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.


Oshimai


This story was inspired by this picture "Godzilla (Mai 2015)" http://boysininkandcolour.com/misc-safe-non-mm-art/ 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

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Way We Were


On an awesome day, for an awesome friend... 

This story is a sidefic for the "Fault Lines" series, and is dedicated, as the original was to Draw.

Copyright © 2014 AF Henley

Warning: Story contains sexual situations and gay romance.

~*~*~*~

In the glass of the storefront, on little gold boxes and see-through jewel cases that looked more expensive than the items they displayed, sat a variety of watches. They winked and beckoned at Rory, promising immeasurable gratitude, and if those vows could be trusted, he'd already be through the door and laying down one of his credit cards. Danny wouldn't see the gift like that, though. No, Danny would give him a smile, admit that it was a nice gesture, and then in the next breath Danny would ask just how many wrists Rory figured he had. He'd tell Rory to take it back and remind Rory that he loved the watch he already wore. 

Rory would have the same luck with jewellery, clothing, or shoes, and there was no way Danny would wait for something like a birthday to buy an electronic-whatever if it was something he wanted to have. That was one of the few unfortunate things about being together for as many years as they had—there'd already been six birthdays, six Christmases, six Valentine's Days, and God, what... four anniversaries?

It would almost be easier if Danny was the kind of guy that liked getting lavished with gifts, but he was far from it. Danny still had shoes from when he'd been eighteen, preferred vintage clothing over new, and had, as he so eloquently put it, zero-fucking interest in learning how to drive. Considering they lived a good thirty-minute's drive from town and an hour from the city, it was a damn good thing they both worked from home. Not that Danny would have let Rory buy him a car even if he'd needed it. Rory's ex liked to tease them about Danny being spoiled rotten, but Danny would be much happier with a garage-sale box of old albums then he'd ever be over a four-hundred dollar watch or brand new coupe. Sweet premise, but it made for one hell of a hard time when buying gifts.

Rory waved away the clerk that appeared in the window, and turned back into the traffic of the sidewalk. He kept to the right as he walked, his eyes raking every display as he passed. He'd tried the 'let's just write up a list' thing the previous Christmas, but Danny had been adamant in his refusal. "I don't need anything," Danny had said anytime Rory had brought it up. "Make a donation to charity or something."

Again, sweet premise, and as much as Rory didn't mind trying to save the world a few bucks at a time, that didn't mean he wanted to do it instead of getting something for Danny.

"Damn it," a woman hissed in front of Rory, looking back over her shoulder and giving Rory one of those can-you-believe-this looks. She shook her head and pursed her lips. "I swear to God. These fucking vagrants think they have the right to the whole damn sidewalk."

In front of her, a man in dirty clothing did nothing more but grin at the comment with uneven, discoloured teeth.  He stood behind a shopping cart that was stuffed full of old odd and ends. It jutted out in front of him, no doubt the object of the woman's distaste, as it truly did take up a good half of the walkway. Still, as far as Randy was concerned, there was nothing worse than outright ignorance, especially when it was directed at folks in situations less pleasant that one's own.

His reply was out of his mouth before his head had the chance to tell him to swallow it. "They have about as much right to be here as anyone else, I'd imagine. And I don't hear him swearing in the middle of the street like a sailor on shore leave."

He was given a glare and then the women strode past, her nose held comically high.

"Well, now, I suppose we can always hope she drowns herself in a sudden and torrential rainstorm."

Rory hadn't realised he'd stopped walking until he heard the voice. When he turned his head toward it, the man behind the cart widened his grin. "I jest, of course," the man said, and nodded in the direction of the disappearing woman. "Intolerance is hardly a crime that should be fought with a death sentence."

"I guess that depends on how the intolerance is demonstrated," Rory said.

The man hitched one shoulder in a small, disinterested shrug. "All I know is intolerance of intolerance is still intolerance. Which makes the martyr no better than the sinner. You know what I'm saying?"

