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Safe and Sound

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Safe and Sound

The pain is never easy to bear.


And with that Joe isn't referring to the fist of the security guard's leader – may Keane rot in hell – , which is mercilessly rammed against his larynx. He feels how his breath escapes and reaches for his throat, falling backwards and if he hadn't had the quick healing process, that marks him as an immortal he probably would have laid on the ground longer, unable to move or breathe. But his maltreated larynx doesn't even have the chance to swell and the relatively small injury is swallowed up by the echo of centuries full of healing.


It's about the gun in Nicky's mouth as the shithead brutally drives the air out of his lover's lungs with one knee and shoots the back of his head through his gasping throat. Joe doesn't know exactly what kind of noise leaves his mouth when it happens, maybe a No!, still sounding so scared, although he and Nicky cannot die.


But what he can tell exactly is that it frightens him as hell every single time. And while the cowardly pig stumbles away coughing, Joe is already moving towards Nicky, on all fours with a terrible numbness in his limbs and the feeling that his stomach is turning. It doesn't matter that the smoke thickens the air like sultry nights in Malta, just much worse. Nicky's lifeless body in front of his eyes weighs heavier on his chest than anything else ever could. Only the Italian is in his focus, is the magnet that attracts him, the sun that keeps him alive when everything threatens to sink into darkness.


Not one word leaves his lips, suddenly his tongue is too plump to wrap itself around tender words in Italian, to use the sweet nectar of the language only meant to be for Nicky. And the empty eyes of the person meaning more to him than the world, fill his heart with icy coldness, creeping up his spine. It never mattered what pain he has to go through as long Nicky is safe and sound, his Nicky. And despite the many centuries together, the many experienced deaths, Joe can never defend himself against the fear that it will be final this time, without a return ticket into the light.


Nothing lasts for eternity, Lykon, Andy, they all prove that immortality also has a limit and he silently prays in their own language, in Latin, Arabic, Italian, English for Nicky's return, grimacing in agony. Because Nicky is Joe's light and if Nicky ever should leave his side without a common path, there wouldn't be the slightest reason for the dark-haired man to go on living and not spending his life in suffocating blackness until he is reunited with the man he loves.


Nicky's eyes stare dull and empty at the ceiling, the bright blue expanse of the sky are cloudy, the speckles of woods in the mirrors of his soul have lost their vividness and Joe can hardly breathe, has to avert his gaze while seconds pass slowly and each one of them is a stab in his heart.




Waiting is the worst after one of them dies. Joe remembers Nicky's tight, almost panicked expression which immediately turned into relief when he came back, wet traces of tears on his cheeks fresh at the beginning of the love between them. And it is not different for him.


The bond he shares with Nicky goes deeper than anything he has seen and experienced before, never ever has a person possessed his love and trust so unconditionally and shrouded in Nicky's warmth, his relaxed breath in his ear Joe often thanks the bloody crusades for giving him something that wonderful. There's a reason Joe and Nicky check on each other first after every fight, check on how big the wounds are because immortality doesn't keep them from pain, and in their case, no matter how bad physical injuries are, it's the emotional ones that bother them. It takes a while to convince themselves that none of them had left this world forever and that's why the little breaks after each mission are so precious.


He doesn't dare to touch his lover's cheek, his hand hovering a few centimeters above the skin he knows as well as his own, doesn't want to feel how no warmth flows in Nicky's body, no life is in him. When Nicky returns gasping for air, Joe feels the need to gather him in his arms, hug him tightly and feel his heartbeat, reliable and grounding, to put his lips on Nicky's and taste blood and dust when Nicky's lips are only warm. But they don't have time for this and he's content with a relieved, silent sigh, has to support himself on one knee for a moment for not being overwhelmed by the fact that Nicky's alive.


Disoriented blue meets worried brown and almost at the same time their hands reach out and they touch, giving each other strength, lovingly assuring that everything is fine for the moment. It is hard for Joe not to be near his love anyway and Nicky also makes sure that they are in the same room as often as possible, especially after shitty missions. The little touches they exchange now and then when it's too inopportune for more, too social for more intimate evidences of their affection, mean everything to Joe. In fact, just because Nicky is everything to him.


