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you arrive in town with your pretty friend

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Technically speaking, Zolf doesn’t have to be down here at night. While it’s ideal to keep contact with potential infected to as few people as possible, the chances of Azu or Hamid getting out of an adamantine antimagic cell are so low that nobody’s really going to enforce that. If Zolf wanted to call Barnes or Carter down for a watch and go get some sleep in his own room, even Wilde wouldn’t object. And yet, Zolf still curls himself up on the mattress – apparently bedframes aren’t so much a thing here, and gods know he’s used to kipping on the floor – at the end of the cell block, back to the wall, every night.

He hadn’t intended to sleep down here when they’d gotten the message and he’d signed up for guard duty. Apparently, he’s too stubborn for his own good. Or maybe it’s the quiet, lingering anxiety that if he takes his eyes off Hamid, even for a night – even though he’s not within line-of-sight of Hamid anyway, right now – he’ll come back to find his old friend’s face marred with blue.

Could be that.

Anyway, the nice thing about not needing a bedframe is your mattress is just as comfy wherever you put it, so Zolf’s actually been sleeping fine. Weird dreams, which he’s fairly sure stem from someone he hasn’t seen in more than a year coming literally back from the dead, but other than that it’s been pretty restful. Nice even, setting a rhythm to Azu’s deep, steady huffs and Hamid’s quiet little snores.

Which is why he’s confused for a moment, when he comes awake suddenly in the middle of the fifth night. The disorientation lasts until he hears movement from Hamid and Azu’s cell – quiet, but definitely there.

Both his charges have been sleeping a lot. Not much else to do down here, really, and they’re both obviously wiped from whatever hell they’d been through. Apart from a few louder nightmares, nights have been pretty quiet, so it’s a surprise to hear soft voices from the cell. Very soft voices – he can hardly make out what’s being said.

Then, Hamid whispers slightly louder, enough that Zolf can hear him properly. “He’s asleep, Azu. And we can be quiet, right?”

A soft, sceptical huff, and then the light smack of someone being swatted.

“Azu,” Hamid whispers a moment later – Sasha would kill him for that, Zolf thinks with half-asleep melancholy, he should know by now that whispers travel more than a quiet voice – “it’s not- we don’t have to, of course we don’t have to, it’s just-“

“I know,” Azu replies, and at least she’s not whispering, her voice a low rumble just on the edge of Zolf’s hearing. “I- it’s the same for me.”

“We just need to be quiet,” Hamid whispers, amid more shifting of cloth.

Maybe it’s the lingering fog of tiredness, but Zolf can’t work out what’s going on here. It doesn’t sound like an escape attempt, but he should probably be paying more attention, on the principle of the thing. Keeping still, just in case it is an escape attempt, he concentrates on rousing his sleepy brain.

Just in time to hear the soft, wet noise that is definitely two people kissing.

Zolf’s eyes pop open, and he stares at the far wall of the cell block in blank disbelief. Because no way in hell is what he thinks is happening actually happening. Surely, surely these two sensible, competent professionals can wait a couple more nights until there’s not somebody literally in the room with them.

Against all reason, the kissing continues, and Zolf resists the urge to groan. Which, maybe he should – perhaps if his charges realise they’ve got an audience, they’ll stop this nonsense and go to sleep like sensible people.

He opens his mouth, but then he hears cloth begin to rustle, and his mouth dries before he can open it. No matter that he could easily pass it off as him just now starting to surface from sleep, just the thought of them hearing him is mortifying. More mortifying than this situation already is.

Gods, he’s over fifty, a sailor and a pirate and a mercenary, it’s not fair that he’s this desperate for the floor to swallow him.

“Azu,” Hamid breathes, “habibti.” After that there’s another sentence of Arabic, and though Zolf isn’t even familiar enough with the language to pick out individual words, the tone is obviously, nakedly, achingly tender. The words practically pool in Zolf’s ears, sweet as honey and, just as stinging-sharp where they catch in the back of his throat.

