Story Title: The fox-tailed Dragon
Word Count: 3700
Setting: 'Phoenix Empire' verse, see Phoenix Empire Timeline & Index
Characters: Bobby, Vian, Wayne
Summary: After a long, dispiriting day at school and an afternoon of being bullied by Julio Mostarda, the last thing you want to find at home is a flirty Dracon in your hallway...
Feedback: Yes, please!
“Julio, of course I know it’s Lovers’ Night.”
Rolling his eyes, Bobby was glad he was merely speaking on the phone. Julio Mostarda would have been furious if he had seen the faces Bobby was making.
“And no, I am not ‘available’ tonight. You can’t just call me and expect me to jump.” Once again, Bobby told himself not to give in. Julio was offering good money, and the job seemed pretty straightforward. But so had the last one, on Bonfire Night, and he still remembered vividly how that had turned out. Bobby really saw no point in giving Julio the impression that he was depending on his irregular if generous offers. “Julio, for the last time, no! Go find one of your regular whores. I’ve already got a date tonight.”
Flipping shut his mobile phone, Bobby sighed deeply.
He still didn’t have a job, he still didn’t have a future, and he didn’t even have a date on Lovers’ Night. It was depressing.
Mandy’s father had lately been more and more distracted by his 'art', to the point that Mandy had to work regular hours there, cutting their shared time painfully short.
T’sule had turned out to be a real friend, cool and supportive, but he had even less of a clue what to do with his life. Bobby harbored the suspicion that the young Youh’Kai was seriously thinking he’d one day make it big as a musician. What a sweet fool, Bobby snorted silently.
Deeply lost in his thoughts, Bobby entered the building block where he lived with his mother and remaining siblings. A large, smelly complex of small, social housing flats, it was like a giant brick of condensed misery, a seven-floored epitaph of dead hopes and aborted dreams.
Bobby cursed silently as he noticed the small yellow note on the elevator door. Out of service, once again. Wonderful, it had been repaired just the other day. Not that Bobby could remember the elevator working for more than four weeks all together in his entire life, but it was really the last thing he needed today.
They had been given the dates for their finals today at school, and also a date for the visit of the recruiter for the stockfish factory. A date that filled Bobby with more dread than he could put into words. The factory recruiter would come and talk with them about their career options in the factory, that wonderful and generous factory that gave life and livelihood to Bellingham, and only asked for their souls in return.
On his way up the stairs, all six stories, Bobby wondered silently if he should just skip school that day. It would mean he’d never get a job at the factory, except maybe as a auxiliary shoveling offal. But he really couldn’t face the prospect of someone benevolently telling him how to spend the rest of his life. Especially not if the options were so horrifyingly boring.
There had to be options in his life other than whore or factory worker!
When Bobby arrived on the floor of his mother’s flat, he noticed that his hands were shaking. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes for a moment and then lit a cigarette. Smoking always helped calm his nerves, Bobby found, and it kept him from eating too much. Being skinny and pretty so far were his only identifiable advantages, so he’d better not squander those.
He was still so lost in his thoughts that he noticed the person standing in front of his mother’s flat only in the very last moment. No, not a person, Bobby corrected himself instantly – a noble. A Dracon noble. No one else would dare dress all black.
Instinctively, Bobby pretended to knock at their neighbor’s flat. Whatever the noble wanted here, Bobby definitely didn’t want to be noticed by him. Nobles were trouble, big time trouble. And Dracon were the worst of them.
“Are you Bobby?”
All but freezing in his motion, Bobby for a heartbeat considered running away. But if Dracon were anything as he had heard, that would only trigger his hunting reflexes. Better to show no fear, then.
“Maybe I am.” Forcing himself to smile smoothly, Bobby turned around, facing the noble. “And who are you?”
“I am Squire Vian Dracon,” the noble replied and sketched a polite nod of his head. “At your service.”
Looking at the noble properly for the first time, Bobby realized that he wasn’t human, at least not entirely. Of course, he had two arms and two legs, but he had ears like a cat, or some kind of squirrel, sitting high on his head and currently attentively pointing towards Bobby. Squire Vian also had a fine sheen of fur on his shoulders, cheeks and bare chest, caramel with a white bib, leaving only his belly and lower arms to show tanned skin under his sleeveless open leather jacket. There was a strange cast to his nose and upper lip, too, giving him an oddly animalistic expression. But most importantly, he seemed to be barely older than Bobby, with large green eyes that sparkled with intrigue.
If it hadn’t been for that dreadful Dracon outfit, he’d been one of the most exotically handsome creatures Bobby had seen in his life.
“I am pretty sure you are Bobby, you look just like he said.”
