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The first time it happens is in Cairo.

Yusuf is exhausted. It has been months since Jerusalem, months of sleeping exposed to the elements, months of having to wake at the drop of a pin to ward off attackers or wild animals.

Months of sleeping beside Nicolò, fully clothed.

He has a plan, alright? A plan born of long nights huddled together for warmth, waking with his nose buried in the back of Nicolò’s neck, a plan born of watching Nicolò’s sure hands and strong arms wield his sword in protection of others, of Yusuf himself, after having sworn to never again do as much harm as he did in Jerusalem.

The plan goes thusly: he will find the busiest inn in all of Cairo, and he will ask for a room, and when they inevitably only have one bed to spare, he will shrug and say it can’t be helped, and then he will have Nicolò all to himself, within four safe walls. He will say, “Nicolò, you are the stars that light up my night sky,” or perhaps, “Nicolò, finding you has been like finding safe haven to one lost at sea”, and most crucially, “Nicolò, may I please kiss you?”

These are the thoughts that get Yusuf through the busy streets, through bartering for respectable clothes not covered in sand or dirt or blood for the both of them because Nicolò’s Greek is a tragedy and he’s likely to spend all their coin in one place if the merchant spins a good enough sob story. It even gets him through the bathhouse, where he has to look at Nicolò’s bare, wet skin and somehow not lose his sanity.

Then, the innkeeper’s wife has the gall to smile broadly at him and say, “Oh, well, aren’t you two lucky, I have a room with two beds left over!”

Yusuf specifically chose this inn because the stables were full to bursting.

It’s just not fair.

“Really, it’s fine,” he protests. “We are as two sides of the same coin, we can share.”

“Oh, nonsense,” she says cheerily. “You must have been through so much, such a mismatched pair traveling together. It’s the least I could do.”

“We are not at all mismatched!” He protests. “We are perfectly matched.”

Her smile broadens. “That’s just lovely,” she says. “Really, it’s rare to see such a strong friendship. I won’t hear another word in protest, the room is yours.”

Dejectedly, Yusuf leads Nicolò up to the room.

“Ah,” Nicolò says, stopping in the threshold. “Two beds. I thought I had misunderstood her.”

“Yes, well,” Yusuf mutters. “We were lucky they still had space.”

“Indeed,” Nicolò says.

Nightfall finds them lying side by side with an ocean of space between them.

Yusuf is on his back, staring up at the ceiling.

It’s a terribly comfortable bed.

With a noise of frustration, Nicolò wrenches his way out of the sheets. “Yusuf,” he says. “Yusuf, it’s no use, I will never sleep, I need—”

“I would rather return to Jerusalem than spend another night without you in my arms,” Yusuf says. “I wanted to do this right, I wanted to hold you close and tell you—but Nicolò, please--”

Nicoló is by his side in an instant.

“So hold me,” he says roughly. “And tell me.”

Yusuf does.

-

On Rhodes, Yusuf asks specifically for a room with one bed.

It wasn’t exactly a long sea voyage, between Cairo and here, but it was on a boat manned by Christians. Nicolò had been hazy on whether Greek Christians would have as ridiculous opinions about two men in love as his own Pope did, and they weren’t willing to risk it. They could each hold their own in a fight, but they were neither of them strong enough swimmers to make it to shore without drowning and becoming lost in the Mediterranean.

But here? On land? Yusuf is happy to have it out with anyone who has a problem with them.

“You see,” he tells the innkeeper, “my Nicolò, the moon of my life, the other half of my heart, deserves a night in a real bed. The biggest you have.”

The innkeeper gives him a wink, and Yusuf is sure he’s been understood.

Opening the door to find two beds on opposite sides of the room makes him gnash his teeth.

“He must have thought you meant ‘moon of my life’ in a friendly way,” Nicolò says gloomily.

Yusuf sucks his cock kneeling on the floorboards with Nicolò splayed out on the narrow bed furthest from the window.

He had started on his elbows, staring down as Yusuf sucked him in, but he’d fallen back before too long. “I can’t look at you,” he’d gasped. “You’re too beautiful, I’ll never last.”

The splinters in Yusuf’s knees are absolutely worth it.

-

In Athens, Nicolò asks for the room.

“Please,” he says earnestly in his stilted Greek. “Whatever room you would give a married couple.”

“Ah,” the innkeeper says wistfully, looking between them. “I had a friend like that once.” He winks. “I’ll give you a discount.”

When Nicolò sees the two separate mattresses on rickety bedframes, he says something very, very rude in Zeneize about the innkeeper’s friend.

That night, they slot themselves together tightly, Yusuf behind Nicolò as ever, and Yusuf’s thick cock fucks between Nicolò’s thighs painfully slowly as he strokes Nicolò off in the same rhythm. The bedframe will not stand for more.

