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And Wonders Within There Yet

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Owen’s letters were beautiful: pages of lovely rich handcut paper filled with indigo ink in his calligraphic hand. The fluidity of the writing suggested continuity of thought, and Affenlight never found even a neat strikethrough of an errant word. Did Owen prepare rough drafts on his laptop before writing? But no, that would defeat the very spirit of the thing, and Owen had greeted his suggestion in August with enough enthusiasm to guarantee he took it as seriously as Affenlight did. Perhaps this was simply the way Owen’s mind worked. The way he habitually spoke as well. No hesitation, no corrections.

In the spring, Owen’s concussion had seemed more evident in his inability to truly focus than in the grotesque swelling of his cheekbone and jaw. Sometimes during their conversations about coursework, Owen would close his eyes and frown and grimace, grasping after a lost train of thought. Affenlight had become quite adept at catching it for him, anticipating what he had been about to say: anything so that his smooth features would relax again and he would say, “Precisely. Thank you, Guert,” in that mellifluous voice.

But that had been months ago, months in which Owen recovered fully in body and mind, and swiftly adopted trains of thought even Affenlight could barely track. Still, it had always been nice to listen, whether as they lay in bed or walked by the lake with Contango, and now it was nice to read.

The letters had been Affenlight’s idea. Faced with the prospect of losing Owen to Tokyo for nine months, and made gloomier by the idea of their relationship becoming stale words on a computer screen, he had suggested that perhaps they do what Emerson and Thoreau, Melville and Hawthorne had done. E-mail lent itself to speed and brevity and half-formed thoughts. Letter-writing required quiet and commitment. And, better, he could hold the same pages that Owen had held days before, almost hear Owen's voice in the strokes of his pen. He could take the envelopes with him on his walks by the lake, and sit out there in the near-wilderness by the playing fields while Contango amused himself loping after the occasional squirrel.

He wrote back, of course. But he was always acutely aware that his responses had to be a disappointment. Affenlight's handwriting was neat and precise, but not beautiful by any stretch of the imagination – except perhaps by comparison to that of the average undergraduate. His thoughts, too, seemed nothing but staid and irrelevant, a reminder of how dull and culturally exiled Westish was compared to Tokyo. Owen was taking classes, making friends, discovering an entirely new culture. Affenlight was planting beans and walking his dog, and mainly – it often seemed – waiting for Owen's letters to arrive.

Owen might enjoy the packets he sent for other reasons, though. Henry volunteered clippings from the Westish Bugler on the Harpooners’ pre-season successes. Mike, who usually wrote to him by e-mail, sometimes slipped in xeroxed copies of old philosophy papers. Pella just seized Affenlight’s own immaculate letters and doodled illustrations on the back – Affenlight surrounded by pumpkins, Mike as an athletic drill instructor, Henry becoming the Incredible Hulk of baseball.

It was January, Westish cold and picturesque beneath snow flurries that rendered Contango all but invisible on their morning walks. The lakeshore was too chilly and damp for him to sit and read, so instead he stretched out on the couch, a hand in Contango’s fur, and settled down to pore over Owen’s latest communiqué, bidding Pella a cheerful goodbye as she set off for class.

He was still there when she returned, Contango having long ago fallen asleep on the rug.

“You should call him,” she said, hanging up her coat by the door.

“It’s the middle of the night.”

“You should call him more often, I mean. You’re like a little kid watching for the mailman.”

They spoke once a week, the fourteen-hour time difference and Owen’s busy schedule making things difficult. Usually Owen called when he knew Affenlight would be in bed, and therefore home. Half-asleep, his eyes closed, it was almost like having Owen there next to him. On the phone, though, the spell of intellectual discussion was broken. They talked about family, mostly. They talked about June, when Owen would return to Wisconsin. Six months away. It was better than it had been in August. It wasn’t good enough.

Whenever they hung up and Affenlight was left alone again, left to feel guilty and a little ashamed of how stiff he inevitably was in his shorts, how much he wanted to roll over onto his belly and pretend Owen was pressed against him, he tried to mourn the eventual loss of the letters. Once he’d been satisfied, blissful, when he’d merely been able to read to Owen for a couple of hours a day and discuss schoolwork: English, history, philosophy. He’d thought he would never want more – certainly no more than semi-chaste kisses, the brush of a hand.

