by Shiawasena Ryokō-sha
…Like all good stories, tonight we’ve started and ended in a warm, dark place. That was another tale from the Deep Library, and this is your host, Cal Kassab, telling you it’s about time to go to bed.
Triumphantly, Cal switches the output over to the queued ending track. He waits for a moment, listening to the familiar music drifting from his headphones– “Chords from the Depths of SPACE,” or some similar new-age-y BS, but he liked it anyway, and, well, it fit his attempts at recreating the Twilight Zone in a college radio station – then leans back, satisfied. His too-small desk chair squeals a little in protest, unhappy with the shift of weight. From their hanger on the front of the control panel, the headphones still emit a tinny version of the music playing. Cal lets his head hang back: too tired to switch it off, too tired to admit that having a radio slot that ends at half past twelve in the morning was a bad idea, and definitely too tired to bother going home and taking the advice he’d just given his listeners.
All is still and quiet. The tinny ‘sounds of space’ switch over to a tinny Beyoncé song. Resigned to the fact he’s going to have to walk the cold, dark half-mile back to his dorm, Cal stands up and grabs his coat from its hook.
The phone rings.
Now, this isn’t exactly an unfamiliar occurrence. People call in all the time, with story requests, or stories of their own, or gossip and rumors (his friend Cindy is a particular culprit there – when she rings him up during the show, it’s a surefire sign he’s about to become the moderator of a sleepover discussion,) or occasionally because they’re so high they’ve forgotten the number for the local pizza joint (430-PAPA-JONES – how hard is that to remember?) But that’s during the show.
Nobody’s ever called him after the show.
He picks up the phone with one broad, square hand.
There’s an intake of breath on the other end of the line. “Hi! Um, I’m Joe, from the lit magazine? We were wondering if you’d like to do an interview about your show. Tomorrow, at noon, at the café by the Pratt?” The speaker is a tenor, with the sort of surety in his voice that usually comes from public speaking – and also not a voice Cal is familiar with.
Rubbing at his eye with the heel of his hand, Cal lets the cord pull him a little closer to the wall. “Yeah, sure. Can do.” The voice on the other end continues talking as Cal hangs up the phone, but he’s already buttoning up his coat, too preoccupied to care. He’s careful to lock the door to the sound booth as he leaves – left it open one measly time, and Rick had never let him hear the end of it – and then it’s through the halls and into the miserable, pitch-black chill.
As usual, by the time he makes it into the relative warmth of his dorm, he’s drowsy with fatigue and numb around the edges from the oppressive cold. He fumbles his way into his single, key-card almost falling from still-unfeeling fingers, before he thinks to leave himself a note about the interview. “Pratt food place, 12. Lunch w/ phone dude,” he hastily punches into his phone as he starts to strip. The coat gets draped over the end of the bed, the clothes go in the hamper – usually he’d just rewear them, but that seems a little too questionable for meeting someone for the first time – and he pulls on a ratty old t-shirt, careful not to look in the mirror at his regrettable lack of abs. He fails, and irritatedly stalks over to turn the mirror around. In the grand scheme of things, not so bad, but considering how he looked before the concussion– He scowls and cuts off that train of thought. Two weeks before he gets to hear back from the doc about whether he can go back to aerobics, and then he’ll be home free.
On that note, he drags himself into bed and lets his thoughts wander off into the night sky.
The morning is, to put it bluntly, a fucking disaster.
For some reason, his phone battery goes dead in the middle of the night, and that he wakes up at all is a minor miracle. Compounding the anxiety of a very short and (as the dorm water heater is acting up again) very cold shower is the knowledge that no, he’s not going to get breakfast before class today, not even if he sprints. His residual drowsiness and general misery silences his habitual humming – whenever he’s alone and comfortable, there’s a hint of some half-remembered song lurking for him to sing quietly to himself. But not today.
Cal slips into class five minutes late and literally freezing – his still-damp hair developed icicles and frost in the frigid morning air. For once, he’s happy to have a lecture class; the professor doesn’t even blink when he walks in, just keeps going on about whatever math they’re supposed to be learning. He can see Cindy up at front, talking to some girl he doesn’t know. Reluctantly, he snags one of the desks in back, alone.
