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offer me that deathless death (good god, let me give you my life)

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It was an accidental foot in the door, really. Sheer, dumb luck.

They’re tracking down Andrea Bianchi, a well known art aficionado and not so well known scumbag. He traded in human trafficking, children especially. They realize he’s going to be making an appearance in Milan for a charity event and thought at the very least it was a chance to get eyes on him in person. Maybe plant something on him. Maybe get into his villa.

While quietly discussing the options out under the shade of some umbrellas set up along the side of the street, they sip their coffees, courtesy of the local baristas.

The soft crinkle of Nile’s nose every time she sips her espresso occasionally garners a huff of laughter from Nicky as he stirs his barbajada, delicately slotting the spoon into the dish as he takes a sip. Booker was nearly chewing the straw of the traditional sod, throwing out ideas one after the other, only for them to be shot down by Andy, Nile, or Joe.

It seems this mission was going nowhere, fast.

Then…

“Ah, excuse me.”

Five heads snap in the direction of the voice. Feminine, ever so slightly forceful. She’s a woman in what seemed to be her early forties, by the looks of it. Well kept, well aged. With slight lines by her eyes, hidden by fashionable glasses, and windswept auburn hair.

“You are Signore Iannuccillo, yes? The dancer?”

Her eyes are fixed on Nicky, who is paused with his drink halfway lifted to his lips, no doubt ready to use it as a weapon if needed, watching her from behind his glasses. His mouth twitches, he parted his lips to answer when —

“Oui, si, si, signoria.” The quick snap to Booker as he answers, his smile easy, the light in his eyes mischievous.

The woman’s shoulders slope down in relief and she brightens. “My son took me to see you two years ago when you performed the Stravinsky compilation. Simply brilliant. I apologize for intruding on your conversation, I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed it.”

And then she is gone, making her way down the street.

Booker’s small grin turns wide, baring teeth. “I have an idea.”

 

* * *

 

The idea, in spite of the sheer audacity, has merit. Get Nicky into La Scala, either as a transfer, or as a replacement.

It takes quite a bit of string-pulling but eventually Nicky has his place: a transfer from the New York School of Ballet, by way of internship. It has taken almost two months to get the paperwork in order for him to find and fall into the character of Nico Agnelli, fiance of one Asim Offerman, who had been mysteriously granted an architecture position within the city.

It also gives him ample time to research and practice ballet. Which he threw himself into with a fervor. A kind of ferocity that Nile was still not used to after only a year with the group. She’s seen them pick up and drop hobbies as easily as breathing, but Nicky spent the time dedicated to learning, memorizing, and practicing. He works to hone his body and his mind into the training that would come with years of work that he had to gain in only sixty days.

He wakes, he dances, he speaks, he dances. He even isolates himself from the group for the most part save for Joe, and even then, Joe knows the passion and drive Nicky had when put into a position where he needed to slip into a new persona. Joe spends the time shaping the clay of his own character. The love for Nicky—Nico—came easily. The art and architecture was out of date in his mind by more than a century. He fashions a family: a mother from Egypt, a father from Michigan.

Their rented apartment fills with evidence of this new life. Photos; a light table; grid sheets; a training barre; dance shoes; floor to ceiling mirrors. Mementos of travels that never happened and diplomas of degrees never taken.

Thank God for Copley.

When the door to the apartment opens, Nicky glances up from where he was doing stretches on the floor, catching the familiar silhouette of his partner, then others following behind his shoulder. Nicky lets his head fall back and rolls his shoulders under the sweater he’d thrown over the leotard he’d put on earlier in the day, but did not rise from the floor, instead lowering himself back to the floor, crawling forward on his forearms until his torso was flat to the floor between his outstretched legs.

“Damn, Nicky,” Nile exhales. “Booker did right picking you.”

Nicky’s head is tilted away from her but he smiles, rotating his position slightly so he can see her—and the group of them—more easily.

“Nicky picked up yoga long before it became a fad in the ‘70s,” Andy says dryly, removing her sunglasses and tossing them on the counter. “Mind peeling yourself off the floor and joining us?”

Nicky slowly rises into a sitting position and then twists to pull himself up. He moves differently now. He’d always moved fluidly and with an almost feline agility to it, but now there was a difference to it. A fragility, almost. A vulnerability, perhaps. His hair was slightly longer now, too, gathered in a slight ponytail at the base of his neck; not much to make a bunch, but enough. His hair was held back from his face with a sleek, deep red headband, a stark contrast to his skin and the fairness of his hair.

No one in the group could mistake the bottom to top rake of Joe’s eyes on Nicky’s form as he stands, but they were too polite—or old—to comment.

“What have you got for us, boss?” he asks, taking the outstretched bottle of water from Joe with a wordless smile of thanks and a brush of a kiss over his shoulder as he presses it to his cheek, then his neck, letting out a sigh as the cold condensation rolls over his skin.

Andy reaches into her backpack and slides a large envelope across the counter. Nicky eases himself onto the barstool, twisting open the water and swallowing half the bottle in one go. Joe unwinds the string on the file, upending the contents over the marble counter. The first to empty were two American passports, then a series of identification cards, credit cards, hell a library card.

It seems Copley had even made old student cards, subway cards, photobooth photos that looked creased from wallets and worn with age. How he managed was a bit lost on most of them, save Nile, who says that “a lot can be done today with Photoshop and patience”.

Nicky lifts up one of the photos, scuffed at the edges and slightly worn in colour. The image is of his and Joe’s likeness, if slightly deaged, arms encircling each other, heads pressed temple to temple. He feels his mouth quirk at it, thumb brushing the edge of the photo. They rarely, if ever, had photos of themselves, or each other, except when absolutely necessary. Usually disposed of as soon as a mission ended.

The photo makes him wonder, briefly, at the kind of life he and Joe would have, could have had, if they’d been born as Millenials. If they’d be the kind of couple with an instagram account.

He pulls over the new wallet for Nico, slipping the photo into the clear window by the card holder, and then starts slotting in the rest of the contents, fishing a few Euros from the rolled up wad on the counter top and putting them into the billfold along with a handful of coins.

“Thanks, Andy, Booker.”

Joe was mirroring him, mostly, he’s taken the passports and visas to tuck into the wall safe before tending to his own pile of cards and cash. He nods his own thanks, looking up from where he was counting a stack of coins. “And Copley, too.”

“Yes, and Mr. Copley.”

“You’re gonna need these, too,” Nile says, reaching into her own bag and pulling out two fresh phones. She slides them across the table, one with a dark spotted case toward Nicky, and one with an ostentatious ice cream cone cover towards Joe.

Joe takes the phone, turns it over in his hands and huffs out a laugh, looking at Nile in askance, but she shrugged. “You said to have fun. I also made you an instagram account. It’s mostly pictures I’ve taken of buildings from around New York and here, some food pics.” She looks between the two of them, then to Andy and Booker, then back to them. “You know how to use these, right?”

