Chapter 22The waiter brought me another gimlet just as I finished my last one. Good man, I thought. He deserved an ample tip.
Four days after the Emerald Lit Fest, I sat in the Cellar with Jerome, Carter, Hugh, Peter, Cody, and Bastien. The usual suspects. It was the first time I'd seen any of them in days. I'd been keeping a low profile, essentially only leaving my home to go to work and back.I hadn't seen or heard from Seth in that time either.
None of us spoke. We just sat there in the dark, nursing drinks. Other people in the pub moved around and laughed, but we were a corner of silence. I could have sliced and diced the awkward tension among us. Finally, unable to take it anymore, I sighed."All right," I snapped. "You can stop pretending. I know you've all seen the video." It was like letting the air out of a balloon. An opening of the floodgates. Hugh spoke first, admiration shining in his eyes. "Jesus Christ, that was the absolute best thing I've ever seen." "I've seen it, like, ten times," added Peter. "And it doesn't get old." Cody's delighted look spoke for itself. I took down half of my drink in one gulp. "Sometimes I look around, and I can't believe this is my life. "
Bastien had done an Oscar-worthy job of capturing my romantic escapade with Dana on film. She had never noticed the disembodied camera floating around; only the incubus had actually been invisible. Of course, Dana had been too preoccupied to really notice much. I'd made sure of that, and while I felt a certain amount of glee over my powers of pleasure and distraction, my post-ambrosia self still didn't like having that prowess put on display any more than I'd liked Seth's story being linked to me. At least no one knew who Tabitha Hunter was."Fleur,I swear you did things I didn't even know about," teased Bastien. "Oh, be quiet," I told him, knowing he lied. "This whole thing is embarrassing enough. I can't believe you had it all over the Internet in a matter of hours." He shrugged. "Good news is hard to keep to yourself." Jerome's eyes gleamed with subdued satisfaction. "No need to be embarrassed. What you did is laurel-worthy,Georgie.You'll be Succubus of the Year now." "Great," I said. "Maybe that comes with coupons that haven't expired." "Joke all you want," continued the demon, "but you've caused havoc in a powerful religious group. That is definitely worth celebrating."
So much so that Bastien was probably off the hook. True, he hadn't been in the spotlight, but I'd made sure that Jerome played up his role in the official written report. I think the demon knew I'd gone a little overboard in crediting Bastien for his assistance in this caper, but he hadn't dwelt on the technicalities. Regardless of what the paperwork said, the diabolical community knew it was Jerome's succubus in the extremely popular video. My boss's reputation had gone through the roof.
As for the CPFV…well, yes, it was most definitely in chaos. Dana had resigned as soon as the scandal went public. Suddenly missing their strong leader, the group had collapsed into confusion, flailing about with no clear direction. Poor Bill. In addition to the embarrassment of a philandering wife, he now had to do damage control and still maintain his strong stance on family values for the sake of his political career. Reelectionswere next year; no one knew how he'd fare.
I had mixed feelings about the whole matter. Sure, I hated the CPFV's horrible actions and was glad to see them go down. But Dana, despite her many flaws, had cared about Tabitha. It might not have been love, but the emotions were genuine. She'd opened herself up to me, and I'd made a mockery of it. Even if she managed to wade out of this mess, she'd probably never accept her sexual inclinations again. She'd bury them, continuing a campaign of homosexual intolerance. That bothered me, for the sake of both her personal and her political lives."And when not taking down conservative bitches," noted Hugh, "she destroys gods in her free time. Did you really beat up that kid too? You're, like, a size four." "Don't forget about the Emerald Lit Fest." Cody grinned mischievously. "Man, I can't believe I missed that." "Is there anything you don't do, Georgina?" marveled Peter. "You haven't been learning to cooksoufflés behind my back, have you?"
I rolled my eyes and turned to the greater immortals, ignoring my friends' over-the-top praise. "Are you finally going to tell me the whole story on Sol, or whoever he was? You guys have been terribly laissez-faire about me killing a god.""You know most of the details," Carter told me. "And you didn't technically kill him," added Jerome. I started. "I didn't? But…he exploded. There was blood everywhere. That seems kind of, I don't know, final. " "You destroyed his human manifestation," explained the angel in an almost bored way. "The body he used to walk the mortal world. Sol—or Soma as he's accurately called—still very much exists." "Soma's another name for ambrosia…" I began slowly. "Yes," Carter agreed. "In Hindu spirituality, the god Soma is the divine embodiment of the drug. It runs in his veins and is then distributed to mortals." I remembered his bleeding wrist and how his blood had dried. "His blood forms the crystals that make the ambrosia. That's what everyone was drinking. That's what I drank!" I shuddered. "You also drank it in its pure form," noted Jerome, watching for my reaction, "straight from the source." "Oh Lord," I realized. "The goblet. I thought it was some sort of date-rape drug."
