Chapter 22: Incomplete
Vapid white space was the only thing Adair remembered after the moonlight had touched the page. It had blinded her with its blank white stare and she had shielded her eyes. She had only been aware of holding onto Atreyu with Jason holding a vice-like grip on her hand. But shortly after she had closed her eyes, she had lost them. Her eyes flew open and took in their surroundings. She was lying on her back, staring up at a ceiling that was familiar. Slowly she sat up and looked around. Everything in this room was familiar, but it had been so long since she'd seen it that it had an alien feeling to it. It was like it had belonged to someone else. But this was her bedroom in her Aunt Rosemary's house. She looked down at herself. She was wearing the same black and gray striped shirt and black Capri pants she'd been wearing when she'd come home from school and started reading the book.
The book! She looked all around the room. The Neverending Story was no longer on her bed where she'd left it. It wasn't in her room at all. Jason and Atreyu were nowhere to be seen either. Fear shot through her. What if the Circle had lied? What if the page hadn't taken them home at all, but trapped them in another fake world like the one she had dreamed about? But any doubts that this was really Rosemary's house were soon erased.
"Adair?!" Her aunt swung her door open so forcefully that it bounced against the wall and almost shut on her again. Her brown hair was unkempt and stuck out in all directions. She was wearing sweats and looked as though she hadn't left the house in days. Her eyes had heavy shadows under them. But in spite of that, she was smiling. She'd entered so quickly, yet when her brown eyes met Adair's she stood stock still. Neither of them knew what to say at first. Adair wondered how long she'd been gone from this world, and Rosemary was trying to puzzle out how she'd managed to appear in her room when she'd been waiting all this time for her to return home. She'd even taken to sleeping on the couch so she would hear the front door opening.
Rosemary stepped forward slowly, her face halfway between distraught and overjoyed. Then with sudden impulse she threw her arms around her niece and held her tighter than she had in a very long time.
"I've been so worried. Are you alright?"
Adair thought she must have been gone for at least a month. It had certainly felt as long in Fantasia. It must have been for Rosemary to act this way. She'd half expected to be screamed senseless when she saw her again. The other half of her mind believed Rosemary wouldn't have wondered at all if she never came back.
She didn't hug her aunt back. Instead she asked. "Where's Jason?"
"Jason? He was here yesterday. He wouldn't tell me where you went. He was going on and on about some book."
Yesterday? Jason had been in Fantasia almost as long as she had. Could it really have been only two days since she'd begun reading? But if it had only been two days, why had her aunt been so worried? Surely two days wouldn't have worried her.
"Where did he go?"
"I don't know. Adair please tell me what's going on. We can work through it."
There was an abrupt honk outside that stopped Adair from having to answer. She broke from her aunt's embrace and raced to her window to look outside. Jason's green BMW was in the driveway. She could see him getting out of the car and racing to the front door. He was ringing the doorbell frantically.
"I have to go." She rushed past her aunt and down the stairs. She was about halfway down when Rosemary called after her.
"Adair please!" Rosemary stood at the top of the stairs, leaning on the railing for support. She looked more tired and thin than Adair had ever seen her. "I'll listen. No matter what it is you have to say, I'll listen this time. I'm sorry about all the times that I haven't. Please just tell me where you've been."
Adair really didn't know how to respond. Jason had tried to tell her how worried Rosemary had been, but she hadn't believed him. It was then that she realized the truth about their long and largely silent life together.
"Aunt Rosemary... it's not you. It's never been you. I can't explain right now, but I promise I will. There's something really important I have to do right now. You have to believe me."
Rosemary let out a long breath. She seemed to have been holding it for a long time because she looked almost relieved when she let it out. "I believe you. When will you be back?"
"Soon." She said at first, then realized it wasn't a fair answer. "Tomorrow. I promise."
Rosemary nodded. "Alright. I'll see you tomorrow. Please be careful."
"I will." She couldn't wait any longer. She raced down the stairs and flung the front door open. She was surprised to see Jason with his glasses back on his face at first. But when she realized she had returned to the human world exactly as when she'd left, it only made sense. When she looked into Jason's eyes, she knew what was wrong before he'd even said it.
Jason had to have broken several laws with how fast he'd driven to reach her house, and several more after they were in the car together. He held her hand tightly the whole way as he drove. He did his best to explain what had happened, though he didn't have a clear idea himself.
"We were supposed to appear where we were before we entered the book." Jason told her. That explained why she had come back to her room and not with him.
"Where were you? Where's the book?"
"After you disappeared I took it to Bastian's house."
