It could have been another unremarkable morning. Should have been, perhaps. But then again, it was very like Nicolò to suddenly make the unremarkable startlingly, stunningly remarkable.
Yusuf had risen early, the way he often did when fully invested in a project. Nicolò had risen with him, of course, having become uniquely attuned to each of Yusuf’s movements and whims over the last two centuries. Nocturns had finished by now, and the last lingering monks would have returned to bed.
Yusuf insisted these pre-dawn hours led to his best work because there was no abbot breathing down his neck, arguing with him about the relative merit of his colour choices. Nicolò in turn insisted that these were ungodly hours that man was not meant to see—but that had not yet stopped him from accompanying Yusuf to the scriptorium. Yusuf liked to tease that it was because he couldn’t go even a few hours without seeing his love’s beautiful face. Nicolò was adamant that it was simply because he didn’t wish to be put in the position where he had to choose between rescuing Yusuf or the manuscripts when Yusuf inevitably set fire to the whole monastery when he fell asleep at his desk.
—The books, Nicolò, Yusuf had advised. I will return, the books will not be so lucky.
Ah, yes, came the retort. The books will be saved and all will be well until every monk in the monastery watches you emerge unharmed from the burning rubble like the second coming of Christ.
Yusuf had shot him a smile that was all teeth. Well, could you blame them, hayati?
And Nicolò had only grimaced at that, ducking his head to hide the way his cheeks flushed, fooling no one.—
This morning had Yusuf feeling particularly validated. The parchment of his latest page was of fine make, smoother than usual. There had been no bumps or stray hairs to cause his pen to jump and the ink to blot. His design had flowed freely and gracefully around the script his Nicolò had transcribed the day before, with his steady and precise hand. Now, acanthus leaves and lilies bloomed in the margins, swirling together to create a frame whose gilt accents enabled it to dance in the sputtering candlelight.
When Yusuf turned to take their normal path to the dormitories by way of the gardens, he was stopped by Nicolò’s hand grabbing at his elbow. Yusuf gave him a look, but halted all the same.
“We’ll cut through the chapel, it’ll be empty at this hour. It’s quicker,” Nicolò whispered.
It wasn’t a quicker path at all, really, but Yusuf was a curious man by nature and allowed Nicolò to lead the way. It was with some amusement he noted that Nicolò was still holding tight to his arm.
Nicolò had at least been right about one thing, the church was indeed empty. The altar lamp at the east end sat unlit and silence enveloped the whole of the space in a soft shroud. For all his qualms with the Christian Church, Yusuf was able to admit that their buildings did possess a certain charm. Particularly like this, dark and still in the earliest hours of the morning. Illuminated only by the pinprick lights of the ever-present votives that danced like stars throughout the nave.
The darkness gave the impression that the high vaulted ceilings perhaps continued upwards indefinitely, though Yusuf was well familiar with their painted surfaces. A delicate canopy draped over the clerestory where, in less than an hour or so, the rising sun would burst through the line of windows to transform the entire church into an ocean of shifting, rippling colour.
Yusuf found himself smiling as the pair began to move through the space, their footfalls echoing all around them. When he made to head for the night stairs that led out of the church and directly back to their waiting beds, Nicolò tightened his grip at the crook of Yusuf’s arm and all but yanked him hard to the left.
Crowding them both into the small apse beside the sacristy gave them at least a modicum of privacy, and it was here that Nicolò pulled Yusuf into a close embrace, chin tucked into Yusuf’s shoulder, head tilted just enough that he could whisper into his ear.
“I have not held you for weeks, Yusuf,” his voice was little more than a hiss. “And before you start, I know this was my idea. But you don’t know what it’s like, caro mio.” Nicolò pulled back just far enough that Yusuf could see the glare he leveled at him.
Still, his voice was soft when he continued—“Days and nights spent watching you create beauty out of emptiness.” Nicolò reached down to take his hand, strong fingers pressing in sure strokes to gently massage his palm.
“That little smile you get when you are pleased with the way your lines come together.” Nicolò dropped his hand abruptly to cup his jaw, thumb tracing the line of it over a beard that was cropped closer than he usually preferred.
