He was drifting, floating, pain and fear now no more than distant memories.
A hazy brightness encircled him, concealing his surroundings from view.
What lay beyond it?
Come and see.
A tiny flame within him kindled and leaped at the words, though he did not know their source. Of course. There was more to learn, more to discover.
He could feel the unknown beckoning to him, as it always had. All he had to do was surrender to it, let it lead him onward.
Just let go.
On to the next adventure.
Something was tugging at him… holding him back…
He hesitated, the mist swirling and shifting as if in response as he turned to glance behind him… and now, very faintly, he could hear a second voice. Not calm and serene like the first, but raw with emotion.
Choking out his name.
And this voice was one he would recognize anywhere, so familiar that it was almost a part of him.
"No… Please, no…"
He had never yet failed to heed its call.
He moved toward the sound, drawn by the invisible thread that had bound the two of them together for as long as he could remember. Closer, closer, through the ever-thinning haze, able to perceive now the familiar arms encircling him, the hand clasping his so tightly as his own grip slackened and slipped. The tears raining down onto his face and chest, speckling his clothing with tiny circles of darker blue.
The thread between them glowed suddenly white-hot, searing his soul with the intensity of his brother's grief; but though he longed to comfort him, to somehow ease his pain, he found himself unable to move, unable to speak the words that flooded into his heart.
From somewhere quite close by came the whisper: It is time.
Then, very gently, as the mist began to gather around him once more: It will be all right.
Again, that surge of inexplicable joy – and with it, another curious sensation, one that might almost be called…recognition.
Was this his destiny, then? The path he was meant to follow?
Then why did he feel so torn?
A simple question. And yet the struggle, had he but known it, was only just beginning. With every passing moment, the pull from each side seemed to strengthen, the emotions battling within him so powerful, so poignant, that he feared – or perhaps wished – that he truly might be torn in two.
"Stay with me… stay with me, please…"
"Just hold on…"
Just let go…
Please, he cried out at last, in desperation. I… I can't.
His words hung heavily in the air – though they had made no sound – and in the stillness that followed, he understood that there would be no going back now, no changing his mind. A part of him still ached for what he was leaving behind, but he was at peace now, his decision made.
Time to see it through.
The mist around him glowed with a sudden, blinding brilliance, then vanished, leaving him in darkness…
He drew in a gasping, shuddering breath, his fingers clenching around his brother's hand as the pain tore through him once again.
Then, very slowly, he opened his eyes…