When Owen had kissed him in a way that was anything but chaste, had rubbed him through his slacks, pressed kisses to his penis… He’d wanted it, of course. That and everything that had come after it, the oral sex, the penetrative sex, all of it. Once he edged past the fear of not being good enough, not being able to really please Owen the way he should be pleased, he’d loved it all. But with physical pleasure had come hints of shame, not because he was having his mouth and ass fucked by another man, but because they’d lost what they’d once had – that purely intellectual meeting of souls. They always talked, of course, Affenlight’s fly still undone on the love seat while Owen smoked one of his Parliaments and brought up a question about Borges. But the physical desire of it all, the endorphins, the saliva and semen, muddied the waters a little.

He’d expected the letters would let them get back to what he’d originally loved. He’d expected his physical need for Owen and Owen’s body would disappear along with Owen’s physical presence. It made sense that it would. He’d never wanted a man before, had in fact gone without sex with anyone at all for months before his peculiar crush on Owen began. He was too old to be controlled by his urges, too old, certainly, to be lusting after a man in his early twenties.

And yet… In Owen’s absence, despite the letters, despite their discussions that stimulated him only mentally, he found himself overcome with memories and fantasies stronger than they’d ever been. He didn’t dream of simply talking to Owen. He lost himself in thoughts about that first evening when he’d sunk to his knees in his office, Owen’s sweater folded neatly beneath him, and focused on unknotting the ties of Owen’s martial arts pants.

The fear and uncertainty had been there, alongside the knowledge of what he was about to do, but he could loosen a knot at least. He could tug gently on the sides of the waistband until Owen raised his hips just a little, letting him pull the pants down to mid-thigh. Then, though, he had to steady his breath, he could swallow in a dry mouth, looking at the thick outline of Owen’s penis in his briefs. Where Affenlight’s underwear collection was uniformly white, and of much the same classic style as he’d worn all his life, Owen evidently favored a tighter, more colorful fashion designed to show himself off. The briefs were a tight, dark purple Affenlight would never have worn, but on Owen, against Owen’s youthful brown skin, he could appreciate their aesthetic value. Had Owen been wearing undershorts like these on each of their afternoons? Or had he changed specially for today, when he knew he would make a move, when he could be reasonably sure Affenlight would see them?

Affenlight brushed the backs of his fingers down that bulge. He couldn’t glance up, to see Owen judging him, disappointed that this older man would be a naïve student rather than a mentor in this area. But how much could Owen have to learn? At twenty-one he was doubtless more experienced than Affenlight had been at thirty. Affenlight peeled down the briefs as far as the pants and, warning himself not to think, thought anyway. He’d never seen another man erect like this, outside of porn and biology textbooks. Owen’s penis stood straight, almost flush with his belly, uncircumcised and not small. Affenlight tried not to think about the stereotypes regarding black men, but still… He was going, was inevitably going, to take Owen in his mouth, and considerations like size and girth had suddenly taken on new significance.

He moved his hand to stroke it, to stroke Owen, curious as a virgin, as if he didn’t have an erection of his own, as if he hadn’t been very familiar with a penis for sixty years. Owen’s penis was darker than his hips, foreskin retracted. God, Affenlight finally thought. I did this. Sure, young people could get hard at anything, anything at all, but it still meant something. More when he started to pay attention to the way Owen was breathing, or not breathing. He encircled Owen with his fingers and moved, stroking, squeezing just a little. Did he want this, did he desire this, above and beyond what it meant just being close to Owen, touching Owen, pleasing Owen? He’d been the one to get hard just from kissing, had volunteered to get down and suck Owen off because Owen, with his wounded face, couldn’t yet do the same for him. But did he want it? Could he enjoy it?

He swallowed again and pressed his face between Owen’s legs, kissing his thigh where dark pubic hair met almost hairless skin. He’d heard gay men frequently shaved, but perhaps that was just a rumor, just a subset. And had Owen even had a lover since Jason Gomes, who had graduated two years ago? Owen’s skin was hot, hotter than the way it had alarmed him in the hospital. Affenlight drew in a breath of warm, musky, garlicky scent. His hand moved to feel Owen’s balls, drawn tight, and he licked his lips before finally daring to kiss the head of Owen’s penis. He could pretend nervousness was just himself playing coy, he supposed, teasing poor Owen and his youthful need. Would Owen believe it? Of course not. So he had to simply try.

