Chapter 1: The Edge of the World
Eventide City was dazzling, to the say the least. The ivory, peach, and lavender details shone in the late afternoon sunshine and swam in Kyle’s eyes, making him feel as if he were drowning in them. They hadn’t even crossed the bridge that led to city’s main gates yet. His face right up against the window, he devoured the magnificent sight right up until they turned onto the bridge, at which point he found himself staring hundreds of feet down into a rushing river. It was dizzying, and the sight stirred the worry and anxiety that brewed within him.
As the carriage entered the capital of the Kingdom of Lossúrea, Kyle studied the streets and houses and shops, gazing with awe and admiration at the statues, bridges, and fountains that glistened in the sunlight. Part of him felt ashamed as he thought of the much simpler, woodsy architecture of his homeland of Larnion, the high elven kingdom tucked into the shady Grove. The Lossúrean capital, on the other hand, was glorious, a world of ivory and gold, a gem of a city if there ever was one.
Kyle quickly noticed that some elves were staring at the carriage, right at him, their faces full of excitement. Others were pointing, and others yet were shouting in a language that finally felt too real, not just a melody of sounds he exchanged solely with Pip, the linguist that the sun elves had sent to Larnion over a year ago. Kyle sat back in the seat at once, only taking little glances out the window until the carriage finally moved past the market, going into the heart of the city.
They traveled down roads that seemed to be made of pink marble, across bridges that spanned crystal streams, and past magnificent, ritzy homes. Soon (too soon), the palace came into view, bursting into Kyle’s vision in all its ivory splendor. The structure was a monstrous cluster of spires and towers and massive windows, all gold and peach and white, not a single harsh color. The front lawn before it was a sprawling expanse of gardens and fountains and pools, the entire visage warm and dream-like, so different from the deep verdant foliage of the Grove. Up ahead, Kyle could see the palace’s main entrance, above which stretched a huge veranda. Over it hung cascading strings of flowers, creating a slight curtain.
Beyond that veil of flowers, he saw two guards standing on either side of the door, as well as another person, who was coming forward. This person, a female, had long blond hair, with beautiful, shiny curls that bounced as she stepped down the stairs. She was wearing cropped pants, a long, flowy tunic, and high-heeled sandals that made a smart clicking sound on the stone steps.
When the coachman came around to open Kyle’s door, the female put her arm behind her back and bowed before him, saying, “Your Highness. It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Kingdom of Lossúrea.” After completing the bow, she said, “My name is Bebe Starheart, and I’ve been assigned to be your primary attendant. My duty and privilege is to assist you and do whatever I can to make you as comfortable as possible here.”
Although Kyle had dealt with royal servants all his life, he felt arrested there, gazing at this beautiful sun elf as he struggled to discern her scent and therefore, gender. In a way, she smelled similar to Pip, who was an omega, but different enough that Kyle wasn’t sure. Somehow, though, he didn’t get the impression she was an alpha.
Eventually, he just said, “Thank you.”
“I pray the journey was not too difficult, Your Highness?” she asked.
“Umm. No,” he said. There had been some mud and rain, but overall, it was as bearable as three long weeks on the road could possibly be. That is, barely.
While Pip and the coachman began to unload Kyle’s many belongings, Bebe led Kyle inside the palace. It was as glorious as it was on the outside, with marble floors, brilliant statues, and twinkling chandeliers. Even so, it felt strangely cozy, the deep rays of late sun penetrating the many windows, some clear and some stained. He followed Bebe down the long hallways, occasionally passing other elves who instantly bowed down. The mixture of foreign scents was confounding, almost enough to give Kyle a headache as he tried in vain to determine the elves’ gender. That said, he thought he might have passed at least one alpha, possibly two.
It was worth noting, however, that none of these elves smelled bad, only different. Overall, their scents seemed tangier and fruit-like, not very earthen. Kyle wondered what he must smell like to them, and then he began to worry about that. This was yet another feeling he forced himself to swallow though. Straightening his posture, he held his chin high the rest of the way to the dressing room.
This room had a massive window, but the blue curtains were draped, such that most of the light was coming in through the half-oval that spanned the top of the window. Besides two settees, a screen, and an armoire, there were two small tables surrounded by armchairs, upon which different robes were draped.
“I hope you’ll find one of these gowns to your liking, Your Highness,” Bebe said as she stepped over to the robes.
These clothes were very different from his. Currently, he was wearing his favorite robes, a deep crimson pair with gold embroidery and green trim that he wore often. At any rate, the truth was, he had had a number of new robes made for him before leaving Larnion: quite a few were very fancy, and all their colors were deep and purposeful, just like Larnion’s flag. As Kyle felt the silk fabric of this light green gown in his fingers, it suddenly felt imperative that he wear one of his own robes.
The thought of being presented before the King of Lossúrea wearing one of these Lossúrean robes would be excruciating, as if Kyle were communicating that he belonged to him. And while that would be more or less true on paper come next week, it never, ever would be in Kyle’s heart.
But though he stood firm in this decision, still, he worried. He was going to be the queen of this kingdom – could he really afford to present himself as so high elven? Yet as he glanced at Bebe, with her tan skin and blond hair, then looked at his own very pale skin and deep red hair in the large mirror on the wall, he realized that no matter what he wore, he would always be different here.
He walked over to the window and pulled the curtains back, seeing miles and miles of sparkling blue sea in the distance, beyond the low black hills. The high elves often referred to the Great Sea as “The End of the World.” Remembering that, Kyle’s face paled. He squinted out into the distance but saw nothing except the twinkling lights of the sun’s reflection upon the water. The gravity of it was almost too much, and he turned away from the window, the curtains falling back into place as the room safely dimmed. Yet now, a lovely face was gazing at him with such sincere worry that he felt caught between duty and eternity, squashed so harshly that they bled into his skin and became him. The realness of it was nearly unbearable.
“I have robes,” he suddenly said, as if he’d been caught doing something bad. “My own robes. So I’ll wear them. They’re with my other things.”
“Alright,” she replied easily. “Shall I go fetch them for you?”
She left, and he knelt down on the carpet, putting his head down on it as he absorbed the precious moment of peace.
Although the sapphire blue robes Kyle changed into after his bath weren’t quite as fancy as the Lossúrean ones, he was very satisfied with his choice as he looked at himself in the mirror. And it wasn’t just because he looked good – no, these robes, with their silver embroidery depicting doves, were special beyond just that. They were made using a very particular dye that had been custom-made to mimic a very particular color. Kyle wore them today with equal parts defiance and sadness. Nevertheless, traces of anxiety still rode within him, and they latched onto the sadness, robbing him of power in his stride, of resolve in his face. Now that he was so close – seconds away – the trepidation was nearly impossible to swallow. His only hope was that his scent was so foreign that discerning his mood would be difficult, if not impossible.
On the door that Bebe brought him to, there was a crystal teardrop embedded in the wood. It was thick and convex, masterfully cut with many surfaces, making it hard to see through it. Most importantly, however, was that the shade of the gem was lighter than Kyle’s robes.
Just before Bebe knocked on the door, a long, soft chime echoed from within the room – a clock announcing the hour, whichever it was.
“Come in!” a clear voice from inside said, and then when Bebe opened the door, Kyle was ruined.
He smelled him before he saw him. It was like a gust of air straight in Kyle’s face, unexpected and overwhelming. This scent was so vivid, so delicious, so unmistakably alpha that Kyle was frozen solid, his cock suddenly twitching to life. Then he saw him coming towards them, wearing a decorous, white military uniform with golden tassels, his appearance pristine and sun-kissed in a way that was intolerable. His hair was light, touched with faint yellow gold; his clear blue eyes penetrating; and his face disturbingly perfect, as if cut from marble. He was so much more damning than how Pip had described him, and Kyle felt deceived, real terror gripping his heart as he inhaled that powerful scent, as he was annihilated by that beauty.
Yet even if he weren’t so distressed, Kyle never would have noticed the subtle traces of anxiety in the king’s blues eyes, the ones he failed to mask. Kyle could not look at him, could not step into the blue and beige room, not if his life depended on it, which it did, in a way. No – when he finally forced his legs to move, it was in another direction.
He ran fast and hard, maybe faster than he’d ever ran in his life, going any which way so long as it was away. Away from that man who smelled so frighteningly good, away from these perfect walls and ivory luxury. It was too much; he couldn’t do it; he was failing, right now, sprinting down these long halls to nowhere, almost certainly going in a circle before finally finding a stairwell. As he scrambled down the stairs, he ran right into an elf carrying towels, making them both stumble down, all the towels flying in the air. Panicking worse now, Kyle managed to spit out a frazzled apology, only to realize a moment later that he’d said it in Larnionian.
It was a miracle he made it to the grand entrance hall again, and he raced to the front door convinced that the guards would try to detain them, but they didn’t. Outside, the front lawn seemed to stretch out for miles, and though Kyle’s muscles were burning, he ran through the majestic landscaping by the sheer power of his anxiety, constantly looking behind him to see if anyone was coming after him. Then, he saw a problem up ahead: the gates to the palace. Horrified, he diverted his path, going as far away from the main gate as possible, running straight through the gardens but making sure to walk around reflecting pools. At last, he saw his salvation: a tree near the palace’s white stone wall, with a branch that was low enough for him to climb. With his high elven tree-climbing prowess, Kyle easily scaled the tree, scrambling up into its branches until he was high enough to leap down onto the top of the wall. From there, he carefully let himself down.
Then, he was free.
Here, he took a brief moment to catch his breath, his hand on the wall for support. There was quite a large hill here, and perhaps a mile down below, the rest of the city. But Kyle knew he couldn’t go there though – he’d stick out like a sore thumb. He looked to his left, and saw a paltry patch of strange, prickly trees just before the rocky hills that separated the city from the beach. It wasn’t much, but it was something, and perhaps he could find a path through the hills to the beach, which seemed like a very solitary place.
He got lucky, for once: after going through the thin cluster of trees, he followed the hillside down to the right, where the hill dipped enough for him to be able to climb over it. Yet despite Kyle’s high elven agility, it was much more difficult than he anticipated, and, to his horror, he cut his calf – and his robes – on a jagged rock. Cursing and nearly in tears, he resolved to analyze the damage after he made it over this stupid hill.
The way down was a struggle too: the other side of the hill was far more jagged than the way up, and this time, being far more frazzled and careless, he cut himself twice, almost glad for the additional damage. Now, everything was ruined; it was undeniable. On the vacant dunes, he studied his beautiful, ruined, robes, lifting up the hem to analyze the damage on his pale legs, as well as the cut on his forearm. The cuts weren’t very deep, but they were bleeding profusely, ruining the torn silk that had been dyed to match his best friend’s eyes.
In pieces, Kyle staggered over the dunes to the empty shore, where he crumpled in the sand and hung his head, his breathing labored as he caught his breath. The tears came then, but they did not break forth as if from a ruptured dam; rather, they began to stream just as the blood streamed from his wounds, draining him slowly and steadily, without end. His hands were buried in the white sand, his palms burning from all the little scrapes they’d suffered on the rocks. When he raised his weary head, he saw the sun melting into the sea and felt so empty inside, his shell so tattered, his heart so raw.
His tears dripped onto the sand, pouring from him like a rainstorm but refusing to alter the beach’s whiteness with the dark little dots he craved to see. It was true, wasn’t it? He was going to be absorbed by this place; that was the only way this would go…
And that smell…
He’d never smelled anything like it in his life. Just thinking about it now was giving him an erection, and in his ragged state, that was harrowing, devastating like nothing else.
He sniffed profusely and shook his head. No. No, it wasn’t possible. He thought of Stan’s scent, the gentle smell of spring rain, of dewdrops on moss and stars in mid-summer, all of that mixed in with the deep, hard smell of wood, the sharpness of pine, and something else, something rich and deep and strong. It was a smell of comfort and safety, a harbor where Kyle let something inappropriate and futile grow. He choked on a sob as he cried harder, desperate to hear Stan’s voice, to feel his warm hand on his shoulder. Goddess, it hurt so much.
Stan had said he was brave. Ha… If only he could see him now…
Kyle looked over his shoulder and saw the palace in the distance, rising up over the hill. The windows were aglow with the light of the orange sunset, the walls peach. It looked like such a safe, clean place. Kyle scoffed, the sound wet with his crying, every bone in his body wanting to get as far away from that place as possible. Even so, he knew that was where he would be sleeping tonight. He just wondered how long it would take for someone to find him and bring him back.
The hours turned out to be a blessing. Though he was hungry and thirsty, and though the temperate had dropped too, the illusion of freedom was like a bandage on his broken spirit – a poor one, but a bandage nonetheless. It was dark now, the stars and moon shining in the sky just as they did in Larnion. The waves lapped the shore lazily, sleepily, and Kyle gazed at them in the same way, feeling so much older than his twenty-one years.
When the soft breeze brought Pip’s scent to his nostrils, he was relieved it was him and only him, the one person he really knew in this place. Still, Kyle frowned, displeased that the inevitable had finally come.
“Your Highness?” Pip said in Larnionian, his voice drenched with concern.
Kyle neither responded nor looked at him, only hung his head. He could sense Pip hesitating behind him, but couldn’t will himself to act properly and say, “I’m sorry, I’ll come back now.”
Instead, he said, “I tore my robes. And got blood stains on them. The blue ones, with the special dye. They’re ruined.”
“Oh, Your Majesty, I’m so sorry,” Pip replied. “Perhaps I could have them make a new pair?”
“No,” Kyle said instantly. “They’re ruined; that’s the end of it.” A few moments later, he amended, “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Alright, Your Highness,” Pip replied. Then, very carefully, he asked, “Would you like to return to the palace? Perhaps have some dinner?”
“Give me a minute.”
Kyle took one last look at the end of the world before standing, going back to the place where he would reside on the very edge of it. He followed Pip up the coast, feeling depleted as the blond elf led him to a torch-lined tunnel that went straight through a tall section of the hill.
“I’m surprised no guards came to drag me back,” he said to Pip.
“Oh heavens no, that would’ve been dreadful!” Pip exclaimed.
Kyle said nothing. It was clear that yes, it would have been.
Just before they reached the heavy wooden door at the end of the tunnel, Kyle felt a wave of exhaustion set in, and as they went through the massive cellar, he felt like he was dragging his body along. Pip asked him about this, inevitably, and Kyle, so apathetic by now, just said he was tired, almost grunting the words.
Regardless, Pip sweetly said, “Ah, well, I hope you’ll rest well tonight, Your Highness.”
Though Kyle agreed, he nevertheless frowned, thinking about the fact that the guards didn’t come after him – that there were no guards sent after him – and thinking, too, about how Pip had told him time and time again that the sun elves were, per their name and perhaps even biology, the kindest, warmest elves in the world. Up until this point, however, Kyle had only interacted with sun elves who were subordinate to him: Pip, the linguist, and Bebe, the servant. Of course, if he hadn’t been such an idiot, he would’ve had a much better example to cite.
It was such torment deliberating these things now. The exhaustion, fortunately, allowed him to put them out of his mind, at least until a servant brought him dinner in the small, private dining room where Kyle had been waiting. After placing the plates down on the table, the servant identified them as if Kyle hadn’t been eating herb-roasted quail with pumpkin rice, chicken of the forest, and dew and basil soup all his life. At first, Kyle didn’t find any of this unusual, that is, until he noticed the odd juxtaposition of these plates against the peach-colored tablecloth, as opposed to a hearty wooden table.
It was hard to understand. He wanted to know whose idea this was (if it was a single person’s idea), but it was hard to even formulate the question in his native language, let alone in Lossúrean. The servant was heading back to the kitchen now anyway, the wheels of the cart rolling effortlessly over the floor. Then Kyle was alone again, his eyes veering tiredly from the quail, to the rice, to the mushrooms, to the soup. It was obvious that these people wanted to make him feel at home, but the taste of the food was different enough that it only highlighted the fact that high elves had not cooked it. While he wanted to say he appreciated the thought – and he did, abstractly – the difference was enough to wound him, make the meal difficult. Worse yet, now he was going to have to tell them not to try to emulate high elven cuisine. When he was finished, he sighed and got up, tossing his napkin onto the empty plate and heading out into the hall, only to realize he had no idea where his rooms were.
It was at that moment that he saw a young female coming down the hall, a pink ribbon in her teeth as she distractedly tied another around one of the buns on either side of her head. She nearly ran into a table up against the wall, causing her to mutter a swear word under her breath and then briefly glance up, at which point they made eye contact. Her brown eyes huge, she froze and let out a soundless gasp, the other ribbon falling from her mouth. Then, as if ripped from a trance, she instantly bowed down, saying, “Your Highness! My sincerest apologies! Please excuse my tardiness!”
They were standing a good three yards away from each other. Kyle just stared at her, not quite sure who she was, let alone what was going on here.
“Um… Who are you?” he finally asked.
“Oh!” She suddenly looked up, and he saw that her cheeks were with flushed with exertion and probably anxiety. He felt kind of sorry for her. “I’m Flora, Flora Larksong. I’m, ah, I’m your night attendant,” she said breathlessly. “I’m so, so sorry I’m late. And on today of all days! Sunlight, I hope you haven’t encountered any trouble the past, err”—she looked around the hallway—“however long you’ve been without assistance, Your Highness.”
Kyle stepped closer to her, honestly pitying her: she was so young-looking, maybe seventeen at most, certainly not an adult. “I’m fine. Please don’t worry. We are all late at times. If you have any troubles from this, I will take care of it,” he said, crouching down to pick up her ribbon that had fallen to the floor. He handed it to her, and her brown eyes were even wider as she tentatively took it, as if she couldn’t believe he just did that.
“T-thank you,” she managed to say.
Smiling at her, he asked, “Do you think you could show me where my rooms are?”
“Yes!” she said, perhaps a bit too emphatically. With more composure, she amended: “I mean, yes. Yes of course, Your Highness. Right this way, please!”
He followed her down the hall and up a stairwell, completely unfamiliar with this area and thinking to ask her for a map, but not really feeling like talking, either. He’d ask Bebe tomorrow. They went through a pair of windowed double doors, then down a short hall of hardwood floors. Along the left wall, there was a long glass shelf, upon which there were hundreds of pink roses. The window on the right was huge, looking down onto the front lawn. The following room was the bedroom, which was massive, exquisite, all the decor was roses too: pink, white, and peach, none red. However, there was some red in the room, and that was from the structure that Kyle first laid eyes upon. It was a very tall, very large lamp designed to resemble a tree, with a stained glass canopy of leaves, some spaces in it, just like there might be on a real tree. The trunk was leaden, and even had branches with little leaves that reached up into the glass canopy. But the most mesmerizing thing about it was the apples. There were some attached to the canopy and others placed amongst the branches, the little fruits made of the richest red glass, glowing so beautifully they looked good enough to eat. As Kyle approached it, he spotted something else in the branches, a little piece of paper hanging by a string. When he unfolded it, he was surprised to see a hand-written message in Larnionian:
Princess Kyle of Larnion:
I hope this tree can remind you of home.
Very truly yours,
Kyle read the note over and over again, becoming increasingly upset and confused. It was hand-written, so did Gregory know Larnionian? But first of all, why did everyone seem to think he needed reminders of Larnion? As beautiful as the apple lamp was, it was so painful to look at. All Kyle could think of was climbing apple trees with Stan, sitting on the bank of the stream as they ate one after another, laughing as Stan’s old hound Sparky tentatively licked one, as if the taste baffled his carnivorous tongue. Those days were long gone. Kyle knew that. He didn’t need to have it shoved in his face, not by King of Lossúrea of all fucking people.
“I need this lamp removed,” Kyle said quietly, closing his eyes as he hung his head. Goddess, was he tired. “Sorry, it’s… It’s distracting.”
“Oh, that’s quite all right, Your Highness, very understandable,” she quickly said. “Let me to go get some help though; it’s too heavy for me to carry on my own.”
