Sohran wandered around the house while talking business with Ali over the phone, opened the kitchen cupboards, and glanced in at the pitiful contents of the fridge. He leaned against the kitchen sink and stared into the strip of garden warmed by the last of the afternoon sun, while imagining Ali in a night-lit private hospital room. He pushed off from the sink and returned down the main hallway, but passed by his own room, and into Ali's at the end of the hallway.
He'd kept the blinds in Ali's room down, not wanting to bother with them every morning and night. In the dimmed afternoon light, the tidy room with its European minimalist design, hard edges and colourless decor reminded him of an empty hotel room. He'd been keeping it dusted in between the cleaners' fortnightly visit as part of his regular chores, but he hadn't washed the bedding. He could still find Ali's scent when he dropped onto the duvet.
"What's the matter with you?" Ali said.
"Tired. We had a half-day, but I just got in because I needed to get some studying done at the library." Since Ali had been well enough to stay lucid and become focused on work again like it was all that mattered, Sohran had tried to resettle into his own pace. He had a lot of studying to do to keep his lycée grades up for the bac.
"Studying at the library, huh? Learn anything interesting you'd like to share?" Ali sounded amused—the return of his humour.
"I'm serious," Sohran grumbled, but some of the tension that had settled in his chest ever since Ali was hospitalized softened.
"Good, I know I didn't raise a slacker. Of course you know better than to go wild and skip lycée just because I'm not around," Ali said.
"Yes, sir." Ali's hospital slipper would find his face somehow, regardless of the distance, if he heard that Sohran was being a little shit and ruining his education.
Sohran hadn't seen Ali at all since the very beginning when he'd still been in an induced coma. He'd lurked in the background while Ali's parents and daughters discussed with the doctor and cried because they couldn't even go in to hold his hands. They didn't know the details of how this had happened because the private security company was still keeping things confidential. However, that was less important than knowing that Ali would get better. And Sohran had been mostly okay with Ali keeping him away once he was awake, if that's what he needed.
"So has that shrimp Yury been keeping you company?"
"He's been on a job for a while, I don't know where."
"Such a hard worker, isn't he? No wonder you sound frustrated."
"I'm not frustrated," Sohran said, sounding exactly as denied.
Ali hummed. "My poor Sohran. Haven't you been looking after yourself properly?"
Sohran's breath rasped through his lips. No-one else could call his name and make him feel the same. As for his frustration, most days he had a quick no-frills wank or two—nothing like satisfying, just enough to settle his nerves a bit. But he skirted the innuendo. "I'm still cooking properly. It's not so different from when you're away for weeks on a job, you know. Though there're always leftovers because I'm better at cooking for more people."
"My God, I'd divorce right now for a plate of your pomegranate rice and Ma's meatballs."
"Getting that combination is more a problem of all three of us being in different countries."
While they talked, Sohran soaked up the low hum of Ali's voice. Hearing him now, Sohran wanted to see with his own eyes the return of Ali's confident face and sharp eyes that could make him feel so small, and yet safe in the most difficult situations.
Ali had always been a lion of a man, which was even more apt when seeing his thick gold-copper hair and tan skin with a fine pattern of freckles that Sohran didn't notice properly until he was close enough to touch—when he had Ali's skin under his hands, or when he peeked out blearily through his eyelashes while they kissed.
"Do you think we can go to Hawler again this summer?" Sohran said.
"Maybe. Depends on work. Anyway, you could go on your own. Ma's always happy to have you around, says you're such a helpful boy, even if you're shy and quiet."
"Yeah, but it's not the same without you," Sohran said with a touch of squirming in his gut.
"What, you need me to hold your hand while Ma and Pa spoil you? Anyway, it's like we were there just last month. People are still sending me photos. Aunt Ayşe sent me some more pics of you that she probably squeezed out of your cousins' Instafacepage-thingy accounts. You brats got up to a lot, huh? Splashing around at Bexal Falls, getting your face all sticky with melon juice and sweat."
