Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto—if I did, I'd be rich—I'm just borrowing the characters for a while, and I'm making no money in doing so. So please don't sue.
Notes: Very AU, pre-timeskip, no bijuu, no Uchiha massacre, one-shot. Here's another idea I've been toying with for a long time…
I hope that you enjoy it!
As Naruto dressed for the day after his quick shower, he checked his calendar and grimaced at what he found.
Why does it have to be tonight?
A cloud immediately formed over him and he hadn't even left his apartment yet. He dragged his feet through brushing his teeth, gathering his gear, and making and eating his breakfast. And then he went for the rancid milk.
It was a little, single-serve milk carton he'd bought from a cafeteria-style restaurant weeks ago. He'd tucked it away in the back of the refrigerator, and purposely let it age well past its sell-by date in preparation for today. As he cracked it open, it was hard not to gag from its sour smell, but he steeled his nerves and brought it to his lips—
Before Naruto could manage a protest, Iruka had snatched his bad milk and was checked the date on it.
"Naruto!" Iruka sputtered. "This is almost three weeks past its expiration date!"
"Is it?" the boy asked cluelessly, and then flashed his signature stupid grin. "Heh, I didn't notice!"
"Pay more attention next time!" the man scolded as he poured the spoiled liquid down the sink drain. "This could've made you very sick! Now get going before you're late."
Still grinning like a fool Naruto grabbed his bag and scampered out of the apartment. He raced down several flights of stairs and out into the street. But then he ducked down a narrow alley for some privacy and swore up a storm.
I need to drink the milk faster next time!
Uchiha Sasuke sighed as he tried to look like he was paying rapt attention to a lecture on Konohagakure no Sato's history. So far the teacher hadn't said anything that he hadn't already learned from his family or read in a book. If he was a clanless moron like Naruto he might've goofed off, or if he was a lazy bum like Shikamaru he might've slept through the lesson, but he was an Uchiha and he had his clan's sterling reputation to uphold.
In ancient times, the Village Hidden in the Leaves had been founded as a military village that primarily hosted ninjas—shadowy assassins that waged war and made the Land of Fire a safer country. But over time the wars between different countries died down and the ninjas reinvented themselves. They expanded and improved their use of magical techniques and went from being hunters and killers of men, to being hunters and killers of demons.
The Uchiha clan had been instrumental in the original founding of the village and its transition from ninja center to demon-hunting center. His clan continued to be essential because of their high degree of skill and their powerful kekkei genkai. With their Sharingan eyes, they could predict any move, steal techniques from rival hunters and even demons, and see through illusions. Without the power of the Uchiha, Konoha would surely have fallen apart years ago.
His father had taught him to be proud of his heritage and made sure that Sasuke had memorized every important event in the clan's history. He knew every crisis dating back to the ancient wars where men were pitted against other men instead of demons. So sitting through this history lecture was a waste of his time…
But then again, there were idiots like Naruto who actually needed this lesson. Not all demon hunters came from elite clans; some were born of more humble roots but had been blessed with the uncommon power of magic. All children born in and around Konoha were tested for chakra potential, and if they had any they were offered a chance to train in the Academy to be a hunter ninja.
Sasuke briefly turned his dark eyes away from the instructor to scan the small crowd of his peers. He only knew about half of them, the rest were either from families too small and obscure for him to recognize on sight, or were children of special talent born of talentless families. The other half of his class—the half that he knew—were representatives of the great clans of Konoha…and his two squad mates.
Haruno Sakura did come from a family with magical talent, but the Haruno's chakra capacities were low and they generally focused on being healers, teachers, and working the administrative side of the hunter business. Sakura was the first of her family in generations to pursue field training with the intent of actually hunting down and killing demons. She was smart, having "graduated" (not that having graduated excused any of them from furthering their education, they still had to attend lectures two to three times a week) the top kunoichi in their class, and had excellent chakra control. But she had little stamina and was horribly infatuated with him, which made her very annoying.
His other squad mate, Naruto, was from no magical family that anyone knew of. He was a foster kid that had bounced from home to home for so long that he didn't remember where he was from and no one wanted to try and go through the lengthy paper trail to try and trace his origins. When he'd arrived in Konohagakure no Sato at age ten and been placed with Touji Mizuki, he'd tested positive for strong chakra potential and been put in catch-up classes so that he could be put on a squad with kids his own age. It was a mystery how he'd graduated on time with the rest of them (Sasuke had heard a rumor that it was a reward for discovering that Mizuki was a traitor allied with a dangerous rogue hunter, but he didn't find it credible) as his grades were bad and his skills in the three major areas—taijutsu, ninjutsu, and especially genjutsu—weren't much better.