“Your eyes are brighter than stars,” Yusuf whispers in Nicolò’s ear. “You complete my soul, Nicolò, and I yearn for you even when we are separated by nothing but clothing.”

“Or the willful ignorance of innkeepers,” Nicolò complains.

Yusuf hushes him, bites kisses into his neck and strokes him so painfully slowly he’s sobbing by the time he comes.

-

They meet Quynh and Andromache along the coast of the Black Sea.

Nicolò is out, fishing, when they arrive at the beach where Yusuf is mending their clothes while he waits.

“Where’s the other one?” Andromache asks him.

“Nicolò?” Yusuf asks.

She shrugs. “The light-eyed one who killed you outside Jerusalem.”

“Nicolò,” Yusuf confirms. “He’ll be back soon.”

Quynh sits down heavily beside him, dropping her pack as Andromache sees to their horses. “Don’t know how you two are still traveling together now, after the start you got off to.”

Yusuf shrugs. “We were on opposing sides; it was a war. Nicolò regrets his actions. It is in the past.”

She snorts. “I would not be so forgiving.”

Yusuf smiles. “When you know him, you will be.”

“Oh?”

“Nicolò is the truest soul I’ve ever met. He is the kindest man I know, led astray by his hateful church and his vicious countrymen. But they could never keep the beauty of his spirit hidden forever, and he will be making amends far longer than he ought to.”

She blinks at him, bemused.

Andromache plops down beside them. “So, you like this guy,” she surmises.

“Like,” Yusuf tells her firmly, “does not begin to capture the depth of emotion I feel for him.”

She rolls her eyes. “Men,” she mutters.

-

Travelling as a foursome has some drawbacks, Yusuf finds. Certainly, it is wonderful to have found the women who share their blessing, but it is also very, very difficult to sleep pressed up against Nicolò every night and not find pleasure with him, as they have done in every way but one since Cairo.

The dearth of available inns on their trek east does not help matters, but Quynh and Andromache have just come from the west and are heartily sick of it, by all accounts. Nicolò agrees so readily to not venture near his homeland before everyone he knows might have died that Yusuf has no choice but to hold him closer, that night, to press their bodies more firmly together, and it is a tease beyond reason for them both, but it is necessary.

Yusuf spends much of the following day ill-tempered and uncomfortably aroused.

Finally, just a few day’s journey outside Baghdad, they find – well, not an inn, necessarily, but certainly a house with rooms where strangers can sleep in exchange for coin.

“Please,” Yusuf tells the woman running the place. “A bed for me and my companion. One bed. That’s all we want.”

“Oh, no need for that,” the woman says cheerily. “We have plenty of rooms with more than one bed for you and your friend.”

His teeth clench on instinct. “You don’t understand. He is the light that lights my every path. He is the –”

He narrowly stops himself from saying, the fire in my groin because Nicolò steps on his foot.

“Oh, give it a rest already,” Andromache snaps. “We’ll take the single bed and these two idiots will take whatever else you have.”

He and Nicolò stroke each other off, Yusuf balanced precariously on Nicolò’s lap on the scant space provided by the straw mattress. Yusuf comes in mere minutes, keyed up and desperate. It barely takes the edge off.

-

In Baghdad, at long last, there are bathhouses again.

Yusuf luxuriates in it.

He doesn’t mind traveling as such, truly, but he loves the luxury of a long soak, he loves breathing in the steam, he loves watching Nicolò’s awkwardness, unaccustomed to the practice of bathing together.

He also takes the chance to be optimistic for once, to sequester himself in a private part of the baths and to prepare his body thoroughly for the off-chance that the heavens will smile upon them at last and they will be granted one single large bed tonight.

The innkeeper is a harried, small man, and when they ask for two rooms, he wrings his hands apologetically.

Yusuf groans internally. Not only will there be no decent bed tonight, he can already tell, they’ll have to share with the women, and there will be no opportunity at all for intimacy.

“I’m so very sorry,” the man says. “I really wish I could offer you decent accommodations, but all I have left are the wedding suites.”

“The what now?” Andromache asks, her tone conveying the precise depth of her skepticism.

“We keep a few rooms for newlyweds,” the innkeeper says. “I know it’s not right for you, clearly, but it’s all we have left. Perhaps the stables—”

“We’ll take it,” Yusuf says with alacrity. “We want that room.”

“Really?” The man asks. “It’s quite expensive—”

Nicolò drops a handful of coin in his hand. “Please,” he says.

