I woke up on a flat surface. Not bumpy and uneven like the ground had been. Smooth. Soft.
The sunlight hurt my eyes. It came in through a window to my left. Window... That must mean... I'm inside. And I realised the surface under me was a sheet. I was on a bed. I must be in a ... hospital ward.
I sat up slowly. On my right, on a chair, Timothy was asleep. I hadn't planned on waking him, but his eyes opened. They were slightly mesmerising. I found I couldn't look away. Then he blinked, and I found I could avert my eyes.
"Tirana, you're awake," he murmured, sounding weary.
"Yeah, I guess. How long was I asleep?"
"You went into a coma. You've been out of it for four days."
"Four days? That long?"
He nodded. "Um, listen, about what I said on the river bank..."
I sighed. "You didn't mean it, did you?" I found I'd been expecting this.
Timothy sighed as well. "I panicked. You were right about me being delirious."
"I fell more in love with you, Timothy! I thought we were getting somewhere."
"I probably would have said anything to get you to hang on."
"You made me feel like life was worth living!"
"Tirana, life was worth living without me. Think of your friends. They're here, by the way. D'you want to see them?"
"No, Timothy, I want to see you!" I started to cry.
"I'm sorry, Tirana. I shouldn't have encouraged your affections."
"Timothy, hold me. Please. If nothing else, hold me once more."
He stood up and hugged me. I cringed at the awkwardness, at the barriers I could feel he'd put up between us.
Before I leave, promise me you won't risk your life again. I may not love you, but I care about what happens to you.
‘I just want you to stay with me, Timothy... Is that such a difficult thing to do?'
Yes. More than you could ever know.
‘You totally changed me as a person and you're saying I can't change you?'
Yes, Tirana. Some things are just too set in stone.
‘Can't you just ... I don't know, kiss me? See if it's really impossible to love me?'
No, Tirana, because it would hurt you more when I tell you it is impossible.
‘Do you know how worthless I feel? I've no self-esteem or hope that things will ever be okay again.'
‘I don't want you to be sorry! I want you to love me!'
I can't. I'm sorry.
‘You do hate me. I knew it.'
He sounded like he was in pain. ‘I don't hate you, Tirana, I just don't love you.'
‘All those things, you said on the river bank... Just beautiful lies?'
‘You sounded so convincing! I was going to keep my defences up, but I let them down because you told me countless times that you loved me! I told you not to make promises but you said you'd keep them all! ‘
I cried harder. He'd told so many lies!!
Timothy let go and sat down again. "I shouldn't have said all that stuff."
"No, you shouldn't have. And now, there are consequences. I was depressed before you told me you loved me. Now, you say you don't love me, I doubt I'll ever be happy again!"
"Don't say that." A ghost of the stranger at the river. Actually, the stranger was here. The person at the river had been the real Timothy.
"I think you should go before you break my heart further. You might end up ripping it to shreds," I said harshly. The tears stopped flowing.
Timothy nodded. "You're right. I just wanted to make sure you didn't do anything stupid again."
"The stupid thing was holding onto that life ring and letting you save me."
Timothy frowned. "Now, that's not right. I'm glad you're alive."
"I'm not. My kingfisher's rejected me."
"I'm sorry," he repeated. "Now please promise you won't hurt yourself again."
"Fine. I promise. Not that you care, anyway. Now, go."
Timothy stood up. "I'll endeavour to stay out of your life. I'm sorry I lied."
"You should be."
He walked out without giving me a second glance.
Alex and Leanne walked in. They both looked extremely worried.
"Rani, phew, you're awake. Are you okay?"
"No. The guy who just left. You have my permission to hurt him, insult him and make his life a misery. I'm serious. He saved my life, told me he loved me and would never leave me, and, now, he's told me he didn't mean any of it."
"I'm on it." Alex walked out.
Leanne sat by me. She smiled grimly. "You can count on Alex. This guy will get what he deserves. I've never heard of a crueller person in my life."
"He was the guy I mentioned before."
"Oh, I gathered when you said he said he loved you. Is there... something wrong with him? It's like he has two personalities."
"Not that I know of. It's probably just that he has two sides to his personality and they're in constant conflict. One side conquers the other and then the other does the same. I don't care, though. He's hurt me a lot."
Leanne looked sympathetic. "I can see that. He's a jerk. What isn't there to love in you?"
Leanne frowned. "It's weird though. The day after you'd been admitted here, I called your phone and he answered - that's how we found out. He sounded ever so worried. As if he truly cared about you."
I sighed. "I can't deal with his different moods though. I know his parents abandoned him and he's led a loveless life up till now, but he makes it so difficult to be nice to him."
"His parents abandoned him? Oh, no! I feel so sorry for him!"
"I know. Me too. I honestly try to be nice to him, but he's so cold. Have you ever tried to be nice to a cold person?"
