I think I sat there for about an hour, at least, on the ground, surrounded by a ton of flowers that had decided to come and visit me, while I absentmindedly pet Rex. The little boy inside needed me. I could feel it, and I wasn’t sure how I could feel it. The same way I could feel it with everyone else lately. Everyone I came across, I could feel pain. I could feel their need for love and affection, for healing. It was just too much, too many people. Even that James guy needed me, although he seemed to want to protect me more than anything. I hated that my powers were coming in. I felt like I was in puberty all over again. It took everything in me to not freak out. Like the other night when I wanted some candy and Sage had the audacity to tell me I needed to stay fit. Then the house shook. I knew that had been me. And I’m pretty sure it was the earth shaking, not the house.
I felt James close, still watching over me. I needed a friend right now. I needed him to not be so distant with me. I swallowed hard. “James?” Silence ensued. I closed my eyes and pulled Rex closer to me. He went willingly. “James, please. I just… I need someone to talk to.” I sat like that for a few minutes before I felt a drop on my head, then a tear fall down my cheek. That was when he came to me. Still unkempt and aloof, but far more open than he had ever been before.
Still clad in pretty basic clothing, he came to sit beside me. He was within arm’s length but wouldn’t get much closer. I turned to him and smiled. “Thanks.”
To my surprise, he smiled back. “No problem.”
We sat like that for a while, in silence while Rex slowly fell asleep. When he did, he turned into a little boy. A handsome little boy with brown hair and golden skin. “I didn’t know that Zeos changed when they sleep.”
“They only change from the shape they’re in if they feel comfortable. If we fall asleep in our animal form, when we don’t feel comfortable or safe, we’ll stay that way.”
“So he trusts me?” I turned to James and beamed at the idea. This little guy, this boy who was so terrified that he hadn’t changed since his father’s death, had finally felt comfortable enough with me that his body allowed him to change. “That’s the most amazing thing I think I’ve ever done.”
James gave a strained chuckle. “See, you can do more than just make grass grow.”
It brought me back to the reality of it all. “I haven’t told Sage this yet, but…” he sat there waiting for me, knowing I would say it when I was ready but not seeming to be in a hurry to hear it. I didn’t know if it was because he didn’t want to know or he was afraid of the outcome. “I can feel things. From the people I meet.”
“What is it you’re feeling?”
I shrugged and looked away. “It’s like a part of me is able to see what they need, or feel it. I know when someone is hurting inside and, to be honest, it scares the shit out of me. I know my powers are growing. I can feel them. But I don’t know what it means, what I’m supposed to do with it.”
“I can’t help you with that part, Dakota. What I will tell you is that, from what I have witnessed, helping people will become a compulsion for you. You’ll crave it.” James gently wiped the tear away and turned my head towards him.
“You need me, too, James. I can feel your pain.”
He smiled solemnly. “I know and I’m sorry for that.“ He took a deep breath and looked towards the path that lead to the house. “Your abilities are gonna be more than any other Guardian in history, Dakota. I know that for a fact, which is why it’s so important for you to hone them now. Those men, they want you. They’re not gonna stop until they have you, either. So, even though it’s scary, and the path seems too hard and unforgiving, you need to work towards control. You need to be stronger than they bargained for.” His lip quivered. “They won’t expect you to be strong so fast. Let those bastards underestimate you.”
“So you’re saying I should jump off that cliff?” I asked with dry sarcasm.
James laughed an almost genuine laugh. “No. I would kill Sage if something happened to you.” I don’t know why it felt so good to know he cared that much, but I felt a girlish squeal rise up that I had to fight to squash. He leaned against the the fallen tree behind us and relaxed. “But Just try, okay?”
“Can I try in a couple hours?” He nodded but didn’t look at me. I leaned against the tree with him. “James?” He hummed a recognition. “Can you just…” I didn’t know how to articulate what I needed, or why I was allowing myself to be so vulnerable around him. James felt safe, he felt like love, the kind that makes you feel protected and cared for.
I didn’t have to tell him what I needed. He reached around and pulled me to him. His thin body was surprisingly comforting and I found myself nuzzling into his embrace. I sighed and whispered a thanks.
“Dakota?” I opened my eyes and looked around. Rex was in wolf form, staring at me curiously while James was looking down, trying to get my attention. I squinted up at him. “You fell asleep. Sorry, but Rex is hungry, I think, and so am I. Are you ready to head back?” I almost protested when my stomach gurgled loudly. He laughed. “I’m taking that as a ’yes’. Come on.”
Something was different about James, I realized as we headed back. The weight he always carried with him seemed a little less, and I even caught a smile from time to time. “You gonna come in and eat with me?” I asked casually while secretly praying he would agree.
“I don’t know about that, Dakota.”
He needs to eat more than anyone here. And I really didn’t want to stop being around him. “Oh, come on. Don’t leave me to deal with Sage all alone. Please? I’ll let you bite him if he pisses me off.”
He laughed. “I’m a Hawk.”
“Okay, fine. You can peck his eyes out.” He laughed again and that time it seemed to actually reach his eyes. “Is that a yes?”
He glanced over at me as we continued our long walk back. “Okay, I’ll eat with you.”