After Flora left, Kyle went through the other rooms, as well as the closet, where he found all the clothes he had brought in addition to a slew of new Lossúrean clothes. The difference in colors between the two was like night and day. He ran his fingers down a pair of dark green robes he liked very much, then a gray shawl of rabbit fur he often wore in winter. But there would be no winters here in Lossúrea, at least not winters like Kyle knew them, with snow and wind and ice and cozy fires and hot chocolate and Stan’s breath white in the air. Kyle took the shawl off the hanger and buried his face in it, almost wanting to cry again but knowing he wouldn’t be able to; he was far too exhausted, barely even having the energy to fish up some pajamas and change into them, taking an absurd amount of comfort in the fact that they were the same as always. They were his.
He stayed in the closet for about forty minutes, listening to Flora and two other voices through the door as they disassembled the lamp. During this time, he lazily rifled through the new Lossúrean clothes, turning his nose up at some, deciding he’d look good in others. Most of them were robes, and he wondered what the logic behind that was, whether because he was a mage by profession or because he was an omega. As Pip had told him, the sun elves often dressed based on gender, not profession, with alphas often wearing slacks; omegas, dresses and skirts; and betas, dresses and skirts for the female sex, and pants for the males. Yet these days, Pip had said, it was also very common for omegas and female betas to wear slacks too. Still, it bothered Kyle to think these people would see him wearing robes and view it in a totally inaccurate light. Perhaps he should start wearing pants. Ah, but he hated pants; they were so uncomfortable…
Then came a small knock on the door, followed by Flora’s wavering voice saying, “Pardon the interruption, Your Highness, but I just wanted to inform you that the lamp has been taken away. Is there anything else you need?”
He went over to the door, cracking it open to peer at her. For some reason, he felt embarrassed about being seen by her in his scarlet pajamas.
“No, I’m fine now, thank you. I’ll let you know if I need anything. I’m going to sleep very soon,” he said, taking care to speak to her warmly. She seemed so damn flighty, like an actual bird.
“Understood, Your Highness,” she said with a quick bow. “I’ll be outside in the hall, just beyond the roses if you need anything throughout the night. There’s a bell on your nightstand you can ring to alert me.”
“Great,” Kyle replied, and just before he was about to shut the door again, he said, “Ah, one more thing.”
“Yes, Your Highness?”
“Don’t forget. Tell me if they give you trouble. Okay?”
“Ah… Yes, Your Highness. You are very kind.”
She smiled, genuinely, with teeth, and Kyle noticed something then: her smile was a lot like her scent, like spring flowers peeking out from the soil, but more exotic, the little touches to it warmer, yellow and orange. It was confounding not knowing her gender, not knowing anyone’s gender here (except the king’s, a voice in his head echoed), but it would be far too strange to ask, he felt. Pip had said he was able to differentiate between high elven scents after only a few weeks in Larnion, though sometimes he still failed to differentiate between betas and omegas, so Kyle expected the same would be true of him here in Lossúrea eventually. He hadn’t expected it to be so frustrating in the meantime, however. For all the time he’d spent learning about Lossúrea and the elves, he felt so disoriented actually being here.
When he opened the door and saw the large empty space where the lamp had been, he wasn’t sure if he felt better about it or not. Undoubtedly he did, he tried to convince himself. Yes, this was better.
He shut off the lights, eager to climb into bed. Though it was a comfortable bed, it wasn’t his bed, and as tired as he was, he struggled to sleep that night, his thoughts circulating viciously in his brain, like a vortex in the sea. His mind veered back and forth, going from the image of a worn and weary Stanley in a battered tent, bags under his eyes, exhausted beyond belief. Then the scene would shift dramatically and uncomfortably to the perfect image of a perfect man, with golden hair in a white uniform, his blue eyes icier, cooler than Stan’s deep ones. In Stan’s deep blue eyes was comfort, home, a blanket around his shoulders and that long hug goodbye in a secret meadow few knew about. Kyle had loved him, still loved him, always would love him. He loved him so much that he was here in Lossúrea, so much farther than he would have been in Larnion, and he felt every single mile of that distance jab his heart like a thousand needles.
His pillow was wet.
The other side was cold. And that man, the one to whom Kyle was betrothed… There was something devastating about him; something terrible and overwhelming. But… perhaps Kyle had just picked up his scent wrong. Perhaps it had mixed in with Bebe’s and created an absurd reaction. Because there was no way a man could smell that good, even better Stan. It simply wasn’t possible. Kyle refused to believe it.
After a long time of not being able to sleep, Kyle got up for a glass of water. On the way back to bed, he stopped by the large window and peeked out the curtains, looking up in the starry black sky for Mother Moon. Yet he couldn’t find the thin crescent she was tonight, and when he crawled back in bed, he had never felt more alone.
The next day Kyle woke up very late. He had slept well, at least, and felt refreshed. He put on a pair of deep verdant robes, attempted to wrangle his hair into shape, and then went out to find Bebe out in the hall, just beyond the double windowed doors. She had been sitting on the lavender settee in front of the window, and when she saw him, she put down her book and opened the door, coming into the short hall of roses to greet him with a bow.
“Good afternoon, Your Highness,” she said, standing up straight. “I hope you rested well.”
“I did, yes. And you?”
The question seemed to surprise her, and it took her a moment before she smiled and said, “Indeed I did. Thank you so much for asking, Your Highness.”
As they went to the private dining hall where Kyle had eaten dinner yesterday, he thought again of all the things that had been bothering him lately, and how he might bring this up to Bebe, whom, for whatever reason, he felt most comfortable around. Maybe it was her scent; it struck him as somewhat motherly, maybe.
So when he sat down at the table, he awkwardly said to her, “Could you, um. Stay and eat with me? Or, if you already ate, then could you sit here with me?” He could feel his face reddening somewhat, which was so stupid – she was his servant; he could ask her for anything. And of course, she obliged, thankfully not seeming confused about it, either. She could probably tell he was lonely here, which made him feel pathetic, but oh well.
“I ate some… interesting food yesterday. Larnionian food,” he said. “I’m curious. Do you know who had that idea? Because I think it would be a better idea that I eat Lossúrean food, to accommodate myself to the tastes, you know.”
“Oh, of course, Your Highness. It’s wonderful to hear you wish to try our cuisine,” she said. “As for whose idea it was… I’m afraid I don’t know, but I can try to find out.” Standing up, she finally added, “Anyway, let me go fetch you today’s menu. I’ll be right back.”
While she was gone, Kyle looked out the window down into the courtyard, where the gardeners where tending to the grass, trees, and shrubbery, much in the same way one might manicure their nails: neat, precise, and tidy. The sun was terribly bright outside, and the gardeners seemed hot, though perhaps he was just assuming that. He probably couldn’t really tell from up here.
When Bebe returned, she said she hadn’t been able to learn from the kitchen whose idea it was about the Larnionian food, but she did have the happy news that one of today’s specials was the pear-something something with something leaves. Kyle didn’t know those words, nor did he know most of the words on the menu, which was upsetting. Even so, he didn’t want to go through the effort of hounding down Pip right now, so he just asked Bebe if the meal she mentioned was good, and she said yes, so he ordered it. And it was good. It was fish, but the taste was fuller, sweeter. He ate in silence, the final thing he needed to bring up hanging over his head.
“About yesterday…” he began, pushing the leaves around with the utensil he forgot the name of. “What happened after I ran away?”
“Ah… Well. The king was rather surprised, I think.”
“But what did he do?” Kyle pressed. “Did he say anything? What happened?”
Bebe’s brown eyes widened slightly, but then she seemed thoughtful. “Well, we were a bit startled at first, and I think he asked me where you went, and I told him I didn’t know. In the end, we figured you were perhaps a bit nervous. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but that’s what we assumed, Your Highness.”
Kyle heaved out a sigh, shutting his eyes. “Maybe this is too much to ask, but could you please treat me like any normal person? I don’t care about these… what’s the word, fuck, I don’t know it, but this whole idea about you are so afraid to say the wrong thing and be rude to me. How you make things sound better and nicer. I don’t care about it. Because yes, you’re right, I was nervous. I wish that wasn’t true, but it was. I ran away like a little kid because… because I don’t even know why. I just felt like… I needed to breathe.”
“Of course, Your Highness,” she said kindly, offering him a small, almost sad smile. “And it’s alright to feel nervous; it’s alright if you need space. That’s what we figured, and that’s why we let you be. Everyone just wants you to feel comfortable and welcome here in your new home.”
In his head, Kyle knew that was true, but as sweet as their efforts were, they still ended up stinging, somehow.
“Please call me ‘Kyle.’ …Please. No ‘Your Highness’, just my name,” he said to her, hearing the imploring tone in his voice but not even caring.
“Alright, Kyle,” she said, smiling and nodding slightly.
It was such a relief having someone address him by his first name, a taste of realness and familiarity in this foreign, pastel world. It felt so good. He nearly sighed as he thanked her before asking, “What do you think I should do now? About the king. What will happen?”
“Hmm. Well, I’m not sure. If you feel ready, perhaps you could seek him out and explain. You’ll also come across him during the wedding preparations and rehearsals.”
“Oh, Goddess’ grace,” Kyle muttered. “When will that take place?”
“Well, today we need to work on your dress; we have a couple that we just need to fit you for, although if you have something else in mind, there’s still time for the dressmaker to make something from scratch. Or, if you don’t want to wear a dress, we could talk with the tailor…”
“I have wedding robes. They are… somewhere.” He hadn’t seen them in his closet.
“Oh, good! That saves a bunch of time. We’ll have to track those down then.”
She went on to tell him the itinerary for next six days before the wedding, which included other design preparations, namely his hair, which he agreed could use a trim. The main preparation, the rehearsal, was on Tuesday, two days before the wedding. Kyle knew it would be so much more awkward if he didn’t at least properly introduce himself to Gregory beforehand. Goddess, would they have to practice the kiss during the rehearsal, too? He gripped the utensil in his hand, having forgotten he was still holding onto it. His whatever-leaves were forgotten though.
Swallowing, he said, “I think I’d like to chat with the king before that.”
It seemed like so much time had passed since yesterday that Kyle felt strangely prepared as he went to meet Gregory again. He was still embarrassed about what had happened yesterday, true, but if the sun elves were as warm as Pip said they were, then hopefully the king would at least be sympathetic. That was the impression Kyle had from that lamp. He just hoped the king hadn’t found out that he’d had it removed. If he did, well, then Kyle would just have to explain that too.
These were all the things he was thinking about as Bebe took him to the king’s garden room. It was like déjà vu, and his confidence vanished as he strode down the long marble halls in his deep green robes.
This time, however, Bebe said something about his nervousness: “Everything will be fine, Kyle, I promise,” she said reassuringly, giving him a kind smile that he tried but failed to return.
He wasn’t sure if she knew he was nervous because she’d become accommodated to his scent or because she was just emotionally intuitive. Still, hearing her address him by his name made him feel additionally comforted: it felt like she was truly speaking to him, like she really cared. At the moment, Kyle didn’t care if the latter was true or not – he took the encouragement regardless. He needed it. Goddess’ green earth, did he ever need it.
The door to this room had a glass sun on the door, allowing one to see through it easily, though the view was yellow, slightly-distorted. As Bebe told him she would be right outside, Kyle peered through the window, squinting as he discerned a large glass table over to the left, statues, and lush plants and flowers, but no person. He took a deep breath before knocking twice on the light-wood door.
The voice that said “come in” was softer than before, coming from farther away. Swallowing, Kyle turned the door knob. He wasn’t going to run away like a baby this time. He was going to sit down in here and have a conversation with this man even if it killed him, which it very well might.
When he stepped into the room, he was so impressed that he stood there distracted for a moment, taking in the details in their full color and clarity. There were so many lush trees and plants that the place was almost a maze of green, with the furniture peeking out from among the foliage like ancient relics lost in a wilder world. Most of the walls and ceiling were windows, letting in the golden afternoon sunshine and making it almost feel like the place was outdoors. The room smelled wonderful, like life, and Kyle only caught the faintest whiff of that devastating smell from yesterday, coming from the same direction he now heard that voice pierce the wonder of the room as it coolly called out: “I’m in the back, beyond the fountain.”
Stepping forward uncertainly, Kyle peered through the foliage until he saw the origin of the trickling water. The fountain was a statue of a lithe male elf with his two hands raised, water falling from his palms into the pool surrounding him. There were water lilies and white fish in the water, Kyle noticed as he walked around the pool, bravely proceeding through the trees and flowers as he followed that scent to the very back of the room, where his eyes fell upon Gregory of Yardale, sitting on the edge of a cushioned wicker sofa, his hands over a book in his lap as he looked up at Kyle through a thin pair of spectacles, a polite and placid smile on his face. He was wearing casual clothes today, silky light green slacks and a loose white shirt.
Though intermingled with the myriad of floral scents, his smell was still so pervasive from where Kyle was standing a few yards away. Naturally, horrifically, he felt so arrested and uncertain all of the sudden, a knot in his throat that made speaking impossible. He could feel how wide his eyes were, how furrowed his brow was.
“Please, sit,” Gregory said in a soft voice, gesturing to a wicker armchair a few feet to Kyle’s right, at a safe distance. As safe as it was going to get, anyway.
Kyle was breathing hard as he sat down, partially due to nervousness, though partially due to that scent, that beautiful, nightmarish scent, a scent he didn’t want to be filling his lungs with but couldn’t seem to stop. It was so bright, so decadent, yet so confounding, an aspect of it as deep and pungent as the wildest berries, yet unlike any berry Kyle had ever tasted. It eluded him, and he couldn’t help but want it, want all of it. It was so troublesome that he really wanted to run away again. Goddess help him. He had to try to ignore it somehow. He had to remember why he was doing this, why he was here. Crossing his legs, he forced himself to look at Gregory again, reminding himself that this man was a tool, a necessity.
Gregory gave him a polite nod. “I hope you slept well?” he said.
Kyle hated himself for this response, for the whole way he was acting. It was killing him that he simply couldn’t be gracious and composed, as Gregory seemed to be.
“And your journey here was safe, I understand?” Gregory asked.
Eyes moving around the room, looking at anything but Gregory, Kyle replied, “It was good, yes. No monsters. Boring. But I am here now.”
Goddess, damn this man for smelling so good. Damn this erection too! Damn it all!
“Have you… found everything to your liking?” Gregory asked, sounding more cautious this time.
Kyle looked at him. That tanned face was a wall, the blue eyes, stones. They implied nothing, gave Kyle no direction. “Yes…” he eventually lied.
“Even the food?”
“What? Oh… um, no. I think I will eat your food from today forward.”
“Ah. I see,” Gregory said, and he sounded slightly disappointed, just slightly, which Kyle picked up on.
“It was your idea,” Kyle stated, unable to keep the accusation from his tone. “About the Larnionian food.”
“Well, yes,” he admitted. “Is that a problem?”
Kyle scowled. No, obviously it wasn’t ‘a problem,’ but… It wasn’t what he wanted, and he hated feeling like a jerk for that. He hated that he was sitting here with a boner as he was assaulted by this guy’s painfully decadent odor only to be made to feel like an asshole on top of that. Fuck this! Fuck it!
“No,” Kyle finally replied. “I just want to eat your food. Is that a problem?”
And though he had said it somewhat hostilely, Gregory’s response was calm: “No, of course not. I’m happy that you want to eat our cuisine. I just thought it might be easier for you to adjust if you could at least eat the food you’re used to. I realize the kitchen was likely unable to emulate it perfectly, however. Please accept my sincerest apologies in that regard.”
Fuck, he was so articulate too. It wasn’t fair; it wasn’t fair that Kyle had to sound like an idiot in front of him just because he’d only been studying stupid fucking Lossúrean for a year. Then, he remembered something: “That note on the lamp… Did Pip help you?”
“Hm? You mean, the note I put on the apple tree lamp?”
Getting frustrated, Kyle demanded, “Then how did you know those words? Do you mean to say that you can speak Larnionian?”
At first, Kyle just squinted at him. Then, with suspicion, he slowly asked, “Why?”
Gregory shrugged. “I like learning things.”
“When did you begin to study it?” Kyle asked, still regarding him with scrutiny.
He seemed to think for a moment before saying, “Twelve years ago.”
The disappointment of hearing that was unexpectedly crushing. Oh, but of course. There was no reciprocity here; there was no way the King of Lossúrea would have learned Larnionian because of him. The thought was bitter, inflammatory as Kyle swallowed it.
“Good for you then,” Kyle said curtly, dismissively.
Then, Gregory was quiet. When Kyle looked up at him a moment later, he saw the king gazing out the window almost tiredly, out across the low black hills. The sunlight was shining on his hair in a way that was tragic, too beautiful, impossible.
Even so, Kyle felt guilty now. “Why did you begin to study it though?” he asked more genteelly, truly curious.
Gregory glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, but he did not turn his head to respond. “I have a friend who was interested in learning it, so I studied with him.”
“I see,” Kyle said. “Are you fluent then?”
“I don’t know, something. Anything.”
“Hmm. Let’s see…” Then, in Larnionian, he said, something absolutely damning, far too real: “I’m sorry if I did something wrong yesterday.”
It took Kyle’s breath away, literally. In addition to his anxiety and arousal, hearing his native tongue in the king’s cool voice, in his strange Lossúrean accent… It was so much, and the overflow of emotion was enough to make his eyes glisten, not with sadness or happiness, but simply as a reaction to the intensity of everything in this flowery room.
Finally managing to get ahold of himself a bit, Kyle replied in Larnionian: “You didn’t do anything wrong. I just… It was just a long day for me yesterday. It probably would’ve been better if we’d planned to meet for the first time today instead.” It was so embarrassing talking about this. He hated it.
“You’re probably right, so I apologize for my lack of, ah… prior planning,” Gregory said, smiling a little.
“It’s fine,” Kyle said, touching the side of his head as he looked away, frowning. Gregory’s Larnionian was really good, a lot better than his Lossúrean. He was jealous, and it made him feel kind of dumb. “I don’t really want to talk about it anymore. Let’s just forget it ever happened.”
“I can do that,” Gregory said easily, and Kyle let out a small sigh of relief – just a small one, not enough to truly put him at ease. He didn’t think that would ever be possible around Gregory. It was just that damn smell. This conversation would be so much easier with a glass wall between them.
Gregory said nothing for the next few moments. It made things so much harder not having him to sustain the conversation – the silence was hell. When Kyle looked at him, he saw the king looking pensive, staring at the floor. That was when Kyle noticed how tightly Gregory was gripping the book in his lap. His knuckles were white.
“What is it?” Kyle asked, and Gregory looked up at him slowly, fluidly, like gently-moving water.
“It’s nothing,” the king said smoothly, offering Kyle a pleasant smile. “I was just thinking about dinner, is all,” he admitted, laughing a bit, and that was enough for Kyle to be convinced he was telling the truth.
“It’s three o’clock,” Kyle said, incredulous. Dinner was hours from now.
“Well, there’s still an hour and a half to go, but I’ll likely go earlier,” Gregory said in perfect Larnionian. Then he added, “You’re welcome to join me, if you wish. Even if you would just like a snack or coffee or something.”
And while it was true that four o’clock was a very adequate time for honey tea and mint brew, Kyle didn’t think he could bear another minute around Gregory. The strings of his mental and physical composure felt so tattered just by this short exchange. Would it always be like this, he wondered?
“I… I’m afraid I can’t,” Kyle muttered, staring at his hand clutching his knee. “I have to uh…” Hurry, think of something! But don’t say ‘I have to go do something’, because then he’ll think you’re going to go masturbate! “Write a letter.”
“Ah, that’s fine,” Gregory said, giving him yet another polite smile. “Perhaps another time then.”
“Yes,” Kyle replied, not really meaning it. Clutching the armrest in his palm, he slowly hoisted himself up, turning his back on the king once he stood so he wouldn’t see his now-freed election. Goddess, he was going to have to start wearing pants around here, wasn’t he? “Anyway,” he began, clearing his throat. “Nice, um, to meet you, I suppose. Best to, uh…” Fuck, what was he even saying? “I… better get going. Have to write that letter.” Aware he was being terribly rude, he glanced over his shoulder and saw the king with his blond eyebrows raised, simply staring at him. “I’ll see you around,” Kyle finally said.
“Yes, I suppose you shall,” Gregory replied. “Have a good evening, Your Highness.”
