What follows is a series of conversations that took place when I invited eight characters over for New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Eve Chat
Part One: Preparations
Mark Tavery’s POV:
Mark had been stewing for the better part of an hour. Maybe once his husband, Luke, got home things would settle down. Luke always made things—explosions, pending staff get-togethers, argumentative dragon herds—seem less cataclysmic.
Thanks to Emily, he, Luke, and at least six others she called “characters” would attend a cocktail party. How did she expect Mark, a water dragon who loved his magical universe just the way it was, to make small talk with two men from post-World War II America, another two who lived and breathed the modern military life, and two kids?
Luke poofed into the condo he and Mark shared. He stood in the doorway between kitchen and living room.
Golden-haired and muscular, his very presence took Mark’s stress down a notch.
The genie bowed, proffering a bottle. “There are a dozen more where this came from.”
Mark smirked at the well-known label. “I assume you’re also bringing rum and Coke?”
Luke’s eyes twinkled. “To get you drunk? Is that what you want, my Mark?” He tried a severe expression, but it evaporated the moment Mark touched him.
“Maybe that’s a good way to get through the night,” the water dragon told his husband. And maybe everything will go all right. Luke’s a genie; how much can a simple celebration get out of hand? “In any case, we don’t need to worry for another couple of hours.” He put the bottle into the fridge. “We have a little time on our hands. What should we do with it?”
Luke laughed. Then he magicked both his and Mark’s clothes off.
* * * *
Will Jefferson’s POV
Will watched Don take the roaster out of the oven. “How long until we’re expected at this shindig?”
Don set the pan on top of the stove. Using a potholder, he took the top off the roaster and smiled. “This is done finally.”
“We have to bring food?”
Don shrugged. “Maybe it isn’t the custom to bring a dish to pass in whatever year Emily’s staged this party, but here and now, in 1946, we pay our respects.” He glanced at Will and raised an eyebrow. “Or do you have an issue with that, mister Southern hospitality?”
Will shook his head. “You’re never going to stop picking on me about my birthplace, are you?” he asked the white boy.
“Not until you treat everyone like they’re human first and of a different race second.”
He scowled. “Asking if this is a potluck occasion Ms. Emily Carrington has organized isn’t a black/white thing. It’s a politeness thing.”
Don grinned. “I know.”
Will stared. “Then why’d you say—”
“Because having you slightly annoyed makes for good sex.” He wrapped his arms around Will, pulling him into a kiss.
Mmm. Don always kissed like a randy private. Or a sex-starved sailor who’d finally hit dry land. Moaning, Will pulled his lover closer, trying to meld their bodies.
A minute or so later, Don pulled away slightly. “The chicken’s done. Shall we savor a little pre-dinner dessert?”
Will pulled him out of the kitchen, down the hall, and into their bedroom.
Part Two: First Encounters
Xander Tsoukatos’s POV:
The ride from Washington, DC seemed to take no time at all. Before Xander knew it, he and his husband, John, stood on the front steps of Emily’s house. It was a little place, much like their house on the air force base, but Xander noticed the elegant, well-built porch.
John rang the bell.
It wasn’t Emily who greeted them at the door, but a dark-haired man with intense ocean-blue eyes. He raised an eyebrow at them.
“John and Xander Tsoukatos,” Xander introduced them.
“Mark. Come on in. The party hasn’t started yet.”
They walked into a room with dark ceiling beams and a fireplace.
French doors led into another room. As John walked through, Xander paused to examine the delicate etching on the doors. Each pane was a scene: forest, mountain, beach. He was arrested by an etching of a tall oak free. He crouched and studied the tree more closely. By the leaves on the ground, it was autumn in that scene.
“I copied that earlier,” someone said behind Xander. “It’ll make a great carving for Aid’.”
Still crouching, Xander turned. He faced a young man—maybe still a teenager—who was even shorter than the man who’d greeted them at the door.
“I’m Mike,” the kid said. “And Aidan’s around here somewhere.”
He got to his feet and shook Mike’s hand. “I’m Xander.” He tilted his head, studying Mike.
The kid raised an eyebrow. “Yes?” He seemed both amused and curious.
Here’s someone who’s never been hurt. “I don’t mean to be rude, but how old are you?”
Mike grinned. “You’re the second person to ask me that. I’m twenty. So’s Aidan, for what it’s worth. We’re probably the youngest here by five years.”
There he went again, mentioning someone named Aidan. Probably his boyfriend. “I’d like to meet Aidan.”
Mike smiled. “I’ll introduce you.” He walked between the doors, and Xander followed.
