Actions

Work Header

Divina Commedia

Work Text:

The years after the American towers came down were difficult ones for Yusuf, so in 2004, with Andy’s blessing, Nicky took him away for an extended break on an island so small that the war on terror hadn’t quite reached its shores and the people hadn’t yet learned to accuse and rename each other “terrorist.”

“For how long?” he asked Nicky.

“Six months or perhaps a year,” Nicky replied.

Joe wondered if six months or perhaps a year would be long enough to heal his decay, the void inside of him filled with grim clouds of suspicion and sadness. A few weeks ago, a swarm of black-clad agents had ambushed him on a street in Tripoli, twisted his limbs, tied him up, covered his head with a black cloth, and thrown him into the back a van. They had taken him to a dank cell to smash up his body without opening skin, to drown him to the point just before death so they could resurrect him to begin the drowning again. They didn’t know who they were dealing with, of course; foolish of them to imagine that Joe’s soul could ever break and that he would, with his own voice, accuse and rename himself “terrorist.”

A phrase reverberated through his mind: kabsh alfada. Scapegoat. A senseless role for any man to play, especially a man who couldn’t die.

He couldn’t have said how long he was there, in that nameless faceless bay in a detention camp in alienated territory. A few days, a week, a month—it felt like eons. Eventually he had to discard time altogether and shed his compulsion to know the hour of day or night. He hid inside memory and lost himself in recalling the settling the sound of Nicky’s perfect heartbeat. Then Nicky would appear before him in something like a vision, and they would hold each other. They would speak at great length. And when Joe drifted back into consciousness, his heart would be quiet, and he could hear the sound of seabirds and imagine the brush of wings against his face.

And then, in the same senseless manner as his incarceration, he was released.

His handlers loaded him into a cargo plane that dropped him off on the outskirts of Al-Ain, the garden city of Abu Dhabi. No explanation, just: 

“You’re free to go.”

Joe ogled his handler’s bulk, the thick, unkempt ginger beard and mirrored sunglasses. He saw twin images looking back at him and didn’t recognize himself in either reflection.

“Free to go,” the agent repeated. He gave Joe a pat on the back. Then he strolled off towards the waiting airplane with a wave and a wickedly accented farewell: “Salaam alaykum, Osama.”

Staring after him, Joe wondered how this could possibly be it, the end of his ordeal. He wondered if he could manage to kill his ginger-haired tormentor before the other agents poured out of the plane and overwhelmed him. Watching the man walk away, he wondered—

The man’s head erupted in a geyser of blood and brain and shattered bone.

It was the first comprehensible event after a long period of unreality. Joe knew immediately that Nicky had made the shot, that Nicky was nearby, that Nicky had come for him. Adrenaline surged through his veins as he waited for Nicky to materialize at his side and shove a weapon into his hand.

Instead, an angry humming filled his ears, and the air exploded.

A fiery, hot, burning thing tumbled from the sky and obliterated the cargo plane in a whoosh, scorching the tarmac in a twelve-meter radius around it. The force of the explosion drove Joe backwards; the heat singed his hair, his beard. He stumbled—

—and found himself engulfed in a pair of strong arms.

“Nicolò,” he breathed, relief in every syllable.

Nicky embraced him, pressing their foreheads together. “As-salamu alaykum,” he said softly, and his familiar voice cleansed the blessing made blasphemous in the mouth of the other man.

“Alhamdulillah,” Joe groaned. He burrowed his fingers under the layers of Nicky’s tactical gear until he could feel his heartbeat. It was steady, reassuring, just like Nicky himself. Joe allowed himself to cry a little. Several tears trickled out, followed by a dry, heaving sob. His teeth were chattering even though the air was still hot and filled with fire.

“Yusuf,” Nicky murmured. His embrace tightened. “Yusuf, my beloved.”

When Joe could speak again, he demanded: “What the fuck just happened?”

“Drone strike.” Nicky handed him a bottle of water and made sure he drank the whole thing in slow sips. Then he explained that Booker and Andy had made it happen from miles and miles away, from an American military facility in Benghazi. Apparently Joe’s inexplicable release had been Booker’s doing as well—a clever bit of hacking through CIA databases.

There was a hint of diffidence in Nicky’s manner, alerting Joe to another extenuation. “You’re not supposed to be here, are you?” he asked shrewdly.

