A one-shot story for my valentine (SerialXLain). For I love her dearly. And she likes slaves.
It has fantasy elements, but it's not 'fantasy'.
Also, an experiment in post-modernist literature.
The King sat reclined on a plastic lawn chair. The long, lazy afternoon stretched before him in all directions and he yawned, leaning back into the sun. The attendants buzzed around him, clad in shimmering dresses the colour of a pink plastic flamingo. He reached over to pick up his lemonade and sipped at it through his straw until the glass gurgled empty.
"Sir," began the nearest attendant. King Phillip opened one eye. This attendant was blonde and rather pretty, though ultimately boring. She tapped her transparent sandals. "Can I get you anything more to drink?" Her smile —though pleasing— was not at all engaging.
Phillip shook his head. "No," he told her, sitting up in his chair. The plastic stuck to his moist body, sweaty from the brightly burning sun. "Are there any messages for me?"
The attendant sighed. "I'll go ask, okay?" She swished away, teetering precariously on her high sandals. Her tan glowed orange in the sun, even as she disappeared into the shade of the palace's plastic overhang. Her form lingered at the front desk before she came stomping back.
Phillip consulted his watch: not even noon. Nothing interesting began until three. He stood up and tossed his white towel over his shoulders, attempting to compose himself quickly.
The blonde, silly attendant blew an electric green bubble of gum as she consulted the handful of white cards. "The prime minister," it popped and splashed over his lips, "says that your meeting has been moved to four. Something about goblin proceedings taking precedence over everything else." She snapped the gum loudly and handed the rest of the cards to Phillip. Without another word, she turned on her heel and sashayed towards the pool.
King Phillip sighed. Nothing interesting would happen until four then.
"Your honour," one of the scrawny little men began, bowing lowly. A host of them seemed to be buzzing around the palace that evening. "The Kingdom of Aela is looking forward to peaceful relations with you for many years…in exchange, a gift has been brought!"
Phillip nodded vaguely. "Of course you did," he said. "How thoughtful of the Kingdom of Aela." He leaned back to his assistant of the hour. "Remind me to write a letter expressing my gratitude for whatever it is."
The Assistant nodded, scribbling down the exchange before smoothing down her pinstripe pantsuit.
The short man nodded enthusiastically. "Our very best slave has been brought by us!" He smiled and peered over his lumpy nose. "He's contained in one of our chambers. Come fetch him." The man scurried down one of the hallways and out onto the stairwell.
Phillip followed up the concrete stairs, pausing only when the Aelan did. They pulled open the third floor door, pausing for the Assistant to catch her breath and shed her pumps. After sprinting down the hallway, turning awkwardly a few times, they arrived at the Aelan representative's door.
"Hold one moment. The slave must be fetched by an Aelan. It is not liked for outsiders to enter our space, even though it has been provided for us by King Phillip." With that, the little man slipped into the room and slammed the door shut.
"So," the Assistant drawled, "how would that note begin? 'Dear Kingdom of Aela, thank you kindly for your exemplary human trafficking'?" She grinned through her matte lipstick and Phillip could only respond with a droll glower.
"Be quiet," he scolded her. The Assistant didn't appear perturbed. "They have a unique and—" Behind him, the door opened and shut. Phillip whirled around the face the Aelan congressman.
"A pure-blood sidhe has been brought by the Aelan government," the man said, gesturing to the creature standing among them. "His behaviour is exemplary. He has been tamed to our highest standards."
The being was the most beautiful Phillip had ever seen. Frightfully androgynous, their face was partially obscured by strands of long, silver hair that reached to their waist. They were dressed in dull, ripped clothing that made Phillip instantly feel self-conscious of his jeans. The only clue to the gender of the sidhe was their distinct lack of breasts.
"He's very beautiful," Phillip said. He turned to his smirking assistant and leaned in to whisper to her. "We have extra rooms, right? Something that can accommodate faerie-like beings?" After receiving a curt nod and returning his full attention to the little Aelan man, Phillip smiled brightly. "So. This a sidhe, huh?"
"Yes," the man cried, nearly leaping out of his greenish skin. "He is talented in many things women can do, but this one can be left for days without attention. Sex and cleaning and cooking is still given by him to you. Not a silly virgin either, he is experienced."
King Phillip blinked. "Oh. Well, as much as I appreciate your kindness, I don't really need—" He was immediately interrupted by a sharp jab in the back. The Assistant clicked her tongue at him and almost imperceptibly shook her head. "—Any more convincing, I'm sure he'll be perfect. Long live Aela."
