The lights outside flickered on as the sun began to set. I stood watching the day change to night from the lounge in the God Complex. The colors danced along the skyline from blues to purples and pinks, a watercolor display of beauty.
Lately, I found many reasons to spend time in other places in the complex, trying to distract myself from one problem or another. I began as a way to clear my mind from all the tasks I had set myself. Now, I found my feet taking me places as I wandered, trying to make sense of the chaotic mess.
I felt the sigh rise as I leaned back into the chair, tucking my feet beneath me and letting my thoughts wander. I heard the soft click of the door opening behind me as someone entered the lounge.
So much for alone time, I thought, turning my head.
“For once, it seems, Reception is not without its uses,” Morpheus said with a smile. He was dressed for the surface—black tailored trousers and black brocade vest over a flowing shirt of white silk, done up with onyx buttons, wings tucked away. “May I join you?”
I gestured to the chair opposite with a smile I hoped was welcoming. “Please, I would enjoy the company.”
Morpheus strolled across the room, pausing at the chair but not sitting down.
I looked at the cup in my hand, the tea cooled and half gone, and remembered my manners. “Would you like anything from the kitchen?”
“No, thank you. I’ve already made arrangements.” He walked toward the window and looked out at the sunset, tilting forward to watch the people still milling about the Tower. “I love this time of day. The way the sky looks. Like the world exists inside a jewel, only revealed when the light hits it just right.”
I cast my gaze back out the window, watching the spread of color across the sky. “I hadn’t thought of it that way. I always think of a living painting. The artist drawing the brush across the skyline, bringing to life colors only rarely seen by the mortal eye.” The clink of the china punctuated my words as I set my cup down on the table before me.
“Rarely seen. An apt way to put it, since they barely pause to look up from their phones.” Morpheus turned to look at me, his violet eyes a living piece of the sunset behind him. He scanned the room, looking for something. Finding it, he headed for the bank of switches that controlled the lights. “Do you mind? The colors are much finer framed in darkness.”
I watched as he crossed the room, momentarily mesmerized by his movement before shaking my head. “No. The darkness does not bother me. Sometimes, it is a comfort.” I cast my eyes down, suddenly feeling shy, like I was caught staring. I could feel the heat of a blush creep on my cheeks.
The lights went out with a graceful movement of his hand, then he walked over and sat down. He looked at the sunset for a moment before turning his eyes to me. I could feel him studying me, the way someone studies a piece of art, trying to uncover the secrets of the lines and colors and angles.
“Much better,” he said in a low voice.
The darkness in the room took the glare away from the window, casting the world outside in a shadow that allowed the colors to dance and shine. A shiver went up my spine. The tone of his voice was like deep velvet, and it brought my attention back to him. I looked up and met his gaze with my own, a smile playing across my lips.
“Do you get to spend much time in the kingdom above?” The question was out of my mouth before I could stop myself. It was such a banal thing to ask, but I felt the need to keep him talking. That if I let the conversation go, it would be lost without recovery.
“I am unsure how to answer that. Much is a very subjective word. I spend more time here as of late than I have in the past. It has its…charms.” He turned slightly toward me, draping his arm over the back of the chair. “Forgive me for diverting the conversation, Persephone. I had intended to ask you something when I arrived and was distracted by the beauty on display tonight.”
The way he said it made me wonder what he was talking about—the sunset or me.
“Would you care to have dinner with me before I return below?”
I felt my breath catch in my throat at his question. I tucked an errant strand of hair behind my ear and smiled. My heartbeat quickening in my chest as I answered.
“I would love to.”
At that moment, a knock sounded at the door, and a nymph stuck her head in, looking around in the darkness. “Hello? I could have sworn he said the lounge.”
“We’re here. And excellent timing,” Morpheus called out to the nymph, his eyes never moving from my face. “There is a lovely bistro several blocks from the Tower. Reception told me you order from there regularly. I hope you do not mind.”
I was stunned silent for a moment, completely taken by surprise before I felt awash with pleasure.
“Mind? Of course not. It…it is my favorite place. I am amazed. I don’t know what to say.” I laughed, and watched in utter amazement, touched by his thoughtfulness.
Morpheus repositioned his chair opposite me as the nymph brought over a tray laden with croissants, cheeses, and a coq au vin that smelled divine. When the nymph started to open the bottle of wine, Morpheus stood up and took it from her, giving her a nod of thanks before uncorking it himself.
“How did you know I would say yes?”
“I hoped, though I could not trust for certain that you would,” he said with a small smile, filling a glass and handing it to me. “But I can be quite persuasive. So, I chose to trust that instead, if it came to it. Which, I am pleased, it did not.”
