For the last three years i've been keeping up a YA horror-thriller series about People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive winners. It started with Adam Levine: “And on the last day of the Sexiest Man Alive’s reign, he shall baptize the new Man in his blood, and with his blood shall the new Man be consecrated,” Mary J. Blige read from a book of human skin. Everyone was looking at him. Why was everyone looking at him? “I’m sorry,” he said vaguely to the air, still looking at everything but Channing's ruined face. "I'm really, really sorry."
"It has happened before,” Channing said. “It will happen again. It will happen to you. Do it now.”
Adam squeezed the stone knife so hard he felt the outline of it against his bones. He has a child, he thought. A wife and a child. “I can’t,” he heard himself say. “I can’t.”
Channing rattled his chains. “It’s the Sexiest Man Alive,” he growled. “I watched Bradley Cooper twitch in a pool of his own filth at my feet, and I showed him no mercy with these two hands.” There was blood on his mouth. “While I live, you cannot reign. Kill me. DO IT. Kill me. Kill me.”
Adam lifted a shaking hand and pointed the knife at Channing’s throat. “What I am about to do, I do for beauty,” he chanted. Then Chris Hemsworth:
“I know it because I have dreamed it, and because anyone who has ever born this mark” — here the man jutted his own forearm roughly against Chris’ own, and Chris saw in horror that the twisted black sign on Adam’s arm matched the one on his own.
It looked like it was still steaming, like if he reached out and touched it with his hand, he would be burned himself. There were eyes — wide and unblinking and raw-looking, but eyes — and then there was wreckage. Meat. Glossy, shiny, twisted clots of scar tissue and pulsing tendons that connected cheek to jaw, and there were teeth and there was gum — pink and exposed and angry — and a skull and Chris looked away.
“So it’s true,” he said. “You’re not all dead.” One of the faces smiled, and Chris shuddered. This was his alternative?
“Come with us if you want to find a different way to live,” Adam said, and Chris didn’t think, just moved his entire body in the direction of Yes.
Then David Beckham:
David had started asking around. He even called Tom Hiddleston. “What’s this about, man?” Tom had said briskly after a moment or two of silence. “I went to Eton, David. Just because we’re both in America, I don’t have time to make nice with someone who wasn’t even born in a building designed by Christopher Wren –”
“You knew Chris,” David said suddenly.
Tom went cagily quiet.
“Before, I mean. You knew him. You did those films together.”
“What’s this about, David?”
“Did you ever hear from him? After?”
A pause. Then, carefully: “After what, David?”
“After the announcement. After the Sexiest M–”
“I’m hanging up now, David.”
“Don’t you ever call this fucking number again.”
Then I took a year off, because I was very tired. Now I am slightly less tired, and have really painted myself into a number of worldbuilding corners, and I'm eager to see how I try to get out of them.
Blake Shelton: Sexiest Man Alive
"You know what they're saying," Gwen said, pacing for the hundredth time in front of the windows opening out into the courtyard. "About you. About the Ceremony. About the fitness of the choice, about the validity of the blood-loosening."
Blake refused to look up. He slowly tilted his cup and let the wine drip out into the fire until it guttered. "I thought we both agreed I never heard anything."
Gwen stopped moving. "You'd like to have this conversation with me now?" He could hear the smile in her voice, and knew it gave her great pain to twist the scar tissue of what used to be her mouth.
He shook his head.
"Because I am willing to have this conversation," Gwen said. She walked over to him, hands held up, and sat down in front of the fire. "I have always been willing to have this conversation; it was you who fled from it. As you flee from me now."
"I'm not," Blake said.
"You shrink from me," Gwen said placidly, "even now you lean away from my presence. You would run, if you thought you could." She tapped the mask that covered her face. "I wear this for you, that you might never have to look upon the evidence of my love for you. That you might be protected from the consequences of what you asked of me, from the proof that my love is stronger than yours. Because it shames you, that I carved the beauty from my face, that I might add it to your own. Because it frightens you that I did not flinch from it, that I did not stay my own hand."
"I am not afraid of you," Blake said.
"How like you," Gwen said, gesturing toward the fire and snuffing it abruptly out, "to try to lie to me, even now. May we get back to the topic at hand?"
"Yes," said Blake, briefly squeezing his eyes shut until he saw stars. "You were saying –"
"I was saying," Gwen continued, laying her hand gently upon his, "that there is talk."
"Tell me what to do, then," Blake said, "and let us do it."
He had said yes to everything the day he agreed to hold the bowl and catch her blood as she carved off her face for him. Before him – for the rest of his life – he saw nothing but yes in every direction. He did not shiver, although the room had grown cold.
*** Much of the truth had never reached the general public. That last year's Ceremony had gone off without a hitch had lulled many into thinking the flights were over; that the Hemsworth had been throat-slit a full year into his escape bothered few. Better late than never, went the general line of thinking. And yet Adam's blood remained unspilled.
"Beckham should have done it," Blake had argued to the Council. "It falls to him, as Yearking; the Hemsworth-slaying was well-done but only half-work." The Council had shaken their heads stonily and urged the stone knife upon him. Beckham's strength had left him, they said. Adam was kin to Blake, they said; they shared the Voice, and the burden should fall rightly on him, in this his king-year.
Gwen had scowled at him from across the room, and not for the first time he felt a rush of gratitude that women were not permitted to speak before the People's Council except to put forth the name of their chosen candidate.
What had gone unspoken that day in Council was this, Blake knew – killing Adam and David both was the only way to address the rumors that he was unfit for Selection, unworthy of the title of Sexiest Man Alive, vulnerable to challenge, usurpation and ruin. If he bathed in both their blood, added their glamour to his own and Gwen's, he might just stand a chance.
He had no compunction against the killing, he was slightly surprised to realize. It was the finding that troubled him.
"Always you have been shy of work," Gwen said to him as soon as they were alone together again. "As little as possible."
He scowled at her. "You do not manage your face half so well as you think," she said. "Remember, that face is has as much of myself in it as it does you now, and I could always read you before. Do not think there is anything you can keep to yourself, now."
"Will you help me find him?" Blake asked. "Or are you here solely to remind me of my own shortcomings?"
"I can do both," Gwen said, and Blake could not resist a smile at that. "See, you are not so weary of my company as you pretend, husband." She handed him a heavy cloak, a small book wrapped in cloth, and a phone. "You will not have to work hard, I think. He will try to contact you, much as he knows he seals his own fate in so doing. You are his only hope of deliverance, but I do not think you will try to deliver him when the time comes, though you loved him once as a brother."
"No fear of that," Blake said.
"No," said Gwen. "You have always known yourself. Perhaps I have failed to give you credit for that. There is much you have not known, and chosen not to know, but you have always known that."
"Was that a compliment, wife?"
"It was the truth. Be content with it."
The phone rang. Blake answered it.