Saturday, October 31, 2015

GOD's Graces

Content Warning:

This story contains male/male relations and erotic moments. Is it for mature audiences only.

GOD's Graces

There's a saying (at least my mother has always told me it's a saying, there is the possibility that she made it up and is just using the term 'they' to give her idea weight) that God gives people what they deserve. For the most part, I've always thought that to be if not a lot of bullshit, then a damn good helping of it. Sure, you can reason that the hurricane that wipes out six coastal tourist areas sent a lot of overpriced insurance companies and a lot of overpaid executives into a snit for a few weeks, and that they probably deserve a few weeks of turmoil, but that doesn't take into account the rest of them. For example, the guy that saved his whole life to open up the shop where he sells those ugly shell necklaces and tacky hand-painted glasses. Or the family that only has one thing left of their grandfather – that beach house they were willed and have been struggling to keep up the tax payments and the maintenance on. Understand that I've just used the hurricane as a paradigm. That's not what's happening now. What is happening is, in its own way, a kind of hurricane… but I'm getting away from what I was saying. What I mean, in other words, is that there are probably (probably, mind you, I don't know everybody's story) a few people in this crowded, neon-glittering city that have a good stomping or building-crashing coming to them, but not everyone that's here. Tanaka-san, who owns the fish shop down the block and has been trying to carve a living from the few folks who actually still shop in such a place; Itō-sama, my recruiter, and her little boy who just happens to be better at English than I am and whose renrakuchou is always overflowing with praise from his leaders. (I know, I've seen it – she's very proud of him, and seems to like me even though I a foreigner, and a gay one at that. So she likes to hear me tell him how "awesome" that is. Maybe she just likes the way I say "awesome". I don't know. Her interests are beside the point, though, and I do have one. A point, I mean. I promise.) Then there's me. For the most part I've been a decent guy. I try to stay fair, open-minded, and generous when I can. I don't steal or manipulate or act like a competitive jerk. I have no alternative motives for being here, and I really do think what I'm doing—teaching English—is helpful. Really, all I've ever wanted to do was teach and I thought this would be a great way to see some of the world and squirrel away enough money to get me on my feet before I go back to the United States of Greed and Disillusionment and pursue the rest of my teaching career there. Point being, most of us are decent people. What we deserve is a weekend off and a nice tall glass of happoshu. God is not giving us what we deserve by sending… this.

I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me rewind a bit.

This morning I got up shortly before six a.m. which has been a normal time for me ever since I got here. Registration doesn't happen until eight-thirty and the school day is officially over at three in the afternoon, but by 'official' I mean that's what you get paid for not what you're actually expected to do. There are about seven billion extracurricular activities and there's juku for those that need it (and those that don't but who actually want it. Don't laugh, it happens. A lot of these kids are determined to be the next Einstein and by God, I think they'll actually make it.) On top of being expected to take part in whatever it is you're good at after school, us teachers get our own homework, too. There's marking, grading, lesson-planning. As the only foreign teacher in the school, I have a lot of classes to tend to and not making a deadline isn't just unacceptable, it's unthinkable. That's cool, though. It's not like I expected to come here and relax. Or find myself a husband or anything. A pretty, charming, polite, dark-haired husband… A calm, rational, sweet, dark-eyed husband… A well-mannered, well-dressed, well-spoken, honey-skin husband. Nope, that hadn't crossed my mind at all.

Okay, now I've gone too far back in my story. Because the why I'm here isn't important, neither is what I'm doing here of any significance… it's the where that's the big deal. And that where is kind of spectacular.

In case you haven't picked up on it, I'm in Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun. That island country in the Pacific Ocean, east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, running from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south. The country with braille on their beer cans, who indulges in the kind of customer service that would blow a North American mind, with vending machines that offer stuff you wouldn't even think of (crepes, skin mags, underwear, eggs) and hardy ever offers any of the things you would expect like chips or candy bars. The country of bicycles. So, so, so many bicycles.

Most of my day was uneventful. I did marking until class started, taught, and ate my bentō box at lunch (neatly organized by hands that are not my own as I couldn't be this creative if I had to) while sitting at my desk. Then I taught some more and finished off the day by coaching a baseball game in the yard. I am, after all, American, which means (apparently), that I must be an expert at the game. It's Friday, so there were no private tutoring sessions after class and that's where my day should have ended. Instead of sitting here, listening for this… thing, I should have been sitting at home watching it on the news. I could have been shaking my head in polite, managed empathy while I considered (silently, of course) how lucky I was not to be involved. But Ryuto asked, see? And Ryuto is something approximately one inch short of amazing. He has a great smile, kind of shy and flirtatious all at the same time, with breathtaking eyes that look too smart and very kind. And his body! What I've seen through his pressed, well-fitted but still professional shirts and slacks is simply stellar. His ass can stop me dead in my tracks and send my mind into pornographic overdrive. Of course, face-to-face Ryuto is still Tanaka to me and I am Cooper to him. One day I'd like it just to be Ryuto and Sean, though. Which is why when he asked me to go out with him and the other faculty members for drinks, I couldn't refuse.

Big mistake. Huge.

The drinks were perfect, nothing hits the spot like a Sapporo Black Label on a Friday night after work, but I was getting hungry and it really been a long day. I turned to say as much to Ryuto, but he opened his mouth before I had a chance to say anything and said, "Not so soon, Cooper. Stay out and play. You can't live your life stuck in—"

Your apartment? Your own head? Who knows what he was going to say at that point, because a roar unlike anything I'd ever heard it my life ripped through the air. The bar went silent. Church silent. Tomb silent. I almost thought that maybe I'd gone deaf from the sound. Then another roar came and this time it was punctuated by a cataclysmic crash. The next idea that came to my mind was Earthquake! and I dropped to the floor, pulling Ryuto with me. By then people had started to run, some to the exit, some to the floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows, but I was having none of that. I'd seen too many movies to know what happened when a bunch of people went running in the same direction. I yanked us underneath the table.

The television sets that peppered the walls of the bar, even the monitor to the karaoke machine began to pulse with red symbols "ゴジラ" and although I'm proud to say that I have started to catch on to the language (something I don't have to do within my contract, nonetheless), I still struggle with the written form of Japanese.

Ryuto breathed a word, "Gojira" and although it was as alien to me as the symbols, the look on his face told me everything I needed to know. Gojira could mean monster, aliens, nuclear war, but whichever it was they all boiled down to the same thing: danger.

The door to the bar opened, customers wormed their way around and through each other to get out, and what had sounded scary a moment before became terrifying. Dozens, or hundreds, maybe even thousands of people were rushing through the street. Some barked out the word that Ryuto had whispered but most just screamed. The clumps of their feet were no less than what I imagine the sound of rampaging wildlife to be like. The wail of a siren advanced, then came at us from a totally different spot, and then another altogether. It took me several seconds of listening to realize it wasn't one siren, but many. Ryuto's fingers clamped into the biceps of my left arm. Through the grip I could feel him trembling. As much as I've learned that Japanese people aren't touchy-feely folks for the most part—and by that I mean some of them will be offended like mad if you try it—I put my arm around him. Whatever was going on was frightening as fuck and if he didn't want the comfort, I sure as hell did.

I watched people go past our hiding spot, pairs of high heels, leather dress shoes, chukkas, loafers, boots of both the pretty and the working variety, street sneakers and even one pair of slippers, and I thought to myself: why are they going out there? What mad twist of instinct makes people want to flee in the general direction of any-fucking-where when something goes wrong?

Then all hell broke loose and I understood in the span of two-point-five seconds that everyone around me has way more common sense than I thought I did. There was a boom behind me and to the right; a boom that sounded as though a rocket had hit the side of the building. The wall didn't just tremble, it bulged inward, becoming the building's widening eye of surprise, and thin cracks rippled from the sides like the tracks of tears. While the wall wept plaster splinters, support beams danced and tables jittered.

"We go, now!" Ryuto screamed and then it was his fingers dragging on my arm instead of just into it, and his direction that I tried stumblingly to follow as he dragged me from under the table. At that point in the festivities I gave up thought and became part of the throng of people vying for a way out into the street. How one izakaya could hold so many guests was beyond me, and how those guests could not see their way to an orderly exit is something I will probably never understand.

Ryuto knew better than to try to get through that disaster. He ran for the bar, ignoring me as I screamed for him to stop. It seemed to me, sure as hell, that he was heading deeper into dangerous territory instead of away from it like he should have been. Manhole sized chunks of the ceiling rained down, dissolving to dust in flat, almost apathetic plops, the floor swayed and rocked beneath our feet, and one by one the bottles of sake, beer, shōchū, and whiskey fell to their demise in an almost perfectly-timed tune of smashing glass.

When Ryuto picked up a tall chair from alongside the bar and then once again began to run through the place, this time toward and then beyond me, I was sure he'd lost his mind. Until he got to the tall window at the front of the establishment, drew back on the chair and heaved it through the glass. Then I knew he was not only brilliant, he was my savior. He held out a hand, I ran to him, and we both kicked out the remaining fangs that jutted from the window frame. There was smoke and lights and carnage beyond that window, but Ryuto jumped, and if Ryuto was going out there, then so was I. Ryuto landed, skidded on the large, slippery shards of glass but remained standing. I wasn't so graceful. Before I landed palms-first and bleeding though, Ryuto caught my sleeve and steadied me.