Although it didn’t seem like the king was being sarcastic, something about being addressed like that by him was annoying, like he was playing games with him or something. Fortunately, at least, the irritation was enough to help squander Kyle’s arousal, which he effectively killed off by stuffing his face into a strange yet safe-looking purple flower once Gregory was out of sight. In the end, he didn’t go back to his rooms to masturbate as he was thinking he might have to, though nor did he write any letters, of course. Rather, he found on the shelf the journal where he had written down the lyrics to all the songs Stan had written. He took great care not to let his tears drop down and mar the paper, but one slipped by, creating a lamentable splash very near the inconsequential word “and.” Not “love” or “hope” or even some foresty noun, but “and.” It meant nothing, and that was somehow worse than the smudge that soon developed as the water bled into the perfect calligraphy.
Chapter 2: Others
This fic is like... what's even going on here? Anyway, introducing Christophe.
After getting his hair cut two days later, Kyle was bored. So, he decided to explore the castle. Alone. It was midafternoon, he had just had some sorbet as a snack, and now he was having a rather pleasant time traversing the marble hallways and peeking into different rooms, investigating some while leaving others. He was definitely lost, not that that was a problem. At any rate, after about an hour of this, he came across a pair of double doors that were very different. They were white with gold accents, and in the center of each was a coat of arms that he wasn’t familiar with. It wasn’t overly complex, just an ornate shield with two crossed swords behind it, but it was enough to give him the impression that whatever was behind them was possibly restricted in some fashion. So he hesitated as he put his hand on the knob, debating for just a second before he reasoned that he was going to be the Queen of Lossúrea next week, so no place in the palace was really off-limits to him. Even the thought was silly! After all, this place was his home, wasn’t it, as everyone kept telling him.
Still, he was quiet as he slowly turned the doorknob and crept into the hallway. It was carpeted in here, with many closed doors, a window at the end before the hallway turned right. There was an almost professional feel to the place, so Kyle wasn’t surprised to see that the gold placards on the doors included military titles. So this was where they had their offices. Well, that was boring. Disappointed, Kyle planned to only cursorily look around, that is, until he heard the muffled sound of someone’s voice from down the hall. The person wasn’t quite yelling, but they were loud and seemed upset, so Kyle couldn’t help himself: he snuck down the carpeted hallway on his soft slippers, trying to figure out which office the deep male voice was coming from.
He discovered it easily: it was the first office on the left after he turned the corner. The placard read:
As he stood there to the left of the door, nearer the window, he soon heard another voice, a female one. It was severe yet even-toned, serene and low in comparison:
“I understand all that, Christophe.”
The male let out a sound that was something between a grunt and a growl, which eventually devolved into a groan. Properly shouting now, he said, “Don’t sit there and tell me you fucking ‘understand.’ You don’t; you can’t.” What he said next was in a low, deep voice, and though Kyle couldn’t make out everything, he did hear the following: “…Right in front me. And now you won’t even let me tessutiaf her. You’re fucked, Wendy. Fucked.”
Just as Kyle was committing that word to memory, he realized there was no more sound coming from the office. He knew he should get out of here before he was caught, and he really was going to, that is, until he heard the female speak again, her voice slightly bitter now: “I’m not saying I know what it was like personally. I’m saying I sympathize with you.” A moment later, she added more coolly, “Look, I’m not doing this because I don’t care about you, or because I don’t think your pain is valid. And contrary to what you may think, this is not a decision I made hastily. I put a lot of thought into it and came to the conclusion that—”
The male interrupted her and said, “That I’m a monster. Right? Just say it.” He wasn’t yelling now. “See, you’re not even going to argue it. Because you know it’s true. I know. Everybody knows.” He went on to say, “But the funny thing is… War isn’t civilized. You can send our troops over there in our fancy little outfits, with our shiny swords and bows, but it doesn’t matter. It’s still the same old shit. You of all people should know better than to think you can dress shit up like that.”
“That comparison doesn’t make any sense,” the female said in such a low voice that Kyle could barely hear it.
“‘Sense,’” the male echoed cruelly, letting out a low laugh, one that grew before dying down. Spitting, he growled, “Your sense is a fucking sham. Go fuck yourself.”
Not a second later, Kyle heard heavy footsteps coming to the door, and it was then that he knew he was in trouble. Shit, shit, shit! Run! Now! Go! But as much as he yelled at himself, he couldn’t seem to make his legs move; he was frozen there by the window, seeing the door open in slow motion, his senses assaulted by a deluge of alpha scent now freed from the confines of the room. From the door stomped out a huge male in a white uniform, with dark skin and short brown hair. He closed the door hard behind him, not quite slamming it, then took two harsh steps into the hallway before he froze and his gaze fell upon Kyle, his nostrils twitching.
They stared at each other for one long, frightening moment, during which Kyle barely breathed. He just stared up into the male’s deep hazel eyes, seeing the flecks of amber in them almost pulse. His scent was like the wind, a force that could only be endured, not reckoned with. And that scent howled, crying the sound of nature itself: the woods, the pines, the things that lived there. It was so high elven in that regard, so painfully familiar, but it wasn’t truly high elven – it was mixed with something else, something foreign but not unknown. That part was darkness, shadow, the strange scent of the mountains, where volcanoes roared and lava surged from deep within the black earth. As a whole, this living scent, this marriage of woods and flames, was so potent, so wild, that it flooded Kyle’s pores, cutting to his very core: it penetrated his throat and his cock and his mind, swallowing him, devouring him, relishing him. Immobilized by fear and incapacitated by arousal, he stared into the male’s wild eyes and twitching face, only able to wait for what would come next.
That all lasted two, maybe three seconds. Then, as if torn from a dream, the male suddenly reached out for Kyle’s arm, holding his bicep forcibly as he continued staring into his face. The look in his eyes was nearly insane now, the amber shifting erratically, like an earthquake. Vaguely, Kyle was aware that the male was shaking, and Kyle must have been too, his mind registering little beyond that smell. Everything else was bathed in the thickness of fear, his heart burning as it raced in his chest. He was afraid. And he was hard, dripping.
What happened next was shocking. The man didn’t hurt him – in fact, he let Kyle go, his own fear drenching his fire like a storm that starts too soon, too fast, and then all at once. That fear took hold of him, and in that desperate moment, he took a few staggered steps back before suddenly ramming his skull into the wall with all his might. He did it again and again, his power wavering only by the sixth or seventh time and only slightly then. At that point, the door flung open and the female erupted into the space like a black tornado, her dark hair soaring, her eyes searching. First, they fell upon Kyle, and that was when her gaze became even more alarmed, darting frantically to the male to her right, who was kneeling on the floor now, continuing to beat his head into wall, though much more weakly now, the decrescendo desperate, agonizing. There was a huge hole in the wall now, with numerous dents beneath it, riddled with smears of pink blood. The dents went all the way down to where he was now, resting his head in a paltry one as he shook in waves, his breathing tattered.
But the female didn’t go to him. Instead, she turned back to Kyle, demanding in a shaky voice, “Did he touch you?! Did he hurt you?!”
“N-no,” Kyle said instantly, without even thinking about it.
For perhaps a second, she stared at him with huge dark eyes as if she were waiting for him to say “yes.” Then, suddenly, she took his arm and said, “We need to get you out of here. Now.” She didn’t even say “Your Highness.”
Kyle was so frazzled, so confused, that he just let this female – who was clearly an alpha too – basically drag him down the hall and out the door, taking him down the marble hallway to a small, windowless lounge.
After locking them both inside, she breathed hard for a moment. The anxiety was still strong in her eyes, perhaps even stronger now as she scanned his body, looking for injuries. It scared him. But then he remembered the hard sound of that male alpha’s head colliding with the plaster and the wood, and he said, “What about him? You left him there! He’s hurt!”
“Are you okay? He didn’t touch you, did he?” the female alpha asked again.
“No! I told you he didn’t!” Kyle bellowed. “Go help him!”
Swallowing, she implored, “Please stay here, Your Highness. And lock the door.”
Nevertheless, she left slowly, tentatively, her eyes fixed on him as if he might suddenly shout out in pain. It was bizarre, incomprehensible, and he just stared at her as she left, reminding him to lock the door before her monochrome form disappeared into the hall.
Kyle stood there in that little beige and lavender room, trying to process what just happened. Distractedly, he sat down in the nearest chair, his mind revisiting the scenes like a flipbook, barely looking at one before another appeared. There was that scent, that tremendous, all-consuming scent; those angry words; that big hole in the wall; the grip on his arm; that poor male alpha. All of it was marinated in confusion: why did he bang his head like that? What was wrong with him? Why wasn’t he allowed to go to Larnion? Why did he want to so badly? Why did he say he was a monster? Why did he smell like that?
He didn’t have blond hair, Kyle realized. And though his skin was dark, it wasn’t dark like the other sun elves’. The undertone of his skin was different, not rosy, but not cool, either. Not like the female’s… And she was strange too. She didn’t look like a sun elf, but she smelled like one, like the strength of an ocean’s waves, the black depths of the sea in the night, her pale skin as white as the moon. Kyle had never seen a sun elf like her. Did she just dye her hair? Was that it?
She had told him to lock the door. His eyes veered to the doorknob, but he didn’t reach up to lock it. She really thought that alpha was dangerous, didn’t she? Dangerous enough to come running here and what, attack him? Kyle wondered if it was because he was obviously biracial, probably half-drow elf, half-high elf. But that wouldn’t make him dangerous. And anyway, what the hell was he even doing here, hundreds of miles from Larnion and even farther from the Shevelesk Mountains? What was he?
Kyle could admit to himself he’d felt threatened; he could admit he’d been scared. But he wasn’t a damsel in distress, damn it. He could fight an enemy off if need be. He could burn someone’s fucking face off if it came down to it. So the question was, was that man truly a threat, or was he just a deranged madman, more a threat to himself than others?
One way or another, Kyle was going to get the answers to these questions.
Just then, the door whooshed open, and there was Bebe, her blond curls everywhere, panic all over her face. Out of breath, she looked at Kyle with huge brown eyes before saying the inevitable: “I just heard! Sunlight, are you okay?!”
“I’m fine,” Kyle said calmly, praying that that would convince her. “But what about that… male?”
The fear in her eyes shifted then – it was still there, but now there was pain filling them, pain and desperation, so deep it was almost uncomfortable to look at.
“What?” Kyle asked. “Is he okay?!”
In a quiet, trembling voice, Bebe said, “I’m going to go to see.”
“Let me come, maybe I—”
“No,” she immediately said, which shocked him, being so sharply denied by a servant. He just stared at her. “I mean – oh, sunlight guide us. Forgive me, Your Highness. Please, please, just let us deal with this. We need to be the ones to deal with this.”
Honestly, it hurt hearing that. It hurt being told that yes, he really was an outsider here; these really weren’t his affairs; this wasn’t his kingdom, his home. While he’d known that all along, hearing it from someone he thought he might be able to trust was like a slap in the face, and he felt so stupid and wounded as he heard himself mumble, “Alright.”
Once Bebe left, he scrunched up the fabric of his deep blue robes and stared at the fanciful pattern of leaves on the pale carpet. They were so ornate, unlike any leaves Kyle had ever seen, and he’d spent his whole life in the forest. He was the forest.
And so was that alpha.
Eventually, Kyle managed to find his way back to his rooms. There, he moped for a while, lying flat on his back in bed with the blinds closed, only his bedside lamp on. In his mind, he ran over the events of the past hour, resentment creeping into his heart. He was still determined to get some answers, and he would absolutely flip out if he were denied them, if these people continued to act like he didn’t have a right to know, even after such a crazy thing like that happened. The more he thought about this, the more he wondered if this was some weird sun elven cultural thing, as in, having someone flip out like that was probably something they would want to deal with quickly, to sweep under the rug. To sugarcoat. And isn’t that exactly what that alpha had said? That you can’t sugar coat war?
Nor could you sugarcoat your ethnicity. It didn’t matter if you wore the Lossúrean military uniform or your Larnionian robes – you still didn’t smell like fucking fruit, and everybody knew it.
But Kyle had never smelled a high elf, half drow elf before. And he wanted to smell him again. Just thinking about that smell was making him hard again. Goddess, all these damn alphas here and their scents. It made Kyle really, really anxious about going into heat here. Sometimes he really wished he’d have been born an alpha or at least a beta, that way he wouldn’t have to deal with this shit. And as an alpha, he would’ve been able to rule his people, instead of literally having to pawn himself off. It wasn’t fair. He would’ve been such a good ruler too.
But at least he’d been able to do something useful. He’d just have to keep reminding himself of that, otherwise he’d never survive here.
He spent perhaps another fifteen minutes going in drab and miserable circles with his thoughts, as if he were stirring a big cauldron of gray sludge, making no progress as he tiredly moved a wooden spoon through the mixture. Then, just when he was started to get annoyed again, someone burst through the two double doors, flooding the safety of the rosy room with an almost too-pungent scent. It was so much more intense than before, raging like rapids, like the crash of white waves upon Kyle’s senses, igniting and enveloping him. He knew exactly what it was.
And, naturally, there was Gregory, with his long hair slightly disheveled and his face absolutely panic-stricken, as if he’d just seen the Goddess herself and she’d told him he sucked. He rushed over to Kyle on the bed, leaning over him and touching his shoulder. The anxiety in his blue eyes was apparent, which was so unnerving in conjunction with the smell and the unsolicited touch, the very first time they had ever touched.
“By the sun, I’ve been looking all over for you!” Gregory exclaimed in Lossúrean, completely out of breath. “Are you alright?!”
Kyle wanted to huff and turn away from him, wanted to say, “What’s it to you?” and scowl, but Gregory, his blue eyes troubled, nearly frenzied, was hovering over him like a cloud in that military uniform, drenching Kyle in his scent like a rainfall, and as much as Kyle wanted to, he simply couldn’t react. The most he was able to get out was a stunted “fine” in Larnionian as he breathed shallowly, wishing Gregory would either get away from him or have his way with him. In the end, Gregory did the former, though only after Kyle reiterated twice with more conviction that he was fine.
As if it were a struggle to do so, Gregory moved back somewhat, though he was still only a foot or so away from Kyle, so close it was stupefying. Despite the protective nature of Gregory’s scent, despite this upsetting context, the proximity still felt horribly sexual, which was further distressing. It was distressing just seeing Gregory so upset; it was distressing being looked at like that period; and it was distressing having such an obvious, ridiculous erection tenting his robes. Breathing shallowly, Kyle tried his best to be discrete as he pulled the fabric of his robes into his lap, slowly moving backwards, deeper into the bed. There, he sat up, cross-legged, the folds of fabric in his lap effectively hiding his arousal. Nevertheless, he still felt wet, anxious as those blue eyes stared at him so worriedly, so intensely. Yet even with this additional distance, Kyle still felt like he had jumped into a pool of water, his foot touching the silt bottom as he was completely encapsulated by it, the surface so far off. He couldn’t decide if he wanted to breathe or drown.
In a quiet, almost shaking voice that revealed real worry, Gregory inevitably asked, “Did he… touch you?”
Shouting in Larnionian, Kyle said, “No! Why do I have to saying this?! Nobody fucking touched me, okay?! And even if they did, I’m not a doll, okay, I can fend for myself. Goddess’ leaky tit, what’s the deal with you people?! I’m an adult, I can cast a fucking spell, for fuck’s sake!”
Gregory just went on staring at him, his eyes wide, but increasingly opaque. He was breathing almost normally again, albeit perhaps somewhat deeply. “I trust that you can,” he conceded. “I’m just trying to understand what happened.”
“Well, weren’t you just there? Didn’t they tell you?” Kyle spat out cruelly.
“I spoke with Wendy briefly, but she said she didn’t see what prompted it. So then I went to that room to find you, but you were gone.”
Letting out a long sigh, Kyle was about to relent and just tell him, but then he had a better idea. “First, tell me who he is. Because I know he’s not a sun elf.”
Gregory didn’t respond immediately. His nostrils flared slightly. Kyle narrowed his eyes, determined to get an answer out of him, especially if Gregory came in here thinking he could just squeeze Kyle like a sponge and get the information he wanted.
Carefully, Gregory replied: “His name is Christophe. He’s a soldier in the army.”
“He’s not a sun elf,” Kyle stated.
“No, he’s not. He’s biracial. Half high elf, half drow elf.”
“Alright, so why is he here?”
“There are biracial elves here in Lossúrea, you know.”
“So, what, you’re saying he was born here?”
“Well, no. He found his way here from Larnion.”
“‘Found his way here,’” Kyle echoed back. “What do you mean, he fucking walked here?”
“I’m not sure of the word for it in Larnionian; we would say grazelldiaf. It’s when you accept rides from strangers to get somewhere. Though for him, it’s not quite that he had a destination in mind; he was just wandering.”
Gregory repeated the word to himself, as if to commit it to memory, and Kyle had to look away from him then, scowling and blushing from the way that made him feel. It shouldn’t have made him feel anything.
But that also made Kyle remember something. And though he probably should have just waited and asked Pip, he nevertheless asked, “Hey, what does tessutiaf mean?”
“Where did you hear that?”
“Oh my Goddess,” Kyle groaned, rolling his eyes. “Just tell me what it means!”
“It means ‘to avenge.’”
Then Gregory said, “Well. Now that I’ve answered your questions, would you please tell me what happened? And how you ended up in that part of the castle in the first place?
Kyle narrowed his eyes at him. Honestly, he didn’t want to tell him, but… he supposed there wasn’t much to tell.
“I was just… exploring when I heard some people arguing. Then that alpha came out, looked at me for a second, and just started hitting his head on the wall. Don’t ask me why, because I have no idea.”
Pursing his lips, Gregory furrowed his brow fully now, in thought.
“What?” Kyle said.
“It’s concerning,” Gregory said absently.
“Did anything else happen?”
Severely, Kyle said, “No.”
“He didn’t say anything to you?”
“What did you hear them talking about?”
Kyle pursed his lips, staring at him, invaded by Gregory’s thick scent and unwilling to bow to his whims, as much as his body seemed to want to bury his face in his chest, to be wrapped up in him.
In the end, his response was as succinct as possible, spoken between his teeth: “Just that he wants to go to war.” Then, he remembered something he was sincerely curious about: “He also said that everyone knows he’s a monster. What was that all about?”
Gregory looked at him and pressed his lips together, his brow furrowed as if he were thinking about how to word something difficult to a child, which was suspicious, irritating. Finally, he said, “He has a low opinion of himself. For being biracial, that is. He’s exaggerating, of course – we’re very welcoming of biracial elves, of all elves. But that’s how he feels.”
“So then what, is he crazy or something? Why the hell would he bang his head like that?”
Gregory’s voice was very grave as he said, “I don’t know.”
A deeply pensive look on his face, Gregory touched his chin with two fingers, rubbing it in thought, before he stood up and walked away, his back now turned to Kyle. Only then was Kyle able to let out a sigh of relief. The scent still consumed him as it did the whole room, but each additional foot of distance was like a blessing of sanity now. He thought Gregory would leave, but instead, he walked over and stood before the window, staring at the curtain, saying nothing.
As Kyle reflected on the past few moments, he grew irritated thinking of how Gregory had weaseled all that information out of him. Was that fair though, he wondered? Maybe he should’ve taken some shred of solace in the fact that Gregory was clearly worried about him. Kyle could smell it, after all. Goddess, could he smell it, he thought, closing his eyes and letting himself inhale a deep breath of it. Nevertheless, his pride, ever present, bludgeoned him: more than any animalistic whims, he hated having these people think he was so incapable, especially if it had something to do with his gender. With Gregory specifically, that was even worse. If Gregory had come here because he thought he had to check up on his ‘property’, then Kyle would really like to know so he could scratch his eyes out. Yet… what else could it be? And did Kyle even have the right to be angry when he’d signed up for this?
