A/N: ARGH! This is the LAST CHAPTER! For real this time! And it breaks my heart, but… Well, since I have to tie all strings together, and my chapters are pretty long even when all the threads are loose, this is really long! If it's any comfort… Anyway, read on, you faithful readers…
16: This Time
Adam is terrified. The second Jigsaw starts talking, from beyond the grave, but still meaning death to him, he's terrified, and he thought he'd start to cry.
He doesn't cry. But he's shaking, trembling all over, presses closer to Lawrence, tightens the grip on his hand because it's the only solid point in the kitchen, everything else sways back and forth.
Lawrence thought he'd cry, too. Or maybe not cry, but at least be scared. At least as scared as Adam, or at least shiver a little.
But he doesn't. Because just like Adam, he has one solid point, a focal center in this moment and in this life, one thing keeping him sane, as a name that glows in neon in his mind.
Adam needs him to be strong. Adam needs Lawrence to be strong because he isn't, himself.
So Lawrence is strong. He's strong for Adam, breaths warmly into his neck, sneaks his arm firmer around his waist when he feels the trembling underneath the white t-shirt.
But if Adam weren't here, Lawrence would tremble. He'd do a hell of a lot more.
Because now, a voice he actually barely got to hear in the bathroom, a voice that he's only heard once when it told him that he had to kill Adam, once when it told him that it would kill him, fills the entire kitchen along with a dull buzzing from the playing tape.
Jigsaw has returned.
But maybe that's what's needed to make him go away for good.
"If you listen to this tape, congratulations. It means that you have both survived my second test, and also, that one of you – which I would have to guess is Adam – has left me behind in that room, a fate that I planned for you."
"It's okay," Lawrence murmurs absentmindedly.
"But before I let you return to your lives, or hopefully, life, there are some things that I need you to know. And for you to understand why I tell you this, I have to explain one thing: I never cared about any of my patients, or victims, as you prefer to call them. The main rule if you're going to begin a life like mine is that you can't let any of your emotions in. That was what was needed to be able to watch them die without getting heartbroken. But I never thought I'd have to block out any irritation over a patient that lived because he or she disobeyed my rules. That's why I created this test for you."
"Blame that," Adam hisses.
So much hatred.
"You two were the puzzle pieces that didn't fit, the jokers in my otherwise perfect deck of cards. You both survived, and you learned from my game, but forgot other things along the way. Adam, you forgot about your own humanity and vulnerability, and doctor Gordon, you were needed to make him remember it again. But despite this, you are both the only ones I have tested that I am actually proud of."
Maybe Adam relaxes a little. Maybe.
"It is true that you both disobeyed my rules. Both the first time, and if my life has ended, you have done so this time, too. And I cannot tell if Adam has learned his lesson this time, since I'm recording this right before Amanda brings him over here, but if he had not changed from the first game, you would not live together right now. Adam would not have been happy, and doctor Gordon would not have enough emotions to be able to feel anything at all. And since you learned that from your first test, I can only assume that you learn from this one as well.
Adam has probably learned to tell doctor Gordon that he loves him, now that he has faced the fact that you are only one kidnapping away from almost losing each other. And doctor Gordon has probably learned to pursue him a little further if he closes down on the world again."
And then a pause. Like he's not really sure what to say.
"There is way too much hatred in this world. You both know that. So when love as great as the one you share comes before you, you should relish it. And I hope you will spend the rest of your life doing that."
The tape has ended. Adam exhales through his nose, loosens up, but still doesn't stand up from Lawrence's lap. They don't say anything for a while.
Jigsaw is right, Lawrence knows that. That's exactly what he established when they went to the hospital, wasn't it?
He can love Adam as much as he likes. Adam can be his world and his family and his guardian angel.
But he's still so fragile. So easily taken away.
And only one ghost from their past can make him so aware of that that he doesn't know if he'll ever believe anything ever again.
"He talks like he knows anything about us."
Lawrence would've startled if Adam hadn't said it so pitifully. Now, he leans his chin on Adam's shoulder, instead. Sighs heavily.
"He doesn't," Lawrence states. "You can't ever believe that he does, Adam."
"But he does, doesn't he?" Adam blurts out, puts a lazy, hesitant fingertip on the tape recorder. "He knows us inside out. I mean… I've never been able to say… That I love you, he knew that. And he knows why, he knows… That you never pushed me to. I mean… What doesn't he know?"
Lawrence doesn't answer right away. He considers the question and trails off in the scent of soap and tobacco from Adam's skin.
Jigsaw doesn't know that he does that.
Jigsaw doesn't know the words that aren't spoken.