As his gaze landed on Naruto, Sasuke frowned at what he found. Normally Naruto would goof off during their lengthy advanced lectures—he'd sleep, he'd snack, he'd whisper to whoever he was sitting by, or he'd scrawl ridiculous plots in his notebook instead of lecture notes. But today he was doodling aimlessly with a pensive, almost worried look on his bizarre whiskered face.
Perhaps he isn't feeling well, the Uchiha mused.
The blond foster kid seemed to get sick at least once a month. But he always recovered very quickly, missing only one or two days at a time, so it was never a problem. So long as Sasuke never caught whatever Naruto had he was willing to overlook this particular flaw in his teammate.
"…And that brings us to the present day," their instructor, Umino Iruka, said.
Sasuke internally cringed and put his full focus back to the front of the classroom, silently hoping that no one had noticed his inattention.
"Now, Ebisu will give you your Demon Lecture for today," Iruka-sensei said, bowed, and left them for a few minutes to fetch Ebisu.
There were hundreds of different kinds of demons in the world and it was important to know their dangers and weaknesses in order to be the best hunter ninja possible. Before graduation they'd studied the major demon families, and type and class distinction. Now that they were graduated into junior or rookie (genin) level hunters, they studied specific species, exceptions to rules, and even individual demons that had been dangerous and difficult to kill throughout history.
Before Sasuke's peers could get to whispering nosily amongst themselves, the classroom door slid open to admit Ebisu. The special jounin wore his hitai-ate mounted on a square cloth that covered his hair and with his round shades he looked like a cool guy. But his rigid, uptight personality immediately ruined that perception the instant that he opened his mouth.
"Good morning, students," Ebisu greeted briskly. "Today I shall be educating you on the details and subtleties of an exotic curse-born creature that has well-established itself in our lands." The man paused to scrawl a word on the chalkboard behind him. "Today I shall lecture you on the dangerous, blood-thirsty, and contagious…werewolf!"
Sasuke leaned forward in his seat, intent on absorbing every word. His father would expect nothing less of him. And Sasuke would meet and hopefully exceed his father's expectations so that maybe tonight he'd steal a little praise away from Itachi at the dinner table…
Sakura ran through her stretches for the third time while Sasuke and Naruto competed in kunai throwing. All of their peers had already left the Academy building with their mentors—either elite chuunin or jounin—to do their afternoon training. Their mentor, Hatake Kakashi, was late…again.
I bet Kakashi-sensei will be late to his own funeral, the girl though sourly as she bent down to touch her toes once more. How does he expect us to become proficient hunters if he never gets around to teaching us anything? I bet when the year's over he'll dump us off on someone else and then forget all about us…
Their sensei was an aloof and tardy creature. The silver-haired hunter always had his masked face buried in a smutty romance novel, even when he'd subjected them to his "entrance exam": the bell test. While he did give them good advice when he was around, he seemed only half-interested in them and their progress. Even though he had stressed teamwork to them, he didn't seem keen on being part of a team.
"Where's your head today?" Sasuke asked, drawing Sakura's eyes over to her male teammates. "You're sucking more than usual."
"Shut up!" Naruto snapped testily. "I'm just having an off day."
"That's every day for you," Sasuke replied. "Today is worse."
"Jerk!" Naruto fumed.
"Idiot," Sasuke retorted.
"Would you two stop fighting?" Sakura asked, trying not to growl. "Couldn't you try to do something more productive while we wait for sensei, like target practice?"
"Sure," Sasuke said with a shrug and strolled over to the targets to retrieve his set of kunai. "I'll practice more, and the idiot will just throw his blades in a random direction."
"Sasuke!" Naruto snarled, stomping his foot, clenching his fists, and glaring furiously at his rival.
Why do boys have to be so stupid sometimes?! "So what did you guys think of the lesson on werewolves today?" Sakura asked, hoping to distract the boys from arguing.
"Informative," Sasuke said. "I wouldn't ever want to suffer the misfortune of becoming one, that's for sure."
"If the dude who created the curse wasn't already dead and dust, he should've been thrown in a pit of venomous snake demons for dreaming it up," Naruto answered.
