“The thing is,” Marti huffs, as he wobbles under the weight of a pile of heavy, dusty tomes. He drops them unceremoniously onto the floor and wipes his hands clean on the back of his jeans. “When you wrote 'can you come over? I really need a hand – winky face', I did not think you meant cleaning the library shelves.”
“Sorry.” Nico pecks Marti quickly on the lips before laying down carefully some weird ornaments on top of Marti's pile. “Marisol came over to visit and almost had a stroke when she saw how dusty everything was. I couldn't put it off any further.”
“Still not sure why that involves me,” Marti mumbles – and Nico smiles angelically and kisses his cheek.
“Because you're a saint and you love me very much?”
Marti sighs, letting his eyes follow the library shelves all the way up to the ceiling. This will take them all afternoon.
The shelves are enourmous: they take up an entire wall in the living room. They're filled with books, some of them leather-bound – those look like they might be at least a few decades old – but also trinkets of sorts, ornamental pieces, some old photographs (Nico's dad looked almost exactly like Nico as a boy, it's ridiculous), and-
Marti frowns at what looks like a plain wooden box, stashed neatly next to some gardening books. It's hardly hidden, it just doesn't catch the eye, despite not being particularly small. Marti wonders how he could have missed before.
Mildly curious, he moves the books aside first and then grabs the box. It's a wooden cube, very light. Marti would think it's empty if it weren't from the metallic sound he can hear when he turns it on one side. He unhooks the lock and opens it.
It's all very underwhelming.
Inside there is a single piece of jewelry: a silver locket with its chain, a green stone set in the very centre. It looks old but not particularly precious – still, it might have sentimental value, what does Marti know.
“Ni, look at this,” he tells Nico, as he digs inside the box to grab the locket. “Do you think your parents might want to- Ouch!”
He drops it. The locket makes a dull, metallic sound as it falls back inside the box. For a few moments, it almost looks like the green stone is emitting a strange pulsing light.
What the fuck?
Marti quickly puts the box back onto the shelf.
“What happened?” Nico frowns and steps closer, concerned. “Did you cut yourself?”
“No, it's just-” Marti looks from the box to Nico and back again. It sounds silly to say the words, but... “It burnt me? I think?”
“Ah,” Nico says. He grabs Marti's forefinger and inspects the slightly reddened skin, massaging it delicately, then glances to the locket inside the box.
It's not the reaction Marti expected – not the reaction Marti would have if Nico told him a piece of jewelry burnt him. It makes him suspicious.
“Do you know what that is?” Marti asks, but Nico shrugs.
“Never seen it before.”
“But why did it do that? Is it a weird chemical reaction or...?”
Or what? It has to be a weird chemical reaction... of some kind. It would explain the pulsing light too – if there was a light. Marti is not so sure anymore.
“Did it do anything else?” Nico asks suddenly. “Apart from the burning, I mean. Did you see anything?”
“Ni, what the-”
“I'll explain, I promise. Did it do anything else?”
“I thought I saw a light, but I'm not sure. When I grabbed it – it looked like it started, I don't know, pulsing or something.” Marti looks up. Now he's a bit scared. “What is it? Is it dangerous?”
“No,” Nico says. The confidence in his voice puts Marti a bit more at ease. He flinches as Nico puts his hand inside the box and takes out the locket by the chain, but nothing seems to be happening. No weird light, obviously no burning. Nico smiles apologetically. “Sorry. I think it just doesn't like you very much.”
“The locket doesn't like me?” Marti repeats, just to be sure they're on the same page here. God knows what page that is.
Nico rubs the back his head a bit awkwardly.
“Yeah. I mean, I don't know what it does, exactly, but to have a reaction like that... I'm guessing it's sensing something. In you.”
“The locket is sensing something in me?”
Nico sighs, looking down at the jewel dejectedly, and Marti can relate. This conversation is going nowhere.
“Marti, listen. There's no easy way to say this, so I'm just going to say it, okay?” Nico says. His tone sounds pleading. “Please, please, don't think I've lost it.”
