Unequal Exchange

by Tamanegi Amai (玉葱亜麻衣)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/15633.html)

I.
It was summer. The days stretched long and the unrelenting sun made the flesh moist and the soul weak, idle. Alan awoke that afternoon to the heavy feeling of Maximilian’s unabashedly exposed body upon his, their limbs tangled together and the musty smell of perspiration hanging lazily in the air. It was days like these that made it difficult to believe that the nation was at war. But the distant smell of gunfire revealed reality for what it truly was; it could not be ignored.

But for the moment, Alan allowed himself to believe the deceptiveness of this summer day. He closed his eyes to sleep for a few more hours.

“Drivel. Grade A garbage, is what this is!”

The black haired man was currently poring over the newspaper on the neighboring table (his elbows were poking uncomfortably into Alan’s ribs; Alan took this moment to shift to the side in order to allow himself some space to breathe).

“And what may that be?”

“Don’t play dumb with me, Mr. Blackwell.” (He always used Alan’s last name when irritated—an ironic sign of affection, Alan had noted a long time ago.) Maximilian continued, moving so he could address his companion to his face. “After all, you’re the one making a living producing this horseshit.”

“Ah, you mean my serial! I didn’t know you cared to read it, Max. I must say, I’m rather touched.”
A scoff. “I only had the misfortune of seeing it on the table when I woke up. Why must you inflict this atrocity you gallingly call ‘writing’ on the public?”

“It’s terrible isn’t it? But money is such a conniving temptress—I couldn’t escape her wiles, Max! You see, my soul is terribly weakened in my old age…”

Alan yelped helplessly as Maximilian shoved him to the side as he got up from the bed, glaring down at him disapprovingly. How intimidating this boy could be (even as bare as the day he was born) standing straight up, his unyielding spirit emanating from his straight, confident shoulders. Alan was ashamed to admit that even at the eve of his days this thirty something year old man could only attest to a fraction of the bearing Maximilian possessed. As it was, he couldn’t help but feel slightly shamefaced underneath the stern scowl.

“Tell me”, Max started, “How it is that a once so prominent figure in our good homeland; a man who’s character was so resilient that it gave him the strength to vaporize two potential battles with the mere sound of his voice…how is it that he has fallen so low as to be the author of most shameful serial for the Morning Herald? Look at this nonsense, Alan—people are sweating out their blood and souls for the sake of being heard during this war, and you’re busy writing the Erotic Escapades of the Countess Mary Rathgard!”

“Ah, but she’s a governess, mind you. Much different.”

“BE SERIOUS FOR ONCE! Can’t you realize that people are dying for the cause you once single-handedly propagated throughout this country?! You were part of the State once; you didn’t have to retire underground in order to voice your own opinion! Why waste
your words on something so useless when they’re worth their weight in gold?”

“I beg to disagree.”

Alan took this time to sit up, running a hand through his hair before giving Maximilian a sobering glance, his smile never fading.

“Max, I’m exhausted. My time has passed; I’ve done all I can do. It is a new generation of state leaders I stand before today—ones who are more resilient, stand firmer in their decisions. To them I am merely an artifact of the past.”

Maximilian clenched his fist. “You are no artifact to us. To me…what makes it different for them?!”

The older man crawled forward in the bed, pulling Maximilian down with him as he rested his head on the fallen man’s chest tenderly. Alan spoke with his lips resting on Max’s skin, eyes closed.

“I’m afraid that you and your kind are biased by the way you were raised. You above all.” He felt Maximilian’s breath become a bit shallower as he trailed his lips down the man’s chest. “But you mustn’t live in the past. You too must move forward, especially in times like this. If you could simply keep we who have past our prime in mind, that would be sufficient enough.” He lifted his head over the man, smiling. Maximilian (ignoring the fact that his face was slowly becoming redder) frowned back.

“That still doesn’t explain that rubbish in the newspapers.”

“Ah, but you see, in my own way I am still doing my part to society.” Alan traced a finger around Maximilian’s nipple idly. “Today’s world is difficult. Newspapers only seem to provide the worst of news—I, or should I say the Governess, offers those who wish a break from the burden of life.

