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For Yusuf Al-Kaysani, learning the art of patience has been a thousand-year process.

In his younger years — his much, much younger years, in the near-inconceivable time before he’d died even once — he’d always lacked restraint, forever one for barrelling headlong into a situation and considering the ramifications later. It was a gift on the battlefield and a pain in the ass off of it, and then he’d died a few dozen times and decided maybe, just maybe, something had to give.

He’s had to train the urge out of himself the best he can over the centuries, learning self-discipline from the best of them. For every fight to be fought there are days of travel and potentially weeks of research and reconnaissance to contend with, and certainly no room for fucking things up on account of a lapse in concentration.

Nicky’s always found it easier, the calm waters to Joe’s brewing storm — can stare steadfast down a rifle’s sight for so long that Joe wants to fidget on his behalf, ever in awe of his ability to apply himself so wholeheartedly when it matters. And therein lies the problem: as much as Joe has learned to be patient and to focus on the things he should be doing rather than the things he wants to be, he’s never truly not focused on Nicky.

He knows they’re luckier than most, seeing as any time spent apart is a rarity. Being separated isn’t the issue: it’s Nicky’s being so close and yet so far away whenever they have to devote themselves fully to their work, ever-present when Joe can’t have him the way he aches to. Days spent shoulder to shoulder and nights spent curled around Nicky’s sleeping body, one hand over his heartbeat, so much clothing between them and so little privacy to steal a moment for themselves.

He’s learned to endure it without complaint, for the team. For the sake of what they do, in the hope of making the world fractionally better than it was a day ago, even if it means making small sacrifices along the way.

So Joe thinks himself a patient man these days, for the most part, even if he wasn't before. He’s begun to see the benefits of a little self-control, even. Mostly for the part they get to enjoy later — the part with far less clothing and an abundance of privacy — that’s all the better for having been denied it.

The waiting’s not so bad, really. Knowing what comes after.


Late summer in southern Italy and the small apartment they intend to call home for the next few weeks is sweltering after a day drenched in sunshine, the air sultry and close despite the wispy coastal breeze idly tugging the gauze curtains back and forth over bare floorboards.

Joe feels soaked through, like a wet cloth half-wrung, sweat pricking down his spine and gathering in the crooks of his elbows and behind his knees. Everywhere he and Nicky make contact feels hotter still, bare skin on bare skin on top of dampened, twisted bedsheets.

He’s slick between his thighs with spilled lube where he’s been fingered open, sloppy and loose around two fingers and clinging to three when finally given another, precome smeared over his hipbones in gleaming stripes the exact width of Nicky’s fingers. His stomach is wet with pooled spit where Nicky had sucked him so exquisitely — so terribly, magnificently slowly — that he’d seen stars.

Nicky’s mouth finds itself otherwise occupied now that he’s draped halfway over Joe to lick into the hollow of his throat, no urgency to it despite the way his cock juts hot and heavy against Joe’s side. His index finger draws a winding pattern up the inside of Joe’s thigh and dips inside him briefly, just the wet tip of it. The fleeting touch reminds Joe of a tongue and he shivers, toes curling; thinks later he might spread Nicky out on the wreckage of this bed and lick inside him until he’s gasping and incoherent, his mouth wet now at the thought of it.

Despite the many centuries that have come and gone, Joe knows that their bodies are much the same as they ever were. The way they align so well is likely coincidence rather than design, no divine intervention needed. Still, there’s something poetic in the idea that there might be more to it than chance and that the years they’ve shared have shaped them to complement one another now more than ever. Like ancient branches grown to be intricately entwined over time, or a cliff edge hollowed out by a millennium of rolling waves to make room for the ocean: they fit.

Nicky slips one leg between Joe’s, his mouth at Joe’s neck now where he’s sucking a bruise that will vanish all too quickly. Joe rolls his hips up to meet him, a fruitless effort to find friction. He’s trying to avoid outright begging, but isn’t above some gentle and well-timed persuasion when the situation calls for it.

“Why,” Joe asks, taking Nicky by the chin and lifting it in order to meet his gaze, “are you not yet inside me?”

Nicky swallows thickly. His eyes are darker than before, Joe thinks. More intense.

“You’re so impatient,” Nicky says at last, and finds Joe’s despairing groan far funnier than he has any right to.

Impatient. They’ve been here in this bed for an hour now, maybe more, and Joe’s patience is stretched to near breaking point. Still, he can’t help but laugh too, and Nicky finally rolls off him, one hand groping for Joe’s hip to encourage him over onto his stomach.

Nicky disappears for a moment — the dip of the mattress and the click of a bottle cap happening somewhere outside of Joe’s range of vision — and then he’s back again, running his palm down the bow of Joe’s spine.

Joe shifts against the bedding, pulse thrumming in anticipation. Nicky’s body is a warm blanket over him, his weight a perfect thing. He positions himself and drags the length of his cock over Joe’s hole a couple of times, frustrating beyond measure.

“Cocktease,” Joe mutters under his breath.

“I’m going to fuck you now,” Nicky says, like a vow.

And he does, sinking inside him with admirable restraint. Takes his time and stops before he’s all the way buried, giving Joe time to adjust.

“You feel so good,” Nicky tells him.

