A tongue lapped at the space between his thighs. Pressed against his entrance, threatening to breach. Nicolò was drowning in a sea of pure heat. Calloused hands gripped his waist, anchoring him, pulling him down. His hips writhed against the man’s mouth, chasing his own pleasure. Then the scratch of a beard, moving up his belly and stopping at his chin. A soft, lilting voice calling to him as he arched his back.
A gasp, his breath coming out in a whine. Desperate, wanting, slowly fading...
Nicolò’s world was coated in a haze as he came to consciousness. Yusuf’s name was on his lips, just as breathy as his voice in his dream. He reached out for the other man, trailing his hands down his body and to his thighs, searching for Yusuf’s curls but coming up empty. Confused, he changed direction- moving his hands to the side in an attempt to stop Yusuf from leaving. But all he met was the shock of cold air as his hands left the warm blanket he had nestled himself into. Nicolò hissed, pulling himself back underneath the thick wool. The contrast was jarring, enough to send him tumbling out of his rosey, post-dream state. His eyes opened, flicking about the tent that he and Yusuf had set up the night prior.
Yusuf was the first thing Nicolò saw, propped up on his elbows with heavy-lidded eyes, concern written in the space between his brow.
“What is wrong?” Nicolò shifted underneath his blanket, fully planning on sitting up to match Yusuf’s position. He froze as soon as he moved his legs, feeling a familiar slickness coating his thighs. He was wet. So wet that the blanket he had curled up with was nearly soaked through.
“Nicolò… Are you alright?”
Nicolò stared at Yusuf in the same way a deer might stare into the eyes of a human hunter, with uncertainty and surprise. He was not in heat, though that may have been preferable with all things considered. At least then Nicolò would not have to face Yusuf with a sound mind. In a heat-induced lust, very few things were cause for embarrassment. Nicolò swallowed against the dryness of his throat, and slowly sat upright.
“Do you wish me to leave?” Yusuf’s voice was still gravelly from sleep, but it was also calm and soothing. Far too soothing for Nicolò’s liking. It made the omega in him want to curl up against Yusuf’s chest, safe and surrounded by their nest. He shook his head as if to jolt the thought from his head- He and Yusuf did not have a nest, they shared a tent. “Nicolò?”
Nicolò pushed himself to his feet, making sure to keep the blanket wrapped tightly around his waist, concealing what his scent had already made obvious. He stumbled as he walked towards the exit of their tent, legs shaking like a newborn foal’s as he tried to gain solid footing. Yusuf was at his side in an instant, taking hold of his elbow and forearm to steady him.
“Unhand me.” Nicolò’s voice was hardly a whisper, but it sounded more like a threat than a request. Yusuf let go immediately, backing away with both of his hands raised. Nicolò stumbled away, ignoring the slack-jawed look of disbelief on the alpha’s face as he exited the tent. Every fiber of his being screamed at him to go back inside, to grab Yusuf and pull him close, to sink his claws into the alpha and remain inside him forever. Nicolò chose to ignore these instincts as well, pushing himself to continue forward.
It was still night, but the moon was full and high with no clouds to obscure its light. The moon was Nicolò’s lantern as he fled to the river that they had caught their dinner in only hours before. Yusuf had also bathed there when the sun was still out, chastising Nicolò for not joining him while Nicolò waited on the shore.
He fell to his knees. It was impossible to ignore the obtrusive pieces of gravel that dug into his skin, so he gave into the pain instead. It was his penance, mortification of the flesh. Nicolò was well-versed in such matters. So he pressed himself down harder, letting the rocks leave their mark. They would heal, but at least Nicolò could rely on more than just his fingernails to give him the pain required to ground himself.
Irrationally, Nicolò once again wished that he was able to die. He wished for God to strike him down where he knelt. All of the shame, the utter humiliation… it festered inside of him like a wound. How could he face Yusuf again? Now that the other man knew of his status, and that Nicolò had lusted with such intensity that he had soiled his blanket? Nicolò was a man of thirty years, not a teenager with unbridled hormones. Even when he had been in his adolescence, he had never given in to his baser longings, even in dreams.
He removed the blanket from around his waist and plunged it into the river, hardly noticing the cold temperature of the water. His body emanated heat, and Nicolò swore that he could see how his skin steamed in the night air. He scrubbed the fabric until he could no longer feel his hands, forcing his mind to stay on nothing but the work. Nicolò shook as he laid the blanket out on the shore beside him. His hands must have been idle for too long, he thought. That is why they had begun to wander, stretching themselves out to grasp at sin.
