You don’t remember a whole lot before Family. You remember hunger, and the sweet taste of sopor the few times before it ran out, went rancid and left you sick and shaking and sobbing from too-bright colors and things with teeth in the shadows.
You remember Dad, a little. Rare, rough affection, the treat of fresh fish, salt-sharp wet lusus smell. (You remember that one hot morning, watching a shape at the edge of the horizon, waiting ‘cause he ain’t been back in so long. You remember the little dot in the air, the flash of white. The waves foamed purple and you knew, you knew, you remember the feeling of claws in your throat from your own screaming, animal-scared and wriggler-scared, all a high, keening sound of mourning.)
But even all those memories are tinted with ‘before them’, muddled up in that cold dark season evening, you hungry and weak from sickness, that deep lingering kind of cough that sticks in your chest and makes it hurt to move, huddled in a hidden little corner of your broken hive to hide yourself from the rowdy pack of older wrigglers that sweeps in, big and healthy, the whole raucous clade wrestling and tumbling around each other as they camped out in the broke-open husk of your hive, where what used to be your rec block got torn away by a storm you hardly remember.
Their little travel stove is what you remember most of all, the kind that eats pretty much anything and heats a little metal grill for cooking on, and they put something bloody and blue on it to sizzle and sear as they lounge on your stuff and talk in words you’re too feral and dumb to understand.
It pissed you off, the arrogant set of them, invading your space like you weren’t even there, taunting you with the smell of roasting meat when you couldn’t hardly remember what you last ate that wasn’t raw minnows caught in the surf. You’d lunged at the first one that wandered too close to your hiding spot, him maybe three sweeps your senior and a good four times your size, and he’d laughed at your useless ass.
You learn later his name was Rathal. He was an asshole, caught you up by the scruff and tossed you into the circle of them, all decorated in purple and white and black, all painted up like dayterrors, and you’d about pissed yourself ‘till the smallest one, her a little older than you and skinny the way you were skinny, but not half so bad, took a piece of meat off the grill and wraped it in a napkin with some chewy bread and put it on the floor in front of you like an offering, or maybe a joke. If you were smarter or less hungry, you might not’ve taken it, but you were stupid and starving, so you did.
They fed you that night, on blue-bleeding musclebeast steaks and tubers. It was a couple nights more before you got your first taste of Faygo, half a perigee before you got tamed up enough to remember words. They didn’t show sign of wanting to move on, just set a bigass tent half-in your hive to keep the sun off. You didn’t care, they had food, they didn’t hit or pull their strifekinds at you, Rathal was an asshole and Thalon was impatient as hell at your halting words and Lagosc always fed you last when she cooked, but Bachal had a soothing voice and a spicy tea to gentle your cough, and Istmun fixed up your rain-drowned husktop, and Kalton, who you think led for all he was near as young as you, kept them all together, knocked heads when fights happened, yelled at Rathal for telling you daywalker lusus stories ‘till you cried. They fought together, ate together, slept together, and the togetherness of them fit around you like they were made to have you there.
For near half a sweep, they stuck around to gentle the feralness out of you. Kalton tells you about family and faith, and Lagosc teaches you how to do your face up as is right and proper. You go from sleeping in a sad, cold little ball in the dried-out shell of your ‘coon to sprawled in a warm pile of bodies in the tent, listening drowsily to Istmun’s typing or Kalton reading out some scripture off his palmhusk, Rathal’s snoring or Thalon and Lagosc’s squabbling. You start to forget there was ever a time you weren’t able to tackle Bachal from your couch and streak off so she’d curse, scramble to her feet and chase you, half-laughing, around the lawnring ‘till you collapse in a pile of sweaty snickering wriggler. You forget there was a time before Thal’s sharp tongue and Kalton’s sharp eyes. You’re two perigees into your third sweep when they pack up the tent and bundle their shit up, and you don’t even think as you gather your own shit up, husktop and tattery clothes, the paintpots Laggi gave you for your wriggling day and the clubs Kalton gave you when he caught you playing with Istmun’s, pack them into a spare shuffle modus that Rath had laying about, and follow your family into the late afternoon glare.