That Time in Malta
Pain only has a certain amount of dominion over the body until the mind loses the strength to stay conscious. This was the current situation they were in, and it was maddening. Joe was unconscious but breathing, a calm and steady salvation from the silence ringing in his head. Nicky’s fear had been made manifest. Bound and torn, piece, by piece, in a futile search for the key to their immortality.
Nicky refused to give in to anger and nihilism. He would rather think about what Joe had said in the van. “He is not my ‘boyfriend.’ That man is more to me than you can dream in your simpering, pathetic life. That man is the stars in my sky, and the sun that lights my days. That man is the moon when I am lost in darkness, and warmth when I shiver in cold. I love that man beyond measure and reason. His kiss still thrills me, even after a millennium since I first tasted him. His body, to this day, awakens a passion you will never know. His heart overflows with a kindness of which this world is not worthy. His very thoughts make music of the mundane. He is not my ‘boyfriend.’ He is not my ‘lover,’ nor is he my ‘partner.’ He is all and more. He is my everything.”
God had truly given him a gift in Joe. Nicky had no regrets when it came to their time together. Centuries had not dimmed the flame that burned between them. He may not be as poetic as Joe, but he loved him no less fiercely than Joe loved him. Joe may be a gifted artist with love etched into every line he drew, but Nicky had an unparalleled memory and he remembered everything. Even now, he could replay every moment and exist in it so vividly. So that is what he chose to do, live in their love story, especially the beginning.
- Malta 1236 -
Nicolo felt relaxed and languid as he walked the quiet streets of Mdina on his way home. The cool night air felt wonderful on his oil soaked skin. Memories of firm hands and soft lips on his body played across his mind, only made more vivid by the lavender sent that lingered on his skin. With the city deep in sleep, there was no one to care or to spoil this rare mood. He was surprised to find Yusuf still awake when he returned. Legs crossed, back straight, eyes staring unseeing into the bright flames still burning in the hearth. He paused briefly to look at Yusuf before starting to climb into bed.
“You are not going to wash?” Yusuf asked quietly.
Nicolo startled and paused. “I did not wish to disturb your prayers.”
“You know very well I am not praying, brother.”
Nicolo sighed, he did not like that word… brother. Moving to the table, he poured water from a pitcher into a basin, soaked a small cloth and began wiping away the oils from his exposed skin. Regrettably wiping away the delicious memories he had hoped to carry a little while longer. With only a slight movement in the air, Yusuf was standing beside him. The swiftness in which Yusuf could move never ceased to impress him. Tonight it unnerved him. Yusuf clearly wanted to say something, but they stood in silence, each searching the other’s face for… something. It appeared for the first time in over 120 years they would talk about other men.
128 years ago Yusuf plunged a dagger deep in Nicolo’s heart. It was the only time Yusuf had seen Nicolo with a man, and he had paid for it by dying in the dirt. When he awoke from death, Yusuf was standing over him, crying and roaring that Nicolo had betrayed God by taking a man into his bed and into his body. Nicolo argued he would have betrayed himself to be anything other than God had made him.
Nicolo had reconciled his feelings of desire for men with God long before his first death. Yusuf’s relationship with God had been tumultuous before and especially after his first death. Yusuf believed God made no mistakes and if he made each of us, there had to be a purpose. He also believed what he had been taught, men did not love other men except as brothers. After that night, Yusuf had refused to talk about it. It became an unspoken rule, they did not talk about that past. The fact that Yusuf might break that rule tonight was unsettling and curious.
Yusuf ended their silent standoff by taking Nicolo’s arm up to his nose and smelling it lightly. “Is this what other men desire you to smell like?” Yusuf asked softly. There was no hint of malice or judgment.
The breath accompanying the question sent chills racing along Nicolo’s skin. Once sated desire blazed anew throughout his body. The mood Nicolo had so delicately cultivated immediately shifted with Yusuf touching him. His words brought with them a turbulent tide of longing, desire and apprehension to wash away everything and everyone else.
“They would make you into a woman, brother.” Yusuf said as he washed his hands in the basin to remove the offending oils.
“Please do not call me brother.” Nicolo breathed.
Yusuf came back to gently pull the cloth from Nicolo’s hand and dipped it in the water. “Why Nicolo, are we not?” He took Nicolo’s hand and began an achingly slow assault on the oil covering Nicolo’s skin. “We live together… we fight together… we profit together. What are we if not brothers?” Yusuf asked gently.
Yusuf sent his heart racing with the question and he found it hard to concentrate. He would not say it aloud, but brothers was very far from how he felt about Yusuf. His head tipped back slightly and his eyes slid shut. Yusuf had never once touched him like this. This was so very intimate and perfectly unexpected. Nicolo lost himself in the rhythmic drag of the cloth against his oversensitive skin and said nothing. This would end any moment and they would go back the way things always were. Nicolo would savor this.
The cloth stopped and his arm was let go. “Remove your tunic.” Yusuf said soft but firm, causing Nicolo’s eyes to spring open.