The muscles under his fingers are powerful, already as tensed as they were before the incident in the fight and the thought of Nicky's death alone is like a knife in his chest, which is why he tries to push what happened into the farthest corner of his mind and focus on the way Nicky looks up to him. Knowing and soft, because he knows the feeling of being forced to wait and Joe wants to say something, but finds nothing although he's the poetic of them. He has no problem with flowery and meaningful metaphors and usually he doesn't even have to think about it, the poetry just flows out of him, always with the aim of worshiping Nicky's entire being.


To see Nicky die is not normal, after more than 900 years it doesn't even come close to this simple term.


When his lover rolls to one side and the warrior, who is still in his blood and has never disappeared, wants to carry on, at last the others need their help even if Booker can be torn to shreds, Joe is only capable of staring mute at the pool of blood that had formed around Nicky's head. Red and dark and a familiar sight which is like a punch in the stomach.


With clenched teeth he tears himself away from it and gets to his feet, driving Nicky on with gentle words who follows him heavily and slowly to the door. But as he walks past the Italian he can only stare at the back of his head. Strands of brown that are the color of desert sand in the sunlight, caked with blood and probably rests of Nicky's skull and brain.


Joe hates missions ending like this.


Contrary to his hope killing Nicky's murderer doesn't give him the slightest satisfaction and even if he feels like he has avenged his lover appropriately, he can only sink exhausted to the floor without being able to remove the blood from the back of Nicky's head. Which is a reminder of Joe's failure, with each step of Nicky it becomes more obvious to him that he didn't protect his lover. Ever since they laid down their weapons during the Crusades and traveled together and Nicky smiled at him as if he'd been the most beautiful thing the Italian had ever seen when they'd kissed for the first time in the glow of a fire under the clearest starry sky, he wants to protect him. At all costs and with everything he has and every time he fails he breaks his silent vow and hates himself for it.


In his pipe-dream he rips the greasy wimp Merrick's fucking heart out and stuffs it in his throat for torturing Nicky trough experiments, but Andy and Nile get ahead of him. So Joe has to be content with driveling about the way Nile got downstairs and he even manages to loosen the mood a little but only a little. And that's not enough.


With the end of the mission the seething anger inside him because of Booker's betrayal has the chance to rise to the surface and Joe almost sprints to the passenger door and throws it open to not smash Booker's teeth in. The trust that had been built up over centuries has fallen to pieces and the massive significance of the destroyed friendship and its serious consequences hang over the group of immortals who are fleeing from the 'crime scene' in their car like a threatening thundercloud.


He realizes that Nicky slides onto the back seat, onto the middle seat, which is actually too narrow for his long legs but Joe knows why his lover is squeezing himself in there. Not only does he know Nicky like his own reflection in the mirror, the other way round it's the same and Joe bets the Italian is recognizing his current state of emotion, reading his face like a book and therefore wants to prevent Joe from jumping back and smashing Booker's head with his bare hands.


Beneath all the anger a tender, warm flame of familiarity inflames because Nicky is there , sitting in the car with him, so Joe tries to inhale and exhale slowly with his jaws pressed together and he's glad Andy is driving and not him. He probably would have damaged steering wheel or would have deliberately hit a wall if Nicky, Andy and Nile wouldn't be in the vehicle. His limbs are filled with a restlessness turning him into the killing machine he can be in fights, but the mission is over and the tension is still there because of the man he's watching with concern in the rear view mirror.


Nicky has closed his eyes, a small wrinkle rests between his eyebrows resulting from pain because despite their healing power every death is a number itself and hurts and Joe can say from experience that a head shot is accompanied by severe headaches. Damn assholes! Immortal's bodies recover faster than normal humans, of course, but Joe hates seeing Nicky in any discomfort. Nicky's face is a calm mask, he looks concentrated as if he would be meditating or praying, which he still does from time to time although his time as a priest has long passed. For the exhausted and slumped posture of the Italian alone Joe wants nothing more than to kill Booker in the most painful way possible, repeatedly. A small, rational part of him is aware that such action wouldn't be advisable and would only cause more problems, but the betrayal cannot be undone or unpunished. A large, emotional part of him is aware that he wants to do everything especially because Nicky got hurt.


