Alan shifted the strap of his backpack as he climbed up the staircase. The ratty cuffs of his too-long jeans slapped wetly against the tile. He absently ran a hand through his damp hair, realized what he was doing, and quickly pulled the hand away, cursing under his breath. He glanced down at the palm. The ink was a little smeared now, but he could still make out the room number he'd written there. Good.
He made his way up to the third floor and started paying attention to the numbers on the doors. Alan hated wandering around buildings on campus like a confused freshman—he was neither confused nor a freshman—but none of his classes ever met in the psychology building and he'd never had a reason to venture inside until recently, so it was still unfamiliar turf. He glanced at the posters and flyers dotting the halls, the little cartoons tacked to office doors. 346…348…350. He must be headed in the right direction.
Pushing aside the tangle of bracelets on his wrist, he checked his watch. Five minutes late wasn't so bad. Room 356 was at the end of the hall. He looked back down at the smeary number on his hand. 356C. The door was open. The label next to it said 'Psychophysiology Suite.' It looked dark inside.
Shrugging his shoulders, he walked in. He'd learned during his limited experience as a research participant that if you drifted in like a lost puppy, somebody would eventually notice you and tell you what you were supposed to be doing. He passed a few closed doors in the dim hallway, then turned a corner that opened up on a larger room. It was filled with mismatched office furniture covered in stacks of disorganized-looking books and papers. A broad-shouldered guy sat in front of a huge flat panel computer monitor playing Minesweeper, his back to Alan.
Alan shifted awkwardly and the strap on his backpack creaked. Minesweeper guy guiltily minimized his game window and spun around. He looked Alan up and down before smiling. "Here for the experiment?"
Damn. The guy was hot. His light hair was short in back but longer on top, falling over wide-set eyes. The light in the room wasn't good enough for Alan to tell just what color they were, but they were big and gorgeous. He took in the long, straight nose, the high, well-defined cheekbones, lips that were maybe a bit small but curved up in a smile that exposed sweet little dimples. Dimples! Shit. The guy stood up and smoothed down his rugby shirt and khakis. A bit preppy, but damn, that look was good on him. He moved towards Alan, still smiling, but also looking a bit inquisitive, and Alan realized he'd been asked a question.
"Huh?" Oh, smooth. Just perfect.
"You're here for the experiment, right?"
"Okay," The guy said brightly, leaning to the side and plucking a paper from the nearest desk. He handed it to him and turned away, walking over and flipping on a light switch. Alan squinted at the light and looked down at the sheet in his hands.
"Ever been in one of our experiments before?" Minesweeper guy wandered to the other side of the room and grabbed a pen from a funky mug shaped like a fish. The motion pulled his pants tighter against what looked like a really sweet ass.
"Uh, no." Shit, way to stun him with eloquence.
The guy turned back around and smiled again. He set the pen down in front of Alan. "That's no problem. Have you participated in any psych experiments before?"
Alan resisted the urge to stamp his foot and kick-start his brain. "Um, I was in one Monday where I had to memorize a bunch of words and then do a puzzle and then write down all the words I could remember. And yesterday I filled out a bunch of weird surveys about how I feel about my body image and whether I think smoking is cool or not for, like, half an hour." Jesus, babble much?
Minesweeper guy didn't seem to mind. "Put off the Psych 101 research participation requirement until the end of the semester?" He raised an eyebrow and grinned.
"Well, you're in luck. This study counts for two hours of course credit. Just take a look at the consent form," he said, motioning to the paper Alan held. "If it all sounds okay to you, just sign and date at the bottom and we'll get you started."
He moved his eyes over the paper in his hands and pretended to read it. After what seemed an appropriate amount of time, he signed and handed it back. The guy looked it over and added his own signature. Alan craned his neck to get a peek at the name, but Minesweeper guy had one of those flourishy incomprehensible doctor-type signatures—maybe he was pre-med—and he couldn't make out the name. It might've started with an 'M,' but he wouldn't swear to it.
"Okay, great. Just follow me and I'll get you ready to go. You can leave your stuff out here or take it with you into the experiment room."
