“Kat!” a voice cuts through the dark. I know that voice. My head snaps up, my fingers untangle from my hair. Please be wrong…
He runs toward me, hazel eyes wide, long hair bouncing with the motion. My chest fills with ice. This is another trick. This isn’t real… Is it?
“Andrei…” the name falls from my lips before I have a chance to catch it. Fresh tears fill my eyes, though I thought I had run out of them by now. My eyes are so swollen from crying, I can barely see clearly. “No. Andrei, please… no… You can’t be here.”
“What do you mean?” he frowns. “I came here to get you! You can’t be here!”
I shake my head, turning away. I dig my fingernails into my arms. Blood soaks my fingertips. “It’s not real. It’s not real…” I mutter to remind myself.
“Oh, Kat… It’s all my fault. I’m so sorry!” he bellows.
“Stop it!” I cover my ears. “You’re not really here. You can’t be here. You can’t be dead.”
“Yes, I am here! You can’t do this,” he reaches out, grabbing my wrists. “What you do here hurts you in the real world too. Please! Listen to me!” he begs.
I gawk at his hands, eyes wide. Spirits don’t have a physical form. How is he doing that? “I don’t… understand…”
“Kat. It’s really me. I left time to come get you, but I can’t stay here forever,” he says, beads of sweat on his brow. “And neither can you,” he pauses, hanging his head. “I know, I hurt you. I’m so sorry. I made you leave, and I let all those bad things happen, but I’d risk everything to have you by my side… I need you to trust me… ok?”
“What?” I blink. “You didn’t do anything. I killed Ryan… I can’t let that happen again,” I feel myself trembling again. “I can’t watch you die.”
“I won’t die that easy Kat. Your flames could never hurt me,” he says, rubbing my cheek with his hand. “And Ryan did what friends do; we protect each other. That’s what it means to be a Guardian. No matter the risk, we’re there for you. We’re there for each other,” he says, looking me straight in the eyes. “Things got bad when you left Kat… I… I wanted to die without you there,” he confesses, his voice unsteady.
I fall against his chest. It’s warm. I mumble into his shirt. “I can’t do anything right. I can’t even die right…”
His arms snake around my shoulders. “Why would you want to die? I’d be so lonely without you…” his chest shudders with a sob.
I’m not really sure how to explain it. “It seemed like a good idea at the time?”
He pushes me back, hands still on my shoulders, to study my face. “When in all of time, is dying a good idea? Kat… I’d… rather burn with you, than live forever without you.”
My lip trembles. “I wish you didn’t have to burn at all.”
“Then stay with me,” he smiles a little. “I’ll stop the flames if they ever get out of control.”
His eyes glimmer with hope and my will crumbles. I’m exhausted. I can’t fight anymore. I can’t live without him, and I can’t seem to die.
“Okay,” I try to smile, clutching his shirt in both hands. It’s still hard to believe he’s real.
“Kaitlyn, if I haven’t told you, I want to say it now… I love you. So much,” he pulls me into him with crushing strength, burying his face in my tangled mess of hair.
“I love you too. More than anything,” I squeeze him back. His heart pounds against his ribs, beating erratically. That’s not normal, is it? “Andrei? Are you okay?” I ask, suddenly worried.
“I’m fine,” he whispers, though it’s strained. He grips me a little tighter. “Never better.”
“But…” I frown. “Why is your heart beating like that?”
“Like what?” he asks softly.
I push against him. He lets go enough for me to see his face, sweat rolling down the back of his neck. I feel him leaning on me slightly, and his eyes droop. I realize he’s grown a bit of a beard, which distracts me for a moment.
“Wait. Did you say you left time to come here?” I feel my voice rising. “What are you doing? You need to get back! You’ll die if you stay here!”
“Not without you,” he breathes weakly.
“Then take me with you!” I feel panic in my throat.
“I… I don’t know how… I was… guessing on how to get… here in the first place…” he starts to slump on my shoulder.
“Andrei!” I grab the sides of his face. “Focus. You have to leave, do what you did to get here in reverse.”
“How do I know… you’ll come with me?” he hesitates.
“I… I think I can wake up. I didn’t know where this was but I know now. Just… do it.”
“Do it with me,” he grits his teeth, hands clutching my arms. “Together…”
“Okay,” I nod quickly, “Okay.” I wait for him to close his eyes and start to focus before I try to do the same.
Where was I, before I got here? There was the bar, and then the water… The hut, with the old woman, and the man. That place. I try to remember details of the room; the firepit, the pot, the hay walls, the carpet…
I open my eyes. Smoke rises through the hole in the ceiling. My body aches. I feel pain and know I’m awake for real. A thud, followed by snoring draws my attention.
“Andrei!” a female voice calls out. I turn my head to see Caroline, crouched over Andrei, who lays on the floor beside me. He seems to be the one snoring, hair splayed on the carpet, dripping with sweat.
“Car…” I mumble, too weak to even use her full name.
“Kaitlyn! You too! Oh my god! He did it! You’re back!” she squeals, eyes brimming with tears. She crawls around Andrei and throws herself on my chest, squeezing me tight. “I want to slap you so hard! Don’t you ever run off like that again! You hear? It nearly killed him!” she sobs, brow furrowed.
I glance at him. “So did that.”
“To be fair,” Nakotah pipes up. “It quite nearly killed her too.”
“Yea, I noticed that captain obvious,” she snaps. Someone snickers. I notice Kaede, beside Nakotah. “How are you? Can I help with anything?”
I take a ragged breath. “If you could get off me, that’d help. It’s hard enough to breathe as it is…” she huffs and sits up. I manage a slight smile. “Thank you… for coming after me… I’m sorry.”
“Sorry, it took so long.” She looks at Andrei, “We had some problems to deal with first.”
I blink. Problems? I don’t like the sound of that…
“I can fill you in later. You need rest, and you need to accept this man’s healing. Andrei would make you if he was awake,” she giggles.
I look at Andrei, then to the Native man. “Nakotah, right?” he nods once. “Think your elders are up for round two?” I gesture to Andrei, snoring away.
He crosses his arms with a smirk, “You certainly do bring trouble, Kaitlyn. The ancestors weren’t kidding,” I scoff and groan. Why does everything have to hurt?
By Krystyna Yates