Sohran felt the colour in his cheeks, but he said, "Did you hear how I got yoghurt drink spilled on my jeans and had to go around town with that stain until we got home?"
"Sure did. There're pics of that too. And that open shirt didn't cover your nipples from peeking out the sides of your singlet. But you should know that by now."
"Aren't you glad I'm a boy?"
Ali chuckled brightly. "But what's the point of showing everyone your lewd little nipples when I haven't made them all hot and swollen? Were you doing that for yourself every night?"
"You think I could with cousins Qasim and Anwar in the same room?"
"I know you're so shy, you wouldn't. But you wanted to. You wanted to come to my room even though Uncle Jamal was sleeping there too. He would've fainted seeing that side of serious little Sohran, slim little Sohran—the way you can roll your hips, moaning for what you want." Ali's rough-edged murmur soaked into his ears.
It embarrassed Sohran to hear those things put into words. It made his body remember—all the times he'd been fucked deep, Ali thrusting into him from below, over and over. Pleasure that seemed like it would take his mind out of his head. His hips twitched and his breath shuddered. He wanted to say something, get Ali to continue teasing him even if he couldn't follow through. But while he was trying to pick the words, Ali sighed, and said, "Anyway, if you're so keen on a grand summer vacation you can be in charge of planning and booking everything this time. And do your homework properly."
"Okay, I can do that. No problem."
"All right, be good."
After he hung up, Sohran tilted his nose further into Ali's pillow and closed his eyes. Wanted to smell his scent properly, to touch his skin, to bury his face at his neck, to run fingers through his hair, and feel his body temperature grow hot all over him.
Ali always got his heart beating, beating.
Sitting up, he tugged the earbud cord so that they went bouncing against the duvet. Instead of another sad wank he should go for a run, or take his dirtbike out into the hills above the motorway. He could go down the street and see if Yury was back yet and wanted to go with. The wind and rough terrain might take his mind to something that wasn't this mood of wanting to crawl into bed and turn into a blanket cocoon for the next week.
He was well past the phase of digging out the beer from the bottom of the fridge and sitting on the couch in his underwear, growing sicker by the mouthful because he didn't even like beer. But Ali would choke the shit out of him if he got into the good stuff.
Still, he couldn't sleep properly most nights because the house was too empty and each sound he couldn't place made him jumpy, fuelling the steady sense of nothing being safe. Something triggered an external light and he couldn't stop staring at the shadows, slowing his breath, waiting for something, someone to move in the backyard. Any stirring in the air vents could've been someone slithering through the ceiling. Even when he got how unnecessary and paranoid his mental progressions were, he couldn't just switch it off. His mind was already on any number of scenarios. At least he didn't lie there clinging to his knife until he fell asleep.
Sohran just didn't fall asleep. It wasn't always this bad, but he'd been declining again after Yury left. There was nothing, no-one, left for him anymore in this house, this neighbourhood.
Going through Ali's closet, Sohran passed his hands through the bespoke suits and pressed trousers, stiff-collared shirts, cashmere sweaters, polo shirts; and then there were the thick work clothes, the sweatpants Ali wore on lazy days off, and the baggy novelty t-shirts that Ali didn't even seem to buy himself.
Knowing which t-shirt he was digging around for, Sohran soon pulled it out of the stack. It was made of washed out white cotton, with red lettering across the front that was already so cracked and peeled that it read more like 'NSHAIIAL'. He dropped his own shirt and slipped it on. He'd worn this and nothing else the morning after finally getting rid of his virginity.
Sohran went for the whisky. He licked his lips and it was like Ali's tongue was playing with his mouth again.
After savouring a few more guilty mouthfuls, he sprawled across the bed. Instead of reaching for his phone, he distracted himself by pulling open the top drawer of the bedside table. In a glance he remarked the typical spread of items: painkillers, vitamins, a dinky Swiss-Army knife, a variety of watches set to different time zones, Sohran's old digital watch that had run out of batteries, moisturizer that smelled of Ali's hands, a pocket torch, and various other small items that Ali might've liked to have with him, but didn't need at the hospital.