Alan kept his backpack and followed him down the hallway he'd come in from. The guy stopped at one of the closed doors and unlocked it.
"When did it start raining again?" he asked over his shoulder.
"Uh," Alan looked down at his wet sneakers. God, he must look like a drowned rat. "About an hour ago, I guess."
He made a little noncommittal noise, opening the door and ushering Alan in. After his first experience as a research participant, Alan had learned to expect the unexpected, but the kitchen area he found himself in caught him off guard anyway. A long table held a microwave, mini-fridge, and coffee maker, along with a few brown paper bags and a tin of cookies. All of that made sense, at least—the prof who ran this lab must've been cool with his students hanging out there for lunch. But the countertop and sink lining the wall opposite the door were more difficult to justify. He noticed a box of rubber gloves and a little biohazard bin sitting on the far edge of the counter.
"Here we are," Minesweeper guy said. He patted the top of a tall wooden stool that stood next to the counter. "Have a seat."
The stool sat under a small mirror. Hanging to either side of the mirror were what looked like little silver buttons with long wires dangling from their backs. This seemed substantially weirder than word lists or body image surveys. He was suddenly wishing he'd paid a bit more attention to the consent form. The guy gave him another disarming smile, flashing straight, white teeth. Alan set his bag down and hopped up on the chair.
Minesweeper guy turned to the sink and started washing his hands. "Since you say you've never been in one of our experiments before, I take it you're not familiar with EOG?"
He turned off the faucet and grabbed a few paper towels. "Those little wire things hanging next to your head there are electrodes. When we position them in the right configuration around your eyes, we're able to hook them up to a computer and use them to monitor your eye movements."
Alan looked over his shoulder at the electrodes. "So you're going to stick these on my face?"
The guy grabbed a little foil packet from a box on the counter and turned back to him. This time, his smile had a slight edge to it that made Alan's pulse speed up. "That's right." He held up the foil packet. "First I'm going to run this alcohol swab over the area. Do you wear contacts?"
"Er, no. Why?"
Minesweeper guy ripped open the packet and moved over to his side. "Sometimes, the fumes from the wipes can irritate contacts," he said. He gently swabbed the skin on Alan's forehead over his right eye, sweeping down to the skin near his temple and then skimming back in to the area under the eye. Alan drew in a sharp breath.
Sure, but that wasn't a problem. "Yeah, a little."
"Sorry." He tossed the swab in the trash and turned back to the counter. Alan took the opportunity to let his eyes wander. The guy definitely had a sweet ass. Nice shoulders too, and a narrow waist. Alan wondered if he was hiding one of those delicious Vs of muscle and hipbone under the khakis. Probably.
He turned back brandishing a sheet of what looked like those little donut-shaped stickers that overachieving girls in high school stuck on the hole punched pages in their three ring binders. Alan couldn't help but cock his head quizzically.
"Double-sided adhesive rings. They'll keep the electrodes stuck to your face."
Minesweeper guy stepped up to him, peeling one of the little fingernail-sized stickers off the sheet. He slumped a bit, bringing his face level with Alan's. "Just look straight ahead," he murmured. "Gotta place these just so or the electrodes will be off and we'll get bad data…."
Alan did his best to look straight ahead without staring right into the guy's eyes too obviously. The lighting was better in this room and he could tell those big eyes were a rich brown. They darted over his face, moving between a point on Alan's forehead and his right eye. His brows furrowed in concentration before he carefully pressed the sticker above Alan's eye. He repeated the procedure twice more, attaching rings at his temple and below his eye, reminding Alan to keep his gaze steady. Alan licked his lips nervously and reminded himself that the intensity on Minesweeper guy's face was due to clinical interest.
Once all the little stickers were in place and the guy had stepped back and evaluated his work, apparently satisfied with the results, he turned to the counter and snapped on a pair of rubber gloves. "Now comes the fun part," he said.
He spun around holding up a little white piece of plastic that was about an inch long and a centimeter thick. As Alan watched, he twisted off the top, exposing a small, fat needle. Alan's eyes widened. He definitely should've read the damned consent form.
