It’s been ages since I’ve been swimming. I had a blast. I only wish Kat had been able to enjoy it as much as I had. Speaking of which, I still haven’t seen her since she and Heath sat on the edge of the pool. I wait outside, thinking she’s taking a long shower but as Caroline and Hitomi come out, they confirm she isn’t in the changeroom.
“Have you seen Heath?” Caroline asks, hair perfectly dry. She must have pulled the water out and done the same to Hitomi as both of them look perfectly dry.
“No, he wasn’t in the changeroom either,” I say with a concerned frown.
“Maybe she had enough of the water. I wouldn’t blame him, though, I appreciate her trying today. I get that it’s difficult, being fire and all. Our elements seem to have more dictation over our abilities in daily life than I first thought,” Caroline muses.
“Yea, I guess so. I wonder where they ran off too,” Nik noticed them missing maybe twenty minutes before we decided to get out. Who knows when they actually left.
“Well, I’m going back to my room to check on something and Kaede I think has a meeting with Cliff,” Caroline mentions.
“Yup, I’m heading there now,” Kaede chirps as he steps out of the changeroom. “See you guys later!” he smiles with a wave as he leaves, followed by Hitomi and Caroline.
Nik leans against the wall, arms crossed. He watches the others leave with seemingly mild interest, though his expression isn’t nearly as laid back as it usually is. I narrow my eyes at him.
“Well, I guess that just leaves the two of us. Where do you suppose we check first?” I ask, tempted to use my speed or space skipping to make this faster.
“You know Kat better than most, right? Where do you think she would have gone?” Nik asks, pushing off the wall.
“Well, after nearly drowning? Probably to get a coffee,” I thumb my chin. “Or a smoke.” That sounds like something she’d do when she isn’t comfortable and I’m not around.
“Okay, let’s start there,” Nik gestures for me to lead the way.
I start walking, feeling awkward – like there’s a need to fill the silence. I usually find Nik annoying as hell, the way he always picks on Kat, practically flirting with her. I wonder what really goes on in his head, but I have no idea how to bring it up without sounding like a jealous boyfriend.
I decide to sidestep that topic for now… maybe I’ll work up the dumb courage to confront him later. “I can’t believe they ran off like that without saying anything. I mean… They could’ve just said, ‘I wanna go,’ right?” I ask Nik instead.
“I’m sure she wanted to let you relax and have fun. She probably thought that they’d make it back before we noticed, or something,” Nik shrugs, keeping his gaze forward.
“Yea… I guess you’re right,” I grumble. “I should’ve been faster. I knew how afraid of water she was. Gah!” I curse myself for my stupid sluggishness.
“It may have been better this way. I’m sure she’d have felt worse if you’d been burnt by accident,” He glances down, flashing a brief reassuring smile.
“What reason does she have to feel bad at all?” I scoff. “I could care less if I got burnt. I can heal a burn wound and we have Caroline there to heal us. I hate to see her pass out so often. That can’t be good for her magic or our baby,” I just can’t let her keep taking the blame for accidents, despite Nik’s assurance.
“Whether you care or not isn’t the point. She trusted all of us to keep her from drowning. Learning to swim is a choice she made and she entered the pool of her own free will. It wasn’t your responsibility alone, it was all of ours. In that, we succeeded. She made progress, didn’t she?” he reminds me simply.
Damn it. When did he get so wise? “I guess…. you’re right. If anything, I owe Heath a thank you. She did get in the water. That’s a big step, considering I couldn’t even get her in a boat…” I grumble. Nik chuckles. Now that I’ve broken the ice… maybe I can ask him…
“So… Why do you flirt with Kat so much? Is it just to bug me or something? Or do you really have feelings for her?” There, I said it. It sounds dumb out loud, hearing it in the open, too late now.
“Flirt?” Nik pauses, raising his eyebrows. I turn to look at him, aghast. “I don’t flirt with Kaitlyn. That would be weird. God, no. She’s far too young,” He shakes his head.
“She’s twenty-three,” I remind him.
“Physically, yea. Emotionally, she is much younger. She’s more like a little sister than anything. I tease her, sure, but only because there are lessons she seems to not have grasped.”
“Well, then clearly I’ve misjudged everything about you since we’ve met. I thought you’ve been hitting on her this whole time!” I admit, feeling stupid.
He laughs. “Yeah, I know. We even talked about it. I tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t hear it.”