After killing each other several times during the Crusades, panting and confused, becoming more and more desperate because their opponent at the time didn't want to stay freaking dead and Joe becoming more and more fond of Nicky during the following centuries no one is allowed to harm a hair on Nicky's head. It's not as if Nicky couldn't defend himself because he is more than capable of doing that – very good in fact and he looks heavenly too when he does. There is nothing hotter than Nicky who wields his long sword with deadly elegance and speed, eyes burning like blue fire, the Roman face with the defined jaw line and the sharp nose a cold, steady facade like a marble statue. Joe doesn't apologize for his thoughts, shit, why should he? After all Nicky belongs to him and he belongs whole-heartedly to his former enemy who now is his heart. And Joe is very protective of the things belonging to him, it's that simple.


There is silence during the ride and Joe doesn't bother to start a conversation or respond to Nile's uncertain beginning of a conversation which dry out quickly despite Nicky's quiet answers. What's next when they stop? When they leave the mission completely behind? How will they deal with Booker? To set a punishment, a price, is essential in Joe's opinion and if he wants his head can be granite like.


A warm, light weight on his shoulder startles him out of the fog of unpleasant thoughts and without looking back Joe knows it is Nicky's hand exerting a gentle pressure. There is nothing Joe doesn't know about this man; every characteristics, every inch of his skin, the way his face is glowing when he cooks and the blooming smile when someone praises his dishes or Andy melts away because of his baklava. Without hesitation he lays a hand upon Nicky's, absorbs the small smile the rear view mirror is showing him and even after an eternity together this tiny touch is at least able to diminish Joe's anger. Over the mirror he smiles back at Nicky before he turns his head, placing his lips on the back of the Italian's hand.


Nicky turns his hand minimally, so he can let his fingers run over Joe's bearded cheek and lips and just because they are not in the privacy they can't enjoy as much as Joe would prefer, he doesn't turn around and kisses his lover.


The safe house they're going to stay in for the night is in a small wooded area near Birmingham and has been empty for several years but it's better than nothing. Joe puts a hand on Nicky's lower back after Nicky climbs groaning out of the car and stretches his long, beautiful limbs. In the dark and doused with silver moonlight Nicky's face has something magical. He tries to memorize this sight to meticulous detail in order to write poetry about it when they've recovered from the mission and no longer look like depressed and bloody pictures of misery, that don't really look like what one imagines glorious immortal soldiers to be.


“Come on, belissimo”, he says softly and the little smile on his lover's face is like the sun and just as warm. Together they enter the house after Nile and Andy who walks slower than usual but makes no sound and Joe ensures that not even a sheet of paper fits between him and Nicky. The presence of the filthy traitor Booker behind them discreetly ruins everything.


The light flickers and reveals a dirty floor and sparse furniture, covered by a layer of dust but for their purposes it's enough – they have to collect themselves, to recover from the blow of which the severity has shaken them all to the depths of their bones, even though nobody wants to admit it. But they've never been hit by a mission in this way in many years, which is most likely because they've never been betrayed by any of their kind.


For this reason the atmosphere in the safe house is filled with tension, tingling and charged like the air before a thunderstorm and Joe doesn't deign to look at Booker when Andy smashes a chair and lights a fire in the fireplace with the wood, pushing Nile aside who wants to help her.


“I'll get bandages and something to eat”, Booker says after clearing his throat and Joe lets out a suppressed growl, giving him a look that he normally saves for his enemies. He doesn't even notice that he's moving towards the Frenchman, who has at least the decency to look guilty.


“You fucking asshole!”, he hisses and only the hand suddenly laying on his chest and exerting a slight but unmistakable pressure prevents him from reaching Booker.


“Joe”, says Nicky and the addressed lets his lover push him back a few centimeters, the fingers spreading and staying on his chest because Nicky knows him.


“How could you betray your family? Your nice behavior won't change that! You s-!”


Nicky interrupts him with a sigh. “Joe, please.”


