Conversation drifted around him, over him, in hushed, uncertain voices. Nile was curious, probing with her questions as she tried to understand and make sense of the images pinned to Copley’s board. She stood front and center, raking her eyes over it, pointing again and again, prompting the others to search faded memories to provide some context. Her enthusiasm was endearing, but Nicky was in no state to indulge her, leaving Joe to fill in the gaps of their history.
Copley, for his part, was seated at his desk, pencil scratching irritatingly against his paper, hand flying across the page as he attempted to catch up. Nicky imagined this was something of an academic dream for him, to finally have the subjects he’d been studying for so long in the room with him, bringing life to his hard work.
Andy was leaning against the back of the couch, arms crossed and doing an admirable job hiding her emotions. She answered Nile’s questions with clipped words, expanding only when an exasperated sigh was tossed her way. Otherwise, her posture was the picture of nonchalance…if only her eyes didn’t give her away, the way they seemed to flit over the evidence of their past, fixating here and there. Nicky wondered how much of this she really did remember, wondered if this was inspiring some twisted form of nostalgia.
Joe was at least putting in some effort.
He answered Nile with an appropriate amount of enthusiasm, providing details and telling stories with such ease that it drew her attention away from Andy. This of course, was by design, knowing how little she liked to dwell on the past. Except Nicky could tell he was still awed by the revelations, would sometimes step closer to read one of the articles, fingers drifting over faded names like he could memorize them.
It was overwhelming.
Particularly because Nicky could feel the tension in the room, the looks being snuck in his direction by both Andy and Joe. Even Nile had caught on to the fact that his silence was unusual, that little furrow of concern making an appearance whenever she tried to draw him in and instead got Joe’s answer.
He wished he could explain it.
They expected him to be overjoyed to discover this sense of purpose in their existence, to celebrate the fact that he’d been right all these years, not that he’d ever gloat about such a thing, something that had caused them so much pain. It seemed he should feel that, it would make sense to feel that way, yet Nicky couldn’t shake the emptiness in his chest, the numbness that spread throughout his body, the exact opposite of what he should be thinking and feeling.
Nicolò’s experience with faith was a road filled with pitfalls and dead ends, was twisty and cracked beyond recognition. He’d long ago forsaken man-made beliefs about the possibility of their creator…found himself drowning in it all and the ever-changing attitudes where none could actually be right.
No, he’d narrowed his focus, if only to maintain his sanity. He believed something handed down their immortality, he believed there was a purpose to it, he believed that once it had been fulfilled, he would die and there would be peace. These were simple things, proven things and he’d followed a path in which he could live with himself, in which he could do right by himself and others. Now here he was, standing in a room with all the evidence to prove him right and all he was…was disappointed.
He felt terribly ungrateful.
Unable to stand it any longer, Nicky slipped out the door, taking the stairs quickly and making a beeline for the front door. The moment he stepped outside, he was running, circling the house and making for the thin treeline, desperate to put distance between himself and that fucking board.
Panting, heart thundering in his chest far too hard for that short sprint, Nicky placed a hand against the tree, body bent in two as he tried to focus on the here and now. This was too much, too much to handle all at once…between Andy’s mortality, Booker’s betrayal, finding his new little sister, his and Joe’s kidnapping, he just needed a breather, a moment to get his head on right.
He flinched, not having heard Joe coming after him, though of course he would. His lover had been on edge these past few days. Since they escaped Merrick’s lab he’d been by Nicky’s side, watching him, holding him, for both of their sakes. For a second, a split second, he could taste metal on his tongue.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured.
Joe sighed and Nicky finally looked at him, took in the exhaustion written into his face, the nightmares still fresh enough to tear them from sleep most nights. His posture too, was one of defeat, a man beaten down by life, not that it would last, Joe was never taken down for too long.
He ran a hand over his face, seemed to search for the words and Nicky knew he was just as confused as he was, “why are you sorry? I admit, I would have thought you’d be happy about this.”
Nicky leaned back against the tree, let his head fall back and his eyes close. Speaking of his emotions did not come as easily to him as to Joe, a fact his beloved knew well and so he would be patient while he perused his thoughts. He settled on the one thought that had been pervading his mind since stepping into Copley’s room.
“I think…I preferred not knowing.”
This felt right, felt like the truth as he let it fall from his lips and into the air. Something about it felt precarious, like he was back to being a young man, a stern priest looking down on him as he confessed his sins, like judgement was about to be passed on him and he would be found lacking, unworthy.
Not by Joe, never by Joe.
Something else. Whatever had handed them this gift and had finally decided to grace them with the knowledge of why. Nicky didn’t want to know why, he’d been able to live with his own beliefs for so long…he didn’t want to wonder if the person he just saved, the person he just killed was supposed to change the world.
Warm, calloused hands cupped his face and Nicky finally opened his eyes to find Joe right in front of him, looking at him with such intensity, such adoration that for a moment, the aching hole in his chest disappeared. He tilted his head forward until their foreheads touched lightly and Nicky was surprised to feel the slightest tremble in the other man.
“I’m okay. It’s okay. This has been a lot and I just....you aren’t the only one that needs a second, just need to remind myself its just you and me,” the words were spoken with such earnestness Nicky felt a pang in his heart.
Joe understood, because of course he understood, there was no world where he wouldn’t. Unsurprisingly, he said the exact words Nicky needed to hear, reminded him that no matter what bigger plan there was, no matter what they were a part of, it paled in comparison to this one simple truth.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”