this time closing the door behind him to wrap himself in the comfort of solitude.

He collapsed onto the bed and breathed hard into his pillow, trying to quell the rising panic that was starting to creep along the periphery of his mind and his senses. He did want to be bonded to Nigel, as a mate he was clearly the best candidate, but for some reason the whole idea of courtship and all of the long tail issues of what that brought with it afterwards was suddenly hitting him. He needed time to process it all and was annoyed at the soft rap on the door, the overwhelming issues of children and marriage and the fact he still didn't have a job and his need for Nigel and all of it made him want to shut down into a little ball of frightened emotions that rocked and curled into itself on the bed, hands pressed tight against his ears, shutting it all out.

"Adam, please let me in, I know you are upset. I just want to talk to you, can I do that? Darling, please, I didn't mean to make you feel like this. Is it because I want to court you? You can change your mind, my angel, we can wait until you are ready if you want."

Adam squeezed his eyes shut, his curled body pressed tightly together, and while everything inside of him was screaming 'stay out!' he knew it wasn't a kind thing to do and that he had to make sure Nigel knew this had nothing to do with how he felt about their relationship. "Come in," he weakly said, and Nigel must have had his ear pressed tight against the hollow press board of the door because he heard him, the handle rolling beneath the weight of his palm as he eased the door open and walked in.

He slid onto the bed and cocooned himself around Adam who initially bristled at the touch, only to lean into it as he found Nigel's warm body a delightful comfort against the growing terror that boiled inside of himself. "I never got to tell you the last step, my angel," Nigel whispered into Adam's ear. "I think you will like it."

Adam shivered, but it wasn't unpleasant. "What is it?"

"I mate you during your next heat."

Adam contemplated this and he felt his body relax beneath the influence of Nigel's caress, his hands seeking out and entwining with Nigel's own in a tight clasp against his heart. The thought of Nigel knotting him made a gush of slick trickle between his legs, and he heard Nigel happily sigh at the hormonal trigger of it, the hard length of his penis obviously aroused and pressing at Adam's back. Adam couldn't stop himself from thinking of what it would be like to be so conjoined, the thick width of Nigel's knot cementing them into a physical closeness that would easily translate over into the realm of the emotional. He found he was not at all averse to those thoughts. He sank back into Nigel's embrace, his initial panic quelled. Nothing said he had to get pregnant. This courtship ritual was about compatibility, about personal sacrifice. The larger questions could be answered later, Adam figured this was one selection of tests he could pass without study.

~*~

Adam didn't mind Nigel borrowing his laptop for work since the inspector's own home computer had died ages ago and the one at his desk at the precinct was woefully clunky and out of date. It worked well enough for what Nigel needed, which was usually quick research, email and opening .pdf files of reports, most of which he could obtain using his phone. Today, however, he needed access to Google Maps and a clearer picture on a larger screen. Adam showed him how to type in the addresses to get a real time image from the Google satellite of the areas he was searching. He was concentrating on a block of warehouses near the shoreline in the United Main city of Baltimore. Adam didn't ask questions he didn't want answers to, he was sure this had something to do with what he'd found in that abandoned warehouse, the injured Omegas still in the hospital and slowly recovering. It had been a few days since then, nearly a week, and though Nigel hadn't told him outright what was happening, he knew there were serious politics working into the mix and the United Main's current volatile situation was hindering Nigel's investigation.

There were three warehouses in particular that Nigel was focusing on, and he captured the images, circling the buildings using the touchscreen and the wand from the 'edit' tool. It bothered Nigel a great deal that the street view of the warehouses showed an abandoned area of the Baltimore dock, the buildings ramshackle and looking as though a soft breeze would tip them over. They were both currently in the bedroom, Adam's favoured place to reread his astronomy textbooks and make notations in his black notebooks beside him, a collection of soft pillows propping him up. The curtains were drawn and the lights were dim as per Adam's needs, bright lights bothered the photosensitivity of Omegas, and the bed coverings were stuffed with feather down and formed comfortably around his small body. Nigel was long and languid next to him, dressed casually in a ratty black t-shirt and a pair of navy striped pyjama bottoms that had seen better days, the hem undone and frayed against his heels. His feet were bare, and he flexed his toes at intervals as he poked through the images, taking in information that sparked his interest.

Adam was about to tell him that he had been incorrect in his assumption that the Cassiopea A. was still the youngest supernova remnant in interstellar space, he had completely forgotten about the tiny G1.9+0.3 where much more recent estimates of its age have put it at one hundred and ten years old. It is an infant in terms of this phenomenon and thus a fascinating study of its expansion can occur which can be monitored by concentrating on its strong X-ray emissions.

"Tell me more about your cousin, Will Graham," Nigel said, and he flexed his toes and began a thorough search of the image he'd captured from Google Maps before going back to the program and zooming in onto the street view. He checked every inch of the properties, pausing on gum wrappers and the occasional stray coffee cup swept into the gutter.

Adam shrugged. "I've told you before, he's a stranger to me. What I know of him is through news reports and the occasional word my father got from my uncle Ezra, Will's dad. I know that he was a cop once, when he first left the Mainland and moved to New Orleans, and that job didn't last very long. Next I heard he was doing consulting work for Quantico and teaching a class there on criminal profiling. He was living alone in Virginia with a pile of dogs, but I doubt he still has them." Adam let his book fall into his lap as he concentrated on Nigel's own version of hyperfocus. "He is currently bonded to his psychiatrist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. I find the ethics of that union unsettling. Dr. Lecter claims in his interviews that he had merely been consulting along with Will on the Chesapeake Ripper murders, but seeing as how Will is already an acting profiler for those cases, adding in another psychiatrist's opinion into the mix seems superfluous. He lost his license due to hiding being an Omega, but I believe he should have lost it long before when he was pursuing a relationship with my cousin."

Nigel paused over his perusal of the screen and edged closer to Adam on the bed, until their hips touched. "It is weird, isn't it my brilliant brained angel--What do you know of this Dr. Lecter your cousin chose to bond with? All I can get is that he was very successful in his field while he was in it and that the FBI had him on their payroll. Must be some kind of fucking good doctor to get in their good graces, picking their brain picker's shithead rubble. I don't know if you've noticed, Adam, but I don't like your cousin."

Adam scrunched up his nose. "I don't like him, either. He's overly self centred and he makes a living invading people's inner space. I find that far too invasive."

"He told me you were 'hard to read'. I'm guessing he finds you frustrating because of that alone. Nosy little bastard."

Adam frowned, thinking on it. "His job is to place his mind into that of a murderer and as he is someone diagnosed with an empathy disorder, I find this particularly dangerous. Getting into the mindset of a serial killer belies a certain reciprocity, in my opinion. If you can truly understand such an evil point of view, there is some measure of that evil already within you looking back. An abstract thought, yes, but one that fits Will quite readily, I believe. The best way I can explain it is that Will is in admiration of these human monsters the way I am in awe of space."

Nigel was quiet a long moment at this, his fingers pinched at his chin in deep thought as he absently leaned closer to Adam, distracting him from his book. He was only on chapter seventeen, which outlined the current methodologies of measuring supernova remnants, mostly using radio waves which were highly accurate in determining size while X-ray imaging was useful in calculating their age. The obscuring properties of space debris had prevented the earlier detection of G1.9+0.3 and it was solely through X-ray examination that the youth of the supernova remnant was discovered.

"Do you think he's capable of killing people?"

Adam was momentarily distracted from the study of his notes, the longhand calculations suddenly arrested in their flow. He was slightly irritated by this, only to realize that Nigel was asking him a question that was both strange and somehow relevant to his current investigation into Mason Verger's activities and he wondered why it was his cousin and his bonded Omega mate was invading it.

"Who do you mean? Will?"

"I don't know. Both of them. Together, even."

"Dr. Lecter is a psychiatrist, not a murderer."

"You sound so sure."

"I'm just highly sceptical a person of such intelligence would stoop to that kind of instinctive animal behaviour. It wouldn't make sense, Nigel. From what I've learned of him, he was an excellent surgeon before he became a doctor of the mind, a career change I do not understand for the workings of the human body are so much more linear. If one were to take what you are suggesting into a hypothetical theory, I would have to say that if Dr. Lecter was a murderer he would be a pragmatic one, each killing performed to attain an end goal he had in mind. He would not be a mindless psychopath killing solely for his own pleasure. Dr. Lecter is a highly intelligent professional and one determined in his pursuits, I do not believe he would partake of murder without careful consideration as to its consequences. The initial reasons would need to be catastrophic in nature. Murder would need to have a personal purpose."

"Hm," Nigel said, pushing up his bottom lip with steepled fingers as he went over the images on the screen with even more careful scrutiny, the street view taken in frame by frame. "Maybe you should have been the criminal profiler."

"I am not good at determining people's motives, Nigel. Those are far too convoluted and confusing for me to decipher, I have a hard time understanding why people prefer adding flavour shots and whipped cream to coffee when the cream and sugar standard is more than acceptable."

Nigel nuzzled into Adam's neck and softly sighed against his cool skin. "Darling, you just compared buying a coffee to murder."

Adam shook him off and, irritated, brought his textbook further up his lap. "It was an apt analogy."

He found he couldn't stay angry at Nigel, however, and soon he was allowing his rather persistent boyfriend (Was that terminology correct? They were set to be bonded by the strange parameters set by Nigel's culture, so what should he be called now? Bonded mate was for United Main sensibilities, and there was no such distinction here. Perhaps it would be best to refer to him as his Potential. Yes, that is a word that encompasses all hope for their future, it is a good term) to distract him once again with kisses trailed down the side of his neck, teasing little licks into his clavicle that gave him a fit of the giggles. Nigel gently pulled Adam's textbook out of his lap and to the side, then suddenly tackled him, sending Adam's body into delighted, confused yelps, the pillows he had propped himself on suddenly strewn all over the bedroom and Nigel was looming over him victorious. Adam hadn't bothered to fight him. Nigel's large hands pinned Adam's wrists to the mattress as he sunk down onto him, his hips moving in a highly sultry pantomime of sex. Adam closed his eyes and sighed as Nigel's kisses became slow and languid and he wondered if perhaps a repeat of the night before wouldn't be out of the question, for he had enjoyed it, and he was certain Nigel had too, despite the sudden unexpected shyness that had overtaken him, bidding him to take things more slowly. He had insisted he needed to prove to Adam that he loved him, and Adam now understood that his wish to court him had a lot to do with that belief. While he appreciated the gesture, it frustrated him as well. Nigel had already done so much for him, he'd saved him from a terrible fate first of all, and to find they were so well matched afterwards was a further miracle that Adam was still trying to analyze.

Nigel's hard length was obvious beneath the thin layer of layer of dark navy cotton that were his pyjama pants, and Adam felt damp in response, his knees parted as he allowed Nigel more pressing access. He was wearing a pair of ironed trousers, complete with belt and an extra barrier of cotton boxer shorts underneath, but he could still feel the answering sensation of slick trickling out of him, a wet patch growing where Nigel was now so fervently grinding against him.

Nigel's kisses deeply explored his mouth, his hands still firm on Adam's wrists, preventing him from much more than enjoying Nigel's display of erotic dominance. As Nigel nosed down his abdomen, small bites given through his sweater, Adam shivered at the caress, his eyes closed as he felt Nigel slide lower, his cheek pressed hard against Adam's own smaller, but highly obvious, delight.

"Oh fuck, my angel baby, fuck you smell so good, you fucking smell so fucking good." Panting like he was drugged, Nigel nosed into Adam's crotch, against that damp spot that was growing again as Nigel darkly growled against the renewed evidence of Adam's arousal, the slick a potent aphrodisiac to the Alpha's senses.

Nigel's grip on Adam's wrists tightened, almost to the point of it being painful, and Adam remained still, his legs spread wide as Nigel so intimately scented him. It didn't matter that they were still clothed, the sensations were so heightened it was like the tail of a comet surrendering sparks against his skin. When Nigel's chin dared to press down on his cock Adam couldn't help himself, his body shook with shocked pleasure at the teasing touch, all muscles tightened within his body as he suddenly came. Slick practically poured out of him at this, and Nigel, his nose pressed against the damp between Adam's legs, let out an answering, viciously snarling moan that signalled his own, animalistic release.

Still panting, Nigel slid back up Adam's body, releasing his wrists and embracing him tight, his face buried in the exposed curve of Adam's neck. Small whines left Adam at this tortuous pleasure, his hands shaking slightly as he tentatively returned the embrace, fingers alighting onto Nigel's shoulders like the dance of flickering satellites barely visible to the naked eye at night.

"I love you, Adam Fucking Raki." Nigel cupped the back of his head with his large palm, his forehead and cheek rubbing against Adam's, kisses tenderly suckled from his half open, sighing lips. Nigel's weight over him was warm, like a blanket, and though he pressed down just a little too heavily, Adam remained in submission beneath him, feeling safe and protected. "His ribs are fractured, this must hurt him more than he's letting on," Adam thought, but he wasn't about to push Nigel away, this was a needful, instinctive expression for the Alpha to indulge in. Nigel was strong, purposeful and uncompromising and Adam, as his Omega, relished it.

Adam remained beneath him, accepting the doting attention Nigel gave him well past the time his body started going numb from the pressure. His wrists ached and the weight of Nigel over him made it hard to breathe, but the beautiful emotional sensation of his Alpha working this kind of detailed pseudo lovemaking on him was well worth the discomfort. By the time Nigel slid off of him and to his side, they were both drugged with pheromones, a tender high that left Nigel glassy eyed and searching for his breath.

Adam slid his fingers through Nigel's hair, a habit that made the Alpha gruffly growl happily in response. "I'll need to get changed. I'm glad we opted to stay in this afternoon Nigel, especially since we are going to Darko's for dinner. I know that kind of invitation isn't common, you both are usually working too much, and you as well as I had projects we wished to work on. Bucharest will still be there for another day and we will properly discover it then. I'm enjoying our afternoon together, here, very much Nigel." He gave him a soft kiss that held a small pout of longing within it. "I do hope we can do that again soon, and without the cumbrance of clothes." He slid onto his side to face Nigel, who was staring at him in dreamy repose, his hair mussed and his eyes still holding that sultry focus that suggested he was still riding on that small pheromone high. Adam gave him the tiniest of smiles and kept his eyes downcast as he contemplated Nigel's kiss bruised lips. He whispered across the expanse of pillow, the trail of a comet licking past the Andromeda galaxy: "I love you, Nigel."

Nigel grinned at this and closed his eyes as he buried his face into their shared pillow, as though he was exhausted enough to fall asleep. "What you do to me, my little spaceman. I came in my fucking pants, darling. I'm insane crazy for you, I really fucking am. Hold me and kiss me forever, my sweet angel, crash against me like those fucking big bangs you talk about. You make me explode, in my pants, in my fucking heart. You're the beginning of my goddamned world."

He smiled and languidly caressed Adam's neck with his splayed fingers, wetting his lips and teasing more kisses onto Adam's brow, soft and gentle and barely touching and yet each little caress was like an ember burning on Adam's skin. "Your mind is scattered due to the influence of my pheromones," Adam explained, his lips pursing in whisper against the blissed out expression of Nigel's face so close to his own. "It is accurate to feel unhinged at present, since your higher reasoning functionality has been compromised."

"I'm absolutely drunk on you, my darling," Nigel said, eyes closed and a wide grin answering him.

Nigel's cell phone rang and he instantly cursed it, though not with the usual fire he would have given it. He didn't look at the name on the cell and he pressed it against his ear, his voice still thick with sex. "Nigel Ionescu, what do you want?"

"Nigel, you have to help Charlie!"

Nigel didn't open his eyes, his head still pressed against the pillow in lazy near somnolence as Adam heard Gabi's voice erupt through the cell phone. He groaned and hit speaker mode on the cell so he didn't have to keep holding it against his ear, the cell phone like a little black rock in between his own and Adam's belly on the surface of the bed. "What do you want now, Gabi?"

She was in hysterics, less angry this time, Adam noticed, and the choking sobs suggested she was in some sort of distress. "It's Charlie!" she shouted through the phone. "His father has died!"

There was another tortured wail at this, and Nigel sighed into his pillow, his attention more riveted by the shape of Adam's brow, which he traced in soothing motions with his fingertips back and forth. "Sorry to hear it," Nigel yawned.

"He can't go to the funeral! It's too dangerous in the United Main, he's an Omega and they'll arrest him at the border, they would haul him off to a GSF facility, or something worse! Oh my God, Nigel, you have to help him! He's desperate!"

"What does he need my help for, Gabi?" Nigel inched closer and pressed his nose against Adam's, clearly liking the way the nuzzle of it elicited a grin. "He has you, there's no need to be calling me about this. Comfort him as best as you know how and hopefully it will be enough. He's an Omega." Nigel nipped at Adam's nose, and Adam fought the urge to giggle. "You need to cherish him."

There was a distinctly angry pause at this and when Gabi's voice returned, Adam noted it held significantly less screaming tears within it. "Who the fuck is with you? Is it that whore from the last time?"

Nigel's mouth curled into an angered sneer at this and Adam watched his reaction carefully, taking in the heightened redness around Nigel's eyes, the tightly pressed mouth that hid how hard he was grinding his teeth. Nigel was doing all he could to stay in control and he was doing a wonderful job of it, Adam thought, especially since he was keeping so quiet and not lashing out in fury, as was his habit when Adam first met him.

"I'm seeing someone," Nigel finally admitted, and he kept his voice even, only the smallest edge of anger tainting it. Adam smiled at him in encouragement. "He's in bed with me right now, in fact. He's everything we weren't." Nigel slid closer to Adam in the bed, and draped an arm lazily over his slender waist. "Tell Charlie I am very sorry to hear about his father, it's a terrible thing to lose a parent."

"He needs to bring him here," Gabi said, and the tears were beginning to return. "He's in a cardboard fucking box in United Main, Nigel, and they won't release him to Charlie because he's an Omega who renounced his United Main citizenship! They said there's a fee and it has to be paid in full by this evening or they are going to return Charlie's father's ashes to a random funeral home in New York county and give him a pauper's burial! You can't let them do this! You have to help him!"

Nigel sighed deeply and scooped up the cell phone, Gabi's tears muffled as she pressed her woe deep against the speaker. In the background, Charlie, who was not crying, was trying to reason with her, his voice a relentless whine that Adam couldn't help but find irritating. Nigel took the cell phone off of speaker mode and, sitting up with his back against the headboard of the bed, he patiently listened as both of them began speaking at once, their voices melding into barely reasoned mess that Adam couldn't decipher. They were a highly emotional couple, Adam thought, easily overwrought by every small hurdle that life happened to drop their way. From what he quickly learned of him, Charlie was determined and strong when it came to Gabi and he was telling her no, that the ashes not getting to Romanian soil are not the end of the world, that his father is gone and there's nothing that's going to change that, be he in a cardboard box or a damned Ming vase. But Gabi was motivated by her own feelings, and she cursed at Nigel, who listened with half an ear at this, closing off his programs on Adam's computer and then gently shutting the lid. He gave Adam a quick kiss in between Gabi's histrionics.

"Go get washed up and changed, darling, we'll be going to Darko's in a couple of hours, that will give you lots of time."

"I hate you!" Gabi screamed from the phone. "I hate you, you fucking bastard! Are you talking to that whore in your bed? Fuck you, Nigel! Fuck you!"

Adam couldn't figure out why she was so upset, it wasn't like they were still together and she was presently well embedded in a new relationship with the Omega male he knew only as Charlie. Nigel had never discussed what had caused his break up with Gabi in anything other than generalities. He couldn't figure out where Charlie fit into it, if he did at all.

"He already did," Nigel said, not missing a beat. "Made me come in my pants like some fucking horned out teenager. Honestly, Gabi, you should have told me what it was like having an Omega around, I would have pursued Charlie myself." He chuckled over something Gabi said that Adam couldn't overhear. "I'm just joking, Gabi, he's hardly my type. He's a fucking mess all the time, it would be like sleeping with a sweaty sock. Your laundry bill must be the size of your fucking mortgage. Yes, I'll send the fucking money and send it off to U.M. customs, email me the details. Say hi to Charlie from me, since it's not like you'll let the poor prick talk to me himself."

Nigel hung up his cell phone and gave Adam's frozen stance in the doorway of the bedroom a cautious once over. "What is wrong, my angel? I know it is strange, me still giving her money, but that's how love is, darling, it doesn't just go away. I did love Gabi--It's hardly what I have with you, no comparison at all--but there are responsibilities when you allow someone so closely into your life. You can't just turn off how much you care."

Adam shrugged. "A mistake is just a mistake. It will be corrected, eventually. Calculations reach wrong conclusions all the time, such as during Galileo's time when there was the widespread belief that the Earth revolved around the sun. It was an incorrect assumption. I think people do that, too, they make miscalculations. Gabi is one of them, she's like a math problem with the wrong conclusion, only you've figured out the right answer and that answer is me." Adam stood up a little taller at this, and his voice was firm as he spoke to Nigel. "You may give her money this time, but this is the last. I absolve you of your responsibility to her, Nigel. We are courting. My wants take precedence."

 

Chapter Text

THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter nine

Darko's home was brightly lit and fashioned in pale pastels, two overly exposed things that instantly hurt Adam's eyes as he stepped past the patio doors and into the tiny home. Darko and Bianca had both eagerly welcomed Nigel and Adam in, crowding the little space they had to take off their shoes before hanging up coats in the tiny closet near the front door and making their way inside. Adam instantly began squinting but no one around him seemed to notice the distress the brightness of the house caused, especially not with Nigel brandishing a bottle of wine that Darko immediately wanted to open, and though Bianca swore and told him to wait, he eagerly grabbed a corkscrew and freed it anyway, pouring generous glasses for both himself and Nigel. He was about to give one to Adam, who politely declined, so Bianca was given it instead. Idly sipping it, Bianca was busy stirring a delicious smelling stew in a large aluminium pot and she gave him a pretty smile and a wink, two things Adam wasn't quite sure how to respond to since a wink often suggested something secretive. He gave her a tentative smile in return and this seemed to be the correct response.

She was a very pretty woman in her late thirties, with long, straight red hair and a dark, tanned complexion, her eyes heavily ringed in kohl. She was a Beta, that much was obvious, but he instantly got the feeling she wasn't as pushy as that gender usually was and she didn't ask Adam if he wanted a drink or if he could have a seat or any of those micro managing things that Betas instantly felt a need to take control of. She wore a simple pink pastel hued dress, and it clicked to Adam as to where Bianca had put her controlling, pushy nature. The environment of the house was entirely her stamp upon it.

"Fuck yeah, the game is on! Adam come on!"

Darko and Nigel, both being Alphas who were friendly with one another, were loud and boisterous as they entered the small living room, where a soccer game was already in full play on the large screen. England vs. Poland. It meant nothing to Adam, who didn't follow sports, just as Bianca's stew didn't mean much to him, since he wasn't a fan of pork, and overall he was feeling awkward and out of place and the creeping wish to be in his spacesuit floating around in space and nudging against the Crab Nebula, even though it would burn him to cinders, was a far more comforting distraction. He wasn't sure what to do with himself since he had no interest in sports and from the sounds of gleeful curses, the air punched by two overgrown boys who had already forgotten him, he would only be an annoying distraction. He stayed in the kitchen and kept a wan smile on his face that he hoped was the correct thing to be doing. Perhaps he could help Bianca with the meal, though he had to bite down on his tongue and refrain from telling her that she was cooking exactly everything his palate hated.

"So you're staying with Nigel?" Bianca asked him, her wooden spoon still stirring the rather goopy contents of the aluminium pot in front of her. She was not a slender woman, Adam noticed, she had a hard muscular bulk to her that didn't quite fit the flowery aesthetic of the pastels she surrounded herself in.

"I'm sleeping with him. Where is your washroom?"

Bianca's face twisted a little at this, and she gave Adam an odd look before motioning with the wet end of her wooden spoon down the hall directly off of the side of the tiny kitchen. The walls were painted a stark white and there were spotlights all the way down its length, already giving Adam a headache. "It's on the left, across from Micah's room."

There was the sound of a sliding back porch door being opened and Darko and Nigel's loud voices were accompanied by the sharp bark of a tiny dog who ran after Adam and sidled close to his heels before sitting down and giving him a friendly, tongue lolling yip. It was a tiny little fuzzy mop of a thing, its eyes freakishly small like it had some kind of genetic disorder and Adam noticed its teeth were mismatched, the slightly deformed dog unable to tuck his tongue in completely behind them. "What wrong with it?" Adam asked, and Bianca gave him another odd look.

She kept stirring the pot. "He's a purebred Pekinese, what isn't wrong with the stupid thing. Oskar! Leave his leg alone!" She shoved Oskar's ardour off of Adam's leg with the tip of her pale green heels. Adam had to wonder at the idea of having pets, which often served no purpose more than inconvenience, though it could be said the companionship they provided was often soothing. A dog or a cat didn't expect much from you other than the very basics, along with some attention. Maybe people were the same way, these were certainly basic needs he himself could relate to, and as he scratched behind the tiny dog's ears and watched Oskar wiggle his butt furiously in joy he was at least grateful for how well the dog cured his awkward feelings as he stood in the kitchen. He thought about how pets are believed to look like their owners over time and noted that Oskar was small and stout, just like Bianca. She was the only one in the house still wearing shoes, and she was extremely short without them, Adam realized, barely five feet. He wondered if she needed to wear them to be able to reach the stove.

He didn't voice this observation, however, he was getting better at not asking highly personal questions of strangers, and instead made his way to the bathroom to pretend to urinate when he what he really wanted to do was have a few moments alone to regroup himself and try not to think about how harsh the lighting in Darko's home was, or how loud everyone was, or that the meal he was set to eat was slowly turning into some kind of ghastly pale beige meat mush that couldn't possibly be appetizing.

The light was harsh in the bathroom, too, and the theme was a bleached beach white. He sighed and closed his eyes, pressing his forehead against the mirror above the sink and wishing he could quell this rising panic welling within him. It wasn't fair to Nigel to be like this, and it certainly wasn't to Darko who rarely had the opportunity to have his friend on the neutral ground of his home. Adam realized he was just going to have to endure this, and with his face hot and slightly feverish, he cupped his hands beneath the running tap and pressed his face into the cold water and told himself, in a mini mantra, "Cassiopea A. is at a distance of 10,000 light years. Synchrotron radiation, detected throughout its presence, suggests large quantities of energy exist within its expanding confines..."

He closed his eyes and braced himself, and then left the bathroom, opening the door wide and, much to his curiosity, was greeted by another opened door and a room that was blissfully darker than any other space within the tiny house. Adam blinked slightly and then entered the room with a sense of sighing relief, the dark navy walls and ceiling encompassing him within their cool influence, the room dimly lit by a blue lava lamp that slowly oozed melted wax within its lit cylindrical base. He watched it for a few moments, noting that the blobs of blue wax were similar to the gaseous emissions caught by the Hubble in deep space. His concentration was gradually broken by the fact that he was not alone in the room, there was a rather chubby young boy sitting cross legged on the floor, a video game paused in front of him, and his little black eyes that were as small and piercing as his father's were staring up at him.

"Uh...Hi. I'm Adam." Adam nodded and the boy said nothing, he just kept staring, which Adam thought was kind of rude, but then he wasn't an expert on social graces himself, no matter how much he studied them. "I'm sleeping with Inspector Nigel Ionescu." He glanced at the screen with the paused game and gave it a cursory inspection. "I see you are playing Dead Rising, it is one of my personal favourites. You can pick up anything and use it as a weapon against the zombies, but don't try using paper, it just flutters around and you'll end up getting eaten. Ah, I see you are running out of time, you have a three day time span to get through and if you've missed a step that means you have to do a hard restart." Adam let out a disappointed sound at this. "This game proved to me the unfortunate fact that hiding out in a mall from a zombie apocalypse is not feasible in the statistical realty."

Micah stared at Adam. He reached beside him and wordlessly held up an extra remote.

"Yes, I would like to play," Adam said to the unspoken question and he collapsed onto the floor beside Darko's silent, chubby son, his legs crossed and buttons eagerly pressed as the zombies started dropping on the screen.

They did this silently for a while, Adam racking up points as he took out the hungry dead, though he was lacking in medical supplies and his health was failing. Micah was gaining in the body count. Adam wondered how this was, and he reasoned that perhaps he had better anticipatory instincts thanks to having played the game recently and placed the killings into muscle memory, though Adam's own experience and equally quick reflexes should have had them closer to par. He whacked at a zombie crawling along the floor in front of him, narrowly missing the one reaching out to take a bite at his neck.

There was a knock at the door, and Micah quickly paused the game, both himself and Adam silently turning to see who was there. Nigel stood in the overly bright frame, his arms braced on either side of the door, his body in silhouette. "Dinner is ready, kids," he said, and gave Adam a smiling wink as he headed back down the hall towards the dining room.

Adam and Micah faced one another and Micah, as annoyed with having their game interrupted as Adam, reluctantly got up from his position on the floor, Adam quickly following him. He instantly began blinking as the blinding light of the rest of the house assailed him, and he followed Micah to the kitchen and the narrow dining table which was heavily adorned with pink flowers and a white filigree crocheted tablecloth knotted into a pineapple pattern. The food smelled okay, and he tried to smile as the slop from the pot was dumped onto his dish, complete with a couple of brussel sprouts, which he hated, on the side. Nigel and Darko were busy drinking bottles of beer and rough-housing at the end of the table, the two of them given harsh looks by Bianca as she continued serving the food.

"Darko, would it kill you to use a glass?" She pointed at the partially crushed beer can he had perched beside his plate and though he tried to give her a mixture of bravado and Alpha posturing back, he did sheepishly get up and get a glass, and one for Nigel, too, and he did pour his beer into it, and bid Nigel to do the same when he handed the wide rimmed pint glass to him.

Adam poked at the beige stew with his fork, wondering how he was going to pretend to eat it without Bianca noticing he hadn't taken a bite. The brussel sprouts were a serious problem, he was aware they were often full of small aphids that could never be washed out properly, and those little seed like pink pods within it was their bloated, cooked bodies. He didn't like brussel sprouts. Micah nudged his arm, and, staring silently at him, he 'accidentally' rolled a brussel sprout to the floor where the yippy Pekinese dog Oskar was happily waiting. The tiny dog gobbled it up, and, making sure Bianca didn't see him, Adam quickly tipped one of the three sprouts on his own plate down to the dog, who was more than happy to feast on them.

He was nearly caught the third time, and he quickly rolled the sprout back onto his plate when Bianca turned to him and asked, "So, Adam, I hear you're a really smart guy. You were at the space program in Moscow?"

"Yes, I was at Roscosmos, I was their lead planetologist." Adam tore a piece of bread and pretended to dip it into the stew and then quickly ate it. Bianca was still looking at him, expecting more of an answer and he wasn't sure what more she needed to know. He swallowed his morsel and took a drink of water before saying, "I was studying interplanetary soil samples at the time, specifically lunar rock and more interestingly, sediments from Mars. Roscosmos has a very detailed exploration program and they hope to have a small colony on Mars by the year 2057, though by my estimate that goal may be reached sooner with more careful planning amongst the varied departments." He gave her a small smile and decided to utilize a useful phrase he'd picked up from Nigel. "Scientists are passionate about their fields and some are very competitive and resistant to experts outside of their specialities. They are constantly having pissing contests."

Bianca raised a heavily arched brow at this and Micah giggled. Nigel was digging into his stew, seemingly oblivious to the conversation, though when he spoke it was clear he had, in fact, been paying attention. "They are bunch of assholes for letting you go, darling. But I'm glad they did, otherwise, I would never have met you."

He gave Adam an encouraging smile, one that Adam returned with a soft blush. He pushed around the stew on his plate with a fork, and Micah turned to him saying, clear as day, "I had a pissing contest with this kid George, at school. He won, but I think there was something wrong with him. He had to piss six times in one day. I think he had an infection." Micah shoved a piece of bread in his mouth and talked to Adam around the crumbs. "You touched dirt from Mars?"

Adam felt a small well of pride at this and he grinned at Micah. Oskar pawed at his shin, seeking out another brussel sprout, but everyone was looking at him, the scrutiny making his cheeks and neck redden. "Yes, I did."

"Cool."

"It's comprised of a high amount of salt perchlorate, which is not conducive to plant life and suggests the soil may be incompatible despite adequate levels of potassium, magnesium and chloride."

Micah thought for a long moment, his fork poking through the stew with just as much as a lack of enthusiasm as Adam. He gave the slight man beside him a sneaking look. "Do you want to see my marigolds?"

"Are these the ones from your gamma ray experiments? Nigel told me about them."

"Yeah."

"I would love to."

They both excused themselves from the table and practically ran back to the comfort of Micah's room, the paused zombie game remaining in stasis for the moment. The darkness of the space gave Adam a sense of calm. Micah draped his arms around his terrarium of marigolds and brought them over for Adam to inspect. He remarked on how varied the results were and that keeping his control plants separate from these flowers was a wise decision.

"You must have got a very good mark," Adam said, smiling and Micah kicked at the tiled floor.

"Nah. I failed it because I couldn't talk in front of the class."

"Oh?" Adam said, and frowned at this. "Why not?"

Micah shrugged, not looking up at him and keeping his head downcast. "I wanted to talk about the results but all I could think about was how everyone was staring at me, and I didn't want to mess up. Then I couldn't say anything, because I was so scared. So I failed."

"No, you didn't fail, your experiment was a success and you have extension notation. If I was you I would approach your teacher and ask that she reconsider her decision."

Micah looked up at him, aghast. "But she already marked me, and she said the whole point of the project was to stand up and talk in front of the class."

"Then she should have given you an assignment with that exact parameter and not a complex experiment with various components. You can argue that if your presentation was flawed then so was her expectation. The worst that can happen has already happened. She can't fail you twice and at the least you will have voiced your protest."

Micah seemed to consider this. Adam once again inspected the marigolds in their glass enclosure and inwardly remarked on how shockingly beautiful some of the mutations were. Rich orange flowers doubled up and bursting like flames off of their green stems.

Micah gestured to the video game that was still paused and waiting. Adam silently nodded, placing the terrarium full of flowers onto the centre of Micah's bed and then sat cross-legged on the floor beside him. Micah instantly upped his body count by ten points before Adam could release a single swing. He grabbed a knife from the House Of Knives but it wasn't nearly as effective as Micah's baseball bat. He had to concede that Darko's son was an expert zombie killer.

~*~
They sat on the back porch because Bianca hated smoking, and Darko had no interest in helping with the dishes, though he'd be doing them all himself once Nigel and Adam went home, Nigel knew. He liked to pretend he was the big Alpha man at home, but Bianca had him whipped. Nigel chuckled into his cigarette at this and took a long drag before raising the bottle of palinca and pouring them a couple more shots. They clinked them together and toasted 'Salut!' before downing them in unison, mouths twisted in twin grimaces as the sour and sweet pear liqueur went down with a punch.

Darko's backyard was almost twice the size of his tiny, narrow house. It was lined with all sorts of pastel coloured flowers, Bianca's touch yet again, and the small five piece white bistro set was a delicate, highly feminine insertion into the space, the thin aluminium barely containing the Alpha bulk of both Nigel and Darko that took up the small seats. The bottle of palinca was in the middle of the table, the two shot glasses waiting to be refilled. They were also flowery and pink, Nigel noted, and he wondered if Darko was given any decision in his house at all.

"I'm courting Adam," he announced to his friend, and Darko nodded sagely at this.

"So when are you skipping over all the bullshit and knotting him, then? No one ever makes it past the second step, it's all 'witch, dinner, fuck'. He must be going into heat soon, when is the season in Russia? Or is he still on biological clock Two Cent, Ohio Mainland, United Main, time?"

Nigel couldn't answer him and the logistics of figuring it out had given him a headache earlier that afternoon. He'd tried the formula he found online to figure the latitude and longitude of Two Cent, only to realize Adam had probably been in Moscow and exposed to other Omegas long enough to be synchronized with *their* heat schedule, and that one was apparently months away, but he had also been exposed to possibly dozens of Omega pheromones when he first came to Romania and began working for Verger at the club, which according to some medical web sites meant that he would be syncing in the season of his peers almost immediately. Nigel ended up with three wildly different dates, with months in between them, and he'd ended up giving up trying to calculate further. It wasn't like he could hand the information over to Adam and get him to figure it out, he'd be asking Nigel to explain to him why he wanted to know and Nigel would have to reply that it was so he knew when to buy the fucking condoms. He hadn't missed how spooked Adam had gotten over the idea of children, though he didn't know what the big deal was, they were only helpless for a temporary amount of time and dammit, he was getting along great with Darko's Micah, a kid who didn't talk to anyone unless he'd met them at least a dozen or so times before.

Darko poured them another couple of shots and Nigel was grateful his friend was so eager to help him forget his troubles. "So this thing with Adam is getting real fucking serious."

Nigel contemplated the stupidly pink shot glass. "Yeah," he said, without enthusiasm. "I'm thinking of getting obsidian rings, going for the traditional route, you know? They're expensive as fuck but he's worth it. I still got the ones Gabi rejected, never bothered to take them back after I got her the diamond rings instead."

Darko nodded at this, the palinca poised at his lips. "You still talking to Gabi?"

Nigel nodded. "Charlie needed money to get his dead father's ashes sent overseas." He and Darko downed the shots of palinca and grimaced anew before setting their shot glass down. "Adam wasn't happy about that. He's kind of...Well, he told me I'm not allowed to give her money any more."

Darko loudly laughed at this, and he slapped Nigel on the back hard enough to make his healing ribs smart in protest. "Never mind no fucking rings, Nigel, he's got you tamed as fuck! You're giving up the Gabi drama for him, that's really something, my friend. I better give you my congrats already, there's no way you aren't knotting that little thing before the end of next week!"

Nigel felt light headed, the booze finally doing its work and pushing him into a grey cloud of floating inhibition. "You're such a fucking pig, Darko." Nigel smoked his cigarette, a curl of a smile coursing through his snarl. "Can't say I haven't thought about it. A lot. He fucking...Darko, I have to tell you this and you can't say a fucking word, all right?" He leaned in close, and Darko narrowed his eyes into thin, concentrated slits of black. "I was kind of, you know, messing a bit with him this afternoon. And I kid you fucking not, just scenting his slick made me cum in my pants. I mean, what the fuck? I've been with all types before, Darko, I fucked the best and the worst out there. But fuck me, if that wasn't some kind of intense shit, it's kind of freaking me out a little now that I'm thinking about it."

Darko was quiet a long moment at this, eyeing the palinca as though it had an answer for them. "Nigel, I think you ought to start rethinking your fucking math. Sounds to me like Adam's heading straight for his heat season and damned soon. Your body doesn't fucking lie about that shit."

"You think that's what that was?"

"I don't know. You've been holding off, right? It's like going on a bender when you haven't been drinking for a while, you get fucked up faster and sicker than usual." Darko contemplated the stupid little pink shooter and then poured the rest of the palinca, emptying the bottle. "Just make sure you know it's what you want. This isn't the same as with Gabi, she's a Beta and look at how that disaster did you in. The two of you were drunken morons, saw that train wreck a mile away. You don't mess with Alpha and Omega unions without being sure, Nigel, so you keep that in mind. You knot him and that's it. That kind of biological chemistry, that's for keeps. If this doesn't work it'll be a damned long time before the scent of him is off of you. We're talking ten years at least."