These two small words are Booker's shield and remind Joe once again what a gentle soul Nicky is. The Italian is kind and warm-hearted, always takes care of others first and then of himself, and offers a shoulder to lean on for those who need him. Chances are Nicky isn't even mad at Booker for the shit he has pulled off, just deeply disappointed, and tries to understand his actions. And Joe often wonders with a painful heartbeat how his Nicky has unjustly deserved to have to fight and kill all the time.


“Joe!”, Andy now intervenes in a sharp voice, an unspoken command in her tone and Booker may be on Joe's shitlist but the dark-haired man has learned to listen to commands and presses his lips together, looking at Andy on the moth-eaten sofa. In contrast to her voice her gaze is soft and understanding. “Take a shower, you two.” The female warrior makes a sloppy movement down the dark hallway. “We'll be fine here.”


He represses a derogatory snort and decides to obey for the safety of an idiot who is still present and now goes to the door staring at the floor. He grabs Nicky's hand on his chest, interlacing their fingers and gently pulling his lover behind him who follows in silence. This time they are not accompanied by half-amused, half-pissed off phrases from the living room such as “Don't be loud, the walls are thin!” or “Keep your hands with you, I want to take a shower too!”. The front door slams shut and Nile begins to speak quietly.


But Joe doesn't pay attention to that, Nicky's warmth behind him is all that counts and his grip tightens minimally around the lithe yet rough hand of the Italian. There is only one bedroom in this safe house and the bathroom is poorly furnished, the white tiles look uninviting under the artificial light, impersonal and unwelcoming and Joe meets the unhappy look of his own reflection. For the torture they suffered they would have deserved the most luxurious hotel room in the world with feather-soft pillows and blankets, a minibar and a huge bathtub – not a dirty hut without warm water and only with a makeshift change of clothes they could gather together quickly.


“Joe, talk to me.” Nicky leans against the closed bathroom door without breaking their skin contact, his pale eyes sliding searchingly over Joe's reflection in the mirror.


Without a word Joe turns to him and lets go of Nicky's hand to lift the hem of his gray, bloody shirt with the intention of carefully pulling it over his head. Nicky raises his arms, indulging him and Joe soaks in the sight of uninjured skin of his upper body desperately.


Per favore, parlami, cuore mio”, Nicky whispers, grabbing Joe's wrists as he tries to open Nicky's pants. Not in an erotic sense, because although it is always pretty exciting to shower with Nicky and he means it quite ambiguous, he just wants to wash away the traces of their mission today. Remove the dried blood, let it disappear in the drain and finally convince himself completely that his lover is fine.


“What do you want to hear from me?” Joe closes his eyes for a second and leans forward, knowing that Nicky will always be there to give him support. He buries his face in the hollow of Nicky's neck, which seems to be made for it and breathes his scent; sweat and blood, smoke and gunpowder and just Nicky. “That I'm angry at Booker? That I hate him for hurting you? That my heart stopped because yours did too?”


Nicky makes a sound like a wounded animal and something in Joe breaks apart because he knows that his lover has felt the same emotional pain, still feels it like himself. But he cannot fall down under the weight of what has happened, isn't sure if he could get up ever again. So he just tightens his grip on Nicky as if he'd be afraid someone would tear the love of his life away from him. Again. And breathes. He tries to breathe deeply and calm, although his faltering, shaky breath sounds too loud in the small bathroom and tries to concentrate on the warm body in front of him.


They undress in silence, their gentle and tender touches are enough words between them and Joe turns on the water, grimacing briefly because of the cold before he grabs Nicky's wrist and pushes him under the jet. The sudden cold makes Nicky shudder and Joe curses the lack of quality of this shitty safe house while he reaches out his hands and begins to massage a little shampoo into Nicky's hair. With his head bowed the Italian lets him do it, the water turns red and paints grotesquely pink stripes on Nicky's cheeks before it disappears into the drain and Joe sees nothing more than blood. Nicky's blood which he washes from his strands with clenched teeth, determined to wash it off the perfect body and erase all the traces of the past few days as if they hadn't existed. When his fingers pluck some hard fragments from Nicky's hair and he realizes that these are pieces of Nicky's skull, the sobs violently break out of Joe and as Nicky takes him in his safe, wonderfully warm arms there is nothing holding Joe back anymore.


