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The Scene is Dead

by shukyou (主教)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/334420.html)

It was the Queer as Folk that tipped him off. But for the four months leading up to it, Gautam just blamed his brother.

Frankly, Mani was the more reasonable explanation. “You’ve got nothing to do here,” he sighed as he flopped down on Gautam’s couch, his socked feet dangling over one of the armrests.

He was wrong, of course, as he usually was; by Gautam’s estimation, there was more to do in New Jersey than there ever had been any other place he’d lived. But he guessed the scene looked different when the looker was a whiny sixteen-year-old still sulking because his parents wouldn’t let him stay in the house alone for two weeks. And since Priya’s dorm didn’t even allow men past the first floor, and Sanjit was on some summer-long biology trip to some far-flung part of the world, even though he had only moved in to the apartment three weeks earlier, it fell to Big Brother Gauty to babysit the youngest member of the Korrapati family.

Gautam stretched and tried to look excited. “We could go to a mall,” he offered. “Or a park. Or I could show you around the campus! I mean, there’s lots of things.”

“Where’s your TV?” asked Mani.

“What TV?” asked Gautam.

Mani wasted no time in letting his eldest sibling know that was the wrong answer. One Best Buy run later and Gautam was the proud owner of two things he’d never expected to possess: his own television, and an Apple TV. They spent that evening together in the brotherly enterprise of setting the whole thing up, and for the next two weeks, every time Gautam came home from his new job at the University, Mani had something new on Netflix his terribly uncultured brother just had to watch. In a way, it was nice; when his parents had announced to him what would be happening, one of the things Gautam had feared was how to spend two weeks being convincingly heterosexual. As it turned out, a lot of seasons of Breaking Bad and House of Cards filled that time effectively.

He had every intention of returning to his prior ascetic lifestyle once he put Mani back on a plane, but the truth was … he liked it. The movies were great, but what he really found himself liking — to his own eternal shock — was television. He liked coming home to a story, something bigger and more connected that didn’t make him feel so isolated. He supposed he could get out there and see what kind of gay night life the Garden State had to offer. Or he could see what happened next with Liz Lemon.

Liz won every time.

It wasn’t even until he went poking around in his viewing activity that he realized his activity wasn’t his activity. Well, it was, but it also wasn’t. The Murder, She Wrote and House (depending on his mood) were all his, especially since they made good background noise while he cooked dinner and browsed Facebook in the evenings. Interspersed with them, though, in curious blocks of four and five episodes at a time, was the third season of Mad Men.

That seemed a little odd for Mani, Gautam thought, before he remembered how engaged his brother had been by the intrigue in House of Cards. Besides, it wasn’t as though Gautam himself had ever seen Mad Men, so maybe he’d just been given an incorrect impression via cultural osmosis. Things like that happened all the time.

After that, he really didn’t think anything of it. Sometimes in the “Continue Watching for Gautam” section, there were things he couldn’t continue, because he hadn’t started them in the first place: Supernatural, Scandal, Lost. He left those alone, assuming Mani would view them at his own pace, wasting his summer vacation as he liked. Gautam came home most evenings alone, sometimes late. He got to know his co-workers and other people in the Financial Aid office. Very occasionally, he was invited out to evening gatherings and weekend events with his new friends. Summer ended, school began, and he was busy but happy. Things became normal.

And then, Queer as Folk.

Gautam stared at that offer to continue watching. He went to his viewing history. It wasn’t just the first episode, something started as a mistake, or even the first couple, left to run until no one was there to confirm that someone was indeed still watching. It was several bursts of five and six episodes at a time, over nearly a week. Someone on Gautam’s account was deliberately watching a gay television show.

Suspecting that his brother might have something important to tell him, Gautam called home that weekend to chat with everyone. When the phone got passed to Mani, Gautam exchanged some pleasantries and chit-chat before casually working in the question, “You seen anything good lately I should be watching?”

“Nah,” said Mani. “It’s senior year, bro. I don’t have time for shows.”

That was curious, sure, but not unexpected. Likely their parents were still in the room, and Mani didn’t want to admit to binge-watching when he should have been sleeping. “Well, what about Lost?” asked Gautam, trying to let his brother know that he knew, and it was okay. “I’ve heard good things about Lost.”