Affenlight took a breath and closed his mouth around Owen, lowering his head, brushing his tongue along the underside of Owen’s penis. It tasted of salt-sweat skin and the coppery blood beneath that. How experienced had Owen’s other lovers been? How talented? How fearless? He didn’t have to take all of Owen in at once, he knew. Choking and gagging would be worse than failing to be the best Owen had ever had. But his mouth felt dry and the sucking, sliding motion that should have been pathetically simple felt awkward and unnatural. He’d had dozens of women blow him over the years, but even his very first girlfriend as a teenager had seemed to get it better than this. How hard could it be?

Maybe it was something women just knew, although blow jobs could hardly be a primal instinct required for procreation. The man was only ever required to lie back and enjoy it, perhaps thrust his hips, give some direction. But then there was no “the man” anymore. Affenlight might have had a cock in his mouth, but he had another one aching in his pants. Besides, he’d always tried to go beyond gender roles. Feminine didn’t mean subservient or passive. His first lays at Harvard had mostly been more experienced than him, had delighted in guiding him, teaching him. He’d grown to love going down on women, because he was good at it (or perhaps the cause and effect were the other way around). A couple of his girlfriends had wanted to try massaging his prostate during blow jobs, or fucking him with a dildo. He hadn’t been repulsed by those ideas, just never willing to actually try them out. Now, given what Owen might want to do with him in the future, he wished he had.

Or perhaps Owen would give up on him entirely after this, as he stopped for a moment, catching his breath, wetting his mouth again. Young men were renowned for how quickly they could come, especially in a warm, wet mouth. Shouldn’t he have made Owen come already? Was he that bad? Or perhaps it only seemed like so much time had passed.

Owen’s fingers slid into his hair, a sign of affection that made Affenlight flinch. “Are you okay?” Owen asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

Affenlight nodded, embarrassed, and continued. It felt better now, the rhythm easier with Owen rocking his hips, touching his hair. He could do this. Maybe not well, but adequately. Which led to the now inevitable question of… No, it wasn’t really a question at all. He knew what Owen would want, what he personally always wanted and now probably wanted too. It occurred to him that really they should be using a condom – how many Student Health posters had he read in the last eight years? – but it was almost past believing that Owen could be anything but clean, never mind he wasn’t using protection now, and in any case Affenlight couldn’t bring himself to care.

“Mmm, Guert…” Owen was evidently past reserved self-control now, his hips pushing more urgently. “Don’t stop.”

His mind flicked, for the first time, to the door and the question of whether anyone could hear them. But the door, as always, was locked – reading to a student alone would be almost as difficult to explain as his current activities – and the building deserted, with the possible exception of Pella on the third floor. As for students in the Quad, the walls were thick, the shades drawn. In the din of conversation, how would anyone hear anything?

Thinking of the door, he thought of Owen leaning against it on that February afternoon while his fellow groups argued carbon neutrality with Affenlight and, frequently, each other. He’d known who Owen was before then. They’d talked on Owen’s arrival at Westish as the winner of the Maria Westish Award, and said hello a dozen other times in three years, just as Affenlight did with every student. But on that afternoon… Had he wanted then to slide Owen’s sweatpants down past his hips and suck him to orgasm? Had he simply not been able to admit it to himself? And why Owen? Why now? He was beautiful and brilliant and slyly witty, but why him, and why now?

Owen groaned, his hand leaving Affenlight’s hair to press against his own abdomen, just shy of Affenlight’s forehead. “Mm, gonna come.”

Affenlight had known it wouldn’t be disgusting, not more than oral sex with women or coming in his own hand, but it was surprising, Owen spurting into his mouth, over his tongue, with such force and youthful vigor, really fucking his mouth when he did, self-control momentarily eradicated. It felt, tasted, like there was a lot of it, too, even after Affenlight swallowed and Owen, gasping, began to relax. Affenlight carefully probed the head of Owen’s penis with his tongue, feeling the jerk of an aftershock, or sudden sensitivity, tasting more of him, cleaning him up the way he liked women to do for him. It was only after he swallowed again and, feeling Owen finally start to soften, let Owen slip out of his mouth, that the nausea struck him right in the stomach, adrenaline and arousal smashing together. His own erection had subsided too.

Owen looked at him a little sleepily. “Come here.”

He sat up on the love seat, and Owen flipped a leg over his, curling him into a half-hug as they kissed, Owen dreamily post-coital, Affenlight… Well, Owen had understood his fears, finally, and Affenlight had more than made up for it since, Owen gently teaching him up until Affenlight could intuit the rest, could be confident that he wasn’t so bad at being gay after all.

