“And why are we doing this again?” Thanatos asked, grunting as he hoisted one end of a large Christmas tree box over his shoulder.
“It’s Christmas,” I explained, struggling to keep my grip on the other end, while carrying a large bag of ornaments. “I’m determined to celebrate all of the holidays I grew up with.”
“If it’s anything like the day of eating, I’m all for,” Thanatos chuckled. I rolled my eyes. I had insisted on celebrating Thanksgiving, even though I knew it was an American holiday. Thanatos had certainly enjoyed himself, eating as much turkey and stuffing as he could get on his plate. Darce had even seemed grateful to be among all of his friends and comrades, sharing a meal that we all were enjoying. I was thankful for food that I recognized.
“It can be,” I laughed. “Christmas is a day of giving presents, eating good food, watching Christmas movies. . . being with loved ones.”
“So what’s with the tree?”
“Have you seriously never seen a Christmas tree before?”
“I don’t get out much,” he replied. “Isn’t that obvious?”
I couldn’t argue with that.
“You know Arae is going to be all over this,” he continued. I couldn’t argue with that either. I knew Arae would insist on decorating the tree, probably making it look picture perfect for a Hallmark movie. I just wanted something homey and comfortable.
“It’s my tree,” I said, insistently.
“You tell that to Arae,” he replied as he continued down the hallway. We were almost to the sitting room, adjacent to the dining room, when I heard Darce’s voice rounding the corner in front of us. Thanatos and I froze in place. As Darce appeared, I saw Morpheus by his side. Both of their eyes grew wide as they saw us.
“Do I even want to know what the two of you are doing?”
Thanatos was quick to dart a finger in my direction. While I couldn’t see his face, I could hear the smirk on his lips with his chuckle.
“It was her idea.”
“Isn’t it always?” Darce teased as came closer. His brow raised with amusement as his gaze finally met mine.
“A Christmas tree?” He asked, rapping his fingertips on the box. “Did you drag Thanatos all the way to Athens for this?”
“Maybe,” I murmured as I adjusted the weight of the box on my shoulder.
“You’re a determined little thing, aren’t you?”
“I told you that I wanted a Christmas tree,” I replied, biting my bottom lip.
“Indeed,” Darce chuckled. “Indeed, you did.”
After a moment, he took the side of the box and jerked his chin, indicating for me to move. I gave in, allowing him to take the weight.
“Come Thanatos,” Darce said. “Let’s get this in the room.”
I watched as the two Gods moved down the hallway, turning into the sitting room. Morpheus came to stand by my side, crossing his arms against his chest.
“I don’t know how you do it, Summer,” Morpheus said with a laugh.
He snorted. “You have the God of Death and the God of the Underworld carting a Christmas tree into our sitting room.” Morpheus turned, his dark gaze meeting mine. The corners of his lips were turned into a large smile.
Well, when he put it like that. . .
I felt a surge of pride fill me, and I smiled in reply.
“All in a day’s work.”
“Summer?” Darce’s voice billowed from the room, and I shook my head with a giggle.
As I rounded the archway, I found Thanatos already digging into the large box. A piece of the tree was lying on the ground, closest to the hearth. The fire was a glow with warm, and seemingly made a picture-perfect moment.
“Where do you want it?” Darce asked, darting his gaze to me from over his shoulder. I gestured towards the corner of the room with a smile.
“It’ll look perfect right there.”
“Actually…” Arae said, marching through the door. We all stared at her as she came to stand beside me. Tilting her chin, she seemed to eye the bits of tree thoughtfully.
“Actually. . . I might agree with Summer.”
Thanatos dropped the top of the tree. I looked at her with wide eyes.
“Don’t lose your shit,” she muttered. “Put the thing together first.”
Darce flashed me a smile before handing me the pieces of the tree stand.
“This is your tradition. We won’t do all the work for you.”
“I don’t want you to do all the work for me,” I retorted as I put the metal pieces together and turned the screw into place. I maneuvered around the room, placing the stand where I wanted the tree to go. Darce placed the bottom piece on first, followed by Thanatos, who carried the middle piece. Morpheus picked up the last piece, and placed it on top.
I was grateful to find that Darce had created an outlet with his magic, and I plugged the tree in without a moment’s hesitation. The lights built into the branches glowed brightly, and my heart suddenly felt full as I gazed up at it.
