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extreme songs that told me

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The first time Aaron saw someone having sex, he was standing outside a brothel in Kandahar and his name was still Kenneth. Some of his buddies from the unit liked to go there because it was cheap but the women got supplies of condoms pretty regularly from an NGO. They brought Kenneth along to stand guard, to make sure that it was safe in more ways than one. Aaron remembered that the noises had startled him the first few times: the bass grunts of the men as they rushed to finish before they had to head back to base, the occasional stifled moan of a woman. Kenneth never went inside: never invited, never brave enough to just walk in himself. He stood out in the courtyard in the hot sun instead. He was standing there on the day when one of the women emerged, her body pushing the curtain in the doorway to one side for long enough that Kenneth caught a glimpse of spread, dangling legs and a furiously pumping, shockingly pale ass.

Kenneth had felt aroused and angry and thoroughly, bewilderingly confused all at once, like being stabbed in the gut with something sharp and hot enough to cauterise. He'd spent the rest of the hour there patrolling the perimeter of the compound and keeping time with his steps, one, two, three, four, over and over, mumbling to himself to block the noises still coming from the buildings. It had been hard not to put his hands over his ears. When they left, he'd been relieved, and the next time a visit had been proposed, Kenneth had mutely shook his head no, even though the others had laughed at him and said he wasn't much use as a unit guard dog after all.

Aaron had known it would be different with Marta, that being with her wasn't going to be the same as Kandahar, or like any of the porn he'd seen since with glossy, pruned women who moaned unconvincingly but still sounded like they were being hurt. This time he was invited; this time he was brave enough to ask, even though his hands shook when he opened the condom wrapper, even though he was a 31-year-old virgin and Marta was lying there in bed with him like he knew what the hell he was doing.

He just hadn't anticipated all the ways in which it was going to be different. Part of it was Marta, of course, right there with him and nothing passive about the way she pointed him firmly in the direction of her clit. Part of it was just being that close to another person with no expectation of violence, no need to catalogue vulnerabilities or blind spots. But there were so many things Aaron had never expected: that the tip of Marta's nose and the rise of her shoulders would be reddened a little with sunburn, that she'd smell of sweat and sharp arousal, that the stubble of her no-longer-waxed legs would prickle against his own or that the skin of her heels would be rough and callused when she dug them into the backs of his thighs. The sensations came to him in sudden jolts, shocks, as if each occurrence were a discrete event. Here her hands pressed against his back, his ass; there she keened when he set his teeth against her shoulder blade.

But most of all, he hadn't thought that there would be laughter—laughter that didn't mock him, that didn't mean poor little Kenny Kitsom, not even good enough for a fuck. Marta treated sex like a cross between a team sport and a private celebration. She worked the two of them in tandem, meeting each thrust of his like a challenge, and she was breathless with exultation when he made her come, first with his fingers and then with his mouth. He was clumsy and his jaw ached and she beamed at him like they were making something brand new right there, no blues or greens required.

He hadn't thought that he'd like her hand just as much as her mouth, or the taste of her on his lips, or how she looked backlit by the sun, straddling him and moving.

He hadn't expected she'd lie there with him afterwards, her arm slung over his waist and a soft sound in the back of her throat when he pressed a kiss to the fall of her hair.

He hadn't thought she'd stay.