“They open their papers with a sigh of relief to see the latest chapter, the one where the Governess is ravished by the most debonair Duke DuPont. You read that one today, didn’t you Max? He starts off by allowing his hands to explore her soft skin…” It was at his point that Alan began to do the same as he described, his large, calloused hands delicately moving across Maximilian’s body. The younger man shifted slightly staring away from Alan (it was evident that Maximilian was biting his lips now, his eyes hard. He would never allow himself to give into Alan’s teasing so easily. Never the matter. He would have him moaning out soon enough).

“He is most delighted upon realizing how firm her nipples are; he considers them quite a work of art after all.” Alan breathed into Maximilian’s ear, licking it playfully, his hands dwelling over the sensitive skin around the man’s nipples. He moved to the man’s side, allowing himself to kiss Max’s nipples tenderly, slowly beginning to suck on them. That was always Maximilian’s weak spot; he shuddered as expected, gasping out.

“Ah! Now you’re getting in to it- the Governess made the same sound as well, don’t you know?”

“I am not your vile Governess, Alan.”

“No, I’m afraid not.” Alan pushed him over, stroking his thigh (Alan began to moan a bit here despite his better judgment). “You’re much more adorable than she is, after all. Listen to that moan—as if it’s music!” His hands moved dangerously close to Max’s length but never quite touched it. Alan smiled. He could tell it was driving Maximilian insane.

“Stop…stop…doing that!”

“What?” Alan ran a finger up the hard, throbbing skin.

“If…if you’re going to do that, do it properly! I can’t take this!”

“Well, why didn’t you just ask? Sometimes I think you want to be difficult, my dear Maximilian.” He pulled the man close, hearing a sigh and a moan as Max wrapped his arms around Alan’s back. Somehow Alan was especially tender this time around as they rocked back and forth in each other’s arms, the older man trailing kisses down Maximilian’s shoulder affectionately. It was only when Max began to pant, more, faster, harder that he began to pick up the pace, thrusting into the man with such force that it wasn’t too long before he came into Alan, falling back into the soft cushions of the bed.

Alan allowed his companion to rest a bit before falling down besides him, burying his head into Maximilian’s back.

“…Promise me you’ll stay like this, even if I’m gone.”

“What in the world are you talking about?”

He felt Alan smile slightly in his back. “…What am I talking about, I wonder.”


It wasn’t until a month later that he learned that Alan had been forced into the war by the State. He couldn’t escape his past, after all. The state’s property will be the state’s property till the very end. He had kept silent about as to not upset Max.

The years had been cruel to Alan and he didn’t last long in battle. His house was empty when Max returned to it. It would always be.
That day, Maximilian’s shoulders fell and never rose up
again. Somehow, he felt a weight press against his chest. Time passed and he became used to it.


II.
It is summer. The scorching sun is the venders’ dearest friend—the busy street is full of people hawking fans, parasols; young children are up to their noses with orders for lemonade. The heat makes the soul tired, but the people, resilient as ever, trudge along, their personal agendas fueling their desire to move forward. It is days like these that it is difficult to realize that more than a decade ago there was a war. Most prefer it that way. Was there even a time before the war? Memories seem grounded in the present these days. Peace has given way to complacency, and those so involved in the business of the nation have slowly drifted away into the shadows. Peace has made them obsolete.

He marches forward, each step of his resounding with a deep fury.

He can hear them. Have you read that new serial in the
newspaper? The one about the Governess?
They chirp. Ingenious! They say. So sinfully exciting! They sigh.

What would they do if they knew the author had been dead for
over ten years?

Whoever is doing this, resurrecting that which was buried so long ago…the things he will do to him! How cruel a sight to see for a moment the return of your lover, to hear for a moment his voice again, to feel for a moment his touch. Maximilian let himself believe for an instant that the impossible had happened, that Alan had returned.

But he is dead, and always will be.

He will tear this imitator apart; such is the extent of his rage.

He continues forward, reaching a series of apartments at the edge of town. 234. He makes his way up there and bangs on the door. Hears a groggy voice from the other side of the door and quick sound of footsteps.

“I’m coming already…! Don’t break the door over!”

The door opens and in a fraction of a second Maximilian is on top of him, pushing him into the wall, shaking him violently. This man…he is smaller than Alan, a weak looking creature. His eyes are wide in fear and he struggles, calling out,

“Stop! What are you doing?!”

Maximilian throws him on the ground, taking a moment to catch his breath. The man seems too afraid to move.