"Bastian? The crazy old man who gave me the book? That Bastian?"
"Then where's Atreyu?"
"Atreyu didn't have a place so he just came out of the book itself. It was weird. At first I thought the pages were falling out. Then the pages just... it was like he was the pages. Then he was there and he looked sick. He fell over and started coughing." She felt his hand tighten around hers. "There was a lot of blood."
"Blood?" Her throat constricted. Atreyu was hurt badly.
"Bastian took him. He sent me to come get you and told me to meet him at the hospital."
They didn't speak after that. Jason kept on driving until they reached the hospital. When they reached it he was going so fast she'd been afraid they were going to drive right past it. Instead he swerved into the back lot with tires screeching in a maneuver that might have been impressive in other circumstances. He wheeled into an empty space, leaped out and came around to Adair's side of the car before she had even unbuckled herself from her seat. She couldn't seem to find her footing just yet. Considering the one she loved was in critical condition, she believed she should have been outpacing Jason by a long shot. Instead he was practically dragging her by the hand while she loped after him on unsteady feet. What she didn't take into account was just how heavy reality is. Reality in the human world is far heavier and more absolute than it is in Fantasia. What was worse was that Adair was being reacquainted with a very heavy and all too familiar kind of reality; the reality of losing a loved one. It was this notion that had made her feet feel as though they were made of lead.
It was a blur of white uniforms and fluorescent light when they (or rather Jason) blew through the doors to the emergency wing. Nurses and doctors alike didn't notice them at first as they raced to their respective tasks with their soft padded shoes making shuffling noises on the tile. Jason seemed to know which way to go because he led Adair without reservation. He only stopped when a nurse practically tackled the two of them in the hallway.
"Excuse me, you can't be back here." She said in the most official tone she could. She seemed to be using every bit of energy in her slight frame to stop Jason from bull-rushing right through her.
"We're here to see someone." Jason answered honestly, but not patiently.
"And this is still the emergency wing. Now if you'll follow me to the service desk, I'll set up an appointment."
"It's alright, they're with me." Adair knew the voice without turning to see who it was. Iole stood behind them in a long leather coat that reached her knees. A gray scarf was secured around her neck. She held a flashy gold badge in her hand. "These two are with the kid that was picked up on 17th street. They're eyewitnesses to what happened. I needed a statement from them. I'll be requiring one from the victim when he wakes as well."
"We'll have plenty of time for that after we make sure he wakes up at all." Adair must have made a sound at the nurse's statement because she immediately looked at her with a sympathetic expression. She had clearly worked in the ER long enough to have desensitized herself to the hysterical friends and family of patients. "I'm sorry. We're doing everything we can. Don't worry." She looked back to Iole. "Am I to assume these two are next of kin?"
"The boy's his cousin, but the girl is very close." Iole breathed the lie as effortlessly as the truth.
"Then I'd appreciate it, Detective Tipp if you could take them to the waiting area with the boy's grandfather. I'll notify you if anything changes."
"I appreciate your cooperation."
"Detective, have you caught the one that did this to him?"
Iole didn't look back as she began to lead Jason and Adair away. "Not yet. Why?"
"It's just that his injuries are strange. It's almost like he's getting more of them. And..." The nurse bit her lip. Whatever she'd seen was clearly unnerving her. "It looks more like old scar tissue re-opening."
Adair felt light headed, and that only made the robotic motion of her weighted feet more difficult. It felt like her head was more of a balloon tethered to the earth by two bricks.
"That's sounds like a doctor's job, not mine." Iole snapped. "I'll keep an eye on these two if you get back there and do your job. Then hopefully I'll have an investigation when you're finished." She left the nurse to her duties. They could only hope the doctor overseeing the procedure was not as thrown by the conditions of Atreyu's wounds.
Once they were out of earshot, Jason leaned toward Iole to whisper. "I'm his cousin now?"
"It had to be at least one of you. Adair wouldn't have been believable."
"And since when are you a detective?"
"I can be whatever I need to be. If I felt like I could do something, I could be a nurse right now. But thanks to the three of you, I'm in a very tight situation. You're lucky I can do this much."
"What do you mean the three of us?" Jason asked indignantly. "If you want to be mad at someone, be mad at me. I let Atreyu go in the first place."
Adair only half heard what they were saying. There was a voice playing over and over in her head. It was a voice that had tried to warn her, and now she wished she hadn't dismissed it so easily.
"A promise is a promise." Fay had said. "One way or another, it will be fulfilled."