If anything, that scares Marti more.
“My grandma – the one who used to live in this house. Agnese, she was called.” Nico takes a deep breath and Marti can tell he's forcing himself to keep eye contact, even though it seems to be costing him a lot. He lets out the air all at once, almost violently. “Basically... she was a witch.”
The silence is tense – so much so Marti wishes he had invited Luchino over so he could make a stupid joke and Marti would have time to think of a reaction. Any reaction would be fine, really.
“So, like... she was into tarot reading and the horoscope and stuff?” he offers in the end. It's a bit weak, he knows, but that Marti can understand, at least. He has a frame of reference for it.
(Like when Fede told him on his birthday that him being a Gemini explains “so fucking much, oh my God!” – whatever that's supposed to mean.)
“More like she was into potions and enchantments and those things,” Nico says with a self-conscious shrug. “I've seen her levitate cake ingredients into a bowl with my own eyes, Marti, I swear-”
“Okay, Ni, okay.” Nico looks a bit too desperate for Marti to assume this is a joke. Still, kids have an overactive imagination, right? Marti distinctly remembers believing he was able to fly when he was four. “How old where you when you saw her do... er, that?”
“No, no.” Nico shakes his head. He looks disappointed. “She did that every other Sunday when I came over for lunch. It's not- Marti, you saw the locket pulse.” He shakes it in front of Marti's face. “It burnt you, remember?”
“Why did it do that? Why did it burn me and not you? If the locket is...” Marti can't say 'enchanted'. He just can't. “What you say it is, why is it that I can't touch it and you can?”
“I don't know, magic is weird. Sometimes it can tell... things.” Nico traces the stone on the locket with his index finger without looking at him. “Maybe it could tell that you don't believe.”
It sounds a bit like a line out of a movie, but Marti doesn't question it.
He doesn't think Nico is joking, or crazy, or making things up for the sake of it. He also cannot believe this whole magic business. And yet... the locket is right there, in Nico's fingers. No strange lights or weird burning.
It goes against every self-preservation instict he has, but Marti wants to touch it again. Maybe it didn't really burn him, he thinks. Maybe that red sign on his finger was already there?
“Can I...?” Marti stretches his arm towards Nico. His hand trembles a bit as he reaches out until until there's barely any space between his fingers and the locket.
“You have to believe,” Nico whispers, and it sounds a bit reproachful. “That's all there is to this.”
Marti doesn't think he can do that, but he takes a deep breath and touches the green stone with the tip of his finger anyway.
It doesn't burn him.
It... tingles, it seems. It's not particularly pleasant. He's about to ask Nico if he feels it too when a number of things happen simultaneously. The stone starts pulsing, emitting that weird green light again, and suddenly Marti is feeling queasy, like he's about to throw up.
He seems to be hearing a faraway sound too. A seagull's cry, maybe?
No, a woman's voice. A high-pitched, knowing laugh.
“You have much to learn, my boy.”
Then Marti is plunged into darkness.
When he opens his eyes, Marti is lying on the floor in Nico's living room.
Did he faint? He tries sitting up but that makes him want to puke, so he lies back down and rubs his eyes with his fingers, waiting for the feeling to pass. The motion feels weird, somehow, but Marti has no time to think about it because his brain finally catches up with his body and Marti remembers.
The tingly feeling. The green light. That woman's voice.
“Ni?” Marti ignores the nausea and sits up with some effort. “Ni, are you the-”
He doesn't scream.
None of them do: they just stare at each other where they're sitting on the floor in front of the library shelves, their mouths open, yet unable to say a single thing.
Nico... is not Nico at all. Marti takes in the auburn hair and the freckled, pale complexion. He scans the familiar brown eyes and button nose. His stubble – his own, he hasn't shaved today. The wide shoulders Nico never had.
Marti looks down at himself.
