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In Static

“Hey,” Eli smiles, finding Cal in the living room. He slumps onto the couch next to him and tips his head to his shoulder. “You good?” 

“Mmm.” Cal kisses his forehead, the way he always does. “Missed you.” 

“We literally live in the same house, mate.” Eli kicks his feet up onto the small coffee table.

“Still feel like I missed you.” 

It’s been – god, how many years now? And he still says cute shit like this. As though Eli needs reminding he’s loved, as though he’d fucking go—as though there’s anywhere else he would want. Nah, it’s just Cal and their curtains and their sofa and the pictures on the wall; the dark evening outside holds no intrigue. How could it, compared to this? 

Feels sometimes like it’s not in his nature, all this domesticity, but fuck if he isn’t happy every time he sits on this sofa and tips his head onto Cal’s shoulder. They’re gonna talk shit and laugh and smile, and Cal’s kinda right—by tomorrow Eli will feel like he misses him, even if he’s only been away for the blink of an eye. 

The same every day used to mean boredom, but Cal holds light in his eyes and each day is as new as it can be. 

“Tell me a fact about…the extinct animals,” Cal says.

One of Eli’s favourite games. One of them says a fact and they just go, talk, for hours. Sometimes one of them says something smart but more often they make a competition out of making each other laugh, billions of miles from their starting point. It can make a whole day disappear. 

“Did you know…” Eli rolls the words in his mouth for a bit. “Oh, this is a good one. The Irish Elk. They kept sexually selecting for bigger and bigger antlers, ‘til they got so big they died out from getting stuck between the trees.” 

He’s not trying his best, he’s being flip. The facts can be true or they can be bullshit, or they can be like this one, which he’s pretty sure is not true but is nearly true enough to enjoy; it’s not really about that anyway. He loves the game mainly because it gets Cal talking. Eli already knows his own thoughts about everything; selfish maybe, but it’s kinda dull to hear his own opinions, most of the time. Prefers whatever Cal has to say, ‘cause it’s always a surprise. 

“Oh, that’s embarrassing. God, you’d rather wait for an ice-age, wouldn’t you?”

Eli snorts. “I dunno, by their standards, at least they got to die sexy.” 

“Still. Meteor strike, super-volcano, eaten by the cat that moved into the lighthouse—there are far better options,” Cal says. His tone is dry but his eyes are dancing.  

“I didn’t know you had a hierarchy of extinctions prepared.” 

“I have hidden depths,” Cal tells him, trying to hold back the smirk that’s started to tease his lips to a pout. “Opinions on all sorts of things. Tables and lists for all of it.” 

“Hide them better,” Eli says and Cal laughs. “Save something for the bedroom.” 

And it turns, spins to laughing at half-remembered jokes; a rotation to poetry, gravity gained with heavy meaning and weighted looks; slingshots into smiling at each other like the world is young, drunk on unreal possibilities; twists them to bed, a pivot into each other’s arms. 

And Eli thinks, finally, and Eli thinks, too soon, because it means the path to sleep is set. Sleep always comes too soon. 

Still, Cal feels warmer than anything else in the universe under his hands. Touching him makes strings of light run up his limbs. He wants to tell him, it’s fucking ridiculous for you to look like this, all spread out and perfect and sharing all that heat you could keep to yourself.

Moving together feels like breathing and there aren’t shapes like this anymore. There isn’t anywhere else Eli could find the bows and curves but here. Not that he’s cared to look for a long time, because he could always be doing this instead. 

Yeah, he’ll miss him by tomorrow. 


“Hey,” Eli smiles, finding Cal in the living room. He slumps onto the couch next to him and tips his head to his shoulder. “You good?” 

Cal pauses like he’s lost in a trance for a split second, before he looks up with a beaming smile. “Elijah. Come here,” he says. 

He kisses his forehead and wraps Eli in his arms. Eli feels folded, layers of him pulled down and neatly arranged. Peaceful, firm pressure all around him. 

“Music today, maybe?” Cal suggests. 

It’s a purposeful way of living. Eli loves it. It quiets the bouncing ricochet in him, the one that snags on feelings of anxiety and worry and emptiness, pulls them tumbling out of their assigned places so Eli ends up tripping over. Cal gives him days where the million questions to answer have shut up, because it’s not about that—it’s about music, today. 