The guy chuckled. The sound went straight to Alan's cock and he felt it twitch, apparently unconcerned about dudes wielding needles near his face, so long as they were hot, anyway. "Don't worry. I just have to use the lancet to scrape away the layer of dead cells on your skin. We won't get a good reading otherwise." He moved in closer, positioning himself nearly in between Alan's spread legs this time. "Just hold nice and still," he said, moving the lancet to the spot on his forehead where the sticker was, positioning it above the patch of skin exposed by the open center of the ring. "I won't hurt you."
He started to scrape the needle over Alan's skin in small, fast strokes. It didn't hurt and it didn't pierce the skin, but it was unsettling. Up this close, he could almost feel the puff of Minesweeper guy's breath against the side of his face. He smelled like cinnamon Altoids. Alan's hands were getting sweaty. He clenched them on top of his thighs and did his best to stare straight ahead.
"Okay, done with that spot."
Alan exhaled. His breath stirred the strands of hair on the other guy's forehead. He tried to breathe more shallowly as he moved to the skin on Alan's temple.
"Doing great. I just have to do the spot under your eye now. Be sure you keep holding really still."
"Okay," Alan whispered.
He was just as gentle as before, but the skin under Alan's eye was thin and sensitive and the lancet's scraping was truly disconcerting there. He swallowed convulsively. As uncomfortable as all this was making him, his cock was continuing to gain interest in the situation. He willed it to behave and reminded himself that squirming would probably get him poked in the eye. Perversely, the thought made his dick more interested instead of less.
"Alright, done with that part," Minesweeper guy declared brightly, stepping back and tossing the lancet into the biohazard bin before peeling off the rubber gloves and chucking them in the trash. Alan eased a little in his chair, slouching forward over his troublesome half-erection. Thank Christ for baggy jeans.
"Now," the guy said, rummaging around on the countertop again, "all that's left is to attach the electrodes." He turned back around this time with a tube of something that looked suspiciously like lube to Alan. Something in his expression must've betrayed a bit of his surprise, because Minesweeper guy chuckled good-naturedly and looked down at the tube in his hands. "Don't worry," he said, reaching for an electrode hanging to the side of Alan's head. "The gel just helps conduct the little electrical signals from your skin to the electrodes."
Alan nodded dumbly and watched as he squirted a bit of the clear gel onto the surface of the electrode he was holding. He set the tube down and peeled off the top layer from the double-sided sticker on Alan's forehead before gently pressing the electrode in place. Alan crossed his eyes to focus on the thin yellow wire now dangling from his face. The guy repeated the process for the other two electrode sites.
"Okay," he said stepping back and returning the gel to the counter. "You can get up now."
Alan did, turning around so he could look at himself in the mirror. He supposed it was sort of nice of them to put a mirror there so people could see just what they looked like with all this shit on their faces. He thought he looked like a science experiment, which, he supposed, he was. He met Minesweeper guy's eyes in the mirror and saw nothing but faint amusement there.
"Ready to start the experiment?"
He nodded again and shouldered his backpack. He had to be careful not to catch it on any of the wires trailing from his face; they all hung down almost to his waist. The guy led him out of the weird kitchen/prep room and back down the hall to another locked door. On the other side was a room that he would've guessed was a computer research lab, not a psych one. In addition to several regular computers and monitors scattered over various tables was a wall of floor-to-ceiling behemoths with strange lights and dials that reminded Alan of big supercomputers he'd seen once in a cheesy eighties movie. There was so much equipment running in the room that it felt several degrees warmer inside than in the rest of the lab.
"You'll be in here," Minesweeper guy said, motioning with his head to a dark, tiny room off to the side of the hulking wall of computers. It looked like a big metal box to Alan. "The metal is for electromagnetic shielding," the guy said, as if that explained everything.
Rather than look ignorant, Alan just nodded and stepped into the little room. There was only one computer in here, its monitor sitting in front of what looked disturbingly like an old dentist's chair, all done up in cracked, black vinyl. The chair seemed to sprout from the floor on a thick metal base. It had thinly padded armrests on either side with holes in them that resembled headphone jacks. Its back was set at a reclining angle and led all the way up to a headrest with flaps on either side that looked like they'd restrict a person's motion pretty unobtrusively.
