Nicky loves watching Joe sleep.
When they first met, the shock of coming face to face with the man of his dreams proved to be lethal; in the span of time it took to confirm that the warrior was the same man he had dreamt of, said warrior proceeded to slit his throat.
Upon revival, Nicolo managed to witness a mirror effect as he caught the warrior off-guard. A look of incredulity on the warrior’s face bought him the split-second he needed to run him through. He watched, as the warrior’s life bled out of his chest, his eyes closed in defeat, a peaceful look on his face as he expired.
Somewhere in the recesses of his heart, Nicolo felt regret for not having learned his name.
Safe in Joe’s arms, Nicky wakes up happy no matter where he is.
During peaceful times like this, he always gets up first, easing his way out from between Joe’s arms so as not to wake him, not that there’s much danger of that happening. Joe sleeps like a rock (and is just as difficult to wake up), so it falls to Nicky to prepare their morning coffee.
He comes back from the kitchenette with a cup and sits on the bed. Smiling between sips, he gently caresses the sleeping man beside him, soft whimpers and sighs a prelude to the smile that will light up Joe’s face when his eyes finally open.
Nothing could have prepared Nicolo for the shock of seeing his victim become his opponent - again. The look on his face must have been the same as the warrior’s, hatred diluted by confusion. However, after having killed the warrior for the seventh time, he came to an annoying realization: he was also jealous.
Immortality on Earth was unheard of, except in the case of Christ. Nicolo had believed himself exclusively touched by the divine. So how could the Almighty casually select another? More importantly, how could He select his enemy ?
No, this was not right.
The Lord worked in mysterious ways, and Nicolo was no one to question Him. He had to put his jealousy aside. Surely the Lord had chosen him as His messenger, and deemed his quest to recapture the Holy Land righteous. Nicolo was sure the Lord would grant him victory in the face of his adversary.
But when he looked down at the warrior, he couldn’t help but notice a sort of calm on his face, as if he were sleeping instead of slain. Deep in his heart, Nicolo wondered why a face like that would do anyone harm.
No, this was not right.
God had granted the warrior - his antithesis - the gift of immortality, as well. That made no sense to him. But the Lord did not make mistakes. If that was the case, then was it possible that Nicolo could have been...wrong...in his actions?
The horror that came with that realization was soon overwhelmed by guilt. Nicolo was a priest , after all. What was he doing here, in the holiest of lands, killing people?
Nicolo knelt and ran his fingertips across the dead man’s cheek, trying to convince himself that he was just curious to see if the warrior was actually dead this time, and not praying for his resurrection.
“ Yusuf, destati ,” Nicky whispers in his ear. Joe groans and rolls forward, trying his best to open at least one eye, but fails. “ Buongiorno, ” he mumbles into the pillow. Nicky grins and leans in to kiss his temple, but Joe’s sleepiness has gotten the better of him and Nicky is met with a faint snore. He giggles, and continues to drink his coffee.
It will be a few more minutes until Joe is lucid, so it is best to leave the rest of the coffee in the pot, lest it get cold. In the meantime, Nicky continues to watch Joe sleep, enjoying the lines of his body still wrapped in the sheets.
His sweet Joe.
Nicky runs his middle finger down Joe’s nose. He has half of it pressed into the pillow, which reminds Nicky of the way Joe accidentally bumps their noses together when he comes in for a hasty kiss. Or, if he’s in a playful mood, the way Joe smushes it into the side of Nicky’s face when he nuzzles his jaw.
Joe’s nose twitches, and he rolls onto his back. Nicky runs the tip of his pinky across Joe’s lips, and a ghost of a smile appears, warming Nicky’s heart.
Continuous murder was getting exhausting, so both men decided to stop killing each other long enough to ask why they failed to die or dispatch the other. Nothing could be done without introductions, so Nicolo went first.
Nicolo pointed to himself, “Nicolo di Genoa. Nicolo.”
The warrior understood. He pointed to himself and said, “Yusuf ibn Ibrahim ibn Muhammad ibn al-Kaysani. Yusuf.”
So. He had learned the warrior’s name. Nicolo took his sword and ran his palm along the blade. He held up his hand long enough for Yusuf to see it heal. Yusuf did the same, and yielded the same result.
“Dio o il diavolo?” Nicolo asked.
Having been on the battlefield long enough to understand the Italian words for “god” and “devil,” Yusuf could only shrug his resignation to the unknowable. Whether this was divine gift or accursed punishment, neither knew, nor did it seem to matter much anymore. Nicolo sighed, and turned to walk away.
