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A Canteen Full of Music

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Nick sighed softly, staring down at the ranch that was a mass of orange. Lanterns and the hanging lights lit up the canteen, where a song softly played. He could recognize the voice of Billy Joel, singing Vienna from an old radio he was sure they managed to smuggle from the big house.

“Nick,” he broke his gaze from the canteen and turned his head towards the other male. There was the faintest question on the others face as he tilted his head, before coming to sit down next to the Clark on the patio. “What’s got you in your head, poet?”

“A lot of things.” Nick murmured as he watched Troy settle onto the porch beside him.

Troy was silent, peering over at Nick, who turned back to the view of the canteen. The older male followed his eyes, staring down at the people who talked and laughed below.

His lips twitched, and he chuckled as he stood up. “Well, I’ve heard from a friend, you don’t know him, that being stuck in your head is bad for you.” Troy turned to the male as he walked down the patio, and reached out a hand. “Why don’t we do something about that?”

Nick looked at the offered hand before a wide smile broke through his pout. He chuckled as he took it, letting the other pull him onto his feet with a rough jerk. Troy laughed as Nick stumbled, the other glaring at him in annoyance as he gathered himself again.

“Hey,” Nick murmured as they started down the hill and towards the music. He looked towards their hands, still holding onto each other tightly as he let Troy lead him. Finally, Nick looked up as he felt Troy’s eyes on him. “I’m glad you stayed.” He said earnestly, with a small smile.

“Couldn’t just leave you like that.” Troy squeezed his hand with a soft smirk. “You’re my partner in crime, remember?” Nick rolled his eyes with a smile, trying hard not to show how much he liked that word. Partner. It could lead up to so many things, just like friend had led them to this.

For the two of them, words were just as important as their actions. There was no way they could’ve ended up where they were if all the actions leading up to them were just it. Nick wouldn’t have been so smart as to see Troy for who he really was if he let himself become so blinded by the actions between them. From trying to kill each other, to being friends, they still had rough patches because what they did physically could never equate to just speaking until you know what you want to say.

He had to learn patience when it came to learning feelings, even his own felt oddly out of place in such a place. Nick couldn’t let himself be emotionally charged before, he thought more like Madison than he’d ever like to admit, but slowly he was learning to be more human. The ranch felt like the last place where he would ever be so conflicted, but a few weeks with Troy and it was like he was becoming something other than what he was used to. He almost felt normal, strange enough considering who it was that had caused it.

Nick knew from day one that Troy had emotions. He wasn’t just a cold-blooded killer, as much as his mind had convinced him that the older man was, he knew it was wrong. He had to realize that Troy just had too many emotions, they were intense and sometimes they felt so real that they could choke you with only a few words and confessions throughout a quiet night of patrol.

“What’s one of your scariest memories?” Nick asked a few nights after Jeremiah died, staring out into the field of grass just behind the fence surrounding the ranch. The night had been upon them, and they had just started their shift after a quick sandwich for dinner.

“What?” Troy turned towards the male, raising a brow as he shifted around. He was never good at just standing around and keeping guard. Often when the two were paired for patrol, it was mostly Nick doing the looking out while Troy sat around trying to occupy himself.

“It can be a nightmare, too.” Nick murmured. Truthfully, he didn’t really care about the others answer, he wanted to pass the time and maybe distract Troy enough to keep him on his feet. He could already feel how antsy the older male was beside him, and he didn’t have to look at Troy to know the male was eying the greenhouse. Knowing the brunette, he’d probably go inside to ‘check’ on the plants and never come out so he could avoid patrol. “Like, once when I was high, I had a nightmare those little troll dolls came alive and started chasing me around my grandma's house.”

Troy looked at the other like he was insane as he shifted on his feet again, looking away when Nick shot him a smirk and looked back out towards the valley.

He scratched at his chin before he murmured softly. “My mom locked me in a basement.” Nick’s smirk died out instantly as he stared at the other, before he turned his gaze away, knowing Troy probably didn’t want to be stared at like he grew another head. “I’m sure there are others, I just can’t remember any right now.”

