How many circuits of the garden had I made tonight? I had lost count. There was no point in pretending – I was trying to distract myself, to pass the time until Persephone would be deep in the Dream herself.
One of my Brothers dipped his head to me as he passed, heading back to the palace with a basket of deep violet blooms. The silvery foliage of the Dream Poppies gleamed white in the moonlight. It was a good harvest, the basket nearly overflowing. The irrigation changes suggested by Hades had done wonders for increasing the yield from my plants. I would have to send him something by way of thanks.
At the edge of my garden, I paused and picked a handful of poppies. My fingers broke off one of the blooms and tucked it into my lapel. I flattened the remaining stem and lashed the flowers together into a small bouquet. Pleased, but feeling that I needed to kill a little more time, I turned toward the river.
The path took me to a stand of willow trees that bent over the Lethe like nymphs. The pergola I had built there came into view, nestled on a small strip of land that jutted out into the water. It was a peaceful place, one of contemplation, and the only place in my kingdom where the Oneiroi knew I was not to be disturbed for any reason.
I sat down on the bench and gazed across the river. The Onyx Towers were a deeper darkness in the surrounding night, thrusting up in the center of the island. I turned my eyes to the flowers in my hand, admiring them, careful not to bruise the petals. It would not do to have such a lovely gift spoiled before the giving.
I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, forcing my mind to focus. For someone who could think a thing into being, the last few days had been one long distraction. Ever since our dinner together, since I had walked Persephone back to her room, I felt like I had been lost in a dream of my own.
And one not of my making.
That was the only way to explain the incessant call of the world Above. I did not want to be here. Everything around me felt somber, colors and senses muted and dull. The surface…oh, the surface was bright! Here below, the golden glow of the infernal sun could not compare to the color of her hair, and every time I looked at the sky, I laughed that it dared call itself blue.
I turned the memory of her over in my mind, the same way I turned the bouquet in my hand – carefully. We had paused outside her door, and she turned to look at me, lowering her eyes as though I might see more than she wanted to reveal. The kiss at the party had been a brusque sort of intimacy. I did not regret it. I could not deny that it stirred something in me. But it felt…disordered, substance with no depth. And that is not me.
And so, I had introduced myself as I said goodbye to her, lifting Persephone’s hand to press a kiss lightly on the inside of her wrist. Telling her that this was who I was. A step backward in our relationship for all the other steps forward that I wanted to make.
Speaking of steps, my instincts said it was time. I stood up and adjusted my waistcoat, ran a hand through my hair, and closing my eyes, stepped into the Dream.
* * * * * * * * *
I emerged at my usual place: a square fountain in the center of a city long lost at the bottom of the ocean. It exists here in perpetuity now, because I remember it and keep the memory in the Dream. I do not consider myself a historian, not like Clio, but the Dream is the final resting place of so many things the world has forgotten. Here, they exist forever.
I have to chuckle because this anchor point is not much different from these video games the mortals play now. This is my save point. The rare times that I have been in full retreat from something in the Dream, I have been able to return here in an instant to regroup.
I stared at the silver water pouring into the basin from vessels held by four mermaids at the corners of the fountain. Focusing on the sound of the water, I shifted my mind through the noise and into the silence that lay beyond it, the place where I can sense every dreamer and every movement in the Dream. It was into that space that I whispered her name.
Instantly, I felt the turn of her head toward me. It was doubtful she knew what she heard, but that did not matter. I now knew where she was, as though she had marked her location on a map. I turned most of the way around to my left and took a single step, emerging in one of the greenspace gardens clustered around the foot of the Tower.
Persephone sat on a bench there, speaking with Selene – well, who she thought was Selene. Selene was not in the Dream, rarely was. But such is the nature of the Dream.
Few are aware, but the Dream is a living thing, responding to the touch of the dreamer’s needs and fears and desires. Selene spoke with Persephone because Persephone needed to speak with someone, and that need chose Selene’s face. It has always been hard to explain how I am able to watch and give dreams simultaneously to all who sleep, but the truth is, I don’t. The power lies in the construct. And I am its Architect.
I pondered for a moment, allowing the apparition of Selene to remain. If it was serving some purpose, perhaps this visit was ill-timed. I listened for a moment, only to have the problem solved for me as Persephone turned her head and looked right at me. Instantly, Selene winked out like she was never there.
“Morpheus!” Her smile lit up like the cresting rays of the sunrise. “I am happy to see you! Would you like to join me?” Sliding on the bench, Persephone shifted to angle her body towards me, giving me her full attention.
I accepted her offer, tucking the small bouquet behind me as I sat down. “I am glad I was able to find you so quickly. And alone.”
She gave me a puzzled look. “Yes… yes, alone. I thought I was supposed to meet Selene, but I could have my days mixed up. Are you here on some business?”
“No,” I admit, tilting my head to the side. “I am simply working on that more you wanted.”
I heard her laugh, a tone like the soft chime of faraway bells. “Then I am happy I asked for it. Sometimes, I have to step away from everything in there,” she gestured at the tower with a slight frown. “I come here to reconnect. I feel at home. Well, as much as I can.”
“Mmmm, I have a place like that, too.” I was just there, I think with a soft smile. “Such places are necessary, I believe. Now more than ever. Since I have visited yours, perhaps one day, you can come visit mine.”