“You know Wayne?” Suddenly, Bobby felt his heart beat in his throat. “How? Where is he? And what did he tell you?”
At this, Squire Vian laughed out loud, a surprisingly deep and almost purring sound that made tiny wanton shivers run down Bobby’s back. Damn, what a sexy beast, he thought. What a shame he’s a noble.
“Wayne said you’re his pretty little brother, cocky as shit and constantly getting into trouble.”
“That... sounds like him.”
“Yeah.” Wiping his nose in a surprisingly shy gesture, he added: “He also said I am to keep my paws off you or he’ll shave my tail.”
Instead of an answer, Vian turned around and pointed at the bushy tail at his back, caramel and white as the rest of him. It looked like a fox’s tail with its white tip, and currently was swaying restlessly with what looked like curiosity and excitement to Bobby. Together with Squire Vian’s equally expressive ears, the noble seemed almost ridiculously easy to read. But of course, that could be deceiving. He was a Dracon, after all.
Not really knowing what to say, Bobby stared at this sudden guest in barely hidden fascination. Squire Vian was quite athletic, the muscles of his arms and chest visible even underneath the fine layer of fur. Of course, he had a pin in the shape of a coiled red dragon on the lapel of his jacket that definitely muted his appeal. But there was another medallion on a fine chain around his neck that Bobby couldn’t identify instantly.
Only after a while Bobby realized that it was a golden phoenix, its wings raised high as if taking flight. The coat of arms of the Phoenix Knights. The recognition made Bobby’s heart skip a beat. What the hell was a Phoenix Squire doing here, at their flat in Bellingham?
The way the medallion nestled between Vian’s bulging pectorals distracted Bobby for longer than he had wanted, but in the end, it also explained why that guy seemed so familiar.
“Now I know where I have seen you before!” he said, his voice far steadier than he felt himself. “My little sister has a poster of you over her bed. She’s a great fan of your sister, Lady Myriam.”
Squire Vian smiled self-consciously, his ears drooping just a little bit, making him look like the most adorable creature in the Empire. A fact that Bobby chose to ignore studiously.
“I can get her an autograph, if she wants.” Vian suggested.
For a long moment, they just stared at each other in silence. Bobby really had no clue what to say, his thoughts circling frantically around the fact that this was a Dracon Phoenix Knight Squire and one of the persons of the entire Empire he should really, really avoid at any cost. That Squire Vian was an exotic, dastardly handsome half-human with the most adorable ears didn’t help at all.
Luckily, that was the moment when Bobby heard loud voices from inside his mother’s flat. One of them was his mother’s, nervous and aggressive as always. The other one took Bobby a moment longer to identify, but when he did, it brought everything Squire Vian had said crashing back into his mind.
“Wayne? Wayne is here?” Bobby asked, incredulous.
“He wanted to see his family, tell you he is well.”
“Oh my god. Is he alright? Did you rescue him?”
At the question, Vian raised a surprised eyebrow, his ears pointing in different directions for a second. “I bought him,” Vian corrected cautiously. “But I think he’s fine, at least, he was until he went in there and started shouting at your mother.”
“I... I really think I should go in and talk to them,” Bobby suggested, hesitating though as he would have to pass right in front of Squire Vian to get to the door.
But Vian noticed Bobby’s discomfort and stepped aside, smiling shyly. Damn, he was cute.
“I think you should, else Wayne might do something he regrets later.” Vian said, smiling. The he hesitated, the tiny tip of a pink tongue between his lips. “Actually, do you have any plans, Bobby Dover, this Friday night?”
“What?!” Stopping dead in his tracks, Bobby wasn’t sure if he had heard right.
“I mean, maybe we could go out, you know? The two of us? Dinner and a movie, or something. Shouldn’t tell Wayne, though.”
This was all moving way too fast for Bobby. Was that Dracon asking him out? While Wayne was in the other room, threatening to beat up their mother? What the fuck was happening here?
“You don’t have to answer right now,” Vian said, his expression cautiously hopeful and actually quite adorable. “Here, take my card, you can call me anytime.”
Reflexively, Bobby took the offered card, putting it into the pocket of his jacket without even looking at it. Had he just been asked out on a date by a Dracon? This was fishy in so many ways he didn’t even know how to say no without getting himself whipped.
But right then, something large fell onto the floor inside the flat and shattered loudly. With an apologetic smile, Bobby shrugged and pushed himself past Squire Vian into his mother’s flat, closing the door carefully behind him.
In the narrow hallway, the twins were standing, staring open-mouthed through the open door into their mother’s bedroom, where Bobby could hear Wayne’s deep voice growling.
“You miserable excuse of a mother... you were supposed to help us, not the other way ‘round, for fuck’s sake! Get that into your fucking head, you wreck!”
