18 - The Winter Reborn (I)

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I

Cold. All he wanted was cold. And snow. He wanted to stay in the dark and the cold. He could see the lights, pricks of yellow. Heat. He knew heat. He hated heat. All he wanted was cold. He clung to it, willing it to keep him under, in the dark. He didn't want to return to the light. But the voices were in his ears and he was rising, floating to the surface. He remembered water, ponds, pools, all of it. It was like that. Refusing to drown in the cold and the dark. His body missed it as the lights grew bigger. The voices grew louder. He could hear them. Screaming. In. His. Head.

Wake.

He shot forward, straining against his own wrists, his own legs. He pulled. The light was bright. Blazing. Too hot. He wanted the cold. And he was angry.

It was an anger he'd never felt. Not this holistically. He still remembered the word holistically. Barely. Like a wrapped blanket. It hugged him. But paired with anger it was on fire. He was on fire. He needed to consume something—anything. It's all he wanted.

And then the shapes appeared. He recognized one instantly. It was the same slender body that'd been torturing him for days. He knew it to his core. And he lashed out, baring his teeth. Teeth he didn't even know he had. Sharp ones. Like daggers. More pointed than not. And then he growled.

The sound gave him a start, low and guttural. Like an animal, the coyotes he'd seen as they traveled from north to south every season. But he couldn't remember who he traveled with. Or how. Just that they were always moving. And he could feel the voices in his head moving. Always moving. They were anxious to move. Anxious to leave. He didn't know why. He wanted to go with them. Where were they, those voices?

"Good evening, Garrett."

He didn't know what evening was. He didn't know what a Garrett was. It was dark. But the room was so hot, so light. He flinched away from the yellowness of it all. From the heat. He wanted the cold back. The winter. He wanted to return to the snow in the mountains. He wanted that place back more than anything.

And yet all he could see was the slender lady with light hair and dark, wide-set eyes. He knew those eyes but they were younger. Not as cold. He'd seen them before, but he couldn't remember where. Everything was all at once both familiar and new. He didn't know where he was. What he was. So he strained again, his wrists bound in thick dark bands. And then he spotted the talons of his hands. Nails elongated like that of a bird, not a person. He didn't understand. So he strained again. There was no sound. Only the hissing and the animals inside his head. He couldn't hear it. Any of it. And yet it was all there all at once. He couldn't stand it. The light, the sound, the woman.

He wanted to destroy something. He needed it all to stop. He had to return to the winter.

Winter. The voices chorused in his head. Winter. Winter. Winter. He blinked. Yes. He was Winter. He was the snow. He was the wind and the ice. He was there. For an instant he was back and he was winter, frozen and alone, but in balance.

"Garrett." His head whipped up, jaw locked and seething as the woman destroyed the balance. "Garrett, do you remember me?"

He growled again. He knew her. He knew he did. He just didn't remember how. And then suddenly she was everywhere. Not just in his own memories, but everyone's. Images of the lab—what was a lab?—flashed in front of him. Screeches, pain. Heat. Sunlight, blazing. A battle with sparks. White light.

Sun.

She was the sun. They showed him the sun.

He worked to catch his breath, chest heaving. He hated the sun.

And there was something else, something that terrified him even more, the sense that, deep down, he knew he came from that heat. That warmth. That sunlight made him this. It rattled beneath his bones. He could taste it on the air. She was all too familiar. And he knew that she had made him something wicked. Because anything born from that light, from that ball of heat and flames and death, that supernova, was to be a weapon. And he knew, slowly, that his chances of finding the winter again were slim. Gone. Nonexistent. And in that moment there was only the sun and his anger and the blazing heat.

He lunged as the star moved closer, her face glowing in a way that made him want to scream. And so he did. He roared and howled and threw himself against the binds. His face centimeters from hers. And he heard the rush of blood beneath her veins and he knew in that instant, that he would kill her. He would do it himself if he had to.

She smirked. "Welcome back, Garrett." And then she disappeared.

He raged, pulling against the binds that held him fast to a cold table that was no longer cold. He wanted it back, the winter that she stole from him. He needed it more than the air. And then suddenly she reappeared, lingering in the doorway, and with a tired sigh whispered, "Stop this."

His body stilled; his mind blank. All he could see was the sun and despite how much he wanted to, he couldn't tear his eyes away. It bore into him, searched him up and down, poked and prodded at the things between his bones and he knew he could not destroy her. Not on his own. Not at all. That hope was dashed before it could even bloom. He knew flowers bloomed.

And then the voices returned, soft and coaxing. They were gentle that time, inching forward as if to whisper secrets.

Winter. Winter. Snow. They called to him. He wanted to meet them. They felt familiar too.

Brother. That whisper was smaller. Farther away. But he latched onto it. It was too familiar. A voice he remembered chiding him in Spanish every chance it got when they were small. He remembered being small and the world being a pleasant warmth. Not this heat, nicer. He remembered games and running. Bare feet and hot pavement. He remembered rocket fuel and then gasoline. Car rides and gunshots. And there was always this figure out of the corner of his eye, a twist of dark Spanish hair and eyes sharp like a carrion bird's.

Remember the moon.

And then the sun disappeared in a blink. Replaced by a smaller, rounder face. Not all angles and blazing, but softer. Quieter. A thinking face. He knew that face. The face of a girl with dark hair and eyes of sunbeams. He knew her. What was her name? What could she do, this girl? And why did his sister call her the moon? What could she do against the blinding, controlling sun?

"Garrett."

He gasped, returning to the sun's beam.

"Do you remember me?"

He brought his eyes to hers. She did not have a thinking face. She had the slightness of a ruthless thing. A monster herself, though her eyes did not glow like the voices in his head. He knew she was the one who'd done this. He knew, somehow, that she was a mother. Not his. Not really. He refused that. But she was in charge now. She was a Made Mother. One he refused to listen to. And yet, every time she spoke it was like her words were water and he was a parched slave.

So he nodded. He remembered her.

"You will not hurt me."

And suddenly all the fire fell from him. He was sleepy. So sleepy. He wanted to rest.

"You will follow me."

And then he was free and the sun was guiding him through the doors, across a frozen floor, into the white moonlight. He winced. Unsure of where they were going. The paths were broken. The trails lead nowhere. Nowhere useful.

And then they stopped—too far away for him to hear anything other than the voices in his head.

"Garrett, I'd like to introduce you to your new family."

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