Long, lean pianist fingers that are not his at all. He's swimming in his blue t-shirt, suddenly a lot slimmer. He puts his hands in his hair and it's weird because the feeling is familiar, but the angle is wrong. He touches his face, the long line of his nose, his jaw and prominent cheekbones.
“What the fuck?” he whispers, looking up again, and his own voice startles him with how deep it is. “I'm you!”
“Yeah.” Nico touches the side of his face carefully, almost like he's afraid he could break it. “We're each other.” Nico looks around until he spots the locket, now lying face down on the floor between them, seemingly forgotten. “It must have been that. We must have activated it... somehow.”
“Shit.” Marti says. He stands up and runs his hands though his hair – well, Nico's hair. “Shit,” he repeats with more feeling, as he paces in circles in front of the library shelves. He looks at Nico. He doesn't mean it, but it almost sounds like an accusation when he says: “How are you not freaked out by this?!”
“Well, you were the one who didn't believe me when I said my grandma was a witch.” Nico stands up slowly; his tone carries a hint of resentment, but Nico doesn't linger on it, as if wishing to move on from the subject as quickly as he can. As if it hurts. “Did you hear her too? Her voice?”
“That was her? Your grandma? But... how? I mean.” Marti tries to be delicate about it, considering he's already fucked up monumentally today. “Isn't she... you know.”
“Dead?” Nico shrugs. “Yeah. But we've also just switched bodies, so.”
Marti hums in assent. He supposes that makes sense. Well, no, it doesn't, but nothing does right now, so hearing Agnese's voice in his mind fits right in with the rest of it.
“'You have a lot to learn'. That's what she said, right? What do you think it means?”
Nico's head snaps up to attention, eyes open wide, mouth half-open – as if the words he meant to say got stuck half-way down his throat. Marti is pretty sure he never made that face in his life.
“That's not what I heard,” Nico says slowly. “'You have a lot to learn'. Do you reckon...? I mean, it's got to be a clue, right?”
Marti doesn't miss that Nico didn't say what Agnese told him.
“A clue as to...?”
“How to turn back!” Nico sounds excited now, any trace of gloom gone from his voice. Marti is a bit ashamed that he feels relieved. “Like, is there something to learn? How do we learn?”
“Oh. I thought maybe touching the locket again would do it?”
“Unlikely.” Nico leans down to grab the locket and Marti watches him grimace.
“What is it? Is it the locket? Does it burn?” Marti lays his hand on top of Nico's, his fingers grazing the stone at the very centre, but he feels nothing. Sees nothing.
“What? No.” Nico almost laughs. “These fucking jeans are too tight for me. I mean for you. I mean- I'm going to grab some sweatpants. Hold on.”
Marti smiles: his own jeans are slightly too large too but that's not as much of an issue. He watches as Nico disappears inside his room and reappears a few moments later in a pair of loose grey sweatpants. He's holding up his crumpled t-shirt with his chin and looking down at the angry red mark the jeans left around his waist. Well, Marti's waist, really.
Nico touches it gently with his fingers, and Marti knows it's just his imagination but he almost feels the touch on his own skin.
“Sorry,” Nico says, throwing him a guilty look.
“For what? It's your skin now.”
Nico smiles – and it's weird, but Marti can see Nico behind that smile. Somewhere. He couldn't say where, but he's there. Marti feels the urge to kiss him, but he holds back. That would be weird, right? Kissing yourself.
“How do we learn then?” he asks Nico to force himself to focus on something else. “What do we learn?”
Nico looks around, to the piles of book they've already taken off the shelves.
“These can probably do for a start.”
They assumed the leather-bound books would be books about magic – and they became even more convinced when Nico opened the first one under the flickering orange light of the living room chandelier and they saw it was handwritten, like a journal.
However, the very first line of the very first page spelled out in a graceful loopy handwriting:
Tiramisù alla nocciola
… so they had to reconsider. Or they would have, if Marti hadn't glanced at the list of ingredients and pointed out that belladonna is not commonly used to make tiramisù.
