“I still don’t get why you’re going to the otherlands to hear music played with rocks,” Luke said, crossing his arms.
“Oh my god,” Elliot said. “Why must you willfully misunderstand the culture of my homeland?" He suspected his boyfriend was being purposefully difficult. Surely, anyone who could grasp the concept of smooth jazz could understand rock and roll.
Were there truly musicians who used rocks for instruments, they would have had to take great offense at the disapproval creasing Luke’s heroically-symmetrical features. He was scanning Elliot’s jeans and hoodie for the hundredth or so time, brow disturbed, even though he really should have gotten used to them by now. Or at least have conceded that Elliot couldn’t wear his uniform across the border. People would think Elliot mad or tasteless or possibly a Renaissance fair employee.
Elliot continued, because there were some facts his boyfriend simply needed to hear. “I know I’ve explained the history of rock music to you. But that is entirely beside the point, as I am crossing the border for pop music. Which is a different thing altogether.”
“We have music here,” Luke said. He had not uncrossed his arms. They looked somewhat like a pretzel, if pretzels were tan and toned. Elliot did not think Luke would appreciate or understand the comparison, however, so he kept his mouth shut. About that.
Asking Elliot to keep his mouth completely shut was just silly.
“Minstrels,” he said. “We have minstrels here. None of whom have heeded my many, helpful suggestions about genre expansion.”
Perhaps Elliot was being unfair. Luke, raised in a land lacking the wonders of radios and iPods and concerts, could not possibly comprehend the urgency of Elliot’s current quest.
“It sounds dangerous,” Luke tried again, taking a step closer. “You mentioned spears.”
“Point A: I’ve encountered more weapons in the last four years than I would have in my entire life, had fate given me a different French teacher. My odds of injury by spear are significantly—exponentially, not that either of us were given a proper education on exponents—greater right here than they will be, say”—he pointed across the wall—“there. Point B: Britney Spears is a lovely lady who we must all admire for inspiring resilience against the pressures of childhood fame and also the paparazzi. And she’s touring.”
Luke, still, had not uncrossed his arms. Behind him, his wings glinted in the sunlight, utterly unimpressed by Elliot’s debate prowess. In literary-trope-speak, he could have passed for an avenging angel of some kind, righteous in his mission to crush all evil.
Except. There was no evil. Only the wall and a ticket to a Britney Spears concert that a new recruit had recently decided against returning home to use. Elliot, very promptly, had exchanged a small fortune of contraband school supplies for it. While sad to lose so many pens, he was secretly enthused by the strides this meant for the Ballpoint Pen Revolution, which he’d been plotting since age thirteen.
“Right,” Luke said, rolling his eyes. “Because people in the otherlands never use weapons.”
“You secret jerk,” Elliot said affectionately.
That got a fraction of a smile. It didn’t last long. As soon as Luke’s eyes reached the wall again, his lips slipped back into a hard line.
“I’ll get you a souvenir t-shirt,” Elliot offered.
Luke looked even more distressed. “Please do not.”
“And a CD, of course, though it may explode before I can get it to you. Such is life.”
“Exploding contraband is not…” Luke shook his head, rubbing two fingers along his temple. “Stop bringing exploding things over the border.”
“They’re never exploding when I pack them,” Elliot pointed out, very reasonably. “Actually, the Borderlands should probably reimburse me. Do you know how much technology I’ve sacrificed in my efforts to expose you all to the twenty-first century? Do you think electronics grow on trees? Do you?”
“What does exploding contraband—which you’re definitely not getting reimbursed for—have to do with twenty-first century?”
“You’re only proving why I must continue your technological education. Loser.”
Elliot said that last word fondly, curling a hand around Luke’s nape. He pressed his lips to his boyfriend’s, prodding his chin into his. Kissing Luke still felt like fireworks and fairytales and a hundred other flowery things that would inflate Luke’s head far too much to hear. If Luke had wanted someone who said such things, he wouldn’t have chosen Elliot.
Luke grabbed him right back, tangling his fingers through Elliot’s hair. As always, it stuck in every which direction, aggressively bright. Fortunately, harpies liked bright things. Or so Elliot had read. So Luke illustrated every time he knotted his fingers into its screaming red chaos.
Elliot mouthed as much into Luke’s jaw. He ran his fingers along Luke’s wings too, until a soft moan broke from his mouth. And then kept stroking them, exploring more and more of his sunlit feathers. It was possible that he shouldn’t throw stones at Luke’s weird thing for his weird hair, because he definitely had a wing fetish.
The field was empty save for them, the wall deserted, so they, theoretically, could have gone on kissing for much longer. Elliot would have liked to go on kissing for much longer. And Luke clearly would have too, because he made an almost strangled sound when Elliot pulled away.
Which Elliot had to do. Because he had distances to travel and a concert to see and so on. But, first, an argument to win—“There are things you'd like from across the Border,” Elliot said, if more breathlessly than intended.
