Interlude: Mindlink

"What is it going to be like?" Kanaat asked Keo softly, as they sat together on the edge of their bed.

"I don't have a lot to go on," Keo admitted. "The details of how it felt when my predecessor and his husband tried it were too private for him to tell me, and he thought it probably would vary a lot from person to person anyway. I mostly know practical things - like that we'll know each other's thoughts faster than our own - and how to do it."

"But you know some other things, right? You said he tried it once and had it fail," said Kanaat. "What caused that? I don't - I can't stand the thought of that happening with us, Keo."

"He tried it too quickly, or with the wrong person - he wasn't sure which, and the experience was awful enough that they eventually separated. There were still secrets, unresolved conflicts. The link isn't a cure-all to meld two people into a unified whole when they aren't already as close to that as can be. It's more like mental shortcuts, to speed up everything that would have resulted in cooperation even if the conversation had to be carried out aloud. So," she said lightly, "if you shoplifted a candy bar when you were fourteen and have kept it a deep dark secret out of shame, you really should tell me now, before I try to link us."

"I can't think of anything like that, but Keo, what if I've forgotten something or - I'm almost eighty-two, I couldn't have told you everything, even everything potentially embarrassing, in the years I've known you. And you've lived even longer."

"It only matters if you would tell me, if you thought of it, and if I'd react well, if you told me. Like I said, the link speeds things up - we just have to be disposed to accept the results," she said reassuringly.

Kanaat nodded. "Is it going to be different on your end?" he asked, after a moment.

"Yes and no," said Keo hesitantly. "It isn't as though there will be any limitation on what you'll be able to see in my mind. You'll be able to see anything you want, just the same as I will. But just because of what I am, my mind is going to be - bigger, I suppose. It may be overwhelming, at least for a while. I'll be able to pay complete attention to both of us, and you might be a little lost just trying to pay attention to me. It could take a very long time for you to adjust completely and be able to come back to yourself much. But I'll be able to help you do everything you want to do, even if you're too distracted to do it alone - you won't have to take time off to deal with it, or anything."

Kanaat nodded, reassured. "I think I'm ready," he said quietly.

"You should probably lie down," murmured Keo, and he complied wordlessly. "Close your eyes..." She scooted to sit on the bed beside him.

His eyelids dropped, leaving him in darkness, and then, all at once, he was plunged into a sea of jade sunlight.

|...!| A silent, wordless, exclamation of joy lit up his mind and arced over to hers more than instantly, and he felt her hearing his thought before he was aware he'd had it.

|hello| Her mirthful reply, colored with so much depth and affection that he wanted to weep. |i love you|

|love you | love|

|yes | i'm here love|

|love you| It was all he could think, the only thing that could cohere in his green-saturated consciousness to form a sendable statement. But his thoughts did not need to be sendable anymore to be open to her. This wasn't mindspeak or memory retrieval; no words or images needed to coalesce and present themselves for reading. He simply felt unrestrained awe and worshipful adoration, and she saw it all, felt it in her own mind, and reflected it back at him immediately.

How could he have harbored doubts? How could this possibly have failed? It was perfect. The sincere totality of the link obliterated every inkling of doubt, every fear that something in him would reject her when she came too close. Who could possibly have rejected this beauty, this love, this spectacular intimacy -?

|anyone else| came her reply. |only you | only you | only you could be here with me now | only you|

His own place in the link was assured. She was greater, stronger, more herself, and he was lost to her eternally - but no one else could have been in his place, he and he alone was still essential to this profound connection, and he would never have traded it away, could not bear the idea of being apart from her in mind ever again, did not know how he had tolerated the devastating solitude before -

In the physical world, the elf was limp and breathing shallowly in perfect time with her own breaths, eyes still shut. His wife knelt on the bed beside him, watching him carefully, in case he retreated any farther from his body. He needed to breathe and swallow and keep his heart beating; she couldn't hold him completely inside herself, much as he felt he was already held that completely.

|love | try to lift your arm|

|?| How odd - why would he need to lift his arm? Why would he need to do anything? He was with her, and therefore safe. Wasn't his arm fine wherever it was?

|love | you need to be able to move | at least a little | on your own|

The idea of being on his own made him want to scream -

He tried to open his mouth to do that.

He could not find it.

How peculiar.

|love | love | for me | move something | say something | anything | if you can't | then I have to leave-|

NO! No, she couldn't leave, she had to stay with him, forever and ever and -

|-to keep you safe | you don't want to die | you can be almost all here with me | but you have to live in your body enough | or your mind will|die!|

But he couldn't die, because that would end all of this, and that would be intolerable, unacceptable, impossible -

|yes | yes | so you must move | lift your arm | love|

Newly motivated, he tried to find his arm. One of them. He was fairly sure he had two, but only one was necessary at the moment.

His right thumb twitched. The dragon, watching him like a hawk, spotted it. |good! | good | keep trying | the whole arm | love|

He cheated a little, using her vision to watch his progress in place of his distorted proprioception, but he heaved his arm into the air. Focusing on the action felt wrong. It was like he was extending the arm out from under a heap of warm blankets into a frigid room. But he held up the limb, hand dangling from his wrist a foot off the bed, for a tick, two, until he felt her relief and approval flash through his mind.

He let his arm drop back onto the bed. That was over with. He could curl up in the green shining ocean of love again and leave that annoying body behind, that irksome thing that had the nerve not to be a part of her -

She touched the back of his abandoned hand, gently, with one fingertip.

|!| He dropped back into his body with shocking force and snapped his eyes open. The mirroring effect of the contact was like endlessly cycling lightning. He could feel her finger on his hand and his skin against her fingertip and so could she and he could feel what she felt and she could feel what he felt in feeling what she felt -

|why didn't you just | if you wanted me in my body|

|i can't hold your hand all the time|


|silly| Aloud, she laughed. |you need to be able to move | without my help | except to remind you | that you need to | but now we know you can | so you don't have to do it much | if you don't want|

|don't| he confirmed emphatically. |want you|

|i'm here|

|good!| He sat up - not dislodging the delicious, anchoring touch on his hand - and then, very deliberately, kissed her mouth.

The kiss would have looked unremarkable to anyone spectating.

In their minds, it set off pyrotechnics.

|love | love | love | love | love | love | love | forever|