Half a million years since he’d last seen her. Held her. Touched her.
It was no illusion. She was here. She was real.
She felt as small and gossamer fragile as the new worlds he spun.
He inhaled. She smelled the same as she had on the day he’d met her, of sunshine on bare skin, moonlight on silver oceans and enormous, sky-no-limit dreams. He closed his eyes and opened them.
She was still there.
After an eternity of grief and regret, he held the only thing he’d ever wanted more than he wanted to be God.
A second chance.
He’d imagined this, dreamed it, hungered for it beyond reason.
They are replaceable, one and all, insisted the Fear Dorcha, his dark traveling companion through insanity. You will forget her.
But he never had.
Grief will pass, lisped the Crimson Hag, one of his more exquisitely terrible creations.
But it never did.
He, who had once been whole was halved without hope of ever being complete again. And when you’ve known that kind of love, to exist without it is to live a half-life where nothing else ever feels real.
He’d fabricated their reunion in countless illusions, slipping in and out of madness for millennia, talking to her as if she were beside him, answering. Drawing to his side one mortal woman after the next that possessed the body, the hair, a pale imitation of the passion, never seeing them, calling them by her name, pretending they were her until they died.
He’d lived lie after lie to escape the unbearable truth: She’d left him by choice, killed herself to escape him. He’d come to believe she’d never loved him at all, or worse—had stopped loving him because of the things he’d done.
Gazing down at her now, he found it easy to pardon Cruce for stealing her, forcing her to drink from the Cauldron and erasing all memory of their time together.
Somehow his soulmate was at long last the very thing he’d struggled to make her: Fae, immortal unless killed in one of a very small number of ways. (He intended to eradicate all of those ways immediately.) Funny how things turned should time enough pass. But the king knew the natural state of Universes was not to list toward entropy, rather wholeness. Universes were healthy. It was sentient beings with free will that were the true disasters.
So what if he’d suffered an eternity of hell without her? If someone had offered him this bargain a half a million years ago, said—you need only endure a half a million years without her to have her for all time—he would have taken it in a human heartbeat. What was a brief time of madness for eternity with her?
Fire to his ice. Frost to her flame.
He was whole again.
The Unseelie king bent his head and kissed her. Lightly. Reverently. He’d sliced open his soul and bled it out over memories of the woman he would never kiss again. Deep in his chest, thunder rolled.
Lashes fluttered. She opened her eyes. He drew back and stared down at her, unable to speak. Creator of worlds, God, Devil, whatever he was, words failed him now. His massive black wings shuddered with the depth of his feeling. He shifted and resettled them.
There was wonder in her gaze as she stared up at him: a moment of precious, pre-conscious dawn where all is dew and promise and anything at all might bloom.
Beginnings are fragile things.
Was it as he hoped? Was the power of true love greater than the power of the Cauldron of Forgetting? Did the body recall despite the damage done the mind? Memory, carved into gray matter, never obliterated. What would she say? What would her first words to him be?
Time ground to a halt and, as a human might hold his breath, the Unseelie king held his existence in silence, filling the frozen moment with tiny miracles: the blush of her skin, the curve of her lips, the arch of her brows.
Was that a flicker of confusion? Of duality preceding recognition? He knew her face intimately, had never forsaken a nuance, yet these were expressions he’d had no cause to learn.
After all she’d been through—eternities about which he knew nothing and might have contained any number of atrocities spent as they were at the Seelie Court with Cruce—but more recently kidnapped, interred in a tomb of ice and nearly killed by the power-hungry prince, he sought to reassure her:
“My love, you are safe. I have you now.” He paused, to lend emphasis to his next words, a pledge he would keep until the end of time, which he was fairly certain he was in some fashion or another. “And I will never let you go again.”
Envisioning their joyous future together as immortals, he waited for the first sound of her voice in half a million years…
©Karen Marie Moning