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“I am almost surprised,” Yusuf said, “that you didn’t leave me behind, and come back later.” Their mutual and inexplicable ability to die did not prevent them from being overwhelmed by numbers. It might have been smarter for Nicolò to retrieve him once he had revived.

“They would have taken the horses,” Nicolò said, “besides which, I love you, and do not enjoy watching you die. Anymore.” There was a wry twist to his mouth for the last of that, but he said it in the much the same way as Yusuf had heard him comment on the weather, or the sweetness of a peach; a matter of fact.

“What?”

“It is not as if,” Nicolò said with some reproach, checking his horse’s harness, “you didn’t laugh when –”

“You love me?”

Nicolò looked up at that, blinking in the red light of sunset. “Yusuf. You are always…saying these things about my eyes, and telling me that God has bound us together, and – not all of us can be poets, you know.”

“I was,” Yusuf said, caught completely off-guard, in the way he sometimes was by Nicolò’s ability to just – say things. But this! “I was…working up to it.”

He had wanted to tell Nicolò that when he was sure the words would be well-received; when they had a chance to breathe, in a town or city somewhere, clean and safe and at ease. Not by the side of the road, bloody and on edge from a fight they hadn’t expected or chosen.

“Yusuf,” Nicolò said, warmer now. “You know you can tell me whatever is on your mind. You don’t have to make it beautiful.”

“I would make everything beautiful for you, if I could.”

Nicolò blinked at him some more. “See, you say things like that, and then you make that face just because I say I love you.”

Yusuf made sure his weapons were all secure, and then stepped up to Nicolò. His mouth tasted like salt and blood, and he leant into Yusuf’s kiss like he’d been expecting it.

“Not all of us need to be poets,” Yusuf said, when he pulled away. “But we are going to have to ride all night to be well away from this, and if you like, I will tell you I love you in every language I know.”

“Well,” said Nicolò, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “I suppose it’s a good thing we need to ride all night.”  

*

Ten days later, they were in a room in Cairo that, to Yusuf’s mind, had several very important attributes. A screened window that let in the breeze; soft cushions; and, most importantly, a door that shut, and against which items could be wedged, so that they could rest undisturbed. They were clean and safe and Nicolò’s mouth tasted, not of blood or salt, but of dates and mint tea. Yusuf loved civilisation so much.

Nicolò had a hand wrapped around both their cocks and was stroking them together, lazily; there was no rush, no likelihood of interruption. Yusuf licked into his mouth, and then kissed a trail along the edge of his beard, to his ear, moaning as Nicolò’s sword-hand calluses caught in a sharp but not unpleasant way. Nicolò chuckled; he knew what that noise meant.

“See,” Yusuf breathed into his ear, tugging at the lobe with his teeth. “I was going to tell you somewhere like this. A sweet breeze, the taste of dates on our mouths…it would have been worthy of a poem.”

“What?” Nicolò said, and took his hand away. That was not at all the reaction Yusuf had been intending.

“That I love you, in plain words, since you like them so much,” Yusuf clarified, in case there was any doubt. Since Nicolò seemed distracted, he moved his own hand off Nicolò’s hip and took up in his stead. Ah, that was good.

“Yes, I know.” Nicolò reached down and stilled his hand. This was absolutely not what Yusuf had intended. “Like…this?”

“Well,” Yusuf said, struggling to figure out where this conversation had gone wrong, “I could have told you while I was sucking your cock, but you’re usually not paying that much attention to what I’m saying, then.”

“No,” Nicolò agreed, frowning. It wasn’t a frown of disagreement; he lifted his hand and traced along the edge of Yusuf’s face, rubbing a thumb against his lips. “No, that’s not what I…” His frown deepened. “I love you. And…this. With you.” He rolled his hips, when he said this, as if it was not obvious.

“Yes?” Yusuf agreed, still lost in the sudden turns of Nicolò’s strange logic.

Nicolò bit his lip, and then kissed Yusuf very seriously, still cradling his face in his hand. He rocked against him, slowly at first, and then all of a sudden rolling them over, so he was on top of Yusuf, his weight bearing down. It was unexpected and good; Yusuf liked Nicolò’s strength, liked their ability to challenge and manhandle each other. It made everything they did feel like a choice. He hooked a leg around Nicolò’s, sinking into desire gone from languorous to urgent all at once. He threw his head back, and Nicolò bit at his neck and said “Yusuf, Yusuf, Yusuf,” into his throat, spilling in the groove of his hip, and that was all it took.

“Are you going to tell me,” Yusuf said once both of them had got their breath back, “what that was all about?”

“You’re going to laugh at me,” Nicolò said, darkly, with the experience of someone who had been wrongly called a ‘Frank’ one too many times. “But. I suppose…” He propped himself up on his elbows, smiling ruefully. “I thought, for a long time, that perhaps I didn’t love you as much as I felt I did, because it felt like so much, and yet we still – do not mistake me; sharing the pleasure of the flesh with you has never had me fretting over my sins; it is a very small thing, counted against – everything else I might repent for. But I thought that if I loved someone with all my soul, it would be…separate from this.”

“I will admit there isn’t very much of the soul about this right now,” said Yusuf; they were both very sticky. “But. You think fucking can’t be part of love?”

“I think I don’t ever want to give up fucking you, as long as you want it,” Nicolò said. “But I also think loving you feels holy. And you told me just now you wanted to tell me you loved me, here, in a room like this. It is very strange. That’s all.”

Yusuf led his head fall back against the cushions with a thud. “That’s it. I give up. No more attempts at poetry. You have defeated me and you aren’t even trying.”

“I can’t defeat you,” Nicolò insisted, a smirk curling the corner of his mouth. He worked a hand between them; Yusuf had only ever gone half-hard, and Nicolò’s fingers sliding through their spend were going to coax him back quickly. “You always rise again.”

“Well,” Yusuf said, very firmly, and used his slight advantage of weight and main advantage of surprise to flip them over. “You’re just going to have to deal with the consequences.”

Nicolò laughed, joyous and open; it eased the final small sting Yusuf might have felt. “Do your worst.”

“I intend to,” Yusuf told him, grinning, and set about it.