The class passes in a blur. Notes that Cal doesn’t remember making fill a page and then some of his journal; only about half of them have anything to do with linear optimization. A few of them appear to be plans for future episodes of Deep Library, the rest clumsy doodles of the guy sitting two rows forward. It’s not Cal’s fault that he’s got nice arms and sits still for long periods of time.
He tries to catch Cindy before she leaves class, but she’s too engrossed in conversation with – Sue? – about sports strategy or whatever that she totally fails to notice his frantic arm-waving. He goes back to stuffing books back into his pack, then clamps on his battered black headphones, resigned to lunch alone.
The sunlight is actually at a pleasant angle today. Branches dapple the brilliant-lit sidewalk with patches of indigo, and the sky is full of wispy white clouds. It hasn’t been as clear as this for easily a month. Cal straightens his broad shoulders a little for once, trying desperately to soak up as much solar energy as he can to offset the chill in the air. He shuffles through a few more mellow tracks before settling on a Beach Boys song he doesn’t even remember downloading. For a few, precious moments, everything is perfect.
Then his music clicks off and a mechanical voice squawks, “PRAT FOOD PLACE. TWELVE. LUNCH W-” The rest of the message is lost in static as the phone’s feeble text-to-voice software encounters unfamiliar punctuation, stumbles, and dies.
Cal stops mechanically and stares forward with dawning horror. Too quietly to hear, he mumbles: “Right. Right. Interview. At the Pratt. Now. FUCK.” With that, he sputters back into action – suddenly spins around, then takes off at a sprint for the other end of campus, cursing with what little is left of his breath.
The Pratt is widely regarded by students as one of the loveliest pieces of architecture on campus, and also is so far from everything else that it’s not even on campus at all. The only real saving grace of the place is that the café across the street a) takes student meal cards, b) sells real espresso, and c) is open when the University snack stands are closed, a fact Cal has occasionally been grateful for when he realizes he’s otherwise going to fall asleep across the studio sound board fifteen minutes into the show.
In his attempts to reach this distant outpost of academia before his interviewer up and leaves, Cal runs blindly, other pedestrians frantically dodging him. He arrives gasping slightly, and leans back against the rough brick of the wall for a minute before he dares to step in front of the window.
The café hums with the expected sounds of the lunch crowd – some subtle background music, a dozen quiet conversations, the elderly coffee grinder whirring mechanically – and, after the stark white blaze outside, honey-colored streaks of light pouring over every surface. Cal absentmindedly places an order with the bored barista, scanning the crowd. There’s no sign of a reporter-type, really – all the hipsters in their clean-cut flannel are clustered around a friend playing guitar; no dorky square glasses in immediate sight –
An intensely white, expectant smile is being directed at him from the table closest to the register. Oh no.
He actually recognizes the guy – one of the jocks he’s seen hanging out with Cindy occasionally, and, from the body language alone, the sort of person who’d like nothing so much as to stuff him in a locker. Right – Joe. His name’s Joe. Cal hesitantly sits in the seat across from him. From this angle, Cal has to look up to see the guy’s face. Not ideal. Also not ideal: the rather stylish (probably purchased on a whim then neglected until he had to interview a nerd) movie tie-in shirt he’s wearing. It’s really thin, and the bright red in the emblem draws attention like a magnet. Not only can Cal see every well-defined chisel in those impressive pecs, he can also see– With considerable effort, he draws his eyes up to meet the other man’s. Being ok with his friends knowing he’s into guys is one thing; letting some random dude who looks like he could easily dump Cal into a trash can find out is another. Joe’s smile has faded a little, but the expectant look is still there. Cal clears his throat.
Joe glances down, startled, then the smile comes back full force. “Thanks! Captain America’s always been my favorite. Been told I look a little like him.”
This isn’t a description Cal’s inclined to dispute.
“Anyway, uh – why don’t you tell me a little about why you decided to start your show?”
The interview passes with little event. Their drinks and sandwiches come and are gone almost as quickly; Joe runs through a list of questions clearly distilled from every interview ever conducted; the amber sunlight drips a little further along the floor. At some point, Joe asks if Cal has an afternoon class (He doesn’t.) Their conversation drifts to classes, sports, friends. Cal is dully surprised when Joe already knows about his concussion – Cindy must have clued him in.