Nigel wasn't worried, if he held Adam's sweet, delicate scent for the rest of his life it would be something he'd revel in daily, reinforcing as much he could, either with sex or affection or other modes of imprinting that would leave him lingering in some way within Nigel's cells. He smiled to himself at the thought, wistful little hopes drifting up from within his increasing drunkenness, his head cocked to one side as he thought of Adam's flushed cheeks and his fluttering eyes blinking open in shocked erotic surprise. There was a fantasy building around his future life with the Omega, and yes, there were children in there somewhere, he was sure Adam would come around, and damn if the very idea of putting a little black ring on his finger made Nigel's heart all sorts of stupid giddy. "My little spaceman only has Heaven to go to. I'll be sure to take him there as often as I can."

"Fuck's sake." Darko leaned back in his chair rolling his eyes and turning away from Nigel. "You got it just as fucking bad as the last time, if not worse. You don't fucking learn."

Nigel bit back on his happiness, it's joy instantly muted as he sat beside Darko on the back porch, the palinca worming its way through his system and making his mind feel tired. "I got a lead on the shipped Omegas that bastard Masters was talking about. Adam's cousin, Will Graham, the one with the FBI, he did a profile of the case for me and he sent me some possible warehouse locations where they can be found. I was studying the satellite images of the area on Google Maps all fucking afternoon. There's activity there, new coffee cups thrown on the ground outside. The look of it is identical to the one we raided, probably the same set up."

Darko was tense as Nigel spoke, his muscles on high alert as though he was about to go smashing up traffickers with his bare fists at any second. "Subcomisar Gorecky know about this?"

"Sent him an email, haven't heard anything back yet."

He'd been very careful as to what he revealed, opting to keep Dr. Lecter's identity as the Chesapeake Ripper under wraps until he had some really solid evidence to go on, and even then he wasn't sure how he felt about the supposed serial killer turned vigilante. The murderer's motives, though personal, had a weird resonance with Nigel's own frustrations. He wanted to talk to him first, find some way to convince him to shut down his international operations before things went too far. Getting homegrown Omegas to fight for the cause was one thing, but recruiting ones from foreign soil through chat rooms and locked newsgroups? Not exactly something Nigel was willing to overlook, this was about the United Main, this wasn't *their* fight.

The booze was really hitting him now, and he didn't like that his thoughts were becoming darker, the shadow of the Ripper and the plight of the Omegas in the United Main taking over their enjoyment of the evening. He pushed all thoughts of them aside and loudly laughed at a joke Darko told him that wasn't particularly funny. He wondered where his darling little spaceman was. He slapped Darko on the back in an overtly friendly gesture. "Got any more of that wine?"

~*~

"Why are you being such a fucking pill, my darling angel? Come on! Take one and drink it!" Nigel staggered as he walked down the centre of the suburban street, cars passing them and beeping for him to get the hell off the road. He shoved the bottle of Darko's bitter homebrewed beer into Adam's unwilling hand, and shook his head at how his angel merely tolerated it in his grip, not opening it to take a drink with him. "It's not poison, darling, not after the third one."

"I don't like it," Adam insisted, and Nigel cursed.

What was getting into his precious little spaceman, anyway? He'd spent the whole night at Darko's avoiding everyone but Micah, and had played video games with him the whole time, sequestered in the kid's room and happily mowing down zombies with a skill Nigel found impressive. It wasn't his fault if Darko had kept plying him with booze and wouldn't let up even when Nigel said it was probably time to go home and instead Darko opened up yet another bottle of wine to wash down the palinca and before he knew it they were drinking homemade beer and yet another bottle of wine and somewhere along the line there was vodka, and dammit, why was it so hard to walk? And what were these fucking cars doing here, honking their stupid horns at him and screaming at him to get the fuck out of the middle of the road? He's a fucking pedestrian, he has the right of the goddamned way.

"Nigel! We need to get on the sidewalk!"

Adam's voice was sharp but Nigel didn't mind it, his sweet little spaceman was looking up at him so worried and delightful and fuck, he just loved him, so very fucking much. Look at that, that little blush as Nigel sloppily tried to kiss him and why wasn't he smiling? Such a fussy little precious thing.

"When I knot you, you are going to go to heaven, my angel," Nigel promised him, and he could feel his voice deepen into a sultry growl as Adam led him up the curb (why do they make these things so damned *high* and difficult to step over? Fucking pricks at The Department of Urbanism, can't get their heads out of their asses)and onto the sidewalk, his arm tight around Nigel's waist. Nigel draped a long arm around Adam's shoulders, wet kisses placed with drooping purpose onto his scalp and his cheek. "I'm going to make you moan and lose yourself. Is that what you will do for me, my precious little spaceman angel? Are you going to writhe and beg me as you cum? Mm, you taste so sweet, I want to eat you up, I want to eat you out. I'll make you clutch that pillow so hard, you'll want to rip it apart."

"Nigel." Adam's voice was cold. Clipped. How strange hearing such a tone from an angel, like he was being admonished in church. "Have some self control, we are in public. I know you are inebriated, but we aren't far from the apartment building and the walk will do you good as long as you keep moving and please stop being ridiculous, this is not the place to be grabbing at my buttocks."

"Your ass, darling," Nigel teasingly corrected him, grinning into a kiss that Adam, for some reason, didn't want to return. He splayed his hand wide over the rounded mound and did exactly what Adam told him not to. "It's delightful, just the perfect handful," he said as he squeezed.

They walked further down the street, Nigel still relentlessly pawing him, and he wondered why Adam was suddenly so adamant that he keep his hands to himself. He loved him so much, he wanted to keep his little space baby in his life forever, couldn't he see that? He reluctantly pulled back and held off on the kisses, though he truly longed to drown Adam in them. He was so very cute, the way his little face was scrunched up, that angry tiny line along his brow fastened deep into his expression. He wanted to kiss that away so badly.

He didn't want to think about the Omegas sitting in a damp warehouse pit in some disgusting, cold abandoned section of Baltimore, their fates becoming closer to death as every minute passed. He had done the math in that regard since he had last talked to Will Graham and received the profiler's information. He wanted to have hope, but the longer there was a delay the more likely a scenario like what he had walked into late last week was becoming a given. Jack Crawford had been contacted, but he couldn't get the search warrants and the GSF was swarming around the FBI, doing all they could to undermine their efforts. Anything to do with Omegas was considered the GSF's domain these days, and considering they were the most perverted, miserable fucks he'd ever had to correspond with in the past, he doubted the well being of a bunch of trapped Omegas was high on their priority list. They were slowly being murdered, Nigel thought, his teeth ground together as the unjust cruelty of it hit him. The fucking bastards were killing innocent victims. If there were moles among them, ready to become a part of the Ripper's army, well, all the more reason for them to be rescued and shipped home safe and sound. They had families who loved and cherished them here, careers and lives. There was no point going to some other miserable shore of the world and putting on war paint to battle monsters that weren't their own.

They passed by a bar that was still open despite the late hour, and Nigel steered Adam towards it, his sweet spaceman's protests sounding as though they were coming from very far away. "Just a couple of drinks, darling, nothing too much, I promise. That's right, sit on this stool beside me, closer to me, lean against me, darling spaceman, my angel. You are the only pure thing in my life, my Adam Raki. You are my fucking world, my whole galaxy, you shine like every star in the fucking universe and all of them have your name, do you fucking know that?"

"They don't have my name, in fact most of them are charted by co-ordinates. Nigel, you are very, very drunk."

Nigel slammed the counter of the bar with the palm of his hand. "You have thirsty travellers waiting on drinks! Are you fucking pissing in the glasses or what?"

His little spaceman was uncomfortable, squirming a heck of lot to find an adequate way to sit on these stupid bar stools. Nigel himself was having a hell of a time keeping himself propped up. The bar they were in was a place Nigel knew well, situated as it was just a block away from his apartment building. The bartender and owner eyed him with contemptuous study, knowing well the kinds of trouble Nigel's drunken fists could bring. He lit a new cigarette and he heard Adam protest in a quiet huff. "I need them, darling, I am feeling so stressed, sitting here in this little pissup of a bar that is nothing more than a counter and some dirty glasses. I wanted vodka shots, you asshole, not fucking ice water!" Nigel damn near threw the glass of water at the bartender only for Adam's hand to come down hard on the crook of his arm, making him spill it all over himself.

"I told him not to serve you any alcohol, only to give you water."

Nigel swayed on his stool, not understanding. "My darling," he pouted, his words slurring long in a drunken drawl, " Why would you do such a cruel thing to me?"

The tiny bar, which was no more than the size of its counter, spun within Nigel's vision and he was fighting the strange off balance feeling that overtook him, the brutality of its waves like a rush of water down a heaving stream. It knocked Nigel off of the stool, and he got back onto it with difficulty, the back of his hand held at his mouth. "My darling angel little spaceman baby, I am not feeling well."

"Drink some water, Nigel."

"My beautiful, darling angel. Kiss me, darling."

"You just told me you were going to be sick."

"Mr. Raki?"

The intrusive voice annoyed Nigel, who didn't like the snobbish cadence within it, and he searched out the source though the mission was near impossible. The bar was spinning at an alarming rate, at one no doubt his darling Adam had already calculated. He managed to still the overturning universe for one indulgent moment as he took in the slight man standing in front of Adam, his tweed suit looking too casual for his liking, his round black glasses like little mirrors. He was holding what looked like a pint, which he took tentative sips from while he sent a few worried expressions over Adam's shoulder, his judgemental glare not at all liking the condition of Nigel.

"I'm sorry I couldn't get back to you earlier, I was planning on calling you tomorrow."

The fuck? Who was this little roach of a man being too friendly with Adam, who was right now smiling nicely, and being polite, his usual resting bitch face for strangers not evident? Nigel grabbed the water he'd been offered and downed it like it was a bottle of vodka before he slid off the chair and approached them both.

"It's not a problem at all, I've decided that the University of Bucharest is not where I would prefer employment. My research could be hindered by the current political landscape of your institution. This is an issue I think you need to seriously address. In my opinion, the best recourse would be to ensure that these students, though they are Alphas from the United Main, be made aware immediately of the differing social standing of Omegas in the Eastern Unions. Pandering to their needs and worrying over their culture shock will only lead to an atmosphere of excuse."

"You may be right," the slender man said to him, frowning now as Nigel struggled to approach them. His legs didn't want to work right, and he staggered as he made his way towards Adam, his hands in tight fists. No one was allowed to flirt with his Omega, this was his Adam, this wasn't some fly by night fucking lay that wasn't going to go anywhere, this was his fucking *mate*. Adam was for motherfucking *keeps*. Hands off, you son of a bitch little fuckwad!

Adam turned to Nigel as he approached, and he was still pleasantly smiling. "Nigel, this is the rector of the University of Bucharest, Dimitri Stanislov. Nigel is an officer with the politia Romana, the chief inspector of their anti Omega trafficking brigade."

Nigel could feel the world spinning and he could barely keep Stanislov in focus. "You're the son of bitch who wouldn't hire my space baby."

"Nigel, that's an ancient problem now, and it has been solved. I decided I don't want to work there until their issues have been resolved."

Stanislov gave Nigel a highly judgemental once over before turning back to Adam. "Adam, are you all right? Do you need me to call you a cab?"

"We're fine, Dimitri, Nigel is simply very, very drunk."

"I can see that."

Fucking son of a bitch, he wasn't about to let him get off that easy. Nigel steeled himself, putting the whirling world into focus at least for a few moments before he stomped forward, his fists tightly pressed into rocks made of knuckles. He shoved past the other patrons of the bar who were spilling out in likewise drunkenness and he was beside Adam, his precious little spaceman, who was shaking his head at something he'd recognized, though Nigel couldn't interpret what that could be.

"You made my little space baby cry, you fucking piece of shit!"

His fist hit rector Dimitri Stanislov's face with alarming force, right square in the centre and giving the sexist pig bastard a bloody nose. Laughing in victory at this, Nigel stood over his collapsed form on the ground, his fists ready to hit their mark again. He pointed down at him in warning fury. "You don't fucking tell Omegas they can't work at your University, especially not mine, do you hear me? You hurt my angel, you fucking bastard..."

Stanislov was on his knees, hands in front of his face in a futile effort to block the blow. There was the sound of police sirens in the distance. Along this noise there was another, a high pitched keen that crept along Nigel's spine with vicious terror, and he was suddenly alert, worried for Adam. Adam was out of the bar and halfway up the street towards their apartment building, his hands clasped tight over his ears. He was howling, Nigel realized, and the pain of it was so awful Nigel was nearly sick. He ran up to Adam to comfort him, to gentle the back of his neck and embrace him, surround him in kisses and warmth...

"Don't touch me!"

"Adam..."

"You are a terrible person! You hit someone for no reason! Go away, Nigel! Go *away*!"

He tearfully stormed up the street, leaving Nigel behind. Hearing the increasing sirens, Nigel ran up to him, the adrenaline kicking off most of the affects of the booze, though he was certainly feeling sick now, especially with the way Adam was tightly hugging himself and wouldn't let Nigel make any effort to comfort him.

"I'm sorry," Nigel said, and he was pleading now, he'd crawl and beg and get on his knees if that's what it took. He'd do it until his skin tore off and there was nothing bones on concrete. "Adam...I'm sorry..."

"You didn't need to do that!" Adam shouted at him, and he was crying and Nigel felt like the whole universe just got swallowed up by one of those big black holes Adam talked about because *he* was the one who did it this time, *he* made his angel cry, and goddammit if that wasn't enough to make his soul just crush inside of itself and eat everything he was away.

"My space baby, I'm sorry, please." Nigel tried to touch Adam's shoulder and he shook it off, still red faced and furious. Fuck, this couldn't be happening, he could feel the loss like an amputation inside of himself. Not his darling Adam, not this. "Please don't leave me, I need you, Adam. I need you so fucking much."

"Go home and sleep it off!" Adam barked back at him. He paused once and Nigel saw his anger and he damn near collapsed in misery at the absolute disdain Nigel found there. Yeah, he'd fucked up, and bad. Adam's words echoed down the centre of the street and hit Nigel's gut like a bullet. "You're sleeping on the couch!"

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter ten

The morning was not a pleasant one, Nigel discovered much to his dismay, the memory of the night before a hazy, unwelcome intrusion. He didn't remember a lot of it, and it was clear he had slept the night on the couch, which was hardly a good sign, and though the regular sounds of breakfast being made were still bringing him into gentle wakefulness, he didn't miss the strained, almost reluctant tone of Adam's voice: "Breakfast is ready."

Every portion of his body ached, and Nigel knew it was more a symptom of apology than an abundance of toxins. He'd done something awful last night, and the terror that it was irredeemable tied into tight knots in his stomach, making him want to retch. He cracked the kinks out of his neck as he sat up from his passed out position on the leather couch, his body sticking to it and holding an unpleasant sweaty odour laden with alcohol that made him wince. He rubbed at his face with his hands, his stubble scraping raw against his palms. He felt sick and lonely, and the pronounced lack of feeling in Adam's voice made him swallow back a thick stone in his throat that threatened to choke him. He stood up and it was then that he realized how much his head was pounding, that his brain was doing all it could to seep out of his nose, his stomach clenching at the very thought of eating a plateful of eggs.

He staggered, groaning, into the kitchen, where Adam was primly seated at his usual spot, not looking up at him or greeting him. Nigel sank into the chair opposite his precious angel who had flinched when he'd tried to give him a good morning kiss. If he had been beaten bloody and left for dead on an abandoned warehouse floor, and been pissed on for good measure, Nigel couldn't possibly feel worse than he did right now.

"Adam, I was an asshole last night. I'm sorry."

His plate of eggs and his coffee were waiting for him, as per usual, and Nigel felt the smallest twinge of hope at this, for at least that routine hadn't changed. He poked at the eggs with a fork, hating the thought of putting one of them into his mouth. He gave Adam fleeting glances over it, watching him carefully as he wolfed down the last of his scrambled eggs and then began the slow sips of his glass of milk. The laptop was on the table between them, a not so subtle barrier against communication.

"Nigel, you were extremely rude last night. Rector Stanislov is a well regarded member of the educational world and to attack him like that was uncalled for. You are very lucky he did not press assault charges. I do not understand why you were so angry with him, you kept saying he had denied me the job and made me cry--two humiliating facts that I would have preferred he did not know. I was very embarrassed, Nigel."

Nigel sniffed and poked at his eggs, pushing them around the plate and not eating them. Not even the coffee held any interest. Guilt was bitter enough. He pouted a little over the eggs, poking at them and pushing them around the plate as he gave the situation a nod of his head. "He *did* make you cry..."

"I had already decided that working there would not be in my interests, I was not happy with the way the university was so willing to buy and sell knowledge to the highest bidder, it denotes a lack of respect for the subjects it teaches. Nigel, eat your eggs. Your are suffering the severe after affects of alcohol poisoning and after searching through several websites on Google I have discovered that your best course of action is a breakfast rich in proteins to help absorb residual alcohol that has not yet been digested and to drink copious amounts of water to help distil the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream. You are severely dehydrated, and that is why you feel so sick. Coffee is a diuretic and not usually something one would recommend, but the last thing you need at present is both caffeine withdrawal coupled with the headache induced by the poison in your system. Besides, it may help in flushing the toxins from your filtering organs and returning your liver and kidneys to optimal function."

Nigel's misery wasn't getting any better, Adam didn't seem to have a cure for that. He tentatively put a forkful of now cold scrambled eggs into his mouth and forced himself to swallow it. He had to make his spaceman happy again. He grimaced as he sipped at his black coffee, all of it swimming unnaturally heavy in his stomach. "I'm so sorry, my angel."

"Yes, you are," Adam very sharply replied. He finished his milk and, instead of immediately going to the sink to rinse off his plate and glass as he usually did, he pressed his lips firmly together and then closed his laptop with a decided click. Nigel waited, tense, his cup of coffee poised at his lips, bleary eyes trying to keep Adam in his tortured focus.

"You have been under a great deal of stress, and I understand your need to release it. I know that in future you will not do this again..."

Nigel fervently shook his head at Adam, hell no, no he wouldn't tempt the ire of his little spaceman again, no he would not risk losing his delightful angel, hell no, he was not going to sleep on that couch when Adam's feverish little body was lying in wait for him in the bed and all he wanted to do was bury himself against Adam's sweet skin.

"As for our courtship, I will allow it to continue. However, you must agree that we have already completed two of the tasks on its strange list. I went to dinner in an unfamiliar setting and you announced to your friend Darko that you are courting me, so I count that as one of the tasks. Second, I had a wonderful time with Micah and feel he is an intelligent and insightful child. I am rethinking my uneasy stance on having children, and though the initial few years may be of great adjustment, I do feel I have adequate tools to be a passable parent. I am not assuring you that children are a given, but I am telling you that it is now a possibility I am not so loathe to consider." Adam raised his chin and his gaze fleetingly met Nigel's before falling to his chest. His attitude was one of incredible poise and pride. "We may be doing these particular courting steps out of order, but you are to accept this. As these rituals seem to involve giving an Omega a certain degree of power within what is culturally perceived as an otherwise uneven relationship, I am fully taking advantage of this. Tonight, it is your duty to please me. I demand it."

He left Nigel blinking confused into his black coffee as he got up from the table and began rinsing his plate and glass, his movements automatic as he grabbed his laptop and headed back to the bedroom, but not before giving Nigel a sweet kiss on the top of his head. "Your skin tastes like palinka," Adam softly admonished him. "A hot shower will make you feel better."

He made a move to leave and Nigel caught his wrist, stopping him. Adam seemed reluctant to hear it, but Nigel had to say it. "I love you, my darling."

"You're not entirely forgiven yet," Adam said, raising his chin in a haughty huff at this, and Nigel could only smile, because a little bit of forgiveness from his little comet was better than none at all. "But I love you, too, Nigel. I must if I'm putting up with this."

Nigel grabbed his hand and kissed the back of it with a fervour that made his stomach flip and jump, and not from sickness this time. "I won't disappoint you like this again, my darling angel."

"No," Adam said, and it was both a warning and a fact. "You won't."

~*~
The tentative forgiveness made some of Nigel's anxiety dissipate, but there was little to help him with the heavy knowledge that Subcomisar Gorecky had received his email by now. He parked his Oltcit Club in its usual spot and eased his way out of the car, the torn seat squeaking as he stepped onto the curb. He kicked the door shut and made his way into the precinct, lighting up a cigarette as he did so and hating the way he still couldn't taste anything but booze on his tongue.

Adam had forgiven him. He probably shouldn't have since apparently he punched the shit out of a possible future employer, the rector of the University of Bucharest and who had posed not even a whiff of a threat. He was lucky Adam was able to smooth over the whole incident and had somehow convinced rector Stanislov to just put his nose on ice and walk away. The facts were plain, Nigel had been a drunken jackass. Adam's forgiving kindness wasn't about to go unrewarded, hell no, he was going to make tonight so special and make his little spaceman feel so good he would be hovering amongst the stars with those galaxies of his for weeks and weeks.

So it was with a heavy heart that he walked into the precinct and didn't even have time to give a not so cheerful nod to Darko when he was already faced with the open door to Subcomisar Gorecky's office and the large man beckoning him to go inside with sausage thick fingers and a plate of a palm. Nigel groaned at the very thought, pausing at Darko's desk first. "I'm in the dog house at home enough as it is, what the fuck does he want from me?"

Darko glanced over his shoulder at the heaving bulk of their Subcomisar. He was meek as he whispered to Nigel, "He's been in a real fit all morning, just warning you. Pacing his office and there's two bigger officials waiting in there. This whole thing about the warehouses has pissed him off big time, he doesn't like that you went poking around calling the FBI and talking to United Main officers when that's the job of the Russian branch of the anti-trafficking operations."

Nigel shrugged. "Are his fucking panties too tight? I got the information needed, didn't I?"

"Don't ask me, man. I'm just warning you, he's in a hell of a mood."

Nigel was still feeling sick and he was sure he still reeked of booze. Steeling himself, his forced his queasiness down and marched for Subcomisar Gorecky's office, If he was about to be hung for doing his investigation properly then so fucking be it. He'll even hand Gorecky the fucking tapes and tell him about his suspicions as to the identity of the Chesapeake Ripper, really give him some rope to hang him with. So far he'd kept that particular information under wraps and he wasn't keen to use it unless it was absolutely necessary. He'd seen the body count of that particular bastard, he wanted to stay off his radar.

He couldn't understand why he was even having a meeting, the email was information for the militia, it was their job to go in and do a rescue mission at this point. He stood confused in the small square that was Gorecky's office, two goons from upper ranks standing near the window that opened up into a back alley. Nigel clicked his back heels together as was the custom when greeting a superior officer in full uniform. "Subcomisar Gorecky," he said in greeting.

"Sit down, Nigel," Gorecky said, his voice weirdly gentle for such a large man. He spilled wide across his desk, his body barely contained within the chair he was wedged in, the man too big in so many ways, enough to dwarf a massive oak desk and make it seem like it was a kid's school table. "First, I think it's important that I acknowledge the hard work and good result you had in the freeing of those Omegas in our last raid. There have been no more casualties, I'm happy to report, and the survivors have been making a full recovery. That's something to be proud of, Nigel. I hope you are."

Nigel shrugged at this, irritated. "It's my job."

"It's a thankless one, and I'm giving you the recognition you deserve for it. So shut up and sit down and if I hear one curse word out of that snarling mouth of yours, you'll be donating five bucks a curse towards the coffee fund. You'll keep us going all year with that gutter mouth of yours." He pointed a finger the size and width of a polish sausage at the unlit cigarette dangling in Nigel's mouth. "No smoking in my office."

Nigel groaned and collapsed into the chair opposite Gorecky. He knew he was smelling pretty ripe and still suffering a serious hangover, facts that were making the other two superior officers in the room look at each and cringe at being this close to his stinking aura. Nigel kept his unlit cigarette dangling at the corner of his mouth, figuring if he was going to be treated like trash on the inside he might as well look it on the outside. Gorecky wasn't a bad guy, per se, but he was an upper level officer and sometimes lost sight of what was happening on the front lines while he played nice and smoothed over political boo-boos that other departments seemed to revel in. Like the case last week of the lead officer in the drug-trafficking brigade being caught with a mini grow-op in his downstairs bathroom. Gorecky was the one who had to stand in front of the cameras and assure everyone that all that thinly held chaos was under control. His massive size helped with that, he was a human metaphorical wall.

Nigel crossed his arms, his long legs stretched out before him, ankles crossed. "What's all this about?"

"I was talking to Agent Jack Crawford of the FBI. You've been in correspondence with him for the past couple of days, and it's real nice that I find out about that after the fact and through an email. I'll admonish you about that later, we have more important things to argue about at present. Like how you got the intel about where the Omegas are being housed on United Main soil." He pointed at the goons in the corner. "General Drubek is head of our international communications. He's a tad annoyed you didn't go through their department first since they know how to talk to United Main citizens better than you do. There's a lot of cultural and political differences, Nigel, you could have impeded this investigation by saying the wrong thing. I'm guessing being an Alpha helped you get a free ride."

Nigel made a face. "What the fuck are you talking about, he's a fucking FBI Agent, there's no reason I wouldn't talk to him freely, he's on our side!"

"That's ten leu, Nigel. It doesn't matter, you know we don't converse between regions without going through the proper channels, and in this case it's Chestor-General de Politie Drubek."

Drubek gave Nigel a withering glare, an easy task for the tall, bald man whose eyes shone black down at him. It was easy to think of being on the end of his gun, getting executed, but Nigel was irritated by this grandstanding rather than frightened.

"Yeah, it's real fucking nice, isn't it, how we can sit in this office of yours and have this nice little fucking chat and talk and talk and fucking talk until our goddamned tongues fall out and meanwhile there's nearly eighty of our Omegas dying on United Main soil, right this minute, because the need to talk is more fucking important than the need to act! You're a General, hunh? What are you going to do right now, kick the sense into me, like you do your prisoners? Fucking jackass!"

Gorecky sat back in his chair, and from the way it creaked Nigel had to wonder if its weight load had reached its limit. "I guess you'll be keeping us in coffee for a while, Nigel, so thanks in advance. Listen, I am perfectly aware of the problematic timeline happening here, from our calculations those Omegas have four days at the most to survive this before starvation really kicks in. No one wants to have boxes of ashes sent home. So here's what's going to happen--Since you've established such a lovely rapport with the helpful citizens of the United Main, namely Crawford and his profiler Will Graham, we are sending you to Baltimore to rescue our Omegas and bring them back. We got one of our seaships parked at the international dock, and we've got a medical team there on stand by. Our problem is getting past the GSF. Jack Crawford can't go near the place, no judge will give him a warrant in their current political climate and even if he goes rogue to find the Omegas himself they will end up in GSF facilities." Gorecky sighed, "There are orders under the table for GSF to shoot suspicious FBI agents on sight. The Coastline is under the belief that the FBI is a Mainland supporter. From where I'm sitting, there's only one thing that can be done."

General Drubek stepped up in front of Nigel and held out his hand. "Congratulations, Chief Inspector Nigel Ionescu, you've been promoted to Comisar de Politie. Your first job is to hop on a plane and enact a delicate rescue mission on the United Main. Your plane leaves late tomorrow morning. The timeline is cutting things very close, if they are still alive, they are already in bad physical shape."

Nigel balked at this and refused to shake the Chester-General de Politie's hand. The man stared down at him in stoic blankness, the absolutely dead heart of him finally sending a jolt of fear through Nigel's gut. "The United Main is too fucking dangerous for a guy like me right now, you're sending me on a fucking suicide mission!"

"Jack Crawford will meet you at the Baltimore airport tomorrow at seventeen hundred hours. This is not optional, Comisar Ionescu."

"This is going to be impossible," Nigel said, shaking his head, a sense of panic rising within him. "If I go there and they get wind of why, the GSF will put a bullet through my back!"

"Nigel."

Subcomisar Gorecky spread wide his massive hands and gave Nigel a helpless shrug. His voice was suspiciously soft, as though he was placating the moment, but Nigel knew better. He was being rewarded for all his hard work, all right, he was doing the job the Russian military was loathe to step up and do. "This is a very uneasy political situation we have found ourselves in. If we ship this whole operation over to the military, it will be considered an act of war by the United Main. General Drubek has made the entire scenario very clear to me. The only way we can keep the peace and keep their problems on their shores is if we send in a guy like you."

"You're going to fucking sacrifice me, you fucking prick."

Gorecky clasped his massive hands together and wove them into thick ropes on the surface of his desk. He kept Nigel unwavering in his sights, his stance firm. "You are going, and you are coming back. Don't think for a second that we expect anything less."

~*~

Fuck.

Fuck this shit, fuck, fuck, fuck.

Nigel kicked the lockers in the change room of the precinct's gym, hard enough to make his feet ache. If the damned job wasn't making him feel bruised and battered enough before, it was slamming his face against concrete now. Curious chesters poked their head in to see what all the shouting and banging was about, only to quickly retreat when they saw it was Nigel. His Alpha instincts were running full force and it was unwise to confront him, his fury turning him into a snarling animal as he kicked and punched at the lockers, denting two of them so badly they would need to be replaced.

Knuckles bruised, he stood back, his hands on his hips as he forced himself to calm down. The locker room held the smells of too many other Alphas and Betas, so when the gentle waft of an Omega began winding its way through the room, Nigel hesitated, his fury instantly quelled as he took in the scant notes of fear within the pheromones. He rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest as Inspector Dula walked into the room, a towel casually thrown over his shoulder to suggest he was coming here for a workout. Of course Nigel wasn't fooled. He cursed and threw another punch at a locker, though it was with significantly less force, he didn't like the thought of upsetting Dula.

"Darko sent you in here?" Nigel asked.

Inspector Dula was a great cop and not one prone to lying to his superiors. He hung his head in cautious submission. "Yeah. We, uh, we already know what happened, boss. You got a promotion. Congrats, I guess." His officer nodded at this, his slight build nearly dwarfed within his own uniform, but Nigel knew better, he'd witnessed Inspector Dula take down trafficking goons twice his size and cuff them rodeo style. No wilting violet here, not even with all the motherly scents still swilling around him. He knew why Darko had sent him in specifically, nothing like an Omega still full of pregnancy hormones to quell the savagery of an Alpha's fury. "I see you found a uniform that fits right," Nigel said, pointing to the buttons on Inspector Dula's black cotton shirt.

"Back to the flats," Inspector Dula joked. "Stopped breast feeding a week ago, thank God. I hated it, even though it was sore as hell drying up it was nothing compared to being a damned snack bar for three months."

Nigel lightly chuckled at this. "Guess your man Hadar is disappointed to see them go."

"Not really. It's not like he got to enjoy them, they were too damn sore and they leaked. Nothing sexy at all about them, trust me, they were gross."

Inspector Dula stood awkwardly in front of Nigel, and he took in the highly feminine contours that made a male Omega what he was. He could see, in a way, why the male of the gender was considered so exotic, the fine lines of his cheekbones, the smoothness of skin, the near alien grace with which he moved. Basically, all of the components of the female of the gender with just a small amount of brute strength added, which was admittedly illusory. Sure, Dula could take down suspects as well as the rest of them and had a toughness that was wiry and hard to handle, but male Omegas had more delicate immune systems than their female counterparts and every cut Dula got ended up getting infected. He might have strong muscles but Inspector Dula was on sick leave a lot, constantly on antibiotics and severely affected by environmental irritants like harsh cleaning products and overly bright lights. His pregnancy had been very difficult, he'd spent the last three months of it in hospital on bed rest, being monitored around the clock.

He kept Dula out of the fight of the takedowns for this reason, keeping him around on the periphery as a calming influence on violent suspects. His presence on volatile scenes had been indispensable, especially when he was in the early stages of his pregnancy, where punters were more than happy to divulge information to a seemingly helpless, fragile Omega in the interrogation room. They got a lot of leads thanks to Inspector Dula's coy, feigned flirtation. He really knew how to reel those smug bastards in.

"How's the baby?"

Inspector Dula grinned widely at this question. "She's doing good. A feisty little Alpha, cut a tooth already, that's our Amelia. I'll get Hadar to bring her to the station, she loves the attention. It'll be fun watching all you Alpha bastards fuss over her, especially Darko. I still can't get over how he bawled when I brought her in when she was a week old, remember that? Big tough bastard holding her in his arms and he melted like a pile of ice cream on a sunny sidewalk."

"He's a sentimental son of a bitch," Nigel agreed. There was a big hole in his gut that he was filling with sorrow at the thought of having to tell his best friend that was being shipped overseas. Adam was on the periphery of his mind, his darling angel was too embedded in his heart to even think about right now, not when the thought of leaving his spaceman behind turned that pumping organ into a bomb set to detonate. He swallowed down his emotions, a difficult thing for a man who was so used to wearing all of them openly the way a person wears a shirt. He wiped the moisture at his eyes with the heel of his hand, and thought about Adam in Inspector Dula's place, with a little round belly and pert breasts and he pushed the instinctive, animal thought away, his heart setting off that timer inside of himself, the bomb getting ready to blow.

"They got me heading overseas.  Tell Darko I'll give him a call with all the details later. I'll need a ride to the airport."

Dula smiled, but there was worry inside of it, and Nigel hated that he'd put that there.  "Sure thing, boss."

Nigel made his escape out of the precinct through a back door that led into the alley. He kicked aside garbage as he slid a cigarette between his lips and lit it, the smoke trailing after him as he walked amongst the stinking filth. He couldn't go home yet, he needed a good head's up as to what to expect when he got to Baltimore tomorrow night and he knew just the person to give him more puzzling pieces.

~*~


The harried nurse looked up at him in impatience, her clipboard hugged tight against her thin chest, and though she looked as though she was made of cellophane she stood her ground and glared right back up at him without flinching. "Darlene Yousef checked herself out of the hospital, against the advice of her physician, late yesterday afternoon. We don't know where she went. She picked up some clothes out of the lost and found and took off out of the hospital. We're not a prison, here, Mr. Ionescu, we heal the sick and if they want to leave, they can. She went through a terrible ordeal, we're not going to hold her like she's an accused criminal."

It was on the tip of his tongue to shout how he damned well knew this, but for fuck's sake, she was a key witness and now all hope he had for figuring out what the hell to expect in the United Main was gone. He cursed and the nurse gave him a dirty look as she stomped down the corridor away from him, curious onlookers hooked up to IVs giving him a judgemental once over. He'd just missed her by an hour or two at the most, by the look of things, they hadn't even gotten round to fully emptying her room. The other surviving Omega she shared the room with was still in rough shape, barely conscious and hanging onto life with a slower, less lucid recovery. She was still painfully thin, and in an induced coma to keep her body in full rest mode. When she was awake she tore out the life saving tubes in panicked delusion and the risk of infection was too high. It would be several more days before doctors would even try to bring her into full consciousness. Nigel sank into the chair between her and Darlene's empty bed, his palms roughly coursing over his face as he tried to figure out what the hell he was going to do. How was he going to break this to Adam? He was still in the doghouse after the stunt he pulled punching out the rector of the university, and it was a miracle all its own that Adam had at least partially forgiven him for that.

Out of habit he began searching Darlene's bed, turning over the mattress and completely stripping the dirty sheets that the nurses hadn't yet had time to get to. He was rummaging through the drawers of the small night table by the bed and there, sitting plain and obvious in the centre of it, was a small, black cell phone. There was a bright pink sticky note attached to it, making sure whoever found it sent it along to the proper person it was meant to be gifted to.

'To Inspector Nigel Ionescu of the politia Romana.'

Frowning, he picked it up, the weight of what it possibly contained too heavy to contemplate. With a shaky swipe of his thumb he brought the screen into wakefulness, an image of a human heart, a real one, like an artist's rendering of a surgical photo, greeted him.

There was a message in a green band laying in wait across it. Swallowing though his throat was dry, Nigel ducked his head past the curtain and pulled it over, ensuring he had full privacy before he swiped the green band and read the bubble of information waiting for his eyes alone.

'Inspector Nigel Ionescu. I am pleased to make your acquaintance. My daughter Darlene has told me wonderful things about you.

I look forward to meeting you. Fate has entwined us in ways that are both complex and sympathetic, though you may not yet believe this to be true. You will. As Bellona became the consort of Mars, so we become united in the ramifications of battle. The bloody sword is waiting, Inspector Ionescu. On whose side shall you wield it?

Yours, ever in anticipation,
C.R.'

C. R.

The Chesapeake Ripper.

Nigel felt a cold clutch at his heart as he pocketed the cell phone and made his way out of the hospital, his breath uneven as he tried to keep his panic under control. He knew he was supposed to reveal this to his superiors, he should be telling Darko about it, anyone. But there was a strong feeling within his gut that to do so would guarantee his death warrant. He needed to keep his big mouth shut for once. He needed to go home and bury himself in the celestial comfort of his angel and pretend that none of this shit was about to bury him.

~*~

"But I always make dinner."

"Complaining already, this is the faith you have in me! All you have to do is sit down and take it easy, tonight you are not making it, and that's final. Is it such a bad thing, me doing something special for you, giving you everything you desire? I'm making your favourite, macaroni and cheese and chicken and broccoli. Give me a break, my darling, I'm trying really hard not to fuck this up."

Adam shifted where he stood in the entrance to the kitchen, watching Nigel as he put the water on to boil from the noodles. The thought of making macaroni and cheese from scratch was a bit daunting, but there was an app on his cell phone that was more than adequate when it came to recipes and Nigel knew how to damn well read. The milk was scorching a little, but no big deal. The cheese melted the right way and he might have added too much mustard, and why not some wine? Lots of garlic. The sauce smelled heavenly, his angel was going to love this!

"I think it might be burning, Nigel. And you added too much flour."

"For fuck's sake, Adam, it's just a cheese sauce, stop worrying about it, go look at your lovely nebulas and I'll call you out here when it's ready." He gave Adam's little frown a kiss at the centre of his forehead, liking how the tiny measure of wrinkled skin instantly smoothed at this. He felt forgiven. His heart beat hard at the very thought.

He wasn't sure how long that feeling was going to last because he still hadn't told Adam he was leaving late tomorrow morning and he couldn't be sure how Adam was going to take the news. The facts were, he was wandering into the midst of what was a highly volatile situation that could easily blow up in his face at any moment, not the least of which being on a serial killer who was now a cult leader's radar. He wanted to push his fears aside, give Adam at least one good night to remember him by if it all went to shit, and dammit, he felt like he was failing it already, his head so full of worries and doubts and fuck, he did burn the fucking sauce!

He strained the noodles and put it all together anyway, hoping the burnt taste didn't invade it too much (it did), and that Adam wouldn' turn his nose up at it (he did), because he was trying really hard, really damned hard to keep it all together and it was a fight he was set to lose.

"It's ready!" Nigel shouted into the hall and then he quickly lit candles and dimmed the lights in the kitchen and poured the chilled white wine that had a sweet taste Adam liked, and with a flourish of presentation, he put both plates of burnt macaroni with black bits, undercooked chicken and overcooked sickly green broccoli onto the table. He lit a candle and hoped Adam didn't notice how awful it was.

Adam sat at his seat, admiring the effort Nigel had made. "This is very romantic, Nigel." he said, and he was blushing. He poked around his meal with his fork and gave Nigel a grimacing grin that didn't have a hint of genuine delight in it.

