They drank and smoked and talked. Jean called him his partner-in-crime. They remembered the good old days, and the less good days. Everything was as usual, until Jean leaned over and said, "You should come home with me."
"Pinch me," Nino said.
"Why?" Jean said.
"Just do it," Nino said, and Jean shrugged and pinched him. "Ow."
Jean laughed. "What did you expect was going to happen?"
"I thought I was going to wake up."
"Nino," Jean said, his voice as warm as the honey Lotta liked to put on her toast. He dragged his chair to the other side of the table, right next to Nino, and ran his hand down Nino's back, pressing in hard just where the bullets had. Nino winced, visibly. "Everything about this is real."
Nino went home with Jean.
Jean kissed like he did everything else, lazily, but with intent. Nino thought he might be bored, or going along with this because he thought it was what Nino wanted, but Jean hardly let Nino up for air, clutching at Nino's arms whenever Nino tried to move away. Their kisses got longer, less gentle, and Nino felt like he was falling over the edge of something that didn't have a soft landing at the bottom.
Nino laughed to himself, a little, right against Jean's mouth. That wasn't right: Nino had been falling for a long time already.
"Something funny?" Jean asked, crawling into Nino's lap. He wasn't angry that Nino was distracted; he just wanted to be let in on the joke.
Nino shook his head. He ran his hands up and down Jean's thighs because he could. Jean gasped, so Nino dug his nails in. "Just happy," Nino said.
"You should come to bed with me," Jean said.
"You've always had the best ideas."
Nino learned to be careful with Jean years ago. At first, it was just to protect himself, to try to keep the little bit of his life that was just his, the part where he was just a guy in his mid-twenties trying to get through each day, the part that thought pretending to be a high school student, pretending to befriend not-quite-royalty was ridiculous.
Then they became real friends and Jean depended on him. More importantly, Nino depended on Jean. But he knew he had to keep Jean at a distance, while carefully pretending he wasn't. He learned to push down what he wanted in service to his country. He needed to stay near Jean, be close to Jean, but he couldn't take everything he wanted. It got harder. Everything he wanted bubbled closer and closer to the surface the longer they knew each other, and Nino hadn't wanted to be careful anymore.
And now he didn't have to be.
They hardly got into Jean's bedroom before Nino was pushing Jean onto the bed, tugging the buttons of his shirt open and pulling his jeans off and away.
"Nino, Nino," Jean kept saying, his arms going around Nino's neck as Nino licked a line up his neck and bit down on his ear. "You should touch me."
Nino remembered the first time Jean got a girlfriend, how he'd stumbled over his words as he asked Nino for advice, and Nino gave it because they were friends and that's what friends did, even though he burned with jealousy. Nino was the only reason Jean knew to be generous, to get her off first before worrying about himself, and later when there was a guy, a guy who wasn't Nino, Jean said Nino's advice worked there, too.
That night, after Jean went home, Nino got himself properly drunk and thought about how different things could have been if Nino could have just showed him instead of told him.
Nino got his hand around Jean, long strokes up and down, learning and watching Jean's face, while Jean dug his fingers into Nino's shoulders and shook and cried out."Shh," Nino said, lips against Jean's ear. "Don't wake up your sister, Jean.""Who can be quiet when you say my name like that?" Jean gasped and laughed and came all over Nino's fingers, so quick, like he'd been waiting a long time for that to happen and couldn't hold back anymore. It was all right, though. Nino would get him off again later.
Jean kept kissing Nino after, open-mouthed presses, interfering with Nino's efforts to reach over for the tissue box on Jean's table so he could clean up. Nino took back what he'd thought about Jean being lazy – he wasn't lazy, he was just slow to ramp up, like a ball of snow rolling down a hill in Birra, getting bigger and bigger and overwhelming everything in its path. Nino was overwhelmed now.
"Off, off," Jean insisted, flicking open the buttons on Nino's shirt, one by one, and pushing the material off his shoulders and onto the floor. "Sit up," Jean said."Bossy.""Yes," Jean said. He smiled. "I do have royal blood, after all."
Nino smiled back, smiled huge because he couldn't help it. He didn't want to do anything but smile from now on. "I thought we were ignoring that."
Jean got up on his knees and shuffled around Nino, settling down behind him, his chest warm against Nino's back. He put his palms flat against Nino's stomach and dragged his hands up and up. Nino caught one and pulled it to his mouth, kissing each of Jean's fingers. "I can be the king here," Jean said. "You're fine with that, aren't you?"
"Ah," Nino said, letting Jean's hand go, "you know me too well."
"Hmm," Jean hummed, tugging his hand away to touch Nino's back. "Hmm," he said again, as his fingers pressed against Nino's scars, right above his waist.
Nino knew that Jean wanted him to say he was sorry for worrying Jean, that he was sorry that he'd jumped in front of that gun. And Jean could order him to do a lot of things that Nino would be happy to do, but he'd never say that. He'd never be sorry that he gave Jean a chance to live, even though Nino might have died.
He gasped and went rigid when he realized Jean was bent low, mouth and tongue against the scars, still oversensitive because of the stretched-tight new skin. "I'm so glad you're okay, Nino," Jean said against his skin, and Nino could feel the vibrations from his voice all the way up his spine. "I'd be lost without you."
"Jean," Nino said, because he didn't know what else to say.
Jean kissed his way up Nino's back and hooked his chin over Nino's shoulder. He reached over to his table and dug out a mostly empty bottle of lubricant; Nino couldn't even bring himself to wonder who Jean had been using that with before Jean murmured into his ear, "I have you to thank for how low that's gotten. Do you know how many times I've come, thinking about your face or your voice?"
Nino exhaled, hard. Before this moment, he thought he was too old to be worrying about coming in his pants without being touched, but now he wasn't so sure.
"Let me see you," Jean said, and Nino nodded wordlessly and undid his pants, pulling himself out.
Jean's slicked up hand wrapped around him as soon as he did, and Nino moaned and let his head fall back. It was the nicest torture, too; Jean started out slow, going faster and faster as Nino urged him on with words and moans, but right when Nino was on the edge, he'd lighten his grip and slow down his pace. Then he'd start all over, until Nino was a sweaty, incoherent mess, unable to say anything but Jean's name again and again.
"Shh." Jean's voice was right in his ear. "I thought we were supposed to be quiet."
"Fuck you," Nino said with a laugh, and came warm and comfortable over Jean's fist.
"Sure," Jean said easily. "How much time do you need to recover?"
Not long, as it turned out.
The next morning Lotta made coffee for herself and absolutely refused to share with Nino and Jean. When Nino asked why, he was glad that looks couldn't kill.
Jean laughed at his sister and passed Nino the jam. "You should stay here. You know, for good."
That afternoon, Nino packed up his apartment and never looked back.