Mani snorted, and Gautam could hear him rolling his eyes from all the way across the country. “Lost,” Mani proclaimed with all the arrogance of teenagerhood, “is the kind of garbage shallow people think is deep.”

Gautam sputtered. “So you’re not using my Netflix account?”

“Why would I?” asked Mani. “I’ve got it here.”

“And you didn’t give the login to anyone else?”

“Nope.”

Gautam looked over at his TV screen, where Netflix was now offering to let him pick up again at a place where “Justin and Brian negotiate their relationship,” whoever they were. “Then who’s been watching all this stuff on my account?”

“Beats me,” Mani said. Then he laughed. “Maybe you got a ghost.”

~*~

It was a stupid idea, which was why Gautam absolutely wasn’t doing anything about it. He was just staying up way past his bedtime until the stroke of midnight on a Saturday because that was a thing that could happen for a bunch of reasons. And the candles were just lit and placed around the room because he liked candles, that was all. And the Ouija board on his coffee table…

Nope. There was no plausible deniability about a Ouija board, no matter where it was.

Gautam sighed and put his fingers on the planchette. He felt dumb doing this, even though he was sure no one was here to see him. Ninety percent sure. …Maybe more like eighty. “Okay, um, hi,” he said to what was probably just his empty apartment, and there was no point in this whatsoever. “Hi, I’m Gautam, and this … well, I live here now, I guess you’ve noticed.”

He stopped for a second and listened. He heard nothing and felt nothing nudging his hands. This was ridiculous. It was a technical glitch or something. Or he’d probably been hacked. He should be on the phone with Netflix customer support right now, making sure his credit card was still okay, and not sitting cross-legged in his pajamas, staring at a mass-market piece of plastic that kind of looked like a butt from this angle.

“It’s okay if you don’t want to talk to me,” Gautam said to what was probably just the empty air. “I mean, I sort of don’t believe in you anyway, so I guess it’s fair.” He cleared his throat. “I just wanted to let you know that it’s okay if you watch the TV while I’m gone. Just so long as it’s not something I’m watching, so I don’t lose my place. Okay? Thanks.”

There it was: the stupidest thing he’d ever done in his whole life, completed. He sighed and swished the planchette around, making sure it hadn’t gotten stuck or something. It hadn’t. “So … that’s about it.” Gautam sighed and leaned back against the couch. “But if you have any requests, I could see what I could do. I think they have a DVD plan I could look into.” Nope, it had just gotten stupider, offering to rent movies for a ghost that didn’t even exist anyway. That was him, always setting new lows.

He was about to give up and blow out the candles when he heard an electronic chime that made him shriek in a way that was completely manly, and he would swear to that in a court of law. It was the television. And it was on.

The first place Gautam looked was actually under his butt, making sure he hadn’t somehow sat on the remote and switched it on with his various shiftings around. But no, the remote was over by the television itself, where he’d last left it, right next to the remote for the Apple TV — which was also now on.

“Hello?” asked Gautam, suddenly feeling a lot less alone. “Was that you?”

Nothing else turned on or went anywhere, even though Gautam sat waiting there so long that he nearly felt asleep with his face on the Ouija board. He woke up fully only as a second little chime announced that the television was now going to power-save itself off. It was efficient and environmentally conscious, while Gautam was just ridiculous. With a grunt, he pulled himself up, blew out the fire hazards, and made it to his bed before falling into a dreamless sleep, untroubled by ghosts or any other impossible ideas.

~*~

Even so, the idea of having a ghost was oddly nice. Gautam had had some goldfish when he was in elementary school, and those fish hadn’t cared whether Gautam lived or died so long as he sprinkled food into their bowl, but he found them comforting all the same, telling them all the things he had no one else to tell. So he named his ghost Fish.

“What do you think, Fish, the blue paisley or the green polka dots?” he asked, having narrowed his tie selection for that day down to two.

“Fish, did you see where I put my keys?” he asked, his head stuck beneath the couch just in case he’d kicked them under there.

“I’m home, Fish!” he said as he came through the door in the evening, one arm full of paperwork, the other carrying bags from the grocery.

That he never got any sort of response wasn’t the point. Before, the apartment had been too quiet. It was his first time living on his own; everything before had been dorms and suites and roommates. The time between walking in the front door and walking back out it had been shrouded in silence, making everything seem lonelier. But now he had someone to talk to. And if that someone never changed the subject or interrupted or cared that Gautam wasn’t wearing pants at the time, so much the better.