Nick swallowed thickly. “My mom hit me.” He blinked and blinked again when he felt his eyes blur. Troy turned to him in shock, as Nick avoided his gaze. “I mean, I was looking for drugs but when it happened I froze up. Couldn’t move a muscle.”

Troy was silent before he reached out and grabbed Nick’s elbow. He didn’t say anything, even as Nick turned towards the other in confusion. The older male squeezed softly before he let his hand drop to his side again.

“What’s your favorite movie?” Troy asked after he felt Nick’s eyes leave the side of his head.

“You watch movies?” Nick snorted as the other glared at him. “Alright. Mulan, what’s yours?”

“I knew it would be Disney.” Troy rolled his eyes.

“Shut up Gerber baby, what’s your favorite movie?” Nick kicked dirt towards the other, who chuckled as he kicked back.

“Treasure Planet.” He admitted stubbornly, causing Nick to rush at him. Troy dodged the attack directed towards his shoulder with a laugh.

“That’s a Disney movie, asshole!” Nick grabbed a pebble from the ground and punted it at Troy’s head, causing the other male to laugh in pain as it hit his forehead.

“I was sticking with the theme.”

“Oh screw you!” Nick laughed with a wince as the other launched a pebble at his neck.

They eventually settle down as they went back and forth, questioning the other's favorites and in the morning they went to the canteen with dirt smeared on their face. It caused Alicia to stare at Nick as he sat with them for breakfast, and ask with a raised brow.

“Did you go mud wrestling?”

“Very original.” Nick couldn’t help the smile as he ate quickly, looking forward to a fresh shower and a long nap.

“It’s a valid question.” Alicia let it go though, curiosity out matching the joy she had when seeing her brother happy. “Did you and Troy go at it again?”

“No, Licia. Things are fine.” Nick knew the answer didn’t satisfy her, but he also knew if he stamped on the word good instead of fine she would only become more suspicious. As much as he wished Alicia trusted him, he knew she had every reason not to. To her, if things were good for him, it meant that he had somehow found drugs or something close to it.

He sighed, losing his appetite quickly. “I’m gonna head to bed after my shower.” Nick didn’t give her a chance to speak as he stood and walked off with his tray, setting it down in the bin and didn’t bother saying anything to his mother.

As hungry as he was, he was too stubborn to go back and deal with their questions. Nick didn’t even have to glance at his mother to know she was confused because he was suddenly covered in mud, and the young male didn’t want to hear the questions.

-

After a as-warm-as-it’ll-get shower, and a short nap, the tossing back and forth became too much. The brown haired male couldn’t remember what exactly woke him up until he heard the soft tap of feet. Nick jolted up, looking over to see Troy sat at the table, bouncing his foot without a look of acknowledgment towards the younger male. His focus was instead on the book in front of him, and Nick took notice of the tray of food on the small table.

“Scared the hell out of me.” Nick stood up, his hair pressed against his forehead, still damp from his shower. “What’re you doing here, Troy?”

Troy glanced over as Nick made his way over to the table, before he pointed to the tray with a knowing look. “I saw you didn’t eat that much. Plus you didn’t come down for lunch.” Nick raised a brow but didn’t question it as he plopped down into the metal chair across from the other.

“That’s considerate of you.” The brown haired male ate the sandwich, though it wasn’t much he didn’t mind. Anything to push back the growling of his stomach was enough for him. “Still, I could’ve caught a snack from the pantry. Why’re you really here?”

“You’re really bad at shooting,” Troy smirked as Nick furrowed his brows, glaring at the older man. Nick opened his mouth to argue, but the other cut him off quickly. “I want to teach you more.”

“I’m not really about guns, Troy.” Nick murmured. He hesitated before he glanced away. “Never been the type to want to use one.”

“You won’t have to unless it’s an emergency.” Troy’s expression wasn’t judgmental, though Nick could see he wasn’t used to someone being uncomfortable with guns. “If you have to use it, you should know how to shoot really well so you don’t have to shoot again .”

“Oh.” Nick sighed, finally picking up what he was saying. He was silent, contemplating the rest of his sandwich before he nodded. “Alright, when are we going?”

