I teach a simbletone class for fifth years on Thursday afternoons, and to be frank, I usually dread it. Last year, Wendy responded to pressures from the upper level music teachers complaining that their students were "embarrassingly incompetent" with simbletones, and don't they teach them anything in those lower level music classes? So now I spend an hour and a half every Thursday painstakingly teaching ten-year-olds how to play the most challenging instrument in the Electricito family. It's apparent they do not enjoy themselves either, and yes, I know your older brother got to play the verodian flute in my class, but the simbletone isn't so bad, is it?

I usually cut the class ten minutes short so they can have some time to chat, which I think they appreciate. After making sure each simbletone is latched up in its proper storage compartment, plugged in, and charging, I go to my desk and rifle through the mess of ungraded assignments for my phone. There's a message from Kyle, who wants to know if I would mind getting him a cleirabaul from that café we went to last weekend. He includes a heart emote, which has implications that make me all the more inclined to make the trip to Diverta Sector, though it goes without saying I'd be being buying Kyle a dotted melon pastry regardless.

The three o'clock bell rings and my students rush out the door. I appreciate the quiet for a moment, my cock twitching as I imagine Kyle licking cleirabaul icing from his lips. I shake the thought from my head for the time being, stuff the stack of assignments into my bag, check on the simbletones one more time, then grab my keys and leave. From school, I take the T-line to the Core, where I get on the E-line to Diverta Sector. On my way there, I decide to buy half a dozen cleirabaules, knowing Kyle will mask his delight by accusing me of thinking he's a pig. It's more a stab at himself than a serious question, since he's been developing some pudge around his midsection lately, which, strangely, I can't help but find erotic.

Thankfully, the café, Rota's Paneria, is mostly empty, so I'm able to get the cleirabaules quickly and be on my way to Base Tier 3. I catch one of the vista elevators, and look out past the hotel pool, watching the artificial waves slipping onto the empty beach, until I sink below surface level and come face to face with a sheet of steel. From the elevator hall, I take the old H-line to the annals, then it's a short walk through the poorly-lit rows of storage shelves to Kyle's office.

His door is cracked open, a sliver of yellow light slipping out, and I knock gently with my knuckles, inching the door open. Kyle looks up from behind the piles of organized clutter that dominate his desk, a pen dangling from his mouth.

Naturally, the first thing he asks is, "Did you go to the café?" I show him white bakery box and he frowns. "Are you going to have one?"

"Well, no. I was thinking Bebe or Lola might want one." I stop myself from adding "for dessert tonight," because Kyle is pulling the string off the box, ready to eat one now.

"So how has your day been?" I ask, sinking into the old armchair next to his desk, watching him lick at the frosting with the tip of his tongue.

"Not bad, found a huge box of old railroad archives that I plan to start on after coding some more 19th century cultural stuff. Oh, also — I came across a sketch of the craziest looking thing — here, let me find it," he says, leafing through a stack of very thin papers. "This, you will be interested to know, is a very primitive sound system."

Kyle holds up a drawing of some sort of box with a loud, flower-shaped horn attached to it. "Huh," I say. "Very weird."

"It's called a gramophone. Or a phonograph," he explains. "I'd love to come across some information on how it works, but you know how disorganized this place is. Well, anyway. How are you?"

"Good, good. The kids still hate the simbletones, but that's nothing new."

Kyle snorts in the midst of eating the last morsel of cleirabaul. "Oh, Stan."


"I don't know," he says, leaning back, staring at the ceiling. "It's sort of bothersome, if I think about it. We put so much effort into making them and they can be such shits."

"They're just children. And nobody likes the simbletone."

"You do."

It's true, I do love the simbletone, with all its electric complexities, it's just a headache trying to teach it. "I know. But I have a soft spot for intricate things," I say, reaching over to stroke his cheek.

His eyes slide shut and he whispers, "Close the door." I get up to do so, the heavy click of the latch slipping into place echoing through room.

Kyle has moved to the cushioned nook behind his desk, the only space in his office completely free of clutter, since it's used solely for our weekday sexual interludes. He pulls his sweater up over his head, flings it in my direction, and I catch it against my chest and draw the fabric to my face, breathing in his scent. The devilish look in his eyes sends a throb through my hardening cock, but it also makes me determined to devour his haughty poise, to render him an incoherent mess, hungry for me to fuck him. I crawl on top of him, pressing our erections together, and kiss him hard, tasting him, the sweet zing of the cleirabaul and his delighted little gasps encouraging me. If we were at home, I would tease him until he's writhing and begging, but our afternoon office fucks are usually quick since Kyle is still technically on the clock, not that anyone is keeping tabs.

I lean back to tear my jacket off and unzip my work shirt, licking my lips as he gapes at me, wide-eyed and flushed in the face. I step out of my pants, showing him my erection, and proceed to undress him, undoing his neat tie and carefully unbuttoning his replica antique shirt. He makes a grab for my cock and I swat his hand away, the little sound of indignation he offers in protest further igniting my arousal. Though I'm privy to removing Kyle's clothing with added care, most of which is vintage (somehow), or custom-made, I make it a point to pull his pants down especially slowly, not only because the proximity of his cock to this old-style metal zipper makes me nervous, but because it gets me extremely worked up to see how sheepish he suddenly becomes once he's exposed to me. As I reach over him to grab the bottle of lubricant from the shelf inside the nook, I covertly eye his soft stomach, and the unfiltered thought that I want to come on it enters my mind, which I quickly shake away, a little appalled with myself.

I squeeze some of the lube into my palm and move back down to him, kissing his collarbone as my fingers explore the space behind his balls, feeling for his hole. He groans and begins pawing at his chest when I slip my fingertip inside him and slowly begin to fuck him with it. My cock is leaking profusely on his thigh now, eager to replace my fingers. I find his prostate and rub my fingertips across it a few times, and he whines, moaning, "Your dick, I want —"

Hearing him say that is always intensely exciting; I let out a low groan, grinding my cock into his thigh as I withdraw my fingers. Leaning back to kneel at the edge of the nook, I help him onto his hands and knees, then move behind him, cupping his ass with one hand and holding my cock with the other, rubbing the tip against his hole.

"Ready?" I ask, squeezing his cheek.

"Yeah," he breathes, and I push into him. He's so tight around me, so incredibly warm, and this, the heat of our bodies fusing into one pleasure, is something that continues to astonish me, make my heart almost ache with how poignantly we connect.

My hands gripped around his hips, I move in and out of him, gradually at first, watching his back arch as my pace quickens, marveling at how delectably lewd his hole looks stretched around my girth. He begins to make little panting noises, and I pound into him once more, hard, before dropping onto his back. I curl my arm around to wrap my fingers around his cock, jerking it a few times in my hand, spreading the precome streaming from the tip down his shaft.

"Ah, fuck — Stan," he pleads, pushing his ass back against me. My pacing becomes a little haphazard as I simultaneously try to pump him faster and thrust into him harder. I try to abate my own impending orgasm, since I usually like to get him to come before me. Having him draw out my climax with his own, feeling his muscles tightening around my cock as I fill him with my seed, is not only sensually incredible, but also ensures I'm cognizant enough to hold onto him and fuck him through his orgasm. However, it doesn't always work out perfectly, and this ends up being one of those times where I have to will myself to come well after Kyle has spilled himself into my hand.

I slide out, some of my come spilling down the inside of his thigh. Kyle curls up onto his side, yawning. I need to go fetch a washcloth from his cupboard, but just looking at him is making me very sleepy, so I sink into the nook, pull him into my chest and rest with him for a few minutes.

"You do know I'm the one who appreciates your come, right?" Kyle says.

"You're the one I want to appreciate it."


I reach around his back and dip two fingers into his cleft, my chest swelling with a mixture of pride and contentment; I know he relishes this, the feeling of my come seeping from ass, the evidence of my having claimed his body.

After cleaning Kyle up, getting redressed, and saying goodbye, I leave the dim quiet of the annals and make my way back up to ground level. It's still only four, so I'm able to beat the R-line rush. We live in Altiplana Complex, so from RS Central, I take the RA-line to our apartment.

I'm the first one home, as usual. I toss my bag on the couch and head into the kitchen for a glass of lilac juice. Apparently, someone made scrambled eggs this morning and did not do a great job of cleaning up — probably Bebe. Kyle and I are on dinner duty tonight, so I might as well clean it up now. I pour a glass of juice first, then tidy up the kitchen, thinking about what to make for dinner. Maybe grilled falatorna, since it's easy.

Lola will be home soon, and I don't like feeling obligated to sit around and sustain conversation with her until Kyle comes home to save me at 5:20, so I make sure I'm in our room before 4:45, the earliest she ever comes home from her job as a surveyor at the Harvesting Management Center. I spend the next forty some minutes browsing through news articles online — a pane of glass in Amora Sector is being replaced, Melodiam Inteira will be at the theatre next week, and they've managed to clone something called a giraffe.

Kyle comes home and takes a quick shower, we play a round of marquee (he beats me), then we head to the kitchen to get dinner started. I start mixing the marinade for the falatorna and he retrieves a jug of wine from the pantry, then makes a martini for himself.

"I heard a girl in Rugosa Complex got pregnant," he says.

"That's good. When is the festival?"

"Oh, I don't know. It's just a rumor." He takes a long sip of his drink.

Kyle hears a lot of rumors, most of them from Clyde, his only coworker, who does document restoration on the other side of the annals. The rumors tend to be true, and I hope this one is, since it seems even less women are getting pregnant these days.

The falatorna comes out of the oven looking as delectable as it smells, and Kyle is now tipsy, talking about record players. Lola leaves her room to greet Bebe when she comes home from work, and then we all sit down for dinner. It's usual dinner table conversation, talking about work, our separate plans for the weekend, those sorts of things. Then Lola mentions the rumor about the pregnant girl.

"She's so lucky," she says wistfully.

"Well, I don't know about that," Kyle says.

Lola stares at him, confused. "What?"

Kyle rolls his eyes and waves his hand around. "Never mind."

I take an exaggeratedly long sip of wine.

"A half day off work should be nice though," Bebe comments.

"Oh, yes, definitely," I say before Kyle can open his mouth again. "How is um — your new intern doing, Bebe?"

I listen and nod while Bebe explains that her intern was late again this morning, but otherwise he's proving to be a dedicated research assistant. Thankfully, this induces more work-related discussion. Kyle is mostly quiet, giving only short responses when anyone asks him a question. I anticipate we'll be having yet another discussion about mating practice later.

In getting up to make another drink, he catches his foot around the leg of my chair, stumbling a bit, and I grab his hip to steady him. He snarls, and Bebe giggles quietly.

After dinner, the girls start up a movie in the living room, and Kyle and I retire to our bedroom.

I follow him onto the veranda. He drops into his fora chair and crosses his legs. "You know, I don't really care about getting Bebe pregnant."

Sighing, I sink into my own chair. "I don't think it matters whether anyone wants it or not. Seems like luck is the only thing that makes it happen."

"Huh! Well that's certainly refreshing to hear from you. You're usually so optimistic about it. Sometimes I even think you want to get her pregnant."

"Kyle —" I say, pinching the bridge of my nose. I suppose it's true; it would be insane not to want my mating partner to get pregnant, but it bothers me greatly when Kyle implies I'm emotionally invested in the process. "It's our responsibility."

He scoffs. "I know that. I didn't say I was going to stop doing it. Not that I have a choice."

While I empathize with his insecurities regarding mating practice — leaving him in Bebe's care makes me jumpy — I wish he wouldn't guilt me. I don't have a choice in the matter anymore than he does.

He's still brooding. "Come here," I tell him. It's not a request. His petulance vanishes instantly. He pushes himself up from the chair, places his drink on the table, and steps toward me. "Sit down," I say, patting my thigh. He bites his lip — ah, shit, his weight, I'd forgotten — but before I can speak, he obeys, gingerly situating himself on my thigh.

I wrap my arms around him, burying my face into his shoulder. "Sorry."

"For what?" he asks softly.

"I don't know. Things. Not saying 'I love you' enough."

"You tell me all the time though."

"I haven't yet today," I say. "I love you, only you. I wish I didn't have to give my body to anybody else. I wish it was just me and you."

"That's how it used to be," he says sadly. "Back when people lived on the surface."

"I know. But I'm still yours. And you're still mine, right?" I say in a low voice, resting my palm over his bulge.

"Yes," he says quietly, spreading his legs for me. His submission is both arousing and comforting: I can feel my cock stiffening as I continue massaging him, my worries dissolving as he melts into my touch. He begins making delicate, barely audible little sounds; he's struggling to keep himself from thrusting into my palm. "Stan," he pleads.


