The door slams with a serene sense of finality. I stare at the space he left behind, the shimmering dragon egg resting in a puddle on the floor next to me. So many questions run through my mind in a jumble. I barely managed to think one question before another forms.
Why? Why did he kiss me? Why did he kiss me like that? In a way, I understand the impulsiveness of our shared element. I asked him to help me, and he did. I feel the spark in my ribs, still weak, and starving. He’s so… warm. The moment he tore himself away, the cold rushed back to me. For that brief moment, it had disappeared.
My body begins to tremble again, my muscles ache like I’ve been running for days on end. The headache rushes back with my heart still pounding in my ears. I grit my teeth and shut my eyes. Why are the lights so bright? How did he just… make all of that go away so easily? I don’t understand.
“What’s with Heath? Just saw him run by, not a word…” Andrei’s voice breaks the silence in the room. I flinch. “Kat? What’s wrong?” his voice rises, footsteps dash across the wet floor.
I cough involuntarily when I try to answer. “The water. I don’t… feel well.”
He wraps his arms around me, pulling me to lean against him.
“Here, let me,” Gwen says gently. She places her callused hands on either side of my face as she does a reading. “Do you feel weak, chills, pains, like a flu?” she asks, looking into my eyes.
“Yeah,” I admit reluctantly. I rest my head on Andrei’s shoulder. He may not be fire, but he has his own kind of warmth.
“That would be the symptoms. Kaitlyn, your magic is shocked. Not as drained as it was when we brought back the founder. I’m sure you understand what I’m talking about. Well, I have a drought that you can drink like tea. It’s long lasting so you may only need it once or twice,” she reaches into a canvas bag at her side that clinks as she rummages through it. She finally pulls out a few mesh tea bags with a lumpy substance in it that smells faintly of cinnamon and other warm spices. “Have this with your lunch and you should start to feel better in a few hours. Perhaps by tomorrow, you’ll be back to your normal self,” she smiles broadly.
“That would be nice,” I groan, sliding my arms around Andrei. “I just want to go back to our room. Dry off, and curl up in bed. Can we do that?”
“Sure, we can do whatever you like. Should we space skip?” he offers.
Gwen nods. “You should rest. Is there anything else you need?” she asks me.
I nod. “Um, can you find my sweater? I don’t know where it washed to,” it feels silly to ask, but I really like that sweater. I’ve lost too many good clothes recently to leave it behind. “Oh, shit… My phone too. It’s somewhere in here,” Andrei nods, standing up to find it. I crawl over to the egg, dragging it into my lap, which takes a minute since my arms feel like rubber.
Andrei finds my sweater, and as he picks it up he hovers there. “What about Heath’s stuff?” he calls curiously.
I swallow my gut response to tell him to leave it. “Oh, um, yeah. I guess he’d like that back.”
“Alright,” he gathers the shoes and shirt before he jogs back to me. “Ready?” he reaches down, holding my arm as I slowly stand up with the egg.
“Definitely,” I breathe. He leads me to take a step, and then we’re back in our room. It’s quiet, though the midday sun lights up the room too much. I squint my eyes, stumbling to the chair in the corner. I place the egg on the blankets. It’s probably warmer there than I am right now. He could’ve at least taken it with him…
I hear the closet door open, and I turn curiously. “You should change out of those wet clothes,” Andrei pulls out a thick hoodie and crosses the room. “Do you want a shower?”
I give him a strained smile. “I’ve already had a bath. A towel maybe?” I ask instead, taking the warm sweater from his outstretched arm.
“Sure,” he runs into the bathroom, obviously using his speed. It makes me smile, as I place the sweater on the bed. He reappears a moment later, bath towel in hand.
I bite my lip. As frustrated as the fire is in the back of my mind, I’m exhausted. Just thinking about trying to get wet jeans off makes me want to not bother. “Would you mind..? I um… I kind of feel like a wet noodle,” I admit, trying to make it sound more like a joke as I pull on the bottom of my shirt. I don’t want him to get frantic, like he always does…
He smiles knowingly. “Sure thing,” he takes the damp hem of my tank top, carefully lifting it over my head. He tosses the wet shirt into the laundry basket nearby and unbuttons my jeans. I’m a little surprised that he’s not making any jokes, or being sexual. If I had to guess, he’s trying to control his freaking out. I hold onto his shoulders as he peels the tight fabric away. I manage to step out of my underwear on my own, and turn around so he can unhook my bra.
Once I’ve sufficiently dried my skin, I pull out a pair of comfy shorts and pull the fleece-lined hoodie over my head. He watches patiently, holding the towel for me. I blush as I meet his gaze. “Thanks.”
