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Bleeding, Bleeding, Bleeding (Taking the Bullet)

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The building was quiet. Eerily so, and Joe could almost pretend there wasn't a pitched, life-or-death battle going on in some other hall, that it was just him and Nicky cleaning up after a fight.

But Joe knew that was a lie.

Somewhere in this building was the man who had tried to take them all apart, and somewhere in this building was a dying woman who was over five thousand years old (or so Joe assumed, even he didn't know how old Andy was, no matter how often he had asked in the beginning), and somewhere in this building they were going to come together and one of them would die and Joe could only hope it was Merrick. He hadn't prepared himself to lose Andy, not yet, and while her loss wouldn't break him, the potential of it was already coloring how he looked at everything else.

"Nicky, stop." It wasn't really an order, but Joe had stopped by the door out of one lab and into the next, and Nicky was still limping, favoring his right side, and there was still blood and brains and other...things coating the back of his head. Joe reached out, catching his wrist as Nicky tried to soldier on past him. "Stop, my heart."

"Andy." It felt like only a token protest, and Nicky did stop, slumping back against the counter. Joe felt a little of the tension leave his body at that, at least it was something, but when Nicky looked up at him, his eyes were still glassy and unfocused.

"We have time. She has Booker and Nile. You need to heal." They didn't have that much time, Joe knew that, but Nicky had taken a bad head wound, he didn't need to be on his feet so soon, and every time Joe thought about it, his heart tightened. Because it had taken a fraction of a second too long for Nicky to wake up, a fraction of a second for Joe to even try to contemplate living in this world without him.

"I am healed already." Joe had to smile, just a little, at the stubbornness in Nicky's voice, a stubbornness belied by the way he tried to straighten himself, but ended up just slumping more against the counter with a quiet sound. Coming back from the dead took a lot out of them, coming back repeatedly after being tied down and experimented on took even more.

Joe sighed, shaking his head. "You're alive already, but I don't think you're completely back with me yet." Nicky snorted at that, but Joe waved it off, taking the time to look around the remains of the hallway. "You would think a lab would have cleaning supplies," he muttered, mostly to himself as he looked over the counters in the area. He was hesitant to stray too far from Nicky, but eventually he spotted a cleaning rag resting on one of the counters near the other door.

He made his way over to that rag, picking it up and sniffing it. It was dry and it smelled clean and they had used far worse things to wash blood off through the centuries. Joe wet the rag under the sink before heading back to Nicky's side.

Nicky had slumped more, his head bowed, and his eyes closed. Joe would have thought he was sleeping if he didn't know him better, but Joe still didn't say anything, didn't try to disturb him as he stepped up and slowly started to wipe the blood away from the back of his neck. Nicky shivered and lifted his head to look up at Joe.

"Cold, beloved," he said softly, and Joe laughed, just a little.

"Sorry. I didn't think we had time to wait for hot water." Joe's smile was soft as he looked at Nicky, but it fell slightly as he brought the rag up to begin cleaning the blood and brain matter out of Nicky's hair. He hesitated long enough for Nicky to tilt his head and lift his hand to lightly touch Joe's wrist.

"You don't...," Nicky said, but Joe cut him off with a shake of his head.

"I do, my love," Joe replied, pressing a kiss to Nicky's temple before he finally worked the rag through Nicky's hair, "You would do the same for me, after all." Nicky hummed in his throat, a thoughtful sound as he let his head fall forward again, his forehead resting against Joe's shoulder as he worked.

"You're not allowed to be shot in the head, beloved, we've talked about that," Nicky said, his voice quiet but firm as he lifted his arms to wrap them around Joe's waist. Joe wasn't sure if he was just holding him or holding onto him for support. While Nicky no longer seemed as weak as he had been when he had first struggled to his feet, he still seemed exhausted.

"I believe that conversation also included you never getting shot in the head either, Nicolò," Joe replied, finally taking the rag away from Nicky with one final swipe along the back of his neck. He set the rag to the side before bringing his hands up to cup Nicky's face, lifting his head so that he could really look at him. The exhaustion wasn't limited to just his slumped shoulders, it was still reflected in his glassy eyes as well. The sound Joe made was quiet, but almost desperate.

Nicky blinked at that, shaking his head slightly. "I'm healed, beloved. Everything else will come in time, you know that."

Joe closed his eyes for a moment, shaking his head. "We don't, though, do we?"

"It's not our time. This is not our moment." Nicky sounded so certain about that, but at least that meant there was a little more life in his voice now, and that made a small smile tug at the corners of Joe's mouth.

"Our time, hmm?" Joe let his arms slide down to wrap around Nicky's waist.

"Sì. Ours." Nicky smiled then, gently, reaching up and sliding his fingers into Joe's hair. "I don't know when, but it's not now."

"I was terrified, you know." Joe used that moment to just look over Nicky, taking in the blue of his eyes, the curve of his mouth, everything about him that had always captivated Joe. "You scared me."

Nicky smiled again, and happy expression by pleased expression, life was returning to Nicky's eyes. "You had nothing to worry about. I will always come back to you."

"Still." Joe smiled then, before he leaned in to kiss Nicky. It was just a brief thing, and Joe didn't dare let it linger or else he would be lost in Nicky like always. "Terrified. You should make it up to me."

Nicky laughed, shaking his head. "Later, my heart. We need to save Andy now." They both sobered at that, and Joe nodded as he started to pull away. Nicky caught his arms, though, pulling him forward and back to him. Nicky's kiss this time was not brief or gentle, it burned, searing through Joe in a way that left him breathless and his knees weak. In the end, when the kiss broke, it was Nicky supporting Joe's weight for that moment.

"We should go home." Joe knew it took a second for Nicky to follow that train of thought, but he continued, "Genoa and Mahares. Nine hundred years, and those are the places we've never gone back to. We're going to have to split up after this, at least for awhile, and...."

"My family washed their hands of me even before our war." Nicky shrugged, and the move wasn't as weary or slow as his movements had been before. "There was never anything in Genoa to go back to."

"Not even a church I could leave lewd comments in the guestbook about fucking their priest?" Joe grinned as he pulled away finally, searching for his weapon. He slid Nicky's gun to him.

"I never took vows, Yusuf, and you know that," Nicky said, his smile quick, and the sight of it really did ease something deep inside Joe. "So your blasphemy means nothing."

Joe laughed, stepping close to Nicky again. "My blasphemy makes you blush," he said, trailing a finger over the blush that was making its way down Nicky's neck, "That is enough." He pressed his lips to the curve of Nicky's neck before he stepped past him towards the door.

"Mahares." Joe looked back at him in confusion. "That's where we should go. You used to talk about it before, long ago, when the nightmares would wake us both up."

Joe nodded at that, smiling gently as his hand moved down to take Nicky's wrist. The tension continued to ease out of him as he felt how strong his pulse was beneath his fingers. "Are you feeling stronger?"

". I am back with you now," Nicky replied, picking up his handgun and checking the magazine before he nodded.

"Then let's go get Andy."