"In some ways it was," Carter told me gently. "His blood, in its crystal form, serves as a self-enhancement that can be tolerated by mortals—and immortals—because it's diluted. In its concentrated form, it's too much to handle. It's disorienting. It goes beyond amplification of skills. It overloads the system, making you feel insanely good and susceptible to physical touch and strong emotion. "Hence my reaction to his advances—and subsequent attack on Alec. Of course, I was still so mad at the former drummer that I half believed my actions wouldn't have been any different sans ambrosia. "That's so disgusting," I muttered. "I drank blood. Gross." Cody and Peter exchanged glances. They grinned. "What was the deal with that dart thing?" asked Hugh. "The thing she impaled him with." "Mistletoe. It guards the gateway between worlds. The Norse always said it grew on the Tree of Life—the tree that holds the world." I frowned. "So, if he's just lost his physical body, then he's not really gone."
"He's never gone," said Carter. "The Food of the Gods is always around—or at least some concept of it. Mortals always have and will continue to believe and pray for some magical cure-all that will change their lives. That's why he still has so much power, despite most not knowing who he is. People don't always have to know what they're worshipping or believing in to still grant it power. "
"But, when he pops back down to this plane next time, he'll probably hole up somewhere else," said Jerome more practically. "If Carter or I had done anything, it would have been an open declaration of war. Innocent Georgie's desperate defense sent a charming get-the-fuck-out message that didn't get any of us in trouble. It only required a small report." He made a face; the demon hated paperwork.I sighed. "Okay then. One last question. Why the sex? Why go to all that trouble to get Alex to procure victims?" "Who doesn't want sex?" asked Hugh.
"The stories do resound with his lechery, actually," said Carter. "One myth even talks about him carrying off some god's wife because he just wanted her that badly. When you're a being of euphoria and ultimate physical prowess, I guess sex sort of goes with it. So I've heard, anyway."I scowled. "And he was too lazy to even get the victims himself. What a bastard." "He's a god," said Carter, as though there were nothing more to add.
I turned to the angel, thinking about what he'd said. "You've been a veritable wealth of knowledge today. But doesn't it bother anyone else that we're openly discussing and accepting, what, three different spiritual systems here? Hindu and Norse—plus ours. Which I always thought was the true one, by the way."Jerome looked genuinely delighted. "Come now, you've rubbed shoulders with immortals from all sorts of 'spiritual systems' since the beginning of your succubus existence."
"Yeah, I know…but I never thought about the logistics too hard. I thought we were all disparate—remember? They do their thing, we do ours? Now you're mixing it up like…like…we're all doing the same thing. ""Yeah," said Cody. "Which one's right?" Angel and demon shared smirks. " 'What is truth?' Pilate asked."Carter just couldn't stay away from his quotes. His eyes held barely contained laughter. I sighed again, knowing we'd get no better answer from either of them. As our evening get-together wound down, Bastien unhappily declared he had to leave for Detroit. He made his farewells to the others, and then I walked him out. We stood outside the pub, wrapped in our own thoughts as locals and tourists alike moved through Pioneer Square. Finally, at the same time, we spoke. "Fleur—" "Bastien—"
"No, let me go first," he said adamantly. I nodded for him to go on. "What I did at the hotel wasn't right. I shouldn't have led you into that—especially when you told me right off not to. And what I said to Seth at your place…that was unforgivable. Yeah, I was pretty sloshed, but that's no excuse. Not by a long shot."
I shook my head. "God knows I've done a lot of stupid things while drunk. And people, for that matter. But don't beat yourself up too bad—at least not over what happened…uh, between us. You were right. I wasn't a victim; I went along with that. I made my own choices, choices that I have to deal with.""It doesn't matter. You shouldn't forgive me. Especially after you saved me on the Dana thing. You figured out what I'd been too blind to see. No, I'm definitely beyond forgiveness." "Maybe. But I'm going to forgive you anyway." I gave him a playful punch. "And you can't stop me." "Only a fool would stand in your way," he said gallantly. "But I still don't think I deserve it."
"Bas,I've seen people come and go for over a thousand years. Hell, I've seen civilizations come and go. I don't have many constants in my life. None of us do. I don't want to write off one of the best ones I've got. "He opened his arms for me, and I rested my head against his chest, sad that he'd be going away again. We stood like that for a long time, and then he broke away so that he could look at me.
"Confession time: I didn't have sex with you for altruism. You were right about that. And I didn't do it just because I could either. I did it because I wanted you. Because I wanted to be closer to you." He touched my cheek and winked. "You're worth ten Alessandras. You would be worth going to Guam for.""What about Omaha?" "No one's worth going to Omaha for." I laughed. "You're going to miss your flight." "Yeah." He hugged me again, then hesitated before speaking. "There's one more thing you need to know. The day after my, uh, idiotic drunken outburst, Seth came to see me." "What?" I racked my brain. That would have been during the time I was preparing for the Fest. "Why?" "He wanted to know what happened. Between us. All the details." "What'd you tell him?" "The truth." I stared off at nothing.
