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She caressed his cheek and hummed until he closed his eyes.
Still awake, he listened to the softness of her voice as it melted away all his worries, all his troubles. The boy's tiny chest rose and fell. His little heart beat lightly. Her presence and the weight of another person at his bedside comforted him for some reason. He could feel the blankets shift slightly as she leaned closer. When her lips were inches from his ear, he tried to act like he was already asleep, like he didn't notice her, even though his mouth turned up in a grin.
Her soothing words tickled his ear and filled him with warmth.
Don't let the bedbugs bite.
I love you Wake.
As he sat on the bow, Wake could barely pay attention to Grace. All he could think about was what his own mother would've been like.
White froth dampened the lining of her dress as she walked by the water's edge. Her eyes were tender yet firm. Her smile was bright as she watched the little boy trace characters in the sand and jump out of the way just when the wave rolled in. The air was a bit chilly, so she hugged her arms and rubbed her shoulders. The ocean breeze displaced wisps of her ebony hair, but the little boy seemed unaffected by the temperature or the wind as he beamed and pointed to his creation.
Look what I wrote!
Turning her head, she eyed the writing with a mixture of compassion and attention that only a mother was capable of.
Why don't you let the wave erase it?
Then you can write another for me with a fresh slate.
Body weakening, joints eroding, and lips bleeding, Wake reveled in his hallucinations that seemed real as day. They weren't really hallucinations so much as they were dreams. Only one thing separated his dreams from reality.
He couldn't imagine his mother's face.
No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't connect her eyes, nose, lips, or anything. He could feel her touch, he could hear her voice, and he could smell her sweetness, but he could not see her - not completely.
The mother he imagined was just a shade of what he thought his mother would be like. He could not distinguish her as a real person, only as someone lovely that cared for and supported him, and this fact alone anchored him to the hot, splintery wood on which he sat.
"What you said about Ren and Fay makes me wonder what it would've been like if I had parents," he rasped.
"I know I'll never see them, but I just can't help imagining."
This time, Grace was the one who listened.
"I always convinced myself that I didn't need parents. That's part of the reason I learned how to live on my own from an early age. I wanted to be self-sufficient and strong."
His voice broke down.
"I never asked for help, but whether or not I ever admitted it, I was really just scared to need help and have no one to turn to. Needing help was a constant reminder of how ..."
"How alone I was."
Wake's hands began to tremble, and he found it difficult to keep his composure. He remembered sleeping alone in the biting wind. The way the blackened soot stained the water, he couldn't get it out of his head. He no longer felt angry that the universe continued to beat him down, only sad and confused as to why.
Why do I continue to suffer?
"The Old Man always told me I was free to shape my own identity, that my choices were what really mattered."
"He was right, but I can't help feeling detached. I'm like a tree with no roots; under the surface I can't trace my identity back to anything."
"I don't even know who I am."
Grace answered softly.
"Even a tree with no roots has the opportunity to grow, to reach its branches towards the sky. There is nothing more beautiful than a cherry blossom in the spring. The white petals fall like feathers to the surface of the pond and float delicately to the edges."
A sense of purpose permeated through her voice.
"Wake, you chose to raise Hunter when he was a chick."
"You chose to strengthen yourself while everyone else lived their lives going through the motions."
"You alone chose to be the person you are today."
His eyes squeezed shut.
"The way you speak, it makes me think you know me better than I know myself."
"I've been searching my whole life, and I've come up with nothing."
"Maybe you can give me the answer."
"Who am I?"
The searing, dry air burned the survivors' skin, and the water was still. The only sounds to be heard were the voices of the girl and boy sitting on the bow of the wooden boat. The ocean and sky stretched for miles and miles in every direction.
They were completely alone.
Grace looked directly at Wake, who was shivering in the heat beside her, wincing in physical and mental agony.
She answered with utmost certainty.
"A person who sacrifices his own personal needs and does whatever it takes to help others."
"A person who was born with nothing and still finds ways to give up everything."
"A person who refuses to let circumstances, no matter how bleak, get the best of him."
"The person who reached blindly into the blackness and pulled me out."
Wake inhaled shakily and cupped his face in trembling hands.
"A person I've come to admire for his perseverance and resolve.
"A person who makes the most out of a bad situation."
"A rare person."
"A person I am blessed to have met."
With each word spoken, Wake breathed short, staggered breaths. Tight skin stretched over his ribs. Bony hands clutched tightly over his face to hide his emotions.
He was crying.
Silently, tears streamed down his cheek and dripped slowly from his chin.
He said nothing.