Fuck, sex he could have dealt with. His annoyance and embarrassment would have carried him through just fine. But even as Azu replies, more Arabic and just as loving, he can tell this isn’t going to be fine at all.

Azu says something else, her words so drowned in the louder noises of clothes coming off that he can’t even distinguish the language, and Zolf drags a hand over his face. They’re really, actually, doing this.

Shuffling noises, now – they’re getting resituated, probably, and Zolf beats the bits of him trying to figure out what situated would mean for this encounter with a stick until they shut up. For a few moments, whatever sounds are being made are out of the range of Zolf’s hearing, and he allows himself to hope that he’ll be spared anything else.

A sharp little gasp from Azu puts paid to that hope, as does the noise that is slowly increasing in volume – a slick, sliding sound of a mouth on flesh that Zolf doesn’t need that much experience to place. The soft, wet noises only get louder as the two of them get into it, tentativeness falling away as they get into a rhythm.

To be fair, he can tell that they’re trying to keep it down. If he’s going to be charitable, Zolf might say that there’s not a lot that can be done to stifle the movement of bodies on a mattress more than they’re already doing, and Azu is obviously doing her best to muffle her occasional moans. It’s probably not her fault that they vibrate so well through the air, low and rumbling.

Mind you, Zolf’s not feeling very charitable at the moment. His cheeks feel hot enough to cook eggs on, never mind that he’s seen them both naked multiple times at this point. These people are meant to be mercenaries. They’ve been in literal, actual, honest-to-the-Gods Rome, how the hell are they like this?

Maybe something in Rome ate their brains. Maybe they’re both deaf now. Maybe this is how this stuff works for most people – Zolf gets what desire is, he’s read more than enough romance novels to have an idea of how this stuff works for most people, that he’s just rigged up differently. Gods know there’s times he has to seriously question why a character in one of his Campbells has chosen that moment to get their pants off, when there are obviously more pressing concerns – for instance, is another person essentially in the same room?

Whatever the reason, he’s still going to strangle them. Blue veins or no, Zolf is going to murder those two the minute they’re out of quarantine, and they will never see it coming.

Those soft little slick noises are increasing in speed, and Zolf can now hear the sound of a mattress dragging across the stone floor. Azu’s hips, probably, moving against what he’s pretty sure now is Hamid’s face – and how would that even work? The size difference must be incredible-

Zolf stamps on the thought, hard as he can. This, this is not a damn Campbell, and he’s got no right to treat it as such. This is two very hurt people who, as much as he wants to wring their necks, obviously needed this something awful. Zolf can understand that, he supposes – the need for closeness, to hold the only one you have as near to you as possible until they slide under your skin, where you can keep them safe forever. It’s understandable. Not that he’s willing to forgive their shit timing, but that’s no excuse for him to intrude any more than necessary.

The rhythm of Hamid and Azu’s movements, sketched out in rustles and gasps and those half-disgusting-half-maddening slick sliding noises, starts to speed up. Because Zolf’s brain is horrible, the sudden image of Hamid sprawled out on the mattress, between Azu’s legs, one of her massive hands wound into his hair, explodes across his vision. Resisting the urge to swear, Zolf mentally shoves a pillow over that thought and ruthlessly suffocates it, because no. He is angry at Hamid right now, for putting him in this horrifying position and not having the good sense to be bloody quiet, so that soft little catch in his chest can go to hell.

Azu croons a few words of Orcish, catching and shaking in the back of her throat, before cutting herself off with a gasp. The mattress rasps once more across the floor, louder than before, and then there’s only silence cut with heaving breaths.

“Was that-“ Hamid whispers

“Perfect,” Azu sighs back, and more clothes rustle. Traitor that it is, Zolf’s imagination boils over with Hamid being gathered up in Azu’s arms, cradled to her chest to be held and loved through her afterglow. “Perfect, ha magosh.”