Alan could feel the guy crowding behind him—there really wasn't much space in this tin can of a room—and tried to squeeze in a little further.
"Go ahead and have a seat."
He turned and saw Minesweeper guy's pleasant smile. He lowered himself into the chair, setting his bag down on the floor and leaning back against the headrest. It was surprisingly comfortable. The guy adjusted the height of the chair, bringing it up so that the computer monitor was at eye-level. He then plugged the ends of the electrode wires trailing from Alan's face into the chair's arms.
"Uh, sure, I guess."
"Good," he said, tapping commands into the keyboard sitting in front of the chair. A written prompt appeared on the monitor. The guy cleared his throat and read the instructions off the screen. Alan would've been insulted—he was attending a top twenty university here, reading was well within his skill set, thank you very much—if he hadn't already encountered this behavior during the other experiments he'd been in. He listened to the guy droning in the dim room and smiled crookedly at how bored he sounded reading the script.
"Today you'll be performing a series of tasks in which we'll be measuring your ability to track objects moving on a screen. When you notice a dot appear on the screen, please try to follow its motion for as long as you can. A dot will not always be present on the display. If you do not see anything on the screen, just keep watching until you see another dot appear. This experiment will last approximately 30 minutes. Any questions?"
"Okay. The shielding on this room makes it practically soundproof, so once I leave and close the door, if you have any questions or want to stop for any reason, just hold this switch over here," he pointed to a button on the side of the armrest, "to use the intercom. Got it?"
"Good. The intervals when there's nothing to track on screen can be pretty long, but we're just as interested in what your eyes do when there's nothing to look at as when you're following the dot, so try not to fall asleep, alright?" Alan smiled a little and nodded again. "You can press the return key to start the experiment," Minesweeper guy said, and shut the door behind him.
He was left in the silent, dark room, plugged into the chair via the electrodes on his face, and still sporting a little wood. He tried to focus on the experiment, he really did, but following the little dot around the computer screen just wasn't taxing enough to prevent the rest of his brain from declaring playtime. At first he attempted to occupy himself by getting a good worry going over the bio test he'd be taking next week, but images of Minesweeper guy kept intruding on his contemplation of Punnett squares. He couldn't help but rehash the weird encounter. Sure, the guy had been nothing but friendly and professional, but Alan's mind wanted to revisit some of the highlights of the experiment, with kinky revisions, of course.
Minesweeper guy sat him down on the stool and swiped the alcohol swab over the skin around his eye, but he didn't stop there. The cool damp touch trailed lightly behind his ear, traveled teasingly down his neck and into the hollow of his throat.
Alan was totally hard now, tenting his baggy jeans for all he was worth. He surreptitiously rubbed the bulge a bit and tried to focus on the roving little dot.
The guy put the ring-shaped sticker over his forehead, then pressed it onto the skin with a gentle touch of his lips. Another sticker, another kiss. When the third and final sticker was placed, Alan felt himself leaning in for the expected touch to the tender skin under his eye, only to be surprised when instead Minesweeper guy claimed his mouth in a hot, nasty kiss, all rough tongue and confidence.
The little dot swooped around the screen like a fruit fly. Alan ran the palm of his hand up and down the hardness in his pants while the other hand rubbed over his chest.
Minesweeper guy held the lancet up to Alan's face and gave him a look that was pure evil sex menace. He scraped the skin on his forehead agonizingly slowly, continuously reminding him he'd be cut if he didn't trust, didn't hold still. When he'd finished with his face, he slid the needle down to the collar of Alan's t-shirt, skimmed it lower and to the side, circling his nipple, making it stiffen until it poked against soft cotton. He shivered and clenched his hands on his thighs.
The dot disappeared from the screen. Alan glanced at the glow-in-the-dark hands of his watch. Fuck it, he had fifteen more minutes in this box. He hastily unzipped his fly and liberated his cock through the slit in his boxers.
