The train hadn’t even had a lavatory when it arrived – and Jacob had helped design the one they’d squished into the guts of the locomotive anyway – so he really shouldn’t complain. It was just a bit of a tight squeeze when a bloke was trying to unwind the makeshift bandage he’d strapped around his head hours before. Especially when that bandage was crusted to his forehead like removing it was going to rip his skin right back open again.
He grimaced into the mirror and stripped off his shirt, tossing it over the back of the toilet. There was a small shower tucked away in the remaining corner and he’d probably be smart to get in it before bleeding all over the place but oh well.
The sound of someone walking through the rocks outside the train caught his attention and he instinctively reached for one of the throwing knives sheathed on his thigh before being smart enough to check his eagle vision. The convoluted aura standing at the back door of the train was a little too familiar to him these days.
Sighing at the state of himself in the mirror, Jacob leaned his head into the carriage hallway and raised his voice. “Stop lurking and let yourself in. I’m a little indisposed at the moment.”
Dinosaurs were distinctively unpleasant, Serefin decided. He didn't like them flying, or stomping around downtown, or generally being a menace. But there had been very little he could do when there were so many people drafted into the defense department going after to capture the thing when they had finally made land back at Vallo. That had included Jacob, and Serefin was left to wait.
Serefin hated waiting.
He was not coming by the train now because he was worried, which was a poor lie he told himself. He was coming by the train to get an entertaining story out of Jacob about how the Outlanders herded a giant lizard back to an island. Yes, that sounded much more believable.
His approach to the train was not as casually unexpected as Serefin was hoping for. But it took the guesswork of deciding to knock, and Serefin—as instructed—let himself in.
His codex thumped heavily against his thigh as he maneuvered through the car. "You know, if you were indisposed, do not let me interrupt your—" Serefin found Jacob in the tiny bathroom, shirtless and looking dreadful. "I'm not sure which part of you I should ask after first. What happened to your shirt or what happened to your head?"
“You’re not allowed to be surprised I’m shirtless in my own home, mate. You’re lucky I’m still wearing trousers.” Jacob turned on the faucet to wash the blood and dirt from his hands. He grabbed a washcloth and soaked it to swipe haphazardly at the places where his blood had trickled down under his collar. It was too bad he couldn’t wipe the flush in his cheeks away just as easily.
He shot a surveying glance over to Serefin and was quietly relieved to see he looked no worse for wear.
“Are you hiding any injuries under there?” Jacob asked, reached over to tug at Serefin’s shirt with a damp hand and a smirk. It might have been a less ridiculous question if he didn’t still have a bloodied piece of cloth wrapped around his head. And wasn't so obviously dodging Serefin's question himself.
"What is that word you say to me? Tetchy? Don't get tetchy with me because you seem to have lost clothing in your scuffle," Serefin said, reaching out to mimic the tug on his shirt back at Jacob. But due to lack of shirt, Serefin's only options were Jacob's trousers or the terrible bandage on his head. Serefin went with the latter. He had no qualms about reopening the wound.
Serefin made a little beckoning gesture, avoiding his own question about injuries, and stepped into the already painfully crowded bathroom. "Let's see it then. You're washing all the unimportant parts of yourself when you should be doing something about that mess first." For as much as Serefin bled himself, he didn't particularly like seeing it on other people.
His fingers were already unconsciously drifting to the pages of his book, before he paused, holding both of his hands in surrender. "Unless you intend to have a scar. I think Diego finds them cool. I have no opinion on the matter, but I'm not an assassin by profession. Perhaps it's a requirement."
Jacob felt his stomach drop in that just leapt off a building way as he watched Serefin seem to debate where to touch him. Amazingly, he managed to keep his dumb mouth shut about the matter, but he still looked a little too keen on everything that was happening here. Well, everything minus the tug on his bandage anyway.
He made an involuntary hissing sound but he huffed a laugh right after. “It looks worse than it is. The shirt too,” he nodded towards the damaged button-down draped over the back of the toilet.
“Evie’d tell you to let me suffer. Lesson learned and all that.” His gaze tracked slowly down to Serefin’s hand at his book and his voice came out thoughtfully quiet. “You don’t have to bleed for this.”
"Your sister isn't here to say anything about it, now, is she?" Serefin asked, before he second-guessed the statement and glanced over his shoulder. He half expected Evie to be standing there, tsk-tsking the both of them and was surprised by the lack of Jacob's twin.
His attention drifted to the bloodied shirt, to the stained washcloth Jacob had been using, to the poor patch job on his forehead; Serefin frowned. "If anyone has bled too much for this, it would be you." He was gentler, but perfunctory, as he went to remove the bandage in earnest. "This better have been because you were being heroic and saving children or something disgustingly noble like that or I will regret offering up my services."
