The bed was cold and empty when Adam woke up, and he sighed sadly as he opened his eyes to confirm that he was, in fact, alone. This had been the fifth time in a row where Nigel had left at some point during the night to do… something. Adam wasn’t quite sure what it was going on in Nigel’s head these days and it was upsetting. They had long since made up after Nigel’s bender, and with both Gabi and Darko safely out of the country, things should have simply gone back to normal… right?
Adam looked at the clock and saw it was almost time to get up anyway. He turned off the alarm so it wouldn’t chime when he was already up and climbed out of bed. He was halfway to the door when a roar made him jump a foot in the air. His heart was racing as he tried to think of legitimate causes of the loud noise and cautiously opened the door.
“N-nigel?” he stammered, walking down the hallway.
The buzzing sound of voices through the television speakers his Adam’s ears before he even reached the living room, and he sighed again but in relief.
“Sparrow, lions are fucking awesome.”
Tension hit Adam again.
Nigel was drunk.
At not even 7:30 in the morning.
“Baby, come watch this with me.”
With a groan, Adam approached the sofa, “No, Nigel. I’m going to make breakfast. You should have toast.”
“’m not hungry, sparrow,” Nigel slurred with a sloppy smile as he turned to look at Adam. His eyes were bloodshot and he stunk heavily of cigarettes and bourbon, the stubble on his chin looked scratchier than usual. “Sit down.”
“I’m not watching Animal Planet with you, Nigel,” Adam huffed and headed for the kitchen. “Why are you drunk?”
“Because I’m being drinking.”
Adam made that noise that Nigel hated.
“Darling, just sit down.”
“No.” Adam left the living room, feeling prickly and on edge. Drunk Nigel was better than high Nigel, but not by much in Adam’s mind. It was looking like he was hiding something from Adam, which was just as upsetting as waking up alone, and Adam prematurely worried about needing to send Nigel away again. He couldn’t kick the other man out – Nigel would just get even more trashed – but there was a slim chance that either of them could handle a rehab center.
Adam threw some toast into the toaster regardless of what Nigel said – he’d read that bread helped sober people up and would be easy on the stomach – and then went to his own breakfast routine with a bowel of cereal and a glass of milk. He sat down at the table to eat and looked up when he heard Nigel stumble his way into the kitchen.
“Nigel, why are you drunk?”
“You asked me that already,” Nigel replied, getting the toast once it popped and joining Adam.
“That was not the right answer.”
“Do I need a fucking answer, Adam? Christ.”
Nigel groaned, and stood up again without touching the toast, “I’m going to bed.”
“You wouldn’t be tired if you had just stayed in bed.”
“You wouldn’t fucking understand.”
“I might if you explained it, Nigel.”
Nigel didn’t reply as he stormed off down the hallway and slammed a door behind him. Adam suspected he went into the guest room rather than to their bed, and he felt like something had grabbed his chest too tightly.
“I just want to know what’s wrong…” Adam muttered to himself, hearing another bang and guessing that Nigel had tripped on something and would be sleeping on the floor for the next few hours.
As Adam had predicted, Nigel slept for the next five and a half hours on the shag rug in the guest room. He woke up in a daze, blinking his sore eyes until they hurt less than his head did.
Nigel had only meant to have enough bourbon to help him go back to sleep, but he’d had a little too much and ended up staying up all night. He didn’t mean to end up falling asleep again in a different room, as the last few times he had done this he had simply fallen asleep on the couch.
Damn Animal Planet documentary marathon. The savannah was more interesting than usual when Nigel was wasted.
Pulling himself off of the floor, Nigel swayed on his feet, sober but stiff. He trudged into the hallway, glaring against the light and made his way back to the kitchen.
His toast still sat, now cold, on the plate he had abandoned and he stuffed an entire piece into his mouth while he went to the sink to get a glass of water. Christ, he was parched. Maybe shitty bourbon hadn’t been the best drink to binge on. Nigel chugged the glass of water and refilled it before chugging that as well. He repeated this several times before he turned around and was faced with Adam, arms crossed over his sweater.
“Adam,” Nigel started, waiting to see if Adam would interrupt him. He didn’t, so he continued, “I’m sorry.”
Nigel’s brow furrowed, “I’m sorry I was shitfaced when you got up.”
“No you aren’t.”
