Serefin almost forgot what it felt like to feel the air across his face. For a long time after he left the snooze room and assured Dan he was fine (better than fine), he simply stood outside the doors of the clinic, breathing in and out, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Serefin Meleski did not get things so easily; problems were not solved on the kindness of others. His life was such a mess that something as insurmountable as a god in his head being imprisoned from harm against him felt impossible. Something he would never be able to overcome—Velyos had been karma for his past indiscretions.
But maybe, maybe, his luck wasn't so horrible. Maybe it truly, honestly, had improved since being here.
There was a quiet in his mind that Serefin forgot existed. And there was security in mentally running his hands over the subconscious lock box that kept a banished death god sequestered away. Forever. His chest hurt and his eyes, his eyes, burned with relief. He might not ever get his sight back in his left eye—assassins had taken it long before he had even known the name Velyos—but he didn't have to be afraid of what that loss had meant after a resurrection.
The sound of a bottle breaking from the other side of the building interrupted Serefin's complicated train of thought. He expected, knew inherently, that the person he would find there wasn't something to be worried about. As he turned the corner to the back alley of the building, Serefin shoved his hands into his pockets, thumbing at the crumpled eyepatch there that he no longer needed.
"I hope you have not been doing that all night while waiting for me," Serefin said, kicking a bit of shattered glass with his foot, as he approached Jacob one slow step at a time. "The targets never stood a chance with your aim. I imagine it would get quite boring."
Jacob had never been all that great at killing time. Killing Templars he excelled at! Killing time made him petulant and prone to stupidity. Especially when he felt helpless. There were not a lot of things at home that made him feel helpless, but Vallo seemed determined to give him a lesson in patiently waiting for someone else to solve a problem.
To say he wasn’t a fan would be an understatement.
The alley behind the clinic served as a good place to stew in it at least. Evie had been around a while and was probably still lurking but Jacob had moved away to this dimly lit alley to work out some frustration. He’d set bottles up on different ledges and overhangs and had been breaking them with throwing knives, which was a lot harder than using his pistol. He’d learned early on here that Vallo wasn’t as willing to ignore harmless gunfire though, so knives it had to be. The last bottle crashed to the asphalt and he moved to collect his blades when he heard Serefin’s voice and his head jerked in that direction.
The eye patch was gone. Serefin looked all in one piece, minus the cloud over his now exposed eye. Jacob frowned and sheathed the knife in his hand as he moved closer. “It’s harder than it looks. Is it--” He swallowed and reached up to trace a thumb under Serefin’s eye. “Are you alright? What happened in there?”
Jacob's touch was a balm. A reminder that it was over, that there was no danger here. Serefin could actually allow himself to feel things that didn't put Jacob in immediate peril by calling forth a god to knock him down. But most importantly, there was no vicious voice in his head taunting him with what he was going to do to the people Serefin kept close or ripping down every shred of self-esteem Serefin clung to, all while driving him insane with the building agony in his eye.
"What happened is Dan is very good at his job. Not just with the sleeping business, though I suppose I should fill out one of those comment cards to let the clinic know to give him a raise." Serefin was reaching for Jacob, pulling him closer rather than keeping him at distance—in case, always in case of Velyos.
But there was no in case anymore, and Serefin found that there were many urges rising up inside of him. There was freedom in all of this, and Serefin closed his eyes for one blissful second to bask in it.
"He's still in there. Locked away, but I do not feel him in the same way I used to. I do not feel him at all, only the prison he is in. And I am still alive." Serefin smiled, mischievous but soft, as if he was hesitant about teasing Jacob when he was certain the broken bottles were more than just for killing time. "Were you worried?"
Jacob didn’t need much urging. He swayed closer and cradled Serefin’s jaw in his hand. He didn’t look particularly convinced all had gone well but Serefin’s smiled eased some of the doubt out of his stare, at least. “Worried’s a word for it, I suppose. As much as I know it’s not actually possible to stab a god, standing aside for this mental magic is maddening business.”