To his surprise, Yusuf began to walk alongside him. Nicolo stopped, a bewildered look on his face. Yusuf met his eyes and motioned for him to follow. The night had grown dark since the fighting had stopped, the rocky outcrop they were on littered with hundreds of dead bodies, and both armies long since removed to another killing field.
The only area free of any corpses was next to a tree a few hundred yards away. Yusuf walked slowly towards it, Nicolo following cautiously behind. Upon their arrival, Yusuf cleared some space for a small fire and a place to lie down.
It only took a few minutes for Yusuf to fall asleep, tired as he was. Nicolo was surprised that his foe would lower his guard so much in front of him. But then, what could Nicolo really do? Kill him? Not likely. So Nicolo simply sat there, content to watch the light from the fire dance across Yusuf’s face, as if he was lit from within.
Such a shame to be surrounded by the stench of death.
Another sip of coffee, and Nicky hears Joe shudder. His eyes flicker over, concerned for a moment, then relief washes over him when he sees Joe’s face relax. Joe has a tendency to have vivid nightmares a day or so after particularly hard missions, and this last one was the worst they’ve had in recent history.
Nicky believes it’s Joe’s brain trying to process extensive trauma in a short amount of time, so he makes sure to catalog any patterns that might need unpacking later, for the sake of Joe’s mental health.
He knows that when Joe breathes deeply, it’s because he is trapped somewhere in his dreams, unable to escape. If he hiccups continuously, Nicky recognizes that he is crying, despite the lack of tears on his face. He generally doesn’t try to rouse Joe - that usually causes a panic attack upon waking, which then leaves him feeling drained the rest of the day.
Instead, he usually just slips back into Joe’s arms and waits for him to calm down. If he can get Joe to relax, he wakes up in a much healthier state of mind. As there is no such need today, Nicky is content to sit back and enjoy the view. He takes another sip.
Joe farts in his sleep, and Nicky almost chokes on a snicker.
As he surveyed the horizon from where he sat, Nicolo felt his confusion turn to frustration. If both sides of this war could have been granted such immortality as his, would peace have been achieved without the Crusade?
With entire armies unable to die, could the outcome have been so simple? To share Jerusalem, the way he and the man in front of him could share a fire, hardly seemed impossible from his current vantage point.
He scoffed at the duplicity of it all. A pathetic justification for murder, conjured by fanatics claiming theirs as the will of God, when all of this suffering was so unnecessary.
Nicolo noticed Yusuf’s eyebrow twitch and his brow furrow, as though mystified. His pupils moved back and forth under his eyelids, seeking answers in the darkness. Could he be thinking the same thing?
“ Amore, destati ,” Nicky tries again, to no avail. One last sip and he stands up to get more coffee, pausing a moment to enjoy Joe’s sleeping form from a distance.
What a beautiful man he is. He recalls how moonlight gleams off Joe’s shoulders in the night, giving him an ethereal look, or the way water seems to curve around his hip and cut down his thighs in sharp rivulets in the shower, as if that was the only place water was meant to run.
Joe stirs and Nicky smiles, remembering intimate moments: the striations in his arms when he reaches over his head to remove his shirt, the power in his hands when he grips Nicky by the waist, the arch in his back when…
Joe better wake up soon , Nicky thinks to himself.
Once the impulse to kill each other had passed, they abandoned the Holy Land and headed into less populated territory, where they could try to make sense of the world without the inconvenience of death. Each man was unwilling to leave the only other person who might be able to help unravel the mystery of their experience, so they agreed to travel together.
Much to his surprise, Nicolo found Yusuf’s presence inoffensive, even comfortable. They shared meals, expenses, and communication responsibilities when they encountered other travelers. Prayer times were mutually respected. They even took turns guarding at night, more out of habit than caution, with Nicolo always taking first watch.
Both men had accepted the futility of war at this point. Neither man had abandoned the tenets of his faith, but it seemed that the rest of the world had converted to a religion of hate, which was something they refused to subscribe to.
Each man prayed to a being whose doctrine was based on love. With so many fundamental things in common between both sides, a “holy” war just seemed ridiculous.
With their faith in mankind rapidly diminishing, the question of their immortality seemed a more pressing concern, and so every day was spent learning the other’s language, in hopes of gaining some clarity on the situation in general.
They began carefully. Nicolo was slow to pick up Arabic, but his companion seemed to have a natural ear for Italian. He would later learn that Yusuf had been a merchant in his previous life, and so had more experience with different peoples - and languages - of the world. Nicolo was eager to learn, but he was often mesmerized by the beautiful sounds of Yusuf’s native tongue and frequently had to ask him to repeat himself.
