There were a few grumbles, but overall everyone agreed. If they were to get cracking at dawn, then they needed their rest.
"So Where’s Arik bunking?" Tory asked.
Geary hesitated. There really wasn’t any place to put him without inconveniencing one of the guys. Their rooms were cramped at best, and she was sure none of them wanted to bunk with a stranger.
Arik gave her a hopeful look that brought an unexpected smile to her face. "I already have a roommate."
There was no missing Arik’s disappointment. "Who?"
Tory rocked back and forth on her feet. "Me and Mr. Cuddles."
"Yeah," Geary said, nodding, "and Mr. Cuddles is a jealous sort. He doesn’t share us well."
Arik didn’t miss a beat. "Does this mean I’ll have to fight him?"
"You’d never win," Tory said sweetly. "Mr. Cuddles cheats. You think he’s just a pushover teddy bear, but he’s vicious, I tell you. Vicious."
Kat cast a speculative look at Arik. "You could throw him on a hammock on deck."
Geary considered it. It actually wasn’t a bad thought. "We will be up at dawn, so it wouldn’t really wake him once we hit the deck…"
Tory leaned toward Arik. "Bet you’re thinking you should have gone home, huh?"
"No," he said, his tone sincere. "I had a great time tonight." He looked at Tory and smiled. "And you’re right. The mighty Moon Pie is the best. Thank you for sharing your treasure with me."
"Anytime." She rose up on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. "Good night, Arik. I’ll see you in the morning.
"You, too, Tory."
Kat gave him an odd look before she bid them good night and followed Tory to the hallway.
Thia came forward with a calculating gleam in her eyes. "Well, if no one else wants him… I could share my bunk with him."
"Go to bed, Cynthia," Geary said sharply, "before Justina kills you for pimping out your shared cabin."
Thia gave a weary sigh. "I was just trying to be friendly. They always say you shouldn’t sleep alone in a strange bed."
"Yes, and they didn’t have their cousin on board to watch over them, either. One who would report any sleazy behavior to their mother. Good night, Thia."
Tossing her hair over her shoulder in a huff, she left them alone.
Geary gave Arik a once-over as she realized he’d have to sleep in his borrowed jeans and shirt. "What are you going to do for clothes?"
"Solin said he’d return with something for me to wear in the morning."
"Ahh, okay. Well, I guess I’ll grab a hammock and meet you topside."
Arik started to offer to go with her, but she was already feeling smothered by his presence. He would back off for a bit even though it was the last thing he wanted to do. "All right. I’ll see you on deck."
He headed for the stairs to the upper deck while she went the other way, deeper into the boat. He paused at the handrail, amazed by the slick feel of it. Nothing here was what he’d expected. Especially not the food. He didn’t know why the gods made such a fuss over ambrosia and nectar given how wonderful human food tasted.
Perhaps the gods were in denial because they were only supposed to have the best and it bothered them to think that mankind had perfected some of their world even while they battled one another.
Or maybe the gods honestly didn’t know better.
Dismissing the thought, he climbed up to stand on deck as a light breeze whispered against his skin. The sensation was exquisite, but it was nothing compared to the sight of the city that sparkled over a velvet black landscape. The water lapped quietly against the boat as a faint jingle of music and laughter reached him. No wonder humans didn’t want to die. Their world was remarkable, and their lives were made even more precious by the fact that they had so little time to spend here.
How did they do it? How did they exist knowing that the specter of death constantly haunted them? It was enough to depress anyone, and yet for the most part they were happy with their lot. They ignored their impending doom and inarched on toward their death with dignity and grace while finding shards of happiness to content them.
It was truly amazing.
But then they didn’t know how long their lives would be. Decades or weeks. So they prepared for the worst and expected the best. It was actually rather noble.
And how strange it must be for Solin and ZT and the others to live this close to walking corpses. No wonder they were closed off from everyone. Who would want to reach out and befriend someone when he or she could be torn away from you at any moment? When there was no chance of a lasting relationship. Everything here was doomed to finality.
It must be horrifying for them all.
Arik looked back the way he’d come and wondered what Megeara would think if she knew her life was about to end.
Because of him.
He went cold with the thought. Now there was something he couldn’t dwell on. He’d been naive when he’d made his bargain with Hades. Now there was no way back from it. As M’Ordant and Wink had pointed out, there would be others to beckon Arik back to this realm once Megeara was gone.
And yet he knew better. She was unique in this place of overwhelming emotions. In all the centuries, he’d never met anyone like her.
Where he lived, the human world seemed vague and unreal. But here it was vivid and extreme. Too extreme perhaps…
"Here you go."
He turned to find Megeara heading toward the prow. Her face was silhouetted by the moonlight.
"You’re lucky we have these. Otherwise it’d be a pallet on the deck for you."
Arik watched as she set about stringing the hammock out. "You like to sleep in the hammock on cool nights, don’t you?"
She looked up with a panicked expression. "How do you know that?"
He knew it from her dreams, but he didn’t tell her that, since his goal was to soothe and seduce her, not scare her more. "From the look on your face and the skill you’re showing as you lay it out."
She blushed before she returned to her task. "Yeah, I like to look up at the stars at night."
He knelt down to help her as she untangled some of the lines. "And what do you find when you look up there?"
Her hands worked deftly to straighten out the canvas and lace the cord through the grommets. "When I was a little girl, my father used to lay on deck with me and my brother and point out the constellations.
Then he’d tell us stories about how the Greek gods supposedly formed them."
He could hear the bittersweet agony of her memory. She’d both loved and hated her father. It was a dichotomy Arik barely understood. He held no feelings whatsoever for his parents. But then he’d never really known either one of them. Morpheus had too many children to pay attention to any one and Arik’s mother, Myst, couldn’t be bothered. She was a carefree goddess who held no real affinity for anyone or anything. At least nothing he knew of.
