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It was like emerging from behind a curtain. Those thick, blood red theatre curtains.

Let there be light Negan thought in amusement as he squinted against the light streaming through the forest.

There was a man, frozen half way through a movement - half crouching and across from him, staring. For a split second the blue of his eyes seemed ethereal.

Negan blinked.

He didn't even see the guy move. Only next thing he knew he was flat on his back with a knife to his throat. The man's heavy weight settled on top of him.

"Look Buddy - " he began, only to feel the bite of the knife.

The man's hands were trembling on his collar. He seemed out of sorts, rabid almost, and sick. Negan slid a hand up the man's arm.

"Are you okay?" He asked, and of course the man didn't answer. Negan didn't even know if he could speak. He didn't see Negan coming.

It was laughably easy to disarm him.

"How could you?" The man spit out, muddled and nearly intelligible - voice cracking, and Negan got a feeling he wasn't talking about taking the knife.

Then, the man started to cry.

"Look, buddy," Negan started again, "I don't know who you are but just - "

Negan patted him awkwardly on the back.

Those words seemed to cut through to him.

"What?" he croaked out.

"I don't know who you are. I don't - I don't even know who the fuck I am come to think about it."

The man retreated from him at that, sat down heavily in the dirt and balled his eyes out.

 

 

Later, when the man gets up - and he crawls a little bit, until he finds the energy to get on his hands and knees, and then finds a tree to drag himself upright - Negan follows.

Because that shit can't be safe. The man is drained, can barely walk, so where the fuck does he think he's going?

"Hey," Negan puts a hand on the man's arm, gets a baleful glance. "You don't look so good. Let me take you where you're going alright?"

He should probably be worrying about his own self. Only watching the man cry in the dirt for the better part of an hour has upended his priorities.

"Leave me alone Negan." The man says, in the sweetest fucking Georgian accent Negan has ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

"Negan? Is that my name? Fuuuck that's lame." He's trying to get a smile, something, but he gets nothing. "What's your name?"

He resists the urge to tack on - 'Pretty boy' or 'Scruffy mcstubble'.

"You don't even remember!" The man bites out harshly, looks like he's going to dissolve in tears again. He hunches over and presses his hand into his eyes. Negan brings a hand up to rub soothing circles on his back.

"You don't have to tell me."

He doesn't. Instead he shrugs Negan's hand off tiredly and fumbles in a seemingly random direction. They're in the woods.

They should probably be looking for water and shelter. Negan belatedly notices the canteen strapped to the man. Notices he has nothing.

When the man is able to rustle up any bit of extra energy - which isn't often - he tries to shoo Negan away.

It's not smart to leave. For his own self but also for the man who collapses when he's too exhausted to continue. Whose steps have been slowing and faltering for a while.

It's not a particularly cold night. Negan beds them down next to each other.

The man cries and whimpers in his sleep. Negan tries to soothe him, runs his hand down the man's arm until the noises peter out.

 

 

For the next week, every time Negan turns around the man is trying to leave him.

The walkers are a fucking surprise and Negan has had to pull the man out of the clutches of more than one of them. It's disconcerting and Negan doesn't like it.

"Listen," Negan walks him backwards until the man's pressed against a tree trunk, he's nearly snarling because of the near miss. "You are not fucking allowed to leave my sight, Mister Fucking Deathwish. You don't get to check the fuck out whenever you want. I mean - fuck - what about the people that are looking for you."

There is no doubt in Negan's mind someone is looking for the man. He knows if he were missing this man he'd launch a nationwide search.

He doesn't like the bitter laugh that leaves the man's mouth.

He's been gaining his energy back and with each passing day he's able to focus more of it on becoming poisonous.

"No one's looking for me." He spits out and pushes Negan away, laughs shortly again.

It makes Negan so angry that when he pushes him back up against the tree it winds the man. His eyes go wide like he's startled and then it looks like he's going to start crying. Again.

Negan smoothes a hand down the man's arm in apology.

"No one's looking for me either. I don't want you dead."

He leaves it at that. The man stares after him, and after a moment he's able to swallow his tears down.

Negan almost doesn't catch the words whispered under the man's breath.

"Everyone is looking for you I'll bet."

He takes in the man, takes in himself and thinks there's no justice in the world if that's true.

