Actions

Work Header

Merrily We Roll Along

Work Text:

To put it mildly, theirs is not a case of love at first sight. Even putting aside the part where they slaughter each other at least a dozen times over, there is much to reconcile once they cease this ultimately futile behaviour. It takes them time, years in fact, to get from what they are to what they could be.

In the beginning they have no language in common. They manage to exchange names and figure out a direction to travel in through a combination of pantomime and using broken off branches to scrawl diagrams in the dirt. They sit and sleep on opposite ends of their camp, each with a weapon close at hand should the other decide to break their tentative truce. 

Slowly, oh so slowly, however, this begins to change. Nicolo offers Yusuf a piece of meat from the meal he’s been preparing over their fire. Yusuf catches Nicolo by the elbow after he stumbles during a day of travelling, preventing him from face planting into the dirt. Together they start sharing their languages and learning to converse in each other’s respective tongues.

One night about a year or two into travelling as a unit finds them seated by a campfire, next to each other as opposed to across like it had been in the early days, when Nicolo asks to see Yusuf’s sketches. 

“What?” Yusuf asks. His companion has never made such a request before and, honestly, his initial thought is that it’s probably something getting lost in translation. They’re largely capable of understanding each other at this point, but the odd mishap does still happen.

Nicolo’s expression is less easy to parse in the firelight than it would be during the day, but Yusuf can nevertheless tell that he’s frowning. “You’re always drawing,” he says finally, gesturing towards the parchment Yusuf has spread out over his knee. “I only wondered if I might take a look.”

Yusuf glances down at the parchment in question. The conditions under which he’s creating are less than ideal, so it’s hardly his best work, rather, it’s simply a way to pass the time before he settles in to sleep.

“It’s not finished yet,” he decides, unsure of why that matters but finding that it does. He pauses, hesitating to say anything further, only to give in in the end. “There are others in my pack. Would you like to see them instead?”

Nicolo nods, his lips twitching upwards in a small smile, and Yusuf finds himself scrambling towards his pack faster than is strictly necessary. His fingers tangling in one of the straps, he hauls it over, his free hand already sliding towards the pouch where he keeps the sketches he doesn’t throw away. 

“They’re nothing special,” he says as he slides them out of their hiding place. “I’m hardly a professional.”

“Have you ever seen me with a brush in hand?” Nicolo asks. He laughs when Yusuf shakes his head no. “And nor do you want to. Art is not a talent I possess. Come,” he adds when Yusuf slows. “Let me see. Please.”

It’s the please that does it, of course. Wanting to match politeness in kind, Yusuf relinquishes the papers in his hand, palming them off to Nicolo who takes them like they’re something he has to be careful with, as opposed to the meaningless scribbles of his enemy turned friend.

“These are beautiful,” he says, shuffling through the loose pages now covering his lap. He pauses to trace a finger over a depiction of a copse of trees they’d camped in some weeks ago. “They look real enough to touch.”

“Hardly,” Yusuf chokes out. He’s feeling a sudden tightening in his chest he can’t explain, one that seems to be making it hard to breathe. “They’re nothing. Just the scribbles of an amateur.”

Nicolo flicks him in the nose with one of his own works. “You shouldn’t say such things,” he says primly, the words clearly meant as a reprimand. “I said they’re beautiful, so they are.”

You’re beautiful, Yusuf thinks, and if ever there were proof that some kind of higher power is smiling down on him it’s that he doesn’t blurt the words aloud where Nicolo can hear them.

Where had that come from, he wonders. Except, as he continues to sit where he is, frozen in place lest he somehow tip Nicolo off to the path his thoughts are now tumbling down, it dawns on him that it’s not the first time such things have occurred to him.

Nicolo is beautiful, is the thing. Not just physically, although he’s certainly no slouch in that department, but rather in all ways. In the way he speaks, in the way he smiles, in the way he wields his damnable broadsword. There is nothing he does that Yusuf can’t find something wondrous in, and it occurs to him that this has been the case for quite some time now.

