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Bad Luck and the Law of Averages

Chapter Text

Bad Luck and the Law of Averages

It had only been three months and two small missions since everything had almost gone to hell, but Andy had managed to get herself shot, again. It wasn't bad, not much more than a flesh wound in her upper thigh, but she was refusing to acknowledge that she actually had to rest to let it heal now. So, Nicky was on a mission of his own. If there was one thing that could bribe Andy into behaving, at least for a little while, it was her sweet tooth.

They were in Edinburgh laying low after their latest successful mission further south, one more drug ring would be looking for a new leader and new hierarchy for a while at least. Nicky had heard about a new little bakery that had started opening late when the clubs and pubs let out as a gimmick, but had grown to become a phenomenon and was now famous for pastries. He had left Joe and Nile trying to get Andy to stop reopening her wound with the promise that he would return with treasure that might get her to sit down for more than a minute at a time.

Of course, for a shop as hip as this one, there was a queue, so he joined it and pulled out his new phone (courtesy of Copely). He took a picture of the building opposite and sent it to Joe with the caption 'remember that little place in London'.

A few seconds later a text came back 'Of course, how could I forget, but please hurry, she is talking about leaving the house.'

'Will be as quick as I can,' he responded, and glanced hopefully at the queue.

It seemed to be moving at a decent rate.

He laughed when Joe sent back a gif of some slapstick comedy chase. He could only imagine how difficult Andy was being. He responded with a cat failing to cat and falling off a chair in a hilarious manner and looked down the queue again.

As he looked back at the screen he felt a momentary pang of loss, normally it would have been Booker sending ridiculous things, after all it was Booker who had insisted they all be up to date with modern technology, even if they weren't all one hundred percent good at it. Only Booker's considerable expertise had convinced Andy it was safe to have phones when he had first suggested them several years previously. These ones might have been courtesy of Copely, but it was the same principle.

He sighed and stared across the street for a moment. The anger at Booker's betrayal was still there, but it was no longer quite so fiery hot.

A scream shattered his contemplations. He looked up, eyes instantly zeroing in on a woman about one hundred metres up the road. She was on the edge of a streetlight and was struggling with a man who had grabbed her bag. Nicky noted two things instantly, the man was much bigger than she was, and her short coat was doing nothing to hide the bulge of pregnancy. When the man pushed her, she went down, and Nicky moved without even thinking about it.

He ran to her side, crossing the distance quickly, but the man was still disappearing round a corner when he reached his goal. For a moment he was torn between giving chase and helping the woman, but when she groaned, concern for her won out.

"Are you alright?" he asked, crouching down beside her.

She looked up at him, arm protectively around her baby bump.

"I think so," she said.

"I will call an ambulance," he said, unlocking his phone again.

"No," she said, reaching out and placing a hand on his, "I'm fine, really."

"The police then?" he suggested.

He really didn't want to deal with the authorities, but the poor woman had just been mugged.

"The moron only got my knitting bag," the woman said. "I had almost finished the baby blanket."

"It must have been precious," Nicky said, offering her his help as she tried to stand up, "you fought like a lioness."

She surprised him with a laugh.

"Pure instinct," she said as she was finally righted on her feet, "it's a shit blanket that I have made so many mistakes in that I should have unpicked it ages ago and started again. Thank you so much for helping. I'm Ruth."

"Nicky," he replied with a smile. "Are you sure you are uninjured?"

"Probably going to ache tomorrow," she said, "but nothing broken."

"Where were you going?" he asked. "Perhaps I can help you get there?"

"I've been to my mum's," she said, "I was just going back to my car."

"Maybe it would be best if you went back to your mum's?" Nicky suggested. "Just in case."

She nodded.

"Probably a plan," she agreed, "then I can blub on her when the shock hits."

Nicky couldn't help himself.

"Would you allow me to escort you to make sure you get their safely?" he asked. "My husband would never forgive me if I allowed a lady to remain in danger, especially one expecting un bambino."

"I couldn't ask you…"

"Please," he interrupted her before she could say no. "It would ease my worry."

She smiled at him.

"Thank you," she said, "you're very kind."

"It is nothing," he replied.

"Is she okay?" someone called from further down the street.

"Yes," Ruth shouted back.

Nicky hovered very close to her as they began to walk, just in case, and kept his eyes out in case her assailant decided to have another go. What he really didn't expect as they turned into an alley was to find himself shoved up against the wall. Ruth was strong, very strong and he couldn't budge her grip as she flattened him against the brickwork, slamming his head into the wall.

"What..?" was about all he managed as he stared into her face.

Her eyes seemed to glow from within.

"Gets them every time," she said, and he couldn't look away.

He saw a large shadow out of the corner of his eye, and he recognised the trap he had fallen into.

"Sleep," she commanded, and her eyes seemed to flare in his vision.

Nicky tried to fight it, he really did, but it was like a tranq dart in the arm and his world faded away. His phone fell from his fingers and his last sensible thought was that Joe was going to lose it.

~*~

Joe was concerned the first time Nicky did not answer one of his texts, but he assumed his husband was busy buying the treasure he had been seeking. Joe sent another text a few minutes later, because occasionally Nicky became focused on things and forgot modern technology existed. When that received no response, he was worried. He picked up his phone and dialled.

Three times Nicky's phone went to voice mail and Joe knew something was wrong.

"Nicky's not answering his phone," he said, striding into the kitchen where Nile was valiantly doing her best to keep Andy engaged in conversation.

"How long?" Andy asked.

"Twenty minutes," Joe replied, and it was beginning to feel like a lifetime.

When they had to go without communication for a valid reason, Joe was fine, but when it was unexplained, he went straight to 10 on the anxiety metre. After what they had been through recently, he was probably at an 11.

"You know where he went?" Andy asked, standing from where she had been sitting at the table.

Joe nodded.

"Let's go," was the simple command.

They were staying close to Edinburgh's old town and the bakery was only a short walk in the historic area of the city. Nile tried to suggest Andy stay at the house, but Joe didn't even try, he knew their leader would never sit this out.

"He must have been right here," Joe said as he saw the building Nicky had taken a snapshot of, "that was the bakery he was going to."

"Wait here," Andy said.

There was still a queue, but Andy marched right past it and through the door, glaring at the one person who chose to try and challenge her. She reappeared a second later with a young man in tow.

"Where?" she demanded.

Her companion looked vaguely terrified, but when it came to making sure Nicky was safe, Joe didn't care what methods Andy used. The young man pointed up the road.

"There," he said, "they went into that alley."

Andy nodded and strode off with Joe and Nile following quickly.

"What happened, Boss?" Joe asked.

"Mugging," Andy replied, "pregnant woman. Nicky went to help."

That sounded just like something Nicky would do. Actually, it sounded like something they'd all do, but no doubt Nicky had gone the extra mile, he was like that, just one of the things Joe loved about his eternal husband.

"The coverage isn't great everywhere here," Nile suggested as they zeroed in on the alley, "maybe he's out of cell range?"

Joe really hoped it was that simple and any minute Nicky would call and tell him he could stop worrying. However, the second he stepped into the alley, that hope died.

"That's his phone," he said.

Andy put her arm out as he went to retrieve it, stopping him before he could move past her. She scanned the area quickly as Joe dug his fingernails into his palm to keep calm. The alley floor was tarmac, but covered in light mud where rainwater clearly ran down it regularly. There were footmarks all over it. All Joe could see was a muddle, but Andy had to have spotted something more.

"Two," she said, walking forward and reaching out to touch the wall above were Nicky's phone was lying. "There's blood here."

There was little light in the alley to distinguish anything, but Joe believed Andy one hundred percent.

"They went this way," she continued and pointed at the other end of the buildings.

Bending down she picked up and handed the phone to Joe before setting off.

"We'll find him," Nile said, touching Joe's arm. "They can't have got far, and they have no idea what they're up against."

He appreciated the sentiment, and he prayed she was right. He was already cursing himself for not going with Nicky on the excursion. He could not take Nicky being kidnapped, not again, not so soon, not without him.

Chapter Text

It probably said far too much about his lifestyle that Nicky knew exactly what he was going to find about a second after his mind started to clear. He was hanging from chains against a wall. At least no one was poking him full of holes with sharp implements this time, not yet anyway.

Shaking his head, he pushed himself up to relieve the aching in his shoulders and looked around to assess his surroundings. At a guess he was in someone's cellar. There were stone steps at the far end that went up to a door and the room was lit only by a single meagre bulb. That someone had removed his coat and shirt for him wasn't overly settling, but at least he still had his jeans and boots on.

He couldn't help remembering what he had seen before he passed out, but he had to wonder if that had been to do with hitting his head hard on the wall. The woman had to have dosed him with something or he'd hit at an awkward angle, because it took a lot to put one of them down for more than a few seconds.

Pulling on his manacles, he soon discovered they were solid and tight enough that he couldn't get his hand through. His fingers were mostly asleep where the wrist cuffs had been restricting the blood flow as he hung from them. Wiggling them back to life, he looked around for his options.

There was a dark stain on the wall next to him below a hook similar to the one his bonds were attached to, which didn't look promising. He knew dried blood when he saw it. If he didn't get himself out, he was probably going to be in a lot of trouble.

He was considering how efficiently he could smash his hand to a pulp to get out of his bonds when the click of a lock grabbed his attention. He recognised Ruth, if that was even her name, as soon as she walked through the door. The first thing that became obvious was there was no baby bump; he had been duped.

She was followed by her fake assailant and three others, two women and a man. All were dressed casually in t-shirts and yoga pants and it all seemed faintly ridiculous. If the feel of cold hard steel against his skin hadn't continually reminded Nicky that this was no game, he might have laughed.

"My, what pretty eyes you have," Ruth said as she came to a stop in front of him, "and what good shape you're in. So many people let themselves go these days."

The others spread out behind her, all eyes on him and Nicky's skin crawled. There was something about the way they were looking at him that just wasn't right.

"Where am I?" Nicky asked. "Why did you bring me here? Is your name even Ruth?"

She smiled at him for that.

"It is, actually," she said, "my parents were very biblically inclined. Abusive fuckers."

She never stopped smiling, even as her words dripped with venom.

"As to why you're here," she said, stepping towards him, "you are the prey in the trap."

He wanted to cringe away as she ran her fingers down his chest, but he wouldn't give her the satisfaction. Her touch was cold. It made him think of a corpse.

"But I'm being rude," she said, "you haven't been introduced. These are my family, I made them myself."

She turned and waved at the others.

"This is Roy," she said, gesturing to the big man, "you almost met him earlier. You're very fast you know, nearly foiled our little scheme. He makes such a terrifying mugger."

She mock shivered.

"I picked him up in London, he was a gangster weren't you sweetie?" she said.

The man laughed as if there was something really funny about that, but Nicky didn't get the joke.

"And these are Lucas and Dani," Ruth went on, "they're from Newcastle. Such a pretty pair don't you think? I only keep the pretty ones."

Nicky did not like the way she looked him up and down as she said that.

"And finally, but by no means least, this is Beth," Ruth introduced. "She is our baby, home grown Scots, but she makes up with enthusiasm what she doesn't have in years."

None of them looked much older than thirty to Nicky's eyes, but he had long since learned not to judge.

"And where do you come from with such a delicious accent?" Ruth asked him, running her finger down his chest again.

"Italy," he said.

It wasn't as if she could do anything with the information and he didn't want to annoy her, at least not yet.

"And is that husband you mentioned a gorgeous Italian like you?" she asked.

He could hear the underlying threat in her words.

"You would not like it if you tried to find out," he replied, looking her directly in the eye. "My family would not take kindly to it."

Ruth laughed in his face.

"You sound like a mafioso," she sneered. "Such little people. You have no concept of who we are or what we're capable of."

Nicky would have been perfectly happy to play the mafioso scion if he had thought it would do any good, but he had a funny feeling it wouldn't gain him any leverage here.

"Guess how old I am," Ruth said, completely changing tack.

It took him a second to catch up.

"I don't know," he said.

"Go on," she said, leaning into him again, "guess."

"Twenty-five."

He threw out a number he hoped would neither insult her for being too high or too low. The woman was clearly insane. Apparently, his guess delighted her, because she laughed again, this time a much brighter sound. She turned, grinning at her companions so he could only see her profile.

"I'll be eighty-seven next month," she said, turning back to him with those luminescent, glowing eyes.

Now Nicky did shy back, head hitting the wall. He did not believe what he was seeing. Latin words of spiritual protection jumped to his lips unbidden as he reacted purely on instinct. Ruth hissed at him as the prayer fell from his mouth and his head ricocheted to the side as she slapped him hard.

"Ruthy, careful," one of her friends said, Nicky was too stunned to know who, "don't break him. Not before we've played with him."

"Sorry, Dani," Ruth said, "of course you're right, but that stung."

Nicky found his chin grabbed in a vice-like grip and his head wrenched round so he was blinking into Ruth's glowing eyes.

"Bet that husband cost you a few Hail Marys," she said, grinning and revealing she had long pointed fangs.

Nicky's logical brain did not believe what he was seeing, but the rest of him knew exactly what he was looking at.

"Vampira," he whispered.

"Ten out of ten," Ruth said, grin never wavering. "Bet we blow your contemporary little mind."

Nicky had no words. He was nearly a thousand years old, he thought he had seen everything, but the universe had chosen to throw another cat among the pigeons.

"You're pretty," Ruth told him, "I think I will keep you. It'll be so much fun to send you back to your husband once you're one of the family. Just ask Dani, she had so much fun playing with Lucas."

"Never," Nicky growled out.

Ruth laughed.

"Oh, but you don't get a choice," she said. "Of course, before that we're hungry, and you smell delicious."

She had never let go of his chin and he could not resist as she pushed his head to the side. He struggled, chains rattling, legs coming up to try and kick her away. It was as if she was made of stone. Nothing worked. Ruth held him against the wall effortlessly, leaning closer and closer.

As her fangs sank into his neck, he grunted in pain, but pain he could handle, it was what came next that terrified him.  He was swamped by a wave of ecstasy that was not his own, one that felt so alien, so twisted that it made him whimper. Ruth was getting off on his blood and his pain and it flooded through him like the walls had been smashed between their beings.

He'd felt an echo of this before Andy and Quynh had found him and Joe, but never like this, never like he was being invaded by something so wrong.

His manacles clicked open as Roy used a key, but it did Nicky no good, he was pinned and each of his arms were grabbed by eager hands. Two bit one arm, two the other and his nightmare deepened. Even in his darkest dreams he never could have imagined.

Nicky was swirling in a haze of sick pleasure and pain and all he could think of was Joe. He was dying, bit by bit and there was nothing he could do to free himself. He struggled, but it was useless. Was this true hell? Was this his punishment for every life he had taken? These things feasted on him, passing him their warped joy at his destruction, and he clung to every memory he had of the man he loved. As their corruption seeped into him, he held to that purity.

He whispered old Italian words, but they were not messages to his god, they were messages to the other half of his soul.

"Oh no you don't," a harsh female voice snarled and something wet was pressed over his mouth.

Coppery, thick blood flowed over his tongue and he choked. It tasted old and bad and he wanted to spit it out, but a firm hand held his head and he could not resist. Eventually he had no choice but to swallow. It felt like swallowing death. When his mouth was freed, he screamed.

He screamed until his strength failed and blackness reached up to claim his soul.

~*~

Booker flew from sleep with a hand on his throat and covered in cold sweat. His mind was reeling.

He remembered the dreams, from before he had met all the others. It was something he had never forgotten even as he still occasionally connected with Quynh. This could not have been that. This had to be the alcohol that his system refused to accept for more than a few hours at a time.

Mouths, teeth, Nicky.

He went to reach for the bottle of cognac beside his bed, but stilled with his fingers around the neck of the bottle.

It had felt like those dreams. It had felt real.

He picked up his phone instead.

~*~

Nile woke up screaming. She threw herself off the couch where she had been napping while they waited for news from Copely. Their trail had gone to nothing and they were hoping technology could provide the answer. Edinburgh was decently covered by CCTV, but not all of it was state of the art and it was taking time to get to it.

"Nile, hey, it's okay," Andy said, "you're safe."

Nile knew what Andy was thinking, Quynh again. She'd dreamed of the other immortal a couple of times over the last months, drowning, always drowning. With the images spiralling around her mind now, she wished that was what she had seen.

"Nicky's not," she said.

"What did you see?" Joe was next to her like a shot.

She couldn't believe the images, but in her soul, she knew they were real.

"Vampires," she blurted out.

"You had a nightmare?" Andy asked.

She shook her head. This was no nightmare, this was a connection, only it shouldn't have been happening and it was insane.

"It was Nicky," she said, "just like before we met, just like with Quynh."

Of that she had no doubt at all.

"That doesn't happen," Andy pointed out.

"I don't care," Nile replied, "It did. What I saw, what I felt, fuck, it was horrible. They were feeding on him."

"It must have been a hallucination," Joe said.

"I know what I…"

"Not yours," Joe interrupted her, "his."

Nile couldn't exactly argue with that, she was no expert.  She looked to Andy who was frowning and worrying at her lip. Nile's phone chirping in a very particular way distracted her and she pulled it from her pocket. What she saw on the screen only confirmed what she suspected.

"It's Booker," she said, not bothering to hide the fact she was in contact with their exiled member.

This was too important, too strange to play games.

"He had the same dream," she said, scanning the message again for details.

Joe and Andy passed a look.

"Tell him to come," Andy said shortly.

Joe went to the bedroom to grab his sketch book as Nile sent Booker the message.

"Describe everything you saw," he said, coming back into the room and sitting down next to Nile.

Chapter Text

Life slammed back into Nicky like a cannon ball into a castle wall. He sat up gasping and coughing and with pain in every part of his body. He curled and rolled and fell off whatever it was he was lying on. The heavy thud as he hit the stone floor perversely helped centre him a little.

Gasping, he gathered his scattered wits and desperately tried to figure out what was going on.

He hurt. He wasn't sure he'd ever hurt like this before, because it felt like it was in every cell of his being. His body was at war with itself. Taking long, deep, shuddering breaths, he did his best to push the pain down and figure out what was going on.

He wasn't chained at least, a small plus. Groaning, he pulled himself up using the wooden table he had to have been lying on. The room was still lit by the meagre lightbulb, but there was no sign of his assailants. He had a strange sense that he had been lying there for far longer than he would have normally expected.

His limbs felt weak and he was completely uncoordinated as he struggled to stand.

A quiet whimper of fear had him turning far faster than he should have done. His legs almost went from under him as he failed to balance, but he caught himself on the edge of the table. He was further down the room than he had woken up last time, but someone had taken his place. There was a young man, no more than a kid really, chained right where he had been.

"Don't hurt me," the captive begged.

From his ripped clothes it looked as if someone had already had a try.

"Not … not going to…" Nicky started, and then realised he was speaking Italian.

His thoughts were all over the place.

"Not going to hurt you," he managed to force out in English.

"You were dead," the kid accused, "you're one of them."

A wave of pain swept through Nicky's body from his heart outwards, almost as if taunting him. He swayed, closed his eyes and swallowed it down. His heartbeat was thudding in his ears.