 

 

Of course he's attracted to the man. His fantasies are mainly hedonistic - based on sensation. Like what would it feel like to run his rough palm up the inside of the man's smooth thigh. Would he be smooth? What would it feel like to press their mouths together? The man's lips are wind burnt and would probably be softly chapped.

He sticks solely to the nearly metaphorical stuff. He knows if he starts thinking about his dick he might be in danger of pulling something.

The man isn't in any state for that, Negan guesses.

 

 

Negan just takes whatever poison the man has rustled up until he runs out of energy. He usually winds his arm around him, all friendly like, after until the man shakes him off.

He thinks seriously about the fact that they must have known each other before. If they had then it's a wonder he hadn't tried anything. Maybe the man has a family. There must have been some reason Negan kept his paws off of him.

Or if could be that they've only just met.

He likes the man, despite his sulking and his brief moments of spitting poison.

One day, when a walker nearly gets Negan and the man looks down on him afterward- stone faced - is when Negan gets it.

The man wishes he were dead.

It smarts, a little. The man must see it on his face because his own expression melts into something like guilt.

"i-it's not your fault." The man says, "You don't remember."

And if there's something he can remember that will explain that - Negan doesn't want to.

He realizes, and it's supremely unsettling, that they must have a history.

 

 

It's like the man looks at him and remembers that same moment every time afterward.

The man has to consciously loosen up - Negan can see the decision process laid out all over his face. He makes more of an effort. Negan's been hunting until now - and he's been doing a piss poor job of it until the man joins in.

When they take down a deer together, Negan very nearly catches a smile. It's the smallest curl of the man's mouth - before it crumbles into something like grief, something uneasy. Negan still counts it.

Instead of little shards of poison the man is slipping him little shards of warmth.

Negan doesn't ask about the past, because frankly - he's afraid.

 

 

They get continuously closer. Negan still does all the things he's always done - soothe the man while he sleeps, track the man with his eyes to pull him out of danger if needed, provide for him, keep him safe. Now though, the man does things for him too. He adjusts Negan's backpack straps and picks out clothes for him when they cross a good place to scavenge, he cooks for him and lays out their bedrolls.

Negan lingers once on a leather jacket, comes back with red gloves and -

The man's eyes have something in them like pain.

"Red doesn't look good on you." He says. He tells him the jacket will be too hot.

Negan doesn't pick out anything again. He's starting to get an inkling that whoever he was before - and did he cause that pain in the man's eyes? - is not so different from who he is now.

He doesn't want the man to see that, as much as possible.

 

 

He wonders what the man looks like outside of the throes of grief. Grief - that's what it is - now Negan is sure of it.

 

 

"You almost died." The man cries out thickly, tears and snot everywhere.

"I had to make sure you were safe." He feels bad for evoking such a reaction, but there's something else too. A prideful satisfaction at being wanted and a dark hunger that rears it's head at the desperate picture the man makes.

"I thought you were dead."

He runs a hand down the man's arm - a familiar gesture by now. The man turns into him, rests his head against Negan's collarbone so Negan can feel every hitching breath.

"It's okay, baby." He soothes, runs a hand through the man's tangled curls. He tilts the man's head back so he's looking up at him.

He wants to kiss him.

Instead he pats his head, pulls away before throwing an arm over the man's shoulder and leading him along.

 

 

One night, the man snuggles against him extra hard.

Negan's initially asleep but wakes quickly, thinks sleepily that the man is having another nightmare, probably about the ever elusive Carl - whoever that is. He's pressing a quick kiss to the man's brow before he even realizes what he's doing. When he does he pulls away quickly.

The man's already awake, watching him. They stare at each other for a minute until Negan startles into the revelation that he isn't saying no. He looks to be waiting.

Negan leans down to press another chaste kiss to his jaw.

He still doesn't stop him.

Emboldened Negan kisses his way along the bared throat, across the man's collar bone, down his arm and all along his hand. Then afterwards, everywhere else that's uncovered.

The kisses make the man breathe a little heavier, become a little more agitated the longer they go on.

"We should stop." Negan stays, voice gravel to his own ears.

He's hard pressed to think of a good reason why they should though.

"I've never...with a man." The man says, and Negan thinks belatedly there it is.

