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In The After

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Blood. Everywhere. On her hands, on her legs, pooling beneath the lifeless body on the floor. Flames lick the mud walls desperately trying to find purchase as it sweeps through the small house. The fire is hot on her skin, burning her hands when she tries to reach out for the body. She needs to get to her. But something keeps her from moving, freezes her in place. Arms. Hands. Holding her back. And she screams in rage. In fear. With grief.

She jerked awake with a soundless scream, her heart slamming hard in her chest. The nightmares were back. She blinked against the dark, waves of panic washing over her like the tide rolling in to lap at the shore. But then she felt it. The warm skin pressed against hers. The gentle breathing of the woman curled up next to her. Well-toned legs tangled with hers, one wrapping itself around her waist. Warm, soft. Comforting.

She dragged her fingers along the thigh, up and across the soft hip. Making sure her wife was real. That she wasn't dreaming.  When her palm reached the ribs she pulled gently, urging the woman closer.

She stirred awake, her body knowing the language of Kassandra’s touch and she moved closer. The soft swell of her chest pressed against Kassandra as she wrapped her arm around her neck.

“Hey,” Neema whispered, her voice husky and laced with sleep, fingertips feathering across the scar on Kassandra’s skin. “Why are you awake, agapi mou?”

“I had a bad dream.”

“Again?” Neema nuzzled her nose against Kassandra’s neck and hummed softly to soothe her.

“It is probably just that horrible meal you made last night,” Kassandra said with a grin that went unseen by the other woman in the dark. An indignant noise that faded into a raspy laugh escaped Neema’s lips.

“I will leave you to cook the boar tomorrow.”

“That was not just any boar.” Kassandra protested, their banter easing the lingering dread from the nightmare.

“Oh, yes, the Erymanthian boar,” Neema agreed her voice dipping into a low purr and Kassandra could imagine the golden eyes sparkling with amusement.

What ?” She sighed after a while.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember you courting me in such fashion as you have this Daughter.”

“I am not courting her!” Kassandra let the scowl bleed into her words. “I am just finishing the challenge she lay before me.”

“Challenge? And what is the reward for this challenge, my love?”

“Glory?” She dipped her chin towards her chest trying to get a glimpse of her wife. “And either way, I did much more than chase down a boar for you. I saved your life.”

Soft lips pressed against the underside of her jaw and she could feel the smile that tugged at the same lips. “That's not how I remember it.”

“Oh?” She arched an eyebrow at Neema. “And just how do you remember it?”

“I remember running into a burning village and in the middle of it stood a misthios.”

“I'm liking this story.” She smiled. “And just how handsome was this misthios?”

A snort reached her ears. “Average, I guess, but you're interrupting my story.”

“Go ahead, you're getting to the good part where this average misthios saves your pretty face.”

“Saves my pretty face?” Neema raised herself onto her elbow to look at Kassandra, golden eyes sparkling in the dark. “On the contrary, without me, the misthios would have met her demise that night.”

“Met my demise?” Kassandra gasped in mock horror. “Is that what you tell Adrina?”

“It's true, it's what really happened. Not the fabricated extravagant stories of the Eagle Bearer slaying twenty villains in one fell swoop.”

“To save a Persian Princess.”Kassandra helpfully pointed out. “You’re forgetting the best part.”

Princess ?” Neema leaned away from Kassandra, her dark eyebrows raised, mouth agape.

“Princess of Persia. It’s got a ring to it, don’t you think?” She grinned at her wife’s indignant expression. “Beats Neema of Shadows.”

“Well, if it wasn't for this princess , the careless misthios would have been taken down with one swift blow.”  

“One swift blow,” Kassandra snorted as Neema lifted her hand in the air like she was holding an invisible hammer.

“One. Swift. Blow.” She slammed her invisible hammer down.

“Oh, I'll show you swift,” Kassandra growled curling her fingers, dragging the tips against the soft skin on Neema’s ribs.

A high pitched squeal cut through the night followed by bright laughter. Rolling them over Neema's laughter drew to a low chuckle as she looked back up at Kassandra.