“You’re friends with Cindy, right? Did she put you up to this–” Cal gestures broadly at the table and himself “–to get Deep Library publicity or something?”
The subtle smile Joe’s been sporting the entire time falls straight off his face. “No – ah,” he says, looking rather betrayed, “I actually talked the rest of the lit squad into letting me do it. I love your show. You’ve got an amazing voice.” His cheeks are a violent pink now, the color of a rising sunburn.
Cal snorts. “My voice is pretty shit. Sounds like I’m eating gravel, worse if I’m dumb enough to think I can sing.”
“More to voices than singing. It’s the kind of voice you feel right here.” Joe taps himself lightly on the chest, “like a heartbeat.” He hesitates a little, then continues. “I wonder… what it would feel like if I…” His hand drifts towards Cal.
Trying not to roll his eyes, Cal grabs it and presses the pale palm against his chest. “If you were touching me while I was talking? Like this.” He’s suddenly aware of a dozen things – the rough bass of his own voice, the way Joe’s eyes seem to have grown incredibly wide, the way the other people lingering in the café are looking at them, the tingle spreading across his face – and bats the hand away again. “Look, if you want to ask awkward questions, let’s find somewhere where we’re not the center of attention,” he says, unable to chase the idea that he can hear his voice echoing through every secluded corner of the coffee shop.
Joe gives a little nod of understanding and follows him mutely out the door. Cal’s feet start to trace the familiar path back to his dorm, but his pace stays slow and uncertain. They walk in silence for a little while, before Joe starts to talk again. “I’m sorry. I screwed up.”
“You just seem… like an old friend, after all those nights staying up late, listening to you talk – but, y’know, obviously you don’t have a single clue who I am.”
Cal breaks his silence. “Nah, it’s ok. I was doing you a favor, actually. Since.” He breaks off, steeling himself. He can feel a rush of adrenaline building already, in sick anticipation. “You probably don’t want people to see you feeling up a gay guy in public.”
There’s a little intake of breath, a subtle “Oh?” Cheeks burning, Joe says, “Well, that’d be a hell of a way for me to come out, at least.”
Cal’s mouth feels full of pins and needles, and his arms tremble slightly. “What?”
Joe looks at him out of the corner of his eye. “I’ve been putting it off a bit, I guess. Not that important, haven’t really been interested in most of the guys on campus.” Something else seems to tremble on the end of the sentence, unsaid.
For the first time he can remember, Cal manages to shake off the urge to stay silent. “If –if that’s a proposition,” Joe turns to face him, and they stand there, looking at each other for a moment. “I’d be an idiot to turn you down.”
The surge of adrenaline is back. The next span of time passes in a blur, events happening to quickly to recount, and then they’re in Cal’s single and coats are getting thrown in a heap and he makes doubly sure the door is locked and everything is coming back in a rush.
Without the jacket, every elegant, sleek angle of Joe’s torso is thrown into sharp relief by the stream of light coming in through the window. The line of his jaw, the slight blond stubble, invisible until now, pale eyes that seem to glow with the slightest touch of sunlight – perfect, perfect, perfect. Perfect.
Cal hesitates. In the stark sunlight, he’s aware of how he looks: untameably curly hair, dark skin, darker eyes; stocky, not lean and athletic. Not anymore. A mangy, sickly housecat, next to a mountain lion.
Joe’s looking at him as though he’s never seen anyone more handsome in his entire life.
They kiss; or rather Joe kisses him, gently, and then Cal gets his act together and kisses back. Everything tastes vaguely of coffee and feels strangely soft. Comforting.
Cal’s holding Joe’s face in his hands now, trying to turn things so he can kiss a little deeper. Rough stubble feels good against his hands. Joe pushes him against the wall a little, still letting him guide their faces closer together. There’s a thigh pressing against Cal’s groin. There’s a groin pressing against his thigh. There’s a face, on his face. Also hands, under his shirt. What.
He pulls away from Joe, who already looks distinctly buzzed. “Whoa?”
The blond man squeezes gently at his waist. “Guess you haven’t really done this before?”
