The first time Nicolò felt Yusuf’s arms embrace him from behind, he froze.
The first time Nicolò felt the rough scratch of Yusuf’s beard at the back of his neck, he shivered.
The first time Nicolò felt the press of Yusuf’s soft lips on his shoulders, he trembled.
The first time Nicolò felt the swell of Yusuf’s erection against his backside, he gave up.
He gave up fighting his feelings for the man. He gave up lying to himself. He gave up pretending that all he saw when he looked at Yusuf was an enemy. Someone that he should hate and despise. He gave up the idea that their relationship was nothing but a frail truce, born from circumstance, forged by the unknown and unnatural.
But how could he continue such a farce, when his heart beat faster every time the other man’s fingers brushed against his as they shared a meal? When Nicolò blushed and looked away as Yusuf complimented his feeble attempts at speaking Arabic, an encouraging smile and firm squeeze to his shoulder? Or when they sparred, and a shirtless Yusuf, drenched in sweat, winked at him and asked if he was alright as he hovered above Nicolò, as he overpowered him?
How could he hate someone who sat by his side in silence when Nicolò’s thoughts suffocated him and all he wanted was to crawl out of his skin and be able to abandon the flesh that had partaken in so much carnage?
How could he hate a man who would lift his trembling chin and wipe away the tears that he couldn’t help but spill as he wept for the mother and sisters he had left behind. As he wept for his lost innocence; for his ignorance; for his cruelty?
“There’s no need for us to hide anything from each other, Nicolò,” Yusuf said as his thumb caressed Nicolò’s cheekbone. “I don’t think we would be able even if we wanted to.”
Nicolò would lean into the touch and nod, understanding that it was just the two of them now. That there would be no more judgement and hatred. That they could be honest and vulnerable with one another, not just because they were the only ones who could comprehend each other’s predicament, but because they simply…understood each other.
The man that Nicolò had been taught to hate was the man who made him laugh with his foolish jokes and anecdotes, a different adventure in every city the merchant had ever been to. He would then dare Nicolò to guess if what he just said was true or not and then let out a booming laugh at Nicolò’s pouting face when he got the answer wrong. It was that man with whom he would spend hours talking about the similarities between their faiths and their shared interests in books.
He was also that man who tracked down and killed the three bandits who had attacked Nicolò in a dark alley, stealing the payment for his day’s work and leaving him bleeding to death.
When Nicolò had seen Yusuf’s hands, the same hands that brought hills, mountains, valleys and people to life on paper; that wiped tears off Nicolò’s face and offered him kindness amidst destruction, covered in blood, Nicolò dropped to his knees, eyes locked with Yusuf’s, and took Yusuf’s broad palms in his hands, kissing each bloodied one in reverence, smearing his own lips red. Nicolò led Yusuf to a stream and washed his hands with a cloth, cleaning Yusuf’s knuckles and the traces of blood from under his fingernails.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Nicolò said quietly, focused on his task.
“Yes, I had,” Yusuf stared at him, and it seemed as if he saw through him. “I have your back, Nicolò.”
I have your back, Nicolò. He would never forget these five words. In that moment, Nicolò knew he would do anything for the other man as well. The idea of Yusuf killing to protect him made him melt with a mix of guilt and gratitude and he felt ablaze with desire.
As they lay around the fire that night, the chilling cold seeping into their bones, backs pressed together to share warmth, Nicolò shivered, but not from the cold. He knew he wanted Yusuf. Wanted to touch his hands again, feel his rough palms on his skin, kiss the contour of his beautiful smile and the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes.
Nicolò wanted something he knew he would never have. Because no matter how kind Yusuf was to him, how friendly and warm, at the end of the day, Nicolò still belonged to the people that had slaughtered his. And he couldn’t ask or hope for Yusuf to see him in any other way.
But then, Yusuf turned around in the ground, and a heavy arm wrapped around Nicolò’s waist.
But then, Nicolò felt Yusuf’s solid chest press against his back and his warm breath ruffle the small hairs at the back of his neck.
But then, Nicolò pressed back against him, and had the best night of sleep in his life.