There was nothing to say.
The teardrops plunked, one after the other, into the calm water and made tiny rings on the surface. The scars on his back stretched across his shoulder blades.
Grace grimaced and turned away. She couldn't bear to watch.
She couldn't think. All she could feel was pure anger, anger at the lifeless ocean, anger at the sweltering sky, anger at all the senseless cruelty she had come to know so well. There was no reason for him to cry. There was no reason for him to suffer all that he had from the moment of his birth. She wanted the world to taste the steel of her blade so it could feel every ounce of pain it deserved, so it could understand all the wrongs it committed.
She stood up.
"Look what you've done!"
Her voice rang out into the silence.
"A good person is dying, and yet you sit there and do nothing!"
She pointed to Wake.
"What has he done to deserve this?"
"What did Mom and Dad do to deserve this?"
"What did all the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers do to deserve this?"
"All of them had dreams, futures, and loved ones to care for!"
"There was so much they never got to see!"
"There was so much life left for them to live, but you ripped it away from them!"
The power in her voice faded.
"All you ever do is take."
"You give, and then you take away."
"You are greedy, heartless, and pathetic."
The ocean and sky remained still as ever.
She breathed and closed her eyes, taking a moment to wait for an answer.
There was none.
"All we ever wanted was to live in peace. You burned that, and everything else, away, incinerated it into dust. Then, after we suffered the pain of losing our loved ones, you dragged us through these waters in false hope of reaching some kind of future, just to torture us as long as you could before killing us like everyone else."
The girl with white hair let out a long exhale.
The bottled-up rage inside of her cooled, and her shoulders relaxed.
Wake had not moved at all.
He still cupped his face in his hands, and his back rose and fell.
She delicately rested her hand on his shoulder.
Upon contact, he tensed for a brief moment and then breathed easy. With his forearm, he wiped away the salty stains that streaked his cheek.
"Don't worry, Wake. We're almost there."
"It will all be over soon."
She didn't expect a response; she didn't believe one was necessary.
Everything seemed hopeless. The sun bore down on their backs. The dry air tanned their skin like leather. Hunter rested at the top of the mast, his healthy white plumage long turned to grey. There was no land in sight; there never had been for the duration of the journey. She sat at the edge of the bow with her toes dipped into the stagnant mirror.
She surrendered to the dreadful silence.
Wake's voice tore across the open water and reverberated with thousands of other voices, whispering, laughing, and crying, all at the same time.
"It's not over!"
He rose to his full height.
When he opened his eyes, they blazed with white energy, an energy bursting with raw power.
Grace stood speechless as he walked calmly off the ledge of the bow.
The ocean curled up and caught him, gently bringing him down to the water's surface, and he began to walk.
Slight waves rippled with each step.
The clouds, the sky, the wind, the ocean, everything was silent. Far and wide, everything remained completely motionless.
Steadily, he walked on top of the water, never looking down, never looking back. He walked towards the horizon, where the sun radiated with blinding light. The lone figure slowly distanced himself further and further from the little boat, growing smaller and smaller with each step. His outline darkened against the blazing sun, and his shadow reflected on the flat mirror.
Then, he stopped and stood still.
For a few moments he remained that way, back to the boat, fixed like a statue.
Without warning, he turned around.
The white orbs that were his eyes glowed quietly against the dark silhouette of his body. Rays of light bent softly around his shoulders and arms.
Grace raised a hand to her forehead to shield her eyes from the brightness.
The deep blue of the ocean blended into the white of the sky.
On the horizon, on the faded line between blue and white stood Wake.
He dropped to a seat and crossed his legs in the Lotus position.
He said nothing.
For a brief second, his eyes flashed with intensity, but then they closed shut. His shoulders relaxed, and he opened his palms to the sky above. There he sat, on the surface of the ocean, his back straight, his legs crossed one over the other. Then he did the simplest of things: he breathed.
With each breath, he inhaled deeper and deeper. With each breath, it was as if the world around him breathed in unison. His exhales cooled the stagnant heat that permeated the air; they soothed the garish light that glared off the flat of the ocean. Then, without the faintest sound or splash, he disappeared below the horizon line and into the water.
"Wake!" she screamed from the bow of the boat.
Again, her voice broke through the silence.
Again, there was no answer.
Just as she was about to yell his name for the third time, she stopped.
She felt something, something simple, something she had not felt in what seemed like an eternity. She stopped and closed her eyes. She forgot about the world around her. She did nothing but concentrate solely on the one thing, making sure what she felt was real on not an illusion.
It was real.
