Are we not all just simply creatures lurking in the dark, by the end? We leave no energy or warmth for our loved ones to grasp, steadily declining until only a whisper of ourselves is left. Drifting, like a hollow breeze, into the sleeping mind's eye of those left behind, beseeching them. Remember me, we beg. Remember my touch, remember my voice, remember where I once stood is the ground under which I now am. .
They can’t quite recall us when they wake, only a whisper of a presence eluding them like smoke. The more they reach, the more they lose, until the tears begin.
One such dream nearly woke Kassandra. Her mind's eye knew better than to let her hear him speak, for then she would wake. Instead, his hands tenderly stroked her face, and grasped her hands, like he used to. Rough with labour, and large with years, his hands worked out the knots of her worries from her body, leaving her whole with his touch.
“Why do you come here?” she asked. She always asked, but he never replied. He knew better.
To savour you.
To engulf you.
To remind you.
Her head tilted back, leaning into his lap like a child. Finding it as warm and comfortable as she remembered, she climbed in, and looked to his face. Tears sprang from him, tracking down his jaw and into the wound her brother had left. She touched it lightly, a thunderbolt reviving her.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, lightly and already forgotten. She said it every time, when they met in this netherworld.
He reached for her hand and kissed it gently, along each knuckle. As he kissed her pointer, he lingered on the gold ring which sat there: his last gift to her. It was an offering to her father, for her hand.
But it didn’t matter anymore. They would never lead that life: it was foolish of them to wait for the war to end with no guarantee that either of them would survive it. What kind of life would they have lead, anyway? Neither of them would have been fit for Sparta, afterwards.
They knew by now that they would sit there, together, on the precipice of their different worlds until he spoke. If he didn’t speak, could they stay here forever?
The things he’d said previously circled in her mind.
Remember why you are.
Once his laugh had disconnected them.
He sighed and placed his forehead against hers, about to relent to the torture of Hades. Her breathing quieted in response, trying to remember every slice of him. These encounters were happening less and less as he moved further from her. She couldn’t bear to drown the silence with her tears, so instead she spoke of mundane things. Bread, streams, flowers. The things she thought he’d most like to hear.
He smiled, and the creak of his face as he did almost tossed her into the world of the living.
Eventually, he stroked her hair as he spoke.
“You were my greatest treasure,” he said. “Please be happy.”
“I’m happy here, with you. I was only ever happy with you.”
“That’s not true, my love. You have others, now. I’ll love you for eternity. But you have more to give.”
He was whispering by the end, and his shade began to lose focus. Unable to hold onto him, Kassandra wept, until he was gone.
She woke up in her cot, in Sparta. Her skin prickled with the certainty that every word he’d spoken was the last she’d hear of him.
She curled into a ball, and wiped her nose on her furs.
“Kassandra?” Alexios called from the other side of the room. “Are you okay?”
Unable to share this with him, she stayed silent.