The innkeeper shakes his head. “I’m not sure I can accept it,” he says. “Two warriors like you ought to—”

Yusuf adds another coin. “I love this man more than I can possibly put into words,” he says. “The chance to share his bed is more luck than most men get in a lifetime. I have been blessed.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Quynh groans, at the same time Andromache says, “We get it, you have a very special warrior’s bond, but we can always find a better inn.”

Nicolò accepts the key to the room even as Yusuf turns to them, bewildered.

“I think,” Yusuf says, very precisely, “that you have been laboring under a misapprehension. What we share – “

“No, no, we know,” Andromache says, waving a hand dismissively. “The bond between soldiers, more intimate than any marriage, nothing a woman could understand, we’ve been all over Europe and they keep saying the same things. I thought you would be a little less of a dick, but what can you do. We only have to spend eternity together.”

Yusuf stares at them, entirely lost for words.

Nicolò drops the second key into Quynh’s hand.

“That is entirely incorrect,” he says calmly. “I’m sure your bond is as intimate as any warrior’s bond, and equally valid. However, what Yusuf and I share is not a warrior's friendship; it is that I am going to take him to this wedding suite and fuck him until even he has no more poems left on his tongue.” He looks over at Yusuf out of the corner of his eye and licks his lips. “And then maybe again, just be sure.”

He grips Yusuf by the bicep and drags him towards their room.

“Do you really think we should leave them like that?” Yusuf asks helplessly.

Nicolò glares at him. “Do you really want to wait any longer?”

Yusuf does not; Yusuf wants Nicolò to keep looking at him like he will eat Yusuf alive. He lets himself be dragged into the room.

It’s glorious.

The bed takes up most of the available floor space, and Yusuf is pushed onto it unceremoniously as soon as they’re in the room.

Nicolò is a hot weight above him. “Finally, I have you all to myself,” he mutters against Yusuf’s lips, and proceeds to kiss him until Yusuf isn’t sure which way is up, only that he doesn’t want to go there, wants to stay here, trapped beneath Nicolò’s solid weight, bracketed by his strong thighs.

“I bought us some oil,” Nicolò says between kisses, “while you were dallying in the bathhouse.”

“I was dallying,” Yusuf gasps out, throwing his head back when Nicolò rips his shirt open to get at his sensitive collarbone, “to clean myself so you could fuck me properly.”

Nicolò wrenches his head away abruptly, staring down at Yusuf. “You mean—”

“I mean, I want to take you inside me,” Yusuf says. “I want us to be as close as we can be. I want to stretch around you, Nicolò, I want you to be part of me.”

Nicolò groans, eyes closing. “Have I told you,” he asks through clenched teeth, “what it does to me when you speak like that?”

Yusuf shakes his head against the myriad of pillows beneath him.

Above him, Nicolò shudders. Yusuf can see it race across his skin. “It sets me on fire,” Nicolò says hoarsely. “To know you feel so strongly for me.”

“Then burn with me,” Yusuf demands, reaching up to pull Nicolò down by his hair, to kiss and kiss and kiss, until they have kicked their way out of their trousers and hose, until Yusuf’s lips are swollen and buzzing with the taste of Nicolò, until Nicolò’s cheeks are red from Yusuf’s beard.

Nicolò fumbles for the oil. “You’ll have to help me,” he says, voice gone deep and scratchy. “I’ve not done this before.”

It’s a surprise, because Nicolò is so confident between the sheets, and certainly very practiced at cock-sucking. Yusuf helps him by attacking his throat, his shoulders, his chest with kisses and nips until he’s gasping, until he’s rocking into Yusuf, until they’re leaking all over each other, so desperate for it they might not even make it to goal.

“Slick your fingers,” Yusuf instructs between nipping at Nicolò’s earlobe and licking his neck.

Nicolò groans, a long drawn-out noise, and then pushes Yusuf down firmly into the sheets.

Yusuf goes pliant for him instantly, which is – new.

“My fingers,” Nicolò says.

“Yes,” Yusuf says, watching him with undisguised hunger, cock drooling against his own stomach. “You use them to stretch me open for you. First one. Then more.”

Nicolò nods, and his fingers move swiftly, slippery with oil.

The first one traces over the pucker of Yusuf’s hole and he clenches down involuntarily, already imagining clenching down around Nicolò’s cock.

When the first finger enters Yusuf, they both breath out shakily.

“Go slow?” Yusuf asks.

“Anything you want.”

Yusuf closes his eyes against the overpowering emotion.

Nicolò’s finger nestles its way into him, slowly and surely and inexorably.

Yusuf is bared before him, impaled on just this, his for the taking.

Nicolò crooks his finger and Yusuf sobs.

By the second finger, he is begging for it.

“You told me to go slow,” Nicolò says mildly, finding some reserve of patience Yusuf did not know either of them possessed.