Nigel sat defeated in his chair, the meal not exactly all that great to him, either. He took a bite of the macaroni and cheese and all he could taste was burnt milk and flour. He sighed over it and pushed his plate away, eyeing the pots and pans he'd used that were still piled high in his sink.

"Pizza?"

"Ham and pineapple."

"Just the way you like it, my little spaceman."

Adam patiently gathered up their plates and scraped them into the garbage, remarking that at least Nigel didn't make an overabundance of the meal thus there was fairly little waste. The bleeding chicken was still salvageable if they put it back into the oven to cook more. Nigel shook his head, the image of the bloody chicken making him feel sick.

"I appreciate the effort you are making, Nigel. This does please me." His blue eyes were wide in the dim light of the kitchen, which clearly relaxed him, and despite the absolute disaster of the meal he was more than happy to remain in the candlelit space. He shrugged happily over his chilled glass of wine and smiled shyly at Nigel, who gave him a lascivious wink in return. Ah, look at him, playing so innocent like he doesn't know what kind of crazy this drives him! His little angel spaceman, looking up at him all coy and soft smiles and wetting his lips after each sip of wine, like he didn't know what the image of that little darting tongue was doing to him. Fucking devious, that was his little angel. Driving him mad without even knowing.

He glanced up at Nigel through the firelight of the candle and Nigel's heart felt as though it was about to stop, the little bomb ticking within it holding the moment in a tense pause. "Nigel," Adam whispered in the half light, his lips so sultry and wet as he spoke. "Did you order it?"

Nigel blinked. "Order what, darling?"

"The pizza."

Reality boomed its way into the space and Nigel was fumbling for the cell phone and accidentally took out the one the Chesapeake Ripper had left for him before pocketing it and getting out his own. He quickly ordered the pizza while Adam blandly looked on, transfixed by the candles dancing within the influence of Nigel's exaggerated movements.

Nigel hung up his cell.

"You have two phones," Adam said to him, the little frown returning. "Why?"

"It's part of the investigation, darling, it was left behind by one of the Omegas." Nigel closed his eyes, hating having to give Adam this half truth so he didn't worry. "There are family contacts on it, I needed to go through them. She checked herself out of hospital and left it behind, I'll be giving it back to her when we find her again."

Adam didn't find this all that difficult to understand. "If she left it behind, she doesn't want it. If it was important to her, she would have kept it. I wouldn't just lose my laptop, and a phone for someone like that is even more important. This was done on purpose. She doesn't want to go back to her family."

No, she doesn't, my darling, she wants to go into the United Main and fight a battle that has nothing to do with her and leave her family in tearful tatters, the stupid bitch.

Nigel bridged the small gap between them, capturing Adam's face in his hands. The candlelight set lovely shadows into the hollow of his cheeks, the flames dancing brightly within his eyes, trapped stars that stared back in explosive brilliance back at Nigel. He kissed him long and slow, taking his time to weave his tongue against his angel's, savouring every molecule of flavour that his precious cosmonaut gave up. Adam's throat uttered a tiny whimper at the passion of it, and Nigel could feel his cock get hard at the sound, need working its way through his consciousness.

He didn't want to lose him. He kissed him again, and then again, not letting him up for air, his passion poured into the slight catch of Adam's breath, his hands hungry for his body. He didn't want to imagine it, a life without nights full of heavenly bodies, of the lack of fucking nebulas and density spiral theory. How was he going to survive without the whisper of the speed of comets (a wide variation of 10 to 70km per hour, dependent upon shape and proximity to the Earth's orbit) placed lovingly against his ear?

He didn't know how much time had passed, but it was enough for the pizza to be delivered and he paid for it and brought it to the kitchen wordlessly, the box brought into the dark space and placed on the counter, its red checker design so painfully boring and normal he could feel the lump rising in his chest and he fought against it, he had to, this was his precious darling's night and he was going to make him feel special and he was going to remember Nigel Ionescu the rest of his whole, magical, wonderful life, he most certainly fucking was.

So when Adam whispered to him, playfully teasing a kiss at his ear and smiling into it with such a supreme level of innocence, "Is this on the list of courtship rituals, Nigel? Ordering pizza the way I like it to please me?" Nigel nodded and encircled his arms around his little spacemen angel, desperate to be sure he wouldn't float away into Heaven just yet.

They were kissing again, Adam's soft lips all the more heated and tender as he slowly backed out of the kitchen, Nigel following him. The pizza was forgotten as they did this searching rotation, a gradual orbit that had Nigel's shirt unbuttoned by the time they got to the bedroom door, and Adam's flushed cheeks accentuated by the bared skin of his pale chest. Blue eyes shot into Nigel's own with a decidedly sultry purpose, the mood between them electrically static with emotions that put Nigel in a strangely incoherent daze, his tongue already tingling at the scent of Adam's slick, dying to taste every facet of him.

But the feeling, heady and disorienting as it was and so very fucking gorgeous, just like his spaceman angel, it was tainted with untruth and Nigel could feel the bitterness of it winding through his heart and ruining this moment. He stole another long, languid kiss from Adam's lips, and then placed another on his bared shoulder, lips suckling along increasingly bared skin until they found an erect, hot nipple which he nipped at, sending a feverish shudder through his beloved's body, the shiver of his skin hot beneath Nigel's palms.

"Baby," Nigel said, barely registering that Adam's pants were already gone, that there was nothing but thin cotton boxers in the way of the trickling slick that was sickly sweet and strong, making Nigel's cock ache. "I have to go on a plane tomorrow morning." Nigel felt the tears fall, large drops into his angel's scalp, which was so hot, burning so much he could practically hear his tears sizzle. "I don't want to go, but I have to, people are going to die if I don't go..."

"Nigel?" Adam's eyes were wide, still laced with lust and need and yet there was a new emotion gaining momentum now and Nigel knew he'd ruined everything, his heart was set to implode and die. Adam shook violently in his grip, the fear so overwhelming, all Nigel wanted to do was drown him in kisses and caresses and try to convince his brilliant little space baby that it was all okay, he was going to be fine, there was no real danger.

"You're going to the United Main?" Panic rose within Adam's voice and he choked on a sob. His hands were busy on Nigel's body, as though placing him within his touch's memory, not wanting to let him go. "It's too dangerous! They can't make you! You'll be killed, Nigel, the GSF barely let me through, and you're rescuing Omegas and...Nigel you are going to die!"

"I'm not going to die, I'm coming back, my angel, I won't die."

Adam clutched hard at Nigel's shoulders, digging his fingers deep into them, leaving red marks. Nigel, heedless of Adam's panicked howls stole them from him, swallowing them down and forcing the kiss between them until Adam sank into it, his hands working on trousers, setting him free. He stepped out of them, collapsing on top of Adam, the slick so overpowering in its scent he could barely think rational thoughts. Everything was impressions. He could feel Adam's body writhing beneath his, he could sense the panic and the sorrow welled deep within his angel's breast. The feel of slick against his naked thigh, the guiding heat of Adam's hand on his needful cock.

"This will please me, Nigel," Adam harshly whispered in his ear, and he was pressing against the wet, slick entrance. He gripped the sides of Nigel's face with fierce hands, tears spilling and fear still taking reign. "I want a part of you. I need to keep it, because it's so dangerous, Nigel, you could die, and no, I can't not have something of you, I...I want this. Give me this. I want it."

Fuck, he was hot, like lava, fiery licks of slick along his cock as he pressed deep inside, sparks of a comet scraping against his insides, his heart exploding full supernova, the formation of a massive star, the birth and death identical, the forces of energy so massive he could only watch as Adam collapsed into his arms, the knotting deep into that burning hot nucleus. Nigel felt scorched as he tightly held Adam's limp body in his arms, arms encircling him in as protective an embrace as he could give. No comets would crash into this, no ricochet of the big bang to unsettle their union, the expansion of the universe would not tear them apart. This was their galaxy, these arms, this central, burning heart.

"I love you so much," Nigel shuddered into him, his voice gasping into Adam's ear in desperation, hoping he could still hear him despite the near coma of sensation his knotting created in the ill prepared Omega. "I promise you, I'm coming back, I'm not leaving you behind. I'm coming back to my universe, to my spaceman." Tears spilled onto Adam's face, his eyes rolled back in a secretive bliss that Nigel wasn't allowed to follow. He groaned into the shudder of his orgasm, the waves of physical pleasure not matching the miserable desperation he felt. "Remember this, if nothing else my darling, my angel. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I love you so fucking much."

 

Chapter Text

 

horsehead nebula

 

THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter eleven

They lay in bed entwined together, the knotting long behind them while the heady afterglow left them dazed and, at least in Nigel's case, slightly off balance and incoherent. Adam's eyes were droopy and glassy, polished blue marbles that looked like twin earths in the near dark of their bedroom. Fingertips tentatively traced the worry lines of Nigel's brow, and Nigel closed his eyes and kissed them when they reached the outline of his lips. "I'm floating, darling. The very idea of me leaving you behind, it's fucking ridiculous. Why would I do such a thing? Fuck me, Adam, I just want to hold you tight to me forever, why should that be so difficult?"

He slid his arms around him and did just that, Adam sighing deeply as he pressed his face into Nigel's shoulder. "You promised me you are coming back, and that is what you are going to do, because I have never seen you not make good on your promises. If you hadn't come for me, I would have been one of those Omegas in a hole in the ground in some unknown, forgotten warehouse back in the United Main. I would be hoping, every single day, for you to find me. I'm so glad you did so in advance." Adam kissed him again, and fuck he tasted so sweet, he wanted to dive back into that moist softness and take all of it. The reality of leaving him behind was still looming, and though it was impossible, Nigel knew he wanted to tuck Adam completely inside of his soul and find a way to bring him with him.

Skin to skin, Nigel held him close, his lips brushing against Adam's ear. He felt the strangest sense of calm, a release of dopamine and endorphins he knew the knotting was responsible for, but he'd never experienced this kind of high afterwards, like waves of warmth that made him drift into the pleasure that was Adam. "How was it, my darling angel?" Nigel asked him, lips tempting the softness he was so very addicted to. "Where did you go when you fell limp in my arms? Were there comets? Did you dance on the rings of Saturn?"

Adam smiled into Nigel's neck. "Yes. It was beautiful, Nigel. Are such hallucinations common? I was in the Horsehead Nebula, spinning close to it and diving through the thick cover of dust and organic particles that comprise it, though I was careful not to get too close to the low mass stars that are in their infancy of formation. It's one of the few from the Orion constellation that can be seen with the aid of a regular telescope, we should go on the roof of the apartment building at some point and I will show you, it's quite spectacular. Though it is far away, to think such a simple magnification can allow us to see it, how incredible! Orion is a massive system that contains the mysteries of deep space and many star formations that are just as beautiful as the Horsehead Nebula, which is at a distance of 1.5 kly ly from Earth."

"Is that very far, darling?"

"So far you can't inwardly envision it with any accuracy. In relative discussion of scale, it is like comparing an atom of sand with the distance covered across the Earth to the centre of Antarctica, which would still be insufficient. When you truly think about it, we're so small we can't comprehend how little our planet fits amongst this infinite expansion of possibility. We're in actuality just drifting along inside of nothingness. We are comprised of atoms that simply float, the universe a vast collection of energy transformed into light, highly volatile burning bits of matter that are constantly threatening to explode. If there are miracles and not coincidences, Nigel, I think the biggest one is that I am here, with you. I want to place a meaning on that coincidence, that you are the other portion of my missing electron, you are the satellite to my nucleus. These are strange thoughts, I'm having, Nigel. Everything feels very skewed, the puzzles are not clear when they usually are. My mind feels like a funhouse mirror, warped into alternatives I hadn't considered. I think the expansion of supernova fragments may be an excellent way to measure the progressive birth of a galaxy. I love you, Nigel."

Nigel sank his face into his pillow, unable to bear the thought of his leaving his darling spaceman behind. He wanted to release his frustration and shout angrily into it, but he couldn't mar Adam's current, sweet happiness with his worry, and he kept his concerns about going to the United Main Coastline to himself. He had to find a way to reason out his explosive emotions, he had to calm them the fuck down and take a look at them from an analytical, Adam Raki, perspective. Yes, he was going in cold on a case that was set to explode an entire region of the world if it was handled improperly. Politics aside, the missing Omegas were likely close to death and the possibility he was picking up corpses was a looming fact. He would need a truck to properly rescue them, preferably one that was stolen so the GSF couldn't trace it back to a purchase. He wondered if a transport truck would do, he could easily get them in there and to the shipyard, though lifting them one by one was going to be tedious and slow work and he hoped Jack Crawford would be able to have a team of FBI ready to help. They had to be given over the medical personnel as soon as possible to ensure their rates of survival, that team was currently waiting at the appointed area at the Baltimore dock, a ship ready to take them all home, dead or alive. No matter the outcome, experience told him he would find death, and he felt like a reaper more than a rescuer. It wasn't hard to visualize his arrival bearing a scythe instead of glock to take out the Omegas' enemies. It wasn't an image he liked to inspect.

All of it was frantic conjecture. He would be meeting Jack Crawford in less than twenty-four hours and from there he had no idea what the journey would entail. His plan was to rescue the Omegas immediately, not stopping for any warrants or political wrangling, just an in and out job that would have him back on a plane to Romania and into his spaceangel's arms before he'd even had a chance to fully awake. He wasn't sure what Jack Crawford would think of that plan, but it was the one Nigel was determined to implement, the FBI agent's well being be fucking damned. People were dying. They had no choice but to run in, guns drawn, and enact a rescue, their own safety meant nothing.

"I don't want you to go, Nigel."

Fuck, he didn't want to either. He nuzzled Adam's forehead and kissed the frowning line away. "Think about the shape of the stars, baby. Think about how miraculous they are. I'll be home in no time. You won't even notice I was gone."

Adam's breath on his neck was warm and even, a rhythm that had Nigel drifting into its cocooning humidity. His eyes were heavy as they slid shut, his own sighs answering Adam's tender little breaths that he measured his heartbeat by. He could hear, if he really listened, the murmur of the planets' oscillations, elliptical galaxies on a forward axis, the relative speed of light calculating the distance of the Crab Nebula from the Milky Way, and Nigel was floating up amongst the stars with him, through hot gases and diving past thick, iron rocks, dodging the husks of meteors. He wanted to stay up there, in the Heavens with his precious spaceman, but the Earth was pulling him down, and he could feel himself falling, at a rate of red hot acceleration, his body burning up in the atmosphere, crumbling into molten ash.

He fell into the muck, the wet Earth burying him before he could find enough purchase to force his way out of it, his mouth full of its foul, stinking, rotten taste. This wasn't fair, he wasn't meant to feel this cold, he wasn't supposed to fall. He sputtered and clawed at the crumbling edge as he crawled out of it, his mouth stained with its bitter, blood tinged mud. He left the wet pit, spitting the rancid earth onto the soaked mud before him, his hands sinking into its black slime as he crawled onto firmer ground on his hands and knees.

Something shifted beneath him and he braced himself against the cave wall, for that was where he was, somewhere far from the heavens, in a cavern that was deeply underground, where light would never find it. He slid his stained hands along the cold, damp stone surface of the cave's walls, and peered into the dark, trying to discern shapes within the pitch black. He knew he wasn't alone, and he reached into the pocket of his trousers and pulled out his lighter, instantly patting at the familiar place at the pocket of his bowling shirt, but the pack of cigarettes had been lost in the muck when he'd fallen into it. He staggered back, feeling the squelch of the wet earth trying to suck him back in, and he knew he had to find a way out, though there was no light and hope had been long extinguished with it.

He had his lighter. He rolled it between his wet fingers and struggled with the tip before finally pressing down on the small red nub, and bringing the flame into life. The interior of the cave lit up, and Charlie was standing in front of him, a bullet hole in the centre of his forehead, a look of forlorn apology on his sweating, miserable face.

"I should be better at this," Charlie said, shaking his head. "It's not like I don't know how to warn people."

Nigel shrugged, and he really wished he had a cigarette. The last thing he needed was Charlie popping up here, ruining his chances of getting back to Heaven just by existing and pissing him off. Fucking jackass, as if he was spending all his time down here with the dead when he was supposed to be up there, helping out Gabi. No wonder she kept calling.

"You're in a bit of trouble, Nigel." Charlie warned, and again, what the hell was the guy telling him that for? It's not like it was a big secret. Charlie gave Nigel a shrug and a helpless, open-handed gesture. "I can't fix what you've done. How are you going to cope without him, now? You're going to go on a plane and traumatize him, that's not fair, Nigel. He's up in heaven and you're down here, and he's looking for you and he can't find you. Make sure he knows, when you're dead, to look for you in Hell."

"I'm not going to die, you stupid fuck!" Nigel shouted at him and a gust of wind blew out the flame on his lighter. He cursed and pressed it again, but nothing shot out, not even a spark. He shook it hard, hopefully bringing enough of the fluid to the surface wick to alight it. He pressed his thumb against it again, and a thin flame brought the cavern back into sepia relief.

But it wasn't Charlie who was waiting for him in the dark. It was the bodies of the Omegas, their pale corpses staring back at him with milky eyes and white, cracked lips. One lay in the centre of their circle of death, its chest splayed wide open, and when he looked down he could see it was the corpse of Darlene. Her heart still beat, the red angry organ stained with mud, tubes inserted into its main arteries pumping it in false life as they wound out of her and through the bloodstream of her mostly dead friends. "I look forward to meeting your acquaintance," her cracked white lips said, and at that moment he couldn't tell if it she was male or female and it didn't matter, because her heart suddenly stopped. The Omega he believed was Darlene was dead and her hand was on his arm. He was getting pulled towards their circle, he was a part of their world now. He was leaving Heaven behind as they dragged him, screaming in protest against their intrusion into his hope, down into the muck where he was to be buried. Down into the filth, never to find air again, down into the black, endless finality of dust meeting dust.

~*~

He awoke with a scream trapped in his throat and it took a long while before he could properly catch his breath and get his bearings. He groaned into the pillow, muttering to himself that his head was fucked. Hormones were overriding sense, taking over his subconscious and while he didn't regret his actions there were consequences he wouldn't be able to deny. His eyes hurt, a sharp brilliance in direct contrast to the suffocating darkness of his nightmare. The early sunlight streamed in through the opened curtains and was weirdly cheerful considering what he was facing this morning. He sank back on his pillow and ran his hand along the empty side of the bed where Adam was supposed to be. He still felt his lingering warmth upon the sheets, and he curled around Adam's pillow, breathing his scent in deep, taking every molecule of him that could be stolen into his senses. Adam was in the kitchen, making breakfast, and Nigel nearly wept at the normalcy of this, that even with the tragedy of separation looming over them, Adam was still capable of enacting his routine.

He could still feel the cold of the wet earth within his clenched grip, and he bit down on the sob that nearly escaped him as he buried his face further in Adam's pillow. He couldn't let him see how emotional he was getting, it would send Adam into a panic, and he didn't want to hurt him any more than he already had. Last night had been impulsive, a permanent decision based on desperation and biology, and he hoped that Adam knew the long term repercussions of this, that he would be able to cope with having bonded to Nigel for a good decade or more. They were a mated couple now, the knotting had ensured that. Married, in the eyes of Eastern Unions law.

Nigel rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling, the shadows from the branch of a tall tree scraping along the white surface. He was married, again, and now he was set to ruin it by taking off into the ether and risking death, leaving a freshly bonded mate behind to deal with the chemical settling of that reality all alone. Fuck, he was a rotten shit.

His cell phone rang and Nigel cursed aloud as he answered it, convinced it was Darko. "I need a coffee first," he said in greeting.

"Nigel?"

The voice was wavering, uncertain, and Nigel sat up in the bed, the cell phone clutched tight in his grip. "Charlie?" A cold feeling tucked into his stomach, one that rode along the icy muck of his dream. The last time he'd talked to Charlie was at the other end of his glock when Gabi had left him and made sure Nigel knew for who. "Is Gabi okay?"

"Yeah, she's doing great, she's doing rehearsals for that recital in Petersburg. The conductor is a real hardass, he's practically making her fingers fall off, she's been practising so much." He hesitated, as though fearful she was about to walk into the room at any second, and Nigel felt a pang of sympathy for the sucker. Gabi really knew how to make an asshole feel unbalanced. "I just wanted to say thanks about my dad's ashes, that was a really cool thing for you to do. You didn't have to, I tried to explain to Gabi that it didn't matter, it's not like my father was no longer going to be gone and I didn't need that kind of a reminder, my belief is that once you're gone the body is just...Well, it doesn't matter what's going on with that, it's over, right? The spirit's the thing. That's what tends to stick around..."

His voice trailed off and Nigel was left frowning at Charlie's sudden shyness, as though there was a lot he wanted to say and he wasn't comfortable with the message. Nigel couldn't blame him, he did put the barrel of a gun at his temple and threaten to blow his brains out three years ago, and yeah, he might have skimmed past assault charges thanks to Darko refusing to be a witness. The hurt of Gabi leaving him had left him insane with pain, and it was a feeling that still smarted when he picked at it, like he was doing now. He'd never forget that final day, when she'd walked out of their home with her bags packed, Charlie tucked into her life like an extra piece of luggage she picked up along the way. He'd felt so used up, all of his deep feelings and his heart wasted on boozy nights and half remembered impressions. He'd thought that was love. He tried to fight for it and he lost, terribly, and he thought maybe taking care of her on the periphery was the answer, giving her money when she needed it, listening to her woes. But all it did was open wounds that were desperately trying to heal. Adam had done that job better than he could for himself, and he couldn't stop the words just falling out, no matter how infuriated Gabi was going to be at the very thought. "I'm mated with someone. An Omega." Nigel paused at the stunned silence at the other end of the line. "He's a spaceman, I mean, a planetologist, astronomer, astrophysicist--He's really something."

"Wow," Charlie said. Then, after a protracted silence at this news. "Am I happy for you?"

"Yes, you're fucking happy for me, you pisslick piece of shit, what the fuck kind of question is that? Seriously, Charlie, do you have a fucking brain, how in the hell do you even fucking function? I knotted him so tight he could pull a ship, so fuck off, Charlie. Am I fucking happy about it. Fucking idiot."

"Nigel, I just...Look, I'm not being an asshole, okay? It's just that usually Alphas and Omegas when they tie their first knot, it's because of a heat cycle, right? I mean, there's risks involved and, I guess you were really happy to take them." Charlie let out an exasperated sigh. "I think it's great news. A male Omega, hunh? They're so common over here, where I grew up I always kind of felt like a freak. Had to hide it most of the time, it's a wonder I never got arrested for gender subterfuge."

Nigel let out a sigh of his own and continued his study of the ceiling. He could hear Adam gathering up plates and his announcement of breakfast being ready was about to sing its way into the bedroom. "I have to ask, Charlie, were you a Mainlander or a Coastliner?"

"Coastliner, if you can believe it. Why do you ask?"

Nigel bit his bottom lip, and he was itching for a smoke. He pulled one out of his discarded shirt pocket on the floor near the bed and lit it, trying not to think of the lighter sending the horrors of a dark cave into relief. "I'm heading there this morning, should be in Baltimore by seven tonight."

"Oh." Charlie slowly took in this news, and Nigel was growing impatient with the guy's inability to quickly connect the fucking dots. "I was born in New York. My parents weren't one of the privileged class, though, they kind of scraped by, on the edge of all the glamour. My mom was a real envelope pusher, she hid my gender for most of my life, and I passed as a Beta for the most part. I was able to get a job that way, sustain myself. Wasn't easy during heat season, though, really hard to explain to employers why I had to routinely take certain times of the year off. Had to go from job to job for the most part." He was quiet a long moment, and when he came back to the phone he spoke in a harsh whisper, as though uncertain he wouldn't be overheard. "The United Main is a real weird place, Nigel, a guy like me is always walking around with a target on his back. I've had to be tough in ways you guys over here can't imagine. I was scared all the damned time, worried someone would find me out, or some Alpha would get a good whiff and that would be the end of me, right?"

Nigel frowned. "Is that why you came to Romania?"

"I came to Bucharest because that's what my mom wanted and she knew I was going to be happy here. I have no desire to go back there. Gabi might have thought that holding my dad's ashes hostage was some kind of ploy to get me back in their clutches, but no way. You got to be careful, Nigel." Charlie swallowed, his breath uneven as he spoke, the cell phone crackling with a strange kind of energy. "Monsters are looking forward to meeting your acquaintance. Watch every word you say, let nothing slip past you. You're going to be the one courting a necessary death this time."

Nigel sat up on the edge of the bed, rubbing sleep from his eyes. "Are you on one of your fucking recreational drugs, Charlie?"

"What? Nah. No. I'm just...I just wanted to say thanks. So...Yeah, thanks."

Nigel chuckled at this, for Charlie was always sincere if nothing else. "Take care, Charlie. Say hi to Gabi from me."

"I'll do that," Charlie said, and Nigel knew damned well he wasn't saying a word to her about this conversation.

He hung up his cell and tossed it onto the dresser as he flopped back down on the bed, loathing the very idea of leaving it. He had a few scant hours to kill before his flight at ten o'clock. Morning brought with it a renewed sobriety as the chemical effect of their knotting wore off. He didn't regret mating with Adam, it had been as intense and soul encompassing as he ever could have imagined, but fuck, if Charlie's warnings weren't making him anxious now, the letdown of the aftermath placing all manner of doubts within him. He gave up trying to fight the inevitability of getting up, and he could feel bones crack as he got up from the bed, his hands splayed against his sore back. The ribs were healing but his bones were still painfully bruised. He'd had these injuries before, and they were collecting into an aching constant. There was only so many times you could get smashed with baseball bats and fists before your body finally told you it was enough.

He entered the grey light of the kitchen which was engulfed in gentle shadows in the morning, the perfect brand of light for an Omega to wake up into. Adam quietly made scrambled eggs as Nigel sat in his chair at the breakfast nook and silently watched him, his coffee too dark and bitter. From where he was sitting he could see the tears glistening as they fell, his angel's cheeks red and raw from weeping.

"Last night was very special to me, Nigel," Adam sniffed.

"For me too, baby."

"You will need to be very careful. Don't talk to anyone on the Coastline if you can avoid it and if anyone asks, the Omega you mated with is back at home, but don't tell them Romania, tell them I am in Russia. That way if they want to enact revenge on you they can't easily find me, or any of your friends. Traffickers are known to hold grudges, it's a common understanding in the Mainland. Don't surrender information, carefully guard your words, it is a place that is very dangerous for Omegas and now that you are bonded to me if they find out you are there to thwart their plans they will want to hurt you by using our connection."

Nigel raised a brow at this over his mug of coffee. "You're a lot more street smart than you look, my angel."

"I am not stupid, Nigel, I have difficulties understanding emotional cues, however this does not mean I don't have the ability to analyze dangerous interactions. Harlan was very good at warning me about the GSF and about the traffickers. An Omega always had to be on guard."

Nigel thought about what Charlie had just told him, and he nodded over his coffee, chewing the information and digesting it like it was his breakfast.

"You mustn't trust anyone, Nigel, not even agent Jack Crawford, the United Main is very quickly descending into political chaos, I have been watching the news very carefully. Through statistical information and analysis of past conflicts I have calculated that you have about a week before the entire structure finally descends officially into civil war. You must come back before you get stuck in the middle of it."

"I'm no stranger to a good fight," Nigel reassured him.

Adam placed their plates before them, and quickly wiped away his tears with hasty fingers before sitting down across from Nigel. He wasn't drinking milk this morning, he had opted for orange juice. Nigel wondered what that particular change in routine could mean. He watched as the tip of Adam's fork slid across the cherry blossom pattern with soft pings, scrambled eggs salted with his tears. He reached out and grabbed Adam's wrist, steadying the trembling he found there. "I'm going to be just fine. If Jack Crawford ends up being some kind of fucking asshole who I have to take out, so be it. I know what my job is, darling, I set free our trapped Omegas and I get the fuck out. Very simple. I have no intention of making the acquaintance of anyone and the only thing that godforsaken place is going to see is my ass as I turn around and leave at first opportunity. Did you make toast, darling? You look so pale, I know you are scared. The way you are clenching your face like that, is your tummy hurting? You are so upset. You are breaking me, darling. Don't eat these eggs, then, have some toast, it will help settle your stomach."

Nigel felt the wave of Adam's fear hit him and it made him nauseous. An Omega wasn't supposed to feel like that with their Alpha present, and yet Adam's terror was rolling off of him and assailing Nigel like the sucker punch of a dozen assholes kicking the crap out of him. Lying to him and telling him that this was no big deal wouldn't work, Nigel knew, Adam would easily nick the lie as soon as he told it, letting it bleed out angrily between them. Adam was still clammy and feverish, though not as bad as he had been the night before, and though his eyes were still glassy and he was clearly trying to work his way through the shock, he did allow some of his regular, stoic reasoning to poke through.

"You are coming back," Adam ordered him, and Nigel nodded, perfectly in agreement with this. "We are a mated, bonded pair now. You can't leave me behind for too long, right now it is biologically impossible. You have three days before I begin suffering the effects of not having your chemical composition near to me. If you believe I have entrapped you due to this, it's because I did. What happened last night was my doing, a result of careful research and personal need. I do not wish to have you absent from my life and when you announced to me that you have been ordered to go to the United Main I was perfectly aware that our mating would ensure you would do everything possible to come back to me, especially now that it has become a biological imperative. Under the laws of both the United Main and the Eastern Unions, we are a bonded couple and no Alpha will be able pursue me, and traffickers will avoid me as a result of my current chemistry, which is flooded with your pheromones. Bonded Omegas bind their necks in silk on the United Main, but I have no wish to participate in the tradition of a place that has shown me nothing but oppression. I will follow the customs you have outlined to me, and I will purchase the obsidian rings myself this week. I will wear mine. I will keep yours waiting for you, for when you come back."

He could easily envision it, the round black circle as it slid over Adam's ring finger, the finality of it hitting Nigel far deeper than his marriage to Gabi. That union had been committed on a drunken whim, to the strained sounds of Chopin, the cello a tightly bound witness or the actual lover, he never could be sure. "You didn't trap me, Adam," Nigel assured him. "I wanted to mate you, I told you I was determined to take this into the long term." He sipped at his bitter coffee and fought the urge to grimace over it. "Of course, I'd thought we'd get past the third step at least. Darko is going to be one smug fucking bastard when he finds out we've knotted."

"Statistically, it was an inevitability," Adam told him. "I looked up the rituals and through observation of candid conversation in various courtship chat rooms and Kinsey studies, it was determined that most Omega and Alpha unions happen by the third step, though we did skip the whole witchery nonsense, which I am grateful for."

Nigel smiled and placed a warm palm on Adam's cheek, liking the way he melted into his touch. "Your statistics need to be more proactive, darling. You're still crying, are those fucking numbers lying to you and telling you that I am never coming home to you? Numbers know nothing of love, my angel. Put all your money on me, darling, I'm too unpredictable, there isn't a chart I haven't broken."

Adam shyly smiled into the centre of Nigel's palm and he felt a familiar ache winding through him, the desire for sex rising along with an aching need to stay close. "I refuse to calculate an answer that will merely cause us harm. Harlan often told me that positive thinking can get you very far in life." Adam chewed his bottom lip thoughtfully. "If the statistical analysis shows you will most likely die, this may skewer my ability to think positively of the outcome, and in the realm of physics, this may actually act as an influence upon it." He caught Nigel's confused frown and added, "The observation is what is key."

Nigel nodded, but he didn't have a fucking clue what his darling space angel was saying (something about a shoondigger, and a dead cat, yes, something like that) and it didn't really matter anyway. His cell phone rang again, and this time it was Darko, his friend so wound up he didn't give Nigel time to say hello before he was spewing out shit about Gorecky needing him for a quick game plan conference in his office and he was already in the lobby of the apartment building, ready to drive him to the precinct.

"A fucking meeting?" Nigel looked at his watch, along with his half dressed state. The bastard Subcomisar was being pushy was he, he hadn't even had a chance to shower yet. "That's cutting it close, my plane is leaving in a couple of hours."

"Gorecky wants to make sure you don't have anything to sue the department with when you come back maimed from the United Main and on a bigger note, he's worried you're going to spark a fucking World War. I'm on your floor, I'm in front of your door." He knocked, loudly and it was echoed within the cell phone. Nigel bid Adam to go ahead and open the door, forgetting a few key components to the ritual of breakfast, the first one being that neither of them showered until *after* they'd eaten.

The door was opened and Darko was damned near knocked back, the scent of a mated Omega so bitter to his senses he actually retched. "Fucking bastard!" he shouted at Nigel as he staggered in, holding the back of his hand to his mouth, trying to control his retching. "You fucking *knotted* him? Are you nuts? You're going on a plane halfway across the world! How in the hell is he supposed to deal with the separation, you idiot, Adam is going to get sick!"

"I initiated the union," Adam protested, but Darko was having none of it, his finger wagging in Nigel's face as he marched, furious at his superior officer and friend.

"Fucking irresponsible cunt!"

Now, that was just being a dick, because the whole issue of why he had to leave in the first place was because Nigel had too much fucking responsibility and mostly for the welfare of strangers. He glared at Darko and pushed past him as he marched into his bedroom, tugging open his closet and pulling out haphazard clothes that he tossed into a duffel bag. He slid on a pair of fresh black jeans and a black polo shirt that was a size too small and, heedless of Darko's continued glaring, he went back into the kitchen. Adam was tense, his hands clasping and unclasping into fists, big blue eyes brimming with tears and his sweet bottom lip quivering so hard Nigel couldn't help but fervently kiss it.

"Darko is going to take care of you while I'm gone, my darling," Nigel assured him, pulling him into a tight embrace that only seemed to increase Adam's sobs. Nigel rocked and shushed him, petting down the silk of his hair and committing the locks to his memory before gentling him at the back of his neck with firm, massaging strokes. "I'll be back before you even know I'm gone." He wove his arms tight around Adam's shoulders, near suffocating him in an embrace he didn't want to release. Adam shook and wept against his chest, the scent of him so delicious every moment was breaking Nigel's resolve.

He set his jaw and pulled away, pushing off Adam's hands as they tried to cling back to him. He grabbed his duffel bag and dove out the door before he could stop himself, his shoes stepped into along the way.

Darko remained silent as he walked behind him. If he had anything to say about the tears coursing down Nigel's face, he thankfully kept damned quiet about it.

~*~

He didn't go to Gorecky's office, he had no intention of talking to the Subcomisar. The wall of a man was clearly waiting for him, his massive bulk sending long, uncomfortable shadows through the precinct. Nigel ignored him and immediately made his way to the lockers, determined to obtain that one thing that he knew he had to surrender before he left. He wasn't sure how it was going to be received, Gabi certainly hadn't appreciated it, but this was Adam, and there was nothing more different in this world than what he felt when it came to him. He unlocked the dusty locker and took out the small, parcel wrapped box within it, keeping it tight in his grip. When he closed the locker door, Darko was standing there, waiting for him, his small, black eyes fixing his friend in a mixture of pity and rage.

"You just couldn't wait until you got back?"

Nigel felt the weight of the small package in his grip, his insides feeling shredded. He didn't know how he was supposed to explain it, that Adam had been so enticing, his body simply melting into his and before he knew it they were in bed and Adam was knotted beneath him. He was so beautiful as he lay there, helpless in his arms, blue eyes focused on a far, miraculous horizon of stars and moons that Nigel couldn't see, but he had taken him there and he felt this odd, soulful pride at this. His body clung to the memory of the steady orgasmic pulse of his cock filling the Omega with his seed, the delighted sighs escaping Adam's moist, red lips. He still felt drunk from it, and it had been Adam who had initiated the act, who had practically impaled himself, and Nigel melted over the exquisite heat of his wiry little body and his distress. He was an Omega in need, he was hurting and it was Nigel's job as his Alpha to take care of him, how could Darko not understand that?

He slammed the locker door shut and braced himself, pressing his forehead against the cold metal before standing up and pushing his shoulders back. "We're going back to the apartment and picking Adam up, I want to say goodbye to him from the airport, there's something I need to give him."

"As if you haven't given enough!"

Nigel stormed in front of his friend, then, Alpha anger taking over. "Don't you fucking judge what you don't fucking know, Darko! I'm going on a fucking plane and flying to Hell, and this is how my best friend treats me! Fuck you, Darko! You don't understand anything!"

Darko grimaced and fought the urge to strike him, the tension between them palpable. "You fucking knotted him, Nigel, I'm just saying you could have waited until you got back, you jackass!"

Nigel shook his head, staring down at the package in his grip. He tried to keep his emotions in check but they were swirling hard within him now, a big mess of memories and impressions and smells and delights collected up in a ball of nightmare because he wasn't allowed to indulge in any of it. "No, Darko, I couldn't." He could feel the tears and he tried to balk at them, to push his overriding emotions back, but his heart wasn't letting him. "I couldn't resist him. He had to know how much I loved him."

Darko's eyes widened at Nigel's choice of words. "You're coming back, you moron!"

Nigel swallowed back the hard lump in his throat and quickly wiped at his eyes with the heels of his hands. He was wearing everything wide in the open today, and he was sure he still stank of knotting. Subcomisar Gorecky should be fucking thankful he was avoiding him. "I need you to take care of Adam, I'm trusting you with this because I know out of all the bastards who are here you're the only one know will do it right. Adam is my mate, it's now a fucking fact, so don't fucking arguing with me about it."

Darko was left speechless as he stood in shock beside his friend. What Nigel was entrusting him with was the life of his Omega should he die, and maybe now his friend was finally getting just how much in the shit he really was.

"General Drubek gave me a laptop, one with departmental controls on it so there's no cyber snooping. But I'll be able to use Skype in an alternate browser, Adam already showed me how. I'll be keeping tabs on all of you, and if you don't hear from me that's how you know something's wrong. Gorecky thinks I'm going to fuck this up, that's why he's got me in here before the flight. What that bastard needs to know is that I've got too much to live for to die for the fucking cause. The minute I sense danger, I'm fucking off and I'm coming back home." He braced his friends shoulders with the strong grips of his hands, forcing Darko's frowning stance to acknowledge him. "If it's a fucking disaster, if the world fucking ends, I need you to be able to keep it going over here, do you get me?"

Darko nodded, and he was swallowing down some rocks of his own that had lodged in his throat. There wasn't much time to waste. Nigel marched out of the locker room, the small, rectangular package still in his grip along with his duffel bag. He paused in front of Gorecky's office and gave his superior officer the finger before marching past him and out the front door of the precinct.

Nigel swore the Earth itself shook with monolith rage as Gorecky ran out of his office after him, massive meaty hands getting ready to grab and pull him back into his political maw. He'd said it plenty of times before and he wasn't about to waste his breath further explaining it now. This rescue mission was exactly that, taking care of near eighty kidnapped and stranded Omegas who time was quickly ticking closer to death the longer he waited. No more talking, time to work.

"We need to go over our strategy!" Gorecky shouted at him, and Nigel flipped him the bird as he got into Darko's car.

"I already know what it is, asshole, it's *me*!"

Darko didn't want to waste time either. They sped along the side roads on Nigel's orders, making their way back to the apartment where Adam was no doubt stewing in misery. He hoped his little spaceman had performed all of his necessary rituals, all the little things that would make him feel better and calm him down. He'd have to make a big list for Darko to make sure he knew how to cope with it all. Adam was single mindedly determined when it came to those things that eased his anxieties, and he was certain to be ramped way up this morning.