The water may hide the tears on his cheeks, but he feels them hot and stinging on his skin and when Nicky is lifting his face he sees the same pain in his green-blue eyes and there is nothing he can do about the uncontrolled shaking that possesses his body except pressing against Nicky until nothing fits between them. They both cry under the cold shower, seek comfort and security in the glowing presence of each other and allow themselves to be weak. After so many centuries together it is as easy as breathing to abandon oneself to the feeling of familiarity, knowing that your partner is the one constant standing like an unyielding rock in the surf. Apart from the fact that it's not easy for Joe to breathe at this point. The image of the gun in Nicky's mouth, the dark blood and remains of his skull, the needles and scalpels cutting into his skin weigh too heavy and it feels like an eternity before Joe is able to utter understandable words.


“A gun”, he chokes out, it almost drowns in the rush of water but Nicky understands him without any problems, his features become soft and he puts his hand on Joe's cheek, his thumb drawing circles on the line between dark whiskers and smooth skin. “The asshole rammed a gun in your mouth and...shit, there was so much blood and you had a...a hole in your skull!” Nicky makes no attempt to silence him yet, but Joe can see how much he wants to help him. “Nicolo, you long...and...” He breaks off, the meaning of his words is clear to both of them and Nicky sighs silently with closed eyes.


“I am here, habibi”, Nicky whispers. “I am here and I will not leave your side. Wherever we go, we do it together. Like we always did.”


It is impossible to make such a promise, they both know that. But Nicky's unconditional belief in fate and all good in the world is like a spiritual hug and takes some of Joe's tension away. Because why should Joe and Nicky, former enemies, receive immortality at the same time but lose it again separately? Their paths are inevitably intertwined and Joe will fight tooth and nail for ensuring it stays that way.


For the moment Nicky's gentle serious assurance is enough and not for the first time Joe is firmly convinced to be able to get along without water, food or even oxygen as long as he's in Nicky's presence.


“I was scared, tesoro”, he admits without hesitation, there are no secrets in their unique relationship and Joe has never regretted his openness. His hand arches over Nicky's cheek, the skin unharmed and smooth underneath his circling thumb. “For an overwhelming and terrible eternity the world lost its color because my guiding star at the night sky, the center of my universe, suddenly disappeared. And I-”


Nicky hushes him barely audible, under his soft and glowing gaze Joe feels so loved it is impossible to put in words. “I was scared too. To have to watch you suffer without being able to get near you and hold you was...” He exhales exhausted. “I never want to experience it again. But we're fine, my heart. We're fine and we will grow from it and survive.”


Their mouths meet halfway, no more words need to be exchanged and Joe indulges in the hot sweetness of the kiss letting the cold of the water fade in the background as much as the ridiculously small bathroom and their makeshift accommodation. Even after all this time the slightest touch of Nicky sets Joe's body on fire, Nicky's fingers leave burning marks on his skin and Joe clings like a drowning man to the person who means more to him than anything else in the world.


There is a knock at the bathroom door, much quieter and more polite than if it had been from Andy and they can hear Nile's muffled voice. “I don't want to disturb whatever you're doing right now, but...”, she says hesitantly. “I've got residues on my body that I don't want to look at and I jumped out of a skyscraper today so I have a bonus. In addition to the newbie bonus, of course.” And then after pausing a few seconds she adds, as if she doesn't know whether to say it. “Also there's something to eat.”


The traitor is back.


And Joe tenses involuntarily but Nicky lifts his chin with one index finger and kisses the left corner of his mouth. “We will deal with it. But not now and not today.” 'It' sums up all the current shit perfectly and yet not even close and on Nicky's face Joe can read the same feelings he has. However, the Italian belongs to the kind of people who keep their overwhelming emotions in themselves while Joe has to let all the pent up out immediately in the second they begin to form.


They dry each other off quickly and effectively and yet Joe insists on letting his fingers linger on Nicky's soft skin longer than necessary. With practiced movements he slips his lover one of his faded, soft hoodie on and Nicky giggles almost noiselessly when his head doesn't find the right opening at the first go. The crushing, painful pressure on Joe's heart is reduced by the sound and he smiles, running his hand trough Nicky's damp, but wonderfully clean hair as he helps Joe step into shorts. Joe would love to put on one of Nicky's shirts and bury his nose in the fabric to inhale the familiar scent that has accompanied him for a millennia but there will be plenty of time for that afterwards.


