I wake up rolling over into Kaede with a groan. I don’t even have time to recoil before he’s swearing at me. I get my bearings as Kaede’s reaction seems to wake up everyone else in the small hut. I see Caroline sitting next to Nik, Kat’s propped up on the cot and Nik’s grandmother is cooking something over the fire.
Kaede glowers at me, still fuming. “Bet you thought I was Kat.”
“W-what?” I try to answer, but it’s way too early for a joke like that.
“Well, I guess everyone’s up now,” Caroline says, mouthing sorry silently.
I look to Kat, behind her and smile. It’s so good to see her looking well again. She still looks tired, but she looks a hundred times better than I remember. Which is another thing. My mind’s still fuzzy from spending like half a day in the dream realm in my physical body. Apparently, Kaede said I was crouched next to the bed for something like 10 hours, clutching my chest.
But as I see her sitting there, watching me, the only thing I can feel is relieved we both made it back, alive. I was worried about how I’d get out. I tried not to think about it as I trudged across that endless desert to find her. I shake my head, dispelling the thoughts and focusing on the now. I can’t even stand being across the fire from her. I want to sit with her.
I throw the furs off of me, remembering the night before, as we crawled in quietly so as not to wake the girls up and got under them to stay warm. Nik and the other elders had restored some of my energy so that I wouldn’t be in a coma for like… a week.
As soon as I throw the furs off, I realize I’m shirtless. I blush as Kaede raises an eyebrow at me.
“What happened to clothes?” I say a little shakily, pulling the fur back over my chest.
“Apparently that happens here.” Kat muses, shooting a look at Nik and his grandmother.
“What, they steal our clothes?!” I don’t think I can walk around with both Kaede and Caroline here, let alone Nik and his grandmother. “Nik, what am I supposed to wear?” I hiss.
Kaede throws me something laying beside him and turns away. “Wear that, shy boy. We all got nipples here. It’s not a problem.” I shoot him a glare of daggers as I pull the loose shirt over my head.
When I’m finally clothed, I slip out of the furs and creep over to Kat’s cot, taking a seat beside her, on the floor. I put my hand on hers and smile at her. It feels so good to be next to her again, I can’t really begin to explain how content I feel.
“How are you feeling?” Kat asks quietly, rubbing her thumb across the back of my hand.
“Pretty happy, now that you’re here. You look well. How are you?” I relish in her caress; I feel like a cat.
“I wish I could say I’m good,” she gives me a cheeky smile. “I’m glad that you’re here and alive.” I close my eyes, leaning my head back, resting it against her arm.
“That’s good,” I whisper. I can’t take the happy smile off my face.
I hear Caroline harumph from the fire. Whatever. She can deal.
“Are we ready to go home?” Kat asks, trying to sit up.
I lift my head and quickly jump to help her, supporting her arm and pushing gently on her back. “Are you sure you’re up to traveling?” I ask her with concern.
She frowns. “I don’t think it will make much difference if we wait. The longer we’re here, we put these people at risk.”
“You hush,” the old woman swats her spoon in Kat’s direction. “You haven’t eaten a thing since you got here. You’re not going anywhere.”
Kat grimaces as I give her a hard look. “Is that true? You haven’t eaten since you’ve arrived? Kat, that’s insane! How are you going to get better if you don’t eat?!” I feel a strange sense of worry course through my body. I’m tempted to go over and grab a bowl and force feed her, right now.
She pouts, looking away. “I wasn’t even conscious. How was I supposed to eat?” I know she’s right… but that’s mostly an excuse.
“Well, you can at least eat what she’s made today. And then when we get back, I’m personally making you soup until you’re sick of it,” I say sternly.
She glances at Caroline for a moment. “I have to see Ambrosse first. Then you can cook whatever you want.”
“Why?” I ask. “What do you need her for?” I realize I come across a little harshly, and I regret my tone. That’s not how I meant it.
“Just… y’know… stuff.” Kat mumbles awkwardly. I eye her, looking for another clue as to why, but I guess it should be obvious, she’s her lifelong teacher.
