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A Learning Experience

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“Yusuf,” said Nicolò thoughtfully, some days after they had arrived in Damascus, “would you consider fucking me?”

“What?” said Yusuf, because after five years crossing and re-crossing the lands bordering the Roman sea, he and Nicolò had developed a trading language of their own – some Greek, some Arabic as Yusuf spoke it, some Latin, a lot of gesturing – but he did not think he could have understood that right.

“You know,” Nicolò said, and made some gestures that made his point very clear, actually.

Yusuf couldn’t do anything but frown at him. “Why?”

“It just seems like,” Nicolò said, flushing around the ears a little, “it is very commonplace in your lands, and I know you have not lain with anyone for sometime now, so I thought you might…”

“Yes, yes, it is all decadent heathens as far as the eye can see once you leave the borders of your Frankish lands.” Yusuf rolled his eyes; he had travelled with Nicolò long enough to have developed a clear picture of how the Franks thought about these things. “I will attempt to not be insulted by that.”

“I didn’t mean it –” Nicolò was flushed across his cheeks as well, now. “Fine, yes, sorry.”

“Look,” Yusuf said, “what I want to know is why you are asking me this now.”

“No reason,” his friend who was also his enemy and his brother in rising from the grave said, “except that we have no plans, and a room, and…” He trailed off.

“And?”

“I haven’t,” he said, a little desperately.

“For a long time? That makes –”

“Ever.”

What,” Yusuf said again, very intelligently, because Nicolò was close to his own age, which meant he was well past his thirtieth year, and very handsome, anyone reasonable would have to admit that, and clean enough in his habits – well, these days, anyway – and pleasant in his manner, when he was not trying to kill anybody. Actually, Yusuf had noted that he could be quite polite even in battle. Sometimes. The point was, there was absolutely no reason he should be a virgin. Yusuf would, if asked, not object to –

Nicolò was asking him. Fuck.

“Not on purpose,” Nicolò said, the words spilling out of him now, “that is, not recently, but before – before I had a reputation for being very devout, so I tried not to, and then when I was tempted I think people thought I did not truly understand what – and then there was the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and that was…and then I died. And then we were busy killing each other, and then I didn’t speak the language very well anywhere we travelled, and then – anyway, now, here we are. But never mind, I would not lose your regard as a brother for anything, so forget –”

“I’m not saying no,” Yusuf said hastily, “I am merely saying – you seemed to assume I would be interested, and I did not think I…why?”

Fine, if he thought about it, he had looked at Nicolò in the baths, and not found him displeasing; he had spoken low into his ear, when they were at ease, and enjoyed the way he flushed; but he had thought that if Nicolò was truly interested, he would have said something, long before now. For his own part, it was as Nicolò had just said; their truce was hard-won enough as it was. He would not upset it with ill-timed lust.

“I know you do bed men,” Nicolò said frankly, “and one always hears stories about – some men enjoy bedding virgins. So I hear. So...here is your chance?”

“Some men are idiots,” said Yusuf, leaning back on his elbows. “Or, no, there are two sorts of men like that. Some of them are idiots, and some of them don’t lust for people so much as power, and someone who has no notion of what goes on in the bedchamber…they are at a disadvantage. But, again, it is somewhat offensive that you thought I was either of those.”

“At a disadvantage?”

“It is hard to say yes or no and mean it if you don’t know what you are doing,” said Yusuf, who vividly remembered the early days of his marriage. He hadn’t exactly been untouched, but he had never bedded a woman, and he was sure Aisha had never bedded a man, and it had taken them some time to figure things out to both their satisfaction. It had been worth it, but it had taken intent, and patience. “It can be more complicated than perhaps it seems.”

“Then truly, never mind,” Nicolò said, now very red, and Yusuf remembered abruptly that he purely hated not knowing how to do things; would go very quiet and very intent, and practice until he had it right. He did it with weapons, and with words, and with food, and with Yusuf. It was how they had become friends as well as fellow travellers, really. It was very hard to avoid the friendship of someone who was trying with all his soul to do you good, even when you sometimes still wanted to kill him, and had.

“Nicolò,” he said, sitting up, feeling like a villain even though it was Nicolò who had started them down this path in the first place, and said several quite insulting things in the process. “I’m not saying no.”

“Oh.” Nicolò blinked at him, apparently taken aback by this sudden surrender. Yusuf rolled up onto his knees, so he was kneeling in front of him, and leant their foreheads together, putting his hands on Nicolò’s shoulders. Nicolò relaxed into that, something they had done before. He pressed a hesitant kiss to the corner of Yusuf’s mouth, which also was not new, and a feather-light one to his lips, which was. Yusuf let his mouth open under Nicolò’s, and it became quickly obvious that his inexperience extended to this, but that he was just as quick a study with it as anything else. He eased Nicolò back so they could lie down and keep kissing, bodies melting into each other, and really, this had been a very good idea. An excellent one, even.