Presently, however, it was hard to know what was going on at all, harder yet to know what was going through the King of Lossúrea’s head. Even worse, the room was silent now, allowing Gregory’s scent to take center stage. Kyle squeezed his eyes shut, wanting to interrogate Gregory more about that Christophe person, but despite the distance between them, he struggled to form a coherent thought. All he could do was breathe that scent over and over, getting almost drunk off it. He crossed his legs, wishing he could squeeze his nostrils shut too, but Gregory could turn around any second and see that. It was torture, this scent, of rushing water in summer, of the heat of the sun and stars in August, watching over the land like an eternal vigil. And after experiencing Christophe’s scent, it was too much for Kyle, becoming increasingly distracting as Gregory stood there in silence for no fucking reason.
“Look, I need to… get ready for dinner,” Kyle suddenly said, his tone emphatic, stressed. His face was hot, his throat tight.
Gregory glanced over his shoulder, not quite looking at Kyle. “Ah. Right,” he said, not moving for another second or so. “I’ll… speak to you later then, I suppose.”
To that, Kyle said nothing; he just stared at the white fabric of Gregory’s uniform as he partially turned around and nodded before making his way to the door. Kyle resented that he was savoring the last Gregory’s scent, breathing it in through both his mouth and nose, as if he couldn’t get enough of it. When the door shut with that solid sound, Gregory’s scent still hung in the air, and Kyle savored it until it was but a wisp of its original strength. It left him both relieved and disappointed. Mostly the latter, honestly. He wished he could store all these alpha’s scents in bottles so he could experience them privately.
Given the context, it was hard not to think of Stan, that safe mossy scent of the woods. And on top of everything, thinking of Stan now was enough to make Kyle feel like a crumbling stone statue, bombarded by the ages of sadness and arousal and longing like hell, never once satisfied in his twenty-one years. Not once. It always boiled down to his hand, his imagination, and other things. Those things were kept in a box locked with a magical seal, for which Kyle now scrambled off the bed to retrieve, his erection bobbing as he shuffled off to the little study where it had been placed on the desk, as if the damn thing housed writing utensils and stationery, rather than his small yet precious collection of sex toys.
There wasn’t a question in his mind about which he was going to use: the blue glass one with the ridges, the diameter of which was perfect without presenting a problem, the length long enough to be reminiscent of a real dick. He was shaking, struggling to concentrate as he cast the spell to open the seal, which took him two tries to get right before he grabbed the thing and scurried off the bathroom. The place felt too huge to really be private. He ran over to pull the curtains shut, rolling his eyes at how absurd it was to have such a huge window in a bathroom. Next, he scrambled out of his robes and underwear, damningly conscious of just how absurdly wet he was between his legs, and then went over to the sink, making sure to look at the dildo and not his reflection as he ran water over the thing, annoyed that it took a few seconds for the water to get hot.
Now with a warm glass dildo in hand, Kyle hurriedly yet genteelly lowered himself to the cold tile, getting on his hands and knees. He took a shallow breath before pressing the dildo’s fat head against his slick hole, rubbing it over it and exhaling deeply, squeezing his eyes shut as they rolled back into his skull. For a few moments, he just tortured himself like this, rubbing the toy over his entrance as his thoughts veered from Gregory leaning over him like a canopy, all encompassing, to the crazy look in Christophe’s deep hazel eyes as he grabbed his arm. Kyle thought of how he’d smelled, like the wildness of the woods, the fervent glow of lava in the mountains that he had only ever imagined. Something unconfined, ferocious, wooden and beastly. There was familiarity in that smell, yet it was its incertitude that was arousing, the darkness of the woods at night, a place that hid creeping eyes. It was that that led Kyle to imagine that alpha appearing out of the darkness and pinning him to the leaf-strewn ground with. Licking him, tasting him, growling as he grinded against him, as he took him.
That was when Kyle began pushing the dildo inside him, his ass so hungry, so wet for it that it slid in with utmost ease. Breathing shallowly, trembling slightly, he fucked himself in little, excruciating increments as he gradually pushed it deeper inside of him. His thoughts shifted then, now focused on just moments ago, when Gregory had leaned over him with his entire body, shadowing Kyle in that scent that was so much different yet no less powerful. It was like being dunked in the middle of the sea, engulfed by crashing waves as the sun bore down all around him, searing the surface of the water and transforming it into a bed of crystal. As white and as gleaming as the sun was, as much as you couldn’t look straight at it, there was something so affectionate about its power, about the warm way it lit up the world. Yet to be close to it was to burn, and Goddess, how Kyle wanted to be burned alive in the fullness of its raw, unmitigated strength, how he wanted that sun to hold his arms down and force his tongue into his mouth, his knot into his body.
And if Kyle had to be here in Lossúrea, then he at least deserved that, didn’t he? Didn’t he deserve to be pushed down, his Larnionian robes shredded as he was impaled by that cock? Didn’t he deserve to be filled to the brim with royal seed, to have it locked inside him by the swell of that knot and the clench of his own muscles, clenching as tightly as they did now, around this toy? By the light of the moon, he did, and so he fucked himself harder, deliberately now with the dildo, angling it such that every time it surged back in, it hit his prostate with enough impact to force a strangled moan from his mouth. He hadn’t even touched his cock yet; he was torturing himself still, remembering these scents, now going back to the scent that was safe to orgasm to, the one of home and heat and fleece-like softness, hearing in his head the gruff caliber that voice so rarely exhibited. It wasn’t even words; it was just that voice hot on his ears, dancing on his skin lasciviously in a way it probably wouldn’t, but that didn’t matter for this; it never did. At least for that alpha’s cock, Kyle had a visual, and that was what he imagined going inside him as he plastered his forehead to the tile, now using one hand to pump his own cock with frenetic desperation, the other using the dildo to fuck his ass with correlative ferocity.
So much was building inside him now, so much that he was almost frightened to reach its apex. As he ascended further, Gregory resurged in his mind uninvited, the memory of his scent blossoming in his nostrils, the feeling of being beneath him still so alive on his skin. It was as if the king were here, holding him down on the bathroom floor, his long fingers entwined in his hair, tugging on it as he fucked him. Those wild, wet sounds would be even more obscene than this, and then, the girth of Gregory’s knot would force its way inside him, binding them tighter even than a magical seal. Kyle would gasp, breathless at the invasion, daring himself to squeeze around it as the king began pumping his prosperity into the depths of his body, getting it in there good and deep, sealed off by the knot.
That royal seed would be so hot, so warm inside his body, oh Goddess, and then Kyle himself would come as he was coming now, so hard it destroyed reality, his life-source ripped from him as it drained from his cock in crushing waves, pummeling him with such force that he moaned and sobbed as he fucked himself through it, his eyes watering as he survived the storm of pleasure. It went on and on, the ejaculate spurting from his cock as he pumped it dry, his ass squeezing around the toy as if he were holding onto it for dear life. When it was finally over, reality, as usual, set in too hard and too gray: Kyle stared straight ahead at the white baseboard at the bottom of the gray-blue wall, unsure where to even begin with feeling appalled with himself. His hand was still around the base of the dildo. He removed it at once and slowly stood up, grabbing the edge of the sink with his hands, the toy dropping into the faucet with a stupid clanging sound. As if waking from a thousand-year dream, he raised his head to look at himself in the mirror, torn between thinking his rosy cheeks made him look more attractive and thinking he was completely pathetic, completely depraved, just sad and gross.
What the hell was wrong with him?
After getting dressed (in a pair of linen trousers he’d only ever worn once and a deep green paisley shirt), Kyle went out to discover Bebe on that lavender settee. As she stood and bowed to greet him, he noticed she seemed somewhat worn out, and with that, the afternoon’s earlier events came to mind.
“Is he alright?” Kyle asked her.
“You mean Christophe?”
“Oh, yes, he’s fine.”
Kyle frowned, and something shifted in her brown eyes, making her look distressed in a very specific way.
“Well, is he?” Kyle asked. “Because it looked like he was trying to break his head open.”
“No, he’s fine, really.” She was trying to sound convincing, but her gaze had drifted off, falling to the yard bathed in afternoon sun down below. “He’s still a little disoriented, but he didn’t hurt himself too terribly. It’s nothing a couple of stitches won’t fix.” Upon returning her gaze in his direction, she tried to smile.
“He hasn’t said why he did it?”
She mirrored his frown then, perhaps even more so. “No,” she replied. “He’s still too shaken to speak. So we’re thinking it might have been something like a seizure.”
If anything made sense, Kyle supposed that would be it. He let out a long, deep breath before asking, “Can I go see him?”
“Oh, I – I don’t… I don’t know about that. He’s struggling enough as it is in the infirmary; he’s a little weird about people touching him, especially his head…”
Being denied made Kyle ashamed he had even asked. In turn, he felt irritated, as if his royalty weren’t even being acknowledged anymore. Maybe he shouldn’t have asked Bebe to treat him like a normal person. Deep down, however, he agreed that it probably wouldn’t do any good for him to go visit Christophe in the infirmary. As he considered this, he belatedly realized something: it seemed like Bebe knew Christophe in some personal capacity.
Thus, he asked her, “So, you know him? You’re friends or something?”
“Aha, oh, no, no,” she replied, sounding amused. “He’s my son.”
“What? No he’s not.”
She seemed confused, which was even more absurd, and Kyle felt almost silly having to spell it out to her: “He’s not a sun elf. He’s not even half sun elf.”
“Oh! That’s because he’s adopted.”
“Oh.” Well, now Kyle felt dumb and embarrassed. He swallowed and said, “Well, uh. That’s nice.” But that sounded sort of bitchy, so he hastily added, “I’m uh, regretful he hurt himself. It was quite… intense.”
In her eyes now, he could identify a mother’s pain for her son, heartache not only that he was hurting, but that he had hurt himself, and that she didn’t know why. Kyle hoped the answer would come to light soon and that it wouldn’t happen again. Now that he knew Christophe was Bebe’s son, he felt even more invested in his recovery. The memory of the wild moment in the hallway paled before the image of stitches being sewn into Christophe’s skull, his jaw clenched as he endured his scalp being mended. Kyle just hoped it wasn’t his own scent that had triggered a seizure in him. Even so, he supposed that was possible, in which case, he’d just have to make peace with never getting to talk with the one other Larnionian in this palace.
As they walked to dinner, Kyle brought that up to Bebe: “How old was he when you adopted him? Because Gregory said he hitchhiked here from Larnion.”
“Thirteen, I think. No, wait, it was early autumn, so he must have still be twelve.”
“So, what, did you get him at a… what’s it called, an orphanage or something?”
Laughing, she replied, “So many questions! But no, he was never in an orphanage. He just stumbled into the palace one day and was so downtrodden from his journey that we took him in. And he’s been with us ever since.”
“You live here in the castle? Just with him?”
“And with my husband, yes.”
“What does your husband do?”
“She’s Lossúrea’s Defense Minister. You saw her earlier, actually.”
Now this was even more surprising. “Really? That was her? With the—” But Kyle stopped himself before he said “black hair.” Maybe that would be rude. “I mean, the one that was with Christophe. The female.”
“Yep, that’s her,” she said, sounding almost amused again as they stepped into the private dining room.
Kyle tapped his lower lip as he sat down, ripped from his thoughts only when the waiter came by to ask what he wanted to drink. Barely even thinking about it, he heard himself order coffee. As he sat there in silence with Bebe, he felt conflicted. Now more than ever, it felt so obvious to him that he was an outsider here, not just in that he was different, but in that he had had a whole life in Larnion while the sun elves were here having their whole lives in Lossúrea. Yet now, he had been snatched from Larnion and was pathetically hoping (and so far, failing) to craft some semblance of life here in Lossúrea. The problem was that these people already had their own lives, and they didn’t need him in it. They just needed his body. He was a vesicle.
It hurt, and it was humiliating.
“Are you alright?” Bebe asked him gently after the waiter left again, having placed the coffee and cream on the table.
“I’m fine. But… When he feels better, I want to talk to him. I want to know that he’s okay, or at least see it, because I was the one who saw him hurt himself.” He said this firmly – he refused to hear something like, “Oh I don’t think that’s a good idea.” She wasn’t his mother.
But Bebe didn’t deny him. All she did was smile weakly and say, “I’m touched by your compassion for him, Kyle. I’ll let you know when he’s feeling better and we can arrange something that works with his schedule.” Smiling in an almost bittersweet fashion she added, “I have to warn you though: he’s a boy of few words. You’ll be the one doing most of the talking.”
And that was fine. Because Kyle’s problem was that he never shut up.
Over the weekend, the palace felt increasingly frenetic as last minute wedding preparations were made. Kyle spent Saturday afternoon with a designer, who matched his red wedding robes with an extravagant ruby necklace and earrings. Then on Sunday, Bebe showed him the chapel were the wedding would take place and told him all about Lossúrean wedding traditions. It was a huge bore, and Kyle might have fallen asleep if it weren’t for the fact he was trying to work up the nerve to ask her when he could see Christophe again.
Then, he had the amazing idea to ask her if he’d be at the wedding rehearsal tomorrow.
Her eyes seemed worried, but her response was an upbeat, “Hopefully!”
Kyle wanted to probe more, but he didn’t. He just waited until the next day, when everyone was in the chapel, and looked around for Christophe but didn’t see him anywhere. That was the one thing he had to look forward to today. So here he was, having to deal with this horrible shit. Right now, he was in the back of the chapel, wearing his wedding robes, which were a serious crimson color made of many layers with gold accents. It was really too hot for the coastal environment, and he was sweating a little, though he knew that was really due to nervousness. The good thing was, at least all these layers would hide his erection.
“Everything’s going to be fine,” Bebe said, touching his arm. “I promise.”
Kyle glanced at her, seeing how beautiful she looked in that pale green dress. It made him feel weirdly silly, though he wasn’t entirely sure why. She just seemed so serene and composed all the time, like someone who could get through anything with grace, whereas Kyle just felt like a ridiculous, anxious kid.
It didn’t help when he stepped out of the room and saw Gregory down on the altar, in a beige suit. They made eye contact for one horrible moment, and Kyle froze, his eyes huge as they stared into Gregory’s crystal blue ones. He averted his gaze at once, looking anywhere else, but there were a hundred tanned faces on him, and he felt like he did the first time he ever saw Gregory but so much worse. He didn’t even know how he started walking again – maybe it was the Goddess bestowing some mercy upon him during this nightmarish time. Either way, he somehow managed to proceed down the aisle, getting ever closer to that smell that consumed him like freezing water on his bare skin. The whole chapel felt impossibly stuffy, that single scent rising above the rest, taking it over. He felt almost drunk, his head fuzzy and confused, simmering with the beginnings of arousal. When he made it up to the altar and stood in front of Gregory, he looked anywhere but his face. In the end, he stared straight ahead, such that he was looking at the front of his suit.
The whole thing felt surreal. The priest was there standing next to them, and Kyle tried to concentrate on the words he was saying in Lossúrean, his gaze having drifted up to the tan skin of Gregory’s neck, fixating on his Adam’s apple. He wanted to bury his face in that neck, to sniff it to his heart’s content, taste it, lick it. And as he was thinking this, he felt so impossibly hot and aroused but also sort of sick, the walls of the church beginning to swim as if he were underwater. Trying to stabilize himself, he blinked a few times and wiped the sweat off his forehead, but that did nothing, and just a few seconds later, the corners of his vision began to darken until it was gone entirely, at which point, his limbs went totally lip and his body crumpled.
He did not collapse onto the marble altar, however.
Before he regained his vision, he was distantly, hazily aware of a lot of clamor, as well as the fact that he was enveloped in someone’s arms. That scent was strong now in the same way it had been in his room the other day, enveloping him like a magical shield. When he was able to see again, he saw the beige fabric of Gregory’s suit and he realized he was leaning onto him for support, his legs still so weak. Though his mind was still fuzzy and confused, he knew that he hated what was happening. At this point, he could now vaguely make out Gregory speaking to him in Larnionian, asking him if he was okay, and he did his best to stand on his own again, using Gregory’s chest as leverage to push himself up, and he thought he had managed to do so, but his feet were still so unsteady. Goddess, he was so fucking hot, sweltering, feeling like he might vomit, and it was at that point that he felt his feet being lifted off the ground as he was carried by none other than the King of Lossúrea himself.
Maybe if he hadn’t felt so sick and strange and hot, he would have died of mortification as he was carried up the aisle and into the back room again, where Bebe was already scrambling to get him out of his wedding robes. Actually died, as in, he wouldn’t even be alive to register the fact that Gregory was still here, permeating everything with his stupid alpha scent and seeing him stripped down to his underclothes. But he was alive, which was how he knew what an incredible relief it was to be out of those clothes and feeling a cool wash cloth on his head a moment later. He was sitting on the floor with his back to the wall, the hardness of reality taking shape now in his mind. They were talking about him as if he weren’t even there, saying he must have gotten overheated in those robes, stupid shit in their stupid language. Worse, Gregory was still hovering not even a foot away from him, and it was intolerable, so humiliating he wanted to scream.
Bebe crouched down and began saying soothing things to him, sounding so worried as she gave him a glass of water, which he just held for a moment in his hand, his other hand keeping the cloth on his forehead.
“I need him to leave,” Kyle murmured to Bebe, barely even aware that he was speaking Larnionian. “Please, make him go away.” He sounded as desperate as he was.
Gregory was hesitating, Kyle could sense it.
Hanging his head, he shouted in Larnionian, “Go away!”
And though Gregory was slow to do so, he did listen, eventually, reluctantly. From the corner of his eye, Kyle watched those legs slowly move towards the door. Each second the king remained in this room was him rubbing salt in the wounds of Kyle’s shame. It was brutal, made him want to scratch his face off and bury himself in the dirt forever, yet it also made him want to cast down a torrent of fire on Gregory’s icy form, melt his imposing stature down until it was a few meaningless puddles of water. When the door finally shut, Kyle exhaled deeply, hanging his head and squeezing his eyes shut, the taste of defeat and shame burning down his throat, in tandem with the last wafts of Gregory’s scent.
“I’m going to kill myself,” Kyle said in Larnionian.
In an impossibly gentle voice, Bebe carefully said, “Sweetheart, I don’t know what you’re saying.”
He glanced at her. “Sorry,” he said in Lossúrean.
“Don’t be sorry,” she said. “Are you alright? Did you get too hot up there?”
Kyle let out a bitter, hollow laugh, staring at the carpet. “Yes. I thought I was going to vomit.”
Closing his eyes, he leaned his head back, letting it rest against the wall. On the other side of it, was everyone in the chapel, who would never forget what just happened, never forget that Kyle was weak, a broodmare for the crown who fainted at the drop of a hat. Who needed rescued. Who couldn’t even stand on his own two feet. The fact that he had to face them all again tomorrow seemed impossible, cruel. He wanted to burn this place down, burn this whole sun-drenched kingdom down. That was the only thing that made him feel better, imagining this whole damn world going up in flames of his own creation.
“I can’t go back in there,” Kyle said.
“Well, that should be alright. Here, why don’t you drink some water, hmm? It’ll make you feel better.”
He didn’t do so immediately. But a few moments later, he sighed and took a few sips.
That night, he slept extremely poorly. He would fall asleep only to wake up again from nightmares of the forest burning, of towns being washed away by mudslides, of humans putting elves in cages. At the end of one dream, Kyle had come to Lossúrea to beg for assistance – he was walking down the long driveway of the palace, and far in the distance, he could see Gregory up on the veranda, his hands on the banister, looking down on him. Looking down on the Princess of Larnionian, because he was the King of Lossúrea, and he held the keys to save Larnion.
While it humiliated Kyle on an unimaginable level that he had to do this, to turn himself over as chattel to the ruler of this impressive kingdom, he continued walking regardless. Yet though he could see the condescending glint in the king’s eye clear as day, he never seemed to get any closer to the palace – rather, the driveway seemed only to stretch out longer, the distance between them extending no matter that Kyle was now running, desperate to save his people, his kingdom, his best friend.
Soon, however, Gregory stood up straight and turned around, the movement so slow that Kyle watched it happen in extended horror. That was when the world seemed to tighten, shorten again, and when Kyle looked around, he saw that the lawn was ablaze in blue flames, not destroyed but seemingly reinvigorated by the fire, the manicured shrubbery singing a melody that resounded like chimes through Kyle’s head.