But it wasn’t just the sex he missed now. He missed going to sleep with his head on Owen’s shoulder or with Owen’s arm around him. Missed kissing him. Missed sitting on the couch reading in companionable silence. Owen didn’t need to talk at all for Affenlight to love him.

It was this thought that kept him a degree removed from the world for the rest of the day, even though Pella made dinner and Mike, joining them, was brightly enthusiastic about Henry’s work with the new baseball team. The next day, he bought a plane ticket.

“You’re sure you’ll be okay?” He’d said it a dozen times both before and after making the call.

Pella handed him his bag. “Dad, I think I can cope with walking and feeding a dog.”

“And the pumpkins.”

“Much as I love you, I am not walking the pumpkins.” Their hug was tight, familial. “Give me a call when you get there, okay? And tell Owen I said he’d better look after you and your fragile romantic soul.”

He drove to Milwaukee alone, the Audi filled with opera. There was a short flight to Chicago, followed by one to Tokyo that seemed to last forever. He had books with him, but he’d never liked the restrictiveness of airplane seats and the proximity to other people. Trying to sleep, he half-watched the movie, which was the kind of by-the-numbers superhero thing Pella no doubt saw with Mike twice a month in Door County. When he woke there were still hours to go. He sipped on a tiny scotch and took his file of Owen’s letters from his bag, letting O’s writing, his words, soothe his boredom alongside his growing anxiety.

“What lovely letters,” said the woman next to him, with a smile doubtless meant to reassure that she hadn’t actually been able to read them. “Lost art these days.”

She was probably Affenlight’s age, or a little younger, but well-preserved and smartly dressed. On a hundred other flights, Affenlight would have harmlessly flirted with her for the sake of someone to talk to, coupled with the possibility that he might want to get her number.

“My boyfriend,” he said now, tapping a knuckle against the topmost page. Those were two words he’d barely said to anyone, even in the six months since he’d resigned the presidency and everyone had known why. Two words that managed to convey a sexuality along with a relationship, and all the politics that went along with it. But he had to be faithful to O now. Had to show him, even in his absence, that they didn’t have to hide. “He’s studying in Tokyo for a year.”

She did blink, eyes searching his face, no doubt for some little signal of gayness, whatever that might be. But her smile didn’t falter. “He has beautiful penmanship. It’s almost calligraphy.”

She probably imagined his boyfriend was a middle-aged professorial man, that they were the type of safe gay couple that made homosexuality palatable to wide swathes of America these days. Owen had touched on the subject a few times: the heteronormative requirement for gay people to be devoted and monogamous and straight-seeming, to aspire toward marriage and children and home ownership. “I feel as though I shouldn’t, myself,” Owen sighed. “But I do.”

They had talked about honesty and monogamy before Owen left, before Affenlight had to drive him to the airport and let him go. Affenlight had worried about what had seemed almost inevitable at the time: that Owen would meet men his own age, men with sports scholarships and six-packs, men who knew how to do everything in bed and then some. But Owen had felt he had more to worry about with Affenlight, who admittedly had a shaky record when it came to exclusive long-term relationships. They’d agreed that nothing would happen and, if it did, that they would talk about it. The subject hadn’t arisen since.

That last visit to the airport with Owen had been a wrenching one. It was such a wonderful opportunity for Owen, and he was so enthusiastic about the prospect, that it felt both selfish and borderline pathetic to hug him so tightly before he went through security. Affenlight could count the number of times he’d cried in his adult life on one hand, and those had all been related either to Pella or to extreme pain. But he’d had to swallow and bite his tongue not to let himself go so far. When they loosened their grip on each other, though, Owen cleared his throat. “I need to wipe my glasses.”

Affenlight took them from him and carefully wiped away the tears with his handkerchief, holding them up to the light to ensure they were clear. Then he just had to smooth away tears from Owen’s cheeks and kiss him, a real kiss, firm and good, no matter who was watching.

In this airport in Tokyo, though, he thought about whether he should have told Owen he was coming. It had seemed romantic not to, or better because Owen might have felt obliged to tell him to stay home rather than trouble himself. But of course Owen was busy, if not likely to be in bed with gorgeous and athletic Japanese anti-whaling activists. He had classes, papers, his writing, his social life. No matter if Affenlight would be content just to sit and watch him read, Owen would want to be a good host, to show him the city… Well. He’d been traveling for fourteen hours. He couldn’t just go home now.