Please,” Yusuf begs, but Nicolò takes his time, stretching Yusuf first on two, then three fingers until he takes them easily, until he is moaning and clenching down around Nicolò’s fingers mindlessly.

“You’re so tight,” Nicolò groans mindlessly, and it is lover’s talk, filthy and meaningless, but to hear it from Nicolò, quiet, earnest Nicolò—

“You drive me to distraction,” Yusuf breathes. “You make me feel – please, right there, Nico - you make me feel like I am the only man in the world, how do you do that?”

“You are, to me,” Nicolò replies, easy as breathing.

In the next moment, he has taken his fingers out and slid his slicked-up cock in instead.

Yusuf groans, eyes clenching shut with the intrusion.

When he forces himself to open them again, Nicky is above him, hair falling into his face, brow furrowed in concentration, eyes shut tight.

Half by intent and half by instinct, Yusuf clenches down around him.

His eyes open; his hips grind in; a shocked groan falls from his lips. “Yusuf,” he says.

“If I could hear your voice lost in pleasure every day,” Yusuf says hoarsely, “it would be enough music to fill all my years.”

Nicolò rewards him with a series of hard, deep thrusts, before getting himself under control again.

Yusuf whines at the loss.

“You minx,” Nicolò gets out between gritted teeth. He presses Yusuf’s knees back until his ankles rest on Nicolò’s shoulders and begins again, this time with smooth, even thrusts that have Yusuf wailing each time he hits deep, right on the mark.

“No more poetry for me?” Nicolò asks. It would be cruel if he weren’t grinding his cock right up against the spot that has Yusuf crying out to the ceiling.

“Fuck,” Yusuf hisses out. “Fuck, just fuck me, Nico.”

“I am,” Nicolò says innocently.

Yusuf clenches around him entirely deliberately.

It’s a strange mix of extasy and soreness, having Nicolò hammering at that spot inside him so intensely, fucking him so rough, so entirely perfectly. Yusuf’s not sure he can take it, tears building hot in his eyes, balls drawing tight, thighs shaking.

“Touch yourself,” Nicolò demands. “I can’t—” He loses himself in another series of deep, perfect thrusts, but Yusuf knows what he means. He can’t reach, not like this, propped up on both his hands for balance, Yusuf’s legs pressed against his chest. Yusuf can barely reach his own cock like this, folded up in half. He’s not even sure he needs it, he’s leaking a steady stream into the hair on his belly, sticky with it, sure with each pulse that it is the precursor to his orgasm.

When he does get a hand around his own cock at the same time as Nicolò’s perfect cock pounds against his prostate, he screams. He’s not even stroking himself off, he’s just massaging the come already bubbling up out of him to its natural conclusion, bursting thick and hot across his stomach.

Nicolò fucks him through it, teeth gritted as Yusuf wails for him with each pulse of it. It’s only when Yusuf’s orgasm has receded into weak flutters of his asshole around Nicolò’s cock that he lets his eyes close, lets the movement of his hips become jerky and insistent, lets himself fall off the precipice and into Yusuf’s waiting arms.

It is absolutely worth the cramp up and down Yusuf’s thigh that occurs instantly after, even more so when Nicolò makes good on his promise to fuck him at least once more, pressed hot and tight behind Yusuf in a reversal of their sleeping positions that leaves Yusuf feeling drugged on love and cherished beyond belief.

They do not settle for separate beds again.

-

“Seriously?” Nile asks, many, many years later. “You thought they were just friends? What about the…everything about them?”

Andy shrugs defensively. “People were weird about romantic love in the Middle Ages,” she defends herself. “It was all pining for some unattainable woman while taking advantage of the servants. And they would go on and on and on about how women could never understand the depth of emotion men were capable of, it was sickening.”

“She’s talking about Europeans,” Joe stage-whispers to Nile. “Europeans did that. Specifically noble Europeans.”

“Even when I was actually living in that kind of household,” Nicky agrees solemnly, “I don’t think I ever heard anyone call anyone else half the things Joe calls me.” It should sound rational. It comes out smug.

“Whatever,” Andy grumbles. “You could have just said you were fucking earlier.”

“We weren’t, yet,” Nicky complains. “That was the whole problem.”

Joe makes a wordless sound of disgust. “No romance in your souls,” he accuses, gathering up their dishes and carrying them to the kitchen.

Nicky follows him, carrying the salad bowl. “But I thought I was the other half of your soul,” he murmurs into Joe’s ear, pressing a kiss to the back of his neck.

Against his will and better judgment, Joe shudders.

He can feel the shape of Nicky’s smile against his skin.

“Light of my life,” he says ruefully.

“Love of mine,” Nicky answers.

“Ugh, shut up already, we get it,” Andy grumbles, throwing a crumpled up dishtowel at them.