Bucharest flew by the passenger window as he sat back and tried to catch his breath. He'd gone to the precinct solely for the item now weighing heavy in his lap and with shaking fingertips he gently released it from its parchment paper prison. He opened one corner and tipped out the two small jewellery boxes, unsure of how he was supposed to do this.

"What is that?" Darko said, speeding past a red light and throwing a curse at an oncoming car that had to slam on its breaks.

Nigel chewed the information for a few moments, not sure how much he should reveal. "Obsidian rings."

Darko huffed at this and made a sharp turn that had Nigel clutching the dashboard. "The ones you bought for Gabi."

Nigel shrugged. "She didn't want them. She preferred the flashier shit, said these were too old fashioned. She wanted diamonds, remember?"

"You should have returned them."

Nigel opened one of the boxes, the small ring one he hoped would be large enough to fit Adam's slender finger. He took the rings out and pocketed them before closing up the tiny boxes and tossing them on the floor of Darko's navy sedan. He kept his hands hidden. Anything to keep his friend from seeing how much his whole world was exploding into molten rock and he was trembling like a fucking piece of lit paper above it.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter twelve

Clouds dissipated, leaving in their wake the long, wet yawn of Earth as the plane flew across the Atlantic, shades of green and blue mocking him with their seeming calm. Beneath the beauty lay the cold reality of death, its depth unfathomable the longer Nigel stared down into it. Countless bodies had found their way beneath that perfect surface, men, women and children swept into the storm of waves, drowned within deep blue. Adam had once told him the sand at the bottom of the ocean was created by corpses, some millions of years old. He pressed his forehead against the glass, and wondered how it was that he was still flying above this mass grave when he belonged down there, beneath the cold water to fall forever, away from sunlight and into the black depths where all the other silent, forgotten bones go. He swallowed, his throat raw, and his eyes stung from the secretive weeping he'd indulged in when he was alone in his seat. He could feel the tug at his heart as his connection to his Omega was stretched thin, the pain of it physical as well as emotional, and he had to wonder if Darko was right. He should have waited, the bond they'd forged was too fresh and Nigel could barely focus on the ugly task he had waiting for him on the shores of Baltimore. He stared down at the still ocean below, his heart weary at the thought of all the sad secrets held just beneath its surface. It was drowning his loss, too. It was forcing his heavenly love for his spaceman to crash into its depths to be bound far below, into a darkness where light couldn't penetrate and stars were barely a memory.

He'd left the precinct with Darko and they went to the apartment as per Nigel's instruction to pick up Adam, fully intent on bringing him to the airport. Darko hadn't thought it was a good idea, he figured Nigel should have just left it at what they'd had that morning, but Nigel couldn't do it, he had to see him one last time and get a proper good-bye. Besides, there were pressing matters, obsidian rings weighing heavy in his jeans pocket and he wasn't about to be wrenched from his angel without proof of return.

Darko left his dark sedan running in the parking lot as Nigel bolted out of it and headed for the elevator. Every second took longer than it was supposed to, time expanding like Adam's universes, the more he wanted to rush it the more it slowed down, putting every molecule into a careful inspection. He felt like he was wading through a heavier gravity , his movements slowed as leaden feet headed for his apartment, 815B. As he unlocked the door he had the strange, uncomfortable feeling that he was changing the motion of his universe.

Adam was in the living room, in his spacesuit, the black opacity of the helmet's fishbowl reflecting back an image of Nigel's misery. His poor little darling, already seeking the comfort only a mummification could bring. He longed to scoop him up and unzip and unclasp him out of the ridiculous thing and forget about Darko waiting in the parking lot. He wanted to run his hands over Adam's sweet, soft skin and kiss it and taste it one last time. But Nigel didn't do this, instead he went onto his knees before him, and placed his strong hands on Adam's heavily padded thighs. Adam's gloved hands went up in surprise and brushed against his cheek, but Nigel couldn't do it, he couldn't open the lid of the black glass of his spaceman's helmet to see him, he kept Adam's reaction hidden. He wouldn't be able to get on a plane if he saw his angel's tears again.

He unzipped the wrist of one of the gloves and tugged it off after wrangling with a few clasps, the many layers beneath it meant to keep out a Martian atmosphere. On a label, poking out from beneath his bared, sweaty hand, the brand Roscosmos in red, Cyrillic lettering was visible, a confident promise that this suit was more than a prototype, it was set to be mass produced when the colony on Mars was ready to be populated. They were quite the positive bunch of assholes, those pricks at Roscosmos, but he knew they would never reach their goal. They fired their perfect cosmonaut.

He took Adam's bared, sweaty hand in his and ran his thumbs in a soothing massage over its trembling within his grip. The skin was so smooth and soft, not a blemish to be seen, and Nigel closed his eyes as he brought the back of Adam's hand to his lips and kissed it, tasting that salty sweetness that was delectable to Nigel alone. He carefully inspected every finger, every line in Adam's palm, committing that bared hand to memory and nothing else, because he could handle this, at least, just this little portion of him to take away with him while he flew over an indifferent ocean towards an unknowable fate.

He reached into his pocket with one hand while still holding Adam's with the other, and he didn't miss the sudden, abrupt change in Adam's posture when he brought out the obsidian rings and placed them on the couch beside him. He couldn't be sure it was going to fit and it was a risk, but he couldn't leave Adam without something to show that he was cared for, that this Omega had his Alpha and if biology didn't dictate it enough, well, here's the fucking ring, boys. Hands the fuck off.

Adam's hand shook as Nigel slid the ring onto his finger and it had to be the universe nodding, saying it's about time there's a fucking miracle happening around here, because the ring slid on like that perfect last piece of a puzzle slowly clicking into place. Nigel wept and kissed it, and kissed Adam's palm, breathing in the scent of him, before quickly sitting up and putting his own ring on. Adam held his bare hand up, the reflection of it and the ring in the black glass of his helmet, and Nigel clasped their fingers together, the rings a solid band of shining black against pale skin.

"I love you," Nigel said, and he released himself from Adam's grip and quickly made his leave before Adam could struggle his way off of the couch, the spacesuit hindering his ability to chase after him.

He kept his head down as he shut and locked the apartment door behind him, his steps long, purposeful and quick as he journeyed back to the navy sedan and Darko's worried face. His officer and friend tapped at his watch, alerting Nigel he didn't have much time before the plane was set to take off and missing the damned flight was hardly an option. It was the earliest one they could send him out on, even with a mass grave looming in the distance.

He'd made sure that Darko knew the details of how to make his little spaceman feel secure, and he outlined some of his rituals, a bit more detailed than Darko wanted and not nearly long enough, but necessary:

-Make sure he has ample orange soda and make sure it's refrigerated properly. Put it in the back of the fridge to make sure it's cold enough.
-Never toss your coat on the couch when you visit, hang it up on the far right hanger and put your shoes to the left of his sneakers, heels touching.
-Never turn lights on if he's in a dimly lit room.
-If he's going out, make sure he has all the keys and that he's told you exactly where he's going just in case he gets lost or overwhelmed and needs a ride home.
-He likes pineapple and ham on his pizza. Don't order a half of what he likes and half of what you like, just the ham and the pineapple, none of the other shit. The food will always end up touching, get it? IT WILL ALWAYS TOUCH.
-Never rush him when he's brushing his teeth or taking a shower, or when he's eating and he needs to pick out all the carrot fibres from a muffin, or when he's getting dressed, or any fucking thing, just don't rush him, okay? He'll never get done if you fucking rush him.
-Breakfast is always on the cherry blossom plates. Don't use them for anything else. Don't drink out of my coffee mug. He'll probably offer it to you to drink out of, but that mug is mine, asshole, so keep your germs off of it.
-He likes scrambled eggs and ketchup. You are not allowed to judge.
-He likes his coffee with two creams and one sugar. Do not take him to those fancy coffee places with the fucking lattes and shit, he'll have a fucking meltdown.
-If he talks about space and you get bored, just take a nap and let him keep talking. You don't fucking interrupt when he's going on about Seyfert galaxies, he's figuring out how the fucking universe works, jackass, so don't fuck up his train of thought.
-I got Skype on my phone, if he gets really panicky, just call me and I'll video message him and talk him down.
-Keep your hands to your fucking self. If I hear you put your paws on him and tried to gentle him in any way, I'm going to fucking rip your fingers off one by one and put salt in the stumps, got it?
-He wears a spacesuit when he's really stressed. Just make sure his air nozzle is open so he doesn't suffocate.

He wasn't sure if Darko absorbed all of this necessary information, but it gave Nigel a semblance of comfort knowing his friend at least listened to him. If there were problems he was sure Adam would be the first to call him and tell him about it, and hopefully it would be nothing too disastrous.

He checked his watch. He'd been on the plane for four hours already and there was another four yet to go. By the time he landed in Baltimore it would be three in the morning on that shore and only seven in the evening in Bucharest. The jet lag was going to kill him by tomorrow afternoon.

He had no plans on sleeping, anyway, so technically it didn't matter. He wasn't sure he'd be capable of it at this point without his little spaceman whispering the mysteries of the universe into his ear like an interstellar lullaby.

He shifted in his seat, unable to get comfortable, his skin feeling strange and oddly ill-fitting, too large for his soul that felt smaller without Adam near it. He roughly wiped at his stinging eyes with the heel of his hand and tried not to think about needing a smoke. In the seat beside him, an elderly Hungarian woman kept sizing him up, and though she didn't speak a word of either English or Romanian, she would periodically pat his arm and offer him up a swig from her secreted flask of her version of palinca, and he was grateful for the offering. She'd smile after every generous drink, showing off a mouth mostly devoid of teeth, and with her face framed within a dingy, flowered scarf, she laughed and patted his arm again and said something that was probably wise and soothing to those who understood her. He appreciated the effort.

He knew one word she kept repeating, for it was the same the entire world over. "Omega," she said and sadly nodded her head and patted his arm and offered him more booze. "Omega. Omega."

He could feel his eyes burning again and he turned away this time, staring down into that unforgiving ocean, into its vast clarity where the bodies lay in waiting.

~*~

Baltimore airport was nothing like the images Nigel had seen on his laptop, the bustle of people journeying to and fro from their destinations no longer a steady stream that was an envy of efficiency. Above the throng of humming people, a spider web of white beams loomed and Nigel had to wonder who was about to be plucked out and eaten when they took a misstep. Charlie wasn't kidding about the army of GSF swarming the area, and Nigel recognized them instantly as he made his way off the plane and past the sentry of heavily armed officers marching through the place, semi-automatic weapons poised and ready. One false move was set to create a bloodbath, he was sure. Though the airport was crowded the hum of people was strangely muted, as though fearful of talking too loudly, and setting off alarms that make bullets start flying. Eyes were kept downcast as people hurried past the GSF, all of whom were wearing mirrored sunglasses, hiding their scrutiny and expressions from the crowds. Baltimore was under martial law and it was clear that these goons were just itching to use their firepower, a sense of tense overwrought superiority mixed with an arrogance that was a dangerous mix. Nigel could practically taste the need for violence at the back of his tongue. Most of these goons were Alphas, Nigel realized. In fact, the airport was devoid of the usual Omega scents, and the lack of comfort that insertion brought with it left Nigel feeling unbalanced, his natural Alpha anger putting him on edge.

He slung his duffel bag over his shoulder as he headed for the escalator and was stopped by a female GSF officer, her nose flaring as she pressed the butt of her rifle against his midsection, barring him from descent. "Where are you coming from?" she asked, and sniffed the air around him with blatant suspicion.

"Bucharest. Romania." He narrowed his eyes at the reflection of himself in her mirrored sunglasses, annoyed that the bridge of his nose still had that nasty scab cutting across it. The GSF officer didn't flinch at his scrutiny, she was slight but heavily muscular and unmistakably Alpha. "I'm here to visit family."

"Eastern Union citizens are required to carry two passports. Papers, please."

Nigel balked at this. "Since when?"

"Since the Upper Australian coastline joined our region two years ago and due to the current smuggling of Omegas out of the United Main and into Sydney from that area. I can smell a male Omega on you, where is he?"

"In Romania," Nigel said, sneering. "You think I would bring him here to this fucking cesspit? Get that fucking gun out of my way."

She grabbed his duffel bag and handed it over to an officer next to her, who unzipped it and began rummaging roughly through it. "You have a ring on your finger," she observed, and Nigel twirled it with the pad of his thumb. "You are bonded to an Omega and yet you left him behind. The scent of bonding on you is recent, being separated from you will cause him distress. Should you have done such a thing here we would consider that a form of abuse and GSF officers would have seized him out of concern for his welfare. What is the nature of your visit here?"

"Visiting family," Nigel repeated through clenched teeth. The contents of his duffel bag were strewn all over the ground around the GSF officers, ugly short sleeved bowling shirts in wild prints and black jeans, his laptop opened and quickly inspected before being snapped shut and tossed roughly at the GSF officer's feet.

He glared at her, his eyes narrowed on the little mirrors she hid behind. "I'm here for a fucking funeral. Believe me, I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to be."

"A funeral for who?"

"My sister."

"What did she die of?"

Nigel pressed his lips tightly together, eyeing the GSF surrounding him with an aggression he simply couldn't keep in check. They smelled an Omega on him and this is what happens. It was a freedom he took for granted back home and he'd been so upset at leaving Adam he didn't think about how much his scent on him would affect his entry into the United Main. The thought of what could have happened had Adam come with him made him feel nauseous and he swallowed back bile. He would have been sequestered in a GSF facility no matter what. They wouldn't recognize a simple black stone ring as evidence of his bonding, they'd want him to cover up his neck, too. They would have arrested him for 'exposure'. Any excuse at all to get them into their clutches. This bitch in front of him knew that just as well.

"I'd say it was a kind of cancer," he said to her.

"You don't know what she died of?"

"I just said cancer, didn't I?"

"You said 'a kind of cancer'."

"Well, I'm not a fucking doctor, am I?"

She read over his passport, taking in every scant amount of information she could and committing it to memory. "This is your first time overseas." She handed it back to him and curtly nodded at her crew, and they backed off from their search. "I don't like your tone, but I know the way you Eastern Union Alphas are. If we find you in this region longer than a week we will be putting in an order to extradite your Omega mate to our shores on grounds of bonded cruelty. You are not permitted to leave the Coastline of Baltimore and you especially not permitted to enter the Mainland, is that clear?"

"Fucking crystal," Nigel snarled. "As for my Omega, nice try. You have no jurisdiction in Eastern Union law and I know damned well what you think you're doing you fucking cunt. I have not abandoned my Omega, and no, he's not for fucking sale."

She tossed his passport back at him and he snatched it from her grip. The butt of her rifle grazed his waist and its threat was not lost on him. "Enjoy your stay in the United Main."

They marched away from him, leaving the contents of his duffel bag in a mess on the ground around him. He cursed as he stuffed it all back in, Adam's careful ironing of all of Nigel's clothes ruined. He'd been treated like shit because she supposedly believed he was one of those piss shit Alphas who used their male Omegas for sex, like the bastards in the United Main did. Get yourself a male Omega in the United Main and every fucking bastard there thinks you're a pervert like Mason Verger.

But he knew this wasn't the real reason he'd been threatened like this, the GSF had sniffed out a potential security breach and then when they didn't get what they wanted they pumped him full of empty threats. Of course they didn't want Eastern Union bastards on the United Main Coastlines, they were the ones on the front lines when arresting Omega traffickers. They'd scented his male Omega on him and, since male Omegas got top dollar on the market, they figured Nigel was an easy mark to intimidate. Fucking corrupt bastards.

Imbeciles and bullies. Fuck them all.

He zipped up his duffel bag, still feeling the sting of humiliation the search had left him with, a simmering anger remaining within him as he made his way down the escalator towards the passenger pick-up. At the base was a large man of African-American heritage, his thick hands braced on his hips as Nigel slowly made his way down. He knew the man without ever having seen him before, there was a certain stance a cop had that became part of their DNA, a readiness for violence. Agent Jack Crawford had a good overdose of it at the ready and he cast quick glances over his shoulders for GSF looking to infringe even more on his territory. He didn't relax when Nigel approached him.

"You do know how to make an entrance," Jack said. He quickly shook Nigel's hand and kept his gaze level with him. "Watch your back, they are everywhere and they are on the hunt for even the barest scent of an Omega. You really do reek, Inspector Ionescu, showing up on these shores stinking of a freshly bonded Omega is a dangerous risk. I hope this isn't indicative of your usual investigative technique, because from what I know of you, I was expecting a lot better."

Nigel placed a hot hand on Jack's shoulder and gave him a shake of his head. "I'm going to wipe a fucking tear from my eye and you are going to fucking give me a hug and pat my back. Those fuckers think I'm here for a funeral and they are still watching, so stop looking like a fucking cop and act your part."

Jack stiffly complied and Nigel was thankful the idiots at he top of the escalator seemed to buy their awkward pantomime of grief. He followed Jack's marching steps, shaking locks of stringy blonde hairs from his eyes as he tried to keep up, the duffel bag slung over his shoulder. They didn't speak until they got to the parking lot, where Jack's grey Impala was waiting. Nigel tossed his duffel bag into the back seat and he sank up front into the passenger seat with a wincing groan. His bones were really aching now, and he wasn't sure if it was just the bruising he'd suffered a week ago or if it was residual pain from leaving his darling Adam and his beautiful heaven behind.

Probably the latter. He adjusted his watch to three in the morning and peered through the window of the Impala at the darkness that blanketed the parking lot of the airport. "I need you to drive by the warehouses, I need a good view of the street before I make a plan of action. I need a transport truck, preferably one that is stolen so it can't be traced, parked and abandoned nearby, no further than a block away. Transporting the Omegas may prove difficult, and I will need several of your officers on scene to help with securing them into the hold of the truck. Right now we have the advantage of darkness and if we hurry..."

Jack let out a deep sigh of frustration as he brought the engine of the Impala to life. "You're a real fast learner, aren't you? I want to help you, Inspector, but the facts are I can't take you there right now. I'm sure the GSF are putting a trace on my movements and my team hasn't yet determined how they've been doing it. If I go to those warehouses now I might as well be handing the Omegas over to them and you'll be going home empty handed."

Nigel ground his teeth at this. "We can't leave them there. It's been too long already."

"We're not going to," Jack assured him. He kept his eyes steeled ahead of him, watching his rear window and overall remaining in a state of such heightened paranoia Nigel wondered how the man functioned. He'd known him for all of five minutes and Jack Crawford already struck him as a tightly wound, aggressive Alpha with a very personal grudge against the GSF that was clearly mutual.

"Trust me, they already know who you are and they are trying to figure out why you are here. That search was no accident, Omega stink on you be damned. Your Subcomisar warned me you'd be wanting to pull a stunt like this, that you're impatient and while you're one of his best you're also too quick to get into a fight. You got to back off, just for a moment until we get our strategy set. I'm not having anyone die on my watch, you got it? Nobody."

Nigel didn't like the way Jack Crawford echoed his own usual speech to his team back in Bucharest. All chiefs had the same script, it seemed. As they pulled onto the highway, it was on the tip of Nigel's tongue to remind Jack Crawford that waiting a second longer meant just what they were trying to avoid. Death was lurking underground in a pit of despair where suffering Omegas were waiting for rescue. They'd already been down there too long, and with everyone pussyfooting around the GSF they were withering away into the earth, sucked in by the mud to be added to those boxes in the basement of his precinct in Bucharest. The wilfully forgotten, lingering in a silent limbo, waiting forever for a saviour to come who knew where they were but who didn't do a damned thing to help.

He was already forming an opinion of Jack Crawford and it wasn't a pleasant one. He was a bulldog of a man, one who wanted things done his way and wouldn't seek alternatives. Nigel crossed his arms as they drove onto the highway, the threat of morning bringing with it more challenges. The pain in his bones was now a steady thrum that coursed through Nigel's blood. Being on this soil felt every shape of wrong.

"Where are we going?" Nigel asked.

Jack gave him a frown, and a sidelong glance before concentrating back on the busy highway before him. "Didn't Subcomisar Gorecky tell you? He briefed you last night, didn't he?"

Jack Crawford was having trouble with the time change himself, since that meeting would have been yesterday morning in Bucharest. Nigel inwardly groaned at the memory that he'd avoided the discussion altogether and instead had flipped his superior the bird as he left. "I might need some reminders," Nigel said.

Jack growled at this. "I'm not impressed, Inspector Ionescu, not at all. I'm taking you to a plausible alibi should the GSF start asking too many questions. The funeral idea is a nice touch, I think you should run with that, we can get a Jane Doe set up that you can falsely identify if it comes down to it. You truly are staying with family. From what I understand, you are in a relationship with Will Graham's cousin, Adam Raki."

"You could say that," Nigel said, thoughtfully chewing the inside of his cheek. "You already know I'm bonded to him."

"Does Will know?"

"I doubt he'd care, they aren't exactly close."

Jack Crawford's hands were firm on the steering wheel as he caught Nigel's confused eye. "You're staying at the Graham-Lecter's home. They have a baby, so mind your damned manners."

~*~
It was just after four in the morning when Jack's Impala sidled up onto the Graham-Lecter property, which Nigel quickly observed had three GSF sentries parked close to the front door. They eyed Jack Crawford with vicious suspicion, their semi-automatic rifles poised and ready in the exact stance Nigel had witnessed back at the airport. He could tell they weren't used to this kind of long term intimidation, they were more the smash and grab types. They would be quick to pull the trigger, an act Nigel felt would be impulsive and poorly executed, heedless of civilian life. These guys were good at pretending, but they didn't have formal military training. He knew the type, he'd dealt with enough gangster wannabe's who talked more than they acted, and these assholes clearly didn't have the understanding of what the firepower in their grip could do. They kept the barrels of their guns too high, for one. The twitchy one at the end had an amphetamine problem, he kept smacking his lips and darting glances over his shoulder, his grip on his rifle not as steady as his companions. He was as twitchy and nervous as that trafficking tweaker Paul. Their inexperience and lack of training gave Nigel a sense of hope. Getting past these goons might not be as difficult as Jack Crawford believed.

The Graham-Lecter home was a sprawling Victorian mansion that Nigel couldn't help but admire. The Bentley sitting idle in the driveway was a rather effeminate addition to this overall gothic setting, and it didn't surprise him to learn that this was the Omega, Dr. Hannibal Lecter's, car. Jack bounded up the steps in confident familiarity, as if he had done so many times before, and Nigel cautiously followed behind him, his gaze constantly returning to the three GSF standing at attention behind them. Apparently, all households with Omega occupants were given this kind of scrutiny, but considering Dr. Lecter's close ties with their political rivals, the FBI, as well as his mate Will Graham's obvious work for them as a criminal profiler, the GSF had taken it upon themselves to add some extra security. One can never be sure where a revolution was going to spark and he found it telling that the GSF had decided to park in front of the one home that was certain to have political dissidence within it. Nigel slid his duffel bag off of his shoulder, gripping its straps as Jack Crawford rapped his knuckles hard on the large oak door.

The door opened and Nigel was instantly struck by the awkwardness of Will Graham, who didn't greet them happily but instead silently bid them to come in, his glasses adjusted with his free hand as he nervously glared at the GSF staring him down. His curls were unkempt and he was a messy, wrinkled little ball of Alpha anger, muscles taut and shivering, itching to fight. He slammed his door shut and locked it before marching towards Jack, his hand nervously scratching at his scraggy beard. He completely ignored Nigel. "They shouldn't be here, I'm getting tired of them staring us down every time we go out for milk. We have a baby, Jack, what the hell do they think we're going to do?"

"The GSF is way out of my influence, Will, you know this. It's a wonder they aren't arresting me for visiting you, and believe me, if they could make up some imaginary charge to get me hauled into custody they would. Purnell has been telling us all, upper and lower officers, to start packing heat at all times and inform her of any overt GSF interest in our actions. We've been told to sequester family to safe havens. Things are set to blow with the Mainland soon, and Purnell has kept it quiet, but our alliance with those cowboys in Arkansas is going to come out soon."

Nigel didn't understand most of what they were talking about, the details of United Main politics were still a convoluted mystery to him. He was currently in awe of the vastness of the mansion, his duffel bag tossed to the floor as he surveyed the area. To his left was a darkened corridor leading into what he figured was the kitchen, and upstairs he caught the glimpse of opulent gold and pastels shining within the early morning gloom, a collection of brilliant, vibrant colours he knew the Omega of the house had no use for. He'd set up a stage of opulence, Nigel surmised. This was a creature used to lies.

Will continued to ignore him as he pleaded his case to Jack, his glasses nearly fogging in rage as he argued about the oppressive nature of the GSF, that they were giving Hannibal nightmares due to what had happened in the past, that he was tired of leaving his front porch and having a GSF officer demand to know where he was going. The worst part was leaving Hannibal alone in the house with the baby with those creeps just outside their doors, especially since they couldn't be trusted around Omegas, that was just a fact.

Will's head shook as he finally took in that he had a houseguest and he frowned as he watched Nigel pull a cigarette out of his side pocket and then a lighter. "There's no smoking in the house. You can go on the back porch." Then, as though remembering who Nigel was, he frowned again and gave him a fleeting once over. "You're with Adam, right? Are you..." He lightly sniffed the air around Nigel. "Are you *bonded* to him?" He made a slightly disgusted face as he staggered back from him and, as though it was an afterthought, bid Nigel to follow him towards the direction of the kitchen. Jack Crawford had already made his escape and was somewhere in the far reaches of that side of the house, a happy exclamation loudly echoing through the dimly lit hallway.

"There's my little minnow!" It was strange to Nigel, listening to the large man suddenly devolve into baby talk, his delighted gibberish showing a side of him that he was sure very few people had the opportunity to witness. A jingling, answering giggle erupted through the gloom instantly curing it of ill feeling, at least for Jack. Nigel crept into the large kitchen as though he were a robber in the place, staking it out for a heist. Jack Crawford wasn't in the dining room, but in the adjoining atrium, where a large, Victorian styled couch upholstered in dark green velvet had been placed in its centre, its cushions soft and, from where Nigel was standing near the entrance, slightly smelling of pine sawdust. A tiny infant was reduced to a near blob of pink in Jack's meaty hands, and he grinned over her with exaggerated joy, his fingers dancing along her tiny, swaddled belly.

"Did you miss Uncle Jack? Yes you did, you little minnow! Look at her, wriggling away like a little fish under those blankets, trying to get free. You shouldn't swaddle her so much, Hannibal, the kid's got to use her limbs. Those are some fins you got on you, little fishie! Are you glad to see Uncle Jack again, little fishie?"

Jack stood to one side, still fussing over the baby, revealing both the elegant male Omega seated at the end of the couch and bringing Nigel into his view. Dr. Hannibal Lecter smiled, revealing small, sharp teeth, his dark eyes glinting red in the half light of the atrium. It was overly warm in the space, almost tropical, but this didn't prevent the slender form of Dr. Lecter from being dressed in a fairly old fashioned masculine, burgundy dressing gown, a pair of black silk pyjama pants peeking out from beneath it. He wore nothing else underneath the covering of richly embroidered brocade, the shadowed white cleavage of his heavy breasts evident in the civil twilight. With his sharp features that held the graceful lines of a doe he looked oddly out of place, hints of a male geisha from the roaring twenties injected into a Victorian sensibility that was wholly at odds with his obvious sexual confidence. He smirked over the fact that Nigel had noticed the rounded shape of his breasts, and he pulled the brocade dressing gown closed, effectively hiding them. The unspoken suggestion was that their purpose had been fulfilled, they had already fed the baby still being cooed over in Jack Crawford's arms.

Will Graham, as rushed and worried as ever, walked with quick, furtive steps into the atrium and towards Hannibal. Hannibal leaned back his long, graceful neck in blatant submission, his eyes softly closing as Will stole a kiss from his eager lips. Though it was supposed to be a simple gesture of affection, there was something oddly obscene about its suggestive intimacy, and Nigel couldn't stop himself from looking away.

Will pressed his forehead against Hannibal's, his eyes closed and his breath catching as Hannibal placed another small kiss at his lips one that lingered in a predatory promise that Nigel found equally disconcerting. "Dear Will, we have a guest," he reminded him.

Will Graham stepped aside and looked at Nigel with a renewed sense of astonishment. 'Uh, yeah, this is Inspector Nigel Ionescu, he's with Adam Raki, my cousin. They're mated, and I guess recently, and..." Will frowned and pulled away from Hannibal, fingers shakily pressing at his temple. "What the hell are you doing here, exactly?"

"I'd love to fucking know," Nigel said, not mincing words either. "There's at least eighty Omegas rotting in an underground cavern right now and I'm not allowed to enact their rescue. Seems pretty fucking stupid for me to even be standing here."

Jack spun on Nigel, though his ire was softer thanks to the baby he was still bouncing in his arms. "I told you, there has to be a game plan first, you're going to ruin the whole rescue operation if you go rogue on this, so don't even think about it!"

"Well fuck me if I'm such a killjoy, I got this thing against mass murder. While you're busy jacking yourself off, I could be out there kicking the shit out of punters and pulling out half dead people instead completely dead people. Makes some kind of fucking difference to me, not too sure why." Nigel slid a cigarette between his lips and nodded at the back sliding glass door leading out onto the back patio. "I gotta have a fucking smoke. I'll try not mess up your azaleas."

"This is exactly what I've been telling you, Jack!" Will shouted and the baby in the FBI agent's arms began to fuss. His head shook in that odd tic of his and Will took the baby from his colleague, the weight of her clearly a bundle well established into his muscle memory. She stopped fussing the second he touched her, and there was no mistaking who she considered her favourite. Daddy's girl, all the way.

Dr. Lecter stood up from the couch and walked with careful steps towards the kitchen, his back rod straight and a poise to his stance that was not to be dismissed. He bid them all to follow him, save for Will, who he smiled warmly at and kissed his cheek with that same, sultry overindulgence before tickling the brow of his contented daughter. "My dear Will, why don't you put our Judith back to bed? She is already drifting, it won't be long before she is lost to us in sleep. I will make us all breakfast, as I'm sure Inspector Ionescu hasn't eaten since his journey began and you yourself have been remiss in taking care of your repasts as of late. Please, Will, do not give me that look, I will not accept you denying yourself. Jack, I know you won't dare to miss another sampling of my cooking, it is guaranteed to be something of note for your palate. Eggs benedict, with ham and asparagus over toasted English muffins--homemade, naturally--with a blood orange hollandaise, accompanied by cuts of fresh fruit. Coffee, in the Turkish style as our guest may prefer, sweet and dark as I'm sure he likes it. Am I correct in this, Inspector Ionescu?"

Nigel longingly stared out the glass doors leading to the back porch. "I just want a fucking smoke."

He caught Dr. Lecter's eye and the fervent amusement behind them that flicked red with delight at Nigel's insistence. "We are prisoners of our vices, are we not? By all means, step out onto our patio to indulge. I believe there is a flower pot you can use to dispose of it when you are done." Dr. Lecter smiled widely at him. "I appreciate your candour and your consideration. Not everyone understands that one's home shouldn't be an ashtray."

Nigel felt ill at ease and he pulled at the unlit cigarette still dangling from his lip. He glanced down the hallway at the retreating form of Will Graham, the baby in his arms, the rather small, twitching man glaring back at him over his shoulder. He fixed Nigel in his round glasses with a strange mixture of curiosity and anger, and quickly turned away when Judith began to cough and fuss, his gentling words shushing her back into near slumber. "Daddy's got you, fishie. Don't worry. Hush now."

He tried to imagine himself in that position and couldn't, though his mental vision of Adam rocketed to the forefront of his consciousness and he knew he had to contact him soon. His mind traced over Adam's features, softening them further as he melted against him in a small embrace, soft sighs leaving him as Nigel gentled his neck. He was lurking constantly on the periphery of his mind, and he shook the image off as best he could, replacing that pleasant, tortuous thought with anger. He marched to the back sliding door leading onto the back porch and opened it, stepping out into the light that was gradually forcing dawn into being. The sky was lit a fiery red as the sun crept along its bed and threatened to erupt within it. Sailors, take warning.

He lit his cigarette and glanced through the window into the small domestic scene playing out on the other side of the glass, wondering how it was that a creature so demure as Dr. Lecter could be the harbinger of a World War. He didn't seem at first glance like a mass murderer or cult leader, but then, these sorts of monsters never did, they were always quiet little things who crept along the nurseries of planets and nipped at unsuspecting angels until they bled.

He smoked with furtive intent, surveying the backyard carefully. The poorly trained and overly confident GSF sentries were already making a huge mistake. They had no back up in this area of the house and had placed all of their concentration where most of the activity happened, around the front porch and the driveway. He stepped out into the backyard and got a better overview, the amber tip of his cigarette following him across its length to the end, where it ended at a locked gate and a large stretch of forested area beyond it. It would be easy to slip out and take cover under the trees. He'd have to check and see where the forest led, it looked as though it followed along the main street and he could duck out and onto it a few blocks down without detection.

He tossed his spent butt over the rim of the wooden fence and headed back to the atrium, the glass door framing the long limbed figure of Dr. Lecter within it. He stared at Nigel with a predatory gleam that was wholly alien to the doe-like presence he had shown before and Nigel knew he was given this glimpse into the monster on purpose, that the devil had soft steps and a mighty blow and Nigel was wise to remember that.

Dr. Lecter stepped back as Nigel re-entered the atrium, and Jack Crawford was happily seated at the kitchen island, a highly informal breakfast in the works. Nigel could hear Will Graham's heavy steps as he made his way down the stairs and it wouldn't be long before they were surrounded and this private moment between Nigel and Dr. Lecter--or, rather, the Chesapeake Ripper-- would be gone.

Nigel didn't hesitate. "I know what you are. What happens to those Omegas is on your head, you were the one who told them to come here. When I find nothing but fucking corpses, you're the one I blame and I'm coming for you next."

Dr. Lecter narrowed his eyes slightly, his smile delicate and strangely fond. "You've recently bonded. A very fresh union from what I can detect, barely twenty-four hours old. Yet here you are, fists clenched, a mouth like a toilet, ready to rescue my daughters. How shocking to see they have not exaggerated, you are unique, Inspector Nigel Ionescu. I wonder, what kind of mythical being is it that captured your jaded, injured heart?"

He stepped closer, well into Nigel's personal space, and Nigel felt the need to cautiously step back, not liking the power Dr. Lecter exuded in that moment, as though he wanted to slice a piece of him off and taste him to get a better understanding. Nigel pressed his back against the glass sliding door, trapped within Dr. Lecter's influence.

"Ah yes, I see it in you, all that hurt that isn't yours that you're forced to witness, all those demons that you're sent to slay. It's a thankless, rotten sort of work, always smeared by the pain of others, you're forever on the outside of it and yet just as damaged. You're a special sort of man, Inspector Ionescu, one that gives fulfillment to that fantasy of hope. Have any of my daughters thrown themselves onto you in gratitude? Ah, but you would refuse them, that's the kind of man you are. You certainly have mine, Inspector. I confess, fantasy has often come into play in my thoughts of you. Such indulgences, I assure you, are pleasantly harmless, regardless of their wistful, lingering ache."

He quickly backed away as Will Graham entered the kitchen and Jack's low voice began speaking to him again, the complaints of the GSF taking up most of their conversation. Dr. Lecter's gaze did not waver from Nigel's as he retreated into the kitchen, his head finally turning as he renewed his concentration on breakfast. Feeling weirdly emasculated by the strange confession, Nigel marched into the kitchen and nodded at the two men already seated there. He felt flushed and miserable and all he wanted was to talk to Adam and make sure his little spaceman was okay.

"There's no need to make breakfast for me," Nigel protested.

"Nonsense," Dr. Lecter said and he placed a setting for him at the table, a mug of Turkish coffee hot and sweet waiting for him. He placed an abnormally strong, slender arm around Nigel's shoulders, just that beat a bit too long for it to be comfortable and enough for Will Graham to slightly raise a brow over his large round glasses, his frowning face twisted into an even darker bitterness.

"There is always room at our table for family. Please, Nigel--May I call you Nigel?--Have a seat."

 

 

Chapter Text

THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter thirteen

He woke up in a cold sweat, the hands of the dead tearing through the velvet of the green couch, spilling ground bones in place of pine sawdust. White limbs reached out, sharp pointed nails scratching and tearing at his flesh. He awoke panting, terror and disorientation battling for dominance as he sat up, his hands shakily forcing a sense of self back into him as his palms scraped along the stubble of his cheeks. The last thing he remembered was finishing up a Skype call with Adam, his delectable little spaceman in a much better mood now that he knew Nigel was, as far as he knew, safe. That word held a tenuous meaning in this house, Nigel knew, and he wasn't about to put a worried frown that he couldn't wipe away onto his angel's sweet, anxious face. It was a difficult thing, talking to him in bits and bytes, his soul transferred through a slender glass barrier. There were thousands of kilometres between them, an entire fucking ocean preventing him from sweeping his little angel into his arms and gentling the back of his neck, revelling in the way he melted against him. He found himself touching the screen with his fingertips as though he could somehow psychically bring him into a firm reality, wishing the warmth of his skin could be that easily transferred.

Adam's face was blushed red, as though he had a small fever, the thought worrying to Nigel. "Eating breakfast without you is unacceptable. Darko came over this morning and made toast and he burnt it. You know I don't like burnt toast. Eating charcoal is only good if you have food poisoning. I think he was upset that I didn't like the take-out coffee he brought, either, I like the way you make it, and besides, I always have milk or orange juice with breakfast, coffee makes me anxious. You look tired. I miss you. Your absence is creating a great deal of distress in both my sleeping and waking habits."

"I know, darling," Nigel pouted. "I wish I was with you, too."

Adam choked down on emotion and wouldn't meet Nigel's gaze. "The Hubble has taken several new pictures of the outer limits of the Orion galaxy and I'm keen to explore the possibility of mapping residual radio waves from its star formations. It's very hard to sleep when you aren't with me."

"I won't be doing much of that, either, my little spaceman. I wasn't exaggerating when I told you I have every intention of doing what I need to do and then getting back on a plane and coming home. This region is a fucking nightmare, I don't know how you grew up in this shithole."

Adam frowned at this, and Nigel near kicked himself for the complaint because Adam instantly seized on distress. "Are you really safe, Nigel? The GSF are very dangerous, I have been watching news and Reddit reports out of your area of the United Main region very carefully and I'm alarmed at the level of dissent that is continuing to rise. Several online chat rooms and newsgroups are of the consensus that civil war is imminent and I have already expressed that you should remain there no longer than a week. There have been reports of attacks by GSF on Mainland townships along the Coastline borders. There is no word yet on casualties, but there are images of homes being burned down and shots being fired into Mainland traffic. According to some Reddit users, at least forty people have been murdered by GSF since Sunday, and these secretive skirmishes are increasing."

"I haven't seen any of that here," Nigel truthfully told him and Adam seemed to relax slightly at this.

Adam sniffed, and then bravely sat up straighter, the pillows propped comfortably behind him as he talked to Nigel from their bedroom. "I have found employment," he announced.

"That's wonderful, darling! Where?"

"Observatorul Astronomic Amiral Vasile Urseanu, the observatory here in Bucharest. Of course, that observatory is more of a historical relic than one of use relevant to current research, but I will be doing some bridging of my own and will be consulting on the measurement methodology of interstellar x-rays with the research staff at Cluj-Napoca Observatory on occasion. I know it's fairly far out of the city, about seven kilometres, but I'm hoping we can make some day trips if they do not interfere with your own schedule at the precinct. They were very interested in my current theories on supernova remnants and the tracking of galaxy movement utilizing fractals. You look very tired, Nigel."