“I am sorry, sparrow. I had a drink to try and help with getting back to sleep but I got distracted and stayed up.”
“Several times this week?”
“No,” Nigel ran a hand through his hair. He needed a shower. “Adam, it won’t happen again. I promise.”
Adam didn’t seem satisfied. “There is something bothering you and I want to know what it is.”
“Can we sit down?”
Adam mulled it over and nodded, turning on his heel to sit on the couch. He pressed himself into the corner of it, and brought up his knees. Nigel sat within arms reach, but kept his hands to himself. He knew Adam well enough to let his sparrow come to him if he wanted to be touched.
“I’m restless. You fucking know that.”
“I don’t know what else you want, Adam.”
“I want to know what it is that has you restless, Nigel. Insomnia can be a result of stress and –“
“You just don’t like waking up by yourself.”
Adam huffed, angry at Nigel’s condescending tone just as much as the words he was saying. “No, I don’t like waking up by myself. But I also don’t like worrying about you. You are not sleeping and you are drinking far more than usual.”
‘Well, you said no more coke.”
“Because I don’t want you to risk an overdose like you did with Darko.”
“I didn’t –“ Nigel groaned as he cut himself off, trying to get his annoyance under control. “Adam, look, I’m fucking bored. Operations have been going so smoothly that I don’t need to leave and fix anything. When Darko was here we did things.”
“Not like that. Fuck, Adam! We went to a bar! Sure that night was a shit show, but do you remember how long it’s been since we did something?”
“We do things.”
“Grocery shopping. Sometimes a walk. Once in a fucking blue goddamn moon we actually go to a fucking restaurant. I’m getting so fucking tired of this apartment I’m going to blow my brains out!”
Adam winced and Nigel saw him ball tighter in the corner of the couch. “You don’t like the apartment?”
With an exasperated sigh, Nigel rubbed at his aching temples. “Adam, baby, my darling fucking sparrow, I love you. You fucking complete me and all that shit. But I can’t stay here day in and day out like this.”
Adam nodded ever so slightly, avoiding Nigel’s eyes. This wasn’t the conversation he thought they were going to have. He had hoped something was bothering Nigel that he could fix. He couldn’t fix boredom. He couldn’t fix it even though it was his fault.
“Sparrow, you’re spiraling. I can fucking see it.” Nigel ignored his own advice and moved closer to Adam, pulling him into his side and hugging him. “I’m sorry I yelled. And I’ll stop getting shitfaced on the couch.”
“No… I…” Adam didn’t know where he was going with this. “You can go out. I’ll… I’ll stay here.”
“I don’t want to go anywhere without you.”
Suddenly, Adam stood up, “I’m going to work in the bedroom.”
“Adam,” Nigel whined, and then tried again louder when Adam went down the hall, “Adam!”
This was not a good day.
Nigel decided it would be better to leave Adam alone for a little while and went for his typical walk around the neighborhood. Pack of smokes, twice around the block, once around the park, and then back again. Of course, to burn of energy and frustration, Nigel did this several more times than usual, making it back home just in time to get dinner started, a case of orange soda in his arms. If Adam was still angry with him, Nigel hoped that an on-time dinner of mac and cheese and maybe a good fucking romp would set them both back to normal.
The apartment was quiet as Nigel walked in, and he opted to say nothing as he entered – if Adam was working on something, it was best to not bother him. He set the table first, and then put an orange soda in the freezer so it would be cold enough by the time dinner was ready, and then he got to making the food.
He nearly jumped when he felt slim arms wrap around his waist.
“I didn’t hear you come in.”
“I thought you might be busy, so I decided to shut the fuck up for once.”
Nigel felt Adam smile into the back of his shirt. “I got you something.”
“Let me guess,” Nigel smirked, “another fucking t-shirt.”
“No. Something better.”
Nigel turned around in Adam’s arms, “Oh?”
Adam nodded with a smile, “We’re going on a trip.”
Nigel raised an eyebrow, “Really.”
“Our flight is at ten. I’ve packed the bags and everything is booked and paid for.”
“And I’m not telling you where we’re going.”
“Okay, now I’m concerned.” The smile on Adam’s face was full of joy, and that wasn’t helping Nigel’s uncertainty at the idea of this spontaneous vacation. “You hate flying. You hate going place in New York. How the hell are you going to manage somewhere we can’t even drive to?”
