About a month after Thanksgiving chapter. A week before Christmas.


Lights.

Lights flickering on and off, revealing obscure shapes only to plunge them back into cruel blackness that left the room spinning wildly until it made him nauseous.

Or perhaps it was the feeling of a sharp object being plunged into his gut that brought that sensation upon him.

As if that thought alone grounded him, the lights suddenly stopped their flickering and flashed to illuminate the whole room. Or, rather, the tiny area that was better suited to be a cage than a proper room. But then, that was what it was, was it not? A cage, where terror followed his every breath, chased down every last shred of security he held onto until all that was left in him was a panicked paranoia that left him gasping for air.

And gasp he did, for air that felt much too thick and tasted far too stale to be proper oxygen. He entertained the idea that he was slowly suffocating, but the pain in his middle reminded him that that simply was not the truth of the matter.

The nausea in his stomach worsened without warning, causing him to double over in a vain attempt to keep from spewing. But spew he did; blood streaming out from the hole in his abdomen, warm and sticky, all over his lap. He thought perhaps he called out for help, but it could just as easily have been the sound of his own whimpering, ragged and pained and impossibly loud in the cramped space.

His hands scrambled to staunch the bleeding, but he was quick to be reminded that his arms were tied behind him, metal at his back and the ropes around his wrists burning his exposed skin with a renewed vigor while his seat grew frigid enough the cold seeped through his boxers. He'd forgotten about the chair, though he wasn't sure how; it seemed to be the only constant in his life as of late, after all.

Well, that and the owner of the knife.

As if on cue, eyes flashed before him, cold and uncaring for the torment their hands wrought upon the small, frail child in front of them. Eyes as icy as the chair he could not free himself from, attached to a gaunt face filled with an unexplainable fury.

Yet… it was explainable, too. Only he knew why the man was so upset. He didn't know how he knew, or what he knew, or why he knew, but he found that he did know where the rage stemmed from, and why. It involved another child… somehow.

Save for the eyes, and the hand holding that accursed knife, however, all other aspects of the tormentor's physique escaped him. Because what he looked like, or didn't look like, did not matter in the end.

He didn't want him, after all. He was only looking for a means to an end- a proper end. He just happened to be a pawn in getting the man there. His suffering was an unfortunate necessity, so he'd been told numerous times during his imprisonment. That was why he hadn't been slaughtered like a farmhouse swine.

He wasn't the intended target.

He never had been.

And they both knew who was.

Without warning, there was a pounding on the door behind him. It was loud, and painful to hear, and so very comforting somehow.

His heart leapt into his throat with the sound even as his stomach dropped so far he worried it would slip out the hole in his stomach.

Without knowledge of how, he found that he knew exactly how this scenario played out.

He was being dragged out of his seat and held in front of a body that was somehow colder than the metal furniture he'd sat upon before he could register anything else. Too weak to fight off the arms restraining him, he stood still, so limp he was barely standing at all, waiting for what he knew was to come.

What he knew he was powerless to stop.

No sight was needed to know his tormentor had slipped a gun into his palm, though see it he did.

No sensation was needed to know the doorframe was broken, its splinters burying into his arms, though feel it he did.

No audio was needed to know Beatrice was ordering the man to lay his weapon down and put his hands in the air, yet hear he did.

No taste was needed to know it was her blood that stained his face when the single gunshot went off, but taste he did.

He knew how the rest of it went: The other agents would arrive. They would attempt to arrest the man, but find him with his brains recently blown out all over the child- the child that refused to be taken from his the departed officer's side. They would take the child away, back into the arms of the woman with crippling depression- who'd started all of this. Things would turn out and life would continue on as it had before.

He knew this, and still he could not stop his feet from moving, could not stop his legs from giving out, or his hands from shaking as he covered the single hole in her chest. And try as he might, he could not keep in the anguished cries that tore from his throat.

Burying his face into her breast, he screamed, begged for her to get up, to come back, to stop being so motionless and pale- to stop bleeding! Please stop bleeding!

Mom!

Mom!

M-

"-om!"