Joe thumbs the phone open, clicking on the app, looking at Nile for a brief moment. “We do. Thank you. You sure these can’t be tracked?”

“Positive,” Booker breathes out. “Nile wanted to set up an instagram account for Nicky too…”

Nicky’s phone was a pretty blank slate; pretty fresh off the line. “I don’t think I need one. Thank you, though. This will be good for music and rehearsing.” He reaches across the island to take Nile’s hand for a brief squeeze. “Besides, once online it’s hard to get rid of and I’d rather not make Mr. Copley’s job any more difficult by taking pictures of myself or Joe.”

Nile makes a noise of understanding in her throat, standing and moving to the fridge, pausing with her hand on the handle before pulling it open when Joe gives her a nod. She returns with a bottle of pellegrino and twists off the cap, letting it fizz for a long moment before taking a swallow. “So, apparently there’s a showing of Giselle in three months and Mr. Bianchi is already booked with box seats.”

Joe snorts and shakes his head. “Of course it’s Giselle.”

Nile blinks, confused. “What?”

Joe gives her an amused smile, getting his own drink of water, holding one out in offering to Andy and Booker. Andy refuses but Booker takes it. They haven’t got air conditioning in their apartment yet and even with the windows open and the fans, the heat is thick. “Nicky and I went to see the debut in Spain in 1844, we were inconsolable for two days afterward with the emotion of it.”

Nicky’s smile is faint as his eyes haze over with the memory. “Booker fell asleep halfway through the first act and Andy spent the rest of the evening afterward complaining about the inconsistencies in history.”

“I promise not to fall asleep when I go to see it this time,” Booker parries, grinning.

“You snored so loud I thought you’d get us thrown out,” Joe grouses.

Andy tosses the program to the table, it lands with a snap and Nicky pulls it forward with the edge of his fingers. His eyebrows knit, then raise in confusion and disbelief; “an innovative re-imagining for the modern audience”, he hums for a long moment then lets out a slightly shocked noise. “Role reversal?”

Nile nods eagerly. “Like what they did with Shakespeare’s Othello that Patrick Stewart was in where he was the only white actor and the rest of the actors were people of color? This time it’s Giselle—Gislin, in this version—is pursued by a woman.” She bounces excitedly. “Cool, right?”

Joe gives her a grin, leaning over to look at the paper from over Nicky’s shoulder. He isn’t sure if he’ll ever tire of Nile’s love for classical art and theater. She fits them so well.

“Seems you may have a bit more work ahead of you than you thought, amore.”

Nicky lets out a noise, leaning back into the comfortable weight of Joe as he muses on the idea of it. “I doubt they’d be willing to give some new transfer the lead. I’ll be lucky to make the chorus.”

Joe’s hands curl over his shoulders, warm, easy, steady, and rub at the slight tension there, thumbs pressed to the nape of his neck. “Have faith in yourself, you’d be exuberant.”

Nicky reaches up with both hands to interlace his fingers with Joe, squeezing his hands gently. Joe drops a kiss to the top of his head, noses at the hair, encourages him to lean back into his bulk, which Nicky does without protest.

“Your first class starts tomorrow at ten to seven,” Andy says, pushing herself out of the stool. “Break a leg, and all that crap.” She rounds the island toward him and takes his cheek in her hand before kissing the top of his head. “You’ve got this. Can’t be worse than Venice in ‘84.”

Nicky groans and raises a hand to thump at her bicep. “God, don’t remind me.”

“It wasn’t that bad!” she says, laughing and swaying as he swats for her again.

“The opera house caught fire. They thought I was a castrato.”

Andy is laughing with her whole self now, head back, holding to the marble countertop. “At least you weren’t wearing a four foot wide hoop skirt.”

Nile’s eyes flick to Booker briefly, looking for context. He shrugs. She nods a moment. 1784, then, probably.

Andy composes herself, drops another kiss on top of Nicky’s head. “You’ve got this.”

Nicky’s hand pats at her arm this time and his smile is genuine. “Thank you.”

The three of them depart without much further fanfare, promising to touch base again soon. Nicky lets out a breath, rolling his head back and rotating his shoulders; he watches the silhouette of Joe in the edge of his vision. He tilts his head and is rewarded with a touseling of his hair and an upside down kiss.

“Dinner?” Joe asks, moving toward the stove.

Nicky folds his arms on the countertop and rests his head to watch Joe. “I can go get us some mussels?” he offers. “Or we could do pesto crusted lamb with gnocchi.”

Joe muses, peering at the time, then to the fridge. “Lamb sounds good. You can do a few more exercises and then shower and it will be ready.”

Nicky wants to protest that he can help, but he has known better for at least the last sixty years that when Joe wants to pamper him with food that he needs to just shut up and let it happen. The first forty years they could barely communicate and so did it through cooking for each other,and while they trade off now, or often do it together, sometimes—oftentimes—Joe loves to pamper. This will be their last deep breath and night as themselves before work starts.

Best to enjoy it.

Nicky spins in place, removes the shirt layered over his leotard and dabs at the sweat gathered on his neck and chest in the late afternoon heat before moving to the expansive living room he’s made his own dance studio.

Time to work.

 

* * *

 

The first month is a blur of activity—of sinking into the life of Nico Agnelli. Of waking up at five in the morning, stretching, yoga, breakfast, shower, classes, rehearsal, more classes, coming home around six in the evening feeling pretty wrung out in spite of his rather boundless stamina, a fresh shower, dinner, and then going over plans. Rinse, repeat.

It’s the first time in well over four centuries that Nicky can remember feeling bone tired and muscle aches, his body learning new techniques constantly and being consumed by it. It’s a surprisingly pleasant feeling.

He’s unwinding after a particularly long day; they’re ramping up to full season, which means staying later into the day. Nicky’s changed into a loose pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, rolling a frozen water bottle under his feet, listening to the bone and sinew pop as it resets. He lets out a low grunt of pleasured agony as he flexes, pressing his toes flat to the cold tile.

His head lolls back as a hand cards through his hair and a glass of red wine is held out in front of his face. He smiles at Joe, easy and languid. “Tomorrow I start pointe training.”

Joe nudges Nicky down on the loveseat, sliding off the arm of the sofa until they’re hip-to-hip. Nicky swirls the wine, scents it, then takes a slow sip. He closes his eyes and sighs. “You’ve been so good to me lately, tesoro.”

“You’ve been working hard, I stay home and do online consultations from my laptop,” Joe breathes out, taking a slow sip of his own drink. “You’re actually out in the world. You’re the most exposed of all of us.”

Nicky gives a quiet hum of acknowledgement. “The rest of you are actually chasing this bastard down, I’m…” He shifts in place, making a low muted noise when his spine and hips give soft pops. “I feel like I’m not contributing. I worry that we aren’t acting fast enough, that more children are in danger that—”

Joe presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth, halting his words. “Booker and Andy have ensured that while he’s a scumbag, his trade isn’t happening until after the performance. His contacts in Thailand have blocked him. They’re stalling for time, which works for us.” Joe presses in with another peck of the lips. “Your work in this is as important as anyone’s. You’re an alluring dancer he wishes to see. You may be the one to get the closest to him. We will get him, ya qamar.”