His lips curl up mischievously. “Anything else for you, princess?”
I pout, pushing against his chest playfully. He doesn’t budge, eyebrow raised. Damn, that was a bit of a giveaway. “Yes, I would like a kiss. And then, if it isn’t too much trouble, maybe lunch,” I huff, hoping to distract him.
“Lunch is a given, You hardly have to ask,” he chuckles with a wink. “Anything for you, M’lady,” he reaches out, draping the towel around the back of my neck, pulling me toward him as he leans down to meet my lips. I relish the gentleness of his kiss, but he pulls back with a frown. “You’re freezing. I know just what to make you.”
He steps back, disappearing into thin air. I feel the absence of him strongly, just like earlier… My eyes settle on an anomaly on the floor by the closet; a pair of shoes and a t-shirt. It doesn’t help the rising loneliness in my throat so I decide to get rid of the reminder. I grab them, moving to the door. I open it just a crack to peer outside. The hall is empty, to my relief. I slip out to the left. The door is closed so I put them on the floor in front of it. He’ll find it eventually I reason to myself as I turn back to my door.
As I turn around, satisfied, the hall is no longer empty. A large figure stands outside my door, arms crossed. “Jesus-” I jump, clutching my chest. “Can you not do that?!”
Nik raises a thick brow, his deep brown eyes unamused. “Why are you so tense?”
I glare at him. It’s none of his loud-mouth business. “You snuck up on me.” I remind him.
“You made it easy,” he argues. “Why are you leaving wet shoes and a shirt outside the door of our mystery guest? Where’d the rest of him go?”
I bite my lip, eyeing the open door behind him. “I don’t know. He took off.”
“Took off,” Nik repeats skeptically. “After taking off some of his clothes.”
“Don’t,” I warn. “It’s not like that.”
“Right,” he narrows his eyes. “Then why are you so nervous?”
“I’m not,” I lie. “I’m tired. Didn’t you hear? Caroline went a little overboard with the firehose.”
“Yea, I heard something about that,” he nods. “And then some.”
I narrow my eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I brush past him.
“So you’re just going to pretend nothing happened?” he turns as I circle around him.
“Nothing happened,” I retort. How does he even know anyway? “I need to lay down,” I cut him off, shutting and locking the door.
I don’t hear him walk away until a couple minutes have passed and I let out a sigh of relief before I move to the bed, letting myself fall face first into my pillow. Maybe I should tell Ambrosse I quit. She’s a better teacher than I am. Heath would be better off with someone else. Anyone one else.
Someone who doesn’t ‘tempt’ him. Whatever that means. I groan loudly into the pillow.
“Are you planning on eating that instead?” Andrei asks, silently appearing in the room.
I roll onto my side and see him standing over the bed, a tray in his hands with a steaming bowl of soup, and a mug of tea on it. “I was thinking about it,” I reply with a smirk.
“It wouldn’t taste as good as anything I make unless of course, it was my pillow, ‘cause then it’d taste like me,” he grins with a wink. I hum loudly, turning over and reaching for his pillow, slowly pulling it closer to me. “No, wait! If you do that I won’t have anything to sleep on!” he whines playfully.
“That’s okay,” I grin. “You can use my pillow, and I’ll use you.”
He thinks about it. “Ok, sounds fair,” I laugh and push myself to sit up. He sets the tray on the bed, sitting on the other side of it. “Need help with the spoon, M’lady?” he asks.
“I think I can manage,” I scrunch my nose at him, carefully sliding the legs of the tray closer. “What about you? Aren’t you going to eat?”
“Uhh, I left mine downstairs. I couldn’t carry both without spilling it,” he scrunches his face like he made a mistake. “I’ll be right back,” he jumps up, disappearing again.
When he doesn’t return right away, I figure he actually forgot to cook for himself. I shake my head. “And you say I’m the one that’s going to starve to death,” I mutter to myself as I sip the steaming broth. It leaves a trail of heat all the way through my chest, into my gut. It’s definitely the best way to warm up…
I push the thoughts back. We’re not going there again now.
I wonder if he’s okay. He doesn’t exactly know his way around. Should I try to find him?
No, I shouldn’t. I’m probably the last person he wants to see. Anyone can show him the way back to the dorms if he bothers to ask. Even the walls… though I think I forgot to mention that. I don’t even have his phone number, so I can’t try to help from a distance.
I fidget as I try to focus on eating. My mind is at war with itself, it seems. I don’t know who’s winning.
