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A fair fight is nothing but bad tactics

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It all goes to hell over dinner.

They’re all gathered around the couch table in the living room, because in this house, there’s no real kitchen table to speak of  – the kitchen itself is fine, Nicky’s found, more than suitable for their needs, but there’s only a tiny table crammed into one neglected corner that would just about be comfortable for one person having a meal, and there’s four of them. So. Living room it is.

Andy’s sprawled out in the one existing armchair, an imposing leather monstrosity, because of course she is, while Nile and Joe have settled down on the leather couch, Nile sitting cross-legged, balancing her plate precariously on top of one knee. Nicky’s the only one down on the floor, comfortably settled right between the two of them, with one of the couch pillows stuffed behind his back and Joe’s lower leg casually pressed against his shoulder; because first of all, it’s not like he minds and second of all, he was bound to get up a few more times anyway, getting the salt shaker, checking on dessert that’s still in the oven, little things like that, so. It just makes sense. 

“By the way,” Andy says suddenly. “Copley said he talked to you last week? What was that about? Anything important?”

There’s no malice to it, she’s not trying to trip him up or anything  – isn’t even looking at him, too busy stabbing at her food. It’s Nicky’s own damn fault, really, because he’s not prepared at all; no excuse ready to cover up, no statement that might defuse the situation immediately, take the edge off, so to speak. 

Also, he thinks, annoyed at himself, while he didn’t exactly tell Copley to keep it under wraps, because it’s not like it was supposed to be some big secret  – he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t hoping for… well. For nobody to find out about it, if he’s perfectly honest, or at least for a bit more time to come up with a reasonable explanation. Things are bound to calm down at some point, after all. 

He realizes that he’s been quiet for more than five seconds, which… yeah, that probably seems very odd. Andy is looking directly at him now, head cocked to the side, clearly expecting an answer. Right next to him, Joe has gone very still.

“Not really important, no,” Nicky says slowly, realizing that there’s nothing for it. The only thing he can do  – the only thing he actually wants to do – is to come clean. “I… I might have asked him to check in on Booker-”

“Oh, come on,” Joe says behind him, loudly, at the same time as Andy closes her eyes for one long second and Nile says, alarmed, “Is he alright?”

“There has been no direct contact,” Nicky adds, like that will make it any better, like the damage hasn’t already been done, not even sure which one of them he is trying to placate here. “Neither one of us have talked to him at any point-”

Joe bends over him then, leaning forward to deposit his plate on the couch table with a loud clatter, before he gets up and marches out of the room. Out of the corner of his eye, Nicky can see Nile watching him go, looking surprised and kind of upset. Andy just sighs deeply, shoulders rising and falling. 

“He didn’t know,” she says, nodding after Joe’s disappearing form.  

“Evidently not,” Nicky says, trying to ignore the heartbeat hammering in his throat all of a sudden. This isn’t some great tragedy, he thinks, it’s not like this won’t be fine in a few days, a few weeks; Joe is just angry right now, and understandably so, but he’s not leaving him forever. Still, despite all of that, despite the bone-deep knowledge that it will be fine in the end, it’s upsetting. It always, always is. 

“He’s really mad about that still, huh,” Nile says.

“Well, Booker did betray us,” Andy says, diplomatic. “It only makes sense to be wary. We’d be fools to just… trust him again, with no caveat.”

Nile nods, torn look on her face clearly betraying the fact that while she understands the argument perfectly well, agrees with it, even, there’s still something inside of her that just wants them all to be friends again. Nicky can’t find it in himself to hold that against her.

“So…” she says, after a few moments of heavy, awkward silence. “Are you… going to go after him or not?”

“In a minute,” Nicky murmurs. Doesn’t miss the way the corner of Andy’s mouth twitches at that, lightning quick, which right here, right now, is very fucking annoying, because… well, Nicky feels awful about this. Sure, Andy is clearly thinking that they are going to make up anyway, and she’s probably not wrong about that, if past experience is anything to go by, but still. This isn’t funny.

