It takes eight years for the men to find her, and two weeks for them to drive her insane.
She loves them instantly upon meeting, as does Quynh, who is already demanding that Nicolo call her ‘sister’, and teaching him how to say the word in her own language. Andromache finds herself gravitating towards Yusuf, whose easy charm warms her from the inside within seconds. His crooked smile and Nicolo’s kind eyes become woven into the fabric of their lives as though they were always part of the tapestry.
They are her family, in every way, without question, but it is a matter of days before she wants to kill them both, multiple times, for being complete and utter idiots.
It’s mostly just the looking . The unbearably fond, secret smiles, the hopelessly yearning stares when they think the other isn’t paying attention. They gaze at each other with such heartsickness, she almost thinks they are doing this on purpose.
She had assumed - they’d both assumed - before meeting them that they were together. And they certainly are together, but not in the way that seems the most obvious to, well, everyone.
They share a bed, but she’s seen them sleep. It’s remarkably chaste, even at their most intimate. They sleep fully clothed, on their sides, with Yusuf’s nose a hair’s breadth away from Nicolo’s neck, one arm always about his waist or shoulder. Beyond that? Nothing. She’s never seen them kiss, they certainly never fuck, and they rarely touch outside of sleep. Andromache finds all of this beyond strange, because if either of them looked at her the way that they look at each other, she’d assume they were madly in love with her.
“Please talk to them,” Quynh says. She kisses Andromache’s cheek. “I get blue balls just from looking at Niko.”
Andromache splays a hand over her lover’s hip. “I have a remedy for that, you know.”
Quynh grins wickedly. “I know you do. Which is why you will have blue balls until you fix theirs.”
Andromache really doesn’t like where this is going. “Quynh, what are you--”
“I’m not coming back until you make them sort their shit out.”
She leaves with the cruelest ghost of a kiss, her strong thighs already gripping the sides of her horse before Andromache can comprehend what just happened.
That night, she makes them sort their shit out.
They are sitting at the fire, lazy after a full dinner, a bottle of wine passed between their fingers, comfortable and contemplative in each other’s presence. Nicolo, as always, is the first of them to retire.
“Thank you for the wonderful dinner,” Nicolo says, and kisses the top of her head. “I will sleep well tonight.”
He turns to touch a gentle hand on Yusuf’s shoulder, feather light. Yusuf’s fingers twitch but he does not take the other man’s hand. He looks up at Nicolo and opens his mouth and for a moment it seems like he might say something profound.
“Well, goodnight,” Yusuf says instead.
Nicolo just stares at him for a long moment, then his lips quirk the tiniest amount and he nods.
Andromache hears worlds within that single word, and she sees worlds within Yusuf’s eyes as Nicolo walks away from him. She watches Yusuf watch Nicolo’s retreating form with his sad poet’s eyes.
“That was an excellent meal,” Andromache says, a perfect study of nonchalance.
Yusuf nods, still distracted. “Yes,” he says, “thank you.”
“No need to thank me. I just mean to say, it’s nice to eat good food.”
Yusuf looks a little puzzled, but dips his head in agreement all the same. Andromache pounces.
“One thing I have learned, after seeing so much death,” she says simply, carefully, “is that I must enjoy good things in this world. Moreover,” she continues, examining Yusuf’s profile, “I must allow myself to enjoy good things.”
This gets his attention. Yusuf goes very still under her gaze, looking like a caught sparrow.
“I -,” he starts, but it’s clear he doesn’t know how to finish.
“You?” Andromache lifts an eyebrow.
She leans forward on her elbows. He won’t say it until she does.
“You love him,” she says.
Yusuf swivels to face her completely, looking almost insulted.
“Of course,” he says to her, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
She turns her head inquisitively. “And how do you love him? As a friend — or brother?”
Yusuf swallows thickly.
“Neither -- though he is my friend. More than a brother. But those words are not enough for how greatly I love him. I would - I have died for him.”
Yusuf shakes his head. His brows knit together and he sighs, long and melancholy.
“I love him as my own,” he says finally. “I don’t know how else to say it.”
Andromache considers this.
“And he feels the same for you?”
Yusuf rubs at his beard and nods. “I believe he does.”
He says it with surety, not an assumption, like he truly believes in Nicolo’s love with all of his soul. Andromache puts her hand on his arm. It is unusual for her to touch someone -- anyone, really, that isn’t Quynh -- but she trusts this man implicitly already. She knew she would before she met him.
“I wish you could see what I see when you look at him. When you look at each other.”
Yusuf frowns. “What do you mean?”
“You look at him,” she explains, “like you would kill the world to keep him safe.”
“I would.” He says it without hesitation.
“And he looks at you the same way.”
“Yes.” Yusuf still has no idea where this is going. She drops her head and sighs. Men .