Razr jerked upwards violently enough that he lost his balance and fell out of his chair, more graceless than he would ever admit. It took him a minute to catch his breath and even longer to slow his racing heart. Once he did though, he righted himself, running his hands through his hair while shaking his head in an attempt to rid himself of the images that persisted to plague his vision every time he blinked.

When those efforts proved fruitless, he grabbed the mouse on the desk and began shakily scrolling through any and every document he found still open on the desktop. He'd been reading up on Dalton's employees because apparently one had gone mysteriously missing and he was supposed to find her. Heather Vern. Randall didn't really care about any of it, but Dalton had asked him to do it, and he'd been bored enough to say yes. Apparently he'd fallen asleep in the midst of reading about Kenny Altman, the man who'd worked under Vern, and as he continued through the text he understood why he'd nodded off in the first place. He'd forgotten how dull profiling online could be. It was so much better to get a feel for the people in person.

As it was, the whole process screamed tedious, and he hadn't had a full night's sleep in two days.

When he was certain the nightmare had fled his system completely, Razr took the time to close the information and log off the computer. He stretched, a loud whine escaping him as he did so, and he glanced at the clock on the wall.

5:15 AM

So he hadn't been asleep for more than an hour.

He sighed and stood up from the swivel chair. The part of it that wasn't coated in leather brushed his hand as it lazily turned and Razr jerked back as the sensation of being burned by the cool metal went through him like electricity. He glared at the offending object, and without much thought to the damage it could potentially cause, kicked the piece of furniture. It fell over, clattering against the hardwood floor. The sound echoed throughout the entire room and made him wonder if Hymn would be woken up.

The noise served to aggravate him even more, making the hairs on his arms and neck stand on end. He understood the reasons why, and that only pushed him into a fouler mood. He couldn't stand when he his body responded in ways he could not control. He could slow his breathing and his heart rate at will; could manipulate which expressions crossed his face and which didn't; could even control people, though they didn't realise it. So, when he couldn't control how he physically reacted to problems he became even more upset than he may have been if he could get it to listen. He understood this about himself, which was yet another factor in his being annoyed.

I guess I'll just find something else to do, then.

The sound of the washroom door being closed at the end of the hall alerted him to his flatmate's awake state and Randall stifled a yawn and made his way towards the noise.

If Hymn was going to be up she might as well entertain him.


He hadn't been sleeping.

Well, that wasn't quite right. He didn't sleep all that often, but now it seemed he was sleeping even less.

Dalton wasn't sure when he'd begun picking up on Randall's little idiosyncrasies, but the minute twitches of the shorter male's hands as if he was trying flick invisible debris from the table were impossible to miss, as were the incredibly dark crescents under his eyes. While the eye bags were a fairly permanent feature, Dalton knew they weren't normally so prominent he wasn't normally so twitchy... or quiet, for that matter. Chenton had said something completely asinine a moment ago and Randall had only shot him a half-hearted snort in response. Two days ago he would've gone off on him, explaining all the ways he was an idiot, and why setting a trap was as ridiculous as it was juvinile. It was strange that he was acting different, and even stranger still was the fact that Dalton recognized those differences.

He knew Randall had just gotten off of a pretty intense case, but being threatened with death by a convict didn't usually get him. Maybe it hadn't. Maybe he was just assuming things because he himself would've been shaken up by a six foot eight beast of a man trying to jump across a table to strangle him- and seeing the bruising around Randall's neck had been plenty alarming, too. Maybe that hadn't rattled Randall at all, though- for all Dalton knew, he was used to that treatment.

Psychoanalyzing people had to be a fascinating hobby.

Not that Dalton would ever trade his career for anything. Even when he had to sit through mind numbing meetings such as the one he found himself currently in he enjoyed what he did. There was something to be said about having the power to dictate how a company ran. Even more entertaining was having Randall there to scare everyone into being as well behaved as he'd ever seen them. Dalton couldn't even remember why Randall was at this particular meeting...

Maybe he was the exhausted one.

"Mr. Smith, would you agree with that?"