“As long as we’re talking about this,” she says. “How is he?”

“Not well,” Nicky says, moving a bit of food around on his own plate, with no appetite left at all. “I think. Which… that was to be expected, I suppose.”

“Yeah…” Andy agrees, looking pensive. “It’s good of you to check on him.”

“You haven’t?” Nicky says, honestly surprised. “At all?” 

“No,” Andy says, eyes very far away. “Not yet. I didn’t… I guess I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Think I convinced myself I might just want to take him back.”

Nile isn’t saying anything, silently chewing her food, looking between the two of them like a child watching her parents have a very serious conversation, attentive and a bit worried, but confident in herself and her place at the table.

“I’m going out,” Joe’s says, suddenly reappearing, stomping through the living room and towards the front door, in the process of shrugging on his leather jacket as he moves. Nicky hastily scrambles to his feet, going after him. Deliberately catches up with him outside, closing the front door behind them, so they have some privacy.

Joe stops once he realizes that Nicky is coming after him, with his arms crossed and his head held high.

“That afternoon you spent doing research last week,” he says after a few tense seconds, hitting the nail on the head, and Nicky can feel his own mouth twist unhappily. 

“Yes,” he says, because there’s no point in denying it. Not like Joe doesn’t deserve the truth. That afternoon, Joe had been out with Nile, who’d been borrowing Nicky’s motorcycle, taking her on a long drive East, towards the coast. They’d been gone for most of the day, only returning late in the evening, both of them windswept and giddy. 

“I see,” Joe says, short and clipped. Outwardly, he’s looking perfectly calm, but he’s fuming with anger, Nicky can tell.

“It’s…” Nicky says. “I know how you feel about him at the moment. The only reason I didn’t tell you is because I knew it wouldn’t help anything. You’re entitled to your anger-”

“At this exact moment in time,” Joe says, clipped and precise. “It’s not exactly Booker’s lying that’s bothering me, Nicolo.”

Nicky swallows. Can’t help but stare at the ground, defensively crossing his own arms in front of his chest, mirroring Joe’s posture. 

“I understand,” he says.

“Do you?” Joe says, and he’s getting more worked up now, cold tone of voice completely burned away. “Do you really? ‘Cause to be perfectly honest, you could say anything right now, how would I even know-”

“Ohh, well, yes, of course, everything I say must be a lie now,” Nicky snaps. “You got me, I’ve been cleverly deceiving you for centuries-”

“We ended up in a laboratory!” Joe explodes. “Like rats! You were a fucking experiment to them and nothing but some, some means to an end to him, the cowardly fuck!”

“I know,” Nicky hisses, “In case you hadn’t noticed, I was there.”

“Could’ve fooled me!” Joe says, voice still too loud. “Could’ve fucking fooled me, Nicky, because from where I’m standing, it seems you’re very keen on going through all of that shit again-”

How fucking dare you, Nicky wants to tell him, because those were the worst 48 hours in his recent memory and he’d do anything for them not go through anything like that, ever again. Doesn’t say it out loud, because… well. It’s obvious Joe’s lashing out because he’s scared. For Nicky, for the both of them, for all of them. Doesn’t make it hurt any less, naturally, but what can you do.

Joe stops talking once he catches a good look of Nicky’s face, who’s not trying to conceal any of his emotions at all. He’s well aware that his shoulders have drawn up, instinctively, blinking at Joe slowly, waiting for what he’s going to say next, but Joe’s anger seem to have dissipated somewhat. If anything, he looks resigned, helpless and disappointed.

“I will be back in a while,” he says. “Don’t wait up for me. I think I’d prefer the couch tonight.”

“Alright,” Nicky hears himself say, even though he feels completely numb. Stares at Joe’s retreating back until he’s disappeared into the darkness. Takes a deep breath once he’s gone, and then another one. 

