Simple sensations were the furthest thing from simple.
Light seemed to pierce straight through her brain, but it was a pleasant stab in the brain. Good stabbing. Somehow not a contradiction.
Stef blinked, still unsure of everything.
Her skin tingled, fresh and cold and hot, goose bumps appearing and disappearing and hiding beneath the skin, waiting to pop out again.
She opened her mouth, and took a breath, a wave of panic suddenly crashing into her.
Something was wrong. Desperately, horribly wrong.
She couldn’t breathe.
She tried to scream, starting to flail her arms. She had to move or she’d die.
She twisted her head around, trying to find the source of the sound.
Ryan. Big and real and right there, looking worried and happy and-
She coughed, and vomited. She rolled to her side, throwing up off the side of the bed, the stench unbelievable, the taste worst than anything she could imagine.
Someone – probably Ryan – held her hair back from her face, her head jerking a little as her hair was pulled into a hair tie.
She emptied the contents of the stomach, and kept going, her throat burning as she threw up mouthful and mouthful of bile.
Sweet Jesus, don’t let me die.
She collapsed shaking onto her stomach, her vomit-covered face burying itself in the pillow, sealing her in with the smell.
I can’t- I can’t move.
Strong hands slowly pulled her into a sitting position. A warm towel wiped at her face, cleaning the puke away.
‘Hands up,’ Ryan said as he crouched in front of her, and he helped her take the stained, stinking shirt off, then helped her into a clean one.
He wiped at her face once more, then handed her a glass of water, and held up a bucket. ‘Here, rinse your mouth out.’
Stef gargled the water, spitting into the bucket, before collapsing back against the clean-again pillow.
Resurrection is supposed to be pretty and shiny and…not awful and pukey.
Ryan sat on the bed beside her, holding one of her hands with both of these. ‘Welcome back, sweetheart.’
She stared at him for a moment – at a man she barely knew; at a memory she’d had her entire life; at the first real person who seemed to really care about her – and started to cry.
Stef sat up, scooted closer to him, wrapped her arms around him, and let herself cry.
He held her, gently patting her hair, telling her that everything was okay.
It was simple comfort, but it meant so much.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, finally able to find her words. ‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to-!’
He pulled her away a little, so that he could look her in the eye. ‘I don’t blame you. I’m not mad. I’m just glad that you’re safe.’
She nodded, and rested her head against his shoulder. ‘I’m still sorry.’
‘You’re alive, nothing else matters.’
She turned her head and looked around, not sure what she was expecting to see, but knowing that crystal walls with bubble-surface-rainbows shifting and moving within the structure wasn’t it.
‘Um,’ she said, pulling away to look around. ‘Um, where are we?’
The bubble-walls continued around a roughly-round room, cut in half by a glass wall – the other half of the room held another bed, a fancy princess-bed, compared the elongated but simple single bed they sat on.
‘There’s a lot to explain, and I promise I’ll get to everything.’ He put a hand to her face. ‘Are you sure that you’re all right?’
‘I can still kinda taste puke,’ she said. ‘I could really go for-‘ A bowl of ice-cream appeared in her hands. ‘Seriously, how does anyone live without requiring?’
‘It’s not requiring,’ he said, moving back to sit against the wall. She scooted back, sitting beside him, facing the rest of the bubble-room and the glass wall. ‘It’s just…wishing,’ he said.
She lifted a spoonful of chocolate ice cream to her mouth and sucked it down. ‘The beginning, start from it.’
Ryan squeezed her hand, then released it and folded his hands in his lap. ‘There is so much- I’ll try to explain things as simply as I can, though none of this simple.’
‘Just try,’ she said. ‘I’m pretty smart.’
‘You heard the recruits repeating the story that I killed a lover?’ He pointed across the wall to the other bed. ‘I couldn’t kill her. Not even with everything that-‘ he stared at his hands for a moment. ‘She became violent, she began to hurt her peers, killed some; killed Taylor, we don’t know why. I- The Agency thinks that I killed her. I couldn’t. I- This is an oubliette. It is a place to put things you never intend to retrieve. A place to lock away things from the world forever. I banished her here, because my only other option was to pull the trigger on the woman I loved, and if I’d done that-‘ he shook his head. ‘I don’t know if this is kinder, or crueller, but I have hope that I may be able to retrieve her one day.’