"Not one of them," he said.

"I watched the bites fade away," the kid said. "They said when it got dark, you'd wake up, you'd eat me."

"It's not dark," Nicky replied and then realised there was no way he could know that, there were no windows in the cellar.

He'd answered on instinct.

"Not one of them," he reiterated, but he wasn't sure exactly who he was trying to convince.

He was a warrior, he could deal with pain. He stood up straight, refusing to let it take him down.

"What's your name?" he asked, heading towards the steps and the door.

It was time to start thinking like a soldier. He staggered a couple of times, but he made it to the stairs and dragged himself up them. The door was solid oak and had thick iron work all over it. When he tried it, it rattled, but barely budged. The hinges were rivetted, no screws and the plate over the lock looked as if it had been welded in place. There was no way out unless he could find something to help.

He set about searching the whole room.

It was a dark, dank cellar, but someone had also thoroughly cleaned it out. There was nothing of use. Eventually that just left his unwilling companion.

"Stay away from me," the kid warned.

"I need to see if those will come loose," he said, pointing at the chains. "If we are going to get out before they come back, we need tools."

He blinked and swayed, not wanting to push the terrified young man further unless he was forced to. The fact he was half naked and splattered with dried blood could not be helping the kid's image of him.

"What's your name?" he asked a second time.

The kid frowned at him.

"Bryce," was the hesitant reply after a good few seconds.

"I'm Nicky," he said. "I do not want to be here anymore than you do. We need to try and get out. There is nothing useful in this room except maybe those."

He pointed at the manacles holding Bryce to the wall.

"They're solid," Bryce said.

"I know," Nicky said, "I was in them last night, but then I couldn't get my hands to this."

He pulled the large paperclip from his pocket. Ruth and her cronies had taken everything else from him, but they had overlooked something so small and simple.

"You can get them open?" Bryce asked.

"I can try," he replied.

He wasn't the best lock-pick in the world, but Andy insisted they all learned as many skills as they could. It had come in handy many times.

"Okay," Bryce said.

Nicky moved in, focusing as well as he could. The kid stiffened in fear the moment he got close, but otherwise didn't react. He could smell alcohol and he could guess how Bryce had fallen victim to Ruth or one of her cohorts. Bending the paperclip, he slipped it into the lock on one of Bryce's restraints and felt around for the mechanism.

Closing his eyes, he did his best to visualise what he was feeling.

Unfortunately, removing sight not only enhanced his sense of touch, but his sense of smell as well. He smelt blood. Not his own, but Bryce's. His stomach twisted, his teeth ached, and a blast of heat rushed through him, making his nerves burn. He folded, make-do lock-pick falling from his fingers as he staggered away, gasping.

"Fuck, fuck, get away from me," Bryce yelled.

Nicky didn't have the strength to argue as he knelt on the floor simply trying to breathe.

"You're one of those things," Bryce sounded on the wrong side of hysterical.

"Not yet," Nicky forced out through gritted teeth.

He looked up at his terrified companion. He knew that terror, he had felt it. That he was the cause cut him to the bone.

"Not yet," he said again and clung to that knowledge.

Something was happening to him, something he did not understand, did not want to think about, but he knew that one fact was true.

Feeling about on the floor he found his misshapen paperclip. He held it up to Bryce.

"Need to get you out of here before that isn't true."

He was no longer sure he could save himself, immortality or no immortality, but now he had a cause.

"You want to eat me," Bryce accused.

Nicky shook his head.

"Not me," he said, "it does. Will be prepared this time, won't let it get to me."

Bryce's wide, scared eyes stared at him and he could hear the kid's heart beating rabbit fast.

"Please," he said.

Grinding his teeth together he refused to give in to the pain.

Finally, Bryce nodded.

It was hard to stand up, he had to use the wall this time, but he did it. He worked as fast as he could, opening first one, then the second manacle. Bryce stayed there, against the wall, as if he had no idea what to do now he was free.

"Get away from me," Nicky said as he clung to the manacles. "Stay at the back. If they come in before we get out, stay behind me."

Bryce ran then. He didn't go for the back of the room, he went for the door, but Nicky didn't blame him. He had the manacles to worry about, Bryce would soon find out it was futile. He worked at the hook on the wall, he tried to find a weak link, he even just pulled, everything he could think of. Nothing worked. These were not old and rusty, they were new and had been fitted to the wall expertly. They were not coming loose.

He tried every trick he knew, but it was hopeless. Eventually his strength failed. He knew he was getting weaker, he could feel it, and his legs finally gave out. He slid down the wall and slumped at the bottom.

By then Bryce was at the back of the room where Nicky had told him to go and their gazes met.

"We fucked?" Bryce asked.

Nicky couldn't help the snort of derisive laughter. They were indeed 'fucked'.

~*~

Joe pinned his last sketch to the mission wall. It looked like a storyboard for a horror novel, not something real. Nicky had been missing twelve hours and they had nothing useful. With Copely on the case there should have been something, even if it was only a hint, but all they had were three grainy clips from old CCTV cameras that looked like a big guy and a woman helping their drunk friend walk home with none of their faces visible.

If the clips had come from differing places it might have helped, but it was from three cameras in the same street at the end of the alley where they had found Nicky's phone. They'd combed the area on foot as well, but there had been no sign of Nicky or his assailants. It was like they had disappeared into thin air.

The pair had to either have had access to the CCTV to wipe their progress, or, more likely, knew where all the cameras were.

"Anything?" Joe heard Nile ask and turned to see Andy walking in with her phone in hand.

She shook her head, going to the table and sitting down.

They had had all the paper spread out on the table until Andy had become fed up and sent Nile out to get the pinboards Joe had been filling. There were five sketches, all done by him from Nile's descriptions. Each was twisted and monstrous, and unfortunately useless for facial recognition. And a hell of a lot of notes that didn't lead to any conclusions.

They had no printing equipment, or there would have been stills from the CCTV to complete the picture as well. Once Booker arrived, they would rectify that, no doubt. He knew Booker was in contact with both Nile and Andy now, was probably already working on the situation with Copely, but Joe hadn't directly spoken to him. His plane would be landing in a few hours.

Joe didn't know what to think, what to believe, but if Nile and Booker were having the same dreams about Nicky, something beyond their experience was going on. The dreams were about finding each other, meeting for the first time, they did not go on after that, not in his experience, not even in Andy's.

"I'm going out," Joe said when he couldn't bear staring at the board anymore.

"One hour," Andy said, giving him a long hard look, "and if you find anything you call. You do nothing on your own. Understood?"

Joe glared, he did not appreciate being treated like a child.

"Understood?" Andy repeated when he headed for the door. "Joe," she said sharply as he went to leave. "We cannot afford to lose both of you, and we are dealing with a completely unknown situation."

He stopped and took a deep breath. Of course, she was right. Andy was very rarely wrong when it came to dangerous situations. It was usually a do as I say not as I do situation, but she was several thousand years older than all of them.

"One hour," he agreed, but did not turn.

They'd searched. Three times they'd been back, in darkness and twice in daylight, but he was going to look again. He had to do something.

Chapter Text

There was no way in the cellar to measure time and Nicky was too distracted to even remotely attempt it himself, but he knew when darkness was coming. It had nothing to do with being able to see the sun heading towards the horizon, or a clock ticking away, he could feel it. He had given up trying to get out of the locked room, it was simply impossible, and his strength had continued to fail. His and Bryce's only chance was if he could take the others by surprise when they inevitably came back.

If they believed what they had told Bryce, they definitely weren't expecting him.

Talking to Bryce, he had learned more about the kid, he was twenty-one, so older than he looked, but still very much a kid to Nicky. He'd been to a pub with his mates, but they'd run off as a joke. In fact, Bryce had thought the vampires were part of the joke until he'd ended up chained to a wall. Nicky had shared a little about himself, mostly about Joe, because the thought of Joe kept him going. Surviving for Joe was easier than surviving for himself with everything he was suffering.

He had come to believe that the pain he was feeling was his immortality fighting against the corruption Ruth had forced into him. It was the only explanation he could remotely come up with and, as darkness approached, his immortality was losing.

The dark hateful thing crawling at the back of his brain was growing.

It disgusted him. It terrified him. He was desperately trying to hang on.

He was losing time too. His mind would go hazy and then he'd blink, only things in the room would have changed, or mostly, Bryce would have moved.

"You okay?" Bryce finally asked.

"No," Nicky replied, he had no energy for subtlety.

"Going to eat me anyway?" came back.

Bryce sounded resigned.

"Not if I can help it," Nicky said, but he was less and less sure.

He took a deep breath, pulling up one of his crystal-clear memories of Joe. Joe would never give up on him, he could not give up on himself.

"When they come," he said, "I will distract them. You run."

If he could save an innocent, at least it would mean something. What happened after was in the hands of fate.

His chest felt tight, it was hard to breathe. He had died many times in many ways, but none quite like this. The closest he could remember was when he and Joe had been locked in a safe with airtight seals. Andy and Booker had not arrived in time before the air ran out. He felt like he was suffocating, but the burning in his cells flaring and dying away and flaring again, was overlaying it all.

He blinked and realised Bryce had moved again, closer to him. He gasped in air as if he had not been breathing.

"You went again," Bryce said. "You sound like my great gran when you do, she rattled before she died."

Nicky gave the kid a twisted smile for that. He knew the sound of dying breath all too well, he was glad he was not the one listening.

The moment the sun dipped below the horizon he knew. The pain centred on his heart, like a vice squeezing the life from him. He grabbed at his chest, gasping in air that his lungs seemed to reject. He curled over, desperately trying to breathe, but all that resulted was a choking sound. He could feel the darkness, the violence in his soul, creeping out and up towards the light. He had always tried to be a good man, do what he believed was right, but he killed, he destroyed when he had to. This was that and more, something evil, something that wanted to wipe away his humanity.

He choked on it as it filled him up. He wanted to cry out, needed to scream and couldn't. As death reached for him again, he desperately reached for Joe. There was no strength left in him, so he reached for all that he had left.

~*~

Joe startled awake sobbing.

"Nicky!" he yelled, reaching out for the man he loved.

He had not meant to sleep. When he had returned from his search, Andy had insisted they at least nap until they had something to go on. It was too dangerous to go into this unrested and they planned to regroup that night as soon as Booker arrived. Joe had not wanted to sleep, but as ever Andy was right, and he had needed it, or he would never had closed his eyes.

What he had seen chilled him to the bone.

Nile had told them, but he hadn't believed, not really. Now he had seen, now he had felt. He had seen through Nicky's eyes, felt Nicky's pain. This was like nothing they had faced before.

He looked up to see Andy standing in the doorway. She was pale, eyes slightly too wide.

"We'll get him back," she said, and Joe had to believe, he had to.

He pulled out his notebook, writing everything down just in case it could be important.

~*~

Joe wrenched the door open, grabbed Booker by the front of his jacket and dragged him inside the house. The pain of betrayal was so far from his mind now and all he could think about was one more person to help find and get Nicky back.

"What in god's name is going on?" Booker finally said something after Joe pushed him into the small living room.

"Fuck if we know," Nile replied and Joe just growled.

He did not need more questions, he needed answers. Nicky was missing, in pain and furious. He refused to think about the edge of insanity he had felt in the brief moment he had connected with his husband.

"You all dreamed too?" Booker checked.

Andy gave him a curt nod. Joe hadn't seen her this rattled since Quynh, not even when she had lost her immortality.

"Last night it was just me and you," Nile said, looking at Booker, "but today it got to everyone."

"Are we seriously considering vampires?" Booker asked next.

Joe found himself looking to Andy and he couldn't help noticing the other two were doing the same thing.

"I met a warlord who claimed to be a vampire once," she said, "but he died when I took his head off, so I don't know. I've never seen anything like what I got from Nicky."

"Could it be drugs?" Nile asked. "Could someone have him on something? Could that be why we're getting things from him when we're not supposed to?"

"It possible," Andy said, but she didn't sound remotely sure.

Joe slammed his hand against the sideboard.

"Stop it," he shouted, because he knew they didn't have time to play games. "Stop rationalising. We all know what we felt, what we saw."

The memory of what he had sensed clawing at Nicky's mind would never leave him. It had only been seconds, but he knew it was nothing natural.

"Vampires don't exist," Booker whispered. "How can they exist?"

"We exist."

Joe didn't really expect his backup to come from Nile, after all she was the modern woman who had never been brought up with any of these superstitions.

"How can Andy have never met one?"

Joe felt like throwing Booker right back out the door, but when he looked at the younger immortal, he saw the expression in the man's eyes. Booker was playing devil's advocate, but it didn't look as if he believed it.

"Law of averages," again the response came from Nile. "There are five of us free to walk around, who knows how many vampires there are. If they are a rare breed too, it might just be dumb luck none of us have ever run into one of them until now."

"They would have to hide," Booker agreed, finally dropping all the questions.

Surprisingly, Andy nodded. Joe had not expected her to agree, after all she had seen just about everything in her long life.

"We have to go with what we know until something proves it wrong," she said when Joe looked at her. "All the evidence says vampires, so that's what we plan for. There were no gunshots, no sign of other means as to how two normal people could have taken Nicky down. Frankly vampires make the most sense at the moment."

Andy was right, given normal circumstances, Nicky was far more lethal than two average human beings.

"How do you kill a vampire?" he asked, because when he found them, he was definitely going to kill them, preferably in the most painful way possible.

What he had felt from Nicky made his blood boil. The torture those things had put the love of his life through had to be repaid. That they might not find them and might not get Nicky back were considerations he refused to acknowledge.

"Sunlight," Booker said.

"Fire," Nile offered.

"Stake through the heart," Booker added.

"And beheading," Andy put in, "if that warlord really was a vampire and not delusional."

"Not as robust as us," Joe said, feeling inordinately pleased.

"Not if the legends are right," Nile agreed, "but we don't know which ones are. From what I dreamed they seem to be a lot stronger than us though."

"Then we plan for maximum damage," Andy took over as they all shared a look, "and we only engage when we have to until we have better intel. Booker did you and Copely come up with anything?"

"We ran Joe's sketches through a real-life simulator," Booker said, which was news to Joe, "tweaked them to look like normal people and started comparing them to facial recognition databases. It's not going to be one hundred percent accurate, but it's worth a try. I checked in when I landed and nothing so far, but Copely's got them running against CCTV for the city as well in case anyone looking like them shows up. He'll let us know if there are any hits."

Sometimes Joe forgot exactly how good Booker could be with technology.

"And I've been looking for patterns," Booker went on. "I hacked into their police database and downloaded anything relevant so I could look through it on the way here. Edinburgh is a pretty safe city compared to some, but over the last three years they've had a cluster of disappearances from towards the east of the city. All on the younger side, party types. Nothing's flagged because all they've ever been are disappearances, no bodies, no indication of foul play and they range from locals to tourists."

"The police noticed nothing?" Joe asked.

"Over worked and under paid," Nile said as if that explained everything.

Booker shook his head.

"People go missing every day for all sorts of reasons," he said. "I went looking for anything that matched Nicky's disappearance and I found a thread, so I followed it."

Sometimes Joe despaired at the obliviousness of the human race.

"So what do we do, Boss?" Joe asked and looked at Andy.

He knew what the answer was going to be, knew there was only one logical one. He hated it, but he knew.

"We sit tight until we get something to go on," Andy said.

At least when Andy said it, Joe had someone to blame, even if he knew it was the right call. He walked out of the room to find something to destroy before he said something he would later regret.

Chapter Text

Nicky clawed his way back to consciousness. The first thing he knew was pain, which made him want to laugh manically, because if he was going to be a damned thing, the least that could happen was for the pain to go away. He growled instead as anger flared at the same moment as the twisted humour. At least this time he felt stronger.

Opening his eyes, the cellar seemed very light, not dimly lit at all. He pushed himself up from where he had slumped sideways onto the floor, looking around.

"Oh fuck," Bryce said, eyes going big and round as the kid backed away.

Nicky looked down at himself, he couldn't see any reason for Bryce's reaction. Then he caught sight of his hands. Lifting one up he turned it over, flexing his fingers. He no longer had nails, he had claws. It sent a cold shot of reality through the fiery anger racing through him. There was no way for him to see any other changes, but he had seen Ruth, he could guess.

"Still not going to eat you," he said, even though it came out with an added growl.

Refusing to let the doubt and pain get to him, he stood up. It was easy, unlike earlier.

"You look … you look …" Bryce stuttered.

"Like them," Nicky finished for him.

He was under no illusions.

"It's dark," he added.

He could smell Bryce from where he was standing. He could hear the kid's heartbeat. It made his stomach twist.

"So you … um … don't want to eat me?" Bryce asked hesitantly.

Now Nicky did laugh, mostly at himself.

"Oh, I definitely want to," he said, because the urge was right there in the forefront of his brain, "I'm just not going to."

In nearly a millennium a person learned there were things they could lie to themselves about and things they could not. Nicky knew this was one of the latter. At times over his life he had wondered if maybe he was a monster, now he knew. That wasn't going to stop him doing what was right though.

He tried the door again, but even with claws and added strength he couldn't get anything to budge.

Bryce had come out of his corner again by the time Nicky was sure there was no way out and the kid was watching him carefully.

"You don't look like you're half dead anymore," Bryce told him, "just kind of demonic."

Nicky laughed. He'd heard that a few times before, but usually because he was covered in blood and gore and wielding a sword and a gun, not because of claws.

"I feel," was as far as he got before his stomach twisted and all the strength went out of his legs.

He half collapsed, catching himself against the wall.

"Spoke too soon," Bryce said as Nicky groaned.

His instincts were screaming at him and he couldn't help looking over at Bryce. The urge to attack, to satisfy the hunger clawing at his insides was incredible.

"Hungry," he admitted as the weakness passed and he glued together his scattered wits.

He tried the manacles next, but even feeling stronger again, they would not budge.

"They'll be coming soon won't they?" Bryce said after a few minutes silence.

Nicky turned to look at his companion.

"Probably," he agreed, "once they think I have had enough time to feed from you."

"Do we have a more detailed plan than you attack, I run?" Bryce asked.

"No, that's about it," Nicky replied.

He doubted he could take down five fully fledged vampires given his current state. His only hope was that he could keep them occupied long enough to give Bryce a chance. Bryce didn't say anything else, so Nicky went to the table. It was wooden. He had no idea if a stake through the heart was a real way of killing a vampire, but he didn't have much else to go on.

"We'd have more of a chance if you were at full strength, wouldn't we?" Bryce interrupted his musings as he studied the grain of the table legs.

Looking up and over, Nicky realised Bryce was still studying him.

"Most likely," Nicky said, not sure where Bryce was going with this. "Why?"

Bryce crossed his arms, kind of glaring at him and he knew bravado when he saw it.

"Look," Bryce said, "I've seen the movies okay, I know a vampire is strongest when they've fed. What if … what if I let you take a bite? Would that, maybe ...?"

Nicky felt the need inside him surge at the kid's very suggestion. He had to close his eyes and demand control. The fire in his belly made him pay for resisting it, but he held firm.