It rules out a lot of possibilities Negan hasn't let himself think about. He wasn't a callous asshole who seduced him for a one night stand only to throw him away the next day. He wasn't an abusive lover who smacked the man around just to see that deliciously wounded look on his face. He wasn't some kind of opportunistic rapist. Best of all, Carl isn't Rick's lover.

Negan is keyed up, can't help it. But he pulls away.

 

 

He's sweet on him. Thinks it shows in his behaviour until he realizes it doesn't. Until the man looks up at him awkwardly at the end of the day and says his piece.

"About last night. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. Just forget it ever happened."

He doesn't want to forget.

Realizes the problem is that he's always been sweet on the man and wonders if it was like that before. If, the reason he never made a move, was that this terrifying and beautiful man paralyzed him.

 

 

The next time it happens in the night, he loosens his restraint. He admits to himself he wants to make it impossible to just forget it ever happened.

It's much like the last time, only he gets the man's clothes off. Kisses him slowly, everywhere, wants to make it good. He tries to put his mouth on him but the man yanks him up abruptly.

It takes a moment of confusion for Negan to realize it's because he's embarrassed.

"Shh, Doll, let me take care of you." He tries but the man only shakes his head, face hot.

"Not there."

It's endearingly frustrating.

Negan uses his hands instead. He isn't so sure about reciprocation since after the man comes in his fist he has a moment where he can't look at Negan's face, but then he reaches a hand tentatively down and pulls at Negan's waistband.

"You don't have to." Negan stills the man's hand.

"I want to." He says and works at getting Negan's pants off. Negan's dumbfounded for a moment, let's him struggle, before he helps.

Puzzlingly the man moves to get up and settle himself on top. Then Negan gets it.

The man swallows thickly and bows his head, shifts uncomfortably then stops moving like he's met a brick wall.

"I don't...know exactly...how to- how to-"

"Shh." Negan soothes, rolls them over smoothly so the man is beneath him. "You really want this?"

He searches the man's face before the man arches up to kiss him.

He opens him up on his fingers and the man makes little pained sounds. When Negan stills he pants out between breaths, "Keep going."

"I don't want to hurt you." He explains and frowns, for a second that same old bitterness crosses the man's expression.

It disappears though when the man speaks.

"Rick. Rick. My name's Rick."

"Rick." He tries it out on his tongue. His heart could burst at the knowledge.

He leans down to kiss him before lining himself up. He has to inch in excruciatingly slow, hasn't even breached the tight ring of muscle fully, but it isn't enough to stop the twinges of pain that cross Rick's face. Negan wants to stop but when he backs away Rick's fingers dig into the backs of his thighs.

"Please." He whimpers out. And shouldn't Negan be the one begging for the pleasure of Rick's company?

Rick.

He reseats the head of his cock, runs his hands down Rick's sides.

"Relax, and push a little for me." It's still going to hurt. Negan drinks down every micro expression that pings Rick's face - imprints it on his soul. "Fuck Rick."

The head finally slips inside. Rick makes little hurt keening sounds and Negan can't stop saying his name.

It's a litany of Rick Rick Rick.

Negan is slow on the press inward, let's them both breath for a moment once he's seated. He makes sure Rick is comfortable before continuing. Cants his hips differently on each stroke until he finds the angle.

It's fast for Rick, Negan doesn't even touch him before he's coming. Rick clenches tight and it's almost enough to bring Negan off until he catches the dim twinkle of a tear in Rick's lash line.

He pulls his cock free with an audible pop. Popped his fucking cherry he thinks, ashamed and aroused and somehow overcome with guilt.

It's natural to cry the first time, he reminds himself, Rick's probably overwhelmed.

"I love you." Rick says brokenly, reaches for him. Which is about when he realizes Negan didn't finish. Rick only glances, before his eyes skitter away from Negan's body embarrassedly. "Oh...would you...can I..."

Negan smiles, but inside there's something that holds him back. There's something else though urging him on when he looks at Rick - it's dark and it scares him. He ignores it.

"I could..." Rick begins, hesitantly, chokes the words out "...but I'm not sure I could kneel for you."

"It's okay." He says shortly.

He jerks himself off, comes on Rick's stomach.

"You're not...him." Rick murmurs in his ear, as they're falling asleep.

Negan is terrified that he is.

 

 

He doesn't think too hard on it. Mostly, he thinks on ways to make Rick feel good. Now that he knows his name it falls from his lips easier than anything else.