She felt a spike of fear. ‘Am- Does that mean I’m locked away forever too?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘No,’ he said firmly as she looked up at him. ‘But I didn’t have anywhere else safe to hold you, this was my only option.’
‘Are you in trouble?’
‘The Agency believes you’re dead. They know I made a wish to attempt to bring you back, they believe it failed. I…I didn’t know how they would react if they knew you were in stasis as you were, so I felt it was prudent to keep you away from them. They may have simply decided to retrieve the mirror from your chest, and destroy it, no matter the consequences to you. I…felt I owed them a version of the truth, my Duty demands that, but it was just as important to keep you safe.’
She pressed a hand to her chest, and realised her heart wasn’t beating. ‘I saw it- I- Oh, I’ve got stories to tell you too, but you- You go first.’ She slipped her hand beneath her shirt and pressed her fingertips to her sternum. ‘Why isn’t it beating?’
Ryan leaned away and gave her a look of concentration – scanning her, probably scanning her with magic-angel-agent-magic. ‘Your blood is flowing normally.’ The look of concentration dropped away. ‘That’s a relief, actually, no need to worry about septicaemia or-‘
‘Or blood sitting in my feet till they’re all big and squishy?!’ she asked, imagining the horror of squishy feet.
Ryan gave her the standard narc look. ‘I don’t believe you have to worry about that.’
She plied her fingers against the area over her heart. ‘It feels…heavy,’ she said, feeling the need to lean forward. ‘And cold. Like I just drunk a Slurpee too quickly.’ She picked at the fabric of her pyjama pants for a moment. ‘How- How long?’
‘A month,’ he said quietly. ‘You had a birthday. I can- If you want to-‘
She shrugged. ‘I don’t really…My birthdays were never for me. They were excuses for mother to throw a party. After her…yanno, grandfather’s valet would send an appropriate number of presents to school. Since I was persona non grata, it was usually only five thousand quid.’ She shrugged deeply. ‘And I never bothered to do anything for myself, because I am not sad enough to be one of those people who make a cake and blow out a candle while being depressed.’
Birthday are for-
‘-people worth celebrating.’
Ryan squeezed her hand again. ‘You’re special, Stef. Not everyone could do what you-‘
‘Hey, um,’ she said, cutting him off. ‘You remember when you told me the creation myth about Chaos and everything?’
‘Yes, of course.’
‘I saw him.’
Ryan stared at her. ‘What do you mean?’
‘When I- I went to like-‘ she faltered, trying to look for the easy way to explain it. ‘After I saw you- When I saw you for the first time again now. I- I like went to- Can a planet have a ghost? Or maybe it was an-‘ She slapped her knees. ‘I went to ghost!Dajulveed and let’s call it that. That’s when I found out-‘ she tapped her chest again. ‘And it was- There was a guy who looked like a mountain, and Death said it was her dad, so that would make him Chaos, right? So I guess it’s not as-‘
Ryan pushed himself forward and stood.
‘-as creation myth-y as I assumed.’
Ryan was staring at her like she’d grown a second head.
Oh god, can I grow a-
If you can, it will be a lot easier for me to keep you under control.
But I don’t want to constantly cosplay an ogre mage…
That’s your big concern?
‘Did- Did I say something weird?’
Ryan continued to stare, and she tensed her shoulders, feeling for extra skull growths.
‘I’ve never known anyone who has seen Chaos,’ he said. ‘Treasure that, Stef, it’s a rare experience.’
‘Or…I screwed up so bad I basically had to get god himself to fix it?’
Ryan smiled, and seemed to relax. ‘I’ve missed you, Stef.’ He lifted a hand and a table appeared. ‘I can catch you up on everything that’s happened, if you like.’
She nodded. ‘If we can have more ice-cream.’ She winced. ‘Even- Even though ice-cream didn’t work out too well last time.’
He touched the table, and a copy of the sundae she’d never gotten to eat appeared. ‘I feel safe enough to risk it.’
[table id=15 /]
Simple sensations were the furthest thing from simple.