Over the next day, the others make their rounds visiting. Caroline comes back in the morning, a steaming cup of coffee in her hands. Sometime late last night, Ceph and Eli stopped by. Ceph made some offhanded comment about Andrei being naive, and Eli had to remove him before I tore out his throat. The longer I’m awake, it seems the less patience I have.
Selene watches from across the room, silent as the grave. I’m not sure, but I don’t think she’s slept any more than I have since the nightmare. Her eyes follow me like a hawk, and I get the distinct impression she’s waiting for me to pass out again. I guess it’s only a matter of time.
“So,” Caroline whispers. “any progress?” I shake my head, taking the ambrosia-esque liquid in both hands. She sighs heavily.
“What is that – your tenth coffee since we got back? You’re gonna kill yourself…” a croak comes from the bed.
I gasp in mid-sip, nearly spitting coffee everywhere. I quickly put the cup down and cough as a bit of the boiling liquid goes down my windpipe.
“And after all, I did to keep you safe…” he groans, eyes still closed.
“You jerk!” I wheeze. I’m not sure if the tears are from the pain or relief.
“How am I the jerk?” he asks softly, almost as if to himself. I rest my arm on the bed and my forehead on my arm, trying to catch my breath. If I wasn’t awake before, I am now…
“Welcome back,” Selene snickers.
“It hurts to be back… why does everything hurt?” he sounds more amused than hurt.
“A common side effect of death, unfortunately. Or at least, near death,” Selene explains pleasantly, a hint of venom in her tone. “You’re welcome.”
“Wait… I died?” he asks.
“Yes,” she answers bluntly. “You were about to, I suppose you could say, crossover. Luckily for you, I was able to call in a favor,” I look up to see the wry smile on her face.
“Favor?” I repeat. She just keeps smiling. “Um… Well, yea, you really pushed it. We would have been fine, you didn’t have to do that,” I scold him, trying to look angry. It’s hard when I’m so glad he’s awake. “It’s better if we all end up a little hurt, instead of losing you.”
“It wasn’t going to be a little hurt… I don’t know if I remember it all. It was like slow motion. I thought I could do it…” he grows silent, not finishing his sentence.
“You did,” I agree, “but it was too much.”
“What? I jumped us all through time?” his eyes pop open, growing wide.
I flinch. “No… not exactly. I don’t know what you did. We just appeared in the library here. It all happened so fast. Whatever it was, you better not do it again!” I add with a pout. “If I have to stay alive, so do you.”
“Wait… What? I’m really confused. We didn’t jump? I mean… oh… I think I get it…” he trails off as he relaxes against the pillows. “Did everyone make it ok? Even that new girl? How long was I out for? I feel like a floppy fish,” he sighs.
I sit up and run a hand through my mess of hair. “Two days.”
His eyes widen with shock. “Two days? Two whole days? Man… she wasn’t kidding when she said time moved differently there. It felt like only a couple hours…”
I frown. I should’ve guessed he’d have that dream again, talking to the strange woman. It worries me, knowing what Mortecai can do there. I wonder if he can affect Andrei too.
“Kat?” he asks, looking at me. I hum curiously. “You look like someone punched you in both eyes… what’s wrong? You can’t sleep again?”
“I slept a little…” I answer defensively, glancing at the solidified plastic mass on the floor. We should probably clean that up somehow…
“A little is a lie,” Caroline pipes up. “She had a nightmare that woke up Selene and she melted a chair. A whole chair!” she points out obviously.
“One chair isn’t that bad…” I mutter.
“Yes. It could have been much worse,” Selene muses.
“Not helping,” I hiss, shooting her a look. She smiles.
“Shit… I’m sorry I couldn’t help you…” he coughs a little, reaching a weak hand to his throat. “I’m thirsty, any chance I can have some water?” Caroline hops to it, looking for a cup.
I glance at my still full coffee and get up. “Here, dump it in the sink and use this,” I say and head over to the counter where the doctors wash their hands. I try to clean it out with my hands, so it doesn’t taste too bad before I fill it up.
I perch on the edge of his bed and hold the cup as he carefully sits up enough to drink. I keep my expression neutral as best I can, but my chest aches. Is this how he felt when I was like that? It’s awful…
“Better?” I ask when he lays back again.