The man rested his forearms on the handle of the cart. What looked like seven decades worth of fingerprints and palm-grime caked the length of it, and Danny had a second's thought of his buddy, Tristan, just about losing his mind over the list of parasites and bacterium that could be living there. A slideshow of squirming, squiggling one-celled critters began playing through Rory's head, and one by one he began to give them appropriate names and backgrounds. Strepto and his contagious but painful charm, Chlamydia and her burning, blinding passion—

"You still with me there, mate?"

He'd completely missed the fact the man was still talking to him, and he had to physically shake himself back into the moment. "Sorry," Rory smiled. "I wandered."

"Ah, well." The man nodded. "It's not a bad thing to step away from our heads now and again. Not all who wander are lost, and all that."

Rory snorted. "Gee, thanks, Tolkien."

"You're welcome," the man said simply. "Spare me a dollar, friend? I'd damn near dance naked in the street for a coffee."

Rory quickly held up one hand and reached into his pocket with the other. "Whoa. No need for that." He dug out his bills and flicked through them. "I'm a bit of a coffee man myself, you see. I'd hate to see anyone deprived."

He peeled off a single and held it out between them. He had few doubts that coffee was the last thing on the guy's mind, but what the hell. Life was short and times were hard and if a buck was going to make the guy happy, he could have it. After all, you had to give kudos to someone who professed to find joy in something as simple as coffee. For that matter, Danny and this guy could probably have long conversations over the concept of happiness in something so menial.

"If you got anything bigger than a single, I'll let you bend my ear on what's flicking through your head there," the man said without reaching for the bill. He waited for Rory to look at him and then caught Rory's gaze. From one eye shone a blue so bright and intelligent that it was hard to imagine that gaze could have led the man to his current place in life. The other eye was closed up tight, and Rory's creative processes immediately began to draw up potential stories on the whats and hows of circumstance.

The man's voice dropped and his lean became more focussed, as though he was trying to get closer to Rory without actually having to step forward. "And I don't mean the story you're writing in your head either. I mean the little wrestling match you got going on between what you wanna do and what you oughta do."

Rory's eyes narrowed underneath a frown. "Say what?"

The man reached, and wiggled his fingers in front of the bill. "Your donation first, mate. You know what they say—charity begins at home. So call me Uncle Destiny and I will call you my nephew, Little Story Chaser; son of my sister, Searcher, and her husband, Gift."

Creeps of suspicion began to crawl down Rory's spine. "Say what..."

The man's face lit with a laugh that was such an abrupt change in expression, it was startling. "Not that hard to figure out, mate. You're walking downtown and staring into all the shops like you're about to lose your best friend. You're jumping at anything that glitters, and then walking away with such a glum face that one could only assume you've realised it's all made of dog shit. You need a gift for the wife, right? I'll even wager on the assumption that it's your anniversary."

"Birthday," Rory said slowly. "And though he is my spouse, he's certainly no wife."

Once again the man wiggled his fingers, his smile widening on his face. "What's his stand on donating to the poor?"

"Undeniably firm," Rory said. He wrapped the single back around the rest of the bills and tugged out a twenty instead. "Do I get a donation receipt to slip in his card?"

The bill was out of Rory's fingers and tucked into the man's coat before Randy finished speaking. "No." He tweaked one finger up by his eye to draw Rory's attention. Once again their gazes locked, and the man's expression fell to sombre. "The only thing that gold can ever be to a butterfly is weight. Trimming a lily in silk will not only suffocate it, it is like shouting at the heavens that the lily was never good enough for you."

Rory stepped back, instantly flustered, and shook his head. "What? No. No, I would never think—"

The man hushed Rory by laying one black-nailed finger over his own mouth. "The most beautiful gift for a lover is the gift that reminds them of your connection. The moment, or the moments, when you started to fall; those little things they heard in the background when they first looked up at you and saw love in your eyes. The smells lingering in the air the first time they tasted your devotion on their tongue."