“I just don’t know,” Gautam sighed as he stood by the kitchen counter, chopping up the vegetables for dinner. From the other side of the small apartment’s main room, Criminal Minds played away, though by now Gautam had lost the plot so much that it was only for light and companionable noise. “I mean, I think I keep getting signals? But I have no idea. I don’t know if it’s Alabama Nice or New Jersey Gay.” Carrots dealt with, he went on for the potato. He’d been eating so much better since having these evening conversations with Fish, actually cooking instead of just throwing something in the microwave and throwing himself on the couch.

“You’d like him, though, I think,” Gautam continued. “He’s like eighty-two feet tall and total farmboy blond.” Gautam caught himself and frowned. “At least, I think you’d like him. I have no idea what you like. Or if you’re even into men!” He laughed as he dropped things into the pot already simmering on the stove. “You might be a lesbian ghost! I suppose that’s as plausible as any other kind of ghost. Lesbians die too, after all.” He stirred the whole mess with a wooden spoon. “I’m sorry, Fish, was that offensive? I don’t know ghost protocol.” Oh, sometimes he cracked himself up.

It took himself a minute to realize that there was no longer any sound coming from the television behind him. Figuring his inaction had somehow tripped Netflix’s ‘are you still watching, loser?’ warning, he turned the stove down low and went to start up the show again.

It wasn’t Criminal Minds anymore. The caption in the corner read Queer as Folk S2:Ep. 3 “Episode 3”. The screen itself was frozen on an image of an adorable, fresh-faced twentysomething twink wearing a red shirt, his straw-yellow hair a perfect all-American late-’90s ruff.

“Um, yeah,” said Gautam. He cleared his throat. “Yeah, that’s … that’s about what Ted looks like, yeah.”

The picture didn’t change. Gautam honestly didn’t know what else he’d expected.

He finished the rest of his cooking in self-conscious silence. His mind was caught in a terrible tug-of-war, where one side was yanking the rope toward ‘surely there is a rational explanation for all this’ and the other was hauling it right back toward ‘dude you just made contact with the other side’. He didn’t know if spontaneous channel-surfing was good enough to get the million dollars from James Randi (not that he’d been doing his research on that or anything), but even so….

When dinner was done, Gautam took his plate to the couch and sat down. Instead of resuming his previous viewing, however, he decided that he could take a hint. He navigated back to the Queer as Folk series page, then selected the first episode. “Sorry if you’ve seen it before, but I’ve got to catch up,” he said to the empty air that he was now convinced was a lot less empty. It was the closest thing to a dinner date he’d had in months.

~*~

A few days later, Gautam came home to a strange sight: Not only were both the television and the Apple TV on, they were open to the search page. Teddy Sears. Teddy Bergman. Ted Danson. Better Off Ted. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

“Oh, um, Ted?” asked Gautam, looking around as though Fish might have somehow manifested in the interim. “He’s … well, he’s doing fine. I guess.”

The search page shifted. Save the Date. 50 First Dates. 12 Dates of Christmas.

Gautam brushed the snow off his coat and hung it on the hook by the door, then stepped closer to make sure he’d understood the theme. “Um, no,” he said. “No, I haven’t.”

Glenn Gaylord. Gaya Bommer Yemini. Marcia Gay Harden. Another Gay Movie.

The new set of search hits startled Gautam into a laugh. “What, him or me?”

Total Siyapaa as the only search result threw him for a loop, until he looked closer and realized one of the principal performers was Yami Gautam.

“Well … yes,” Gautam admitted, fidgeting with the tasseled ends of his scarf. “I am. Still not sure about him.”

Outsourced. Peter Outerbridge. The Outsider. Out of the Dark.

Gautam shook his head. “I’ve had some friends who knew about it, and most roommates knew. So it’s not like I’ve kept it a secret.” He flopped down on the couch and sighed. “But also not like I’ve gone out of my way to tell anyone either.”

Meet the Parents. The Fairly Odd Parents: Season 2: “Love Struck”.