“It’s hard to not see it as flirting. I guess… After what happened back then, before we met… put me on edge. I wasn’t really in my right mind either. I still regret the way I handled things before she ran off. I was convinced it was because of me that she left and it was… well… to put it simply, it tore me apart,” I turn back to face the hall. We both seem to have paused during the exchange, unknowingly. We resume our walk to the caf.
“Not just you,” he muses as he follows. “That’s why I keep bringing it up. You guys never talked about that, did you? Not really, judging by the violence in her reactions.”
“No, we haven’t. There’s some things I’d rather forget happened, and then… well recently, there’s things I wish I could remember. I’m afraid to bring that time up with her. I just know she’ll start crying and I hate to make her cry… That whole mess involves Samantha and she just gets angry when I mention her, and I just feel guilty and ashamed. Maybe it’s best we left well enough alone,” I say softly, feeling a twinge in my chest as I bring up the touchy subject.
“That’s nice, but I wasn’t talking about what happened to you. Did you forget that she was out there, alone for almost a month?” Nik hums with an accusing tone.
I glare at him sideways. “She told me what happened. I asked her when I saw her scars and she told me what she’d done. That hurt like hell to listen to but we dealt with that already. Why would I bring it up again?” I growl.
“Did you ask her why she did it?” he asks, staring ahead. “Did she tell you what really happened? Or just the cliff notes?”
“Why wouldn’t she tell me the whole truth? Look, if you know something I don’t, even after asking her, then out with it. I hate pushing her for answers ‘cause all she does is cry.”
Nik shakes his head with a sigh. “Crying is not always a bad thing. In fact, it rarely is. It’s an emotional release and without that, it can be near impossible to get past some traumas. Have you considered that maybe she needs to cry, that she needs to have that release and that she even needs to know that you won’t be too uncomfortable for her to get through it?”
“I don’t wanna be the one to make her cry! I’ve done that enough already. You don’t know how awful it feels when you’re the one causing it,” my mouth hangs open as he cuts me off.
“Stop thinking about how it makes you feel!” Nik snaps. “She needs you to help her through the pain and the grief that she went through alone. If bringing it up makes her cry, good. Maybe then she can move past it and grow up a little! All you’re doing is holding her back!”
“And what do you know about what she needs to move past and what not? You don’t have a clue about half of what she’s had to live through. You don’t know what she sees in her nightmares and what things torment her when she’s alone. I’m here to help bring her some peace of mind, not to drudge up the bottom and make her remember the darkness. I’d rather not bring up painful things. She deserves good things in her life after all she’s been through. She deserves a break!” I find myself shouting and realise I’ve stopped walking again, hands balled into fists at my side. I don’t recall the last time I felt as angry as I do now.
“You’re right, I don’t know,” Nik replies calmly. “What I do know is the pathetic state I found her in and the days of hearing her cry for you in her sleep when you weren’t there. Avoiding painful topics doesn’t make them disappear. All you’re doing is telling her that you don’t want to hear it, so she bottles it up instead. Do you think that’s healthy for anyone?”
“I’ve already asked her! She hardly says two words! It’s like pulling teeth. If you ask me, she doesn’t want to talk about it. Maybe what she needs is a good memory wipe like whatever happened to me! Then maybe then she wouldn’t have an issue with me failing as her Mr. Hero.” I growl.
His eyes narrow slightly. “Sure. How’s the whole missing memory thing working out for you?” he scoffs, shaking his head as he turns away, continuing down the hall.
I feel an intense pressure behind my eyes just at the mention of it. I want to reply so badly, but I feel like anything I say will just make this worse. I didn’t want to fight with him about it… Why does he think crying will make her feel any better? She cries all the time. I sure as hell don’t feel good after crying. I just… I wish I could just fix things! Fix things for her, fix it for us. But I don’t know how! It’s so frustrating!
Nik’s figure grows smaller as he continues down the hall. I grit my teeth, exhaling as I move to follow. How’d I manage to get him angry with me too? I seem to be doing that a lot lately… What’s wrong with me? As I catch up to him, I find I don’t have the courage to say sorry. In fact, I find it hard to speak at all. Maybe I’ve got pride issues. I have to stop making enemies of my friends.
We finally arrive at the caf, only to find it barren of life. I suggest the library, just out of gut instinct really. I don’t really know why’d they go there. It’s not like you can get have coffee or smoke there, and Heath seems, well… I don’t really know Heath that well yet. Maybe he’d like libraries. They’re quiet, like him. I dunno.
We walk through the doors of the library, the torches flaring to life as we enter. I spot Heath’s dark-haired mop and a splash of red leaning on his shoulder on the couches. Something in my gut twists at the sight and I feel a flare of jealousy. The ticking inside me makes a strange clanging sound, like a spring popping.
