It had been a week since the conference. One blissful week of barely leaving the hotel room, of spending every waking hour basking in the glow of each other’s presence. After so many months without Ali, Aurens was at last at peace.
He lay curled against Ali, delighting in the feeling of fingers running through his hair, the sound of Ali’s heartbeat thudding beneath his ear. It was all so familiar, so soothing.
“Hmm?” He didn’t know when he had been so happy.
“Before we return to Arabia…”
“……would you take me to England?”
The question caught Aurens completely by surprise. He propped himself up so he could look at Ali. “England? You want to go to England?” The man nodded. “Why?”
“I would like to see where you lived. It sounds….” He didn’t seem quite able to put his finger on it. “….I cannot imagine what it is like. I would like to see it for myself.”
Aurens smiled. “Alright. We’ll go to England.”
Ali pulled him into a kiss and he laughed, letting himself be rolled over and pinned to the mattress. He stroked Ali’s hair, delighting as always in the thickness. “I should go back, anyway. I have to sell my motorcycle.”
The surprise lit up Ali’s face. “You have a motorcycle?”
“I never would have pictured you riding one.” Ali looked pensive, clearly imagining the thought. After a moment, he nodded. “Yes, I can see it now.”
Aurens couldn’t help but laugh. “Well, I do. I love it.” He sighed. “But it’s not something I can really take back with me to Arabia.”
He stared. “Why not? Ali, be serious. Where would I ride it?”
“In town. Aurens, we are no longer going to be sleeping on a sand dune in the middle of the desert. We will have a house. A home.”
It was hard to contest that point, a point which filled Aurens with happy butterflies. Smiling, he nodded. “Alright. I’ll bring it with me.”
The agreement brought a smile to Ali’s face, and he kissed Aurens again. Aurens wrapped his arms around Ali and pulled him still closer, kissing him deeper. They could figure out the rest of the details later, when they were actually in England.
Ali in England.
He rather enjoyed the thought.
They were in England a week later. They took a boat, which hadn’t been as private as the hotel, but they still had their own cabin, so it was enough. The morning they landed, Aurens awoke to find Ali going through his luggage.
He tried to rub the sleep from his eyes, voice curious. “What are you doing?”
Ali jumped guiltily. “I was only wondering…”
Once he turned, it was easy to see that Ali had a pair of Aurens’ slacks in his hands. “…may I borrow some of your clothes to wear while we are in England?”
Aurens was surprised. “You….you want to wear British clothes?”
“No. I want to wear your clothes.”
He couldn’t help but feel amused. “You are aware that I am in fact British?”
Ali shook his head. “No. You are special.”
A wave of love, of happiness, swept over Aurens, and he had to step in and kiss Ali. “And you want to wear my clothes.”
The Harith nodded. “I do. Aurens, I will already be attracting enough attention just being an Arab in England. To be wearing my robes would be even worse.”
An ache filled Aurens as Ali explained the reasoning. He stroked the man’s cheek. “Okay,” he said softly. “But as long as you’re doing it because it makes you happy, and not because you’re concerned about others. I don’t give a damn about any of them. Just you.”
The look in Ali’s eyes was one of pure love. He pulled Aurens in, stealing a kiss. Laughing, Aurens pulled away.
“Here,” He turned to his suitcase. “Put those on. I’ll find the rest for you.”
“Thank you.” Ali slipped into the trousers as Aurens fished out clothing.
“We should be landing any minute,” he said. “I had a few different ideas of what to do first. I know you want to see where I lived, but you really must see the country. And--” he trailed off, feeling vaguely embarrassed.
“…and?” Ali prompted.
Aurens could feel his neck and ears burning in that way he hated. “…I was hoping to take you for a ride on my bike,” he mumbled.
There was silence. He dared to sneak a glance at Ali and was completely taken aback by the expression on his face. Ali looked positively enraptured, as though Aurens had just given him an amazing gift. Without saying another word, he took the shirt from Aurens, simultaneously leaning in and softly kissing his cheek. That only made Aurens blush even worse. He watched as Ali changed into the shirt. As he began to button it, he glanced at Aurens and smiled. “You are enchanting when you blush, Aurens.”
“Oh my God, please shut up.”
Ali only laughed and held out his hand for the jacket. Aurens practically threw it at him. He slid it on, and pulled on his own boots, tucking them under the pants so they were out of sight. “Well?” he asked. “How do I look?”