“A bit, yes. Thanks,” he smiles, reaching his hand for mine and gripping it tightly He pulls it over his heart and shuts his eyes. I feel his breaths deepen and I wonder if he’s falling asleep on me.
I hold the mug out for Caroline to take, the table being too far away. I reach forward with my other hand to brush through his hair. It’s grown a lot since he came here. It’s soft, although a bit greasy. Understandable.
“The dream was different this time,” he speaks softly, without opening his eyes.
“How so?” I ask, hazarding a glance at Caroline. I wonder if she’ll start yelling again. She studies her nails absently, sitting in the chair now.
“Well, gathering all of the artifacts has changed how it looks, for one. She seemed less angry with me showing up, and more inclined to teach me things. I had a hard time remembering things though, at first. I showed up dressed all in white, whereas before, I was wearing whatever I wear in this realm,” he explains slowly.
“What did she tell you?” I can’t help asking.
“Well, she taught me how to gauge how much time energy or magic or whatever, I have available to me. And she taught me how to jump space without jumping time. And she told me how to jump forwards, though it was very vague and she said I should have Ceph show me how,” his brows crease as he talks.
I frown. I don’t like that idea. Ceph obviously knows how, considering he’s here, but our future is so uncertain…
“Wouldn’t it be cool to see the future? Together? Like Ceph and Eli? I imagine hovercrafts and space travel and things like that, but I wonder what place magic will have in the future,” he muses softly.
“Mhm…” I hum, biting my tongue. I know I should tell him about the nightmare. What if we go, and find out we didn’t survive? Or the baby…
“What would you like to see?” he asks, rubbing his thumb along my hand.
“What do you mean?” I blink, confused.
“In the future, if we jumped, what would you want to see?” he repeats.
I hesitate. I don’t want to burst his bubble. “Hovercrafts sound interesting,” I try to be positive.
He tilts his head up and gives me a rye look. “I don’t believe you for a second,” suddenly I’m yanked on top of him as he pulls my hand and he wraps his other around my waist, locking me in place so I can’t roll away. “I’d take you wherever you want, any time,” he winks at me.
“All right,” Caroline stands, turning to the door. “I’ve had enough and I’m sure there are better things I can do than watch you two lovebirds in the hospital. Text me if you need me,” she says as she walks out.
Selene slides out of her bed. “Yes, it seems you could use the privacy,” the pair head out, leaving us in an awkward silence.
“I only wanted to hug you, they didn’t have to leave,” he smiles knowingly. “That did use all my energy though. I have none left.”
I chuckle, resting my ear against his chest. “I think Caroline is sick of me.”
“Why? Did you do as she told you?” he asks ruefully.
“She was talking nonsense. Even Selene said so,” I sneer playfully up at him.
“Oh, really,” he smiles doubtfully. “You know, sometimes her nonsense is onto something.”
“She thinks I can somehow meditate in my sleep to keep the Master out,” I sigh heavily, closing my eyes. His heartbeat is so soothing. “That’s impossible though. I can’t even manage that when I’m awake. I told her it was impossible and she yelled at me.”
“She doesn’t believe in absolutes. But, meditation is a useful tool. It’s about focused awareness. If you can hone your ability to be aware, then you can control your conscious and unconscious mind. I think that’s what I’m doing in my dreams with the time master. I mean… how do I explain this so it makes sense…” he pauses, thinking.
“But that doesn’t mean I can stop him,” I interrupt glaring at the wall. “He just… knows too much.”
“Well, sure, he’s been around longer than we have. But we know someone who probably knows as much as him. He just needs help getting out of that space out of time. As I was going to say, the dreams I have aren’t like real dreams. I am jumping into a space that is not connected to time at all. It’s outside of time. And according to the Time Master, that’s where Markus is stuck. We have all the pieces now. We just need the Wind Guardian and then we can open the portal and get him out,” he says excitedly.
I don’t respond. It seems like I’m the only one not excited to meet Markus, but I guess it’s different for me. Andrei seems to catch on to my mood though.
“What’s the matter? Isn’t this what we’ve been working towards? Hey, you can tell me what you’re feeling. I’ll listen,” he assures.
“Yes, we need his help. It doesn’t mean I have to like it,” I grumble. “I hate him.”