Grandmother passes me a bowl of fish soup and I take it with the intention of making sure Kat eats every bite. “Careful, it’s still hot,” I warn, passing the bowl to Kat.
She takes it carefully in both hands. “It’s not so bad. Maybe it’ll warm me up,” she tries to smile, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes.
“How is it that you’re cold in this hut?” I ask, feeling hot myself. I place a hand on her forehead, checking for a fever. I frown when I pull it away. “You’re frozen Kat,” I can’t hide my worry. “Once you eat that, we should hurry back to the Guild. Being exposed to the elements right now isn’t such a good idea.”
“We need a door for that. We’re miles from a door. I can’t open a gateway without a door, according to Cliff,” Caroline cuts in.
Kat looks over at Nik, curiously. He nods. “I will drive us back into the city. Does it matter what door? Do you need to go back through the one you came?”
Caroline thinks a moment and shakes her head no. “Cliff mentioned some places are better than others, because of their frequent use or something, but essentially any door will do,” she explains.
“If you need to know, I have the address of the last one saved on my phone,” Kaede pipes in.
Nik grins. “Then you can be my GPS, oh great technology wizard.”
Kaede’s face splits into a wide grin. “It’d be my pleasure.”
Nik turns back toward Kat and I, deep brown eyes focused on her. His expression turns serious, “Will you be able to walk?”
She narrows her eyes slightly. “I was walking just fine when you threw a wall in my face, thank you very much.”
I turn to Nik in shock. “You what?!” my voice nearly crackles with my anger.
He shrugs. “She tried to sneak out in the middle of the night. Would you have preferred I tackle her?”
“Perhaps a lasso or something,” I suggest, rounding on Kat next. “You tried to get away?” I swear I’m going to get a whiplash. “Why? These people were here to help you. Why do you always run!”
“Andrei,” Kat sighs, leaning back against the wall. “Someone tried to kill me. I wasn’t going to put random strangers at risk.”
I see there is no reasoning with her, so I sit back down, crossing my arms and stare at her while she slowly eats the soup. I hardly turn when Caroline passes me my own bowl to eat. The atmosphere in the room grows cold as I refrain from talking, hoping she’ll see sense on her own with food in her stomach.
When all the bowls are finally cleaned, I give her a curt smile and a shrug. “See, that wasn’t so bad now, was it?” I ask a little sarcastically.
Kat half-heartedly nods, looking past me. “Before we get going… is there like, a ladies room around here? Or maybe a special bush?”
The old lady shakes her head. “If you were not in such shape, I would smack you, child,” Kat smirks.
Nik chuckles. “I will show you the way.”
I give him an incredulous look, but before I can say anything, Caroline jumps up and says. “I gotta go too. Can I join you?” Kat grabs her somewhat tattered jacket before shakily getting to her feet.
I exhale in relief as they leave the hut. I turn around, looking for any things Kat or any of us might have left lying around when I notice Kaede smirking at me.
“What?” I ask, confused by his look.
“Oh, nothing. It seems like to me, our new Earth friend has a thing for your girl.”
“Don’t go teasing me now. He just knows this place better than I, it is his home after all,” I think on it a moment, glancing towards the doorway. I hope he doesn’t really… I’ve had enough drama lately. I just want things to be normal.
Kaede shrugs it off. “Whatever. It’s just an observation. I could be wrong, but you know, in all the movies, things work out like that. The guy saves the girl and -”
“And I saved her last if you forget! So in all your movies, maybe they forget who really helped the girl.”
“Children,” Grandma smacks her wooden spoon on the empty pot. “Enough of your bickering. My grandson is just a little starstruck, that’s all. Now, gather up your things and get ready. I’m sure you’ll want to leave as soon as the girls are ready.”
“How old is he anyways,” I wonder aloud, looking around for my stuff.
Grandmother hums, thinking, “I believe… This is his twenty-fifth year.”
Kaede and I both raise an eyebrow. “They’re always older than us,” I whisper to him.
“I know… It’s a little disheartening. I know no one now our age or younger, you know… before Ryan…” I nod.
“Maybe we’re just geniuses then, you know, for being so good so young,” I add with a wink.
