everything the light touches

There had been times in the past when distinguishing fantasy and reality became difficult. The rising sun that morning had very much been a metaphor, but he knew he had seen it, the glint of orange and yellow shining from behind his lover ex-lover's head as he closed his jaws around his throat. He woke up from that vision sometimes, cold and alone in the middle of the night or the middle of the day, and every time, he wondered if the world around him was real, or if he had really died that day. It just didn't seem real sometimes. The days felt too long, too eventless and calm. These were unfamiliar lands, and it was an unfamiliar peace. He supposed it just felt foreign because he'd never really experienced it before. It just felt like he was still pretending. How could he tell anymore? He was afraid of the peace. It had never been real before.

Lying there, he was only half-aware of the walls around him and the presence of others in the room, similarly unwell. He still saw white and fog and vague shapes in the distance. There was little noise aside from a thud and a thump now and again, faraway and unimportant. His body felt like it was in two places all the time with part of him grounded in the dirt and the other part of him standing in an alternate reality, some gross hybridization of his dreams and his memories (maybe they were the same, after all). Maybe it was just what slowly dying felt like. Perhaps gradually, he would lose that grounded self; was this what it was like to be a ghost? He couldn't do anything but wait.

"What are you waiting for?" the other asked, laughing. Laruku shrugged in his head and rolled over, ever uncomfortable. He was only as real as he let him be. Time seemed to pass, but the fog never went away completely, or else the sky was also white, the world was white, empty, clean in a way that he'd never known it to be. He walked, but the forest never ended. He turned around and saw that he'd never left at all. "Where are you trying to go?" The air was stifling.

The hybrid shifted over again and struggled to pick himself up, somehow managing to sit up with his legs collapsed under him. His body still felt distant and disconnected, like it wasn't really his to be maneuvering. He thought he could see other people in the room: one, maybe two, but it was a small space and as soon as he thought they were there, he felt claustrophobic. Curious, really; he had never been claustrophobic before. He dragged himself in a half-crawl towards the door of the shack, brain burning and jaw twitching. It was so fucking cold. The fog was thicker outside, but there were also more trees -- real trees, maybe. Laruku leaned against the outside of the building and let his arms fall uselessly at his sides, panting lightly and trying to ignore the dizziness.

"Laruku," she said, and he looked up. She stood as a dark blur in the white mist, but it wasn't that that he noticed first. Red eyes like his own shining like beacons, like his son's, like Ahren's, but different somehow, familiar in an unfamiliar way. She was fuzzy and unclear, too far away for him to focus, but he doubted he would have been able to even if she came to sit next to him. And in fact, she was moving closer, slowly, moving in some hobbling, unnatural way through the thick white haze. Squinting sent sharp pain through his temples and his focus did not improve. Giving up, he closed his eyes for a moment and just waited for her to come to him.

She stopped a few feet from him. The air seemed to get colder instead of warmer. He opened his eyes. Even for an unshifted wolf, she was tiny, and he felt like he could cradle her in his arms. Mother, he mumbled quietly, staring at her the best he could as a heaviness swelled in his chest. He imagined that she smiled, but it was impossible to tell. I'm sorry, he whispered, I wanted to stay with you.

She shook her head, "No, I'm glad you didn't stay. There was nothing for you to stay for." Her voice was eerie and soft in the empty forest, but he felt like he'd heard it before. It was silly to think that the few minutes he'd had with her before she died were enough to impress that upon him, but he believed it all the same. Those sorts of things he just had to believe in. I let the pack down, he said, I abandoned them.

She stepped forward again and seated herself beside him. "They survived," she said, "You did your best." He didn't believe her that time, but couldn't think of anything to say. He was too tired to argue, too tired to even comprehend the fact that at long last, after years of hoping and wondering, his mother had appeared before him. Or perhaps, he was just hallucinating an image of her from the sniplets of information he had gathered throughout his life. Either way, she wasn't really real. He could not touch her. But it comforted him to know that Tsunami hadn't lied that day after all, even if he just making it so.

"I'm sorry I never came before," she said in her soft, wispy voice, looking away, "I'm sorry I was never there for you." Part of him wanted to agree, wanted to tell her that he had needed her, had needed someone to love him unconditionally and to tell him things would be all right. Another part of him screamed that he had never deserved her presence, still didn't deserve it, that he should have died that day instead of her, and that she had better people to visit. And another part still, believed that she had always been there and that she had nothing to apologize for now. All the sorries were his to say. He had let her down. Laruku said nothing and looked down, half-wondering if her appearance there meant that he really was dying, at long last.

"Laruku?" she sounded hurt. He didn't know how to fix that.

Am I dying? he asked.

He saw her head shift from the edge of his blurred vision; was she shaking it or nodding? "I don't know," she answered sadly.

What's death like? The hybrid had only ever imagined fire and brimstone for himself, but if his father had been free to roam the forests then, then maybe there really was no hell after all. Whatever it was, he hoped that it would be a release from all the troubles that he'd found in life. Maybe there, he could finally forget about everything and become nothing at all.

"It's hard to describe," his mother told him. "It's hard to hold on to yourself sometimes."

Laruku laughed, a strangled, desperate laugh. I don't want to hold onto myself.

"Laruku," she said again, pressing her head against his arm. It was cold, but he couldn't actually feel her. He glanced at her and marveled again at how incredibly tiny she was. No wonder she died giving birth to him. "I'm proud of you. You've done horrible things and you've made mistakes, but you've learned from them. You're not a bad person, no matter how much you might think you are. I love you."

It was like deja vu, except in reverse. A parent and a child sharing a moment somehow, though in both cases, he was the one who had a hard time saying that he did indeed care and love back. It was not a phrase he had uttered more than once his entire life, but in the last few days, it seemed like it was surfacing more and more. Maybe he was just trying to make peace with the world, even if he didn't feel like anyone should forgive him. You're not a bad person, she'd said, and he could feel her red eyes watching him now. Someone else had said that to him before. He hadn't believed him. He didn't believe his mother now. They were all lying for his sake, just like they always had.

You don't know me, the coyotewolf said quietly, not looking at her. A silence followed that seemed to last an eternity, but with his poor perception of time, it might have only been a few seconds. The creeping pain in the base of his skull seemed to grab him again in that time while he wondered what the black she-wolf beside him was thinking. Maybe he had hurt her with his words, but that would be nothing new. He'd always been a tactless, selfish thing, especially to those that tried to care about him.

"You're right," came the reply after what seemed like a lifetime, "But I still care about you. I want to see you happy." She had placed her two forefeet on his leg and leaned up to nuzzle him. Her touch was like frost, but it felt nice against his returning fever. She licked the scar on his cheek. "I haven't given up on you. Please don't give up on yourself." He said nothing and closed his eyes.

Later, he woke again inside the shack. Maybe he had never really left. Maybe someone had moved him back. His mouth was dry again and his body as weak as ever. He did not stay conscious long. The fog was thicker wherever he looked, and it was still cold.


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