From the beginning, Hong knew.
She loved Taren dearly, but in some ways, her human was not as wise as she. He thought himself alone in the world, and did little to alter that state, did not consider himself worthy of doing so. Hong needed no one else, but she was not enough for Taren, and she knew it, accepted it; humans were pack animals, and no matter how often she perched on his shoulder or watched over him from the sky, she could not replace the companionship he denied needing.
Even now, wounded and feverish, he would not ask for help, would not allow himself to even consider it. Instead he tottered into a dark, grimy alley sandwiched between a restaurant and an inn, someplace no one would see him. Alone, he stumbled to the far wall and slumped down against it, breathing heavily, unable to support his own weight any further.
Hong spiraled down and landed awkwardly upon one of the bales of hay stacked by the inn's back door. She clacked her beak, but Taren didn't react, not even to glance at her. He was in poor shape; he'd fought too much and had used up his stores of energy, physical and otherwise. He needed a bath, a bandage, a warm meal and a bed, not a cold night spent on the stones of some dank alley.
Hong ruffled her feathers, distraught. You are too cruel to yourself, Taren, she thought, and then, because she was helpless here, she flapped her way back into the air and circled overhead. If she could not help him, at least she could watch over him.
And then she saw him, and she knew.
He was a young man, strong and strapping, with pale hair and bright eyes. There was nothing about him that stood out, nothing particularly remarkable; he was just a young traveler on his own looking for a place where he could lay his head for the night. But Hong was not human, and she could see things humans could not.
Ah, she thought, this boy could be special.
She fluttered down, her wings wildly beating the air, and swooped past the young man into the alley. The sound of her wingbeats caught his ear, just as she'd intended, and as she alit on the wall, he turned, his eyes tracking her. She hunkered down and lowered her head, an unmistakable gesture, and his gaze followed.
Taren needs help, she thought at him, even though she knew he could not understand. I know what I see in you. If he is cruel to himself, then you must teach him kindness.
The young man froze, staring at Taren with wide, shocked eyes. Then he approached, dropped down into a crouch, and pressed one gentle hand against Taren's forehead. His expression went sharp, instantly honed into something intense and formidable, and without a moment's hesitation, he hoisted Taren up, hauled him to the inn, and began pounding on the door.
From the shadows, Hong watched as the door opened to admit them into the warmth and comfort of the inn. Then she took to the skies and circled the inn until she caught a glimpse of them through a window. Taren had been laid out in a bed, a damp washcloth on his forehead, and the young man who'd helped him now sat on the floor watching him sleep, curiosity and concern warring in his eyes.
I knew he was special, Hong thought. She only hoped he would become special to Taren, too.