Nick’s shoulders tightened at the contact as it was almost too much for him. Everything was too much and not the things he wanted. He very nearly pulled away, but instead held very, very still, barely breathing, as the giant of a man held him tightly.
Exhaling slowly, he closed his eyes and forced himself to still. He’d once been very good at coming down from an adrenaline rush or talking himself away from the edge; he remembered nights as a teenager when he would retreat to his room, soon-to-be-bruises glowing heat and pain against his ribs, and lean against the door as his father raged about the living room, breaking bottles. He would just listen as it abaited, like the howling of the wind on the cold harbor, and he would wait for the scratch of the broom or the hum of the vaccuum as his mother cleaned up the glass and pretended that nothing had happened. Those nights, in summer when his t-shirt would cling to his sweaty sides and it was all he could do to keep himself from making a sound above a gasp, he would lean silently against the door just like this and slowly reason his pulse to slow and his lungs to stop burning.
He’d learned then that he couldn’t make his heart slow to a stop, and that he would instinctively always fight for the next breath; he wouldn’t cease to wake up the next morning just because he resolved otherwise before bed.
His skin clammy against his dress shirt and his heart beating quickly as his hands shook, he recalled the sensation of the bedroom door against his back. It was a lot like the door to the apartment that they leaned against now.
The big difference was that at sixteen, there hadn’t been a strong arm around his shoulders to keep him on his feet. There hadn’t been a companion at his side who seemed almost as shaken as he felt.
The ex-patriot turned in Sebastian’s hold to press up against his side. He turned his head slightly so that his head rested against his chest, and there he listened to his heart beating. It was a loud sound that was like anything else, more the rush and flow of pressure faded with the muffled fall of a hammer. Each beat was like a footstep on snow, and together it was a forceful, emphatic march forward that gradually seemed to steady and slow.
Nick felt himself mellowing. His teeth gradually stopped chattering, though his shoulders still shivered with occasional tremors of shock.
Finally, he pulled free of his hold and reached up to lay a hand on either side of the sniper’s lean, square jaw and pulled him down to his height. For all any of the names that Nick may have called the man, there was no denying that the intense gaze that met his own was intelligent and capable of deep emotion.
He leaned forward and kissed him lightly, barely brushing his lips against his. Even so, the brief contact communicated a depth of feeling that was unusual for the American - understated affection and even quieter gratitude. He lingered close to him for a moment, eyes open but cast downward as he stared at the collar of Sebastian’s shirt and inhaled the grounding musk of his aftershave.
Nick stepped back and reassured him, “You’re okay.”
Pressing Nick against the door, Sebastian turned slightly to support himself on the doorframe. He felt like there should be a sense of finality to this entire thing, that Sherlock’s body should have changed the way he felt, but all he could think of was the way Nick had looked when he was close to ending it for himself as well. It was an awful realization and he couldn’t quite get it out of his head, especially with Nick against him and the American’s heart going nearly crazy against his chest.
It seemed surreal, strange, that after all the planning and dead bodies that the last one had seemed so dissatisfying. It wouldn’t help, Sebastian realized, right now, nothing would. His arm tightened for a second around Nick and he ducked his head down, sighing softly against his ear. Still, when Nick reached up and pulled him down Sebastian was comfortable in the kiss.
Sebastian wanted to press forwards, eyes only half closed as the man kissed him. He swallowed dryly as Nick pulled back and watched him carefully. Tilting his head to the side Sebastian watched Nick as he pulled back, dropped his gaze. The taller man smiled slightly as Nick took a step away from him.
“Yeah. That’s what they say.”
He was still smiling at Nick, his mouth tilted up slightly. He was weirdly, oddly, strangely happy. Not satisfied, necessarily, but a lifting feeling, a little like missing the last step on a staircase and being excited not to fall because of it. He began to chuckle and then laugh, turning against the door and sliding down, sitting on the ground.
He sat there, laughing into his hands, completely undone. It was impossible to do anything else and after a few deep breaths he looked up at Nick and shook his head.
“Fuck. Pack your bags, cowboy. We’re going to India.”
Nick shrugged in response to that, though he immediately set about doing what he’d been told. His sharp eyes made a perfunctory circuit of the room to make sure that there was nothing about the scene that could be linked to his presence.