“Now.”

“Now?” Nick watched Troy stand up, walking towards the door without so much as a pause. It made the other scramble for his shoes, he pulled on the militia cargo jacket he had gotten when he joined and followed Troy out of the adobe door. “Are others joining us? I wasn’t the worse there. Don’t you dare say I was.” He said as he caught up with Troy once he had gotten his shoes tied.

“You weren’t.” Troy glanced over his shoulder and back at Nick. “But no one else is joining us. Just me and you.”

Nick wanted to ask why , but instead, he kept silent as he followed Troy. He looked around as they walked, the mountains and hills covered in bright green grass as spring had come rolling through the ranch noticeably. It showed in the way the sun shone brightly above them, casting shadows along the tall grass that brushed along their ankles.

“LA never looked this nice.” Troy glanced back towards Nick as he spoke again. “Spring meant more traffic and the sun setting too quick in the day back home. But out here... it’s nice.”

“It’s quiet.” Troy huffed before he stopped at a field near the back fence of the ranch, quickly the younger male observed it was a bit out of sight from the rest of the ranch. Nick glanced around, noticing a few crates, beer bottles littering the ground near the farthest. “We’ll start with long range, I’m hoping you’re not completely useless when it comes to something closer and moving.”

“Well, I got you from close range,” Nick smirked over at Troy, who rolled his eyes.

“You also missed.”

“Uh, it’s called sparing you, asshole.” Nick pushed Troy as he moved towards the crate closest to them. “And I didn’t miss.”

“You should stop trying to convince yourself that.” Troy teased as he walked towards the middle of the field, setting up empty bottles onto the top of the crate. “You know some people go crazy from that right?”

“From convincing themselves? Wow, Troy.” Nick picked up the rifle from the top of the olive green crate, weighing the heavy weapon in his hands before frowning.

“Yeah, they convince themselves of something and soon they believe it after continuously trying to think it’s real. The mind is a mystery, Nicky. It’s a powerful thing.” Troy peered over as he walked back towards the other, before pointing to the bolt. “It’s already loaded.”

Nick crouched down, leaning onto the crate as he settled onto the warm ground. He positioned the rifle, before Troy crouched with him and observed the way he held it. “The butt should be against your shoulder,” and even as Nick fixed it, the other didn’t seem satisfied. “You’re going to have one hell of an ache if you position it like that.”

Nick frowned as he glared at Troy, the other held his gaze before huffing stubbornly. “Fine.” He waved his hand, and looked towards the farthest crate.

“Alright Troy,” Nick lifted the rifle and looked through the sight as he started to aim. “Let’s make the mind less mysterious, why’d you really invite me out here?”

“I keep thinking about everything that’s happened.” Troy murmured as he put the headphones onto Nick’s head gently, he covered his own as Nick pulled the trigger. He watched with almost a smug look as Nick’s lips pulled back with wince, before he leaned over and adjusted the gun just like it was supposed to be. “I keep thinking of all the bad I’ve done.”

Troy glanced over at Nick, only to see just how close they were. Nick looked away from the targets, to Troy, whose face burned as he pulled away quickly.

“It’s not good to let yourself get stuck in your head.” Nick murmured, following Troy’s movements with his eyes. He quickly looked away, trying to get comfortable again with the heavy weapon in his hands and took aim. “Those things are in the past, you did them and you can’t undo them.”

He aimed for the middle bottle and furrowed his brows as he missed again. “Doesn’t mean you can't work to try and be better.”

“Do you think I can?” Nick glanced over and saw Troy staring off into the field. “Jake gave up on me a long time ago.”

“Sometimes…” Nick sighed as he shifted his weight, before he looked towards the hills. “Sometimes you do too much, and it makes those who care for you hurt. Those who care about you give up trying to make you better because you need to want to be better.” He glanced down as he frowned. “I tried really hard to want that. I didn’t want to hurt Licia anymore, but it took an apocalypse for me to even get remotely better.”

“What if I can’t keep that want?” Troy whispered, making Nick glance over. “I… what I did to them, the Trimbol’s? What if I do it again? What if I lose control?”