“That little—furrow in your brow when you deem it necessary to scrape off whatever piece is not quite right.” Keeping one hand on Yusuf’s jaw, the other came up so that he could press a thumb ever-so-gently to the aforementioned spot in the centre of Yusuf’s forehead.
The look in Nicolò’s eyes was one of reverence, but his tone was quickly returning to frustrated.
“The way you poke out your tongue when you are so immersed that the whole world falls away.” Nicolò sounded almost anguished and perhaps it made him a poor lover, but Yusuf found it hard to be anything other than terribly amused.
“You still have ink here, did you know that?” Nicolò placed his middle finger just off-centre on Yusuf’s bottom lip. “From where you licked the nib of your pen, yesterday. I saw you do it, and I do not know what power in heaven kept me from falling on you then and there, abbot be damned.”
Yusuf smiled, quietly thrilling in the way Nicolò’s finger shifted against his lip with the movement. They were close enough that even in the dark, Yusuf could see Nicolò’s pupils dilate.
“I am tired of watching, Yusuf,” Nicolò said.
“That is unfortunate, my love, since we are promised to the monastery for the next four months.”
Nicolò grumbled something under his breath in Old Ligurian that was too quiet for Yusuf to make out—even as close as they were. It certainly didn’t sound polite, though.
“Come now, Nico,” Yusuf consoled, words dripping with a loving sort of mockery. “We are some 200 years old now. What is four months, in the grand scheme?” Seeing the muscle twitch in Nicolò’s jaw was terribly vindicating. His love was much, much too easy.
He tried to suppress a grin when Nicolò’s eyes flashed at that, but he didn't try very hard. Yusuf knew he was playing with fire—revelled in it, in fact—but he still wasn’t prepared for Nicolò’s hand in his hair. For the sharp tug that made him gasp. Nicolò’s wide smile was a dangerous one, but Yusuf found he was quickly losing the presence of mind to care about that sort of thing.
“I have another complaint,” the hand that wasn’t currently sunk into Yusuf’s curls came to rest on his waist. “It is so damned quiet in the atelier.”
“The downside to intense concentration, I suppose,” Yusuf mused, nonchalant even as Nicolò’s grip tightened, tugging his head just slightly further to the side.
“I am tired of the quiet,” Nicolò stated. “I do not hear enough from you anymore and—as much as I know I will regret telling you this—I’ve missed the sound your voice.”
Yusuf now shot him a wily smile of his own. “So you brought us here to engage in Socratic debate?”
“Hardly,” Nicolò scoffed. “I brought us here because all I have wanted for the past three weeks is to bring you off. To hear the way you lose yourself in pleasure,” Nicolò swallowed heavily, flush high on his cheeks just visible in the soft light cast by the few votives that still burned around them. “The sounds you make... to imagine them amplified here—” he cut himself off, tongue flicking out to wet his lips.
As Yusuf’s eyes tracked the motion, he had to agree it would certainly be something. The church was all grand, open space broken only by distant pillars of stone, built for resonance.
“You know,” Nicolò continued, tone deceptively conversational, “The arches of these rib vaults are designed such that the sounds from within might be carried straight to heaven.” His hand at the base of Yusuf’s skull gentled into a caress. “It is my belief that the sound of your pleasure was meant to be heard as the hymns are heard.”
Nicolò’s mouth was on his then—finally—hot and heavy and slick. His tongue pressing against the seam of Yusuf’s lips before he parted them easily, allowing Nicolò to take his fill. It was long moments before he pulled back far enough that they could breathe again, though it was hardly very far at all.
“That sounds like heresy, Nicolò,” Yusuf managed to pant against his lips. And so what if he was out of breath already? Nicolò hadn’t been exaggerating, it had been weeks.
“Is it? This is a house of worship. Who would deny me my right to genuflect before the object of my devotion?”
As graceful and patient as his love could be, there were times—like now—where he kissed like a man starved.
Where Nicolò was all tongue and teeth and the kind of heat that travelled through Yusuf like wildfire. In its blaze, everything in him that was old and worn was razed to nothing, leaving behind only ash from which new life would burst forth—abruptly, dizzyingly.