“We can do whatever you want,” Nicolò murmured, his eyes bright, and it jolted Yusuf back to reality. “Do you even know what you’re offering?”

Nicolò rolled his eyes. “I’m not an innocent, I know what men do.”

“In theory,” Yusuf said.

“Rapidly less so,” Nicolò said, his lips pink and wet, pressing closer to Yusuf, and this wasn’t even the first time Yusuf had felt Nicolò’s cock hard against him – the latter part of that period when they had been trying very hard to kill each other finally had been occasionally…confusing – but it was the first time he’d felt it, so to speak, with intent.

“I know you know how to touch yourself. I’ve heard you, in the night.” Yusuf enjoyed the way Nicolò’s eyes went darker at that, leaving only a thin ring of grey-green iris. “Will you show me?”

“Touch myself?” Nicolò was trying not to smirk, and not quite managing it.

“You just said you weren’t an innocent,” Yusuf purred into his ear, and reached down to press his hand to Nicolò’s, palm to palm. Then he brought it up, slowly, to his own cock. They were both wearing clothes that could be rucked up around their waists to bare them to each other; as Nicolò wrapped his hand around Yusuf’s cock, Yusuf did just that.

Nicolò touched him almost meditatively at first, just exploring, and Yusuf let him; alright, very well, there was something about it that stoked hunger in him, knowing that Nicolò was learning this for the first time. Or, no, it was knowing that Nicolò was learning him. He petted the head of Nicolò’s cock in return, just light touches to keep him on edge. Nicolò moaned into his mouth, and ran his hand up and down Yusuf’s cock more firmly. Yusuf did the same, and he felt Nicolò smile as he realised what was being offered here.

Nicolò brought him to completion with his hand inexpertly but with a great deal of enthusiasm, and Yusuf did the same to Nicolò – that was, the same as far as enthusiasm went, he knew what he was doing. It was the kind of simple thing Yusuf hadn’t done since he’d been a boy, and if anybody had asked, right now, he wouldn’t have traded it for anything else. They lay there together, kissing lazily and touching each other, for what felt like hours; what finished it in the end was both of them drifting off into sleep, and then waking and needing very badly to wash, and then needing to find something to eat.

“I should have asked that of you a long time ago,” Nicolò said, his eyes hooded with satisfaction.

“I don’t know that I would have said yes, a long time ago,” Yusuf told him. Nicolò thought this over and then nodded. “But perhaps it was not such a bad thing that you asked now.”

“Perhaps not such a bad thing,” Nicolò repeated, mocking him, and Yusuf grinned.

*

A month or so later, on the road north through Seljuq territory, Yusuf was lying down with Nicolò one night, nuzzling the back of his neck and lazily half-hard, and it occurred to him he had never asked, so he said “Could I use your thighs?”

“For what?”

Yusuf rocked against him, more deliberately, and kissed the back of Nicolò’s neck.

“Mmmmm,” Nicolò said, “I…I am sorry, you are going to have to explain.”

“I thought you said –”

“Yes, well,” Nicolò sounded somewhat exasperated, “apparently you know something I do not, so –”

“It’s easier to demonstrate,” Yusuf said, and coaxed Nicolò to lift up his leg, and then close around him. “Yes, like that, Nicolò –”

He couldn’t help that first sweet thrust, into the cradle of Nicolò’s strong thighs, teasing at his balls. He felt Nicolò touch the tip of his cock as it emerged out the other side, curiously, and he groaned into Nicolò’s shoulder.

“I see.” Nicolò sounded breathless. “That does work better with demonstration. I would not have thought –” His breath hitched. “I would not have thought it was so pleasant from this end.”

Yusuf felt Nicolò‘s arm move as he stroked his own cock. Yusuf grabbed his elbow and pinned it. Nicolò, though he never would have admitted it, whimpered.

“Wait and you can do the same,” he said, already moving faster, riding on the sparking heat of taking Nicolò like this, and the thought of Nicolò doing the same to him after he was spent. “I think you’ll like it.”

Nicolò called him something very rude in his native tongue, but kept his legs tucked, and arched back into Yusuf; that was what did it for Yusuf in the end, that and Nicolò saying his name, among all the insults.

“If you have any more clever ideas like this,” Nicolò said afterwards, as he fucked Yusuf’s thighs and mouthed along his shoulder, “please, tell me them.”