“We all have our relapses.” Nick grabbed Troy’s elbow, and squeezed. “Troy, I want you to be better. I won’t give up on you.” 

Troy’s eyes snapped towards Nick, making his face feel a lot hotter than before at how serious he looked. “I owe you that much.”

-

Nick looked at the canteen, watching from the bench as the people set up the canopy tent as the time gets closer for them to come. He quirked his lip, frowning as he saw Coop and Blake carrying out a hefty crate of liquor from the pantry. They smirked at each other and seemed to be up to their usual deviousness.

The male shook his head, looking back at his breakfast. He wasn’t hungry anymore.

“Hey Clark,” He lift his head, thankful for the distraction so he didn’t have to force down another bite. “You should check on Troy. He’s near the greenhouse.” Coop walked over to him with Blake in tow, the two no longer had the crate of booze with them. Nick rose a brow, confused as he squinted against the sunlight.

“Why me?” He asked, then paused. “What’d he do now?” Seemed like the most accurate way to go about this.

“You, because he’s an asshole right now and he won’t threaten you with an axe.” Blake piped up as he sat down, taking Nick’s tray quickly as if expecting him to swipe it back.

“He’s chopping wood. Winter ain’t anywhere near, and we have enough for the fires tonight.” Coop huffed, giving Blake a sour look as the other male started scarfing down the food. “He’s sweet on you, you can convince him to calm down enough for a patrol.”

Sweet on me? Nick ignored the way his face heated up, and instead pushed Coop aside as he stood. The male chuckled low, and deep as Nick brushed his hair out of his face.

“Getting out should be able to let Troy breathe a bit.” Nick murmured and scratched at his neck. “Yeah it’ll do him some good.”

Coop had that same smirk he had before, making Nick roll his eyes. “Shut up. I’m going, and if I lose a hand because of you two I’ll be sure where to direct Madison’s anger.”

“Hey!” Blake shouted as Nick scattered off, snickering like an evil child.

Sweet on me. Nick couldn’t get what Coop said out of his head, he knew the older male was only messing around but it still didn’t help. He couldn’t think of the times where he’d consider Troy being sweet to him, but when it comes to the male, Nick knew that it came differently to him than it did with others. Being sweet was more like being there. Nick felt his face heat up again, and damn has it been doing that for some time, as he thought of all the times where something bad had happened, and Troy had always seemed to be there.

It wasn’t just the bad times, though.

It was the good times, it was the really nice times. The patrols, and drinks and Coops teasing along with Troy’s eye rolls and shit he needs to stop heating up like some personal space heater.

He heard a noise. A loud one that made him look up, snapping out of his thoughts. Nick looked around as the sound filled the air again, a slight slam, crackling.

The brown haired male stepped forward, going down the side of the semi-transparent greenhouse as he made his way towards the noise. He turned the corner with a cautious step, before he saw the predicament Troy was in.

The axe was stuck onto the trunk, chopped wood laying forgotten besides it. The tree trunk was large, cracked from the many years of being used as the flat surface to chop wood, and had many old axes as broken victims to its cracks. Now, Troy stood on the very edge of the trunk, and was grunting in frustration as he tried to pull it out.

Nick paused, and wondered if this was much worse than dealing with an-axe-swinging-Troy instead. Ultimately, he sighed as he moved forward to deal with the male.

“I think you’re being a bit dramatic, Troy.”

“I’m not being dramatic.” Troy grunted out and tugged again at the handle. It didn’t budge. “This little shit won’t come out.”

There was a joke there, but he didn’t think it was the time.

“Just leave it. We’re going on patrol.” Troy nearly slipped, his hands hitting his chest at the sudden release as he stumbled back. “With Coop, Blake and some of the other militia.” Nick added, red faced as Troy gave him a deer-caught-in-headlights expression. The male was almost as bad as Jake when it came to possible alone time , he had to see it first hand when he mistakenly sat with him and Alicia at dinner.

Troy cleared his throat, rubbing his sweaty palms on his jeans. “Alright.” He cringed as his voice cracked, and Nick couldn’t help but think of the puppy love phase when it came to teenagers and relationships. Was that it? Was this something like that?