"He doesn't know that I didn't need you to tell me that you loved me," Lawrence concludes softly. "He just thought that I didn't want to nag anymore. He didn't know that I… Knew it. All along. Despite what you told me."
Pause. That scent…
Lawrence wouldn't be able to live without it, and for a second, that despair that always is followed with joy so big that it almost makes him high, washes over him.
He could've lost it.
And he doesn't want to never be able to take Adam for granted again. He wants to know that he'll be there when he comes home from work.
That's another thing Jigsaw doesn't know.
You can't walk around and be grateful for life all the time. Because to be grateful for something, the gratitude has to follow a fear that you wouldn't gain it, or that you'd lose it. And there was a time when Lawrence walked around at work all day, worrying about what Adam did, if he was alright, and he didn't appreciate life at all when he did that. He was too afraid to do so.
But when Lawrence comes back to work, he's going to be safe. He won't worry, won't think that Adam's going to go away the second he turns his back on him, because then he'd be busy doing that to think about Adam's insecure grin, the way his Adam's apple bobs up and down when he drinks milk out of the carton, how he blows his cheeks up when he shaves in a way that makes him look completely mental.
And if Lawrence wouldn't think about that, he'd forget to appreciate some of the most wonderful things on this Earth. And that can't be what Jigsaw wants to achieve with those tests.
"He only knows the things he saw, Adam," Lawrence mumbles and snuggles his nose in behind Adam's ear. "He doesn't know… You know, the things we know about each other without saying them. Because… You know what I'm thinking right now, don't you?"
Now, it's Adam who doesn't answer immediately. But after a few seconds…
Lawrence smiles weakly.
"What am I thinking?"
And there's that grin. Oh, Lawrence loves it.
"That you love me."
Lawrence chuckles, plants a small kiss behind Adam's ear where his lips are already placed.
"How did you know that?"
"It's a gift," Adam smirks and strokes the arms around his waist. "Love you, too, by the way."
Then they're quiet and still in each other's newfound safety, until Lawrence remembers something he found out today, and lifts his chin from Adam's shoulder.
"By the way," he says. "You know what else the cops told me when I picked up the tape?"
"No?" Adam says lazily.
Lawrence tightens his grip on Adam. To be honest, he doesn't know if this will shock him, but if it will, he wants to be prepared. Adam's had enough of that today.
"They've found Zep," Lawrence states, and tries to combine his safe-doctor-voice with his considerate-lover-voice in this sentence. "In his apartment. He'd sliced his wrists open, and they found a note next to him. You know what it said?"
Adam's turned against him. He doesn't really look shocked, more surprised, with his eyes slightly widened and his lips parted. Like when they watch a horror movie together, since it's been ages since Adam actually got really scared of a movie, and Lawrence had to have an arm around his shoulders, despite his stubborn: "Who the fuck you think I am, Diana?"
Or, at least it feels like ages ago. So much has changed since then.
"No," Adam says again, more breathlessly this time.
"'For John,'" Lawrence says softly and strokes Adam's cheek. "That was it."
Adam knows that Zep was involved in this, too. They've already told each other everything, even though they both know it's useless, even though they've both made endless attempts to tell both journalists and cops what happened, both the first and second time, without being able to describe as much as fragments of the horror, the pain, the dark, screeching hole in their souls. In their loves.
And Adam's never seen Zep. So maybe it's even harder for him to understand, but it's not easy for Lawrence, either, he never saw the body and he doesn't want to, but either way, Adam doesn't seem to care. He just leans back against Lawrence again, seems to be trapped in his thoughts again, until he furrows his brows and goes:
"So he killed himself because Jigsaw was dead?"
"Yeah," Lawrence says tonelessly.
"Wow," Adam says. "I… I never thought they were really… Close. I mean, I know he 'bonded,' or whatever the fuck they call it, with that Amanda chick, but Zep…"
"Yeah," Lawrence agrees again. "But you know… This guy was all Zep had, I think, even if he never really… Had him. He was like his role model. And some people go through their whole lives without finding someone like that."
"So when you do find it, you should cherish it," Adam finishes and makes little quotation marks next to his ears. "Which you want me to do with you. I get it, Lawrence."
Lawrence smiles weakly against his shoulder. He knows Adam's about to say something, so he stays quiet until Adam's gathered up the courage, since he also knows, from some weird kind of bitterness in the bottom of his stomach on Adam's behalf, that this is something he doesn't want to ask.
"Aren't you mad at me?"
Yes, Lawrence did expect him to ask something. But this was so weird that he makes almost the exact same expression Adam had a few seconds ago, with his eyebrows raised and his mouth dropping open when he lifts his head again.
