The sound of my racing steps echoes off the marble walls. My chest burns, and my eyes sting. Does he really think so little of me? He thinks I would be so stupid to give my power away to just anyone? I can’t forget Mortecai’s voice no matter how hard I try. I remember how it felt when he stole my energy. Why would I do that?
I can barely see where I’m going, but I don’t really care. I just need to get away. I don’t want him to see me like this again. I don’t want to be mad at him… anyone but him. I don’t understand.
The hall ahead turns dark and I don’t have time to stop before I run right into something soft. I feel hands around my arms, firm but not crushing.
“Kat, stop,” he begs softly. I push against his chest half-heartedly, but I don’t really want to keep running.
“Why?” I hiccup. I can’t believe I’m such a baby… “So you can keep telling me how stupid I am?”
“That’s not what I said,” he insists in a panic.
“That’s exactly what you said!” I pound against his chest weakly.
“I said I wanted you to be careful!” he retorts.
I take a ragged breath. “Because you don’t think I would know that? You don’t think I worried about who was asking? You don’t think I was scared too?”
“Kat… you went unconscious. Do you know how scared I was? Of course, I’d be worried about you. I just… I need … no, I want you to be careful! It’s not only you now,” he says earnestly, touching a hand to my waist.
“I know that,” I hit him again, slowly, barely moving the fabric of his shirt as I taste the salt of a tear on my lip. “I’m trying,” I whisper, “I’m trying…”
He rubs my arms, trying to soothe me. “But you’re trying alone. You don’t have to do it alone.”
I look up at him and shake my head. “I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t ask you… it wouldn’t let me. If I said no, everything we worked for would’ve been for nothing.”
He pulls me against him, locking his arms around my back. “I know we can’t change what happened but moving forward, we need to talk before something like this happens again.”
“What if I can’t? What if there’s not a chance? What if you’re not there?” the words rush out like rapid fire.
“Why would I not be here? Am I not always here for you?” he asks, genuinely alarmed. I feel my jaw clamp shut. I can’t bring myself to answer, because I want to lie and say yes.
“Kaitlyn, listen to me. I’m always here to support you. No matter what. That’s the truth, even if I’m not there in person. I’ll always try to find a way to get to you and be there for you. I won’t go running off like I did before. Things are different now. I know how much I mean to you and I want you to know just how much you mean to me. Please remember this,” he begs.
I let out a long sigh. I’m so tired, I don’t want to argue. I want to believe him. I know he means what he says, but I’m afraid.
“What if you die?” my voice cracks, barely audible with my face buried in his shirt.
He tenses as he struggles with what to say. “If I die, it’d be protecting you. You and our baby… besides… I can’t die that easily right? I’m a time mage,” he tries to assure me, but he doesn’t sound very confident.
I clutch handfuls of his shirt. “I would rather lose the baby than lose you.”
He chuckles. “And I’d rather not lose you. Let’s make a pact; to both not be reckless and die. Okay?”
I laugh, almost as a reflex. I lean back with a skeptical brow raised. “Do you think you can manage that?”
He shrugs and winks. “I don’t have a good track record, but I can try. However, I have a problem. The pact we just made, it only involves the two of us. If we are going to have this baby, I think we have to both commit to protecting it too. I’m mean, maybe we shouldn’t be thinking of just the two of us anymore. Aren’t we the three of us now?”
I glance away, avoiding his gaze. “Yeah… but if I have to choose between you and this…” my hand moves to my stomach and I let the question hang. Is that wrong? Does that make me a bad person?
Andrei frowns. “But it’s ours… Even if we didn’t intend to make it. I… would feel awful if I knew my parents didn’t want me as much as they want each other… No?” he tilts his head with a smile, “I guess I’m saying I can’t choose. I want you both.”
“Of course!” I gasp quickly. “I didn’t mean it like that, and, well, we’re sort of connected right now so like, you probably wouldn’t have to… but I, um…” I flounder, eyes darting around hoping to find the right words. “Are you hungry?”