Andrei steps back into the room, another tray in his hands. I’m about halfway done already. He walks around the bed, kneeling onto the covers and shuffling over next to me. “There, now we can both eat and get warm,” he brushes his shoulder against mine. “How is it?”
“Perfect,” I smile. “Exactly what I needed.”
“Good. Feeling warmer? Want a blanket?” he asks, picking up his spoon.
“I am, much better,” I assure him. “Blanket can wait until after we finish eating,” I look back at the soup, trying not to think.
“So… I need to apologize,” Andrei starts, out of nowhere.
“What?” I blink, frowning at him. “Why?”
“Well… the water, that was partly on me. I didn’t know it would actually hurt you. So I told her to bring as much cold water as she could, ‘Heath’s having a meltdown,’” he pouts, holding the spoon as the soup drips from it back into the bowl. “You got hurt because I didn’t think things through again… I keep forgetting your elements are very much attuned to your physical health. So… I’m sorry.”
My heart sinks. I nod slowly, chewing my lip. “It’s not your fault. You didn’t know this would happen.”
“No, but I should have thought it might… You’ve mentioned it before to me… haven’t you?” he asks me with big puppy dog eyes.
“I don’t think so,” I shrug. “I don’t like when you make that face. I don’t want you to worry all the time.”
“But I do. I do stupid things that get you hurt, and then I worry. It’s a vicious cycle I start myself…” he pouts.
I lean into his shoulder. “We both do. We’ll make great parents,” I laugh sarcastically.
“Oh my God… It’ll be a miracle if we can even give birth, let alone be parents. We should both just lock ourselves up in a vault for a year…” he jokes.
“I wouldn’t mind that,” I laugh. “A whole year keeping you all to myself… Sounds nice.”
“I’m sure you’d get sick of me eventually. I wouldn’t have any more surprises. I’d grow quite dull, I imagine,” he shrugs.
“Surprises are overrated,” I mutter, as I pick up the teacup and sniff at the liquid. It reeks of cinnamon.
“I’m pretty sure that’s why you liked me in the first place. I surprised you with a kiss, didn’t I? If I ran out of surprises, you’d leave me, I’m sure of it,” he pouts.
“No, you surprised me by not running screaming,” I sip the tea, scrunching my nose. It’s almost edible. “I liked you before you kissed me, I just… Didn’t think you’d be interested.”
“What?! Really?” he blushes beside me. “Why? Wait, I got this. It was my rugged good looks,” he winks, brushing a hand through his hair as he looks at me from the side, puckering his lips slightly, mimicking a kiss.
“Actually, it was your suicidal bravery,” I tease, although it’s true. “Any sane person would have run away if they were in a dark alley with monsters.”
“So, Caroline’s the most sane out of all of us, ‘cause I remember Kaede getting excited and you and I fighting. I don’t know if I’d call it suicidal. I knew my way around a sword,” he grins.
“You didn’t have a sword,” I remind him. “You had a kitchen knife.”
“Same thing, really. It was the best I had, at the time,” he argues.
“The best thing you had were your feet, to take you far away,” I disagree, looking into the warm cup. “Still… I’m glad you stayed.”
“If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have brought you home with me, and we wouldn’t be here at the Guild. I might not have ever seen you again…” he trails off, a little forlorn.
I nod. “Probably not.”
He reaches a hand out, taking mine and squeezing it hard. “I’m glad I ran into you that day… I’m glad we fought together to save Caroline… and I’m glad I brought you home with me,” he says with an edgy tone in his voice. He looks like he might cry. “You might call it suicidal bravery, but I call it protecting those I love, even if we didn’t know each other well back then.”
I find it hard not to smile, and I raise an eyebrow. “I’m not so sure I believe you loved me that quickly. I was just a weird girl that showed up to save your ass.”
“Nah, you were definitely stalking me, I noticed you following me around. I was just too handsome at the library for you to forget me,” he wiggles his eyebrows like they’re doing a dance. “You weren’t weird though. That’s the wrong word. I’d say you were gorgeous and you seemed so… different from the others, like you weren’t from there. I thought I might actually stand a chance with this one,” he laughs.
His laugh is contagious. “You were right. It’s pretty hard to stop looking at you, or to leave you alone.”
He jumps with excitement. “See! I was right! You do think so!” he beams, nearly knocking the soup bowl over.
“Of course I do!” I roll my eyes. “Why do you think I was so eager to get you in my bed, hm?”
He gasps. “So the truth comes out!” feigning shock.
“What?” I narrow my eyes. “You can’t be that attractive and stay a virgin. That’s just… criminal!” I huff.