“We could drive but it would take too long. I also got a movie to watch. I think you’ll like it.”
“It’s about lions.”
Nigel laughed, “Oh for fuck’s sake, Adam.”
“I’d like to point out that the first thing you said to me today was that you thought lions were cool.”
“I believe I said, ‘Lions are fucking awesome’. Are we going to have time to watch a movie about lions and make it to the airport?”
“If we eat and watch at the same time.”
Brushing a stray curl from Adam’s face, Nigel shook his head with a smile of his own, “You just fucking full of surprises, aren’t you Raki?”
Adam simply smiled.
Adam smiled as he watched Nigel. He was sitting on the edge of his seat, dinner long since forgotten about on the coffee table in front of him, and Adam had never seen him so excited about something other than girls with big boobs and cocaine.
“Those cows are fucked.”
The Ghost and The Darkness was the film that Adam had found to entertain Nigel before they left for the airport. The 1996 film told the famous story of the two Tsavo lions that killed for pleasure and sport rather than out of the necessity to eat. Adam found the concept of serial killer lions to be rather fascinating, and he knew that Nigel would enjoy the violence.
Screams ring out from the television set as the two lions raid the hospital and tear the unsuspecting orderlies to shreds. Nigel is on the edge of the couch, watching like a small child watching Star Wars for the first time. Adam finishes his bowl of mac and cheese, setting it carefully on the table before cuddling up next to Nigel. It was nice to be like this again. It had been a long time since things had felt simple. Of course, this was just a prelude to the surprise, and the thought of that made Adam smile as Nigel pulled him into his lap to hug him like a teddy bear as he continued to watch the film with an undying intensity usually reserved for cleaning his gun.
Adam got comfortable and listened to Nigel’s steady breathing, his steady heartbeat, and relaxed in his spot. Nigel remained stiff as a board, too consumed by murderous lions to move, until the film had finished. It was only once the screen faded did Nigel move. He turned off the film – credits were always such a bore – and relaxed back against the couch.
“Did you like it?” Adam asked, curling into his chest.
“Best fucking movie I’ve ever seen.”
Adam hummed, nuzzling just under Nigel’s jaw to kiss his throat. “We should make sure we have everything we’ll need. The car will be here soon.”
“You packed already, yeah?”
“Then we have everything we need. You still keeping this whole thing a secret.”
Adam giggled and continued to kiss along Nigel’s throat, just under his jawline, saying nothing as Nigel groaned.
“Stupid fucking airports.”
Adam clung tightly to Nigel’s arm as he swore loud enough to part the crowd like the red fucking sea.
“Why are there so many goddamn people here at ten o’clock on a fucking Tuesday?”
Adam said nothing as they practically ran through the airport towards the check-in counter to drop the bags. Nigel was harsh with the woman, and Adam giggled as she threw back just as much venom in the tone her pleasant retorts. His giggling ceased when she turned to Adam.
“Enjoy Chicago,” she smiled, moving their bags onto the back conveyor belt.
Adam blushed as he felt Nigel’s gaze on him and he simply nodded towards the woman. They walked away from the counter and Nigel pulled free of Adam’s grip in order to put an arm around the smaller man’s waist.
Adam studied the carpet as they hurried along to the flight gates.
“Sparrow, why fucking Chicago?”
“You’ll see,” Adam said quietly. A smile tugged on his lips again at the thought of the surprise waiting for them in Chicago.
Nigel groaned again as they hit the security gates. From his pocket, Adam pulled forged staff badges from his breast pocket and they walked around without problem – a risky way to make sure Nigel still had his sidearm in case of trouble. Pulling the wool over security’s eyes was one of Adam’s best talents, and one of Nigel’s non-sexual favorites.
Luckily they didn’t need to wait long before getting on the damn plan and Nigel was able to relax comfortably in the business class isle seat. Adam sat by the window, his noise cancelling headphones on as he looked out at the tarmac. He looked so small with those massive headphones and Nigel reached over to hold his hand. The action was a rare one for Nigel – who was very much “all or nothing” with his approach to public displays of affection – and Adam smiled at their entwined fingers before shifted around so he could lean against Nigel’s shoulder without disrupting his headphones.
A little over three hours later Nigel piggy-backed Adam into the elevator and up to their suite in the fancy hotel. Nigel wondered what kind of person just had the legal income to afford a place like this. It was crazy to think about as he plop Adam onto the bed and looked out the window at the beautiful skyline of the city.
