“So what do you suggest, my heathen?”
Rook allowed himself a brief smile at the possessive, before he gave his mind over entirely to the matter at hand.
Weeding out pockets of rebels was never pleasant, and so was best done quickly and neatly. The longer and more complex the strategy, the more of a mess they would have on their hands. That basic rule did not change from one setting to another. He analyzed swiftly, then went over it all twice more, calculating, mapping, and plotting rapidly in his head. It should be a fairly simple scuffle. Yes. He raked his eyes over the sands, the assembled soldiers, the traces of the hidden Jackal rebels, accounting for every possibility, every nuance. His blood thrummed with it, with doing what he had been born and raised to do, and he could not help but be happy all over again that they had thought to include him in cleaning out the rebel bands scattered around the sands.
Yes…nodding to himself, strategy finalized, he looked up just in time to meet Noor’s inquisitive gaze. He motioned to Noor with rapid hand signals, indicating who should go where, how they should attack, and when all should happen. Noor nodded, and smiled briefly–in affection and approval, and to have those two things made Rook the happiest man in the world.
After that, the world turned into seeming chaos, as the soldiers drew out and attacked the rebels, men fighting ruthlessly back and forth across the dunes. Watching from on high, as a strategist always should, Rook did not see chaos–to his eyes, it was a living chess board, an intricate game, save that he would never hold a game so precious as he did these battles, these men who relied upon him to keep them alive as best he was able while they did what must be done.
It helped that the remaining, rebellious Jackals were ridiculously easy to predict, and trapped as they were it was only easier still. Nothing they did surprised him, not even the twelve or so who came up behind him with every intention of taking out the strategist–a smart move, for an army that could not be properly manuevered was a useless army. But he was always leagues ahead of piddling rebels trapped in a sandbed. What were these compared to coordinating armadas, and fighting whole countries?
Just as he had planned, the ambush was met in plenty of time by several royal soldiers, led by Noor, who had come up the rise to meet him and encountered the would-be ambush. After that, the battle concluded in a matter of seconds.
Perfect. There was nothing like doing his job well, perfectly–and for the man who mattered most to him.
He turned to smile at Noor, eager to share the victory, perhaps steal a kiss–and faltered as he saw Noor looking at him with hard, cold anger.
“Secure the prisoners,” Noor said to his men, jerking his gaze away from Rook. Every line of his body, every motion, screamed soldier–and not even a single twitch indicated lover.
Rook felt lost. Hurt. Completely crushed. His first real battle, if only a minor skirmish, with Noor and he had somehow screwed it up so badly that Noor could not even bear to speak to him.
Years of habit allowed him to hide it all, a lifetime of covering misery letting him bury it deep until he was alone. He went over the skirmish again and again, looking for the flaw in it, some error he had made. Noor had been so pleased with him when he had laid it all out. When in the skirmish had things gone so wrong? He analyzed and reanalyzed all the way back to the palace, but could find nothing that would have angered Noor so much.
He had not risked anyone’s life unduly, only the rebels had suffered casualties, no one had escaped. The strategy had been simple, straightforward, with not even a hint of recklessness. It had lasted only three minutes longer than he had anticipated, but still well within his margins of error. Everything had gone perfectly. Rarely did strategies work so flawlessly, even his. He could count on one hand the number of times his strategies had not required adjustment halfway through a battle, simply because things were always more complex once the battle began.
No small part of the success of this one was simply his level of caring–Noor was his lover, and these men he liked to think were becoming his comrades, even his friends. He felt at home, and he wanted to help protect that home, and such things always made a man fight better, even a strategist.
At least…he had felt at home. Now he felt lost at sea–lost in the sands, rather. He looekd at Noor from the corner of his eye, hoping…but Noor was completely turned away from him as they rode, ignoring him and definitely still furious.
He never should have gotten so comfortable and over-confident in his place, with that feeling of belonging. By n ow, he should know better than to think it would last. One stupid mistake he could not figure out, and Noor was acting like he didn’t exist.
By the time they reached the palace, all hew anted was to find his room and hide indefinitely. Dismounting, heavy-hearted and anxious, he approached Noor. “Uh, Noor–”
“We will speak later,” Noor said curtly, cutting him off, then turned and strode away, tending to the prisoners and his men.
Rook stared after him for a moment, then turned in the opposite direction and made his way to their room. Halfway there, however, uncertainty struck him. Was it their room? He had too easily fallen into thinking so, since it was where they spent most of their time when they had a chance to be alone together. But Noor had never really said, he realized suddenly, and while six months was a record for him in relationships, to Noor it must be a trifling amount of time. Just because he had lately been thinking it would be nice not to have to go all the way to his own room for his things, didn’t mean Noor had similiar thoughts. He realized abruptly just how much he had unwittingly been taking for granted, simply because being with Noor made him so happy.