"Can we — Ah —" His legs are trembling now.

Of course, I know what he's asking: for me to be take him inside, to our little shell of privacy, and make love to him, remind him that what we have is impermeable, matchless. I won't make him tell me. "Alright," I say, helping him up as I move to stand.

"Go wait for me on the bed," I say gently, pushing a curl back behind his ear. His eyes flutter shut and he nods, already beginning to unbutton his shirt as he goes into our room.

I shed my clothes as I approach our bed, where he's already under the covers, naked, ready for me. I crawl under the blankets and our bodies find each other. He's writhing against me, dripping precome onto my leg, and making the softest little pleading sounds as I lick at the sensitive spot just under his jaw; he's so precious like this, so open, that I cannot not give him everything. "Let me taste you," I say, and he nods, his breath coming in harder now.

I help him onto his hands and knees, then move behind him, running my palms over his cheeks before sinking my face between them and dragging my tongue up from the base of his balls. He's trembling now, and I rest a hand on the small of his back, steadying him, then begin circling his hole with the tip of my tongue. He groans, long and low, when I prod for entrance. His hips twitch in tiny bursts when I slip my tongue inside him, and he cries out when I wrap my fingers around his cock. I move my tongue in and out of him, relishing the noises he makes, contented with making him feel good.

He comes sobbing my name. I catch every ounce of it in my hand before he collapses on the mattress, panting, drenched in sweat, utterly beautiful. Pulling the blankets up over our shoulders, I wrap myself around his shivering body, warming him with my skin.

He moves his hand between us, timidly touching my half-hard cock. "Did you wash after — ?" he asks.

"Yes," I answer, very grateful now I remembered to do so earlier. "Why do you ask?" I'm teasing him — I want to hear him say it.

He's still a bit too out of it to bother with sheepishness: "Because I want to suck you," he replies, very serious.

"Alright," I say, rolling onto my back. As he moves between my legs, I stroke myself off a few times, hardening my cock. Licking his lips, he looks up at me with hungry eyes before wrapping his fingers around the base and spreading his lips around my cock, swallowing me whole. The suction he employs is always exquisite, and I lean back and close my eyes, keeping my breathing steady as I enjoy the damp heat of his mouth, his tongue flicking across the underside of my cock.

I place my hand on his head, running my fingers through his curls, and he moans, the lustful vibration of his voice surging through my body. I can feel myself getting close now, and I begin carefully thrusting into his mouth, my consciousness scattering as the head of my cock touches the back of his throat. He moans around me again and I'm coming, helpless to the sweet suction of his mouth, to the way he so eagerly devours my seed.

He wipes his mouth and hurries into my outreached arms, sighing with contentment as I stroke the back of his neck. I feel myself drifting off, and I groan when Kyle slips from my arms, saying he's going to draw a bath. We spend a long time in the tub, then after another round of marquee, we go to bed.

On Friday night, we go to Ralinco's in Diverta Sector for drinks. Insisting that he's feeling lucky (he found a gramophone manual that afternoon), Kyle buys about ten portafortuna cards, though he ends up only making one more dovetta than he spent. The rest of the weekend passes in relaxing monotony: on Saturday I go grocery shopping with the girls while Kyle goes down to the annals for a few hours, I wake up early on Sunday morning to finish grading the sixth years' theory exams, Lola makes tornapa for lunch, then Kyle and I spend the rest of the afternoon fucking, as we are apt to do on Sundays.

Only that evening, when I'm going through my calendar to tap in this week's lesson plans, do I realize that the girls will be ovulating beginning this Friday. Somehow it always sneaks up on me. While I don't necessarily dread the mating practice, it's not something I look forward to, either. Kyle, on the other hand, still frets over it to a degree — the day itself he's usually in a strange, fidgety mood. As of right now, however, it's thankfully the furthest thing from his mind — he's gleefully singing some old-world song in the shower.

When I go down to the annals after work on Wednesday, Kyle asks me if I want to go see Melodiam Inteira on Friday. I have to be the one to tell him that we have mating practice that night. His chipper mood instantly sours.

"We could go on Saturday," I offer.

He closes his eyes and sighs. "Alright, fine."

Early the next morning, I flip through the news headlines as I eat breakfast. The pregnant woman from Rugosa Sector has finally made the news, and the Mellaluna Festival is scheduled for next Friday. On my way to school, I notice decorations are already going up around the city. The students are all very excited — for some of them, this will only be their third festival. I leave work in a good mood, and guiltily, I almost consider not going down to the annals, since I imagine the excitement of the festival is only serving to make Kyle antsier about tomorrow night's mating practice.

Of course, I go down anyway, and when I see him hunched over his desk drinking a cup of dolzena and looking quite sleep-deprived, I feel horrible about my reluctance to come see him. "Did you not sleep well last night?" I ask him.

He looks up from what he's reading and stares at me dazedly for a moment. "Huh? Oh, ah, no. I didn't. I was having weird dreams."

I sink into the armchair and ask, "About what?"

"I don't really remember. Volcanoes, I think?" he says, rubbing his temples.

"What the hell are volcanoes?"

"Mountains that spit out fire," he says coolly.

Disturbed by this, I ask, "Are you alright?"

"What? I'm fine. Just a little tired. And not looking forward to tomorrow night."

"I know," I say, taking his hand and gliding my thumb over his fingers. He seems more stressed than he usually is about mating practice. I think the news of the pregnant girl has made him worry about my getting Lola pregnant.

That night, I lie awake a long time wondering what it'd be like if Lola did get pregnant. It would be difficult to hide my excitement from Kyle. He'd be so bitter. And once the baby was born, then what? Would Kyle hate it? It'd be better if Bebe got pregnant. Even if Kyle doesn't care about impregnating her, I don't doubt he'd be very pleased if it happened. He'd order replica vintage baby clothes, come up with the perfect old-world name, transform the spare bedroom into an antique nursery...

When I arrive at Kyle's office after work the next day, I'm surprised to see him sitting in the armchair, wearing his jacket, apparently ready to leave. "Let's go somewhere," he says. "I don't want to go home until we have to."

We end up going to Sairene Gardens in Alvore Sector. Kyle buys lily tea from a vendor near the entrance, and we hold hands as we stroll through the flower displays, approaching the forest. Something about these woods, their endless greenery, their gloomy lushness, is so calming it's trance-like, and I'm glad Kyle suggested we come here rather than go to a bar or something (not that we're allowed to drink today.) We traverse the various forest trails until the first night bugs begin to glow, then leave to go get something to eat in Diverta Sector.

The recurled acchia at Soldrina's Concord is delicious as usual, though I have to admit it's not quite the same without a glass of calupa wine. Strangely, Kyle does not finish his bistecca, but I don't think much of it until I realize he may have eaten less on purpose, worried about being exposed to Bebe later. This makes me insane, because why should he have to be concerned about what some woman thinks of his body? I begin to feel quite miserable, wishing more than anything we didn't have mating practice tonight, because he doesn't need to be comparing himself to Bebe's unnaturally perfect figure, not after a week like this one.

Neither of us speaks on the way home. By the time we reach the apartment, it's already 8:40, which means we have but twenty minutes to get ready. Once we're dressed in our ascala robes, I retrieve the taberet covering from its box in the closet and spread it evenly across our bed. I sit on the edge of the bed watching Kyle dig the Mellaluna statuette out from his desk drawer, remove the sticky-note with the crudely drawn phallus from her crotch, and staunchly plant her on the nightstand.

Sighing, he sits down beside me, slumping against my side. "You okay?" I ask, wrapping an arm around him.

"Ugh, I'm fine," he says. "I'm just trying to think about the shower I'm going to take afterwards."

There's a knock on the door — Bebe. I press a quick kiss to his forehead before getting up to let her in.

"Hey," she says.

Her breasts are spilling out of her red ascala robe. "Um. Hi," I say quickly, praying she didn't notice I was just staring at her chest. Apparently not: she's peeking over my shoulder, trying to get a look at Kyle. The enthusiastic glint in her eyes is making me feel ill. Reluctantly, I step aside to let her in, and with even greater aversion, I move into the hall, turning to offer Kyle one last sympathetic glance before heading to the girls' bedroom.

Lola answers the door when I knock, offering me a weary smile. "Hi," she says.

"Hey. So um, how are you?" I ask.

"Good. You?"

"I'm good."

"That's good," she says, and we look at each other for one long, painful moment before she goes to turn off the lights.

I feel more comfortable around her with the lights off, probably because we don't really talk in the dark. As per our usual routine, we lie on opposite sides of the bed and touch ourselves for a while until I'm sufficiently hard and she's sufficiently wet. In order to get into it, I have to visualize some particularly wild things, such as Kyle tied and bound, his ass crimson with welts, begging to be fucked dry. Concentrating on this lurid image, I slip my hand under my robe and begin stroking myself. Once I'm completely hard (and at this point imagining Kyle quivering with desperation to have his hole filled), I begrudgingly remove my hand from my cock and ask her if she's ready.

"Yeah," she says. I take a deep breath before crawling over to her side of the bed and moving on top of her. She raises her hips, and I scoot forward, positioning my cock at where I think her entrance is, although as usual this process is awkward and I have to poke around a bit before I successfully manage to penetrate her. Sliding into her is easy: she's extremely wet, though neither as tight nor as warm as Kyle's ass. That's not to say this doesn't feel good, but it's nowhere near as good as being enclosed in the unparalleled heat of Kyle's body, feeling each stretch of muscle lovingly allocate for my entrance.

I plant my hands on either side of her head and look down at her in the darkness, offering a silent apology for occupying her body.

She shifts her hips. "Go," she says, her voice tired. If there's anything I can do for her, it's to hurry up and come so we can get this over with. Filling my thoughts with Kyle, Kyle on his knees, Kyle's face covered with ejaculate, I start thrusting.

Envisioning Kyle coming all over himself, whimpering as his seed spurts from his rosy cockhead, is what gets me to come myself. Lola is still breathing hard beneath me, and while it always makes me feel a bit guilty to leave her hanging when I just had a perfectly satisfactory orgasm, she told me explicitly (though kindly) after our first mating practice that she would prefer that I not try to get her to come. I was completely embarrassed, of course, and apologized profusely. Thankfully, she was very genial about it, and assured me not to worry too much; she just didn't care to sexualize the mating practice, which I can certainly understand.

Half-delirious with fresh exhaustion, I pull out of her and climb off the bed.

"Um. Bye," I say, retying my robe as I walk backward toward the door.

"See ya," she responds, yawning.

I slip out of the room into the light of the hall, feeling incredibly relieved that mating practice is over for this month. I head into the kitchen to make myself a much deserved drink — lechula on ice — and try not to think about what's going on in my bedroom. It's 9:19, so that means there's still eleven more minutes of the mating practice left, though once in a while, Bebe doesn't emerge from our room until as late as 9:40, which is irritating. I just pray that won't be the case tonight; I'm feeling particularly anxious to get back to Kyle.

I lean against the counter and take a long swig of the lechula, wondering if I ought to go hole myself up in the guest room until 9:30. If there's one reason I regret planting that hidden camera in our room a couple years ago, it's that it's made it impossible to erase the image of Bebe riding Kyle from my memory. Eventually, I ended up destroying the file, as if that even matters, considering it's been burned into my mind forever. It was maddeningly heartbreaking to see Kyle at the mercy of someone who wasn't me, but the worst part about that deceitfully-taken video was that it had actually excited me, and in the most regrettable sense of the word. Previously, I had understood Kyle's submission as something uniquely ours, a natural and comfortable progression of our bedroom activities, but upon seeing him yield to the power of another person I realized with horrible unease that I must just enjoy seeing him subjugated.

However, that's not to say I consider him to be a submissive person, or would ever enjoy his bowing to my every whim. His spark is one of the most attractive things about him, and I consistently find myself impressed by the vigor with which he attacks his work and other things, such as how the vegetables in the garden ought to be organized. A pang of longing for him shoots through me, and I have half a mind to go pound on our bedroom door and demand Bebe hurry up. Instead, I lower myself onto the cold tile, cradling my glass of lechula and watching the clock on the microva. At precisely 9:30, I hear a door open, then Bebe's gleeful footsteps padding down the hall. As soon as I hear a second door open and close — her going into her own bedroom — I get up and hurry to our room. The double doors to the bathroom are open, and I can see Kyle in the shower, scrubbing his body, his nudity enchantingly obscured by the cloudy glass.

"Hey," I say, tapping lightly on the door. "Can I come in?" I never ask this; I usually wait until he's done and then shower alone, but the past half hour has felt like an eternity, and I can't bear the glass that's separating us.