They switch and swap over the afternoon, taking turns on who picks the next song, on who lies with their head in the other’s lap and has their hair gently tangled. Cal has fantastic hands, just scratches Eli’s scalp like he’s a house cat, and he’s tempted to purr. 

They usually end up liking each other’s songs better than their own. Eli puts on cool shit with deep base and driving rhythms and Cal gets lost in it, eyes closed, hand on his chest like he can feel the beat rumble. Cal plays the most ridiculous, cheerful, fun nonsense, things that sound like refined sugar and bubbling joy, and Eli wiggles his hips in a way he would kill anyone but Cal for witnessing. 

They end up dancing, curtains pulled against the dark, when it’s been long enough that even Cal and the music can’t keep Eli’s nerves still any longer. Eli starts it, tugs Cal off the sofa and spins him around until he laughs. 

Cal says “I love you,” because he always does when they orbit each other this way, and Eli says it back. 

Usually, they’re perfectly in sync. There’s a few fumbling steps out of time today, and it’s not bad, it doesn’t ruin anything, but it is unusual. Cal’s hand groping air for a moment before he captures Eli’s fingers; Eli landing his palm on Cal’s ribcage rather than his waist. A moment when, tearful with laughter and throwing themselves round the room to a tooth-rotting beat, Eli catches Cal’s toes under his heel. 

Eli enjoys all kinds of friction, could find some pleasure in his space and Cal’s getting a bit coarse where they press against each other. Thinks Cal could find fun in that too, ‘cause he’ll deny it til the universe burns out, but sometimes he’s a bit of a shit on purpose, for the pleasure of being bitchy—for the pleasure of getting Eli to put his hackles up so he can smooth them down again. It’ll be fine.


It gets dark so early now, it feels like it’s always dark out. Eli’s keeping the curtains drawn. 

He’s telling Cal a story, but it seems like he’s not quite paying attention today. His reactions are a bit off, something ineffable. It’s as though he’s looking an eighth of an inch to the right of Eli’s eyes. As though it’s taking him a spot longer to process Eli’s words, mind not quite firing at its usual pace. 

“You feeling okay?” Eli asks.

A beat. “I’m fine, are you?” 

Eli wrinkles his brow. “Yeah mate, do I seem not fine?” 

A beat. Cal wrinkles his brow in return, along with that cute as hell scrunchie thing he does with his nose. “You maybe seem a bit tired.” 

“Huh, was gonna say the same about you. Maybe it’s both of us.”

A beat. A fond smile. “I suppose even we will have off days. As unreasonable as that seems.”

Their joined hands feel the same, fingers laced, Cal’s thumb brushing back and forth over his knuckles. Maybe Eli is tired, maybe they’re just not in sync today, still dancing on each other’s toes. Always gotta be days like that, doesn’t mean one of them’s ill, or something’s broken, or what the hell ever creates the little gnaw of worry in his belly. 

Eli finishes his story of romance between settlers on Callisto. Cal knows it well; they lived it together. He tells another story about a businessman and the bartender he sees every time he comes to the city, and another, an architect building the smallest of houses for his lover. There’s a glassblower, and an astronaut.

Cal laughs at nearly the right moments and pretends he’s not crying at nearly the right moments. In each story they are the sun and the moon and the stars for each other, back when being made of star stuff was metaphor. 

Something’s not right today but maybe that’s okay. They’ve had a lot of days that weren’t quite right. They still found each other in every life. 


It’s not fun and it’s not okay; Eli wants to scrub from his memory the pointless optimism of ever thinking he could like Cal being out of time with him, the sacrilege of the suggestion that falling out of sync would be like their early days.

“Hey,” Eli smiles, finding Cal in the living room. He slumps onto the couch next to him and tips his head to his shoulder. “You good?” 

And it’s time ‘til he answers. A gap. A second, maybe a second and a half –  a moment more than there used to be. Tiny, but undeniable. 

Eli can see the frustration on Cal’s face. Consternation written across him; Eli can read him like lines of code. Cal can feel there’s something wrong and he’s not going to say it. For a man who talks a good game about communication, Cal’s never been one to let words breathe if he doesn’t want them to be true. 