Dalton blinked and turned his attention to the one who'd addressed him. Kenny Altman. He'd been talking about… oh hell, Dalton had been tuning everyone out, he had not clue. He shrugged as he thought quickly for a way to save himself the grief of having to ask what Altman was referring to. At least it was Kenny and not somebody else. The man had a habit of going on tangents before reaching his point, which often meant he glossed over quite a few subjects, and if he'd kept with that pattern today, then that meant he could safely ask...

"Which part am I agreeing with?"

Altman clenched his jaw momentarily before replying. "I told Doctor Lacroix that his assistance in locating Mrs. Vern would not be needed, because we have it covered. Having him here is draining our funds. Wouldn't you agree?"

The reminder of what Randall was doing there was nice to have, but he had little time to appreciate that before his brain was already moving to the rest of what Altman said. He'd always been a greasy, jealous man, Altman, but was he really questioning Dalton's choice to bring Randall onto the case in front of the rest of their company staff? Especially regarding such a serious topic? Did he want desk duty for the next six months that badly?

They were supposed to be discussing how best to work around Vern's disappearance since she was an integral cog in the company clock, and Randall was there to get a better idea of who she was as a person by talking with the people she'd interacted with the most. After all, as far as they'd been able to tell, she hadn't been taken by anyone. She just… hadn't showed up to work one day. Randall was as important a person at the table as anyone else, and the suggestion that he was expendable was obnoxious.

Dalton risked a glance at Randall and saw the man was watching the exchange with mild interest. He didn't look overly upset but the twitching of his hands had gotten worse, and Dalton would bet any amount of money that if his legs were visible, they'd be bouncing rapidly. The fact that he wasn't standing up and defending himself, though, spoke volumes to how off he must have been feeling.

That was fine. Dalton was more than happy to defend Randall, especially when it also meant protecting his own authority. He couldn't have just anyone questioning his decisions.

Clasping his hands on the table, Dalton turned back to Altman and offered the barest of amused smiles.

"Altman, I believe at this point you are well aware that what happens with our funds is my job to regulate, so you don't need to worry yourself with that. Also, Doctor Lacroix is recognized as a genius and an expert in his field, and is probably our best chance at getting Mrs. Vern back safely. Bringing him here was my judgement call."

Altman looked like he wanted to protest, and Dalton narrowed his eyes, daring him to say one word. On the inside he wanted to laugh at himself. It sounded like he was a captain for a special ops mission or something equally ridiculous and Altman was that one rogue agent. Dalton waited for Randall to roll his eyes or comment on how dumb and pointless this whole meeting was, because they were getting nothing important done.

He didn't want to admit it, but Dalton was disappointed when he did neither of those things.

The remainder of the affair was focused on directing different people and departments in ways that would compensate for the temporary hole caused by Vern's disappearance and checking up on Randall, who'd stopped picking at the table and had instead turned to tugging at and spinning his bracelet.

By the time it ended and everyone had filtered out the doors Dalton was more than a little concerned for him, though he did little to show it until they'd left the building and stepped into his car.

By that point Dalton had driven Randall around enough times to put together that Randall didn't particularly like wheeled transportation, even if he didn't protest the use of it, but this time when he started the car he flinched more visibly than he ever had in the past. Dalton still wasn't sure why he reacted so badly to cars, and he'd never bothered to ask before because he didn't particularly care, but this time made him pause when he went for the gearshift.

He wasn't going to question Randall outright, because not only was that something that would potentially agitate him further, but it would seem weird. It wasn't like either of them made a habit of checking on how the other was doing. Instead Dalton decided to go with something that was more relevant.

"Do you have a better idea of how to figure out where Heather went now?"

"Maybe."

The reply was as stiff as it was final and Dalton couldn't help but look surprised. There was no further explanation, which was uncharacteristic of Randall. Normally he loved to flaunt his superior intellect. Either he was extremely exhausted or something was very wrong. Dalton hoped it was the former.

He said nothing more, pulling onto the road and heading for Randall's place. They both had work to do and couldn't risk getting distracted by one another. Besides, Randall didn't seem to be in any sort of mood that would indicate the desire for anything but sleep- though Dalton doubted the man would try to get any rest once he dropped him off.