His phone was right there, no distractions. In the menu, he hovered over the app icons, but then picked the gallery. Of course, Sohran also had a collection full of photos that included Ali, many taken by Cousin Hinar, who showed her skills as a professional photographer even on holiday. She'd captured plenty of good shots during the previous summer—in tourist mode on a road-trip to Slemani; singing and dancing during mountain picnics; at the huge wedding of distant relatives they'd been invited to because they happened to be in town, with Ali looking so fine in a formal black suit; and many candid moments during their stay with relatives.
Though he didn't like seeing himself in photos, Sohran could make an exception for the shots where Ali was with him. He couldn't even remember the time he'd crashed out on the first night in Hawler, but there he was, asleep and sprawled half over Ali on the ridiculously large couch in the family room, both of them with glitter stickers stuck to their faces courtesy of the bratty little twins. Ali must have picked them off because Sohran hadn't woken up looking like that. He laughed a little at the one of Ali making a silly face above his head, while Sohran was sitting in the kitchen helping to roll up grape-leaf bundles for the next day's picnic.
At the end of the gallery he switched the screen off, and dropped his phone on the bed. His collection of Ali's photos wasn't all innocent heartwarming material, but they weren't the sort of thing he kept on his phone. However, he didn't need to frustrate himself more while he was tipsy by trying to dig them up from his computer. He snatched up his phone again.
In a message he sent: r u awake? can u go on skape?
He settled against the pillows at the headboard and distracted himself with untangling his earbuds. The alcohol was finally making him drowsy. He stared at the tangle of noodled cords without making much progress on figuring out how to unravel them. For lack of anything better to do while his phone screen went dark, he kept picking and teasing the loops apart.
The call chime startled him and lit up the screen. He answered while fumbling with the earbuds. "Hey," he said, air squeezed out by the tightness in his chest.
"What's the problem? Are you okay?" Ali didn't sound like he'd just been woken up, but it was probably bad enough that he was several hours ahead.
"Yeah." He swallowed and swallowed and couldn't push down the full feeling at the back of his throat. "Sorry it's so late, I just— I don't know."
"You don't know."
Sohran cleared his throat and tried to breathe slower. "I mean, I can't sleep, and you're gonna get mad at me," he said.
"What're you on about?"
"I... I just wanted something to make it okay. I don't want to feel like this. And the whisky, you know. It's your thing, your taste. I can't—not seeing you. Sometimes I can't concentrate because my mind is full of wanting to see you. And I hate how you think Yury can make up for that. What I really want is—" But when he got to that part sudden embarrassment and shyness froze him up, made him swallow hard every second.
"Talk to me, tell me what you want."
"I want you here. Just hearing you, my body starts aching. And all you do is tease me. Nothing I do is enough. I need you... want you to fuck me, I can't—"
"Ah, Sohran, my petit, light of my eyes. My dark-haired beautiful boy, Lord protect you. What am I ever going to do with you?"
"Ali," he almost whined.
"Calm your ass down and leave the alcohol alone."
"I'm sorry. I didn't have much, I promise."
"Now go to the kitchen and drink some water."
"Yes." He relaxed, letting Ali's voice carry him through the house even in the dark.
"My God, Ma said all along I shouldn't leave you alone there so long. Shhh, don't start. Did you put away the whisky properly?"
"Good, now go back to my bed and lower the bed-side light. Put your knife under the pillow and get under the covers. Just lie down, and think about when I was there with you."
His body became warmer at the memories of previous times.
When he looked to the mirrors covering the closet doors he saw his own face peering alone, but many more times when he had turned his head to the side like this Ali had been there with him, sleeping beside him; or covering him, muscles all tense as he moved over Sohran, rubbing against him, pushing inside him, showing the line of his back, neck exposed when he let his head droop close to Sohran's.
"We've done it a lot in this bed."
Ali hummed. "Thanks for reminding me. You know, you've been on my mind, too."
"What're you thinking about right now?" he asked tentatively.