Nicky tips his head to the side to lightly tap against Joe’s. “Thank you, ya shams.”

Joe takes up Nicky’s unoccupied hand with his own and kisses over the knuckles. “Anytime. Now, get up. You’re coiled tighter than a viper, let me give you a backrub.”

Nicky looks at him for a long moment before taking another long sip of wine and then handing it to Joe as he pulls himself from the loveseat. “One day I will have to repay you for all this kindness.”

“That is a day I eagerly look forward to.”

Joe gets up shortly after Nicky’s rounded into the bedroom and empties the glasses into the sink, rinsing them and then leaving them to dry before joining him. He pauses in the doorway to take in the sight of Nicky, resplendent and naked on the bed. The sight is as beautiful as it is erotic and it leaves Joe as breathless as the first time. The bedside lamp casts a soft, warm light across his form, lazily half-curled, one knee tucked under himself slightly, hugging the pillow under his cheek and chin. God, Joe loves this man.

He steps into the room, a soft smile curling his lips as Nicky’s shoulders hitch slightly, his head turns minutely toward the sound, but he otherwise stays undisturbed. Joe moves to the large mirrored vanity across from the bed—Nicky has already lit the massage candles, their soft scent of heady frankincense and cedar. It has not melted quite enough yet. Joe takes the opportunity to disrobe. He watches Nicky watch him through the reflection in the mirror and for a long beat they simply hold one another’s gaze.

Joe snuffs the candle with a lick and pinch of his fingers; well practiced and easy. He picks up the jar, hot but not scalding, and blows across the melted wax as he kneels on the bed, pulling himself up to settle on either side of Nicky’s hips. Nicky reaches back with his hands, the near constant hair tie on his wrist rolling onto his fingers to sweep the hair into the most miniscule of buns at the nape of his neck. Joe bends, presses a kiss to the skin, tasting the barest hint of sweat.

“Ready?”

“Mmmm.”

Joe straightens himself up, pours the soy oil down over the line of Nicky’s spine. The groan Nicky lets out is positively decadent. Joe settles the jar aside carefully and slicks his hands through the oil before gliding his hands up the sides of Nicky’s back to his shoulders before grinding in with the heels of his palms against his shoulder blades. Almost instantly something in Nicky releases.

Joe takes his time, gliding his fingers up and down Nicky’s back, down to the slope of his hips, the swell of his ass, and back up. He moves to Nicky’s arms, helps him rotate them, and works the tissue. He slides down to Nicky’s thighs, his strong calves, his ankles. He moves off of Nicky and Nicky slowly turns onto his front. He settles with one arm at his side and the other curled above his head, watching Joe with a lazy sort of appreciation.

Joe moves his hands, one easily curling around Nicky’s hip and the other around his shoulder as he leans down to kiss him. It’s an easy slide of lips. Nicky sighs against his mouth and his head and neck crane slightly to gain purchase. Joe draws away, dragging his teeth just gently over the fullness of Nicky’s lower lip.

“Still with me?”

Nicky nods, mouth curling into a soft smile that Joe knows is his alone. “Very much so.”

Joe gathers the last of the oil before it’s solidified again and, with a wicked curl of his lips, drizzles it down the line of Nicky’s breastbone to his navel. Nicky hisses, his eyes flutter and his head lulls, mouth slightly agape. Joe could get drunk on the sight alone.

He flexes his fingers, moves his hands to brace on Nicky’s shoulder, pausing only briefly to catch his gaze and continues when Nicky nods. He works the oil into Nicky’s skin, the familiar, age-old scent of frankincense deep in his nose as he bends over Nicky to work.

Nicky’s breathing is slow and even. It remains so even when Joe works his way to Nicky’s thighs. His fingers rub, Nicky raises one leg to help, bending it at the knee while Joe works it. Repeats the action with the other leg. He works his way down the bed until he’s off of it, knelt on the floor, thumbs guiding Nicky in rolling his ankles.

Nicky’s propped up on a second pillow to watch him and from this angle, looking up at the long line of his body, the sloped line of Nicky’s half-hard cock against his thigh, the dark look in Nicky’s eyes—the sight is almost too much to bear. Mouth watering. A frisson of heat runs through Joe and he’s once again struck but just how damn lucky he is.

His fingers move along the sides of Nicky’s left foot, his thumbs glide under the arch, press in delicately at first, then more firmly when Nicky inhales sharply. “Too much?” Joe asks, pausing.

“Sensitive,” Nicky breathes out. He curls his foot, wiggles his toes. “Good.”

“Oh?” He presses his thumbs back into the ball of Nicky’s foot, then up under his toes, watching Nicky arch off of the bed. “Oh.” He says, his grin going wicked. “Discover something new, my love?”

Nicky lets out a breathless laugh, twisting slightly at the waist to jack-knife up a bit to hit Joe on the side of the head with a pillow. “Don’t mock me.”

“Never, beloved.” Joe says, knowing full well Nicky isn’t embarrassed or ashamed. More surprised that even now, after all this time, he can find some new type of pleasure. “Should I stop or continue?”

“God, continue, please. I haven’t felt like this since…” Nicky trails off a moment, teeth catching the edge of his lower lip as Joe’s thumbs press against the heel of his foot and he keens.

Joe’s fingers glide reverently over the top of Nicky’s foot, up to the socket of his ankle, then back down again before he presses a kiss to the ball of his foot and moves to lavish attention to his other foot. Nicky is taking in quicker, shallower breaths, eyes heavy-lidded and watching Joe. His head falls back and he collapses to the bed, elbows slack under him as Joe scrapes his teeth along the ball of Nicky’s foot.

Yusuf,” he exhales.

Joe answers him with a slight hum, one hand lightly cradling the foot, the other petting Nicky’s calf lazily. He gives a slightly sharp nip to the inside curl of his foot and delights in the punched out noise Nicky makes.

Madre de Dio, Yusuf! Get up here and kiss me.”

Joe is only too happy to oblige. He glides off of his knees and back up onto the bed, slinking his way up toward Nicky, who’s pink and his mouth is swollen with bitten off moans. Joe leans down, licks across the parted seam of Nicky’s mouth, darts his tongue inside. Nicky’s hands reach up to curl into his hair, and Nicky is arching up to meet him.

Nicky’s kiss is hungry. Not desperate, but full of promise and desire. Joe lets himself get dizzy with it, one arm bracketed on the bed, the other clutched around Nicky’s hip. When they part, Joe rests their foreheads together, breathes in Nicky’s breath.

“Nicolò, what can I do for you?”

Nicky sucks in a breath, licks his lips, nuzzles up into Joe. “Can I have your thighs?”

This time it’s Joe who gives a low noise in his throat. He dips his head again, sucks at the line of Nicky’s jaw. “Of course. Would you like me on my front or back?”