His breath is a hot rush at the nape of Joe’s neck, as though he’d been holding it from the moment he first pressed inside him. The words are wrenched staccato from him like he’s caught off guard somehow; as if they haven’t been here thousands of times before. On beds of straw with tunics and chain mail strewn alongside them, and within castle walls when those walls were still unweathered and new. By lamplight and by fireside, in cities they’ve visited this century and in towns now long fallen to ruin and Joe never, ever stops craving it. Is stunned every time by the sweet, breathless intensity of that first careful thrust, and knows without asking that he’s not the only one.

Nicky’s hand fumbles to find Joe’s on the bed, slotting their fingers together and gripping tightly. He eases back so, so gradually that Joe can feel every inch of him, then thrusts back inside in a smooth, measured stroke.

The bedframe creaks in time with the achingly slow rhythm he’s set and Joe finds himself grasping at the sheets, panting. Nicky keeps at him like that until Joe has lost all track of time and location, immersed in the overwhelming sensation of it and doing little more than lying there and taking it while making encouraging noises.

It takes him a dizzying moment to realise Nicky has pulled out entirely, suddenly empty where a moment ago he was so full. He knows why; knows Nicky likes to take the time just to look, and flushes hot under the scrutiny.

Joe turns to look at him over his shoulder, torn between amusement and exasperation. “Are you trying to kill me?”

It wouldn’t, of course, be the first time, but would certainly be the most enjoyable way to go to date. Nicky makes an amused sound, a low hum that catches in his throat, making eye contact for all of half a second before he’s dragging his gaze down the length of Joe’s body once more.

“No,” Nicky says, finite. He eases his weight down over Joe again and noses at his ear, his mouth brushing against his hairline in a momentary tease of sensation. Scrapes his teeth along the back of Joe’s neck, unhurried and deliberate as he draws a thrilling line down the length of it. Joe groans aloud, adrenaline a heady rush in his veins when Nicky finally bites down into his shoulder, and feels, rather than sees, the hint of a smile that follows. “I’m not finished with you yet.”

He pushes back inside without preamble and it feels different now, like he’s abandoned the journey in favour of the destination. Joe knows when Nicky’s getting close by the sound of his breathing turning ragged; he nudges Joe’s legs further apart with one of his own, hitches Joe’s thigh that bit higher where he’s sprawled over the bed and fucks into him deeper, shoving him down harder into the mattress with deliberate, pleasure-seeking precision.

When he comes it’s with a bitten-back groan that goes straight to Joe’s cock and has him rutting down against the bedding mindlessly, so hard now it almost hurts as Nicky rides out the last of it and finally slips away.

Twisting over onto his back Joe feels even more drenched than he had done earlier; the air around them is humid, yet at the same time it feels as if the world is burning up around them. He’s kerosene to Nicky’s lit-match touch, sparks skittering over every nerve ending at the slightest contact.

Nicky’s fingers immediately wrap around Joe’s cock, firm and purposeful. After so long left untouched, Joe jolts at the feeling of it, his cock jerking in Nicky’s fist. His stomach clenches, a wild tug of pleasure at his core, and he hurriedly pulls one knee up, digging his heel into the bed for leverage. Thrusts up into Nicky’s perfect grip just twice more and then slumps back onto the bedsheets with a broken sigh of relief, coming in endless thick pulses over his stomach.

“Beautiful,” Nicky says. It’s barely more than a whisper, his wrist painted white, coaxing the last of it from him with clever fingers and a filthy-wet palm.

He’s a vision, a masterpiece: Joe reaches for him afterwards, an automatic response rather than a conscious effort. He presses his hand to Nicky’s cheek, the tip of his little finger tucking beneath his jaw to fit snugly against the reassuring thrum of his pulse.

“Nic,” he says, still breathless. “Fuck. Nicolo.”

He knows he must appear hopelessly besotted and doubts he could stop himself from grinning up at him like a love-drunk fool even if he wanted to. The knowing look he gets in return says you sentimental bastard, but the way Nicky leans into the warm press of his palm, his gaze soft, tells Joe everything he needs to know.

Heedless of the mess, Nicky moves to straddle him, seating himself on Joe’s thighs. He could stay there forever, Joe thinks. An eternity like this and he’d be a happy man indeed.

Nicky leans down to meet him, bringing their mouths together with a content sigh. They kiss for what feels like an age, languorous, imprecise and filthy. Joe’s dimly aware of the clock on the wall ticking away quietly but considers it irrelevant: time is for other people, tonight. The minutes don’t matter when the weeks stretch out beyond them.

“Mm. What do you want?” Nicky says eventually. When he pulls back just enough to look Joe in the eye, his smile is crooked and infinitely promising.

Joe says nothing, held captivated; Nicky’s mouth is a distraction he never tires of. He pretends to think about it, drawing out the moment further, though in truth he already knows. Lets the question hang there just to keep Nicky guessing, and instead captures his hand in his own, bringing it to his mouth to brush his lips reverently over his knuckles.

Nicky goes easily when Joe finally tips him over onto the mattress and reverses their positions in an inelegant tangle of limbs. He moves down the length of Nicky’s body at a leisurely pace, quirking an eyebrow at him as he makes his descent, and sees the exact moment Nicky’s curiosity clears to understanding.

“Oh,” Nicky breathes, his head falling back against the bed and his legs spreading instinctively wider apart to accommodate.

Joe laughs, tugging Nicky further down the mattress to meet him. He presses a lingering kiss to the inside of his knee and then another, worshipful, to his ankle. They have all the time they need, at least for now, and Joe has done his fair share of waiting.

Revenge, he thinks — at least on this particular night — is a dish best served slowly. Lavishly. Between familiar thighs.