I looked at him. He looked at me. I opened my mouth to ask what next and over Ryuto's shoulder I saw a sight that will haunt me for the rest of my life. It had to be at least a hundred meters tall – it towered over the tallest buildings in downtown. Its skin was dark, scaled, reptilian, and a shiver of white-blue light tracked its spiked back and tail like unleashed electricity. Gojira. Godzilla.

It opened its mouth, drew a breath, and shrieked at the dark sky. As if unhappy with the lack of reply it received, the creature turned, swept its tail, and I'd like to say that recalled panic makes me over exaggerate, but if that damn tail didn't come within six feet of our head, then I can't trust my eyes to show me any kind of truth. The bar we'd been standing in moments prior caved in, the façade of the building reduced to rubble. I didn't dare to look any deeper into the interior. There had still been people in there when I'd left.

I should have ran. That's what everyone else was doing. I'm sure that's what Ryuto's desperate tugs and whatever he was trying to say underneath the screams of the monster were telling me to do. I couldn't. I was frozen. Spellbound. A statue of fear.

When I was a boy, I owned a bearded dragon. One of the things I always found endearing about that little guy was the serene sameness of its face. Day to day, event to event, moment to moment, be it getting ready to pounce on a cricket, crunching through its meal when it caught one, or basking under its warming light, the bearded dragon wore the same expression. This creature ravishing the city could have been fashioned from the same cloth as my beardie, same overall look, same skin—albeit upright and a million times bigger, of course—but size aside there was still one very big difference. This creature was angry. And its face looked angry. The snout was drawn into a sneer, the eyes burned, and the screaming, wailing roars didn't stop.

I was certain I was going to die there. Standing in front of the cavern of the bar, with Ryuto hollering unheard, with Ryuto desperately pulling at my arm, and my feet planted to the ground like they'd grown roots; this would be where Sean Cooper ceased to exist. This was the destiny that God had deigned I deserved.

The monster seemed to look dead into my eyes. It fell silent. It opened its mouth, at first seeming to grin at my foolishness, and then that grin grew wider, and wider, and it drew a deep breath. A sudden light warmed its face, smoke began to roll from its throat, and a stream of brilliance shot out of its mouth. There was a building between the monster and us, but it did absolutely nothing to stop whatever it was that came from the creature's throat. The beam zapped through the building, cutting the corner off as easily as a hot knife through butter, and when the beam hit the ground in front of us, the pavement exploded.

Ryuto didn't tug me. He didn't drag me. He bulldozed me to the side and then he wound his fist into my hair and yanked me as if I were a disobedient puppy on a leash.

We ran. When he saw I was going to follow, he released my hair but he never let go of my arm. While the smoke billowed, and buildings fell, and mothers and children and men cried out, we ran. As helicopters bleated above us, and lights flickered and buzzed around us, we ran. Beside sprinting runners, over stumblers, around those too exhausted to keep going, we ran until we simply couldn't run anymore. Which turns out to be farther than one might think. A body finds an extraordinary amount of fortitude when it's faced with the ultimatum of death. The problem was though, no matter how fast or how far or how badly we pushed ourselves, we could never get far enough. One simple step of the creature were hundreds of our own. While we expended all our energy in a furious race, it merely sidled along as though it were taking a Sunday stroll through the park.

I was ready to give up and Ryuto looked no less worn out. When I came to a stop, he didn't even fight me. We just stared at each other, blank-faced, resigned, waiting for the other person to say something first.

Then I noticed the rats.

To be honest, I had been a bit surprised with the number of rats I found in Japan. Rats and roaches, in fact. It wasn't something I was used to and I haven't gotten any more used to them at this point either. But if there's one thing you can say in favor of rats it's that they're smart, and these particular rats weren't running willy-nilly down the street like fools. They were ducking low to the pavement, slipping like water through the gutters, and they had a definite spot to which they were headed: an underpass. This underpass travels underneath a double set of train tracks, and I knew it was only fifty or sixty meters in total, but at first glance it seemed to go into the depths of hell itself. There were no lights, they had either been destroyed by the shaking or the power had been cut, and with the dark skies at either end of it, the underpass seemed not just cave-like but endless.

One after another the rats slipped into the dark mouth, but they were the only things that did. No one followed them. Maybe people didn't want to be under the surface while something stomped with enough power to shake buildings from their footings above them. Maybe the darkness wasn't something they wanted to deal with while they were already dealing with a monster. But the rats… oh, yes, the clever, sneaky rats. The self-serving, life-loving, live-through-anything rats were headed that way and if they thought it was a place of safety, I wasn't going to argue with them.

"This way," I hissed. I'm sure I waited for Ryuto to follow me. I can't swear to it, though.

Now that I'm thinking on it, I'm grateful for the lack of lighting. With the smoke and the resulting cloud cover cloaking any natural light in the night sky, the inside of that underpass was just as black as it looked from outside. I couldn't see a damn thing, including what my ears were telling me had to be hundreds if not thousands of fat, furry, terrified rodents. The rats didn't try to make friendly with us, though. As we inched our way through the underpass we kicked a couple unintentionally and they simply scattered in some other direction. So when I figured we were about halfway in, I finally gave my shaking, worn out legs a rest and sank to the pavement. Ryuto all but fell over top of me, cursing as I pulled him down beside me. "A warning that you were stopping would have been helpful," he huffed, sliding down the wall and nestling beside me.

I didn't say anything back. It was weirdly quiet and I was relishing it. I would have imagined that the outside sounds would have echoed profusely in such a spot. They didn't. The rats didn't stop shuffling around and that was loud in its own strange hundreds-of-tiny-feet kind of way, but it was nothing compared to what we'd left behind. Besides, in the back of my head I was convinced that it would be able to hear us if we moved. Or spoke. Or breathed too hard. And it would come find us – this nightmare, this impossible mutation, this thing of horrible fantasy. It would make us pay for whatever sin we'd done to rile it up in the first place.

"We're going to die."

My voice surprised me. I certainly hadn't meant to say that out loud. I was barely letting myself think it, let alone speak it.

In my mind's eye I saw the creature's head swivel in our direction. I saw it take a breath and ready that laser strike on the startled O of the underpass's mouth. From my mouth to yours, Earth.

A shudder wracked Ryuto's body and he pressed closer to my side. "Perhaps, yes," he whispered. For a long moment he said nothing else, but he was swallowing again and again, so hard I could hear his throat click. "Death is a funny thing, my friend." He finally managed. "It makes us reconsider life. And when I think on my life, I think..." His words drifted. His breath was loud. I was thinking that he might be waiting for a prompt but for the life of me (pun intended), I couldn't imagine what that prompt might be. I sat in silence and waited for him to start back up. He did.

"So I should tell you… I want to tell is what I mean to say… that I…" His hand fell on my leg for a second before he snatched it back. He breathed—once, twice, again—and his hand dropped again. "I have never kissed a man, Cooper-san. I've often thought of doing so. Many times, if I'm being honest." His words came out rushed and forced. "Many more times since I met you. Since they told me you are dōseiaisha. I have thought for some time that I… that I… might…"

I turned to face him, pointlessly, ridiculously, but I couldn't help it. I mean, I had hoped. I'd even dreamed about the possibility that Ryuto might be able to be convinced to, I don't know… try it out? See if he could be converted like some straight people think that gays actually have the ability to do? It wasn't ever anything more than wishful thinking and fantasy, though. To think that while I was watching him, he was watching me, and that while I was hoping-dreaming-wishing he could be-might be-would be gay while he was wondering-deciding-pretending he wasn't, were astonishing thoughts!

He cleared his throat and I told myself I should say something. Words didn't come, though. Not to me. He, however, said, "It's just that if we are going to die, maybe now would be the time to find out for sure. Not that I am thinking it would be fair for you to be a… " He paused, and sighed as though exasperated. Perhaps trying to find the right word. "An experiment. A pawn to my own mind's game of trying to figure this out. I know that would be a very inconsiderate thing indeed."

My tongue finally started to work, but it was about four sentences behind in our conversation. "You want to kiss me?"

When he spoke again I felt his breath on my face. We must have been staring directly at each other through the dark. "Ever since the first moment that I met you," he whispered.

One thing a human body is very good at doing on instinct is finding another human body in the dark. I reached up and touched his cheek with one hand and cupped his neck with the other. Like I cared if he was trying to figure himself out? Like I was going to be wounded over the idea of being his guinea pig? Hell, no. Not when I'd thought about him for as long as I had. Not when every second potentially brought us closer to our final breath. The idea of being lip-locked with Ryuto while we met our demise seemed kind of poetic. Romantic even.

