A fate in two parts.
Rating:R for slash, themes and my personal safety.
Written for the Difference between Love and Hate challenge, originally posted at the Seanfhocal Circle, 2003.
Author's note:This was a challenge to me, as a writer. To re-design cannon, to make what has previously only been read between lines into solid actuality, is almost impossible to pull off without irritating a lot of people. This story touches upon themes that that you might consider upsetting or offensive, including homosexuality and coercion. It must be understood that I have not written this to be gratuitous or violent. It is up to you, as the reader, how deeply you read between these lines or look into these images. If you are upset by this work, please, feel free to tell me, but not on the grounds that I have misled you about its content. You move on to the front line with a complete knowledge of what you are going to face. I hope you won't take me to seriously, and simply enjoy the writing and the different takes on several interconnecting relationships.
K. Ryan, 2003.
"What do you want to be, my squire?"
A room in a wall, water-worn stone moving in and out of focus, depending on a candle's whim. Two figures stand there, a man and a youth. Even in the semi-darkness, the distinction is obvious. One so tall; so full of languid grace and charm. The other smaller, slimmer, and oh so eager to please.
"To be the best." These are the youth's words, harsh with emotion.
The man laughs. He moves, to--but what he does is half-lost in the gloom.
The youth feels it, though. He shudders, long dark eyelashes coming to rest on his cheeks as his eyes close. A tear falls, to sparkle with the refracted light of the candle flame. "My Lord…"
"You want to be the best, little-cat. You want, to be, the best."
The words are left hanging in the air. Soft, and beautifully spoken.
The youth can only shudder, again.
"A worthy ambition, and yet, what are you, now?"
"...Inferior, my Lord."
"Yes, you are, little cat. Everyone knows that. But, inferior to whom?"
"You, my Lord!"
The man smiles.
"Of course. But…there is another."
"You know, do you?"
"Yes!" The youth's voice is full of tears, though no more join the first one.
"Say the name, Alex."
"Say. The. Name."
"Alan, my Lord.
Time passed, and it passes still. Swords flicker, sometimes for show, sometimes for blood. The youth becomes a man, at least to everyone's eyes but his own. The squire turned to knight, but he is still 'little-cat'. A little cat who wakes up from ordeal-dreams of orange fire, and a human whirlwind of unfolding kicks, blocks and punches--a human, a girl, with wonderful purple eyes…
Alan in girl-form. An Alanette. A soft Alan--an Alan with breasts.
Alex groans, putting his fists to his eyes, trying to shut out the images. Alan is no Alanette. He is a threat, and he isn't allowed to exist any more. Roger's plan is like an equation, and Alan has to be cancelled out for it to function. It would please him, if Alex would be the one to do it, he had said. And Alex exists to please, despite the fantasies that plague his mind.
"He's going to drop you, you know. Help me with these buttons"
The lady Delia of Eldorne is an odd one, the servants say. So beautiful, and so highly-strung. She sent all offered maids away, her lovely face contemptuous as she said that she was used to far better from home. Imagine what they'd call her if they knew she had her very own little house-cat, instead of any maid. A male house-cat.
"I can't imagine what you mean, Delia." Alex's face, reflected in the dressing-room mirror, reveals nothing. His hands are quick, as he fastens tiny mother-of-pearl disks at her back. This house-cat has had lots of practice with fine clothing.
"Oh, come now, cousin. You know what I mean." Delia's tone is affectionate, but anyone with ears can hear the viciousness beneath it. She turns her head, so she can whisper in his ear, her long dark curls, still unpinned, falling over both of them. "A man like that needs a real woman."
Alex's hands falter, almost tearing one of the top-most buttons away.
"Poor darling. The women here really must be as awful as they look, for Roger to resort to--"
"Now, now, now. That's no way to treat family. If you upset me, I could always scream. Imagine what court would have to say about that, Sir Alexander!"
"Imagine what Roger would have to say about that, Lady Delia."