After negotiations, Phillip dragged the sidhe down to the palace bar. The television in one corner played a particularly rough game of rugby. "You like rugby?" Phillip asked conversationally. Receiving no response, he tried a different tactic. "What do you like?"
The sidhe shook his head, letting a fall of silver hair swoop into his face. His slender-fingered hands tapped on the wooden bar. His legs swung in tandem. Without saying anything, he hailed the bored bartender and ordered something mean sounding.
"Well," the bartender began, in that same conversational tone, as he placed the boy's drink in front of him, "I've never seen you around here before. How do you know Phillip?"
"I was sold into servitude this morning actually." The faerie picked up his drink and took a long, slow sip of it. Phillip winced watching the way the liquid bubbled menacingly. He comforted himself with the twist of lemon in his martini.
The bartender nodded. "Well, Phillip's a solid guy. Right George?" Down the bar, an old man with no teeth banged his cane on the counter in agreement. "See, what I tell ya?" The bartender nodded at the king in question and began to make his rounds through the tired sports bar.
Phillip found himself feeling as if he had been magically transported back to middle school. "So what's your name?"
"Echo," replied the Sidhe. "I'm of legal age. I don't like anything. That's all you need to know." He took another sip of his drink, cringing only a little as he slapped it down on the wooden table. His fingers twitched, still curled around the glass.
Phillip fished the lemon twist out of his nearly-empty glass and twirled it between his fingers. "So if you don't like anything, does that mean you don't want a view of the ocean from your room?" He inquired.
This was met with a blank stare.
"You know, the ocean? Uh…it's big and blue and wet. Lots of fish and—"
"I know what the ocean is," Echo interrupted shortly. "But I didn't actually expect you to give me any place to stay."
Phillip blinked in confusion. "We have lots of space. Besides, you live here now because if you don't, the Kingdom of Aela will be offended and I'm afraid that those little men are scarier than they appear." He giggled congenially and popped the lemon rind into his mouth. "So don't worry about it. You can have a view."
"You like boys, don't you?" Echo asked one morning. King Phillip looked up across his paperwork-laden desk. "You don't have a wife, and you're almost twenty-five."
"Exactly," Phillip muttered absentmindedly as he peered over the tops of his reading glasses to examine a yellow document. "I'm twenty five and ruler of a sovereign nation. Do I honestly look like I need or have time for a wife?"
"You have time to write poetry," Echo pointed out snottily. He tucked a long, silver strand of hair behind his ear in an attempt to look a little more sane, a little less feral. "You have time to go to the palace sports bar and drink until you pass out."
Phillip set the xanthic document down on his desk and took off his small, half-moon glasses. He folded them in half and set them on top of the paper. "Echo," he began, in a voice that reminded Echo of another life. "Don't bring that up. Not to me, not to anyone else." His viridian eyes glowed in the dim light of his suite's studio.
Guilt, carried by an ibis, swooped through Echo's body. "I won't say anything to anyone else," he promised, with as much casual offhandedness as he could muster. "But won't you tell me? I'm your slave, you could order me to keep quiet. You could—"
"Don't," Phillip interrupted. "Don't wear that title with any sort of pride. You don't believe it. There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." He picked up the pen again and began to doodle on the corner of a ripped, tangerine envelope cast aside on his desk.
Echo watched him like a tiger stalking prey. Phillip didn't look up, didn't seem to twitch in the slightest under the most ferocious scrutiny. Echo tried to up the volume, turn his very psychic stare into tangible claws, but this didn't affect at all the stride of the monarch.
"Yes," Phillip said finally. His eyes didn't move from the table as he switched his doodles out for more serious, methodical signatures. Echo watched the ink dribble from the pen to form Phillip's full name in long, sprawling letters. 'Phillip Javier Alexander Wolfe' danced over the empty lines.
"Yes what?" he asked. His mouth, his lips felt suddenly heavy.
"Yes, I like boys. Well. Men." Phillip peered over his restored spectacles. "You hardly count."
Echo's mouth turned into a tiny, displeased U. "I hardly count for what?" he demanded, standing up fast enough to toss his chair back. Papers scattered from Phillip's desk like frightened deer.
"You're too young for me. When the Aela thing blows over, you can leave and you'll find someone who will love you. I don't really want you as a slave."
Protests —about his age, about his body and all the things it could do— leapt to Echo's tongue. He said nothing though, for fear of a dozen different things, and instead he righted his chair and slipped out the door into the smoky hallway.
"No smoking," he murmured, but the starry-eyed girls with their obscurity and their Camels just stared blankly and whispered crude things about him as he passed.
