Disgruntled, Jesse William Winfield leaned against the wall, his arms and legs crossed, and studied the enormous blue sphere that hung suspended in the middle of the windowless room. Its swirls and striations seemed to wind like eels through a depthless ocean. A hazy halo of light surrounded the sphere, but the space beyond that was inky dark.
Nothing held it up save for whatever forces informed it.
Jesse felt idiotic, scowling at the thing, but he couldn’t help it. “Why are we stuck with your mystical ass?”
The inscrutable Celestine silently held its secrets. It seemed to be taunting him. Some oracle, he thought. Can’t even answer a simple question unless naked men start rutting around it.
Tom LeCanteur entered the room. His saffron-colored robe draped his tall form with imperial elegance. “Rocks can’t talk, Win.”
“I’m Jesse today.” He adjusted his robe. It was blue, same style as Tom’s.
“You’re Jesse every
fucking day. I’m Tom every fucking day. Zee is Danny every fucking day. But only on our birth certificates. So ditch the attitude and get back into Win, Tole, and Zee mode. Or Aethiel, Maligar, and Thimien...which, I suppose, would be more appropriate for this
part of our jobs.” Tole pulled his robe closed. “What’s up with you, anyway? And don’t start calling me Tom.”
“See what you just did?” Win sighed and looked at his toes, only the longest of which were visible beneath the robe’s hem. “This isn’t going to work, you know.”
“What did I just do?” Tole held his arms out to the sides but quickly pulled them in when the front of his robe began to part. “What isn’t going to work?”
Win nodded toward the Orb. “Consulting this damned thing now that we’re all involved with other people. Building up the necessary energy to get it working. And you know what kind of energy I’m talking about.” Win let his gaze move down the considerable length of Tole’s body. “No offense, man, but I really don’t want to play stroke ?n’ poke with you and Zee anymore. It was nice enough for a while, but now I don’t want to suck anything that isn’t either edible or attached to Pablo.”
Tole stared at him a moment before he wilted against the wall. “We should still be able to turn each other on if we worked at it. Hell, we’re males. The mechanics never change, but --”
“Oh come on, Tole. Any
man can turn you on. Skeep down the street can turn you on, for Christ’s sake, and he’s built like a twelve-year-old girl.”
“Will you let me finish?” Tole said. “Didn’t you hear me say ?but’?”
At that moment, Zee came in. His robe was brown, and he too held it closed. Nobody greeted him.
Win muttered an apology to Tole. He knew he shouldn’t be taking this out on his comrades. He shouldn’t even be taking it out on the Celestine, although the thing was hardly an inert chunk of crystal. Inert chunks of crystal weren’t self-illuminated. Inert chunks of crystal couldn’t disgorge critical bits of information. He cast it another resentful glance.
” Tole went on, “the two of you don’t tweak me nearly as much as you used to. So I understand. Even if I got it up, I don’t think I’d be able to get it off. And Skeep might be an actively hot little tease with a great ass, but even he
wouldn’t do it for me.”
“Because you’re in love with Ridley,” Win said.
After a pause, Tole nodded.
Win quickly opened and closed his robe. “And that’s why we’re clutching these pieces of linen to our bodies like a group of self-conscious schoolgirls.”
Zee watched them. “Well, I guess this
was inevitable.” He obviously didn’t need an explanation. He also had a favored partner. “I think our angelic lineages are kicking in. Each of us has someone special in his life. So we can’t interact like we used to, when all we cared about was Regenerie and each other.”
“And you wonder why I just want to be Jesse Winfield again.” Win sank to the floor and stretched out his legs. “We wouldn’t have to worry about activating this
damned thing” -- he raised an arm, indicating the Celestine -- “if we weren’t the Triumvirate and didn’t have the whole Utopian Metroplex of Regenerie to look after.”
Although he and his coleaders could never be ordinary men, just like no
angel-demon-human hybrid could ever be an ordinary person, they could at least remain true to their hearts if they weren’t the leaders of a major metroplex. Magical aids be damned, Win didn’t want to couple with anybody but Pablo Creed. He might be attracted to other men now and then, as Pablo seemed to be, but his desire was never strong enough to prod him into following through. Moreover, his conscience wouldn’t allow it. A quick shot wasn’t worth jeopardizing the bond he’d formed with his lover.
Zee blew out a sigh and scrubbed his hands through his hair. Even he
seemed at a loss.
“There has to be a way to generate revelation,” Win said, “without this sex-magic crap. There has
to be. The Powers of other metroplexes don’t have Celestines. And they manage to take care of business.”