The man looked to the street, breaking eye-contact, and scratched viciously at his scalp. "I mean, if those things happen to be Beethoven and caviar, then by all means..." He waved at the street with his other hand. "Carry on then."

"But..."

Rory let the word trail when the man didn't lower his hand. The draw to follow the line of the man's arm couldn't be argued, and as Rory's eyes reached the man's hand, the man's finger extended into a point.

It was just a small Italian pizzeria, with the typical caricature of a wide-faced, bulbous-bellied, mustachioed chef holding a steaming pizza. Struggling geraniums grew in pots beside the double-doors that led into the shop, and if the wear on the finish of that door could be trusted, the shop saw its fair share of sweaty-palmed patrons at both the adult and child's level. As though called, a breeze danced past them laden with the scents of fresh tomato sauce, baking dough, and rich meats. It smelled positively sinful, and Rory's stomach fluttered with interest.

He cast a quick glance at the man, and lifted an eyebrow. "Pizza. Yes. Smells delicious."

The man nodded. "Then go get your gift."

"Pizza?" Rory's voice was edged with scepticism, and once again he turned his attention to the jovial image out from of the pizzeria. "That's a joke, right? I just gave you twenty bucks for you to tell me to buy him—"

From the depths of memory a picture popped up:  a twenty-one year old kid with a wide smile and stunning eyes. Only this time, the kid's eyes were softened by desire, and tinted by the previous moment's enjoyment of a certain seven-leafed plant. Then the kid was leaning, drawing closer, and his lips were parting and Rory's heart was pounding, and everything was terrifying but exhilarating, and new, but somehow comfortable. On both their breaths, the lingering scent of...

"Pizza," Rory said around a chuckle. He shook his head, and lifted it. "I don't know how you did that, but it was—"

He didn't bother finishing his sentence. The man was gone.

~*~*~*~

For the fifth time, Rory straddled the windowsill of their bedroom and wormed his way out on to the roof of the sitting room below. Though that particular part of the roof was what the contractor had called a low slope roof with a 1:12 pitch, Rory still got an uneasy feeling whenever he stood on it. Of course, that was nothing compared to the way he just about lost control over his stomach contents any time the soles of his shoes caught loose granules.

It had been the perfect day for Rory to get birthday shopping out of the way. Their friend, Jeff (more of a friend than ever since he'd gleefully taken Rory's ex out of their lives), had made plans to take Danny out to what Jeff had referred to as a farmer's market-slash-flea market-slash-music festival-slash-trade event in a town to the east of them. The two of them had dragged Rory's ex, Gabe, along with them, and Rory had no doubt that he would have been forced to go as well if he hadn't pulled Jeff aside and explained that he'd needed some time on his own to find Danny a gift. He'd used the last hour of solitude to put the finishing touches on the plan that had been percolating in his head since he'd spoken to the homeless man in the city.

The evening sky was already starting to darken and everything from the lawn to the trees, from the house to the pond, looked like it had been painted in complimentary shades of purple. A thin but well-worn serape-styled blanket rested on the roof, and a light breeze teased the flames of four wide candles that Rory had set on each corner of it. They stood in heavy canisters that Randy could only hope would be of sufficient weight to keep the candles in place. The last thing he wanted to do was try to explain to an insurance adjuster just exactly how he'd ended up burning his own house down.

In the center of the blanket was a pizza box, and Rory stepped forward to set a six-pack of beer beside it. "Just like old times," he whispered. 

He heard the hum of an approaching engine before he saw the headlights, and blew out a long, deep breath. "Here we go," Rory mumbled. He didn't speak the 'this better work because the only other thing I have for him is a damned card' that he was thinking. It was better not to jinx Danny's reaction.

Rory shuffle-ran for the window, lifted one leg, and shrieked when his stable foot suddenly felt not so stable. He clasped both hands on the windowsill, scowled down at his foot and bit his lip. "Get a grip, Rory," he hissed. "You're practically on flat ground for God's sake."

