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Shousetsu Bang*Bang

Issue 66: Second Chances



Edited by Shousetsu Bang*Bang

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 Shousetsu Bang*Bang



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Shousetsu Bang*Bang issue 66 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://shousetsubangbang.com.

TABLE OF CONTENTS





The undersampling of success, by Hyakunichisou 13

Still Love After, by aohime

The Horror From The Deep: 10th Anniversary Special Edition, by Tamari Erin

Conbadge of Honor, written and illustrated by Iron Eater

One May Hide Another, by Okō

Risingson, by shukyou

Scotland Shenanigans, by Yuriko Toru

Much and Many: Or, the Death of Thomas Rust, by Ogiwara Saki



Front cover by staringatsuns

Edited and published by the Shousetsu Bang*Bang editorial staff. Read more about this issue at http://www.shousetsubangbang.com/wiki/index.php?title=Issue_66







The undersampling of success

by Hyakunichisou 13 (百日草 十三)



i.

Make empathy great again. Girls just wanna have fundamental rights. The number of people massed on this oval of urban grass and the roads that encircled it must have been larger than the entire population of the town Henry’d grown up in, the signs as varied and colourful as its annual Canada Day parade. A woman’s place is in the resistance. I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit. His favourite was I don’t like this timeline.

Fragments of amplified, impassioned speech squawked over the sea of pink hats, followed by waves of hoots and cheers that bounced off the walls of glass lining University Avenue. The brisk March wind brought the racket of the drums–which were at least half cowbell by the sound, or perhaps just pots and pans–from the other side of the park. Henry tried standing on his tiptoes to see the stage, far away in front of the Legislature’s sandstone steps, but there were a lot of cartoon cats and drawings of fists between him and it.

After a while, a sustained cheer went up, and the throng parted. A wide line of people carried a banner–Not one step back–down the centre of the road. People fell into place behind them, waving signs, chatting, dancing. Two competing chants were starting up.

Henry shuffled into the edge of the march. Ahead of him, a couple of guys were talking about what sounded like a camping trip. Photographers balanced on concrete planters on the median. A string of soap bubbles drifted past him, rainbow spheres spiralling in the numbing wind. Henry pulled the cuffs of his jacket down over his hands, wishing he’d remembered his gloves.

“Noah!” The cry came from his right. Something soft barrelled into his legs; startled, Henry watched the rogue toddler carom off him and stagger over the curb of the median. Distracted, Henry lost the rhythm of his stride, took a half-step, and had just enough time to feel vertigo and dread before he face-planted onto the asphalt.

Pain blossomed in his knees and the heels of his hands–which shot out of his sleeves just in time to scrape a landing on the pavement–and the left side of his face. Vision swimming, Henry gulped for breath and pushed himself up to sitting. Around him, people had stopped; someone crouched down and said something to him.

“I’m okay, I’m okay,” Henry repeated, as much to himself as to them. The pain was radiating out from him like a planet’s atmosphere, seeming to take on mass. His face beat in hammerlock with his heart. Henry touched the back of his hand to his lip, but it came away bloodless. “I’m fine, I just need to sit down,” he said, and, face going hot knowing all the passing people were watching him, he got to his feet and limped over to the median. Some older ladies in hijabs shifted over to make room for him. He sat down and took a deep breath against the shivery feeling in his stomach. He tested his lip again, but it was still dry, though he could feel it starting to swell.

There was a frayed hole in the left knee of his jeans, as though the fabric had been rubbed against a grater, and blood welling up to darken the denim with an irregular blot. His hands stung. Henry pushed them deep into his pockets. It was ridiculous to be so unnerved by a simple fall, but he felt as though something had picked him up and thoroughly shaken him by the scruff of the neck.

The last stragglers of the march passed him eventually, the red and blue lights of a slow police car quietly marking the end. Henry stood. His knee sent up a firework of pain.

So much for standing up and being counted, let alone finding his people in a new city through social activism. The only person he’d had any contact with at all had been the woman who’d given him the This is the future liberals want button, and she’d been giving them out to everybody. At least he’d gotten out of his apartment for something other than work. That counted as a personal victory, right?

Henry cautiously looked both ways before he crossed the street, and hobbled in the direction of the subway station and home.

ii.

Men of quality don’t fear equality. This pussy grabs back. The number of people massed on this oval of urban grass and the roads that encircled must have been larger than the entire population of the town Henry’d grown up in. Support your sisters, not just your cis-ters. His favourite sign was I want a better timeline.

Fragments of impassioned speech squawked over the sea of pink hats, followed by waves of cheers that bounced off the walls of glass lining University Avenue. The brisk March wind brought the racket of the drums from the other side of the park. Henry tried standing on his tiptoes to see the stage, far away in front of the Legislature’s sandstone steps, but there were a lot of papier-mache puppets between him and it.

After a while, a sustained cheer went up, and the throng parted. A wide line of people carried a pink and purple banner down the centre of the road, and others fell into place behind them, chanting, chatting, dancing.

Henry shuffled into the edge of the march. Ahead of him, a group of young women was passing around a box of Timbits. Photographers balanced on concrete planters on the median. A string of soap bubbles spiralled past him. Henry tucked his scarf more firmly around his neck, grateful that he’d remembered his gloves.

“Noah!” The cry came from his right. Something soft barrelled into his legs; moving by pure instinct, Henry reached down to arrest the rogue toddler heading to parts unknown. The child let out a screech, possibly of indignation and possibly of excitement, Henry couldn’t tell.

“Noah!” A young woman in a fuchsia hat steered crosswise through the crowd. “Thank you so much,” she said to Henry, and lifted Noah–who was now undeniably indignant–into her arms. “You can’t march beside Mommy and Daddy if you’re going to run away, sweetie,” she said, and carried the howling boy back the way she’d come. Noah’s face matched the deep pink of his kitten-eared hat, and Henry laughed. Then, distracted, he lost the rhythm of his stride, took a half-step, and had just enough time to feel vertigo and dread before he face-planted onto the asphalt.