She was beautiful where she lay, thick black, curly hair spilling onto the pillows beneath her. She bit into her smile as Kassandra settled between her thighs.

“I've missed you,” Kassandra murmured, “I hate being away from you.”

“I know,” Neema said softly, “but it won't always be like this.”

“Then how much longer?” Kassandra muttered and nuzzled her neck drawing a purr from her lips.

“Only till you're done with your task.” Neema slid her hands along Kassandra’s back, goosebumps trailing the soft press of her nails. “Until then we’ll have these nights.”

“I want more,” Kassandra growled in frustration, eyes searching Neema’s as she pressed herself against her. Her soft mound warm against Kassandra.

“Kassandra,” Neema whispered and cupped her face between her hands. “You know I’m not—”

She kissed her then. Silencing the rest of the Neema’s words with her lips. She didn’t care. Not right now. Maybe tomorrow she would, but right now Neema was in her arms again and everything else could wait until the morning.

Neema, allowing herself to be silenced, kissed her back her lips soft, her tongue warm as it slipped into Kassandra’s mouth.

“This won’t change anything,” Neema whispered in-between kisses.

“I don’t care.” She felt herself rolled onto her back as Neema straddled her.

“Then do not curse me in the morning.” Amber eyes filled with sadness.

“Kardia mou,” Kassandra pressed her palm against the soft cheek, “never.”

The mornings were always unkind to Kassandra. They always came too early. Bright sunlight washed through the tall windows the chirping of birds and the sounds of waves hitting the cliffs filtered into the bedroom.

She groaned displeased with the thought of having to leave their warm bed. Her hand subconsciously patted the soft furs next to her but when it found only empty cold furs she opened her eyes.

“Neema?” She sat up and squinted through the window. Surely she couldn’t have gone out to hunt already? Not without Kassandra. She threw the covers aside getting up from the bed with a quick glance at the chair Darius had built them when he was still trying to adjust life in one place. Neema’s clothes were gone. Breakfast perhaps?

She reached out for her own clothes pulling them on with a yawn. Her wife had the annoying habit of being an early bird and Kassandra, after all the years getting up before dawn and not going to sleep until long after moonrise, liked her late mornings.

A fire burned in the hearth and a pot with something bubbling in it hung from the stand. The boar. Kassandra grinned. It would cook for the rest of the day until night filling the entire house with the rich aroma of meat, thyme and wine.

A loaf of bread, yoghurt, cheese and olive oil stood on the table and she broke a small piece of bread of popping it into her mouth before continuing outside.

“Agapi mou?” Cold, bright morning sun stung her eyes and she lifted her hand to look at the figure stood at the fence overlooking the small village of Dyme.

“Of all the things I’ve been called by you,” a dark, stern voice said, “that certainly isn’t one of them.”

“Neema?” She blinked slightly confused.

Though the figure chuckled Kassandra could tell it was a mirthless one. A bitter chuckle. “It’s been five years, Kassandra.”

Five years? She moved closer to the figure, the sun casting a golden, almost godlike light over it.

“Five years since you let my daughter and grandchild die.” Dark eyes found hers, staring at her with the fire of a thousand of Hephastios burning furnaces. Darius.

“No.” She shook her head. It couldn’t be. Neema had been there. When she woke up. Comforting her from the dream. The nightmare, the one of the fires that swallowed the house whole. The roaring flames drowning out the screams from inside as Kassandra tried to claw her way back in. But that had just been a dream. Neema had been real.

Her eyes fell on the flowers next to Darius’ feet. Pink and white petals lay strewn across the small, but well-kept resting place, two wooden figures standing in the midst of them. She swallowed thickly, invisible fingers clamping around her throat.

No, no, no. She shook her head wildly. Neema had been there. Kassandra had felt her body pressed against hers, felt the warm skin, the soft curves. She’d held her so tight never wanting to let her go, afraid she’d turn into nothing but thin air. Afraid she’d leave and take Adrina with her. Afraid that she would be alone again. Kassandra’s gaze flickered. Neema had felt so real. So alive .

She sunk to the ground, her shaking hands reaching out for the small ribbon that lay on the grave.

Neema, for whom the sun sets.