Chapter Twenty-Seven: Tibo
“Yes!” Pel pumped a fist, his bangles jangling. “I get the rockers.”
His over enthusiasm nearly made Akemi change her mind. She pinned him with a hard glare. “They are a couple now. Keep the flirting to a minimum.”
“You better,” Dzim muttered, his bluish Kobold skin glowing in an eerie fashion in the light of his laptop. He hadn’t stopped typing since the meeting began and anyone who didn’t know him would have assumed he was being rude and ignoring the meeting. Akemi knew better and the caustic comment directed at his boyfriend proved it.
Pel leaned over and kissed the tip of Dzim’s pointed ear. “I’ll behave. Is their couple status official?”
“Possibly soon…” The way Akemi drew it out made her knights chuckle, but then she returned to pointing. “Dzim, the dragon rider and his wolf. He’s mostly with us already, but I think you may be able to show him a few discreet items. Jariah, the triad. Edwige is the lynchpin there and she’ll appreciate a woman of sense. Gian, you’ve started helping the phoenix and his doctor, stay with them.”
Gian was too professional to groan but it was clear in his expression. “I do not think he likes me, Celestial One.”
“He doesn’t have to like you. Just believe you.”
Assignments complete, Akemi sent out her troops. Sometimes a personal contact worked better than a voice of authority, especially for a pack of mavericks like this group. Akemi plopped down in her executive chair to chew on a beef stick. She could have used more forceful persuasion and still might have to but the more willing her flock of foundlings were, the more likely they would give her everything.
* * * * *
“Let’s go somewhere quiet and maybe I can help you with it.” The Tengu offered a charming smile that Tibo didn’t trust as far as he could throw him, which wasn’t far at all. Damn Tengu was big.
“I...I want Rolls.” Tibo hated the hesitation and touch of whine in his voice. But he’d just gotten up, no coffee yet, and he wasn’t up to being cornered.
Pel backed up a step waving one hand over the other, and wasn’t that a neat effect with his wrist cuffs and bangles? “No, of course. You didn’t think I was trying to get you alone, did you? Oh, goddess. I’m so sorry.”
The embarrassed apology went a long way to calming Tibo’s nerves. “S’Okay. Really. Not awake yet.”
“I’m bleeding sure he isn’t.” Rolly swept into the room with a kiss to the top of Tibo’s head. “Little blighter sleeps past noon most days at home.”
Tibo scowled at him. “I’ve been up early every--almost every day since I left home. And lost a ton of sleep. And someone promised me breakfast. Less ragging on me, more breakfast.”
“That’s my bossy Tibo. Thought I’d lost him there for a bit.” Rolly picked up a pair of potholders and opened the oven door on a knee-weakening scent of wonderful. Tibo opened his mouth to explain, but Rolly cut him off. “I have ears. Grab a plate, offer one to our guest, and let’s shift over into our room.”
The three of them loaded plates to groaning with Rolly’s egg and cheese casserole, snagged mugs of coffee and hustled off to the big bedroom. Here they took seats at the table by the bow window where several minutes of serious face-stuffing trumped any conversation.
“I have a confession to make.” Big as he was, it was ridiculously adorable to watch Pel squirm on his chair in bashful discomfort.
Tibo still side-eyed him. He was still one of Akemi’s. “Yeah?”
“I had the biggest crush on both of you when I was in college. And I...um, I did kinda ship you guys. You know. McGlent.”
Tibo nearly spit his coffee on his breakfast. Rolly roared with laughter, pounding on the table.
“Hoo! Boyo, you never thought it would come true, did you now?”
Pel’s grin was still a little shy but obviously relieved. “Don’t think anybody did.”
“Heh.” Tibo stopped sputtering. “Guess we have to be ready for the fan sites when we get home.”
Rolly nodded, suddenly serious, his gaze on some far off event. “They’ll have our wedding all planned by Beltane. If we get home.”
“Don’t even say that!” Pel put a hand on each of their arms. “Look, I don’t want anything to happen to you. I want to go visit my folks in Seattle someday and go to a Flying Mantas concert there. Okay?”
Tibo stopped chewing and studied the sincerity in those black eyes. Some Tengus were red. Their expressions were easier to read. But even with deep black on black on black, Pel’s anxiety shone through. His hand on Rolly’s white arm… You beat up against me, ebony waves on a white-sand shore… It was the first bit of new lyric that had come to him since this whole travesty started. He’d been losing bits and pieces of himself along the way. Pel was right. They had to get home, and right now, the path home led through Akemi.