"Then do it," I told him. Just saying the words made my guts feel like Jell-O. Suddenly nothing beyond the four or five feet of pavement we were sharing mattered. Hell, it didn't even exist. Bye-bye, rats. See ya' later, Zilla. Good luck screaming people; we'd love to help, but we're a wee bit busy in here. "Kiss me if you want to kiss me."

I didn't let go, but I didn't move in on him either. If he was going to do this, if God-hope he was going to like it, there was no way I was giving him a chance to look back and think he'd been coerced. Converting the "straight" guy really only has a place in fantasy and porn. If we wanted to kiss me, the first guy ever or so he said, then he was going to do it himself.

He did. And he missed. He got me between the chin and the cheek to the far left of my lips, but he slid his mouth until he found ground zero. It felt like his lips were made of silk and fire and when they touched mine I think the sparks that flew put Zilla's flaming breath to shame. He lingered there, breathing my air and giving me his, and his heart was beating so hard I could feel it. Looking back, it might have been my own heart I was hearing. It's more than just possible that I was imagining the sound altogether, even. But I will tell myself until the moment that I die that it was his.

It was me who deepened the kiss, and parted my lips, and it was my tongue that slipped out first. He accepted it though, and he gave me his own tongue freely. His hand, the one that had lain so passively on my thigh, clenched. Then moved. Up and over, along the curve of my leg and the seam of my slacks, until his fingertips were so close to my balls that I could feel the weight of the space between us. I drew my hand from his cheek to his neck, traced over his shoulder, and as I pulled my palm down the length of his arm, Ryuto's entire body reacted. His muscles shook, goosebumps lifted, and his breath got heavy and hot. I thought of the rest of him waking up to my touch—his cock thickening as his heart raced, raising its head in interest to push against the constraints of his slacks—and then all thoughts of him leading the process were banished from my mind.

The pavement underneath us was not smooth, but I ignored the rasp of my ass against it as I shifted closer. As if he'd been waiting for me to do just that, he opened his hesitant hand and met my crotch's advance with a firm grip. I wasn't completely hard, but I was definitely getting there. I think that surprised him. He gasped a soft sound that suggested he still had a firm hold on terror but was slowly losing that grip to interest. So I did the same right back – softer, though. Gentler. I didn't so much grab his cock as rest my hand over top of it. And he was hard. Hard as a rock.

I pretended to ignore the fact that he was holding onto my crotch like his grip was going to stop him from drowning. "Is this okay?" I asked him, only moving back enough to talk, and closing that space between us the second I was done. "To touch you, I mean?"

He didn't pull away at all. He just nodded, his chin bobbing furiously, his lips locked on mine. I stroked him through his pants, and he through mine, and although he was clumsy it felt way too good to use that word. When he let go, there was a second of crushing disappointment, and then his fingers floundered farther up and I realized he was trying to undo my pants. Apparently, the time for asking permission had been and gone. I followed his lead: popped his button, drew down his zipper, pressed aside the opening of his pants and worked his cock out of his briefs.

This, I told myself, was going to be a beautiful way to die.

By the time he had his fist around my bare cock and I had his in mine, Ryuto was sprawled practically on top of me with my leg between his and his hip bone grinding against my side. His hips moved in time with my hand, thrusting as though it wasn't just into my palm he moved, but as if he was imagining himself buried balls deep inside me. His intensity and his need was gorgeous. It did things for me that his stroking couldn't compare to. His lips never stopped moving against mine and our tongues worked at each other's as if we were trying to eat one another alive.

"I...!" He gasped hot breath inside my mouth—behind my closed eyelids I saw it as a blue-white stream of sweet, furious desire that the creature outside could imitate but never equal—and he whined beautifully: "Cooper... Sean... I'm—You'll—I have to—"

My name on his tongue was the final crack in the dam of my willpower.

"Cum." I whispered the word against his wet lips, hoping that's what he was trying to tell me, praying desperately that he was there and as ready as I was. "Come on, Ryuto. Cum with me."

His cock spilled over my hand, his frame trembling like a steel beam in a wind storm, and his stuttered words became hoarse gulps around syllables that had no sense linguistically but were clairvoyant to my body. The ball of tension that had been growing in my guts exploded. I saw fireworks behind my eyes but I felt them in my cock – not once, or twice, but three times until I was a shaking, huffing, twitching mess.

Then the underpass really did seem to sink into silence. Even the rats seemed to have stopped still. I imagined them gazing, wide-eyed and wondering, at the two fools that had managed to spill each other's seed at such an insane moment. And the only thing I could think to say was, "You called me Sean."

In the stillness and with the echo that followed it, his answering chuckle sounded musical. "Well... yes." He seemed embarrassed. Or tense. Maybe both. "Is that a bad thing?"

I shook my head, again pointlessly. "No. I liked it. I've been waiting for that for a long time. I guess we can call ourselves friends now."

"We called each other friend before now," Ryuto said quietly. "Maybe now, if you would like it, we can call ourselves something more."

I didn't hesitate with my reply. "I would like that. I would like that very much." I tucked his softening cock back into his underwear and then, as much as I hated to do it, I let him go to do the same with mine. "If, of course, we don't get eaten alive by rats or crushed by Mega-Rage on its next step."

I closed my eyes, but I knew there'd be no sleep. Not here. Still, even in a moment of certain death a body needed time to recuperate. Strangely enough, I thought of my mother. I thought of her telling me that God gives us what we deserve. Maybe this time God had come to us in a totally different form – in a form with a big old ZILLA on the end of it. And maybe, just maybe, that god had decided that we deserved to live. Together, even.

Then I wondered if Ryuto had ever considered what it would be like to live in the States. I decided that would be a good conversation for our next date if it should come to fruition. I was more than certain I'd had enough of Japan.


This story was inspired by this picture "Godzilla (Mai 2015)" and has been left here as a gift for my dear friend Raphael/Drawboy on a very special day. It's a little bit early, I know, but no way am I going to deal with you whining insisting that you just HAVE TO read it before we can get to that last episode tonight. ;)

Thank you, buddy, for always inspiring and supporting me. I hope you celebrate until you a breathless with joy.

For those with a far greater knowledge of Japan that I will ever have, I apologize for any errors or discrepancies. My research was limited and somewhat rushed. Thank you for your patience and your kindness in overlooking what I know will end up being some faux pas or two. Or seven or ten.

Thumbnail artwork is used with permission from Raphael, complete original artwork can be found at the link above. Story and plotline belong to me, and all human characters are my own. The character of Godzilla belongs to Toho Co. Ltd. and is referenced within this story on the basis of fair use, re: section 107 of the Copyright Act (transformative, noncommercial, amount and substantiality, and effect on the potential market).

Copyright © 2015 AF Henley

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Four Years and Counting

Four Years and Counting

*Story contains M/M relations and some violent references*

Four years ... In four years a child can spring from an infant. He can learn to walk and talk and fasten his own clothing. Tie his shoes and brush his hair. A wise one will recite his alphabet and ask questions about the stars. In the span of four years an individual can be born from a mere seed.

In the same time a tree can grow from a simple stick. Man can imagine, create and perfect motor vehicles and technology. Greatness can be achieved from hard work and discipline. There is just so much a human can do in four years time.

So painfully much.

For four years you and I have watched the bombs fall. Over three hundred times, from every possible direction; in the daylight, and more frightening still, in the darkness. Harris did not lie when he spoke, "they are going to reap the whirlwind."

But even I cannot feel bad for me as I sit here in the rubble and hold your hand. Most days I can't even find it in my heart to feel bad for you. When one follows a snake into a sewer one doesn't deserve the right to complain about dirty shoes.

I remember listening to the radio, the angry voice threatening our holds, "... it will cost us between four hundred and five hundred aircraft," he said. "It will cost Germany the war." And though that promise has yet to bear fruit, I hope so. I honestly, truly hope so. It's time for it all to stop now. More so than the fact that our limbs are tired and our bellies starving, for our hearts are dried and withered in our chests and hope has expired with the knowledge that this was all so very wrong.

I reach for your hand but you don't look over to smile at me anymore. Expression is for the foreign soldiers that celebrate our losses. It is for the German children out there masquerading as warriors—teenage boys behind machine guns, girls with flaks— children, babies to the eyes of the rest of us. Impetuous, misled, passionate fools who think that conquering and controlling are where the power lies.

But here, I think, as I tighten our fingers together and rest my head back against the demolition that was once the wall of a home – this is where real power is. Surviving when the desire to do so is all but gone. Keeping love when Amour has flown so far away one wonders if it will ever dare to show its wings again. Getting up; eating, standing, walking, trying, when the only images your mind will replay for you are the ones reminding you of the hundreds of comrades and civilians that you lined up shoulder-to-shoulder and foot-to-foot so that a proper body count could be established.

These planes ... always the planes ... and some days it's hard not to hope the next one bears your name as target. Death, however, would be a relief and I don't know if we deserve it.

Do you remember when you used to sing, love? You were so young, so very strong and vibrant, and you carried your weapon like it was an extension of yourself. I was proud to be your friend and you seemed just as prideful of my attentions. I miss those drunken nights and the look in your eyes when we touched. Remember that first time you reached for me and I didn't stop you? Remember how you made it seem like it was a mistake in case I caused trouble?

