Once, there was a great dark bird, and he was the only bird like him in the world. He had winged his way across the seas and back many times. He was wise, but he was very lonely, for in his freewheeling travels, he had seen much of pain and suffering, but very little of beauty. He did not recognize he was lonely, for this was the only existence he had ever known. He had never seen another creature like him, who could tell him who he was. But something in him desired to learn. Whenever something caught his eye from high above, he grew hopeful. "This looks interesting," he would say to himself. "I wonder if they can tell me things." So he would dive down and alight.
"Hello," he would say, "Who are you, and why do you exist?"
They would look at the great bird, with his wind-tattered wings and his battle scars, and shake their heads. "We are who we are. And you are strange."
"Who am I?" he would ask, and they would shake their heads again.
"We do not know. You are strange to us, and we do not understand you." And they would leave him. He would fly off again with only the solitude of his existence as his guide.
This he repeated many times, with many creatures. Each time brought him the same result.
You are strange to us, and we do not understand you.
Eventually, the bird lost hope. It was too painful to be reminded of how alone he was, how alien and strange. And, he assumed, ugly. For no creature ever stayed. No creature ever understood.
One day, long after he had quietly accepted he would always be alone, the bird spied something below. He did not think he would find answers, but still, it was curious to him. It was a bright spot, brighter than anything he had seen before. Even the sun in the sky above and the sharp diamonds of tossing waves were not as brilliant.
He flew closer and landed. In front of him was a creature he had never seen the likes of before. She was standing in the middle of a flame, the brightest thing he had ever seen, but she did not show pain. Instead, as he watched, she smiled, spread her wings, and burned up.
The huge bird was horrified. She was there one moment, and then she was gone. The bird ran to the spot, and saw nothing but golden ashes. And he surprised himself then, for he realized he was sad. He bowed his noble, scarred head. The first tear had fallen when he noticed something stirring in the ashes. As he watched, a shape grew and grew, and as it grew, he realized it was her, the creature he had seen, rising from the ashes.
He had seen much in his life, but this astonished him.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"I am Phoenix," she replied.
"Why do you exist, Phoenix?"
"I exist to burn."
"Because it is in my nature."
"And who am I?" he cried out in misery.
She touched his face gently.
"You are Falcon, of course."
"Falcon? I am Falcon? But how do you know?"
"Because it is simply who you are and who I understand you to be. It is you. It has always been who you are."
And just like that, Falcon knew who he was. He had been named, and recognized. He had been instinctively understood. He was home. For the first time in his life, he did not have the urge to immediately take to the sky again to find another adventure or battle, but to say with this strange, gentle creature.
"I will stay with you now," said Falcon.
"Yes. You will. We are each made for the other. I have been waiting for you," said Phoenix. But Falcon sensed a sadness in her, and asked why this was.
"Because it is in my nature to burn."
"I do not understand," said Falcon.
"My love," she said, touching his face again, "You will. And the pain will be unbearable."
"You will never hurt me, Phoenix," he said. "I know it is not in your nature to hurt."
"No," she said simply. "But it is to burn. You will understand."
"I am not afraid," he said.
"You are not afraid of anything. That is your nature. And I love you for it."
"But I will burn."
So the Falcon settled down with the Phoenix and for quite some time, they were very happy together. They learned, and they talked, and they grew together. The Falcon thought this would never change, and he was at peace. He was so overjoyed to have found his companion. Every night, he would wrap his wing tightly around Phoenix and pull her against him. And every morning, he would let her go only after she had said she loved him. They both found joy and solace in having found the other. But still, Falcon would sometimes sense an undercurrent of sadness from Phoenix that scared him, he who had never been afraid.
"You hold me so tightly," she said to him, "Sometimes I can not breathe."
"I do it because I love you and I always want you close," Falcon said, smiling at her.
"But I want to be close."
"I know." He smiled again.
"No, you don't. And it will cost you your heart." She gave him a look of such love and pain that something in him quailed in terror. And he pushed her words-I will burn-out of his mind.
One morning, he woke up and found her already awake, and looking at him sadly.
"Good morning, my love," he said. "What is troubling you?"
But she was restless in his wings and would not be still.
"Are you not going to tell me you love me? As you always do?" he asked. The fear sparked, and grew.