Nicky turns his head and kisses the muscle of Joe’s forearm by his head. “On your side, facing me.”

Joe shifts easily, rolling onto his side while Nicky rolls toward the bedside table. Nicky rolls back to face him, lubricant in hand. Joe adjusts their bodies easily, settles them both with a pillow under their hips. His fingers run down the line of Nicky’s body, enjoying the way goosebumps rise in their wake, and he kisses the slope of Nicky’s shoulder.

Nicky leans forward, presses a kiss against the line of Joe’s throat, down to his breastbone. He pulls back to look at Joe for a long pause, a hand moving to settle on Joe’s cheek. “I love you.”

Joe turns into the hand, kisses the middle of Nicky’s palm. “As much as I love you.”

“More than.”

Joe’s mouth quirks and he licks between Nicky’s index and middle finger. “Love me, beloved.”

Nicky withdraws his hand and opens the lubricant, warming it in both of his hands before sliding them along the insides of Joe’s thighs and up over his groin, fingers loosely curling around Joe’s cock to stroke and slick. Joe watches him as his hands return to the lube, warming it again and sucks in a sharp breath as Nicky’s long, talented fingers encircle his own cock to wet it before guiding it between the heat of Joe’s thighs.

Joe’s eyes roll back at the first long slide, the feeling of Nicky’s cock gliding along his own, over his balls, between his thighs and settling into the crease of his ass. He grasps for Nicky’s hand with his own, intertwining their fingers to settle on his hip as Nicky slowly begins to rock, unhurried for release.

Joe lets his head bow forward, resting against Nicky’s, letting their breath mingle. Nicky’s mouth curls up. “Incurable romantic.”

“Takes one to know one.”

“Hm.” Nicky says by way of agreement and his mouth turns up. “I suppose it does.”

Joe opens his mouth to make a remark but his words are cut off as Nicky thrusts sharply, once, and the head of his cock catches on Joe’s rim and he sees white and makes a gurgling noise. Joe rolls his hips back, chasing the sensation.

“In a hurry?”

“Never, Nicolò.”

Nicky’s hand squeezes his own as he rolls his hips forward, his eyes fluttering and mouth parted into an ‘o’ of pleasure. His brow knits, tongue curls. Joe knows Nicky is infinitely patient, but even this is testing him. Part of him wants to tease, to push for more, but mostly he wishes to bask in it. They rarely do this, slide together unhurried, unworried about climax. Rarely have the chance to.

Joe shifts slightly, moves to hook his knee over Nicky’s thigh and the next roll of hips has him gliding forward deeper. Nicky’s hips rabbit slightly at the new sensation, the change in friction and his head rolls to press to Joe’s throat.

“You feel so good, habibi, you’re slick and warm.” Nicky’s voice is low and reverent. “It makes me feel so hot; like my nerves are on fire.”

Joe unthreads their fingers gently and Nicky’s free hand now clutches at his hip. Joe runs his hand gently over Nicky’s arm, over his hip, his thigh, his ass. Joe may worship in words, but Nicky worships in body. In the heat of his kisses, in the stolen glances, in the press of his hips. Nicky was made to be a lover. The way his body slots against Joe’s; the roll of his hips, the curve of his cock. It all fits perfectly.

Joe’s hand slips between Nicky’s thighs, gently cups his balls, coaxes Nicky’s cock up against his body, giving him friction. Nicky gives a throaty moan, the roll of his hips stuttering. Joe watches him awash in his pleasure, mouth slack, hair falling slightly into his eyes, the heat and warmth and love in his eyes. Nicky’s hand slides up, cups his cheek, guides him into a kiss.

When they part, Nicky is pushing at his shoulder and Joe rolls with the movement, letting Nicky mount his thighs. His hands move to glide over Nicky’s chest, nails scratching at the muscle. Nicky’s hands brace against him, one on his shoulder, one on his hip, and he uses the newfound leverage to glide.

Their cocks slide together, slick with lube and sweat and pre-come. One of Joe’s hands reaches between them, pauses before touching as he lifts his eyebrows in question. Nicky nods and Joe wraps a hand around them both. The touch is electric and both of them arch into it with tandem moans.

Joe loves their differences, even in this. The way that Nicky’s cock slightly curves to the left, the fact he’s uncut, the length of him. Nicky’s hand on his shoulder tightens slightly as he shifts on his knees for better purchase and gives Joe a dopey, love drunk smile. Joe died for that smile. Killed for it. Will again.

Joe’s hand twists as he strokes upward. He rubs his thumb along Nicky’s foreskin, under his frenulum. Nicky’s head lolls forward, his hair has come loose from the tie, curtaining around his face and so like when they first met.

“Are you going to spill for me, my love?” Joe asks, moving up onto one elbow, rocking his hips up into his own hand, jostling Nicky gently.

Nicky nods, bites the edge of his mouth. When he gets close his words fail him and it will never fail to endear and inflame Joe’s love. Nicky’s nostrils flare when Joe’s other hand dips between them, rolls Nicky’s balls in his palm. Nicky opens his mouth, silently forming Joe’s name over and over as his eyes roll back in his head and he’s shuddering apart.

The heat and feel of his lover undone sends Joe over, he pulls Nicky into his body as he comes. Biting into the meat of Nicky’s shoulder as his hips lift and roll, body giving soft trembles as he rolls with pleasure.

They lay pressed together for a long moment, breathing each other in and basking. Joe lets himself drift on the scent of sex, sweat and frankincense lingering on Nicky’s body and mouths over the bite he’s made that healed the second his teeth lifted from the skin.

Nicky gives a low, drawn out noise as he rolls off and onto his back, his body is slack in the way that good sex can do and he tilts his head to watch Joe. Joe smiles at him, raises up on an elbow to kiss Nicky gently on the mouth.

“Water?”

“Please.”

Joe nods, lifts himself from bed and pads out of the room. Nicky watches him go as he settles onto his side, content to listen to Joe’s half-hearted singing. Joe returns and places the bottle of water on the bedside table before stepping into the ensuite. Nicky rights himself as the door to the bathroom half closes and he hears the start of the water running. He nurses the bottle of water, waits until it’s halfway through and he’s certain that Joe has finished performing ghusl to pull himself out of the bed. He enters the bathroom, taking the warm, damp washcloth thrust toward him and pats Joe’s arm as he cleans himself off and wrings the cloth clean in the sink before moving to strip the bed. He’s put the laundry into the machine and is almost done refitting the fresh sheets on the bed when Joe emerges from the bathroom, steam trailing after him and his skin damp.

They dress in loose pants and shirts and Joe settles onto the bed, flicking on the TV as Nicky settles beside him, handing him the rest of the half-finished bottle. Joe gives him a crooked smile of thanks and tips it into his mouth, swallowing.

When sleep comes, it’s easy.

