Chapter 15A dozen snappy comebacks rose to my lips, but the intense looks on both their faces made me think better of it. Instead, I opted for the obvious next question. "What do you mean?" The edge of Carter's lips turned into a half-grin. "My goodness. I thought you'd be up on your lore. Greek mythology especially."
"Well, ambrosia…is called the Food of the Gods," I offered slowly. I had grown up in a Greco-Roman society, but that didn't mean I was an expert on all the stories. I'd only been exposed to some in my youth. It wasn't until later scholars started compiling tales from all over the Greek world that I learned just how vast the mythology was."Yes," said Carter, nodding at me as one would a child reciting a lesson. Jerome remained tight-lipped, a stormy expression on his face. "What else do you know?"
"Ambrosia was what gave the gods their immortality," I continued. "Although I always thought it was some kind of drink…" I stopped myself. The crystals weren't liquid at the moment, but they were meant to be consumed that way. A further alarming thought hit me. "Are you saying this Greek stuff will make Doug and the others immortal?"I'm downright unstoppable now. A god, babe.
"Not exactly," said Carter. "And I suppose I should point out that ambrosia isn't just found in the Greek stories. It appears in almost every culture's legends in one form or another. In King Arthur's world, it was said to have filled the Holy Grail. It gave new perceptions and enlightenment to its drinkers, and promised to heal the land. Some have also suggested the flames that appeared over the apostles' heads at the feast of Pentecost were not flames at all, but rather visions they saw after drinking ambrosia. It made the apostles vivid and charismatic and let them communicate with people of all cultures and languages.""I know a number of devout Christians—my good friend Dana included—who would find that offensive."
Jerome couldn't stay silent anymore, despite how disgruntled this topic appeared to make him. "Imagine her reaction if she knew that some people have speculated the Eucharist has little to do with the blood of Christ and more to do with a lost ambrosia ceremony. Said people argue those who participate today are only mimicking the ancient experience, equating the Holy Spirit with the high from ambrosia.""That would upset a lot of people," I agreed. All three of us knew that many of the rites and beliefs that had been passed down to today were bastardizations of the originals. Some, not all.
Carter continued on pleasantly, like he was in an auditorium giving a lecture. "Ancient Hindu culture called ambrosia soma and even personified it as a god of the same name. His presence was as intoxicating as the drink itself and muddled the senses of those around him. ""Soma was also the feel-good drug in Brave New World," I recalled. "I didn't realize how widespread this was." He nodded. "And these stories are only the tip of the iceberg. A lot more where they came from."
I enjoyed the information. Getting any sort of meaningful explanation from these two was usually like driving through downtown Seattle in rush hour: slow, painful, and fraught with collisions. And yet, forthcoming or not, they weren't exactly giving me what I needed."Yeah, but you guys are real careful to say things like 'some people believe' or 'they say.' Which is it? What's really going on? Are any of those stories true?" Carter's gray eyes twinkled. "Ah, I can't spoil the mysteries. Humans spend their lives trying to discern the truth of divinity. Even a succubus can't be in on all the secrets." I gave him an exasperated look. This was more like their typical behavior. "Okay, forget the myths. Can you tell me what's up with this stuff, then? Does it make people immortal?" Angel and demon looked at each other. "No," they both said in unison. "But it makes you feel like you are," said Carter. I thought about Doug's reckless behavior, his overwhelming confidence about everything from performing his music to stage-diving. He had no fear, no concern that anything might be less than perfect. "So it's like a stimulant or any other mood-altering drug, then," I said. "It makes you feel good."
The angel shook his head. "No. It's a lot more than that. Ambrosia works by…" He grasped for the words. "I guess the best way to put it is that it amplifies your best abilities. It draws out what you're good at, what shines in you. And then it cranks up the volume on that to, well, godly levels, I guess." "Yes, of course," I breathed.