This was the only way he could think to explain how Nicolò’s touch could feel so new, even after lifetimes together.
With his every kiss, Yusuf was remade.
“Nicolò—” Yusuf warned, half-hearted at best. His heart was hammering in his chest and he was suddenly, intently grateful that these scribal robes fit so loose on the frame.
Nicolò placed his broad hands on Yusuf’s hips and gently pushed him back the half step required for his back to hit the wall. The coolness of the stone that leached through the linen of his robes stood in sharp contrast to the heat he could feel building and building between them. Paradoxically, it only served to stoke the flames.
When Yusuf gasped, it was barely above a whisper, but it felt so loud—too loud.
Nicolò breathed in sharply, like he was trying to swallow the sound.
“Yusuf.” A plaintive whisper that stayed trapped between the two of them. It was as much a question as anything else and despite the precariousness of the entire situation, Yusuf found he was entirely unwilling to deny Nicolò whatever he might wish. He knew the other man could see it in his eyes, in the way he adjusted his stance, because when Nicolò sank to his knees in front of him, his smile was—for lack of a subtler word—devilish.
And that was officially all the warning he got before Nicolò disappeared under his robe, hands warm and solid on his bare thighs. Yusuf was suddenly, deliriously grateful for the added support, as he felt his knees go weak. Two hundred years and still this man thrilled him to his very core.
Letting his head fall back against the wall, he felt Nicolò’s hands begin to move. Firm caresses that climbed steadily up his legs before suddenly kneading at the meat of his ass. Yusuf’s hips jerked in surprise, inadvertently bringing Nicolò’s face flush with the hardening length of his cock. Nico gave his ass another squeeze and just held him there, torturously still.
Yusuf couldn’t see him but he could feel his hot breath, the very point of his nose where it pressed, featherlight, against the vee of his hip. His eyes slipped closed without his permission as he tried to direct what little conscious thought he had left into holding back a groan.
Nicolò was still for long enough that Yusuf was about to consider disappearing into the robe as well to urge him along, when he felt the first swipe of his tongue. His legs clamped in, reflexively, and then Nicolò was pushing them apart once more, widening Yusuf’s stance for him, holding firm.
The heat of Nicolò’s mouth moved even lower, Yusuf’s legs opened even further.
And it suddenly didn’t matter that they were tucked deep into this corner of the apse, that the church was empty and Yusuf was still technically fully-clothed; he was startlingly certain that he had never felt so exposed in his life.
He missed his chance to worry about that entirely when Nicolò’s tongue swept a long, hot line along the stretch of delicate skin that spanned from the crack of his ass to his balls. Nico’s strong hands continued to hold him open as he sucked at the skin—an exquisite tormenter and an unbearable tease—occupying himself with the liminal space between the two places Yusuf wanted him most.
It was only the sharp taste of copper that alerted Yusuf to the fact that he had bitten through his lip.
If they were anywhere else he’d be able to talk Nicolò around to giving him what he wanted. He would wheedle and cajole and his Nico, charmed in spite of himself, would oblige him. But here, where the slightest sound could give them away, should someone enter the church, Yusuf could only clench his teeth and hope for mercy.
However, for as kind and generous as his lover was, merciful was not so fitting a word to describe him. A point Nicolò seemed keen to drive home in this moment.
He felt Nicolò’s tongue swipe once, twice, against his entrance before he moved on. Kind enough to know that that wasn’t going to be an option if he didn’t want to bring the whole of the monastery rushing in to investigate the veritable wailing coming from the church.
The caress of Nicolò’s lips was torturously gentle. When he pressed a kiss to the base of his cock, the sharp, reflexive jolt of Yusuf's hips could have bowled them both over if it weren’t for the way Nicolò had known to anticipate it, adjusting his weight to hold Yusuf steady. That knowledge alone made Yusuf want him more. He swallowed back his desperate keen just in time but he knew they could both feel the way his chest spasmed at the effort.