"I mean…" Adam begins and throws his hand out. "You were the one who always told me not to hate, remember? And then I… Shot this guy in the head, and in practically every other place I could get a damn bullet in, and I didn't even feel bad about it. If that's not hate, I don't know what is."
Lawrence nods slowly, because he sees Adam's point.
He did always tell Adam not to hate. And he's never seen a more hateful creature than the one who inhabited Adam's body for those seconds when the ringing echo of the gun didn't even manage to die out before he fired another shot, and then another, and then another. But he finds it hard to really accuse Adam of that.
Maybe because Lawrence would've done the same thing. Maybe because the crime Jigsaw committed against both his and Adam's humanity was too cruel for any kind heart to stand above. Even Adam's.
"No," Lawrence finally decided. "I'm not mad at you. I think most people would do the same. And even if they wouldn't, you can be whatever you want. I will always love you and always support you, I just…"
He starts another sentence before he's sure of what to say, but he realizes that right afterwards.
"I just want you to think about the second chance we've gotten," Lawrence finishes. "Hell, if I count correctly, it's even the third chance…."
A weak chuckle from Adam. Lawrence is happy about that.
He's happy that Adam doesn't cry. Happy that he can make his shakes go away, too.
Happy that Adam's here for him to calm down. Even if he'd preferred it if there wasn't anything for Adam to get worked up at all about.
"And we better take care of it," Lawrence continues. "I know I sound like… Him now, but seriously. We should be grateful of this. And we don't really are that by hating. That's what you did all those years before the bathroom, wasn't it? And were did that get you?"
Adam makes a halfhearted chuckle.
"True. I'll keep that in mind."
Lawrence nods. It seems like his emotions are all stirred up now, and even though he knows Adam will crack if he shows them, he still has to get rid of them somehow. So his hands get a life of their own, creep into Adam's shirt, up along the pale, cool landscape and the waving hills of his ribs, to the gnarled, knotted circle where the bullet went through the last time.
Lawrence's fingers dance uncertainly on the scar, and Adam stiffens a little, but still leans back against Lawrence's chest with a content sigh. Lawrence, on the other hand, doesn't feel like it's arousal he keeps trapped anymore.
He'd done it once before. Why couldn't he do it this time?
But then, Adam turns his head to the side, his nose buries in the crook of Lawrence's neck, soft lips brush over his jaw line, and a flushing tingle rises up in his face.
And suddenly, Lawrence knows the answer.
He couldn't shoot Adam this time because he loves him.
And fear is not that powerful. Not powerful enough to turn him into something else, like it was in that song he forced Adam to listen to after he'd given up, allowed Lawrence to pin his wrists down above his head and grin down against him, looked up with him with eyes that were glowing with knowledge about what would come.
Fear is not that powerful. But love is powerful enough to keep Lawrence the way he is. Even the times when the world doesn't really let him.
"How's Allison doing?" Adam asks, purrs, into Lawrence's ear, and now, his lips are so close and so taunting that Lawrence has to turn his head to kiss them, taste them, let all his blood rush up to his head before he can answer.
"She's good, actually," he then says, even though he hears that his voice is a little hoarser than before. "She's a trooper. They've sewed her up, and her aorta has some small scrapes from the… Bomb," he can barely say it, it feels so far away right now, "but she's fine. I think she'll be discharged soon."
He feels Adam's nod against his neck.
"You're not going to tell Diana what happened, are you?"
Lawrence shakes his head firmly.
This was the first thing he and Allison decided when they'd both woken up. Even before the relieved hug, before Allison's confused tears wet the sheets in her hospital bed.
"This was hard enough for us who had to be in it," Lawrence says solemnly. "Everyone who can be kept out of this second game should be. Don't you think?"
Adam nods again. Doesn't say anything, until:
"But you're going to tell her eventually, right?"
"Of course," Lawrence says, even though his own aorta seems to wrap around a bomb at the mere thought, he has to press his head even closer to Adam's to remember that it's over now. "I'd prefer not to, though. Plus, there's no real reason to worry her. The games are over now, anyway. For sure this time."
He means that. And he knows it's true, but it still sounds like he's trying to convince himself. And Adam must hear this, because now, it's he who shakes his head, he who lowers his gaze with a dejected sigh, he who has to grab Lawrence's hand to remember that they are safe now, it's all over, and everything's broken and they're both terrified, but they can make it work, they can build their world up again and make sure that it's only theirs.
A place where that dark thing can't reach them.
Even though it feels like it hovers over them every second of every day now.
