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Don't Let Me Fall

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From the very first moment Lawrence had laid eyes on Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish, he had hated the man. There had never been any other option, not after he had shot and killed Tafas.

But it went deeper than that. He just had an air about him. That smile on his face when he told Lawrence he was welcome to the well. The way he borrowed Lawrence’s cup, declaring “I will use it,” with a tone as though he were bestowing some great favor upon the Englishman by doing so. How pleased he looked that Lawrence had heard his name before. But most of all the way he simply refused to be flustered by anything Lawrence said. That insufferable smirk of his drove Lawrence crazy. He wanted to punch it off the Harith's face.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t likely he would ever get the chance. It wouldn’t be very good for English-Arab relations if he went around hitting one of Prince Feisal’s top men. Still, a man could dream.

Things didn’t go much better at their second meeting. At least no one died this time. But for some reason, Ali wasn’t nearly so cordial. He seemed extremely resentful of Lawrence’s presence there. Distrustful, perhaps. Well, Lawrence wasn’t there to please him. Actually, if he managed to irritate Ali now and again, so much the better, in his opinion.

But he had to solve Feisal’s problem. That was the issue, first and foremost. Lawrence sat up all night, wracking his brain. He was vaguely aware that he had two shadows, the boys who had been tailing him the entire trip there, but he had no time to spare for them now. It wasn’t until dawn that he finally had a solution fully mapped out in his head.

“Akaba. From the land.”

Ali was on his feet in an instant, shock in his eyes. “You are mad!”

Lawrence couldn’t deny that he took great pleasure in the expression on Ali’s face. Maybe the judgement in his voice should have been upsetting but instead Lawrence felt an overwhelming sensation of almost….pride? Was it pride? He dared to do something Ali did not. Yes, he would wipe all traces of the smugness from their encounter at the well right off that bastard’s face.

Ali agreed to the mission, as Lawrence knew he would. Say what you would about the man, he didn’t lack courage, and above all else, he was devoted to Feisal and the cause; Lawrence had to give him that. But he would award the Harith nothing else.

Several days into the journey, Lawrence realized just how over-confident he had been. Ali had been right: the Nefud was worse than anything Lawrence had ever experienced, and this was coming from a man who put out matches with his bare fingers for fun. Yet Ali was unfazed, at least outwardly. While this made perfect sense (Ali had been born in Arabia, grown up here), it still frustrated Lawrence more than he could say.

The crowning failure was when Ali caught him asleep on his camel during the day’s ride. He was rudely awakened by a sharp thwap as Ali hit him with his riding crop. His cheeks burned with humiliation. To be caught sleeping by Ali after all of his boastful words…..it was mortifying. He tried to deny it, but Ali saw right through him, so he gave in and admitted to his transgression, submitting to Ali’s scolding. The smug bastard.

Well, two could play at this game. Lawrence simply refused to let it get to him, doubling down on his casual air, even going so far as to tell Ali that he would wake him up when it was time to resume their travels (that got under Ali’s skin, he could tell). Still, despite all this feigned indifference, he couldn’t hide his relief when they had finally crossed the Sun’s Anvil safely.

Until he realized that Gasim was missing. Then, despite the weakness overwhelming his body, despite the fact that he was on the verge of collapse, he knew he had to go back. This was his fault. He had brought these men here. He was responsible for them. The point was driven home by Ali as he hissed “Gasim you have killed already!”

The words stung. He didn’t want them to be true. He refused to let them be true. So he ignored the screaming pain, the exhaustion, ignored Ali, and turned back towards the Sun’s Anvil.

If there was one thing that made leaving that much easier, it was Ali’s reaction. At Lawrence’s words, his actions, Ali positively exploded. Lawrence couldn’t help but find it a bit amusing, and it gave him the tiny surge of strength he needed to return to the burning heat of the Anvil.

He had truly never doubted finding Gasim, or making it back. What he hadn’t expected was the expression on Ali’s face. The shock, quickly melting away into….respect? He had never thought to see Ali look at him that way. For some reason, it made his heart beat faster, pounding away for no reason he could understand. Then they were face to face, and Ali was smiling as he offered the skin of water. Lawrence had never seen him smile that way. He couldn’t help thinking how lovely it was.

And then Ali offered up his own bed. It seemed impossible, but he did. Lawrence tried to remove his jacket, fingers trembling, but he was so exhausted, and the cot looked so inviting. He collapsed, face first, immediately taking in the scent of Ali lingering on the blanket. He only had time to notice how pleasant the smell was before he fell into a dreamless sleep.

 

~*~

 

Waking that night was strange. His body felt so weak and it took a moment to remember why. Then his long ride to rescue Gasim came flooding back, along with the memory of Ali, the way he had looked at Lawrence……those eyes….

He realized with a start of surprise that Ali was a mere foot or so away, and those very eyes were staring intently at him right that moment. It was startling, but not unpleasant. Though not as pleasant as the way Ali’s face was glowing. Ali had never looked at him that way before. There was a softness to his face that had never before been there when he had spoken to Lawrence. To his men, to his camel…..those he cared about, Lawrence realized, with dawning shock. He accepted the food that Ali called for, only realizing as he began to eat just how hungry he was.

“El Aurens…”

His gaze snapped up, astonished to hear that “El”, that term of respect, given to him by Ali. But the smile on Ali’s face was equally surprising.

“Truly, for some men nothing is written unless they write it.”

The words melted his heart. Still, he couldn’t help but chuckle. “Not ‘El Aurens’,” he corrected. “Just Lawrence.”

Ali wasn’t deterred by the correction. “El Aurens is better.”

Lawrence had to concede the point, nodding. “True.”

Silence fell between them as Lawrence shoveled as much food in as quickly as possible. God, he was hungry. Ali was still watching him, but for some reason, it wasn’t making him uncomfortable. When at last the Harith spoke up, his tone was curious.

“Your father too, just Mr. Lawrence?”

Oh God. Suddenly he wasn’t so hungry anymore. Lawrence leaned back against the saddle resting beneath his head. “My father is Sir Thomas Chapman.”

“Is that a Lord?”

“A kind of a Lord.”

“Then when he dies, you too will be a Lord.”

Ali sounded pleased, almost proud. And despite the fact that up until several hours ago, the two of them hadn’t been getting along, Lawrence hated to disappoint him. “No,” he said softly.

“Ah. You have an elder brother.” Ali’s voice was sympathetic. Lawrence could almost laugh at the situation were it not so horribly awkward, so painful.

“No.” He prayed that Ali would just figure it out and let the matter drop.

No such luck.

“But then….I do not understand this….your father’s name is Chapman--”

Lawrence cut him off. “Ali. He didn’t marry my mother.”

Ali was very silent. Lawrence couldn’t look at him, didn’t want to see what sort of expression he was wearing now. “I see.” Whatever that tone was in his voice, Lawrence couldn’t read it.

“I’m sorry.” His voice was a whisper, though he didn’t know why. It was nothing to be ashamed of, yet for some reason, he didn’t want to disappoint Ali.

After several more agonizing minutes, Ali broke the silence, his voice gentle. “It seems to me that you are free to choose your own name, then.”

The words were completely unexpected. Lawrence looked at Ali in surprise. Those dark eyes were smiling softly at the Englishman.

“Yes,” he managed, “I suppose I am.”

Ali smiled. “El Aurens is best.”

Lawrence could feel the heat rise in his face, warmth flooding his entire body. His heart began to beat so fast he thought Ali would hear it for sure. He wondered if the Harith had any idea what an enormous gift he had just given.

“Alright,” he whispered. “I’ll settle for ‘El Aurens.”

With that, Aurens rolled over, turning away so that Ali would not see the happy tears filling his eyes. But that didn’t stop him from feeling Ali tugging the blanket up over him, tucking him in. A happiness he had never known overwhelmed him, making him feel safe and loved, wrapping him tightly in its warm embrace until he fell into the first truly peaceful sleep he had ever known.

 

~tbc~

Chapter Text

To be perfectly honest, right from the very beginning Ali hadn’t known what to make of Aurens. Their introduction hadn’t been a good one, that much was perfectly true. But the way Lawrence looked at him…..his blue eyes were hard, pure hatred in them. Ali wasn’t used to that, to someone wearing their feelings so openly. It fascinated him, maybe even more so because Lawrence’s voice was so soft, the emotion bubbling just below the surface. Maybe he was trying to keep it all under control because they would both be working for Feisal? Whatever the reason, it was interesting.

Then he called Ali…..what was it…..”silly, barbarous, and cruel”. That wasn’t so amusing. Still, Ali couldn’t help but be intrigued, even more so when Lawrence refused his offer of help, that coolness never failing, not even when Ali threatened to take his compass. Ali couldn’t help but respect that. “God be with you, English.” And amazingly, he truly meant the words.

 

~*~

 

Meeting Lawrence a second time wasn’t as pleasant. However interesting the man may be, Ali didn’t trust British officers, especially when they seemed supportive of the Arab cause. At least this man Brighton made his intentions clear, telling them that the English would not attack Akaba. Aurens, on the other hand, quoted scripture to Feisal, capturing his attention, then went on to contradict everything Brighton said. If it was an act, it was a damn good one. Brighton certainly seemed upset by it. When they all retired for the night, Feisal asked Aurens to stay behind, even after Ali had left. Dammit, did that make him angry. He was burning to know what the Englishman was saying in there. But he would not question Feisal. Still, he watched from the shadows as Aurens emerged from the tent. The man had an extremely pensive look on his face, brow furrowed in thought.

Ali watched Aurens pace long into the night. He remained up, maintaining a silent watch with those two young boys who had taken such a liking to Aurens (God knows why), keeping his distance so he would not be seen. Only when Aurens finally stirred in the early hours of the morning did he move, returning to his tent before he could be noticed.

And then Aurens revealed his plan. Akaba. The man had to be insane. Ali felt that already familiar irritation at Aurens’ presumption, the way he assumed crossing the Nefud would be easy. Still, despite that, he couldn’t help but feel a grudging respect growing. The mere fact that Aurens would even dare to attempt the journey was worthy of admiration, even more so when one took into account the fact that he had in fact found his way to Feisal without a guide. Maybe he could make the trip.

So Ali agreed. It was worth a try. They would only be risking fifty men, which was not a large loss to Feisal in the grand scheme of things, and if they pulled it off, the reward would be great. And if he was lucky, he would get a chance to see Aurens suffer a little along the way. Maybe it was petty; he didn’t care.

He got his wish. Aurens hid it well, but it was easy to see that he was suffering. Ali felt a little guilty that he got pleasure out of the sight, but he couldn’t help but be happy that the man would find out for himself: Life in the desert was not easy. One way or another, Aurens would learn that.

Even better was when he caught the man asleep on his camel. Oh God, was that satisfying. Ali gave Aurens a smack with his riding crop, hitting just a tiny bit harder than he normally would (so who could blame him…..it was hot and Aurens was annoying). The Englishman tried to deny that he had been drifting but Ali simply stared at him levelly.
“You were drifting.”

“….yes,” Aurens admitted. Oh, it was so gratifying to hear. “It will not happen again.”

“Be warned. You were drifting.” He had to rub it in, he just had to.

The Englishman turned to him, displeasure written on his face, but he knew he had been caught in a bad position and clearly didn’t want to fight. Still, he annunciated every word of his reply, his irritation clear. “It will not happen again.”

Smug, Ali rode off. This trip was proving more enjoyable than he had expected.

 

~*~

 

He was relieved when they made it across the Sun’s Anvil, though he refused to let it show. Relieved until he realized that somewhere along the way, Gasim had fallen from his camel, and been left behind. To have made it through the Nefud and only lose one man was good, but not good enough. He felt an overwhelming surge of anger towards Aurens, an anger that only grew when the man insisted he was going back.

“Go back, then! English blasphemer!” He was screaming and he couldn’t quite explain why. “What did you bring us here for, with your blasphemous conceit?”

He was even more furious at the way that Aurens completely ignored him, simply riding past as he continued to yell. “Go back, blasphemer! But you will not be at Akaba!”

That finally seemed to get Aurens’ attention and he turned. The smile on his face almost made Ali explode. “I shall be at Akaba. That is written. Here.” And he tapped his forehead. With that he turned away again and rode off.

Ali didn’t know that he had ever been so angry as he was at this moment. His entire body was trembling with rage as he watched Aurens disappear from sight. “ENGLISH! ENGLISH!

 

~*~

 

After that there was nothing to do but wait. The other men got some much needed rest and refreshment, and watered the camels. Ali could not rest. He sat moodily drawing patterns in the dirt with his riding crop, unable to get a moment’s peace, still fuming. It was an indescribable feeling of rage, so many emotions bubbling inside him. He was furious with Aurens. For bringing them on this trip in the first place, and for leaving them now.

And yet he was also….afraid? He didn’t want to see Aurens disappear into that desert, never to return. He didn’t want Aurens to die. Somehow, despite all the frustrations and irritations, he had grown attached to the man. The Englishman had been the one to come up with this plan, as crazy as it had been, and despite the odds, had survived the Nefud. To see him die now due to some overdeveloped sense of loyalty to a man he barely knew…..Ali hated to think of it.

A sudden cry split the relative quiet. Ali’s ears pricked up. Looking, he saw Farraj charging down the hill where he had been keeping lookout, stumbling in his hurry and falling, nearly rolling down half of it.

It can’t be.

But it had to. Only one thing could have the boy that excited. Ali was on his feet in an instant, skin of water in his hand, dark eyes searching and….yes. There they were, Daud and Aurens, with a very tired looking Gasim clinging to his waist.

Ali couldn’t believe his eyes. He strode through the crowd, knowing how exhausted and parched Aurens must be. Suddenly, he realized that Aurens was looking his way, those eyes locked on him. It made his heart skip a little beat for no reason he could understand.

Many people were offering Aurens water, but for some reason, he wasn’t accepting any of them. Then he stopped, camel kneeling right beside Ali. Those eyes found him again, those eyes that had struck him so deeply at their first meeting. He realized yet again just how piercing a blue they were.

Smiling, he stepped forward and offered the water to Aurens. Both of them saw it for what it was: a peace offering. His heart raced nervously as he waited to see if Aurens would accept.

He did.

Pausing, water in hand, Aurens whispered “nothing is written,” in a voice dry from hours spent in the desert, then drank long and deep.

Several men offered their beds to Aurens, but he passed them all. Ali waited to see if he would do the same with Ali’s, but no; this time, he accepted. Ali watched him nearly collapse onto the blanket, briefly nuzzling his face against the rough fabric before he fell asleep.

 

~*~

 

It was many hours later when Aurens awoke. Ali was ridiculously happy to see that he wasn’t the only one whose mood had changed. Aurens was much more open with him, even smiling as they spoke, and this time not that smug little smile that made Ali want to hit him.

Then came the awkward revelation about his father. For a moment, Ali was worried that he had overstepped his bounds, that all the progress they had made this day would be lost. Aurens looked so regretful, and for some reason even apologized to Ali. Apologized! As if Ali would think any less of him for having unmarried parents.

When Ali spoke again, his voice was soft. “It seems to me…that you are free to choose your own name, then.”

The reaction was immediate. Aurens’ head snapped up; he looked at Ali in surprise. Ali’s heart was beating so fast, like a small bird, so nervous that he had said something wrong.

But Aurens wasn’t upset. “Yes,” he answered, “I suppose I am.”

Ali smiled. “El Aurens is best.”

The most beautiful expression came over Aurens’ face. It was a smile…small, but it was there, and such an honest happiness that Ali felt he could melt on the spot. “Alright,” the Englishman whispered. “I’ll settle for ‘El Aurens.” With that, he turned away, but not before Ali saw the tears filling his eyes. Still, he knew they were tears of gladness. He had said something right…made Aurens happy. And despite the fact that up until several hours ago, they had been at each other’s throats, that made him happier than he had felt in…..God. How long had it been?

Leaning in, he pulled the blanket up over Aurens (how nice was that name to say now, knowing Aurens had accepted it as his real name, not just the one the Arabs could easily pronounce?). Then, a thought occurred. Moving to the makeshift line they had hung Aurens’ clothes up to dry on, he picked up each piece and threw them onto the fire one by one. An ordinary British uniform was not good enough for El Aurens. He would do something about that first thing tomorrow.

 

~tbc~

Chapter Text

It was strange waking the next day and knowing that things were so different between him and Ali. Strange, but nice. Seeing that smile directed at him for once. Seeing a smile at all. Ali smiled so rarely. Not a full smile, anyway. With his men, his face was soft and open, and sometimes the full smile was there when speaking with Majid, who he was clearly very close with. Sometimes it was there when with his camel, which had actually made Aurens laugh, albeit against his will, since he had disliked the man at the time. The camel would make an unexpected groaning snort and Ali would let out a laugh as though he couldn’t help it, affectionately patting the animal. It was impossible not to smile at the sight. Ali clearly loved the beast, and Aurens had prayed that she didn’t die during the trip. He would feel horrible. Luckily, it hadn’t happened.

But now….now that rare smile was directed at him. It gave him warm butterflies, knowing he was now among the favored few who had earned that sacred smile. “Good morning, Ali.”

“Good morning, Aurens.” He raised a brow. “Did you sleep well?”

“Remarkably.” It was true; Aurens had gotten the first truly peaceful sleep he could remember. Sitting up, he stretched, feeling every muscle strain with the effort. The entire trip had been exhausting, but yesterday had really taken every last bit of strength he had. Then, he was distracted by…well….a lack of something. “….Ali…..what happened to my clothes?”

Ali smiled, but Aurens saw a hint of nervousness in his face. “I have something for you.” Rising, he went to his bag and rummaged through for a minute. When he returned, he held in his hands a neatly folded bundle. It was difficult to discern what it was, but it was clearly fabric of the highest quality, a pure white with beautiful embroidery. Aurens looked up at Ali inquiringly.

“They are robes…..if you will have them.”

Aurens could feel his heart pounding. “You…..truly?”

Ali nodded, still smiling, but deadly serious. “You would honor us greatly.”

The Englishman reached out and traced the pattern of the embroidery, unable to believe it. “Ali….I don’t know what to say.”

“Say yes.”

A smile broke over Aurens’ face; he nodded. “Yes. Of course, yes. Thank you, Ali.”

Ali shook his head. “No, Aurens. Thank you.”

 

~*~

 

Standing in his new clothes, surrounded by the rest of the men, Lawrence would have expected to feel awkward, ill at ease. Instead, he felt as though he had come home. These men felt more familiar to him than those he had lived with for years, worked with in the British army. And this clothing….it was as natural as a second skin, and just as comfortable.

And the way Ali was looking at him…..

“They are the robes of a Sherif of the Beni Wejh.” That smile was beyond beautiful. Ali looked so proud of Aurens. He could feel the flush rising in his face. For the first time, he felt awkward, unsure of how to react to all that pride. He stroked the soft silk of the robes.

“Very fine.” Despite the burning in his cheeks, he couldn’t stop smiling. “Great honor.”

“The honor is to us,” Majid spoke up. “Salaam, sherif.”

Aurens moved to respond in kind, then paused, turning to Ali. “Is it permitted?”

Ali’s smile became amused. “Surely.”

Aurens returned the salaams, turning circles so he could salaams to all the men, finally making a full circle back to Ali. The Harith’s face was still aglow.

“They are good for riding,” Ali said. He held up a sheer white cloak, or bisht, offering it. “Try!”

Aurens let Ali help him into the robe, feeling a little shiver run through him at the sensation of Ali’s hands running down his shoulders as he smoothed the fabric. He didn’t understand the feeling, so he did his best to ignore it, heading to his camel.

Ali was right; riding in the robes was incredibly easy. They were also much more comfortable in this heat than his uniform had been.

As soon as he had rounded the corner and was safely out of sight behind a rocky cliff face, he dismounted. The robes were flowing freely in the wind, and he paused to take in the sight of his shadow on the ground. It was too good to resist: he held his arms out to the sides like an airplane and began to run like a child, letting the robes billow behind him.

It was only then that he noticed the man on horseback, staring at him. He screeched to a halt. Of course he would be noticed when he was behaving like a five year old.

The man looked as though he thought Aurens was insane. “…..what are you doing, Englishman?”

Aurens gave a carefully careless shrug, as though what he had been up to was perfectly normal. “As you see.” He resisted the temptation to glance around. “Are you alone?”

“Almost.” His face was dead serious as he studied Aurens. “Are you with that party of dogs who are drinking at my well?”

Oh no. “Yours?”

The man fired a single gunshot. “I am Auda Abu Tayi.” Of course Aurens would run into the one man they needed to impress while he was behaving like an idiot. Of course they would make him angry by drinking at his well without permission. And he was armed. This could in no way end well.

That thought was almost entirely correct. Auda’s “backup” turned out to be only his son, a young boy, which made things considerably easier than if they’d had to deal with an entire tribe.

Still, that did not make the conversation between Auda and Ali any less tense.

“Harith….Ali…” The exaggerated pretense of not recognizing Ali’s name was so incredibly obvious. Then it got even worse. “Does your father still steal?”

Ali’s face was stiff with anger he was holding back with every ounce of effort. “No.” The word was bitten back sharply. “Does Auda take me for one of his own bastards?”

Aurens sat on his camel, watching the exchange of insults and desperately trying to think of a way to end it before blood was shed. Then, Ali got a bit too smarthmouthed, and Auda’s hands went to the hilt of his sword. “Auda!” The man froze. “We are fifty; you are two. How if we shot you down?”

Ali was staring at Aurens as if he was insane, and honestly he supposed he might be, to ask such a question. He hadn’t even known what he was going to say before he said it. All he knew was that he had to stop Auda from hurting Ali. The sight of Auda going for his sword had sent a panic through Aurens, heart racing in fear. The thought of losing Ali….but he couldn’t think about that now. Now he just had to find the right way to calm Auda.

Miraculously, it all worked out. They even got an invitation to dine with Auda that evening. Maybe once everyone had a chance to calm down, they could have a much more cordial conversation. Then they could figure out a way to get the man to join their cause.

Aurens glanced at Ali. The Harith was packing up his saddlebags, clearly still unhappy about all that had just passed. Aurens didn’t blame him. He knew firsthand how touchy a subject fathers could be. Somehow, he would raise Ali’s spirits. No matter what, he would find a way.

Still, for the time being, he had to see that there was no more risk of bloodshed.

"Try not to lose your temper, Ali."

He could hear Ali bristle with anger even before the man spoke. "You think Auda is right? I should have just stood there and--"

"I'm not saying that. You have every right to be angry. But please. Try not to get yourself killed? I'm growing rather attached to you."

The apologetic expression that had come over Ali's face at the reminder of Auda's sword quickly faded, a huge smile growing in its place. "Oh?"

Aurens could feel the color rising in his face. "Yes."

"Attached, you say?" God, that tone was so smugly pleased.

"Yes, Ali." The Harith merely laughed at the frustration. The sound was beautiful, flowing over Aurens like silk, taking away all that irritation. "So please....try not to anger Auda?"

Ali nodded, that lovely smile still gracing his lips. "For you, Aurens."

Cheeks burning, Aurens mounted his camel and joined the procession, consciously aware of Ali's eyes upon him as they rode toward Auda's camp and whatever next adventure lay in store for them.

 

~*~

 

Dinner with Auda had been interesting, to say the least. Aurens was quickly coming to realize that the best way to make any sort of headway with this man was to push him and goad him until he was nearly at the breaking point, then bring him back down. It was almost like lancing a boil.

In the end, they got what they wanted. Auda was coming to Akaba.

When it was time to retire for the night, Aurens was pleased to see Ali following him. He slipped off the bisht, removed the keffiyeh. “Well…..some of that could have gone better.”

His words got the desired result: Ali let out a burst of laughter. Aurens smiled to hear it.

“Yes,” Ali agreed. “But we achieved our goal.”

“True.”

Ali rolled his blanket out beside Aurens, settling down beside the Englishman. Aurens felt that little flutter that was quickly becoming so familiar where the man was concerned. “By the way….where did these robes come from?” It had struck him as unusual that Ali had a spare pair of robes on him, and such ornate ones.

A flush rose in Ali’s cheeks. “Ah….they are my wedding robes.” The words were mumbled, almost inaudible. Still, Aurens heard, and his eyes widened.

“Did you say your wedding robes?”

Ali’s eyes narrowed, immediately defensive. “Yes.”

“Why were you travelling with your wedding robes?” Aurens tried to keep all signs of amusement off his face. Ali looked positively humiliated. Aurens felt bad for him.

“My father sent them to me,” the Harith muttered.

Oh God, this just kept getting better and better.

“What? Why?” A thought occurred, and Aurens couldn’t help but grin. “A hint, perhaps?"

The look on Ali’s face said that this was EXACTLY the reason. "Perhaps," he answered shortly.

Aurens chuckled softly. "Well, I'll try to take good care of them, Sherif. Your bride won't even know they've been worn."

Ali bristled visibly. He opened his mouth as though to retort, but stopped immediately when he saw Aurens’ face. Aurens wasn’t mocking him, wasn’t being mean. There was nothing on his face but a soft smile. Ali smiled in return, that beautiful smile that made Aurens’ heart beat a little faster. "There is no bride, English." For some reason, the term didn’t sound as foreign and insulting as it used to. Aurens stifled a laugh, smiling at the man.

"There will be." He just knew it. "A girl would have to be mad to turn you down." And he meant it. The more he got to know Ali, he realized how amazing the man was. Even as he thought back on the days they had spent in the Nefud, now that he could see him through eyes not clouded by prejudice, he was noticing details he hadn’t, all the little things about Ali that were so kind and caring. Anyone would be lucky to have Ali for their husband.

