written and illustrated by PeriwinklePip
With a stifled shriek, Alistair slammed his closet door shut, breathing hard. He cracked open his bedroom door and peered out into the living room, mousy brown hair a mess, glasses askew, looking a shade paler than usual. He called out tremulously: “Hey, Reverie?”
Reverie, Alistair’s roommate, gave him a questioning look, but said nothing, probably due to the bagel stuffed in their mouth.
Alistair cleared his throat and straightened his glasses. “Have you been, I don’t know, experimenting with portals to the Ether in the apartment again?”
Though Reverie looked momentarily confused, they grunted and nodded excitedly, sending their beaded braids clacking. It took a moment for them to juggle the travel mug, backpack, and lunch box in their hands before they could remove the bagel from their mouth to speak. “Oh yeah! I was trying a new spell array over the weekend while you were visiting your grandparents. Why, did I leave a mess or something? I promise I’ll tidy up after class, but I gotta—”
They gestured to the door and Alistair waved weakly for them to go. “Yeah, no, of course; don’t be late. We can talk later.”
Reverie gave him a grateful smile, chomped down on their bagel again, and dashed out the door. Alistair slumped against his door frame and removed his glasses so that he could drag a palm over his face. He was shaking.
There was something in his closet.
When Alistair was growing up, he, like most kids, worried about monsters beneath the bed or in the closet. His mother used to reassure him by checking in both locations with a flashlight before tucking him into bed. “No monsters tonight,” she’d report cheerfully, “but I’ll leave the flashlight by your bed, just in case.” And that had been enough to let a young Alistair fall safely asleep.
Now, he fumbled his phone with nerveless fingers until he could turn on the built-in flashlight. Honestly, he should have just shut his door and waited in the living room until Reverie got back, but Alistair hated to cause trouble for anyone else when he could deal with a problem on his own. He took a few deep, bracing breaths to calm his tremors. Then, cautiously, he eased his bedroom door open and pointed the flashlight inside.
At first, he thought the writhing, blue-black mass on the closet floor was a cluster of snakes. Like those mating orgies of garter snakes in the springtime he recalled from a nature documentary he’d seen. But there were no heads, and the “tail” ends were oddly bulbous in shape. Also, they weren’t scaly—gooey was probably a better word for the texture. There was a faint, not unpleasant aroma that reminded him of freshly cut grass and rain-soaked pavement.
“Hello,” said Alistair, feeling a little foolish speaking to what appeared to be a bunch of giant worms or tentacles or something, “I’m not sure how you got in there, but you’re in my closet. Are you sentient, by any chance?”
A few of the things perked up at the sound of his voice, periscoping up at him. They… nodded.
“Oh!” Exhaling a relieved sigh, Alistair chanced a nervous smile. “That’ll make things easier, then, if you understand English. Ah. Do you mind if I grab some clothes?”
This time, they moved side to side in a deliberate gesture, much like someone shaking their head, and retreated back into the shadows. Well. At least it was polite. Alistair crouched down briefly to see how far back the creature had gone, but the back of his closet seemed to have been replaced by roiling darkness. Even the light from his phone was swallowed up in it. He stood and fetched a fresh change of clothes, then shut the closet door cautiously. “I’ll be back later with my roommate,” he called out to the creature—for it seemed clear that it was one singular creature, not a bunch of them. “We’ll try to find a way to send you home, okay? Uh, knock twice if you understand.”
There came two distinct taps from the inside of the door. Alistair laughed, a little high-pitched, and wobbled away to the bathroom to take his shower.
“Unfortunately, I’m not really sure how to send it home,” said Reverie. It was later that evening, after Thai takeout for dinner (which they offered to the creature, but it politely refused). They were sitting on Alistair’s bed with the closet door open. “Partly because I think it actually is home, already.”
A tentacle tapped twice for “yes.”