"That could be very dangerous," he said as slowly and calmly as he could.

He had no idea how much he could stretch his command of what was happening to him.

"Yeah," Bryce said, "so could being eaten by five fucking vampires if they run right over you."

The kid had a point.

"You're right," he said, biting his lip to force himself not to react anymore.

"But don't be getting any designs on this, okay?" Bryce said indicating up and down his body. "This is purely for the ladies, right."

Nicky managed a smile at that.

"Understood," he promised. "Come here."

Bryce hesitated, but only for a moment, walking up to him with, if not confident, at least even paced steps. They both knew how dangerous this was, but Bryce pushed up his tattered sleeve and offered Nicky his wrist. Nicky was impressed with the courage that simple move had to have taken.

He did not hesitate, it would only have prolonged what they had agreed upon.  Bryce was trembling as Nicky took the kid's wrist and he couldn't blame him. Nicky took one moment to centre himself. He thought of Joe, of Joe's strength, of Joe's courage, of Joe's support, and, with those in his heart, he bit.

Reality disappeared into blood. It was water to a man in the desert, food to one starving, touch to one alone for far too long. Nothing could have prepared him for how good it felt, or how much he wanted to drink and drink. Only the flash of the memory of the perverse joy he had felt from those who had fed on him made him rear back. He dropped Bryce's wrist like it was on fire and the kid slumped to the floor like a ragdoll.

Nicky backed away, gasping.

He felt strong, he felt powerful, he felt like he could take on the world. He also felt like he could destroy it.

Joe, he pulled up every smile of his husband, the grins, the secret ones, the amused ones. He loved all of them, wanted to savour every single one, make them all happen over and over again. Joe would not be smiling now. He would be frantic, terrified, searching. Nicky could not let that go on, he had to make it back to Joe. Only with control could he do that.

Nicky opened his eyes and knelt down beside Bryce. The two small puncture marks were still oozing blood, but instinct urged him on. Picking up Bryce's wrist again, he licked a stripe over the wounds, and, before his eyes, they began to close. He couldn't help wondering if vampires had to kill to live, or if they just wanted to. This suggested many things, but there was no time for philosophising then.

"Bryce, Bryce," he said, tapping the kid's face.

After a couple of seconds, Bryce opened his eyes, looking at him blurrily. As Nicky watched, reality slowly returned to the gaze looking at him.

"It work?" Bryce asked.

"It worked," Nicky replied.

His body still felt like it was burning on the inside, but it was more of a smoulder now than an inferno. He didn't know how long it would last, but he was willing to take it.

"This is how we do it," he said. "When they come, you play unconscious. I'll get them over there," he pointed to where the manacles were, "and when I say paperclip, you run as fast as you can and never look back, especially don't look in their eyes."

"What about you?" Bryce asked, rubbing his wrist.

"Don't worry about me, just get out, hide and forget this ever happened," Nicky told him.

"What about your family?" Bryce asked. "I could take a message."

"Too dangerous," Nicky said.

Bryce frowned and then nodded.

"In case I don't get away," the kid said, clearly understanding the conclusion Nicky had already come to. "Yeah, I don't think I could hold out like you."

"You underestimate yourself," Nicky said, placing his hand on Bryce's arm, "but I will not take the risk."

"Okay," Bryce said, "whatever you say, I got it, play dead."

Nicky did not bother correcting him since the kid had no idea he could hear his heartbeat across the room. Helping Bryce off the floor, Nicky began to formulate more of his plan. It wasn't much, but the blood had helped clear his mind a little and he was going to use it while it lasted. He walked over to where the manacles were hanging from the wall.

"Just so you know," Bryce said, while Nicky set about testing their strength again, "that bite, mind-blowing. Fuck, I nearly came in my pants."

Nicky wasn't sure what to say to that. He had felt nothing good when Ruth and the others had fed on him. He went back to his task wondering if maybe there was hope for him after all.

"Oh, and you have blood on your chin," Bryce added.

"Good," Nicky replied, "it'll sell the scene."

"You sound like you've done this kind of thing before," Bryce commented.

"Not quite like this," Nicky told him and did not elaborate.

~*~

When all their phones had pinged at the same time, Joe had known it was time. Copely had found three possible matches. The first, a possible sighting of the woman who had played at being pregnant to lure in Nicky had been useless. Just a woman, on a dark street, with nothing around to be of help. However, the second was more promising, it was a pub.

The CCTV outside the pub had caught a woman who looked very like Joe's drawing, but what made it all the more interesting was she had had a big man with her. The man had wearing sunglasses and a hat, which combined obscured his face from being anything recognisable, but he matched the general form of the man from the CCTV shots with Nicky. The images had been captured a few days before Nicky's kidnapping, but any lead was worth looking into.

The pub seemed to be part sports bar, part restaurant serving bar snacks and a lot of fried food. It was clearly popular with the younger crowd. Joe and Booker went in first. They were the eyes and ears, back up for Andy and Nile who would be along shortly. There was a football match showing on the various TVs around the place, but it clearly wasn't a big game and the pub wasn't overly busy.

Joe walked up to the bar and sat down.

"Good evening, Lads," the woman behind the bar greeted in a broad Scottish accent. "What can I get you?"

"The best you have on tap, please," Joe replied, giving her a smile even though it was the last thing he wanted to do.

"Are you a bitter or a lager man?" she asked.

"Bitter, definitely dark and bitter," he said, and she laughed.

"Wine, red, thank you," Booker added, sitting down beside him.

As they waited, Joe turned and glanced around the pub. Most of the clientele seemed to be under thirty, but there was one older couple sitting in a booth to the side with what looked like a whole shark each along with a mountain of chips. Clearly the pub believed in quantity when it came to their food.

"You lads visiting?" their hostess asked when she placed Joe's pint in front of him

"Advertising conference," Booker said.

"We escaped," Joe added. "Any more buzzwords and I'll shoot myself in the head."

The woman laughed again, seemingly genuinely amused.

"Can I get you anything else?" she asked when she put a very full glass of wine on the bar.

"That's it for now, thanks," Joe said, pulling out his wallet.

They paid, watched a little of the football, and cased the whole place, with a trip to the toilet on Booker's part to make sure they had checked it all.

"No one we're looking for here," he said quietly as he sat back down.

"Too much to hope for," Joe said and sent a message on his phone.

It was time for Nile and Andy.

"You going to be okay?" Booker asked, taking a sip of his wine.

Joe looked down and realised he had a white-knuckle grip on his phone.

"Not until we find Nicky," he said, but forced himself to relax his fingers.

"We will," Booker said, glancing around the bar area again.

Downing a good few swallows of his pint, Joe took those words to heart. Someone was going to pay for Nicky's pain, that much he was sure of, and when he found them, they were going to have a very bad day.

He concentrated on his job, watching for anyone who might have information.

Andy arrived with Nile in tow a minute or so later.

"Hi," Andy said, walking up to the bar and smiling at the same woman who had served Joe and Booker, "I wonder if you can help us. Have you seen this woman?"

She pushed a printout of the humanised version of Joe's sketch of the woman who had taken Nicky across the counter.

The barmaid took a good long look at the picture, but then shrugged.

"Sorry, she's not familiar," the woman said. "This to do with the disappearance last night?"

"Disappearance?" Andy asked.

The barmaid frowned.

"You're not police?" she said.

Andy shook her head.

"Private enterprise," she replied. "We've been hired to look into a missing teenager. Kid came here for a weekend break with friends, never came home. Do you mind us asking about this disappearance?"

The woman relaxed at Andy's concerned but matter-of-fact tone.

"Local lad," the barmaid said, "was drinking here last night with his mates. Police were in here at lunchtime asking. His grandda was on the force so they were quick about it. Never made it home. Hate to say it, but if they don't find him soon, he's probably in the canal."

"Then let's hope they do," Andy said with an understanding nod.

"Definitely," the barmaid said. "Look at me getting cynical in my old age. Was there anything else I can help you with?"

Nile pulled out her phone.

"This is the kid we're looking for," she said, displaying what Joe knew was a random picture they had found on the internet, "have you seen him? It would have been June time."

To her credit the woman looked carefully, but finally shook her head.

"Sorry," she said, "but in the summer we get so many through here. Faces all blend together unless they're regulars."

"Yeah," Nile said, "know how that is. Thanks for looking anyway."

Andy and Nile walked out soon after that. Joe and Booker stayed a few minutes more before leaving to join them.

"Anything?" Andy asked as they met down a dark street.

"Not a thing, Boss," Booker replied. "The only thing anyone in there was interested in were your legs."

Joe shoved his hands in his pockets and refused to lose hope. It was like looking for one specific needle in a pile of almost identical needles, but he would not give up. Nicky was out there and they were going to find him.

Chapter Text

Nicky had no idea how, but he knew Ruth and the others were coming.

"Lie down," he told Bryce, who was already sitting on the table waiting for his nod, "and don't move until I give you the signal."

He wished he could give signals like Andy, but he could only wish to be that efficient and deadly. For this he could live with creating an opening for Bryce to get away. Not that he wouldn't try himself if the opportunity arose, but he was at least mostly indestructible.

It was completely counter intuitive to turn his back to the door, but he knew how he wanted to play this and did so. He picked up Bryce's wrist, the one he had bitten, and pretended to be engrossed. There were no marks left, but there was still a blood smear. The violence he could feel inside surged to the surface and he didn't try and stop it. He was going to need every advantage he could get.

The door opened and he acknowledged it by cocking his head to the side, but he did not stop what he was doing.

"Oh, Nicky," Ruth said in a cheerful upbeat voice that made him want to rip her head off, "you saved some for us."

He turned then, curling his lip into a snarl.

"I have not finished with him," he said, emphasising every word individually.

"Nicky, Nicky, Nicky," she said, sweeping down the stairs and into the main part of the room, "you must learn to share, we're family now."

He didn't need to act as he growled at her, his reaction was very real.

"Mine," he snarled.

The others fanned out around behind Ruth. Nicky ran his eyes over each of them, assessing what he could of their stances. Roy was definitely the biggest, but the way Dani was looking at him, he suspected she was the most aggressive. So close, he could sense their power in the air, and it made his skin crawl.

"So possessive, Nicholas," Ruth said with a tutting sound.

"Nicolo," he corrected, feeling the darkness inside him spike.

It must have shown on the outside because Roy went to step past Ruth, but she held up her arm, stopping him.

"The instincts are hard at first, aren't they, Nicky," she said, reverting to his shortened name. "Well, I'm sure we can help you. You can keep your snack for now, but what intrigues me is how you got him out of those cuffs."

She was smiling again, eyes just off human norms. Nicky sensed her power increase along with her placating words, but whatever she was trying to do rolled over him without affecting him at all. However, he let his shoulders relax as if it had. He smiled.

"I picked the locks," he said.

"My aren't we a clever boy," Ruth said, stepping towards him.

He allowed it as she rested her hand on his arm.

"I'll show you," he offered, placing his hand over hers and turning towards where the manacles still hung.

Ruth went with him, sliding her hand through his arm, and Dani and Lucas also followed while Beth hung back, but Roy stepped too close to Bryce. Nicky's reaction was instantaneous. He freed himself from Ruth and planted his body between Roy and Bryce, claws at the ready, growl resonating from his throat. Roy snarled back.

"Boys!"

Ruth's voice cut right through their posturing.

Roy backed down immediately, Nicky not so much, glaring at her.

"It's alright, Nicky," Ruth said, smiling at him again and using that placating tone, "Roy didn't mean anything. Come on everyone, let's go over here so Nicky can show us how clever he is."

She was treating him like a small child, but, given how his instincts were reacting, Nicky knew exactly why. If she thought he was a delinquent minion at the mercy of his new nature, so much the better. In fact, it was working out better than he could have hoped as the other vampires preceded him over to the far wall. After a moment, he followed.

"So, my pretty Nicolo," Ruth said, repossessing his arm when he was close enough, "how did you defeat the manacles?"

"With this," Nicky said, pulling the reshaped paperclip from his pocket.

"More and more interesting," Ruth said, "and there I was worried the locks might have been defective. Where did you learn such a skill?"

"A very old friend taught me," he replied, playing with the wire in his fingers. "Can you tell what it was?"

He gave it to Ruth so she could take a closer look and, on cue, she gathered all her twisted family around to take a look. Nicky glanced at Bryce.

"It's a paperclip," he said.

Bryce was moving in a flash and the kid was fast, Nicky would give him that.

"Roy," Ruth commanded.

Nicky lashed out with a punch before Roy so much as had a chance to react. The big man went flying backwards, slamming into the wall with enough force to cause dust to rain down from above. As he had expected, Dani came at him, all violence and no thought and he ducked, flipping her as he came back up. He didn't dare look, but he heard shoes on stone.

Lucas and Beth came at him simultaneously, fangs bared, claws out and they were fast. Beth got him with a swipe along the ribs as he sent Lucas reeling backwards with a solid hit to his chest. He caught Beth's hand as she went to attack him with her other arm, twisting it and using the momentum to throw Beth off to the side.

"Enough!" Ruth roared.

It made Nicky's nerves rattle, even if he felt no desire to obey her. He backed away towards the table. Ruth's face was contorted with anger, little humanity left in her expression as her minions picked themselves up.

"You are making me angry, Nicolo," she said, voice reverberating with dark power. "We can't have the prey running away."

"He's mine," Nicky growled, knowing that the longer she thought he was just at the mercy of his instincts, the more time Bryce would have to get out.

"And you can have him," she said, voice softening a little again as she took half a step towards him, "but we have to keep him here."

"Mine," Nicky repeated.

"Yes," she said, smiling at him again, even if it looked twisted and horrific with her vampiric nature revealed, "all yours, but I need Roy to go and get him for you, bring him back here."

"No," Nicky said, shaking his head and keeping himself between the others and the stairs.

"Don't be silly, Nicky," Ruth said, tone sharpening. "Roy," she indicated the big vampire should go around him.

He growled before Roy could take a step.

"Nicolo," she snapped, dropping all pretence of being human, eyes flaring brightly.

Nicky wanted to look away, but he didn't dare. He could feel her power, the same power that had knocked him on his arse in the alley, trying to worm its way into his mind. He had to buy more time for Bryce, but it was as if there were cracks in the barrier between his will and hers and they were being worked open. When Roy went to move again it gave him enough anger to fight, but she put her hand up and Roy stilled instantly.

"Nicky," she said, tone cajoling again as she stepped towards him, "my poor baby, you must be so confused. You want me to be happy, don't you, so we can all be one big happy family together?"

Her voice was hypnotic. He could feel his control slipping, he couldn't look away.

"Now, when I tell him to, Roy is going to go and collect your little play thing, okay," she said, walking right up to him and casually placing a hand on his chest, "and we can enjoy watching you finish him off."

The glow from her eyes captivated him and made his stomach churn at the same time.

"And then we'll go out," she said, smiling at him and showing long lethal fangs, "and find some fun for all of us. Maybe we could even track down that husband of yours and we can start playing."

Nicky's last memory of Joe slammed into the front of his mind, the half amused, half worried frown Joe had had sending him off on his mission to find baked goods. Ruth's influence snapped from his thoughts like old elastic. She blinked, frowning slightly and he knew she had felt it.

"No," he said and swiped at her neck with his claws.

She was too fast. Where she ducked his claws missed her vulnerable neck and sliced down her cheek instead. She screamed, part pain, part fury and Nicky knew he had no time.

He grabbed for the table leg closest to him, pulling free the rudimentary stake he had created earlier. His claws had come in useful for more than making him look like a Halloween extra. Dani snarled, but did not immediately attack, eyeing the wood carefully when he waved it in her direction.

"You're one of us now," Ruth growled, hand holding together the side of her ruined face, "stop fighting."

"I will never be one of you," he snarled back. "I would rather die."

There was violence and darkness infecting his soul, but it could not smother what he felt for Joe. All it had taken was that moment of realisation and Ruth had no power over him. He felt like laughing, even as he saw his death in her demonic eyes. She stared at him and he could see her disdain.

"Get him," she said.

The other four vampires moved together this time, all focused on him and there was no way out. He fought with everything he had, but they were all like him, all strong, all fast and his mind was too chaotic to focus on his real fighting skills. Long-ingrained techniques were muddled by fiery new instincts as the violence the vampire under his skin brought tried to take over.

He lost the stake quickly, not even sure how, and claws he had no experience using were all but useless. He tried, he fought as hard as he could, but this was not a battle he could win alone. With all four of Ruth's underlings on him, he didn't have a hope of winning. They pulled him down, flattening him to the floor with pure strength of numbers.

"Too bad," Ruth said, the rip along the side of her face healing even as she spoke.

She was standing above him, his piece of the table in her hand.

"You really have such pretty eyes."

He stood no chance as she brought her makeshift stake down with the force of a piston. It slid into his chest as if it was made of steel and every muscle in his body froze before relaxing completely like a marionette without any strings. The weirdest part was there was no pain. All at once the fire in his body went out. He felt nothing. It was as if his brain and his body were no longer the same entity.

All he could do was stare up as the vampires all stared down at him.

"Bye, bye, Nicky," Ruth said, giving him a little wave.

He could not blink, he could not move his eyes, he could not so much as twitch.

"Take the body out of town," he heard as his vision began to fade. "Dump it where the sun will find it first thing. There'll be nothing left for anyone to find."

Nicky wondered if this was real, final death as the world slowly faded away.

~*~

Joe stumbled in the street, hand grabbing his heart. The sharp stabbing pain became a dull ache as it faded away.

"Joe?" Booker asked, coming up beside him.

"I don't know," Joe said, because there had been nothing distinct, but his mind whispered 'Nicky'. "Let's get to the rendezvous," he decided.

It had been a frustrating, pointless evening so far.

Chapter Text

Tiny little pins sticking into his skin all over dragged Nicky back to reality. He tried to open his eyes, but everything was too bright and all he could do was roll over in a desperate attempt to shield his vision. He felt something hard under him as he came to a stop and remembered the stake that had been rammed into his chest.

As it turned out all the little pins were in his head, but the sensation continued to run through every piece of exposed skin anyway.

He was outside, that much did make it through into his muddled thoughts, and the sun was shining. The burning in his cells was back too and any strength he had was minimal. Moving felt like a herculean effort and it seemed to take forever for him to push himself onto his knees.

There was not one part of him that didn't hurt, but he was free, he was alive and that meant he could get back to Joe.

More detailed reasoning just wouldn't come to him and he pushed himself up with that single thought in his head. He fell twice before he even managed to get his feet under him properly.

It was so bright he could barely see. He had no idea where he was, so he staggered downhill, wherever that would take him. He was acting mostly on instinct with very little thought process to his movements, so he barely registered when grass became tarmac. The screech of brakes did register, and a red shape coming towards him, but about all he had time to think was: "This is going to hurt."

Someone shouting at him, a siren, people, being lifted. It was all a jumble after that for a considerable amount of time. He was stuck somewhere between conscious and unconscious until his body sorted itself out.

"He's stabilised," he heard someone say with a heavy Scottish accent. "You make sure they're ready for him, I'll get him prepped for transfer."

