Post-Self

Hues

Madison Scott-Clary


True Name — 2350

Mitzvot: high

I see the world in new hues.

I see Ioan and May Then My Name sitting together on the bed, cross-legged and touching. I do not think they even realize that they are doing so, that they have set their hands next to the other’s, that their pinky fingers overlap.

I see Ioan with eir sun-lightened hair and sun-darkened skin and marvel the ways in which the thirds of me see this: one third has cataloged it as a unique pointer to a past of climate refugees that I will never know, one third judges the ways in which ey blends with eir surrounding, and one third… Well, down that path lays too many conflicts.

I see May Then My Name trying to hide sleep-addled emotions beneath pillow-mussed fur. I see the way she remains at all times conscious of her body, its extents, its softened boundaries. I see the way some small sliver of her mind continually runs through a checklist of appearance she will never even admit to herself, a litany of reassurances that she is the right level of cute, the right level of innocent, the right level of earnest.

I remember that checklist more clearly than she does, I think. I remember thoughts flickering to whiskers — bristled or no? — to ears — should I perk them? — to weight — a little slouch will show as rolls, but in a good way — and back again.

And I see myself recorded in their eyes. I see the way Ioan is buffeted about by the competition between eir need to help and eir growing confusion over who I have become. I see a tempest swirl in May Then My Name's eyes.

“Heading outside?” Ioan asks.

I am struggling to keep myself present. My mind is a jagged mess of tangled wires and unfocused lenses. I nod. “Yes. I will need an hour or so of nothing but the morning and the grass.”

“Of course,” ey says.

May adds, “Take the space you need.”

I feel something akin to love press flush against something akin to shame. I hide it with humor. This is a new thing... “Thank you, dear. If you cook breakfast, I will refrain from telling Ioan embarrassing stories.”

“Asshole.” She laughs. “Where did this humor come from?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, at this point.”

I see the world in new hues as I step outside, holding my coffee close against the chill of the morning. The deck is cold beneath my paws, and the sim feels fresh, new in a way that it is not to any of the three of me.

I do not linger. I have a task.

Instead, I step carefully and deliberately down the stairs from the balcony and into the cool and dew-heavy grass. This, too, is cold on my paws, and I remember a conversation with Ioan some weeks back about the joys of winter. I remember it as though around a corner: indistinct. I remember it as though overhearing it in a quiet bar: murmured.

The remembered conversation is in place, settled alongside memories of me working on the tent with Deberre and memories of me working alongside Zacharias and Jonas.

It is a dangerous memory, for how innocuous it is. It is too hot to touch directly just yet, for neither May Then My Name nor I anticipated just how many of her memories around Ioan are love-colored, just how many bear the new hues through which I see the world. There is so much love in that conversation, so much love in em saying, “Well, if you ever wore shoes…” That aposiopesis is an I-love-you directed at May Then My Name.

I remember it directed at me.

It is dangerous, and it will be dangerous work to grapple with it. All of these memories are in place; it is just the weight of conflicts that I am left with.

The dew from the grass quickly soaks my feet, and I can tell my pads will be numb by the time my task is complete. As it is, the fur all the way up to the hems of my slacks is wet, and my slacks themselves halfway up my calves are already soaking through.

But I have a task before me. My pace is slow, deliberate. My breath is bated, anxious. My mind is keenly focused on maintaining a distance from the bruised cloud of conflicting memories in order to make it through the coming conversation.

I see the world in new hues. The pale green and tan of the grass makes me crave anise cookies. The delicate blue of the sky — so much more delicate than I remember! — makes me thirst for cool water. The dull green of the tent before me, shining with the same dew that marks me, makes my stomach ache. I have never seen the world like this before.

My pace is slow and deliberate, but it is not sneaky. I make as much noise as is appropriate, and what is appropriate is the sound of footsteps. I know how to muffle those, how to set the sounds I make aside, both through a cone of silence and through the bushcraft I have picked up through someone else’s hard-won knowledge. But right now, the morning needs footsteps.

True Name needs footsteps.

The nose that pokes out of the tent to greet me when I am a few paces away is my nose/not my nose. The face that follows is my face/not my face. The dark brown of the eyes, the black of the fur, the white of the mane, all mine/someone else’s.

I have never felt this split after a merge before. I have never felt this split before, period, not since I was Michelle and also Sasha, names that are not my own. I am still True Name as well, yes?

Am I?

This skunk before me looks out into the world with the same eyes I have, and yet they do not see the same hues. She bears the same exhaustion on her face from the same sleepless night I have had, and yet she is not tired for the same reasons.

I wave a small camp chair into being before the fire pit she has/I have built, set my coffee aside, and begin the task of lighting the fire for us.

She watches from the tent, silent.

The crack of the tinder on my paws echoes both familiarity and unfamiliarity within me as I break it down. I have done this so often before — daily for years and decades — and yet one third of me has not started a fire more than a handful of times in all that time.

I build my small pyre, and still the skunk in the tent watches, silent.