Nick walked away to distract himself from that can of worms. The older male didn’t seem to realize it, but he was painstakingly obvious with his newfound affection. If Coop was right, maybe it wasn’t even new. He didn’t understand how he didn’t notice it before, but now it seemed even more obvious with the way Troy was slouching as he walked besides him, a bit embarrassed.

“Hey, at least we’re gonna have new people around the ranch. No one will know your awkward teenage years and the braces phase.” Nick spoke to lighten the mood as they walked towards the front gate, where the parked ATV’s waited for them.

“New people..” Troy huffed, before he could start Nick punched his arm.

“Don’t go dehumanizing people now.”

“I’m not doing that. They aren’t new, is what I’m saying. We’re very familiar with them already.” Nick only glared, making Troy scrunch up his nose as he looked away. “We still don’t know if they’re a threat.”

“If they are, we can handle it when it happens. But right now, what we know is that they’re the opposite, and they just want somewhere to live.” Nick huffed his own, before getting into the passenger's seat of one of the ATV’s.

The younger male heard Troy briefing the other militia with the patrol plan, where they’d look for walkers and how they’d extend their search if they didn’t find anything. He frowned, not looking at Troy as he climbed in and got settled.

Troy merely glanced at him, before they set off into the desert.

-

A pack of walkers spotted not even a mile or so out. As Troy says, they would have reached the gates by the morning, which wasn’t good for any of them. Nick was still frowning as they cleared the walkers, dragging their bodies into a pile to burn.

“Can’t let them ruin the soil.”

Nick left it at that. Even as Coop teased him for ‘pouting,’ he didn’t let up. He was frustrated. He felt ignored, especially as Troy talked to the other militia about threats and possible violence like their guests were coming just to exterminate them. They walked towards the ATV’s, Nick looking to see if he could sit with Blake instead but found his car full already. He was stuck with Troy again.

He sighed softly as he walked towards Troy’s ATV, squinting against the hot desert sun.

“What’s got you feeling so blue, Poet?” Troy bumped his shoulder fondly as they walked towards the vehicle. He was so shocked by the nickname that he didn’t even glare when he stumbled.

“I’m no poet.” Nick huffed again, ignoring the heating up of his face as he climbed inside.

“You’ve got the angst of a poet. All dark and grim,” Troy showed a cat-like grin, and it only widened as he noticed Nick’s pout. “Don’t worry Nicky. I like your angsty heart.”

Nick hesitated, as Troy climbed into the vehicle and started it up. There wasn’t a second for conversation as they headed back, just the loud engine of the ATV between the two.

He nearly missed the clouds of sand because he was stuck in his head, looking at the miles of desert and distant mountains.

“Troy!” He spoke, barely hearing his own voice over the engine, and watched as Troy looked towards him, before turning his head to the left. He stopped the ATV with a jerk, ignoring Nick’s glaring as he pulled the binoculars from between them and spotted Taqa’s people.

“Shit.”

Troy.” Nick grabbed Troy’s hand before the male could start the engine again, and didn’t falter when the man sent him a nearly dangerous look. “Let the other militia go ahead of us.” He said softly, before Nick let go when he had Troy’s attention. Troy tried to figure out why pretty quickly, confused before he signaled to the others, who sped off and left trails of their dust.

“You a hand-holder, Nicky?”

“If you go to the ranch right now, you’ll do something dumb.” Nick sighed as he looked away, positive his face was red. He knew that was a bit of a bold move, but he really didn’t want whiplash because of Troy’s reckless driving.

Troy’s eyes were on him again, he knew that. He could feel it, like it was almost calculated , but Nick knew better. It was just the way the older male was, always staring, trying to interpret what the other was thinking. Nick nearly pulled away, feeling like the open vehicle was suddenly a large metal box and he was suffocating — though he didn’t get to as Troy slipped his hand into his own.

“You’re right.” Nicks eyes snapped up. “I probably would.” Troy looked like he was having a hard time admitting that, the tiniest of frowns on his lips. “I don’t trust them.”

