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hallelujah, you're still mine

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1105

Yusuf awakens to find he’s drifted in the night.

They’re camped on the cold ground, heading towards the nearest port to find transportation away from the battlefield. Too many saw them die. If they are caught, they will be marked as otherworldly and locked away. He’d rested his weapons near him in the night and had gone to his sleep covered with the heavy blanket from the horses a small distance away from his tentative ally, but it’s not how Yusuf awoke.

His fingers are pressed firmly against Nicolò’s chest, as if seeking out a different type of warmth that the blanket cannot provide. His nose is buried in his hair, which still smells of blood and incense, but deeper beneath is a smell of Nicolò that Yusuf has started to seek out.

“Yusuf?”

Nicolò’s sleep-worn voice sings to him. In the six years since they first killed one another, they have yet to leave each other’s side. This is the first time, though, that he has awoken to find themselves as entangled as sleep as they are in their quest to find safety.

Now, for the first time, Nicolò seeks him in sleep and Yusuf’s body aches to answer its call.

He looks to his weapon lying a few feet away, then to where Nicolò is pinning his arm down with his body, refusing to relent Yusuf’s hold on him. It would be safer for them to be defended, but the thought of leaving the warmth of Nicolò’s body is an enemy. He’s never awoken this tangled, this tight, this temptingly close, but now that he has, it seems impossible to want to move away.

“Nicolò,” Yusuf mumbles in reply, abandoning his weapon to wrap his other arm around the man’s body, breathing in deeply as he slides one of his legs in between Nicolò’s to hook it back and bring him closer.

Their languages still rarely meet and match.

Names do not fall victim to the same barriers that prevent them from talking.

Yusuf speaks Nicolò’s name until it becomes its own language and Nicolò does the same in turn. Their sighs, their breaths, their movements all add words to the dictionary of this shared form of communication, and right now, the way Yusuf breathes Nicolò’s name is one of yearning and need.

It’s the first time they’ve awoken together so close, but already Yusuf doesn’t think he wants to sleep any other way. He presses his lips to Nicolò’s neck and soothes him, encouraging him to rest.

The morning will wait.

The ground is yet cold, the sun has yet to rise. Nicolò is safe within his arms and Yusuf will protect him. He may not understand why their destinies are tangled together, but after six years fighting at one another’s sides instead of against each other, it’s time for a change.

Nicolò seems to agree. His body goes slack with relaxation, sighing heavily with relief as he curls back into Yusuf’s arms, his fingers sliding over Yusuf’s to hold onto him. The song of the morning bird will summon them when it’s time to move again.

For now, they rest.

Yusuf breathes in Nicolò’s scent again as he burrows closer and lets himself fall back to sleep, truly at peace in a way he can’t remember having achieved before in his life.


1426

August in Italy is an overbearing and sticky heat, but Yusuf isn’t complaining.

It means Nicolò strips down to nothing at all, a veritable sculptor’s dream as he parades around their apartments with his ass on display. “Get away from the window,” Yusuf complains, when Nicolò strolls over to open the shutters to greet a new Florentian day, giving the entire city a view of a body that belongs to him.

Nicolò smirks as he glances at him over his shoulder. “Jealous?”

“Furiously,” Yusuf growls, shoving the linen sheets off him as he prowls towards Nicolò, capturing him by the window and dragging him back into his arms.

Nicolò fights him, but Yusuf has the upper hand, hooking both arms under Nicolò’s armpits and dragging him back towards the bed as Nicolò nips at his wrist to try to dissuade him. It does nothing.

Yusuf digs his heel in the ground so they both collapse against the bed’s rumpled sheets, with Nicolò squirming to try and get out of the hold. “Yusuf,” Nicolò complains, when Yusuf presses his knee gently to the small of Nicolò’s back to prevent him from moving.

“Hush,” Yusuf warns. “I need to make art.”

Nicolò’s laughter is soft, muffled by the pillow. Yusuf straddles Nicolò and bends to press kisses up the map of each bone in his spine, sighing with tender joy as he comes to his canvas. Nicolò’s neck is a beautiful thing, a thing Yusuf delights in marking.

Their gifts mean that any mark that Yusuf leaves will be far from permanent, but he delights in the thrill of both the act and the attempts to see how long this lover’s tattoo might last.