Oh, if they only knew. If they knew, love, if they had a moment's thought, you and I would not be fighting this war at all, would we? No, instead we would be just another member of the hoard wearing the stripes and the numbers. And which is worse for the soul, I wonder? The incessant suffering the likes of which I cannot fathom? Or our hypocritical denial of who we are and what we need?

I am a monster. You are a monster. We're all just monsters now.

"It's dawn," I whisper, hoping to turn your head and it works. For a moment I see your eyes again, caught by the natural glory of light that seems so far out of place in this annihilated city. It is the only light in your eyes though. Beyond you the silhouette of the Kaiser Wilhelm reaches up with its broken finger and I wonder if its walls still carry the weight of its artwork or if, those too, have fallen to dust.

So much beauty destroyed. For what promise I can't even bring myself to recall.

"Maybe today," you say. And I don't need to ask what you mean.


The End

Copyright © 2013 AF Henley

Smallest of Worlds

Smallest of Worlds

*Story contains M/M relations*

There were somewhere in and around forty-two dozen reasons that Miles had told himself to man up the thirty-eight dollars and some-damn cents and upgrade to a decent flashlight. When one did maintenance one needed to be able to see for heaven's sake. And the reckonings as to why things never managed to break down in a brightly-lit, warm, safe, cozy setting were just beyond overdone. That was, apparently, just how things worked. Or, for accuracy's sake, didn't work. The accepting of that fact however, gave no comfort when he was standing in the dark jerking his flashlight up and down in his fist like he was trying to get the fool thing off. "Come on, you little bit—"

"Now don't you even."

Ted's voice coming up behind him, out of the blue, right there, as if the man had been skulking through the dark like some kind of sneaky cur, had Miles just about choking on his own balls. The flashlight flew from his hand, skipped twice against something hard, and rolled to a stop with a bright, solid beam shining perfectly out of the end of it. Well, at least the damned thing worked again.

"There's not a soul here to hear me swear, Ted," Miles growled. "And you should warn a person when you're coming up on them like that."

Ignoring Miles' rebuke Ted kept his steps moving and his voice quiet. "You don't know that, there are cameras everywhere. And I thought you said you were going to get a new one of those."

"I also said I was going to win last Wednesday's Lotto but that didn't happen either, did it?"

"I'm just saying," Ted said, easing past Miles with that damn look on his face, that pious, calm, I'm-always-right look, "you being as jittery as you are in the dark, it'd only make sense if you got yourself something reliable."

Miles got the feeling Ted would be smiling. Not all cocky like either. Just one of those slow, easy smiles that said there was more to his words than the sound of them. Frowning at himself, Miles scooped the now-bright flashlight up and aimed it down the tomb-like hallway. "Yeah, well, maybe I like this one, all right?"

"All right."

Surprisingly enough, the voice that had sent him towards roof rafters a few seconds prior now seemed far more comforting than the empty silence and Miles hurried to follow it. "We ought to get some more emergency lighting in here. Dark as all hell, ain't it?"

"Tends to happen without power."

"Ah, ha," Miles replied drily. "Just a bundle of wit today, aren't we?"

"Not so much, I figure."

Miles rolled his eyes and shoved his left hand into the front of his coveralls, digging for one of the dozen or so paper-wrapped squares of his Bazooka Joe, still fully ensconced with the beloved five-panel comics so bad they made Miles laugh out of nothing more than feeling bad for the writer. Like 'em or love 'em he was gonna miss them when they were gone. It just didn't seem right, replacing those crazy kids' anecdotes with something meant to inspire brain-power. Bubble gum wasn't about learning stuff.

"You want a gum?" Miles held one out towards Ted's back and waited for Ted to stop and snag it. Ted never asked but he always accepted. Kinda like their sex life. Not that they ever talked about that there at work. As far as everyone knew, he and Ted just shared the half-house they rented out in Conway for the money aspect of things. Some assumed. They knew better than to gossip on it though.

"So where'd it go out at?" Ted asked, handing back the wrapper so Miles could tuck into his pocket and check it later.

"Down around midway. One of the dolls starting acting like it was about to skitter off its wires, and after giving the audience a right pretty lightshow, she shut everything down tighter than a wedged trapdoor. Probably rats in the wires again."

"Must have been a good chew to shut the whole place down."

Miles snorted. "You musing or asking?"

"Well now, I imagine unless you did the chewing it wouldn't do much good to be asking, would it?"

Ted stopped at a Utilidor access, one of the several that would take the two of them from the underground tunnel backstage and up to the set, and waved Miles in for more light while he tried to set the key in the lock.

Miles shook his head and stepped onto the platform that housed the dolls to the left of the Seven Seaways and shuddered. "Lord, I hate these dolls."

"Miles," Ted scoffed. "They're just plastic kiddies for God's sake."

"They're freaky," Miles insisted. "Beady little eyes, fake smiles, rubber faces ... " Another shudder found Miles from shoulders to toes. "Why the hell somebody would spend a Benjamin a day for each and every person in their household and then waste fifteen minutes of that day in here, I could never quite get a handle on."

"Well, you ain't never dragged around a kiddie, I'd imagine."

Miles frowned his confusion and Ted chuckled. "Fifteen minutes of the sweet and repetitive kind of music guaranteed to sedate the crankiest little bugger, lulled by water travel, star-struck by kids of every nation, and pacified by spinning, swaying, dancing colours? You put that under a nice, shaded, dark cover that'll keep your skin out of the sun and give a body a chance to cool itself right proper, and I figure it does a good job of fitting the bill dead on about naptime when a parent's itching to start strangling something."

Miles snorted, Ted reached for and reset the switch for the emergency lights and all around them darkness became the harsh reality of machinery set up as toys. He spent a few seconds blinking his eyes so they'd adjust faster and followed Ted's direction when Ted began searching wiring. It was always odd to see the equipment like that. Illumination took away the fantasy of depth and world beyond the dancing dolls. Sky became mere ceiling, acreage beyond became painted walls; in an instance an entire world was nothing but a warehouse.

"Sounds like you put an awful lot of thought into that, Ted," Miles pointed at the back of the smallest of a set of three Asian dolls, their perpetual grins wide in their silky kimonos and floral headwear. Only the middle one seemed out of place – tilting to the right with both hat and wig askew, dress dotted with holes where sparks had made the effort to catch and been extinguished by cleverly-designed inflammable material. An exclamatory black mark spread out under the doll, denoting the spot most severely damaged and where the worst of it had probably started up.

"Well, I suppose I have," Ted agreed. Deft fingers made quick work at disconnecting and removing the doll from her stand. While Ted muscled the unit away, Miles began the process of cutting back and capping the damaged wiring so they could get the ride back up and running. None of the wee ones would even notice one doll missing amongst the many. "I guess you not so much then?"

Miles hissed at the marette that refused to set, tossing it back into his toolbox and grabbing another. "Not so much what?"

"Thought about it."

Miles frowned and looked up, completely lost from the conversation. "Kids," Ted clarified. "Thought about kids."

"In so much as I tend to avoid them whenever possible," Miles chuckled, shifting his weight to get into a comfortable squat before lifting his eyes back up and reaching out. "Can you pass me those ... " The look on Ted's face dried the words up on his tongue. "What?"

"Like ... ever?" Ted asked, tilting his head. A small frown wrinkled the skin at the apex of Ted's forehead, an expression neither the skin itself nor Miles was used to. Ted wasn't the frowning type. Even in full out concentration Ted kept a complacent look about him. Scowling was Miles' reaction of choice and he'd often thought that was what kept the two of them so in tune with one another. Like one of those sweet and sour sauces.

Miles sat back on his heels and caught Ted's eyes with his own. "Well I'm not really sure what you're asking me there, Ted."

Ted paused, fiddling with a petal on the hat of the doll almost subconsciously, reaching for and handing Miles the needle-nosed pliers Miles had just been about to ask Ted for before the current conversation had twisted off into what Miles could only imagine was some deep dark corner of Ted's brain. "I guess I'm asking if you've ever thought about … well … a family."

"What do you mean by family?" Miles said slowly.

Ted cleared his throat and once again started working at the floppy petal like it was the reason for the failure somehow. "You know. You. Me. And, I mean, they overturned that law there, you know, back in twenty-ten. So I guess I kinda always thought that maybe ... someday ... baby might make three."

Miles didn't say a word. He just sat there, propped on his own boots, stunned while Ted waited for him to say something. But what did one say when one suddenly had the news that one's lover might want kids? It wasn't something Miles had ever thought about. Up until a couple years prior it hadn't even been an option. Cripes, they could barely afford the electric bill some months—

"Someday, Miles," Ted repeated, in that creepy way that always gave Miles the impression Ted was somehow reading his damn mind. "I didn't say today. I didn't even say for sure. Just ... you know. Maybe. Someday."