Then he goes back inside. 

 


 

It's long past midnight when the bedroom door finally cracks open, slow and hesitant. 

Nicky considers pretending to be asleep for one long, ludicrous second, which… what the fuck would be the point of that? He’s wide awake in the darkness, and has been for the last three hours. Not so much because they’re sleeping apart  – as much as Andy and Booker liked to tease them, as much as Nile still seems convinced they can’t so much as take a single step without each other  – they have done so in the past and they probably will again, at some point in the future, and the world will keep on spinning regardless.

It’s not that they can’t, it’s just… why would they? Given half a choice, Nicky would always rather Joe be right next to him than far away. And they’re not apart now, is the thing, Joe is in the same house, trying to sleep under the same roof, and he’s doing it all alone, sulking on the couch; so, knowing that, Nicky never was going to spend a peaceful night anyway.

Joe shuffles inside and closes the door behind him. Then he just stands there, a looming shadow in the middle of the room. Must be aware that Nicky is awake, because it’s not pitch black, and Nicky is lying on his back, one arm flung over his head, looking straight at him. 

There are a few moments of awkward silence. 

“Did you want to-” Nicky mutters eventually, and Joe says, “yes” short and clipped and then he's moving, climbing into bed with him, Nicky already lifting up the covers so he can slide underneath them. Then turns around, towards the wall. Can feel Joe put a steadying palm between his shoulder blades, and then there's a careful kiss pressed to the back of his neck. Nothing more, though  – Joe doesn't wrap an arm around him like he usually does, doesn't pull him close, either. Stays on his side of the bed, still close enough for Nicky to feel him, a warm, calming presence right behind him, breathing quietly. 

Well, he thinks, trying not to let that sting, fair enough. This is Joe’s prerogative. Nicky decided to keep things from him, so now it’s his turn. 

“I’m glad you’re here,” he can’t help but say, which earns him another gentle kiss to the back of his neck. 

“Go to sleep,” Joe’s voice says, low and hoarse, which… fine. Nothing more to be done about anything tonight, it seems, Joe not in the mood to talk it out. At least he’s here, Nicky thinks, feeling a lot calmer already, at least he came. That’s enough for now.

He wakes up the next morning feeling too hot and like it’s a little hard to breathe. Blinks himself awake, a bit confused, but everything appears to be quiet and peaceful, and Joe is clearly still there- is very much still there, Nicky realizes, because at some point in the night they must’ve gravitated towards each other. He’s on his stomach now, with Joe draped all along his back, half on top of him. Has one heavy arm wrapped around Nicky’s shoulders and one leg slung over him as well, Nicky can feel it going across the back of his thighs. 

It’s claustrophobic in the best possible way, makes him flood with bone-deep relief and giddy joy at the same time, makes him relax immediately, sink a bit further into the mattress. 

“Mmmmhn,” Joe says behind him, an unhappy noise that means he must’ve noticed something change in Nicky’s demeanor, his posture, something that startled him awake. As always when they’re safe and not in a hurry he’s slow to wake up. Joe has excelled at a great many things, Nicky thinks, feeling almost unbearably fond, but a morning person he is not and never will be. 

Nicky can practically feel him regain consciousness  – the way his breathing changes, the way he’s holding himself differently, body less heavy all of a sudden. Joe makes a low, grumbling noise, and Nicky keeps still, waiting for a reaction, more than prepared to take all cues from him. Then Joe fumbles for his hand, which is lying right next to Nicky’s head on the pillow; fits his palm over the back of it, interlacing their fingers. Nicky swallows, feeling his heartbeat hammering in his chest, and holds on. Cautiously says, “Good morning.” 

“Shhh,” Joe mutters, slipping into Italian, if subconsciously or on purpose, Nicky’s not sure. “S’too early for this.” 

Only then does Nicky realize that Joe’s hard. 