“Are you saying that you opened a permanent portal to the Ether in my closet, and it just happens to also be in… our new roommate’s house, too?” Alistair was much calmer, now that he’d convinced his lizard brain that the thing in his closet wasn’t going to eat him, but he still wasn’t exactly pleased with this development.
“Basically, yes,” Reverie said, less apologetically than Alistair would have liked. “I don’t think it’s anything to worry about, though. If our new friend lives right where the portal is, I don’t think anything else will be getting through it.”
“That’s kind of a big assumption to make. We aren’t even sure what our ‘new friend’ is, or what it’s thinking. Besides, there are a lot of dangerous creatures in the Ether. There’s a reason portal spells are restricted by the Accords, Rev.”
Reverie blew a raspberry. “The Accords were written by a bunch of crusty old white guys and some equally crusty old Fae. You’re not gonna narc on me, are you?” Despite their dismissive tone, they did look a little worried.
Alistair sighed. “I won’t. But you should really keep working on a way to close the portal for good. Even if our new friend has the best of intentions, it seems unfair to make it protect us when we basically opened up a new door in its house without warning.”
The tentacle slapped the floor urgently and began to grope around as though searching for something. Reverie gave a little “Ah!” of understanding and handed it an uncapped Sharpie and a stack of printer paper. It scribbled with one tentacle while using another to hold the paper steady, then held up the sheet. Its handwriting was a little wobbly yet perfectly legible.
Hi, I can write.
“Sorry, I should have thought of that earlier.” Alistair grimaced. “Did you have something to tell us?”
I just wanted to reassure you that nothing else will come through the portal. It’s in my closet, too, and I live alone.
Reverie grinned triumphantly at Alistair. “See? Nothing to worry about!”
I was startled by the portal’s opening, but I don’t think it will cause any problems. I’m too large to fit my whole body through it, and I can keep my tentacles out if they’re a bother.
“Oh, you’ve been nothing but polite about this, you’re no bother,” Alistair assured it. He shot a look at Reverie. “I’m really more worried about us bothering you.”
It’s fine. I was a little lonely, to be honest. It’s nice to have neighbors for a change.
“Neighbors! Aww, that’s so nice! By the way, I’m Reverie and this is Alistair. What should we call you?”
The tentacle hesitated a moment before responding. My name doesn’t really work in your language. Call me Steve.
As it turned out, Steve was an excellent neighbor. He (he’d expressed a slight preference for “he/him” over “it” or any other pronouns) was quiet, unobtrusive, and helpful. Most of the time, Alistair didn’t even notice he was there. Occasionally, when he couldn’t find something in the closet, Alistair would call out: “Steve? Have you seen my good dress shoes?” and Steve would extend a tentacle with the lost item in question. In exchange for these little favors, Alistair would gift Steve batches of cookies and banana bread when he baked on the weekends. He had something of a sweet tooth.
Steve wrote notes to Alistair and Reverie, sometimes in response to things they said, sometimes just to say hello. Alistair caught Reverie lounging on his bedroom floor in front of the closet more than once, carrying on whole conversations with their extra-dimensional neighbor. Reverie was still trying to find a way to close the portal, but the longer they got to know Steve, the less urgent a priority it seemed. After all, what if they managed to shut it, but could never communicate with Steve again? It did seem like a good idea to close the portal once they had graduated college and no longer had a reason to lease the apartment, however, so Reverie did grudgingly continue their research.
Around the holidays, Alistair gave Steve a dozen scrunchy tubes of knitted fabric in an ultra-soft merino wool blend—they were tentacle warmers, Alistair explained, to Steve’s delight. Steve took to wearing them constantly, and the colorful wool certainly made the dark tentacles look less frightening in the shadows of Alistair’s closet. Steve gave Alistair a skein of shimmery yarn that was apparently spun from baby unicorn manes, and gifted Reverie a rare book of spells. Said book was written in a language no human had ever spoken, of course, but it was the thought that counted. Steve even made an effort to teach Reverie the basics of Middle Fae so that they could translate it.