“There you guys are!” I call, trying to swallow my unfounded jealousy. Perhaps it’s just in my head. I have to learn to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Heath turns his head, looking over his shoulder out of the corner of his eye. “Yea, sorry. We had enough of the water,” he whispers, raising his right hand to his lips in a shushing motion. “After getting a coffee we came down here to watch a show, but she fell asleep. I didn’t want to disturb her,” he whispers.
“Oh, ok…” I guess that’s a valid excuse. It’s good I guess, her being able to relax around others now. She used to be so jumpy. I push the strange ticking aside and round the couch. She’s certainly fast asleep, hands in her lap, legs curled underneath her. I only wish it was me she was leaning on.
Heath’s eyes follow me and I give him a smile. It feels strangely forced. “I guess I should thank you. In the pool. You caught her before I could,” my voice feels dull.
“It’s no problem. It helps that someone won’t get burnt when they touch her while she’s in a panic,” he says.
“Yea, I guess so,” I can’t help that my body is feeble next to a fire mage. I really want to be able to take it. But… there’s also something to be said about control and management. “I can take her up to our room to sleep. Don’t you have work with Markus?” I ask, remembering he mentioned it at the pool.
“Oh, yea. I nearly forgot. I guess that’s a good idea,” he glances down at Kat, a strange look in his eyes, but I can’t place it. I shrug it off, reaching for Kat, slipping one hand under her knees and the other around her back, lifting her off the couch and holding her close to my chest. She’s warm, like a content campfire. I feel happy again.
I look back down at Heath, still on the couch, face turned to the empty spot next to him. “Have a nice afternoon. I’ll see you later,” I say, feeling relieved to have found Kat.
“Yeah, later,” he mumbles, voice deep and resounding. I decide it’s best to space skip. I just want to make things quicker. I look back at the door just before I go, realising Nik’s no longer there. Must’ve slipped away. He’s probably annoyed with me… Not unusual for some.
I take a step, arriving in our room. She’s still fast asleep, so I set her down on the bed, reluctant to pull away from her. Her hair shines in the evening light that pours in through the window. She seems like she’s glowing from within. She’s… radiant. I sit on the edge of the bed, twisting to take in the sight of her as she sleeps.
I stretch a hand out to touch her cheek but I hold back, hovering over her blushing skin. She needs the rest. She had a rough time in the pool, I should let her sleep. I let my eyes roam lower, to her stomach. It’s been nearly a month since finding out she was pregnant with our child. I feel a bud of curiosity at how it’s doing, what it’s feeling and thinking, and what kind of magic it might have.
I feel a ball of anticipation just thinking about it. I hate the idea of waiting eight more months. I wonder, momentarily, if my time could safely speed things up. Maybe then, we could put a knot in whatever plans the Master has. It might just be my imagination, but a faint thrum in my chest seems to tick, almost inaudible. Can I sense the time of another? Can I feel their time, as perhaps Gwen can feel life? It sounds absurd. It’s probably all in my head.
Could Nik really be right? Should I ask her about what happened? Why she did it? It’s just… it never feels like a good time to ask. Every time I try to ask her about things it becomes an argument unless we’re having sex. I don’t like arguing with her. I don’t know how she feels, but I assume it’s akin to her fire being enraged. I just feel an unrelenting tension, and it often is best just to assume blame in order to end it. At least, that’s how I deal with it.
I slowly slide off the bed, heading for the desk. Now’s probably a good time to read some more of those journals. I find my memory patchy as I read them, so I hope to fill in the gaps. I pull out the key, unlocking the drawer as I take a seat. I glance over my shoulder, making sure she’s still asleep as I pull it open and retrieve the journals and letters.
Why is it that I can’t remember? I read them, and yet all I get is a blasted headache! My hand shakes as I resist the urge to slam the paper back on the pile, along with the other entries and letters I’ve read for the past hour and forty minutes. I gently set it down, grinding my teeth in frustration. I need a break. Maybe something to eat. I just can’t look at these anymore. I return the papers to the drawer and lock it.
It’s getting late; seven forty-seven. I think it’s best if we both had something to eat. Maybe that will calm me down. I stand up, pushing the chair back in and walk over to the bed. Kat sleeps silently, like sleeping beauty. I rub my temple, wanting to lay down with her. Maybe a small laydown would help my headache. I’m surprised she’s slept this long already.
