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Yusuf spoke enough of Nicolo’s language that it seemed like the easiest way to communicate once they stopped murdering each other over and over again. Able to converse with relative fluency, Yusuf saw no need to teach Nicolo his own language, save a helpful phrase or two to keep him from giving offense or drawing too much attention, and Nicolo never asked to learn.

It was also quite the cathartic experience, calmly telling Nicolo to go fuck himself right to his face. Best of all, the other man did nothing more than frown at him and continue walking, lips pressed thin. Nicolo was going to do that anyway, so Yusuf couldn’t blame himself for taking advantage.

However, when their antagonism transformed into respect and companionship and they began to know each other more, Yusuf took advantage of the language barrier for a different reason altogether. 

 

- - -

 

Yusuf admired Nicolo’s form as the man reorganized his pack. He was dressed more practically now, the colors of the invaders long abandoned, and Yusuf couldn’t help but feel it better suited him.

“You know, if you hadn’t been wearing that giant filthy sack when we battled, I might have lost more fights,” Yusuf mused in Arabic. “You have a truly wondrous ass and I doubt I’d have been able to take my eyes off it long enough to kill you.”

Nicolo froze where he was bent over and counting the remains of their food. “ What?

Don’t worry so much about our provisions, ” Yusuf told him easily in Italian. “ There’s a small market town near here.

That’s not- “ Nicolo broke off with an agitated grunt. He didn’t continue the conversation, instead moving to check their water next.

Slowly chewing through a handful of dates, Yusuf continued appreciating Nicolo.

 

- - - 

 

“I think you’d be quite good at sucking cock,” Yusuf suggested mildly as Nicolo drank. 

The other man coughed abruptly and spilled water over his chin. 

Down the wrong pipe? ” Yusuf asked so Nicolo could understand him.

He received a dirty glare for all his consideration. 

“The things your mouth could do,” Yusuf added wistfully as Nicolo wiped hurriedly at his face.

 

- - -

 

“Everyday you tempt me to fuck you,” Yusuf sighed, shaking his head at Nicolo’s bare chest. 

Nicolo accidentally dropped his newly washed shirt on the ground. He let out a long string of frustrated curses, snatched the garment up, and stomped back towards the narrow river where they’d been bathing. 

Yusuf watched his ass, thighs, and back muscles as he left. “Everyday.”

 

- - - 

 

As they prepared to share a bed in an inn they were fortunate enough to afford, Nicolo manipulated Yusuf into position. 

By the wall, ” Nicolo ordered quietly, lightly pushing him down the mattress. 

Yusuf grinned. “ I don’t need you to watch over me, I never stay dead.

I don’t care, ” he shot back, shoving Yusuf more forcefully. “ I don’t want it to happen again.

Giving in, he shimmied across the bed and let Nicolo put himself between Yusuf and the door. 

“You’re cute,” Yusuf muttered sleepily, chuckling airily at the protective man. 

Nicolo shouldered his way closer to Yusuf’s side of the bed. 

Goodnight, Nicolo, ” Yusuf told him, switching back into the other man’s native tongue. 

The bed shifted and Yusuf’s eyes caught the silver glint of Nicolo’s dagger as he slid it under his pillow. “ Goodnight, Yusuf.

 

- - -

 

“Your smiles are starlight,” Yusuf waxed poetic as Nicolo laughed long and genuine at a joke he’d told. “I will strive forever to memorize the constellations crafted from your joy. Even if I should map them all, I know their beauty will never diminish in my eyes.”

Nicolo’s lively eyes softened as his laughter trailed off and transformed into a gentle half smile. He looked unblinkingly at Yusuf for a beat before bowing his head and tending to their fire. 

Yusuf let out a gusty sigh, his longing made physical. 

 

- - -

 

Things had been going a little too well, Yusuf supposed. He and Nicolo were doing splendidly. They’d just agreed to a decent paying job protecting a merchant caravan and Nicolo had surprised him with a thoughtful gift he’d purchased with his share of the advance, a lovely little bound book of blank pages so he could draw while they travelled. 

But then, on their way back to their temporary room, Nicolo was shot with no less than three arrows and Yusuf had to watch him choke on his own blood before he himself was knocked unconscious and dragged away.

Sitting on the floor in an empty, dirty room, hands tied behind his back, Yusuf realized he wasn’t scared. He was very pissed off. 

 

One of his captors entered, a big ugly brute who smelled of unwashed sun and dirt. “Tell us everything about the caravan and you won’t die.”

“Fuck off,” Yusuf suggested. 

The man backhanded him and drew his sword. “I won’t ask again.”

Yusuf spat out a tooth, mood souring even further.

A bloodcurdling scream interrupted the interrogation and had Yusuf cocking his eyebrow. His captor scowled at the entryway, confusion and a flicker of fear doing little to help his already unfortunate appearance. There were more shouts followed by dull thuds. 

Nicolo walked in, blood spattered and panting.