It was Wayne, unmistakably, even without seeing him. Nodding a hopefully calming greeting to the twins, Bobby sneaked inside the bedroom to see what he could possibly salvage of the situation.
As usual, their mother was sitting on her bed, a huge pile of unwashed woman in a tent-like nightshift, white with tiny forget-me-nots. Wayne, one the other hand, looked like nothing Bobby had ever imagined. He sure was still short and broad-shouldered, with slightly protruding ears and carroty hair. But Wayne was also deeply tanned, even a little sunburnt on his nose, his face thickly covered in freckles, his simple shirt bulging over the lean muscles of his arms. If not for the simple leather collar around his neck, he looked as if just having returned from the most amazing, healthy vacation of his life. A studmuffin troll for sure, now.
“Help me!” their mother suddenly croaked. “Bobby, he’s come back to get my money! He’s trying to kill me!”
Not even willing to acknowledge the delusional remark of their mother, Bobby just rolled his eyes and smiled wryly at Wayne. Before his brother could say or do anything that would get their mother worked up even more, Bobby silently pointed out of the door. A little surprisingly, Wayne followed his suggestion wordlessly, and even waited before he said anything until Bobby had closed the door behind them again.
Then, in the hallway, they stared at each other for a long moment, Bobby noticing with silent wonder that his brother’s hair was beginning to bleach at the tips, looking like too much sun and salt water.
Finally, Wayne broke into a wide grin, his teeth appearing startlingly white against his tanned skin.
“You little shit!” he said and threw himself around Bobby in a massive bearhug that lifted him off the ground. “Have you grown in the last months? Are you okay? You look starving! How’s the gang doing?”
„You‘re alive.“ Bobby summed up what had been on his mind all the time. “And you look... God, you look fucking great!”
Wayne had the decency to look embarrassed.
“I got lucky,” he explained with a lopsided smirk. “Vian buying me was... more luck than I deserved.”
“Is he treating you alright?”
“Vian? Yeah, he’s fine. He’s an asshole, sometimes, but, you know, like an asshole bloke, not a noble. Most of the time he’s cool.”
“So you’re the slave of a Phoenix Knight Squire.” Bobby repeated loudly what he still found hard to believe. “What are you actually doing, are you, like, doing his laundry?”
Suddenly, a shadow slipped across Wayne’s expression.
“No. We... work together.” Taking a deep breath, he added so softly it was almost a whisper: “I am his pet.”
“You’re his pet?!” it burst out of Bobby, disbelieving. “YOU?!”
“There’s nothing wrong with that.” Wayne sounded positively defiant.
“Holy fuck. I mean, really?” Not sure how to word this, Bobby offered a vulgar gesture that left little to imagination. “All the way?”
“Sure, where’s the problem? Even you can do it.”
But as cool as Wayne tried to sound, he couldn’t suppress a sudden violent blush, and Bobby needed a heartbeat to figure out what was going on.
“You LIKE it!” he exclaimed in deep fascination. “You like fucking that alien in the hallway!”
Again, Wayne blushed, his expression growing rather angry. “So, and? What do you care?” Taking another deep breath, Wayne calmed down again. “It was... it was a harsh learning curve. Beats being taken for test drives on the markets by a mile.”
“Shit.” Bobby could only too well imagine what ‘taking a slave for a test drive’ meant in that context. “I am sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Hugging Bobby again, Wayne smiled cheekily. “Put things into perspective big time. And Vian’s really okay for a noble.”
“Yeah, he seemed quite nice, out in the hallway.”
“Did he make a pass on you?” Wayne all but growled. “I told him he was to keep his filthy paws off you, or I swear by God I will shave his tail!”
“He was nice, Wayne, nothing more.” Bobby was so happy seeing his over-protective brother back again that he didn’t even feel angry at Wayne deciding who he should date or not. “No need to shave anything.”
“Good for him.” Grinning, Wayne tousled the twins who had followed their exchange with wide eyes. “How are you getting by? I tried to talk to mum, but we all know how that turned out.”
“We make do.” No need to bother him with the truth. “Cash is short, as always, but we’re fine. We’ll survive.”
“Good, good.” Looking at his wristwatch, Wayne cursed softly. “Damn. Dinner’s in an hour, and I promised Vian to show him the factory and our school.” Looking up to Bobby, he added: “I will write, I promise, yes? I just had to see and tell you I’m not rotting in some mine or something.”
“Even if your master allows you to write, Wayne, don’t you think you should know how to write first? We both know that’s not your strong suit.”
“I can write, now. Vian’s put writing courses on my training schedule, and turns out that it wasn’t me who was stupid, but our teachers.”
“You got a training schedule? What the hell is he training you for, I thought you’re his pet?”