Together they go in the kitchen, not touching but Joe can feel Nicky's tempting warmth right next to him and concentrates only on that instead of Booker who is sitting as far away as possible from the kitchen table, staring silently out of the window while holding a vodka bottle that is already half emptied.


Chinese food is on the menu and Joe inspects the bags and collects himself and Nicky what they both eat before he sits down on one of the fragile-looking chairs next to the Italian. Andy also makes a fragile impression, her face drawn by pain, her skin white and lines of exhaustion deep as trenches, but her bright eyes are sharp as ever.


“I'll take a shower if that's okay”, Nile says, empty boxes indicate that she has already eaten and Joe gives her an encouraging smile.


“Of course, Nile”, Nicky says softly and Andy just makes a gruff gesture. Luckily for him Booker stays silent. After Nile disappears and the shower goes on, followed by a short curse because the water is cold, only chewing noises and breathing fill the kitchen. The silence is not like always calming and family, but overwhelming with a weight that cannot be seen although it undeniably exists.


The food tastes like nothing, Joe rather eats mechanically, a process of giving his exhausted body strength to fully regenerate and he catches Andy's gaze across the table, reads the unspoken question, it is as she looks at Nicky and then slightly raises an eyebrow: Are you okay?


No matter how aloof Andy seems and how merciless and sharp her words are, the immortal warrior takes care of those who mean something to her. In her own way, and after centuries of fighting side by side Joe knows what to look out for with her. She and Quynh were his family next to Nicky, even...Booker was one of them and Joe loved him like a brother, accepted him unconditionally and now they seem to have lost not only Quynh but the Frenchman too. And Joe feels so helpless that it crushes his heart. He lifts his shoulder half-heartedly, signaling to Andy how things are going with them. The fighting does not leave scars on their bodies but their souls are marked by every wound and it will take a while before they can cope with what has happened in the past few days.


Nicky has bowed his head, attention is on the fried noodles but he's poking in them rather than eating them and Joe grimaces. To outsiders his love may seem calm and relaxed but Joe knows this man better than himself; Nicky's hand clasps his chopsticks at regular intervals, a muscle in his jaw twitches and he only stares at the food because he doesn't want to look at Booker.


With a small movement Joe presses his knee against Nicky's, forcing Nicky to look at him. Whatever Nicky reads in his eyes ensures that he gives Joe a small and reassuring smile but from Joe he cannot hide the shadows taking away the softness that usually makes up Nicky's smile. They are all deeply hit by Booker's betrayal and Joe feels the secure ground is falling apart little by little, leaving him falling.


Andy lays a hand on Nicky's and squeezes it gently before doing the same on Joe. In her Joe sees something like a best friend who's not afraid to shout unpleasant truths at him and shows no mercy during training sessions, but it is Nicky whom Andy considers to be her baby brother. His attentive, friendly Nicky who tries to see the good in everyone and Andy is the gentlest towards him – this behavior repeatedly pains Joe's heart, reinforcing the feeling of infinite support of his family.


This support is no longer existent and they have to reorient themselves, deal with the pulsating hole which was once filled with trust. But not today, Joe repeats Nicky's words from earlier in his head.


“You get the bedroom”, Andy says and Joe sees Booker flinch so violently as if she had rammed her fist into his stomach.


Nicky shakes his head immediately barely noticeable. “You're hurt, boss. You should sleep in a real bed. Nile sleeps on the sofa and Joe and I on the floor. A couple of blankets should be enough.” None of them miss the fact that he ignores Booker completely, but Andy doesn't comment and Joe is grateful for it.


“I don't know if I can sleep today. Besides, you deserve the bedroom.” The words brook no protest and Joe hears the message between the lines. He feels sick thinking back to the lab, the samples of their bodies, pieces of bone and blood, organs and tissues. Nicky turns pale, pinching his lips so tight that they are just a white line. “Now go, otherwise I'll kick your ass.”