With a retching sound, Gautam put a pillow over his face and pretended to smother himself, hoping that would answer the question. Much though his parents though themselves modern, open-minded, Americanized folk, he knew that boundaries of their open minds didn’t go as far as they thought they did. “It’s been a moot point, anyway,” he said, coming up for air. “I figure I’ll fall in love, get married, and then come out to them. …And with my dating luck, they’ll already be dead and buried and into their next reincarnation cycle by the time that happens.”

The screen flashed a few times, showing zero results for searches that flew by too fast for Gautam to make out. There was a small pause afterward on a blank screen, as though the typist couldn’t think of what to enter. Then another set of results turned up: Virginia Madsen. Virginia Williams. Virginie Ledoyen. Jane the Virgin.

No,” Gautam snapped, a little more defensive than he’d meant to be. He sighed into the pillow again. “Sorry. Yes, I’ve had sex before. Just not what anyone would consider, like, a lot. …You know, if you’re not real and I’m just hallucinating this, this line of inquiry really says something about mean my own subconscious is to me, don’t you think?”

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Gautam stuck his tongue out at the air. but he found he was smiling again. “Anyway, why are we talking about me? You’re the interesting one!”

Monster Fish. Fish Tank. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

“Yes, you.” Gautam pointed at the television, even though he had no basis for believing Fish was more there than anywhere else. “Are you actually a ghost? Because if this is some weird Candid Camera thing, I’m going to be … well, I was going to say ‘mad’, but honestly, gross violation of privacy notwithstanding, this is an impressive amount of work just to mess with my head.”

Alice Ghostley. Ghost Adventures. Ghost Whisperer. R.L. Stine’s Mostly Ghostly: Have You Met My Ghoulfriend?

Gautam sat up again, leaning on the edge of his couch. Just dropped on him, this kind of interaction would have made him run to either tech support or the psych ward, depending on how stable he felt. But he’d eased his way into it despite himself, to the point where it was almost pleasant to be interrogated about his sex life via a streaming media service. “So, like … when did you die?”

You Don’t Know Bo. I Don’t Know Whether to Slit My Wrists or Leave Them Long.

“You don’t know?”

A few ‘no results’ pages flipped up before settling on a page with Amnesiac.

“Wow,” said Gautam, running his fingers through his shaggy hair. “I mean, I guess that’s good, in case you were murdered horribly or something. If I were murdered horribly, I don’t think I’d want to remember it.”

The screen went dark for several seconds, much longer than it had in the past, to the point where Gautam was starting to get nervous. Had he said something wrong? Was this a touchy subject? Weren’t ghosts supposed to want to solve the mysteries of their violent deaths and wind up unfinished business so they could move on? Or was that just something people said? It was starting to occur to him now to doubt Wikipedia as an authoritative source of ghost information.

Then the first set of search results came up again: Better Off Ted. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.

Gautam laughed. “What, you want me to tell you more about Ted? Why?”

The Matchmaker.

“Fine, fine,” Gautam agreed. He stood and dusted the last bits of melted snow off the knees of his pants. “While I’m making dinner. But you have to promise not to get your hopes up.”

Promised Land. A Promise. Pandora’s Promise. American Promise.

~*~

“Fish!” called Gautam as he walked in the front door. “Hey, Fish!”

The television and Apple TV blinked to life as Gautam untangled himself from his cold-weather wardrobe. January was in full swing now, following a mercifully brief winter break, which consisted of all of four days at home before Gautam gave his sincerest apologies, but work was waiting for him again on the East Coast. He returned to find almost every movie from the Gay & Lesbian section marked ‘watched’. Yeah, he knew what that was like.

“I’m meeting him for dinner!” Gautam announced to the screen. They’d established, in their roundabout way of communicating, that Fish wasn’t trapped inside the electronics, but by then Gautam had become so accustomed to talking to the television that it was difficult to remember to focus anywhere else. “What do I wear?”

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Who is Dayani Cristal? Look Who’s Back.

Gautam stuck his tongue out and wrinkled up his nose. “Don’t be a dick.”

The French film LOL came up next on the search page, Fish’s go-to choice for showing amusement.

“You’re not helping.” Gautam looked down at his work clothes. “Should I wear this and make it look like I’m so cool and confident, I don’t need to put it any effort? Or is that too cool, like I don’t care?”

Cool and the Crazy.

“Thanks,” sighed Gautam, tugging at his slacks. He could at least change into a pair of jeans, make it look like he didn’t just come straight from work, even though they were due to meet at the restaurant in a little over an hour.