Nicky can feel him through the thin fabric of his sweatpants  – the ones he’s only wearing because he was planning to sleep on the couch, out in the living room, where Andy or Nile could’ve walked in at any given time, so of course he was going to be polite about it. Joe’s the farthest thing from being prude, but he’s decorous always, never wanting to make anybody else feel uncomfortable. Now his erection is a hard, hot line, pressed against the small of Nicky’s back. 

It’s not exactly an unusual occurrence, neither shocking nor unwanted, though it doesn’t mean he’s not pissed off anymore or that Nicky is forgiven, it just… happens sometimes, because that’s how it works. Still, Nicky can’t seem to help the first gentle shiver of arousal that runs through him, which might be entirely inappropriate, depending on how Joe is feeling about the overall situation today.

Joe must be aware of it as well, because despite his initial remark, he is entirely awake by now. Nicky doesn’t have to see him to know, he can tell. It’s obvious in every little detail about him. 

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, voice still rough from sleep, because… well, he is. “I should’ve said something.”

There’s a deep sigh and then Joe is pressing himself even closer, breath ghosting over the back of Nicky’s neck. 

“Shouldn’t have done it at all,” Joe mutters. “It’s unwise. You can’t trust him, Nico.”

You, Nicky thinks, naturally. Of course he’d say “you can’t”. Joe’s trust, as far as Booker is concerned, has gone out the window completely, at least for the time being. Joe’s devoted to a fault, but he expects the same loyalty in return and he doesn’t forgive easily. 

“He’s a traitor,” Joe continues, as if on cue. He’s kissing Nicky’s neck now, nuzzling the top of his spine, and it’s very distracting. “He fucks you over again, I will have to come rescue you and that’ll be very embarrassing for the both of us, no?”

He’s clearly joking, while also being utterly serious at the same time and they both know it. This is the main issue right here  – not Nicky doing something he shouldn’t have, going against something they all agreed on, but Nicky secretly putting himself in the line of potential danger. Joe is always worried he might be too kind, too trusting, Nicky is well aware of that. It’s a bit of a romanticized assessment if you ask him, an idealized version of himself,  because he’s not too kind or trusting and never has been. 

He’s always exactly as kind and trusting as the situation requires. But Joe’s mind, of course, has immediately conjured up a worst case scenario in which Nicky might just disappear without a trace, because Booker decided to sell him down the river again  – only Nicky this time around, because he was the only one dumb enough to check in on him. 

“He won’t,” Nicky murmurs. “I worry about him, I’m not stupid.”

“No, of course you’re not,” Joe snaps immediately, sounding vaguely offended on Nicky’s behalf. He’s heavy, still halfway on top of Nicky, pushing him down into the mattress a bit, which feel amazing, honestly, warm and familiar and safe. Makes Nicky want to bury his face in the pillow and just stay like this for hours, Joe holding his hand, pinning him down, gently scraping his teeth over the bare skin of Nicky’s shoulder blade, making him shiver.

Joe must’ve noticed his reaction this time around, there’s no way he missed it, and for whatever reason he stops, seeming hesitant all of a sudden, which… that is fucking unacceptable as far as Nicky is concerned. Joe takes a breath, like he’s going to say something, but Nicky interrupts him before he can even get a word out. 

“If you dare apologize,” he says, stern, “...I am going to kick you out of this bed- no, out of this room myself and you can stay on that couch for the next two years-.”

There’s a soft laugh behind him, and then Joe’s mouth is back, biting down on Nicky’s shoulder, making him twitch. 

“That would be very cruel,” Joe says, all innocence. “You wouldn’t do that to me. I would perish, thinking of you in here, all by yourself…”

“I’d find a way to pass the time.” 

“Of that I have no doubt.”

“Hmm,” Nicky says, half noise, half sigh, and buries a bit deeper into his pillow. The gesture feels a little childish, a little petulant, but he can’t really bring himself to care. “...you left first.”