Ali hadn’t replied. He was merely staring at Aurens, eyes wide with shock, mouth slightly open as though completely dumbfounded. As Aurens watched, a crimson blush crept into his cheeks. "....I..." But it seemed as though he could find no other words. Finally, he turned away, curling up on his blanket. "Goodnight, Aurens.”

Aurens did his best to hide his smile. “Goodnight, Ali.”

This time, it was his turn to tuck Ali in.

 

~tbc~

Chapter Text

For no reason Ali could explain, he watched Aurens sleep long into the night. After their exhausting trip, he should have been ready to pass out. He was tired, but for some reason, he was content to sit and watch Aurens sleep. The Englishman just looked so peaceful, even after the day he’d had. And after all they’d discussed, and the beautiful way Aurens had smiled at him….well, Ali liked to think part of that peacefulness was due to him.

It was nearly morning before he himself dozed off. He didn’t get much sleep, but then, he was used to that. He still awoke before Aurens, smiling to see the man still at rest. He deserved it, after that ride. Even so, he would be awake soon enough. Ali set to getting food and coffee ready.

Sure enough, Aurens awoke not ten minutes later. It didn’t take the man long to notice that his clothes were missing. For the first time since he had decided to toss the uniform, Ali felt a flutter of nerves. Suppose Aurens didn’t want the robes?

Well, it was too late now. He pulled them from his bag and offered them to Aurens. The man looked at him with curiosity, not understanding

“They are robes…..if you will have them.”

The look of wonder that broke over Aurens’ face sent Ali’s heart racing. He didn’t look as though he could believe what Ali was offering him. “You…..truly?”

Ali nodded. “You would honor us greatly.” His smile grew as Aurens reached out, fingertips tracing over the robes, the pattern of the embroidery. He still didn’t look as though he could believe Ali was serious.

“Ali….I don’t know what to say.”

“Say yes,” Ali implored.

Aurens’ gaze rose from the robes, blue eyes meeting Ali’s brown ones. A glorious smile dawned over his face. “Yes. Of course, yes. Thank you, Ali.”

Ali felt as though he could fly. “No, Aurens. Thank you.”

 

~*~

 

Aurens looked perfect in the robes, as though he were born to wear them. As if he was never meant to wear anything else. Ali thought back to the day they had met at the well and his initial impression of Aurens, the way the man had struck a chord in him. He hadn’t known why then and he supposed he still wasn’t entirely sure why Aurens resonated so deeply with him, but one thing was for certain: Aurens belonged here.

The slight blush in his cheeks was beyond endearing, too, as was the way he paused before returning Majid’s salaam, turning to Ali for approval. “Is it permitted?”

God, that was adorable. Ali couldn’t hide the amusement from his voice. “Surely.”

Aurens turned circles as he gave salaams to every man, and Ali struggled not to laugh. The man could be frustrating as hell, but he was also too endearing for words. He helped Aurens into the sheer white bisht and watched with a smile as he rode out of sight.

After a moment, he realized Majid was watching him with a little smirk on his face. “What.”

“You like him.”

“Of course I like him.” Ali’s voice was defensive; he couldn’t help it. Majid’s smile grew.

“You know what I mean, Ali.”

Ali scowled. “Mind your own business, Majid.”

“You are my business.” He fell into step beside Ali, heading back into camp. “Do not push me away, Ali. How long have we been friends?”

“Too long.”

Majid rolled his eyes, but by now he was used to Ali’s gruffness, so he simply pushed on. “I have watched you with him these past few days. The two of you have been at each other’s throats. Now when you look at him it is like he hung the moon and stars.”

“Majid, so help me God--”

“I am only saying--”

“What ARE you saying?” Ali stopped, turning to face his friend. Majid smiled softly.

“Simply to go slowly. Your emotions run hot, my friend. I do not wish to see you lose your mind over this man and get hurt.”

Ali felt his anger soften. “Majid…” he shook his head. “Thank you. But I am fine.” Majid raised a brow; Ali’s eyes narrowed. “I am fine.

Majid raised his hands in surrender, but it was all too obvious that he was trying to hide a smile. “If you insist.”

Then a gunshot sounded. Ali’s head whipped around. “Aurens!”

But there was no sign of him. Instead a young boy was riding into camp. Ali’s heart skipped a beat. Where was Aurens?

There. Riding around the corner behind an older man. Aurens. Ali felt a wave of relief flow over him. Aurens was okay. But who were these other two?

It didn’t take long to find out.

Auda Abu Tayi. Ali knew they needed him and his men, but that didn’t mean he had to be happy about it. The Harith and the Howeitat had never seen eye to eye. This day was no different. Immediately, they got off on the wrong foot. It was NOT Ali’s fault, he was very proud to say. The only thing he could be blamed for was ignoring Auda’s order to pour out the water they had taken. Auda had to be the one to insult him and his family, pretending not to recognize his family name. Then, he got dirty.

“Does your father still steal?”

Ali could feel the heat rising in him, literally burning with anger. “No.” He was using every bit of control he had to hold back the flow of words, all the insults and retorts he wanted to make. He almost succeeded. But when Auda insulted his father again…..he just couldn’t hold back any longer.

“I knew your father well.” The man turned to leave, and Ali snapped.

“Did you know your own?”

Probably not the best idea. He saw Auda’s hands go to the hilt of the sword and for an instant he truly thought that was it. What a stupid way to go. Feisal would find a way to resurrect Ali just so he could personally kill him for being a complete idiot. But the attack never came.

“Auda!” Both Howeitat and Harith turned to Aurens, still seated on his camel. “We are fifty; you are two. How if we shot you down?”

Ali’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. In what world did Aurens think that question was a good idea? Auda was going to kill him. Then he realized that was exactly Aurens’ intent: to get Auda so angry with him that it stopped Auda from killing Ali. Despite how scared he was for Aurens, he couldn’t help but feel touched that the man would go to such extremes. But God, Aurens, really?

Somehow, Aurens talked his way out of it, managing to calm Auda down and score an invitation to dinner in the process. Ali would never know how. The man was talented, that much was for certain. Shaking his head, he began packing up to leave.

Aurens came up beside him, voice very quiet. "Try not to lose your temper, Ali."

Immediately, the anger of mere moments before all came flooding back. "You think Auda is right? I should have just stood there and--"

"I'm not saying that. You have every right to be angry. But please. Try not to get yourself killed?” At those words, Ali felt a little wave of guilt and was about to apologize, but Aurens wasn’t finished. “I'm growing rather attached to you."

…..did he just hear what he thought he heard? Ali felt a smile growing. "Oh?"

Aurens shifted awkwardly. "Yes."

"Attached, you say?" He knew he sounded smug, but he couldn’t help it.

"Yes, Ali."

Ali could only laugh at the frustration in Aurens’ voice. Maybe that was awful, but even in such a state, the Englishman was nothing but endearing.

Luckily, Aurens wasn’t upset by the laughter. "So please....try not to anger Auda?"

Ali nodded, unable to stop smiling. "For you, Aurens."

Together they mounted their camels and headed out.

 

~*~

 

Somehow, Aurens had convinced Auda to join them in the attack on Akaba. Ali was beginning to think the man had a golden tongue. He seemed able to talk anyone into or out of anything. Ali just hoped Aurens never had reason to turn that wheedling in his direction, for he was certain he would fare no better than anyone else.

He personally had done very well himself, managing to stay calm even in the face of Auda’s insults. So had Majid, despite Auda calling him a tulip. Majid always had been fairly level-headed in that matter. Ali had always envied him. Growing up, Ali had been the one with the quick temper, and Majid had always had to hold him back, to calm him down when he lost control. It was one of the reasons they hadn’t worked well as lovers. Majid knew how to calm Ali down, but he also knew all of his weaknesses, everything that riled him up. It is easy to see how many ways this could go wrong when the two were having a fight. Everyone fights dirty once in a while, even Majid. And with no one to help calm Ali down afterwards…..well, they were better as friends, keeping emotion out of it.

Ali had found Aurens rather…..engrossing….that evening. He didn’t know if Aurens had done it on purpose, but the entire time he had spoken to Auda, trying to convince the man to join them, he had behaved rather…well….Ali wasn’t sure what to call it. He had lain draped over his saddle, fingers dancing along his cup. His voice was very soft as he spoke, words spilling forth like poetry. Once or twice Ali would swear he saw Aurens flutter his eyelashes. Just what was the man up to? Whatever it was, it was damn distracting.

But now it was time for sleep. Without thinking, he followed Aurens from Auda’s tent right to their sleeping quarters. “Well,” Aurens spoke up once they were alone, “some of that could have gone better.”

Ali stared in surprise, but he couldn’t help letting out a sharp burst of laughter. “Yes. But we achieved our goal.”

“True.”

Ali didn’t realize how close he was to Aurens until he had begun to roll out his blanket. He paused, but Aurens was already settled in and had made no objections, so he finished up and stretched out to sleep. The closeness was strange, but the nice kind of strange, and definitely comfortable.

“By the way….where did these robes come from?”

Ali felt his face grow hot. “Ah….” God, he had figured he would have to explain this, but he hadn’t been looking forward to it. “….they are my wedding robes.” He mumbled the words, but it was clear that Aurens heard, for his eyes widened.

“Did you say your wedding robes?”

Ali immediately felt defensive. “Yes.”

“Why were you travelling with your wedding robes?” Aurens was clearly amused, though trying to hide it. God, this was so humiliating.

“My father sent them to me,” the Harith muttered.

“What? Why?” Aurens grinned. “A hint, perhaps?"

Ali hated to admit it, but that had been exactly the reason. His father may support an Arab nation, but he did not look so favorably upon Ali's heavy involvement in the fighting. He wanted to see his son settled at home, with a nice woman and several children to carry on the family name. "Perhaps," he answered shortly.

Aurens chuckled softly. "Well, I'll try to take good care of them, Sherif. Your bride won't even know they've been worn."

Ali bristled, mouth opening to retort, but he stopped immediately at the look on Aurens face. There was no mockery there, just a gentle teasing smile. And Ali couldn't help but smile in return. "There is no bride, English."

"There will be." Aurens was smiling at him. "A girl would have to be mad to turn you down."

Ali stared at Aurens, dumbfounded. He could feel the heat flooding his body, knew his face must be crimson. "....I..." But no words would come. Finally, he turned away, his cheeks burning. "Goodnight, Aurens.”

He could hear the gentle smile in the other man's soft reply. "Goodnight, Ali."

Seconds later came a sensation he hadn’t felt in years: a blanket being tugged over him. He hadn’t had anyone tuck him in since his mother when he was a child. It was so strange and unexpected. All his feelings were a jumbled mess inside him. He lay in the darkness, listening to the sound of Aurens’ steady breathing until he fell into a restless sleep full of confusing, if not unpleasant, dreams.

 

~tbc~

Chapter Text

They didn’t head out until late the next day. Auda had to spend the entire morning getting his men ready and it was worth it. Ali couldn’t believe the size of the army they had now. Aurens had been right: “If fifty men came out of the Nefud, they would be fifty men other men might join.” His gamble had paid off. They had more than enough men now. For the first time, Ali found excitement stirring in him. They could do it. They could take Akaba.

That night, climbing up the hillside with Aurens, he felt like a little boy again, playing with friends. “Yes. Akaba.” He turned to Aurens. “Tomorrow we will go and get it.”

Aurens was looking at the glittering city; he turned to Ali with a smile. “Do you think we shall?”

By that point, Ali was fairly positive that Aurens could accomplish anything he put his mind to. But he didn’t say that. “Yes. If you are right about the guns.”

Whatever Aurens was about to say was interrupted by a gunshot. In a flash, Ali was racing down the hill. He could see the mass of men, struggling and arguing. A man lay dead, and several Howeitat were holding another man pinned down. It wasn’t difficult to see what had happened. The man they were restraining had to be one of Ali’s. He had no idea what caused the fight but it didn’t matter; the end result was the same. Auda immediately came up to him, gun in hand.

“He killed. He dies.”

Aurens had finally caught up to him and was looking to him for answers. Ali had none to give. “This is the end of Akaba.” And he walked away, unable to bear seeing the look on Aurens’ face, knowing that after all of this work, it would all come to nothing because of him and his men. He heard Aurens call his name and couldn’t help it: he glanced in Aurens’ direction. But that expression was worse than he’d expected. Aurens didn’t look disappointed in him. He looked almost….desperate. Like he was expecting Ali to have the answers. As if Ali weren’t the reason for this entire screw up.

But then Aurens found the solution. Of course he did. And Ali had to agree, because it was the only way to avoid bloodshed, had to agree even though he knew that killing a man would upset Aurens.

It was even worse than he imagined. Ali had not known that the man responsible was Gasim. The look on Aurens’ face, in those blue eyes, when he saw Gasim’s face…..if Ali never saw that look again, it would be too soon. And the man didn’t die with one shot. Aurens had to empty the entire barrel. With each gunshot that rang out, Ali’s heart hurt that much more, seeing Auren’s face harden to stone.

Finally, it was over. Ali watched as Aurens walked away, straight at Auda, never swerving, forcing the man from his path. Auda looked to Ali with puzzlement. “What ails the Englishman?”

Ali felt as though his heart were breaking. “That that he killed was the man he brought out of the Nefud.”

He managed to catch up to Aurens and attempted to reassure him, but his words did nothing. Aurens was silent for the rest of the night, and that haunted look never left his eyes.

Ali got very little sleep that night.

 

~*~

 

Taking Akaba was easier than he ever would have imagined it could have been. Aurens had been right about the guns. Of course he had. The men had swept through the city like a tidal wave. They still were, searching up and down and taking anything that struck their fancy.

Ali glanced out the window to where Aurens was riding along the beach. He wondered if the Englishman was feeling any better. He had masterminded this entire plan…it would be a shame if he got no pleasure from its achievement.

A vase of flowers on the counter caught Ali’s eye, and he smiled as a new idea struck him. Settling down at the table, he began to weave them together. It didn’t take long. Luckily, Aurens was still by the water when he finished.

The Englishman was taken completely by surprise when the flowers came flying over his head. He looked behind him curiously. Ali smiled.

“The miracle is accomplished.” He gestured to the flowers. “Garlands for the conqueror.”

“Oh.” Aurens smiled faintly and for a moment Ali worried that he was still as low as he had been last night. Then, he jumped from his camel into the water and began fumbling for the flowers. Ali laughed to see it.

“Tribute for the prince…flowers for the man.”

Aurens didn’t seem to know what to say. “I’m none of those things, Ali.”

“What, then?”

Aurens shrugged. “Don’t know.” Holding up the flowers, he smiled. “Thanks.” He looked out over the sea, the setting sun. “My God, I love this country.”

Ali didn’t know if he had ever been happier than at that moment, sitting there with Aurens by the ocean, the cool breeze blowing. Aurens’ face was so open and happy, his smile like the sun. Ali couldn’t help noticing that the sunset made Aurens' blue eyes sparkle in the loveliest way.

He realized that he was staring only when a resounding crash echoed from the building nearby and caught him by surprise. The two men quickly returned to town.

By no surprise, the place was now a relative wreck. Aurens inspected the wireless set and found it broken. “Ali, get a message down the coast to Yenbo. Tell Feisal to find boats—any boats—and bring the Arab army here to Akaba. Quickly.”

“……and you?”

“I’m going to tell the generals. In Cairo!” Aurens began tucking away papers. “Yes. Cross Sinai.”

Ali couldn’t believe what he was hearing, or the way Aurens was saying it, the absolute flippancy in his voice. “Sinai!”

“Yes.”

He gestured to the two boys. “With these??”

Aurens smiled at him. “They’ll be alright with me.”

As if that was the point. But Ali couldn’t bear to ask the real question. Why will you take the two boys but not me?

But Aurens caught sight of his face and saw the look there, the disappointment and unhappiness. He reached out and took hold of one of Ali’s cross straps. Ali didn’t even have a chance for it to thrill him like most of Aurens’ unexpected touches did, because he was speaking.

“Look, Ali. If any of your Bedouin arrived in Cairo and told them we’ve taken Akaba, the generals would laugh.”

The words stung. They were probably made even more painful because Ali knew they were true. But it was even worse to hear them from Aurens. To have the reminder that the British felt this way come from Aurens, who, despite all evidence to the contrary, was in fact British….did Aurens really feel this way as well, deep down?

“I see.” Ali couldn’t keep the bitterness from his voice. “In Cairo you will put off these funny clothes. You will wear trousers and tell stories of our quaintness and barbarity. And then they will believe you.”

As he spoke, the smile faded from Aurens’ face, his expression hardening. His voice was soft when he spoke. “You’re an ignorant man.”

It was like being stabbed in the heart. He watched Aurens arguing with Auda, watched him ride off with the two boys behind him, vanishing from sight.

Auda crouched beside Ali. “He said there was gold here. He lied. He is not perfect.”

And Ali said nothing.

 

~tbc~

Chapter Text

Heading out that morning, Aurens felt amazing. Their “army” had tripled in size. The men were all in good spirits, singing loudly, banners caught high in the breeze. And Ali was at his side.

They decided to camp for the night and take Akaba in the morning. Aurens climbed up the hillside with Ali, almost laughing at the near-childlike jubilation on the Harith’s face as he pointed to the glittering lights of the city below. “Tomorrow we will go and get it.”

That excitement was infectious. “Do you think we shall?”

“Yes.” Ali’s all too rare smile was directed at Aurens, sending a thrill through him. “If you are right about the guns.”

Then a shot rang through the valley and before Aurens could say a thing, Ali was off down the hill. Aurens stumbled after him, still not nearly as agile when racing over sand.

By the time he reached the bottom of the hill, he saw Ali and Auda speaking and feared the worst, knowing how they didn’t see eye to eye. But Ali was walking away, leaving Majid to explain. “One of our men has murdered one of Auda’s men.”

An icy fist clenched Aurens’ heart. “Why?

“Theft, blood feud…it makes no matter why.” Majid didn’t seem surprised by the event, but resigned.

Aurens spun about. “Ali!” His voice was desperate. Ali looked at him, his face carefully blank, but Aurens could see the emotions he was trying so hard to keep hidden. Ali felt responsible for what had happened. One of his men had broken the truce. He blamed himself. Aurens wanted to find a way to reassure him, to tell him he wasn’t responsible for what another man did, but this wasn’t the moment for it, not now, when the two tribes could break into war at any second. He shook his head, forcing the image of Ali’s bitter sadness from his mind.

“I didn’t come here to watch a tribal bloodbath!”

He headed to Auda’s side. The man clearly distrusted Aurens and his intentions, for he immediately spoke up. “It is the law, Aurens.”

“The law says the man must die. If he dies, will that content the Howeitat?”

Auda was silent for a long moment, as though struggling to see the question from every angle, attempting to determine if Aurens were trying to cheat in any way. “….yes,” he answered at last, tone cautious.

Aurens turned away, heading across the valley towards Ali. “Sherif Ali!” Ali turned towards him, face still that careful blank. It hurt. He hated having Ali look at him that way. “If none of Lord Auda’s men harms any of yours, will that content the Harith?”

Unlike Auda, Ali didn’t hesitate. “Yes.” The immediacy of his response pleased Aurens, to know that Ali trusted him enough to rely on his solution without knowing what it was. He finished crossing to Ali and grasped the pistol the man kept tucked into the waistband of his trousers, the one he had taken from Tafas. Pulling away, he raised the pistol.

“Then I will execute the law! I have no tribe, and no one is offended!” He checked the barrel of the gun to make certain there were bullets, though part of him knew he was just wasting time. He really didn’t want to do this, didn’t want to kill someone, even if it would prevent God knows how many deaths. At last, he looked up, just as the Howeitat released their prisoner. It felt like a blow to the chest. “Gasim!”

The man was crying, face damp with tears as he nodded. The horror faded from Aurens’ eyes as his face hardened. “Did you do it?” He didn’t know why he asked. It would change nothing. The consensus of all the men was that Gasim was guilty. If he accepted Gasim’s word above all the others, there would be war. They couldn’t afford that. But he had to know.

Gasim nodded, an apology on his tear-streaked face. That settled it. Aurens raised the pistol. Gasim threw himself aside, trying to dodge, which only made it worse. One shot didn’t suffice. Aurens kept firing, nearly desperate, until the barrel was empty and Gasim was dead. His heart was pounding in his chest.

Auda was waiting for him, looking softly approving. “Well, Aurens.” But Aurens didn’t stop, merely walked straight by him. After a moment, Ali caught up to him, his voice soft as he tried to provide reassurance.

“It was execution, Aurens. No shame in that. Besides, it was necessary.”

Aurens knew that the words were true, but he couldn’t make himself believe them, couldn’t bear to hear the sweet tone of Ali’s voice, trying so hard to comfort him. Not when, at the moment he had fired that gun, he had felt a thrill run through him, a sort of rush he had never felt before. On some strange level, he had enjoyed killing Gasim. He didn’t deserve Ali’s comfort, his kind words.

Aurens didn’t speak for the rest of the night.

 

~*~

 

Taking Akaba had gone better than Aurens had hoped, and faster. Now the fighting was finished. While the rest of the men flooded the town, looting, Aurens remained on the outskirts, enjoying what peace he could grasp.

Still there was no avoiding the noises of battle still reaching his ears, the shouts of excitement as the men tore the place apart. Aurens looked down at his hand, remembering the previous night, the way he had felt holding the gun. He uneasily rubbed his hand against his robes, as though he could wipe away the blood he had spilled.

Suddenly, something came sailing over his head, landing in the water. To his surprise, it was a garland of crimson flowers. He looked behind him and there was Ali, smiling at him.

“The miracle is accomplished.” He gestured to the flowers. “Garlands for the conqueror.”

Aurens wasn’t sure what to say. He certainly felt the farthest thing from any sort of hero. Then it struck him that the flowers were going to wash away. Slightly panicked, he jumped from his camel, landing with a splash in the water. He began fumbling for the flowers, desperate to catch them before they disappeared. He could hear Ali laughing at him.

“Tribute for the prince,” Ali said, the smile evident in his voice, “flowers for the man.”

“I’m none of those things, Ali.” Even so, he could feel the blush creeping up the back of his neck at the compliment.

“What, then?” Ali’s voice was curious.

Aurens shrugged. “Don’t know.” Holding up the flowers, he smiled. “Thanks.” He looked out over the sea, the setting sun; taking it all in, he let out a happy sigh. “My God, I love this country.”

Aurens was extremely aware of Ali’s eyes on him, watching him. His ears were burning as he flushed under the attention, but he couldn’t deny how happy he was. Alone with Ali like that, there in the fading light…..he wished they never had to leave.

A resounding crash interrupted the moment and they had to rush into the town. Auda’s search for gold had left quite a mark on the place, including the destruction of the wireless system. That didn’t leave them with any other option than to tell the generals in person.

Ali was not pleased with his plan to return to Cairo. The attention focused on Aurens was no longer happy but a desperate façade of anger, attempting to hide the disappointment and loss. He took hold of one of Ali’s cross straps, tugging him closer.

“Look, Ali.” He tried to keep his voice calm and gentle, a simple explanation of fact, nothing more. “If any of your Bedouin arrived in Cairo and told them we’ve taken Akaba, the generals would laugh.”

Clearly it hadn’t worked. Ali’s expression hardened, his eyes narrowing with anger. “I see.” His voice was thick with bitterness. “In Cairo you will put off these funny clothes. You will wear trousers and tell stories of our quaintness and barbarity. And then they will believe you.”

The words hurt. Aurens’ heart ached to think that Ali would ever believe he could do such a thing, would ever cast Ali aside in such a way. His voice was soft when he spoke. “You’re an ignorant man.”

Probably not the right choice of words. He could see that he had hurt Ali even further. But he had no time for this. Now Auda was clamoring for his attention, hollering that he had lied about the gold. He would have to sort things out with Ali when he returned.

With that, he rode from the city without another look behind him, Ali’s eyes boring daggers in his back the entire way.

 

~*~

 

It didn’t take long into the journey for Aurens to realize that it would be rougher on Farraj and Daud than he had thought. They had already travelled so far and gone through so much. Now all they wanted was to rest and that just wasn’t possible; not until they had reached Cairo and the generals knew Akaba had been taken.

“Have you slept in beds?” he asked. “With sheets? Tomorrow night, the finest sheets, in the finest room, in the finest hotel in Cairo.” And he meant it. These boys deserved it.

“Then it shall be so, Lord,” Daud smiled.

It got even worse after the sandstorm, when Aurens lost his compass. It wasn’t a huge loss. He could still find his way easily enough. The only problem was that now he had to be more careful, which would in turn take longer. It was a nuisance more than anything else. He would still get them there in one piece.

That’s what he thought. Until they ran into the quicksand.

He and Farraj were ahead of Daud and didn’t even realize the boy had stepped into the quicksand, even after he started yelling; the wind was sweeping his cries away. By the time they heard him, he was up to his thighs. When they reached him, he was up to his chest. If Aurens hadn’t caught Farraj, he would have run right into the quicksand along with Daud. Aurens had to dive onto him to keep him out. He was at a loss, desperate, not knowing how to save the boy without getting sucked in himself. Finally, he unwrapped his keffiyeh, trying to toss it to Daud. The boy managed to catch hold of it, and Aurens tugged desperately on the end, trying to pull him out. But it was too late. Daud was choking on sand as he sank from view.

Something inside Aurens broke. He had said that the boys would be alright with him. He had sworn it. How could he have been so foolish? And then the words of earlier came back to him: “Tomorrow night, the finest sheets, in the finest room, in the finest hotel in Cairo.”

Daud had smiled at him. “Then it shall be so, Lord.” As always, his faith in Aurens had been absolute. And now Daud was dead. He would never get to know the comforts of Cairo, the sweet rest that Aurens had wanted to give him.