“I can’t call it my clever idea,” Yusuf said, drunk with pleasure, playing with the head of Nicolò’s cock every time it peeked out; it really was lovely. “There have been – ah – many lovers who have done it before us.”

“Between the two of us, it was your idea, though,” said Nicolò, kissing Yusuf’s ear. He was smiling. Yusuf liked to think it was because he had called them lovers.

*

Some time after that, in Edessa, as it happened, Nicolò rolled over and put himself between Yusuf’s legs, and said very seriously “Perhaps you do not like it, but would you mind if I tried…with my mouth?” and Yusuf dug the fingernails of his left hand into his palm, just in case this was a particularly vivid dream.

“I didn’t want to – in case you didn’t want to,” he said, and Nicolò blinked at him in confusion, until he suddenly laughed and kissed the tender flesh on the inside of Yusuf’s thigh. Yusuf sucked in a breath.

He kissed his way up towards the crease of Yusuf’s leg, Yusuf drawing his other leg up and sighing, and then stopped; Yusuf lifted his head to see Nicolò contemplating his cock with a frown.

“Wait,” he said, as little as he wanted to. “You’ve never had anybody…”

“We talked about this,” Nicolò said, waspishly. “That doesn’t mean I –”

“I think, actually, it would be better,” Yusuf said, and reluctantly sat up to rearrange them. “There is a little bit of an art to it.”

“I really don’t mind –”

“I insist,” Yusuf said, his mouth starting to water as he lowered himself to the same position, relative to Nicolò, that Nicolò had occupied for him. He’d forgotten how long it had been. He knew Nicolò’s cock quite well by now; it was lovely, long and lean and as pretty as Nicolò, and now the thought had been raised he couldn’t wait to get it in his mouth.

“Well if you insist,” said Nicolò, and then stopped talking when Yusuf pressed a kiss to the base of him, just above his balls. “Oh. Oh, I –”

“Let me work,” Yusuf said, and gave it all the attention he had wanted to for – well, he could not say, but some long while now. Open-mouthed kisses first, and then long licks, feeling it twitch, hearing Nicolò’s panting breaths, before he took it properly in his mouth. Nicolò’s hips jerked up, as he had expected; Yusuf didn’t mind. He played for a while longer before letting Nicolò start to fuck his mouth in earnest, all unthinking – innocence was not the right word, just unthinking. Nicolò’s moans started to rise in pitch, and that was when he pulled back.

Nicolò made a noise of protest; Yusuf waited, and made eye contact with him.

“You see,” he said, giving Nicolò’s wet and eager cock a few strokes with his hand, because he wasn’t heartless, “it’s hard not to fuck someone’s mouth, when they’re doing that, but you shouldn’t unless they tell you they like it.”

“Do you –”

“I like it a lot,” Yusuf said, truthfully, grinning and pressing a kiss to Nicolò’s tip. His cock twitched, leaking.

Nicolò let out a frustrated hiss. “Then why did you stop?”

“Because now I know you’ll always remember what I said.” Yusuf waited until Nicolò opened his mouth to respond to that, and then took him back in, all the way to the root. Nicolò thrust up, once, twice, gasping and spilling; Yusuf couldn’t breathe for a second and didn’t care.

“I hate you,” Nicolò said weakly, when Yusuf crawled back up next to him. “I don’t think I can do that.”

“No, I don’t expect you to,” said Yusuf. “You don’t have to do it at all, if you don’t want to.”

Nicolò traced a finger over Yusuf’s lips. They felt swollen. He nipped at Nicolò’s fingertip; Nicolò smiled. “You know, spilling in someone’s mouth, that leads to a much worse penance than putting your mouth on someone.”

“Your penances are very odd,” sad Yusuf, who truly could not understand why you would say prayers to atone when you could be doing something useful for others.

“You cannot imagine how much ink is spilled on them, and I begin to suspect, pointlessly,” said Nicolò. “Now – I don’t suppose you would still like me to make the attempt?” He reached down and found Yusuf more than eager; he had almost come from what they had just done.

“Use your hand as well,” Yusuf said, kissing him. “It will be easier.”

“I insist,” Nicolò said, licking into his mouth as if chasing the taste of himself. He took Yusuf into his mouth carefully, using his hand like Yusuf had suggested, going around the head like he was making an inspection of it. Yusuf was lost as soon as he took him fully in his mouth, too keyed up.

“Hmm,” said Nicolò afterwards, licking his lips. “I feel like I still have some things to learn.”