Nicky flashed back to Merrick's lab. Every moment of Dr Kozak's twisted care zipped through his mind and he opened his eyes.

"Hello," a woman said, leaning over him. "You're…"

She was blond, hair in a ponytail, and he panicked. There was no gap between thought and action as his overtaxed system completely failed to discern reality from memory. He struggled, ripping out of whatever restraints they had him in and dived for the open doors of what his mind saw as a van. He didn't fight, he didn't think, he simply ran.

~*~

"He's free," Andy said a second into the call that had just come through, and Joe was on his feet in a heartbeat.

She listened some more, holding her hand up to Joe as he all but vibrated in place.

"Thank you," she said before ending the call.

"Where?" Joe asked.

"He was taken to the Royal Infirmary two hours ago," Andy said, "but when they tried to take him in, he ran."

"Where is he now?" Joe demanded.

"Copely is working on it, but the CCTV is patchy," Andy said.

"Fuck," Joe said along with a few more words in other languages to back it up.

"Joe," Andy said, placing her hand on his arm. "Copely also said he thinks he's coming this way."

The hope that welled up in Joe made his knees feel weak.

"What else did he say?" Joe asked.

"Not much, but he's sending through the footage," Andy told him. "Booker should have it now."

As if one cue, Booker appeared in the doorway. Without a word he handed Joe the laptop with a file already open on the screen. There in perfect freezeframe was Nicky leaping out the back of an ambulance. Joe stared. For a few seconds he forgot to breathe. Only when Andy came over to stand beside him did he reach to press play.

Nicky looked strong and sure as he landed on the concrete, shedding medical supplies as he went. Joe watched as the love of his life took in the area in one glance and began to run. Only as he went from the shade of the building into the morning sun did he stumble. Nicky wrapped his arms around himself, as if fortifying his own body, and started to run again, disappearing from the camera's view.

"There are more files," Booker said quietly. "Tap the screen to move through them."

Joe did, only to see the same scene from another angle, only this one showed Nicky running across a road and onto some grass, headed for a patch of trees.

As each clip came to an end, Joe tapped for the next, each a tiny snippet of the man he loved. Telling him so much and yet not nearly enough. When he got to the end, he tapped several times, not believing there were no more. Booker gently took the laptop from him as he stared at the empty screen.

Nicky was alive. Nicky was coming back to him. Those were the only two things he would believe.

~*~

Nicky had no idea how he had made it back to the safe house. His whole body was burning from the inside, his skin never stopped prickling, and everything else was dim in his awareness. The only thing keeping him going was the thought of Joe.

He banged on the door, swaying in place, leaning forward without being able to do anything about it. It never occurred to him he was blocking the spy hole until the door was yanked inwards and there was a gun in his face.

"Nicky!" Nile squeaked and was just in time to catch him, because apparently the door had been holding him up by then. "Joe, Andy, Booker," Nile yelled.

Nicky lost some more time after that, because he found himself on the hallway carpet in Joe's arms.

"What have they done to you?" Joe was whispering while stroking his hair from his face.

He wanted to say something, wanted to do something, but just breathing was hard. Joe was his goal, his only thought and now he was here the effort getting to this point robbed him of everything else. He tried to lift his arm, but it felt like lead weight and he barely managed a few inches. Joe caught his hand anyway, bringing it up and kissing his fingers.

"You're safe now," Joe told him, bending down and kissing him on the forehead.

It seemed so impossible after everything, but Nicky believed, he always believed Joe's words.

"Come on, Joe," that was Andy's voice, "let's get him somewhere more comfortable."

Everything was a bit muddled, but Nicky felt hands on him, and he was being lifted into a standing position. His thoughts flashed back to the last time he had had hands on him and the stake coming down, but these hands didn't frighten him. Something inside him recognised friends at an instinctive level even if his senses were too foggy to work out which hands belonged to whom.

Joe was on one side, arm around his waist, holding him up, that much was telegraphed to him as if it didn't need to be routed through any normal channels in his head. It took him a while longer to realise it was Booker under his other arm as the two men all but carried him up the stairs. He was trying to walk, but the impetus to keep going was gone and he kept missing part of the journey, so he doubted he was being much help.

When he was placed on the cool sheets of a soft, comfortable bed, it was like heaven.

"Thanks," he heard Joe say, "I can take it from here."

"You're sure?" Andy again.

Joe must have nodded, but Nicky had his eyes closed, so he couldn't see, but he heard the door closing.

"If you need anything, call, okay?" That was Nile.

Nicky opened his eyes again as Joe touched him. It took a second, but his husband's face swam into focus as Joe knelt beside the bed.

"I was so worried, my heart," Joe told him, stroking his face with gentle hands.

"Me too," he finally managed to find a little of his voice.

"We dreamed of you," Joe said, placing a kiss on his forehead again, "all of us."

"Dreams?" Nicky's mind was turning slowly, and he did not understand.

"Like in the beginning," Joe told him, "as if the universe once again wanted us to find you, and yet it is your strength that has brought you back to us."

"You saw?" he asked, voice cracking and almost disappearing again.

Joe nodded.

"The darkness which tried to take you touched us all," Joe said. "We know what you have been fighting against."

It was a relief, but also scared Nicky more than he could rationalise. He did not have to explain, but there was no way Joe could fully understand.

"I did not fight it off," he said, finding strength in his fear, "it is still in here."

As if mentioning it alone was enough to give it strength, the fire in his cells flared and he gasped.

"Nicky, sssh, it's okay, Nicky."

Useless platitudes fell from Joe's lips, but he never stopped touching Nicky and that did help. He focused on that, using it like a bandage on an open wound.

"We will beat this together, my love," Joe told him, gathering him into his arms, "like always."

Nicky used what strength he had left to bring one arm up and loop it over Joe's shoulders. Belief in them was all he had left.

~*~

What came next, that was the thought that plagued Nicky. Joe had helped him get cleaned up, at least as far as getting the blood and grime off went, and out of the remnants of his jeans. Being in the cool, dimness of the bedroom had also helped, and he was feeling a little stronger and a lot more lucid. The clean pyjama pants and t-shirt also made him feel better.

Resting in Joe's arms he had felt some of his strength returning, even as his body continued to be a battleground.

They were going to have to talk. They needed to figure out what was going on with him and how to deal with it, but Joe was insisting on taking care of his every need without really talking about anything. When he admitted that he hadn't eaten any food since he had been taken, Joe had immediately vanished to the kitchen, promising to be back as quickly as possible.

Nicky hadn't had a chance to explain that he had had another form of sustenance. He was hungry, he just hoped real food would fill that hole. This was all insane and he had no idea what vampire legends were real and what weren't and what might apply to him given his own status as immortal. It was all too much to think about. However, there was one thing that kept circling around his head.

Crawling across the bed, Nicky fumbled with the drawer in the bedside table. His relationship with religion was a complicated one. Once he had been young, naïve and devout, believing all his doctrine taught him, but the reality of war had shattered that, even before love had opened his eyes to so much more, but there was one thing he kept from that innocent time. He pulled the small cloth bag from the drawer, emptying the contents onto the bed next to him.

The cross was simple, made of silver with little embellishment, on a long leather thong. His mother had given it to him when he had chosen the priesthood, her blessing. He had worn it in battle when his life had changed directions. It was something of a miracle it had never been lost, but, somehow, it always stayed safe. The thong had changed many times, but the cross remained the same.

Evening would come, darkness would arrive, he could feel it without even looking at the clock. He did not want to lose to the power invading him anymore. This was the one thing he owned that was pure and light, a symbol of his mother's love and the love of a complicated god. Before he could change his mind, he picked it up and slipped it around his neck, dropping it under his t-shirt against his skin.

It prickled.

A wave of weakness followed, but that could just have been that he had dared to move. Lying back down, he pushed himself onto his back and closed his eyes. He was so tired, but sleep was all but impossible. The only rest he could find was in Joe's arm and he hated being a burden, but he hoped his husband would be back soon.

~*~

Nicky reared out of Joe's arms, the light doze smashed by the pain in his chest. He couldn't breathe. It was like a weight was crushing his chest and a red-hot poker was being pushed into his flesh. It had to be the cross and he ripped at his shirt, heedless of what damage he did.

Darkness had fallen, his fingers were tipped with claws far too sharp to be human. The material shredded under them.

"Nicky!"

Joe tried to grab him, pull him back, but he shook off the touch. The pain was too much. He snarled, clawing at his chest. The cross was glowing and its square edges were melting, the silver flowing over his skin. He ripped at it, trying to get his claws under it, but it was welded to his flesh, biting into it and burning his fingers.

Never in his life had he understood so clearly the line between good and evil, what was pure and what was impure. Now he saw it as clear as day. Now he felt it in its fundamental form.

Desperately he reached for the cross again, but his fingers could not even touch it. As it spread and burned into his body, he could not make contact with it. He convulsed, arms going wide as blood began to seep from the wound.

"Andy help!" he heard Joe yell.

He fell back, muscles twitching, staring at the ceiling, unable to so much as cry out as the molten metal ate into his chest.

Chapter Text

Joe didn't know what to do. Nicky was making tiny strangled noises, sprawled on the bed as if caught in some terrible fit. Then there were the changes. Shining eyes, the same endless grey blue, but luminous like no human's should be stared straight up, and Nicky had claws. When those expressive lips had been pulled back in a snarl of pain, Joe had seen fangs.

If it had not been Nicky, maybe Joe would have felt fear, but he was not afraid of his husband, only for him. Nicky was bleeding. It had started on Nicky's chest, but it was spreading. Nose, eyes, ears, wrists, legs, anywhere blood vessels were close to the surface.

Of course, he had noticed the leather around Nicky's neck when he had come back earlier, but he had thought nothing of it. If Nicky needed the comfort of the cross, so be it, but this, this was inhuman. Andy charging into the room, closely followed by Nile and Booker broke him out of his inaction.

"We have to get that off," he said, pointing to what had once been Nicky's mother's gift.

It was sinking into Nicky's skin like acid though metal.

Andy climbed onto the bed beside him and produced a knife from god knew where.

"You hold him down, I'll get it out," she said.

Joe nodded. He moved forward, placing his hands on Nicky's shoulders as Andy knelt up. Their bodies usually rejected foreign objects automatically, but they had had to remove a few by force from time to time. It was never pleasant, and Joe braced himself, praying that Nicky's pain would be over soon.

Heedless of the blood, Andy went to work. She cut a short line up to one edge of the cross, pulling back Nicky's skin before it could knit back together where it was almost folding over the metal. Joe never took his eyes off what she was doing, praying it would be quick.

"Fuck," she said as she hooked the tip of her blade under to leverage it out and the steel went right through it, "it's like mercury."

"It's spreading," Nile said from where she was standing. "It's spreading under his skin."

"His body should be rejecting it," Booker added, sounding almost as frantic as Joe felt.

"Nicky," Joe implored.

"We have to cut him open," Andy said. "We need anything that can scoop this out of him."

Booker was out the door before Andy finished speaking.

"Turn him over," was her next instruction.

She moved to the left, sliding her hands under Nicky's side. Joe braced his knees, curling his fingers over Nicky's shoulder and nodded at Andy. As one they moved, but Nicky wouldn't budge. It was like he was suddenly made of lead or glued to the bed sheets.

"What the fuck?" Andy growled.

"Guys, I think you need to back off," Nile said.

"Never," Joe snarled, but he found his fingers slipping from Nick's skin.

For a second, he thought it was the blood, but then he saw the glowing rivulets under his hands. He couldn't hold on. No matter how he tried, he was forced away from Nicky, grabbing desperately and finding no purchase, like two like poles of incredibly strong magnets sliding over each other and away. He could see Andy trying everything she could from the corner of his eyes, but they were both helpless. Neither of them gave up, but no matter what they tried, if was as if there was a force between them and Nicky.

Joe heard Booker come back, but it all seemed hopeless.

Nicky convulsed again and coughed with a terrible gurgling sound, blood and spittle running down his chin, before going still.

Like a switch turning off, the glow vanished, and all the supernatural traces faded to human norms. The force holding Joe away remained for several terrible seconds, before it simply wasn't there anymore.

"Nicky," Joe called, cradling his husband's face in his hands.

Nicky's eyes were open, staring, he wasn't breathing. Joe felt the same terror that filled him every time Nicky died, only this time it was worse. This time it wasn't bullets or blades or even poison, this time he could see the jagged hole in Nicky's chest created by the melted cross. There was blood everywhere, all over the bed, over him, over Andy, up the wall.

It could not end here, not after everything, not when he had thought he had Nicky back. He felt like he could not breathe.

"He's healing."

Joe looked at Booker barely understanding the words.

"Look," Booker said, pointing.

"He's right," Andy said, staring at Nicky's chest.

Joe knew he wasn't thinking straight, and he ran his eyes all over Nicky looking for anything, seeing nothing, until finally he did. The jagged, bloody hole in Nicky's chest, within which Joe could still see rivulets of the silver from the cross, was closing. Flesh was knitting back together, parts becoming whole, but something was wrong.

The healing was uneven, patchy, so it took a moment to see it, but as the wound closed Joe saw something he had never seen on any of them before. Where there should have been perfect skin, there was a silvery white scar. It was jagged, amorphous, and elongated, but it was clearly a cross.

When Nicky arched off the bed, gasping and coughing, Joe caught him and gathered him into his arms. The blue eyes he knew and loved so well looked into his own for a moment, before closing as Nicky sagged.

"Joe?" Andy asked.

Once again Joe felt his heart miss a beat, but he soon catalogued the signs of life.

"Breathing," Joe said, looking down at Nicky's pale face.

He didn't know what to do or think as Andy climbed off the bed. This was too strange, too far out of any of their comfort zones.

"This is crazy," Nile said quietly.

"Oui," Booker agreed.

"We…" Andy started to say, but gasped.

Joe turned, still clinging to Nicky to see Andy's hand going to her thigh as she doubled over as if to protect the wound they had all nearly forgotten about, given the crisis.

"Andy," Booker called, immediately going to her side.

"Fuck, ow," Andy complained.

Before anyone could do or say anything else, she had her pants unzipped and was pulling them down. The dressing on her leg was soaked through and Joe was pretty sure it wasn't all Nicky's blood, there was a dark patch at the centre. She'd already been bleeding. Joe mentally swore at himself. He had been so wrapped up in finding Nicky and making sure Nicky was okay, he had totally neglected what had started the whole thing in the first place: Andy's injury.

His first instinct was to make sure Nicky was okay, probably always would be, but Nicky was breathing again which meant he would recover, Andy was far more breakable than any of them now. Holding Nicky close, he kept his eyes on Andy as she ripped off the dressing. However, before he or anyone could see what state the wound was in, she crumpled to the floor, making a moaning sound.

"Nile, help me," Booker said taking one side, Nile took the other and they held Andy up in a kneeling position.

"Andy, what's wrong?" Nile asked. "Where does it hurt?"

Andy was blinking and staring around the room as if she had been on a weeklong bender, or someone had smacked her hard on the side of the head.

"Andy, talk to us," Nile insisted.

Andy just gasped again, hand going to her chest.

Nicky convulsed in Joe's arms. He looked down as fingers dug painfully into his wrist. Nicky's face was screwed up, eyes tight closed and Joe wanted to cry. So much pain, he had prayed it was over, but it was starting all over again.

Andy moaned.

"Book," Nile said, but Joe was far too wrapped up in Nicky to pay attention to the others. "Booker, look!"

The barked command was so sharp it made Joe look up too. Andy was leaning against Booker, Nile was looking down at Andy's leg. Joe couldn't see anything from his angle, but Andy gave another moan and Nicky gasped, going limp in his arms once more.

"She healed," Nile whispered.

Andy reared away from Booker, kneeling up under her own power as if she was just coming awake. She looked at her blood covered hands, then down at her leg as if she couldn't believe what she was feeling.

"I don't ache," she said as if that made no sense to her. "I always ache."

That was news to Joe, but not really surprising given what Andy put herself through on a daily basis. He looked down at Nicky and looked back at Andy again. It made no reasonable sense, but he could see only one explanation, and nothing made reasonable sense at the moment anyway.

"Nicky's blood," he said, voice thick from emotion.

Andy's eyes skipped to the sodden dressing that was clinging to the end of the bed.

"How?" she all but demanded.

Joe had nothing, his head was far too full of worry to have any sensible explanations, not that he was sure there were any.

Andy stood up, pulling her pants back up as an afterthought.

"Is he..?" she asked looking at Nicky.

"Sleeping," Joe said, "I think."

He hadn't seen Nicky this still but breathing since his husband had staggered in the front door. The one thing he was truly grateful for was that Nicky's face was finally relaxed, the edges of pain having dissolved away.

"We need to get him cleaned up, and this room," Andy decided, clearly favouring action over talking. "I'll be back."

Booker and Nile watched her go, apparently at a loss to know what to do, but they moved to help when Joe shifted on the bed. He and Booker got Nicky up while Nile went to remove the bedclothes in all their bloody glory. It looked like a slaughterhouse.

"Bathroom," Joe decided after a few moments and simply picked Nicky up bridal style.

They had managed to snag the master bedroom and hence the largest en suite when the team arrived at the safe house. There was a bath and a shower cubicle as well as two sinks and a toilet. What Joe would have liked to do was have a long hot shower with Nicky and get them both clean, but showering with an unconscious person was nigh on impossible. That left the bath.

"Booker," he said, "could you start the bath please?"

Booker slipped past him into the room without comment, kneeling down beside the tub before efficiently turning on the water, making sure it was at the right temperature and putting in the plug.

"Anything else you need?" Booked asked as he stood once more.

"I can handle it from here," Joe said, which Booker just accepted with a nod. "Thank you," Joe added as Booker stepped back into the other room.

Nicky stirred a little as Joe sat him on the toilet seat in an attempt to get him ready for the water.

"Hey," Joe said, smiling as Nicky blinked open tired eyes.

"Hey," Nicky replied, voice barely above a whisper.

"Can you sit here while I just get the wash things?" Joe asked, deciding that he was going to take what he could get for now and questions could wait until later.

He refused to let his eyes linger on the jagged scar on Nicky's chest.

"Sì," Nicky said, but promptly started to slide sideways as soon as Joe took his hand away.

"Okay," Joe decided, "let's get you comfy first."

Bracing Nicky with one hand, he ripped off the tattered remains of Nicky's t-shirt with the other. It was way beyond saving.

"1,2,3 and up, to get these off, okay?" he continued, tugging on the blood-soaked pyjama pants.

Nicky nodded, but Joe wasn't expecting much help when he followed through. Nicky tried, but his coordination seemed to be all shot to hell, and Joe had to do most of the work. Luckily the sodden material fell to the tiles with a squelch after being given only a little encouragement.

"Going to pick you up," Joe said once Nicky was naked.

All he got in response was a mumble, which he hoped was consent, because there was no other way Nicky was getting in the bath. At least Nicky managed to grip him round the neck as he picked him up this time. The water was perfect as he lowered Nicky into it, even if it turned cloudy as soon as bloody flesh met it.

"Do not drown," Joe told his husband in a mock stern tone as he turned to find the soap and a cloth.

