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Count 'Em 'Til You Cry

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There's a pimple the size of fucking Mount Everest on his chin right now. It's comical, almost, how big it is, just on his fucking chin, pink, inflamed. He keeps touching it, keeps wrinkling his nose and poking the sore sucker.

Numerous scenarios play in his head, dancing en pointe, laughing. They're laughing at him, and he deserves it.

"Why didn't you… let me die?" he asks, hands outstretched, toward the ceiling and harsh lighting. It's supposed to be relaxing. It's not relaxing.

"You called me. Said I needed to come get you because you—"

"Please."

"—sure as hell weren't gonna stain the interior of your car."

"Please," he sighs, his hands on his face, fingers in his eyes as he rubs and rubs and rubs. "Kid, just… take me home. Your dad and I have a date."

"Okay."

*

Rick's keys leave his hand to clatter on the kitchen table. The teeth lightly scrape the old wood. "Sorry, should'a called. Had to wait for some drunkard's husband to show up." Rick takes off his hat next, then shrugs off his coat. "Hope I didn't keep you waiting."

"No."

Rick toes off his shoes and walks with socked feet toward the stove. "What are you fixing?"

"Grilled cheese."

"Negan."

Negan raises his head. He stares at Rick, and Rick stares at him. "What?"

"Are you okay?"

It hurts to smile. It hurts to shimmy his shoulders and give a quick hip thrust. "Fucking splendid."

Rick hugs him from behind. Negan tugs on the sleeves of his shirt.

*

"You've missed a spot shaving," Rick says, as he peppers dry kiss after dry kiss up Negan's neck, toward Negan's ear.

Negan's spread out on his back, Rick a comfortable weight on his hips. They're on the bed, the lights off, the covers on their way to the floor. Negan doesn't make eye contact. He's looking at the ceiling, at the fan slowly spinning around and around and around in a circle. "How careless of me," he drones, ignoring the ache in his wrist and head.

"It's okay." Rick's voice is soft. Those two words carry more weight than he knows. Negan bites a knuckle while Rick kisses his Adam's apple and pulls on his shirt. "Take this off," he says.

"No," Negan says. "Not tonight. Daddy's tired."

Rick isn't upset. This is… predictable.

They get the bed ready and sleep. Rick doesn't ask Negan why he insists on wearing a long-sleeve shirt to bed.

*

Negan leaves before Rick rises. He slips into his jeans and yanks on his leather jacket, zipping it up, enveloping him completely, protection, a blanket, his safe place. It's old and still smells of home, of her, and he fucking hates it, for what it's worth. And it's worth a lot.

In the kitchen, Carl's hanging with a friend, sipping on cans of pop. He eyes Negan, the conversation between him and his friend ceasing. Not that it was just idle conversation at the start; they were speaking in whispers and side glances. Sharing secrets, and judging by the silence that falls once Negan enters the room, it wouldn't take a fucking rocket scientist to figure out their topic of discussion.

Negan's wrist is constricted from the thick gauze wrapped around it, but he still points at the kid, head tilting and shoulders held back. "Don't tell your dad," he says, and Carl nods. He doesn't say anything. He doesn't know what to even say.

At his apartment, Negan locks himself in the bathroom. He cuts away the gauze and counts the stitches. He loses count after reaching the double digits.

His reflection is tired. The pimple is worse this morning. Negan laughs. "What do you have to be so stressed about?"

He wraps new gauze around the stitches and cleans up the mess he made while shaving yesterday. Stains are everywhere. Negan laughs at this, but he's not really laughing. Tears prick at his eyes, and they soon wet his cheeks. He allows himself this moment, this very brief moment, before Carl texts him—damn kid.

you shouldn't be alone

Negan doesn't reply.

*

Rick texts him next. It's a blank message, but it's enough for Negan to know Rick had their conversation open and had intent to talk to him.

They're supposed to see a movie tonight, as they've always done on Saturday nights for the past two years. Negan's expected to look up movie times, and Rick's expected to make sure they have enough lube for their shenanigans when they come home. For the past two years, everything fell into place with no disturbances. Now? Now, Negan doesn't know if this is the sort of thing couples are supposed to do after what happened yesterday. Rick doesn't know, though. Rick doesn't know.