When he opened his eyes to the pale darkness of his room, that sound remained, just as fluid and beautiful as he had dreamed it, like water flowing in a crystal stream. It seemed to be coming from outside, wafting into his room sweetly and serenely from somewhere above. Someone was singing, but it was so early and he was so tired, that he didn’t get up to investigate. The melody lulled him back to sleep, and he slept soundly for the next few hours.
Chapter 3: The Stormy Queen
Ultimately, Kyle’s red wedding gown was replaced with a lavender gown, his rubies with amethysts. As he stared into the huge, gold-framed mirror hanging on the wall in the fitting room, already drunk from breakfast, he didn’t recognize himself at all. And though by now he was familiar with some parts of the castle, the world and the people that surrounded him were an extension of this unfamiliarity of which he was becoming part. He was losing himself amongst these marble corridors and shining smiles, swimming in a sea of these mysterious scents. It was inevitable, his burden, a weight thicker and grayer than the clouds that hung stilly overhead as he made his way to the chapel.
The whole world seemed to be here, all these tanned faces and light-colored hair, their eyes fixed on him, in awe of what he was to become. More of these faces were in the chapel, a place that pummeled him with nauseating déjà vu. At least now he knew there wouldn’t be a repeat of the other day. No, there was no escaping this, his fate, the man to whom he now approached, the scent which both tortured and delighted him. For as long as he lived, all the many harrowing decades, this was as real as the ring that was now placed on his finger, a seal that signified his role, his personhood, his ultimate defeat.
The ring he placed on that long warm finger was, conversely, inconsequential.
Yet it was when Kyle had to touch him to do that when he noticed something odd: there was a conspicuous tenting in the king’s pants. It wasn’t blatant, but it was there. Baffled, Kyle looked into the king’s eyes with confusion. Soon enough, however, Kyle made the connection himself: the king was aroused to have finally vindicated him. It was as simple as that. And it took everything inside of him not to punch him in the face right up there at the altar. Instead, he just stood there, fuming, appalled and humiliated.
Naturally, tears began to prick at the corner of his eyes, and when he glanced at the king’s erection again, they only increased, threatening to spill, so he looked up, keeping his eyes wide open to dry his eyes. He wouldn’t cry, not here, not now. There would be no coming back from something like that. Plus, it would only give Gregory the satisfaction of knowing he had conquered his spirit, just like he would soon conquer his body.
By the time Kyle got his hands on his first drink at the reception, he felt brutally sober again, too much himself to bear the rest of the day. There weren’t any familiar faces anywhere in the grand hall – after coming here from the chapel, he had escaped Gregory and, soon thereafter, Bradley Beetle, his personal servant in the morning who he did not like because he was a loser. More than anything, what he wanted to do was take a nap (and never wake up), but instead he meandered through the crowd, having to stop and smile whenever someone bowed and congratulation him on his doom.
However, as he moved through the throngs of partygoers (picking up additional drinks along the way), he soon picked up on that beautiful, unusual scent he had only smelled once so far. The scent of the woods, of the mountains, that strange, fascinating combination that was as intimidating as it was intriguing. He followed its trail, picking up on two other scents he knew along the way, one more familiar than the other.
When he reached them – Bebe, Wendy, and Christophe – they all bowed before him, which was so terrible that Kyle wanted to scream. Upon rising, Bebe beamed at him, smiling broadly as she and Wendy congratulated him, yet Kyle only mumbled “thanks,” staring at Christophe distractedly. He was wearing the same white military uniform as before (as was Wendy), yet now, he had a bandage wrapped around his skull. His eyes were wide, so alive, the honey-gold flecks almost sparkling, yet his brow was furrowed deeply, those thick eyebrows contorted by it. He seemed incredibly uncomfortable.
He swallowed hard and looked away, almost mumbling as he said, “Congratulations, Your Highness.”
Bebe let out a few awkward laughs. It was then that Kyle remembered her saying Christophe didn’t talk much.
“How’s your head?” Kyle asked him, the beginnings of arousal already pooling in his stomach.
“Fine,” Christophe said, nostrils flaring. Almost as an afterthought, he added in an even lower voice, “Thank you.”
When Kyle glanced at Bebe, she seemed uncomfortable.
Yet even if Kyle weren’t drunk, he wouldn’t have given up on this. “You hit it pretty hard,” he commented. “I understand you had to get… umm, I forget the word in Lossúrean. Things they put in your head to seal it? Like sewing?”
Christophe actually looked at him again, his eyes shifting in a way Kyle couldn’t identify. It was then that Kyle realized he was wet, annoyingly so, but he tried his best to ignore it.
“Stitches,” Christophe replied. “Seven.”
“Can you speak Larnionian?” Kyle asked him, making a belated yet obvious connection.
“You don’t have an accent in Lossúrean,” Kyle commented.
Christophe just shrugged.
“Can you – could you say something in Larnionian? Please?”
At that, Christophe looked at Bebe uncertainly, whose expression shifted from uneasy to reassuring. Then, Christophe looked away, seeming incredibly tense before mumbling in Lossúrean, “I don’t sound like a native speaker anymore.” He swallowed hard. Kyle didn’t understand why he seemed so apprehensive. “But… what do you want me to say.”
“Anything, I don’t care,” Kyle quickly replied. “Say, umm, it’s raining.”
“It’s raining,” Christophe said in Larnionian.
He’d been right; he did have a bit of an accent, but it was much slighter than Gregory’s, as if Christophe’s voice was meant to speak that woodsy language yet had become tainted by Lossúrean’s melodic sounds, unaccustomed to Larnionian’s stronger ones. It was probably from not speaking it much. Kyle thought he might be able to change that.
In Larnionian, Kyle said, “It was Gregory who told me you’re from Larnion. I am too, obviously.” It was a dumb thing to say, but although he laughed awkwardly a little, he wasn’t all that embarrassed by it for some reason. “So it might be nice for us to talk sometime about different things, don’t you think? Like where you lived, stuff like that…”
It surprised Kyle to see what looked like a touch of anguish in Christophe’s expression. He wondered if he’d said something wrong, and he was about to try to amend his request somehow when Christophe replied in Lossúrean, “Of course, Your Highness. Whenever you’d like.”
Being addressed like that by this person Kyle was trying so desperately to relate to hurt a lot. “Please, call me Kyle,” he said in Lossúrean, nearly imploring the other elf.
Though Christophe squinted slightly in confusion, he did say, “Alright. Kyle.”
Bebe was smiling weakly as she watched what had just transpired, yet Wendy stood there like a stone tower, her dark eyes fixed on Christophe.
Almost suddenly, Bebe said, “It’s too bad it’s raining though, huh?”
Before Kyle could even respond, thunder roared overhead, yet it was barely even audible over the sounds of the party.
Only when Kyle could no longer tolerate his arousal from being so close to Christophe did he leave them, though by then, Bebe was on shift, so she tried to follow him. Thus, he had to escape her, fleeing all the way back to his bathroom to jerk off, now with the terrible difficulty of working around his gown, which he most certainly couldn’t remove on his own. To make matters worse, he was so drunk that it took him forever to orgasm. Yet when he was finally able to, it was at least fulfilling. Afterward, he went through his bedroom to go back to the party, lamenting the fact that he couldn’t just pass out in bed right now, trying not to think about the fact that when he finally was able to sleep, it wouldn’t be in this bed.
He really couldn’t think about that. Thus, he ended up thinking about it. He thought very specifically about the king entering him, stretching him apart and pounding into him with the desperate desire to fill him with his progeny, overtake him, impregnate him. And as Kyle thought these things, imagining them happening on that bed before his very eyes, what he hated most was that it was turning him on. Part of it, he knew, was biology. But another part of it – probably a bigger part – was just him. He wanted that, as much as he really, really didn’t. And maybe that was why he wanted it. Yet the way it was in his head wasn’t quite real, was it? He didn’t know what Gregory would do, how he would fuck, whether he would do this or that. Kyle had some facts – that he would eventually be impregnated, that Gregory was an alpha – but beyond that, little else. And, he realized, it was his own imaginings that aroused him, whereas he knew that when the time really came, he would be unhappy about it, even if he were physically aroused.
Did that change things? Not really, not much.
So what could change?
As Kyle listlessly strode back to the reception, he studied his wedding ring. It was enchanted, with Lossúrean script around the band that glowed in shifting pastels. It read: “Eyen’al arussa lira.” “Every heart bleeds as mine.” Something about those words was incredibly sad; just having the ring on felt sad. And it was something specific about the ring, not just Kyle’s emotional state, because when he took it off, he truly felt lighter; and when he put it back on again, he felt burdened anew, weighed down by it so much more than the gold crown which now adorned his head. That, too, was heavy, but when he took that off, no metaphysical weight left him.
It was all very tiring.
Downstairs, it was the same old shit, which he tolerated with the crutch of inebriation and food. Of course, Gregory discovered him again at some point, asking him with appalling sincerity if he was alright. In response, Kyle sneered and said, “Fantastic. Just wonderful.”
Gregory’s frown was such a joke. Kyle laughed derisively, the stupid dream he’d had last night creeping into the fringes of his mind. “What? Expecting me to say something stupid, like I just can’t wait until tonight?”
The look on Gregory’s face was hard, opaque, impossible to read even if Kyle had tried. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” he said sternly.
Kyle snorted before laughing even harder than before, looking up at Gregory intermittently to see that he was serious, which only made him laugh harder. When he finally got a hold of himself, he pointed at Gregory and said, “That’s an easy thing for you to say. But that’s not the reality for me.”
After a moment of staring at him with that harsh expression, Gregory closed his eyes and exhaled, his imposing form seeming so much weaker with the breath he expelled. His posture was less rigid, and he seemed almost weary as he said, “It is your reality though. You can dictate anything from here on out. You’re the Queen of Lossúrea now.”
“And you’re the king,” Kyle reminded him.
“I don’t believe in the king having jurisdiction over the queen.”
“It doesn’t matter what you believe,” Kyle spat back. “That’s the law; that’s how it is.”
“And it’s also the law that both parties must consent to copulation,” Gregory replied, “and if one party feels they must do it for some other reason – that is, their heart’s not really in it – then is that really consent?”
“Legally speaking, yes.”
Gregory looked up at one of the stained glass windows, one of the sea beneath a sky filled with birds, blue on blue as the rain fell on the other side.
“You aren’t wrong,” he weakly admitted. “But is it just, ethically-speaking?”
At that point, Kyle stood up from the table and marched over to him, gritting his teeth for how affected he was by this scent, this impossible, maddening man. “It doesn’t fucking matter,” he spat, hissing in Larnionian as he pointed at Gregory, nearly prodding him in the chest. “None of this philosophical shit has any bearing on my life and what I had to do to save everyone I love, none of whom are part of my life anymore because I’m here with you and all this other bullshit in your stupid pink fairyland. You have a lot of fucking nerve musing on my situation like it’s a fucking puzzle for you to theorize about. I know what I signed up for, I know why I’m here, so don’t tell me shit like, ‘You can do whatever you want’ when this isn’t about what I want, this is about my people’s survival!”
When Gregory raised his eyebrows slightly, intrigue in his gaze as a slow smile spread across his perfect lips, Kyle had never been so disgusted by anyone in his life. Without even hesitating, he reached up and slapped him, so blinded by his drunken fury that he was unaware of the chorus of gasps that resounded around him.
Yet the sound it made and the red splotch it left on Gregory’s tanned cheek was one of the most satisfying things Kyle had ever experienced. He was panting, aware now of all the eyes on them. Gregory slowly raised a hand to touch his cheek, and as he did that, Kyle somehow, for whatever reason, glanced down at the king’s crotch, noticing the vague outline of his dick, which may or may not have hardened. This time, however, something about that was thrilling on the coattails of the slap, the excitement mixing with Kyle’s fury and producing a feeling of fiery insanity.
“I’m sorry if I said something to offend you,” Gregory carefully replied in Lossúrean, his voice like iron.
The silence of the hall was brutal, the thunder now able to roar monstrously overhead, so loud it was almost frightening.
“You’re not sorry,” Kyle spat back in Lossúrean. “But I don’t want your apology anyway. It’s useless to me.”
That was when Kyle marched off, his face hot with anger as a path was cleared for him through the crowd. On the edges of his rage was the awareness that he had exposed himself, demonstrated to all these perfect people how strange and angry he was as a person, how unfit he was to be their queen. And it angered him further that that was true. This place wanted a queen like Bebe, someone soft and kind and maternal, who always had a smile on her face and sweet words to offer. She looked the part too – she was a sun elf, after all, not a strange-looking high elf with pale skin and shockingly bright red hair. It was these things on top of all the rest that filled Kyle’s veins with hate as he stormed down the corridors and out of the palace, into the rain: hate for himself, for Gregory, for Lossúrea and its culture, for having to do this, for the humans, for being born the way he was. For the sheer unfairness of the world and his awkward, uncomfortable place in it. For the tears that ran endlessly down his hot cheeks. For Gregory, again, for his perfect hair and deplorable smugness, for his fetishistic possessiveness and maddening manner of speaking.
There was so, so much of it.
And with it, came unbearable anguish, torment like the splintered underside to each and every poisonous mushroom in the miserable garden that was his life. Once, those mushrooms had been orange and lively, an afternoon snack before the war with the humans consumed their lives, back when he spent long summer days in the forest with Stan, climbing trees and sharing secrets, showing him the spells he’d begun to learn.
Amid this harrowing downpour, in the neatly manicured back gardens, that world of his youth was so distant, so obscure that it barely felt real anymore, as much as Kyle felt the warmth of those days pulse sadly in his heart. His nostalgia only made him cry more, as hard as the rain that pummeled the surface of the water in this white fountain, upon which he knelt, leaning over the edge and seeing absolutely nothing.
The sky above was angry and loud, the thunder the music of his heartache. There were other buildings in the distance, and far to the right, those sad black hills eager to scrape anyone who dared crave the shore’s empty freedom. The thought of drowning entered his mind, but with it, came the thought of Larnionian defeat. Right now though, that didn’t give Kyle the strength to persevere. It only made him feel weaker, pathetic for apparently being so unable to do this one thing, this one stupid thing.
There really was something wrong with him, he thought, covering his face with his wet hands and sobbing, shaking, wracked with resentment as crushing as boulders throttled over a cliff.
Somewhere up in those clouds was the Goddess seeing all this and offering him no help. He took all the hate he had in him and thrust it up towards her, glaring into the black heavens.
It wasn’t the first time in his life he was angry with her, but it was the first time he was so blasphemous: “Did you forget about me? Are my problems so petty that you think I don’t need help?! I’m twenty-one years old! I’m twenty-one years old, and this is my life now! I’m all alone here, and now even you’ve forgotten me!”
As if in response, the thunder boomed so loudly it seemed to shake the world. It intimidated Kyle how fierce it was, how alone and small he was in the midst of nature’s fury, yet at the same time, it bolstered everything within him, and he shouted back: “I’ve worshipped you all my life, and you forget me at my darkest hour?! How dare you! How could you?! I can’t do this alone! I’m not as strong as you think I am, you bitch!”
A moment later, lightning crackled, the thunder roaring along with it. If that meant anything, it was that all the Goddess had for him was her own anger, which was so unfair that Kyle clenched his fists and let out a scream of frustration into the storm, howling with all the rage and helplessness that had battered him in the past days, weeks, years. He kicked the fountain before moving on to the neat shrubs and strange flowers, uprooting the perfect, unnatural things from the ground, an act that was undeniably heretical. But he wanted the Goddess to see this, to see how lost he had become, so far from his home and estranged from his people, a stranger made to be even stranger in this perfect land.
His wedding robes were dirty and wet, clinging to him as he knelt on the ground and looked at the destruction he had wrought, a crime against a crime against nature: the hedges were pruned and these bizarre flowers imprisoned, already so wounded, and Kyle had only hurt them more. He could feel their cries upon his skin, a child of the forest, yet as he was no healer, there was nothing he could do. All he knew was how to destroy things, which is what he had just done to his very foundation here in Lossúrea, by slapping the king and running away from his own wedding reception, turning the thing into a scandalous debacle that would likely follow him for the rest of his days.
He was incredibly stupid.
He hung his head and pounded the ground weakly with his fist, barely any strength left in him. For a while longer – he had no idea how long – he knelt in the garden and endured the downpour, which went on as strong as ever. Gradually, his duress died down, becoming a terrible weakness, bathed in misery, shame, and sorrow. He was so consumed by this that he only picked up her scent when she was standing right next to him, hovering over him with a big blue umbrella. Bebe looked so sad, her eyes tender and filled with the sympathy that seemed to pour endlessly from her heart. It was real, and it was for him.
Ashamed, he looked away, hanging his head and squeezing his eyes shut. It was hard, because as much as he wished she would just go away, he was also so, so grateful she had come after him.
“Everything’s ruined,” Kyle mumbled, struggling to speak loud enough for her to hear. His words never felt truer than when he glanced around and saw all the dirt and tattered flowers strewn about.
Bebe crouched down a bit to cover him more with the umbrella, though she didn’t say anything at first. When he looked over at her, her mouth was open as if she were about to say something, but it took a moment for the words to come out: “I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you,” she said. “To leave your home and come live in a place where everything is unfamiliar to you. And not only that, but to become the queen of that place. I know you’re struggling. But I also think you’re very strong to have done this.”
“It’s true!” she said, earnest emphasis in her voice. “And the king, well.” She hesitated. “You didn’t hear it from me, but he’s… How do I say this? It can be hard to… not get to know him, but to really bond with him, as a person. And you may hate me for saying this, but he really is a lovely person.”
“Is that why you came out here? To tell me the king is a ‘lovely person’?” Kyle said, regretting the words the instant they spilled from his mouth. When he saw how distraught Bebe looked in response, he felt even worse. “Sorry,” he muttered.
“It’s okay,” she said, but even her voice sounded hurt, and he truly felt like a monster, too spiky and loud to adapt to this sweet and sensitive place. A moment later, she said, “Why don’t we go inside? You can get out of this gown and take a bath if you’d like. You must be exhausted.”
Wearily, he raised his head and looked beyond her, into the warm windows of the palace that surrounded them like a brilliant beast, coaxing them into the chokehold of its dry warmth. Kyle didn’t want to go back in there. All he did was continue to embarrass himself, turning himself into a parody of a queen. He couldn’t be Larnion’s wild princess anymore, the one who broke rules and roamed the woods, adored for her spirit and bravery and wits. With the ultimate sacrifice, that person had evolved into the sad wet imbecile that now shook in his ruined wedding gowns at the foot of a fountain of Queen Clara II, who had ruled Lossúrea on her own for many years a long, long time ago. It was she and Bebe and the Goddess that watched over Kyle now, the three of them a triumvirate that gave him the strength to finally stand on his own two feet and go back inside.
In the tub, Kyle’s head spun, swirling with troubled thoughts as the soap swirled on the surface of the hot water. In his mind, he could see elves whispering to each other on the street about how he’d slapped the king, although by then, the gossip would have evolved into something distorted as bizarre, such as that he’d cast a fire spell at the king’s face and now they were already considering annulling the marriage. And so long as it wasn’t consummated, that was in fact a possibility. One Kyle didn’t want, it went without saying.
Blue flames weaved through his thoughts. As he remembered the dream from the other night, he could very clearly see the king up on the balcony turning away from him, finally rescinding the assistance that would save Larnion. At last, Kyle understood the importance of something obvious: he had to be nicer to Gregory. Everything depended upon it. So long as Kyle continued to be a huge jerk to him, he might as well be burning the forests of Larnion himself. With real flames, the kind he could produce so easily.
It would be the hardest thing Kyle had ever done.
And why was that? Thinking back, the king had never done anything particularly cruel to him. His sincerity may have been misplaced, not what Kyle wanted, true, but he had always been polite, even concerned about Kyle. As for the erection on the altar maybe it had been… sincere? As Kyle’s own arousal was? But how could that be? Kyle didn’t even know him.
And yet, look how his own body reacted around the king. Around Christophe too, who Kyle didn’t really know either. So maybe it was innocent. As innocent as lust could be, that is.