"I am, my angel." Nigel shifted to a more comfortable position on the couch. "Tell me of your stars, darling."

"The supernova remnants? As you know, they are the leftover energy of stars that have already formed and can be aged using X-rays, which can pinpoint the formation of that energy fairly accurately."

He had talked and Nigel had listened, and though it wasn't nearly the same as having his head on Adam's stomach and feeling the happy rumble of his voice through his body, it was as close as he was going to get and he allowed himself to float amongst the stars with it. He drifted through Adam's animated speech on stellar material and its speeding velocity of 30,000 km/s, the temperature of the material reaching over 10,000k. There were other complex concepts within the mix, a study of the velocity of the matter and whether or not it produced a black hole or a white dwarf, the echoes of the stars' original explosions lasting hundreds of thousands of years. Nigel hovered up and into giant, violent portions of sky as he fell asleep to Adam's voice, the universe pulling him up into the heavens as he held little cosmonaut before Nigel's weary, battered soul found gravity, and it plunged him, as it always did, with fierce cruelty into the Earth. He was back in the muck, the limbs of the dead tearing at him, waking him rudely. "Such a pleasure to meet your acquaintance" the ghosts of the forgotten dead whispered, and he could still hear their spectral chant as he forced himself awake, his legs swung over the edge of the green velvet couch as he sat up, the vertigo of still being whole and human making him dizzy. He swallowed back bile and tried not to be sick. He couldn't eat a bite of breakfast, all he could think of was scrambled eggs and Adam.

Fuck, his bones ached, and if he wasn't feeling miserable before, he sure as hell was now. It was late in the morning and Jack Crawford was expecting him at Quantico, the FBI headquarters tucked into the Mainland area of nearby Virginia that was becoming increasingly difficult to get into. The building itself was now mostly devoid of personnel for safety reasons, but Jack Crawford was stubbornly staking his territory, and he'd made it very clear to Nigel that no GSF sons of bitches were going to make him abandon *his* second home. His office was on the third floor, and he was expecting Nigel's presence there by noon. Delays were not an option in the Crawford mindset, but Jack was going to be forced to accept this one.

The atrium was too warm and Nigel found it difficult to remain wakeful in the stuffy room, its tropical humidity more for plants than people. The couch was comfortable at least, its odd, sawdust stuffing made the cushions form close to his body, the shavings of wood absorbing sweat and keeping him cool. It was an Omega couch, an expensive one at that, designed specifically for the ergodynamics of their bone structure and immunological needs. Free of dust and mites, such furnishings were the epitome of comfort for a pampered Omega, and while he would have loved to fill his own home with such things for his precious spaceman, his paltry wage, even in his new post as a Comisar, could hardly buy a specialized pillow let alone a whole couch.

The atrium was a preferred living space for the Lecter-Grahams, Nigel noticed as he took in the ornate harpsichord behind him in the far corner and then the equally ornate whicker white crib a few feet away from the couch. Tropical plants lined the space, some alien varieties reaching to the ceiling. The room still had the feel of well worn living within it, the small rings of coffee stains on the terra cotta tiled floor near the harpsichord's bench telling a tale of easy mornings and the small stack of thick, antique books to the far right of the couch that served as an impromptu side table speaking of equally lazy afternoons. The very fact the baby had a crib nearby cemented that this was a sacred place within their home. He could easily envision Dr. Lecter holding his baby as he luxuriated on his large, comfortable couch, with Will Graham reading the paper at the other end. When the baby was tucked away for the night, Nigel could see them enjoying glasses of wine and discussing fine art and blood and murder, Will Graham's wiry body eager to partake of the sultry promise that Lecter would torture him with all day long. To some people it might seem sweet, but to Nigel it was just fucking creepy the way Lecter was constantly seducing his mate, offering submission with the lilt and curve of his blatantly bared neck at every opportunity and revelling in how agitated and needful this made his Alpha.

Breakfast had been especially telling, with Jack Crawford too in love with his fucking poached eggs on toast and waxing poetic over hollandaise sauce, unable to pay careful attention to the power play constantly being worked between Dr. Lecter and Will Graham. Dr. Lecter seated himself at the kitchen island across from Will, and in between Jack's animated speech Nigel noted that Lecter's cold, overly polite facade would occasionally slip when catching the eye of his mate. In these instances, Lecter would tilt his head to one side, revealing the long line of his graceful neck, a gesture that quickened Will Graham's breath and made him hesitate at stuffing forkfuls of fluffy omelette into his mouth. At one point in the conversation, when Jack's back was turned, Lecter had absently scratched at the collar of his burgundy, brocade robe, a ruse enacted so he could open it further, nearly fully revealing a heavy breast, the action definitely meant to rattle the twitching, hungry Alpha across from him. Nigel heard Will Graham's gasp at the glimpse of an areola, a flagrant pink against pale skin. Graham gripped his fork tight and grit his teeth as he grimaced over his cup of coffee. He was sure as fuck a breast man, no question there. Hell, he looked about ready to jump over the table and latch on and get a taste. The whole morning was spent in this manner, with him looking on his Omega with this weird, fucked up hungry longing and residual anger all mixed together and Nigel couldn't make any sense of it.

Throughout breakfast, Dr. Lecter pretended to be completely unaware of these physical flirtations with his mate, remaining cool and aloof, a barrier that Will Graham, from the way he was fiddling with his fork and pushing up his glasses up the bridge of his nose and overall not knowing what the fuck to do with himself was finding increasingly frustrating. It was obvious to Nigel that all he really wanted was to take his Omega right fucking there and fuck his brains out, company be damned.

Nigel had no idea what kind of torture this game was supposed to represent between the two of them, but the rules, if there were any, were the worst kind of exhausting to follow. He'd had some experience in that regard. Gabi loved head games and he admittedly fell for them himself more often than not, but this obscene, under the skin teasing was on a level far above her pouting whining. These two were tigers circling each other in a cage, constantly sizing each other up before delivering a deadly strike. It was impossible to tell if their inevitable confrontation would end in a lick or a bite.

There was movement in the kitchen and Nigel looked up from his place at the couch to discern the outline of Dr. Lecter at his kitchen sink, his baby held sweetly in his arms and looking every inch a happy, contented infant Omega. There was nothing of the murderer lurking in wait as he held his child, soft words and lullabies in Lithuanian delivered like feather down into the air around his baby's pink mouth. He watched as Lecter pulled her close and nuzzled her tiny belly, drawing the scent of her in deep. He'd pull away, his expression one of naked, surprised bliss, as though he was shocked that such a miracle could really be there, that this weight in his arms was a reality and not a delusion pulled from dream.

"You hold her like you believe someone is going to take her from you," Nigel said, and Dr. Lecter slowly turned towards him, pretending not to be startled by his voice.

Lecter smiled into the soft giggle of his daughter and held her close, strong hands holding her in place against his chest. "Time shall be a thief well enough as she grows into adulthood and forges her own destiny. But for now, I revel in my love for her. Is there anything more precious than a child? You are not a father yet, Inspector Ionescu, otherwise you would fully understand my longing." Dr. Lecter closed his eyes and pressed a gentle kiss on the top of the baby's head, breathing her in as he did so, that blissful smile still in evidence. "I overheard you talking to your mate, or rather, your mate discussing the nature of the universe with you while you snored on the couch. Precocious creature, this Adam Raki. He doesn't seem to recognize when you are bored. It's a typical symptom of Asperger's, one of many that I imagine is challenging to deal with."

Nigel instantly bristled at this. "I'm never bored when he's talking, it just goes over my head and I'd rather he just keep going. He's a goddamned genius. That's some kind of fucking brilliant to figure out how the universe itself was made, he knows I don't understand any of it. What he does know is that I love hearing his fucking gorgeous voice in my ear, especially when he's talking about heaven, so put your judgemental shit somewhere else."

"It was merely an observation." Dr. Lecter stroked the back of his baby's head with long, tender fingers, though his expression was hardly one that matched the action. Black eyes dotted red pierced through Nigel as he put him in his sights, Lecter's steps long and graceful as he made his way into the atrium to face him properly. "You had a fitful rest, and hardly one I would call adequate. Will placed your luggage in an upstairs bedroom adjacent to the grand staircase, it would be wise of you to make use of it."

There it was, that fucking predator gleam showing up again, that sharp toothed smile like a cat about to steal a fish from a net. Dr. Lecter was hungry for prey, and he'd made the conclusion that Nigel was suitable. "Perhaps your nerves are on edge due to your mission here, one which I assure you I am in full compliance with. Would you like some herbal tea? It will help settle you."

"I can't trust you not to drug me," Nigel snapped.

Lecter raised a brow at this. "Why would you believe I would do such a thing?"

"Because you are a highly manipulative mass murderer. You have to be if you're convincing Omegas on our shores to join in on your cause, one that is frankly more selfish than you let on." He watched Dr. Lecter carefully as he moved towards him, baby held close to his chest.

He still held that predatory, Cheshire cat smile as he looked down on Nigel.

"Would you like to hold her?"

He didn't give Nigel a chance to say no, and before he knew it the now angry, fussing baby was placed gently into his arms, nicotine stained fingers holding her head in place as he cupped his hands beneath the round, velvet softness of her skull. The feeling was awkward as he brought the baby closer to him, the sensation of fear that he was going to drop her paramount in his mind. For fuck's sake, this little, fragile, toothless, yawning thing, what was it doing in *his* arms, it was hardly a good place for a baby, there was no room there for new beginnings, bringing with her the threat of hope. Still, with uncertain, awkward movements he brought her closer, and sniffed the pink talc aroma of her flawless skin, a sudden, needful instinct rising within him to protect her at all costs. It was an overwhelming feeling, one that frightened him as he dared to hold her against his stomach and more of her sweet scent mingled with his own bitter sweat. Lecter draped himself at the other end of the couch, watching Nigel carefully.

"Such a gift is to be treasured. She is content in your arms, though you are a stranger. You are experienced at soothing the distressed." Lecter's brocade dressing gown was open again and Nigel was getting really tired of being boob mooned.

"I can see she's getting good meals out of you," he said, nodding at the twin appendages Lecter was clearly drawing attention to. If this fucking bastard wanted to drench every moment in head games, he had to learn quick that Nigel was one prick who played dirty. "You weren't that big the first time."

Lecter's eyes flashed red at this, his smile quickly descending into a harsh line as he quickly pulled the dressing gown closed, nearly hiding his neck as well. "They are temporary and quite the surprise. I wasn't exactly expecting them since I was flat throughout her gestation. A miracle of engorgement happened overnight, and it was and continues to be fairly painful. If you wish to know the gory details of their use I would prefer you simply look it up on Google, I myself am not particularly enamoured with this portion of child rearing."

The little baby in his arms was sucking hard on her fist and staring with wide, blue eyes up at Nigel, his face so fascinating to her that when he tried to lean out of her vision she would squirm in his grip to find a way to follow him, her head bobbing up from his arms, transfixed. He smiled and tickled her cheek, which sent her into a eruption of playful, happy giggling. He chuckled back and tickled her other cheek, enjoying her answering trill.

"She's cute." He glanced up at Dr. Lecter, whose mood seemed to have softened. He nodded once again at the doctor's hidden chest. "Your mate certainly likes them."

Lecter rolled his eyes at this, and let out an exasperated sigh. "He goes after them every chance he gets. I imagine it's an infatuation due to his own issues with his mother. She'd committed suicide when he was a child, and I suppose he's seeking those things that had given him comfort in infancy, namely what is under this robe. It's all rather Oedipal and highly unpleasant. Still, I sometimes indulge him. He's under considerable stress, and my mammories have proved to be a temptation of relief, one borne of simpler times when all his needs had been so perfectly met." He traced a long finger along the back of the couch, trailing through the carved indentations of flowers etched into the camphor frame. "What about you, Nigel? Where do you find your needs falling along the scale of want? I imagine they are mostly abandoned, trapped as they are in the earth, searching out the dead and the dying. Such a shame that you have fallen in love only to be forced to discard it when the needs of others becomes prescient. Perhaps you don't believe yourself worthy of love, and as such the abandonment was swift. You may have considered that a mercy to your Omega. Perhaps a promise was made you can't fulfill. There are certain human desires a man such as yourself will forever deny himself. You saw the open mouth of joy and you wouldn't dare dive in."

Nigel was annoyed at this. "More of your 'observations', doctor?"

"I do hope you will reconsider your stance and will give your new life with your Omega mate a chance. Such self loathing is not befitting a man of your calibre, to allow some selfishness into your life is not a crime, it is necessary."

Nigel was amused by Lecter's assumptions. "I have not 'discarded' Adam, I'm going the fuck home the minute I'm done here."

"Of course," Dr. Lecter said, a thin smile given to Nigel's bemused sneer. "Back to all those other dark caverns of suffering with your darling star on the periphery of the night sky, staring down at you, always just out of reach."

The baby squealed and Nigel nosed her forehead, kissing her softly. "Aveti un monstru pentru o mama, dar esti incantator, putin unul pretios." He grinned at the way she grabbed for his chin and he widened his eyes for her in surprise which sent her into a renewed fit of joyful giggles. He tickled her stomach and she grabbed his finger, wrapping her own tiny, pudgy digits around his own. "Quick reflexes. No one will fuck with you, little one, I can see that. What should I do? Should I give you back to your Mama and let him corrupt you, let him make hateful things joyous? Ah, I've said too much already, I must be fucked, little one, your Omega Mama is giving me that look with the weird gleam in his eye again, the one that says he'd like to slit my ugly Alpha throat. He wants to make me pay for being concerned about his methods. He wants me to cut out my own heart and then force me to eat it for telling you the truth."

"What truth would that be, Inspector Ionescu?" Lecter coldly asked. His eyes were burning embers now, and Nigel couldn't help but smile at how effectively he'd rattled him.

Nigel grinned widely at the baby in his arms. "Are you going to be your Mama's warrior, too? Shall he strap guns to your back, little one, and tell you to take a bullet if you have to?"

Lecter was clearly infuriated with this, and Nigel bid his time, waiting to see if he'd gone just that little bit too far, drawing the monster within, out. "You believe I would do that to my precious blood. I had believed you to be an intelligent, thoughtful man, Inspector Nigel Ionescu, at least that was what my daughters reported to me. But it seems you are as arrogant as you are miserable. You have come into my home and held my child and insulted me as you whispered to her. You are not quite Holofernes, but you are dreadfully close."

"Your Mama's got a hidden temper, little one, look at that vein popping in his neck. Look at how much he wants to slit my damned throat, I bet he'd like to take a shit down it, too. Shall we see it, little one? Maybe if you giggle again your Mama will let that monster hiding inside of him out to play."

Dr. Lecter's demeanour instantly changed from choler to ice. Nigel gave him a crooked smile as he scooped his baby back up from Nigel's arms, fussing over her with tender endearments in Lithuanian. Nigel watched him carefully, the graceful movements not hiding the low, predator growl that crept along his slender aura, a black haze of non-feeling that wanted nothing more than to strike at Nigel and gnash its teeth.

"You do not want to meet it," Dr. Lecter warned him, through the sharp tips of his clenched little teeth.

"I'm taking those Omegas home," Nigel said, and there was no room for argument. "Fuck your cause and fuck you. Nobody dies on my watch, asshole, I won't allow it. Wage your war on your own fucking turf, bitch, leave my people alone."

Lecter, oddly enough, had a protracted pause at this, and though Nigel was fully expecting another sharp barb directed at him, if not an actual knife to his heart, the Omega calmly gentled the baby in his arms and relaxed in his pose at the other end of the large couch. "I see, now. I have been remiss due to my heightened emotions and allowed myself to be fooled. I have a new understanding of you, Nigel," he said, and his voice was calm, even wistful, a strangely shy lilt to his head that suggested soft flirtation. "You attack me not out of your frustration but out of your need to protect. You believe I am a monster, stealing *your* daughters away, convincing them to fight a battle that you wish to absolve them of. If I am their mother, you are their father, worried and aware of the dangers that plague them. How much you love them, to put yourself in harm's way instead. But the facts are, your daughters have made a choice, Nigel, and this is not a battle that has nothing to do with them. This is a clash against a cancerous ideology that has been permitted to grow unchecked. They wish to be at the birth of a new universe. Surely, that is a metaphor you can understand perfectly."

It wasn't, and Nigel wanted to argue further, but his cell phone rang and he picked it up, impatient, Jack Crawford's name blazed in green all caps across the surface. He checked the time and realized he was late for his appointment with the man in Quantico and he inwardly cursed. "I have to go," he said, getting up and pocketing the cell phone.

He paused as he stood in front of Dr. Lecter, the baby now cooing and content in his arms, wide blue eyes still looking up at him. He dared to tickle her cheek again, and couldn't stop himself from responding with a smile to her delighted laugh at his touch. He caught Lecter's eye and though the red embers were still there, there was another, more disturbing emotion daring to poke out from beneath that black ice. Curiosity. Malignant admiration.

He shook the uncomfortable feeling off. Dr. Lecter nodded towards the kitchen, that eerie scrutiny keeping Nigel in his sights. "The key to the Bentley is on a hook near the convection oven. Drive safe, Nigel, and be sure to inform Jack that it was lovely to see him again. I hope you will be returning here in time for dinner, I have plans to make a hunter's stew. Using wild venison, of course. Too much domesticity can leave one's palate feeling bland."

~*~

"So what you're saying is you have no fucking plan at all!"

Nigel clenched his hands into fists at his waist and wondered just what the fuck was Jack Crawford trying to play at. "Why in the fucking hell did I drive all the way out here for? Why am I even on this fucking shore? I don't give a fuck who's telling you to drop the project, people are dead, fucking *dead* and it's all because you fucking sank your dick into fucking bureaucratic bullshit!"

Quantico was a ghost town, the lights in the halls darkened, entire floors abandoned as they descended into a blank neglect that was unlikely to ever be brought back into life. As a stronghold, it wasn't exactly useful, it was too close to the Coastline borders and though the FBI had sympathy with the Mainlanders surrounding the building, they were too scattered to properly protect it. Jack's boss, Jade Purnell as well as the rest of the other upper level FBI officials, had found safe houses for the several thousand agents in their employ and had rehomed them into the relative safety of the inner Mainland in a matter of days, a feat of organization that Nigel couldn't help but admire. Sure, it was a monumental effort, but there was more than one project at stake here, and it seemed his now doomed Omegas were the last thing on the FBI's priority list.

"I can't give you the officers you need to get them out," Jack said, and he was clearly upset with the situation himself, his knuckles tight as he leaned back against his desk, his hands clasping onto the edge of the oak rim. "The GSF is keeping very close tabs on me, and any movement other than retreat from the FBI is going to be considered a threat. They will open fire on us, make no mistake." He gave Nigel's snarling fury an understanding growl of his own. "I can't risk losing any of my people, not with war imminent. The Mainland needs our expertise, with us on their side we can make any battle against the Coastline a fair fight. The GSF aren't as well trained for combat as we are, and as for the army, it holds more alliances with us as well. We can change everything, and believe me, if that happens, Omega trafficking will become a thing of the past. You'll be out of a job."

Nigel angrily shrugged at this. "So I'm to take up grave digging instead?" He set his jaw and stood nose to nose with Jack, not backing down. "Here's some fucking facts, Jack. The Russian militia in the Eastern Unions is watching what happens with this case very carefully. When I bring back bodies, there is going to be an international backlash against this, and I can guarantee you, this little war of yours is going to go well beyond the limits of your inner and outer borders. This is the kind of thing that can spark a lot of fucking anger all over the fucking world. Everything is going to burn, do you not fucking get that?"

Jack wiped at his jaw with a sweating palm, worry seeping out of every pore of his skin. He cursed under his breath and gave Nigel a resigned, tightly reigned sigh. "I can park the transport truck a block away, but that's as much and as close as I can go." He wouldn't look at Nigel as he spoke, the near dark of his dimmed office obscuring his expressions in shadows. Jack's office was his last stand in his domain and it was only now he had to finally admit that all was lost, that he had taken a fatal misstep by not telling Nigel the truth right from the beginning. At least, Nigel hoped this was what was going through the burly man's mind, because he wasn't about to let him off easy.

"Are you telling me I'm going in all on my own?" Nigel said, his lips taut. "You are sending me on a suicide mission. How am I going to rescue them without a shred of back up? How am I going to lift eighty dead and mostly dead into a fucking truck all on my own? You think I am that fucking crazy."

Jack gave him level glare at this, and Nigel didn't miss the bulldog stubbornness that suddenly assailed him. "I know you are. Good luck, Inspector Ionescu. The FBI is no longer working in the interests of United Main law, it is now a rogue army for the Mainland. This case is now officially out of my hands and completely in yours."

Nigel narrowed his eyes at this. He pulled a cigarette out of the pocket of his bowling shirt, one with bright blue flowers plastered all over it and one of Adam's favourites. He placed the cigarette between his lips and lit it with a match struck against the corner of Jack's desk. The amber tip lit bright in the gloom of the poorly lit office, the smoke framing the bare sections of walls where plaques and awards for outstanding service had once adorned it. He shook the match cold and tossed the scorched sliver onto the stained, beige carpet.

"You want the EU involved," Nigel said, the cigarette dancing around his words. "This whole thing was bullshit, you set me up to fail right from the beginning. You sacrificed those poor fucking Omegas in order to stir up some international rage. You fucking bastards, you're plunging us all into a fucking World War. Who gave you the order to do this? Was it Purnell or higher up?"

Jack didn't waver. "There's still time to save at least some of them."

"You fucking piece of shitlick dick prick, you stalled me on purpose, you fucking..." Nigel could feel his rage hot within him, his fists clenched tight as he stood with threatening intent against Jack Crawford, two Alphas ready to stand off until one of them was dead. "How does it feel, Mr. Crawford, being a fucking mass murdering son of a bitch?"

"They're still alive," Jack protested.

"Like fuck they are."

He wanted to kill him. Holy shit did he ever want to kill this man, but Nigel knew it would serve no purpose and he was wasting time as it was. He had to get to the warehouses and somehow not be assassinated by GSF in the process. Fuck Jack Crawford and his FBI and all the fucking bastards with their own goddamned agendas, he only had one, and it was crystal in its purity. Rescue the dying. Take care of the dead. Kick the ass of the bad guys who made that happen. Fuck all the other shit, none of it mattered.

He stormed out of Jack's office, leaving the large man alone in the gloom, his empty walls and former glory beat down by the heavy stomp of Nigel's heels. He had to get back to the Lecter-Graham's before nightfall to properly detail his already half-formed plan. He had to talk to Adam. He had to wait for his darling spaceman angel's stars to light his way and hope at least one of the Omegas buried underground could be still be saved.

~*~

It was early afternoon by the time he drove the Bentley back into its place in the driveway, GSF eyeing him with suspicion. The tweaking little bastard who'd planted himself near the side bushes walked up to the car and rapped his knuckles hard on the driver's window. Nigel turned off the engine before rolling the window down.

"Where did you go?" the little shit demanded.

"On a fucking goose chase. Had to get the fuck out of that house and clear my head, is that a crime now, too? Do you smell the stink of anything other than another fucking miserable Alpha on me? Fucking brother is giving me grief over the choice of coffin for our sister, so if you want to fucking argue with me and pick a fight now's the time you goddamned prick, I'm looking forward to putting my fists on *someone*."

The GSF twerp backed off at Nigel's obvious animal fury since he was considerably smaller and hardly a threat, but the loaded semi-automatic in his hand could do some damage and he looked like the type with a trigger finger. Nigel got out of the car and brushed past him, making sure to aggressively bump his shoulder, letting him know who was the bigger Alpha here. He spat on the ground before unlocking the front door and going into the house, all the while glaring over his shoulder at the three officers also staring him down. If they wanted to riddle him full of bullets, they'd had their chance. The fuckers were amateurs and stupid, and this at least was a small mercy.

He closed the door behind him and immediately headed for the atrium, but his laptop was not on the couch where he'd left it a few hours before. He cursed, remembering Dr. Lecter telling him that Will Graham had brought his duffel bag into a room upstairs, and he had probably put the laptop there as well after doing some small tidying up of their home. With weary steps and with his shoes still on, Nigel hauled himself up the grand staircase, the wood thick and silent beneath his feet.

He was the top of the stairs when he heard them, and it wasn't hard to miss the shock of bared flesh through the open door of their bedroom. Will Graham and Dr. Lecter were fucking, and from the whining keening Lecter was shouting out, it was clear he was getting it good. He was far from the voyeuristic type, but Nigel couldn't help but notice Lecter riding Will, his arms taut as he gripped the headboard, his neck covered in a black leather bonding collar that was zipped up to his chin. He couldn't be sure since he'd caught a glimpse and wasn't wanting to see more, but Lecter had to be wearing eye-liner, his eyes ringed in smudging black. His breasts swayed in time to his thrusts and Graham eagerly fondled them, ignoring the strained, hard cock that sprouted between them like the stamen of a flower.

"You're so beautiful." Graham buried his face in the soft mounds, heedless of the discomfort that must have caused. "Mon cher...You are so beautiful."

Lecter's cock spent at this, his body going limp as Will Graham pounded energetically into him until his knot made it impossible. Lecter's eyes rolled back as he collapsed and Graham was on top of him, kissing his breasts and leaving a trail of wet imprints of his lips along the dark leather covering Lecter's neck, wiry arms and hands supporting his mate's limp head as Lecter descended into that sublime coma that only knotting could bring.

Nigel dove into his room to grab his laptop, which was on the top of the quilted bedcovers, a far more tame setting than the one directly across from him. He was grateful they were too absorbed in their lovemaking to know he was there. He made a tentative move to leave, only to pause near his open door, keeping out of sight, but able to hear every word being said.

The lovemaking had taken a turn. Lecter, who should have been in a delirium of bliss, was emitting small, distressed sounds that tugged at Nigel's Alpha instincts, the terror and lamentation of it one he was all too familiar with. He could hear Will Graham's sudden concern, the hush of his voice as he comforted the Omega beneath him, and through a glimpse around the corner of the door Nigel witnessed the bonding collar being quickly unzipped and tossed aside as Will frantically gentled the back of Lecter's bared neck.

"No, no, no, you're not there, mon cher, that's not where you are. Shh, don't cry, you're with me, you're safe, no one is hurting you. Shh..."

A choked sound was his answer and Will Graham kissed Lecter's grimacing lips, hushing him. "We're in the atrium, mon cher. It's a sunny morning and you're checking on Judith and you noticed that she's having a bit of trouble, the monitors said her oxygen was low, and you were scared then, too, you were terrified, and I was there, wasn't I? And we took her out and she was born. Our baby. I breathed life into her, you remember that. That's where we are, we're in that moment right now, holding our baby, so happy to hear her little cry as she erupted into life. And you were so joyful, so beautiful. You were crying then, too. That's why there are tears, Hannibal."

Lecter let out a soft, relieved sigh at this, his fear dissipated as it morphed into a delicate sense of contentment. Nigel chanced another small look to make sure, and witnessed limbs tangled and languid that were unabashedly resting atop dark red silk bed covers. Will Graham pressed his lips against his Omega's throat, trailing downwards until he stopped at the raised nipple that was pink and erect at the tease of his warm mouth. "You held her at your breast, and she took from you. I never would have believed you to be so naked as you were in that moment, so full of fear and joy it couldn't help but burst past that cold outer suit you wear. So beautiful, mon cher." Will Graham puckered his lips and suckled at Lecter's breast, the Omega's glazed eyes closing in the warmth of remembrance, clearly finding peace in it.

Nigel fought the urge to gag. Will Graham was one sick fuck. Sucking the teat of his mate like that--Getting fucking *nursed*. He thought about what Lecter had told him about Graham's fixation and his mother issues, the evidence making his skin crawl in protest. The fact it redirected Lecter's distress into something positive was hardly the point, as the Alpha, Graham was still lucid and he doubted a fully conscious Lecter would have found such a thing erotic. What a fucking creepass weirdo.

At least he had an hour before they'd be roused, and Nigel snatched up his laptop, ready to make his escape from the bedroom to head back into the atrium. A quick glance at the happily fucked up couple revealed Graham lapping at Lecter's chest, thumbs teasing more milk from his leaking teats. How's that for needing fucking brain bleach. Nigel shuddered.

He silently made his way back down the stairs the laptop tucked under his arm. He needed to talk to Adam, now more than ever, the need for him a constant aching reminder within his very cells. He wouldn't tell him about the sick nature of his cousin's relationship with his Omega, and he sure as hell wasn't going to tell him how dangerous his mission was at this point. His darling angel would get reassurance and nothing else.

Once on the ground floor, Nigel peeled back a corner of the curtain at the side window that gave a good view of the front of the house. The GSF were collected in a single pack in front of the porch, obviously gossiping amongst themselves and heedless of the possibility of escape of the people within. The night would bring an excellent cover, and Nigel had every intention of using it.

He tiptoed back into the atrium and wasn't surprised to find the baby, Judith, softly fretting in her crib, the baby monitor next to her sending alerts into her parents' bedroom. Nigel picked up the transmitter and shut it off, there was no point causing distress to the couple locked together upstairs, a rather careless action in Nigel's view, but then, Alpha and Omega unions had that extra component and it was important to indulge in knotting at least once in a while. Frankly, considering the brutal abuse in his background, Nigel was surprised that Lecter hadn't opted for a Beta as a partner. But who was he to judge, he'd found his own Omega and it was a union that was as unlikely as the formation of life on their little blue marble of a sphere. Will Graham must be offering Dr. Lecter something, though what it was Nigel couldn't hazard a guess. Understanding? Friendship? The shape of love was twisted in their grip and impossible to untangle into anything that made sense. The sex was certainly vigorous enough, which was another surprise considering Lecter was a male Omega who had just experienced a complicated pregnancy not two months ago. He couldn't possibly be fully healed yet. What had Will meant when he'd said 'her oxygen was low'? Was she born prematurely? That would explain the need for CPR.

He didn't want to, but he felt a lurch of sympathy for Lecter at the fact he'd nearly lost his second child. He would have no one to blame this time, and Nigel had the feeling it would have completely destroyed him. He wasn't sure why, but he was happy the baby was healthy and very much alive. Lecter's reach was long. That kind of rage would have gone global.

What kind of devil was he dealing with?

He reached into the crib and picked up Judith, who fretted and fussed, the heaviness in her diaper a clear indication as to why. It wasn't a problem for Nigel, he'd changed enough nappies when Micah was a baby and he'd taken him for the night so Darko and Bianca could have some quality couple time. Their excursions never did result in any more children, but Nigel discovered he'd been pretty good at this taking care of babies thing. All the old tricks were quickly coming back, and before Judith had time to utter one little cry of discomfort the diaper was changed and he was tickling her bared tummy with a walk of his fingers along her chubby length, delighting in her giggles. He snapped her little fuzzy pink sleeper back up and picked her up out of the crib, nuzzling her belly with his face before holding her football style in one arm, the laptop in the other.

"I'm sorry I called your Mama a monster," he said to the squirming little bundle. "If you knew what your Mama did to his enemies, you would agree with me. But still, that's your Mama. It's not my place to say such a thing to you, little one. Here, come with me, I have someone I want you to meet. He says goodnight to the moon in the sky all the time. Maybe one day he will go there and get a piece of it for you. How about that, you could say, my Uncle Spaceman Adam asked the angels for a piece of the moon and they gave it to him and he gave it to me. Such a little giggler! You like the idea of that, little precious? I don't think a piece will be enough, you're the kind who will want the whole thing! It will be hard for him to haul it out of the heaven like that, you mustn't be so greedy!"

He sat in a chair at the kitchen island and flipped open his laptop, turning on Skype. He waited for Adam to answer. He didn't. Frowning, Nigel watched the screen for a long while, hoping to have any sign of his little spaceman show up, but the alerts remained silent. He kissed the top of Judith's head as she began to clutch at his chest, clearly hungry and demanding food he wasn't able to give her. He wondered if Lecter had stored any milk in the refrigerator and he left the laptop open and running while he went to check. Of course there were, four of them in all, neatly labelled and with strict instructions on a sticky note to Will Graham as to how to best reheat them. Nigel shrugged and took one of the bottles out, still balancing Judith in his arm and taking the bottle to the sink, where he ran it under hot water, shaking it periodically, his thumb stopping the tip. He did this until a shot of it on the back of his hand indicated it was at the proper temperature.

He balanced her and the bottle as he made his way back to the laptop and when he saw no further activity on his Skype, he walked with her back into the warmth of the atrium. Judith contentedly and loudly sucked in a meal, little gurgles of pleasure leaving her. She reached up to grip the bottle, tiny fingers surrounding it but without enough strength to keep it there without help. Her wide blue eyes took in Nigel's face as she ate, fascinated at this stranger who was so expert at taking care of her.

"You're not so difficult at all," Nigel said, and he pulled the bottle away when it was clear she'd had enough, and brought her little larval body up to his shoulder, and rubbed at her back with his palm. The scent of her was absolutely intoxicating in the calming effect it had on the tense mood within the house, and Nigel found himself hoping he could bring some of this into his own home. It might be years yet, of course. But Adam hadn't said no, he'd promised to be open to the idea.

Nigel, stop being a fucking idiot.

Death was what was waiting for him. War was imminent and here he fucking was thinking of starting a family. What the fuck is wrong with you, Nigel Ionescu, he admonished himself. You can't go having babies when the whole world was ready to puke bullets.

"What kind of place are we in, precious little one, hm? Your Mama wants to raise hell. Does he have a shovel nearby, I wonder? Why do I need that, well, it should be clear, even to you, little precious. He's the one burning it all down, and I'm the one left to shovel his shit. Not a nice thing to do, little one. Not nice at all."

 

 

Chapter Text

THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter fourteen

The Observatorul Astronomic Amiral Vasile Urseanu in Bucharest is a fascinating building that has been designed to look like a boat sailing through the centre of the city. The fact that its function is to serve as the observation and navigation of the night sky creates a sense of whimsy about the architecture that even a man of limited metaphorical understanding, a man like Adam Raki, can appreciate. He understands that the concept was one of fantasy that was popular in the early 1900's when the building was designed, the idea of sailing a ship through space perhaps influenced by the first moving picture film, 'A Journey To the Moon'. It is a concept meant to spark imagination, and though Adam Raki looks upon the world through a highly literal lens, he is not averse to the comedy this building injects into the realm of his profession. To sail a boat through the far reaches of the universe, how absurd! He couldn't look at the building without choking down laughter.

It had only been a day and a half since Nigel had left him for the shores of the United Main, and Adam thought he would be left to suffer far more than he was, but luckily the job offer at the observatory had kept his mind mostly busy, and he only thought about Nigel on the quarter hour now instead of every minute. This wasn't to say he didn't miss him terribly, for his short absence already caused such an ache within Adam when he was alone in the apartment he had begun pilfering through Nigel's dirty laundry and slept with the sweaty fabrics tucked in a pile beside him, his face buried in pineapple prints on wrinkled rayon. He'd also been feeling strange emotional and unexpected physical effects, where the food he ate didn't taste quite right, and the need to weep had already assailed him a few times when he was journeying out to his interview with the observatory. He had to stop and catch his breath and force down the feelings that rode along his cells and hormones, his thumb tracing the outline of that black obsidian band at his finger as a comforting measure. Nigel had promised he was coming home and he was not a person who made such empty declarations. Adam decided to have full faith in Nigel's assurance, especially since there had never been any evidence to the contrary, and he forced himself not to worry.

Still, he was in a bit of a panic when he came home that evening after filling out a few nagging bits of paperwork for his job at the observatory and discovered that Nigel had sent a Skype message that he had missed. Frantic, he took his cell phone out of his back pocket and much to his dismay discovered he'd turned the volume off a while back since he had found the alerts from news reports and Reddit apps too distressing while he was doing some remedial studying of the Crab Nebula. His attention had been riveted as he studied the details of the remnant that had exploded in the year 1054 AD and was similar in structure to the Vela supernova remnant in that it contained the same veins of energy slipping through it like the cellular structure of a placenta. The comparisons and contrasts were fascinating. The alerts on his cell phone were about continued violence along the United Main's borders, the Mainland and Coastline having serious skirmishes, one of which was the burning down of a small, derelict school not far from the city limits of New Orleans. Several dozen children and their teacher narrowly escaped with their lives, and several of the younger children suffered terrible burns. It was all too frightening, and he'd had to research the veins of the Crab Nebula's placental shape in order to calm himself.

So, after an early evening investigating his new workplace and discussing the parameters of his research position with the observatory and filling out required paperwork, Adam had come home within a couple of hours and opened up his laptop to find a Skype message from Nigel that he had missed and it had put him into an immediate state of anxiety. He instantly replied back and to his great relief the video conference request was answered and Adam gleefully hit 'accept' and carried his laptop with him into the bedroom where he would prop himself up on his usual pillows and get comfortable as he chatted with Nigel, his mate. It was late at night and though he had several errands to run in the morning this connection simply couldn't wait, he would fight his scheduled urge to sleep. He felt a funny sort of giddy at that thought, calling Nigel his mate and not his 'boyfriend' or his 'potential'. He couldn't wait for him to come home to Romania and do all of those things that mates did together, which, the more he thought about it, probably wasn't all that different from when Nigel was his boyfriend. This made Adam incredibly happy.

But Nigel was not the person who showed up on his screen and Adam frowned at the image of the man staring back at him, eyes a rare, deep maroon shade and lined heavily in smudged kohl, his dirty blonde hair cut short and parted sharply to the side, a geometry that was also reflected in his face, delicate lines of high cheekbones and deeply sunk eyes, a mouth that was already smirking and when it grinned revealed tiny shark teeth. He had sinewy movements even though it was clear he was absolutely stoned from a recent knotting, the glassy sheen of his gaze accentuating a forest creature grace that one would find on a well footed deer, his movements slow and calculated.

"You are Dr. Hannibal Lecter," Adam said, frowning at the person displayed on his screen. He chewed his bottom lip and fought the urge to shut his laptop. "Where's Nigel?"

"In the atrium with Judith, my baby," Dr. Lecter replied, and gave Adam a softer smile that he found easier to relate to. "I have wished to meet you, Mr. Raki. As you know, I am mated to your cousin, Will Graham, though he has been sadly remiss in informing me about you. I hear you are the one responsible for sending him Old Spice every Christmas..."

"I am," Adam said. "He never sends me anything back."

"A shockingly rude omission that he will have to rectify. As a member of our family you have special status within our circle of social connections. I am so pleased to have caught you. You look rather flushed, Mr. Raki, as though you are feverish. Are you well?"

"I'm okay," Adam said, still frowning. Where was Nigel? "My stomach has been a bit upset, but that's because Nigel isn't here and I'm worried about him. It's very dangerous where you are."

"Yes, my dear Mr. Raki, it is. But you are not to worry, I have made it a point to ensure his personal safety." Lecter smiled again, sighing slightly into it. "You are experiencing stomach pains? How unfortunate. I hope you are eating properly, one mustn't let the stresses of one's life make one weak. I can already see why Nigel is so enamoured with you, you are exceptionally lovely, there are hints of my William in your genes, strong ones, I may add. Your clan knows how to bewitch, Mr. Raki, I have already surmised that Nigel is pining very much for you, and I do admit if I was in your situation I would be doing the same for my dear Will."