Nicky had slipped down by the time he turned back, but was still above the rapidly filling waterline. He counted that as a win.

"Andy?" Nicky said in a groggy tone as Joe dipped the cloth and began to sud it up with the soap.

"Is fine," Joe said, lifting one of Nicky's arms and gently wiping off his husband's long fingers.

He couldn't help glancing at the darkness outside as he took in Nicky's perfectly human looking fingernails.

"Felt her," Nicky mumbled.

"Yes, well your blood healed her," Joe replied as he continued carefully and gently cleaning Nicky's beautiful body.

He wasn't sure how much Nicky was really taking in, but they never lied to each other, so there wasn't a lot else he could say. The fact Nicky seemed to be pain free for the first time in days was making his heart thud in his chest with hope and relief.

He pulled his own bloody shirt off and washed off his arms, but the rest would have to wait as he focused on getting the blood off of Nicky's skin, then out of his hair. Nicky was just with it enough to not slide under the water, but was more a of a hinderance for everything else. It took a long time and two tubs of water to get Nicky clean.

After that Joe laid out a couple of towels on the floor and lifted Nicky out of the tub onto them, wrapping him up and drying him off as quickly as possible. Nicky was wrapped in a towel and mostly asleep when Joe carried him back into the other room.

"How is he?" Andy asked, from where she had been helping Nile replace the pillows.

The room looked surprisingly clean, given the complete horror scene it had been before.

"Exhausted," Joe said, "but he doesn't seem to be in pain anymore."

Nicky mumbled something against Joe's shoulder, but didn't move.

With the others' help, Joe got Nicky under the clean duvet and onto the nice crisp clean sheet. He could just see the bloody ones in the hall poking around the door. Nicky managed to catch hold of his hand and refused to let go, so he sat down on the other side of the bed.

"How are you?" he asked, giving Andy a long, knowing look.

"Fine," she said in her usual tone.

"And," he nudged.

He was sure Booker would have done the same before Merrick, but he was the only one in the room likely to do it at the moment.

"Better than fine," Andy said, turning and deliberately jamming her thumb on the sharp edge of the old door latch.

Joe knew how sharp it was, he'd walked into it twice.

Andy held out her bleeding thumb. As he watched the wound closed.

"Fuck," Nile said, which just about summed up Joe's thoughts on the matter as well.

Andy being Andy, licked off the blood that remained on her finger.

"No fangs," she said, not that Joe had been thinking along those lines anyway.

He looked down at Nicky's peaceful face where his husband had finally drifted off into proper sleep and simply marvelled at whatever miracle this was.

"Anyone have a single clue as to what is going on?" he asked, just a little overwhelmed.

"Not since that damn dream barrelled into my head," Booker said. "I need a drink."

"Me too," Nile agreed.

"Need anything?" Andy asked as the other two went to leave the room.

Joe shook his head.

"I have all I need right here," he said, and stroked the damp hair back from Nicky's face.

"Okay, everything's fine," Nile said loudly, "they're back to being sickeningly sweet."

That at least made Joe smile.

He managed to free his hand from Nicky very carefully and have the world's fastest shower before climbing into bed beside his husband and sleeping properly for the first time in days.

Chapter Text

When Nicky woke up safe in Joe's arms, for a few seconds he forgot where he was and what had happened. He almost rolled over to give his husband a kiss before he remembered everything was not normal.

"Hello," Joe whispered in his ear as he froze. "You can still do it you know."

It was such a habitual thing and his aborted movement must have telegraphed everything he was thinking. He moved slowly, turning in Joe's arms until they were facing each other. He couldn't help it, he searched those deep eyes and expressive features looking for fear, for repulsion. Joe just looked back at him, gaze brimming over with love like always.

"I will love you until the seas run dry, until the stars fall from heaven. I go to sleep with your face in my mind. I wake up with your visage behind my eyes. Nothing will ever change that."

Nicky didn't know what to say. Joe had always been the one with a way with beautiful words and he had no well-meant jibes in him at the moment. His eyes filled with tears and Joe stroked the side of his face. Before he could actually cry, he moved forward and stole the kiss Joe had invited him to take.

"Thank you," were the only words he could find.

"Do not take this the wrong way, light of my life," Joe said filling the gap where Nicky usually added humour, "but I believe we both need to clean our teeth."

Nicky snorted a small laugh at that and managed to just about stop it becoming a hiccupping sob.

Taking a deep breath, he pushed the fear and strain of the last few days down. Now was not the time.

"They need putting down," he said, letting the anger he felt at what Ruth and her sycophants had tried to do to him, what they had threatened to do to those he loved to bubble towards the surface.

"Agreed," was all Joe said, turning and climbing out of bed, pulling him along by the hand.

He followed Joe into the bathroom and everything felt almost normal as they moved through a usual routine. Then Nicky made the mistake of looking in the mirror.

The face he had known for centuries stared back at him, but he felt like he was looking at a stranger, because of what lurked behind his eyes. He looked human, maybe a little paler than he had been. There was nothing in his features that screamed 'monster', but he could sense the edge of difference. He remembered looking at himself in a pool soon after he had first discovered he could not die, it was a remarkably similar experience.

His eyes drifted lower to the silvery white scar on his chest. He touched it with his fingertips and it just felt like normal skin. That he could see it, but he couldn't feel it underlined the impossibility of everything. Nothing made sense.

A sharp snapping sound shocked him out of his spiralling thoughts.

He stared stupidly at his right hand and the two broken bits of his toothbrush.

"My love," Joe was by his side in a moment, touching, soothing. "Nicky."

When Joe gently possessed the cheap plastic remnants, he let him.

"Are we even human?" he asked as he stared at his now empty fingers.

Joe urged him to turn until he was leaning against the sink and facing his husband.

"Of course we are human," Joe told him, cupping the side of his face with one hand.

"We don't die," Nicky said, "they don't die. They aren't human."

"They were," Joe countered. "Maybe they are like us, something that science cannot yet explain."

Nicky laughed.

"This isn't science," he said, tapping his hand on his chest.

Maybe he could have believed that everything he had felt, everything he had seen had an explanation, except for that.

"No," Joe agreed, "that is not science."

A shaft of cold ran through Nicky's heart.

"But both of us have always believed in a higher power," Joe went on, "nothing we have seen has taken that away from us completely no matter how humanity chooses to warp this fundamental truth to their own ends. Has it not occurred to you that maybe we might be the good seeping through the lens of humankind, and they are the bad?"

"We are not good," Nicky replied.

Joe smiled at him.

"No, we are human," he said, placing a kiss on Nicky's forehead, "but I know for a fact you have wondered how it is not one of us has used our immortality for evil, we have discussed it. We have seen each other's souls when we dreamed. We are flawed, but we have good hearts."

Nicky took a shaky breath.

"What does that make me?" he asked as the fear bloomed in his chest.

"Oh, my love, my heart," Joe said, crowding in against him and taking his face in both hands, "it makes you a miracle, my miracle. I felt the darkness you fought against. It touched my soul only for a moment as I dreamed of you and it terrified me. You fought it alone and won."

Looking into Joe's beautiful eyes, all Nicky could see was love.

"Not alone," he said, "never alone."

Joe kissed him then, hard and demanding and needy, and he kissed back desperately.

"You are mine and I am yours," Joe said as they breathlessly broke apart, "always."

"Always," Nicky repeated, although he could barely speak.

He wanted to express so many things, but he had no words. All he could hope was that Joe could read him as well as always.

"Now I will find you a new toothbrush," Joe said eventually, giving him a smile, "for I fear we both still need to clean out teeth."

Nicky laughed again, only this time he couldn't stop the tears. Joe gathered him into a strong, comforting embrace and let him cry away the pain of the last few days. This had changed him, exactly how he had yet to fully find out, but Joe still loved him and that was all he needed.

By the time they were ready to go downstairs, he had his emotions back under control. They moved together with purpose.

~*~

Nicky almost stumbled when he followed Joe into one of the rooms downstairs and saw Joe's drawings and the rest of the mission wall. He was concentrating on his anger, probably too much and he had to ruthlessly squash the desire to rip Ruth's face into tiny little pieces.

"Note to self," Nile said, "if we ever come across the queen asshole, do not get between Nicky and her."

That actually helped.

"She wished to make me like her and to send me back here to do the same to Joe as she had done to me," he said simply. "It amused her to think of love so corrupted."

"Second note to self," Nile added, "if the opportunity presents itself, light the bitch on fire."

Nicky gave her a very terse smile and a nod for that one.

"How are you feeling?" Andy asked from where she was sitting, servicing her axe.

"Angry," Nicky said.

Andy lifted an eyebrow at him for his short response. He knew what she was really asking, of course he did, but he still had to remember who he was angry at.

"Like myself again," he finally said, "for the first time in days."

Joe placed a gentle hand on his arm as he waited for Andy's response. When she nodded, he felt the knot of tension cross his shoulders release a little.

"How about you, Boss?" Joe asked. "How are you feeling?"

"Don't do it," Nile said, but Andy was already sliding her finger down the blade.

"Still healing," she said.

"If this becomes a thing, I quit," Nile said and Nicky was pretty sure he and Joe had missed out while they were asleep.

"Just checking," Andy said with a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.

Nicky had a sudden desire to hug her, but was pretty sure, just at the moment, that would get him stabbed. This was such an unprecedented situation on top of months of unprecedented situations they were all trying to figure out how to deal with it in their own way.

Then the smell of blood reached his nose as Andy cleaned her finger and it was like the whole room flashed into high definition. It was disorientating because it was so unexpected and he shook his head, blinking as his mind did its best to catch up. Joe, Nile, Andy, Booker, all of them were suddenly so clear to him they were like beacons. It was over in a second, but he swayed towards Joe, using his husband's shoulder to steady himself.

"Nicky."

Joe was holding him by his upper arms and checking him over in a second.

"I'm fine," he said, because it was instinctive to reassure Joe. "That was a rush."

"What happened?" Nile asked.

"It was the smell of blood," Andy said, because she would have seen it even if Nicky wished she hadn't.

"I wasn't expecting it," he defended himself as his equilibrium returned, "it was like," he tried to chase down what he was thinking and then it hit him. "It was like when we fight."

He didn't need to explain about the world almost seeming to slow down or friends being automatically accounted for among the enemy. They all knew what he was talking about. It hadn't been quite the same, but it had been close enough.

There was no way for him to understand what changes he might be stuck with, but at least this one felt useful. He touched his chest, wondering what exactly the cross had done. Seeing the scar had made his heart catch, but he didn't have time to wallow now. There was danger out there and something had to be done about it. If this touched his family because of him, he would never forgive himself.

If anything happened to any of them that he could prevent, it would tear him apart.

"You want to go after them," Andy said.

It was not a question and he realised he was glaring at the sketch of Ruth again.

"They take pleasure in destroying the innocent," he said.

He doubted Andy needed a righteous reason to go after vampires, but it made his burning need for revenge feel better to him.

"And they dared try to take one of ours," Joe added, clearly not remotely needing any other reason.

Then again Joe never needed a reason to destroy anyone who tried to hurt him, of that Nicky was one hundred percent sure. Neither of them was rational when it came to the other being in danger.

"Do you know where they are?" Andy asked, ever their practical leader.

Nicky shook his head.

"I was never conscious entering of leaving where they were keeping me," he admitted regretfully.

"Then we do this the old-fashioned way with recon," Andy said, no discussion in her tone.

"But," Nicky interrupted her.

She stopped immediately.

"There might be someone who knows," he said, all eyes on him. "I was not the only victim."

"There was someone else?" Joe asked.

"We didn't see them in the dreams," Nile added.

"He wasn't there the first night," Nicky said, "only when I woke up after…"

He gestured to his neck, hoping they would all figure out what he was talking about.

"He was supposed to be my first meal," he said quietly.

Joe reached out and placed a gentle hand on his arm.

"And he's alive?" Andy asked, ever practical.

"I think so," Nicky replied, "but I can't be sure. I only got out because they thought I was dead when they staked me while I was trying to help him escape. If he got away, he will know where they are, but I told him to run and never look back."

"Just so I've got this straight," Nile said, giving him one of those penetrating looks he was sure she was picking up from Andy, "you were kidnapped by vampires who tried to make you one of them, and instead of eating the helpless captive they left for you, you sacrificed yourself to help him get away?"

Nicky shrugged, but nodded, he supposed it could be described that way.

"He was just a local kid who chose the wrong pub," he said.

He saw the other four exchange glances and he thought he might be missing something.

"Name?" Andy asked.

"Bryce," he replied, "I did not get a surname."

Booker was already typing.

"Bryce Lennox," Booker read in short order, "returned home today after being missing for nearly a day. Bryce was given the all-clear at the Royal Infirmary after having spent a day and a night trapped in an old cellar he told police he fell into by accident."

Booker turned the screen so they could all see and there was a picture of a young, smiling teenager, clearly a school photo, but it was definitely Bryce.

"That's him," Nicky said.

"Booker, get us an address," Andy said without any preamble. "Will he talk to us?" she asked, turning her attention back to Nicky.

He nodded.

"He's brave," he said, "I couldn't have held them off as long as I did without him."

He didn't elaborate and no one asked how, but he knew he was going to have to have that conversation with Joe at some point. It was just something he didn't want to deal with right then.

"Then we make contact," Andy decided. "When we have the intel, we find and we destroy. Nicky tell us everything you know about them and their capabilities. This is like no fight we have ever taken on before. We need to be prepared."

This was what they had been doing for a thousand years, Nicky knew how to do this. He pushed down his more human needs and stepped into the role of soldier. He had a job to do.

Nicky lost himself in the preparations. Booker had an address in short order, but there were other things to take into account before they could move. When Booker put a sandwich in his hand as he was discussing the fastest way to make stakes, he bit into it without even thinking. It took him two mouthfuls before it dawned on him he was actually enjoying it and he was starving. He couldn't help it, he stopped and stared at it.

"Everything okay?" Nile asked, so he guessed he looked as shocked as he felt.

"Um, yes," he said, doing his best to cover the moment. "Thank you, Booker, this is delicious."

He shared a look with Joe though, because they both knew it had not been like this when Joe had come back with food before. Nicky had forced some down, but he had not really enjoyed it. It had been as if the food had had little to no flavour and hadn't been worth the effort. It had hit his stomach like a stone.

Everything that had happened to him had changed him, he still felt that, but he was beginning to feel more and more like himself. The sandwich was like some ridiculous signpost that made him feel just a little shaky inside because of what it meant. Joe gave him a small smile, reading his every thought off his face as usual, and he smiled back, tucking into the food with relish.

In the end he ate four, but so did Joe, so he didn't feel too guilty, apart from the fact that getting himself kidnapped meant Joe had clearly not been looking after himself properly either.

This was not going to be a mission full of guns and bullets; blades, stakes and possibly shotguns were going to be the weapons of choice. The vault of research the team had on vampires was huge, but there was no telling what was real and what was superstition. Literally the only thing they could be sure of was a stake through the heart and sunlight, Nicky still remembered the prickling on his skin as his immortality fought against that one, although beheading was almost a sure bet.

It might have been more sensible to run, but none of them had turned from the defence of innocents in their immortal lives.

Chapter Text

The first address for Bryce was a flat share in Edinburgh, but Andy and Nile, in their guise as investigators, soon found out he was currently staying with his parents, further out of town. It was a newer estate with lots of cookie cutter houses and Bryce's parents lived in an end of terrace.

Nicky looked up at the back of the house through Joe's sunglasses. His skin no longer prickled in the sun, something he had been incredibly glad to discover, but the bright light did hurt his eyes. Joe had refused to hear of anything but him borrowing Joe's favourite pair of glasses because he'd had his in a pocket when he had been kidnapped, so they were long gone. He had others, but not in Edinburgh, and Joe had insisted, and Nicky was not inclined to argue with Joe about anything just at the moment.

"They're in position," Joe's voice said in his ear, "and go."

Bryce's mother was in the house as well as her son, so Andy and Nile were playing decoy on the doorstep. As soon as he got the all-clear, Nicky moved.

He refused to think about quite how easy it was to climb the drainpipe and crawl into the open window on the second floor. It was only a small window into the bathroom, but he'd squeezed through tighter spaces. Dropping to the floor, he silently stepped onto the small landing. There were three other doors, one closed, one partially open and the last half open with music and tinny explosions coming from inside. Nicky didn't even have to guess.

Walking to the edge of the door, he pulled his hood down. He didn't want to scare the crap out of the kid and a tall guy in black with shades and his hood up would probably do just that. Although, as he stepped into the room, he realised he needn't have worried. Bryce had no idea he was there.

The sounds were obnoxiously loud and Bryce was clearly playing some kind of game that involved shooting things. He would have waited for a break in the action, but he was on a time limit. Walking up behind the kid, he lightly tapped him on the shoulder. He could have shot him for all the difference it made.

Bryce all but leapt out of his chair, turned and promptly fell over when his knee caught the seat. Nicky lunged and caught him before the kid could brain himself on the desk. The chair, however, still made a crash when it hit the desk and then the floor, just as the music and explosions cut off because Bryce had hit too many buttons at the same time in his panic.

"Bryce," the call came from downstairs almost instantly, "you okay?"

For a moment Bryce stared at Nicky wide-eyed.

"Bryce?" came again.

Nicky made a hopeful gesture that Bryce should reply.

"Sorry, mum," Bryce called after another second, "just got overenthusiastic and knocked over the chair."

"Well as long as you're okay," his mother called back. "Do you want a cup of tea in a minute."

That made Nicky smile.

"Maybe later, thanks, mum," Bryce called back.

Bryce hit a button, so the music started up again.

"You made it out then," Bryce said, voice low enough so it wouldn't carry.

Nicky titled his head to one side in a half nod.

"They thought they staked me, but they messed up," he replied.

Bryce looked at the sunlight coming through his window.

"Then shouldn't you be smouldering or something?" he asked.

"Probably," Nicky said, "they seemed to think so since they left me in a field. Maybe I'm not a full vampire unless I kill someone," he added with a shrug, since he couldn't exactly explain he was immortal.

"So why are you here?" Bryce asked. "Not looking to change that are you?"

Nicky smiled and shook his head.

"The opposite," he replied. "I need to know where they are."

"Don't you know?" Bryce asked.

"I was unconscious when I was brought in and mostly dead when I was taken out," he said, "so no, I have no idea."

"Yeah, that would have made it difficult," Bryce said, giving him a worried frown and an up and down. "Look, I'm sorry I didn't send anyone back, but they would have locked me up in the loony bin."

"You did right," Nicky said before Bryce could go on. "More people would have been in danger if you had tried to explain. They would never have believed you and they would have gone in blind. They would have been too late anyway."

"What are you going to do?" Bryce asked.

"Make sure they can't hurt anyone else," Nicky told him.

Bryce considered that for a moment before nodding.

"I don't know the exact address, but do you have Google Street View?" Bryce asked.

Nicky pulled out his phone, unlocked it and handed it to Bryce.

"Show me," he said.