Cal blinks hard and speaks with the beginnings of a stutter—not the sound of one, but the ghost of hesitation on his lips all the same—because it’s—it’s not quite—

They’re not here together. Eli sees him realise, sees it crush him, sees him decide not to say it. There’s been a shift. There’s a delay between them. One second or a little more. 

Just a moment. 

But Eli would miss him in a blink.


Touching him had been a melody. It’s different now; it’s not bad or wrong or even out of tune, but there’s a new ache of their bodies not being quite where they should be. It’s Eli’s fingers tripping through air before he gets a grip on his hips; it’s the surprise on Cal’s face when he reaches out and bumps into his skin because Eli has already come closer than he knew. 

It’s fucking through a delay, through a stutter on the line between them.

They find a new rhythm to it; they’ve always been good at this. Eli finds with his eyes closed the delay is less apparent; he can move on instinct and anticipation. Holding Cal’s face in his hands as he kisses him, his thumbs rest on his cheeks and the very tips of them feel the tickle of eyelashes. In sync here, even if the gap between them keeps growing.

So long as they keep touching, eyes closed, Eli doesn’t need to perceive the lag that’s been building. No reason to open his eyes anyway, with how dim the light is these days. 

They rock and melt together, and being out of time doesn’t matter much because the pitch and swell are still right; the harmonies still send fire down Eli’s spine to pool hot and liquid in his belly. They’ve never had any ways to touch each other which were wrong. Cal’s hand on his skin will always be right; Cal’s mouth at his thigh will always make Eli arch his back. 

Cal lays him out and presses all the electricity there is into Eli’s blood. Fingers press into his hip bones; Eli knows the meaning of Cal’s fingerprints on this body. They’re out of time but it’s driving them forward, has them chasing each other, trying to catch up until they’re moving frenetically, grabbing and touching with eyes closed. The borderline between them blurs. 


The gaps grow. 

They talk, and Eli can count seconds between his words and Cal’s reply. It’s not just the words; he sees the expression on Cal’s face coming late. He sees the confusion, the hurt, and the fear on Cal’s face that says Eli’s doing the same, that Cal speaks and Eli’s answer doesn’t come for seconds. 

‘Seconds’ feels like such a small word, but it’s large and heavy when you’re wading through it. Every day now, it seems Eli can count a little longer. An exponential increase in the space between them, racing them towards the end. The dread burrows deeper. 

They lie on the sofa, Eli resting between Cal’s legs, his back to Cal’s chest. It’s warm and safe and perfect. It’s lifetimes of bliss in the simplicity of being here. 

“Anything you wanna do today?” Eli asks. 

And while he counts out the seconds to Cal’s answers, he feels himself flicker, both here and not. It prickles: a memory. He remembers the sensation of the particles of his body drifting apart, forces being broken, sending him hurtling in the dark, so much dark, until he found a home to orbit. 

“Mainly this,” Cal says. He runs his hand through Eli’s hair and leans down to kiss the top of his head. 

Eli hums at the pleasure of Cal’s hands on him. The one in his hair and the one wrapped around his waist, they’re grounding him and holding his pieces together. “Tell me a fact about…time,” Eli says, starting their game. He regrets it as soon as he says it, but it’s the word which has lodged itself in him, worrying at him. 

In the space before Cal’s answer reaches him, Eli remembers the black, hollow absence of a near-dead star, barely warmer than the space around it. The star’s gravity holds what is left of him without radiation, and he’s there forever with nothing until the burst of energy from a proton decaying. 

“I’d rather not,” Cal says. “There isn’t enough.” 

He sounds broken; his voice is thick. “You know, then?” Eli asks, just for the confirmation of it, though he barely knows himself.

And as he waits, Eli sees everything moving away from him and his remnant of a star, the way it always has done as the universe expands, but growing faster and faster, forms crumbling as they rush. He sees the place he knows is Cal’s; he sees it retreat into blackness, taking Cal away with it. He sees these days together from a place outside the remaining splinters of time, and they fall like a trickle of moments from a leaking tap. 

“Yeah,” Cal says. “I think so.” 

Eli turns and kisses him. Cal’s sweet, surprised, murmur of pleasure from the back of his throat pulls Eli out of the darkness of the space between them, nearly half a minute after their lips meet.