I crawl onto the bed, positioning myself so that I can face her while laying on my side. I pull myself up against her side, draping an arm over her chest, just under her breasts. My other hand still rubs my temple as I close my eyes, relishing the scent of her hair and the warmth she still radiates.
I find my thoughts relaxing just from being next to her. It feels nice, like sitting next to a campfire or something, throwing your cares away. I open my eyes, watching her sleep. Her breaths are light and her chest gently rises and falls. I smirk as a naughty thought drifts through my mind.
I shift my arm, lifting my hand to cup her breast. I gently rub her nipple. I feel myself become aroused just from this. I wonder if it’ll wake her up. I continue to fondle her, resting my forehead against her shoulder as my fingers roam. Her shirt feels unnaturally thin. Did she not to wear a bra today? Oh my…
I bite my lip, waiting impatiently for her to respond. I feel her chest press against my hand as she takes in a deep breath and finally stirs. I watch intently as her eyes crack open, looking around confused until they settle on me.
“Hey… did I fall asleep? When did we get here?” she mumbles sleepily.
“You did, and on Heath, no less. I brought you up here once I found you. Wish you’d told me you wanted to leave,” I pout playfully, gently squeezing her breast as I smile.
She answers without any reaction. “You were having fun,” she yawns. “I wanted to let you stay longer. It’s hard to find fun these days.”
“Yea, it can be. But it’s not hard when you’re around,” I smile. “Say, were you not wearing a bra all day?” I smirk, propping myself up on my left elbow as I pinch her nipple teasingly, leaning over her face.
She frowns, glancing down at her chest. “Oh… I guess not.”
“You forgot?” I laugh. “That’s cute,” I lean in close, kissing her softly on the lips as I smile. She giggles quietly, kissing back a little. Still waking up, I guess. My ticking flutters excitedly in my chest. I’ve never felt it like this. It’s almost earnest for action. I crawl on top of her, pressing my hips into hers as I lower myself against her.
“Would it be too much to ask for your embrace before dinner?” I ask softly. “I’d understand if you’re not up to it. You did have a rough day today,” I hum in her ear.
She takes a deep breath, rubbing her cheek against mine. “I’m never too tired for that.”
I feel a growl emit from my throat as I nibble her earlobe gently. She stretches her arms out, arching her back for a moment before her hands slide around my neck and into my hair. I shiver at her touch. I love when she touches my hair. I rock my hips against hers as I hug her, bringing my arms to her ribcage and holding her close.
I forget my headache as I kiss her, rub her, move in time with her. I become drunk off her scent, entranced by her touch. Before I know it, I’ve slipped her shirt up and am unbuttoning my own jeans, not wanting her hands to leave me.
I let myself become distracted, forgetting my intention to make sure she eats at a decent hour. We tangle ourselves between the sheets, lips locked, hips swaying together like a ship on the water.
I feel her body shiver beneath me as she reaches her climax and I follow closely after, sweating in her arms. I heave a breath of satisfaction as I drop onto the bed next to her, a hand still tangled in her hair.
“I love you, Kat,” I say as I catch my breath.
She rolls onto her side to face me, curling up against my side. “I love you too,” she yawns, resting her head on my shoulder.
Hearing her say it makes me smile. I want to make her happy. I want her to feel good. When she says it, I feel like I can really manage to accomplish those things. Nik’s words float back into my head as I think this.
What is it she has to move past? How could he say she’s emotionally younger than her actual age? I mean, sure, she doesn’t know about the outside world as much as my friends and I do, but that shouldn’t have anything to do with what Nik meant.
Maybe I should ask. But… I love her smile…
“Kat, I’ve been thinking,” I start, a nervous flutter in my chest. She shifts to look up at me with a curious hum. “It must have been hard for you, leaving the Guild when I left for Romania and… when Ryan died,” I already feel like I started wrong. I don’t know what I want to say.
She blinks, brows creased. “Yeah, it was…”
“I know you’ve already told me what you did… but… is there anything else you wanted to tell me? Anything I should know?” I try to sound sensitive and not pushy at the same time. I feel like I’m not at all convincing.
She stares at me with a strange expression. “I don’t know what you might be looking for… I had a lot of nightmares, on the rare occasions I slept. Usually destroyed whatever abandoned building I had been in.” She scratches at her cheek. “Um… I got a pretty good idea of what can hurt me, and what can’t. I dunno.”
“But…” I guess I gotta ask straight. “Why’d you leave in the first place? Why’d you try to find out what could and couldn’t hurt a Guardian? Why didn’t you just… wait for me?” I ask, hating the sound of my own voice, expecting the worse.
