Nick watched the sky until its colour matched the fire in front of him. The metal pot above it pulled his attention away from the sky when it began to vibrate violently. Grabbing a cloth, he lifted the pot from the fire and set it to the side to cool.
Earlier today, Nick had found a box of herbal tea in the back of the pantry. Troy said that he could take it if he wanted to. When Nick refused, the man insisted, saying he wasn’t fond of that type of tea but he didn’t want to see it go to waste.
Nick carefully poured the water from the pot into his thermos, holding the string of the tea bag out to the side. The sun had yet to fully set and Nick was looking forward to relaxing with his tea on his porch after a long day. Setting the pot down, his mind unintentionally wandered back to Troy.
It was no secret Troy was unhappy with the integration of the ranch and the Nation. In fact, he had taken every opportunity to make himself vocal about it. But now that it has been almost a month into the convergence, Troy had calmed down considerably. It could be that all of his rage was released in the almost-firefight that took place after Taqa and his people moved in. Or it could also be attributed to the tentative relationship Nick had begun forming with him. Either way, things were looking up for Troy on the ranch. He provoked less fights, sat with the former Nation members, listened to advice, and slept mostly through the night.
Nick relaxed back in his chair, hands warming around his thermos. He watched the lowering sun cast the sky from orange to red. The sun finally set, casting dark shadows on the fading light on the clouds.
Nick’s tea was too hot to drink, but he still had plenty of time to wait before Troy said he would come pick him up. The ex-militia leader was back at the main house wrapping up meetings with his brother and Taqa. They recently allowed him to sit in on the meetings again, and there was talk of Troy officially being reinstated Militia leader again.
When the tea had cooled down, Nick took a sip from his thermos. The taste was subtle, tasting like airy honey with an earthy aftertaste. After a few more sips, he decided he liked it.
Tires rolled to a stop on the gravel beside his house. The driver of the truck honked the horn impatiently and Nick rolled his eyes. He grabbed the lid to his thermos and headed to the truck.
“That the tea from the pantry?” Troy asked once Nick pulled himself into the car. The truck’s AC was a nice contrast to the dry air outside.
“Yeah. It’s nice,” Nick responded. “You’re here early.”
“Taqa wrapped things up quickly.” He pulls back out onto the dirt road he’d been carving over the month with his truck. “Jake and him were finalizing that deal with the dam. Wasn’t really much more to do than that, but…”
Nick quirked a brow. “But?”
“Militia’s mine again.”
Nick didn’t miss the cocky grin Troy flashed when he said that. “Are you surprised? You’ve been acting like you never lost your position.”
“Nah, not surprised. Just took them awhile to catch up with me.”
Nick drank some of his tea to hide his smile. It was probably easier for Taqa and Jake to say they’ve reinstated Troy by choice rather than revealing they couldn’t stop him. Besides, the militia never really did listen to anyone else but Troy.
“We’re not going to the big house?” Nick asked when Troy took a different turn than usual in the darkness. Troy clicked his tongue.
“Told ya I had a surprise—besides, gotta celebrate my reinstatement,” he said teasingly. If Troy’s idea of celebration involved his bed, he wouldn’t have taken the opposite turn.
Nick hummed. “Alright then.” Troy reached across the console and gave Nick’s thigh a reassuring squeeze.
When Troy had attempted a one-man rebellion from his home at the start of the month, it was Nick who stayed in there to stop him. Nick hadn’t been sure as to why at that time, but he couldn’t let Taqa kill Troy. Talking him down hadn’t worked. As soon as the first shots fired Troy was a sheer frenzy. He ordered Nick to take his gun—to fight with him. Nick refused and Troy questioned why. His erratic energy was focused on Nick, demanding why he cared then. Why was he there with him in that house if it wasn’t to fight. Nick couldn’t answer verbally, not to Troy or himself. So he grabbed the man’s face and kissed him.
And they both lived.
Troy spent the next 24 hours locked in a metal box in the desert sun. Nick had thought it was cruel, but it was better than death or exile so he stayed quiet. Troy quickly rebounded from the heatstroke when he was released.
Despite being barred from the Militia until proven fit by both Taqa and Jake, Troy had dawned on his fatigues and pulled up outside Nick’s home the next day. Nick ended up running a patrol with Troy around the perimeter of the ranch. They spoke about mediocre events on the ranch, almost as if as if the past 48 hours had never happened until the end of their shift. Troy drove back out to Nick’s hut to save him the walking distance. They both were unsure on how to end their day, so Troy simply leaned over and pressed his lips to Nicks. He had pulled away and broken the silence with “See you tomorrow, Nicky?” and Nick was gone.
They fell into a rhythm after that night. Nick never labeled what he had with Troy, and Troy never brought it up. Nick has had a lot of time to think since the firefight, and now he knew the reason why he stayed in that house. He just wasn’t sure if Troy himself knew.
“Where are we going then?” Nick brought himself back to the present.