Nicolò forced himself to his feet once more, however unsteady they may have been, and began to strip himself of his garments. There was no longer any steam, except for the hot puffs of air that rolled out from between his lips. With no buffer between him and the cold, Nicolò walked into the river. His arms stayed flat against his sides, his hands faced palm-out towards the depths. A flinch pulled at his face as the icy water explored his body, but he pushed himself until he was up to his ribs. This was only a necessity because he made it one, he reminded himself coldly, as harsh as the river he stood in. He cleansed himself with the same intensity he had used on the blanket, scrubbing at his skin until it was raw and pink. It was not enough, just as it had never been enough before. Water could only clean so much, after all. Nicolò knew that there were things in life that stained you, that left the body dirty in a way that not even God could wipe clean. It was not up to God to purify him of these sins. They could only be burnt out.
By the time Nicolò once again stood on the riverside, his lips had turned as blue as the sky. The chill was welcome, even if he knew it was only a prelude to what would come to him in the next few days. He had washed his clothes after he finished with himself, cleaning them against the rocks with such ferocity that he tore a hole in the hem of his linen tunic. Not wanting to wait for them to dry, Nicolò pulled the cloth back on after ringing out the majority of the water. They were damp and clung to his body in a way that made him wish he did not have one, but at least the wetness came from water and not himself.
The walk back to camp was a slow and torturous one. Nicolò had been relying on his unwashed state to mask his status, despite Yusuf’s comments and complaints about his hygiene. But seeing as hiding was no longer an option, and the cause of his reveal making it impossible to go without bathing, Nicolò felt barer than he had since he first met Yusuf. It had only been a few weeks since they first killed each other, though Nicolò’s perception of time was far too muddled to properly conclude anything.
Nicolò was met with a roaring fire as he approached their campsite. His heart had begun to feel like a throat in his chest, shuddering and gasping as it grew colder and colder, so nearly dropped all pretenses upon seeing the flame. He only held himself back when he saw Yusuf tending to it. The alpha did not notice him at first, more focused on the flames than his surroundings. Nicolò felt a shiver run down his spine. How at ease the other man was, how casual he sat despite his complete vulnerability. Nicolò never had the luxury of ease. He would not dream of it, even when he slept at Yusuf’s side with a broadsword lying next to him, close enough to kiss. But Yusuf seemed to be completely relaxed. Nicolò’s thoughts flooded with darkness. Anyone could sneak up on Yusuf in this state. It would be so easy to come up from behind, grab a fistful of his hair, and tug his head back. Even easier would be the sharp end of a blade, run clean across Yusuf’s throat. A bout of nausea seized Nicolò then, alongside the firm grip of terror. Neither of them had died by another man’s hand, besides each other of course. If another were to kill Yusuf, would he rise again? Or would he begin to decay, leaving Nicolò alone once more?
A whistle interrupted his ruminations. It came from Yusuf, who bore only a mildly irritated expression as he waved Nicolò closer to the fire. Nicolò’s approach was a cautious one, his movements not entirely unlike those of a skittish horse. But the fire was warm and inviting. And coupled with Yusuf’s equally warm and inviting scent, the temptation proved too much for Nicolò to resist. He found his spot opposite Yusuf, letting the flames reside between the two of them. His teeth still chattered, but the cold’s aching grip on his body was already beginning to loosen, and Nicolò was content with the small satisfaction.
He watched as Yusuf stood. The alpha did not spare him a second glance as he retreated into the confines of their canvas tent. Nicolò did not have the time to mourn the loss of his scent, because Yusuf reemerged almost immediately with one of their wool blankets in tow. Instead of taking his own place by the fire, the one he had been sitting in before, Yusuf walked towards Nicolò with an outstretched arm. An offering. Nicolò eyed the blanket with a great deal of skepticism, and despite the temperature, a flush of anger spread out upon his cheeks.
He met Yusuf’s gesture with a glare. He refused to be treated as something delicate, something breakable. There were expectations that came with being an omega, and if Yusuf intended to expect these from Nicolò, he would have another thing coming. One of the reasons why he took his vows as a priest was because of the protection it offered people of his status. Alpha, beta, omega- it did not matter. A priest was a priest, afforded the same respects across the line… Or at least in regards to how the public interacted with them. The inner workings of the clergy was a different story altogether.
“I do not need it.” It was the truth, or at least what Nicolò believed to be true. He could manage himself without the help of an alpha. Especially when the blanket in question was saturated with Yusuf’s scent. Perhaps Yusuf thought himself to be subtle, but Nicolò could see the truth. This was just a way of scenting him, of staking a semblance of claim over Nicolò.
“Just because we cannot die does not mean we must suffer.” Yusuf was sounding more irritated by the second, his patience beginning to wear thin. “Take it, Nicolò.”