“I know.” He’d leave it at that for now, feeling a lot happier.

It had been a shocking discovery how much he’d let Troy get away with if it meant that he’d hold his hand a little bit longer. On the drive back, neither pulled apart their intertwined hands, though he knew they were both too stiff and awkward to move their arms into a much more comfortable position. It was something new, soft, surprisingly as well. Nick couldn’t focus on the beautiful canvas of the San Diego outskirts because with every bump of the car, he could feel Troy’s callused palm against his own.

Then the fucker has the audacity to slide his thumb so softly against his knuckles, and Nick was almost sure he was red. It helped and he didn’t grasp it fully, how soothing it was to have Troy, silent as ever, just let Nick know that this was fine, they were fine. Nick was sinking into his seat, the anxiety that had been set deep into his stance all day seemed to seep out slowly as he just let it be.

-

That first meeting wasn’t good. It went horrible , but not because of Troy. Madison’s presence only seemed to make things more tense, as the stolen glances between Taqa and her made Jake even more overbearing to try and prove he was in charge. There was yelling, a lot of it but the only thing that Troy seemed to contribute into the conversation was Ofelia.

It was obvious he didn’t want her anywhere near them, but with a glance towards Nick, it became a lot clearer. Troy didn’t want Ofelia near him.

So when Taqa said she had to stay, he decided to take the initiative and leave. It caught Nick so off guard, the glance , the worry, he almost didn’t share a glance with Madison to act like she was sending him out too.

Nick took a walk to try and breathe. The male kept to himself, even as Blake waved him over to probably ask too many questions. He couldn’t exactly talk right then, even if he wanted to.

There was a burning in his throat, none that even the hot spring air could give someone. It was almost funny how he had been so okay with forgetting himself —, how his conscious had never been focused on himself, or even his own existence, — but becoming so acutely aware he was in fact a person that people cared for just by a single look.

For the first time in his life, it was like he had finally resurfaced again after being stuck at the bottom of a pool. He was sure it wouldn’t be the last time he would feel that, Nick had a feeling that the older male wasn’t going to let him dissociate from himself any longer — Troy would always be right there to remind him he was right there, and he had people who cared for him, maybe even too much.

Nick discovered something shocking again, and it left the faintest smile on his face as he laid in the grass. Too much. When he thought of too much , his mother didn’t pop into his mind, Troy and his subtle, worried glances did. It was sickeningly sweet.

-

“Nick,” Alicia’s voice broke him out of his trance. The wake had started a while ago, the night upon them and he heard the distant rejoice of the other militia glad to have a night off. He had walked around the camp in the meantime, not getting very far with Troy after finding him by the gravesite. Nick looked up, seeing Jake walk past as Alicia stopped, waiting for him. “Talk to Troy.”

“What?” He rose a brow, confused as he watched her brows furrowed, almost annoyed. “Why me?”

“‘Cause you’re the only one he’ll listen to.” She turned her head and Nick followed, seeing Troy conspiring with Terrance. No, the boy was drunk, feeding on every word the other male said with paranoia. “Listen, Nick,” she sighed softly as she turned back to her older brother. “You two work. Don’t pretend you don’t like him ‘cause you do, you’re scared to admit that you might even consider him a friend. I understand, and that’s why I know you’re the only one who’ll understand when I say that he likes you , and that’s why he’ll listen to you.”

Nick’s eyes widened, feeling winded whilst Alicia pursed her lips, a look of frustration on her face. Though, it turned soft as she looked at his expression, like she was realizing something.

“I’ll talk to him.” Nick shook his head to get the shocked expression off his face. “Goodnight.”

“Night…” Alicia watched him walk past, her eyes squinted slightly. He knew her brain was at it again, putting the pieces together like the little genius she was. He didn’t want to know what she deducted just from an expression, he’d rather stay in the dark.

Nick knew he wasn’t drunk enough to deal with Troy, but he’d rather keep his mothers eyes off the back of his head. So he went straight towards the table without another chance to doubt himself and sat down with a soft huff.