Yusuf was turned away from him, adding more water to the basin. Nicolo was unsure of what he should do. He did not move. Partly to prolong this moment of soft firelight and a Yusuf bold enough to touch him, but also out of apprehension. This was sacred ground between them and Yusuf had never indicated that he would walk there willingly.
Yusuf turned around, pierced him with his gaze, and waited.
“I do not understand.” Nicolo said helplessly.
“Remove your tunic, Nicolo.” Yusuf said more firmly.
With trepidation, he did as requested and let it fall to the floor. Yusuf’s eyes began to slowly wander over him. He nodded, it seemed, to himself and brought the wet cloth to Nicolo’s chest. Yusuf looked into Nicolo’s eyes and asked softly, “What are we if not brothers Nicolo?”
Nicolo’s breath shuddered. “I… I do not know how to answer your question Yusuf. We have spent over a hundred and thirty years walking this world together. I know what you are to me, but I do not know what I am to you.”
The the room was silent for long moments and Yusuf’s hand stilled. The wet cloth pressed just above his heart, small droplets of water rolling down Nicolo’s chest. He so desperately wanted to groan in sudden, unfulfilled desire. Only the sounds of night insects and their breath seemed to penetrate the delicate moment. The tension was potent and suffocating. Nicolo broke eye contact and looked up, breathing deeply. He still did not know to this day if he had been searching for guidance, saying a prayer, or chastising himself for giving in to the need to physically connect with Yusuf.
Yusuf sighed discontentedly, and the cloth began to drag down his chest once more. “How did you know you would enjoy a man’s touch?” Yusuf asked softly.
Nicolo’s breath caught and his eyes widened in surprise. “Yusuf, I do not understand.. what.. what are you doing?” He pleaded, searching Yusuf’s face.
“I am… I want… I want to touch you.” Yusuf breathed. “I want you to touch me… I want to know.”
Neither spoke. Time seemed to slow. The cloth dragged to a stop and then dropped to the floor. Yusuf’s breath quickened as his hand every so slowly took the place of the cloth. Nicolo’s racing thoughts halted instantly. His body however, sang. A war was raging inside Nicolo. Could he have what he had wanted for so long, or would this moment also end in death and distance between them.
Reeling, Nicolo stammered, “Wha... why, Yusuf?”
“I feel it, Nicolo,” Yusuf trembled, “God help me, I feel it. And I want to know.”
Yusuf sounded truly distraught. For a century Nicolo had been precisely certain what Yusuf meant to him. But this was a line that had not been crossed between them, and Nicolo knew he could not be the first to cross it. Yusuf had to make the choice to explore his feelings. If he did desire Nicolo, there could never be any doubt in Yusuf’s mind that this had been forced.
Nicolo always believed this bond between them was right. That God would not have given them immortality together, facing each other in battle, at the same moment if they were not meant to walk the world together. And in the deepest, most secret place in Nicolo’s heart, he had always felt that if they were meant to be companions in immortality, would it not make sense that God would give them to each other completely, so they would be fulfilled in all manner of life.
Yusuf took a small step away and removed his own tunic. He nodded slightly again, reached for Nicolo’s hand, and held it delicately against his own chest. Yusuf breathed deeply and looked deep into Nicolo’s eyes. They stood still, close enough to exchange breath. A tenuous touch tying them together.
“Touch me.. please. I must know, Nicolo.” Yusuf pleaded.
It seemed that Yusuf had made his choice. Nicolo moved his thumb lightly, caressing softly. A calm seemed to settle over Yusuf. Nicolo could see his muscles relax and the tension easing in his shoulders. Nicolo took a moment to appreciate the sheer courage it took to ask and began tenderly skimming his hands over his upper body.
Yusuf’s eyes darkened and the mood shifted palpably. The air became thick with determination and desire. Yusuf had clearly decided he would give in to the possibility of them, together. He slowly brushed the back of his fingers down Nicolo’s face and neck, again and again. The tenderness was overwhelming.
“Yusuf.” Nicolo said breathlessly. “I have... wished for this... for so long... are you sure?”
“May I… may I try kissing you Nicolo?”
That Yusuf would have to ask such a question, confounded him. Was it possible that Yusuf could not see a century’s worth of utter love and devotion in Nicolo’s eyes? Could he not taste the longing that Nicolo was drowning in?
Nicolo could not find his voice, could only nod slightly and lean in to gently press his lips against Yusuf’s. Their kiss sent fire racing down his spine and like lightning connecting with the earth, there was a resounding thunderclap of rightness, of destiny. It was always supposed to be them. Together. Two lives bound to one destiny.
A subtle change, the feel of a tongue, the taste of him. It was all and it was more. There was so much between them. Two lifetimes worth of pain, fear, compassion, trust, and companionship. The last boundary between them had finally been broken. Torn down with soft caresses and a kiss he would remember for the rest of his life.
Just as Yusuf had said in the van, ‘He is all and more.’ Yusuf was his everything. Staring at his sleeping form, Nicolo’s heart skipped a beat. As long as they were together they could survive anything. Nicolo would forever be grateful to God that he had chosen them. Nicolo would always be grateful to Yusuf for his courage and fierce determination that their love was righteous, and nothing they could do together would ever be a disgrace to God.