Yusuf splays his hands on Nicolò’s shoulder to pin him to the bed as he rocks his hips against him, listening to Nicolò’s sacrilegious praise as Yusuf’s teeth scrape to find the perfect location and his mouth works in communion with his tongue to give him a heavenly gift.

“There, I think,” Nicolò lets out a pleading moan of encouragement.

Yusuf finishes his task, easing back to brush the pad of his thumb over the swiftly disappearing mark, but Nicolò is unwilling to give him quarter as he waits. While he begins his count, it’s disrupted by Nicolò flipping them over to begin paying his own attentions to Yusuf’s body as he scrapes his teeth over a nipple, resting his chin near Yusuf’s heart. He stretches his neck to give him a view, even as the devious heathen reaches down to take Yusuf’s cock in hand.

His count (“one, two, three, Nicolò, fuck, please”) doesn’t finish before the mark has vanished completely.

“How long was it that time?” Nicolò asks, his strokes slowing.

The record is still two minutes, back in 1295, after Yusuf had taken much too long to revive and Nicolò had decided to mark him and the occasion with his teeth. Maybe the universe had known that Nicolò needed that extra reassurance of who Yusuf belonged to.

“Eleven seconds, I think,” Yusuf sighs, scraping his thumb over the space where the mark has healed. It really is a tragedy that Nicolò’s body has decided that bearing demonstrative marks of Yusuf’s love for him are to be erased as easily as a puncture from a sword.

“Eleven seconds,” Nicolò echoes, making a face as he looks up at Yusuf. His hair is a mess at this hour, sticking to the back of his neck with the heat. Yusuf has to brush it away with two fingers to find a new canvas to try, hauling him back up.

His own pleasure falls victim to his stubborn determination to leave more of a mark on Nicolò’s body.

“Not long enough, that’s what it is,” Yusuf complains. “Let’s try that again.”

“Don’t let me stop you.”


1960

Despite Nicky’s promises otherwise, Joe knows his bed head first thing in the morning is appalling.

His first act out of bed if Nicky is still sleeping is finding the nearest mirror to tame it, or else he’s liable to give Nicky a mouthful of hair when he returns for a lazy morning lie-in. He’s ducking his head down to check his reflection when he sees the glint of something on the bathroom counter that hadn’t been there the night before.

“Nicky,” Joe calls over to him, once he’s spied the wide silver ring. “What is this?” He picks it up, tipping his head one way, then the other, squinting at the fine detail work on the piece of jewelry.

Joe casts a glance over to Nicky, who lies in bed with his naked limbs sprawled out between the sheets, beautiful as ever and making Joe’s fingers itch to sketch him. He’s freshly awake, rubbing sleepily at his eyes and trying to make sense of what Joe is talking about.

Then, his eyes catch the ring and his joy is a revelation. Saints could only hope to infuse you with such warmth and peace.

“I melted down the silver lire we had from the 1870’s to make it,” he says, propping himself up on his elbow as he watches Joe study the ring in the warm sunlight. It’s clearly not a wedding ring, which is a small detail that Joe appreciates.

They’re beyond names like boyfriend, partner, even husband.

Early on, they knew they were one another’s everything, their all-encompassing wholeness, but every once in a while, Nicky’s habit of lavishing Joe with gifts has them running parallel to modern traditions.

“I thought you might like it,” Nicky murmurs, the sheets tangled up to his hips. The deep green of them makes his eyes look brighter than ever.

Joe wanders back, dragging his thumbnail over the etchings, as if pulling a memory up from the abyss. It’s been so long and the symbols are smaller than he remembers, but he knows them. They’re the same as the symbols on a shield long-buried in the sands of a warscape an eternity away.

“My family’s crest,” Joe says, staring at Nicky in amazement. “How’d you remember?”

“Booker helped me. And the Metropolitan,” Nicky admits, his lips steadily curving upwards. “Dallo qui,” he says, reaching out for the ring.

Joe cedes it, perched on the edge of the bed while he watches the worshipful way Nicky slides it onto the ring finger of his right hand. Joe stares at it in the sunlight, bending his fingers to see how it moves, stretching them out to make sure it stays.

It does. It’s a perfect fit, just like them.

