A sequel to The Rescue. Written for the Dictionary.com word of the day 'pip', which means 1. to peep or chirp. 2. (Of a young bird) to break out from the shell. 3. To crack or chip a hole through (the shell), as a young bird.
Sean didn't know where Elijah was taking him, but that was half the fun. He knew that whatever the surprise was, it would be worth the long trek through the spring woods. Eventually they emerged from the shelter of the pine trees into an open area of abandoned cranberry bogs long reclaimed by nature.
"Elijah, look - a red-tailed hawk." Sean pointed upward at a raptor circling overhead, its coppery tail feathers and streaked dark belly band standing out vividly against the deep blue sky. He raised his binoculars to his eyes, adjusted the focus and followed the hawk's flight.
"I know. That's who we're here to see, Sean," Elijah said. "It's Pip."
Dumbfounded, Sean lowered the binoculars and stared at his partner. "Elijah, are you serious? That really is Pip?"
The last time he'd seen Pip, she was an eyas, a palm-sized ball of white fluff in a nest on a ledge at NYU's Bobst Library. Now she was a magnificent, majestic adult, breathtaking in her beauty as she soared above them.
"Yes, it's definitely her." Elijah went on softly, "I'm so happy she's made it. Most red-tails don't survive past the first year. I thought you might like to say 'hi' to her."
"Yes, please," Sean said.
Elijah held up his right arm and whistled, a short, sharp blast. The response was almost instantaneous; Pip folded her wings and plummeted toward earth.
Sean held his breath as she stooped, hoping she wouldn't hit and hold Elijah's arm hard enough to hurt him. But well in time she pulled back, wings deploying like a parachute to slow her descent, and, yellow claws outstretched, she settled lightly, delicately gripping his flannel sleeve with her razor-sharp talons.
Elijah gently rested the palm of his hand on Pip's back and communed with her for a few minutes, while Sean watched with awestruck reverence as the Woodjin plied his unique magic. It was by no means the first up close and personal encounter Sean had had with a red-tail, several having been Elijah's patients over the years, but that it was this red-tail made it incredibly special.
Sean flashed back to that never to be forgotten day when Elijah, dressed as a woman named 'Ellie', risked more than anyone could possibly know to travel into New York and cut from Violet's leg the too-tight band that was endangering her life. Without the Woodjin's help, Violet would have been trapped, and she and Pip would have been separated and lived out their days in zoo captivity - assuming they even survived the trauma and stress of being captured and moved.
Now here Pip was, all grown up, and beautiful as her mother Violet was, fierce and noble, wild as the winds she effortlessly rode.
Pip shifted on Elijah's arm and her intense, unblinking reddish-brown gaze fixed on Sean.
"She wants to go to you now," Elijah said, and Sean crooked his left elbow and held out his arm.
Pip hopped onto Sean's left forearm, and a thrill ran through him. He could feel the latent power in Pip's talons wrapped around his arm, but it was sheathed. And yet here was no tamed and trained falconer's hawk, but a creature entirely wild, who came to them voluntarily, knowing she'd be safe.
"Hey, Pip," he said, and lightly touched a silky brown feather. "So, how's life been treating you since the last time I saw you?"
Elijah answered for her. "She has a mate now and three little ones."
"Congratulations to the happy couple," Sean said. "Although if they're like most parents, pretty soon they'll be ready to kick the kids out of the nest."
"Sean!" But Elijah was grinning. Pip vocalized, a guttural guh-runk, and he said, "She has to go. Her mate is watching the nest, but it's time for him to hunt again. Their eyases are hungry."
Pip hopped back onto Elijah's arm, and as he'd done to Violet three years earlier, Elijah kissed the top of her proud head and murmured a blessing. Then he held his arm aloft, and with a flurry, her wings beating so powerfully that Sean's hair stirred on his forehead, Pip took flight. She flew across the bog and in the distance Sean saw her alight in the trees, presumably onto her nest.
Sean discovered his cheeks were wet with tears. "I'm completely verklempt," he said, huffing a laugh as he wiped them away. "I never imagined we'd discover what happened to Pip after she fledged."
"Neither did I. But she's a Piney now, Sean." Elijah's beaming smile rivaled the sun. "She and her mate will nest here every year. I expect we'll see her again."
"Thanks to you, Ellie Wood," Sean said quietly.
"Don't remind me. I still have occasional nightmares about wearing a bra." Elijah unconsciously shrugged his shoulders.
"But not black eyeliner," Sean reminded him, for sometimes, in the privacy of their bedroom, Elijah would wear it for him.
"Definitely no nightmares about that," Elijah agreed, a soft, reminiscent light in eyes so remarkable that, in truth, they needed no enhancement to hold Sean utterly captive.
"I don't know about you, but I'm ready to head back to our own nest," said Sean.
"You read my mind," replied Elijah, taking his mate by the hand and leading him home.