Pain blossomed in his knees and the heels of his hands and the left side of his face. Vision swimming, Henry gulped for breath and pushed himself up to sitting.

Someone crouched down in front of him. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m okay, I’m okay.” The pain was radiating out from him like a planet’s atmosphere, seeming to take on mass. Henry touched the back of his hand to his lip, but it came away bloodless.

“That looked like a real jolt.”

“Yeah,” Henry said, still trying to focus, and looked up into blue eyes and a concerned expression. “I’m fine, I just need to sit down.” As if he wasn’t already sprawled on the road.

“Take a moment to catch your breath,” Blue Eyes said, but Henry was already scrambling up, face going hot.

“Thanks, really, I’m okay, I’m good,” he said, and limped over to the median. Some older ladies in hijabs shifted over to make room for him. There was a frayed hole in the left knee of his jeans, as though the fabric had been rubbed against a grater, blood welling up to blot the denim. He felt as though something had picked him up and thoroughly shaken him by the scruff of the neck.

So much for standing up and being counted, let alone finding his people in a new city through social activism. I went to the Women’s March and all I got was this lousy banged-up knee. He glanced down at the front of his jacket. And an I’m with her button. At least he’d gotten out of his apartment for something other than work. That counted as a personal victory, right?

iii.

We are the grand-daughters of the witches you could not burn. I’m an introvert and I left the house for this. Henry shuffled into the edge of the march. His favourite sign was Let’s make a better timeline.

Ahead of him, a young man on the median was holding out a box marked vegan samosas, please take one, which Henry did. A string of soap bubbles spiralled past him. Henry popped the last corner of the samosa into his mouth, grateful that he’d dressed for March in Toronto rather than in Vancouver.

“Noah!” The cry came from his right. Something small and moving fast barrelled in front of him, and Henry, with the instinct of someone with four married and procreating siblings, grabbed for the rogue toddler. The child let out a screech.

“Noah!” A young woman in a pale rose hat steered crosswise through the crowd. “Thank you so much,” she said to Henry, and lifted the squawking Noah into her arms. “You can’t march beside Mommy and Mama if you’re going to run away, sweetie,” she said, and carried the howling boy back the way she’d come. Noah’s face matched the fuchsia of his kitten-eared hat. Distracted by amusement, Henry lost the rhythm of his stride, took a half-step, and had just enough time to feel vertigo and dread before he face-planted onto the asphalt.

Pain blossomed in the left side of his face. Vision swimming, Henry gulped for breath and pushed himself up to sitting.

Someone crouched down in front of him. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m okay,” Henry managed. The pain was radiating out from him like a planet’s atmosphere. Henry touched the back of his glove to his lip, but it came away bloodless.

“That looked like a real jolt.”

“Yeah,” Henry said. He looked up into blue eyes and lost concentration. “I, um.”

“Take a moment to catch your breath. Don’t stand up until you’re sure you didn’t injure something,” Blue Eyes said.

Henry nodded, trying to feel beyond the sense of having been picked up and thoroughly shaken by the scruff of the neck. The heels of his hands were sore, but his gloves had protected him; there was a frayed hole in the left knee of his jeans, but his thick longjohns had taken the scrape rather than his knee. “I think I’m good,” he said.

“Need a hand up?”

Henry found himself unaccountably blushing as he chastely put his glove in the other man’s and was pulled to his feet. His preferences ran mostly to skinny guys with glasses–guys in his league, honestly–but there was definite geek chic overlap with a guy who looked as though Captain America had stepped out of the movie screen to play hooky as an artisanal cider maker or small press publisher. His blond hair flopped down over a heart-shaped face, where there was the suggestion of weekend stubble. He wore one of those horizontally stitched down jackets that everybody had this winter, in a blue jay blue that echoed his eyes.

“Thanks,” Henry said, pulling away because he didn’t want to. He took a step, and winced. He was going to find some bruises later.

“You fielded that toddler like a pro,” the man said, staying by Henry’s side as he limped into the current of the crowd.

“Thanks,” Henry said again, and rolled his eyes at himself.

“Was that from personal experience?”

Was that a subtle inquiry? Don’t be ridiculous, Henry told himself, against the twinge of interest. “Nieces.”

“Oh, yeah? With me, it’s nephews, but I don’t get to see them all that often. Are yours in town?”

“Vancouver.” Homesickness welled up in him, and he ruthlessly quelled it. Some hot stranger being unaccountably polite didn’t want to know about his ambivalent choices.

“Ah.”

The people in front of them stopped walking, and the crowd thickened like a traffic jam as the march behind them caught up. Henry stood on tiptoe, which sent a pang through his knee, but couldn’t see through the thicket of signs.

“There’s an ambulance crossing on Dundas,” said his companion, who was taller.

They waited in silence.

“I’m going to get going. Nice meeting you,” Captain America said, with a smile and a nod.

“Thanks,” Henry said, for the thousandth stupid time. “You too.”

The crowd started to amble along again, passing the TTC logo-on-a-stick that marked the St. Patrick subway station. Henry’s knee throbbed. I’m out, he thought abruptly, and peeled off from the crowd. He’d done his civic duty, and gotten a Love trumps hate button and a smile from a hot guy. As personal victories went, it was pretty feeble, but he’d take what he could get.

iv.

“Need a hand up?”

Henry found himself unaccountably blushing as he chastely put his glove in the other man’s and was pulled to his feet. My hero, he thought, and just barely bit down on blurting it out. This guy looked as though Captain America had stepped out of the movie screen to play hooky as an artisanal cider maker. His blond hair flopped down over a heart-shaped face. He wore one of those sleek technical jackets that everybody had this winter, in an azure that echoed his eyes.

“Thanks,” Henry said, pulling away because he didn’t want to. He took a step, and winced. He was going to be sore tomorrow.

“You fielded that toddler like you knew what you were doing,” the man said, staying by Henry’s side as he limped into the current of the crowd. “Do you have kids?”

