I wake to cold air biting at my nose, surrounded by the smell of hardwood floor polish and briney seaweed, and I’m fifteen again. Stretching out beneath the scratchy knit wool blanket tucked around my shoulders, I keep my eyes closed and breathe in the familiar air and wait for the morning to begin.
Cormac will be just outside the door, looking for his book and tripping over Hob, and in a moment I’ll hear the slamming of pots and pans as he begins breakfast, Hob screaming at his heels. If I count to five, there will be the low squeak of Owen climbing down from his loft bedroom. Then the sound of the sink as he fills the kettle for tea before turning on the radio, which will rouse Kit from his room. He’ll be in my doorway shortly, prepared to rip my blanket off me and force me awake for family breakfast. I’ll cling to my bed like a drowning man clings to a life raft, and Kit will drag me out of bed by my ankles. I’ll scream for Owen to help, but he’ll ignore my pleas. Then I’ll kick Kit in the chest and try to escape, and we’ll end in a heap, half in my room, half out, while Hob comes and yells in our faces and Kit laughs into my neck.
But the sounds don’t come. Cormac doesn’t start breakfast, Owen doesn’t turn on the radio, and Kit doesn’t appear in my room.
I open my eyes, and I’m not at home. I’m in Kit’s house, in Kit’s room, in his bed, and reality settles back on me like it’s trying to drive the breath from my lungs and suffocate me.
I sit up quickly, running my hands through my hair. My curls are soft and still slightly damp, like I went to sleep with wet hair, and when I sniff at my hands, they smell like salt. I was in the water. Why was I in the water? I vaguely remember having wet clothes peeled off me last night, but I don’t….
The beach. The teleporting. The vision.
I put my head in my hands and try to breathe, beating back the panic, but the vision — the dream — swims back to the front of my mind. That night again — always that night — crouched in the corner of Kit’s bedroom, my hands over my face. Kit standing in front of me, the knife in his hand.
The knife wasn’t raised, though. He held it limp by his side, and when I looked up at him and pulled my hands from my face, he crouched down to be on my level.
“You’re back,” he said. I nodded. I didn’t know if I was or not.
“You’re in the water,” Kit said slowly, watching me. He looked like Hob sitting at the window, surveying a slow bird. “Are you trying to find me?”
“No. I don’t know where I am.”
Kit frowned and sat back on the floor, pulling his legs up and tucking his chin on his knees, so that we were in matching positions.
“Oh,” he said. “I was kind of hoping you were looking for me.”
The blood stained knife slipped from Kit’s fingers and fell to the floor between us.
“Why would I be looking for you?”
Kit looked away.
“I don’t know. I was just hoping you would.”
“This isn’t real.” I shook my head. “This isn’t real. It’s just being back on Mab and being around your things. We aren’t speaking.”
Kit shrugged, displacing his sheet of black hair and causing it to fall over his knees. He looked sad. He always looks sad, but he looked so lost, so small that I almost reached for him. Almost.
“I don’t know,” he whispered. “I hope it’s real. I hope you’re here. I’ve missed you.”
Then he picked up the knife and pulled himself back to his feet, raised it, and a sharp pain echoed through my body as I gasped awake, freezing and wet, on the hard basalt rocks of the causeway.
Even hours later, sitting in bed, I’m still freezing. I need warmth. My whole body is shaking from the cold. My hands and hair reek of kelp, and I need to push the dream and everything that happened out of my mind.
Slipping from Kit’s room, I keep an ear out for Tanis or Isla, but I don’t come across anyone on the way to the bathroom. Someone has already showered; the mirror is damp and the blood has been washed from the tub, which is a relief. I don’t know if I have the stomach for blood right now.
Standing under the hot water, I’ve just managed to scrub the grit from my hair when the door opens.
I go tense, waiting for the shadow on the other side of the curtain, or a hand to creep in, or some other nightmare swarm of bees to appear, but instead of horror, I hear Tanis’s soft, lilting voice.
“Thomas? You in there?”
“Aye,” I call back, trying to slow my pulse. The door closes and I assume that Tanis has left me to my shower, but then I hear the click of the toilet lid being lowered. She’s staying. Brilliant.
