The “real world.” It was the biggest joke of all, that phrase. Kris curled up against the headboard of the bed she’d been sharing with Jeff, a mug of hot herbal tea in her hands, and thought about all that had happened over the past… however the hell long it had been. She was having a lot of trouble keeping track of time right now, traveling in both worlds the way they were. She rested her head back, tipping her chin to the ceiling.
If you’d told her just a couple of weeks ago that magic was real, she would have said “of course it is.” But in the way that prayer is real. The way that visualizing a positive outcome will point your hopes, your dreams, and your willpower that direction and allow you to focus on the faith that you CAN get there, the certainty that by focusing and releasing fear and doubt and distraction you can find your way to the outcome you desire in the world.
But never in a million years would she have believed the kinds of things she’d pulled off in the past few days. Shields made of her will? Seeing ghosts as clearly as she could see real people? Yes, she saw her grandfather the night he’d died—he’d smiled very briefly at her while she lay next to her sleeping grandmother that night, his love for the older woman clear as he’d looked at her and said his silent farewells, and then he was gone. Now she was seeing ghosts hovering a LOT of places. And it was damned unnerving.
Kris pulled in a deep breath, letting it out slowly as she sought to center herself. She had a Mission now. It was multi-layered and complex, but the healer in her reveled at the possibilities that were suddenly open to her. Could this little group of diverse personalities really make such a huge difference? Could they save all those people who’d gone missing? Could they, in the process, heal themselves? Help Olivia heal the part of her soul that was so damaged? Help Eybi get better from whatever it was that afflicted him? Help Leo find some kind of peace with the child who followed him wherever he went? Help Jeff repair the damage he’d done to his own soul?
She believed that no matter where you wind up in the world, you are where you’re supposed to be at any given moment. There had to be a reason that this particular group of people of people had been put together—Not just the agenda of the crazy bastard who’d put us here but a larger reason.
She wished she knew what she was even DOING. Blundering along blindly was not exactly comforting. Nor was the fact that time was passing differently for those people who’d already been taken over there. If 6 months translated to literally a century or so, a lifetime, what consequences would all of these people be facing? Based on what Jeff was going through, even with Leo apparently siphoning off some of the more aggressive side effects, it was not going to be pretty.
With her mind in turmoil, Kris pushed herself up out of the bed. The best way to make things in her head settle was to get her hands busy in the kitchen. So… dinner it is
Cooking is how she handles stress — Jeff knows that better than anyone. The place they’ve been crashing is not fantastic, but it has a kitchen. And stocking up on supplies in various forms is what they’ve all been doing. So on first glance when he walks into the kitchen, it looks as if Kris is simply making dinner. Which…. well, a closer look at the back burners of the stove would prove that correct. But it’s the large pot simmering on the front burner that probably garners the most attention after that initial look. Candles burn at what to most would look like random placements in the kitchen. To a practicing witch it’s obvious that a circle has been cast — and there’s actually a subtle feeling of power in the room. The herbal smell wafting through the kitchen would tell him that whatever she’s currently adding that handful of dried herbs to, it’s not a foodstuff. Kristin is murmuring under her breath as she consults tablet propped against the backsplash. She doesn’t initially notice his entry.
Jeff still feels strange in the real world, not yet comfortable being himself. “Real” world, he thinks to himself. So hard determining what is real, not just in the world, but in his own self. And so, it takes him a little longer than it really ought to determining what Kristin is doing. But thankfully, he caught it before blundering in and breaking up her spell. That was the other problem with him now – he felt so impatient, so tightly wound. That was something new for him. So he stood by the cabinet at the edge of the kitchen, waiting for Kristin to either finish or notice his presence.
Once the last herbs are into the ‘stew’ in the pot, Kris’s shoulders seem to relax. Clearly she knows someone came in but is now unsure of what they’ll make of her activities. She pulls in a slow breath and then murmurs, “So mote it be.” before blowing out the candle nearest her, breaking the circle. A subtle shimmer of …. SOMETHING… releases, almost like a soap bubble popping. The “real” world is such a misnomer these days. She turns to look at him, wariness in her expression. “Hey,” she greets quietly.