How We Got to Now with Steven Johnson. Fish was learning to get pretty specific with the catalog.

Gautam shrugged. “I played it cool. I just sort of said … you know, hey, it’s pretty quiet without the students back, a lot of the staff are still on vacation, I haven’t been doing much lately, have you? You haven’t? Maybe we should grab a bite to eat this evening! And he said, sure! So–” A thought struck Gautam as he unfastened his tie. “Oh shit, what if he doesn’t know it’s a date! Do you think he knows it’s a date?”

The apartment was technically a one-bedroom and not a studio, but the layout was such that even as he rummaged through his closet, Gautam could turn around easily and see that the search results on the television were displaying The House of Yes.

“Because he might not!” Gautam called out. “He might just think this is a thing for friends! He might be — what if he’s married? He’s married and it just hasn’t come up in conversation! What happens if he’s totally married and I just end up making an ass of myself?”

The Big Chill is unavailable to stream.

“Easy for you to say,” snorted Gautam, ignoring the technical definition of ‘saying’ for the moment.

Ring the Bell. Ringer. Ring of Fire. Queens of the Ring.

Fish had a point. “No, he doesn’t,” Gautam said. “But not all guys wear them, you know.”

Love Actually.

“Don’t even start with me.” And to put a cap on the conversation for the time being, Gautam dropped into the bathroom, where there was no line of sight between himself and the television.

Through all this, Gautam had never quite dismissed the possibility that he was undergoing some massive hallucinatory episode, which was part of why he hadn’t actually picked up the phone and tried to turn his apartment’s haunting into one of those proof-of-life-after-death cash prizes. But the other part of it was … well, if this all was real, Fish didn’t deserve that. Whatever had happened before was gone and done with. If Fish didn’t remember, and didn’t care to remember, then it was no business of Gautam’s digging it up — and definitely no business of his turning a profit on it.

It was weird to think, but for those days he’d been at home, Gautam had felt even more closeted about befriending a ghost than he had about being gay. At least the gay part was old hat by now, and he figured he still had a few more years before “I’m too busy with work now for a girlfriend, Mother” lost its potency. But when they asked about what he did for fun, it wasn’t as though he could tell them about the hours spent knee-deep emotionally in Grey’s Anatomy and Gilmore Girls, with occasional digital commentary from a dead person. How could he explain that not only was he not lonely, he had never had a better or more understanding friend in his whole life?

He couldn’t. So he swore to them he was getting to know his co-workers and neighbors, all the while knowing full well that on the other side of the country, a television was playing in his ostensibly empty living room.

When he emerged at last, gel in his hair and stubble freshly wrangled, he saw the movie Sexy Baby pulled up on the screen. “You know, that’s actually a documentary about the sexual exploitation of women through social media,” Gautam pointed out. “Really kind of depressing.”

Seconds later, it was replaced by Bill Bellamy: Crazy Sexy Dirty. “Thank you,” Gautam said. “Though I will take both compliments in the spirit in which they were intended.”

The screen changed to another set of search results: Ties that Bind. Blood and Ties. Malcolm Tierney.

Gautam looked down at his outfit. “Don’t you think that’d be a bit much?”

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“Fine, fine,” Gautam sighed as he went for the tie rack hanging over the back of his closet door. “Stripes, paisley, or plaid?”

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.

Gautam nodded and began knotting the plaid one around his neck. “What did I ever do without you?”

A Lonely Place to Die. Only the Lonely.

“Yeah, yeah. Rub it in, why don’t you.”

There was a brief pause, and then Mean Girls 2 popped up on the screen. Gautam frowned at it for a minute. Sometimes Fish could be hard to decipher, especially when attempting to express a sentiment that didn’t exactly make a catchy movie title. Maybe there was some thematic commentary here, like inferiority to an original, or maybe Fish was just owning up to being a jerk. But that didn’t seem quite right. Surely there was something he was missing–

“Ohh,” said Gautam as he made the connection at last. “Yeah. Me too, too.”

~*~

Alabama Nice, it turned out, was New Jersey Gay enough for government work. At least, that’s what Gautam decided as he tried to stop kissing Ted long enough to unlock his apartment door. It wasn’t easy.