“I could perhaps be persuaded to assist you,” Yusuf said, solemnly, and felt an absurd rush of happiness when they both laughed.

*

Yusuf couldn’t say he had planned to introduce Nicolò to the joys of fucking another man up the arse, although he had not not been thinking of it. It was merely that when he set aside a vial of oil, he did not plan. When he went to the baths and cleaned himself very thoroughly, he did not plan. It was only when, that night, Nicolò was practicing the fine art of cocksucking on him – he had improved very quickly and Yusuf was reaping the benefits of his own excellent work as a teacher – and Yusuf hummed and said “You could use your fingers, I’d like that,” and Nicolò lifted his head and said “What do you mean? Am I not doing that?” that Yusuf realised he had not ever discussed the prospect with Nicolò.

“No,” Yusuf said, flushing for some reason, even though what did he have to be embarrassed about, with Nicolò? “I meant – inside me.”

Nicolò bit his lip and said, quietly, “Ah, I was not sure you did that,” and Yusuf said “But of course you do not –” and Nicolò interrupted him, still quiet, but in the way he was when he was holding down some great emotion. “No, no, I…tell me. Please.”

Yusuf raised his eyebrows and said “Is this something you have been wanting to try?”

Nicolò smiled at him, like a wolf, and said “Perhaps.” Yusuf felt his stomach do an unexpected flip at the idea of Nicolò – wanting things, like this. It was not a bad feeling.

It was strangely arousing to talk Nicolò through this; nothing like giving him instructions. Nicolò listened, and was careful, and did as he wanted. He spent a long time sucking Yusuf and slowly working just one finger in and out, and then a longer time scissoring with two, still slow, still careful, making Yusuf feel like he was listening to every heartbeat. When he crooked his fingers up and brushed across the sweet spot inside, Yusuf sobbed. Nicolò froze.

“No, it’s not…” Yusuf clutched at the blankets with the hand that wasn’t holding up a leg. “Do that again.”

“Like this?” Nicolò said, deliberately pressing this time, and Yusuf rocked his hips, chasing it.

“Yes, yes.”

“Hmm,” Nicolò said, and stroked across this time, feeling it, while Yusuf shook and tried to find the coherency to tell him what was going on. He didn’t manage it before Nicolò put his mouth back on his cock and he came, helpless, blind with it.

Nicolò fingered him through it, and beyond into oversensitivity. Yusuf caught a hazy glimpse of his thoughtful expression, the way the corner of his mouth curled, the heat in his eyes.

“That, I,” Yusuf said, nothing letting up. “Enough.”

“Are you sure?” Nicolò said, very low. Yusuf was still hard.

“No,” Yusuf whispered, feeling like he had entirely lost control of this and wondering why he’d ever thought he had control in the first place. He spilled again into Nicolò’s mouth a very little while later, while Nicolò worked his fingers in and out.

“You are making a very good case for this,” Nicolò said, voice still low with amusement. “So you know.”

Yusuf gritted his teeth. “Stop playing around down there and fuck me.”

“Since you are asking so nicely,” Nicolò agreed, his eyes nearly black. Yusuf found the energy somewhere to hold both his legs up against himself; Nicolò sank in as slowly as he’d fingered Yusuf earlier, achingly careful. Yusuf didn’t think he could come again, but it was good anyway. Nicolò above him, Nicolò inside him, as deep as he could be, his beautiful face gone taut with concentration, speeding up as he gained confidence until every thrust shook Yusuf. He didn’t last very long, or maybe he did. Yusuf wasn’t keeping good track of time right now.

Nicolò said Yusuf’s name a lot, at the end. Yusuf would have found it flattering if he’d had enough intelligence left to think.

“That was, uh,” Nicolò said, afterwards, as they both lay there exhausted. “Not what I expected.”

“In what way?” Yusuf asked. He was going to fall asleep any minute, and wake up regretting having not cleaned himself.

“I don’t know,” Nicolò said, pillowing his head on Yusuf’s shoulder. “It was good, it was very good, but mostly…I liked how close we were. Like we were one, for a moment.”

“Yes,” Yusuf agreed drowsily, turning to kiss Nicolò on the forehead, “and now I am going to teach you one last thing, which is that it is polite to bring your partner a wet rag, after.”

“I will see what I can do,” Nicolò said, kissing Yusuf just under his jaw, where his beard ended, and climbing to his feet.

*

They made their way slowly towards Constantinople, a destination no more meaningful than any other; taking work guarding traders for the last part of the journey left them with little time alone together, let alone for any bedroom pleasures. When they finally arrived in the city, they spent a long time in the baths, getting rid of all the dust of travel, and then slept for more than half a day. Yusuf woke up holding Nicolò, with Nicolò facing the door, as they so often did now when they could sleep together, and not keep watches.