The woman pouts. "You're no fun. Insecure men never are." She reaches up and takes Alex's hands as he starts to pull them away from her neck, the last button done. Slowly, she pushes back against him, hips swaying, her hands moving his to where the beautiful, rich fabric of her gown covers her breasts. Her eyes glitter at him, in the mirror. "You miss out on a lot, Alex," she whispers. "Such a lot. You really ought to find a woman, instead of trying to be one. Roger is man enough to tell the difference. Are you?"
Alex pulls away, looking disgusted. "Do you have any shame?"
"Only when My Lord wants me to, darling." Slowly, she runs her hands over her body, smoothing out her dress.
Little-cat has had enough. "Once you've dealt with the Prince, he'll tire of you. That's all he brought you here for, cousin. You're the perfect slut."
Delia doesn't react, save for flushing. "And you're not?"
Muttering something dreadful, Alex turns to the back door, with Delia's lovely voice ringing in his ears.
"Once you've finished with this Alan character, what point do you have? Face it, little-cat--that is what he calls you, isn't it?--when it comes to these games, I am by far the superior player."
All that night, Alex watches men he had once considered intelligent fawn over the woman.
Every man, save Alan.
Little-cat wishes this knowledge wouldn't please him so much.
All that night, he watches Alan, and imagines that his pale, set face is covered in blood.
Alan watches Delia. Alex watches Alan. Night after night, ball after ball.
Alex watches his friend chafing under his knight-master's obsessive adoration of the new court-beauty, and wonders at it.
He rejoices at it. It gives them a common dislike, something to talk about. It builds trust. I'm going this for My Lord, he tells himself. I'm doing this for Roger.
"Someone's looking gloomy today, Alan." The cheerful, sympathetic voice and warm smile: it's all very, very easy, even with black arguments playing themselves out in his head. "No one's dying, there's no court extravaganza for a bored squire to serve at tonight, and the weather's bearable. What more could one ask for?"
"Oh, it's nothing, really." Squire Alan appears to be trying for nonchalance, very badly. "Just…if anyone ever asks me how such an 'untried whelp' could defeat a big, strong Tusainian idiot with a sword again, I'll--"
Alex slips a friendly arm around his shoulders, almost shivering at the contact. It's for Roger…
"Get used to it now, I say. That's the problem with being 'The Best'."
"Oh, so you think I'm 'The Best' now, then?" Alan is grinning at him, half cocky, half amused.
Yes, damnit!"Oh, no," somehow, Alex manages a smirk. "You've still got some growing up to do before you can claim that title, squire."
Alan rolls his eyes. "Someone's getting old and sure of himself."
"Since when do you throw fencing terms into normal conversation?"
Something very strange is happening to Alex. He's restless, loving the March wind and its contrast against the energy that's fizzing under his cheekbones. He's here, with Alan, and everything is falling into place. Everything has the potential to be perfect. This is it, he thinks. This is it.
"You know, he says slowly, trying to draw the moment out for as long as possible. "There is a way we can resolve this debate once and for all."
Alan is two and a-half steps ahead of him. "The practice courts?"
"If you're willing." Alex stands, stretching.
"Of course. Referee?"
"Do we need one?"
"N-o…" Alan is suddenly thoughtful. "No, we don't need one. We're friends. I'd be worried if I didn't trust you by now."
Something twists in Alex's heart.
"C'mon, then, Alan. To the practice courts!"
Whatever that twist was, whatever it means, Alex chooses to think of it as just another kink in a black, internal mess. It's safer, that way.
Alex slowly follows Alan, half-smiling as he hears the lad whistling cheerfully.
The doors of the indoor practice courts are old--and creak in protest as they close behind the two.
Alan has always been the excitable sort. Quick to anger, quick to comment and even quicker to action. He's certainly excited, now, his face flushed, and brushing strands of copper hair off his face with a small, impatient hand. Alex, watching the muscles of Alan's small, stocky body moving under his skin as he stretches, has to put an alarming amount of energy into fighting a blush. Frustrated, he pulls a practice sword from a bracket on the wall. Its heaviness calms him. It feels so sure in his hands, and reminds him of his purpose. Of what he, and only he, has to do.