He gave the taxi driver Owen’s address, which he’d printed out in both English and Japanese. Affenlight didn’t speak a word of the local language – perhaps he should have actually watched Lost in Translation – but enough people knew English here, and all he had to do was find Owen.

As an international student and the winner of a prestigious fellowship, Owen was residing in a hall largely populated by visiting researchers some ten or twenty years older than himself. “I appreciate the relative quiet,” he’d written in his first letter, “but I came here with the hope of engaging with local culture too. So far I may have learned more about Biergartens from my Munich colleague.”

The campus was certainly bigger than Westish, and Affenlight had no illusions that it could in any way be quieter. Despite the university no doubt having many international visitors, he felt very tall and very white, walking in what he hoped was the right direction. There was signage in English, but, as with most signs, they still left a good deal up to interpretation and leaps of the imagination.

When he found the correct entrance, he also felt acutely aware of having been in the same clothes for what was probably an entire day – it was mid-morning here, although he could have sworn it should have been night. Beginning his relationship with Owen, he’d had the advantage of always being clean and well-presented in beautiful suits. And even if, since then, Owen had seen him naked and morning-bleary and everything else too, it would have been nice to make a good impression now. He wondered if he would look older than Owen expected. Memories tended to idealize things and people. Reality could be a shock.

No one challenged him as he looked for the correct staircase, passing people chatting in Japanese, English, and what he thought might be Norwegian given the blondness of the women. Maybe if no one had ever seen him with Owen, if he’d never been forced to resign, he would have actually followed through on his plan to take a sabbatical and follow O to Tokyo. He could have lived here, too, with his own room. He and O would go out for dinner, travel around at the weekends, sneak into each other’s beds at night… But now, at least, he didn’t have to sneak anywhere.

He checked the room number twice on his paper, even though he’d addressed numerous envelopes to it over the past months. Maybe Owen wasn’t even home. He probably wasn’t. He’d be in class or at the library. Affenlight had a cellphone number for him, but that wasn’t the way he wanted to do it. His heart was thumping, a boy fumbling with a key a few doors away was looking at him curiously… He knocked.

Someone called something in Japanese that might well have been “Just a minute!” And then the door opened.

For Affenlight, the reality was a shock for the very best reasons. Here in the flesh, in his glasses and sweatpants and navy-and-ecru hoodie, Owen was more real, more solid, simply more beautiful than he ever could be in any other medium. Affenlight had somehow forgotten that delicate smoke-gray of his eyes, and how much more?

“Guert.” Owen seemed startled, and justifiably so. “Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine,” Affenlight said. Not calling had been stupid. Stupid. He’d probably led Owen to believe, even for a few seconds, that something might have happened to his mother, or to Pella. “I just missed you.”

Owen smiled. He was barely ever tense, but something about him relaxed and he reached to tousle Affenlight’s hair. “I missed you too.”

They kissed in the doorway, a polite hello that lasted and deepened as Affenlight closed his eyes and leaned into Owen, into his scent and his warmth. Owen’s hand trailed down his back, finally giving his ass a squeeze. “You’d better come in,” he said.

The room was only really a little bigger than Phumber 405 had been, but it was all Owen’s own, with a double bed and larger desk, and more shelves on the walls. Of course it was scrupulously neat and clean, but there weren’t so many touches about it that were indubitably Owen, other than the presumably non-standard plush comforter, and the spread of Westish Bugler articles and photographs tacked to the wall above the desk.

Affenlight dropped his bag to the floor as Owen closed the door and turned the lock. “It seems like a nice place,” he said as Owen, nodding, took his coat and, smoothing it out, hung it in the closet.

“Something to drink?” Owen said. “Or… the bathroom?”

He could say yes to both, had never been very good, when it came to Owen, at just saying precisely what he wanted. “Later?”

“Yes,” Owen agreed. “Later.”

Owen had long ago figured out Affenlight’s harmless little kink when it came to dressing or undressing a lover. So when they kissed now, by the bed, Owen took his time with the buttons of Affenlight’s shirt, and only when he was done would he allow Affenlight to pull the hoodie over his head and, in a concession to the circumstances, let his t-shirt go with it.