This, he realizes with dawning horror, is going to be a problem.

*****

Yusuf, in what he will later admit is one of the stupidest moves he has ever made, decides that the best thing to do about this newfound attraction is to ignore it. Then, when that completely and utterly fails to work, he elects to choose the method of distraction instead.

Said distraction initially takes the form of a woman he meets in a market after they’ve stopped a while in her village. She bats her eyes at him from where he’s been watching Nicolo ponder between two choices of fruit, and he turns in her direction, recognizing her invitation for what it is.

He clears his throat. “I think,” he says carefully, “that I’m going to go see what’s over there.”

Nicolo shifts minutely to follow his gaze, still holding the two peaches he’s been trying to decide upon. Then he frowns. “She’s selling cooking utensils,” he points out, confused. “We don’t need any of those.”

He’s ridiculous, and Yusuf is just so very fond of him. “It’s not her wares I’m interested in, you daft man. It’s whatever else might be on offer.”

Nicolo goes still, his face flushing, and for one glorious moment Yusuf thinks he might be about to protest this proposed course of action, to tell him he should remain here at his side instead.

Then the moment passes.

“Ah.” He says awkwardly. “Well. Don’t let me keep you.”

If only he would, Yusuf thinks but refuses to say out loud. He holds Nicolo’s gaze for a few more moments, until his companion turns away to once again focus on the produce, effectively ending the conversation.

“Right then,” he tries. “I will ... see you later?”

Nicolo hums something that’s likely meant to be an agreement and waves him off with a disinterested hand. Disgruntled, but trying not to show it, Yusuf proceeds to wander over to the other stall.

“Good day,” he tells the woman jovially upon arriving. He flashes his brightest smile, pleased when he receives a similar one in return. 

“It is, isn’t it?” She replies, her gaze roaming up and down the length of his body before returning to look him in the eye. “Though I suppose it could always be better, hmm?”

Knowing an offer when he hears one, Yusuf grins.

*****

Her name is Sara, and after some time spent chatting at her stall they agree to meet later for a drink.

What follows after that are several hours spent in pleasurable company that Yusuf exceedingly enjoys. There are no strings attached in the affair - he can’t stay forever and she doesn’t want him to - instead they are merely two consenting adults taking their enjoyment where they can find it.

He kisses her goodbye as he leaves, ever the gentleman, making her laugh and swat at him as he goes. “You are a lout and a reprobate,” she declares, eyes sparkling with mirth, “but I imagine I’ll remember you fondly.”

“I can ask for nothing more than that, dear lady,” he says, winking as the door falls shut behind him.

He meanders his way back to the inn where he and Nicolo have been staying with a spring in his step that fades the closer he gets to his destination. Enjoyable though the evening has been, Sara’s company had paled in comparison to that of whose he would truly prefer.

Still, he tells himself sternly, there’s nothing to be done about it. Nicolo has shown no inclination that he’d return Yusuf’s affections if they were made known to him, and his casual dismissal at the market place earlier today only served to further reinforce that point. Best to leave it alone.

It’s well past dark by the time he makes his way up to their room. Most of the building is quiet, the other patrons all likely asleep, and Yusuf treads lightly when he pushes open the door to his own accommodations.

He’s expecting Nicolo to be asleep when he gets in, which means he’s in for a surprise when he finds the man sitting up in bed, reading a book by candlelight.

“You’re up late,” he murmurs, not wanting to disturb the other man.

Nicolo shrugs a shoulder and flips a page without bothering to look up. “I couldn’t sleep,” he says. “I guess I’m used to having you snoring nearby.”

“I don’t snore,” Yusuf retorts, although, really, how would he know if he did? It’s not like he’d be awake to hear it.

Almost as if he can sense where Yusuf’s thoughts are going, Nicolo snickers. “How would you know?” He asks, finally looking away from the book that Yusuf doubts he’s even reading. “I’m the only one around to witness it.”

“Or I suppose I usually am,” he adds, smile dimming slightly. He clears his throat, suddenly looking unsure. “How was your evening?”