He looks surprised for a moment, then cracks the opens the door. I tear off my robe and slip inside, inhaling the dense humidity, perfumed with the scent of palama soap. Armed with the bar of soap, he dutifully lathers my cock. Once satisfied, he proceeds to wash the rest of my body.

Carefully, I ask, "How did it go?"

"Oh, you know," he says, working on my chest now. "Exhausting as usual." I must look upset, because he rolls his eyes and continues, "Topping is such a bore." Kyle truly believes he's topping her just because he's penetrating her, something I find amusing, since I've seen the actual dynamics of his and Bebe's mating practice. I've let him hold onto this farce for the past eight years because he has very old-fashioned ideas about mating practice.

We go straight to bed after showering, and wake up earlier than usual on Saturday morning, so we decide to go to one of the garden cafés in Alvore Sector for breakfast. Afterward, Kyle heads down to the annals for a few hours, and I go back to the apartment and spend the rest of the morning and the early part of the afternoon grading theory assignments and making the next simbletone unit exam. Kyle comes home, and at six, we head over to Rotunda Carena in Diverta Sector for dinner. After we eat, we go to this tacky bar Kyle loves for its old-world replica gaming machines (his favorite is one in where you dig through dirt tunnels to pop little monsters.) He goes through two glasses of indigo lechula while he plays, and I watch him tap the buttons with increasing fervency while I nurse a bottle of Pveira. By the time we leave to go see Melodiam Inteira, Kyle is moderately drunk and in a very cheerful mood, practically clinging to me as we stroll through the red brick streets lined with crowded restaurants and ornate storefronts. Because we end up sucking each other off in the lesser used men's restroom toward the back of the theatre complex, we arrive at the showroom a little late and have to stumble around in the dark to find two vacant seats.

The film is generally good, though a bit short, actually, a complaint I'm not sure I've ever had about a film before. Kyle complains that they left out too many important parts from the book, and I agree, though this didn't occur to me as I was watching because it's been so long since I read it.

Upon opening the front door to our apartment, we encounter the sight of Bebe and Lola half-clothed and making out on the couch, a half empty jug of gela wine and cartons of saldra noodles on the dolzena table. Bebe tosses her mass of thick blond hair back and looks up at us bitterly. Her lipstick is smeared. She moves off of Lola, who promptly gets up to scurry away, an indiscernible expression on her face as she disappears down the hall. This is horribly uncomfortable, made worse by the fact that Bebe's not wearing a shirt.

"You two are certainly back early," Bebe says miserably.

"So?" Kyle says. "We can come back whenever we want, we live here." Bebe narrows her eyes at him, tilting her head reproachfully. Surprisingly, Kyle bites his lip and turns away, busying himself with putting his jacket away in the hall closet.

"The movie was really short," I say, trying to sound apologetic. Although Kyle is right in that this is as much our home as it is theirs, I do feel bad about interrupting them.

She sighs loudly and reaches for her veipora pipe on the end table. "Whatever," she says, exhaling a bright purple cloud of vapor.

"Well, uh, goodnight then," I say, wanting to get the hell out of the living room already.

"Goodnight," she says flatly, and Kyle and I waste no time in getting to our bedroom.

"That was sort of weird," I say as we're getting changed into our night clothes. "Why was she so pissed?"

"I think they're having problems lately."

"What? Really?"

"They like, never have sex anymore," he says casually. "So, essentially, we just cockblocked Bebe."

"Wait, why don't they have sex anymore?" I ask, feeling sad on their behalf. Rarely a day goes by that Kyle I don't have sex.

Kyle flops onto the bed and says, "They're women, Stan. Who knows why they do or don't do anything?"

Instead of going to the festival, Kyle and I make an impromptu trip to Coravale for the weekend. Coravale is our town's most popular weekend getaway destination, and with everyone else in town at the festival, the resort is wonderfully empty. We take advantage of its vacancy by fucking in the laundry room on the fourth floor, the pool's locker room, and the boathouse. The weekend passes by much too quickly, and on Sunday evening, as we're riding the train back home, watching the proud pink mountains collapse into lolling green hills, I try not to remember that tomorrow is Monday.

"Remember that time I ran away? When we were young?" Kyle asks, still staring out the window.

"Of course I do. I was terrified." We had been fourteen. Kyle had strolled back home two days later with little explanation other than that he was feeling adventurous. His mother slapped him in front of all of us, then took him to a psychiatrist the next day.

"I was trying to get to the surface," he says, a smile curling at the corner of his lips. "I wanted to walk on it so badly."


"Why didn't you tell me?" I ask, horrified.

Mildly surprised, he turns to face me. "Because you would've stopped me," he replies simply.

"But even afterwards you never told me."

"I was embarrassed. Not so much because it was a stupid thing to do, but because I failed to do it. I hated when you could see my failures, so I used to try to hide them."

"I still would've thought you were perfect."

He smiles and says, "I know."

The next few weeks pass by unremarkably. After a particularly laborious Thursday of getting the fifth years ready for the simbletone recital, I take the T-line to the Core and head down to the annals. The elevator takes me down to Base Tier 3, where I see that there's yellow tape blocking off the dingy old G-line station, and I remember the hazy details of Kyle telling me yesterday it was going to be under construction. Even hazier is my memory of his instructions on how to get from here to the annals without the G-line, and naturally, there aren't any instructions for a detour posted. There is a map on the wall of all the underground lines, but it's old enough for the paint to be chipping, so I doubt it's viable anymore. I send Kyle a quick message asking how to get to the annals, hoping he'll respond quickly. A good ten minutes pass and decide to follow the map's directions to F-line station, a line I've never taken nor ever heard of, which presumably has a drop-off point close to the annals.

I head down the long hallway to my right, make a left down a shorter hallway, then take a no longer functional moving walkway that should lead me directly to F-line station. The station is, in fact, just around the corner, but to my dismay and frustration, it's all boarded up. A withered piece of cardstock stapled to the splintered wood reads "To G-line, take walkway back to intersection, continue straight, make second right, then take a left." Exasperated and feeling the beginnings of a headache, I take a photo of the sign with my phone so I won't have to memorize the directions and turn around. It takes about fifteen minutes for me to get to G-line station, then a few minutes longer to wait for a car. By the time I make it to Kyle's office, I'm quite cranky and miserable, and just want to silently latch onto him for a while.

"Hey," he says when I drift inside. Meandering around the neat stacks of books, I move behind his desk and slump against the back of his chair, wrapping my arms around his shoulders, pressing my face to his neck. "What's wrong?" he asks, his voice a warm whisper.

"Just one of those days," I mumble against his skin.

He clicks his tongue sympathetically and touches my arm. "C'mere," he says, getting up and moving us into the nook. Dropping onto the cushions, I curl into his chest, slinking my arms around his frame, moaning softly when his hand comes around to stroke the base of my neck. I close my eyes and listen to his heartbeat, the slight whistle of his breathing, and suddenly feel like I could break out sobbing. In a moment, it passes.

I can feel his erection pressing up against my thigh, but I couldn't get hard right now if I wanted to; I'm too drained and lethargic. He hums softly, petting my hair, and I feel myself getting drowsy, the warmth of his body whisking me into sleep.

"Stan, wake up," he's saying, what feels like only moments after I've shut my eyes. I manage to crack an eye open to see him very near my face, close enough to smell his dolzena-breath. "It's five o'clock."

Dazedly, I look at him for a moment, then shut my eyes again, wanting to lie here forever. Eventually, I will myself to get up, yawning as I stagger through the stacks of books and papers cluttering the floor to grab my stuff where I dumped it on the armchair.

We take the same convoluted detour back to the main elevator hall.

"Clyde was going on about that human extinction rumor again today," Kyle says as the elevator rises above ground level. "God, he's so naïve. It disgusts me to listen to him sometimes."

"Hmm." The elevator opens and we head down the walkway to the D-line station to the Core, which is packed with businessmen and women leaving work for the day, crowding the R-line stations as they wait for the car to take them home.

I make some dolzena at home to pep me up enough to make calandra pots for dinner. Kyle strides around the kitchen as I prepare dinner, exaggeratedly twirling his cocktail glass whenever he speaks. "You're always so careful with these," he says, gesturing to the tray of pie crusts I'm filling, "making sure not to fill the pots to the brim, so the calandra doesn't seep out of the crust in the oven. You know, drip out over the sides. Make a mess everywhere." He licks his lips and I feel my face heating up, lewd thoughts spurred by his innuendos pouring into my mind. I give him a dangerous look; he laughs and takes another swig of the cocktail, eyeing me flirtatiously, instigating me. He skirts behind me, and if my hands weren't covered in calandra, I'd slap his ass.

The calandra pots come out of the oven crisp and perfect, no calandra spilling out from the golden crusts. I almost find this disappointing, and determine to thoroughly sully Kyle's ass after dinner. As if Kyle's devilish little glances and the almost feline way he's brushing up against me when he walks by weren't enough, the caffeine from the dolzena has effectively kicked in, and I have to concentrate hard on arranging the calandra pots on the serving tray in order to will my erection away.

Bebe comes home, carrying a white box from Rota's Paneria. ("It's the limited edition flavor of their galasa cake. I thought it'd make a nice dessert," she says, smiling as Kyle perks up at the mention of the bakery.) We all sit down to what feels like a very long dinner. Even as I'm eating and half-assing dinner conversation, I find myself continuously distracted by the dainty way Kyle holds silverware, the organic motion of his swallowing ? I look away and go back to picking at the slice of cake I accepted out of politeness.

After dinner, the girls go to watch television in the living room, and I do a quick, cursory job of cleaning up the kitchen while Kyle leisurely brings in the plates from the dining room table. He loads the last of the dishes into the dishwasher, then up leans against it. With nothing but simple observation, he watches me reach up to put away the oven tray. Overwhelmed with the urge to kiss him, I step forward to cup his face with my hands, pressing my lips firmly against his. He opens his mouth immediately and surges forward, making the faintest of sounds as I taste the galasa icing on his tongue. His hand slips between our bodies, grazing over my crotch, spurring the beginning of an erection, and I kiss him harder. Breathing roughly, he pulls back, and in a low, certain voice, says, "I want your dick."

The words themselves make me weak at the knees, but his tone is so resolute — almost bossy, in fact — that it makes me all the more desperate to have him submit to me. "Go wait for me in the room," I tell him. Blushing, he nods, then slips away, heading toward the bedroom hallway. I stand motionless in the kitchen, imagining him undressing, delicately unzipping those corduroy pants over his erection. Despite my eagerness to get to him, I take my time tidying up the rest of the kitchen, wanting to make him wait.

Once the kitchen is neat and orderly, I calmly make my way to our bedroom, where I find him naked on the bed, lashes fluttering over half closed eyes, idly running his fingers over his erect cock. Immediately, his eyes flash open and his hand freezes.

"What have I said about touching yourself when you're waiting for me," I say.

Guiltily, he pulls his hand away, and says, "Not to do it."

"That's right." I approach the bed and lean down to squeeze his cock in my hand, eliciting a desperate yelp from him. "What's going to make you remember that rule, Kyle? Hmm?"

"I — I don't know," he mumbles, squirming.

"I think you need to be spanked," I say, feeling myself getting harder. His eyes widen and his face flushes an even deeper shade of red, the color spreading down to his neck. I sit on the side of the bed and pat my thigh. "Come here."

He obeys, slowly getting up to crawl over to me, and I guide him onto my lap, running my hand over the expanse of his back, letting it rest on one cheek. His stomach presses against my erection when he lowers himself onto me and I suck in a breath, determined to keep perfectly still, in control. I move my palm in a circle, warming his flesh before I plant one very light smack on his buttock. He makes a tiny, pleasured whimpering sound, and I warn him, "Don't think you're going to enjoy this," although, essentially, that is the whole point, and no matter how red and stinging his cheeks are, he knows as well as I do that he loves this.

I smack him again, harder this time, and he exhales sharply, his body beginning to tremble slightly. His erection is digging into my thigh, reassuringly solid. "Good. Stay still," I say, and, without warning, administer the hardest slap yet. His skin blossoms a bright pink and he goes limp, twitching slightly. Tenderly, I rub his shoulder and resume the process of running my palm over the flesh of his buttocks in a circular motion, culminating in swift, moderate to harsh slaps that echo through the room, as if I'm ringing a gong.

"Okay, okay," I say softly once he's squirming agitatedly, his ass crimson, hot to the touch. "Good, Kyle, good." I'm anxious to fuck him, my cock beginning to chafe against the fabric of my underwear, and while I would have no qualms with abandoning this scenario and lovingly fucking him under the covers, that would aggravate Kyle greatly. I think for a moment, trying to come up with something suitable. "Go get that cock ring," I tell him. "And the lube."

