The Moth in the Mirror
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He felt Gossamer watching his profile. “I must ask one last time if you’re sure,” she said. “For, you see, since you are choosing to be locked within and sealing the choice with your blood, the box will never let you out. No one can save you. You’re signing away your eternity for Ivory, a queen you don’t even know.”
Jeb gulped a knot from his throat. “No. I’m trading my eternity for Al’s.”
Gossamer smiled tenderly. “I once saw in your dreams your fear of not being good enough for the girl. After such a sacrifice, no one could ever question your worth as a man, or your love for her.” She kissed his cheek, leaving warmth that trickled into his heart and managed to melt a small portion of the icy terror there.
Gossamer handed him a paintbrush and drew back. “Now, use the power only you can wield. Paint the roses with your blood.”
Dizziness rushed over him. He mumbled … senseless, fearful things … agonized words that he knew would be his last.
Then he channeled all the anger, terror, and longing for a future he would never have into the sweep and sway of the brush. He stained each snow-white blossom red until he lost himself within of the shadows of his work, and became one with his masterpiece.
~ 5 ~
The Moth’s Resolution
The scene stretched and blurred as Morpheus was dragged out of Jebediah’s memories and deposited back into the chaise lounge. Darkness weighed heavily upon the room, yet he didn’t budge to turn on the lamp. The pitch-black surroundings seemed to suit the murky thoughts in his head.
He ran a thumb along his thigh, tracing the ridges of the pin-striped fabric and smoothing the wrinkles.
Why was he feeling so out of sorts? He’d found exactly what he’d hoped to find. Jebediah’s weaknesses had been there for the taking: a rage that could easily be coaxed out and manipulated, a sense of worthlessness fed by a violent and critical father, a jealousy that evoked a reckless protectiveness—even at the expense of his own life.
What Morpheus hadn’t expected to find, however, was how similar he and the boy were. The demons from Jebediah’s tormented past were not unlike his own. He’d often found himself jealous of humans … having never had a father or mother’s tenderness. He also empathized with the fear that he might never know completely another’s trust and affection, based solely on his place in the world.
Although, in the past, Morpheus had never considered that a bad thing. He’d enjoyed being a reclusive and self-reliant soul. At times he was vainglorious, of course, when it suited him to be the center of attention. But attention, affection, or trust weren’t things he needed. Not until Alyssa came along. When she chose to ignore him, he couldn’t function … felt bumbling and incompetent.
And now, after standing in Jebediah’s shoes, Morpheus understood more than he wanted to about how the human side of Alyssa worked. Although one half of her had wings and could float past trivial, mortal insecurities, the other half of her was grounded and craved what any human would crave: reassurance and reliability.
Having seen Jebediah’s courage, ingenuity, and loyalty to Alyssa firsthand, Morpheus knew without a doubt that that was exactly what the boy was offering her: a safety net of emotion that would keep her from ever falling too hard.
No wonder she was so captivated by him. No wonder he held her in his thrall. Hell, Morpheus himself was morbidly fascinated by the boy’s honorable traits, unusual in a human so damaged. Morpheus was tempted to step back and let Jebediah have his moment of happiness. Some might even say he’d earned it by being willing to give up his future, his memories, his life for Alyssa.
Morpheus growled and slumped forward, hands clenched, trying to lighten the unfamiliar weight upon his chest. It wasn’t as if the boy would be around forever. He was mortal. Someday he would die of old age, at the very least, and Alyssa would be fair game once more.
Morpheus’s jaw twitched. Romance wasn’t fair. Nor was it a game. It was war. And, as on any other battlefield, compassion and mercy had no place there.
The carpet beetle had been right. Human emotions were unpredictable and powerful things. They’d gotten into Morpheus’s head, weakened his resolve.
Elbows on his knees, he held his palms up, unable to see even their silhouette in the darkness. He conjured a small strain of magic to gather at his fingertips in plasma electric balls the size of peas, then coaxed the orbs through every corner of the room, trailing blue lightning like static electricity. They climbed the walls before gathering together in the form of a woman. The light pulsed hypnotically.
Imagining Jebediah with Alyssa, showing her the ways of love, taming her savage spirit with his common human conventions, scalded Morpheus’s throat with a bitter tang of envy.
He didn’t want her wildness to be subdued by any other man, didn’t wish to share any part of her. He wanted both sides: her innocence and her defiant spirit.
Where was the excitement in dependability? Where was the spontaneity in a predictable world? He could offer her an eternity of challenges and passion, of quiet, tender moments stolen in the depths of riotous flames and ravaging storms—tranquility amidst the chaos.
She belonged with him, wearing regal robes. He had so much to teach her about the nether realm, about the glories of manipulation and madness. If he fed her gluttonous netherling side, her human insecurities and inhibitions would fade and, in time, vanish altogether. She would no longer crave Jebediah’s safe love.
Morpheus called his magic back, reeling in the coils of blue light until he was surrounded by darkness once more. His wings swept the floor as he stood. He lifted them high in a determined arc that nearly touched the ceiling.
No more deliberating. He’d tried to do the fair thing in past instances, and, without fail, it always came back to haunt him. He could suppress the twinge of guilt stirring in his chest, but he could not give up his needs for Jebediah’s. He would never be himself again without Alyssa by his side—the flame to his moth. He wouldn’t stop until she was back where she belonged, in Wonderland.
To win, he would fight dirty, reap the spoils of her heart by any means necessary, no matter what it cost the mortal boy. It was the netherling way, after all. To do any less would make Morpheus human. And he knew, now more than ever, that that was the last thing he ever wanted to be.