In which the past is not so far away
When he woke, Naj lay there for several moments, unsure if he was truly awake. His head was full of fog and his body felt empty, like it had been hollowed out by some great beast. The beast grumbled at him, Naj’s stomach was as empty as the rest of him. Clarity came in bits and pieces- feathers on the head beside him meant Nica, stars on the ceiling meant her bed, heat pooling between them like something sticky meant they’d slept hard and the emptiness inside him added up to a complete memory of rescuing the hawk from herself, and the bath that had followed. He sat up and his head swam, as if the pressures inside his skull were not right. Nica was stirring beside him and knew she would be as hungry as he, if not more so. They both had much to restore.
Wakefulness tugged at Nica as the body next to her shifted. Her body protested when she moved to follow. That brought her closer to wakefulness. She felt as if Ariella had been drilling her for a week solid. Which left her wondering if that was what the falcon had done.
She forced her eyes open, unwilling to try sitting up while her head felt stuffed with down. If the falcon wasn’t such a skilled dancer, Nica wouldn’t put up with such abuse. Nica ignored the fact that that was likely what made her such a skilled dancer.
As her eyes finally came into focus, she found herself blinking at a ceiling covered with small stars. She was underground, she knew that… She was in her room at Asylum, staring at the little glowing stars that Marie had helped her put up. Right. The little fox had been so pleased with herself when she’d thought of it. Just an offhand comment that she liked to sleep beneath the stars and Marie had shown up with a handful the next day, eyes twinkling.
The memory gave way to others as her mind pushed forward in time. Meditating, the illusion dance… She stifled a small groan as she forced herself to sit up, seeking out Naj. She found him sitting at the edge of the nest of blankets and her hand ran across his back. Her muscles felt stiff and swollen, but she ignored it.
“How are you feeling?”
The word was flat, but it perfectly captured how he felt. The sleep had done a little to restore his natural balance, but he’d grown used to carrying an unnatural amount of energy over the years, and he felt incomplete without it.
But what right did he really have to carry it? A part of him whispered that he should be prepared for anything, just in case. But mostly he was heartsick. Of what, he couldn’t say. Of everything, really. He wanted to reach out, to touch and be touched and rest in the warmth of companionship, but could he? Nica could have killed herself, and he felt responsible.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, without turning.
“Naj.” Her voice was soft, feeling the pain radiate through his aura. She wrapped her arms around him, pressing herself to his back.
“You have nothing to be sorry for.” Without thinking, her wings slid out and around, wrapping him in a second layer of warmth and support.
He blinked into the sudden world of blacks and whites and reds that had sprung up around him. Whatever words he’d been about to say had died, and he simply stared at her wings in wonder.
“They’re… They’re not gold.”
She blinked into the swirl of confusion that masked the hurt underneath, one emotion coming to the front as the other faded in distraction.
Nica turned her head to rest her cheek on his shoulder, belatedly realizing that it was her feathers that he must be talking about. She pulled them away slightly, still enveloping the pair of them, but no longer pressing against them. “No, they’re not. My magic’s form is a red-shouldered hawk.”
He flushed, color mirroring her wings’ shoulder joints. “I- I knew that,” he stammered. “I just…” He ducked his head, pulling his knees up so he could rest his crossed arms on them. “The D’ahnkkhna priesthood was lead by a golden hawk, when we visited their lands in my youth. I don’t know why, but I somehow expected…” He shook his head with a small laugh. “Never mind. I was just being silly.”
Nica stilled, then rubbed her thumb against his skin as she thought. How old was he? He had said he didn’t know the story of The Love that Broke the War, but then he mentions the priesthood that Danica herself was part of. It was the original, untranslated term for it, true…
“No, it seems fair enough, with my given name. And we are both still tired.” She kissed his shoulder, letting go of the train of thought. She was too tired to chase threads right now and guessing at bits and pieces wouldn’t change whatever Fate was weaving.
He finally gave up and dropped back against her gentle touches. She was tired, he was tired, and regardless of what happened going forward, they could both take comfort from one another now. He nuzzled into her cheek, but the move was somewhat distant. He couldn’t ignore his whirling thoughts and engage thoroughly in the Now. He just didn’t have the knack of it.
Ixl. The Now. Such a simple concept, but somehow, the drop of time between Then and Yet Still had always been the hardest to master. Easiest to move through, hardest to truly live in.
Ixl and ki’n. The heart and breath of a serpent’s nature, and he had lost both.
“How do you leave it all behind?” he whispered to no one. “How do you dive into a dance that never stops, when you can’t see what steps will come next?”
Nica was quiet, thumb running over his ribs as she thought. His words hit hard, echoes of her own , years ago. A reminder of the grief that had sent her deep within her hawk’s heart. If Sednar hadn’t deliberately drawn her out of hiding with months of offered food and an empty space at his fire… She would have died, never again regaining her human thoughts or form.
Eventually, everyone ran from something. In the end, it didn’t matter the cause. Pain was part of life’s dance as much as laughter was. You never got to choose what threads fate picked to shape you.
“You can’t, not really. Trying to control and know the future won’t change the past. They won’t cancel each other out, never erase one another.” Her voice was quiet, distant as she remembered a rich voice, a hot fire, and a cool desert night. “The threads that weave the past are always there, tying you to it, but you learn that every one of them makes you who you are today. Sometimes… It isn’t easy to accept that, to acknowledge it if those threads are painful ones.”
Nica took a slow breath. “But you find the threads that form the here and now – the people around you, the day to day bustle of activity. And eventually the older threads will become more distant. Never gone, never erased, but they won’t tug quite so hard and readily on the memory.”
Her eyes flicked to her mirror just beyond her wing. She couldn’t see the pictures of all those who’d gone and those still here, but she saw them all the same.
“It isn’t easy, but it is easier when you’re not alone. Hiding in our feral natures only seems like the easy answer, I’ve found it’s harder in many ways. With a hand to hold you to the now, you move forward together.”
He reached down and clasped his hand over hers, squeezing. He had no words, but he didn’t think he needed them. He’d seen the hawk’s pain in his visions, and her words rang true to his bruised heart.
Silence stretched between them, long past the moment to answer her, but what could he say? He didn’t want to be what he was today, no one had asked him before binding him tight with threads too far gone to unravel. But that was exactly what he wanted to do. Unravel the past he could never quite remember, and move forward.
And why must they be unraveled? It is you that hold to them, not the other way around. Let them go, and dance.
Anger flared at the voice’s intrusion, burning it away. Naj blinked at the sudden heat, not sure why he would be so angry with himself. It was passion, however, so maybe it was a sign of him finally thawing out?
He didn’t have a chance to ponder any further, though, as a hand slipped around the tapestry that served as a door.