Miles sucked in a breath and struggled to find something to say. Sure, he'd been in on all the rallies supporting marriage equality and the right to use words like family and parent and husband and wife regardless of the genders behind them. He'd just never considered that he'd get that opportunity himself. Ted had never brought up the concept of "more". Ever. Never ever. Picturing himself cooing over a crib had been so far from reality that Miles just … well … just didn't.

He took another breath and stood, nodding at thoughts for a second before he finally caught Ted's eye. "You remember when you came up on me in the dark back there, Ted? And I jumped sky high and had to swallow my nuts back into place?"

Ted nodded, not making eye contact, embarrassed and looking like he was ready to bolt from the building and never look back.

Miles walked closer. "And I told you that you ought to warn a person?" He didn't stop walking until they were eye to eye and all Miles could smell between the two of them was fried wiring and bubble gum. "Well, I love you, Miles. That's the God's truth. But you really ought to warn somebody before you come up on them up in the dark. So you don't scare them half to death. You know what I'm saying here, Ted?"

Ted lowered his eyes. "Sorry." He cocked a tiny grin at his shoes. "Sometimes I forget we actually gotta speak to hear each other sometimes. It kinda comes … easy … you and me. When I find something I still don't know about you, it throws me for a bit of a loop."

"I imagine if I knew myself, then you would too," Miles ducked an inch or two to catch up Ted's eyes with his own again. "I also imagine there are about a hundred better spots to discuss it other than here." He waited for Ted's smile and then gasped in mock-shock. "Oh Good God! Please tell me this isn't your way of trying to tell me that you're pregnant?"

He couldn't hold back the grin at the playful narrowing of Ted's eyes or the sideways smirk Ted's smile morphed into. "You're a bit of an ass, you know that, boy?"

Miles sent him a cheesy wink and stuck out his pointer finger in the traditional gun-gesture. "Good thing you like a bit of ass now and again then, hmm? Now," he said, jumping out of the way of the swat he knew was coming before Ted even lined it up. "Let's get back to work before we both get fired. Heaven knows it sounds like we got some saving up to do."

The End

Copyright © 2013 AF Henley

On The Wrong Trail

On The Wrong Trail

*Story contains fantasy elements*

Craig had spoken so many "Dude, no," in a row that the words had started to sound like a chant. But when gentle persuasion had tilted into aggressive pressure and that had been given up for shaming, Craig had turned tail and floundered his way back to the ski lodge without looking back. If Max and his buddies wanted to break their necks, good for them – Craig on the other hand was more than content to drink the afternoon away with a novel in his hand and his feet on the hearth.


What he would have preferred would have been for the lot of them to choose a smaller slope and let him work his confidence up. What would have been nice would have been a "Don't worry about it. You'll get it. We'll help you." But as the likelihood of that happening had fallen to nil when Max had started calling him a pussy, it helped to keep telling himself he didn't care.

It's not like he hadn't known the trip wasn't going to be successful; he didn't need to be told that it had been a bad idea to agree to join them. He'd recognized that when his roommates had asked him to come along on their ski trip it had been for one reason and one reason alone – the fact that Craig had a car on campus and none of them did. He'd pre-accepted the sneering and the rolled eyes that would come from his lack of experience. Yet as much as he'd hoped he could prove his inklings wrong, he had no intentions of flinging himself down a snow-slicked hill of death, valiantly trying to keep balance whilst hurtling at break-neck speeds, just to try and make himself look good in front of a bunch of guys acting like jerks. He might be desperate for friends, he might have a crush on Max that was as heavy as Atlas' burden, but he wasn't that stupid.

Still ... it kind of sucked to be the odd man out again. He'd figured college was going to be different. New men, smarter men, more reasonable men: men that weren't going to laugh at him for being who he was. Tolerance, acceptance, understanding; all those little concessions that made life bearable.

He'd been wrong.

He didn't bother to explain to the ski rental counter what he was doing back so soon, he merely shook his head at the attendant and turned away. Somewhere a vodka-laced hot chocolate was moaning his name and he fully intended to put the poor beverage out of its misery.

"There's no refund on the ski rentals," the chipper clerk warned him as he stepped from the desk.

"I could give a fu—" The words died on his tongue as Craig watched a happy couple suit up on the bench a few feet away. They were smiling, chatting, with backpacks at their feet, all the requisite layers in place and Thermoses in their hands. As if they were planning on making a day out of things, a trip, a one-on-one event, a nice quiet track through snow and sunlight. "What about exchange?"


"Cross country skis for the downhill ones. Can I do that?" It was a nice bright day. And as much as his roommates might not appreciate his company, Craig didn't mind it in the least. Let them bust their legs into bent matchsticks. Let them wrench their necks and snap their wrists. He was going out in the sun and the snow with a flask of vodka in one pocket and something hot in the other. He was going to cloud-gaze and bird-watch, identify tracks and name trees – every damn geeky thing he could find, in fact.

Fuck Max and fuck Max's minions.


The ski trail Craig selected was well-maintained and beautiful. It ran, for the most part, along the rear perimeter of the lodge, parallel with the tree line of the provincial park. A wise man, he told himself, would have brought a proper camera. He had his phone though, a brand spanking new Galaxy S III and it took damn fine pics for a mobile. Although considering the unit was struggling to grab a single bar in connection, it was a good thing it did something.

He shifted his stance to dig the vodka out of the side-pocket of his ski pants and zipped his phone back into his jacket pocket at the same time. The air was milder there beside the trees and Craig took a quick nip out of the flask while scoping the scenery. As far out as he was, it was almost like being alone. He'd long since left behind the sounds of families and associates chatting between themselves as they passed him on the trail. Even the whoops of the downhill skiers and snowboarders had faded away. Watchful hawks and curious crows eyed him from the treetops, feathers puffed against the cold. Branches snapped under the weight of snow and echoed through the air like the cracks of pop-guns. The lake, unseen and yet heard, shifted ice in mournful sighs and startling coughs.

Craig's grandparents had lived beside a lake in Northern Ontario until his grandmother's cancer caught up with her and his grandfather had packed them up and moved back to Toronto. Craig would never forget that property – he'd spent countless hours beside that lake growing up. In the summer it teemed with every living thing one could expect: salamanders and frogs, dragonflies and moths, ladybugs and sand beetles, sunfish and perch, loons and snapping turtles. In the winter it became its own creature though. While everything else buried itself into brush and mud, sand and murky depths to try and survive the next several months, the lake shrugged off its calm serenity and became a constantly-moving, shifting, groaning, cracking, whistling beast. Year after year it swallowed the season's quota of snowmobiles and ATVs. One winter Craig had even stood and watched in fascination as a group of rescuers chipped out the body of a tourist that had met his demise while foolishly attempting to cross the supposedly "rock-solid" surface.

"Never trust the ice over a lake," Craig's grandfather used to tell him. "She's a liar and a temptress." But watch it? Watch the sun turn the surface into a diamond-sprinkled blanket? Watch the wind swirl gossamer strings of snow through dance-like bows and pirouettes before drawing them into drifts that rippled and sprawled like landscape? Yeah, that he and Grandpa could do until their toes were numb and their teeth were chattering.

He wondered if this particular lake had the same dangerous beauty. It couldn't be far from the trail; not if the sounds could be trusted. Surely no more than five, maybe ten, minutes away? And while no manicured trail wound its way through the trees, the snow still sat thick and full and Craig was sure travelling with the skis would be fine. If worse came to worse he could always unsnap them and just walk in his ski boots.

After all, he had all afternoon to kill and damned if that didn't sound like a nice way to do it.


"Having some trouble?"

The voice was warm and sweet and Craig's heart lurched towards it before his body managed to. Things had gone from bad to worse very quickly and the last thing Craig's body was doing was responding well.

He hadn't found the lake. While his grandparent's lake had been massive, the one he'd sought had either been as small as a puddle, or demonically elusive. Every time Craig had thought it should have been right there, just past the next set of trees, all he'd found had been more trees. And every time he'd told himself to turn around and find his way back to the trail, he'd heard another haunting call from the ice that had kept him forward. He'd given up the chase when he'd looked into the sky and realised the sun, though bright, was suddenly far more eye-level than it was above him.

A wise person would have followed his own tracks out but Craig had serious concerns about the amount of time it would take for him to follow his wandering, constantly-adjusted path back. He'd been more than sure if he kept a straight north-west it would take him if not back to the trail, at least back in the direction of the lodge.

By the time he realised that had been foolish, dark had been advancing with the speed of flying bullets and he was sweating like a pig from exertion, regardless of the dramatic drop in temperature. It was tension that kept him sipping from the flask but that just made his mouth dry. It was frustration that him cursing at his phone—that damned phone that had looked so shiny and new in the display case, that had all but called his name and promised its devotion and perfection—had sucked the battery dry with every picture and refused to grab even a trace of signal out there among the trees.

When Craig lifted the Thermos of coffee to his lips and found the liquid inside was ice cold, tension bloomed to anxiety. When the trees got too heavy to ski between and he had to slow down his advance by walking, anxiety became fear. But when he finally had to abandon the skis because his arms hurt too much to carry them and the weight made exhausted legs that much more so, fear turned to outright panic.

