The first time Allan had heard Guy sing, he had almost fallen off of the wall he was sitting on. They had taken up with a small group of Italian minstrels for a few nights after Allan had attempted to rob one of them. The man had offered him harp lessons in exchange for pickpocketing lessons, and when his friend had left Florence for the season, he had left his harp with Allan.
“With what you’ve taught me I can get another soon!” he had insisted. Allan was not so confident. He had been a fair mandolin player at one time, but that was years ago, and he had grown rather rusty. But his pride was not such that he would not risk some embarrassment if it meant a few coins gotten in an honest fashion for a change.
He had tried to get Guy to join him in a bawdy tavern ballad, but he had put him off, saying that he did not know any English songs. When Allan suggested he might learn one or two, the look Guy had given him was enough to make him drop the subject.
Then one night, Allan had talked him into going to the Piazza del mercato with him. Carnival season had just begun, and he had it on the good authority of the local riff raff that it would be crowded. They were right about the crowd, but unfortunately it was on the wrong side of the piazza. Allan could hear the minstrels who had drawn just well enough to know that they were French. He was just about to put down his harp in frustration when Guy picked up the chorus. His voice was soft and uncertain at first, but as the song went on it grew into a rich, sonorous baritone.
It wasn’t until the song ended that he noticed Allan staring at him, and a blush arose on his cheeks.
“I . . . I had no idea you could do that, Guy,” Allan said, awestruck.
Guy’s blush darkened. “Well, I’m as surprised as you are.”
“I doubt that, Giz,” he replied with a snort, ignoring the glare Guy gave him at the use of the nickname.
Allan had started calling him that to annoy him when they worked for the sheriff. That seemed a lifetime ago, but it still slipped out sometimes. “Gisborne” was too cold and distant, but “Guy” was . . . It was hard to put his finger on what exactly bothered him about it. Perhaps it was the way Marian could so seamlessly move from calling him “Guy” to his face to “Gisborne” to the gang. In all the time he observed her, she had never made a mistake once.
He wanted to call Guy something altogether different. Still, “Guy” was what his partner preferred, and so he made an effort.
“It’s been so long since I’ve sang anything. There . . . hasn’t been any occasion recently,” Guy explained.
Allan nodded. “Well, I know one thing.”
Guy glanced at him.
“You’re going to be doing the singing in our merry band of two from now on.
* * *
It had taken a few evenings of hiding behind walls while the French minstrels practiced, but Allan was as persistent as he was talented. He had always been able to pick up tunes quickly; he joked that it was the only legal skill he possessed. Indeed, since getting his harp he had been the happiest he could remember. It felt like they were finally making progress, and the “they” was the most important part of that.
Guy was adept enough at finding marks with fat pockets for Allan to rob, but he was keenly aware that it was Allan who did most of the work, and though he said nothing, Allan could also see that it weighed on him. How often the sheriff had told him that he was useless, and he wondered if it wasn’t that voice that Guy still heard even when he reassured him. Now, at last, there was something they could do together.
Guy practiced his craft with a seriousness that impressed Allan. He would say that Guy enjoyed it as much as he did his harp playing if the songs he sang didn’t sound so bloody sad. Allan could not understand a word of them, and so much the better. It might be difficult play the harp and cry at the same time.
Their first night in public was even more successful than Allan had imagined, and the next night even better. The bowl had been full of coins by the time they left the piazza to seek shelter. Then on the third night, she had come to hear them.
At first, she had stayed in her carriage, one of the most ornate Allan had ever seen. It made the one Vaisey had used look shabby in comparison. I was only after the carnival-goers on food had paid and departed that she emerged: a tall blonde woman lavishly dressed in black.
“Tu es aussi belle que ta voix,” she purred to Guy as she approached, looking past Allan as though he was invisible.
Guy bowed deeply, but Allan could detect the tiniest trace of a smirk as he peered up at her.
* * *
She was a French countess, a widow of the crusades who had come to Florence for the carnival season. All of this Guy had told him on his way to the baths to prepare to see her again that evening.
“But why do you need a bath for that?” Allan asked, bewildered.
Guy gave him only a raised eyebrow in answer.
When he understood, his mouth fell open in spite of himself. He could only stare at Guy for a moment as his stomach turned a summersault. Why would he even consider that?
“But . . . Guy.” He had no idea how to end the sentence. Of course Guy could do as he pleased; he had made that clear from the beginning. Allan had no business objecting to his choices, so of course he would keep his mouth shut. Of course Guy could go to bed with . . . whomever he wanted to.