Immediately, he noticed the quietness. Blake keeping his eyes away from Troy’s general direction even if he was sitting right next to the male, as if knowing what Nick was here to do. He probably didn’t want to get scolded in the process, as the militia had taken up the habit of calling Nick ‘ mom’. Honestly, it was a dumb joke, he was hardly a ‘mom friend,’ though he did realize he wrangled the militia like one whenever their ideas of fun included climbing into a giant tire and rolling down a mountainside.

“First Phil,” Nick finally looked up, feeling Coop squirm from besides him. “Then the Trimbols, and they damn near wipe us out.”

Nick frowned. Blake kept his face down, as Troy looked on, staring at Terrance. “Makes you wonder who they’re coming after next.”

“Cut the shit, Troy.” Eyes snapped towards him, the male frowned as he circled the rim of his metal cup with his index. “Stop telling spooky stories around the fire.”

“They got you, Nick.” Troy didn’t lighten up. “Poisoned you. Killed countless others in the camp.” He straightened up.

“Gretchen was good. ” The teen muttered from besides them, and Nick turned his head. Terrance lifted his head, a vulnerable expression on his face as he glanced around the table.

“Yeah, she was.” Nick didn’t personally know her, but he knew how many people were hurt by the loss of the girl. He remembered how she smiled in the morning when serving food. “Alicia is hurt too, but Taqa isn’t the enemy. Not anymore. There’s been too many deaths already, trying to get back at them means that even more will stack up. Jeremiah’s death to even have this truce will mean nothing if we try and get revenge for everyone we’ve ever lost and will lose.”

Blake and Coop share a look. Nick doesn’t look at Troy, doesn’t try and give him a glare that would most likely say don’t pull this now, can’t we just let it go. He knows he won’t, Nick knows that no matter how long or how hard he tries, Troy just won’t.

“We’ll only lose more, we’re prisoners in our own ho—“ Nick stands up abruptly, his hand twitched but he only clenched it at his side. Troy is wide eyed as Nick lifts the other and promptly flips him off, before he power walks up the hill and towards the adobe.

Nick!” Troy had followed him.

He heard footsteps behind him, fast ones, and Nick could feel his own anger bubbling up until he turned and grabbed the older male by the arm, and dragged him up the steps of the adobe. He walked inside, and pushed Troy onto the bed.

The older male squeaked, wide eyed as he said. “Nick!” In a higher pitch than he probably meant, red faced and embarrassed until Nick turned away.

The brown haired male pushed aside the table, his face a hot red in anger, in guilt. Yet, he couldn’t answer the questions Troy was asking, the confusion, as Nick tugged and tugged until the carpet was halfway across the room.

He heaved, his breath uneven as he stared at the holes littering the floor of his home. A constant reminder that he was sleeping on top of a dead man’s old shame.

Nick wiped the sweat from his forehead, and said softly. “He was shooting at ghosts, Troy.” His throat burned again, and he swallowed down the vile. He couldn’t breathe.

The bed groaned, before a hand softly gripped his nape. Then Troy moved around him, quiet, before he pulled the younger male to him.

Softly holding. His thumb caressed the back of his neck, Nick felt like he was going to collapse.

“He was always too selfish to become a hero, Nicky.” Troy said softly, his voice hoarse, as if holding back on all he wants to say. Though, it was enough for them both as Nick sunk into the other, eyes closing as he grasped at the back of Troy’s shirt.

Things would be okay, all he needed to do was keep breathing.

-

Troy opened his eyes to an empty bed. He looked around the room, and quickly registered that it was the adobe.

He blinked, hand spreading and closing over the space where Nick had been.

The brunette sighed softly, breathing in the cool air before sitting up. Troy glanced over to the nightstand, almost expecting a note, instead he saw a book, a pencil marking the page Nick was on.

He smiled softly, glad he had been right to call the younger male Poet. Nick always seemed like the kind of kid that’d rather have a book than anything else.