Was that a subtle inquiry? Don’t be ridiculous, Henry told himself. “Five nieces.”

“Wow, five? I have nephews, but I don’t get to see them all that often. Are yours in town?”

“Vancouver.” Homesickness welled up in him. “I FaceTime with them, but it’s not the same.”

“That’s rough. Did you move, or did they?”

“I did. I got a job I really wanted, but Toronto’s a long way away from Vancouver.”

The people in front of them stopped walking, and the crowd thickened like a traffic jam. Henry stood on tiptoe, which sent a pang through his knee, but couldn’t see through the thicket of signs.

“There’s an ambulance crossing on Dundas,” said his companion, who was taller.

“Do we need to get off the road?” University Avenue was lined with hospitals.

“No, it’s not using any flashing lights or sirens. People stopped anyway.”

“It’s a good group,” Henry said, and found himself smiling. He’d been to a fair number of protests–more in his student days, but given recent global events, he’d decided to up his game–and this one felt really special.

“Yeah, it is. I’m Brent, by the way,” the man said, and extended his hand.

“Henry.” They shook.

The crowd started to amble south again, heading to City Hall. Abandoned signs had begun to sprout along the route, planted in flower beds or stuck between the slats of benches. People have the power. We are stronger than fear. Five women by the curb, dressed in a palette of pink from coral to bubblegum to Barbie rose, serenaded the marchers with an a capella “I Can’t Keep Quiet.”

“So what do you think of Toronto?” Brent asked.

“I like it. Everybody told me how cold it would be, but I don’t miss the rain.” Not that being glued to a computer for ten hours a day had left him much time to get outside, but these days he was feeling like he had more of a handle on his new job and that stepping away from it for an entire weekend might be within the realm of possibility. “I do kind of miss the mountains. And everything’s so far away. Like, if you want to go skiing or hiking, you have to drive for an hour first.”

Brent made a face that indicated reluctant agreement. “I can’t do anything about the skiing, but if you’re a hiker, have you been on the Humber or the Don River trails? They’re a good day out, and you can get to them by TTC.”

Heading into Nathan Phillips Square, they passed a woman with a megaphone, who yelled “What do we want?” at their backs. The square was a delta of bodies with streams of people flowing through it: long-lost friends greeting one another, clusters saying goodbye and breaking apart, people flocking to sit on the edge of the planters to adjust their socks and sip from their water bottles.

Henry glanced sideways at Brent, who was checking his phone, the sun pulling cornsilk highlights from his hair. “Are you going to stay for the rest of the speeches?”

“I’ve got a few errands to run on the way home.”

“Okay. Um, it was nice talking to you.”

“You too.” Brent looked over the crowd as if seeking safe passage to the edges of the square, though he didn’t move. Someone nudged Henry from behind, muttering Sorry as their backpack jostled him forward a step.

“Would you want to get coffee sometime?” Henry said, too fast to be cool about it.

“I…would, yeah,” Brent said, as though he’d changed his mind halfway through the sentence.

They exchanged numbers, and said their good-byes with a little sheepish awkwardness. Brent disappeared into the crowd. Henry let out a long breath and rolled his shoulders. His knee was still sore, and his toes were getting cold. Time to pack it in, he thought. He’d gotten a hot guy’s number and a Nasty woman button, not to mention a sunny afternoon’s walk and the satisfaction of standing up and being counted. As personal victories went, he’d definitely take it.

v.

The crowd started to amble south again. Abandoned signs had begun to sprout along the route, planted in flower beds or stuck between the slats of benches. My body, my choice. A revolution without love is not a revolution worth having. Six people by the curb, dressed in a palette of pink from cherry blossom to carmine, serenaded the marchers with an a capella “People Have the Power.”

“So what do you think of Toronto?” Brent asked.

“I like it. Only, if you want to go skiing or hiking, you have to drive for an hour first.”

“So you’re a hiker? Have you been on the Humber or the Don River trails? They’re a good day out, and you can get to them by TTC.”

Heading into Nathan Phillips Square, they passed a woman with a megaphone, who yelled “What do we want?” at their backs. The square was a delta of bodies with streams of people flowing through it: greeting, parting, gathering together in eddies.

Henry glanced sideways at Brent, who was checking his phone, the sun pulling cornsilk highlights from his hair.

“When do we want it? Now!” the woman encouraged.

“Uh, I could really go for a coffee right now. Are you interested?” Henry said, too fast to be cool about it.

Brent blinked at him. “I…actually I would, yeah, that’d be nice.”

“Cool. There’s a good indie place a couple of streets east. Unless you’re a Starbucks kind of guy? Or Timmy’s?”

“No, an indie place would be fine.”

They wended their way out of the square in single file, and ambled along the sidewalk as though they were still in the march. The coffee shop was warm and surprisingly quiet–it was tucked into a narrow side street past the congested subway stop–and they scored a table and shucked their coats. Henry asked a question about the hiking trails, Brent pulled up a map and then some photos on his phone, and it wasn’t until he went to take a sip of his latte and got only a dribble of cold foam that Henry realized how long they’d been talking.

“So I could send you the link,” he said–the conversation had drifted over into DIY pickles by way of video games–while one of baristas aggressively wiped down the table next to them and pushed the chairs in. “Let me know how it turns out.”

“I’ll do that,” Brent said, and they gathered up gloves and scarves and phones.

When Henry stood up, he stumbled and let out a yelp; while they’d been sitting, his battered knee had gone stiff, and now it straightened with the reluctance of a half-rusted hinge.

“You need a hand?”

“No, it’s fine, it’s just–ow–it’ll loosen up once I get walking.” He hoped. He hobbled out of the coffee shop, trying not to limp too pathetically. “I should probably get home and put some ice on it or something.”

“Do you have far to go?”

“Up on Eglinton West. There’s a bus.”

“If you like…”

Henry rushed into the pause. “It would be cool to get together again. If you want.”

“Yeah, can I text you?”