Aurens could hear Farraj crying; he wrapped an arm around the boy and pulled him close, offering what comfort he could in the state he was in. But how to comfort someone who has just lost everything?

 

~*~

 

Somehow, they made it back, Aurens would never know how. They were like a pair of walking corpses, broken with loss. He was embarrassed at how irresponsible he had become. He should have been taking care of Farraj, comforting him in the face of all he had just lost. Instead, he had allowed his own sorrow to overwhelm him. He had to do better than this, be better than this.

They caught a ride in the back of a truck. When it screeched to a halt and the driver threw the back open, Farraj flew awake with a cry of “Daud!” Aurens felt as though he had been struck. Yes, he had to do better. He must get Farraj inside into a proper room, where he could get a good night’s sleep in a real bed, some real rest.

They were stopped on the way in, officers mistaking him for an Arab. He was vaguely aware of them telling him that he couldn’t bring Farraj to the officer’s bar, but he ignored them. If anyone deserved a cold drink, it was Farraj.

Unfortunately, he encountered nothing but opposition in the bar as well. As soon as the two of them entered, it fell silent. This in itself didn’t bother him. So long as they could get a drink, he would be happy. But the bartender refused to serve them.

“This is a bar for British officers!”

“That’s alright, we’re not particular.” But Aurens’ reply seemed only to confuse the man more, and definitely didn’t get him the desired drink. It did, however, stir the British officers to action. The secretary came up to him, looking between him and Farraj.

“Are you off your head?”

“No, oddly enough I’m not.” For the first time since they had entered the building, Aurens felt anger stirring. He looked at the men in the room, all the British officers he had known and worked with for years, saw the confusion and irritation and even anger in their eyes. And now they were beginning to speak up, to call out to him.

“Look here, Lawrence, just clear out, will you?”

“Yes, go on, clear out!”

“Oh, go away, Lawrence.”

All those feelings, that irritation, simply because an Arab boy was in their precious bar. Aurens felt the fury rising within him. How dare they. How dare they.

The secretary turned to Farraj. “We’ll have this one out, anyway.” And he took hold of Farraj’s arm.

All that fury exploded. Aurens tore the man’s hand from Farraj’s arm and flung it away, glaring at him. He was nearly trembling with rage, vaguely aware that all around him the men were still calling out for him to leave. Then one voice, far more familiar, cut through the others. Brighton. The infernal babbling ceased. Aurens turned his attention to the bartender again. “Lemonade, with ice.”

This time, the man leapt into action, probably due to Aurens’ little display of fury moments before. Brighton came into view and thank God, didn’t start yelling. “Well? Explain yourself.”

Aurens took the glass from the bartender. It was wonderfully cold. “We’ve taken Akaba.”

Brighton didn’t seem to understand, and honestly, Aurens couldn’t blame him. It was fairly beyond comprehension. The man let out a huff, disbelieving. “Taken Akaba? Who has?”

“We have. Our side in the war has.” Aurens handed one of the glasses to Farraj, watching as the boy gulped it down. Nothing at that moment could have made him happier than to see Farraj getting such enjoyment out of anything. “The wogs have. We have.” He turned to the bartender. “He likes your lemonade.”

Brighton’s tone was incredulous. “You mean the Turks have gone?” The words finally seemed to be sinking in.

“No, they’re still there, but they’ve no boots.” Aurens struggled to explain as best he could, tried to maintain a calm tone. “Prisoners, sir, we took them prisoners, the entire garrison….” But that wasn’t quite right. “No, that’s not true….we killed some….” The memories were overwhelming. He could not forget the blood, or the blood he had shed the night before. “…too many, really--” He tried to take a sip of lemonade but his hands were shaking almost too badly to hold the glass. “--I’ll manage it better next time.”

Somehow he found himself in General Allenby’s office. Dryden and Brighton were there as well. Aurens was slumped in his chair, exhausted and ill at ease. All he wanted to do was make his reports and get what help he could for the Arabs, and be done with the whole business. Instead, he somehow ended up getting into a drawn out conversation of military tactics. In one way, he supposed it was a good thing. Thus far in the war, the Arabs had been painfully mistreated and misused. The English just didn’t understand the way the Arabs fought, and it needed to be fixed. If he could help fix it, he was willing to discuss some strategy.

Unfortunately, Allenby wanted to do more than discuss. He wanted to promote Aurens major and send him back. Then, the whole terrible confession came spilling forth in a rush, including the story of Daud. In his heart, he knew that Daud wasn’t his fault, but he still couldn’t convince himself. And Gasim…he couldn’t forget Gasim.

“I had to execute him with my pistol. There was something about it I didn’t like.”

Naturally, Allenby didn’t understand. Aurens felt himself beginning to tremble again. He hated that both Dryden and Brighton were here for this confession.

“I enjoyed it.”

There was a long silence. He risked a glance at the two men. Dryden’s face showed pity. Brighton looked bewildered and horrified. And Allenby….he was struggling to keep a mask of calm on his face.

“Rubbish.”

And with that one word, Aurens knew he was doomed. There was no way out.

 

~*~

 

Allenby had kept Aurens for several hours, going over discussions on the Arab Revolt, the way they fought. Overall, Aurens had felt very good about it. Allenby had been supportive, and promised them everything they needed. There was only one moment which had given Aurens pause, had made him nervous.

“Arabia’s for the Arabs now,” he had said, and everyone had fallen silent. He looked from man to man. “That’s what I told them, anyway. That’s why they’re fighting.”

Still no direct answer from anyone, other than a mild “oh, surely” from Allenby. Aurens didn’t like that. He leaned in closer.

“They’ve only one suspicion: that we’ll let them drive the Turks out and then move in ourselves. I’ve told them that that’s false, that we’ve no ambitions in Arabia.” He looked at Allenby, studying his face closely. “Have we?”

Again, he got no direct answer. “I’m not a politician, thank God. Have we any ambitions in Arabia, Dryden?”

Dryden gave a little smile, which Aurens didn’t like at all. “Difficult question, sir.”

But Aurens refused to be put off. He would not leave until his question was answered. When he spoke, his words were slow and steady. “I want to know, sir, if I can tell them in your name, we have no ambitions in Arabia.”

Finally, Allenby answered. “Certainly.”

That was all Aurens needed; he relaxed. He could return to Ali with a clear conscience. Oh God, Ali. He had nearly forgotten how badly they had left things. It was time to return to Akaba and make things right.

 

~*~

 

Akaba was in upheaval. Ali had definitely gotten his message through to Feisal. The boats had come, and brought with them men and supplies. It was all much needed, but it had sent the town into an uproar.

Aurens only wanted to see Ali, but it was Auda he found. It was probably for the best, for it let him hand over the gold that the man desperately wanted. The smile it brought to Auda’s face made it well worth it. He was a good man beneath all that gruffness, and Aurens liked him.

Then he ran into Feisal. The smile on Feisal’s face was brilliant, setting his face aglow. “Aurens!”

“Hello, my Lord.”

“You accomplished my miracle after all.”

Aurens couldn’t help but smile. “I thought you said that was blasphemy.”

Feisal laughed. “True. But I owe you many thanks.” He could clearly see that Aurens was antsy; he raised a brow. “You are looking for Ali?”

Aurens rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. He was fairly certain it was turning red. “Ah…..yes.”

Feisal smiled. “I believe you will find him next door.”

The Englishman smiled. “Thank you, my Lord.”

 

~*~

 

It wasn’t hard to find Ali. He and Majid were the only two people in the building, sitting at the table with their coffee. When Aurens entered, Ali’s eyes widened; he shot to his feet. “Aurens!!”

Aurens shifted his weight nervously. “Hello, Ali.”

Majid glanced back and forth between the two of them, and a funny little smile came over his face. “I will take my leave.” He salaamed Aurens. “Welcome back, Aurens.” Pausing in the doorway, he gave a last look to Ali, gaze very meaningful. “Ali….take care.”

The glare Ali sent Majid’s way was positively dagger-filled. Aurens had no idea what that exchange was about. But he had no time for that, not when Ali was looking at him that way.

“Ali? What is it?”

Ali stepped closer, reaching out to trace the embroidery of the robes, fingers trailing lightly over Aurens’ chest. The Englishman shivered at the touch. “You are still wearing them.” His voice was filled with wonder. Aurens felt his heart break all over again at the reminder of how worried Ali had been that Aurens would disassociate himself from Ali as soon as he reached Cairo.

“Of course I am. I never took them off.” He was shocked and horrified to see Ali’s eyes full of shame.

“I am sorry, Aurens. I am sorry I doubted you.”

Aurens was shaking his head before Ali even finished speaking. “You don’t have to apologize, Ali. Not to me. Never to me.” He reached out, fingers brushing Ali’s cheek.

Unconsciously, Ali leaned into the touch. Aurens stared at him….those dark eyes, the thick dark hair….suddenly his mouth seemed very dry. He swallowed with difficulty. Ali watched the bob of his Adam’s apple.

“Aurens…” his voice was soft, no more than a murmur.

“Yes, Ali?” Aurens could barely whisper the words, breathless. In reply, Ali turned his head, gently pressing a kiss to the palm of Aurens’ hand. Aurens felt his heart skip a beat, then begin pounding fit to burst. Ali looked to him with those lovely, chocolate brown eyes, a soft smile written in them.

“I am glad you are back.” With that, he left, leaving Aurens alone in the room, feeling as if a hurricane had just swept through the place and left him utterly wrecked in its wake.

 

~tbc~

Chapter Text

Before the story progresses, I wanted to put in a note about the sexuality involved. I know there has been much discussion about Lawrence and his sexuality, with the general consensus being that he was most likely asexual and probably homoromantic. In the film they definitely intended him to be homosexual; it was stated quite clearly by director David Lean.

Because this story is based primarily on the film, it is likely we will see a sexual side to this version of Lawrence. However, I myself am an asexual/panromantic, and would like to take into account Lawrence's ace feelings. As such, I am going to try to find a balance between the two sides of Lawrence, the version we know from 'Seven Pillars' and the one from the film.

This note might seem unnecessary, but as an ace I know all too well how often aces get erased or told their sexuality is not valid, and I wanted to make certain everyone knows I am not doing this. Honestly, knowing Lawrence was most likely ace makes me prouder than anything to be ace as well, and the last thing I would want to do is to erase that from his identity. Still, I want to keep true to the material of the film, since it is what I have been following thus far.

I hope everyone understands, and enjoys.^^

<3 Chris, aka Nuwanda

Chapter Text

The time without Aurens seemed interminable. Ali did all he was supposed to, getting through to Feisal and organizing the transportation of the boats and men. As they arrived, he kept everyone and everything in order, which was by no means easy. Luckily he had Majid to help him, or it probably would have been a disaster. Majid was a God-send, and always had been.

Annoyingly, Majid also knew Ali well enough to know when his mind was elsewhere. “You are thinking about Aurens.”

“I am not.”

As usual, the brusqueness of Ali’s tone did nothing to dissuade Majid. “You are. You have been thinking of nothing else since he left. No, practically since you met him.”

The words burned. Ali glared. “Majid, you need to learn to mind your own business.” Majid opened his mouth, but Ali cut him off. “And do not say ‘you are my business.’”

Majid laughed. “Fair enough.” Ali turned away, satisfied; Majid smirked. “I shall just save that for later, shall I?”

The look Ali turned on Majid was positively murderous. Majid merely laughed. “Come, Ali. I will make us some coffee.”

Grudgingly, Ali followed, even though he knew Majid was most likely not finished with the subject. He was right. Sitting at the table with a cup of coffee in hand, Majid immediately opened up the same line of conversation.

“Your mind has only been half here since Aurens left for Cairo.”

“I thought we had moved on from this topic.”

“You thought no such thing,” Majid said merrily. Then his tone became more sober. “Ali, since Aurens arrived, you have been distracted by him, and it has not been much of a problem because he has been by your side. But as soon as he left, it became a problem. Half of you left when he did, your mind constantly thinking of him. You cannot allow yourself to become split in two. It is too dangerous.”

In his heart, Ali knew that Majid was right. That didn’t mean he wanted to admit it. “…Majid….” He took a deep breath, readying himself to answer, to bite back his pride and give in. Then, that familiar form filled the doorway. He flew to his feet, eyes wide. “Aurens!”

Unbelievably, Aurens looked nervous. Ali didn’t think he had ever seen Aurens looking nervous before. “Hello, Ali.”

Majid glanced back and forth between the two men, and a small smile came over his face. He rose to his feet. “I will take my leave.” He paused in the doorway, salaaming Aurens. “Welcome back, Aurens.” Then he turned his attention to Ali, the look in his eyes very meaningful. “Ali….take care.”

Ali gave Majid the fiercest death-glare he could muster up. Majid clearly got the message for he stifled a snicker as he left the room. But Ali couldn’t worry about that, for Aurens was back. Aurens. His eyes raked over that lanky form, taking it in. Aurens still had the robes on, and clearly had kept them on for most of, if not the entire, trip, for they were extremely worn.

“Ali? What is it?”

Ali stepped closer to Aurens, reaching out to trace the embroidery of the robes. “You are still wearing them.” He couldn’t fully hide the surprise in his voice. Fingers trailed lightly over Aurens’ chest, and he could swear he felt the Englishman shiver beneath the touch.

“Of course I am. I never took them off.”

Ali felt ashamed. “I am sorry, Aurens. I am sorry I doubted you.” But Aurens was shaking his head before Ali even finished speaking.

“You don’t have to apologize, Ali. Not to me. Never to me.” And he reached out, fingers brushing Ali’s cheek.

Unconsciously, Ali leaned into the touch. Aurens was staring at him, and he found he couldn’t break that gaze. Then Aurens swallowed as though with difficulty, the action slow. Ali was captivated by the motion, the smooth the bob of his Adam’s apple.

“Aurens…” his voice was soft, a mere murmur.

Aurens’ response was barely audible, breathless. “Yes, Ali?”

In reply, Ali turned his head, gently pressing a kiss to the palm of Aurens’ hand. The skin was ridiculously soft for a man who spent hours riding, fingers long and pale and lovely. He looked to Aurens, looked into those beautiful blue eyes, and smiled softly.

“I am glad you are back.” With that, he headed straight out of the house.

The moment he was outside, the full weight of what he had just done hit him and the smile vanished from his face. He had kissed Aurens. His hand, but even so. Kissed. Aurens. Kissed him.

His cheeks burned; he buried his face in his hands. Stupid, stupid, stupid! He had left quickly, but there had been time enough to see the shock on Aurens’ face. But was it bad shock? Had he offended Aurens? He wanted to know, but not badly enough to go back, not enough to return to Aurens. Ali was a brave man, but not brave enough to seek out this conversation. No, instead he did the most logical thing: he left.

Ali sought out something to keep himself busy for an hour or so. There was still plenty to do around town, preparations to be made to carry on the revolt. Surely he could keep busy until dinner, when he wouldn’t be alone with Aurens.

He promptly came face to face with Farraj. The boy was alone, which immediately struck him as odd. Since Farraj was a child, he had never been without Daud. The two went everywhere together, did everything together. As much as he refused to admit it aloud, Ali had always found it rather adorable. “Farraj.” The boy turned to him, and he was taken aback to see that Farraj looked as if he had aged several years during these few days he had been gone. The playfulness usually worn so openly on his face had vanished, replaced by a solemn sadness. “Where is Daud?”

At the name, a flicker of pain flashed across Farraj’s face, eyes growing shiny with tears. “Daud is dead.”

Ali felt as though he had been struck. “What?” He was about to ask what had happened but the boy looked so anguished, so broken, he simply couldn’t bear to press the issue. “Alright, Farraj. You must be tired, yes?” The boy nodded. “Go to Majid. Tell him I sent you. He will find you some food and a quiet place to sleep.”

Farraj looked beyond grateful as he salaamed and headed off. Ali watched the boy cross the courtyard to where Majid stood, watched them talk. Majid looked Ali’s way, puzzled; Ali gave a nod. Satisfied, Majid wrapped an arm about Farraj’s shoulders and led him off to Ali’s own quarters, where it was quieter and he could get a proper rest.

“Where is he taking him?”

The sudden voice in his ear startled Ali and he jumped, spinning about to see Aurens beside him. “Aurens.” He could hear his heartbeat in his ears. “You startled me.”

“I’m sorry.” Aurens’ smile was apologetic; he gestured to where Majid had vanished with Farraj. “Where are they going?”

“Ah…to my quarters.” Ali felt embarrassed. “He told me about Daud. Not what happened….I did not want to ask. Just that he died.”

Aurens’ face had become strained at the words. “Yes.”

“Well….I know how close they were. I have watched them grow up. I cannot imagine how he must be feeling. I thought….”

“….you thought?” Aurens prompted.

“….I thought he could use some privacy.”

It was silent. Ali shifted awkwardly beneath Aurens’ attention. Finally, he could stand it no longer. “Will you say something, please?”

Aurens couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re very sweet.”

Ali flushed bright red. “I am not sweet!”

“It’s a compliment, Ali.”

Oh. Ali could handle compliments. That didn’t make him blush any less. “I just thought he would rest better if he had some room to himself,” he mumbled.

Aurens was full on grinning now. “Yes. Which makes you sweet.”

“Aurens—“ Ali warned.

This only made Aurens burst into laughter. “I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m really not.” He raised a brow. “Miss me?”

The Harith glared. “You are pushing it, English.”

“I missed you.”

And with that, Ali was struck dumb. Face red, he fish mouthed for a moment, fumbling for words. “…is saying I am glad you are back not enough for you?”

Aurens grinned. “I’m needy.”

God help him, Ali couldn’t help but smile back. “Apparently so.” But Aurens was still waiting expectantly. He heaved a sigh, shaking his head. “Yes, Aurens, I missed you.”

The smile softened into something incredibly sweet. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

Ali knew his face was still red. He couldn’t maintain that eye contact, turning away. “So….things went well in Cairo?”

“For the most part, yes. The general is going to give us everything I asked for. Much more money and guns, and even armored cars and field artillery.”

Ali definitely doubted the validity of that last one. Brighton had just recently seemed very adamant that the British would not give them artillery. Now things had changed, so quickly? Ali would believe it when he saw it. But Aurens seemed so excited….Ali wasn’t going to say the words aloud.

“I also asked him for assurances,” Aurens spoke up, voice soft. “Promises that England has no interest in Arabia.”

THAT got Ali’s attention. “Yes?”

“I demanded he tell me for certain, that I could swear to you in his name that we have no interest in Arabia. And he said yes. That comes right from General Allenby.”

The words were wonderful to hear, and Aurens was smiling, but Ali could see something in his face. Aurens didn’t fully believe the words any more than Ali did. There was room for doubt in his mind. He had his assurances, his promises, and it was the best he was going to get, but that didn’t stop him from worrying. And Ali loved him for it. He smiled, warm and grateful.

“Thank you, Aurens.”

Aurens looked relieved to see the happiness on Ali’s face. “You don’t have to thank me, Ali. I’m just so glad I can help you in any way I can.” Eyes widening, Aurens rushed to finish “all of you.” Ali struggled to suppress a smile at the hurried way he tacked on the last bit.

“You should tell Feisal,” he suggested.

“Oh!” For some reason, it seemed that this had not yet occurred to Aurens. Deep within, Ali hoped it was because the man had wanted to see Ali before all else. “That’s a very good point.” He offered a smile. “I’ll see you at dinner?”

Ali nodded. “Dinner.” With that, Aurens headed off in search of Feisal. Ali watched him go, a smile on his face.

“Well.”

It was the second time that evening for Ali to be startled, this time by Majid. Ali prepared himself for another lecture. Instead, his friend smiled at him.

“I may worry about how this man makes you lose your head, but I do love the way he makes you smile.”

Ali opened his mouth to argue that Aurens did not make him lose his head, but Majid’s smile was soft and teasing, and he relaxed. “Thank you, my friend.”

Majid put an arm around Aurens’ shoulders. “Come. We must prepare for dinner.”

 

~*~

 

It had been wonderful having Aurens back at dinner. Not just for the sake of having him there himself, but for the effect it had on everyone. Feisal was in high spirits after hearing Aurens’ news, and after seeing and hearing all that Aurens had accomplished between the journey through the Nefud and then to Cairo and back, he had become something of a legend. Everyone was in good cheer that night. And Ali? Ali had his best friend on one side, and Aurens on the other. Tonight, nothing was going to bring him down.

When they retired for the evening, Aurens didn’t question where he would sleep. Instead, he immediately turned to Ali. “Where is your room?”

Ali felt as if his heart would stop. “Ah….this way….?”

Aurens seemed to see the question in Ali’s eyes. “Do you mind if I share your quarters?”

It was unlikely anyone could shake their head ‘no’ harder than Ali did. “No, Aurens. Not at all.”

Farraj was sleeping on the lower floor in the building. He actually looked fairly peaceful, for which Ali was grateful. The boy needed it, after all he had just endured. Ali led Aurens up the stairs, extremely aware of those eyes boring into him the entire way.

The room was small and sparse, but it had a real bed in it, which was the reason Ali had chosen it. Actual beds were a rare treat. He offered it to Aurens, who looked at him with surprise.

“Ali….don’t be ridiculous.” He sat down. “There’s more than enough room for both of us.” Aurens patted the bed beside him.

Ali stared, brain unable to comprehend what Aurens was saying. Share….the two of them, share a bed? Sleep that close to Aurens? But the Englishman seemed done waiting for Ali and, with a roll of his eyes, grabbed Ali by the wrist and tugged him onto the bed to sit by his side.

“You could have just asked,” Ali grumbled. Aurens snorted, teasingly bumping Ali’s shoulder with his own.

“We would’ve been sitting here all night.” After a moment, he leaned his head on Ali’s shoulder. For a second, Ali was too startled to move. Then, he hesitantly wrapped his arm around Aurens’ shoulders. With that action, it was as if a dam broke. Aurens sagged against Ali, and the Harith was horrified to hear the muffled sound of tears.

“Aurens, what is it?” He kept his voice soft. “Talk to me, please.”

“Daud.” Aurens’ voice was thick with emotion. “I couldn’t save him.”

The whole story came spilling out, how he and Farraj had moved ahead and hadn’t noticed Daud’s predicament until it was far too late. How despite throwing his headscarf to the boy, it hadn’t been enough to save him. It was clear, so painfully clear, that Aurens blamed himself completely for what had happened.

“Aurens…” Ali felt so utterly helpless, at a total loss for how to comfort Aurens. “You are not to blame for this. No one can account for everything. There was no way to know there would be quicksand. Do you not understand? Not everything is within your control. You are not perfect, Aurens.” He smiled. “Just as close as is humanly possible.”

He was delighted to hear the soft snort of laughter. “Thank you, Ali.”

Ali stroked that golden hair that he loved so much. “No need, Aurens. I am always here, anytime you need me.”

His head still on Ali’s shoulder, Aurens looked up. Their foreheads were now brushing as their eyes met from mere inches away. God, those blue eyes were so lovely. Ali swallowed with some difficulty, unable to help his gaze from flitting to Aurens’ lips. The glance did not go unnoticed, if the way Aurens’ eyes darkened was any indication, heat flickering in them.

“Ali,” Aurens whispered. There was a look in his eyes, a questioning and yet a desire.

Ali took what might be the biggest chance of his life, all the fighting and battles included. Leaning forward, he brushed his lips ever so lightly against Aurens’. The kiss lasted mere seconds. When he pulled away, he looked at Aurens nervously, trying to calculate his feelings.

The Englishman looked…shocked. But it wasn’t a bad shock. In fact, after mere seconds, a brilliant smile spread over his face, setting it alight, taking Ali’s heart with it.

“That….that was alright?” Ali asked.

Aurens nodded, a hand finding the front of Ali’s robes and tugging gently. “More than alright.”

Ali felt as if he could fly. “Then may I kiss you again?” He was delighted to see a blush rise in Aurens’ cheeks. The man never got flustered; he had no idea why it was happening now.

“Yes. I…” Aurens bit his lower lip in a way that was beyond endearing. “That was my first time.”

Ali’s eyes widened; he felt certain he had heard wrong. “That was your first kiss?” Aurens blushed even redder and yes, it was still adorable, but Ali couldn’t be distracted by that right now.

“Could you not tell?”

Obviously not. “No.” Ali didn’t know what to say. It felt wrong to have taken such a moment from Aurens without his permission. Ali was kicking himself. “I am sorry, Aurens.”

Those blue eyes crinkled, confused. God, how was he so cute? “For what?”

“I should not have taken your first kiss without asking.”

Ali could very clearly see the realization come over Aurens’ face, quickly replaced by frustration and that all too common expression of God, Ali, how are you such an idiot? For once, he was relieved to see it. It meant Aurens was not upset.

“Oh, shut up, you idiot. I’m glad it was you.”

His heart soared. “Oh.”

“Yes. Oh.” Despite the frustration, Aurens was clearly amused. “Now shut up and kiss me again.”

Ali smiled. “Gladly.” He gently framed Aurens’ perfect face in his hands and, leaning in, pressed their lips together in a soft kiss. It was longer than before, though still gentle. This time, it was easy to see Aurens’ inexperience, but it was by no means a turn off. It was sweet, and charming, and only made him want to kiss Aurens more. But first they had to get better situated.

“Come,” he said softly; lying back on the bed, he pulled Aurens with him, tugging the man into his arms. “Are you comfortable?”

Aurens nodded. “Yes.”

“Good.” He stroked a stray lock of blonde hair out of Aurens’ blue eyes, leaning in to kiss his forehead. Instead, the man ducked down and stole another kiss on the lips. Ali laughed. “Greedy.”

“Very.”

“You do not need to steal them, Aurens, I will give you as many kisses as you like.” Ali brushed his thumb over Aurens’ lower lip, loving how soft it was.