Even in his weakest moment, he hadn’t approached the body or allowed the spreading pool of gore to touch his shoes. Sherlock’s death was self-contained, soaking slowly into that spot on the floor, the lost brilliance cooling in the sanguine seepage.
The New Yorker wasn’t squeamish, but he avoided looking at the dead man’s face. Even so, he knew that those staring blue eyes would be the source of nightmares. A stand-in for the lifeless brown eyes he had only imagined, Jim staring at the sky on the roof of Barts.
Still shaken, still feeling as though his insides had been hollowed out using a melon baller, he closed the door and pulled it behind him. He swiped his cuff across the knob to smear his prints, then quickly slipped into the landing. His steps were quick, light while seeming almost jerky. He simply wasn’t moving smoothly, mentally or physically, and he never could have imagined the difficult that he would experience simply taking a few flights of stairs.
He couldn’t imagined it could be so difficult to choke out an address, or to raise his nerveless hand to push the button for the floor that he shared with Sebastian. By this point, his body had reacted to the heavy shock his mind had endured; aftershocks, first of the adrenalized panic of Sherlock’s gunshot, then of his own mental breakdown, and finally of the fact that his own life had nearly ended, were making his hands shake and his teeth chatter.
It was a sensation that he had never experienced, and the newness of it scared him more than anything else. At the door, he fumbled at the electronic lock, then just shook his head forcefully and knocked. Hard.
Sebastian had no reason to move. He looked over the edge to watch Nick follow the first set of his instructions. Good. Everything smooth, efficient, neat. Clean. He ducked back down, quickly put his things away and kept low, moving across the roof. He jumped over to the other roof, ducked behind a greenhouse and waited a few beats. Glancing at his phone he moved over to an alley, walking slowly over to the fire escape. He buttoned up his peacoat, shrugged his bag higher up on his shoulder and then began to walk slowly down the metal escape ladders.
This was all mechanical at this point. Returning home after a kill. More or less. It was less of a kill and more of a prevention, which was not something that he was used to. It was a bitter taste, this victory, the fact that he could save Nick’s life. Would it have been that terribly easy, that devastating with Jim?
He was on the street, shoulders set but head ducked low, mouth dry as he walked. People passed before him, ignored him, didn’t bother to give him a second glance in most cases. This was nothing, all around him. City-city-city. City people and cars and cogs and nothing he wanted to look up to see.
Catching a cab, he got to the apartment he and Nick were sharing and went upstairs, relieved that he was first. He thought about pouring himself a drink but didn’t want the alcohol out or even on his breath when the American got back. He pulled his phone out (nothing) and then turned the ringer on, paced through the den, his hands in his hair. He nearly tripped over a table as he Nick knocked, didn’t even bother to check the eyehole, opened the door quickly and wrapped an arm around Nick’s shoulders, pulled him into the apartment, shut the door again and then leaned against it.
He didn’t say anything, pulled the shorter man to him, tried to offer him something without words. He swallowed and shook his head, unable to say anything, do anything but keep an arm tight around Nick’s shoulders.
“They tell us that Suicide is the greatest piece of Cowardice … that Suicide is wrong; when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in this world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person.” — Arthur Schopenhauer
“Ha, really?” Nick said in reply to the crossword, “Coincidence, man; I was just being a dick.”
Then he completely missed the undercurrent of sweetness in the sniper’s voice when he thanked him. He lightly touched his arm as he walked past him to pick up his coffee before turning his attention to his lightly browned toast.
When Sebastian spoke, it surprised him just a bit. He chewed thoughtfully on the bite that was already in his mouth, using the moment to formulate a response.
What had happened the previous night had been new to Nick; he had never been in a position to comfort someone like that and he had never felt so inadequate for any purpose in his life. He had never really wanted to be normal, to know intuitively how to hold someone, so much as he had when Sebastian had crushed him to his chest. Before, it had always been all right to just watch without understanding; it wasn’t important for him to understand, really, it was enough to just pretend that it did. Last night left something in him that was slightly open, like a broken window or an untended wound. It made him feel slightly weak toward Sebastian, as though the other man now had some limited ability to just reach into him at will, hook his fingers between his ribs, and pull him up against him.