~*~

Joe was watching Nicky like a hawk, he couldn't help it. They had the address information they needed and they were back at the safehouse to plan and prepare. Nile, Andy and Booker were discussing recon and the options they had for how to proceed and Joe added his thoughts every now and then. So far Nicky hadn't said a word as ideas were being thrown around. Not too unusual since Nicky rarely said anything in such situations unless he had something important to add.

However, Nicky's complete lack of engagement had Joe on edge. He didn't think Nile or Booker had noticed, but he was pretty sure Andy had and was ignoring it. Afterall they were dealing with an unprecedented situation and Nicky had given them a hell of a lot of information already.

The way Nicky kept looking at the window was telling. They had slept a long time the previous night, both mentally and physically exhausted, then they had had the discussions about how to kill vampires and they had had to find Bryce after that. While Nile, Andy, Nicky and Joe had been with Bryce, Booker had been on a shopping spree and they had all the supplies they needed, including half-metre-long stakes and holy water. No one was asking where he got the holy water.

It had been a full timetable and it had taken them to mid-afternoon already.

"We need to go now," Nicky said, cutting straight through the discussions while Booker was pointing out vantage points near Ruth's den.

Joe knew that tone. When Nicky used that tone there was no changing his mind.

"Rushing in would be foolish," Andy said, tone equally as ungiving. "We need to make sure we know what we are getting into. We should stake out the property tonight and move in tomorrow when the sun is still high in the sky and not on its way to the horizon."

It was a perfectly logical argument, Joe would have agreed, except for the expression in Nicky's eyes.

"They kill every night," he said, gaze totally fixed on Andy. "They take innocent people off the street and torture them because it amuses them. Someone probably already died last night to satisfy their games and, if we wait, someone else will die tonight."

Nicky's voice was calm, but Joe could see the tension in every line of his husband's body.

"Maybe we could trail them and catch them in the act," Nile suggested.

"They would see us or hear us," Nicky said, without looking away from Andy.

They had already agreed the safest plan would be to take Ruth and her minions by surprise inside their house during daylight. None of them really believed vampires were confined in coffins during the day, but if Nicky's reaction to darkness the previous evening was anything to go on, it definitely had an effect.

"Something else we haven't considered," Joe decided to step in. "What if they decide to move on? They know someone knows where they live. If they go, we would likely never find them again, not even with Copely's help."

"But by that logic, they could already be gone," Nile pointed out.

"If they are then it makes no difference if we go now or just watch," Booker said.

"But if they used last night to prepare," Joe said.

"The chances are we would lose them tonight," Nile finished for him.

Andy's lips were a tight line. She didn't like it, that much was obvious, but Andy had never been one not to listen just because the facts pissed her off.

"Motherfuckers," she said loudly, and Joe knew Nicky would be getting his way.

Andy stood up and grabbed her axe, which was propped up against the wall.

"Pack everything into bags," she said. "Dress for a mission underneath and like a tourist over top. We're moving out."

Everyone slid into motion like a well-oiled machine.

~*~

The house was an old, three-storey townhouse, the only one on the road that had not been turned into flats by the look of it. It was set back from the others with a gate across the front and a tiny overgrown front garden between it and the door. All the windows had their curtains closed.

Nicky stared up at it. It made his skin crawl.

"They are inside," he said, no doubt in his voice at all.

There was no need to guess, he knew. It could not have been clearer if there had been a sign painted on the door. No one so much as asked if he was sure; he appreciated that.

Down the right side was a small, covered alley where the two houses were joined at the top, but not at the bottom. Doing his best impression of a slightly lost, but enthusiastic tourist, Nicky grabbed Joe's hand, slung the bag containing a good percentage of their equipment over his shoulder and dragged Joe down the alleyway.

The other's followed with Andy at the back pretending to be the reluctant member of the tour group. Nicky could all but feel her rolling her eyes even without looking.

At the back of the house was a high wall with a bolted gate in it. The wall ran around the entire perimeter of the garden, which was surprisingly large for a town property. It backed onto a quiet little lane that barely looked wide enough for a car. Luckily for them the house was off the beaten track as far as it could be in a city. Nicky suspected that might have been why Ruth chose it.

Nicky hopped up onto the back wall, lowering the bag he was carrying into the garden before immediately reaching back down to pull Joe up. Andy went next, then Nile and Booker, each dropping down into the overgrown back garden quickly. It didn't look as if anyone had done anything except possibly pushed their way through the weeds in years. Nicky slipped down into it behind the others and took his sword when Joe passed it to him. There was no need to hide the weapons anymore, no one could have seen into the garden thanks to the high walls and the undergrowth.

Pulling off his garishly coloured jacket to reveal the black hoodie underneath, he set about arming himself, while the others did the same. He placed the shot gun across his back, slipped a stake into makeshift holsters on either hip and pulled his hood up, mentally as well as physically preparing for what was to come. He already had two knives strapped to his back and his sword was comforting in his hand, once he slung the scabbard into its usual place.

Ready, he looked around at the rest of the team, needing to catalogue each of them as they headed into danger.

Joe had his scimitar, stakes strapped to his chest, and a high calibre gun on his hip. Nile had a machete strapped across her back, stakes at her hips like Nicky and a lethal looking pump action shotgun in her hands. For his part, Booker had a large knife in one hand and a spiked pole, that looked like it might have once had something to do with plumbing, in the other. Andy, of course, had her axe in hand.

They were ready.

"Once we're inside, no talking," Andy whispered as they dropped all pretence of being tourists. "We go room by room."

Nicky nodded along with the others.

The back door was bolted from the inside, but there was a large kitchen window that had probably once looked out onto a lovely garden, which fell to Booker's talents in moments. Nicky felt an irrational need to lunge for Nile as Booker boosted her through the open window and she disappeared behind some sort of blackout curtain, but he managed to keep it under control long enough that the bolts clicked back and the door swung inwards before he acted on it.

Joe placed a hand on his shoulder, giving him a questioning look as Andy and Booker joined Nile inside. Nicky nodded, pushing the ridiculously protective instincts down as far as he could. It wasn't that he didn't trust the others to do their jobs, he did, but his protective urges, something that had always been there, seemed so much stronger now.

He stepped into the kitchen, looking around. It felt wrong that it looked like a perfectly ordinary kitchen. There was a slightly musty smell, as if there was some food somewhere that had gone off a long time ago, but it appeared lived in. There were mugs on the counter and boxes of herbal tea stacked up neatly. The ridiculousness of vampires liking herbal tea was not lost on him.

His eyes were drawn to a picture on the wall. It was a perfectly normal family photo of what looked like a barbeque in what was now the overgrown garden. There were three people in it, two slightly older, probably the mother and father, and a girl. He recognised the girl, it was Beth. How Ruth and her family of evil had come to have such a nice old house suddenly made sense.

He didn't want to think about what had probably happened to her parents.

There were two doors off the room, one into a hallway that was slightly open, another that was locked with a very large padlock and bolted in two places. He knew that door, even if he had only seen it from the other side. That was the entrance to the cellar.

Since it was bolted from the outside, Andy waved them through the other door.

As they crept down the main corridor into the front part of the house, Nicky stopped. Their surroundings were dark, but surprisingly clean. The residents might not have cared about the outside, but someone, at least, seemed to have been looking after the inside. Nicky remembered the cellar and how it might have been stone, but it had been spotless. The cliché of cobwebs and aging furniture was clearly just that.

There were cases sitting just inside the front door. Joe had been right, Ruth and her clan were preparing to leave.

Andy signalled to Booker and Nile to each take one of the rooms at the front, but Nicky stepped up to her and lightly tapped her on the shoulder. When she looked he shook his head and pointed up. She frowned at him and he nodded; he was sure. The way his skin was crawling just looking in that direction, he had no doubt. The residents of the house were upstairs.

The staircase went up one wall and across the next to a landing that ran towards the back of the house and to a bigger area above the front door. It then did the same again to a third floor.

Andy gave Nicky the signal he should go first, which was logical since he seemed to have an inbuilt vampire detector. He crept up the stairs, Joe close behind him and the others spread out a little after that. It was an old staircase so he stuck to the edges to avoid squeaks. Once he hit the landing, he looked towards the back of the house down the corridor and he could see two doors, but his attention was quickly drawn to the other end of the house.

Just like downstairs there was a door off in either direction, both were mostly shut. There was a large window between the doors, covered by what looked like a couple of sheets over the curtains, but enough light was coming in that he could easily see. Given he was more sensitive to light now, he couldn't be certain the same could be said for the others, but the way they were moving suggested it was.

He moved along the landing, onto the wider area until he was between both rooms. In his mind he could smell blood, feel their touch. He took a deep breath, centring himself, building up his anger and pushing down his memories. Their presence repelled him and made his heart thud with adrenaline, but he had no doubt; both bedrooms were occupied.

He looked to Andy and made hand signals in both directions. He then pointed to himself and Joe and to the door on his left and to Andy, Nile and Booker and to the door on the right. Splitting up had not been in their plan, but neither was giving one set of vampires a warning and time to prepare.

Andy nodded.

The door was heavy and well built, not like a lot of modern ones, with a large, round brass handle in a chunky lock. Nicky turned it very, very carefully. It made a tiny click, but nothing more and he closed his eyes, praying as he fell back on old habits.

The day had been warm, the wood of the door had expanded. When he went to push it, it didn't move. He shared a glance with Joe, who nodded. Nicky put a little more force into it. It squeaked and moved. It wasn't a loud squeak, but Nicky froze, all too aware how sensitive vampire hearing was.

He held his breath, listening. There was no sound of movement from within.

On the other side of the landing, Andy was leading the others through a door that had been much more cooperative.

Nicky pushed his door inwards and, this time, it was helpfully quiet. The room beyond was dark, someone having done a far better job of making the blackout curtains really black than in the hallway. Nicky could still see well enough with the little light getting in, but he was pretty sure Joe wouldn't, so he signalled Joe to turn on his torch.

Stepping into the room, he looked around. To his left was the front window, large and covered, to the right was a large double bed. To the left of the bed was a door, to what Nicky guessed was a dressing room or a bathroom.

What had most of his attention were the two figures on the bed. There were no covers, and both were fully clothed. Roy was on his back, right at one edge closest to the door. Ruth was on her side, but sprawled across over half of the bed. There was the same stale smell in the air as downstairs and now it made him think of things dead a long time. In the cellar he had never noticed it, but here it permeated the room.

Silently, Nicky moved towards the bed, positioning himself between the vampires and the door, while motioning for Joe to go for the curtains. It was a simple plan of use any advantage they had, the light being what they hoped would be a big one. Nicky held his sword in both hands, waiting.

Joe moved silently like a cat, but the house had other ideas. Wooden floorboards warped with age gave no quarter, even to a righteous cause it seemed. The squeak could have been a signal flare for all the difference it made. As Nicky tensed, Roy opened his eyes.

Chapter Text

Roy's eyes went from human normal to a vampire glow in under a second as they fixed on Nicky.

"You're dead," Roy growled, coming to his feet far faster than was naturally possible.

"Not even close," he snarled back.

What he could not have anticipated was Roy reaching under the jacket he had been sleeping in and producing a long, vicious looking butchers' knife.

"You wanna play with knives," Roy said, grinning at him with a mouth full of fangs, "let's play."

It was obvious Roy thought he had no idea how to use the sword he was holding, so Nicky changed his stance, drawing the vampire towards him. He was waiting when Roy attacked and he dodged backwards, but discovered the first disadvantage of being up against a fully fledge fiend of the night. Nicky was fast, but Roy was faster.

Roy had once been a big man, but now he was a big vampire with vampire speed. Nicky barely got his sword in position to block Roy's strike. At which point he discovered the second disadvantage; Roy was very, very strong.

Nicky did what he had trained to do, he adapted. He span out of Roy's range, dipping and twisting in a way Roy could not predict. He got a hit in across Roy's ribs, but a snarl from the other side of the room distracted him. Ruth was going after Joe.

Icy spikes lanced through Nicky's chest and it felt as if time slowed down in his awareness even more than a fight often made it do, bringing the vampires' movements into real time. Roy was coming at him again and he brought his sword up, sending the knife blow off to the side as he twisted again, this time thrusting his blade forward. It slid into the flesh of Roy's other side, and he curled his wrists, tearing through Roy's body as he withdrew it, doing as much damage as possible.

Roy growled and stumbled, giving Nicky one moment. He could see Joe trying to use his sword on Ruth, but she was scarily fast. She was the head vampire and she was proving it. Nicky pulled out one of his knives and threw it at Ruth's back. It hit with a thud and she stiffened for a moment, turning and snarling at him, but it seemed to have annoyed her more than hurt her. However, it was all the time Joe needed.

As Ruth glared at Nicky, all humanity gone, Joe took his chance, flowing into motion. Ruth had her arms out, claws on full display. Joe brought his sword down on her wrists, slicing off her hands with one blow. Now she screamed.

Nicky felt a blade slide between his ribs and he spun away from it as his distraction cost him. He backed down the side of the bed as Roy stalked him. The pain was secondary as his body healed, but he had to adjust for the weakness the injury caused while it did.

"I'll kill you slowly," Ruth shrieked at Joe, "you'll beg for death."

Roy charged Nicky before he could check for Joe's response. He did not bring his sword up in defence this time, but in pure attack, using Roy's momentum to impale the big vampire right through the centre of his torso. It cost him, Roy's blade went through his stomach as he was forced back against the wall behind him.

He pushed the blinding agony to the back of his mind, staring into inhuman eyes that wanted to send him to hell. With every ounce of strength he had, he pulled his sword upwards, slicing through tissue and bone. It came free of Roy's body, just to the right of his neck. The vampire staggered back, injured, but very far from dead.

Chasing his advantage, Nicky freed a stake from his hip, dropped his sword onto the bed, and rammed it home into Roy's chest with both hands.

Roy froze, going completely silent, before collapsing to the floor in a heap.

Nicky wobbled, falling to his knees. There was still a knife sticking out of him. Taking hold of the handle, he pulled, yelling as the pain tried to take away his focus, before dropping it on the floor. He pulled himself to his feet using the side of the bed as his body began to knit back together.  Swearing in several different languages, he grabbed his sword and staggered towards where Joe was dodging Ruth and her bloody stumps.

She was so incensed, she didn’t seem to notice him, but Joe did. He ducked and turned, drawing Ruth with him so her back was to Nicky. Nicky took out the back of her knees with a vicious, single blow and she fell as Joe pushed her back.

Sinking quickly to his knees, he pulled another stake from its holster and rammed it down into Ruth's chest with every ounce of force he could muster, even as she snarled and tried to block him with her ruined arms. He put every ounce of righteous fury he had into the blow and nothing could have stopped him.

Time seemed to almost come to a stop as the wood slid into Ruth's body, breaking bone and destroying flesh. She went instantly still.

Nicky leaned over the fallen vampire, bringing his sword round so the blade bit into her neck. He knew she could still see him, still hear him, even though the stake was through her heart.

"My name is Nicolo di Genova and in a handful of decades I will be one thousand years old," he whispered. "The man who removed your hands is Yusuf Ibrahim Muhammad Al-Kaysani, my husband, my love, my life. We met in the Crusades. I told you, you would not like it if you met my family."

The light in her eyes died, even as he pushed down on his sword. It was sharp and he was very determined. Her head rolled onto the floor with a satisfying thud. Nicky was not a vindictive person naturally, but the second easiest way onto his shit-list was to endanger his family, the only faster way was to threaten Joe. Ruth had done both.

He went to stand, but staggered and a banshee-like scream echoed from the other half of the house.

"Nicky," Joe was by his side hauling him up, before he could fall.

"It's okay," he assured Joe, and then he smiled.

It was like a shadow had been lifted, like the sun had come out after a storm. The feeling had nearly taking him to his knees, because it robbed him of breath in delighted shock.

"Curtains," he said, gathering himself.

He and Joe moved as one, grabbing the secondary covering on the large window together and pulling it down, before each taking a curtain and pulling it back. The light hit Ruth's head first, mouth still open and showing her lethal fangs. The skin on her cheek turned black, glowing orange like heated coals, before it began to cave in.

Nicky realised this was what they had expected to happen to him. He would have enjoyed watching her turn to ash, but a shotgun blast interrupted his thoughts and he turned to the door. There was still a fight to win.

With Joe close behind, Nicky ran across the landing and into the other bedroom. He took in the scene in one glance. Lucas was on the floor, missing one arm with a stake through his chest. The arm looked like Andy's axe's work. Booker had Beth on the end of his spiked pole, pinned against the wall, but she was snarling and clawing at the pole as he tried to keep her in place. He was struggling while Nile and Andy were busy with Dani, who was hanging from the high ceiling like a spider in the corner of the room. There was a hole in her abdomen from the shotgun blast, but she didn't seem to care.

Nicky lifted his sword and ran to help Booker. There wasn't enough room to get in a good swing, Beth was right next to a large antique wardrobe and it blocked clear access to her. Before Nicky could get to her, Beth gripped the pole sticking out of her chest and pulled herself along it. Her eyes were firmly on Booker, almost as if she hadn't even noticed there was any other danger in the vicinity.

"Drop it," Nicky ordered in Italian, knowing that Booker would understand, and Beth wouldn't as she went to do the same again.

Booker obeyed immediately, diving and rolling out of the way as soon as his hands released the pole. Nicky stepped into the space he vacated, sword ready, as Beth surged forward. She was fast, but so was he and he swung right where he knew she would be. His first blow took her head half off and she stalled, standing there in shock. Dark blood streamed from her throat as she clawed at the air in front of her, neck lolling at a dangerous angle. It almost looked like death spasms, but she did not fall.

Lifting his sword once more, Nicky went to deal the final strike when he was momentarily blinded. Light flooded the room with no warning and his sensitive eyes lanced with pain. Piercing screams filled the room along with the smell of burning flesh. He blinked, demanding his vision obey, and was greeted by the sight of Beth smouldering.

It wasn't like with Ruth, it seemed living vampires had some resistance rather than turning to ash, but Beth's skin was blackening slowly and glowing in places. She still appeared unable to move coherently as her hands shifted reflexively even as she screamed.

Target reacquired, Nicky finished what he had started. His second strike took her head clean off and it bounced against the side of the bed, landing on the floor. Her hands continued to move for several moments, as if her body had not received the message, until her skin went completely black and started to disintegrate.

There was a thud behind, and he turned to see Dani dropping from the ceiling. Blinded by the light and smouldering, the vampire had no chance against Andy's axe. Her scream turned to a gurgle as Andy's blow cleaved her chest in two and like a well-oiled machine, Nile was in there a moment later, ramming a stake into the cavity just to make sure.

"Now that's different," Booker said.

Nicky turned to see what the Frenchman was talking about and found Booker looking at his hands that had been covered in vampire gore. The remnants were turning to ash and floating away as if they had never been. Nicky looked down at himself and realised the same was happening where Roy's blood had soaked into his clothes.

"Yes," Nile said in a triumphant tone, "I don't have to throw away these pants."

Sharing a look with Joe, Nicky was almost lightheaded with relief. They'd done it. He never doubted his family in a fight, but this one had been so incredibly different there had been an undercurrent of fear.

"Good job," Andy said, giving them all a smile. "Now, let's clean up and get out of here."

