“Make a decision, Pollux. Choose and make it clear, to me, to Zeus, to Olympus, to all of it…or I’ll go, and you won’t be welcome at my side anymore.”
Castor’s words were raw and brutal, and yet I couldn’t deny he had a point. I nursed the familiar tumbler of bourbon in my hands and stared pensively into its depths, doing my best to make some kind of sense of the events of the past few months since Hermes had first arrived with the directive from Father.
Where had it all gone so wrong? What had happened that not only had we been no more welcome into my family now than back then, back when Father had finally acknowledged me and granted immortality to Castor, but that Castor and I had come to this? My head ached and I clamped my fingers to my temples, the emptiness of Castor’s determined absence from my mind an excruciating pain I’d been completely unprepared for. He’d left me after he’d stated his ultimatum. After telling me it was now on me to contact him with my decision, I had no idea where he’d gone. At this point, I had no decision to give him and until I did, chances were he’d not return.
My hand tingled and the bourbon in my glass bubbled, quickly evaporating to leave no more than an oily smear in the bottom of the glass. Wrong hand! I switched hands and closed my fist before releasing the glass to pour another shot. The bottle shook along with my hand and bourbon spilled on my desk. Shit! This inexplicable phenomenon was also a rapidly escalating concern.
I raised my head and swivelled in my chair to stare out the window at the rare sunshine streaming across the sweeping lawns of the estate house. Shadows dappled the grass below the willow tree, still littered with the debris of the previous night’s storm, and a single rabbit hopped cautiously to a fallen twig to take a nibble. I managed a wry smile.
The world carried on. Oblivious. It cared not whether we were here or not. Any more, I concluded, than did the mortals Father had wanted us to reassemble under our broken wings. How could we hope to govern, comfort, or guide the mortals when our own house was in disorder? I sighed deeply and swivelled back again. Maybe things had changed. Maybe the new Olympic Administration, as Father had titled it, had somehow managed to pull at least some of the family back together. I’d not dared to open my mind to discover for myself what was really going on since inadvertently touching the mind of one of the Titans and fearing I’d be sucked into his chaos. But Castor had. And he seemed confident that, to some extent at least, things had changed.
I wasn’t sure I cared.
Make a decision.
What decision could I possibly make? I knew what Castor wanted and I also knew he knew what I had hidden from him for so very, very long. The cat, as they say, was well and truly out of the bag. It had grown to sabre-tooth tiger size, meaning there was no way in hell it was ever going back in. What was done couldn’t be undone, leaving me with…what the hell was I going to do about it?
I rubbed absently at my palm and swore as my fingertips burned, the sensation not unlike having touched hot embers. That was new. I stared at my palm and my eyes widened as, for the first time, a mark was visible. It was still faint, a combination of silver and charcoal threads tracing a pattern in my palm, but it was definitely there. Transfixed, I stared at it. It moved, winding and thickening even as I watched, until I could make out an image no less clear than watching a tattoo etched into my skin by an artist of ink.
Two snakes writhed and twisted in my palm, one silver and one black, and I could not deny I recognized them. Us. The snakes represented us. We were being marked by a force which recognized us and was even now binding us even closer together. For what purpose?
There was a subtle ‘pop’ of displaced air as Castor appeared in my office.
“Pol! You? Has it happened to you, too?”
Before I could think, he’d held out his hand, palm facing me, to display the exact same mark, and I followed suit. BIG mistake!
We were flung backwards, me arse over kip in my chair, resulting in a tangle of me and chair against the windows, a confetti of papers fluttering down on me, random desk accessories sliding to the floor, and Castor backwards into one of my floor to ceiling book cupboards. There was an ominous creaking and several books fell on his head.
“Fuck!” we both swore simultaneously.
Coming slowly to our feet, we stared at the great, glowing orb which had appeared in the centre of the room.
It was easily several feet in diameter and suspended another several feet from the floor. A soft, ominous smoke, tinged purple and grey, seeped from it, curling and writhing to gradually spread outwards, while the interior of the orb glowed from the bright starscape it contained. A nebula, galaxies, stars, worlds, at first completely unfamiliar before gradually shifting and changing until we could not deny we looked finally upon our own world even if, ever so subtly, not.
“What the actual everlasting fuck is that?” Castor whispered, still fingering a lump on his head from one of the fallen books, a heavy first edition Ulysses in its protective box. It was a rhetorical question and, even if it wasn’t, I had no answer.
I sidled around the desk, skirting the office, and the great glowing orb, to stand beside him. We may be immortal, but that doesn’t preclude us from caution. There are far worse things than death to fear, even for gods. I didn’t exactly take Castor’s hand, we’re warrior gods, thank you very much, but I may admit to standing quite close. For moral support, you understand.
Castor leaned into me to whisper in my ear. “Can you hear it?” he asked.
“Hear what?” I honestly couldn’t hear anything, bar a muted buzz not unlike the irritating white noise of complete silence. Mind you, I was still muting Castor, so this might have had something to do with it.
“It does, you complete dick-head!” Castor muttered, giving me a not-so-gentle nudge with an elbow. “Will you just let your fucking guard down, just once? Please?”
Reluctantly, I did.
It rushed over me in a tsunami-worthy deluge, a babble of voices and thoughts and emotions, and overlaying all of it, music, a melody of unearthly origins carried by voices beyond imagining. I doubled over in shock and clamped my hands to my ears, though little good it did me when the noise was within and not without. Castor’s hand fell on my shoulder and his familiar presence entered my mind, helping me push back the extraneous noises, muting the roar.