He wanted to let relief kick in, but he had Serefin’s cloudy eye staring back at him. It was still nice to see his whole face, unobscured. But concern lingered. Jacob shifted his fingers to trail them over Serefin’s brow, down around to his temple where he tapped next to his eye. “Was there a price to pay or was this old news? Just trying to sort out if you’re hurt and doing a damned good job of hiding it.”
"I know this is not what you want to hear, but I would gladly pay the price of losing sight in my eye to have him gone." Serefin might have said in both eyes but the thought of never being able to see that pinched expression on Jacob's face as he lingered over Serefin's very old news made him hesitate. He reached up to grab Jacob's hand, not to move it, just to hold it in place. "Childhood injury. My tolerance for pain is high, but I never found myself a skilled liar when it came to what is uncomfortable."
Even if he was still blind in his left eye, looking at Jacob now felt dramatically different. Serefin was allowed to search his face, drink him in, without knowing that every piece of information he tucked away into safety was just another notch to compromise him against Velyos later. There was no fear anymore. And with that, his attention dropped to Jacob's mouth, then away.
"You can kiss me now, if you would like. I promise I am not at risk of bleeding out of my eye or being interrupted with a bitchhiker vying for attention. Unless it was the unpredictability of danger that drew you to me, and now that it is not an issue..." Serefin waved a dismissive hand.
Childhood injury. Jacob had a few of those himself, and suspiciously gained as well, but nothing near blindness. He couldn’t imagine what could take Serefin’s sight in only one eye and not take the eye with it. He didn’t want to imagine.
And he couldn’t bear to ask. Not right now.
“Well that’s bloody awful,” he growled, his accent giving the words a round and heavy weight. His expression shifted though, as he realized his words could be misconstrued. “That you were a child when that happened to you, that is. Not that I can kiss you now.” Some of his natural cheekiness slipped through the cracks and he smirked.
“I know I’ve been foolish enough to tell you I have reckless taste but I promise your bitchhiker was not a draw. Now, if you’d like a list of things that were…” Jacob slowly dipped forward to kiss the corner of Serefin’s mouth, murmuring against it. “...That can probably be arranged.”
"Oh? A whole list?" Serefin asked, but he gave up the line of questioning easily, turning his face to capture Jacob's mouth with his. This kiss was different too, better. All the initial resistance that came with not wanting to give too much, get in too deep, for the acute fear of Velyos springing up was bleeding out of Serefin. He wished he had this feeling from the beginning of whatever this was between them.
"I thought of you, you know," Serefin said as he pulled away from the kiss, mustering all the casualty he could. Being brutally honest left an opportunity for Serefin to open himself up for vulnerability. His life was a series of events that made it difficult to allow that, especially when everyone wanted him dead in one way or another. "Dan asked me before I went under to think of something happy, and I thought most of the memories I have are tainted—fathers, brothers, lying, betrayal, death. All incredibly unhappy memories, if you will."
He shrugged, one shoulder, half-hearted. "You asked me what happened, and quite frankly, I do not remember much, but I remember that, you."
Jacob might’ve been dense about a lot of things, but he was a creature of instinct and he felt the difference in Serefin’s kiss like liquid warmth eroding the sharp edges that worry had left behind. Serefin’s words tripled the effect and Jacob curled his fingers into the muscles of Serefin’s back.
He’d argue he was massaging for Serefin’s sake. But he was clinging a little for his own, too.
“Well, that’s…more than I’d hoped for honestly.” It felt like more than he deserved too, but he wasn’t self-deprecating enough to say that out loud. He rested his forehead against Serefin’s instead. It was a little addictive being this close, without the eyepatch and the threat looming behind it. “Would’ve been plenty happy to know it didn’t hurt. But!” He pretended to fight off a grin. “I’ll happily take all the credit you got through it in one piece. When I’m done making sure our mate Dan is properly compensated for his small part in it, of course.”
So many points of contact, and Serefin didn't have to worry about a single one. He did not have to prioritize which he could indulge before scaling back entirely out of fear. Jacob's forehead against his, his hands in his back, his mouth so close again. Serefin let out a soft sigh, sounding unabashedly good.
That was until he felt Jacob's cheeky grin before actually seeing it. Oh, that was how it was going to be.