They exchanged numbers, and with a last smile, Brent disappeared up the street. Henry limped in the direction of the subway. He’d gotten a hot guy’s number and a Refugees welcome here button. It had been an excellent use of a Saturday afternoon.

vi.

“So I could send you the link,” he said–the conversation had drifted over into home brewing by way of classic board games–while one of baristas aggressively wiped down the table next to them and made We close at five on Saturdays noises. “Let me know how it turns out.”

“I’ll do that.”

When Henry stood up, he stumbled and let out a yelp; while they’d been sitting, his battered knee had gone stiff, and now it straightened with the reluctance of a half-rusted hinge. Brent grabbed his elbow to steady him. “You need a hand?”

“No, it’s fine, it’s just–ow–it’ll loosen up once I get walking.” He hoped. He hobbled out the door, Brent following. “I should probably get home and put some ice on it.” He considered the contents of his tiny freezer. “Or a bag of frozen peas, or something.”

“Do you have far to go?”

“Up on Eglinton West. There’s a bus.”

“If you like…I don’t live too far from here. I have an ice pack in the freezer, if you want to get the ice on sooner.”

Henry looked up at him. There was a new pink on Brent’s pale cheeks. Henry was never overly confident about this kind of thing himself, and Brent’s sudden endearing awkwardness about making a move gave him the courage to say, “Yeah, it would really feel good to get an…ice pack.”

Brent wrinkled his nose. “Oh God, that was almost as smooth as saying etchings, wasn’t it?”

“Works for me, though,” Henry said, and bumped his shoulder against Brent’s.

They didn’t talk much on the way, though Henry got the impression that Brent was about to say something a few times then stopped. Brent led him to an older walk-up with a well-scrubbed lobby and touches of the original woodwork. His apartment turned out to be much like Henry’s, a junior one bedroom outfitted with an inoffensive assortment of Ikea wooden furniture. Two large, abstract canvases on the living room wall, one sapphire blue and one orange, warmed the otherwise bland space.

“I do actually have an ice pack,” Brent said, hanging their jackets in the sliver of a hall closet. “If you want it.”

“Nah, I’m fine.” His knee had complained on the stairs, every step pulling his jeans taut over the tenderest spot, but Henry was ready for a different kind of distraction. He put his hand on Brent’s shoulder.

“I, um,” Brent said, taking a step back.

Okay, that was an unexpected wrinkle. Henry let his hand fall and titled his head in inquiry.

“Crap, I’m sorry, I should have said something earlier. The thing is, I’m poz.” Brent ran his hand through his hair. “I’m in treatment and my viral load’s undetectable, but if it–I understand if you–I know some guys don’t–”

Henry wanted to either kiss the uncertainty off Brent’s face, or go and smack the jerk who’d turned him down for that reason and put it there. “My last test was eight months ago. Nothing’s happened since then to make me need a new one. So, I’m good if you’re good.”

Brent’s shoulders lowered in relief. “I’m good.”

“Good.” Henry hooked his forefinger over the neck of Brent’s grey cable sweater and reeled him in.

Henry really enjoyed making out, and he could tell immediately that Brent did too; he was good at it, gentle at first, and then, as they figured out whose head tilted which way and where their arms were going, confident without being pushy. Brent was generous with his hands, too, cradling the back of Henry’s head and rubbing up under his sweater, little touches that were about affection and pleasure rather than boarding the express train to getting off.

But after almost a year of not-quite-voluntary celibacy, Henry’s body was making its interest emphatically known. Henry pulled away a little and let his fingers stroke the back of Brent’s neck, where the hair was just long enough to be soft rather than bristly. “What are you into?”

“More of this?” Brent’s hand smoothed down the small of Henry’s back and kept going. “On the couch?”

And there were some of his best high school memories, roaring back with full-colour sensorama surround sound. “Sure.”

They started out sitting, but it wasn’t long before Brent was leaning back, drawing Henry over him, and then they were sprawled full-length on the plump couch. Brent worked his hands back under Henry’s sweater, pulling their bodies closer together. Henry tangled his legs with Brent’s, and Brent titled his head back, letting Henry kiss a hot trail down his neck.

“You can put your weight on me,” Brent gasped. Henry relaxed–not that a skinny desk jockey like him had a great deal of weight to apply–and their bodies sank together into the soft cushions. Brent’s arousal was hard against his.

“Like this?” Henry asked, thrusting without propping himself up. Brent rewarded him with a breathy moan. It was exactly the kind of thing Henry liked to hear, and though he usually kept things vanilla the first time around, he enjoyed the little thrill anyway.

“This going to get you there?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Brent said, “but give me skin?”

Henry lifted himself a little to get to Brent’s fly. Brent’s hands went to Henry’s in turn, pushing his jeans down, pulling up his sweater. Henry stroked up Brent’s cock with two fingertips, and Brent swallowed audibly. It would be fun to tease him, Henry thought, and took pity on him instead.

They ground together, panting, kissing, pushing each other up to the line between prolonging the pleasure and chasing the peak. Brent went over first, whispering Please as he clutched at Henry’s shoulders and turned his head away. Then he fumbled his hand between them to jerk Henry off, and Henry replayed that Please on a loop in his mind until he shuddered and came all over Brent’s well-defined abs. Too bad this was just a casual hook-up; he’d have liked to make Brent say that again.

vii.

They started out sitting, but it wasn’t long before they were sprawled full-length on the plump couch. Brent worked his hands back under Henry’s sweater and titled his head back, letting Henry kiss a hot trail down his neck.

“You can put your weight on me,” Brent gasped. He parted his knees, and Henry fit himself between them, pressing Brent down with his hips. Brent arched his back a little. Henry kissed him hard. Brent made a muffled sound in the back of his throat, and stretched his hands above his head, dangling his wrists over the arm of the couch.

A year wasn’t so long that Henry couldn’t read a signal when he was handed one on a platter. “Like this?” he asked, thrusting without propping himself up. Brent rewarded him with a breathy moan, exactly the kind of thing Henry liked to hear. “You want more of that?”

