“Weakness is death,” Slade said with a smile.
Oliver grimaced and waited for Slade to let him up; he always took his time.
It was true – Oliver had shown weakness. He had left his left flank unprotected, and Slade had jumped at the opening.
You couldn’t ever be soft around Slade.
“Are you hard?” Oliver asked. He was startled more than anything else.
Slade pulled away. “Just do those shoulder exercises I taught you,” Slade growled and turned away.
Oliver smiled as he dropped to the ground to do the reps. He had been with Slade for a couple of weeks, but that hint of arousal while they were wrestling was the first indication that Slade might be the least bit interested in him. As something other than a punching bag, anyway.
Constant pain, fear, hunger, and exhaustion – well, that was one thing. Celibacy was something different altogether. If sex were an option on this otherwise forsaken island, Oliver wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass.
After a week of constant flirting, and some obviously-not-accidental brushing against Slade’s groin during practice, Slade finally admitted that he knew exactly what Oliver was after.
“You don’t have to do this, kid.” He stared at Oliver, as if there were some great puzzle there.
“You don’t have to play so hard to get, Slade,” Oliver said with a smirk.
Slade stepped closer. “Don’t think for a minute that anything we’d do would make a difference. Unless you’re a useful weapon, you’re disposable. And if you ever manage to be less useless, I’m just going to take you on a mission that will probably get you killed. If you think a roll in the mud is going to change that, you’re even stupider than I thought.”
“Yes. I was imagining that tenderness would sweep over your heart and you would start bringing me flowers if I blew you.” Oliver raised an eyebrow, cocky. He leaned in, slowly, waiting for Slade to knock him back, until his lips were just an inch away from Slade’s.
Slade kissed him then, harsh, wet, possessive. Oliver kissed back, making Slade’s tongue battle his own before letting him in.
They parted, and Slade actually seemed out of breath.
“We’re not doing it in the mud,” Oliver said definitively and nodded at the shelter. He grinned and for once, Slade grinned back.
With Slade, it was never easy.
That was fine; Oliver didn’t like it easy.
Slade’s hands were rough, his fingers calloused and strong as they gripped Oliver’s hips, as they pinned his shoulders to the floor as he arched up into Slade’s body. Slade’s beard was rough, like rugburn, as his mouth swept across Oliver’s thighs, as he bit into Oliver’s shoulder. When he fucked Oliver, he went slow but deep, intense, until Oliver begged for even more and Slade jerked and rolled his hips, fast and hard, until Oliver couldn’t even think.
Sometimes, in the morning, Oliver would wake up curled into Slade’s body. Slade would always say, “Don’t get attached, kid.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Oliver would respond, and roll over to face away.
When Shado came, things changed. She was as lethal as Slade, but didn’t act like it every second.
Oliver had almost forgotten that people could be like that.
Even Slade seemed to soften up a little around her. A very, very little.
She was kind, gentle even, but she was all business until they won the battle, until they stopped the men who killed her father.
It wasn’t until the calm that followed that Shado decided to become something else to them.
Oliver’s first inkling was when Slade said to him, apropos of nothing, “You’re free to do whatever you like, you know.”
“Then why am I spending all day getting my ass kicked by you?”
“Because you still fight like a four-year-old. I meant, you and Shado. You can do what you like.”
Oliver wasn’t sure if he should feel grateful or offended. But he said, “I’m not sure she feels that way.”
“Don’t be naïve, kid. She asked me if I was yours.”
Oliver paused. “And what did you say?”
“I said we’re not stupid enough to form attachments. Attachments are a weakness.”
“So keep that in mind, kid. With Shado. Do what you want. But don’t let her be a weakness.”
“Sure.” Oliver’s lips were thin.
Slade just grunted and walked away.
Shado and Slade were alike on the battlefield, and even in practice too. They were the perfect warriors, all power and skill and grace.
In bed, Slade was all about power and skill, but Shado preferred skill and grace.
Her motions were fluid, and she taught Oliver to be the same, to learn her body with precision and care just as she learned his, to let anticipation and pleasure pour across them slowly, exquisitely.
When they were done, they would lie in each other’s arms for a few minutes. Then Shado would get up and find something productive to do, leaving Oliver staring the other way, reminding himself not to take it personally, that warriors don’t like to get attached.
Oliver thought that in this way, too, Shado was just like Slade.
Shado obviously knew that Oliver and Slade were still having sex. And it was clear that Slade knew about Shado and Oliver. Both pairs always went into the forest, far enough out to be discreet, but both Shado and Slade seemed to easily know when Oliver had had sex with the other.