* * * *
Luke Morrison’s POV:
The boy, Aidan, stood at one counter. He’d come to help Luke in the kitchen. He was competent, if opinionated. He mixed drinks with a practiced hand.
He was also blind.
Luke had never wished for the ability to change another’s nature more than he did when he saw disabled people. It wasn’t within his magical abilities to fix how someone had been born or how they’d become, but his heart went out to them.
“Stop staring at me,” Aidan said. “You have drinks to mix and food to make appear out of thin air.” He shook his head, and his voice was laced with wonder when he added, “Or whatever else genies do.”
Standing a few feet farther along the counter, Luke blinked in surprise. “How did you know I was looking at you?” So far as he knew, his and Mark’s universe was the only one where Emily had introduced elements of magic. And that included telepathy.
Aidan snorted. “Practice.” He felt along the counter to his right.
Luke frowned. “You are blind. But…”
The young man faced him. “But what?” He crossed his muscular arms and stared without staring at Luke.
It was as if, without sight, he could see Luke’s soul. Suddenly Luke craved nothing more than to have Mark backing him up. Protecting him from this self-possessed man who was probably no more than twenty-one.
He hunched his shoulders, aware that he was imitating what Mark did when the dragon felt exposed or uneasy. “You’re happy being who you are. That…” He searched for the right phrase. “That blows my mind.”
Luke expected Aidan to get in his face, but the younger man relaxed, dropping his arms. “How long have you been alive?”
“About a thousand years.”
“And I’m the first blind guy you’ve met? I find that hard to believe.”
“You’re not.” Luke shifted his feet. “But you’re probably the only person with disabilities I’ve actually talked to. Spared more than a moment’s pity for.”
Aidan stepped forward, his mouth thinned to a single line. He stood about two steps from Luke. “Can you put this kitchen back together if it’s messed up?”
Confused, Luke nodded. “I still have my magic.”
Aidan attacked him.
Luke didn’t want to hurt the blind kid by using magic. And got punched for his consideration.
Aidan followed the knuckle sandwich with a blow to the side of Luke’s neck that would have caused damage if Luke wasn’t a genie. Then the kid landed an uppercut in Luke’s side. The chaser was a snap kick as Luke doubled over.
Luke gathered his magic around him into a shield, ready to take the guy on, blindness or not.
But Aidan retreated several steps, bowed slightly, and said, “Don’t pity me. The ones to feel sorry for are the people who don’t have talent, love, good work ethic, and confidence.”
Luke stood straight and advanced, holding out his hand. “Thank you for the lesson.” He smirked as he and Aidan shook hands. “You must be lucky. If you’d tried that with Mark, my husband would have bitten your head off. Literally.”
“Yum,” said a voice from the doorway. “Tastes like chicken.” Mark crossed to join them, slipping an arm around Luke’s waist. He offered a predator’s hungry smile. “You’re not hurt?”
“No,” Luke said.
Aidan bowed again, more deeply. “I’ll keep my hands to myself from now on.”
He’s intimidated by my Mark, Luke thought in amazement.
“Not necessary,” Mark answered, and Luke was surprised to see his lover looking up at him with a touch of admonishment in his eyes. “You taught Luke a lesson he should’ve learned years ago.” He nodded toward the counter. “Do you two need a hand?”
Shaking his head and grinning, Luke tugged his husband in for a kiss.
Part Three: Trouble at the Table
Mike Delaney’s POV:
He watched Aidan chat with the two men from the magic-filled world as if all three were old friends meeting again after years apart. All three sat at the opposite end of the long table from Mike, but that was okay. Aidan could more than handle himself, and Mike was having too much fun listening to Xander’s stories to be unsettled by so many alpha types being in one room.
“There were fifteen of them,” Xander was saying. “Officers’ wives are sweet, at least in my humble opinion, but they’re also human.” He laughed. Then he scooted his chair closer to Mike’s and whispered, “If I’d never married John, I wouldn’t have met so many supportive women, but I miss my work in the clinic.”
‘What kind of clinic?” Mike asked, lowering his voice in response to Xander’s suddenly secretive behavior.
“The Fairy Clinic—” he smirked, possibly at the name—“deals mostly with AIDS, although they also help with Hepatitis C and a few others. Many of the patients there just need a steady, calm presence while they get their results or wait for appointments. They know me as Mister Chamomile Tea.” He smirked. “Or as the card sharp spotter. I don’t let one group of friends cheat another.”
Mike grinned. “I like it. You’re a guardian angel.”
“More like a pita angel.”
“Pita?” Mike asked, picturing the folded bread-like stuff from a Mexican restaurant.
“Pain in the ass.”
Mike laughed. “Did you come up with that? It’s a great acronym.”