“Please.”

Henry stopped moving, and waited until Brent focused on him. “You’ll get it when I’m ready to give it to you.”

Brent caught his breath. Henry reared up, ignoring Brent’s bitten-back protest. He ran his thumb slowly and meditatively up the hard fly of Brent’s jeans.

“I’ll stop this if you say so,” he said mildly, and flicked a glance up to meet Brent’s eyes, seeing understanding there, before he let his gaze fall back to what his hand was doing. “One word from you, and we can go back to grinding each other off. But you won’t say so. You’re going to lie there and take what I give you. Aren’t you?”

Brent wet his lips, and nodded. Henry popped the top button on Brent’s fly. “Stay still,” he warned, and undid the second. By the last, Brent was biting his lip, breathing loud in the sunny, quiet room.

Henry ran a fingertip up the bulge in Brent’s boxer briefs. Then he moved his hands to his own pants, undoing belt and unzipping fly, Brent’s eyes riveted on him. He cupped his own cock and squeezed, and Brent made a sound like it had been his instead.

“Feels good,” Henry said, and pushed his underwear down. He held his cock as if for Brent to see it, rubbed his thumb over the head. He gave Brent another tantalizing stroke through cotton; Brent’s hands flexed in empty air.

Henry began to jerk himself off slowly, fighting his own growing urge to ramp this up. Brent’s hips were rocking subtly; Henry decided to let that slide, and used his free hand to draw circles on the damp fabric around the tip of Brent’s cock.

Ah,” Brent begged, and Henry decided that a year without this was long enough to wait.

“Pull up your shirt,” he said, and Brent yanked up his sweater and henley to expose a respectable six-pack and the promise of a nicely furry chest. “Hands back where they were.” Brent writhed and complied.

“I’m going to come,” Henry promised, hand moving faster. “You’re not going to do anything but watch.” Brent made an incoherent sound. Henry had a moment to realize that it was all over, and then the rush of pleasure blasted through him and he shuddered and came all over Brent’s well-defined abs.

Brent shifted desperately under him. “Please.” Henry reached into his briefs with a sticky hand and gripped him. Brent thrust up against his hold, and within seconds he was arching his back and crying out. Henry stroked him through it, through the last pulses and trembles, until Brent sagged under him and closed his eyes.

Henry propped his clean hand on the arm of the couch and bent over Brent. “Hey,” he said softly. He dropped a kiss on Brent’s lips, and Brent opened his eyes. “You good?”

“Mm-hm.” Brent smiled softly, and turned his head to the side.

“That was hot.” Henry hovered over him, waiting to see if what Brent needed was closeness or space. “Thanks for going there with me.”

“Mmm.” Brent looked up at him, and put a hand in his hair. Henry kissed him again gently, and then just stayed put for a few minutes, until Brent’s gaze focused again.

“Sorry,” Brent said ruefully. “I get a little non-verbal afterwards sometimes.”

“No worries.” Henry sat back, and seared the sign of him, slack and messy, into his memory before Brent swung his legs over the side of the couch and sat up. That sight was definitely something Henry was going to revisit. Not to mention the way Brent said Please. He wondered how far Brent liked to go when he played. Too bad this was just a casual hook-up; he could fantasize all kinds of delightful ways to make Brent say it again.

viii.

They started out sitting, but it wasn’t long before they were sprawled full-length. “You can put your weight on me,” Brent gasped. He parted his knees, and Henry fit himself between them, pressing Brent down with his hips. Brent made a muffled sound in the back of his throat, and stretched his hands above his head.

A year wasn’t so long that Henry couldn’t read a signal when he was handed one on a platter. He ran his hand up Brent’s arm and squeezed his wrists–which he couldn’t nearly encompass, but it was the thought that counted here–and said, “Keep them there.”

Brent’s indrawn breath was loud in the sunny, quiet room. Henry reared up, ignoring and then entirely forgetting the twinge in his knee. He ran his thumb slowly and meditatively up the hard fly of Brent’s jeans. Brent rewarded him with a breathy moan. Henry smiled at him and gave him a light squeeze, then push his palm up over Brent’s sweater, across his chest, up his throat–resting lightly there for just a moment, feeling Brent swallow at the touch–to his mouth. He brushed his thumb over Brent’s lips. Brent opened his mouth slightly, and then stopped, waiting, and Henry heard his own indrawn breath as he understood that Brent would enjoy giving him exactly what he wanted.

“So you like weight on you,” he said. “You like being told what to do?” Brent nodded, eyes on Henry’s. “I’m not going to go further than hands and oral. If you stay stop I’ll stop, but you can use yellow and red too if you want. Okay?” Brent nodded again. “Good.” Henry scooted back a little, onto Brent’s thighs. “Undo your belt.”

Brent’s eyelids fluttered, and he brought his hands down to pull the brown leather loop out of the buckle. He moved slowly and deliberately; Henry wasn’t sure if that was initial reluctance or feigned reluctance or just Brent teasing himself, but he’d let it slide, because it was hot as fuck. “Undo your top button.” Brent was wearing classic buttoned jeans, four enticing stops on the way to getting naked. “Now the second.” Brent rested his hands at his sides between commands, which was ample retribution as far as Henry was concerned; his own jeans were already noticeably uncomfortable.

“Push your pants down a little,” he said when Brent’s fly was completely open, and Brent complied, revealing a nicely fitted pair of boxer briefs. “Show me your cock.”

He wasn’t imagining the tremble in Brent’s exhale as Brent pushed the waistband of his briefs down and revealed himself. “Stroke yourself. Slowly.” Brent’s eyelids dipped as he did so. He would probably be close to coming in short order if Henry let him get away with it. “That’s enough. Hands back above your head.”

Brent squirmed a little, but obeyed. Henry looked down at him, so obviously hard but restraining himself, and felt his own cock throb. But–damn it, he should have arranged this at the beginning. “Do you have condoms?” Brent nodded. “Where are they, bedroom?”