"I've been thinking about your nipples, still, again. Seriously, people need to stop sending me these pics when I can't pick your skinny ass up and get my mouth on those nipples of yours."
"Mmhnnn, do that." Sohran shifted in bed, conscious of the graze of fabric over his chest.
"Do you still want me to fuck you?"
"Yeah. I mean, is that okay?"
"What, you think my dick fell off? Still right here, baby. Are you hard already?"
Sohran licked his dry lips. "Yeah. Are you?"
"I'll get there if you keep giving me ideas."
"Do you want me to take off my clothes?"
"Not yet. Are your nipples stiff under your shirt?"
"Pull your shirt up and get your fingertips wet. Won't compare to my tongue, but you gotta work with what you've got. So flick at them like I'm just starting to tease you, draw around them, feel the heat and then the spit cooling. Get them all sensitive brushing over the tips. You got that?"
"Uhn, it's nice."
"Nice? Then you should pinch them tight like I would. You remember the feeling don't you? How you shiver and squeeze around my cock when I tease your nipples while I'm inside you."
"Yeah, I know," Sohran said. He imagined Ali's hands on his body instead of his own where he touched, rolled his back and hips slowly with the growing pleasure, legs sliding further apart, waiting for a phantom sensation of Ali's weight pressing between.
Ali was breathing down his neck, licking the shell of his ear while playing with his nipples from behind. He'd shift Sohran around easily to get at his chest with his lips. He'd praise Sohran's reactions and his sensitivity. "Ah, please, Ali, more."
"That's it, don't hold it in, Sohran. I want to hear how much you've missed me." Sohran shivered at the open lust in Ali's voice. He could picture Ali, with his green eyes narrowed and licking his lips with all awareness of how it turned Sohran on. "Gonna make your hips shake and grind your ass on me. So keep rolling those sensitive little nips like I wish I could right now."
Sohran did as he was told, moaning softly as he wondered at how sensitive his nipples were to his own touch tonight. The tingling warmth trailing down his belly to his cock was already close to making him want to come.
With Ali's voice in his ears he'd get there soon. In the background the shift of clothes and bedding, and a distant creak, filled in the silence. All Sohran could think of was Ali pulling his cock out, thick and straining for him.
"Are you wishing you were inside me?"
"Brat... I'm squeezing my dick and trying not to imagine fucking you already. You make the cutest faces when I'm just slowly starting to push into you and you're panting like maybe it's too much, but you're still hard all the way and pulling me down."
Sohran moaned, feeling it catch in his throat. He pushed the waistband of his boxer briefs down a little on his hipbones so that his erection could lie comfortably against his abdomen, but not so much that he'd be tempted to start jerking off.
"While I'm, uh, while I'm touching myself, push your cock into my mouth. Just a bit, just so you push my mouth open, just so I can feel you." He didn't have much for point of proper comparison, but Ali's cock was thick and he kind of loved the pressure even when he felt an edge of panic, but then could relax into the feeling because Ali kept him calm.
"All right, I'll just rub over your lips and you can take in as much as you want. Gonna let me rub into your cheek a bit?"
"Uhuh." Sohran touched his lips, and the sensation filled him with longing and heat. He pushed one fingertip past his teeth and his tongue responded, his lips pursed around it and began to suck. It wasn't the fullness he wanted, but it felt good enough if he could imagine Ali rubbing over his tongue, painting spit slick over his lips. Sohran curled his tongue against two fingers, huffing through his nose.
"I can hear you breathing hard through your nose. Is it that good?"
"But you're still not fucking me."
"Shhh, baby, don't rush. What're you doing right now?"
"Still touching my nipples, and... trying not to jerk off."
"Hmmm. Are you already dripping on your belly?"
"Nnn, not really, but I'm so hard and I want to come."
"That's right, what really gets you wet is when I toy with your ass. How is it? Do you already want me to tease you open until you make that adorable face for me?"
"I want it, want you."
"All right, strip down for me, go on take everything off. That's one of my shirts, isn't it? Can you smell me?"