Yusuf amused himself by planting slow kisses along Nicolò’s broad shoulders, for the pure pleasure of it. Nicolò woke up some little time later, turning over, and they kissed lazily.

“I think I would like it,” Nicolò said amiably, “if you fucked me for once.” He had had Yusuf’s fingers a time or two, now, besides fucking Yusuf; he knew what he was asking.

“Mmmm,” Yusuf said, feeling the heat rise between them slowly, slowly, lapping at them like the seas on either side of the city. “I think I would like that, too.”

That was how it went; slowly, slowly, nothing unexpected, everything somehow familiar even though they hadn’t done this, precisely, before. Yusuf put Nicolò on his knees, because it would be easiest. It was also a very good position for fucking someone hard and deep, making them feel it in their throat, but today was a day for gentle rocking, barely pulling out at all, stopping at times to admire the arch of Nicolò’s back, to wrap a hand around the curve of his thigh. Nicolò came with a sigh, long and luxurious, and Yusuf followed him, almost surprised that it was over.

They cleaned themselves up and went out to find something to eat. They weren’t sure where they were going next. Yusuf had not been to Constantinople since he was a boy on his first trading journey, long ago. Nicolò had not been since he had passed through carrying the cross and set on Jerusalem. Yusuf thought it might be nice to see the city. It was cosmopolitan; they both spoke enough Greek to get by; it would be safe enough. Nicolò said he wanted to visit the church of Saint Sophia, which was famed. The sun was shining on the waters of the Bosphorus, and the wind was gentle. It was a quiet, lovely day.

“You know what is strange,” Nicolò said that evening. “I feel…not at all different.”

“Different from what?” Yusuf said, not following. Nicolò waggled his eyebrows at him, grinning. Yusuf caught his meaning.

“Oh, that. Should you?” Yusuf scratched his beard. “You have hardly been celibate these last – what, six months?”

“No, probably not,” Nicolò agreed. “Not bursting into flames when I entered the church, with all my unrepented sins, should have been the clue there.”

“I can think of a few of your sins, but the last six months are remarkably free of them.”

Nicolò gave him a pained grimace. Well; it was so, that was all. “That is…not unfair.”

“I am always fair,” said Yusuf, which was only mostly true. “Nicolò – it is merely that when you have killed me as many times as you have, and the same in return, it is very hard to think that a few fucks is what might make you impure.”

“Thank you,” Nicolò said. “I think. I will need to pray upon that.”

“Mmmmm,” said Yusuf, not knowing how to respond, and suddenly feeling like perhaps he would have to do the same. “I think the important thing is that now if anybody does want to bed you, you will know exactly what to do.”

Nicolò stared at him unblinking for so long that Yusuf began to realise he might have said the wrong thing.

“Is that what you think this,” Nicolò gestured between them, “was about?”

Yusuf thought very carefully before he opened his mouth. He owed Nicolò that. “I think…I know what I would like it to be, and also that you made me no promises, and asked me for one thing, and one thing only.”

Nicolò got up and came over to him, putting a hand under his chin.

“Yusuf, my heart,” he said very tenderly, “when I told you I liked it when we fucked because it felt like we were one, what did you think that meant?”

“People say all sorts of stupid things, at moments like that,” said Yusuf, looking up into his impossible love’s eyes. “Just like I seem to be saying very stupid things, right now. Forgive me.”

“There isn’t anything to forgive,” Nicolò said, and knelt down so that they could lean together, forehead against forehead. “But. Yusuf.”

“It frightens me,” Yusuf confessed, into the quiet space between them, “how much you are to me now, and that it’s you. After all that has gone before.”

“I want anything I can have of you,” said Nicolò. “Everything. I’m not sure it’s fair. I know it is undeserved.”

“You don’t have anything of me I haven’t been willing to give.” Yusuf took Nicolò’s hands in his. “Anything at all.”

Nicolò smiled, then, and leaned back. “I am sure it was so terribly difficult for you, when I came to you and said that I needed you to do the very great favour of fucking me.”

“It was,” said Yusuf, back on surer ground. “Extremely difficult. You didn’t know anything. Think of all the effort I have put in. I have never had so great a trial of my patience.” He punctuated that by kissing Nicolò, sweet and quick.

“Well, I am afraid I may continue to be such a trial,” Nicolò said, his eyes dancing, and it was the best decision of their lives together so far that they had come to Constantinople, Yusuf decided, all at once; the best thing they ever could have done.