The first time they’d kissed, the first time they’d been naked together… This felt like both of those times, and neither, because it felt safe, and because Affenlight knew the intensity of what was to come, could feel it welling up in him now. Just having Owen’s skin pressed to his as they kissed, he was furious with himself for thinking he could do without it, for imagining for a second that he didn’t want every single molecule that made up Owen Dunne.

He unknotted the ties of Owen’s sweatpants and slid his hands down over Owen’s ass, pulling him in so their crotches met. Owen laughed and tilted his head to kiss Affenlight’s throat. “Yes,” he said.

Owen knelt to untie both of their shoes and pull off socks, and stayed on the floor to pry Affenlight’s belt loose and unzip his slacks. Affenlight let them fall. When Owen stood again, Affenlight reached inside the loose elastic of O’s sweatpants, letting his palm trail down the length of Owen’s erection, sheathed for now in underwear Affenlight could almost feel was something garish.

“Owen,” he said, using two fingers to push down the band of the briefs enough that he could stroke his thumb over the sensitive head of Owen’s penis, already glossy with fluid. “I think I may be gay.”

Owen kissed his cheek. “The first rule of drama, Guert. Show, don’t tell.”

The briefs were a bright aquatic turquoise when Owen stepped out of his sweatpants and Affenlight toppled him onto the bed. It was a delight for more than one reason to remove them and see O lying there, splayed out on the comforter, feet still on the floor, legs spread from an erection Affenlight wanted in so many ways. They would have time, surely, over the coming days, but his patience had been worn down by undressing, the same act that had made his body crave everything Owen’s body was capable of doing to him.

He eased down his own briefs, loving the way Owen looked at him, O lightly stroking himself. One day he’d love to just watch O lie there and masturbate, speckling his thighs and belly with semen. One day he might actually get up the nerve to tell Owen these things. One day when they’d finished touching and tasting each other and thought about needing to talk again.

Affenlight knelt between Owen’s legs, knees on the short fibers of the carpet. He’d be aching by the time he stood up, but there were certain things one just had to do for one’s beautiful twenty-two-year-old male lover. Whether he’d got much better at this since April was something only Owen could really know, but at least now he enjoyed it himself, this feeling of Owen filling his mouth alongside the little murmurs of pleasure O made, the pure intimacy of it, the way subservience to Owen’s needs was precisely the same as exercising control over Owen’s body, making him feel what Affenlight wanted him to feel, what Affenlight himself felt as he lifted his eyes to watch Owen’s face. You could reach for intellectualism, of course, quote Whitman and speak of the eternal truth that was the yearning for and celebration of the body, and particularly a young, healthy, virile body. But here, between them, there was no need to rationalize or explain.

“Did you bring lubricant?” Owen asked.

Affenlight nodded with his mouth still on Owen’s cock, and stood up, flexing his knees, pulling the untouched tube and a condom wrapper from his bag. Owen had brought his feet up onto the edge of the bed, so it was easy enough to stroke him, to kneel again and playfully lick him there before starting with fingers thoroughly coated in the stuff. The months since August made him take it slowly, slower than they’d been used to in the summer, but just feeling Owen again made up for it, feeling those muscles tighten and relax, watching O arch his back and push against him, his cock bobbing, wet with saliva.

Sliding into him was a relief beyond measure, O pulling his own legs back by the knees so Affenlight could just fuck him, standing first, then planting his hands and leaning in, O hooking his heels over Affenlight’s shoulders. He was under no illusions that either one of them would last long, never mind that Owen bunched up the comforter in his fists rather than touch himself. Affenlight knew Owen’s body, knew what he wanted, and couldn’t make himself do anything else than give it to him, Owen’s breaths shorter and sharper, and just the sight of Owen like this was usually enough to undo Affenlight just as easily.

“Ohh yeah, yeah.” Owen was calmer with a hand on himself, giving in, letting it happen. “You feel really good, Guert. Missed this.”

He came in time with one of Affenlight’s thrusts, the come spurting out of him as he thumped his head back against the covers, muscles tight and thrumming. Often Owen, when he came back to himself, would roll off the condom and finish Affenlight off with his mouth. But now Affenlight was so close, so warm and delightfully weary, that he gave himself a minute more to enjoy Owen’s sated body, and came in less, the force of it startling.

“My dearest Guert,” Owen said when they lay down together. It was how he began all his letters, whether with mock-romanticism or the genuine kind… or perhaps some mixture of the two. Owen kissed his forehead, his mouth, stroked his hair. “Dear, dear Guert. My love.”

