Even though he would never tell you, could never put it into words, Nick is beyond scared. Things have been messy for a while to say the least; Dominick got so paranoid and angry and irrational for reasons Nick still doesn’t understand. It hurts to admit it, but he started acting like Nick, and that was terrifying. He was always the more level-headed of them both. The strategist, the thinker, the calm one. Then in one night, he was just… gone. The last thing that Nick ever said to him was not to come back until he got his shit together. No sweet last words, no goodbye. He didn’t even answer his phone when Dominick called him for the last time. Guilt has done nothing for the grief that makes it difficult to get out of bed some mornings.
He been trying to bury the pain in every way he can. His liquor cabinet drains twice as fast, and before you got your shit together and talked things through with him, he drowned his pain in Amanda. He used her. And when he feels better, he’ll probably hate himself for the way he treated her just because he felt bad. That’s over now though, and he’s been calming down with the drinking if only for your sake. This has really hit you too; you loved Dominick a lot, more than you’ll ever love Nick, and losing the man who rescued you from your ex-husband certainly has taken its own toll. Watching you pick yourself up and carry on so easily doesn’t help him feel better about how hard he takes this.
“Nick,” you say from somewhere behind him, he assumes the doorway. He’s been sitting out on the back porch for an infinity, slowly nursing the brand of whiskey that Dominick hated to admit how much he loves. Now that he’s gone, it’s so much easier to see him in all of the little things in life. “You should come to bed. It’s almost two in the morning.”
“I’m not tired,” he replies.
In truth, Nick is always tired nowadays. Of shouldering all the burdens that Dominick used to, of handling the finances when he can barely stand to leave the house long enough to take low-paying jobs, of wading through his own struggles, of trying to find a way to avenge Dominick’s death. He’s exhausted, but at the same time sleep seems more elusive than ever. Every time he shuts his eyes, he sees the pain on Dominick’s face when he told him to get out as he lies in the bed that you used to share with him. He lies on Dominick’s side, the left, with his head on Dominick’s pillow, his arm around Dominick’s girl. You. You’re not his, even though the two of you are together now and you cling to him tightly when you’re upset or nightmares bite at you in the early hours of the morning.
You don’t say anything back, but he doesn’t hear the door shut so you must still be standing there. He takes another sip of whiskey, grimacing at the burn of its uncut flavor, and squeezes his eyes shut. It feels like nothing he does can make him stop thinking about Dominick in all of the little parts of his life. He sees him in everything from the bed at night, to the gun in the nightstand, to the jacket you like to wear, to the empty space on the couch, to the faded scars from assignments they fought through together. Involuntary tears start to sting at his eyes because it isn’t fair. Dominick deserved to live, protecting people, protecting you. Instead, he was shot point blank in the head and dumped in the river like faceless victims from procedural dramas. It should have been him. Far fewer people would miss him, far more would be happy to see him dead. Nick presses the heels of his palms against his eyes, willing himself not to cry.
He flinches a little when the warm pressure of your body settles at his side. Either you’ve gotten better at sneaking around, or he’s too caught up in his own thoughts to defend himself, let alone you. You’d be better off on your own than with him, he thinks, because you’re in less danger that way. Less of a target for the kind of people who make their livings taking out hits and controlling people like Nick who don’t want to be controlled. Now isn’t the time to say so, however, so he just puts his free arm around you and holds you close. At least he still has you by his side for now. He doesn’t know if he’d be able to handle being alone again.
“It’s okay that you miss him.”
Nick doesn’t look at you when he says, “I hate how much he hated me. When we were young, and I was really stupid, I made some mistakes that he never forgave me for. Not that I blame him, but it hurts.”
“Nicky, c’mon.” He tightens his grip on his booze. “You two didn’t get along, I know, but he did love you. Sometimes more than me, I think.”
“Don’t be stupid.”
You take the whiskey from him and steal a taste of your own. He laughs a little at how the strong taste makes you choke, but you manage not to spit it at your feet. Dominick would know what to say, he thinks, to make the guilt and grief feel less overwhelming. At least, he wouldn’t sit here lamenting all of the mistakes he’s made. He wouldn’t be terrified of what happens next. Nick just wishes he could do more than try and fill in the cracks Dominick left behind.
For a while, you and Nick pass the bottle back and forth, only stopping when it’s empty and your cheeks start to flush pink. Nick has a higher tolerance, but he had more than you and is in a similar state when he urges you inside to get some sleep. It won’t be long before the sun starts to touch the horizon, and while he doesn’t need much sleep, he can’t say the same for you. Once you’re asleep, he’ll occupy himself with something in the living room, since he knows he won’t be able to find peaceful rest. He helps you stumble back inside and toward the bedroom.
“Gonna sleep with me, Nicky?” you ask.
“I don’t usually turn that down, but tonight’s not a good night, sweetheart-”
“No, I just meant sleeping.”
For some reason, that makes him feel worse. Dominick hated it when you and Nick slept in the same bed, a sentiment that he still thinks about even though Dominick’s gone and the two of you are together now. He nods anyways. He’ll lay with you until you pass out. It’s the least he can do when he’s at fault for Dominick’s death. When Peter took out the first hit on him, he should’ve warned Dominick, made him go into hiding, done something more to protect him. As you put on your pajamas, he tries not to think about the fact that he’s taken a seat on Dominick’s bed. This feels wrong. Everything feels wrong. It will for a while, at least, and he absolutely hates the fact that he can’t do anything about it.
When you get into bed and lift the duvet for him to get under, Nick realizes that you’re wearing one of Dominick’s shirts, a soft one that was reserved for lazy mornings where Dominick actually smiled, and that hits Nick somewhere deep in his chest. Still, he swallows his emotions and settles in beside you, opening his arms for you to settle into with your head on his chest. You’re real, you’re here, and even if he couldn’t save Dominick, he can save you.
Before he knows it, he’s asleep.