Once, when we were very, very small, we laid together on the peak of a mountain gazing into the sky. There was no moon and the stars were bright like the lights in your eyes. You stretched out one long, perfect arm to show me a nebula in the blackness. It looked like a heart, pulsing and red against the velvet night. A giant heart the size of the sky. I missed you with that kind of ache.
When I was strong enough to walk I tried to find you. I did not need to know which way you had gone, it was written in my blood. I could not have gone anywhere but to you. The world faded out. It did not matter. I did not matter. Our people found me five days later in a riverbed. My feet were shredded. I had not stopped to put on boots. My knees were bloody. I had not paused to eat or drink. I was dying. They kept me alive.
Like a traitorous thing, my body mended. Even death was denied me in the endless passage of moments. No peace. No rest. When I slept I had visions of your face. You haunted me. I saw your hair falling like a curtain. I traced the shape of your arms. I found you within and without me, a cruel reminder of what was gone. In your chest, my heart withered, turned to ash. In me, your heart was still.
I must have died because how could I live without you?
You did not want me with you. That knowledge consumed me in small pieces. I was hollow, a shell going through the motions of being a princess. If someone had broken open my ribcage they would have found nothing but a heart, and that belonged to you. I was a puppet body, dancing at the end of strings labelled duty, father, and kingdom. You had pulled back the veil on my emptiness, and no one understood.
Here is my secret: I did not care if I died. I knew why you had gone, why you had left me in this endless void. You had given me space, and a life, but I wanted your darkness to suffocate me. I missed the hate spilling into me like poison. I wanted your venom, because if you were destroying me then at least I was filled with you. I had sunshine, and brightness, but all I wanted was a boundless night sky. You, and you, and you, and you. And if I had to die to have you, then I wanted to die.
You left to give me time. I did not want it. I wanted nothing. I needed you.
There were days. Then weeks. Then years. I felt none of them. It did not matter. Time does not matter. The passing of it does not touch the boundaries of want, or need, or loss, or love. My world was defined by your absence, drawn as much in the lack of you as in the strokes of your presence. I had shaped the stars to match your outline, and without you I was lost, adrift in the passing of days, then weeks, then years. It did not matter. Time did not matter, and it did not heal the loss of you. It did not fill the places you were not. The seat in the great hall was still empty. The room next to mine was not touched. The shape of your body was not rumpled into my sheets.
What does this mean for us?
I watched my mirror. It was the closest thing to you in this place: me. The eyes were the right color, I could narrow them to the same shape. The hair was the right shade, and texture. If I stared hard enough and waited for my eyes to water the image blurred. For a moment I could see the ghost of you in me, and then the tears would fall, and you'd be gone. Love and hate and no difference between the two. How I loathed the moment when you would transform into me. At every turn my body betrayed me. It sickened and drove you from me. It lived and kept you from me. It wept and veiled you from me. My only solace was knowing that you lived, too, that you could find me, if you wanted to.
My pain was knowing you didn't. I hated you because you could not see past death; could not see that it was better than this desert. I hated the blindness of your devotion. I wanted to claw your skin from your bones for this transgression. I wanted to feel it in my skin when my nails gouged your flesh. You'd bleed and I wouldn't, then we both would.
I found you in a dream once in the early days of our separation. We fell into sleep at the same moment. You were walking through a field of asphodel dressed all in black. I had never seen you in black and the color of the cloth seemed to bleed into your flesh. The hollows around your eyes were dark, as were your lips. A shiver tickled my spine imagining you to be a prince of the underworld ruling nightmares. You didn't see me but I watched as you sat beneath a dark oak and cried. The tears ran red and I woke feeling unsettled.
That night at the mirror I raged because the sight of you was too fresh in my eyes for this paltry illusion to cast similarity. I shattered that imperfect impostor, slicing my fingers on the shards. Those thin lines taunted me and the knowledge flooded me that somewhere in the world, your fingers, too, had thin lines. My eyes were twin flames in the broken glass. My fingers trembled, but no longer with rage. The edges caressed my skin, butterfly kisses from your black lips.
It kissed my face, from cheek to cheek across my nose below my eyes. Warmth streamed down my face. My tears ran gold. I wept for happiness. You were written in my blood, and I was covered with you. I was not alone.
The broken glass was cleared away. The mirror was not replaced. I hid one shard beneath my pillow and though I never found you in a dream again, I would open a slit in our skin each night and sleep soundly knowing that somewhere you were bleeding too. Pain helped me see things clearly: I could not bring you back. I was not strong enough to hold you down, so I would be strong enough to let you go. In my mind the question spilled out. The question I had never asked before. A question that before then had never mattered: What does this mean for me? Just this once not us. Only me.
It meant that we were separate, divided. It meant that we were two halves instead of a whole. The space between us was vast but I knew now that one day we would cross it. I would be a shell until I could be a princess again. Until you found me again. Until I found you. And then we'd both die.
I had the dream for the first time since you'd gone, the dream I'd had since the first night you saw me. You came into the bedroom. I picked up my wrap. What's wrong? I asked. Don't look at me like that, you said. Like what? Like I'm not a monster. Your eyes were hungry as you tossed aside the covering. Your kiss drew blood and your mouth tasted like oil. When you smiled asphodel tumbled from your lips and smothered me.
I woke with my heart pounding, the taste of copper on my lips. I had bitten my tongue. My limbs were tensed, my muscles straining against some force I could not name. I felt tired but spent the rest of the night awake. The light of day chased away your shade and after that my life fell into a easy pattern.
I was princess from the first light of dawn to the last ray of dusk, but with the coming dark I would dream of the limbs of your body and slake my thirst on phantoms of our past. I was living a half life, but I was living. I was alive.
And somewhere in the world, so were you.