Was that why Atreyu had shown up in this world so close to dying? Was it the consequence for breaking his contract? His price had been his freedom, his life. Now that he was free of them, did that mean they would collect by letting him die instead? She had foolishly played right into their hands by escaping with him. Now Atreyu was paying the price. No matter what Jason claimed about where the guilt might lie, that didn't stop her. She knew this was her doing.
If Atreyu dies, it'll be because of me.
They reached the waiting room and found Bastian sitting alone in one of the chairs. Remarkably enough he really was all alone in the waiting room. This was fortunate because the moment he stood up to greet them, Iole did something very rash. She grabbed the man by the collar of his button down shirt and tossed him against the wall before he had a chance to speak.
"Are you happy now?!" She growled. "You've finally done it! He's here where he shouldn't be and now he's dying! On my watch!"
Lost and confused as Adair was, she still found she was capable of surprise when the meaning of Iole's outburst became clear.
"You know each other?"
Iole's grip slackened on the old man and she sighed at her slip. Adair couldn't believe it. More secrets, more threads tying her to Fantasia before she had even opened the book. It was a gut wrenching realization that made Adair feel very out of control. In Fantasia she had felt powerful, capable of anything. Now that she was back in the human world, she felt anything but. She had been manipulated and pulled in this direction by the will of others and now the one she loved more than anything was dying because of her and the control she believed she'd had. She shook her head viciously.
"You're kidding! The whole time? You knew the whole time? You planned this?"
Jason stepped forward with his eyes narrowed and his finger pointed at Bastian. "You let me sit and talk to a cat for hours!"
Iole and Bastian said nothing at first.
"Answer me." Adair demanded.
"We had guesses." Iole admitted finally. "It was a few years after I found you. I knew the Seekers had been involved with what happened to your parents, so I stayed with you in case they tried anything. They didn't. The trail went cold. I went to investigate on my own for awhile. I listened for stories, rumors, anything that would point to an answer."
"That's how we met." Bastian explained. "She just wandered into my shop one day and took an interest in the book. I had kept it hidden in my shop for years behind a copy of 'Catcher in the Rye". No one's reached for that book in a good decade I'd wager."
"I could smell the magic on it. It was faint, but it was there. I demanded to know more about it. That's how I learned about Fantasia."
"And then you two arranged for me to find it. Is that it?" Adair surmised, sounding very betrayed.
"No!" Bastian assured her. "Please believe me Miss Artemis. I honestly had no idea who you were until the day you found your way into my shop."
"Then how?" She looked back to Iole. "Did you know about me?"
Iole finally released Bastian and folded her arms. "I had guesses. Fantasia is a hard world to predict even for me. I stayed with you in case the Seekers or Volrac decided to show themselves again because you needed protection. Then you brought the book home and it was out of my hands. Fantasia had chosen you."
"Contrary to what you might think, your destiny has always been your own." Bastian stated calmly. "And your coming to Fantasia could not have happened if Moon Child had not chosen you. Jason, that goes for you as well."
Though Jason hadn't voiced as much, he'd been friends with Bastian and trusted him for a long time. His doubts about the old man's intentions were now very close to Adair's.
"But the Circle, Volrac, they-"
"Took advantage of what was going to happen." Bastian interrupted her. "These Witches that Iole calls the Seekers seem to have their ears very low to the ground. Somehow they knew that Moon Child's life had been bound to you. They used that knowledge for their own purposes."
Iole narrowed her eyes very pointedly at him. "They weren't the only ones."
Bastian looked at her with a level gaze over his glasses which she had knocked askew when she'd first entered. "Iole, I assure you I kept the promise I made to you when you found the book and told me what had happened to it." He then looked to Adair and Jason sorrowfully. "It's my fault there haven't been any humans in Fantasia for so long. Iole charged me with keeping the book safe until she was sure the Seekers had left it. Unfortunately that meant I couldn't allow anyone to read it."
"That didn't stop you from trying." Iole hissed. "You didn't think I'd put two and two together when I met Atreyu? You've been reaching out through your books. You've been as obsessed with finishing those stories as he is."
Bastian didn't waver. "As I said, I kept my promise to you. But I had another promise to keep for my friend."
"And now your friend is dying."
For the first time since Adair had known him, Bastian's face hardened into a scowl. Not even Jason who had known him far longer had ever seen him make such a face.
"For a so-called protector of the balance, you sure have a bleak outlook. It was Adair's and Atreyu's wish to remain together that brought them this far. It was Adair's wish to save him that brought him here. I may not understand all that you do about this grand and mysterious universe of ours, but I do know one thing. It was done out of love, and that same love can make a miracle happen."
