I was so warm.
I felt like I was wrapped in a cocoon. Safe and warm. I didn't ever remember feeling so good. My body didn't hurt at all. The pain I hadn't even realized had always been there was gone. I tried to open my eyes and look around me but I couldn't. I was surrounded by darkness. I tried to move my body but it was too heavy. I lay there, immobile.
I was dead. In the end I didn't have the strength to fight. Despite Orcus' words, despite his pleas and the surge of determination I had felt, however brief, I didn't have the power to fight. I had died.
I could hear voices but they sounded far off and I couldn't make out what they were saying. I strained to hear them, but it did not good.
A cool hand touched my brow and I jerked. More murmuring and the cool hand was replaced by a hot one. I tried to shy away from it. The skin was like fire. Orcus had said he never knew exactly what was beyond the door of the After Life. Maybe I was in hell? It was so hot. I tried to struggle and get away and ever so slowly my body began to respond.
Hands clamped down on my limbs, trying to hold me still while the distant murmur of voice became more frantic.
I screamed and fought back, wanting to get free of the scorching hands.
"Astoria, stop!" I froze. That voice. The hands released me and carded gently through my hair. Now I knew why they were so hot. They weren't the hands of hell trying to drag me down. They were Orcus' with his fiery skin. Was he dead as well?
I forced my eyes open and in the darkness of the room I could make out a handful of people around the bed. The figure closest to the head of the bed knelt down and Accius' face came into focus.
"You gave us quite the scare," he chastised with a teasing grin. I stared up at him, wanting to ask so many questions but not having the strength to voice them.
"I know," he crooned, pushing my hair away from my face, "When you are rested, we will answer all your questions." I made a sound of acknowledgement in the back of my throat and closed my eyes again, allowing my exhaustion to overtake me.
When I awoke again it was to the soft cry of a baby. I sat up in the bed, finding my limbs were weak and almost useless. I looked across the room to find a person sitting in the rocking chair with a baby in their arms. They were slender like Accius, with long golden hair that fell in loose curls down their back and over their shoulders. Large silver eyes with a vertical, catlike pupil stared at me.
"Hello," the person said in a soft, musical voice. It was a woman. In her arms lay a small baby, with milk white skin and black hair.
"Rose," I said. The woman smiled and nodded. I stood on shaky legs and made my way over to the pair. The woman stood and reached out one arm, catching me when I stumbled. She was very strong.
"Who…are you?" I asked.
"Accius' sister," she said, "Charis."
"You can touch the baby?" I asked. She smiled again.
"You have been asleep longer than you thought, your grace, but yes. I am as Accius is. One of the few people pure enough to be able to handle the Heir's when other are forbidden," she explained. She wrapped an arm around my waist, supporting almost all of my weight, and brought me back to the bed. Once I was reclined on a mountain of pillows she handed me Rose.
"I have a question," I said as Rose nuzzled into my breast, making herself comfortable. Charis nodded her head for me to go on.
"What makes you and Accius so pure?" I inquired. I stopped as I realized how nasty this sounded. "I mean…how are you…uhm…" Charis laughed.
"I know what you mean, your Grace," she replied. "For our duties we must remain pure. No sex, no drinking, no drugs of any kind. When we are not tending the ill we are not to leave our homes. We may not engage in any form of entertainment. Our libraries are filled with nothing more than medical books."
"Sounds like a dull life," I said.
"To many it may seem so," she said. "But it is what we want to do." I nodded at this and looked down at Rose. She was fast asleep against my breast, her perfect cupid's bow mouth hanging open as she breathed.
"Where is everyone?" I asked. "What happened?"
"By 'everyone', I assume you mean Lord Death and your children. They are downstairs," Charis explained. "As to what happened, I am afraid I am not very clear on that. My brother could explain that better than I. Shall I go fetch him, your Grace?"
