NSFW warning: bad words, drug use and sexual themes. Cheeky title.
** ** **
One arm occupied by groceries, the other with his phone, Aciano emailed and texted his way to the top of the building. Approval for testing: BB-E-08? Approved. Follow up. Meeting: HG-N-77 Fourth Run Testing Results Review: Accepted. Happy Birthday from Facebox! Unsubscribed. Again. Deleted. Notice: Window Washing – Read later. Happy–Deleted. RE: Re: Alparks Interview at CityWatch? Fuck no. Vector groundbreaking photos – Read later. He sighed, swiped to Krishna.
You up? K: ofc its only 8, grampa Busy? Can I come over? I'll make dinner..?
Krishna didn’t immediately answer – unusual, for her, but probably because of the elevator. When the lift doors opened, Aciano stepped out into the penthouse vestibule, and his phone lit up.
K: sry im out w/turner
Damn. Aciano heaved a sigh and pocketed his phone. Clutching his groceries, he kicked his shoes into place on the rack. With his parents away, there was plenty of space – too much – and it struck him how even his shoes looked lonely. That was sad. He keyed through the would-be front door and onto the inner stoop. A left turn would lead to his own suite – technically the guest suite – but the apartment proper had a better kitchen, and didn’t feel quite as empty, even if no one else was there. That, and it wasn’t filled with prototypes, samples, reports or other corporate detritus tracked up from the office below. He stepped down into the main room.
Alporte’s ambient nightlight filtered through the glass balcony doors opposite and painted the open sitting, dining and kitchen area with a silvery glow. The cleaner had long since come and gone, leaving the homey apartment feeling strangely sterile and smelling faintly of citrus. She’d also left a single, cling-wrapped cupcake on the kitchen island, with a candle beside, all too aware that it would probably go unlit. It was wonderfully knowing and sharply painful at the same time.
Aciano set the groceries on the counter and unwrapped the cupcake. It probably shouldn’t have been his first meal of the day, but something had to be. The carrot cake was moist and sticky, topped with spicy ginger icing, and it had the comfortable feel of something cheaply but lovingly made. Aciano devoured it, wondering why he’d bothered with even his meagre selection of groceries – he was much more likely to finish a beer and pass out before most of Alporte’s actual “grampas”. With that in mind, and still licking his fingers, he opened the fridge – only to find that it was filled with prepared food in dishes he didn’t recognize. Concerned he’d somehow stepped through time and/or space, Aciano let the door close on its own, and then the apartment erupted with noise and light.
Aciano jerked and spun around as dozens of guests leapt out from behind furniture and from adjacent rooms; balloons floated up to the ceiling, trailing curled streamers, and champagne popped. Aciano covered his heart with one hand and his face with the other.
“Jesus Christ you scared me…” he half-gasped, half-laughed, and there was a round of laughing and clapping, and more corks popping. He was swarmed by friends – Krishna and Turner; Eric and his sometimes-boyfriend, Alex; most of his lab leads; his few university and online friends; his parents’ friends, and everyone’s families. The kids among them – certainly tired of waiting in silence – immediately took to shouting and laughing, and their parents took to their own conversations. Aciano sank down onto the kitchen floor and tried to collect himself; instead, he found himself crying.
“Acianooo! I’m sorry – did we frighten you that badly?!” Krishna said, and she crouched beside him to wrap him in a hug. He tried to laugh, and mostly succeeded.
“No – god no – it’s fine – I’m fine – it’s a nice surprise, Krishna… …just very surprising, ha…” he said. Krishna wrapped him in another hug, then helped him to stand. “I actually… didn’t think… …”
“What kind of best friend would I be if I forgot your birthday?” Krishna said, borderline offended – but probably more because he’d put her organizational skills into question than her friendship. Around them, food was floating from the fridge to the table like some sort of magical feast; nearly everyone already had a drink in hand, and the whole apartment suddenly filled with music. Krishna prodded him. “By the way: Jocelyn told me you’ve hardly been eating.”
“I’m fasting in protest of your vacation,” Aciano teased, and Krishna raised her eyebrows. She was more or less back to full power: healthy, happy, perfect nails. She pressed them into his arm.
“In that case, I’d better see you eat tonight, or I’ll be personally assisting you to one of your favourite 5:00am sessions at the health bar.”
** ** **
Health bar avoided: hours later, Aciano was so full of food and drink he could hardly move. The remaining guests had spread out – many were still in the sitting room and kitchen, but a few had wandered off to sleep in borrowed beds; others had escaped the music and heat to loiter around or swim in the pool outside, and the front balcony had become the usual corner for not-so-secret smoking and drugs. In fact, from his recliner near the pool, Aciano could even see lights on in his bedroom.
He sat up. Sam Troili, seated on the next chair over, looked sideways at him over a glass of bourbon.
“–trouble with the connectivity, but when I asked Sarah… …hey, everything alright?”
“Yeah… uh… just a sec. I’ll be right back,” Aciano said. He climbed from the chair with some difficulty, and meandered towards the balcony door to his bedroom. It slid open with ease, and he ducked past the curtain to find three conspirators: Krishna, Eric and Remus were all seated in quiet conversation around his table, their serious expressions oddly juxtaposed by the surrounding anime posters, fantasy tomes and half-finished art projects. Krishna noticed him instantly.
