A/N: I should probably mention this, since I haven't before… I do not own the original characters or plot line. They belong to His Epicness, Mr. William Shakespeare. With that being said, I also need to throw in a warning. The chapters so far have been very innocent but there's a little bit of bl action in this chapter so if that makes you uncomfortable, skip ahead or discontinue this reading adventure. Neither option is good because this chapter is IMPORTANT! And I want you to keep reading! This chapter was a lot of fun to write and contains one of my favorite moments :) Okay I'll shut up now.

Love sought is good, but given unsought is better.

~William Shakespeare

Chapter Six – Sealed with a Kiss

"We'll be back, Shylock," Bassanio growled. He took Antonio's arm and dragged him out of the room. He slammed the door behind him and turned to face his friend. "You can't do this."

"My father will be back before the three months are up," Antonio said soothingly.

"I appreciate that you are willing to do this for me but… The risk is too great, Antonio! I'll get the money from a usurer."

"No usurer will give you a bond for three thousand gold pieces, you know that," Antonio sighed. "That's too risky for them."

"Then I'll go to the authorities!" Bassanio exclaimed.

Antonio arched a skeptic eyebrow. "And risk Portia's life? I've made up my mind about this. I'll sign the bond and pay that cur off when my father returns. You just worry about getting Portia back."

Bassanio opened his mouth to protest but shut it again. Antonio was as stubborn as a mule, that's how he always had been. "Is there no other way?"

"I think this might be our only option," Antonio said quietly.

Bassanio leaned against the wall and covered his eyes with one hand. "I was a fool to drag you into this. I am so sorry."

"Bassanio," Antonio's voice was a lot sharper than he had intended. "Don't apologize for anything, you'll injure my feelings. It is the sovereign duty of friends to come to each other's aid in times of need."

"Then why is it that you are always coming to my aid and not I to yours?" Bassanio retorted, his face still hidden.

"Because you simply cause more trouble than I do," Antonio smiled. "And you are mistaken. You have come to my aid many times before."

"Name one!" Bassanio challenged him, finally meeting Antonio's gaze with fierce anger in his moist eyes.

"Well, there was… Let me see… Ah, remember the first time we met?"

Bassanio frowned, trying to remember back to the days when they had been just boys. "Yes… It was in the market square. You had wandered off from your manservant and had been attacked by a pick pocket. He gave you that…" Bassanio motioned to the faint white scar on Antonio's cheekbone under his left eye.

"You patched me up and helped me find my servant," Antonio smiled, amused by the memory of Bassanio's wide eyes, even wider as a child, when he had seen the bloody cut on Antonio's face. The must have been five summers old at that time.

"Then you took me home and my family started working for yours," Bassanio smiled slightly.

"And you've been patching me up ever since," Antonio finished.

"You wouldn't need patching up if you weren't always getting me out of fights," Bassanio muttered.

"Sure I would," Antonio protested. "If I wasn't fighting your fights I would be off finding my own."

Bassanio said nothing. He reached up and brushed his fingertips along the old, faded scar. Antonio suppressed a shudder and focused to keep his breathing calm. He wanted to look somewhere else besides the blue depths of Bassanio's eyes, but he could not look away. He was mesmerized.

"Never could I ever begin to deserve your friendship," Bassanio murmured. He leaned forward, hesitated, then stood on his tip toes and pressed his lips to Antonio's.

Antonio's entire body stiffened. He felt dizzy, like he could barely see. Bassanio's lips were soft and warm. He wanted to grab Bassanio and hold him, trap him in his arms so he could never leave and never go back to Portia.

But Bassanio broke the chaste kiss. It wasn't enough- too brief, too sudden. The hunger that Antonio struggled every day to push down deep inside of him surged to the surface. It was all he could do not to shove his friend against the wall.

Bassanio offered him a shy, slightly embarrassed smile and disappeared back into Shylock's study. Antonio let out a breath he hadn't known he had been holding. He leaned against the wall and placed his head in his hands. The wanting, the obsessive thoughts, the dreams and fantasies… They were about to get so much worse, he just knew it.

Why a kiss? Of all the ways to show his gratitude, why had Bassanio chosen that devastating act?

His heart was beating wildly and his face felt hot. Everything that he hadn't done or said in that crucial moment looped over and over in his head at lightning speed. That had been his chance, why hadn't he done something?! He had just stood there like a corpse, cold and stiff.

Antonio looked at the door of the study. They're going to wonder where I am, he thought resignedly. All thoughts of the risks of signing that contract were gone, erased from his mind. He straightened up, took a deep breath, and walked in.

Shylock was melting wax for the seal that would make the contract a binding legal document. Antonio glanced at his friend. Bassanio's eyes were sky blue seas churning with mixed signals: pleading and gratitude and fear and apology... And a question.

Why?

Antonio squared his shoulders and faced his cousin. "Where do I sign?"

Once the contract was signed and sealed with Antonio's signet ring, Shylock and Antonio ventured down to a notary*. Bassanio left to prepare for the journey to Zeus's Pyre. It was a long way away, a fifteen day ride if they stuck to the main roads. With three thousand gold pieces that was a risky chance to take, so they would have to stay in the trees and mountains. There was a lower risk of being robbed if they took this route, but thieves would still be a danger to their caravan.

