Walk Beside

yes, I use the same characters for everything.

He thought of Kurki and the stag. Kurki knew what he could do—Kurki had said that he knew where Hugh and Martin were. Tarin’s mouth settled into a tight line and he turned and walked to the fence. Pulling himself over it, he strode beyond the first solemn line of grey trees. A flurry of shimmering snow settled down onto him from the trees as he walked.

“Come out!” His voice broke, turning the command into a supplication. “Come answer me!”

In response, the woods changed—the wind silenced, the light and contrast of everything revivified. Again he saw them: the pallid stag, the sense of quietude they brought, the way the woods tamed at their behest. Winter did not seem so savage with the stag and their ward standing there. As if in a dream, Tarin brushed snow from his jacket. He did not feel the cold.

“Why are you here?” He’d asked the question before, but Kurki hadn’t answered.

“Why are you here?” Kurki asked in return, blinking slowly.

“I don’t—I don’t know,” Tarin said, choking on the emptiness that question evoked.

“Did you love them?”

“Yes, I—yes.”

“Did they love you?”

His eyes burned with restrained tears. “I don’t know.”

“Their dream is your cage. Why stay?”

Tarin licked his lips and stared at the stag, the creature Kurki had called a god but that just looked broken. The red gaze passed straight by him.

“I have to wait for them,” he said. “They have to—they have to come back. Right?”

Kurki shook his head, betraying no emotion.

“Oh, god,” Tarin said, the years of bitterness festering in his stomach turning into something else—cold panic, colder yet while ensconced by Oregon’s bleak winter. Because it’d been a year that he’d waited for a brother and a grandfather that had never really known him, a year since they’d vanished into these woods and he’d fallen into possession of their dream. He’d waited for them, and yet when he really considered it, he couldn’t remember the last time Martin had looked at him, smiled at him, understood him.

“They looked past me,” Tarin said, the words soft as snow on his lips. “But I need them to come back.”

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