“I don’t ever want to choose,” he states very seriously, but then his expression softens. “Now that you mention it, I’m starving. What should we make?”
I pause to think about it. “I think… something sweet.”
“Got it. Crepes?” he asks as he takes a step, pulling me along with him. I blink and we’re in the kitchen. He slips away and starts to pull out utensils.
“Oh… Okay,” I tug my sleeve over my palm and wipe the wetness off my cheeks from crying. My eyes are sore and I feel the start of a headache. Man, I hate crying. “Um… Did you want some help?” I ask, rubbing my eyes.
He glanced over at me with a soft smile. “You should sit and rest, it’s been a stressful morning. It’s my treat,” he winks, pointing to the chair that’s still there from yesterday.
I nod. My legs feel like wet noodles just from running. That was probably dumb, but I wasn’t thinking. Seems like I never think. I move the chair over against the wall so I can lean my head back against it and rest my eyes. I would have just gone back to bed, but I know we need to eat first. It’s still strange for me, to feel hungry all the time.
I feel a light tapping on my shoulder and I breathe deeply as my eyes flutter open. Did I nod off?
“It’s ready,” Andrei snickers. “Do you want to eat here, or in our room?”
I blink at him, confused by his wording in my tired state, but eventually, my brain catches up and my lips curl into a shy smile. “Our room.”
He bites his lip. “Sorry… was that too forward? I could, you know… keep my room.”
I shake my head quickly and jump ungracefully to my feet. I grab onto his arms, which shootout nervously. “No, I like it. I’m… I’m happy,” I admit with some effort. It’s not something I’m used to saying.
He raises his brows. “Really? you’re okay with it? “Cause I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“Never,” I shake my head again, so fast it makes me dizzy. “You’re never imposing. I feel much better this way.” Did that make sense? I’m not even sure anymore.
“I mean, yeah, it’s much better right? Now that we’re having our kid. I’ve hardly used my own room anyway,” he muses.
I nod with what feels like a ridiculous grin on my face. “Let’s go now,” I’m excited for him to bring his things in, but at the same time, I don’t know how much longer I can stay awake.
He retrieves the plate of crepes from the counter and holds it in one hand while taking mine in his other. He takes a step, I follow, and then we’re back in the bedroom. The door is ajar, and Selene is gone. I fall back onto the bed, relieved and exhausted.
“It’s so empty… I’m kind of glad though. Let’s eat first before I officially move in,” Andrei sits next to me. “Come on, sit up.”
I reach up for him to pull me up. I don’t have the strength. He laughs and rolls his eyes but he helps. He hands me one of the forks and holds the plate between us. I cut bite-sized pieces with the edge of my fork. After a few, I happen to glance up and notice Andrei watching intently.
I pause. I think he does that a lot. Is it just me, or does he do that with everyone? I should pay more attention next time. Is he wondering if I like it?
“Hi,” I say, mouth half full. I don’t know what else to say.
“Soo, whaddya think?” he asks me with sparkling eyes.
I giggle. “It’s yummy.”
His smile widens as he reaches his fork towards the crepes. “I’m glad.”
With the growl in my stomach silenced, I lick the fork and press it into my lip. “So… with the ritual complete and Markus awake… what do we do now?”
He sets his fork down and leans over to put the plate on the dresser, face contemplative. “I’m not sure. The time master in my dreams just said to hurry up and complete that. I guess whatever it is the Master or whatever his real name is, has got planned will be thwarted with Markus back. I wonder… how did he even get himself put to sleep in the first place? That must have been powerful magic.”
“Mortecai,” I answer, staring down at the bed. “His name is Mortecai… He put the spell on Markus.”
“What?” Andrei nearly topples off the side of the bed. “Mortecai, he did that? How do you know this?”
I shrug. “He told me.”
“You spoke to him…” he says, rather than asks. “In your dream, didn’t you?”
“He was there, I didn’t have much choice. I didn’t even know it was a dream. That was before you found me,” I explain.