Aurens stared. He was dimly aware that his mouth was hanging open, but he couldn’t help it. Ali looked amazing. He realized that Ali was waiting for an answer and tried to speak but his mouth was dry. He swallowed with some difficulty, clearing his throat. “Wonderful,” he managed. “You look wonderful.”
Ali looked pleased, but there was still a hint of something nervous there. “You prefer this to my robes?”
Aurens immediately shook his head. “No. The robes are much better. But this…” Stepping forward, he ran his hands up the lapels of the jacket, over Ali’s chest, relishing in the sharp intake of breath. “….I wouldn’t mind this every now and then.” He smiled at the Harith. “You look incredibly striking.”
“More than any other man I’ve ever seen.”
“You should try looking in a mirror sometime.”
Aurens knew he was crimson. “Stop making me blush!”
Ali merely laughed. “Never.”
The horn blasted so suddenly and loudly that it made Aurens jump. “We must have arrived.” The excitement was plainly written on Ali’s face, and Aurens had to laugh. “Come. Let’s pack up our things and go up.”
They hastily repacked the few things that had still been lying around and hastened upon deck. Aurens watched as Ali’s eyes eagerly scanned the coastline. He wasn’t surprised to see a hint of disappointment.
Ali turned to him. “It is very much like Paris.”
Aurens smiled, resisting the urge to reach out and stroke his cheek. They were in full view of the public now. Touching would have to wait. “Yes, it is. You’ll like the countryside much more than the city.”
Minutes later, as they walked through town, Aurens was well aware of the many people staring at them. Ali shifted uncomfortably beneath all the attention. “People are looking at us,” he intoned softly.
“I know,” Aurens murmured. He leaned closer, voice soft. “They’re wondering who this ridiculously attractive foreigner is that I’ve brought home with me.”
Ali had no reply, but Aurens could see him flush. “Aurens…”
He only laughed. “Come, Ali.” He led the way through the crowd, making certain to always keep Ali by his side. He wasn’t at all happy to be returning to the Foreign Office, but that was where he had last worked, and lived, and his things were there, including the motorcycle.
They stepped into the tiny room he had inhabited during his time working there, and Ali looked around in disbelief. “What,” Aurens asked, aware he sounded slightly defensive.
“….you lived here, Aurens?”
“Yes.” But now Ali was looking at him with that complete and utter incredulity and Aurens began to shift awkwardly. “What.”
“Aurens….this is a broom closet. There is barely room for a bed.”
“So? I only needed it to sleep, and—“ he caught himself before he finished, flushing, but Ali hadn’t missed the cutoff. He arched a brow.
“What. What is ‘and’?” Aurens was silent, and apparently that was all the answer Ali needed. “You slept at your desk.” His voice was soft, and sad, and Aurens ached.
“Sometimes.” He could barely get the word out. “I didn’t mean to, I just worked so late that it just sort of…..happened…” he trailed off lamely.
“Well that sounds like you.” There was a trace of humor in Ali’s voice, and it cheered Aurens somewhat, even though he knew that Ali still wasn’t happy with the news.
“I just wanted so badly to help you all.”
Ali took Aurens’ face in his hands and kissed him. “You did,” he said softly. “You did help us. Now, no more working yourself to death. I have you, and you are going to take care of yourself, even if I have to force you.”
Aurens couldn’t help a laugh, even as he fought back tears. Ali was just so good, loved him so much. “I will. I promise.”
Ali gave him another kiss, like a punctuation mark to seal that promise. “Good. Now, what is the plan?”
They went through their bags and separated the necessities, then packed them into just one small bag which would fit on the motorcycle. Then they headed outside.
Aurens was nervous but proud to show off his baby. “This is Boa.”
Ali looked to Aurens, curious. “Boa?”
He could feel himself flushing. “Short for Boanerges.” From the look on Ali’s face, that didn’t clear anything up. “It’s from the Bible,” he clarified. “Mark 3:17. It means ‘Sons of Thunder.”
The amusement was plain on Ali’s face. “You are a dork.”
“I am not a dork!”
“Yes you are.” Aurens opened his mouth to protest but was silenced by a kiss. “Come. I believe you were going to take me for a ride?”
Shaking his head at Ali’s methods of shutting him up, Aurens carefully strapped their bag onto the back of the bike, then climbed on himself. He looked up at Ali. “Well come on,” he said. He could see the slightest hint of nerves in Ali’s eyes. “….are you certain you want to do this?”
At the question, the nerves faded as Ali very clearly steeled all his resolve. “Yes. I am certain. It is just…new.”