Not that he had actually offered anything. It was unnecessary; Serefin would have done it regardless of being asked. He knew this with unwavering certainty.
Serefin held out his hand, knowing Jacob had something sharp on him. "You don't have to watch if it makes you squeamish," Serefin said, teasing, really.
Jacob grimaced and tried not to hiss again, but he was too distracted by Serefin’s nearness to stifle the sharp inhale through his nose. In all fairness, the gash on his forehead might have made a good scar eventually. For now, it just looked inflamed and improperly cared for. He could feel it starting to weep. His father would judge. Evie would judge. Jacob sat against the edge of the sink and gripped the counter, closing his eyes for a moment.
“What is it with you and Hargreeves confusing me for some kind of hero,” he sighed. It wasn’t really a question and he didn’t leave time for an answer anyway. He grabbed Serefin’s outstretched hand and rubbed a thumb across his palm, roughly at first, then a gentle circular sweep. “Would it be such a shock if I had minor reservations about watching you bleed for my sake?”
Feeling suddenly painfully aware of how he must look, Jacob mustered up a crooked smile and slid a knife out of his thigh sheath to slap it into Serefin’s palm. “Full disclosure, I got cocky and nearly got my head cracked open like a nut. That’s all I’m going to tell you.”
Normally, Serefin would have curled away at the touch. Instead he seemed fascinated by the tenderness Jacob showed. It was confusing—and distracting—and it took Serefin a beat too long to respond as Jacob's hand was replaced with the sharp cold metal of the knife. Whatever reverie Jacob had invoked was gone, and Serefin blinked back into action, looking thoroughly, characteristically unrushed.
"Not a shock, but I have bled for lesser men," Serefin said, thumbing through the memorized pages of the codex and ripping one free. He pushed up his sleeve, cutting a thin small line across the back of his hand with disinterest. He could feel Velyos stir at the spill of his magic, but Serefin wasn't about to admit that as he curled his fingers around the torn page and let his blood drip on to the rough parchment. It started to disintegrate into a wispy, odorless smoke.
"Though perhaps not one as cocky as you. And I know myself." He pressed his lightly bloodied-but-magicked hand onto Jacob's wound. It was a warm, prickling sensation, as the skin knit back together under his touch. "I'm certain I could heal a broken skull too but then you would be required to tell the whole story of how it happened as repayment. This time you can get away with a half-explanation."
Part of Jacob was relieved Serefin seemed unaffected by him, but it was a very small part. The rest of him wanted the complete opposite and in grand fashion, thank you very much. He had to tell himself this was for the best. He was already too attached to people here and to this strange reprieve from a life he hadn’t especially chosen for himself in the first place.
His frustration showed clear as day in the set of his eyebrows and the downturn of his mouth. Cavalier was a lot easier to pull off when he wasn’t tired.
“Look, if you put my skull back together, I promise to tell you whatever you want, alright?” He was watching closely now. He hadn’t gotten to see much of Serefin’s magic and it was a source of intense curiosity and wonder. Even then, he had to close his eyes when Serefin’s hand covered his wound and he felt the skin knitting back together. “Jesus,” he murmured. “I didn’t—“ He swallowed and went back to gripping the sink. “I wasn’t sure how much you’d need to bleed for this sort of thing.”
Serefin was misreading that frown that appeared on Jacob's face. "It's not supposed to hurt. Perhaps a little uncomfortable—" He lifted his hand. Much better than the bandage was doing. It might have scarred, but it might have also caused an infection and that was not a risk Serefin felt Jacob should take, regardless of stubbornness.
He was rougher now, running his thumb across the new skin and inspecting his work. Serefin was inappropriately, unknowingly in Jacob's face as he spoke. "A little blood goes a long way. It has to, I only have so much before I'm unconscious." He smiled at that one, remembering his days of endless training, bleeding for hours, but skipping leaps and bounds past the limits of his father. He should have known then that he wasn't long for this world when the king was jealous of his son's innate abilities.
Glancing past Jacob, in search of the washcloth he had been using, Serefin asked, "Just the head? One didn't get a bite out of you somewhere I can't see?"
“It doesn’t hurt.” Jacob made the mistake of opening his eyes to find Serefin closer than he expected. If he had more self-preservation instinct, he’d probably have closed his eyes right back up again, but he examined Serefin’s face with a little too much softness instead. “Feels bloody eerie, but it doesn’t hurt.”