"That is the last time I tell you anything. I will keep it all one stunningly magical mystery," Serefin said, ducking his head, and slipping out of Jacob's grasp. He took one step away, then another, hands behind his back, just slightly out of reach. "But if you are going to insist on taking all the credit, I will make certain Dan knows that you, and you alone, will be donating a massive sum of money to the clinic for his valiant but small part in eradication of a god inside my head. Do not let him down."
There was a moment, a brief sign of worry that Serefin pushed away, before he canted his head behind him. "Were you planning on staying here this evening? We can, but there are a handful of people that might be concerned if I did not say I was all in one piece and return to a bed first."
Jacob snorted. While the embarrassing parts of him really loved being treated as important, the rest of him was just as pleased to see Serefin give as good as he got. It was on Jacob’s list after all; Serefin’s lazy brand of cheek, in the face of all manners of danger, was decidedly a draw. It was right up there with natural smolder and cares about things more than he lets on.
Jacob was pulled towards him now, an amused smile on his lips and softness in his eyes.
“You think I don’t already have a rich and terrible mark set aside to fleece for just such an occasion?” The question about where he intended to stay drew Jacob’s gaze towards the clinic and then back to Serefin’s face. He ran a hand sheepishly over the back of his neck. How honest to be, that was the question. Serefin had been open with him. The least he could do was meet him halfway. “I...was just going to follow your lead. I’d like to stick close if...well, if you don’t mind. I’d feel better sticking close.”
There was amusement of Jacob going toe-to-toe with his baseless bluff. But that softened when he saw Jacob do that roguish but sheepish gesture of rubbing the back of his neck. Serefin had seen him do it so often that he could nearly pinpoint what Jacob was going to say before he even said it. He was stepping close again, crowding into his space with a hand on his chest.
"If I don't mind," Serefin repeated, his brows arching in mock surprise. Jacob often put consent in his court—and Serefin appreciated it, would not dismiss it as excessive—but right now, Serefin wanted many things that included Jacob being sticking around. He didn't even know how to deny Jacob in this instance or if he could. His fingers curled unconsciously into Jacob's shirt to keep him moving away.
"If you have to ask if I want that, I would suggest you figure out a way to stop asking. It's unnecessary, the answer has always been yes. Other reasons made me say no." Serefin was throwing a little honesty back again. To say he had slept better, felt safer, when Jacob was just a room away—close—should have been a known entity. Perhaps Serefin had not said it enough.
"I would ask you to stay close in my bed, if I did not think it would cause you to flush immediately, and I know how much you like to think I say things to make you do it on purpose."
Had there not been passerby, just down at the end of the alley, Jacob’s response would’ve been more colorfully vulgar. It wasn’t like he was some kind of prude. Victorian awkwardness about intimate goings on being discussed in public was just a lingering problem he couldn’t seem to kick. He still covered Serefin’s hand on his chest and lifted it to his mouth to nip at his palm before ducking his head to speak.
“It takes more than just a request to get a rise out of me, “ he said. It wasn’t entirely true - there was the slightest tinge to his cheeks even now - but that was partly the rise double entendre at work. “But I’ll give you another shot at asking me into your bed when we’re somewhere without potential eavesdroppers.” He reached up to brush Serefin’s hair away from his eyes and he grimaced. “Maybe just for sleep though. You look like you’ve been burning the candle at both ends.”
"It is not as if I am going to invite them with us," Serefin said, tempted to try again. But the fact that Jacob brought it up at all made Serefin back down. He had not had to worry about being frank in regards to his comings and goings in Tranavia—it was his way of getting ahead of the gossip—but here, Serefin took stock in the blatant innuendo Jacob offered and tucked the rest of his request away for later.
It wasn't until the tender gesture of pushing his hair away from his face, that Serefin closed his eyes for much longer than before. Jacob speaking the words out loud had made them real, made it fact. Serefin simply hummed in agreement, just for sleep, swaying on his feet. "I cannot seem to remember the last time I slept. At least, not the last time I had tried to without assistance."
