"Up you come then, baby," said a gentle voice. I rose up out of the trance and blinked to see Ross smiling at me. The pendulum lay beside him and on his lap I saw the pen and the piece of paper which was now filled with Ross's handwriting.
"Did you get everything down?" I asked.
"Yeah, I did, thanks. I was thinking, baby, that you display youth-like behaviour sometimes."
"Ah, that's cool. What are you thinking of?"
"Well, when you were possessive of me - children are possessive."
I blushed. "Um, no, Ross, that's not one of the times when I'd say I feel like a child."
"Oh," he said. he frowned. "Why not?"
"Well, I was actually thinking of you as a child then. My possession was more like that of a mother with regards to her baby, though of course the love was much more romantic than maternal. And then, that kiss we shared afterwards..."
"Yeah, I see what you mean," he said, chuckling quietly.
I watched him, waiting for him to stop laughing. It didn't take long.
"So what shall we do now, baby?" Ross asked.
"I'm not sure. How about we talk?"
"You," I replied, quite seriously.
"Okay. So are you just going to ask questions?"
"Yeah but you don't just have to dedicate your side of the conversation to answering them."
"All right. I'm ready, then."
I smiled. Then thought.
"Were you ever interested in anything before you found out I was your rose-dove?"
Ross sighed. "I guess. I was concerned about Jack's welfare. The second you became his girlfriend, I became desperately worried that you would hurt him."
I frowned, confused. "But didn't you thank me for caring about him the previous summer?"
Ross shrugged. "Yeah but I'd seen on the TV (which was the main way I learnt about relationships) that people who seem nice can really be evil and so I trusted you more in a position where you might not be so able to take advantage of him. Once he was your boyfriend, you could have controlled him, blackmailed him and I'd have been less able to do something about it. In addition, the negative thoughts didn't hit me until you were going out so I was a lot more comfortable with the thought beforehand."
"I see," I murmured.
"Wouldn't blame you if you didn't." He grinned.
"So, ... what else interested you?"
"The world," Ross replied mysteriously before proceeding to explain himself. "I watched countless documentaries. On prehistory, archaeology, natural disasters, nature in general - I filled my head with interesting information. I found ... patterns of behaviour particularly fascinating - in humans and animals. I saw through the eyes of the predator which kills thoughtlessly to keep itself alive, the dominant male who fights off competition to stay at the top; I identified with solitary animals and never fully appreciated the concept of being part of a group."
"Do you find this tough sometimes, then?" I asked curiously.
Ross's smile was very wry. "You're my mate - mine. I'll make the decisions. I'll do the hunting, I'll defend you, you'll stay in the den and no one else will bother us. I'm exaggerating but in loose terms, you're like my ..." He winced. "Property sounds awful. Um, I guess what I'm loosely trying to say is that I'm a bit possessive of you. In romantic terms, you're part of me. The relationship doesn't faze me because it doesn't demand tolerance of lots of people taking up large parts of my life and not giving me massive satisfaction in return. Also I hate depending on others."
"So I'm okay because...?"
Ross laughed. "You're actually asking me to flatter you? That's a new one."
"You're okay because I love you. I need one person to share my life with and only one. You bring me joy, comfort, reassurance, and you don't make me need you. I need you to live emotionally not physically. I'd rather ensure I was fed and watered myself than rely on someone else. You'd give me anything I wanted if I asked (and that's in terms of personal space and time, not massages and relieving itches..." He paused as I laughed.
"... and you never take from me more than I'm willing to offer."
"In short you see the world in terms of us and everybody else," I surmised.
"Where does Jack fit in?"
"He's a friend. I'll look out for him and occasionally spend time with him but I'm never going to live for him the way I live for you. You and him were saying about us living together but when I cook meals, it'll be for you and me; when I do fun things, I'll want to just do them with you. Yeah, I'll wash up and tidy the house when it's my turn but when it comes to it, I'll only have real interest in you. You're the one I unconsciously needed all my life. I've called you my raison d'être countless times and while I mean it in a romantic sense, I mean it literally too. I may have said this before because I feel it so strongly - you're my reason to live."
I hugged him tightly.
"I understand you," I told him.
Ross snuggled into me. "You said I reminded you of my child-like state earlier. I see how. There are times when you become the maternal figure. Oh if I possess you, I want you to possess me."
I stroked his hair. "Okay, my darling."
I sighed as Ross buried his face in my shoulder.
"You are a child, aren't you?" I asked, slightly troubled, as I realised how vulnerable Ross was - even when he appeared capable of handling things and showed protectiveness over me.
"Whatever you say, Rosie." But I felt the confirmation in his mind.