They didn’t talk about it afterwards. When they woke up tangled together, Yusuf’s leg between his and his nose tucked against Nicolò’s neck. They shyly separated from one another, gazes averted, cheeks flushed and breaths heavy. Nicolò chose not to look too much into it. He figured they should blame it on the weather, the need for friction and warmth leading them to this position.
Later, he found out Yusuf had thought the same thing.
And both hid the fact that, although they dreamt about the two mysterious women every night, those dreams were overshadowed by the comfort and rightness of how well their bodies fit together. Of how easy and peaceful it was.
So much for not needing to hide things from each other.
The following night, as Nicolò tossed and turned and couldn’t bring himself to sleep, he silently stood up and brought his bedroll closer to Yusuf’s, joining them together side by side, the night warm and inviting. He tried to lull himself to sleep as he watched the flames of the fire but he felt restless still. There was a throbbing need inside him. A need for touch. For safety. For happiness. For Yusuf.
And then he heard Yusuf turning around on his bedroll and shuffling closer to him. Closer, but still too far away. Nicolò wanted to feel him again. He craved it.
Nicolò tentatively leaned his back to Yusuf’s chest, ready to bolt upright and stay as far away from him as possible in case he was rejected.
But as Nicolò leaned back into him, still feeling stiff and awkward, Yusuf pulled him tightly to his chest, his hips fitting into Nicolò’s backside. Nicolò’s breath hitched, and he quietly moaned at the contact.
He was smiling as he fell asleep, wrapped in Yusuf’s strong arms.
That was until he felt something thick and hard grinding against his behind. Until he felt Yusuf’s hand touch his hip and Yusuf’s lips glide over the naked patch of skin on his shoulder. Until Yusuf’s cock nudged the cleft of Nicolò’s ass, and thrusted against him, parting his cheeks through his tunic.
And gave in.
Nicolò grabbed Yusuf’s hand on his hip and squeezed. Yusuf woke up with a start, groggy and disoriented from sleep. When he realized the position that they were in and what he was doing, all blood drained from his face, and he scurried away from Nicolò as fast as he could, pressing himself against a nearby tree.
Nicolò mourned the lack of his touch and was saddened by Yusuf’s disgust at him. He had woken him up so that he could finally tell him about his feelings for him. He didn’t want to hide anymore.
“I-I’m sorry, Nicolò, I-” Yusuf swallowed and looked repulsed. But Nicolò realized that he wasn’t disgusted at him. It was at himself.
“I didn’t mean to-... my apologies, I shouldn't have done that, you were sleeping and I, and I -” Nicolò crawled towards Yusuf, and did the boldest thing he had ever done so far, and would ever do for the rest of their lives.
He climbed into Yusuf's lap.
They were both breathing heavily, hearts racing, but when Nicolò lifted a trembling hand to Yusuf’s handsome face and licked his own bottom lip, Yusuf’s eye following the path of his tongue, Nicolò knew he had to do this.
“I -” I think I’m in love with you. he wanted to say it. He wanted to shout it. But it was too soon, and Nicolò was a cautious man first and a brave man second. “I... want you, Yusuf. I-I r-really care for you, too.” He could hear the tremble in his own voice, he could feel the heat on his cheeks and he hated how small and juvenile he sounded.
When Yusuf didn’t say anything back, Nicolò could perfectly hear the sound of his own heart shattering. He looked away as he tried to swallow the knot in his throat and went to get off Yusuf’s lap – when he felt strong hands grabbing his hips and keeping him perched right where he was.
“Nicolò, look at me.”
At the sound of Yusuf’s husky voice, Nicolò stared back and what he saw took his breath away. Yusuf was looking at him with so much awe and adoration that Nicolò wanted to cry.
“You left me speechless for a moment, Nicolò. Me. Speechless.” Yusuf laughed at his own observation, and Nicolò couldn’t help but to join in. He had left the warrior poet speechless. “I want you, too, Nicolò. I want you so much, you have no idea how much. For how long.”
Yusuf squeezed Nicolò’s hips with one hand while his other slid down Nicolò’s thigh, his firm hands feeling him through the slim material of the tunic. He cupped Nicolò’s chin, rough thumb caressing his mole, Yusuf’s lips slowly pressing against his, in case Nicolò changed his mind and wanted to pull back.
But he wouldn’t. Ever.