Steve was a good listener, too, with a razor wit that often had Alistair laughing helplessly. He seemed to enjoy hearing about Alistair’s classes, part-time job at the yarn shop, and disastrous first dates. Meanwhile, Steve was reluctant to share much about his own daily life, claiming that it wasn’t very interesting and mostly consisted of Steve staying at home and reading. Alistair loaned him books from the human world, which thrilled Steve to no end, and they eventually found themselves staying up late into the night talking about their favorite novels.
By the time summer break rolled around, Alistair realized he’d grown attached to Steve. He was starting to look forward to his college graduation, less than a year away at that point, with melancholy rather than excitement. Graduation meant moving on from this life, returning to Minnesota and the house he shared with his grandparents, and leaving his college apartment—and Steve—behind. What would happen to his tentacled neighbor once he and Reverie had moved away? Would he be lonely again?
Alistair remained in Arizona over the summer, increasing his hours at the yarn shop since classes were out. Not a month into summer break, however, Alistair got a call. His grandparents had both passed away in their sleep, at home, peacefully. It wasn’t clear which of them had died first. Though it was sudden, it couldn’t really be considered unexpected; both his grandmother and grandfather were well into their eighties, and they’d each had a number of health issues. He had to take a leave of absence from work for a few weeks to go home, arrange the funeral, and handle the rest of his grandparents’ affairs.
When he returned, he trudged into his room and dropped his suitcase just inside the door. He collapsed face-first onto the bed. Though he hadn’t shed a tear the entire time he’d been back in Minnesota, now, in the quiet of his bedroom, he felt the crushing weight of loss and grief. The last family he had in the world was gone. A sob ripped out of him, followed by another, and he buried his face into his pillow and cried the way he hadn’t allowed himself to do before.
There was a soft creak as his closet door opened. A tentative weight on his shoulder made him startle, but when he rolled over, he saw that it was only one of Steve’s tentacles. His neighbor’s gentle concern was too much, and he broke down again, clinging to the tentacle as it wrapped around his shoulders in the semblance of a hug.
When Alistair woke, hours later, it was dark. He felt cozy and warm, like someone was holding him. It took him a moment to realize that he was still wrapped up in Steve’s tentacle—tentacles, rather, as several more had joined the first. It was the best hug he’d ever been given.
“Thanks, Steve,” he whispered, petting the tentacle curled around his upper chest. They were smooth, but not wet or sticky, as their appearance might have suggested. The skin was slightly translucent, like the outer layer of a tapioca pearl in boba tea. In the dark, tiny little bio-luminescent blue sparks lit up all along their lengths, except where they were still covered by the tentacle warmers.
A low crooning came from the closet. Alistair knew this was Steve’s voice. He couldn’t speak English, though he could understand it just fine, but sometimes he trilled with laughter or made other vocalizations that reminded Alistair of deep sea creatures. This sounded like a comforting lullaby. The bulbous tip of one tentacle stroked over Alistair’s salt-crusted cheeks. Alistair cuddled back down into the cradle of Steve’s tentacles and let a song from another world carry him back into slumber.
From that day onward, the nature of Alistair’s relationship with Steve shifted. Steve would often keep an extra tentacle in the room while they were chatting just to wrap casually around Alistair’s waist or drape across his lap. Alistair would absently stroke his fingertips over the tentacles, smiling when he made Steve shiver. More often than not, Steve left a tentacle or two in Alistair’s bed to snuggle with him at night.
Reverie noticed, and remarked on it over breakfast one day. “So, you and Steve are pretty close now.”
Alistair darted a look at his closed bedroom door, hoping Steve hadn’t heard them. “It’s not like that,” he muttered into his oatmeal. “We’re just good friends.”
“Uh-huh,” said Reverie, propping their chin on one hand as they grinned at their roommate. “If you were any better ‘friends,’ I’d start asking you to put a sock on the doorknob when you two are canoodling. Or maybe a tentacle warmer.”
