The first time Michel saw the man, he was hunched at the bar nursing a glass of whiskey and staring out the window into the dreary rainy streets of New York. He was tall, dark haired, and achingly familiar. Rey .
For a moment, he couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. He had seen Rey die. Had felt the stutter and stop of his heart under his very own hands as his one-time partner let out his final breath, eyes still begging for forgiveness. The man looked up, and the spell shattered. Where Rey’s hair had been a soft chestnut brown, this man’s hair was black; where Rey had been pale, this man was tanned. And yet… and yet their eyes were the exact same warm colour brown, had that same mischievous spark hidden under a deep melancholy. The hunched shoulders, the way he lifted the drink to his lips with utter and complete control over every limb, absolute awareness of where he was and who was watching him. Those hands, with long, nimble fingers. A strong and steady grip on the glass. It was exactly the same. Michel shuddered. He had to talk to this man, this stranger, who looked so much like his (dearer-than-) friend. Their eyes met across the bar, and Michel swallowed. The stranger cocked his head and raised his glass, taking a deep drink from his whiskey. There was something forlorn about him, something that screamed for company. The air felt electric, and Michel found himself utterly incapable of looking away from those warm brown eyes that reminded him so much of Rey. The man raised a brow and gave a slight kick to the stool next to his own, and before Michel knew it he was walking over.
What was he thinking? He hadn't even hesitated, just got up from his side of the bar and wandered over to the stranger. Surely this was a stupid idea, surely this would get him in trouble. The man's lips curled up in the slightest hint of a crooked smile, and he held out his hand.
"Nero," he said, with the slightest hint of a Spanish accent, and Michel had to suppress the shock that went through him at the sound of the stranger's - Nero's - voice. So gravelly, yet with a deep warmth. So much like Rey when he had been drinking. Michel sat down on the chair next to Nero, unable to stop himself. He nodded and took the hand offered to him.
The name was out before he even noticed, the urge to hear not-Rey say that name once more too great to resist. Nero chuckled.
“Silver…” He repeated, seeming to savour the sound of it. He smiled that crooked smile once more, and nodded. “It suits you.”
Michel smiled, but knew it didn’t reach his eyes. It sounded exactly as he had hoped, had dreaded, and in his mind’s eye Rey smiled at him with that same quirk to his lips, spoke his name in those same soft, slightly gruff tones.
“So I have been told,” he said, lifting his hand to touch the silver hair falling to his shoulders. Nero smirked and shook his head a little, flagging down the barman.
"Another whiskey," he said, with the air of a man that got exactly what he wanted and knew it, and Michel couldn't repress the sudden thought of what it might feel like like if this man, this strange and yet so familiar man, might want him. He felt his cheeks flush, and looked down at the bar. Nero cleared his throat.
"And… for my friend…?"
Michel startled, and turned to the barman too.
"I'll have what he's having," he said, and from the corner of his eye he saw Nero stiffen, a sudden stillness coming over him for just a moment before he relaxed once more, and smiled.
Nero didn't know what had possessed him to invite the stranger to his side, earlier that night. He hadn’t come here to meet someone. He wasn’t looking to… to date. Somewhere, far away, Celia was waiting for him, alone. But perhaps it was the forlorn look in Silver’s eyes, the loneliness that rested on his shoulders like a well-worn cloak, the loss etched across his features that echoed Nero’s own pain. Perhaps, it was the strange spark he'd caught in the other man's face as their eyes met across the bar, that odd recognition. Or perhaps he was simply lonely himself, and wanted the company.
(Perhaps it was that his gentle face and wry smile, and the easy manner in which he had yielded to Nero's wishes and suggestions had reminded him a little too much of Escobar.)
And perhaps, it didn't matter. Perhaps what mattered was that they had both seen something in the other they had been looking for. He glanced down at the strange man, at Silver, curled up asleep against his chest. His face - now peaceful - was tucked under Nero's chin, as though looking for protection there. He looked young, but at the same time impossibly old. There was an innocence in his eyes that was betrayed by the many scars Nero had mapped with his hands and lips just hours prior, by the soft sob that sounded suspiciously like a name that had fallen from Silver's lips as they’d lain down after. For a moment, he hadn't known what to do. And then he had just tugged Silver closer, wrapped his arms around the smaller man, and kissed his breath away. Softly, he carded his fingers through Silver's hair, soothing the man in his arms. In response, Silver just burrowed closer. Nero sighed and let his eyes fall shut. Unbidden, the memories crashed down on him. Dark and endless nights, war, when his arms had been wrapped about someone else. When they had clung to one another as the gunshots fired overhead, sharing their blankets, their food, their very existence. Escobar. His friend, his closest confidant, his--
No. This was not a path he could go down. These weren’t memories he could entertain. He pressed himself more closely to Silver, held the smaller man tight, and tried to focus on the slow beating of his heart. Escobar was gone. Gone because of him. Because Nero had been too righteous, too angry at the world, to see that he was putting the man he loved more dearly than any other in grave danger.
Escobar was gone, but the man in his arms now was very much alive. Alive, and hurting. He gently kissed the top of Silver’s head, pressed his nose against his soft stark-white curls, and sighed. Escobar was gone, he could no longer protect his friend, but he could protect Silver from whatever demons were chasing him. And maybe, just maybe, that could earn him some kind of forgiveness. If only from himself.