“Hi,” he says. “I didn’t want to interrupt. It was nice to see something familiar. I wasn’t sure whether you were still doing the traditional rituals. You seem to have grown past them.” He was thinking of that shield she had thrown up when they had come back from Sigil.
That brings a smile to quirk her lips. “No… no one grows past the rituals. They just have … more weight to them now,” Kris tells him, leaning a hip on the counter. She studies him thoughtfully and then says, “I’m worried. And I’m a healer at heart… it hurts me not to be able to help you, or Olivia, or Eybi. There are ghosts around all the time now, it seems like.” She nibbles on a corner of her lip. “I’m scared. And doing the best I can to hide it… but I think I can do a lot more than any of us really imagines. I think we ALL can.”
“I thought, when I came back, that there would be a clean divide. That I would be able to forget that place. But I think you’re right. I think there is less difference between those spaces than anyone ever thought.”
He pauses for a moment. “I’m scared too, if that helps. But I think you underestimate yourself as a healer, Kristin. You might be able to help your friends, but it will take time.” The absence of his own name there hung in the air.
Stepping forward into the circle of his personal space, Kris looks up at him. “Don’t assume that I can’t help you. Maybe not with a poultice or a potion, but I’m not going to stop. Personally, I think we need to have an actual conversation with the Dustmen — I have a notion they may have a lot more information on this kind of thing than they’re saying.” A faint grin quirks her lips again. “They’ll just need a little… persuading, perhaps.”
Tilting her head to study him for a long moment, she puts it out there quietly, “We used to be able to accomplish so much together. I’d really like to try something, if you’re willing. But it means letting me in… and I don’t know if it’s going to bind us in ways it wouldn’t have before reality warped.”
“Are you sure you want to bind to what I am now?” He looks down at her, sadness in his eyes that hadn’t been there before he went missing. She was right, he thought, they had accomplished so much together. He was just so afraid of bleeding what he had done…of what he had become into her.
Kristin was not exactly surprised by his concern… but she was surprised by his uncertainty of her. “Jeff… Whatever you’ve done — and yeah, maybe you’ve done all the wrong things — you did what you did for the right reasons. It’s all ANY of us can hope to do.” She shrugs a little. “You are my friend before all else. You are a man I’ve chosen to share not just a physical connection but a spiritual one. Do you think I did that lightly even before all this happened?”
Her lips pursed slightly. “You’ve got a pissed-off spirit hovering around and a piece of your soul missing that you gave away trying to save a bunch of children. You’re dealing with the consequences both of what happened to you and the person who owned the body before you as well as the choices you’ve made while there. How is that any different than what any of us deals with when confronted with evil? You did the best you could with what you had — it doesn’t make you evil. Misguided, maybe. But could I have done better? Goddess, Jeff — how could I judge you for doing what I probably would have done myself? Do you think I wouldn’t have given up a piece of myself to save those children? Even knowing the consequences, do you think I still WON’T if it comes to that?”
“I’m not evil. That much I know. But I’m broken in ways that I haven’t figured out yet. And I just don’t want you to commit to something potentially dangerous for your spiritual health without knowing what you’re committing to. That comes from being your friend and from once being your mentor.” Jeff smiled softly and cupped her cheek in his hand. “You have a chance to become something even more amazing than you already are. I want to be helped. I want to let you in. I just want to be careful.”
Tipping her cheek into that cradling hand, Kris nods slightly. “Then… I’ll hold off for a bit with what I’d like to do. Give us both a little space to work with. Unless something happens that requires me to try it before you’re ready, okay?” She looks up at him. "I think all of us have the potential to do amazing things. It’s all in how we use what we’ve been given. So… " She smiles at him. “Come be my sous chef for this concoction. I think it could use the balancing touch of a guy, hmm?” Magic is, after all, all about balance in the universe.
He nods with a smile. She was right about balance, of course. That was his problem. Jeff could remember, like a faint memory, that time in his life when he was truly balanced in his life. Six months in this world, a lifetime in the other. But the only way to get back was one small step at a time.
“Let’s make something good together,” he says, smiling at Kristin before letting her lead him toward the stove.