Sakura was taken a bit aback by Naruto's response. The thick-headed blond rarely spoke with such a dark tone of voice and she couldn't recall him ever serious advocating a torturous death so seriously before. It went against his usual image of a carefree class clown who always had to be loud and noticeable.
"That's a bit harsh," Sakura remarked after a moment.
"It's probably not mean enough," Naruto replied as he studied his stock of shuriken for nicks and blunt edges. "The guy invented a magical disease that turns people into wolf monsters that live to kill people or make them into other werewolves. It's awful."
"Did you know someone who turned into a werewolf?" Sasuke wondered.
"No," Naruto answered quickly and put his shuriken away. "No, I don't know anyone." And then he stomped off to retrieve his kunai from…only half of which had actually landed on any of the practice targets. "What about the first lecture?" he yelled over his shoulder. "I totally missed what it was about."
"Naruto!" Sakura groaned. "It was an overview of Konohagakure no Sato's transition from a ninja village to a ninja demon hunter village and notable historical points from then to present day."
"…Sounds boring," Naruto commented as he walked back.
The pink-haired girl struggled to rein in her temper. Naruto always seemed to push her buttons—acting stupid, trying to persuade her to go on a date with him, insulting Sasuke. They were supposed to be a team, but Naruto was so annoying and Sasuke thought that she was annoying and the two boys were always competing, so they could never quite pull it together except in brief moments of great stress that forced them to.
"History may seem boring, but it's important to know it," Sakura insisted. "You can learn all sorts of things from past events." The girl hesitated, and then turned to her other male teammate. "I was really impressed at hearing how many times the Uchiha clan came up, Sasuke-kun. I mean—I know your clan has always been very important to Konoha, but to have it all laid out like that on Iruka-sensei's timeline was…really awesome."
Sasuke's face turned stony and annoyed. "Hn."
The Haruno girl's shoulders slumped in dismay. Sasuke was the top rookie in their class, talented, and very handsome. Of all the girls in their class, she was the one placed on Sasuke's squad. All she wanted was his approval and a chance. But no matter what she did, what she said, how hard she worked, he treated her just like all the other fan girls.
"So the history lesson was all about the Uchiha?" Naruto asked as he fiddled boredly with a kunai. "Good thing I wasn't paying attention. I would've fallen asleep!"
Sasuke shot Naruto an icy glare. "Idiot—"
"Sorry I'm late!" Kakashi apologized as he appeared in a puff of white smoke. "I came across an old lady who needed help crossing the street and then I ended up escorting her to her home and doing some handy-work for her."
"Liar!" Sakura and Naruto snapped in near unison while Sasuke rolled his eyes.
"Fine, don't believe me," their silver-haired sensei said with a smile (or what appeared to be a smile, it was always so hard to tell when they could only see one of his eyes). "Let's get started…"
Hatake Kakashi stared at the pages of his favorite book without really seeing the words printed on it. He'd practically memorized the story so he really didn't need to read it, but the exercise was familiar and comforting. And his book was part of his image so he would never get rid of it.
Sasuke and Sakura were sparring…or at least trying to. The pink-haired girl had trouble seriously fighting the boy that she was so clearly infatuated with. She never had trouble fighting with Naruto, but when pitted against the young Uchiha she turned meek and ineffectual.
Perhaps if I ensnare her in a genjutsu that swaps Sasuke's voice and appearance with Naruto's she'll make some progress, Kakashi mused as his uncovered eye trailed over the graphic descriptions of the story's main character getting intimately involved with a pretty girl. Yes, that could work… But should I warn Sasuke and get him on board with the plan, or just do it and see how long it takes for them to figure out what's going on?
Whatever he decided, it would have to wait until their next session training together. It was getting late and in the next twenty minutes or so he would be dismissing them for the day. Then he would be free of them until tomorrow afternoon…when he would be late picking them up.
Glancing away from the pages of his book, he briefly watched the boy and girl stumble through a feeble mock fight. Sakura didn't want to hit or hurt the boy that she so admired, and since she didn't put up much of a fight Sasuke couldn't really do much to her. Naruto sat off to the side, resting after having sparred with Sasuke and then Sakura earlier.
Taking students was not his idea. Had the Master Hunter—Sarutobi-sama the Hokage—not twisted his arm and nearly black-mailed him, he would've never taken them on. And of course the time he finally gave in (so as to save his precious books) he ended up with a pack of kids that twisted at every scabbed wound on his soul.