“Okay, boss”, Joe replies with a small grin that feels wrong on his face. He grabs Nicky's hand, interlaces their fingers and presses their palms together, pulling him off his chair. “You heard her, hayati. And I don't want your pretty ass get kicked.”


Andy rolls her eyes with a dry snort, demonstratively turning to her food, a clear rejection. But Nicky doesn't react to Joe's teasing, looking at Andy so sorrowfully that Joe thinks he's going to lose his nerves here and now. Then the expression disappears from Nicky's eyes and he just looks so tired.


“Good night”, Nicky says quietly to Andy and starts moving, now he is pulling Joe after him and he can hardly wait for the remoteness of the bedroom, although it is likely to be as dusty as the rest of the house. The door creaks softly as Nicky pushes it open, revealing a dark room, dirty furniture and a bed.


A small, dim lamp is sufficient for their purposes and Joe has to sneeze hard as he tears the covers of the bed and releases a cloud of dust. The mattress doesn't look bad at all, at least when viewed from a distance and if they drape some of their blankets on the bed, it is acceptable for the night. He start to shake out the pillows and takes two blankets from their bags, placing them on the mattress and then sinks down himself, resting his elbows on his knees. Meanwhile Nicky has pushed the curtains aside and opened the window, looking out and scanning the area to make sure no sniper would have a good position to shoot trough it. The Italian has the habit of pushing a wardrobe or something similar in front of the window in each of their safe houses or hotels if there is a chance that it could be used to their disadvantage. And Joe loves Nicky for it, he is not as open and literal in his expressions of affections as Joe, but his actions are no less significant for that.




Joe blinks slowly and by the way Nicky looks at him he can tell that Nicky has already spoken to him several times.


“Excuse me, what did you say, cuore mio?”, he asks and smiles apologetically and remorseful at the same time because he hadn't heard Nicky's precious voice.


Nicky's gaze softens and he steps up to the seated Joe, pressing a kiss on his head. “Yusuf...”, he says again and Joe's real name in this wonderful Italian accent sends shivers down his spine. “I can hear you think, my love.”


Joe just hums, the sleek fingers in his curls that begin to massage his scalp make him close his eyes and he leans forward til his forehead rests against Nicky's stomach, his face buried in the hoodie of his beloved.


“I know you're angry. And scared and hurt and sad and disappointed. And so am I, but don't let what has happened eat you up from the inside like acid.” Nicky speaks muffled trough Joe's hair. “Please”, he adds quietly, pleading and Joe claws at the fabric of Nicky's hoodie, pressing himself even closer to Nicky. Joe has never been particularly good at acting rationally when his emotions soared over him like an all-consuming wave, so Nicky's request is only logical. Often he lets himself be overwhelmed and swallowed by this feelings and then everything is too much and it is difficult for him to get back on the surface. Nicky is always there to help him out of this hole with one hand and Joe is scratching dangerously close to this abyss. And his soulmate is more than aware of this.


He opens his mouth a few times without bringing out anything but Nicky waits patiently, doesn't urge him, just continues to run his fingers trough Joe's curls, reassuringly, gently. “I...It just doesn't want to get into my head how he could do this to us.” Could do that to you. “We welcomed Booker with open arms, placed our trust in him and, on top of that, our friendship and love. And that shitty idiot trampled on all of that, allowing Merrick to get his hands on his family, even tough he knew what they would do to get what they wanted. It's impossible that he didn't have the slightest idea what Merrick was ready to do, even if Booker wasn't exactly sure what he was up to. Fuck, after all, they were greedy people and they are all the same! Instead of declaring himself to be willing to end up as a test object in some laboratory or talking to us so we could have helped him, he handed over without wasting a second thought of the consequences!”


Nicky lets him talk, doesn't interrupt him once and despite the fact, that Joe cannot see his face, he can feel Nicky listening attentively and taking every word he says to heart. There is a silence after Joe's outburst, impossible to compare with the silence in the kitchen. This silence is only meant for the two of them, saturated with an intimacy they could never share with one of the others. “People tend to make wrong decisions for the right reasons”, Nicky finally says slowly, carefully choosing each letter. “I am not saying that Booker's actions are justified”, he continues as Joe wants to free himself from him and look at him. “There is nothing that excuses the danger he had put us in and the betrayal of our trust.” He pauses and looks down at Joe, who looks up at him without letting go. “But I do know what agony and grief are.”