“Very good, thank you,” Yusuf replies. Settling down on his own bed, he begins tugging his boots off one after the other. “I can think of far worse ways to pass the time.” Also far better ones too, but he’s not about to say that.

“Will you see her again?” Nicolo asks, and at that Yusuf looks up sharply.

“No,” he says bluntly. “Why would I?”

“You bedded her,” Nicolo says dryly. “I’m going to assume that means you liked her company.”

Yusuf rolls his eyes and turns back away, feeling uncomfortable. “It was just sex, Nicolo. I wanted a good fuck and so did she. Now that we’ve both gotten what we were after that will be the end of it.”

“Oh,” Nicolo says, quiet now. “I see.”

“Do you have a problem with it?” Yusuf asks. Part of him is genuinely curious, wondering if he’s inadvertently treaded on some moral sticking point he hadn’t known Nicolo possessed, while the rest of him feels an irrational stab of hope that Nicolo might decry his behaviour on vastly different grounds.

He waits, wondering which result it will be, only to learn in the end that it’s neither.

“Of course I don’t have a problem with it,” Nicolo says gently. Laying down his book, he slides under his blankets, rolling over onto his side so that he can no longer see Yusuf as he prepares for bed. “You deserve whatever makes you happy.”

Yusuf manfully resists the urge to break out into hysterical laughter. “If only that were true,” he mutters low enough that Nicolo can’t hear him. “If only.”

*****

And so it goes on like that. 

Sara is far from the last person he picks up in a marketplace, but nor does he consign himself to this one realm. In one town it’s a barmaid, in another a stablehand. After that it’s a prostitute and then later still a city guard. He takes his pleasure as he finds it, each time hoping it’ll be enough to quiet the yearning in his heart even though it never is.

If Nicolo has anything to say about his behaviour, he keeps his own counsel after that first night in the inn. He knows what’s happening, obviously, he’s not blind, but he makes no comment on the matter either negative, positive, or otherwise. No, he simply lets Yusuf go about his business without so much as a by your leave.

It is utterly infuriating. 

Yusuf knows that thought is unfair, but he also cannot help it. While he’d certainly not expected Nicolo to fly into a jealous rage and protest the constant stream of partners Yusuf is now bedding (although he obviously would not have objected if such a reaction came to pass), at least a wisp of acknowledgment would have been nice. But no, Nicolo treats him no differently than ever.

Once and only once does Yusuf try to encourage Nicolo to partake in similar activities. They’re travelling through a city of reasonable size, larger than the ones they’ve tended to frequent of late,  and he decides to spend some of their diminishing coin at one of the more upscale bathhouses. 

“You should join me,” he says after he’s made his plans known. “You’ll feel better after you’ve washed some of the trail off you.”

“I wasn’t aware I was feeling particularly poorly,” Nicolo replies. His voice is as dry as a desert, but he softens the barb with a quiet smile. “How kind of you to look out for my well-being.”

“Your well-being is one of the few things in this life I consider important,” Yusuf says without thinking. He flushes as soon as he realizes what he’s said. “I mean,” he hastens to cover up. “I have a reputation to uphold. I can’t be seen with a travelling companion who looks like he died on the side of the road.”

“I have died on the side of the road, at least once or twice,” Nicolo points out, snickering when Yusuf shoots him a dirty look. “So have you.”

Deciding to be the bigger man, Yusuf neglects to note that at least a few of the times that had happened it’d been because Nicolo had put him there. Nicolo doesn’t like being reminded of how they used to treat each other, and frankly neither does Yusuf.

Instead what he says is, “If you won’t do it for me, then do it for yourself. You’ll be much more likely to attract some pleasurable company if you don’t smell like something that crawled out of a pit.”

The mirth immediately vanishes from Nicolo’s eyes and his smile shrivels and dies. “I’ve no interest in that sort of thing,” he says then, his voice clipped. “None whatsoever.”

“Nicolo,” Yusuf says, immediately contrite. “Forgive me. I did not mean to overstep.”