Negan looks up movie times.

*

The movie sucks. Rick says it's because Negan slept through the whole thing. Negan rolls his eyes and says, "Rick, you don't know shit."

The interior of the car is clean from what transpired the day before. It sucks how Carl was forced to drive the family car to get Negan, but shit happens. That's what Negan told the little shit when they struggled down the stairs of the apartment complex. Negan had too much saliva in his mouth and blurry vision, and he spit in Carl's face and said, "Shit happens."

Carl said nothing. He shoved Negan into the backseat, where he lay for the duration of the ride to the emergency room. Carl had plucked towels from Negan's hamper and tied them around Negan's wrist. Negan wasn't as compliant as someone who just called for help. He fought Carl, made it hard for him, made him fucking work, and Carl wasn't gentle. He shoved Negan, pushed him into the backseat, fucking shut the door on his shin since he wouldn't move it. "Fuck, kid," Negan slurred, laughing and waving his injured arm in the air. "What's got your ass clenched?"

Carl drove, and Carl shoved and pushed Negan some more. The nurse stitched him up, and then Carl shoved and pushed Negan even more, and Carl drove. Carl wouldn't look at him as he dropped Negan off at his apartment, only kept his hands, white knuckled, on the steering wheel and his eyes narrowed at the road ahead.

Negan sat in the passenger seat this trip and sucked on a cigarette. He flicked ashes to the floor and blew smoke out the window. "Fuck, kid," Negan said. "Liven up a bit. Tomorrow's a brand-new day."

He stubbed the cigarette in the ashtray, leaving the butt with the others he consumed on his drives with Rick. One more cigarette wouldn't hurt. Rick wouldn't notice one more cigarette, and Rick sure as hell wouldn't notice the blood on the backseat if Carl disposed of the towels. Negan reminded him of this with a shrug and a weak gesture. "Don't forget to clean that up."

"Okay."

Before he got out the car, Negan tore the paper wristband from his wrist with his teeth and deposited it in a cup holder. "That, too," he said, and pointed, and Carl gripped the steering wheel and repeated, "Okay."

Rick is much like Carl now. The grip on the steering wheel is as tight, if not tighter, than Carl's. There's something behind those blue eyes of his, but Negan is smoking and not looking at Rick. His feet are kicked up on the dashboard, his posture slumped and as relaxed as he can be in a seat like this.

Rick says, "What was that?"

Negan says, around the cigarette in his mouth, "You don't know shit."

"Right." Rick takes the cigarette from Negan and sticks it between his lips. The motion is fluid and directs Negan's head to follow it. "Anything else?"

"What?" Negan drops his gaze, connecting it with the cup holder and the fucking bracelet in it. Goddamn kid. He's placid, just pulls the sleeves of his leather jacket further down his arms.

"What shit don't I know?" Rick means for this question to be something, but Negan is a fucking joke.

He snorts. "Just how much I want you to fuck me tonight."

Rick smiles at that. Negan does, too.

*

Negan kisses Rick after he parks the car in the driveway. It's deep, distracting, and Negan takes this moment to grab the wristband in the cup holder and stash it into his back pocket.

"Fuck me, Rick," he says. "I want you to fuck me like it's the last time you'll ever get the fucking chance."

In hindsight, that's probably the worst thing Negan could say, but he says it. He says it, and Rick kisses him again, wet, open, and Negan reciprocates.

Despite how rough they are in the car, as soon as they close and lock the bedroom door, the mood shifts, and Rick goes slower. He's stroking Negan's sides, the insides of his thighs, and it takes longer than necessary for them to get undressed. They're not even kissing. Rick's just staring at Negan, somber eyes, calculating expression, and he's so fucking soft. Negan melts underneath him, letting Rick touch his face, his neck, do whatever he wants. Negan is putty. He's nothing.

"Negan," Rick says, and that's it.

Negan closes his eyes. "Turn off the damn lights."