“It’s alright, Allan,” Guy assured him. “It won’t the first time I’ve . . . comforted a widow. When I was in London . . .”
“Yeah, when you were with Vaisey!” Allan blurted, surprising himself as much as Guy. “That was different, he didn’t . . . you . . . you don’t have to do this, Guy,” he finished weakly.
Guy watched him, pressing his lips together in consternation. “Allan,” he began gently, as though he was trying to calm a spooked horse, “don’t you want to sleep in a bed tonight?”
Allan blinked at him, his mouth falling open once more. “What? What has any of this got to do with me?”
“Well, I told Lady Marguerite that I had a partner and asked if she might be able to accommodate him, and she said there is a spare room at her villa.”
Allan dropped his eyes, thinking the proposition through. A thought occurred to him that made him look up again, hopeful.
“Are you sure she wants to sleep with you? Maybe she just wants us to . . .”
Guy’s mouth turned down into a scowl. “I know when someone is attracted to me, Allan,” he snapped.
“Whoa, steady Guy,” Allan cried, raising his hands in supplication. “I don’t doubt it.”
Do you, Giz? he thought to himself silently. Do you really?
“What about you?” he asked, trying to change the subject. “Are you attracted to her?”
Guy looked at him, his face softer now, and shrugged.
“I don’t know. But, it will be nice to have a bedmate who isn’t you for a change.”
It hurt more than it should. Allan forced himself to laugh.
“Well, I wouldn’t mind a break form your snoring, I can promise you that! But really, Guy, is it worth it?”
Guy glanced away. “She’s attractive enough, I suppose,” he answered. “Not that it really matters.”
“What do you mean it doesn’t matter?” Allan asked. His stomach still felt funny, as though he had drunk some bad wine.
Guy’s eyes fell to his hands. “Well, that’s not the point. I’m doing this for . . . we talked about getting out of Florence. That will take more money than we have.”
Allan’s heart sank. “We’ll get it, Guy,” he said softly, placing a tentative hand on his shoulder. “It will take time, but look how well we’ve done these past few nights? If we just save . . .”
Guy stood, and Allan’s hand dropped from his shoulder. “I want to do more,” he said. “Aren’t . . . aren’t you tired of pulling in all of our money yourself?” He wasn’t angry, Allan realized. But there was a pleading quality to his voice.
“It isn’t like that, Guy. You know it isn’t,” Allan insisted, standing up to face him. “Look, we’ll go to the villa if that’s what you want, but please don’t think you’ve got to do anything you don’t want to do.”
* * *
The darker it grew outside, the more anxious Allan became. Guy had come back from the baths an hour later, smelling fresh enough to make Allan self-conscious about his own stench in a way he had not been until that moment. Lady Marguerite must have wanted Guy badly if she was willing to let him befoul her guest room.
It was a small comfort.
They made the walk to the villa in almost complete silence; for Allan’s part, he simply knew he had nothing to say that Guy would want to hear. He had made up his mind, but Allan could tell that he was nervous. He made three wrong turns, and Allan had to call out to him to get him back on the right path. Each time he regretted it, but he knew that delay would not make the night any more pleasant.
When they arrived, the Italian steward looked them over with disdain, his eye lingering on Allan. But when Guy explained who he was in his halting Italian, the man let them in. They stopped first at the guest room, and Guy bade Allan goodnight with a smirk and nod before following the steward on his way.
Allan lay down on the bed and sighed up at the ceiling. The very comfort of it made it unpleasantly foreign. The covers were soft but there was a chill in the room that made him reluctant to undress. Since the autumn had settled in, he and Guy had been sleeping closer and closer together. Sometimes he would wake up to find Guy’s arms around him, or his around Guy. If Guy were as surprised by this as he was, he kept it to himself; they never spoke about it. But lying on the bed alone, Allan found that he could do nothing but worry about his partner. Was he enjoying himself? Would the woman care about his comfort and pleasure, or was he only there to serve her? What if she liked him so much that she wanted to keep him with her, and what would Allan do then?
Only a few hours later, his reverie was interrupted by a commotion outside. Suddenly, the door to his room flew open, and three men stomped in heavily.
“Alzarsi” one of them roared. “Mettiti in piedi!” The others dragged Allan out of the room, down the long hallway, and dumped him unceremoniously out the front door.
“Get your hands off me!” he heard Guy shout behind him, doubtlessly not for the first time.