“Promise?”

He chuckled. “Promise.” He didn’t know how far Aurens would ever want to take things and he wasn’t going to push. If it never went farther than kissing, he would be fine with that. Just being beside Aurens, holding him like this? This was far more than Ali had ever expected to have, and he felt impossibly lucky.

He gave Aurens a last kiss. “Sleep, Aurens. There will be plenty of time for kisses, and you are tired.”

The Englishman complained good-naturedly, but complied, nuzzling up beneath Ali’s chin and settling in for the night. He was asleep within minutes. Ali was awake for much longer, hands running soothingly up and down Aurens’ back as he wondered how on earth he had gotten so damn lucky. The stars shone in through the window on the two men as they lay wrapped in each other’s arms on that peaceful summer night.

 

~tbc~

Chapter Text

It was still early morning when Aurens awoke. The sun had barely risen, the sky a pearly shade of pink. For a moment, he was convinced he was still dreaming, because there was no way he was truly wrapped so closely in Ali’s arms. Then memories of last night came flooding back and he flushed with happiness. No, this was no dream.

Aurens propped himself up just enough so he could get a proper look at Ali. The man looked positively lovely. While sleeping, all the cares were washed from his face, every single line of worry smoothed away. For once, he looked completely at peace. Aurens was surprised to notice for the first time just how long his eyelashes were. He looked at Ali’s lips, so full and lush, remembering how they felt against his, and a warmth began to unfurl low in his belly, teasing through him. It was a strange feeling.

Aurens had never felt like this about anyone. It wasn’t just the romance, either, for he did have strong emotional feelings for Ali. That part didn’t seem quite so strange. What had confused him so deeply was the physical attraction. Never in his life had he felt any sort of physical desire for anyone, male or female. When he had first felt these feelings stirring for Ali, he had been utterly lost. By that point he had already moved past the initial hatred he had felt for Ali and they were well on their way to becoming friends, but even so, physical attraction seemed out of the question; it had never happened before. It was only when his feelings moved beyond friendship and he began to truly care for Ali that Aurens realized what these feelings were. He wasn’t content with lying near at night. He wanted Ali to wrap both arms around him, to hold him close…..to kiss him.

A kiss. Such a small, innocent thing it seemed, but he had never been kissed before. One time a girl tried when he was still a child in school, but he had pushed her away and run off. She had cried and the teacher had scolded him for being mean. But he had never seen the point of it all. Now….now he wanted it more than anything. Looking at Ali, it was all he could think of.

And last night….

Aurens smiled as he remembered that first kiss, so soft, only the barest brush of lips. Ali had been so sweet, asking if it was okay, if he could kiss Aurens again. And then the way he had panicked, thinking he had taken something from Aurens. God, how was the man so perfect? And then with each successive kiss, Ali was so gentle, so careful with him. It warmed Aurens to think of it.

And now…..

….now he wanted more kisses.

Hesitantly, he leaned in and brushed his lips lightly against Ali’s. There was only a moment’s pause, then Ali’s eyelashes fluttered as he blinked awake. It took barely a second for the Harith to realize what was happening and then he laughed breathlessly, breaking the kiss.

Aurens was momentarily worried by the laughter. “Did I do something wrong?”

Ali immediately shook his head. “No, Aurens. I was just thinking what a lovely way to wake up.”

The words brought a happy flush to the Englishman’s cheeks. “Oh.”

Ali chuckled. “You know, I never thought I would see you blush.” He ran his fingertips along Aurens’ cheek, the skin warm. “It is lovely.”

“Hush.” Aurens caught Ali’s hand in his, pressed a kiss to his fingers.

“No.” Ali bit back a tiny noise as Aurens’ lips teased over his flesh. “….Aurens?”

“Mm?”

“May I ask you a question?”

“Of course, Ali.”

He was still hesitant. “How is it I was your first kiss? If you do not mind my asking…”

But Aurens sensed Ali’s discomfort. “….you mean how am I this old and haven’t kissed anyone before?” He smiled wryly. This was very clearly what Ali had meant, though he didn’t want to state it; he nodded uncomfortably. Aurens shrugged a shoulder, feeling a little bit awkward as well. How to put into words all he had been thinking of just moments before Ali had woken?

“To be honest with you, I had never wanted to be kissed before. I had never been attracted to anyone. I never even really cared to be touched at all, in any way.”

Ali was starting to look anxious again, clearly nervous he had somehow overstepped and made advances that Aurens didn’t want. Aurens rushed to finish. “Then you came along.” He smiled. “I hated you so much at first, which I think you know. But as we travelled, things got….confusing. I started to like you. And not just like you. I was….attracted….to you.”

A huge grin spread over Ali’s face. “Truly?”

Aurens couldn’t maintain eye contact any longer; he looked away, blushing as he nodded. He was unable to tell Ali the whole truth: that he felt more for the man than just attraction. He wasn’t certain just how deeply Ali’s feelings for him went and there was no way he was going to risk their friendship by confessing feelings the man might not share.

Then, there were fingers cupping his cheek, gently tilting his chin up to meet Ali’s gaze. The Harith was smiling softly at him. “So it is alright if I touch you now?”

The words filled him with warmth, and he couldn’t help smiling back. “I’ll be incredibly disappointed if you don’t.” His eyes widened hopefully. “Kisses too?”

Ali laughed. “If you like.” He wrapped an arm around Aurens, pulling him closer as he murmured “come here.” Aurens obliged. In one smooth movement, Ali had their positions shifted so that Aurens was the one on his back, Ali now hovering over him. Aurens’ breath caught. He stared up into those gorgeous brown eyes, gazing down on him with such affection. Then, Ali’s lips were on his, and he found he couldn’t breathe.

Immediately, Ali pulled away, giving him a quizzical look. “Are you alright, Aurens?” A confused nod. “You are not breathing.”

Oh. Right.

Ali shook his head. “Breathe, Aurens. Work with me.”

Aurens nodded, trying to calm his pounding heart. It was difficult, with Ali so near. But he wanted that mouth on his. “Don’t stop.”

He could immediately see the effect those words had on Ali, the flash of heat that flickered through Ali’s eyes. The Harith pressed a soft, fleeting kiss to Aurens’ lips, then another, each one making Aurens that much more desperate. “Open up for me, Aurens,” he murmured, trailing a fingertip along Aurens’ jawline.

Aurens wasn’t entirely certain what Ali meant, but the words alone sent a shiver down his spine; he clutched at Ali’s robes, trying to tug him closer. Ali complied, shifting his weight so he was now effectively on top of Aurens, one knee slotted between Aurens’ legs. Aurens could feel the heat of Ali’s body pressed against his. He let out a tiny whimper.

Immediately, he felt Ali’s response; the man’s entire body stiffened, hands fisting in the blanket on either side of his head. “Ali?” he asked hesitantly.

“Aurens.” The word was short, as if Ali was struggling to hold back.

“What’s wrong?” He was getting worried now.

“….that sound. Please don’t make it.”

Oh God. What had he done wrong. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to--” but then he caught sight of Ali’s face, the flush creeping up into his cheeks. Aurens may not have any practical, hands-on experience in this department, but he knew arousal when he saw it. A slow smile spread over his face. “….you liked it, didn’t you.” Ali let out a groan, his forehead dropping to Aurens’ shoulder.

“Yes, Aurens, I liked it.”

“Why don’t you want me to make it, then?”

There was a moment’s silence. “….perhaps I like it too much.” Aurens’ brow furrowed in puzzlement. Seeing the face, Ali could feel his embarrassment grow. God, he was really going to have to spell it out, wasn’t he. “You test my self-control, Aurens.”

Oh. OH. Aurens could feel the heat creeping into his face, but it wasn’t embarrassment he was feeling. It was pleasure, and more. Desire. “…..is that so bad?”

Ali stared at him, stared until he squirmed uncomfortably. “…Ali?”

“Do not do this, Aurens. You do not understand what you do to me.”

“Then show me.”

Ali appeared taken aback by the abruptness of the answer. Aurens didn’t back down. He smiled, but his eyes were dead serious. He wanted Ali to know that he was certain about this. “Show me,” he repeated.

It was more than Ali could take. With a groan, he leaned in and kissed Aurens. It was still gentle, but claiming, making it incredibly clear that whatever his intentions, whether he felt for Aurens the way Aurens did for him or not, this was still something special. There was more here than just physical desire. Aurens felt a thrill rush through him. His hands found their way into Ali’s hair, delighting at its thickness. He gave it a gentle tug and laughed at the ‘eep’ Ali let out in response.

Ali pulled back to look at him with a smile, raising a brow. “Find that funny, do you?”

Aurens wanted to say yes, but he found himself speechless. Ali’s voice had grown so low and rough from all the kissing, and the result was ridiculously sexual, stirring places inside him he didn’t even know he had. He whimpered. This time he immediately saw the effect that sound had on Ali, the heat that rolled through those brown eyes. Then, Ali was kissing him, deeper this time. Aurens struggled to move with him, to respond in kind. Some part of his mind worried if he was doing anything right, but it was hard to focus on that when Ali was doing such wonderful things to his mouth.

The Harith pulled away just far enough to whisper to him, thumb tracing over his lower lip, “a little wider, Aurens. Open up for me.” He claimed Aurens' mouth again and this time, his tongue teased along Aurens’ lower lip. The Englishman gasped, immediately understanding Ali’s intentions, and opened to him, opened to let Ali’s tongue delve inside to dance along his. It felt better than he ever could have imagined.

Ali pulled away slowly, nipping at Aurens’ lip, delighting in the low moan he got in reply. Aurens was so responsive. The man was looking up at him, face flushed, eyes half-lidded with pleasure, breath coming in small pants. But now he was looking disoriented, and frustrated.

“Why are you stopping?” Aurens demanded.

“I wanted to look at you.”

“You can look at me anytime.” Aurens gave Ali’s robes a sharp yank. Laughing, the Harith leaned in but, rather than kiss Aurens’ lips, trailed kisses along his cheek, tracing a path to his ear and nipping gently, loving the gasp that resulted. He continued to lay kisses down Aurens’ throat.

Aurens let out a long, low moan. “Ali…” In response, Ali picked out a particularly soft spot and nipped. Aurens gasped; his hips bucked upwards. Ali’s leg was still in between his and this brought Aurens’ groin into sharp contact with Ali’s thigh. Neither had been expecting the contact, especially not Aurens. Even more than that, he had never expected such delicious friction. His eyes snapped shut at the amazing sensation. Hands fisting in Ali’s robes, he let out a moan, rocking up again. “Ali.”

Ali was frozen. He hadn’t expected this at all.

The door swung open and banged against the wall. “Ali—OH. Forgive me.” It was Majid. Majid, who was staring at them with huge, shocked eyes.

Aurens should have been horrified and embarrassed, but he was a bit distracted. As it was, he found himself fumbling to scramble out from beneath Ali, who, for some strange reason, didn’t look embarrassed at all. If anything, he looked irritated that Majid had interrupted them. “Yes, Majid, what is it?”

“Ah….Feisal wants to begin making preparations for us to move out.” Majid’s eyes were darting back and forth between the two men. He didn’t really look at all bothered at what he had found them doing, which wasn’t so surprising. Homosexuality wasn’t frowned upon here the way it was in England. He didn’t even really seem surprised, now that he’d had a moment to adjust. Could it be that he had known about Ali’s interest in Aurens? Did Aurens dare to hope…

“Thank you, Majid, we will be down shortly.” Majid nodded and left; Ali turned back to Aurens. “I suppose we should go down.”

Aurens didn’t want to leave the room. He wanted Ali to return to where he’d been moments ago and shift his weight just a little bit more, press down just a tiny bit harder….

“….Aurens?”

He snapped to attention. “Yes?” Ali was regarding him, amused.

“Did you hear what I said?”

“No,” he answered truthfully.

“I asked if you were alright.”

He was surprised. “Why wouldn’t I be alright?” Ali was silent, fidgeting. Immediately, Aurens felt exasperation rising. “Ali, will you please get it through your head, I am not going to change my mind. I want this. I want you.”

He saw the fire flicker through Ali’s eyes at that. “Yes?”

“Yes.” He smiled. “Believe me, I wish more than anything that we didn’t have to go downstairs. I’d like to finish what we started.”

Ali groaned. “Aurens, you will be the death of me.”

Aurens laughed. “I certainly hope not.” And, bolder than he would have thought he could be, he leaned forwards and planted a kiss on Ali’s lips. The Harith stared at him with wide, surprised eyes, a smile slowly spreading over his face.

“Someone is learning.” He gave Aurens one more soft kiss. “Come, Aurens. Let us go now. Otherwise I will never let you out of bed.”

Aurens arched a brow. “Would that be so bad?”

Ali laughed, shaking his head. “I have created a monster.”

Smiling, Aurens accepted Ali’s hand in rising to his feet, and together they went downstairs to find Feisal and plan out the next step in the Revolt.

 

~tbc~

Chapter Text

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I have just found out that Gamil Ratib, the amazingly talented Egyptian-French actor who played Majid, died last night, September 19, 2018, at the age of 92.

I am certain you can all tell by the way I write of Majid that I am extremely fond of him. The first few times I watched the film, I did not notice him much other than when Auda called him a tulip. But Gamil has something about him, a charisma, and I soon began to notice every appearance he made. He is the first to offer his bed to Aurens when he returns with Gasim, the first to offer salaams. And despite Auda's accusations of him being a tulip, he is one of the twenty men who sticks with Aurens until the end, who is there in that cave near Deraa. He is still there when they ride into Damascus.

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Those eyes are unmistakable, as is that smirk he gets at Auda's raging indignation. Every action is exquisite, graceful. He has a touch of flamboyance at times, but you never doubt his battle prowess. It is all a distinctive character choice, and it is a good one.

Gamil, you were a great talent, and you led a long life. Your health was failing and you said you looked forward to the peacefulness of death. I hope you have found that peace now. Rest easy.

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Chapter Text

All of Feisal’s top men were already assembled in the room when Ali and Aurens showed up. No one seemed bothered that they were only just arriving, so they couldn’t be late, and it wasn’t as if it were a rare thing for them to arrive together (in fact, it was rare for them NOT to do so). Still, something was different this time. There was an undercurrent in the room, as though something had changed.

Ali blamed it on Majid, who smirked at him when he entered the room. He glared. While he knew no one would be upset about him and Aurens, he also knew that there were others amongst them who would enjoy teasing them, the way Majid was. Auda was one. And this was not something Ali wanted to deal with right now, when they hadn’t even had a chance to explore this…..relationship? Was it a relationship? And now he was starting to get flustered.

He salaamed Feisal. In reply, the man glanced between him and Aurens and raised a brow, smiling. Ali felt himself go crimson. As soon as he was seated, he leaned closer to Majid and hissed under his breath “I despise you.”

Majid let out an extremely undignified guffaw. “I said nothing.”

“Then why is Feisal giving me such a look?”

“He must have read it on my face.”

Ali supposed this wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. Feisal was the most observant person he knew. Still: “I blame you.”

He felt the weight of Aurens’ eyes upon him and turned to see the man looking questioningly at him, concern in his gaze. He gave a reassuring smile, pleased to see Aurens return it.

They focused on the next step of the revolt. The news Aurens had brought with him from Allenby had a definite impact on their plans. More money and arms would help greatly. Ali was pleased to see Aurens was as outspoken as ever. He was also a devious little bastard. He would offer contrary opinions just to set men arguing, which would provide Feisal with a clear view of which men were on which side. Feisal very clearly saw exactly what the Englishman was up to for he sat there watching with eyes sparkling with humor.

In the end, they were taking on the job of cutting railways. Ali, Aurens, and Auda would all be riding together, which still didn’t greatly please the Harith, but he would have to make the best of it. Luckily he would have Majid along to help him keep a cool head.

Oh God, Majid. Ali wasn’t looking forward to the harassment he would surely be facing along the trip.

Even now, as the meeting adjourned and they rose to leave, he could see the smirk on the man’s face, knew that Majid was going to make some sort of comment if he had half a chance. Ali tried to rush from the room but a hand caught the back of his robes and yanked him back.

“Did you honestly think you were getting off that easy?”

Ali scowled. “I rather hoped.”

Majid laughed. “You hoped wrong.” He gestured to the table. “Sit?”

“Majid, we have to get ready to leave.”

“We have several hours before everyone will be packed up.” Majid gestured again, and this time his voice was much firmer. “Sit.” Reluctantly, Ali obliged. “So.” He smiled at his friend, a brow raised. “Things seem to be going well, from what I saw this morning.”

“Yes, about that. Do you not know how to knock?”

Majid rolled his eyes. “Do not try to distract me from the subject at hand, Ali.”

Ali was silent for a long moment, picking at the corner of the table. “He had never kissed anyone before.”

Majid’s brows shot up in surprise. “You are joking.” A silent shake of the head. “And you were kissing like THAT?”

Immediately, Ali’s face turned red. Majid began to laugh. “It is not funny! I was so worried.”

“Worried?”

“Yes! I did not…” Ali bit his lip. It sounded so silly now, after Aurens had repeatedly insisted that he wanted this. But this was just how Ali was. He couldn’t help worrying over Aurens. Aurens was special. “….I did not want to take anything he did not want to give.”

Majid stared at him for so long that he began to squirm. “Ali.” Ali could tell from the tone of his voice that he was hiding that exasperated amusement he so often got when speaking with Ali. “I obviously cannot speak for Aurens, but I can tell you from my perspective that no one who does not want to be kissed kisses the way I saw Aurens kissing you.”

Ali flushed again, but it was happy this time. “Truly?”

“Truly. Ali…no one kisses that way unless they want kisses very, VERY badly.”

Ali was overcome with happiness. He reached across the table to clasp Majid’s hand. “Thank you, my friend.”

Majid covered Ali’s hand with his own, giving it a squeeze. At that moment, Aurens appeared in the doorway. Ali could not, however, accuse him of Majid’s inappropriate lack of manners, for the door was wide open and therefore there was no need to knock. However, Aurens did look completely taken aback at what he saw, his eyes zooming in right on where their hands were clasped together. “Oh. I’m sorry.”

“I will be right there.” Ali pulled his hand free. His eyes met Majid’s. Majid’s face was apologetic; he mouthed ‘sorry’.

“It’s no rush. I was just wondering where you were.” Aurens watched the two together, a studious curiosity now in his eyes. Ali didn’t like that. God knows what the man was thinking about. Hopefully he wouldn’t have to wait long to find out.

He took Aurens’ hand and led him from the room. He was utterly bewildered at the way Aurens looked around them awkwardly, as though searching for something. He would have to ask about that. In the meantime, he led Aurens to his quarters, upstairs to the bedroom and seated him on the bed. “What.”

Aurens looked at him, confused. “What?”

“What is it. All the way here, you looked around us as if someone were about to jump on you. What is it?”

The man’s cheeks flushed rosy pink. “You…..” He didn’t seem to know how to say it. “…..you’re not embarrassed if anyone knows we’re…..well…..” He gestured helplessly between the two of them.

“What….you mean because I was holding your hand?” Aurens nodded. Ali couldn’t help but smile. “Aurens…..” He sat down beside the Englishman. “No one will care. That sort of thing is not frowned upon here.”

“Yes. Yes, I know. I suppose I’m just not used to it.”

Ali was silent, mulling this over. “….do you not want me to hold your hand?”

“No!” The reply was immediate, bursting forth in a near panic. “I mean, yes! I mean I want you to hold my hand. I like it.”

This time Ali could not have held in his laughter had he been paid all the money in the world. It only got worse when Aurens glowered at him. “I am sorry,” he gasped. “You are just…”

“Don’t say it,” Aurens warned.

“Why not? You said it to me.” Ali pointed out. Leaning in, he gave Aurens a soft, gentle kiss, pulling away to smile. “Cute,” he said softly. “You are cute.”

“Brat,” Aurens grumbled. Ali only laughed.

“Come, Aurens. Let us go and help get things ready.”

 

~*~

 

It had been early afternoon by the time they got things on the move, and they had made good progress. All those in their party were fighters and had no difficulty riding fast over long distances. Even so, they would most likely be stopping soon and setting up camp for the night. There was no rush; not on the first day.

Ali was happy to be travelling with Aurens again. Things had ended so strangely that first day in Akaba that he had been worried that he would never have this again. Then Aurens returned and somehow, impossibly, things were better. He had Aurens in a way he hadn’t before.

Ali couldn’t stop thinking of Aurens and his sweet kisses, the feel of their bodies entwined on that messy bed back in Akaba. When he thought back to last night and the way he had been thinking that Aurens might never want to do more than kiss...

True, he still didn't know how far Aurens wanted to take things, but he couldn't help but remember this morning and the way Aurens had rocked up against him, moaning his name so wantonly…

Ali shifted awkwardly in his saddle. He must think of something else, otherwise riding was quickly going to become very uncomfortable. He glanced over at Aurens. The Englishman looked completely content. Somehow, he looked as perfectly at place in the desert as the men who had lived there for their entire lives. It made Ali ridiculously happy.

At last it was time to camp for the night. He was relieved. He wanted nothing more than to eat and settle in with Aurens. The men went to work baking bread. Immediately, he saw the intrigue on the Englishman’s face.

“You have never done this before?”

A shake of the head. “I never had to. I have always had all my food already made.”

Ali smiled. “Then I will show you.” The smile he got in return, that beautiful smile that made Aurens’ face glow, filled him with joy. He set to making the bread, a very simple process, since it only required flour, salt and water. He showed Aurens how to shape it, to bury it in the coals to bake. It didn’t take long before they were eating.

It was dark out by now. Men were pulling out their blankets, settling in for the night. Ali saw an outcropping of thorn trees, where the sand dunes rose a bit higher. He looked to Aurens and gestured to the spot. “Would you like to take a walk?”

The Englishman smiled. “I would love to.”

Ali had been right: it was a perfect little spot to sit and look at the stars. They lay back together, shoulders brushing. The tension was thick enough to choke on. Neither seemed sure if he should make the first move.

“So,” Aurens spoke up, shattering the silence. He startled Ali just as the man had been about to risk slipping an arm around Aurens. “You and Majid.”

Oh dear. This is what Aurens had been thinking about this morning, the question in his eyes that he had never gotten around to asking. “Yes?”

“Were you two ever…..” Aurens was desperately trying to sound nonchalant, and it was comically charming. Ali propped himself up on an elbow so he could look down into Aurens’ face. He could see the flush creeping up the back of Aurens’ neck, the tips of his ears turning red. It was beyond adorable.

“Were we ever…..?” he let the sentence trail away, voice innocently curious.

Aurens scowled. “You’re going to make me spell it out, aren’t you.”

“OHhhhh, you mean were we ever romantically involved!” He feigned surprised comprehension. Aurens was clearly not buying it, if the look on his face was any indication. Ali dropped the act. “We were, once. Not so much from the romance angle as from the physical. But we were lovers, yes. It did not last long. We cannot be more than friends without driving each other insane.”

“Oh.” Aurens’ voice was very small. Ali risked another look, but his face was a careful blank.

“…..are you jealous?”

“NO.” The answer was immediate and defensive. Ali was delighted.

“You ARE!”

“I said no!”

“You ARE!

“Ali--” But any protests were silenced as Ali pinned Aurens, capturing his mouth in a kiss. It was far deeper than any they had yet shared and it swept through Aurens, leaving him trembling. He stared up at the Harith, blue eyes dark with emotion, need and desire and something else Ali wasn’t sure of, something that looked a lot like love.

“Ali,” he whispered.

Ali brushed a lock of hair back from those beautiful eyes, softly murmuring “I am here, Aurens. I am not going anywhere.” Now he felt a little guilty for all that teasing. He gave Aurens another kiss, stroking his cheek. “Majid is my best friend, Aurens. He will always be my best friend. But you…” He stopped. What was Aurens, exactly, if not his friend?

Aurens was waiting expectantly. “Yes?”

Ali smiled at him. “You are special. And I will stay here with you as long as you will have me.”

Aurens’ reply was to pull Ali into a desperate kiss. He was still a bit clumsy, unpracticed, but Ali wouldn’t trade it for anything. He buried his hands in that golden hair and pressed close, absorbing every second of it. He didn’t know how much of Aurens he would get, and he was determined to cling to each and every bit.

When the kiss ended, Aurens looked at him with suspiciously glassy eyes. “Hold me?”

Ali smiled. “Always.”

He pulled Aurens into his arms, felt the brush of Aurens lips on his cheek. They whispered and laughed together long into the night until they fell asleep right there on that sand dune beneath the stars.

 

~tbc~

Chapter Text

When they had first arrived at the meeting, Aurens hadn’t been sure what to think. Something had seemed off, that was certain, but it hadn’t bothered him much. What had concerned him was Ali. The man had seemed upset, hissing under his breath to Majid in Arabic. Majid had only let out a burst of laughter, which had done nothing to soothe Ali’s temper. Ali had quickly noticed Aurens’ attentions and smiled at him and, reassured, Aurens was able to focus on the meeting.

Feisal and Ali hadn’t been the only ones pleased by the news from Cairo. It had a large effect on their plans, opening up possibilities they hadn’t had before. Aurens had to admit, he rather enjoyed himself at the meeting, sneakily changing sides every two minutes just to set everyone arguing so it was easy to see everyone’s true colors, to get their honest and unvarnished opinions. Feisal definitely knew what he was up to and was watching him with silent humor in his eyes. Aurens snuck a glance at Ali. The amusement was much plainer on his face; he shook his head at Aurens, and the Englishman had to bite back a laugh.

They were to move out as soon as possible. Aurens rose with the rest of the men and was several steps out the door before he realized Ali wasn’t with him. He was about to go back when Feisal caught him with more questions. It was several moments before he could return. What he saw stopped him in his tracks.