“Nicolo”, Joe starts hoarsely, grabbing one of Nicky's hands and pressing a kiss on the knuckles.


“Do you remember the time when you got shot with an arrow in the face?” Nicky tilts his head slightly to one side and Joe knits his eyebrows because of the strange change of subject. In fact he can remember the event Nicky mentioned very well, after all it was he who got the arrow stuck in his eye socket. It had been a lousy shot from a bandit and the arrow had pierced Joe's left eye and got stuck in the eye socket without killing him.


Nicky's mouth twitches when he sees Joe grimace. “You yelped like a street dog and writhed on the ground like a maggot because the arrow got stuck and we couldn't pull it out.”


“You killed yourself laughing about my pain”, Joe notes dryly. While he had tossed and turned in pain, Nicky had crouched next to him and suddenly started laughing as if no arrow was sticking out of Joe's face and Joe had cursed him in every language he knew.


His lover doesn't deny it and hums in agreement. “Yes, and then I threw up. Twice.” His free hand slides on Joe's cheek, this thumb gently brushing his lips. “Because in this moment I realized I could have endured if I was hit by the arrow but not that it was you who suffered the pain. And no matter how many times I've seen you die, no matter how often you've been injured, it hurts so much every time I see you suffer.” His words hang heavy in the air and Joe can't help but look at him in silence. Nicky naturally isn't very talkative but what he says is full of meaning and thought and it takes Joe's breath away over and over again.


“Nicolo.” Joe has no intention of ruining the moment, just wants to feel Nicky's name on this tongue.


Nicky crouches down in front of him, so that he is now at eye level with Joe and their eyes get locked. “I cry for you, Yusuf, I laugh with you. A part of me dies with you when you leave this world and my relief when you return to me cannot be put in words.” His voice is trembling and Joe leans forward, resting his forehead against Nicky's without breaking their gaze. “Booker made the mistake to assume we wouldn't be able to understand his grief and pain.”


For a moment they breathe the same air, assuring each other of the other's presence and a bit of the brutal tangle of emotions in Joe's chest narrowing him inside dissolves as Nicky's words seep into him. And only now he realizes what exactly was bothering him since the revealed betrayal in Merrick's lab. Secretly he had feared that he was to blame for Booker's betrayal, this thought had stuck in him like a painful thorn since Booker's statement that Nicky and Joe always have had each other and not their grief like Andy or him. Nicky's words have pulled this thorn out.


Joe kisses him hard and desperate, tasting spices from the Chinese food, leftovers of the shampoo and everything that Nicky wants to tell him but can't. “Thank you”, he mumbles breathlessly between their kisses, clings one of his hands to Nicky's neck, wrapping the other around his back and the urge to be close to him, which had filled him like an agonizing pulse in the lab, is finally fulfilled.


“Tell me how I can help you”, Nicky mumbles against his lips, breath hot on his skin. Joe looks at the Italian with half-open eyes; the deep fatigue lurking beneath the shadows under his beautiful blue-green eyes, the residue of blood in his face that was washed away but is still present for Joe, the fresh weight of the past which pulls Nicky's mouth slightly down, the powerful back under his fingers which still longs for well-deserved relaxation.


“Just let me hold you”, Joe says just as quietly and kisses Nicky again, softer and deeper this time and Nicky nods wordlessly, getting up to turn off the light. On the bed they settle into their familiar position, Nicky facing the door, Joe pressed against his back, arms wrapped protectively around his lover and he pulls Nicky even closer until every part of his chest touches Nicky's back. He slips a leg between Nicky's, grabs his hand and buries his face in Nicky's neck.


“Sleep well, habibi”, Nicky says, pressing his lips on Joe's hand.


“You too, tesoro.” Joe feels Nicky's lips curl into a smile on the back of his hand and smiles too. For the first time since they arrived here, the smile doesn't feel wrong and Joe closes his eyes. Andy's mortality, Booker's betrayal, the processing of the torture of the lab – all of these are secondary for now.


Because the only thing that matters is warm and alive safe in Joe's arms.