It had, indeed, been a date. Any doubts he’d had about that had been erased when Ted had full-on pulled out Gautam’s chair for him at the table — and then turned a bright summer pink when Gautam had been so charmed he hadn’t known how to react. Over pasta, Gautam learned that Ted was actually a Theodore, not an Edward, that they were equally out to their respective families, and that he’d been working up the courage to ask Gautam out as long as Gautam had been doing the same. Wine happened, and then beer happened as each of them admitted to the other that they didn’t really like wine, and though by the end of it they were both probably still sober enough to pass any given field sobriety test, it was as good an excuse as any for Gautam to point out that his building was just two blocks away.

All of which led them to the point of jangling, fumbled keys and wandering hands. Ted leaned against Gautam from behind and started tugging his shirttail out from the waistband of his jeans. “Hope I’m not being too forward,” he drawled into Gautam’s ear.

Gautam was about to answer that no, this was exactly as forward as he liked, when Ted’s winter-frozen fingers found the warm, soft skin of Gautam’s bare belly. He yelped with no dignity at all, and as such was grateful when only a second later, his key turned the lock and they were inside.

By now, having the television still on when he got home was so second nature to Gautam that he didn’t even notice how its glow formed the apartment’s only light. But as Gautam shrugged off Ted’s coat for him, Ted glanced over and laughed. “Sex in the Wild: The Biology of Mating?” he chuckled. “Are you a diehard PBS fan or were you hoping to get some elephant-style tonight?”

“Weird Apple TV glitch, don’t worry about it,” Gautam said, and he grabbed Ted’s lapels and started kissing him with the hope of distracting him sufficiently from Fish’s editorial commentary. “So do you want the tour, or…?”

“Or,” Ted answered with a toothy grin. “Definitely or.”

They made it as far as the couch, which was really only an accomplishment of ten steps or so. Gautam’s head was spinning. He’d never done anything like this before, had a guy go this fast from impossible interest to full-contact houseguest. Sure, there’d been hookups before, especially during the moments college made things ten times as easy. But Ted … was someone he knew, someone he liked, someone he trusted, and now someone taking off Gautam’s pants. Gautam was so glad he’d chosen the cute underwear.

Ted grinned and kissed at Gautam’s belly just above the line of said underwear. “I really like you,” Ted said, his charming twang having been drawn all the way out by the evening’s alcohol.

Gautam reached down and tugged at a lock of Ted’s floppy blond hair. “I really like you too,” he said. He couldn’t have stopped smiling if he’d tried.

“And I’d really like to have sex with you,” Ted added.

“I’d really like to have sex with you too!” Gautam agreed.

They were positioned so that Ted’s back was to the television, and thus only Gautam saw when the search results changed: Top Boy. Top Gear. View from the Top. Yes, Fish was the epitome of a helpful color commentator.

“But…” Ted chewed the corner of his lower lip between his pearly white farmboy teeth.

Gautam’s eyes widened. “But…?”

Chicken Little. Chicken Run. Chicken Town. Lottie Dottie Chicken.

Ted sighed, looking more than a bit sheepish. “It’s been … well, kind of a long time — I mean, not a long time, but definitely longer than I’d like — and I’m not sure if I’m a little out of practice, so … do you mind if I just start out by blowing you?”

Relief washed Gautam into a laugh. “Yes!” he cried before Ted could somehow interpret that laughter as the bad kind. “Yes, you can definitely do that. I would like very much if you would do that.”

There went Ted’s grin again, wide and broad across that perfect, cornfed face. Out of the corner of his eye, Gautam caught that the search results had changed to a bunch of Chris Evans movies. Well, Gautam hadn’t wanted to be the one to call out Ted’s general Captain America vibe, but if Fish saw it too, that was something else entirely.

When Gautam’s cock sprung from his unzipped jeans, dark and ramrod-straight, Ted stopped in his tracks, his pale blue eyes a little wide. Gautam’s brow furrowed as he became suddenly self-conscious about every inch of his body, but his penis in particular. “Is it okay?” he asked.

“Oh!” said Ted, startled, as though he hadn’t realized what his face had done. “Oh, no, it’s … it’s wow, yeah. It’s great. It’s just … well, I just hope I can get it all in there, is all.”

