After the bite there was the fire, encircling her ankle and reaching up her leg.
A burning pain that seemed to break her chest in half.
The constriction of her throat.
Her frantic, hammering heartbeat, faster and faster and faster until –
Nothing. Not even a memory of it.
Only the serene golden light, the clear ether suffusing her being and providing all that she needed to sustain her, unwanting, unchanging. Hearing, vision; those remained, but somehow they seemed at once more immediate and more detached than they had been in life. The incurious companionship of the other souls who thronged the place. An all-pervading sense of peace.
Now it’s hers again. Not the pain, not (yet) the memory of the pain, but the potential for it. She’s almost afraid, without knowing what it is she has to be afraid of. Orfeo is here; his presence releases strange energies in this calm place, confusion swirling around him. He doesn’t belong here, and yet here he is. She doesn’t understand it. Is he dead? Is she? He’s trying to explain it; his words slip from her mind.
He wants her to go with him: that much, she understands. She will follow.
The stone is hard and cold under her bare feet. She remembers.
A chilly breeze tugs at her hair. She remembers.
Orfeo’s hand is in hers. She remembers.
His calloused fingers, roughened by the strings of his lyre, feel exquisitely present against the newly sensitive skin of her wrist. Oh, yes, she remembers that.
It’s as if she’d never forgotten Orfeo’s touch; it stirs memories from before, as if drawing a line from then to now, untroubled by what came between. There’s nothing between them now, and she’s almost overwhelmed by his proximity, his presence, his physicality.
And her own physicality, too – new, remade, remembered, re-membered. She’s aware of her whole body, the not-quite-aching stretch of muscle, the tingle of skin. Surely it wasn’t like that all the time, the last time, when she was last within time? How could she possibly have borne it? How could she have continued to exist amid the clamour of her own body? How could she have managed to think with blood thrumming in her veins like this?
And now Orfeo is striding away, pulling her with him, and now she remembers running, the clash of feet on the ground, the extension and release of the muscles in her calves. She remembers that she was running before, and a prickle of fear returns to her.
The urgency. There wasn’t any urgency, where she was just now. No heart beating faster, no breath burning her throat. And now, this. This threatens to summon another memory, one that she pushes away before it can take shape within her.
Instead, she fixes her gaze on Orfeo’s back. Orfeo is safe, surely. Orfeo is running with her, has come here for her; she can’t begin to comprehend what it must have cost him.
He squeezes her hand, interlaces his fingers with hers, and she thinks she discerns a message of comfort in that touch. But he doesn’t slow down, and he won’t look at her. Air heaves and catches in her newly active lungs. He urges her onwards, drags her onwards.
His voice and his touch are blessedly familiar. But why, why won’t he look at her?
She remembers the other man now. He had a name. She could summon it to her reconstituted memory if she cared to, but she doesn’t. She supposes he lives still. She doesn’t care, so long as she does not have to see him, does not have to have him touch her.
That was different. Wasn’t it? He had wanted her embodied. He had wanted her body. He had wanted what he could take from her.
Orfeo only wants her, wants her living, wants all of her, heart and mind and body, not for himself but for her. Surely. Surely.
Oh, but only if she could see his face, she would know. Why won’t he look at her?
She tugs at his hand, hoping he’ll turn and face her, but he only moves faster, pulling her forwards.
Why has he brought her here, only to refuse to look at her? Why take her from that serene community to leave her utterly alone?
Perhaps it isn’t him. Perhaps it was some horrible illusion sent to test her, to drag her from her peaceful existence back into the cruel world she’s already left once.
She has to know.
All she has now is her voice. It sounds strange to her, the resonance of a bodily head and throat, the air rushing through it.
But she uses it. She pleads, she rages, she begs, she upbraids. There was a time, when she was in time, when she would have been too proud to speak as she speaks now, but she already knows what it is to lose everything, and she no longer sets any store by pride.
He looks at her, and at once the fears leave her. It is her own Orfeo; who else would it have been? Her voice fails her for a moment; she can only smile. She would have returned to life over and over to see this.
There are tears in his dark eyes, hurt and grief and joy all mingled together. She knows that she is the cause of all of it, and she remembers once more what it is to be hurt by another’s hurt, to know the shame of inflicting pain upon another.
He steps forward as if to embrace her; she wants to run into his arms, but she can’t, she can’t, there’s no strength in her legs. She can’t support the weight of this new body; it’s already too much for her.
His arms are around her, and suddenly, from feeling too much, she doesn’t feel enough. Since Orfeo came to find her she has longed for this. Now she remembers but she can’t have it: her knees are weak; her hands are numb.
Now she understands what's happening, and she remembers how to weep. Is this all they are to be allowed? It's cruel, too cruel.
She feels the new life ebbing out from her once again. This time, though, it’s different. This time, it doesn’t hurt. This time, she has nothing to fear.
She tries to tell Orfeo so - anything, to alleviate the horror and distress that show in his face. She tries to tell him that she is not afraid, that she loves him, that they will surely meet again in that lovely place where they have just been, that lovely place to which she knows she is now returning. But she has no voice left with which to speak the words. And she has no time. No time at all.