“How are you feeling?” she calls over the patter of water. Her voice is friendly and solicitous, and I don’t trust it for a moment.
“Great. Better than ever before. King of the fucking world,” I respond, spitting a mouthful of water to the floor of the shower. I’m extremely glad that no one has ever updated this bathroom to put in a clear shower door. The plastic shower curtain may be vaguely mouldy, but it’s blessedly opaque.
“So do you want to tell me what the ever loving fuck that was last night?”
And there it is.
I sigh and watch the water swirl into the drain, and shrug even though she can’t see it.
The door opens again and a wave of cold air hits me.
“What’s happening?” Isla asks.
“Oh, nothing. Thomas here was just about to feed me some bullshit,” Tanis responds brightly.
“Oh, excellent,” Isla answers, and then the door closes and there’s a rustling sound. When Isla speaks next, she sounds considerably closer, and I realise she’s sitting on the floor next to the shower. “So, what the fuck was that?”
“I don’t know,” I repeat.
“See?” Tanis says. “Bullshit.”
“How did you teleport?”
“I don’t know,” I say for the third time, scrubbing at myself with a bar of Imperial Leather that’s been worn down to a sliver. “It just… it just happens sometimes.” I mutter the words, hoping they won’t hear me over the spray of the shower. They do. I forgot Tanis has insane hearing.
“Sometimes?” she echoes. “This has happened before?”
“Once or twice,” I lie.
“Here’s the thing,” Isla says. She sounds like she’s enjoying herself. “You shouldn’t be able to do that. Because according to Tanis, that’s not a thing you magicians can do.”
“Nope,” Tanis says. “It’s not.”
“Can we talk about this later?” I ask, gritting my teeth. “When I’m not in the stark?”
“Do you teleport often? Can you control it?” Tanis asks, ignoring me.
“We got the vibe you can’t, so we stayed up with you last night so we’d know if you hurled yourself into the ocean again,” Isla says. “So it would be nice to know if this is, you know, a thing.”
“No one asked you to,” I mumble, desperately not wanting to do this. I grab for the shampoo and think about bashing my brains in with it.
“And we didn’t sleep hardly at all,” Isla adds.
“You chose not to,” I snarl, dropping the shampoo bottle with a loud thud. “You don’t get to make me feel bad for something you did willingly.”
The two girls fall silent for a long moment, and I don’t need to see them to know they’re exchanging a look.
“I think we need to talk about this,” Tanis says, her tone forcibly calm. “Because I think you’re not telling us something.”
I sigh and close my eyes, and let my head fall back into the stream of warm water. Isla seems to know part of it already. And even if it’s not related to whatever is happening to Kit and Owen, they should know. Fadwa knows. Cormac knew. Kind of. He was never that concerned about it, but he knew. Though I always got the vibe that he forgot about it a lot. Cormac wasn’t altogether with it those last few years.
“Sometimes when I sleep, I wake up near water.”
The girls are quiet.
“How often does this happen?” Tanis asks finally.
“Not often,” I lie. Giving up on my shower, I sit down on the floor of the tub and sigh. “It comes and goes. It happened twice before I left Mab; I woke up on the causeway. Once in Glasgow I fell asleep on a bus and woke up in Greenock on the bank of the Firth of Clyde. Another time I was camping in a forest in Germany and woke up on some beach an hour away. In Norway, I went to a fjord. It always goes like that.”
“Is the Firth of Clyde saltwater?” Isla asks, her voice high and breathless. I’ve no idea why this has got her excited.
“Uh,” I say, pausing. “Maybe parts?” I don’t know, I’m shit at geography. I was homeschooled. Tanis’s mum Annag taught us to read and write and count, and then we kind of skipped over a lot of the other normal things and focused more on practical shit like blood offerings.
“A firth is saltwater. It’s the same thing as a fjord,” Tanis responds.
“I’ve no idea what a fjord is,” Isla chimes in. “Wait, there’s a book in Kit’s room called God of the Fjords, do you think that would help?”
“No,” Tanis says quickly. “No, that, uh, won’t help with this. A fjord is like an estuary, but salty.”
“That doesn’t answer my question at all,” Isla responds. “What is an estuary?”