Leanne shook her head. "And I admire you for trying. He sounds like he won't let anyone in."
"I'll keep trying - I honestly will - but I don't see that there's any hope for us."
Leanne nodded. "You just try your best. That's all anyone can ask from you."
She paused. "Can I ask you something, Rani?"
I nodded. "Sure."
"Well, that guy said you fell in the river... Is that completely true?"
I winced. "Um, no..., I ... jumped."
Leanne looked shocked. She jumped up and hugged me. "Oh, Rani! Why?!"
"I really don't know... I was just really miserable."
Leanne let go. She stood back and put her hands on her hips. "Right, from now on, Alex and I are never letting you be on your own, okay?"
I knew that you couldn't argue with her when she was in one of these moods.
I nodded. "Thank you."
She shook her head. "I can't believe you jumped. Don't you know that Alex and I would miss you terribly if you..." She trailed off, looking anxious.
I nodded. "And I'm sorry."
"You can make it up to us by letting us keep you company. Now, was there anything you wanted to do today?"
"Get discharged perhaps?"
Leanne laughed. "Yes, that might help."
I grinned. It was impossible to remain too sad for long around Leanne.
When I left, it was odd to think that four days had passed. There was no visible change in anything. The weather was the same, the town didn't seem to be any different and yet, time had passed me by.
Alex was standing outside, looking grim. Thankfully, he looked as if he wasn't too badly hurt. There was bruising on his cheek, but nothing else.
"Is he hurt?" I asked.
Alex nodded. "I broke his nose and gave him a black eye."
"Thanks. He deserved it."
Leanne frowned slightly. "So, what d'you want to do today, Rani?"
"Um, actually I'd like to introduce you to a friend I made. Her name's Lily."
Leanne looked intrigued. Alex just nodded.
At Mystic Wonders, I introduced Alex and Leanne to Lily. She smiled at them before asking me if she could talk to me in private.
"Don't touch anything," she called to Alex and Leanne as I followed her to a storage room.
Lily turned to face me as I closed the door behind us. "Why did Timothy come back with a broken nose and a black eye?"
I winced. "Um, I asked my friend to beat him up."
Lily looked shocked. "Why? He's your kingfisher! If you'd been there when it happened, you'd have felt each blow as if the person were attacking you."
"He ... broke my heart, Lily. He made these beautiful promises before I lost consciousness, and then when I woke up, he told me they'd been lies."
Lily frowned. "I thought you two were getting somewhere."
"I know. Before that day, he visited me as a cat. He ran away but, before that, he licked my hand. Is he okay, by the way?"
"Oh yeah, we used magic to clean him up and fix his nose. Wait! Did you just say he visited you as a cat?"
"I'm quite sure it was him. I doubt any other cat has fur that shade of brown."
Lily grinned. "Then he definitely likes you."
I frowned, puzzled. "Likes, as in more than a friend?"
Lily nodded. "A witch tends to be more tender and affectionate in feline form. If they trust you enough to show a person that side of their personality, they usually regard the human as something close like a sibling."
"Really?" I asked dubiously.
"Oh yeah. If he'd just wanted to watch you he could have turned into a raven." Lily frowned. "Maybe even a wolf. That's what I'd have expected, actually. Timothy likes the lupine form. It shows the aggressive, cold side of a witch's personality."
I shivered. "I'm quite glad he didn't, then."
Lily nodded. "That would have been scary." She brightened up. "But this is good. At least you know he doesn't hate you."
"Maybe he can hate me simultaneously," I murmured, remembering all the times Timothy hadn't tried to contain his aggressive, cold side.
Lily shook her head. "That's just a wall so that he can't be vulnerable."
"I'd much prefer him to be vulnerable."
"What, so you can take advantage of me and punish me for not loving you?" Timothy walked in, looking tired. "What are you doing here, Tirana?"
"Talking to Lily," I replied. Trying to stay calm and gentle, I added, "I'm sorry I asked Alex to beat you up."
Timothy looked more awake. He raised an eyebrow. "You asked him to beat me up?"
I nodded, cringing.
"WHY?! HOW WOULD YOU LIKE IT IF I ASKED LILY TO SLAP YOU?!"
I winced at the loudness of his voice. In a small voice, I answered, "I'm really sorry. I was just really upset. You'd just broken my heart."
"Well, I'll break more than that if I ever see you again!" He turned to leave through the back door he'd entered.
"Please don't go, Timothy. I'm sorry. I still love you. I can't deny it. Every time you leave, I just long to see you again."
Timothy turned back and glared. "You've a funny way of showing it."
"I know, and I'm sorry. Please, just let's sort this out."
"Sort what out? I'm sorted. I don't love you. End of."
Lily murmured, "You can't just leave her depressed, Tim."
He turned to scowl at Lily. "You shut up, Lily. I tried to leave her unaware and you gave her a sleeping draught instead of a forget potion. She wouldn't be upset at all if you'd listened to me."