“What makes you think you can take over someone else’s work? What makes you think that you can replace a person so easily?”

The man’s eyes widen. “You…what are you talking about? You’re mad!”

“DON’T PLAY DUMB WITH ME!” Maximilian kicks him savagely,
and he doubles over, clutching his stomach. “You know exactly what I’m talking about. This is not your story to write! Alan Blackwell has been dead for years now—and so has his work! You disgusting thief! How did you get your filthy hands on this?!”

The man is staring at him with a startled look now, but no fear is in his eyes.

“You’re…Max. I….I knew this day would come.”

Maximilian pauses. “What did you say?”

The man takes a moment to catch his breath, still holding his stomach. He looks at the ground.

“I’ve been…waiting for you to come by.”

Newspapers. Newspapers everywhere. They lie on stacks against the walls, in piles on the tables, overflowing from desks, shelves. Maximilian doesn’t know what to say.

The young man’s name is Nate. He couldn’t have been more than seven when Alan was still alive. His parents were taken by the war as well and he has been alone ever since. Currently, he is digging through the several piles of newspapers as he speaks, his back turned to Maximilian.

“I wanted to know as much as I could about the past, the war, anything. It’s funny—something so horrible…people are so quick to wipe it from their memories. I didn’t want to be like that, so I tried as hard as I could to learn about that time. It was through my searching that I found this.”

Nate hands him an old newspaper and a book. The book has the name “Alan Blackwell” written on it in small black letters. Maximilian pulls it to his face and inhales. It smells like him, and for a moment Max feels ten years younger…but it doesn’t last, and he feels the weight of time push down on him. He pulls the book to his chest, looking up at Nate. The boy averts his eyes quickly, face slightly red.

“It was in an abandoned section of town. I’m sure they’ve demolished it by now. He…he wrote a lot in that book, you know? I’ve read it all. It’s how I found out about his serial.”

“I never knew he kept a journal.”

Nate looks taken aback. “I see. Listen…I wasn’t trying to be a troublemaker, I just…the more I read of it the more I realized that I couldn’t let someone like that become forgotten, just like everything else in the past. I don’t know…I guess I thought that that’s what he would have wanted.”

The old newspaper crinkles in Maximilian’s hands as he pulls it from the book itself. “So you decided to continue his story.”

“It was the only thing I could think of. Ridiculous as it is—it’s evidence of a life before now.” He looks up at Maximilian, eyes pleading. “Please don’t think badly of me! I didn’t mean to upset anyone by this- I’ll stop if you want.”

Silence. Maximilian is still looking at the paper, as if he heard nothing Nate says. It is a lost cause, the younger man thinks. He has insulted this man’s dearest person with his stupid plan, shamed them both.

“Surely you couldn’t stop, though?”

Nate pauses. “…What?”

“People are reading. They would be most upset if you ended this story so soon.” Max continues, and then feels a small crooked smile form on his face.

“…And as I’m sure you have learned; money is such a conniving mistress. Are you willing to give her up so easily? No, I implore you to continue. I only ask you to allow me a first read of your next installations.”

Nate looks at a loss for words for a moment. He nods his head, quickly, apologetically.

“Yes…I will! Thank you.”

Maximilian glances down at the book in his hands. Alan is dead. That cannot be changed.

The very least he can have is his words.

I write this journal mostly for myself, but I suppose it would be too naïve to believe that only I shall read this, so I say hello to all who manage to get their hands on this. My name, as you can tell from reading the title of this novel is Alan. Who I am exactly is not important—if you must know I used to be important at a time. But that time has passed and I have realized that the most important aspect of my being is that I am a human, as we all are.

He visits Nate often. And as Nate promised before, he shows Maximilian his writing for the newspaper. It is astonishing how close the style is to Alan’s. When Max finishes reading, he always looks up, as if he expects to see something, a ghost perhaps.

But he is always met with the small figure of Nate, staring nervously back at him.

Somehow he feels cheated.

When you’re young you think you are Atlas. The burdens of the world are yours to hold and to handle. I will not lie; I felt this way once as well. Perhaps that’s why I am where I am now. As I told Max once, I write to relieve this burden from all who want to be relieved of it. It is not much, but it is the last thing I can do. My shoulders have given in to the weight of the world and I can no longer continue. But I cannot pass this load on quietly…so I shall help them from the shadows.