She doesn’t answer right away. It makes me nervous, waiting for her reply. “After what happened with… I thought that if I stayed, I would only get more people hurt. I hated myself for being so stupid. I couldn’t stand the idea that if you hadn’t been in Romania, it might have been you and not her. I couldn’t take that risk. At the time, I thought that the only way you might be safe was if I didn’t exist…” she explains in a surprisingly calm voice.
“I can see why you might think that, but why burden yourself with might-haves?” I scrunch my eyebrows and frown as I speak. I still can’t see what Nik was talking about. I already knew all this. She’s already told me. She seems pretty calm, still, it bothers me how she thought not existing would be better for us all, including me.
“I wasn’t there, and I didn’t get hurt. How could you possibly think that not existing would keep me safe? You didn’t have to run away from the rest of us. Ryan got hurt when she left the Guild because someone else was trying to harm you. That is hardly your fault. She made a choice to leave and help you. You couldn’t have known Samantha was there or what she was going to do,” I try to puzzle through it.
Her eyes seem to glaze as she stares off at the wall. “You didn’t see what the poison did to her…” she whispers.
“But that wasn’t your fault. You didn’t make it, you didn’t shoot it. That was all Sam. Ryan was brave enough to try and help you. You shouldn’t deny her that and you shouldn’t blame yourself for her death,” I say sternly.
“She didn’t have to die,” Kat snaps suddenly. “It wasn’t made to kill, it was made to disarm a Guardian.”
“Yes, I know, and therefore it was an accident. Not anyone’s fault but the person who shot the bullet,” I snap back.
“She shouldn’t have been there. I shouldn’t have been there,” she speaks slowly, stubbornly.
“Because you both made a choice to go,” I say, propping myself up on my elbows. “But you were and so was she. I don’t blame you for Ryan’s death. No one does. So why do you continue to do so? Can you help me to understand?” I ask.
Her bright eyes flicker between mine, searching for something. Her lip quivers as she tries to get words out. “You should. If I’d waited for you, she’d still be alive,” her voice falls, almost inaudible. “I killed her.”
“No, you didn’t! That’s a child’s logic, Kat. That’s just how events worked out,” I say, trying to be gentle with my voice. “Samantha killed her. If you hadn’t of left, she would have found another way to use that gun on you later,” How can I make her see, just because she left, doesn’t mean she caused her death. She’s not the one responsible.
“She should have shot me,” Kat insists with a slight hiccup. I realise then, she’s holding back.
“I’m glad she didn’t, but…” I find I don’t know what to say next. I lean in, wanting to console her, to embrace her. “Kaitlyn…” I whisper, bringing my hand to her shoulder. “It’s ok to cry,” I say, taking Nik’s advice.
“I’m not…” she denies with a sniffle as her arms hook around my chest.
I pull her into my chest, wrapping my arm around her back and hugging her close. “It’s ok,” I assure her. “I miss her too,” her arms squeeze tighter, her breath hitches, and I feel a warm wetness on the skin of my shoulder.
I continue to hold her, not sure if I need to say anything or not. I sort of rock back and forth; something my mom used to do when I was a kid. I feel a tightness in my own throat, thinking about Ryan and that whole mess. It makes my blood boil, thinking of how Sam intended to hurt Kat but hit Ryan instead.
I don’t know what I’d do with myself if Kat was actually taken from me. I know that bullet was only lethal to non-Guardians, but… still. The thought of losing her, after all we’ve been through, I feel like I’ve already lived through that pain once. I don’t want to feel that ever again.
We sit like this for at least ten minutes as her tears, hot as boiling water, soak my shoulder. When it seems she’d finally let out the flood I remember we haven’t eaten, and now it’s well after seven.
“So, you feel ok? Are you… hungry?” I ask awkwardly. She sniffs and nods, pulling away to rub her eyes and wipe her cheeks.
“I’m sorry. I want you to feel ok telling me how you feel. I know I’m a bad listener, but… I care, Kat. I really do.” I look at her, hand still on her shoulder.
“Thanks,” she gives me an adorable little smile as she rubs her red eyes. I raise my hand, running it gently along her eyelashes.
“I’ll make whatever you want to eat. Shall we get dressed?” I ask, once her face is dry.
She thinks for a moment, biting her lip as she looks up at me, her voice small. “Can we have stew?”
I feel a smile creep on my lips. “Of course. My dad makes a mean stew. I’d love to make it for you,” I lean in, placing a gentle kiss on her lips and slowly pull away, pulling the sheets off. “Let’s enjoy a warm meal.”
By Kayla West