His mate was so beautiful.
From his vantage point on the branch above the stream, he admired the way she hovered above the water, seemingly without effort. Her swift wings were scarcely more than a blur even to his sharp eyes. Her feathers shone with health, her markings clear and exquisite. Her bright eyes reflected both the gleaming waters and her fierce concentration. She was absolutely perfect
She was gone.
Faster than his eyes could follow, she dove into the stream, wings tightly folded to her sides. Before the ripples of her dive could settle, she emerged from the water again with a shining, wriggling shape speared neatly in her strong bill. Flying up to the branch nearest his, she regarded him with a merry look before twisting her head, neatly sliding the small fish down her throat.
Whistling appreciatively, the male kingfisher took her place hovering over the stream. Focusing most of his attention on the waters below, he still spared an occasional glance towards where she sat, watching him. The need to impress her was almost as powerful a force as his hunger. He hovered as precisely as he could, determined to show his prowess, how strong and perfect he was. He would not fail.
A shadow moving near the surface of the water was all the indication he needed. Without thought, with nothing more than instinct and the joy of the moment, he folded his wings and plunged headfirst into the water, inner eyelids automatically closing to protect his sensitive eyes while still allowing him to see. He felt the shock of impact in his bill as he successfully speared the fingerling trout through the gills, stunning it into immobility. Neatly reversing direction, he kicked his legs, flapped his wings, and sent himself hurling up out of the water to land on the same branch as his mate.
She muttered a little deep in her throat, not quite sure she was ready to permit such a bold act on his part. Her muttering quickly quieted, though, when he laid the fish down on the branch. Using one foot to hold the body of the fish steady, he neatly severed the head with his bill and offered the delicacy to her with an encouraging chuckle.
She regarded him solemnly for a moment, considering. He held perfectly still, the head of the fish dangling from the tip of his bill. She fluffed her wings once, then smoothed her plumage and sidled closer until she could reach over and take the offering from him. He barely resisted the impulse to squeak for joy as she gulped it down. He settled for an exuberant flip of the rest of the fish into his own bill. It slipped down his gullet with ease.
A soft tug on his neck-feathers had him freezing once again, this time in surprise. Instead of moving away as he'd expected, his mate had remained next to him on the branch. Now she was preening his feathers with her own beak, stroking and smoothing them into place. He crooned with the pleasure of it, rocking slightly back and forth on the branch in his rising excitement.
A slight pain in his right foot broke into his bliss. Blinking, he wondered briefly how he'd managed to hurt it.
Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, an image of a different pool struggled to float to the surface, and alien memories threatened to emerge into the present. Ideas and concepts that had no place within a kingfisher's experience roiled just below the surface of his thoughts.
Then the moment was lost as his mate delicately nibbled on the sensitive feathers underneath his bill. Greatly daring, he returned the caress. His heart sang as he heard her exuberant croon and saw her lift her tail-feathers in response. In a flash she was airborne, hovering over him, her eyes shining with excitement. Quick as a thought he was after her, and the pair flew off on a different kind of hunt.