Joe was throwing things into an empty pillow case, hugging Barney to his side when Nick came in with his roller suit case. He'd seen what Joe was doing, figured it out as he passed by Joe and Kevin's bedroom, to his own. When Joe gave him a confused look, Nick announced determinedly, "I'm coming with you."
The thought of leaving Nick behind, too, hadn't even occurred to him, so his mouth opened and closed a few times before he said a grateful, "Okay," and then resumed packing to run away.
He felt someone enter the room and by the feel, it was Joe. Nick turned around in his chair with a soft smile. Not getting a good look at Joe before he was being pulled up, into a hug, Nick's smile lit up, but when he could focus on anything that wasn't Joe, his smile turned upside down. Suitcases by the door.
Joe felt Nick tense in his arms and sighed like he was suffering, not pulling away. "I'm leaving, Nick."
There wasn't anyone in the world who could read his brother like Nick could, which is why he pulled out of Joe's hold, walked over to his closet, opened the door, and pulled his suitcase down. Joe, a little shocked, stood by watching until Nick was literally ripping clothes out of his closet and stuffing them into his bag.
"Nick." His little brother didn't stop, focused. Joe walked over and curled his hand over Nick's shoulder, pulling him out of his fury.
"Yeah, Joe?" he asked like everything was fine, like Joe had just said his name the second they had contact, even though it had taken several moments for Nick to acknowledge that he was being asked for his attention.
"What are you doing, Nick?" It wasn't often Joe used his voice-of-reason tone, mostly because of the effect it had on Nick - two, three, four - and Nick's face turned angry, narrow, painfully determined.
"I'm coming with you." With that, he turned back to zip his case up, but Joe tugged on his shoulder, pulling his gaze up.
"No," Joe said sadly, "You aren't."
"What do you mean I'm not? Of course I am!" Joe shushed him gently, lowering his palm, pleading with Nick to lower his volume a little.
"You can't Nick. You - I'm not coming back this time, and you can't come with me."
Nick, sometimes, made mistakes when interpreting Joe, but he was able to hear Joe loud and clear just then. "You're running away from me too?" He couldn't help the hurt in his voice. "But I didn't do - did I do something? What did I do?" So pleadingly, so confused... It broke Joe's heart and he knew then, more than ever, how much he needed to leave.
"Nothing... It's me. My fault. You'll be good, Nick. You'll be great."
"Not. Without. You." He didn't have the time to really think about it, but if there was one thing that amused Joe about his little brother, it was how fast he could go from being soft and gentle, to forceful and edgy. Everything about Nick, though, made everything a little better, even when he did break Joe's heart. Best broken heart anyone could ever ask for.
"Nick, you don't under-"
"Stop it. Don't say I don't understand. It's you who doesn't understand. I need you, Joe. Okay? I hate saying that. I hate being dependent, but I need you. - I can help with whatever happened. I'm a good problem-solver, right? So I can fix whatever is wrong. Just let me help." How anyone could sound so reasonable and rational during a conversation like this, Joe would never understand, but it was so close to breaking his resolve. He had never had any intention of telling Nick. It was best not to disillusion him like that...
"You can't fix everything Nick. This just is, and I have to deal with it."
"Then deal with it here. I'm not kidding Joe. I can't do this with out you. I won't. And we'll see how 'great' I'll be then."
"Don't say things like that. You'd be great on your own, and you know it. You don't need any of us, Nick. You're perfect."
"And you're frustrating! I need you here. What aren't you understanding about that, Joseph?! I love you, and I need you here, okay?!"
"Nick..." Joe sighed, squeezing his eyes shut upon finally hearing his brother explode. He had known it was coming, yet somehow, this was all harder to deal with than he had suspected. "You don't get it, Nicky. I love you, too, okay? But I can't stay here with you."
"Because I love you too much." There, he said it. Joe's stomach began twisting and turning and that's when he realized it hadn't been settled like a normal stomach for quite some time.
"Well I love you too much, too. So what? Are you still going to leave me?"
"Are you serious?"
One name, said in one tone, gave the one answer they both needed.
Sitting down had never been so difficult before. Suddenly the couch was Hell's Mouth, and they were going to sit on it, get swallowed down, engulfed in darkness, never to return. Maybe that was dramatic, but there were a lot of ways this could go wrong. Really, really wrong.