Smiling, I felt my fingers brush across his hand as I took the glass, his skin cool against my fingertips. Just that brief touch was enough to send my heart racing again as I unfolded from the chair and turned to face him head on.
“Well, I am very glad you did. I..” Breathless, I tried to tame my racing heart. It had been so long since I had felt my emotions this thoroughly. Having locked them behind a wall and kept them frozen away, I felt the cracks that formed at the party widening. “I am at a loss for words. I find I cannot think of anything clever or poetic to say. Just that I am touched. And this is just wonderful.” I sipped the wine to tame my nerves.
“Truth is poetic enough. I am glad you are pleased.” Morpheus returned the wine bottle to its bucket of ice without pouring any for himself and uncovered the plates, setting the stainless lids aside before sitting down. He reached for his water and took a drink, rocking the glass back and forth in his hands.
“I am glad you are here.” It was a simple statement, but the words conveyed a truth I had not spoken in a long while. To be in the moment and just enjoy his company. I wondered about the party and if I should bring up what we shared. The kiss that had sparked in my soul the thawing of winter and my own spring. Uncertainty struck, and I took a second drink from the chilled wine. I closed my eyes to savor the flavor, knowing if I were not careful, it would go to my head quickly.
“You seem to be. I, too, am glad I am here,” he said, the corners of his mouth twitching in a smile. He took another drink of water and nodded at the food. “Now that we are both pleased with my whereabouts, perhaps we should eat?”
I couldn’t stop the laugh that escaped, and I shook my head at my own silliness. “Yes. We should. I would be a terrible dinner date otherwise.” I raised my glass to him before taking the last swallow and turning to the dinner laid out before us. It smelled amazing, I knew the bistro was the best for miles and anticipated the meal with pleasure.
Morpheus stood to refill my glass, then went to the kitchen. He rummaged around before returning with a handful of tealights and a lighter. He set to lighting them as he spoke.
“One of the things I enjoy most about the mortal world is the food. In the Dream, everything is Illusion. Even the senses. They are real but distant. Like the memory of touch. Of taste.” His eyes scanned my face, lingering on my mouth, before he returned to lighting candles. “You asked if I spent much time here. For a long time, I would have answered enough, enough time to craft a believable illusion. Field research, if you will. In service of the Dream.”
The shadow of a smile crossed his face as he sat down. He did not answer at first, merely looked at me, eyes glowing in the candlelight. “I do not know, Persephone. You tell me. Do I spend enough time here?”
I sat quietly for a moment, knowing what I wanted to say. What answer I wanted to give when he turned the question back on me. But would it be too forward, too brazen to say I wished it was more? That each glance I stole when I saw him was more fuel to the fire of my intrigue. That I found myself thinking of him when I sat quietly in the dark at night. Remembering his eyes, the touch of his hand. The feel of his mouth on mine. I licked my lips as I looked up at him, drowning for the moment in his gaze.
“I wish it was more.” I breathed the words, a mere whisper in the candlelight.
“Then, it shall be more.”
Dinner passed quickly. We discussed small things, such as the food and our favorites, and larger things, such as the recent Oathswearing of Helios. He tread carefully around the subject of the Titan rehabilitation, listening but remaining neutral. He was of the Underworld, after all, and his politics were as much a mystery as anything else about him. We lingered a while over the wine, until I realized he had not had a single glass.
“Did you not have anything to drink?” I asked him. My cheeks were warm enough for both of us. Maybe it was the wine, after all. He shook his head and gave me a half-smile.
“No, I needed to keep my head,” he said, turning his eyes to mine. “I did not wish to be confused as to what was you and what was the wine.”
I set my empty glass on the table, the warmth of pleasure emboldening me as I smiled back at him. “I know what my answer would be. I know what I would say. If I was mulling that over. I have no confusion.”
I watched his face, the candlelight dancing along his features as the shadows seemed to grow around him for a moment. The power pulsed just beneath the surface of his skin as I continued.
“I know that I want to know you more. Though I could say, it was the wine that let that loose from my lips, to bring me to say it. But,” I shrugged slightly, “it’s the truth. I want to know you. And spend time with you.”
His slow smile was as warming as the wine. “Will you allow me to escort you back to your apartments, then? To make the most of that time? I have already arranged for things to be cleared here.”
I pushed from the chair and stood with a smile, my bare feet sinking into the plush rug beneath the chairs. I felt giddy. A lightness came over me as I looked into his deep eyes watching the light reflect back at me. “I would be honored for you to do so.”