King of Shadows
I fell in love with Oberon when she was stood outside the nightclub, smoke curling from her cigarette and a snake tattoo around her arm. I couldn’t find my lighter. She stepped closer as the rain started and the flame jumped from her fingertips, I breathed in her scent of sulphur and lavender and couldn’t find the words to say thanks. Her eyes were liquid silver. It rained harder but none of it touched me.
My friends stood with me and seemed not to notice her. They complained about the rain with volume fuelled by drink, but I didn’t hear them. I was only aware of her and the bass that thrummed through the ground. I moved a step closer to her without meaning to. She told me her name and I knew it even as she said it, the way you know echoes of facts in the back of your mind. Oberon, King of Fairies, King of Shadows. She already knew mine. Her voice was the crunch of gravel. She saw the pulse of fear just beneath the surface of my skin and her mouth moved in the ghost of a smile. Her eyes held mine without blinking and I could see rainstorms and flashes of lightning and tasted metal on my tongue. My friends called me back inside. I didn’t want to go, but she raised an eyebrow and moved away. The sudden rain was cool on my skin.
Back inside the nightclub. People everywhere, bodies pressed against bodies moving with music, bodies pressed up against the bar shouting orders with hoarse voices, bodies pressed too close, every brush against my skin was a lick of flame and I couldn’t get my bearings. I was pulled onto the dancefloor and closed my eyes and tried to let the rhythm take me. It usually doesn’t take much. But that night I couldn’t lose myself. My shoulders were tense. A drink. A drink would help. I made my way to the crush of people in front of the bar, hemmed in by the low ceiling and the heat and the sweat of expectation. Someone behind me placed their hands on my hips. I twisted, trying to knock them away, but the crackle of their voice in my ear stopped my movement. I was cold. Her fingertips burned white hot through my jeans as she dug them into my flesh and suddenly we were at the bar and she was beside me. Two shots appeared in front of us. I was sure she hadn’t ordered anything. We picked up the drinks and I could feel her eyes on me as I knocked back the purple liquid back in one gulp. She did the same. My hand flew to my throat. Cold. The taste of nothing, a void, a lash of ice. She laughed, then, loud even against the music. Ran a hand through short dark hair swept back from her brow. She took my hand and pulled me to the tables in the shadows at the side of the room.
Everything about her spoke cold confidence. Her arm around my waist and legs crossed on the opposite chair, heavy biker boots resting on the red leather. The dark make-up around her eyes, the ripped jeans that clung to her legs, the silk shirt too big but a perfect fit. The multiple piercings in her pointed ears. Drinks kept appearing – gin for me, golden honey wine for her – and nobody came to tell us not to smoke inside. She talked about herself for as long as we sat there. She spoke about her kingdom, about the magic that flowed through her veins like a heady wine and the power she held over the fairy court. About her ex, the fairy queen. Her servant and friend, Robin. Casting spells and shadows, making fools of mortals, making people fall in love. Her arrogance was attractive and her voice hypnotic. My phone buzzed a few times but I ignored it. The spell broke when she stopped speaking suddenly, looking over my shoulder. One of my friends, talking quick and loud, relieved to have found me, the club’s closing now, we’re getting a taxi, come on. I turned back to Oberon, but she shrugged and took her arm from my waist, suddenly distant. I made an effort not to care. I told her I was going home. Her eyes flashed with a momentary anger but cooled instantly. Fine.
I followed my friend back through the club, joining the people beginning to drift home. It took a while to locate the rest of our original group and by the time we got back into the rain, everyone was outside. We went to the main road and found a taxi quite quickly. My friends got in. I stopped. Turned around. Walked to where she was standing, I knew she would follow me, I could feel her there, and pressed my lips to hers, my hand on the back of her neck, tasting the nicotine and sulphur of her mouth. And then I left. I watched her from the taxi and felt a small thrill of satisfaction at the blush on her cheeks. Unexpected. My friends laughed at me on the way home, called me outrageous, asked where that all came from. I shrugged, smiling.
I finally checked my phone when I was in bed. It was getting close to sunrise, but we had stayed up a bit longer, drinking some beer from the fridge and predicting the worst kind of hangovers for ourselves the next day. There were a few texts from throughout the night.
Where r u?
No serious hun where did u go?
R u alive?
And then another, from only an hour ago:
You surprised me tonight. Let me see you again. Fare thee well.
I didn’t remember giving her my number.
I ran my fingers over her wings, taking care not to wake her. The colours changed like a raven’s coat in the light. They trembled with the slightest touch. Spiderweb thin and steel strong.