The ugly man raised his sword, but Nicolo was faster, cleaving his hand from his wrist before plunging his blade deep into his chest. 

Nicolo, ” Yusuf greeted happily, anger quickly subsumed by sincere pleasure at the sight of him. 

Falling to his knees behind Yusuf, Nicolo cut through the bindings and handed Yusuf his own weapon and the belongings that had been taken from him. “ Are you alright? ” 

With you here, always. ” Yusuf smirked. 

Nicolo graced him with a flat look and helped him to his feet. A strong, calloused hand wrapped around the crook of his elbow as Nicolo escorted him through the minor massacre. 

“What am I going to do with you?” Yusuf asked helplessly, glancing at the slaughter Nicolo had left behind. 

We need to renegotiate with our employer ,” Nicolo told him blandly, though the flash of his eyes and the whitening of his knuckles told Yusuf everything he needed to know about how aggressive Nicolo’s negotiation were going to be. “ I believe he was not entirely honest about the details of the job. Fortunately, I know where he’s staying.

 

- - -

 

Yusuf and Nicolo returned to their lodgings, pockets a good deal heavier than when they left and their employer acutely aware of the consequences of deceiving them. Yusuf suspected Nicolo’s appearance was just as helpful as their barely disguised threats in convincing their employer to be more forthright in his information and more generous with his coin. Nicolo was still stained in blood, the front of his shirt bearing large rusty red patches and ragged tears where the arrows had pierced him

Let’s get you cleaned ,” Yusuf murmured. “ I’ll ask for hot water to be brought up.

Nicolo nodded his assent. 

While the bath filled, Nicolo stripped down and scrubbed ineffectually at the dried blood that coated his pale skin. Yusuf watched with an indulgent smile and roll of his eyes. 

Get in the tub, ” Yusuf ordered when there was finally enough water.

Docile and in sharp contrast to his dealings with both the rogues and their own employer, Nicolo followed Yusuf’s orders and folded himself into the cramped tub. His long legs had to bend to fit, knees poking out above the water. When the sloshing settled, Yusuf dipped a cloth into the warm water and worked some soap into a lather. 

Nicolo startled a little when Yusuf began gently wiping the blood from his face, but he calmed immediately and leaned into the steadying hand Yusuf placed on his shoulder. 

What are you doing? ” Nicolo eventually asked, voice pitched low while Yusuf moved from the sharp line of his jaw down to his neck. 

Helping. ” It went without saying, at least in Yusuf’s mind, that he was always happy to help Nicolo bathe, dress, or undress. 

Hm, ” was all Nicolo responded.

Guiding him with a gentle hand, Yusuf made Nicolo tilt his head to better expose the other side of his neck. Yusuf admired the elegant baring of his throat as formerly red stained skin turned pale and flushed and clean under Yusuf’s ministrations. He slowly tipped Nicolo’s head back, eyes flitting from the motions of the other man’s throat as he swallowed, to the fluttering of his lids as he closed his eyes, to the peaceful smile that stretched his lips. 

 “You’re so lovely,” Yusuf breathed, Arabic rolling easily off his tongue as he filled a small bowl and rinsed Nicolo’s hair. His fingers combed through the wet strands, loosening tangles and cleansing it all as best as he could. “How badly I wish to kiss you.”

Nicolo’s eyes snapped open and he pinned Yusuf with a look. 

“You should do it then,” Nicolo told him in thickly accented, but perfectly intelligible Arabic. 

Yusuf dropped the small bowl and soapy cloth he’d been using into the bath. 

Nicolo fished them both out and set them aside with a disapproving look. 

“You-you-” Yusuf sputtered. “You speak Arabic.”

Nicolo smiled sheepishly and slicked his wet hair back. “Yes.”

“Since when?!” Yusuf demanded. 

“Since I learned the Pope would be calling on me to fight in the Holy Land,” Nicolo admitted. 

Yusuf pointed an accusatory finger at the man in the bath. “That’s longer than we’ve known each other!” 

“To be fair,” Nicolo said carefully, “I did not speak it particularly well until some time after I arrived. I first began learning from sailors and merchants and they were not the most patient teachers. I had more opportunities here, especially after you first killed me and I was more determined to learn.”

“You’ve understood me this whole time!”

“Yes.”

“Everything!”

“Yes, Yusuf.”

“Back when we first started travelling together…” Yusuf realized, filled with horror at the memory of the vile things he said with a perfectly straight face. 

Nicolo laughed heartily, sending ripples through the water. “Though it was accurate and well deserved, I did find being called ‘a bastard son of a whore priest who should fuck himself all the way back to Genova’ to be a little hurtful.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?!”

“It seemed to make you feel better,” Nicolo shrugged. “You were always in a better mood after calling me a bastard invader and a whore son and a cock-less priest and - ”

“Please, please, Nicolo, I beg of you, stop. I know what I said,” Yusuf groaned. 