Nicky’s lips thinned. “After we determined where they were holding you, Booker said it was possible to have you released—and eliminate the men who hurt you—with a few computer clicks. I didn’t believe him.”

Joe shook his head. Suffering, and an end to suffering, all contained within a keystroke? It wasn’t their way of doing things, he thought.

“I would never leave your fate in the hands of some mechanical thing,” Nicky said, flicking his eyes at the smoking ruin down the runway.

“I’m really glad you’re here,” Joe told him. “Otherwise, well… shit.” He pictured himself standing alone on the tarmac after the drone strike, imagined the utter incredulity that would have contorted his features into a startled o of disbelief when the airplane fucking evaporated—and a sharp burst of laughter escaped him.

The Scapegoat: a divine comedy performed by Yusuf al-Kaysani.

He was still chortling in the getaway car. “Those guys called me Osama—isn’t that the funniest thing you’ve ever heard, Nicolò?”

Nicky’s knuckles were white on the steering wheel. “I don’t think it’s funny at all,” he said.

“Not even a little? I mean, fucking Osama!” Joe wiped his eyes; his ribs had begun to ache with the force of his mirth. “They asked me if I was an Islamist, if I practiced my religion, and I said, ‘I was born a Muslim, why the hell would I need practice?’ I don’t think they appreciated my sense of humor.”

Neither did Nicky, for he refused to crack a smile.

Joe, though: Joe spent the next few weeks laughing. His period of incarceration—six days in all, Nicky told him—had been brutal and intimate and personal in a way that he couldn’t quite process. He was a very old man, well past his nine-hundredth year, and he carried what he knew: the nature of lies, ugliness, and hatred; how to invert good and evil; the vulnerability of humans before the roar of power; living under the threat of a terrible dying. He clung to Nicky with fresh memories of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, water deprivation. Even though he carried no visible trace marks of zip ties or blindfolds, he still suffered the invisible disfigurement caused by human cruelty.

Nicolò, the love of his life, was a better man than he was. Joe had watched Nicky endure the worst forms of torture over the centuries and still pity his tormentors, because he could look at them and read the gradual emptying of soul from their eyes. Joe, when he looked at men like that, couldn’t find any evidence of soul at all.

“We blew their balls into shards of dust,” Booker said, pulling him into a rough hug when they were reunited in Amsterdam. “Into shards of fucking dust. They got what they deserved.”

Joe was stiff in the hug; he didn’t relax until Booker, and then Andy, finished embracing him and let him sidle over to Nicky again. Nicky, who placed a warm reassuring hand at the small of his back and kissed him on the mouth.

Surrounded by his family, he tumbled back into a world of harsh lights, raucous sounds, and the ghastly musical brayings of alleged artists. Life felt like a twenty-four-hour discotheque, unreal, so he laughed at it, because he had always been of the general opinion that it was better to laugh than cry. He was fine, but he was wary of confined spaces. With the exception of Nicky, he wanted to neither see nor meet a Caucasian any day soon, and Amsterdam was full of them. He was haunted by the memory of his principal handler’s ginger beard and mirrored dark glasses.

Then there were the day-memories of nightmares. Terrors that hid from the light would cause him to rise up like a bird on fire at least three times in the night, a scream caught in his throat. It felt like his spirit was trying to escape from his flesh. Together he and Nicky would yank it back into his body, clinging to its fiery heels and refusing to let go. These nightly efforts left them sweat-soaked and exhausted, ill-prepared to face the new day.

And so, after several weeks of this surreal, stunted half-life, Nicky took him away for an extended break on a small island off the coast of a distant country.

He took him to Zanzibar.

Joe felt dazed, mildly bemused to find himself back in Stone Town. Nicky had rented them a pleasant, coral-walled cottage not far from the harbor. In the first few days they did a bit of sightseeing, and Joe kept a firm hold on Nicky’s elbow as they re-entered labyrinths of in-between worldliness to the sound of Algerian raï. Perfumed, sloe-eyed women in black buibuis glided past. He inhaled food smells: biryani, pilau, coconut-flavored aromas; chutney, pickles, yogurts, peppers; the custard apple and avocado juice that Nicky purchased from a pigtailed young vendor. He heard Kiswahili cadences and the guttural consonants of Arabic; reggae by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Nicky had acquired a cheap disposable camera, and they took turns photographing each other in front of the house where Freddie Mercury, né Farrokh Bulsara, had grown up.

