Please excuse the banding, jpg hates me sometimes.
I sent this song to a couple of friends who were having a rough time, as it's pretty uplifting and the lyrics seem to be about not giving up no matter what life hurls at you.
TeamAustralia on steem is currently trying to fund a hayrunners truck, and the not giving up theme seemed appropriate there too.
I'm pretty rubbish at explaining why I do anything so have each frame with associated short stories that have something about overcoming whatever life hurls at you because three short stories in one day is easier than explaining stuff.
The air was beautifully balmy and smelled sweet. The leaves of the surrounding plants rustled gently in the wind. A myriad of insects provided a pleasing backdrop of noise. Beside her, Dakarai had gotten restless and was idly scraping the end of his cane along the edge of the deck, the sound changing from hard on hard scraping to the artificial rustling of a moving object through grass.
"Can't hear anything?" he asked at length, sounding like he knew what the answer would be.
She shook her head before remembering. "No. Juan shut the door."
The scraping increased in intensity as Dakarai shoved the stick harder into the grass. "What do they want?" he growled.
Zara didn't answer, though anxiety gnawed at her insides, feeling like it was tying her intestines into knots. Last time Family Services had shown up, they had made her live with her grandparents. That hadn't ended well. At the hospital they'd told her she wouldn't have to go back. But what if they'd changed their mind? The last lot had told her that it was best to keep families together.
Someone was approaching the back door from the inside. Zara tilted her head so one ear was pointed towards the door. It wasn't Juan's light footed, even gait. This one sounded like it was wearing flat, sensible shoes and somewhat uncertain of where they were going.
"Someone's coming," she informed Dakarai. Dakarai stopped poking at the grass, drawing his cane close against his leg. Zara put her sunnies back on and turned as the door opened, revealing one of the Terran Family Service personnel. She felt her crest twitching and immediately flattened it out with her hand. It was getting harder and harder, she noticed. When she was younger her crest had been as soft as the rest of her hair, and easy to flatten. Now all the thin, hair-like feathers were becoming stiffer, a bit less hair-like and a bit more feather-like. A memory of her mother smoothing down her crest forced its way up into her immediate consciousness, bringing with it the overly familiar hot stinging sensation behind her eyes. She glared hard at the Family Services guy, willing the lot of them and her tears away. In the background, she heard snatches of conversation. They were, of course, talking about her.
The Family Services guy hesitated briefly before stepping out onto the deck, closing the door behind him, once more muffling the conversation inside back to incomprehensible white noise. "Hey," he greeted them. He seemed naturally soft-spoken, not just talking to them gently because they were all probably trained to do that. "I'm Kylen. Can I sit with you?"
Experience had taught her that he'd probably join them whether they wanted him to or not. Keeping her eyes on him, Zara shuffled closer to Dakarai. He shifted over a little in response but otherwise kept the body contact, and she heard him shifting his grip on the cane. He'd cracked it about being blind the last time they'd trained, but knowing that he would fight with her, and for her, if it came down to it, made her feel a lot better. She ws not going back, no matter what it took.
The Family Services guy, Kylen, sat with them, close enough to make conversation comfortable but not too close. He looked at them in some concern, but they always looked concerned. And each time she had run away, they had sent her back. Even after she'd told them everything that had happened.
Not this time.
"How you doing? Your head feathers growing back all right?"
They always started with the relatively easy questions. Getting her head feathers cut off had been the most intense pain she had ever felt in her young life. Even worse than when she'd almost split the beam after failing a back handspring step out. And now that they knew, her grandparents would probably take her crest off as well. They were too dumb to know they just grew back.
"Please don't send me back." A part of her wanted to be more vehement, to fight harder. But she was so scared now, and so sad, and Mum wasn't there anymore and was never going to be there ever again. A couple of tears escaped, and she quickly squeezed her eyes shut, pushing her sunnies up so she could clear the traitorous water out.
Kylen seemed momentarily surprised. "To your grandparents?" Zara nodded mutely. A hard look touched Kylen's face around the eyes for a moment before smoothing out. It was a similar but less intense look to the one that Juan had had when Family Services first rocked up to take her away, and again before he'd let them in earlier. "Don't worry, sweetie. You are never going back to your grandparents."