Xander leaned back in his chair. “John’s air force buddies are the kings of acronyms, but that’s not mine or theirs.”
“Why aren’t you working at the clinic anymore?”
Xander closed his eyes. “John’s jealous.”
Mike squirmed. “I know what that’s like. Aid’ and I dealt with my jealousy within the first month of our relationship, but we came close to calling it off right there.”
Xander moved his chair nearer, and he was back to whispering. “What made you jealous? Didn’t you trust your boyfriend?”
“I do.” Mike bit his lip. “I did. But…it was a misunderstanding. I thought I was one of Aidan’s conquests, that he didn’t want a real relationship.”
“Hmm.” Xander scowled. “I wonder if that’s John’s issue.” He shrugged and sat up. “Well, this isn’t the time for talk like that.”
“Talk like what?”
Mike jumped. He stared up at the buff, intimidating man who wore some sort of military dress uniform. Shit. This had to be John. Mike slumped in his seat, hoping the man would ignore him.
Xander rolled his eyes. “With your creeping ability, you should’ve been a Vietnam-era spook,” he told his husband.
John sat down on Xander’s other side. “You can’t talk. You’re flirting right in front of me.” He shot a glance at Mike. “With a kid.”
Mike looked away, seeking help. Where was Emily? Hadn’t she created these guys to be in love? Why hadn’t she stepped in?
Xander shoved his chair back and got up. “Screw you.” He stalked out of the room.
The two men from the 1940s grabbed John’s arms as he stood to follow.
“Come on,” the black guy said. “Let’s find a cooling off place.”
“Or some beer,” his lover added.
Would it look suspicious if Mike went after Xander? Probably, he decided, but nobody else seemed inclined. So as soon as the two 1940s guys took John out of the room, Mike made for the French doors and the room with the fireplace beyond.
That was when Aidan called his name, softly, and urged Mike to sit back down.
“This is still supposedly the season of hope,” Aidan said. “Let’s get a game plan before we try talking sense into those two.”
John Tsoukatos’s POV:
“I don’t need any beer.” He jerked away from the hulking men. No slouch himself in the muscles department, he still felt uneasy around two men who’d supposedly gone through the same military training he had. Or at least the equivalents from sixty years ago. “I’ll talk to Xander myself. This just isn’t the time.”
The taller of the two men—white like John, but resembling a blond bear—laughed. “We saw how well you handled it so far. You need a few minutes to calm down. That’s what we’re giving you.”
“You’re so insecure in your love you don’t trust him?” the shorter, more muscular, black man asked.
John scowled. “You’ve never seen Xander in a dress. You’ve never watched people flock to him like he’s their god. It’s not him I don’t trust; it’s them.”
“Can he fight off the adoring throngs?” the blond bear asked quietly.
Given the way Xander had granted a black eye to the last one who’d made an over-aggressive pass at him… “Yeah.” John threw up his hands. “But that doesn’t mean I want him mingling with sex-crazed people on a regular basis.”
“Not everyone’s fuck-focused all the time,” the black guy said.
John opened his mouth, but then closed it. Both men were looking at him as though he had a stick up his ass. Unsure what to say, John grimaced, folded his arms, and ignored them.
Xander Tsoukatos’s POV:
Xander knocked on the doorframe that stood between the dining room and the small room where the escorts had taken John. He watched all three turn to face him, and he read their expressions easily: exasperation, confusion, and annoyance. John was the confused one. That might be a good sign. Xander walked in.
Before he could say anything, the room filled up behind him. Emily’s other guests were coming to see this showdown. What kind of “characters” had she invented?
“Jealousy’s natural,” the dragon, Mark, said without preamble or any indication that he was ashamed for intruding.
“We’ve all dealt with it in one form or another,” Luke said.
Aidan snorted. “That’s for damn sure.” He grinned. “And in case you’re wondering, Xander, it wasn’t just Mike.”
“So if the two of you are going to survive as a couple,” Don said, “you’ll have to learn to talk.”
John blushed, which made him look adorable. “Maybe we should.” He stepped forward, taking Xander’s hands. “I know you love me. Please give me another chance to prove I love you.”
“It’s not a question of love,” Xander answered, but he hugged his husband. “It’s not even trust, I don’t think.” He pulled back and met John’s earnest gaze. “It really is that we still don’t know each other well enough.”
“Does that mean I should send you home to get reacquainted?”
Xander turned, blinking when he saw the single woman among them. “Emily?” He cleared his throat, remembering she’d created him. “Ms. Carrington?”
She raised both eyebrows until they disappeared into her bangs. “Emily’s fine. And I definitely need to send you home.” She smirked. “Love and make-up sex fix almost everything.”