The guy abandoned the thick needle and nuzzled against Alan's chest, rubbing his cheeks and chin against the hard peaks of his nipples. "Just keep holding still," he said. He nuzzled down to Alan's belly. His chilly hands wormed under his shirt, raising goosebumps as they slid up his waist. Nails raked across Alan's ribs, up to his nipples, slipped out from the neck of his shirt to scrape at his Adam's apple.
Alan tightened the grip on his dick, pumping rapidly. He slipped his free hand under his shirt to pinch and twist his nipples. The dot lazily floated across the screen. He did his best to keep tracking it instead of allowing his eyes to roll up in his head like he wanted.
Minesweeper guy's wicked little mouth hovered inches over the tent in Alan's pants. He grinned crookedly and withdrew his hands, spinning away to grab the tube of gel from the counter top. Alan drew in a shuddering breath and watched with fascination as he spread gel over the electrodes. He stuck them on Alan's face, teasingly running his fingertips over the tip of his jeans-covered cock after each one. He turned to the counter and very deliberately pocketed the gel tube, throwing a half-smirk over his shoulder at Alan.
Fuck following the dot. He stroked himself harshly, rubbing his thumb back and forth over the wetness at the tip of his cock in time with the beats of his hand. He licked his lips as his eyes fluttered shut.
The guy led him into the experiment room and shoved him down on the vinyl chair, straddling his legs while he pulled off his rugby shirt. Alan wanted to touch the impressive chest but wasn't sure if it would be against the rules. Minesweeper guy confidently took a firm grip on Alan's cock, biting and licking at his neck. He worked his way down, smoothly opening Alan's pants before sliding off his lap to kneel between his feet on the floor. Big eyes glittered up at him mischievously before the guy bent forward and swallowed him to the hilt like a fucking porn star.
Alan frantically scrabbled to fish a rumpled tissue from his pocket and pulled it free just in time to spill. He milked the last drops from himself, rolling his neck. The dot happily buzzed across the screen in front of him. He tucked himself away and followed his little friend, a small, secret smile on his face.
A few minutes later the dot disappeared again, this time to be replaced by a screen thanking him for his participation. He heard a little tap at the door before it was opened and Minesweeper guy shuffled in, head slightly bowed so that his hair flopped over his eyes. The pleasant and professional smile was gone.
"Thanksforyourparticipation," he mumbled into his chest. His eyes kept darting from the carpet beneath his feet to a spot in the corner above his head. Alan followed the gaze and saw a tiny blinking red light. Fuck.
Alan looked back from the camera he'd failed to notice earlier to the guy's face. He was blushing about as furiously as Alan wanted to. He swallowed hard and fought the urge not to duck and cover in embarrassment. God, he was lucky the guy hadn't called campus police on him or something.
"I, uh…just need to…remove the electrodes," Minesweeper guy finally said, moving to quickly peel away the stickers and the electrodes they'd held in place. He nervously wound the wires around his hand before taking a deep breath and regaining at least some of his earlier composure. He gestured with his head and led him out of the room. Alan grabbed his backpack and followed several steps behind.
The guy set the wires down and moved to a stack of papers on one of the desks, hand hovering over a tall stack before picking up a lone sheet sitting next to the pile. He shoved it towards Alan.
"Thanks for coming in today. Here's your debriefing sheet. If you have any questions about the experiment, the supervising professor's contact information is on it."
He snatched the paper, eager to get the hell out of there so he could find a hole to crawl into and die. "Sure, thanks." He ducked his head and hightailed it out of the lab.
Once he'd made it a safe distance down the hallway, Alan thudded to a stop against the wall and brought his hands over his face, trying to hide behind the debriefing sheet. The carefully typed words designed to give the experience of participating in an experiment some educational merit blurred together this close to his eyes. The rain outside had stopped and sunlight streamed through one of the big windows at the end of the hall. The light shone through the paper he held, showing a hint of ink on the back. Curious, he flipped it over.
A handwritten message in a barely legible scrawl was written across the back of the debriefing sheet. Seven digits and the simple words: Call me. Matt.
Alan grinned and carefully stowed the note in his backpack before heading off to his next class.