But there were only so many sights to see. Presented with unlimited time to read, write, or draw, Joe found that he wanted to do none of those things, so he smoked rather a lot of weed. Some evenings Nicky also partook and they would get delightfully stoned together. “Stoned in Stone Town,” Joe chuckled, thinking himself clever, and repeated it over and over—stoned in Stone Town, stoned in Stone Town—until Nicky shut him up with his mouth. Nicky gave wonderful, dreamy blowjobs when he was high, and weed took the edge off Joe’s impatience. He could relax into the glorious heat of Nicky’s mouth and hold out longer before he started begging for release. He knew, from many centuries of experience, the dizzying heights their lovemaking could ascend when one of them was feeling particularly protective towards the other.

“Maybe I should get abducted more often,” he joked.

Nicky, expression ferocious, mouth occupied, made a smothered noise of dissent. 

Nicky’s ministrations kept him anchored in his body, but desolation gnawed at him. He hated to go more than a minute or two without Nicky in his sightlines. He clung to him like a limpet, even though he knew it was dysfunctional, bad for them both. He trailed Nicky around the house and accompanied him on every errand, every trip to the market, every walk along the shore. The reserves of Nicky’s patience were vast—fathomless really—but Joe began to suspect him of waking up even earlier than usual just so he could take a shit in peace without Joe poking his head around the bathroom door and asking what he was doing. 

Nicky finally announced his intention to go out with the local fishermen one morning. Joe followed him down to the port, but he felt ill when he stared into the murky oil-stained waters of the Zanzibar harbor and elected to remain behind. He knew he wouldn’t be able to bear the floundering of fish in nets, gasping for breath and screaming in silence, big golden eyes pleading for mercy.

“I’ll see you later, okay?” Nicky said, clasping his hand.

“Yeah, yeah, go on,” Joe replied, affecting a nonchalance he didn’t quite feel. As the boat pulled out of the harbor, he could hear Nicky asking the fishermen about their families in a mix of Arabic and clumsy Kiswahili, and he felt a great rush of fondness. Nicolò had always had a way of drawing people out. It was a combination of quiet solicitousness and the sort of curiosity that was flattering rather than inquisitive.

But as the day went on and his solitude closed in around him, Joe began to simmer with resentment. He couldn’t stop thinking about that fucking drone; the impersonal mechanism of his rescue still rankled. He wished that his family had come for him in the old guns-blazing way. Or that he’d managed to make his own escape first—there would have been more dignity in that. His only consolation was the memory of Nicky shooting the ginger-haired giant in the head. An eye for an eye, or something like it. But then he began to suspect that perhaps Nicky hadn’t mistrusted Booker’s remote-controlled machine but had rather doubted Joe’s ability to get himself out of there in one piece.

The suspicion took root in his mind like a fungus.

By the time Nicky returned with his catch of the day, Joe was in a foul mood. He took one glance at Nicky, in all his sun-bronzed, windswept glory, and his temper bubbled over. “You killed these poor helpless fish?” he demanded, gesturing at the leaking carton Nicky had set on the porch. “What did they ever do to you, Nicolò?”

Nicky’s wide eyes widened; it gave him an unfortunate resemblance to his fish. “Joe—” he began, but Joe kicked the carton like a petulant child, sending silver-scaled tuna spilling across the porch.

“Fucking merciless. How long did it take them to die?”

“Seconds. I clobbered each one on the head personally.”

“You can sleep on the couch tonight,” Joe informed the love of his life, and stalked inside.

He didn’t get a wink of sleep that night—of course he didn’t, alone in the bed, with Nicky exiled to the other room. Nicky had taken his banishment with good grace, because he knew how to handle Joe’s bullshit. He’d had almost a millennium of practice, after all. Nicky knew how to encase his rampant heart in iron and plod ahead, while Joe was profligate with his feelings. It was fucking infuriating, how different they were. Back in the old times—

Joe lurched upright, trying to remember what day it was. Late December, the twenty-sixth maybe—…

The twenty-sixth. Fuck. He hadn’t even remembered to wish Nicky a Happy Christmas yesterday.

He churned with guilt through the rest of the night, then snuck out at dawn while Nicky was still in the shower. The harbor was eerily deserted, but he didn’t dwell on it, climbing into a dilapidated wooden dhow and steering it out into the water. He would catch a few fish, return with a peace offering, and together he and Nicky would move on from the mess of the last few weeks.