Muted, the television started playing something called Peep and the Big Wide World, and if Fish’s being a ghost hadn’t already rendered it a moot point, Gautam might have considered murder as an appropriate response.

“Well, ah … never know until you try, right?” This was the most conversation Gautam had ever had with his cock out and waiting just a few inches from another man’s face, and the weirdest part about it was how it wasn’t that weird at all. Maybe Fish had reset his entire scale for weird. Or maybe he was just figuring out what it was to have sex with someone he actually liked. Either way, it was pretty great.

With a wink, Ted said, “Hey, my Baptist youth group leader told me I’d get far in life if I just kept trying hard and doing my best, right?” And before Gautam could quite get his brain to start unpacking the whole cargo ship that was that sentence, Ted’s pretty mouth was around the head of Gautam’s cock. His lips were soft and his tongue was clever as it flicked over the soft skin there, making every nerve in Gautam’s body sit up and pay attention.

The life of a closeted gay Indian kid from San Jose had not had a lot of time for romance, much less sex, much less not focusing on trying to get through sex as quickly as possible. He definitely wasn’t accustomed to this kind of luxury: Sprawled out on a couch in a place where he was sure no one would walk in on them, with a light on, with a guy whose first and last name he knew, who was taking his sweet time measuring Gautam’s dick with his mouth? Having the guy he’d crushed on hard for the last year grinning as he sucked Gautam off, with the implied promise of more to come afterward? Of all the unbelievable things that had happened in this apartment since he’d moved in, this one was topping the list.

Good Eats. If Gautam could have done so without Ted’s seeing, he would have flipped Fish the bird.

It may have been a while since Ted’s last chance to do this, but Gautam couldn’t imagine why. He didn’t know why word of Ted’s talented mouth hadn’t gotten spread so far and wide that there were lines of men out his front door and around the block, begging for just a few licks of his time. But somehow he had dodged a well-deserved reputation that would surely have gotten him international fame and fortune, and instead he was now quite dedicatedly showing Gautam just how much of a gag reflex he didn’t have. His nose bumped up against the plane of Gautam’s belly, and then he drew back, gasping and grinning up at Gautam.

The search results flickered to People Will Talk, and then, before Gautam could read it as a warning about nosy neighbors or workplace gossip, switched to Bob Saget: That’s What I’m Talkin’ About. Oh.

Gautam had never gotten much practice at talking during sex — indeed, a lot of the time it had been beside the point, put them in danger of discovery, or both — but as he looked down at Ted’s pink, wet lips hovered right over his cock, he figured Fish was right: If he could talk to a ghost, he could talk to a lover. “You’re … you’re really good at that,” Gautam laughed, trying hard to take his inner praise and bring it outside his head for once. He blushed, but he kept going: “Like, you should get some sort of prize.”

That made Ted laugh too, but the way his freckled cheeks were going pink made it clear that this was laughing with, not at. “You’re sweet,” he said before diving back in, looking up at Gautam through those ridiculous blond lashes as his head bobbed up and down.

“You’re amazing,” Gautam gasped. His fingers played through the soft strands of Ted’s hair, mindful not to tug, but at the same time indicating just how much he didn’t want this to stop. Especially the little thing where Ted got his tongue right under the head of Gautam’s cock and swirled it around. Gautam would frankly have been happy to spend the rest of his life just like that. “I wanted you so much, and I thought, no, I can’t, he’s, he’s straight or he’s married, or something else that would keep him from — oh, shit, you’re like a savant at that,” he gasped as Ted swallowed him again all the way to the root. “Gifted and talented. Graduating with honors.”

The television now showed Keep on Keepin’ On. Gautam didn’t even know if he believed that was a real movie. Maybe he was just hallucinating now.

Nonetheless, he did feel a certain sort of momentum, and the more aroused he became, the looser his tongue grew. “You’re so good at this. You’re, like, the Elon Musk of cocksucking,” Gautam babbled. “You could get thousands of pre-orders for blowjobs. You could — oh, fuck, keep doing that, please,” he begged as Ted began to swallow around his dick. Whatever concerns he’d had earlier about fitting seemed long-forgotten now. “Please, keep doing that, just keep right there, I’m going to come–”

With a grin pulling up the corners of his mouth, Ted swallowed Gautam’s cock all the way down, holding him in the warm tightness of his throat. Now past the point of coherent speech, Gautam tightened his fingers in Ted’s hair as he came. Any worries he had about their configuration were erased by the way Ted swallowed him eagerly down. It looked like Gautam hadn’t been the only one thinking about this.