“You didn’t,” Nicolo replies, equally quickly. “I’m sorry, I ... I’m tired from the road, is all. I think I’ll try to nap while you’re out.”

“Are you sure?” Yusuf asks dubiously. He doesn’t know what, but he has the distinct impression Nicolo is hiding something. “I don’t have to go. I can stay here if you need anything.”

“No,” Nicolo says, and again there’s a brittleness to him that Yusuf can’t abide. “No,” he repeats, softer when Yusuf makes an aborted move towards him. “I’m fine, my friend, and you deserve a chance to relax like I’m sure you’ve been wanting. Go on, go do as you will.”

Since he can think of no real excuse not to, Yusuf goes, but for once he spends the night alone.

*****

It comes to a head in a tiny village just left of nowhere. 

They’re staying in a place that’s little more than a hut on the outskirts of a farm. The owner has permitted them to use it in exchange for some work done mending fences that she cannot manage on her own, and it gives them a slight reprieve as they determine where they want to go next.

The hut is tiny, containing little more than a table and two beds that have seen better days. Still it’s a roof over there heads and a decent enough place to sleep after a hard days work.

On top of that, they finish the fence fairly quickly, but are not immediately turned away. Instead, they’re told to take as much time as they feel like, and if she has any more work for them the owner will let them know.

Yusuf finds himself enjoying the peace and quiet after so long on the road, and he suspects Nicolo feels the same way. They spend the next few days lazing about, wiling away the hours spent in each other’s company until one afternoon when Nicolo comes to him with cloak in hand.

“I’m going into town,” he says, shrugging the cloak on with ease. “I thought maybe I’d start picking up some supplies. Did you want to come with me?”

Yusuf looks up from where he’s been working on a sketch of one of the nearby fields, frowning as he contemplates the thought of leaving it when it’s only halfway finished.

Clearly sensing his inner struggle, Nicolo huffs out a laugh and claps him on the back of the neck, his thumb stroking the skin there gently. “Never mind,” he says, still chuckling. “You enjoy your art and I’ll see you when I get back.”

Yusuf feels his face flush, and his skin feels hot where Nicolo had just been touching him. “It’s not art,” he says like he always does. “Just scribbles.”

“Scribble me something nice then,” Nicolo directs, having the audacity to follow the command up with a wink.

He’s out the door before Yusuf can come up with a witty rejoinder.

“Bastard,” Yusuf mutters under his breath. Of course, there’s no heat in the word. There very rarely is when it’s Nicolo he’s talking to.

Feeling suddenly restless, Yusuf sets down the charcoal he’s holding and eyes the parchment in front of him. It doesn’t look half bad, he decides, but now there’s an itch between his shoulder blades that has him unable to sit still.

Pushing away from the table, he stands and paces about the room as he considers what to do.

It would be silly for him to follow Nicolo, he decides, partly because he’d indicated a lack interest in his plans and partly because he’s been gone long enough now that Yusuf would have to run to catch him, which would just look ridiculous.

He could go for a walk in the opposite direction, he supposes. The fields are quite pretty, and maybe he’d be able to regain the inspiration he needs to work on his drawings.

His mind made up, he too exits the hut and begins strolling away from the entrance.

It doesn’t take him long to hit one of the trails used by the locals as they go about their business. It’s not busy, indeed he can’t see anybody on it, but it gives him a direction to go in, and he meanders down the path a little ways, enjoying the feel of the breeze on his skin.

He’s so caught up in his wandering that he doesn’t realize he’s no longer alone until he almost trips over the newcomer; a man of about thirty who’s also moving in a way that suggests he’s not overly caught up in where he’s going.

“My apologies,” the man says when they’ve narrowly managed to avoid colliding with each other. “I didn’t see you there, although how I could have missed you, I’ve no idea.”

His voice is light, joking, but at the same time it also contains the faintest hint of something else, and Yusuf is many things, but he doesn’t believe unobservant is one of them. 