His gaze followed Serefin’s search and he scowled at the mess around the sink. Really, the scowl was for the thought of Serefin unconscious but he wasn’t particularly impressed with his bathroom’s cleanliness at the moment either. At least it was a relief to hear blood magic didn’t require a whole lot of actual bleeding. He reached up to touch his forehead with a little reverence.
"Cheers…" Maybe it was that relief and gratitude that had him regaining some of his usual disaster self, because words slipped free before he really thought about them. “But if you’re trying to get me out of my trousers after all, it’s going to take more than playing doctor.”
The lack of space in the bathroom was more apparent as Serefin reached awkwardly around Jacob, leaning into Jacob, to retrieve the washcloth. It was only when he straightened back up, pressing it against his self-inflicted wound on his hand that he realized how close they were. Serefin was painfully oblivious to these sorts of things, draping himself over and on people, places, or things so often that to hover this close in proximity to Jacob and not was strange.
"If I was trying to get you out of your trousers I would have asked politely. Or after a few glasses of wine," Serefin started to say. This would have been the moment he should have left the bathroom, but Serefin stayed firmly in place. He arched his brow, while his free hand rested clumsily on Jacob's arm.
"But I am painfully sober so I wouldn't fall off a ship and I only just healed your head wound. I might be out of niceties today." His attention drifted, appreciatively, toward the bird on Jacob's upper chest. "Are you going to tell me about that or am I supposed to guess? I'm very good at guessing."
Jacob could feel his face heating up. Which wouldn’t be a problem if he weren’t shirtless and prone to blushing all over. He ran his teeth across his bottom lip and shook his head, grabbing for Serefin’s cut hand.
“I can’t believe you just used the washcloth I wiped myself off with against a fresh cut. Or that you think I need a polite request to get me out of my clothes.” He danced a half-circle around Serefin to pull him closer to the sink and thrust his hand under the faucet spray. They were too close now, and not close enough; Jacob’s flush was in no hurry to die down. He snorted and glanced down at his tattoo.
“It’s a rook. Do you have crows in your world?” His chin was still pointed down at his chest but his smirking eyes were on Serefin’s face. “That’s such a bloody mental question to ask.”
"Oh, now you're concerned about proper injury care?" Serefin said, as he was turned and hands shuffled under the faucet. He knew that at some point he should have been alarmed by how much these sorts of wounds didn't phase him, but right now he was more focused on how red Jacob seemed to be turning. Again, a stray thought tried to worm itself way to the forefront of his mind and Serefin, per usual, pushed it back down.
"Yes, we have crows. We are not completely backward from Vallo. Only a little." And Serefin liked it that way. He liked being in here; he could almost completely ignore the entire disaster that he left behind. Almost.
He worked his hand under the water, moving and flexing his fingers as the blood slowly washed away. "I now understand why you find asking me questions frustrating since I have to keep prying. I'm going to assume your rook has to do with your band of assassins, but I like the idea that perhaps you are just a fan of tiny birds."
His smile grew, knowing full well he was being a little shit. "I learn something new about you every day."
Huffing a laugh, Jacob opened a nearby cupboard to pull out a clean washcloth and a box of large, square band-aids. He set the box on the counter and pressed the towel to Serefin’s cut. Truthfully, he usually wouldn’t put this much careful effort into anything, let alone wound care. But it only seemed fair with his forehead not a ghastly mess anymore.
And it gave him an excuse to keep touching.
“You could have strange magical birds for all I know, I had to ask.” He set the washcloth aside and tore into the band-aid wrapper with his teeth. Self-adhesive bandages were a bloody marvel as far as he was concerned but they were especially delightful when he could slap one onto Serefin’s hand to be a little shit right back.
“Annoying, isn’t it? Hoping for a crumb of information you didn’t have to beg for?” Jacob grinned and reached past Serefin to toss the band-aid wrapper in the trash. “I named my gang the Rooks because although they are small, they are also clever and sneaky little bastards. The Rooks aren’t assassins though. That sort of thing requires a lot more training and mostly stays within a family line at home.”
"The only things strange and bird-like belong to the cathedral you graciously helped burn down a few weeks ago," Serefin said, distractedly. His singular focus was on Jacob's care—the washcloth, the band-aid, the way his fingers felt tending to Serefin's hand. The unfamiliar heat that was building under his skin. It was the slap, followed by the sting, that forced Serefin to look back up to Jacob's face with a small note of displeasure.
Jerking his hand back, Serefin lifted his chin, before reaching out again to touch the tattoo. "I never needed you to beg," was all he said, as he assessed the art, redrawing the lines of the wing with his index finger. Now that they had breached some kind of unspoken line, Serefin was greedily being nosy through touch.