Troy chuckled. “What part of surprise do you not understand?” Nick scoffed and finished his tea. He screwed the lid securely on the thermos and discarded it in the cup holder.
They drove in silence for a long while until Troy crested a hill, slowing down. He stopped his truck far out from the main settlement of the ranch. Nick couldn’t see his hut or the trailers in the darkness despite their elevation on the hill. What he could see, however, was the vast expanse of light coming from the sky.
Troy hopped out the truck and Nick followed suit.
“Ever been stargazing?” Troy smiled. Nick shook his head, keeping his eyes on the patterns in the sky.
“City kid, too much light pollution in LA. You’d have to go far out from it and we never had the time,” he responded, voice soft. Troy walked to the back of the truck and unlatched the tailgate.
“Seems like a poet like you would get lost in the stars.” The gate fell to reveal a large nest of blankets and pillows. “I used to come out here a lot, before, and just watch.”
Troy lifted himself into the bed of the truck and offered Nick his hand. Nick took it and let himself be pulled in. Troy helped him clear space for both of them to lie back.
“How often would you come out here?” Nick broached the silence. Troy kept his eyes up.
“When I could. Mostly during the winter; there wasn’t too much to do on the ranch then. Jake bought me a constellation book for my 12th birthday. I taught myself everything I could about the sky. The stars, the planets, myths and legends. All of it. I loved it all. I wanted to go up there and see it all.”
Troy paused, shifting his gaze with uncertainty before answering with a shrug. “I guess I just grew up. Which is good right? With the end of times and all.”
“You could be free up there, instead of being trapped down here.”
“And miss meeting you?” Troy tilted his head to meet Nick’s eyes, and Nick instantly felt too intimate. He broke the gaze in favour of watching the stars. “Besides, I left school too early to have any hopes of going to space.”
Troy chuckled at that.
Nick focused properly on the expanse above him. It was breathtaking. What he said about LA was true, but here the ranch was spared from all the industrial pollution, providing a clear doorway to the heavens. Clusters of yellow and white lights shimmered across the expanse. A spectacular ravine of blue and purple split down the middle, continuing in bursts before fading. Nick found himself entranced by it.
“Never seen the Milky Way before, Nicky?”
“Only in pictures. I told you about LA.”
Troy sat up briefly to gather some pillows under his head. Unhappy with his arrangement, he proceeded to repeatedly beat them down. Nick rolled his eyes at him.
“Where did you get all these blankets?” Nick asked.
“I stole them from Jake. He was too busy planning the water trade and ignoring me.”
Nick lifted a Pokémon blanket inquisitively, “Jake had all this?” Troy paused his nesting to look at childish blanket. He smirked.
“I took everything from the big house. Every single room. Now stop asking questions and enjoy the stars Nicky,” Troy flopped down, finally content with his pillows. Nick covered himself with the Pokémon blanket and turned into Troy’s side.
“Alright, but one last question.” Nick shushed him when Troy groaned.
“Is this a date?” Nick asked.
“Shut up and look at the stars,” Troy grumbled after a moment of silence. Nick hummed to himself. He’s on a date with Troy Otto. Nick turned to look up at the sky, following the crack of purple with his eyes. Then it hits him. Holy shit, he’s on a date with Troy Otto. Feeling himself heat up, Nick kept his eyes up, willing himself to focus on distant planets rather than the man next to him who just wrapped his arm around his waist.
Sure Troy and him were engaged in some kind of relationship, but they never attached feelings to it. Nick was afraid if he vocalized anything, Troy would split. Nick had always wanted them to take a step in the romantic direction, but never expected Troy to want to. But here he was taking him stargazing in his favourite childhood escape, not explicitly saying he was on a date with Nick, but it sure as fuck seemed that way. Nick traded tunnel visioning on the night sky in favour of chancing a glance at Troy. Too bad Troy had the same idea.
Nick expected Troy to fluster at being caught staring, but he was uncharacteristically calm. “You know Nicky, every movie has taught me that you’re supposed to be so awestruck by the stars that you ask, ‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ and me — being the lead actor, of course — would say, ‘Yes it is.’ when in fact, I am watching you.”
“I’m sorry I ruined your date planning. Should I go back to staring at the sky?” Nick offered. And save your dignity , he amused himself.
Nick smiled softly at the confirmation that yes, this is a date , and trained his eyes back up. He fully intents on staring aimlessly, but that change when a light shot across the sky. His eyes widened. “What was that?”
Troy followed his gaze as more lights shot across. “Oh? Meteor shower. Shooting stars,.” H he responded apathetically.
“There’s so many! We have to make a wish.”
Troy raised a brow, “Thousands of rocks enter Earth’s atmosphere daily, it’s hardly —” Nick shushed him.
“Wish. Now.” Nick watched Troy sigh, but he closed his eyes anyway and seemed to comply. He opened his eyes after a moment.
Nick smiled and settled back down. “Yep.” He focused on a particularly long meteor and closed his eyes. Nick took a deep breath and let it out as he opened his eyes. Troy rolled onto his side.