Or at least that’s what he thinks at this exact moment. It will later be made clear to him that there are some signs he may want to pay closer attention to.

For now, however, he meets his new companion’s gaze with ease, not missing the look in his eye. “Yusuf,” he says without preamble, figuring that if this is heading where he suspects it might he may as well get the pleasantries out of the way now.

“Aron,” the other man replies, which is as good an acknowledgement as any.

He’s handsome, Yusuf thinks. Not in the way Nicolo is, but then nobody else truly falls into that category as far as he’s concerned. Yet this fellow is easy enough on the eyes, and there’s a distinct tilt to his head that says he’s interested in something.

Suspecting he knows exactly what that something is, Yusuf allows himself a moment to consider it. It’s been a while since he’s taken a new lover, the act having grown somewhat stale in recent weeks. On the other hand, Nicolo will be gone for the foreseeable future, and maybe this is what he needs to scratch the itch he hasn’t been able to shake.

He raises his head then, meeting Aron’s gaze levelly in a way he hopes shows willing. Judging by the other man’s resulting grin, he suspects it does.

“Did you have somewhere in mind?” Aron asks. There’s just a hint of a challenge in his voice, one that Yusuf notes while he considers their options.

Normally he wouldn’t take the risk of bringing someone back to whatever residence he’s currently sharing with Nicolo, but there’s only fields for as far as the eye can see and there’s a distinct chill in the air that suggests the weather could take a turn for the worse unexpectedly.

“I know a place,” he says casually, and the other man again grins in recognition of the offer that goes unsaid.

Aron wastes no time once they step into the hut. One of his hands automatically tangles in Yusuf’s hair, while the other goes to curve around his hip. Then together they stumble further inside.

Surprised but not displeased by this stranger’s forwardness, Yusuf briefly allows himself to be steered backwards, but then decides he has no interest in ceding over control. Twisting sharply, he breaks Aron’s grip, using the element of surprise to shove him up against the closest wall to bracket him in with his arms.

Aron hisses, but it’s a noise of satisfaction, and this time both his hands settle on Yusuf’s hips, fingers playing with the hem of his breeches in a way that says he means business. 

“What do you want?” He asks between kisses, and Yusuf is pondering how best to answer that question when he hears a startled gasp behind them.

Whirling around at the unexpected sound, he finds Nicolo staring at him, his eyes wide as saucers where he stands frozen in place. He’s in the middle of shrugging out of his cloak, but seems to have forgotten as much, too busy gaping at the spectacle Yusuf is currently making of himself.

“I ...” he says, but that’s it. That’s all that comes out. He just keeps standing where he is, mouth open in shock.

Appalled, Yusuf scrambled out of Aron’s embrace, his hands automatically moving to straighten out his tunic and simultaneously get his hair under control. Both actions are about as successful as one might expect.

“Nicolo,” he starts. He has no idea what to say here. “You’re back early.”

“It felt like rain,” Nicolo says slowly, the words slipping out like he’s not even aware he’s saying them. His gaze, as piercing as ever, stays zeroed in on Aron. “I - it felt like rain.”

And Yusuf can hardly argue with that now, can he? After all, the reason he’d foolishly come back to the hut was because he’d had an inkling the weather was about to shift.

“I see,” he says, and then it’s his turn to trail off for lack of anything better to say, leaving himself and Nicolo staring at each other in stupefied silence.

“I should go,” Aron mutters, awkwardly rearranging his breeches as he pulls away.

Yusuf pays him no mind as he maneuvers around them to make a break for the door. His attention is far too focused on the other person in the room, the one with a now implacable expression on his face.

“That was a man,” Nicolo says flatly, and there is something horribly, devastatingly wrong with his tone. “You bed men.” 

“Y-es,” Yusuf says slowly, unsure of why this fact seems to be of particular importance. “Men, women, it makes no difference to me.” Or at least it doesn’t if he can’t have the one he truly wants. “You knew that though.”