“Holy shit, sparrow,” he whispered. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen a skyline before, but it had been a fucking age since he saw one in other city while Adam was with him.
“Come to bed,” Adam mumbled, curling into a ball on top of the bed covers. “Busy day when the sun comes up.”
“Oh, of course,” Nigel smirked, pulling the blinds closed and walked back towards the bed. “I forgot about your big plans.”
“You don’t know my plan, Nigel.”
“I was being sarcastic, darling.”
Adam hummed, shifting slightly as Nigel stripped and climbed under the covers.
“Your turn, sparrow. Get over here.”
Rubbing at his eyes, Adam wiggled out of his clothes – save for his boxers – and crawled under the covers to curl up against Nigel’s chest. He was asleep almost instantly as Nigel toyed absently with his hair. He was wide-awake, but for the first time in almost a week, he wasn’t craving something to drink. He was comfortable with Adam next to him in this stupidly posh hotel suite in fucking Chicago of all places in the fucking country. And it was amazing.
Nigel didn’t remember falling asleep, but he remembered waking up to Adam straddling him and bouncing in a way far less sexual way than what he would have wanted first thing in the fucking morning.
“Adam,” he groaned, “What the fuck?”
“Get dressed, we need breakfast and then we need to go.”
“Because we need to get there before it gets too busy.”
“It’s a Wednesday.”
“We’re going somewhere lots of people like.”
“You hate people.”
“I hate crowds.”
“Same fucking thing.”
Adam sat back on his knees, “Nigel…”
Nigel groaned again, “Oh for fuck’s… I’m up. Okay? I’m fucking up.”
Adam smiled and climbed off of him. As Nigel sat up he noticed that Adam had already set out his clothes for him – loose jeans and the dog shirt. He couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped from him as he shook his head and climbed out of bed. He’d never understand why Adam loved that shirt so much. Or why Gabi did. Maybe it was the smiling sausage dogs.
Dressed and mostly awake now, Nigel and Adam went to the hotel restaurant for a decent breakfast and a shitload of coffee before Nigel hailed a cab outside and Adam passed the driver an address written on a small piece of paper. Adam fidgeted beside Nigel in the backseat with a giddy smile on his face as he watched the city pass by the windows. They were no longer in the busy downtown and the view was quite beautiful. Although, Nigel was honestly paying more attention to Adam, who was rambling on with facts about Illinois from the Wikipedia page he had most certainly memorized while Nigel had been out. Adam was being very careful not to tell Nigel where they were going and avoided mentioning anything tourist-y while he went on and on.
The drive wasn’t long, but it had felt like a decade as Nigel got out to have his first smoke in the best part of twelve hours.
“Nigel, we need to go inside.”
“Inside where?” Nigel asked around the smoke as he tried to hide the lighter from the wind. The moment the car had slowed down, his entire being had just wanted a cigarette. He had no fucking clue where they were.
Nigel raised an eyebrow, “You flew us to Chicago to go a fucking museum?”
“This is a special one,” Adam huffed. “You’re always telling me to trust you, Nigel, so why do you refuse to trust me right now?”
“Baby, I do trust you. I –“
“Then let’s go.”
Nigel stamped out the remainder of the smoke and stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets. “Lead the way, sparrow.”
The Field Museum of Natural History. What in the hell was special about that? It didn’t even have “national” or “state” in the name of it. Hell, after all the museums Adam spoke about, he’d never even fucking heard of this one. But he kept his mouth shut, remembering that Adam did this for him. Nigel paid for the over-priced tickets – the fucking MOMA was cheaper – and they entered the foyer, greeted by dinosaur skeletons the moment they did.
Adam’s face lit up like a little kid’s and Nigel put his arm around Adam’s waist to keep his sparrow from flying away in excitement. Adam told him all about the dinosaur fossils and the artifacts of ancient Egypt. It was fascinating, and there were few things Nigel loved more than seeing Adam so happy, but he was honestly bored. They could see stuff like this in the museums in New York. Nigel was pretty sure they might run into someone famous filming another fucking movie at the Natural History Museum by Central Park.
They continued on, seeing the exhibits on the Maori and even fucking birds. It was getting harder and harder to Nigel to stay interested in all of it.