King Phillip and Echo sat at the table down in the lobby. Nothing much happened in the lobby, especially not on a day as muggy and sultry as that one. Just the usual courtesans milled about, gossiping at each other like Mynah birds. The Assistant lazed in one corner, her milk-white legs splayed wide on the glass coffee-table, Seventeen Magazine draped over her face.
"Let's get some Thai food," Phillip suggested, tapping his pen on the table derisively.
"Pizza instead," Echo returned shortly. "You got Thai food last week. I hate that shit. It tastes like bad Indian food." His mazarine eyes shot around the room at top speed as if seeking purchase and focus. The anger seemed to burst off of him in waves.
Phillip sighed. "I like Thai food though," he protested quietly. "And we had pizza three nights ago."
"Then go out for Thai food on one of those fancy dinners you're always going to. The suits love ethnic food. Makes them feel less culturally retarded."
"Take out is better."
Echo slammed his fist down on the table, rattling the fake rose in its little plastic vase. "I don't care," he snapped, "we are getting pizza." Without so much as another word, Echo stomped past the counter, picked up the keys to Phillip's Ford Taurus. Phillip followed after, sighing quietly to himself.
The car ride was terse. Phillip flicked absentmindedly through the stations until he reached a tinny broadcast of new rock. "I love this stuff," he commented. Echo didn't look up. He had resigned himself to leaning against the car door, hand hovering over the lock in paranoia. His eyes flicked over the long lines of trees and day glo street signs.
"We don't have to get pizza," he whispered. His breath left a smudge on the window. "You're driving. You could get Thai if you really wanted. You can do anything you want and there isn't anything I can do to stop you."
Phillip shrugged, hands still rested on two and ten. "I don't mind." He took a sharp right. "Besides, you get to pick lunch to make up for dinner."
"What is going on at dinner?" Echo's head snapped up.
Phillip giggled nervously. "The board wants me to bring you to the monthly budget meeting. We sit around and talk about money." He rubbed the back of his neck apologetically.
"Why do they want you to bring me?"
The car slowed to the pace of a Radiohead song. "Because…" Phillip sighed, leaned forward to let his forehead rest on the steering wheel. "Because you're to be included in my list of expenses. You're property." He glanced up with an apologetic expression, similar to the expression one makes after ripping the band-aid off the leg of a poorly behaved child.
"Oh." Echo fixated his eyes on the ground disappearing below them. "Watch the road, Phillip." He drew up one of his legs to rest his chin on his knee. Phillip winced at the dirt smeared over the seat, but said nothing.
An unconsciously arched eyebrow. "Not what?" Echo pretended to examine his nails. His eyes traced the edge of his cuticles, where the orange polish met the smooth skin, but nothing seemed to register in his head. He let his fingers drop.
"Property. That's just silly. The Aela are outdated." Echo could see Phillip's knuckles go white with indignation. "If they weren't so filthy rich and our only source of steel, we would just bomb the hell out of their government. Blow their heads to smithereens."
Only, Echo knew Phillip doesn't bomb things. Phillip was all purple plastic sunglasses and perfect hi-balls filled with lemonade. He was a pink paper umbrella, perched precariously on the edge of the abyss. Phillip didn't bomb things, he loved things, and Echo only wished it he could love as well.
Echo had never been in Phillip's room. It looked surprisingly like his own room: a living-room-bed-room-kitchen, a bathroom, an outdated coffee maker, instant coffee. The same white walls with the same crème-coloured kick moulding. The bedspread was different, orange, but the carpet appeared to be cut from the same chinchilla. The only major difference were posters of dead, beautiful rock stars tacked up at awkward angles, and the piles of abandoned papers littering the floor.
"This is it," Phillip said. He sat down on one side of his bed. "How are you feeling?"
Only King Phillip would ask something silly like, 'how are you feeling?' after a group of paunchy old men set price tags on a person's every breath. "Oh, I hate myself," Echo deadpanned. "Nothing much out of the ordinary. How are you? They pretty much ripped you a new one for…what was it? Building a children's hospital." Only King Phillip would do something silly, like try to help someone.
"Don't hate yourself, please," Phillip uttered finally. "If anyone should hate themselves, it should be me because this is my fault. I'm awful at my job and I'm sort of dragging you along for the ride." He heaved a melodramatic sigh and rolled over to stretch out over the comforter.
"Take your shoes off," Echo suggested. Phillip rolled his face into the pillow and shook his head. "I'll get them for you then." He unlaced Phillip's dress shoes and slid them to the floor. Phillip's red-and-white striped socks peered back at him. "You look good in a suit."
"I hate suits," Phillip gargled into the pillow. "I hate suits." He rolled over enough to start tearing at his clothing, trying desperately to unbutton the silver clasps down his front. His fingers quaked and failed, stumbling over the metal and fabric.