Dark, quiet, the covers pulled over them, Negan holds the backs of his thighs as Rick fucks him. Neither are particularly loud, not that they were drifting toward a wild night out in the first place. At this point, Negan doesn't think he's going to come. He's flaccid, just letting Rick use him to get off. Negan's flattered, honestly, and no matter if he orgasms or not, Rick feels good. He kisses Negan's forehead and his knees, and everything is all right.

Rick comes and says, panting, "You really should move in with me."

"Shut the hell up," Negan sighs, fixing the pillow behind his head. "Clean me up. With your mouth."

In the morning, Rick's standing over Negan with Judith on his hip. She's just woken, drinking milk from a bottle. Rick's dressed only in jeans—Negan's jeans, at that, the button and zipper undone. Negan grins and reaches over, left hand out, and runs his fingers through the hair beneath Rick's navel. "Hey there," Negan says.

"How'd you hurt your wrist again?" Rick asks, like Negan told Rick what happened before now, which he fucking hadn't.

Negan swallows. "Burned it while cooking on Friday."

Rick says, "Hm," and leaves the room. Judith smiles at Negan.

*

Pancakes are on the table, a new bottle of syrup ready to pour. Negan stares at the table set. Rick is already digging into his food, clothed, hair damp from his shower. Negan's recently gathered what strength he could to roll from bed and tug on his boxers. Even then, he should be doing more.

"Were you serious about me moving in with you?"

Rick looks up.

"Not just busting my balls? Wasn't some spur-of-the-moment shit?"

"It's been two years, Negan. Shouldn't we be living together?"

Negan sinks into the chair. He grabs a fork. "Fuck, I guess so."

Rick presses his toes into the arch of Negan's foot.

*

Negan goes to work on Monday. He tells his students the story of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Again, in hindsight, it's not the best thing for Negan's state of mind.

Some kids are talking amongst themselves. They stare at Negan and point at their wrists. Carl's with them, but he doesn't participate. He doesn't stop them either. Both are just fucking great.

"Watch this," Negan says, and adds, "little shits."

The film is something from the History Channel, supposed to be entertaining and not as accurate as Negan believes the events to be, but it's enough for the brain-dead fucks' short attention spans. At a particularly gruesome battle scene, Negan slips from the room and doesn't return.

He sits outside, sharing cigarettes with the cafeteria workers and texting Rick. Rick is inclined to believe something is wrong, but Negan tells him everything is fine.

Just fucking fine baby

Ok

*

Throughout the week, Rick and Negan hardly see each other. They text—constantly. So, when Rick asks Negan if something's wrong at the initial text of the day, Negan is confused because—hello—they text all the damn time.

Are you okay? Negan asks later that day, pouring his soul over a pot of spaghetti-for-one.

I'm great

Negan does laundry, patting pockets from the clothing he wore over the weekend. Everything's empty. "Not even a fucking dollar," Negan sighs.

It's as he's shoving garlic bread into the oven he remembers the paper bracelet with teeth marks. He remembers it's supposed to be in his back pocket. He remembers Rick wearing those jeans and feeding Judith. Negan remembers the pancakes Rick made and the way Rick's toenails dug into the arch of his foot.

If anyone asks, Negan abso-fucking-lutely did not cry over spaghetti.

*

Negan doesn't know why he feels like this, but he thinks it makes sense.

*

Carl texts him Thursday after class.

have you told my dad

Shit kid, don't tell me you're texting in class. I'm gonna need to confiscate your mobile device.

shut up

Whoa

On Friday, Carl puts up more of a fight.

Negan, this isn't funny. if you don't tell my dad I will

Just a well-educated guess, but Carl is acting this way because Negan didn't show up to school today. But that's just a guess. Hell if Negan knows why the kid is acting like this. He left the sub a better movie than last time. Everything's golden.

Chill out lmao

Truth is Negan didn't want to get out of bed this morning. He felt weighed down, heavy, the strength to open his eyes gone. Rick's all he wanted—needed—but Negan didn't want to bother him.

The pimple on Negan's chin is still there. It looks bigger than last week. Negan pokes at it and debates on shaving. He doesn't.