Nicky lifts Joe’s hand to his lips to press kisses to each of his knuckles, spending more time on the ring finger so his lips anoint the ring. Joe watches it all with a dazed look, loving this man beyond measure, beyond words, beyond time.

“You know I’m never taking this off,” Joe warns him, eager to find out all the ways it looks when pressed against Nicky’s body.

From the self-satisfied and smug smile on Nicky’s face, that’s exactly what he was expecting.

“I’d kill you if you dared.”

“Let’s not go back on those old habits,” Joe quips, sliding their hands together to see how their fingers fold together, the cool silver slotted up against Nicky’s warm hands. “It’s beautiful, Nicky,” he praises. “You’re beautiful.”

Bed head be damned, Joe is going right back to making a mess of it, eager to show Nicky just how much he likes it.


2020

Alarm clocks have long been banished in Joe and Nicky’s home. Instead, they use the sun to wake them. Nicky is pliant in his arms, and with the curtains open, the dawn spills in, warming their skin. Joe noses at Nicky’s neck, a lazy kiss pressed there to the taste of salt on his skin.

Merrick Pharmaceuticals is a demon that only lives in their nightmares, but last night, Joe’s dreams had been filled with old memories -- good memories.

He’d dreamed of Nicky throughout the ages, of decades when his hair had been long enough for Joe to tug him around with both hands buried in strands of it, and summers spent watching Nicky’s hopeless attempts to tan his skin while their gift swiftly undid the sun’s damage. He’d dreamed of endless permutations of their bodies tangled together, inventing more ways to love one another than most people will ever imagine in their lifetime.

Joe dreams of Nicky and wakes up to the steady warmth and weight of him in his grasp, reminding him that his reality is every bit as good as his dreams.

“Joe,” is Nicky’s sleepy sigh when Joe kisses the nape of his neck, the sound unchanged in a millennia.

It’s as sweet as ever, and it makes Joe tighten his grasp a little harder, a possessive need flooding over him. Andy’s mortality isn’t a frightening thing, but it has made him appreciate his Nicky all the more. “I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking we waste the morning sleeping in,” Joe mumbles, amidst kisses near Nicky’s ear.

For good measure, he sucks a red mark into the pale skin and takes solace in watching it heal. It’s not their time, not yet.

Nicky has other plans.

“You may be sleeping in, but I am cooking you breakfast in bed,” Nicky announces, squirming from Joe’s hold. “It’s been too many years since I did that!” he calls, already on his way to the kitchen.

Joe’s complaints are unheeded as Nicky isn’t lured back by any of them. It’s a travesty, that’s what it is, though one that Joe thinks he might be able to endure when Nicky comes back to bed a half an hour later wearing nothing but a pair of Joe’s boxer-briefs, carrying a tray of crepes and an omelette.

The tray is capped off with a single red rose, which Joe plucks off to smell deeply.

“I thought I was the incurable romantic,” Joe teases him.

“I think by now, we can share the title,” Nicky replies, handing him cutlery and letting Joe tug him into his lap so they’re pressed together as they share breakfast. Each bite of food is intermixed with kisses to Nicky’s bare shoulder, his legs encircling his everything and holding him close. “What do you think?”

“I think your talents still amaze me,” Joe insists, knowing that he will never eat anything as delicious as Nicky’s cooking, because it’s always made with such love and the care of centuries of experience.

He leans forward to pluck the tray out of Nicky’s hands to put it on the bedside table. Once it’s safely out of the way, he pounces, grabbing Nicky by the hips and dragging him down to the bed to crawl on top of him. Casually, he straddles Nicky, watching as he stretches out, chin lifted in the air with smug delight while he gets comfortable.

He knows what’s coming.

“Now what are we going to do about thanking you for breakfast in bed?” Joe muses, spider-walking his fingers slowly down Nicky’s bare torso, snagging his fingers into Nicky’s boxer-briefs as he marvels at how good the silver ring looks against the dark fabric.

Nicky smirks at him from his reclined position. “I trust you to think of something.”

How well he knows him, because Joe is full of ideas of how to pass this incredible sleepy morning in bed with the man he loves.

He’s spent a millennia learning how to love this man, but every sleepy morning they share together is proof that he needs at least a millennia more to truly appreciate him and he doesn’t intend to waste a single sleepy moment of it.