“I did,” Joe says, after a long moment. Nicky can feel him, as he presses his forehead to the spot between Nicky’s shoulder blades, tightening his grip around Nicky’s torso, clutching at his hand. “I’m sorry. I…” and he’s resorting to Italian again, “I want you safe.”

“Which is, of course, best achieved by you bravely migrating to a different room.”

“Well,” Joe says, sounding a bit sheepish. “It’s not like I actually did a lot of sleeping.”

Nicky snorts at that. “No?” he says, feigning surprise. 

“Shocking, I know,” Joe says. “I lay down and immediately, I started missing you.” 

“And the actual bed probably too,” Nicky says.

“Oh, no,” Joe says seriously, done joking around apparently, because he gets like that sometimes  – horribly, achingly sincere, like it is of utmost importance Nicky doesn’t get the wrong impression. “Just you, I missed you terribly. Smell of your hair. The taste of your skin. That sound you make, when-” and he’s grinding down against Nicky now, once, which means Nicky’s dick, hard and trapped underneath his own body, drags over the mattress, just a bit, just enough. Nicky does make a noise then, caught off guard, can’t stop himself and wouldn’t even want to, a soft little sound of pleasure that has Joe exhale harshly behind him. 

“Exactly that,” he says and Nicky says, a bit breathless, “Sorry, I wasn’t paying any attention, can you do that-” and Joe is already doing it again, rocking him down into the bed and Nicky makes that sound again, a little louder this time. 

Thinks about all of their options here, about what he wants, about what Joe might want. If they even have time to make love right now, except… his body has already decided for him, it seems, saying yes, yes, please, yes-

“Joe…” he says and Joe mutters “yes, I'm here, whatever you-”

Nicky draws one leg up then, still lying on his stomach, which makes his ass push back against Joe's erection, makes Joe grind against him again, like he can't help himself. It also creates a bit of space, his own dick no longer trapped against the bed, which also means most of the friction has disappeared. 

Twists his hand out of Joe's grip and grabs for his wrist instead, starts pushing it down, down, down- and Joe catches on immediately, because of course he does, putting his hand inside Nicky's boxers carefully. He's being slow about, only two fingers at first, gently slipping them underneath the waistband, stroking back and forth over the soft skin there, thumb toying with the elastic, not doing anything more for a bit and it's delicious. 

Has Nicky tense and panting in no time at all, almost fucking the air in the limited space he has, because he can't seem to stop twitching at every little touch. God, he's hard. Can't help the whimper he makes, when Joe finally slips his thumb underneath as well, and then there's a low groan behind him, Joe grinding against him forcefully, like he's forgetting himself, and all of a sudden his hand is shoved down the front of Nicky’s boxers in full, touching him where it counts. 

"Fuck," Nicky hisses, delighted. There's not much room to maneuver, Joe's hand basically trapped inside his underwear, and it doesn't even matter, Nicky’s hard and more than ready for it. Can't seem to form a single coherent thought, past the idea of Joe just pulling his boxers down, getting all of the unnecessary layers out of the way, and just shoving his dick inside, take him right then and there, fucking nail him to the bed like Nicky belongs to him, like he can do whatever the fuck he wants, because he can-

“Nico,” Joe says hoarsely, sounding reverent. His other hand is buried in Nicky’s hair by now, gently scraping his fingernails through it, and he's mouthing at Nicky’s jaw. 

They almost miss the knock on the door. 

Not because they're being too loud, at least Nicky doesn't think they are, because it's mostly just harsh breaths and low, desperate grunts, but they're too preoccupied with each other to actually pay attention to anything else, so the noise takes a few seconds to sink in. 

Andy, he thinks, judging by how matter-of-fact it sounded, and then he loses his train of thought for a second or two, because Joe strokes his dick, once, twisting his wrist right over the head, which means Nicky has to bury his face in the pillow again, muffle the moan he wants to make. Makes his hips twitch, trying to fuck himself into Joe's fist again, which makes Joe grind against him in turn, both of them nothing but fueling each other. 