He'd only stopped beside the arm-span-wide trunk for a second, just to catch his breath and try to orient his mind into thought. His arms and legs trembled but they were nowhere near as bad as the aching, all but useless limbs that had once been his nimble hands and sprite feet. It wasn't until Craig had lifted his left hand to try and push hair from his forehead that he'd noticed the missing glove, nor could he place the time or event that caused the loss. Could, in fact, recall very little of the last couple (few? several?) hours.

"You look like you could use a hand."

"Two actually," Craig thought, though the words refused to form. "At the very least I'll need a few new fingers anyway."

The voice chuckled and Craig finally forced himself to search it out in an effort to locate the person behind it. "Who?"

The question repeated itself and then again. Who ... Who ... Wh-who?


Seconds (minutes? hours?) later, Craig shook his head and gazed around his immediate space. Had that been him? Had he asked the "who?" Or had it merely been a figment of his imagination? A misplaced hoot twisted by maniacal reasoning into a question?

No warm breath found his face. No soft spoken man stood at his side. He was sinking. Quickly. Fabrication was edging into consciousness. He needed to get out of the cold. He needed water. He needed strength...

"What you need to do is get up."

It took everything Craig had to lift himself up on his arms and tuck his knees under him. He crouched there, like a dog on all fours, and insisted his lungs keep breathing. When had he fallen? How long had he been there?

"Further up – all the way up. The kind of up that's going to get you walking again. And you have to do it now."

"Oh..." Thought had to take over for speech from that vowel forward. Oh, you arethere. Oh, there is someone. Oh, my. Oh, bother.

There in the dark awaits a man...
He holds both sword and outstretched hand...

"Forget the nursery rhymes, Craig. I need you to focus."

But that was a tough demand, Craig thought. There in the snow concentration was hard to master. Distraction, on the other hand, was so damn easy to fall into.

Who waits for me in the cold, dark hall?
Who sings my name with sweet recall?

"Please, Craig." And still the voice remained calm and strong.

Palms found Craig's cheeks and the warmth that radiated from what must have been bare skin was so powerful it was almost blinding. Behind closed lids, eyeballs rolled forward as though mechanically forced. Breath stuttered into Craig's chilled lungs. He reached up and clung to powerful wrists with both hands, forcing stiff fingers to curl where they were able and hoping pressure would suffice where they were not.

Hey, ma, I might just lose those fingers.
Hey, ma, I might just lose this fight.

"Not on my watch, Craig."

Strong arms helped muscle him back to standing, caught him when he fell forward and forced him into small, hitched steps.


Movement felt good somehow. In spite of the bone-wrenching ache, regardless of compounding exhaustion, the shuffling and the bumbling seemed to pump the blood and the movement of blood seemed to force a little vitality to bloom.

Still, working his tongue was an effort and Craig shuddered with every word. "Did they send you for me?"

Silence answered.

"How did you find me?"

Craig could feel eyes on him, a sixth-sense nudge that was completely free of malice and yet still, somehow, chock full of odd. He turned towards the man who assisted him and by the swinging light of the man's battery-operated lantern, Craig noted the strange ski suit, almost vintage styled in a grotesque orange, yellow and brown; the odd cut of layered blond hair a touch too long; the lack of skis.

"Who are you?"

The man's smile was warm, his eyes kind. "A friend."

"I have no friends," Craig chuckled, and the stretching of frozen skin split his lip. The pain brought more heat, the dribble of blood more still, and he wondered if perhaps he might actually be feeling a little warmer...

"You're not," the man replied as though reading Craig's mind. "Severe hypothermia is setting in. In a few moments you will start getting rushes of heat that will feel like something is burning you. As they say, one is never truly freezing to death until one feels the heat. If you stop to rest now, you'll die. If you succumb to these feelings and do something stupid like start shedding clothing, you will die. If you do anything at all but keep going, you will not last the night and you will die. So please, Craig,start walking again."

Stunned Craig dropped his gaze to the ground. A wave of vertigo hit him and he wobbled. When had he stopped walking?

"Where are we—" It took too much effort to look up, to try and orient himself with anything – a distant light, a flickering flame, a familiar star.

"So close now, Craig."

The sentence was mouthed as reverently as a vow. And if only I can trust it, Craig thought. If only there was a way to know if the "close" that was being promised was salvation, and not end game. Because it feels like it, Craig told himself. It feels like I'm dying. White and yellow spots made patchworks on the puffed, blue-gray skin of his exposed hand. Every breath was a chore.

The man lifted a hand while Craig tried to decipher if the slow, smooth movement was actually done in slow motion or if his eyes were just having hard a hard time keeping up to normal activity. His chin was caught by light, warm fingers that made Craig want to fall against the body of the man and be absorbed into the touch and emotion, the feeling of another person caring for him ... being kind to him.

"See?" His chin was pressed an inch to the right and lifted. "Open your eyes and see."

The lights were miraculous in their glory. Dozens, no, hundreds of blazing yellow squares that could only be windows – that had to be glass holding in heat and food and water ... Craig almost sunk to his knees in gratitude. If his tear glands were capable, he'd have wept with relief. Instead he gripped the nylon ski jacket of his companion with his one gloved hand and stumbled forward.

"Wait." The man stilled him with a single touch and as severe as the urge to keep going was, Craig paused.

"Whatever jerk it is that has you out here beating your head against ice castles, trust me, Craig. He's not worth it."

Craig frowned and tilted his head. "Do I know you?"

Unfazed by the question, the man stepped forward and drew their bodies closer.

"We only get one life to live, Craig and we truly are the masters of our own destiny. If you let someone else's broken soul splinter into your own, then you have no one but yourself to blame if those shards make you bleed. Ask yourself this: were you out here chasing the sun? Or were you actually running towards the dark? Were you following the sounds of laughter? Or the haunting mock of disappointment?"

They locked eyes and emotion spiked through Craig's blood.

"If you go out looking for abuse, you need to understand that you will find it."

A bell sounded from somewhere very far away.

"You owe it to yourself to armour your soul with the people and the things that make you happy and whole. You are under no obligation to be part of a broken heart. Step away from those who want to burden you – find fulfillment and solidarity, peace and love. But more than anything, at least right this moment, you owe it to yourself to get up, go on, and get back to that lodge. You need to come out on the good side of this adventure because giving up, even for a second, is going to be the last bad decision you make."

It took a second for the words to register meaning. "You're coming with me?"

"From here you walk alone."

Craig shook his head and the world spun with the movement. "I won't make it."

His hand was gripped, his shoulder squeezed. "You have to."

Craig stumbled out of the tree line, arms stretched in front of him, eyes unfocussed yet trained on the bright squares of hope. He walked.


Craig never knew pain like the pain he went through in the following twenty-four hours. As abused tissue reawakened, as dead tissue was sloughed away, Craig's body felt like it was not only being reanimated but rekindled – in hell fire.

"The other," he kept moaning to the nursing staff and the doctors. "You have to find the other man."

"You were alone," they insisted.

"But he saved me," Craig swore. "Out in the snow..."

It was the janitor, on day three, that finally made sense of it. He'd wandered in, suspiciously attempting to look innocent, before smiling a toothless smile and clearing a whiskey-abused, cigarette-damaged throat at him. "I see you've met Jack."

Craig's finger hovered over the call button, nervous and unsettled. "Jack?"

"Our resident spirit," the janitor nodded. "The wanderer in the snow, the saviour of the lost."

He laughed when Craig's expression dropped to a skeptical frown and images of weatherworn, leather-skinned frogs croaking their approval of the weather filled Craig's mind.

"Jack was a ski instructor at the lodge back in the winter of nineteen-seventy-four. He was one of those guys that everybody wanted to be like and no one ever could: athletic, cool, good-looking. He also had the attitude to go with it. Kind of smart-mouthed, cocky – thought he was better than everyone else. You know the type I'm sure. The legend goes that Jack had only been working at the lodge for three weeks when he'd made a joke about one of the students he'd been teaching that got mistakenly overheard by the little guy. The kid took off, humiliated and upset, and was still missing two hours later when a storm started to blow in. Of course, by that time, Jack was feeling like a total asshole and took it on himself to head out looking for the boy. Seven hours and four feet of snow later the little one stumbles through the front door in a state of shock, damn near frozen to death, insisting that Jack helped him find his way back."

A familiar story, Craig thought. But surely just a coincidence?

"Only thing is though? Jack never made it back. Nor was he ever found." The janitor leaned on his broom. "We had an old native in residence at the time, telling legends for the wee ones as part of the Nature Retreat Package. He sat himself down with a big old pipe, had himself a chat with the birds he says, and he tells us that Jack made a deal with the Snow Spirit – his life in exchange for the boy's. He felt responsible, see, for the child being in danger in the first place. The Snow Spirit granted the request but only on Jack's promise that he instead of death, Jack would continue to wander the woods, saving souls, until the time had passed that he'd paid back his debt to the Universe."

"Quite a tale," Craig mumbled.