Phone in one hand and gauze in the other, Negan sits on the toilet and counts the stitches holding his wrist together.

Kid is your dad home?

no he's at work

Well shit

Negan

Let yourself in, you know where the spare key is

Carl finds him in the bathroom, in his t-shirt and jeans, looking at his wrist. Carl joins him, sitting criss-cross applesauce on the tile flooring.

They sit like that for three hours.

Rick calls Carl. Carl stares at Negan.

"I'm with a friend," Carl says.

"Negan? No, I haven't talked to him," Carl says.

"He wasn't at school today. I think he was sick," Carl says.

"Yeah, Dad," Carl says.

"Love you, too," Carl says.

Carl hangs up, and Carl says, "Next time you pull this shit, I'm not coming over."

"Fuck, kid." That's all Negan can say. That's all he wants to say. He pokes at the pimple again.

Carl leaves.

*

Rick wants to know if they're still on for tonight. "We can just do the movie tomorrow," he says over the phone. "Carl told me you were sick."

Negan coughs. "Deathly ill, I'm afraid it's highly contagious."

"Whatever."

They stay on the phone for the rest of the night. There are long pauses and natural silences, but it's a comfortable silence—comfortable enough for Negan to fall asleep and not feel guilty for doing so. When he wakes, texts from Rick await.

You snore and it's cute
Sorry
I can pick you up tomorrow. We don't have to go to the movies. Let me take care of you.

Negan sends, Hell yeah!, and goes back to sleep.

*

At Rick's place, Negan crashes on the couch and doesn't move. He feels eyes on him. He sleeps.

*

They don't go to the movies. Negan doesn't move. Rick is never far.

Sunday evening, when Rick is feeding Judith, Carl looks down at Negan with a blank expression. Negan hates that. "Fuck off, kid," he says, and tosses his arm over his eyes. "Let a poor man wallow in his fucking self-pity."

Carl says, "You haven't told my dad, have you?"

Negan is quiet, as still as a statue.

Carl doesn't leave him. "You're an idiot. You're an asshole. It's been a week, and you haven't even tried to tell him."

Silence.

"Do you think it'd be better or worse if I told him? Because I'll tell him."

"Don't."

Carl leaves, then. Negan cries.

Rick finds him like that, curled in on himself, face safely tucked into the crook of his elbow to keep the tears inside. It doesn't work. Negan is leaking, a mess, a Goddamn mess, and Rick sits on the carpet by the couch, his back to the cushions, to Negan, and he doesn't say anything. He just sits there, and Negan doesn't know why that makes him cry harder, but he's sobbing now, obnoxious sounds, struggling to breathe.

"Shit," he gasps. "Fuck, shit, cock." He wipes his eyes. "Motherfucking, fathershitting, kidcunting bullshit."

"In and out," Rick says, as if Negan's in fucking labor. He even grabs Negan's hand and squeezes.

Despite how ridiculous this all is to him, Negan lets Rick hold his hand because, hell, does it make him feel better. Their fingers aren't laced together, just their palms touching. It's like Rick's trying to pull Negan out of something—and maybe he's doing exactly that.

Negan rolls onto his side and stares at Rick. Rick is already staring at him. Tears still frequent his eyes, but Negan sees Rick lean in, and Negan leans in, too. Lips parted at the beginning press, Negan tastes tongue and the faintest hint of strawberry balm.

Fingers in Rick's hair, tugging at the curls, Negan squeezes Rick's hand with as much force as Rick had prior. Negan says, "Fuck Daddy's mouth," and Rick says, "Daddy needs his rest."

Negan doesn't argue with that. "Need a shower. Need to go home. Have work tomorrow."

"Take a sick day." Rick kisses Negan's forehead. "Stay the night."

Negan does.

*

In Rick's room, Negan drops to his knees. "Please," he whispers, crawling, eyes big.

Rick gives in, undoing his belt, unzipping his pants.

Negan opens his mouth, opens it even wider when Rick grabs his hair at the crown of his head. "Shit," he says, because that's all he can say before Rick slides his dick down Negan's throat.