For a little while, the only sound coming from the cell is the same, soft breathing he’s become so used to, and Zolf allows himself to relax a little. More fool him.

Hamid sucks in a sharp breath, whispers “Azu, oh-“ before cutting himself off and falling silent again, not that it helps. Wet, rhythmic noises, in time with Hamid’s gasps, and Zolf doesn’t need to be a Beholder to guess what’s happening now. For fuck’s sake, he’s seen Azu’s hands – how the hell are they making that work?

Zolf reminds himself sharply that he doesn’t give a rat’s arse what innovations Hamid and Azu are making in the field of halfling-orc relations, beyond that they’re making those innovations right next to where he’s trying to bloody sleep. Annoyingly, that doesn’t make the slide of Azu’s fingers into Hamid any quieter.

“Good?” Azu breathes, and Hamid laughs soft and shaky and entirely too cute for Zolf’s heart to take.

“Wonderful,” he whispers back, “but you can go harder. I’m not going to break.”

“Are you sure?” Azu murmurs, and there’s a curl of something warm and teasing in her voice that twists pleasantly at Zolf’s stomach, even as the knowledge that he’s a peeping Tom to something so private between the two of them sours it.

A particularly forceful thrust, and Hamid moans, louder and less restrained than anything he’s heard yet. Immediately all the noise in the cell stops, and Zolf finds himself frozen as well, unable even to breathe. After a moment, the rhythmic noises start up again, only now all of Hamid’s lovely noises are muffled, softened.

Zolf’s had enough interesting experiences to know what someone sounds like when they’ve got someone’s hand over their face – and, Gods, it would be over his whole face, if it’s one of Azu’s hands, her fingers curling over the delicate, defined lines of Hamid’s jaw and throat.

Aphrodite be sweet, this isn’t fair. Zolf’s trying so hard to be a good person, he doesn’t deserve this. Squeezing his eyes shut, he tries desperately to think of anything else, anything at all. But his concentration is scattered to the four winds, and all he can hear is their movement, Azu’s deep breaths, Hamid’s stifled pleasure. All he can see behind his eyes is the image of what this might look like, two people wringing pleasure out of each other, desperate and needy and more than a little in love.

When Hamid comes, he does it as showily as everything else that means something to him. Even through Azu’s hand, Zolf can hear him clear as day, gasping and moaning and revelling in whatever it is Azu is doing to him. Ecstasy, Zolf thinks, in the classical sense. In the darkness of his mind, Hamid’s face is gorgeous, obscene, transcendent.

It takes longer than Zolf thinks it probably should for Hamid’s breathing to even out, afterwards. Not that Zolf is paying that much attention to Hamid’s breathing, of course. Not that he’s hanging on every single inhale, tying his exhales to Hamid’s rhythm.

“I can’t loose you,” Azu whispers into the silence. The words are heavy and raw, like they’ve been buried in her skin and she’s only just managed to cut them free. “Please, please, Hamid, just- I can’t lose you. No matter what.”

“I know,” Hamid whispers back, “I understand. If I lost you as well… I don’t even want to think about it.”

“There we go, then,” Azu replies. “We stay together. Always.”

“Well,” Hamid mutters, the edge of a nervous laugh in his voice, “until we get sick of each other, at least.”

“I can’t see that happening any time soon,” Azu tells him, firm and certain as any good paladin. There’s another little chuckle from Hamid, and then quiet as they settle down to sleep, thank the gods.

Closing his eyes, sending a prayer to whatever the hell’s gotten him this far, Zolf resolves to never, ever mention this. He’s taciturn enough that hopefully, any extra awkwardness will be missed, and while he’s been trying to teach himself better, he is fantastic at not talking about things. Neither of them will ever have to know.

Hamid and Azu’s breathing settles into the familiar pattern of their sleep after only a few minutes, but Zolf’s eyes refuse to close. For the rest of the night, he studies the stone at the other end of the room, and tries very hard not to think of anything.