“Yes?” Nico manages finally. Probably sounds a bit out of breath, but otherwise his voice seems fine to him. Can hear Joe snicker behind him, equally breathless. “What is it?” 

“We're leaving for the airfield in fifteen minutes,” Andy's voice says. “You still in?”

“Yes,” Nicky says, even as his eyes flutter closed, rocking helplessly into Joe's tight grip. “Yes, of course. I, I'll be right there.”

“Great,” Andy says, sounding a bit exasperated, or maybe Nico is just imagining things, and then her footsteps indicate that she's leaving again. 

They lie there for a long moment in silence, and then Joe, who already knows what's coming, says, pleading, “Nico, no. Please. We can follow them-”

“I promised yesterday,” Nicky says, struggling upright with shaky movements. His head feels like it's swimming, face fever-hot, arousal still thrumming through every nerve of his body. 

“Why do you want me to suffer?” Joe continues, dramatically. “I love you more than life itself, what have I done to deserve this?” but he's maneuvering himself upright as well, rubbing at his eyes, and then they're next to each other, upright in the bed, shoulders pressed together, actually looking at each other for the first time. 

Nicky blinks at him, a bit dazed and helplessly endeared – by his disgruntled expression and his unruly hair, face as flushed as Nicky’s feels right now. By the way his broad shoulders, vast expanse of beautiful skin, are marred with a few pillow creases. The way his sweatpants are riding low on his hips, hanging on for dear life when he’s sitting up like that. The way he's still hard underneath, outline of his erection clearly visible through the fabric. 

Joe kisses him then, deep and hungry, and Nicky allows himself to indulge for a few long seconds. 

“Yusuf-” he mutters eventually and Joe heaves a sigh that seems to come from the bottom of his soul, like all is lost and he'll never be happy again, and reluctantly pulls back, muttering, “This is extraordinarily cruel.”

“Well,” Nicky says, grinning. “You could consider it penance.” Then he adds, “For the both of us.”

Joe shoots him a dirty look. “I’m refusing to listen to you anymore,” he says. “You’ve very clearly lost your mind.” but his expression softens immediately when Nicky starts laughing at the dramatics of it all, looking fond and exasperated all at the same time. 

Nicky leaves their room a few minutes later, mostly dressed, stepping out into the hallway on his way to the bathroom just in time to hear Nile ask, “Where’s Joe gone?” from the direction of the living room.

“What do you mean?” says Andy’s voice, muffled, clearly chewing something. 

“Thought he was sleeping on the couch or something?” Nile says, which earns her a barking laugh from Andy. 

“Yeah, that was never gonna happen, was it,” she says, and then they both look up when Nicky pokes his head in the room. 

“Good morning.”

“Morning,” Andy says. She’s munching on one half of a whole-grain bun with butter, which means somebody must’ve been to the bakery. “Joe with you?”

“Yes,” Nicky says, trying not to beam like an idiot. 

“That mean you’re forgiven?” Nile asks, hopeful, and Nicky has no idea how Joe even hears her, because he just then leaves their bedroom, marching into the direction of the bathroom, which is at the opposite end of the hallway, but he manages it somehow, because he yells, “Absolutely not!”

“Nevermind him,” Nicky says innocently. “It’s a process.”

“Oh, I bet it is,” Andy says, dry as the desert. 

“It is also very rude to keep talking with your mouth full,” Nicky tells her, which earns him a lot of exaggerated chewing. 

“Ew,” Nile says, laughing. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Ohhh, a lot of things,” Nicky says, “You have no idea.”

“Shouldn’t you be getting ready?” Andy says. “We do wanna leave here at some point.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Nicky says, but he does as he’s told. “Nothing but complaining in this house.”

Might bring Joe a cup of coffee, he decides, that might placate him a bit. And if that doesn’t work out, well… not like they’re not going end up in the same bed tonight, after all.