Aurens smiled. “I know.”
Gingerly, Ali climbed on behind Aurens, wrapping his arms around Aurens’ waist. “Like so?”
Aurens’ smile grew at the hesitant question. “Yes, lovely. Like so.” He paused before starting the bike, glancing back at Ali. “If at any point it gets to be too much for you, tell me, and we’ll stop.”
Ali nodded. “I will.”
“Hold on tight.” Aurens gunned the bike to life and immediately Ali’s grip on him became painfully tight. He didn’t mind in the least, simply gave the man’s hand a reassuring squeeze before pulling out down the road.
They got some definite stares as they rode through the city together. Two men on a bike would attract attention in general, and Ali was not just an Arab, he was in British clothes. Everything about this arrangement was unusual. But Aurens barely noticed the looks, too damn happy to be with Ali, sharing this moment, sharing the bike that he loved with the man he adored.
He only hoped Ali was enjoying it. The man was still clinging for dear life, and it had him worried. But slowly but surely, that death grip began to ease, until Ali’s hold on him was relaxed. He glanced back at Ali. “Having fun?” He had to shout to be heard.
“Yes. Eyes on the road!”
Aurens burst into laughter and did as he was told, returning his attention to the road ahead of them. He felt Ali pressing closer, nuzzling against the back of his neck, and his heart fluttered. They were well outside the city now, and in no danger of nosy eyes seeing such activity. He gave Ali’s hand another squeeze and felt lips brush his skin. He didn’t know how he could be any happier.
After nearly an hour’s drive, they came across a tiny little pub. It was mid-day now, but they were in the middle of nowhere, and the place was deserted. It was more of a rest stop for travelers than anything else, nothing else around but a tiny little shop selling groceries. Aurens pulled up alongside it, cutting the engine.
“Well,” he turned to Ali. “What do you think?”
Ali’s cheeks were pink from the wind, his hair a tousled mess, and Aurens wanted to kiss him more than anything in the world. “I understand why you enjoy it. It is exhilarating. Like flying.”
“Yes. Exactly.” Aurens was thrilled that Ali understood exactly the way he felt about it.
Ali’s eyes roved over Aurens’ face, warming. “…I would very much like to kiss you right now.”
Discreetly, Aurens found Ali’s hand, taking it in his. “I would like that as well. But unfortunately this is not the place.”
Ali sighed. “Damn English.”
Aurens laughed. “I feel I should be insulted by that.”
“No, Aurens. You are not like the others. You are—“ but Ali was interrupted as the pub door opened and a young girl, no more than nineteen, came out.
“Were you boys looking for some refreshment?”
Aurens turned to Ali. “Come,” he said. “Let’s go get something to eat.”
They headed to the table and took the menus that were offered to them. Ali looked positively stumped by the items listed. Aurens looked up at the girl. “Two coffees for now.” Nodding, she vanished back into the pub.
Ali looked up at Aurens. “I do not know any of these things.” He had tried some European food when he was in Paris, but he didn’t see any of it on this menu.
“How about you just get a sandwich.”
“A sandwich?” Ali seemed dubious.
“Yes. Then you can always just wrap it up and take it with you.”
Ali seemed to ponder this for a moment, then nodded. “Okay. A sandwich.”
The girl returned with their coffees and set them down, along with some creamer and sugar cubes. “Thank you.” Aurens collected both menus. “We’ll both have…” he realized she was not looking at him, but rather at Ali, her attention fixed on that Harith, her cheeks flushed. Aurens felt jealous irritation stirring. Ali was his. “Excuse me?” She jumped, turning to him. “Thank you. Two turkey sandwiches with lettuce and tomato, light on the mayonnaise. And chips.” She wrote it all down, but her eyes flicked towards Ali again. “That’ll be all, thank you.”
Amazingly, she took the hint and went inside. Ali, for his part, seemed oblivious. “What is wrong?”
“You didn’t see the way she was staring at you?”
Ali looked completely baffled. Then, realization dawned, and a slow grin spread over his face. “You are jealous.”
There was no point in denying it. “I don’t like her staring. You’re mine.”
“Yes.” Ali’s voice was soft and warm, and calmed the green-eyed monster trying to rear its ugly head. “I am.” And he reached beneath the table to take Aurens’ hand in his.
Ali shook his head. “Do not be.” A hint of that smile returned. “I rather enjoy it.”
Aurens picked up one of the sugar cubes and threw it at Ali. “Brat.”