“I would love to! Should it be possible, I would like to see where you go to relax.” Nervous energy radiated off her for a moment as she tucked a stray piece of hair back behind the headband adorned with bright white daisies. “I feel like I am saying the silliest things.”
I laugh. It feels good, not just the laughter, but that she is the one that caused it. “Are you trying to impress me, Persephone?”
Her cheeks flushed pink as she bit her lower lip, eyes casting downward for the briefest moment. “I am wanting to keep you talking. Because I am trying to get up the courage to ask you something.”
I slid closer on the bench, my knee touching hers, and smiled. “Well, that was absolutely the wrong thing to say. Because now, I am just going to sit here until you do.”
A myriad of thoughts crossed her face as Persephone seemed to make one decision, then quickly change her mind. Doubt crept past, followed by resolve, emotions playing across her features as she clasped her hands in her lap.
“Would it help if I told you that this was a dream?” I said softly. “That you are dreaming right now, and none of this is real? That you can say or do whatever you like? That there are no mistakes here, and nothing to fear? Not with me at your side.”
I saw a shadow of something dash across her eyes, darkening the blue for just a moment, a glimpse, and it was gone. A less astute observer would have missed it. She was obviously unsettled by something. That was not the response I wanted. I swept my hand out to the side, conjuring a swarm of pink butterflies from the pebbles beneath our feet. They fluttered up, spiraling around her before winging off toward the trees.
“A dream, Persephone,” I whispered as she watched them fly away. “The Dream. And you have nothing to fear here, for I am its King.”
The tension washed from her shoulders like a wave ebbing from the shore. Persephone turned her gaze back from where the butterflies had gone.
“A Dream,” she paused, looking up at me. “I have wanted to ask you and have been hiding it. I think I may have dreamt this exact moment before. Except I was awake and my mind was wandering on its own. I enjoy getting to see you. Our paths crossing.”
Her words were still hesitant, and I could tell she was trying to think about them before setting them free.
“I thought about telling you this before, but every time I talk myself out of it. But I wanted to tell you. Even though all the chaos and the way Hekate’s party ended, I find myself thinking of that moment, of the kiss. I daydream when I should be focused, and I cannot stop thinking about it. And you.” She whispered the final words, as if they were a precious secret she would only share with me.
I averted my eyes from hers, giving her a moment of privacy to gather herself. I smiled to myself, hearing my own thoughts coming from her lips.
“You said you had something to ask me. I don’t believe I heard a question.” I looked back at her and smiled. “Forgive me if I missed it. I was rather distracted by your mouth.”
Though a soft blush rose on her skin, Persephone smiled back at me. “I did say that, yes. And no, I haven’t asked it yet. I was hoping perhaps, would you want to do it again? Without the game, without the party and the pressure of onlookers. Without the commentary from everyone else. I want to know you, Morpheus. I want to see your world. And I was hoping you might feel the same.”
I took her hand and pulled her to her feet to stand in front of me. It is a simple thing to make the sun set, so I did, shifting the light, bringing on the night. It is a simple thing to make the Tower disappear, to leave us standing in the middle of a field of Dream Poppies beneath an open and starry sky, so I did.
I combed her hair back from her face, feeling it run between my fingers like threads of silk. We stood there for a long moment, staring at each other. Her eyelids seemed heavy, her lips parting slightly. It was tempting. I had not said it to her, but I wanted this every bit as much as she did. Perhaps more. But not now. Not like this.
“You said you want to know me. So, know this, and know me. Our first kiss was the issue of random chance and opportunity. And if I kiss you now, as I so desire to do, then this kiss will be the product of a dream.” I stroked her cheek with the backs of my fingers, running my thumb across her lower lip. “What I desire with you is neither a game nor something from which I wish to ever wake. Do you understand?”
Persephone closed her eyes, leaning into my touch with a longing painted across her face. “I do.”
“I promise you this. I will kiss you, in the waking world, in the flesh. And when I do, it will not be something you will forget the moment you open your eyes.”
She gently placed her hand over mine, looking up at me as the starlight reflected in her eyes. “I will hold your words in my heart. Fantasies and dreams are fleeting, and I do not want just a fleeting moment with you. I want more. I want real.”
“That is good.” I smiled at her words and pulled out the small bouquet I brought from my garden, placing it in her hand. “It is a rather recent association, poppies and remembrance, but take these and know that you dreamed true tonight.”
I leaned down and brushed a kiss across her forehead as I returned her to the sun-drenched garden of the Tower, bouquet of poppies in hand. Before she could open her eyes, I stepped into her and disappeared.
* * * * * * * * *
Sleep is a door, with the waking world on one side, the Dream on the other. And every dreamer crosses that threshold, leaving the door open behind them in order to return.
I stepped through Persephone, using her door back into the real world, emerging in her apartments at the Tower. I gave the room a cursory glance as I felt myself solidify and take on mass again outside the Dream. I needed to be quick, as her waking would make it impossible to return the way I came.
Her chest rose and fell in the slow rhythm of deep sleep, and despite myself, I stood over her for a time, memorizing the flow of her hair over the pillows, the precise way she pillowed her head on her arm. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the real bouquet of poppies, leaving them on the bedside table where she would see them.
“Our dream is just beginning,” I whispered to her. Then, taking one last look, I stepped back through the open door of her, back into the Dream, and one more step home.