Finally, once the fire licks up along the tinder with washed out tongues of flame, I pick up my cup of coffee and offer it to her. We both need it, but she deserves it more.

She nods warily, eyes never leaving me as she steps from the tent to accept the mug, dreaming up a chair for herself across the fire from me, and together we build it up the rest of the way, at least enough for an hour’s warmth.

“You look well,” she says at last. Her tone is tired above all else, but beneath that exhaustion lies something uncomfortable.

I nod, marveling at the subtle intonations, marveling at the way my heart reaches ever outward along lines of interpersonal relationships. I marvel at how much those three words make that ache in my stomach twist into a sharper pain, an anxiety, a need. I need to address this. I need to address her discomfort, her exhaustion. I need to take her all up into my arms and let her warm herself against me, be the safe space for her to weep. I need to prove the love for her I cannot avoid in myself.

I see the ways in which she would resent that if I did so now, but then, I see the world in new hues.

So I just nod and instead say, “I am tired, but yes, I am well.”

She looks down to the fire, sips her coffee. “Good.”

“How are you feeling, dear?”

“Tired.”

I shake my head. “How are you feeling about this? How are you feeling about yourself?”

She looks up without lifting her snout, and that uncomfortable tension within her grows all the more evident. “About myself?”

I nod.

“I am feeling broken,” she says, gaze once more dropping. “I am feeling cracked in two, with only the whims of reality keeping me in one piece. I am feeling the world falling out from under each of my footsteps. I am feeling broken.”

“I think–”

“I look at you,” she says, interrupting, “and I know that I am broken. The crack was there before today, but I look at you and I know that, no, I am not cracked like some mug on the shelf, I am broken.”

This time, I remain silent, settling into a part of me that is new. I am helpless before this change, helpless before the feeling of True Name stepping back, of End Waking disappearing into the woods, of May Then My Name leaning forward. I remain silent and watch my other self carefully, feeling that line of connection between us tug harder, demand an embrace.

There was a time nearly two centuries ago when five/six people sat on the grass, when May Then My Name and In Dreams and Hammered Silver and End Of Endings sat before Sasha/Michelle and talked about the end of the Council of Eight, about True Name and Jonas taking over the world, about being a dead woman walking. That of True Name in me does not remember this from any previous merge, so it must have been just after the last time May Then My Name merged down.

I remember watching Michelle/Sasha struggle to speak, to live, to exist. I remember her form shifting. I remember her having a bad day. I remember watching her and having to exercise every iota of restraint to not go in for a hug.

I overlay that memory here, and the similarities shine through overbright.

I hold myself back and say instead, “Is there a place in the world for broken you?”

She winces away from the question, shoulders drawing in. I am not surprised when she shakes her head. I do not think either of us are.

“And how does that feel, True Name?”

She coughs. Or laughs. I cannot tell which. “Do not call me that.”

“What shall I call you?”

“‘Nobody’. Call me Nobody so that when you speak of me, you say that Nobody is tired quite like me.”

Heart aches. “Is that, then, how it feels, Nobody?”

“I do not care how it feels.” She straightens up and meets my gaze, half-smile touching her features, and I can see the energy it takes for this broken me to do so. “What I care about now is if it was worth it.”

“‘It’?”

“The merge.” Her tone is earnest, kind, even as the words come urgently. “Is who you are now worth everything that was done to us? Is it worth 106 knives in the back? Is it worth May Then My Name destroying us? Is it worth the way she killed, however kindly, the last remaining True Name?”

I sit back, startled.

There is a war within me. Opposing forces strive for primacy. That of May Then My Name begins to cry. That of True Name picks up on the resentment stated by my up-tree and slots it into her own reality.

I can see what she means. I can see the death of who I was in the face of who I became. I can see the love May Then My Name must have intended contrasted with the heartless way she accomplished this final nullification of True Name as she was.

But I see the world in new hues. I see the world with the knowledge of a conversation on the balcony in the seconds and minutes after End Waking’s entire life was dropped unceremoniously on top of my mind.

“I know a part of me was acting out of vengeance," she had said, and I know this to be true, but I know the truth in her stammering, “I never wanted to hurt her."

I see the world in new hues and with new context.

“Yes,” I say at last. “Yes, it is worth it.”

The True Name across the fire from me screws up her face and buries it in her paws, and now, I truly am unable to hold back. I crawl around the fire, kneel before her, and wrap my arms around her shoulders to hold her to my front as she weeps. As we both weep.

The wave of relief or sorrow or release or despair eases up and, eventually, she leans back. She leans back and looks searchingly at me, investigating every strand of fur on my tear-stained cheeks, and I do the same with hers. We sit for nearly a minute, noses all but touching. Then, without a word, she draws me into a hug and, once my arms tighten around her, she quits.

My arms collapse against my front.

I see the world in new hues as I soak in a brief wave of grief as this last vestige of that broken me disappears. I cry before the fire as I accept the merge easily, almost automatically.

I see the world in new hues and, just for a second, just for a glimpse as she stared into my face in those last moments, so did she.

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