Tiamat paused on her way to meet the serpent, Apsu. She looked back at her family’s hut, its earthen walls outlined by the moon. Briefly, she thought of going back inside. No one would know and Apsu would leave. Hadn’t he told her his fear that if she came to him their names would enter the myths of her world—her Scape, he called it—and evil would follow them as long as they lived?
But thinking of him made her think of his smile, his kindness, his eyes that couldn’t possibly be human. She turned and walked toward the river.
The glorious chariot of Shamash had just begun to rise in the East when she arrived at the river’s edge where Apsu waited, this time in his serpentine form, scales glistening in the waning moonlight. He stared at the fading stars. The wind turned and blew her scent toward him. He closed his eyes. “You came.” Unlike other times, no smile appeared on his face.
He looks sad, she thought. “Did you hope I wouldn’t?”
“Yes,” he whispered. The words cut her, though she knew he hadn’t meant to hurt her. He looked back at the stars. “Now and then, one of my kind stays too long in their working form. And the consequences—” his words faded like the stars.
He didn’t need to say any more. She had discovered the truth when he had told her no one of his kind should ever get too close to the ones they watched. He had become too human, he said. That was when she’d realized he’d fallen in love with her.
I’m too selfish.
She stepped toward him, needing to close the distance before their words turned into a chasm and she never saw him again. “Do you think this is a mistake?”
“Yes. I know it is.”
Staring at his face, she wondered if he would ever smile again if she stayed with him. If perhaps he had as much, or more, to lose than she did. “I should go,” she said, and turned to leave.
“No.” Surprised, she looked back him. The longing in his eyes matched her own.
“If this is a mistake—”
“I have been here since Shamash journeyed down to the underworld, trying to decide if I was wrong to ask you to join me. You would leave more than your parents. You would leave your world.” He seemed to struggle with the words, an impossible thing to her mind. “I have never known greater joy than when we are together. And I have been taught all my life that joy is the prize of a life well-lived.”
“How can joy come from a mistake?” she asked walking toward him again. “Or is this something else?”
He considered this for a moment, then said, “I don’t know.” He chuckled. “You’re handling this better than I am. Pain only seems to make the joy of your kind stronger.”
“Isn’t it the same for you?” Tiamat reached up her hand and touched it to his serpentine nose. His eyes closed and she smiled. He didn’t need to tell her any more. “I can’t even promise you,” he said, his voice low, “that we’ll live together. Even if I claim you as a mate. It’s such a selfish thing.”
Her smile grew and tears filled her eyes for the wonderful companion she’d found. “Not entirely. I want to be claimed.”
Apsu smiled then, rich and full as the Great Waters. And she knew he was wrong. This wasn’t a mistake at all.