Ali and Majid were seated at the table, Majid clasping one of Ali’s hands in his own.

Aurens stared, at a complete loss for words. “Oh. I’m sorry,” he managed.

Ali looked completely unfazed. “I will be right there.” He pulled his hand free, his eyes meeting Majid’s briefly. The other man silently mouthed something; Aurens was fairly certain it had been ‘sorry’.

“It’s no rush. I was just wondering where you were.” He studied the two men. There had been quite a few times since he had met Ali and Majid when he had wondered if the two were, or ever had been, more than friends. More than once the thought had made a weird feeling stir in his gut. Now, for the first time, he realized what that feeling was: jealousy.

Then Ali was taking his hand and that feeling vanished, replaced by butterflies. They increased as Ali led him from the room and out into the crowd of men. Aurens wasn’t used to such a thing. True, he had never held anyone’s hand before, unless one counted his mother when he was a child, but to hold another man’s hand in public in England? It just wasn’t done. He couldn’t wrap his head around the concept that no one here would judge them for this.

Now back in Ali’s room, the man sat Aurens on his bed. “What.”

The word shook Aurens from his thoughts. “What?”

“What is it. All the way here, you looked around us as if someone were about to jump on you. What is it?”

Aurens could tell he was flushed; he could feel the heat in his cheeks. “You…..you’re not embarrassed if anyone knows we’re…..well…..” He wasn’t sure how to say it. Was this a relationship? He didn’t think so. But it wasn’t NOT a relationship, either. There was definitely more here than just the physical. But how to put it into words? He settled for gesturing between the two of them.

“What….you mean because I was holding your hand?” Aurens nodded. Ali smiled, that smile that sent shivers down Aurens’ spine. “Aurens…..” He sat down beside Aurens. “No one will care. That sort of thing is not frowned upon here.”

Aurens felt so silly, because yes, he knew this. It was just so hard to get used to. “Yes. Yes, I know. I suppose I’m just not used to it.”

Ali was silent, as though thinking this over. “….do you not want me to hold your hand?”

Aurens had a moment of near panic. “No!” The reply burst forth. “I mean, yes! I mean I want you to hold my hand.” He felt ridiculously silly at his outburst; his ears burning. Still: “I like it.”

Ali, however, found it hilarious, bursting into laughter. The glare Aurens threw at him only seemed to make it worse. “I am sorry,” Ali gasped. “You are just…”

“Don’t say it,” Aurens warned.

“Why not? You said it to me.” Ali pointed out. Aurens had to concede that he was right. Ali gave Aurens a soft kiss, pulling away with a smile. “Cute,” he murmured. “You are cute.”

“Brat,” Aurens grumbled. Ali only laughed.

“Come, Aurens. Let us go and help get things ready.”

 

~*~

 

It hadn’t taken as long to move out as Aurens had expected. They had so many men now, which was fantastic, but an endeavor. They also made incredible time. Traveling with Feisal’s army was so completely different than travelling with the British army. The morale was so much greater, the men laughing and singing together. Aurens loved it. So often during the day he would glance over at Ali, just to reassure himself the man was still there, that this wasn’t all some fantastic dream. Now and then, Ali would sense his gaze and smile back. Aurens would drink in that smile, the look in those beautiful brown eyes. He still wasn’t entirely sure what that look was, what it meant, but whatever it was, he knew it was something special.

They camped fairly early, all things considered. He watched the men taking out the flour, the salt, looking on with interest. Ali noticed immediately. Of course he did. Ali noticed everything. He quickly set to work showing Aurens how it was done. ‘Showing’ wasn’t really the right word. He would explain, but let Aurens do each bit, leading Aurens through the work, his own hands guiding Aurens’ hands as they shaped the dough together. It was incredibly sweet, and intimate in a strange, domestic way that melted Aurens’ heart.

He was pleasantly surprised when Ali suggested taking a walk. It was all so….couple-y. More and more, this seemed like a real relationship. Aurens had never thought that was a thing he would want, but when he looked at Ali, he knew that he did. He wanted all of Ali, not just the kisses they exchanged at night. He wanted all of these precious moments during the day, and more. When Ali took his hand as they walked, a small thrill went through him, and he knew more than ever that this was right where he was meant to be: by Ali’s side.

Even so, as they lay on the sand dune, staring up on the stars, he was too scared to make a move. He simply took in the feeling of Ali’s shoulder pressed against his own, praying that Ali would take the initiative. Then, a memory teased at his brain: Ali and Majid earlier that day, seated at the table where the conference had been held, Majid holding Ali’s hand clasped in his. It was nothing…it had to be nothing. Still, it itched at Aurens, and he knew it would bother him until he asked.

“So,” Aurens spoke up. He felt Ali twitch beside him and realized that the man had been about to slip an arm around him. He silently cursed. Oh well. They would get back to that in a minute. “You and Majid.”

Ali only hesitated for a second. “Yes?”

Aurens, on the other hand, was having difficulty getting the words out. “Were you two ever…..” He was trying his hardest to sound nonchalant, but he was certain he was failing. Ali propped himself up on an elbow, looking down at Aurens. Immediately, Aurens felt the blush creeping into his face, the tips of his ears burning.

“Were we ever…..?” Ali’s voice was innocent. Aurens wasn’t buying it. He scowled.

“You’re going to make me spell it out, aren’t you.”

“OHhhhh, you mean were we ever romantically involved!” Again, his reaction was over-exaggerated. He could obviously tell that Aurens wasn’t buying the act, for he dropped it. “We were, once. Not so much from the romance angle as from the physical angle. But we were lovers, yes. It did not last long. We cannot be more than friends without driving each other insane.”

Aurens’ heart fell. “Oh.” At that moment, he felt incredibly small. Ali peered down at him again. He struggled to keep his face blank.

“…..are you jealous?”

“NO.” The answer was immediate and defensive. So what if Ali and Majid had been together once? It was in the past. Besides, Aurens had no true claim to Ali. They weren’t really a couple. Were they?

“You ARE!” Ali sounded delighted.

“I said no!”

“You ARE!

“Ali--” But any protests were silenced as Ali pinned Aurens, capturing his mouth in a kiss. It was far deeper than any they had yet shared and it swept through Aurens, leaving him trembling. He stared up at the Harith, breath coming quickly as his heart pounded.

“Ali,” he whispered.

Ali brushed back his hair, softly murmuring “I am here, Aurens. I am not going anywhere.” The words made Aurens’ heart race; he nearly stopped breathing when Ali gave him another kiss, stroking his cheek. “Majid is my best friend, Aurens. He will always be my best friend. But you…” He stopped, and Aurens held his breath as he waited for the rest of the sentence.

Finally, he had to prompt Ali. “Yes?”

Ali smiled at him. “You are special. And I will stay here with you as long as you will have me.”

Aurens felt as though time had stopped. Hands fisting in that dark hair, he pulled Ali into a desperate kiss. He knew he was still clumsy, unpracticed, but it didn’t seem to matter to Ali. The Harith responded just as fiercely as Aurens, burying his hands in Aurens’ hair and pressing close, kissing him deeply, and Aurens melted.

When the kiss ended, Aurens looked at Ali. “Hold me?” he whispered. His eyes were burning and he prayed the tears didn’t fall, that Ali couldn’t tell.

If he could, he said nothing, merely smiled. “Always.” He pulled Aurens into his arms and back against the sand.

Aurens was beyond happy. He pressed a kiss to Ali’s cheek and snuggled close. “You’re comfy,” he murmured.

Ali chuckled. “Good.” He stroked Aurens’ hair and the Englishman sighed happily at the touch. It was a long time still before they were asleep, but the time was well spent, for they were happy in each other’s company.

Whatever this relationship was, Aurens would take it each day as it came, for he was enjoying every minute of it.

 

~*~

 

Blowing up the railways became second nature. The men were very good at it, and very quick. They could get in and out with no trouble at all. Every day was spent on travel, on demolition, every evening around the fire with the men, who were becoming more and more like family. And nighttime? Every night was spent in Ali’s arms.

The sky was shining brilliantly above them, and Ali’s arms were warm around him. It had been a long day, and Aurens should have been tired. He wasn’t. He had been thinking lately about Ali, and them, and kissing, and how he maybe….maybe that wasn’t enough.

Ali hummed as Aurens' lips brushed his shoulder, worked their way along his throat. “Aurens,” he murmured.

“Mm?”

“What are you doing?”

“Kissing you.”

The Harith chuckled. The sound rumbled low in his chest, and a shiver ran through Aurens. Ali clearly felt it. “Hmm….someone is jumpy.” He trailed two fingers along Aurens’ spine. The Englishman wriggled at the teasing sensation.

“Ali!”

Ali merely laughed. “What is it, Aurens. What are you up to?”

Aurens could feel the heat in his cheeks. He didn’t know how to answer, so he settled for actions. He let one hand run down Ali’s back, trailing over his hip and forward to dance lightly along his inner thigh.

The reaction was immediate: Ali’s head snapped up; he stared at Aurens with huge, shocked eyes. “Aurens!”

The Englishman knew his cheeks must be crimson but he didn’t back down, didn’t break that gaze. “Ali?”

For once, Ali seemed at a loss for words. “You….did you mean to….”

Aurens nodded. “Yes, I did mean to.” He kissed Ali softly. “I want more.”

The disbelief in those brown eyes was overcome as heat flickered in them, desire. Still, there was that ever present concern, the worry that he would overstep his bounds and hurt Aurens somehow. Aurens loved him for that. “Are you certain?”

“Very certain.”

It seemed that was all the willpower Ali possessed; with a groan, he captured Aurens’ mouth. Aurens quickly found himself pinned, relishing in the oh-so satisfying feeling of Ali’s weight atop him. That one leg slipped between his, just like back in Akaba several weeks ago. Oh yes, this. He remembered this. Immediately, he rocked upwards, seeking that same friction. There it was. God, it was as good as he remembered. He moaned into Ali’s kiss.

Immediately, he got a much stronger response than last time. This time, Ali didn’t hold back. Instead, he pressed down, giving Aurens that friction he sought. At the same time, his hips rolled down, rubbing against Aurens. The Englishman was surprised to feel Ali hard against him. Then, a wave of heat rolled over him, and his hands grabbed Ali’s waist, trying to tug him yet closer.

Ali,” he moaned.

“Shit…Aurens.” Ali began fumbling at the white robes, shoving them out of the way. Then, as if realizing what he was doing, he paused. “May I?”

Aurens stared at him, dazed with lust and need, unable to process what it was Ali was asking. At that moment, he was fairly certain he would agree to anything. Then, he realized that Ali was asking permission to remove his pants. “Yes,” he managed. “God, yes.”

Somehow, the two of them managed to get the pants down, Ali tugging and Aurens wriggling. As soon as they were down past his knees, Ali sat back and went to work on his own, shucking them down past his waist. Immediately, he stretched out over Aurens again. The heat of their bare flesh pressed together made Aurens whimper. “Ali.”

“I am here, Aurens, I am right here.” Ali kissed Aurens softly, shifting his weight. The movement brought them even closer, their aching shafts sliding together. At the contact, Aurens gasped, hands gripping Ali’s shoulders hard enough to bruise. Immediately, Ali stopped moving. “Is this okay?” His voice was anxious.

Aurens’ breath was coming in sharp pants. He stared at Ali with huge, disbelieving eyes. For a moment, Ali was about to panic and forget the whole thing. Then, Aurens was nodding rapidly. “Good,” he managed. “S’good. God, Ali.” He was still clinging to Ali as if his life depended on it. It certainly seemed that way. He had never felt anything this intense before. He didn’t even know how he managed those few words. Some vague portion of his mind felt terrible that he was clutching Ali so hard but he was certain he couldn’t ease up if he tried; his entire body seemed to have shut down. “Please….don’t stop.”

Ali was still studying him, concern in those brown eyes he loved so much. Despite loving that Ali cared so much, Aurens was frustrated. He wanted another taste of that pleasure Ali had given him a mere moment ago. Desperately, he bucked his hips; another zing of pleasure shot through him and he cried out. He was dimly aware of Ali hissing “fuck!” and felt vaguely pleased with himself. He looked into those eyes, the concern now replaced by surprise, and repeated himself. “Don’t stop.”

The heat and desire that filled Ali’s eyes sent a shiver down his spine. This time, the Harith listened. A hand slipped beneath Aurens’ leg and tugged it up about his waist. Then, he was rocking forwards, their hips shifting together. Each roll of his hips brought their lengths into contact. Obeying an instinct he hadn’t even known he possessed, Aurens found himself rocking up to meet each thrust.

“That’s it, Aurens,” Ali murmured. “Move with me.”

Every second of this was tearing apart the world Aurens had known and reshaping it into something entirely new. There was something building in him. Something he had never felt before. He stared up at Ali with wild eyes. “Ali,” he managed.

“It is alright, Aurens.” Ali’s voice was soft, soothing. “Don’t hold back. Just let go.”

All of that emotion, those feelings, came to a head in an explosion of pure sensation. Aurens was vaguely aware of crying Ali’s name, of clutching at him. When he returned to himself, he was still clinging to Ali. The man was smiling down at him, such a softness in his eyes, a look which, if he dared, Aurens would almost call love.

He looked up into Ali’s face, those beautiful eyes, and couldn’t help himself: he pulled the man into a fierce kiss. The Harith held Aurens to him, returning the kiss in kind. When they parted, he brushed back Aurens’ hair, stroked his cheek. “That was okay?”

Aurens felt a wave of amused frustration. “Ali….that was amazing.”

Ali flushed happily. “I am glad.”

The Englishman shook his head. “I don’t know how you needed to ask.” Then a thought hit him, doubt, and he looked to Ali, panic-stricken. “Did you not think so?”

Ali immediately saw Aurens’ concern and cut him off. “Of course I thought so, Aurens. You know me. I worry about you.”

Reassured, Aurens settled down. “Okay. Good.”

It was Ali’s turn to shake his head. “Really, Aurens. How could you think otherwise?” He kissed the man, a soft, fleeting kiss. “It was incredible. You were incredible.”

Aurens was blushing happily. “Really?” Ali was probably exaggerating to make him feel good, but he didn’t care; he liked hearing it.

The Harith stroked his cheek, smiling. “Truly.” Glancing around them, he grabbed the skin of water they had brought with them. “Let us clean up before bed.”

“Oh.” That was a very good idea. It didn’t take long, though they were careful to use the water sparingly. It was very dark outside now, well past midnight. They had stayed up far later than they should have and would now have to hurry to catch up on sleep.

As they lay curled close together, Aurens couldn’t help thinking back over all their time spent together. So much had changed since they met. So many wonderful changes. Aurens lifted his head from Ali’s chest, taking a peek at him. Those brown eyes were shut, his face relaxed. “….Ali?” he asked softly. There was no response. “Ali?” Still nothing. Satisfied, Aurens dared to speak up. “…..I love you,” he whispered. Content, he lay his head down once more and snuggled closer to Ali. Ali, only just asleep, heard the words as in a dream. Never would he believe he would hear such words from Aurens' lips when he was awake.

 

~tbc~

Chapter Text

Ali awoke early, despite the lack of sleep, feeling ridiculously good. For a moment, he couldn’t put his finger on why. Then Aurens shifted against him, making a happy little hum, and memories of last night came flooding back.

Ali flushed with happiness. He couldn’t believe all that had passed between them. Honestly, he couldn’t believe he had ever had the courage to even ask Aurens for that much. He supposed it had all been in the heat of the moment. So far he had been extremely good about letting Aurens lead the way, and really Aurens had been the one to take the initiative here as well, but the fact that he had asked to remove Aurens’ clothes….

Well, at least he had asked.

With that thought came the realization that Aurens’ robes were still open, chest bare where it was pressed to Ali’s own naked flesh. Unable to resist, he ran his hand over the pale white skin, delighting in its softness.

Aurens stirred at the touch, letting out a questioning “hmm?” as he blinked awake. Ali leaned in and kissed him.

“Shhh, Aurens. It is not morning yet.”

“Then why are you awake?”

He stifled a chuckle. “I ask myself that very question.” Gently, he stroked the golden hair. “Go back to bed.”

“No.” Aurens rubbed at his eyes, struggling to wake up. “I want to be with you.”

“You ARE with me, fool.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yes, I know what you mean.” He gave Aurens a light kiss. “Did you sleep?”

“Very well.” The Englishman snuggled closer. “What time is it?”

“I am not certain. I have not yet checked.”

Aurens frowned. “Then why are we awake?”

Ali laughed. “I told you to go back to sleep!”

“I don’t want to; I’d rather talk to you.”

The Harith shook his head with a smile, wrapping his arms tighter about Aurens. Memories of last night filled his head, the feelings of Aurens against him, beneath him, in his arms…..then something poked at his brain as if from the depths of a dream. Words whispered in the darkness. But were they real or had he imagined them as he slept? “Aurens, last night as I was sleeping--” he stopped, suddenly self-conscious.

“Yes, what?” Aurens was curious. Ali could feel himself blushing.

“Nothing.”

“No, what?”

“Nothing, really. Just I thought I heard….” He couldn’t make himself ask. It seemed so stupid. But now Aurens was propping himself up on an elbow so he could look Ali in the eyes. Reluctantly, he finished. “….I just thought I heard you say something else, is all.”

Silence. Then: “….oh?” Aurens’ voice was very soft, as though he had trouble getting the word out. “What did I say?”

Ali dared to sneak a look at the other man and was taken aback. Aurens’ cheeks were flushed and he looked almost….scared. “….I am not sure.”

“Oh. Okay.” Aurens looked so relieved that Ali couldn’t help but laugh.

“Goodness, Aurens. No need to look so relieved. It was just a dream.” He paused, looking at the Englishman calculatingly. “….was it not?”

Aurens swallowed with some difficulty, but managed a nod. “Yes.”

With that, Ali knew for certain that whatever it took, he would remember those words. In the meantime, he took Aurens’ hand in his and pressed a kiss to it. “Come, Aurens,” he said softly. “We have a while still before we must get up. Let me hold you.”

All signs of worry vanished from Aurens’ face as though they had never been there. Smiling, he melted into Ali’s arms, snuggling close. Leaning in, Ali kissed him. There were so many things, so many words that he wanted to say. Words he didn’t know how to express. He would figure it out eventually.

For now it was enough just to hold Aurens in his arms.

 

~*~

 

It was late the next afternoon before they camped again. Aurens rode like an Arab now, able to stay awake long hours, rocking in the saddle as though he were born to it. Ali was both proud and yet saddened that the man couldn't get the sleep he needed and deserved.

He was glad when they reached camp. Despite how well Aurens hid it, Ali knew he was sore and tired. Luckily, they could attend to both needs. There was a reason they had rested so soon. This place was home to a natural springs, fresh clean water, perfect for a relaxing bath.

Ali took Aurens' hand, startling him. "Come, Aurens. Follow me." He led him up the rocky hill face and into a dark little cavern. Several twists and turns later, they emerged back outside into the sunlight. They were now surrounded by greenery, so out of place amongst the usually stark desert. And there, the shining, frothing pool of water lay hidden.

Aurens' eyes widened in surprised joy. "I can't believe it," he breathed. Ali was delighted to have brought that happiness to Aurens.

"Come," he said, gently undoing the catches on Aurens' robes. The Englishman's breath caught at the touch, sending a thrill through Ali. With trembling fingers, Aurens set to work undressing Ali, starting with the keffiyeh and working his way down. Graceful hands pushed the dark robes from Ali's shoulders, but didn't stop there. It was as if once he started touching Ali, he couldn't stop, fingers roaming his chest, greedily taking in every inch of bare flesh. Ali never took his gaze from Aurens' face, unable to stop watching the way Aurens' eyes were devouring him as though he couldn't get enough.

"Aurens?" he managed, voice rough. Aurens snapped to as from a trance, staring at Ali in surprise, face flushed. Ali was finding it difficult to breathe. "Shall we get in the water?"

The rosy color in Aurens cheeks was not from embarrassment but desire, and it was doing things to Ali. The Englishman nodded. "Yes."

The two men finished undressing. Ali noticed Aurens sneaking glances at him and couldn't help but smile, stifling a chuckle. "You do not have to peek, Aurens." But the words had the opposite effect, Aurens spinning away from Ali in embarrassment. Nevertheless, Ali continued, stepping closer, arms slipping around the man's waist as he whispered in his ear. "You are free to look."

"I know," Aurens managed.

Ali brushed a featherlight kiss against his cheek, murmuring "I like it when you look."

Immediately he felt the change, the shiver that ran through Aurens. Goosebumps had broken out over his shoulders, all that ivory skin. And yet....Ali smiled. "I never realized you blushed so far down." He teased a fingertip down Aurens' spine. The result was an immediate yelp.

"ALI!" His tone was indignant. The Harith laughed. Aurens risked a look over his shoulder, and this time the blush on his face was definitely partial embarrassment. When he saw the grin on Ali's face, he scowled. "You're terrible."

Ali stole a kiss. "Come into the water with me," he wheedled.

"You're a brat. I should leave you here."

"Possibly, but you will not."

"How do you know?

"You care for me too much."

The words made Aurens flush even more, which pleased Ali. Maybe Aurens cared even more than he knew. Those unremembered words teased at his mind yet again. He shoved the thoughts away. This was what mattered. Here, now. "Come."

This time, Aurens obeyed without complaint, following Ali into the water and slipping right into his lap. Ali laughed. "What, no more insults? No complaints?"

"Shut up or I'll rethink this."

Another laugh; he stroked Aurens' cheek. "Fair enough. I will remain quiet."

Aurens arched a brow. "Really? I'll believe that when I see it."

"Oh, and I am the brat?"

"What happened to being quiet?"

Ali opened his mouth to retort but before he could, Aurens captured his lips in a kiss. There was no way Ali was going to object to that. Wrapping an arm around Aurens' back, he tugged the man further into his lap. Aurens did his best to be accommodating, spreading his knees so he could properly straddle Ali's lap. The Harith gasped as their hips came into closer contact. "Aurens!"

"Mm?" He nipped Ali's lower lip.

Ali bit back a moan. "This is not the best place for this, Aurens."

"Oh?" Aurens was not to be deterred. As Ali's lips were denied him, he simply kissed along his jawline, down his throat. "Why is that?"

Fuck, the man was learning all the tricks, wasn't he. He groaned. "Water....want to keep it clean." Then Aurens bit down and he knew he was a goner. He slipped his hands beneath Aurens and scooped him up, turning to deposit him on the edge of the pool before pressing into a desperate kiss. Aurens let out a surprised but pleased sound. Ali broke away to hiss "fuck, Aurens." The Englishman cocked a brow at him. "The things you do to me." He didn't wait for a response, though he was aware of the man's breathless laughter. Instead his hand slipped between them, finding Aurens' arousal. That stopped the laughter short as the man gasped. Immediately Aurens felt those graceful hands that he loved so much clutching at his hair; Aurens' legs wrapped tight about his waist, trying to pull him closer. He complied, stepping as close as he dared.

Ali ran his fingers over the head of Aurens' shaft, the stickiness there, and back down. This time, they glided slickly over the smooth skin. He rocked forwards in frustration, wanting more sensation, more of Aurens. The other man clearly felt it too, for he whined, hands moving to Ali's hips and tugging. "Please," Aurens managed.

Ali bit his lower lip, trying to contain the surge of emotion that hit him at that one word. He released Aurens, which earned a whimper of frustration. Hesitantly, he rocked in closer, their hips bumping together. The reaction was immediate, Aurens crying out, his fingers digging into Ali's flesh. Encouraged, he wrapped his hand around both of them, giving a slow, smooth stroke. Aurens let out what could only be called a sob. "Oh!" He buried his face in the curve of Ali's throat, clutching at his shoulders. "Ali, please."

Ali kissed the top of his head. "Good?"

"Oh God, Ali, don't stop."

That was all Ali needed to hear. He set up a steady rhythm, hand stroking the two of them together. He loved the way Aurens' hips bucked up into his hand unconsciously, as though he had no control over them, as though he were so completely overwhelmed by pleasure that he just couldn't help himself. The fact that he could make Aurens feel this good? Ali couldn't ask for anything more than that.

Then Aurens was coming, heat splattering Ali's hand as he cried out Ali's name in a way that sounded very much like love. Staring down at that beautiful face, wracked with pleasure, hearing his name on the lips he loved so much, was all Ali needed to push him over the edge. He spent himself, his seed mixing with Aurens'.

He sagged against Aurens, chest heaving as he struggled to catch his breath. Slowly he realized that Aurens’ hands were in his hair, that the man was pressing kisses to his forehead, murmuring his name like a mantra. He looked up to meet those brilliant blue eyes and was struck dumb by the softness in them, the sheer emotion. He couldn’t hold back, he leaned in and seized a kiss. “You are wonderful.”

Aurens laughed, the sound surprised and delighted. “Thank you?” Ali couldn’t help but blush. He felt silly; the words had come out of nowhere. But at that moment, he’d had to say them. He felt as though if he hadn’t said something, he would have…..what? Ali wasn’t entirely certain, but he knew it wouldn’t have been good.

But he couldn’t focus on that, for now Aurens’ focus had shifted and he had taken Ali’s hand in his, examining it. It was wet with their combined seed. Ali said nothing, curious to see what Aurens was thinking. Then, the Englishman leaned in and lapped at the mess with his hot tongue.

Ali felt as though he were going to pass out on the spot. “Aurens!”

“Mm?”

“Do not DO that!”

“Why not?” Aurens only looked at him for a moment before that oh-so-infuriating grin spread. Sometimes Ali hated how easily Aurens saw through him. “Like that too, don’t you.”

Ali scowled. “You can be such a brat.”