He must have fallen asleep after that, or at least somehow properly arranged himself under the covers in Owen’s arms, because he half-woke to Owen’s kisses and, “I have to go to class. Go back to sleep.” When he woke up truly, it was already early evening.

It only took a moment to discern that Owen wasn’t home. But he was still in Owen’s room. Still in Tokyo. At least it hadn’t been a dream. Yawning, stretching, he recalled that, indeed, he was being the world’s worst father again. He picked up the phone.

“This had better be an emergency.” He could hear the grogginess in Pella’s voice from thousands of miles away. Too late, he did the math. Around 2am, Wisconsin time.

“It’s me. Sorry. Thought I should tell you I made it here safely.”

“Yeah, I know.” A dramatic yawn. “Owen called hours ago. You know, at reasonable people hours. He said you were so tired you’d gone straight to bed.”

Affenlight scratched at his jaw. How long since he’d shaved? “Well. That’s true.”

“I’m glad you boys are having fun. So, yeah. Mike and Contango say hi. And now all three of us are going back to sleep.”

Exploring Owen’s room didn’t take long: books, clothes, the stack of letters Affenlight had sent him, a bathroom stocked with organic products that all smelled vaguely of patchouli. He wondered where Owen ate. There was a bowl of fruit on the windowsill with a packet of crackers, but that, so far as Affenlight could see, was hardly a culinary arrangement. He thought of phoning Owen, but perhaps he was in a late lecture. Instead, he picked up Owen’s heavily annotated guide to Japan, sat back on the bed, and read.

It was only twenty minutes before the door was unlocked and Owen came in. “Oh good, you’re awake. I brought dinner. Excuse me one moment, I need to raid the kitchen.”

Dinner was takeout sushi, doubtless better than any you could get in Westish, or even Milwaukee, although Owen apologized for its possible lack of authentic quality. It was also a bottle of red, for which Owen had swiped glasses from the communal kitchen. “We’ll go out tomorrow,” Owen said as they sat on the bed and ate. “I assure you the city has a little more sophistication than this.”

“I like this kind of sophistication.” True, he could never have sat around naked in Owen’s dorm room at Westish, eating vegetarian sushi and drinking wine, but then wasn’t that precisely the point? “Thanks for calling Pella.”

“Always a pleasure. So how long can you stay?”

“As far as Japan is concerned, anything up to ninety days.”

Owen smiled. “And as far as you’re concerned?”

“As long as you’ll have me.”

“I believe my immigration policy is reasonably lax.” Owen refilled Affenlight’s glass. “I’m not sure how the university will feel about you staying here. And it is very small. Not for myself and Henry, perhaps, but you’re used to something bigger.”

“All I’m worried about is getting in your way.”

“Nonsense. You’re a veritable library in and of yourself. Plus I’ll save a lot of time in letter-writing. And regular sex is good for both of us. Tomorrow we’ll just have to sell the administration on how brilliant and renowned a scholar you are. Or we won’t tell them. I doubt anyone would even notice.”

“You share a kitchen.”

“With people who change every month or two, and barely know who I am. Just carry some Nietzsche everywhere you go, and woe betide anyone who actually questions you on the subject.”

There truly were questions to raise, and plans to make, and a country to see. But for the moment Affenlight felt that if he never left the room for three months he’d be happy enough, given days full of books and nights full of Owen. He’d slept for hours already, but given his jetlag it was best to sleep again now, which was easy enough to agree to after several glasses of wine.

“I have an early class tomorrow,” Owen said, switching off the light. “Just sleep. I’ll bring breakfast. If you can’t sleep, there’s a half-finished paper on my laptop I invite you to fully finish.”

“I could never.”

“You’re a pinnacle of morality, Guert Affenlight.”

Owen curled against him, fit against him almost perfectly, kissing the back of his neck, bent knees touching the backs of his bent knees. In the now-cool room, just like January in Wisconsin in a house where Affenlight now habitually turned down the thermostat, it was perfect. Perfect to be here, which was wherever Owen was, wrapped up in him.

After a few minutes of silence and breathing, Owen’s hand moved from where he’d tucked it under Affenlight’s side, caressing his sternum, his belly, feeling for his nipples. When he shifted, Affenlight could feel Owen’s not-unwelcome erection pressing against the bottom of his spine.

“Are you…?” Owen slid a hand down between his legs. “Can you…?”