When their lips touched it was as if they had always belonged together. As if they had been made to find each other, and fight for each other, not against one another. Their place wasn’t at war, slicing, chopping, stabbing and killing. It was in each other’s arms. All along. Life itself was made as they feasted on each other’s lips.
Nicolò wrapped his legs around Yusuf's waist as he was lifted up and laid down on his bedroll, staring up at Yusuf’s beautiful eyes, nose, lips and irresistible beard. That beard. God. Nicolò couldn’t wait to feel it between his thighs, leaving rough patches on his skin.
The first time they made love was under the stars and moonlight, the soft light shadowing Yusuf’s form as he hovered above him, a perfect picture of the male specimen, Yusuf’s long fingers opening him up with care and confidence, hitting a strange spot inside him that made him feel things he didn’t know were possible.
The crackling sound of the fire surrounded them, a steady backdrop against the moans and groans they let out as they took pleasure in each other’s bodies, Yusuf’s cock a delicious stretch, his slow but powerful thrusts making every inch of Nicolò’s body burn, and he wrapped his legs tighter around Yusuf’s waist and urged him to go deeper, faster, not fully comprehending how this could feel so good, to let another man make him his – and make him beg for more. Nicolò hoped Yusuf was feeling the same pleasure. But that wasn’t something that he needed to ponder, given how Yusuf rolled his hips with every thrust, whispering in his ear how ‘tight’ he was and ‘you feel so good Nicolò, you bring me down to my knees’.
Yusuf kissed Nicolò’s neck and whispered sweet nothings to him as they discovered each other in every way. Nicolò’s own cock was trapped between their bodies, rubbing against Yusuf’s defined stomach. But it didn’t matter, Yusuf’s heavy cock was filling him so completely and so perfectly that he didn’t need anything else. Just Yusuf. Just his warmth, his humor, his kindness and his fantastic cock.
Nicolò tangled his hands into Yusuf’s curls as his own hair was pulled back and his neck was bitten, the feeling of sharp teeth and coarse beard bringing him to completion, his world narrowed down to this moment. To this one flawless moment.
At that time, they still didn’t know what they were, who they were, what was really between the two of them, or what they wanted to be. It was new, it was exciting and it felt good. It felt like a certainty. It felt like something to be cherished and protected at all costs, but they still couldn’t name it.
When Yusuf spilled inside him, mouth open in soundless pleasure, hands gripping his hips in a way that would leave marks that would still be there the next morning if it wasn’t for their strange gift, Yusuf’s face pressed in the crook of his neck, Yusuf’s seed filling him to the brim and dripping down his thighs, Nicolò thought it again ‘I think I’m in love with you’. But he couldn’t say it. Not now.
They made love again that unforgettable night, Nicolò needing to feel the heavy weight of Yusuf’s cock on his tongue and inside him again. Yusuf would grip his waist and manhandle him into the position that he wanted him in, talking to Nicolò the entire time, asking him if this was good, his voice soothing and rough, his hands firm while they pulled, grabbed, kneaded and squeezed him but also soft; lips kissing, tongue licking and teeth biting the insides of his thighs. Nicolò felt like he was Yusuf’s canvas, spread out beneath him for him to do, create and shape him into what he pleased.
As they explored each other’s bodies, and then fell asleep in each other’s arms, satiated and content, Yusuf’s steady breath at his ear, Nicolò thought back at what Yusuf had told him. There’s no need for us to hide anything from each other, Nicolò. I don’t think we would be able even if we wanted to.
Nicky couldn’t help smiling at the quietness of the night. Yusuf was right. Nicolò didn’t think either of them had ever hidden their feelings from the other. They just hadn’t seen it before because they had been hiding from themselves, from the fear of recognizing their feelings and being responsible for them, from the fear of letting another in so deeply and thoroughly that one didn’t know where the other began and ended. But it was already too late, because as they fought it and hid from each other and from themselves, it had taken them mere seconds to fall in love.
And when Nicolò quietly whispered ‘I think I’m in love with you’ into the night, a secret he shared with the moon and had guarded to share with Yusuf at the right time, to let him taste it from his lips, he imagined he felt Yusuf’s lips curl into a smile at the back of his neck.