 

* * *

 

The first time Nicky lays eyes on Mr. Bianchi in the flesh, he wasn’t expecting it. It was halfway through a training day, he’s relaxing with some of his coworkers, resting back against the cool floor as he lies in front of the fan. The girl to his left—Gabrielle—is quietly eating a pear and holds out a slice to him. He takes it and bites into the soft, sweet meat of the fruit and lets out a pleased noise at the taste. She’s been teasing him for the last three days about his pointe form and how he favors his left foot. Though it’s the kind of teasing that comes with commiseration and camaraderie. Her toes are wrapped in tape and she’s lazily stretching with a theraband helping her extend.

The door to the studio opens as their ballet master—Rosa Ferri—walks in. Just a step behind her is Andrea Bianchi in a linen suit, tucking his sunglasses into the breast pocket. Nicky’s staring is caught by Giselle and she leans forward next to him, voice low.

“That’s Signore Bianchi, he’s a patron and a benefactor here. Donates a lot.”

Nicky’s responding noise is quiet as he tracks the man moving into the room with a sharp gaze. He wishes he had something on him to plant on Bianchi, knows that starting an altercation is far too stupid, so he waits and bides his time.

“So this is the second company, Signore.”

Most of the group are straightening their postures, pulling themselves into something more presentable. Nicky flexes and arches up into a sitting position, folds his legs into a lotus position. Watches the way Bianchi watches the company, the way his eyes drift from form to form, assessing in the way a butcher assesses for a cut of meat. Nicky has to repress the snarl from forming on his lips and instead twists it into a pleasant enough smile as Bianchi stops in front of him.

“You’re the transfer, yes? Nico?”

Nicky—Nico—nods. “Yes.”

Bianchi’s head tilts as his eyes roam over his form and he makes a motion for Nicky to stand. Which Nicky does, obligingly. “Would you mind getting into fifth position for me?”

Nicky steals a glance toward the teacher, she nods, he complies.

“And fourth open? Good. Demi-plié. Wonderful.”

He turns from Nicky toward the teacher and Nicky moves to rest back in second position, looking toward Gabrielle who rolls her shoulders in a shrug. She rises onto demi-pointe, rolling up and down like a swell of a wave and Nicky tracks her movement easily, letting his mind fall into rhythm as he mirrors it with a lazy smile. One she returns with a soft laugh and shake of her head.

He listens to the faint conversation between Bianchi and Rosa as he warms up with Gabrielle. Allowing the din of the world to fade around him, the hum of the fans, the sounds of feet raising and falling on the hardwood, and tunes into the conversation.

“I do not know if it is possible, Singnore.”

“Of course it is possible, I have paid an exorbitant amount of money to this company, more than most. I wish for it to happen.”

“I—” A defeated sigh. “I will speak to the director on your behalf. I will do my very best.”

“I am certain you will, it would be a great disappointment if the funding simply ceased, would it not?”

Bianchi is a man who is used to getting his way with force and money, Nicky knew this, but the flagrancy he wasn’t expecting. The audacity of people in power over those who have none will never cease to amaze.

Bianchi is all but storming out of the room and Rosa is standing, swaying slightly at the sudden lack of gravity around her from his presence, and staring at the spot he’d occupied. She composes herself quickly before crossing toward him and Gabrielle with a well practiced smile on her face.

“Signore Agnelli, Signoria Costa, will you come with me, please?”

 

* * *

 

He calls Nile first. They talk while strolling and sipping cold drinks while Nile window shops. Finally they tuck into a small alcove and sit on a bench, watching people drift about.

“So you’re the star of the show, huh? Congrats. You’re going to be amazing.”

Nicky huffs out through his nose and points at her with the straw from his drink. “You’re missing the point. If I take the lead I’m more prominent, I could have my pictures in papers. On phones.”

Nile goes quiet for a moment, thinking. “How much exposure do you think this will get overseas, outside of the city? If it’s within the city only we can contain it.”

Nicky rubs along his jaw, feels the start of late day stubble, and pulls his hand away with a heavy sigh. “Perhaps. We will need to have both Booker and Mr. Copley on hand either way.”

“We’ll make sure that you, that all of us, are safe. Your job is to be that sweet, sweet honeypot for Bianchi.”

Nicky grimaces a bit. It isn’t the first time he, or any of them save for Nile, have used themselves as lures or bait, but it never gets easier. Especially for a human trafficker and one like Bianchi who looks at people like a hyena looks at a fresh kill. He drums his fingers against the biodegradable plastic of his cup, takes a few half-aborted sips through his straw.

“Perhaps it’s time Nico Agnelli gets an instagram.”

Nile whoops, slaps an arm on his shoulder. “My man!”

Nicky gives her a slight smile. “Let me think about it.”

“Obviously, and if you don’t want to run it, I’ll do it for you, but you don’t have to take pictures of your face.”

Nicky nods at her words, mulls them over. Takes a long sip of his limonade.

“What’s in the bag, anyway?” Nile finally asks, switching topics and making Nicky look to the sleek black and gold paper bag between his knees.

“Shoes. For training.”

Nile nods, motions with her hands, asking if she can look. Nicky lifts a shoulder in an easy shrug and Nile is already pulling the box from the bag, shaking it so the bag slips to the floor of the plaza. She turns the box in her hands, black, sleek, glossy with a stamped signature on it. She mouths the name silently to herself, then aloud:“Gianvito Rossi”.

“Your pronunciation is getting better,” Nicky compliments easily, resting his head against the brick behind them and watching Nile from the edge of his vision.

Nile opens the box, tucking the lid under the box and carefully lifting the crepe paper. Her hand stills as she stares into the box, expression blank. She turns her head to look up at Nicky, then back to the box. “I…” She lets out a slightly breathless laugh. “I was expecting ballet flats or pointe shoes not…” She lifts one of the leather and lace pumps from the box.

“It’s been a good century and a half since I’ve worn anything with more than a two inch heel, but it will help my ankles to take being en pointe better, I suspect.”

Nile stares at him overtop of the shoe for a long moment, then studies the slim, sleek heel. The shoe somehow suits Nicky, subdued but still fashionable, practical and beautiful. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to shit like this?”

“Men wore heels long before—”

“No, not that. You wanna wear heels, go ahead, you wanna wear a miniskirt I’m not gonna stop you,” she laughs at Nicky’s slight blanch at the thought, “I meant the casual way you just mention the span of time. Like a century is no more than a minute to you.”

At that Nicky nods his understanding, watches Nile turn the shoe in her hand, replacing it before glancing at the receipt tucked into the box and then wordlessly slipping the box back into the bag. She relaxes back next to him, resting her empty cup beside her on the bench.

“So, you’re taking me shoe shopping before we leave, right?”

Nicky laughs.

Nile returns to the safehouse with two pairs of Prada sneakers.

 

* * *

 

Within four hours of making the instagram and sharing it on the company’s facebook page, Bianchi is following him.