Waveringly, he pushes himself up and kneels next to me, looking sort of out of it. I push a curl behind his ear and say softly, "Alright?"

"Yeah," he says, nodding, leaning into the touch. I kiss him lightly on the lips, flicking my tongue just inside his mouth, and he sighs longingly.

I pull away, our lips just touching, and murmur, "You want my dick? You want me to fill up your greedy little hole?" He makes a tiny breathy sound, promptly getting up to dart over to the closet where we keep various sex paraphernalia in an inconspicuous shoe box. I quickly strip while he rummages through the box.

He returns, holding out the cock ring and lube. I take the lube and put it aside, then stretch the ring over the base of his cock. His erection hangs suspended, anchored by the ring, balls pulled tight against the underside.

"Alright," I say, reaching for the lube. "Now lie down and spread your legs for me."

He quickly climbs onto the bed and reaches behind his knees, shamelessly pulling his legs apart and raising his hips, presenting himself to me. I pour some lube on my fingers and crawl on top of him, lowering my hand beneath his weeping erection and firmly pressing two fingertips to his hole. "Relax," I say, and he exhales, his breath hot on my shoulder. Carefully, I push two fingers inside him, curling them toward me and rubbing against the slick muscle. He moans lasciviously, drooling, when I find his prostate. "You're being too loud," I say sternly. "You want the girls to hear you? You want them to know what a slut you are?" I ask, disregarding the fact that the walls are completely soundproof.

"No, ah — God," he groans, squeezing around my fingers. I add another finger and tease his prostate for a while longer, though never with enough pressure to satiate him. He starts humping the air and I hold him down by the hip, thumbing his groin, reaching very close to the base of his cock but never touching it. "Please, please," he begs, moving his head from side to side, pawing at his chest and leaving light scratches across his flushing skin.

"Please what?"

"Please, I need — I need your dick, need it in me," he babbles, the words spilling from his mouth.

"Okay," I say, beginning to lose my composure. I pull my fingers out and grab the lube, dumping a generous amount onto my dick. He watches me, his eyes hungry, as I pump myself a few times until I'm completely hard. I push into him and he lets out a long sigh, his muscles shifting, molding around me, pulling me further inside him. I begin pounding into him, my balls slapping against his skin, and he moans deliriously, meeting every thrust and haphazardly trying to rub himself against my stomach. "Stop that. You know you won't be able to come until I take the ring off." He groans in defeat. "Here's what's going to happen," I tell him, moving my cock shallowly in and out of him, "I'm going to fuck you like this for a while longer. Then you're going to get on your knees and I'm going to mount you. Then maybe I'll take the ring off."

"Okay," he says quickly, his expression strained with the desperate need to come.

I lift his legs over my shoulders and pound into his hole in a series of rapid successions, his moans turning into sobs. Carefully, I take his trembling legs from my shoulders and pull out of him. His cock is a deep red, coated in precome, throbbing, pleading for release. He gets on his hands and knees and raises his ass into the air, his hole quivering, slick, dripping with lube. I rub my cockhead teasingly around his entrance, feeling practically evil for continuing to taunt him like this. "Do you want to come?" I ask, pushing myself into him very slowly.

"Yes. Please. Please."

Fully inside now, I lean over his back, curling an arm around his body to delicately grasp the base of his cock with my hand. He makes a helpless noise, overwhelmed by even the lightest of stimulation. I have to use my other hand to get the ring off properly, and the instant it's removed, Kyle lets out a long, shaky moan. Dutifully, I start fucking his ass again, then give his cock a few quick strokes and he's promptly coming, clenching tight around me, sobbing as he spurts wave and wave again of hot seed into my hand, onto the comforter. My orgasm follows shortly, suddenly surmounting me, and I empty myself into him, pumping his ass full of my come. The high of my climax is disorienting, and I drop onto his back, clinging to him desperately, nearly panicked with the urgency to hold him, kiss him, as I am apt to be after this kind of sex.

I roll off his back and lace my arms around him, rubbing his back, licking his neck. He latches onto me, tangling our legs together. "Love you," I murmur. He moans softly, nuzzling my chest.

Our room is dark, the last glow of sunset having faded, and I have to fight the urge to fall asleep again. Eventually, I manage to push myself up, sleepily pulling him along with me to the bathroom. "Let's get you cleaned up."

Kyle staggers to the toilet, closing the door behind him, and I busy myself with getting a fresh bar of soap from the linen closet. I turn the bath water on and sit on the side of the tub while checking the temperature of the water every few seconds. Once the water is a third of the way filled, I climb in and lazily begin to wash myself. The fruity scent of the soap perks me up a bit, and I suddenly get a craving for more of that cake.

Kyle emerges from the room and goes to wash his hands, then joins me in the tub. Using his bath sponge, I form a generous lather with soap, coating his back with rich suds. I remember when we were very young and our mothers had us take baths together, though back then, it was usually Kyle trying in vain to wash me as I evaded his sudsy hands. When we were children, Kyle was always adamant, even pushy, in terms of taking care of me, often going so far as to direct my mother about how to raise me. ("He's almost four, don't pick him up just because he asks.") Also, I was relatively quiet as a child (I suppose this is still true), and thus, Kyle would take it upon himself to speak for me. As we got older, and especially when Kyle was behaving erratically during his mid-adolescence, I realized he was just as vulnerable as he believed me to be. This came as a shock to me, since I had gone my whole life up until that point idealizing him, believing him to be nothing less than the most capable, composed person I knew. Those were a few rough years in our household, with my feeling abandoned as Kyle spiraled between relative sanity and bouts of absurd, even fearful, behavior. It wasn't until just before Kyle was put on the proper stabilizing medication at seventeen that it occurred to me I had to be strong for him, and I did have the power to do so. I feel, with that overdue epiphany, I became an adult.


After washing him thoroughly, I cradle his body against my own, breathing in the scent of his clean skin, wanting to always keep him like this: safe, healthy, happy, and close.

Two days later I wake up late for work. On the way from RS Central to the Core, I notice that there are a lot less people on my train, but I sum this up to my being nearly twenty minutes late, the morning rush having dropped off. When I get to school, however, I realize something is definitely odd: about half my homeroom is absent, and the students who have showed up are strangely quiet. Halfway through teaching my first class of the day, the second years' basic music theory course, my phone goes off at my desk, blaring Kyle's chipper ragtime ringtone. I go over to silence my phone and return to my students, grumbling internally when I hear the phone vibrating on my desk, ringing again. I ignore it, annoyed he's calling me during class.

"Now, I want everyone to go through the songbook and —" My phone vibrates again and I squeeze my eyes shut in frustration, pinching the bridge of my nose. "Go through the songbook and pick out a new song, then write the letters of the keys under the notes, okay? Look at the board or ask your partner if you need help. I'll be right back." I snatch my phone from desk then head out into the hall.

"What's wrong?" I rasp, trying not to sound as annoyed as I am.

"Didn't you see the news?" he retorts, his voice laden with panic.

"What news?"

"That we're going to die out in seventy years! Clyde was right, that stupid motherfucker was actually right. And oh, God, Stan, they're increasing mating practice, I just, I —" His voice cracks, but he quickly composes himself. "I'm sorry I called you during class, we're all just — in shock."

"No, no, shh, it's fine. Are you still at home? Who else is there?"

"Yeah, ah — Bebe and Lola. We're watching the news, seeing if they'll tell us anything else..."

"Well," I say, biting my lip, "Are you okay until I come home? I could see about leaving early."

"No, don't. I'm fine. I promise. I'll text you if anything else happens."


After I hang up, I stand in the hallway for a moment, digesting what Kyle just said. Humans dying out. I'm incredulous, though I shouldn't be — the birth rate only ever decreases, but it's relayed by the news as the weather is, unchanging, constant, barely warranting a mention. The prognosis of seventy years is chilling, and I suddenly feel ill, imagining the school one hundred years from now: empty, void of students and teachers, no laughing on the playground, all the classrooms vandalized, coated with years of dust and grime. I realize the hallway is empty, utterly silent, and I'm horrified for a moment that I've slipped out of my own time into that desolate future.

I quickly go back inside, relieved to see the morning sun shining through unbroken windows, my piano nestled in the corner of the room, unmarred with graffiti, my students sitting on the benches, very much alive. They look up at me with unease. A few of them seem legitimately worried.

"I ordered an avelés gong a while ago and here they are calling to tell me it's been backordered again!" I lie. "How will I ever call everyone to dinner with a tiny little gong like this?" I say, gesturing to a smaller gong on the shelf. Fortunately, this gets a laugh out of some of them.

Instead of having them do more written work, I let them practice whichever song they like on their corlion whistles and go around the room to evaluate their progress. Similarly, at least half the class is absent in my next two classes. During my fourth years' class before lunch, one of my students asks me why so many people are absent today, and before I can even think of how to respond, another student, a boy named Carlton, who is, quite frankly, a pain in the ass, shouts out, "Because we're all going to die, that's why."

"No one is going to die," I say firmly. "The government is going to take care of everything. There's nothing to worry about."

They seem allayed by this, sort of.

I know if I eat lunch in my room, I'm going to end up reading every news report I can find on the incident, so I head to the teachers' lounge, hoping to find Wendy there. Wendy is indeed there, eating a salad on the couch, frowning as she stares at the overheard television screen. Before I can get to her, Leo approaches me, the last person I want to talk to right now.

"Pretty scary, huh, Stan?" he says. "Who woulda thought all that talk about the birth rate was serious?"

"No one, I guess," I reply politely, trying to make eye contact with Wendy over his shoulder.

"Do you think it'll help? The new law?" His expression is so wrought with worry it's making me uncomfortable.

"I'm sure it will," I say quickly, not wanting to get into a conversation with him about Milly or Kenny or any of the dramatic shenanigans that go on in his household. "Anyway, I've got to grab my lunch so..."

"Oh, right," he says, stepping aside. "Guess I'll be seein' you then." He offers a small wave and heads over to the mailroom.

I get my lunch from the refrigerator — a cold pulled gorva sandwich — and go over to sit next to Wendy on the couch. Eyes still focused on the television, she says, "I don't know why I'm so shocked. I don't know why anyone is." She looks at me, her brow furrowed in a tight crease. "Let's go to my office," she says in a low voice, eyeing the group of teachers sitting at the table at the other side of the room.

We leave the teachers' lounge silently, heading across the foyer to the main office. Wendy's office is nestled at the end of the short hallway behind the secretarial station. She opens the door, labeled "Dr. Testaberger — Principal" in silver lettering, and lets me inside. I sit at the small table she has set up in the corner, and she joins me in a moment once she's closed the blinds and retrieved what I'm surprised to see is a lighter and a very thin cigarette.

"You don't mind, do you?" she asks, putting the cigarette between her lips. "I've had one hell of a morning."

I open my mouth to answer and she says, "Oh, fuck me, I forgot you have asthma. Ugh, I shouldn't start up again, anyway." It seems she's about to snap the cigarette in half, but instead she tosses it unbroken into the empty trash can.

"I never knew you smoked." Very few people do, nowadays, as most have switched over to the healthier veipora pipes.

"I don't. Well, I mean, I did, when I was at Charilton," she says, her voice trailing off. Her face is shadowed before the slivers of sun blinking through the blinds behind her, making her look older than her thirty years. She comes to the table and sits down across from me, rubbing her temples. "Anyway. This law."

"Kyle is upset about it," I say after swallowing a mouthful of sandwich.

"Most people are," she says flatly. "The thing is, there's no saying it'll even work. It's the same old shtick from the government: you follow the rules, you'll be rewarded. No one has the nerve to say that's what we've been doing all along and it hasn't gotten us anywhere. Only one woman in this whole town got pregnant in the past year. One." After Wendy's years at Charilton, where she was shortly (and secretly) involved with some anti-government rebels who favored the elite campus for conducting acts of civil disorder, she returned home not only with a doctorate degree, but her mind filled with alarmingly radical ideas about politics. Besides her life partner, Nichole, the only one she speaks with them about is me. She's very careful about maintaining her image as an elementary school principal.

"But surely, if the mating practice is increased, more women will get pregnant, right?" I say.

"Maybe. God, I don't know." She says nothing else, and I shift in my seat, uncomfortable with her silence. Furtively, I check the clock on her wall: five minutes till one, when my next class starts. She lets out a defeated sigh and says, "I'm sorry, Stan. I didn't mean to stress you out. I know this isn't easy for you, either. For anybody."