She was sleeping. Eyelids twitching, brow slightly furrowed. Her face is more relaxed in waking than it is in sleep. I told her that she could talk to me about her troubles, but she always brushed me away, saying it didn’t matter, saying there were more important things. Saying that mortals wouldn’t understand. The last time she had said that to me, I walked out of the restaurant. We had been together for a few months at that point, and the Greek place was one of my favourites, with the blue tablecloths and traditional music and fake vines. I don’t think I’d mentioned it to her. She had a way of just knowing things, of knowing me.
I’d never let my temper control me before. But there was something about her that brought it out of me. For the first time, my emotions were raw and unchecked and it was exhilarating and terrifying and empowering all at the same time. She was surprised, at first, that my temper could match hers. The king of the fairies, the master of all she surveyed, locked in a shouting match with a mere mortal. I would say that about myself, voice dripping with false humility, hating myself but not being able to help myself at the same time. When we became used to one another she would revel in my passion and I in hers. The weather changed when she did. Furious storms, seductive breezes, melancholy cloud, bright blue sky. Empathetic fallacy. I never saw her cry.
The first time I saw her get angry, I was paralysed with fear. Sparks danced like deadly festive lights around her arms, her eyes shone with flame against steel, and she opened her mouth to scream into the night air and the sound of a thousand nightmares came from her throat and I swear the clouds shook and the trees shivered and I just stood there. Her skin turned blue and her hair grew long and the lightning flashed behind her and I just stood there. Her fists clenched and her coat swirled about her and I just stood there. I couldn’t move. I stared, eyes shocked wide, aching to run away or to hold her to me, wanting to feel how the air around her felt. I never loved her more than in that moment.
If that’s what it was. If that was love. I had nothing to compare it to, no way of gauging if this fist around my heart was an embrace or a stranglehold. But whatever it was, I called it love. It was the power, I think. The magic, literal and metaphorical. I enjoyed being her woman. I craved our clash of tempers. I had never felt so safe standing at the edge of an abyss.
I always thought she would take me back to her world. She seemed so in control of this mortal realm, but it bored her. I could tell. A part of me thought she might only be staying here for me, but I knew that was a hollow fancy. I entertained her. She was out of place in this world. When we first slept together – inevitable, I know – it was in the house I shared with three other mortals. No bed of leaves, no fairy bower. No dancing beneath the pale moon. An evening of boardgames in my living room, drinking beer and listening to David Bowie with my housemates. I asked her to stay with the confidence of alcohol. And she did. And in my room she gripped my wrists with her white hot hands and pinned me against the wall, eyes flicking between my eyes and my lips, and whispered “am I not thy lord?” in a voice so low I could feel it in my bones and then we kissed hard and fast and then
I longed to travel with her. I know she visited her world without me, to the fairy court where she sat on the throne of leaves and commanded the attention of every creature. Her ex was there as well, Titania, the graceful queen of the fairies. Their tempestuous relationship made jealousy flare in my chest, and when I told her she would smirk and tell me there was nothing to worry about. And I believed her. I had to. Her visits to that land became less frequent the longer we stayed together.
In the beginning she would use magic to impress me. Moving things without touching them, conjuring things out of thin air, transfiguring herself into different people and then into animals and then into breaths of smoke. She pressed her fingers to my eyes and sent me visions that I couldn’t escape, filled with neon colours and poetry and sound that roared around my ears and left me breathless and shaking and smiling. They became less as well, the longer we spent together.
I know why that is now. I understand without her having to explain it to me.
I like that her touch no longer burns me. Her voice doesn’t set my teeth on edge any more, there are no more sparks around her hands. She uses an umbrella just like everyone else. It all clicked when we fought on a bright summer’s day, and it stayed like that. Bright. Sunny. And she noticed too and the look of utter defeat in her silver eyes provoked the strongest feeling of fear and care I have ever felt. She didn’t have to explain it. Relationships like this are taken very seriously where she comes from.
We moved in together not too long ago – well, she moved in with me. Didn’t bring much stuff. She gets on with my housemates well enough. I think she’s still getting used to everything. She’s growing her hair now, self conscious about her ears. She sleeps on her front out of habit. I run my fingertips over the silvery scars on her back, just beneath her shoulder blades, careful not to wake her. I fall in love with her every night. Her eyes are still silver, the only sign that she is not quite of this world. I lie beside her and she shifts towards me and I breathe in her scent. Sulphur and lavender.