The first time they saw each other was in the winter of 1097, in what we would now call Turkey. Now, this wasn’t when they met, it wasn’t quite time for that yet, but it was the first time they interacted, when they fought each other outside of Antioch.
The first time they met was also the first time they died, which was months after the first time they saw each other. They fought and killed each other, only to find themselves alive, unharmed, and lying on the ground, so they did what anyone would do. They got back up and killed each other again, and again, and again. Somehow, every battle, they ended up fighting each other.
Then the Crusaders seized Antioch. Nicolo, of course, assumed that would be the end of it, that the other man would have retreated, gone home. Yusuf, however, knew that it wasn’t. That if he couldn’t die, and neither could the Frank, then they would meet again, because he would use this gift he’d been given to defend his home, his people.
The next time they saw each other was months later, in a port city between Antioch and Jerusalem. They fought again, but whilst Yusuf fought with the same passion he'd always fought with, determined to keep his family and people safe, Nicolo didn’t.
At the very beginning of the Crusades, Nicolo had fought with all his strength and all his heart. He’d been told he needed to fight for what he believed, that he was fighting for his fellow Christians, who were being persecuted, that what he was doing was right. After a year, though, he was starting to think that he may have been lied to.
They met again, at another port city, and another. Each time, they killed each other, until Nicolo just… didn’t. Yusuf was suspicious of this, as he should have been, but he was a kind man, and didn’t particularly want to kill people except in defense, so when the Frank lowered his sword, he didn’t lower his, but he also didn’t strike.
That was the beginning of a 900 year long story, though they didn’t know that yet. This chapter culminated in Jerusalem, when Nicolo did not fight. He did, in the beginning, but then he saw. He saw what his fellow men were doing. How they were killing the unarmed, the children. That, he knew, was not what his God would have wanted. So, he didn’t.
Yusuf died many, many times defending Jerusalem. He did not want to kill anyone, but he couldn’t let these people take his home, so he fought. There were rarely moments of peace, but during a rare one, he ran into the other man who couldn’t die, but not in the way he expected to.
He was met with a sword, but it was immediately lowered, recognition in the man’s eyes. He looked behind him for a split second before stepping aside. Yusuf stepped around him, as that was obviously what the man intended him to do, and was surprised to see that the room behind him contained children, and a few women.
The other Franks had been slaughtering everyone, including the women and the children, and he didn’t know why this one had done differently, but it didn’t matter at the moment. What mattered was that there were children that Yusuf could protect, and if he had to fight beside an enemy to do that, so be it.
After Jerusalem, they parted ways for what they expected to be forever, but after the third or fourth time they ran into each other, they decided to travel together. They were suspicious of each other for years, though the more they talked to each other, the less suspicious they became.
They did not speak the same language, but Nicolo knew a little Arabic in addition to his native Genoese, as well as Latin, and Yusuf knew some small amounts of Latin, in addition to his native Arabic. It wasn’t much, but they managed to piece together conversations, and over the first few years they learned each other's languages, seeing as it seemed like they were stuck together.
They weren’t friends, they were more like allies. At least, they didn’t start to become friends until one day, just over a decade after they met.
They were attacked by bandits. Usually that wouldn’t pose a problem. Both of them were immortal, and great at fighting, but even they struggled to fight off ten men right after waking up. It was going alright, until five more men joined the others, surprising Nicolo and Yusuf.
“Why do these things happen to us?” Yusuf muttered, annoyed as he struck down a man with his sword.
Nicolo laughed. “Bad luck, I guess? I mean, if we’re around this long, it’s bound to- Yusuf!”
Yusuf spun around towards Nicolo’s voice, and saw four more men, but failed to see the one who was sneaking up behind him.
“Look out!” Nicolo said, but Yusuf would have been too slow. Yet, somehow, he wasn’t injured. He realized why when he turned around to see Nicolo dead on the ground, disemboweled by the man’s sword.
His death gave Yusuf the time he needed to kill that man, and as he angrily struck down three more men, the bandits started to look worried. At the look in Yusuf’s eyes, the remaining four men fled.
“Nicolo?” he said, crouching down next to the other man’s body. “Nicolo, wake up.”
It took a minute, but Nicolo gasped back to life.
“No, no,” Yusuf said, pressing his shoulders back to the ground when Nicolo attempted to sit up. “Not a good idea. Your guts are not in your body.”
“I hate being disemboweled,” Nicolo said, his voice tight.
Yusuf snorted. “Nobody likes being disemboweled, Nicolo.”
Nicolo opened his mouth to say something back, but ended up letting out a cry of pain instead. They healed, but that didn’t mean that they didn’t hurt.
“Breathe,” Yusuf reminded him kindly. “If you don’t breathe, you will die again, and you don’t heal while you are dead.”
Nicolo slammed his head back to the ground.
“Why did you do that?” Yusuf asked. “Why did you let him kill you instead of me?”
“I don’t- I don’t really know,” Nicolo muttered. “I guess- I guess I just… didn’t want to see you die.”
Yusuf was surprised, but not surprised at the same time. “Yeah, well maybe I don't want to see you die either.”
Nicolo looked at him in confusion for a second before he tensed up and squeezed his eyes closed, trying to muffle a sound of pain as his intestines reentered his body before he continued to heal.
“You’re okay,” Yusuf said, surprising himself with the softness in his voice. “Just breathe.”