Face flushed red, Alistair hunched over his bowl. “I don’t think it would work out, you know? We can’t even be properly in the same room together. He’s just… affectionate. That’s all. You know he’s lonely.”
“Yeah, and I know he hasn’t been the only one lonely lately.” Reverie reached over to give Alistair a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “Hey, I’m not judging, all right? I think it’s sweet that you two have each other. Even if it can’t last forever.” They hesitated, then continued: “I think I found a way to close the portal. That book Steve gave me had some good ideas in it. It’s kind of permanent, though, so I don’t want to try it until you’re both ready.”
Alistair felt his oatmeal turn to stone in his belly. He knew that they’d have to close the portal eventually, but it hadn’t felt real until Reverie’s announcement. “Have you told Steve yet?”
“I figured I should tell you first, in case you wanted to be the one to break the news.”
Alistair almost couldn’t stand the way Reverie was looking at him, almost pityingly. “No, it’s fine. Why don’t you tell him? I should—I have work.”
Leaving his bowl in the sink, still half-full of oatmeal, he fled the apartment.
It’ll be okay, wrote Steve. Alistair had come home late that night, wracked with guilt for not being there when Reverie had delivered the news to him. We still have time. Your lease isn’t up for another six months, right?
“Yeah, but after that, then what?” Alistair covered his face with his hands and groaned. “I just hate to think of you all alone again.”
I’ve been alone for centuries, Alistair. Having you and Reverie in my life has been a bright spot, but I always knew it couldn’t last. I’ll treasure my memories with you.
Alistair’s eyes prickled hotly with the threat of tears. “It’s not fair, though! Once the portal is closed, that’ll be it. We can maybe open another one, but you know how the Ether works; there’s no guarantee that it’ll line up the same way again, even if we find a way to stay in this apartment. I don’t…” His breath hitched, and his words came out in a strained whisper. “I don’t want to lose you, Steve.”
A tentacle came up to cup Alistair’s cheek, the bulbous tip brushing away his tears. The other tentacle wrote: I don’t want to lose you either. It will be hard, missing you. May I request that we spend our remaining time together making good memories? I’d like to enjoy looking back on this time.
Alistair sniffled and rubbed his face clean with his sleeve. “Yeah. Okay. I’ll do my best.”
Though Alistair was still struck from time to time with sorrow and dread for the end of his apartment lease, he did make an effort to focus on happier things when spending time with Steve. It wasn’t always hard: Steve, quite simply, made him happy. They discussed more books, watched movies together on Alistair’s laptop, even shared the occasional meal. Steve sent through some purplish fruits from the Ether that had a sweet, peppery flavor, and Alistair offered a variety of samples from the takeout dinners he and Reverie brought home. Steve liked steamed buns from the Chinese dim sum place down the street, but wasn’t fond of anything with noodles.
The more time they spent together, the less Alistair wanted it to end. He was aware that he was being selfish. If Steve could accept the limitations of their time together, why couldn’t he?
You don’t have to force yourself to be cheerful for my sake, Steve told him one day. I enjoy our time together even when you’re sad.
That did help remove some of the pressure Alistair was feeling, but he still felt guilty. “I wanted to make sure you had good memories.”
And I will. Not all memories that are “good” are necessarily “happy.”
Alistair thought back on his grandparents. Their loss was still fresh in his heart. Some of his fondest memories were from times that couldn’t be considered “happy,” though: his grandfather making him soup when Alistair was sick, his grandmother’s grumpy face before she’d had her morning coffee, sitting wedged between them watching Jeopardy! instead of going to his senior prom. There was love and comfort in those memories, sure, but there was a mix of emotions there. “I guess I can see what you mean.”
One night, Alistair carefully closed his closet door, stripped naked, and got into bed with his favorite vibrator. Steve had been holding and cuddling him all day, and Alistair couldn’t help but wish those gentle touches would move in a more intimate direction. He was already hard and wet even before he turned the vibrator on. The first rumbling press at the base of his cock drew a low, throaty moan from him. He bit his lower lip to stifle the sounds that wanted to escape him, but the occasional muffled whimper or groan slipped free anyway.