He could get hard, was already getting hard the way O was touching him. As for the rest… “I think so,” he said.

Owen sat up, casting a hand around for the lubricant while Affenlight pushed back the covers, turning over, spreading his legs just slightly. He’d been terrified – terrified – of this the very first time, not so much of the pain but of not being good at it, not feeling good enough, not being able to relax and let it happen. For the past few months, though, there had been nights he’d lain just like this alone in his own bed, imagining, fantasizing, remembering the feeling of O inside him.

Often O took his time, more than Affenlight ever had the patience for, using his mouth, his fingers… Now the push of lubricant inside him was more abrupt, and then Owen moved over him, chest touching Affenlight’s back, guiding himself inside. Affenlight groaned, buried his face in the pillow. It hurt, burned a little: not entirely unpleasant, but not what he was used to, coming from sweet, considerate Owen. Still, the urgency of Owen’s desire for him meant something too.

“Sorry,” Owen said in his ear. “Good now?”

It was good, once Owen backed out, applied more lubricant, and tried again. A slow, sleepy kind of lovemaking, as O slipped his arms under Affenlight’s shoulders, rocking against him. Still, it was impossible not to be aroused beyond sleepiness by the sensation of Owen stiff inside him. When he tensed his muscles he could feel that very hardness pushing into him further and deeper than he could really believe. Either Owen knew precisely how to fuck him, or Owen’s cock perfectly matched his body’s need to be filled, stretched open, stimulated so that his own penis felt just as full, heavy, needing to be touched. Perhaps their months apart would let him do this after all.

More than that feeling, though, was knowing what he was doing to Owen: cool, calm Owen, who could often remain almost silent through even a blow job, was breathing hard, moving with shorter, sharper thrusts, murmuring Affenlight’s name. “God, O,” Affenlight said, pushing up, “harder.”

Owen barely ever cursed. In bed, though, on the brink of coming, he could swear more forcefully than many sailors Affenlight had known. He gripped Affenlight tightly, so Affenlight could feel the shudder that went through him, the sudden desperate movement of plunging inside him, and then O simply hugging him, kissing the spot between his shoulders, saying, “I love you, I love your body,” over and over.

When his breathing steadied, when Affenlight heard the gentle sound of the condom expertly hitting the trash can, Owen pulled at his shoulder. “Let me,” he said.

Owen’s mouth was exactly what he needed. That perfect warm wetness coupled with Owen’s confidence and experience usually let Affenlight relax completely, free to simply enjoy it in the knowledge that very soon he’d be coming, that Owen would be swallowing him down. Now he felt a twinge of tension that it wouldn’t be so easy, that they would both be left frustrated by Affenlight’s worn-out old body.

And it did take longer than usual. Affenlight braced for Owen raising his head and asking, concerned, whether anything was wrong. But Owen kept sucking him, licking him, fondling his balls, sliding two fingers inside his ass… It felt absolutely wonderful, felt as though it was the kind of wonderful, though, that could just go on forever, never letting him tip over the edge and actually come. But then Owen crooked his fingers just so, or sucked him beyond the point his body could stand, and the breath left him as he felt himself spilling out over Owen’s tongue, his orgasm radiating even hotter, more intensely than it had before. When the aftershocks died down, he felt limp, not so much weary as exhausted, used up.

Owen licked him, kissed his stomach below his navel, and crawled up into his arms, turning Affenlight’s cheek into a kiss. Then he set his head against Affenlight’s chest, his breathing steadying.

“Can we really hold hands here?” Affenlight said after an age, feeling as though by speaking he was perhaps breaking the silent rules of sleep.

“Why not?”

Affenlight thought about people staring, slurs in Japanese that he’d still recognize as slurs, maybe even some sort of physical confrontation. But if Owen wasn’t afraid, there was no reason he should be. And it was foolish, really, to assume the residents of Tokyo would be any more homophobic than the residents of Westish, or of San Francisco, or of New York. “No reason,” he said.

Tomorrow, then, he’d wake up in Owen’s bed and let O show him around the university. They’d go shopping, because Affenlight had bought barely any clothes with him, and even if he was too tall for most Japanese sizes he knew Owen would love browsing anyway. They’d hold hands on main streets and have real, good sushi and make plans for the next three months, assuming Pella could do without him, which she no doubt could.

He laid a hand against the short stubble of Owen’s hair, breathed out, and closed his eyes.

Carpe diem, as they say.