The first few pictures are average: an artistic shot of coffee; an old snapshot of the Empire State Building; a cat lazing in a bookshop window. The sockpuppet accounts Nile’s made for following give him likes—fake friends from Nico’s life; old college classmates—fill out his comments and likes.

The sixth picture is a risky one, at least in Nicky’s mind, even though it’s not of his face. It’s not one he takes of himself, but one Joe takes while he’s working in the late evening sun, legs stretched out, stretching to the side, bent over his left leg. Taken from behind, he’s framed on either side by mirrors and the golden and orange late evening sun is blowing out the rest of the colours and objects—making it almost radiant. Divine.

 

* * *

 

For the first time since starting the mission, they catch a break. One of Bianchi’s cohorts is arrested on the border of Thailand and Cambodia near Trat. Andy and Nile fly out the next morning.

They convene with Booker over a late breakfast.

“So, we’ve managed to contain things as much as possible from spreading out of the city for the moment, once we’ve left we’ll ensure that we’re wiped.” Booker says from around a bite of toast, elbow balanced on the table as he flicks his fingers free of crumbs.

“Thank you, Sébastien,” Nicky says quietly, hands around his coffee, thick and Turkish style this morning.

Joe gives a grunt of agreement, dragging his toast through the egg of his shakshuka and then slides the soaked piece of toast into his mouth, nodding. Around his mouthful and a halfway risen coffee, he gives a ‘here, here’ before taking a long swallow of the coffee.

“We’ve gotta get this guy,” Booker says by explanation. “This man is a lowlife.” He’s got heat in his eyes: Booker had been there when the last shipment of Bianchi’s ‘product’ had gone out. There had been a set of twins—a boy and a girl—no older than eight.

Nicky moves, presses a hand to Booker’s arm and for a moment Booker almost startles, the shadows over his eyes slowly lift and he looks to the hand and then to Nicky before giving him a wan smile. Booker reaches up with his own hand to lightly grasp at Nicky’s wrist and squeeze, the smile turning more genuine and warm.

“Thanks, Nicky.”

 

* * *

 

Joe finds the shoes. Nicky knows. Joe had found them tucked under the bed and snooped. Joe hasn’t said anything. Nicky hasn’t said anything in return. They both know the other knows. They decide to see who will break first and mention it.

It’s been fifteen days.

Joe’s persona—Asim—is out for a late work lunch and Nicky is taking the time in his own space to practice without any limitation. He pulls the slats to the shutters low, letting the late day sun spill on the floor in thin slices. He puts on music and works on the solo piece for ‘Adam’ in the performance. He dances in nothing but pointe shoes and lets himself float in the warmth and dim light of the room and drift.

He’s struggling a bit through the hops en pointe when he hears the lock in the door turn and the sound of the door closing. He settles, moves into rest in first position and takes in a few long, deep breaths. In between the thrum of the overhead fan and the circulated air from the installed air conditioning he can smell the musk of the cologne Joe put on before leaving.

He turns to look over his shoulder without fully turning his body and opens his eyes. Joe is frozen, hands half unknotting the tie around his neck, standing in the hallway. Nicky gives him a small smile and turns back, returns to relevé as the music loops back on after a brief moment of static.

“How was your meeting?” He moves into the pirouettes around the room in a tighter circle than he would like.

“Not too bad, we had dinner. Have you eaten?”

“Mm. I made a salad and some toast.” He moves to rest, stretching into a first arabesque, watching Joe watch him, before moving into an arabesque penchée, letting the tips of his right hand trail over the floor. He knows better than to tease Joe like this, but part of him, the defiant, hungry part of him, can’t help it.

Joe closes the gap between them in a few long strides and Nicky pulls himself up with a cool collectiveness and placid smile. Then Joe’s hands curl around Nicky’s sides and hauls him in, kissing him long and sweet. When they part Joe sways them lazily from foot to foot in a circle. “No wonder every painter and sculptor in Florence wanted to have you as their muse. You’ve been so beautifully crafted by God to keep it hidden should be a sin.”

Nicky leans into the weight of him, arms twining around Joe’s neck. “No one can see me like this but you.”

“I’m a very lucky man,” Joe mumbles against his hair, kissing the top of his head. He cups his fingers over Nicky’s hips, lets them drift over the swell. “When are you going to try out the new shoes?”

Nicky’s hands drift to the half loose knot around Joe’s neck and he lifts it from him, lazily draping the silk around his own neck. “I was waiting for the right moment.” He curls his fingers into Joe’s hair and kisses him again. “Would you get them for me?”

Joe pulls himself away, watches Nicky move to sink into one of the upholstery lined chairs and slip off his pointe shoes. The pure silk tie still loosely collared around his neck. Joe returns with the box and kneels between Nicky’s feet as Nicky raises one foot to slide into the first, then the second, sleek shoe.

Joe moves to rest back on his heels and takes in the full sight of Nicky, pressed back into the soft, luxurious fabric, arms slack on the rests, knees slightly pressed together, dressed only in that tie. Nicky moves slightly, crosses one knee over the other, rubs the line of his lower lip as he all but studies Joe from his vantage point as Joe supplicates at his feet.

“Subhanallah, Nicolò.”

Joe’s hands almost tremble with the need to touch Nicky. He swallows, mouth slightly dry, as he smooths his hands along the toned muscle of Nicky’s thighs and kisses the ball of his knee, resting his chin on the cap as he looks up at Nicky with heat. Nicky drops a hand to his cheek to cup, sliding under to his chin until he gives the slightest of tugs and Joe is swelling up, moving from his knees to bow low over the chair being hauled bodily into a kiss.

Nicky rolls his body out of the chair with a grace and easy display of strength, both hands grasping either side of Joe’s face and kissing him, hot and deep. Possessively. Joe could drown in it. He lets himself swoon slightly, trusting Nicky to take his weight.

Nicky’s hands pull, impatient and greedy, at the line of buttons on his shirt. Joe moves his own hands from Nicky to his own belt, pulling it from the buckle and then moving to the fly. By the time Nicky’s biting a hard line down his throat to his collarbone, his pants are halfway down his hips and his shirt has been flung behind them both.

Nicky takes him to the floor in a well practiced move and a burst of strength that has Joe laughing. Judo in the bedroom. Only them. He can feel the scratch the heel left on the back of his thigh as gravity took over and his back collided with the hardwood.

Joe lay, breathing harshly, looking up at the long, athletic line of Nicky’s body with undisguised pleasure. The heels cause his thighs to bunch and there’s a tendon that Joe wants to latch his teeth onto very badly but Nicky’s foot taps his thigh and Joe rolls with it, supine on his front as Nicky moves onto his knees, mouth moving to press between Joe’s shoulders.

He pulls Joe’s boxer briefs down to mid-thigh as he slides down Joe’s body, mouth and tongue searing hot. Joe lets out a half-swallowed moan as he tries, and fails to part his legs due to the trappings of his underwear. Nicky’s hands, broad and long fingered, grab his ass and knead and Joe slides forward, chest flat, onto the hardwood, arms bent up and fingers curling, moving to grab at his own hair.

