A Spark, to Pierce the Dark

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A/N: It’s been more than a year since I last posted, but I hope you all enjoy this short story.

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Something’s wrong with Nathan. He can feel it. An uncanny numbness has taken over him these past two years. He feels oddly detached from life, from his family, from his friends. That’s not to say he has completely shut himself off from his loved ones. Though he is now a sophomore, he talks to his parents over FaceTime at least twice a week. The conversations are nothing special: Nathan gives brief updates about his studies and college life, while his parents rambles about things back home, like how his little sister, Elena, always watches TikToks at the dinner table, or how his dad’s architecture firm just got commissioned to design the new city public library. While Nathan listens to their stories, jumping in with a few questions here and there, he feels like he doesn’t really care, like if mom, dad, and Elena all disappeared into another dimension the next day, he wouldn’t shed a tear. It is the same with his friends. Lately, he doesn’t really feel like talking to or hanging out with them. If someone mentions his name in a group chat, or if they happen to be discussing something particularly interesting or funny, he would join in, making some brief comments or sending a relevant meme. But otherwise, he wouldn’t do anything. He no longer leaves comments on Carly’s pictures with her girlfriend or replies to Abhinav’s hot takes on his “close friends” Instagram stories. For some reason, he’s just overcome with disinterest.

The first time he realized this phenomenon was when his parents dropped him off at the airport for his flight to university. They would have loved to help him move in, but his dad was busy finishing off the floorplan for a client’s mansion, and his mom had to look after Elena, who had a burning fever. As his teary-eyed mom hugged him, telling him how proud they were of him for getting into such a good school, Nathan found a weird block inside his mind. His mom’s embrace felt cold, even though she was tightly pressed against him. And when she told him that she loved him, he said “I love you too, Mom.” in return, but the words felt fake, like he was simply saying it because he knew he was supposed to. The same thing happened again in freshman year when Mona, who is still one of his closest friends at college to this day, got cheated on by her douchebag boyfriend. As Nathan hugged and comforted her, he was struck with that same feeling of numbness and detachment. He felt like he was reading from a script, like a student who did not properly prepare for his presentation and was clumsily regurgitating the words on his slides: “It’s gonna be okay, Mo,” “I know you’re feeling like shit and I fucking hate Xavier for this,” “I’m always here for you if you need to talk.” Did he really mean those words? Did he even feel sad that his friend was hurt?

At first Nathan thought it was depression. But he doesn’t feel particularly sad. He still feels motivated to do well in classes. He still hangs out with his friends when invited. He even has the energy to go to the gym twice a week. Then he thought he might be a sociopath. But he doesn’t think he’s an evil person in that way. He doesn’t manipulate people or lie to them, nor is he aggressive and reckless. Then what is it that is making him so disengaged from life? Nathan wants the answer, but he doesn’t really want to think about it. He reckons that doing so would be mentally taxing, and maybe he fears what he might find deep in the corners of his mind, so instead, he distracts himself with other things, going through the motions of life day after day.

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“Alright everyone, we’re changing things up this time around,” Kelly, a senior with bubblegum-colored pigtails dressed in overalls, announces with a big smile. “Instead of having editors work on multiple articles, we will assign each editor to only one article. You will work directly with the writer and after revision, send the article to me and Spencer. We’ll read the paper one final time, make any suggestions ourselves, and then approve it for the journal. Are we all clear on that?”

Nathan nods in unison with the other students in the room. Freshman year, when he joined the editorial board of the undergraduate historical review, there weren’t many people – four, including him, to be exact. The university is known for its science and engineering departments, which means history majors like himself are harder to come by. But thanks to the heavy recruiting efforts of Kelly and Spencer, who are now Co-Editors-in-Chief, more editors have joined the team. They even got someone to design the journal cover, which will be so much better than the current text-on-image format.

“Cool, so it’s time to divide the work,” Spencer, who seems to be the opposite of Kelly with his serious and standoffish attitude, says. They received 10 submissions this year – which, according to Spencer, is the most they have ever perabet got – but only six were accepted. There are a total of 7 editors, but Kelly will be working with Jorge, a seemingly shy freshman.

“Can I take the one about racial ideologies in Chinese nationalism?” Joy, an energetic sophomore who just switched from pre-med to history because she was “done pretending she wanted to be a doctor,” raises her hand.