Laughing, Aurens wrapped his arms around Ali’s neck and kissed him. “I assume this is where you tell me that we have to stop.”

The Harith couldn’t help but shake his head in amusement. “Can you not just relax and enjoy your bath?”

“Mm….I suppose so.” With one last kiss, Aurens sank into the pool, though Ali was happy to note that he remained firmly seated in Ali’s lap.

"So,” Ali began, as his hands found their way to Aurens’ shoulders, kneading gently, “it has been a rather busy two days.” Aurens’ happy hum of agreement made him smile. “Is this sort of physical activity going to be an everyday occurrence?"

"One can only hope," Aurens replied lightly. Ali laughed; Aurens smiled up at him. "Do you disagree?"

The Harith smiled. "I am certain I could live with it."

Aurens swatted his arm. "Well geez, don't let me put you out."

"No no, it is a good arrangement."

"Only if you're sure. I'd hate to be a bother." Aurens' tone was dry.

Ali cupped his chin, firmly pulling him into a soft, deep kiss. He kissed Aurens until there could be no question of his intentions, of his feelings, pulling away to look him in the eye. "I am certain."

Aurens was staring at Ali, eyes wide at the kiss that had swept through him. "Oh." He didn't seem to know what else to say.

Ali stroked his cheek with a smile. "I should be so lucky."

At those words, Aurens flushed red, the color hot against Ali's hand. "....I...." Somehow he found words. "So would I."

Ali didn’t know how he could be happier; he pulled Aurens into his arms and they relaxed together in the warm water. He ran his hand through those golden locks, combing them out.

Aurens sighed happily. “I wish we could stay here forever."

Surprised, Ali looked down at him. “….would you stay with me, if you could?”

There was a moment’s hesitation; Aurens glanced up at Ali, a flush to his face. “….would you want me to?”

Ali didn’t get a chance to respond, for suddenly there was Auda, like the world’s biggest cock-block.

“So, there you two are!” he boomed.

Ali’s heart came crashing apart as Aurens slid from his arms. Of course. He still wasn’t entirely comfortable with the public displays of affection, and being seen naked in each other’s arms was not going to be comfortable in any way. Especially not in front of Auda. “Yes, Auda, we are just finishing. You are welcome to the water.” Gathering up their robes, he followed after Aurens, doing his best to clothe them as fast as possible and cursing Auda for ruining what could have been a very nice moment.

Aurens had actually mentioned staying there with him. Had he truly been serious? But there was no way to ask about it now, not after that, and not until they were alone again. Besides, Auda had so entirely broken the mood. Ali would have to find a way to repair it before he could even think about broaching the topic again.

Aurens stopped a little before they reached camp, stopped so suddenly that Ali very nearly crashed into him, spinning to face Ali. “I’m sorry.”

Ali was lost. “Sorry?”

Aurens nodded. He looked flustered. “I shouldn’t let it get to me when people see us….I don’t care that they know, you know that, right?” Ali nodded. “He just caught me by surprise and I don’t like…..I don’t like people seeing me….” He was getting seriously upset now. But Ali thought he understood.

“You did not want him to see you undressed.”

“Yes. I mean I didn’t. I mean it has nothing to do with you, Ali. I want you to know that. I’m not ashamed of you.”

Ali shook his head, reaching out to cup Aurens’ cheek. “Silly. You worry too much.”

“Oh, I worry too much?”

The words rang true, and Ali had to laugh. “Fair point.”

Aurens glanced around them, the fires of men cooking, many of them casting furtive glances their way. “Ali?”

“Yes?”

There were nerves in those blue eyes, but they were determined. “….may I kiss you?”

Ali felt a thrill rush through him, that Aurens actually wanted to kiss him here in front of all the men. “You never need to ask me, Aurens.”

The feel of those lips on his was absolute perfection. He didn’t try to pull Aurens closer, didn’t demand anything more than Aurens was comfortable with, but he committed every detail to memory. Perfect. When it was done, Aurens fumbled for his hand, linking their fingers, and smiling, they walked the rest of the way to camp.

Majid was seated by a fire, at work making food. He raised a brow at Ali, smirking. “I thought about cat-calling, but I decided to be nice.”

“Quite a first,” Ali replied dryly. Aurens was looking at Majid distrustfully after that last comment, so Ali gave him an encouraging smile and, reluctantly, he sat.

“Did Auda join you at the pool?”

“Yes.”

“I am sorry.” Majid’s voice was regretful. “I tried to stop him, but there is only so much one can do without resorting to the physical or indeed causing trouble between the tribes.”

“Thank you, Majid, for anything you did. We accomplished what we wanted.” Ali saw Majid open his mouth to reply but he glared and the man got the point: Aurens was not yet ready for Majid’s sense of humor.

“You are welcome. Have you eaten yet? Aurens?”

“Not yet.”

“Well there is plenty here.”

The three of them settled in for dinner, and for a while everything was going very well. They had cooked together and were relaxing with their food. Majid was being incredibly charming. He had reined in his sense of humor just enough to not offend one who didn’t know him well while still retaining his charisma. All in all, they were having a fantastic time.

Then, Auda returned.

“So, Aurens, Ali.” God, how did he always talk so loud? “You two had a good time up there, I take it?”

Aurens’ face had gone white as a sheet. Ali leveled Auda with a look that should have been obvious to most anyone as Stop Talking Now. “We enjoyed our bath, yes. I take it you enjoyed yours?”

Auda ignored the attempt to change the subject, laughing. “Bath? Yes, clearly a bath is what you were up to, that was obvious from the mess you left on the rocks--”

Ali was furious. Honestly, how anyone could stand this man, he didn’t know. And now Majid was chortling.

“Really, Ali? I try so hard to give you privacy and you go and make a mess anyway? I thought I raised you better than this.”

That seemed to be the last straw for Aurens. He was on his feet, face now crimson. Unlike Ali, however, he had some self-control and didn’t yell at anyone. He did, however, have a few choice words for Majid. “Some friend you are, mocking him this way, openly.”

“Aurens--”

“No, Ali, no.” Glaring at Majid, he left, heading off into the darkness.

Auda stared after him in confusion. “What is wrong with Aurens?”

Ali wanted to smack him. He probably would have if Majid hadn’t tugged him away. “Let me go.”

“No.”

“I must go to Aurens.”

“He needs a moment alone.”

Ali had to concede the point. “…..how are you right about that?”

“I am always right.”

He scowled. “You are NOT always right. If you were always right, you would not have made him storm off in the first place.”

Majid grinned. “Yes, about that.”

Ali stared. “How are you smiling right now? Look at that idiotic smile on your face.”

“I am smiling because I think you finally found a good one this time.”

“…….oh.”

“Yes.” Majid’s smile grew at the dumbfounded look on Ali’s face. “For him to jump to your defense like that, over something so silly…..he truly cares for you, Ali.”

The Harith felt an overwhelming sensation of warmth flooding him, filling him with happiness. “….I….”

Majid laughed at Ali’s complete inability to form a coherent sentence. “Will you stop sitting around here? Go find him. And apologize for me. Not that I will ever stop teasing you.”

Ali rolled his eyes. “The world would end if you did.”

Laughing, Majid gave him a push. “Go!”

 

~*~

 

Aurens had found his way to the opposite end of the camp. It wasn’t that surprising. They usually slept on the fringes. It was the only way they got any semblance of privacy. Still, this time they had no tent, no supplies….Aurens had headed out with no plan, just a heart full of emotion.

“Aurens?”

Aurens looked up at him. “Are you upset?”

“What? No! Why would I be upset?”

“Because I yelled at Majid.”

Ali felt a wave of amusement; he moved to Aurens’ side and sat beside him. “Aurens, I yell at Majid all the time. He is used to it. And before you ask, no, he is not upset either. He actually said to apologize.”

Aurens was surprised. “Really?”

“Really. Though honestly he is not sorry. He did not say that part, I just know it. He is sorry he upset you, not sorry for making fun of me.” But now Aurens was beginning to look upset again; Ali rushed to continue. “Aurens, Majid is my best friend. We make fun of each other.”

“I guess,” Aurens grumbled.

Chuckling, Ali wrapped an arm around Aurens, pulling him close. “He told me….” For a moment he hesitated, nervous. Finally, he decided to just go for it. “…..he told me just now that he thinks I finally found a good one.”

Aurens looked shocked. “You…..really??”

Ali nodded. “He said if you are that defensive of me, you must care for me.” He waited with baited breath for Aurens’ response.

He didn’t have to wait long. Aurens dove on him, hands cupping his face as he kissed Ali with all he had, breaking away to gasp “I do.” He was breathless. “I do care for you.”

Ali’s heartbeat was racing; he pulled Aurens into another kiss, eyes pressed tightly shut against the burning pinpricks of tears he could feel struggling to escape. “Oh, Aurens,” he managed, pressing kisses along his cheek, nuzzling into his throat. He never wanted to move from this spot, never wanted to let Aurens out of his arms. “You are so perfect.” He loved the man’s breathless laughter.

“Hardly that.”

Stubbornly, Ali shook his head. “Perfect for me.”

Aurens’ smile was clear even in his voice. “Alright. Perfect for you. Now will you come out of hiding so I can kiss you?”

Smiling, Ali obliged, giving Aurens a gentle, lingering kiss that left them both a little dizzy. “Come,” he said softly. “Let us go to bed.” Taking Aurens’ hand, they turned back towards camp. "But do not get upset with my friend,” he admonished. “He is going to tease me. That is what friends do."

Aurens sighed. “I’ll try. No guarantees.”

Ali smiled. “That is all I can ask.”

They set up their tent together, close to where they had been cooking. Immediately, Majid poked his head out of a nearby tent. “Will we be neighbors? Should I make sure my tent flap is down so I do not see or hear anything inappropriate?”

“Majid,” Ali warned, “I just got finished asking him to consider liking you. Must you counteract that by being your normally abrasive self?”

“Do you not mean charming self?”

“No I do not.”

“Glorious?”

“No.”

“Effervescent?”

“Majid.”

Aurens leaned out of their tent. “Majid, I’m taking Ali to bed now. You will most likely not hear anything, for we got up to a great deal today, but feel free to roll your tent flaps down anyway, just to be safe. Have a good night!” With that, he tugged Ali into the tent, both vanishing from view.

Once inside, Ali stared at him in complete and utter shock. “You…” Aurens merely returned his gaze as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. Ali finally burst into laughter. “You are mad.”

“Mm….maybe so.” Aurens stroked Ali’s cheek. “Ali?”

“Yes, Aurens?”

“I’m going to kiss you now.”

The words, echoed from earlier, made Ali laugh, even as he slid an arm around Aurens’ waist, pulling him in closer. Their bodies now aligned, Aurens leaned in, brushing Ali’s lips in a gentle kiss. It was the first of several, and though they didn’t lead to anything further than kisses, Ali had to concede that the tent flaps may have been a good idea.

It was only later, lying there with Aurens asleep in his arms, that it came to him. Earlier that night, when they were in the pool, Aurens had been saying his name, again, and again, and again. He had looked up at Aurens, at the emotion in his eyes, and been struck dumb with feeling. He had wound up saying “you’re wonderful” but that was a far cry from what he had been thinking. Those words had come out only because he’d had to say something, and Ali had felt as though in that moment, if he hadn’t said something, he would have told Aurens that he loved him.

He loved Aurens.

Ali looked down at Aurens. The man was sound asleep, his head pillowed on Ali’s chest. He seemed as happy as could be. Did he want….could he want Ali to love him? Would he want to know? That very day he had sounded as though he might be willing to stay with Ali. But would he want that if love were part of the deal? Should Ali even try to tell him?

Ali had never been in such a predicament before. He had never been in love before.

Then he realized that he was not just thinking of loving Aurens but being in love with him. He may not have ever been in a true relationship with someone, but he knew enough to know there was a difference between the two, and a big one. Where did he and Aurens fall on the line? He gave it some thought for several moments.

Yes, he was in love with Aurens.

But what if Aurens didn’t love him?

He looked down at the man, that face he knew so well and loved so much, and an ache ran through him. He couldn’t bear to lose this. He just couldn’t. He was going to lose Aurens someday anyway, when the war was over, unless Aurens did somehow decide to stay. There was no way Ali was going to risk scaring him off and losing him that much sooner.

For now, he would cherish what he had, cherish every single moment, hold onto what he had, and watch. Watch for any sign that Aurens might return his feelings. If that seemed the case….

Ali stroked Aurens’ hair, his cheek. Gently, he kissed his forehead. “Sleep well, my love.”

I will hold you as long as I can.

 

~tbc~

Chapter Text

They embarked early the next morning. Even so, Ali and Aurens found time to visit the spring again. They always were early risers. Others were awake as well, but they said nothing, even Majid, though he did give them a knowing smile. Still, somehow Aurens didn’t mind it so much. Maybe because he knew now that Majid approved of him, despite the fact that the man teased so much.

Nothing had happened in the spring, at least nothing physical. Nothing beyond kissing. Ali had held him close and kissed him, his hands working out all the knots and tension in his back. Aurens didn’t know how he had gotten so lucky in finding Ali. The man seemed to always know what he needed. He never pushed Aurens, understanding that while the Englishman could, and often was, eager to explore and try new things, he was still unexperienced and often hesitant as well. Ali waited for Aurens to make the first move and never asked for more than he was willing to give. It was part of what had made Aurens fall in love with him. For Aurens knew that now. He was in love with Ali, truly in love with him.

He glanced over at where the man rode beside him. It was late at night, and they had been riding for four days with practically no rest. It put him in mind of their journey across the Nefud. Thus far they hadn’t been pushing themselves to extremes, but this time there was a train they wanted to catch badly and they were determined to do so. It left little time each evening to do more than force down a tiny bite of food and collapse into each other’s arms for sleep. For once, Aurens didn’t mind. The physical side of their relationship had progressed rather far fairly quickly, and while he didn’t regret it at all, he definitely wasn’t ready to go further; not yet. This was all still incredibly new to him and while he wouldn’t trade it for anything, he wanted to take it slow. Luckily, he knew Ali didn’t mind. He couldn’t help but smile as he looked at the man. Ali must have felt his gaze, for he turned. Caught, Aurens jumped, flushing. Ali clearly sensed his embarrassment and laughed.

“What is it, Aurens.”

He shook his head. “Nothing.”

“Are you tired?”

“Not too much,” he fibbed.

Ali knew he was lying. Of course he knew. Ali always saw right through him. “We will rest soon.” His smile changed, that smile that was just for Aurens, that was so private and intimate and always made it feel as if it were only the two of them, no matter how many others were there. “Then I will hold you.”

A rush of happiness thrilled through Aurens. “I look forward to it.” And he did. For no matter if he was asleep within seconds, he always slept so much better when he was in Ali’s arms.

When they finally camped that night, Aurens was dismayed to notice that Ali was coughing. “Are you sick?”

“Of course I am not sick.” But in that tone of indignation was a hint of congestion.

“You are.” Aurens put a hand to the Harith’s forehead. “You have a fever. How are you sick? What did you do?”

“Is it not enough that I am sick without you giving me that accusatory tone?”

“Oh, so now you admit that you’re sick?”

“…..no.”

Aurens shook his head, trying not to smile. Ali was so damn cute, even when he was being frustrating. “Well, you are. Now go lie down. I’m going to make you some tea and you’re going to sleep.”

“Do not baby me.”

“I will baby you.” He took Ali by the shoulders and guided him away from the camels. “March.” He was aware of Majid watching with amusement, of Ali scowling at his friend, and he did his best not to laugh. It took several minutes (and much complaining) but he got Ali set up by the fire, tucked in for bed with a cup of tea. After ensuring the man had drunk the entire thing, he pulled Ali into his arms, which was unusual. Normally, it went the other way around.

“This is different.”

Aurens stroked the messy black hair. “Bad different?” Ali chuckled, and the sound rumbled deep in his chest. God, Aurens loved that sound.

“No, Aurens. Not bad at all.”

Aurens kissed his forehead. “Good. Now sleep.”

Ali truly must have been exhausted, for he was asleep within minutes. Aurens stayed up, stroking his hair, smiling down at his sleeping face. Then, Majid spoke up, startling him.

“You take good care of him.”

Aurens didn’t know what to say. He still felt self-conscious around Majid. Avoiding eye contact, he simply remained focused on Ali, giving an awkward shrug. “I try to.”

“You succeed.”

Despite his embarrassment, the words pleased Aurens. Still, he kept his eyes on Ali, lightly touching his forehead, frowning at the heat. “….does he get sick often?”

There was a hesitation. “…..no.” Immediately, Aurens began to worry. Majid rushed on. “But do not worry. He is strong.”

Aurens had to smile at that. “Yes. I know.” He brushed a lock of dark hair back from Ali’s forehead, eyes soft with love as he smiled down at the man. Unbeknownst to him, Majid was smiling as well as he watched the two men, so happy for his best friend to have found someone who cared for him so much.

 

~*~

 

It took another two days before they had reached their final destination, though they made some side stops on the way to cut telephone lines. It wasn’t much, but it did some cursory damage. But finally, they reached the railway.

Ali’s fever still persisted, which had Aurens mad with worry. It wasn’t helping that it had been raining. At night he wrapped the Harith up doubly tight in blankets, even as Ali insisted he wasn’t cold. Finally, the day they arrived, the rain let up. Aurens was relieved. It would make their job much easier, and also hopefully allow Ali to recover. Even so…

“Ali, maybe you shouldn’t come.”

The look Ali gave him was positively murderous. “Aurens, if you think for one moment you are making me stay in camp--”

“I’m just saying--”

“--you are wrong.”

“I’m just trying to take care of you!” he protested.

“You are treating me like a child, is what you are doing.” Ali was clearly completely fed up with being babied.

“….Ali…”

But the man simply shook his head, turning his back on Aurens. The Englishman felt terrible. “Ali…” He moved to Ali’s side, gently reaching for him. “I’m sorry,” he softly apologized. “I know I have no right to try to keep you here. I just….I worry about you.”

At those words, he felt the tension go out of Ali’s shoulders. After a moment, the Harith turned to face him. “I know you do, Aurens. And I appreciate it. I do. But I cannot stay here while you go to fight.”

“We aren’t fighting!” Aurens protested. “We’re blowing up a train!”

“And you do not think there will be fighting involved?” Aurens said nothing, for he knew Ali was right. “Aurens….I am coming with you.”

There was really nothing else to say, for Aurens had always known deep down that he was fighting a losing battle. Still…. “…..will you at least let me rig the charges?”

“No, Aurens! You need help with that. God, how are you so frustrating?”

Aurens couldn’t help but laugh at the sheer exasperation in Ali’s voice. “You’re the one who chooses to spend time with me,” he pointed out.

“God knows why.” But he was smiling now, which was good. Aurens had wanted to argue that someone else could help him but he knew that it was no use; Ali would not be persuaded, and he did not want to see that smile vanish. Leaning in, he gave the man a kiss.

“Come,” he said softly. “Let’s go blow up a train.”

 

~*~

 

For a while, things seemed to be going well. The land leading to the bridge had almost no cover, so they had to spend hours laying the wires and then smoothing the sand so there was no sign of either the wires themselves or the tracks they made while laying them. It was a nuisance, but nothing they couldn’t handle. Then, all they had to do was wait.

The waiting was the hard part. That day, it was hours before a train came. Hours out in the damp air. Hours of Ali refusing to go back to the tent where it was at least somewhat drier and he could bundle up. Aurens was ready to strangle him.

Finally, mid-afternoon, they heard a train coming. Aurens was relieved. They could blow up the damn train, finish this whole bloody business, and get Ali to bed. He rose to go down the hill to set off the bomb but immediately felt someone snatching at his robes. Ali. Of course Ali.

“Why do you have to go,” Ali demanded.

“Why did you have to come out in this horrible weather?” Aurens shot back. Yanking his robes free, he headed down the hill without another word.

Unfortunately, the only place they could hide the exploder was in a tiny bush, only about a foot high, just near the tracks themselves. It wasn’t much in the way of cover, but it would have to do. He crouched down by the bush, waiting for the train to come into view. Finally, it appeared. He could see the first ten trucks or so filled with troops. As usual, he waited until the engine was over the mine and then pushed down on the handle of the exploder.

Nothing.

Fuck.

Aurens sawed up and down on the handle several times, but still nothing. It was only then that he realized the true gravity of his situation. He was sitting on a flat bank of sand with nothing but a naked little scrub of a bush beside him, which he was only just realizing how damn small it truly was. The thing probably reached from his wrist to his elbow, if that. It managed to hide the exploder, but it definitely didn’t hide him. And he was face to face with over ten cars of Turkish troops, all of whom were now staring right at him.

Well, there was only one option: act casual.

Sitting cross-legged on the sand, Aurens gave a smile and a wave, as if he were just a general passerby and totally belonged there. Just your average Bedouin out for a stroll, taking a rest by the train tracks. The troops looked somewhat bewildered but not suspicious, per-say, and didn’t seem to notice just how nervous his smile was. At least none of them shot at him. Even so, once the train was out of sight, he heaved a sigh of relief. Immediately, he jumped to his feet, burying the wires and, grabbing the exploder, ran up the hill. He didn’t even have a single second to register that he had made it over the hill before Ali yanked him into his arms.

“You little idiot!” The words were hissed almost angrily, but there was fear in them, desperation. “What were you thinking?!

Aurens was at a loss. “….I…..what?”

“You could have been KILLED! Why on earth did you just SIT THERE??”

Aurens was vaguely aware of Majid gently taking the exploder from his hand, probably afraid that if he did not, it would get broken from the way Ali was clutching Aurens, shaking him. “Uh….I couldn’t really do anything else.”

“That is not the point!”

By now Aurens was completely confused. “Then what IS the point?”

Ali didn’t seem to know what it was he was trying to say any more than Aurens did. “I…..” He fumbled for words and found none. “You could have died.”

“I didn’t.”

“I do not care.”

Aurens raised a brow. “You don’t?”

Ali scowled. “That is not what I mean, and you know it.”

The Englishman laughed. “I know.” He smiled. “Kiss me?”

“I am sick.”

“I don’t care.” Aurens pulled Ali into a kiss. As soon as their lips touched, Ali offered no further objections. It was immediately clear to see just how scared for Aurens he had been. He kissed Aurens as if it was their first kiss, and their last. It was deep, and desperate, and when it was done, Aurens was trembling. He looked into Ali’s eyes, hands gripping his shoulders tightly in an effort to steady himself.

“I cannot lose you,” Ali whispered. His eyes were glistening; Aurens realized with a shock that he was on the verge of tears. He felt as if he would melt.

“You won’t.” Gently, he stroked Ali’s cheek. The man leaned into the touch, seeking that comfort; his eyes slipped shut as he took a deep, ragged breath, trying to settle himself.

“Aurens? Ali?” It was Majid. Ali opened his eyes to pay attention to the conversation, but made no sign of moving away from Aurens’ touch. “We have men working to fix the problem.”

“Thank you.”

“There is a Turkish patrol out right now sweeping the hill where they saw you,” Majid continued. Well, fuck. Clearly Majid saw Aurens’ nerves, for amusement registered on his face. “Do not worry; they have shown no sign yet of discovering the wires, and if they do, we can take care of them.”

“Yes, but it will mean giving up on the mission.”

Majid shrugged. “There are worse things.”

Aurens had to concede the point. “So we fix the machine and replace it once the men are gone, then try again tomorrow.” Majid nodded. “Sounds good.” He glanced at Ali, who still didn’t look entirely settled. “I’m going to get this one to bed.”

“Aurens, do not talk about me as if I am not here.”

“Fine, I’m going to take you to bed, is that better?”

“No, because it is not for the reason I would like you to take me to bed.”

Immediately, Aurens turned fuchsia. Majid burst into laughter. Fumbling for words, Aurens finally gave up and muttered “come on,” grabbing Ali by the hand and dragging him away.

He shoveled Ali into the tent with an order to get changed and then went back outside to make some tea. When he returned, he found Ali in dry clothes, sitting very subdued on his blanket. “Did I upset you, Aurens?” His voice was soft, timid.

“What? No. When?”

“When I teased you just now.” But before Aurens could answer, Ali was rushing to continue. “You know I do not mind moving slowly, yes? I am happy with what we do. I would be happy doing nothing, if you had never wanted to even kiss me. Just holding you would have been plenty for me.”

The amusement Aurens had felt at the rush of words vanished as Ali continued. Now he was just stunned. “You…..really?”

Ali nodded vehemently. “I simply want to be with you, Aurens, in any way that I can. I was only teasing right now. Holding you…knowing that you care for me….that is more than I ever could have asked for in my life.”

Aurens felt as though his heart were going to pound right out of his chest. He wasn’t sure how it happened but he found himself on his knees, crawling into Ali’s lap as he kissed the man with everything he had. He felt as if he might cry at any moment. To spend his whole life thinking he would never want physical contact, never want love; only to find that he did, and to be fortunate enough to have the person he loved return those feelings? What were the chances? He didn’t know that anyone could calculate them.

True, he still wasn’t certain to what degree Ali returned his feelings, but the fact that he cared enough for Aurens to respect his wishes, to acknowledge his sexuality and feelings and never push him or ask for too much…..that was caring. That was truly caring.

The words of love were on the tip of his tongue, wanting to come out so badly. But the moment was so beautiful, so perfect. Aurens was afraid of ruining it. So he bit them back, instead kissing Ali again, breathlessly. “You’re amazing.”

“And you are going to get sick.”

Oh. That sobered him up. “You should be sleeping.”

Ali groaned. “Yes, mother.” Aurens laughed.

“Oh, shush. I think you’ve exerted yourself enough for one day.” He lay back, holding open his arms. “Come. I’ll hold you.”