See, he said, you should have let it down when I told you to, so you could have prepared yourself for this.
What the fuck is it, Cas?
Castor waved a hand at the orb, now pulsing ever so slightly while the smoke slowly dissipated.
It’s coming from, or through, that. Any more than that, I can’t say.
What the fuck does it want from us? Another rhetorical question, to which it was I who this time expected no answer. Castor shrugged.
Maybe we should just ask?
Ask? What the fuck? I looked at Castor and he looked at me and we both shrugged in unison.
“Any idea how?” I asked him.
His face puckered in concentration before the hint of a smile tweaked at his lips and he shrugged again. The same way it talks to us? Makes sense, right?
I supposed it did at that.
Castor turned over his hand and scrutinized it and, seeing his expression, I followed suit. The mark in my palm was now a distinct and undeniable ying yang of two intertwined silver and black snakes. Our symbols. The symbols of our twinship. Castor and I glanced at each other and Castor shifted around me so that we stood side by side with out etched hands together. He confidently took mine in his.
“It’s a conduit,” he said. “Just as we’re the key.”
“The key? What fucking key?”
Castor nodded at the orb, which had settled, the smoke having dissipated and the starscape within stable. “The key to that. Somehow, something Zeus did to us made us the key to that. But it’s only stable when we’re linked. Don’t you see? We’re meant to be together.”
He held up our linked hands and a warm rush of energy shot up my arm and into my chest. My head and heart throbbed with his presence, and my breath caught beneath a wave of dizziness. He was right. Why was I so stubborn to have not seen this sooner?
Because you were afraid of the truth.
It came at us in a barely perceptible murmur, and I say us because we were by now so closely linked as to be indistinguishable from each other, and the language it spoke was as none we’d ever heard and yet, at the same time, perfectly familiar. It sang and whispered, and spoke and instructed and then, as suddenly as it had arrived, silence fell and…the orb vanished, so instantaneously that whereas previously we’d been thrown outwards, this time we were sucked into the space it had vacated. We hit the floor and bounced, a patter of falling books, paintings and random ornaments accompanying us. We both yelped beneath the barrage to sit up rubbing at various bumps and bruises.
“Fuck,” I said. It was literally the only thing I could think to say.
“That,” Castor agreed.
I helped Castor to his feet and, ignoring the debris littered across my office floor, raided the liquor cabinet for unbroken glasses and unopened bottles. I poured and handed Castor his glass. I wasn’t surprised to see mine wasn’t the only hand shaking.
“Thank you,” Castor said.
I raised an eyebrow. “For what?”
“For trusting me enough to finally let go and let me in.”
Guilt washed over me and colour rose into my face. I shook my head. “It was never about trusting you,” I admitted. “I’ve always trusted you. It was me I doubted. My thoughts I was afraid would betray me. For what it’s worth now, I’m sorry.” I tipped back my head and sculled my bourbon.
“You know you’re a fucking idiot, right?” Castor said quietly.
“The thought has recently begun to occur to me, but why specifically?”
“There was never a secret you could have kept from me which would have made me love you less. It was only the keeping of the secrets which ended up hurting us both.”
This was something I couldn’t deny. My blush deepened. “I’m sorry, Castor. Truly. I never meant to hurt you, it was only that…”
I didn’t have words to finish the sentence, my shame and guilt, my memories of the past, still too close to the surface for me to easily relinquish. He grasped my shoulder and squeezed.
“Pollux.” I looked into his face, into his perfectly mismatched eyes mirroring mine, and my blush expanded outwards right from the very core of me. “You know, don’t you, how I love you? You know you’re not alone.”
I managed a tight nod. “Yes.”
He looked back over his shoulder, at the space the orb had occupied only a brief time earlier. “Knowing what you know now, knowing what’s coming, what’s your decision? What do you want, Pollux? Honestly?”
I didn’t really need to think, I already knew, had always known, but before the fear could settle back into my thoughts and keep me from the desire burning within, I leaned into him, locking one hand behind his head to draw him closer and… kissed him.
I…kissed Castor. I kissed my own brother, my twin, my friend, my soul-mate, my partner. I kissed him. Not a peck on the cheek or a touch to the lips, no, I kissed him. And Castor, knowing the price of the kiss, only gave back equal to what I offered him. He didn’t press for more until I did, didn’t lift his arms to embrace me, neither resisted nor overwhelmed me. I kissed him and it was enough.
I stepped back, and he stood and said nothing.
“We’re leaving,” I said.
He arched a brow in surprise. “I’m sorry? What? The OA?”
I shook my head. “No. Whatever Father has planned, he’ll have to go ahead without us. I don’t think he ever gave it a lot of thought to begin with, and maybe he has his regrets, but in any event, now, with what we have,” I held up my hand, as if Castor needed the reminder, “we really can’t. We can’t control it, and we’re a danger to everyone with our thoughts linking with theirs and our minds opening doors we don’t know how to close.”
Castor gave a slow nod in agreement. “So?”
I waved a hand around the cluster-fuck my office had become in the aftermath of the orb. “Wiremu and Canada are more than capable of running things without us for a while, especially if we give Marama executive authority over the accounts. We can leave this for a while, take some time out, work out,” I paused and ran my tongue over my lip, “us. And, well,” I once again lifted my hand, “this.”
“You’d do that? Step aside, walk away from Z’s command?”
“Yes,” I said. “For you, for us, for the family, in the long term? Yes. Is there really any choice?” I added.
Castor’s face said it all.
“No,” he agreed.