“Well, I did! Somehow none of the other girls wanted to give me a chance. I have no idea why,” he’s definitely lying there.
“Right… Has nothing to do with you being painfully shy about your body?” I hum skeptically. “I wonder if I hadn’t made that bet, would you have even tried?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he turns to his nearly empty bowl. “No idea whatsoever.”
“Sure,” I snicker. “Whatever you say.”
“I…” he chokes. “There’re reasons for that. I just… I never thought I’d need to bring it up. I was beginning to resign myself to a single life forever before you showed up,” his voice drops to almost a whisper.
I squeeze his hand, placing the half-empty mug on the tray. “Well, I think it’s kinda cute, actually. Now I get you all to myself.”
He looks at me, a small smile on his lips. “Yea, you do. I’m all yours.”
“Good,” I pull my hand away and pick up the tray. I move it back and slide off the edge of the bed. “‘Cause I don’t know if you know, but Fire is selfish. I don’t plan on sharing.”
“Who would you share with anyway? I don’t have any other stalkers, that I know of,” he raises an eyebrow.
My shoulders tense as I nearly drop the tray on the dresser. The bowl rattles on its plate. I bite the inside of my lip as I look at him through the mirror. Has he forgotten about her?
“What?” he says. “I don’t count her if that’s who you’re thinking of. I was trying not to go there,” he says with a small frown.
“Hard not to,” I flop back on the bed, leaning against the headboard with arms crossed. “What’d you think I meant by sharing?”
“I wasn’t sure. I didn’t think you’d consider her sharing, She’s been trying to kill you. I don’t think she has any intention of sharing either,” he grumbles, leaning back with me.
“Still,” I grumble. “She managed to steal you away, for a while.”
“You weren’t exactly here to defend me, and it was against my will,” he lifts his finger to emphasize the point.
“I know that,” I rebut. “Hence the term ‘steal.’ It wasn’t your fault, and I won’t let her get away with it.”
“She’s becoming dangerous Kat. I’d rather you not go anywhere near her if you don’t have to. If we can keep away maybe she’ll just forget about us.”
“You’re not that easy to forget, Andrei,” I sigh. “If I was in her position, I wouldn’t let it go either.”
“So you’re condoning her behaviour?” he asks curiously.
“I’m saying I understand,” I glare at him. “Is that so wrong?”
“Yes, because she chose to leave me once. You can’t just have me back because you want me. She has no right to force her way back into my life,” he says sternly.
“I don’t think it’s as simple as you think,” I say quietly. “I can’t explain it, I just… I saw something in her face,” I rub my arms, still not quite warm. “Anyway, she won’t win. I have nothing to lose, if I lose you.”
“You saw something in her face that revealed things about her that I don’t already know? I can’t believe you’re sympathizing with her. She wants you and our child dead, regardless of what Mortecai wants. And she wants me for herself,” he fumes. “I would hope that if she took me, you’d try and take me back.”
I wrap my arms around his arm. “I wouldn’t stop until I was dead. No matter what. Nothing else matters.”
His brows knit together with worry. “There’s our child and your friends. I would hope you’d continue living for them,” he says. I curl myself against his side, laying my head on his shoulder. I don’t answer; I can’t promise that.
“Kat… come on. There’s so much you have to be thankful for. If I did – say, die, for some bizarre reason, please tell me you’d keep going for the sake of the Guild and all the people in it? They’re important too. I’m not the only one you have,” he consoles.
I pout. “You can’t die. You promised.”
“I know, that’s why I said for some bizarre reason.”
I clutch onto his sleeve. “I don’t want to talk about this.”
“Ok, ok. I’m sorry. What should we talk about instead?” he asks, rubbing my arm with his hand.
I pause to think. “Lay with me… and tell me one of your time jump stories?”
He looks down at me with a smile. “Alright,” he shuffles down the bed till his head rests beside mine, looking up at the ceiling with his arm under my neck, hand holding my shoulder. “What story did you want to hear?” he asks.
I drape my arm over his chest, fingers tracing circles on the soft fabric of his shirt. “One that’s not in your journals.”
“They’re all in my journals. I record everything,” he says rather flatly.
“I know you don’t,” I retort. “Remember, you didn’t record your lessons from the French aristocrat, for one. I’m sure there are other things. I want to know everything.”
“France? Oh, that… right,” he falls silent for a moment and I start to wonder if he’s fallen asleep when he speaks again, making me jump a little. “I didn’t record my first few jumps when I was seven. I could talk about those,” he suggests. I nod, letting my eyes close as he begins his story.
By Krystyna Yates