A truly terrible thought occurred to him, forcing him to cover his heated face with a mortified (and slightly damp) hand. He peered at Nicolo through the gaps between his fingers - Nicolo was, after all, still in the bath and still quite naked. “And after I stopped saying those things?” 

“Ah.” Nicolo’s skin flushed a deeper shade of pink. “Yes. I doubt I would have known the full extent of what you said had I not learned from those sailors originally.”

Yusuf dropped his hands and choked out a hysterical laugh, a release for all his regrets. “Why didn’t you stop me?”

“I couldn’t figure out why you were saying such things,” Nicolo confessed. “By then I had realized that you didn’t know I could speak your language. I thought maybe you were amusing yourself. We had many long hours of hard travel to fill and I didn’t want to take away your entertainment.”

“You let me spout utter filth at you for my own amusement?” Yusuf pursed his lips incredulously. 

Nicolo threw his hands up. “Yes! Like the insults, you always seemed in a better mood afterwards. You were having fun and I didn’t want to spoil it.”

“That is ridiculous,” Yusuf told him, shaking his head. He leaned against the tub, hands curled around the worn edge. “Completely ridiculous. Of all the things to do. You…”

Yusuf’s stomach dropped. 

“The poetry,” Yusuf whispered, eyes widening and hands clenching tight enough to stretch the skin of his knuckles. “You understood the poetry.”

Nicolo ducked his head, a few loose, wet strands of hair falling into his face. He smiled bashfully down at his own hands. “You are very eloquent.”

Yusuf dropped his head and moaned out miserably, forehead pressed hard against the tub. “I want to die, but even this escapes me.”

Wet fingers hesitantly touched the backs of his hands, making him lift his head and meet Nicolo’s shining gaze. 

“Yusuf,” Nicolo uttered softly. “I think you’re forgetting something very important.”

“What?” Yusuf asked, voice thick and reedy. 

Nicolo grew bolder, pulling Yusuf’s hands from the tub’s edge and interlacing their fingers. “I told you to kiss me.”

Well. 

So Nicolo had. 

Yusuf caught Nicolo’s mouth with his own, moaning this time in pleasure. Nicolo grabbed at his shirt with desperate fingers, water soaking the fabric. Yusuf truly didn’t mind. Nicolo’s mouth was eager, hot, and surprisingly skilled. Yusuf shivered at the sensations, hungry for more. 

“Where did a priest learn to kiss like that?” Yusuf asked when they broke apart on a gasp. He stared at Nicolo’s handsome face, a besotted smile fixed upon his own.

“Yusuf,” Nicolo laughed, the sound pure joy and mirth and affection. “You’ve been telling me exactly what you want me to do with my mouth for quite some time. I listened.”

 

- - -

 

Joe dealt the cards out to Andy, Nile, and himself while Nicky cooked their dinner. Already the smell of sautéing garlic and onions permeated the air and whet his appetite. Nile’s music played through the speakers, loud enough for ambiance, not so loud as to be distracting. Andy bopped her head to the song, stopping anytime Nile looked up so she wouldn’t catch her at it. 

“Nicky,” Nile brought up, gathering her cards and glancing at her hand, “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course, Nile.” Nicky threw the kitchen towel over his shoulder and gave her his full attention, practiced enough to know how long he could leave the food unattended.

“I always hear you and Joe speaking in Italian.” Nile’s eyes darted between the two men, curiosity clear. “But I haven’t heard you speak Arabic. Did you ever learn?”

Joe slammed his cards face down onto the table and scowled, knowing full well what was about to happen. “Son of a bitch.”

Nicky pointed his wooden spoon at Joe, features drawn up in a wide, smug grin. “See, Joe, Nile asked!”

“Pay up,” Andy demanded gleefully.

Nile did not assume I never learned or wanted to learn,” Nicky emphasized with a pout that could not hide his continued smugness. 

Joe dug around his wallet and gracelessly slapped the euros into Andy’s outstretched hand.

Grazie ,” she winked. 

Prego ,” Joe shot back sarcastically, eyes rolling. 

Nile looked around at everyone, confused at the sudden uproar. “What am I missing?”

Nicky moved to stand behind Joe, hands on his shoulders. Still grumbling about the loss, Joe leaned into Nicky and raised a hand to stroke his forearm. “My humiliation.”

“While I finish dinner, Joe is going to tell you a story that makes him look very ridiculous,” Nicky told Nile. He planted a quick kiss to the top of Joe’s head before returning to his cooking. 

Joe grabbed at him in an attempt to get more, but Nicky merely whipped his hands with the kitchen towel and smirked, fondness etched in the creases around his eyes. 

Across the table, Nile waited on him expectantly while Andy counted out her winnings, a pleased quirk to her mouth.

Joe sighed, resigned to reliving the embarrassment. “You see, Nile, I spoke enough of Nicky’s language that it seemed like the easiest way to communicate once we stopped murdering each other…”