Cal expanded Eli, before they were this. He was a mind Eli met that was something other, something sparking in the dying of it all. Where Eli had existed for so long, burning what was left of stars in a reach for perpetuity, being with Cal gave him something else.

He expanded him from existing to living, because he could have fun again. Fun was the simplest of ideas, the easiest of words and the first to go when Eli became a beacon of survival. He was outlasting all the rest, clawing and scratching to get what he needed with skill and speed and thought. He was ready to be there til the end because he wanted to win.

Now he wants to be here ‘til the end because it means more days with Cal. More fun as the rest of the universe unravels around them. 

It was the unravelling that made him choose this, in a way. He saw Cal dying, fighting to hold on but flickering out in darkness like the rest of them. Then as the meaning and coherence of time fractured, he saw a man with a bad haircut and a powder blue scarf arguing with a receptionist. He was there and it was sunshine, and there was sea water and card games, and then a house, and dinners and music and fun facts and the brightness of the best smile. And there was dying, old but never old enough, and the sun still shining. 

There were others. New haircuts, new skin in new shapes, and new, ridiculous lives, beekeeping and rocket building and farming algae and fighting for things which don’t exist anymore. And there was sunshine in Eli’s life, every time. 

Eli saw all the sparks of their other lives as time began to unravel around them, and he knew Cal needed to live, so that Eli could too. 

It’s been a very long time since Eli knew exactly what he was. A person once, with eyes and blood and lungs, and people are so good at surviving, and Eli is better at it than the best of them. He has a history of living where others die. He’s adapted so many times, leaving behind his body when there was nowhere left for one to stand, using the last embers of dying stars to hold together his mind as the universe drifted to its close.

Then finally coming here, showing Cal the way here, when the stars burned down and all they could have was the black masses left behind. 

All that was left to live off of was the energy of proton decay.

To build their fantasy, to drain what was left of the universe and be together on scant few days in the long death of everything that had been, they couldn’t share the same fuel. It was not enough; they needed to be apart, so they would have enough energy for a handful of days together in the otherwise endless emptiness. 

And the kick in the teeth of it is, they made each other so much more—Eli helped Cal live and Cal helped Eli live and they expanded each other, pushed their outer reaches beyond what they were alone. But the rest has kept expanding around them too.

He knew they’d drift too far eventually. No solution to that, not even for Eli. 

All that’s left is this. The black dwarfs stars, and the death of a proton once in 1034 years providing enough energy to be together for what feels like a day. In the billions of years between, they save their reserves for each other and shut out the nothingness and drift further apart with the expansion of the dying universe. 

“One day in billions, and you’re still everything, every time.”

“I suppose I forgot,” Eli says into the absence between them. 

After a long while, Cal answers. “We didn’t need to remember. A waste of energy that was  better spent.” 

But Eli remembers now. He remembers locking it away, because if all he had was one day at the decay of a proton, he didn’t need it to have more than Cal. He didn’t need to know how they’re here or why it’s always dark out or how he misses him without knowing he’s been leaving. 

They made the choice to do it this way. When the last of the fusion went dark and all they had left was the small, black dwarfs, they built a house and they crafted bodies that felt like they fit. They made a life with the last of the light. 

They go there when they can. But they’re still drifting further apart, and it won’t stop. 

He’ll miss him more than he misses the stars.


They use the last of the gravity to say goodbye.

“Do you think we go around again, in the end, when all this is done?” 

Eli can see the dream rising in Cal’s eyes: that this universe ends and then begins again, back to the start. That they can be pirates and poets and revolutionaries, and the star stuff they are now, all over again. 

“I hope so,” Eli tells him. 

“Me too. I’ll look for you,” Cal says. 

“I’ll find you,” Eli promises. 

He will recognise him anywhere. If there are more lives to come or old ones to live again, there will be the way a smile reaches Cal’s eyes before his lips begin to curve. There will be the quiet pride of knowing home is a person, not a place. There will be sunshine.

Cal sinks into his arms, made of the only things that are left now.

“Just try to keep yourself alive long enough, yeah?” Eli winks and Cal laughs and this is the end of everything. 

For now.

Bec is a writer and social worker. Their writing and their job are about the spaces between surviving and thriving.

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