It seems like years that he`s been here – in this room – waiting for the inevitable. Holding her, soothing her fears when she`s with him, crying at her pain when she isn`t. Years of grief have played out in two scant days. Even now, as he sits in the corner of Alrick`s bedroom on the floor, his legs tugged to his chest while Sara`s mi-maw talks to her, he finds the tickity-tock of time to be agonizing. One minute stretches out into days – an hour to weeks and a day to an eternity…..they`re all waiting….waiting….waiting.
Alex listens to the brief lucid interplay with his forehead bolstered on his ripped-out knees. Sara is murmuring something to her grandmother. Mi-Maw whispers back, a choked thick sounding reply. He can`t look, can`t see the stroke of a gnarled hand over a cold brow. Not again. Not ever again. His soul cannot stand seeing Mi-Maw cry, seeing tears slipping through wrinkles to land on her breast. He is weak. He is a coward. He is no son of war. Ares` sons don`t cry, or shouldn`t. And yet, another wave of weeping threatens to overtake him as he catches the soft words of comfort being spoken.
“Alexander,” she calls out weakly. He shudders violently and lifts his head. Mi-Maw, Ethel Wagner, is beckoning him to come to the bed. “She`s leaving us, she wishes to talk you before she goes.”
He wants to shake his head. He wants to run from this sick-room and into the crowded, hot street and keep running until his head is under the Atlantic. Sounds slip through the closed door. Chadwick, Thrud and Deimos along with his father and Atalanta and the honeymooners, who had cut their trip short, are moving about, trying to keep their conversations and yips muted. He wants to go out into the living-room and crawl into his father`s arms, like he used to when he was six and would take massive headers over the handlebar of his bike. He wants to not be here, not suffer and not lose her.
“Alexander?” Ethel whispers when the lad remains seated in the corner staring at her blankly. “Please, come speak to her. I know it`s hard, but death is a part of life. When you get as old as me, you`ll understand better. Your father understands. Sara needs to tell you something. Don`t you want to hear it?”
Phobos swallows down the howl clawing at his throat. No, he really doesn`t wish to hear her last words to him because they`ll be her last words. He won`t get to hear her laugh again, or cringe at her stupid poems or her mispronounced lyrics to all his Hollywood Undead tunes. Nope. If he stays here in the corner like a cowardly rat, maybe she won`t pass over.
Then Sara whispers his name with a soft exhalation like a feather skipping over a meadow of wildflowers. He stands. Somehow his legs get his ass off the floor. He feels wobbly, weak and scared…so very, very scared. Mi-Maw rises and straightens her travel-wrinkled green dress. She was a tiny, round woman with Sara`s nose and inner fortitude. The call he had made when they had gotten back from Olympus to this woman had been tough. The hardest thing he had ever faced. Or so he had thought. Now he knows this will be the hardest thing he ever faces.
“I`m going to step out,” Mi-maw tells him as he shuffles around the bed like a zombie. He thinks he has slept for two days in the same Sammy Hagar tee, when he slept that was. He knows he hasn`t showered or shaved. He was too scared of Sara slipping away. And now that the end is here, he is too damned afraid to be with her. He feels like a total fuck-up. “You`re a good boy, Alexander,” Ethel gives him an unsteady hug then pads to the door.
“I don`t feel like a good boy,” he mumbles after the door closes gently. A rush of conversation greets Mii-maw on the other side. Then music begins to play. Deimos he knows. His twin likes to use the tunes to mask, hide, bury, drown out or obliterate any emotions that may percolate up and out.
“Goldie, are you scared?” Sara inquires. He nods like a dullard then replies verbally. “Don`t be,” she smiles up at him. He drops down beside her with the weight of Atlas bowing his strong shoulders in. “Life is just a short run,” she tells him, reaching out with a cold, clammy hand from under the mound of covers a top her frail frame.
“I wanted a marathon with you though,” he admits, taking her tiny hand and pressing it between his huge ones. “I wanted a lifetime with you, not a short jog. I should have been smarter, you know? Instead of looking for stupid…”
“It`s okay that you were stupid,” she shivers so strongly with pain her fingers tremble in his hold, “I love your stupid.”
“I – yeah- I love you, this is not – I mean – I just love you. I need….” he stops to squeeze his eyes closed, to damn the tears that are welling up. “I need you to know that I love you like I can`t believe. Shit, that was stupid. I`m totally fucking this up, Sara,” he whimpers.
“Not fucking it up,” she struggles to say, “Being perfectly Alex. Hold me?”
“Forever,” he moves up the bed and brings her into his arms. His back rests on the headboard. She fills his embrace perfectly, even with the blankets. His nose burrows into her hair. Mi-maw had threaded ribbons into the strawberry curls this morning, singing and chatting to the young woman as she lay unknowing who or what was around her. At least she`s here now, to talk to and – and- say goodbye to.
A humid wind pulls on the screen in the window. The drapes dance outward he catches in his blurry peripheral. Specks of dust blow through the screening and flitter around the room, a cloudy mist of gold that spirals about with increasing speed until it splits and forms into a pair of godly twins. Alexander blinks at Apollo and Artemis now standing beside Alrick`s bed. Both were in their best Grecian finery. Pale blue robes for the sun god and a short white chiton for the moon goddess.
“Dude, tell me you`re here to help her,” Phobos pleads, Sara`s thin body curled into his wide chest securely. Apollo shakes his head. Alexander inhales shakily then lays his scruffy cheek to the top of his seers head.
“Phobos, I have come to collect the sacrifice,” Artemis informs him. He stares at the huntresses yet does not lift his head from Sara`s ribbons.