“You love me.”
Smiling, Ali took a sip of his coffee, and immediately grimaced. “This is not like our coffee.”
“Oh.” Aurens felt slightly guilty. “I should have thought of that. Is it too bitter?” Ali nodded. “You can add some cream and sugar, or we can try ordering some tea.”
As Ali began experimenting with the cream, the waitress reappeared with their food. Aurens immediately felt that irritation returning. Ali glanced up at him, seeing the darkening in his eyes, and softly ordered “behave.”
Another wave of guilt hit. “Sorry.” Still, she seemed to have gotten the hint and didn’t linger this time. Ali shook his head at Aurens. “Shut up.”
“No.” Ali took another sip of coffee. “That is better.”
“Good. How about the sandwich?”
Ali chewed slowly, almost methodically, contemplating the taste. “…..I like it.”
Aurens was relieved. It had taken him some time to adjust to food in Arabia. He was glad that they had so quickly found something Ali liked. Now that that was settled, he was able to enjoy his own food, and he tucked in. He hadn’t even realized how hungry he was.
“We are going to where you grew up, yes?”
“Yes.” Ali sounded hesitant again, and it made Aurens nervous. “Why?”
Sure enough, the Harith didn’t answer right away, simply toying with a chip. “….will you take me to meet your family?”
Aurens felt as if his heart had stopped. He had never told Ali much about his family. Ali knew that his parents were unmarried, but that was about it. He didn’t know that Aurens and his father had never been close. He definitely didn’t know that Aurens’ mother had been a cruel, vicious woman, constantly criticizing and yelling at him. And the beatings, and being doped up to keep him quiet….
He realized he was trembling as he sat there silently, sandwich in hands. He quickly set it down so that the shaking wouldn’t be so obvious. “My family?” he echoed weakly.
“Yes. You never told me much about them.”
“No, I didn’t.” Because we were never close. In all his family, the only one he had ever truly bonded with was Will. Dear Will, only sixteen months younger than him, who had always encouraged his love of archeology. But Will had died during the war, along with Frank.
Ali was waiting patiently, but he was starting to look concerned. Aurens swallowed with some difficulty. How could he possibly explain all of this to Ali? He opened his mouth, closed it, swallowed, and tried again. “Yes.”
Surely that wasn’t what I meant to say.
But Ali looked so very happy that Aurens didn’t have the heart to take it back. “Wonderful!” Aurens managed a weak smile, but Ali must have been too pleased to notice, instead wrapping up his sandwich. “You are finished?”
Aurens definitely wasn’t hungry anymore. “Yes. I’m going to go inside and pay, use the bathroom. I’ll meet you back out here in a minute?” Ali nodded, and Aurens headed inside.
He felt dizzy, almost sick. What was he going to do? He definitely couldn’t bring Ali to meet his parents. For one thing, he had no idea how they would react to an Arab man, and he refused to let them treat Ali shamefully. Secondly, there was no way they would ever accept the two men as a couple. Even if Aurens said nothing, he knew his parents would have their suspicions. They always had. It was one of the reasons his mother had been so harsh on him in particular. No, there was only one person Aurens would ever have wanted to bring Ali to meet, and he was gone.
He finished paying their tab and exited the pub, but stopped dead. Ali was standing by the bike, flowers in his arms.
Flowers. Ali had gone to the little shop next door and bought flowers for Aurens’ family. He felt his chest ache.
Ali clearly noticed the reaction, for he began to fidget. “Is it too much?”
Somehow, Aurens managed to shake his head. “No. No, it’s good. You should wrap them up, though, or the wind will destroy them.”
“Oh. Good point.” Ali busied himself with very gently tucking the flowers into their knapsack. Aurens climbed onto the bike almost mechanically, waiting until he felt Ali settle behind him, arms wrapping around him, before he started the bike. He drove almost on autopilot, not altogether certain where he was going until they arrived, the bike stuttering to a halt.
It was dead quiet. At last Ali spoke up. “Aurens….this is a cemetery.”
Aurens was silent, struggling for words. “Ali….my family and I aren’t close. My father and I just never clicked. My mother was…horrible…to me.” He was fighting to get the words out; he was trembling again and he knew Ali felt it, pressed close as he was. “She yelled, and hit me, and when she wanted me quiet, she would drug me. I have no desire to introduce you to either of them.” He looked out across the cemetery, the vast rows of gravestones.