Iole said nothing for a while and the two kids she'd brought with her were afraid to speak. Bastian had really gotten under her skin and they feared they might set her off if they said the wrong thing. Finally she exhaled sharply through her nose. Adair could swear she saw smoke curling out of her nostrils.
"Are you willing to stake his life on that?"
"For nothing else." Bastian replied resolutely.
Iole rounded on Adair and Jason. "I have to go. They're deciding how we're going to proceed from here." She didn't elaborate on just who 'they' were, and she wasn't giving them any room to ask. "I'll be back soon. In the meantime, try not to screw up any more worlds. Jason, the nurse is coming back for you. Go with her."
"Me?" Jason asked confused. "What does she want to see me for?"
Iole didn't answer.
"What about me?" Adair asked. "When can I see Atreyu?"
"That's the doctor's call. Bastian, you stay with Adair and don't let her out of your sight, understand?"
Bastian nodded. "As you wish."
"No!" Adair stomped her foot. She felt like a child. "I'm not going to sit here while he's in there!"
"This is out of your hands." Iole said firmly. There was no sympathy in her voice. "Like it or not, you tore up some major rules. Whatever your intentions, humans are meant to go to Fantasia and come back. Not the other way around." Without another word she turned heel and stalked from the waiting room. Another moment later, the nurse returned to them and retrieved Jason, still under the impression that he was Atreyu's cousin. She dragged him out, leaving Adair with Bastian. Despite being with the old man, she felt terribly lonely and her heart threatened to beat out of her chest with worry. It made it very hard to breathe.
Bastian cleared his throat. "To be honest, if I never see that woman again it'll be too soon. However did you put up with her all those years?"
"It was easier when she didn't talk." Adair admitted. Bastian laughed. "What's happening to him?" She asked.
"I have a theory. I'm sure you know by now, but time in Fantasia is very different than in our world. It's never really had a hold on a Fantasian so it doesn't know how to handle him."
"Is he getting older or something?"
"Or something." he replied unsure. "It's possible all his true years could come on him quickly, but at the same time he's never existed as a child here either. Time doesn't really have a starting point for him. I think it's more accurate to say it's trying to find a middle ground. In the meantime his body might be rejecting it. Old wounds are opening up that have long been healed. It's hard to say. This has never happened before. Our two worlds may be connected, but for us it is near, for them it is far."
She bit her lip and looked away. Bastian sighed and led her gently by her shoulder. He sat down and pulled her into the chair next to him. He placed his weathered old hand over hers.
"He'll be alright. If I know Atreyu, he'll pull through."
Adair had experienced loss before and everyone always said the same thing. It was hard to believe Bastian's words. "How can you be sure?"
He smiled with his misty blue eyes. "Adair, I meant what I said. Your wish was born out of love. You know how powerful that is. Have a little faith in the magic you've found."
They sat together in silence while she tried to get her heart under control. Bastian waited patiently for her to start breathing regularly again. When she was calmer she asked him a question.
"You and Atreyu were friends weren't you?"
Bastian's eyes took on that distant look she had seen that day in the book shop. "To this day, he is the most loyal friend I have ever had."
"So you were the last human to go to Fantasia before I did. And Atreyu was there? How old were you?"
He thought on it a moment. "Ten or eleven. Hard to remember really."
"Then that means Atreyu has to be..." She couldn't properly add up the math in her head. She had known about the flux of time in Fantasia, but she just couldn't believe Atreyu had been alive as long as the old man next to her. It was strange even compared to what she'd already gone through.
"How old did he tell you he was?" Bastian asked.
"Seventeen I think."
"Then he's seventeen. He's only as old as his story allows. You see, Atreyu is a young and courageous hero because that is who Fantasia, or more specifically we need him to be. We've always needed heroes like him to teach us how to be brave in our world. I know I did. That's how I came to find my part in the Neverending Story."
"What was it like when you went? What was he like?"
Bastian grinned and stood up. He dragged his chair so that it faced her and sat back down. "If I'm not mistaken Adair, we both have a story or two to share. Why don't I tell you mine, and then you tell me yours."
Adair smiled for the first time in awhile. "Alright."