Thatwas why the band had suddenly shot off so successfully and rapidly. They were talented already. The ambrosia hadn't given them anything new; they'd just had their natural abilities increased tenfold. A hundredfold. And Casey…mathematically talented Casey had been able to do calculations in seconds that would have required a pen and paper for most people. Even Doug'sTetrisskills showed signs of ambrosia enhancement.
I can't wait to see how you react to them,Alec had said. Indeed, how would I react? What good abilities in me would get amplified? What abilities did I have? The obvious joke was that I'd be able to really rock some guy's world in bed. I didn't like that answer, however, partially because I believed I already could rock a guy's world pretty hard-core without the help of creepy crystals, thank you very much. Plus, I hated to think that's all I was. There had to be more to me than just sexual prowess."Everyone who was on it crashed," I reminded Carter. "Doug, Casey. And when they crashed…they really crashed."
"It does that," he agreed. "One might argue that the withdrawal brings out your worst traits…or possibly turns your good ones bad. More often than not, it just makes a person depressed…and lacking. It's hard to go back to being ordinary. "
That would explain Doug's bleak outlook the other day. I realized too he'd been having a withdrawal reaction on the day I kicked him out of the store. The lack of ambrosia had turned his normally sarcastic tongue and playful behavior into something dark and twisted. And yet…"It must be nice to feel like a god. I guess I can understand wanting that. " "Well," said Jerome, speaking up at last, "as we all know, you can't get something for nothing."
Carter nodded. "At a basic level, it's an addictive substance, and everything addictive has a cost—mainly that it enslaves you and makes you feel horrible when you don't have it. But, the other truth is that humans are not meant to be perfect. That's what humanity is: a series of successes and failures, a testing of one's own nature and aptitude. Neither the body nor the soul can sustain such a state. Eventually it consumes a person."I pointed at the crystals. "What would have happened if I'd taken them?" "Isn't it obvious?" asked Jerome, his tone suggesting the same sexual possibilities I'd wondered about earlier.
Carter gave me a straight answer. "Similar superficial effects. Enhance your good qualities. Immortals wouldn't fall prey to the addictiveness so quickly; they can sustain it for quite a while since in some ways, they already feel like gods. But in the long run, the consequences are still the same. You can't function at such high levels. Now, the ambrosia couldn't destroy your body, of course, but it'd still cause other serious problems if you took it for a long time.""It'd probably just make you go insane," explained Jerome helpfully. "Until the end of time." "That's horrible," I said.
"Don't worry,Georgie.If it happens to you, we'll put you down first." Ignoring him, I looked over at the crystals, suddenly feeling more repulsed by them than I had before. This time, my reaction had nothing to do with the creepy aura."The real question, of course," said the archdemon more seriously, "is where the hell did you get these?" "I told you. From Alec." The two higher immortals exchanged glances once more. "Tell us about this guy again," ordered Jerome. "Everything you know." I did. When I finished, they looked at each other once more, having a mental conversation I was not privy to. God, they were annoying. "Alec's not the one," said Carter finally. "The one who…?" "The one who this is coming from," explained Jerome. "Well, I got it from him…"
"Doesn't matter,Georgie.Some twenty-year-old blue-haired punk is not the source here. He's getting it from someone else. He's a peon in the chain. Besides, you never felt anything off him, did you? Something like the crystals but not quite like them?""No, but…" But I had felt something from another person. Someone who spent time with Alec. The last card in my head flipped over. "I know who it is. It's him. That guy." "Of course," said Carter dryly. "I knew it was that guy. It's always that guy."
"Hold on, and I'll explain." I turned to Jerome. "Remember that funny immortal I told you about? The really romantically dressed good-looking one? He's got to be the one. Alec's supplier. I've seen them talking together and even saw Alec sort of having a breakdown with him. " I added a little more background for Carter's benefit, explaining how GQ Poet Guy and I had sensed each other.Jerome and Carter considered this in silence. At last, the demon said, "Yes, that sounds like him." Nobody said anything for a while after that. I was dying to ask who "he" was exactly, but recognized that angel and demon would take their own time on this. "So what are we going to do?" Carter asked a few minutes later. Jerome cut him a narrow-eyed glance. "Why do we have to do anything?" "Because it's the right thing to do." "I don't know where you've been since the beginning of the universe, but the 'right thing' isn't really on my list of priorities." "He's poisoning mortals." Jerome crossed his arms over his chest. "I don't care." "He's doing it in your territory. Right under your nose." "Stop trying to bait me. He's not involved with us. He can do whatever the fuck he wants to mortals."