They weren't going into this unprepared. It had been thought-out for a long time. It had taken them months to make the decision to tell their parents, and months after that to figure out how to tell them. Seriously, they had been through enough without having to hide it from their own mom and dad, and they were just - done. Whatever happened, they needed it to just happen already. It was starting to make them sick with anticipation.
Nick was almost eighteen, and there was something about him becoming an adult that meant, to the both of them, it was time to say something. They had been together for about six months, but they hadn't been together. That was probably why the number 18 felt like such a weight, like they needed to come out about it soon. Maybe... maybe that's what they were waiting for. It was this unspoken - they just hadn't done it yet, hadn't discussed it, and yet every day it got closer to Nick's birthday, the both of them seemed to sweat just that much more.
"Tell me you didn't touch h- I swear if you touched him, Joseph..."
"What? No. No, I didn't touch him! I love him. Aren't you listening to me?"
"People use 'love' as an excuse for a lot of things. 'I only murdered their family, them, because I love them. I only stalked them because I love them. I only touched them because I love them.'"
"Nick, go to your room."
"I'm almost eighteen, mom!"
"Almost. Now get to your room!"
"Listen to your mother, Nicholas!"
"Don't yell at us! We're trying to be honest with you guys!"
"If you believe that then you are honestly confused!"
"No, we're not, dad! Would you just hear us out? Joe loves me and I love him!"
"You don't know what you're talking about, so just - stop!"
"No. No. Nick, go to your room. Joe, go get your things. Don't just sit there!"
"Go get your things, Joseph!"
"You guys are so - fucking hypocritical! You used to preach love, dad!"
"And I also thought I taught you what sins were. Get out of here!"
"I can't believe this! Your sons come to you, trying to bare their souls to you, share with you something special, that means everything to us and you act like - you act like -"
"We love each other. That's just how it is."
"Would you stop yelling at him like he's a kid? Jesus, you're impossible!"
"Joe - Joe - they're ... right."
"I'll - I'll go. Sorry... To my room."
"No Joe. You should just - let's just do what they say. They know best. And..."
"What?! Fine! Yeah, I'll leave the stupid house. That isn't going to make me stop loving him, mom, dad! You hear me? You two... I thought - Why did I think I could trust you with this? Oh yeah, cause we're your sons!"
"Joe. Just shut up, and get you and your things out of our house!"
"Our - Oh really? So suddenly I'm not even a part of this family anymore? Boy was I wrong to think blood meant anything...! Fuck you!"
"Nick! What the hell was that?" Joe asked, furious, but more hurt, now, than anything. Nick continued to stone-wall him until they got up the stairs and the door to Joe's room came into their path. Nick looked behind them to make certain no one had followed them up, and opened Joe's door quickly, pushing him in and slamming it, then opening it again and closing it softer, so they would think he had gone to his own room just a ways down. Turning his back to the door, he saw Joe's face, surprised, eyes teary, and he reached out, straining his muscles and pulled Joe's body into his, hugging Joe, who was shaking, rubbing up and down his back, letting Joe tuck his face into his neck, getting it snotty and wet, and he couldn't have cared less as he pressed firm, reassuring kisses to his brothers' scalp.
"I had to go for a Plan B; I'm sorry."
"But there was no Plan B."
"I know. I'm so sorry...They weren't - they weren't going to accept it, or let it go, or ignore it. Joe, they were kicking you out. They might have called the cops if you didn't leave. I had to do... something."
"But I can't leave you; I'm not leaving you."
"But you just -"
"Us giving in was not Plan B. You, me, packing up our stuff, our contracts, socials, birth certificates, everything, leaving in our cars and meeting at a motel four hours from here - that's Plan B."
"Oh my God... I love you so much. Don't - Don't scare me like that. Ever!"
"J... I - had to. You were being so brave, too brave. It was about to backfire. It wasn't like I could conference with you. I love you so much, and I'm so sorry..."
"Pack our things?" Joe asked, breathing out, chest steadying.
Nick couldn't help but smile. He'd never really pictured it going down quite like this, like it was real, and it was, because his imagination always stopped him every time he got to this point, but Joe hugged him, and then moved straight to his closet. They were leaving, together, as they had been trying to do since they were little. It didn't take a genius to figure out that this time was the last time they'd ever have to pack their bags.