He'd forgotten to tell Rick that he loved him that night, had been too distracted by the dark urges he'd had that he couldn't admit to himself. The way he'd wanted to continue even though Rick was crying, the way he'd wanted to come on his face instead, lick those pretty tears or how he'd wanted to make Rick clean up Negan's mess with his tongue.

At any rate, he'd rectified the mistake as soon as the next morning. He had wrapped his arms around Rick and told him that he loved him.

He loves him so much. He isn't willing to lose him.

And had the world always been this way? It occurs to him that the stuff they scavenge doesn't look that old, doesn't look like a civilization long past.

There are mysteries upon mysteries and Negan doesn't wish to uncover any of them.

 

 

Rick loves him. He loves him a lot. He's always touching Negan, always receptive to Negan's touch. Still, he never smiles. One night as they're sitting on someone's porch swing, Negan's arm over him as Rick rests his head against his shoulder, he says,

"I used to have a son."

Negan doesn't want to hear it. It's frightening, feels like it could undo them. And haven't their very souls been enmeshed and are henceforth inextricable from one another?

It feels like an eternity that they've been together but Negan guess it's only really been a month.

Rick can change his mind at any time. He says there isn't people looking for him but how could there not be? Rick has a past.

Negan only has Rick.

He smooths a hand up the side of Rick's neck and lets him continue.

"I think - I thought - but - he would have found me...I have a daughter too. She's...I've been away too long. I didn't expect to go back."

Negan's heart stutters in his chest. Rick has somewhere to go back to. Negan's thoughts pulse on the idea of jealousy destroying it so Rick only has him.

"She's with friends." Rick sighs, reaches down to entwine their hands. "She's better off without me."

"No one could be better off without you." Negan says, despite himself.

 

 

They are making their way back, retracing their steps. Rick gets increasingly nervous. Seems to welcome distraction, and actively create it, the closer they get. Negan's not complaining.

Rick initiates and Negan lets him. Rick tugs him aside and loops his arms around Negan's neck. On the more daring occasions Rick actively tries to seduce him. It's always a little clumsy simply for the fact of Rick's self consciousness - as if he's never certain if Negan will want him or not.

Negan always wants him.

Just the sight of Rick partially unclothed, legs spread, has his dick throbbing. He's slow and gentle, works into a hard rhythm. But he's never rough.

Not ever.

 

 

Negan remembers what he told Rick. An off colour joke - viciously spoke. And when Rick had gotten that look on his face he'd taken it too far. Because he takes everything too far where the man is concerned but that look just gets him every single time. Rick had been wavering between belief and disbelief, expression changing so rapidly that Negan had had trouble keeping up. Negan had started to falter, thinking it maybe hadn't been such a great idea after all, before quickly dismissing the thought.

Rick deserved everything Negan gave him - the man had fucked everything up and over. If Negan was a vicious, snarling wolf it was because Rick had made him into one.

The last thing Negan remembers is Rick launching himself at him and Negan beating him down to dust. His hands had closed over Rick's throat and Rick had tried to speak but Negan only squeezed tighter.

"What was that, Rick?" he'd taunted loudly as his men laughed around them, "I think he said, 'choke me harder Daddy'. Should give the dame what he wants isn't that right, boys?"

When Rick was subdued he'd pulled off of him and given him a vicious kick to the side.

He probably shouldn't have, but he was so fucking angry.

 

 

When he pulls awake it takes him a moment to register his surroundings. He's in the woods of all places. He wonders for a second what even woke him before he hears Rick's voice call him and knows that was it.

Anger throbs in his mind, wild and all consuming. His hands are shaking with it as he traces the sound to it's origin.

"Negan." Rick sighs paradoxically when he comes into sight. Negan freezes. Rick is naked and Negan's eyes rove greedily across him, drinking him in. Then Rick bites his lip, coy and shy and perfect, and spreads his legs in invitation from where he's laid out in the grass on a blanket. There's something shiny and slick on the inside of his thighs.

Negan's brain short circuits.

His hands are digging into the soft parts of Rick's thighs like a brand before he realizes that he's moved. He yanks Rick's legs wider and Rick's eyes widen in something like surprise and his mouth snaps shut from where it'd been panting softly.