And besides, Bebe did say Gregory was a lovely person, albeit “difficult to bond with,” whatever that meant. Now that Kyle thought about it, that was a curious thing for her to say. It wasn’t blind reverence, a flattery mindlessly stated about the ruler of the land. No, it was almost as if Bebe knew him personally. Which was very odd. When he got out of the tub and got dressed (in his own clothes), he went to ask her about that.
For whatever reason, he expected to hear a “no” from her, that of course she didn’t know the king personally, as much as that would’ve in fact surprised him. Thus, it was strange that her affirmation surprised him as well: “You didn’t know? I’m sorry, I thought I’d said something before, but I guess it never came up. That’s strange…” She seemed legitimately perplexed. “But, yes, I do know him personally, rather well, actually, though not as well as Christophe.”
“First of all, why?” Kyle asked. “Because your husband is the Defense Minister?”
“Ah, no, it’s more that… Well, the king and Christophe are very close, like brothers, really, and Christophe is my son, so… I’ve come to know him that way.”
“Then why do you still call him ‘the king’?”
“Oh, I don’t call him that to his face. But if I’m talking about him to other people, it would confuse them if I called him by his name.”
“I see,” Kyle said, lips pursed as he pieced this information together. Now, he understood much better the links that bound these people. He also saw – and felt – how much he was on the outside of it, trying and failing to weave his way inside when he wasn’t wanted. Goddess, he wanted to be though. And that stung too, made him feel pathetic, even stupid, because he didn’t even like Gregory. In fact, he hated that Gregory was a part of this intimate sphere. It actually amazed him that the king had a real friend, let alone someone as sweet as Bebe vouching that he was a “lovely person.”
Very softly, Bebe said, “I know you may not believe me, but the king really has been trying. He really wants to get to know you and have you be part of his world.”
“How do you know?” Kyle asked, earnestly.
Her eyes widened as if she hadn’t been expecting that, and Kyle knew then that she’d just made that up on a whim, believing it because she wanted to. So what she said next was interesting, to say the least: “He’s talked about you and Larnion a lot the past year or so, ever since the decision was made. Maybe he didn’t even realize how much. And…” She paused, hesitating before she said, “He spent a lot of time on that lamp too. I don’t say that to guilt you, just to give you an idea here.”
“What do you mean ‘spent a lot of time on it’?”
“He spent a lot of time making it.”
“What? He made that?”
“Yes, he makes stained glass lamps, like, as a hobby. We have a bunch of them in our apartment; they’re just beautiful, aren’t they?” she said, adding, “He’s very talented; I’m always impressed by the things he makes.”
Kyle still couldn’t believe this. Nor did he know how to feel about it. He stared at the roses on the shelf along the wall and thought of Gregory spending hours upon hours crafting that lamp he had so callously discarded. Then he thought of how he’d slapped him earlier over very little, using Gregory as the punching bag for his frustrations, having completely forgotten that Gregory was a person too. He wasn’t just the King of Lossúrea. He was another person with thoughts and feelings and dreams and desires, who had people he loved and things he disliked, favorite foods and painful memories. It was through those icy blue eyes that Gregory oversaw the kingdom that had fallen to him when his father committed suicide, and it was upon those strong shoulders that he had held Lossúrea up through their grief and confusion. And it was also through those eyes that he first saw the Princess of Larnion, who had only been cruel in response to his kindness, a wildfire running through these halls and destroying everything in his wake.
And even so, these people were still nice to him.
But the question was, for how long?
The apartment was extravagant, to be sure. It was much larger than the rooms Kyle had been staying in. Yet through his fatigue and inebriation, the place seemed dimmer, even more overwhelming in all its gilded opulence. It did not feel homey.
He followed that smell through the parlor and down a short hallway, at the end of which were a pair of thin double doors and a small balcony. The bedroom door, which was to the left, was open a crack, and Kyle stood outside it for a moment, hesitating. The wisps of Gregory’s scent were stronger here, creeping into his nostrils sensually. He placed his head against the door frame and breathed them in, inevitably feeling touches of arousal hit him like little pleasurable pinpricks. The whole day flipped through his mind as he waited there, his eyes squeezed shut. He wanted to do today over. The fact that he couldn’t – or worse, that he might just do the same thing all over again – was a hard thing to swallow, a harder thing to face.
When he finally had the courage to push the door open, the beauty of the bedroom caught his attention for a moment. The bed, which lay in the second room, beyond the initial seating area, was a work of art, with a lush cerulean bedspread, the frame made of a beautiful light wood. But the scent captured his attention again just a few seconds later, and he followed it into the room slowly, feeling as if he were dreaming this.
Here, there were two sets of double doors out to the balcony. One set was open, the pale curtains wafting in the night air, obscuring the view of the balcony. But he was out there. Kyle could smell him. And by now, Gregory could surely smell Kyle too. His heart beating faster, Kyle slowly pulled the curtain back, using just one finger. The balcony was very large, looking out over the black hills into the sea, and so Kyle didn’t see Gregory immediately. He was over by the edge, staring out to the ocean as he leaned over the railing, his forearms resting across it. He didn’t look at Kyle, didn’t acknowledge him in any way whatsoever.
Swallowing, Kyle stepped out onto the balcony, consumed by the scent of Gregory in the open air. Even so, Kyle could now identify that Gregory’s scent was as weak as it had ever been, almost watery, like the tired beating of waves creeping up on the shore of a shallow, gray lake. The sight of him was likewise heart-wrenching: Gregory stood motionless in the indigo twilight, still in the pale blue shirt and beige slacks he’d been wearing all day, a piece of golden hair willowing in the wind. Kyle didn’t know where to start. He just stood there, at least fifteen feet away, and did absolutely nothing for a moment, hoping the king would at least say something, but he remained still as a statue, almost a part of the banister himself.
Finally, Kyle managed to say the thing he’d planned to: “I’m sorry for slapping you.” Although he spoke in Larnionian, and although his regret was real, it was nevertheless a struggle to get the words out.
Out of the corner of his eye, Gregory glanced at him, but did not otherwise move.
“And,” Kyle began, mumbling now, “I’m sorry about the lamp. I didn’t know you made it.”
Gregory was silent for a long time. It bothered Kyle – he almost felt like he was being ignored, which threatened to irritate him.
But then, without looking at him, Gregory asked in Lossúrean, “Would you have apologized for slapping me if you hadn’t found out about the lamp?”
The question took Kyle by complete surprise. He was used to having his apologies accepted automatically, because it was hard for him to admit fault, and people respected that. For someone to question his sincerity was stunning, disorienting. But Gregory had not said it with malice. Rather, it had seemed like a very honest question. And so Kyle tried – really tried – to consider it as such. He walked over to the banister himself, a good distance from Gregory, and looked out to the deep azure sea, the horizon a faded magenta where the sun had set.
“Probably not,” Kyle admitted. “But that doesn’t negate it, either.”
“I suppose not,” Gregory said nonchalantly.
Kyle had the immediate impression that Gregory was lying, that he thought it did matter, and, well, maybe it did. Despite his growing agitation and arousal, Kyle tried really hard to ask himself whether he was truly sorry for slapping him, or if he just felt guilty because of the lamp. And when he thought about it, he realized he cared more about the embarrassment he’d caused himself than the fact that he’d actually hurt Gregory. That Gregory seemed to pick up on that was harrowing, as if he could read Kyle’s mind before he himself could even decipher his own thoughts. It was unnerving, distressing, being out-maneuvered like this. It made Kyle want to attack him.
“You’re very off-putting, you know,” Kyle finally said, though the irritation in his words was dead, without real venom.
He didn’t notice the bitter smile that graced Gregory’s lips for a moment.
“You’re not the first person to tell me that,” Gregory said, almost sounding… amused? “It’s not my intention, but I can see how I might come across like that. That said, I went out of my way to avoid that happening with you, so the fact that you’ve perceived me that way regardless tells me a thing or two about how I must come across when I’m not trying.”
Now here was another response Kyle hadn’t been expecting. It was far too sincere, a disturbingly mature response to an insult. Gregory was only seven years older than him, but he acted like he was some kind of sage. It made Kyle feel woefully inadequate, and he turned away from him, staring down at the hedges many stories below. “Well, maybe you should work on that then,” he muttered dryly.
“Perhaps,” Gregory said. “But at the end of the day, I am the way I am and you are the way you are. The things we do to conform to the expectations of others are unlikely to ever feel natural to us. So, you can either try to like me as I am trying to like you, or you cannot. It’s up to you.”
“I am trying! You just make it impossible!” Kyle shot back, raising his volume.
Finally, Gregory really looked at him, his eyebrows raised. “How so?”
“Just – achhh! Shit like that!”
“I don’t understand. How is my asking you to elaborate your point – and out of a sincere desire to understand – making it difficult for you to like me? If anything, I would think it’d be the opposite.”
Kyle’s head was spinning. He covered his face with his hand, wanting to scream with frustration, but he didn’t have the energy for any more outbursts today. The truth was, Gregory made sense – a lot of it, regularly. Yet his tone, his affect, just his demeanor, it all made him enraging regardless. Bebe’s words echoed through his mind: “It can be hard to bond with him, but he’s really a lovely person.”
But today, Kyle didn’t have it in him to keep trying. Maybe Gregory was a lovely person. In which case, time would tell, because Kyle wasn’t inclined to keep having these kinds of maddening discussions. So he went back inside, the huge blue bed assaulting his field of vision. He laughed dryly. As if that were happening tonight. He went to his closet and grabbed a few things that had been brought up then went to find another room to sleep in.
Maybe there was protocol on these things; maybe he should be sleeping in the same bed as his now-husband whether or not they consummated their marriage, but Kyle didn’t care. Besides, Gregory had said some stupid thing about Kyle being able to do whatever he wanted, so, by sleeping in this other bedroom, he was doing exactly that.
Naturally, sleep didn’t come easily – he wasn’t even tired yet, but what else was he going to do? Most of his stuff hadn’t even been brought up here. So he lay there in the darkness and spent hours upon hours just thinking, reviewing the same scenes and worries until he was so exhausted he fell into a sunken sleep. He slept like a rock, no dreams intruding upon his leaden sleep. Ages later, he awoke without knowing what time it was – there was no clock in this room. Nevertheless, he knew it was impossible that it was early, as he never woke up at the same time as anyone else – as a high elf, his biological clock was set hours later than these sun elves, who woke up naturally at the crack of dawn.
Thus, it did not surprise Kyle when he got up and Gregory was nowhere to be found. After fixing his hangover with a spell, he threw on some clothes that would just be changed after breakfast, at which time he was outfitted in his chosen selection of a light green suit, to the surprise and poorly-hidden distaste of the designer. That too, made his choice feel more rebellious, absolving the obvious fact that he didn’t actually look good. Maybe it was the color: it looked slightly weird with his pale skin. Oddly enough, however, there was something additionally liberating about looking somewhat grotesque, not like a pretty flower ripe for the picking – or fucking.
Kyle really tried to tell himself he was okay with this, until he had another thought: he had to rectify what happened yesterday. And if he went to day two of his wedding celebrations wearing something that Lossúreans viewed as somewhat unconventional, then he would only be shooting himself further in the foot. Thus, as he changed into a pale yellow dress that covered his body like drapes, he had the sobering (and belated) realization that in the public eye, he was playing the role of queen. He could not be himself; he could not always do the things he wanted. As the Queen of Lossúrea, he had to appease this strange public’s strange gaze.
He had to act.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t a very good actor.
It was only by imagining Larnion destroyed that he managed to force a smile when he saw Gregory during the festivities. The king looked at him with a hint of suspicion before saying, “Good afternoon, Your Highness.”
Echoing those words back felt as bad as throwing up. Kyle even winced. At that point, Gregory knew what was up: in those icy blue eyes, there was that look of “oh, I get it,” albeit only for a moment: it disappeared just as quickly, that opaque gaze taking over.
“I must say, you look lovely today,” Gregory said, and Kyle’s instinct was to question whether that was sincere, until he realized that it didn’t matter.
“Why thank you,” Kyle replied, forcing another smile. It all felt so fake it was appalling, the superficiality of his behavior as thick as duckweed on his skin. Even so, it felt like all the eyes on him could see right through it anyway.
That day was filled with artificiality, fake behavior and fake words, though it at least got easier once Kyle had a few drinks in him. It was around noon on the next day of this drab, drunken misery that Bebe said something interesting over breakfast.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to bring up to you…” she said, seeming hesitant. “Right now, it’s not a problem with the festivities and all, but pretty soon you may have different meetings and duties scheduled in the morning… Things that it may be hard to reschedule into the afternoon. So, ah, would it be hard for you to wake up early in the morning? To be ready around eight or nine?”
“It would be almost impossible,” Kyle told her. “Why can’t those things just be rescheduled for later?”
“Well, sometimes they can be. But the whole castle is running on a very different schedule than your own – not that that’s a bad thing – so it might just make things hard sometimes, that’s all.”
“I just won’t do those things then.”
“Ah… That might be… okay,” she said, stirring her coffee absently.
“Well, what kinds of things can’t be rescheduled?”
She suddenly looked up at him, brown eyes strangely wide, before looking back down at her coffee. “Oh, just, different things,” she said. “Meetings with different groups of people, like umm, civic and cultural groups and scholars, things like that.”
As Kyle chewed a buttered croissant, crumbs all over his lips, he gazed down at his wedding ring and remembered that he had a real job to do here, at least when he wasn’t occupied with bearing children. But ugh, that was the last thing he could think about right now, lest he barf up his breakfast. As he continued thinking about this, however, he began feeling somewhat annoyed, because what was Bebe even saying here? That he should kill himself to wake up at eight o’clock to meet with some jackasses from the university?
“It’s just not possible for me to wake up that early,” he said with an air of finality, hoping to make it very clear to her that he didn’t want to discuss this anymore.
“But what if it were?”
He looked at her. “What do you mean? A spell or something?”
“Sort of,” she said. “There’s this magic serum we have. It would shift your clock earlier, that way you’d be able to wake up early and go to bed early just like everybody else. You get it as an injection every three months.”
This sounded similar to Azjkanna, a magical herb concoction that high elves – especially high elf omegas – drank each month to neutralize the scent of their arousal, something that could be temporarily nullified by a spell for mating purposes. Kyle didn’t mention this to Bebe though; in fact, he didn’t even know if sun elves had anything comparable, though he assumed so.
“What’s in this serum?” he asked her. “What kind of magic?”
“It’s fire magic. And it’s made of liquid sunlight, gold, and spring water.”
“What? That’s it?”
“Well, ah, there are some other secret ingredients and such,” she said. “I could find that information out for you if you wanted though.”
“And it works?” he asked. “I’d be able to wake up at dawn like everyone else?”
Kyle didn’t know why he found this so suspicious when he himself used a magical remedy to alter his body’s natural state. Maybe because it was an injection, rather than something you just drank. Injections were rare amongst high elven medics, being a technology that had actually been imported from the sun elves with little spread beyond a few specific purposes.
And that got him thinking.
“Do you know anyone else who uses this serum?” Kyle asked, unsure if this were a rude thing to ask. Probably.
“A few yes,” she answered cagily.
Still, he pressed, “Who?”
“Just… different people I know,” she said, seeming truly uncomfortable. Glancing somewhere to the side, she said in a smaller voice, “Christophe and my husband.”
He felt bad he basically forced her to admit this. Yet a moment later, she smiled at him as if to forgive him or maybe to… Honestly, he didn’t even know. All he knew was that he felt truly guilty now.
“Sorry,” he said.
“For making you tell me that.”
“Oh, no, please don’t worry about that!” she quickly said, the tone of her voice so upbeat it was clearly forced. “I think it’s totally understandable that you would want to know other people who’ve gone through the same thing. It’s just that, well, Christophe would be upset if you brought this up to him.”
“I won’t then,” he said, feeling kind of stupid, because it’s not like he was going to. Although maybe he would’ve; who could say. Sighing, he added, “I’ll have to investigate this. Who can I ask to learn more?”
“Someone in the infirmary, I think.”
So, after breakfast, Kyle delayed getting changed for another miserable day of wedding celebrations and went to the infirmary with Bebe.
The place was huge, a bright, clean, white room with huge windows and two dozen beds, only two of which were encased in white curtains. There were two people in white way in the back, near the counters and cupboards along the left half of the wall. They hadn’t noticed their arrival, and so Bebe went down the aisle to approach them, and soon, they both soon looked up. Bebe waved and smiled, and the female smiled back until she noticed Kyle, at which point her eyes widened. Both she and the male were quite surprised to see the newly-crowned Queen of Lossúrea in the infirmary, to say the least. A moment later, however, the female smiled, seeming genuinely excited now. She was a little taller than the male, with shoulder-length, light brown hair that had a beautiful teal hibiscus hair accessory in it. (That was the flower Kyle had torn up in the garden, he had later learned.) The male, on the other hand, seemed incredibly nervous, the tight spirals of curly blond hair almost augmenting the fact.
Once Kyle and Bebe got a little closer, the female, still smiling, said in a sweet voice, “Good afternoon, Your Highness, and congratulations on your wedding! I’m Dr. Heidi Tealnight, and I’m one of the doctors here in the castle. And this here is my nurse, Bradley Dunebreeze. We’re here to help with any health concerns you might have, whether injuries, illnesses, or just a question or two, about diet, health, or exercise.” Suddenly, she said, “Oh!” and quickly bowed, as if she’d almost forgotten and caught herself. The male took her lead and bowed too. Then she smiled and laughed a little before saying, “So what brings you to the infirmary today, Your Highness?”
“Umm,” Kyle said, feeling kind of awkward with all these people looking at him. “I wanted to learn some more information about… something.”
“Sure!” she said. “Would you like to go talk in an exam room?”
“Yes,” Kyle replied. “Yes, that would be good.”
There were three doors on the other side of the wall, labeled one through three with light blue numbers. Kyle followed the doctor into the first exam room, which had an exam table, a table jutting out from the wall, and a stool underneath it. There were cupboards along the wall but no windows. The doctor sat down on the stool, and Kyle went over the exam table but did not get up on it, instead just leaning against it and facing her, completely uneasy with the alien environment. It wasn’t that high elven medicine was undeveloped in comparison; in fact, there was a good amount of information exchange amongst the medicine community (Kyle had learned about this once), but the practice in both kingdoms continued to be heavily influenced by culture, with high elves practicing medicine through the context of nature and magic, and sun elves through their weird artificial ways, Kyle supposed. Masking things, putting emphasis on devices rather than magic itself.
But this doctor didn’t come across as weird and artificial. In fact, she seemed very warm, and Kyle felt at ease around her, but then again, that was characteristically sun elven too.
“So, what did you want to talk about, Your Highness?” she asked him.
Kyle raised his eyes to look at her, mostly at that teal hair accessory. It was pretty, but it also seemed a little childish.
“Oh, um. Right,” he said, thankfully becoming much more articulate as he went on to explain: “I came here to ask for more information about this injection to alter my body clock.”
“Ah, okay. That’s called Losseul. It’s a serum you get injected into your arm every ninety days, which would alter your body clock so that it’s in tune with the normal sun elven one,” she explained. “The serum itself is a solution of liquid sunlight, rain water, and pure gold, all of it blended together using fire magic. It’s really effective, and people usually do really well on it! It might take you a few days to get used to it after the first shot, but once you start getting regular injections, you shouldn’t have any side effects.”
“Okay…” Kyle said, trying to think of a question. As he thought of those ingredients, though, he realized it probably wouldn’t feel very good to have gold and freaking liquid sunlight injected into his veins, so he asked, “Does it hurt?”
Her face became more serious as she replied, “I’ll be honest with you and say that it really doesn’t feel good. That’s why we make sure to cast plenty of pain suppression spells on you to make you as comfortable as possible. We also keep you here for a few hours until your body absorbs the serum and begins to acclimate to it.” She went on to say, “I will tell you that when you first start the regime, that can take a while. For some people it’s twelve hours; for others, it’s a week. And all throughout that, we’ll make sure you aren’t in pain. But for everyone who’s on Losseul, they always tell me it’s really helped them a lot, and they feel totally normal on it, so I wouldn’t let any of what I’ve said discourage you.”