“I can tell you’re bored,” Adam said.
“Why do you say that?” Nigel asked, turning to face Adam’s smiling face.
“Because you’re glaring at an owl, Nigel.”
Adam giggled, “I just wanted to see everything else first. You won’t want to leave when I show you the next room.”
Nigel wasn’t convinced. At all.
“Come on,” Adam tugged on Nigel’s hand, “This is why I wanted to bring you to Chicago.”
Nigel let himself be dragged along and Adam practically skipped away from the birds over to another exhibit. The lights were low and jungle noises played uncharacteristically as they walked past displays and photographs of the Savannah and its inhabitants. Nigel smirked at the meerkats but Adam kept on pulling him along to a small crowd of people standing in the back. The people seemed to disperse as Adam and Nigel approached and Nigel looked to Adam as the smaller man grinned up at him with the biggest smile he’d seen in days.
“Adam, what are you –“
“Just look, Nigel.”
Nigel turned to the display as he was told. It took him a moment to understand why Adam was so excited until he realized who was staring back at him from the other side of the glass.
It was them.
The Ghost and the fucking Darkness.
The two stuffed lions were bigger than Nigel had really imagined – although he’d never seen a real lion up close before. The murderous Tsavo lions were beautiful and Nigel would have killed for them to not be behind glass so he could break every rule imaginable to pet those furry ears. He couldn’t tell which lion was which, and they weren’t labeled, but he took a stab at it all the same.
“The Ghost is the one standing up,” he said, voice coming out breathy as he carefully took in every detail of the display. “The Darkness is the cocky one lying down.”
“Why do you think that?” Adam prodded. It wasn’t often Nigel had opinions on things outside of their work.
“Because the Darkness would call the shots. In that movie the Ghost was the one that jumped the orderlies first and Darkness enjoyed watching. The sick bastards…” Nigel’s voice trailed off and then his brow furrowed. “Makes me think of Darko.”
Adam watched Nigel carefully, seeing how the muscles in his shoulders tensed.
“We did a lot of fucked up things. And we enjoyed it. Just like these two fuckers did.”
Adam tightened his hold on Nigel’s hand and leaded lightly against him, “You aren’t that person anymore, Nigel.”
“They really are big,” Adam mused. He wanted the fascinated Nigel back.
“Really fucking big,” Nigel said. “Does it say how many people they killed?”
Adam let Nigel tug him closer to the information plaques as they skimmed them together looking for more information on the lions. They learned the lions killed dozens of people although the initial claim of 135 deaths was thought of as more of an exaggeration than an accurate number.
“That still a lot of fucking people,” Nigel said. “How the hell did I not know these two were real?”
“Because you turned the movie off before the credits started. That is where all the information would have been. That’s how I knew they were here in the first place.”
Nigel looked down at Adam’s smiling face and leaned in to kiss him. Adam cupped Nigel’s scratchy face in his baby soft hands as Nigel held him close. When they parted, Nigel hugged Adam into his chest and rested his chin on his sparrow’s head while he studied the lions again.
He really was a piece of shit.
He had gotten shitfaced and watched fucking Animal Planet and then had the audacity to yell at Adam. Sweet Adam. Innocent, precious, thoughtful Adam who only wanted to make Nigel happy. Who found a movie about man-eating lions because he thought Nigel would enjoy it. Who braved a plane to fulfill Nigel’s wish to get the hell out of New York. Who took him to a fucking museum to see the two coolest animals in existence and had known this would all remain a surprise just because Nigel hated watching the end credits of a movie.
“I love you, Adam,” he said, and he meant it with his entire being.
“I love you, too, Nigel.”
“No, really. I fucking mean it.”
Adam giggled and nuzzled his nose against Nigel’s tacky shirt.
This was usually how it went with them. The banter. Nigel always reaffirming how serious he was when admitting his feelings.
But what Adam didn’t know was just how much Nigel meant those three little words in this moment; hugging in front of the fucking Ghost and the fucking Darkness in fucking Chicago.
Nigel loved Adam more than anything else in the whole world and the feeling of that love was burning a hole in his chest. The same spot where Adam’s breath was tickling him through his sausage dog shirt. He loved Adam Raki more than life itself. And it was this moment that made Nigel realize the most important thing imaginable.
He wanted Adam for the rest of his fucking life.
And wanted the whole world to know it.