Once again, I was dying to jump in but restrained myself. Listening to Carter and Jerome argue always unsettled me. Mostly, it just didn't happen that much. Usually they stood together in an exasperating wall of solidarity, good and evil notwithstanding. And, of course, watching them argue always made you wonder if something terrible might happen if tempers got out of control. Tables tipping over. Glasses exploding. The Four Horsemen showing up.Nonetheless, I felt confident Carter wouldn't let this matter go unattended. He would win. As I had noted earlier, I didn't know if I could trust him, but I did respect him—and his powers of persuasion.
"It's a power play," warned Carter. "He shouldn't even be trying it. His time is past; we're the ones who control the game now. Doing this insults us—especially you, since you guys are the ones who actually draw territorial lines. It's an unannounced challenge."
This, I saw, had an effect on the demon. He recognized Carter's attempts to draw him in, but it was working nonetheless. Pride wasn't one of the Seven Deadly Sins for nothing. Jerome, as a faithful servant of hell, couldn't help but be susceptible. I'd seen his pride come into play before; he didn't like others messing with his reputation. And while the demon naturally had many weaknesses, I'd say it was this more than anything else that would make him take action."We can't intervene," he said flatly. "You know that. Even if we are in control, we'd start an outright war. I for one don't want to deal with the repercussions of that." "Agreed," murmured the angel, lapsing into silence again.
I looked back and forth between their faces, waiting for one of them to offer a brilliant plan. A brilliant plan which involved the angel and demon fighting in awesome, smiting glory to destroy Alec and his bastardly supplier friend."Georgina could do it," said Carter suddenly. "What?" I squeaked. That wasn't how the fantasy went. They turned their eyes on me. Dark outrage flashed in Jerome's eyes, then it faded as quickly as it had arrived. "Hmm. Perhaps." "What are you guys talking about? I'm not doing any smiting." "It wouldn't exactly be smiting," said Carter, face promptly sobering. "But it could be dangerous if not done the right way. " "Why do I have to do it?" "Because you,Georgie,are a lesser power than we are. You are less subject to scrutiny and ramifications than us. It's the difference between a country declaring war and a small rebel faction striking out." "Great," I said, sinking back in my chair. "I'm a faction." Carter was smiling again. "Don't you want to help Doug?" A moment passed. "You know I do." "I meant it when I said it'd be dangerous, but if we're careful, you'll come out okay."
I thought about Doug's black despair and reckless behavior. The thought of this ambrosia "destroying" him clinched it for me. "Yeah, okay. I'll do it. Whatever it is. Dangerous or not." I paused. "Um, what is it?"Neither answered. "Oh come on! You can't expect me to do this and not know what it is."
"It'll take some prep work," Carter told me, apparently enjoying my consternation. But there was another expression on his face too…pride, I thought. The good kind of pride, like when you thought someone was doing the right thing. Not the bad kind of pride that made you do rash things. "As soon as it's in place, we'll let you know. I'll come find you."I made a face. "You'll understand if I don't really find that a satisfying answer. " "And you'll understand," retorted Jerome, "that it's the best one you're going to get." Carter was a bit nicer. "What you can do in the meantime, however, is try to get access to the supplier. He's the one you'll ultimately have to deal with. Keep schmoozing with Alec. Do what you've got to do." I nodded. Schmoozing I could do in my sleep. I felt relieved to be back in familiar waters.
After leaving them, I put the ambrosia assignment on hold and went over to Seth's to play Scrabble, in keeping with a prearranged date. I'd vowed I wouldn't cheat this time, but I supposed that would depend on how desperate the game became. When I arrived, however, I found Seth in no condition to play.