“Well, you’ve never really met him. How can you say that if you’ve never heard his side? I know… it seems bad now and all… but… I guess I’m saying it can’t be all bad right? Or maybe we would have never met. Ahh… what am I saying. I’m not making sense. I’m too tired,” he blushes.
I nod. “You should go back to sleep. I’ll be here.”
“You’re alright with that? Would you.. sleep too?” he asks, running his hand up my back.
I shiver. “If I stay right here… I don’t think I could stay awake if I tried.”
“Good, cuz I want to hold you in my arms as I sleep and never let go. So get comfy,” he teases.
I laugh. “If you insist…” I crawl further onto the bed. He shuffles over a bit, trying to make room. I lay on my side in the space along the edge. It’s not much, but I don’t need much.
“I can’t believe you waited up for me. It’s so irresponsible,” he whispers.
I hover, propped up on my elbow. “Don’t you lecture me on irresponsible, Mister Hero. Look at what you did.”
He chuckles quietly. “Yea, I guess you’re right. But… you gotta sleep for two now…”
“That’s what scares me,” my voice quivers, and I lean over to kiss him.
“But I guess.. we both do… ‘cause I gotta sleep for you…” he trails off.
I roll my eyes and lay my head on his shoulder. I drape my arm across his chest, and his arm wraps around to rest on my waist. My eyes close to the sound of his breathing, and the steady beeping of the machine.
I’m in the desert again, exactly where I was when I woke up. It’s like I never left; the crying, the burnt people… but Andrei’s not in the river anymore. I turn to look, and I find him standing next to me, dressed in a white suit with shining gold buttons.
“What kind of trick is this?” I narrow my eyes.
“Trick? No. It’s not a trick, Kat. I’m here,” Andrei smiles, holding out his hand. “See?”
I reach for him, hope getting the best of me. My fingers connect and I gasp with relief. “How?”
He grins. “This isn’t a normal dream. This is the space outside of time. The Roman woman taught me. I told you I would protect you,” he glances behind me. “What is that?”
I resist the urge to look again. “What Selene stopped me from seeing before.”
He looks down at me with a deep sadness in his eyes I’ve never seen before. “The crying… is that…?”
I nod before he has a chance to finish the sentence. “I don’t know how he knows… I guess it was in my subconscious.”
“This may be outside of time, but it’s only a reflection. None of this is real. Our own minds create it. See?” he points to the sky where a pair of birds fly.
“See what?” I ask, confused.
“When you look in the sky, what do you expect to see?” he asks me. When I don’t answer, he does. “The birds, a sun. Clouds maybe? But this is a desert. Trust me?” he asks, holding out his hand with a mischievous smile.
“Of course,” I reply, maybe too quickly. I take his hand and he squeezes tightly. He takes one purposeful step forward and tugs me to do the same. He takes a second step and I follow.
The world shifts in an instant. The desert is gone, and we stand before a lake in the basin of a caldera. Fluffy white clouds drift lazily over the canopy of tall trees along the rim of the basin. Birds sing all around us, a stark contrast to the silent desert.
I feel a tug on my arm as I’m taking in the view. Andrei leads me closer to the water, and I notice a small boat up ahead. I hesitate. “What is that for?”
“I don’t know, I thought it’d be nice to sit in the middle of the lake. Don’t you?” he shrugs, grabbing the sides of the boat to hold it steady. “Climb in.”
I bite my lip, a knot in my stomach. “Are you sure? What if it tips and we fall in the water?”
He eyes me sarcastically. “If you want to swim then we won’t need the boat,” he winks.
I step away from the water, shaking my head. “I can’t.”
“Why not? Are you afraid of water? Look,” he leans down and pulls up a life jacket, something that definitely wasn’t there before. “If you’re scared, wear this.”
“Of course I’m scared. Drowning is the only thing I’ve found that can kill me, and I don’t know how to swim,” I pout.
He tosses me the lifejacket with a rye smile. “Then you won’t drown with this, but I’m here anyway. I wouldn’t let that happen.”
I hold the jacket pinched between my fingers. “I’m not wearing that, it looks ridiculous and uncomfortable,” I let it fall and sigh. “Do we have to?”
