Alan shifted the strap of his backpack as he climbed the staircase. The wet cuffs of his too-long jeans slapped against the tile. He 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 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 Minecraft, his back to Alan.
Alan shifted awkwardly and the strap on his backpack creaked. Minecraft 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. Light hair, big, pretty eyes, straight nose. His smile grew wider, exposing sweet little dimples and teeth that had to be the product of expensive orthodontia. The guy stood up and smoothed down his polo shirt and salmon khakis. Dude was nicely built. Preppy as fuck, but damn, it was a good look on him. He moved toward 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 cheerfully, leaning to the side and plucking a paper from the nearest desk. He handed it over and turned away, flipping on a light switch. Alan squinted and looked down at the sheet in his hands.
"Ever been in one of our experiments before?" Minecraft 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. "No problem. Have you participated in any psych experiments before?"
Alan resisted the urge to stamp his foot in an attempt to 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 vaping is cool or not for, like, half an hour." Jesus, babble much?
Minecraft 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, this one counts for two hours of course credit and I promise you don't have to tell me anything about your body," he said, wiggling his eyebrows. Alan thought he'd been picking up a bit of a vibe, but that right there? Flirting. Definitely flirting. Well...probably definitely flirting. Maybe. Alan tried for his best, yeah bro, I'm down kind of smile, but it was unclear if the message got across, because Minecraft guy just motioned to the paper Alan held. "Take a look at the consent form and if it all sounds okay to you, sign and date it at the bottom and we'll get you started."
He moved his eyes over the paper, pretending 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 Minecraft 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 Alan wouldn't swear to it.
"Okay, great. Follow me and we'll get you ready to go. You can leave your stuff out here or take it with you into the experiment room. It's good either way."
Alan just bet it was. He kept his backpack and followed him down the hallway.
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."
The guy made a 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 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.
"Alrighty," Minecraft 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 more attention to the consent form. The guy gave him another disarming smile, flashing his white, even teeth. Alan set his bag down and hopped up on the chair.
Minecraft 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 an edge to it that made Alan's pulse speed up. "That's the idea." He held up the foil packet. "First I'm going to rub this alcohol swab over the area. Do you wear contacts?"
"Er, no. Why?"
Minecraft 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 said, not really sounding it. He tossed the swab in the trash and turned back to the counter. Alan took the opportunity to let his eyes wander. The guy really had a sweet ass. Nice shoulders too, narrow waist, and something about the curve of his neck was sexy as hell. Alan wondered if he was hiding one of those delicious Vs of muscle and hipbone under the hideous khakis. Probably.
He turned back brandishing a sheet of what looked like those little donut-shaped stickers that overachieving girls in high school stuck 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."
Minecraft guy stepped up to him, peeling one of the 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. With the lighting in the room, 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. Minecraft guy furrowed his brow in apparent concentration before he carefully pressed the sticker above Alan's eye. He repeated the procedure twice more, attaching rings at Alan's temple and below his eye, reminding him to keep his gaze steady. Alan licked his lips nervously and reminded himself that the intensity on Minecraft guy's face was due to clinical interest. Probably.
Once all the little stickers were in place, the guy stepped back and evaluated his work. Seemingly 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, low and dark. The sound went straight to Alan's dick: it stirred, merrily unconcerned about dudes wielding needles near his face, so long as they were hot, anyway. "Don't worry. I'm just going 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 between Alan's legs this time. It wasn't close enough that he'd be able to feel it if Alan's dick got even more interested, but—at least to Alan—it didn't feel much further away than that either. "Just hold nice and still," he said, moving the lancet to the spot on Alan's forehead where the sticker was. "I won't hurt you."
He scraped over Alan's skin in small, fast strokes. It didn't hurt and it didn't pierce the skin, but it was unsettling as hell. Up this close, he could feel the puff of Minecraft guy's breath against the side of his face. He smelled like cinnamon Altoids. Alan clenched his sweaty hands on top of his thighs and did his best to stare straight ahead.
"Okay, done with that spot."
Alan exhaled. His breath stirred a few strands of hair on the other guy's forehead. He tried to breathe more shallowly as the guy 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 as gentle as before, but the skin under Alan's eye was thin and sensitive and the lancet's scraping was truly disconcerting there. Alan swallowed convulsively. As uncomfortable as all this was making him, his very stupid dick continued 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 cock more interested instead of less.