Troy pulled on his boots, feeling the indentations of his clothes pressing into him, and he scolded himself for falling asleep in the middle of the day. He knew he was too soft on Nick, especially enough for others to notice, but he didn’t think he was to the point where the male could convince him to stay the night. Though he didn’t even try to convince him, Nick had grabbed his hand softly with that one look, like he was waiting for something awful to happen and it made Troy’s heart squeeze. Troy almost couldn’t remember the feel of falling asleep in his own bed, Nick had taken advantage of his soft spot as much as he wanted to, convincing him time after time to just lay down and sleep. So he did and let the male get comfortable, didn’t want to push the boundaries at first, but soon enough Troy just wanted.

He had wanted Nick. So he scooted over, spread out his arms a little more and let him know, with a quiet voice that he wanted to cuddle.

It was one of the moments where he was too embarrassed to say anything even when Nick chuckled. Though, the brown haired male complied and rolled over, tucking himself against the older male with a smirk.

For a long time, Troy listened to Nick’s breathing. Soft, calm, eventually evening out as he fell asleep. Troy felt like he was wide awake, softly caressing the nape of the other male as he contemplated them.

The adobe was quiet, the soft chirping of crickets outside and the distant whistle of wind almost seemed enough to lull him to sleep, but it was Nick’s softly muttering into his neck that convinced them that they would be fine.

“Close your eyes Troy.”

So now, as he walked towards the cracked front door, he listened to the soft noise of chatter and music. After a long shift with Crazy Dog, who surprisingly liked heavy metal just as much as he did, he had trekked up the hill to sit his Nick for lunch, but ended up falling asleep right after.

He rubbed at his face, confusion lacing his expression as he walked out to the patio, and saw Nick sitting down.

A soft smile spread on his face.

“Nick,” he said softly as he sat down besides the male. “What’s got you in your head, poet?”

As always, that little pout met him as he looked over. “A lot of things.” Nick said quietly with a sigh, that same expression sitting on heavily on his eyes as he looked back at the canteen, like he was waiting for something awful to happen.

His lips twitched. He hated it whenever Nick doubted himself, Troy couldn’t stand it when the other was just waiting for someone to ruin his happiness.

“Well, I’ve heard from a friend, you don’t know him, that being stuck in your head is bad for you.” Troy turned to the male as he walked down the patio, and reached out a hand. “Why don’t we do something about that?” He smiled wide, and loved the doe eyed look Nick gave him.

Contemplating his hand, before he grasped it tight into his own. Then they were racing down the hill, towards the party. Troy could feel the lingering guilt from falling asleep on Nick, but he didn’t think that’s what was bothering the other male.

“Hey,” Nick stopped as they got closer to the party, making Troy turn back to the other as he smiled, patient. “I’m glad you stayed.”

“Couldn’t leave you behind, you’re my partner in crime, remember?” He smirked wide, and looked towards the canteen. “Care to dance?” Troy asked as he pointed his thumb towards the lights.

Nick pulled a face. “Dancing in the middle of a party where Diana Glenn can and will ask many personal questions later? So devious, Troy Otto.”

“I was thinking somewhere else.” Confusion swept over him, before he let himself be pulled along and slightly out of sight of the party. Nick recognized the shooting range first, before realizing they were heading even further, until the music was distant and the only lights were the stars. The big house was dark and empty, standing just a hill away as they stopped.

“Troy?” asked Nick softly, staring around before he looked towards Troy. The male wasn’t paying attention to him though, instead pointing out the divet of land between the trees, where they got a clear view of miles and miles of mountains and land outside of the fence.

“I used to spend all day right at this spot, wishing I could get a truck and just—,” Troy paused, before he looked towards Nick. “Leave. Before this all happened.”

He turned his head, his gaze soft as he held Nick’s hand. “And then people died, and for some reason I let Jeremiah convince me that the only way to avenge those people was revenge.”

“But you convinced me it’s okay to not take revenge. That it’s okay to try and convince myself that there could be a brightside, and try to move on.”

“As long as you’re trying, than that means progress.” Nick whispered softly.

“I want to be better now, Nicky.” Troy looked at the shorter male, a smile slowly spreading on his lips. “I never wanted anything for just myself before you.”

And Nick smiled too, knowing that they’d be just fine. Together.