Fandom: The Old Guard
Summary: One night with Joe and Nicky in a tent during the Napoleonic Wars.
Notes: Written for day 14 of my 23 Ficlets project to celebrate my 23rd anniversary in the community
As far as sleeping arrangements went, a soldier couldn’t do much better than an officer’s tent. Andy’s cot was on one side and Joe and Nicky had pushed theirs together on the other. That didn’t leave much room for the desk, wooden trunk, and weapons stash, but compared to some places they’d called home over the centuries, this was downright luxurious.
Joe sat on Nicky’s cot with half a deck of cards spread out in front of him. The French called the game Reussite, success. To others, it was Kabal or Kabala, meaning secret knowledge. The British, they called it Patience. Considering all the variations, all the names made sense. But Patience seemed right for how Joe felt right now. He didn’t like being left behind to wait, even though he knew it didn’t make much sense for them all to go. Outnumbering the enemy wasn’t exactly the right impression to make.
Joe used one hand to flip over cards, placing them in rows based on number and moving those to stacks based on suits. He liked how it was simultaneously both mindless and challenging; kind of like fighting, actually.
Nicky sat on the ground, legs bent at the knees, leaning back against the length of the cot. He had a book propped open against his thighs, reading slowly to savor every word. Books weren’t exactly easy to come by, and they had no idea how long they were going to have to wait. Nicky was no stranger to patience either.
Joe had his other hand on Nicky’s head, fingers stroking and massaging his scalp in absentminded patterns practiced throughout the years. He could feel the man’s head rise and fall slightly with each occasional sniffle. But Nicky made no effort to stop or even acknowledge them. It must have been a particularly engrossing book.
Abandoning both his cards and the petting, Joe decided to take action. Leaning back and then reaching far out to the side, he just managed to get ahold of his uniform jacket. He pulled it off the trunk and over to him, only to find it was actually Nicky’s. No matter, as he didn’t intend to wear it. He slid his hand into the sleeve pocket and pulled out a handkerchief that was standard. Then he held that out, dangling it like a fish on a line in-between Nicky’s face and the book.
“White flag? All right. I accept your surrender. What’s that for?”
“For your nose, Nicolo.”
“You’ve been sniffling for an hour.”
“Oh, trust me, you have.”
Nicky took the handkerchief and snuffled experimentally into it before giving it a proper blow. Joe’s hand was right back where it had been, rubbing the top of his head. “Maybe you’re right,” Nicky relented.
Silence fell between them. Nicky went back to his book, handkerchief held in one hand while he turned pages with the other. Joe returned to his game, though he must have bumped the bed during his lunge for the jacket, because some of them had slid out of place. After spending a few moments trying to correct them, he gave up and gathered them into the deck to shuffle and start over again. He knew a thing or two about starting over. They both did.
Now that he had been made aware of it, he couldn’t not notice it. Nicky threw his head back, cheeks a little pinker than they ought to have been. “Think I might be getting sick.”
At any given moment, about a quarter of the camp was sick with something or other, and Joe had a feeling it was only going to get worse as the days grew colder and the nights grew unbearable. He was glad to have Nicky to keep him warm and always happy to do the same in return. “Come, lie down with me.”
Nicky put his book back in the trunk and snuffed out the candle as Joe rounded up all the playing cards. He hadn’t won a game all evening, and he wondered if maybe he was playing it wrong. It was just as well he switch to something at which he excelled. When Nicky lay down with his back to him, he pulled the blankets up to cover them both and then wrapped his arm around him from behind. The metal cot frames made it hard to be as close or as comfortable as both of them would like, but Nicky still relaxed easily when he was in Joe’s arms.
Before he could be prompted to do so, Nicky brought the handkerchief up to his nose. But he surprised Joe when he suddenly sneezed into it instead of just sniffing again. “tChoo!” Patience. Waiting. Joe understood it better than anyone. “Ehttchoo!”
Joe whispered a blessing, only when Nicky finally lowered the handkerchief and it looked like there wouldn’t be a third sneeze just yet.
Joe hated when Nicky was sick. Sure, the man wasn’t going to die from a little sniffle, or anything else for that matter. But seeing the man he loved in any sort of distress was physically painful. And that was even before he inevitably caught whatever Nicky was suffering from.
“Think you’ll be able to sleep?” Joe asked, rubbing his hand in a circle on Nicky’s chest, as if he could clear up the congestion that way.
“Depends if Andy finds him.”
“Mmm,” Joe agreed. He saw the man’s face in his dreams every time he fell asleep, too. A French uniform only went so far to identify him. They knew what side of the war he was on, which was a start, but there were battles raging on multiple fronts and plenty of Boney’s troops were on the move, too. After more than a week of the dreams, Nicky had seen a mountain behind the man and Andy had seen a few words of a dispatch. It still wasn’t much, but Andy had a way of making the impossible look easy. He loved that about her. “Well, when we wake up from the dream, I’ll be right here to help you fall back to sleep.”
The reassurance was silly, really. Of course there was nowhere else he would be. But if it still made his Nicky smile, even after all this time, he was going to damn well say it.
“Th-thanks-ehh-HTTChoo! H’shooo! Huh… hettxshoo!” A violent shiver
“Hand it back,” Joe said after murmuring a blessing into Nicky’s ear. “You tuck your arms under the blankets and stay warm. I’ll take care of your nose for you.”
Nicky passed the handkerchief back and turned his head as he did, receiving an immediate kiss on the side of his mouth. He sighed, filled with contentedness and love and trust and everything else they had shared for so long. Sometimes, it didn’t seem fair to be blessed with both such a long life and such a fierce, undying love, but neither of them were complaining.
“httChoo! Sniff!” Not even when one of them was sick. Patient, Joe kept the handkerchief pressed to Nicky’s face, hearing the man’s breath hitch a few more times before “h’Shoo! Huh… hut-Choo! Sniff!”
Joe wiped his nose for him, just the way he liked. He had his back to the side of the tent, facing the flap that was tied shut. He could feel the blades beneath the lump of what passed for a pillow, not expecting any problems but willing to take any chances. They always slept facing the door, and Nicky always slept so he was between any danger and Joe. But if he wasn’t feeling well, Joe wasn’t going to expect him to be as quick with a weapon as usual. He’d still fight to the death to protect Joe, though. He had done so on numerous occasions.
“Do you ever wish we’d had a chance to dream of each other?” Nicky asked, already sounding sleepy.
“You mean, before we met in person and killed each other?”
Joe smiled. “You’re the man of my dreams, whether you were in them or not.”
Nicky’s body shook a little as he chuckled softly. “Incurable romantic. Sniff!”
Joe wiped his nose again. Kissed the back of his head. Tightened the hold around him. “Your incurable romantic.”
“Mine,” Nicky agreed. It was the last word he said before he managed to drift off.