The time could not possibly move quick enough. Every day dragged on, and on, and on. No sun, no light, nothing but the agony of the Pit and the same movement of shades passing by. Things were so unchangingly monotone, and it made him wonder how he’d ever gotten by without knowing anything else. How had he stayed under, twisting steel and bone into an empire? How had he not known what lay above him, just over the red-hot fury of the earth’s core?
It occurred to him that he had known, he just never did anything about it. The very thought made him ache with the pain of the mortals, finally knowing why they worried about their time. Time. It was so fleeting, so… fragile. How much time had he spent, pulling fossils out of the earth? How much time had been lost to him, burning neon while he counted souls? Another thought struck, cold and vicious. How much time had he lost with her? The thought is terrifying, and just as frigid as the Styx. No. He sighs, pushing any thought of her away. If he allowed his mind to wander back to her, then nothing would ever be done.
But he thinks of her anyway. Of course he does.
He thinks of her hair, cut short so that it frames her face. Brown dyed black, and always with flowers in it. He thinks of her skin, sun-kissed and golden, always a contrast to his. He thinks of her voice, always biting and snarky, with a barking sort of laugh. He’d kill to hear her laugh. An absent hand reached out, touching the vine that coiled around his desk. She’d planted it there to annoy him, a sprawling, invasive weed. He would never admit that it delighted him, never to her face. The leaves were soft, and a bit papery with a white flower peeking out from the mass of green. He doesn't know what it’s called, so he’s resorted to calling it Kore.
Don’t think of her.
Too late. Every aspect of her comes to life in his office, scrolls and shades left forgotten. Her hand in his, tan against ebony black. Her head on his shoulder, her laugh causing flowers to sprout. It drove him mad, that sweet smell. Nightshade and rhubarb, all dripping honey. She would spin tales of the aboveground, constantly regaling tales of rain, of fire, of wind. He remembered how her hands had moved, almost as if she were weaving the story on an invisible loom. He stands, a new tightness in his shoulders. The gardens. The place where he first kissed her.
It’s a place brimming with life, slathered in green, accented with colorful flora. It is the one place in the whole down-below where life thrives. A place where the two of them are one. Steel bars bend themselves into garden beds, painted with vines and skulls. Bone trellises scrape the roof, with vines climbing and conquering them. Soulfire and trapped sunlight illuminate it, with fairy lights twinkling blue and yellow. He keeps making his rounds, checking on the plants, nursing and attending to them just like she would.
It’s when he reaches the back that he hesitates.
The gardens split, opening into a vast, rolling meadow. There’s a pond at the end of the hill, with grey-blue water. Wildflowers spring up in groves, bright colors bathing in the sunlight that he bought off of Apollo. There, right underneath their tree, is the blanket she left him on.
It was a picnic, a small get-away. She left early, angry at him. He doesn’t remember why, he only remembers the shame. Never, never would he purposely upset her. Never. But he did, and she left, slamming the garden’s gates behind her. He found himself terrified that he had upset her, but also thrilled at her anger. It was so… bright. So lively. But repentance struck, and he walked the stairs to their room, practicing his apology, only to find that she was gone. Her things were packed, and the plants that had decorated her room were already wilting.
He would never tell her that he rushed to save them, that he rushed to hold anything of hers.
The mortals would rejoice at an early spring. He would be left alone, left to rot amongst his ash-and-bone buildings. So he would approach the tree, and step lightly over the blanket. He would reach up, and ignore the engraving of their initials in the ebony wood. He would pick the best pomegranate on the branch, and he’d send it.
She didn’t respond.
He sent another gift, a diamond necklace, which received more silence. He hated to feel panicked. He hated to think that perhaps she was up there ignoring him, dancing in the sunlight and breathing the fresh air. He hated to think that maybe she’d forgotten him. Each day, his panic grew. Each day, his gifts grew more lavish. None of them earned a response. But he still had a trick, the last one in the book. It was something she’d always loved, something she had always held dear. Her rose. The glass rose he’d given her on their wedding day. This one, he’d send with a note.
It wasn’t an order, no. They both knew she did what she wanted. It wasn’t a simple, offhand question either. It was a plea, a king aching for his other half, a half-dead soul longing to see the sunlight.
He could feel the snap in his chest when she dashed the rose against the wall.
Pain gave way to paranoia, and he fell to his knees, clutching the wound. It had cut him, a neat x shape across his heart, tearing his suit and skin as if it were nothing. She’d broken it. His breath grew labored, with blood running hot down his torso. One thought raced through his mind, beating just under his skin with his pulse.
Have I lost her?
It grew faster, slowly encircling him in a loop of loss so that just when the four words ended, they began again. The pain of the new carving in his chest was nothing compared to the panic in his heart. The ichor was sticky, and his hands shook, braced against the cold blackstone floor of the lobby. His heart pounded, and something joined it, a cold, rhythmic clicking, the same sound her boots made. Was he hallucinating? It didn’t matter. He’d lost her. He’d lost her. He’d-