"Oh — no, I'm alright. Are you okay, though?"

"Yes, I think so," she says, though she doesn't sound very certain.

The afternoon passes too quickly. I find myself dreading three o'clock, trying to savor each minute that I can pretend there is no new law, no extinction estimate, and no household discussion waiting for me when I get home. I feel guilty for this, imagining Kyle's stress and knowing I should be anxious to get home to allay him. Childishly, I take the long route home, walking very slowly through the stations, growing tenser and more frantic the closer I get to our complex.

When I get home, I'm overwhelmed with relief to see that no one is in the living room or kitchen. I hurry into our bedroom, scanning the room for Kyle. The door to the veranda is open, and I find him outside, idly tracing the rim of an empty glass with his fingertip. "Hey," he says drearily.

"Hey." I sit down across from him and study his face, trying to gauge exactly what kind of mood he's in. He seems distant, very bothered. "You okay?"

He sighs, frowning. "I don't like this, Stan."

"Yes, it's not...ideal."

"Oh, it's not just that," he retorts bitterly, scowling. "It's all this leaving it up to chance shit. 'Just pray harder' or 'Keep trying!' It's a fucking farce. No real solution."

"Well, what else are we supposed to do?" I ask tiredly.

He looks at me as if I just said something very offensive. He opens his mouth to speak, then presses his lips closed, steely pensiveness returning to his face. "I'm trying to figure that out," he mumbles.

I raise an eyebrow. "What? How?"

"I haven't started the research yet."

"What research?"

"Just some research, okay!" he contends, exasperated.

"Okay, okay." I have no idea what he's talking about, but if he's going to be weirdly combative about it, I'm definitely not going to inquire further.

According to the law, mating practice is to be done three times on the day of ovulation at two hour intervals. Since this entire process takes six hours, if the day of ovulation is a weekday, a half day can be requested if the form is submitted at least a week prior. Bebe submits the form and we're all granted a half day off, which feels like small compensation in terms of how much I'm dreading this six hour ordeal. To force myself to internalize the importance of the law, every time I catch myself fretting over the 19th, I torture myself with picturing the school, vacant, hollowed out, and deserted.

With this disturbing imagery frequently on my mind, the empty hallways of Base Tier 3 become downright eerie to me, and I rush through them as quickly as possible to get to Kyle's office in the annals. The sliver of yellow light shining under his door is like a beacon, pulling me from the imposing rows of storage-shelves, promising warmth on the other side. I'm about five paces away from the door when, out of the corner of my eye, I suddenly see something coming toward me. Panicked, I jump back, then feel ridiculous when I see that it's Kyle, looking flustered, carrying a huge box.

"I've been calling out to you," he says. "Can you carry this?"

"Oh...I didn't hear, sorry," I say, confounded that I could not. I accept the box, which is much heavier than it looks, and we head into his office.

"Just put it on the floor here," he says, clearing a space in the corner of the room. I set the box down and tries to peel the tape off when his nail. He gets frustrated after a few seconds, then goes to grab a pair of scissors from his desk.

"What's in here?" I ask.

"Medical studies, I hope," he says, slicing the box open to reveal stack upon stack of yellowed papers. "You know, the Old World wasn't as primitive as everyone thinks. They were pretty advanced, in a lot of ways." He takes out a packet from the top of the stack and loudly leafs through it.

"So, is this...your research?"

"Not, this, no," he says, frowning at the pages. "This is about kidney transplants." He reaches for another packet. "I'm looking for anything regarding fertility issues."

I could have guessed as much. Withholding a sigh, I go to sit in the armchair, trying to decide what to make of this. It shouldn't surprise me that he believes the solutions to real, current problems lie buried somewhere in these old-world boxes, just waiting for him to uncover.

"This is why I didn't tell you," he says, scoffing. Haughtily, he adds, "Everyone knows the Rift put us back about fifty years in terms of technology, not to mention there's a lot of content that's simply been lost."

I'm certainly not going to ask if he thinks there's some miracle fertility data somewhere in the annals — it's becoming clear that's the case. While the easier thing to do would be to spare him my skepticisms, I'm worried he's going to become obsessed with this. I brace myself and say, "Kyle, I don't think you're going to find anything down here. The best we can do is hope the new law works."

Wildly, he flips around, and I'm surprised by how livid he looks. "I'm not going to sit back and wait for the human race to die out, Stan! That's what everyone else is doing, and if that's what you wanna do, fine! But don't sit there and tell me I'm stupid for being proactive."

"I didn't say you were stupid."

"Yeah, well, you're thinking it."

"I am not!" I contend, anxious that this is now turning into an actual argument, but unable to keep myself from feeding into it. "I just don't want you to take this whole burden upon yourself."

"Doing some extra research is no more a burden for me than the new law is for you." The instant the words leave his mouth, the bitterness in his face is replaced with regret, but the hostility has already cut through me. "I — I didn't mean that," he stammers. "I — Shit. I'm sorry."

"You really think I'm happy about the law?" I ask, hurt.

"Well, no, but —"


"You haven't complained about it."

It's true, I haven't. Kyle has spoken of little else the past few days. "I don't want us to die out either, Kyle," I say quietly.

"That's why I'm doing this research. I have a good feeling about it," he says. "Just trust me."

I want to, but it's very hard for me to be anywhere near as confident as he is.

Over the course of the next week, Kyle begins staying at his office later and later into the evening. On Thursday, he practically shoos me out when I come by after school, then doesn't come home till eight, and on Friday, he's still not home by almost nine, and hasn't responded to my messages in over an hour now. I know exactly what he's doing — sitting down there in his office rifling through the boxes of fertility studies he found on Monday — and while I want to be angry he's allowed himself to be consumed by this obsession, I'm far too worried about him, so I decide to go down and get him.

The trains are crowded despite the hour, full of people on their way to Diverta Sector for an evening out. The hallways of Base Tier 3 are empty as usual, and I clip through the dim corridors, anxious to get to the annals.

Kyle is hunched over at his desk, exactly where he was six hours ago. He looks up when I come in, seemingly perplexed. "Hm? What are you doing here?"

"Kyle, it's nine thirty. Please come home," I say tiredly.

He jerks his head over his shoulder, squinting at the old grandfather clock. "Huh. So it is." He frowns at the stack of papers on his desk.

"Did you eat dinner?" I ask, hoping I can lure him home with food.

His shoulders slump. "No."

"C'mon," I say softly, grabbing his jacket from the coat rack. "Lola made uldor kebabs for dinner. She didn't marinate yours."

He stacks the papers in a neat pile and clamps them together, then gets up, sighing. I hold out his jacket for him and he slips his arms inside, still staring at the packet on his desk. Hesitantly, I steal a glance at the top sheet. The faded gray text reads, "Psychiatric drugs and male fertility." I look away immediately, not wanting him to know I've seen it.

When we get home, I heat up the kebabs for him in the microva. He sits at the dining room table, silent, staring out the window. The microva goes off, assaulting the room with careless beeping, and I hurry to open the door, taking the plate and setting it in front of him. He stares at the kebabs like he's not sure what they are. "Are you okay?" I ask, my concern mounting.

"Yes," he says. "Just tired."

We go to bed shortly afterward. I'm tired, too, but I lie awake for a long time, heavy thoughts swarming through my mind. I wonder if the drugs Kyle's on really do affect his ability to get Bebe pregnant. I wonder if he's only recently considered this, or if he's been worried about it for a while and just never told me. I wonder what else he doesn't tell me.

I roll over to curl up against him, burying my face in his neck. For the first time, I let myself imagine what our lives would've been like had we lived before the Rift, back on the surface: a house buried amongst sweeping mountains, taller, greater than the artificial ones at Coravale, the winds against our backs and true sunshine warming our faces, just the two of us.

Kyle continues spending a lot of time down in the annals. When he does come home, he eats dinner, sits in the tub, then goes to sleep, saying he's exhausted. And he is exhausted, wearing himself thin from the all the hours he spends researching down in his office. He shrugs off my concerns, promising to come home early the next day. I'm lonely — I know I am — and out of spite, I don't go down to see him that day after school. But once nine o'clock rolls around and he still isn't home, I go down to his office, only to find him asleep at his desk. That's when I'm finally able to convince him to start coming home on time again.

As Friday, the day of mating practice approaches, I find myself growing more apprehensive. I'm kicking myself for ever not wanting to do it before when it only took a half hour tops. Strangely, Kyle hasn't mentioned the new law at all lately, which is worrying in itself. Even at dinner the night before, when Bebe says she wants everyone to be home by one o'clock so we can start, he seems unaffected. I sum this up to his being tired and spacey, and though I hate to say it, his lethargy is at least keeping him from spiraling into panic over the extended mating practice, which is what I was expecting would happen. However, my unease about his constant fatigue is eating at me, and I'm thinking I need to convince him to go to the doctor, which is never a small feat.

Late the next morning, when I go down to get him in the annals after work, I find him asleep again.

I shake his shoulder softly. "Kyle. Kyle, wake up."

He makes an irritated sound, shifting slightly, then blearily opens his eyes. "Oh, God, did I fall asleep?" he murmurs.

"Yeah," I say, petting his hair. "Did you not sleep well last night?"

"No, I did," he says, sitting up a bit. "I'm okay. I just need some dolzena."

We stop by Rota's Paneria so Kyle can buy dolzena, then grab a sandwich for lunch. Even after drinking the dolzena, he still seems out of it, and I'm worried how he's going to survive the afternoon. To heighten my concern, he's barely touched his food.

"Maybe you should go to the doctor," I finally will myself to say.


"Because you've been so tired lately?" I ask, knowing already this isn't going anywhere.

"I'm fine. I've just been busy lately. I think I'm onto something though, so it shouldn't be much longer."

His health aside, I can only hope this is the case, since we haven't had sex in four days now. We stop at Rota's again so Kyle can get another cup of dolzena, then go home. Knowing I'm going to have to do mating practice all afternoon makes me feel pretty hateful about our lack of intimacy lately: I'm annoyed he's going to have sex with Bebe, then doubly annoyed when I remember his comment the other day about the law not being a big deal for me or whatever. I have to remind myself he said it when he was angry, since I'm pretty sure he knows I don't enjoy mating practice with Lola.

Thankfully, by the time we're getting our room ready for mating practice, Kyle seems sufficiently awake. He curls up against me on the bed while we're waiting for Bebe, and spreads his hand across my chest. "I've missed you lately," he says, which, after four days, is enough to get me hard. I could sob with how inopportune this is.

"I've missed you, too," I say as I slip my hand into his robe and around his naked waist, hoping this is permissible. He squirms a little closer up against me, pressing his not-entirely soft cock into my thigh. We both know sex isn't going to happen, but it's nice to just lie like this, pretending we don't have to give ourselves over to other people in a few short minutes.

At exactly one o'clock, Bebe knocks on the door. Reluctantly, I extract myself from Kyle, and get up to go let her in, tying the ascala robe tight around my waist to hide my semi-erection. I might just die if she's all giddy and smug behind the door, but thankfully, she's not — she doesn't look very happy at all, which I selfishly take some comfort in.

Lola seems to be in a decent mood, which is a relief. I will myself to come as fast as possible, leaving myself feeling drained, sapped of energy. Afterward, I wait in the kitchen, bitter that I just deposited what felt like a lot of come into Lola rather than Kyle. Then I feel even worse when I think about Kyle coming in Bebe. The least Lola and Bebe can do for us is get pregnant, I think angrily, then hate myself for even having such a thought. If it were simply a matter of wanting to, I'm sure they'd be pregnant by now.

Miraculously, Bebe leaves at 1:17, the earliest she's ever left, and I hurry back into our room, anxious to see how Kyle's doing. He's lying flat on his back on the bed, naked, his cock limp against his thigh. "I can't move," he says, which briefly alarms me before I realize he's just being dramatic. He allows me to help him up, then staggers almost drunkenly to the bathroom.

"Are you alright?" I ask, bothered that his fatigue has returned.

"I'm fine," he dismisses me, yawning through the words. "Could you put a pot of dolzena on for me though?"

"Um. Yeah. Sure." I watch him slip into the shower and flip the knob, his posture wracked with droopy lethargy as the water beats over his head.

After washing my dick off in the sink and tossing some clothes on, I go into the kitchen to make the dolzena. When I come back, he's lying on the bed, curled up in a towel. "Here," I say, offering him the mug of dolzena. Wearily, he blinks, then pushes himself up (the towel slips off his shoulders, exposing his chest, flushed pink from the shower) and takes the mug.

"Don't look so worried," he says, eyeing me pointedly from behind the steam.