Luke recovered quickly enough from his dazed eyes and parted lips, seguing into immediate skepticism. “I’m not wearing a t-shirt. Or using a pen.”
It was sometimes very apparent that Luke knew him very well. Still, Elliot countered with:
“Don’t be absurd. I’m talking about fine delicacies such as Coca Cola and double cheeseburgers and oreo milkshakes.”
“None of those words sound real.”
Elliot ignored him. “And,” he accused, “you like the music I’ve brought over. No, don’t try to lie, I’ve seen you dance to it.”
“I don’t think I’d like… pop music.” Luke’s lips curled warily around the word pop like it might attack his tongue.
“You know not what you say,” Elliot shushed him, though Luke was maybe correct. Nevertheless, he looked forward to exposing him to the delights of Oops I Did It Again and Baby One More Time.
He was derailed from his three-point explanation of Britney’s brilliance by Luke’s glare. Not at him. Luke’s glare at the wall. It was filled with such loathing that Elliot actually looked around for possible threats.
Nothing. The field remained empty, and Luke remained—
Elliot paused. He’d spent so much time outraged by Luke’s disinterest in the other side of the border that he’d almost forgotten he couldn’t cross it. Luke might, potentially, think he was taunting him.
“But, you know, there’s pollution,” he added a beat late. “And broccoli pizza. Which aren’t good.”
Luke did not look comforted by either concession. “Right. Dangerous. I don’t like you going alone.”
“Broccoli pizza is a serious crime,” Elliot agreed, “but I avoided it for thirteen years. I think I can survive a night.”
Another brooding glance at the wall.
“Although taxi prices are high,” Elliot added, scrolling his brain for more fun facts that might make Luke feel less left out. "Also, taxes."
“I can’t”—a frown kept pulling at Luke’s face as he swallowed—“follow you. Look for you. If something happens—”
This was absurd and frankly something he might have once teased Luke for mercilessly, but Elliot was trying not to actively hurt his boyfriend’s feelings anymore. So he tugged Luke to him by the shirt and pressed his lips to his again. Quick. Hard. And then:
“Hey,” he said. So close they were almost still kissing. “Don’t worry about me.”
Luke’s naturally golden features continued to be the darkest feature of this very sunny day. “Because it’s your homeland?”
It took Elliot a second to realize that Luke was quoting him. “Because I’m not going to be anywhere near an actual spear.” And then another to realize—
I can’t follow you, Luke had said. It wasn’t Elliot that he’d been jealous of. It wasn't just his safety he'd been worried for.
“And because once I stock up on materials—don’t look at me like that, you’ll be happy about some of the materials, example: silicone-based lube—I won’t have to go over again for…” he pretended to calculate in his head, then gave up. “A while.”
Luke’s cheeks turned almost pink at the mention of the lube, which was cute, because anyone would have assumed Elliot had rendered him immune to blushing by now.
Then Luke curled his fingers into the loops of Elliot’s jeans. “A while?”
“Yes. A very”—his palms found Luke’s wings again—“long”—and Luke’s free hand his hair again—“while.” And then, finally, he kissed him again.
Luke’s lips curved against his.
“This is awful and I’m not wearing it,” Luke said when Elliot presented his promised souvenir t-shirt.
Both he and Serene had looked far more pleased to see Elliot crossing the border before he’d greeted them with, “I come bearing presents.” Immediate wariness had ensued. Which was offensive but also fair.
The shirt featured Britney, with her hair partially in her face and her fingers on her lips. It was indeed awful, which was exactly why Elliot—cackling—had purchased it for his boyfriend.
“Luke has a point, Elliot,” Serene said from his side, eying the shirt doubtfully. “It’s rather… well, I don’t wish to judge your human clothing by elvish standards, but…”
“Please,” Luke interjected. “Judge.”
Elliot took a moment to mourn their trio’s solitude. No one else ever got to see Luke’s jerk-ish ways. Everyone admired his boyfriend for all the wrong reasons—kindness and military acumen and athleticism. Times like this were when he really shined.
Pretending hurt, he said, “Rude. I cut wing slits for you.” He gestured to the slits in question, which had somewhat sundered the list of tour cities on the shirt’s back.
Meanwhile, his bag was beginning to crackle. And shoot sparks. And hum a little bit; he wondered if that had more to do with the CDs or the boombox—
Luke grabbed for the handle, but Elliot was practiced in dodging. “You can’t have my souvenirs too,” he said. “Now you’re just being greedy.”
His boyfriend gazed heavenward. “If I keep the shirt, will you give me your bag before it burns your arm off?”
Elliot grinned. He continued grinning, even when Serene made a comment about boys and clothes, that he should really challenge her on for Golden's sake.
But first, he'd kiss his boyfriend. "I think I could be persuaded."
(And that was how Luke Sunborn came to own a t-shirt.)