When Serefin opened his eyes again, his expression was pleasantly curious. He kept his voice low. "Do you kick? Steal the blankets? Are you going to actually sleep or will you be up all night wondering if all this lockbox business truly worked? I need to know what I am in for. " Serefin needed to know if that same inkling of concern was shared or if he was being ridiculous for second-guessing Dan.
“I’m not really a stay up all night fretting kind of bloke,” Jacob smirked. “You’ll have to wait and see about the blankets and kicking. I don’t want to ruin every surprise.”
He didn’t mind ruining one surprise, though. As much as he liked Dan and trusted Diego wouldn’t sit idly by while a terrible person married his sister, Jacob was here for Serefin. Besides, assassins we’re naturally a little distrustful.
“I can tell you right now, though, if it worked.” He stepped back a step and gave Serefin a once over with his special sight. It was instantly obvious things had changed: the color shift left no doubt that more of Serefin was Serefin and less an interloper. Velyos’s aura was still there, but it was pinched down to a small space. Jacob watched for a long moment, just to be sure.
“Your bitchhiker is securely caged, not a crack in sight,” he finally confirmed, stepping back into Serefin’s space. “Looks better than good, really.”
When Jacob stepped back to do this thing, Serefin found it difficult to watch him. Maybe it was the intense scrutiny. Maybe it was the worry that he would notice a shift in Jacob's expression if there was something wrong. Maybe it was the sheer fact that Serefin couldn't really do anything but stand there, and he was horrible at sitting still. Yes, he could appear dramatically unimpressed and laze around in an unhelpful fashion, but that didn't mean his mind wasn't racing in the interim.
But Jacob was stepping back toward him, not away, and Serefin took that as a good sign. The more confirmation he had, the less likely he was to fall into worst case scenario. It felt counterproductive to what he had promised Dan after he woke back up, after Velyos was gone—to enjoy his life.
"I look better than good?" Serefin asked, not because he doubted it but because he wanted Jacob to say it. His fingers traced the edges of Jacob's jaw, down his neck, and leaned in to kiss him, stopping short to whisper in his ear instead.
"Come back to my apartment." Serefin's hand kept going, over Jacob's shoulder, along his arm to take his hand in a courtly manner, and kissed his knuckles. "I believe we have spent enough time lurking around the clinic."
And tugged him once, in the direction toward Morningside.
“You look better than good,” Jacob confirmed, going easy and pliant in Serefin’s grasp. “And you don’t have to ask me twice.” He adjusted his grip to thread their fingers together and headed for the nearest waypoint inside the clinic. It was an easy jump from there and soon they were at Serefin’s door.
As dead sober as he was, Jacob shouldn’t have felt so drunk. He blamed relief and the heady feeling he got in Serefin’s presence. The feeling that had pulled at him since he’d put a blindfold on this wayward would-be-king. Maybe longer. He felt it especially strongly now, as they pushed into the apartment and he started helping Serefin out of his jacket with slow, firm hands.
“Do you feel any lighter?” he asked, close to Serefin’s ear. “Or should I wait and ask you again in the morning?”
It was warmer inside his apartment, but he knew it had nothing to do with simply not being outside. His heart was racing, not in fear but in anxious sheepish anticipation. Jacob was here to sleep but with the way Serefin thought his own face might flush, a person might mistake what he requested. He took a steadying breath as Jacob helped him with his jacket, turning his head to the sound of his voice in his ear.
"As you slowly disrobe me? Yes, I feel lighter. Less clothing," Serefin said with a wicked smile, knowing full well that was not what Jacob was asking. He reached to help Jacob out of his coat, it was only fair. "But since you will be here in the morning—" That was said almost like a question, and he had to stop himself from letting his uncertainty come through. "You can ask again."
Lighter was an understatement. Without an elder god in his head, Serefin felt free. Even when he first kissed Jacob, there was still fear lurking beneath. His feelings for him had always been a luxury and a weakness. Ignoring them for so long would always Serefin's one regret, even if it had been for Jacob's safety.
But that wasn't the case now. Serefin kissed him, eagerly and dangerously, before pulling away. His hand cradled Jacob's jaw, thumb at his lower lip. "Is now the right time to ask you to my bed? We are free of eavesdroppers. Though I warn you, it would be rude to reject me in my own apartment."