Nicolo barks out a laugh without a single trace of humour in it. “No, Yusuf, I most assuredly did not know that. Believe me, had I had even the slightest inkling that you had such interests I would have been handling this whole situation even more poorly than I have been.”

Yusuf’s not entirely sure what that means, but he knows it isn’t good. His heart sinking, he takes a step back, suddenly needing to put some distance between them. 

“What are you saying?” He asks, or stutters really. “I - I don’t ... Nicolo.”

“No,” Nicolo says firmly. “I can’t talk about this with you right now, and I can’t be here either.”

As Yusuf watches, horrified, he reaches out to grab his cloak where it’s only recently returned to hanging on a hook by the door. Shrugging into it in one of the least coordinated movements Yusuf has ever seen him make, he fastens it into place.

“I’m going back out,” he says, already turning towards the exit irregardless of his earlier concerns about the weather. “Do not follow me.”

*****

As per Nicolo’s wishes, Yusuf doesn’t follow him. Instead, he sinks into one of the chairs by the table, burying his head in his hands as he contemplates just how much of a disaster he’s created.

He’d forgotten, or perhaps hadn’t wanted to consider the fact, that not everyone approves of men who lay with other men. It’s never been an issue for him, and he’d seen no reason to believe it would bother Nicolo either. Clearly, however, that had been extremely shortsighted of him as it’s apparent it very much does bother Nicolo. 

He wonders, a heart wrenching thought that makes his jaw clench to the point of pain, if this means they’ll have to stop travelling together. It’s been just the two of them for ages now, thrown together by the bizarre twist of fate that finds them akin to one another, and Yusuf has never hated the thought of eternity more than he does as he contemplates a version of it where Nicolo isn’t by his side.

Wanting to be there when Nicolo inevitably resurfaces, he attempts to distract himself, first with his sketchbook, and, then, when all that does is result in his creating an image of a hauntingly familiar face, through exercise. Picking up his scimitar, he runs through a series of practice drills, hoping doing so will quiet his mind.

Ultimately he fails in his attempt, but it does have the benefit of keeping him busy until he can justify preparing himself a light supper of bread and dried fruit. Unfortunately, the food sits as heavily in his stomach as his thoughts do in his mind.

It’s just that, of all problems he might have expected to encounter, this had never been one of them. Indeed, even after having the evidence fall directly in his face, he still feels like the facts don’t add up.

Nicolo is ... is good, is what he is. Yes, he has qualities that Yusuf is sure others would find annoying, and he has an absolutely wretched temper when properly crossed, but there is simply an innate kindness to him that Yusuf has never seen anyone else possess. The thought that he might take issue with this of all things, well, it is simply impossible to comprehend.

Except it becomes considerably less difficult to comprehend the more time passes without his return.

It’s dark when Yusuf hears the sound of the door slowly creaking open, and by this point he’s well and truly worked himself into a lather. Convinced that he’s about to lose the most valuable relationship in his life, he’s taken to pacing back and forth across the tiny length of the hut, his thoughts chasing themselves over and over in his head as he goes.

“Oh,” Nicolo says, sounding surprised as he enters the room. “You’re still here.”

Yusuf feels another pang in his chest as it dawns in him that Nicolo was likely hoping for the exact opposite to be the case when he returned. The odds are good he’d prefer him to be long gone at this point.

In hindsight it might have made more sense for him to leave, but besides that he has as much right to be here as Nicolo does. Out loud he says, “You told me not to follow you. I was respecting your wishes.”

Nicolo responds with a tremulous smile. “Of course,” he says, slowly removing his cloak and once again draping it over the hook near the door. “I know I can always count on you to do that.”

“Do you?” Yusuf demands, and the words must come out more harshly than intended given the way Nicolo’s eyebrows shoot up towards his hairline. “Then can I count on you to do the same?”

“I - of course,” Nicolo says. “Yusuf, if this is about how I ... reacted earlier I -“

“Of course it’s about how you reacted earlier,” Yusuf spits, getting more and more worked up as he goes. “I deserve better than this, Nicolo. Just because your people take a poor view of my lifestyle doesn’t make it any less valid than your own.”