Adam shrugged, confused at this. "I have no supernatural powers, those are cultural conjectures and are not based in fact. I miss sleeping with Nigel, it was very difficult to rest."

Lecter pouted at this, his voice descending into a tone of maternal worry. "I am very sorry to hear that. And an upset stomach at that, how very unpleasant. Warmed milk will help settle you and aid in sleep, it reminds our bodies of our infant pleasures and offers the same, comforting lull. How I wish I could be there, Adam, to help you through this difficulty. I hope you are not overextending yourself through too much activity to fill in the void of your mate's absence."

Adam thought about his busy, early morning and equally busy afternoon and that he was forcing himself to only think about Nigel on the quarter hour, a limit he was breaking during this conversation. "I think I may be, but it's only been a day and a half. It feels like a very long time, though the reality is that it has been just over twenty-four hours, I shall have to calculate it. I have taken new employment at the observatory here in Bucharest and will be starting my work with them on Monday. Nigel has assured me he will be home by then. Is he in a nearby room? Can you tell him to come and see me? It has been exactly thirty-two hours and forty-seven seconds since Nigel has left Bucharest."

Dr. Lecter continued to give him that motherly, doe-like smile, and he sat back in his chair, his hand pressed against a bared section of flesh that held his heart behind it. "You are very precious, Mr. Adam Raki. Is he good to you? I imagine he is a wonderful mate, and is kind and patient towards your many needs. I fully understand your life is not an easy one, though it seems overly simplistic to others who are neurotypical. It's never an easy thing to constantly be the smartest person in the room."

"I'm not the smartest, there's a lot of information I don't know and I struggle with social interaction and that takes a great amount of emotional intelligence, which I do not possess in abundance, though Nigel does. He is very good to me, he never interrupts me when I talk about space, and he rescued me from traffickers and offered me a place to stay, which was in his apartment with him, he tells me he loves me which is an abstract concept I do have trouble understanding, but I think it means he likes to be with me, and touch me and cares for me."

"I imagine so," Lecter said, and though there was something else being implied, Adam didn't catch it.

"Nigel took things slowly, that's when you don't have sex right away. That has never been the prime focus of our relationship, I find that confusing in one respect but enhancing in another. He is a good man. Even though he got drunk one night and punched the face of the rector of the University of Bucharest, he did that out of love for me, so even though in that moment that did tip his scale away from goodness and towards being bad, I did forgive it and he's back to being a good person again." Adam caught Lecter's thoughtful look at what he'd told him and added, "He has never hurt me, I would never fear such a thing from Nigel. His first instinct is to protect me, because I am his Omega. It's why I don't understand these traffickers, they are Alphas, how can they deny their biology and cause such harm? I don't like it when people are hurt. Has he found the Omegas, are they alive and well like he hoped? He's very sad, all the time, and before he left he was having terrible dreams. Is he still sad? Can I talk to Nigel now?"

But Lecter wasn't about to let go of his conversation with Adam just yet. "You may, but first I wanted to get to know you better. I don't know any of Will's relations, so this is a unique opportunity that I am loathe to surrender. It is interesting to me to meet someone who shares his DNA."

"We are extremely different people who have no connection save genetics," Adam flatly reminded him.

"So it seems, but you do share some traits. Pragmatism, for one. I have overheard your theorizing on space with Nigel as he drifted off into sleep. He tells me you are an astrophysicist."

"No, that was the position at the University of Bucharest that I decided was not in my best interests. I'm working now as an astronomer for the observatory."

"Of course. But still, you do understand certain realms of physics that are beyond the scope of others. Myself, I dabble lightly, and am particularly enamoured with the concept of reversal. That a smashed teacup could reform itself should the correct cause and effect be enacted, to push the universe beyond its boundary of acceptance until it pushes back. I sometimes smash a teacup on purpose, and wait to see if it will come back together again, and I am perpetually disappointed that it never does. One day, I fully expect it will."

Smashing teacups did not seem like a logical thing for an intelligent person to do, even if one was testing out a theory, but a proper lab setting would be required, as well as highly specific equipment to properly measure the phenomenon. Adam shook his head at Dr. Lecter's folly. "No. The past is a fixed place that cannot be changed, it is only the future that can be journeyed into because it is still an open stream of possibility. The universe can only expand outward and cannot reverse itself because the nature of the universe is infinite. Therefore, the concept of time reversing is wrong. As there is solely evidence of time moving in a forward motion, that is the only methodology by which it happens. Should we be able to travel through time, it can only be through the realms of variant possibility. Thus, we can only go into the future."

Lecter chuckled at this. "So you are saying I am wrong in my assumption that the past can one day be reversed and all ills rectified? I must disagree, Mr. Raki."

"You're wrecking teacups for no reason. Some of them are pretty and very expensive, and they are fragile and some are antiques, you can't replace them once they are gone. I think you should be more careful."

Dr. Lecter's smile faltered, and his eyes misted with tears, his fingers dancing along the patch of skin above his heart, a fluttering motion that seemed to suggest to Adam distress. He wanted to apologize, but Lecter gave him a broken, frangible smile in return and his voice was slightly hitched. "How very right you are, Mr. Raki. Now is not the time to test such theories, not when the universe has made an exception to its rules for you alone. How very special you are. I do wish we get to know one another better, Adam. I feel a very close connection to you, like a mother to her daughter. In some other world you may have been a child I cherished, one I snatched back from being stolen."

Adam didn't understand why Lecter was talking this way, and his words made little sense to him. He still seemed upset. "The many worlds theory is completely different from the universe reversing itself. It is more an example of its limitless expansion. Why would you want me to be your daughter? Do you mean in the Omega sense? I think you are only halfway there, as a male Omega, I am your son, too."

Dr. Lecter choked on a small cry at this, and he forced a smile at Adam that was definitely not genuine and he didn't understand Lecter's need to lie with his body language like this. It was hard enough figuring out what was going on when people were blatantly angry or sad and this kind of puzzle, with Lecter fighting the urge to cry and yet still smiling, it raised Adam's anxiety levels and he fought the urge to wring his hands. "I know you are upset, but I don't know why. I don't know what I've said to make you that way. I'm very sorry, what should I do?"

"I am very happy, Adam," Lecter said, though the threat of tears didn't suggest this, and Adam continued to remain confused. "My son and my daughter, my darling precious, it is no wonder Nigel calls you his angel."

The tender mood was broken, however, by the intrusive sounds of others milling about the house, and Adam could hear Nigel's voice in the near distance, his body so attuned to it he could feel his cells ache. But the sounds of his mate drifted off and it was his cousin who came to the forefront of the crowd, his voice boisterous and pushy with Alpha might and full of knotted hormones that made his voice slur as though he was drunk. "Hannibal, do you need any help? Should I peel potatoes? How many are coming for dinner, isn't Chilton going to be here soon? I'm getting sick of how he's showing up later every time, we're going to have reschedule our knotting trysts if he keeps this up. You should see Inspector Ionescu with Judith, she's absolutely in love with him." Loud steps and a rushed figure crept up behind Dr. Lecter, and Adam was surprised to see his cousin, Will Graham, nuzzling into Lecter's neck and stealing highly erotic little bites from along the already bruised flesh. He didn't look that much different from the last time Adam had seen him, he still had that mess of dark curls over an angry face, though the roughly hewn beard was new.

Will kissed his mate's lips but there was a warning being transferred onto Lecter's tongue. "I don't like the way you look at him, if you're hungry I'm the one you come to. And you did, several times, just to remind you. I don't care if you have this weird crush, I told you plenty of times he's just a man like any other, nothing special at all. He smokes and he's rude and he has terrible taste in clothes."

"You have two out of three," Dr. Lecter said.

"He had a big fight with Jack over the Omegas, we may need to start our plan earlier than we thought. For now, you should be staying in bed with me. I checked on Judith, she's doing just fine with Nigel in the atrium. Hard to believe such a Neanderthal could be so good with kids. Don't look at me like that when I'm telling you the truth. Hey, what's going on with you, mon cher? Tears, again. Really, Hannibal, you are such an emotional mess when I knot you, it drives me insane seeing you so naked." Will's mouth was half open as he licked and tasted at Lecter's willing flesh, only to halt in embarrassment when he saw that someone else was looking on.

"Is that my cousin Adam Raki on the laptop screen?"

"It is."

"Aha. Why are you talking to him?"

"Adam and I were having a lovely discussion about time and space," Lecter said, wiping the moisture from his eyes with his long, elegant fingers, smudging his kohl further as he leaned back into his mate's embrace. He was dishevelled under Will's hands, his cousin barely offering Adam a nod in greeting. "Your cousin Adam has informed me he has not been eating properly. How I wish I could do something for you, my precious child! If I was there I would make sure you were never hungry."

"Macaroni and cheese is my favourite," Adam suggested, though he wasn't sure if this was the proper thing to say. Why was Dr. Lecter calling him his 'child'? "Hello, Will. You look a lot different without the braces and retainer headgear."

Will choked at this as Dr. Lecter sniggered. He glared at his mate. "I was ten, and I had an overbite."

"An anteroposterior discrepancy," Adam helpfully added. "He wore it for two years. The elastics used to get caught in tree branches when he went fishing with his dad. My father used to tell him to stand beside the TV to get better reception because he looked like a radio antennae. It never did work, human beings don't make good radio wave conduits no matter how much metal is on them. I want to speak to Nigel."

Dr. Lecter's eyes flashed in interest at this, and though Will tried to reach out and close the laptop, he took it in hand and dove away from him, keeping Adam in sight. "Such fascinating information! Will has been quite remiss in discussing his past, and I admit my curiosity is piqued. Tell me about your interactions with him when you were children."

Will protested this. "There were hardly any, he was mute and he'd curl in a ball every time he visited, he wasn't chatty like he is now." Will growled and aimed for the laptop again, and Adam was becoming increasingly frustrated over how they had forgotten that this was Nigel's laptop and he was supposed to be talking to him.

"Will had a fire truck that had very loud alarms. I find loud noises highly distressing. He knew this and he used to blast it on purpose just to watch me curl into a ball and try to block it out. It was quite a mean thing to do."

"Such a terrible brat," Dr. Lecter sagely agreed.

"At Christmas my father and I would drive to Louisiana and his grandmother, my great aunt, would give us dark fruit cake soaked in rum. Will knew where she hid the rum and he doused mine with more until it was dripping. His grandmother insisted I eat it and my father said I had to be polite, so I did. I got sick at the dinner table as a result. I don't like fruit cake. Or rum. Or turkey, gravy, potatoes, carrots, stuffing, the usual fixings of Christmas dinners make my stomach heave, I could never go to office Christmas parties and especially not holiday potlucks. I can't even eat turkey in a sandwich and the smell of cranberries gives me panic attacks. Please, is Nigel there?"

Dr. Lecter was mock furious as he turned on his mate. "Such a vicious, monstrous child! As if this innocent little thing could have done something terrible to you to deserve that! My dear Will, how disappointed I am in you!"

"I was *ten*," Will reminded him.

"Old enough to know better than to torture a sweet little five year old..."

"He was six at the time, and he was annoying, he kept messing with stuff in my room, and my grandmother always gave him cookies and he wouldn't give me any."

"Because you were an evil little brat! I wouldn't give you any either!"

"I never told on you about the cake," Adam quietly added. "My dad said you'd lost your mom and I remembered how sad I was when I'd lost my favourite pen, the one with stars on it. I said mean things to my dad and was really angry and crying and I thought that maybe that was how you felt too, because that's how people feel when they lose things. So I never told on you. I now know, of course, that your mother had died and there's hardly a comparison. A person is worth infinitely more than a favourite pen. But I know now, that hollow feeling, knowing that they aren't coming back. I don't think it's right to say they are lost, that implies they will come back if they can find their way, and that's not what death is. Death is forever. People who die, like your mom and my dad, they aren't lost, they just aren't there. That absence is very lonely and painful."

Will was sheepish as he looked through the small camera at the top of the laptop. "I'm sorry to hear about your dad. I did like Uncle Raki, and I was nasty and you were just a little kid. I should have sent you a card or, I don't know, just something. I didn't know he'd died until last year, and he was gone for three years by then." Will broke free of Adam's intense searching of him and grimaced. "Sorry, Adam, I'm a sad excuse for a relative, and I should have kept in touch more. I got so caught up in my own angry, miserable crap I pushed away everything of value out of my life."

The laptop was back on the surface of the kitchen counter, and Dr. Lecter had his chin perched on Will's shoulder, looking over it and seeming to supervise the apology and finding it adequate. Adam didn't see the point of one at all, he'd already long had his revenge.

"I broke your fire truck," Adam said, and he couldn't stop the feeling of pride this confession gave him. He liked seeing Will Graham frown, the old hurt cured. "I used a screwdriver and jammed it into the sound mechanism and crushed the alarm."

"What?"

"You kept trying to get it to screech all afternoon and your dad blamed its sudden silence on dead batteries. It wasn't the batteries, it was me."

Will was crushed. "You bastard! I loved that fire truck!"

"You were a jerk. You didn't deserve to have it."

"Hannibal, are you hearing this!"

"Yes, dear Will, I am hearing Adam just fine," Dr. Lecter replied and Adam felt he was getting something wrong in the tone of his voice because Dr. Lecter sounded *wistful*.

But their conversation was interrupted as the house erupted into a flurry of activity as someone knocked on the front door, and Adam could hear a baby crying, which spurred Dr. Lecter into action, and Will Graham left and then appeared again, an angry look on his face (which, frankly, was permanent, he had it when he was ten, too) and the refrigerator door was opened and closed, and there was an exclamation from a voice Adam didn't recognize shouting: "Are you doing this *every* time we're set to have a counselling session? You're high enough to straddle the damned moon!" Which Adam didn't think was all that plausible, hallucinatory states were imaginary, and besides, the moon was too big to wrap one's legs around. And suddenly, there was Nigel! But he wasn't alone, there was a happy baby in his arms (Judith, Dr. Lecter had called her) and he opened the refrigerator door and took out a bottle of milk and was nearly out of range and Adam shouted, his lungs aching from the effort: "Nigel! I'm here!"

Nigel paused, and, with a shocked expression, he turned towards the laptop and stared back at his grinning spaceman, at one Adam Raki, who was very, very happy to have his Alpha finally in his sights. Nigel pulled up a chair, warily glancing back out to the front foyer where the Lecter-Grahams were still arguing with that unknown fourth man, their voices becoming heated.

"Who were you talking to?" Nigel demanded, and Adam was taken aback by his anger. "Were you talking to Lecter?"

"Yes. He called me his child, I don't know why he would say that. And then he cried. Will is still a jerk. Are you ready to come home soon? Did you save the Omegas?"

The baby in Nigel's arms gurgled and Adam was momentarily distracted by the wave of her pudgy hands towards the screen. He had never seen Nigel in such a care giving role before, and it was clear he was quite adept at it, far more than Adam himself felt confidence in.

"My darling angel, now is not a good time for me to talk to you." Nigel held onto the baby with a strong arm around her round waist and plucked a cigarette from his side pocket with his free hand. The unlit cigarette dangled from his bottom lip as he spoke.

"You are not to smoke around a baby," Adam harshly admonished him.

"I am sorry, my darling, I will talk to you later, my sweet spaceman. Te iubesc," Nigel said, barely looking at him before he closed the laptop lid, killing the connection.

Adam sat on Nigel's comfortable bed, pillows surrounding him, the apartment pin-drop quiet and full of shifting, unpleasant shadows that crept along the walls, reflections from the headlights of cars driving past on the street below. He put the laptop to one side and curled his knees up to his chest, wishing Nigel was there to gentle him, to whisper to him promises that he was coming home. He felt like he had done something wrong. The feeling was amplified by the wish for Nigel's arms, the memory morphed into what he imagined was the strangely maternal touch of Dr. Lecter that crept along his shoulders, the sultry, foreign voice stroking his hair and calling him his child. The intrusive thought interfered with his processing of the conversation. Adam couldn't understand why the thought of Dr. Lecter gentling him as a parent would made him feel both comforted and frightened.

~*~

Fuck, he felt terrible cutting his darling angel off like that, but there was so much chaos happening in the house he knew Adam would have difficulty communicating above it. Besides, he didn't know what Lecter had said to him, and the thought of the Chesapeake Ripper having any kind of influence over his little angel spaceman was enough to make him want to bomb the estate to oblivion, send that fucking harpsichord to the moon and make sure that fucking monster Dr. Lecter had a proper strigoi burial.

Nigel snuck out of the kitchen as Will Graham opened the front door, allowing a flustered, dark haired man in an immaculate dark navy suit into their home. He had an air of pompous might that instantly made Nigel want to dismiss every word he said, a flash of judgement that was confirmed when the man took one look at Nigel's mouth, which was still clamped on the unlit cigarette, and the baby in his arms and exclaimed, "So. I see you've found a nanny. Of course, the two of you, high enough to hitch a ride on a comet and this one is taking care of Judith while he taps ashes into her formula. Excellent parenting, I must say. That should be a chapter in a child rearing book--How To Enjoy Hallucinatory Altered States Of Consciousness Whilst Leaving One's Baby In The Arms Of A Chain Smoking Gypsy. Ah, Hannibal, eye-liner again. Every single time I come here, you're knot stoned and playing the flapper Japanese geisha. You keep saying it's for Will, but I'm seriously doubting that at this point, you're the one wearing it and I know Will could care less about your eyes when all he can see are your tits. Bravo, you have discovered your Orlando, brushing up on your Omega literature, I see. And your neck is flushed, bruised and bare, of course, it's not like I could show up for your appointment without a flash of flesh to signal your latent arousal. Well, how fortunate it is that your gypsy nanny is here warding off my evil eye, I won't be the babysitter of your *child* for once. For God's sake, stop pawing each other, the two of you make me sick."

Dr. Lecter playfully staggered against Will before gesturing with theatrical grace at Nigel. "Dr. Chilton, this is Inspector Nigel Ionescu of the Politia Romana. He is here on special assignment and as he is mated to Will's cousin, Adam Raki, we felt it would be a kind thing to house family." Lecter grinned widely as Will embraced him, copping a sneaky feel that Lecter harshly slapped away, leaving a red welt on the back of Will's hand along with a sharp curse in Lithuanian. "Fred, you are staying for dinner, I will not hear you say no. Venison stew, with crusty ciabbata and truffle tapenade on the side. It's such a lovely treat for the palate to occasionally get a taste of something wild."

Chilton sighed loudly, not agreeing to the invitation, though it was clear that he was trapped and had no choice but to accept. He held out his hand to Nigel, who took his clammy grip with reluctance. "Dr. Chilton. I am the head psychiatrist at the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Don't let him fool you, I am here for an appointment, not a social call. Due to his gender subterfuge, I have taken on Hannibal's outpatient counselling instead of the GSF, a favour I've yet to be thanked for and one that is becoming more thankless by the minute. You're bonded to Will Graham's cousin? I never knew there were so many people in this world who found that kind of twitching, angry misery attractive."

Dr. Lecter pounced immediately onto Chilton's words, not allowing Nigel the chance to defend his mate. "You will not say such things of that darling little creature, how base and unpleasant of you, Fred, I was expecting better. Adam is a delightful little Omega, such an unlimited intelligence! He is an astrophysicist, the concerns of our little Earth hardly worthy of his intellect. Such a jewel he is, Fred, you simply must meet him."

"He's an astronomer," Will corrected, and Lecter ignored him. "He has Asperger's and he's been obsessed with space since he was five. Hannibal, why are you latching onto him like this? You talked to him for less than an hour."

Lecter cast Will a heavily glassy, unfocused glare. "He is home and alone right now, his Alpha has abandoned him." Nigel felt the jibe right down into the marrow of his still bruised ribs and smarted at it. "How very cruel. He needs someone to take care of him, and chase away all the encroaching dark dreams that will inevitably harm his sleep. He told me he isn't eating properly, and his stomach is upset. I don't like that flush on his cheeks, Fred, I am worried for him like I worry for a child. For my child." Lecter leaned closer to Chilton's ear, but his whispering was loud and harsh enough for Nigel to easily overhear him. "I told him of my teacups and he was so very precious, he told me I was wrong. But I feel so very connected to him, the immediacy of it startles me, as though he is a key that unlocks a hidden door within that vast palace within my depths, beneath the water in one of my mossy stone caverns that I usually only let Will into. He tends to slip and fall, but I am increasingly sure footed in that place. Do you believe that life can spring spontaneously for another, Fred, that time and destiny can take an equal misstep and occasionally slip? Adam is my child, I can feel it, the sensation has more power than fact. That which I thought I'd lost but he's now here, he was just born a decade earlier, that's why I lost that which was stolen, he was already born. He is alive, Fred, and so very beautiful, just as I knew my child would be." He caged his burgeoning, grin with his long, elegant fingers, his manic joy wandering carelessly over any fact or doubt. "Do you think he will like his sister?"

Nigel held the cooing infant in his arms close, not sure how to deal with the sudden change in mood in the front foyer of the house, the mention of past tragedy adding long lines of despairing shadows that were etched deep in Dr. Chilton's understanding. He placed a hand on a still ecstatic Dr. Lecter's shoulder, a patience for his altered state of consciousness one that Chilton had revisited many times before. Will Graham was sober now, watching his mate carefully as Chilton led Lecter through the kitchen and then into the atrium, assurances that they would talk about this new development at length. He waited until the doors of the atrium were closed before taking a deep breath and scooping baby Judith out of Nigel's arms. She cuddled into her father, eager to hear his heartbeat.

They stood facing one another, Nigel still toying with the cigarette at his lips and Will eyeing the neglected kitchen, the concept of dinner as chaotic as their descent from their bedroom. He was still a creep as far as Nigel was concerned, but Will did seem genuinely worried about his mate, his glances towards the closed atrium doors furtive, his mood anxious.

"What happened to those Omegas last week, the ones in Romania, affected him pretty bad," Will confessed to Nigel. "Hannibal's been a little...off...ever since. Overly emotional, making strange attachments." He glanced sidelong at Nigel at this before resting his chin on the top of Judith's soft head, in the tender depression of her fontanel. "You need to understand, he feels directly responsible for the deaths of those Omegas, he took the loss very personally. He howled and broke apart an entire room upstairs in an animal rage, he cried for two days, I couldn't pull him out of it. He becomes fragile and dangerous all at the same time, he's impossible. I..." Will glanced at the atrium doors to make sure they were still shut before bringing Nigel into his confidence. "I sometimes use sex to calm him down. He told me he likes it when I fondle him while he's unconscious and it's weird, I know, but I'll do anything for him to make him feel better. I don't like seeing him like this. The state he's been in lately, it troubles me."

The sincere worry Will had for his mate was a feeling Nigel could relate to, and at least he had some explanation as to the perverted nature of their lovemaking, though it didn't explain all of it. He had to wonder just how much did Will Graham know, and this little confession he'd been offered was as much a digging expedition as it was an information session. Nigel fingered the packet of matches in his jeans pocket, sifting through his knowledge for that little morsel Will would hungrily feed on and surrender more in return. "One of the Omegas, a survivor by the name of Darlene--She knows who your Chesapeake Ripper is."

Will didn't react to this, instead kissing the top of his baby's head and offering his finger for her to wrap her grip tight around it. "That's interesting. She must do a lot of online reading, the Ripper murders were hardly a thing of interest in the Eastern Union Regions."

"I'm thinking chat rooms. Maybe she joined a newsgroup or two. The internet, full of open communication, a big wide open, fucking pool that everyone is pissing in together. She said she was his daughter. That they all were." Nigel crossed his arms and stood closer to Will, choosing every motion he made with careful stealth lest the wiry little man lash out. At least with the baby occupying his arms he would be forced to reconsider it.

Will's head shook in that usual, nervous tic that Nigel was beginning to understand was a sign of picking at a nasty bone he didn't want exposed. "Just how big of a family does the Chesapeake Ripper have, Mr. Graham?"

Will wouldn't look at him, and Nigel knew he'd hit on that one nerve that the angry little Alpha couldn't shake off or dull, and he fully intended to pick at it. But Will knew how to strike back and he did with a force that made Nigel's gut drop, his insides twisted as though a fucking knife had been sent to slowly cut through his organs.

"Hannibal has taken a great liking to Adam."

Nigel's eye twitched at this. "My angel is not so easily influenced. He happens to have an excellent guardian."

"I'm sure that's why. He knew about you before you came here, there was an incident in Romania last year where a similar rescue was implemented for trafficked Omegas and you had casualties then, too. There's a picture of you, collapsed near one of the bodies."

Oh yes, this fucker really did know how to hit below the belt. Fuck, he needed a smoke.

He needed a fucking plane ticket. As every second ticked he was opening a mass grave.

"That was a really bad fucking day."

"You rescued ten Omegas, only one of them died."

"One is too fucking many."

Will was quiet for a long moment at this, Judith jiggling sweetly in his arms and cooing at his tension. "The news report said you gave her CPR for over an hour. You couldn't give up, even after she was long dead." Will caught his eye and let the connection drop, a gesture weirdly similar to Adam's.

"You lost eight when it happened again."

"Some bad days just don't want to fucking go away."

Will raised a brow in understanding at this.  "Hannibal was fascinated with you after seeing that picture of you. He has one of his leather bound patient notebooks dedicated to you, make no mistake he is full on obsessed." Will worked his jaw, clearly disturbed by that fact. "Even though we are bonded he still has a hard time equating an Alpha as someone who would offer that kind of rescue, or care, without a selfish agenda in mind. I'm not entirely sure he sees you as a human being, he puts you on this pedestal and when it happened again and so many Omegas died and, again, it was you who rescued the survivors...Explaining this is impossible, I can only give you framework, and it's a twisted one that no work of art can fit into properly. He hasn't had it easy here, you need to understand this, he hid his gender for most of his life and that denial of self has created caverns of locked doors deep within that inward ocean of his and it's very easy to get drowned down there. You've been on our shores long enough to know and no doubt Adam has been very clear about what goes on in the United Main, especially the Coastline. He's been hurt by Alphas in the past, very badly, and it has affected him in highly monstrous ways."

Nigel had a flashback to his basement viewing of Mason's VHS tapes and he fought the urge to shudder. "Are you giving him excuses?"

"I am giving him a reason."

Will shifted Judith's tender weight to his other hip, the baby's presence calming the taut standoff between the two Alphas, leaving Nigel wondering at the vulnerability that Hannibal subjected his mate to. Will kept casting darting glances at the closed doors, a worried frown pinching him, his thoughts on his mate causing actual pain. "I love him, and I'm worried about what he's up to, what's going on in his head...You know the consequences, I'm sure."

"I got an inkling he's all about burning down Rome."

"There's that." Will spoke through a grimace. "He's brilliant and beautiful and so very dangerous, I will admit that. I'm warning you, Nigel, I don't know what to do about this thing he's got now with Adam. He won't be able to let it go, he gets this kind of an idea in his head and he's wrapped it up in belief now, he's broken it all up into pieces of teacups. He won't budge from his theory no matter how much evidence you give him. It's his type of madness. I'm sorry, Nigel, both you and Adam have been pulled into it. You won't be able to escape."

An echo crept across dark, soft earth, and Nigel was swallowed into its cold maw:

"I'm looking forward to meeting your acquaintance..."

Nigel shook the ill feeling that stung along his injured bones off and dared to slip past Will, giving little Judith a tickle on her cheek before heading for the atrium doors. He pulled them open, interrupting the farce of a therapy session happening behind them, revealing Dr. Chilton scribbling madly in his notebook as he sat on the large green couch while Lecter waxed poetic over Will's skills at the harpsichord. Chilton seemed oblivious to the fact that Lecter was deflecting him with idle chatter, a ruse Nigel quickly saw through. Chilton was too kind hearted to be a proper interrogator, which was what Dr. Lecter required. He was calm, now, slender fingers toying with the ivory keys, a soft smile greeting Nigel as he entered the overly warm room. The atrium was a suffocating space of fiercely reigned in passion and hope, his grip so tight on it Lecter was at risk of choking it out of existence.

Dr. Lecter was not the poised, perfectly delicate creature he had met earlier, he was a mess of smeared kohl and red cheeks, wrinkles in his brocade robe that was tied tightly closed this time, a sensation of exhaustion hovering around him that suggested his knot high had suddenly crashed. He nodded at Nigel's presence with what felt, to him, was a grotesque submission. "Will has Judith?"

"Yes."

Lecter was content at this. His fingers spread across the keys in such a ghost of a touch they didn't dare send out a wayward note. "He is an excellent father, Nigel. As will you be, when given that opportunity. There is great power to be had in guidance and love, especially when a father cherishes their children."

Dr. Chilton immediately pounced on this. "Do you wish to talk about your father, Hannibal? We've never discussed him before."

Lecter coyly tilted his head and gave Nigel a look that suggested he was well aware of how manipulative he was being, the flirtation still holding that same disconcerting level of awe Chilton was thankfully unaware of. Being a Beta he wouldn't grasp the finer subtleties of that erotic dance between Alphas and Omegas. The comedown from his high had left Lecter more exposed than ever to a person who knew how to fucking look, and he was nakedly fragile, Nigel saw, the need in him making Nigel's Alpha instincts rise to the fore, puffing up the dominant aura around him until even Chilton raised a brow in note of it. Will had said Lecter had a patient file on him, a fairly thick one he was sure, and the very idea repulsed Nigel. Just great, the Chesapeake Ripper was his fucking stalker, a notebook full of newspaper clippings and pseudo-psychiatric theorizing, and he had to give it to him, the crazy bitch sure knew how to make a complicated situation worse.

So why was he standing here, beside this insane, falsely meek monster and feeling nothing but wave after wave of protective pity?

"Perhaps we can discuss my father next time, Fred. I do need to get a start on dinner."

"Venison stew," Chilton said, slamming his notebook shut and sighing in tired resignation.

"Are you fond of forests, Nigel?" Lecter's eyes flashed red, though they were dancing, not filled with ire. "I admit the occasional pull towards nature. It gives us comfort when all else becomes unrecognizable. We can step carefully over branches and journey towards crystal clear, still lakes, bodies of water devoid of conflict. I believe you are there quite often, Nigel. A force of life against the surrounding decay."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter fifteen

He stood in the backyard of the large Lecter-Graham home and stared up into the heavens hoping his little spaceman angel's stars were ready to guide him. He lit a smoke and contemplated the curl of smoke as it rose above him, trapping the heavens in its poisonous obscurity. The occupants of the house were finally asleep, and the GSF sentries were in equal near slumber, lazily pacing in front of the house, ignorant of the threat the woods beyond the gate provided. Nigel checked his watch and noted the time. Two in the morning. The perfect hour for this brand of hunting.

Dinner had been a strained affair, and though the venison stew was mouth watering and probably the best he had ever eaten, the conversation was as incomprehensible as ever, with a far more sober Dr. Lecter sitting at the head of the table, while his guests sat on the sidelines. His mate Will Graham was tucked close to him at the corner and it was clear this was their usual positions at the table, an intimacy afforded between them that was isolated even amongst guests. Dr. Lecter had cleaned himself up for dinner, and was once again that cold persona hidden deftly beneath fine, expensive fabrics that Nigel was far more familiar with. He had seen him in newsreel images when the Omega's gender subterfuge crime made the front page of TattleCrime.org, the press given an elegant frost that suggested he was a man of intelligence and high social status. Will Graham had also showered and trimmed his beard and was every inch the genteel, well dressed Alpha in a pressed, crisp suit seated beside his beloved mate. There was a soft observation exchanged when Will announced Judith was in her crib, possibly asleep for the remainder of the night. The scene had been purposefully domestic, free of the chaos of the late afternoon where inhibition had been tossed aside, leaving raw emotion and hidden tragedies in its wake, their lives significantly more messy than this little pantomime pretended.

Dr. Chilton had made a pointed remark about Nigel's relationship with Adam, that it must be unbearable being way from one's mate when their bonding had happened so recently. It was a highly astute observation from a Beta and one that surprised Nigel, and he found himself admitting that yes, he did miss him terribly, and he was hoping that separation was very temporary.

"I believe our dear associate Alana Bloom has suffered a similar trouble," Dr. Lecter added. "I had invited both her and Margot to dinner but they declined, stating their reunion takes precedence. As you know, Alana had to scope out new territory for them both should the Coastline suddenly succumb to civil war. They are now fully prepared to escape Muskrat Farm, but she'd had to leave Margot during the high point of her heat and as can be expected, it was a difficult endurance for them both."

Nigel was annoyed by the analogy, it felt like yet another dig at his treatment of Adam, and this had nothing to do with how he'd left him. "I would never leave Adam if he was in his heat," Nigel gruffly replied, stabbing his fork into the succulent meat that melted around it. "I get that things are pretty bad, and it's not like I could say no, but I just couldn't do that, it's a fucking tragic thing to do to an Omega. It would tear me apart knowing he's suffering like that. I'd have to find some way around it until afterwards."

Dr. Lecter cut into his meat and gave Nigel a smirking reply, as though he was in on a joke Nigel didn't know about. "Really, Inspector Ionescu? I have to wonder. As an Alpha you are more attuned to such needs and clearly wrap them up tightly within your dominant urge to have empathy for your partner. Dr. Alana Bloom is a Beta, and as such, may not have your keen insight into that suffering, which admittedly is perhaps reflected into a discomfort of your own. Still, bonded partners have a great deal of empathy for one another, regardless of gender, and I assure you Dr. Bloom would never have left her mate without safeguards to assist her. I'm sure Margot popped suppressants like Tic-Tacs while Alana was gone, an absence of only a week."

"You're diminishing the difficulty that Margot Verger has been going through," Dr. Chilton chided Lecter, a glass of wine sipped with gentlemanly care. "You of all people should know how devastating that feeling of being alone during one's most vulnerable time can be."

"Yes," Dr. Lecter said, and ate a small morsel of his meal, contemplating his empty fork before continuing. "But the anticipation of one's mate is not the same as being completely alone. I'm very sure that our lovely Alana is making it up to her. They declined to come for dinner, but not because they weren't hungry."

Dr. Lecter gave Nigel a secretive, crooked little smile at this as Chilton chuckled over the inference. "Tell me, Inspector Ionescu, how does Adam deal with his heats? He looked quite feverish when I talked to him earlier, he is clearly feeling its effects. You claim to be proactive in taking care of your Omega and yet you have done the exact opposite of what you claim and you have left him to suffer alone. I do hope he has ample suppressants, one cannot be assured that one's schedules will sync to perfection. There are so many variables that can interfere with an excellent plan. Are you confident you have done what is necessary to keep our dear Adam Raki comfortable?"

Annoyed, Nigel spoke around a half eaten portion of potato. "What the fuck are you talking about? Adam's heat is months away."

"On the contrary, I can assure you he is very much in his heat cycle, one possibly induced by stress, both of the loss of his mate so soon after being bonded and possibly after exposure to a group of terrified Omegas when he was doing IT work for Mason Verger."

Nigel let his fork drop to his plate.

"How do you know about that?" Nigel asked.

Lecter shrugged. "News reports, I keep abreast of trafficking takedowns as a sort of hobby, especially seeing as how I was nearly a victim of such a practise myself. Such an abhorrent, barbaric practise, it truly must be stopped, you do wonderful work, Inspector. Mason Verger has been very active in that illegal activity, and I like to keep tabs on his vile connections."

"Yes, Mason Verger, he is one disgusting cunt I'll give you that. I'd love to kick his guts in all the way to a Siberian gulag, but sadly, the little fucker has committed a miraculous disappearing act. I got to wonder how that happened."

Dr. Lecter sipped at his wine and carefully contemplated its deep red hue before setting it back down, his fingers still touching the base of the glass. "He is as slippery as an eel, a little rotten thing that leaves an unpleasant smear on one's hands, and is not worthy of discussion nor thought. As for our darling Adam, he is definitely at the mercy of his body at present, you forget that I am both an Omega and a surgeon and such symptoms are easily observable. Hormones are a tricky thing, Nigel. So many factors can be at play in one's heart, pulling its suffering into the physical. I cannot help but feel maternal instincts towards Adam, and though our exchange was brief, I am fully confident in my diagnosis. Your Omega is about to be in the most severe grip of his heat, alone. You should reconsider your mission, Inspector. If I was you, I'd be on a plane heading directly back for Bucharest at first opportunity, you mustn't wait a moment longer."

Nigel was incensed. As if he was going to be guilted that easily into giving up. "Believe me, I have every intention of doing just that, as soon as I've finished doing what I fucking came here for. I am not wasting my time!"

Dr. Lecter's eyes had flashed with that inward fire at this, amusement mixed with that indefinable curiosity that picked at all the bruises still lurking along Nigel's cracked bones and opening them up, leaving him aching. The dining room was infused with a sense of predatory quiet, the dark furnishings and strange collection of herbs growing wild in pots embedded along the walls making the indoor space feel like patch of open forest at night.

"Are you so sure you can fulfill it?" Dr. Lecter asked, and he clasped his hands together high over his still partially full plate, as though framing it beneath a prayer. "It has been my experience that Alphas are very good at posturing, but they are often at the mercy of their baser natures. My dear Will is no exception, his fixation on my breasts is proof enough of that."

Will tried to insert dissent at this, but Lecter wasn't having it. "Alphas, at their core, are selfish genders who are in the habit of taking what they want at the expense of others. They are prone to violence, a fact that is quite evident in you, Inspector, for that cut on the bridge of your nose did not happen by accident, nor the wincing I notice when you turn your torso to the right and dare to bend. Bruised ribs, I presume, from a serious altercation. You've also used your fists on an innocent man when you overindulged in drink, our Adam told me about it. You are fiendishly typical, your Alpha nature so blatant it is a parody of your gender. Do not pretend to tell me that news of your Omega being in heat does not affect your mission, you are already mentally ticking the boxes needed to get you home. You should make haste. The Omegas are dead at this point, they have been held for too long and if hypothermia hasn't yet killed them, Coastline apathy will. Go home, Inspector. Sink yourself into the hot, feverish flesh of your Omega and forget that you ever came here."

Nigel grabbed his glass of wine and glared at Lecter across the long table, taking in the black gaze that seemed to absorb all around him into them, thoughtful black holes leaving nothing behind.

"I don't abandon anyone. You better fucking keep reminding yourself of that."

Nigel had stormed away from the table at this, feeling Dr. Lecter's red embers burning into his back as he near fled up the stairs his heart hammering in fury and fear. The Chesapeake Ripper had just given him a warning and he'd rudely shot it down. Nigel locked himself in the guest room, and had paced the floor, wondering if what Lecter had told him was true, was Adam really in his heat? His first instinct was, of course, to run to his Omega and to his shame he did immediately start looking up flights and realized, yes, if he hurried he could make it back to Bucharest by dawn.

But instead he turned off his cell and tossed it onto the made bed, his hands in tight fists as he pressed them against the start of his hips. Dead or alive, those Omegas were his responsibility and he had to see this mission through, he had to have hope that there was at least one Omega alive and waiting for him, that if all others were dead there could be that one last breath he could save.

Thus, now here he was, the world's biggest jackass and fucking sucker, finishing his smoke beneath a full moon and staring at the long line of woods that spread parallel to the main road and nothing, not even the thought of his suffering little spaceman angel, was going to deter him from what he had to do. After all, Adam would be the first to ask him, "What of the Omegas?" and there was no way in heaven or hell Nigel was going to say he'd left them all behind. Adam would never forgive him. The scale of good and bad would tip all the way out of his favour and there was no he could even forgive that of himself.