It's been hours and they're still leafing aimlessy through various spells and potions – each under the name of a different dessert, for no reason they could discern – but none of them is looking particularly relevant to their current situation.
Marti glances out of the window, the windowsill right above the back of the sofa. It's getting dark, it even started raining, and he should probably go home. His mum is expecting him for dinner. Except he can't because he's not, well... himself.
i'm staying over at nico's tonight, he texts her and sighs when he sees that her reply is something along the lines of “tell me in advance next time. I'm not running a hotel, you know”. He hopes it won't come to them having to live each other's lives. He would sink Nico's academic career in three seconds flat the moment he is required to do anything remotely artistic.
“Hey.” Nico nudges him with his foot from the other side of the sofa. Marti looks up and for a moment he's startled when he sees himself. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah. Mum's mad 'cause I didn't tell her I was staying over. But it's not like I can go home looking like this.” Marti gestures to himself.
“Yeah, you're way too handsome.”
Marti sticks his tongue out at Nico.
“Not really. This book's a mess: no index, no chapters.” Nico sighs. “I don't know how grandma found anything in it. Actually, I don't think I've ever seen her using any of these journals at all.”
“What about your grandpa?” Marti asks, struck by a sudden thought. “Was he... I don't know. How was it for him to discover that his wife was a witch?”
“I don't know, I never met him. My dad didn't either.”
“Did he die young?”
“Yeah. Well, no. I mean, grandma used to say he died fighting in the war but-”
“Exactly. He was probably never around. My dad took her surname anyway.” Nico yawns and looks out of the window too. The wind has picked up and the ceaseless drumming of the rain battering off the window is making them drowsy, almost lulling them to sleep.
But they can't afford to.
“What if... what if what we have to learn is not in a book?” Nico says, his gaze distant, lost in whatever he's seeing in his mind, rather than out the front road. Marti spares a smile for how Nico manages to make even him look all pensive and mysterious.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean...” Nico tears his gaze away from the window and focuses on Marti. “'You have a lot to learn'. That's what she told you, right?”
“But not what she told you.”
It's not a question – Nico told him himself. Marti doesn't push further though, lets Nico decides what he wants to share. Nico just nods, visibly nervous.
“'Let him in',” he says. “She only said that. 'Let him in'.”
“Do you think...?”
“Yes. I mean, she must mean you, right? Who else could it be?”
“Okay... so. Is it just me who's got to learn... whatever it is I have to learn? Do you have to teach me? How does it-” There is a sound: a dull yet insistent thud. Marti interrupts himself mid-sentence to look for the source, the sound seemingly coming from outside. “What the...” The words die in Marti's throat.
It's a seagull.
Perched on the windowsill outside, drenched to the bone. It's pecking the glass with his beak, obviously trying to get them to open the window. It's working too, to Marti's astonishment, because Nico's hand is already on the handle.
“Is it a good idea?” Marti asks anxiously, putting his book aside. “They are really dangerous when they get angry.”
“Grandma liked seagulls,” is Nico's only reply.
Marti braces himself for the cold wind as Nico turns the handle and the bird flies in – or better is thrown inside by the violence of the storm. Nico closes the window and Marti watches the seagull flap around aimlessly for a minute, hitting the wall twice and almost crashing against Nico's half-finished landscape piece on the easel near the window opposite.
Maybe it mistook it for a real beach.
It finally calms down and perches on top on the old television set, letting out a high-pitched cry that has Marti shivering from how familiar it sounds.
“Is that...?” Nico approaches the bird cautiously, from the side. Marti immediately notices what caught his eye. There is something tied to the bird's left leg with a bright red string.
“Is it a message?” Marti asks.
“I think so.”
The bird doesn't move as Nico carefully undoes the knot and frees the small piece of paper – it just blinks and lets out another one of his creepy shrill cries. It even allows Nico to stroke the top of its head with his finger. Marti has never seen a seagull act like that before.