Frowning, I respond, "Well, I am worried."

He looks up to the ceiling. "Fine. If it'll make you feel better, I promise I'll go to the doctor in, let's say...ten days." Ten days is sort of a long time, but I don't protest this offer, since it's something, at least, and if his fatigue gets worse, I can probably convince him to go earlier.

Kyle seems generally awake as we wait for three thirty to roll around, cognizant enough to beat me at marquee eight times out of ten. Ten minutes before Bebe is due to arrive, we're lounging on the freshly-made bed, miserably anticipating the next round. Bebe, too, seems sufficiently miserable when I go to open the door, essentially grunting at me when I say hi, which I then bitterly regret even saying, though it was out of habit, not kindness.

Though Lola's mood seems to have depreciated as well, she's still congenial, which is a relief, since I'm not sure I could handle this if she was vocally annoyed with the situation. Frustratingly, it takes me much longer to come this time. Upon leaving, I'm surprised to see Bebe just a few feet in front of the door — never once has she finished before me.

Kyle takes another shower, drinks more dolzena, then is energetic enough to clasp his head in his hands and roll around on the floor, complaining loudly: "I really hate this. I really can't stand the feeling of my dick being sucked up by a sloppy spook-cavern. You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but it's impossible to get used to that sort of thing. You know what I mean, right?" Necessarily, I agree with him. He presses his face to the carpet and lets out a long, "Ughhhh." Both his speech and behavior are sort of strange, but then again, this has been a strange, not to mention, very stressful, afternoon. Besides, at least he's awake now.

At five thirty, Bebe comes back, and I leave for the third and final mating practice with Lola. At this point, the process feels regimented on a whole new level: I go in, jerk off (it's exhausting even to get hard), put my dick in her, come as fast as I can, then leave. Bebe still hasn't left, so I sit and wait at the dining room table. I consider making a drink, or rifling through the kitchen for a snack, but getting up feels like too much work at the moment. The longer I wait, the more irritated I get with Bebe, until it occurs to me that it's possible Kyle's having a hard time climaxing for a third time in a "sloppy spook-cavern." I've always sort of known that Kyle has a sexual bias, though I've never heard him verbalize it so clearly before. While I've never met anyone else with a sexual bias towards the same sex, I know a handful of people with one towards the opposite sex: both my parents and Kyle's parents (which was the formative basis of our childhood household), and Wendy, who only admitted this to me once while very drunk at a party during our early university years.

It's nearly six o'clock when Bebe finally leaves. I go inside to find Kyle asleep, and I decide to let him rest for a while. After a quick but thorough shower, I go to the kitchen to try to figure out what we're going to have for dinner. I'm starving and utterly exhausted, so I order frarel and vsoulto chops from Ralinco's, then plop down on the couch staring at the news for forty-five minutes, unenthusiastically drinking a bottle of Pveira while I wait for the food to arrive.

Kyle's still sleeping when I go back to our room after we eat, and I figure I might as well wake him up so he can get a shower, knowing how adamant he is about cleaning himself after mating practice. He groans with irritation when I try to rouse him. "Let me sleep," he mutters.

"Don't you want to get a shower?"

"Oh, fuck. Fuck it all," he moans. He's quiet for a moment, his eyes clenched tight, then says, "Draw me a bath, will you?"

I go to do so, sitting at the edge of the tub and watching the water fill up, beginning to drift off myself. Kyle appears in the doorway when the tub is just about full, standing there idly with his eyes half open. "What are you doing? Here, get in the tub," I say, feeling very much like I'm talking to a child, which is discontenting.

Genteelly, he climbs in, his body slipping beneath the surface of the water. "Get in with me, please," he asks tiredly, his brow twisting as if he were in pain. Although I don't really want to get a bath, and I also suspect he's just asking because he wants me to wash him, he looks so miserably exhausted I hardly hesitate in shedding my clothes and joining him.

We spend a quiet weekend at home, recovering from Friday afternoon's exhausting events. Kyle still seems tired, and I'm able to convince him to go to the doctor if he's not feeling more alert within seven days, rather than ten. On Monday when I go down to see him after school, I'm shocked, to say the least, to see him at his desk, perky and incredibly enthusiastic to see me.

"Oh! You're here!" he exclaims, his eyes lighting up. "Today has been other-worldly in terms of progress, I'm sure you'll be happy to hear. I found a whole box of early 2000s material that's just seething with good content. This one is about how diet affects sperm, emphasizing in particular the importance of eating fish. Do you think we eat enough fish?" Before I can answer, he says, "I'm sure we eat as much as any household, so I suppose it's hardly that 'miracle answer' you think I'm looking for, but you can't deny it's interesting. Anyway," he says, sucking in a breath and planting his hands on top of his desk, "I'm absolutely morose we haven't had sex lately. I'm aching for you."

His face is expectant, suddenly illuminated with desire, and I feel practically high with the relief that he's feeling well enough to be in the mood for sex — it's been eight very long days. "God," I say, moving toward him. "Me too."

He comes twice while I'm fingering him, as if he's emerged flourishing and vivacious from his recent lethargy. Glistening streams of ejaculate are painted over his heaving chest, not unlike morning dew on a full, blushing rose, or perhaps more fittingly, cool icing drizzled over warm, doughy pastries. "You're gorgeous," I murmur in a low voice, admiring the lewd spread of his legs, the slick underside of his cock, smeared with come, the delicate post-orgasmic blush on his face.

"God, Stan, I just — I need you in me," he babbles, squeezing my arm. "Now, please."

Frantically, I smear the rest lube from my hand onto my cock and position myself at his entrance, pushing into him at a gradual, careful pace that's torturous for both of us. After a week of abstinence, the clinging heat of his body is almost overwhelming, and I have to hold back myself from deftly impaling him. Once I'm fully enclosed in him, he tightens around me and sighs luxuriously, a melodic cascade of desire, as if he's spiritually placated by the joining of our bodies. I lean down to kiss him, then begin thrusting deliberately, steadily, until my sense of precision is shattered by the fervent way he reaches his arms around my neck, dragging me into his aura of sexual desperation.


From that moment, we are neither life partners in the midst of afternoon lovemaking, nor bodies orchestrating a mutual pleasure, but one single mass of energy, drenched in its own power and moving too fast to be aware of its imminent rupture. In one monumental burst, it implodes, and I am floating down, down, down, suddenly limbs and lungs and pulse again, cradled in familiar arms against the crude pull of reality.

"You cried," he says softly.

"I did?" I ask, only then sensing that my cheeks are damp.

He cups the back of my head, petting my hair. "Yeah."

"It was just — intense."

"God, I know," he says dreamily, and I when I raise my head to look at him, he's sporting a clever little grin which quickly has me smiling widely and laughing along with him, blinking away the last tears on my lashes.

At dinner that night, Kyle is chatty to the point it's overbearing, dominating the conversation and thwarting any attempt to change the topic. Admittedly, this is not entirely unusual for him, though he's particularly intense tonight. However, he's still in the same wildly chipper mood, which offsets my discomfort from the covert, disbelieving glances Bebe keeps giving me.

He raves about the new old-world replica gaming machine that tacky bar he loves is getting next week, then complains at length about how poor the school system's history curriculum is (he is the only true history expert, after all.) Lola brings up the topic of our broken garden irrigation system and Kyle swiftly interrupts her, making me cringe. I try to offer her a sympathetic look, but she's staring intently at Kyle, narrowing angry eyes at him.

"Well, you certainly seem to be feeling better," Bebe says scathingly, cutting Kyle off mid-sentence.

He shoots her an absolutely feral glare, then straightens his posture and plasters a dignified expression on his face. "You would not be deluded."

Bebe peers at him suspiciously, then rolls her eyes, which thankfully, Kyle decides to ignore. "Anyway," he says, "before I was so rudely interrupted..." He continues right where he left off, talking so rapidly and excitedly about a set of antique replica dishware he saw at Talton's last year that even if Bebe and Lola were still listening, I'm don't think they could understand him anyway.

The second we're back in our room, Kyle all but throws himself at me, rubbing his face against my chest and his crotch against my thigh. A bit taken aback, I place my hands on his shoulders and push him back. "Woah. You're, uh, awfully revved up today."

"And why shouldn't I be?" he contends, stepping up on his tip toes to peer at me. I open my mouth to speak, but he presses a finger to my lips. "Let me answer that. First and foremost, I have a wonderful life partner who I'm very much in love with. Secondly, I enjoy my job immensely, and I enjoy that said life partner regularly visits me in my cozy little office to bring me pastries and fuck me lavishly. And thirdly," he says, then sucks in a huge breath, "I have an old-world copy of Mountain Interval. So tell me, Stanley, why shouldn't I be embracing each day with this much enthusiasm?"

"Well, yes, I guess you should be," I say, and he smiles brightly, satisfied with himself. "I'm very much in love with you, too, by the way."

"Yes, so, would you like to fuck me? It's been forever since this afternoon." He says this with a touch of melancholy, shyly tracing the outline of my growing erection through my work pants.

We spend the whole evening having sex. Out on the balcony, he kneels on the concrete of the veranda, naked, while I fuck his throat and keep an eye out for any of our neighbors; I fuck him on the bedroom floor, gripping his hips and saying things like, "You love this, don't you, you needy slut," then pounding into him harder when he sobs, "I do, I need it, please — "; I clean him up then diligently eat him out; he rides me enthusiastically, impaling himself on my cock in the most rapid successions, like he can't get enough fast enough; we fuck leisurely on the bed, his back snug against my chest, and that last orgasm I pump into him leaves me feeling so drained I pass out while still inside him.

I wake up a few hours later to a muffled buzzing sound. I try to ignore it, but I also realize I'm incredibly thirsty. In a delirious haze, I trudge over the bathroom for a glass of water where I see Kyle, on the floor, sweat-slicked and completely naked, stroking himself off while he shoves a vibrator into his ass.

"What are you doing," I ask. Despite the absurdity of this scene, I'm too tired to keep my eyes completely open.

"What does it look like I'm doing?" Kyle huffs.

"I really don't know," I say. I walk around him to get my drink of water, downing it quickly while I watch him masturbate through half-lidded eyes. "Are you coming to bed?"

"Ah — yes, soon."


I fall back asleep immediately and wake up the next morning uncertain whether what I saw in the bathroom was a dream or not. Kyle is in bed, snoring softly next to me (he refuses to believe he snores), and I watch him for a while before I finally will myself to get up to shower, already trying to come up with a viable excuse for why I'm late to work.

The first thing I see when I enter the bathroom is a vibrator, sticky with lube, resting idly on the side of the tub. I stare at it for a moment, perplexed, wondering if we even used a vibrator last night, and then it dawns on me that it's the same vibrator Kyle was using in my dream, which means it wasn't a dream at all and Kyle was getting off on the bathroom floor in the middle of the night. It's odd he would do that after we had already spent the whole evening having sex. Mulling this over some more while I shower, I reason it can only be a good thing if he's feeling energetic enough to want to get off a five or more times a day.

I'm only about ten minutes late for work, which means that no one has been sent to my room to cover for me for homeroom. School is pleasant, though I'm very eager to leave and get down to the annals — Kyle has been sending me absolutely filthy messages throughout the day, ranging from lengthy descriptions of how desperately he craves a good, thorough fucking, to shorter yet equally erotic statements such as "I'm hungry for your come." He doesn't end up blowing me that afternoon, but we do fuck passionately in his office nook.

That week, we have sex almost as frequently as we did when we were teenagers. In some elusive way, Kyle does seem younger, if only because he's been so boundlessly energetic. While I'm always happy to see him happy, I can't shake this feeling that something is off. The only concrete thing that worries me is that he's been staying up later than me (we almost always go to bed at the same time), though he'll tell me later he went to bed only an hour or so after me.

Maybe I'm just annoyed with myself because I'm having trouble keeping up with him. After three orgasms in a single evening, it's hard enough to not just fall asleep, let alone get another erection.

"No, it's alright," Kyle says, sighing sadly. "I'm incessant, I know." He tries to roll away from me but I catch him, tiredly dragging him into my chest.

"It's okay. I like it," I murmur. I wind my arm around him to stroke his cock. He's incredibly hard, which is amazing considering he came six times tonight.

He rolls his hips into my touch, panting lusciously, then cranes his head over his shoulder, waiting to be kissed. I lazily lap at his mouth and pump him faster, hoping he'll come quickly. I'm too tired to be creative with dirty talk, but it's a foolproof way to push him to the edge, so I go with some basic narration: "You like my hand on your cock?" I stop pumping to squeeze him in my grip. "Of course you do, you needy slut. Look how wet you are." I tap two fingertips to his slit, trailing the slickness down the underside of his cock. He lets out a pleading moan and starts humping my hand. Clasping him again, I give him a few more deliberate pumps and he comes with a shout so loud it shocks me.