Oliver, on the other hand, was almost but not completely positive that Shado and Slade were having sex. He wasn’t sure why none of them ever talked about their mutual sex lives – maybe to avoid jealousy – but it bothered Oliver that he was the only one who didn’t know for sure about the others. He reluctantly chalked it up to Shado’s and Slade’s superior stealth and tactics.
He thought about what they must be like together, if their style would hew closer to Slade’s style or to Shado’s. He tried to fantasize about it, tried to imagine Slade inside of her, and he could imagine both of them at the moment of ecstasy – and wasn’t that a sight – but he couldn’t imagine what it would be like getting there, couldn’t decide whether it would be smooth caresses or rough angles. But he thought about it often.
Oliver finds out for certain about Shado and Slade one day, right after Oliver has finished blowing Slade, the taste of him still coating his mouth.
“Next time you’re with Shado,” Slade says, “Suck on the inside of her wrist. She loves that.”
Oliver runs through all the reasons Slade could be telling him this: an assertion of dominance, a suggestion that Slade is better at pleasing her than he is, an attempt to make Oliver jealous, an attempt to test if Oliver is jealous, a desire to feel control over what Oliver and Shado do without him, or even just Slade’s insatiable need to tell Oliver what he should be doing better.
Oliver doesn’t know how to respond, so he says nothing. Slade goes off to gather supplies and doesn’t explain.
The next time Oliver is with Shado, he sucks gently on Shado’s wrist. He can see that she likes it, but also that she knows, immediately, that this gesture comes from Slade. She looks surprised, and Oliver can’t tell if she is pleased or angry.
When they are done, Shado shows Oliver how she uses her fingers as she jacks Slade off and recommends that Oliver uses the technique. It’s unclear if this is retaliation or a favor.
Soon, every time Oliver has sex, someone teaches him tips and techniques to use on his other lover. His sex life has never been better, but he can’t help but notice that the other person is constantly there, in every gesture or moan, in every intimacy that feels like a copy of someone else’s.
Oliver realizes that he is no longer Slade and Shado’s shared partner; he is a messenger between them, his body and sex the medium of their coded communications. He realizes that it has become a competition, that warriors can’t turn away from a competition, but Oliver knows that he is not a player in this game – he is the just the field on which they play their sport.
Shado and Slade sometimes look at each other, signaling each other in ways that Oliver can’t decode. It’s not romantic. It’s usually a silent glance telling the other that they would need more water soon, that the noise they heard was just some rodent, or some other mundane thing. It didn’t bother Oliver before, but now it's starting to grate.
Eventually, Oliver is able to discern when their silent looks are talking about him. He first assumes they must be rolling their eyes at him when he’s not looking, but with closer attention, it turns out that when they want to mock him, they feel free to do it out loud, Slade hurling insults and Shado mildly teasing. Instead, their looks communicate something else.
Once, Shado catches Oliver looking at his father’s book. Oliver keeps it hidden; they know about it, but not why he would bother to keep it. He still hasn’t told them how his father died, or what he revealed right before. Oliver puts the book away, but he sees a look pass between Shado and Slade, and the next thing he knows, Slade is insisting on doing another practice, even though it’s nearly dark.
It works; Slade pressing his arm against Oliver’s neck is a good distraction, and soon Oliver is thinking of nothing but trying to get a few good knocks in himself. He feels Slade’s arms on him, harsh at first, growing more playful in his moves as it grows dark, and knows that this is Shado’s doing, that it is Shado pinning him down, keeping him from going under, as much as it Slade.
He knows Shado is treating him like the delicate kid that has to be taken care of, but he doesn’t care.
He also doesn’t care the night that Shado cradles him in her arms, telling him to cry, to let it out, that there was no shame in letting himself mourn.
Oliver had woken up from a nightmare screaming (usually he was well-trained enough to wake up silent – sweating like a river, heartbeat thundering, but silent – but this dream was something different, something worse).
Obviously, Slade and Shado responded to the sudden noise by pulling out knives from beneath their mats. They put them away when they saw that there was no threat.
“Sorry,” Oliver mumbled, “Won’t happen again.” They didn’t have enemies on the island anymore, but they wouldn’t see that as an excuse to go soft.
He walked out, and out of the corner of the eye, he saw Slade look at Shado, telling her some information that he couldn’t discern. Probably something about how Oliver still needed vast improvement.
He was surprised when Shado followed him. But when her arms enveloped him, when she asked nothing, he simply fell to his knees and sobbed against her waist. When they walked back in, Slade was pretending to sleep. The apparent privacy gave Shado the chance to walk Oliver to his mat, to kiss him, long and deep, before going back to her own space.
Oliver lay there, strangely calm. He looked over at Slade and realized that Slade must have suggested that Shado go after him.
It struck him then: that as much as Oliver was a messenger between the other two, the same could be said for them. Slade acted through Shado, and vice versa, the three of them using one another’s strengths and differences to send one another messages that they couldn’t or wouldn’t speak aloud.