Just as he was getting close to release, he felt a light touch on his face. His eyes flew open and he yelped, fumbling to turn off the vibrator and tug the blankets up over himself at the same time. The tentacle withdrew uncertainly and Alistair gave a shaky laugh.
“It’s okay. I’m okay, Steve,” he assured his friend. “I was just, uh, having some private time.”
The tentacle bunched up sheepishly and began to withdraw back into the closet, but Alistair reached out and grabbed the end impulsively. “You… you don’t have to go, if you’d rather stay,” Alistair said, feeling simultaneously bold and shy at the invitation. “I… like it when you touch me.”
More tentacles slowly emerged from the closet. They weren’t wearing their wooly warmers for once, and Alistair sighed as they curled around his bare torso, sliding against his skin. Steve ran a little cooler than human body temperature, but it felt good when Alistair was so flushed and overheated from arousal. One bulbous tip stroked his cheek like a hand, then glanced across Alistair’s lips, as clumsy as a first kiss. Alistair opened his mouth and sucked the tip in with a hungry moan, which sent shivers down Steve’s tentacles. It had a clean, not unpleasant taste, like herbal tea that had gone room temperature. Something soft and wet slid out from the tip and caressed Alistair’s tongue; it felt rather like a tongue itself. Alistair moaned louder as he felt more little wet tongues licking across his chest and thighs and belly. He spread his legs in blatant invitation, thighs quivering and labia dripping. Steve got the idea quickly, sending the tip of one limb between Alistair’s thighs and licking at the hot slickness he found there. The tongue wrapped nimbly around Alistair’s small, aching cock and stroked experimentally. Alistair’s eyes fluttered shut as he groaned through his nose with pleasure. The blunt head of another limb nudged up against his greedy hole and pressed slowly inside, giving Alistair plenty of time to reject the intrusion, but he just panted and stroked the tentacle encouragingly.
The tentacle in Alistair’s mouth popped free, slippery with saliva. “Yeah, that’s it,” whispered Alistair as the lower tentacle wriggled deeper into his pussy, “fill me up. Oh, fuck, Steve, you feel so good. So good for me.”
There was a soft trill from the closet, and Alistair realized that Steve was affected by this as well. Emboldened, he kept talking: “You like that, huh? You like it when I tell you how good you are, how good you make me feel? You’re so big and thick inside me, and you’re touching my cock so well, I’m not going to last very long.”
The tentacle inside Alistair withdrew slightly, pumped back in, fucking Alistair slowly, then faster as Steve gained more confidence. More tentacles shot out from the darkness, wrapping around Alistair’s arms and legs and lifting him effortlessly from the bed. The tentacle that had been inside his mouth dragged between his cheeks, rubbing over his back hole teasingly. “Yeah, fuck, you wanna fill me up there, too? Just go slow, okay, babe? There’s lube on the bedside table.”
Steve didn’t reach for the lube, however. Instead, that little tongue came out and began probing at his hole wetly. It seemed even wetter than it should have been, and as Steve slowly stretched Alistair open, Alistair realized with a jolt of heady arousal that Steve was producing his own lubricant. He gave a shuddering, wanton moan as the tentacle pushed easily inside, burrowing into his tight heat. With both of his holes stuffed with tentacles, he felt deliciously full. He all but wailed as they began to thrust.
Suspended helplessly above his bed by the tentacles wrapped around his limbs and torso, Alistair had no leverage to move on his own, simply trusting Steve to take care of him. Alistair’s mind settled into a sort of blank, meditative state, cocooned in pleasure and a deep sense of safety and comfort. He was reduced to a vessel full of nerve endings to stimulate and orifices to fill. A new tentacle prodded at his lips, and he accepted it eagerly, sinking deeper into bliss as he was filled in every way possible.