Nicky pauses for a long moment, relishing, and presses his cheek to the small of Joe’s back, inhaling the musk and tasting the sweat. He nuzzles into the skin, feeling it dampen his skin, feels his hair stick to his forehead. He bows between Joe’s parted thighs and parts his cleft with his thumbs.

Joe hears the inhale, the wetting of lips, and it still doesn’t prepare him for the first hard, hungry press of tongue. Joe seizes up with a shout, goes lax against the floor with a wheeze barely held up by his knees and Nicky’s firm hands on his hips. He spins out into pleasure.

Nicky licks at Joe, wets his fingers and uses them to press in, to help spread his lover open. Joe makes keening noises like a wounded animal, face pressed into his forearms, praises and blasphemies spilling from his mouth. Nicky’s mouth draws back with a wet sound, almost obscene and then, God damn him, spits. Joe’s cock, untouched and pressed between his abdomen and the floor, twitches.

Carissimo, tesoro, per favore.” Joe manages, voice breathless and uneven. He gives a short cry as Nicky’s fingers, three, knuckle deep, press in with a twist.

Alsabr, habibi,” Nicky retorts, voice low, husky.

Joe is trying to be patient but he’s only human. Nicky’s fingers roll against his prostate and a pleading moan slips from him as his traitorous hips roll toward the sensation. Nicky’s mouth moves up, to the small of his back, scrapes his teeth there and sucks the skin. Licks at the sweat. He moves over Joe, fingers still pressed in, rocking his full cock against Joe’s thigh in promise.

The fingers withdraw and Nicky’s cock presses in, the roll and slide of it familiar, the glide of ease and the slight catch of his foreskin before it rolls back in a full thrust; Joe’s breath catches in his throat. Nicky’s hips snap forward in one quick, unanticipated move. Joe feels his elbows and knees skid on the wood and presses his toes flat for purchase as he lifts himself up into the roll of Nicky’s body into—against—his own.

Nicky settles once he’s bottomed out inside Joe, cheek pressed to the flat of Joe’s back as he breathes raggedly. He lets himself gain a modicum of composure before he straightens and starts moving. Nicky fucks like he fights; ruthlessly and without abandon. He hauls Joe up, onto his hands and knees, and then higher, onto his knees only. Joe’s back presses to Nicky’s front as Nicky presses deep into him, hips unrelenting.

Joe’s head rolls back onto Nicky’s shoulder as he succumbs, goes lax in Nicky’s arms and lets himself be used and consumed by the pleasure. Nicky wraps one arm around his middle, the other gliding aimlessly over Joe’s torso, his side, down his thighs. Finally, finally, those long fingers close around his cock and Joe lets out a helpless sound of pleasure, face turning into Nicky’s neck, biting at the skin.

Nicky’s head turns, kisses him—devours—him. Joe can taste the pleasure on his tongue, feel it sing through his veins. The angle isn’t perfect, but the strain is blissfully painful in the cocktail of sensations. The hot drag of Nicky inside of him, the hardwood under his knees, the heat of Nicky, the smell of him.

Nicky’s hands tug at the base of his cock, insistent, impossible to resist, and Joe feels himself come, knows he’s shouting it until Nicky presses two fingers into his mouth and against his tongue. Saliva pools at the corners of his mouth as he rides Nicky’s cock through the throes of his orgasm, into a second, long rolling one as his cock twitches but doesn’t spill. Nicky comes with a short gasp, his body stilling, come slick hand grabbing at Joe’s hip to ground himself as his hips finally roll forward as he milks himself into Joe’s body.

Nicky shifts them, moves so they’re sitting flat rather than on their knees and presses a line of kisses to Joe’s neck. Noses behind Joe’s ear and murmurs words of affirmation. He withdraws from Joe who oozes into his arms, sliding down a bit, resting his head on Nicky's chest to look up at him in blind adoration, fingers moving to cup Nicky’s jaw and cranes up to kiss him like that.

Nicky’s fingers drift, curious and cruel, between his thighs and press at him, Joe’s lids flutter as his fingers slide in.

“You’ll be the end of me, I swear,” Joe breathes out, watching with lidded eyes as Nicky draws his hand away, sticky and slick, and sucks his fingers into his mouth.

“Promise?” Nicky asks after a moment, his hands gliding over Joe’s flanks.

Joe laughs, shakes his head. “I like the shoes.”

They got kicked off at one point, laying near the chair. Nicky spares them a glance before looking to Joe and kissing him once again, firmly. “I’m glad.”

 

* * *

Andy and Nile return four days before the show. Nile’s got the look of someone haunted. The contact in Thailand clearly ended up being just as bad, if not worse, than Bianchi. Nicky wants to ask about it but knows now is not the time.

He barely has time for sleep right now. He’s danced so much in preparation the last few days that even his feet have bled.

Bianchi has been trying to get him to go for drinks alone. Andy thinks it’s a good idea. Nicky agrees with her but also loathes the thought. He discusses it with Joe, and Joe is of the opinion that if Nicky is comfortable with it, to do so.

Nico Angelli goes for drinks.

Nicky hates this plan but also knows that it’s a good idea.

He’s waiting at a small bar, a glass of white wine lazily being swirled by the tips of his fingers as he waits. Nile is nearby, spotting him. Booker is two streets over. Joe has elected to stay out of this.

“Nico,” Bianchi says by way of greeting. Even the way his name sounds in Bianchi’s mouth is odious. Casual and expectant.

Nicky turns in his seat, smiles, stands to kiss on either side of the cheek and then settles when Bianchi sits next to him and orders an amaretto. “It is good to see you, Signore.”

“Andrea, please. We’re in like company, no?”

Nicky gives him a coy, slightly boyish smile as he pulls over his wine and toasts him before taking a long sip. “Why did you want to meet?”

“Have you thought about transferring to Milan full time? You’re a brilliant dancer.”

“Thank you, but no. My fiance and I have family in America, he has a job there.”

There is no mistaking the spike of anger that goes through Bianchi’s eyes at the mention of a fiance, though he masks it well. He shifts, takes his drink, takes a long sip, finally says, “I was not aware you were engaged—no ring.”

Nicky looks down to his hands, flexes his fingers, looks back to Bianchi. “I was the one who proposed.”

Bianchi purses his lips, saying nothing, eyes trailing over Nicky’s face, his body. He’d dressed presentably, slacks and a button down; he’d left the top two buttons undone. He knows he looks good. Bianchi heaves out a breath like it pains him. “I would love to have you and your fiance for a celebration after the premiere, if you’d allow it.”

“Just the two of us? Not the whole company?”

Bianchi’s eyes dart slightly, like he’s been caught. “I suppose, I… I just wanted to congratulate you on your debut as the principal in the piece.”