It wasn’t that he was angry over it. He was truly ambivalent. It was how things were in his world, so there was no feeling there for his parents whatsoever, not even while he was human.
But it made him wonder what it would be like to love the way Megeara loved. To feel that pain of betrayal when the person was no longer there. To have that surge of joy when the person was…
He helped her anchor a corner. "So which story was your favorite?"
She tugged the line to make sure it was taut. "Orion. I always thought it was cruel and tragic that Artemis loved him, and that her own brother tricked her into killing him because Apollo was jealous and hated the fact that she was in love with a mere mortal."
"That’s only one version of the story. The other is that Artemis killed him because he raped one of her handmaidens."
"I’ve heard that one, too, but I believe the first one."
"And why is that?"
"I don’t know. It just seems right."
She was astute and part of him wanted to confirm it for her, but he didn’t dare. She’d spent her whole life studying the gods and ancient civilizations, looking for corroboration that they’d all existed, and here he was, living proof, right beside her. He wondered what she’d do if she ever learned that he was one of the gods, along with her friend "Kat."
It might be a little too much to expect Geary to take it in stride.
Geary was a bit nervous as she finished securing the hammock to the hooks. It hung about a foot above the deck. Not too high, but not so low it wouldn’t be comfortable. Her only concern was that he might catch a chill even with blankets.
Would that worsen his condition? Not that she knew what was wrong with him, but still the last thing she wanted to do was take even a moment of his life away with more illness.
Which begged the question of what was wrong with him? She wanted to know but didn’t want to remind him of how short his life would be. It seemed somehow wrong.
Instead, she gestured toward the hammock. "All yours."
He tsked at her. "I really wish you were talking about you and not the hammock."
"Yeah, I’ll bet you do."
As she started past him, he pulled her toward him, and before she realized what he intended he kissed her. She moaned at the sweet taste of him, at the hunger of his embrace. For the first time in her life, she wished she were more like Thia. She wouldn’t have a bit of trouble taking him to her bed. But Geary wasn’t like that. She’d never been a one-night-stand woman. She preferred a relationship before she got nak*d with someone, which was why she seldom even dated. Her quest had left her very little time for anything else in her life.
But Arik was seriously starting to bring her ethics into question.
Pulling back, she picked the blanket up from the hammock and held it to his chest. "Good night, Arik."
He let out an exasperated breath as he took the blanket from her with a grimace. "Good night, Megeara.
May the dream gods be good to you."
A tingle went over her at the way he purred those words. It was as if he knew she’d been dreaming of him.
Putting that thought out of her mind, she left him and headed below, but as she reached the stairs she couldn’t help looking back at him. He was already lying in the hammock, watching her.
In the darkness, his eyes seemed to glow.
She swore she could hear his unspoken request for her to return to him. It reminded her of the same disembodied voice that kept beckoning her to the dig site-only that voice was definitely female. And it called out to her even now to find Atlantis and set her free.
I am losing my mind. Maybe she should see someone about schizophrenia…
But she knew better than that. This wasn’t schizophrenia. It was merely her quest calling to her to fulfill her promise. She understood that. What she didn’t understand was this odd connection to Arik. Why she heard and saw him even when he wasn’t around.
Go to bed, Geary, and forget it.
Waving good night to him, she went to her room to find Tory already in her nightshirt and bed with Mr.
Cuddles tucked under her arm. Since Tory’s glasses were on the nightstand by her head, she was squinting at Geary. "I wasn’t expecting you to come back."
"What do you mean?"
"C’mon, Geary, I may be half-blind, but that man is the finest thing I’ve ever seen… blurry or not. If I were you, I wouldn’t have come back here tonight."
Geary scoffed at her. "You’re only fifteen, Tory. It’s not like you’ve got a lot of experience under your belt to judge hot men by."
"Point taken, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s gorgeous and he likes you. A lot. So why are you back here?"
"Because we have a four A.M. wake-up call."
Tory sighed and shook her head. "You’re the only person I know who’s more pathetic than I am. I’m an orphaned kid, Geary. You shouldn’t have to be alone all the time."
"Oh, hush, and go to sleep before I kidnap Cuddles. And speaking of furry things, where’s Kichka?"
"I don’t know. I haven’t seen her. Maybe she’s stuck in the hold again."
As if on cue, Geary’s cat came running in the open door to rub against her leg. A Bengal cat, Kichka had been Tory’s Christmas present a year ago, but the cat had taken such a liking to Geary that all of them had finally given up and just let Kichka own her.
"There you are." Geary picked Kichka up from the floor and set her on the bed while she undressed.
Before Kichka curled up on her pillow to clean one paw she meowed loudly at Geary.
Tory turned over and gave Geary her back.
Her thoughts on Arik, Geary turned off the lights, tucked herself into the bed, and closed her eyes while Kichka moved from the pillow to sleep on the small of Geary’s back. Within seconds, the cat was purring, Tory was snoring, and the gentle roll of the boat was lulling Geary away from all her problems.
And before Geary knew it, she was drifting to sleep.
ARIK HAD NEVER SLEPT AS A HUMAN BEFORE. THE WEIGHT of his body was odd, especially combined with the swinging motion of the boat and hammock. But it didn’t take him long to lose himself in the realm of dreams.
It was strange to be back where he lived. His dreams were misty and cold. At least in the beginning, but after a time they began to clear and he realized something.
His powers were back.
Arik paused, unsure if what he felt was real. Floating above the ground, he held his hands out before him and conjured a swirling ball of flames. The heat was warm but not painful as he built the ball with his mind to a dangerous height.