“Ahh,” he nods, tapping his nose. “Geniuses, that we are.” We share a laugh and finish gathering up our belongings, and the girls’ things, before heading outside into the brisk morning chill. Kaede points out the crowd of people next to a bush and I follow him over.
“What’s all this?” I ask, noticing Caroline with a grumpy expression on her face, arms crossed and tapping her foot as she glares at Kaitlyn.
“Someone thinks eating isn’t fine, but smoking is just grand,” she huffs.
“That’s it.” I stomp over to Kat, stepping around to see her holding a cigarette in her hand, a pout on her face. If she wasn’t trying to hide the smoke in her hand I would accuse of her being too damn cute. Instead, I pull the cigarette from her fingers and stomp it out.
“You’re sick, not well, and THIS is certainly NOT going to help. I forbid it, at least until you are properly healed,” I growl.
She looks up, stunned, eyes wide with surprise. Her face looks paler than in the tent, and I consider the lighting, but the colour of her lips, a bright red. “Have you… been sick?” I ask, my own voice sounds small after my loud display moments ago.
Kat wipes her mouth on the back of her sleeve, covering her face and turning away, “It’s nothing. Sorry,” she mumbles, almost inaudible.
“Kat, this isn’t nothing. Can’t you tell me? I’m… sorry, I got mad,” I regret yelling at her… I messed up again. All I do is mess up around her… God… I’m still pathetic. Maybe she’s better off with someone else.
“Well, you were so insistent that she eat something. She doesn’t have to reveal every single detail in front of everyone, you know. Let’s just put this behind us and get going. We have at least an hours drive ahead of us,” Caroline mothers me.
I nod, hesitantly and step back, letting Caroline and Nik support her as they head towards the car.
Kaede falls in beside me, nudging me with his elbow.
“Don’t sweat it, bro. She’s not feeling well, you’re not 100 percent either and everyone’s a little tired. Let’s just let it slide. We’re all a bit stressed,” he consoles me.
“Sure…” I mumble, trying to let it go. It’s not so easy. I don’t know where my confidence has gone.
When we reach a beat up, old looking brown car Kaede calls shotgun, sliding into the front seat. Kat takes the back and pats the seat next to her, looking at me. I look down, a little sheepishly and take it. I just feel super guilty and now I want to hide. She shifts her weight, resting her head on my shoulder and lacing her fingers between mine on my lap. I give her an uncertain smile as she closes her eyes. God, she’s gorgeous, even when she’s ill.
The car bounces as Caroline takes the seat behind Nik, who’s driving. It’s a full load. I hear the roar of an engine, but realize it’s not ours. Another old looking car, this one black, pulls up behind us, with two of Niks friends.
“They’re coming too?” I ask.
Nik glances in the rearview mirror. “I would rather not leave my car somewhere on the street if that’s alright with you.”
“Think of it like a Daiko service,” Kaede turns his head over his shoulder to look back. “Like when you go drinking in Japan, they’ll take his car back for him,” he grins.
“How do you know these things? You’ve never even lived there,” I mutter.
“I do my research. There are a great many things Japan has that I wish Canada had,” he shrugs, turn back to the front.
Nik starts the engine and off we go, rolling through the woods and into the city. Kaede directs Nik back to the alley where that coffee shop’s back door is. Although it’s early morning still, the streets seem populated with the local traffic. They decided to cover the alley with their cars until we’re gone, just in case.
This time, Caroline stands in front, ready to activate the gate.
“You remember how Cliff explained it?” Kaede asks.
“Yes, of course, I remember how, Kae. Just, stand back and let me work my magic,” someone’s a little grumpy.
She grabs the handle and we all watch, waiting. Her mark suddenly glows, lighting up the dark alley in a tint of blue, despite the morning sun leaking in through the cars. She pulls the door open and gestures us to go in.
Kaede jogs through first, followed by Nik. I hold Kat’s arm for support and step her through first and Caroline shuts the door behind us, waving to Nik’s pals as the door swings closed. We walk a few steps and join Kaede and Nik on the other side of the gate.
By Kayla West