Nicky shrugs, sips the wine unbothered. “We’re a second company. We all had an equal opportunity to take center stage.” The casual comment, the dismissiveness, works well. Bianchi’s cheeks flush with rage. With the thought that he’d be denied a prize. That Nico Agnelli doesn’t want to thank him for thrusting him into the limelight. Nicky smiles at him, pleasant, seemingly unaware.

“I—” Bianchi starts, clears his throat, tries to sip from his empty glass and signals for a new one. “I must admit I’m at a bit of a loss for words.”

“Oh?” Nicky tilts his head to the side, his long bangs slightly tumbling into his eyes. “Why?”

Bianchi blinks, wraps his fingers around his fresh drink and nurses it. “I suppose that I thought—”

“Ah.” Nicky replies, turning things over in his mind. Getting Bianchi to them, getting him isolated, would prevent collateral damage. He smiles around the rim of his glass. “Perhaps you would like to come to our apartment after the show for dinner, Signore?” Bianchi freezes, eyes wide, mouth parted in shock. Nicky holds his gaze, his boyish smile widening, just a fraction. “To celebrate.”

Bianchi fumbles with his drink. “I would be honored.”

Nicky touches his glass to Bianchi’s and raises his drink to his lips. “It will certainly be an unforgettable evening.”

 

* * *

 

The premiere goes off smoothly. Nicky has to admit, the performance, the adrenaline, is definitely something he’ll remember for a long time.

The bouquet of roses from Joe is incredibly touching.

Bianchi slips something into his champagne. If he’s going by the salty flavour and the euphoria that races through him, Nicky would suspect GHB. He looks to Joe to inform him and catches Joe sucking on his own lower lip, a slight, barely noticeable look of analysis on his brow. Ah, him too then.

Nicky allows the drug to wreak havoc on his system in the minute or so before it’s obliterated by his liver; catalogues the feelings and sensations to mimic, before slumping himself against Joe’s shoulder. “We should go home, tesoro,” he slurs out for the audience of Bianchi.

Joe’s hand curls, reassuring, solid, and sober, against his elbow. Nicky lets himself sink into the persona, drunk on champagne, high on adrenaline and illicit substances. Lets himself be led into the back of Bianchi’s maserati and plasters himself to Joe, acting sloppy.

Joe for the most part, is handsy, breathy, but not acting as liberated as Nicky. He watches Bianchi’s hungry expression in the rearview mirror. He avows himself to at least one punch to this man’s smug, disgusting face before they take him down.

The elevator ride to their flat is excruciatingly slow. Nicky pliant against Joe, muttering off in Italian about all the things he’d like to do while tugging at his coat lapels. Joe looks to Bianchi as he smooths a hand over Nicky’s shoulder with a half-smile as if to apologize. Bianchi looks pleased with himself.

They enter the apartment and almost immediately Bianchi’s hands are on Nicky, on his hips, pressing him toward the wall. Nicky blurts out a slightly garbled noise of surprise and laughter as he falls with it into the wall. When Bianchi leans in to kiss him, Nicky’s hand is up, pressing flat and insistent to Bianchi’s face, facade of inhibition gone. He curls his fingers, just enough to feel them press into Bianchi’s skin, and pushes him back with one arm.

Bianchi stumbles back landing sprawled against the kitchen island and has the audacity to look surprised before fury overtakes him. Before he can straighten Joe socks him hard across the face and Bianchi yelps, falls to the floor in a heap, hand on his cheek.

Nicky straightens up, smoothes a hand down his front. “You’re a very abhorrent man, Signore Bianchi.” He stops at Bianchi’s form as he rolls onto his back to look up at the two of them, plants his feet on the outside of either of Bianchi’s legs.

“I-I don’t…” Bianchi starts to say, pushing himself back along the floor. “What are you..?”

Joe saunters forward and squats down until he’s looking at Bianchi’s face. “Now, now, Signore, we’re well past pleasantries and falsehoods, don’t you think?” He leans forward onto one knee, thunder written over his face as he grasps Bianchi’s chin and yanks him forward. The smile Joe gives him is not a kind one.

Bianchi keens like a dying animal, his hand flails up and reaches toward Joe but before he can grasp at him or push him away, Nicky’s got a well sharpened kitchen knife through the palm, pinning the hand to the floor. Bianchi yells and twists, eyes wide as he looks to Nicky, who has taken up post beside Joe.

Nicky gives him a serene smile. “Now, Signore. You’re going to answer our questions, hm?”

 

* * *

 

In the end, Bianchi is turned over to the AISE, confessing to his crimes. Booker wanted to shoot him. Repeatedly. In the dick.

Nile is the one who convinces them all that the man will suffer more alive than dead. In the end, she’s right of course, but they’re all so used to wiping every trace of themselves clean.

They manage to contain all evidence of Nico Agnelli, though. He, according to records and friends, needed to bow out after his debut performance due to his mother falling ill and needing to suddenly rush back to America.

They’re ending their time in Milan in one last small caffè, tucked off the main thoroughfare. The two of them arrive first with the other three arriving not long after. They’ve ordered a series of small tasting dishes for the table: frittata, crudo, and small sandwiches. When Nile drops into her seat she takes one of the sitting bottles of soda and twists it open. She takes a long sip, pausing partway through to choke and pull the bottle away from her mouth.

“What is this? Is this straight lemon juice?”

Nicky laughs, head tilted back on the warm metal seat he’s in and tilts his blood orange flavored soda into his mouth, swallowing the tart liquid without a blink. “You get used to it.”

Nile pushes the bottle back onto the table and then pulls over the bottle of water instead.

“So,” Booker says, breaking the piece of focaccia on the board and sliding on a piece of lardo and mozzarella on it before taking a bite. “Where to next, boss?”

Andy looks up from where she’s reading the newspaper and shrugs. “Copley says we’ll probably be cooling our heels for at least a month.”

Booker nods and licks crumbs from his fingers. “Greece?” he suggests.

“I was thinking Germany,” Joe offers. He looks to Nile, straightening up and taking the bottle of soda hanging from Nicky’s fingers before taking a sip from it. “Anywhere you want to go?”

She hums, rolling the glass bottle of her fizzy water between her palms. “Iceland?”

Andy makes a low, approving noise as she flips the page of her paper. “Haven’t been to Iceland in ages, it’d be nice to go.”

Joe smacks his palm on the table. “Iceland it is!” he decides, tipping back the last of his and Nicky’s drink into his mouth and then twisting open a fresh one.

Nile stretches back in her chair, scrolling absently through her phone when a new notification buzzes it. It’s from Nicky. She clicks it open. ‘What do you think?’ It’s accompanied by a down arrow emoji. She glances down to the ground momentarily, brows furrowed. She catches sight, finally, Nicky’s ankles are crossed under the table and he’s in a new pair of shoes, Louboutins, if she’s going by the red sole. She shoots him back a thumbs up emoji. Another text comes in. ‘I got Joe a matching pair.’

Nile’s laughter draws everyone’s attention at the table and when everyone looks at her in question she waves her hand, half bent over and wheezing with laughter. Nicky just catches Joe’s eye and winks.