"Yeah, just a little," Sohran said, embarrassed at being caught again.
"Mmm, naughty. But I want to see you, naked and spread out in my bed, just your soft dark hair for me to get a hold in."
"Y-yeah. Hang on, wait, the cable's in the way so just—okay, I'm back. Um, lying here for you, on my back, waiting."
"You know what's next."
Sohran rolled over to pull open the lower bedside drawer, made it wobble and jolt around the contents. The lube was right there, next to a ripped open carton of condoms that had gotten on the wrong side of Ali's patience.
"So impatient, are you tearing through my stuff?"
Sohran slammed the drawer shut. "Yeah, like you tore up the condom package. Impatient."
"Are you looking to get spanked?"
"No, I'd rather have your fingers inside me."
"So get them wet for me."
Sohran flicked open the lube cap close to the receiver, made sure Ali could hear the sticky squish as he squeezed some out onto his fingers. With his knees tucked up, Sohran passed through the hairs in his cleft with his finger, thinking of how Ali would tug and then smooth them out under his thumbs when Sohran spread out for him.
"You're lying between my legs, and... rubbing against me." Sohran flexed his arms on the insides of his thighs, enjoying the pressure and sense of being pushed open.
"Already? That was fast."
"I don't wanna wait anymore. Say you're doing it."
"All right. So my cock's rubbing at your wet little hole. Why don't you put it in yourself? Pull me right in to where you wanna be stuffed full."
Sohran cried out as he pressed in with two fingers, sinking through the resistance. While he was still panting, he couldn't help smirking at the situation. "You know, I'm really tight right now."
Ali's breathing turned more audible. "Damn right you are. Your cute little hole is always so tight for me. You feeling that?"
"No teasing, you've been waiting so good. Go deep.I'm gonna fuck you slow, so you really feel me, dragging out, sinking in."
Sohran groaned, pushing his fingers in deeper. He shuddered, his body tensing as he followed the slow pace Ali had set, pushing in deep and then pulling out to rub over his opening again, before sliding in full again. His head tipped back and his body curled and arched with the sweet memories of being fucked like this, moving with Ali, steadied and held back by his hands, desperate to feel more.
"How're you feeling?" Ali said, tugging his attention back with the heat in his voice.
"Hot..." Sohran arched his back against the sheets, listening for the little hitches and sighs from Ali.
"Are you jerking off yet?" Ali said, like he knew that Sohran hadn't moved to touch himself further without Ali's word.
"Stay like that."
"But it's—I'm so close."
"I don't want you coming until you've got all your fingers up in there. If you want me to fuck you then you're gonna have to feel like my cock's stretching your hole wide open."
At the suggestion, Sohran choked a little because it suddenly got him so much more turned on that he already was. His ass was tightening, and he wanted more and deeper; he couldn't concentrate on anything but the pleasure building inside and stroking up his spine. He wasn't sure whether this could be called orgasm, but it was kind of overwhelming to the point where it was difficult to keep moving through the jolts running through his body. Ali would be watching him, warmth and focus and lips curled.
"You coming dry already?" Ali said, and Sohran could only keep panting and whimpering through it. "You sound so good like that. Keep going, fuck yourself on those fingers, pretty boy."
After the feeling ebbed back into a steady buzzing warmth, he found his words again. "M-more, Ali." Sohran pulled at his nipples, flicked over them so he was rolling into the pleasure.
"You know I want to see you full, know you can take it. That sweet little ass of yours always takes me so perfect."
"Y-yeah, want you right here. Deeper... all of you, inside me." This time it was Ali slipping a finger into his cleft and feeling his way in beside Sohran's fingers.
"That's it, Sohran. Don't slow down, you can last, push harder," Ali huffed, and Sohran kept going, pushing through the shaking of his body, making himself gasp and whine from the pleasure of the stretch. Ali was definitely jerking off now; behind his words and breathing Sohran heard the slick pull of Ali's fist around his cock.
"I- I've got four in and it's hard to move."