"Quite, indeed," the janitor nodded. "And unbelievable but for the reports of those like yourself that have stumbled back into the land of the living." The janitor snorted and patted his pockets until he located a rag. He was wiping the top of the radiator when a nurse stuck her head in and all but surprised Craig into a heart attack.

"All well?" she asked brightly.

Dumbfounded and still nervous, Craig nodded silently.

It wasn't until she'd checked the monitor, patted Craig's hand and walked back out that the janitor turned back. "So tell me if I'm wrong, boy. A pretty man, yes? One who seems to know your whole life's story even though you're sure you've never seen him before? And real old ski clothes—orange and brown I think I've heard—with brilliant yellow hair and a touch that seems to have the power of the sun in it?"

Craig recalled that weird sixth-sense-ness that felt so full of bizarre, even while it remained comforting. "Impossible..."

He didn't realise he'd spoken the word aloud until the janitor gave him another crooked grin. "Then tell me one more thing." The janitor shuffled closer, wringing his rag between both hands. "Did he save you?"

He stood so close that Craig couldn't miss it when the man's expression suddenly shifted. And in the light that streamed through the window Craig recognized the shape and shade of eyes from his moments of lucidity while he walked the snow with death at his heels. "You knew him."

Amusement darkened to pain. Sadness. Loss. "He was my son."

A moment passed while throat muscles worked to reshape words and eyes fought to keep back tears – on both their bodies.

"So did he?" the janitor repeated. "Did he save you?" He caught and held Craig's gaze. "I mean really, truly save you?"

"He's not worth it," Craig's saviour had told him and in the past two days Craig had known the truth in that statement several times over.

"We only get one life to live, Craig ... " And who better to know the importance of that then a man facing his own demise? Or how badly one could fight against the concept when death became a probability?

The number of times Craig had asked himself, pensive and lost in musing as he lay in the hospital bed and wrestled with agony, "What was I actually following anyway? What was I looking for?" was surprising even to him.

And wasn't that really just another way of asking, "Were you following the sounds of laughter? Or the haunting mock of disappointment?"

Max and his crew had been by to check on him. But the conversation had ended with a request to take the car back to the college since Craig wouldn't be up and using it anyway. They'd take real good care of it Max had promised. They wouldn't even drive it around. Nope, just to get back to school – Scout's Honour, cross my heart and hope to die, swear on the Holy Bible. It had been the obvious reason for the visit. And for once in his life Craig hadn't buckled to the pressure to please someone who didn't give a shit about him. There would be no more Max worship. There would be no more bowing.

"From here you walk alone," and Craig was walking. For the first time in his life, he felt like he had the strength to stride with his chin up and a smile on his face. He had a reason to live – and that reason was himself. He wanted to live because he deserved to.

Jack had said so.

"Yes," Craig had to swallow on the word, an attempt to rid himself of the lump in his throat. "He saved me. Really and truly."

The janitor closed his eyes and smiled. "Good."

Dust motes danced through the sun that spilled through the window. Snow had continued to fall and the property around them was brilliant and fresh. Refracted prisms of miniscule crystals turned surfaces into diamond-infused works of art. A child laughed; unseen in the hallway beyond. The low murmur of an adult close by answered it pleasantly.

As though in tune with the steady beep of Craig's vitals, the clock on the wall above them tapped along with the passage of time.

It was a beautiful day. A good day to chase the sun.

The End

Copyright © 2013 AF Henley

Perfect August

Perfect August

*Story contains M/M relations and moments of angst*

The rough concrete block behind Rae's skull was far from comfortable. That in itself seemed fitting; comfort through the knowledge that he was, in fact, suffering just a little even if it did seem to be a gross misrepresentation of the word. He dredged up memory, as slow as it was, and considered definitions and understanding. To suffer: to feel pain or distress; sustain loss, injury, harm, or punishment; to tolerate or endure evil. Perhaps then, Rae thought, nodding to no one, vision lost to closed eyelids, perhaps not so wrong a word after all?

"Shine bright like a diamond ... "

And in that moment, as the lyrics from unseen speakers took their dramatic pause, hooking listeners into straining their ears for the sudden impact of impending notes, it was August. It was two-thousand-and one and the sky was as blue as a child's crayon, the grass as green as a glowing streetlight—go, go, go!—and not even the heat in the air could have slowed Rae's footsteps as he made his way across the expanse of lawn in front of the university. Rae didn't "do" late. Late was unacceptable behaviour. Let the sweat prick between his shoulder blades and dampen his hair until it stuck to his forehead; these were the prices that must be paid when one had need to stop for coffee yet had no time to spare. But even in the rush, the day was perfect. There was light in the sky, birds in the trees and the hum of life all around him.

"Shine bright like a diamond ... "

"Paging Doctor Davis," the sound broke through Rae's reverie at the same moment that something slammed into the double-swing-doors at the end of the hall. "Doctor Davis to Emergency, please."

He had no idea what was on the cart the three employees rushed into the hall and past him with. Only that it didn't look good. Worse though, so damn much worse than trying to figure out what it was for, was the question of where it was going. His eyes didn't leave the unit until the lot had disappeared from sight through yet another set of doors at the opposing end of the passage. Even then, he watched until the barriers had long since stilled their hushed, dwindling swing. Nothing going on past here, they seemed to say. No need to stare so sadly. Have you seen our selection of complimentary magazines?

But Rae didn't need the shiny pages full of beautiful people; especially not pages that would be crawling with every virus and bacteria known to man. No, his fantasy was attainable without visual prompt. His reprieve was back inside his mind. Remembering.

"Find light in the beautiful sea, I choose to be happy ... "

He'd been beautiful enough to take Rae's breath away: dark hair tucked into a pony, a t-shirt that looked like it had been washed so many times the fabric itself was giving up, and slim jeans despite the heat. Rae had actually stopped, stunned, before catching himself and blushing. It had been too late though. The young man had looked up from his sketchpad and grinned.

"I know, right?"

Rae had been so taken with the man's smile he didn't realise the words were for him until they were repeated. "I'm ... " Rae frowned. "I'm sorry?"

"The view is spectacular," he'd said. "I've never seen a building so beautiful in my whole life." He'd nodded at the university with a smile on his face and a dream in his eyes and Rae was sure something in his chest had broken from the sheer joy in his expression. "Were you coming to draw as well?"

It took another moment for Rae to realise what the man was asking. Then he'd yanked his own sketchpad up as if there'd never been anything more obvious in the world. "Yes," Rae had said, voice shaky, every plan he'd had for the day dissolving. "Yes, I was."

The man patted the ground beside him and scooched to the right. "You can sit here if you'd like. It's not so bad in the shade."

With their spines pressed against the wide trunk of an elm, pads pressed on the thighs of bent legs, and pencils scratching fine lines, Rae was sure he'd never been so content. And for what? The company of a stranger?

Sometimes the heart knows though. Sometimes it's perfect even before it starts.

"I'm Samuel," he'd said quietly.

And Rae had to hold his tongue lest he speak the reply his whole self wanted to. "And I am saved."

"You’re a shooting star I see, a vision of ecstasy ... "

"Sir, can I show you how to get to the coffee shop?"

Rae opened his eyes and smiled politely at the owner of the voice even though his soul was furious with the interruption. "Not for this!" it wanted to scream. Don't disturb me until you can tell me ... When you can tell me ... If you can tell me ...

"Thank you, no. I'm fine here."

"You might find it a little more comfortable?"

And then not be here? To not be the first to know? To wander back with a full stomach or a caffeine-enhanced boost and find out that while he'd been gone, while no one had sat in attendance, the worst ... the unimaginable ...

"No. I'm good. But thank you."

"It could be hours still—"

"Yes," Rae nodded. "I know."

Don't sleep, he told himself as his eyelids fell closed again. Just don't sleep.

The grass had been warm and dry underneath them, an oddity in the usually damp August. A small red squirrel kept its eye on the two of them—the Universe's chaperone—and insects flitted and droned on lazy, heat-soaked wings.

Rae didn't need to turn his eyes towards the century-old building to find the lines for his sketch. His pencil didn't seek to copy the ivy-graced stone nor the elaborate entrance. From the corner of his eye Rae traced the smooth cheek of a man-child, the firm jaw of a knight, the lips of an angel and eyes of a mischievous sprite.

"I knew that we’d become one right away ... I saw the life inside your eyes."

It didn't, in fact, happen right away. But the fact it happened at all brought Rae back to life again. Samuel gave hope to what had felt like an expanse of devastation, fresh air to a man suffocating in his own expulsions, and soothed a rattled need for control with quiet confidence.

"Relax, kid," Samuel would tell him. "The only person insisting on your perfection is you."

Rae had never known fortitude as strong as what he felt in Samuel's arms. He'd never known peace as sweet as what radiated from Samuel's heart. He felt whole and completed, like he'd spent his entire life struggling to operate with only a single half of him in place, and just by being there Samuel had filled that hole. The most beautiful part about Samuel though, was that Rae never felt alone in those thoughts. He could see the same ones shining in Samuel's eyes whenever Samuel looked at him.

"Remember," Samuel would say, "how perfect that day was?"