Echo reached forward and took hold of Phillip's hands. "Here," he said as soothingly as possible for a violent, vicious sidhe. "I'll do it." He set to work undressing Phillip, mechanical and detached. His hands refused to linger, moving from button to button and fold to fold. "You look much better though, when you're smiling."
Phillip looked away. "I apologize again for the events of the night thus far." His voice took on the lilting cadence of a lying politician. He began to strip away the onion layers of his outfit, of his psyche. "Please don't take it personally. The sentiment of the board is not the same as my own."
"Stop, Phillip. Really. I know. You're beating yourself up with your own bleeding heart. It is very unattractive, actually."
Only King Phillip would burst into tears from guilt.
Echo took hold of Phillip's shoulders and pulled their bodies awkwardly flush against each other. The contact was a sudden, neutral motion: neither comforting nor repulsive to the sidhe. Nostalgia wafted through his lungs like escapist smoke —nostalgia for an existence so long ago it approached infinity— but it faded quickly.
Echo leaned back enough to peer into Phillip's reddened face. Juicy, diamond tears trickled down the man's sculpted cheekbones, aging him backwards at least ten years. He resembled a young, gawky teenager, fearful and guilty and seemingly terrified.
"You're too melodramatic, Phillip." Without warning, Echo pressed his mouth against Phillip's warm cheek. "Sleep tight and don't be stupid." He rose, slipped out of Phillip's sinewy arms, and departed into the derelict hallway.
Phillip sat cross legged on one of the leather couches in the lobby. It smelt distantly of cat sand, indicating it had once been owned by someone with copious amounts of cats, but otherwise stayed in decent condition. He traced the salted rim of his lemonade glass. Habit, mostly.
Echo descended the stairs, and the entire room seemed to slow. Phillip's heart seemed to leap around his chest, dance wildly with his lungs and liver and spleen. If he even had a spleen still. He'd never checked. His eyes traced the lithe form of Echo's body, because even in his usual clothing of blue jeans and a cotton shirt that buttoned down smartly, Echo appeared radiant.
"You look amazing," Phillip muttered. He wondered, if only briefly, if that was appropriate to say to someone of lower social status than he. The thought faded quickly though. "What did you need me for?" It had all been rather cryptic: just a purple post-it note.
"Thai food," Echo informed the king. "I came into a bit of money recently." He nodded smugly in secrecy, and Phillip pretended not to know about the betting pool in the kitchens.
Together they started for the dark parking lot, towards Phillip's beat up little car in all its mediocre glory. It let them in, grumbled quietly to life. The trip stayed mostly silent, punctuated only by the occasional interlude of static talk shows as Phillip searched for a decent radio station. Ultimately, only silence seemed satisfactory.
They sat in the front seats, parked outside the palace.
"I like you," Echo said between a bite of Pad Thai and a sip of Snapple. He brandished his slim, bamboo chopsticks at Phillip. "It feels weird. I'm not used to liking people, because they usually annoy me."
Phillip blushed the colour of carnations. "That's silly. I haven't done anything to really warrant your affections."
Echo laughed. It was a harsh, angry sound, mirthless in its outrage. "You know what they used to do to me? You know what used to happen? They whored me out to foreign dignitaries. If I talked back, they beat me. I still have the scars, if you want to see them." He tugged up the side of his shirt just enough to expose the ends of whip-scars. "For years. Sidhe live a lot longer than humans…I've seen generations. Lifetimes."
This elicited only a blink from the king.
"You're not power hungry. You don't have to understand anything else."
Phillip leaned over and wrapped both arms around Echo's neck in an awkward hug across the seats. On the horizon, the moon glowed mournfully. Phillip's mouth gaped, opened as if to say something, but nothing emerged. Sounds stayed stuck in his throat.
"That sucks," he breathed finally. "I'm sorry." He let his hands touch the ends of Echo's hair, push them away from the boy's face. Their breathes mingled for a moment, divine and swirling, before dissolving into nothingness.
Echo shut his eyes and leaned forward to kiss Phillip. Just a brief connection, like the merging of two ideas or the budding of a single, dual-coloured daisy. Like the birth of fire. Echo's heartbeat quickened, pounded hard against his rib cage. His breathing quickened and made his lungs scream for air until he pulled away to breathe. Mouths inches apart, eyes still closed, they teased the promise of intimacy on a live wire.
"I like you too." With that, Phillip —the flustered, self-conscious king— leaned back into his seat to finish his coconut milk soup.
I do not like the ending. Everything else (especially the beginning) I like a lot.
I hope it was enjoyable to people that are not me.