"You're an incurable romantic," Nicky says, and though his expression doesn't so much as twitch, Joe can hear the laughter languishing between the words, can feel it on his tongue and rubbing up against his teeth when Nicky meets him halfway to smear a kiss against his mouth.
Everything—the toddlers with guns who believe they have the upper hand, the jerk and bump of the van as it takes them to some undisclosed location where they will most likely be tortured, and even the lingering effects of the shit they used to knock them out—falls away at the first touch of Nicky's lips to his, the way it always does. For a moment, it's just the drag and pressure between them, a tumble through the ocean that brought them together lifetimes ago, and his heart trips a little at the press of tongue against his bottom lip. Helpless, he pushes forward for a better taste. When he said Nicky's kiss still thrilled him even after millennia, it wasn't an exaggeration.
But there are hands digging into his arms and his collarbone, forcing him back and away before he gets a chance to lick inside, and Joe rolls his eyes, thwarted. Across from him, held by his own set of soldiers, Nicky cranes his neck to give the man nearest him an unimpressed glare, and Joe can't look away from the long, vulnerable line of his bared throat, which begs Joe for his mouth.
Gimme a few minutes, he tells it silently, then gives his wrists a thoughtful tug. They used a zip tie, but it's made from something stronger than the kind found at home improvement stores. Tightening the binding and then bringing his hands down hard won't be enough to break it. Which is fine. He's done more with less.
"Pull that shit again and I'm putting a bullet in your head," the infant snarls.
Nicky laughs, breathlessly amused. "What will that do? Will it make you feel better about the sting of your mortality?"
"The fuck did you just say—" The soldier jerks Nicky's head back just enough that the hard line of Nicky's mouth twitches in discomfort, and Joe feels the world get smaller and blurrier until it's gone entirely, leaving him completely still. A dolly zoom made real. Instead of the rush of the road beneath them, he hears the creak of wooden wheels and the stench of blood and fire. He blinks once and the soldiers are no longer dressed in their black ops armor, but clad in white with the crimson mark of their God splashed across their chests. He blinks again and it's gone, but it's the same righteousness in their eyes, the same hunger to claim something that doesn't belong to them, driven only by greed and whatever cause they've conscripted themselves to.
His hand closes around air, but for a blip of a moment there's the press of a memory in his palm, a hilt he longs for.
"If you don't shut the fuck up, I'm—"
"They used to say it feared me."
At that, the soldier pauses, mid-threat, and turns a stare on Joe that is more confused than enraged. "What?"
"It was a joke at first, something they'd shout every time I came back without a scratch on me. But then it became a mantra, and then it became an indelible truth: Death lives in fear of Yusuf al-Kaysani."
Around them, in their military grade armor which is so much better than what he once wore to defend the southern wall of his city, the soldiers—children playing dress-up, really, because they would never have lasted ten minutes under his command, and no doubt each of them would have turned tail and fled upon seeing the towers built from ships wheeling closer and closer to bring upon them butchery unlike anything they'd ever experienced, all in the name of God—sit up a little straighter and hold onto him a little harder.
He leans back into their grip and shifts until he can sprawl more comfortably on the floor. It's one of those grooved ones meant to catch mud and rainwater and move it toward the doors. Soon it'll shunt something else that way.
"Although that's ridiculous," Joe says, light as air. "Death doesn't fear anything or anyone."
Nicky catches his eye and smiles, the flirty line of his throat flushed pink up to his chin. "I could have believed it that day. You were like a hero out of the stories my mother told me as a boy. I remember seeing you wading ankle-deep in blood, your blade kissing open throats and bellies indiscriminately so long as they bore the cross. No one could touch you. No one was fast enough. I watched you cut down a thousand men before you set your sights on me, and when your sword met mine, the blow had your entire heart behind it, and I feared you would dismantle Godfrey's entire army single-handedly."
He punctuates that by letting his legs fall open, just enough to get Joe's blood up with the memory of the fourth time he came back that day to see his bright-eyed opponent doing the same, and how each death brought them closer until they discarded their swords entirely, deeming them useless, and fought with rocks clutched in their fists, then nothing in their fists but the other's throat, noses crumpling and teeth breaking under every hit. And then Yusuf al-Kaysani got right in between the thighs of Nicolo di Genova, there against the walls of Al-Aqsa, and rutted him into a littler death so beautiful he looked like a work of art. They kissed until they couldn't taste the blood they'd spilt. They kissed because the man who wore the cross clutched at him desperately, whispered Deus le vult, and then pulled his enemy back in for another go.
Nicky bares his teeth in a grin that looks like an open wound, and Joe wonders at a universe that has given them so much time. Deus le vult, indeed. And then he laughs a little to think Copley knows exactly what they are and still locked them in with these boys.
"No," Joe breathes, holding Nicky's gaze, rolling his shoulders at the feel of the old bloodlust waking up in the deep set of his spine. Across from him, slowly, Nicky sits up a bit, plants his feet firmly on the floor, his legs locked and ready, and rolls his head a little to flash the prize waiting for Joe at the end of this with a wink. "No, Death fears no one. But sometimes, it forgets to keep an eye on you."
In the end, despite their armor and the power of their guns, their captors aren't prepared for either of them. No one ever is. Joe saves the mouthy infant for last, though, as a little treat to himself. As the man falls to the floor with the familiar sound of snapping vertebrae, Joe slots up against Nicky, presses him back against the other bench and the bodies, their hands still bound between them, and takes his taste of that beautiful throat.
"I may be an incurable romantic," Joe says, pausing to bite at the tendon beneath his tongue to the tune of Nicky's delighted gasp, "but you are a shameless—"
The van begins to slow, signaling they're about to make the next move on this unexpected journey, and Nicky pulls back and slides to the floor with a sigh. "We will continue this later."
Joe sinks onto the bench behind him, thwarted yet again, but still leans in for one last thrill before the doors open.