From the front of the house a car door slammed, Danny shouted a farewell, and Rory jump-fell through the window. He grumbled at the floor for daring to be hard, and fumbled up when Danny called up the stairs. "Rory? You okay up there?"

"You bet!" Rory ran for the bedroom door, swung it open and jumped into the hall just as Danny poked his head around the stairwell. He leaned against the wall, crossed both arms over his chest, and casually swiped at his damp forehead. "Hey there, babe. How was your day?"

Danny tilted his head and took the last four steps slowly. "Just fine, thank you. What are you up to?"

Rory smiled. "Oh, nothing. Just a super-secret secret-thing for one of my favourite days of the year."

The mock-suspicion on Danny's face brightened into delight. "I love surprises!" He stopped, paused. "Wait. A good surprise, right? I mean, you didn't just flood the bathroom because you were trying to play plumber, or attempt to paint a mural on the bedroom wall, or anything, right?"

"I don't plumb," Rory deadpanned.

"And we are all very grateful for that," Danny said with a nod. "So, then... me see!" He stepped to the right of Rory. "Where is it?"

Rory stepped right as well, blocking Danny from passing. "In the bedroom. But you have to close your eyes."

"Oh." Danny wiggled his eyebrows. "I like the sound of this already."

"Eyes..." Rory repeated.

Immediately Danny closed his eyes and reached out. "Oh, man, the impatience..." He growled low in his throat. "Très hot!"

Rory shook his head. "Yeah, yeah. Is that a dash of sarcasm I see on top of your anticipation?"

"Heavens, no," Danny teased. "I am just so overcome with the magnitude of your—"

"Save it." Rory spun Danny in the direction of the bedroom and clamped both palms over Danny's face. "Just so you're not tempted to cheat."

"On you?" From under his hands, Rory felt the smile that accompanied Danny's words. "Never."

Danny zombie-walked, both arms stretched in front of him and patting for invisible obstacles, while Rory led them across the room. As if sensing the open window, perhaps even drawn by the breeze, Danny pushed his hand through the space and then leaned back against Rory's chest. "You're not about to toss me to my death, are you?"

Rory chuckled and drew his hands back and away. "First off, we are only one story up. Second, there is nothing down there but grass. And third, why in God's name would I ever want to see you harmed?" He pressed a kiss against Danny's cheek. "Open your eyes and see what I've done because not even I am stupid enough to try and get you out there blind."

There was a second of silence before Danny breathed an, "Oh!" He turned, rested his hands on Rory's chest and sought out Rory's gaze. "We're going out there? On the roof? We haven't done that in ages!"

"Not since that shitty little apartment of yours," Rory agreed. "And maybe this is going to sound stupid, but like… well…" He took a breath and let the rest of the words he'd been reciting all afternoon out. "We have everything we want, you know? But none of it would matter without you, kid." Rory swept one arm around the bedroom. "I had this before I had you, but you made it mean something. So I wanted you to know that I'll never forget it. Meeting you. What it was like to be in your apartment, or sit on that damn roof." He put his hands up to Danny's face and cupped Danny's chin. "The things we used to do there."

Danny's eyes softened but Rory stopped Danny from leaning into a kiss. "I'm not done," Rory said with a grin, and then immediately dropped his expression back to serious. "Because it was all so perfect. Even though I was sure I was going to end up splatted on the sidewalk, it felt perfect to sit there with you. I know you think your birthday isn't that big of a deal, but to me? To me it's the most amazing day in the world." He slipped his hands around Danny's waist and tugged Danny closer. "It's the day this fucked up universe of ours did something right for a change. It made you." He finally dropped a kiss on Danny's lips. "And you're the best thing that's ever happened to me."

Danny grinned and wound his arms around Rory's neck. "Well, I don't know about any of that. But I do remember us sitting out on the roof, which I will add, if I may, was a perfectly safe place for us to sit." He laughed at Rory's eye roll, then stepped forward, nudging Rory towards the bed. "And I remember what we did just before that, too."