"That guy's crazy about you," Bastien said after a moment's silence. "Love like that…well, hell itself has trouble standing against love like that, I think. I don't know if a succubus and a human can really make things work, but if it can happen, he'll be the one it happens with." He hesitated. "I think, no, I know I was a little jealous of that…both that he had your love and you had someone who loved you like that." He gave me a bittersweet smile. "Anyway. Good luck. I'm always here if you need me.""Thank you," I said, hugging him again. "Keep in touch. Maybe we'll get assigned together again some day." The roguish look, long absent during our solemn conversation, flashed to his face. "Oh, the trouble we could cause. The world isn't ready for us again." He pressed a soft, sweet kiss against my lips, and then he was gone. A minute later, I felt Carter's presence behind me. "Parting is such sweet sorrow." "That it is," I agreed sadly. "But that's life, mortal or immortal." "How's your high-wire act with Seth going?" I turned to him, almost having forgotten that reference. "Bad." "Did you look down?" "Worse than that. I fell off. I fell off and hit bottom." The angel regarded me with his steady gaze. "Then you'd better get back on." I choked on a bitter laugh. "Is that possible?" "Sure," he said. "As long as the wire hasn't snapped, you can always climb back on."
I left him and walked a few blocks to catch a bus back to Queen Anne. While I was waiting, I blinked and did a double take as Jody walked by. I hadn't talked to her in ages. After the Dana scandal, Mitch and Tabitha Hunter had dropped off the face of the Earth.I left the bus stop and ducked into a dark doorwayà laSuperman. A moment later, I hurried to catch up with her as Tabitha. "Jody!" She stopped and turned around. Her brown eyes widened when she recognized me. "Tabitha," she said uncertainly, waiting for me to get to her. "It's good to see you." "You too. How are things?" "Okay." We stood there awkwardly. "How are you? I mean, after everything…" Her cheeks crimsoned. "You don't have to avoid the topic. I can deal with it," I told her gently. "It happened. Nothing to be done about it now."
She looked down at her feet, clearly troubled. "I've been wanting to tell you something. It wasn't…it wasn't just you, you know." She looked back up, embarrassed. "She sort of, you know, approached me too, and we did some things…things I didn't really want to do. But I couldn't say no either. Not to her. It was a rough time in my life…"
So. I wasn't Dana's first taste of forbidden fruit. The notion that she had forced Jody appalled me, more so than Dana throwing herself into rallies that denied her own nature. Suddenly, I didn't feel so sorry for her anymore."Then she got what she deserved," I declared icily. "Maybe," said Jody, still looking upset. "It's been a disaster for their family. I feel the worst for Reese. And then there's the CPFV…they're a disaster too." "Maybe it's for the best," I said neutrally.
She gave me a sad half-smile. "I know you don't believe in them, but they do have potential to do good. I'm actually on my way to a meeting right now. We're going to decide the fate of the group. I don't think we'll disband…but I don't know what direction we'll go in either. There are some people who think just like Dana. They're not a majority, but they're loud. Louder than people like me."I remembered our gardening conversation. "And you still want some of the things you talked to me about? Helping those who need help now?"
"Yes. I wish I could walk right in there and speak up. If I could get enough people's attention, I think we could really go in a new direction. A better direction that might actually affect change instead of just censuring and calling people names.""Then you should do exactly that." "I can't. I don't have the skill to talk to people like that. I'm not that brave." "You have the passion." "Yeah, but is that enough if I can't get it out?" Suddenly, I had to fight a giddy smile from taking over my face. "I've got something for you," I told her, reaching into my purse. "Here. Take this."
I handed her the last packet of ambrosia. It was dangerous, perhaps, to give it to a mortal, but one dose wouldn't hit her too badly, and she'd never be able to get more. Besides, taking the temptation away from me was probably for the best."What is this?" "It's a, um, herbal supplement. Like an energy blend. Haven't you seen those?" She frowned. "Like ginseng or kava or whatever?" "Yeah. I mean, it won't change your life, of course, but it always sort of gives me a kick. You just mix it in a drink and go from there." "Well, I was about to buy coffee…" "That's perfect. And it can't hurt or anything." Smiling, I squeezed her arm. "Do it for me, so I'll feel like I've given you a good-luck charm." "Okay. Sure. I'll take it as soon as I get the coffee." She glanced at her watch. "I've got to take off now if I want to be on time. You take care of yourself, okay?" "I will. Thanks. Good luck tonight."
To my surprise, she gave me a quick hug and then disappeared into the crowd of pedestrians. As I rode the bus home, I found I felt better about myself than I had in days. I'd sort of wanted to save the ambrosia for next year's Emerald Lit Fest, but I supposed I wouldn't need it so long as I actually allowed myself two days instead of one. After all, a little leeway never hurt.