“Alright, Joy for the Chinese nationalism piece, going once…going twice…and sold,” Kelly laughs. “Does anyone else want to call dibs on an article? Nathan?”

“Uh…I’m not sure,” Nathan avoids Kelly’s beaming smile and studies the list of articles and the authors, none of whom he recognizes. “You can just choose a random one for me.”

“Hmmm, how about,” Kelly pauses for a second, her eyes scanning her laptop screen, “the one about the global spread of haiku?”

“Uh…,” Nathan hesitates, “Sure. I can take that one.”

“Great, Nathan is set,” Kelly says, and Nathan stares at his laptop as Spencer writes his name on the Google Doc next to the article’s author. Keith Liu. Who the hell is Keith Liu?

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“Nathan?” a voice calls. Nathan raises his eyes from the laptop screen to find a guy looking at him.

A really cute guy, as Keith Liu turns out to be.

“Hey, you must be Keith,” Nathan says, his gaze fixed on Keith’s bright, charming eyes, which shine through his circular, thin-rimmed glasses. “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” Keith smiles as he sets his backpack down and takes a seat across from Nathan, dimples appearing on his plump cheeks. A patch of rough stubble lines his chin and part of his jaw, and Nathan gets the sudden urge to rub his fingers on it. Actually, Nathan wants to do more than that. He wants to trace his thumb on Keith’s pinkish lips, to run his hands through Keith’s wavy black hair, to feel Keith’s cheeks get hot under his touch.

“Thanks for meeting me here today,” Nathan says, feeling like a creepy loser for his lewd thoughts about a guy he just met. “Usually the editors don’t meet up with the writers but the Editors-in-Chief wanted to shake things up this year.’

“That’s cool. You picked a great spot, by the way,” Keith says, looking around the library, while Nathan takes the opportunity to steal some more glances. Keith is wearing the school hoodie, which means Nathan can’t really get a good look at Keith’s body. Nonetheless, he looks well-built, with wide shoulders and arms that fill out the hoodies’ sleeves.

“So, are you a history major?” Nathan asks.

“Nah,” Keith says, “I’m doing English.”

“Oh, cool,” Nathan replies, disappointed that he won’t get to see Keith in his history courses. “I’m asking since it’s a really good article. You must’ve gotten an A for it, right?”

“Aww, thanks man,” Keith smiles, and Nathan stares at those dimples again. “And yeah it did get me an A.”

“Nice. So I’ve already made some edits on concision and cohesion. There are a few parts where I think you could add some more examples as well. Can you send a revised version in about, let’s say, 2 weeks?”

“Oh…,” Keith says, hesitantly, his eyes widening, “Uh, sure. Totally.”

“Is something wrong? You can totally ask for more time and I’ll help you with research if you need and-“

“No, no, it’s not that, it’s-,” Keith scratches his head, “I just thought we would be doing, like, actual work together today.”

“Oh,” Nathan says, looking down at his laptop screen. They have been talking for less than 2 minutes. “Crap. Uh… I’m so sorry, this is the first time we- the editorial board, have done this and I wasn’t sure what to do and um,” Nathan swallows, “I really hope you didn’t have to clear your schedule or anything for this.”

“Oh, nah,” Keith smiles and waves Nathan’s concern away. “I don’t have any other classes today. Usually I just go jogging at this hour. Oh,” Keith’s eyes light up, “you wanna join me?”

“Now?” Nathan raises his brows.

“Yeah. I mean, I can stay and work on the paper but it’s kinda scary to when you’re sitting right there,” Keith says, “I mean, not that you’re scary. It’s just you’re, like, my editor, you know?”

“Uh…,” Nathan pauses for a second. Maybe he shouldn’t, he thinks. Maybe he should distance himself from Keith. After all, catching feelings for a straight guy would be disastrous. Well, he doesn’t know if Keith is straight or gay or bi or whatever, but it would be best to presume so. On the other hand, Nathan thinks about his current state of mind. It’s not like he can fall in love with anyone at this point, he reckons. Maybe he should just see this as a chance to get close and sweaty with a cute guy.

All these thoughts run through Nathan’s mind at a million miles per second, and finally, he says: “Yeah, sure. I’m down.”

“Great,” Keith smiles. “Which dorm are you?”‘

“Duncan, why?”

“Damn, that’s literally the farthest from the park. So I’ll see perabet giriş you in… 20? At the park entrance?”

“Sure, sounds good!” Nathan says as they pack up and make their way out of the library.

