“Coming!” I called out, knowing it was Selene. Running to the door, I pulled it open with a wide grin and stepped aside, allowing her to enter. 

Selene wore a bleak expression. Her eyes darted between me and the ground. She headed straight for the bar and poured herself a dram of the scotch, downing it in one swig. I quietly followed her to the counter and poured a glass for myself. She was fidgeting with her pockets and pacing the room.

“Seli…I want to—” I started when she interrupted me.

“What is going on, Akti? I need to know. Did I do something to upset you, or is there some other reason you’re pulling away from me?” her voice cracked as she said the last few words.

Leaving my drink on the counter, I rushed to her side and held her by her shoulders. I teared up, noticing the shadows that had formed under her eyes. My head bowed in shame. “I am so sorry, Seli. I must apologize for my behavior. I have been the most utter ass in the history of asses!” I said, my eyes downcast.

She chuckled with a quick glance my way before her smile faded. “Why? What made you withdraw?”

My hands fell to my side as I let go of her and turned away. “Oh, Seli! I am so ashamed of what happened during the quest. I forced you to use that dagger on me without considering how much it would hurt you. I am sorry, Seli. I really am. At the time, I could only think about bringing Sayeh back to life.” I felt her gaze on my back. “The guilt has been eating at me since we returned and I…I feared you’d hate me for putting you through that,” I said, my voice shaking from the remorse I had kept bottled up.

Selene wheeled me around to face her. I looked down, unable to meet her eyes. “Hate you? How could you even think that, Akti? I know what Sayeh is to you. And yes, it was a painful experience for me at the quest, but what matters is that you safely returned to me. Nothing else matters, Akti!” Selene said, placing a finger under my chin and raising my face to meet hers. Her blue eyes shone from unshed tears as she gazed into mine. A single tear rolled down my face. Selene brushed her lips on my cheek, wiping the teardrop away. “Promise me that the next time you feel like being an ass, you’ll at least tell me why,” she whispered into my ear.

“No promises,” I said, holding up my crossed fingers. Selene pulled me into her arms, and we stumbled onto the loveseat. Our hands explored each other as her lips met mine in a passionate kiss. We broke apart, panting for breath. She ran her fingers through my braided hair, letting it fall loose. I loved it every time she ran her fingers through my silky mane. I held her hand in mine and brought it to my lips, planting soft kisses on her knuckles. “How do you feel about a little trip? Get away from here for some sexy time?” I asked, wiggling my eyebrows.

She laughed and pulled me in for another quick kiss. “I will follow you to the end of the world, woman. And when you ask in this position, I don’t think I can resist.” Selene sat up straight, abruptly pulling from my embrace, and fished a hand into her pocket. She exhaled a gust of air as though she’d averted a disaster and was relieved.

“What happened?” I asked, my brow creased with concern by her sudden change.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” she replied.

I didn’t want to press her any further. I knew she would eventually tell me. “So, about the trip. I was hoping we could leave tomorrow. Can you take time off from your lab?”

“Umm…yes, but how long are you thinking, and where are we going?”

“A week? And the location is a surprise,” I replied, winking at her. I stood and stretched my hand out to her.

“Wait! We’re leaving now?” she asked, taking my hand.

I pulled her closer to me. “No, now we go take a shower and finish what we started.”

She chuckled, her face turning a deep shade of crimson as we slowly strolled into the bathroom.

The next morning, I woke to the smell of fresh coffee and bread. “It’s not fair. You don’t sleep and always beat me to the kitchen,” I said, wrapping my arms around Selene’s waist from behind.

“Morning lovely. Sleep well?”

I nodded, kissing along her neckline. “Much better than I have in a long time,” I said in between kisses. Her whole being shuddered, and I smiled, knowing it was her sweet spot. It always worked.

“We won’t be leaving for the trip any time soon if you keep doing that,” she said, her breath shaky and tone sensual.

“Alright, then. We can pick this up when we reach our destination.”

“You’re not telling me where we’re going? At least tell me what to pack.”

I shook my head, walking backward as I retreated to the bedroom. “Rosen has already packed and delivered everything you need. She’s a good one. I like her.”

“Everything except for the most important thing,” Selene murmured.

“Hmm?”

She shrugged in response and followed me to the room. We changed, ate a quick breakfast, and were ready to leave in an hour.

“How are we traveling?” Selene asked. I held my hand out to her, and she sighed. “We’re teleporting, aren’t we?” I nodded and took her hand in mine. She rolled her eyes, bracing for the pull. I concentrated on the destination and focussed the energy on my core. Within moments, we were pulled into a vortex and delivered to our location.

The sun was only beginning to descend, casting an orange glow over the Seine and the rest of Paris. Selene drew in a sharp breath and laced her fingers into mine. Her lips curled into a beautiful smile, admiring the scenery. We crossed the river in a comfortable silence, enjoying the evening bustle of the city of love. As we approached the city center, the metallic edifice of the Eiffel Tower came into focus. Standing at the base, I realized I’d never fully appreciated the sheer size of the structure. We took the elevator to the highest floor on the tower. There was no one there. I’d booked the entire space for the evening.

As the sun dipped over the horizon, the lights turned on, illuminating the city of love. Paris came into view, spreading out beneath us in its classic architecture.

“Oh, Akti! This is perfect!” Selene said. She rushed to the edge, looking out, a bright smile glowing from her. I stood watching her as she breathed in the misty air. Her smile warmed my heart.

I pulled the key from my pocket and stood beside her. “Seli.”

“Hmm?” she answered without looking at me.

“Seli, I want you to have this,” I said, extending the key toward her.

Selene turned to face me, her eyes wide. “Key to your apartment?”

I nodded and turned it sideways to reveal the pearl set into the bow of the key. Selene scrutinized the pearl for a few minutes before realization dawned on her. “The Pearl from the Sea Queen?” she asked.

“Yes. The Sea Queen gifted it to me just before she left for the Underworld.”

“I remember you mentioning that when you returned to the surface.”

I smiled, nodding. “But, there’s more to the story. When the queen gave me the pearl, she had the curse on the pearl replaced with a blessing. ‘Whomsoever shall possess the pearl shall remain by the touch of true love.’” Selene looked up, her eyes meeting mine. “I have never known love like yours, Seli. I want you to have the pearl along with a key to my home and heart.” I shifted on my feet as a nervous sweat rolled down my back, despite the chilly air.

Selene continued to stare at me, her mouth slightly open. She drew in a quick breath and cleared her throat but said nothing. My heart thumped against my chest as my brain took her silence as a denial. Numerous thoughts struck my mind at once.

Was this too soon? Did I upset her by offering a key? Does she not want to live with me?

I turned away from Selene, my fingers clutching the key tightly. I didn’t know what to say anymore. Had I ruined our romantic trip before it had even begun?

“Akti…” Selene called from behind me. I whirled around slowly to see her down on one knee, holding up a velvet jewelry box. My eyes glazed over the ring, the vintage setting with fishtail prongs, and the classic solitaire on the hand-engraved mounting. I recognized the ring–it had been offered to me once before. I drew in a sharp breath. Thanatos! He must’ve gifted the ring to Selene when she and I made our relationship public. Selene’s next words brought me back to the present. 

“Fair is only fair! You think you can make a grand gesture and get away scot-free? If you’re giving me the Pearl of Love, then I want it to be ours, not mine or yours, but Ours. For now and then forever!”

I rubbed my face lest she see the tears forming and slipped onto my knees meeting Selene at eye level, “Yes! For now and forever!”

Artemis (Rashmi Menon)
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