Ironically, it seemed Nicolo learned most about Yusuf while he was sleeping.
He would murmur in his sleep, beautiful utterances like Malak, Safiyyah, Aamir , and it was in this way that Nicolo learned the words for mother, sister, brother , when he asked Yusuf whose names they were the following morning.
With that knowledge, Nicolo inquired after Yusuf’s family, his work and his interests, albeit in piecemeal Arabic. The warmth with which his newfound companion spoke made Nicolo’s heart ache. He had not realized how much he missed having a friend and marveled at how a complete stranger - a supposed enemy - could feel so familiar to him, regardless of the lack of vocabulary between them.
Nicolo found a certain type of serenity in those moments of camaraderie, although he knew it would be a few years before he would be able to carry a conversation in Arabic past a few broken phrases.
In the meantime, he simply enjoyed the sound of Yusuf’s voice, its cadence and rumble, and anxiously awaited the day when he could properly interpret all the little nuances he witnessed every time he took first watch.
Of course, Nicolo lost all concept of language the first time he heard a sleeping Yusuf whisper his name.
Joe’s eyes open slowly, lashes obscuring his vision. He catches Nicky’s eye, and a warm smile spreads across his face.
“Good morning , ” Nicky greets softly. “How did you sleep?”
“ Bene ,” Joe answers. “You?”
“I slept well. A most comfortable sleeping arrangement.” Joe smirks, still bleary-eyed. “Coffee?”
“Please,” answers Joe.
Nicky turns into the kitchenette of the room they are renting and pours Joe a cup. He takes a minute to look in the fridge for the small carton of cream he picked up earlier in the week. It’s almost out, but there's just enough left.
“Do we still have--” Joe begins.
“ Si ,” Nicky replies. He knows how Joe likes his coffee, and takes special care to prepare it to his taste.
“Perfect,” Joe mumbles into the sheets. “My heart, you’re perfect.”
Nicky smiles at that, for he believes the same of Joe. Who else could be so perfect for Nicky than Joe? He has fought with him, died with him, and most importantly, lived with him.
Joe has been there with Nicky to see the world fall and rise, to meet their sisters-in-arms, and to help him accept the burden of their supernatural gift, for which Nicky is eternally grateful. Joe has been at Nicky’s side throughout all his iterations, the good and bad versions of himself, and has loved each one unconditionally.
In the same way Joe has been there for Nicky, Nicky has been there for Joe. Joe has changed with the tides of time and allowed Nicky to have him and all his flaws and perfections, a privilege Nicky has never taken for granted. Joe’s capacity to both love and hate the world around him is evidence of his passion for life, and Nicky’s soul is nourished by it.
Joe is for Nicky, Nicky is for Joe.
Much like their faith, their definition of love has evolved with the centuries. They no longer try to describe what their love is to those whose scope will be too narrow to grasp it. It is beyond human comprehension. When people talk about loving someone forever, Nicky knows that forever is the only amount of time sufficiently long enough to love Joe.
Nicky comes back, cup in hand, and Joe has fallen back asleep, a dreamy look on his face.
After almost a millennia, Nicky is certain they were granted their immortality to love each other. What proof other than destiny could serve as evidence that he and Joe’s love should outlast even Death itself?
Nicky looks at Joe’s bed head, and smiles. “ Perfetto .”
Nicolo asked no questions when Yusuf woke up. Firstly, he did not have enough Arabic to do so; secondly, he felt strangely shy. As if he had discovered a secret Yusuf did not intend him to know.
That did not stop him from wondering what had changed, from the moment they became immortal, until now.
Maybe their dreams would provide the meaning of their immortality. Nicolo himself had a recurring dream of late - two women, powerful and lethal - which he did not have the language to explain to Yusuf just yet.
Had God decided to show them a different path, one that required the inability to die?
Perhaps. In any case, it was clear that the Lord had bestowed both men the gift of immortality equally. But why them specifically ?
There had to be something special about this man. Nicolo felt it in his soul.
He wasn’t sure what it was, but he felt that he had been destined to meet him, and he would stay at his side until he understood exactly why destiny had chosen them for immortality, and what exactly that meant.
One day, when he could speak to Yusuf articulately, Nicolo would ask him what his dreams were about. Until then, their routine remained unchanged: Yusuf slept while Nicolo took first watch.
And almost one thousand years later, Nicky still loves watching Joe sleep.