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As Nathan changes into running shorts and a T-shirt in his dorm room, he thinks about love. Does he love his parents? Or his friends? He doesn’t know. He feels great when he hangs out with his friends. Is that love, or is that just him having fun in a moment? He wants to help his parents and Elena have a great life. Is that love, or is that him feeling the responsibility to give back? The more he thinks, the more he feels as if his heart is hollow, like its thick muscles have turned as light and lifeless as folds of paper, like its veins, once pumping full with blood, have gone empty and idle. What kind of human can’t tell if they love someone or not?

What will love – the romantic kind – be like, Nathan wonders as he leaves the room and starts walking to the park, which is right next to the east entrance of the university. Nathan has never been in love before. He’s known that he’s gay since 6th grade, when he realized that boys are cuter than girls. Ever since, he’s dreamed of being in a relationship – one that is passionate and dreamy like those in movies and novels – with another boy. He wants to feel himself melt as his boyfriend wraps him around his arms. He wants fireworks to shoot off inside his body when they kiss. He wants his entire body to get warm and tingling every time they get together. But that has never happened for Nathan, unfortunately, and with his state of detachment, Nathan thinks he might not be able to fall in love any time soon. But he imagines himself as Snow White or Aurora, sleeping soundly, waiting for his Prince to wake him up from this eternal state of numbness. And when the light that has burned off inside his heart gets switched on again, he may be able to love that guy – as well as his friends and family – back.

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“Damn, you’re wearing a T-shirt? In this weather?” Keith, who’s wearing running shorts but still with the same hoodie, asks.

“I’m from Maine, so,” Nathan responds with a slight smirk, “this is nothing.”

“Oh cool. I’m from California. Still trying to get used to it,” Keith says. “Shall we do some warm-ups first?”

“Sure,” Nathan says, as they start stretching and moving their legs. Nathan wishes Keith was wearing a T-shirt instead of a hoodie so he can check out his arms, but the sight of Keith’s calf and thigh muscles tightening with each movement works too. Keith’s calves, dusted with a light mat of curly, black hair, look solid and sinewy – Nathan observes as he stretches his own body, trying not to be too conspicuous.

“Alright, ready?” Keith says, raising his arms over his head with a big stretch, his hoodie rising up and revealing his lower abdomen. Nathan’s eyes dart towards the exposed skin and quickly move away.

“Yep, let’s go.”

They start making their way around the park at a leisurely pace. It’s a nice day, Nathan thinks, feeling the wind grazing against his skin. He has been to the park before, but he can’t recall when. He doesn’t remember the park being so full of life, lush trees and freshly trimmed grass lining every path as they jog through runners, dog-walkers, laughing children, and groups of mothers pushing their strollers.

“So, why history?” Keith asks. Nathan turns to his side and meets Keith’s bright eyes.

“Um, it’s sort of a nice mix between escapism and reality, I guess,” Nathan says. “So, on the one hand, I get to, kind of, immerse myself into a world that is so different from the one we live in, but on the other hand, these people and stories are real and I get to see how they build up the reality that we have now, if that makes sense.”

“Wow, that’s so cool, man,” Keith smiles, and Nathan wonders if his response sounded too rehearsed.

“So what about you? Why English?” Nathan asks.

“I like reading,” Keith shrugs. “That’s about it- well, I think it’s kind of like you with history. It’s part escapism, part reality.”

“Mmmm, I see,” Nathan says. “Do your parents like you majoring in the humanities?”

“Not really. They’d still rather I studied CS or pre-med or something, but I think they’ve given up on convincing me. What about yours?”

“They’re fine with it. They just hope I can find a job,” Nathan laughs.

“Yeah, us humanities majors are gonna have a rough time, huh?” Keith says, looking over and raising up an open palm. “Unemployment high-five.”

“What?”

“Come on, unemployment high-five,” Keith looks expectantly at Nathan, who finds himself unable to resist the boy’s charming eyes.

“Alright,” Nathan smiles and hits his palm against Keith’s, imagining sparks flying off as their hands bounce off each other.

“Nice,” Keith smiles, satisfied.

“Aren’t you scared, though? Of not finding a job?” Nathan asks.

“I’d be perabet güvenilir mi lying if I said I wasn’t, but,” Keith says, “if the trade off is doing something I don’t like from 9 to 5 for the rest of my life, then… like, the world is probably going to end soon because of some climate disaster right?”

