Nicky settles deeper into his hooded sweatshirt. The narrowed view is focusing, and with Joe at his back he doesn't fear ambush. His hoodie is knit cotton, not the quilted linen of the coif and gambeson he’d worn under his mail, and the weight of the rifle rests differently in his hands than the polished wood of a crossbow. It’s different, but the same.
He strips down the rifle to its components and packs it away, listening to the familiar sounds of Joe putting the audio equipment into its case. This is a new routine, only about a hundred years old, but it’s a variation on one that they’ve used far longer. He feels the air move behind him and doesn’t startle when Joe’s hand lands between his shoulderblades.
Yusuf. He leans back into Joe’s touch.
There’s no room for Joe in his sightline, just the building where Nile nodded the all-clear after the last of the protestors disappeared, filtering out a few at a time to make their separate ways home. The police, in their trucks that look more like tanks than anything protectors of peace should be driving, have been sent off to chase false leads by Copley’s agent. (Nicky suspects that this agent is Booker. He has not said as much to anybody yet. Joe would be conflicted, Andy would be angry, and Nile would be sad. Nicky is also angry, but will take the help anyway. This is their job and perhaps he is wrong, after all.)
There is graffiti on the concrete and brick walls, across boards nailed over glass, calling for disarmament, justice for people killed without trial (too many names). Sorrow and rage so great they become bodies in the street. He has seen it so many times.
“Nicky,” Joe says, hand warm through the hoodie. “We are no longer needed here.”
“Yes, yes, your pardon,” he says vaguely.
Joe’s hand is there, in his sightline, touching his cheek to turn his head.
“Niccolò,” he says, and Nicky’s vision is caught by Joe’s face instead of the city, and he’s free of his musings, recentered like a heliotrope orienting on the sun.
Joe drops a kiss on top of his hood. “You are. Time to drop off the radar again. I think Copley has found us a place, but Nile was very adamant about separate bedrooms so we will at least have some space to ourselves.”
“She is not used to us yet,” Nicky says, amused. “Give her a few hundred years.”
“Then she will just behave like Andy and roll her eyes at us and leave us to our own devices for months and I will spoil you terribly and you will find me music and new food to try.” Joe bumps his shoulder. “Come along, the job isn’t done ‘til we’re out.”
Nicky nods. “I worry. They were attacking reporters and medics. That’s never a good sign.”
“It’s not. We can’t overthrow their government for them, though. They have to fix it from the inside.” Joe sighs, and he is weary for a moment. “We do what we can.”
“We protected the protestors,” Nicky agrees. They hadn’t shot anyone, but Nile and Andy had shifted barricades to redirect traffic away from the marchers, he had set off a flare to scare some opportunists away from a small grocery and shot out some traffic cameras before they could catch faces for identification, and Joe had kept a line on the police’s movements to relay them down to the women, so that the protestors could avoid being bottled up and beaten, arrested, or worse.
Nicky slides out onto the fire escape, Joe close behind him, and they make their way to the ground.
They meet up at the safehouse that looks like an AirBnB. Joe steps accidentally on purpose on a listening device in the kitchen while they drift around each other making dinner. Nile is exhausted, skin tight around the eyes, but her eyes are bright and fierce and Nicky catches her in a hug as he passes. She is warm and smells of perspiration, coconut hair product, and faintly of smoke, and she hugs him back. Joe smiles at them and steals the paring knife out of Nicky’s hand to continue slicing up tomatoes for the salad. Nicky releases her and spins, catching the knife again and passing Nile into Joe’s arms to be lifted off her feet with a surprised laugh. Nicky smiles at Andy, and she menaces him with a carrot.
Dinner is a quiet thing. It's 3 a.m. by the time they can eat, winding down from the evening's stressors, and they don't talk much. Andy absconds to the bedroom with a whetstone and a pint of pistachio custard afterwards, and Nile bids them a sleepy good night. She's clearly hitting an adrenaline crash. Joe sticks his head into the corridor to see that she makes it to her room, then turns back to shoo Nicky to theirs.
Nicky goes without worrying about the dishes. They bump hips in the bathroom, cleaning their teeth and rinsing the last dust of the day off their faces.
Joe is lovely, hair still a little flattened from his cap, and Nicky tucks his face into the curve of Joe's nape, breathing him in. Nicky presses his hands to Joe's chest to feel his heartbeat. He still smells of sweat too, but clean underneath it. There's no tang of blood around him; neither of them have died recently.
"Do you mean to do anything besides smell me?" Joe asks fondly.
"Mhm," he agrees, and nips at the thin skin over Joe's spine. One hand he traces down the warmth of Joe's stomach. "This."
With the other, he draws Joe's head up to expose his throat and sucks a little, quick-fading bruise there. Joe breathes out a moan full of sweetness as Nicky strokes him, the endearments falling from his lips like honeyed light, and he presses back into Nicky's embrace. Nicky's hips roll, enough to tease them both, but he focuses his attention on Joe's throat and the heat of him in Nicky's hand.
"You give me such joy," he murmurs against Joe's throat. "Thank you for bringing me back to you."
"Always," Joe pants, pushing into his hand, grasping at the chair back to steady himself. "Ah Nico, my Niccolò. You are my path in the trackless land."
"Follow where I lead you, then," Nicky says, heart full of him. "Yusuf. My own." He nips at Joe's ear, his throat, and holds him as he shakes, as his balance wavers and he slumps bonelessly back against Nicky. Nicky guides them to the bed, after strongly considering dropping straight to the floor. But the bed is not so far and much more comfortable.
Nicky nuzzles into Joe's beard, making him laugh and pull Nicky up for a kiss. "Come on, sit up for me," Joe says, scooting up the bed to prop himself up on pillows, and drags Nicky, unprotesting, into the vee of his legs, forehead tipped against Joe's shoulder. He opens Nicky's fly and his hands - gentle and calloused from sword and gun - are all that Nicky can see or feel, his voice the only sound until Nicky's own exclamation, muffled in the soft cotton of Joe's shirt.
This is his constant.
Joe is the light in every dark place.