He couldn’t say that, though.
Nick swallowed, then took a sip of his coffee to clear the crumbs still scratching the back of his throat.
“S’fine. I’m not good at stuff like that,” he looked down at the toast in his hand, already off his appetite, “I’m sure you don’t hold it against me, though. I doubt it’s your thing either. This whole…” he waved the toast a little in a movement that seemed to encapsulate something intangible, “thing. It’s fine.”
Sebastian was sure that this wasn’t how he was supposed to feel. Jilted almost. Not tossed aside, but deflected, like something in a mirror. He swallowed the last dregs of his coffee and didn’t look up at Nick again, frowning at his word game. He wanted to feel something else. He wanted Nick to know that there wasn’t, there couldn’t be room for anyone else anymore. Sherlock didn’t even matter, nothing mattered but the people in this room, right now, no question about it. He had been taken completely.
So he said nothing, but stood up and walked over to the counter, near Nick but not next to him, poured himself another glass of coffee and tried to ignore the sickening feeling in his gut as he realized that Nick was probably going to try to kill the detective today. The thought physically lurched through Sebastian and twisted his stomach and then his fingers around the mug as he took a sip, walking back over to his seat.
“I think the word you’re looking for is grief, mate.” His voice was soft, barely louder than the series of gestures that made up Nick Kenning. He chewed on the inside of his cheek and glanced up at the other man. What sort of man was Nick that he couldn’t identify the empty feeling in his own chest when his best friend died? How could he live like that, misunderstanding the entire world simply because a few things didn’t click for him, where small, heavy words like grief and guilt and dread didn’t mean anything but a dictionary entry, a chemical defect at the basest level. Maybe he had Nick wrong and the man could understand these things, but instead of a constant dull ache that reminded Sebastian of these feelings, for him it was just a deep, pulsing hollow. The hunter was sure that there was nobody in the world more alone than Nick Kenning.
“Will you come over here a second?”
Nick glanced over when he returned as though secretly relieved that he had come back. He’d had strange dreams and while he didn’t remember them, they’d left him feeling somewhat melancholy and distantly unsettled.
He turned off the burner, then retrieved a plate. He brushed against Sebastian slightly as he passed even though there was no need to do so in the rather spacious kitchen. The sniper’s solid reality was welcome, grounding.
Returning to the range, he flipped the omelet onto a plate and laid a fork alongside it. His own toast wasn’t ready yet, but he was impatient; he pushed down the button to eject two pieces of toast from the toaster, then quickly buttered it before the surface cooled and made it harder to spread.
He handed the omelet to Sebastian and commented, “Seven across is ‘cocksmoker.’”
Sebastian’s eyes followed Nick around the kitchen, his head barely inclining up from his paper as he did so. He began to memorize the exact ways that NIck moved, the angle of his shoulders to his hips, the curve of his back as he lifted up the pan and placed the omelet on the table in front of Sebastian. The sniper was still in a unsettled state, having slept in, and wasn’t quite functioning properly on all levels, but when Nick gave him breakfast that looked decent, smelled fantastic and had been cooked by him just for Sebastian the taller man couldn’t help the tide of affection that slowly washed over him.
“Thanks.” Sebastian said. The words were simple and almost offhanded but it was strange how much he meant. Glancing down at the crossword he smiled a bit and rolled his eyes.
“It’s cockfights, actually.” Sebastian took a bite of his omelette and then drowned the last bit of his coffee, going back to his crossword, chewing on the inside of his cheek. He still didn’t know how Nick felt. It seemed as if the man hadn’t reacted at all. He knew that wasn’t true, Nick had known Jim longer and had been attached in a way that Sebastian only recognized weeks after incidents. The first time they met had been rocky. Even the new man Nick had hired years ago had lined up with the first time Jim had slept with Sebastian.
There was a fondness there, a deep seated reverence and respect that Sebastian knew must be eating at Nick. He ate slowly, trying to imagine what to say. Nick may seem more sane than Jim, but both men were psychopaths in the worst kinds of way. People to them were nothing or everything. He frowned and chewed on the inside of his cheek again before looking up at Nick.
“I’m sorry about last night.”