It was a comfort for Oliver, to know that he wasn’t just the paper the other two used to write each other love notes. That the three of them were all in this together.
This was what gave him the courage to finally ask them the question that was on his mind.
“If the three of us are all together, we should all be together, shouldn’t we?” he said, and waited for a response.
Slade and Shado gave each other a look. Naturally.
“Okay, obviously you two have talked about this before but didn’t tell me,” Oliver said.
Shado sighed. “Knowing that your partner is with someone else is one thing. Seeing it up close is another.”
“You’re afraid we’ll be jealous,” Oliver said.
“Jealousy could ruin us,” Shado answered.
“I’m not worried about jealousy,” Slade said, a bit cockily. “I don’t get jealous. And if Oliver’s jealous of me, I’ll kick his ass. And if Shado’s jealous watching the two of us together, then we’ll just give her such a good show she forgets.” Slade smirked at Oliver.
“Don’t let him fool you,” Shado said, “Slade’s against this idea, too.”
“Why?” Oliver asked.
“I told you a million times, kid.”
Oliver thought for a moment. Then, “You don’t want the three of us to be together because you don’t want us to get attached?”
Slade nodded. “Won’t happen to me. But you two, you’ll probably start being lovey dovey all of the time, at home, while we’re training or working, and soon you’ll turn to useless mush. Particularly you, Oliver.”
Shado rolled her eyes. “Yes, Slade, we all know you that you’re not at all afraid of you getting too close to us. And your constant protests don’t seem at all like overcompensation.”
Oliver started snickering at that and couldn’t stop.
“Keep it up, kid, and you’ll pay for it later,” Slade growled, angry at being laughed at but not daring to lash out verbally at Shado.
“I know I will,” Oliver said, “I just can’t help it,” and laughed a few more seconds before taking a breath and managing to stifle the rest.
“We don’t agree on the reasons, but we agree on the result,” Shado said. “It’s a dangerous idea.”
Oliver frowned. “We won’t be jealous of one another. I mean you two are already telling me the exact techniques and positions you’re using.”
Slade grinned. “That turned out quite well. We’ve all stepped up our game in that arena, if I do say so myself.”
Oliver added, “And nobody got jealous.”
Shado seemed to consider this.
“And Slade, you’ll constantly lecture us on the horrible undependability of the human species, and the futility of emotional bonds, so there’ll be no danger of getting too attached,” Oliver said.
Slade just narrowed his eyes, but Shado smirked.
“And in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s just the three of us. It’ll probably be just us three, for the rest of our lives, on this island. You really want to spend the next several decades never even trying the three of us?”
Slade and Shado looked at each other again, reaching some agreement, and Oliver couldn’t tell if the response was going to be in his favor or not until Slade let out an exasperated sigh.
“We’ll give it a try,” Shado said, “As long as we talk first. And we all promise that nothing will interfere with our alliance, co-operation, or friendships.”
“I don’t have friends and I don’t want friends,” Slade said.
Shado glared at him.
“Just kidding,” Slade said defensively and Oliver smiled. “Fine. Let’s ‘talk.’”
The first time they are together, they settle onto Oliver’s mat. Shado nods at Slade and Slade leans in to kiss Oliver, a hard press into his mouth. Then Shado kisses Slade, and it is everything Oliver imagined, power and grace and heat.
Shado kisses Oliver then, and suddenly everything is smooth, gentle. They pull away.
Oliver looks at the both of them and realizes in an instant: he has no idea what to do next.
If it were Slade and him, he would begin by mocking Slade, by pulling the man down on top of him, inviting his aggression. If he were with Shado, he would start by kissing a soft line down her neck and shoulder.
Oliver swallows. “How are we – I, uh, I don’t know what to do,” he says.
Slade and Shado give each other one of those mysterious looks and decide on something.
“Our boy looks confused,” Shado says to Slade, her smirk lighting up her face.
Slade grins and says, “Then we’ll show him.” They both smile at him, and it isn’t quite predatory, but it isn’t soft either. Their hands press him down onto his back and soon two pairs of lips are on Oliver’s chest and stomach.
Oliver feels the warmth surround him, and for a moment he closes his eyes to just feel it. He remembers Slade’s warning suddenly, that attachment is weakness, that weakness is death.
Oliver doesn’t care. He savors the sensation of resting between his lovers, of having every weak spot of his body exposed. He tries to imagine that Slade and Shado feel the same, or that they will. He tries to imagine that the three of them will grow old together, that they will live many years until they die together, that none of them will ever be alone. He tries to imagine that they are tied together like a knot, that they will always cling to each other. He tries to imagine that weakness is life.
Then he opens his eyes and kisses them back.