"Yes, I love you," she said quickly, growing more agitated. As she struggled to pull away and free her wings, so he wrapped his own wings more tightly around her in his panic and his fear and his love. Tendrils of smoke started to curl up around her and he tried to fan them out, brushed his feathers over his beloved's face, as he could see she was as scared as he was. This unnerved Falcon. She had not been scared to burn before, it had never caused her pain.
"Please," she panted, "Please let me go."
"No!" he cried. "I can not. I love you too much to let you go." And he held her more tightly.
"You must," she said, struggling more wildly. Tiny sparks were starting to jump from between her feathers, and the tendrils of smoke were growing. "Please," she begged.
Little licks of flame were starting to pop up in spots between her feathers. The smell of scorching was in the air. She was trying her best to hide the tiny cries of pain as the flames ate at her.
"I must burn."
"I can not let go."
"Then I will take you with me, my love. I am so sorry, so sorry."
And with that, she burned.
She burned up in his wings, blazed forward in a apocalyptic fireball that blinded him. Burned until there was nothing left but ashes. Because he could not let go, the blast of fire and flame engulfed him, and he burned, too.
Falcon awoke some time later. He was in the most unimaginable pain, the worst pain he had ever borne. He had had many injuries, had bled many times. But nothing compared to this. His feathers crumbled off in black bits. He oozed blood and matter from charred spots on his body. He turned his head, weeping in agony, and saw the pile of golden ashes in his wings. It was too much to bear. Too much.
He closed his eyes and went away again.
It was a long time before he came back.
When he came to again, the physical healing had begun. But his heart. Oh, Falcon's noble heart. It was naught but ash and cinder.
Carefully, he placed his pile of golden ashes in a safe place. Made sure they were protected from the wind that might try to take her away. From the rain that might try to wash her from his view. From the sun that might dare to think it could beat her for beauty.
Still, he was in agony. He thought about leaving. About taking to his wings again and this time, never coming back. Never alighting again in the world, but flying forever, alone, ungrounded. Once or twice he even took to the sky, once his wings had healed, determined to go away forever. He returned every time. For no matter how far he flew, she was still there. And so too, was his heart. That was the only thing he knew.
So Falcon returned for the last time. He knelt down by the pile of beloved golden ash and bowed his scarred, beautiful head.
"I will wait for you, Phoenix," he said. "I would rather wait a thousand years for you than fly alone. I will wait for you. And if you never come back, I will still wait for you. Because that is in my nature."
And so he waited.
Still, he waited.
One day, something happened.
One of the golden ashes moved. Falcon whipped his head around, staring intently at the spot. Another ash moved.
And as Falcon watched, as his heart leapt into his throat and beat wildly with hope and panic, she grew from the ashes again. His beloved. His Phoenix. And as she grew and reshaped herself, so too did his heart.
Within moments, she had risen from the golden ashes and was standing before him again, looking at him in love and sorrow.
Falcon could not speak for joy, but knelt in supplication. She knelt down, too, and studied him. Silently, she touched the burn scars all over his body, the spots where his beautiful feathers had charred and not grown back properly. Tears dripped from her eyes, and still, he could not speak for joy. He kept running his wingtips over her, making sure she was there, making sure she was real. Making sure he was no longer alone.
Finally, he spoke.
"You came back to me," he said.
"Of course I did." Her voice was tired and desperately sad.
"Why did you leave me?" he demanded.
"As I have always told you-because it was in my nature to burn."
"I have been waiting for you," he said.
"I know." She looked at his scars. "I am so sorry we have caused one another this pain."
"We?" he asked incredulously, angrily. "I did nothing but love you."
"But you did not love unconditionally. You set conditions on the love, for, though you did not see it, you demanded the same of me in return. You were too blinded by love for it to be unconditional."
He was silent for a moment.
"I never understood the nature of unconditional love until now. And we both had to burn in the process to see that and change our natures. I see that now."
He bowed his head again, and finally wept.
"I am sorry, Phoenix. I will ask you this, because I love you still. But I have learned. You can fly where you'd like, and burn how you like, and I will not bind you. I ask you now with an open palm: Will you stay with me from now on?"
And she smiled then, blazing forth with joy.
"What you never understood was that just as it was in my nature to burn, so too was it in my nature to love you. Do you know why I burned so brightly the first time you saw me? It was because I burned for you and you alone. You never had to bind me to you, for you see, I never would have left in the first place."
She touched his face.
"And so I never shall."
They flew off, side by side, into the great blue sky.
And so they remain to this day, the Phoenix and the Falcon, streaking like twin comets across the heavens.