“If I could introduce you to someone, it would be my brother Will. He was the only one I was ever close with. But he died three years ago during the war. Well….missing in action is what they say. But at this point….” He knew the odds. If they hadn’t found Will by now, there was almost no chance he was alive.
“Aurens.” Ali’s voice was soft. His fingers stroked Aurens’ cheek; gently he guided Aurens’ face until their eyes met. He was looking at Aurens with so much emotion in his eyes, sadness and love. “Why did you not tell me any of this?”
His voice was low, hoarse. “I didn’t know how to.”
Ali took his hand and squeezed it. In his face was love and understanding and his voice was soft as he said “come. Take me to him.”
Aurens felt shock hit him. “You….are you certain you—“
“Yes,” Ali interrupted. “I am certain.” Sliding off the bike, he gingerly took the flowers from the bag. With a soft smile, he took Aurens’ hand once more. “Please?”
Aurens felt that dizzy feeling again, but this time it was accompanied by joy. He led Ali through the graveyard until they stopped in front of a small plot. It was reserved for his whole family but for now just held two: Will and Frank, his younger brother, who had also died in the war. He waited to see what Ali would do.
The Harith released Aurens’ hand and, standing before the graves, gave a slight bow. “Hello. I am Ali ibn el Kharish. I take it you are Will and…” he peered at the second stone. “Frank.” He glanced questioningly at Aurens.
“My younger brother,” he managed. “Also killed in the war.”
A wave of sadness crossed Ali’s face; he turned back to the graves. “Hello.” Leaning forward, he set the flowers down between the two graves and then sat down before them. “I cannot say I have heard a lot about you, for your brother can be a sneaky, secretive person.”
“Ali,” he protested weakly, but Ali only gave him the barest glance.
“Please, I am trying to have a conversation.” Turning to the stones again, he continued. “But I like to think that I know him well, and when he speaks highly of someone, he means it. That is how I know that he truly loves you.”
Aurens was trembling; his eyes beginning to burn with tears, only this time, he did nothing to hold them back.
“And you,” Aurens turned to Frank’s stone. “I do not know why you were not as close.” He peered closer at the headstone. “Maybe because you were not so close in age?” Aurens was surprised by how, yet again, Ali hit the nail on the head. “But you were a part of his life, in whatever way, and I thank you. I thank you both. He is a wonderful man, and I love him. I love him more than life itself. And I thank you for being part of his life and loving him in whatever way you were able.”
With that, he rose to his feet, giving another little bow. “I pray you rest in peace and the grace of God.” Finished, he turned to Aurens and was completely taken aback. Aurens was staring at him in shock, eyes huge and wet with tears. “….Aurens?”
The only response was Aurens pulling him into a desperate kiss. He couldn’t believe, would never be able to believe, that this amazing man loved him. Out of all the people in the world, Ali loved him. He broke away, hands still fisted in Ali’s hair. “I didn’t think it was possible for me to love you more than I did.”
Ali’s cheeks flushed. “I meant every word.”
“I know. And that’s why I love you.” He kissed Ali again, filled with warmth and a joy he had never known. Ali smiled when he saw the expression on Aurens’ face.
“What is that look for?”
Aurens shook his head. “I just….you made me realize that none of this matters. I mean I had already gotten over the fact that I don’t need my parents, don’t need a family to be happy. But it’s really only just sinking in that…I have a family. I have you, and Majid—“
“—and Feisal,” Ali smiled.
Ali frowned. “Must we include Auda?”
That prompted a laugh. “I’m afraid we must.”
He sighed. “Alright, then. If we must.”
Smiling, Aurens pulled Ali closer. “I adore you.”
Ali stroked his cheek. “And I you.”
Aurens gave Ali a kiss. “Come. We’ll drive past my old house just so you can get a look at it, then we’ll go somewhere far better.”
“More countryside?” Ali sounded hopeful. Aurens laughed.
“More countryside.” Linking hands, they turned to head back to the bike. Outside the gate, Aurens paused to catch one last glimpse of the stones, smiling at his brothers, who would always be family, even if they weren’t there in person.
Turning, Aurens looked at Ali, already seated upon the bike, looking as if he had ridden one all his life. “Coming, Ali.” He joined Ali on the bike, and couldn’t help but smile, knowing Ali loved him and wanted to share this with him. They would share all their stories, past and present, whether they be good or bad, and would love each other through it all. It may take a while to unload all of this history, but Ali would wait for him. Aurens knew he would. And they had time.
They had all the time in the world.