I’m cradling him in my arms, but at my touch he shrinks away, though his breath comes in shallow, pained gasps. I thought I saw a glimmer of recognition when he first beheld me, then terror. I winged out of the ether, calling his name—a croak, a breeze, a grinding of bone against bone in this deathly form of mine. There he was, beautiful as ever, at the edge of the lake.
His eyes, blue as its waters, begin to cloud. His leg is twisted beneath him. He rests on a pile of stones at the bottom of the incline where he fell, in his panic.
“Cassius,” he groans, and though I no longer have the faculty to feel warmth, to feel anything, I can imagine that my heart would surge at the sound of my name.
I brush aside the hair that has fallen across his forehead and he winces, tosses his head.
“Be gone,” he says, and blood wells between his lips.
I came to bid him farewell, for I feared he had forgotten me. I was wrong, and I see now that I’ve sealed his fate, too.
“I’m sorry,” I gape, the hiss and clatter of my jawbone the only sound.
For an instant, his eyes clear and he looks straight into my gaze.
“You should not have come back.”
He chokes on every word.
I should have known better. I broke the natural laws. I should have known only death would come with me.
But, my Aelius…
We swam across the lake, a summer ago, when a storm blew up. Aelius was still in the shallows. I’d called for a race and left him behind, kicking hard and laughing in my triumph. He urged me to return as the breeze became a gale and sheets of rain fell from the darkened skies. The water rocked like we were at sea, great waves roiling and sending me under.
Aelius swam out to me as I struggled to keep myself above. Lengths away, the wind drove between us another wave, and I was pushed to the bottom, my head cracked on a stone.
They found my body three days later, waterlogged and gray. Aelius fell as if struck when he heard the news and would not eat for days.
It was a month before he could bring himself to see my grave, and nearly a year before he could bear to visit the lake.
When he did, it was like something woke me from a deep slumber. My world was rocked by the pumping of his blood, quivered from the ripples of movement that started at the unconscious clench of his jaw as he gazed out over the water. Memory still exists, and I recalled the heat of his touch and the scent of him, and awakened to my deathly form.
I watched from afar the first few times, as I observed the other dead do for their loved ones. But then he came back with another man.
Beautiful Aelius. He was putting on weight and muscle, swimming again. I watched as they played in the shallows, biding my time. When Aelius came to shore for water, I set upon him. I only wanted him to remember me.
Now his skin is the color of my bones.
Aelius gasps and more blood dribbles from his mouth. I cannot bear it. I place my teeth, for I have no lips, against his cheek.
My touch makes him cry out. He sighs. His head settles back on his neck. His eyes lose their blue, reflect my gaping grin.