“Oh! I was just going to come find you!” she said with a mostly-disingenuous smile. Aciano frowned, very genuinely.
“What’s going on?”
“Why don’t you have a seat?” Remus said, pushing out the remaining chair. There was even a fourth flute of champagne for him – Krishna hadn’t been lying all the way. “Are you having a good night? Enough to drink?
“Enough for what?” Aciano said, sitting down. His mischievous employees all laughed, and Aciano took up the champagne. He looked at Krishna. “Please reassure me that you haven’t hired a secret stripper or something? I really can’t deal with–“
“Much worse than that,” Eric said from the seat on his left, and they all laughed again. Krishna smiled from the opposite side of the table.
“We wanted to talk about Ecuador,” she said, and Aciano put the champagne down.
“It’s my birthday,” he whined. “If there’s one day–“
“We just think… you should start moving on it,” Remus said from his right. Aciano briefly put his face in his hands, then looked around the room: doors all closed; curtains drawn; no one feigning drunken sleep in his bed. He licked his lips.
“Look. Even if I were entertaining… Ecuador… another election isn’t slated for years.”
“Correct,” Remus said, “But campaigns take months, and we could all use some prep before that. You have our full support, Aciano, but–“
“Support?” Aciano said, his voice rising to its usual panicked tone. “You might as well be supporting a human sacrifice!”
“…but you’re young, and we’re mostly inexperienced as a team – we could use the extra time,” Remus finished, ignoring his comment entirely. “Your press is already great but we haven’t considered it from a candidate perspective – you might need to show that you can be more than just a nice guy. You might need to train someone to handle Yellow Rose in your potential absence.”
“Abandoning Yellow Rose is off the table.”
“My point is that we don’t know what we don’t know,” Remus said.
“You need a campaign manager,” Krishna said. “Someone who can help us – help you – to make decisions – even if the main decision is not to run at all.”
Aciano shut his eyes again.
“I’m not ready. It’s too soon. It’s really, really too soon. This idea is going to give me a panic attack,” he said, and lifted his fingers to demonstrate, rightly, that they were already shaking. “I’m already not sleeping; I can hardly answer my phone without wondering if it’s Iliza fucking Monarch with some new blackmail plot.”
“A campaign manager could take some of that load,” Eric said, and Aciano shrugged emphatically.
“So – what? You want to post a job listing and just hope that Machida doesn’t notice? She’ll fucking flay me when she finds out. Maybe literally. Probably in public. On fire. With–“
“We could try headhunting someone first,” Krishna suggested, “Although… you’re right that she’ll probably still find out.”
They lapsed into thoughtful silence, and something about the way Krishna was fidgeting with her cup – about the way Eric was smiling and Remus was mutely drinking – struck him.
“Waitaminit… …are all three of you high as fuck right now?”
“Oh yeah,” Eric said, and they all laughed again.
“It’s Eric’s fault!” Krishna defended – badly.
“…you bring me in here on my birthday to talk about literally the worst idea ever and you don’t even share?” Aciano said, and he didn’t need to fake his hurt. He stood up. “We’re tabling this – for real – for now. Don’t talk to me and don’t talk to each other. No fucking hashtags, no sly jokes – I will seriously consider firing all of you if I so much as hear an actual news story about actual Ecuador. Krishna… we can schedule to meet, just the four of us, later this week. I think once you’re all sober you’ll understand how insane this is.”
“On it, boss!” Krishna said, and produced her phone as if by magic. Aciano finished his champagne, and Eric looked at him.
“There’s lots more.”
“I didn’t know you watched cartoons,” Remus said, smirking, and Aciano raised his eyebrows.
“Yeah. Still want me to be mayor?”
** ** **
The very early morning found Aciano on his back beside the pool, his eyes on the sky, the top of his head in the water. It was peaceful as hell – the clouds reflected an oily rainbow of city colours, and the gentle motion of the water kept his brain in a comfortable nest between nauseating dizziness and crystal clear thought. With his cochlear transmitter resting on his chest and under his fingers, he could let his mind wander properly, and he didn’t even notice Krishna until she was standing over him with a bong and a bottle of what was, hopefully, water.
“Hey. Stop ignoring me,” she said. She sat down next to him so he could still see her face, and slipped her legs into the water. “You want any more?”
“Of Eric’s shit? Nah,” Aciano laughed. Krishna hit the bong anyway, blew a new cloud into the sky.
“Your deaf laugh is so fucking cute.”
“Oh no shuddup,” Aciano whined, and Krishna let out a laugh of her own. He couldn’t hear it, but he knew it well. “Don’t you have a boyfriend you could be bothering instead of me?”
“He’s trapped in conversation with Eric about motorcycles or marines or… something. I left when Eric got way too excited about… suspension? Or something
“You abandoned him? Rude.”
“I’m sure he can handle it.”
“…so does he wear that trenchcoat in bed too?”
