bear found rabbit crouching at the roots of a tree.
she was a tiny creature – not even a proper mouthful, all fluff and reedy bones,
but bear had just awoken from the deep sleep of winter and was hungry.
being a fair and gentle soul, he allowed his prey a moment to collect her wits and dash into the brush,
yet rabbit could only tremble, tremble and stare with her liquid eyes – eyes that held him there.
something in those innocent orbs reminded him of his darkest hurting, his helpless days, of old fish bones and oozing cuts,
and he found he could not kill her.
a fatherly protectiveness stirred in his chest, and he heard himself say, “climb on my back, child.”
and rabbit saw that there was kindness in this beast, so she obeyed.
in a matter of months, rabbit grew from a puny creature to a sleek and powerful young animal.
bear loved her as only a father can love, faults and all… and rabbit had many faults.
she soon forgot about her vulnerable beginnings and took her meals without a “thank you.”
she left messes in the cave and had more faith in the strength of her hind legs than she did in her father’s words of wisdom.
“daughter, do I really mean so little to you?” bear would say.
and rabbit would say she loved him, and she did, truly,
but he could never understand the aching in her legs, the longing to scamper, farther and father each time.
bear watched her when she thought she was alone.
he watched her when she sat at the mouth of the cave, staring into the dying sun.
she was discontent. she was frustrated and a little broken. bear saw all of this.
sometimes a tear of bewilderment would slip down his great face, but rabbit was blind to his grief.
one night, rabbit slipped from her place under bear’s paw and made her way into the moonlight.
somehow the forest seemed bigger in the dark.
strange golden eyes leered at her from above,
and the air was heavy and full of the sounds of the night,
curious clucks and chirps.
but rabbit was young and foolish and, at the moment, felt devilishly bold.
if danger struck, she could make it back into the cave in time, of that she was certain.
she began to run, kicking up leaves and earth, relishing the feel of the dirt beneath her claws.
she was a wild thing, fierce and independent.
if only bear could see –
and then a winged thing swooped down over her, blocking the light of the moon, screeching as it descended.
what was it? what was it? which way to the cave? this would be her end.
but now there sounded a mighty and familiar roar,
and she was cast into deeper darkness, bathed in the shadow of her father.
the roar became a bellow of pain as talons tore down his back.
rabbit screamed with him, and then fell on her side, limp and exhausted,
shuddering with sobs.
“I have taken your punishment for you because I love you. I would die for you, do you know that? you are foolish and chase after pain, but I hope now you will listen to me and accept my teachings.”
rabbit’s sobs ebbed and she returned to the cave wiser, and with a deep peace in her heart.
so this was true freedom.
this was love.
this was better than what she had wanted for herself.