Cal scrunches up his face and looks away. “Can’t say I can really remember the last time. I do remember that it involved a considerable amount of Pabst, though…” Joe laughs, and suddenly the tension dissolves. In the tiny room, it’s easy for Cal to flip Joe onto the bed and continue with the kissing. They rut against each other a little, hands going up shirts again – this time, Cal’s hands. Joe spares a second from trying to pull Cal closer to slick off his shirt , and then it’s all hands running up and down his bare chest. Huskily, Cal says, “Like what you’ve done with yourself here.”
Joe’s eyes widen, and he sighs. “Holy fuck. Your voice. Is incredible. Say anything”
Suddenly Cal’s the one on the bottom, and Joe’s furiously kissing him down into the soft bed sheets, hard-on pressing down, begging to be touched. Cal fumbles for a belt buckle, but can’t reach, and settles for grinding a little harder against him. Joe’s strong, pale hands are threading through Cal’s hair now, tongue sliding slickly over tender lips. He makes a soft noise in the back of his throat, then rolls his body, one sinuous wave that ends with their hips almost flush, their hardened cocks rubbing together. Cal moans.
Joe slides a little lower, pressing kisses to Cal’s neck, hands rubbing circles against the bare skin of his sides. “Ok if I take my turn first?” he says, with another dazzling smile.
Cal runs his fingers through the short golden stubble of Joe’s hair and kisses his forehead tenderly. Pulling together his smoothest, deepest radio broadcasting voice, he says, “Nothing in the whole world would make me happier.” He’s rewarded with a little shiver of pleasure.
Gently, Joe skims a hand over the dark trail of hair tracing upwards above the line of Cal’s jeans, then presses his hand into the slight softness there, thumb stroking. The motion is so small, but the electric stream of pleasure it produces is so strong Cal barely notices Joe unzipping his jeans, pulling them and the boxers underneath off, tossing them to the side. He shifts his hands to petting gently at the tender insides of Cal’s thighs, kissing his belly then lower, then lower still… Still passing broad fingers through the other man’s hair, Cal asks teasingly whether he ever intends to get to the point.
This elicits a chuckle. “I must be doing it wrong If you want me to be done already… ” And with that, he runs his tongue along Cal’s cock. He starts too slow, infuriatingly gentle; gets a little rougher after an encouraging moan. Fingers caressing more sensitive tissue, tongue brushing against head, he makes his contact stronger second after passing second. By the time he puts his lips around Cal’s cock, he’s groaning happily under the accumulating pressure. Joe hums in answer against the slick length, hands rubbing the cock’s base, and Cal’s world fades into an incredible wash of sensation. An inaudible hum, gold light so bright he can’t comprehend it, the whole world, right and good and that feels so fucking good, don’t stop, and the light gets whiter and brighter and the hum gets louder and then the tension fountains out of him.
The world trickles back slowly – his own breath, panting, Joe coughing a little, the vivid light-and-shadows the sun is leaving on his bed, on the handsome man who’s underneath him now, pressed against him, looking at him with stars in his eyes. He wishes he could file the moment away to savor, but from the muzzy feeling he’s got now he thinks it probably won’t stay. He’s not hard anymore, but Joe’s still at full mast, eager, so he kisses him and takes his pants off halfway, so he can get a hand in where he wants it to go. Kissing the rough place just under the other man’s ear, he whispers compliments, commentary, a description of how it felt, a narration of how it feels now, to be holding someone else’s magnificent dick in hand, feeling it slick and wet and hard. Belatedly, he thinks that his hands are dry and he should have found lube, but Joe either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. He shivers, at first intermittently and then more and more, until he’s shuddering with want. Cal puts a hand against the small of his back, pulling him closer, then mumbles something inconsequential to his collarbone and Joe comes, with something between a cry of joy and a sob.
(After, they curl into each other’s arms drowsily, content with the warmth in each other’s skin while the golden rays of sunlight drift across their sleeping forms, then up the wall, then vanish entirely. Later, they’ll think of the ending lines of Cal’s show and laugh. Eventually, they’ll have to decide what they’re doing. But for now, it’s enough to be somewhere warm and dark and good.)