"Please," I said. She bowed low to me and swept out of the room. I was too tired and confused to chastise her for treating me with such reverence. I hated it when the people did that.
I relaxed on the bed, feeling exhausted, though I knew I must have been asleep for a while. I lay a hand on my chest.
My heart didn't hurt. It beat steadily in my chest, like a normal human heart. I had thought for sure I was going to die. I hadn't had the strength left in me to fight for my life. I had just gone to sleep. I didn't understand why I was still here. It didn't make any sense.
I looked up as the door opened and in walked Ilirra, Dimitri and Accius. Ilirra cried out to me and scrambled onto the bed, throwing herself on me while carefully avoiding Rose.
"Mommy! I was so scared!" she sobbed, her big watery green eyes looking up at me. Charis came forward and took Rose from me as she began to fuss at the commotion. I wrapped my arms around Ilirra and hugged her tightly, pressing kisses all over her face.
"I know, baby girl," I cooed, stroking her hair back. "I'm sorry." Ilirra sobbed openly, clutching at my gown. I looked over and saw Dimitri standing at the side of my bed. He stared at me with a mixture of relief and fear, his misty red eyes seemingly trying to memorize my face. He didn't move, he barely even breathed, as though one false move and I would disappear. I held out my hand to him, my fingers skimming his shoulder. He seemed to jerk out of his trance at this and tears spilled freely down his cheeks.
"Momma," he cried and flung himself onto my chest, weeping. "Momma, Momma!" I held them both to me, kissing them.
We sat there like that for what must have been an hour until the twins calmed and simply lay against me, sniffling quietly. I turned to Accius who was sitting at the side of the bed, watching me.
"What happened?" I asked. He gave me a weary smile.
"That is a very broad question, my dear," he said. "But I will start from the beginning. Try not to interrupt." He got comfortable and took a deep breath.
"You have always had a week heart, most likely from the years of chemotherapy and surgeries coupled with the last remnants of your Fae heritage. I thought that this would not matter since you were the wife of Death, I should have known better. The one thing that can overcome Death's spell of 'immortality' is the blood of those of the Other World. The faint traces of Fae blood that are still left in your body found the weakness in your heart and attacked at the moment when you were most vulnerable. Death would have had no power to save you. He could have poured all the sand in the world into your Life Glass and it would have done little good. The few precious moments it would have taken me to heal you depended solely on you and your will to fight against your own body and blood. Somehow you found that will and the moment I had the child free from your body I set to work."
"But if I was going to die no matter what Orcus did…I don't understand how fighting would have made a difference," I asked.
"After all these years you still do not understand me." I looked up and saw Orcus standing in the doorway. He wore his usual loose shirt and fitted pants, but his feet were bare. He gave me a small smile and moved further into the room, but didn't come to my side.
"You always have the power to fight me, to fight Death. You can cling to life with all the disparity that you wish, but you only prolong the inevitable. I am an absolute, but there are ways of fending me off for a time," he said softly. "You fought me, fought Death and gained a few more precious seconds to save your life."
"Eroan was called over to fully heal you the same way he had done to your sister," Accius took up. "So you are now fully healed and healthy." He clapped his hands together and stood.
"And since you are awake, I will take my leave and let you settle things," he said, bowing, pressing a quick kiss to my cheek and leaving the room. Charis followed him, handing Rose to Orcus on her way out, sweeping us both a deep bow before she left.
The five of us didn't move. The twins remained pressed against my breast, Orcus still stood across the room with his newborn daughter in his arms and I continued to lie on the bed.
"Children," Orcus called, breaking the silence. Two black heads shot up to look at their father across the room. "Why don't you go eat your lunch so your mother and I can talk?"
"But Father…!" I rubbed their backs soothingly, kissing the tops of their heads.
"Go on, my loves," I said. "I need a bath anyway and your sister needs to eat." They looked up at me sadly.