“Aciano Gabriel Mercier – did you just make a sex joke?! Look at you growing up!!”
“Mm,” Aciano grumbled. Krishna drank – confirmed water – and handed the bottle over afterwards.
“Anyway, Turner’s really great. I kinda dig the coats actually. And he’s been so sweet, and taking such good care of me, and… …did I tell you he kissed me in the sewers? It was gross. I was literally covered in shit. Like, I swam in it. Most guys won’t kiss you after you’ve so much as licked their dick.”
Drinking upside down, Aciano choked water and had to sit up. Krishna carried on as though nothing had happened.
“Any new developments in your dating life since I’ve been away? Like every girl on Flitter and Jabber was going crazy over photos of you helping kids on Citizens’ Day,” she said. “Emily posted some really good ones to the Yellow Rose feed.”
Aciano turned to put his feet in the water, and handed the bottle back. He raked his hair somewhat dry – the sections that weren’t dripping down his back, anyway – and magneted his transmitter back in place behind his ear.
“No news,” Aciano said, not caring to elaborate. Of course, Krishna did care.
“I heard you had Sophia Katherine Snodgrass the third--” she snickered, lifting her pinky “–all to yourself during the yacht party. Heard you spent quite a long time alone with her, actually.”
“Yeah… we kind of accidentally had some peyote together.”
“Aciano!” Krishna gasped, and hit his arm.
“Ow – jeeze – I figured she’d know what it was! Anyway I apologised, and we just… hung out. It was nice, actually. She’s chill. Normal.”
“And zero percent interested in me, which is why she was actually fun to hang out with,” Aciano said. He forced a sigh, and motioned vaguely back towards his bedroom. “Anyway… if your whole… plans… come to fruition… I can’t imagine there will be any news in that regard until the end of time, so you can probably stop asking.”
“Maybe I will hire you a stripper next year…” Krishna teased. “Or pay for a nice time at Sextasy.”
“Not at all necessary or even slightly desired,” Aciano said, rubbing his neck. He could feel Krishna’s eyes on him, which didn’t make things better. He stared at the pool, and Krishna was quiet for so long that he almost started to relax again. Almost.
“So, here’s a thought: did you enjoy yourself at that S&M club?” she said at length, and Aciano felt his face light up.
“Dammit Krishna you promised–“
“Because if you did, maybe you might like a dominatrix,” Krishna insisted despite his protests. Maybe he was tired; maybe it was the pot or the champagne that slowed him down, or maybe he really was taking a moment to consider, but at any rate there was a pause long enough for Krishna’s phone to appear. “In fact, I have a friend with really good reviews; she was domming to pay her way through uni, and I think she still takes clients…”
“I – don’t…want…”
“I don’t think you know what you want,” Krishna said, already scrolling through her extensive contacts. She stopped at “Sun-Ah”, and glanced sideways before tapping. “But lemme ask you a different question: did you hate your time at the club? Did you hate it as much as you hate talking to Troili about his sexual augment project? Did you hate it as much as you hate MIXRR?”
He hadn’t thought about it that way before.
“I… didn’t… hate it,” he said, but rushed to add, “But it was an entirely serendipitous experience! I don’t want to pay for… …things. I don’t want–“
“You say that like your donation at the club wasn’t ‘payment’,” Krishna said, and laughed as she tapped her phone. “Besides, you pay for all kinds of pleasures already, so why not this? You don’t have to have sex with her – you can probably even leave your clothes on. Just think of it like a… special massage.”
“Hi Sun-Ah! It’s– –oh fuck – omigod I’m so sorry! I forgot what time it was! … …yeah, I’m at a party, obviously… Should I..? …you sure? Yeah! I know – it’s been sooo long! …yeah! Okay so… actually I was just calling to ask if you still do any domming..? …yeah? Amazing. Yeah!” Krishna rattled, and Aciano fantasized about grabbing her phone and hurling it off the balcony – with or without Krishna attached was up for debate. “Saturday? Yeah, definitely! …umm… he’s–“
“I’m booked Saturday,” Aciano said, but Krishna merely shook her head at him.
“–super new, yeah. …I think so? …he’s a virgin actually…”
Definitely with Krishna attached.
“…omigod right?! Ha!” she laughed. Laughed! “…uh… probably pretty flexible? He does yoga. He’s–“
Aciano lunged for the phone, and in the ensuing tussle it went spiraling into the pool, hitting the surface with an unceremonious blop! before looping erratically to the bottom. Krishna was too stunned to speak – for once. Aciano said, “I’m booked Saturday.”
“I’m meeting her on Saturday, you dork,” Krishna said. “To catch up and to schedule for you – which is my job, as you’ll recall. All you’ll have to do is pick up when she calls you.”
“Is that so?” Aciano said, but Krishna didn’t leave him even a moment to be offended.
“Yes. When she calls, you’ll answer, and you’ll do as she says,” she said; then she pointed into the pool. “But for now you’re going to get my phone.”
“Is that so,” Aciano said again, but with even less conviction than before, and when Krishna just kept pointing, he rolled his eyes, slipped out of his shirt, pants and transmitter, and into the pool.