They sat there for what must have been hours trading tales. In that time there were a few patients here and there. Most didn't pay them any mind. Others stopped to listen to their conversation for awhile and went on to tell whoever they were visiting all about the old man and young lady sharing stories of a magical land as if they had been there. And their stories really were something to hear. Adair was amazed to learn that Bastian had spent not just weeks or months but years in Fantasia before finally returning home only a day after he had left. Some parts were funny to think on, like the fact that Bastian had met Hydorn, Hykrion, and Hysbald when they were still bold and reckless knights. Others gave her chills like the tale of the evil sorceress Xayide who Adair was grateful she never met. She especially loved hearing about the friendship he had shared with Atreyu. She had wondered for a long time about the part Bastian had played in his life, but Atreyu had never shared any of these stories with her. Some parts were familiar to her like how Atreyu had taught Bastian to follow the Way of Wishes. Others made her shudder, like the time that Bastian had let the power of AURYN corrupt him and had nearly killed Atreyu. She remembered the scar Atreyu still carried on his chest. But her heart swelled with pride when he told her of the promise Atreyu had made to finish Bastian's stories which made it possible for him to return home. In spite of all the bad that had happened between them, he had remembered the good and forgiven Bastian in the end and saved him. It sounded just like him, and that made her love him all the more.
"I don't understand." She admitted. "Why didn't he ever tell me any of this?"
Bastian frowned. "I'm afraid that's something only he can tell you." Then he grinned. "I must say Miss Artemis, you look a pinch younger than the last time I saw you. Your eyes have so much more hope in them."
She knew he was right. Fantasia had left her changed. She thought about herself and her sadness less. She felt stronger and ready to share the joy she'd found in Fantasia with others. It had been thanks to Atreyu she had found it. It pained her greatly to think of him suffering in the next room without her there to help him. She was about to cry again until Bastian placed his hand on her knee kindly.
"I'm glad he was able to find you. I've always wanted happiness for him. I think he can have that with you."
She smiled at the old man. She had not known him at all a short while ago, but now felt as close to him as she might a grandfather.
Jason returned then, holding his arm and looking drained. Adair rose from her seat.
"Nothing." He replied unconvincingly. "They can let us see him now, but he's asleep. They don't know when he'll wake up. They think they have him stabilized for now." He took her by the hand and led the way to where Atreyu was being kept.
As much as Adair had hated being away from him and worrying for his well being, she had to admit seeing him this way wasn't much easier. There in that room, lying propped on voluminous white pillows, Atreyu lay sound asleep. Yet even though his eyes were closed, they looked pained like he was in the midst of a nightmare. His face was drained of its color and his cheeks seemed hollow. Lying in such a state, surrounded by monitors on that great big hospital bed, wrapped in blankets and a hospital robe that was much too large, it made him look so small. He looked so vulnerable it hurt her insides.
"I hate seeing him like this." She admitted to Jason. She longed for the Atreyu she knew, the one that had stood with her and plunged into danger on her behalf, the one who had protected her and made her believe in hope and dreams again. "I just want him back."
"If you want to go home I can stay here." Jason assured her.
Adair shook her head. "I can't. He was there for me when I was a total wreck. He helped me when I was weak. Here's my chance to do the same thing. That's what you do for the people you love right?"
Jason nodded. "Alright, then I'll stay with you." She looked back at him blankly and he smiled back. "It's like you said. You do that for the people you love."
She smiled and hugged him tightly. "Thank you."
Bastian cleared his throat nervously. "Well Iole made it very clear to me I was not to let you out of my sight, so I suppose I'll be waiting with you as well."
Jason still had his arms around Adair and squeezed her shoulder. "Don't worry. He'll pull through, and we'll be here when he wakes up."
They remained in that room with Atreyu as he continued to fight for his life in his anything but peaceful sleep. They sat in the three chairs that lined the room's wall and tried to pass the time. Bastian told stories until he drifted off to sleep. He was an old man after all. The nurse's came in occasionally to check on Atreyu and make sure he was comfortable, but they talked very little. They didn't try to make them leave by reminding them that visiting hours were long over, but they did seem annoyed that they were occupying their patient's room. Adair wondered if Iole had anything to do with their silence on the matter. Jason and Adair talked for awhile but as the day stretched into the night they grew quiet. She pulled her chair to Atreyu's bedside and held his hand, and Jason sat behind her, watching over her silently. He was next to fall asleep. Adair stayed awake long into the night. When the first rays of dawn began to shine through the window, they seemed to tell her eyes how tired she was. She fell asleep with her head on Atreyu's bed and her hand wrapped around his.
When Jason and Bastian woke the next morning, they found Adair slumped in sleep beside Atreyu's bed, exhausted from last night's vigil. Jason took a blanket from the closet in the corner of the room and draped it over her shoulders.
"Why don't you take your car and get yourselves some breakfast." Bastian suggested, taking a twenty dollar bill from his wallet and handing it to him.
"Where are you going?"
"I need to pick up a few things at my home." He explained. "When he wakes, we can't very well take him out of here without a thing to wear now can we."