“What are these?”

“Letters. From fans, that is. They’ve been coming in frequently lately. I can’t help but feel relieved. It gives me the urge to continue.”

“What…do you think you’re achieving? Surely you realize you’re deceiving them, even if it’s with good intention?”

Nate doesn’t waver in his resolve.

“Sometimes you have to lie in order to create the most happiness…don’t you agree?”

The effect is eerie. Maximilian has to stand up, prepare to leave.

He could have sworn he saw Alan sitting besides him.

Max is always tired when I see him. I almost feel badly for working him even harder in bed! Ah, I’m sorry—that was too much, wasn’t it? But I truly adore him. I feel as if he has held the world on his shoulders from the day he was born…will he ever tired of it? It seems unlikely, but he is also young. Idealistic. I hope he stays that way, though I do fear I will ruin him with my reckless nature. Unquestionably it is admiration that keeps him by my side. He seems to think I can stop this war. For the moment, I’ll be his pillar of hope…as long as he will allow it.

That day, he leans over and kisses Nate. He isn’t thinking straight, he knows, but somehow it feels like this needs to be done. Nate doesn’t resist, merely waits until Maximilian is done. “I…I’m sorry.”

“I can be his replacement, if you want.”

“What?”

“It’s just that…you seem so lonely.”

I got a message from the State. Two weeks to prepare. Max will wish for me to flee but there is nowhere I can go. At any rate I don’t think he knows this and I won’t tell him. Sometimes a lie is easier to believe. I am loathe to leave my serial to rot for so long but if all goes well, I shall return and continue my writing. I do hope Max isn’t too cross at me for lying. Ah well—the end justifies the means as they say.

Oh dear. I seem to have fooled myself into believing a little lie as well. I know that in reality I shall be swept away with this war’s end but I think for now I’ll believe otherwise. Maybe the more I believe, the more likely it will become true.

It isn’t love, not even lust. Just some sick game the two of them play.

Nate is so much softer than Alan. As Max caresses his length the man moans out all too easily, stretches out his legs, gasps out. He is nothing like Alan. It angers Max sometimes, and he pulls the younger man close and thrusts hard into him, his nails digging into the soft flesh, teeth biting into Nate’s red lips.

He is so frustrated, and it makes him ache relentlessly below, as if he will never be relieved. Nate is a poor substitute; there are times where it is as if Alan is speaking through him, but the more he tastes those lips and presses angrily against that soft skin, his throbbing length moving inside, outside, inside…all he sees in front of him is that small man he met the first day he entered this house. He pulls Nate’s hair, and the boy yelps out, but says no more. He will endure this; it is his punishment for mimicking that which could not be mimicked.

Max pulls Nate’s legs over his shoulders, forcing him into the wall as he shoves back and forth, biting his neck. Perhaps if he tries hard to expel this false soul out Alan will come back. The end of the war washed both Alan and his sense of worth away…it is only fair that he get one of them back. Alan will return and apologize for taking so long, for lying. And then he will lean forward and pull Max close to him with his calloused hands he will cast away this weight from Max’s chest. Make him feel important again.

They collapse upon each other, exhausted, bruised. He sees only Nate’s face once more, despite all his efforts not to.

He is too exhausted to even hate him for it.

This will be my last entry in this book. I suppose I can’t say I’m surprised it came to this…but I wish I had more time regardless. More than anything, I wish to apologize to Max…I suppose I really am irresponsible after all! I’m sorry but I will not be coming back. But for my sake…continue standing strong. The sun shines from here on out. I only regret leaving my dear story in the dust—curse the nature of pen names…I suppose I’m doomed to be a mystery author forever. How tragic!

It will be lonely going to the afterlife alone. Enjoy the days I will have missed by now. You have the opportunity to.

Good Night, friends.

That day, Max calls it off.

“I’ve been spending my life searching for something I lost a long time ago. I’m sorry I had to inflict it on you. I will stop visiting from now on—do what you like.”

Nate stares back at him, his face unreadable.

“I see.”

A nod, and Max is off. He is near the door when he hears Nate call back, softly.

“Maybe I was lonely too.”

Maximilian creaks open the door, staring out at the bright sun. Somehow his chest feels a bit lighter.

“Maybe we all were.”

The leaves are beginning to fall. Autumn is coming.

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