Chapter Sixty Four ~ An Answerable Question

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When I woke the first time it was only briefly.

I was laying on a makeshift bed on the floor, surrounded by thin sheets that divided up sections of the medical tents that were set up for the injured. There were medical attendants everywhere, in and out. I figured my injuries were pretty bad if I was isolated by the curtains, instead of being placed on a mat next to one of the several other victims, in the common emergency treatment area.

But I couldn't care less about injuries that I had sustained, or for the pain I felt when I attempted to move any part of my body. None of that mattered right now. I stared blindly at the ceiling, letting everything crash over me and not looking over when someone made an exclamation, remarking something related to me opening my eyes and tracking and being awake.

Then I closed my lids once more and allowed myself to drift back under.

***

I was awake longer the second time, but thankfully no one was there to notice, so I just stared out a window and blamed my watering eyes on the too-bright sun.

When my lids grew heavy it was a relief I refused to fight.

***

I knew it wouldn't help any, but, as I was coming to learn, sentimentality was a dangerously powerful emotion.

Entering my mind palace, I descended, opening a central door. Warm air, soft sunlight, and the faint smell of cherry blossoms wafting through the wind washed over me.

He was there. I knew it wasn't him. It didn't stop me from walking up and hugging him desperately.

"Cashile," Aiden smiled warmly, pulling back and greeting me.

I buried my head in his neck to hide my sob, not wanting to ruin the moment that only existed in my mind. I couldn't help but whisper, "You're not here."

Aiden wrapped his arm around my shoulder and tugged me in. Not reluctantly, I leaned my head against his chest, his chest that was warm, intact, alive, breathing. "Even so," he agreed.

I closed my eyes and allowed the dangerous comfort for a brief moment. I wanted to stay there, to hold him and let him hold me and love him here on our hill. Temptation pulled at me, impossibly strong for several moments as I imagined remaining there in blissful, ignorant denial. Then I refocused my thoughts, lightly pushing against Aiden's chest so I was face to face with him. "You're dead," I accused.

His smile was sympathetic, soft, and warm, and somehow not even close to how it was and when he was alive, and I hated it. He squeezed my shoulders in what I was sure was meant to be a comforting gesture and pulled me back in, wrapping his arms tightly around me.

"You remember the promise you made me, right?"

I wanted to be angry with him. I wanted to scream that he only ever gave a damn about Aisa and about me and that was why he was dead. That if he actually gave a damn about Aisa then he would have taken better care of himself and he would be alive. I wanted to tell him that he was selfish, dying instead of saving himself and leaving me with a responsibility I could never possibly live up to.

"Still here, Cashile," Aiden whispered, tucking strands of loose hair behind my ear.

"Liar," I replied bitterly, cursed with the knowledge of reality. He was only an echo that my mind could recreate and it would never be Aiden. Aiden was gone.

"Even so," he agreed once more, and leaned down to kiss me.

He wasn't here, but, all the same, I reached up and pulled him down to the soft green grass beneath the tree at the top of our hill to love him like I never did when he was alive.

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