"And who will be in charge after you if the fine art of assassionation stays in the family? Say we're not just playing body-doubles back home. Are your Rooks in good hands with your second in command?"
An apology was on the tip of Jacob’s tongue, even if Serefin’s little pout mostly made him want to laugh. It didn’t matter though, because he got distracted by the tracing of his tattoo and what felt like a half dozen questions when his nerves were lighting up under his skin. Now it was his turn to give a little frown.
“I...honestly haven’t the foggiest. Greenie’s probably watching over the London Brotherhood and fretting over Evie’s absence. There are other assassins who might step up, but we didn’t really plan for any of this.” He swayed a little closer, sweeping a hand through his hair. “The Rooks can manage well enough but without orders…” It was an unwanted self-examination to realize he’d mostly left his gang to fend for themselves. They’d probably end up thugs again before long.
Jacob shrugged. “Do you have things possibly falling apart without you at home?”
Serefin was listening, but his usual expression of disinterest narrowed into a harder frown. We didn't really plan for any of this. No one did and now they were both here, healing wounds and fighting dinosaurs and squashed in this tiny bathroom. He wasn't jealous of the life Jacob had laid out for him back at his home, but this had now become an obvious reminder that neither of them belonged in this world, let alone at the same time.
He mirrored Jacob's shrug and drew his hand back for the final time, finding he was doing less of an inspection and more idly caressing the tattoo. "Always. We're at war," Serefin said, then remembered the bit about not wanting to beg for information, and sighed. "My father is dead and I inherited a kingdom I didn't exactly want and no one wanted me to either. And then there's this—" Serefin gestured, annoyed, to his eyepatch.
"We would be lucky if no one notices we're gone, then." Serefin looked at some indiscriminate spot on the wall, past Jacob's shoulder. "If I had to choose to be home or here, I would still choose the dinosaurs."
It was ridiculous to mourn a touch that had only lasted a few moments, but Jacob was no stranger to being ridiculous. Case in point: forgetting entirely for a moment that Serefin had a god inside his head. He scowled at the eye patch uselessly for a second and then collected his bloodstained shirt.
“If I could do something to keep you here, I would.” It was a little too obvious a statement so he quickly followed it up with a cheeky bow - or rather, as much of one as their nearness and the confines of the bathroom allowed. “I mean, as long as your majesty willed it so, of course.”
Straightening up, he tugged on Serefin’s shirt and gestured towards the door. “Do you wanna stay for a bit? Someone recommended a film about dinosaurs on the loose and it’ll feel too much like research watching it alone.”
It was Serefin's turn—finally—to allow the briefest of flushes to come to his face. There was something absurdly pleasant about being wanted here, that someone would do something about it, but it was better coming from Jacob. His lips parted, likely about to say a foolish sentiment, but Serefin was sober and had slightly more control over the shit that came out of his mouth.
He quickly shook it off, waving his hand dismissively at the silly bow Jacob followed it up with. "I allow it, as long as you never try to do that again."
Serefin took the tug to his shirt as the signal it was meant for, and about-faced out of the bathroom. He found it was colder and lonelier in the train when not in Jacob's personal space. Serefin filled that emptiness by touching literally every bit surface of the carriage car, flopping on to the first horizontal surface.
"And I'm going to need something to drink if I'm staying."
Oh. Jacob could get used to that expression on Serefin’s face. That hint of pink in his cheeks. Suddenly, the reasons he was resisting every reckless urge where Serefin was concerned felt weak. Well, all but one: if he let this one get close and lost him, it would hurt keenly. It was going to hurt anyway at this point, but he was still stubbornly in denial about how much. He let that denial carry him and his jaunty grin out into the carriage, where he tossed his ruined shirt to the side and headed for the liquor cabinet.
“If Evie sees you with your shoes on that sofa, I won’t be able to protect you,” he warned, handing over a tumbler half-full of brown liquid. It was an empty threat but a good enough excuse. Holding his own glass in one hand, he lifted Serefin’s legs and sat down underneath them, letting them drape over his lap. He claimed the tv remote from the table next to him and pointed it across the room with the same sort of baseless confidence he’d had since the first time he’d handled the remote.
“…Thanks. For coming by and—“ He gestured at his head and only took his eyes off the menu on the screen to give Serefin a warm glance. “Just, thank you."
As he took the glass, Serefin mumbled out something that sounded like I can handle your sister. But before he could do anything about it, like sit up in earnest, Jacob was already protecting him, by putting his feet in his lap and setting up the television.
He lifted the tumbler like a toast, accepting Jacob's thanks and drank to it. Serefin returned Jacob's glance with a soft smile of his own. "Try not to make a habit of it. You look better when you're not bleeding."