Now Noor was too angry to even look at him.
He stopped in the hallway, feeling wretched and lost and confused and he hated that most of all because he should know why Noor was so angry but damned if he could puzzle out the mistake he had made, when everything had gone perfectly.
Turning sharply to the left, he walked toward his own now seldom-used room. It looked…small and cluttered and flat. Unappealing. None of Noor’s things were spread about, the scents of steel and leather and sweet-scented oil were lacking. It reminded him far too much of life before Noor, and suddenly he had no idea how he would ever go back to it, if that’s what he was forced to do.
But, surely he was overreacting. They had disagreed before, all lovers did from time to time. Noor had never been this angry before, though–he had never simply ignored Rook, and not kissed him at some point, and dismissed him so coldly.
Grimacing, he stripped off his clothes and pulled on a bathing robe, then trudged to the nearest bathing room. When he returned, he felt better in body, but still completely wretched in mind and soul. He supposed he would suffer until Noor deigned to speak to him. Rook sighed, and rifled through his trunks for clean clothes, trying hard not to think about the way he had thought they would be spending their evening after a victory.
Dressed, he had absolutely nothing to do. Sitting down at his little, long neglected table, he set up an old chessboard and mechanically moved the pieces, playing both sides, not really caring or paying attention to what he was doing. He wondered when Noor intended to speak to him? Perhaps he should have gone to Noor’s room, he thought suddenly. Would Noor look for him here?
Or would he simply not care, and wait for Rook to show up at some point?
Propping his head in one hand, he knocked all the chess pieces over and set them up again–and jumped, knocking them all over the floor, when his door abruptly slammed open.
Noor closed it more calmly, but the calm almost seemed worse than the brief burst of temper.
Rook stared at him, slowly standing, hating that Noor still looked so damned handsome and sexy and perfect when he did not even know that Noor still wanted him. He waited miserably to hear where he had failed, flinching slightly as Noor drew close.
“Why are you in here?” Noor demanded.
“I–I was not certain where else to go,” Rook replied, only growing more confused when Noor got angrier.
“Did you forget we have a room?” Noor demanded. “Or do you truly care so little about us?”
Anger stirred in Rook for the first time. “Of course I care,” he snapped. “You are the one who has ignored and rebuffed me ever since the skirmish–where was I supposed to go? To my lover’s room, when that lover will have nothing to do with me? Go bury your head in the sand!”
Noor snarled something indistinct and moved almost faster than Rook could follow–to fast for him to get out of the way, and Rook oofed as he was dumped unceremoniously down upon the bed.
“Damn it, Noor–”
“Be quiet, my heathen,” Noor ordered. “The only reason I am not throttling you, is that I sense you have not the slightest idea why I’m angry.”
Rook wilted beneath the words, though he did not entirely miss that ‘my heathen.’ “I don’t. I just know I looked for you smile, for your kiss, and all I got was rejection.”
Noor went still, dismay and guilt flashing across his face. He followed Rook onto the bed, pinning his arms, and took his mouth in a bruising kiss, not breaking it until Rook whimpered. “I am sorry, my heathen. That I should not have done. My anger and fear blinded me too much, I fear.”
“Fear?” Rook asked, a bit more steady with his lips still throbbing from that kiss. Surely, with a kiss like that, Noor had no intention of walking away? “I still do not understand in the slighest.” He frowned and shifted as Noor moved, adjusting his position on the bed, trying to get more comfortable–faltering briefly as he saw the strip of cloth Noor drew from the depths of his robe. “Noor–”
Noor said nothing, simply covered his eyes and laid him gently back down upon the bed. “I am angry, my heathen, because you seem to have no care whatsoever for your own life–for the fact that I value your life greatly.”
Rook shifted restlessly, and attempted to sit up, but only found himself pushed back down. He shivered despite himself as calloused hands divested him of his clothes, stroked his skin…and bound his arms over his head. The fingers and breath upon hiis bared skin made Rook shiver and trembled, breath catching at the mouth which grazed his throat, his jaw, before it finally took his in another searing kiss.
“I thought, my too-clever strategist, that you were well out of harm’s way. It was a nasty shock to see you seconds from an ambush–and worse still to realize that you knew it was going to happen, and put yourself precisely where they would find you, and did not care at all that if something had gone slighty wrong, I would have lost you.”