That wasn't his problem, though. He had to remind himself of that sometimes. Randall just… there was something about him that screamed "I need an adult," and no matter how ridiculous the notion was, since he was an adult with a job and home of his own, it was impossible to completely stop the thoughts that wanted to take care of him.

You're not his nanny or his keeper. Let it go.

Dalton sighed, pulling to a stop before a red light, focusing on traffic instead of the tired, brooding person beside him. He hated rush-hour with a passion. Being boxed in from every angle and never knowing if he was going to be able to get to his destination within five minutes or an hour was obnoxious. It didn't help that Randall got ever more on edge when there were so many cars on the road.

Even now, stopped and not in danger of being rear ended the man's eyes whipped every which way, keeping an eye on his surroundings as best he could while his leg bounced hard enough that the car moved slightly with each slam of his heel.

Dalton turned the radio on so the silence wasn't so stifling and so he didn't have to listen to any more of the small clinking of the glass beads Randall kept shifting against his wrist. They remained in that almost-silence for the remainder of the twenty minute drive that should have only been half that time.

When Dalton pulled up to the curb of Randall's apartment building the man was already unbuckling himself and reaching for the door handle.

"Oi." Dalton tapped his shoulder before he could exit the vehicle. Randall didn't look at him but he did pause.

"Call me later, eh? We need to talk about Vern."

There was a stretch of silence that made Dalton wonder if Randall had even heard him. But of course he'd heard him. Dalton then wondered what was on Randall's mind that he was taking so long to answer. He opened his mouth to ask that but stopped himself when he heard a small intake of breath.

"'Kay."

The door slammed shut quickly afterward and Dalton was left watching Randall walk into his building, shoulders hunched in an unfamiliar way that made him frown. Perhaps he'd call him later to find out what was going on… or maybe he'd just catch him later and tire him out so he had no choice but to go to sleep.

For now though, he had work to do.


It was twenty to midnight and Randall hadn't called.

Dalton had been so caught up in his work that he hadn't noticed how late it had gotten, so he decided to give the man the benefit of the doubt, because maybe he'd not realized the time either. It wouldn't be an imposition to be the one to make the call so that they could discuss their findings and future gameplan, he supposed, but still, he'd told him to call so that he didn't have to. Maybe he'd forgotten because he'd gotten caught up in his own work.

Getting the paperwork sorted out for the district had been no easy task, but at least he'd gotten it all done in one night. If Randall had been there, Dalton wasn't sure any of it would have been done. He figured then, that if he could get that much done, that Randall must have a solid lead on Vern. He always liked to go on and on about how fast his brain was in comparison, so Dalton had no doubt he'd been working hard on figuring the case out.

When Randall didn't pick up the first call, Dalton tried for him again. Again he was left to voicemail.

Frowning, Dalton pocketed the phone and found his feet taking him towards the table where he'd left his car keys before he'd made the conscious decision to check up on him. While slipping on his jacket and stepping into the lift Dalton wondered when he'd started caring about the weirdo enough to bother with the fifteen minute drive. He couldn't pinpoint the moment, but he had a sneaking suspicion it was around the same time he'd started noticing Randall's little ticks.

The entire drive was spent on autopilot as Dalton went over the possible reasons Randall hadn't been answering his phone. It was alarming how many items were on the list. Randall could have fallen asleep (unlikely). He could've changed and forgotten to take his phone out of his discarded pants (most likely not). He also could have gotten caught up in his work (probable, but somehow doubtful). He could've been in the middle of a little manic episode and was busy trying to bake every recipe in his cookbook with the limited food supply he had (perhaps more likely than not, but highly worrisome). Of course, there was also the possibility that he wasn't home and had just turned his phone off so he wouldn't be disturbed (probably).

Dalton parked and headed upstairs, only pausing to flash his ID at the desk clerk who had stopped actually needing to see proof of identification weeks ago when Randall had explained to her that Dalton could have access to the apartment any time he wanted. Still, it was late and he tried to be mindful of that; he didn't want to cause any unneeded stress for anyone working.