~*~

The others were still upstairs, checking everything, but Nicky walked back down the hall to the kitchen, straight to the cellar door with Joe right behind him. He had to check.

The large key turned easily in the lock and the bolts slid back smoothly. He pulled the door open to the familiar room. Grabbing the smaller set of keys off the hook next to the door, he stepped inside. The one bulb still lit the whole area, but he had never seen it from this angle before. Somehow it looked smaller.

Unfortunately, it was not empty. There was a person in each set of manacles, one man and one woman. Both looked to be unconscious, possibly dead. It felt like a failure and it made Nicky's stomach twist. He hurried down the steps. As he got closer, though, he could hear their heartbeats.

As he approached the two, he took a shaky breath. They were not too late. To have allowed Ruth and her twisted family to take more innocent lives would have been soul destroying. That they had been taken at all cut him to the bone.

"They are alive," he told Joe over his shoulder.

The pair looked battered and bruised and their clothes were as torn as Bryce's had been. There was also blood on them in places and Nicky took a guess they had been the previous night's meal.

"Not your fault," Joe whispered quietly in his ear in Italian, "we came as soon as we could."

"But…"

"Nicolo," Joe said, placing a gentle hand on the small of his back, "you are remarkable, but you cannot expect the impossible of yourself. Your insistence saved them. Remember that."

Nicky wished he could think that way, but he knew what these people had suffered. Knowing that now was the time for action, not wallowing, however, he stepped forward.

Either two was too much to finish off in one go, or Ruth and her friends had been playing a sick game. Given what he knew of the dead vampire, Nicky suspected the latter.

"Hold her up," Nicky told Joe as he reached for the manacles.

However, the moment Joe touched the woman her eyes shot open and she tried to get away. It was pitiful how she hit the restriction of the manacles and seemed to shrink.

"Please, no more," she begged.

It was in French.

"Peace," Joe said gently in her own language, holding his hands up and not touching her, "we have come to help."

Only then did she seem to actually see them.

A groan from her companion made her look round.

"Paul," she said, voice desperate.

"I will get him down," Nicky promised, also in French, and quickly did as he had promised.

To prolong their suffering was unthinkable. The manacles opened easily, and he lowered the man into a sitting position before coming back up towards the terrified woman.

"May I release you?" he asked, showing her the key.

She was crying silently, and he couldn't blame her, he knew what she had been through. He wanted to help her so badly, but he remembered the fear too well. It was hard, but he waited until she nodded. Moving very slowly so as not to frighten her more, he reached up to unlock first one, then the second lock. Joe caught her as her legs gave out.

"You are safe," Joe promised her, as he helped her sit and then immediately released her, "the evil is destroyed."

"They…" she said, but she didn't seem able to complete the thought.

"We know what they were," Nicky said, slowly and calmly, refusing to add to her anxiety by showing what he was feeling. "They will never hurt anyone else."

He knew the terror, he had lived it, and he needed to reassure her.

"What is your name?" Joe asked.

"Elise," she replied quietly.

A noise made Nicky look to the stairs to see Nile.

"Okay?" she asked.

He nodded.

"Can you find some warm clothes?" he asked.

Nile nodded and was gone again. The stone cellar wasn't exactly warm, and their two companions were only partially dressed.

"Elise, I am Yusuf and this is Nicolo," Joe introduced in his usual charming way. "We need to get you out of here and somewhere safe, okay?"

Her eyes were big and round, but his words had slowed her weeping. After a few seconds, she nodded. Joe slowly and carefully went to help her up, while Nicky turned his attention to the man, who still seemed mostly out of it. Nicky picked him up and didn't bother trying to get any sense out of him.

"Paul," Elise said, reaching out to the man.

"He will be fine," Nicky told her.

Both their heartbeats were strong, even if Elise's was adrenalin-spike fast.

"Who is Paul?" Joe asked as he gently led her towards the stairs.

"My brother," Elise said. "He tried, he tried to protect me."

She burst into tears again, but this time she leaned into Joe for comfort. They were making progress.

Once upstairs in the light, Paul began to show signs of life as well, and they had them bundled in the clothes Nile found and drinking tea that Nicky pulled out of the boxes on the cabinet in short order. Little was said apart from a few reassuring words, but Nicky could not bring himself to leave them.

"What do we do now?" Elise finally asked.

The colour was returning to her face, although she still jumped at the slightest noise. Nicky looked to Andy who had just come into the room after giving the house a final go over.

"We take you to the hospital," she said, "and you lie about where you have been. You can make something up, or we can make something up for you. When they have patched you up, you go home and try and forget this ever happened."

"What if there are more of them out there?" Paul asked.

"You have gone your whole life without meeting one until now," Andy said, "accept the fact you will likely go the rest and never meet another. Start wearing a cross if you have to, but get on with your lives. For you this is over."

It was typical Andy, practical and to the point. Nicky doubted it would be enough this time.

"How can it be over?" Paul demanded.

"The evil that touched you is dead," Nicky stepped in, "they can never hurt you again. The darkness you felt has been driven away and you need to choose to live in the light."

Elise looked at him then, stared at him as if something was just occurring to her.

"You sound like you have felt it too," she said quietly.

He gave her a half smile.

"I have," he said and was more than grateful when Joe gently placed a hand on his shoulder.

"And you fight them," she said.

"Something like that," he replied, unwilling to outright lie. "We," he indicated the others in the room, "do our best to eradicate evil where we find it. If we come across more, we will deal with them, but this is the first time we have ever met something so inhuman."

"They … you mean?" Elise didn't seem sure what question she wanted to ask, and Nicky couldn't bring himself to put it into words.

"When they chose to attack the love of my life, they picked the wrong target," Joe said in a tone that begged no argument.

"Who are you?" Paul asked, but Elise put her hand out and touched his arm, shaking her head.

"Take a leaf out of your sister's book," Andy said. "We leave in five," she told Nicky.

He took a deep breath and he nodded. Finally, this was almost over.

Chapter Text

When they had first returned to the safe house, the only thing on Nicky's mind had been sleeping. He might have slept soundly the previous night, but the last few days had eaten any reserves he had had and then some. Nervous energy was only good for so much. Dealing with Elise and Paul had been the one step too much for him. Thankfully, safe in Joe's arms, he had not dreamed.

When he had woken, Joe had already been awake, still holding him and it had filled him with such love he had wanted nothing more than to get lost in his husband. Looking into Joe's eyes, he had seen the same need coming back at him.

They had decided to shower, since Nicky had literally fallen face first into bed after their excursion and he had wanted to be clean.

The feeling of Joe washing his body was amazing. He was kind of sad to have been so out of it the last time. The soft slide of bubbles and washcloth with the sensation of Joe's hand on top of the material had his nerves humming. He wanted to touch back, but every time he tried, Joe made a small tutting sound and gave him one of those patented looks that stopped him in his tracks.

It said 'let me look after you' without any words at all.

Nicky could deny Joe nothing, never had been able to, especially not now. The last few days had been so stressful, so beyond what even they could have imagined with their long lives and full life histories.

Joe ran the cloth over his chest and down as he leaned against the shower wall. His head thudded against the tiles and his eyes slipped closed as his husband oh so skilfully slid down the crease from his hip, cupping his balls with the warm material. His tiny gasp was involuntary and heartfelt. His nerves lit up and his heart thudded in his chest.

"I was so afraid I would lose you," Joe whispered, leaning in close as he moved his hand back and forth.

Joe kissed him on the side of the neck. He whimpered.

"Even when you came back to me, I was afraid the pain would take you away from me, even as your torment continued," Joe continued. "I always knew you were strong, my Nicolo, but I never imagined."

Nicky had to touch now. He opened his eyes, taking Joe's face in his hands.

"Yusuf, love of my life," he said, looking his husband, lover, other half of his soul directly in the eyes, "the only reason I am strong is you."

As Joe moved in to kiss him, he released all control again, accepting anything and everything. He opened to Joe's lips and tongue, eyes closing again, feeling the connection between them so clearly it almost hurt. In the beginning they had died so many times by each other's hands fighting against the truth that their souls had mixed. Their deaths had come so close together they had never dreamed each other and yet it sometimes felt as if they dreamed each other every day.

When Joe drew back, still cupping and gently fondling him, he opened his eyes once more.

"You are my life, my heart, a part of my soul," Joe told him with the complete sincerity that always made Nicky's heart quicken. "I want to love you, to make love to you, until the heavens crumble - if you will let me."

"Always," he replied, breathless.

Joe smiled at him, kissing him again and stroking his cock, making him gasp against his husband's lips.

"I think I shall make you come," Joe whispered in his ear after letting him breathe, "so I can see you completely undone, before we take this somewhere more comfortable."

He buried his face in Joe's neck, biting his lip and groaning as Joe's skilful fingers stroked him. He was so close. He needed so much that he could feel himself trembling.

"My beautiful man," Joe whispered and it almost sent him over the edge.

Only a twinge in his upper jaw held him back and he stiffened with shock. He shook his head, pushing himself away from Joe quickly as instincts he had thought gone urged him to bite and to flee at the same time. This could not be happening now.

"No," he said, putting his hand over his mouth.

"Hey," Joe did not let him get away, cupping the back of his head and crowding into him so he was trapped in the corner of the shower, "hey, it's okay."

"It's not …"

"Sssh," Joe said, gently but firmly pulling his hand away from his mouth, "it's fine."

Joe calmly and reverently kissed him, even as he could feel the fangs in his mouth. It was the first time he'd been aware of them since the cross. He hadn't even realised he still had them.

"I wanted …" he couldn't bring himself to say it.

"You wanted to bite me," Joe said, no condemnation there, but Nicky could not understand why.

He nodded, guilt welling up in his chest.

"Then bite me," Joe said, shocking him into stillness.

"What if … what if..?" he had trouble even suggesting it.

"What if you made me like you?" Joe asked and Nicky nodded again. "So what? We know what to do now," he added, lightly fingering the scar on Nicky's chest. "Blessed silver isn't hard to come by. But," Joe looked him in the eye again, "I think it very unlikely. That she-demon tried to make you like her in the most deliberate way, it took intent, and your blood healed Andy, it didn't infect her. You are even more extraordinary now than you have always been."

"How can you say that?" Nicky whispered. "I could hurt you"

Joe smiled at him, stroking his face and bringing their foreheads together.

"Not because of this, you couldn't," Joe said, gently bringing their lips together again for just a moment. "Whatever you need my love, you can have."

Nicky was still terrified.

"And your eyes glow so prettily," Joe added, smiling at him, "they have been since I first touched you."

Joe kissed him again, but seemed to realise his shock was not dissipating.

"Come on," his husband said, "let me get us clean, and we can take this to the bedroom where we can talk without worrying the water will get cold."

Nicky was not usually a meek follower, but there were too many things going around in his head to be able to think of anything sensible, so he went along with it. Only once he was sat on the bed with a towel in his lap did he try and start processing again.

"You were waiting for that," he finally said as a few things became clear.

Joe shrugged, dropping his towel on the floor and coming to sit beside him completely naked.

"I thought it would probably happen at some point," Joe admitted. "When you fought you changed."

"Changed, changed how?" he asked.

In the heat of battle, he hadn't been quite sure what had been different and what had been adrenalin spikes he was quite used to. His nails had not changed as they had before.

"Well, My Love, you have always been somewhat apocalyptic when you get going, but I can only describe you as a magnificent angel of death," Joe replied. "It only lasted a few moments at a time, but it was truly amazing."

Nicky wasn't sure how he felt about his husband being quite so appreciative of something so dark.

"Why doesn't this frighten you?" he asked, honestly confused.

Of course, he had known he was not back to normal, his senses were more acute, he was stronger, faster, but this underlined why. This underlined the otherness.

Joe leant in and put a hand over his heart.

"Because it's you," Joe said, "and I know what is in here."

Nicky looked down at Joe's hand. There wasn't really anything he could say to that.

"Now, while, if you are willing, I would really like to sink into you over and over again until neither of us can remember our own names, I think we may have to deal with this first," Joe said. "Not that I would object to being bitten during our love making, but until we are sure of how we will both react, I think it might be safer to keep the two separate for now."

All sorts of kinky possibilities leapt into Nicky's head at that. Even if his forebrain was not on board with the idea, it appeared his libido was perfectly comfortable with it.

"You don't have…" he started to say, but Joe put a finger on his lips.

"I know," Joe said simply, "but you are mine and I am yours and you need this."

"I want this, I may not actually need it," Nicky pointed out, disgusted at his own lack of control.

"My heart," Joe said, squeezing his hand, "you are as pale as a ghost. I think you need this, and I will take no chances."

Nicky found himself presented with Joe's wrist.

"While I would love to have you nibble on my neck," Joe said, "for a first time, a wrist might be prudent."

Looking at his husband's face then at his husband's wrist, Nicky found himself out of arguments. He almost asked if Joe was sure, but he already knew the answer. When he gently took Joe's wrist in his hands, his husband gave him an encouraging smile.

The fangs had not retreated since they had first made an appearance, so it wasn't as if he had to do anything to make them descend.

He knew how this worked, at least, he had done it before. His fangs were sharp, they slid into Joe's flesh with only the slightest resistance. Joe grunted and Nicky almost stopped, but then blood hit his tongue. It was as if every pleasure centre in his brain fired at the same time and Joe crystallised into his awareness. It wasn't the same as with Bryce, it was so much more. He moaned and swallowed, and Joe gasped and swore in broken tones and languages that Nicky couldn't follow.

It only lasted three or four swallows, but when Nicky licked Joe's wrist clean, the two little puncture marks closing even as he removed his fangs, he was breathing hard and buzzing with desire and pure unadulterated lust. Joe's pupils were dilated, and he could feel the need radiating from his husband.

"Your turn," he said, voice husky as he too vibrated with desire.

"I want to be inside you," Joe all but growled out, the need making his voice so very deep.

"Anything, everything," Nicky replied as liquid heat pooled in his cock.

Joe kissed him, hard and needy before disappearing towards the chest of drawers. Nicky shifted up the bed, letting his legs fall apart as Joe retrieved a small tube from the top drawer. Every twitch of Joe's muscles as he moved, the thud of Joe's strong regular heartbeat, the smell of clean, fresh skin and male arousal, he catalogued it all, senses on full alert.

He licked his lips, watching Joe's ample erection bob as his husband climbed back onto the bed between his legs.

"How..?" Joe started to ask.

"In me now," was the best Nicky could do, because he needed Joe like air. He wasn't even sure which language he used.

They had made love for over nine hundred years, but something about this felt as crucial as the first time. Nicky did not need slow or gentle, he needed Joe.

"Lie back," Joe told him and he did, lifting his legs to give Joe plenty of access.

Slick fingers worked over his hole almost immediately, making him groan, but he refused to put his head back or close his eyes. He needed to see Joe. As his husband slipped first one finger, then two, then three into him, he breathed, holding himself still as his muscles trembled. Joe always said he had infinite patience, but it was Joe who had the patience now.

Nicky could see the need in Joe as clearly as he could feel it in himself, but Joe refused to hurt him. Joe opened him carefully, if a little more quickly than usual. So much so that when Joe finally moved forward, lining up and pressing in, Nicky keened, eyes locked on his husband's face.

Joe did not stop until he was fully inside, filling Nicky up with the most perfect pressure. Leaning over him, Joe planted his arms either side of Nick's shoulders and gazed into his eyes.

"Together," Joe told him in Arabic, "forever," he added in Italian.

The last knot of doubt that Joe would see him as he was now and be repelled melted away in Nicky's chest. They held still and silent for a few moments, absorbing each other, and then Joe moved. Finally, Nicky put his head back and moaned and Joe began to turn his bones to water.

Joe was not an exclusive top, nor Nicky an exclusive bottom, but Joe was very, very skilled at taking Nicky apart with his cock, with his fingers, with his mouth. It really never mattered how Joe touched him, his husband could reduce him to a quivering wreck with a single, well placed brush of his fingers. Nicky surrendered now as he always did, body and soul.

As their bodies came together again and again, Joe whispered to him in dialects long since dead and the first time Nicky came without remotely needing to touch his cock.

Joe didn't stop moving all through his orgasm, pushing him on and on until he whined in the back of his throat. Only then did Joe slow and carefully pull out, urging him onto his side, before sliding right back in. Their immortality gave them certain advantages, like increased stamina and much shorter recovery times, but that was too fast even for Nicky. He moaned, but Joe knew him as well as ever, rocking gently into him, barely moving at all, touching him and kissing his shoulders as his body recouped.

Only when his cock began to swell again, did Joe's movements increase.

"I am going to fuck you until you are completely spent," Joe whispered in his ear, "until you have no more seed to give. Only then will I bury myself inside you and come so hard you will feel my bones quake."

Nicky moaned.

"And then we will lie together, touching, kissing, tasting, until our gift replenishes our bodies and I can love you all over again," Joe went on. "You are mine Nicolo, as I am yours, and I wish to show you for as long as you will let me."

Each declaration was punctuated with the slide of Joe's cock and all Nicky could manage was a hum of agreement.

Nicky was lying between Joe's thighs, head resting on Joe's leg as he mouthed at Joe's balls as Joe's cock lay soft and spent while they recovered after a second round of Joe fulfilling all his promises, when he felt the ache in his gums again. He had felt the otherness in him rise towards the surface several times during their love making so far, but not this distinctly. This time he was pretty sure it was nothing to do with need, this was pure want.

He looked up at Joe, who had been carding fingers through his hair.

"What is it, Lover?" Joe asked.

Nicky opened his mouth, knowing Joe would see the fangs.

"I am not a man to argue with pleasure," Joe said, angel that he was.

For once Nicky did not second guess this new aspect of himself. He moved his head, kissing along Joe's inner thigh where Joe's right leg was thrown out to the side. All he could smell was sex as he allowed himself to sink into the wants and needs of this part of him and it drove him on. Joe moaned quietly as he gently nipped at the sensitive skin and mouthed against it. This was new and different, purely sexual, and he wanted to savour it. He had always liked the taste of his husband's skin and this added so many layers.

"Nicolo," Joe finally whispered, almost a plea or maybe a prayer.

Nicky lifted himself up, placing an arm over his husband's hip, opened his mouth and bit down. Joe shouted something incoherent and almost bucked him off as pleasure swamped them both, but Nicky held Joe down and drank. Again, he only took a little, but when he pulled his fangs away this time he did not pause. Joe's cock was proud and hard from only those few moments of his bite and Nicky pushed the vampire in him back down. Moving forward, he swallowed Joe's cock and made his husband howl a second time. It was magnificent.

Something so big it was nearly inconceivable had nearly torn them apart forever, but it had failed, and Nicky embraced their joined bodies as the symbol of their victory. He wanted to feel everything Joe had to give and share the passion that he felt. When the man he loved without question reached for him again, he gladly let Joe have whatever he wanted.

A banging on the door made them finally look up from each other quite some time later and Nicky glanced at the clock. It had been over four hours.

"There's food," Andy's voice came through the door. "You need more than protein."

Joe grinned and Nicky rolled his eyes, not that they didn't deserve the inuendo, of course.