“What sacrifice?” the fear god inquires.
“When you took my bow, I informed you that all gifts from gods require sacrifice. Her life is the sacrifice required,” Artemis explains gently. That announcement jerks his head upward.
“Fuck you,” Alex snarls viciously. “You think giving us a stupid-ass bow and a few silver arrows is an equal payment?! Take the fucking bow back!”
“It does not work that way, Phobos, as you are well aware. I warned you that you would not like the forfeit required,” the goddess of the wood reminds him.
“You never fucking said I`d have to give you the life of the woman I love in exchange for a damned wooden bow!” Alex flings back with vehemence. Sara whines in his arms. He lowers his voice but the hatred flares in his sapphire eyes.
“Would a sacrifice of something you cared little for be a true sacrifice?” Artemis asks her hands clasped in front of her. “I bequeathed something I loved to you. Now, you are required to offer up that which you love for the gift a goddess has given you.”
“Go to hell,” the young god growls, hugging the slim woman closer.
“Phobos,” Apollo intercedes deftly, “I have spoken to my sister and she is willing to offer you a choice since this precious child is so dear to me,” the sun god smiles down at Sara, then reaches out to lift a pink hair-ribbon from her cheek.
“Choice? Oh, like I can keep Sara but give you my twin in her place?!” Alex snaps and slaps the ribbon from Apollo`s fingers.
“Nay, young son of Ares. I would never ask a twin to offer up their sibling!” Artemis frowns at his assumption. She is no more pleased about this than Phobos or Apollo is, but the rules must be maintained lest everyone feel they cannot fulfill their promises when godly intervention is bestowed. Nephew or no, the price must be paid. “I give you this choice at the behest of my brother.” The fear god`s dark glower does not weaken her resolve. “Your Sara may move onto the fields of Elysium with all the love and memories that you have given her in her woman`s heart, or, she can become one of my nymphs, hunting eternally at my side.”
“What`s the catch?” Phobos glares at one immortal than the other, “There`s a catch here. I know how all this shit works too well to think you`ll let this end up all sunshine and fucking teddy bears!”
“Sara must be cleansed of all earthly influences,” Apollo glances at his twin. Artemis nods briskly. “She will serve forever at my sister`s side but she cannot be tainted by the touch or love of a man. She must be purified, returned to a chaste state and her memory of this realm wiped clean.”
Alexander snuggles Sara closer. Her breathing is slow. Each exhalation grows weaker and weaker.
“Her time is near, Phobos,” Apollo warns. “You must choose before The Fates snip her lifeline.”
“She gets to live eternally, right?”
“At my side, she and the other nymphs will hunt nightly, free to enjoy the woods and animals of Olympus,” Artemis assures the distraught young man. “If ever we should run into you, there you will see her, alive and filled with health and stamina, all earthly weaknesses gone. She shall be as a doe, unbound by mortal pain and blindness, quick and strong, sure-footed and swift as I am. She will have no recollection of you, and I warn you that if your paths should cross, you are forbidden to speak to her of the past you shared.”
“This choice sucks,” Phobos grinds out as he slips from the bed, Sara now hanging limp in his arms. “Take her with you, make her whole and healthy and able to see,” he sputters, the tears now flowing freely as he hands his love to his aunt. Sara stirs when passed from one set of arms to another.
“Alex?” she asks on a rustle, her sightless eyes wide with fright,” Will I see you….again?”
“I`ll see you on the other side, babe, KK?” he presses a gentle kiss to her cheek. She sighs in relief.
“KK….I see….so much gold…..”
Artemis gathers the dying girl to her breasts. She kisses the young woman on the lips. A light fills the room. Illumination flows from the lithe body swaddled in blankets. The door opens, the knob slamming into the wall behind it. Deimos thunders in and stops cold, his red eyes flaring wide at the transformation of their seer. Her body is now pure energy bound within covers and sheets.
“You have chosen valiantly,” Apollo steps forward to place his lips to Alexander`s brow. “Know that she will always be in the loving and safe embrace of the children of Zeus and Leto.”
Ares and Thrud arrive next. The god of war takes just a second to process what is occurring. Apollo nods at the battle god. Then the Olympians leave in a wash of light so blindingly pure it scours the bedroom walls free from dirt and grime. The Valentine`s slide into the room with Ethel. Atalanta sneaks inside, her curly tail drooped downward and her foxy ears lying flat to her little skull.
Phobos` legs can no longer hold him. He collapses to his knees and screams, his head thrown back as the bellow of loss rages free. Deimos pushes past his father to kneel beside his twin and gather his heaving body into his arms.
“I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die,” Ethel whispers as the heavenly light fades away, taking her granddaughter with it. Angels truly did move among us the elderly woman sniffles with relief into a ball of Kleenex.
Chadwick moves forward slowly, unsure of his acceptance until Deimos lifts his face from his brother`s neck and beckons him to join. The Brit falls to his knees and links his long arms around his mates.
“`Tis time for us to return home, my sons,” Ares announces gruffly, his hands coming to rest on both heads of yellow. “Home is where we shall heal best.”
“Agreed, sire, `tis time to go home,” Deimos coughs as his brother weeps openly in his arms. He finds his expectant wife crying silently in Alrick`s arms. Yes, this trip was over. The carefree days of youth must be left behind them. Now it was time to move onward with their lives as best they can the terror god concedes.
If only he knew how his brother and he were supposed to do that…..
This issue was one of the hardest I have ever had to pen. Many, many tears were shed rest assured. The title comes from the hauntingly lovely song, ‘See You on the Other Side’ sung by Ozzy Osbourne.