In Which Our Hero Meets His Matchmaker
VINCENT jumped when the office door closed behind him. It barely made a snick, but to him it sounded like a gunshot. A gavel. A guillotine. He’d never noticed how many deadly words started with G before. Maybe G should be erased from the alphabet. Except then we wouldn’t have G-strings, and that would never work. I’d lose half my wardrobe.
The Director took one look at him and arched a sharp eyebrow. Her lacquered nails tapped impatiently on the surface of her highly polished desk, and Vincent idly noted how sturdy the mahogany furniture was. In fact it would be just perfect for—
“I trust you know why you’re here, Vincent.” The Director had a smooth, mellow voice that Vincent thought would sound nice reading the telephone directory. He just wasn’t in the mood to hear her read his death sentence. He swallowed.
“Yes, ma’am, and I’m sorry. I swear on my fuzzy white tail it will never happen again.”
A muscle in her jaw jumped, and Vincent worried. Had that not been the right thing to say? He loved his fuzzy white tail. It was one of his favorite parts of being in the Easter Bunny Department at the Corporation of Mythical Beings. It always drew attention to his ass, and he rather thought his ass was one of his best features. He was too slender to have a lot of impressive muscles, but a twitch of his tail could bring all the boys to the yard, as the song went. Unfortunately, it also brought the Satyrs to the supply room, and Vincent was just a boy who couldn’t say no. It wasn’t his fault the Head Bunny had needed a new stapler at that very moment and had seen more than he’d bargained for.
“Be that as it may, Vincent, you’re on probation from the Easter Bunny Department for now.” At his stricken look, she continued. “If you complete this assignment to our satisfaction, you may even be off probation in time for the Easter season. You’ve got a few months. It isn’t until April this year.”
She slid a manila folder across the desk to him. He picked it up nervously, but the neat black and white label seemed innocuous enough. “Charles Ross?”
“He’s in the Cupid Department,” the Director said, sounding exasperated. Vincent’s long white ears pricked forward in interest.
“I’m being assigned to the Cupid Department?” That sounded like a great idea. Hell, it wasn’t even really probation. He wanted to meet the genius who had thought of transferring him to the department of love. And all those Cupids around…! He’d never had a Cupid before. He wondered if they were better than Satyrs.
“Not quite,” the Director said, bursting his shiny little bubble of lust-filled musings. “You’re being assigned to Mr. Ross.”
Vincent felt his fine white eyebrows pull together in confusion. “I don’t understand.”
“You see, Mr. Ross is currently underperforming at an alarming level. None of his cases are going out. He hasn’t turned in the paperwork on his last eighteen assignments. It’s Valentine’s Day in less than a month, and he is, for all intents and purposes, on strike.”
Vincent was silently horrified. A Cupid who didn’t want to be cupiding?
“But… what am I supposed to do?”
“That, Mr. Furnier, is up to you.” She smiled, and Vincent felt a chill run down his spine. She almost never addressed him so formally. He suddenly had a bad feeling about his new assignment. “Our main concern is that Mr. Ross returns to his duties as a Cupid. We are less interested in what methods you use.”
Cold dread settled in his stomach. If the Director was giving him an ends-justify-the-means speech, this was going to be difficult.
“Shouldn’t you be assigning this to another Cupid?” he asked, feeling an involuntary twitch start up in his right ear. “It’s not like this is exactly my area of specialty.”
“On the contrary, Vincent.” The Director chuckled, leaning back in her chair and looking very smug indeed. “I think this is right up your alley. You may keep the file.”
Understanding he’d been dismissed, Vincent took the file marked Charles Ross and left the Director’s office, closing the door gently behind himself. He hoped Dionysus was feeling generous with the contents of his wine cellar; Vincent had a feeling he was going to need it.
VINCENT had made sure he looked his best before heading over to meet his recalcitrant romance specialist. Aside from being theme-appropriate to the Cupid Department’s particular holiday, his tight white leather pants and sparkly pink shirt looked amazing on him. The white pants coordinated with his ears and tail, not to mention the untameable fluff of snow-white hair on his head, and the pink brought out color in his otherwise alarmingly pale skin. The whole “white rabbit” thing had gotten a bit out of hand where he was concerned. Not that he minded, of course. He pulled it off better than most in the department.
He passed the Greek houses on his way to the Cupid Department, grinning and winking when he saw Damon, the insatiable Satyr who had joined him for that now-infamous supply-closet rendezvous. Damon had one of the Nymphs on his lap and a beer in his hand, laughing at something Pan had just said. Those Greeks were incorrigible, every last one of them. They’d long ago corrupted the Romans to their ways, and by now the two departments were virtually indistinguishable in their philandering. Vincent adored them.
Damon met his eyes briefly but looked away without returning the smile, and Vincent sighed. He had work to do. He couldn’t spend time wondering why a Satyr was having a fit of misplaced guilt. He had bigger fish to fry.