Nicolo jerks back like he’s been slapped. “I - what? What are you talking about? Which people?”

Yusuf gestures towards a pack resting at the foot of Nicolo’s bed, one he knows contains the remnants of the armour he’d sported in Jerusalem. “Your people,” he says again. “The ones who take issue with how I prefer men as well as women.”

“My - ?” Nicolo’s eyes widen in sudden understanding. “No, please, if you would just let me speak for a moment -“

“I don’t want to hear what you have to say,” Yusuf shoots back. Crossing his arms over his chest defensively, he meets Nicolo’s gaze head on. “And by the way, I’m not leaving. If you have a problem with me then you can be the one to go sleep out in the elements.”

“Yusuf, you are beginning to try my patience,” Nicolo says, his own voice rising. “Would you just let me speak for one blessed second?!”

“Well that’s what it is, isn’t it?” Yusuf tries to snap but at this point there’s no real heat in it, only pain. “You found my behaviour annoying and crude when you thought it was only women I was laying with, but now that you know the truth you think it’s disgusting.”

Nicolo gapes at him. “Yusuf, you absolute imbecile!” He groans. “I am not upset because you are sleeping with men, I am upset because you are sleeping with men who are not me.”

There is a very long, long pause.

“I’m sorry, what?” Yusuf blinks, certain he must have heard wrong. “Could you repeat that?”

Nicolo gives him a look that suggests he very much wishes they were still enemies so he could justify throttling him with his bare hands. “I said,” he grits out through clenched teeth, “that the only person I want sharing your bed is me.”

No doubt due to the shock of these words, Yusuf’s legs abruptly decide they are no longer capable of keeping him upright and he finds himself needing to sit down on the edge of said bed very quickly.

“But that can’t be right,” he says, more to himself than to anyone else as he sags down onto the mattress. “You would have said something before now if it were true.”

“Why in God’s name would I?” Nicolo demands, sounding exasperated. “You’ve been throwing yourself at every suitable woman who so much as breathes in your direction for months now. If that’s not a hint to say you’re not interested, I don’t know what it is.”

“Not interested,” Yusuf repeats, aghast. He surges back upright as quickly as he’d sat down, needing the space to move. “In what world are you living that you think I’m not interested?”

Now it’s Nicolo’s turn to blink. “Well, this one, I suppose. Why else would you be carrying on the way you have been?”

“I was trying to distract myself!” Yusuf yells then, waving his hands for emphasis while Nicolo recoils in surprise. “You never showed any sign you might feel the same way and I didn’t exactly relish the prospect of mooning over you for all eternity. I thought if I focused on others enough it might go away.”

“For the record,” he adds with a muttered curse, “it did not work.”

“Of course it didn’t,” Nicolo agrees, “because it’s idiotic. So, what are you saying,” he continues on, ignoring Yusuf’s flinch, “that you’d be open to the idea of me warming your bed?”

“No,” Yusuf replies, because if there’s one thing he’s going to make abundantly clear by the end of this debacle it’s the true depth of his feelings. “I’m saying I love you.”

“You love me,” Nicolo echoes, voice suspicious but maybe, just maybe, a little hopeful as well. “Hmm. Perhaps it’s my tiny heathen brain getting confused, but on the surface I’d say you have a funny way of showing it.”

“I ... deserved that,” Yusuf admits, capitulating freely. “I’m sorry.”

“For which?” Nicolo asks, tilting his head to one side. “For being an unmitigated horse’s ass, or for loving me?”

Yusuf blinks. “For the first one, obviously. Never the second one.”

“I didn’t think you would ever want me,” he adds when Nicolo gives him a knowing look. “I thought you would reject me at best.”

“Yes, because apparently you think I am a hateful bigot who’s failed to put our differences aside even after all these years.”

No,” Yusuf insists, almost impressed with himself that he’s managed to fuck things up so gloriously. “No,” he repeats, softer now. “Not that. Never that. I’m no prize, Nicolo. I wasn’t before I died for the first time, and I’m not now either. You are too good for me.”

