I remember, she said, as he tucked her in. I remember what it was like to understand the animals.
What was it like? he asked without missing a beat. He was doing his best to drown out the rising tide of guilt the Dark Ones were raining down on him. They whispered awful, terrible things: you are not worthy of her, how could you expect her to love you? Their voices were urgent and relentless.
But he fought back, resisting the urge to cave to their onslaught. This is not me, he thought to himself. These are not my true thoughts. He focused on the light that was emanating from her heart. Stay with me, he thought. Don't you dare leave.
She smiled, and he knew she had read his mind. You are worthy, she said, and I love you. You know better than to listen to their lies.
She looked radiant tonight, her aura glowing around her like a full-body halo. He both admired and envied this, as well as her abilities. It was what he loved about her, but it also made him feel so different, so...separate. This separateness made him feel profoundly unworthy.
It was the Dark Ones again. These are not my thoughts, he thought fiercely, closing his mind to them. She had told him this phase of their power would soon come to a close, but he was exhausted. Let it end soon, he thought grimly.
She looked startled, clearly reading his thoughts. You are in shadow, she said, concern flitting over her open face. They are bothering you again?
Yes, he admitted. But never mind that, he said, forcing a smile. Tell me what it was like to talk to the animals.
She sighed, mollified, and sunk back into the pillows. She knew his suffering well (he was not the only one who had visits from the Dark Ones), but she wanted to focus on the positive, so she rearranged her thoughts accordingly.
It is like a dream, she said, and her eyes seemed to focus on something beyond the room they were in. It was so long ago, and there have been so many lifetimes of it not being that way, she continued. But I remember the ease of it, how trusting we all were of one another. We were like children, so open. We were one with everything.
As she spoke, white light began to emanate from her, enveloping him in a downy softness that was warm and inviting, beckoning him to join her in whatever she was seeing. Her words intertwined with the light, creating forms that drew him into her narrative and opened into new worlds as he surrendered to it.
He did not know if she continued to speak, or if he had simply fallen into her memories, for suddenly he saw as she saw: a family of deer grazing contentedly around her, a fawn nuzzling her cheek; she laughing as she ran with a pack of wolves, effortlessly matching their stride; a mother bear licking her face clean of salmonberries, then gamboling in the grass with the cubs; she riding astride a cougar as he climbed a mountain path, whispering delightedly into his ear.
She expanded his access to her mind and he saw how she played with water sprites and wind spirits, tree guardians and fire beings. The trees spoke in whispers, bending low as she passed amongst them to touch her softly on the arm. He could feel a deep kinship among these beings; it was clear that they felt her to be one of them. He wondered at the connection, it was so alien to him, not at all his experience of the world. He felt a pang of longing in his chest, a hint of envy buried below the surface, threatening to drop the connection between them.
A pressure on his hand pulled him back into the present.
Stay with me, her voice urged, cutting through his internal struggle. Don't listen to the darkness.
He nodded mutely, willing himself away from the void. He dropped back into the stream of her consciousness and was astonished to find that he no longer in human form, and that he was flying.
Whoa...! He said, startled, trying to pull out of the dive he was spiraling into. An unknown ocean loomed ahead, seconds away from impact. He was quite certain he saw a whale passing beneath him, and was bracing himself for a tremendous splash when he unexpectedly veered upright at the last possible second.
He heard – or rather, felt – her laughter as he (they?) soared upwards, wings outstretched, sun sparkling on the rapidly distancing waves below them.
Hold on, he demanded, struggling to understand. What are you...we? How are we flying?
In response, he felt their body change direction quickly and head again for the ocean. This time, however, they came down more slowly, leveling out a few feet above the surface. As their wings skimmed the water, he realized he could see their reflection...and he almost crashed into an incoming wave.
I'm a dragon!! He gasped, and he felt her laugh again.
No, we're a dragon, she corrected, which he experienced as part of his own mind. I merged with you.
You're a shapeshifter too? he asked, dumbfounded. There were still so many things about her he didn't know, even after all this time.
Yes, silly, she laughed again. Or at least I was, she corrected, her laughter stopping. We're still in my memory.
He suddenly felt hot tears sliding down their cheeks – or were they his? The flying sensation abruptly ceased and his vision shifted back into his own. They were in her room again: her lying in bed; him sitting on the edge of it, grasping her hands. She was looking intently into his face, her eyes wild and bright.
So now you know, she softly, when they had both recovered. Now you know why it is so hard to be here. Please help me make it that way again.
But how...? he asked.
At this, she smiled. You are a Creator, too, she said. All you have to do is believe.