A companion story to Ghosts
As they neared the headstone Alenka stopped and without a word exchanged between them Luka knew her first reunion with those held beneath it was something she had to do alone. Dropping back, he stopped as well before speaking.
"Maja, come here, Beba." He squeezed his wife's hand to reassure her of his closeness before releasing it only to have it immediately reclaimed by his daughter.
Alenka stood motionless through the exchange, her eyes growing distant. There was no way for Luka to know if she heard or noticed his actions and he felt helpless knowing that what happened now was beyond his control.
"Damir..." She whispered her first love's name as she approached the simple stone marker, blank save the names and dates of those it sheltered. As she reached it she found herself sinking to her knees, tears she had fought to control overflowing.
"Mama!" Juraj's cry broke the silence.
"No, Juraj!" Luka released Maja only long enough to catch his son before he could run to his mother. "She needs to do this." He wrapped one arm around the ten year old securely before dropping to one knee beside him.
"Tata?" The boy found himself torn between his mother's obvious distress and obeying his father. As Luka tightened both arms around him his son's decision was taken away from him. Even without the choice the weight of it remained and unable to watch the pain his mother was going through Juraj turned into his father's hold before burying his face in his shoulder.
"It's all right, Beba." Luka comforted his son as best he could, while at the same time freeing a hand so he could motion Maja closer as well. He'd known this was going to be hard for he and Alenka, but he had never imagined the effect it would have on the children, neither of them had. He welcomed his daughter into the small circle of comfort, holding her as tightly as he held his son, before moving his eyes to his wife.
While Luka tended to the children, Alenka's thoughts had returned to her past, remembering things she had pushed from her thoughts so many years ago. She stretched her fingers out so she could trace the names etched in the rough stone, and as she did the sounds of Luka's words of comfort faded.
It had been cold that day...so cold she was sure her tears would freeze on her cheeks. They were holding her upright, her legs seemed no longer able to support her. They were afraid for her...she knew that, afraid that if they released her she would throw herself into the grave as well. She had told them she wanted to be with her husband and son, she had begged them to kill her as well, but they had refused and she wondered if she would ever feel anything but the grief that had since claimed her.
"Damir! Neven!" She screamed their names over and over until her voice faded to nothingness from the strain, and still they held her, why couldn't they leave her to die with her husband and son...why force her to endure the loss when she wanted nothing more then to be buried with them?
She could feel their hands on her, feel them trying to console her, but to what end? Nothing they could do or say would bring her family back...she knew then to that the Priest had come to her, asking her to trust in God, asking her to understand his plan. His plan? His plan? She remembered screaming at him...screaming that no just God would ask this great of a sacrifice.
But he had asked this of her, asked her to be strong, asked her to trust in his wisdom, and in the end she had, it had been the only thing she could hold onto. In the end that had been her strength, her survival.
Alenka found herself returning to the present, returning to the sound of Luka as he continued to try and comfort their children. Luka, the one who had led her from the darkness, who had given her back the gift of motherhood, who had reminded her that she could once more feel love, and give love. Brushing her tears from her face she turned to him and smiled, recognizing the look of fear on his face as one she knew too well herself.
As she rose his eyes followed her and she could tell he was holding his own tears back for her, his arms still holding their children in his embrace. As she neared him she saw him kiss each dark head in turn before releasing them so he could stand and in that next moment he was to her, the arms she had grown to know so well wrapped firmly around her.
"Thank you, Luka..." She whispered the words to him as she buried her face into his shoulder.
"For what?" Luka tightened his hold on her, drawing her to him before he rested his cheek against her hair.
"For saving me...reminding me I was alive...for letting me know the joys of being a mother again..." She found herself whispering the words in his ear, sharing the moment of intimacy even with the children watching. She brushed her fingers over his face, following the lines she knew so well. "I love you, Luka."
"You don't have to thank me.." He found himself able to smile even as he felt the tears well, all she thanked him for he owed to her...all those things he thought he would never again know. "I love you too." His lips found hers and after they shared a lingering kiss he released her so she could sweep her waiting children into her arms. The worst was over for her, if only he could be sure the same were true for him.
to be continued...