He sat at the desk in his bedroom, brow adorably furrowed as he stared at his computer screen, apparently willing it do something for him through mental determination alone. His condo had an office, I knew, but unpacked boxes currently filled it, making this room the combination office-bedroom. All his essentials in one place. If it had had an attached bathroom, he would have probably never emerged."Can you give me…like…another hour?" he asked absently when he realized I had walked in, not looking at me. "I've just got to finish this chapter."
It was a moot request. Even if I hadn't been willing to give him another hour, he still would have kept writing. Mountains moved more easily than Seth in the middle of a story line. Happily accommodating, I kissed his cheek and wandered off to the office to find something to read. Sifting through those boxes made it difficult, however. By the time I had several of them emptied, I decided I might as well just go the whole way and do the job right.
I unpacked all of the boxes—even the ones in his living room. I didn't know how many books that left me with, but it was a lot. My bookstore instincts made me sort them into categories, and that alone was time-consuming. Looking up at one point, I realized almost three hours had passed. I stood up, stretched, and returned to the bedroom."Hey," I said. "We're way past your hour." He kept typing. I slipped my foot out of its sandal, shape-shifted the toenail color to burgundy and ran it up his leg. He jumped. "Hey!" "Hey yourself. Sorry to interrupt, but you need food, or you're going to pass out on your keyboard."
"Wouldn't be the first time," he said. His eyes strayed, threatening to return to the computer, so I poked him again with my foot. He arched an eyebrow, then grabbed my foot, nearly making me fall over as he pulled me onto his lap. "You know, your toes aren't that compelling. It's not like I want to have sex with them or anything weird like that. I just think they're pretty. So don't think you can have your way on everything now. "I wiggled out of his grasp. "Say whatever you want. I've got new leverage with you. So, look, can you tear yourself away long enough to go get food?"
It turned out he couldn't, toes or not. Disappointed, I ended up ordering pizza. We ate together and talked, but both of us were in our own worlds. He was with his characters in places I couldn't follow, and I was thinking about the ambrosia. Suddenly, I started laughing."What?" he asked, startled.
I told him about the ambrosia and what it did. The news obviously astonished him, but Seth had had some time now to accept the many unseen, supernatural things occurring in the world. I ended my story by saying Carter and Jerome were going to do something about it. I did not mention I would be taking on a large and possibly dangerous role too. There I was, holding back again, but it seemed pointless to get him worried when I had no concrete details yet."So, anyway, I was laughing because I was trying to imagine what you'd be like on ambrosia," I told him. "Why is that funny? Maybe I could churn out a book a week."
"Yeah, but I'd never see you again. You'd never bathe or cut your hair. It'd grow down to your waist—so would your beard—and you'd be sitting here in the dark, hunched over, wasting away in your Punky Brewster T-shirt. "
"That's not funny. That's how I plan to spend my retirement. Besides, if I were going to wear the same shirt for the next fifty years, it'd be my Flash Gordon one." His features shifted to a frown as he chewed. "The entire concept of Doug's problem being 'magically' induced…" He shook his head. "It's crazy. And scary. Will they really be able to help him?""They will if they can. Carter especially."
"You always put a lot of faith in him. Seems ironic, given the circumstances." I supposed it was, and again, it was kind of new for me. I guess I was just starting to realize that although I might be on Jerome's side, it was Carter who was on my side lately. I smiled for Seth."Well. If you can't put faith in an angel, who can you put faith in?"
The muse called to him after dinner, and I let him go, unable to stand against her. I wondered if it would be possible for Seth to date someone who didn't love his books. Few women would be able to handle the competition. And yeah, sometimes it was hard for me to handle the competition too. It was hard enough that Seth wasn't into the livelier things I liked to do, like dancing. But also being denied the low-key things poked at me on occasion.
Knowing his neglect was for the greater good, I returned to my book sorting, which allowed half of my brain to churn over the Alec problem and how I was going to get to GQ Poet Guy. Getting a hold of Doug in the evening was never easy, but I'd see him at work tomorrow. He'd offered Alec's number to me once; hopefully he'd be as obliging this time.
