Rain beat down on the roof and slid in dismal tides down the floor-to-ceiling windows, even as a bitter southerly wind sloughed through the dancing branches of the old Grandma Willow in the middle of the lawn. Summer? It was supposed to be, but we’d seen little to nothing of it so far, and the long range forecast even hinted at early snow. Bloody bollocks for snow! If we’d wanted snow, we’d have based ourselves in Canada or Finland and I almost wished, for the briefest turn of a heartbeat, that we’d chosen the North Island instead of the South. Not that I had the luxury of wallowing in my thoughts for too long.
“For fuck’s sake, Pollux!”
My head snapped up to meet Castor’s eyes.
Castor was angry, no, flag that, he was furious, and it was patently evident in the use of the expletive, his referring to me by my full name, and by his entire posture. His eyes shot daggers at me, his shoulders hunched, his fists clenched, his elbows raised like the wings of a rooster about to launch into a cock-fight. Yip, my brother was pissed. He had cause to be.
“I was just saying…” I said.
“I know what you were just saying. I heard what you were just saying, and my response is…for fuck’s sake!”
I was about to come back with a rejoinder, but changing my mind before the words could slip from my open mouth. Castor glared at me. I strengthened the barriers in my mind in time to deflect the psychic punch he threw my way and flinched involuntarily, the corner of his lips rising in a brief, smug twitch, not quite making it to a smirk.
“Low,” I muttered, rubbing at my temples and making little impression on the dull ache which had taken up residence in my head.
“Then stop being such a fucking douche.”
His anger hadn’t ebbed. If anything, it was building, and I could see in him the warrior he’d unleashed for the first time at the fall of Iolcus. He slammed his fists down on my desk and leaned towards me, his features taut with the frustration feeding his fury.
“Just make a fucking decision already!”
We’d been building to this moment since our visit to the OAB and return from Greece several weeks earlier.
I rubbed at the palm of my hand before catching myself and closing it firmly into a fist. This was why we’d come home, to figure out what was going on with us before putting ourselves at further risk of making some kind of irrevocable mistake out of sheer ignorance. The problem was that I’d had no idea to whom to turn for help. I shuddered as a crash of thunder, accompanied by a vivid sheet of lightning, illuminated the unnaturally lengthening shadows of the afternoon. Even Castor lifted his head to stare beyond me at the unseasonal storm rapidly building outside.
It hadn’t only been the weather which had been unwelcoming.
My family had been a source of anxiety for me since the age of recollection. Both sides, given I felt I belonged to neither. If Zeus had failed to acknowledge me on account of Hera, then Tyndareus had failed to acknowledge me on account of me being the bastard child. He’d known, even if my mother pretended to think he didn’t. And Castor had certainly fared no better.
I bore the king’s rage because I wasn’t his, and Castor bore even more so for being the legitimate son unable to live up to the example I, as a demi-god, unwittingly set for him. There was no way he’d ever been able to match me, how could he? And it infuriated Tyndareus to the extent it was no secret to anybody but our mother that he wished us dead. There were plenty who tried to curry his favor by fulfilling his wish, and I spent my youth protecting the both of us or offering myself in Castor’s stead.
My cheeks burned and I chewed the inside of my lower lip in agitation. This was beginning to get to the core of the matter, and far beyond my current procrastination on account of my family. There were multiple issues at stake and Castor had finally, after gaining unexpected insight into things I’d kept hidden for so well for so long, lost his patience and his cool. He thumped the desk, reminding me of where I was.
“Are you planning on coming up with answers any time this century? Or are you thinking you might wait another millenia or two?”
I opened my fist to slide my hand across the desk to the full crystal tumbler of bourbon, picked it up, and studied it briefly under the desk light, watching shards of amber catching in its depths. I drank a lot, a habit I’d had for probably far too long. Ouzo, rum, sake, soju, tequila, kava, vodka – wherever we’d been, I’d found a liquor to suit. I’d settled this time on bourbon. Castor preferred whiskey when he had a choice, and pretty much anything else when he didn’t. I heard him heave a bitter sigh and take a step back to drop heavily into the leather armchair in front of the desk.
“You suck,” he muttered. “And for the damn god of boxing, you’re seriously lacking in balls.”
I sculled the bourbon and poured another, knowing he was right. My hand burned and I tightened my grip around the glass. Castor looked at me, his brows drawn into a tight scowl. He inclined his head at my hand.
“It’s bugging you again. You bloody well know why, so why can’t you just let go?”
“And risk opening ourselves up to what’s out there? To them, to all of it, to…”
“To what?” he snapped, his scorn twisting him from the brother I loved to one I hardly knew, one I was creating even in my fear and hesitation. “The truth?”
Yes, I thought. The truth. I’m not ready. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready.
I can hear you, he echoed in my head, and I recoiled and dropped my glass to press my hands to my temples, pressing my ring-fingers into my eye sockets to relieve the pressure.
“Stop it!” he roared. I rocked back in my seat and stared at him. He was back on his feet, leaning full over the desk to glare directly into my face. “You’re going to have to man the fuck up, Pollux! It’s enough already. I know! So what the hell are you gonna do about it?”
Threefold, our, no, my issue was threefold.