Nico sits down next to Marti so they can read together. The paper is dripping wet, but the ink is perfectly readable – as if by magic – and Marti immediately recognises the loopy handwriting from the journals:
I wish you'd started sorting out my stuff on a less rainy day, but still: here I am. I see my locket decided to teach you boys a lesson – let you see the world from each other's eyes. Don't be angry: some things are learnt better the hard way. And this is pretty soft, for the hard way, yes?
Martino, my dear sceptic: do you like frappe alla crema di cioccolato?
“She knew my name,” Marti says stupidly, as soon as he's done reading.
It makes Nico chuckle.
“It seems like she knew a lot more than that,” Nico says, though Marti can tell he's a bit pleased. He wonders if he also feels weirdly validated, but he doesn't dare to ask.
He reads the last part of the letter again, trying to make sense of it.
“Do I like frappe alla crema di cioccolato?” Marti frowns. “I mean yes, I like all sweets, but at Carnival my mum usually just buys frappe at the store, and those are plai-” Marti watches Nico's eyes light up at the same time as understanding hits him like a speeding train. “The magic books!”
Marti grabs the huge leather-bound volume he set aside before and starts turning the pages frantically, looking for the right one. It's weirdly difficult to get anything done quickly, though: Nico's fingers may be long and nimble, but Marti is not used to having them.
“I'd got to page XLVI and there was nothing,” Marti says, as Nico watches from above his shoulder, his expression somewhere between worried and electrified. “So it's got to be... Here: frappe alla crema di cioccolato!” He smacks the page in triumph and quickly moves the book to the side so Nico can read better.
A note right below the title warns them that this “recipe” might require some soul-searching. There is a smiley face next to it too, and Marti has got the strangest feeling he's being trolled all the way from the 1970s or whenever Agnese actually wrote her pseudo-journals.
Nico points to what looks like a fairly accurate rendition of Agnese's locket on the left side of the page and starts reading aloud:
Take a locket and pour in some conflict: lack of faith, resentment if you have some at home, emotional distance, avoidance (store-bought is fine). Remember: the locket has to be touched at exactly the same time. Let yourselves simmer until switched.
To turn back: look harder, search deeper. Love and truth are better shared – honestly, selflessly.
And don't forget your dinner!
Marti and Nico exchange a confused look.
Agnese hardly told them anything about what to do to switch back. 'Look harder, search deeper': what's that supposed to mean?
Marti is starting to feel a bit frustrated by all these bits and pieces: how can someone speak directly into his mind, send a handwritten message via bird from the next life, hide a message in a fake cookbook, and still manage to reveal so little?
“Well, that's it then,” Nico says in a final tone.
“You mean to say you understand what that means?!” Marti asks incredulously.
“I understand that somehow grandma's priority is still that we didn't have dinner yet.”
Nico rolls his eyes, and Marti crosses his arms to his chest, hardly pacified. Suddenly, he remembers the seagull. He looks around searching for it, hoping without hope it might have another message for them, one that makes actual sense this time – Marti is done with riddles. Except...
“Where the fuck has that bird gone?!”
Marti makes dinner to take his mind off things – “It's just gone, Marti. Disappeared. It's hardly the weirdest thing that happened today” – and it works, a bit. Even though all he does is set the table in the living room and microwave two frozen pizzas he found in Nico's freezer.
Or maybe it's just that food always makes things at least a tiny bit better. Agnese probably knew that too.
“Open your mouth,” Nico says, returning from the kitchen to sit next to Marti on the floor. He's covering a slice of pizza with his hand so Marti can't see what's on it. He throws him a wicked grin Marti only half-recognises: it's still weird to see Nico wear Marti's own lopsided smile, but he's had some time to adjust. “And close your eyes.”
Marti throws him a warning glance, but he complies.
The pizza tastes vile, as expected. Nico definitely added some ketchup during his kitchen trip, and something that may be tuna dipped in soy sauce, and pickles. Marti takes a bite and almost spits it out.
“Oh, come on. It's not that bad!” Nico laughs, and Marti gives him the middle finger because he can't talk, too busy trying not to vomit.