Negan likes being used. For twenty minutes, he feels alive.

*

They still text throughout the week. Rick mostly asks if Negan's doing okay, and he is, totally. He hasn't felt trapped during any of his classes, and he only needed to shut down the little shits for being rowdy twice this week—both during Carl's class.

His friends are more explicit in their teasing. They've moved on from mere gestures to full-blown three-act plays, complete with dramatized reactions from the audience. Negan yells because he's tired. He's so fucking tired.

After each class, Negan makes Carl come to his desk, and they engage in a staring contest until the other gives in; both times, it's Carl.

"What do you want?"

Negan shrugs. "I don't know, kid. How about some Goddamn respect?"

"Maybe they'll respect you when you start respecting yourself."

That hurts. Carl knows he went low. There's a flash of regret, but it fades quickly. Negan kicks his feet up on his desk. "Get the fuck out of my sight."

Maybe Carl also knows something was going to happen later that night. Maybe that's why he texts Negan, telling him to stop whatever he's doing. Negan's in the bathroom when he gets this message, just standing and peering at his reflection. So, he sends Carl, Taking a shit, kid, and begins his nightly routine of unwrapping his gauze and counting the stitches.

Carl texts him an hour later. It's his name, nothing special. Negan laughs.

What the hell do you want?

what do you want?

Negan leaves Carl on read.

Carl sends, Negan, and Negan sends, What the fuck is stopping you? You know where the spare key's at.

This time, it takes ten minutes for his visitor to arrive. Negan listens to the key shove into the lock, rattle around for a bit, and then release. The footsteps should have been a dead giveaway as to who entered his apartment, but Negan's mind is fuzzy, and so are his eyes. He wouldn't say he's crying. No, nothing travels down his face yet.

But that changes.

Rick's in the doorway, wearing his brown coat with the fur Negan always liked. He's standing, hands in his pockets, shoulders relaxed. "Hey," Rick says. It's deep, not at all what Negan expected to come from him right now.

"Hey," Negan says. He's sat on the toilet, phone in one hand and gauze in the other, an all-too-familiar position.

"Wrap that up." Rick nods. "Get dressed. We're going for a drive."

Negan's chin is sore.

*

Two cigarettes, three cigarettes, Negan swears up and down he'll stop after this next one, this next one, but the packet in his hands is full upon opening, and his fingers keep pluck, pluck, plucking a cigarette after the last one finishes. Chain smoking, Negan sits reclined in the passenger seat, feet on the dash, much like he always does when taking a ride in the Grimes family car.

This car is as much a home to Rick as it is to Negan. The cigarette ash aplenty is evidence of that. Rick doesn't smoke unless Negan is with him. He's smoking now, him and Negan sharing a cigarette after a cigarette after a cigarette. Rick hasn't said a word since they started this drive, but Negan? Negan hasn't shut his mouth.

"C'mon, Rick, don't leave me hanging in suspense," he's saying, wiggling his toes inside his boots. "It's like you're taking me somewhere to shove a bullet through my head."

There's the lead up; there's the buzzword. "Do you want that?" Rick asks, cigarette in his possession as he takes another right turn. "A bullet through your head?"

Negan snorts. "My damn luck, I'll end up missing my brain."

Rick looks like he's about to make another insensitive comment, but he swallows it. "Carl told me you two have been spending more time together."

"Yeah, we're playing fucking baseball."

"Negan, it's autumn."

"Well, hell, Rick, are you accusing me of lying to you?"

Rick doesn't answer. He passes over the cigarette and reaches into his glove department next. Clutched tightly in his fist, split right down the middle by a set of great white teeth, is the paper brand of every hospital-goer. He holds it in one hand, presenting it to Negan, and uses his other hand to drive. It isn't wise because Rick is definitely not left-handed, but Negan's seen him work magic with that hand before, so he doesn't worry.

"What's this?" Rick asks, a grumble. He's in parent mode. Might as well.

Negan sticks the cigarette in his mouth. "I'unno. What is it, Officer?"

"Negan—"

"Your kid's already told you, hasn't he? Why do you gotta hear it from me?"