I finished my cataloging and shelving job around two in the morning. All the books had homes on either the office or living room shelves, and all the books were indexed by genre and author in a way Emerald City might have lauded. The office now had room for the desk.In the bedroom, Seth still typed in the dark, lit by the glow of his monitor. I kissed his cheek once more and fell asleep in his bed, exhausted. I awoke hours later to someone kissing my cheek. "Hey," I murmured drowsily, trying to pull Seth into bed with me. "You're giving me funny ideas." He leaned over me and planted a kiss on my nose. Morning sunlight lit up the coppery highlights in his messy hair and perpetual five o'clock shadow. He regarded me fondly, those luscious lips smiling. "You put my books away. All of them." "I had to. Good grief. If anyone at Emerald City found out I was letting that slide, they'd fire me." He curled up beside me and put an arm over me. "You're pretty good to me, Thetis, considering what an idiot I am sometimes." "Stop making fun of my favorite author, or I'll have to deck you." "I mean it. I've lost girlfriends for less than what I did last night." "You weren't that bad. I've seen you worse." I sat up a little. "Hey, how many girlfriends have you had anyway?" Laugh lines appeared around his eyes, making him even cuter. "It was all research for the books, I swear."
It was ironic, I realized, that I kept ending up with artistic types. A very long time ago, I'd been married to a man I swore loved his music more than me sometimes. I had loved him for that musical passion and hated it at the same time. Similar scenarios with other mortals had repeated over the centuries. Remembering my thoughts from last night, I worried that Seth might bring out the old green-eyed monster again."How'd the chapter turn out?" I asked, mussing his hair further. "Good. Great even." He gave me a sweet, bemused look. "I don't suppose…I don't suppose you'd ever want to read the manuscripts as I work on them, would you? See how the process works?"
I froze, realizing just what a precious gift he was offering me. Seth had told me once he never let anyone read the early drafts. He didn't want feedback that might influence his own creative flow. It wasn't until he had a complete manuscript and he felt the books were nigh-perfect that he finally allowed his publishing posse to take a look. That he would offer this to me both thrilled and touched me."No," I said softly, smiling. "But thank you. I don't want to interrupt your normal cycle. But maybe…maybe when you've got a fairly polished draft ready to send off, I'll take a look then." He nodded, returning my smile. Something passed between us then that had nothing to do with manuscripts or book sorting but was fired by both of them nonetheless. "Here," he said, standing up. Turning to a nearby chair, he picked up a tray I hadn't even noticed. "Since you fed me last night."
I looked down as he set the tray across my lap. Pancakes— with smiley faces—drowning in maple syrup. Good strong coffee. Even a little vase with two stems of purple irises. Seth had a thing for purple flowers. I touched one of the velvety soft petals."You didn't get these from your kitchen. You must have gotten up pretty early to go out." He shook his head, looking sheepish. "I never went to bed."
I therefore wasn't surprised when Seth lay down beside me while I ate and promptly fell asleep. I finished the exquisite breakfast, did the dishes, and left for work, leaving him a note that promised I'd call later.
At the bookstore, I was getting so used to Paige and Warren's absence, it was like they didn't even work there anymore. I found Doug when he arrived, and as hoped, he did indeed give me Alec's number—though not without a few jokes at my expense.
I called Alec on my lunch, unsure if he'd be home. He was there and sounded overjoyed to hear from me. Yes, yes, of course he could get more. He was so glad I'd liked it. Giving me the address of a coffee shop he'd be at, he told me to stop by right after work.
I showed up there five minutes after my shift ended. The coffee shop was perfectly ordinary, nothing dark or sinister. Hardly the stereotypical rendezvous for a drug transaction. I spotted Alec sitting at a table in the back, but someone was with him. Not wanting to interrupt, I stood in line to order a mocha.