"Hmm." Rory traced the curve of Danny's back down to the swell of his ass. "Was it before? Or after?"

"Does it matter?" Danny murmured. He brought their lips together and silenced Rory's reply.

In Rory's opinion, one of the coolest things about kissing Danny was the way the rest of the world seemed to fall away from them – not the little pecks exchanged on their way out the door or before they fell asleep, and not the one-sided ones either one of the two of them would offer the top of the other's head or the nape of a neck as they passed by the couch or the kitchen table. But the real ones:  the ones where their tongues twisted around each other like exotic dancers, and it felt like Danny was infusing his blood, from the mouth down, with something both salacious and revitalizing. In those moments the Earth itself could split in two and Rory would neither notice, nor care.

He felt Danny pull back, but it took him a second to make his body respond enough to open his eyes. "Where are you going?" he said, angling his chin to claim Danny's lips again.

"You know me." Danny's fingers found the back of Rory's head and he threaded them through Rory's hair. "I never get my fill of watching you."

"Creepy stalker," Rory said, his voice all tease, his hands already busy with Danny's clothing. Desire had kindled in Rory's chest, and it seemed to infiltrate every part of him, switching on the attractions as it passed:  the thudding bass in his heart, the tilt-and-whirl in his stomach, the electricity in his fingers, and the slow crawl of heat into his groin.

"And you just hate it, don't you?" Danny asked with a grin.

In one swift scoop and lift, Rory picked Danny up. There wasn't a second's worth of hesitation before Danny looped his legs around Rory's waist. "Well, it definitely drives me insane," Rory agreed. "But I wouldn't use the word hate by any means."

Danny's shoulders bounced with amusement. He rested his cheek against Rory's and sighed into Rory's ear. "All well and good. But if we could set aside the banter from some good old-fashioned fuck-me-until-I-can't-speak action, that would be better."

"Un unh," Rory said. He turned, and dropped Danny on to the mattress. "It's your birthday. So this is all for you, love." He reached for the fastenings of Danny's jeans. "Scoot back. Make yourself cozy."

Danny breathed a long, dramatic sigh. "You do understand that I actually love getting fucked, right?" He watched Rory drop his zipper and then worm fingers into the depths beneath the tight denim. His breath caught and his hips bucked when Rory squeezed his growing cock. His voice dropped and in an instant, as they always did, Danny's eyes darkened into the colour of stormy water. "But, okay. I mean, I'd hate to ruin your plans and all."

While Danny crawled backwards on the bed, Rory hooked his fingers into the waistband of both jeans and briefs, and peeled them of Danny's body. "Good, then..." Rory reached for Danny's center, and began to stroke Danny's cock. "And I'd say this guy agrees with you."

Danny lowered his eyes to watch Rory's hand and even though it was just a simple response to a person feeling something pleasurable, Rory was hit with another wave of emotion. Danny made him feel so complete, so damn important even. How was it that someone so attractive, so high on life and love and enjoyment, could ever care for someone like him? And who in the hell did he have to thank for it?

"Yeah, I'd say," Danny said finally. "But you can't really trust a hard cock to tell the truth, can you?"

Rory knee-walked on to the mattress, and then stretched alongside Danny's body. "Lay back," he whispered. "I want to taste you."

Danny flumped onto the mattress and curled both arms around his head. "Okay. You win."

Rory tightened his grip as he lowered his lips towards Danny's lap. The low groan he was given in praise of that pressure was almost as beautiful as the twitch in Danny's cock when Rory stroked his lips over the head of it. His mouth had long since grown accustomed to the feel of Danny's skin, his nose to the scent of Danny's sex, but the sensations, as they had from the very first time, stirred his own body with a force akin to magic. He hooked one leg over Danny's thigh and appeased himself with friction while he swallowed Danny's cock.