“So, you love each other beyond all reason, you would die - have died - for each other, you’ve pledged your lives to each other for presumably the rest of eternity… but you are not lovers?”
He goes very quiet.
“Yusuf?” Andromache touches his face, tilts his chin up to meet her eyes. He looks pained and terribly sad.
“It is my greatest failing that I can’t give him that,” he says, completely miserable.
“Why can’t you?”
She knows he wants to look away from her, but she refuses to let him. “Tell me why?”
His brow furrows deeper and he bites at his lip.
“I am not like him. I have never been with a man. I have never wanted a man.”
He is silent for a moment, turning thoughts over in his head.
“If I were to, I would choose him, of course I would choose him, but--”
Andromache nods. “But when you kiss him, you feel nothing?”
There is a terribly long pause, during which she studies Yusuf’s face. She realizes what he is going to say right as the words leave his mouth and, oh, this poor man.
“I’ve never kissed him.” Yusuf tells her, and there it is.
Andromache just stares at him, willing him to see his own heart. She smiles at him more tenderly than she’s smiled at a man in millennia. “Oh, my dear brother - you’ve been pining after each other for almost a decade and you never even thought to try ?”
Yusuf, sweet thing, looks genuinely puzzled.
“But why? I wouldn't feel anything.”
For all of his considerable intellect, he is sincerely lacking in self-awareness. Andromache has to remind herself that the ability to see inward takes time; that it takes a a considerable amount of deaths until you see the body as a vessel, its composite parts meaningless without the soul within. Give Yusuf another hundred years, she thinks, and he’d get there on his own.
Except neither of them deserve to wait another hundred years, especially when it seems Nicolo’s soul has already arrived at the obvious conclusion.
“Tell me why you wouldn’t feel anything.”
“Because I don’t think of men in that way.”
“Not even Nicolo? You don’t find him handsome?”
Yusuf barely even considers this a question and snorts. “Well of course he is handsome, a blind man would find him handsome.”
Andromache already knows she will tease him with this oblivious declaration for the rest of their days, and she does, many times. A blind man would find him handsome?!. I know . A blind man, Yusuf. Shut up.
Andromache seizes upon it. “So, you do want to kiss him?”
“Are you sure?”
“No! Yes! I mean--” Yusuf buries his head in his hands. “I could never do that to him. It would hurt him so deeply. I know the way he feels about me. He has been honest - he is always honest, and so good, and-- I cannot give him a lie when he has given me nothing but truth.”
Yusuf looks up, his face grief-stricken.
“I wish I felt the way he feels about men. But I don’t .”
Andromache finds herself immensely proud of Nicolo at this moment. From what little she knows of him, she has seen that his heart, whilst vast, is kept carefully shielded. She’s certain that he has been carrying it bruised inside of himself for far too long and she feels terrible for him, for both of them, for their unintentional wasted years. She knows what those are like, knows that single wasted ones always weigh heavier than whole centuries.
“Yusuf,” Andromache says gently, “Nicolo is not men.”
His face twists in genuine confusion. “Of course he’s a man.”
Perhaps, if she had known him a year or two longer, Andromache might be trying to slap the sense into him. But this moment is too delicate, too gossamer thin for her to risk breaking it - even if it is taking the patience of a saint to help him see the light.
“Yes. He is a man. Let’s start there.”
She grabs him by the shoulders. “Answer my questions as quickly as you can, without thinking.”
“Have you ever loved another the way you love him?”
“Have you ever wanted to die for anyone else?”
“Of course not, what--”
She holds a finger up and shushes him before he can continue.
“Have you ever met anyone that has made you feel half the things you feel for Nicolo?”
Yusuf genuinely thinks about this for a moment, and then shakes his head.
“Have you kissed women before?”
“And you enjoyed it?”
He smirks. “Most times, yes.”
“Did you know, before kissing women, that you would like the way it felt?”
“How could I know that before kissing them?”
Andromache just stares hard at him. Yusuf’s lips part and his eyes widen. She sees the moment it hits him; his jaw almost hits the floor.
She gives him a sisterly shove.
“You,” she says, “are a fucking idiot.”
“I,” Yusuf agrees, “am a fucking idiot.”
“I would suggest you go to that sweet and far-too-patient man over there and kiss him. If you truly feel nothing, I promise he will forgive you.”
Andromache takes his hand.
“But if you feel something - anything - seize hold of it, Yusuf. Even if it is small. Let it grow. Just because this love is different to what you expected doesn’t make it any less real.”
His eyes overflow with tears. “No,” he whispers, “I think it might be more .”
Andromache reaches up to rub a thumb over the wetness on his cheek. “Finally. Why does it always take a woman to see these things.”