This was a lot to think about. Frankly, Kyle wasn’t even a huge fan of taking Azjkanna, despite the fact that it was an absolute necessity. Rendering his body into a constantly altered state always disturbed him somewhat on an ideological level. This Losseul stuff was even worse, not just because it hurt, but because this was a literal, physical way of altering who he was naturally to conform to the sun elves. And that was what gave him the most pause. The pressure he felt to acquiesce made it even worse.
“I assume there aren’t many people who get this done,” he said, his voice coming out surprisingly sad.
“No,” she confirmed, “there aren’t. There’s not a lot of demand for this drug to begin with, and it’s also very expensive, so most people aren’t able to access it, unfortunately.”
“Don’t you think that’s wrong?” he found himself asking, and he instantly regretted it when he saw her eyebrows crumple in uncertainty, or perhaps concern.
A moment later, she replied with the same professional confidence, “It’s a very specialized, very expensive drug that people can live without without suffering. Most of these people are sun elves with body clock disorders. A lot of them find ways to work around it, like by working at night. Maybe one day they’ll find a way to make it cheaper, that way everyone who wants it can get it.”
Kyle couldn’t help feeling impressed by her well-crafted response. On top of being smart, this doctor also knew how to phrase things. He wished he could say the same of himself.
“I see,” Kyle finally said. “I’ll have to think about this more. I’ll visit the infirmary again if I think of a new question. So, umm, thank you for your help.”
“Of course, Your Highness!” she said. “Please stop by anytime. If I’m not here, one of the two other doctors will be.”
“Well, when are you here?” he asked.
“In the afternoons, most days,” she said. “Not this Thursday or Friday though.”
“Okay,” he said. “Thank you again.”
After that, he and the doctor left the exam room, at which point they saw a new person in the infirmary, being tended to by the nurse. It was a fat man with light brown hair in a light blue suit. He looked a little pale, and then just displeased when he saw Kyle, but he bowed his head nonetheless, albeit perhaps reluctantly.
“Oh, Eric,” Dr. Tealnight said in a pitying tone. “What’s wrong now?”
“I’m sick, Heidi,” he said in miserable, strangely child-like voice, shuddering a little.
Going over to him, Dr. Tealnight asked, “And how are you sick?”
Kyle just stood there watching this weird situation unfold, unaware that Bebe, who had been waiting near the door, was approaching him.
“I threw up,” he said in a feeble, torn-up voice, as if it truly pained him to remember the experience.
“I think he drank too much,” the nurse mumbled, to which the fat man instantly spat, “Ey, nobody asked you!”
The fat man shot a quick glance at Kyle, as if to check if he were still there. There was something eerily knowing about the look in his eyes, which led Kyle to fully comprehend that this was some bizarre ruse designed to elicit the doctor’s sympathy, that this guy was some kind of schemester, coming across as pathetic on purpose.
And that would’ve been meaningless to Kyle, if something about this man didn’t strike him as someone to watch out for. Someone not to trust.
The doctor sighed, a deep, long sigh, before going over and touching the man’s shoulder. “Well,” she said. “I guess it’s easy to get carried away during such a big celebration. And who knows, you might’ve eaten something that didn’t agree with you. There’s a lot of different food down there, isn’t there?”
“Yeah, there is!” the fat man emphatically agreed. Then he took on that weird, crybaby voice again: “I ate this, this swirly cake thing, and I didn’t really know what was on the inside, but it was like, this cream stuff, maybe pineapple or cantaloupe or something, and, and, there was this one time, when I ate this old cantaloupe and got sick, so like, that could’ve totally been it, my body remembering that one time. Right? That makes sense, right?”
“That could definitely be it!” the doctor said.
At that moment, Bebe, who had been standing next to him for a few seconds, asked, “Ready to go?”
Kyle definitely was.
Chapter 4: Liminality
In a guest room of the king and queen’s apartment, time spun out in frazzled strands, the lightless hours of early morning stretching out into an eternity as Kyle twisted and turned. He could feel in his bones how tired he was, yet after another day spent drinking, sleep evaded him maliciously. Thus, by the time the faded blue light of pre-dawn crept through the curtained windows, he had thoroughly given up, so frustrated that he just decided to get out of bed. Soon, the entire castle would be awake, ready to meet another day of boisterous festivities. For some reason, the idea of that was intolerable, something he needed to escape at whatever cost.
Although it was probably still cool outside, he threw on a pair of blue robes he liked to wear on summer’s hottest days (they had a slit in the front that went halfway down his chest, which was loosely tied with a matching string; he thought it was really sexy). As he left the room, he looked down the hall at the closed door to the master bedroom and wondered if Gregory was awake yet. Yesterday, Kyle had tried his best to do the play-acting scheme again, but for the most part, he just avoided Gregory. Things were infinitesimally easier that way: no aggravation, no angst, no inconvenient erections.
Well, fewer, anyway.
There had been none yesterday that Kyle wouldn’t have minded, however. That is to say, he had not seen Christophe, as he had left before Kyle got there. Kyle had spent a good portion of the past few hours thinking about him, wondering if Christophe just didn’t like him, worrying that he might hate him now for slapping his best friend. But how was it that those two were such great friends anyway? It seemed impossible to understand: Gregory was maddening, and Christophe hardly even spoke. Plus, Gregory was the king. So how did that even come about? Christophe was just a soldier.
He remembered something then – that Gregory had said he began learning Larnionian over a decade ago with a friend. And if Christophe had arrived in Lossúrea around that time, then chances were that he was that friend. Therefore, he and Gregory had been friends for over a decade, which was quite a long time. Kyle scowled as he strode down the endless corridors and stairwells, reaching the door to the cellar in the kitchen, which was already busy with breakfast preparations. Everywhere he went, he was greeted and bowed to, and today, when all he wanted was to skirt by undetected, it made him wish he’d escaped down the balcony.
The cellar was cool and gloomy, the stones refreshing under his bare feet. The torches in the holders along the wall burned with pinkish-purple flames emitting arcane energy. This time, he had the chance to examine them for a moment before moving on in his pursuit of the door to that tunnel from last week. Thankfully, he found it pretty easily, going through it before proceeding down the long tunnel. Already, he could hear the crash of the ocean and the smell of the sea, the light of dawn at the end of the tunnel gently beckoning him forward.
The beach was empty. Kyle walked down the path through the dunes, feeling the sand in-between his toes. Just coming down here had been tiring, and when he glanced over his shoulder up at the monstrous palace, he felt he would sooner pass out on the beach than drag himself back up there. Sighing, he walked down the shore a bit before sitting down in the sand, at which point he wrapped his robes around his legs, hugging them to himself and putting his head on his knee as he stared into the crystal waters.
Although he hated to admit it, right now, what he craved more than anything was the warm comfort of his father’s embrace, that feeling that he was safe from all danger in her strong arms, engulfed in her amorous, alpha scent. Goddess, he missed her. He missed his mother and brother too, but his father and Stan so much more. Oh, Stan. Kyle just prayed he was fast asleep this early in the morning, lost to the kindness of dreams, shielded from reality.
And here Kyle was contemplating shifting his very biology to differentiate himself from Stan even more than his royal birth necessitated: on a material level, such that their sleep and wake would no longer overlap. Perhaps it was for the best, because there could never have been anything with Stan anyway, even if Stan liked him back. Because Stan was a commoner, a soldier, a warrior. And yet he was perfect, the kindest person Kyle knew, with compassion unbound, a heart that bled for everyone and everything.
Kyle raised his hand and looked at his ring in the morning light, reading the script that now glowed in shifting shades of peach and rose: “Every heart bleeds as mine.” So it was about compassion, huh? Or maybe empathy. Or maybe it was about remembering that everyone has their own pains and woes, which struck Kyle as really moralistic and annoying the more he thought about it, so he stuck his fingers in the sand, as if to punish the ring.
It was then that the salty air brought the faintest whiff of that strange, earthen scent to his nostrils, and when he turned his head, he saw him over in the distance, coming down the path from the tunnel. Christophe took a few more steps before halting and looking in his direction, although they were still too far away to really see each other. It was a good while before he started walking again, now hanging his head somewhat. At the end of the path, he turned right and began trudging down the shore in Kyle’s direction, albeit at a good distance inland. Kyle noticed he wasn’t wearing that white military uniform, but rather, dark green pants and a deep gray shirt. Larnionion colors.
As he got closer, his scent became more intense, making Kyle’s blood pump faster. Soon, Kyle also noticed that the bandages were gone, only a few small white strips over the right side of his forehead.
When Christophe passed Kyle, his scent now bombarding him, he stopped and said, “Good morning, Your Highness.” Then, he bowed very rigidly and very quickly before jogging – not walking, but jogging – away.
“Hey!” Kyle called out, scrambling up to go after him. “Where are you going?”
Christophe stopped and turned to look at him. “Nowhere,” he said before amending, “Exercising. Running.”
Kyle frowned, looking from Christophe down the shore. “Well, how about you exercise by walking?” he suggested.
With utter earnestness, Christophe asked, “Is that an order?”
“No,” Kyle said. “A request.”
The look on the alpha’s face was severe, clearly perturbed and maybe even disappointed. It almost made Kyle say, “You know what, forget it,” before walking away, pretending he wasn’t as heartbroken as he really was.
But before he could do that, Christophe said, “Okay.”
Satisfied, Kyle began walking alongside him.
“It’s early,” he commented, aware of the sole reason why Christophe could even be awake at this time.
Christophe just shrugged.
In a sudden, accusatory tone, Kyle said, “Do you hate me or something?”
At that, Christophe actually looked at him again. “No, of course not.”
“Even though I hit your best friend?” Kyle pressed.
“Well… why not?”
Christophe stared at the sand, a hard look on his face that was even harder to read. “Because I know how he can be,” he said, eventually adding, “and… I heard what you said.”
It was an incredibly gracious thing to hear. A relief, even. Kyle hadn’t been expecting that. So as not to smile, he bit down on his lip, taking a moment to straighten his posture as well.
After a moment, Kyle asked him, “Where are you from, in Larnion?”
Which made sense, since he was half drow elf, and the Teshka Wood bordered the Shevelesk Mountains, to the extreme west of Larnion. They were dark woods, rife with legends and realities of dark things.
“I’ve never met anyone who lived there,” Kyle said. “What was it like growing up there?”
“You didn’t have any siblings? Or neighbors?”
“No. It was just me and my mother,” he replied, clarifying, “My birth mother.”
Assuming she was dead, Kyle was hesitant to ask about her. That must have been what led Christophe to leave Larnion all those years ago. The thought of a twelve-year-old orphan boy traversing the forests of Larnion on his own was terribly sad, even if it was quite impressive too.
“Is it hard for you to talk about Larnion?” Kyle asked.
Christophe looked at him, brow furrowed, those honey-gold eyes squinting in uncertainty. Averting his gaze, he said, “Not of the past, no.”
Well, Kyle could certainly understand that.
“What’s your birth mother like?” he asked, using the present tense so as not to be presumptuous.
“As a person?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Kind of jumpy, I guess. Always worrying about stuff.”
“Oh, Goddess, I understand that,” Kyle said. “My father is the same way. Always going, ‘Kyle, your hair’s so greasy! When was the last time you washed it?’ ‘Kyle, did you remember to say your prayers? Kyle, did I just hear that you blew off your tutor again?’ All the time!” A moment later, he added in a much quieter tone, “But… I do miss her.”
For a few seconds, the only sounds were the breeze, the gulls, and the waves hitting the shore. Kyle couldn’t tell if it was awkward or not. At least he felt like he was keeping his arousal in check out here in the open air, even though he was terribly wet, greedily sucking Christophe’s scent in through his nostrils.
“It gets easier,” was all Christophe said, and by the tone of his voice, Kyle could tell he wasn’t just offering empty sympathy, but that he was truly empathizing with him. Having such a thing here, in Lossúrea, so far away from his family and friends, was so precious, so needed that Kyle clung to it like he had once clung to his father’s legs.
Looking over his shoulder, Kyle saw the palace at what almost felt like a comfortable distance. They were passing by the city now, approaching a large arc over to the right, under which a stone path cut through the dunes to the beach. The sounds of the city were picking up in the distance, another hot summer day in Eventide City already beginning.
Even so, that, too, felt distant, which was a relief, because if Kyle closed his eyes and concentrated only on Christophe’s scent, he could pretend the ocean was not the End of the World, but merely a lake encapsulated by Larnionian land, the elf at his side a resident of the place he ached to return to.
“Are you happy here?” Kyle suddenly asked.
As usual, it took Christophe a moment to answer, and it was in these moments that Kyle always got nervous, wondering if he’d said something wrong.
“I think so,” Christophe replied thoughtfully, and Kyle was grateful that he went on to elaborate: “I like being in the army, and… I like my family.”
He glanced at Kyle briefly before shaking his head and letting out a huff, perhaps one of incredulity – whatever it was, it didn’t sound like amusement, but something almost sarcastic.
“What?” Kyle pressed, knowing he shouldn’t.
“You probably heard the other day.”
“Well… a bit,” Kyle admitted, quick to add, “I used to fight with my father all the time, anyway. It’s hard because even when you know you’re right, they still pretend to you that you’re stupid and wrong, all because you’re the child. And from what I heard, I think you had a lot of great ideas.”
Christophe seemed surprised in the brief instant that he glanced at Kyle. It seemed like he never held eye contact for more than a second or two. “Thanks,” he mumbled.
Up ahead, there was someone sitting on a blanket, staring into the sea. When they got closer, Kyle could smell this sun elf, a male in tattered clothing, who began staring at them curiously, seemingly unable to look away. And when they did pass by him, his eyes bore into Kyle like nails despite the shield of Christophe’s presence. The stranger’s scent was pungent and perhaps uneasy, though Kyle couldn’t be sure. Maybe that was just from the way it was mixing with Christophe’s, which was the most all-consuming thing on the beach. Despite that, having Christophe here did make Kyle feel less nervous, which he sort of resented, because he didn’t need anyone to protect him, least of all from some random hobo on the beach, who deserved care and compassion anyway, not contempt and suspicion.
“Hey,” Kyle began, “let me ask you a question.”
“How long did it take you to be able to identify sun elves by gender?”
“I don’t know, a few months I guess.”
“Months!” Kyle exclaimed. “Pip told me it would only take a few weeks!”
“Well, maybe it didn’t take that long,” he said. “It was a long time ago. I just know that one day I was able to, whereas before I couldn’t.”
“I see…” Then he asked, “Weird question, but… what’s Bebe?”
That made sense, considering Wendy was an alpha. It was good too, that Bebe would understand about going into heat and such. Pip had told Kyle a bit about how the sun elves dealt with that, which was in fact similar to how the high elves did it, with giving omegas (and their alphas, if necessary) time off to deal with it if they didn’t or couldn’t take Coresch. Needless to say, Kyle, who had never been able to stomach that crap, wasn’t looking forward to it. He never did. It was just exhausting, and deep down, it actually scared him that he now had someone at his disposal who could knot him. Someone who was actually supposed to.
Threatened by the too-strong tug of arousal, Kyle squeezed his eyes shut and tried to think of some more random people Christophe might know so he could also ask about them.
“Do you know Dr. Tealnight?” he asked. “What’s she?”
Yet mentioning the doctor reminded Kyle of Losseul and how Bebe had told him that Christophe would be upset if Kyle brought it up. Why though? Well, probably for the same (silly) reason that Bebe was so loath to admit that Christophe and Wendy took the drug – because that was apparently “private.” It might’ve been obvious just from seeing that Christophe was biracial and Wendy was… whatever she was, but somehow, it was still “private.” And that was really frustrating. But then Kyle remembered something else – he remembered what Christophe had said to Wendy that day about dressing things up and trying to hide the nature of things, which was a very sensible, very Larnionian ideal, to put things out in the open and not hide their true nature. Of course, not all high elves managed to achieve this ideal, particularly in regard to social relationships. It was an ideal, after all.
Even so, it was clear Christophe understood it, and so Kyle deployed what he felt was a very tactical way of bringing up Losseul: “I met her yesterday,” he said, and then he switched to Larnionian because it was too laborious trying to explain all this in Lossúrean: “I went to her to talk about my sleep because pretty soon I’m apparently going to have to get up early for meetings and shit. Like, right now, the only reason I’m awake is because I couldn’t sleep, so I’m completely exhausted right now – if you couldn’t tell from how bad my skin looks,” he said, his tone becoming more cautious now, “Anyway, I spoke to her about this thing called Losseul, this serum shit that would help me wake up early. I don’t know if I’ll do it though… It sounds like it’s really painful. Besides, I don’t even know how much of a problem my sleep pattern is going be yet. Maybe it’s something I can work around. We’ll see, I guess.”
After saying all this, Kyle sighed and hung his head, suddenly overly conscious of just how tired and horny he was. It was a weird combination. Out of the corner of his eye, he studied Christophe, praying he wouldn’t be upset like Bebe had said. Fortunately, however, he just seemed pensive. Yet one thing Kyle noticed was that Christophe’s thoughtfulness never seemed… intellectual, which certainly wasn’t to say Kyle thought he was stupid – far from it. Rather, from the way he crumpled his brow and stared at the sand, it seemed more like he was struggling to put an answer together. So Kyle set aside his anxiety and exercised patience.
“It hurts a lot the first time,” Christophe eventually said, his voice gravelly. “A little bit the next few times, but nowhere near as much.” He swallowed. “I wouldn’t be able to be in the army without it though.” Finally, with a shrug, he added, “It’s not a big deal… Just something you have to go do every three months.”
“Bebe said you’d be upset if I mentioned it,” Kyle found himself saying, in Lossúrean now.
Christophe made this face and rolled his eyes, which made Kyle snort. “Doesn’t surprise me.”
Suddenly, Christophe turned around, and Kyle followed suit.
Scratching the side of his head now, Christophe said, “She’s just like that. The kind of person who doesn’t want anyone to ever be sad, ever. So if there’s even a one percent chance someone might get upset about something, she’ll avoid it.” Letting out an agitated breath, he said, “Look, I don’t want to bad-mouth her. She’s a good person, and she’s done a lot for me. I don’t deserve her. But don’t take it seriously if she says something like, ‘Oh, that’ll upset him.’”
“That was the only time she said it,” Kyle replied, trying to be reassuring. He was glad, however, that Christophe elucidated all this to him, especially in such detail. It was his most elaborate, most fluid response yet, and Kyle was so relieved by the steadier flow of conversation that he felt like he might float away, his legs already so weary and his mind so clouded with warmth.
“I didn’t even know you were her son for a while,” Kyle went on to say. “And, ha, it’s funny – when she told me, I told her it wasn’t possible because you’re not a sun elf, and then I felt really dumb when she told me you were adopted.”
Christophe let out a short sound, a mix between a huff and a short. “I get the weirdest looks when she tells people I’m her son,” he said in this tone as if it were a joke. “Not so much with my dad though.”
“Why not?” Kyle probed, seeing in his mind that shiny black hair that framed Wendy’s pale face.
“Because she’s the Defense Minister. People know her. They know she has a son,” he explained. “They know she has a wife, too, but they don’t know her by her face.”
“Oh,” Kyle said. Honestly, he’d been hoping for an explanation as to Wendy’s appearance. Upon remembering that Wendy and Bebe had different last names, he asked Christophe, “What’s your last name, by the way?”
Which was Wendy’s. “Was it always that?” Kyle asked tentatively, knowing it obviously wasn’t.
“No. It was Dewmourn.”
“So you changed it when you were adopted?”
“Can I ask why?” Kyle asked.
Christophe shrugged. Then he glanced at Kyle before saying in a non-accusatory tone, “You just changed your last name, didn’t you?”
This was true, Kyle realized. As much as he would always be Kyle Briarflow, Princess of Larnion in his own mind, he was now Kyle of Yardale, Queen of Lossúrea. He had yet to write that name anywhere. It seemed like a preposterous joke, anyway: he didn’t even know what a “yar” was. Actually, he didn’t know what a “dale” was either. Probably something retarded, like Gregory.
“I guess so,” Kyle eventually ceded, the sigh he let out emblematic of all his weariness, physical, emotional, spiritual.