The tongue lapping at his cock retreated, only to be replaced by what felt like a tiny mouth at the tip of that tentacle, which latched onto the swollen bud of his cock and sucked. That was all it took to send Alistair over the edge as he came with a muffled scream, body going rigid, then completely lax as he shuddered through the aftershocks. Steve gently lowered him to the mattress, massaging him everywhere the tentacles had gripped him just a little too tightly. Steve slowly pulled out of Alistair’s mouth, ass, and front hole, followed by gushes of slick. Alistair swallowed some of it down and found that it had a mild, vegetal taste. “Did you come, too?”
One of the tentacles nodded shyly, then stroked Alistair’s face with a tenderness that could not be mistaken for anything else. Alistair turned his head slightly to kiss it. “That was incredible. You’re amazing.”
He giggled as the tentacle booped him on the nose, as if to say, “no, you.”
The remaining months passed by far too quickly for anyone’s preference. Alistair and Reverie managed to graduate right on schedule. Only three weeks after that, they had packed up most of the apartment in preparation to move out. Reverie was headed for Los Angeles, while Alistair was returning to Minneapolis.
Alistair was lounging around on his mattress, all that was left of his bed now, with one of Steve’s tentacles curled around his waist, when Reverie knocked on the door. “Hey,” they greeted, leaning in the door frame. “I thought I’d find you lovebirds moping in here.”
Steve waved half-heartedly and Alistair sighed. “What’s up?”
“I come bearing gifts!” Reverie handed over two small newspaper-wrapped packages. “I know you’re both pretty bummed out about the move, but I think this will help.”
Alistair opened his first. Inside, there was a small hand mirror with an arcane array etched into the surface. Steve had an identical mirror. “What does it do?”
“You can use them to communicate! Well, only when you’re asleep, technically. Just put the mirror under your pillow—or whatever it is you sleep on, Steve—and if you’re using them at the same time, you’ll both be pulled into a shared dream.”
Staring at the mirror in shock and rising hope, Alistair’s eyes welled with tears. “Thank you, Rev. This is… This is perfect.”
“As a bonus, I have a mirror, too, and I can use it to lock onto your locations if you ever want me to try opening a new portal somewhere else. It might take me a while to fine-tune the—oof!” Reverie was cut off by a flying armful of Alistair, who clung to them like a koala. They laughed as Steve joined in on the group hug, wrapping them both in his tentacles and lifting them briefly off the ground. “Okay, I’ll take that as you liking the gifts. Noted.”
“You are the actual best roommate and friend in the world,” Alistair gushed, smushing Reverie’s round cheeks between his hands and giving them a smacking kiss on the forehead. Steve cooed and petted Reverie’s broad shoulders.
Reverie laughed again, then sobered with a reluctant grimace. “Unfortunately, I also come bearing bad news: We need to close the portal today.”
Alistair had been expecting this. He gave Steve’s tentacle a squeeze; Steve squeezed back, and Alistair nodded. “Okay. We’re ready.”
It took two and a half long days of driving, his car packed full of boxes, before Alistair arrived home. The quiet of his grandparents’ house—now his house—was unnerving at first. There would be no more of his grandfather puttering in the kitchen, his grandmother knitting in front of the television. It felt like too much house for just Alistair, but he wasn’t ready yet to sell it and move somewhere smaller.
He spent most of the first day back moving boxes into the house and opening windows for fresh air. The place had accumulated a fine layer of dust since he’d last been there, so he did a bit of cleaning as well. Then, twenty-five hours of driving caught up with him and he collapsed into bed at nine in the evening. He only barely remembered to stuff the little hand mirror under his pillow before he conked out entirely.
It was hard, saying good-bye, Alistair reflected as he drifted off to sleep. It was hard to be alone. But memories of love could dull the edge of even the keenest loss, and Alistair now knew he wasn’t ever truly alone.
When he opened his eyes, he was dreaming. It took him a moment to realize that he was looking at Steve in his entirety for the first time, but there was no way he could mistake those tentacles for anything else. He smiled, feeling like he’d finally come home.