He lifts a hand to encircle her wrist. “I wish I had found you sooner.”
She shrugs. “You found me when you were meant to. Now, go!”
He scrambles to his feet, knocking over the half-empty bottle of forgotten wine. He winces in apology but Andromache just shakes her head and flaps her arm in dismissal. She watches as he crosses to the dark corner of the cabin where Quynh had lain their bedrolls together. She watches as he crouches low to Nicolo and gently, so very gently, shakes him awake. Nicolo blinks blearily at him and pushes himself up on one elbow. Even in the dark, she sees how Yusuf’s eyes shine.
She should not keep watching, but she does. She keeps watching as Yusuf whispers something very quiet and tender, taking Nicolo’s hands in his. She watches Nicolo tremble as Yusuf leans close, watches his eyes drift shut and his mouth part, and then--
Lightning strikes the room. She sees the moment it hits Yusuf and he is all of a sudden grabbing at Nicolo, kissing him like the world is aflame. His hands caress Nicolo’s neck, his hair, the tips of his ears. Nicolo is just clutching to the front of Yusuf’s shirt in fistfuls, kissing him as deep as he can and holding tight for fear that this is some beautiful, terrible dream.
When they stop for breath, they don’t part, foreheads pressed tight together. Yusuf, unable to help himself now, presses kisses to Nicolo’s eyelids, his cheeks, his chin.
Andromache realizes he is kissing his tears away.
Nicolo is murmuring something under his breath, an offering or prayer, something holy at any rate. He grips the back of Yusuf’s head and whispers something fierce and determined. Andromache can’t hear the words but she knows exactly what he is saying. She knows, because she’s heard those words from different lips.
You are mine. I am yours. I will never let anything part us from this moment until the end.
Yusuf whispers the same promise back, as she knew he would.
After that, she stops watching.
Nine hundred and seven years later, when Joe and Nicky decide it’s a good idea to fuck in the shower with the bathroom door unlocked for the three thousandth and umpteenth time, she’s decided she’s had enough.
She doesn’t even turn around, just throws towels at their chagrined faces as they quickly extricate themselves from each other.
“I regret ever telling you to kiss him, Yusuf,” she says, and watches as Joe flushes from head to toe. Nicky frowns.
“What is she talking about, hayati?”
Joe, who has by now wrapped towels around them both (poorly hiding their erections, but that’s not exactly new, they’ve been poorly hiding them for centuries), tries to hustle Nicky out of the bathroom.
“Nothing, amoré, come on, let’s--”
Andy definitely isn’t gonna let this fly.
“Wait, you never told him? Come on, I was your -- what do the kids call it now -- oh! Your wingman ,” she says with absolute relish.
Joe stares at her, willing her to shut up and knowing she won’t. Nicky has his hands on his hips and he’s giving Joe a familiar and very piercing look.
“Joe,” Nicky says, his voice completely calm and therefore terrifying, “what is a wingman?”
Joe gives Andy a withering stare, clearly saying thanks a lot, boss , then he ushers Nicky into their bedroom and closes the door.
It takes about five seconds before the rapid-fire Italian starts. It’s not entirely Italian - a mishmash of Arabic, Greek, and a few dead languages - so Andy can’t understand all of it, but she definitely gets the gist.
The yelling continues, Joe peppering in half-hearted protests, but mostly letting himself get scolded, until finally Nicky has to pause for breath. Then she hears Joe whispering, something tender and pleading and oh-so-loving, and Nicky stops shouting.
Five seconds later, the door bangs open and Nicky is striding towards her. He grips Andy’s face in his hands, then his face splits into the widest grin she’s ever seen on him.
“Grazie!” He starts kissing her face. “Grazie mille, Andrea!” He won’t stop covering her face in kisses, and god help her it’s making her giggle , something she hasn’t done since Quynh and she can’t think about that right now, she can only laugh between Nicky’s kisses, peering over his shoulder to see Joe staring at them both fondly and laughing too.
Nicky, when he finally calms down, scoops her into his arms for a warm hug.
“You are so good,” he murmurs in her ear, “the best of us.”
Andy’s eyes instantly fill with tears. “I’m--”
“Shh.” Nicolo strokes her hair. “Yes, you are.”
He pulls back and stares into her eyes. “I owe you my happiness.”
“You will let me thank you for this, Andy,” He looks halfway over his shoulder with an arched eyebrow. “Since my husband neglected to do so himself.”
Joe lifts his hands up placatingly. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I got caught up being in love with this beautiful man for almost a millennia, it slipped my mind.”
Andy laughs at him. “You’re a fucking idiot.”
Joe laughs back. “I am a fucking idiot.”
Nicky slinks back into Joe’s arms, gazing at him like he hung the moon.
“Vero,” he says, “but you are my fucking idiot.”