"So close. Fucking you open's got me so hard."
"Mmmm I really want to come, Ali, please."
"Is it all in? Just a little more, baby. Don't hold back. I know you love that feeling."
"Uhn, almost there. So close."
"Good boy, you're gonna be so full. I want to hear you come like that. Let me hear your cute voice, Sohran... Fuck into your hand, let me see you come all over yourself."
Sohran answered, voice strained and short on breath, "Please, Ali, please."
He fit his thumb in as well and the pressure made him long for that feeling when Ali was pounding into him hard and fast. He was so wet with lube there was no problem, and he felt stretched open so right. He barely even needed his hand on his cock before he was shaking hard, taken by the rush of climax, gasping all high and needy.
He was still high and Ali was there with him, and he knew Ali was close. Sohran offered a desperate little moan of Ali's name, and got a sharp and sudden grunt. The panting in his ears turned to groans that had him squirming with another shot of heat and wanting. Sohran still had some of his fingers in, and he decided to keep them there until Ali hung up. It still gave him warm little jumps of pleasure to be aware of Ali's presence on the line.
They didn't talk until their breathing had calmed. Ali sighed, and said, "Damn, brat. You got me making a mess of myself."
Sohran huffed out an almost-giggle. He was grinning like a fool and it was okay because no-one could see. "Yeah, well, I'm all sticky and gross here." After a lazy wipe-up with tissues, he shifted into a more comfortable position curled on his side. He felt all loosened out, light in his body. "I don't feel like hanging up yet."
"Sure, talk to me. All I got here are Bollywood reruns and a pile of work," Ali said.
"That much paperwork already? Isn't Yury supposed to be taking care of that? I could look over some stuff, too."
"He's doing the groundwork and being terrible at teamwork; and you're going to pass the bac this year. No messing around or repeating."
Sohran grunted. "Buzzkill."
"Parent-teacher meetings are a buzzkill. And if you want to get into UKH next year you need to pass well with English. I know you can handle it when you focus."
"I will. Just, lately it's been hard to focus."
"Ma's been at me every time she calls for leaving you home alone. Won't accept that I didn't send you to her. Pa, too."
Sohran smirked. "She's been at me to send you nice things to cheer you up."
"And did you?"
"Unlikely to make it past your doctor."
Ali clicked his tongue. "There's nothing wrong with my stomach or dick. I'm sure you could get anything past the doctor with that serious face of yours."
Sohran blinked into alertness, chest suddenly tightening again. "Do you want me to try?"
"Hmmm, you know what I want."
"I could book a flight for this weekend."
"You sure about that? Don't leave me hanging with false promises."
"I'll figure it out."
"That's my boy. Just don't land a Fennec on the hospital roof or something."
"I won't. Unless Yury gives me a ride. "
The nurse led Sohran out into the courtyard garden. Being early spring made the air crisp, but the sunshine was already warm enough to make Sohran sweat a little under his jacket.
He couldn't forget that profile, would recognise that broad back anywhere; and the way Ali rolled his shoulders in a lazy movement after he stood up.
Sohran scanned him, trying not to be obvious, but Ali would've expected his worry and curiosity anyway. Ali's beard had been shaved down to an even stubble, and healing scarring showed on the left side of his face with gauze still covering a few points. Most of it was difficult to judge though because of the long trousers and sleeves. That couldn't hide the stiffness in his left arm and leg as he leaned on a crutch.
"Hey brat, what took you so long?"
Sohran flinched unconsciously. He went forward, and Ali raised a hand towards his face. His hand weighed heavily on Sohran's head when he mussed his hair. "Don't give me that look."
Sohran relaxed his shoulders and enjoyed the contact while it lasted. He wanted to say something casual, like, "You look good, old man."
Ali kissed his cheeks and the top of his head. "My slim Sohran, you've been growing again. But you still fit just under my chin." Sohran's arms wouldn't move but he leaned against Ali, let himself sway with the movements as Ali held him and stroked his hair. The sun shone hot on his head, and Ali's hair burned golden.