Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis, or, a Wonderful Caricature of Intimacy
Oliver checks in at a hotel. The next stop on the search for the Shadow King’s body is overseas, and their flight won’t leave until tomorrow morning. He hands the receptionist a blank piece of paper and tells him it’s his credit card; she believes him, because he wants her to.
Amahl follows him up the stairs into the hotel room, making a show of solicitously opening the door for Oliver. Oliver knows that Amahl has no physical form, that it must be his own hands unlocking the door and holding it open - but he doesn’t question the reality Amahl chooses to present.
He orders wine from room service. “It’s been twenty years since I’ve had real wine,” he explains to Amahl. “You understand.” After all, Amahl’s been disembodied longer than he was.
“I do,” Amahl says, picking up the bottle and pouring them each a glass. “I always enjoyed the finer things in life. What, after all, is the point of a body, if not to experience the pleasures of the flesh?”
“What indeed,” Oliver agrees, sipping his wine. “I was never enough of a hedonist before, I think. I didn’t make use of my time here, in this . . .” He gestures to himself. “What’s the word? Mmm. Shell.”
“And now that you have it back?” Amahl asks, leaning closer to Oliver. “Will you take advantage of your second chance to ‘live the good life’?”
“It’s a little difficult when I’m busy being possessed by a parasitic psychic entity,” Oliver points out, cheerfully. “Unless you plan on allowing me a day off to meet girls.”
“Girls?” Amahl says, smiling. “It is not just girls you are interested in, is it? I know because you and I are the same.”
“And being in my head doesn’t hurt either, I should imagine,” Oliver says, returning the smile. “Are you propositioning me, Mr. Farouk?” He bats his eyelashes teasingly at Amahl. It’s almost like flirtation, he thinks, but empty. Meaningless. Just a way to pass the time. Or maybe that’s what all flirtation is like. He doesn’t really remember.
“I suppose I am,” Amahl says. He reaches out to brush his fingers down Oliver’s cheek. “I’ve never had the opportunity to sleep with another telepath before. It could be . . . enlightening.”
Oliver’s always preferred the active role, and Amahl seems happy to oblige, letting Oliver pin him to the bed. Oliver is gentle and attentive, going through the motions of love.
“ Weiter ,” Amahl hisses into his ear, “ Härter .”
Oliver chuckles. “ Nein ,” he says, pressing a kiss to Amahl’s throat. He doesn’t know if he does it as a tiny act of rebellion, or if he simply does it because it feels better this way.
Amahl could press the issue, could force Oliver to hurt him, but he doesn’t, simply laying back and enjoying what Oliver will give him. He’s an eager and responsive partner, pressing back into Oliver’s thrusting and making little noises of pleasure when Oliver kisses him.
Afterwards, they lie together on the white sheets, staring out the window at the blue sky over the city. Oliver rests his head on Amahl’s chest, and Amahl pets his shoulders posessively. Oliver thinks about how Lenny described them (pets, houseplants) and knows that’s exactly what he is to Amahl; a pet. He can’t summon the energy to care.
“So,” Amahl says, resting his chin on Oliver’s head. “Is this my, uhh, weakness? Is this step one of your clever plan to kill me?”
Oliver chuckles. “No. This is just a way to pass the time.”
“Until you kill me?” Amahl asks, amused.
“Yes,” Oliver says, nodding.
“Until death do us part,” Amahl says, laughing. “How romantic!”
Oliver starts laughing with him. It is funny, this caricature of love they’re playing out, parasite and host acting as lover and beloved. A pleasing little game.
“You know,” he says, after a while, “You could have just killed me. You don’t need me.”
“Of course I do,” Amahl says, companionably. “I need you to find my body.”
“No,” Oliver corrects again. “You need my body, not me. Very different things. You could have killed me, erased me, and just taken my body. But you didn’t.”
“Perhaps I just felt miséricordieux . Merciful,” Amahl says, smiling up at the roof.
Oliver laughs. “You always lie in French.” He drops into Amahl’s native language, Farsi. “Tell it to me again. Why keep us here? Me. Lenny. The other voices in your head.”
Amahl looks down at him, still smiling. “You really have no fear of me, do you?” he asks. “You’re a brave man, Monsieur Bird. Or perhaps a better word would be suicidaire .”
“A little of both, perhaps,” Oliver agrees. It’s not quite accurate. He used to want to die, but he’s stopped feeling anything nearly so intense a long time ago. Now he just drifts along and tries to have a good time while he’s doing it. It’s not a bad life.
Amahl is silent for awhile, resting with Oliver in his arms, and Oliver assumes he’s not going to answer the question until Amahl says, in Farsi, “ The boy, David, he saw it as a torment. He’s never had to be silence. He is too young to understand how destructive silence can be. Like a desert, empty and barren.” The room blurs around them, and without any perceptible motion, they’re standing, fully clothed, in the middle of a dry wasteland. There is no life around them, not even cacti. Farouk still has his arms around Oliver.
“There is no desert on Earth that looks like this,” Farouk says. “This kind of emptiness, this kind of - desolation - ” He says the word in English. “Exists only in the mind. But you know that, mon ami. The man in the ice cube . . .”
Oliver swallows. He hasn’t forgotten the ice cube. He wants to.
“Shhhh. Don’t be afraid. Here, you’ll never be alone again,” Farouk whispers, softly, into Oliver’s ear. “And neither will I. And I won’t let you ruin that by dying.”
Oliver feels a tightness in his chest, and he doesn’t know if it’s dread or happiness.
He doesn’t try to find out. After all, what difference does it make?