They left quietly, and when Jason returned later, Bastian hadn't returned yet and Adair was still asleep. He and Bastian had left around nine o'clock, and now it was almost ten. He set the paper bags of food and two cups of hot cocoa by Atreyu's bedside and shook her gently. She started awake.
"Sorry." He apologized. "I just thought, it's almost ten. Didn't you promise Rosemary?"
She rubbed her eyes. "I know, I know. But I can't go back yet."
"Well you can at least call." He reminded her. "Don't worry, I'll keep an eye on him for you."
Too tired to argue and knowing Aunt Rosemary would be worried if she didn't at least call, she squeezed Jason's arm and hobbled out of the room. Jason took the chair she'd been sitting in and did his best to eat. It surprised him how his appetite had vanished. As he listened to Adair's footsteps fading down the hall, he wondered how nice it must be to have someone to worry about you the way Rosemary did for her. You see, Adair and Jason had been friends for many years by this point, but they had never discussed his own family in depth. It had been a rule they'd agreed on shortly after they'd met. They wouldn't ask about one another's family.
He thought about what Adair had said about Rosemary yesterday, and he could see how she hoped to improve things with her aunt and cousins now. He was happy for her, but at the same time it reminded him of how much his best friend had changed and grown. He feared, not for the first time that as she grew toward happiness, that growth took her farther away from him. But he couldn't deny she was happier now than she'd ever been. In the end, he knew that was what he really wanted for her. Now he could see the light and warmth in her he'd always known was there but had never been able to reach. And he knew it was thanks to Atreyu.
He drew his face close to Atreyu's as he slept and whispered. "You and me have a lot to talk about when you wake up buddy. So you'd better not go anywhere, or I'll follow your ghost and drag it right back here."
Atreyu looked a little healthier than he had yesterday. Color was returning to his cheeks, and his brow was no longer creased in pain. And though it was small, Jason could swear he saw him smile.
"No don't worry Aunt Rosemary, I'm fine." Adair assured her aunt. Being without her cell phone, She'd gone all the way to the lobby to ask the service desk to use their phone. The nurse had politely informed her that the phone was not for civilian use, but had instead directed her to the hospital's cafe. The staff member there had kindly allowed her to use the phone behind the counter. She was alone in the small cafe save for the counter girl and another visitor sitting at the back table reading a newspaper.
"I'm at the hospital..." Adair held the phone away from here when that declaration sent a thousand assumptions flying to her aunt's lips. "No I'm fine, Jason's fine, we're all fine. We're here for someone else... It's complicated, but I promise I'll be home soon." She smiled as her aunt collected herself on the other end. "When I do, I want you to meet someone... alright I will... Aunt Rosemary? I love you." The silence that ensued on the other end made her smile again. In spite of her surprise, Rosemary did manage to reply that she loved her niece as well before they said their good-byes and hung up.
The moment Adair set the phone down on the receiver she heard a terrible crash behind her. She whirled around to find the staff member lying on the floor with one of the table's overturned next to her. Her brown curls were strewn over her face and she was unnaturally still. She had fallen asleep quite suddenly, and in an effort to steady herself had grabbed the edge of the table, succeeding only in toppling it over with her. Adair lifted her attention to the only other person in the room with them. With a start she noticed the fingers that gripped the newspaper. Their owner had their fingernails polished dark purple.
"So he's alive." Fay surmised as she folded the newspaper she'd been pretending to read and set it down in front of her. "You both made it back safe and sound. Just as I thought."
Jason had been staring off into space when a raspy whisper snapped him back to himself. At first he thought he'd just imagined it, but as he looked back down at the bed, Atreyu was struggling to open his eyes. His eyelids fluttered open a few times, closing again quickly as though the sunlight filtering through the curtain were blinding him.
Jason released breath he hadn't realized he had been holding. "Looks like you're finally coming around. How are you feeling big guy?"
Atreyu's eyes seemed to roll back into his head with dizziness, but he managed a weak smile. "Big guy? What happened to Choir Boy?"
Jason laughed. Atreyu tried to sit up, but his face contorted with pain from the effort. Jason managed to push him back down with one hand. "Easy there. Look I know I'm probably not the first face you wanted to see when you woke up, but if I let you fall apart on my watch, Adair will kill me."
Atreyu breathed deeply and tried to adjust himself on the bed. With some help he managed to sit up. "Where are we? How long have I been asleep?"
"Since yesterday. As for where we are..." he hesitated. "You're in the human world now buddy."