"Mm, that's nice." Danny's hands lit on the back of Rory's head. His hips rocked in time to both the slow slide of Rory's mouth and the grind of Rory's cock into his leg. "I don't suppose you're going to let me have a taste as well?"

Rory slid off Danny's shaft and grinned as Danny's fingers tensed in his hair. "Nope."

He ignored Danny's exaggerated sigh and licked a line from tip to base, and then retraced his path with open-mouthed kisses and suckles. He used the spit he'd left behind to ease the movement of his fist, working the bottom half of Danny's length with the tight slide that Danny loved, while teasing the upper half with the wet, quick sucks that drove Danny crazy.

"Ooh, wow." Danny's leg muscles tightened and his breath hitched. "Damn, but you are good at that."

Rory followed his hand on a downward slip, relaxing his fingers against Danny's barely-there curls as his throat took over.

"Shit!" Danny's legs slid open, and he crooked his knees. The once gentle accompaniment to Rory's rhythm became a much more insistent thrust into Rory's mouth. "That's beautiful," Danny gasped. "Fucking yes!"

Every praise dove straight through Rory's blood and he shifted his body in order to pin his aching cock between his hips and the mattress. As much as he missed the pressure of Danny's leg against him, spread and open was just as sweet. He lifted his head free of Danny's shaft and sucked his middle finger until it was as wet as Danny's glistening cock.

Danny's belly rose and fell with increased breath. His nipples were trimmed with goose bumps and as hard as pebbles. Rory pressed a kiss on the firm design of Danny's stomach. "You are so damn fine, beautiful."

He lowered his hand, traced his fingertips down Danny's length, over Danny's balls, and into the warm crack beyond them. Danny's ass was smooth, hairless, and Rory circled the pad of his finger until it seemed that Danny's twitching hole was trying to pull him in. The need in Danny's body was so intense, that when Rory finally gave in to the unspoken request, and eased the full length of his finger into Danny's ass, his own body pulsed with greed.

"Oh, fuck..." Danny sighed, grinding into the breach. "More... Don't stop."

Whether it was drive or mouth Danny demanded, Rory didn't bother to differentiate. He leaned forward, spit on his hand and worked another finger into Danny's body. And as Danny's hole gave way for it, Rory went back to work on Danny's cock. He sucked Danny with the same intensity that he finger-fucked him—all the way and with a furious rhythm. His own dick strained against the bed, fluid leaked from his body and made a slick, erotic mess inside his pants, but the only things Rory could focus on were the taste of Danny's precum on his tongue, and the clench of Danny's channel over his fingers.

Danny's thighs trembled, he arched into Rory's mouth and made a sound that Rory had long ago decided could never be heard enough. Rory didn't have to be told that Danny was about to come—he could see it in every muscle of Danny's body, and feel it in the familiar swell between his lips. He sank all the way down Danny's cock, drew on it until his cheekbones hollowed, and with a strangled shout, Danny showered the back of his throat with a rich, sweet load.

That was where Rory lost control over his own need. He pulled up, scrambled to a kneeling position, and tugged the front of his pants open. With shaking fingers he pulled out his cock and began to jerk himself off.

"Hell, yes!" Danny's voice was gleeful and sultry. It was a beautiful look for him – devilish smirk and interested spark; a look that Rory knew without having to see it. Had known it, in fact, for years. Had fallen in love with it, in fact, from day one. A good thing, really, because Rory was too far gone to focus. He screwed both eyes shut and put every ounce of concentration on his aching cock. 

He threw his head back, gritted his teeth together, and came so hard it felt like the orgasm was ripped out of him by force. He had to blink twice before his eyes cleared enough to see, and then he couldn't stop himself from laughing at the grin Danny was giving him.

Danny lifted both arms and tweaked his fingers. "Happy birthday to me!" he chuckled.

Rory dropped to one elbow and planted a kiss on Danny's lips. "You betcha, baby." There was a kiss, then another, and one final quick one before Rory was allowed to pull back. "So, what do you say to some cold pizza and a beer out on the roof? Before it gets too dark or we end up burning the house down with the unattended candles?"