“It's disgusting,” Marti says, once he's managed to swallow. “And you're a dick. Good thing it's your taste buds you've just murdered.”
“Yeah? Let me check.” Nico moves closer until their foreheads are touching, and Marti snorts, but doesn't move away. He knew this was coming ever since Nico came back from the kitchen with the slice of pizza from Hell. “Can I?”
“You like yourself that much?” Marti teases. He doesn't mean to, but it comes out in that low voice Nico sometimes uses because it makes Marti shiver. It makes Marti shiver even now he's the one using it.
Nico just laughs – and Marti recognises his silly giggle, all anticipation.
Marti bridges the small distance between them, fully expecting the kiss to feel weird. And it does. Nico's kisses don't itch with the beginning of his stubble, usually. And their noses feel all wrong, like they are more in the way than they usually are – which is ridiculous, because they're still their noses. And Marti kind of misses the way Nico's curls always end up tickling his forehead when they kiss.
He does think, Oh my God, I'm kissing myself, but only for a moment, because the way Nico strokes his cheeks is so undeniably Nico the mere thought it might be anyone else is ridiculous.
“So?” Marti asks with a smile, tipping his chin up, as Nico pulls away.
“Nice.” Nico smiles back and leans in for another quick peck. “Very nice.” Another peck. “I still want you back, though.”
Marti laughs. It's ridiculous that he finds this flattering, but he does.
“Good, me too. Got a plan?”
“Not... really?” Nico takes a bite of his pizza – not from the slice from Hell, Marti notices rolling his eyes – and pulls the book closer. “'To turn back: look harder, search deeper,” he reads aloud, his mouth full. “'Love and truth are better shared – honestly, selflessly.'”
“I mean, it's obviously about us fighting before, right?” Marti says tentatively, and he can see Nico's posture turn a bit more rigid.
“We did not fight,” Nico argues weakly.
“Only because you were disappointed instead of angry – and, like, everyone knows that's worse. But I don't understand how we're supposed to fix it?” Marti steals a glance at Agnese's instructions. “'Love and truth are better shared'. Does that mean... Do we just talk about it? And that fixes things? Since when?”
“Unfortunately, since always,” Nico offers with a sigh. “But yeah, it feels a bit anticlimactic.”
“Should we do it? Do I start?”
Nico shrugs, but Marti can tell he's grateful.
“Okay,” Marti repeats. “God, this feels weird.” He can't help but look around, as if waiting for a supernatural intervention, or a sign this is the right thing to do, but nothing happens, so he settles for taking a deep breath. “I'm sorry? That I didn't believe you, I mean. I promise I didn't think you'd lost it, or that you were lying on purpose, or anything like that. It just felt too weird for my brain to, like, accept it without looking for other explantions.” Marti looks up, but Nico is not looking at him, suddenly very interested in the pizza crusts. “I promise it's the truth,” Marti adds, but somehow it doesn't make it sound any better.
“I know.” Nico's reply sounds more like a sigh. “Like, rationally I know that it's bonkers – and why should anyone in the 21st century believe in witches anyway? It just hurt 'cause... I mean. People not taking me seriously and telling me I'm making it all up is, like, a thing with me, so. But anyway.” Nico finally looks up at Marti but he tries to hide the fact that he's sniffling by scratching his nose. It's very unconvincing. “That's it, I guess?”
“Can I hug you?” Marti asks, and Nico snorts.
“I'm going to be mad if you don't.”
It's the weirdest hug, as they're still not used to their new bodies. Marti throws his arms around Nico's neck and ends up tackling him – somehow. The fact that he actually has considerable strength in his arms now is the weirdest thing. They roll on the floor in a fit of giggles, until Nico uses his newly-gained body weight to pin Marti to the floor.
Nico's playful smile turns serious after just a moment.
“It didn't work,” he says. It sounds like an admission of guilt, and Marti is having none of it.
