For a second, you are sure you are suffocating. You've never been claustrophobic before, but if you were, this was what it would feel like. Like each breath was a battle with the departed War himself for the next molecule of air.
This is wrong.
Something is wrong.
Something is so wrong that you can't even open your eyes.
Or is it that you can't open your eyes because things are wrong? It's confusing, and you're so tired. So, so tired.
The air being pulled into your stiff lungs—funny, you didn't know that your lungs could feel stiff, of all things—doesn't seem right. Your chest is tight with both feeling and…feeling, but for the moment, the world remains wrapped in a fuzzy haze that is as comforting as the dread felt a second before you realize that everything is about to come crashing down. That second…that brief moment in time that everyone wishes they could get back. It's that fraction of a moment when everything is still balanced carefully into place by invisible strings and tethers.
But here...there is something to be figured out, but breathing takes so much energy. Too much energy. You inhale, relax, let the muscles expand, exhale. Repeat. With each breath you get a little more air, and like taking a cloth to a foggy mirror, you start to see things a little clearer. Even if you haven't quite mustered the energy to open your eyes. One step at a time, Diana, you tell yourself, one step at a time.
Slowly, your hearing starts to return, sound registering like low tide leisurely making its way back to the shore. You know its back because you can hear your own breathing, your heart beat and then…nothing. It's quiet. This man's world is never this quiet, but now that you think about it, Themyscira was never this silent either. This isn't quiet, you realize, but the complete absence of sound.
It should not be this quiet.
This is a reactor core.
The fractured memory is jarring amidst the wreckage that is your thoughts, but it is fleeting, and for the moment, your breathing remains the most important task at hand; the memories seem to simply have a mind of their own so why force the—
We'd do it…together
Against your will, your heart is kicking out of the neutral gear you were hoping it would stay in until you could figure out what was going on. Fear begins to trickle in, filling the spaces around your…your heart? A feeling of dread pushes to the forefront, becoming a sharp spear trying to force you to grasp something that is frustratingly, so damn frustratingly out of reach. Moored in your own mind, you are torn between chasing the white rabbit and focusing on what you already know. But what do you know? It's all so con—
Can we survive this?
Panic's hold is tightening. Is this Strife's doing? Yes Strife. Apollo. Hephestus. Zeus. Father. Mother. Snakes. Knowledge unfurls with the grace of a blooming rose, but it is not answering the questions at hand. What are the questions at hand? What is going on? What is—
We could not do this apart. We are better together…
The answer to a question. The answer to what question? The panic that had settled like lead in the pit of your stomach has liquefied and is burning a path upward; the destination obviously must be the suddenly cavernous hole in your chest. Something is missing, dammit. You know it is like you know how to breathe, like you know that—
I love you.
KAL. The realization hits you like a lightning bolt from Olympus and as though the dam has broken, your memories flood with the gentleness of a tsunami. It leaves you reeling, anchorless, and spinning out of control.
Gods the reactor, the atom splitting, the explosion, the resolution, the darkness, all come rushing back bringing with it a pain that causes a brilliant kaleidoscope behind your eyes, but it is beyond you. You're breathing and that's enough to keep you motivated. Your eyes force themselves open and it's as though your lids have become sand paper. Red. All you can see is red. Your hands are slow to respond, their movements robbed of all the grace gifted to you at birth. Your skin feels hypersensitive, the fabric of what has to be his cape feeling like needles, but it doesn't matter. None of it matters.
Noises reach your ears, pathetic whimpering noises that would be better from an animal hunted by your half-sister Artemis. Somehow, you realize that the noises are coming from your parted lips, but you cannot be bothered with that now. Clumsy and begging, praying and pleading to any and every god that may be listening, you let your desperation be known.
This cannot be happening. This cannot be happening. Where is he? You try to call his name, but your voice is nothing more than a harsh, ragged whisper. He has to hear you. He would have heard your distress. Why is he not answering? Your heart is behind your molars, trapped, held tight by invisible threads. Threads that can't nearly be as strong as the threads holding this cape together, because, damnit, you can't get free. The edges are tucked tight, not letting even a shred of light through—
Anguish. Pure anguish transformed into sound rips its way from your mouth. The fabric around your face is damp, but it doesn't register as you finally, finally, find an end and shove your way out into the scarred world. The light is blinding, and for a second all you can do is cover your wet eyes.
There is something heavy over your hip.
I love you.
Next to you is your heart. Left out to decay in the day's fallout.
I love you.
Is this love? Your hands are so hesitant to touch him, but finally linger over his hair. His dark, beautiful, wild hair. This cannot be love, what so many have lamented over, praised and scorned; what countless prayers have been sent to Aphrodite for. This…this selflessness awes you, and were you not already there, it would have brought you to your knees. Would he have done this for anyone? Probably. But there is still a part of you that knows that this was done just for you. Just for you.
How could there have been no warning for the depth of this fear, this despair? This next loss settles over your shoulders like another mantle, but unlike the mantle of war, you are unsure even your demigoddess strength can bear it. Mother, sisters…lover. Grief chokes you in a way that even his carefully wrapped cape didn't, and you truly cannot breathe. No amount of talking yourself down will fix this, will fix you.
Amazons do not cry, but you continue wracking sobs long after your tears have ceased raining down on his tarnished skin. They never explained this. No one ever warned you. There was no lesson from Aphrodite, no warnings from Eros. Nothing to prepare you for this abrupt, all-encompassing, devastating, gut wrenching experience that is to love and to be loved.
Were your heart not already in such disrepair, it would have shattered into pieces. Millions of tiny pieces that will never fit together again.
I love you.
You will never be the same.
"I love you…"
Of course you do.