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“I referred to the same base image I always had. Elaine in our first soulgaze, an image of a woman of power, grace, and oceans of cool nerve superimposed over the blushing image of a schoolgirl, naked for the first time with her first lover. I had known what she would grow into, even then, that she would transform the gawky limbs and awkward carriage and blushing cheeks into confidence and poise and beauty and wisdom. The wisdom, maybe, was still in process, as evidenced by her choice of first lovers, but even as an adult, I was hardly in a position to cast stones, as evidenced by my choice of pretty much everything.

What we hadn’t known about, back then, was pain.

Sure, we’d faced some things as children that a lot of kids don’t. Sure, Justin had qualified for his Junior de Sade Badge in his teaching methods for dealing with pain. We still hadn’t learned, though, that growing up is all about getting hurt. And then getting over it. You hurt. You recover. You move on. Odds are pretty good you’re just going to get hurt again. But each time, you learn something.

Each time, you come out of it a little stronger, and at some point you realize that there are more flavors of pain than coffee. There’s the little empty pain of leaving something behind—graduating, taking the next step forward, walking out of something familiar and safe into the unknown. There’s the big, whirling pain of life upending all of your plans and expectations. There’s the sharp little pains of failure, and the more obscure aches of successes that didn’t give you what you thought they would. There are the vicious, stabbing pains of hopes being torn up. The sweet little pains of finding others, giving them your love, and taking joy in their life as they grow and learn. There’s the steady pain of empathy that you shrug off so you can stand beside a wounded friend and help them bear their burdens.

And if you’re very, very lucky, there are a very few blazing hot little pains you feel when you realize that you are standing in a moment of utter perfection, an instant of triumph, or happiness, or mirth which at the same time cannot possibly last—and yet will remain with you for life.

Everyone is down on pain, because they forget something important about it: Pain is for the living. Only the dead don’t feel it.

Pain is a part of life. Sometimes it’s a big part, and sometimes it isn’t, but either way, it’s part of the big puzzle, the deep music, the great game. Pain does two things: It teaches you, tells you that you’re alive. Then it passes away and leaves you changed. It leaves you wiser, sometimes. Sometimes it leaves you stronger. Either way, pain leaves its mark, and everything important that will ever happen to you in life is going to involve it in one degree or another.

Adding pain to that image of Elaine wasn’t a process of imagining horrors, fantasizing violence, speculating upon suffering. It was no different from an artist mixing in new color, adding emphasis and depth to the image that, while bright, was not true to itself or to life. So I took the girl I knew and added in the pains the woman I was reaching for had been forced to face. She’d stepped into a world she’d left behind for more than a decade, and found herself struggling to face life without relying upon anyone else. She’d always had me, and Justin—and when we’d gone away, she’d leaned upon a Sidhe woman named Aurora for help and support. When that had vanished, she had no one—I had given my love to someone else. Justin had been dead for years.

She’d been alone in a city, different from everyone around, struggling to survive and to build a life and a home.

So I added in all the pains I’d learned. Cooking blunders I’d had to eat anyway. Equipment and property constantly breaking down, needing repairs and attention. Tax insanity, and rushing around trying to hack a path through a jungle of numbers. Late bills. Unpleasant jobs that gave you horribly aching feet. Odd looks from people who didn’t know you, when something less than utterly normal happened. The occasional night when the loneliness ached so badly that it made you weep. The occasional gathering during which you wanted to escape to your empty apartment so badly you were willing to go out the bathroom window. Muscle pulls and aches you never had when you were younger, the annoyance as the price of gas kept going up to some ridiculous degree, the irritation with unruly neighbors, brainless media personalities, and various politicians who all seemed to fall on a spectrum somewhere between the extremes of “crook” and “moron.”

You know.

Life.

And the image of her in my mind deepened, sharpened, took on personality. There’s no simple way to describe it, but you know it when you see it, and the great artists can do it, can slip in the shades of meaning and thought and truth into something as simple as a girl named Mona’s smile, even if they can’t tell you precisely how they managed it.

The image of Elaine gained shadows, flaws, character, and strength. I didn’t know the specifics of what she’d been through—not all of them, anyway—but I knew enough, and could make good guesses about plenty more. That image in my mind drew me in as I focused on it, just as I once had focused on that younger image of Elaine unrealized. I reached out with my thoughts and touched that image, breathing gentle life into it as I whispered her True Name, freely given to me when we were young, within the vaults of my mind.”

Harry Dresden, The Dresden Files: White Night, by Jim Butcher