The darkness moved around Isellta. It rippled like a lake. It crested high like an ocean.
And Isellta was defenseless to its movements.
It crashed down on him. It pounded him.
And he couldn’t escape it.
Isellta opened his eyes.
He was lying on his chest. His head turned to the side.
The darkness spun and twisted around him.
Isellta opened his eyes.
He was lying flat on his back. His arms sprawled out as if he were about to be crucified. He could barely breathe. He couldn’t think.
Yet, a memory of a name lived on in the back of his mind.
Robin. Robin. Robin.
It was a memory that gave him both peace and regret, sorrow and joy. Ordinarily, he would have tried to make sense of it, but thinking had become too difficult, too painful. So, he had given up trying.
Isellta. Isellta. ‘sellta.
Another memory and nothing more.
He stared blankly into the dark and focused on trying to breathe.
Inhale. It wasn’t deep enough.
Try to exhale.
Try to exhale.
Exhale. It was more of a deflating than a true exhale.
Try to gather up enough breath to inhale.
Try to inhale.
Inhale. It still wasn’t deep enough.
He wanted to give up.
Yet, some small part of him rebelled at that desire. His body kept struggling to breathe, even as it longed for surrender.
‘sellta. ‘sellta. I’m here. I’m here. Come back to me. Come back.
Just a memory.
It wasn’t real.
The only real thing was the darkness all around him, washing over him as if he were a distant shore.
He stared into it as he struggled to keep breathing. It kept moving around him in waves and eddies, in shifts and drifts. Like water. Like sand. Constant motion.
The darkness, however, remained the same. There were no changes in its color. There was still no light.
There was nothing but the darkness.
A hand ran through his hair and trailed down his face.
Darkness and Robin.
Somewhere in the distance, the memory called out to him, “‘sellta. ‘sellta. Look at me. Open your eyes. Look at me.” It was the memory of Robin’s voice beckoning to him.
The time for chasing after stars and voices was long gone.
He had no energy.
He could barely breathe.
Tears trailed down his face for what could have been.
The nae bi sha watched each difficult breath.
He counted the seconds in between each inhale and each exhale.
He stroked the delicate feathers at the base of Isellta’s throat.
And he quietly gloated.
This isn’t working.
So, I’ll try something else.
He spread his hands on Isellta’s chest and moved them down in smooth, perfectly parallel lines.
All the way down to his waist.
He stopped, thought it over, and kept going lower.
Was it a memory?
Hands moving down his chest.
Fingers spread wide on his chest.
It wasn’t Preyuna’s hands.
Not her fingers.
Isellta opened his eyes and stared into the dark. But there was nothing to see.
The hands kept moving.
Lower and lower.
He looked into the darkness. Maybe he was lying on his back. Maybe he was lying on his chest. He didn’t know. He couldn’t tell. But he looked into the dark and called out the only name he remembered.
The only name that truly mattered to him.
“Robin.” His voice was dried out and raspy, but he called out his name again. “Robin.”
“Shh. I’m here, Isellta.”
His breath locked up on him as the hands went where they did not belong.
“Isellta, focus on me.”
They were familiar hands.
He knew those hands.
Just as he knew the voice calling him.
Isellta wanted to call back to him. He wanted to shout out his name. He wanted to sing it out loud. But he couldn’t breathe.
“I’m here, Isellta. You don’t need anyone else.”
Isellta gasped for breath.
Robin kissed his open mouth. “I’m here. I’m your Robin. I am all that you want and need.” He kissed him again and again. Each kiss harder and more forceful. “Don’t give up on me. Don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me. I need you. Stay here with me. Stay, Isellta. Stay.”
Isellta exhaled and the darkness spun out of control.
Robin dug his fingers into Isellta’s upper arms and whispered fiercely, “Don’t you dare leave me, my little fey.”
His head hurt and pounded. His throat ached.
The hands kept touching him, stroking him, massaging him.
It didn’t feel like when Preyuna touched him. It felt good. It felt provocative and enticing.
He wanted more.
A ghost white star flickered high above.
Robin bit his neck and held on tight.
Isellta moaned as he collapsed into the dark.