He flicked the butt of his spent cigarette into a thick pile of rose bushes and then eased the back gate open, careful not to reveal his escape to the GSF pacing in front of the house. He had changed into black jeans and a black polo shirt in an effort to blend into the night, but the short sleeves were not a good choice against the evening chill. The journey to the forest left him feeling fully exposed and he shivered as he marched his way towards the tree line, sharp glances shot over his shoulders as he quickly trod over the long patch of grass, an easy target for a bad shot. He could see one of the GSF officers walking further to the one side of the house, and if he glanced to his right Nigel would have been fully visible. But luckily the bastard was busy chatting it up with the other GSF officer, exchanging what looked to be a can of beer between them and heedless of their post. Nigel inwardly grinned, this was going to go as smooth as fucking silk on his darling angel's inner thigh.

Adam in heat. His little spaceman, suffering and Nigel's heart was fucking breaking at the thought. Fuck.

He had to push the thought from his mind, but it was difficult, and he concentrated instead on making it the few blocks to the truck he had waiting at the gas station. The woods were an excellent cover and not so difficult to navigate his way through, and in no time he was several blocks away, close to where he'd left the stolen truck he'd taken after his argument with Jack Crawford in Quantico. It had Virginia plates and was parked at a gas station, and it was sadly a lot smaller than he'd wanted, but if he had to make several trips to get the Omegas out and to safety, then so be it. If he was only transporting corpses as his gut knew he would be, he'd be able to stack them and make the trip even shorter. He'd make his exit as soon as the Omegas were delivered to the Eastern Union regional ship waiting at the dock, and he'd get his new passport from the crew waiting there, as well as his ticket home and he'd be gone. He'd be kissing his feverish little spaceman just in time for a late lunch.

He broke free of the woods, coming upon a row of identical houses that were shrouded in a darkness that suggested they had been abandoned. He wondered how close to the Mainland border this stretch of suburbia was, and figured it was damned close if Lecter still felt safe enough to house his small family there. He checked for his glock tucked into the waistband of his jeans at the back, his hand curled around its familiar weight. He was going to have to use it, he was sure, if the GSF were skulking around he wasn't going to hesitate taking them out. They were all heading face first into war, and at this stage there was no point taking prisoners.

He slid into the small postage stamp of a backyard of one of the houses and kept his back close to the tall, wooden fence, taking cover beneath the scant amount of decorative trees dotting the property. He pulled out his glock and kept it ready as he darted out into the street and towards the gas station where he'd parked the white truck, which was thankfully still there. He slid along the one side of it, avoiding the camera at the far end of the gas station, and cautiously opened the driver's side door and hauled himself up into the seat, gun still at the ready for any sign of GSF activity. There wasn't a one to be seen in this neighbourhood and Nigel allowed himself to breath a small sigh of relief. He put the key in the ignition and brought the truck to life.

"I'm coming home, my angel," Nigel whispered to the dashboard. "Don't you worry, my little spaceman, keep watch over me, keep me safe and I am coming back to you. I promised you. Just hold on. I'm following your stars, your supernovas and your nebulas, I can see them so clearly tonight. You're here with me, darling. Soon, very soon."

~*~
The set of warehouses was even more decrepit beneath moonlight, and Nigel turned the headlights off of the truck as he slowly made his way onto the gravel road leading towards them. He could hear gunfire in the far distance, and the scream of sirens as they wailed along the periphery of the city, well away from where he was currently parked. Otherwise the night was eerily quiet. He killed the engine and waited a few moments, listening as the sirens descended into a low ebb along the night's horizon, the conflict absorbed into darkness until nothing but a grave's silence remained.

The warehouses were in an abandoned section of the city and Will Graham's instinctive, empathic research had led him to a purchase of the property by Mason Verger in the early 2000's when the land was going cheap. He'd never developed it, and it was this omission that suggested to Graham that this was the location he was using for his trafficking activities, a secreted away little rot of land that was too derelict for anyone to consider of any use. The three warehouses were threadbare even in the moonlight, broken beams peeking through holes in the walls, revealing a structure that was barely standing. It was very similar to the set up they'd found in Romania and Nigel knew the Omegas were holed up in an exact underground bunker, and finding it wouldn't be all that difficult. Mason Verger was a creature of habits and he didn't like veering from methods he felt worked. All Nigel had to do was scent it out like the last time, and hope he could keep his dinner down.

He grabbed a flashlight from off of the truck's dashboard and lit his way along the black gravel road, sending rats scurrying from the beam of light as he approached the first warehouse. The door wasn't locked, and Nigel quickly slid through it and into the large, thinly sheltered space, the night sky above plainly visible through the massive holes in the roof. There had been rain recently, as evidenced by the large puddles pooled in the far corners, a fact that made Nigel's heart sink. He felt sick that he hadn't been able to immediately come here, that he had to wait on getting a truck and the lack of reinforcement from the FBI and Jack Crawford wasn't taking enough blame, he felt damned responsible. As for Lecter, well, he certainly wasn't all that caring of his daughters, was he? The Chesapeake Ripper was comfortable and hidden at home, making dinner and playing house while his foreign legion of Omegas wasted away into exposure and death. Fucking bastard, Will Graham had to be lying, how in the hell could the Ripper have any care for them at all when he allowed this sort of shit to happen to them? The wails and cries had to be as self serving as everything else had been, a symptom of what he'd lost when he was still studying to become a surgeon. Dr. Hannibal Lecter was no fucking genius Omega leader, he was a damned executioner. A madman. Fucking loopy fucking loo.

Nigel scented the scant remnant of Omega in the warehouse and instantly brandished his weapon. It became stronger the closer he approached the far right corner, where the puddles were deepest and he braced himself as he instantly detected the thin outline of the trap door. He paused over it as he kicked the mud and debris out of the way, revealing that it hadn't been opened in quite some time. Closing his eyes and keeping his loaded gun cocked and ready, he braced himself as he crouched down and tossed the trap door open, stepping back lest he scent the putrid rot of death.

But all that escaped was stale air and moisture. He shone his flashlight into the cramped space, which was considerably smaller than the one in Romania, and a quick jump into the shallow pit revealed that it was empty. He frowned as he cast his light along the walls, a few inches of water seeping into his shoes as he journeyed in further. It was a simple five feet by five feet room, and nothing indicated anyone had ever set foot in it. Both confused and relieved, he let the flashlight drop to his side and made his way back up a small wooden ladder and out into the vast space of the warehouse.

He left the trap door open and wondered what this development could mean. Perhaps several of the Omegas had died in transport and there weren't as many held prisoner here as he'd thought. After another thorough sweep of the area, seeking other trap doors, he found nothing and headed for the next warehouse, giving it an exact inspection. He found yet another trap door in the same spot and, again, it was empty. Five feet by five feet, no chains, not even the barest scent of an Omega lurking within the wet confines of the crude bunker, no bits of garbage, no clothes, no traces of body fluids or residual hormonal fear. Nothing human had ever set foot in that bunker, Nigel's senses told him.

This wasn't making sense.

He was on high alert now. He gave it another thorough sweep before stepping outside of the warehouse, breathing the crisp, night air in deep and staring up at the stars that shone in bright brilliance and were probably transfixing his darling spaceman right at this very moment. He felt defeated already, and wondered if Will Graham's powers of observation were seriously flawed, enough to get the location of the trafficked Omegas completely wrong. But none of what he'd told Nigel was out of the realm of possibility, this was the location that made the most sense and there was no way Mason Verger was smart enough to know anyone was onto him. Verger saved his monetary experiments for the pigs, he made sure his trafficking ran smoothly, he'd been in that sordid business for nearly twenty years and no suspicion could stick to him. He practically had carte blanche to do as he wanted to unbonded Omegas in regards to the Coastline elite turning a blind eye to his activities, especially since so many upper level politicians gained lewd favours thanks to his hidden assets.

Nigel pulled out a cigarette and slid it between his lips, the glock still in his hand as he lit it. The amber tip lit the way as he walked towards the final warehouse, a feeling of hopelessness in his gut. The Omegas weren't going to be there, either, he knew this, but he had to check and make sure, he had to investigate thoroughly for hadn't that been the case when he'd saved his darling angel? There could be a straggler left in that pit, a forgotten Omega left to die, one that could become someone else's Adam. If there was a corpse, he could at least bring some closure home. He felt sick at the thought of all those new boxes of unsolved cases getting tossed into the basement of the precinct, eighty of them at least, all carefully numbered and labelled and forgotten. The eighty dead he couldn't account for, no matter how hard he'd tried. The United Main had digested them, they were no doubt in the hands of the GSF being tortured and raped, farmed out to wealthy Coastline Alphas who were looking for some baby factories, churning out Alphas and aborting everything else.

Death and pain followed Nigel everywhere and he couldn't be disappointed that it had come to the United Main, as well, for this was the starting point, where the wound was cut in the first place and it bled out all over the fucking goddamned world. Too much money and power in one stretch of coastline. The powers were too hard to fight, the moles were abandoned by their leader and his Omega warriors were left to rot the system from within, or some such bullshit, Nigel was sure. Dr. Lecter was nothing more than a charlatan seeking validation for his suffering by making others of his own kind suffer more. Perhaps there was some kind of misguided self loathing going on here and he'd left to them to die on purpose, Nigel couldn't hazard a guess. The Omega was one fucked up piece of shit and he wasn't about to try and analyze him. That was Dr. Chilton's job and he was clearly shitty at it.

"So much for your avenging army you fucking stupid, crazy bitch," Nigel swore, and finished his cigarette before he slid past the chain loosely holding the final warehouse door closed.

Now he could smell it.

It was foul. Putrid and horrific, full of terror, the bitter aftertaste of the scent laying thick on the back of Nigel's tongue. Fuck, it was hard to breathe it was so overpowering, but it wasn't Omega fear he was scenting. Nigel held the back his hand against his mouth and nose, his eyes watering at the piercing ammonia rot of it.

The air in the warehouse was thick with rotten Alpha.

Nigel winced and brought the glock to the fore, sweeping back and forth at any enemy that might have powers of invisibility in the gloom of the warehouse. He stepped through large puddles, the roof of this structure virtually gone. Moonlight shone through, the white disc captured in each black pool of water, an inescapable inevitability. He held his gun with steady purpose as he approached the corner where he knew the bunker would be situated, and he crouched down, glancing over his shoulders to make sure he was still alone, and, with steady hands, he tore the trap door open and stood back, brandishing the glock at the enemy he knew was about to leap out of it.

"Politia Romana, don't you fucking move, I will shoot to kill!"

The stench of stale blood hit him, along with other, equally vile, rotted flesh scents, a bouquet of spent bowels and piss that mixed into a disgusting, acrid ammonia that rose up from the confines of the bunker. He buried his face in his black shirt as he slowly approached, a light shining out of it and into the warehouse. It was a mining lamp, hung along a stretch of wire that beckoned Nigel to enter the cramped space. He couldn't discern the scent of Omega within it, but the stench of diseased Alpha made him retch. He paused at the entrance for a long moment, steeling himself before he made his way down the neatly affixed metal rungs, ones far more expert in their construction than the ones he crawled down in that damp, fatal pit in Romania.

There was death here, and Nigel turned the mining lamp around until it illuminated the interior of the small five feet by five feet bunker, shadows obliterated as the display was brought into gory, spotlight view. Nigel staggered back, doubling over as his hip hit the metal rungs leading out of the pit, the entirety of Dr. Lecter's venison stew emptying out at its base.

The room was a stage set with the bodies of eight GSF guards in full uniform seated in chairs surrounding an operating table. Various tubes connected to the central object laying within a small, white surgical bin, each tube representing a vein that pumped life into a still beating heart.

A human heart.

Still alive.

Still beating.

It took a long moment for Nigel to realize that no, the GSF officers were not dead, that the lines of tubes from their main arteries were feeding the heart and keeping it alive with their own, staccato pumping. With a sense of horrified wonder, Nigel inspected one of the GSF officers, the whites of his eyes wide in terror as he took in Nigel. In the back of his immobilized hand was an intravenous drug being administered, one that was clearly meant to paralyse but not render the victim unconscious. He could see the shocked tear of the opened eye escape, the wave upon wave of hysteria as Nigel shone his flashlight into it. The victim's pupil shrank. Proof of fucking life.

They weren't set to be alive for long, Nigel knew. They had taken the place of the Omegas, and their presence here told the truth of the story. These GSF officers were working with Verger, they had shown up here looking for the goods that had been transported. The Omegas hadn't been entirely forgotten, investments had secretively been made, perhaps even behind Verger's back. Nigel inspected each and every one of the officers, and found an empty whiskey bottle tucked beneath one of their chairs. Had this been used to drug them? There were shot glasses scattered along the far wall, evidence of a celebratory drink. It was highly likely this was the case. They'd been lured down here, maybe. Offered a toast as a form business etiquette before they took the delivered goods to a different location, one where the Omegas couldn't be found. They thought they were talking to one of Verger's many go-betweens, and were sealing a new deal made in his absence.

"So, you've met the Chesapeake Ripper, did you, assholes?" He clucked at them, shaking his head in disappointment as he inspected the shackles pinning them in place in their chairs, the wheezing of their breath the only indication of their screams. "Stupid pricks, you tried to mess with Mama's daughters. You got everything you deserved you fucking pieces of shit."

Ignoring the wheezing, the near silent screams erupting around him, Nigel began his inspection of the heart still pumping in the medical bin, the electrical impulses of life steady though slightly asymmetrical in rhythm. What purpose did this display serve? What was the Ripper trying to tell him, for certainly the message was here, and he was the one brought here to see it. It was a macabre suggestion, one too obtuse in meaning for someone as straightforward in his thinking for Nigel to get it. He didn't deal in these kinds of metaphorical abstractions, it was why he loved his little spaceman, Adam's heart was so open, so free all of that bullshit, injured debris of layered meanings. Nigel puzzled over it, and though the setting was a real fucked up horror show of a pit from Dante's circle, he wasn't about to leave until he'd figured it out.

"Left me a beating heart, pumped full of the blood of his enemies. That's part of it, I think. What about you guys? Why is it sitting here on an operating table, waiting for me to find it? You're all witnesses to something, like you are watching an operation taking place."

He paced around the operating table, careful to step over and dive under the various tubes holding its life in precarious place. "The heart has been cut out and I'm the one to find it. He wants me to know there is something alive in here." Nigel stared at the still beating heart, at its relentless struggle to remain alive despite all evidence that it was destined to die. Out of gory impulse he traced a finger along it centre, feeling the beat shudder beneath his touch. He couldn't understand why, but the feeling of needing to protect it rose up within him, the surprise of finding it not nearly as damaging as the thought of it being harmed. He reached into the bin and carefully picked the heart up, cradling it as though it were a premature infant in his too large hands. The heart pumped between his fingers, its beat relentless and forever, responding to the pulse of his touch.

"You poor thing." He wasn't talking to the beating heart in his hands. "This is so fucked up. They were really fucking awful to you, weren't they? You poor fucking thing. You really showed them."

He could smell the scent of Omega behind him, and Nigel didn't have time to flinch. He felt the pinch of a needle in his neck and the heart dropped from his hands into the bin, going into shock as it pumped its last and shuddered into actual death. The mining lamp burned bright behind his eyes as he sank to the wet ground, the arms of Omegas pulling him into the mud. The silhouette of a figure, slender and graceful, a gentle doe amongst the rotted branches of a dying swamp stared down at him.

"Let me see stars," Nigel begged of the lovely creature poised above him.

It tilted its head to one side, as though considering his request.

Chapter Text

THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter sixteen

He was sure it was the moon, burning bright behind the back of his skull, the pockmarked sphere smacking hard against the bone, pushing aside the membrane lining the grey matter that made up his own inner universe. His head felt full of these moons, and they danced in spinning orbits within his head, pinging against the sides of his skull's prison, holding them in place for his darling Adam to investigate when he brought them home. They spun faster as he called them by name, the large mounds of rock responding to his observation, bringing the vast reaches of space into a tamed command.

"Io...Europa...Ganymede...Callisto...Dione...Rhea.."

He tried to open his eyes to get a better look at them, the large, perfectly formed blocks of ice and minerals stunning marbles of reds and blues, as unique as the planets they circled. Space was so cold, he shivered within its black opacity, floating along chunks of ice as the moons drifted past him. So many different shapes and colours, he would have to ask Adam why there was so much variation between them, it was the kind of question he would find interesting, and though the reply would be eager and overly detailed, Nigel knew he would get the gist of it. He would simply float along their orbits with his little spaceman and kiss him while the heels of their feet nicked the rings of Saturn.

It took a great deal of effort to open his eyes, and he blinked in confusion at the bright, white moon staring back into his face, and lucidity gave him the disappointed shock of realizing this was simply a spotlight shining down on him. He was still cold and shivering, as though his body was waking from trauma, a feeling that inched its way towards panic as his consciousness returned and he still wasn't able to move his limbs. With a confused sort of relief he saw that he was shackled to a chair, in much the same manner as the GSF officers he'd found in the bunker, and while this should have concerned him, Nigel was at least grateful he was in a far cleaner room than that wet pit, one with metal walls and a large drain in its centre. It was definitely a kill room, a place to properly be shredded. He wondered if this was where Mason Verger met his end, and figured such an intimate stage was the exact sort of place Dr. Lecter and Will Graham would use for carnage. After all, clean up would be easy enough, a good hose down of the walls and filtering of the larger chunks of flesh so they didn't clog up the drain. A well thought out theatre of homicide, just the sort a surgeon might use. He imagined it's original purpose was a walk in freezer, the temperature dipped low enough to make his bare arms pucker into gooseflesh and smart against the frosty air within. It was the same size as the pits, five feet by five feet. He wondered why Dr. Lecter would need to keep that much meat in storage.

He was still trying to focus, the metal walls bending and slipping into melted lava as he forced his eyes open and tried to get a better look at the small, freezing, antiseptic surroundings. He was handcuffed to a chair, as were his ankles, and between this and the drugs still coursing through his system, it was impossible to move. The Chesapeake Ripper was set to create yet another of his overdone masterpieces of rendered flesh using Nigel's miserable, nicotine poisoned body as the material for his art. He wondered what kind of story was going to be told at Nigel's expense, and he figured it would be one of misplaced longing, of discovering that which you believed to be of worth to suddenly be garbage. It was what Nigel would have created of himself at this point. What was Adam going to make of it, he wondered, and the thought of Adam being exposed to that kind of narcissistic evil tore at Nigel's heart and he fought against his bindings, even though he knew it was useless. His poor little spaceman, he loved him so much. Adam would be destroyed by this. How could that bastard do that to him?

He swallowed, his throat dry. He was going to die here, he knew, he was not going to keep his promise after all, and he was going to leave his spaceman angel alone to travel the galaxies without him. The sadness of this hit Nigel with far more force than any torture the fucking Chesapeake Ripper was set to inflict, and with a stubbornness that made him tougher than every criminal he'd ever met, he inwardly promised he would not shed one tear for that sick prick's benefit. He would hold his head high and face the death that was waiting for him with his eyes wide open and his pride fully intact. He would suffer for Adam. He would find a way to let him know his last thoughts were of him and the Chesapeake Ripper could kiss Nigel's glorious ass, that's right, lick my fucking hole you sick, sorry bitch.

It was no surprise to find the outline of said monster seated across from him in the steel gloom, stock still and waiting with predator patience. As Nigel's consciousness gradually returned, Dr. Hannibal Lecter remained seated with his hands primly folded on his lap. He was even more formally dressed than he had been at dinner, the slight iridescence of his suit reminding Nigel of the body of a bluebottle fly. Beauty hinting at decay and death. His posture was, as usual, comprised of that stubborn graceful elegance that spoke of dark forest nights and careful steps made beneath moonlight. His slender neck was covered in what Nigel assumed was bonding silk, a herringbone pattern woven along the length of his throat and ending in a french knot at the base at its centre. The inference to knotting was clear, if not old fashioned.

Though near frozen, Nigel had muscle control enough to sneer at him, his chapped lips dry and cracked, the taste of blood slipping onto his tongue. Come on you, fucker, why waste your time staring when it's clear you've got a taste for some good old fashioned torture and murder? I'm so sorry, my darling angel. Fuck this devil and all his fucking army.

"A l-little overdressed for s-surgery, aren't you?" Nigel said, and his voice was a gravel croak that echoed in the empty, metallic space. "If you are going to c-cut out my heart, you of all people should be s-smart enough to roll up your s-sleeves. I'm a f-fucking b-bleeder, and I'll make it a point to s-soak that expensive, fancy suit of y-yours, you son of a bitch! You w-want to f-fucking kill me? Slice an artery and get y-yourself a f-fucking glass, you m-might as w-well drink up y-you evil strigoi!"

His anger echoed against the metal of the sparse room, cold air assaulting him as he shook, muscles freezing as he remained immobilized in his chair. Though he was underdressed for the sub zero temperature himself, Dr. Lecter remained unperturbed by it, as though he was long used to this sort of exposure. He was stoic in the face of Nigel's outburst and, much to Nigel's disgust, that same, calm smile crept across his features like a cut slit across his mouth. "It is a shame we must have such an uncomfortable conversation, but it is one that I have been longing to have since I have been told about you."

"I'm n-not in the m-mood to talk."

"This won't take long. I have but one question for you, Inspector Nigel Ionescu." Dr. Lecter leaned close, his curled lips inches from Nigel's ear, a whispered request from a demon inching its way inside. "Why are you rescuing Omegas?"

Nigel frowned at this, his sneer deepening. "What the f-fuck k-kind of question is that? I have to, it's my f-fucking j-job."

"No." Lecter sat back, his hands primly clasped once again across his stomach. Nigel could see warm mist escape his lips as he spoke. "You have chosen this profession and you are quite adept at it. This belies a certain passion for your efforts and I wonder where that comes from. You have no discernable religious background from which to be ferreting favour from an omniscient deity. You lack interest in karma and do not seek revenge. You are dogged in your pursuit, unable to relent even when it is in the best interests of those you love and you are willing to throw yourself upon the hoary pyre of self-sacrifice. And yet none will mourn you more than that precious Omega you leave behind. You are leaving suffering in your absence, Nigel, you do understand this. So, I ask again, why are you saving Omegas at such ridiculous risk to yourself and those you profess to care about?"

Nigel frowned at this, Lecter's head cocked to one side as though trying to piece together a complex puzzle that surely had a simple solution, one he couldn't readily identify. Nigel's breath came in unsteady gasps as he shook with shock and cold in the chair, thoughts of his darling spaceman floating amongst moons cutting into his heart more than any blade could dare. Mist surrounded him like smoke, and Nigel had the insane idea that this setting was some sort of dig at his one most obvious vice.

"I r-rescue them b-because no one else will," Nigel said.

Lecter remained impassive at this. "You believe yourself responsible for them. Why?"

"They're v-vulnerable, they're innocent, m-mostly. It makes me sick what h-happens to them, they n-need someone to take c-care of them, to help them..."

"Your wish is to protect them." Lecter's eyes were little pools of black in the steel gloom. Nigel was really feeling the cold now that he was conscious, his knees involuntarily knocking together as his body temperature dropped further. How long had he been waiting here? "Alpha instincts are strong in you, Nigel, but it's odd that you would sacrifice the Omega you already have for strangers."

"For a m-monster like you, m-maybe," Nigel spat back. His teeth chattered, and Nigel grimaced, trying to form his words without stuttering. "I rescued Adam, t-too, or have you f-forgotten that?" He kept his teeth clenched and shied away from the light that was shining so brightly into his eyes--how could Lecter, as an Omega, stand it? Perhaps it was an effect of the drugs he'd been pumped full of, leaving his senses overly attuned. He was so fucking cold, fuck his arms felt like they were being stuck with a million little pins. He hunched his shoulders forward in a vain attempt to warm himself. His fingers were numb, the tips turning blue. The piercing bulb swayed above him, and it took a few moments for Nigel to realize it was the same mining lamp that had been in the bunker. The metal caging the light in was covered in frost.

"I should think after finding your diamond, you wouldn't be hunting for more."

"It's not about that." Nigel tried to move his arms, but they were dead weights, the shackles superfluous. His chest felt heavy, as though bricks were weighted down on them. Every gasp sent a shockwave of unwelcome winter into his lungs. "They s-suffer for n-no reason, it's w-wrong."

"Thus suffering *for* a reason is perfectly acceptable?"

"No, it's just...F-fuck's sake, call it biology, call it w-whatever, I don't like knowing that someone innocent is out there h-hurting, is that so b-beyond your understanding?" Nigel's shoulders shook. "F-for f-fuck's sake, it's t-too d-damn c-cold in here!"

"In my experience with Alphas, yes. It is." Lecter narrowed his maroon gaze on him. "As for this room, you have a hot temper, Nigel, it was important to quell it."

Nigel sighed, wondering just what in the hell this crazy bitch wanted from him. He was trapped in the grip of the Chesapeake Ripper, set to be murdered, no doubt painfully, and this bitch wanted to fucking psychoanalyze his motivations and worse yet talk philosophical bullshit, as if Nigel understood either of them. He cursed, and curled his aching hands into fists.

"So what m-more do you want me to t-tell you? I don't know w-why it f-feels important. It p-probably isn't, but we h-h-have to try and m-make those terrible things m-matter, don't we? Isn't that w-what life is? M-making up shit that m-matters?"

"If you are asking me why suffering must begin and end I was hoping you could explain it better," Lecter coldly said.

Nigel frowned. "I'm n-not the one you sh-should have asked."

"What do you mean?"

"I m-mean I'm n-not the one studying the nature of the f-f-fucking universe every f-fucking minute of the day, am I?"

Lecter cocked his head at this, curious. "I have no intention of bringing my dear child into this."

So, back to that. Fucking weirdo. "You already h-have, you sick f-fuck, and you aren't to l-lay a f-finger on him, do you understand? He's n-not the b-b-baby you lost, that's a theory you've m-made up in your head, it's a c-connection that d-doesn't exist."

"So you say."

" Adam is thirty f-four years old, your b-baby died twenty-two years ago, do the f-fucking m-math, you're ten years off you f-fucking lunatic!"

Dr. Lecter crossed his legs at this and let out a long suffering sigh, as though he was explaining something of vast importance and complexity to a dull dog. Nigel couldn't understand this reasoning, he made this connection during a knotting high of all things, and for fuck's sake, it's not like Adam didn't have different parents, just how in the hell was this bitch believing in this lie he told himself?

"I don't expect you to understand the mutable, changeable fabric that is reality, Nigel. Adam is my child. I don't expect you to understand how or why, it is enough that I know it. This is a lesson of physics, not one of small minded reasoning."

"Just f-fucking listen, I'm t-telling you what I understand to be t-true. When Adam t-talks about space...Every s-speck of light in the sky is a f-fascination to h-him. He thinks all the t-time, he's so f-fucking h-huge in his h-head, his mind is f-fucking m-monumental and the universe, it's b-billions of times that size. And here w-we are, so small and s-s-stupid and d-doing all we can to h-hurt each other. Those Omegas...I j-just want them to have a ch-chance. I want th-them to b-burn bright, give them back that light that g-got torn out. Is that so w-wrong to y-you? Is that j-just b-being an Alpha b-bastard? I d-don't need your f-f-fucking j-judgement, I do it b-because if I d-didn't the lights would g-go out and all that's l-left is the d-dark and f-f-fuck that shit. Someone has to k-keep them l-lit, you f-fucker. There has to be f-f-fucking h-hope."

He could feel the pain of tears spilling down his cheeks now and he scowled as they froze to his skin, leaving chafed red splotches behind. He hated himself because goddammit he didn't want to be weak in front of this monster. He ground his teeth together tight against the hypothermia, it was making him tired now, and it was hard to focus on much more than the brightness of the light blasting into his eyes. He growled out, "Where the f-fuck are the Omegas?"

Lecter remained calm, so still he could have been carved into place, an ice statue of poise and restraint. "Safe," Lecter assured him. "I rescued them the very night you called Will, when you were still in Romania. There were ninety-seven, not eighty as you had originally thought, and they are now housed in Mainland strongholds, ones that are far from the violence of the Coastline. They were more than happy to assist me in overpowering their captors and rendering a proper punishment. One particularly talented daughter of mine is a heart specialist from Turkey. She was quite good at assisting me in securing the arterial lines from the GSF donors, one had to keep the heart pumping. The donor, of course, was an accountant you had believed was on his way to a Siberian gulag, a Mr. Gregory Masters. He was brought back alive, on pretence of extradition of course, and truly it's amazing how easy it is to transport a mostly unconscious human being on a flight these days, there just isn't that personal touch any more, they churn you in and out of airports, eager to be rid of you. Especially slimy United Main citizens. That particular display originally had Masters corpse propped on the surgical table as well, his chest flayed wide open with the rib cage offering a decorative touch but, sadly, he began to decay due to your delay in arrival. We were concerned the body's rot would affect the continuous life of the heart." He cocked his head at this and regarded Nigel as though he was still a curious object more than a person. "You held that beating heart in your hands. How did it feel to you?"

Nigel frowned, his voice shaking in both rage and hypothermia. "F-Fragile."

Lecter caught his breath at this, his stoicism tested. He clasped his hands tight across his stomach and seemed to brace himself, that old, unbearable hurt still haunting his body.

"You pitied me."

"I know what h-happened to y-you."

"I know nothing of pity!"

Lecter spat with a venom that was unexpectedly vicious. His lower lip trembled as he spoke, fury creeping along his cold facade. "I have an army waiting, Nigel, one that will exact upon this place exactly what it deserves, and I fully intend to express my deepest gratitude to those who volunteer to assist me. You are not to interfere, this is not your fight. It is, however, theirs, no matter how much you may deny this." Lecter held his head high. "Where you see delicate weakness I understand there to be great, enduring strength. The only fragility here, Nigel, is the grip of the Coastline upon archaic values that cause nothing but harm. It must be destroyed."

"S-so you're g-going to s-start a w-war. You d-don't s-see this as overkill, that the wh-whole s-system was g-going to go to sh-shit anyway. You c-could h-have j-just whittled it a-away f-from w-within, started l-lobbies, f-fucking p-protests, it's n-not like the w-world isn't w-watching already and n-now you're going to k-kill more p-people..."

"There was no escaping it, the war is already here. As for death, I am very familiar with its grip." Lecter's eyes glassed over in the near gloom, and Nigel was surprised to note they were black with emotion, devoid of any sense of righteousness. He gave Nigel a careful once over, as though detailing every portion of him into his inward little catalogue and was still fighting to find a category into which he'd fit. "You know what happened to me, all those years ago. You claim to understand that pain."

"I d-don't claim that a-at a-all," Nigel said. He turned away from Lecter's scrutiny, feeling weirdly ashamed beneath it. He was so fucking cold, he felt tired, like he wanted to just curl up into himself and go to sleep. "I'm j-just a w-witness. I just p-pick up all the b-broken p-pieces and hope they c-can f-find a way to not be f-fucked up and smashed any m-more. It d-doesn't w-work that way, though, d-does it?"

Lecter's eyes shimmered black. A flash of red lit an ember inside of him that Nigel was sure came from Hell itself.

"No."

He turned away from Nigel and left his seat, and Nigel was sure this was it, this was the fucking end, the last moments of his existence, he was going to die right now, right this very fucking second. And he put an image of Adam in the forefront of his mind as he clasped his frozen fists tight, the effort stinging with frostbite, and he waited for that scalpel to find its mark at his chest and start carving out his used up, broken heart. Adam, his big blue eyes like twin Earths and his sweet smile and his innocent love for all that the universe revealed to him beyond the pain of their little marble of a prison. Nigel stubbornly reached for him and clung to him with all he had.

But Lecter only paced the length of the cold room, his hand working the button of his suit jacket as he opened it and traced fingers along the inseam. His hands were red, the monster himself finally being affected by the cold.

"When I was a child in Lithuania, I lived in a large, imposing castle that overlooked a small village. The population there thought we were wealthy and I suppose the Lecter name with its royal connotations still held that reputation. But there were cobwebs in most of the rooms and half of one wing was unlivable. We existed in a crumbling empire, old money mostly spent with only a few artefacts left as collateral. It was not an easy life, we were as threadbare as the villagers, just with a loftier view from our version of poverty."

"What is t-this sh-shit?" Nigel asked. "Y-You're telling m-me a f-fucking f-fairy st-story n-now?"

Lecter smiled with an inward fondness, ignoring Nigel's words. "It was my father who taught me to hunt. Meat, food in general, was hard to come by in the village and it was expensive and, as we were royalty and had ample acreage we were free to hunt the grounds at will. I was a small child, only seven years old when one day my father placed a rifle in my hands and bid me to join him. I will never forget the rush of excitement within me when I took down my first deer, nor the exclamation of pride from my father and the warmth of his arms as he held me tight and told me I was a worthy heir to the Lecter legacy. I had a warrior's blood in me, he said. When we brought the deer I had shot home, I did not hesitate to slice its throat after it was hung to bleed it out. I wanted my father to be proud.

I remember my younger sister, Mischa, playing with this hideous, cracked porcelain doll in front of the hearth's fire while my father sat in his wide leather chair by the fireside. He held me curled up in his arms while he talked of ancient battles and wars and the fury of kings. The details of that history are not what is of importance, it was the feel of my father's arms around me, holding out the chill from the encroaching winter. There was no such thing as central heat in that ancient castle, we relied on firewood, and myself the warmth his love afforded. He would smoke cigars as he talked, long thin ones of a make and brand I doubt exists any more. You don't know what that's like, do you, Nigel? That feeling of being warm and secure, the illusion that nothing at all can harm you because you are in the arms of someone so strong and powerful they can snuff out life, a person whose whole existence is dedicated to your future, to your protection."

"My dad was a d-drunk," Nigel chattered, shrugging. Why were they talking about this shit? Just kill me and get it over with, you crazy bitch.

Lecter approached him and crouched down at his knees, his face looking up at Nigel in an unsettling supplication. "You would have saved me. You would have done everything in your power to rescue that injured Omega who had been so cruelly used, you would have killed them all, you would have brought them to slaughter just to make sure I didn't feel afraid. I could have come to you, Nigel Ionescu, and felt that same feeling in your arms that I did so very long ago, a sensation I have never been able to recapture no matter how many times I sink into my dear Will's embrace."

Lecter rose from his knees, his body unfurling in the manner of gently unravelling smoke, a slow ghosting of his nose along Nigel's body, ending with a nostalgic sigh at his neck, poignant longing breathed warm onto Nigel's skin as Lecter deeply scented him.

"You're r-right," Nigel said, swallowing though his throat was so dry it felt like he was downing broken shards of ice. "I w-wouldn't have h-hesitated. I w-would have d-done that for you, if I'd known y-you. We d-do things d-differently in the Eastern Union r-region, f-fuckers like that g-get their p-punishment quickly en-enough. If they h-happen to d-die on their way to Siberia, n-no one cares." Nigel winced as Lecter continued to hover close, his nose close to the pulse of Nigel's neck. "I n-never w-would have l-let you s-suffer like that, I w-would h-have d-done everything in my p-power to keep you s-safe. You must have felt s-so alone. It's no w-wonder you're s-so f-f-f-fucked u-up."

Lecter smiled at this, and lightly caressed Nigel's cheek with the back of his hand, the unexpected heat of his touch making Nigel flinch. "As are you, Nigel."

"Yeah. C-Can't argue th-there."

Lecter continued to scent him and Nigel was frozen, tense and miserable beneath it, the action strangely violating and one he was desperate to cringe away from. The expression on Lecter's face was one of transfixed bliss and Nigel could bear it no longer. "What the f-fuck are you d-doing? Are you f-fucking smelling me? W-Why??"

Lecter closed his eyes and breathed Nigel in deep.

"You smell like my father."

He barely felt the pinprick as it made its mark into the underbelly of his wrist. There was the soft wisp of Lecter's lips on his own, a sharp smile taking back that which he had thought was long abandoned. Nigel fought to stay awake, but the overhead light blasted into a supernova of such brilliance he was plunged headfirst into the heart of a white dwarf.

Somewhere in there, Adam's satellites were spinning along the periphery of the Orion nebula, galaxies so distant from where Nigel found himself he was a grain of desert sand in the Antarctic, he was the last burnt out ember of a comet. He was on a boat, sailing through the wintry debris of the Milky Way, never stopping long enough to get a proper, in depth, look.

~*~

"Sir, would you like a cup of coffee?"

He startled into the question, unable to process it, the young woman staring down at him with a mixture of concern and patience that was not registering into Nigel's reality. He groaned as he wiped his hand across his face, the tiny confines of his seat making him claustrophobic.

"Coffee? What the fuck?"

An elderly woman sitting beside him clucked her disapproval at his foul language and nodded at the stewardess, yes, she would love a cup.

Nigel near jumped from his seat before quickly settling back into it, shocked at the images of clouds outside the tiny window at his elbow. He watched the stewardess amble her way down the aisle of the plane, for he was in the air, that much was clear, his destination a mystery. Was he heading for the United Main or Romania? What the fuck was going on?

"Excuse me," he said to the elderly woman to his left and she was nothing like the sweet Hungarian grandmother who had given him reassuring grasps of his arm in empathy during his first trip. "Where the fuck is this plane going?"

"Sicily," the woman replied, in a clipped, annoyed English accent. She glared at Nigel as though he was a robber set to steal the dusty mints from her purse. "From there, it's a connecting flight to Bucharest, in Romania." She sipped at her coffee leaving coral coloured lipstick on the paper cup. "They reassured you hours ago when they checked your ticket, you kept asking over and over. It's hardly likely you're on the wrong plane. You kept going about how you had to get back to Bucharest, you didn't want to wait."

Sicily, then to Bucharest. He had been tossed on a plane, but how? He had no clue how he'd gotten here, the last he remembered was being drugged in a steel lined room, shivering out his last breath in the cold as Lecter hovered above him in predator purpose, ready to strike.

No...No, that wasn't true. Because the more he thought on it, the more little snippets suddenly erupted into his memory, half formed dreams that had the size and shape of a certain former FBI profiler named Will Graham.

He was alive, somehow, and yet he couldn't remember leaving that small, icy freezer, he could recall nothing of Lecter's actions or voice or even properly regaining consciousness. But he could remember Will Graham, his stance one that Nigel had familiarity with.

He'd been almost bored, that wiry man standing on his front porch, Nigel's glock in hand as he took out the three GSF officers pacing in front of the house, a single bullet between three sets of eyes in quick succession. Will Graham was an excellent shot, and he certainly knew how to wield a gun, a talent he was sure the Omega mate in his midst absolutely adored. He wondered if there would be eye-liner and rounded mounds to both reward and celebrate this victory later.

He remembered rough hands on him, and a gruff voice huffing curses over how heavy and awkward he was in his current, mostly unconscious state. Nigel had been transported into the passenger seat of the GSF van, and it was someone else familiar who had taken control from there on in, a figure that was bulky and booming in his cheer as he began tickling the belly of a happy baby giggling on the front porch.

Jack Crawford. The FBI agent had driven him to the airport.

How deep was the FBI involved in this? Did they know they had crept into bed with the Ripper and he was going to chop their hands clean off if they tried to cop a fucking feel?