“It's not your fault. Or anyone's.” He reaches up to stroke Nico's cheek with his fingers. “You said it yourself: magic is not dangerous, or evil – not Agnese's magic anyway. We'll figure it out, you'll see.”
He says it to cheer Nico up, but Marti is starting to believe in it himself. And yeah, sure, Agnese's cryptic messages are still unnerving in their lack of clarity, but maybe that's how they're supposed to be. Maybe they have to figure out the last step on their own. Maybe that's how they break the spell.
If there's something they did understand is that they were responsible for it in the first place.
“We'll figure it out,” Nico repeats, his mouth curving up at one side. He makes to let up to allow Marti to sit, but Marti pulls him down again by his arm.
“Stay. It's nice,” Marti says, hugging him close and making Nico giggle.
“But the bed is comfier.” Nico leans down and brushes their noses together. “Yeah?”
The bed is comfier, and Marti likes the weight of Nico on top of him – the weight of himself? Honestly, that part is getting progressively more insignificant by the minute.
Nico is resting is head on Marti's chest, eyes closed, and Marti is playing with his hair, curling it around his finger as he gently massages his scalp. He knows it feels good because they've tried it the other way around many times, but Nico's quiet hum of appreciation still makes him smile.
“This is the best part about being switched,” Nico says. His voice is low and he sounds a bit like he's purring. “It doesn't feel this good when I'm me.”
“What's the worst part?” Marti asks softly.
“Of being you?”
“I keep bumping into everything. How are your shoulders even real.” Nico pokes one of Marti's with his finger, and Marti laughs. “No, but really. The worst part would be if we had to keep this up for a long time and, like, actually live each other's lives.”
“Yeah. I'd fuck up your beach painting the second I come too close to it,” Marti says, but Nico waves that away like it means nothing.
“I'd sink your perfect grades in no time,” Nico says, and when Marti makes to counter that, Nico just shushes him. “No no, don't- You know I would. And I'd make all your friends hate you just by being me. I win.”
Nico says it in that weird tone he uses where he's only half-joking. Marti shakes his head. He keeps caressing Nico's hair with one hand, but wraps the other one around him to keep him close.
“I don't think you do, actually,” Marti argues. “All my friends love you and only one of us has graduated high school so far. And it's not me.”
“On the second try.”
“So? Elia still hasn't passed his driving test on the third try.”
Nico snorts a laugh.
“That's just 'cause he doesn't like the instructor telling him where to go.”
“See? There's always reasons, is the point.” Marti says. Nico opens his mouth to reply, but Marti lifts a finger in warning. “And no, yours are not excuses, shut up.”
“I didn't say anything!”
“I could tell you were about to.”
“How? You're in my body not in my brain,” Nico says. Marti can feel the heavy pause after that, like Nico is considering the implications of what he just said. Marti sees him pull a face and shake his head once quickly, as if to try and banish the thought.
“Hey.” Marti pulls gently on Nico's hair to make him look up, and the look Nico gives him takes his breath away. It's his own brown eyes looking back at Marti, he knows – but the peculiar light in them, they way they feel quiet and yet bursting with feeling, even in the dark, is unmistakably Nico.
“What?” Nico asks.
“You can share what's in your brain any time,” Marti says. It comes out more serious than he planned, but it doesn't feel wrong to be serious right now. “Every feeling, every thought. I promise I'll listen – better than I did today.”
Nico shakes his head – slowly this time, almost fondly. He lifts up a hand to caress Marti's cheek.
“I don't blame you for today.”
“I know, but I can still do better.” Marti smiles, leaning into Nico's touch. He reaches out and cradles Nico's face until Nico pushes himself up so they can look each other in the eyes. Marti leans forward a bit to make their foreheads touch. “Promise you don't blame yourself either?”
“I promise I'm not blaming myself right now,” Nico offers quietly. It's perfectly honest, Marti knows.
Marti leans in and kisses Nico on the lips. He laughs as he feels Nico start to smile into it.
Marti's very first impression of Saturday morning is the fresh, lemony smell of Nico's hair conditioner.