"How can I," Rae would answer, "when all I can recall is how perfect you were?"

"Feel the warmth we’ll never die ... "

"What's wrong?" Rae let the suitcase fall and hurried over to where Samuel had crumpled.

The grimace on Samuel's face belied very word he spoke. "Nothing. Just a cramp." White skin, glassy eyes, blotchy cheeks.

"How long?"

Speech appeared painful; perhaps even breath. "This morning I think."

Rae ignored the cabdriver when the man leaned on his horn. Ignorant prick. "Why didn't you say?"

"And ruin the holiday? You've planned this for months."

The suitcases were dropped back in the loft. Samuel was helped into the cab. And when the vehicle swooped from the curb and merged with traffic it was towards the hospital and not the airport they headed. The flights were delayed by phone as they drove.

"I'm so sorry," Samuel kept muttering.

"Don't be," Rae said firmly. "Trips can wait. You can't."

A minor delay; they'd see what was up and then catch the next flight. No big deal. No worries. Except they weren't smiling and leaving the hospital with a prescription in hand and a story for the flight attendant.

"Eye to eye, so alive ... diamonds in the night."


"It's a common procedure," the doctor told them both. "But we have to do it now before there are any complications. This is serious."

As they wheeled Samuel away, Rae hadn't been able to stop him from muttering, "I'm sorry," over and over again.

Please don't, he'd wanted to beg. Please don't make "I'm sorry" be the last thing you ever say to me. The words wouldn't make it out of his throat though. The passage had been seared closed with the fire of a million held-back tears.

Too good to be forever.

Too perfect to be mine.

But I need you. Please don't leave me.

"You’re a shooting star I see, a vision of ecstasy – when you hold me, I’m alive."


His annoyance to his own name came out in a loud grumble of negation.

"Are you awake, sir?"

He wanted to snap, "No." Of course he wasn't awake. But his eyes flew open and his tongue sputtered sound. Why hadn't he been? How had he dared to sleep?

"There you are," the hospital administrator smiled at him. "He's awake, Rae. And asking for you. Would you like to see him?"

No question had ever been so ridiculous or pointless in the history of mankind's ability to communicate with one another. Rae rose so quickly that he stumbled. He followed her in a state of disorientation so severe that he felt drunk.

Awake. And asking. Those two words could have been diamonds on velvet they shone so brightly in Rae's mind.

"It was just an appendix," Samuel said with a weak laugh when Rae dropped to his knees right there beside the bed.

A million rebukes came to mind but none made it to fruition. "I was so fucking scared," is all Rae managed.

They didn't need any more words than that. Rae dragged a chair as close to the bed as he could manage, gripped Samuel's right hand and leaned on the mattress. For long minutes he did nothing more than listen to Samuel's monitor. A perfect rhythm, a perfect pattern.

Blip. Blip.

Remember how perfect that day was?

Blip. Blip.

I only remember how perfect you were.

Blip. Blip.

"So shine bright ... you and I. We're beautiful like diamonds in the night."

The End

Copyright © 2013 AF Henley

Lyrical references from the single "Diamonds", listed on the album "Unapologetic", released September 2012 on the Def Jam label by artist Rihanna. "Diamonds" was written by Sia Furler, Benjamin Levin (Benny Blanco), Mikkel S. Eriksen and Tor Erik Hermansen; and was produced by Benny Blanco under the production name of StarGate.

This fiction is in no way associated with, indicative of, or based on the lyrics. All rights to both lyrics and song belong to their respective owners.

I.S.S. (Imaginative Self Service)

I.S.S. (Imaginative Self Service)

*Story contains M/M fantasy and sexual scenes*

There's a whoosh of air when a section of the wall slides aside and a passageway from here to there appears as if from out of nowhere. Air regulates from one place to the next and he steps through the opening with that calm, cool, detached aura that he always manages to carry with him. Silver graces each temple, a light frown deepens encroaching lines and he leans over a monitor to get a sense of development. "William," he says, his voice clipped and stern, "I was told you needed to see me for a very urgent matter?"

Oh, my, yes. Urgent. Urgent indeed.

"Captain," I say …

Wait, is that the right term? Do they have captains? Ah well, captain is close enough.

We've been boarded on this station for going on eleven weeks now. I can deal with the water jets and wet wipes in lieu of showers, I can manage with the bagged food, but if I have to wait even another moment for what I've managed to sequester him in this room for, I have no doubt that I will lose my mind completely. Time to boldly go…

"Damn it, Jim," a voice says from out of the blue. "I'm a doctor, not an engineer."

I glare at the intruding character that came out of nowhere until he leaves the room with a shrug and another huff of air. So much noise: pressurised modules, external trusses, solar arrays and other components all working to keep life sustained and machinery in motion; everything driving along with the constant whir of fans, blips on monitors and trills of communication devices. And all I want to focus on is him.

Let's just say it's time to step up our biology experiments, sir.

"Captain, I … "

I what? How does this work in the movies? Why can't I make my goddamn brains cooperate with me in the least?

I catch his eye, let my lips fall open and cock an eyebrow. "I need to show you something."

"Perhaps you do," he agrees, pursing his lips a bit, glaring down at the monitor before releasing a series of furious taps on the keyboard below it. To our right the passageway suddenly responds with a harsh click and the light above it switches from green to red. Locked. I turn my eyes back to him and our gazes catch just as firmly. "And perhaps a good time for this little show would be now."

He straightens, dark blue t-shirt stretching sinfully over pectorals that could be rocks, and clasps both bath hands behind his back before he begins to advance. "There is really only one question remaining isn't there, crewman?" His footsteps pad over carpeting, a muted telltale of his advance …

Definitely not buying that you could hear the footsteps, dumb ass. And carpeting? Really?

Growl and grit teeth, ignore … Focus.

"Why aren't you naked?"

That gets my body rising immediately. His voice in that low growl, his expression perfect. I should tell him how long I've wanted him, how many times I've thought about him; instead I just reach for the elastic waistband of my pants and shove them down my hips. They fall …

They most certainly do not.

I have to walk myself out of the fabric and while I step out, reach for and secure them by shoving them into a drawer, he watches. He points at my shirt and I struggle myself out of it as well. You get used to the cooler environment. Of course, one isn't usually standing buck naked in it. He waits until I'm waiting, shivering, before lowering himself to the seating unit in the console. "You'll have to swallow it," he says.

That's freaking fine by me.

He's perfectly hard and smells like hospital soap but I don't care because I'm finally on my knees in front of this man that I've wanted for way too long and even though the floor is hard …


… and even though the carpeting is rough on my knees the moment is too perfect. Wet suction resounds over the hard, sound-bouncing surfaces of machinery and walls but though his rubber soles occasionally grate over the rug, he makes no sound of his own. He's in complete control of himself—a king among men—and watching him, watch me; feeling his body twitch and respond in my mouth even as his face remains passive, makes me hard as hell.

"Touch it," he says. He doesn't need to tell me he means my own. I can tell by the way he's rocking his hips that he prefers my throat to my palm. No, it's me he wants to see getting touched. It's my cock he wants to see leaking over my knuckles.

That's what breaks him. That's what finally makes him moan: when I release him for a moment to grab myself, when we both look down and a single, thick run of cum dribbles from my body. "Up," he growls. "Up and over. Now."

I don't need to be told twice. Slick fingers are deep inside me even before my mind has a chance to reorient itself. His fingers are rough and long, as experienced as he is, and there's not enough oxygen in the air to support my lungs as he learns the way I feel from the inside. My legs shake, my cock throbs, and I go back to stroking myself while he plays. Then his fingers are gone and he's nudging against me.

I get two slow thrusts to get used to him and that's it. I'm not complaining. Not even when he leans over my back, steadies himself against me and groans out a, "Tell me you want to feel it." He doesn't give me time to do it though. He drives into me.

I choke on my reply and I feel him hesitate. The thought makes me insane with panic. "Don't you dare," I pant. "Don't you stop. I do. I want to feel it. I want to feel all of it. Fuck me, Captain. Fuck me hard."

He definitely likes the reaction. I grip the ledge of the tiny viewing pane, pushing back into him as he shoves himself into me, not sure if the stars in my eyes are real or imagined. Naked skin beats against naked skin, I'm making sounds that even I don't understand, and his fingertips are so deep into my skin I can feel his nails marking me.

Captain, it's gonna blow!

I shout, lost in it; feeling every pulse and shudder. My cock gasps shot after shot of warm, wet relief over my abdomen, my fingers still in the depths of my body. I open my eyes, breathless and sweating, and blink until I can see again.

The couch squeals its protest as I shift my weight and reach for the shirt I'd abandoned on the fading carpet of my apartment. In front of me, Roddenberry's crew are laughing through the final moments of scripted humour. Beside me, an open, but long-since forgotten printout I'd been reviewing for my new boss. My new boss: he of the never-to-come smile and the silvered temples; he of the experienced dry wit and the voice that sounds so firmly commanding and somehow so damn soothing at the same time.

Ah well, back to reality. 

The End

Copyright © 2013 AF Henley