As he collapsed back against the couch, Gautam saw that the only search result now was for Blow Dry. He glanced down to see that Ted’s eyes were closed, then stuck his tongue out briefly in Fish’s general direction, which was everywhere and nowhere at once. But he couldn’t have gotten too mad about that, even if he really had been upset by Fish’s sassy commentary. He just felt too damn good.

Ted climbed up over Gautam, pressing their chests together, and kissed him. Gautam kissed back, marveling at how he hadn’t known before now what it was to taste himself on someone else’s mouth. He hoped he’d get many more chances to do exactly that.

Then Ted laughed, breaking the kiss as he went to nuzzle Gautam’s cheek. “‘The Elon Musk of cocksucking’?” he asked, the gentle tease clear in his voice.

Gautam felt a flush rise to his cheeks. “Ugh!” he sighed, covering his eyes with his hand. “I don’t even know what I was saying. You were diverting all the blood from my brain.”

As he peeked a second later, though, Gautam saw that Ted was grinning from ear to ear. “Hey, I’m flattered,” Ted said, puffing up a little as he poked Gautam in his belly. “I’m an innovative blowjob man. My electric blowjobs get five hundred sucks to the gallon! Pretty soon we’ll be sending them to space!”

That made Gautam cackle, and every time he laughed, he felt the wonderful weight of Ted’s body pressing down against his chest. “Well, at any rate, you’re not out of practice.” He stroked back Ted’s hair from his forehead, noting with no small pleasure the hardness he was feeling pressing into his hip. And to think he might have missed it all if he’d never had the guts to try.

When Gautam glanced over at the television again, In the Bedroom had started playing, and he had to admit his ghost had a point. “You know, I’m wearing an awful lot,” Gautam said, tugging at his tie, “and so are you.”

“True, true,” Ted agreed. He looked eagerly up at Gautam with all the hopefulness of a golden retriever.

“Do you, um, I don’t know, want to continue this nakedly and somewhere with a little more room?”

Ted wrinkled up his nose in a terrific grin. “I thought you’d never ask.”

~*~

“Smells good,” Ted said as he walked through the apartment’s front door, bottle of wine in hand.

Gautam smiled and let Ted kiss him on the cheek before he bent to pop the naan in the oven. They were frozen and from Trader Joe’s, but whatever; Ted wouldn’t know and Gautam didn’t care. “It’s methi malai paneer,” he said, pointing to the simmering pan on the stove.

“I don’t know what any of those words mean, but okay!” Ted had in fact been a wonderful sport about trying anything Gautam put in front of him, far more game about the whole cross-cultural food adventure than most other white people Gautam had met had been. They’d both been trying a lot of new things with one another, not the least of which had included some terrifying conversations about maybe each of them visiting the other’s hometown after the semester ended. No plans had been made yet, and no plane tickets bought, but the fact that it might happen made Gautam feel sick and scared and exhilarated all at once. And that certainly counted for something.

Rolling his eyes, Gautam gave Ted a sharp poke in the belly. “You know paneer.”

Ted grinned and kissed Gautam’s cheek again, then goosed him for good measure. “Maybe I forgot. You better feed it to me again.”

From the other side of the room, the television flickered, and a second later the screen filled with Julia Roberts, clad in nothing but a tie. “How was your day, dear?” she asked before the scene paused.

“Hey, you’re getting pretty good at that,” said Ted proudly, and Gautam had to agree. It was crazy to think that less than a year ago, he’d been somewhat proud of his television non-ownership. Now with a Roku keeping his Apple TV company, he had access to more streaming media than he could ever consume in one lifetime — but as recent events had made clear, maybe a lifetime wasn’t all he’d have for it.

The slider at the bottom skipped along, speeding through the rest of Pretty Woman until Julia Roberts’ character said, “Let’s watch old movies all night. We’ll just veg out in front of the TV.”

Ted smiled over at Gautam. “I think our ghost has our evening all planned out,” he said, reaching for the corkscrew.

Gautam grinned right back at his two favorite people. “I think I can live with that.”

Read this piece’s entry on the Shousetsu Bang*Bang wiki.

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