“What did you wish for?” The older man asked. Nick shot him a teasing look.
“It won’t happen if I tell you. It’s a rule.”
“You believe in that?”
“It’s implausible.” Troy scoffed.
Nick shrugged, taking a serious tone he began “Stranger things have happened. I mean— look at us. One chance in millions, maybe even billions that our planet exists. That life exists. Let alone you and I. And the dead rising? You know how insane that would have sounded this time one year ago?”
Troy hummed in agreement. So much recently had seemed impossible. From the dead rising overnight, all the way to the ranch making peace with the Nation.
“All I’m saying is it’s amazing that we even exist. So who’s to say a little miracle isn’t plausible? Rarer things have occurred,” the smile Nick offered Troy was earnest.
Perhaps being exposed beneath the endless expanse of everything had made Nick feel a bit existential, but he meant what he’d said. The odds were so slim for him to even be breathing right now. Everything that had to go right in the universe for this moment to happen, and everything that had to go wrong. They were living the impossible, so who’s to negate miracles when they themselves were one?
The atmosphere felt heavy now. Charged with potential as Troy seemed to ponder Nick’s analysis.
“I guess you’re right,” Troy agreed, voice soft, “How rare it is that we exist in this mess.” Troy rolled to lay on his back and watch the stars, his eyes thoughtful as he scanned the abyss.
Nick watched him briefly before looking back up as well. The shower was still going strong, the rocks burning strong enough to streak far across the night sky. It was peaceful watching this, Nick decided. It was almost comforting to know the universe was progressing as normal even while Earth fell into chaos.
“I love you, Nicky.”
Nick stopped breathing and looked sharply to Troy, eyes wide. Troy was watching him, another rare soft smile on his lips as the lights from the sky illuminated him faintly. Nick didn’t know how to respond. A thousand thoughts ran through his mind as he scanned Troy’s vulnerable eyes for any hint of decievement. There was none.
“You don’t have to say anything. Just you talking about how rare it is for us to be here got me thinking. Anything could happen anytime, really. We could die tomorrow, the sun could explode, the apocalypse could stop, or nothing could happen. But we’re here now, and we might not have another now so—” Troy paused, voice faltering slightly, “so I figured, what's one more miracle?
Nick couldn’t decide on a reaction, so he settled on an honest to god smile. “You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for you to say that.”
Troy blinked away his daze, “Wait—”
Nick cut him off with a soft kiss. He managed to utter “I love you too,” quietly before kissing Troy again, this time more passionately with the attempt to convey all the emotions racing through him. Troy responded graciously and lifted his hand to rest on Nick’s throat, keeping him in place.
Troy split them after a moment. “What do you mean you’ve been waiting?” Nick looked into Troy’s eyes, the purple from the universe bouncing off the blue.
“Why do you think I stayed in that house with you? Or why I fought Taqa when he wanted to exile you? Or why I still go on patrols with you even though it’s the most boring shit? I care about you, Troy.” Troy still had seeds of doubt in his eyes, and Nick clarified.
“I love you, Troy.”
Troy made a desperate noise and gripped Nick, forcing their mouths together and flipped them over. Nick returned the kiss with equal vigor and wrapped his arms around Troy’s neck. Troy faded the kisses into pecks. “I’ve never had someone love me before, I don’t know what to do.”
“Just be yourself.” Nick pulled Troy back into the kiss, and Troy complied happily. As Troy’s weight pinned him down, Nick found himself grateful for the blankets and pillows sparing him from the harsh steel bed of the truck.
“I’ve been told being myself is a bad option,” Troy countered as he moved to bite down Nick’s neck. Nick threaded a hand into Troy’s curly hair and tugged.
“Too bad, I like you that way.” He grinded up against Troy’s hips, drawing out a hiss from him.
The thing about deserts is the high temperature during the day is contrasted sharply during the night. Nick found himself quite chilly, luckily, Troy made to warm him up. Winding down, Nick stuffed pillows beside Troy and covered them with a few blankets.
“Aren’t you all sweaty?” Troy asked once Nick settled against his chest.
“Yeah but it’s cold out and all the sweat will just make me even colder soon.” Nick had discarded the majority of his clothing at the foot of the truck. These blankets and Troy were his only defenses.
“Why are you making me suffer too?” Nick hummed and pressed his face into Troy’s neck.
“‘Cuz we’re in this together.” Troy scoffed but didn’t respond, instead he tucked Nick into his side and watched the sky. The meteor shower had long stopped, but there was endless interest hidden in the lights.
Nick pulled away slightly to watch Troy. He still had the gleaming look in his eyes at the sky that Nick could imagine him having a decade ago. Troy would always wonder about the stars, Nick realized. It was okay if Troy would always look up, he had Nick down here to watch his back.
Troy slid his eyes over lazily.
“I’m the lead actor now.”
Nick laughed as he evaded Troy’s protests.