"Because I want to hear it from you."

Negan rolls his eyes. He doesn't say anything. Rick dumps the bracelet in the cup holder and returns his hand to the steering wheel. "Carl doesn't tell me nothin'. Why? Is there something he needs to be tellin' me?"

"What we talk about is none of your business." Negan points, and Rick lightly smacks his hand.

"Shut up."

Negan puffs on the cigarette.

Rick takes a left turn. "Obviously something's going on. He was worried that you were gonna do something stupid." For once, Negan doesn't make a comment. Rick continues, "I asked him why he thought you were gonna do something stupid. So, he showed me the text messages." Rick scratches the stubble on his cheeks. "Negan, shit, you could have—I could have—"

"Shut up," Negan says this time, and shoves the cigarette into Rick's mouth. "'Could have,' 'should have,' 'might have.' Don't fucking dwell on What Ifs."

"I gotta," Rick sighs around the cigarette. "What if Carl didn't—what if you—?"

"Rick, shut up." Negan sits up properly now, yanking off his seatbelt. He climbs into the backseat.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"You're pissing me off."

"You're pissing me off."

Negan gets his foot stuck, and he misplaces where to set his hand. He smashes his face into the rough carpeting and attempts a somersault. Nothing works out, and Negan ends up dropping on his back gracelessly, hanging his arm limp from the cushions. From the front seat, Rick sighs again.

"Negan."

"What?"

Rick reaches behind him. Negan expects the cigarette, but Rick wants to hold his hand. Negan takes it. They stay like this.

Negan digs at his chin, fingernails dirtying with blood and pus. "I love you," he says, and squeezes Rick's hand. "It's not your fault."

The car stops. They park under a streetlamp.

Rick stubs the cigarette into the ashtray. "It's not your fault either."

It's a tight fit, but Rick crawls into the backseat with Negan—with as much difficulty as Negan. Knocking the top of his head against the roof of the car, his foot getting caught on God-knows-what, Rick manages to straddle Negan's hips. Suggestive and not suggestive in the slightest, he holds Negan and kisses the tears from Negan's cheeks.

*

Rick spends the night at Negan's apartment, saying over and over that it's okay, it's okay, it's okay.

"Carl's watching Judith. It's okay, Negan."

Negan hates how vulnerable he feels, hates how the fucking waterworks just won't fucking quit. "Right. Just, holy hell, Rick, get me off. My balls are gonna explode."

Rick works Negan's cock until Negan is quiet, until Negan actually fucking comes. Long stripes across his stomach, all over Rick's palm, Negan's hips twitch, toes curling, shaking with everything happening at once.

"Dammit, Rick," Negan says. "Fuck me. Fuck your daddy."

Rick isn't soft. He's rough. He bites. Negan isn't quiet during this. He's never quiet when it's like this.

"Right there. Fuck me. Just like that. Shit, fuck, piss, Rick, Rick, holy smokes."

After reaching his climax, Rick lies there in silence—not stunned; he's used to Negan's vulgarity. No, Rick's got this look on his face, a look Negan adores with all his heart.

"What'cha thinking 'bout, cowboy?"

"I want you to move in with me."

"Oh, Rick, you know exactly what to say to rustle my jimmies."

Rick rolls his eyes. He kisses Negan.

Before falling asleep, Negan and Rick stand in the bathroom and watch Negan unravel the gauze from around his wrist. As Rick inspects, Negan counts.

Rick bends forward, head lowering, lips parted, and Negan rips his hand from Rick's hands. "Don't," he warns, and tilts his head. "Don't do that shit."

"Okay."

Negan gets new gauze. Rick says, "Can I do this?"

"Knock yourself out."

Rick looks at him like nothing's changed between them. He smiles. Negan presses his hand to Rick's eyes, covering them. "Oh, baby blue, you're fucking ridiculous."

"Stop bopping. You're gonna cause the Earth to rotate on its axis the wrong way."

"Yessir!"

Negan falls asleep with his face in Rick's armpit and wakes more refreshed than he's ever been in weeks.