Nicolo boggles at him. “You,” he says firmly, “are the only prize I have ever wanted. I both love and adore you, you idiot.”

And well that’s just - just ... well. Yusuf honestly doesn’t know what to do with that.

“I ...” he says eloquently.

Nicolo, however, bless his ridiculous soul, takes pity on him. “You should kiss me,” he says, very seriously. “Right now before any other misunderstandings get in our way.”

And Yusuf can absolutely do that, even if it’s without his usual finesse. Letting his eagerness get the better of him, he stumbles forward to cup Nicolo’s face in his hands and drags him in for first one kiss followed by many more.

“I,” he says in between kisses, “have been waiting for this for a very long time, Nicolo di Genova. I have wanted you since, since I don’t know, the first time I saw you, most likely.”

“The first time you saw me, you stabbed me to death,” Nicolo snorts, although he makes no move to stop the affection he’s being lavished with. “It was not exactly the height of romance.”

“Fine then, since the second time I saw you,” Yusuf amends. “Now, hold still. I am trying to ravish you here.”

“You have the soul of a poet,” Nicolo deadpans, only to yelp in surprise when Yusuf gets his hands around his hips and uses this newfound leverage to hoist him up onto the table. “Yusuf, you utter bastard, warn a man when you’re going to do something like that, would you?”

“And ruin the surprise?” Laughing with delight, Yusuf spreads Nicolo’s legs open so he can press himself in between them and stretch up to continue kissing him. “I think not, my love.”

Nicolo stills, his hands dropping down to rest on Yusuf’s shoulders, and for a brief, terrible moment he thinks he’s said something wrong. Then Nicolo smiles, that wide, bright-eyed smile, the one that puts Yusuf in mind of the sun breaking out from behind the clouds, and he knows everything is alright.

“Your love is it?” Nicolo murmurs, his fingers twisting in the fabric of Yusuf’s shirt. “Is that what I am?”

“Yes,” Yusuf says simply, for once not coating his agreement with reams of eloquent words and dramatic declarations. There will, after all, be time for that later. “If you’ll have me.”

Nicolo leans forward until their mouths are almost touching, until Yusuf can feel it when he speaks. “I think,” he says, voice hushed, “that you already know my answer.”

*****

They don’t fuck that night. The urge is there, is strong, but Yusuf stands firm against temptation. He’s inadvertently done enough damage already, he will not let it taint the first time they make love.

He declares as much aloud to Nicolo, who responds by wrinkling his nose. “You’re ridiculous,” he says finally, albeit in a tone of absolute fondness, “but if that’s how it’s to be, fine. You may have it your way. Now, get back over here and kiss me again.”

Yusuf is only too happy to oblige, finding that this, more than anything, is what he’s been waiting for. He folds Nicolo into his arms, tangling their legs together now that they’ve migrated to a bed, and kisses him for all he’s worth.

“I truly am sorry,” he murmurs, lips brushing the edge of Nicolo’s jaw as he speaks. “For what I said earlier, for not saying what I should have before that, for making you think I could ever prefer some stranger over you. For all of it.”

Nicolo gasps as Yusuf shifts to nip sharply at his throat, sinking his teeth in briefly and then sucking a mark that unfortunately won’t last for more than a few seconds. “We are ... christ, Yusuf, we are neither of us blameless in this incident. I should have said something back in the beginning, and I should not have walked out on you earlier today.”

“You were upset,” Yusuf points out, hissing when Nicolo gets a hand in his hair and pulls. “You were -“

“Hush,” Nicolo says, using his grip to shake Yusuf’s head from side to side. “What’s done is done and we’ve sorted ourselves out accordingly. We can either both accept the blame or both drop it, I don’t care, but if you keep this up then it’s not going to matter what else you want, I’m going to wind up ruining my breeches like an excitable schoolboy.”

“That,” Yusuf says, delighted, “is the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me.”

Nicolo hits him with a pillow.