An hour went by, and his nets were still empty, so he allowed the waves to carry him further out. His thoughts were in a muddle. He wanted to be able to explain to Nicky why his internment at the prison camp had rattled him so profoundly, but he was having trouble explaining it even to himself. It was as if a whole new language were needed. Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists, the American president had said. But who would have expected that the new enemy would be terror? Who would have thought that the world would declare war on an abstract noun?

The tide went out, way out, very quickly. The water disappeared, and suddenly his boat, which had been in the deep sea, was marooned on black-brown sand. A few sparkling fish of splendid form flopped about within arm’s reach, and Joe netted them neatly. He was transfixed by the secret things of the sea being revealed to him, it felt like a blessing.

If Joe had been a better fisherman—if he had been Nicky—he would not have been so mesmerized.

He would have known to read the actions of fish that had abandoned their usual feeding grounds that day. He would not have tried to wrestle with the whirling, potent current coming in. He might have understood that he could not make it back to shore in time, and he might have turned his body and boat to face in the incoming, speeding, giant waves.

He might even have heard the echoes of 250,000 people screaming from the shores along the Indian Ocean as they were swallowed up in five seconds, and he would have heard the howl of broken people trying to hold on to them.

The second wave caught his boat sideways, and splintered it. Joe was breathing in water, being whirled in and swept out, swept in and swept out again—

As the ocean closed in over his head, he ached for just one glimpse of his Nicolò.

 

*

 

As the sun sank into the sea that had stolen Yusuf away from him, Nicolò lifted up his arms to the night sky. He imagined that he was throwing out feelers, reaching out for some sense of Yusuf. Up and down the coast he walked, combing the beach, crossing dunes, poking into crevices, immersed in sound, praying Yusuf back to him. Come back. Come back. Come back, my love. Waves flung themselves against rocks, high-pitched winds whistled. He covered his mouth with his hands and screamed. He screamed and screamed, howling a plea to be swept out into the soul of the storm that had taken Yusuf.

Nicky tore off his clothes and dove into the water.

He tumbled through warm, pulsing waves. The ocean embraced him like a lover but not the lover he needed. He sank deeper, losing the sense of up or down. The sea, its iridescent layers. His ears popped in the cooler waters below. He saw a translucent eel-like creature; a shoal of tiny silver fish nibbled at his skin. Soft, serene sinking. A familiar calmness oozed into him, dissolving time and trouble. The water pressed hard against his lungs, but he had borrowed enough air from the surface not to mind. He settled into the arms of the ocean. Cocooned stillness. It was easier to drop than it was to ascend.

He remembered then to twist his body to propel it back to the surface. Bursting for breath, almost swallowing water. His tears melting into the sea. He let his body choose its direction. Drifting.

Every day without Yusuf was the same day, every night the same color of nothing.

He thought about Quynh, he thought about Andromache, and suddenly he realized:

So this is how it feels.

Somehow, a week slipped by.

 

*

 

On that Boxing Day Sunday of 2004, a rogue current raced up to an uninhabited atoll and vomited Yusuf al-Kaysani out onto the shore. He was battered, naked, and boatless, and he had died several times.

After a minute of nothing, he inhaled, he exhaled, he expelled seawater from his lungs. All his senses were on fire. And he heard a voice on the wind. The voice poured out a name, and Yusuf remembered that the name was his. The voice belonged to his Nicolò, crying him home.

His heart called back. Aching. But with the same certainty that he knew Nicky was searching for him, he knew Nicky would find him. All he had to do was survive as best he could until then.

It was easier than he expected. He drank rainwater from a puddle and ate raw fish. He honed a spear-stick to hunt eels. He devoured a midsized crab and dreamed of a garlic sauce with which to season it.

To Joe’s surprise, he felt fucking incredible.

It was as if his bout with the ocean had scoured him clean of what had happened at the detention center and purged his soul of its latest human-inflicted bruises. He could once more see the world whole again and not through the seared-in vision of barbed wire and prison bars.

He felt invigorated, renewed. He recited poetry, he drew pictures in the sand. He sang at the top of his lungs, offkey and tuneless, and imagined how Nicky would laugh at him. He dreamt erotic dreams and when he woke up his thighs were sticky with his own spend. The tug on his heartstrings persisted, and he sorrowed because Nicky was suffering, but he could feel the distance between them closing and knew that they would be together soon.

