It was all something of a haze.
The mission had been brutal. Too many deaths. Too much blood.
They had come out of it still alive but worse than usual, covered in just as much of each other's blood as with the blood of their enemies.
They'd finished the mission, though. No matter how many times Nile, Joe and Nicky had died. No matter how tired they all were by now. No matter how Joe had felt each of his own deaths so much harder than usual, no matter that how each time he had felt Nicky die, he had had to overpower the will to crumble, to collapse over his love and shake him back to life with a scream.
They had barely made it back to their London safehouse. It was a small affair in the outskirts of the city, far away from the centre and from any place that the authorities were interested in, and the streets had been empty as the slunk back in, bloody and beaten.
After washing and getting a change of clothes, Andy and Nile had gone back out with only a small nod in Joe's direction, presumably to just walk it off together. Nicky was still in the shower at the time, having been the last one in, and then was in there long enough for Joe to think that he was probably trying to drown himself.
About ten minutes after the shower had stopped running, Nicky stumbled into the kitchen. He seemed smaller than usual in his hoodie, hair sticking out in damp spikes from him toweling it dry, hands curling into the sleeves, middle fingers tapping neurotically against his palms - clear tells of his current state.
Joe didn't press him; Nicky didn't say a word. He came up to briefly rest his forehead against the top of Joe's head and then walked over to the counter.
He made them each a mug of tea and sat down heavily into the chair opposite Joe, hood up over his face, hunched into himself. Joe watched him stare vacantly into the depths of the shitty English tea for a second before turning to stare into his own. It was a sort of sludgy brown-black colour, cheap (this type was some store brand) and it really didn’t taste very good, despite the fact that they were in the nation that had become famous for it (the British had stolen it, though, so that was something of a moot point). It also tended to have more limescale in it than water if you were in the right area and if that was the case, it needed milk for it to be palatable, and they didn’t have milk, only a half empty box of sugar cubes Andy had left after a trip to Russia.
So the tea was, for lack of a better word, absolute shit. But it did the job - it was something to drink and something warm to hold. Besides, they’d all had worse.
The clock next to the window showed five am. Dawn made the apartment's kitchen grey, like the London rooftops and the sky above them. The light made Nicky's face paler, skimmed over the bags under his eyes and made them darker.
Joe left his hand upturned on the table's plastic surface, just in case. A few seconds later, Nicky put his hand on top and laced their fingers together, just this side of too tight, skin clammy, the heat from holding the mug quickly fading away into cold. They didn’t say a word - didn’t really need to.
They finished the damn tea. The clock ticked, endless. A car rumbled just outside. The pipes whirred.
"Bed?" Nicky's voice was hoarse, almost agonised, eyes wide and shadowed by deep circles of a millennia’s worth of grief.
Joe nodded, then let go of Nicky's hand, slowly, clinging to his fingers and his palm, to get up and tuck the chair back under the table. After, he hovered by the door and watched the love of his life put the mugs away into the battered sink, shaking his arms in a specific way so that the sleeves of his hoodie fell back and wouldn't get wet (it still made Joe smile).
They made their way in a sort of dream state to the bedroom. Joe sat down on the small double bed and then shuffled back so that he had his back against the wall. Nicky crawled on, too, and settled into Joe's lap with a distinct lack of finesse, uncoordinated, knees hitting him in the side before he managed to get himself into a comfortable position.
Their noses brushed. Nicky’s eyes fluttered, heavy lidded with what could only be pain, exhaustion, something else that none of them had managed to put a name on, yet: but under that, there was something else, etched into his soul, something that closely mirrored Joe’s heart.
He sighed, breath shuddering out over Joe’s cheek.
"Can I kiss you?" Nicky whispered.
Joe nodded, and they met in-between.
Nicky made a noise like a wounded animal and kissed back, desperate and pained. Joe tangled a hand in his hair, pushing the hood back as he did so, and got in closer, trying to get so close to Nicky that not even atoms could get between them, not even the universe itself could push them apart because there was no space between Joe and Nicky for it to get into - close enough for Joe to stop being aware of who ended where and when the other began.
In turn, Nicky clung to Joe with all four limbs, his legs wrapping around Joe's waist, arms around Joe's neck. He smelled like an odd amalgamation of Joe's favourite aftershave and the scent of linen-fragrance detergent that always seemed to hang around him. He kissed like he was going to die tomorrow (maybe they were, maybe he would) and Joe - Joe felt like he was drowning. He couldn't breathe in the helpless wash of mine mine mine that was like waves beating against his chest, waves he hadn't felt since he'd watched Nicky almost drown in their search for Quynh (the storm had come too soon, too fast, the waves had been muddy and-). His heart was slamming against his throat like it wanted to rip out of his ribcage and leap straight into Nicky's hands, hands that Joe knew better than he knew his own, hands that he'd held and he'd kissed and hands that had held him and brushed over his skin-
"You're mine." Joe snarled when he pulled away, the words ripping out of him. His hands fisted in Nicky's hoodie (it had been Joe's, a year or two ago); he wasn't sure if it was to pull Nicky closer, into his chest, or to just cling so that he wouldn't be swept away. "I don't care what we leave behind, where we are going, even what we're doing. You'll still be mine and I'll be yours, I'm yours, Nicolo, I've been yours and you've been mine for the past millennia, some jerk with too much money and a sadistic streak can't take you away from me. They can't take us away from each other."
Nicky buried his face in Joe's neck, his entire body shaking like a leaf in a gale. His hair was damp against Joe's jaw and his hands were clutching almost desperately at Joe's shirt.
"I know," he whispered, "God almighty, Yusuf, I know."
Joe could have sobbed. Instead, he rested his face against Nicky's hair and wrapped his arms around Nicky's waist, held him tight so that they wouldn't be torn apart in a silent storm.
Nicky breathed. His chest expanded, contracted, expanded, contracted, breath puffing out over Joe's neck. He was gloriously alive, warm, breathing -
"I love you," Joe almost sobbed the words out, feeling Nicky shudder in his arms, pressed his nose into hair that smelled of cheap soap and did his level best not to weep, "I love you, I love you, Nicky."
"I love you too." Nicky's lips press the words into the side of Joe's neck. His voice shook, fierce and crying, like the tears of a star, and his hand slid round from Joe’s back to press over Joe’s heart. "Until the end, Yusuf. Not even God will separate us."
"Not even Allah." Joe breathed and returned the gesture, putting his hand over Nicky’s heart, feeling it beat against his palm.
Nicky nodded and wormed his arms around Joe again, allowing Joe a second to get his hand out from between their chests and settle it on the small of Nicky’s back.
They sat, tangled together like that, for god only knew how long. Joe dropped the side of his face onto Nicky’s shoulder, let Nicky bury his face in his shirt. With Nicky safe in his arms, it seemed like time had become a poor excuse.
The only thing that mattered was Nicky, Nicky, Nicky, breathing, breathing, breathing, his pulse slowing into sleep under Joe’s ear.
They held on (they would never let go).