“It’s a little odd that you don’t know this,” I snap, “considering you’re a glorified fish.” I spit out a mouthful of water to the floor of the tub again, and tuck my knees up closer. I know they can’t see me, but I still feel excruciatingly exposed.
“Thomas, don’t be a twat,” Tanis cuts in smoothly from her position on top of the toilet. “I think the Firth is salty.”
“So basically,” Isla says, circling back to the original topic, “you fall asleep and you teleport to saltwater. What about the visions?”
“Visions?” Tanis asks. I’m over this; the water is starting to grow cold and I don’t want to keep talking while I’m naked. I turn off the water with a loud clang, and a towel appears around the corner of the shower curtain. I take it and wrap myself up quickly.
“I see things. Kind of like waking nightmares. Creatures, shadows. Sometimes they look like people I know, but… a tad wrong.” I pull back the curtain, and see both of them sitting there, watching me. “And sometimes I get warnings.”
“Warnings?” Isla asks. She’s sitting cross legged at Tanis’s feet, looking intrigued. Tanis is completely still, her eyes narrowed into thin slits.
“Aye, like… I got warned you were coming,” I tell Isla, looking away from Tanis. “Just before you arrived at my flat, I had a vision where two of my students… warped, kind of. And said to trust ‘her.’”
“What else have you been warned about? What else do you see?”
I take a shaky breath and sit on the edge of the tub. Water from my hair drips down my back, already icy cold.
“I see Kit. A lot. He comes to me at night sometimes, and tells me we’re going to drown. I saw him last night, actually, before you found me on the causeway. Asked if I was looking for him. And he… he warned me, the night he tried to kill me. I mean, not him. But the nightmare version of him.”
“He warned you he was going to try to kill you?” Isla breathes. “What?”
I squeeze my eyes shut and put my head in my hands. I don’t want to talk about this. I don’t. Raising my head out of my hands, I reach over to the laundry bin and grab my glasses and place them back on my face. The room adjusts itself into sharp, sudden focus, and I can now vividly see the unhappy expressions on the other two’s faces.
“The night it happened,” I say slowly. “I had a dream. Kit was standing in the corner of the room. But it wasn’t Kit. His skin was… grey, almost black, and his eyes were white, and he looked at me and said ‘You need to drown or you’ll bleed out.’” I take a long, slow breath and then exhale. “And then when I woke up... it happened.”
“What, exactly, happened?” Tanis asks, her voice cutting through the bathroom. The steam from the shower has made her hair frizzy, and her fringe is clinging to her forehead. “Because you say he tried to kill you. And Kit just told me he’d made a mistake. And those are two very different explanations. And your cryptic wee dream warning makes no sense.”
“What do you want to know?” I snap, picking up my head. “He tried to kill me.”
“Yes, you’ve said,” Tanis answers. “But could you elaborate? It’s just… there’s a lot of questions here, Mads.”
I glare at her and shrug, my shoulders falling as I stare down at the cold, cracked lino of the bathroom floor. My feet look pale, and I wiggle my toes for warmth.
“I woke up from the dream because I was in pain. I was on the floor in the corner of his room, covered in blood.” I hold up my arms so the girls can see my scars.
“The first thing I remember is Kit was standing above me, holding the knife, his face completely blank. I was crying and I tried to ask what happened, why he did it, but he wouldn’t move, just kept staring at me. And then when I went to get up, he said — he said not to move.” I steady myself again. “He started saying that I didn’t understand, that I needed to talk to him, that it wasn’t how it seemed. He was shouting and apologising.” My breathing is shaky and my heartbeat is picking up. Just thinking about this makes me feel panicked.
“He was shouting so loudly, I don’t know how he didn’t wake up Cormac and Owen. He told me to listen and tried to grab me, but I did a spell using the blood from my arm to knock him back, and then I ran. I walked to the village and I healed myself as best as I could, and I called you. And you came and got me.”
Tanis stares at me. There’s nothing on her face to give any indication of what she’s thinking, but I already know. She doesn’t believe me.
“Kit never told me that,” she says finally.
“Well I imagine he wasn’t eager to tell everyone he went into a homicidal fugue state and tried to kill his boyfriend.”