Eight and a half days after the ocean vomited him out, a skiff bearing three passengers appeared on the horizon.

He began to shout, waving his arms and making incoherent sounds. As the skiff drew closer and the three figures turned into Nicky, Andy, and Booker, Joe burst out laughing in relief and joy.

“As-salamu alaykum!” he called out merrily, splashing into the shallows.

“What brings you this far?” Andy shouted.

“An idiot current mistook this for my grave!” he hollered back.

She tossed him a rope, and Booker jumped into the water to help push him up the ladder to the boat, where Nicky’s hands finally reached him. Nicky was openly sobbing—a rare thing for him—and he looked awful, gaunt and hollow-eyed. But as he wrapped Joe in a blanket and held him close, he managed to deadpan, “So, is the fishing any good out here?”

“With or without clothes?” Joe asked.

A thunderclap of mirth riddled the boat. Then Andy explained what had happened to the ocean: Tsunami.  

“Yeah, I sort of figured that out for myself when I saw the thirty-foot wave bearing down on me,” Joe said.

“You were a hard man to find,” Booker put in. “We’ve been searching for days.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t send a drone.”

“Well, Nicky was prepared to swim all the way to Sri Lanka to find you, so it seemed a little redundant,” Andy said. She squeezed his shoulder. “I’m glad you’re back, Yusuf. You had us worried.”  

“I’m all right, Andromache,” he told her fondly, and she tilted her head, looking at him intently.

“Yes, you really are, aren’t you?”

The skiff bobbed on a wave, and he stumbled. Nicky steadied him, bracing him with a leg between his. Joe rested his cheek on Nicky’s shoulder and kissed his neck.

“Come down to the cabin, I’ll find you some clothes,” Nicky said.

The cabin, squeezed below the deck, was so small that it barely had room for a bunk, a table, and a single chair. Joe sat on the bed and watched Nicky rummage through a duffle bag. Outside, a motor switched on; the boat shuddered to life and began to move. “Where are we headed?” he asked.

“We’re a few hours out from Dar es Salaam.”

“And then?”

“Wherever you like.”

“We should probably go to Sumatra, right? Banda Aceh or wherever they need the most help.”

Nicky didn’t reply, only handed him a stack of clothes. Joe set them aside.

“I wanted to replace those fish for you, that’s why I went out on the water that morning,” he said.

“I know.” Nicky’s voice was hoarse. “It was very stupid of you.”

“I’m sorry I was such an asshole,” Joe said.

The ghost of a smile flitted across Nicky’s face. “No, I was glad you were finally shouting at me, after weeks of cracking awful jokes and laughing at nothing. I didn’t know how to reach you when you were like that. Anger, on the other hand—”

“Still, though. Fucking shitty of me. And I forgot about Christmas.”

“So did I.” Nicky sat beside him on the bed and took his hand. “Yusuf—”

“I know, love,” he said comfortingly. “It’s always worse for the one of us it’s not happening to.”

“I wish I could take all the hurt away from you and make it happen to me instead,” Nicky murmured.  

“By the looks of you, ya rouhi, you were pretty successful.”

Nicky snorted, and the sound of his laughter warmed Joe’s heart like molten honey. “Yes, I look like shit, and meanwhile you—” Nicky shook his head in fond exasperation—“you should be worse for wear, and yet you’ve turned up looking healthier than a ripe peach. What is your secret? What do you have to say for yourself?”

Joe grinned. “I am the one who has no tale to tell,” he declaimed in florid Florentine. “I have made myself a gibbet of my own lintel—”

Nicky slapped a hand over his mouth, cutting him off mid-verso. “Fuck off. Fuck right off.”

He kissed Nicky’s palm and brought it to his cheek instead. “Had enough Inferno?” he teased.

“And then some. Will we ever break into Paradiso, you and I?”

Joe sank his fingers into Nicky’s hair and kissed him.

Nicky kissed back without hesitation, but then he drew away, reaching once more for the stack of clothes. “Enough, love,” he said. “Let’s get you dressed.”

“I’d rather you got undressed,” Joe countered.

“Me?”

“I have to tell you, Nico, I had the nicest dreams about you whilst I was marooned on that atoll. Very sexy. We ravished each other over and over in the most creative ways…”

He waggled his eyebrows, and one corner of Nicky’s mouth ticked upward.