He stopped at the front desk in the Cupid Department and asked the cute redhead where he could find Charles Ross’s office. She seemed surprised that he would be looking for the man but stopped just short of saying so.
“Down that hallway, last door on your left.”
Vincent gave her a brilliant smile and a wink as he thanked her and headed off toward his destination. Charles’s door was standing open, but Vincent knocked on the doorframe anyway just to be polite. He heard a sweet tenor rumble something he assumed was “come in” and hid a smile. If this Cupid was half as cute as he sounded, Vincent was going to enjoy at least part of this assignment, no matter how difficult it turned out to be.
He pasted on his million-dollar smile and swung into the office, pulling up short when he saw the figure behind the desk. Charles Ross was the picture-perfect Cupid, with warm golden-brown hair that hung in Victorian ringlets over his forehead, big brown eyes, and the sweetest, most perfectly shaped mouth Vincent had ever seen. The feathers on his wings were such a light brown that they looked like they were made of gold.
But when Charles looked up at him, Vincent could tell the features were deceptive. The jaw was stronger than it had seemed at first, and those chocolate brown eyes were anything but dewy and welcoming.
“I said go away.”
“Oh.” Vincent blinked, momentarily flustered. “Sorry, I could’ve sworn you said ‘come in’.” Vincent tried his charming smile again, but Ross was having none of it, going back to his paperwork with a dismissive air. Vincent waited for a moment, but when the Cupid seemed determined to ignore him, he moved a pile of books from the overstuffed armchair in front of the desk and made himself comfortable. Ross did look up at that.
“What the hell are you doing? I said go away.”
“Sorry, Charlie,” Vincent said with a smile, instantly liking the sound of the new nickname. “I’m your new assistant.”
“I don’t need an assistant.” Charlie’s eyes brushed over him now, and Vincent was miffed to notice that he didn’t linger on anything but the white ears. “I think you’re in the wrong department.”
“No,” Vincent said, trying to sound regretful and sincere. “I’ve been sent on special assignment to help you out.” Before Charlie could argue again, Vincent shifted in the chair, crossing his long legs and folding his hands over his flat belly. “The Director seems to think that with your massive case backlog, you could use some help.”
Charlie stared at him for long seconds, and Vincent thought maybe he’d finally made a dent, but the Cupid just went back to his paperwork with a shrug. “Whatever,” he said. “Knock yourself out.”
Vincent looked around the office, wondering where to start. Decorating, if he had anything to say about it, but he had a feeling neither Charlie nor the Director would take too kindly to that.
Dusting, though, was a different story. Nobody could argue with getting rid of the dust, especially when it was two inches thick on most of the surfaces. Vincent almost expected Charlie to become incensed at his presumption as he moved around the office, dusting and straightening, putting things away and organizing them. But Charlie never looked up, never said anything else until five o’clock chimed on the hearts-and-arrows clock on the wall. Then Charlie stood from his desk, tucked his papers into his briefcase, and shrugged a trench coat on over his suit and wings.
“Time to go,” he said. “It’s five o’clock. Do you want to go grab a drink?”
A small thrill went through Vincent. Was Charlie asking him to the bar? Everyone knew “grabbing a drink” was code for going home and boinking like… well, like bunnies. Maybe Charlie wasn’t quite as on strike as he’d thought.
“Yeah, that’d be great.” Vincent beamed.
“Good. Go get it so I can lock up my office and go home.”
Stunned, Vincent let Charlie shoo him into the hallway and stared while the Cupid locked up his office. Without any sort of farewell or acknowledgment, Charlie turned and went striding down the hallway that led to the Pegasus Line. Curious—all right, nosy, if he admitted it—Vincent followed.
As they approached, Vincent could hear the winged horses complaining to each other where they stood hitched to the chariots.
“I say we form a union.”
“Celeris! We can’t form a union against Dad.”
“Why not? I’m tired of everyone calling me Pegasus like that’s my name. What do they mean they can’t tell us apart? Nobody even knows Uncle Chrysaor’s name anymore. It’s all Pegasus this, Pegasus that—”
The complaining pterippus broke off suddenly when he saw Vincent and Charlie approaching. Vincent hung back, but Charlie stepped up and swiped his card through the card reading system.
“Good day, Mr. Ross,” the machine purred at him.
“Good day, Bellerophon.” He climbed into the chariot behind the pterippus who had been griping and nodded at the other one. “Have a good day, Melanippe. Celeris, take me home, please.”
Celeris nodded once, stretched his wings, and was off in a flurry of white. Vincent watched, dumbfounded, as they disappeared. Since locking his office, Charlie had not even acknowledged him, not even to say goodbye. The Bellerophon machine made a throat-clearing noise.
“Did you need a ride home, sir?”
