It was the crack of dawn and I was lacing up my boots. I looked out at the red sky, streaked with orange and gold. Morning in Erebos. I felt two arms slide around my waist and warm lips pressed to the back of my neck. I leaned into him and closed my eyes. I liked the smell of him, warm and musky with something like lightning after a rainstorm. He held me tighter.
“Don’t go,” he whispered into my ear, sending shivers up my spine. “Stay.”
I felt myself smiling. It felt strange, as though it was somehow wrong for me to be doing it. Wrong for me to be happy. But I let it stay and reached behind my head to touch his stubbled cheek.
“I can’t,” I said. “I’ve been gone too long already.”
“It’s only been a few hours, hasn’t it?”
I laughed. “Three days.”
I heard the rumble of laughter in his chest, pressed up against my back. “Seemed like minutes.”
This is a dream.
I slid out of his grasp and turned around to face him. His hair was mussed, but he somehow looked even better. I could feel his eyes burning into me even in the dim light, and a feeling filled up my insides. The feeling terrified me sometimes. I could get lost in it, lost in him when we were together. Like nothing else mattered. And it scared the hell out of me. I didn’t want it to scare me, but it did.
“I can’t be gone for so long,” I said. “I need to be more responsible.”
He reached for me, grasping my waist with warm hands under my shirt. “Why?” he said.
“Because of the souls,” I said, my voice hardly more than a whisper. I could feel the heat coming off of him, echoing the same heat coming off of me. “They need me.”
“I need you more.” He bent down and kissed me, and I wrapped my arms around his neck.
This isn’t real. It’s just a dream.
He pulled away, and stared at me, still holding me close. “Let’s go away. Anywhere. Let’s run away together.”
I laughed, but he didn’t flinch. “Are you serious? We can’t.”
“Yes we can,” he said. “I’m sure of it.”
“What about Erebos? And the souls? We can’t just leave…”
No, not a dream. A memory.
“Who will stop us?” he said. “The Creator? It’s not as if He cares one way or another. I’ve heard He’s already left Briah again. I have people I trust now that can take over here. The souls will wait. There will always be souls, Niki. They’ll never stop for you.”
“Where would we go?” I said, my heart racing. I couldn’t go away, could I? “Anywhere in the World isn’t possible. I feel them all there, pulling at me all the time.”
“Outside of Erebos, then,” he said. “Or Briah. You’ve never been there, but you’d love it. It’s beautiful up there. And no one would bother us. Just you and me, alone. No distractions.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“What’s to think about?” he said. “Come away with me.”
“Why?” I said. “Isn’t this enough?”
I felt his grasp tighten. “It’s never enough, Niki.”
I didn’t leave.
I woke with the tang of the memory sharp in my mind, the taste of Lucifer in my mouth. I touched my lips, remembering what it felt like. I should have gone away with him. I shouldn’t have hesitated. I should have told him it was never enough for me, either. But I didn’t know how to say it.
The bed seemed cold without him and I rolled out and pulled my shirt on over my head. The thought I’d fallen asleep to echoed in my head: Something was very, very wrong. A feeling like blind panic started to expand in my chest.
It was time to talk to Ash.