He didn't bother knocking when he got to the top floor, opting to instead just punch in the entry code and close the door softly behind him. Randall invaded his home without permission often enough that he really shouldn't be minding if the favor was returned once in awhile.

What he'd been expecting to find upon stepping inside had been either an empty home or an irritated Hyacinth telling him Randall was busy. What he'd never imagined was that Randall would be in the living room curled around a ukulele, strumming out a soft song.

Dalton froze, because Randall hadn't seemed to notice his arrival yet and continued on playing. The tune itself was lofty, almost childish in its simplicity, but somehow it was slow enough that it also sounded… forlorn. When Randall's voice joined in Dalton swallowed a surprised noise; he'd never realized he could sing… or that he could sound strange when he wasn't speaking in haughty, extravagant tones. Dalton couldn't help but feel like he was intruding upon something sacred, but he couldn't tear his eyes away, nor could he filter out the words being sung.

"I had a dream, adrift at sea

That you would come back, home to me

And we'd laugh, and play, and dance all day

And never want for more…"

The strumming cut off abruptly as did the singing and he flinched when he caught Randall looking at his reflection in the window he faced while sitting in the armchair. His cover blown, Dalton sighed and entered the living room to take a seat on the coffee table.

Randall didn't look up to greet him.

"Usually people knock."

Dalton shrugged. "I'm taking lessons from a guy."

He glanced over to see if that got any sort of reaction and found Randall only offered the barest attempt at a smile. Dalton swallowed around a question as to what was wrong and discarded it when Randall said nothing more that would indicate the desire for further conversation. Instead he just studied him, how he wasn't crying but still held an intensely sad glint in his eyes, and how he held his instrument to his chest in a way not dissimilar to a child hugging a stuffed animal- like it was the most precious thing in his world- how his thumb brushed against the wood in soothing circles. Dalton noticed the area was engraved, but with Randall's hand in the way it was impossible to make out what it said.

When he finally seemed tired of the staring, Randall huffed quietly and glanced over at him. "What are you doing here, Dalton?"

Dalton caught the traitorous explanation of "to see if you were okay" before it could make its way out, replacing it with a more neutral reasoning that wouldn't make Randall scoff.

"Well, I thought you might have figured out a bit about Vern's case?"

"Oh." Randall said softly, and Dalton didn't know if he sounded tired or disappointed. Either way, he shook his head and picked at the grooves of wording in the uke. "No… I forgot."

"You forgot?" Dalton couldn't help but gape openly at his counterpart. Randall never forgot things- or rather, never admitted that he did.

Randall rolled his eyes in reply. Dalton tried to contain his bewilderment but he wasn't sure how well he was actually managing it. After all, it wasn't every day that he found out Randall hadn't been working on a case, and was instead sitting around his house singing.

But then… it also wasn't every day that Randall dropped his hyper, superior attitude and replaced it with something much calmer and depressing. That thought made him school his expression back into something less judgemental, and it also alerted him to the fact that nobody had come out to see what was going on with Randall.

"Where's Hyacinth?"

"Hymn?" Randall propped his chin up on the body of the uke. "She's at her girlfriend's. Doesn't like being around on anniversaries. I don't like her around either, so it works out."

"Anniversaries?"

Randall nodded and loosened his grip on his instrument enough that he could show off the engraving that Dalton had been trying to get a good look at. When he saw the neatly carved words, "My Dearest Grace, Love Beatrice," it did little to clear anything up for him. Was Beatrice an old girlfriend? Did Randall have a dead sister named Grace he'd never told him about? Dalton supposed that wouldn't be too surprising, since there was still quite a bit they both didn't know about one another.

Randall clearly caught onto his confusion and sighed again.

"Beatrice was my mom."

"But…" Dalton frowned. He could've sworn Randall had referred to his mother being Virginia…

"I had two moms, Dalton, it's not that hard to figure."

Okay. Fair. That still didn't clear up who Grace was, though.

"Ah. And who's Grace?"

Randall grimaced and when his fingers brushed over the engraving again, he clawed at it and left a small scratch in the varnish. "Grace… is me."