"You can return when you are done and I am decent," I said. They nodded and climbed off the bed, padding out of the room while casting longing glances back at me. Orcus came forward and handed Rose to me, helping me pull the front of my gown down.
"Can I even breastfeed anymore?" I asked.
"Charis has been having Rose feed from you while you slept," he said. "You will be fine." Rose latched onto my breast and suckled as though she were starved. I took the time to examine her. Her curling jet black hair, her milk white skin, her sapphire blue eyes, her perfect arching brow, her sweet cupids bow mouth. She was perfect, as were all my children. She gave a hearty burp when urged and settled down for a nap. Orcus took her and lay her in her nursery, before returning and sitting at my side. His obsidian eyes met mine and I could tell he was torn.
"I do not want to hurt you," he murmured.
"You won't," I assured, not needing to ask what he fully meant. He reached out and wrapped his arms around me, pulling me tightly to his chest. He pressed his face into my hair and inhaled. I wound my arms around his waist, holding him as tightly as I had the strength to.
"I am sorry," he said.
"For what?" I asked, pulling away to look up at him.
"For being so foolish," he replied. I smiled and shook my head.
"Don't be," I said. "It's one of your more endearing qualities." He smirked and bent down, kissing me gently on the lips.
"I love you," he whispered. I smiled.
"And I love you," I replied. I kissed him again, pressing as close to him as I possibly could. He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me into his lap, deepening the kiss. We clung to each other and kissed with a desperation that made my brush with death seem much more real. The thought made me giggle and Orcus pulled back to look at me. When I told him of the thought he grinned.
"You have done more with 'Death' than merely brush him, my love," he teased.
"Holy shit, did you just make a joke?" I teased.
"You seem to be rubbing off on me," he replied, his grin getting bigger. His expression suddenly turned serious. He pulled me close again and stroked my hair.
"I thought I had lost you," he muttered.
"You almost did," I replied. "Last thing I remember is going to sleep." We sat there in silence for a moment more.
"So," I began, tilting my head back to look at him. "What now?" He paused for a moment and considered the question carefully, his black eyes turning towards the ceiling. One long elegant finger tapped at his chin thoughtfully and he hummed softly.
The door behind him burst open and the children raced in just as he bent forward to kiss me and mutter against my lips;
"Whatever you wish, my love. Whatever you wish."
That was two years ago and as I race across the yard chasing down Ilirra who grows more beautiful by the day I feel more free than I have in years. Dimitri sits on the grass with his book in hand and rolls his eyes at us. He is beginning to look more and more like his father, though Orcus denies it, saying his sons good looks could only come from me. I hear my name called and see Orcus come out with little Rose in tow. She waddles out into the yard, looking out at me with longing but regarding the yard before her with trepidation. That's my Rose. She is always curious, yet leery of what she doesn't understand. She squares her shoulders and walks across the grass, determined to reach me. I lift her up and kiss her, then set her back down so Ilirra can play with her.
Despite his vehement protests, Dimitri loves little Rose and is as protective over her as any big brother should be. He watches his sister's play with a sharp eye, ever ready to come to the rescue should Rose get scared or hurt.
I stroll over to Orcus, pushing my hair out of my face and smile up at him. He returns my smile and bends down to kiss me, wrapping his arm around my waist.
"I have the afternoon off," he says.
"Then come play with us," I urge. He kicks off his shoes, pulls off his shirt, throws me over his shoulder and calls to the children to come rescue me, lest he take me captive forever. I laugh as the children swarm him and cry out for help as he dashes off.
"I love you," I call back to my husband, laughing as the children scramble after him.
"And I love you, my darling!" he calls back.
I started off my life here full of fear and uncertainty, now; there is no place I would rather be.
DHMB: And that is the end, there is no more. I hope you enjoyed the journey with Astoria, Orcus and the whole gang! I will rewrite this after a while, but for now, enjoy! Review's please! Let me know what you think and if I left anything out of Accius' explanation!