“But–” Rook’s words were momentarily cut off by a sharp nip to his shoulder, and it took him a moment to regain his senses–senses that were fast becoming completley useless, as Noor’s hands explored with increasing thoroughness. “It was part of the strategy–”
Noor bit him again, making Rook jerk. “You neglected to inform me that you would be setting yourself up for bait.”
Rook frowned. “It wasn’t necessary.”
“If my lover is going to put himself in such danger,” Noor said sharply, “it is most certainly necessary that I know.”
“I…didn’t think about it,” Rook said, twisting and jerking and trying to get free of the maddening hands and mouth that he could not see, could not anticipate. “My job was to ensure you won the skirmish. That was my only thought. It went precisely as planned–I was in no more danger than anyone else, Noor. It’s not fair to be mad at me for putting my life at risk, when I must watch you do it nearly every day.”
Oil slick fingers stroked his skin from chest to groin, then wrapped around his cock and stroked hard, scattering Rook’s every thought, making him writhe and gasp and plead.
Then the hand was gone, leaving him cursing rather than begging, and hadn’t they been arguing a moment ago?
In the next moment, that thought slipped away as well, as slick fingers pushed inside him, slowly and carefully at first, but rapidly increasing in fervor. Rook panted, pulled at his bound arms, head moving back and forth as he tried in every way to get more and now.
A hard kiss was pressed to his mouth, not quite enough to satisfy. Then Noor was pushing his legs even further apart, fingers slick with the warm, sweet-scented oil. Rook groaned loud and long as Noor finally pushed his way inside. “Noor–”
Noor kissed him again, then began to move precisly as Rook wanted–fast and hard and deep, making him feel every pull and thrust, every ripple of muscle, the feel of the blankets shifting beneath him, sticking where sweat soaked them, the hands on his hips tight enough he would not be surprised to find faint bruises in the morning and he would not mind at all because it was Noor, who still wanted him–
Rook came hard and sudden, breath momentarily stolen, and he only hazily felt it as Noor found release as well.
He might have whimperd as Noor withdrew, then settled alongside him, but he couldn’t be certain. All he really cared about was Noor holding him, petting him, brushing a soft kiss across his mouth. “My heathen, you are no soldier. There are very good reasons for this, though I was shamefully slow to realize that. Those reasons alone are enough that I could and should forbid you from making yourself a target in such fashion–as a General of the Great Desert. But, I wish more that you would not do so, or at least inform me when you feel you must do so. As I said, the only thing worse than thinking I might not reach you in time, was realizing you meant to be there. Your life is precious to me, heathen, I would not have you treat it carelessly.”
“Untie me,” Rook asked.
Noor immediatley obeyed, freeing his wrists and rubbing the stiffness from them.
Pulling them free, Rook removed the blindfold himself, blinking until his vision cleared. He met Noor’s eyes, lightly touching his fingers to Noor’s cheek. “I did not see it that way. I only acted as a strategist. I wanted to…I just wanted to prove my worth. I never meant to alarm you. Such things are simply part of the battle, one element of crafting a winning strategy.”
“Next time tell me every part of the plan,” Noor replied. “And I am sorry for ignoring you.”
Rook nodded, in response to both statements, and tugged him in for another kiss, making noises of approval and encouragement when one bled into another, bled into many.
He frowned as Noor withdrew, displeased the kisses had stopped.
Noor chuckled, and kissed him again briefly before sitting up. “As content as I am to stay here with you, my heathen, I ordered dinner brought to our room and I think we could both use the meal.” He sighed. “Did you really think you could not go there?”
“You’ve never been so cold before,” Rook replied, standing and moving around the room to find his discarded clothing. “I didn’t know if going to your room was…” He shrugged, not quite able to say ‘still allowed’ even if now it seemed clear he had just been overreacting.
“Our room,” Noor corrected, yanking him back down, so that Rook was straddled across his lap, forcing them to press together in delightfully distracting ways. “Unless you do not like it there? We could probably move elsewhere. Perhaps a larger room is what you require? You do have a great deal more in the way of belongings than me, though that means you have plenty of space to put your things with mine.”
Rook drew a sharp breath in surprise. “You wouldn’t mind if I moved my things to your room?”
Noor made a growling sort of noise, and abruptly forced them both to their feet. “When will you get it through that pretty heathen head of yours, Rook, that you are mine? Even when I want to throttle you. I think I shall have to simply keep you tied up in our bed until you accept it.”
Rook ducked his head to hide a happy smile, but fingers capture his chin and forced his head back up. His smile turned more playful as he Noor’s eyes. “That might take a long time.”
Making that noise again, Noor pushed him toward his clothes and said, “Then I suggest we hurry up and get started, my heathen.”
“Yes, my savage,” Rook replied, and moved hastily to obey.