"Oh."

Great, now he felt like an idiot.

"She was an agent," Randall continued, as through the last few lines of conversation hadn't happened. Although the way he spoke made it seem like he was just talking to hear himself- like he was pretending Dalton wasn't actually there. "NCA. Great job… y'know, until it wasn't. She uh… that song- she'd play it sometimes. For me. Virginia never quite got it right afterwards, so I had to learn it- wasn't going to let that die with 'Trice. She wrote it for me, so… yeah."

Dalton wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but it certainly wasn't that. Randall had never shared anything personal before. He'd never imagined a scenario in which he'd want to. This though… this knowledge made his chest ache while that desire to defend and protect him, which had popped up during the earlier meeting, came back with gusto. It was ridiculous to entertain the idea of protecting Randall from something that had already happened. Plus, he was a grown-ass-man and didn't need anything like that from Dalton.

Although, Dalton wasn't quite sure if he needed anything at all, or if he'd just been talking to fill the silence. If he was looking for something, Dalton knew it wouldn't be pity. If there was anything Dalton could do, it was not react in the way he wanted to- there would be no hugging or apologizing, or anything Randall would deem useless emoting.

Opting for the safe bet, Dalton reached over to squeeze Randall's shoulder. "She'd probably be glad you keep it alive."

Randall snorted at the sentiment but didn't go off on him about how that was dumb, because dead people were just dead, it wasn't like they knew what the living were doing- she wasn't giving a damn about what he was or wasn't doing in her absence. That fact alone spoke volumes for how he must have been feeling, and went a step further in letting him know why he'd been so despondent during the meeting.

Randall had always acted like the type of person who was unaffected by everything. The world couldn't hurt him, because there was nothing in him to hurt. Dalton had never believed that for a second, but seeing proof of it was still shocking. Seeing Randall upset and human in a way he hadn't before was a harrowing experience.

No wonder he hadn't been sleeping, or giving a damn about anyone else, or… taking care of himself in any way...

"Randall, have you eaten anything today?"

"Do caffeine pills count?"

Dalton cringed and got up. He'd assumed as much, but he'd been holding out hope that Randall would at least remember to take care of himself. Though, if Hyacinth had been gone all day, it made sense that Randall hadn't eaten. Dalton had noticed pretty early on in their interactions that the only times Randall seemed to put any sort of sustenance into himself was when he was in the company of others who were doing the same. He'd wondered if it was due to an eating disorder, but had quickly realized that Randall seemed to just forget to eat.

So of course he'd gone the whole day without food.

"What do you want for dinner?"

There was a long pause as Randall thought about that.

"I have some Lo Mein noodles and teriyaki sauce in the fridge. There might be some chicken... But Hymn forgot to cook it."

Dalton nodded and headed for the kitchen. He'd only been in there once before to grab a bandaid after Randall had scratched him a little too roughly, so he'd never before been able to appreciate just how barren their armoires were. Something he realized very quickly was that those two seriously did not eat.

He located the pans and utensils and set out to cook the meat for their meal, because Randall needed protein more than anything else. He was honestly thankful for the fact that Hyacinth had forgotten to cook the chicken, because if there was one thing he'd learned about the woman, it was that she couldn't cook for shit. Toddlers with no concept of patience or measurement could make better food than her.

That thought made Dalton snicker. He wondered if Randall would find the notion equally amusing, but didn't bother actually saying anything to him when he wandered into the kitchen.

"I'm almost done," he said, "but I wanna re-fry the noodles. They'll taste better that way. I also threw in some spices. Hope you don't… mind…"

Dalton trailed off when Randall came to stand behind him and rest his cheek against his back while his arms wound around his waist. The gesture was not an unwelcome one, though coming from Randall it was strange. Randall was never so… well, clingy wasn't the right word, but it was the only one that came to mind. It was an odd interaction, but not necessarily uncomfortable.