Danny sat up and bounced the mattress hard enough to tumble Rory on to his back. "I say, hell yes! This is the best birthday party ever!"

"Birthday party?" Rory watched Danny crawl out of bed and begin to worm himself back into his jeans. "This is your birthday gift, kid."

"Pizza for a birthday gift is..." Danny paused, turned to face Rory with his shirt in one hand. He took a deep breath and hollered, "The best birthday gift ever!"

Rory rolled off the mattress, shaking his head. "You're such an odd little creature."

"Thank you!" Danny gushed. He yanked his shirt over his head, and then tugged out a dresser drawer and began to dig. "Do you want a hoodie?"

Rory nodded and grabbed the handful of flying fluff when it was tossed his way. "You should know I also made a twenty dollar donation to a local charity on your behalf."

Danny looked over, a small smile on his face. "Oh? That's cool!"

"Well, kind of." Rory shrugged. He worked his arms into the hoodie and stood waiting as Danny zipped up. He rocked back on his heels and shoved both hands into the front pocket of his pants. "Kind of a homeless thing—"

The words died on his tongue and he pushed his right hand deeper into his pocket.

Danny stepped closer, concern knotting his forehead. "What's up?"

Rory's fingers closed over a cold, rigid oval and he drew his hand out. "What in the ever..."

"Oh, wow..." Danny's eyes lit up. "It's gorgeous."

It was, too. A perfect blue stone, not quite the colour of Danny's eyes but close enough, with a smooth face down the middle and several beautifully cut facets along the edge. It wasn't set into anything, or hanging from anything, it was just a beautifully designed… stone-jewel-ish-like thingy. And where the hell it had come from, Rory had no clue on. He hadn't seen anything like it in the stores and would have, in all likelihood, just walked past it even if he had. The only possibility that had any reasoning, short of sleep-shoplifting, would be that someone had slipped it into his pocket.

"Is it..." Danny caught his lips and looked up, "for me?"

Danny looked brilliantly pleased, and that concept left Rory ridiculously happy, but completely confused. He could tell by the weight and feel of the stone that it was just that – a stone. Maybe, maybe there was the possibility it was some kind of crystal. He was no gem expert, but if it was something valuable, Rory would be shocked to all hell.

He nodded without thinking. "Yes. Yes, it is." He handed Danny the stone. "It's nothing. Just a cheap trinket. But I can get it set for you if you want. However you want. Or, if you just want to carry it as it is, that's cool too. I just thought—"

"It's a blue topaz," Danny smiled at the stone and then held it up to the light. "My great grandmother had a smaller one in the ring she used to wear. I used to play with it for hours when I was little, spinning it on her finger just to watch it catch the light." Danny's eyes shone when he looked back at Rory, and he chuckled self-consciously. "She used to tell me the topaz was the eye of her guardian angel. Which is all kinds of creepy because, I mean, ew. What did she do? Gouge it out and have it mounted?"

Rory shuddered and Danny laughed. "But I don't know. It seemed kind of... magic, you know?"

Suddenly the brilliant eye of the homeless man popped through Rory's head with such vivid recollection that Rory caught a breath. Had the man put the stone in his pocket? Was that the gift he thought Rory had been searching for? Had the pizza place been nothing more than a distraction?

Rory caught Danny's arm and pulled him into a hug. "Yeah. I know."

"So..." Danny breathed the vowel against Rory's neck and woke goose bumps up all over it. "Pizza!" He nudged Rory back with a light shove and pushed the topaz into the front pocket of his jeans. "Are you going to need me to hold your hand this time too, scaredy cat?"

"Hey!" Rory put one hand on his hip and watched Danny scramble through the window. "Who the hell do you think set all this up? Your fairy freaking godmother?"

Danny poked his head back through the window, smiling wide. "Is that a yes?"

Rory grinned and reached for Danny's extended hand. "Of course it is."


The End


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.

"Maybe."

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