The waves crashed on the beach. The alluring sound caressed my senses as the tide kissed the sand. The warm water washed over my legs as I sat staring into the blue depths. The motion was so rhythmic it felt like the ocean had a heartbeat. And indeed it did have one, my Uncle Poseidon’s.
Objectively, I thought it could be beautiful here. The sun was warm as it shone down on me. The sand was so white it shimmered with rainbow fractals, and the waters near the island were so very blue. It amazed me how clear they were, and how much I could see swimming below the surface if I just focused. As alluring as the scenery was, I had soured on its charm. The tatters of my sundress swirled around my thighs as the wave once again covered my legs. Those happy moments on the cruise ship seemed forever ago, not mere days.
Purple and green still marred my arms and legs, the bruises fading into watercolor patterns as I healed. The cuts had closed, most of them silvered lines on my skin that would disappear within the next few days. I looked at my hands and sighed. My fingernails were cracked and chipped, in a desperate need of a manicure. I couldn’t remember the last time I had taken a bath, let alone run a brush through my hair. The superficial desire to sink deep into the warm water welled inside me. To relax into the bath and feel it embrace me. The scent of rosewater and lilies filling my nose as I leaned back and enjoyed the sensation.
I hadn’t had the strength to look at myself since I awoke free from the village. Avoiding all pools, water, even the glass reflection of myself in the cavern below the island. I wasn’t sure what I looked like, what lasting damage this island had left.
The curiosity to see fled as quickly as it had arisen. A fleeting thought that I let fly away like whispers. I wasn’t ready to face myself. If I did, that meant I had to deal with the tragedy and what I had done.
I slipped away as the others discussed our way home. I wanted to really see the island. Look at it from the outside. Strip away everything that had happened to me here and take an objective view. I wasn’t needed for planning the teleport. I had no abilities that would take us from this tropical paradise back to the mountain of the God Complex. They could decide the fastest route without input from me.
I slid my hands behind my head, pulling my flowing hair away from my back as I lay down on the sand. The strands ran tangled through my fingers into a golden halo as I stared up at the trees waving above me. The warmth of the sea sliding against my legs lulled me. I could almost trick myself into believing I was home in my apartment on the 12th floor, in my own bath. I closed my eyes and thought at least it was a simple enough delusion.
One by one, I let my thoughts about this island dance around, swirling like ribbons blown by the wind. They twisted and turned, colors reflecting off each other. Pulling the threads of each thought, I sorted through them one by one.
The memories of the garden were easy to put away. It was the past. I took my own steps away from those events with the removal of the bond of the demerodi. Though I would feel the pain in my heart for what had happened all those years ago, I had no control over them. What I had control over was accepting it and moving forward. That settled, my mind wandered to the next tangle.
The sinking of the cruise ship was a grey snarl in my mind. I would have much to sort out with that over the upcoming days. I knew I would start with telling Morpheus. I had destroyed his vacation with my actions. Perhaps putting it to words would also help in my acceptance of the tragedy. Eventually, I would find the strength to tell the others. It was clear I would have to face it before I returned below,.
An angry red thread vibrated. The need for revenge against the old woman and her people boiled within me as I thought about what she had done. I took a deep, shuddering breath as I tried to cleanse myself of those feelings. It would do no good and accomplish nothing, even though I desperately wanted her to pay. Boxing those thoughts up, I tied the ribbon tightly around it and tucked away the events with the Tauata peoples. It would be safer for everyone that way.
A wave of deep violet velvet covered me, and I felt the smile on my lips as I sunk into those memories like a diver slipping under the water. Morpheus. His gentle touch as I woke in his embrace, safe from my tormentors. The depth of his voice as he assured me he was real. To my mind, he was deep, shadowed strength. Wrapped around me, I felt safe within his embrace. I was also confident that when I stepped out to face my own obstacles, he would be there when I returned. I heard my giggle of happiness as his name danced in my mind. The warmth of my body, not just from the sun bearing down on me. I felt his lips on my skin as he gently kissed my forehead. A tender gesture to most, but to me, it was a spark of stars. The lingering scent of the silvery Dream Poppies filled my nose, a haunting smell that promised sleep, dreams, and escape. It was so real. I could almost reach out and touch him.
I felt as much as heard the undergrowth near the treeline part, moving to allow someone passage. My ears picked up the sound of feet on the sand as they approached me.