First of all, there was the issue of returning to the family fold I’d never been a part of to begin with. Even less so Castor, who had become family by default and much, I imagine, to the chagrin of many of the immortals who knew of the circumstances. With our being granted access to both Olympus and the Underworld, and then the stars, it was not exactly a recipe for family acceptance. Since my very brief meeting with Father, in which, for an even briefer moment, I’d thought him genuinely pleased to see me, we’d heard nothing; not a call, not a message, not a single word from anyone of all those we’d ascertained had returned.
Secondly, the peculiar gift, for lack of a better term, we’d appeared to have acquired upon our recall had continued to escalate and grow. If we simultaneously opened ourselves to it, we could ‘hear’ the voices of all and any of the immortals, occasionally only as the babble of a crowd, at some times more distinct than others. It was how we’d come to know of the crisis the Olympian family had been forced to face after the escape of the Titans, and we’d even, terrifyingly, touched their minds, too. Perhaps, if we’d known who to trust and who to approach, our talent might have been of some use. We’d certainly have been willing to assist if we could have, or if we’d even known how.
It had been me who had held back and refused to volunteer. “They haven’t asked and I already know what happens when we turn up somewhere we haven’t been asked to be,” I had grumbled petulantly. “Let them figure it out for themselves.”
The OA was still standing and Father had been resonating in my head as well as Castor’s. I’d stopped listening but in the silence I assumed the world had not succumbed to the Titans and that the war was either under control or had at least progressed in the Olympians’ favor. Should it come to us, I’d rethink our position then.
But it was the final part of the trilogy which had most enraged Castor. The ‘gift’ had permitted him to breach the secret space in my head I’d barricaded the most securely from him. He was as much angered and betrayed by my keeping the secret, as by what the secret was. And now he knew and I had no idea what to do with the fact that he knew.
The secret? I loved my brother. And no, not as a brother loves a brother, that was already clear. No, my giant, soul-wrenching, gut-destroying, mind-twisting secret was that I loved my brother in the possessive, jealous, all-consuming way of a lover. I’d already sold my life for him, had sold my soul, given my pride and my body many times, and I was undeniably, irrevocably, totally and completely in love with my brother.
And it broke me.
He didn’t understand. How could he? I already knew he loved me equally, had always been reckless and wild only to see me prove my love for him. He was trying to force my hand into admitting what he wanted to believe was true. But he couldn’t begin to comprehend why I couldn’t admit how I felt for him nor commit myself to a relationship with him beyond the one we had. The previous night had been a disaster.
It was my fault. Castor was so right. I was balless and a douche. And I’d hurt him. Badly.
We’d been discussing what to do about the relocation which, nearly two months after the initial meeting with Father, still hadn’t occurred. Admittedly, you don’t generally plan to move house in the middle of a war, especially not if the location you’re intending to move to is at the centre of the warzone. But it wasn’t the move itself which was under discussion, but rather whether I was willing to go, period. It was Troy all over again, and I was over it so many times west of always I didn’t even want to negotiate.
There was drinking, far too much of it, and I got drunk, as I often do. I’d heard somewhere, at some point in time, from someone, maybe from Jason, that my half-brother, Dionysius, had some kind of flask of liquor which could both inebriate and give sobriety to the owner. That might have been handy. Not only does the brain-numbing effect of alcohol not last, especially when one is immortal, but the hangover’s still a bitch and self-healing has next to no power over one. Still of no use to me when I was already drunk. As too had been Castor.
I think he’d made a pass at me, which I’d rebuffed, before he’d staggered out with the parting words that if I wouldn’t confess the truth to him, he’d improvise with someone else.
It had taken a while for his words to sink in and register, my brain being more than a little fucked up and all that, and then I’d rapidly become stone cold sober. No enchanted flask from my half-brother required. I was panicking. Taking the risk of hearing a great deal more than I wanted to, I’d opened my mind and gone seeking him, and I’d not been happy with what I’d seen.
He’d convinced some of the staff to take him into Christchurch clubbing, and he was sharing himself freely with whoever showed interest. Castor was an immortal, a god. He looked like one. He was beautiful, not only in form, but in character, and he won hearts without thought or intention at the best of times. There were any number of willing takers for his offers of a good time.
For once, I had no hesitation in teleporting, and I arrived at the club in which he’d taken up residence and went to claim him. If there’d been anyone willing to fight me for him, I’d have taken them in a heartbeat. Perhaps it showed, because no one challenged me and I took Castor home.
“Me!” I’d shouted at him when we were alone. “It’s me you want and you’re mine, just mine! Don’t go throwing yourself at strangers, mortals…substitutes! It’s beneath you!”
He’d spat at the floor in a gesture of utter disgust before facing me. “Then stop being such a fucking coward and prove to me why I shouldn’t!”
He’d stripped right there, tossing his clothing aside in a furious challenge, and thrown his arms wide. “You think I’m yours? I’m not stopping you. Do it!”
Perhaps I should have. Perhaps I should have shown him some sort of commitment to my words, but I couldn’t. I turned my back on him instead.
“You’re drunk and you’re making a fool of yourself. Have a shower and go to bed. We’ll talk in the morning.”
I walked away. Any wonder his fury was overflowing? I couldn’t commit. Not to a decision about my family, not to our future, and not to what Castor already knew to be true about my feelings for him. I’d always been that way; when it got too difficult for me, I’d chosen to get up and leave. And now, worse, I’d scorned him outright. Castor had finally had enough.
“Make a decision, Pollux,” he said as the storm cracked exclamation to his words. “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.”