He goes limp in my arms, sweating and panting. "God, I needed that. Maybe I can sleep now."

"Yeah. Let's go to sleep." Going to bed alone has been making me sadder than I'd like to admit.

By Kyle's insistence, I get out of bed to wash up a bit and brush my teeth. We crawl under the blankets together, and though I'm very tired, it takes a while before I finally start drifting off. In the heavy moments just before I fall asleep, the weight of the bed shifts, and I am suddenly cold.

Every morning, in that terrible lapse of time while I anticipate my second alarm going off, I reach over for Kyle and wedge myself against his body, trying not to think about how much I'd rather just stay in bed with him all day. But this morning, I reach and reach for him, tossing my arm around until I realize he's not in bed with me. My first thought is that something terrible has happened — Kyle has never, ever waken up before me. I jump out of bed and punch the light on. The room is empty.

The bathroom is empty, too.

Panicking, I sprint out of our bedroom into the living room, and nearly pass out with relief when I see him sitting complacently on the couch, reading a book. "Morning," he says.

"Why are you up?" I ask. "Have you slept?"

He looks almost angry for a moment, then says, "I slept for a while, yeah," and goes back to reading. His demeanor is odd, infuriating, and now he's making a point to ignore me and I want to scream. "Why are you looking at me like that?" he asks, eying me suspiciously.

"I'm not looking at you like anything," I huff, then stomp back to our room to take a shower and get ready for work.

I skip breakfast so I don't have to be around him while he lounges on the couch like I have no reason to be angry. I'm hungry and irritable all morning. By the time the lunch bell rings, I've already decided I'm going to eat in my office, alone. Thankfully, I'm able to make it in and out of the teacher's lounge to grab my sandwich unnoticed. I expect to feel a little better once I've eaten, but I don't.

Something doesn't feel right. Kyle being up at seven in the morning isn't right. Kyle jerking off in the middle of the night isn't right. His energy just doesn't seem...normal. Then there's the fact that it suddenly came on after he was utterly exhausted for two weeks. Something is wrong.

Maybe he has some weird kind of fever? I should've been more adamant about him going to the doctor. I wish he weren't so obnoxious about doctors. Back when we were living at home, there used to be screaming matches when Sheila took him to the psychiatrist. Come to think of it...I remember him acting like this before. He'd be so happy it would scare me, talking so fast and so much it was overwhelming, then he'd hole himself up in his room and I wouldn't see him for days. But why is he acting like this again? Could he be getting worse? This thought terrifies me, and I suddenly feel like I could throw up my lunch.

I swallow hard and take a deep breath to will the nausea away. But there's a cure for everything, right? So if he's developed another psychiatric disorder, all we have to do is get him the right drug and he'll be fine. But how could it be a new disorder when he's acting the same way he did before he got diagnosed?

Maybe he's not taking his pills. As in, he forgot to get the prescription refilled. But he doesn't forget things like that; it's just not like him to do so. So then, he stopped taking them on purpose? Would he do that?

Suddenly, nothing is more important than going home to see how many pills are in the bottle. My lunch break is nearly over, and fuck, I'd hate to leave in the middle of the day, but if Kyle isn't making himself sicker by his own volition, something else is wrong with him and I can't just sit here the rest of the day worrying about it.

I call into the office to say that I have an emergency and need to leave. After tossing all my stuff in my bag, I rush out of the school and get on the T-line, torn between going home to look at the pill bottle and going down to the annals to make sure Kyle's okay. Although if I go down there, I'm almost certain he'll want to have sex (despite what happened this morning), and I can't possibly bear that now that I know he's not in his right mind. Besides, I'm sure he's alright for now.

I send him a quick message anyway, just to be sure:

I'm sorry about this morning. How are you feeling?

I decide to delete the second part and replace it with a more innocuous "How is your day going?"

He doesn't respond immediately, although there could be any number of reasons for that. Maybe he's still mad about this morning. Or maybe he left his phone in his office and went to find something in the annals. Or maybe he's talking to Clyde.

At the Core, there's an open R-line train waiting, and I hop onto it just in time. I'm dreading opening that bottle and finding it entirely full of pills, but I have this sickening certainty that that's what's going to happen. Although, wouldn't it be worse if he has been taking his pills? Because that would mean there's something else seriously wrong.

I have to wait a long time for the RA-line. Kyle still hasn't responded to my message and it's starting to make me nervous. I'm about to type up another message when something bumps up against my leg. I look down to see it's a small child, maybe two or three years old, staring up at me with wide, blue eyes.

His mother appears and promptly scoops him up. "You need to watch where you're going," she says, frowning at her son in a way that's more tired than disappointed. "I am so sorry," she says, speaking to me.

"Oh, no, it's fine," I respond, offering her a sympathetic smile. Nervously, she smiles back, then walks away, her young son watching me over her shoulder with quiet curiosity.

On the way to our apartment, I replay this scene in my head various times, then I think of Kyle as the mother, chasing after some hypothetical child of ours. He would reproach him (or her), more pointedly though, and Kyle's apology to the stranger would be much more tight-lipped and embarrassed than the woman's. Just imagining Kyle with a child in his arms — our child — is enough to make me want to cry, and when the train pulls into the station and I remember why I'm at our apartment complex at one o'clock on a Friday afternoon I have to struggle to keep the tears in.

Kyle keeps the bottle in his desk drawer. My hands shaking, I tentatively pull the drawer out and scan the clutter for the bright orange bottle. It's about three quarters full of pills, and I'm relieved by this until I realize it doesn't necessarily mean he's still taking them. The date on the bottle is 2/10, which was over a month ago. I dump the small white pills out on his desk and count them.

There are 70 pills. That has to be too many. I try to do the math in my head but numbers and dates are so confounding right now, adding a layer of intolerable confusion to my distress. I pull out the chair and sit down, grabbing a pen and slip of paper to do the calculations.

So if he got this filled on February 10th, then that was 41 days ago. And if he takes one pill a day, then there should be 90 minus 41 pills left, which is 49, but there are 70 pills here. I sit back, numb, the blood draining from my face. It's been three weeks since he's taken his drugs.

Mechanically, I shove all the pills back in the bottle and place it back in the drawer. I don't know what to do. I don't understand why he would do this to himself. I don't know how he could do this without telling me.

My phone beeps, crushing my chain of thought, and at first I'm alarmed to see it's a message from Kyle, as if I've been caught in the act of going through his stuff.

Come down after work, please.

This is worrisome — it's always just assumed I'm coming down; he never asks. Immediately, I respond, saying I can come down right now, but then I realize that I'm supposed to be at work. So I send him a message asking him if he's alright, then sit on the side of the bed clutching my phone and wait for him to respond.

The message I get simply says, "No," and I'm rushing out of the apartment before I even dare to think what that might mean.

The train to the Core seems to be going mockingly slow, and I feel like I'm in a nightmare, embroiled by terror while the rest of the world goes on leisurely, carelessly. I burst out of the train the second the doors open at the station, then run to the elevator hall. Lots of people are using the elevators this time of day, which is terrible, because I have to maintain some sort of composure as the elevator inches languidly down to Base Tier 3. By the time I get to the H-line station and see that the next train won't be coming for six minutes, the composure I was holding onto evaporates, and I pound my fist against the station door, letting out a growling, "Fuck!"

The only clear words that cut through my frantic thoughts are, "Kyle isn't okay. Kyle isn't okay and you're not there for him." I slump against the station door, torn between sobbing and vomiting. I try to breathe deeply, try to be rational: Kyle is in his office, so he's in a safe place. I also don't think he would hurt himself, and now that I know about the pills, I at least know why he's feeling like this, even if I don't know how to ask him why he decided to stop taking them.

The station door opens suddenly and I fall into the train, hitting the hard metal floor. Shakily, I push myself up and find a seat, mentally repeating to myself that I'm almost there. When the train finally, finally pulls into the station, I run to the annals faster than I even knew I could, darting through the dark rows of storage shelves to Kyle's office.

He's in the nook, curled up in into himself, and I rush over to him, knocking over a stack of books in the process. "Kyle, Kyle, what's wrong? Are you hurt?" Wearily, he raises his head. His eyes are bloodshot, glassy with tears, and he looks at me with an expression of such hopelessness that my heart feels like it's being ripped out of my chest.

He purses his lips and shakes his head, then drops himself into my open arms, limp and still. "Oh, Stan," he says in a flat, broken voice.

"What, what is it?" I plead. "Tell me what's wrong, Kyle, please."

"I made a mistake. I've made so many mistakes, Stan. I should've never started looking for anything."

"What mistakes did you make?" I ask, terrified that he's done something truly crazy again, like trying to get to the surface.

To my discomfort, he drags himself from arms and goes over to his desk. He picks up a packet, staring at it as he drops it on my lap. "What is this?" I ask.

"The miracle answer," he says solemnly. He slumps into his desk chair and lets his eyelids slip shut, as if just standing has depleted all his energy. "Well, are you going to read it?"

In faded gray ink, the cover page reads, "Artificial Parthenogenesis in Human Subjects." I flip through the pages, unable to make any sense of the scientific jargon. I shut the packet, frustrated with him, and say, "I don't know what any of this means."

He frowns and says, "It's the collection of case studies of 18 babies — all female — born to two mothers."

"How is even that possible?"

"What do you want, an explanation?" he says, suddenly terse. "The fact of the matter is that 18 healthy children were created without men."

His caustic attitude serves only to tell me that he's not in his right mind right now, and I'm deeply bothered we're talking about this ludicrous study rather than his emotional health. On the same token, I can't think of any way to subtly change the topic without enraging him.

"I don't know what to do about this. I just —" He shakes his head, sighing. "I wanted to find a solution so badly, but...not this one. Not this one," he says, his voice cracking. He hangs his head and covers his face with his hands, silently sobbing. My heart can't stand to see like this, and I reach out to him, pulling him up out of the chair and into a tight embrace, moving us back into the safety of the nook.

"I don't want this kind of future!" he chokes out between violent sobs. "I spent so much time — God, I even — I even did something I never thought I'd do. You'll hate me, I know you will, I hate me —"

"What? What did you do?" I ask, panicking.

"I just wanted that high again," he wails. "It was taking forever, going through all this stuff and I couldn't stop thinking about what it was like before, when I could go a whole week without sleeping and feel like I was on top of the world, like I could do anything, so, I ? I stopped taking my pills."

"Oh, Kyle," I say, shattered by his confession. Tears burn the corners of my eyes, and I realize with a splintering ache that I allowed this to happen. I let him take the burden of the world upon his shoulders.

"I was a maniac, I-I abused you. Please, please, hate me. I need for you to hate me," he moans.

"Kyle, no. You didn't abuse me. And I could never, ever hate you. I love you, I love you so much."

"I was out of control," he says. "I can't believe some of the things I did. God, I'm so embarrassed."

"Shhh, it's okay. You don't have to feel embarrassed. You just — need to go back on the drugs."

"I know. I know I do." He sits up and reaches over to his desk to grab a tissue, then loudly blows his nose. He crumples the tissue in his hand and lets out another long sigh. "I regret it. I regret finding this," he says, picking up the packet and setting it on the shelf. "I thought about burning it, but that'd be illegal, obviously. And I'm not sure if I could live with myself knowing I destroyed this one possible outlet, as terrible as it is."

I look at the packet, its antique lettering, the ancient fading yellow of the paper, and nothing about it convinces me that its pages hold the key to saving the future of a modern world. I suppose I believe that hundreds of years ago, back on the surface, 18 children were created by these extraordinary means, but everything to do with old-world life either seems bizarre and irrelevant or quaint and fairytale-like. (It's the latter, of course, which characterizes Kyle's wardrobe.)

"Kyle," I say cautiously, trying to choose my words carefully, "This study is more than three hundred years old. I imagine if it were...practical, scientists would already be doing it."

"Oh, damn you, Stan," he says bitterly, scrambling away from me. He stands up and crosses his arms, then falters, swaying, and leans up against the wall. He shoots me an angry look when I reach out to him. "You think I'm down here every day reading about 8-bit gaming consoles and digging around for cute little knick-knacks, don't you? Look, this is my job! There's a reason that I'm sifting through all this stuff. You think everything picked up right where it left off after the Rift? There are missing pieces, Stan, and I get paid to fucking find them. So if you think that's so impractical, why don't you just go back to your little schoolhouse and teach the last generation of men that stupid electronic bastardization of a pan flute!" He growls out the last words, then glowers at me, fuming, and it takes every ounce of my self control to not yell back at him. I try to remind myself that he's not well, but then I feel guilty for thinking so, because that would mean to dismiss his anger as purely a result of his unstable mind, which I can understand is not the case here. For now, I ignore his simbletone comment, and begrudgingly try to consider his point.