And how wonderful it felt.
The girl with white hair stood, eyes closed, on the bow and enjoyed the feeling of a cool, ocean breeze on her skin.
The dark blue tones of the deep ocean slowly began to change. Right below her feet, at the edge of the boat, she noticed a slight shift in color.
Her eyes widened.
She couldn't believe it.
As if the sun was rising underwater, black softened to grey, grey into blue, blue into azure, azure into cerulean, cerulean into green, green into gold, until finally, the ocean all around her gleamed with pure, white light. It was the same energy that blazed forth from Wake's eyes, except now it was all around her. The water coursed with inexplicable power, but, at the same time, it emanated a beautiful serenity.
The light had a soothing effect on her eyes, similar to the orange glow of the fire at night. She craned her neck, trying to keep her balance as she turned, rotating full-circle to see that the ocean lit up in all directions, as far as the eye could see. The light draped over her, cloaking her in its strange power and serenity. She breathed it in, savoring whatever it was she felt.
It was a feeling unlike any other.
Her spirit felt light as a feather. All of her anger, sadness, and hatred vanished, if only for a split second. She felt like she could fly high above the clouds and that nothing in the world could possible bring her down.
The wind picked up and whipped through her white hair.
The feeling was freedom.
From the surface of the ocean, millions of water droplets rose into the air. As if time reversed and gravity ceased to exist, the pearls of light rained from the ocean into the sky. Without a sound, they flowed in interconnected spirals, weaving together perfectly as they rose higher and higher.
She reached out to touch them.
When her fingers contacted the droplets, they broke into liquid fragments, only to reform and continue their ascension. The vortex of floating water drops captured the white energy that emanated from the surface of the ocean, bending the light through each individual sphere. Fine threads of light reflected and refracted within the spiraling funnel like an endless web. This web continued to evolve and change as the droplets rotated further into the sky.
Grace's jaw slackened, and her mouth hung open.
The magnitude and volume of the droplets, and the precision with which they interlaced together, rendered her speechless.
She alone stood in the eye of the lattice of light, at the very center of it all.
Just as soon as the droplets rose from the ocean, they faded into the sky, out of sight out of mind. Simultaneously, rings of light radiated on the water's surface, and the currents began to shift.
It wasn't power.
It wasn't violence.
The rings gradually grew in radius, expanding all the way to the little boat, gently rocking it back and forth. Then, in plain sight, the waves funneled together, encircling a central point of origin. From that point, they coursed faster and faster, rapidly until they created a maelstrom.
From the middle, a figure emerged.
The waters writhed and coursed around his waist.
He held his arms relaxed, controlling the movements of the tornado as it ascended into the air.
Wake's eyes beamed with white intensity, not anger or hate, but freedom.
From atop his vortex, he raised his arms to the sky as he slowly rotated in place. The air grew heavy, and the light in the sky faded. With fluid hand motions, he churned the millions of water droplets together. Wisps of grey methodically developed out of the whiteness. The grey swept together with the wind and materialized into distinct shapes.
The sky continued to darken and transform.
Meanwhile, Wake brought his hands to his mouth. Inhaling deeply, he blew a frosty wind into the sky, cooling the vapor and causing it to condense.
Grace looked straight up.
When she felt it, she closed her eyes.
The sensation sent chills through her body, and she breathed in wonder.
The first raindrop stained her cheek, the second her forehead.
She could hear the drips and plunks of raindrops delicately pelting the surface of the ocean. The life-giving water filled the bloody cracks on her lips like a long awaited rainfall. Freshwater soothed the dryness in the back of her throat and washed away the metallic taste of iron.
She fell to her knees and smiled.
It streamed down her arms and to the tips of her fingers. It pattered into the empty pails resting in the back of the boat. It caused Hunter to ruffle his feathers in delight. It filled the air with the sweetest of sounds. Where the world had been so deathly silent, the trickle of rain caressed her ears like a mother's voice. Rain dripped softly from the ends of her white hair.
And then, in the quiet of her mind, she felt it.
The rain fell in diagonal sheets.
The wind had changed direction.
She resurfaced to reality. Amidst the wind and rain, she uncoiled the frayed ropes tied to the cleats in the floorboards. Pulling with her combined weight, the tarpaulins raised and stretched to full-size. The boat immediately lurched forward as the sails caught the full force of the wind. Her heart leaped with excitement as the boat gained speed. Whitewash leaped from the sides and waves parted in the wake. She looked steadfast into the horizon as, once again, the wind whipped through her long white hair and rain continued to fall like mist on her forearms.
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