Without thinking about it, Dalton let the hand that wasn't stirring the food wander down to absentmindedly draw little designs over the back of Randall hands. They were cold, his hands, and even if it wasn't surprising, because some stage of frigid was Randall's natural state of being, he still noted it. Dalton didn't think a day went by where Randall didn't complain about his inability to retain body heat. He hated when he would follow those words up by putting his icicle hands on his neck, but this. This was alright. Nice even. Oddly domestic in a way that was not normal, but he'd take it over Randall being pissy and kicking him out.

Besides, he knew as soon as dinner finished cooking the moment would come to an end and they'd both pretend Randall hadn't stayed plastered to his back for several minutes.

But Randall always had been keen on doing the last thing Dalton ever expected. He was reminded of that when he finished cooking and served Randall and himself. Instead of walking away and eating at the table, Randall settled on the floor. Before Dalton could think of stepping away he was being dragged by the waistband of his jeans to sit behind him.

He said nothing about how Randall was acting, but the man still felt the need to tell him to shut up when he apparently felt he'd gone too long in silence without shoving food into his mouth.

Dalton decided to go with it. If Randall needed some more human contact than usual on these sorts of days, he wasn't going to deny him that comfort. Especially not when he was able to get him to take care of himself. And if there was one thing he was aware of needing taking care of next with Randall's head near his face, it was hygiene. A shower was to be the next order of business if he had anything to say about it.

He didn't smell bad, per se, but he usually showered first thing in the morning. He clearly had not today, and he didn't smell like himself because of it. That wasn't going to fly. Besides, a hot shower would help him relax, and then Dalton could probably convince him to sleep.

When they finished eating Randall stretched loudly before turning to look at him, and Dalton wondered, not for the first time, if the guy had mind reading abilities that he wasn't telling anyone about, because his ability to match his train of thought was uncanny.

"We should take a shower."

Dalton didn't miss the "we" and he chuckled. He wasn't about to tell Randall no if that was what he wanted. He bet Randall knew that, too, because he finally sent a smile his way as he brushed past him on his way to the washroom.

He followed after him, and when Randall made no attempt to undress him he raised a brow. His only response was to shrug.

"Not everything has to be about sex, Dalton. Jeez."

He threw his shirt at him and Dalton barely caught it before it could have the chance to knock his glasses off his face. He had a hard time believing that Randall would suggest a shower and not have any ulterior motive in mind, even if he was depressed. He'd never been shy about shooing Dalton away when he wanted to get clean without any other business involved.

"Really?"

He shrugged and bent over to turn the water on. "I mean, it can be."

Dalton rolled his eyes and stripped while Randall continued.

"We can, but wash my hair first- it's gone over twenty-four hours without a wash. That's gross."

Dalton made a face as he stepped into the shower, but only because he knew it would make Randall scrunch his nose and send water splashing into his face.

He sputtered and smacked Randall's hand away. "Pfft- real mature."

"I know, aren't I?"

Dalton retaliated by shoving Randall directly under the heavy stream, sending his newly wet hair into his eyes and mouth.

"You know what? I'm not having fun anymore."

Dalton snorted. "Were you having fun to begin with?"

"True."

Dalton wiped Randall's hair out of his eyes for him and grabbed the shampoo he knew to be his. It was the fruity one- Hyacinth used Dove, or Pantene, or whatever happened to be on sale. Randall was consistent with his scents. Which was good, because if he ever stopped using the hair care products he did, Dalton would probably have a conniption, silly as that might be. He loved- well, liked, the way Randall smelled.

Randall sighed softly when he ran his fingers through his wavy mop, massaging his scalp until the black became engulfed in white foam that threatened to drip into his face. Dalton smoothed the suds back and used the leftover soap on Randall's shoulders and back. He rubbed circles along his shoulder blades and spine before bringing his hands around to his stomach, cleaning off every inch of available skin, relishing how soft he was. He slowed down when he reached his chest and paid special attention to the scars on his chest. Randall tipped his head back, a pleased noise escaping his throat as he got soap on Dalton's chest. Dalton nipped at his ear in response, snorting softly when he got shampoo on the tip of his nose. Randall hummed in response.

The shower continued on like that, with Dalton washing and mouthing at available skin and Randall making little noises of appreciation here and there. Dalton didn't know how long they actually spent under the stream of hot water, but he was quite certain it was longer than strictly necessary when considering the fact that they'd only ended up getting clean.