"Wait a second," he says, then turns to look at the grandfather clock. "Did you leave school for me?"

I feel like I've suddenly been caught in a lie, although it's technically true I left school for him, to go check on that pill bottle. "Of course I did. You said you weren't okay. What was I supposed to think?" This is true, too, but it still feels like I'm lying through my teeth. When his face softens and he looks at me like he might cry, the guilt is even worse.

He shakes his head and murmurs, "I'm sorry." Another sigh. "I'm sorry for everything. And now I've damned us to a future where we don't matter."

"You still matter. You're all that matters to me."

He gives me a sad smile, then touches the packet with the tip of his finger. "I wonder what it'd be like if I had a choice in submitting this. I almost don't think I would."

"I think you would." Kyle is not so selfish that he would take something away from everyone just because he doesn't like it himself.

"You overestimate me." He lets out another dreary sigh and says, "I have to start filing the report for this. I'll be home around 4, I guess."

I'm reluctant to leave him alone, but he's insistent, so I head back to the apartment, feeling as if I've been dislodged from reality. The future has always felt like it had so few variables, namely, that either Bebe or Lola would get pregnant. Even when it was reported we'd die out in seventy years, the new law felt stringent enough to maintain my conception of the future as something concrete and attainable. While I still feel that a world without men seems improbable, if that study holds the key to preventing human extinction, every imaginary scenario I've ever considered for the future would be irrelevant. Bebe or Lola might get pregnant, but Kyle or I wouldn't be the fathers. There would be no fathers.

This is beginning to really upset me. I try to tell myself that the science is dated so the applicability would be difficult, but I don't know if that's really true. It's Kyle's utter certainty that this is the one thing that will save us from extinction that bothers me most — the mere fact that he believes in something so strongly practically makes it a truth in itself.

I think about what might happen to us in that future, and on some level, I'm able to understand Kyle's anguish of being removed from a collective humanity. If Bebe and Lola could get each other pregnant, what would happen to me and Kyle? There wouldn't be any need for mating practice. There wouldn't be any need for households, either. Eventually, the world would fill up with more and more women, and then one day, the last man would die.

It's only three o'clock when I get home, but I make myself a much needed drink, exhausted from the day, exhausted from my thoughts. I'm completely drained, both physically and emotionally. I go out to sit on the balcony off of the living room and sink into a fora chair. The sun is warm on my face and the breeze is soft against my neck, like they belong to a reality I am no longer a part of, where things are easier, where the future is certain and accessible. I try to think of nothing, but my mind feels itchy and agitated, swarming with interrupted thoughts and half-formed what-ifs. I shove them out and spread the white expanse of a beach across my mind, replaying a memory: Kyle slathering me in sunscreen, the two of us holding hands underwater as the waves lifted us off our feet, eating the duciel sandwiches our mothers made for lunch; the tiny shovels we used to make sandcastles, a drop of water on his eyelash, my skin sticky with salt; the hot blue sky, the smiling sun, the person I love most.

Kyle doesn't mention again that he's going to start taking his drugs, and though I believe him when he said he was going to, I can't stop myself from dumping all the pills out on his desk the next afternoon and counting them while he's in the shower. There are 69 pills — one less than yesterday — and I feel utterly horrible for doubting him.

Over the next few days, Kyle goes back and forth from being miserable, wanting to be held while he sobs over how embarrassed he is about his behavior the past week, to being aloof and sarcastic, only speaking to make troubling statements like, "I don't see why you're inclined to be so nice to the person responsible for the decline of civilization as we know it." I try my best to let these types of comments roll off my back, but they eat at the very back of my mind, where this future Kyle has convinced himself is true bears a shred of plausibility.

When he tires of these spiels in which he refers to himself as "the destroyer of mankind," he becomes morose and self-pitying, all but begging for me to hate him. I repeat the phrase, "I don't hate you, I love you" so frequently that it begins to sound like an apathetic counterargument. This bothers me, but I don't know what else to say to him.

Naturally, we don't have sex that week either, but unlike two weeks ago when he was lethargic and depressed and I was too concerned to be very bitter about it, this week is just frustrating: we'll be kissing in bed, both of us hard, and then he'll pull away and say he can't, he's disgusting, he can't let me do this to myself. Of course, I refute this, but he is adamant in his self-loathing, and I admit defeat and go jerk off in bathroom, praying for those pills to hurry the hell up and make him normal again.

It takes about two weeks, but Kyle does go back to normal. He's smiling and laughing again, no longer casting himself as a martyr in his quasi-folkloric tale of the world's demise. We have a small party at home for his birthday at the end of May, then go out to dinner together later in the evening. (We get very drunk and sneak into Sairene Gardens past closing time where we fuck hungrily (and very loudly) on the forest floor.) My sheer relief that life is reverting back into its usual ebb and flow is enough to keep me from dwelling on the occasional references Kyle makes to the study. But when I can't sleep at night, I think of that possible future, and I'm flung into that uncomfortable vertigo again, where everything becomes scattered and indefinite. I'm only able to sleep when I go over what I have to do the next day: work on the summer teachers' course, make a nice lunch for me and Kyle to share down in the annals, then stop at the store to buy a new filter for the garden irrigation system. Tomorrow, at least, always feels certain.

At the beginning of June, Kyle receives a letter from the government thanking him for his discovery. It goes on to say that a team of researchers is being assembled to analyze it. I am shocked — I had been holding onto the hope that his submission was hiding away in a huge stack of reports, where it would sit for years until it was seen by someone who could make actual decisions about it.

"I was expecting this at one point," Kyle says. "I guess we'll just have to wait and see what they make of it."

His indifference is like a slap in the face. "What, so that's it? You don't care anymore?"

"Of course I care," he says. "But it's out of my control now."

Six weeks later, it is reported on the news three women have been successfully impregnated via artificial parthenogenesis. The children will have genetic material from each of their mothers. The shock reverberates throughout our town, and that vertigo comes back, aggressive and unrelenting, latching onto me so rigidly that I constantly feel disoriented. It seems like every day a new report is released confirming that another woman has been artificially impregnated. These reports are always relayed in a very positive manner, commonly making use of phrases like, "this may be the dawn of a new era." There is talk of men going extinct and households being reformatted and segregated by gender, and although that sounds extreme, it doesn't seem unlikely at this point. The world feels like it's shifting beneath my feet and I am not equipped to walk on it. When I'm not around Kyle, I'm on edge to the point of panicking over things like the microva going off. I start spending the day with him down in the annals.

"We should just live down here, honestly," Kyle says. "I've unleashed hell up there and I don't like being reminded of it."

"I wish you were serious." Living down here sounds excellent, actually. It's perfectly miserable, with its eerie corridors and endless archives of historical relics, of which we'll be, too, soon enough.

"I sort of am," Kyle says, his shoulders slumping.

By the end of July, artificial pregnancy becomes available to ordinary people. The government swoops in and establishes the Household Reformation Act to eradicate the social discord that's been brewing since the first three women were impregnated. All of the men will be moved into vacant apartment complexes, citing the rationale that since many women have already become pregnant, it would be cruel to make them move out of their own homes. And, naturally, the act also declares that mating practice is now obsolete. The Theology Council pronounces that Mellaluna has answered our prayers, and the sheer amount of pregnant women I see on any given day seems to prove that.

The re-housing process will start at the end of August, beginning with apartment complexes with letters A through D. As the summer inches toward its ends, the rift between men and women already feels apparent, as if we are two different species, one soaring into the future, literally carrying the next generation within their bodies, and the other pushed into the shadows, uncomfortable reminders of the weakness that deterred the progress of humanity for so long.

Kyle has stopped blaming himself for finding the study and has instead developed a deep resentment of women. He specifically hates Bebe and Lola now for "kicking us out of our own home," which I can't quite argue with, because I'm not happy about having to move, either. But then again, none of this is Bebe or Lola's fault; the household changes were sanctioned by the government. On the other hand, there's really no point in the four of us living together anymore. I will miss this apartment dearly though, the veranda with our twin fora chairs facing the sunset, the garden I've tended for nearly a decade, our bedroom, where we've fucked pretty much everywhere, played countless rounds of marquee and lounged flopped over one another on lazy Sunday afternoons, where we've made love and whispered to each other in the dark.

The four of us have stopped eating dinner together, or even talking to each other very much. After spending the day down in the annals, Kyle and I go out to dinner, then kill time around Diverta Sector, often not coming home until 8 or 9. While it's expensive, it's preferential to being at home when Bebe and Lola are there. Plus, it feels vacation-y. Watching Kyle lick cleirabaul icing from his lips while we stroll through the meadows of Sairene Gardens is enough to delude me into thinking that life is perfect and ideal.

Two days before we're supposed to move out, Bebe plans a farewell dinner for Kyle and me. Kyle is sort of rude throughout dinner, and especially dismissive of Lola, which is embarrassing.

"You shouldn't be such a bitch to a pregnant woman, Kyle," Bebe says austerely, giving him a tired look from across the table.

"Bebe!" Lola rasps. "You said we weren't going to tell them!"

"Weren't going to tell us what?" Kyle demands.

"That I'm pregnant," Lola says firmly, giving Kyle a surprisingly pointed look.

I don't even need to look at Kyle to know he's about to explode. I already fear what words will come out of his mouth, but he's too angry to even speak — his face is flushed, nostrils flared, his eyes burning with hate. He gets up, tosses his napkin down, and stomps off to our bedroom.

"What was the fucking point of that, Bebe, really?" I hear Lola say as I leave to go after Kyle.

He's on the veranda, standing tall with his arms crossed tight against his chest, glowering at the dying sunset. "How dare they."

"I know," I say tiredly. I'm not angry like he is. I'm humiliated, mostly, that it in the end it was Bebe who got Lola pregnant, not me. Or it was science, I guess, actually.

"I'm so done with this shit, Stan. I'm glad we're moving out. They can make a fucking nursery out of our bedroom for all I care."

This makes me legitimately sad. Suddenly, I can't bear this apartment anymore. It's as if the air here isn't for Kyle or me to breathe.

The government gives us a luxurious two story apartment as thanks to Kyle for finding the study. He tries very hard to hate it on principle, but he does a poor job concealing his elation that we now have a pristinely beautiful place of our own. We're right on the beach, with a spectacular view of the morning sunrise from the huge veranda. It feels very much like a hotel.

Once the bookshelves are filled with our books, the walls adorned with our photos and Kyle's old-world art prints, and the pantry stocked with our favorite foods, the new apartment starts to feel like a home. Things are quiet, slow, as if we've slipped into a dimension where we're the only people who exist. I am perfectly content.

Beginning in April of the following year, babies are born almost constantly. Bebe calls in mid-May to tell us that Lola gave birth. They've named her Dahlia, which Kyle makes fun of, later, saying it's "stuffy" and "pretentiously regal." We send a card, but don't go see them. I feel bad that I don't feel bad about this.

"I wish it had been the other way around," Kyle says one day, when we're walking on the beach after dinner.


"If it had been men, not women. Not that it's biologically possible." He walks a little slower. "But if it had been us...would you have wanted to have children with me?" There's a degree of humility in his tone, his expression almost timid.

I push a wind-tossed curl behind his ear. "You know I would've."

Only from time to time did I entertain the possibility. To think of it too much depressed me. I wanted it, badly, but I told myself I did not because my current reality was otherwise acceptable. More than acceptable, it was perfect, except that lonely sense of longing and jealousy we'd both feel when we saw a happy family unaware of their own happiness.

I began to theorize that if, as men, our reality was reaching its completion, then there had to be something significant in this last millisecond of our hundred thousand year old history. There must be some elusive shred of humanity unique to us, I decided, and I started keeping a diary, determined I could find it by combing through my daily observations.

I discovered it very quickly, in an entry I'd written about how much I loved tracing my tongue over the perfect angles of Kyle's canine teeth. There would never be two men in love again. This realization seared through me, and I grieved for every son that would never be born to fall in love with his best friend.

I kept writing in the diary, though I stopped scribbling down simple observations and began writing poems. I sought to fit my words together more beautifully, piecing them into a construction that I hoped felt somewhat musical. If I failed on that account, I prayed that my words would at least convey the intensity of the sentiment I was writing with, for if my reality meant anything, it was that I had loved this man.