Sasuke was an Uchiha, and so reminded him of Obito and a little bit of himself. Sakura made him think of Rin. And Naruto reminded him…of a lot of things.
The boy with the strange whisker-like markings was loud and boisterous and silly and made him wonder if Obito had been reborn as a blond. His bright yellow hair and sky blue eyes brought to mind…someone else. And that made him wonder…
A red-haired woman, her form just beginning to be altered by pregnancy, settled herself in his sensei's lap while their squad took a rest break from their training, and his sensei immediately became distracted by her, completely forgetting about the three young students that were sitting not three feet away and watching the scene with varying reactions to it.
…Seeing the way that Naruto was staring up at the ghostly smudge of the full moon barely visible in the still-blue sky made him wonder, too.
This boy, Kakashi narrowed his eye, still staring at the blond boy who was staring up at the ghostly hint of the moon with something akin to dread, could he be—
Sasuke took Sakura down yet again, and the girl stumbled and tripped into Naruto on the sidelines. The boy with the whiskers looked very startled—he hadn't seen her coming at all—but he recovered quickly and flashed the embarrassed girl a cheesy grin. His mood and expression shift was so quick that it was like he'd slipped on a mask.
"Hey, Sakura-chan!" Naruto grinned broadly. "Wanna get some ramen from Ichiraku's with me after training?"
"No!" Sakura snapped and hurriedly scrambled off her teammate.
"Aw, c'mon," Naruto whined and pouted. "It's the best ramen in the whole world! I'd know; I've been all over the place."
Kakashi was aware of the boy's history (as much as anyone knew of it, anyway) and knew that that was no idle boast. Naruto had bounced from foster home to foster home (with the occasional layover in various orphanages) and been all over the Land of Fire. Such an unstable childhood had probably contributed to his loud, attention-seeking behaviors.
Not knowing how long he'll be there or where he'll go next, he probably wanted to make an impression so that someone would remember him before he disappeared, Kakashi mused.
"Naruto, I said no," Sakura growled testily and moved even further away from the boy.
"Why not?" Naruto pouted and stood up to brush invisible dirt off his garish orange jacket and pants. "If you don't have any money I could pay for your soup."
The girl was tense with annoyance. "Naruto!"
"What?" the boy asked stupidly. "You'll go out with me?"
Sasuke groaned and muttered, "Idiot."
Seeing Sakura's annoyance swiftly shifting into fury, Kakashi reluctantly lowered his book to block the blood-bath.
"All right, that's enough for today!" the masked man cheerfully announced. "Run along home now. If you do well enough during Friday's mission I may be able to find a suitable C-rank to try."
It was the same promise he made every week. Friday he would sign them up for a D-rank mission, which could be anything from weeding old ladies' gardens to baby-sitting unruly children (essentially community service). C-rank missions were more advanced, more interesting, and were actually dangerous, and the promise of one was the perfect incentive to keep them on task during the D-rank.
Of course, in order to keep it a valid incentive, he'd have to give in some time and get a C-rank for them to do. He just hoped that it wouldn't be soon. The idea of taking his three trainees out of the village for three days or more and trying to defend some merchant or other traveler against bandits and/or lesser demons was not an appealing one.
The three children said their farewells, gathered their gear, and departed. Sasuke headed to the high-walled Uchiha District while Sakura headed to the apartment complex where her family resided. Naruto paused to warily eye the daytime moon before rushing off to Umino Iruka (his current guardian) as if the celestial object was chasing him.
Kakashi stood on the training grounds and stared after the blond child long after he was out of sight…
…And he wondered.
Naruto grimly hiked through the forests surrounding Konohagakure no Sato as the setting sun rapidly faded into full night. He had a long way to go and he was behind schedule. If only he'd been able to get that bad milk down…
I almost miss Mizuki, the boy thought with a scowl as he jogged through the underbrush. He didn't care what I did or where I was. I didn't have to bother faking sick, I could just leave and he wouldn't notice.
But there was no point in crying over the rancid milk he hadn't drank. He had a place he needed to be before he saw the full moon. So he kept his head down and hurried.
He hopped over fallen logs, pushed through dense bushes, and even took to the tree branches for short stretches, making incredible leaps by channeling chakra through his legs and feet the way he'd been taught to. For nearly five miles beyond the village's outer walls he ran until he came to a particular clearing. And there he made his final preparations.