Nicolò turned his face away in response. He heard a deep exhale come from Yusuf, and had to fight back the urge to scoff. The man had probably never been rejected by an omega before, Nicolò thought with a hint of bitterness. Probably never had an omega not want to wear his scent with pride. Yusuf was not an unattractive man, after all. There was a reason why he still crept into Nicolòs dreams, and why Nicolò only dreamt of heat when he would appear.
“If you want to freeze to death, it is your choice. But do so when you are alone. I have no intention to sit back and watch this…” Yusuf gestured towards Nicolò with his empty hand. “Masochistic display.”
In one swoop the blanket was wrapped around Nicolò, with both ends coming to rest on each of his shoulder blades. Nicolò looked up at Yusuf with a curse ready to fall from his lips but found himself at a loss for words when he saw the look of satisfaction on the alpha's face. Without speaking another word, Yusuf moved away from the now-swaddled omega and walked back to his side of the fire, leaving Nicolò to simply stare at him in disbelief.
At first, Nicolò wanted to throw the thing off of him entirely. But it was warm, and it smelt of safety and smoke and so very much of Yusuf that Nicolò had to fight the urge to tuck his head into it and fall asleep. He basked in the way it eased the chill in his bones, shutting his eyes against the heat from the fire and the comfort surrounding him. When he opened his eyes, they were far less aggressive, and far more shameful than they had been before.
“I am not an omega to be coddled.” His voice was merely a whisper, but Nicolò knew that Yusuf could hear him. “Not before and not now.” He watched as Yusuf’s brow pinched together, but he could not tell if it was from confusion or frustration. Perhaps a mix of both.
“Nicolò.” Yusuf began with a sigh. “You are freezing, still dripping from the river. The kindness I show you is not from an alpha to an omega. It is human kindness.” Nicolò frowned, tugging the blanket closer around himself as Yusuf spoke. “Besides, I suspected that you were an omega after our first night together. It would be strange if I only began to act on that knowledge now.”
Nicolò’s lips parted in confusion. He looked like a fish caught on a hook, unsure of what to do or say. “You knew?” He managed to get out, his voice little more than a croak.
Yusuf hummed in confirmation before tapping the side of his nose. “It was faint, but I have a good sense of smell. Your refusal to bathe confirmed my suspicions.”
There were a hundred thoughts and questions bouncing against the inside of Nicolò’s skull, yet only two were clear enough for him to speak on. “Yet you said nothing?"
“You were going to great lengths to conceal yourself and I did not want to make you uneasy by bringing it up." Yusuf gave Nicolo an almost apologetic look. "I believed that you would tell me in your own time, when you were ready."
The fire crackled between them as Nicolò took this new information in. The blanket around his shoulders weighed his body down not with heavy wool, but with the heaviness of guilt. His assumptions about the man had been grounded in his own past, not in Yusuf’s actions. Nicolò and Yusuf sat in front of the fire for a while longer. Whether it was for minutes or hours, Nicolò could not tell. But by the time Yusuf was smothering the embers, exhaustion had completely replaced the cold that previously ran through Nicolò’s veins, and he craved nothing more than to curl up inside their tent and succumb to it.
“Nicolò,” Nicolò looked up at Yusuf with sleep-heavy eyes. “We cannot die. Your status is hardly the most pressing matter.”
Nicolò let out a quick, shocking laugh- slapping one of his hands over his mouth to hide it a second too late. Yusuf sent him a grin before making his way over to their tent. He pulled back the tent flap and paused, turning to look over his shoulder. Their eyes met and Nicolò made a soft noise of astonishment as Yusuf sent him a wink, before disappearing inside. Nicolò did not wait to follow Yusuf in, the ghost of a smile tracing his lips.
The time by the fire had dried off his garments, and for that Nicolò was eternally grateful. His blanket had been left by the riverbank due to his own forgetfulness, but the thought of sleeping without one altogether made him cringe with distaste. After a moment of deliberation, Nicolò removed Yusuf’s blanket from around his shoulders, keeping it bundled in his arms and he laid down on his side. He spread it over himself afterward, making sure to keep a decent amount behind him. In the darkness of their tent, Nicolò could hardly make out Yusuf’s form, only the shine of his eyes. He watched those eyes until the alpha moved behind him, out of sight. The cold air bit at his skin as Yusuf pulled the blanket back and found his way under it. It was expected, but Yusuf did not come up behind him to share body heat as he usually did. Nicolò’s previous hesitations had vacated his body, pushed out by the need for warmth and rest. So he did not think twice before backing himself up into Yusuf’s chest. He felt as the alpha froze behind him, but it only lasted a moment. Soon Yusuf was fitting himself properly against Nicolò's back, one of his arms coming around Nicolò's waist to pull him closer. Nicolò exhaled softy, wiggled back a little more, and fell into sleep's deep embrace.