Suhad never made a sound, but he knew from the silent sobs racking her shoulders that she was weeping in his arms. Something coiled tightly inside of him, then – something of potentially explosive proportions. The pained, stricken expression he pictured on her face alone could drive him to murderous rage, and woe betide anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. Woe betide Sutekh, when Akhom found him.
He was the reason his wife was crumpling in his own arms.
It was becoming too frequent an occurrence for his liking.
“I know,” he whispered into her hair, only just able to keep it together. “I know. Shhhh.” With tenderness that belied his massive size and lethal capabilities, gently, he rocked her in his arms.
With each sob, his face drew tighter and tighter. He could feel his anger beginning to stoke again like coals on a banking fire. It had never really been put out. Akhom was angry. So angry. Angry at Sutekh, angry at himself, angry at their circumstances, angry at the Gods.
When she kissed him, however, all of his anger seemed to disappear into thin air. Without it, Akhom felt vulnerable, and he knew that she could see right through him. He didn’t know what to say to her, because she was right, so with the pad of his thumb, he wiped away each tear as it fell down her cheek until he could articulate his thoughts. Eloquence was only one of many things he struggled with.
“We cannot just carry it, my love. We must. If we entrusted this burden to Sutekh alone, all the hells would break loose and every land on this earth would be lit aflame with his wrath. I do am not doing this for him – I am doing this for the civilians I murdered,” he paused at his own verbal whiplash, “and for those left alive who must brave the consequences of what they’ve done. I am doing this for the thousands of Akhoms and Suhads and Anhurs within our clans who have been forced to blindly trust and follow Sutekh. Someone must carry this burden for them, because the gods know they cannot do it alone.”
Her fingers felt like fire on his scar. Akhom cringed, despite himself. He could not see it, there on his back, but it was a physical marker of what he’d done, no less. The wound itself had healed up nicely by Suhad’s blessedly merciful hands, but it might as well have been gaping, still – that massacre was still a part of him that was healing.
He wasn’t sure if it would ever heal.
Akhom, slayer of warriors, defier of death, was frightened. But what good was it to tell Suhad as much? With the heavy burden upon her shoulders and grief etched into every line of her face, she could be spared of the admittance, even if he was certain that should could see it written all over him.
They were all scared, and they needed an anchor. Whatever else he was, Akhom could be one. Had to be one.
Carefully, he extricated Suhad from his person and leveled himself with her, meeting her eyes with some sort of hidden strength he wasn’t even aware he possessed. While respect and honesty was the cornerstone of his marriage, unmanning shame had all but crippled his usual vitality after…what he had done. This was the first time in too long that he was able to make stable eye contact with his wife, and speak more than a handful of words to her. With their plight plunging headlong into the inevitable, it dawned on Akhom that time was too short to avoid her like he was. She needed to know, from him, before Osiris swept them away from this hell in which they were trapped like He did Tuya. He would die a thousand deaths and more before he would let the Gods steal him before he fixed whatever was going on between them. Before she knew he loved her more than life itself. Before it was too late.
“I will carry this burden to the Underworld on my back if it meant the chance for you to live, hayati. You are the lightness in this. You are my torch in such a dark path, my soul; my life; my love, and I am sorry. I am so sorry for what I have done to you – to us. But I cannot do this without you. I cannot pull this weight alone. I need you, Suhad.”
As if to physically confirm his need for her, he kissed her deeply and fiercely in a way that had been lost to them after the massacre.
“I always have.”