Nicolò’s pleased huff was stifled by the robe but Yusuf still felt it. Felt the kiss of hot, moist breath against his cock that made him drive his nails into his palms to keep from making any sound. He felt as Nicolò kneeled up, mouthing words against the tender skin of Yusuf’s stomach. Words that he couldn’t make out, but reassured him all the same.
Then Nicolò finally, finally took him into his mouth. Yusuf gasped an inhale as he began to move, adding a hand to grip and stroke whatever of him remained outside of that wet heat. Twisting his fingers to brush gently—but pointedly—over the tender skin of his balls, knowing how it made Yusuf twitch in his mouth.
It was perfect. Nicolò was always perfect. And weeks without him truly had been unbearable. Weeks without the caress of his broad hands, or the press of his tongue. Weeks spent unable to push himself deeper into that offered heat. Weeks without the answering hum that ricocheted along the length of him, shaking him apart from the inside out.
Yusuf pressed his head back against the wall, tilting his chin up to the sky in a near-silent devotional. His hips had started to move in short thrusts, guided by his Nicolò’s masterful hands. As he let himself fall into the rhythm, everything else melted away. The only points of grounding were the press of Nicolò’s fingertips where he held his trembling thighs, spread wide. The soft, familiar slide of Nicolò’s lips where they’d catch on the head of his cock. The way his own tongue pushed firmly against the backs of his clenched teeth.
Worship, Nicolò had called it. And as Yusuf stared up into the vast darkness above them he felt certain that there was no waiting Paradise more pure than this.
Yusuf was pulled back to Earth when he felt a sharp tug at the hem of his robe, before it was abruptly lifted all the way to his hips. The fabric was bunched tight in both of Nicolò’s fists, pressed firmly against Yusuf’s hipbones. Nicolò did not pause for a moment, tongue still working around Yusuf, jaw slackening to take more of Yusuf’s cock now that both his hands were occupied elsewhere.
And now—now Yusuf could see him again and by God, this was going to be what finally killed him for real.
When Nicolò’s brilliant eyes flicked up to meet his gaze, Yusuf’s hands flew to the back of his head, goal unsure. All he knew, with a bone-deep certainty, was that he needed to be touching Nicolò. He had never needed anything else more.
His shaking fingers tugged on the strands of Nicolò’s hair and a few fell from the leather cord that tied them back, settling softly against the curve of his face, the sharp line of his jaw. Yusuf felt more than heard Nico’s groan, the vibration of it traveling up his cock to resonate through his entire body.
And damn it all he had been doing so well. He had been so quiet.
A sharp exhale was really all it had been—a desperate Aah N- that he simply couldn’t keep from vocalizing. But the cathedral caught it as it left him and the sound was carried high, reverberating around them before delicately tapering into silence.
And if Yusuf thought he’d been caught off guard by it, it was nothing compared to the look on Nicolò’s face.
Nicolò, whose eyes were blown so dark as to be almost entirely black.
Nicolò, whose bright flush stained his cheeks a deep crimson.
Nicolò, who pulled off of Yusuf suddenly, gasping as his hips pumped once, twice, into the empty air before he froze all over, knuckles pushing hard enough against Yusuf’s hips to bruise.
Nicolò. Who kept his eyes locked on Yusuf with something akin to wonder as he came untouched, grinding against the rough fibre of his robe as he rode out the aftershocks.
And it was some combination of surprise with himself for failing to hold back any longer, mixed with the shock of cold air where there had previously been the warmth of Nicolò’s mouth and the awe of watching Nicolò come apart just from his single sigh.
Every synapse in Yusuf’s brain seemed to fire all at once and his own orgasm hit him like a rockslide.
He tried to pull Nicolò out of the way but didn’t quite manage it with the way his arms had gone weak and the way it felt like Nicolò intentionally moved his head back to where it had been. Yusuf barely had the presence of mind to notice that one of Nicolò’s hands had made it back to his cock to stroke him through it, doing his damnedest to stretch this one moment out into infinity.
Yusuf could have sworn he became untethered from reality for some time. When he finally came back to himself and he opened his eyes, he felt that perhaps he had not returned to the real world at all.