"That's not the way to solve this. She's your rose-dove. Even if you put her on the other side of the world and made her forget again, she'd never be totally complete without you. In fact, she'd be worse off, because she wouldn't know why she was dissatisfied with life."
"I don't care!" he snarled. He turned back to me. "I think you're right, Tirana. The stupid thing was for you to grab that life ring."
I gasped in shock. Lily looked horrified. Leanne burst in looking furious.
"Don't you dare say that to Rani!" Leanne shouted.
I just stared at Timothy, at the blazing anger in his eyes. I felt a tear at the corner of my eye.
"How can you say that?" I whispered. "How can you be that mean? I try so hard to be nice to you..."
"Why d'you even bother?"
Bravely I replied, "Because I think you're worth it."
Everyone froze, except Timothy. The explosive look in his eyes was replaced by one of bewilderment. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
Lily looked proud of me. She beckoned for Leanne to follow her as she left the room. The door closed behind me.
"I said, I think you're worth it."
Timothy clutched at a table behind him for support. I could see his knees trembling like they couldn't support his weight anymore.
"How am I worth it? After everything I've said and done to you? How can you... even look at me?"
I shrugged. "I guess because... love is unconditional."
Slowly, I approached him. He made no move to evade me. In fact, he just stared at me as if I'd told him little green men had just landed in a spaceship.
I reached out and did something I'd longed to do since that first day, so long ago, that I'd seen him. I stroked his hair. It was softer than I'd expected it to be - and I'd expected it to be pretty soft. I moved my hand down and stroked the edge of his jaw and his neck with the back of my hand. My hand turned slowly and my fingers brushed his skin as I moved my hand and rested it on his shoulder. I wondered why I couldn't hear his thoughts before I realised he wasn't thinking anything. He was holding his breath and he was both physically and mentally speechless. I lifted my other hand to rest on his other shoulder, leant up and kissed him. I felt him let out the breath he'd been holding as he kissed me back. His arms wound around my waist. His thoughts whirred back into action. ‘She thinks I'm worth it... My rose-dove thinks I'm worth something... How can I be in comparison to her?'
‘I'm not worth much...' I thought. ‘I wouldn't be anything without you.'
Oh, I don't believe that's true. You're so precious. I have to keep you safe from all the dangers of the world. You're so fragile and vulnerable. I don't know what I'd do if something happened to you.
I felt warm inside at the prospect of Timothy's protection and constant presence in my life.
‘You were going to recite me a poem,' I remembered. ‘About kingfishers and rose-doves.'
Ah yes. It's too long to recite all of it now, but here's the first stanza.
The precious rose-dove,
favoured by foxglove,
is joined with her kingfisher,
in undeniable love.
‘Oh, wow, that sounds like a beautiful poem.'
‘Yes, it does, and I feel so honoured to be your rose-dove.'
He gently pushed me away, sighing. "I'm no good for you, Tirana."
"Of course you are," I told him, reaching back for him.
He pushed my arms down to my sides and held them there. "No. I'm not. I just told you I wanted you to die."
"Yes, but that was ages ago."
"Hardly. It was about 2 minutes."
"It feels like an age ago. Don't dredge stuff up from the past unless it's pleasant."
"Tani - can I call you Tani? - ..." When I nodded, he continued, "Tani, don't argue with me. I could so easily hurt you and I don't want to..."
"Then, don't leave me," I interrupted. "If you want what's best for me, allow me to make my own decisions. All I want is to be in your arms at the moment."
"Tani." He gazed down at me with those gentle green eyes. "Will you let me sort myself out first?"
"I can help you, Timothy. Let me help you."
Timothy shook his head. "No. It's something I have to do on my own..."
"No one has to do anything on their own," I interrupted for a second time.
"There're parts of me I don't ever want you to see," he continued, ignoring my interruptions. "I don't want to give you more reasons than you already have to hate me."
"I could never hate you. I love you. Please, Timothy..."
"Tani." He cut me off. "Let me do this. For your sake. For my sake. If I don't do this, we'll never fulfil our destiny as a rose-dove and kingfisher. There'll always be something like a wall between us, stopping us from being truly happy. Do you want that?"
I averted my eyes from his compelling gaze.
He brought one of my wrists to his other hand to hold them both and gently lifted my chin with his free hand.
"Do you want that, Tani?" he asked; his tone gentle and tender.
I sighed. "No," I murmured quietly. "But I want you. That's all I really want out of life. I can't even spend a day without you without feeling sad."
Timothy looked understanding. "And while I'm sorting myself out, it will be tough for you. But I just need a little time, okay? A little."
I looked away again and nodded. "Okay then. But not too long."
Timothy smiled gratefully. He threw his arms around me and hugged me tightly.
Thanks, Tani, you're the best.