"It's not over," Adam states, so sadly and with so much conviction that Lawrence almost gets scared. "These games, Lawrence, they… They never end, I… Why do you think I didn't want to listen to that tape?"
Lawrence looks at him. And even though he only sees Adam's face from the side, he sees everything, the hurt, the worry, the old pains stirring up, the past that's so black and the love that's so big that it shouldn't be able to fit into such a small person.
It hurts. It hurts to look at him.
"I mean, if this guy could find us here," Adam goes on and throws his hand out. "When we were in that place you talked about, where no one could reach us and shit, how do I know that he won't come back again? Even if he's dead? How do I know that… There's not another Jigsaw that can ruin all this, too?"
Lawrence tightens his grip on Adam again. The tears are so close, so close, it should be impossible to get words past that lump in his throat, but eventually, after realizing that everything he wants to say to Adam, and everything he wants to give him that no one else has, can't possibly fit into his mouth, or in this whole kitchen, anyway, so he's going to have to spread it out over the life they're going to have to start all over again, he just says this:
"I'm here now."
"You were here the last time, too," Adam says bitterly.
Lawrence turns to look at him again, and this time, Adam looks at him, too, expects some brilliant reply, but he doesn't get one.
"I'm here now."
That's all he gets. But maybe that's enough.
"Even if there is another Jigsaw out there," Lawrence continues, and Adam's grey eyes turn into shiny mirrors, "even if someone comes along and fucks up everything we have, I'll still be here. And I'll build up everything again. With you."
Adam smiles insecurely, and when he tries to blink the tears away, they just fall down, instead, and he has to bring a knuckle to his cheeks to wipe them away.
"We just need each other, Adam," Lawrence finishes. "And we'll get by."
Adam nods sharply, and then looks away to maintain some of his pride. Lawrence doesn't get why he even tries. He's doesn't even know how many tears are streaming down his cheeks, but either way, it feels like enough to throw any trace of macho-ness out the window.
"Bring roses to my grave," Adam suddenly says.
Lawrence waits for a continuation, but Adam stays quiet, so he squeezes his waist.
Adam waves his hand lazily.
"Mom used to say that. Bring roses to my grave."
Lawrence knows about Adam's mother now. They've really told each other everything about what happened when they were apart, since that felt like a whole lifetime.
"I… Asked when she'd die sometimes," Adam goes on, and his voice is wet and slick. "Because I'm telling you, it never felt that far away. And she just said: 'Adam, it doesn't matter when I die. As long as you bring roses my grave.'"
Lawrence doesn't say anything. He knows that Adam's reply to himself is more important than anything he can answer this with.
"I didn't understand that at first," Adam continues. "But then I realized that… She just wanted me to remember her. And her life would've been meaningful. If I remembered her as a good person. And… Remembered that she liked roses."
Lawrence smiles against Adam's ear.
"Yeah, I do," Adam says and wipes his cheeks angrily again. "I don't really bring roses to her grave, though. The graveyard was too close to the prison, and I wasn't allowed to go there when dad was still there. They were afraid he'd come for me, too."
"Anyway," Adam says, sounding a little more like himself now. "Point being: I know you won't leave me. And I won't leave you, either. But if you would, I would be devastated, but… I'd still be happy that we'd been together. You know? Because… This time with you, it's been… The best of my whole fucking life. Whatever you'd do to me now… It's never going to make it not worth it. I'd still… Bring roses to your grave. At least the one in my head."
Lawrence's smile gets wider, and the smell of tobacco and soap from Adam's skin seems to be stronger than ever before.
"I'm glad you've gotten that, Adam."
Adam grins. And right then, Lawrence is even more aware that they're going to get through this.
You learn how to crawl, you learn how to walk. And you fall sometimes, but then you just stand up again. No matter how hard it is.
"Is your dad still in jail?" Lawrence asks.
"No," Adam says and shakes his head.
Lawrence runs his thumb over the scar he still has his fingers on.
"What do you say we go to that grave tomorrow? And buy some roses?"
Adam smiles. But the tears fall down again.
"I'd like that," he says softly. "I think mom would, too."
Lawrence smiles, too. Then he pulls Adam's t-shirt a little further down over his shoulder and kisses the angrily red circle of skin there. A way to say that he's sorry.
But scars heal. They always do. Even if they never go away.
Adam and Lawrence are going to stand up now, put roses on the graves they have to. No matter how hard it is. And they're going to make it.
It begins now. There are now real ends.
AW! I'd almost forgotten how cute those two were when they weren't separated for almost a whole fic! Anyway, I dearly appreciate the ones who've reviewed through this whole thing. And I'd tell you to do it on this chapter, too, but… I know you will! XD