Even without the decorations, the tree was everything I had hoped it to be, and more. I could almost hear my dad’s voice in my ears, telling me to turn on the Christmas music while he went off to make us hot chocolate.
It was going to be my first Christmas without him - without both of my parents. There wouldn’t be evenings of watching “Rudolph” or “Charlie Brown” on the family sofa. Dad and I wouldn’t put lights on the house, and go driving through neighborhoods to steal ideas. I rose to my feet gingerly, feeling tears begin to swarm my eyes. Darce’s warm arms wrapped around my waist, pulling me into him.
“Thank you,” Darce whispered gently, tucking a loose strand of my hair behind my ear. I wrinkled my nose, unsure of what he could possibly mean.
“For this,” he replied, gesturing to the small gathering, gazing at the tree with glowing eyes; Morpheus, Arae and Thanatos stared at the tree, all wearing faint hints of smiles on their faces.
“I just wanted something of home,” I replied softly, reaching out to touch a bit of tree branch.
“I want you to feel at home,” Darce said. Before I could respond, Arae pulled the bag of ornaments from Thanatos, who was wearing the shimmering star tree topper on his head, and turned to look at me.
“You’re not serious, Summer. There is no way this is going on that beautiful tree…”
Lifting a large red, shimmering ball, she shook her head. “There is no color scheme!”
“It’s whatever Summer wants,” Darce replied, darting her a stern look.
“But -” Arae began, pulling out a silver and blue ball. I had to admit, the decorations weren’t the sort I had envisioned, but they’d do. At least for now.
“How about I handle this,” I explained, taking the bag from her. “I’ll decorate the tree, and when I’m done. . . you can come back in and stand in awe at my Christmas-Tree-Decorating-Skills.”
Arae snorted. Thanatos cleared his throat, pulling the star from his head before placing it on a nearby chair. Morpheus was the first to move to the door.
“You heard my Lord, let’s leave Summer to her tree…”
Arae darted me an irritated glance before turning on her heel. Gods knew she had better things to do than arrange a Christmas tree. And so did Thanatos.
“Thanks for helping,” I said as he moved towards the door.
The last to leave was Morpheus, dipping his chin in a nod to Darce and I before disappearing. Darce smiled and lifted a golden ball from the bag, eyeing it for a moment.
“Would you mind me staying?”
“Have I ever minded?” I asked, lifting the tree topper from the chair. Gently, Darce pulled it from my grasp and reached forward, placing it on the tree. As he arched up, I watched him - watched in awe in how beautiful he was. The way he smiled, the way he laughed. The way he watched me. . . And now, in front of the tree, Darce was a dream. My cheeks burned as I darted my gaze away. His laughter echoed in my ears as he came up beside me, pressing a kiss against my forehead.
“Always blushing,” he murmured. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Help me with the tree?” I tried.
His dark gaze met mine as he nodded gently. There was mischief in his eyes as he lowered his hand into the bag and pulled out a small black box instead of an ornament. The sort of small, black box that could only mean one thing.
“I thought to wait to ask you something,” he began. “But I’m terrible at keeping secrets, believe it or not.”
“What are you doing?” I asked, shaking my head as I lifted my hands to my lips.
“Well, in your world, one would call this the beginnings of a proposal.”
“In my world, I would call this a promise.”
He took my hand in his; his thumb brushing over my knuckles. “I promise you’ll never be alone. I promise I will always stand by your side. I promise. . . to love you, support you."
I sucked in a breath as tears filled my eyes again.
“I promise to be your best friend.”
Darce slowly knelt before me and flashed me a smile. “No matter how long it took, no matter how many more centuries I had to travel and search, I knew I only wanted one thing - and that was you.”
“That was Persephone-”
“You,” he corrected. “I only want you.”
Carefully, Darce opened the small, black box, exposing an old golden band, with a round teal diamond in the middle. I stared at him and then at the ring.
“Are you s-sure?”
Darce flashed me a smile. “Is that a yes?”
With a nod, I held out my hand to him. Darce took my hand and pressed a warm kiss against my palm. I knelt down beside him and wrapped my arms around his neck.
“I love you, Darce,” I whispered as he cradled me gently in his arms. His hand cupped the back of my head as he pressed a kiss against my cheek.
“I love you too, Summer. Always.”