Bassanio would be travelling with the Romano family's personal guard that came with them when they met with dignitaries or did any travelling whatsoever. Antonio longed to go with his friend, to protect him, but the contract stated that Antonio must remain within the city limits until the debt was repaid.

As night fell Antonio waited outside of his manor with his strongest horse, upon which two chests were strapped. The gold was nestled amongst a few of his mother's dresses, which would hopefully deter thieves. The caravan was going to set off at nightfall, it would be safer that way.

The bell in the cathedral tolled Dong! Dong! Dong! Dong! Dong! Dong! Dong! Dong! Dong! Dong! Right on schedule, a lone horseman on a black horse appeared at the gate. Antonio whistled and his guard, ten men on horseback with supplies packed on their horses, trotted from around the corner of the house. The lone horseman galloped up and as he skidded to a halt in front of Antonio, he threw back his hood and Bassanio's blond curls tumbled out.

Antonio met his friend's gaze briefly but looked away as memory of their kiss flooded his mind. His cheeks were hot and even though the night was cool his palms were sweaty.

"Do you have everything?" Antonio asked, getting to his feet.

"I believe so," Bassanio's voice shook a little. Was that the moonlight or did his face look a little pale? "I wish you could come with me."

"I would, if only the bond didn't keep me here," Antonio assured him, tethering the horse carrying the gold to Bassanio's horse. His stomach was knotted with worry. What if bandits saw the trunks and were not fooled by the dresses? What if his guard could not protect Bassanio? He suddenly had a terrible vision of his friend, laying on the forest floor… his curls stained with blood… his blue eyes glazed over and staring sightlessly at the sun.

Antonio caught his breath and shook his head to get rid of the horrible vision.

"Are you alright?" Bassanio asked with a hint of concern in his voice.

Antonio considered lying for a moment; when had he gotten into the habit of lying to his best friend so much? "No… I'm worried."

Bassanio smiled gently. "Don't worry; we will reach Portia in time and save her."

Antonio's mouth suddenly tasted bitter, like metal. That's not why I'm worried...

"Safe travels, my friend," he said, reaching up to his best friend. Bassanio reached down and gripped Antonio's arm just before the elbow; his slender fingers did not touch while Antonio's hand easily wrapped around Bassanio's slender forearm.

Their eyes met, light blue and storm grey, identical in the moonless night. They pulled away and Bassanio's pale fingers lingered on Antonio's callused, rough palm for just a second. Aware of this guard's eyes on them, Antonio quickly snatched his hand back and then cursed himself for being so obvious about it.

Bassanio seemed slightly vexed by the movement for a moment. "I pray for your father's swift return. Farewell, for now… I can never thank you enough, my friend."

"Please be careful," Antonio whispered for only Bassanio to hear. The desperation in his voice was humiliating, but Antonio needed his friend to know how important it was that he returned safely.

Bassanio nodded gravely. He looked to the guards and they fell into formation around him and the horse carrying the gold. They set off at a gallop for the hedges that would give way to the forest at the back of Antonio's property. They wouldn't be able to ride in formation like that once they got to the forest- it would look too suspicious.

Antonio watched them after they were out of sight. He stood there on the steps of the manor until he could no longer hear the hoof beats of the horses. In the silence he sank to the steps as loneliness overwhelmed him.

In Neo Venice, it was forbidden for a man to love another man. It wasn't Christian, it was witchcraft, it was disgusting… He had grown up knowing all of this, so why? Why could he not get Bassanio out of his mind?

He had noticed over the past year that one day, he wasn't sure when, protecting Bassanio suddenly became about something more than sticking up for his friend. For some reason, Bassanio's laugh made him breathless and he would do anything at all to hear that laugh. His tendency to back himself into a corner seemed endearing, not annoying like it used to. He began to have dreams of Bassanio that were embarrassingly intimate. His childhood friend was always in his thoughts…

And then there was the feeling like he was going to die when Bassanio met Portia at the first public dance he attended at a member of society, and they had danced… four times. Portia was the most stunning creature at the dance and every man wanted the privilege of being her partner. The fact that the eldest Belmont girl danced four times with the boy who had been a pesky trouble-making servant only months ago had been the talk of the town.

And then they had fallen in love. A piece of Antonio died a little every time he saw them kiss. He had convinced himself for a few days once that it was Portia he loved, and that was why seeing them together upset him so. But he was a terrible liar, even when he was lying to himself.

And now they were engaged to be married

Antonio put his head in his hands; thinking about it made him feel physically ill. Sweet Bassanio… My heart rebels when my head follows the law. Why did you torture me with a kiss?

He could never tell Bassanio how he felt. Was he doomed to die alone and miserable while Bassanio had a full and happy life with Portia? Maybe the kidnapping had been a sign… Maybe it had been a chance he had missed. Bassanio didn't reciprocate Antonio's feelings, that much was obvious. That kiss had been… A 'thank you.' Nothing more.

It would never be anything more.

*notary- like a bank