It was embarrassing and cold, but he stripped off his clothes, keeping only his hitai-ate (he loved the thing and sometimes even slept with it on because he was so proud of it) on although he moved it from his forehead to down around his neck. He folded his clothing and shoved it into a backpack he'd brought with him. And then he shoved the bag into a hollowed out tree, looked up at the sky, and waited.
Within moments the white circle of the moon had taken hold of the magical chakra in his body and turned it against him. The change didn't hurt (it never had) but it felt uncomfortable and undeniably freaky. Fur sprouted from his skin, his teeth grew pointed, his fingernails became claws, his ears lengthened, his joints shifted, his skull reshaped (which was the weirdest, freakiest part), and a bushy tail grew from the base of his spine. In about five minutes, it was all done.
Naruto sat back and stared at his hands, now hand-like paws covered in black fur. The black fur extended down from his fingers to his elbows, and from his toes to just past his ankles. His ears—now triangular and canine-like—were black too, and there were black stripes on his furry cheeks like the weird whiskers marks he normally had. The rest of his fur was yellow, with white on his belly, chest, throat, chin, and on the tip of his bushy brush-tail.
Until the moon set and the sun rose, he would be stuck like this. He could've avoided the transformation if he'd stayed in his room and kept his blinds drawn so that he couldn't see the moon, but he wouldn't have been able to sleep, his skin would've itched, and the desire to open the window and look would've tormented him all night. It was easier to go someplace safe and give in to the moon's power.
It had gotten him in trouble in his previous foster homes. They called him a runaway and troublemaker when he would slip out at night. And sometimes, when he was upset, some of the changes would happen in the daytime without him meaning them to, and his foster parents would become afraid of him and get rid of him, fearing that he was some kind of freakish half-demon.
It was why he'd been disowned and thrown into the foster care system in the first place.
"I don't know why he's crying; he just picked up the good silverware and started screaming for no reason!"
He'd barely been five when it had happened, but snatches of his childhood and certain facts were seared into his mind.
"Why can't he speak when he's transformed? All he does is bark like an animal."
His mother had loved him, but the rest of his relatives were disgusted by him.
"How dare you call your own nephew an abomination?!"
His very existence caused pain and dishonor.
"Mommy, you're bleeding!"
His fifth birthday party was a subdued and unhappy going-away party.
"You're being too soft, Dad. We should kill him and end the problem. What if he bites someone? What if he's contagious?"
His grandfather had taken him on a long trip to some kind of office, signed some papers, and then left him for his first foster family to collect, and that had been that.
"If you reveal any family secrets we will know, we will find you, and we will kill you. If you let anyone see what you are, they will kill you. Never breathe the name Uzumaki again. You are not one of us. You never were."
An animal whine slipped out of his throat and Naruto slunk off (on all fours now; it was more comfortable) even deeper into the forest. He wouldn't be able to sleep, he felt too energized. So he trotted another half-mile to find something to occupy his time.
When he'd first come to Konoha, he'd nearly gotten caught several times on full moon nights. Living in a village that hosted demon-hunter ninja was very different from living in a village full of only civilians, and he'd had to learn fast and adjust quickly to survive. And early on, he'd been fortunate enough to find the best place and the best company for him to be furry.
Naruto slid down into a small ravine, a pit in the woods with steep sides with the exception of one shallow trail leading in and out of it. In the steepest side there was a small cave formed by enormous boulders and ancient tree roots. When he arrived, the cave was already lit by a dim battery-powered lantern.
I might need to bring more batteries next time, Naruto thought as he waited at the cave's entrance. Or maybe it needs a new bulb? It's not as bright as last time…
A monster appeared to greet him.
It was more than double his size with shaggy yellow-tan fur and blue eyes. The creature was unnerving not because it looked dangerous and aggressive, but because it looked so sickly. It was thin with chunks of its fur missing so that it looked like it had mange, and its eyes were severely clouded with dark stains around them, and it stank. It shuffled up to him with the stiff gait of an old man with severe arthritis and sniffed at him.
After a moment, the nearly blind werewolf was sure of his guest's identity and it stiffly retreated back into its cave.
Naruto followed it in. He had nothing to be afraid of. The worst it could do to him was kill him, but it was so sickly he was certain that he could get away if it ever turned on him.
He'd discovered the werewolf completely on accident only three months after arriving in Konoha. It had been healthier then with less fur missing and better eyesight, and it had attacked him. But Naruto had been so scared, having never run across a werewolf before, that he'd just surrendered and made crying noises, and that had stopped it. The werewolf had been puzzled by him, but it hadn't tried to harm him since that first night. And now, two years later, it was almost like they were friends.