He wanted to know a lot about Juan, how often he left them on their own, whether he helped them with Primer time, what kinds of meals they had normally and how often, what kinds of things they did together as a family. That was easy to talk about. Pleasant, even. Then Kylen went back inside, shutting the door behind him again. It was a while more before the kids were allowed back in. Juan was a lot happier. The lady that was in charge of this particular trio said Zara could stay with Juan, and that they would be back next month for another quick visit, and once more reassured Zara that no matter what, she would not be going back to that hellhole.
It felt like a heavy weight was gone. They were lettng her stay with Juan and Dakarai. Maybe things were going to be okay after all.
The actual tone of Megan's voice was gentle and inquisitive, but in the tumultuous storm inside his head it blended with everything that had happened in their recent history, and then extended uncontrollably into everything as far back as he could remember. Mum and Dad doting on their beautiful little girl. His efforts to win Dad's approval always falling short. He didn't want to be in school, it was too crowded, too noisy, too hard to concentrate, even on the interesting stuff. He just wanted to work with machinery, but it wasn't good enough. He was supposed to aspire to "greater things", whatever those were. There were still machines in the world and they still needed mechanics. Mum was fine with letting him homeschool and work towards an apprenticeship but Dad wouldn't have a bar of it. He was going to school at all costs and that was final. The confusion of simultaneously hating the teachers for what he perceived as barely tolerating his presence there and appreciating them knowing they were doing their best to accommodate him. His twin sister, the light in his darkness, always defending him, even as Dad always seemed intent on turning her against him. The ever present. low level, simmering rage, sometimes too much to contain. The fights. The disapproval. More fights, more often, with Dad. The fear in which she'd called out to him, inside his head in the way only they could hear. Her panicked screaming of his name so many times before he finally registered that he was sitting on that dumb cunt of an ex-boyfriend of hers, methodically pounding his idiot head into the ground, and that blood was flying with each solid thump. His own brief panic when he was grabbed and threw his most recent attackers off, calming down when she'd called out to him again, and realising he'd just thrown a couple of teachers across the hall. The sirens. The court case. He had to see a counsellor but at least he didn't have to go to jail, because he'd never assaulted someone with such crazed aggression before, and wouldn't even have done that if the stupid dick hadn't tried to hurt Megs. He didn't want to experience that blind rage, so overwhelming he literally couldn't remember much from when he'd been in its grip, ever again. Dad saying he didn't have a son. Dad's face when Megs announced that he also didn't have a daughter.
Andrew took a breath in what felt like the first time since forever, becoming ware of Megan's gentle hands on his face, futiley trying to dry his fur, wet with tears, as she had done so many times before.
"You're okay." Her voice was gentle and soothing.
I'm not. I'll never be okay.
You shouldn't be. Her life would be so much better if he wasn't in it. The dropkick, worthless, reject twin brother who should never have been born. Her expression shifted.
Stop thinking like that. I love you.
From their shared moment of conception til the day they died. There had been days when he literally lived for her, because he had this deeply disturbing feeling that if he died, she would too. Maybe he would be okay. Her face eased back into the gentle warmth he relied on, that made the world seem like not such an awful, uncaring place.
"We should go somewhere."
He didn't know what to do.
"Can we go to Mace's?"
She always knew what to do. Mace had said that if they needed somewhere to stay, they could go to hers. He rubbed his arm across his stinging eyes, the counterpressure taking a lot of the unpleasant feeling away, and extended to rubbing his face, drying it further. It was kind of cool out, and he knew Megan was cold but not saying anything about it right now. He shrugged his jacket off and tossed it around her. He wasn't that cold. He didn't even remember putting it on, but she must have handed it to him at some point as they were leaving, as he knew he definitely hadn't been wearing it before the shit hit the fan.
His sister slid into it gratefully, and stood up with the awkwardness of someone whose limbs had gone to sleep. She stamped a little to get the blood flowing. He leaned over enough to grab the bags she had somehow thought to pack at some point before their dramatic exit, then levered himself up with his tail.
"Yeah," he said decisively. Mace's was so much more pleasant. The common areas were noisy, but it was a good, jovial kind of noise, and when it got too noisy one could retreat to the small library or the sleeping zones, all of which were designated quiet areas. Everyone there accepted him or were at least nice to him. It had been preferable to home, when it had still been home, and was definitely a better option than staying in the park, especially as the light prickle under his skin suggested it was going to rain soon.
Megan smiled, and he fell in step beside her as she headed towards the road, pulling out her comm as she did to summon a pod. "Mum will store our stuff. We'll find our own place eventually, and then we can pick it up when Dad's at work."
Megan always knew what to do. Maybe things were going to be okay after all.