As the door slammed behind them, Allan struggled to his feet. “At least I didn’t get undressed,” the thought. Looking down at Guy, still on his hands and knees on the ground, he saw that he had not been so lucky. He was still wearing his breeches and held onto his cloak and shirt with a death grip, but both were soiled now. His boots were gone.
“Are you alright, Guy?” Allan asked as he offered his hand. “Guy?”
For a moment, it seemed as though he hadn’t heard him. He was staring at the ground beneath him. With a sigh, Guy lifted his head and reached up, letting Allan pull him to his feet.
“Did they hurt you?” Allan asked, growing even more concerned. That Guy could stand was a good sign, but he might have other, less noticeable injuries.
He scoffed in reply. “Oh, I’m fine. Fine as far as you’re concerned, anyway.”
Allan stared at him in bewilderment. “What happened?”
Guy shook his head with a sardonic chuckle, looking down at his bare feet.
“Well . . . nothing good, as you can see.”
Allan could see that he would get no answers, and decided they had more pressing things to worry about.
“Alright, never mind about that now. Let’s just find a place to sleep then.”
He took Guy gently by the shoulder, and he allowed himself to be led. As they walked, Guy pulled his shirt back on, but when he put on the cloak as well, Allan saw that he had to wrap his arms around himself too. As he watched, he saw that it was torn. That bitch, he said to himself. What could Guy have possibly done that would make her throw him out so violently without even giving him time to dress himself?
Fortunately, the night was dry, as cold as it was. Soon Allan found a quiet, empty spot in an alley.
“Let’s sleep here, Guy,” he suggested. “We can go back to the usual place in the morning.” He hoped that his harp would still be where he had hidden it.
Guy said nothing, but when Allan pulled his cloak over his head, Guy took his off as well. Allan reached to take it from him, ascertaining the damage. It had torn up the back seam, easy enough to repair if one had a needle and thread. That was an easier problem to solve than the boots. They were the last bit of finery Guy had, the only thing left over from his life with the sheriff. Even if Allan could steal enough to buy him new boots, or steal the boots themselves if they were lucky, they were likely to be far inferior.
Allan spread Guy’s torn cloak on the ground; they would deal with it tomorrow too. “Come one, Guy,” he intreated as he stretched out on top of it. “We can share my cloak for tonight.”
Guy hesitated for only a moment before lying down, to Allan’s surprise, facing him. He lay his head on Allan’s shoulder as he pulled the whole cloak around them. It was not until he was still himself that Allan could feel Guy shaking. Not shivering, he thought; he was the one who had trouble with the cold. Usually, it was Guy who kept him warm.
“Let’s get you warm,” he said, and wrapped his arms around Guy, rubbing his back vigorously underneath the cloak. To his surprise, Guy tightened an arm around his middle in response.
“I . . . couldn’t do it, Allan,” he muttered, so quietly that he could barely hear him.
“You couldn’t . . .” Allan felt his heartbeat quicken and hoped that Guy wouldn’t notice. “What couldn’t you?”
“I couldn’t do it, Allan. I couldn’t get hard.”
It was a good thing Guy could not see him, Allan thought as the corners of his mouth curled into a relieved smile.
Guy pressed on in spite of his silence. “I thought it would be fine. If I didn’t get . . . interested when the time came, I could just think about . . . but that did not work.”
Allan held him tighter. Feeling bold, he lifted a hand up to cradle the back of Guy’s neck. He knew what name he was thinking of in the silence of that pause. No. He imagined that wouldn’t work very well under these circumstances.
“It’s okay, Guy,” he cooed. “You know I . . . don’t want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Ever. You know that, right?”
Guy made a sound that was a half sigh, half sob and pressed his face against Allan’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Allan. I . . . know that I shouldn’t have tried it. I see that now. I just wanted . . . I wanted to help you.”
It was barely a kiss, just a light brush of his lips against Guy’s forehead, and Allan didn’t realize he was doing it until it was too late. Guy froze in his arms.
Allan swore inwardly. What had he done?
But as soon as it had happened, the moment had passed. Guy nestled against him, and Allan exhaled with relief, not caring this time if Guy noticed.
“You do plenty, Giz,” he murmured. “It’s fine. Just try to get some sleep.”
Guy spoke no more, but his shaking had stopped. The one cloak was warmer than Allan could have hoped, and before long his eyelids were growing heavy.
It was not until just before he drifted off that he realized Guy had made no objection to his nickname this time.