Brent shook his head and pointed to the small table at the end of the couch. “Drawer. In the little box.”

Henry raised an eyebrow. “You really do like making out on the couch.” Brent huffed a laugh, and Henry retrieved a condom out of the unmarked wooden box and sat back down on the couch.

“Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to get on your knees, and you’re going to do what I tell you. If I feel like it, I’ll let you come when I’m done. Got it?”

Brent nodded again. Henry gestured at the floor. Brent slid down and knelt between Henry’s parted knees.

“Put this under you,” Henry said, snagging one of the throw pillows and handing it to him; he didn’t know how much or what type of pain Brent might be into, if any, but that parquet floor looked unforgiving. Brent settled himself onto it and bent his head.

“Watch me,” Henry ordered, and waited until Brent complied before he undid his own zipper. He unwrapped the condom and rolled it onto his cock, making sure Brent got a thorough view. This might be his favourite part of any scene, the last tantalizing pause before what everyone knew was going to happen, a man’s attention riveted to his actions.

“Get your mouth on me.” Henry leaned back against the couch’s supporting cushions. “Keep your hands where I can see them.”

It was that last command that made Brent shiver and flex his hands. He rested them on the top of Henry’s thighs as he leaned forward. His lips touched the head of Henry’s cock, hot and gentle. He took his time with it, sliding his mouth down slowly, sucking a little, retreating, caressing with his tongue. Henry, for whom the thrill of being the one giving the orders mingled with the charge of this physical vulnerability, clenched at the couch cushions.

“That’s really good,” he managed to say. Brent hummed, which practically made Henry’s hair stand on end. “You look great. Taking it like that.”

Brent’s hips jerked. Henry smiled. “I love that I can see how hard this makes you. How much you like having a cock in your mouth. What it does to you.” It was an effort to keep his voice steady, another part of the exciting push-pull of authority over another man and submission to his own needs. “Maybe after I’m done I’ll make you wait a bit. Make you get naked for me before I let you come.” Brent made a sound in the back of his throat that sent electricity through Henry’s core. “I’d love to watch you kneeling there, touching yourself, just–” The image scorched through him. “God, yes, I’m almost, I’m–”

The rush of pleasure blasted through him, whiting out his sight, pounding along his nerves. His own groan echoed back to him. Sensation sparked out to his fingers and toes. Henry twitched through the aftershocks, and slumped against the back of the couch.

He was still tingling when he opened his eyes. Brent had released him and was breathing heavily, gaze hazy and desperate.

“Get up here,” Henry said. Brent blinked at him. “Never mind, I’ve got it.” Henry slid off the couch and landed in front of Brent. He wrapped his hand around Brent’s cock.

Please,” Brent said with a sob.

“Come,” Henry said, hand moving, “come now, do it,” and in seconds Brent did, with a long wordless cry that trailed off into half-voiced gasps. Henry stroked him through it, through the last pulses and trembles, until Brent drooped and closed his eyes.

Henry ran his hands along Brent’s back. “You can come closer, if you want,” he said, pulling, and Brent let out a last sigh and sagged against Henry’s chest.

“That was amazing,” Henry said, cupping the back of Brent’s neck. “You were amazing. Generous and unbelievably hot. Thanks for going there with me.” He kissed the side of Brent’s neck gently, and then just stayed put for a few minutes, until Brent sat back on his heels.

“Sorry,” Brent said ruefully. “I get a little non-verbal afterwards sometimes.”

“No worries. Are you good if I go clean up?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

After putting himself to rights, Henry regarded himself in Brent’s bathroom mirror. He looked, frankly, how he felt: happy and relaxed, like he’d just gotten thoroughly, satisfyingly laid. He couldn’t have asked for a better way to end a long dry spell. The picture of Brent on his knees was definitely something Henry was going to revisit in memory. Not to mention the way Brent said Please. He wondered how far Brent liked to go when he played. Too bad this was just a casual hook-up; he could fantasize all kinds of delightful ways to make Brent say it again.

Henry titled his head at himself. Why did he think it had to be just a casual hook-up?

He followed the sound of water running to the little galley kitchen, where Brent was filling up a glass. “Hey. Would you like a drink of water? I also have orange juice.”

“Thanks, but I’m fine. I should probably get going.”

“Sure.” Brent revolved the water glass in his hands. Neither of them moved.

“So–”

“Can I–”

They stopped speaking at the same time. Brent started to grin, and Henry felt lightness bubble up in him.

“Can I call you?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’d like that. There’s this games cafe we could maybe check out, with those vintage board games we were talking about.”

“Awesome. What’s your number?”

They typed contact information into their phones. In the vestibule, when Brent handed him his coat, Henry tugged him down for a last kiss that felt like the start of something bigger.

The lowering sun gilded the cracked sidewalks and trash cans and raggedly postered hoardings as Henry made his way to the subway. Even the creaking soreness of his knee was only a minor annoyance, and it was more than a fair price to have paid for a fantastic afternoon. He glanced down at the Nevertheless, she persisted button a woman had handed him in Queen’s Park. Damn straight, he thought, and limped happily into the subway station.

Still Love After

by aohime (青姫)



The soft press of lips is grounding, centering amid the scents of stale sweat and remnants of chemical cleaner. Suhayl touches rough cloth, under to smooth skin damp from the heat. Étienne gasps, arching closer, head tilted up to catch Suhayl’s lips in his own, hand pulling Suhayl down to his level. The disadvantage of almost a head’s difference of height.

The dim light brings Étienne’s sun-bleached hair to a shade closer to its natural brown. There isn’t the time to savor the feeling of it between his fingers or to strip out of uniform to touch skin and see it contrasted with his own. He wants, but want is all they can do at the moment. Étienne works Suhayl’s belt open, breaking the kiss with a soft French swear Suhayl is starting to recognize, to look at what his hands are doing. “It is too complicated,” he complains, in English, always in English when they are like this because it is the only language they can still think to communicate with in these moments, the only one in which they are both fluent.