“I see…” he scratches the stubble on his chin in thought. “I don’t like it, how he can enter that realm. I mean, I know he’s powerful, but… I worry. If he can manipulate the space there and trap people there like you and Markus, then who knows what else he can do. I hate to say this after my outburst earlier, but…” he struggles to say what’s on his mind, gritting his teeth as he musters up the strength to say it. “I don’t like it, but… Maybe we have to talk to Markus and see what it is he’s got planned… to maybe take care of him. Does he know about what’s been happening yet? From Selene?”
“Markus?” I frown. “I don’t know. I guess we’ll need to ask her.”
“Yea… The things we were doing were finding the artifacts, finding the Guardians and…” he ticks them off on his fingers. “Oh… and the book. Kat, we completely forgot about the book! We still haven’t gotten it back from… him!” he shouts. It takes me a moment to realize who he’s talking about.
I blink, and my hand moves to my neck. The pendant is there again. Is it me, or does it just disappear sometimes? Was I wearing it this morning? I turn it over in my fingers. I glance up and see him watching.
“It’s strange, that pendant. It keeps showing up and still, we have no idea what it’s for. You got that from a dream once, didn’t you?” Andrei asks, reaching out a hand to touch it.
“It’s a key,” I explain as I look up at him. “For the book. I don’t know why it keeps showing up and disappearing. That’s something I wanted to ask him.”
“A key, you say. How do you know?”
I hum. “I don’t remember…”
“Hmmm,” he thinks. “You know… If we knew where the book was… maybe I could snag it, with my nifty new space skipping trick. I could be in and out,” Andrei grins mischievously. I smack his arm lightly, giving him a disapproving look. I think I’m picking up bad habits from Caroline. I try not to hurt him but we JUST talked about this.
“What?” he raises his brows, pulling his arm away.
“Maybe we should see if Markus will come here and talk to him now?” I suggest.
He puckers his lips at the suggestion. “You don’t think I could do it,” he accuses. What?
“I do. I don’t want you to do it. Remember, the whole risk thing?” I roll my eyes. “We don’t know where it is. We need a plan.”
Suddenly, he succeeds in toppling off the bed, a strange, fearful expression on his face. He clutches his head with his hand as he falls back. He looks like he’s seen a ghost.
“Andrei?” I crawl to the edge of the bed. He looks up at me, eyes bloodshot, skin pale. His mouth hangs open in shock before he speaks. When he does, his voice is shaky and uncertain.
“Kat… Oh my God… I…” he stutters but he can’t seem to say it.
I climb off the bed and crouch in front of him, holding his face in my hands. “Are you okay? What happened?”
“I’m sorry. I… couldn’t have… I think I’ve done something before, like this… I… I don’t really remember but… I seem to have taken something, a book and…” he stops, he looks like he’s about to cry. He looks up at me, eyes wide and fearful as he looks at me. “Oh, Kat… I think I gave Sam something she was looking for. A book from a vault in the… headmasters office,” he falls silent sitting on the floor, looking defeated. “What have I done…” his whispers.
“Shhh…” I stroke his cheek with my thumb. “It wasn’t your fault. We’ll figure it out. She used you, Andrei. It wasn’t you.”
“You don’t understand. It was me. I did it! I snuck in and took the book. That’s me, Kat!” he squeezes his eyes shut as if that will make the memory go away.
“You weren’t in control. Yes, your body did it. That’s not what I meant,” I state as strongly as I can muster. My legs tremble as I try to hold my balance. “You can’t blame yourself for what you did under a spell.”
“But why didn’t I remember this until now? What else am I forgetting? What else have I done without realizing it? Kat…” he looks at me, eyes filled with guilt. “What if I told her things about the Guild, about you, that she will tell the Master?”
“Anything you might have told her, he would already know. He’s been in my head, Andrei. I’ve been here for twenty years. So was Logan. There’s nothing about this place… or about me, that he couldn’t have found out already,” I reason, though I understand his stress. It worries me too, what else she might have made him do. I rest my knee on the floor and move my hands to his shoulders. He needs me to be strong now. I can’t fall over. Breathe, Kat…
He suddenly wraps his arms around me and pulls me into him, burying his face in my shoulder. “I guess you’re right… You’re tired. I suppose Markus and the book can wait till you’ve had some sleep. Up we go,” he says, pulling my body close and lifting me off the floor. He sets me down on the bed almost effortlessly. “I’ll be here, promise,” he says, crawling onto the bed next to me and laying back on the pillows.