“Mm.” Ali snuggled into his arms. “That makes it all worthwhile.”

Aurens chuckled, kissing his forehead. “Sleep.”

As in the past few days, it didn’t take long for Ali to fall asleep. That was the only good thing about him being sick, he actually got some real sleep for once. This time, however, Aurens wasn’t far behind, falling into a contented sleep filled with happy dreams of Ali holding him close, whispering words of love. He didn’t know just how close tonight that dream had come to coming true.

 

~tbc~

Chapter Text

Ali hated being sick. It happened so rarely that it always struck him as a completely new experience and made him utterly miserable. Majid would tease him horribly (what else was new?) for whining, which he had to admit, he kind of did. When every cold felt like the first one, it was hard not to whine. Not that he would ever complain in front of the men….just Majid. Even though he knew Majid would make fun of him, it was Ali’s right as a friend to make Majid’s life miserable by persistently complaining to him, just like it was Majid’s right to make his life a constant misery by relentlessly harassing him on a daily basis.

Still, this time he had Aurens around, and for some reason, he felt the need to put on a brave face. He had no idea why….Aurens would never judge him for being sick. Even so, he tried to hide his coughing. Not that it helped. Aurens noticed immediately.

“Are you sick?”

“Of course I am not sick.” But he couldn’t hide the congestion in his voice, couldn’t cover up his coughing.

“You are.” Aurens put a hand to Ali’s forehead. Ali tried to duck away from the touch, knowing that he was warm and not wanting to Aurens to find out, but he didn’t succeed. “You have a fever. How are you sick? What did you do?”

He couldn’t help feeling a bit indignant. “Is it not enough that I am sick without you giving me that accusatory tone?”

“Oh, so now you admit that you’re sick?”

Oops. “…..no.”

But he wasn’t getting out of that one. Aurens shook his head, trying not to smile. Ali knew the man was thinking how cute he was. On one level he felt grumpy. He still wasn’t used to being thought of as cute, even though he knew it was a good thing. On the other hand, at least Aurens was amused and not irritated with him. “Well, you are. Now go lie down. I’m going to make you some tea and you’re going to sleep.”

“Do not baby me,” he said crossly.

“I will baby you.” Ali jumped as Aurens grabbed him by the shoulders and began guiding him away from the camels. “March.” He was all too aware of Majid watching with amusement, and he scowled. Not that it did any good. Majid never took his glares seriously, and being bossed around by Aurens was not going to help. No one bossed Ali around. Ever. Not since they were in their early teens. Sure, he took orders from their superiors, like Feisal, but no one bossed him about the way Aurens was doing now. Majid would be teasing him about this for the rest of his life.

It took several minutes (and much complaining on Ali’s part) but eventually he found himself seated by the fire, wrapped up in more blankets than he needed, with a cup of tea in hand.

“All of it,” Aurens ordered. “Drink all of it.”

“Aurens, you are being ridiculous.”

“Be quiet and drink your tea.”

Ali heaved what had to be the tenth sigh in the last five minutes. “Fine. God help you if you get sick.” As he drank the last of the tea, he heard Aurens laughing.

“Fair enough.”

Ali displayed the empty cup. “Satisfied?”

“Very.” Aurens took the cup from him and set it aside, then tugged Ali into his arms. “Now, sleep.”

Ali was caught completely by surprise. Usually he was the one to hold Aurens. “This is different.” He felt those graceful fingers that he loved so much carding through his hair.

“Bad different?” That cultured British voice was soft, and somewhat hesitant. Ali chuckled.

“No, Aurens. Not bad at all.”

Aurens kissed his forehead. “Good. Now sleep.”

And despite the cold, the sickness rumbling through him, he quickly fell soundly asleep in Aurens’ arms.

 

~*~

 

The next few days were horrible. Ali’s cold persisted, as did an unexpected rainstorm. He could have dealt with it on his own, but he could tell that Aurens was worrying about him, and that was unacceptable. He didn’t want to be the cause of Aurens’ distraction.

When they finally reached their destination and the rain let up, Ali was relieved. Then, Aurens had the audacity to suggest he remain behind at camp. All of his frustration of the past few days exploded. It was the first time he had truly gotten upset with Aurens since that fight in the Nefud.

But then Aurens reached for him, a gentle hand settling on his shoulder. “I’m sorry.” His voice was soft. “I know I have no right to try to keep you here. I just….I worry about you.”

Ali felt all the tension, all the frustration, leave him. He could never stay upset with Aurens, especially when faced with words such as that, words proving that the man cared for him. He turned to face Aurens, melting all over again when he saw the worry in those blue eyes. “I know you do, Aurens. And I appreciate it. I do. But I cannot stay here while you go to fight.”

“We aren’t fighting!” Aurens protested. “We’re blowing up a train!”

Oh, for God’s sake… “And you do not think there will be fighting involved?” As Ali expected, Aurens said nothing. Clearly, he knew that Ali was right. “Aurens….I am coming with you.”

Aurens was silent, chewing his lower lip in thought. “…..will you at least let me rig the charges?”

Ali was ready to explode with exasperation. “No, Aurens! You need help with that. God, how are you so frustrating?”

Luckily, Aurens didn’t get upset, merely laughed. “You’re the one who chooses to spend time with me,” he pointed out.

Ali shook his head. “God knows why.”

Smiling, Aurens leaned in and kissed him. “Come,” he murmured. “Let’s go blow up a train.”

 

~*~

 

Things got incredibly dull for a very long time. It took a great deal of time to set the wires, which was fine, for it also took a great deal of attention to detail to make sure they were well hidden. It was the waiting that was interminable. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad were it not for the stupid cold. As it was, he had to deal with Aurens giving him looks every time he coughed, looks which were clearly imploring him to go back to the camp and bundle himself up in the tent. Once or twice the Englishman opened his mouth, but Ali silenced him before he spoke with a simple “no, Aurens.” After two hours, both men were thoroughly grouchy.

Finally, the train came, and Ali was relieved. The emotion was short-lived, however, for it was Aurens who rose to his feet to go detonate the bomb. Panicked, Ali grabbed the back of his robes. Aurens looked back at him questioningly.

“Why do you have to go,” Ali demanded.

“Why did you have to come out in this horrible weather?” Aurens shot back. He gave a huge yank, pulling his robes free, and headed down the hill.

Ali’s heart was pounding. There was no concealment down there save for a tiny little bush, big enough only for the exploder, not for the person doing the actual detonating. Aurens would be in clear view of the train and everyone on it.

The first ten cars rolled by, stuffed with soldiers. Soldiers who were staring at Aurens. “What is he waiting for??”

Majid’s hand rested on Ali’s shoulder, clearly meant to be reassuring. “He is waiting for the engine, you know that.”

Ali did know that. They had done this so many times by now. Still, that was the last thing he was thinking of at this moment. He just wanted Aurens to blow up the damn train and get the hell out of there. Finally, after what seemed like ages, centuries, the train was in place. Ali waited for the explosion.

Nothing.

His heart was racing. “What is happening.”

Even Majid looked nervous, which wasn’t helping in the slightest. “Something is wrong.”

Ali was beginning to panic. “Why is he not getting out of there??” For Aurens wasn’t moving. He was sitting by the bush, as casual as could be, waving at the train. Ali took a step, about to rush to Aurens’ side, but Majid grabbed him.

“Do not.”

“He needs help!”

“He is fine. If you go out there, you will definitely get him killed.”

That halted Ali in his tracks; he froze, watching Aurens with eyes wide with terror as he waited for the train to pass. Finally it was out of sight and Aurens was on his feet, running back to them. He had barely crossed the hill before Ali grabbed him, pulling him into a crushing hug.

“You little idiot!” He was probably holding Aurens far too tight but he couldn’t have controlled that if he tried; he clung to the man, terrified, desperate. “What were you thinking?!

Aurens seemed totally lost. “….I…..what?”

“You could have been KILLED! Why on earth did you just SIT THERE??” He held the man at arm’s length, giving him a shake as though he could shake out an explanation, shake some sense into him, shake in some understanding of just how Goddamn loved he was and how much his death would have utterly destroyed Ali.

It didn’t work. Aurens still looked bewildered. “Uh….I couldn’t really do anything else.”

Ali was frustrated beyond belief. “That is not the point!”

By now Aurens was completely confused. “Then what IS the point?”

“I…..” Ali fumbled for words and found none. “You could have died.”

“I didn’t.”

“I do not care.”

Aurens raised a brow. “You don’t?”

How was the man so frustrating? Ali scowled. “That is not what I mean, and you know it.”

The Englishman laughed. “I know.” He smiled. “Kiss me?”

“I am sick.”

“I don’t care.” Aurens pulled Ali into a kiss. As soon as their lips touched, Ali offered no further objections. He couldn’t. He had been so utterly terrified for Aurens. Seeing him sitting there as the train passed, stuffed with so many men, any of whom could have killed him with a single shot…..the thought made his heart ache and he held Aurens that much closer. He kissed Aurens deeply, and desperately, and when it was done, he looked into Aurens’ eyes, holding him as close as he could.

“I cannot lose you,” Ali whispered. His eyes were burning with tears, and for once, he wasn’t concerned about hiding them.

Aurens’ voice was soft as he answered, “you won’t.” Gently, he stroked Ali’s cheek. Ali leaned into the touch, not just wanting that comfort but needing it; his eyes slipped shut as he took a deep, ragged breath, trying to settle himself.

“Aurens? Ali?” It was Majid. Ali opened his eyes to pay attention to the conversation, but refused to move away from Aurens’ touch. “We have men working to fix the problem.”

“Thank you.”

“There is a Turkish patrol out right now sweeping the hill where they saw you,” Majid continued. Ali was only half registering the words. Aurens was safe; that was all that mattered. “Do not worry; they have shown no sign yet of discovering the wires, and if they do, we can take care of them.”

“Yes, but it will mean giving up on the mission.”

Majid shrugged. “There are worse things.”

Ali definitely agreed with that statement. Losing Aurens would have been worse. Much worse.

“So we fix the machine and replace it once the men are gone, then try again tomorrow.” Majid nodded. “Sounds good.” He glanced at Ali. “I’m going to get this one to bed.”

Ali felt that familiar wave of irritation rise. So we’re back to being babied, are we. “Aurens, do not talk about me as if I am not here.”

“Fine, I’m going to take you to bed, is that better?”

“No, because it is not for the reason I would like you to take me to bed.”

Aurens immediately turned bright red in that way Ali loved, where he blushed all the way to the tips of his ears. He muttered “come on,” grabbing Ali’s hand and dragging him away as Majid laughed.

Ali quickly found himself shoved into their tent with an order to get changed, and immediately he began to worry that he had overstepped with his last joke. Generally he did very well with not asking Aurens for too much or making any move that the Englishman was uncomfortable with. Had that joke gone too far?

Aurens returned and gave him a cup of tea, which he obediently began to drink as Aurens changed.

“Did I upset you, Aurens?”

Aurens was taken aback. “What? No. When?”

“When I teased you just now.” But before Aurens could answer, Ali was rushing on. “You know I do not mind moving slowly, yes? I am happy with what we do. I would be happy doing nothing, if you had never wanted to even kiss me. Just holding you would have been plenty for me.”

Aurens looked completely stunned. “You…..really?”

Ali nodded vehemently. “I simply want to be with you, Aurens, in any way that I can. I was only teasing right now. Holding you…knowing that you care for me….that is more than I ever could have asked for in my life.” And strangely enough, it was true. Ali had never been a very romantic being. He’d had a fling or two, mainly when he was younger, but mostly things had been about the physical, fulfilling basic needs now and again. He had assumed that if love was meant to happen, it would happen, which he had been told was stupid; if you wanted it bad enough, you had to work at it. Well if anything proved that theory wrong, it was this. Aurens had stumbled into his life and they had aligned so randomly, so perfectly. And it was love, he knew that. The thought tonight of losing Aurens….but he wouldn’t think about that again, he couldn’t.

But then Aurens was crawling into his lap and kissing Ali with everything he had. It caught Ali by surprise but he certainly wasn’t going to complain. He was still so Goddamn relieved that things hadn’t taken a bad turn tonight, so glad to be holding Aurens in his arms.

Aurens pulled away, breathless. “You’re amazing.”

Ali couldn’t help but laugh, reminding “and you are going to get sick.”

He could immediately see the thoughts click into place, see Mother Hen Aurens returning. “You should be sleeping.”

Ali groaned. “Yes, mother.” Aurens laughed.

“Oh, shush. I think you’ve exerted yourself enough for one day.” He lay back, holding open his arms. “Come. I’ll hold you.”

“Mm.” Ali snuggled into his arms. It was still new, and different, and while he preferred holding Aurens, it was a nice change. “That makes it all worthwhile.” He heard Aurens chuckle, felt soft lips brush his forehead.

“Sleep.”

 

~*~

 

Ali awoke to find Aurens smiling down at him, fingers running through his hair. “Your fever is gone,” the Englishman murmured. “Do you feel better?”

Ali sniffed experimentally and was pleased to find that the last of his lingering congestion had indeed vanished. “Yes.” The smile that lit up Aurens’ face almost felt better than being over the cold. He leaned in for a kiss. “Now you had better not get it.”

Aurens laughed. “If I haven’t caught it by now, I don’t think I will.” He raised a brow. “Feel up to an early start?”

Ali nodded enthusiastically. If they could get this train business over and done with, he would be relieved. Yesterday’s events had thoroughly terrified him. He never wanted to feel that sort of fear again.

Unfortunately, life with Aurens provided terrors aplenty.

The man insisted on being the one to detonate the bomb. Ali had been so positive that he could prevent this, but Aurens was a tricky bastard. He seemed to have conned Farraj into providing a distraction at the moment the train showed up so that Ali’s attention would be elsewhere until Aurens was already several steps down the hill and there was no way to call him back. He tried, he really did, but Majid grabbed him again.

Ali glared at him. “Were you in on this?”

“Hell no. Do you really think I would want to face you at your angriest?”

Ali had to concede the point. He stared down at Aurens, heart pounding. Majid was still clutching his shoulders as though afraid Ali were going to run off at any moment. “You can let go, Majid, I am not going to go after him.”

“That is not what I am afraid of.”

“Then what?”

“I am afraid you may pass out and I will have to catch you.”

Ali wanted to laugh but he wasn’t entirely sure that Majid was that far off. He certainly felt as though he might pass out. “You fixed the device?”

“Not me, but yes, it is fixed. Do not worry, Aurens will be fine.”

Majid was half right. The device worked perfectly. A huge explosion went off, the bridge blowing up and taking the train with it. Unfortunately, the explosion was so great that Aurens went flying as well.

Yesterday, Ali had thought that he had known the true meaning of terror. It was nothing compared to what he was feeling right now. It was a good thing that Majid was holding onto him, for Ali swayed on his feet. “AURENS!”

Majid’s grip tightened. “Ali, you cannot go out there, they are going to begin shooting--”

“Let me go!” He wrenched free, stumbling over the hill. “Aurens!!”

Further down the hill, surrounded by soot, pieces of twisted metal, and broken bodies, Aurens sat up. A wave of relief hit Ali so hard that he almost lost his balance. Sure enough, the Turks began to shoot, and the Arabs were returning fire. He prayed that Aurens would remain down and not make himself a target but of course the man never did the sensible thing. Instead, Aurens struggled to his feet and began hobbling towards him. The Englishman seemed to be muttering something.

After what seemed an eternity, Ali reached him. “Aurens!”

“Oh, I wish this hadn’t happened.”

Ali wasn’t certain he had heard correctly. “….Aurens?”

“Oh, I wish this hadn’t happened,” Aurens muttered.

Oh, God, how bad off was he? Ali gripped Aurens’ shoulders, a hand cupping his face. “Aurens. Aurens, speak to me.”

Blue eyes looked up and focused, seeming to finally register Ali. “Ali?”

“Yes, Aurens, it is me.” He slipped an arm about Aurens to support him. “Come, we must get out of range.” They would be walking straight back into the gunfire of their own men, but Ali trusted their troops not to shoot them.

His trust was well-placed. They made it back safely. Majid looked scared to death, which would have made Ali feel good under normal circumstances. At the moment, he was too damn terrified. If he had thought yesterday was bad, it had nothing on right now. He had gotten Aurens back to safety, but he still had no idea how badly he was hurt. He looked Aurens over, taking in the multiple lacerations, some of which looked dangerously deep. His clothes were torn to shreds. Ali could already see bruises forming. “Goddammit, Aurens.”

“What?”

“Do not give me ‘what’.” He looked to his friend. “Majid, I am taking Aurens back to camp.”

Majid nodded. “I understand.”

“Ali, I am fine,” Aurens protested.

“Shut up.”

“Ali--”

“I said shut up!” Then a thought hit him. “Can you ride?”

Aurens looked offended. “Of course I can ride!” Still, he winced when he took a step, and Ali’s heart ached.

“Come. I will help you .” Carefully he helped Aurens to mount the camel, climbing on behind him and wrapping his arms about the man’s waist. Together, they rode back into camp.

“I still think this is ridiculous,” Aurens grumbled as Ali helped him down from the camel. “I’m perfectly able to fight. OW!

“Oh, of course you are. You cannot even get up or down from a camel on your own.”

“Shut up.”

“No.” Ali only watched Aurens limp for three steps before, without a word, he scooped the man into his arms, bridal style. Aurens yelped in surprise.

“Ali! Ali, put me down!”

“No.”

“Ali! I can walk perfectly fine!”

“Stop lying. You are injured.”

“I can still walk!”

“Shut up.” Ali ducked into the tent and carefully set Aurens down. “Now, let us get you undressed and we shall see just how bad it is.” He had no idea how he was managing to sound so calm. Inside, his heart was still pounding. As gently as he could, he began to undress Aurens. Even though the Englishman tried to hide it, Ali noticed every wince of pain, and it made his heart ache. It was even worse when he finally got the clothes off and saw the full extent of his injuries. Aurens was riddled with cuts and bruises from metal that had hit him during the explosion, as well as several marks where bullets had grazed him. That sent a cold shudder through Ali, knowing just how close he had come so many times to losing Aurens. Grabbing the skin of water from nearby, along with a clean cloth, he set to cleaning the wounds.

“What did you do to yourself.” He tried to make his voice as steady as possible, but he could tell it was shaking almost as bad as his hands.

“I didn’t do anything!” Aurens protested.

“Could not just let someone else detonate the stupid bomb.”

Aurens was silent for a long time. Clearly the point had hit home. “I had to do it.”

Frustration was rising again. “You did not!”

“Yes, I did!”

Ali was getting angry now. “There are hundreds of other men out there, Aurens.”

“And only a handful of them are trained to use the explosives! Me, you--”

“Yes,” Ali interrupted, “Me.”

“Oh, so I should have let you go out there?”

“After what happened yesterday?” Ali didn’t have to think twice. “Yes.”

Nothing happened yesterday!”

“You could have been killed!”

“No one even shot at me!” Aurens protested.

Ali growled in frustrated anger. His emotions were reaching a boiling point. “You are so Goddamn annoying sometimes!”

“Oh?” There was a challenge in Aurens’ eyes. “Then why do you stay with me?”

“BECAUSE I AM IN LOVE WITH YOU!” The words burst forth before Ali even realized he was saying them. He froze, eyes huge, staring down at Aurens in horror. He had not intended to let those words slip. He wanted to save them for the right moment, and when he said them, he wanted to say them right, not shout them like that, in the heat of the moment, and certainly not in that angry tone of voice.

Aurens was looking up at him with eyes wide with shock. His lips moved, but nothing came out. Finally: “….what?” he managed weakly.

Ali wasn’t certain what that reaction meant, but he knew one thing: he wasn’t going to back down, wasn’t going to take the words back. He may not have intended to say them but he meant them, and he would stand by them. He swallowed with some difficulty. “I love you,” he said. “I have been in love with you for some time.” Aurens still said nothing, still just stared at him, so he continued. “For the first time in my life…I feel as if I know what it is to truly love someone.” He winced. That sounded so silly. He rushed on. “To know that I am content just being beside you, not needing more, just your presence. You make me….happy. In a way I have never known before. I feel as if all I need is to see your smile, every day, to be happy for the rest of my life. And yesterday, when you were in danger…and again today, when I saw you injured…” Just the thought sent a shiver through him. He shook his head. “I cannot describe to you the terror I felt.” Unconsciously, he grasped Aurens’ hand. “The thought of your death scared me more than anything else in my life thus far. I cannot lose you, Aurens. So please…do not leave me. Even if this is too much and you do not want my love, please. I will be content to keep things as they are, so long as you are by my side. I will not pressure you for more, I swear. Just so long as you are by my side.”

The words ended in a rush; he was clutching Aurens’ hand between his, eyes imploring. Then he realized that throughout his rush of words, Aurens hadn’t tried to stay a single thing, merely stared at him with those wide blue eyes. “…Aurens?”

Immediately, he found hands grasping his hair, tugging him into a fierce kiss. For a moment, he was too startled to respond. Then, happiness flooding him, he cupped Aurens’ face in his hands, responding in kind. At last, they needed to breathe, separating; Ali looked questioningly down at Aurens.

“I love you,” the Englishman gasped. “I have been in love with you for weeks.”

Ali’s heart began to pound. “You--” That memory tickled at his brain again, words whispered in his sleep. “You told me. That night while I was sleeping, you told me you loved me.”

Aurens flushed pink. “Yes,” he whispered. “But I didn’t realize then just how deeply I love you. Ali, you have unlocked something in me which I never knew was there.” Taking Ali’s hand in his, he placed it on his chest, over his heart. Ali’s heart beat faster at both the words and the action, a shiver running through him. “I never thought I would want anyone, romantically or physically. You broke down all my doors, and did it all gently, with patience. You never push me or ask for anything. You wait for me.”

Ali cupped Aurens’ cheek. “Because I love you.”

The Englishman smiled. “And it made me love you that much more.”

Ali couldn’t help it; he stole another kiss. Aurens clearly didn’t mind, for he pulled Ali closer, deeper. Breaking away, Ali laughed breathlessly. “What.” Aurens smiled. “What’s so funny.”

“This was not entirely how I intended to confess my love to you,” Ali admitted.

Aurens laughed. “You mean you didn’t plan to yell it at me?”

“No,” Ali tried to glare, but he was smiling. Nothing would take away his smile tonight. “But it ended better than I could have hoped, so I suppose it does not matter.” He gently ran a hand down Aurens’ chest, lightly tracing one of the wounds. “Are you in much pain?”

The man winced slightly, but shook his head. “Not too bad. Only a little.”

“You should try to get a little sleep before dinner.” He could see that Aurens was about to object, so he cut him off. “I will stay with you.”

“Promise?”

He smiled. “Promise.” Stretching out beside Aurens, he offered his arms, and the Englishman gladly snuggled close. Ali kissed his forehead. “Sleep well, my love.”

He could practically feel the happiness radiating off of Aurens. “I love you,” the man murmured.

Ali smiled. “I love you, too.”

 

~tbc~

Chapter Text

Aurens’ plan went off without a hitch. Farraj managed to keep Ali distracted long enough for him to get down the hill. All that was left to do was to set off the bomb. Easy enough.

That’s where everything went to hell.

The bomb went off with a massive explosion, and Aurens found himself flying through the air. His mind went curiously blank before he landed with a thud. Then, the pain began to set in, a harsh, screaming pain all over his body. He knew he should be concerned about that, worrying about what sort of injuries he had sustained, but his mind could only think wildly of Ali. He knew that if he wasn’t on his feet and up the hill fast enough, the Harith would be coming to get him, heading straight into the line of fire.

Aurens struggled to his feet, and a stab of pain surged through his right foot. Dizzily, he shoved it back. He had to make it up that hill. Fighting to focus on something, anything, else, he began to mutter to himself. “Oh, I wish this hadn’t happened.” He began struggling up the hill, fighting hard for every step. All the way, he kept repeating “oh, I wish this hadn’t happened.” The words helped keep him focused on something besides the pain currently wracking his body.

Unfortunately he didn’t move fast enough, for there suddenly he found Ali holding him, calling his name. “Aurens! Aurens, speak to me!”

He was completely taken aback. He had gotten so lost in his own world that Ali’s presence before him was startling. “Ali?”

“Yes, Aurens, it is me.” Ali slipped an arm about Aurens and together, they made it back up the hill towards the safety of their own men. Unfortunately, Ali was clearly panicking over Aurens’ condition. He insisted on taking the Englishman back to camp immediately. Despite Aurens’ best protests, he quickly found himself shoveled onto a camel with Ali behind him.

The instant they were back at camp, Ali helped him down from the camel. Aurens couldn’t lie to himself, he was hurting. Every step was painful. Apparently he couldn’t lie to Ali, either, for after only a few steps, the man scooped Aurens into his arms.

“Ali! Ali, put me down!”

“No.”

“Ali! I can walk perfectly fine!” He shoved at Ali’s arms, trying to squirm free, despite the additional pain it caused, but it was no use; he couldn’t escape.

“Stop lying. You are injured.”

“I can still walk!”

“Shut up.” Ali ducked into the tent and carefully set Aurens down. “Now, let us get you undressed and we shall see just how bad.”

It was clearly no use fighting. Aurens submitted meekly as Ali began to undress him. He tried hard to keep a straight face, but he couldn’t help wincing at the aching. It was easy to see the pain that his discomfort was causing Ali, and that just made it all the worse. Finally, the clothes were off. He couldn’t help but sigh in relief.

At last, he got a look at the injuries. Metal had hit him during the explosion, leaving cuts and bruises. He was surprised to see that he had also been grazed by several bullets. That sent a shiver down his spine. He yelped as Ali began to clean the cuts with water.

“What did you do to yourself.”