"I could eat," Joe said with a shrug.

Nicky nodded. Although he had bitten Joe more than once, normal food sounded good too.

"We'll be down in ten," Joe called out and Nicky picked up the sound of Andy's boots walking away.

For someone who could be as silent as a cat, when she wasn't paying attention Andy could be very loud. Or possibly that was a defence mechanism from living on top of other people for so many years. Sometimes walking in on one of your friends enjoying themselves either with someone else or alone was just not what you wanted to see. Those things were best planned.

"Do you think Nile is going to be able to look either of us in the eye?" he asked as he reluctantly let Joe off the bed. "We were loud."

"She was a marine," Joe said with a laugh, "she'll probably just never let us forget it."

"I'm not sure I remember how to pretend to be embarrassed," Nicky added and followed his husband back into the bathroom.

"My love, I am amazed you remember how to speak, I have not seen you that non-verbal in a long time," Joe told him.

He laughed, it was true.

Chapter Text

Normally after any kind of confrontation they would have left their current residence almost immediately and gone somewhere else safe, but not this time. Nicky's encounter with the local authorities had been brief and written off as just another junkie nearly dying and running away, and all incriminating traces of it had been wiped away by Copely. Their conflict with the vampires would never be anyone's secret but theirs and their two rescues. Copley had reported back that the brother and sister had passed on the hastily created cover story perfectly, so that wasn't an issue.

Hence, the team was in no hurry to leave Edinburgh.

Joe was all too aware Nicky was not at ease with all the changes the last few days had wrought on him. To Joe they made the love of his life even more amazing and marvellous. It broke his heart to see Nicky so full of trepidation when something turned out to be slightly different. So much so that he couldn't help sharing in his husband's delight when finding out something was exactly the same.

Currently Nicky was sitting in the brightest patch of sunlight in the living room, dozing. The only compromise to the bright light being Joe's sunglasses. He disliked not being able to see his husband's beautiful eyes, but it was better than seeing him in discomfort. He had already quietly spoken to Copely about an alternative, but he would surprise Nicky with the specialist made contact lenses when they came through. Nicky preferred nothing between him and his scope when he was working and while Joe was sure Nicky would cope without any aids whenever necessary, he enjoyed making his love's life easier.

Joe had already sketched Nicky as he was, sleeping in the sun, several times in fact. He loved to commit to paper every different way he saw the man he loved. Now he was sketching from memory. He had not exaggerated when he had told Nicky how he had looked in the fight, or how it made him feel. So far, he had drawn two different moments that were etched on his thoughts from the battle and one of Nicky as he had been as they made love, although only his face for the last one.

To Joe, Nicky was always beautiful, whether smiling across the room, entwined in his arms, or covered in blood and gore from conflict. He loved every aspect of this amazing man and he would keep these moments forever.

"Mon dieu."

He heard the quiet exclamation from behind him. Booker only ever resorted to such phrases when he was truly enrapt, and Joe was not surprised to see the other man staring at his sketches.

The fact was, Joe was not sure how to feel about Booker still being with them. He had yet to find complete forgiveness in his heart, but Booker had helped in the search for and care of Nicky, and in their mission to destroy the den of vampires. He'd been utterly vital for some parts, like he always had been. They had not said much to each other except to discuss things directly related to that. He was pretty sure Booker had been keeping out of his way most of the rest of the time.

Given the way Nicky had been acting around all of them, he doubted suggesting Booker be exiled again would go down well. He knew his other half very well and he could see the signs. He just hadn't come round to the idea yet himself. After all, Booker's actions had directly led to torture and Nicky getting the back of his skull blown off.

"Magnificent, yes?" he said quietly, because an opening was an opening.

Booker nodded.

"I didn't see," Booker said equally as quietly.

"So many times I have wondered if I have seen my Nicolo at his best and then the universe chooses to make my heart beat with even greater abandon," Joe said.

"You are a lucky man," Booker whispered.

"Indeed," Joe agreed and went back to the sketch he was working on.

He was so engrossed that he didn't realise Booker was still there for a while.

"Joe," Booker said.

He looked up to find the younger immortal nervously playing with his nails.

"Yes?" Joe asked.

"Does … well … does Nicky need blood?" Booker asked.

For a moment Joe wanted to be defensive on Nicky's behalf, but he quickly realised that was a response not to the apparently earnest question, but to the whole situation.

"We believe so," he said, keeping his voice steady, but with a definite undertone of be careful. "Although we have yet to understand all aspects of his change."

Booker nodded as if that was the answer he had been expecting. He turned away, but then paused.

"If," Booker said, "if he needs more than you can give, just ask."

That definitely was not what Joe had been anticipating. Something that had been tied in a knot around his heart ever since Booker's betrayal loosened. He nodded and Booker walked quietly away. Joe watched the other man go, until Nicky made a small snuffling sound and dragged Joe's eyes back to the man he loved.

So much had changed yet again in such a short time. The physical differences in Nicky were profound, and yet to Joe they seemed to have made no change at all to the underlying man. The caring, kind human being was the same as ever. Those changes in turn via Nicky's blood, seemed to have returned Andy's immortality. They were going to have to stage an intervention if Andy insisted on relishing cutting herself every so often to check, but none of them were brave enough for that conversation yet. Personally, Joe thought Andy was messing with Nile, but he wasn't one hundred percent sure.

His main focus was Nicky at the moment, but he could tell they were all on the lookout for Andy as well, just in case. Losing her immortality and then getting it back all within a few months could not have been easy for her. When she needed them, they would be there.

The last few days had been terrible, but maybe, just maybe, the outcome would give that terror meaning.

~*~

Joe, Booker and Nile were watching a football match on the television in the living room. Nile and Joe were literally shouting at the game, while Booker was trying not to and muttering things under his breath. Nicky found it adorable how Joe had managed to infect Nile with his fanatical love of the game.

He wasn't overly invested in the football, but he had been enjoying watching the others enjoy it while Andy pretended not to be paying attention, although significantly had failed to leave the room. Seeing everyone together simply relaxing made him feel warm inside.

The fact that he was concentrating on everyone else rather than the game, however, did mean that he noticed everyone was running out of beer. Joe gave him a look when he stood up, but he patted his husband on the shoulder and waved his bottle in the general direction of everyone's mostly empties.

"Back in a minute," he said and headed for the kitchen.

He smiled to himself as he pulled four bottles out of the fridge before turning and looking at where Andy had followed him.

"Need ice?" he asked.

She shook her head, sipping her glass of vodka.

"You're looking steadier," she said.

He nodded.

"Things are still strange," he admitted, "but I am getting used to it. I just do not fully understand everything that has happened yet."

Andy barked a laugh.

"You and me both," she said.

"And you," Nicky asked, "how are you? It cannot have been easy."

Finding yourself mortal after thousands of years and then suddenly having that turned on its head must have caused mental whiplash at the least.

"I'm fine," Andy said, but didn't look at him.

"Are you really?" he asked.

She glanced at him then and smiled a sardonic little smile.

"Yeah," she said and surprised him, "I think I am. I thought I had accepted being mortal, but then I'm not and I realised I never really did. Realised a few other things too," she added and took a sip of her drink.

Nicky leaned against the counter, placing the bottles down. This was not where he had expected the conversation to go.

"How so?" he asked.

"Before this," Andy told him, "I might have despised Merrick for looking for the cure for all ills, but I thought he might have been on the right track, that it was something to find by investigating us with the wonders of modern science. I was sure we were logical, even if how we survive defies what most people think of as natural laws. Now, I'm not so sure."

From Andy that was huge. She was thousands of years old, had been worshiped as divine, and was the most practical of all of them.

"Why?" Nicky asked.

"Do you remember what happened when our blood mixed?" Andy asked.

"Not really," he admitted. "I remember being aware of you, like the dreams I think, only very immediate, but it's muddled. I don't really remember much after the cross …"

He waved at his chest, unsure how to quite describe whatever it was the cross had done.

"Understandable," Andy said. "Well I do remember, it's crystal clear. I might have lost track of what was going on around me, but what was happening inside, that was so real."

"What did you feel?" he asked.

"You," she said, "with all your passion for life, for humanity, for Joe. It wasn't your blood that healed me and rekindled this thing we are, that just created the way for there to be a direct connection, it was you."

Nicky didn't know how to respond.

"But I didn't do anything," he said eventually.

"You didn't have to," Andy said, "you just had to be you."

He didn't really get it.

"This gift we've been given," Andy said, "it's powered by us, by our spirit. It stops when that spirit fails."

She sounded like she had been thinking about this very carefully, however, there was one hole in that argument.

"What about Booker?" he asked. "He said he wanted this to stop, but he still heals."

The twisted little smile came back to Andy's lips at that.

"I don't think Book really knows what he wants," she said. "He must have been in a very dark place. I've been there too, several times over the centuries, but nothing like earlier this year. I saw Nile, saw her slot into the group, and something in me gave up. I couldn't even see it until you slammed into my head."

"I…" Nicky went to say something, but nothing seemed quite adequate.

"Thank you," Andy said before he could figure out anything.

She reached out and placed her hand on his arm for a moment, before going to leave.

"Andy," he said, before she could walk through the doorway and she turned back, "I've been thinking too. Joe thought maybe, in the scheme of things, we might be the good and the vampires might be the bad, but I don't think it's that simple."

Andy lifted a questioning eyebrow.

"Vampires are dark things, I know that much, they are undead, but when Ruth died for real, it was like a shadow had been lifted from my soul," he told her. "She was psychotic, and she passed that on to every vampire she made. Her hold on me was broken by this," he touched his chest, "but I still felt it when she ended. Then there's us, we're fundamentally human and I don't think immortality makes any of us more likely to be good or bad. That's all on you."

"Don't be silly…"

"Andy," Nicky said before she could protest, "you were the first. When we died you were in all our heads, you are the example we all follow."

"I'm not good," Andy said.

Nicky couldn't help the slight smile when he realised she had chosen almost the exact same words he had.

"As Joe so wisely pointed out when I said the same thing, no you're human," he told her, "but you have always been a leader, always looked for where you can make a difference. That may have changed over the millennia, but you've always been you."

"That has not always been nice," Andy insisted.

"Do I need to get Copely on the phone?" Nicky asked. "I'm sure he would love to give another grand speech on his wall of historical events. He probably has a presentation."

This time her lips twitched with genuine amusement and she rolled her eyes.

"Fuck this," she said, "I've had enough philosophising for one day."

Typically blunt, typically Andy. She might not believe him, but he knew what his heart told him.

"Hug?" Nicky offered, opening his arms.

Andy grinned and moved forward, wrapping her arms around him as he did the same to her. If was warm and comforting and Nicky felt calm and at peace.

"God, you give the best hugs," Andy commented.

"No," he countered, "Joe gives the best hugs."

Andy snorted a laugh at that as if she had expected his comeback.

"Joe gives the most enthusiastic hugs," Andy said, "not always the best."

"Oops, sorry," made them both look up a few moments later.

Nile was standing in the kitchen doorway.

"Just looking for more chips," she said.

"Want in?" Nicky said and lifted one arm.

"Fuck yeah," Nile said and dived in with an enthusiasm that caught him off guard, "you give the best hugs."

"Told you," Andy muttered.

Chapter Text

There was only one loose end left once Elise and Paul left the country to go home, and Nicky went looking for him, because he needed to make sure Bryce was alright now that everything was over. He found the kid suspiciously easily, but put it down to dumb luck.

Bryce was standing next to a stall in a street market. He was playing with a phone, but Nicky recognised the tension in the kid's shoulders as someone who was much more aware of their surroundings now. Not that it made any difference.

Nicky squeezed Joe's hand, pushed his borrowed sunglasses up his nose, and walked across the street. He came from directly behind Bryce, knowing that the kid would never see him coming, and then silently stepped up beside him.

"Hi," he said.

The way Bryce completely froze made him smile, just a little. Wide, shocked eyes very slowly turned to him and then narrowed.

"You are a fucking arsehole," Bryce said. "Don't sneak up on people like that."

Nicky smiled a bit wider.

"Did you need something else?" Bryce asked.

Nicky shook his head, sobering a little.

"You do not have to be afraid anymore," he said simply.

"They're dead?" Bryce asked, suddenly breathless. "You got them?"

"All of them," Nicky replied with a nod. "My family do not take kindly to attacks on their own."

He inclined his head slightly towards the other side of the road and Bryce turned to look. Joe gave them both a salute.

"That must be Joe," Bryce said.

"It is," Nicky agreed.

"So, did you just want to let me know the bad guys are dead?" Bryce asked.

"That and this," Nicky said and handed the kid a card.

The only thing on it was a number, one Copely assured him was untraceable.

"What's this?" Bryce asked.

"Call it a repayment for your gift," Nicky replied.

"Gift, what gift?"

"Your courage and your blood," Nicky said.

"Hey, man," Bryce said, "you repaid that in full ten times. You got me out of there."

"Maybe, maybe not," Nicky replied, "but keep it anyway. If you need help, call."

"What kind of help?" Bryce asked looking at the number.

"Well I would suggest you keep it for something important," Nicky said, giving Joe a smile as his husband gave him a questioning look. "You might say my family are fixers."

"Oh fuck," Bryce said, "you're actually mafia aren't you. Of course you are, the way you talk about family."

That made Nicky laugh.

"Our group is much older," he said, grinning, "and we try to be the good guys. That number will get a message to me."

It was a risk, one he did not need to take, but Nicky was a big believer in the balance of life. Bryce had risked everything and given him the strength to try and fight off Ruth and her clan. That he had failed was not something that mattered or something that Bryce needed to know. Blood was something Nicky had shed a lot of over the years, but now he had a whole different outlook on it.

Bryce looked at the card again.

"Thanks," he said.

Nicky nodded and walked back over to Joe.

"Happy now?" Joe asked, taking his hand.

With a smile, Nicky pecked his husband on the cheek.

~*~

Nicky hadn't said yes when Joe had asked him if he was 'happy now' at the market, because there was one more thing that was bothering him. In actual fact, it was driving him a little crazy that he wasn't sure about it, so he finally stood up from where he had been pretending to read.

"Booker," he said, since the other man was the only one in the room at the time, "I need you to do me a favour."

Booker looked up at him from whatever he had been doing on a laptop.

"Go somewhere else."

For a second Booker looked stunned and then stricken and Nicky realised what he had said. He'd been feeling so protective of the whole lot of them that he had all but forgotten Booker was technically only there on suffrage.

"Not like that," he said, "sorry," he added, running his fingers through his hair. "Somewhere else in the city for an hour or so. I need to check something."

He could see the questions flying across Booker's face, but the relief there was so ridiculously palpable that it swamped everything else. Booker had royally fucked up over the whole Merrick affair, but so had they in exiling Booker when clearly the one thing he really, really needed was a family. Nicky was all too aware of that now. His instincts were yelling it so loudly he was surprised the others couldn't hear it too.

"Where?" Booker asked.

"Anywhere," Nicky replied, "just don't tell me. Find somewhere and stay there. I'll call you to come back."

Nile chose that moment to walk in.

"Everything okay?" she asked warily.

Given Booker's confused and worried expression, Nicky didn't blame her, so he made another quick decision.

"Fine," he said, turning to her. "Could you help me too? Go somewhere in the city that isn't here and isn't where Booker goes, preferably somewhere none of us would expect and wait. I need to test something out."

Nile frowned at him.

"Okay," she said, pulling out the word and all but making it a question.

"I promise I'll explain," he said, "but I need to try it first."

Nile and Booker shared a look.

"Sure," she said. "When?"

"Now?" Nicky asked.

Booker stood up.

"If I'm just going insane, I'll call and you can both make fun of me for the next century," he promised.

The wide-eyed expression of hope that crossed Booker's face at that made his heart twist even more than the stricken one of before. They hadn't talked about it yet and it definitely wasn't his decision to make alone, but he was pretty sure if the others decided to continue Booker's exile, he would throw a fit none of them would ever forget. His instincts were in overdrive at the moment and there was no arguing with them. They were screaming at him that they all belonged together and that was that.

"Come on, Book," Nile said.

As the pair headed towards the door, Nicky went to find Joe. The only reason his better half wasn't glued to his side was that he had asked for a while alone. He found Joe in the kitchen chopping what might once have been an onion, but now resembled carnage. Clearly Joe was dealing with separation for more than a few minutes as well as he was at the moment. The only reason he'd asked Joe to leave him at all was to sort out what he was feeling.

He walked over to Joe and wrapped an arm around his husband's waist, all but plastering himself to Joe's side.

"You can stop killing the helpless vegetable now," he said as he felt the tension flowing out of both of them.

"Okay?" Joe asked, looking at him.

Nicky nodded.

"I needed to see something," he said, "I'm still testing it," he added.

"Going to tell me?" Joe asked.

Nicky frowned and bit his lip.

"I think," he said, not sure how to explain it.

Before he could go on, there was a noise in the doorway.

"Where are Nile and Booker going?" Andy asked as she entered the room. "I just saw them leaving."

"I asked them to," Nicky said.

Andy raised an eyebrow at him.

"I think I can feel where you all are," he said, the words kind of tumbling over each other, "but I don't know if I'm just picking up sounds or smells or if it's something else."

"You're tracking us?" Andy checked.

"I don't know," Nicky admitted, "that's why I asked Nile and Booker to go somewhere else in the city, different places and wait."

"You want to see if you can find them," Joe said and Nicky nodded.

"Could you track them in the city?" Andy asked.

"That's not what I want to test," he replied. "I want to go somewhere completely random."

"And see if you can find them from there," Joe finished.

His husband squeezed his hand and gave him a small smile. He wasn't sure what he would do without Joe's unwavering support, because this sounded crazy even with everything that had happened over the last few days.

"I need to know if this is physical or," he made a gesture towards his head because he really couldn't explain the whole dreams thing or vampires or anything else logically. Nothing since he had been confronted with glowing eyes in an alley had been logical.

Andy looked at him for a while, that usual no-nonsense-I-can-read-your-soul-just-looking-at-you expression on her face, before she nodded.

Half an hour later they were at Edinburgh castle, a location Andy had picked at random. They stood outside the gates, Nicky in front, Andy and Joe behind as they completely ignored all the tourists. For a moment Nicky closed his eyes, breathed, and thought of Booker. There was nothing tangible in his head, nothing he could honestly explain, but an instinct was there. Opening his eyes, he began to walk.

It took twenty minutes give or take, before Nicky walked up to Booker sitting in the back of a small café in one of Edinburgh's back streets.

"How the hell?" Booker asked.

"Later," was all Nicky said and beckoned him to follow.

One could be a bizarre coincidence, at least that's what he told himself, but when he found Nile in the middle of a busy supermarket, he couldn't exactly deny it anymore. No one bombarded him with questions, but he knew they all had to be thinking the same thing he was. It was the thought that had been rattling through his brain ever since he realised what he had been doing.

Outside in the sunlight he took several long breaths and finally let himself admit what he was feeling. He swallowed hard, closed his eyes for a second and then lifted his arm, pointing into the distance.

"She's that way," he said and looked at Andy.

They all knew he was talking about Quynh.

The End