“I’m sorry,” I shift, curling up against his side.
“Don’t be. We’re both still recovering and we’ve had a busy couple of days. I’m sure the world can wait another. I mean, the books been gone this long. What’s another day going to hurt, right?”
I lift my head with some effort. “You’re upset. I want to help.”
“You need sleep. You can hardly help when you’re about to fall over,” he says, placing a firm hand on my head. He pats it like I’m a dog or something. “Get some sleep, I’ll make sure you don’t have any nightmares.”
“I’m okay, as long as we’re lying still…” I mumble defiantly. My body disagrees and I rest my head on his shoulder.
“Like I’d believe that in a million years,” he jokes, stroking my hair. “Shh… sleep. You need to get your strength back,” he hums.
“No, you…” I yawn. My eyes fall closed. I don’t know if he replied…
Sunlight fills the room and the dream world fades. Andrei showed me a village somewhere in Russia, wherein a previous jump he had saved a young family from a raid of bandits. It’s fascinating, and what he can do now is incredible. Somewhere, in my head, I still hear that voice. Mortecai’s cold laugh haunts me periodically throughout the dream. Andrei doesn’t seem to hear it.
I roll over slowly, careful not to disturb Andrei, who hasn’t woken up yet. I manage to sit up, though my body is stiff and sore. There’s barely a flicker of flame within, which isn’t a good sign. It’s almost as bad as Camelot. I shiver at the memory. Why is it so cold?
I slide out of my bed, peeling off the shirt I am wearing from yesterday. Since I’m still wearing the jeans from yesterday too, I figure it’s not worth the effort to change. I pull on a clean long-sleeved shirt from one of my drawers and move to the closet to find a sweater. I find the warmest one I have, a thick knit sweater of fluffy white wool. As I pull it over my head I turn, struggling to find the hole. I gasp to breathe as I finally break free. My gaze falls on the bed and I freeze with the sweater half pulled down.
Andrei has sat up, leaning back against the headboard. He watches me with a boyish smile plastered on his face. I blush and tug the sweater into place quickly.
I reach for my hairbrush and turn away to look in the vanity mirror. “Morning.”
“Good morning. Did you get enough sleep?” he asks from the bed.
“For now, I guess,” I try to sound positive. “I can’t sleep forever.”
“I guess you’re right. I wish we could,” he smirks.
I laugh. “That would be nice, but then you couldn’t cook!”
“I guess… that would be an unfortunate downside to sleeping forever. Hmm. What if I cooked in my sleep!” he grins, holding a finger up at the idea.
“That sounds ridiculous,” I scratch my head, adjusting my hair in the mirror. “I think we’d still starve in real life if you did that.”
“Really? Magically made food doesn’t make us starve, who’s to say dream food wouldn’t either? Now I’m curious,” he lays his head back, lost in thought.
“I’m not,” I reply, resting my palm on my stomach. I know it’s not worth trying.
“Come here,” he sighs, holding out his arms. I put the brush down and crawl back onto the bed. He locks his arms around my waist and places his lips on mine. It makes my heart flutter, and I pout when he moves away too soon. “Kat, you’re not as warm as you usually are. Are you sure you’re okay?” he frowns.
I hesitate. “I’m okay, just… low on firepower. Sometimes it takes a while to come back. It’s fine,” I force a convincing smile.
Andrei hums thoughtfully. “Maybe you need fuel.” He kisses me again, his hands slipping under my sweater. I shiver. His hands are so warm. I’m so used to him feeling cooler compared to me. It’s nice, but a little alarming. “I could warm you up,” he breathes between kisses.
“That would be very nice,” I gasp as he leaves a trail of kisses down my neck. I guess getting dressed was pointless…
By Krystyna Yates