"What was it like?" I asked suddenly. "Feeling younger and that?"
Ross rolled off me onto his back.
"Weird," he answered. "I mean, it wasn't like I was younger. I just felt the moods and possessed the tastes of that year in my life. I was able to process that you were a seventeen year old girl and Jack practically an adult, and I understood the world a bit more than I would have if I'd, say, been hypnotised to revert to my childhood. On the contrary, I didn't have all my memories - which made the concept of loving you really difficult - and I couldn't control my emotions or ignore impulses."
"Hence the hypnosis," I said.
Ross nodded grimly.
"The pain must have been strange."
"Yes, it was. It was so ... inexplicable. But I liked the fact you could help me. At the start, I wanted you to look after me - be the mother I never had."
"And what was ‘growing up' like?"
"Um, that actually wasn't too weird. I woke up each day remembering the previous as a dream because of course my childhood memories weren't affected by anything that happened.
"In fact, the whole experience was like a dream. Wow. Maybe you should write a book - ‘The Dream Adventures of Rossy'."
Ross laughed. "How did you find it? I think I'm entitled to at least one question."
"Yeah, of course. Well, at first I felt guilty, knowing you were dealing with the trauma of the pain I'd caused in bringing your walls down and upon hearing you speak, I developed maternal feelings, feeling the need to look after you and be responsible."
Ross smiled. "Trust you, Rosa."
"Thanks," I replied before continuing. "And all throughout, I was worried you'd take years to become yourself again, and as you know, I found it incredibly stressful since I felt guilty every time I had to prioritise school over you. You were naturally demanding of me, too. On the other hand, I really loved it when I made you feel happy - the night I slept on the end of your bed was truly heartening -..."
"You should've come in - I wouldn't have bitten you," Ross interrupted.
"I was too scared my parents would find out somehow," I confessed. I then went back to what I'd been saying before. "And it really wasn't all bad. I didn't see you at the end because of the mistake..."
"Wasn't a mistake," Ross said, sighing.
"... but I worried that I had messed everything up," I finished.
"Rosa, I seriously wish you'd stop feeling bad for that - it makes me feel awful because I reacted in the wrong way."
"I cheated, Ross."
"Hardly. I wasn't myself. Technically we never went out when I was a child. And even if that were no excuses, you needed someone. Who am I to deny you your needs?"
The question was rhetorical, self-insulting, but stoutly, I answered it.
"I didn't know what a kingfisher was! I just knew that we had shared a wonderful, astonishing night together. Nothing was in perspective..."
"For the first time in your life, someone had cared about you," I said. "And then, they threw it back in your face."
"The situation was artificial. And if I had wanted to hold it against you, why are we together?" Ross smiled, looking a bit worn out. "I love you, Rosa, and I don't care about what happened."
I sighed. "You're clever," I said grudgingly. "Your arguments are so well-formed."
Ross caressed my cheek. "You're clever too. But you're wrong. I won't ever let you feel like you ruin things. You don't. You're not capable."
I didn't say anything. I still felt acutely the guilt and regret for my actions. Unfortunately, I was thinking and feeling freely so Ross saw.
To my surprise, he didn't sigh exasperatedly or restart his argument. Instead, he leant in and tenderly kissed the edge of my jaw under one of my ears. He tilted his head up slightly and murmured "Let me win."
"No," I said stubbornly, though internally delighting in the memory of the feel of the kiss which I savoured for as long as possible.
"You're tired of fighting," he said, kissing me again.
"This is something I believe in."
He kissed me many times on the next occasion, causing me to feel a little light-headed.
"I thought that you found me irresistible."
"I do," I told him, momentarily losing the will to fight, "but ... "
"Careful. You don't want to upset your kingfisher. Perhaps you should just let him kiss you senseless."
My body relaxed completely. "Hmm," I murmured unwittingly, imagining Ross's sweetest, most intoxicating kisses which would drive every thought out of my head.
"Tempting offer?" Ross asked, and I could hear the grin in his tone. He kissed the skin just above the neckline of the top.
"Very." Ross rose up, gazing into my eyes. His were twinkling captivatingly.
At the last possible second, my mind resisted.
‘Your conscience for his love?' it asked me.
Ross did a sort of equivalent to jumping backwards, startled. He fell on top of me, his face squashed into the empty duvet beside me.
He sat up, looking like a ruffled cat.
"What?" he asked, bewildered.
"If you do this, if you conquer this fight, you'll change me," I said, deadly serious. "Because, currently, I'm defending my values. If you take them away from me, I may be forced to change my moral code: live in a decadent fashion: lose my nature's purity. It's your choice because I'll follow your lead but I advise you consider this carefully. It may just be irrevocable."