Alec's companion was a young man, younger than him even. Eighteen, if I had to guess. And he was beautiful. He had swept his thick, dark-blond hair into a short ponytail at the nape of his neck, and his face was all clean, strong lines. When he smiled at some comment of Alec's, perfect white teeth showed against the tanned skin. I expected to see this guy in an Abercrombie & Fitch ad soon.
Or maybe not, since he too was apparently wasting his life away. Alec reached into his pocket and gave the guy one of the telltale bags. Happiness and relief shone on the golden boy's face, making him look—if possible—even more attractive. He left. Angrily gripping my drink, I took his chair and forced a cheerful attitude."Hey," said Alec in greeting, clearly in a good mood. "You have no idea how glad I am to see you. You look hot, as always. " "Thanks. How's it going?" "Awesome, now." He grinned broadly. "Fabulous day." He leaned toward me. "So? What did you think?"
I set my cup down heavily and acquired some little-girl wonder. "You were right…it was amazing. It was like I was…" I decided a lack of words was better than trying to describe something I hadn't experienced. He was only too happy to help fill in the blanks."Better than ever? Who you were meant to be?" "Yes," I said breathlessly. "You—you've got to give me more."
"Can do." His hand reached into the magic pocket. One of the lethal bags appeared, and that ugly feeling snaked down my spine. He held the crystals teasingly out of my reach. "You know, they get better the more you do it. You up for that?"I stared at the bag longingly, then up at him. "Don't you have more than this? I mean, I want that one…but it's not going to be enough. I need a lot of this." "Slow down. You don't want to take more than one bag." "I know that, but this is good for what, a day or two?" His eyes glinted. "Big plans already, huh? Most people don't get quite so fired up this fast." I chewed on my lower lip, not wanting to raise any alarms. Assessing my self-inventory, I tried to think of something nonsexual the ambrosia would have affected. Alec's earlier visitor gave me the answer.
"It's weird. I know this guy at a modeling agency, and he always gives me the runaround. But I saw him yesterday when I took this…and it was like, I don't know. He couldn't get enough of me. He wants me to come back for some major shoots." I gripped Alec's arm. "I don't get how this could be doing it…maybe it's coincidence. I don't know. But I want more. I think I need it to make this gig work out. You've got to help me. Or take me to wherever you get this. I'll pay. I'll do anything."His face told me I had said exactly the right thing. "It's not coincidence," he told me smugly. "And I'll get you more." I exhaled with palpable relief. "Promise? Like a big supply?" "I promise. Here, take this one." "What do I owe you?" "Nothing." "Come on! They can't all be free." My hold on his hand changed to something softer and more suggestive. "I told you before…I'm happy to pay…however you want…"
He sighed, regarding me wistfully as he briefly ran his fingers over my hand and then pulled away. "I know. You want a big batch of it? That you'll have to pay for. I'll take you to the guy who gets it for me, and you can pay him.""What'll it cost? How much am I going to need?" Something unreadable flashed in his eyes. "You've already got exactly what you need. Can you meet me tomorrow night?" I hesitated. Carter had said we needed some prep time before I faced the supplier, time in which I had been told to arrange the meeting with him. This was too soon. "I'm busy," I told him, trying to put heavy regret into my words. "What about the next night?"
He didn't seem happy about that, just as he hadn't liked the delay in me drinking my first batch. But where his urgency had been underscored with an eager curiosity last time, he now displayed an almost panicked anxiety. I wondered just how demanding his master was. "Sooner would be better. You aren't going to be able to go that long anyway, not if you want it this bad already. "I stayed firm. "I don't have a choice." He agreed after a little more wheedling, and we set a time and place to meet in two days. As I stood up, he warned me, "Call me sooner if you can't hold out, okay? Here's my cell." "Okay, thanks." "Hey," he called as I started to walk away. "Good luck with the shoot."
For a minute, I didn't remember what he was talking about. Then I recalled my alleged modeling gig. I smiled and thanked him, chuckling to myself as I left. In all of the lies I'd just told him, there had been a kernel of truth.I did have a photo shoot. Tonight was the night Bastien and I were going to take the pictures for Seth.