The earliest rays of dawn had only just broken through the lowest parts of the stained glass that lined the walls on every side of them. Filtering through the grass and flowers at the feet of the saints, they cast shifting patterns of colour against the stone floor. And—more importantly—on Nicolò, on his knees with his face turned up, mouth open and eyes closed, as though enthralled.
Every color Yusuf could have cared to name played across his beloved Nicolò’s features, caressing the hollows and ridges of his face. A splash of royal purple cut along the line of his jaw. A streak of brilliant vermillion accentuated the proud line of his nose. The tips of his ears were dotted with a deep sea blue and the strands of his dark hair dripped with gold. Here he had been rendered a work of art in his own right, more captivating than anything Yusuf could hope to create, even should he live for another ten thousand years. His heart had become a breathing statue of painted, sinuous marble, unparalleled in his ethereal beauty.
A stripe of Yusuf’s spend had landed across Nicolò’s nose, cutting from his cheekbone to just before the curve of one eyebrow. Yusuf felt his cock twitch at the sight, fully involuntary since all of his conscious thought was focussed on the way his heart still jackrabbited in his chest, entirely overcome with his love for this man. This beautiful, perfect, impossible man.
For over a hundred years Yusuf had not doubted his lover’s devotion to him but in this moment it was almost too much. Though, at the same time, he knew in his soul that he would never have enough. This was nothing short of divine.
And if that sentiment made Yusuf some kind of heretic, then at least he was in the best of company.
Nicolò’s eyes blinked open slowly, as though waking from a particularly comforting dream. He smiled wide at Yusuf, a look so soft that it made his heart ache. Nicolò’s tongue flicked out to catch a drop of come that had landed on his bottom lip.
“Amen.” he murmured.
And that was too much. Yusuf dropped to the floor in a heap, burying his face in Nicolò’s shoulder in a desperate attempt to muffle his laughter. As he clutched at the hood of his love’s robes and shook in his arms, he felt that perhaps he had gone slightly insane, and he didn’t mind in the slightest.
He could feel Nicolò chuckle silently as well, and Yusuf was once again overwhelmed by the way it felt to love this man.
“You are insufferable,” Yusuf murmured.
“You are my whole and entire heart.” Yusuf moved to press a soft kiss to Nicolò’s temple.
“You are every devil made manifest on earth.” Another kiss pressed to the opposite temple.
“You are the most beautiful of all God’s creations, the most unique.” A delicate kiss to the centre of his forehead.
“You are a riot of colour when this world is dreary and grey.” Yusuf pulled back just far enough to look his other half in the eyes, cradling his face in his hands.
“The love I hold for you is greater a love than has ever existed and still I love you more with every passing hour.”
When Yusuf finished this mantra, he was met with Nicolò’s smile—incredibly fond. And the joyous love in his eyes made Yusuf’s heart sing.
It should have been silly—and it was a bit—with the proof of his love still streaked across Nicolò’s nose. Yusuf turned the sleeve of his robe inside out to wipe it away. The fact that Nicolò’s robes were still soiled in two places was a different problem.
Yusuf held out his hands and together they pulled each other to their feet.
“Come on, if we are quick we can wash in the creek, steal some clean robes from the line, and be back before Lauds. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown rather fond of our work, I’m only a third of the way through my most recent illustration, and I’d prefer not to be abruptly excommunicated from a faith I’m pretending to belong to.”
Nicolò simply gave him a shrug and a smile. “The abbot here is lenient enough. We all know Teodusio and Clemens are fucking.”
“Mm, yes, but I highly doubt they’ve been doing so in the church, Nico.”
Nicolò’s smile only widened. “Their loss.”
Yusuf could only roll his eyes at that, smile still playing at his mouth as he tried, fruitlessly, to smooth down the wrinkles in his robe.
“You know,” Nicolò commented with a thoughtful glance over towards the cloister as he stretched out his arms. “You put our choir to shame.”
Yusuf prayed he was covered in enough coloured light that Nicolò would not be able to make out his sudden, vibrant blush. The look that flashed in Nicolò’s eyes when he glanced back, however, made that possibility seem extremely unlikely.