“What, you don’t like the lake?” he steps away from the boat. “I could take us elsewhere.”
“I don’t like deep water. That should be kind of obvious,” I cross my arms. “I’ve already drowned… what, three times now?”
“Well, for starters, this caldera lake isn’t deep, but I understand. Here,” he takes my hand and steps again.
The landscape shifts again and we’re now standing in a thick forest. Everywhere I look, all I see is green. Tree trunks as thick as pillars, covered in moss. A gentle breeze rustles through the leaves, a strand of my hair tickles my cheek. As I spin slowly to look around, I freeze when I see movement. Brown fur breaks the sea of green. A small head pokes over a bush, little antlers tangled with leaves.
I gawk at the creature. I’ve seen pictures of them, but I’ve never seen a deer in real life. It’s surreal. I hold my breath, biting my lips together so I won’t scare it away, and squeeze Andrei’s hand.
“Is this better?” he asks quietly. The deer still startles at his voice and leaps away into the forest.
I laugh, sort of in disbelief. “It’s incredible. How do you do that?”
“Do what? Oh,” he laughs at himself a little. “I learned to jump space instead of time. I sort of do both when I jump because we don’t end up in the same place. So now I’m doing it separately. Basically, I envision a place I’ve been or seen as accurately as possible and then I step. I sort of imagine arriving in that place,” he explains. “Maybe you can see it too, but my teacher showed me how to find where someone jumped space.”
He turns around and crouches, pointing at a spot on the ground. “That’s where I connected the two spaces. Anyone who knows how could technically follow if they catch the edge of the line.”
I kneel beside him on the grass, but I can’t see anything. “I don’t see it… but I’m cut off from magic here. Maybe that’s why?”
“Oh… right?” he looks at me, a perplexed expression on his face. “I think I vaguely recall my teacher saying that could be the case. Dang. It’s a neat spell. Maybe I’ll try it in the physical realm and show you then when I get better. I seem to be able to store time energy here, though it accumulates much faster in the physical realm, where time exists.”
“So… you can recharge yourself?” I ask, trying to understand. “Is there anything we can do to help that along?””
“I’m not sure. I just learned how to gauge how much I have. When I tried to transport everyone, I kind of broke it… I mean, I – uhh, how do I put this… I have to picture it like an hourglass, and the sand is like the amount of energy I have. When I have a lot of sand, I can invoke a time jump. But when I jumped all of us back from Africa, I kind of broke that hourglass and that’s why I sort of died. It builds up slower here, compared to the physical realm, so I should probably try and stay awake.”
I listen, thinking it over based on what I know about magic. “I’m guessing time passes differently here, but we have no way to know how much, right? I mean, I can think of a few ways to keep you awake, but… you’ll need sleep too.”
“A few ways, eh?” he smirks. “It’s true, time continues outside of here, but, if getting it back slowly is what it takes to allow you to get sleep too, then I’d gladly give that up,” he says, taking my hand and standing. “Time could be faster or slower. It really depends. We could have slept for 20 minutes or 18 hours. There’s no relativity here.”
I shuffle a little closer, resting my hand on his arm. “Well… I can touch you here. I wonder what else I can do?” I smirk, watching his reaction as his face flushes pink.
“It’s a dream though… would it… feel the same?” he asks tentatively. “Wait… but you’re pregnant… can we still…?” he asks.
I laugh. “Of course. Not that it matters here, I don’t think, but it doesn’t hurt it.”
“Well… We can’t do that here,” he turns to the forest.
I raise an eyebrow, “Why not?”
He looks at me with wide eyes. “Outside?” is all he says.
“Oh, Andrei,” I cup his face in my palm. “Yes, outside. Really, you can do that anywhere, if you’re determined,” he frowns, skeptical. “If there was ever a perfect time to try it, we’re utterly alone here, right?”
“You are so…” his grin widens with mischievousness, “adventurous!” His hands wrap around my waist and pull me close. His embrace is strong and comforting as he bends his neck down to kiss me tenderly. “You won’t be needing these then,” he hums in my ear as my clothes suddenly vanish.
I giggle. “Well that’s handy,” suddenly my mind wanders to all the things he could do, with a little imagination… but I don’t think he’s ready for that. For now, I’m content to explore with him.
By Krystyna Yates