"You fucking slut." He wheedles as he hoists one of Rick's legs over his shoulder and fumbles briefly with his pants before pressing directly into the tight heat.

Rick makes a noise high in his throat and his mouth thins into a grim line. His whole body tenses and he clenches impossibly tight around Negan's cock.

"Fuck that feels good on my dick. Such a squeeze for a whore. How long you planned this - wanting my dick to come and split you in two? Or were you just waiting for anyone to come along and stick it in you?" Negan laughs angrily. Wants to degrade Rick.

Negan pounds away hard, vulgarity spilling from his mouth, as him and Rick lock eyes. Rick's eyes are red rimmed, and he blinks a lot, eyelashes fluttering coyly. His mouth is set in that same grim line. Negan finds he wants to make him pant again.

He thinks he's making progress when he roughly grabs Rick's hair, yanks Rick's head back and hears a dry sob escape from his throat. He sucks marks all across Rick's neck and collarbone. Bites and breaks the skin.

"Now everyone will know exactly how much of a little whore you are. How much you love being fucked."

Rick shakes his head from side to side.

"Oh yes." Negan says giddy and cruel, grabs Rick's face and forces him to look at him. "You're gonna fucking feel me in your ass for days, and everyone is going to see it on you."

"Oh fuck Rick," Negan continues breathlessly, "you're so tight you couldn't drive a 10 penny nail in with a sledgehammer."

Rick winces at that. The dry sobs continue as they watch each other, Rick's fingers scramble at him, pull him closer. Rick's eyes have locked him in their gaze, a fathomless blue. For a second it makes Negan want to be good to him, which just makes him angrier.

"Don't worry Baby Doll," Negan says, false cheer in his voice, "Daddy will fuck you so loose you'll be able to take all the neighbourhood boys."

He thinks Rick isn't really listening to the words - but the tone, he's catching. And Negan would have been so sweet to him if he'd just...

It occurs to Negan that Rick's watching Negan pound into him, is simply lying back and taking it, the fact of it makes Negan spill prematurely. Negan pulls out and sticks his fingers in, tries to find that spot, but Rick pulls away, swats at Negan's hands when they follow him.

It strikes Negan as weird. Strikes him silent and frozen. It's only hatesex if they both come.

"I deserve this." Rick says sternly, dead eyed and debauched.

Negan's heart jumps into his throat. The blood that had gone south returns and for once Negan can clearly see how fucked up the situation is. Because Rick? Rick is a discerning son-of-a-bitch. He wouldn't just give it up to Negan of all people. There's mitigating factors but Negan's imagination is not good enough to conjure anything half believable.

The last thing he remembers is beating Rick to shit.

For fucking everything up.

And...oh. But Rick hadn't really believed that - right?

"What the fuck does that mean?" Negan asks aggressively, panic making him edgy. Rick doesn't answer. "What? That you deserve a good dicking down? A good, hard ride?"

He knows that's not what Rick means.

"Did he suffer?" Rick asks.

The man's broken.

Is what Negan realizes. Negan broke him and none of it was ever fucking true. Negan doesn't even know how the fuck they got here but he knows he can't let Rick think Carl's dead for another second.

"Carl's not dead."

The look Rick pins him with stirs up an amazingly massive amount of guilt. Negan still can't see the degrees of fucking separation between that and where they are. Feels sick that they - all the while Rick thought - wonders how the fuck - but he can't ask because Rick's eyes light in hope and he dissolves into tears.

"Hey." Negan soothes, runs a hand down Rick's arm. He doesn't expect Rick to throw his arms around him.

"Carl's my second now. I know you didn't know or you wouldn't have pulled anything so gigantically fucking stupid. I was making a point."

"Thank you." Rick whispers, over and over, presses a kiss to the side of Negan's face.

"Rick." Negan says, but he doesn't say more. He bitterly regrets letting his lust overtake him. It feels like it's going to have devastatingly lasting consequences. It's apparent now that Rick hadn't been in a good place. Negan hadn't been a gentleman.

"W-we're a day from Alexandria. Do you think Carl...?" Rick asks. "I need to see him - to make sure - "

To make sure Negan isn't lying, probably. To make sure that Negan isn't trying to destroy him all over again.