The palace was getting closer up ahead, dragging them towards it from up on that hill, the height from which it looked down upon the sprawling buildings and bridges, streets and streams of the kingdom’s capital.
“I never liked that name anyway,” Christophe said after Kyle had been quiet for a moment.
Time felt so slow in the moment Kyle turned to look at him, his heart so sad that Christophe had discarded an emblem of his Larnionian identity so nonchalantly, whereas Kyle had not had a choice. It wasn’t that he blamed him. It just made him sad. Although Kyle supposed the name in question was itself sad. Dewmourn. Like waking up too early and being unable to fall back asleep, seeing the dew on the moss that was all too real and knowing that the world was the same as it was yesterday, entailing the same difficulties and woes that your dreams had tricked you into believing were gone. It was waking up every day and knowing that there was still a war going on, but that even if there weren’t, even if Stan weren’t out there fighting to defend Larnion, Kyle could never have him anyway. Not even if Stan happened to like him in the same way, which at times had seemed curiously plausible in the face of overwhelming doubt.
But if Christophe Dewmourn was no more, who was Christophe Tidebreeze? Kyle knew more now, quite a lot more, but the path that led into that tunnel was up ahead, and upon leaving that cellar, necessity threatened to pull them in opposite directions.
“Did you eat breakfast yet?” Kyle asked Christophe.
“Will you eat breakfast with me?”
“I never know what half this shit is,” Kyle said in Larnionian, throwing the menu down on the table. “Usually I have Bebe explain what each thing is in more detail so I can pick something that’s not totally weird, but sometimes that just frustrates me more.”
“Are you saying you want me to do that?” Christophe asked in Lossúrean, looking up at him from behind his own menu.
“What? No,” Kyle said, feeling his face get hot as he waved his hand around. “It’s usually just the details I’m curious about anyway, not that they even matter. Because, I mean, I know words like ‘chicken’ and ‘duck’ or whatever, so I always know what the main thing is, and that’s really all that matters, I guess.”
“You could have them translate the menu if you wanted.”
Weirdly enough, that had never occurred to Kyle. It was in fact a very intelligent solution, the obvious kind that at times evaded him, one so simple it made it all the more ingenuous.
“That’s a good idea,” he commented, smiling a little despite himself. Then he asked, “Can you read everything on that menu?”
“Yeah. Because they use the same stuff all the time. Pumpkin seeds, buttercup petals, fruity vinaigrettes. And asparagus. So much asparagus.”
“Yeah, I noticed that.”
As he picked the menu pack up again, Kyle tried to sound casual as he asked Christophe, “Was it hard for you to learn Lossúrean?”
Kyle could hear Christophe swallow. When he looked up at him, it seemed like he was concentrating hard on the menu.
“Yeah,” he eventually said. “A lot of the sounds are weird.”
“Seriously!” Kyle said, still speaking in Larnionian, because he didn’t give a shit. “I know I still pronounce everything like garbage and probably sound like a fucking idiot no matter how hard I try. I mean, not just because of my pronunciation, but also because my vocabulary isn’t that great. I know I definitely still make grammar mistakes too,” He let out a bitter huff through his nostrils.
“You don’t sound like an idiot in Lossúrean.”
From the way he said it, it didn’t seem like a compliment; it just seemed like he was being honest.
Trying not to smile too much, Kyle mumbled as he said, “Thanks.”
Studying the menu very carefully, Kyle squeezed his crossed legs together tighter under the table, squashing his erection before pinching his thigh with his fingers. This seemed to help somewhat, enough that he was able to focus enough to decide upon an egg-white omelet with goat cheese, parsley, and avasiey, whatever the hell that was. It looked a lot like the Larnionian word for waterwheel, avashae, so Kyle just decided to believe it was like, some water plant or something. For some reason, he didn’t feel like asking Christophe.
Christophe, who ordered second, ending up ordering the same thing. This made Kyle feel good. He sat there with his hands folded under his lap, with what was probably a goofy look on his face. Fortunately, at least, he was now feeling less furiously aroused, able to simply appreciate Christophe’s company, something he had been yearning for probably a little too much lately.
“So, ah, you say you like being in the army?” Kyle said. “I understand that you’re a soldier?”
Yet Christophe did not answer the question at first; instead, he rather suddenly asked (in Lossúrean), “What language do you want me to speak in?”
And he seemed very concerned about this too, looking at Kyle with those intense eyes, his jaw tight with what looked like anxiety.
“Any language you want,” Kyle replied casually, going on to admit, “I’m just exhausted right now and don’t have it in me to try to string sentences together in Lossúrean when you can understand me just as easily in Larnionian. Right?”
“So I don’t care which language you want to respond in; I can understand both, obviously. I just can’t be assed to deal with speaking Lossúrean right now. It requires way too much fucking effort,” Kyle said, rolling his eyes a little. “I mean, I only started learning it last year.”
“It’ll get easier,” Christophe said, still speaking in Lossúrean, his tone mildly awkward. “Because… you’re surrounded by it now.”
“Hopefully,” Kyle said with a sigh that came out heavier than he intended. “I’m just glad there are people here I can speak Larnionian with.”
By that, he had just meant Christophe, yet, just a few moments later, some hellish whim of fate brought another Larnionian-speaker to that private dining room, and it was not Pip.
Today he was dressed in more lurid attire: a cerulean dress shirt with a sharp, asymmetrical collar and huge cuffs, and white pants that were tighter than any Kyle had seen him wearing yet. He seemed perfectly at ease as he came into the dining room, smiling as he assaulted Kyle with a slightly clearer, crisper version of that intoxicating scent.
At first, Gregory evaded eye contact with Kyle, only focusing on Christophe as he said, “There you are!”
“He asked me to eat breakfast with him,” Christophe immediately explained.
“Well, that’s fine, of course,” Gregory said. “It’s just that it’s so unusual for you to be late for breakfast, so I was wondering.”
Christophe’s brow was furrowed deeply as he stared at Gregory. “So how did you know to look in here?” he asked.
“Oh, I was just passing by on my way back from the kitchen – I wanted to amend my order before they started on it,” Gregory explained. After that, he finally glanced at Kyle before nodding and saying with strained formality, “And a good morning to you too, Your Highness. It’s strange to see you up so early, stranger yet to see you with my good friend Christophe.”
Now further agitated by arousal, Kyle wanted nothing more than to snap back at Gregory like a turtle, spit out something hostile like, “Fuck off with the ‘Your Highness’ shit” or “I can hang out with whoever I want, asshole.” And Kyle did narrow his eyes at him, yet what led him to swallow those lines he so desperately wanted to utter was that Gregory had referred to Christophe as his “good friend.” And with Gregory also being Christophe’s “good friend,” Kyle was loath to be so vicious to the king in front of him. Because it would make him look bad.
In the end, he questioned Gregory: “Why is it strange?”
The creepy, weirdly friendly smile on Gregory’s face dissipated. “Because I wouldn’t have thought your first encounter would facilitate friendship,” he said in a tone as cool as a gravestone. “I’m glad that seems not to be the case, however.”
“I don’t know,” Kyle muttered quickly, feeling his cheeks get hot. Goddess, he hated how Gregory always had to do this shit! What the fuck was he even trying to say here? What did he want? Why couldn’t he just go away!
It didn’t help that the relatively small room was now engulfed in both Christophe’s and Gregory’s scents, the two overwhelming, delicious smells mixing together in such a way that Kyle felt legitimately high. By now, his cock was rock hard beneath the table, and his asshole was dripping like a faucet with slick lubrication. Part of him almost wanted to utter the spell that would eliminate the Azjkanna from his system and make the scent of his arousal apparent to these two alphas. What would happen next, he wondered? Involuntarily, his breath caught in his throat before he could even begin to consider the possibilities.
As if to squander such thoughts, he squeezed his eyes shut only to crack them open not a second later, at which point he dared to glance at Gregory out of the corner of his eye. The king was running the tip of his thumb over his lower lip, his head tilted slightly in a pensive manner.
“Shall I leave you two alone then, or would you like to join us?” he said.
“Leave us alone,” Kyle immediately replied, knowing he was being rude, but then again, it was also rude that Gregory had intruded.
“Alright then,” Gregory said in a pleasant tone, even smiling. “Do enjoy your breakfasts. I shall see you two later.”
With that, he left, but even so, Kyle was not free of him: that majestic scent lingered on, its weakening tendrils curling around Christophe’s, which was still so heavy and dense, like a sturdy leather sofa Kyle desperately wanted to hump.
Kyle put his face in his hands and let out a tremendous sigh. Goddess, what a mess. Why did Christophe have to be friends with Gregory? Why was he in the first place? Christophe was a stray who had just stumbled into Eventide City one day, so how did he go from that to being such good friends with the then-prince?
These were questions Kyle could have gotten answers to right now, yet he couldn’t even bear to say Gregory’s name. It was a struggle. He wondered if Christophe were judging him for it. Goddess, he really fucking hoped not.
“I’m sorry, I’m just—” Kyle began, but then he regretted the apology, because, well, what was he sorry for? He exhaled deeply and admitted, “I wasn’t expecting him to show up.”
Christophe didn’t say anything, but his brow was still furrowed as he stared at the table, eyes intent with thought.
“What?” Kyle said, and the other elf glanced up at him briefly before looking away again.
“I didn’t want to go either,” he finally articulated.
“Oh. Well. Good,” Kyle said, hugely relieved. He straightened up a bit in his seat before asking, “Do you two… usually eat breakfast together?”
“With my parents too.”
Now, Kyle frowned. So the four of them ate breakfast together every morning like a family? It made him mad that Gregory was excluding him from that, until he remembered that Gregory had, in fact, tried to invite him to meals a few times, including literally a minute ago. But as for those initial times, Kyle had naturally assumed it would be just him and Gregory, which sounded terrible. But, if it was with Bebe, Wendy, Christophe, and the single unfortunate addition of Gregory, well, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe it would even be nice. That is, when the idea wasn’t thrown in his face by Gregory barging in on exclusive one-on-one time with Christophe.
But there was also a problem here: Kyle couldn’t wake up on time to eat breakfast when they did; he usually wasn’t even up and dressed by their lunch time at eleven am.
Thus, the following week, when he was trying his damnedest to wake up at seven am, he was in hell. Absolute hell. His whole body was bombarded by fatigue. He couldn’t even move. And here was Bradley motherfucking Beetle, in his room, trying to have a conversation with him.
Kyle couldn’t believe he’d arranged for him to wake him up.
After grunting at Bradley that he needed five more minutes, Bradley had the gall to say, “Yes, Your Highness. But… I just want to remind you that the ceremony is at eight.”
“I know it’s at eight,” Kyle spat before asking in a less irate tone, “Well, what time is it now?”
“Let’s see,” Bradley Beetle said in his stupid voice. “It’s 7:25.”
“Shut up, no it’s not.”
“Um… but it is, Your Highness.”
Kyle began sobbing into his pillow. “Why was this scheduled so early!?”
“Ahh, because they have to get started on their journey,” Bradley said.
“I know that!” Kyle snapped.
“Right. Of course, Your Highness.”
Kyle started sobbing tearlessly again. This wasn’t fair; it wasn’t right. Who could possibly wake up this early?! It was freakish that they could, and he knew in his heart then that it wasn’t him who was abnormal; it was them.
Not that that helped him right now.
“I’m so tired,” he moaned, truly in pain.
He had only slept about four hours. Although he had been lying in bed in the dark since half past midnight, he hadn’t been able to fall asleep three. And Kyle didn’t function well on such little sleep. He didn’t function period. He had no idea how he was going to drag himself out of bed, get dressed, and arrive at the Great Amphitheater, all in the next thirty-five minutes.
And, well, he didn’t.
It was already quarter past eight by the time he was dragging his feet into a royal carriage, his eyes drooping shut as he carried a cup of coffee in a saucer into the car. Ohh, this was hell, this was torture, and though he tried to concentrate on drinking his coffee, he was dozing off in the carriage’s cozy interior. He was just sooo sleepy. So, so sleepy. Zzzz.
Suddenly, the carriage stopped. He cracked his eyes open just slightly, in agony knowing that he had to get out.
The amphitheater was huge, a big, white round structure with big arcs. There were already a ton of people here, and Kyle could feel them looking at him, hear them speaking excitedly in Lossúrean, though he couldn’t have untangled anything coherent even if he weren’t too sleepy to try. Bradley and some other people from the amphitheater took them inside, up the crowded stairs, down the hall, and then through a door labeled “PRIVATE,” through which there was a narrower, empty hallway. It felt like the opposite of a dream, too clean and clinical to be fantastical. Even so, there was still something odd about the whole thing, perhaps just because it was a different environment that Kyle was blindly, sleepily experiencing.
Soon, they reached a door that led to the outside again, where Kyle could see the whole of the amphitheater from the interior. The whole place was filled with sun elves, their strange scents clouding the air completely, yet he could smell Gregory’s scent cutting through them like a knife butter, and not just because he was physically closer, sitting here on this balcony with Wendy and some other assholes.
Trying not to scowl, Kyle took the seat next to the king and sighed with misery and exhaustion, knowing it wasn’t going to be possible to play-act, not when he could barely keep his eyes open. Not even the disastrous yet vague intrusion of arousal could change that. All he did was slump in the chair, feeling sufficiently dead. At some point, his coffee had been taken away from him, though he couldn’t remember when, and that only upset him further. It seemed like something as tiny as a butterfly landing on his shoulder might send him into tears. Yet even though it was much worse when Gregory stood just a few moments later to fill the massive space with that gorgeous and deep voice of his, Kyle’s anguish was so much that tears couldn’t even form.
“Good morning, people of Lossúrea!” Gregory’s voice boomed (Kyle began mocking it in his head). “I hope you’ve enjoyed the celebrations of last week as much as I have.”
Kyle had to hold back a snort. What a lie.
Gregory went on: “Yet, as you are all well aware, the time for celebration is over. We now step foot into a new era of Lossúrean history, a time defined by an alliance that shall go far beyond the distant and lukewarm ties of the academic community. Now, Lossúrea and Larnion are sisters in the sky, brothers in arms. Family. It is natural that the origin of this new bond is in the union of myself and Lossúrea’s new queen. Because these things are deeply personal. Heartfelt. This is not a pit-for-pat sort of thing, as some have had the audacity to suggest.”
If Kyle didn’t suddenly feel like puking, he could’ve laughed, because it totally was – anybody could see that – and so it was actually hilarious that Gregory could say this bald-faced-lie so ardently to so many people. Astonishing, really. Just, wow!
Yet Gregory continued with that lie, pushing it even harder: “Yes, it is true that this bond is fresh. But is it not terribly unkind to begrudge a beginning for being a beginning? After all, we don't love our newborns any less for being fresh from the womb. We would do no less for them on day one than on day two-thousand. It is with this same love and devotion that we send our support to our sister-kingdom of Lossúrea, linking arms with our high elven brethren in the war against humanity. Note that I do not say ‘their’ war, because it is no longer ‘their’ war. It is our war. And my sincerest hope is that when our soldiers go to Larnion to fight our war, they treat it as such, and they treat the high elves as their siblings: with kindness, warmth, and love.
“As all elves once shared the same blood, we now share it again in spirit with the high elves, finding common ground on the dawn of this new era of camaraderie. I wish all elven soldiers the strength and courage to fight in this war that has gone on far too long, and to soon raise the flag of victory, hand-in-hand, over the scum of humanity, such that we may continue nurturing our relationship in peace.”
Next, Kyle was supposed to read a few lines written on the notecards he had in his pocket. Yet not even nervousness seemed to impel him to stand: even after Gregory sat down, he continued staring out at the swathes of clapping elves with his chin in his hand and his eyes lidded, half wanting to throw himself over the balcony in some bizarre and dramatic artistic expression. Because at least that would’ve been real, not some scripted speech that Kyle knew Gregory wasn’t so stupid as to believe. Not that Kyle really knew what he believed.
Anyway, Kyle did hoist himself out of his throne, feeling like he was about three thousand years old. As he went to stand where Gregory had been standing, he took the notecards out of his pocket and gazed at the words dumbly: “Dearest citizens of Lossúrea, I echo the king’s sentiments…”
But that was a lie. And though Kyle had previously (and flippantly) agreed to say these words, right now, he couldn’t bring himself to. So, he raised his head to the thousands of people gathered here today and just started talking:
“You know, for what the king just said… It’s probably hard to think about Larnion as a real place. I imagine few of you have ever been there. You don’t know what it’s like living there, what food we eat, what jokes we say. And that’s okay. I am not here to blame you. That’s not my goal,” Kyle said, both nervous and not. “But at the same time, it’s hard to have a personal, uhh… like, sense of responsibility about it? That’s not the word I want to say, but maybe you know what I mean. It’s not the same as if an enemy is invading your own home. And that’s reasonable; that’s okay.
“But to say, oh, we’re all brothers now, we care about it the same, well, I don’t know. Maybe one day that will feel true. But I don’t think many soldiers going to all the way to Larnion right now feel that way. Maybe they’re even angry, I don’t know. I would hope not, but I would understand. Honestly, I would. I can tell you that in Larnion you will be welcomed with open arms, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re going there and fighting in a distant place and… It probably won’t be easy.”
You could hear a pin drop in the amphitheater. Unsure how to continue, Kyle began to feel legitimately nervous, and, for whatever reason, he glanced over his shoulder, seeing Gregory with this vague smirk on his face that both enraged and humiliated him. Goddess, what a piece of shit.
“Anyway,” Kyle said in a loud voice, “I basically just want to say thank you. Because however each soldier feels about it, however every sun elf feels about it, well, I think you should feel that way. Even if it’s not a ‘nice’ feeling. Still, I am really grateful. I can’t even tell you how much. To each and everyone one of you. So… thanks.”
Lowering his head, he went to sit back down. There was no applause. He squeezed his eyes shut, knowing he should’ve just stuck to the damn lines. What was wrong with him? Why did he always do shit like this? If Stan were here, Stan would’ve told him that had been an amazing, honest, and heartfelt speech. Yet somehow, that just made Kyle feel worse. Drowning in the tense silence the amphitheater, Kyle was only able to breathe again when Wendy began talking a moment later. He barely even heard what she said though, still so engulfed in shame and regret.
It felt like it took a million years for the ceremony to end, and objectively, it did take another long hour of speeches and bullshit, ending with a motherfucking parade, because of course. Kyle was ready to peel his eyes out, or, more realistically, drag himself back to the palace, which he actually did right after the parade started, weaseling away to hunt down his carriage and ride the thing back.
The problem here was, the coachman was nowhere to be found, and Kyle wasn’t totally sure how to steer a horse. To him, horses were wild animals, running freely over the plains beyond the forests. It was domesticated wolves that drove their carriages, having been bred to be smaller than their massive wild counterparts. But how different could steering a horse be?
Not all that different, Kyle found out, because just as he sort of sucked at steering a wolf-drawn carriage, so too, did he sort of suck at steering a horse-drawn one. But, also similarly, he could get himself from point A to point B with only a few catastrophes. And at least this time, he only knocked over a few fruit stands instead of getting him and Stan lost in the woods for three days. He did call out an apology, but he also supposed it wasn’t that big of a deal, because fruit could be picked up easily.
When they asked him at the castle gates where the coachman was, he laughed and said they were playing a game where they had switched places, so the coachman was in the carriage.
He did a pretty good job going down the long driveway to the palace, but he struggled to make the horses turn along the governor’s driveway, thereby driving the carriage straight through the flowers and the grass. Nor did he park very well, either, but he at least managed to get the horses to stop before driving right into the porch.
Thoroughly exhausted by the morning, he was really glad to be home. Although, jeez, was he really already calling this place ‘home’? Well, whatever, he was tired, and there was a bed in here that he was going to go crash in.
And it was a nice bed, really beginning to feel more comfortable and homey to him. The bed in the guest room, that is. He hadn’t ventured back into the master bedroom since his wedding night. That had also been the last time Kyle had exchanged more than a few words with Gregory.
It was procrastination, he knew, but it’s not like he was on a schedule here, right? And who knew, maybe by the time it happened, Kyle wouldn’t dislike Gregory as much.
Ha! And candy would grow on trees!