“I didn’t do anything!” Aurens protested. What kind of unfair question…

“Could not just let someone else detonate the stupid bomb.”

Aurens was silent for a long time. He didn’t want to contest Ali’s point, for he knew that if the positions were reversed, he would be feeling the exact same way. “I had to do it.”

The look on Ali’s face was one of pure frustration. “You did not!”

“Yes, I did!”

Ali was clearly getting angry now. “There are hundreds of other men out there, Aurens.”

“And only a handful of them are trained to use the explosives!?” Why could Ali not understand? “Me, you--”

“Yes,” Ali interrupted, “Me.”

Oh no, Ali was not getting away with this one. “Oh, so I should have let you go out there?”

“After what happened yesterday? Yes.”

Now Aurens was getting angry. “Nothing happened yesterday!”

“You could have been killed!”

“No one even shot at me!” he protested.

Ali growled, that noise that usually was so sexy but right now was a sound of pure anger. “You are so Goddamn annoying sometimes!”

“Oh?” Aurens refused to back down. “Then why do you stay with me?”

“BECAUSE I AM IN LOVE WITH YOU!” The words burst forth in a rush. Then Ali froze, eyes huge.

Aurens must have looked much the same, staring up at Ali in shock. His lips moved, but nothing came out. Finally: “….what?” he managed weakly.

Ali simply looked at him for a moment, and Aurens began to get nervous. Then the man spoke up. “I love you,” he said. “I have been in love with you for some time.” Aurens said nothing, just stared at him. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “For the first time in my life…I feel as if I know what it is to truly love someone. To know that I am content just being beside you, not needing more, just your presence. You make me….happy. In a way I have never known before. I feel as if all I need is to see your smile, every day, to be happy for the rest of my life. And yesterday, when you were in danger…” Ali looked as if the thought alone were causing him pain. “….and again today, when I saw you injured…” He shook his head as though he could shake the thought away, force it from his mind. “I cannot describe to you the terror I felt.” He grasped Aurens’ hand between his, sending a shiver through the Englishman. “The thought of your death scared me more than anything else in my life thus far. I cannot lose you, Aurens. So please…do not leave me. Even if this is too much and you do not want my love, please. I will be content to keep things as they are, so long as you are by my side. I will not pressure you for more, I swear. Just so long as you are by my side.”

Aurens stared at him. His heart was pounding. Could he really be hearing this correctly? Ali loved him? Was in love with him? Ali wanted Aurens around, no matter what. Even if Aurens didn’t want him, if he didn’t want love or a relationship, Ali loved him so much that he would be content just having Aurens by his side, in his life in any way he could. He loved Aurens that much. Aurens didn’t know how to react to that. He simply stared wordlessly at Ali, at a loss.

His silence seemed to be getting to Ali, for the Harith was beginning to look nervous. He shifted beneath Aurens’ gaze. “….Aurens?”

Unable to find words, Aurens dove forwards, pulling Ali into a desperate kiss. For a moment, he was worried when Ali didn’t respond. Then hands cupped his face, and Ali was kissing him just as fiercely. When they separated, Aurens was breathless.

“I love you,” he gasped. “I have been in love with you for weeks.”

“You--” realization was dawning on Ali’s face. “You told me. That night while I was sleeping, you told me you loved me.”

Aurens immediately blushed. “Yes,” he whispered. “But I didn’t realize then just how deeply I love you. Ali, you have unlocked something in me which I never knew was there.” Taking Ali’s hand in his, he placed it to his chest, over his heart. It was pounding. “I never thought I would want anyone, romantically or physically. You broke down all my doors, and did it all gently, with patience. You never push me or ask for anything. You wait for me.”

Ali cupped Aurens’ cheek. “Because I love you.”

Aurens smiled. “And it made me love you that much more.” He didn’t know that he could ever truly express his feelings to Ali, truly tell the man how much that patience meant to him. Ali kissed Aurens again, but it was brief, for he broke away, laughing. “What.” Aurens smiled. “What’s so funny.”

“This was not entirely how I intended to confess my love to you,” Ali admitted.

Aurens laughed. “You mean you didn’t plan to yell it at me?”

“No,” Ali tried to glare, but he was smiling. “But it ended better than I could have hoped, so I suppose it does not matter.”

Aurens’ heart was beating so quickly, like a hummingbird. So of course it was now, when he felt as awake as could be, that Ali suggested he sleep. He knew the man was right, that after this afternoon’s adventures, he could use some sleep, but that didn’t mean he wanted to. Still, Ali was going to stay with him, and hold him, and that made it all worthwhile.

When he felt Ali’s lips brush his forehead, heard the words “sleep well, my love,” he felt as if he could fly.

“I love you,” he murmured.

“I love you, too.”

 

~*~

 

When Aurens awoke, Ali’s chest was still firm beneath his head, arms still wrapped around him. The sound of hushed whispering filled the tent.

"It is getting late." It was Majid.

“I will not move him.” Ali's voice was stubborn, even when whispering. Aurens wanted to laugh, even as Ali’s determination to stay by his side made him melt a little inside.

“I know.” Majid's tone was very patient. “I simply wished to let you know that we are preparing dinner.”

“Thank you.”

Aurens raised his head. “Ali?”

“Aurens!”

Majid was immediately apologetic. “I am sorry. I did not mean to wake you.”

“It’s fine. I really didn’t need sleep. Ali made me.”

The man laughed. “That sounds like him.” He gave a little bow of the head. “I will leave you.” The tent flap closed behind him.

Aurens looked up at Ali. The man was regarding him with anxious brown eyes. “Are you feeling alright?”

Aurens couldn’t help but smile, shaking his head. “I’m fine.”

“You are not.”

He sighed. “Fine. I’m as good as I’m going to get considering the circumstances. Better?”

“No, but I will take it.”

“You’re ridiculous.” He shifted, testing out his body. He definitely was sore, but it wasn’t too bad. “Majid said something about dinner?”

“Yes. I believe we are also going to discuss our next move.”

“Well, we should get out there then, shouldn’t we?”

Aurens sat up, and Ali helped him into some clean clothes. Then, Ali hovering nervously beside him, he rose to his feet. Immediately, his right foot buckled beneath him and he cried out. “Ow! Dammit!”

“Aurens!” Ali caught him. “What is it?”

“My right foot.” Aurens shifted his weight onto the other side. “I think I may have hurt it a bit worse than I thought.”

“Here….let us get you out by the fire where we can get a better look.” For it was nighttime now, and the tent was dark.

Aurens accepted Ali’s help, slipping an arm about the man’s shoulders. Together, the two made their way slowly outside to the fire. Majid watched them with concern.

“Is everything alright?”

“Aurens hurt his foot.” Ali sat Aurens down and crouched before him. Gently taking Aurens’ foot in hand, he examined it by the light of the fire. “It looks as though you broke a toe.”

“That’s all?” Aurens was surprised. It felt much worse than that. He looked down and indeed, his big toe was a terrible purple color.

Ali seemed amused by Aurens’ reaction. “Aurens, a broken toe can still be extremely painful. Especially that one.”

Aurens had to concede the point, since he was indeed in pain, but he didn’t want to admit it. It seemed silly to be in such a state over such a little thing.

“You will just have to take it easy for a day or two.”

He sighed. “Fine. As much as I can.”

Ali smiled. “Knowing you as I do, I could not ask for anything more.”

Majid joined them by the fire, setting food before each of them. “So.” He sat down, his own plate in hand. “We have had a message from Auda.”

“Oh?” Aurens’ attention was immediately caught. “What did he say?” The man had left just before this mission to go and collect more men. They had planned to meet up as soon as possible.

“He wishes to join up again. He suggested we meet at Azrak.”

Aurens turned to Ali. The man still wasn’t Auda’s biggest fan, though he tried his best, for Aurens’ sake. “Azrak?”

Ali nodded. “It would make a very satisfactory camp. It would also be a good place for you to recuperate.”

Aurens sighed but said nothing. He knew there was no point in objecting; Ali wouldn’t listen. “Okay, then. Let’s do it.”

“Excellent.” Majid smiled. “We can leave first thing tomorrow, if that works for you?”

Aurens nodded his agreement before Ali could object and say he needed more rest. “That’ll be fine.” He glanced at Ali. The man was shaking his head.

“Sometimes I think you are more trouble than you are worth, Aurens.”

“Nonsense.” Leaning in, Aurens gave Ali a kiss. “You love me.”

If the words surprised Majid, he showed no sign, merely smiled as he continued to eat. Ali shook his head, his smile rueful.

“Lord help me, I do.”

“No help for you now.”

Laughing, Ali shifted closer so he could wrap an arm around Aurens’ waist. The two men sat there by the fire with Majid, laughing and talking happily long into the night.

 

~*~

 

Annoyingly, it rained again on the way to Azrak (Majid assured Aurens that it was that time of year), and though Aurens worried that Ali would get sick again, the man stayed healthy. Aurens was relieved.

Azrak had a rundown little castle, which was a nice change from sleeping outside on the ground, or in tents on the rare occasions when they would be camping in one place for more than a single night. Aurens and Ali quickly set up quarters in the southern gate-tower. They intended to keep the building as a base for as long as they could, possibly even stationing men there even when they were not directly in it themselves, so they set some men to work repairing the roof with brushwood and palm-branches.

Aurens smiled as he surveyed the building. “It will make a nice little temporary home.”

Ali stepped in behind him, wrapping his arms about Aurens and nuzzling his throat. “It will.”

The Englishman melted at the sensation, sighing happily. If only they had a permanent home. The thought poked at his mind, at a memory he had almost forgotten. Ali’s words that day in the spring, asking if Aurens would want to stay with him. Did Ali want him to stay there forever? It certainly seemed it, especially after that confession of love, the way Ali had begged Aurens not to leave him. Even so, Aurens was tempted to ask. He almost did, but he didn’t know if he could bear hearing the answer, could stand to risk the answer being ‘no’.

Ali kissed his neck again, and again, moving up until his lips lightly brushed Aurens’ cheek. “What are you thinking about,” he murmured.

Everything. “Nothing.”

If Ali knew that the words were a lie, he didn’t say. He merely ran his fingers through Aurens’ hair, gently guiding the man in his arms until Aurens was facing him. Cupping the Englishman’s face, Ali gave him a soft kiss. “I love you,” he said.

Aurens couldn’t help but smile. Eventually he would ask. For now, he was happy with what he had. Happy simply being here with Ali, knowing that he was loved. “I love you, too.”

 

~tbc~

Chapter Text

Normally, Ali hated sitting in one place for more than a day or two. He itched to be on the move, to be riding. Now, however, he honestly couldn’t think of anywhere else he would rather be than Azrak castle.

It might be worn down, but the men had managed to make a tidy little home of it, and he and Aurens had a room to themselves. At the end of a day of discussions and planning, they could retire to their quarters. It was not just private; there was something incredibly….domestic about it all. Ali adored it. He had never thought he would want anything like a traditional home, but lying with Aurens at night, curled together in a real bed, not on the ground on a blanket beneath the stars, he found himself thinking that yes, he could grow used to this.

Of course that was when the man showed up.

“Bentley,” he said. “Jackson Bentley.” He had a letter with him, from Feisal, no less. “I write for the Chicago Courier.”

Ali was reading the paper over Aurens’ shoulder; he looked up at the American, eyeing him distrustfully. “And you come from Lord Feisal?”

“Sure do.” His smile was insufferable, cocky and plastic and fake as can be. “I’m here to follow along with the troops. Take a few photos for some articles back home.”

Ali didn’t trust the man at all, trusted him even less than the British. He especially didn’t like the way Bentley was eyeing Aurens. There was a look in the man’s eyes, a greediness, which Ali didn’t like at all. “And Lord Feisal has agreed to this?”

“Sure did.”

Ali didn’t particularly care for his casual manner, either. But if Feisal had given permission, there was nothing he could do.

Aurens had finally finished perusing the man’s letter. Seemingly satisfied, he refolded it and gave the man a smile. “Very well, Mr. Bentley. We’re still waiting on a companion of ours before we leave Azrak. Till then, perhaps you will remain here with us?”

“I’d be honored.”

“Wonderful. We’ll find you some quarters.”

And Ali would make certain these quarters were far from those he shared with Aurens. The last thing they needed was the man discovering their relationship. He wouldn’t care, but he knew Aurens wouldn’t want it known, and he doubted the Englishman would think to make the arrangement. “Majid?”

“Yes?”

“Mr. Bentley needs a room. Would you find one for him, please?” He watched as Majid led the man away. He jumped when Aurens’ hand landed softly on his shoulder. “What.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Ali turned away.

“You’re grumpy.”

“I am not grumpy.”

Aurens arched a brow. “Then what is that tone of voice?”

Ali couldn’t argue with that. His voice was irritable and he knew it, but he couldn’t help it. “I do not like him.”

The Englishman seemed surprised. “Bentley? What’s wrong with him?”

Ali shrugged uneasily. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was about Bentley that bothered him. The man just rubbed him the wrong way. “I do not know. I just do not.”

Aurens laughed. “You’re being silly.”

The Harith scowled. “Am I? Did you stop to think about the fact that, with him around, we will not be able to touch each other casually the way we do now?”

That brought Aurens up short. “Oh.”

“Yes. Oh.”

Aurens was silent for several moments as he mulled this over. At last he spoke up. “….well…..” It was clear he was desperately trying to find a solution. “…..he won’t be here for long.”

“Oh?” Ali’s tone was sarcastic. “Did I overlook something? Did you two make plans that I missed?”

Aurens gave Ali’s backside a sharp smack, making him jump; indignant, the Harith swatted his shoulder. Aurens laughed. “Calm down, Ali. Outsiders don’t last in the desert.” He seemed to realize his mistake immediately. “Well….me.”

Ali smiled. “You are special.”

Aurens’ answering smile made his face glow. “I love you.” Ali couldn’t be upset, not when greeted with that smile, with those words.

“I love you, too.”

 

~*~

 

Having Bentley around was about as irritating as Ali had expected. The man clearly wasn’t interested in the Arab revolt so much as he was interested in Aurens. He followed the Englishman everywhere, never letting Ali and Aurens have a moment alone. At least, he tried. Luckily, they had Majid. Seriously, the man was a blessing, and Ali thanked God for him every single day. He was amazing at running interference and managing to distract Bentley long enough to let the men slip away. He had also thus far kept the American from discovering the location of the men’s room, or in fact that they shared a room at all.

It was early morning still, and the two men were milking every moment alone together. Ali had thus far refused to let Aurens leave the bed. Not that Aurens was trying very hard.

“Mm…” he nuzzled along the smooth skin of Aurens’ shoulder. “How is your foot doing?”

Aurens wiggled his toes experimentally. “I think it’s just about better.”

“Hnn.” Leaning in, he gave Aurens a gentle kiss. “….good.”

Aurens smiled. “Yes. Good.”

Aurens’ robes had been discarded much earlier, lying in a crumpled heap on the floor. Ali was taking advantage of these circumstances to allow his hands to wander, tracing over all the smooth planes of his chest. The Englishman let out a happy hum in reply, even more so when Ali began kissing down his throat. “Feels nice,” he murmured.

“Good.” Ali moved downward, trailing kisses over his chest. “I love your skin.”

Aurens immediately blushed. “I’m too pale.”

Ali frowned at the words. “You are not. You are lovely.”

“Ali,” he began, but Ali put his fingertips over Aurens’ lips, hushing any protestations.

“You are. Absolutely lovely.” Dark eyes wandered over Aurens, drinking in the sight of him and only making him flush that much more. Ali smiled. “Besides, I like that you are pale. It makes it easier to see when you are blushing.”

“Ali!” Aurens’ voice was indignant. Ali only laughed.

“You turn pink all the way down….here.” And he laid a fluttering kiss just beside Aurens’ jutting hipbone.

This time, Aurens’ voice was none too steady. “….Ali…”

“Mm?” Another kiss, just below his navel. Aurens was having trouble taking a steady breath.

“….don’t stop?”

Ali took a deep breath; he reached for the catches on Aurens’ pants…

A resounding knock sounded on the door. “Ali? Aurens?”

He let his forehead fall to Aurens’ stomach with a groan. “Majid!” Then a thought hit him and he shot up. Normally where Majid went, Bentley wasn’t far behind. “Are you alone?”

“Of course I am alone!”

Ali cracked the door open just enough to see Majid’s face. “What is it?”

“Auda is here. He wishes to start the meeting. I have stalled as long as I can.” His tone was extremely apologetic. “Farraj is running interference while I collect you.” He glanced at where he knew Aurens was still in the room. “I suggest you come separately.”

As much as he hated it, Ali knew Majid was right. “I will be right there.” He shut the door, returning to Aurens’ side. The Englishman did not look at all happy. Ali was rather pleased to note the physical effects his recent efforts had had on Aurens. Still, it didn’t do them much good, since they had to get up and go downstairs. “I will go down now. You take a few moments to…” he cast a suggestive glance at Aurens’ current state of arousal.

Aurens glowered. “Yes, thank you, Ali, I am very aware that I need to calm down before I join the general public. Thank you for pointing that out. May I remind you whose fault that is?”

Ali laughed. “No, Aurens, no need. I am quite proud of my work.”

“Yea, I bet you are.”

God, Aurens was too cute. Ali leaned in, murmuring “I will take care of it later.” Gently, he kissed Aurens on the cheek.

“That doesn’t do me any good right now.”

“Sorry.” Another kiss, and another, making his way down Aurens’ throat. Aurens let out a little noise of objection, even as he leaned into the kisses.

“Ali….this isn’t really helping.”

Oh. Right. Ali pulled away before things went too far and both of them ended up in a state. “Sorry, Aurens.”

Aurens gave him a somewhat rueful smile. “I forgive you.”

Laughing, Ali got dressed. Before he left, he returned to the bedside and, leaning in, he gave the man a brief, chaste kiss on the lips. “To be continued.” With that, he exited the room, shutting the door behind him.

Majid was waiting for him in the hall. Shaking his head, Ali joined his friend to head downstairs.

“You have the worst timing.”

“Do not blame me; blame Auda. He was wondering where you two were and his commentary was beginning to sound a bit suggestive. I was worried that the American would take notice.”

That sobered Ali up. “You are right. Thank you.”

“Of course. I am always here for you, Ali, you know that.”

Ali was overcome with a wave of affection for his friend. Majid may tease him mercilessly, but there was no better friend around. “You are wonderful. How did you keep the two of them occupied?”

“Farraj is keeping Bentley company when I cannot. Auda is holding court in the meeting room. I gave Farraj strict orders to keep them apart.”

“Do you think he can handle it?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Ali realized how stupid they were, a point which was driven home by the look Majid gave him. “I know, I know. A silly question.”

“Indeed.” They had almost reached the meeting room. Majid glanced at Ali. “So?”

Ali looked his way, not understanding. “So what?”

“So I have been going out of my way to give you two time alone.”

That really didn’t explain things any further, and Ali was still lost. Then he saw the look in Majid’s eyes, the hint of a smile. “…I am not giving you any sort of details about what we have been up to, Majid.”

Majid made a noise of disappointment. “Nothing?”

“No.”

“Not one little tidbit?”

“No!” Ali could feel his face flushing. He walked a little faster, but Majid increased his speed to keep pace with him.

“You always do.” His tone was curious.

“I know. But Aurens--” Ali broke off, flustered. But he didn’t have to finish.

“Aurens is special.”

Ali looked at Majid, surprised. The man, normally so jovial, was smiling at him with soft understanding Again Ali was overwhelmed with gratitude for Majid and how wonderful he was.

“Yes,” he said softly. “He is.”

Majid nodded. “I understand.”

Ali clasped Majid’s hand in his own. “Thank you.”

Auda poked his head out into the hallway. “Ah, Ali. There you are. Where is Aurens?”

“I do not know, Auda.” Ali was as polite as possible as he kept up the façade that he had come from a different direction than Aurens. “I am sure he will be here momentarily.”

Sure enough, Aurens rounded the corner, and it was all Ali could do to keep from walking to him and kissing him. But Bentley was nearby now as well, and that wouldn’t do at all.

Time to start the meeting.

There would be plenty of time for kisses later.

 

~*~

 

The meeting had lasted longer than Ali would have liked, mainly because they’d needed time to fill each other in on what had been happening since they had been apart before they made new plans. Auda was as annoying as Ali had remembered, but he was starting to adjust to that irritation. Maybe by the time the war was over, he’d be able to deal with Auda without any problem whatsoever, but he wasn’t going to hold his breath.

Throughout the entire meeting, Bentley had lurked in the hallway, trying to get a good look. He seemed fascinated by Auda, who was even louder and more annoying than he himself. Ali would wager that Bentley was excited to have an Arab around who was friendlier than Ali. He would be disappointed when he found out what Auda was really like.

At last, the meeting was done. Ali was relieved as they began to file into the hallway.

“By the way,” he murmured to Majid, “thank you for keeping this man away from me.”

“Of course. I told you, all I can do to help.” Honestly, what a Godsend. “But I hope he leaves soon. He is annoying.”

Ali snorted. “On this we agree completely.”

“So!” Auda’s voice was unnecessarily loud. “Where is my room? Is it near Ali’s and Aurens’?”

Oh no. Ali looked at Majid with terror in his eyes. Bentley was looking between him and Aurens. “You two share a room?”

Majid immediately jumped in. “Aurens, I am sure you can show Lord Auda to his room, yes?”

Aurens readily complied. “Come, Auda, follow me.” Luckily Auda offered no objections, happily following Aurens down the hallway.

Ali knew exactly what Majid was doing. The best solution right now was to separate Ali and Aurens to avert any suspicion of them being a couple. Majid naturally knew that at this particular moment, if Ali was alone with Auda, he would most likely take a swing at him. Ali had little patience with Auda at the best of times; right now, there was no way being alone together could end well. The best thing to do would be to send Aurens.

That didn’t mean Ali had to like it.

The rest of the night was spent trying as hard as could be not to appear too clingy. Bentley didn’t seem suspicious, but they didn’t want to take any chances, either. Still, both men were relieved when they were able to retire to the privacy of their room (separately, of course).

“I hate this.”

Curled close together in bed, Aurens looked up at Ali. “Hate what?”

“This. Him. Having to pretend we are not a couple.”

Oh. The Englishman sighed. “I know. I agree. But it won’t be much longer.”

“How do you know?”

“Because it can’t be.”

At the flippancy of that reply, Ali levelled Aurens with a dark look. Aurens couldn’t help but laugh. “Ali….don’t worry so much. He just came to get some photos for his paper.”

“So?”

“We head out tomorrow. As soon as he gets a few good shots, he’ll be gone. It’ll probably only be a few days.”

“Do you really think so?” Ali was unconvinced, but hopeful.

“In this heat? With the kind of long hours we pull and the intense fire we’re under? I wouldn’t be surprised.”

And Aurens sounded so confident that Ali couldn’t help but be reassured. “A few days. I can handle a few days.”

 

~*~

 

"I could kill you."

Aurens was surprised. "Me? What did I do?"

"You said he would be gone within a few days."

"And how is that my fault?"

"You are far too charismatic and charming."

Aurens laughed. "That’s why you love me."

Ali smiled. "One of many reasons."

"Oh?" Aurens had that look in his eyes, the one Ali loved because he knew he had put it there, that Aurens had never looked that way for any other person before him, a heat and a desire. "Tell me some others?"

Ali couldn't help but laugh, despite the answering need that was rolling through him. "Later, my love."

Aurens groaned. "I hate later."

"As do I. But we are in plain view, and we do not know who else might be watching." His tone made it very clear who he meant by "else."

Aurens made another noise of dissatisfaction, but he nodded agreement. "Later."

“Major Lawrence!”

Both men turned at the sound of the by now familiar voice. Bentley snapped a photo; Ali blinked at the flash and scowled. Aurens saw that look and turned to the American. “Mr. Bentley, in the future, please ask before taking photos.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware that you minded.”

“I don’t. But I don’t believe you asked Sherif Ali whether or not he does.”

Bentley’s gaze slid to Ali as though seeing him for the first time. “My apologies, Sherif Ali.”

Ali gave a stiff nod. It was going on three weeks of this gentlemen and Ali had had more than enough of him.

“I think we’re done for the day.” Aurens turned to Ali and gave him one of those lovely smiles, a smile which would look normal to most anyone but which Ali could read for what it was: soft and full of love. “Shall we?”

Ali was more than ready to head out. It had been too many days since they were truly alone. They had spent the past few nights sleeping on the ground beneath the stars, and that provided no privacy at all. If it had been just their men, Ali would not have cared, but the damned American was always there, and they couldn’t be too careful.

They were still not too far from Azrak, and would return now and then to restock supplies and spend a couple of days. They returned again tonight. It would only be a night or two of respite. Still, Ali would take it while he could, for the privacy that the bedroom afforded them was something he cherished.

Once more in their secluded bedroom, curled up in that familiar bed of theirs, Ali felt at home. Strange how this place had become so familiar so quickly, especially to someone who had never liked being in one place, had never wanted a home. But here, with Aurens? Ali could think of nowhere he would rather be.

 

~tbc~

Chapter Text

I just want all of you to know that I have not forgotten you and I have not put this on hiatus. I have epilepsy and my seizures have been getting worse lately, so I have been admitted to the hospital for approximately a week for an EEG, maybe longer, to try to determine where in my brain they are coming from. If they can do so, I may be having surgery to fix the problem. So basically I've been in the hospital for four days now, stuck in bed with wires all over my head. I can't leave the bed at all. It sucks. I need permission to go to the bathroom because they consider me a fall risk. Generally, it's just a major fail-fest.

I just wanted you to know that this is why there's been such a delay. I love you all and I will get something up as soon as I can. Promise. <3

<3 Chris, the Nuwanda