And Negan may be a sadist, but he's not completely deranged. He'd only told Rick that Carl was dead because Negan had wanted Rick to feel it. Feel how dangerous and close it had been. Because if Rick's rebellion had worked, Carl would be dead. In fact, Negan's not sure that he's not.

He doesn't remember what brought them here but from then to now Negan is sure he would have checked.

He agrees with Rick, they should get back as soon as they can.

He tries not to notice the way Rick buttons up his collar or how gingerly the man walks.

 

 

He remembers exactly how it went.

"What Rick, you think I didn't see this coming?" He'd snarled, "I killed Carl, back at the Sanctuary. The kid cozied all up to me and here I thought - 'oh progress!' until I got an inkling of what you had planned. Did you honestly think I wouldn't find out?"

"Y-you k-ki-"

"Doesn't matter. Your fucking men did reach the Sanctuary. If Carl really was on my side they've killed him too. I hear they suffered heavy losses."

The heavy losses bit had been exaggerated but it was important to him that Rick feel it. So important he had made a misstep, a logistical error.

"So he's probably fucking dead because of your own stupidity." He continues.

"So you didn't - you didn't - kill him?"

"I don't know Rick. Does it matter? I do know - for a fact - that he's dead as a fucking doornail. What? You'd rather it be your hand than mine?"

He'd paused for dramatic effect.

 

 

Carl is as right as rain. As soon as he knows Rick is alive and relatively unscathed his stoicism melts into heated joy. He even thanks Negan. Rick's beside himself. Totes Judith around and doesn't leave Carl's side until he's too exhausted to keep his eyes open.

"I'll take him from here." Negan tells the boy. Rick's slumped against the lookout wall, listing to the side.

"I held the fort down in Alexandria, while you were gone." Carl says as one of the few who knew Negan had intended to move into the neighbourhood.

"Thanks kid." Negan says, but his heart isn't in it, even if the feat is an impressive one.

"There's been changes though." Carl says, all steel, and it surprises Negan, "I've made changes."

"How long was I gone?" Negan asks with a frown. It doesn't feel that long.

"Five weeks."

"Five weeks? Are you fucking kidding me right now?" Negan asks incredulously. It doesn't seem possible. "What the fuck happened?"

"You don't remember? My Dad set up a rebellion. I was in the Sanctuary at the time. We subdued them. Four casualties. You showed up demanding to know. Then we heard that my Dad was gone. We came back to Alexandria. You went to look for him. Found him I guess." Carl narrates, and of course Negan had known the first part, had guessed at the second.

"You must have been worried." He says dryly.

"I knew he'd be okay. I've made changes he can live with Negan. I don't want you touching him again. You thought I wouldn't hear about you beating him?"

If you only knew, Negan thinks hysterically, gut churning. He feels fucking sick about it. It's apparent Carl hasn't realized Rick thought he was dead. Probably he thought Rick was just out throwing a hissy fit at his becoming a Saviour.

"Mind your own fucking business kid."

"He is my fucking business." Carl says, and the threat reads in his voice clear as day.

"Look who's gotten too fucking big for their breeches." Negan snarls out and leaves to collect Rick. Really it had been over for him as soon as Carl had realized how attached he was to Rick. That he wasn't ever going to kill him.

Rick leans against him all the way home.

 

 

He tries to put Rick to bed but the man pulls him down, grasps him tightly and settles against him.

They were gone for five weeks.

Rick had thought Carl was dead for five weeks.

It doesn't precisely explain his state. Doesn't explain how Rick had arranged himself like some sort of present.

Had he been punishing himself? Negan's almost certain it hadn't started out that way. Rick had looked....if not relaxed, at the very least trusting. Negan had been...

Rick had suffered through and he was punishing himself then, Negan had no doubt. Punishing himself for what he thought was the loss of Carl. And Negan, like the brute he was, had obliged him.

It causes a pain so physical Negan actually grabs at his chest.

Rick - always so serious - would have taken everything to heart. He was always so grim.

The thought calls something else to mind. The grim set of Rick's mouth twitching with something that couldn't really be a smile. Too muted and hurt for that. But he'd counted it.

Just like that it all comes flooding in.

He remembers everything. Even remembers the vicious smack to the head - a moment of distraction, a motorbike and a branch.

 

 

He paws at Rick, blinks away his tears as much as he's able.

"Rick - Rick - " he says.

He'll make it up, he's good for it. Rick must know now that he's good for it.