Looking to the side, I opened my eyes, blinking in the blinding sun. I shaded them with my hand, staring into the brilliant light until the blurred form came into focus. Almost as if my thoughts had summoned him, Morpheus strode across the beach towards me. The island had not treated him as roughly as it had me, but I could still see the marks of this adventure on him.
Smiling, I took the time to admire him. The black trousers cut to his body had fared the island’s wrath exceptionally well. His white silk shirt he’d worn on the boat that fateful morning was torn to shreds and gone. I had seen the remnants of it in the bandages he had used on my wounds. Intricate black tattoos decorated his arms, winding their way over his biceps until they disappeared underneath the brocade vest he wore like a second skin. Shirtless and shoeless, he crossed the beach towards me.
Watching him move was mesmerizing. His stride was both graceful and deadly, like the sword buckled on his belt. I bit my lip as my fingers twitched against the sand. I wanted to trace the patterns of the dark tattoos and slide my fingers along each curve of his body. A carnal need to feel his lips on mine as he tangled his hands in my hair exploded in me, hot like the volcano that crowned this island. It was a good thing the heat of the sun had already turned my pale skin pink. Otherwise, my blush would have given my desires away.
His shadow fell over me, cool and sweet. “It is time. I would think if anyone was ready to get off this island, it would be you.”
“I am more than happy to never see this island again.” Pushing myself off the soft sand, I climbed to my feet, the tatters of my skirt clinging damply to my legs. “Has everyone decided what our course of action will be to get home?”
“They seem to have it worked out. It will require my help, though.” He absently brushed sand from my arms, his hands settling around mine. “So, no one is going anywhere until we return.”
As much as I abhorred this island and everything that happened, I was suddenly loath to let this moment end. It was the first time we had been truly alone since the crash, where I hadn’t been passed out in his arms in one way or another.
“I suppose they are desperate to go.” I was able to keep the disappointment from my voice as I shifted in the direction of the treeline. His hands tightened on mine, drawing me back.
“They are immortal. They can wait.”
Turning back into him, I looked up and felt my smile broaden.
“Yes. They can.” although I knew I should feel guilty for making them wait, I didn’t. I gave into my earlier impulse, and my free hand slid across his skin. I shivered as I ran my finger along the dark ink on his arm, feeling the muscle beneath. I let out the breath I had been holding and tore my eyes away from the tattoo to meet his gaze again. He looked deeply into my eyes.
“This island has been a nightmare for all of us, in one way or another. But the worst part of it for me was that my realm was used to imprison you against your will, that you came to harm there, and I was unable to stop it. There is a price to be paid for that, and I will have it.”
A dark look crossed Morpheus’ face as some hidden pain winged its way through his mind. His eyes refocused on my face as he reached up to tuck my hair back. His fingertips traced the curve of my ear, then the length of my jaw, his touch light as he tilted my face up to his. “Do you remember what I told you, Persephone? Why I would not kiss you in the Dream?”
I didn’t trust my lips to speak. The way he said my name stole the breath right out of me, I felt the rush under my skin as I nodded. I had played those words over in my head since that dream. Waiting, wanting something real. My voice was soft when I finally answered, “So it would not be something I forgot when I opened my eyes.”
Morpheus leaned closer, his lips close enough to mine that I could feel their warmth. “And tell me. Are you dreaming now?”
“No.” I shivered as I answered, “I am not dreaming.” I felt a surge of anticipation. My skin was on fire where his fingers touched me. I looked into his eyes, my breath quickening as my hands came to rest against his chest. “I am awake.”
His lips brushed mine softly, as soft as the petals of the flowers he had left by my bedside. A time that now seemed so long ago. He drew back to look at me, his hand slipping around the back of my head, fingers weaving through my hair as a flicker of a smile crossed his face.
He gave me no chance to respond before his mouth was on mine. The intensity of it drove my knees out from under me. His arms tightened around me, drawing me against him as his tongue parted my lips, intent on tasting everything he had denied himself until this moment. Though he had made sure I was awake, everything around me took on a surreal quality. I could hear the waves in each breath I took, feel the heat of the sun in my core.
When the old woman held me captive on this island, how many times had I wondered if my torment would ever end? And now, here, captive in Morpheus’ arms, reality had reversed itself. I would stay here in this moment forever if I could. Lost in the torment of his kiss.
Morpheus pulled away reluctantly, resting his forehead against mine, his breath as short as mine. We stood like that for a long moment, allowing the world to come back into focus. Sand. Saltwater. Sea air. Sun. Finally, he drew back and cupped my face in his hands.
“Your nightmares are behind you, Persephone,” he whispered. “Do not be afraid to dream.”