"Alright, done with that part," Minecraft 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 troublesomely half-mast 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 that looked suspiciously like lube. Something in Alan's expression must've betrayed his surprise, because Minecraft guy chuckled again—it sounded downright evil to Alan's ears—looked down at the tube in his hands, and cocked a brow. "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 the guy squirt a dab of the clear gel onto the surface of the electrode he was holding. He set the tube down, peeled off the top layer from the double-sided sticker on Alan's forehead, and gently pressed 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. It was sort of nice of them to hang it there so people could see 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 Minecraft 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 looked more like a computer lab than a psych one. In addition to several regular towers 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 from cheesy eighties movies. It had to be outdated tech, but, then again, if the prof running the lab were old, the equipment would be too. There were so many machines running in the room that it felt several degrees warmer than in the rest of the lab.
"You'll be in here," Minecraft 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. "Electromagnetic shielding," the guy said, as if that explained everything.
Rather than look like the ignorant humanities major he was, 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. It sprouted from the floor on a thick metal base and had thinly padded armrests with holes that resembled headphone jacks. Its back reclined, leading all the way up to a headrest with flaps on either side that looked like they'd unobtrusively restrict a person's motion.
Alan could feel the guy crowding behind him and tried to squeeze in a little further. There really wasn't much space in this tin can of a room.
"Go ahead and have a seat."
He turned. Minecraft guy was smiling expectantly, so 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. Then he 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 grinned 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 is pretty 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," Minecraft guy said before shutting 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 a 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 anthro test he had coming up, but images of Minecraft guy kept intruding on his contemplation of non-materialistic cultures. He couldn't help but rehash the weird encounter. The guy had mostly just been friendly and professional, but Alan was at least eighty percent sure the flirting wasn't all in his imagination. He couldn't help but revisit, and then greatly embellish, the highlights.
Minecraft 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 behind his ear, traveled down his neck and into the hollow of his throat.
That train of thought had little Alan tenting his baggy jeans. He surreptitiously rubbed the bulge and tried to focus on the roving dot.
He put the ring-shaped sticker on Alan's 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 Minecraft guy went in for a hot, nasty kiss, all rough tongue and confidence.
The little dot swooped around the screen like a fruit fly. Alan spread his legs, lazily running the palm of his hand up and down the hardness in his pants while the other hand rubbed over his chest.
Minecraft guy held the lancet up to Alan's face and gave him a look that was pure sex menace. He scraped the skin on his forehead with agonizing slowness, chiding him over and over again that he'd be cut if he didn't trust, didn't hold still. When he finished with Alan's face, he slid the needle down to the collar of Alan's t-shirt, skimmed it lower and to the side, circling his nipple until it was unbearably stiff and tight. Alan 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, mouthing him through soft cotton. "Keep still," he instructed, drifting down to Alan's belly. He wormed chilly hands under Alan's 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 t-shirt to scrape at his throat.
Alan tightened his grip, changing the angle. He slid 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.
Minecraft guy's wicked mouth hovered inches over the tent in Alan's pants. He gave Alan a sly grin 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 one on Alan's face, then ran teasing fingertips over the tip of his jeans-covered cock. Another electrode, another teasing touch. A final electrode and then a firm press of his hand that took Alan's full measure, shamelessly feeling him up. He turned to the counter and very deliberately pocketed the gel tube, throwing a wink over his shoulder.
Fuck following the dot. Alan stroked himself harshly, rubbed 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 that preppy ass polo shirt. Alan wanted to touch but wasn't sure if it would be against the rules. Minecraft guy grabbed Alan's dick like he owned it. Bit and licked at Alan's neck before working his way down, tugging at Alan's zipper. He slid off Alan's 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 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 smug, secret smile on his face. Easiest research credits he was likely to earn all semester.
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 opened and Minecraft guy shuffled in, head tucked low so that his hair flopped over his eyes. The pleasant and professional air 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.
He looked from the camera—oh my god, idiot, there's always a fucking camera!—that he'd failed to notice earlier and back to Minecraft guy's face. He was blushing as furiously as Alan wanted to. Alan swallowed hard and fought the urge not to duck and cover in embarrassment. He was lucky the guy hadn't called campus police on him or something.
"I, uh…just need to…remove the electrodes," the guy finally said, keeping as much distance between them as possible while quickly peeling away the stickers and 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 Alan out of the room. Alan grabbed his backpack and followed at what he hoped was a non-creepy distance.
The guy set the wires down and moved to a stack of papers on one of the desks, hand hesitating 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."
Alan 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, he thudded to a stop against the wall and buried his face in his hands, hiding 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. Ten 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.