Atreyu's dark eyes bulged. "What?" He looked down at his hand and held it up. He clenched his fingers a couple times as if to make sure he could still use them. He stared at his hand like it might fade any second. "How is this possible? Fantasians can't cross into the human world. At least, we're not supposed to. We can't exist here. We fade away."
"You almost did." Jason admitted.
Atreyu's eyebrows knit together as he tried to recall the events that led him here. "I remember falling... falling onto a wooden floor. Then... pain... in my chest. There was so much blood." He looked down at the scar on his chest and found it bandaged. There were other wounds that had been tended as well along his arms and shoulders. "What happened? I haven't felt this sore since the wind giants threw me into the sea."
"You started bleeding. Your old scar re-opened along with some others. The doctors managed to stabilize you."
Jason hesitated for a moment. "It wasn't easy. In this world we have something called blood transfusion. When someone loses a lot of blood, someone else can give them some of theirs."
"Someone gave me their blood?" Atreyu seemed to waver between shock and reverence. It seemed the concept was somewhat frightening to him. In truth it reminded him of some vampires he had come across in Fantasia. "Whose blood did they put in me?"
Jason sighed and rolled back his sleeve. A small band-aid was still in place over the vein the nurse had placed the needle in. Atreyu's eyes grew even wider.
"Iole had to lie and tell them I was your cousin. They didn't know your blood type, so they grabbed me."
"And you agreed?"
"Don't sound so surprised." Neither one of them knew what to say. Jason sighed. "Listen. I know we haven't been on the best of terms since we met, and I'll admit I was jealous of you and Adair. Actually I still am. I can't ignore my feelings for her. But at the same time, I can't ignore how much she's changed because of you. Before all of this happened, she'd walk around like she was half asleep. I was the only person she talked to, and even that was like pulling teeth sometimes. But I knew there was this awesome, fun, kind person underneath all the sadness. I'd catch glimpses of her sometimes, but I could never reach her. Then this happened and she met you, and... I don't know, it was like she finally woke up. You reached her in a way I never could. She's free to be her best self now because of you. If she lost you, I'm afraid she'd go back to the way she was. She'd retreat back inside herself and then I'd never be able to find her again. I couldn't live with myself if I let that happen. So like it or not, you're not going anywhere."
Atreyu reached out weakly and managed to grab Jason's hand. With what little strength he could afford to use, he squeezed his fingers around it. "Jason, I could never repay you for what you just did. And Adair is blessed to have you in her life. No matter what has happened between us, know that I will always think of you as though you were my brother."
Jason shook his head with a small grin. "Yeah well, that could be the morphine talking. Get back to your old self and then see how you feel."
"I mean it Jason."
"Okay, okay. So does that make me a plains warrior now?"
Atreyu chuckled. "If you could hunt with us, I'm sure my people would be honored to let you join them."
"So do I get a cool Plains name like Bahzha then?"
Atreyu thought on it. "My people would probably call you Ahanu."
"What does that mean?"
"It means 'he who laughs'. No matter how dark things get, you have a gift for keeping a light heart."
Jason pretended to frown. "I was kind of hoping for something like 'Screeching Eagle' or 'Handsome Tiger'."
"But I think that is the best part of you." Atreyu said seriously. "If it hadn't been for you, there wouldn't have been any of the real Adair left for me to find. You kept her alive because of your gift. Don't ever forget that."
Jason would always admire Atreyu's straightforwardness and his ability to speak his feelings boldly. He smiled.
"What are you doing here?" Adair asked angrily. "What did you do to her?" She pointed to the counter girl who remained on the floor out cold.
"Relax, she'll wake after I leave. I didn't come here for a fight. We're alone now. Nag and Thoth are still in the other world. I'm just here to collect a report."
"Report? On what?"
"You of course." Fay replied dryly. "You've performed miracles now that you've found the Strongest Magic. I'd like you to make a full report. I only have a few questions."
"Are you out of your mind? I guess you didn't hear me when I turned your castle into pixie dust. I'm done playing your games."
Fay's crystal blue eyes were as cold and blank as ever. "In case you've forgotten, you changed the game. You're back in the human world. You have no power here."
Adair narrowed her eyes and stared the Witch down. "Neither do you." Fay said nothing which only confirmed Adair's suspicion. "I've noticed something about you. Your magic relies on emotion to work. But I don't think I've ever seen you cast a spell without someone else' pain or fear to feed on. You prey on the hearts of others for your magic because your own heart is dead. You've ignored it for so long you can't feel it anymore. You're just like your master."
At that, Fay's eyes flickered for a brief instant. Adair couldn't tell if it was from malice or fear. Either way, she could see in the Witch's eyes that she was right.