Rick sleepily turns to him, snuggles closer before he catches himself and pitches back.

"Sorry-" he slurs out, sleepily rubbing at the side of his face where there's an imprint from the pillow. He notices Negan crying and sits up, sudden and serious. "What's wrong?"

"Why'd you - fuck - why'd you let me - it's because - but did you really believe I killed Carl?"

Rick eyes him warily, slowly sits back against the wall as if he's settling himself in for the long haul.

"At first maybe. I-I wasn't sure. Then...then I knew it had to be me. My fault." Rick's face twists briefly at that, until he shakes the grief off. "Even then - after a while I started thinking that he might be alive. It doesn't matter because he is alive. You just wanted to teach me a lesson. Lesson learned."

The last two words are tight, grated out. Negan could bash his own skull in right about now.

"I didn't mean for - you scared the fuck out of me when you took off."

Rick shrugs at that.

"W-we're even right?" Rick says with some effort, looks heart sick and vulnerable like he's about to break.

"Rick-"

Tears actually form in the man's eyes.

"I-wh-what I did was wrong. I know that."

"Your rebellion-" sure the fuck was, is what Negan is going to say before Rick cuts him off.

"I'm not talking about the rebellion. I-I'm talking about taking advantage of you. Manipulating you into - into liking me." Rick's eyes are big and sad in his face and for a moment Negan has the insane urge to laugh.

"What?" He spits out tersely.

"I should have told you that you wouldn't - i-if you'd had your memory." Rick swallows thickly in shame.

"Rick-" Negan tries.

"So I- I deserved t-that. In the woods. W-when you remembered but also b-because yeah - I th-thought C-Carl-" Rick closes his eyes but after a moment the tears escape anyway.

"Rick." Negan tries again, only this time he soothes a hand down Rick's arm. It does the trick. Rick opens to him like a blooming flower and Negan settles the man against him, runs his hands up and down his back.

"You were you." Rick confesses quietly into Negan's collar, "I tried to tell myself it was different. That it wasn't that I was...taking advantage. But I was. I did. I don't blame you for getting angry."

Negan's throat quietly works as he tries to talk. The situation's fucked all up one side and down the other.

Negan's about to refute the fact that he was angry until he realizes he was, even if it isn't for what Rick thinks. He pulls back to stare Rick square in the face.

"I didn't - you didn't fucking take advantage of me. I mean - fuck - is that really how you fucking see it?"

"Negan-" Rick protests.

"Even after I fucking - I was a fucking animal. I was angry and -fuck - that doesn't even. Nothing can excuse - I didn't even remember at that point Rick. I was still punishing you for....for fucking rebelling. It wasn't just that. Only - if you could have seen yourself -" Negan stops himself. It isn't Rick's fault he has zero self control, wasn't able to reign in his lust long enough to read the fucking situation. God forbid he starts raging 'why didn't you stop me' at Rick like the kind of victim-blaming asshole Negan knows he is deep down.

"You didn't remember?" Is what Rick fixates on, "You mean you didn't remember the time when you lost your memory?"

"I didn't. I was acting purely out of lust. Rick -" Negan answers quickly to get it out of the way, to get to the point.

"Oh." Rick says softly, tentatively. "Th-that means you still want me right?"

Rick doesn't look disturbed at all, it doesn't sit right with Negan.

"You know I took advantage of you right Rick?" It seems important that Rick recognizes it. "Not only the sex but Carl even."

He'd made Rick think Carl was dead for five weeks. Somehow even that transgression pales against Negan's cruelty and roughness with Rick. He thinks about popping Rick's cherry and how he'd held him in adoration before he had - Rick had to have been hurting. Was probably still hurting.

Negan needs to make it up. He tries to shake the thought that he'd been right about himself - back when he had no memory. He swears he'll make it up.

Rick just sighs and leans tiredly against him.

"I love you." is what he says.

"I love you too." Negan returns, voice thick with emotion. Inside his gut churns. It's painful to see how oblivious Rick is. It feels like taking advantage all over again. Rick doesn't value himself enough, that much is apparent.

Negan has a lot to set right.

"Don't worry so much." Rick says, runs his hand down Negan's arm in a sweet parody of Negan's signature move. "Everything will turn out alright in the end."

The thing is, Negan believes him.