“That’s a dim outlook on life.”

“Yeah but I mean, either way, life is short. I’d rather spend time doing shit I love and spend time with people I love and you know, all that cliché stuff,” Keith looks over and flashes a bright smile.

“Fair enough,” Nathan smiles back and ponders about love again as they continue jogging.

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The jogs have become a tradition. At first it was only that Tuesday, but then Keith asked Nathan to join him on Thursday, too. And then on Saturday, after meeting at the library to work on the article, they went jogging at the park again. Every time, Nathan learns something new about Keith, like the fact that he wants to be a writer for video games, or that he is addicted to Korean dramas on Netflix, or that he once broke his arm while trying to save his cat from a tree, only to have the cat get down scot-free on its own afterwards. Every time, Nathan wonders if he likes Keith. He enjoys Keith’s company, but does he like Keith as a friend or more than that? Where is the line between liking someone platonically versus romantically anyway? Nathan has tried to ask his friends for help: none of them were really helpful. Carly couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment she started liking Dominique, her girlfriend, and said she “just knew.” Abhinav, who is crushing “mad hard” on some girl named Grace, proclaimed he knew it when Grace defeated him at the Quiz Bowl’s in-house competition. And Mona, who was technically the most helpful, thinks that if you want to spend more and more time with somebody, you probably really like them. But does Nathan feel that way towards Keith? He’s not sure. He certainly hasn’t invited Keith to hang out other than their weekly jogs and editing session. Maybe he should do so for the sake of it? But shouldn’t he want to do that naturally?

If there is one thing Nathan does know for sure, though, it’s that he finds Keith very hot. Every time he has jerked off since they met, he’s been thinking of Keith. He imagines Keith’s warm body on top of him, their bare torsos grinding against each other. Keith would plant kisses down his chest and stomach, landing at the base of his cock, which Keith begins to suck. Keith would look up at him with those bright eyes, giving him a sexy smirk as his cock twitches under Keith’s tongue. Nathan wants to do the same to Keith, too. He wonders how big Keith’s cock is and whether he can take all of it. He hasn’t done anything with anybody, ever, but he reckons that he can make Keith feel good. He wants Keith to fuck him, to feel Keith’s cock break him in for the first time, the thought of which always makes him cum all over himself. If he had the chance, and if Keith was willing, Nathan would do all of it.

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Nathan feels drops of water hit his arm and looks up. It’s raining.

“Oh shit,” Keith says, “I knew we shouldn’t have done a second lap.”

It starts to pour as Nathan and Keith run towards campus, carefully avoiding puddles of water and other hurried park-goers. By the time they reach the doorstep of Keith’s dorm building, which is fortunately the nearest one to the park, they are both soaked. The rain is crashing down on the streets in white torrents, and Nathan trembles as a waft of cold air blows against his wet skin.

“Shit, I’m so sorry, man. I shouldn’t have suggested that second lap,” Keith says.

“No worries. It’s not like you were forcing me or any- Ahh, choo!”

“Woah, are you cold? Come on, we can go up to my room. I’ll lend you some of my clothes,” Keith says, his concerned eyes scanning Nathan’s flushed face.

“No, no, it’s fine. I can run to my dorm from here. If I’m strategic I can walk through some buildings. It’ll be fine,” Nathan says, sniffling.

“Nathan, your dorm is literally all the way across campus, and you’ll have to, like, go across the quad. I’m telling you, come up to my room and I’ll lend you some clothes.”

“But-,” Nathan says, but then it hits him that this is the opportunity he’s been coveting.

“But?”

“Uh… No, you’re right. It’s a bad idea.” Nathan smiles. “Guess I’m visiting your room.”

“Awesome,” Keith smiles back as he bounces onto the staircase. “Right this way, sir.”

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“Ugh, I hate you so much,” Nathan says as he takes his wet shoes and socks off. “How the fuck did you score a single?”

“I don’t know. I must have been a really good person in my past life,” Keith laughs, placing his misty glasses on the desk. Most single rooms are taken by juniors and seniors. Sophomores have to be really lucky to get one.

“And you have your own bathroom? What the-,” Nathan rushes to the door opposite the entrance and opens it to find a small room with a sink and a toilet.

“Yeah, the school really came through with this building. Still have to use the communal showers though. Anyways,” Keith walks to his wardrobe, “Let’s get ourselves some dry clothes.”

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