It's a nice smell, very Nico, and Marti is still half-asleep when he buries his face in Nico's neck and breathes in. Nico doesn't seem much more awake as he only answers with a deep sigh and a loose hug, his hand caressing the warm skin of Marti's hip under his t-shirt.
It's Nico who notices first.
Marti feels his hand still for a second and then grab at Marti's hip, as if to make sure. When Marti realises why his brain is telling him that it's weird that Nico's hair should smell of Nico, his eyes springing open in surprise, Nico is already staring back at him, his expression half-way between glee and astonishment.
“You're back!” Nico says, excited, which makes Marti giggle, because...
“I've been here the whole time!”
But he knows what Nico means. He laughs as Nico kisses him, just short silly kisses that he can't even savour because they're over too quickly – but he also has no time to miss them, because there are always more. He tries to meet Nico half-way but they're too uncoordinated, they keep laughing too much, and Marti is already out of breath.
He pushes himself up on his arms so he's fully on top of Nico, looking down at his bright smile, at his crazy bed-head, his heart almost bursting out of his chest.
“Hi,” he says, because, really, where to begin?
“Hi.” Nico's smile is playful and adorably lopsided, his voice warm. Marti has missed it. “Nice to meet you, I'm Niccolò.” Nico extends his hand, and Marti rolls his eyes at him, but he plays along.
They shake hands.
“So, what brings you here on this fine morning, Martino?” Nico sing-songs his name, tongue between his teeth, eyes shining.
“Not sure, really.” Marti shrugs, failing to hide a smile. “I woke up and things were just fine.”
“Really?” Nico's eyebrows shoot up like this is news to him. “You must have done something right, then.”
“I suppose we must have.”
They exchange a knowing smile.
“And speaking of doing things right.” Nico's eyes light up and he pushes Marti off him, sitting up quickly. He laughs when Marti whines and leans in for one more kiss. “Stay here. I'll be back in a second.”
“Breakfast!” Nico announces, one foot already out the bedroom door. “Stay there!”
Marti rolls his eyes but he does as he's told. He sits back against the pillow, grabs his phone from the nightstand, and checks his notifications, just to pass the time. He's got a text from Gio about the Latin homework that is due on Monday. For some reason, that makes him laugh.
Latin homework. It feels so insignificant now.
He doesn't even have time to text back before Nico returns. It seems to Marti that he's barely been gone, but here he is, with his coffee, his tray, and his smug see-i-brought-you-breakfast-in-bed-tell-me-you-like-it head wiggle.
Has a minute even passed since he left...?
Suddenly, Marti is hit by a ridiculous thought.
“Here!” Nico sets down the tray between them and sits down cross-legged. “I tried making a heart with the foam but it looks more like someone's butt... Whatever.” He frowns at Marti's confused expression. “What?”
“Nothing.” Marti shakes his head. “You made coffee super fast.”
“Yeah, I used the coffee machine. It's quicker.”
“Oh. Oh, right.”
Marti forgot Nico had one.
He sips his coffee in silence, caught in his musings. The coffee machine makes the whole process quicker, sure, Marti was so silly to think- And yet, after everything that happened yesterday, is it really so silly?
“Agnese,” Marti says suddenly, and Nico looks up in surprise. “Was she... I mean, how did she learn all those magic... things? Did she study them or...?”
“I suppose she must have, yeah. When she was younger? I don't think you can just wing it.” Nico shrugs. “But of course you must be born with powers in the first place.”
“You must be born with powers,” Marti repeats slowly, though his heart is beating right out of his chest. That's exactly what he thought. “Ni, you don't think- I mean, it wouldn't even be that weird, right? If it were true. Considering, like... genes and all that stuff.”
Nico is looking at him over his coffe cup like he's speaking in tongues.
“What are you talking about?”
“Ni.” Marti takes a deep breath. “What if you're a witch too?”
Silence. Somewhere close, maybe in the backgarden, a seagull lets out a shrill cry.
It sounds like a laugh.