“Oh!” Vincent jumped back from the machine, glancing between it and the remaining pterippus. “No, no, thank you. I’ll, um, I’ll walk home. Thanks.”
“If you require another service, the Valkyrie Line just down the way is—”
“That’s quite all right. Thank you, though. Really.” The Valkyrie Line was practically a death trap. No way was he going there.
Vincent left Pegasus Station behind with a shake of his head. Every lock had a combination, but Vincent could already tell Charlie’s was going to be tough to crack.
He was determined to be up for the challenge.
THE next week followed a similar pattern until Vincent was ready to go on strike himself. He’d never been so sex-deprived in his life, and working with Charlie was dampening his usual drive to go out and find some. Not because Charlie turned him off—no, quite the opposite. But spending all day every day in the office with a sulky, sour Cupid and being ignored in favor of crossword puzzles—that was the “paperwork” he’d been so involved in—was throwing off Vincent’s natural vibe.
Friday night, instead of heading over to Bakcheia like he usually did for strobe lights, cosmopolitans, and dirty dancing, he spent his evening in the attached lounge known as The Cellar. Dionysus kept a rack of fine wines, a warm ambiance, and soothing music going. Slouched on a barstool, Vincent let the mahogany bar prop him up as he toyed with the stem of his wine glass. Dionysus had poured him a nice rosé, the house special, and although he was enjoying the fruity bouquet, he was distracted. The beat from the club next door could be heard faintly through the wall, and he was unconsciously tapping his fingers in time to it.
“I swear,” he said to Dionysus, sitting up long enough to let the god wipe down the bar with his towel before sprawling forward again. “It’s like all his depressed anti-sex aura just rubbed right off on me. I haven’t gone this long without sex since… well, since.”
Dionysus gave him a wry grin, saying without words he knew exactly what Vincent meant.
“Could just be a case of needing a little encouragement,” the god said, tucking his bar towel into his belt. “The Satyrs are always up for a little fun.”
“Been there, done them,” Vincent replied glumly, propping his chin up on his hands.
“Too common,” Vincent sighed.
“There are always the Cupids.” Dionysus didn’t even flinch when Vincent glared at him. He just shrugged. “They really do make good partners,” he said. “Demanding sometimes. Usually shy. But if you ever get to one’s heart….”
“Shy?” Vincent’s eyebrows crawled up his forehead. “They’re Cupids. You can’t tell me they’re shy. They’re all about”—he waved one hand vaguely—“sex and love and hearts and flowers.”
“That’s where you got it wrong, Vincent.” Dionysus poured another couple of inches of wine into Vincent’s glass. “Cupids aren’t about sex and love. They’re about romance. Of course, each of them has a different idea of what’s romantic, but there you go. Shyness and romance go hand in hand. It’s the most socially awkward ideal ever aspired to.” The god chuckled as he put the wine bottle back in the chilled case below the bar. “You ever meet Eros? The first Cupid?”
Vincent shook his head. He’d heard of him, of course. The demi-god who lent his name to the term erotic was one Vincent was going to make note of.
“He fell in love with a mortal a long time ago. Always doing that, those crazy Cupids. Fall in love with some human, get their hearts broken, end up in here crying to me about it…. Anyway, Eros. He fell for this girl, Psyche—the only human ever to be as pretty as his momma.”
Vincent snorted. He had heard Eros was a momma’s boy, but he hadn’t pegged him as being that bad. Then again, if Oedipus could do it….
“So what’s he do? Kidnaps the chick, marries her, and then won’t let her see him. Ever. Forbids her to have a single lamp in the place and only visits her after dark.”
Dionysus shrugged, using his towel to wipe imaginary water spots off a tumbler. “Depends on who’s telling. Some people say she broke her promise and sneaked a peek, and he divorced her then spent the rest of his career moping because he’d lost her. Other people say they had a fight about it, went to couple’s counseling, got it straightened out. There was a rumor for a while that she got tired of not being able to see him and ran off with one of the messenger boys.”
Vincent frowned. “What’s the real story?”
“Who knows? He retired early and moved off to that lonely mountain. It’s anybody’s guess whether she still lives there or not. She was mortal, after all. Though I think I heard some time back that one of the goddesses decided to make her immortal. Had a grudge against Aphrodite. Figured she’d prolong the whole mother-in-law tension.”
The idea of Aphrodite as a mother-in-law made Vincent shiver.
“Anyway, Bunny, my point is: Cupids are sweet but neurotic. Keep that in mind if you decide to go for one.”
“Thanks.” Vincent sighed, upending the wine glass and quaffing the contents. The soft clink when he set it back down on the bar sounded like a lock clicking shut, but Vincent ignored that thought as he paid Dionysus and left The Cellar, not even bothering to look into Bakcheia when he passed the doorway. He knew one thing: he had to get back to his own department before his inner party animal gave way to a home-bunny.