Suhayl laughs. Étienne’s forehead presses against his chest as their hands free their arousals. There are faint dust motes in the air, lit from dim sunbeams, and there is sweat on Étienne’s neck. “It is only complicated because you are excited.”

“Of course.” Rough hands—rough from forever washing them—pull Suhayl free. He sighs, leaning for another kiss. Étienne meets him halfway. “How could I not be?” he says against Suhayl’s lips. Soft sounds slip between his lips when Suhayl touches him in return. There is the ever present wonder of how he would sound if it wasn’t in a stolen moment like this, if they could take things slowly and enjoy each other fully. Whenever that chance occurs, Suhayl will take full advantage of the desires he has stored up from moments like this.

Their hands move just out of synch with each other, Suhayl a beat slower in his strokes because he wants this to last even though he knows it can’t. Étienne breathes fast against him, hips rocking up into Suhayl’s touch. It is quiet desperation. Soft gasps. Slick sounds of lips and mouths and hands. The rub of cloth on cloth. Suhayl drifts in it, lost in the bubble of the moment and sensation. He is taller, broader, than Étienne, but he is the one pinned by a kiss. He is the one who leans back against the wall to remain standing. He is the one struggling to keep his voice in check and his breaths as breaths only.

“Suhayl,” Étienne says. “Suhayl, come for me.” His fingers twist in the upstroke, almost too much against sensitive skin. Étienne rubs under the head with his thumb, once, twice, but it is the feeling of his breath and the press of his lips to Suhayl’s neck that are Suhayl’s undoing.

His knees wobble before firming, his body all but curled around Étienne’s. He rests his head back against the wall and watches through shuttered eyes as Étienne twists higher, higher, then breaks. Suhayl works him through the aftershocks, pressing soft kisses across his face and neck. Each kiss is a declaration, an ‘I love you,’ that he can’t bring himself to say yet.

o*O*o

“Wow, you’re big,” a man says in English.

Suhayl looks up from his meal, because it is always him those words are directed at, and because it’s not common to hear English between members of the Israeli Defense Force. The man is fair skinned with sun burn across the bridge of his nose, stiff in the way that people still unused to uniform often are. The pin on his beret marks him as part of the medical brigade.

The man waves a hand in greeting, then hastily mutters a quick, “Shalom.” The man clears his throat. “Can I sit here?” he asks in halting Hebrew.

Suhayl slides to the side, offering a bit more space. “Go ahead.”

He gets a smile in response. Most people don’t smile at Suhayl until they get to know him. Many still don’t smile after that because a man two meters tall with mixed heritage tended to attract more negative attention than positive regardless of personality.

“Étienne Duval,” the man says, holding out a hand.

“Suhayl al-Madhoun.” He shakes the hand and goes back to his meal.

Duval takes two mouthfuls of his own meal before talking again. “Is it always this hot here?” In English.

“No,” Suhayl answers in the same language. He’s grateful for the tourists he practiced on growing up. It isn’t his most fluent language, but he is clearly more fluent in it than Duval is in Hebrew. “It will get hotter before it gets colder though.”

“I was afraid you would say that. It was so much cooler back home.”

“Home was where?” Or no, “Where are you from?”

“Northern France. Parlez-vous français?” Suhayl waits for clarification. At the nonresponse, Duval sighs. “I thought not. No one seems to speak it.”

Ah. “Hebrew is the national language,” Suhayl said. “English is also taught in most schools, but French is one most people would have to learn on their own.”

“I don’t suppose you know anyone interested in learning? I would gladly exchange French lessons for more Hebrew.”

Of all the room full of people Duval could have sat next to, he chose Suhayl, who has made languages a hobby. It’s fateful enough that Suhayl has to laugh. Duval stares. Suhayl thinks for a moment he is intimidated, but there’s something else in his stare, and it isn’t intimidation. “You have asked the right person,” Suhayl says, still smiling. “I would love to learn what you can teach me, and I will gladly share in return, Duval.”

“Étienne, please.”

“Étienne, then.”

The meal passes much faster with company and conversation. It’s the best meal Suhayl has had since he left home.

o*O*o

If someone had told him five years ago that he would spend three days a week at a public library in America, Suhayl wouldn’t have believed them. But at twenty-six, Suhayl was a very different person than he had been at twenty one. At twenty-one he had still been in his compulsory military service, feeling torn between national loyalty and what that meant to him, and then reeling with the loss of his lover. At twenty-six he was halfway through his medical undergrad program, living in a tiny one room apartment in New York, and no closer to feeling sure about his life choices than he had been at twenty-one.

There were hundreds of people that came and went at the library on any given day, any one of them who could have been in the exact same position as Suhayl, struggling with medical school concepts over cups of horrible, bitter coffee, and feeling relieved every morning that it was another morning that he didn’t have to hold a gun in his hands. Suhayl had a pattern to his life now, a pattern of his own choosing which was both freeing and terrifying in its freedom. He had class, a part time job for a few hours, then hours spent abusing the library’s light, heat, and table space next to other people who had lives and things to do just like he did.

There was a particular regular that showed up on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Or, Suhayl should say, he was always there those days when Suhayl got there and was there presumably until closing, since Suhayl left a half hour before then. He had scraggly black hair that he tied back half the time, carried a seemingly bottomless cup of coffee, and was always at a laptop with headphones plugged in. He also had sunglasses on at all times.

It took a few weeks to realize this was because the man was blind, not just a fashion choice.

At any rate, he was someone Suhayl didn’t mind sharing a table with. He kept to his own space and didn’t have loud phone conversations that broke Suhayl’s concentration like some of the other people who shared a table did. The only time his presence did distract Suhayl was due to Suhayl’s tired brain wondering what the man’s life was like outside of typing at a laptop and drinking large amounts of coffee in a public library. Or wondering what his face looked like when the overlarge sunglasses weren’t blocking it.