Again, Wayne seemed a little embarrassed.
“He wants me to train my mechanical skills. They’ve got all sorts of weird psions already in their family, but a good techie would fit great into his team, he says.”
“His team? Wayne, dear, why do I get the impression you’re not telling me everything?”
For a second Wayne squirmed uncomfortably, but then rolled his eyes. “I don’t know. It’s probably not going to work out anyway.”
“What’s not going to work out?”
“You know, Vian’s going to be a Phoenix Knight one day, yes?”
“No.” The finer workings of the Phoenix Tower and the intentions of the Emperor had so far not been on his daily reading list. But maybe that would have to change now. At least, Bobby would make sure to read his sister’s Quest Log from now on. “Just go on.”
“And he said if I manage to pass the courses I need, he might take me up as his squire.”
For a long moment, Bobby had to fight the strong urge not to slap his brother.
“You hit the fucking jackpot, you know that?” he exclaimed incredulously. “I can’t believe that you’ve been living every boy's dream for the last half year and kept us believing you were dead!”
“I don’t think boys dream of the pet part.”
“Ha! Have you even LOOKED at your owner?” Bobby felt close to hysteric. “I’d pay my last credit to just watch the two of you getting it on.”
“Eugh,” the twins exclaimed in unison. “Gross.”
“Fucking eugh indeed. Damn, you’re still sick.“ With an apologetic look, Wayne explained: “I didn’t know if it was all good. Still don’t know for sure. But once I was quite sure, I had to convince Vian to bring me here. I didn’t want to just write or use the psions’ guild or something. I am here now.”
“I know, I know.” Now taking a deep breath himself, Bobby forced himself to calm down. “This is all moving a little too fast. But you have no idea how happy I am you are well. We missed you so much.”
“And I missed you. You tell the others I am fine, will you?”
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door.
“Yes?” both Bobby and Wayne called out simultaneously.
Cautiously, the door was opened and Squire Vian pushed his furry nose inside. “Wayne? If we still want to visit your old haunts, we should go now. And I really would like to see that horrible factory that you told me about, I’ve never seen a place where they make stockfish breakfast flakes.”
“We really should leave, then.” Wayne said. “Colin’s going completely ballistic when someone’s too late for dinner.”
That name rang a bell even with Bobby. After all, re-runs of the Demon Witches of Leichnam were a perfect romantic occasion for blowjobs in the last row of the theater. “You’re having dinner with the demon baker of Leichnam?”
“His dad, yes.”
“He really hates it when we’re late for dinner.” Vian explained from his place at the door. “And he hates that demon-baker business, he insists he was just used as a pawn in the whole affair, so you better never mention this when you meet him.”
“Bobby is NOT going to meet your parents!” Wayne snapped so instantly that it was almost comical. “We talked about this, and you will fucking keep your filthy paws off him! Fucking once you can keep your fucking pants on, for fuck’s sake!”
Apologetically, Vian raised his hands, looking like innocence personified. “I was just trying to prevent a disaster.”
“Same as I...” Wayne growled. Then he turned back to his brothers, grinning. “Alright, I gotta go, he’s getting bored. Kiss Bethany from me, and tell the gang I said hi, will you?”
“Sure,” Bobby replied, still feeling a little too stunned to make much sense of all of this. Wayne was alive!
“Great. Gotta go.”
Turning around, he pushed past Vian who was still standing in the doorframe and seized the opportunity to smack him on the bottom.
“Stop it!” Wayne growled, already in the hallway.
But Vian seemed entirely unimpressed, a wide and excited smile on his face. For a split second, Bobby was sure he could see the tip of his tongue between Vian’s lips again, before the Phoenix Knight Squire winked at him and gestured at the side of his face, thumb and pinkie pointing outward.
‘Call me!’ he mouthed soundlessly before smiling once more.
“Nice to meet you,” he then added loudly, “I’ll send you the autographs for your sister, as promised. See you around!”
And before Bobby could say anything smart, Vian had closed the door behind him.
“Whoa,” one of the twins commented dryly. “Bethany is going to eat her knickers for not being here now.”
He had a point there. Beth was the only one in their family who had ever cared for Phoenix Knights and their stories, and missing out on the opportunity of meeting a Phoenix Knight Squire would be unspeakable. At least, the promised autographs would appease her mightily.
Looking down at the twins, Bobby realized he really had to talk to someone about this.
“Boys, go play for a while, I’ll make dinner later. Need to make a phone call.” Not really waiting for an answer, Bobby walked out of their flat, his fingers already dialing before he was out on the hallway.
“Mandy?” he asked, his heart still beating in his throat. “Mandy, you’re not going to believe what just happened...”