Jacob snorted. Serefin joking was a bloody good sign really. He’d looked drawn and a little pale coming out of the clinic and now Jacob could feel the heat of him, warming more every second. First it was in his hands on Jacob and then in his mouth. It was a little embarrassing how easily Jacob thawed under a simple kiss. And how eager he sounded when words finally did trip off his tongue.
“Don’t let this go to your head but there was never a moment when I would’ve rejected you.” He twisted a hand into Serefin’s shirt and pulled him towards the door he knew had to be the bedroom. He didn’t bother flicking on the light once they were inside. There was enough moonlight filtering in through a crack in the curtains to lead him to the bed. He just kicked off his boots and shrugged off his suspenders.
“Better claim your side of the bed if you’re picky. I’m heavy and tend to sleep like the dead until someone puts a knife to my throat.” Why the hell did he sound nervous? No, he knew the answer to that. This was somehow more intimate than tearing each other’s clothes off for a shag and it made him wonder if he was going about this all wrong. He froze in place, the tails of his shirt half pulled out of his trousers. “You’d...tell me if I was buggering this up, right?”
Once inside his room, Serefin took a beat too long to watch Jacob begin to remove his clothing on the way to the bed. Like a delayed reaction, almost forgetting what was next. It was absurd how quickly Jacob could throw Serefin off. Even those brief moments, where his brain did a little flutter, were rare and wholly Jacob's fault.
"I hope a knife to your throat is not how you expect to be woken up in the morning, because I have a better idea if you..." Serefin trailed off as he was slipping out of his own shoes. He paused, with the noticeable absence of sound. He lifted his head to see Jacob still, hands posed in mid-undress. Serefin's brows furrowed together, his expression uneasy as he approached.
"You are taking off your clothes in my bedroom. I believe that would be the opposite of buggering it up." His hand came to rest over Jacob's, and while the proximity to his trousers should have sparked something else, Serefin shook his head. "I would tell you if you were, but you're not. It is just sleeping." Serefin's voice was softer, gentler. A reminder, for Jacob and himself.
Serefin stepped away, just enough space so that he could yank his shirt off in one hurried motion, and tossed it at Jacob as he dropped backward onto the bed.
The coil in Jacob’s gut unraveled. He blamed the way things were at home for how unprepared for any kind of genuine intimacy he was. And he blamed Serefin for how the coil in his gut turned into liquid heat at the sight of him undressing and falling into bed.
“Well, good.” He forgoed the buttons on his shirt for just copying Serefin’s one yank motion. As a reward, he heard two buttons clatter across the floor. “Bollocks,” he grumbled. He didn’t bother picking them up. There was a bed with a handsome bloke sprawled across it and Jacob wanted nothing more than to climb in and curl around him.
So that’s what he did.
“For the record, I approve of your waking me up with something better idea,” he said as he flung an arm over Serefin and scooted as close as he could get. “As much as I love getting the blood pumping first thing, there are much more enjoyable ways to get there.”
Serefin was grinning, flattered and absolutely enamoured by the sudden rush of tangling together on his bed. He drew Jacob's arm tighter around him, a wildly unreasonable attempt given how close they were now, pressed hip to sternum. But Serefin liked the way he felt solid and secure, an unwavering safety Serefin didn't realize he was missing. Previously, having Jacob close by had settled some nerves of being compromised in his sleep, but without that fear this was exponentially better.
This should have been happening the whole time.
Shifting around, because settling immediately felt so uncharacteristic of him, Serefin eventually twisted to face Jacob in the bed. His blind eye hidden into the pillow so his whole vision, even in the low light, was just Jacob. "You will just have to wait until morning then. It would ruin the surprise if I told you now."
There was another kiss, another furtive slide of his hand around Jacob's waist, as Serefin closed his eyes. "But I should warn you," Serefin whispered, his expression soft with sleep. "I kick."
Oh. Face to face made Jacob stupidly pleased. He grazed his nose along the edge of Serefin’s and hooked a leg over his hip.