It hadn't rained, thankfully, otherwise the job would have been harder than it already was. Things were hard enough. They didn't need to be harder.
Erek-tu'lan sensed but otherwise didn't bother acknowledging Mika'dael standing up from beside him. He angrily fought down the bubbling tides of grief which were threatening to rise up and crush him again. It had been nearly a decade since his father had been cravenly murdered from afar by an assassin, but the sound of the crowd, and the familiarity of the situation, and the fact he hadn't wanted to deal with the crushing grief and had buried himself in work, made it feel like it was happening again, right now.
Except it wasn't his father's mortal remains he was about to burn, it was his wife's. A craven murder again, but this time by a disgustingly racist mob. Methodically, he threaded herbs through the twine loosely binding the shroud around her body. Their marriage had been arranged, after a fashion. His father had let him choose rather than choosing for him. She had been a good choice, and he had grown to love her. She had bourne him the most beautiful child, and been the most loving, caring and attentive mother, unlike his own who had walked out on him and his father when he had still been a toddler. It wasn't fair that he had been forcefully thrust into his role well before he was ready. It was unfair that his son was now forced to live out the rest of his life without his mother's love. Erek-tu'lan could only thank the gods that Tsa'run had been in the right area at the right time, or he would likely be preparing his child's body alongside his wife's.
Zul'jinn had been a mess since things had happened. Erek'tu'lan had disbarred him from assisting with preparations for the sake of the mental health of both of them. It had been a point of contention leading up but fortunately Zul'jinn hadn't given Erek-tu'lan any trouble before he left. Tsa'run's presence had helped a lot, though Erek-tu'lan shared Mika'dael's sentiment that Tsa'run probably shouldn't have been out of the hospital.
His emotions were stable enough now that he felt ready to look at the rest of the world again. His wife wasn't the only one being burned today. The pyre would be going for the next few days. The media described it as a massacre, and it had been, but it could have been a lot worse. They owed so much to the Warriors and the Royal Guard, and everyone that had provided ancillary during the unexpected attack.
Mika'dael's hand touched the back of his head gently, as it had often done in affection back when he had been a child, and his father had been a Royal Guard rather than Tribe High King, accompanied by a murmured "My king." Erek-tu'lan looked up at him. Mika'dael motioned with his head. Erek-tu'lan looked in the indicated direction. Tsa'run was standing by, the distinct lack of the usual Royal Guard accessories and the stiff way he was comporting himself a reminder of the severe beating he had taken in defence of Zul'jinn, marked by one missing horn and the fresh scars lacing his torso and snaking down his limbs. Zul'jinn stood beside him, one hand clutching Tsa'run's, the other a bundle of herbs. The boy's eyes were glistening and his face had the scrubbed look of someone who had been crying bitterly and then attempted to clean up as best they could.
Once more, Erek-tu'lan's heart threatened to break. He took a quick breath to steady himself, and held out his arms. Tears welling, his son ran to him. Erek-tu'lan held him tightly. It wasn't the inconsolable, soul-rending wailing that had happened in the first few days after they'd had to break the news, but the grief was still palpable. He kissed the top of the boy's head, held him a moment longer, then gently separated from him. Zul'jinn sniffed and tried unsuccessfully to wipe tears away.
Erek-tu'lan gently guided Zul'jinn in threading his herbs through the twine. Around them, the sounds of grief intensified, ranging from simple sobbing to loud keening, as people arrived to pay their respects. A torch was pressed into his hand. Another was passed to Zul'jinn, who hesitated a moment before accepting it. His hand crept into Erek-tu'lan's and squeezed it fearfully, staring up with dark red eyes. Erek-tu'lan looked back at him. What he wouldn't give to take that pain away.
Silently, he asked his wife's forgiveness for being unable to protect her, prayed for the strength to keep going and the wisdom to do the right things, and threw the torch onto the pyre. Once more, Zul'jinn was hesitant, but he followed. More torches joined theirs. The fire rose, the scent of herbs wafted in the air with the rising smoke. The crowd drew back as the heat intensified. Erek-tu'lan tucked Zul'jinn under his wing, glancing down as he pressed against him. The reflection of the flames danced in his eyes as he gazed blankly into the pyre. Erek-tu'lan stroked Zul'jinn's hair before resting a hand on his shoulder and turning his attention back to the pyre.
On a level, they would never be okay again. But experience had taught him that eventually, things would be okay.
This work by bek (ryivhnn) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.