“But right now,” he continued, “what I’d really like is to sit between your legs—you know, the way we do sometimes.”

Nicky’s gaze was like a crease of moonlight, luminous and benevolent. He stood, shedding his clothes without ceremony. Then he settled himself at the head of the bunk, knees spread. The space between his thighs was open and inviting; Joe settled into it with a sigh of relief. Sitting between his legs, leaning into him, turning his face so Nicky’s warm breath could touch his skin: it was the release of tension, the slow building up of desire. Naked, skin to skin, the discreet corded strength of Nicky’s body as he wrapped his arms around Joe’s waist. He tilted his head further so Nicky could taste the part of his neck just beneath his ear.

Nicky was crying again, silently this time. Joe stroked his eyelids, wiping away tears, drawing them on his face as though his finger were a paintbrush. “Nothing can keep us apart, ya qamar. You should know that by now.”

“For nine centuries, we’ve killed and died for each other,” Nicky said. “I would have destroyed every single man who laid hands on you in that prison myself. But the ocean—what can I do against the ocean, Yusuf? I can’t shoot it in the head, I can’t stab it in the heart, Booker certainly can’t blow it up with one of his drones—”

“Not even the ocean stands a chance against us,” Joe insisted. “You, my love, you are—how do I describe the indescribable? You are my fountain of life and my tall cypress tree, majestic and evergreen. You are the epitome of love that moves the whole universe, at times retreating into the background and holding every piece together, other times exploding in bursts of cold fire. You are the cosmos. How could I ever doubt that you would find me?”

“Ya aburnee,” Nicky told him, utterly without irony.

What happened next was of no surprise to either of them; it was what always happened when all the words had been used up and there was still more to say. Yusuf had learned centuries ago that curiosity was essential to sex, and he took enormous pleasure in discovering and rediscovering Nicolò’s infinite varieties. His changeable tides. Where his skin was most sensitive right now, how responsive were his nipples, were his inner thighs susceptible to a firm or soft touch today, all kinds of questions to which Nico’s body delighted in offering answers. Joe’s coiled ears were tuned in to the slightest turn of breath; his eyes recorded the most minute flutter of muscle. He dragged his tongue along the very tip of Nicky’s cock as he eased his fingers out of him, rejoicing in the sharp intake of breath this elicited.

“Better than the dreams,” he remarked.

A subtle, sardonic smile curved Nicky’s mouth, but he didn’t answer, merely beckoned him closer.

And so Joe surrendered himself to Nicky’s currents, trusting where they would lead. All that he sought was in the hot tight clench of Nicky’s body as he was welcomed inside, the pulsing, pounding, slippery rhythm of the two of them, together—everything sought and wanted and ached for so terribly when they were apart. Cartography not of possession but of belonging. Joe groaned out, unheeding of Andy and Booker just above, and Nicky, cradling him, tightened his ass, arms, thighs, and heart around him.

Then he drew his legs up and rolled them over, without ever letting Joe’s cock slip out of him, and—with as much vigor as the low-ceilinged cabin would allow—proceeded to wring copious amounts of pleasure from Joe’s body until he was gasping and cursing and coming.

“Here, Nico—let me—you—”

Before Joe could get his wits about him, Nicky, ever resourceful, had gathered up a palmful of the come that was dripping out of him, slathered it between Joe’s thighs, thighs that were still trembling with the aftershocks of his orgasm, and fucked his cock between them. Joe ran his hands over the slick sweaty skin of Nicky’s shoulders, his back, his waist, and felt Nicky’s whole body roll forward in response, spreading a bloom of sticky wetness over Joe’s groin.

“Mmm,” he sighed. “Lovely, Nico.”

At that moment, Booker’s face appeared at the small porthole window just above their heads. “What the hell is taking you so long to—oh Jesus, sorry. Never mind.” He retreated, and Joe could hear him saying to Andy, “Yeah, boss, they’re screwing. Even though Joe stinks like rotting fish.”

“Do I?” Joe sniffed the air, which was thick with the intermingled scents of sex and perspiration and—“Oh shit, I really do. Nicky, why didn’t you say something?”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Nicky said, expressionless.

Joe couldn’t tell if he was lying or not. He leaned in for a kiss, further smearing the mess between them.

“Now we stink of each other,” he said, with great satisfaction.