“How do you know it was Kit?” Isla interrupts. “It could have been one of your vision thingies. You yourself have said you can’t tell what’s real or not sometimes, maybe they—”
“The fucking visions have never hurt me, which is more than I can say for Kit. It was him. Trust me, it was him.”
“It sounds like he was—”
“Out of it? Not himself?” I snarl. “Should I have stuck around and found out if that was true? Let him get another chance to carve me up? Who cares if he wasn’t ‘being himself,’ I wasn’t going to find out.”
“I can’t believe you never told me this,” Tanis says, shaking her head. Her hand clenches into a fist on her thigh. “You were my best friends, and neither of you told me. Jesus Christ, why didn’t you tell me? I could have helped you, I could have….” She turns to Isla, eyes blazing. “Did you know?”
“Parts,” Isla admits, meeting Tanis’s hard stare. “I knew about the visions and dreams, and Kit said something bad happened between them. And he told me he’d been researching old magics, because he thought something had happened, but I didn’t know it all.”
Tanis shakes her head.
“I don’t know how to take this.” She looks up at me. “Thomas, I’m sorry. I know something happened to you, I believe that, you’re clearly not well, but…” she stares down at the floor and worries her lip. When she looks back up, her eyes are set. I swear I see them flash gold. “This is just hard for me to process. That’s not Kit. He would never willingly do that.”
“I agree,” Isla says vehemently, squaring her jaw. “Kit is the kindest person alive, he would never do that on purpose.”
“What if—” Tanis starts. “What if something happened to him too? Like what’s happened with you? What if he’s also—”
“Stop,” I say sharply. “Just stop. Whatever you’re saying, trust me, I’ve thought about it. I’ve thought of every possible reason why he would do something like that.”
“No,” I say, holding up my hand. “No. Listen. Kit has always been unpredictable. I know he seems all quiet and soft, but there’s more there. You know he’s had moods since we were kids. Just because he never hurt anyone before doesn’t mean he wasn’t capable of it.”
“But that’s just—”
“What he did,” I continue, talking over Tanis’s interruption, “I don’t know if that was just him, or if there was something wrong with him. But I can’t think that way, do you understand? I can’t let myself start wondering if there was something going on, if something happened to him to make him do what he did.”
I stand up from the edge of the tub and turn around to face the tile wall of the shower and close my eyes.
“I had to leave and cut him out because if I let myself feel the things I kept feeling and there wasn’t something wrong with him, something that made him do it, then I was just putting myself in a position to be hurt again.” I take a deep breath and refuse to let my voice soften. “And he hurt me. Badly. In more ways than you can know. He promised he wouldn’t, and then he did.”
“What if he needed you?” Isla says. Her voice is like ice. I spin to stare at her, and Tanis reaches out to touch her shoulder, but Isla shrugs her off. “What if something was wrong, and he needed your help, and you left him? He wouldn’t have left you to deal with that.”
“That doesn’t make him a better person!” I shout. Tanis blinks, shocked by my volume, and Isla takes a step back. “That just makes him a fucking idiot.”
I’m shaking, and a steady stream of cold water is leaking from my hair and down my back, sending shivers of ice through my spine.
“I left to take care of myself, and I don’t regret it,” I say, my voice lower. Steadier. “I don’t expect you to understand, but I will not apologise for it.”
“I don’t want an apology,” Isla says, moving toward the door. “I just want you to see what’s right in front of your face. Things around here are fucked up, Thomas. You don’t trust anything, so I don’t know why you trust this.”
Tanis bites her lip and stares at the wall over my shoulder.
“Sorry things suck for you,” Isla continues. “But this doesn’t change anything for me. I’m still going to find Kit.”
She yanks open the door of the bathroom, and the cold air comes whipping back in as she storms out and slams it behind her.
I turn to Tanis, still sitting on the toilet, her forehead covered in frown lines, her eyes sad. I don’t know why I’m bothering to look to her for reassurance. I know it won’t come.
“I dunno what to think,” she says gently. “I’m sorry, Mads. I just don’t know what to think. I believe you, I do, but...”
She stands and follows Isla out of the door.