“Not always,” said Tole. “And not as effectively as we’ve
been able to.” He began a contemplative stroll around the Orb, its dull light clinging to his side. “Look at what happened in Villius. Look what happened in Xanandru.”
“Tole’s right. We’re different,” Zee said to Win. “You know we are. When we were profiled at the Academy, we all had the same realism-idealism ratio and visionary perspective. We were the only three EBs who did. That’s one of the reasons we were put together. That’s why we were assigned to the only prototype utopian metroplex in this hemisphere. And that’s why we were given the Celestine. It’s a rare resource. The Ulti wanted us to have every advantage, every opportunity to succeed.”
Zee’s reminders only flustered Win all the more. “Then let the Ulti tell us what the hell we’re supposed to do! Tole wants Ridley and you want Sebastian and I want Pablo. Period. None of us is into this damned circle jerk anymore.” He turned up his hands. “How are we supposed to build up enough energy to trip the Orb’s switch if we have no desire for each other?”
“Sebastian understands,” Zee murmured. “I could still participate without --”
“Bullshit,” said Tole from the other side of the room.
The tone of his voice caught Win’s attention. Win still wasn’t quite used to the new Tole saying “bullshit,” or any curse, without launching it like a projectile. Tole wasn’t as snappish now. Hardly a social worker, but not the aloof, surly bastard he often used to be.
“Sebastian might understand,” Tole said to Zee, “but how do you
feel? And how do Win and I feel? If the three of us can’t do this in concert, we can’t do it at all.” He moved toward them, his robe like a gold strip emerging from a field of sable.
The front door opened, bouncing off a wall in the entryway.
“Don’t bother, baby,” Win called over his shoulder. He rose from the floor.
Looking perplexed, Pablo came into the room with his shirt undone. Win walked up to him, pulled the shirt closed, and gave Pablo’s lips a firm kiss. He had a strong urge to keep going, but this clearly wasn’t the time or place to indulge that urge.
“I thought we had to do a session with the C-Orb,” Pablo said. He frowned down at his shirtfront as Win redid its pop closures, and then he frowned into Win’s face.
Win suddenly wanted his face held. He wanted to feel Pablo’s hands splayed over his jaw and cheekbones as he stared into Pablo’s eyes, the color of fresh moss in a patch of shade. He wanted to hear Pablo say, I love you, Jesse
, just before they kissed again, heatedly, and tumbled into their bed.
He didn’t want to be a damned Exceptional Being anymore. He wanted to be Jesse Winfield, an ordinary man who was happily looking forward to getting laid.
Supernatural status suddenly seemed vastly overrated.
Pablo’s hand skimmed over his hair. “What’s wrong?”
Win shook his head and smiled wanly. Deep within, he felt the peculiar stirring, like a spoon slowly mixing sugar into coffee, that signaled the emergence of his seraph genes. He often had that feeling when he was with Pablo. No shift was imminent, though. No gleaming white wings would erupt from his shoulder blades. Only a sudden onslaught of intense emotion could prompt transformation, whether it was angelic or
demonic. But Win’s love for Pablo was too entrenched, too familiar to spark a shift.
“I think we’ve reached the end of our group-sex days,” said Tole, laying a hand on Pablo’s shoulder.
Pablo still looked confused. “You mean, even if Win and I concentrate on each other, like we’ve been doing, and you and Zee --” His voice died as he looked from Tole to Zee. “Damn, that’s right. You two probably don’t want to pair off anymore.”
“Not in that
way,” said Tole.
“And I suppose Sebastian can’t be enlisted --”
“First, because he’s the leader of another metroplex,” said Zee. “And second, because he couldn’t exactly be here at a moment’s notice.”
Pablo glanced more uncertainly at Tole. “And Ridley can’t participate --”
Tole looked down. “For obvious reasons.”
Win was tempted to make a smart remark about Ridley’s vampirism, but he’d been learning when to keep his mouth shut. This was no time to be flip. Besides, he honestly had no clue whether any
outsider, regardless of species, would be accepted or rejected by the Celestine. Or under what conditions. All Win knew for certain was that Pablo was 100 percent human, and he’d successfully been part of their work here many times.
Zee touched the sleek surface of the Orb. His expression conveyed his reverence. And his regret. This was a significant turning point for all of them. “Well, gentlemen, it appears we’ll have to make a trip to the Academy. And we can’t put it off.”
Their eyes all turned to the Celestine, that rare resource now rendered useless by the very terms of its use. Its serene glow told the men nothing -- except how lost they’d be without it, and how vulnerable Regenerie had suddenly become.