He is going to die.
Alex joins the boy in the center, to raise his sword in mock salute.
"Hey, Alex! Be careful!"
Alan is wearing mid-green breeches. Alex can't help noticing--as the fabric tears away and before blood wells up in the scratch made by his sword--that the skin of his leg is very white.
Alex isn't careful, today. He is living a fantasy.
Alan is good. His technique is perfect as he lunges forward, something close to fear in his eyes, but Alex knows he's better. Alan is too small, too young to resist as the knight meets him, sword-hilt to sword-hilt.
They're body to body. Compared with the boy he is trying to force to his knees, the little cat isn't so small any more. This is almost too easy. As he presses down, throwing all his weight into the effort, images of the Alanette, crying and bleeding, flash across his mind…
Gods…this is wonderful…
Alan breaks away, only to duck in again and bring his sword up, and up, so that the flat of it meets with Alex's cheekbone. Pain explodes, red hot and localized, where it lands. Cut-sharp and break-deep.
Alan proves he can resist, after all.
He also looks mortified.
"Alex, I'm sorry…"
The pain is electric. It's constant and solid, almost taking on a completely new identity of its own. Such a lot of force, for such a little figure…
…All the more fun to break. Alex can see what His Lord enjoys about these games, now.
Is that fear in Alan's eyes?
It certainly becomes it, as the boy is knocked to the floor.
Wood chips fly, as little cat's sword smashes against the boards.
A sword makes a very satisfying noise when it connects with the human ribcage.
"I want to stop!" Alan's voice is unnaturally small. Almost like a girl's. "Something's wrong!"
No, nothing's wrong. Sparks fly as blades meet.
Alan is quick enough to protect his head, but something still cracks, as the sword lands.
It is a very final crack.
Alex watches all the colour drain from Alan's face. It's whiter than his tunic, whiter than powder, and, when his sword lands again, it will become whiter still…
"Very interesting, Alex."
The sword drops for the last time that day, echoing as it hits the floor.
Sir Myles sends the little cat out on boarder duty. It was expected, and is laughable, Alex knows, considering his actual intent.
What has he done? Alex can't believe that everything had really happened. That he'd nearly killed Alan. Little, now-fragile Alan. He had been in command.
Alex knows, now, that he can be the best. That, had he been given a few more precious moments, Alan would be a pathetic, twisted wreck on the floor, with a little cat looming over him.
The image is too horrible, too beautiful, to bear, and Alex has a terrible suspicion, deep within him, that he'll never be in that wonderful position again.
"Don't touch me!"
Alan's words echo in his mind. High, and full of pain.
Little-cat is a monster. He made Alan's voice that way. He made him recoil.
When Roger finds out, he will be angry. Alex knows this, but, for once, almost doesn't care. He needs to be away from Roger, at least for one night. Let the man vent his anger on Delia. She'll have to get used to it, if she wants to be used by him. Alex knows he'll be hurt by it in the end, but he's full of remorse.
Little-cat remembers every detail of the match, and he wants to cry. He wants to do it all again, or make it so it had never happened at all.
He is standing outside Alan's door, and he doesn't know why. He has to do something. Something has to be resolved, whatever the cost.
Alan flinches as the door opens, and Alex comes in. He's been caught unprepared, sprawled on the bed after a Healing, ice on his wounds. He lashes out as the man comes near, but all blows are pushed aside, all too easily. "Get out of here!"
Alan's voice is like the rest of him: small, weak and vulnerable. Almost… womanish. A live Alanette, sans the breasts.
It's that voice, coupled with that image, which breaks little cat. "I am truly sorry."
Pushing away all resistance, marvelling at the hard-soft quality of the figure beneath him, Alex kisses Alan.
As soon as it happens, both are too stunned to do anything about it, except let it be.
To be continued
Disclaimer:No character or location belongs to me. Everything, save the actual plot, belongs to Tamora Pierce. The writing challenge was concocted by Reaya, Salinalia of Sunverfye, and HuntressDiana, 2003.