It was one of those days today. Suhayl tried to read his organic chemistry text, but it was one of those days where his brain refused to untangle complicated English terms. He found himself watching his table partner instead. The man had a sharp face, Suhayl thought, all angles and narrow features. Thin lips, thin nose, sharp chin and cheekbones. He typed three times faster than Suhayl could ever manage, only pausing to sip at the giant coffee cup at his elbow.

Maybe he was an author. That was why he was never parted from his computer. Or maybe he was researching. Or perhaps he wasn’t a student and he did work with computers. Coding or something else that went over Suhayl’s head.

It was fascinating how despite how much liquid the man drank, he never seemed to have to make trips to the restroom like Suhayl did.

“You’ve been staring a lot lately,” the man said suddenly, the first words he had ever spoken to Suhayl as he hadn’t even verbally given permission back when Suhayl first asked to share a table weeks, or maybe months ago. The man unhooked the headphones from his ear, not turning toward Suhayl. “And yes, before you ask, I can tell. I’m not totally blind. You’re this blurry brown shape out of the corner of my eye, and I can sort of tell if your head’s pointed toward your book or not.”

“Apologies,” Suhayl said after a moment. “I was not trying to be rude.”

“It doesn’t bother me,” the man said. “Just curious. You sit at this table even when other ones are open.”

Suhayl blinked, realizing this was true. He hadn’t thought about the habit; somehow this table had become ‘his’ spot. “I do not mind sharing a table with you.”

The man snorted. “Yeah, after the third time you sat next to me, I kind of figured. After the tenth time, I guessed you just wanted company.”

“I did not put that much thought into it.” It was a little funny to spend weeks sitting next to each other two days a week and not interact though. “Although I suppose I have enjoyed sharing the space.” After living with three younger siblings, then in military housing, his little apartment was rather lonely.

“You’re not a bad table buddy,” the man said. He stretched and plopped his headphones on the table. “I’m about out of coffee, want me to grab you one while I get a refill?”

Suhayl, not sure what to make of the offer, politely declined. “I am afraid I am not too fond of American coffee regardless.”

“Really? I thought they were doing pretty good here. A step above chain stores.”

Suhayl smiled. “I would offer to share some proper coffee, but I would need a stove to make it.”

The man made an intrigued sound. “I’ll have to keep that on a to experience list then. I’m Cecilio, by the way,” he said as he picked up the cane he kept folded under his seat. “If I come back and find my laptop stolen, I will be so pissed, so don’t do it.”

Suhayl laughed. “I promise it will be where you left it.”

“It better,” Cecilio said with an answering grin. “I got my eye on you.”

Suhayl stifled laughter into his chemistry book for a lot longer than he would willingly admit.

o*O*o

Khatúl,” Suhayl says against the wall watching the world hurry on around them.

Chat,” Étienne says, eyes on the indicated cat. He points to a wheelbarrow. “Brouette.”

Meritza,” Suhayl replies. He looks for something more complicated than a simple noun. “Lashir,” he says pointing.

“Wait, the people running or the woman singing?” Étienne asks in English.

Ha’isha.” Suhayl smiles as Étienne switches his mind back over.

Lashir… Lashir…Oh! To sing?” he asks. Suhayl’s smile widens. Étienne looks proud of himself. “Chanter,” he says in French. “La femme chante.

Dujaj,” Suhayl says to see if he can trip Étienne up.

Étienne frowns, looks at the chicken and back at Suhayl. “That isn’t Hebrew at all, is it? It should be ‘of’

“Arabic,” Suhayl says. “You remembered the correct word just fine.” Étienne looks so offended, Suhayl can’t help laughing.

T’es con,” Étienne says, shoving his shoulder, a smile fighting with his scowl. Smile aside, Suhayl knows an insult when he hears one.

“Are we on to swear words, then?”

“Very funny.” He rolls his eyes, still stubbornly refusing to smile. “How many languages do you even know?”

“Hebrew,” Suhayl says. “I am near fluent in Arabic and somewhat fluent in English. I also know some Amharic.”

“Amharic?”

“My mother was born in Ethiopia. Her family made aliyah when she was young. My father is Arabic.”

“Oh.” He is surprised, understandably so. It is against halakha to intermarry. It would have been strange if his mother had been born an Israeli citizen. The immigrants from Ethiopia rarely married outside their communities at all, Jewish or not. “That makes a bit more sense now, why you’re always…” He waves a hand.

“Apart?” Suhayl nods. “I could have dodged conscription if I chose to identify as Arab and Muslim,” he says. “But I have always been closer to my mother, and being Jewish always felt more right.”

“I know what you mean. My family is not very religious. My father is Christian—or perhaps Agnostic? He never attended church at any rate. My mother used to joke she was only Jewish when there was a holiday. My aunt was religious though, and moved here with her husband. I visited one summer and something fit. It’s like finding a new part of myself. A good thing.”

“Love and respect your parents, but children will find their own way, hmm?”

Étienne shrugs. “Something like that.” He looks back at the passing people. “More vocabulary?”

“Yes, why not?” It is funny, Suhayl accepted the exchange for learning some French, but his English has improved in leaps and bounds since they started as well. He has never spent so much time just talking to someone outside of family.

“I’ll start,” Étienne says, pointing at a potted flowers in a windowsill. “Fluers.”

Suhayl settles back to enjoy the moment, glad for once that he doesn’t have anything to do for a while longer.

o*O*o

“Okay,” Cecilio said from where he sat on Suhayl’s single kitchen chair, “that does not smell like coffee you’re grinding there. Also. Hand grinder?”

Suhayl smiled, finishing turning the crank. “It is cardamom seeds.”

“Cardamom. You put cardamom in your coffee?” Cecilio leaned over the table where Suhayl had put ingredients out earlier, smelling them. “And…cloves?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, you’re right, this isn’t like any coffee I’ve ever had.”

Suhayl laughed softly to himself. He couldn’t help feeling light as he moved through the preparation process. It had been a long while since he made coffee for someone else. It was nice to host a friend at the moment. Tracking down the best ingredients were worth the effort. Cecilio listened to him work, head tilted to the side, trying to guess at what he was doing.


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