"You only have as much power over my heart as I let you have, and I'm not giving you any more."
"You owe me you know." Fay said flatly.
"What?" Adair couldn't believe she was serious. "You're insane."
"Without me you never would have found Fantasia. You never would have met Atreyu. Your love is possible because I made it happen."
Adair shook her head, but she was careful to keep her temper in check. She would not let Fay get under her skin. This was a battle of wills she was going to win. After facing the darkness for whom this Witch was a tool, she was sure she could do it.
"Don't you dare take credit for what me and Atreyu have. You may have led me to Fantasia, but only after helping that monster destroy it by killing my parents. You didn't create our love. If you could do that, you'd have done it yourself already instead of wasting your time watching me and hurting the people I care about. We're done here." She turned to leave.
"No." Fay snapped, raising her voice ever so slightly. As she did, the door to the cafe swung shut before Adair could leave. "I have waited ten years for you to reach this point. You will not take this away from me."
Adair turned her gaze on her sadly. "You don't scare me. You're just a selfish little girl who will never understand why she is so sad." She turned back to the door and opened it. She got three steps out before she her hand was snatched. Fay held her wrist in both of her small cold hands. Her dark hair hung in front of her eyes.
"It's not complete."
Adair sighed and turned to face her once more. "What are you talking about?"
"Your bond." Fay explained. "It's strong. Very strong. Stronger than I thought it could be, but it's still missing something. It's not complete yet."
Adair paused, suddenly remembering the words Moon Child had told her. She had warned her that even though true love was the most powerful magic of all, only a pure love could set her free. There was still something she and Atreyu had to do before they could end all of this. But what? If Fay had an answer, could she risk losing it?
"What do you want?" She asked.
Fay lifted her face. "How about a deal? I'll tell you what it's missing. In exchange, you answer just one question."
Adair pulled her hand away and looked at Fay squarely.
"How can I trust you?"
"I have no reason to lie. I want this to happen."
Adair eyed her warily, then folded her arms. "Deal. Ask your question."
Fay's request was a simple one. "What does it feel like?"
Adair didn't have to think hard. "When I'm with him, I feel stronger. I used to hear that when people fall in love, they get lost in each other and forget everything around them. But that's not true. I don't forget the bad things, I just feel like I can beat them when he's there. And I can see the good so much clearer. He makes me want to be the best that I can be."
Fay sighed and cast her eyes down at the floor. "Thank you." It was the only sincerity Adair would ever hear from her.
"Now it's your turn. What are we missing?"
"What you just told me," Fay began. "When did it start?"
"You said only one question."
"Your answer will lead you to mine. Think. When did you start to feel that way."
This time Adair did have to think. The way she felt about Atreyu was now so much a part of her that it felt like it had always been there. Everything they'd gone through had made her forget how it felt without it. Then she remembered.
"The day I told him about my parents. I've never told that to anyone."
"You shared your pain with him. You let him into your heart completely."
"Has he done the same?"
Adair stopped and thought again. Since the day they'd met, Atreyu had protected her, strengthened her, and helped her shoulder her burdens. But she knew he had burdens of his own, pain and fear that only he knew. There were times she could see it in his eyes. Behind the brave warrior she knew him to be, there was a part of him that was as scared and lonely as she had once been. Yet she could not recall a time she had tried to share his pain the way he had done for her.
"There's your answer." Fay said, and walked gingerly to the exit, leaving Adair alone in the empty hallway. Once she was gone, the counter girl in the cafe came too. She looked around in a daze, but once she righted the table she had knocked over, she seemed to forget she had just woken up on the floor and went back to her work.
Adair thought on Fay's words as she made her way back to Atreyu's room. She knew what she had to do when Atreyu woke. She was to have that chance sooner than she believed. The sound of familiar laughter alerted her as she drew closer to the room. Forgetting herself, she ran to the door and froze when she saw him. Atreyu was awake and laughing with Jason. They both fell silent when they saw her. Adair had believed that after almost losing him, she had emptied herself of all her tears. Yet here she stood with her eyes watering. She threw herself onto the bed, and wrapped her arms around him as she cried tears of joy into his chest.
"You're awake." She said over and over, more to herself than to him. "You're awake."
He placed his arms around her and ran his fingers through her soft sand-colored hair. "I'm sorry if I worried you. Thank you for saving me."
"You can't ever do that again." She sobbed. "Promise me you will never do that again."
She felt his embrace tighten. "I promise."
As they held each other, Jason got up from his seat wordlessly and let them be alone.