"So this is how the story goes, Inspector Nigel Ionescu, of the Politia Romana, went rogue, shot the GSF guards and headed for the warehouses." He turned towards Dr. Lecter, who was holding baby Judith in his arms, her giggling form again tickled by an enamoured Uncle Jack. The bodies of the three GSF bled out on the front steps, blood dripping from one layer to the next in wet splotches onto the white concrete. Nigel's forehead was pressed hard against the passenger window, giving him a good look that he couldn't turn away from no matter how hard he tried to move his muscles.

"The best I could do was a connecting flight, he has a stopover in Sicily before it moves on to Bucharest. You got that script ready for that cop you're going to call?"

Lecter chuckled at this. "Officer Neil Brogan will be more than happy to assist a helpless, distraught Omega nearly caught in the crossfire of an insane inspector from the Romanian police force. You will play your part as well, won't you sweet, little Judith? A baby at my breast and a sense of panic can do wonders when deflecting the investigative attention of a dull Alpha. Don't look at me like that Will, I will not be allowing him to get a grab at them to gentle me, though I'm sure he would love to. He looks the sort who likes a pair of pillows to rest his overly large head on.  As far as being overpowered, I'm sure the bruises you left along the tendons of my neck will suffice enough.  I'm sure Officer Brogan will be quite enraged, Jack, so please ensure he is well on his way, I wouldn't want a squad car showing up at the airport with a homicidal, overly eager police officer ready to take the law into his own hands."

Will was not impressed with this.  "There's no need for you to leave your neck uncovered like this."

"There's nothing like a bit of hinted at violence to temper an Alpha's instincts.  Authenticity is necessary, dear Will.  He does not need to know those bruises occurred from pleasure and not pain."

Dr. Lecter's voice was always clear in his memory, its hypnotic urging breaking through all chemical barriers, the drugs swimming in Nigel's system thick enough to make his plasma shimmer. "I have administered significant amounts of a sedative along with another psychoactive which is referred to colloquially as the zombie cucumber, a Haitian plant known for inducing docile suggestibility. Such an amusing name for such a potent, dangerous drug! It's Latin label, datura stramonium, hardly has the same memorable ring to it. Inspector Ionescu is in a highly suggestible state at present, he will be more mobile by the time you arrive at the airport and getting him onto the plane should not pose a risk, especially since GSF are very eager to get foreign eyes off of United Main soil."

He could hear Will Graham fussing, still arguing over the exposure of Lecter's neck and the annoyance in his voice was irking, as though he'd felt threatened by forces Lecter was imposing on the situation himself.  

"Dear Will, I will hear no further argument, you know the role you are to play, you're supposed to be my inattentive mate." A sincere, affectionate kiss. "Go to the store, as planned, I'll call Officer Brogan about five minutes into your absence. You might as well get some additional ingredients for dinner while you are there, shiitake mushrooms and perhaps some silkie chicken since you are going by the Asian market. Make sure the skin is still on and that it's fresh, it should look quite black. Yes, my dear Will, and watercress, don't forget it."

There was another memory, one disconnected in time from the scenario he had just remembered, where Dr. Lecter's smooth hand had found its way into the side pocket of Nigel's leather jacket, and slid an envelope inside. He was in the white GSF van, then, propped up beside Jack. The passenger window was open. He felt lips on his cheek, and the soft caress of feather light fingers across his brow as the mysterious, oh so delicately sure footed forest creature crept away, back to the front porch drenched in blood. He could hear baby Judith crying, and Dr. Lecter telling her to hush, that Daddy and Uncle Jack would be back soon. Wave bye-bye to the nice man who smells like cigarettes. The van was in motion, and then there were vague snippets, Jack leading him to the passenger loading gate, a helpful airport security guard, a quick ushering into a crowded plane.

Nigel bolted up in his seat, alarming the annoying elderly Englishwoman beside him who offered him up a curse. "You damn near knocked the coffee out me hand!"

"How long have we been on this plane?"

"You're bloody daft, you are, we'll be landing in Sicily in less than twenty minutes, you've been out cold nearly seven hours." She adjusted her glasses on her nose, pushing them up further as she gave him a renewed judgemental glare. "There's something not right about you. You're on the drugs!"

If the way his brain was currently sloshing around in his skull was any indication, she was fucking right. Nigel groaned again, his mouth so dry his tongue was like sandpaper on wood, chunks of sawdust catching in his throat. He coughed roughly into his fist and forced his eyes to remain open, sticky, miserably pained things that they were. Fucking bastards, they'd conned him. Right from the start, pretending all along and watching him sweat, it was all a fucking farce, from Crawford on down. He turned his bleary eye onto the snotty Englishwoman again and begged of her compassion. "Can you please tell the stewardess I need a glass of water?"

"She already came round with the canteen and you didn't want nothing."

"Well, I'm fucking thirsty now."

"Don't use that language on me you little gobshite, serves you right for doing the E. afore you ride a plane, you daft little prick." She began rummaging in the bottom of her purse, pulling out massive wads of tissues before finally finding her prize. "Oi, here, have a glycerin candy, it's for me diabetes but it'll do for you."

He took it from her gratefully, and she kept her rheumy little watery blue eyes on him, judging every crinkle of the wrapper as he shakily took it out of its tiny packaging. He popped it in his mouth, the flood of saccharine orange making him gag.

"I'm visiting family," she said, keeping up a conversation he most definitely didn't want to have. "My sister. She married an Italian police officer, some Inspector Pazzi. Poor thing, really, he doesn't know how expensive her tastes are just yet, but he'll learn when she gets the wandering eye because the diamonds stop dropping. Family. They're right cunts."

Nigel frowned as he patted down the inside of his leather jacket and pulled out the beige linen envelope that Dr. Lecter had tucked there. "You can say that again."

Thankful to see her unpleasant fellow passenger was occupied, the elderly woman put her headphones back on and continued watching the remainder of 'Deadpool'. Nigel shrank in his seat and crouched closer to the window, keeping the envelope secreted. At this point he couldn't trust anyone. He glanced up and down the aisles and, with his paranoia in high gear, he left his seat, annoying his companion yet again as she was forced to take out her earphones and let him out into the aisle. He headed for the washrooms at the front of the plane. He was clumsy, his steps uneven thanks to the drugs in his system and he fought his way up, clutching on the backs of chairs to give him support. By the time he made it to the washroom, he'd earned the elbow bumped ire of everyone in the aisle seats and he could feel their scrutiny on him. It didn't help ease the sense of impending dread still creeping through him.

He went into the tiny washroom and locked the door behind him, sitting on the metal toilet seat as he pulled the envelope out. It was of a heavy sort of paper, similar to linen, expensive and of a high weight count. The paper within it was similar, folded in that exactitude that had Dr. Lecter's fussy imprint all over it.

The script was as careful and as perfect as every move he made, the words upon the page doubly so:

'My dear Nigel,

I am terribly sorry to have put you through this unorthodox methodology in order to arrange our meeting. Making you worry as you did, and sending precious Adam into such a state of panic, it was uncalled for, and I do promise to make it up to you. I must say, you were not quite what I expected, but I am pleased to discover that you have indeed become much more. Like a sampling of post-modern art, you seem simplistic on the surface, and yet there is profound meaning in your messy arrangement of morality and care. You are the screaming popes of Francis Bacon, bringing attention to the rot of that which professes to be infallible. I do enjoy your frank and ugly revelations, they are a refreshing difference to the sidestepping that so many here on the Coastline have deigned to call conversation. They lie to themselves on this shore, as they have done since the United Main became independent two hundred years ago, they feed on that ignorance and perpetuate it. How much easier it is to make money and retain power when no one else is allowed to have it! We live in an unthinking, selfish world, Nigel. I would be remiss not to remind them of that fact. They hate that I expose them. This is the nature of truth, and one must anticipate becoming its martyr.

I had anticipated needing to kill you, but I now believe that would be an unfortunate omission upon this world, for men like you are rare, Nigel Ionescu, and this world so desperately needs you in it. Do tell Adam that I will be in contact with him in future, as I will you. We are family now. Those are bonds tied in permanence.

Yours,

Dr. Hannibal Lecter

PS: The drugs will make you feel a tad paranoid, but only for the first half hour after you regain full consciousness. The effects will diminish quickly once this phase has passed. This is a guideline only, I did have to create a cocktail of pharmaceuticals that may or may not work in the exact capacity I have anticipated. You are a heavy smoker, after all, and nicotine can create adverse affects. Be that as it may, do hurry home to your Omega the minute you set foot on the soil of your beloved Bucharest. I was not lying when I told you Adam is in heat.'

~*~

By the time Nigel arrived in Bucharest, the sun was blasting the sky purple and he still had no idea what day it was or if the sun was setting or rising. At this point, it didn't matter, he needed to get home to his little spaceman and no amount of traffic or highway gridlock was going to stop him. He could feel his breath hitching as the taxi finally made it after cruising for two hours to his shitty neighbourhood and crappy apartment building, the place never so beautiful and blessed, the ugly grey facade sending waves of poignant relief throughout his soul. Nigel paid the cab driver too much money for the frantic ride from the airport to his home, and he dove into the parking lot, past the disturbing graffiti and the image of the tortured Omega, past his beat up Olticit Club, into the elevator and up to his floor and heedless of the sticky coffee that had dried into a black puddle of goop on the elevator tiles. His hands were shaking as he put the various keys into the locks of his apartment, 815B, mixing them up several times before they were summarily opened by someone on the other side, and there, with the door standing wide open and Nigel stepping past the threshold, his darling spaceman, his little angel, his Adam Fucking Raki, staring back at him with bleary, watery blue eyes and a shocked expression as though he was witnessing a fucking mirage.

Oh yes, he could smell it, the delicate flower of his little spaceman angel's suffering, the heat creeping along the sweat of his skin and leaving an unmistakable sweetness in its wake. Nigel tossed off his leather jacket and let it fall to the floor, and stepped out of his shoes and left them in the hall as he wordlessly slammed the front door behind him and paced after Adam, who was slowly backing up down the hall, towards their bedroom. His darling, precious angel was clothed in Nigel's dark blue bathrobe and from what Nigel could gather, nothing else. He'd just showered, no doubt trying to relieve his heat, his poor, sweet little angel, his poor darling, and here he was suffering without his Alpha to take care of him, and dammit, fuck it all, as if Nigel wasn't stripping off his stinking black polo shirt and unzipping the fly of his jeans and yes, they were in the bedroom now. Dear, sweet little spaceman, one tug on that knot on that robe and it all just fell away, didn't it?

And doesn't that feel so good, hands on that taut little body that was tense and yielding all at the same time, and fuck, oh fuck, he was so hard and he just *wanted* so badly, and before he knew it, Nigel was on him, pinning that sweet little spaceman on his back on the mattress, the taste of his skin so delicious on his tongue he could damned well *eat* him.

"N-Nigel..."

"Shh, baby, shh, my darling, I'm doing good things to you right now. Mm, you like it when I do that, don't you?"

"Yes."

"Let me do those things you like, darling. Fuck, you smell so good, you taste so fucking good..."

"I missed you..."

"The stars don't shine without you, darling. Let me, oh, let me, Adam...Let me..."

The scent of slick was thick in the air of the bedroom and Nigel was dizzy with want, sliding so easily into place, the boneless writhing of his mate beneath him answering in need. He was fucking a little flame, his spaceman was so hot, and it felt so good being inside, so, fucking good...

A tiny whine of distress and Nigel released his darling's wrists, kissing them in apology, he was so hungry for him, so very fucking needy, he was sorry, he didn't mean to press him down so hard, and Adam's mouth was half open, and panting, and there he was leaning up and stealing Nigel's mouth into a searching kiss, his frantic hands all over Nigel's back and shoulders, kneading the muscles working hard over him.

And holy fuck, the way he tensed as he came, his hot little spaceman on fire like the last gasp of a comet, legs spread wide and head tossed back on that pillow, his throat making those keening noises that told Nigel yes, yes, he liked this, he missed him, how he loved him, kiss him, kiss him again, touch him, touch him like *that*...and then, a sticky warning on Nigel's stomach and Adam was shuddering in his arms, and fuck, fuck, fuck, he was knotted so tight and deep and fuck, the stars were everywhere now, my darling angel, reach out and grab them and let them burn our fingers right the fuck off...

Then Nigel, weeping into his little spaceman darling angel's neck, crying so hard he couldn't catch his breath, and Adam spent and limp in his arms, lost in the boneless floating space where his knotting took him. "I promised you I was coming back, my darling," Nigel sobbed into his skin. "I love you so much. I promise you, I won't do that again. I won't ever. I fucking love you Adam Fucking Raki. That's the universe pulling us together again, can you feel it, darling? That's the stars and moons and planets dancing only for us." He wrapped him tight in a suffocating embrace, content to never let his darling spaceman go. He was spinning out, spilling into him, a relentless wave after wave of pleasure that Adam's body melted in surrender to. "I keep my promises, my darling. Never again. Just you. Just me. The stars and moons and planets and sky. That's all that matters. There's nothing else at all."

 

 

Chapter Text

THEY CAN SMELL YOUR INTENTIONS
chapter seventeen--epilogue

**six months later**

Nigel was alone in bed, listening to the sounds of running water in the kitchen as Adam began the usual routine of preparing coffee, a mantra of sounds that drifted down the hallway and into the bedroom, lulling him into a sense of security. He could hear the clang of the cutlery drawer as it was opened and closed, the suctioned pop of the refrigerator door as it was rummaged, the sizzle of butter as it hit a hot saucepan. He smiled into the warmth that still lingered on the pillow beside his face, and pulled its softness close to him, and wondered how it was going to be possible to leave the delights still lurking within their bed. It wasn't like he had a lot to look forward to, he had a full day of paperwork to catch up on. While the trip to the United Main had been fruitless, the explanation of what had happened to the trafficked Omegas was now creating political rifts between the Eastern Union and the United Main, and EU politicians were arguing their involvement in the future of the Mainland. Becoming open supporters of the Mainland cause had become a serious debate. United Main politicians were accusing the Eastern Union of supporting guerilla warfare, sending mercenaries to assist in a fight that should have no interest to them. The current Coastline governor, Ralph Hargrove, an Alpha with a Beta wife and two Omega children of his own, propped his family up as a false example of how Coastline families are not the oppressive, sex starved maniacs the rest of the world deemed their population to be. But statistics were not on his side, and his family was clearly the anomaly--Not to mention that his Omega children were not attending a regular school, and were both already being paraded at various high society functions as bondable possibilities to allied members of the elite. There were rumours he was arranging a bonding ceremony for his sixteen year old daughter with a fellow politician almost four times her age. Securing the man's political favour was set to keep Governor Ralph Hargrove as the East Coastline leader for quite some time.

The slimy backdoor workings of the Coastline's elite had nothing to do with Nigel, however, for his job had been to track down and decipher which of the missing Omegas in their system had become mercenaries for the Mainland cause, and it was a difficult task since so many of them had been expert at keeping their plans a secret from friends and family members. He'd poured through endless chat rooms and had his white collar crime department tracing back emails for the past six months, all with the extra responsibilities that are given a Comisar, which put him on the same level as Gorecky. Getting the different departments to talk to one another had been a challenge, and while Nigel was considered an effective leader, there were a few officers who balked at his new rank. Grotzky, his usual troublemaker, was one, and he'd had to give him disciplinary action when the bastard had fucking deleted an email when it was clear it was one of his own cousins who had joined the ranks of what they were now calling the 'Omega Warrior Network', or OWN for short.

There were certain perks to the job, getting out of field work for a while was a big one, and he had to admit he liked not having that added stress on his daily routine. Best to leave the bastard punters to the lower officers to kick off to Siberian gulags, and he'd supervise if there was a case of particular interest. As he lay in bed and contemplated the bumps in his ceiling, he had to admit that things had worked out pretty good for him, in the end. He was happily mated, nice cushy job, even if it did come with some stupid ass headaches, free admission into the Bucharest observatory whenever he wanted to stare at the stars with his darling little spaceman, even overnight. If Nigel was to put a label on it, he'd have to admit that the life he'd been leading for the past six months was mired in the ideal. His raise and Adam's unexpectedly astronomical salary were nice bonuses as well, and it wouldn't be long before they'd be hunting out condos to put in some roots and ordering nice furniture. Going head on into the suburban fuktard nuclear family shit. Not too bad for a miserable bastard who chain smoked and cursed like it was his living.

"Breakfast is ready!"

There it was, that soothing song that healed every ache that dared to haunt the bones of Nigel's tired carcass, that little singsong note of happiness creeping into his being and sealing every hole his soul had left. He grinned at the ceiling and tossed off the covers, and wearing nothing but a pair of worn boxer shorts with burgundy hearts printed on them, Nigel lazily padded down the hall towards their small kitchen.

It was a remarkably sunny morning, the cheer lighting up thick dust that permeated the air around the kitchen table. There was a mug of coffee already waiting at his setting along with the usual scrambled eggs on the cherry blossom plates, the pleasant routine an idyll that made Nigel's heart sing. Adam was digging into his eggs and dipping them in his usual little pile of ketchup on his plate, a brilliant glass of orange juice at his elbow, along with a large textbook on astronomical calculations. Before joining him at the table Nigel dug up yesterday's newspaper out of the recycle bin near the back window, folding it until the article he wanted to read was in a neat, rectangular frame.

Adam didn't look up from his book. "I don't know why you read out of date articles, it's much easier and more practical in terms of immediacy to read the news online. I have already bookmarked several reputable journals for you to follow on your laptop, so if you wish to remain informed they are your best recourse."

Nigel sighed and continued to read the in depth article on the current crisis in the United Main. "It's more a matter of relaxation, darling, and besides, it's what I'm used to. Paper, coffee, scrambled eggs, and you. You were up extra early this morning, that calculus of yours must be bouncing all around in your head."

Adam still didn't look up from his book and finished the last of his eggs before tackling the glass of orange juice. He took a long, grateful gulp before underlining an important note in his book, his pencil carefully, lightly singling the paragraph out. "I've been having some trouble sleeping, my back hurts. It's theoretical physics, not calculus. I hate having to do this to a textbook, I have never before marked up books, but this particular paragraph on the collapsible nature of parallel universes is one of especial interest and I want to make sure the ideas he suggests are clear to me. It was given to me on the recommendation of a colleague and I have to read it since I'm worried not doing so may make him feel as though I am dismissing his interests. The author of the text is highly abstract in his delivery, his diction is very difficult for me to comprehend."

"You have a mind bigger than the universe, darling, if you can't understand what he is saying, it is because he is wrong."

"He won the Nobel prize for determining the quantum aspects of light, Nigel, I hardly think that's true."

Nigel's attention was stolen for a moment by the article in his hand, his lips curling over the edge of his mug as he read it. It felt right tasting the bitterness of coffee as he perused the ongoing conflict that was assailing the Mainland, and it wasn't the first time he'd read that the Coastline was enforcing stricter tariffs on Mainland farms, taking more and more of their produce in the last few months, to the point that the Mainland opposition leader, Jesse Jamison, said, quote, "You are starving us out!"

A portion of the article stood out for Nigel, for it seemed to suggest a certain influence that sent a cold influx along his spine, a little nagging assurance that all he had feared was coming true:

"UNITED MAIN--Louisiana area. 'Serious fighting broke out today between GSF officers and Mainland residents living in the town of Kenner along the border of Lake Ponchurrain in Louisiana. GSF officers at the scene claim that foreign Omega mercenaries incited a riot at the latest Governor Ralph Hargrove press conference in Baton Rouge, sparking renewed concerns that the Eastern Unions have been participating in what Hargrove calls a 'soft' invasion. "These foreign influences upon the interests of United Main citizens are not acceptable, and the Eastern Union has a long history of being in direct opposition to the wishes of the United Main, directly disrespecting our laws and causing direct conflict amongst our people. The Coastline does not appreciate the supposed humanitarian efforts being made to 'rescue' Omegas on our soil and we will do all that is necessary to protect our most vulnerable citizens."

When asked about the current practise of incarcerating unbonded Omega Coastline citizens in GSF facilities as a preventative against such conflicts, and the resulting outcry from Amnesty International and other human rights organizations worldwide, Governor Hargrove was firm. "Omegas are easily influenced and we must protect the interests of the majority. They are as much citizens of the United Main as anyone else, but there is no question the malleability of their perceptions. What they see as imprisonment, we know is protection."

There have been numerous reports of abuses of Omegas in GSF facilities for many years, with some experts in human rights abuses stating that they are designed for oppression. "Citizens of any region should not be afraid of being incarcerated against their will due to their gender. This is an unacceptable act of blatant paranoid misogyny on the part of the Coastline," Salina Sharma, head liaison director of Amnesty International says on the matter. "To put it bluntly, Governor Hargrove's policies on enforced imprisonment of unbonded Omegas is against international law."

There is still a heavy GSF presence in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana area.

Depressing. Nigel was in no mood for it, and he tossed the heavily folded newsprint back into the recycle bin where he'd found it. He finished up his breakfast and picked up his dishes, heading for the sink where Adam was already rinsing off his plate and carefully washing the glass now empty of orange juice. He smelled absolutely delicious, and Nigel couldn't help himself as he slid his own plate into the sudsy water and then, his hands free to do as they pleased as Adam washed up, his slid them up and along Adam's waist, lifting his soft, plaid flannel shirt to smooth his palms along the taut, round belly he had been itching to touch all morning. He kissed the back of Adam's neck, liking the way the Omega sighed into it and melted against him.

"Do you have any appointments today?" Nigel asked. Mm, so sweet, his skin was brimming with hormones, always with that delicate scent that drove Nigel wild. He buried his chin in the softness of Adam's dark hair and closed his eyes, his hands still splayed wide across Adam's bared stomach. Adam placed his own sudsy hands over Nigel's own and bent his neck, allowing a proprietary kiss onto his sugary flesh.

"Just one, I have to get another ultrasound and you know how much I hate those. Dr. Svaytoslav wants me to go in three times a week now to monitor developmental progress, and I keep telling her I feel fine, but she insists this has to be done. I hate the feel of that gel on my skin, it's so cold and gooey and gross, and then there's always a different nurse and that stupid ultrasound wand feels like it's pressing too hard. At least I'm male, so I don't have to have a full bladder and hold my pee like female Omegas do, but it's still very irritating. Why am I getting so many of them? She would tell me if there was something wrong, wouldn't she?"

Nigel kissed the outline of Adam's ear and buried his face in the softness of his hair, breathing him in deep and getting dizzy from the onslaught of pleasure such an act gave him. "You are fine, baby is fine," Nigel kissed into his scalp. "You know as well as I do that she is just being careful, my darling. Omegas always have trouble with this sort of thing, and males especially. I am frankly relieved she's taking such good precautions," He didn't mention the fear that gripped him at night, giving him nightmares he didn't want to court in his waking memory. He would never tell Adam of the secret phone calls he had given Dr. Svyatoslav while he was at the precinct and Adam was at the observatory, begging for reassurance that both he and the growing child within him were both in good health. Inspector Dula had a terrible time during his last couple of months and Adam was quickly approaching that fateful date in his own gestation, and there was no fucking way that Nigel was taking any chances. He'd ordered the ultrasounds himself. Just to be damned fucking sure.

"It just seems excessive," Adam pouted.

Nigel let his hands wander a little further up and Adam didn't protest as he curiously explored the pert flesh that was beginning to take shape. He wasn't a creeper loser copping a sexualized feel like Will Graham, it was more like a journey discovering the fascinating changes happening to Adam's body, which had become a softer terrain than he was used to. His hair was thicker, silkier in texture than before. His skin, flushed with hormones, tasted gorgeously sweet, like he did when he was in heat, spun sugar on Nigel's tongue. Sex had to be enjoyed carefully, no knotting for one, and as was common in male Omegas, arousal was limited to the female portion of his body, a fact that Adam found irritating, and he complained of his orgasms being highly anti-climatic as a result. Nigel didn't mind, there was plenty to enjoy when it came to his little spaceman angel and it wasn't like Adam wasn't adventurous when he dove beneath the sheets of their bed and made sure Nigel knew that certain explorations went both ways.

His body was getting bulkier now, and he often caught Adam pressing his hand against his back, easing the tension he found there. Nigel made a point to keep him warm and cuddled close to him, especially these freezing winter nights when the wind whipped across the corner of their apartment and froze the windows shut. Adam said for Christmas they should plan on having non-traditional fare, as turkey, gravy, potatoes, etc., all of that made him feel sick and there was no way he was going to expose their unborn child to the horrors that were cranberries. Nigel had no idea where this hatred of a traditional United Main holiday meal came from, but he assured him there would be no such things gracing their table, a true Romany Christmas at Darko's home complete with a trip to the farm a week earlier to butcher a pig and ample amounts of sarmale afterwards was set to be their destiny and for some reason this did not suit Adam either.

"The dissipation of a supernova remnant occurs as long afterwards as 10,000 years. The Crab Nebula is still the brightest, though it is not the oldest,that one is called IC 433 and is believed to be 60,000 years old. Its traces are faint but still readable. It must have had quite a burst of energy for it to still remain detectable, a substantial feat even by supernova standards. Nigel, I wonder about the future, about our child and how we will fit together in its life. I am worried I won't be an adequate parent, I don't have the nurturing ability within me that both you and Dr. Lecter seem to possess in abundance." Adam flashed wide, blue eyes at Nigel, glassy with tears as he swallowed back his emotion, his movements uncertain as he backed away from the sink and fully into Nigel's arms. "I'm very frightened, Nigel. So many things can go wrong, both before and after, and I wasn't expecting any of this just yet, I haven't had time to adjust and..."

"You will be perfect, my angel."

"I won't! I'll be annoyed when it cries, I won't be able to hold it right, I won't be able to change its diaper, I won't know how to show it love, I...I'm scared, Nigel. Why am I having so many ultrasounds? What if something goes wrong when I'm having it? Male Omegas have very fragile systems and though they have had children throughout history, and quite frequently, they tend to be much weaker in constitution than female Omegas and..."

Nigel hushed him with a firm kiss on his lips and Adam turned his head away, his panic subsiding as Nigel gentled the back of his neck in long, pressured motions of his palm. "You will both be fine, my darling angel. How can you say you aren't sure you will love this child? So worried for the little imp already! For fuck's sake, darling, if you didn't care, you wouldn't be in such a state, what kinds of things you think!"

It was already an old argument, one that Nigel had been able to deflect right from the beginning, though it did create a certain unease within himself, too. He had no idea what kind of father he was going to be, he had practice with Micah and with Dr. Lecter's little tadpole, Judith, but as for himself, he hoped he could cope with the long stretch of worries and panics that were to come. He doubted anyone was truly prepared for a child, and when it came down to it, you just let nature take over. We all fucking survived somehow, though maybe thriving would be a better goal.

"Dr. Lecter said he will be here next Monday," Adam said, and that worried frown returned and Nigel couldn't kiss it away this time. "He talks to me on Skype all the time, he has promised. He says there is something of importance he has to do here."

Nigel felt a familiar chill wind through him at this, and he pulled away from Adam slightly, a deep sigh escaping his chest. "That bitch never gets the hint. He's not welcome here."

"He insists on being here for Christmas. He is bringing Will and Judith with him." Adam broke free of Nigel's embrace, his hands slipping down onto the start of his hips as he turned to face Nigel. "You told me he is very dangerous, that I shouldn't talk to him, that he thinks I am his child who died. I have tried to make him understand the errors of his calculations, that the physics theories he is relying upon for this strange hypothesis are not based on fact but on his delusion. He will not hear me, Nigel. You don't seem worried that he'll show up on our doorstep. Why?"

Nigel shrugged. "He is an Omega as is baby Judith, and it's not like he can mask their Omegan scents with Alpha hormones, you can't pump a baby full of that poison and I know he won't do that to Judith. How is he going to get on a plane, my darling spaceman angel? The GSF barely let me through just for having knotted you, and I was an Alpha alone. They are in the midst of a civil war at this point and I can guarantee it is very difficult for him to move around anywhere other than towards the Mainland. He cannot come here, it is yet another fantasy."

"He sounds so certain," Adam said, and that adorable little worry mark between his eyes pressed a tight line across his pale skin. Nigel couldn't stop himself from smiling at it and kissing it.

"I am certain we are safe," Nigel said, and gave his darling angel a pat on his ass before enclosing him in a renewed embrace. Ah, how precious he was, this little spaceman who melted at every touch and worried and fretted over such inconsequential things! He was going to be a beautiful and attentive mother, perhaps even overly so, for he knew the second that baby was plunked into Adam's arms he would fall in love as Nigel already had from the ultrasound images alone. Everything had been arranged already for their infant treasure's arrival, the living room cleared of all ashtrays and electronics and Marvel comics porn, the darkness replaced with pastel hues and soft baby furnishings and a delightful, white crib that cost Nigel half his damned paycheque. Anything for his little family growing between them.

"Dr. Lecter feels that our apartment is far too small and not adequate for the needs of our growing family."

"Dr. Lecter can mind his own fucking business."

"He has a point, Nigel, this is only a one bedroom space, though I am very reluctant to leave it, I am used to it here." Adam wrung his hands nervously and Nigel clasped his own around them, bringing his shaky little fists to his lips to kiss them and their protracted worry away.

"What if he comes here, Nigel? He keeps saying we are family."

"You should not be talking to him, my darling, he only worries you, and it's not like you are one of his warrior crazies heading off to behead the fucking cocksucking Alpha elite, you have said it yourself, he is just talking to you because of delusion."

"But we are family, Nigel, Will Graham is my cousin and that makes Judith my second cousin, and as his bonded partner, Dr. Lecter is also my cousin by marriage. I can't not talk to him, that would be very rude, and besides, no matter his elaborate methodologies and the crimes he has committed which are in actuality more in alignment with acts of war, he does seem to express a very real sort of care for both of us. And it is a vast difference between speaking to a person face to face and putting an ocean's worth of a barrier. If you aren't worried he will come here as he so blithely promises, why are you telling me to stop talking to him? I should think that would incite him to become angry, and I do not wish to do that."

"No," Nigel darkly agreed. "I don't suppose you should."

There was a knock at their front door and Nigel audibly cursed, an exclamation that made Adam pout and point at a small jar on the kitchen counter, its contents nearly spilling with silver coins. "Swear jar."

"Fuck's sake, darling,"

"Now you have to double the penalty, you can't swear like that when the baby is born, Nigel, you know I am merely trying to get you used to it. You have been very good with the cigarettes, however, and I applaud your efforts in that regard, though you do understand that even the balcony will be off limits once the baby is born, the door leads right into the nursery and you will be bringing your used smoke with you when you come back in. Besides, it's winter, that door shouldn't be constantly opened and closed with a baby near it, you will make it uncomfortable."

"I'm not going to give the baby pneumonia," Nigel said, shaking his head. He grabbed a housecoat he had left on the back of his chair at the breakfast nook and slid it on as he headed for the door, the knocking more insistent now. "I'm coming, Darko, hold onto your fucking dick, for fuck's sake! I know, darling, I know, swear jar, lots of silver coins to drop in it this morning."

"You don't get pneumonia from a draft, that is a myth," Adam said, his speech clipped. "Pneumonia is caused by a virus."

He tied the belt of the housecoat loosely around his waist and had to wonder what it was that had Darko haunting his door at this early an hour. The Oltcit Club had finally met its maker, stranding him on a cold section of highway on the way home from the precinct and he was lucky Adam hadn't been with him. While he waited for his newly purchased Volkswagen to roll off of the assembly line, Darko was giving him lifts to the precinct.

But it was not Darko who was at his door when he opened it, and Nigel stared down at the small, demure young woman, who couldn't have been a day over twenty-two, staring back up at him with brilliant blue eyes, long brown hair cascading over her shoulders and freckles lining the bridge of her nose and along her ruddy cheeks. She gave him a cherub's smile and for some reason he couldn't quite decipher he flinched at it, as though this little sampling of innocence was a tool she used to cut people with.

"Can I help you?"

"Is this the home of Adam Raki?"

"Yes. Are you from the observatory?"

"No." She waited as though expecting an answer to this and frowned slightly, her innocence beaming across her confusion. "I believe he is related to Will Graham? Who is bonded to the Omega Dr. Hannibal Lecter?" She peered past Nigel and into his apartment, as though wishing to gain purchase within it. "Is Dr. Lecter here?"

A frozen, unwelcome hand clutched around Nigel's heart and he could feel the shine of a light burning into the back of his skull, the cold so cloying it crept away from memory and along his skin. Nigel shivered as he narrowed his gaze at her. "Why would you think that?"

She took off her long scarf and began folding it in her grip, the toes of her heeled black leather boots already finding their way into his apartment, and since she certainly looked harmless enough Nigel dared to step back and allow her some purchase into his home. But he didn't allow her all the way in, and there was no invitation given. A superstitious thought of *strigoi* assailed him as he looked on her, noting strange familiarities within her mannerisms.

Time to be fucking blunt. "Who are you?"

She flashed him another pleasant smile, but not before taking in every inch of his apartment that she could with her big, darting blue eyes. "I'm Abigail Hobbs. Are you sure he isn't here?"

"Unless he's fucking figured out how to become invisible, no, he is not and he will never be. What do you want with him?"

Abigail gave him a smile that he felt was wholly disingenuous. Adam poked his head out from the kitchen and gave them both a curious look, and the young woman named Abigail gave him a friendly wave, which Adam didn't return. "I can wait. His taxi must be held up in traffic. I can sit in the living room. He texted me earlier and told me he was on his way, the plane landed about half an hour ago, so I'm probably too early."

Adam let out a small, choked cry in the background and all Nigel could hear screaming in his head was No! No! No!

Nigel felt sick.

Sick fucking, shit fuck sick.

"What did you say?" Nigel gave Adam's stricken face a helpless look, and Adam stood stock still in the hallway of their kitchen, unable to move. "That can't possibly be true. Who are you and why are you here? And there's nowhere for you to sit, that is the nursery, the only thing for you is the kitchen and there's only two chairs. What do you mean to say he is coming here?"

She happily shrugged. "He just said that if I wanted to meet him I had to come to this address in Romania at this date. You must be Adam." She waved to Adam again and he kept his nervous hands busy with a dishtowel he kept twisting in them. "Dr. Lecter has told me so much about you."

"He has said nothing to me about you," Adam said and he was clearly annoyed. "I talk to him fairly regularly and this is the first I've heard of you." He flashed his worry onto Nigel. "I warned you this was going to happen, he did promise to come. I don't know where he and Will and baby Judith are going to sleep, and now there's a fourth guest? This is a disaster, Nigel, he is going to be incensed at how we live here!"

But Nigel had more serious concerns. "What is going on?" Nigel stood in front of her, barring her further entry into their apartment, his arms crossed over his chest. "If Dr. Lecter is on his way, just who the fuck are you to him?"

"Swear jar," Adam muttered and he ducked his head when Nigel gave him an exasperated look.

"He says Adam is his child," Abigail said, and she pushed past Nigel and into their hallway, fully in their home now. He didn't like her fake innocence or her overly cheerful smile or the way her eyes took in everything and calculated over it as though she was cataloguing every item within his crappy space. "But that's not true."

"Well aren't you the fucking Sherlock."

"I'm his daughter."

Nigel rolled his eyes at this and felt a small measure of relief. Aha, another one of *those*. There had been a few of them since his return, strange young Omegas full of fight and seeking him out for contact or on instructions from Dr. Lecter to check up on his precious relations and ensure they weren't wanting for a thing. Nigel never let them in, and he chided himself for allowing this one into his home this far. "Shouldn't you be heading to the United Main, then? That's where all of his little OWNs are going, you aren't exactly unique."

"Oh. You misunderstood me."

She kept smiling and and for reasons he couldn't quite understand Nigel imagined her as a rattlesnake hiding beneath a shaded rock, only shaking its tail long enough before it lashed out and struck before its prey could get away.

"He doesn't know."

She shrugged into Nigel's confusion and pulled out a large manila envelope and handed it to him. "DNA results. I've been searching for my birth parents for a long time and now that I'm twenty-two the records were transferred into my custody. He's definitely the maternal donor. Shall I wait in the kitchen? I could really use a cup of coffee, preferably drip, I've been in Bucharest a week and all they seem to serve up in the cafes around here is espresso. I can't stand those tiny cups."

Nigel's grip on the manila envelope shook, and he stared after the young woman who called herself Abigail. This wasn't happening, Dr. Lecter couldn't be coming to his home. There was a showdown of massive proportions about to explode within the tiny confines of his apartment.

"This is impossible, that baby died," Nigel said.

Abigail flicked a long lock of her dark hair over her shoulder as she walked into the kitchen, her steps as careful and graceful as a deer's, the hidden forest within her in perfect tune with the genes that had created her. Nigel held his breath, and he didn't have to open up the envelope to know that, somehow, Abigail Hobbs was not lying.

"My adoptive father, Garrett Jacob Hobbs, died last year. He had cancer of the bowel and he went septic. It was an ugly way to go. He worked at John Hopkins Hospital in their janitorial department. He used to pride himself on how he'd clean the place from the ground up, and was the only one who ever tidied up the abandoned section of the hospital basement.

The truth was, he used to go down there to smoke weed. And twenty-two years ago he found something in the trash can of a washroom that had long gone into disuse.

Twenty-two years ago, he found me."

Nigel frowned at this. "How is that even possible?"

"He said I was a preemie. Only a few pounds, and it was likely whoever had miscarried thought that I had died. I only started crying when he dared to pick me up. His wife, my adoptive mother, she was an RN. She knew what to do when he brought me home. And since I was thrown away they figured they had every right to keep me." Abigail paced towards the kitchen, her head turned over her shoulder, dark hair cascading in a gentle rush against her slender back. "I'm here to ask why I was tossed aside like garbage. I have a right to know, don't you think?"

Nigel's voice was firm. "That was not Dr. Lecter's doing, I can assure you of that. He did not commit that crime. You were stolen from him, by some very evil men who are now dead. There is no vengeance to enact here, little girl. What you are going to do is rip apart a wound that won't heal and make it even bigger."

She cocked her head to one side, staring at him in a playful challenge. "Are you going to stop me?"

Adam opened and closed his mouth, and Nigel bid him not to say a word.

This was no simple girl, just as Dr. Lecter was no simple Omega with an Alpha complex.  Every facet of her screamed in alliance with the steady thrumming of her furious ancestral blood within her and Nigel could tell, there was no mistaking it, she could just as easily slit a throat as caress it.

Mama's little baby keeps a fucking switchblade in her purse.

"No."

How carefully we all make plans thinking they are based on hurts that go beyond our reach, that somehow our vengeance is forever justified. But the universe has its own way of healing things, and as his darling Adam already knew from his own study of the heavens, it was unwise to tempt the motion of its pattern. Lunar landings could become fiery graves. A ship could veer off course and head into deep space, lives lost to the infinite. The soil of Mars is too alkaline for sustaining life. The vast reaches of the universe do not want you to tamper with the past, those images are already long gone and all we are left with now are the ghosts of a God's fingerprints.

So, the fucking bitch was coming here, was he? Playing the mother-in-law to his darling Adam's needs and meddling in all of their future plans. But the universe was on Adam's side, he held the reigns in Heaven, and all of Lecter's Earthbound dreams were set to explode along a neutron star as the unravelling of what he'd thought was an image of the past was shown to be imperfect.

Nigel couldn't help himself.

He fucking *laughed*.

Dr. Lecter, despite all of what he believed, was about to get the shock of his life. 

~END~