Naruto really should've reported the werewolf to someone. It was a monster, a curse-born demon that was dangerous. But if he reported it, he'd have to explain how he'd found it and why it hadn't killed him, and he wasn't confident that he could lie well enough to not get in trouble. And if he reported the werewolf, it would be hunted down and killed, and then he would have no company on the full moon.
He followed the werewolf—Ookami-jiji, Old Man Wolf—to the back of the cave where a beat-up checkerboard sat balanced on a flat-topped boulder and lit by the lantern. Naruto wasn't sure where Ookami-jiji had found it—probably in a garbage can somewhere. Some of the checkers were missing; they'd been replaced by some small black rocks and discarded red bottle caps.
And so, by lantern-light (and in Ookami-jiji's case, aided by a large magnifying glass), they played checkers…all night long. It's what they did every night of the full moon. Naruto imagined that they would continue to do it until Ookami-jiji died, which seemed like it would be sooner every month.
Tonight, as they played, Naruto thought about all the things that Ebisu had said in his lecture on werewolves.
He doesn't seem to be a mindless, blood-thirsty beast that's forgotten all about being human. That fight the first time I met him, it was because he didn't know me and I scared 'im. Ookami-jiji is really smart—I mean, he plays checkers! I didn't teach him how to do that! And no one's ever complained about pets getting eaten or chickens and cows disappearing or people getting attacked, so he isn't bothering anyone. Maybe…it's because he's so old, he's gotten over being a crazy werewolf?
It made sense and seemed very possible. Or it could be that a lot of what Ebisu and everybody else knew about werewolves was wrong. That was much less likely, but Naruto would be very glad if that was the case.
Mom wouldn't be so crazy for what she did, then, he thought as he made another move on the worn checkerboard. I would have a lot less to worry about. It would all be great, but…
Naruto tried not to whine as Ookami-jiji took three of his pieces in one move.
If I ever find my father, I'll kill him, because everything is his fault.
The werewolf wheezed as he squinted through his cracked magnifying glass and tried to discern the checkers on the board. It got harder every month, but so long as he could still see he intended to play. Checkers on the full moon with the strange little fox demon was the last human thing he was still capable of…and the highlight of his month.
He'd been suspicious and wary of the little fox demon when he'd first encountered it years ago. But it was so small and pathetic and frightened that he'd held off on killing it in favor of the wait-and-see approach. And, over the months, as it came back to spend time with him on the nights of the full moon when the curse vibrated in his veins and kept him from sleeping, he found another, very selfish, reason to not kill it.
He was lonely, so very, very lonely. After that night, years and years ago, when he'd first transformed from the light of the full moon (in front of witnesses, so he couldn't pretend that it hadn't happened when morning came) he'd been alone. He was exiled from his old life irrevocably then, and he didn't fit in with other werewolves—the sane ones—either.
When the little fox demon had come into his miserable existence, he'd clung to it like a dying man clings to his last comforts…
And he was a dying man. Every move he made, he could feel the silver shrapnel in his back shift. It wasn't enough to kill him outright, but the slivers of metal were too deep to dig out and so had slowly poisoned him over the years.
It made him queasy and weak and interrupted his powerful regenerate talents, and trapped him as a wolf, regardless of the moon, sun, and his own will. It made his fur fall out, leaving him with ugly bald patches. And it was slowly stealing his sight away. He was in no shape to hunt anymore (he would never, ever resort to preying upon house pets or livestock, or stealing) and without his snares, traps, and fish hooks he would've starved to death long ago.
Some days—most days, now—he wondered why he didn't just give up, lay down, and die. He wondered why he clung to life, instead of finding a way to end it all and escape from the pain, because there was no way he'd get the poisonous silver out of his body. There really wasn't anything he had left to live for; he'd lost everything he'd ever wanted and valued that night a little over twelve years ago when he'd seen the full moon after years of hiding from it because of the mauling he shouldn't have survived.
I want to do one last good thing, he thought as he took a turn on the checkerboard. Before I die, I want to do one last good thing. If I could have one wish, it would be to meet my son…but that's probably asking too much, so it will be one last good deed for me.
Although, in his deteriorating health, that "one good deed" seemed like it would be a stretch, too. He wouldn't give up though. He couldn't give up.
If he did, who would play checkers with the little yellow fox?