“We’ll do our damndest to get back to the music,” Tibo said and got a half-smile from Rolly. “So. Pel. What did you wanna talk about?”
Pel actually clapped his hands with joy, his bracelets making their own music. Knight of Mercury or not, there was something childlike about him still and it was ridiculously fucking charming.
“Great! Okay, so I’m one of Solar Celestial Fessler’s tech monkeys but I also have a solid background in magical theory.”
“How solid?” Rolly asked.
“Masters from MIT.”
Rolly’s eyes widened. “Fair enough. Carry on.”
“Thanks.” There went that grin again. “I hear there’s a laptop somewhere--and I don’t want to know where--with some controversial equations and I’d like to see them. To help you verify and unravel. And I know your contact can’t send me the equations in an email. That’s all kinds of unsafe. But I bet your contact is a computer guru. And I bet they do all sorts of decrypting. There’s a way we have to send access to a secure channel. Untraceable. No one would have access but me once I set it up and no one would be able to intercept.”
“How does that work?” Tibo knew he’d get lost if the answer got too technical but he was still intrigued.
Pel straightened in his chair and looked down his long nose at them, suddenly far too serious and haughty. “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.” He kept the pose for a whole five seconds before he laughed. “Nah. Kidding. It’s Tengu stuff mixed with some Kobold stuff. Hard to explain unless you’re inside my head. You don’t want to be there.”
The explanation went on and Tibo let it flow around him. Meerah would be safe. They might be able to get the stuff into hands who could help. Fine, he didn’t trust everyone involved and they’d have to watch their backs all the fucking time. But he was pretty sure Pel was for real and that he really did want them to survive. That was something.
* * * * *
Later in the afternoon, Tibo wandered back to the kitchen again for a glass of water. The beginnings of a song stirred in his brain and sometimes it helped if he walked around and let it settle.
He found Ashe at the table with Gian, the big bear of a human. The eye-shadow of the day was silver, which Tibo thought was pretty fucking hot, but he didn’t comment on it. Didn’t look like things were going well.
“Look, I can’t fucking read German, but even I know drachen is dragon!” Ashe stabbed a finger at the journal he’d lifted from the library. “If you’re just handing me bullshit, why am I listening to you?”
“Because it is not a literal thing.” Gian spoke calmly though he ran a hand over his face in aggravation. “There is no actual dragon in this passage and the old saying does not translate well.”
“So give me the literal translation and let me deal with it!”
“This is old Hochdeutsch and even I struggle with it sometimes. If I knew what we searched for, this would be much less frustrating.”
“We’ve been over this,” Ashe growled. “It’s still no.”
Gian drummed his fingers on the table and more than a hint of impatience colored his voice. “You put a sack over my head and ask me to help you find grains of rice in a dark room. Then you are upset with me when I cannot find them. To look through the files, even just to understand the...what is the word? The gist of the matter would at least turn the lights on. But you are too stubborn to let me even see file names.”
Ashe shoved back from the table, fists clenched. “I’m not just handing over my mother’s files to some big lying ox! She died for those!”
“Heyoka. Whoa. Ease up.” Tibo slid between them and for fuck’s sake the world was ending if he was telling someone else to calm down. “Maybe give the guy the benefit here? I mean, we’ve been spinning our wheels and getting shot at and shit. These folks look like our last bet to me.”
Instead of calming, Ashe turned on him. “Yeah? You’re the big expert now? Oh, that’s right. Tibo Fucking Glent, the big rockstar. All high and mighty on your piles of cash. Maybe if--”
“Don’t you say it. Don’t you even think it,” Tibo snarled as he prowled closer to get into Ashe’s face.
He didn’t know how it happened or even what really happened, but somebody swung first or maybe they both swung together, fists flew, mostly blocked, and they ended up on the floor with Tibo on his back biting and kicking to get out from under Ashe’s larger mass.
There may have been some claws in use on his end. There might have been some rabbit punching on Ashe’s. The whole epic fight took maybe thirty seconds before Mal was dragging Ashe off and Rolly had slung Tibo, still yelling and kicking, over his shoulder.
“Five minutes,” Rolly muttered. “Five bloody minutes I let you out of my sight, Glent, and I find you sat in the middle of a donnybrook.”
“He started it!” Tibo shrieked, heart still pounding an adrenaline-laden staccato.
Rolly carried him back to the bedroom, closed the door, and proceeded to give him a better way to concentrate his excess energy.