Randall at least seemed a lot more at ease than he'd been when Dalton had first stepped into the apartment. He didn't look happy, but he looked less sad, which was a small victory in Dalton's book. And, as he pulled his pants back on and watched Randall lazily towel himself dry, he realized that the man's movements had grown slower, heavier. The fatigue was finally getting to him. Good.

Dalton hummed softly and grabbed his own discarded towel from the floor and wrapped Randall's hair in it before working it dry, earning only minimal protest from beneath the fabric. After finishing that, Dalton went to hang the wet fabric to dry. When he turned back, Randall was wearing his shirt, and only his shirt.

The wave of fondness that hit him was unexpected and Dalton blinked, surprised by his reaction. He'd seen Randall in his shirts before, but there was something about this particular instance that got to him. He looked… cute… and vulnerable in a way he'd never truly seen him. It was as if Randall's confiding in him about his mother's death had torn down some barrier he hadn't even realized was up in the first place.

And now that strange pull of attachment that he'd been ignoring for awhile was humming with the energy between them. If the way Randall stepped closer was any indication, he'd noticed that fact too.

There was something different in his eyes when Randall put his hands on either one of Dalton's hips. Where they normally said touch me, fuck me, I want you. Now they said something else, something Dalton knew he'd seen before, but had never paid attention to. Something that, until this point, he'd thought was against the rules.

When he brought his thumb to rest under Randall's chin, his eyes shone brighter, expectant, and Dalton gave in, because he couldn't deny what he wanted any more.

Kiss me.

Randall sighed against his lips in a way that sounded content and also a little exasperated, as if he'd been telling Dalton he'd wanted this for a long while now and he was only just understanding that. Dalton knew that wasn't the case only because he knew Randall had never hesitated to take something wanted in the past. If anything, kissing was a step down from sex, and Randall hadn't been at all shy about asking for that.

It didn't feel like it was, though. In many ways it felt more intimate than anything else they'd done so far. There was something to be said about the way Randall tasted when he breathed into him, when he swiped his tongue against the roof of his mouth, how his hands scrambled to his shoulders for purchase while he pressed several fast, open mouth kisses to his lips.

There was something different in the way Randall allowed himself to be held. He wasn't fighting for dominance, or demanding to be in control. He melted into Dalton's touch, and let his face be cradled each time they broke apart for air. He sighed against his skin when Dalton ran his hands through his hair, something that Randall hated any other time. He liked his hair pulled or he liked it left alone… usually. Apparently there were exceptions.

No, there was something different about this. Something special… and if they kept at it, something dangerous.

Dalton pulled away for breath, chest heaving more than it should've been. He would've been embarrassed about that fact if Randall hadn't been breathing just as heavily. He sighed and foreheads pressed together, while Randall laughed quietly.

"What was that for?"

Dalton didn't even know what to say without running the risk of revealing something he shouldn't. So he just laughed along with him and shook his head.

"I don't know. Awhile."

Randall laughed harder and finally stepped away to pick up his discarded clothes from the floor. Dalton followed him when he exited the washroom and snorted in amusement when Randall threw the dirty garments into the laundry room on his way to the bedroom without missing a step. He'd done that before, apparently.

When they got to the room Randall yawned wide and Dalton couldn't help but do the same. It had gotten late, and they both had work in the morning, and he was only just remembering that. And it was going to be a lot of work.

"You gonna sleep now?"

"Mmm."

Dalton got into bed first and Randall crawled on top of him, an ear over his heart while he tangled their legs together in a way that was comfortable for him and bearable for Dalton. They were both falling asleep before they could even realize it, but when Randall pulled the shirt sleeve over his fingers before settling that hand over Dalton's stomach, he felt the need to pry an eye open.

"I'm never getting that back, am I?"

Randall shook his head and snickered, the sound thick with fatigue. He punctuated his response with a quick kiss to the underside of his chin.

"Nope."


*looks at last chapter* *looks at this chapter* Wow. Duality of man, amiright?